Disclaimers: The characters in this story are mine. This is a 'uber' story, set in today's timeline, and some of the characters may bear a more than a slight resemblance to certain other characters we all know, but which are not owned by me. Any similarity to real people is purely coincidental. The location is Orlando, Florida. This is a character driven piece. There is no plot. There is no violence, nobody is trying to kill anybody else, nobody is chasing anybody else, nobody is…..well, you get the picture. The backdrop is a law firm, and sometimes law firms can be rather routine places to work. This story brings two people together in that environment who end up making each other's lives anything but routine.

Subtext Disclaimer: There is subtext here, too. This story deals with the growing attraction and eventual deep, profound love between two people who happen to be of the same gender. Although there are some scenes depicting the physical expression of that love, there are no graphic scenes here. If that is what you're looking for, you might want to read something else. This is simply a story about soulmates finding each other again.

Feedback: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. Comments are always welcome. Let me know if there's something you especially liked or didn't like. I can be reached at kmmoon@prodigy.net.




Written by KM

Part 10


If there was ever a way to jolt oneself back into reality, a Monday morning litigation breakfast was the sure-fire way to go about it. The quarterly litigation department meetings served very little purpose, in Jess's opinion, save for providing a forum for some of the more verbose members of the firm to have their say on matters which ordinarily no one would find interesting in the least. That being the case, the only real accomplishment of the meetings was that nearly every litigation attorney spent several hours of precious billable time cooped up in a conference room fending off complete boredom. The cheese danish, on the other hand, was not bad.

The meeting was interminable, and with at least another hour to go, it became increasingly clear that Jess was simply not able to concentrate. Far too many distractions occupied her mind. For instance, only twelve days remained until Christmas, a major appellate brief needed to be filed, and Robin sat at the opposite end of the conference table. Enough said. Instead of focusing her attention on the immediate agenda item, something which purportedly dealt with garnishment law revisions, Jess allowed her distracted internal thought processes take control of her wandering mind once again.

My, you've certainly been the busy bee.

'Yeah? So what? And why are you here, anyway?' The alternate internal voice was a bit cranky this morning.

You know exactly why I'm here. Something's bothering you.

A lapse into the usual modus operandi of initially denying the obvious. 'Nope. You're wrong. Nothing's bothering me. Everything's fine.'

Is it?

'Absolutely, positively.' The alternate internal voice happily replied.

Then why aren't you paying attention to the new garnishment law requirements?

'Because, buddy, I'm practically dying of boredom, here. Give me a break.' An exaggerated internal sigh. 'Alright. Fine. You've made your point. Can we get on with this?'

Certainly. So, you think things are going rather well for you right now, don't you?

'Yep.' The alternate internal voice seemed quite pleased with the recent turn of events.

You and Robin are getting along terrifically, you've just had a fabulous weekend together, and Christmas is coming up. All in all, things couldn't be better. Agreed?

'Yep, again.' The alternate internal voice was now buoyant. 'You get bonus points for your stellar powers of perception.'

And that's exactly why I'm here. You need to take a hard look at some things.

A mental groan. 'Listen, buddy, I'm in a good mood. Let's not spoil it, okay?'

Sorry. No can do. Shall we begin?

'Do I have a choice?'

No. First item on your voices agenda: Robin's procrastination on calling Dr. Richmond. Something's going on there.

'She said she'd call after the holidays.' The alternate internal voice explained matter-of-factly.

And you believe her.

The alternate internal voice brimmed with confidence. 'Yes.'


A little less confident. 'Okay, maybe not.'

She's avoiding it. Why do think that is?

'How should I know?' The alternate internal voice became somewhat agitated. I'm not Sigmund Freud.'

But you think you know, don't you? You think she's avoiding it because she's afraid of what she might find out. Specifically, you think she's afraid that when she comes to terms with David's death, she might realize that you were right all along. She'll see that you were indeed a convenient substitute for him, and she won't be able to handle that.

'No.' The alternate internal voice vigorously defended. 'Robin assured me she never thought of me that way.'

And you believe her.

'Yes.' The alternate internal voice was quite adamant.


Slight hesitation. 'Yes. She said she loves me. I believe that. We spent the weekend together.'

You went a little further than merely spending the weekend together, didn't you?

'I won't apologize for that. What's your point?'

You've made no commitment.

'We love each other.' The alternate internal voice resolutely responded.

I repeat, you've made no commitment.

'And I repeat, we love each other.' The alternate internal voice made a valiant attempt to rationalize the situation with legalese. 'A commitment is implied therein.'

Is it? Don't add to your delusion, counselor. Consider this. If you move along blissfully without a commitment, you're just as guilty as Robin is in her procrastination at seeing the therapist. You're both guilty of failing to confront the same reality.

'And what same reality might that be?'

The possibility that her feelings for you might not be what she thought they were. Without making a commitment, she is conveniently free to leave, and you are conveniently free to let her go. You spent the weekend together, you say you love each other, but you've made no commitment. You want forever but you have no idea if Robin wants it, too. Face the facts. Without a commitment, she's free to leave you, especially if she thinks it's for the best.

The alternate internal became indignant at the implication 'She will not leave me.'

Are you sure?

A lengthy silence. 'I can't listen to this. The garnishment laws have changed. I need to pay attention, here.'

You can't ignore it. She's avoiding something. If not this, then what?

The alternate internal voice blithely tuned out the mental dialogue.

It will come back at you when you least expect it.

Said tuning out continued.

Wake up. You know you have to deal with it.

'Oh, were you saying something?' The alternate internal voice feigned innocence. 'Did you know that the garnishor now has to inform the judgment debtor of his options before garnishment can proceed? It's absolutely fascinating.'

Facetiousness serves no purpose here. You refuse to deal with it, so let's move on. Second item on your voices agenda: Christmas. Or more specifically, Robin's parents and Christmas.

'What of it?' The alternate internal voice grew cautious.

What's going on?

'Nothing. They're coming down from Michigan and she's spending Christmas with them. End of story.'

Is that your final answer?

'Cute.' The alternate internal voice turned flippant 'That is my final answer.'

Sorry to disturb the little delusion thing you've got going on, but you're wrong. Think about it. She's not said one word to you about when they're coming down or how long they're staying. You don't even know what their intentions are once they get here.

'Their intentions are to visit.'

Perhaps. But they certainly may be worried about her. Their intentions could be to convince her to go back to Michigan.

'She won't go.' The alternate internal voice responded definitively. 'She won't.'

Okay. But the fact is, she hasn't indicated that she wants to you meet them.

A moment's reflection. 'True, but it's really too soon for her to discuss our relationship with them. Meeting me will bring up questions. After all, I'm not exactly what her daddy had in mind for her.'

Be that as it may, it hurts, doesn't it, that she's not clued you in on any of her plans?

The alternate internal voice tried the noble approach. 'I understand.'

But it hurts just the same, doesn't it?

'Okay, yes.' The alternate internal voice reluctantly acknowledged. 'It hurts just the same.'

Then you and Robin had better discuss it. At the very least, find out when the two of you can spend some time together during Christmas week.

'That's probably a good idea.'

And then you'll know the real reason why she's not mentioned any of this to you. She could be avoiding her parents, or maybe she just doesn't want to involve you in her plans.

The alternate internal voice suddenly became apprehensive. 'And if she doesn't want to involve me in her plans?'

Then she's afraid to acknowledge your relationship, and she'll have to figure out why that is. It could be because she doesn't want to deal with it with her parents, or it could be because she subconsciously knows that her feelings for you might not be what she thought they were. Either way, she'll probably need Dr. Richmond to help her figure it out.

The alternate internal voice turned somber as the realization suddenly became clear. 'I could lose her.'

It's possible. You could lose her. You need to be prepared for that.

'I'll never be prepared for that.' The alternate internal voice sounded broken-hearted.

Look at the bright side. Once she comes to terms with everything, the weight of this matter will be gone forever.

The alternate internal voice reverted to sarcasm once again. Well, you're quite the philosopher. Socrates and Aristotle have nothing on you. Not to mention Plato. I think I'd much rather stay in my blissful ignorance and contemplate how many days the garnishee has to answer the writ of garnishment, thank you very much.'

Fine. Delusion suits you. Let's move on to the third item on your voices agenda: Christmas gift for Robin. By the way, do you see a trend here?

'Okay, I'll bite. What's the so-called trend?'

Every single one of your voices agenda items has to do with Robin.

'So?' It was easier for the alternate internal voice to play stupid, than to face the truth.

Just an observation. We'll discuss addictions later. Back to agenda item number three. What are you getting Robin for Christmas?

'Don't know. She wants a car.'

You're not getting her a car, are you?

An internal laugh. 'Of course not. She was trying to make a joke about my complaining that her car is too small. She's probably saving up for one, though.'

So, then, what are you getting her?

'You seem awfully nosy about it.' The alternate internal voice was a bit annoyed. 'Listen, I really don't know, okay? Unless you, the all knowing voice of…..whatever, have something in mind?'

Just some advice. Want to hear it?

An internal grumble. 'As if I could stop you.'

Give her your heart.


Just what I said. Give her your heart. If things are meant to be, she'll hold your heart and take care of it. If not, then you gave it to her freely, and that's all anyone could ever have done. Think about it.

'Alright, I'll think about it.' The alternate internal voice needed time for serious contemplation. 'Are we finished, now?'

Yes, except for the pop quiz. How many days does a garnishee have to answer a writ of garnishment?


Very good. Now, go get another cheese danish.

'Gee, thanks.' The alternate internal voice muttered. 'Then you can beam me up.'


Robin sat at the far end of the conference table sipping her Irish Crème flavored coffee and paying rapt attention to the current topic of discussion. She smiled to herself when she felt, rather than saw, familiar blue eyes settle their gaze upon her. She snuck a quick peak, and was barely able to contain the grin which unconsciously edged its way across her face. She finally succumbed to the distraction, losing all semblance of concentration on the immediate agenda item, and let her mind take her to other places. Christmas. She pondered the issue for a moment. It was time to call her mother and discuss her parents' plans. Fine, she could do that, although she still felt uneasy about their coming to visit. She suspected there may be another reason behind it. What's Jess doing for Christmas? It was true, she and Jess hadn't discussed their respective plans, and now, with less than two weeks to go until the holidays, they really needed to decide when they could both spend some time together.

The young associate doodled a bit on her legal pad as she continued to contemplate the upcoming holidays. Okay, so her parents wanted to see that she was doing all right. That was understandable considering everything that had happened. Should they meet Jess? Robin let the question hang out there unanswered, the implications plain and the ramifications uncertain. But why not? She was going to be living with Jess. They'd come to know that sooner or later. I could tell them we're roommates. Robin smirked to herself. Right. Roommates. Leaving the final decision for another time, she returned her attention to the loquacious speaker up front. The garnishor has to inform the judgment debtor of his options before garnishment can proceed. I'll have to remember that.

An hour later, the meeting finally concluded, albeit a bit later than usual, and Robin set about tackling her overflowing in-box and waiting e-mails. She was continually amazed how fast it all seemed to accumulate. With most of the morning having been spent in the litigation meeting, she was barely able to finish wading through all her various messages and paperwork before the noon hour arrived. Almost as if on cue, her stomach grumbled, signaling that now would be an excellent time to take a lunch break. Her pen twirled unconsciously in her fingers as she contemplated and then discarded various lunch options. Green eyes lit up, and Robin smiled as an appealing idea came to her. She quickly opened a new e-mail message and typed in the simple request.


Free for lunch?


She clicked the send button, then sat back in her chair, swiveling lightly. Hope she's in. Robin shifted her gaze to stare out the large window, idly noting the somewhat choppy waters of the lake below. The overcast day did nothing to dampen her mood, the memories of the past weekend in St. Augustine still lingering in her mind. It had really been quite special. She smiled to herself. Special. Even the prospect of her parents' visit wasn't enough to take away the euphoria she now felt. Her wayward, though pleasant, musings were suddenly interrupted by a familiar beep from her computer, indicating new mail had arrived. Robin glanced at the sender, and then quickly opened the message.


Lunch? Now, there's a surprise. Meet you at the elevators in five.


Robin grinned as she read the message, and then considered how only a few words from Jess could make her feel so happy and so very much alive. It was simply amazing, and she made a mental note to ponder the effect more at another time. She grabbed her purse and quickly strode off, heading toward the elevators and one waiting junior partner in particular.


"Do you have to work late tonight?" Robin sat down at a corner table in the small delicatessen.

A dark eyebrow arched suspiciously. "Why?"

"Well.…." Robin drawled as she tapped the side of her finger lightly against the tabletop. "I was thinking we could go out tonight and get a Christmas tree." She gave the junior partner opposite her a hopeful glance.

"A Christmas tree? For your apartment?"

"Um…..actually, no. A Christmas tree for The Ranch." Robin took a bite of her chicken salad sandwich, then had a sudden thought. "You don't have a fake one stashed somewhere, do you?"

"Nope. No fake tree stash." Jess munched a dill pickle. "So, now, let me see if I understand you correctly. You want to go out and get a Christmas tree and put it up at the house?"

"Yes." The blonde head nodded. "I was thinking we could go tonight and pick one out." Robin noted the particularly odd expression on the junior partner's face. "Don't you usually get a Christmas tree, Jess?"

Jess considered the question. "Well, no, I haven't actually gotten a tree before. Wasn't any reason to. It was just me, and it seemed kinda pointless to put up a bunch of decorations if no one was gonna see them." She took a bite of her turkey sandwich. "Besides, I usually go to my mother's for Christmas, and she has a tree every year. I get my tree fill there."

The young associate cocked her head, her light brows furrowing in downright disbelief. "Are you saying you've never had a Christmas tree?"

"Robin, it's not a horrible thing, it's just a tree, and like I said, I get my tree fill at my mom's."

The look of disbelief persisted. "Tree fill." Robin contemplated the phrase. "What is that?"

Jess grinned. "Tree fill. You know, seeing a Christmas tree long enough to last until next year. I don't need to have one of my own to get my tree fill."

Robin's mouth fell open as she tried to fathom the explanation. She shook her head, obviously failing to grasp the concept, and then resolutely set her half-eaten chicken salad sandwich down on her plate. "Alright." She dusted her hands together in determined fashion. "This simply cannot continue. We have to remedy the situation immediately." Robin picked up her pickle and waved it purposefully at Jess. "For your information, there is absolutely no such thing as tree fill, and you are definitely coming with me tonight to pick out a Christmas tree." She jabbed the pickle in Jess's direction to further her point. "Then you and I going to put it up at The Ranch and decorate it."

Jess was secretly amused. "Number one, Robin, there most certainly is such a thing as tree fill. Number two, there really isn't any room in my living room to put this tree that we're supposedly going to get. Number three, I have no decorations to decorate this supposed tree with."

"Are you finished?" The young associate resumed eating.

"No. Number four, I don't necessarily need a tree. Number five, you could get one and put it up at your apartment for when your folks come visit. And number six, I already have a wreath that I put on my door which is decoration enough for my house."

Robin took a sip of her soda. "Are you finished, now?"


"Good. I'll pick you up at 7:00."



Jess and Robin spent the better part of the evening searching for the perfect tree, or as better stated, searching for Robin's idea of the perfect tree. Jess, on the other hand, thought all the trees looked nice. Three tree lots and one all-night superstore later, Jess and Robin finally trekked back to The Ranch with their painstakingly selected and perfectly proportioned Christmas tree securely in tow. Of course, trying to fit said tree into Robin's Miata was another story altogether. They ended up setting the netted tree in the trunk of the car, half-way sticking out, and then tying it down with twine. Jess was designated as the tree look-out, a very important job position charged with ensuring that said tree did, in fact, stay put in said trunk for the duration of said drive home. Once at The Ranch, Jess and Robin hauled the nearly seven foot tall frasier fir tree inside the house, trying valiantly not to trail too many tree needles in their pathway. It didn't work. Needles scattered across the floor unhindered from foyer to living room.

"Okay. Where are we putting it?" Jess set the tree down in its stand.

Robin surveyed the entire living room, considering each potential location with a critical eye. "We could put it in the corner between the sliding doors and the fireplace. What do you think?"

"The etagere's there."

"Then we'll have to move it" It wasn't much of an obstacle in Robin's opinion.

"Fine, but then where are we going to put the etagere?"

Robin pursed her lips in thought, tapping a petite finger lightly against her chin. "We could move it into the spare bedroom."

Jess considered the idea. "Are you sure it won't be in your way in there?"

"Jess, I just have my clothes in that room now." Robin looked up a bit sheepishly. "It's not like I sleep in there, you know."

Good point. The dark haired woman had to agree. "True."

"Especially, since there is no bed."

Let's keep it that way. Jess smirked. "Alright. Let's move the etagere in there." They went about moving the etagere, which was rather heavy, into the spare room, careful to place it out of the way of Robin's things. The younger woman had moved quite a few items from her apartment over to The Ranch, finding it easier to keep a healthy supply of clothing and personal effects close at hand. This was especially true considering the amount of time she was now spending there. Once the little chore of moving the etagere was accomplished, Jess placed the tree into the previously designated corner by the fireplace. "How does it look?"

"Turn it to the left just a bit." Robin directed.

Jess complied. "Now?"

"No, turn it back a little."

Jess complied again. "Okay, now?" She eyed Robin hopefully.

"Um….." The younger woman walked from side to side, studying the view from all possible angles. "Move it to the right just a little more."

Jess narrowed her eyes and moved the tree as instructed. "Now?"

"Well…..maybe move it forward just a tinsey winsy bit."

Jess blew out a breath in minor exasperation, then complied one more time. "Okay?" She arched an eyebrow at Robin in a playful dare to ask her to move it again.

"Perfect." Robin happily proclaimed.

"Are you sure? Because we're not moving it after it's decorated."

"Yes, I'm sure." The younger woman grinned eagerly. "Okay, now we have to put on the lights, and the ornaments, and then the tinsel." Robin retrieved the packages of decorations they'd bought earlier in the evening. "Here, take these and put them on the tree." She handed Jess a box of Christmas tree lights.

Jess dutifully strung the old-fashioned style colored lights around the tree, making sure they were evenly spaced between the branches. Next, Robin and Jess proceeded to decorate the tree with ornaments of varying shapes and colors. There was an impressive variety, consisting of shiny ball-shaped ornaments, tiny pine cones, gold colored musical instruments, red and gold drums, wooden painted toy soldiers, and striped candy canes. With the colored lights all lit up and ornaments hanging from every branch, the tree really did look quite stunning.

"I almost forgot." Robin dug into another bag. "Do you want to put a star on top or an angel?"

"You mean we have a choice?" Jess watched as Robin pulled both treetop ornaments from the bag.

"Well, I wasn't sure at the time, and you were over looking at the miniature trains." Robin playfully smirked at the reference to trains.

Jess grinned. "I love trains."

"I'm sure I'd didn't know that." Robin quipped.

"I got to ring the bell."

The younger woman tried, but failed, to suppress a small grin. "That confirms it. You are absolutely hopeless."

"Listen," Jess wagged a playful finger at Robin. "I am not the one who made all those guys at all those tree lots open up each and every single six to seven foot tree they had, just to determine which specific tree had the straightest trunk and the fullest branches. One guy opened up so many, he got his workout for the month."

"You would have picked the very first one they showed us."

Jess recalled the Virginia Pine they first looked at. "It was a perfectly lovely tree."

"The branches were all smushed on one side. Honestly, Jess, you have to look very closely at all the angles. See, the one we got is completely symmetrical."

Jess patiently waited for Robin to finish. "Are you done?"


"Good. Come over here for a minute." Mischievous blue eyes twinkled.

Robin cautiously approached the older woman. "What?" They were both standing in the entryway to the kitchen.

"Look." A long finger pointed upward.

Mistletoe? Robin smiled. "When did you get that?"

"When I was over by the trains. I was listening to the bells and whistles, and I naturally thought about kissing you. Then I saw the mistletoe. It was divine providence. I had to buy it."

"You are very sweet." Robin leaned underneath the hanging mistletoe, meeting Jess's lips in a tender, lingering kiss. After several moments, the younger woman broke away, breathing a bit heavily. "I'm hearing bells and whistles, too. I believe you're right. It's definitely from kissing you."

Jess ducked in for several more kisses. "Yep. Bells and whistles. And here I thought it was the trains all along. Silly me." She grinned, then paused. "Angel."


"Did you want the star?"

"Oh. No, the angel's perfect. Can you put it on top of the tree?" Green eyes twinkled a bit. "I can't reach."

As soon as Robin said it, long arms grasped her from behind and guided her toward the tree, pausing at the treetop ornaments lying on the oak coffee table. Jess picked up the white and gold angel and handed it to Robin. "Here." She boosted the petite body up level with the treetop. "Put it on."

Robin positioned the angel on top of the tree and plugged it in with the rest of the tree lights. As the strong arms set her down, Robin took a moment to gaze up a the brilliantly lit Christmas tree. "It's beautiful."

"Yeah." Azure eyes tracked from the tree to Robin. Beautiful.

"There's still one more thing." The younger woman rummaged through another bag, finding a box of shiny tinsel. She divided up the tinsel and handed Jess half. "Here, take some of this and put it over on that side of the tree."

"Alright." Jess took the shiny strands and watched intently as Robin started hanging her half of the tinsel on various tree branches. The dark haired woman proceeded to do the same thing on her side of the tree, finishing in short order. "Okay, I'm done."

Robin peaked up at Jess, her mouth open slightly. "You can't be done."

"Yep." Jess raised her hands, palms open. "See, all done."

Robin stepped around to view Jess's handiwork. The younger woman was, quite frankly, a bit flabbergasted. "Um…..Jess, have you ever put tinsel on a tree before?"

Dark brows knit together. "No." Jess regarded her side of the tree. "Is there a problem?"

How do I put this delicately? "Jess, honey, when you put tinsel on a tree, you generally hang it from the branches. You don't usually throw it in clumps."

Jess continued to study the tinsel she'd placed on the tree. "It's faster that way. And it still sparkles."

Robin shook her head gently. "No, honey. Here, let me show you." She took several of the clumps of tinsel from the tree and proceeded to place one strand at a time over the branches. "See? This way, the tinsel hangs down and looks like rain or icicles." She picked off some of the other clumps and handed them to Jess. "I'll help you, okay?"

The older woman took the tinsel from Robin and began placing it, as instructed, on the upper branches of the tree, while Robin busily worked on the lower branches. Of course, in Jess's considered opinion, this method of tinsel hanging was rather boring, so she decided to amuse herself in another way. She hung one strand of tinsel on an upper branch, then placed a second strand over Robin's head. Since Robin appeared not to notice, she tried it again, placing one strand on the tree, and then another on Robin's head. This process worked out so well that Jess performed the same ritual several more times, making sure that the blonde head was sufficiently and thoroughly covered with shiny tinsel.

Robin diligently placed her portion of the tinsel on the bottom half of the tree, filling in the gaps between the branches then strategically covering the tree light wires. Something tickled her nose, and a green eye watched with sudden interest as a wayward strand of tinsel fluttered downward. She bent her head and watched another strand fall. "Jess…..is there something you want to tell me?"

"No." Jess hid a smirk.

"I think there is." Robin straightened up. "Let me help you. Tinsel goes on the tree, not on me. Are we clear?"

Blue eyes twinkled. "But it looks really good on you." Jess studied the blonde head a bit more. "I quite like it."

Green eyes narrowed. "Just you wait, Bucko. I'll get you back when you least expect it."

"Yeah, yeah. I've heard it all before." Jess waved a dismissive hand.

"Hey, Jess. Can you give me a boost up so I can put a little more tinsel on the top?" Robin pointed up near where the angel was positioned.

"How about if I get you a chair to stand on?"

Robin shook her head. "Nope. Just give me a boost. It'll only take a second."

The older woman complied, kneeling down with one leg bent at the knee to give Robin a place to step. "Okay, but my leg isn't going to hold out forever."

Robin placed one foot on Jess's knee and then lifted herself up level with the angel on the treetop. She leaned against a broad shoulder to brace herself, as Jess steadied her legs with her hands. The younger woman placed the shiny strands on all exposed upper branches until they were sufficiently covered, then turned slightly and proceeded to dump the remaining unused tinsel on top of Jess's head. Robin dusted her hands together, then jumped down, grinning satisfactorily. "I think I'm finished now."

Jess cautiously stood up, glittering pieces of tinsel strewn haphazardly about her head and hanging in front of her eyes. She was silent for a very long moment, and then slowly and deliberately pulled all offending strands of tinsel from her hair. "Was absolutely that necessary?"

"Yes." Robin appeared quite pleased with herself. "I think we're even now."

I can't believe I fell for that trick. "We most certainly are not even. I put a few pieces of tinsel on you. You dumped a whole handful on me. That is not even." Jess fixed Robin with a steady glare. "I would be very afraid right now if I were you, Robin."

"Now, Jess." Robin backed away. "That was the only way I could get you back. You're taller than I am, so I had to improvise." She took several more steps backward toward the kitchen.

"Is that so?" The dark haired woman closed in on Robin, taking slow, exaggerated steps. Suddenly, with lightning quickness, Jess grasped the younger woman around the waist and spun her underneath the hanging mistletoe. A low voice rumbled in a petite ear. "If we get into improvisation, Robin, I promise you, I will win." She leaned down and kissed Robin soundly.

Robin leaned back against the nearby wall, a bit dazed. "Um…..it seems I may have greatly underestimated your improvisational skills." Sea green eyes fixed on cool blue. "Care to demonstrate that again?"

Jess willingly complied with the request, then stood for a moment and gazed back into the living room. "The tree really looks nice." She offered a somewhat wry smile. "Tree fill has nothing on this."

That sent Robin into a fit of giggles. "And don't you forget it, either." She looked down at her hands and forearms, inspecting them for a moment. "I'm covered with tree sap, and this stuff's really hard to get off, even with soap. I need to go get cleaned up."

"I have a better idea." The taller woman made a cursory review of her own hands and arms, finding them just as sap-covered. "Want to hit the Jacuzzi?"

A blonde eyebrow slowly lifted. "Ooooh. That sounds…..decadent."

You have absolutely no idea. "How about if you finish up in here, and I'll get the Jacuzzi ready. Sound like a plan, Stan?"

Robin grinned and pointed a playful finger at Jess. "Let's not start that again. And for the record, the name of that song is 'Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover', and it doesn't exist in my book."

There was something implied in that statement, and it made Jess pause and take notice. She means no leaving? "So, there's no slipping out the back, Jack?

Robin shook her head. "No."

"No making a new plan, Stan?"

"No." The blonde head shook again.

"How about being coy, Roy?"

"No." It was a definite statement.

"I see." Jess continued. "So, there would be no hopping on the bus, Gus?"

"Definitely not."

"What about dropping off the key, Lee?"

"No." Green eyes locked onto soft blue. "No one leaves."

I want to believe that. Jess stroked Robin's cheek. "No one leaves." She gently guided Robin back underneath the mistletoe for another lingering kiss.

"You know," a green eye peered up at the mistletoe. "We really should put that stuff somewhere more…..convenient."

"I'll see what I can do." Jess grinned. "Alright, kiddo, let me get the Jacuzzi going. Why don't you go ahead and clean up in here."

Robin nodded, then began industriously clearing the empty ornament boxes and shopping bags from the living area. Jess took a step forward, then suddenly stopped her progress and turned back around, quietly regarding the sight before her. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, brightly lit and decorated beautifully with colored lights and ornaments. The white and gold angel shone down from its perch on the treetop, its wings outstretched, as if somehow serving as a guardian of the home. The taller woman silently watched as Robin walked about the room busily removing the empty boxes and bags and taking out the cordless hand vacuum to clean up all loose tree needles and unused tinsel. Jess continued her observation in quiet fascination, the domesticity of it all suddenly striking her. She swallowed back a curious lump in her throat, as the unfamiliar feeling surrounded and then enveloped her completely, quite unwilling to let go.

I want this forever.


"Ooooh, this feels nice." Robin relaxed against the front portion of the roman tub as the Jacuzzi jets bubbled hot water in soothing waves around her. The low incandescent lights from the track lighting shone indirectly along the bathroom walls, as scented candles flickered gently from the imported marble countertops and around the edges of the large oval-shaped tub.

"Yeah." Jess leaned back against the opposite edge. "I usually unwind by taking a long, hot bath." A sudden thought popped into her mind. "I have a confession to make."

A curious blonde eyebrow arched. "Spill it."

"It was shortly after I met you, and I had a really bad day at work. I came home and decided to take a hot bath to relax." Jess offered a sheepish grin. "I turned on the Jacuzzi jets and almost drifted off, and when I shook myself out of it, I realized that I was thinking about you being in here with me."

"That was before we….."


"Oh." Robin considered the confession. "How did you feel about that?"

Jess's hands played with the water. "I told myself that I was just tired, and that I really wasn't thinking clearly."

The blonde head nodded pensively. "I have a confession, too."


Robin stared down at the foaming bubbles. "When we were in New Orleans, and we stayed in the hotel room together, the next morning you were in the shower and I had just woken up. You came out of the bathroom to get something, and you were wearing only a towel. I couldn't help it. I stared at you." Robin blushed even now at the memory, then shook her head slightly. "I didn't know why I did that."

"We both should have figured things out sooner, huh?"

"Yeah." Robin smiled. "Hey, Jess, will you wash my back?"

"Sure. Hand me that wash mitt, will ya?" Jess pointed to the terrycloth mitt folded neatly on the side of the tub.

Robin reached for the requested item, then suddenly burst into giggles. "Um…..Jess?" The younger woman held the object up in front of her, inspecting it more closely. "What is this?"

Dark brows furrowed. "What do you mean, 'what is this'? It's a wash mitt."

Robin giggled again. "It has a smiley face on it."

"Your point?"

"Nothing." Robin continued to contemplate the mitt in question. "Did you…..um…..buy this yourself?" She tried, but failed, to suppress yet another giggle.

"For your information, Robin, my nephews left it here the last time they came to visit. I absolutely, positively, and most certainly did not buy it." Jess tried to sound indignant.

"Right." The younger woman grinned. "But you kept it."

Point made. "Okay, I kept it. Happy now?"

"Yes." Robin handed the mitt to Jess, green eyes holding a bit of mirth. "And Jess, not one more word about my bunny slippers, okay?" A blonde eyebrow arched to further her point. "Not even a tiny quip."

"Nope. No can do. One smiley face wash mitt does not equal two floppy-eared bunny slippers, no matter how you look at it. Sorry, kiddo." Jess savored her momentary victory. "Now, go ahead and turn around so I can get your back." She lathered up the wash mitt. "Did you get all the tree sap off?"

"Most of it." Robin shifted so Jess could easily reach her back and shoulders, letting the gentle rubbing and massaging further relax her muscles. After a moment, the younger woman chuckled lightly under her breath.

"What's so funny?"

"The mental image of a smiley face against my back just made me laugh." Robin chuckled again, then suddenly gasped as the smiley face mitt in question was replaced by genuine smiling lips trailing and kissing their way lazily from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. Sea green eyes fluttered closed, as Robin felt those same lips move to the base of her neck.

"So, where do you still have tree sap?" The alto voice spoke softly into a conveniently placed ear.

"Um…..mostly on my hands." Green eyes opened and watched in rapt fascination as Jess reached forward and thoroughly cleansed one hand after the other of all visible traces of tree sap.

"Anywhere else?" Smiling lips journeyed along the top of a petite shoulder, as the wash mitt moved its way around to a particularly sensitive area.

"I don't think there's any tree sap there." Robin tried unsuccessfully to remain focused.

"Pretend there is." Came the low reply.

"Okay." It was the last coherent thought Robin had that evening.


As far as most weeks went, this particular week moved along at an unusually slow pace. Whether it was from the excitement of the approaching holidays, or just a natural end-of-the-year lull in what otherwise was a typically heavy workload, the week seemed to drag along interminably. Robin completed her legal research for the day and stretched her hands high above her head, swiveling lightly in her chair. The twilight sky outside signaled the fast approaching evening, and Robin gazed with interest out the large glass window and down to the lake below, as masses of people gathered for an evening of Christmas caroling.

Her mind brought her back to earlier in the day, when a group of children from a local boys' academy had visited the firm and entertained the entire staff with festive Christmas carols. The children were absolutely adorable, especially the one little boy of about six years old who tapped his hand-held drum to the tune of "The Little Drummer Boy." The corners of Robin's mouth curled into a smile as she recalled the event, then a curious wave of something else surfaced, barely registering in her conscious mind. It was a quiet longing, one that she hadn't allowed herself to consider lately, but one which nevertheless had far reaching implications. I want children. She shook her head slightly, bringing her out of her wayward musings, and set her mind back on the present day. Okay, what are we doing about the holiday party?

Deciding the matter needed to be settled once and for all, Robin stood up and strode out into the hallway, making her way quickly through the empty reception area and past the elevators toward an exceedingly familiar office. The younger woman stood silently for a moment before knocking on the closed wood door, then opened it slightly. "Busy?"

Jess glanced up from her computer. "A little. What's up?"

The young associate stepped inside and closed the door. "Can we talk about the holiday party? It's tomorrow, and I think we should discuss it." She took a seat in the chair by the window.

"Alright." The junior partner shifted in her burgundy leather chair to face Robin. "Do you want to go?"

"Yes." The golden head nodded.

"Okay, then go."

"You're not helping, here, Jess." Robin frowned. "Are you going?"

Jess tapped her fingers lightly on the cherry wood desk. "You know I don't like those things, Robin. You go, and if you don't want to go alone, maybe Keith will still escort you."

Robin shot up from her chair. "That is not an option and you know it." She stepped forward, and then knelt in front of the junior partner. "Jess, I think we both should put in an appearance, but I don't want you to go if you'd really rather not."

Blue eyes softened. "Alright. How about if we do this. You and I can go separately for just a little while. We'll put in an appearance and then leave separately." Jess sighed somewhat audibly. "People will probably notice we're both alone, but they'll get over it." She had a brief thought, then looked at Robin through long, dark bangs. "You know, you can go with someone else, Robin. I'm okay with that."

Green eyes flashed. "Well, I'm not okay with it. Why are you?" Robin seemed genuinely hurt.

Damn. "No, honey." Jess rushed to clarify. "I'm not okay with you being with someone else. But I am okay with you protecting yourself. Do you understand?"

The young associate nodded, then relaxed. "I'm going to go alone, Jess."

The junior partner grasped Robin's hand and brushed her fingers back and forth over the smooth skin. "Alright. I'll go alone, also. We'll let the chips fall where they may." I hope I don't regret this.

"Thanks." Robin stood up and smiled. "See you back at The Ranch later?"

"You betcha, kiddo." Jess winked. "Keep a spot warm for me on my favorite sofa."

Robin started to turn the doorknob, then threw a look back over her shoulder at Jess. "I'll be keeping other things warm for you, too." She gave Jess a wink of her own, then walked swiftly out of the office without a second glance.

Jess stared at the closed door. Oh boy.


"The tree really looks nice." Jess reclined on the plush sofa and admired the newly decorated and brightly lit frasier fir tree. A fire flickered in the fireplace, the wood crackling and hissing, as orange flames cast dancing shadows across the far wall. Except for the tree lights and the fire, and one bayberry scented candle, there was no other light in the living room. Soft Christmas music filtered in from the stereo situated in an adjacent corner. "It smells really good, too."

Robin took up her favorite position, sliding down on the sofa so she was nestled against the cushions, with her head resting on Jess's shoulder. "Yeah, I could stay here for days and just look at it." A green eye peered up at the taller woman. "Are you sure this beats tree fill?"

"Absolutely." Jess chuckled. "Like I said, tree fill has nothing on this." She grinned, then turned a bit serious. "You know, I never realized the things I was missing until I met you. I thought I had everything I wanted or needed." She tucked an errant strand of blonde hair behind a petite ear. "I was wrong."

"How so?" Robin was intently curious.

Dark brows knit together in slight concentration. "It's like this. Every year, I contented myself to go over to my mother's house for Christmas and spend a couple of days getting my tree fill. That would be enough to last me until the next year, when I'd do it all over again." Jess was having a rare moment of insight. "Now that I have my own personal Christmas tree in my living room, I see that tree fill is a mere crumb compared to the real thing. You showed me that." She placed several gentle kisses on top of the blonde head. "It's the same way now for everything, from 102 flavors of ice cream to grocery shopping. It's more real when I'm with you."

Robin really did understand the somewhat awkward explanation, and the genuine sentiment behind it. She smiled in contentment, and then wrapped an arm tightly around the older woman's waist. "You say the sweetest things."

Jess grinned, then spent a few moments relaxing next to Robin, quietly enjoying the view of the brightly lit tree and the sound of soft Christmas melodies in the background. "Um…..Robin?" Jess knew she needed to have a particular conversation with Robin, one that she'd been putting off for the past few days. "Can we talk about something kinda important?"

The blonde head tilted upward. "What's on your mind?"

"I wanted to talk about Christmas." Jess began cautiously. "I was wondering….." She took a deep breath. "What's happening? You haven't mentioned anything, and I know your parents are coming in."

Robin blinked, and then shifted up on one arm so she was looking directly at Jess. "You seem a little upset."

The older woman shook her head almost in disbelief. Is she in denial about this? Jess kept her tone even. "I'm not upset, I just…..I wanted to spend time with you. I don't know what your plans are, and I thought perhaps you might be spending all your time with your folks." Jess cast her gaze over toward the flickering fire. "Then we wouldn't be able to be together at all for Christmas."

What's she really saying? Robin watched the play of emotions cross the chiseled features, and the slight tensing of the fine muscles beneath the surface of a tightened jaw. She recognized the tell-tale signs that Jess was indeed upset by the fact that the older woman avoided looking at her directly. Petite fingers turned the angular face back meet her own. "You're upset because we haven't discussed my plans?"

Jess couldn't bite back the flippant retort that followed. "If you don't want to spend any time together during Christmas, Robin, just tell me. I'm a big girl. I can take it."

Robin flinched. It was never her intention to cut Jess out of her plans. It was just that Robin had avoided the issue for so long, that she, herself, had only recently learned of the details of her parents' visit. "No, Jess." She responded firmly. "That's not it."

Jess stayed silent, the invitation to continue clear.

"If I could have my choice, my parents would stay in Michigan. But my mother is quite stubborn, and when I told her I didn't want to go back up there for Christmas, she went full-steam ahead and made plans to come down here." Robin frowned slightly. "They worry about me because of everything that's happened. They're insisting I move back up there with them."

The dark head abruptly turned toward Robin, ice blue eyes penetrating sea green. Jess's heart rate suddenly sped up, and her whole body tensed reflexively, as she felt the air being sucked from her lungs. She instinctively averted her gaze back toward the fireplace, closing her eyes tightly to the sudden stab of pain that cut deeper than anything she ever could have imagined. She took a shuddering breath, and then spoke very slowly and very deliberately, her steady voice belying her inner turmoil . "I see." She swallowed. "They're coming to take you back with them."

What? Robin felt the body beneath hers tremble slightly, and her eyes grew wide as she realized the impression she'd left, and its magnitude. She rushed to correct the misperception, practically shouting the forceful denial that followed. "No." She swiftly reached for Jess's face and turned it back toward her own, fixing her gaze solidly on the now guarded azure eyes. "No." It was only then that she saw the wet trail marks of fresh tears tracking away from the long, dark lashes. Robin's heart nearly broke, and her own composure was shaky, at best. "Oh, Jess, no." She brushed away the tears. "Honey, please. I'm not going back with them. I'm not." She's so fragile about this. Damn it, James. You did this to her. The younger woman now came to realize how deeply Jess had been hurt. It was a hurt so profound that constant reassurances and unconditional love might never be enough to completely heal the still open wounds or alleviate the underlying fear. Robin, for her part, tried anyhow. Sincere green eyes found blue. "Listen to me, Jess. I promised you, remember? No one leaves. I meant that." She tucked the older woman's head against her chest, and stroked the dark hair soothingly, whispering softly. "I love you, Jess, so much. I won't leave."

Jess curled up into the circle of Robin's arms, welcoming the comfort. She melted into the embrace, as if that one place was the safest in all the world. And at that particular moment, it was. The sudden and intense wave of emotion seemed to come out of nowhere, and had taken over her with unsettling force. She hadn't felt anything like that before. Not even when James left. She took several deep and even breaths in an attempt to regain her composure, then finally spoke, slightly embarrassed by the unexpected loss of control. "I'm sorry. I don't know where all that insecurity came from."

I do. Robin brushed her thumb back and forth against Jess's cheek. "It's alright, Jess. It was very insensitive of me to worry you like I did. Will you let me explain?" At Jess's nod, the younger woman continued. "Ever since I found out my parents were coming down to visit, I've avoided the issue. You see, they don't want me to be here alone, and they'd rather I'd move back to Michigan. I'm not going to move back up there, and I don't want to fight with them about it." She grasped the long fingers and gently kissed them. "It wasn't until this week that I finally talked to my mother and found out their exact plans. I just didn't want to deal with it before." Green eyes closed in sincere regret. "But by not dealing with it, I worried you. I'm so sorry for that."

Jess found herself sighing in relief. She was avoiding her parents, nothing more. She reached a long finger up to trace a delicate jaw. "It's true, I was worried. I had convinced myself that you were beginning to realize that your feelings for me weren't what you thought they were. You seemed as if you had changed your mind about calling Dr. Richmond, and when you didn't mention your plans for Christmas, I thought you might want some time away from me to sort things out while your parents were here." Jess suddenly felt ashamed. "I thought you might want out."

Robin shook her head. "No. Please listen to me, Jess. I've said this before, and I absolutely, positively, without a doubt mean it. I will never, ever willingly leave you, and I won't ever change my mind about loving you." I have to keep reassuring her. Robin's voice became very quiet and held somewhat of a serene quality as she spoke her next words. "Jess, you are the best thing in my life. You saved me when I wasn't sure I could move forward. You're my best friend." A tear drop fell unimpeded, as green eyes solidly locked on blue. "Our weekend together was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. I did not take it lightly. I would never have…..been with you that way if I wasn't sure." Another tear fell as Robin tried her best to find something, anything, to help her say what she sensed Jess needed to hear. "Let me say it this way. You know that I've been with only one other person, and we were going to be married. It's a very serious thing for me to be with someone that way." She grasped Jess's hand and intertwined their fingers, bringing them to her heart. "I'm with you, Jess, because I want to be with you, in every possible way, totally, unquestionably and undeniably, with all my heart. It's a very serious thing for me." She gave Jess a heartfelt smile. "How could I ever leave that?"

Jess was silent, absorbing the words Robin had spoken and letting them wash over her in gentle, calming waves. She blinked back a tear of her own, then paused, giving the younger woman the most adorable crooked smile. "Sometimes you just have to hit me over the head."

Robin let go a relieved laugh, as she hugged the older woman tightly to her. "Where's a frying pan when I need one?" She laughed again, grateful for a break in the tension, then let a few silent moments pass by so they both could collect their thoughts. Robin gazed quietly at the colorfully lit tree, then propped herself up again on one elbow. "So, let's talk Christmas. What do you say?"

Jess grinned. "What a great idea. You go first. Tell me your plans."

"Alright. My parents are coming down two days before Christmas and then leaving the day after."

"Where are they staying?"

"My place. They can have my room. I'll sleep on the sofa while they're here."

Jess became a bit introspective. "I'll miss you."

"Yeah. Me, too. It'll be strange waking up without you. I've almost forgotten what that's like."

The older woman nodded, then regarded the Christmas tree. "Are you sure you don't want to put a tree up at your place? I would help you." She looked at Robin out of the corner of her eye. "I could do the tinsel."

That brought a chuckle. "No, Jess. No tree, and definitely no tinsel from you. Anyway, my apartment's a little too small for a tree. I'll put up some decorations so it looks more like Christmas, and then I have a snow village I can put up. It'll look nice." Robin scooted down a little and positioned her head so it rested once again on Jess's shoulder. "So what about you? What are your plans for Christmas?"

Jess shrugged. "I'll go to my mom's on Christmas Eve, and then come back the day after Christmas." This was said in an almost off-handed way.

Robin considered her next question carefully. "I want to ask you something, but I don't want you to feel obligated to agree."


Robin suddenly had trouble phrasing what she wanted to say. "Um…..if you're going to be here during the day on Christmas Eve, would you like to join me and my parents for brunch? My dad's taking us out."

The older woman smiled a little to herself. She wants you to meet her folks, Jess. You're an absolute idiot for ever doubting her. Jess reached down and tilted the blonde head up. "Are you sure that's what you want?" There was another implied meaning to the question. Having Robin's parents meet her would almost certainly invite inevitable scrutiny. The impact might not be felt right away, but it likely would make its presence known at some undetermined point in the future.

Robin nodded. "Yes, I'm sure, Jess. I want them to know you." She looked down a bit awkwardly, her voice barely a whisper. "I…..um…..don't want to tell them about us, though. I'd like them to get to know you first." Petite fingers brushed against the soft skin of Jess's forearm. "I want to tell them that you're my friend, and that you know about everything that's happened." She took a deep breath, then released it. "I also want to tell them that I'm moving in with you."

Blue eyes grew wide in surprise. "Are you comfortable with that?"

Robin nodded. "I've thought about this. I can tell them that we'll be roommates. Technically, that's true. Besides, they're going to find out sooner or later." Robin reached for Jess's hand and intertwined their fingers. "I want them to get to know you, Jess, and I want them to know that you're important to me, but I'm not ready to tell them about us." She sighed. "Please understand."

Jess gave her a warm smile. "I do understand, and I'd love to join you and your parents for brunch on Christmas Eve day." She gave Robin a gentle kiss. "Now, what would you say to coming to Tampa with me on New Year's Day? I'd really like for you to meet my mom."

"Yes." There was absolutely no hesitation.

"Good." Jess smiled. "Glad that's settled." She traced a long finger along a petite shoulder blade. "Now that we've gotten everyone else squared away, let's talk about our Christmas time together, yours and mine. We could maybe celebrate it after your parents leave."

"I'd like that." Robin snuggled into the crook of Jess's neck, breathing in the decidedly familiar scent. She suddenly giggled a bit. "So, tell me, Jess, what'd you get me?"

"Excuse me." The low voice answered dryly.

"You did get me something, didn't you?"

Dark brows furrowed. "If I did get you something, Robin, and I'm not saying I did, but if I did, I certainly wouldn't tell you."

"Did I mention that I saw this really great car, and it has….."

"Enough room so even the tallest person couldn't complain." Jess finished. "Yeah, yeah. I think you might have mentioned a little something about that." She rapped her knuckles lightly on the blonde head. "I wouldn't count on it, though, kiddo." I have something else in mind. The taller woman snuck a peak at the silently grinning face. "I have a much, much better idea. How about you tell me what you got me." She raised her eyebrows hopefully.

A small giggle. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Hmm. What if I bribe you?"

"Nope. Won't work. If you won't tell me, then I'm not telling you."

"Alright, then." Jess relented. "I guess we'll both just have to be surprised."

"Yep." I hope you like what I got you, Jess. Robin gazed up at the angel perched on the treetop, its wings outstretched and a candle glowing in each hand. Her mind flashed back to a time a short while ago, and the vision she'd had while admittedly feverish with the flu. You're my angel, Jess. You always have been. "Jess?"


"I already have my gift." Robin truly meant the sentiment.

Jess tenderly kissed Robin's forehead. "Me, too, sweetheart."


The country club ballroom was elegantly apportioned with tasteful holiday decorations in silver, gold, red and green, while small white lights set loosely amidst pine branches adorned the serving tables. Favorite Christmas melodies furnished by a brass and string band filtered throughout the room, and a wooden planked dance floor served as center stage for entertainment later that evening. Four separate buffet tables were positioned neatly in the corners of the spacious ballroom, complimented by two open bar areas located on opposite sides of the dance floor. The guests arrived in semi-formal attire, the evening chill forcing many to don additional outerwear, while a coat attendant efficiently checked assorted hats and coats into the adjoining cloak room.

Robin entered the ballroom and immediately noticed that Jess had not yet arrived. Paul and a woman whom Robin presumed to be his date chatted near the shrimp buffet. Keith and Michelle stood with their dates next to one of the open bar areas, appearing to listen to the band. Several secretarial and support staff members milled about the various buffet tables, while others positioned themselves strategically near the doorways, surreptitiously observing the comings and goings of other staff personnel and their respective dates and escorts.

Robin quietly took in the scene, and was startled a bit as someone tapped her on the shoulder from behind. She turned to find Jess's secretary, Angie, and Angie's husband standing beside her. "Hello, Angie."

"Robin, I'd like you to meet my husband, Doug. Have you seen Jess this evening?" Angie glanced around the room, seemingly searching for her boss. "Is she here yet?"

If Robin had thought about it, she would have realized the set-up when she heard it. "I don't know. I just got here myself."

"Well, we'll keep looking for her. Did you bring someone with you tonight?"

Robin mentally cringed. "No, I'm not staying long. I have company coming in from out of town, and I have a lot to do to get ready."

Angie spotted a friend near the pasta bar. "There's Betty. Doug, let's go say hello." She turned to leave. "Have a good evening, Robin."

"You, too." The young associate watched as Angie and Doug strode off toward the opposite end of the ballroom. Robin headed over to one of the drink bars, ordering a glass of Chardonnay, and stood silently watching the mingling crowd.

"Fancy meeting you here." The low voice came from behind, its owner stepping to one side and ordering a vodka tonic. "Been here long?" Jess received her drink and gazed around the ballroom.

"A few minutes. Can we find a table? I want to get some food."

The junior partner started to offer a snappy remark, but then thought the better of it given the setting. "How about we sit with Harry and Barbara over there?" She pointed toward the center of the room, then led Robin over to Harry's table. "Mind if we join you two?"

Harry stood up, welcoming them in delighted fashion. "Hello, there. Glad you both could make it. Jess, I see you've finally come to one of our little soirees."

"Well, there's a first time for everything, Harry." Jess grinned and took a seat. "Nice seeing you again, Barbara."

Barbara nodded. "It's good to see you, too. And you, as well, Robin."

"Thank you. It's nice to see you." The young associate smiled politely and took a seat next to Jess.

Once everyone was seated, Harry picked up his drink and turned to his wife. "Dear, did I tell you that Jess and Robin recently won a major trial for us. It was simply outstanding work." He beamed.

"Well, isn't that wonderful." Barbara enthused. "The firm is certainly lucky to have such a talented team on board." She watched the subtle interaction between the two women, then turned toward Harry. "Isn't that right, dear."

"Absolutely." Harry very happily agreed, not aware of his wife's full intent at the comment. He turned to Jess and Robin. "You ladies must try the shrimp and pasta buffets. The fettuccini with the Alfredo sauce is outstanding."

That was all that needed to be said. Several shrimp plates, pasta courses, and meat buffet trips later, Robin finally decided that she was full. Jess, for her part, went back for seconds on the shrimp cocktail and bacon-wrapped shrimp hors d'oeuvres. No particular newsflashes on either front. The evening's conversation with Harry and Barbara was exceedingly enjoyable, with Harry engaged in recounting old "war" stories of trial glory days past. Robin found the tales quite fascinating and very entertaining.

Meanwhile, Paul and Keith, along with their respective dates, were gathered over near one of the open drink bars. Michelle Richards, a third-year associate with the firm, approached the group, along with her date for the evening. She surveyed the room, finally settling her gaze on the center table. "Well, Keith, it seems that Robin made it."

Keith ordered another beer from the bar. "Yeah. It looks like she's here alone."

Michelle continued to watch the Roberts table. Perhaps. "Nice of Jessica to finally put in an appearance." The remark was casually sardonic and was made to no one in particular.

Paul, mostly out of curiosity, silently followed Michelle's gaze. He was not usually one for casual observation. Most men aren't. But as he studied the Roberts table, there was something that struck even him, as he watched Robin quietly steal a quick glance at Jess. Curious. He continued observing the pair for another moment, until his date beckoned him over to the pasta buffet.

Across the room, Angie stood near the doorway with Betty, watching the mingling crowd. "I see Paul has a date tonight."

"I thought he was all ga-ga over Robin. What's up with that?" Betty scanned the room for her boss, Harry Roberts.

"She axed him. Poor guy was quite depressed about it." Angie smirked. "I guess not for too long, though. Did you get a look at his date tonight?"

"Where?" Betty finally spied Paul and his date over by the pasta buffet. "Oh, I see what you mean." She scanned the room further. "Look, there's Robin over with my boss and his wife." She stared intently at the center table. "Well, wonder of wonders. Isn't that Jessica Harrison? This is what, the first holiday party she's been to?"

"Yep. And neither she nor Robin brought anyone tonight." Angie cocked her head "You know, Robin's the only one who seems to be able to work with my boss."

Betty laughed. "It's a good thing, too. Otherwise, you'd be stuck with a lot more paperwork."

"Still, there's something about that. I can't put my finger on it, but where my boss is, Robin is, and vice-versa." Angie studied the Roberts table pensively. "They eat lunch together a lot, they're in each other's offices a lot, Jessica's got Robin working on all her cases."

"Well, Jessica's got to get someone to help her. She is quite temperamental, you know."

Angie rolled her eyes. "You're telling me."

"Maybe they're friends." It was an offhanded remark.

"Maybe." Angie considered the statement. "I think there's something else going on."

"Ooooh, do tell."

Angie shook her head. "Don't know yet. It's just that no one gets along with my boss as well as Robin does, and that's saying a lot. I'll figure it out, though. Give me some time." She scanned the room in an attempt to locate her husband. "Where did Doug run off to?"

The band began playing the Christmas Waltz, and the gentle melody floated throughout the spacious ballroom. Harry turned to his wife. "Would you like to dance, dear?" He glanced at Jess and Robin. "Will you ladies excuse us?"

"Of course." Jess nodded appropriately. "Have yourselves a good time out there. I'll be calling it an evening, myself."

Robin offered a plausible scenario of her own. "I'll stay a while and mingle a bit, then I'll need to get going, also."

"Well, it was very nice chatting with both of you tonight." Harry stood up and took his wife's hand.

"Yes, it certainly was a lovely evening." Barbara Roberts smiled as she rose from her chair. "I hope we see each other again soon."

Robin nodded politely. "That would be nice. Goodnight." As she watched the couple head out onto the dance floor, her mind quite irrationally wondered what it would be like to dance with the person she loved. Just not in public. She sighed, then turned to Jess. "Did Angie find you?"

The junior partner seemed confused. "Angie?"

"Yeah. She was looking for you earlier. Did she find you?" The young associate sipped her wine.

"No." Jess seemed a bit unsettled. "How do you know she was looking for me?"

"Well, she came up to me before you got here and asked me if you were here yet."

Jess suddenly became pale. Oh shit. "She asked you if I was here yet?"

"Yes." What's the big deal? Robin didn't get it. "Jess, what is it?"

Don't panic. Jess swallowed uneasily. "I need to get some air. Meet me in the parking lot in ten minutes." The older woman abruptly rose from her chair and headed out the doorway, right past Angie and Betty who were dutifully observing the happenings with great interest.

Ten long minutes later, Robin found Jess in the parking lot next to the silver Mercedes. "Will you tell me what's going on?"

Jess paced. "What exactly did Angie say?"

"She asked if I'd seen you this evening, and whether you were here yet." Robin still didn't get it. "What's the matter?"

Jess stopped her pacing, sighing heavily. "Robin, Angie has been my secretary for nearly seven years. She knows full well that I never go to these things."

"So?" The younger woman shook her head slightly. "I'm sorry, Jess, I'm not following you."

"Robin, she asked you if I was here yet. I never told her I was planning on going tonight. She should have assumed I wouldn't be here, just like all the other times. She had absolutely no reason to ask you that."

"Then why….." Robin braced herself against the car, a sickening thought nearly causing her stomach to rebel.

"She was baiting you, Robin."

"Baiting me?" This was bad. "What do you mean?"

"She wanted to know what your answer would be." Jess looked grim. "When she asked you if I was here yet, what did you tell her?"

"I told her that I didn't know, that I'd just gotten here." Green eyes closed tightly. "How bad is this?"

Jess took a moment to think, pacing again lightly. "Okay, it's not actually too bad." She took a few more paces. "Angie was fishing. If you had definitively said either that I was or I was not going to be here, it would have given her something to chew on. She certainly would have wondered why you knew so much about my plans, and she probably would have found it interesting had you said that you were definitely expecting me, especially since I don't normally show up at these things." The taller woman relaxed somewhat. "But, you said you didn't know, so she got nothing."

"But she suspects."

"Not necessarily. She's curious and looking for a little gossip. She has nothing." I hope. "We're going to have to be much more careful from now on, Robin. People are watching us."

"That's creepy." Robin felt her queasiness return.

The junior partner sighed, her unease at the situation evident. "I know."

As Jess and Robin were talking in the parking lot, Paul and his date exited the country club and waited for the valet to retrieve their car. Paul quite casually glanced over toward the parking area, catching a glimpse of the two attorneys standing near the silver Mercedes. It was clear, even to his considerably untrained eye, that their rather animated discussion appeared not to be business oriented. Interesting. He arched an eyebrow, continuing to observe the scene until the valet finally returned with his car.

Jess unlocked the Mercedes' car door and then turned toward Robin. "Meet me back at the house, okay?"

The young associate was clearly agitated, her stomach doing flip-flops as she tried in vain to remain calm. "Yeah. See you there." She made her way uneasily over toward the blue Miata parked a few spaces away.

Jess quickly slid into her silver Mercedes and started up the ignition. As she did so, she spied Paul standing at the country club's main entrance, his gaze squarely fixed on the parking lot. Damn. She pulled out of the main drive, then turned onto a nearby side street, stopping the car and resting her forearms heavily against the steering wheel.

Now might be a very good time to panic.

To Be Continued………..


© Copyright 11/06/2000

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