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

For more of my work, go to www.coloradobardsplace.net

 

Control

by

Kim Pritekel

 

Part 17

The flight was squished again, but I was getting somewhat used to, I suppose.  Not that I would be doing it again anytime soon, mind you.  Parker was again at the window, and Keller was to my left, long legs stretched out in the aisle along the seat in front of her.  She had her eyes closed, head resting against the seat, hands dangling off the ends of the armrests.  I took in her profile- straight nose, full lips, sculpted chin leading down a long, smooth neck.  Her dark hair was pinned back tightly, her Garrison cap that adorned her dress blues, long removed.  The blue uniform hugged a newly chiseled body- flat stomach, muscular, tanned arms and legs.  I had to smirk when I thought about what Keller’s reaction must have been when she found out she’d have to wear a skirt.

My attention was taken away when I felt a head lay against my shoulder.  Parker smacked her lips in sleep, nuzzling closer to me.  I smiled, tapping the top of her head with a kiss.  Sleep well, my little one.

Turning back to Keller, my gaze was met by two ridiculously blue eyes.

“Good morning, sunshine.” I whispered, so as not to wake up the kid.

“Hi.  So I’ve decided the Cessna is a much better way to travel.” She whispered back.

“You, too, huh?” I grinned, and so did she. “So are you glad to be going home?  Even if it for a month.”  I felt sad at that, but knew it was the nature of the beast.  She nodded.

“Yeah.” Looking toward the front of the plane, and the back of Jerome’s seat, she sighed. “It’ll be nice to get back into the hangar.”

“You think so?  You think I’m gonna let you right back in, huh?”  I smirked, eyes shining with mischief.  She looked at me again, face like stone, eyes narrowed.  I couldn’t hold it and laughed quietly. “We’ll be glad to have you back, Keller.  Even if it is for a few weeks.”

“Good.  I knew you’d come around to the proper way of thinking.”  She opened up her magazine with a dramatic flourish that had me chuckling again.

“She’s really missed you.” I said, opening my own book.  I felt those eyes on me again.

“I doubt that.  I’m sure you kept her so busy she didn’t even know I was gone.” 

My head shot around, eyes boring into hers.  “You don’t really think that, do you?  Come on, Keller, you’re her life.”  Keller looked around me, taking in the way her little sister was cuddled up to me.  When we’d gotten onto the plane I was ready to be smooshed by the window so that Parker could sit next to Keller, but she said she wanted me to sit in the middle so that “we both can have you”.

“Looks like she’s doing just fine to me.”  Keller smiled, but it was very sad, and she quickly looked away.  I sighed.

“We have gotten close, but she still adores you, Keller.  To tell you just how much she loves you, you should think about how she was when you left.  She was hurt and thought you were leaving her, too.”

“I do think about it.  Every day.”  Keller smiled at the flight attendant who was offering her a micro bag of pretzels and drink option.  Our goodies splayed out on the fold-down trays, I knew a change of subject was in order.  Parker had woken up to eat and drink her milk.  Somehow I didn’t think Keller would want her heart displayed out before the object of her pain.

###

Keller was so cute.  She reminded me of Johnny Depp in ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ when Diane Weiss was driving him through his new town, face plastered to the window to catch every last detail. 

Parker started to squirm as we got closer to the house, and I gave her a look of warning.  Jerome was also trying to kee his own grin to a minimum.  She quit.  For about two seconds.  Turning the corner, the truck headed down the street until finally the old brick house came into view.

“What did you do?”  Keller asked, looking over at me with narrowed eyes.  I grinned, tongue caught between my teeth.  A huge banner was strung across the front of the porch railings, done in white paper and blue lettering- WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER!  WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE HERE CAUSE THE LATRINE NEEDS WASHIN’.  

She laughed, and Parker giggled.  I couldn’t keep my own grin away.  The front door opened and the entire crew came out to welcome back our war hero- Penny, Ruby, even Reggie.

When I stopped the truck, Jerome ran around to Keller’s side, opening the door with a salute.

“Ma’am,”

“Sir!” Keller called out in a strong, confident voice, matching his salute.  He grinned ear to ear and held out his hand.  She took it, grinning at him, then, to my astonishment, grabbed him in a hug.  “Long time no see,” she grinned.

“Yeah, two whole minutes.”  They chuckled, and headed up toward the rest of the grinning guests.

The food kept coming, Ruby and I in the kitchen, making more hamburger patties, which Reggie flipped on the grill, set up in the backyard.  I had to laugh- there he was, in the middle of a Massachusetts February, huddled up in a coat and gloves, barbequing. 

The laughter around the house flowed as freely as the food and drink, and it was perfect.  Keller found herself surrounded by people who loved her, so proud of what she had accomplished.  Byron Hoff, principal extraordinaire, even showed for the occasion.  When he rang the bell, Parker yelled out.

“Mr. Hoff!”  She ran to him, stopping just short, and looking up at him, the cutest little look of uncertainty on her face.

“Hey, you.” The big man bent down to be on eye level with his ‘kid’.  “How are you?”

“I’m great.” Deciding that all was well, the kid grinned big. 

“Good.” The man smiled back. “Where’s that sister of yours?”

Without a word, Parker led the way.  When she reached Keller, the little blonde grabbed hold of her big sister’s hand, tugging until Keller looked at her, interrupted from her conversation with Ruby.

“You’re in trouble, Keller.” Parker said, bottom lip sticking out.

“What?”  Confused, Keller looked around, then met the smiling dark eyes of her old principal.

“Young lady, you’re in detention, so drop and give me twenty.” He waggled his finger at her.  Keller grinned, extending her hand.

“It’s nice to see you, Mr. Hoff.  What brings you here?”

“I heard about your accomplishment, and wanted to bring you this.” He handed her a large, wrapped box. “Go on, take it.”

After looking at it for a few moments, Keller did take the box, balancing it on top of a squirming curly blonde head, and gasped.  Blue eyes looked up at him, unsure.

“I hear you’re becoming quite the pilot, and every pilot has to have her own bomber jacket.”  He smiled, wrinkles almost consuming his eyes.  Keller looked back down at the rich leather with the wool collar.  Sewn on were various patches from the military.   “That belonged to my little brother, David.  He was killed in Nam, and that jacket has just been lying around for years now.  May as well be worn again.”

“Oh, Mr. Hoff,” Keller breathed.  The house was deathly silent, all in awe of such a gift. “I can’t take this.  It belonged to your brother, you should have it-“

Mr. Hoff put his hand up to silence her. “Take it, Keller.  I’m so darn proud of you, and I really want you to have it.  Please?”  Keller looked down at the aged leather, running her hand over one of the patches, finally nodded.  Byron smiled.

“Thank you, sir.”  She bit her lip for a moment, then gave him a quick, one-armed hug.  “Come on, Mr. Hoff.  Let’s get you a burger.”  Keller smiled, blinding and beautiful, led the principal toward the dining room table where everything was set up.

I sat on the stairs, coffee in hand, as I watched everyone mingle and enjoy themselves, and each other.  Parker had not left Keller’s side, always wanting her attention, or just holding her hand.  Keller bowed to Parker’s every wish, making sure she was fed and happy.  I loved watching the sisters.  Especially Keller.

“Hey, little miss anti-social.”

Turning, I saw Ruby coming up the stairs, sitting with a groan on the step below mine.

“Hey, yourself.” 

She clinked her mug against mine, taking a long draught from it.  “What are you doing up here all by yourself?”

“Watching.” I said, resting my head against the rail next to me.  It had been a long couple days, and I was tired.

“Oh?  Anything in particular?”

Looking at the older woman, brows drawn from the tone of her question.  “Meaning?”

“Meaning, you’ve been watching a certain beautiful fly-girl all day.”  She said, swishing the contents of her cup around.

“Oh, Ruby, I mean, you’ve aged well, and the formaldehyde seems to be working wonders, but please,”  I laughed as I was smacked on the leg.

“Watch it, kid.  You, too, will not be young and gorgeous forever.  But unlike myself, you won’t be old and gorgeous.”

I laughed as she fluffed her hair, ever jangling earrings announcing the movement.

“She’s very beautiful.”

“Yep, but contrary to what you think, Ruby, I’m not watching her.”

“No?”

“No.” I looked down into my mug, groaning inwardly at the snort.

“Right, kid.  Whatever you say.  You know, Monk,” I looked at her, hearing the softness in her voice, joking over. “I see it in your eyes every time you look at her, which is often, despite what you say.”  I met her eyes and the concern in them. “Be careful, Garrison.  I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Don’t worry about me, Ruby.  I’d never do anything in a million years to make her hat me or be afraid of me.”

“No, I don’t think you would.  Were I having this conversation with Reggie, well, it’d be an entirely different conversation altogether, mainly dealing with physical adherents and pulley systems.”  I laughed at that.

“That would be so wrong if I did anything, Ruby.  Shit, I’ve basically been her damn mother for the past two plus years.”

“Oh, I hardly think that’s true.  To Parker, most definitely.  To Keller?  Huh unh.”

“Honestly, I appreciate your warning and concern, but there’s no need for it.  I’m glad she’s home, yes she’s beautiful, but she’s my friend and lives with me.  End of story.”

“Come on, kid,” Ruby stood, using the help of the railing to pull herself up, and patted my knee. “They’re cutting that nifty cake you got.  Let’s get some sugar!”  With a cackle, she left me alone on the stairs.

###

Sound in the house woke me up.  Putting on a pair of sweats and t-shirt, I opened my bedroom door a crack, listening.  The TV was on downstairs.  Making my way out into the hall, I checked on Parker, and saw that she was sawing logs peacefully, Roy lifting his head in question, before laying it back down with a groan.

Making my way down the stairs, I saw the light of the fireplace making shadows in the dark hall.  Keller sat on the couch, curled up, drinking a cup of something.  It surprised me to see the tape of dad’s appearance on the History Channel program playing.  It was showing old footage from World War II, and the B-17 Bomber boys.

“Hey,” I said, walking to the arm of the couch.  She looked up at me, smirking.

“Nice hair.”

I could feel it standing on end in every which way, and ran a hand through it, making it worse as it bounced back up.

“Sorry if I woke you.”  She turned back to the screen.

“No worries.  What you got there?” I pointed to her mug, which she looked down into.

“Hot chocolate.  There’s more if you want some.”

Getting my own mug, and bringing the pan out to refill her cup, I sat beside her, feet tucked underneath me.  We were both silent as dad’s part came on, talking about the planes used during the Korean War.  He looked so handsome, blue eyes shining with the subject matter.  Nothing would get him going like talking about airplanes.

“I really wish I had gotten to know him better,” Keller said, once his part was over.

“He was a great man.”

“Yeah.  I can see that.” Keller looked at me pointedly, and I smiled shyly.

“Why, Keller, did you just give me a compliment?”

She grinned, turning back to the screen.  “Don’t let it go to your head.”

“He really cared about you.  He always knew something wasn’t right, but just didn’t know what to do about it.  I know he carried his guilt with him for the rest of his life.”

“Why?  I mean, look where we ended up.” She indicated the room around us.

“Yeah, but he always felt he should have done something far sooner.  I don’t know,” I sipped from my cup. “He never listened to me.”

“Frank was a very kind man who gave me a shot no one else would have.  For that I will always be grateful.  And I really think that Parker would love him, were he still around.”

“No doubt,” I agreed. “I think he wanted to turn her into the grandchild he never had.”

“Do you want kids?”  Keller asked, glancing at me.  The question took me by surprise.

“I’m not sure.  It’s a bit more difficult for us to have them.”  I turned on the couch, cornering myself where the back of the couch met the arm.  “Plus, I don’t want to do it alone.”

“You are with Parker.”

“True.” I sighed, again, trying to get my hair to behave.  “But I think that having an eight year old running around with a baby, and only me to take care of them,  whoa, boy!”  She grinned.

“So, if you don’t want to do it alone, you want a ... friend?  Like Celeste?”

I hid my grin, nodding.

“Does she want kids?  With you?”

“Oh, no.” I waved off the idea. “Celeste and I were basically just friends with benefits.  We’re not dating or girlfriends, or anything.”

“Were?  You’re not lovers anymore?”

“No.”

“Why?”

My mind whirled, not sure what to tell her.  Oh, maybe because I called your friggin’ name as we had sex?  Yeah, no.

“I don’t know.  Guess we just decided it was time to break it off.  We wanted different things.” And people.

“Oh.”  She sipped from her mug, seeming lost in thought.   I said nothing, not wanting to break her train of thought.  If she had questions, I wanted her to ask them.  Nothing else came.

“I really missed you, Keller.”  I began.  She looked over at me. “Even so, you look so good, and seem like such a different person.” The smile wouldn’t stay off my face, my pride radiating from me.  She looked down, shy.

“Thank you.” Her words were so quiet, I almost didn’t understand her. “I really missed you, too, you and Parker.  Heck, I even missed the boys at the hangar, and of course I missed the planes.”

“Oh, of course.”  We both smiled.

“But I’d do it again, and it was the best decision I made.  I worry about leaving for so long, though, wherever they send me.  What if, ah , hell.  Never mind.”

“No, on.  Don’t even try that crap.  What if, what?”  I leaned forward, sitting cross-legged, elbows resting on my knees.

“I worry that Parker won’t remember me.  Won’t want me, anymore.  Won’t need me.”  She stretched her legs out, crossing her ankles on the coffee table.

“Oh, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about.  You are Parker’s hero, Keller.  She won’t forget you.”  I set my cup on the table, putting my hand on her arm. “Listen, write to her, call her, come see her, or send for her to come stay with you.  Do you have any idea how much that would mean to her?  For you to bring her into your new world, it would mean everything to her, and make her realize that you aren’t leaving her.”  Blue eyes met mine, a wrinkle of worry formed between those magnificent eyes. “Trust in the love and bond you two have.  You’re a mother to her, Keller, and always will be.  Trust in that.”

“I can’t thank you enough for taking such good care of her.  Maybe too good.”  We both smiled.

“You don’t have to thank me.  I love Parker very much, and would do anything for her.  Or you.”

Keller smiled, looking down into her mug, then glanced over at me, though her eyes were downcast. “I know.  And ditto, by the way.”

I smiled, feeling warm from that.  “So,” I said, trying to lighten the mood a bit. “It seems our little Parker is quite the little writer.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No ma’am, I am not.  She let me read some of her stuff.  She’s really good, Keller.  The kid has an amazing knack for seeing life in a perspective that is truly remarkable for a kid her age.”

“Can I read it?”

I shrugged. “Ask her.  She’s very protective of her work.  But I really don’t see why she’d say no.”  We looked at each other for a moment, then I looked at my own mug. “I’ve been encouraging her to write, Keller.  I’ve heard it does wonders.  Dr. Reynolds said it would help her get feelings and emotions out that she may not otherwise realize she has.”

Keller nodded. “I think it’s a great idea.”

“So you don’t mind if I encourage her?”  Blue eyes narrowed as they looked at me.

“Why would I?”

“I don’t know.  Guess I just want you to know I’m not trying to step on any toes or anything.”

“Oh, come on, Garrison.  At this point?  Shoot.  I think we’re past that, don’t you?”  She raised an ebony brow, and I blushed.

“Yeah, well,”  I took a deep breath. “I bought her a desk for her room.  I figure that way she can disappear in there, alone and undisturbed, and write her little heart out.”

“Good deal.”  Keller stood, arching her back as she stretched.  Her shirt rode up, revealing a tanned, very firm stomach.  My eyes flew to the fire as a little fire of my own got started down south.  “I’m going to bed.”

“Kay.  Oh, and soldier?”  She looked down at me. “You are not to be seen out of that room before oh eight hundred, got me?  Get some sleep, relax, enjoy your time home.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Keller gave me a half-hearted salute, and I rolled my eyes.  She grinned. “Night, Garrison.”

“Night.”  I heard her head into the kitchen to drop her mug off, then she climbed the stairs.  Within moments the house was near silent, save for the TV, the volume turned low during our talk.

Sighing, I lifted my legs to the couch, stretching them out over the distance.

“Damn, Keller,” I breathed. ‘Why did you have to go and get even more gorgeous?”

###

I declined an offer to spend the day with the sisters.  I figured they needed time together to get reacquainted, plus I wanted some time to myself.  That was harder and harder to do with me being the only parent in the house.

Walking downtown, I found myself headed into The Wood Closet Squared.  Several people bustled around, thumbing through books or chatting amongst themselves.  The two owner, who’s names totally eluded me, bounced around, getting stock from the back, helping customers, talking, ringing people up.  The store seemed to be doing well, and I was thrilled for them.

Heading back toward the biography section, I did a double take when I glanced at a set of two comfy chairs.  A woman sat in one, curled up, an LJ Maas novel in her hands.

Looking at the woman’s face, I knew instantly who she was.

“Hi,”

She looked up, that deer caught in the headlights look in her brown eyes.  I grinned.

“Sorry to have startled you.  Uh, you’re from McDonald’s,” I was wracking my brain, trying to come up with her name. 

“Julia,”

“Right!  I may forget names, but not a face.  Hi.”

“Hi.  Garrison.”

“Right.”

“How’s Parker?”  She quickly put the book down, seeming to hide it with her arm.

“She’s great.  Happy to have her sister home for a bit.  May I?” I indicated the other chair, and she sat up at attention.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry,” flustered, she dropped the novel as she tried to organize herself.  I picked it up, handing it to her.  She lowered her eyes.

“Thanks.”

“LJ Maas is a fantastic writer.  I’d recommend ‘None So Blind,’ one of those stories that makes those of us who don’t have a single bit of talent in our entire bodies at least feel like we have somewhat of a grasp of the English language for a  few hundred pages.”

Julia smiled and chuckled.  “I hear you on that one.  I can’t write, either.  I’ll write you a song, but a novel, forget it.”  She looked uncomfortable.

“How is your daughter?”

“Zoe?  She’s great.  Thanks for asking.  She still asks about Parker.” She smiled.

“Well, why don’t we set up a play date for them?  I know Parker would love it.”

“Yeah!” Julia said, brightening at the idea. “We really should.”

“Afternoon, ladies.”

We both looked up to see one of the owners stocking books in a fixture near us.  It was the shorter of the two, though today she lacked the doo-rag.  Her hair was blonde, reaching her shoulders.  She smiled at us both, and I grinned back.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi there, I’m Jenny.” The blonde put the last of her books away, then walked over to us, extending her hand to Julia. “Co-owner of this fine book store.”

My companion smiled brightly, taking the hand in her own. 

“This is a great store,”

“Oh, stop,” Jenny waved the compliment away, but eyed her out of the corner of her eye, “No, just kidding, you can keep going.”

Julia and I laughed, then so did Jenny.

“I haven’t seen you in here before.” Jenny stood there, hand on hip, resting against the book shelf she had just been stocking.

“Well, I just kind of stumbled in here today.” Julia glanced over at me, then looked at her fidgeting hands.  Jenny’s green eyes met my own, one blonde brow raising ever so slightly.  I shrugged. 

“It’s great to have you.  Anything I can help you find, perhaps order for you?”

“Oh, no, no thank you.” Julia gave her a winning smile. “Garrison has recommended a some titles for me, so I think I might give them a try.”

“Oh yeah, if you want something good to read, that’s your source.” Jenny put her hand on my shoulder, and I blushed. “This one goes through them like water.”

“I do not,” I muttered, embarrassed.

“Okay, maybe like coffee- she blows on them for a sec to let them cool.”  Jenny and Julia both seemed to be enjoying my eternal discomfort at being the center of the conversation.  A quick slap on my back, and Jenny excused herself with another smile.

“Really nice woman.” Julia said, glancing after the smaller owner, then turned her brown eyes on me.  I nodded.

“Yeah.  She and Sean are both great gals.”

“Who’s Sean?”

“Jenny’s partner and the other owner of the store.”

“Ohhhh,” Julia ran a hand through auburn hair, then gathered the book that was in her lap into her hands.  “I should go.  I bet David and Zoe are waiting for me by now.”

“Oh, okay.”  We both stood, and I held up a finger, telling her to hold on.  Searching through a near-bye fixture, I foun the title I was looking for.  “You’ll like this- trust me.” I smiled gently at her, handing her ‘None So Blind.’ 

“Thank you.” She took it from me, cradling it with the other book in her hands.  “It was really nice to see you again, Garrison.” She smiled.

“You, too.  Oh, and I was serious,” I grabbed a piece of scratch paper that Jenny and Sean so thoughtfully provided to their customers, and scribbled down my number. “When you and Zoe, and even David, are free, give me a buzz.  I’ll make dinner and the girls can play.” I gave her my most winning smile, and she took the paper, tucking it into her pocket with a smile of her own.

“Thanks, Garrison.  I’ll do that.  Have a nice day.”

“You, too.”  I watched her go, aware of a presence next to me.

“Mm, she’s beautiful.”

I looked to see Jenny watching the gentle sway of Julia’s hips as she made her way to the checkout counter. 

“Jenny, she’s married with a kid.”

“Uh huh,”

Rolling my eyes,  I headed into the stacks to find something to read.

###

“Okay, watch your horizon,” I glanced over, seeing the nod of my pilot, and she straightened the plane out.  “Nicely done.” Keller grinned, but kept her eyes on the skies before us.

“I missed this while I was in Texas,” she said, her head snapping back to see a bird that nearly became a wing ornament.

“I bet.  I also bet you’re really going to miss this once you’re in San Diego.”

“No, joke.”

“But, the way I figure it, you’ll be able to come back and teach Jerome a thing or two.” We grinned at each other. “Maybe you can become my head mechanic.”

“Ha!  Screw that, I’ll become you’re damn head pilot.”  She grinned, nice and evil.

“Right on, Keller.  It’s good to have a dream.  Besides, you’re going to plane mechanic school.  Who’s gonna teach you how to fly good enough to become my head pilot?”

“Why, you will, of course.”  She looked at me, all smiles, full of teeth.  It reminded me of Parker.  I threw my head back and laughed. “Just fly the damn plane.”

We were silent for a bit.  It was strange for me to give the controls over to someone else.  True, I had to keep an eye on what Keller was doing, but in all honesty, between my lessons, and the wonderful teachings of Ruby, the janitor knew her shit.  She had a natural tack behind the stick, and her instincts were impeccable.  In truth, though I’d never tell her this, she could very easily become my head pilot, and I could take care of more of the things I wanted to do.  She could more than handle it, and I knew she’d love it.  But, alas, first things first.

First she had to get through the next four years in the Air Force before she’d even be free for such a thing.  Damn, I’d miss her.

###

Two weeks after seeing her in the bookstore, Julia called, and we made arrangements for her and Zoe to come over for dinner.  Keller and I fired up the barbeque, and our guests had arrived, carrying a pan of potato salad and baked beans.

March was here, and the weather was beautiful, unseasonably so.  Deciding to eat outside, absorbing as much sun as we could, Julia and I sat at the picnic table sipping iced tea, Zoe and Parker running around like little animals, having the time of their lives.

Keller also sat at the table, though she was quiet, reserved, watching everything going on around her.  It almost reminded me of how she used to be, always observing.  I don’t think she was uncomfortable, but I did wish she’d join in the conversation.  I tried to bring her in, but she gave short, uninterested answers.  Finally she got up and started playing with the girls, thrilling Parker to no end.

Julia watched them all play, both of us laughing as the girls managed to overpower the bigger girl, knocking her to the ground for them to tickle mercilessly.

“She’s a really beautiful girl,” my guest said, sipping her tea.  I nodded.

“She really is.  She’s gotten even more so since she got back from boot camp.”

“Really?”  I met dark eyes.

“Yeah.  She has a confidence about her now that I don’t think she’s ever had.  It’s been an amazing thing to watch.”

“Is she always so quiet?”

“She’s not a big talker.  It took me a long time to figure that out, then even longer to not get offended.” I chuckled at the memory, watching as Parker led her sister over to the swing set by the hand, telling Keller that she had to swing high, and jump from the swing.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen eyes that color before.”

“Oh, I know.  I remember the first time I saw them- we were at the hangar, this was long before she started living with me.  Anyway, she was looking up into the sun, sunglasses firmly in place.  She took them off, and oh my god.  I was blown away.  Beautiful.”

“Hmm,” Julia snagged a tortilla chip from the open bag, nibbling on it.  “You were right about that book, by the way.” She eyed me, then looked down at her glass of tea.

“I’m really glad you liked it.  It’s always been one of my favorites.”

“Which were you more like?  Taylor, knowing exactly who you were and what you wanted, or Tory, not sure of anything.”

“Hmm,” I rubbed my jaw as I stared out into the yard, the antics of the three out of focus as I delved back into my memories.  “I guess I was somewhere in the middle.  I wasn’t as cocksure as Taylor was, but not quiet as clueless as Tory,” we both grinned. “I knew there was something different about me, but I just couldn’t put a finger on it.”

“Did you date guys, like Tory?”

I nodded. “Some.  All were totally a waste of time.  None of them interested me in the least,” I wrinkled my nose at a memory. “I remember when it used to come time for the date to end, oh god I dreaded it.”

“Why?” Julia was amused.

“Because I knew the guy would expect something, even a kiss.  Which was certainly their right,” I said quickly.  “I mean, if they had to shell out the money during an age when they had none, I mena, come on,”  Julia grinned, nodding in understanding.  “But I hated it.  Finally I just stopped dating altogether.”

“Guys, or totally?”

“Welllll,” I drawled, watching my fingers as they picked at some peeling paint on the table. “Let’s just say I found my way.” I glanced up at her, an evil grin on my lips. 

“That book made me cry.  I was so heartbroken when Tory took Jessica away from Taylor, the only real ‘father’ type person she’d ever known at that point.”

“I know.  I’ve read that damn book at least two dozen times, and it gets me every time, even though I know what’s going to happen!”  Julia threw her head back and laughed.

“Pathetic, aren’t we?”

“Just good stuff, Maynard.” I downed the rest of my tea.  “So how did you and David meet?”  I was surprised when I saw my friend’s eyes shift, her shoulders falling slightly.  Uh oh.

“In college.” She looked back up at me, a smile, which seemed forced, curling her lips. “We started dating my sophomore year, broke up three months later, only to meet up again two years later, after we had both graduated.  We decided to try it again, and eight months later we have a daughter.”

“Oh,” I said in understanding.

“He’s a great dad to Zoe,” she looked over at her daughter, eyes filled with pride.

“That’s good.  I was fortunate in that way, too.  It looks like she got a great mom, too, so I’d say overall the kid’s pretty lucky.”

Julia looked shy for a moment, whispering a thank you.

“Are you okay?” I asked, reaching my hand out ot lightly place over hers that was wrapped around her glass.  She nodded, though her eyes were downcast.

“I’m fine, yeah.” She looked up at me finally, that forced smile again.

“Are you sure?  I mean, look, I know you don’t know me all that well, or at all, really, but sometimes that’s the best way.  If you ever need to talk, …” My voice trailed off, and Julia smiled, placing her other hand over mine.

“Thank you.  I’m okay.  David and I had a small fight today, and I guess it’s left me, I don’t know, a little sad, I guess.”

“I hate that.  Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” she saw that I didn’t believe her.  “He wanted to come today, and I told him it was more of a girls day out, kind of thing.”

“Ah, jeez, I told you to bring him.  Call him up, we’ve got plenty of food-“

“No,” she squeezed my hand to get me to stop. “I wanted it this way.  He needs to learn that he can be alone sometimes, and be just fine.”

I looked into her brown eyes, searching for the truth.  She was hiding herself from me, and I had to take it as gospel, so I nodded.

“Okay.  Well, come on.  There’s something I want to show you.”

We headed into the house, and I took her to my office, showing her the shelves that filled an entire wall.  A good portion of them were filled with lesbian books- novels, biographies, anthologies, you name it. 

She walked up to it, tracing her fingers along the smooth spines, then looked at me with surprised eyes, over her shoulder.

“Feel free to borrow any of these.  I mean, hell, I’ve read them all, many two or three times, so there’s no reason for them to sit here and gather dust.” I smiled, and she turned back to the large collection.

“Wow,” tilting her head to read the titles, she read some of them aloud.  I stepped back, leaning against the large desk,  arms folded across my chest, watching her.  She plucked one from the shelf. “’Never Say Never,’”

“A fantastic book.  Linda Hill.” 

She turned, resting her back against the shelves and turned the book over, reading the back.

“Can I borrow this one?”

“Of course you can.”  I smiled.

“Hey, Garrison,”

I turned, seeing Keller standing in the open doorway of the office, hands resting on either side, and her eyes roaming from me to Julia, and back to me.

“Did you escape the monkeys?” I chuckled.  She grinned and rolled her eyes.

“Not exactly.  I’m going to take them out for ice cream.  You guys want to go?”

I looked to Julia who had glanced up from her book.

“Oh, uh, I’m fine,” brown eyes looked at me, and I back to Garrison.

“I think we’re okay, Keller.  You guys have fun.” 

Keller’s jaw tightened for a moment, her eyes again bouncing between us, then she looked down, nodding and turned away.

“Will David mind.” I indicated the books behind Julia, and she shook her head.

                       

“Nah.  He’ll be glad that I’ve got something ot keep myself occupied.” She began to thumb though the book again, eventually, absently, making her way toward a chair and plopping down, eyes still firmly on the pages.

As I realized she was getting more and more into the story, I quietly left her, closing the office door soflty behind me, and went outside to clean up the mess.

It wasn’t long before Keller and the girls returned, the girls screaming up the driveway as they carried their half-eaten cones in hand.  I had to laugh as I saw Keller’s face.  I think she was about at her breaking point of young, pre-teenage girls, so I decided to rescue her.

“Hey, soldier, come help me do dishes.”

Gladly, she followed me into the house, and took up the duty of loading dishes into the dishwasher as I rinsed them off.

“So, get enough young girl energy?” I teased, and she rolled her eyes.

“Oh my god.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that Parker and Zoe are having so much fun, but I’m about to beat them!”

I laughed.  “Well don’t be so cool next time, and they won’t hang all over you like a cheap suit.”

“Cute,” she snickered at my allegory.  “Yes, I think my ‘fun adult’ sentence is done for one day.”

“And you did such a good job of it, too.”  I snapped her with my towel, which was a huge mistake.  She got me back, leaving a red welt on my arm.  Glaring at her, I turned back to my dishes.

“Hey, don’t start something you can’t finish, bud,” she warned, trying to squeeze some glasses onto the top rack of the dishwasher.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So what’s up with Julia?” She asked, her voice nonchalant, washing down the spotless counter.

“Nothing, why?  What do you mean?”

“Well, you guys seemed to be in a pretty serious conversation out there, then you disappeared.”  She wrapped up the plate of leftover lettuce and tomato, sliding it onto a shelf in the fridge.

“She was upset.  Her and her husband got into an argument today.”

“Oh,”  She hopped up on the counter, as her sister had done so many times before. “Why wasn’t her husband here?”

“Julia said she told him she wanted a girls day today, just the four of us.  He wasn’t too happy about it.”  I rinsed the last plate, then ran a sink of hot, soapy water so I could wash the pan I’d used to boil the corn on the cob.

“And she’s invaded your library?” Keller sounded surprised at this, knowing how much I valued my collection.  I shrugged, not wanting to go into my suspicions with her.

“She likes to read.”

“Well, then that’s nice of you to loan her books.”

###

“And then the prince looked at the dragon, the prince’s sword raised high over his head, waiting for the dragon to attack him with fire from his open mouth.

“The prince waited, his heart beating so fast he thought the dragon would start dancing to the beat,”

I smiled, loving the visual.

“Instead of turning the prince into a big barbeque, the dragon closed his mouth, and then smiled, a big smile, showing all his big, sharp teeth.  The prince wasn’t sure what to do, or what the dragon would do, so he stood his ground, sword still ready to cut the big dragon’s head off if he needed to.

“’Why can’t we be friends?’ the dragon asked, and the prince blinked, surprised at what he heard.  He was not only surprised at what the dragon had said, but that the dragon had said anything at all.  He didn’t know dragons could talk.  ‘We can be friends,’ said the prince. ‘But first you have to promise not to roast me.’”

This time Keller chuckled.

“’I promise,’ the dragon said, and they became friends forever and ever, the dragon always protecting the prince, and the prince always protecting the dragon, and the dragon even gave the prince and princess’ kids a ride to school, and all the other kids thought they were cool.  They all lived happily ever after.”

Parker looked up from her paper, cheeks beat red, her fellow classmates clapping, along with me and Keller.  I was so proud, and I could tell Keller was, too.

“Very nice, Parker.  Good job.” Mr. Arnot, Parker’s teacher, said, rising from where he’d been perched on the edge of his desk.

Parker almost ran to her desk, ducking in the chair before shyly looking back at us, seated at the very back of the classroom.  We both smiled enthusiastically at her, and Keller gave her two thumbs up.  She grinned, the gaping hole from where she’d lost two teeth, winking at us.

“She is so good,” Keller whispered, leaning forward in the small, plastic chair.  Her knees were almost to her chin.

“I know.  She has an amazing imagination.  I wonder just where it’ll take her ten years from now.”  Blue eyes bored into me.

“Don’t even talk about ten years from now- I have no interest in being thirty-one.”

“Yeah, we’ll talk when you’re looking at thirty-six!” I hissed.  She grinned.

After class was out for Parker, we took her to her favorite place, McDonald’s, played with her, Keller chasing her around the equipment, even after being glared at from the employees, she didn’t care.  This was for her sister, the world and McDonald’s employees be damned. 

After dinner, the three of us went to see The Lion King, which was being played at the IMAX, passing around a tub of popcorn, and me stealing Junior Mints from Keller now and then, only to receive a growl in return.

Back at the house, we gave Parker the choice- she could sleep with Keller, in her big sister’s room, have Keller sleep with her in her own room, or all of us camping out on the living room floor.  Without a second thought, she chose the latter.

Spreading sleeping bags out, the kid in the middle, we told ghost stories with the fire our only light, our little threesome flanked by Roy and Tut.

The truth of the matter was, we were doing two-fold.  We were spending a fun night with just the three of us, and we were trying to make Parker forget, if only for a night.

Keller was leaving in the morning for San Diego, and we had no idea when we’d see her again.

I turned to my side, watching as Keller tickled the life out of the kid, until the little blonde finally collapsed against her big sister, and was taken in a massive hug, Keller burying her face in the kid’s hair.  Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she held that kid for deal life. 

Part of me wanted to leave the room, knowing it was a very private moment for them.

I was stunned when I saw blue eyes looking at me, and a hand held out.  I scooted myself over, and was suddenly lost in the warmth of the two people I loved more than anything on the earth.

Parker was crying softly, and so was I.  Keller was holding us, and holding us together.  The glue.  I’m rubber, you’re glue ….

I just hoped we could all bounce back.

Continued….

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