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Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 6

I tapped my fingers in time with the turn signal as I waited for the Ford pickup across from me to turn so I could turn onto the Thomlin's street.

"Finally," I muttered, the ninety-year-old guy driving the truck taking his sweet time, thinking that no one else had anywhere else to be. "You shouldn't have a license, you old fart."

I pulled into Rhonda's driveway, not entirely thrilled to be there. Today was my twenty-sixth birthday, and I hated birthdays. Since the accident, I had usually ignored them, feeling the loss and guilt rearing it's ugly head once again. But, Rhonda had insisted, and who was I to turn down a free dinner and birthday cake?

Locking my car, I readjusted the bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers I'd brought for Rhonda in my arms, and headed up the walk. As if magic, the door opened, and a grinning twin stood waiting for me.

"For me?" Jodi asked, eyeing the flowers.

"Uh, well,"

"I'm just kidding. Come in. And, happy birthday." She gave me a small peck on the cheek, and I smiled in thanks as I headed toward the kitchen. I went to push the swinging door open when I was stopped with a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Cody standing there, shaking her head.

"Can't allow you to go in there," she said, her voice matter-of-fact.

"What? Why?"

"Mom's orders. You never fuck with mom's orders"

I chuckled, heading toward the table to sit down instead.

It had been three weeks since her arrest, and in some ways, it seemed as though there was a totally different girl before me. She still had her attitude well in place, but Rhonda would come in to work, gushing about how the girl would clean her room without her mother having to say a word, or she would give Jake a bath at night. I wanted to think that it was in part because of our little trip to the cemetery, but I wasn't about to take any credit for any of Cody's good deeds.

I just sat back quietly as she talked about her youngest twin, a soft smile on my face.

"You know, I didn't get to thank the secret deliverer for lunch today," I said now, setting my gifts on the table as I looked over at the skater. She was leaning against the wall next to the swinging door, arms crossed over her chest. She looked at me through hooded, seemingly bored, blue eyes.

"Oh?" I nodded.


The girl shrugged, glanced over at the bar where balloons had been tied, and bounced lightly against the ceiling. I just smiled, not wanting to push the issue as she was obviously not real comfortable with it.

The kitchen door swung open, and Jodi came into the dining room with the large, glass dish in her hands, biceps bulging under the immense weight of the heavy dish, and the weight of the homemade lasagna in it.

"Get ready to eat, you two," she said as she set it down in the center of the table.

"Oh, I'm ready," I was nearly salivating as I looked at the steaming food, my tongue literally slipping out to lick my lips.

Cody sat across from my, and Jodi disappeared into the kitchen again.

"Cody, grab Jake!" Rhonda called from the kitchen. The girl stood, and hurried up the stairs, bounding up two steps at a time. Left alone, I looked around at the decorations that had been bung in my honor, a long banner strung across the archway that led from the dining room to the living room, shiny blue letters that read "Happy Birthday," and it looked like some little three year old had scrawled "Brocln" on a piece of paper.

Chuckling, my attention was drawn back to the swinging door as Jodi came in again, arms laden with goodies; fresh rolls, butter, glasses about to spill their ice.

"Oh, let me help you." I hurried over to her and lighten her load.

"I tried." She grinned, setting the rest of the stuff on the table.

"No worries. You did well." I smile at her, and she smiles shyly back at me. I can't help but chuckle inside. Poor girl. She looks so awkward around me when I see her, especially when it's just her and I alone. She can hide behind others normally. Now, the normally boisterous girl is left quiet and unsure.

"Bookwyn!" My head turns to see a little bundle of energy running toward me.

"Hey, little guy!" I kneel down and take the boy in my arms, my eyes automatically closing as I take him in a huge hug. When my eyes open, I glance up to see Cody looking at us, a sad look on her face. As soon as she saw that I had seen her, she turned away, and took her seat.

I'd have to ask her about that later.

I picked up the excited boy, and put him in his booster seat, then sat in my own chair.

* * *

"Oh, thank you, Rhonda." I nearly moaned in ecstasy as I pulled the bike seat out of the box. I looked at it from every angle. "Perfect. Now my fat butt has somewhere nice to perch." I grin.

"Oh, hardly. If I looked half as good as you do when I was your age, I'd have more kids."

"Ew, Rhonda!" I threw my balled up napkin at her. "Thank you. I love it."

"You're welcome, sweetie. Happy birthday."

"Mine next." Jodi smiled, handing me a small, wrapped box. I took it from her, wondering what on earth this girl, who didn't even really know me, could give me.

"Thanks, Jodi." I ripped the paper off, opened the simple white box, and reached in. "Oh, Jodi," I breathed, taking out the beautiful, extremely delicately worked beaded coin purse. This had taken an immense amount of work, and I was certainly impressed.

"I wasn't real sure what you'd need or want, so I figured, well, you know, something homemade."

"It's incredible." I looked up at the smiling girl. "Thank you so much, Jodi." She shrugged, but her smile belied her nonchalance. I grabbed the zipper, opening the small bag, and seeing that the intricate beadwork was gone, replaced by a satin lining. "Truly beautiful, Jodi. Thank you."

"Happy birthday," she said, her voice quiet, shy.

"Mine, mine!" Jake exclaimed, startling us all.

"Jake, don't yell." Rhonda scolded. The boy, so much like my little brother had been, handed me what looked like was probably a card. I took it, and carefully opened it, not wanting to tear the paper. I slid the card within out, and narrowed my brows, trying to figure out what the heck I was looking at.

"It's a doggy." He explained. Doggy? I turned it around, thinking perhaps I was holding it wrong. No, still no doggy.

"Thanks, Jakey. It looks just like my Uncle Bruce's puppy dog." I smiled at him, reaching across to squeeze his hand. He grinned big, deep dimples winking at me on either side of his mouth.

"Cody, come on, honey." My gaze turned to the twin, seeing her glaring at her mother.

"Oh, Rhonda, she didn't have to get me anything, really. None of you did."

Ignoring me, she reached behind her, grabbing something that had been leaning against the wall. She heaved it up, and placed it on the table before me. I looked at it, then looked at her. Blue eyes were looking at me, almost as if challenging me to look at it and like it.

I glanced down at the flat, rectangle object before me. Chewing on my lower lip, I began to tear into the paper, knowing that Cody's eyes were on me the entire time. As I ripped a shard away, I saw a familiar looking house. When finally the entire picture was exposed, I saw that it was a drawing done by Cody, framed ant matted. The house was mine.

I looked up at her, my mouth open before I looked back down at it. I was stunned, seeing incredible detail of my place, which she had only seen a couple times. She even had the mailbox that was placed against the wall near my door, my last name carefully penciled on it.

"Oh, Cody," I breathed, absolutely awed by her talent, and attention to detail, and the thoughtfulness of the gift. "This is amazing. I can't believe you, you even drew the sprinkler that's in the front yard." I smiled up at her, completely charmed.

"Well, it seemed appropriate," she said, looking down at her hands shyly. "Um, happy birthday."

"Thank you." I was truly touched. Perhaps this birthday won't be so bad after all.

"Well, um," Cody stammered, standing. "I'm going to put Jake to bed." We all glanced over at the poor boy who had zonked out in his booster seat.

"I'll help you," I said, also standing. She looked at me, then shrugged as she walked over to her brother.

"Come on, big guy," she said, picking him up, the child groaning sleepily, resting his head against her shoulder. I followed her up the stairs, and toward Jake's room, which was painted with clouds and castles all over the walls. I looked at the art work.

"Are these yours?" I whispered, nodding toward the huge stone castles. She nodded as she laid the boy in his bed, untying and pulling his shoes off, followed by his socks.

"Grab his pajamas," she instructed, pointing toward the top drawer of his dresser that was also covered in castles and flying dragons. Finding a pair of Batman P.J.s, I handed them to Cody. She quickly, but gently, undressed the boy, and finally got him to cooperate as she slipped the clothing on him. "Goodnight, little man," she whispered, kissing his forehead. He immediately turned onto his side, thumb in his mouth, and was fast asleep.

Cody quietly closed the door behind us.

"Where's your room?" I asked, as she turned toward the stairs. She looked at me with a raised brow, then shook her head. I followed as she led me further down the hall, away from the staircase, and opened a door that had DO NOT ENTER on the door. "Cute." I grinned.

Once inside, she flipped on the light switch, which didn't do a whole lot of good since she had a blue bulb in the fixture, and the walls were either painted black or navy.

"I'm guessing you like dark colors?" I snickered.

"Yeah, something like that." She walked into the room, and flopped down on her unmade twin bed, hands behind her head as she watched me. I walked around the fairly large room, looking at the eclectic group of things she'd collected, from one of the Mad Troll dolls, to a lava lamp, to a pair of handcuffs hanging on the back of the door. I looked at her in question.

"Don't ask." She grinned.

Posters were hanging everywhere at just about every angle you can think of. Even upside down. It seemed to match her personality quite well- no real rhyme or reason to any of it.

I looked at some of the posters, modern bands, bands of yesteryear, a huge yellow smiley face with a bullet hole in the forehead with blood trickling between the eyes.

"Charming," I muttered.

I glanced over the wooden closet door, which stood half open, a myriad of clothing piled behind them, a pair of Vans and a pair of combat boots lined against the wall beside it.

Finally deciding to sit, I saw the big, red chair that looked like a giant hand, waiting to cup your ass as you sat in it, and leaned back against the outstretched fingers.

"Comfy," I said, bouncing around a little, trying to get comfortable. Finally I looked at the girl who had a completely amused smile on her lips. "Do I make you laugh, Cody?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"Why?" I crossed my legs, leaning into the palm of the hand.

"Cause I don't understand you, mostly. I think you're a little odd."

"Me?" I slapped the side of the chair I was sitting on. "I don't have anatomy as furniture."

"Hey, you're in good hands." I chuckled, adjusting myself again. The little lines in the palm played havoc on my butt.

"So, tell me about yourself, Cody," I said, my voice casual.

"What do you want to know?" She bent one leg up, her foot flat on her bed.

"What else do you do for fun besides skateboarding and driving your mother crazy?" She chuckled.

"I live to drive her crazy. What else in life is there to do?"

"Gosh, let me think," I said dryly. She grinned.

"I don't know. I do lots of things. Me and Jimmy watch movies, listen to music, play pool, whatever."

"Nice assortment."

"I like to think so."

"Cody? Get your butt down here and help me with dishes!" Jodi yelled from downstairs.

"There's my cue." She hopped up from the bed, and waited for me to get up as well. I took one last glance around her room, then headed out.

* * *

It was mid-April, and Keith had called, asking if he could come over. There had been something in his voice that had made me a bit nervous. There had been something in his voice for the last month that had made me a bit nervous.

I changed from my work clothes to a pair of comfy jeans and a sweatshirt from my old alma mater. Pushing the on button on the coffee pot, I waited.

I didn't have to wait long.

The doorbell rang, and I walked over to the door, seeing Keith standing on my front porch, looking down at his shoes, no doubt perfectly shined.

"Hi," I said as I opened it. He looked up at me and smiled, though he looked tired.


"Come in. I just put some coffee on to brew."

"Great. Sounds good. It's chilly out there." He took his hands out from his coat pockets, and pulled the coat off his shoulders, laying it across the back of the couch, then followed me into the kitchen.

"So, what's up?" I asked, taking two cups down from the cabinet, and setting them on the counter next to the Entenmanns's.

"Oh, coffeecake?"

"What else?" he smiled, and walked over to me, holding his arms out for me to step into. He didn't kiss me as he usually did, but he did wrap me up in a warm hug.

"We need to talk," he muttered into my hair. I nodded, turning away from him when the coffee pot sputtered its last perk. Pouring us both cups, and grabbing the dessert, we headed toward the living room.

My mind raced as I tried to imagine what was going on, and what was about to happen. I had a gut feeling, but I didn't even want to put any sort of credence to it until I heard it from him.

"Honey," he began, sipping from his coffee, then setting the cup aside, and looking at me, taking my hands into his. I only stared at him, waiting. "You and I have been friends for a long time, and I love you dearly."

"I love you, too, Keith." He smiled, then continued.

"All my life I've been so confuse about things. Do I want this, do I want that, maybe both, maybe neither." He shrugged. "This was especially true with lovers and love." He looked down, swallowing hard. I squeezed his hands to encourage him to continue. Finally he looked up, his eyes filled with pain. "Honey, I don't think it's going to work between us." He looked down again.

I took a deep, silent breath as the words penetrated through my brain. I wasn't entirely surprised, knowing that this would never be a long-term thing, but still it didn't make it any easier to hear. No one likes rejection.

"Why?" I asked, my voice quiet. He sighed, taking another sip from his coffee.

"Well, I think I've met someone. Well, someone else."

A lump sprang to my throat and my eyes. Though he may not have been the prince charming of my dreams, I still did care about him, and would miss him terribly.

"It's a man, sweetie." My head jerked up, my eyes finding his. I smiled ruefully.

"I had a feeling that would happen."

"I'm sorry, Brooklyn. You know I'd never hurt you. God, I love you so much, and, well, honey, you're the sister I never had." I smiled understanding

"Who is he?"

"Oh, Brooklyn, I don't know,"

"No. It's okay. I want to know." I released his hands, and turned to the coffee table where the coffeecake sat. Opening the blue and white box, I grabbed the knife that I had brought in with me, and began to slice it. "Want some?"


"So, tell me." I pushed all my feelings down, dealing with them later, as I knew he was confused, and felt horrible, and needed a friend.

"His name is Ben. He's been coming into the gallery for a little while. " I nodded.

"You've mentioned him before, and even Cody's mentioned him to me." He took the plate of dessert that I offered him.

"Really?" I nodded.


"Look, Brooke," He set the plate down and took the knife and plate out of my hands, wanting my full attention. I looked into troubled blue eyes. "I wasn't fooling around on you. I'm doing this now before that is the case. I care about you far too much to go and do something stupid." He stared into my eyes. "Okay?"


I didn't understand it, but I knew that Keith would have to do what Keith would have to do, and apparently I wasn't in that plan anywhere. Truth be told, part of me was relieved. I had been feeling something missing for some time, on his part and my own. Damnit! Why couldn't I do this?

Later that night, long after Keith had left, I laid in bed. He had stayed for about two hours, and we had laughed, talked, cried, and just held each other. I still wanted him in my life no matter what. In fact, tears running down my cheeks, I had asked,

"Who's going to rush over and hold me after one of my nightmares?" He had looked at me with tear-filled eyes, bringing up his hand to caress my cheek.

"Oh, sweetie, please call me, I am still here for you, Brooklyn. Nothing's changed, just no sex."

I had smiled at that, and buried my face into his neck.

As I laid in my bed, staring up at that dark ceiling, suddenly I felt very alone. Despite what he had said, he had a new life now, and a new person to share it with. He had been my date, my friend, my confidante, and just all around nut ball. What now?

A tear slipped out of my left eye, making a slow, chilled path down my cheek, gathering in my ear to make me shiver, followed by its twin headed down to my right ear, which I stopped, looking at my fingertip, then rubbing the wetness between my finger and thumb.

Why did the people in my life leave me? My parents and brother, Uncle Bruce had tried to do his best, but when it came down to it, he had no interest in the responsibility of raising a teenager, no matter how short the time. Rand, who I knew deep down would get that job. She had already aced her phone interview, and now they wanted her to fly out to D.C., on their nickel, to meet with the senator, and hobnob with those she'd be working with, if she got the job.

And now Keith. No, we didn't have the perfect relationship, and the fire was basically nonexistent, but at least he had been there for me, so gentle and loving in so many ways.

I turned over, curling up on my side and staring out toward the solarium. With a heavy sigh, I gladly let sleep take me away.

* * *

The year was flying by, April nearly over, my birthday a memory, and the weather was beginning to change, the warmer weather creeping in, thrilling me to no end as I could start shedding layers of clothing during my rides now. Work was hectic, and my personal life was dull. But, such is life.

I hung up the phone, a smile plastered on my lips as I thought of the bravado of that girl. Plus, I had to admit, the idea of her giving Keith such a hard time over something she knew nothing about, made me happy.

I picked up the phone again, and dialed seven numbers.

"Hello?" came a decidedly childish voice. Brows knitting, I asked for Cody. "Cowy?" the voice said, and then realization dawned on me.


"Yeah?" he nearly yelled, causing me to draw the phone away from my head.

"Is Cody there, honey?"

"Yeah!" There was an awful sound, yet again yanking the phone away from my ear, and a round of giggles with Tom's voice in the background.

"Hello?" Does anyone there still have a brain?

"Give it to me, you little turd." I heard growled in the background, a voice that was definitely female.

"Mine!" Jake yelled.

"Give me the phone before I turn you into dog food."

"Mine!" More obnoxious noise, then finally,



"Yeah?" She was most definitely irritated. I chuckled.

"This is Brooklyn."

"Oh, hi."

"Having some problems over there?"

"Yeah, the little shit head is going through a 'mine' phase." I laughed outright.

"So I gathered. Do you have a few minutes?" I sat on the couch, putting my feet up onto the coffee table.

"Uh, sure." The girl sounded skeptical, probably wondering why the hell I was calling her.

"So I heard you had an interesting little chat with Keith today." I smiled, remembering what he had said. The line went quiet. "Hello?"

"Um, yeah." Gosh, Cody, is that embarrassment I detect in your voice? I grinned again. "Well, how the hell was I supposed to know you guys were broken up?" I laughed again, this time hearing the slightest bit of a laugh on the other end of the line.

"You got him pretty good, though."

"Yeah, he had no idea what hit him."

I thought back to what Keith had told me, explaining that his new friend, Ben, had come into the gallery, bringing him lunch, and had given him a nice hug and peck on the cheek before he'd left. Cody saw this, not knowing what was going on, and decided to give him the third degree about cheating on me.

"I just wanted to call and say thank you. I really appreciate you looking out for me, Cody."

"Well, come on. If the dude had been screwing around on you, I would have reattached his balls somewhere else. That's just fucked up."

"Yes, it is. My hero."

"Um," I could almost imagine her looking anywhere but at the phone, her hands playing nervously with something.

"Well, are you hungry?"

"I'm always hungry."

"Want to grab something to eat?"

"I always want to grab something to eat." Rolling my eyes.

"Would you like to grab something to eat with me right now?"

"See that? You gotta be specific."

"And you have to be difficult."


"I'll be there in twenty minutes."


The line went dead, and I shook my head as I set the cordless on the table That girl was impossible.

Changing into an old pair of jeans with a nice hole in the knee, one on the back pocket, and another started on the other thigh, I threw a sweater over my head, and headed out to my car.

When I pulled up to the Thomlin's house, Cody was sitting on the front porch, black cargo shorts, a black shirt covered by a gray flannel, and her skateboard sitting next to her, hand resting on it as she rolled it back and forth. I pulled into the driveway and rolled down my window.

"Don't you ever get cold?" She stood, shaking her head.


"And if you were, I doubt you'd tell me," I muttered. The girl got into the car, and glanced over at me.

"So, I see you found religion." I looked at her, confused, then looked where her eyes were focused, and saw the holes in my jeans. Rolling my eyes, I grinned as we backed out of the driveway.

* * *

"Okay, so I was thinking of having the girls' birthday at my place," I suggested, sitting in one of the chairs in Rhonda's office.

"Really?" she asked, her excitement level growing.

"Sue, why not? We could have a barbecue."

"Oh, what a wonderful idea." She clapped her hands together happily, sitting forward in her chair. "You want to make steaks? I'll bring the meat."

"No," I waved her off. "I can provide the food, you just provide the twins." I smiled.

"You know, speaking of, Cody has been amazing lately. She actually cleaned her room last week without one word from me. Plus, she actually did dishes last night on her own." She put her reading glasses back on, letting me know that our lunch chat was over. "I have no idea what's gotten into her."

I smiled, looking down at the floor as I stood. Somewhere deep down I hoped I had had something to do with that. Perhaps showing Cody what can happen in life had made her see what does have in life.

"Oh, Brooke,"

"Yeah?" I asked from the door.

"Is it possible you could grab Cody and pick Jake up from daycare next week? I'm going to need the car after work for my Mary Kay meeting."

"Oh, Ron," I grimaced. "Are you still selling that crap?" My boss looked at me, hands on her hips.

"I happen to like the products. They make my skin feel and look younger."

I rolled my eyes. "What time?"


"Hmm. Well, you know, that'll mean I'll have to leave work a little early, and well, frankly, my boss might just get a little ticked at me."

"She just might fire you if you don't."

Her laughter followed me out the door as I smiled, headed back to my desk.

* **

"So, where is this place?" I asked Cody as she got into the car.

"Well, go that way," she said, pointing down the street.

"Gosh, you're helpful." I muttered dryly. So we drove down the street, headed toward Jake's daycare center. I stopped at the stop sign. "Now what?"

"Turn that way." She pointed toward her right. I looked at her like she was nuts.

"Is this far?"

"Not really." She shrugged. I shook my head.

"Infuriating." As I drove, we passed several kids out and about, riding bikes, skateboarding and playing basketball. It was a beautiful day, the rain had managed to stay away for a few days, and I was relishing it.

"That way," Cody offered when I hit the next stop sign.

"Can I have a few directions in advance, please?" I asked with a smile.

"Sure. Why didn't you ask?"

Throwing my hands up in exasperation, the only thing that stopped me from strangling the girl was the small chuckle I heard from my passenger seat.

Finally the squat, red building came into view, the word "Squiggles" scrawled across a large, green sign, meant to look like a chalk board. I parked in front, and we headed inside, the halls quiet, everything from posters to drinking fountains on little kid levels. I was completely charmed as we headed down the long main hall, toward the double doors at the end.

"I went to school here, you know." Cody said, pulling one of the doors open, and stepping aside for me to pass. Awww, how sweet.

"Oh, yeah?" She nodded. "Scary."

"Tell me about it."

Once outside, I realized we were in the middle of a small courtyard filled with play equipment, slides, swings, sandboxes and the little horses kids could rock on.

A dozen young heads turned when the door opened, and my eyes spotted the little boy with the big smile, playing with an adorable little blonde boy.

"Hi!" Jake yelled, running toward us, first wrapping his arms around Cody's legs, then moving to mine.

"Hey, sweetie," I said, looking down at my new leg warmer, and running my fingers through his soft hair. He looked up at me with adoring eyes.

"Ready to go, little man?" Cody asked, mussing his hair. He nodded, finally letting go of me. We turned around, nearly running smack into a woman with short, dark hair, wearing blue jeans, black boots, a white shirt with a black blazer over it, and carrying a very young bundle of dark hair in her arms.

"Cody, you're looking sloppy as ever," she said, a cocky grin on her face.

I looked over at the girl, wondering who on earth would talk to her that way. But, to my surprise and relief, Cody smiled.

"Chase. How goes it?"

"Great." The woman took Cody in a monster, one-armed hug, growling as she squeezed the girl, then gently pushed her back to look at her. "Have you stopped growing yet? I think every time I see you, I'm always worried you're going to be taller than I am."

I looked from one to the other, trying to figure out who this woman was. They had such an easy rapport, and the girl seemed to almost step off her high horse around this woman. Cody finally looked at me, seeing the confusion.

"Oh, um, Chase, this is a friend of mine, Brooklyn. Brooklyn, Chase Marin, and," Cody looked at the baby in Chase's arms with a questioning lift of her brow.

"Jeremy," Chase said, looking down at her bundle. She looked at me "Nice to meet you." She took my hand in a warm, strong shake.

"You, too." My eyes traveled down to the baby again. "How old is he?" I took a step closer, as did Cody, looking over the green blanket that he was wrapped in.

"Two months." I smiled at the unmistakable pride that shone in the woman's blue eyes. "This is our newest little guy, Cody." The skater looked closely at the baby, then up at his mother.

"He's yours, isn't he?" Chase nodded.

"Yep. I lost the coin toss." They both laughed, and I stood there, utterly confused. Luckily the woman came to my aid. "See, my partner, Dagny, is Hunter's mother. Hunter, come here, big guy." I turned to see the blonde boy that Jake had been playing with run over, and stand next to his mother. Wait, I was confused.

Cody snickered. "They're both chicks, Brooklyn."

"Same father, though." Chase added. I looked from one to the other of the boys and did, in fact, see similarities. Hunter had blond hair and bluish, green eyes, while his baby brother had dark hair and green eyes. A smile spread across my lips as the entirety of the situation finally managed to soak through my brain, and I looked up at Chase and smiled.

"How wonderful." She smiled at me, hugging both her sons closer to her.

"So, where's Dag? Doesn't she usually grab the monster man?"

"Yup." Chase answered Cody. "But, she's still at the school." She looked at me. "My partner has her own practice on the side, but her day job, as we like to call it, is teaching psych at the university."

"So, you're both into trying to fix the psyche, huh?" I grinned.

"Yes, ma'am. That's how me met." She winked at me. "Well, Cody, tell your mom I said hi, but I have to get these two fed before they start getting cranky." She turned to me. "It was really nice meeting you, Brooklyn. The four of us will definitely have to get together and get some lunch."

"I'd like that."

As we walked back to my car with Jake walking behind us, looking like he was about to fall asleep standing, Cody started to talk.

"Chase used to be my counselor," she said shyly.

"Yeah?" She nodded.

"Yeah, mom made me go to her a few years back."

I unlocked the car. "Did it do any good?" I grinned. She looked at me with a smirk on her face, shook her head.

"Can't fix what isn't broken." She got Jake settled in the car, snapping him in the car seat we'd brought along, and then got into the front seat next to me. "Anyway, we kind of became friends, and she started hanging out with my family after my sessions stopped. She's a cool chick. So is Dag."

"She seems very nice." Cody nodded, looking out her window, her fingers tapping against her knee, almost nervously.


And just like that, all conversation between us stopped. I did not understand this girl.

* * *

I sat on the bed, watching, holding my head up on my hand, trying not to focus so much on the bad aspects, but on all the possibilities for Rand. Her dreams could very well just be within a week and a half's grasp.

"Do you really think you'll need that cocktail dress, Rand?" I asked, adjusting my position so I could sit up, tucking my bare feet under me. She paused, garment bag in hand, then looked at the dress, chewing on her lip.

"Well, the senator said I may be attending the annual party that she holds for her staff during the week I'll be there,"

"Gee, how auspicious." I grinned. She tossed the luggage tag at me.

"Don't get me too excited, sugar lips."

"Well, why not? Come on, pumpkin, do you really think she'd take the money out of her budget to lug your ass all the way over to D.C. and put you up for a week if she wasn't about ready to sign your employment papers?"

"I don't know." She put the dress down on top of the open suitcase, and sat on the bed, flopping back and looking at me. "Do you really think so?"

"Well, duh!" I moved so I was laying next to her, our heads touching. "Rand, you may be an absolute nutball who dresses like a mortician, but you're damn good at what you do. And, you're ambitious. I have no doubt in my mind that you'll get this."

"Do you want me to?" she asked, her voice low and serious. I could see the fear in her eyes; the fear of the unknown, the fear of really reaching success, and leaving all that you know behind. How could I possibly tell her that I didn't want her to leave me like everyone else, that I didn't know what I'd do without her.

"Of course I do, Rand. I mean, I don't want you to go, god no. But, I do want you to be happy, and I know that this move will make you very happy. Seeing your success is amazingly satisfying for me.

Rand studied me for a few moments, then smiled.

* * *

I sat against the pillows I had leaned up against my headboard, staring into the fire that warmed up the cool, night air. The wet streaks on my cheeks were beginning to dry, making my skin feel stiff, but it wouldn't last long before they were refreshed, as I could feel more tears gathering.

Rand had been on my mind since I'd left her house two hours ago, and I was having a hard time concentrating on the book that I had begun to read for that specific purpose. I couldn't get into the story, none of the plot making sense as my mind wandered to a life without the closest link to family that I'd ever known. Nobody knew my secrets like she did, and certainly nobody cared like her.

Grabbing the tissue that had been placed beside me, I brought it to my nose, ready to blow when the phone rang.

"Crap." Hastily taking care of my mess, I picked up the cordless off the nightstand. "Hello?"

"Is Brooklyn there, please?" a woman's voice asked.

"This is she,"

"Hi. This is Chase Marin. I got your message at the office earlier this week, but life's been rough with a new baby." She chuckled, I smiled.

"I imagine so, and don't worry about it. I understand. After all, I do have two hamsters." I smiled at the low, rich laughter on the other end of the line.

"Trade you. So, what can I do for you?"

"Well," I tossed my novel aside, and threw the crumpled up tissue in the general direction of the waste basket, though I doubt it landed in its mark, usually didn't. "I understand that you've known Cody for a while."

"Yes, ma'am. About, oh, four years. Is she nineteen already? Wow. Time flies."

"Well, she'll be nineteen this weekend." I heard a low whistle over the phone.

"She walked into my office as a cocky fourteen year old girl."

"What's changed?" More of Chase's laughter. "I guess I just want to try and understand her," I said, glancing back over at the fireplace, watching the flames dance.

"Good luck, hon. People have been trying to do that for years," she said, her voice suddenly serious. "How long have you known her?"

"Since February. I work with Cody's mom, and finally got to meet the indelible twins."

"Oh," There was a low chuckle on the other end. My brows drew.


"Well, once Cody tried to shock me in a session by telling me, well, she just tried to shock me, and so when I saw you two together the other day, I wondered if maybe she hadn't been telling the truth."

"I don't understand. Wait, you thought,"

"Yes." This time it was my turn to laugh.

"No. Just friends. Sort of. I'm trying to be friends with her, but I just don't get her."

"Well, there's a lot more to Cody Thomlin than you think, and certainly more than she shows. Obviously I can't tell you anything about my sessions with her, but she's a damn good kid, Brooklyn. I just wish that Rhonda could see that."

"Oh, I do, too." I pushed myself down until I was laying flat, a hand behind my head, the other holding the phone. "Once in a great while, she'll let me glimpse those parts, and then just that quick," I snapped my fingers, "they're gone, and she's cut herself off again."

"You do realize that you're the enemy, right?"


"Absolutely. You're an adult, and worse, you're her friends with her mother. She's not about to trust that easily."

"What do you recommend?"


* * *

I held the warm cup of tea in my hands as I wandered around the backyard, looking at the new trees I had planted last summer. They were still small, but would grow. When I had been a little girl, I had dreamed of planting trees the first year so that I moved into my house and watching them grow bigger and bigger as the years went by.

Glancing up at the sky, I could see the sun trying to peek through, but it just wasn't happening. I just hoped that the rain would stay away, but by the looks of the clouds coming in from the east, not real likely.

Rinsing my cup in the sink, I was about to put it in the dishwasher when I heard the doorbell. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I walked over to it, and looked through the fisheye, surprised to see Jodi standing there, hands clasped in front of her as she waited, biting her lip.

I released the deadbolt, and opened the door. The girl smiled at me.

"Hi." She gave me a small wave.

"Hello, Jodi. How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks. Um, I was just wondering if you'd like to get something to eat." She looked at me with hopeful brown eyes.

"Well, sure, why not." I smiled, my stomach actually had been grumbling since lunch this afternoon when I'd been able to manage grabbing a pop tart from the vending machine at work.

I grabbed a coat, and followed her out to her car.

"So, what brings you over here? Were you visiting your mom?" I asked as I got myself strapped in the compact car. Jodi shook her head.

"Nope. I came over here specifically." She turned the ignition and got the car started.

"Aw, how sweet."

We decided on a small, quiet diner that I had only been to a few times, but apparently Jodi and her mom went to all the time. Once seated, we began to talk.

I actually found her charming and interesting as she spoke about school, her friends, and her job.

"I'm really excited," she said as she buttered her dinner roll. "The way I've got it set up right now, we'll have this incredible puppeteer coming in twice over the summer for the children's program Patti and I are setting up. I mean, this woman is known throughout the US, as well as internationally." She took a bite, but barely missed a beat. "She has these massive puppets that she brings in, kind of giving the whole idea of a puppet show a new twist."

"It sounds wonderful, Jodi. You should be proud. You know, when I was younger, I used to go to the library all the time."

"Really?" I nodded as I sipped from my drink.

"Absolutely. I'd sit in the beanbags they had tossed around the floor, and I'd read."

"See, that's the type of setting and atmosphere I want to bring into the place. I want kids to head inside to the library to read during their summer breaks instead of staying out and getting into trouble."

"Exactly! I agree completely." I gave her a huge smile. "I'd love to see what you do when you're done. Please let me know when this woman comes. I'll go see a show."

"Really? You'd really come in?" She looked at me, bite of steak halfway to her mouth.

"Of course."

After stopping for ice cream, we headed back to my house, the sun beginning to go down, the beautiful orange and pink colors lit up the sky behind my house.

"Wow, that's amazing." Jodi said, looking past my shoulder at the sunset.

"I agree. I love sunsets."

"So do I. Beautiful."

Suddenly I felt as if I were being watched. I turned to look at the girl only to see that her eyes were on me. She took in my hair, my face, even my hooded jacket.

"Brooklyn, I need to tell you something." Her voice was low, almost hushed.


She looked down as her fingers fidgeted with themselves, her hands almost as if they were at war with each other. I watched her, wondering what was wrong, and was about to ask when she looked up at me.

"Brooklyn, I like you," she said simply.

"Well, I like you, too, Jodi. You and Cody both." Her eyes closed for a moment, a small smile lifting one corner.

"No, I mean I like you. I'm attracted to you."

Though this was not news to me, I was stunned to hear it from this girl, and had no idea what to say. I'm not sure what happened, or why - perhaps she had taken my silence as acceptance - but she closed her eyes, and reached for my face, pulling me toward her.

Before I could even think, I felt the softness of her lips against mine, just a slight pressure.


Getting my bearings back, I brought my hand up, placing it on her shoulder, pushing her away gently.

"Jodi, what are you doing?" I asked, my voice calm. I didn't want to hurt this girl, who I actually did like, but, no.

"I thought,"

"Jodi," I sighed. She turned from me, her hands going to the steering wheel, running her hands nervously along its smoothness. "I'm sorry. I guess, this just isn't what I'm looking for right now." I watched her carefully. She nodded, then smiled at me, though I could tell it was forced.

"I'm sorry."

"You don't need to apologize." She said nothing, just turned her attention back to the steering wheel. "I guess I'm going to go."

With a shaky breath, I opened the door, and got out of the car, hearing it immediately start. As she drove off, and I walked toward the driveway, I stopped, seeing Cody sitting on her skateboard on the front porch. She was looking down at something.

"Hey, Cody," I said, for some reason feeling, I don't know, odd. I felt ... guilty?

As I got closer to the porch, she looked up, then stood up, her eyes everywhere but on me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, trying to make my voice sound chipper, but failing miserably. She shrugged.

"I was in the neighborhood." She looked around uncomfortably. "But, it's late, so, um, I think I'll head out." She dropped the board to the sidewalk, and pushed off, wheeling past me.

"Cody?" She stooped, barely looking at me over her shoulder. "Are you still coming early tomorrow?" She looked away, and nodded, then headed down the driveway. Once she hit the street, she hopped off the curb, and began to push herself like a madwoman, jumping over everything that came in her path.

* * *

I pushed the cart, grabbing an extra package of paper plates and plastic cups. With the additional guests now, I didn't want to chance running out.

As I strolled down the aisle, I thought about last night, and what had happened. Jodi had kissed me, on the mouth, lip to lip. I had been utterly stunned, and for a moment had no clue what to do. The girl was sweet and so young. The last thing I had wanted to do was to hurt or embarrass her. But, it seemed I had done just that.


Then there was Cody. I would never know why she was at my house last night, but what had I done? I had run her off because I had been kissing her sister, her rival, in her sister's car!

I sighed in exasperation. How the hell had I managed to hurt both twins with the same gesture? And, for that matter, why would Cody care anyway? My guess was that she did in fact see Jodi as a rival, no matter how well they seemed to get along. They were still sisters, and very different, and were treated very different. Maybe Cody had wanted me all to herself, her very own little per project.

Yeah, don't flatter yourself, Fletcher.

Shaking my head to clear it, I hurried to pick up the rest of the decorations. I had a birthday party to throw.

I pulled up to the house, parking along the curb to give my guests the driveway. I pulled the emergency break, and glanced out the window, surprised to see Cody sitting on the walkway, her back against the brick of the house. Her skateboard was sitting next to her, and she had headphones on her ears. She was looking down as she read the lyrics from the CD booklet, her head slowly bobbing to the beat.

As I got out of the car, I looked at her, seeing the tan cargo shorts she had on, tan and blue Vans, different than I'd seen before. Her tank was white, the backwards baseball cap on her head matched her shoes, a brown leather band on her right wrist.

Suddenly her head stopped, and she looked up, her eyes meeting mine. I looked into her eyes, mine full of so many questions that would never be answered, or even sorted out for that matter. Hers reflected an intensity that I knew was inside her, a passion for what she was all about. A passion that was Cody. I felt my chest hitch for just a moment.

My gaze fell, and I quickly turned back to the car to start unloading bags. Within a few moments, I heard her behind me, waiting for instructions. I turned and smiled, handing her a bag. She eagerly took it, holding out fingers for me to hook other bags on.

Finally getting everything into the house, all the bags arranged on the kitchen table, I turned to her.

"Why don't you start taking the plates and cups out of their wrappers and I'll start hanging decorations." She nodded, but said nothing. "Cody?" She turned to me, my hand on her arm to stop her. "Happy birthday." She looked at me for a moment, that feeling of guilt from last night coming back. Finally she smiled.

"Thank you."

I took the bags of decorations I'd bought, and grabbed the roll of Scotch tape from my kitchen junk drawer, and began to hang the banners I'd bought for the girls, hanging them across the room, and then going outside, as a joke, tying some balloons to the mailbox. It looked more like a party for Jake than his nineteen year old sisters. Satisfied with my goofy gesture, I headed back inside to start getting the food ready. To my surprise, Cody already had veggies out and was making a salad.

"Well, aren't you just ambitious?" I chuckled, taking the defrosted hamburger and hotdogs out of the fridge. She shrugged.

"Why not?"

"Indeed." I went over to the sink and washed my hands before I started separating the meat into patties. "Cody, about last night,"

"You don't have to explain, Brooklyn." She glanced over at me, then quickly back at the lettuce she was shredding. "Whatever you do is your business."

"But, I didn't do that." She looked at me for a moment, then began on the tomatoes. "I think I gave Jodi the wrong impression. I feel bad."

"Don't. It happens." I sighed.

"So it does."

* **

Rhonda and Tom showed up with Jake in tow right on time. I just hoped that Jodi would show. Cody helped me to get everyone's drink orders as I manned the grill. Inside the house I heard the doorbell ring.

"I'll get that for you," Rhonda said, heading into the house from the deck outside. I heard a shrill laugh, and lots of talking amongst lots of female voices. I smiled, hoping Cody wouldn't mind my last-minute invites. "Cody, honey, look who's here!" Rhonda came out, two lovely ladies with two lovely children with her.

Cody turned and then walked over to them.

"Hey, Dag. So good to see you." She hugged the petite blond, then pretended to punch the taller brunette. "Chase, you sneak. I didn't know you were coming."

"Well, thank that one. She's the sneak." Chase pointed at me, and I grinned at the girl.

"I hope you don't mind, Cody. I figured the more the merrier." I explained as I wiped my hands on a dish towel as I walked toward Chase and her partner.

"Honey, this is Cody's friend, Brooklyn. Brooklyn, my partner, Dagny."

"So nice to meet you." Dagny said, taking both my hands in hers for a warm squeeze. I liked this one. "Oh, Cody. You have gotten so beautiful," she said to the girl, cupping her face in her hands. Cody looked about the same color as the tomatoes she had chopped earlier.

Chuckling, I turned back to the grill as Rhonda and Tom salivated all over Hunter and little Jeremy.

I heard the doorbell again, and glanced at my watch. It was one o'clock on the nose. Well, she did get here on time, I suppose. Jake ran to the door, and let his sister in.

As the party went on, I found that I ended up chatting mostly with Dagny, finding her fun and exciting, thoroughly loving the way she was with her boys and her partner, and just in general. She was just an all around, nice, caring gal.

"Oh, you should have seen that one when we first met." She smiled, nodding toward Chase, who was out on the lawn playing Frisbee with Cody. "She was rebellious, obstinate, quiet, and just downright difficult to get to know."

"I really know what you mean." I chuckled, eyeing Cody, who was that, could it be, was there a smile on her face?

"So, how did you get to know her?" Dagny asked, sipping from her soda.

"I work with Rhonda. She's my boss, actually. I had heard about the twins for the last three years, but had yet to meet them. At the time they were both in high school, and busy with this or that, and rarely came into work to see their mom, so I really didn't see them. But, then all the sudden, there they both are all the time." She smiled, patting my arm.

"They never really grow up, do they? My parents aren't around much. My mom, who was a teacher, retired early, and went to join my father full-time overseas."

"Wow. That must be difficult." She shrugged.

"It was when I was younger, but I've gotten used to it. I've got my own family, now." She indicated her children who had joined the game of Frisbee. "I think it's wonderful that you're trying to be there for Cody." She looked me in the eye. "She really needs that kind of guidance, Brooklyn. Whether she'll admit it or not." We both smiled, and I took an ice cube from my cup, and popped it in my mouth.

Later, after gifts were opened, an autographed picture of Tony Hawk for Cody, and ceramic bookends made by me for Jodi, I began to take things back into the house, and nearly ran smack into Cody as she was heading out.

"Oh, Cody," she stopped, looked at me. "Would you mind staying for a few minutes after everyone leaves? I have another gift for you, and well, things being as they are, wouldn't feel real comfortable giving it to you in front of Jodi. I don't want to make things any worse, you know?" She nodded.


* * *

I led Cody upstairs, her tearing down decorations as we went, and into my pottery room.

"I hope you like this," I muttered, more to myself than her. I was nervous about it.

"Well, I don't think you can top Tony Hawk, but you can try."

I grinned, leading her over to one of the cabinets, opening it up, and bending down to pick up the somewhat heavy piece.

"What is this," Cody stopped, her eyes bugging open once recognition dawned.

"I only had the one drawing to go off of, so I had to guess on some of it." Cody nodded, setting the work down on the counter top, looking at it closely, moving from side to side to see the different angles. "Do you recognize it?" Again, she nodded.

"Yeah. It's my house. The one I drew for you," she said, her voice quiet, almost reverent. "But, I threw that out?" She looked at me, her eyes questioning.

"What, you don't think I can take something out of the trash, and iron it straight again?" She grinned, the slightest bit of a dimple winking at me as she turned her attention back to the house that she had envisioned since she'd been a small child.

"The roof lifts off, too. You only drew the outside, so I had to guess on the layout."

"Okay." She carefully lifted the clay roof, each shingle carefully carved into the soft material. "Wow," she breathed, looking at the floor plan. "Actually, this is pretty good." She smiled at me, then looked back inside. "What is this, oh. You put something in each room, like the cup here to tell me it's the kitchen?" I nodded, she smiled. "Cool. Great toilet, by the way." I grinned shyly. "How did you get the colors right? I love these colors."

"Well, I should hope so; you do have them in your room, after all." I winked at her, and she nodded.

"Sneaky, sneaky."

"Do you like it?" I was so nervous to hear her answer for some reason

"Very much so. No one has every done something like this for me before." She looked at me, the most genuine smile I'd ever seen on her face. "Thank you, Brooklyn."

"You're welcome."

* * *

This is how I heard it went:

"Rhonda Thomlin." My boss looked up from the proof she'd been working on, listening to what the nurse had to say, her face quickly going pale. ³Thank you.  I¹ll be right there.² With shaky fingers she had disconnected her call with the woman, then quickly dialed seven familiar numbers  She¹d have to call her since she¹d let Cody use the car this morning, and now was stranded at work.


³Cody, honey?²


³You need to pick me up.  We need to go to the hospital.²

³What?  Why?² the girl asked, panic rising in her stomach.

³Brooklyn¹s  been an accident.²


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