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Kim Pritekel and Alexa Hoffman

Part 15 (conclusion)

As the twin elevator doors opened, my stomach lurched, and I had to take a deep breath to try and keep my Cheerios from coming back up to greet the world.

I can do this, I can do this. I kept repeating this to myself like a mantra of courage.

Pulling the strap of my bag further up my shoulder, I walked toward my cubicle, putting myself in the state of mind to begin a new week, and stay out of what I was sure would be Rhonda's war path. It had been two days since that fateful Friday morning, and I had no doubt that the storm had not yet blown over.

I hit the on button on my computer, and logged in, sipping from my coffee as I waited for the program to boot up. Damn computer, got slower and slower. I decided to check my phone messages, having noticed the blinking red light on my phone.

Dialing my code, I listened as the recorded voice greeted me. I heard the first message, left by Deb in payroll regarding my bonus for the year, then a smile filled my face as the second message began.

"Hey, babe, it's me. I just wanted to tell you that I'm thinking about you, and good luck today at work. Um, I miss you."

I felt my chest swell with the sound of Cody's voice, and the sweet sentiment behind her message. God, she was almost a different person than the one I first met last February. Hell, almost even from a month ago. Who would have known that she was so sweet, caring and thoughtful behind that tough fašade that she showed so many others. And even me to an extent.

I sighed, replaying the message, just to hear her voice once more, giving me the courage and extra little boost I needed for the day.

Cody started classes today, and I know she was nervous, despite what she told me. She had a somewhat heavy work load, but I knew she could handle it. That girl is as smart as a whip.

I heard the elevator doors slide open, and my heart began to pound within my chest as I looked at the time. I knew it would most likely be Rhonda coming back from her morning meeting.

Stay calm, Brooklyn. Stay calm and just concentrate on your work.

I did my best to try and comply, but I still wanted to throw up.

Sure enough, I smelled the coffee before she even reached my cubicle, the steaming brew a staple for Rhonda. Normally she would have two cups in her hand, and she'd beckon me to follow where we'd chat in her office for about twenty minutes before I officially started my day.

Heavy steps in the thick carpet, the coffee smell getting stronger until finally she passed by, her face stern, body rigid; my boss walked by my desk without so much as a glance in my direction.

I let out a breath, sad, but relieved that she was gone. This was going to be a loooong day.

* * *


I looked up, started away from my copy, looking around to see what the hell that buzzing was.


Longer, more impatient this time. Finally my attention was brought to my phone, and I saw a blinking red light with the next buzz. Drawing my brows, I tried to figure out what button to push.

"Hello?" I said, trying anything I could think of. "Hello?" Damnit.

"Do you not believe in answering when you're being called?" I looked up, startled from the harshness of the voice just above my cubicle wall. Imagine how much more surprised I was when I saw Rhonda's angry face.

"I'm sorry, I've never been buzzed before. I was trying to find the right button . . ." My voice trailed off lamely when I saw the look on her face. "How do I answer?"

"This." She reached down over the wall and hit the speak button. "It's written there in black and white for you. It's not that hard."

"Oh," I muttered. No idea how to deal with this Rhonda. "Are those reports ready? I told you I needed them this morning. It would be lovely if you could manage before lunch next time."

"Rhonda, I didn't get these back for second revision until forty-five minutes ago." I showed her the pages in question. She didn't bother looking at them, only stared into my eyes.

"On time, Brooklyn. No exceptions." There was a warning in her voice that was unmistakable.

"Unreal," I breathed as she walked back to her office. I saw people in cubicles close by looking over the tops, hearing and seeing. Just down the aisle Kristine was looking at me, a question in her dark eyes. I met her gaze.

"You, me, lunch, now," she ordered. I nodded, grabbing my wallet.

* * *

"What the hell, Brook? You've gone from golden child to red-headed stepchild in the span of a weekend!" Kristine exclaimed as she perused the menu at Tristan's, an action I didn't understand, considering she ordered the same thing every time - chicken fajita salad with a side of two tortillas.

"Oh, and what a weekend it was." I couldn't keep the stupid grin from my face, despite the seriousness of the situation.

"Uh, oh." She sat back in the booth, arms crossed over her chest. "What's going on, lady?"

"Where to begin," I muttered, running my hands through my hair. "Okay, well, you remember a while back when I talked to you about Cody?"

"Yeah, you mean that half-hearted attempt at telling me something that you really just fumbled around for an hour? Yeah, I remember." I chuckled at that.

"Yes, yes. I know. Well, here's the skinny - me and Cody are a couple." I looked her dead in the eye to try and gauge her reaction. Her mouth hung slack.

"You're shitting me?" Gaining her composure, she sat forward, hands flat on the table top. "You and Cody? As in Cody Thomlin, cute skater chick? Chick? You and a woman?" I nodded. She threw her head back and burst out laughing. I smiled at a nearby couple who were trying to eat.

"Can you keep it down at all there, Tonto?"

"Oh man, sorry. Wow. You sure know how to throw a curve ball, Fletcher."

"I do my best."

Suddenly Kristine sobered. "Ohhhh, I get it. Rhonda knows, doesn't she?"


"Holy shit . . ."

"Yup." I sipped from my water and snagged a tortilla chip.

"Brooklyn, how did this happen?" I could tell she wasn't grossed out or even angry, but she was worried. That made two of us.

"I don't really know, Kris. I mean," I sighed. "One moment she's just this punk teenager to me, not trusting me anymore than she trusts any adult, and then, hell, I'm hot for her." I shrugged. "I don't understand it, either."

"Wow." I could tell she needed a few moments to take it all in. "So did you guys sit Rhonda down and tell her, or . . . ?"

"Not exactly. Not at all, actually. Um, she damn near caught us." Kristine's eyes went as big as saucers. "You remember my sick day Friday?" She nodded. "Yeah, no. We wanted a day to be together. It all happened Thursday night." As I told her vague details of our night, it all came rushing through me once more, and once again, the goofy smile that had been painted across my face for the last three days was firmly back in place.

"Oh my god!" She reached out and smacked me on the arm. "Good for you. Lord knows Cody's hot enough." I gave her an evil grin.

"You have no idea, my friend. No idea."

"So . . ." Kristine looked down, all serious now. "Does this mean you're a lesbian?" she met my eyes. I sighed.

"Ah, the million dollar question. I've been asking myself that for weeks now, Kris." I shrugged. "I have no idea. Right now I'm just going with it, you know? I mean, I have found myself looking at women in an entirely new way. I mean, hell, who knew, right?" She smiled, nodded. I knew Kristine had been with a woman once, back in college, but considered herself to be absolutely straight with a slight twist.

"Wow. Well, hey, if you need to talk, you know I'm here, 'kay?"

"Thanks, Kristine. So far so good."

"Now back to Rhonda. What did she say? What did she do?"

"Well, she said some bad things - I wasn't that kind, either - and she made Cody choose."

"What? Between what, her cantankerous mother or being happy?" I nodded.


"Oh man, that's bad. And Cody chose you?" I nodded. "Oh, how romantic!" She clapped her hands together.

"Well, we'll just see how this fairytale ends."

"I was shocked at how she was treating you today. Damn, I've never seen Rhonda say a bad thing."

"I know." I looked down, beyond sad by how things were progressing. I had seen Rhonda as so much more than a friend.

* * *

I headed home after an extremely long day. I hadn't had such a bad day at work since I had first started working there.

Blowing my bangs away from my face as I stopped for a traffic light, my thoughts returned to Cody. What would happen between us now? Would this last? What did I want from her? I knew that I felt happier around her than I had around anyone else. Ever. That included Rand. I loved Rand heart and soul, but it was such a different kind of love. Cody had seen parts of me that few had seen physically, and certainly parts of my heart that no one had seen.

She made me whole. She poured herself in, and filled a part of me that had been left void after the death of my family. True, no one could ever take their place, nor would I want them to, but Cody filled it as much as I believed anyone could.

I felt such pain now, feeling like my work world was upside down, and certainly my relationship with Rhonda. God, after just one day, she had made me doubt so many things that I had held dear regarding our friendship.

Was she the only one? I felt that Jodi and I had made our amends, and Jake, hell, Jake was Jake, and far too young to really understand any of this, let alone care. I missed him. Then there was Tom, who, though he hadn't said anything to me at Cody's over the weekend, had kissed my forehead like any father would. What had he said in that simple gesture?

The honking of the car behind me drew me out of my reverie, and I stepped on the gas.

Changing into a pair of sweats, the late August evenings were turning chilly, I started a fire to relax in front of until Cody got back from class. I was so proud of her, taking the initiative to start in school, and follow her dreams, and not those set by others who thought they knew what was best for her. She was determined, and I knew she would be a great success at whatever she did.

I looked at the picture of my family on the mantel, taken so long ago.

"Yeah, you guys definitely would have loved her," I said, just before sleep carried me away.

I saw monsters and felt pain and disappointment attacking me in my dreams. I was constantly running from something that I could not see, but which made me feel as though it were paramount for me to flee. Suddenly, it was as if a light was turned on, and I saw a crowd of people after me, yelling and throwing things at me. I felt their disdain as I tried to outrun them, but I never truly got anywhere as they continued to gain on me, finally overtaking me.

"No!" I shot up on the couch, my chest heaving, and jumped again when I saw Cody staring at me from the floor. I had forgotten I'd given her a key.

"Hey, you okay?" she asked, crawling over to me, and taking me in a hug.

"My god," I breathed, clutching her to me, feeling like I'd finally found my safe harbor.

"Shh. It was a dream. Apparently a bad dream, but a dream all the same."

"When did you get here?" I asked, resting my head against her shoulder.

"About an hour and a half ago," she said, rubbing my back, and sighing in my arms.

"Cody, why didn't you wake me?" I pulled back from her, studying her face.

"You were asleep. You looked so peaceful, I didn't want to disturb you.' She brushed my tousled hair back from my face, and leaned in and kissed me. I kissed her back, missing those lips all day long. Pulling away completely, I looked at her.

"So, how was it? I want to hear all about your first day." I planted a smile on my face, and waited for her to begin. Cody took a place on the couch next to me and began to tell her story of classes and professors, homework loads, and the term paper she'd have to do for her history class, which she was glad only had to be around five pages long. She even knew what she wanted to do it on.

"And, dude, they've got Dells!" she exclaimed. "The programs they've got on them for architecture, oh man." A silly, happy smile spread across her lips like wildfire. She was so excited.

"Oh, baby, I'm so happy for you," I gushed, pulling her to me. "And I'm so proud, Cody. So proud."

"Thank you," she whispered against the skin of my neck. "Now, I need to get back to homework," she announced, indicating the open book and notepad on the floor in front of the fireplace.

"Oh, pardon me," I said, letting go of her. She grinned at me, and turned back to her work. I knew in that smile that all was basically right in the world for Cody.

* * *


"Goddamnit!" I muttered, hating that damn sound. I pressed the speak button. "Yes, Rhonda?" for the fourth fucking time this morning.

"Where's the Nike file?" she barked. I rubbed between my eyes, a small crease becoming permanent there.

"I don't know, Rhonda. Ask your secretary." I hit the end button and ran my hands through my hair. I was going to kill her if she didn't cut her shit! Never in my entire life had I cussed as much as I did these last two months. Every day it was something, and she buzzed me at least twice an hour.


"What?" I nearly screamed into the speaker.

"Um, Brooklyn? Chill." I growled.

"Fuck off, Kristine," I snarled.

"Damn, girlfriend!" I looked up to see my friend walking toward me. "I was only joking. I saw she had managed to rattle your cage yet again, so . . ." She smiled in understanding. "Come on, let's get some coffee."

Blowing out pent up stress, I stood, and dutifully followed my friend to the employee lounge where fresh coffee was being brewed.

"I'm going to break, Kristine. She is going to drive me mad."

"That's what she wants, Brooklyn."

"She hasn't said one word to me save for to complain about something dealing with my job. Do you know that I have never had a bad review or word said about my performance? Ever?"

"I believe it." She grabbed two mugs from the cabinet above the dishwasher. "Honey, she's trying to get under your skin. Don't let her win. She's the child, not you."

"I know," I muttered. She looked at me, studying me. She could see the exasperation stating to fill my body.

"Okay, so you know how to breath, right?" I nodded dumbly. "Good. Do it with me . . ." She waved her hands toward herself, "Breath in," she pushed them away, "Breath out." I chuckled.

"Yes, I know how to do it, you pain in the butt."

"Hey, now, don't call me your pet names for Rhonda."

I sighed. "God, what am I going to do with her? I'm telling you, I'm about to bust her chops. This has got to be one of the most childish things I've ever seen." I threw my hands up in exasperation.

"I know, Brooklyn. She is totally acting like a child, and for the most part I think you're doing a good job of not taking the bait."

"Yes, well my sainthood days are almost over. I don't have to take this shit, Kristine." I turned to the cabinets behind me and began to rummage for a clean coffee cup. "Tea or coffee?"

"Tea. And you're right. Hell, you could take it to Stevens."

"Her boss?" I shook my head. "I really don't want to get her in trouble."

"Well, if it came down to her ass or mine, there's no choice, kiddo."

I sighed heavily as I poured some steaming water into a mug, and added a tea bag, handing the concoction to my friend.

"I do know that. I know I have rights and all that crap, but it shouldn't be this way. Is it so terrible that Cody would be with me, Kristine?" I looked at her. "I mean really, am I that horrible of a person?"

My friend just stared at me, shaking her head sadly. "Come on, lady." Her arm around my shoulders, we headed back toward our cubicles. I, however, stopped short when I turned the corner and saw who was sitting at my desk, lazily turning the chair this way and that, looking bored as ever.

"Rand!" I hurried over to her, smiling as she started at the sound of my voice. She quickly recovered, stood, and grabbed me in a massive hug. "Oh my god! Why didn't you tell me?" I pulled away from her, my hands on her shoulders, not daring to let her go for fear that she wasn't really here at all, but instead a figment of my overloaded imagination.

"I told you I'd visit." She said, all grins.

"Yeah, but . . ." I couldn't even finish my thought, just pulled her to me again, relishing in the warmth of my best friend. "How was your trip?" I finally let her go, fearing I'd squish her if I didn't.

"It wasn't bad. I had the requisite screaming child across the aisle, but that's okay. I'll always have my murderous fantasies."

"Rand . . ." I smacked her on the arm. "Listen, do you want to head out, or . . . ?"

"Nah, I'm headed to see Pete. Stay at work and earn your keep, woman. I'll meet you at your place later tonight." She wiggled her eyebrows evilly. I knew what she was about to get.

"Did you warn Pete?" I snorted.

"He has no idea what's about to knock on his door." She rubbed her palms together. "Yes indeed, little Pete is going to get a run for his little, hairy money."

"Ew, Rand!" I smacked her again. "Go away. I have a lot to talk to you about tonight, so come prepared."

"I'm always prepared to come."


She laughed. "See you later, sweet pea."

"Okey, dokey, buttercup." One last hug, and she was out of there.

As I flopped down into the chair Rand had just left, my mind began to whirl. God, all the stuff I had to fill her in on, and oh my god! I had to tell her that her best friend was sleeping with a woman! And not just any woman, mind you, oh no, that would have been entirely too easy. Cody. Rand hated Cody. Cody hated Rand.

"I'm getting a headache."

* * *

The vegetables began to sizzle in the wok as I chopped up more, adding just a dab of olive oil before stirring them around. The smells that filled the kitchen were wonderful, but I had to admit, my nerves at telling Rand had my appetite on hiatus.

Tonight was Cody's late night at the gallery, so that turned out well, though I knew more than likely she'd head here before going home.

A smile spread across my face. Cody. That girl was turning out to be one of the most important, if not the most important relationship of my life. She meant so much to me.

Ding dong

I set the spatula aside, and wiped my hands on a towel as I headed for the door.

"Hey, honeybuns, I brought you these." I smiled at the bouquet of irises that met me at the door.

"Thanks, turtledove. Come in."

"Oh, yum. Do I smell Chinese?" Rand asked as she sniffed the air, walking toward the kitchen.

"No, boiled dog."

"As I said, Chinese?"

"Rand!" I seemed to be smacking her a lot more today.

"Well, up in Washington everything has to be so damn PC. I have to rebel somehow."

"Nice excuse. Clean these." I pushed over a bag of water chestnuts. "So how is the job, anyway? And I must say, I'm amazed you're able to walk straight." I grinned at her.

"Honey, with the things that have taken up the last four hours, there wasn't nothin' straight about it." She walked over to the sink and grabbed the collander from under the cabinet.

"Wait, whoa, what?" I turned to look at her, hand on my hip. She grinned at me over her shoulder.

"Pete will kill me." She turned the water on full blast.

"So. Tell me anyway." I walked over to her, leaning on the counter next to her, watching as she began to strain the vegetable.

"Well, he's into something a little on the kinky side," she said, her voice low, conspiratory.

"That's nothing new," I scoffed. "You guys live for the unusual." Hehe. If only you knew about my sex life as of late.

"Yes, well, this is a bit different. I mean, I can be anal, but Petey . . ."

"Wait," I was confused, and thought for a moment, a very painful light bulb going off finally. "Oh, Rand!" I pushed her, then walked back over to my veggies. "Are you serious?" She nodded, glancing at me over her shoulder.

"Yes, ma'am. I was a backdoor woman tonight. That strap-on got a real workout tonight."

"Maybe he and Keith should get together." I chuckled.

"Well, Keith doesn't have tits. He liked the feel grazing across his back." She looked utterly proud of herself as she turned the faucet off and dumped the water chestnuts onto a paper towel.

"What did you, wait, I don't even want to know." I put my hands up in supplication.

* * *

"So," Rand drawled as she set her wine glass aside, tucking her feet under her as she sat in front of the fire. "What's this you have to tell me?"

I sighed. Here we go. Downing the rest of my wine, I shoved my shoes off with my toes, and sat on my feet, burrowing further into the soft back pillow of the couch.

"Well, you remember when I talked to you about Cody and I?"

"The kiss?" I nodded.

"Yes, the kiss. Well, um, we got over that." I eyed her, trying to read her, but damn her, keeping her face and eyes completely void of expression. "We've moved on. Way on, if you get my drift." My gaze burned into hers, trying to say everything with my eyes that I could. Rand was a smart girl; she'd get it.

She blinked at me, then cleared her throat.

"Do you still have a job?" she finally asked, her voice low and filled with concern. Be that as it may, I detected little to no surprise. I nodded.

"So far, though Rhonda hasn't made it easy on me." I ran a hand through my hair.

"So she knows?"

"Yes. Nearly caught us in the act." A small smile graced my lips, but soon disappeared. It really mattered what Rand thought, and so far she was keeping her poker face.

"Does Cody live here?" She grabbed her wine glass, finishing all of the burgundy liquid in a swallow.

"No. She's living above the gallery while she's going to school." Twin dark brows raised.

"She's going to school now?" I nodded. "Good for her."

"Damnit, Rand! What are you thinking? Do you hate me?" I held my breath as I waited for her answer.

"Would it matter?" she asked deadpan. Slowly I shook my head, full of meaning. She smiled. "Good. Cause I don't. I'm surprised, but you helped keep the blow to a minimum by telling me about the makeout session." She blew out a breath, her bangs blowing up only to settle back in place. "I'm not sure how I feel about my best friend being a lesbo, but all I really care about is your happiness . . . It's like I've said before, hon, you and Cody had a bond from early on. A closeness that was quite evident."

"Really?" I couldn't help grinning like an idiot. She nodded.

"Yes, really." She pushed herself up off the floor, and walked over to me, taking me into a huge hug. "I love you, Brooklyn."

"I love you, too." I squeezed my eyes shut, and pulled her to me, feeling safe, like my family was back. "Thank you," I whispered.

"Anytime," she whispered back.

And that was that.

The subject was dropped, and we moved on, my stomach finally able to settle after the large dinner I'd just made for us, and the stress on top of that. Rand gave me some ideas on how to handle Rhonda, most of them illegal, but I listened all the same.

Finally the clock in the hallway rung ten, and I knew Cody would be there soon. I was a little interested to see how this would go, what with Rand knowing what she knew about her. Lucky for Cody, I wasn't near as open with my sex life as Rand is with hers.

"Who's that?" Rand asked, walking over to the picture window when headlights swept across the room as a car pulled into the drive.

"Cody," I said, joining her at the window. "Tonight was her late night at the gallery."

The front door opened, and Cody walked through, stopping when she saw Rand.

"Hi, Cody," my best friend said, waving at my lover.

"Uh, hi." Cody looked to me as she closed the door behind her, shrugging out of her corduroy jacket. I could tell she was confused. First off, seeing Rand in my living room, and secondly, my friend was actually being nice to her.

"How were school and work, sweetie?" I walked up to her and took her in a hug. I didn't feel comfortable laying one on her in front of Rand.

"They were okay." She pulled away, and walked over to the couch, plopping down. She was grumpy. I knew these were long days for her.

"Well, ladies, I'm going to head out," Rand said, hugging me tight. "Pete's waiting for me." She grinned.

"Round two?" I asked, walking with her to the door.

"More like round twenty." She wiggled mischievous eyebrows.

"Ew. Why do I set myself up?"

"Cause deep down you have a voyeur spirit," she said as she tugged on her coat.

"Get out of here, you loon."

"See you tomorrow, cupcake." She kissed me on the cheek, and was gone. I closed and locked the door behind her, and sat next to Cody. She laid her head back against the back of the couch, and blew out a breath.

"How was your day?" she asked, glancing over at me. I sighed and turned away.

"It sucked." I shook my head. "I'm telling you, babe, I'm going to commit bossicide." I grinned, but at a glance at Cody, I saw she was not amused.

"Brooklyn," she said, her voice low, her eyes staring blankly ahead. "What exactly are you wanting me to do about this?" Finally she looked at me, her brows drawn.

"Wait, what do you mean?" Cody shot up from the couch, her hands running through her hair. She took several deep breaths, almost as if she were trying to get herself under control.

"I mean, I can't control what my mother does." She looked at me. "You know that, right?"

"Well, yeah, but . . ." I stood, feeling vulnerable sitting in front of her towering form. "Cody, it still bothers me. She has no right to treat me like this."

"What do you want me to do, Brooklyn? Should I rush into her office and yell at her like the child she's being? Should I totally kick my family out of my life, tell them, 'fuck you all!?'" She was angry now. I felt my own anger rising.

"Don't be this way, damnit, Cody. I'm not trying to fight with you!"

"I can't do anything about it," she said, feet set wide apart, totally on the defense.

"I know that! But I still have the right to vent! To tell you about it! Damnit, Cody, we've only got each other now, so knock this shit off." I tried to soften my demeanor. "Please?"

"Then why do you deluge me with complaints about what my mother has done this time? Every fucking night it's something else. I can't do anything about it! Anything I could do, I've done. I'm here, aren't I?"

"God, you're not listening to me!" I threw my hands up in exasperation. I knew Cody had been under a lot of stress; school, her family, her job, and even us to a degree. This outburst wasn't a complete surprise, but it still pissed me off. I took several deep breaths, once again trying to calm down. "Why aren't I allowed to talk to you about this, Cody? Why can't I tell you how I feel? How I'm hurt by this, and about ready to tell your mom exactly what I feel?"

"Who's stopping you? I'm not. Do what you want, but damn, do something and stop harping!"

I just stared at her, hurt. Why wouldn't she understand? Why was she being so damn pig-headed?

"I . . ." I stood there, my mouth hanging open, not sure what to say.

"Forget it. I'm going."

She stormed over to the front door, grabbed her things, and slammed out of the house.

"Damnit!" I screamed into the empty house, thoroughly angry. What the hell had gotten into her? Suddenly I was being swarmed with doubts. Doubts about myself, the life that I had built for myself, and the world that was mine. I had doubts and worries concerning Cody and I. Granted, this had just been a stupid fight, but she hadn't acted like this since the very beginning when we first met.

I swiped at my eyes as I felt the sting behind the lids, and headed up the stairs. I needed to go to bed. It was so hard to deal with the feeling of despair when you'd been on such a high.

I fed my hamsters then quickly undressed, climbed under the covers, and pulled them up to my chin, trying to snuggle as far down into the bed as I could.

* * *

I tapped my pen against my front tooth as I read over the proof that had just landed in my basket, brows drawing as I read over some really obvious, and really stupid, mistakes.

"God, are these people morons?" I muttered as I graced the sheet with yet another red mark, then stuck my pen in my mouth, chewing contentedly. Freud would have a field day with me and my oral fixations.

Truth be told, I was exhausted from the night before. After I had finally managed to close my eyes, the phone had rung. With a slight growl, I had picked it up.

"Hello?" I murmured into the receiver. There was silence, but I could hear someone breathing. Annoyed, I glanced at the clock on the bedside table. "Listen, jerk, it's almost one in the morning. Say something or let me sleep."

"I'm sorry, Brooklyn," came the quiet, almost unsure, voice. I perked up.



"What are you still doing up? You need to sleep." I couldn't keep the anger from before in my voice.

"Can't. I feel bad. I'm really sorry." I couldn't help but smile at the vulnerability in her voice, making her sound like a kid.

"It's okay, hon." My voice softened, and I raised myself up on both pillows. How I wanted her there with me.

"No, it isn't. You had every right to bitch, yet I had to be an asshole about it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that." She sighed and I stifled a yawn.

"We're both really stressed right now, babe."

"I miss you," she purred into the receiver. When she used that low, sexy tone with me, it made me melt every time. I smiled.

"I miss you, too, Code. Have you slept at all?"

"No. I tried, but couldn't." I could hear her shuffling some papers. "I got up to study instead."

"Why couldn't you sleep?" I figured I knew why, and it was a little manipulative, but I had to hear it. I held my breath. I could be wrong.

"Because . . ." She sighed again, and then groaned as she adjusted her position. "Well . . ." Another sigh. "Because of how I left." I beamed. "That was stupid, and wrong, and I shouldn't have done it. There, I said it." I could hear the smile in her voice.

"Yes you did, baby. Thank you. You're very much forgiven."

I smiled as I thought of Cody. I really missed her. She hadn't had the chance to properly apologize yet, and I intended to make her do just that tonight.

"Brooklyn, get in here. Bring the Nielson papers with you."

I started at the sudden sound of my boss' voice, then the anger hit me.

"Goddamnit!" I gathered up all the reports, and stormed into Rhonda's office. She didn't even bother to look up at me as she continued to work.

"Look, you've already taken up my time by calling me in here to tell you something that apparently I wasn't capable of telling you ten minutes ago when you last called me in." I slammed the pages down onto her messy desktop. Finally her eyes met mine. I stood in front of her desk, arms crossed over my chest. I was seriously to the point of explosion.

"Yes, well, something came up in those ten minutes, Brooklyn, that does happen from time to time." She removed her glasses and tossed them onto a stack of proofs.

"Does it?" I asked, my voice dripping with sarcasm. I laid my palms flat on her desk, and stared into her eyes. To her credit, she met my gaze, for about thirty seconds. "What's your deal, Rhonda?"

"I don't have a deal."

"Fine. Then what's crawled up your ass?" She looked surprised, but held her cool.

"Well, maybe if you'd do your job correctly the first time, I wouldn't have to call you in so often."

"Bullshit, and you know it." I pushed off her desk, and walked toward the door. Now or never. I slammed it shut, and turned back toward her. She took a defensive position now. Fine with me. My hands went to my hips, my legs spread wide.

"Watch your tone with me, Brooklyn," she said, her voice low and full of warning.

"Or what? You'll start buzzing me every five minutes instead? You'll treat your daughter even worse? What will you do? Fire me?" I put my hand on my chest. "What the hell has robbed you of about forty years of age, boss? Cause I gotta tell you, you're acting like a spoiled, pathetic little child." Her eyes widened. I looked down at her, then turned away, began to pace.

"I didn't call you in here for you to insult me," came a quiet voice.

"Too bad." I turned to look at her again. "Rhonda, I admired you so much. Here you were, this cool, hip working mom who had raised three wonderful kids, and had taken me under her wing for a fourth. Shit, I let you play a role in my life that I thought would never come to being filled again."

"I trusted you."

"So you did."

"And what did I get? You seduced my daughter!" She was on her feet now, veins standing on end in her neck as her anger rose with her. "I thought you'd be good for Cody."

"Who says I'm not, Ron? Did you ever stop to think of that? Don't you think there are worse people out there?" I pointed toward her large window. "Jesus, Rhonda, what about her drug-toting friends from before? Would you rather them?"

"My daughter is not a lesbian, Brooklyn. She'd never do something so disgusting. It's wrong!"

I wanted to choke on that statement. Shit, if she only knew.

"Wrong? Says who? You? Who the fuck are you?" Rhonda moved out from behind the desk and stepped toward me. I held my ground.

"Says her mother," she growled. I shrugged.

"Yeah, and from what I've seen, that doesn't say much. What do you want for your kids, Rhonda?"

"For them to be happy, of course."

"Of course." I began to pace again, my eyes never leaving her. She looked down. "As long as it's what you want them to do, right? Did you even once congratulate Cody for getting into school? Where was the party that you threw for Jodi when she made the honor roll her first semester? Where were the accolades then, Rhonda?"

"I didn't want Cody getting hurt in case . . ." She stopped, turning her back to me.

"In case what? In case she quit again? Rhonda, she quit the first time because you made her go! You chose where she'd go, in a school that no kid in their right mind could be in unless they were going to be a damn nun! You set that kid up for failure!"

"I did not . . ." She twirled around, dark eyes locking on me, daggers of fire shooting at me. It hurt me to see so much pain and anger in her because I did love her, and cared very much about her.

"Yes, you did," I said, my voice calming slightly. "You put Jodi's expectations on Cody's head, and Ron, they're two totally different kids. They couldn't be more different than if they'd come from different parents in different countries! They don't want the same things."

My boss looked at me, disgust in her eyes as she looked me over head to toe.

"What can you possible do for her except mess up her mind more?" she spat. I knew it was rhetorical, but I answered anyway.

"I believe in her. I trust her and have faith in what she wants, and what she wants. Something you have never done for her, Rhonda. Never." I stared her down, wanting her to understand what she had started, and could easily stop if only she'd be reasonable.

"I . . ." She looked away.

"Rhonda, Cody has shown me more about myself and about her, and about what life can be, than anyone I've ever known." My voice was quiet, almost pleading for her to understand. "Your daughter made me fall in love with her because she was just her, just Cody." I stopped, realizing what I'd just said. Rhonda had also caught it, and was looking at me, too. I felt the sting behind my lids as my emotions swelled. Swallowing them down for a later time, I looked at her, jaw set, chin raised high in confidence. "I love your daughter, Rhonda. For all she is, all she'll ever be, and all she's done. I accept her."

Rhonda just stared at me, unsure of what to do or say. She looked struck. The pain and sorrow of the last weeks crashed over my head, and my emotions began to build again, but this time out of anger and frustration.

"I'll never accept it," Rhonda said, her voice quiet, but hard. I looked at her, chewing on the inside of my cheek, then blew out a breath.

"You don't have to, and no one is asking you to. But know this . . ." I raised a finger. "You will lose your daughter." I turned toward the door, then looked at her over my shoulder. "All three of them if you're not careful." I grabbed the knob and turned it, but stopped to look at her once more. "Oh, and I'm sick and tired of your shit. I quit."

I slammed the door shut behind me, stalked over to the copy room, grabbed a box that had held paper moments before, and headed to my desk. I could see Kristine looking at me over the top of her cubicle wall, but she said nothing, and I didn't bother. She'd find out soon enough, and I had things to do.

Starting with my desk drawers, I began to throw things into either the box or the trashcan, slamming one drawer after another as I emptied them of everything that belonged to me.

"Brooklyn . . ." I heard Rhonda's soft voice standing in the doorway of my cubicle, but I ignored her. "Brooklyn, please stop. Come back with me." I stopped, holding a small stuffed teddy bear I had received from Keith about six months ago, and petted his fur.

"Why?" I couldn't look at her.

"Because I want to talk to you."

"What does that matter?" I looked up at her. "You're not my boss anymore." She sighed sadly.

"Then come as a friend? Please?" I smirked.

"Right . . ." I tossed the bear into the box and followed her down the aisle to her office once more, storming in to sit in one of the two chairs that sat before her desk. I heard the soft click of the door, then Rhonda came around to perch on the edge of her desk. Arms crossed over my chest, I waited.

"Oh, Brooklyn . . ." Again she sighed. "I don't know what to do with you or Cody." Finally I met her gaze, which was terribly troubled. "I love my daughter, and I love you." She gave me a weak smile which I didn't return. "I don't understand this, this . . . thing . . . between the two of you."

"What's not to understand?" I crossed a knee over the other. "Despite everything, Rhonda, I know you know what love is."

"But, you're, she's, you two are my daughters, damnit!" She slapped her palms down on her thighs. "It makes no sense."

"Would this be an issue if I was a man? Or if Cody was Jake fifteen years from now?" She looked at me, her mouth opening and closing, and finally snapping shut. "I thought so."

"Did you put this idea in her head, Brooklyn?" There was no accusation in her voice, just a mother trying to finally understand. I shook my head.

"Who knows, Ron? This wasn't something that we planned, I assure you. I liked spending time with your daughter, she liked spending time with me, and one day, well, realization dawned. She is so easy to love, Rhonda. How I wish you could see that. Would see that."

"She never has been," she whispered, tears brimming in her eyes. I stood, and walked over to her, standing in front of her.

"Have you tried? You had Jodi who was sick all the time, and then this other kid who could take care of herself, and somewhere along the way," I sighed, "Cody got missed, got forgotten."

"Did she tell you that?" I nodded. Rhonda looked away, bringing her hand to her mouth. "I won't take all the blame for this, Brooklyn." She ventured a look at me.

"Again, Ron, no one is asking you to. Cody has got more to give than anyone I've ever known. If you would just listen to her, listen to what she has to say, what she wants and feels, you'd see that, too. Be a part of her life, Rhonda. The life she is creating for herself, not the one you want to put on the mantle with Jodi's trophy. Jodi is a good kid, no one denies that, but so is Cody."

"Then why is she so much trouble?"

"Because she wasn't allowed to be anything else." I rested my hand on her shoulder. "See her as a person, an individual, not a prize to brag to the neighbors about."

Rhonda looked at me for several long moments, her eyes still brimming with stubborn tears that refused to fall, before she moved off the desk and walked over to the window.

"I'm sorry for the way I've treated you, Brooklyn," she said, her voice so low I could barely hear her. "I don't want you to leave." She looked at me. "Your resignation is not accepted." I stared at her, not sure what to say, but feeling wary.


"Because you're the best copy editor I have, and because you don't deserve to lose your job just because your boss has a breakdown." I snorted.

"Because my boss was being a jackass, you mean?" She gave me a small smile, the tiniest bit of a glimpse of the woman I know and love as a mother.

"Yes. That, too. Please, don't leave." I looked at her for a moment, sizing her up, and chewed on my lip as I thought.

"I'll stay under one condition. Well, two, really."

"Alright, what are they?" She faced me fully now, arms crossed over her chest. This was negotiator mode.

"First off, I want a damn raise. It's been six months, and I'm deserving." She grinned, shaking her head. "And secondly - if you use that damn buzzer again, I get to shove it up your ass. Deal?" This time I got a full out laugh.

"Deal on the buzzer, the raise we'll talk about."

"Fine. I can take that. Oh, and I'm taking the rest of the day off." I gave her a toothy grin, then high-tailed it out of her office.

* * *

"I don't get this." Cody twirled her pencil around in her fingers and began to erase the lines she'd just drawn. "Grrr."

"You'll get it. You're too brilliant not to."

"Yeah, right." I chuckled as I turned my attention back to the book I was reading while curled up in Cody's hand chair, and pulled the heavy blanket a little more snug around my legs. It was early November now, the snow was falling gracefully outside the window, and it was cold as all get out in here. But, I had promised Cody that we'd stay at her place this weekend.

Knock, knock, knock

We looked at each other.

"Who's that?" I asked, uncurling myself. Cody shrugged.

"Don't know. Get it, though?" She smiled at me, her charm in full bloom. I walked over to her desk, her reading lamp glowing a harsh gold light on her work, and kissed her.

"Sure thing," I said against her lips. She turned back to the beautiful building she was working on, and I headed to the door, the blanket still wrapped around me. I unlocked the door and pulled the security chain, opening the door only to start. She smiled.

"Is she here?"

I nodded. "Cody, it's for you." I made a quick exit, headed toward the bathroom. Cody stood up, and turned to see who was at her door.

"Mom?" she said, walking over to Rhonda.

"Hi, honey." I heard Ron say as I closed the bathroom door. "Show me your place."

* * *

I sat down at my desk with a satisfied sigh. The holidays were around the corner, Cody was almost on Christmas break and I had a week of vacation to spend with her, and gosh, an unexpected raise from the boss. Yeah, life was good.

I even began to whistle as I turned on my computer and got settled.

"My office, now."

I looked up to see Rhonda's back as she stormed toward her office, hands full with two steaming coffees. I dutifully followed her, closing the door behind me. I grabbed my mocha latte off the edge of her desk and began to drink.

"What's up, Ron?" I sipped, relishing the warmth as it spread through my body. Rhonda, who had been pacing, stopped and looked at me, eyes huge.

"What the hell have you done to my daughters, Brooklyn?"

"What?" God, don't do this again, Rhonda. Please . . . "What happened?"

"What happened?" Her voice was more incredulous than angry. "What happened was Jodi was coming home for dinner, telling me she was bringing home a new friend for me to meet. So, here I am, cooking up a storm, right, thinking this was going to be some nice boy she is seeing, maybe give me some grandkids . . ." I covered my mouth to stifle the giggle. "It's a girl, Brooklyn!" she said, turning to me, hands on her hips. "Her name is Crystal, and they're in love!"

"Ah, amour." I grinned. She glared.

"This isn't funny, Brooklyn."

"Sure it is, Ron." I stood, headed to the door. "It's a love revolution. Welcome."

* * *

I walked over to the door, a smile on my face as I knew who it was. Cody was going to show me the final plans for her final project of the year. It was mid-April, and she had been working so hard on this. I was beside myself with excitement. All she had to do was actually build her design to scale, and she'd be done with her first year.

The door opened, and Cody's beautiful, smiling face greeted me.

"Hey, gorgeous." I smiled in return, and then was swept up in a huge, near bone-crushing hug.

"Hey, yourself." She kissed me, a moan escaping me as she caressed my mouth with her own. When she let me go, I grabbed her hand.

"Come on, show me your plans." She pulled her pack from her back, and set it on the floor beside the door.

"I will. But first, I have a surprise for you." She took my hands and began to lead me outside. "Close your eyes."

"Why? What did you do?"

"Just close 'em," she instructed, so I did. I smiled as I felt the warm, late spring sun on my face, careful to navigate the stairs of the porch without falling on my face, and then we were headed down the incline of the driveway. "You doing okay, gorgeous?" Cody asked.

"Fine. How far do we have to go?" I grabbed her hand tighter.

"Not far. Not far at all."

We stopped, and I felt her hands on my shoulders, positioning me.

"Open them," she whispered in my ear. I did, and my eyes flew open wide.

"Murray," I breathed, seeing the bike leaning against the large oak near the street. The bike that I'd lost in the accident so long ago, my beloved Murray, sparkling new. I looked to my lover. "Cody, what did you do?" She was grinning like the cat who had just eaten the big, fat canary.

"Well, I had a little help, but I finally got all the money, and well . . ." She shuffled a bit. "Here you go. Helmet's in the car." She gave me a shy smile. Suddenly overtaken by my excitement and gratitude, and, well, love, I jumped into her arms, nearly bowling her over, and wrapped my legs around her waist.

"Whoa, Brooklyn!" she exclaimed, her eyes shut tight as I sprinkled her entire face with loud kisses, finally landing on her mouth. I felt my back being pushed up again the rough bark of the big tree, her body pressed against mine. I felt the dark strands of her hair lacing through my fingers as my mouth opened to hers.

Finally she pulled away, and I looked into her face. So beautiful and gentle. God, I wanted to say it, but I had refrained all this time because I didn't want to scare her away. I didn't want her to feel that I was pushing something on her that she wasn't ready for. I so badly wanted a life with Cody, wanted to show her the kind of love that I felt for her.

Now, against that tree, she looked at me, her eyes so calm and steady. So unlike my wild heartbeat.

"Brooklyn," she began, her voice quiet. "I'm glad you like the bike, and well, um," she took a deep breath, slowly lowering my feet back to the ground, but she stayed near, one of her palms resting against the bark next to my head. "This past year, wow . . ." She smiled at me. "It's been the most incredible time for me. For so many reasons." She ran her fingers gently through my hair, brushing it away from my face. "I can't believe how much your hair has grown."

"Yeah," I didn't want to break her from her train of thought.

"Anyway, well, I . . ." She swallowed. "I'm so bad at this." Running suddenly nervous hands through her hair, she met my eyes again. "I love you, Brooklyn."

I was stunned, my face crumbling and the lump in my throat growing to hear the words I had craved for so long. I reached out and wrapped my arms around her neck, pulling her to me. I didn't care what my neighbors thought.

"I love you, too, Cody. So much."

"So much." She agreed, and kissed me.

"Now show me those plans.". . .

. . . We look down at the blueprints, side by side, our shoulders brushing against each other.

"What do you think?" Cody asks, her voice filled with angst.

"It's beautiful, baby." I grab her hand, feeling how sweaty her palm is. This is big for her, and we both know it. I am determined to be there for her, no matter what.

"Well," she says after taking a deep breath. "Shall we?" Looking at each other, I try to put everything I have into my eyes, let her see I'm there, and how much I love her.

Cody rolls up the plans and squeezes my hand, and we walk up the flagstone path that leads to the large, double front door, the glass in the panes etched exactly how Cody had drawn it for the past fifteen years. The polished wood shone in the afternoon sun, the brass handle reflecting warped views of us as she pushes open one of the doors and ushers me inside.

"Oh, and I went ahead and made arrangements for the land behind ours," Cody says in my ear as we step inside her dream house. I look at her.

"What do you mean? Why?"

"Well . . ." She looks down, playing with the ten-year-old gold band on her left hand. Sheepishly, blue eyes look at me. "For stables. If you want them," she hurries to add. "There's room. Dude."

That broad, wonderful smile slowly spreads across her face, still beautiful at thirty-four. The face that I have woken up to every morning since that wonderful day when she replaced Murray for me, with the help of a loan from Keith, of course. And still, after all this time, a house, two careers, and three dogs later, I am still in awe of this wondrous woman and all that she has accomplished with her life, and with mine.

The End

Jodi: Jodi didn't stay with Crystal, but went on to get her Masters in Library Sciences, eventually moving to Maryland for her promotion to Director of the Baltimore County Public Library. There she met Martha, who she moved in with six years ago, and this summer they bought their first house together. She, Cody and Brooklyn remain close friends, and try and get together at least twice a year.

Keith: Keith married Wanda Houston nine years ago, and divorced a year and a half later. Keith finally admitted that he is gay, and has been in and out of relationships over the years, saying that "There are far too many beautiful boys to just settle for one."

Rand/Pete: Rand married Pete in a quiet ceremony thirteen years ago, and they have one child, Timothy, who has inherited his mother's fondness for black. The trio now lives in Philadelphia, and Rand will be running for her second term in office as the State House Representative of Pennsylvania.

Rhonda/Tom: Rhonda retired four years ago, and now works as a part-time teacher at Portland Community College teaching graphic art. Jake will graduate high school this year, and has already signed up to join the Marines. Tom is still working in construction, but plans to retire next summer.

Kristine: Kristine, who worked at the firm for another five years, left the ad business altogether and decided to try her luck at owning her own public relations company. The business is doing well, but she is still on the prowl for the perfect man. And now she's been with a woman twice.

Bill/Mary: Bill and Mary's copy-room affair was eventually uncovered and both were fired. Their respective spouses divorced them, so they married each other and divorced six months later. Two weeks following the finalization of the divorce papers, Mary attempted to commit second-degree murder when she "accidentally" ran over Bill with her Honda Civic. She's now serving fifteen in the Portland State Prison.

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