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"So, I'm thinking we're going to enjoy our day with Aunt Rachel, not talk about anything but you, and just have a good time. What do you think?" Emma blew raspberries as Willow carried her down the stairs, making the young mother laugh. "Well said, little one."
The blonde carried the baby to the kitchen, fixing her a bottle. She knew she had to wean Emma from her breast, if she was still given breast milk, for when Emma had to go to the, gulp, babysitter.
Emma whined a bit, not sure about this whole bottle thing, but eventually her hunger outweighed the pout, and she began to suckle.
Sitting on the couch, Willow watched her daughter, who looked up at her, eyes the very same color as her mom's. Her heart warmed as Emma blindly grabbed Willow's pinky, all five fingers wrapping around it.
The doorbell chimed, and Willow carefully readjusted Emma in her arms so as not to disturb her eating, but would be able to unlock and open the door.
"I won't bring it up, won't bring it up. No reason to bring it up," she mumbled to herself, then pulled the door open. Rachel grinned from ear to ear, giving Willow a quick one-armed hug, then taking Emma from her arms. "Uh," the blonde said, stunned, "nice to see you, too."
Closing the door behind them, and locking it, she followed the redhead into the kitchen.
"What's with the locks? Am I a captive here, or what?" Sitting at the kitchen table, Rachel grinned down at the baby, running a single finger over impossibly soft skin, tiny fingers, little button nose, while holding the bottle with her other hand. Willow watched from the doorway, leaning in the arch, smiling.
"No, I just don't want some stupid reporter to do something, … well, … stupid," she explained softly.
"That really spooked you, huh?" Rachel asked, sparing a quick glance to her friend, who was walking over to the table, sat opposite her.
"I know it's silly, but yeah he did."
"It's not silly. Shoot, look at Princess Di. Those idiots have been known to do some crazy things. What is Christine going to do?"
Willow shrugged. "No idea. I'm she knows what to do. I mean, she's dealt with this crap for almost twenty years."
"I wonder what that's like," Rachel said absently, brushing her fingers over the silky soft hair. "Looks like her hair is going to be darker than both her mommy and daddy,"
"Yeah. But then my dad has real dark hair,"
"So are you driving Connor nuts yet?"
"What, for a baby?" Rachel smiled. "No. It's not the right time and I know that. Yeah, I'd love to have one, but for now I'll just have to steal yours."
Willow laughed. "I don't know who you'd have a harder time getting past- me or Christine,"
"Quite the little daddy, is she?" Rachel smirked.
Willow thought about it for a moment, and could see where Rachel would get that. Daddy figure. She looked away, feeling a steady flush rise up her neck and cheeks. Ever the eagle-eyed friend, Rachel raised a brow.
"Are you blushing, Willow?"
"Liar." Rachel's humor died when she sensed just how serious the blonde had become. Remaining silent, she didn't want to scare Willow away if she needed to talk.
Pretend it's nothing. It is nothing. You're fine, Christine's fine, the whole damn world is fine.
Inner turmoil came to a head when Willow felt a slight sting behind her eyes. Oh, no. She was not going to do that. Swallowing it down, she decided that she'd have to get it out one way or the other, via crying it out or talking it out. If she cried she knew she'd have to explain it anyway, so she prepared to speak.
"That night, the night Adam died, Christine was so devastated," she began softly, seeing the anguish in those beautiful blue eyes all over again.
"No doubt," Rachel agreed softly.
"She destroyed the phone, then went outside. She was out there a long time. Eventually I put Emma to bed, and went there myself, reading, trying to get my mind off things, worrying, all that."
Willow stood, grabbing the bag of coffee from the cabinet, full strength, no more of the puny stuff. Filling the basket and carafe, she stood at the counter, needing some space between she and Rachel as she told her story. She could feel blue eyes on her, and she ignored them.
"It got later, darker. I figured she'd gone somewhere, but her keys were still hanging by the door. I had no idea where she'd gone, but knew I shouldn't follow. You have no idea how hard that was for me," she chuckled, stealing a glance at her friend.
"I can imagine," Rachel laughed, rocking Emma to sleep, the baby having her fill of lunch.
"Anyway, so eventually she did come in. I listened. She checked on Emma, checked on me, then went to her own room. I followed."
Pushing off the counter, she sat, deciding that she needed to be as honest and open with Rachel as possible, and by keeping her distance, would seem like she had something to hide, or was perhaps ashamed.
"She was so upset," Willow whispered, seeing Christine standing by the window, looking like such a lost child. "It was hard to see. She's normally so stoic about things concerning herself. You know, she'll be so incredibly supportive of me, or I know she would be of Emma, so perceptive to what you need that it's almost like it's her own pain," she looked off into space for a moment, thinking back over the months she'd spent with the singer.
"She's an incredible lady," Rachel said softly, eyeing her friend. She had a feeling that something huge was about to be revealed, but had no idea what.
"Yes, she is." Willow's eyes met Rachel's for the first time since she had started the conversation. "She stood there, heartsick, though at that point I still had no idea what had happened." She stood again, hearing the coffee maker coming to life. She knew it would be a matter of moments before it was done.
Walking to the cabinet, she pulled out two mugs, got out the cream, sugar, anything to slow down time. Anything to stall what she had to say.
Rachel was feeling impatient, but remained silent all the same. She was sitting on pins and needles. It was almost like reading a book as someone wrote it, having to wait for that next chapter to be completed.
Sighing heavily, Willow filled two mugs, brought them and all the stuff they needed to the table. Getting settled once again, she continued, her voice quiet, dreamy.
"She needed me that night. She begged me not to leave her," she watched almost hypnotically as she stirred in French Vanilla cream, the thick liquid swirling around the cup. "Sh," Willow swallowed, "she needed someone to be there for her, to make her know it was okay, there was still life out there, I guess," gently laying the spoon aside, she cupped her mug, lazily blowing across the hot surface of the liquid.
Rachel prepared her own cup with one hand, the other holding a sleeping Emma securely in her lap.
"I think she needed to reach out in the only way she could, only way she knew how at that moment of utter devastation to her universe," she searched Rachel's eyes, looking for understanding. The concerned blue eyes that looked back showed no judgment, no disgust, just content listening. "I think she needed to speak with her heart that night, unable to talk to me, to tell me where it hurt,"
Confused, Rachel studied her friend. Where was this leading?
"She needed me to show her love. She needed me to love her," she finally said, her voice just barely above a whisper.
The lights flickered on, but Rachel did her best to not react. Looking her friend dead in the eye, she had to make sure they were on the same page. "You made love?" she asked softly.
Willow blinked at her, making Rachel wonder if she'd read it wrong, when finally the blonde nodded. "I guess you could say that, yes. Then I held her, let her cry herself to sleep."
"Wow," the redhead breathed.
"She left not long after I woke up," Willow finished, sipping her coffee. Rachel couldn't take her eyes off her friend, her mind somersaulting over what she'd just been told. She had no idea what her reaction was, her mind a scramble of thoughts and emotions at the news. Later it would shock her that her first instinct hadn't been that of a teenager, wanting to know how it was. It never even occurred to her in that moment. "Say something," Willow whispered, terrified of what her friend was thinking.
"I'm not sure what to say,"
Willow swallowed a sob, about to stand. Rachel's hand flew across the table, holding her friend in place.
"Don't you go running off. I'm not," she paused, thinking of what exactly she was trying to say. "Willow, I don't think this is a gay issue, or anything that base. You and Christine love each other. A blind man could see that. You gave the ultimate sacrifice for that love, and should be commended for it." She watched as her friend sat back down, eyes wary. "I mean, I'll be honest, and say I'm not entirely sure how I feel, but that's not a bad thing. Consider, I'm used to seeing you with Kevin, hugging, kissing, all that jazz. I mean, shit, you have a child by him."
Willow nodded, sipping her coffee, mainly to keep her hands busy.
"Do you regret it?"
Willow thought about this question for a moment, rolling it around on her mind's tongue. No, that didn't taste right. She shook her head. "No."
"What do you think will happen once she gets back?"
"I have no idea. She once told me she's never made love, looks at sex as a bad word, basically. So, that said, I have no clue how she feels. Maybe she regrets it. She flew out of here fast enough," she couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice, even knowing it was selfish.
"Hey," Rachel lightly scolded. "I don't think her actions that day are indicative of anything about Christine. Try and put yourself in the place she was. And if she said she feels that way about sex, then imagine what kind of trust that must have taken for her to ask that of you."
"You think so?"
"Absolutely! Considering the last time something like that happened, when she kissed you? You freaked out. Her coming to you was an act of desperation, Willow. No doubt she was trying to stay above water, clinging to you."
Willow studied her friend, stunned at what had just come out of the redhead's mouth.
"What?" Rachel asked, cup halfway to her mouth.
"Where the hell did you get so insightful?"
Rachel chuckled into her mug. "I was a prophet in my past life," setting the mug down. "How are you feeling about all this?
Willow shrugged. "Alright, I guess. I haven't really allowed myself to think about it much,"
"Why not? You're just as entitled to your thoughts and feelings as Christine is. Yes, you made the ultimate sacrifice, but sacrifices aren't made without consequences, my friend."
"I guess I've been afraid to think about it, to let myself."
"Why? You think you're gay or something?"
Green eyes flickered to her friend, studying her, but said nothing.
"I told you, Willow- this isn't a gay issue."
"Then what is it? I mean, who the hell, after a sexual life that spans a decade, with men, suddenly has the most amazingly passionate sexual experience of her life, and it's with a woman, no less, doesn't question that?" Willow looked incredulous.
"Willow," Rachel said very quietly, "I'm not trying to force anything on you, or put you in a certain camp by any means. But I am saying that this isn't about gay, straight or whatever. This was about love. Plain and simple. I mean, I'm no expert on the doings of lesbians, no more than you. But I know love when I see it, and I see it every single time I look at the two of you." She paused, waiting for the words to absorb. "You two are raising a child together!" she indicated the very child, asleep in her arms.
Willow could only look at her, having absolutely no idea how to respond to that. She hadn't given a second thought to what she and Christine were doing. They were just happy; that was all she knew.
"Bottom line," Rachel said at last, "I care about you, and I want to see you happy. If Christine is that happiness, who the hell cares?"
"It's not that easy, Rachel," Willow said, her insides in a tempest, not sure where to go, or where was safe.
"No, it's not. You're facing some pretty big decisions, my friend. The past year has been filled with huge changes for you, beginning on a cold night last February."
Willow grinned, looking up at her friend. "Do you realize Emma was born one year to the day, of the night I pulled the great Christine Gray out of Dittman River?"
Rachel sat back in her chair, mouth hanging open. "You're kidding?" As her friend shook her blonde head, Rachel shook hers in disbelief. "See? It's fate."
Willow rolled her eyes, getting up to refill her cup. Topping off Rachel's raised mug, she sat again.
"I don't know. Yes, Christine is a major, important part of my life, and I want her in it. I just don't honestly know what part I want her to play in it, what I can handle."
"Well, something tells me it won't be a decisive action," she stirred in some cream. "I think it'll just happen, Wills."
"Hmm," Willow sipped her brew, staring absently into space. "Maybe."
Not long after Rachel had left, the doorbell rang again. Wiping her hands on a dishrag, Willow unlocked the door, and carefully pulled it open, peeking around it, not expecting anyone.
"Hello, ma'am. I'm Troy Leonard, head of Leonard Security."
Willow looked up at the small mountain that stood on her porch, his body almost blocking out any sunlight. A hand the size of a football was stretched out, waiting for her to take it. Her much, much smaller one gently enfolded, he produced a card from his inside pocket.
"Miss Gray has filled me in on the situation miss, so with your permission, my team will set up," he moved aside to reveal a black van sitting in front of the house, the back doors already open, a man pulling equipment out, laying it in the dirt behind the vehicle.
"Oh, uh, okay," stepping back and feeling like she was in a dream, Willow admitted the half-back-sized man, dressed in a black suit, hair slicked back to perfection. Two of his team members followed him inside, both the man and the woman nodding politely at the blonde. The three murmured amongst themselves as they traveled through the house, Willow heading back into the kitchen where her macaroni and cheese was about to burn.
Three hours, five cameras, and a brand new electric gate, later, Willow was once again left alone in her house. She was assured none of the footage came from inside the house itself, all lenses angled to various locations around the property, the monitors housed in the van. A monitor was also set up in Willow's bedroom, where she could easily flip through the channels, seeing full color, live images at any time.
She figured this must be costing Christine a small fortune, and felt bad that it had become a must.
She sat on the floor, legs crossed, and watched the monitor image change as she switched through the channels, seeing various parts of the ranch flicker into view. Her brow knit as she looked on, seeing the black van parked at a discrete distance, monitoring what she herself was watching.
Willow pushed the button, once again changing the view. This time she was able to see the electric gate, a NO TRESPASSING: PRIVATE PROPERTY sign attached to its face, the road beyond. An butterfly was instantly battering at her ribs when she noticed a very familiar Jeep pulling up to it. The driver unzipped her window, the plastic falling inside as Troy stepped up to the vehicle.
She watched as Christine and Troy talked, the huge man articulating with his arms various things around the property, pointing at this and that.
Willow used the zoom feature, getting in close to see Christine nodding her head, her lips moving as she spoke. Finally, a bright smile spread across the singer's face, and her hand reached through the window, taking Troy's in a hearty handshake. The moving house stepped aside, allowing the Jeep to continue on, toward the house.
Heart pounding, Willow stood from the floor, taking a deep breath. She was so nervous, and hated that feeling. Quickly running her fingers through her hair, she made her way down the stairs.
Feeling like a stupid teenager, she tried to decide what to do. Look cool, act normal, sit down and start reading a magazine. Maybe turn the TV on, like she'd been sitting there the entire time. What?
Standing in the middle of the entryway, trying to decide where to go, she realized it was too late when she heard the engine cut off just outside the door. Heart seizing, she heard a door slam, footfalls on the wooden steps, then finally the porch.
Stepping back toward the stairs, Willow raised herself to the first step, so at least she didn't look like she'd been standing there waiting for Christine to arrive. She already felt like an idiot.
Grabbing the balustrade in her sweating hand, she watched as the door slowly swung open, an overnight bag entering first, being set on the floor just inside the door. Christine materialized, hair windblown and wild, eyes tired and red.
Christine closed the door behind her, then turned to see Willow slowly stepping onto the main floor. The singer was about to say hello, but was so overwhelmed with relief when Willow was waiting there for her, walking toward her.
Without a word, she grabbed the small blonde in a hug, eyes closing. She was home.
Willow wrapped her arms around Christine's waist, resting her head against sagging shoulders. They held each other for a long time, each surprised at how much she'd missed the other woman, though it had only been a couple days.
"You're home early," Willow finally said, stepping slightly back so she could look into the brunette's somnolent features.
"Yeah. I came home tonight cause I'll be leaving again in a few days." Christine led the way into the living room where she flopped down on the couch.
"What? Why?" Willow sat next to her, tucking her legs in under her.
"I need to go to L.A., talk to my publicist. I need her to do some damage control now before things start to get out of hand," she explained quietly. Willow nodded sagely.
"I understand," though she didn't like it. "How was it?"
"Long. Tiring. I've decided that was the longest two days of my life."
"I'm so sorry." Willow wanted so badly to reach out and take Christine's hand, but something stopped her, something in Christine's mannerism. Her arms were crossed over her chest, closing herself off. Willow gave the singer her space. As if on cue, short bursts of wining wafted down from upstairs, echoing in the baby monitor, which doubled as a walkie talkie, placed on the table next to Christine. Willow smiled. "She's calling you,"
Christine grinned, ear to ear, and was out of her seat like a shot. Willow stayed where she was, uncertainty filling her. She'd never felt so unsure around the taller woman; not even when the first met. She sighed deeply, down to her soul.
"Shoot." She smiled through her sadness, listening as Christine talked quietly to Emma, gibberish, as well as real speak. Emma made her cute little noises, which always melted both their hearts. It wasn't long before there were creaking footsteps on the stairs, and Christine appeared around the corner, babe in arms. She reclaimed her seat on the couch, tucking Emma in the crook of her arm.
She glanced over at the blonde. "I think she's grown."
"No doubt. She's growing like a weed." Willow reached out to gently tug down Emma's sleeve, which had gotten pushed up during the baby's transport downstairs.
"Yes she is," she said absently, resting her head against the back of the couch. "Willow," she said, opening her eyes and glancing at the blonde.
"I really am sorry."
Willow studied her for a moment, chewing on her lip. "You're sorry it happened, or you're sorry you initiated it?"
Christine's head flew off the back of the sofa, eyes wide in shock. Willow almost wanted to laugh at the way her mouth hung open.
"Careful, Christine," she said softly, "you'll catch flies."
Christine looked straight ahead, trying to get her thoughts and emotions under control. Interesting question, indeed.
"Listen," Willow continued, reaching out this time, despite what the singer's body language said. "it wasn't some night on a dark beach, Christine. You needed me, and I was there for you. I," she took a deep breath, "I don't regret it, and neither should you."
Looking back at her friend, Christine tried to rummage through everything she'd just been told, find some meaning and sense in it.
"Willow, no it wasn't a dark beach, but you made your feelings quite clear on that dark beach. I shouldn't have-"
"Honey, what happened the other night wasn't about sex." Green eyes searched blue, trying to find some understanding. "It wasn't about that. I know that. Believe me, I've thought a lot about this over the past couple days, trying to decide if I should just let it go, never to bring it up again, or what." She shook her head. "I care too much about you to sweep it under the rug like that. I'd say you do, too since you brought it up."
Christine nodded. "I do." Willow grabbed her hand, wrapping both her warm ones around it.
"Please don't let this come between us. Please. I'm not scared, and I love you just as much now as I did then." She knew she was jumping the gun on things that hadn't even happened, an may not have, but she had to get it all out, make Christine aware of just how she felt, and what her fears were.
"Wow," the brunette said quietly, looking down at Emma. "Okay,"
Willow smiled, scooting closer to Christine and laying her head on the singer's shoulder, both looking down at her daughter. She heard the small chuckle as she released the sigh that just wouldn't stay in. She met amused blue eyes.
Christine shook her head. "Nothing." Kissing Emma on her cheek, she stood. "I'm exhausted." Holding her hand out to the blonde, she took the smaller hand. "Come on. Let's put her to bed."
The baby sighed sleepily, eyes never opening as she was put back into her crib, blanket lovingly tucked under her chin. They both stood, looking down at her, watching her sleep.
"You know, part of me looks at her and thinks just how lucky she is, her entire life ahead of her, new things to see and do. All the potential she has, you know?" Christine sighed then continued. "The other part of me feels sorry for her. All the things she'll have to do, all the things she'll have to live through- heartbreaks, disappointments."
"Yeah. I think about that a lot. I can't help but wonder what she'll be, who she'll be. Did I give birth to the first female President? Or did I give birth to the best second grade teacher who ever lived?"
"Either way, she'll be very loved." Christine said softly, hands resting on the top rail of the white crib.
"Yes, she will," Willow looked up at her friend. "by both of us." Christine smiled, big and bright. "You know, I can totally see you being the one she'll go to when her first boyfriend dumps her, or she gets her first B on a test."
Christine laughed. "Why me?"
"Because you give such great hugs." Willow nudged her in the side, making the taller woman laugh again.
"Well, you two can do all that shopping nonsense."
"Oh, and we will," Willow assured, leading the way out of the nursery, shutting the light off as she went, leaving the room dimly lit by the Care Bear nightlight. She closed the door to a crack.
Standing out in the hall, between Emma and Willow's doors, Christine gave the blonde a quick hug.
"Night, Christine. I'm so glad you're home, even if it is for a couple days."
Christine smiled. "Me, too."
With that, they both went their separate ways.
"Is it hard being famous?"
"Is it hard being famous?" Willow asked again, laying her magazine face down in her lap, readjusting the pillows behind her, and glancing over at her friend who sat with her back against the opposite arm of the couch, their socked feet fighting now and then.
Christine looked over her laptop, raising a brow.
"It's a simple question. Yes or no."
"It's a bizarre question."
"Perhaps, but I still want to know the answer to this."
Gently setting her laptop aside, having a feeling that this was not going to be a quick question/answer session.
"What brought this on?" she asked.
"I was just reading about the Brad, Jennifer, Angelina saga, and it made me wonder what they were feeling, having all the world's attention on their lives," Willow said, tossing the magazine to the coffee table.
"Ah, I see. Well," Christine blew out. "It's not always easy. Your privacy is thrown out the window, that's for sure. Everyone wants to know every single little itty bitty detail about your life," she scrunched up her face, bringing her thumb and forefinger together to emphasize her point.
"Have you ever gotten fan mail?"
"Of course. I have a lady who lives in this tiny little town in Oregon who goes through it all, sorting it, reading it, that sort of thing. She picks the letters she thinks I would like to read, and sends them on to me."
"And the others?"
"She sends them a formatted letter that has my signature on the bottom, and mails it to them," Christine shrugged, wiggling her toes.
"You're kidding? All those carnivorous fans out there, so excited that they got a response back from the great Christine Gray, are actually getting nothing but a form letter from some creepy mail lady?"
Christine laughed. "Don't make it sound so harsh. I don't have the time to go through all that mail myself. It would be impossible. I used to," she held up a finger, "I actually used to go through and read each and ever one, personally answer most."
"Why did you stop?"
"Well, that was back in the very early days. Heck, I was so stunned that someone had taken the time to write me that I was overjoyed to respond, you know? But then as I got busier, my schedule crazier, and the fans a bit nuttier and larger in numbers, it just wasn't possible anymore, and I hired Lindy."
"Do you miss it?"
"Having a bit of a more personal connection to your fans."
"Sometimes," Christine shrugged. "The sad part is, no matter how many letters I get, how many I answer or read, I'm still so far removed from them, you know? I feel like I can't be among them anymore. You see, my fans have put me up on such a ridiculously high pedestal over the years that there's no way I can live up to their expectations if they knew the real me. I'd fall short."
"Oh, I doubt that," Willow said, chuckling softly.
"No, I would." Christine looked sad for a moment. "I read what's said about me, how I'm viewed. I'm expected to either be somebody's wet dream, or sexual kitten come to life, or their role model. I'm neither. When it boils down to it, I'm just me. Not too interesting in the end."
"Well, that's all in who you talk to." Willow raised a challenging brow. Christine rolled her eyes.
"Well, if you live out in the middle of nowhere with a horse named Star to talk to, yeah, I'm sure I'm all that and a bag of gem doughnuts."
Willow laughed, swatting the singer. "You're such a shoot."
"A shoot? What on earth is a shoot?"
"You know what I mean!" Willow growled, swatting Christine again.
"You know, you keep hitting me like that and I'm going to have to file for domestic violence," Christine raised a brow and Willow blushed.
"Well, can't say I'm worried. After all, there are some requirements that have to be met in order to be called 'domestic violence'," Willow pointed out, proudly shooting down the brunette's comment. However, it backfired against her, as she blushed even deeper at Christine's rakish look. But, just as soon as the look hit her face, it was gone, replaced by a look that Willow could only think of as, … empty.
"Well," Christine said, subject closed. "did I answer all your questions?" When her eyes met Willow's they were the eyes of a stranger, remote and withdrawn.
"Uh, yeah. I suppose so." Willow was confused, and slightly hurt. They had been playing, fun banter, and just like that, she had snapped it off at the bone. With a sad sigh, she grabbed up her magazine again, and pretended to read.
"Everything alright, ma'am?" Troy asked, his curiosity getting the better of him, watching the cute blonde standing in front of the garage, rubbing her chin for the past twenty three and a half minutes.
"Mm, fine," she said absently. He nodded and turned to head back to his post. "Troy?"
"Yes, Miss Bowman?" he asked, turning toward her again.
"How much do you think it would cost to convert this into a studio?" She finally glanced at him, still rubbing her chin.
"A studio, ma'am?"
"Yeah. You know, like a music studio, somewhere where Christine could hide."
"Oh," surprised, he looked at the two and a half car garage, running costs through his mind. "several thousand dollars, ma'am. I'd say upwards of a couple hundred."
"Oh," Willow said, heart sinking.
"But that's with all the equipment, too, ma'am. I assume you'd want recording equipment?" he said quickly, not wanting to burst her bubble of thought.
"Well, yeah. Okay, so what about without all that? Maybe just sound-proofing, that kind of thing." She looked at him, really hoping he'd have better news for her. He sighed, looking back at the building.
"Well, saying that nothing structural had to be done, that it was sound, that is," he shrugged. "Fifteen, twenty thousand maybe."
The drawer was tugged open, two hands instantly inside it, rummaging through the gobs of unorganized papers.
Willow murmured the names of each as she unfolded, uncrumpled, reattached.
"Bank receipt, receipt from Target, credit card statement," on and on, brows knit in panicked concentration. She was a horrible bookkeeper, and it was times just such as that when she realized just how horrible.
Throwing out the last bit of paper, Willow sighed heavily, running a hand through her shaggy hair. Looking around the small home office, she searched her mind, trying to remember where she'd put it.
Light dawning on marble head, she raced out of the house on the slim chance that it was still there. Quickly opening the passenger-side door of the truck, she pulled herself up onto the seat, then flung open the glove compartment. Again looking through the contents- maps, insurance papers, napkins from Baskin-Robins, and one last something, folded up in the back.
Hoping against hope, Willow grabbed it, quickly unfolding it in shaking fingers.
Christine hadn't bothered to call Millie in. She was only planning to be at the Beverly Hills house for a couple, three days. She walked its long, empty halls, seeing all the beautiful, expensive things that filled its walls, and realized how meaningless it all really was.
She didn't want to be there. She knew where she longed to be, but it scared her half to death. She couldn't understand why Willow was taking things so well, considering how much she'd freaked out over a simple kiss so many months ago.
Despite everything the blonde had said, which she wanted to believe, she was having a hard time with it. The thought had occurred to her more than once that perhaps Willow was just brushing it all under the rug out of pity for what a mess Christine had been that night. What if inside Willow really hates her? What if she's just waiting for the singer to get over Adam's death, then her true feelings will come out?
Christine laughed at herself, not truly believing that would happen.
A thought occurred to her that stopped her cold, looking out the floor to ceiling French doors in her music room, hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans.
What if she were pulling away because she didn't want this closeness? What if she didn't want to open herself up so much to Willow, and in many ways, to Emma. What if she felt claustrophobic, or smothered?
She sighed, running a hand through her hair. That wasn't it, and she knew she owed Willow more than that. She couldn't use that as an excuse, or use it to justify her own fear.
Fear of what?
Christine turned from the doors, looking over the room, following the little squares of light, the sun's rays making a map across the wood floor, leading up to the grand piano. She followed the path, brushing her fingers across the smooth wooden surface, her beloved.
That was something she was having a hard time with. Her music. No, she didn't miss the crowds and the craziness, even if it had followed her into a quiet life; but she did miss the music. Oh, she missed the music.
She pushed the bench out from underneath the keyboard, the sun kissing the dark wood. Lovingly lifting the lid, revealing the black and whites, she took her place, eyes automatically closing. Vision wasn't needed for the soul.
Limbering her fingers and hands, she ran her scales, up and down, around, flat, sharp, back again. Flexing her knuckles and listening to them crack, she began to play for real.
Sighing deeply, she knew she was home.
"This is the mess you've gotten us into." The Enquirer skidded across the desk, stopping short of falling off the edge and into Christine's lap. LOVE ON THE RANCH?
"Bastards," she muttered, seeing a half-naked picture of a very surprised Willow. "And what do you mean I've gotten us into?"
"Why not you? You haven't given the children anything to play with. You know how they are- they get bored!" Roxanne paced behind her desk, hands clasped behind her back. Flipping her long, curly black hair over her shoulder, she stopped, looking down at her long-time client. "You know how to play this game, Christine. Come on, I shouldn't have to lecture you on this shit,"
"Don't start, Roxanne,"
"Don't start what? Don't start this?" she poked her finger into the rag. "Don't start with staying single for so fucking long that the world was wondering if you're a real live human? Is that what I shouldn't start?"
"I'm not going to lie and say I'm with someone that I'm not." Christine could feel her anger building. Roxanne Mills stopped, dark laser eyes parked on the singer's.
"Your whole life is a fucking lie!" she barked, sitting hard in the leather chair across the desk. "Jesus, you know this shit better than I do! You only pay me to keep your ass out of trouble- you have to live this circus. What the hell were you thinking not giving them any dirt? Jesus, you know they'll just keep digging, and this time by god, they hit fucking pay dirt!"
"How did they find out? I was so careful to keep Willow out of this."
"Careful? You were careful?" she leaned forward, tapping a clawed finger on the shiny mahogany. "So careful that this woman has been in the news twice, both times linked to you. So careful that you had that fucking hospital locked down like Fort Knox while she gave birth to the kid, you at her side," she pointed that claw at Christine as she spoke. "Yeah, that's how goddamn careful you've been." She sat back in her chair, getting her composure back with another flick of her hair. "No doubt some hospital staff or another puppy pusher spilled the beans for a nice chunk of change. Bastards probably paid their kid's college tuition," she muttered absently.
"Fine. So I messed up. Now what? Can you fix this?" Christine looked so deeply into those seemingly impenetrable black eyes of her publicist that she made the woman squirm.
"I just don't know," Roxanne finally said. She crossed a leg over her knee, carefully tugging at her skirt, the picture of fashion perfection. She was so grateful Christine had introduced her to Sandra all those years ago. "Personally I think you should marry the girl and bring it all out into the open."
"It's not like that, Roxanne-"
"So make it like that, Christine!" the publicist almost yelled, sitting forward again. "You can't go back. Once the 'they're fucking' theory has gone behind a story, there is no way to remove it. You two are playing house down there in Bumbfuck, Oklahoma. Do you really think people are going to believe it's platonic? The two of you have separate bedrooms, don't burp or fart around each other? Bullshit. I don't believe it," she planted her clawed hand on her chest, "and they sure as hell don't believe it."
Christine sighed, knowing full well that Roxanne was right. The publicist's voice softened.
"The way I see it is this- if you and the cute blonde can't make nice in domestication, then you'll just have to let the hubbub die down. It will eventually, once some new asshole comes up in the spotlight, who will actually talk to them, and do something stupid, like turning into white trash after getting married to some loser with greasy hair and big shoes." She rolled dark eyes. "Public nightmare."
"What if I moved back to L.A.?"
"So sorry to hear about your breakup. May we get a statement?" Roxanne said dryly, leaning on her hand.
"Stay with her, Christine. At least that way you can stop them from hounding her until all this blows over."
Christine felt a sense of dread fall over her as she played that night. Eyes closed, head swaying with her hands as they raced across the keys. She felt so horrible for dragging such innocent people into this- Willow, Emma, hell, even the people of Lamont, the tiny little town by Willow's ranch. No doubt that bastards were staying there, drilling the unsuspecting people about both she and the blonde.
Images of that little blonde began to float before Christine's closed eyes. Her eyes, her smile, her body. The way it looked as the moonlight caressed it through the large window that night. The way Willow's skin had felt, warm and smooth, so responsive. The little noises she made, the rapture in her eyes as she'd discovered ultimate pleasure.
Christine's fingers moved faster and faster, along with her heartbeat, feeling every sigh, every kiss, every whispered encouragement, all over again.
Was that what it was like with someone you loved? Was that what it was like to feel loved? Is that how it felt to be in love?
Shaking that last thought off as quickly as humanly possible, Christine's fingers stilled, eyes opening to see the darkness beyond the glass panes of the large doors. No, no. Can't go there. Can never go there.
Willow paced, restless, hands fidgeting nonstop, hand running through her hair. Glancing out the window again, she saw the truck still parked directly in front, the muffled voices of the movers shouting out orders. She stopped, hand on the doorknob, but then saw Howard looking in at her.
Smiling at the member of Troy's team, assigned to keep her in the house and out of the way, by her own orders, she began to pace again.
It was close, so terribly close. Sneaking a peak at the Grandfather clock in the corner, she hissed in worry.
A knock on the front door sent her running toward it, pulling it open so fast she startled the head mover guy. What did he say his name was?
"It's all done, ma'am," he said proudly. "Gotta say, that was one helluva tight space."
"Is it okay? How does it look?" she asked, trying to see around him, as if that would do any good.
"Well, in my opinion, it looks real good." He beamed, face ruddy from the exertion.
"Thank you so much." Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled out the bank envelope, then glanced at him with a raised brow.
"Oh, ah," looking at his order, he pulled a small calculator out of the breast pocket of his work shirt, and began to punch numbers in with a pudgy finger. He gave her a number, and she happily dug the amount out of the envelope, plus a hefty tip. That was just about the last of it, but she didn't care. It was all worth it.
"Thank you, ma'am," he tipped his sweaty hat, handed her the hand-written receipt, and turned away, gathering all his men into the truck, and headed out.
Willow hurried up the stairs, bolting into the bedroom at top speed, shucking clothing as she went. Fastest shower in female history later, she was dressed, and taking care of Emma, getting the baby ready.
Exactly thirteen minutes after the movers had left, the front door opened, and Christine walked in, carry-on in her hand. She was surprised to see Willow waiting for her, beaming like the Cheshire cat.
"Welcome back!" the blonde gushed, hurrying over to the singer. For a moment, Christine's heart soared, happiness almost overwhelming. But as Willow got closer, she began to freak, thinking back to the vow she'd made to herself in L.A.
"Hey, uh," she breezed past the blonde. "hands are full. Let me get rid of this stuff," smiling sheepishly, Christine hurried up the stairs. Willow watched her go, shock and hurt in her eyes.
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