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:



Kim Pritekel

Part 11

Jack Renovich looked at his client, and basically boss, mouth opened, jaw slack and eyes glazed.

"What?" he wasn't sure if he'd heard him correctly.

Dark eyes turned to glare at the slight man over Armani-padded shoulders. "What part of call Foster don't you understand?" Robert Knowles turned to face the attorney in the expensive suit, that he basically paid for with the exorbitant fees Renovich charged.

"Bob, this is crazy," Jack tried to reason with the man, and was having a hard time keeping his eyes off Bob's new nose. It changed his entire face. He'd heard a very watered down version of the story behind it, but wasn't entirely clear on the actual circumstances. Clearing his throat, he cleared his mind, a little technique he'd picked up at Harvard law. "You're risking career suicide-"

"Goddamn it, Jack, just fucking do it!" Knowles thundered, slamming a well manicured hand down on the expansive mahogany desk, the thud echoing in the spacious office. The two men locked gazes, a cock fight of wills.

Finally with a heavy sigh, Renovich nodded, looking down at his hands that were tucked into his roomy front pants pockets. "Alright, Bob. However," he raised his eyes and a finger of warning. "any backlash is yours, and yours alone."

"Nonsense," the manager gave his trademark dimpled smile, filled with charm and confidence. "that's what I pay you for, Jack. You can handle the heat." He grabbed his Ray Bans off the desk, sliding them into his jacket pocket. "We still have an eight o'clock tee time?"

"Uh, yeah, we sure do." Jack tried to smile and not look at the man standing in front of his desk like he was the bastard he really was. It was getting harder and harder to continue working for Bob Knowles. Even the money he'd made off the successful music manager almost wasn't enough anymore. Almost.


Long, knowing fingers worked their way across the smooth, white keys, intermittently hitting the flat and sharps, bringing an emotional jolt to the music as its creator swayed with it, eyes closed to block out her world, which felt as though it were tumbling around her feet.

The swell of the piece made her chest swell, throat tighten and breathing hitch, then all fell in a peaceful, satisfying climax.

Music such as this had always reminded Christine of making love. The caress of fingers brought the body of the music alive, starting slow and sweet, working toward a more chaotic level of excitement that only the release of the intensity could bring about, sending a lava flow of emotion and sensation through everyone lucky enough to be an auditory participant.

The last few notes died away, and blue eyes slowly opened, staring off into the spacious room, high ceiling, the special sound proofing built into the walls by a previous owner.

Christine Gray sighed, hands falling limp to her lap. Her body felt like Jell-O, though not just from the emotional release from the music, but also that of the interview a scant three days prior; not enough time to get the true reading of the fall-out that would ensue, be it in her favor or not.

Running those same long fingers through waves of tumbling dark hair, Christine stood, making her way over to the bar that ran along the back wall of the music room. This was her third visit in as many hours, and her eyes wandered to the same mirrored back wall, reflecting glass shelves of various bottles of liquor. Her tongue snaked out, the craving for a tequila sunrise making her jowls water. For a third time, she shook off the want, instead grabbing a bottle of raspberry Fruit 2 O.

Walking over to the French doors that opened up to the grounds of her estate, the singer twisted off the white cap, taking a long swig of the flavored water, smiling at the flavor, and the pride she felt for once again denying the demons she knew would snap at her heels for life. There was a time, not too long ago, when she would have been proud for having a tequila sunrise instead of straight tequila or vodka.

Baby steps.

She did, however, allow herself one small concession. Pulling out a pack of Camels from the breast pocket of her button up shirt, she shook out a long, white cigarette, tucking the gold tip between her lips. She could feel the slight weight of the silver Zippo in her hip pocket, but left the lighter where it was tucked. Tonguing the smoke, making the cigarette dance, she looked out over the beautifully kept grounds. Bradley did a wonderful job, but someday she'd like to do that work herself, making her very own green thumb masterpiece.

She thought back to the tearful phone conversation she'd had with Adam earlier that day. He and Alice had watched the Barbara Walters' special, of course, and it had been hard for him. Though Christine had left out most names and any particulars involving him, he knew, and he remembered, breaking his heart all over again. To her great relief, he hadn't been angry with her, but had instead stood behind her one hundred percent, as she knew he would. Somehow, someday she'd be able to repay him for everything he'd done for her, all the sacrifices he'd made to ensure her anonymity as she'd begun her career, not to mention everything he'd gone through when they were children on her behalf, including entering the dark world of the streets so she wouldn't have to be alone.

"Oh, Adam," she whispered, removing the Camel from her mouth. She held it between her fingers, turning it this way and that, thinking about the fact that Adam, once a heavy smoker, had given up the habit in order to give himself what precious little life he had left.

She tossed the snapped pieces of the cigarette onto the table top where she sat. Sighing, she brought her booted feet up to the table, snaking her hands behind her head and looking out into the dying sunlight of the day. She'd stick around California for a few more days, make sure she wasn't needed anywhere, or wouldn't have to fix anymore messes, then maybe she'd take a trip toward the south east.

She was scheduled to be back in the studio in three weeks to record the last album she was contractually bound to, and for the first time in her career, she dreaded it. She felt stifled in her creativity, her audience and fan base having expected a certain formulaic sound from her, which she had happily provided for nearly two decades, only slight variations of the same theme. Christine had the distinct feeling that her fans weren't being given enough credit, and would probably happily follow her along in a creative journey. Sure, you'd have the select few who were staunchly opposed to change, but Christine was at a point in her life where that didn't matter.

As she sipped her water, she realized that she'd stuffed herself in the bottle, and now that genie wanted out. She had stopped performing or creating for herself, but instead was writing and playing for the fans, and what they would want, or what they would buy. Yes, Bob Knowles had a lot to do with that, but now he was no longer in her professional picture, so what did it matter?

She sighed in disconcerted confusion. Something had to be done before her muse left her for good. The adoration and money were fantastic, for sure, but now all that was for Christine Gray the image, not Christine Gray the person.

"A change is definitely in order," she muttered, bottle to her lips.


The night seemed to drag on, an emergency involving an eight year old boy, pulled out of his dead father's truck by the firemen with the help of Jaws of Life, but only after he had sat in that tin can of a truck for more than an hour, staring at his father's lifeless eyes. To say the boy was going to need some counseling after he healed up was a serious understatement.

Willow sighed, tugging her mint green scrub top off, wadded it up and tossed it into the small wicker basket she'd brought with her to gather up all her dirty scrubs. She'd be doing laundry for days with the amount she had, but that was alright. It wasn't like she had anything else of importance to do on the eve of her three days off.

Rachel and Connor had hit the slopes to mountain bike down in Colorado for a few days, so it was up to her to try and occupy her time. Willow smiled when she thought of last Wednesday when she'd dropped by Rachel's place. She'd intended to only stay for a short time, but then just stayed on. Finally Thursday afternoon, the redhead had turned to her.

"Okay, hon, you know I love you, but are you going to leave at some point or should Connor and I go have sex at your place?"

How pathetic. When she'd been a kid, as an only child, she'd had to figure out how to keep herself entertained, and she'd done a fine job of it, loving the solitude and alone time. Heck, even when she'd been in college and she and Kevin had first gotten together, they used to fight because she wanted that alone time still, and he wanted to spend all his time with her.

Willow sighed. When had all that changed? Maybe it was because with Kevin she knew she had the option of having company if she'd wanted it, and had taken that option for granted. Now it was just her, and her alone. Gathering up her belongings, stuffing it all in the wicker basket, she headed out to her truck.

The ranch was quiet, Star whinnying and snorting quietly in the late summer morning, the sun just beginning to wake over the horizon. Willow pulled the truck up to the garage, parking before the closed door, starkly pale in the weak light.

Willow had been contemplating trying for another shift at work, see if she could get the day shift, or at least the mid. She didn't think it would be too wonderful coming home at six in the morning cold of winter, big pregnant.

The house seemed even more quiet and dark today, Willow flicking on lights as she went, even ones that weren't necessary for her to move around in. She flicked on the television in the kitchen then the one upstairs in her bedroom as she gathered the rest of her laundry from her home laundry basket. She had no idea what was on, just that she needed to feel like there was someone else in the house with her, someone else knew she was there, knew she was alive and cared enough to spend time with her.

She tried to clear her head and her emotions. That was one thing she was looking forward to losing after having the baby. She hated feeling like she was PMSing all the time, emotions and feelings every which way, hitting every end of the spectrum and back again. During her periods PMS hadn't been bad, but if anything at all had been bothering her, or if she were excited about something, watch out world! Being pregnant made that ten times worse.

Angrily shoving everything into the wicker basket, she whimpered in frustration once she realized that she had just buried her badge, keys, and sunglasses. Throwing all the new clothing out, she tossed the items onto the comforter, then re-stuffed the wicker basket, and headed downstairs to the washer and dryer. On autopilot, she grabbed the cordless phone, clipping it to her pocket on the way down to the unfinished basement, who's main purpose was to house the pipes, washer and dryer, and the bugs.

The bare bulb came to life with a tug on the chain, illuminating the cool gray of the cement. Willow hated going down there, the bareness reminding her of a terrifying moment in her childhood. Her parents, when they were still together, had moved into a ranch-style house in Denver, the basement unfinished, but the walls had already been framed, turning the dungeon into a spider web maze of two by fours. A four year old Willow had been instructed to go downstairs and grab a piece of luggage that was kept with its mates in the angular alcove created beneath the bare, wooden stairs.

The smell of naked wood and moldy cement meet my nose, making me wrinkle it all up, screwing my whole face up. My saddle shoes make little hollow sounds on each step, my weight too slight to really make them creak. I follow the wall, mostly smooth until the rough seams scrape my palm, the first one makes me jump in surprise. Gathering my strength with a deep breath, I continue down into the abyss.

I asked my mom for a light or something so I can see going down, as the light switch at the top of the stairs doesn't work. She said I was fine, and to get on down there, and not to be such a baby. I swallow my tears back, my eyes stinging with fear, but I do as she asks.

I finally reach the bottom of the stairs, and start to feel around for the naked wall switch mom told me was there. I don't feel it, my panic beginning to grow as the purest darkness I've ever known engulfs me, swallowing me whole

My breathing echoes in my own ears, rising with each blind second, the skin of my palms and fingers being eaten up by more rough seams, and then a splinter from part of the framing. I cry out, which turns into a whimper as I swear I hear a monster in the pitch black, come to gobble me up.

"Mommy!" I cry, frantic now to find that light switch. I can hear her music upstairs, and know she can't hear my cries, and would never know that monster had killed me. "Mommy!" I cry again, louder, crying out as I back into something, swirling, hands in front of me, hands latching not onto a slimy, scaly hand, but framing. Relieved for a heartbeat, I hear something deeper into the room, making me swirl again, desperately trying to see through the sea of ink.

My heart is about to beat out of my chest, shivers constantly passing through me in waves, my eyes as wide and dilated as possible, almost painfully so.

I begin to plow my way through, my fear driving me forward, trying to find that light, that precious little light that peeks down from the open basement door. I hear constant whimpers and cries, and it's not until later I realize they're mine. Right now all they're doing is propelling me to get out, those sounds catching up to me, getting closer, the monster getting closer.

I trip over something, hitting my chin, which clicks my teeth painfully together. Something wet and gooey is on my face, but I don't care. I realize I've found the stairs again, and scramble up them into the world of light.

"Mommy!" I cry, spotting her in the dining room, wiping smudge marks from the glass front of the china cabinet.

"What?" she says, turning. Her eyes get as big as mine were as I fling myself into her arms, my heart only now able to calm. It's also then that I feel the pain in my jaw. "What happened? What did you do? Where is the bag I asked you to get?"

Willow brought a finger up, tracing the tiny, almost unperceivable scar at the very roundest part of her chin.

The whole things was laughable now, twenty-four years later, but it had been terrifying at the time, and had scarred more than her chin.

Shaking the memory away, not wanting the oppressive grayness to close in on her now, she began to sort the clothing in the basket, which she'd set on the folding table next to the dryer, creating little piles on the cement floor.

Kevin had promised two years ago to finish the basement for her, but had never gotten around to it. Her grandparents hadn't done it years before as Willow's grandmother used it as a root cellar. She smiled at the shelving that lined every wall in the large basement, some still holding large, sealed Mason jars of god only knew what.

Her smile grew even wider, remembering those summers spent out there at the ranch, helping her can all the peaches and plumbs, then tomatoes and pickles. Her grandmother would pull out her massive pressure cooker pan, the stainless steel polished to a shine.

For the first couple years after Willow and Kevin had taken the ranch over, she had canned tomatoes and peaches to make her grandmother's famous peach jelly, but after awhile, she hadn't had the time anymore. Maybe it was time to take it up again.

Willow poured in the measured cup of Tide, then tossed the cup in with the whites, the lid slamming shut as she turned the dial to the correct setting, and pulled it out, the machine roaring to life as it filled with warm water.

Glad to be finished, Willow hurried up the stairs, the hair standing on the back of her neck as it always did when she nearly ran up those wooden stairs, a shiver of relief passing through her as she stepped out of the basement door, ending up in the kitchen. She always felt foolish afterward, but it happened nonetheless.

Well, … Willow looked around the well-lit room, even as the sun was beginning to break the horizon, hands on hips, what now? Deciding breakfast might be a good place to start, she headed over to the fridge, checking to see what she had, and out of that list, what actually sounded good.

Eggs, waffles, leftover spaghetti. With a sigh, the nurse grabbed a peach, and slammed the door home with her hip. Rinsing the piece of fruit off in the sink, she glanced out the window, watching as the new day spread its light over the miles and miles of empty space surrounding her. It was such a lonely time to own a ranch.


Christine paced, waiting, hands tucked into the pockets of her cords. She looked at the same blocks of soundproofing, same kit of drums, red, banded in chrome.

The dark room was becoming monotonous as the minutes bled into a half an hour, and finally after three of those, the inner doors of the studio opened, preceded by the laughing and hooting of her band mates. The great thing about power was that Christine was able to get her own band mates on the album with her; California wasn't often fond of this practice, and usually insisted on hired musicians for studio sessions.

"Hey, girl," Joey gushed, grabbing the singer up in a massive bear hug that left her ribs aching. After similar greetings by all the boys, Christine decided it was time to get down to business.

"Okay, guys, settle down. I need to talk to you." She leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, watching as her beloved friends got settled.

"What's up?" Eli asked, lightly tapping his sticks on a denim clad thigh.

"Well," Christine sighed. "I've got good news and I've got bad news. This time around I'll give you the good news first. You'll notice behind me, gentleman, that there is someone missing from the engineer's booth," she hiked a thumb toward the huge glass window behind and to the right of her. On the other side two men sat talking, their mouths' movement the only indication that they were even chatting, as all microphones were turned off at Christine's request. She needed some privacy for this. "Only Ronny and Evan," she grinned, which slowly turned to a smirk as realization dawned on her boys.

"Fucking A, did you get rid of that mother fucker?" Davies asked.

"Robert Knowles was fired, yes."

"Woohoo!" Joey yelled, pumping his fist in the air. "About time."

"Yes, yes, I know. Okay, now for the bad news." Christine made eye contact with each of the men, making sure she had their full and undivided attention. "As you guys know, this album is the last one we need to complete to fulfill our contract," she paused again, once again scanning her band mates. "After we finish recording this today, then do all the touring shit, I'm retiring."

Christine wasn't surprised at the uproar that ensued after that revelation. She stayed quiet, letting the worst of the storm pass. She eyed Joey as he stood from his perch on a stool, walked over to her. He said nothing at first, leaning his shoulder against the wall, looking down at the floor, chewing on his bottom lip in thought. Finally he cleared his throat and looked at her profile.

"Why are you doing this, Chris?" his question was soft, though the hurt was evident. She met his gaze, blonde brows drawn in concern and confusion.

"You know, Joey, there comes a point when your heart just isn't in it anymore. Yeah, I've had a great go, broken attendance records, been on Leno, Letterman, all that shit. Won the awards and accolades, but when it all boils down to it, I made music for me, not for them," she waved her hand to indicate unseen fans. "My heart isn't in this anymore, Joe."

He stared at her, reading her, trying to understand. Finally he nodded with a sigh. "I think I've seen this coming." He began to pick at a thumbnail. "Shit, the events of Oklahoma City almost a year ago should have been the first clue, huh?" he smiled, though it was weak.

"Yeah. I think so, too." She returned his smile, but it faded quickly. "I'm sorry, Jo-Jo. I'd never do anything to hurt you, but ultimately my apathy would have hurt the band, anyway."

"Yeah. I know. It's just hard to hear. An era coming to an end," he shook his head. "Just real hard to swallow."

"I know, Joey. I know." She took the guitarist in a quick, but tight hug.


Eli and Davies refused to speak to Christine once the session was complete, the album cut, instruments put away and loaded into Eli's van.

Christine was saddened by this, but mainly she was overtaken by the myriad of feelings and emotions washing through her as she sat in L.A.'s crazy traffic. She felt a combination of elation and profound sadness. Everything she had worked so hard for, dedicating almost twenty of her thirty-two years on, gone, finished, with the snap of her decisive fingers.

She had no doubt it was the right decision, and had no regrets, but was just astonished that the time had gone so quickly. It seemed just yesterday she'd been a kid on the streets back in Queens, just praying to find a fiver on the street to get some breakfast. Now her only limits were her own boredom and discontentment.

Christine knew that once the press got wind of her retirement, they'd tie it to the recent scandal started by Knowles. So she'd look like she was running. It just didn't matter anymore. She was tired of living her life in the public eye, doing what worked best for them, and not what she herself needed to do.

"Fuck 'em," she muttered.


Sighing in frustration, Willow bared her teeth as she growled, tugging on the ends of the shirt, trying to bring them together to button the darn thing.

"You fit two weeks ago," she hissed, finally giving up as she heard the strain being put on the seams. "Dang it," she looked down at herself, the burgundy shirt hanging limp, exposing her very exaggerated breasts held up in the white, satin bra, her beginning pooch making her pants slightly uncomfortable. "Have to go to the dang fat store," she pouted, not liking this at all. Stalking over to the closet, she shed the button up, re-hanging it and grabbing a loose-fitting long-sleeve cotton tee.

Walking back over to the mirror, Willow turned this way and that, studying her profile as well as full on, and her posterior, shocked.

"My god," she murmured. Her misery was cut short by the ringing of the phone.

"Hey, you coming or not?" Rachel said on the other end, irritation marking her voice.

"Yes, I'm sorry. I can't find a darn thing to wear!"

"What! In the two closets you have, filled to the brim? You're only coming over here, Wills. It's not like you need to dress for a friggn' cocktail party."

"No, it's not that," Willow plopped down on the end of the bed. "I look like a damn Barbie doll. Everything is extremely out of proportion."

"Oh, you mean cause your breasts are huge now?" the redhead chuckled at the moan that got. "Come on, Willow. It's all part of it. You look beautiful."

"I look like a hooker!" The blonde threw herself backward, hand covering her face, other one holding the cordless to her ear. She grimaced at the laugh on the other end of the line.

"Hey, most women would kill for breasts like yours, even before you were preggars. Enjoy it while it lasts. From what I hear, it's all down hill from here." She winced at the loud cry that filled her head. Oops. Getting serious, Rachel softened her voice. "Willow, I'm sorry, honey. I was only teasing. You are a beautiful woman, and having that baby inside you has made you even more so."

"Really?" Willow said hopefully, uncovering her eyes.

"Yes, really. I wouldn't lie to you about this. You have nothing to worry about. You're one of those damn women I hate who look good no matter what they're wearing, or what they're going through. You have to believe that."

"I don't, Rachel. I feel like the ugliest, dumpiest woman to walk the earth." Willow sat up, running a hand across her ever seeping eyes.

"I know, and I could kill Kevin for doing this to you. But you know I think you're gorgeous, and always have. Heck, even Connor has mentioned it."

"You're so full of crap."

"No, really. Honestly. I had to smack him for staring at your breasts."

"Well, that's not surprising since they're the size of basketballs." Willow stood, tucking the phone into her neck as she fastened her watch and slid on the couple rings she wore. She smiled at the chuckle she got.

"No, you liar. Come on. Connor is going to be putting steaks on in a few minutes."

"Okay. Why are you guys barbequing in the middle of October?"

"Because my honey is a dork."

"Ah, okay. See you soon." Willow ended the call and lightly misted on her perfume before grabbing her keys and heavy jacket. It had been cold and windy all day, and she knew by time she got home that night, it would be even worse.

The drive was slow, the wind even blowing Willow's two ton all over the road. She grasped the wheel with both hands, fingers tightly wrapped around the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Easing onto the main road that would get her to Rachel's, she braked, looking over her shoulder, creeping forward as a big rig rushed by, whipping the truck even more into a rocking frenzy. Following in its wake, she merged.

As another car roared by, a chirping filled the cab of the truck. Glancing at her cell phone, which rested in a drink holder in the console, she tried to see who the caller was. Probably Rachel, yet again, wondering where the hell she was. Shocked to see the California area code, she almost roamed into the car in the other lane as she grabbed for the phone.

"Sorry!" she hollered out as the car blared its horn. Straightening her wheel, she used her chin to open the flip phone. "Hi!" Willow grinned from ear to ear at the chuckle that received.

"Hi, yourself. How are you?"

"I'm doing fine. But you know, there's this friend I have, she's kind of been AWOL. Think you can help me find her?"

"I know, I know. I'm sorry. I've only had time to write those few emails. Forgive me?"

"Hmm, well," Willow pretended to think, drawing out the angst, "okay." She grinned at her own silliness. "How has the touring circuit been? Had anymore bras thrown at you?"

"Oh god," Willow just knew those amazing eyes were rolling. "Crazy people, I tell you."

"Oh yes, I'm sure it's horrible to be so loved and adored. Please, please, what can I do to help."

Christine laughed at the sarcasm in her friend's voice. "Yes, I know. It's a hard life, but alas, I've decided to end it."

"What!" Willow pulled off the side of the road to avoid crashing into the sign post ahead.

"The tour life, Willow. Just the tour life," Christine's voice was soft, understanding. Willow put a trembling hand to her head, sighing deeply. "I didn't mean to scare you, hon." The singer knew how easy it was to upset the pregnant blonde, and often times felt like she were walking on eggshells. She tried to be as understanding as possible. It wasn't always easy.

"God, I don't know, guess I just had a flashback or something." Taking several shaky breaths, she laughed at herself. "That was pretty silly. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. That was a scary night. I should have worded it differently."

"Wait a second," Willow's mind finally began to catch up to the news. "You're not going to tour anymore?" She rested her elbow on the window ledge, brows drawn in concern.

"Yeah. We made our final album as Twilight, Willow." Christine looked out the window of her hotel room, seeing the city lights of Miami below her. "I've had it. I'm retiring."

"Oh, Christine," Willow reached up, brushing her fingers across the smooth surface of the tiny phone, almost in surrogate to caressing her friend's hand. "I don't doubt your wisdom in this, as only you know what's best. But I do hope it works out how you want it to."

"Thank you, Willow." Christine walked over to the bed, laying herself down, curled up on her side, curled around Willow's voice. "Can you get a few days off around the weekend of November tenth through the twelfth?"

"I imagine so. Why?"

"Well," Christine groaned as she turned onto her back, stretching out her long legs, free hand playing with the material of her thin, ribbed sweater. "we're going to be in your neck of the woods, Houston. I'd like you to come."

"See you in concert?" Willow maneuvered the truck back onto the road, already seeing a mental picture of Rachel glaring at her with tapping toe.

"Well, kind of. I was thinking actually that you could tour around Texas with us. We'll only be in the Lone star State for the weekend, so," her voice trailed off, hoping the blonde would say yes.


"Fantastic!" Grinning from ear to ear, Christine gave Willow a sketchy itinerary, promising more solid details as they became available.

"I'm so excited!" Willow gushed, also grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes she worried her grin would one day become irreversible.

"So how are you doing? How's little you?" Christine asked, trying to imagine if her friend would be showing yet or not.

"Oh god," Willow blew out in exasperation. "My boobs are the size of a damn house."

"Wow. That must make life interesting," the singer smirked.

"You have no idea. It sucks."

"Well, I can't wait to see you." Christine paused, deciding if she should say the next part. "I miss you, Willow."

The blonde noted the way the singer's voice had softened, and it put a warm place in her heart, and broad smile on her face. "I miss you, too, Christine. And I can't wait to see you, either."

Christine blew out a relieved breath. "Well, I should go. Gotta get up early tomorrow for sound checks, and a tour of Miami. We've not hit this venue before. We usually skitter around Orlando, Daytona, that kind of thing."

"Well, happy dreams to you, and I hope you enjoy your tour. Pick me up something cool, will you? I've never been to Florida at all."

"You got it. Goodnight, Willow. Keep you and little you safe, okay?"

"Will do. Goodnight." With a sigh, mixed content happiness and sadness to say goodbye, Willow replaced the phone into the drink holder, and hummed the rest of the way to Rachel's house.


Christine paced, hands clasped behind her back. She felt ridiculous, but she was anxious. She only wished she'd had time to fly out and pick Willow up herself. Rush, rush, rush. That was life on a tour. Very little time to herself, save for the middle of the night, when she was so keyed up from the show; thoughts rattled around her brain- had she sounded good? Had she looked good? Was she entertaining enough?

It never ended until the day she stepped through her own door in Beverly Hills.

They had played at the Astro Dome the night before, and it had been amazing. Christine had watched countless football games played there. Never did she think she'd be playing there, too.

Keyed up from the show, from lack of sleep and food. But mostly she was keyed up with excitement.

"Yo, I've been calling you for five goddamn minutes!" Taylor Hammond yelled out.

"What? I'm sorry. What, Taylor?" Snapped out of her reverie, Christine turned toward her red-faced road manager.

"I asked if you wanted to put that last song in tonight or not."

"Oh, sorry. Uh, yeah. I do." She was momentarily angry at herself for her indecisiveness. It had only been in the past year that she'd begun to question Bob's plans for the tours, and even less time since she'd actually taken the plunge and played what she wanted to. Now, with Bob gone, it was a hard habit to break, deciding for herself, expecting Knowles to come screaming at her from the wings at what a stupid idea she had. She craved the creative freedom, but had as yet to get used to it.

"Good. It was a huge hit at the Dome." The short, balding man turned, cupping the side of his mouth with his hand. "Cue up the lights for that number, Roger!" he yelled up at the lighting engineer, who was in the very back of the large auditorium. A light flickered briefly to let Taylor know his order had been heard and followed.

Christine soon grew bored with the light show that she'd been part of every night for the past three months. Instead she resumed her pacing.

"I'm wondering how many more steps it'll take before you fall right through, and onto your head."

Pacing stopping abruptly, booted toe skidding over the time-slicked wood of the apron of the stage. Christine brought a hand up to try and see into the darkened house, stage lights blinding.

Out of the darkness came a small, smiling blonde, overnight bag held in one hand, the other holding a Mason jar.

Wide-eyed like a little kid, Christine hopped down from the apron, running past the few rows of folding, padded chairs until she reached her friend, grabbing her in a crushing embrace. Willow almost dropped her grandmother's prized peach jam in the exuberant show of affection, but she didn't mind.

"You look wonderful!" Christine gushed, finally holding the blonde at arms' length. "How was your flight? Did little you do okay?" her gaze flickered to the slightest pooch in Willow's shirt, then she met amused green eyes again. "What?"

"Nothing." Willow felt warm, not only by the stage lights, but also by the caring and genuine concern from the remarkable woman who still looked at her with suspicious eyes. "The flight was fine. I mean, how bad can it be on a private jet?" she raised a brow accusingly. Christine looked down sheepishly.

"Yeah, well, if you think I'm going to let you fly here coach, you're out of your tree."

"I'm already out of my tree. But, nonetheless, little me, as you insist on calling her, is doing just fine. And here," she raised the hand that held the Mason jar. "my grandmother says hello."

Christine took the jam, chuckling at the thoughtfulness of a woman she'd never met. "This better be as good as you say," she warned, replete with waggling finger.

"Oh, you have no idea what you're in for. I'm going to make you French toast, grandma's recipe, and then you," said with a poke to Christine's chest, "are going to absolutely smother it with this, and then you'll know what Heaven on earth is."

"What?" The singer looked at her like she'd lost her mind. "What the hell does peach jam and French toast have in common? A match made in Heaven, this is not."

"Don't knock it until you've tried it, woman."

Christine knew better than to argue with the little blonde, so she nodded like the good little girl, and hugged her friend with one arm, then led her toward the stage.

"So this is where you'll perform tonight?" Willow asked, taking in the giant screen being installed behind where the drum kit platform was being constructed. Two men shouted instructions back and forth across it's impressive breadth, tweaking here and there, making sure the screen was secure and operable.

"Sure is." Christine also took in her surroundings, seeing it through the new eyes of Willow. It really was quite impressive. She turned to see the blonde grinning up at her. "What?"

"I so excited to see the show," Willow said, her chest about to burst with pride.

"Glad to hear it. So, ready to get settled? I'm going to be stuck here for awhile, so how about you head to the hotel, get comfortable, and I'll see you later?"

"Sounds great."

Chuck Maggio glanced into his rearview mirror for the third time in as many traffic lights. His passenger, an entire car-length back, was a hottie to be sure. She had the best set of tits he'd seen in awhile, and curves to match. He could imagine gathering a handful of that blonde hair as he took her from behind.

Dark eyes focusing on the road again, not wanting to wreck the limo again. Frank would kick his ass. Besides, he was working for Christine Gray this weekend, and wanted a good tip. Who was this little piece of hair pie to the singer, anyway? Chuck had heard all the rumors, hell, who hadn't? Maybe this chick was her lover or something.

He glanced at his passenger again. Shaking his head, he focused on the street again. What a waste.

"Miss," Chuck extended his hand to help the little blonde out of the back of the limo. All professionalism in place, he couldn't help letting his eyes wander behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses.

"Thank you," Willow smiled, getting out of the long car.

"May I take that for you, ma'am?" the driver indicated the bag she held.

"No, I'm fine, thanks." Willow was amazed at how kind and polite the driver was.

"Enjoy your night, ma'am," tipping his hat, Chuck turned to head back to the driver's side of the car, watching the blonde's ass in the side mirror as she headed toward the posh Hilton.

Willow hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, smiling at the doorman who opened the heavy, glass door for her.

"Excuse me,"

Chuck Maggio hesitated, hand on the polished door handle. He looked over his shoulder to see a man hurrying over to him.

"What do you want, buddy? I got a schedule to keep." Chuck leaned against the car, suited arms crossing over his chest. The man, breathless from the exertion, finally reached the chauffeur.

"Ya'll the driver for Mizz Christine Gray?" the man asked, southern Texas accent riding Maggio's nerves.

"Yeah. What of it?"

"Well, my name is David Sumter. Ya see, sir, my employah wants a story on Mizz Gray, in this fine city of ours."

"And who would your employer be, Mr. Sumter?" Chuck asked, already having an inkling of what he was dealing with.

"Well, let us say my employah is willing to pay for good information for our readers."

"Oh yeah?" Chuck was listening now.

"Oh, yeah."

The driver pushed off the side of the car, opening the door at the back of the stretch. "Get in. We'll talk."

"Yes, sir!"


Willow was stunned, mouth hanging open as she stood in the main room, which the bell boy informed her was the living area, of the hotel suite she'd be sharing with Christine.

The living area was almost as large as the entire first floor of Willow's house back in Oklahoma. The decorating was beautiful, though not gaudy or ostentatious, though the sheer size handled that one all on its own.

There were three bathrooms on the main floor, as well as a kitchen replete with stocked pantry, and large, beautifully appointed dining room. Upstairs were two bedrooms, both the size of large apartments. It was easy to figure out which one was to be Willow's.

She sat on the bed, huge bouquet of flowers in her lap. Plucking the card from the clear plastic pitchfork, she tugged it out of its tiny envelope.


Welcome, and I hope you like the rooms. Please feel free to use the entire suite, and don't hesitate to ask for anything.

I'm glad you came.


Touched by the gesture, Willow stood, setting the fragrant gift onto a nearby table, where she'd be able to see and smell it everyday.

Quickly getting settled in, Willow explored the beautiful hotel.


The night was filled with the intense beat and rhythm of Twilight, in unbeknownst to the audience, their final concert tour, and third to last concert.

Willow sat in the wings, Christine giving her the option of sitting in the front row with the raving fans, or having her very own personal seat, basically on stage.

Blonde hair flew into her eyes over and over again as she jammed with the other thousands of people filling the auditorium. She had heard the music hundreds of times before, and still, the words and tunes filled her with a joy that no other artist had ever been able to instill in her.

Willow opened her eyes, calming the jam session, and peeked out into the darkened house. Hundreds of lighters began to flick on as the stage lights went down, and Christine was reduced to smoke backed by purple light.


The music started, slow and sure, getting the listener ready, making them crave the unbelievable voice of their hero, object of lust or simply a new experience. Christine fed that lust, her voice, smooth and sure as silk, filling the microphone.

Willow watched, leaning forward in the most comfortable arm chair she'd ever had the privilege of planting her butt in, taken directly fro Christine's dressing room.

Finally giving in, she sat back, closing her eyes, head leaning back against the cushioned back, allowing that voice to fill her, reaching in and touching her deepest, most vulnerable places. It wasn't long before she felt the tickling wetness at the corner of her eyes, emotion threatening to escape; all she need do is blink or open her green eyes.

Amazing. How can one person, one human being, mortal as anyone else, reaching inside so many and take control of something so personal as emotion and feeling. But even without seeing it with her own eyes, Willow knew that everyone in that auditorium was experiencing the same things, the music traveling into the same places, causing he same effect. Yes, everyone handled things differently, and more than likely not everyone was sitting there crying as Willow was, but they felt it.

The blonde opened her eyes, her lashes kicking those errant tears down her cheeks, but she didn't care. She looked at the cause of that precious emotion, seeing Christine at center stage, sitting on a stool, one booted foot on the stage itself, while the heel of the other boot was hooked onto the bottom rung of the stool. She held the microphone, free from its stand, in her left hand, her right resting casually on her leather-clad thigh.

At that moment, those beautiful blue eyes were closed, fingers of her right hand tapping softly to the beat.

Willow studied the singer's profile, the perfect lines, the way the purple light caught the flyaway hairs that the static from the microphone and electronic equipment caused, giving Christine a halo, the light from above bringing her radiance through.

The response from the audience, and from herself, the knowledge that Christine had touched every person in that room, that they'd go home talking about the amazing concert they'd just attended or the way that they'd make their friends go out and buy a Christine Gray CD just because of how much their friend had gushed, and now their own curiosity was piqued. The way that, no matter how small, everyone had been changed from this moment, a memory formed of thousands of fans united for a single moment, everyone in the same place, thinking and feeling the same things.

Willow had never felt prouder to know anyone in her entire life. A series of chills spread through her body, bringing a smile to her lips and peace to her heart. She was grateful to have such an amazing person in her life, and would do everything in her power to make sure she stayed that way.


"Hey, you. Wakey, wakey,"

Willow blinked, trying to figure out where she was, and who was rubbing her arm. Looking up, she was almost blinded by the stage lights, all up now, and very bright.

Blinking rapidly again, she looked away. "Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty." Christine smiled, kneeling down to her haunches next to the chair Willow had herself sprawled out in. The blonde would die if she knew just how unlady like she looked in that moment.

"God, I had no idea I'd fallen asleep," Willow mumbled, pulling herself up into a sitting position. "That was an amazing concert, Christine."

"Hmm, I must say I'm not entirely convinced you saw it," the singer teased, standing as her friend tried to stand, only to fall back into the cloud-like cushion of her chair. Green eyes glared up at her. "Come on. We're done here with taking everything down, and the boys are loading the trucks and buses." Making sure the blonde was steady, she let her go. "I think there's a bed with your name on it back at the hotel."

"Mm, that sounds wonderful."

The two women headed down the main aisle of the theater, through the double doors, and out into the late Houston night. Cars everywhere, thousands of people trying to get out at the same time, though the majority of the crowd was gone, and it was now safe for Christine and her band to leave.

The limo was waiting, and Willow recognized the man from earlier waiting for them, door open, the darkness of the car inviting. The driver smiled and nodded at them, both smiling in return.

"So, you really liked it?" Christine asked, once they'd gotten settled. Willow glanced at her, surprised, to see a twinge of uncertainty in her blue eyes.

"Yes. It was the best concert I've ever been to. Really. Truly amazing. And I loved that new stuff you threw in at the end."

"Thank you," the singer smiled with pride as she looked out her window, the city lights passing in record time. She looked at the cars around them, next to them, passing them. As a kid she used to see limos pass through the city all the time, and always wondered who sat behind those dark windows, which celebrity or person of power. Now, from the looks she got, she knew others were thinking the same thing, and it made her smile.

"I've been working on that new stuff for awhile, wanting to bring it into the act, but Bob would never let me," she explained.

"Well, I think he was a fool. It's wonderful."

"Thank you, Willow," Christine said, her voice soft as she looked at her friend, who looked so tired. She reached over, gently brushing a strand of blonde hair away from Willow's cheek, tucking it behind her ear. "Your hair has really grown.," she said absently. She was never aware of the pair of eyes watching the gesture from the rearview mirror.

"Yeah," Willow said, nodding, then laying her head back against eh leather headrest. "I can't keep it under control," she smiled drowsily. "My doctor warned me of that, which sucks, you see, as my hair grows ridiculously fast, anyway. All those out of control hormones, plus the vitamins I've been scarfing down."

"No doubt. Thanks for coming."

"You're most welcome. Thanks for inviting me."

"You're most welcome."


Willow started again, turning over with a heavy sigh, then turned back to her other side, attempting to roll on her back, when her eyes flew open. What the hell was that?

Sitting up, she listened. Not hearing anything, she was about to flop back into the mattress again, but stopped, a wisp of noise rising to her, like smoke through a crack.

Feet firmly hitting the thick carpet, she shrugged into a sweatshirt and mesh shorts, then padded out to the sitting room of her suite within a suite, pressing her ear to the door. Sure enough- music.

Lights blazed downstairs, along with conversation, laughing and the smell of smoke, and it wasn't all cigarette.

Eyes wide, Willow took in Christine's band members in various states of undress, girls everywhere, crushed beer cans scattered across any surface that would stay still, as well as bottles, some empty, some full, most in some level of being drank, in most hands, on the floor, bar, and on the floor.

What got the blonde the most was the glass table at the center of activity, a mirror, maybe two feet by one foot on one corner, and the remnants of lines on its reflective surface, as well as a razor.

Willow felt sick, her stomach revolting at the scene before her. Especially when she saw Joey in the corner, pinching his nose and sniffing several times, a gorgeous, half-naked blonde on her knees before him, happily licking away at the head of his penis.

"Where's Christine?" Willow asked, to know one in particular. Someone answered, the singer was last seen on the balcony. An absent thank you, and the blonde headed in that direction, numb, feeling as though she were walking through gauze in a dream world.

Seeing that the doors were partially open, she stumbled her way over to them, feeling the cool, early morning breeze coming in.

Christine stood at the railing, brown glass bottle held by the neck between her thumb and forefinger. She was leaning on her elbows, overlooking downtown.

Willow felt her nausea return as she saw that bottle, a small lineup of empty bottles just like it lined up on the railing next to her.

"I can't believe you're doing this," she whispered, her shock steeling her voice. The singer slowly turned her head, looking at her guest over her shoulder.

"Doing what? Why are you up?" Whole body turning, Christine leaned her back where her elbows had just been, bottle dangling next to her thigh.

"Because of that!" the blonde hissed, pointing back toward the party. "I can't believe you," she shook her head, accusation written all over her features.

"What have I done?" Christine asked, taking a tentative step toward her friend. "I'm sorry the boys woke-"

"Yeah, I bet you're sorry they woke me," Willow's anger built with every word. She snatched the bottle out of the singer's hand. "How can you go back to this stuff?" She walked over to the large potted tree standing at attention next tot eh balcony doors. She watched as the liquid fizzed as it was poured into the rich, dark soil, then tossed the bottle off the balcony.

Christine watched with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. "You just poured out my A&W," she hurried over to the railing, watching as the glass bottle exploded in the courtyard dozens of stories below.

"What?" Thrown by the pronouncement, Willow walked over to the railing, grabbing one of the empty bottles.

"My goddamn root beer," Christine said, the annoyance starting to gain an edge over the amusement. Turning the bottle in her fingers, Willow saw that it was, in fact, A&W root beer. She looked up into narrowed blue eyes.

"I-" Willow cut herself off, feeling ridiculous, but then remembered what she'd seen in the suite. She couldn't shake the image of the cocaine spread out on that mirror on the table. Bringing the bottle to her nose, she took a deep whiff.

"I see," Christine said, her voice dry as she turned toward the balcony doors.

"What am I supposed to think?" Willow asked, relieved to just smell the sweetness of the soda. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Christine?" she hissed, "letting those guys do that, well, that shit in your hotel room!"

The singer whirled on her friend, eyes blazing. "No, I don't do that shit anymore, Willow. No, I don't like it, and no, they're not children. I can't control what they do, but at least they're not out there being stupid in a dangerous environment where they could get hurt, arrested, or recognized," her voice was a low, dangerous purr. "I didn't bring you along as a chaperone, Willow. You'd be wise to remember that." And with that, Christine was gone.

Willow stood there, alone on the balcony, frozen to the spot. The anger and hurt had been so painfully obvious in Christine's voice, her eyes like lasers, burning into the blonde's soul.

Sighing heavily, Willow made her way back into the suite. Christine was nowhere to be seen, and the blonde decided it was best to not look for her. She'd done enough for one night, so instead headed back up to her rooms.


Christine nodded at the doorman, shivering as she came out of the November chill. It may be Texas, but winter hits there, too.

Hitting the button that would take her to her floor, she waited for the elevator doors to slide open, staring at her reflection in the highly polished stainless steel of the outer doors. She had escaped her suite in what she'd had on- jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Her hair was less than perfect, the tennis shoe on her right foot untied.

As she knelt down to tie it, she thought of what had driven her from her own rooms to begin with.

When the knock had come on her suite door, Christine knew who it was, and what they wanted. The boys didn't have a suite, each only having a room, which were nothing to sneeze at in their own right. But it wasn't good enough to party in. They'd brought their booze, drugs and women to her door, wanting her to join in the fun, but she'd refused. Joey, figuring this would be the case, raised a six pack of her favorite, and asked to come in.

It had been at that point that Christine had hidden out on the balcony, knowing full well she wouldn't be able to sleep upstairs, knowing what was going on downstairs. Popping the top of her first A&W, she'd taken a satisfying swig, and then had taken a seat on the wrought iron balcony furniture, putting her feet up on the railing and taken in the sights of the city around her.

She'd let her mind wander, not really thinking of anything in particular. Replaying the performance, things she would have done differently, things that had gone better than she'd hoped or thought. She'd also thought of her friend, and how cute she'd looked, asleep in that big chair, mouth slightly hanging open.

Never had she thought the blonde would awaken to the debauchery that was their hotel suite. Never did she think Willow would even know. She didn't want her to see it, or know that the boys even did that sort of thing. But alas, wasn't to be.

Christine knew that Willow was right in her accusations and anger. If their suite were to be raided, they'd all go to jail, and it would be a disaster. But at the same time, Willow's opinion meant the world to Christine, especially after the way they'd met, and the condition the nurse had seen her in, on the worse night of the singer's life. To hear what Willow thought, to see the disappointment in her eyes and hear it in her voice … It had been more than Christine could bear. The kicker, though, had been when Willow hadn't believed the innocence of Christine's beverage of choice, and had smelled for traces of alcohol.

The elevator dinged, then the doors slid open, revealing an empty car, save for the elevator operator. He smiled at her, then pushed the right buttons for her floor.

Christine had worked so hard to beat her addictions and stay clean in a world where it was everywhere, offered by everyone. In the entertainment business, you were more likely to be offered a nose full of blow than a glass of water. She had declined, she had managed to stay strong and not give in to a habit she'd had most of her life.

The singer sighed heavily, glad when they hit her floor, and she was allowed to escape the presence of the unobtrusive elevator operator. Sometimes she hated that in the nicer hotels. Her short few moments in an elevator were often her only minutes alone.

Making her way down the hall, she pulled out her keycard, glad to hear the silence on the other side of the door to her suite.

All the lights were still on, but the music was off, and the drugs, and any trace of such, were gone. But by the looks of everything else, there would be another interesting story about Christine Gray's partying habits.

Making her way up the stairs, Christine rubbed her eyes, the rising sun outside making her realize just how long she'd been up, and just how exhausted she really was.

Heading down the hall that would take her to her own rooms, she stopped, seeing the closed door of Willow's. Glancing down at the polished doorknob, the reflection of her hand distorted as she reached for it.

The room was dark and quiet, the door leading to the actual bedroom open, light just barely making its way in through the sheer curtains.

Willow was laying on her side, back to the room, curled up around the second pillow on the king-sized bed. Her eyes were closed, breathing even and calm. She stared down at her, a soft smile forming without her even realizing it.

Debating for a couple minutes, finally Christine sat on the edge of the bed, trying to take up as little space as possible. She watched her friend for a couple more minutes, then reached out, brushing ever errant strands of hair from Willow's beautiful face.

"Willow?" she whispered, petting the blonde's thick hair. "Wake up,"

Being slowly pulled from the land of sleep, Willow's eyes fluttered open, then closed again with a soft sigh as she reveled in the touch. She turned to her back, looking at her friend, perched on the edge of her bed.

"You okay?" she murmured. Christine nodded.

"Yeah. Well, no."

Blonde brows narrowed. "What's wrong?" She was about to sit up, but felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, keeping her down.

"Shh, everything's okay. I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry."

"Sorry? For what?"

"For going off on you like that. For making you witness all that. I really didn't want you to see that," Christine said, feeling like an ass even as she said it.

"No," Willow shook her head, turning to her other side to face the singer. She caught the hand that had been in her hair, hugging it to her, tucked under her chin. "I'm not your mother, you're right. I had no right to say any of those things, or treat you that way. You and the guys-"

"It wasn't me. Hell, I just wanted to go to bed," she smiled ruefully, looking down at her other hand that rested on her leg. "I shouldn't have allowed that to go on here. I put us both at risk. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Willow whispered, tugging on the arm that was attached to the hand she cradled. Christine looked at her, brows drawn. "Lay down with me. You look so tired."

Not needing another invitation, Christine laid herself down, back to the blonde. She smiled as she felt a warm body curl up against hers, the covers being brought up over both their bodies. She closed her eyes.



"I'm proud of you."

"For what?"

"For drinking root beer."

With a smile on her lips, Christine fell asleep.


Return to the Academy