For complete disclaimers see part 1.

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

Control

by

Kim Pritekel

Part 15

I tried to keep a smile on my face, keep things light. For Parker's benefit. She was pressing with all her might, trying to get her snowman to look perfect. An honest to god smile crossed my face at the look of pure determination leaked out with her tongue out the corner of her mouth.

"Got it!" She took the metal cookie cutter away, pride radiating form those blue eyes as she looked up at me. I nodded.

"Yep. You sure did." Smiling and ruffling her golden curls, I opened the oven door, nodding that the kid should put the pan in. I set the timer, my gaze restless, trying not to look for Keller. I could hear the murmur of her voice, the one-sided conversation two rooms away. Detective Robbins had called for her nearly twenty minutes ago. I wonder what was going on.

"Do I get to frost him, too?"

My attention was drawn once again to the seven year old looking up at me with hope-filled eyes.

"Sure do, kiddo. Come on, help me making the icing."

"Yay!" Parker did a little jig as I began to measure powdered sugar into the glass measuring cup Keller and Parker had given me for my birthday.

"Garrison?" Keller's voice was soft, but tense. "I need to talk to you." With that, the only indication she'd been there was the swinging door.

"Honey, stir that, okay?" I gave Parker the big wooden spoon. She nodded, her mood changing, matching that of her sister. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I headed out of the kitchen, seeing Keller standing in front of the fireplace, arms crossed over her chest. She was staring into the flames. I put my hand on her back, letting her know I was there. She didn't react, which was nice. Ever since the incident with Gabe nearly two months ago, Keller had become withdrawn, looking out the window often, as though she were looking for something. It was hard for me to not take what happened upon myself; I wanted to take full responsibility for it.

I couldn't do that. I had done nothing wrong, but still. I couldn't keep the thought out of my mind that I'd brought Gabe into her life. I remember the night she came to me:

I balled up the dirty sheets, tossing them onto the floor by the closet, the clean sheets folded and stacked neatly on the dresser.

"Get off there, you nut." I pushed Tut off the bare mattress, then spread out the freshly washed mattress pad. A small knock on my door, which I almost missed. "Yeah?" I continued to smooth out the wrinkles as my door squeaked open, then softly clocked shut. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Keller leaning against it, her eyes downcast.

"I'm sorry." She said, not looking up.

"For what?" I stopped what I was doing, turning to fully face her.

"About the other day." She glanced up, through her bangs, then her eyes quickly fell again. Confused, I took a step closer to her. "Don't." She pushed herself into the door behind her, so I stopped.

"Keller, what's going on?" Blue eyes looked up, but looked out the window, the afternoon sunlight shining through those amazing eyes, making them glow. It also made the tear glisten as it slid down her cheek. "Keller, honey, why are you crying?" Forgetting her earlier plea, I hurried over to her, but did not touch her. She looked at me, and I saw such pain and sorrow in those brilliant eyes.

"He's your friend. You don't have to make him go away. I'll go."

"Oh, sweetie, no." Wrapping her up in my arms, Keller fell against me, her sobs silent, but strong, vibrating through her body and into mine. "Shh, baby. Don't you worry about a thing."

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to cause trouble. I swear it." She looked at me, her eyes pleading for me to understand. I swear it. I'll be better. I won't make him mad anymore,"

"Keller. Stop it!" I held her by her shoulders, looking into her eyes, trying to make her look at me. "I need you to listen to me. Look at me. Look at me, Keller." Her eyes met mine once again. "You did nothing wrong. Okay?" Keller nodded, though it was weak. "Do you want to talk about it? About what happened?" She shook her head, so I hugged her to me. "It's okay." Gently pulling her toward a chair, I sat her down, me kneeling before her. I looked up at her. "Are you okay?" She swiped at her eyes and nodded. I decided to give her a moment, so I went into my bathroom to get her some tissue to blow her nose. I stood in the center of the large room, taking in everything. The new tile I'd put down a few years ago, the large Jacuzzi tub and separate shower compartment.

With all the bad that could be in the world, it was amazing how humans made themselves feel better. Small luxuries.

Keller was looking out the window, gabbing the tissue that I offered to her. She seemed to be in a slightly better place.

"He rang the doorbell. I answered and told him you weren't here. He insisted on waiting for you. I tried to tell him to wait on the porch, but he opened the screen door before I had the chance."

I leaned against the wall next to Keller's chair. "Go on."

Keller sighed, blowing her nose. "Whenever I tried to walk away he'd either follow me or talk to me. I didn't want to be rude to your friend in your own house, so I stood there, listening to him ramble on about whatever." She looked up at me then. "I didn't know what to do, Garrison. He got closer, and I ended up against the wall. He," Her voice started to break, along with my heart. "He kissed me and grabbed my breast."

"Oh, Keller," I breathed, kneeling down again. She dropped her gaze, her hands fidgeting in he lap. I took one of her hands, she let me.

"I didn't know what to do, I panicked. So I hit him. That's when you got there. I'm sorry. He's your friend."

"No friend of mine does that, Keller. Don't you worry about it." I gathered her into the most reassuring hug I could, rocking her gently. "No worries. Okay?" I felt her nod against my neck.

"Is everything alright?" I asked, my voice a hushed whisper. Keller didn't respond for a moment, then she said, still looking into the flames.

"They're giving me my mother's body back."

"Oh." I waited but nothing further came. "What do you want to do about it?"

"I don't know. What is there to do?"

"Bury her."

Keller glanced at me over her shoulder, looking into my eyes, her gaze serious and steady. "I can't."

"Keller-"

"Afford it." Her gaze bored into mine, and I dropped mine in understanding.

"Let me do it."

"No." End of discussion. Fuck that!

"Keller, let me say goodbye and pay my respects in my own way. Your mother doesn't deserve a pauper's grave."

"Doesn't she?" She turned, fully facing me now.

"No, she doesn't." I stood my ground, toe to toe.

"No."

"Then what do you plan to do with her, Keller?" I cocked my head to the side, full challenge mode. She stared me down, but finally her eyes dropped, and she turned back to the fire. She shrugged. "Please let me do this? I planned to, anyway."

"You do too much for us already." Keller said, her jaw set to stubborn.

"Oh yeah? Well has it ever crossed your mind that not everything I do is for you? I want to do this, Keller. Me. Okay?" She sighed, then nodded.

"Do what you gotta do."

"Thank you. I'll do that." I smirked at her, and she smiled back, though weakly.

###

Christmas was a quiet even, except when Keller and I played Santa for a sleeping Parker. Through hushed instructions, we got all of her toys put together and arranged around the tree, and took turns nibbling the cookies Parker had left for him

Finally morning came and the kid was ecstatic. This made me happy for her, and I put on a brave face. Tomorrow would be another ball of wax altogether.

Parker tucked in, her new doll wrapped in her arms, and Roy tucked next to his human, I headed toward my bedroom. Walking past Keller's room, I saw that she was laying on her bed, looking through a magazine. I was surprised to see that it was one for the United States Air Force.

"Night, Keller." I said at her open door. She glanced at me from behind the magazine and smiled.

"Goodnight, Garrison. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas."

###

"Come here, honey." I knelt down, fixing Parker's dress. She had miss-buttoned, making the thing lopsided. She watched my fingers as they undid the first five buttons, reworking them. Then blue eyes were looking into mine.

"We're going to put her to bed?" She said, her little voice a whisper. My brows dropped in confusion.

"Who, honey?"

"My mommy."

My fingers stilled as I studied her gaze. "Why do you say that?"

"She's asleep. Daddy made her fall asleep forever and ever. That's what Keller told me. So now she gets to go to bed?"

I sighed, then smiled. "Yes, honey. Now your mommy gets to go to bed."

"I want you and Keller to be my mommy."

My head shot up, and I nearly fell over backwards. I knew the kid didn't know what she was saying, but it still hit me square.

"Well, Parker, uh, you have a mommy." The kid shook her head, sending her curls bouncing around her shoulders.

"She's dead." Matter of fact, just like that.

"Yes, she is dead. But Parker, she will always be your mommy. Okay?" Parker nodded, but I could tell she wasn't convinced. I decided to drop it. Someday she'd understand.

Keller sat on the front porch, waiting. She looked beautiful in black slacks and dark gray button-down. Her leather jacket set it all off. Her hair, so long and shiny, thick and beautiful, fell down her back.

"Ready?" I asked, resting my hand on her shoulder. She nodded, standing.

"You look really pretty, Parker." She said to her little sister, who wore probably one of the first dresses of her young life. The kid beamed at the praise, and Keller leaned down, giving her sister a kiss on the cheek. The janitor grabbed the kid's hand and led her to the truck. I followed, knowing that today was all about them, not me. I'd have to learn to become a wallflower again.

Keller helped her sister into the truck, and I scooted into the driver's seat. The streets were nearly empty- a random Monday, early afternoon. Most folk were at work. The three of us were in none of these. The hangar was shut down for the day, and Parker's school session hadn't begun again after the holiday.

As my truck followed the curve of the road through the cemetery, I saw a woman sitting by herself in front of a grave, fresh flowers in the bronze holder. She was rocking gently, and I wondered if that was the grave of her husband or a child. Up ahead the green canopy that had been set up over what would eventually be the final resting place of Trudy Mitchum.

I slowed as Reggie and Jerome crossed the path where they'd gotten out of Reggie's carousel red orange 1969 Judge Hardtop. I rolled down my window.

"How's the baby, Reg?" He grinned at me and gave a thumbs up. Shaking my head, I rolled the window back up and found a spot in front of the muscle car. I remembered when he'd bought the hunk of junk almost ten years ago. He'd been building her up to quite the beauty ever since.

Once parked, I glanced over at my passengers. Parker held on to her sister, reminding me of the early days when they'd first come to live with me. Keller hung on just as tightly.

There were seven of us total, including the minister. Keller and Parker were seated in the metal folding chairs closest to the coffin, which had an arrangement of flowers atop it. The shiny brass fittings shone in the sunlight. I stood next to Parker, Jerome, looking handsome in a dark blue suit, took watch next to Keller. Neither of us said nothing- both of our natural protectiveness toward those two just came out in full force. Reggie stood back with a woman I didn't recognize. The grave-side funeral had been printed in the newspaper's obituary section. I had hoped that maybe some of Keller's family would come around, or at least family friends. Someone from her past she could trust.

"Thank you all for coming today as Trudy Mitchum is finally allowed to rest at peace." The minister said, a smile on his kind face.

I listened as he continued. Sort of. I could see Keller out of my peripheral vision. She was looking straight ahead, the white coffin always in her sights. Though I did have to wonder if she was actually seeing anything. I had the strong suspicion that she was lost to us, lost to a time none of us could imagine. Perhaps not even Parker. Was the kid born yet where Keller was? Parker had been a baby of four when she'd seen her mother murdered and buried. Now, almost three years later, how much did she remember of the woman lying in that wooden box?

Then abruptly, Keller was on her feet and moving away from the service. Parker watched her go, but then her eyes also turned back front. Jerome and I met gazes, and with his shrug, I put my arm across the back of Parker's chair, and gave my full attention to the minister.

Meaningless words racing through my head and out memories of my own flowing in to fill the void. Standing in the rain at mom's service. Watching them lower the coffin into the ground, the rain falling in slow motion, falling, falling, taking my tears with them, down to my mother. Closing my eyes and raising my face to the sky, letting the angel's sorrow chill my skin.

The minister talking of dad, talking of everything Frank Davies had accomplished during his time on earth, the same minister who'd spoken of Frank's wife, and of Keller's mother now, a woman he'd never met.

Words. All just words. Meaningless, empty, pseudo balm to fill the hole left behind. There would always be an indentation on my heart, no matter how much that hole healed with time.

"Let us pray."

My mind zapped back to Trudy's funeral, and realized it was almost over. Obediently I bowed my head, listening as Reverend Stahl said a last prayer for Trudy's soul, and the service ended.

"Ready, honey?" I asked Parker. The kid nodded, her head lowered, small shoulders slumped. Standing, I reached down for her hand, which she gave to me. She looked up at me, and to my surprise, found no tears there. She just looked sad and tired. "Come on."

Hand in hand we walked over to Jerome, but were stopped by the woman. She looked to be in her forties, hair beginning to be salted with gray, and her blue eyes lined weathered. She smiled at me and I smiled back.

"You must be the pilot."

"Yes. Garrison Davies." I extended my hand, and she took it in her warm, leathery grip. Those eyes turned to Parker. The woman knelt down, the kid hugging the space around me.

"Hi, honey. Do you remember me? Louise Atkins. I used to work with your mommy at the grocery store. Remember?" Parker shook her head. "Well, you were pretty young then." She stood, looking at me again. "They always were real pretty girls."

"Yes, they are."

"Just like their momma used to be." She sighed, bringing her trembling hand up to cover her mouth as she stared out over the graves around us. "We tried to talk her into leaving him." Louise's voice was a whisper. I could see her blue eyes filling with unshed tears. "We tried so hard, but she wouldn't do it." Looking at me again, her hand dropped. "I'll never forgive myself." I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. Finally the woman took several deep breaths and reached into her purse, bringing out a scrap of paper with a name and number already written on it. "I'd hoped I'd run into you here. You've done a real good thing, Garrison. These girls need you."

"Yeah,"

"Here. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to call me." I took the paper she offered, glancing at it, then folding it. I nodded.

"Okay. Thank you for coming."

"I wouldn't miss it." Louise smiled at Parker again. "You take care little one. Take care of Keller, too, okay?" The kid nodded. With that, she walked away, leaving Parker and I both to stare after her.

Looking around, I saw the lone figure sitting on the grass under the shade of a tree. Sighing, I looked to Jerome. He was watching us, hands in his pockets.

"Hey." I said, walking over to him.

"How goes it, kiddo?" He said, smiling down at Parker.

"Okay, I guess. Listen, can we grab a ride home with you and Reggie?"

"Sure. Not a problem. Tough day, huh?" He nodded toward Keller, now tugging dried grass from their roots.

"Yeah. I think so. Listen, why don't you guys get loaded in. I'll be right back." I let go of Parker's hand, knowing she'd be fine with Jerome, who she'd come to like and trust.

The grass crunched under my boots, and I dug the keys to the truck out of my pocket as I reached Keller. She sat, knees drawn up, wrists dangling, sunglasses covering her expression from me. I set the keys on the grass next to her, gently squeezing her shoulder, then walking away.

###

Parker asked to go upstairs and play when we got home, and I immediately agreed. The kid needed some alone time. And quite frankly, so did I. I sat in my office, TV in the corner playing an old episode of Seinfeld, and a game of Sims 2 on my computer screen.

I had created my characters, two women, seeing if I could make the Sims become lesbians. It's the little things in life. I had been at it for about three hours, building the ladies a home, getting them settled into their jobs, Mary on the education path and Ellen on the culinary path. It seemed as though Mary was getting quite into Ellen, but Ellen wasn't having any of it.

Starting to get frustrated, I was about to introduce Mary to a cute little blonde neighbor when there was a knock at the door. "Come in." Watching as Mary greeted the neighbor, I was intrigued to see Ellen get jealous. Looking up, I saw Keller standing in front of my desk, and she tossed something atop it. Seeing that it was a brochure for the United States Air Force, I looked back up at her. "Are you sure you want to think-"

"I leave in three weeks." I could only stare, slack-jawed and stunned, Mary, Ellen and the cute neighbor forgotten. Keller walked over to the door, closing it, then sat down across from me. "I need to ask you a very important question, Garrison."

"Okay."

"Keep Parker for me?" Blue eyes bore into mine. I couldn't look away.

"Keller-"

"If you won't let me know, and I'll figure something out." She was beginning to close off.

"Stop it, Keller. You know damn well I'll keep Parker." I cleared my throat, hoping to clear some of the anger and hurt away, too, though I wasn't sure just what I was angry and hurt about. "When did you decide to do sign up?"

"I've been thinking about it for a little while. Then today, seeing what happened to my mother, where she ended up, I don't want to be like that. I don't want to throw away my dreams because of responsibility. I love Parker. She is my world, Garrison, but that's all I've got. I need something for me," she pounded her own chest. "something I can be proud of, call my own. You know?"

"More than you'll ever know. How long will you be gone?"

"Four years."

I felt the air kicked out of me, and had to readjust in my chair to give my lungs room to air back up. "Oh."

"I want to become the best pilot I can."

"Yeah, of course you do. Have you told Parker yet?"

"No. To be honest, I don't know how to tell her."

"She'll eventually understand, Keller. She loves you and wants to see you happy." But did I even understand? "She's safe here, and she's happy."

"I know." Keller blew out a breath, running a hand through her hair. "I can only hope that I can make her that happy someday."

"You do and you will." I smiled, but it was completely forced. I wished she'd just leave to give me time alone to digest this. I didn't want to see her go, an for so long, and was I capable of raising Parker on my own? Could I keep her happy and safe? The idea was daunting.

"Yeah, well." Keller stood, taking a deep breath. "I'm going to talk to Parker. Goodnight, Garrison."

"Night." The door softly clicked shut, and I ran a hand through my hair, looking back to the paused game on my computer screen. What was I going to do? I knew it might be good for Keller, certainly help her to open up and gain self-confidence. But still, what would I do? Would I do right by Parker? Would the kid even want to stay with me? "Shit."

###

The moonless night played black against the window that looked out of. Inky darkness, nothingness, a black hole. My mind was zillions of mines away, floating around in space, dodging the stars and planets. The earth was tilting on its axis, and so was my life.

Curled up in the corner of the window seat, I brought my knees even tighter against my chest. My temple hit the cool glass with a small thud, my breath slightly fogging my reflection. I looked at myself, my eyes mere millimeters from their reproduced counterparts. The color was near gone, stolen by the darkness, leaving me to stare into a void that felt appropriate. Keller wasn't gone yet, me only hearing the news two hours ago, and yet I felt her absence acutely.

And what then? For more than a year my life had been changed utterly, and profoundly. My priorities were no longer my own, my house no longer my own, hell, my business no longer my own. Everything I did revolved around Parker and Keller. They were my worries, my joy, my concentration. What happens when one of them is taken away? And not only that, but my ally. Keller was the second in this strange little family of ours. Hell, who was I kidding? She had the reigns most the time, whether she realized it or not.

My self-pity was interrupted by a scream. Shooting to my feet, I stopped.

"Parker, stop!" The undeniable sobs of Parker filled the hallway outside my door. "Stop it. Listen to me. How can you say I don't love you or that I don't want to be with you?"

"Because you're leaving me!" the kid screamed back, her voice thick from an upset that I could never fathom, even with the loss of dad.

"Honey, I'm going to visit you, and it's not forever. I promise." Keller's own voice was thin, and I knew she was on the verge of losing control.

"Why you gotta go?" Parker cried. I could tell by the muffled sound of her voice that Keller was hugging her tightly to her.

"Because. I want to make a life for us. You and me, huh? And Garrison. You want that, kiddo? You can stay with her, and she can take you flying-"

"I don't wanna stay with Garrison! Don't like her!" Parker cried, her tears coming in abundance again. "I don't wanna be here!"

"Parker!" A door slammed, then opened only to close again.

I was stunned as my back hit the wall, my head bouncing off the plaster to painfully remind me of where I was. It didn't matter. My heart hurt far more than my head ever could. It was hard to breathe, my lungs refusing to cooperate. Instead, the air I would have taken in came in heaves, bringing a crippling sting to my eyes that made me slide down that wall until my entire body was jarred by the hard floor beneath me.

The tears continued, slipping down my cheeks, off my chin and onto my hands that lay limply in my lap. I was crushed.

"Garrison?" The quiet voice startled me. "I'm sorry. I knocked, but," Keller's eyes were filled with concern as she stood a few feet from where I sat crumpled. Her hands were buried in her pockets. She took another look at me, then turned toward the open bedroom door. She closed it and then came back over to me. Kneeling down, she tried to look into my eyes, but I wouldn't allow it. My head dropped, and I tried to contain my devastation, but my emotions would have none of that.

"I," My chin began to tremble, my words lost in a fresh wave of hurt. I collapsed against the warm embrace that took me in, surrounding me with strong, comforting arms.

"Shh," Keller rocked me, stroking my back and hair as I cried. "She's confused and hurt with me. She's just lashing out. She didn't mean it, Garrison. I swear to you she didn't mean it."

For some reason that made me cry harder. I held on to Keller with all my strength, even as it failed me and I totally collapsed against her. I knew that I was crying for far more than what Parker had said, and her utter rejection of my love for the child. I was crying for all my confusions, losing Keller, though she was never mine, nor would she ever be. I just prayed that she would belong to herself one day. Maybe going away was the way for her to find herself.

I kept telling myself that.

Keller said nothing more as she continued to rock me, gently and with utter care and understanding. I felt so alone, and knew once Keller left, I would be. It hit me with a force that I'd never known. I felt like I was losing dad all over again.

Keller let me cry, holding me in the darkness of my room; both of us feeling comfortable from the near-anonymity of the night. Finally, head pounding, my tears dried and I was left with several deep breaths. We sat there, me still being held, both lost in our own heads. I relaxed against her, not wanting to move, so I didn't. I needed to be held, needed to be comforted- something I'd never admit in the light of day, and I think Keller knew that. I felt an intimacy that night that sex nor kissing nor talking could ever replicate. It was a silent offering and acceptance, no promises, no demands. It was what I needed.

I'm not sure how long we sat there before Keller's soft voice filled the night, and made the little hairs on my neck tickle.

"I need to do this, Garrison. Dr. Reynolds made me realize I need to figure out who I am. I can't do that here, with you, and even not with Parker." She paused, her fingers absently brushing my hair. I listened to her breathing, feeling a calm come over me in a warm wave. "For so long I've had to be what Parker and Al needed or made me be. I have no idea who I really am." Keller sounded so sad and wistful at voicing this realization. I'd never felt so proud in all my life.

"Are you going to make a career out of this?"

"No. Flying yes, but the military, no. I'm too stubborn to follow orders for the rest of my life." We both chuckled at that.

"Are you scared?"

"I'm terrified, Garrison. I'm scared for me and I'm scared for Parker. The only time we've been apart was when I was in the hospital. I know how much she needs me, but I know she'll be okay with you." Keller's words warmed my soul, though I still had my own fears.

"I don't know, Keller. I'm terrified of doing something wrong. What if she isn't happy? What if I totally fuck it up?" I tried to pull away, but to my immense surprise, the arm around me tightened. Laying my head back against Keller's shoulder, I relaxed again.

"You won't."

"How do you know?" I felt on the verge of panic at the thought of raising that little girl alone for four years.

"Because I had to do it when I was a kid myself. I had no money, nothing but my own body to protect that kid with. But you," now she pulled away from me, looking into my eyes. Hers had turned silver in the night. "You've got strength in you, and material resources. And I know you love Parker. I see it in everything you do for her. Trust in that."

I stared at her, taking in every feature of her face, and just how beautiful she really was. And so wise. Keller had the eyes of a person who'd walked the earth for a thousand years. I smiled, and she smiled back. Resting my head back against her again, I asked, "Is Parker okay?"

"She will be. She doesn't understand. She thinks I'm leaving her."

"Keller, I hate to point out the obvious here ..." I grinned as I was poked.

"You know what I mean. She'll be okay. She's strong and she's smart, and knows she has a good thing here with you. Regardless of what she says." This last was said as an afterthought. "Garrison?"

"Hmm?"

"Would it be okay if I took a few days off? I want to take Parker somewhere. You know, spend some time alone with her before I go, and she goes back to school."

"So let me get this straight- you're giving me your two weeks notice, and then on top of that you're asking for time off?"

"Basically."

I smiled. "Of course. I hope you two have fun."

"Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome."

###

The streets of Warwick were quiet, no one having any money left after the holidays, and have all of last week to return all those unwanted ties and awful clothes from Aunt Edna. It was cold, but beautiful out, the sun shining overhead, chasing all the early morning clouds away.

Hands buried in the pockets of my leather jacket, I saw two women standing outside on the sidewalk, looking up at the building in front of them and gesticulating wildly. As I got closer, one of them went inside, and the other tapped her chin with a finger. She looked at me and smiled.

"Hi." She said. Though she looked to be in her late forties, her green eyes were youthful and sparkled. She wore a blue do-rag on her head, covering reddish blonde hair.

"Hi there." I looked up at the business she stood in front of and read Wood Closet Squared. Through the large storefront windows of the old brick building, I could see books set up, and shelf upon shelf of them inside. "Do you own this place?"

"Sure do." She smiled, extending her hand. "I'm Jenny. We just opened up last week. Grand opening all week, twenty percent off everything," She eyed me, and I knew she was trying to get me to go in. I grinned, charmed.

"Well, I'm Garrison, and it's about time we got a women's bookstore in town." I winked, noting the small rainbow sticker at the bottom left corner of one of the windows. Jenny laughed.

"Yes, so I hear. Enjoy your shopping."

"Thanks. Will do." I chuckled as Jenny stepped back even further, almost to the street, as she made sure everything on the storefront was perfect. The bell above the door announced my entrance, and I saw the other woman opening some boxes with a box cutter. She smiled at me, her short, dark hair hanging over one eye. I smiled back, then began to look around.

The place was large and old. The ceilings, at least twenty feet high, still had the original molding around the edges that the building had when it was the first post office in Warwick. The wood floors creaked under her weight, and the smell was wonderful. I loved the smell of books, old or new. And here, the smell of the new books mixed with the old wood was ecstasy for the olfactory system.

I spied a section of biographies filled with books about famous women and those who have made a contribution of some sort to their fellow sisters, alive and dead. The one on Amelia Earhart caught my eyes. She had been my hero when I'd been a kid. Well, next to dad, of course. As I flipped through the pages, I felt a presence beside me. Glancing up I saw the woman with dark hair stocking some books a fixture away.

"She was a great lady." She said, nodding toward the book in my hand. I smiled.

"Yeah. When I was a kid I used to wear my scarf like this." I flashed the cover at her. She chuckled.

"That must have gone over well with the other kids."

"Yeah, well. Not much that I did went over well with them, but I didn't care. My dad was my best friend, anyway."

"That's great. I wasn't close to my dad at all. In fact, it took until after her died to really understand him." The woman rearranged some of the books on the shelf so the others would fit, then began to alphabetize them by author.

"When did he die?" I put the Earhart book away, and crossed my arms over my chest, watching the woman work.

"Been awhile now. Almost twenty-five years, I guess." She smiled at me, then picked up another box, starting to stock those.

"Sorry to hear that."

"Eh, don't be. We weren't close." She set the pile on top of the shelving unit and turned to me. She wore old, comfy-looking jeans and a button-up shirt. Her blue eyes were startlingly clear, lined with age and wisdom. "I'm Sean. I have no doubt my partner Jenny ushered you in here." She grinned, showing a beautiful smile.

"She can be persuasive."

"Tell me about it." Sean laughed outright. "She's the one who got me to move east and open this place." She gestured at our surroundings.

"Where are you guys from?" I liked this woman, and hoped to get to know her and Jenny better. They seemed like they'd be a colorful addition to the quiet little town.

"Seattle. I've owned The Wood Closet up there for a lot of years. Our daughter and her husband runs that one, now."

"Ah. Thus the squared." We both grinned. "You guys have been together long?" I was always fascinated whenever I met a lesbian couple with many years behind them. Not that I'd met many, mind you, but was always intrigued when I did.

"Yep. Quarter of a century." Sean's grin was wicked, and I grinned back.

"How wonderful."

Both our attention was grabbed by a small group of girls who came in giggling. Sean glanced at them, then back at me.

"I think that's my cue." She winked, and went over to the rowdy bunch. I smiled, turning back to the books in front of me. The place was nice, comfy chairs scattered throughout, placed next to wooden, slightly scarred tables with lamps on them so a reader could adjust to their own light preference. The worn look of the furniture, which I figured was probably brand new, gave the place an old, lived-in feel. Very wise on Jenny and Sean's part.

I roamed the store, feeling comfortable and free to pick and choose.

Turning the page, I felt my heart pounding, waiting to see what would happen, would they get together or would Haley fly off into the blue. Come on, Andi! Go get her! Don't let her get away!

My breathing near the roof as Haley was spotted, I jumped and yelled out when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up with wide eyes, I saw Jenny standing over me, an amused smile on her face.

"Good book?"

"Oh, uh," I sat up in the chair that I had lounged in at some point, and closed it, looking at the cover. She eyed it.

"'Outcome.' Yep, that is a good one. Listen, we love have you here, but we need to close down." Her eyes danced with merriment, and I grinned sheepishly. I saw out the windows that the sun had gone down, and the place was softly lit by the scattered lamps, and a few overhead lights.

"Sorry."

"Don't be. It makes me think we've done something right if you were comfortable enough to spend the entire day here." Jenny leaned back against one of the many columns spread throughout the place.

"Did she finally come up for air?" Sean asked, joining her partner.

"Yeah, but I think she lost about five years off her life in the process." Jenny grinned, closing her eyes with a content smile as Sean kissed the top of the blonde's head.

"I'm sorry, guys. I really don't know how time got away from me like that. Is it too late to buy this?" I held up the book, feeling horrible for taking up space in their store all day then not even buying anything. Sean took the book from my hand and examined it.

"An autographed copy, no less. Good book, and the author's real nice, too." She headed toward the register, Jenny dusting and straightening. "Like the place, do ya?" She asked as she rung me up.

"Yeah! It's great." I grinned from ear to ear, loving the atmosphere in the bookstore. I handed her a twenty, and she gave me change and slid my purchase into a bag bearing the Wood Closet Squared logo.

"Good to know." Sean smiled, and I couldn't help but think she must have been one hell of a knockout when she was younger. Hell, she still was, and she was probably fifty or older. "Come back anytime." I smiled, touched by the sincere invite.

"Thanks. I will. Goodnight, ladies." I called as I left, and grinned at the chorus of 'night, I heard in return.

I walked down the sidewalk, the bag swinging playfully at my side, the weight of the book comforting. I watched as businesses all around me turned their lights off, closed their doors and turned the locks. Yep, it was definitely Saturday in a small town. The smile that was on my face surprised me. Keller and Parker had been gone since Thursday, and it had been terribly lonely in that big house alone. It amazed me that I had lived alone there, quite happily, before they showed up. Guess it proves that whole don't know what you've got deal. It had been a fun day, and she knew the Wood Closet Squared had everything to do with it. Maybe it would be a good place to hide.

###

I heard the truck pull into the drive, and my book hit the cushion rather unceremoniously. Getting to my feet, I was nearly bowled over by a very excited eight year old.

"Garrison!" The kid wrapped her arms around my waist, her head resting against my stomach.

"Hey you." I hugged her to me, marveling at how tall she was getting. "You know, between you and your sister, soon I'm going to feel like a shrimp." I grinned down at the kid and she looked up at me with pride. "Did you have a good time?" I asked, running my fingers through her wind-blown hair. I hadn't said a word to Parker about her declarations, and she hadn't mentioned it, either. I had noticed, though, that she was even more affectionate with me the next day than usual. I did believe that she hadn't meant what she'd said. I had to.

"We caught fish." She beamed.

"Did you, now?" I eyed Keller over the top of the kid's head. The janitor raised her hand with a line of fish attached to it. Looking back down at the kid.

"It was cold, Garrison. Roy kept me warm, though." The dog ran in, almost knocking us both down, his tail wagging a bajillion miles a minute in his happiness to see me.

"Hey, buddy!" I stepped away from the kid and gave him a big hug, fending off wet, sloppy kisses. "How's my boy, huh?" The dog whimpered as he tried to get more of my attention and affection. "Missed you, too, big guy. Yeah." I gave him a quick rub down, then turned back to Parker and Keller. "So you guys had a good time, huh? Can't say ice fishing seems like the most sensible thing to do,"

"Yeah, cause you know you wouldn't catch anything." Keller challenged. I raised a brow.

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Here- we caught 'em, you get to clean 'em." Her smile was big and white. How could I say no?

###

The weeks were ticking away into days which inevitably led to hour and finally to minutes and seconds. We were down twenty-three hours and thirty-nine minutes. I felt too obsessive to figure out the seconds. Keller and I sat on the front porch, Parker nowhere to be seen. This was not uncommon lately. If Keller was there, the kid wasn't. Parker's anger was easy to see and even easier to understand. I felt a bit of it myself.

We sat in silence, both nursing cups of steaming coffee. The night was brisk, but when I'd found Keller sitting all alone, looking out over the night, I had the distinct feeling she was trying to absorb everything around her. She was scare, I could see it in her eyes. I didn't ask and she didn't tell. It was just something understood between us, and I smiled reassurances at her, and she gave grateful sighs.

The guys and Penny had thrown her a very enthusiastic going away party. Ruby had been there, and had given Keller a very tearful hug and a small wrapped gift. Keller hadn't opened it there, and I wondered what had been inside. They had exchanged quiet words and more hugs in a corner, and I had fought the jealousy. It was ridiculous, and I knew it. But it had been there all the same.

Now, as we sat in comfortable silence, I glanced over at her. Looking at her profile as she stared up into the stars. The straight lines, the way her hair fell over her shoulders. I couldn't help but wonder if that hair would be there when I saw her next.

Sighing, I turned my attention back to the night before us.

"Think she'll ever talk to me again?"

The words were spoken so quietly, I almost missed them. Glancing over at my companion again, I sighed once more.

"Yeah. I think it'll just take time, Keller. Hell, I'm not so sure she'll speak to me, either." I sipped from my coffee. Turning to her again, I got her attention, making sure she was looking at me. "You can't let that bother you or get in your way right now, Keller. You got me? Parker will be fine."

"I know she will." She sat forward in her chair, pointing out into the night. "Hey, look. A shooting star."

I, too leaned forward, watching the quick progress. I closed my eyes, making my wish, then opened the to smile at Keller. She was looking at me like I was nuts. "What?"

"Nothing." She shook her head good naturedly.

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." We grinned at each other, then Keller's attention returned to the night sky.

###

Deep breath. Deep, deep breath. My stomach churned again when I heard the honk from Ruby's car. Keller refused to let me and Parker take her to the airport. We had to say our goodbyes at home.

I gently set down the orange I'd been peeling for Parker, and the kid sat at the kitchen table, feet dangling, face somber. There were footsteps on the stairs, followed by movement in the hall. Another run up the stairs, then back down again. The front door was open, and Ruby's boisterous voice boomed.

"Jesus, kid. You think I got all day to wait out there?"

"Yeah, yeah. Blow it out your ass." Keller muttered.

"You kiss your kid sister with that mouth? Jeesh." The kitchen door swung open and Ruby stepped through, her dangling red earrings matching her red knit pants and shiny red shoes.

"You look like a tomato." I said, eyeing her. She glared at me, and I grinned, looking away. My smile faltered, and I didn't want her to see it.

"Hey, kiddo." The pilot bent down, kissing Parker on the cheek. The kid gave her a very weak, watery smile, then turned back to her coloring book.

The door slowly opened again, and Keller looked in on us. "Ready." She said, her voice soft, unsure.

"Okay. I'll see you later, honey." Ruby gave me a huge hug, lasting longer than usual. I knew she was trying to give me strength in that hug. I gratefully took it. Keller stepped back out into the hall, and I followed.

"Good luck." I said, taking several deep breaths to keep myself together. Keller smiled, nodding. "Keep yourself safe and call when you can. I know Parker will want to talk to you, whether she admits it or not."

"Yeah."

I engulfed the janitor in a hug, momentarily resting my head on her shoulder, then released her.

"Be safe." She said, then called for her sister. "Parker!" I glanced over at the door, and saw the large duffel bag she had her clothes and personal belongings tucked into. I felt the bile rise in my stomach and turned away. "Parker. Come here."

The kitchen door slowly opened, and the kid stood there, her eyes lowered, bottom lip partially sticking out, and shoulders slumped.

"Hey, you." Keller knelt down in front of her sister, using two fingers to nudge her chin up. "You be good for Garrison, okay? Do your homework and keep Garrison safe, okay?" Parker refused to look her sister in the eye. "I'm going to miss you." Keller tried again, nothing. With a sigh, she grabbed for the kid to pull her into a hug, but Parker cried out, shoving Keller, and running up the stairs. Keller looked stunned as she stood there, looking after her baby sister.

Swallowing hard, she squared her shoulders and almost marched over to where her bag was.

"I'll call." She said, grabbed the bag, and headed out the door. At the threshold, she turned back around, looking at the stairs again. "I love you, Parker!" she yelled, then disappeared out the door.

Ruby squeezed my arm, then followed suit. Softly the front door clicked shut, as I didn't want to watch them drive away. Numbly I made my way back to the kitchen.

Continued...

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