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Kim Pritekel and Alexa Hoffman

Part 9

My heart was about to beat out of my chest as I heard the kitchen door open, and I had no idea what to do, or what I was supposed to do. Do I look at her? Do I say anything? Act like nothing had been said? I mean, really it was nothing, but still...

Making a decision to not be any more of a prisoner in my own home than I already was because of my injuries, I turned toward Cody who was standing just inside the living room. She had the most frightened look on her face, but as soon as she saw that I was looking at her, the mask that I had come to know so well slid right back into place.

Damnit, girl, just talk to me! That would be in a perfect world. So, I'd just follow her lead.

"So, what do you want to do?" she asked, hands resting in the back pockets of her shorts, weight shifted with attitude to one foot, head slightly cocked to the side, a 'fuck with me, I dare you,' look on her face.

I digested the question, and at first thought that she meant because of what she had said, but then remembered who I was talking to, and realized it was a much more general question.

I cleared my throat. "Well, I'm not sure. What are you in the mood for?" She snorted and shrugged.

"Dunno." She looked at me for a moment, almost trying to size me up, then a smile covered her lips. "Got any books?"

"Of course. Go upstairs, in my bedroom is an entire bookshelf of them."

Without a word, she raced up the spiral staircase, and disappeared. I sat there, my heart beating in my ears, blood pounding through my body. I couldn't quite identify how I was feeling right now. My eyes turned as I heard the girl stomping back down the stairs, about four novels in her hands.

"Here, I figure you can pick between one of these."

Confused, I drew my brows, but said nothing. Apparently she knew what she was talking about. She hurried back to the solarium and grabbed one of the wrought iron chairs that went with the set where I often liked to sit and drink coffee in the morning after a ride.

"Come on." She got behind my wheelchair, and pushed me toward the back door. I saw that she had set the chair under the huge oak tree that was in the backyard, the books sitting in the seat. She wheeled me next to the chair, and handed me the books, then she was off running again, back into the house. A few moments later she came back with two bottles of water, and her art supplies that I had given her last night.

"Read," she ordered.

"Yes, ma'am." I saluted her, then looked at the novels she had brought for me. There was a nice selection, Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, Ayn Rand and Nora Roberts. Nora Roberts? When the heck had I gotten that?

Deciding on the Stephen King, I settled in for an afternoon under the bright, beautiful late June sky, Cody happily drawing next to me.

"You doing okay?" she asked after awhile. I glanced over at her, nodding my head.

"I'm great, thanks. This was a great idea." She smiled, a little unsure. "How's the drawing going?"

"Not bad," she muttered, her attention already back into her work. With a contented sigh, I turned back to my story.

It was such a strange afternoon, the events of that morning still circulating through my mind. Still I felt fine, completely comfortable with Cody, despite what had happened, and what she had said, which I kept hearing over and over again. I thought back to when Jodi had admitted her crush that night in her car, then had kissed me. How had I felt? I had been fine with her crush, that sort of thing never bothering me. Hell, I dated Keith, after all, but still I had felt bad, and a bit uncomfortable, but I think that had mainly been because of how obviously hurt she was.

But Cody. I felt fine. Maybe that was because she was so quiet about it, not even telling me herself, but me just overhearing it. Maybe she hadn't even meant that, like you know, she really liked me, but just liked me as a fried. Somehow that didn't wash with me, though. I think she meant it exactly how I originally took it that she did.

I sighed. My brain hurt.

As the afternoon went on, the sun got a little warmer, my body got a little more relaxed, and I began to feel real safe and secure, and real sleepy. I just wanted to shut my eyes, doze for a little while. Cody's here should anything happen, or if I needed anything...

It was hazy, the sky above blue, but, well, hazy. I smiled up at it, feeling the sun's warmth on my face, my eyes closing as I felt the wind through my hair, blowing my long hair back away from my back and off my neck. I felt the leather reigns in my hands, the warmth of the horse between my legs, the sheer power rocking through my body with each gallop. My nostrils twitched with that smell, the smell that was purely that of an animal: natural oils, the course horse hair, manure, all of it, mixing with the smalls of the day. I loved those smells.

I see the fence coming up, ending our trail. I'd either have to get off, or get my mount headed in another direction. Or, I could try and jump the rail fence. I felt a burst of energy surge through my body as I decided to try. I know that my mount can make it...

I start, not even sure what it was that woke me. Eyes slowly fluttering open, I look around to see that I'm in my backyard, novel laying face down in my lap, and an empty chair next to my wheelchair. There is a sketch pad laying in its seat, its pages open to an unfinished sketch. As my eyes focus, I'm stunned to be looking into my own face.

Blinking rapidly to try and wake fully, I grab the sketch, and look at it. I'm sitting in a hammock, one ankle crossed over the other, hands back behind my head, my head slightly turned to the side, eyes closed, dozing as I was doing before.

A smile breaks out across my face as I take in the details, excellent and insightful.

"I see you found my work of art."

My head snapped up in surprise when I see Cody standing behind the chair, a fresh bottle of water in her hand, a smirk on her face. I give her an innocent smile.

"It was open." I try to defend my nosiness. She snorts, and comes around to sit in the chair.

"Don't worry about it."

"This is excellent work, Cody." I nod toward the drawing. She looks at me, a little shyly.


"Yeah. Though I have to wonder why you'd chose my ugly mug as a model." I grin. She snags the sketch pad from my hands and rolls her eyes.

"You were here, plus I imagine this is how you'd rather be than in that chair."

"You got that right." I groan, adjusting myself with my good arm. "But, the good news is I get my walking cast next week."


"Yes, ma'am. Look out world."


I start when I feel a drop of wetness on my arm. The clouds had definitely gathered since I'd first come out here.

"Looks like rain," Cody muttered, glancing at me.

"Very observant." I grin.

"Fine, get your own ass back into the house," she said, brows raised in challenge.

"You wouldn't,"

"I would."

"Pain in the ass." The girl laughs, a little too evil for my taste.

"Grab your books," she ordered, and I do. She gathered her art supplies, sticking them in my lap, then moved around behind my chair, and began the slow journey across the grass to the house. As we hit the patio, the sky opens up, and it begins to rain in earnest.

"Good timing," I said, as she parked me in the solarium so I can see out.

"Yeah. Hang on, gotta grab the chair." Cody ran out in the storm, grabbed the wrought iron chair, and ran back as quickly as she could, setting it with the set, and then looked out the huge windows into the storm.

"Quite the downpour," she muttered.


"That's my favorite smell." I looked up at her.

"Rain?" She nodded. "Well, I like the smell of fresh dirt. And wet cement."

She cocked her head to the side.

"Wet cement? Who likes the smell of wet cement?" I stuck my tongue out at her, but didn't respond. She grinned.

"Well, my all-time favorite is leather." She glanced down at me with a raised brow.

"Interesting. You got any?"

"Leather?" Again she nodded. "Well," I looked away, a slight blush creeping over my features. A mischievous grin spread over her face, and she sat on the plant bench next to the chair.

"Do tell."

"No," I reached out and push her away playfully.

"Dude, the way you're acting, I swear you have whips and chains or something." I glared at her.

"Yeah, no. I'm not quite that kinky.'

"Was Keith?"

"Cody!" She laughs.

"Nah, seriously. What do you got?"

"A leather jacket."



She rolled her eyes.


"Dude, you suck!"

"Hmm, Keith was into that."

"Oh, man, I so don't want to hear that." I burst out into laughter. Two can play at this game.

"I'm messing with you, but I gotta say, that look on your face, so worth it."

Cody grinned. "Well, he's my boss, that's like thinking of my dad being into, ew." This, of course, brought more laughter from me.

What the hell was I doing? Why was I having this discussion with this nineteen-year-old girl?

"Nah, seriously, what do you have?"

"Fine," I sighed. "I have a pair of chaps." Dark brows rose, and I grinned at the look of surprise. "I used to date a guy who had a motorcycle, okay? I also have a leather mini-skirt." Blue eyes lit up.


"Yes, really."

"Man, I bet you look good in that." I looked at her, my mind calculating, trying to process what she was saying to me. Then, without thinking, I said,

"Well, maybe you'll get to see me in it sometime."

Brooklyn! my mind screamed at me, but I ignored it.

* * *

"How does that feel?" Dr. Cowan asked, watching me expectantly as I walked around the office. I looked down at the new walking cast I'd been given.

"It's pretty tender, but I think it feels okay."

"Tender if normal. Where is it most tender?" The doctor knelt down on the floor, placing his hands on the large cast, feeling around it.

"Mainly just in the break area, and my calf hurts."

"Well, those muscles haven't been used in a month." He stood again and smiled at me. "Well, Brooklyn, I think you're going to be fine. It's healing well, and looks great. I imagine you'll be a free woman in another few weeks."

I beamed, so excited to finally be out of this immobile hell. I turned and walked to Rand who sat in a chair in the corner.

"How does it look?"

"Like you're leg is part of some work of art that went terribly wrong." She grinned; I smacked her on the leg.

"Careful, I'll have the doc here to give you one to match."

Rand was going to be leaving Portland to begin her new job in Washington D.C. in a few weeks, and I was starting to feel it. The closer it got, the more sick to my stomach I got.

"Ready, kiddo?" she asked, grabbing her purse and standing.


As Rand drove us toward Tristan's for lunch, I reveled in my new found freedom. No more wheelchair! If I could have jumped up for joy without re-breaking my ankle, I would have.

"So, you still going to help me pack?" she asked, interrupting my thoughts. I glanced over at my best friend and smiled.

"Of course." She looked at me, then reached over and grabbed my hand.

"I'm going to miss you, sweet pea."

"Me, too, cupcake. But I am so proud of you."


"Yes, ma'am, without a doubt. You're going to be our first female president, I just know it." She cackled.

"Yeah, right. Can you imagine me in office? What would Pete be, the first Dipshit?" I rolled my eyes.

"Is he still being a pain in the ass?" She nodded.

"What else is new?"

"But I thought he supported you on this move."

"So did I." She sighed. "He does, just not the moving across the country part."

"What are you guys going to do?" Rand pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and I smiled, remembering I'd be able to get myself out of the car.

"He's still looking into that other job, but even if he gets it, it won't be for at least another six months to a year with elections coming up next fall. He's been with that old guy for so long, he feels some kind of loyalty or something. Need help?" she asked, coming around to my side of the car.

"Nope. I am determined to do this on my own."

"Silly me." Rand stood back, watching just in case. It was definitely tender, and this getting up stuff wasn't going to be able to happen often for a little while, but with a small grunt and a grimace, I managed to do it.

Once seated, my huge, cast-encrusted leg sticking out in the aisle, I looked at my friend.

"So, you guys will do the long-distance thing, then?"

"Well, yeah. I'm not going to lose my Petey because of a couple thousand miles." She grinned, sipping from her water. I smiled.

"I'm glad. I'd be really sad to see you guys split the sheets."

"Yeah, me, too. I'd rather see us get between 'em."

"Ew, Rand," She burst out in her typical obnoxious laughter, simmering down a little when the waiter arrived.

* * *

The cab pulled up in front of the building, and I looked up at it, once again. I really hoped I wouldn't have to see this damn place again.

Getting pretty proficient with this walking cast, I waddled my way up the handicapped ramp, and pushed through the heavy glass door, emptying my purse and pockets for the guard who sat, looking rather bored, behind the desk next the metal detector.

Once through, I found the monitors, and looked until I saw which room she'd be in, then headed toward the elevators.

The room was filled with people, so I looked around until I saw her. Bingo. Sitting off by herself, legs spread, forearms on her thighs as she studied her hands, a backpack sitting on her board under the chair. I took in the black dress pants, neatly pressed with a crease even, and the blue silk blouse.

"Anyone sitting here?" Blue eyes looked up at me, annoyed to be bothered, but the look fell from her face, replaced by a look of relief, which was quickly replaced by nonchalance.

"Go ahead." I sat as she looked over at me. "You got your walking leg back, huh?"

"'Bout time." I knocked on the hard plaster with my knuckles.

"What are you doing here, Brooklyn?" she asked, looking around before looking at me again.

"What, worried you'll be seen talking to the oldest lady in the room?" I grinned, she rolled her eyes.


"And I'm here because it's your court date. I see you dressed for the occasion this time. I'm impressed." I gave her a smile of approval.

"You like 'em, eh?" she grabbed the front of her shirt. I nodded.

"Did you steal them from Jodi?"

"Bite me."

"Cody Thomlin," the court reporter called out.

"Be nice to the judge," I hissed as she headed toward the front. She glared at me over her shoulder.

As I watched her walk up to the podium for the second time in six months, I began to think. We had started spending a lot of time together, and not even just because I needed a hand. At first she tried to play if off that that's what the deal was, not that I believed her, though it was feasible, but as I started to get better, and much more able to do things for myself, she still stuck around, often spending the night upstairs in the spare bedroom. But not before making sure I had peed and had my last glass of water before bed.

Cody was such a good kid, and a good friend. Truly beautiful inside and out.

I brought myself out of my thoughts when I saw her strutting back to her chair, her face carefully expressionless, her tough exterior belying what I knew to be underneath.

"How did it go?" She shrugged.

"Got knocked down from a DUI to a DWAI. I got my license back, which I figured I would, although I have to keep clean for the next year." She grinned evilly. "I drove here."

Cody!" she chuckled. "So what's the board for?" I glanced down at it as it rested at her feet. She looked down at it, then at me, incredulous.

"Do you think I'm going to leave that in the car for someone to take?"

I pressed my lips together, doing my best not to laugh.

"Gee, what was I thinking." She rolled her eyes.

"Old people."

"Come on, kid, I'll take you to lunch."

* * *

"So, do you have to work tomorrow?" I asked, leaning back against the couch as Cody and I sat on the floor, near-empty Chinese food cartons between us from our little carpet picnic. She nodded as she took a bite of beef fried rice.

"Eight o'clock."

"Yuck. Full day, huh?"

"Yup." She looked at me, "So, when do you go back to work you lazy ass?"

"Next Monday, thank god!" I looked up at the ceiling for emphasis. "I'm about to go nuts."

"Bet that wouldn't take long." I glared.

"Ha ha. Wanna stay?" I grabbed my fortune cookie, tossing one to Cody.


It had been a week since Cody's court date, and she had been here every day since, staying over most nights.

"Got any beer?" she asked, eyeing me over her can of soda. I nearly choked on my dessert.

"Excuse me?" She grinned.

"Just messin'."

"Better be. I'd have to kick your ass with my built in bat here," I tapped my leg cast.

"Plaster up the ass, oh the possibilities." She winked at me.

"Oh, I didn't know you were a back door kind of girl." I grinned, she stared, stunned for a moment before collecting herself.

"Nah, I use the front door only." She gave me a challenging look.

"So, how's Jimmy?" I asked, deciding a quick change of subject was in order. Cody sat back, carton of rice closed up and added to the pile.

"Eh, he got busted with a roach the other day." My eyes narrowed.

"What was he doing with a roach?" I'm a bit confused. She looks at me like I'm crazy.

"What do you normally do with a roach?"

"Find some Raid?" She kicked off laughing, eyes closed tightly as I studied her, the long, graceful neck, firm jaw and strong features, arched brows, very dark like her hair. My eyes shifted when she got herself under control.

"No, dude, a roach, you know, a joint, doobie, pot."

"Oh." Yeah, so I feel really dumb now. "Why did he have a marijuana?" I asked, completely oblivious. God, maybe I am getting old.

"He was smoking it, Brooklyn. Dude, you really need to enter this century."

"Yeah, well," I shrugged, trying to cover my embarrassment.

"Dope is a staple for Jimmy," she explained. "It's not the first time, and it won't be the last. I don't know why his folks bother."

"So, this is a common occurrence for him?" I drawled slowly, trying to understand. Cody nodded. "Hm. I've never understood drugs," I said as I glanced toward our pile of dinner trash, "or people who do them. I mean, come on, how irresponsible can you get?" I looked over at Cody who was studying me very carefully.

"People do drugs for different reasons," she said, her voice even.

"But why? Is it that they can't face reality without a nice high?"

"Could be."

"That stuff is so bad for you, and it's really expensive from what I've heard."

"Can be," she said, her fingers playing with the carpet fibers.

"I've never known anyone who did drugs," I said, completely into my own little world, thinking back to my own childhood, and the people I've known and know now. "I knew a guy who was an alcoholic once."

"Man, you really are sheltered, Brooklyn." My eyes snapped up, almost forgetting Cody was there, she had been so quiet.

"Well, I've just never felt the need to do something so stupid." She studied me, her face like stone.

"So what do you care what other people do?" Cody seemed to be getting a little tense, confusing me.

"Well, I don't really," I said, eyeing her.


"No. I mean, I'm not so sure if I could be friends with someone who was a user." Cody cocked her head to the side, lips pursed as she chewed on the inside of her bottom lip.

"No? What if I told you I've done pot?" she asked, leaning back on her hands.

"Well, I mean, so you did." Suddenly I wasn't so sure I liked where this conversation was going. "Pot, though I'm not a real big fan, isn't that bad," I conceded.

"And if I've done harder stuff?" I looked at her, stunned.

"Have you?" She shrugged.

"What does it matter, Brooklyn? You've got your own little ideas and ideals of how people should be, so you stick to those, and let everyone else worry about the real world, okay?"

I could only stare as she stood, wiping her hands on the sides of her shorts.


"I'm going to bed. I have to get up early." She looked at me, her gaze hard. "Do you need anything before I go up?" I shook my head numbly. "See ya."

I watched as she hurried up the stairs, not looking back once. I was stunned, confused, partially hurt as I stared around the room.

"What the hell just happened?" I asked the empty room, the ticking of the clock my only answer.

As I gathered up our containers from dinner, stuffing them into the carryout place bag, my mind raced over the conversation and what Cody had said, what I had said, when things began to go sour.

My mind still raced as I laid in my couch bed, unable to sleep, only tossing and turning when I tried. I had hurt her, but damn if I could figure out how or why.

Then it hit me.

"Oh my god," I breathed. "I judged her." I was the one person in her life, other than her "boys" who tried to see past the tough exterior, tried to understand what made Cody tick.

How could I have been so stupid? So insensitive?

I glanced over at the clock to see it was three in the morning. This couldn't wait. I had to apologize, to let her know that I would never hurt her on purpose.

Pushing the sheet off me, I slowly got to my feet, and made my way to the stairs. I looked up into the darkness that was the second floor, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to negotiate this. Finally deciding on the crab approach, I lowered myself to sit on the first stair, and slowly, painfully began to push backward with my one good leg, and pull with my one arm.

I clenched my teeth as pain shot through my arm and shoulder each time my body was jarred as I found the next step up with my butt, followed by a thumb as my cast hit the step two stairs below, again, sending a jarring pain through my body.

I took a short rest as sweat poured down the side of my face, and I could feel my shirt under my arms becoming more and more damp from the painful exertion.

When I finally reached the second floor, I took a deep breath before pulling myself up using the railing, closing my eyes for a moment to try and swallow down the pain. When my body relaxed, I made my very slow way toward the spare bedroom, which was totally dark. As I reached the doorway, my eyes beginning to adjust to the thicker blackness, I looked around, seeing Cody's clothes folded neatly on the high back chair in the corner, and then was surprised to see her looking at me, raised up on an elbow.

"What are you doing?" she asked, her voice groggy. "Was that you making all that noise?"

I said nothing as I made my way over to her bed, sitting on the side, wiping a hand over my face before grabbing my shirt tail and wiping the sweat away.


"Why? Brooklyn, you're not supposed to use the stairs-"

"I need to apologize, Cody." I cut her off, looking deeply into her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

"For what?" she asked, but from the monotone question, I think she knew exactly what I was apologizing for.

"For doing the one thing I said I'd never do: judging you." She looked down, then away, her face illuminated slightly from the thin moonbeams that managed to squirm their way through the closed blinds. As I watched, to my horror, I saw something shiny in the corner of her eye.

"Oh, honey," I breathed. I reached out and grabbed her hand, fully expecting her to snatch it away. She didn't.

"I hate that," she said, her voice so very quiet.

"Hate what?" She turned to me briefly, then looked away again.

"Being judged. People don't know me, they don't try to understand why I do what I do." Now she looked at me, but this time her gaze stayed. I followed a single tear with my eyes as it slid down her cheek.

"Cody, I-"

"No." she gave me a weak smile. "It's okay. I guess I was fooling myself."

"No," I whispered, wanting so much to hold her, to let her know somehow that I'd never do it again. Suddenly I found myself crossing all the boundaries that we had erected, and my head was resting against her shoulder. I could hear the strong beating of her heart. At first Cody stiffened, her arms out to the sides in surprise, then slowly I felt her embrace me, her hands clasped behind my back, chin resting on the top of my head.

"Did you know that my parents had another daughter before me and Jodi were born?" I shook my head no. "Yep, Jennifer was going to be her name."

"What happened?" I asked, shocked that Rhonda had never told me.

"She was stillborn. Imagine how thrilled they were when they found out they'd be having twins next." There was a bit of bitterness in her voice. I said nothing. "Yeah, so we come along, and Jodi's one sick little girl." She snorts. "Kid couldn't do anything for herself as a baby."

"What was wrong with her?" I asked, readjusting my head a bit, tucking my body a little closer.

"Well, she had bad allergies from day one, and had to have tubes in her ears. Mom was afraid that they'd lose her like they lost Jennifer, so Jodi became the center of my mother's universe."

I felt the wetness of another tear as it gently splattered against the top of my ear. I felt the tug in my own throat as I saw where this was leading. "I was the healthy kid, so they didn't have to worry about me." Her voice was so filled with pain, the kind of pain that only the cover of dark can light up.

"Oh, Cody," I felt the material beneath the side of my face soak through as my own tears began to saturate the material.

"Yeah, well, when you're a kid you do what you can to get attention. You know, toss the basketball on top of the roof while playing outside, maybe even crash a baseball or Frisbee through the garage window while Jodi is inside getting her medicine and her daily fuss session. Suddenly all that attention that you had tried so hard for doesn't matter. Nope. Now you're just plain pissed off."

Another tear falls on me, like rain, and three more of mine answer.

"They never even asked what was wrong," she whispered, her arms tightening around me. "And then when Jake was born, the boy my father had always wanted, Cody gets lost in the crowd." Cody sniffled. I sat, waiting for her to continue, but she said nothing.

Slowly pulling away from her, I needed to see her eyes, needed for her to see that I was here for her. I brought a hand up, wiping away another tear with my thumb.

"I'm so sorry, Cody," I said, my voice as quiet as hers had been moments before. She looked like such a child, so lost and alone. "You deserve so much better. You are one of the most amazing people I've ever known, so smart and talented, fun." I smile, my hand sliding down to cup her cheek. "You are noticed. I promise." She stared at me, her eyes burning into mine, intense and powerful.

As I stared, I felt so drawn to her, like we could save each other.

My hand still resting against her face, my thumb began to gently rub the soft skin, still slightly damp from the trail of tears.

Cody's eyes left mine, freeing mine to wander, wander down her face to her lips, barely parted as she breathed through her mouth. I felt myself lean forward just a bit, the old wooden bed frame creaking with the slight movement.

My tongue snaked out, quickly sliding across my own lips, dry from my crying. I can feel breath against my face, warm, quick.


Completely startled, I nearly fell off the bed as I looked around to see what the hell that noise was.


Cody reached a hand out, smacking the clock on the side table.

"The alarm," she said sheepishly. I look around, realizing that the sun was beginning to come up. It was six o'clock. Cody had to be at work by eight, and had to allow time to board home and get ready.

"Oh," I struggle to my feet, taking a deep breath to steady my beating heart.

"You okay?" she asked. I looked at her, her eyes looking into mine. "Your leg and all."

"Oh, yeah, fine. Want anything to eat?" I asked as I finally got to my feet, and back away from the bed. She shook her head.

"No. I'll steal one of the bagels Keith keeps in his office."

"Does he know you know about those?" She shook her head with an evil grin. I shake my head. "You're bad, Cody. So bad."

"So they say."

I look at her for a moment, not sure what to say. Needing to escape, I make my way out of her room as quickly as my cast will allow.

Once outside in the hall, her door closed behind me, I lean against the wall, my eyes closed. Oh my god. What almost happened?

* * *

Keith and I had a lunch date, and as I got myself ready, my thoughts shot back to the night before, and ultimately early this morning.

How had I been so utterly blind to Cody, and what she had done and tried, and how she felt? God, I must have just gone off, half cocked, not paying a lick of attention. No, I did not like drugs and had never done them, but who was I to judge and damn those who had?

It amazed me how a young girl could make me see the error of my ways and make me try to open my thoughts a little more, and not be so narrow-minded.

And then later in her room.

As I combed my hair after my bath, I stared at my reflection, my eyes droopy from lack of sleep, even though I'd taken a nap earlier in the day.

But, how about what had almost happened? Almost happened, nothing almost happened. Emotions were extremely high, Cody was upset, and by proxy I was upset, and I just felt the need to comfort her as best I could, and perhaps some part of me needed to be comforted as well.

I sighed. Should I give her some space from me? Give myself some space from the situation? Maybe that would be good, just to back off a little bit, give us both some good breathing room. Yeah, that's a good idea.

Keith picked me up, and we headed out. Just like old times. I had missed him immensely. Not so much as a boyfriend, but definitely as a friend. Now his time was effectively taken up with the gallery getting busier and preparing for art shows, and with his new lover, Ben, who I had yet to meet.

"Are you sure?" he asked as we drove to Tristan's. It made me so sad; whenever we'd go to the trendy restaurant, it was usually to four of us, Keith and I, and Rand and Pete. But now, it just wasn't the same.

"Of course I'm sure, Keith. Come on, this guy is really important to you. Why wouldn't I want to meet him?"

"Well," he shrugged. "He's kind of the reason we, you know,"

"Broke up?"

"Well, yeah." He glanced over at me, concern on his face. I reached over and squeezed his thigh.

"Keith, I'm a big girl, and really am fine. You don't need to try and protect me." He smiled over at me, taking my hand in his much larger one, and squeezing.

"I love you, Brooke."

"I love you, too, you nut."

Once we reached the restaurant and were seated, a question popped into my mind, taking me completely by surprise.

"What's up?" my always intuitive and observant ex asked.

"Well," I said, picking at my salad, trying to formulate the words in my mind, and trying to find their origin. "Have you ever wanted to kiss or actually kissed someone that seemed like an anomaly from your normal choices, or group, or whatever?" I looked deeply into his understanding blue eyes. He smiled, leaning back in his chair.

"Well, gee. Love is in the air," he began to sing. I was confused. "Someone just asked me something along those lines just this morning."

"Oh." I smiled, embarrassed that I had even asked such a stupid question.

"And, yes. I know what you mean, and no, there's nothing wrong with it." I studied his sincere face, wishing that his answer had made me feel better.

* * *

I flipped through the channels, blindly switching from Dr. Phil to Oprah to Montel Williams to Trading Spaces, none of them keeping my attention. No sir, I was thinking about what I had started dubbing that night. Cody and I hadn't spoken much since then, and hadn't seen each other at all. So now I had to wonder a few things:

First of all, what will happen with our friendship? I felt that I was starting to make some headway with her, and then this, whatever this is, happens. For not the first time I wonder what would have happened had it actually happened, had our lips touched. Would I have freaked out? Would she have, for that matter? I know that's where it was leading. She had been so close to me. I think I could have counted her pores. Not that she had any.

Ding dong

Shaken from my thought pattern, which I imagine is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all, I yell, "Just a minute!" as I push myself up with a grunt, and open the front door to see a smiling Rhonda standing on my porch.

"Hey, sweetie!" She grabbed me in a hug, nearly knocking me off my stump, and then held me at arms length. "Oh, you're walking! How wonderful. Come on, let's sit and get caught up." She put her hand on my lower back and pushed me toward the couch.

A huge pang of guilt washed over me, and I have no idea why. I have been nothing but a friend and mutual crush amongst her children.

Oh, god, strike me dead now!

"So, are you excited to get back to work?" Rhonda asked, slipping her high heels off, and rubbing one of her feet. Shoes are off, she plans to stay for a bit.

"Actually, I'm beside myself in my excitement. I'm about to go nuts here at home." I smiled, counting the hours until I can get out of here.

"And you have transportation all worked out?" she asked, genuine concern filling her eyes, so much like Jodi's. I nod.

"Yep. Kristine has offered to take me to and from since we don't live too terribly far apart, and generally go in around the same time, anyway."

"Wonderful." She grabbed my hands, squeezing them. "But, if you come up against some sort of snag, feel free to call. You know I'll come get your butt and sweep you off to work."

"Thanks. I may need that from time to time." I ran a hand through my hair nervously. "So, how is the Thomlin clan?"

"Couldn't be better. Jakey is about to start preschool, and Tom got another contract with the airport," Ron gushed.

"And, the twins?" Yes, I am shameless, using my boss to fish for information on how Cody is doing.

"Well, the little rebel is actually doing wonderful, working for that friend of yours."

"Ron," I said, my finger waggling at her. Ever since Keith had broken up with me, she had started calling him "that friend of yours." She was so angry at him, and just couldn't understand his leaving me for a man.

"Anyway, she's doing great. Now Jodi," Dark brows, lined with gray, drew to from a furrow between her eyes. "She's not telling me something, and it's about to drive me bonkers."

"Not telling you something? What do you mean?"

"I mean that something's going on in that girl's life, and she won't talk to me about it." She looked at me with pained eyes. "She's never withheld anything from me, Brooklyn. I don't understand it." She shook her head with a sigh. " You know," she laughed lightly, "If anyone could get that out of her, I bet it's you."

I nearly choked on my tongue as I had an idea what the problem was. God, I hoped I was wrong.

"Well, give her time, Ron. I'm sure it'll all come out in the end." Nice choice of words, hot shot. From what Cody had told me, Tom and Rhonda didn't have a clue that their oldest was a lesbian, and would flip if they did. Well, I knew Ron would flip. I don't think Tom would care, as long as Jodi was happy. No self-respecting ex-hippy from the era of free love could ridicule their child for just that.

"Well," Rhonda finally said, patting my good leg. "I better get so I can get some dinner started. I just wanted to stop by to see how you were doing."

"I'm fine, Ron, really." I began to stand as she did, but she put a hand to my shoulder.

"No, you stay there. I can see myself out." Leaning down, she gently kissed my forehead. "See you Monday, tiger." I smiled at her.

"See you, Ron."

As she headed for the door, she was nearly run over by her daughter.

"Well, Cody!" she exclaimed, holding onto the girl to keep her balance.

"Um, hi," Cody said a bit sheepishly.

"You watch those doors," Ron scolded, kissing her daughter on the cheek, much to the girl's dismay. Rhonda left, and Cody smiled at me.

"Hey. Didn't realize you'd have company."

"Yes, it was a shock to me, too." I grinned. She sat down in the arm chair, looking at me.

"How's the leg?"

"It's handling."

"When do you get the arm brace off?" She adjusted the baseball cap that was placed backward on her head.

"Well, if all goes well, next week."

"That's really great. Excited?" She jiggled the ankle that rested on her knee, her body slouching in the chair.


"You one syllable Sue today?" she asked, amusement in her voice. I cocked my head to the side.

"Maybe. Where ya been?"

"Around." She sat up in the chair, arms resting on her spread knees. "You know, I've been thinking."

"Oh, scary."

"Isn't it?"

"So, what have been in these thoughts? Mass carnage and destruction?"

"Nah," she waved off my comment. "That's next week. But I was wondering, when did the doc say you could ride again?" She nodded toward my leg, still incased in plaster. I looked down then away.

"He hasn't." I shyly looked up at her.

"Why not? Have you asked?" I shook my head, not wanting to hear what he had to say, holding off as long as possible before he could tell me that it was a long shot.

"I know what he'll say."

"You think." She was staring at me intently. I was confused. Did she come all this way just to ask me questions and make idle chit chat? "I want to make you a bet, Brooklyn." This caught my attention.

"A bet?"

"Yeah." There was the devil dancing in her blue eyes. "Alright," I drawled slowly. "What are the terms?"

"Well, you decide what happens if you win." She sat back in the chair again, leaning her cheek on her hand, her eyes still firmly on me.

"Okay. Let me think." I sighed as millions of options ran through my head, then I decided to make this profitable for me, but first I had to know what we were betting for. "By the way, Code?"


"What is the bet?"

"That you'll ride again."

"Oh." The stakes just went up. "Fine. I win, you have to make me your Spanish rice whenever I ask for it for one month." She raised a brow.

"That's different, but fine."

"And you?" I raised my own brow, almost afraid to hear what she had to say.

"You have to go to Spunkies with me for a night."

Be afraid, Brooklyn. Be very afraid.



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