For complete disclaimers see part 1.

Note: Thanks to the readers who have given me military info. I really appreciate it. J

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 21

Confused, I jerked up, hearing a thump. Looking over the side of the bed, I saw Tut glaring up at me.

"Mm, shit. Sorry, boy." Now I had to look around to see what had awakened me in the first place. Julia leaned against the closed bedroom door, tight tank heaving with her heavy breathing and white, bikini underwear a contrast to tanned skin. She was grinning.

"What, what happened? What's wrong?" I felt drugged, groggy and disoriented.

"I think I just scared the hell out of Parker," she hissed.

"What? Why?" That got my attention.

"I heard Roy scratching at the girls' door, so I went to let him out cause I figured he had to go to the bathroom. So, I let him out, then when I was coming back up the stairs, there was Parker, on her way to the bathroom herself. She took one look at me, in next to nothing! Her eyes got as big as saucers."

She hurried over to the bed, flopping down onto her stomach, burying her face in the pillow, her body shaking with laughter. My exhausted mind still wasn't getting it. Finally she looked up at me.

"Oh my god, I felt like that damn scene in that movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, where the kid gets up in the middle of the night to pee, and runs smack into a naked Jo Beth Williams."

"'Kramer Vs. Kramer'," I helpfully supplied.

"Yeah! That's it." She laughed some more, and the light started to dawn on Marble Head, and I, too started to laugh. Though I think for me it was more release from yesterday than the happenings of the morning.

"Oh, shit," I said, as I began to wind down, rolling onto my back, covering my eyes with my forearm. "What did she do?" I glanced over at her, and she peeked a brown eye at me.

"She hurried into the bathroom as if her tail were on fire." She also rolled over to her back. "Do you think I did permanent damage?" She was only half joking with that question.

"I don't think so. But then again," I rolled over to my side, back to Julia as I cuddled Tut, who'd jumped back onto the bed, to my front. "I don't seem to know shit about shit, these days." Tut groaned, turning to his back, all fours in the air, waiting for his tummy to be rubbed. His head cocked to the side, he looked up at me with large, brown eyes, ears flopping out like Parker's hair the night before.

Smiling, I rubbed his belly and chest, his back leg kicking rhythmically in pure enjoyment.

There was movement behind me, then an arm snaked around my waist, a warm body pressing against me. Julia rested her chin on my shoulder, watching me pet my dog. I held my breath, knowing what was coming. She gave me a reprieve last night, which I was grateful, but I knew I owed her some answers.

"What happened, Garrison?" Her voice was quiet, gentle, non-demanding. I sighed. How much to tell her? I think Julia deserved the full truth, but somehow, some part of me, wanted to keep it 'within the family'. I know that sounded horrible and selfish, and just outright bitchy, as Julia and ZoŽ had become part of the family. Maybe I didn't want to hurt her? Didn't want to hurt Keller? Didn't want to hurt myself.

I'm such a chicken shit.

"A few years ago I was seeing this woman, Celeste, she lives up in New York. She and I were basically fuck buddies. When I'd fly up there, I'd see her, you know?" I felt a nod. "So one year, at Christmas, she was down in the area visiting family, and decided to drop by. She spent the night, and the next morning, as we were saying goodbye on the front porch, Keller saw."

"Okay."

"Well, at that time Keller didn't know I was gay. It had just never come up, I guess, and didn't really think it would be an issue. She was terrified at that point that I was no better than her father, and said as much."

"Oh, Garrison," I could hear the pained understanding in her voice.

"We got through it. Eventually. She understood, understands, I'm no threat to either her or Parker. Well, I've been single for a long time now,"

"What happened with Celeste?"

"Uh," I hid a smile at that, grinning instead at Tot's antics. Little pleasure hound. "We both just decided that it wasn't working out the way it was, and neither of us had any intention of moving our lives."

"Oh."

"So, yesterday morning, when Keller saw us in the kitchen, she freaked out."

You know, Monk, all you're doing at this point is making Keller look really bad.

"Ah, fuck." I gently pushed Julia away, and turned over, facing her. "She freaked out this time, though, cause she was jealous." I looked into Julia's eyes, watching for realization to dawn. And it did.

"Wait, jealous," she tasted the word, that little wrinkle forming between her eyes as she mulled this over. "Of what?" her eyes met mine, silently asking for more explanation.

"Jealous of you. She was jealous that I was kissing you."

"As in, she wanted to be kissing you?" Total realization. I nodded.

"Something like that."

"But, I thought she was not a fan of the gay lifestyle,"

"Trust me, that's what I thought, too. I had no idea. I thought that was why she took off. I thought history was repeating itself."

"Wow." She turned to her back, staring up at the ceiling. I was staring at her profile, trying to figure out what was going through her head. She turned to look at me. "And how do you feel about her?"

My heart froze. I just stared at her, trying to formulate an answer that wouldn't get me into trouble, or betray my feelings for Keller. See, told you I was a chicken shit.

The longer I waited, however, the more Julia was figuring out.

"I see." She sat up, head hanging.

"Julia, it doesn't matter. However I've felt about Keller just doesn't matter. I've been hiding something that I could never have-"

"But she told you yesterday how she feels, Garrison." Brown eyes looked at me, tinged with anger.

"But how am I supposed to know if she really feels that way, or if it was just a matter of feeling like her territory was being encroached upon?" I sat up, too, then got out of bed altogether. I needed pacing room. "I mean, you figure, she's had me all to herself for the past three plus years. Now suddenly, here you are."

I stopped pacing, standing at the foot of the bed looking at her.

"I'm not so sure if it's actually jealousy because she wants me for herself that way, or if she just wants me for herself." I could tell Julia was confused. "Okay," sitting on the end of the bed, I looked at her. "This way, when I wasn't dating, I could just pick up, go wherever, do whatever, and no worries. Pack up Parker, we were good to go. It was just the three of us in our happy little family. If I'm with someone, that goes bye-bye, in her mind at least."

I stopped, realizing that I was trying to justify this entire thing to myself, and not necessarily just convince Julia. I stood again, walking over to the window.

I don't know if Julia could tell there was something amiss, but she said, "Why did Keller run out of here yesterday, flying all the way back to San Diego three days early?"

I sighed, my shoulders slumping with the exhale. "I told her I couldn't do it."

"Do what?"

"Be with her that way, I guess." I noticed Joe Mills backing his company van out of the garage- MILLS TILE AND PLUMBING That reminded me that it was, in fact, Monday morning. I turned to her, running a hand through my hair. "Listen, I need to get to work."

"Oh, of course." She stood, stretching, then gathered up all her discarded clothing from yesterday, made her way into the bathroom, softly closing the door behind her.

"Come on, Tut." I opened my bedroom door, the dog jumping up and off the bed, shaking his entire body as he went, before dashing down the stairs. When that boy has to pee, he has to pee.

The girls were already downstairs, attacking the cereal cabinet.

"Morning." I said, smiling at them both. ZoŽ smiled back.

"Hi, Garrison. You're out of Coca Puffs."

"Oh, a tragedy in our time." I put my hand to my heart, making her giggle. Parker said nothing, turning back to the cabinet as I unlocked the back door.

"Hey, girls," Julia walked into the kitchen, stealing the box of Trix from her daughter's hand.

"Hey!"

"Is for horses." Julia stuck her tongue out, grabbing a handful from the box before handing it back with a kiss to her daughter's forehead. "You need to hurry and eat, honey. Garrison and Parker need to get going."

"I'm going with you," Parker said, grabbing some spoons from the drawer, and putting them on the table. I looked at her, seeing that she meant Julia, who met my gaze for a moment.

"Parker, you were going to go with me on my flight to Martha's Vineyard today, remember."

"I don't want to. I'm going with ZoŽ and Julia." The kid refused to look at me, instead concentrating on the pouring of cereal into her bowl.

I was left speechless, and deeply hurt. "Oh. Uh, maybe you should make sure that's okay with Julia first." I turned, busying myself with putting slices of bread into the toaster so the kid wouldn't see my hurt.

"Garrison," Julia stepped up next to me, a hand on my shoulder, her voice just loud enough for me to hear. "I can say no, say that ZoŽ and I have to do something,"

"No," I shook my head, meeting her concerned gaze. "I'm not going to force her to be with me if she doesn't want to be." I shrugged. "She hates me, why would I think she actually wanted to spend the day with me?"

"Oh, honey. I doubt she meant that. She's a kid, and kids are very spontaneous with the things they say, trust me."

I nodded, knowing she was right, but it didn't make it hurt any the less. "If you can, and want to take her with you today, you're welcome to. However, if you are busy, and can't do feel you're obligated to." Julia nodded, patting my shoulder, then turned back to the girls who looked at her anxiously.

"You're welcome to come home with us, Parker, but," she waggled a finger at both girls. "ZoŽ is doing her chores today, so if you come, you get to help. Got me?"

"Aw, man!" ZoŽ complained, while Parker jumped at the opportunity.

"It'll be fun." She told her friend, blue eyes blazing with possibility. Realizing this, ZoŽ brightened considerably. If it weren't such a sucky situation, I would have thought it amusing.

Sighing, I turned back to my toast as it popped up from the toaster.

###

I never had any idea just how difficult it would be to live with a kid who virtually ignored you. If I asked Parker to do something, she'd do it, but conversation was nil.

One night I heard her crying, and went upstairs to see what the problem was. She was tucked into the corner of the hallway, where she used to play with her dolls as a small child. The phone was cradled between her shoulder and cheek.

"I know, but I want you to come back." She sniffled, nodding, saying "Uh huh, But I'm mad. She made you go away." She paused, listening.

I felt like an ass intruding and eavesdropping, but I felt I had a right to know what the hell was going on, and how I could fix this. Plus, I prayed that Keller, whom she was obviously talking to, could talk some damn sense into her.

"Okay. I'll try. Yeah."

As the conversation moved on to what Parker had done in school, I quietly headed back down the stairs, wincing every time the tiniest little creak announced my descent. The kid must not have noticed, cause I heard her laughing a few moments later. Music to my ears.

I went back to my cave, otherwise known as the living room, curled up on the couch and continued watching TV.

###

Two nights later I was awakened to a scream that made my blood run cold.

My feet hit the floor with enough force to almost put me on my face, but I managed to keep my balance as I ran, throwing my bedroom door open, almost bowling Parker over.

Getting my bearings, and realizing the kid was standing there, crying, holding something in her hands.

"What's the matter? Are you okay? What is it?" I looked around her, trying to see if there was someone in the house, if she had been attacked, if there was a fire-

"I started."

My eyes shot to Parker again, utterly confused.

"What?"

In answer, she held up her underwear.

"Oh!"

Tears began to fall again.

"Okay, okay, honey. Come on." I took her by the hand and led her into my bedroom, to the bathroom. "I want you to jump into the shower, clean yourself up, and I'm gong to put these in some water with baking soda, okay?" The kid nodded dumbly. I closed the door behind me as I left, hearing the water start.

"Shit!' I grabbed the cordless as I ran out of my bedroom, dialing as I went. After four rings, it was finally picked up. "Julia? I'm so sorry to call at," glancing at the clock on the microwave, "four in the morning."

"It's okay. What's wrong? Is everything okay?"

"Parker started her period. She's really upset. Isn't she a little young for this?" I held the phone between shoulder and cheek as I dug around in the fridge for baking soda, then plugged one side of the sink, and filling it with cold water, shaking in the heavy, white powder.

"No, not really. Younger than most, maybe, but,"

"Julia, she's ten years old! I was almost eleven and a half." I dropped the soiled underwear into the mix, pushing them down so they wouldn't float.

"She'll be eleven in January. I figured it was coming. I've noticed she's been starting to get her boobies for a few months now. That's usually a sure sign."

"Oh," I sighed, running a hand through my hair. "She's just a kid, Julia. She shouldn't have to deal with this shit, yet. She'll have to worry about it for the next forty years as it is!"

"I know, honey. I know. She's growing up." I could hear the smile in her voice.

"Yeah, well I don't like it, and am still in denial. Maybe I'll take her to the doctor tomorrow and make sure she's okay, and didn't actually cut herself or something-"

"Garrison, that rive in Egypt is a long way away."

"Yeah, yeah." The water cut off. "Okay, I have to go. Thanks, and I'll talk to you later."

"Good luck."

Running back upstairs, stopping only long ebough to grab a bottle Midol, I knocked softly on the bathroom door.

"Honey, are you okay?"

"Yeah. I need clothes."

"Okay. Be right back." I hurried to her bedroom and dug around till I found her a clean pair of underwear and shorts and t-shirt. I knocked again. "Honey, I need to come in to show you what to do."

There was a little sniffle, but then a very small, "Kay."

I opened the door, and wanted to run to her and hug her. The kid stood in the tub, towel wrapped around herself, knees pressed together, looking as though she were tiring to keep herself from peeing where she stood. She must have seen my confusion.

"I don't want to drip," she said miserably, looking like a lost little puppy dog.

"Oh, sweetie, don't worry about that." After what Julia had said, I looked at the kid in a new light. She was certainly and obviously a kid, her body tall, but lanky, skinny. Even so, looking at her now, I realized it was a matter of time and our little Parker would look like a woman. She was going to be an early bloomer.

Oh, boy.

"Here, sweetie." I walked over to her and handed her the t-shirt, then turned away so she could put it on. I grabbed a pad from my stash under the bathroom cabinet, and unwrapped it, showing her how it worked. "Now, if you want later, you can try a tampon. For now I think it best if you use pads, okay?" She nodded

I showed her how to put the pad in the panties, using her very own underwear, what to do with it after it was used, how often to change it, and then the important part- I gave her two Midol, and got her settled in my bed.

The heating pad was buried in the hall closet, but I managed to find it, and plugged it in, getting it settled over Parker's mid-section.

"How's that, sweetie? Are you doing okay? Need anything?"

The kid shook her head, but patted the bed next to her. I gladly obliged.

"Can I call Keller and tell her?" She asked, shining hopeful blue eyes up at me. Glancing at the clock, I looked back to my charge.

"Tell you what, honey, it's only just after two in the morning for her. Why don't you wait until it gets a little later, okay?" Parker nodded, then cuddled up next to me. I wrapped myself around her, mindful of her sensitive nether regions and cramped belly, and we fell asleep.

###

"Garrison! Keller wants to talk to you!"

I ran at nearly full force from the backyard where I was trying to fix the sprinkler system, making myself slow as I entered the house, where Parker was arranged on the couch, the heating pad her best friend.

Out of breath, I took several deep ones, trying to calm myself. I took the phone from the kid, and said as casually as I could,

"Hi Keller, how are you, I hope everything is going good all the way over there in California, it's okay here."

There was a pause, and then, "Did you breathe yet?"

Slapping my forehead with my hand, I ignored Parker's giggles.

"How is Parker doing? Like, how is she doing really?" Keller's voice was soft and as velvety s ever, but distant. It hurt to know I'd put it there.

"She's doing good. I've got her laying on the couch full of Midol. The heating pad has become her new best friend."

"I bet, so. If she's anything like me, she'll need it."

"Yeah." I headed out of the living room, toward the front porch for a little privacy. "Listen, Keller, we need to talk."

"Is there anything wrong with Parker, Ruby or Jerome?" Keller asked, the softness leaving her voice.

"Uh, no-"

"Do you have any sort of terminal disease?"

"No," my brows drew in confusion.

"Then we don't have anything to talk about." There was a finality in her words and voice that shook me to the core, sparking sadness and anger.

"Says you,"

"Yes. Says me."

"We can't leave it this way, Keller." I closed the door behind me, not wanting Parker to hear any of this. "Don't you think we owe ourselves more than that? Shit, we owe Parker more than that."

"I made a mistake, Garrison. Deal with it. I am. I have to go. If there's anything I can do for Parker, let me know. I'll get in touch with her soon." Dead air time, neither of us saying anything. "Goodbye, Garrison."

"Don't end it this way, Keller, please."

"Say goodbye. I don't want to hang up on you," I sensed something in that last statement, not only the hard-edge that had littered the entire conversation, but a sadness, too. I sighed, knowing I wouldn't win this round. Maybe it was too soon.

"Goodbye, Keller."

It didn't surprise me when the line went dead, even if it broke my heart all over again.

###

That day I took Parker to get her first bra. A training bra, but a bra all the same. It made me realize just how fast time goes by, and it will march right over your soul.

And that's what happened over the next year and a half. It was a time of change and growth, not just physically for Parker and ZoŽ, but for Julia and I as well.

Over the next few months, after what I had come to call the 'Hangar Incident,' she kept her distance from me off and on, explaining to me that she needed to figure some things out. I let it go, trying to be as understanding as possible. Things were changing between us, for the good and the bad.

When she came over with ZoŽ, her affection was becoming more and more that of a very close friend, and less of a lover. Her kisses found themselves on my cheek, and not on my lips. If she ever stayed over, which was rare, she insisted on sleeping on the couch, no longer sharing a bed with me.

At first it hurt, rejection from all sides, but then I began to understand what she was doing, and respected and loved her for it. Our friendship was very important to both of us, and she wanted to keep it. I think somewhere deep inside a place she'd never tell me about, Julia knew my feelings for Keller ran deep, and she knew she didn't stand a chance.

Keller.

That was another painful topic. True to her word, she called Parker often, never asking to talk to me. If I happened to have the misfortune of answering the phone, she'd be pleasant and cordial, but quickly ask for her sister.

It hurt each and every time, and I felt that the damage was irreparable. So, instead of making things even harder on me by begging, I became resigned to it, and dutifully sent Parker on her way during Spring Break, and for a few weeks each summer.

The kid would come back tanned and filled with stories of learning to surf, swimming in the Pacific, and how cool her older sister was.

Parker.

That topic could put a smile on my face any time. She was now taller than I am, which let me tell you, that's one hell of a blow to the ego She turned twelve in January, and was in the sixth grade, no longer going to elementary school. She and ZoŽ were even closer, in the same middle school, and ZoŽ had become a fixture to our house, often eating dinner at our place when her mom had night classes to teach. I thought the kid was great, and a wonderful influence and friend for Parker.

There were some days that I'd look at Parker, and I'd see the woman she was becoming, and it would scare me. I was twenty-nine, on the edge of thirty, and I hated it. Keller was almost in her mid-twenties, soon to be twenty-four.

The kid was tall, I'd say pushing five feet five and a half, very proud of that half, now, definitely the giant in her class. Her hair was thick and hung down her back. Big, blue eyes looked out at the world with wonder and awe, writing down everything she saw. Her talent was immense, and she had already won several short story contests at school, and one for the local newspaper last year.

She already had the body of a young woman, very shapely and fit from hours upon hours of running and riding bikes and just being an active kid in general. She seemed happy and healthy, and she was truly the pride of my life, the one thing I felt I had done right, and could die knowing that I did my best.

She was in all intents and purposes my daughter. Even if she was becoming a teenager.

Julia and I sat on the glider, watching as our girls were laying out on towels in the front yard, sunning themselves. We agreed to it only if they wore sun screen. So, after much fuss and bravado, they agreed.

"I can't believe how tall Parker got." My friend said, lazily pushing our glider back and forth. It was late spring, the air still slightly chilly, but overall a nice day.

"I know. Do you know how much it sucks to be the oldest, yet shortest person in the damn house?" I glanced at her and she chuckled.

"Unfortunately ZoŽ got David's genes in that area. His entire family is short and squat." She ran her hand through her hair, the long strands flowing through her fingers.

ZoŽ was turning into beauty. She did get her father's stature, but her hair was the same auburn as her mother's though lighter from hours in the sun, and a bit shorter. Her eyes were alive and sparkled as if she knew something you didn't. I was a fan of the kid.

"So, uh," Julia began to twirl a lock of hair around her finger, glancing over at me every now and then. "I have a date tomorrow night."

I looked at her, my first reaction was a hint of jealousy, but it was quickly overcome by happiness.

"No kidding? That's great!" I gave her a quick hug, which she sighed into.

"I'm glad you're not mad." She said shyly. I squeezed her hand with my own, shaking my head.

"Not a chance. You deserve some hot chick to sweep you off your feet."

"Well, I don't know about that, but we'll see how it goes."

"If she hurts you, I hurt her. Got it?" I raised a brow, and she laughed, leaning into me, resting her head on my shoulder.

"I love you, Garrison."

"I love you, too."

###

Parker was bouncing around the house, floating on a cloud, singing at the top of her lungs to the radio, as we cleaned.

Holding the duster in hand, she found me where I was cleaning the kitchen, grabbing me for a duet in her housecleaning microphone.

Giving in to her antics, we linked arms, swaying to and fro as we sang along, and badly I might add, with Avril Lavigne.

The dogs barked at us as we danced all around the room, giggling as we knocked over a bucket filled with Pine-Sol, but continued dancing our little hearts out.

Pooped, I found a kitchen chair and flopped down into it, catching a grinning Parker as she sat on my lap.

It was funny, the kid was almost thirteen, a nasty teenager, yet I could still see the little kid in her, that beautiful little girl who liked to curl up with me.

As I held Parker on my lap, most of her body hanging off, her arms wrapped around my neck, head resting on my shoulder, I thought of the first night she spoke to me. The night dad had died, and I sat on the couch, curled up, and devastated, crying. That little face breaking through the storm clouds,

"Don't cry, Garrison, "

The words echoed in my head, seeming a lifetime ago. It basically was. And our lives were going to change now, I could feel it. I didn't know how, but something was coming, and it was coming in the form of Keller, discharged from the United States Air Force after four years of service, in two weeks.

Shit.

Just like before, we organized a welcome home party for our returning soldier, done with her duty. Parker insisted on taking over as the site manager, cracking us all up. She made sure that everything was perfect for her big sister.

I had mixed feelings on the entire thing. Over the past two years, since I'd seen Keller last, I had gone through so many emotions. Anger, profound sadness, and sometimes all out hopelessness. Parker, in her quiet way, had gotten me through it all.

Today, the day when Keller would be back in our lives, I felt glad to have her back, hope that we could work on some sort of relationship again, though I knew the old one we had was gone, never to be brought back.

Everyone showed up, everyone from the hangar, a few of Parker's friends, including ZoŽ, though Julia, probably wisely, decided to stay home, with my blessing. I understood.

Keller was driving back, as she had wanted her truck out there for transportation, so we were all waiting patiently, everything in place- all the signs and banners Parker had made on my computer, the food, the company. Now we just needed a guest of honor.

And we got one.

The familiar sounding engine pulled up into the driveway, the brake was pulled, the door opened, and an overly excited twelve and a half year old.

Parker couldn't wait, running at full speed out the door, and right into the arms of her sister.

Being the masochist I am, I watched from the window with a mix of joy at the reunion, and wistfulness, cause I knew I wouldn't get that kind of response.

Keller twirled the girl, who clung to her like a monkey, around, both grinning, eyes closed, Parker's face buried in her sister's neck.

It was an amazing thing to see them together. Parker was catching up to her older sister in height, and looks. Keller put the kid down, grinning at her, saying something that had Parker giggling. Keller looked good. She wore cargo short, her legs strong, long and tanned. Her hair was cut shorter than I'd ever seen it, just below her shoulders. She wore her customary sunglasses, and I couldn't wait for her to ditch them so I could see their amazing color again.

My Keller was all grown up. She was an absolutely amazingly stunning woman.

"What did you do?" I heard her say as they stepped up to the porch.

"Everyone is here to see you, Keller." Parker stopped them, pulling her sister into yet another hug. "Don't go away again. Please?"

"I won't sweetie, I promise." Keller said into the girl's hair, holding her tight. "Come on. Let's see who all is here, okay?" Putting the glasses on top of her dark head, she smiled at her sister. She also took my breath away. The same features, the same coloring, the same girl. But oh my god Ö. There was a maturity there now that hadn't been ever, an air of authority and confidence. She walked into the room, and without a word, took it over, made it her own.

Breathing again, I realized those blue eyes were on me.

"Welcome home, Keller," my voice was quite. As I looked at her, my eyes drifted to her mouth, and once again I remembered the softness, the wonder that was Keller's kiss.

"Thank you," she said, using those very lips to form the words. I looked into her eyes, wishing so badly that I could go back in time, do things differently, react differently, and let her know just how in love with her I really was, and how much I regret pushing her away two years ago.

The party engulfed our returning hero, Jerome beside himself at another military kin, his arm slung around her shoulder, swapping stories and hard-ass superiors.

I busied myself making sure everyone had something to eat, something to drink, was having a good time. The consummate party host, which I'd never been in my life. My thoughts always were, if you're hungry, eat, thirsty, get something to drink. Bored, leave.

Not today. Idle hands are the work of the devil, mom used to say. And in my case, all too true. I knew Keller could kick my ass with a single look, so I stayed clear.

As the day went on, people stayed on. I was glad, actually. That was I didn't have to be alone with her.

"How you holdin' together, kiddo?" Ruby asked, coming into the kitchen with three mugs, making her way to the coffee maker to fill them all up. I shrugged, rinsing and loading dishes into the washer.

"Good. It's a nice party."

"Sure is. Wish you were here," she smiled, that red slash mouth of hers creepy in a clown, old lady sort of way.

"What are you talking about? I'm right here-"

"Yeah, nice try, honey. You've been hiding this entire damn day. Would you two just kiss and make up, for Christ's sake?" I glared at her. "Okay, poor choice of words, I'll give you that," she held up a hand in supplication. "But you get my point. This is bullshit. You've been each others rock for a lot of years now, what," she held up her hand, Lee Press Ons the same color as her lips, raising fingers, "seven years?"

"I know, Ruby. It's not that simple." I turned back to my task of hiding Ö er Ö washing dishes.

"Sure it is."

"She told me she doesn't want to talk about, Ruby. Okay?" I turned angry eyes on her.

"Yeah, and Parker said she hates you. Look at you know- you two are as close as mother and daughter."

"Ruby, please stop. Okay? There is nothing you can do, so just stay out of it." She met my gaze for long minutes, then nodded, turning back to the coffee maker.

"Sorry, kiddo. I'll mind my own business." Gathering her cups of coffee, she left the kitchen. I turned back to the sink.

"Fuck."

###

It was very strange to hear two voices downstairs, when one of them wasn't mine. When I'd awoken, even Tut was gone, downstairs with his brother, reveling in the attention of the tall human.

"Traitors," I muttered, pushing open the kitchen door. Parker sat atop the counter watching her sister cook waffles. Just look old times. I had to smile.

"Hey, Garrison!" Parker nearly shouted, opening her arms to me. I stepped into an enthusiastic embrace, placing a kiss on the side of her head.

"How are you, sweetie?"

"Good. Guess what?"

"What?" I asked, brushing strands of fly-away hair back.

"We're coming with you to the hangar today."

"Oh yeah?" I glanced at Keller who was just turning away, attending to her cooking. "Fantastic."

And so it was to be. Keller was so cute as we drove to the hangar. I could tell she was excited, even if I couldn't hear her chatter with Parker. When we turned onto the side street that would take us to Davies Hangar, she leaned forward in her seat, wanting that first glimpse.

Once we got there, Jerome came up to me.

"Hey, Monk. Can I talk to you?"

"Yeah, sure, Jerry. Come on." I closed the door behind us, and perched on the edge of my desk, waiting.

"Look, Monk, I'm an old man now, and well, I don't get to see my daughter all that much. Hell, my grandkids are growing up so fast," he looked at me with dark eyes, brow furrowed as something bothered him. I waited him out. "I want to retire, and I want Keller to take my place."

I stared at him, stunned. "You want to retire?" Nod "And you want Keller to take over as my lead mechanic?"

"Yes. That is correct." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I think she'd be great at it until you can get her ready."

"Ready? For what?"

"To join you in the skies." Jerome looked me in the eye, the most serious I'd ever seen him. "Monk, she's a great kid, and someday, mark my words, she's going to be running this place by your side."

"Do you really believe that?" I asked, nearly whispering. He smiled, that wonderful smile that always made me feel safe.

"I do. Hang in there, Monk. Everything will turn out as it's meant to. Believe in that."

Jerome's words seemed strangely prophetic to me, considering he knew nothing of what had happened between Keller and I. God, I hoped he was right.

Nodding, I stood, hugging him with a steel grip.

"I love you, Jerry. Gonna miss you." We parted and I looked up at him, seeing how shy he suddenly was.

"I love you, too, Garrison. I'm always here for you, okay? No matter what, you call, and I'll be there."

I nodded, swallowing back my emotion. "Shall I tell her or do you want to?"

"I'll go talk to her." Jerome stepped toward the door, then stopped, looking at me over his shoulder. "It's been one hell of a ride, Monk." He winked, and walked out the door.

###

"You got everything, Parker? Julia's here." I called up from my seat on the couch.

In answer, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD!

She hit the bottom of the stairs and ran into the living room, first hugging me from behind, then running over to her sister and hugging her.

"See you guys!" Dragging her overnight bag with her, she dashed out of the house.

"Don't slam the door!"

SLAM

Sighing, I shook my head. "Welcome to the world of the teenager." I muttered, saying it to Keller, though not sure if I'd get a response or not.

"Jerome talked to me today,"

She responded, which was good, but not exactly what I was expecting.

"Yeah," I put my book aside, wondering where this was going. "And what do you think?"

She folded the newspaper she'd been reading, setting it on the floor next to the chair she was sitting in. She shrugged.

"I'm sorry to see Jerome go." She looked up at me. This was the most she'd said to me in two years.

"Me, too. He kind of took dad's place at the hangar, you know?" I said, a soft smile on my face as I thought of the man I'd known my entire life. Keller nodded.

"I'm going to take the job."

"Good. I don't know what kind of training you had back in California, but if Jerry has faith in your abilities, I'm totally behind it."

"Good to know. Look, Garrison," Keller leaned forward in her chair, hands clasped between her spread knees. Her hair hung down to cover her face, which was lowered. With a deep breath, she looked up, tucking her hair behind an ear, and looking me in the eye. "I'm going to move out."

I looked at her, stunned, my heart sinking, stomach flipping over. "Okay."

"And I'm taking Parker with me."

Now I wanted to throw up. Keller wanting to move out, yes, I could understand that. She was her own person, a woman, and deserved her own space, her own life. But Parker?!

"What?" I said, feeling the bile beginning to rise.

"She's going with me, Garrison. It's time for me to start a life for me and my sister."

"I see." Taking several deep breaths, calming my stomach, I was readying myself for battle. "Soo, basically what you're saying is, you decide to go off four years ago, leaving me with your eight year old sister, asking me to take care of her, to raise her, and you come back, all done playing G.I. Jane., Parker is almost thirteen years old, and you want to take her away from what she knows?" My voice had begun to rise with almost every word I said.

"She belongs with me, Garrison. I appreciate everything you've done for her, but-"

"But what!" I stood. "But what, Keller? Thank you very fucking much, I've shit all over you, and now I'm going to leave while you clean it up?"

She also stood, looking over at me, maintaining control, yet I could see a storm in those blue eyes.

"I'm sorry that you've seen Parker and my stay here as shit. That certainly wasn't the intention. I can have us out of here tonight." Steely calm, stoking my fire.

"That isn't what I meant, and you know it. I love that kid, and I think it's pretty fucked up of you to change things yet again. Let that kid have some damn security! A foundation. She has lived here for more than half her life."

"She's been my responsibility for my whole life. She's coming with me." She set her jaw and headed for the stairs, me following on her heels.

"Why, Keller? Why are you going? Are you and your lesbian buddy, Catherine, going to set up house?"

She stopped, foot on the first stair, slowly turning to face me, fire in her eyes.

"What are you talking about?"

As soon as it had come out of my mouth, I knew it was stupid and uncalled for.

"I'm sorry. That was lame."

"Lame? What does Catherine have to do with it? Don't you mean Julia?" The venom in her voice startled me, and pissed me off.

"Don't start with that shit. Julia has nothing to do with this."

Keller started up the stairs again, and I followed.

"She has plenty to do with it," she said, slamming into her bedroom. Suddenly she stopped in the center of the room, hands on hips, then she turned. "Do you have any idea how it felt to call here to talk to you, to hear your voice, and have her answer? Not just answer, but answer from your bed?"

"I don't know, Keller how does that feel? That's the problem with you! You won't tell me how you feel. So suddenly you decide that you're pissed off and jealous because of another woman, when you have made it abundantly clear what you thought of my being a lesbian, by the way. What am I supposed to do?"

She stormed out of the room, barreling past me, almost knocking me into the doorframe.

"Where are you going?" I asked, seeing her stop again mid-hall.

"I don't know!" she bellowed, and I couldn't help it, I burst into laughter. She glared at me, and I tried to stifle it, but it wasn't working. After a moment her eyes fell, and she tried to hide her own smile with a lowered head.

"Keller, why didn't you ever tell me? God, I thought it was absolutely hopeless with you, and never wanted to think about it. God, I never said anything, never ever acted on it because I didn't want you to think I was no better than Al."

"You are nothing like Al." She glared at me again.

"How the hell am I supposed to know that? Fuck, when you saw me kissing Celeste goodbye, you all but called me a goddamn child molester!" My temper was rising again.

"I was a kid, Garrison. I didn't understand shit about shit."

"Oh, and you do now?" My hands went to my hips, and I glared right back.

"Enough to know you rejected me. You told me you couldn't do it with me. Do what? Love me?"

"Don't you listen to a goddamn thing, Keller? Jesus H. Christ! That's all I've tried to do for seven fucking years!"

Keller shook her head, heading back toward the stairs. I stood at the top, watching her go.

"Why won't you let me love you!?" I cried, my vision suddenly blurred by the explosion of emotion.

"I tried," she growled, turning to look at me, her eyes meeting mine, boring a hole through me, burning me to the core.

"Please don't do this," I nearly whispered. She only stared, cold and angry. "Don't do this to our family."

"My family is dead. Parker is all I have now." Her voice was so soft, words filled with such sadness that if they hadn't hurt so damn much, I would have run to her. "She's coming with me." With that, she headed toward the front door, grabbed her keys off the table just inside, then was gone.

Continued...

Return to the Academy