For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If youd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman
"So, how did the week go?" Sherry Cohen asked her daughter, who was helping to unpack the groceries the older blonde had brought.
"It went great." Abel smiled, though her eyes were sad. Zac had left that morning to go back to her life in her home. Alone, out in the woods. She now knew damn well that her friend could more than take care of herself, but all the same she worried.
The blonde had been excited to see her family, which she hadnt seen since the summer. She usually stayed at school for Thanksgiving, spending it with her roommates, because she always had to work the day after.
Now, finishing putting away the groceries, she realized that the rest of her winter break would be marred. Her family was there, true. She knew shed get some great gifts, as was the usual. Her mom had a keen memory and eye for what her kids would want or need. But what about Zac? Why wouldnt she just stay?
Abel sighed. A part of her, the selfish part, felt that she wasnt enough for Zac. That the brunette couldnt or wouldnt, more like, hang around just for her. She was grateful that her friend had stayed with her during the past week, but already missed her terribly and shed only been gone for about four hours.
She sighed again, and then answered her fathers call to help him get more fire wood.
Zac sat in her lean-to, proud of her accomplishment of making something more sturdy, and amazingly warmer. The fire ring that sat in the center of the small space lit up the place, throwing strange shadows on the walls. She checked the spit over the fire, making sure the hot dogs Spinney had given her were done. She had never eaten these, made by some guy named Oscar Meyer.
She eyed the package of what the blonde called hot dog buns. They looked like long rolls, which Spinney said they basically were. So, hot dogs, hot dog buns, and a bottle of ketchup, which Zac had had before, were all ready. Her mouth watered at the smell of this new food. She was so tired of rabbit.
A small smile played across her face when she thought of her small friend. It had been wonderful to spend so much time with her. The brunette glanced over to the corner to see the large zoology book waiting to be read. She would have hours to dedicate to that tonight. She had gotten to read some at the cabin, but she wanted to focus most of her time on Spinney.
Zac smiled broadly as she removed the hot dogs from the fire, placing them on the plate she had ready. Preparing the dawgs the way the blonde had told her, Zac got her dinner ready.
She thought of the smaller girl, her smile spreading even more, nearly splitting her face in two. Zac saw those sparkling green eyes, looking at her with so much affection, and genuine liking. She almost wanted to get up and do a jig, she was so happy. As happy as she was, though, she missed the mischievous blonde immensely. Oh well. Shed see her tomorrow.
With a sigh of utter contentment, she began to eat.
"Okay, close your eyes," Abel said softly, guiding her friend by the hand toward the bouncing bundle.
"Where are we going, Spinney?" Zac asked quietly as they headed from her place through the trees. She could tell they were headed toward the Cohen cabin.
"Shh. Just trust me." The blonde pulled the eager brunette behind her, a grin covering her face. Abel let go of the larger hand and bent down, picking up the whining, whimpering body. "Open."
Blue eyes opened, then opened wider.
"A puppy!" she exclaimed, white teeth shining in the sunny day. Abel grinned, nodding.
"This is Peanut," she explained, holding the eight-week-old golden retriever up for Zacs inspection.
"Peanut," the brunette repeated, reaching a tentative hand out, looking into green eyes for approval, finding it. She touched the soft, velvety head and ears. Zac felt her heart being lost to the little guy. Big brown eyes looked up at her, a pink tongue fighting valiantly to find any purchase on her face. She giggled as she moved her head from side to side, trying to avoid being kissed in the mouth by the anxious little guy.
Abel watched, completely and utterly charmed by her friend and the newest member of the Cohen family.
"Take him." She handed the wiggly bundle to the brunette, who was more than happy to take him. She was muttering nonsense to the slobbering beast, the dog panting and whimpering, trying to get even closer to his new friend.
Abel led them over to the porch stairs and sat down, followed by Zac. The blonde watched as her friend wrestled with the pup, a grin from ear to ear splitting her taller friends face wide open. Green eyes gazed over Zacs features. She took in the blue eyes, lined by long, dark lashes, set into a tan face with beautiful, angular features. The white teeth, so straight, making for a wonderful smile.
Of her hands own accord, it reached out and gently pushed the thick, dark hair back over Zacs shoulders. Blue eyes met hers and she smiled. Zac smiled back, then turned her attention back to the dog.
"Zac?" she said quietly. She watched with amusement as Peanut grabbed onto one of Zacs long fingers, little teeth, sharp as needles, gnawing.
"Hmm?" the brunette said, playing with the pup with infinite patience, only wincing slightly when the dog got too rough.
"Have you ever thought of living in a city? Or even a small town?" Abel leaned back, resting her weight on her hands on the porch behind her.
"I dont know, Spinney. I guess I havent given it much thought." She glanced at her friend, only to turn back to the dog, which had now grabbed a hold of the pull-string hanging off the waist of her winter coat. She gently nudged him away from it, grabbing the golden bundle into her arms and kissing his head. She giggled as once again she tried to dodge little puppy kisses.
"Do you think you could ever do it?" She bit her bottom lip. She didnt want to make Zac angry or feel like she was pushing.
"Well . . ." Zac absently petted the puppy and stared out into the winter wonderland before her, thinking. "I dont know. I sometimes think it would be interesting. You know, to see whats out there?" She smiled wistfully. "I read about so many things, hear airplanes flying overhead . . ." She gazed up into the blue sky. The snow had ended. For now.
"I could show you." Abels voice was barely above a whisper. She wanted so badly to take Zac back to Boston with her, show her all that the world has to offer someone as bright and beautiful and kind as her friend.
The brunette studied her friend, seeing the uncertainty in her eyes, and the shy smile on her face. She smiled in turn.
"If I ever went, Spinney, theres no one else Id want to show me." She looked into her friends eyes for a moment, unable to look away. The sweetness that radiated from the blonde often left Zac speechless and unsure. She smiled when she felt a hand grab her own, and squeeze. She squeezed back, then turned back to the dog, overwhelmed by her emotions.
"Oh, mom! Its beautiful!" Abel clapped her hands together happily as she stared at the large box. "Shell love it." She grinned at her mother.
"Really? You think so?" Sherry Cohen asked, not as sure as her daughter, who was nodding vigorously. "You dont think shell be offended?"
"No. Dad let you get this?" Abel fingered the smooth cardboard box, knowing full well that it had been expensive. Sherry grinned, so much like her daughters.
"It was his idea." The older blonde winked.
"Nope. Hes not a monster, honey. Just concerned and protective." Sherry busied herself getting the wrapping paper and tape, handing her daughter the scissors.
"I know. Its just, well . . ." Abel sighed, plopping down on the floor of her parents bedroom, ready to begin wrapping. "I just wish hed give her a chance. Zac would never hurt me, mom. Or anyone else, for that matter."
"I know that. I like Zac, honey." Sherry groaned as her knees popped when she sat next to her oldest. "Damn injury," she muttered. "Your dad will be fine. Hes going to try and get to know her over the break."
Abel raised a brow, surprised at this bit of news. Her father was as stubborn as they came, and once hed set his mind to something, it usually took an act of Congress to change it. She was pleased.
"Good." She grabbed the large box, and rose to her knees so she could get the paper around the entire thing.
"Will she like the rest of the things we got her?" Sherry asked, wrapping her own packages.
"I think so. Shes so grateful for anything shes given." The blondes face beamed, her eyes dancing as she thought of her friends innocent excitement in everything new she encountered. Sherry watched her daughter, looking into the lovely face and seeing how much affection lay there for the taller girl. She had noticed since her and Adam and the kids had reached the cabin nearly a week ago, the change in her daughter. Abel was happy, almost humming to herself all the time. She was carefree, and almost held the same innocence as Zac. Absolutely amazed at everything, was Abel.
"Honey, is Zac coming for Christmas dinner?" Sherry casually folded the edge of the shiny paper over, creasing along its edge, and folded it over the box that contained the new pair of jeans for Ben.
"I dont know." Abel sighed, taping the edges of the wrapping paper together and moving the box around so the open ends faced her. "Im trying." She grinned at her mother. "Ive been slowly working on her. I think Ive worn her down."
"What? Do you have to manipulate the poor girl?!" Taking the paper off the sticky part of the bow, Sherry stuck it on the top of her wrapped gift, writing Bens name on the top in clear, neat strokes. She set it aside, grabbing the new tool set for Adam.
"Kind of." The younger blonde smiled sheepishly. "Shes stubborn, mom."
"Ah. So youve met your match, huh?"
"Yeah, yeah. Yuck it up."
Zac looked to the rock ceiling, chewing on her lip for inspiration. She had re-read Abels note to her, the words nearly memorized now:
Im not entirely certain how things fell apart as badly as they did this summer. Just when I found you, you are lost to me again. Im very sad, and wish I could turn back the clock and do things differently.
Please know that I know the truth of that man who was going to attack me. The police came and arrested him. But then I guess you figured that. Where did you go when they were here? How did you escape? I was so worried. Still am. And I miss you!
Please be safe and take care of yourself. I think about you all the time, and wish, oh how I wish, that things were different. I wont forget you again, Zac. I promise. My savior.
Zac smiled, carefully refolding the paper, not wanting it to be anymore torn than it already was. She kept it in her pocket at all times so when Spinney wasnt with her, shed know the blonde was still there.
She turned back to the paper before her, pen poised over its blank surface. Chewing on her lip, she once again tried find inspiration. She had no money to buy gifts, but wanted Spinney to know that she cared.
Bringing the tip of the pen down, she began to write:
Pause. She chewed harder on the lip, cursing silently when she tasted a bit of blood.
"Ow . . ." She brought a finger up, seeing the pin prick amount of blood. Sucking on the tiny wound, she gazed at the decorated wall of her home. She had taken a pen and had marked the backside of the drywall with marks of her making, making the home more personable.
She saw where she had written the word SPINNEY in large, dark letters. Grinning like a fool, she turned back to the task at hand.
Zac began to write again when she stopped, listening. Footsteps. She closed her eyes to concentrate, trying to figure out who it was. It was getting dark, and she had left Spinney with her family that day.
"Zac?" came the soft voice, which immediately made the brunette smile. She quickly rolled the paper up, and stuffed it into her bed roll, then crawled to the entrance of her home.
"Here, Spinney," she called out softly, and heard the footsteps hurry over. A blonde head appeared through the cloth covering Zac had over the entrance, and she smiled at her friend.
"Hi," Abel said, pushing through the curtain, turning back to make sure it was pulled snug behind her. She looked around Zacs home, noting how warm it was. There was a small fire going in the fire ring, the warmth bouncing off the wood and rock walls to create quite a cozy environment. Maybe Zac had the right idea after all.
"Hi." Zac smiled, though there were questions in her eyes. "What are you doing out, Spinney? Its cold and dark." She moved over, giving her friend the choice spot near the fire.
"I missed you," Abel said simply, getting comfortable in the warmth of the fire. She reached into the pockets of her coat and brought out three large apples; Zacs favorite fruit.
Blue eyes lit up instantly, and she grabbed one of the offered pieces of fruit, and happily began to bite into it.
Abel watched, amused as she turned the stem on hers, naming a letter with each turn, just as she had done since she was a child. Zac chewed happily as she watched the familiar game, her eyes twinkling at this wonderfully unexpected surprise.
". . . j . . . k . . . l . . ." SNAP!
Abel held the brown stem in her hand, looking at it.
"L. Hmm," she drew her brows, thinking.
"So, whatever letter you end up with, is who youll end up with?" Zac grinned, knowing the game was silly, but liking it anyway. Spinney nodded with a smile.
"Yep. But I dont know anyone with a name beginning with L, so oh well." She grinned, dropping the stem into her pocket to throw out later, and bit into her apple. "So what are you doing?" she asked, wiping juice from her chin.
"Nothing," Zac said, though couldnt lie worth a damn. Her eyes darted all around, making dark blonde brows crease.
"Zaaaac," she drawled.
"Yessss?" the brunette drawled right back, making Abel grin.
"What are you up to?"
Biting her lower lip, Zac finally met her friends gaze. "I cant tell you," she said softly, giving Spinney a pleading look. "Yet."
"Okay, okay. Ill get you next time, Gadget!" Abel pointed a juice-sticky finger at her friend, who looked utterly baffled.
"Never mind." The blonde grinned, and happily laid back against her taller friends arm, enjoying the rest of her apple, and laying the third one down on top of Zacs bed roll. The brunette could eat it later. "So, what do you wanna do tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow?" Dark brows drew. "Tomorrow is Christmas."
"Uh huh." Abel grinned up at her friend, big, wide and pleading. Zac took it in, and her resolve crumbled. She sighed, and nodded.
"Okay, Spinney. Ill spend it with you. And your family."
Squealing with delight, the blonde grabbed her friend in a massive hug, holding her tight. Zac smiled into the hug. This was worth it. I can do this.
Settling down, Abel leaned against the taller girl again, enjoying the feel of being with her, in her own territory. She looked around the small, almost cave-like structure.
"Zac? What are those?" She ran a finger lightly over the drawings on the drywall. She smiled. The artwork reminded her of what has been found in caves and dwellings. Marks left by early man, depicting stories and important events. Her smile broadened even wider when she saw her name written in big, bold letters.
"My art." The brunette grinned proudly. "Different things go there that are important or that Im happy about." She watched as Spinney traced the lines of her name, as well as some of the faces shed drawn. They were funny, expressive faces, characters she had made up in her mind years ago. She explained in patient detail who each character was, and what they represented, and the story behind their conception.
"Youre talented, Zac," the blonde said, looking at her friend in wonder. "You just never cease to amaze me." She looked back to the artwork.
"Oh. Um, well, thank you, Spinney." Zac looked shyly at her smaller friend, pleased beyond measure.
"Youre so cute." Abel grinned, gently nudging Zacs shoulder with her own. "Can I add something?"
Zac totally brightened at the idea. "Yes!" She scrambled to the back of her home and dug out the marker from her belongings. "Here."
Abel took the proffered Sharpie, her eyes looking into the excited blue, and she gave Zac a soft smile, which was returned. Without thought, the blonde reached up her other hand, and gently stroked Zacs cheek. She felt her heart swell with affection for this special woman who had come to mean so much to her.
"Thank you," she said softly, feeling the hard, sturdy body of the maker in her hand.
Turning away from the connection, Abel faced the wall of art once again and looked for an empty spot. Once found, she concentrated on just what she planned to fill it with. Stroking the pen with her thumb, she chewed on her lower lip. She could feel Zacs expectant presence behind her, and turned to look back over her shoulder.
"You, missy, cant watch," she said, pointing the marker at her friend. Zac looked into the twinkling green eyes, and grinned, nodding. She turned her back, grabbing the zoology book, and trying her best to bury her nose in it.
She thought about Spinneys invitation for the next day, and actually felt a bit of excitement from her acceptance. She was nervous, for sure, but knew that it would make her friend beyond happy, so would swallow her pride and fear, and make the best of it. She couldnt keep the goofy grin off her face at the thought of her Spinney. Her world was brighter because of the energetic little blonde sitting behind her.
She sighed, and turned to her text to read about the life of the muskrat.
Abel stared at the blank wall in front of her and continued to chew on her lower lip, thinking, then she smiled. If she could draw it once, she could most definitely draw it again.
Taking the cap off the marker, she began to draw. She didnt have the colors this time, but that was okay. In her older, more experienced hand, she could make details that would make color unnecessary.
"Can I look yet?" Zac asked, impatience and excitement in her voice.
"Hang on," Abel said absently, putting the final touches onto her masterpiece. "Okay. You can look."
The brunette turned around, excitement buzzing her in veins. When she saw what Spinney had drawn, she smiled, slow and wide.
Standing on the wall were two stick figures, holding hands. One was much taller with dark hair, the other small and no color in her hair. They were smiling, and the taller one wore overalls. Above their heads was written: Zac and Spinney, Friends Forever.
She smiled at that, looking at her friend, and nodded.
"Yes, we will."
"People! Lazy people!" Abel growled when she grabbed the near empty tea jug from the fridge. She wanted everything to be perfect for when Zac arrived. Scurrying over to the counter, she grabbed the Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Maker, and the box of Lipton tea bags from the cabinet.
There was a small knock on the front door and the blonde growled again.
Sherry Cohen opened the door and smiled when she saw Zac standing awkwardly on the porch.
"Zac! So nice to see you." She gave the girl a bright smile, and stepped forward to hug her, but noticed the look on the pretty girls face. Zac looked like shed flee, so instead of risking her daughters wrath, she simply patted the girl on the shoulder. "Welcome. And merry Christmas."
"Um, merry Christmas, Mrs. Cohen." Zac mumbled, looking up at Spinneys mother through her bangs. She smiled slightly when she saw the look of understanding on the older womans face. She was relieved that she wouldnt have to hug her. She still wasnt so good with this affectionate thing yet. She didnt mind it, and in fact really enjoyed it, when Spinney touched her. But no one else quiet yet.
"Come in. Abels in the kitchen."
"Okay. Thank you." Zac smiled weakly again, but stepped inside, remembering Spinneys words. She quickly unlaced her snow-encrusted boots, slipping them off, and allowed Mrs. Cohen to help her off with her coat. With a nod of thanks, she headed into the kitchen.
Abel placed the required amount of ice into the pitcher and grabbed seven tea bags from the box, putting them in the container atop the pitcher. All the food was set out and ready to go, the table set, and all her siblings accounted for. The iced tea was to be one of the main options to drink, but more than likely Ben,\ had come along last night and finished off the tea.
"Damn him," she growled as she pushed the on button. "Okay. Just about re-" She stopped, nearly running headlong into Zac. She looked up into amused eyes. "Hi!"
"Hi," Zac said softly. She found herself wrapped up in an immense hug and smiled into it, enjoying the warmth and safety of it. How was it that someone who had always been dependant on only herself, and protected herself, could feel so safe with the little blonde? Like Spinney was the firelight in the night that would keep the shadows and boogie men away.
She sighed into the hug.
"You smell good," Abel said, inhaling the smells that wafted around her. Very natural, spicy.
"Oh." Zac pulled away from the hug, grinning down at her friend. "I bathed this morning."
"What?! Zac, its freezing out there!" The blonde pointed to the window and the falling snow beyond. The brunette shrugged
"I needed to do it." She walked past the smaller girl, brows drawn when she saw the box on the counter. "Its me," she said, turning to the blonde, holding up the box to show her.
"Huh?" Abel walked over to Zac, looking at the box, then at her friend, utterly confused. "Whats you?"
"This." The brunette pointed a long finger at the word. "Lipton." She grinned from ear to ear. Finally catching on, Abel grinned, too.
"Lipton, huh? I guess you had told me that. Zac Lipton." She tasted the name on her lips, and smiled. Then she chuckled, looking down at her feet. She remembered her game from the night before with the apple stem. "Gee, Zac. Guess were meant to be friends forever, huh?" She gently touched Zacs arm. "The apple stem last night?"
"Oh." Zac smiled, and put the box down. "You landed on L."
"Sure did." She hugged her friend again, and then took her hand. "Come on."
The family had gotten themselves seated, and two empty chairs remained. Flanking them was Becky, who looked up at Zac like the goddess the little girl thought she was, and Jake.
"Zac. Nice to see you," Adam said from the head of the table. He smiled at the tall girl, and she smiled weakly at him.
"Um, you, too, Mr. Cohen," she said, almost imperceptibly.
"Sit," Abel said softly, and motioned toward the seat next to Becky, who was nearly bouncing out of her seat.
The brunette sat, smiling at the small girl, then looked around the table. Mrs. Cohen sat across from Spinneys father, and across from her was Ben, and next to him, Rachel. She smiled at each in turn, noting that Ben seemed to be staring. He had eyes much like his sisters, though not as bright or friendly.
"Hi," he said, his eyes traveling over her face and down over her sweatshirt-clad chest.
"Hi," she said quietly, not sure what to make of him.
"Ben," Abel hissed, seeing just where her sixteen-year-old brothers eyes were headed.
He glared at her, but shifted his eyes elsewhere. Sherry Cohen chuckled at the situation, knowing that her oldest son had been quite taken with the tall beauty over the previous summer.
She offered up a prayer to keep her family safe over the year, and the food was dished out. Zac was excited, the smells of the new foods nearly driving her to drool. She listened as Spinney explained what everything was, and was more than willing to try everything. Several times.
Abel was pleased to see Zacs immense appetite, and to know that her friend was getting a belly full of warm food. She almost let her own food grow cold just from watching Zac gobble down her large portions. The entire family was riveted.
Sherry watched on as the brunette took helping after helping of the mashed potatoes. It made her feel sad. She wanted so badly to see her daughters friend happy, healthy and safe. Alert green eyes watched as Abel grabbed Zacs roll, splitting it in half, and buttering it. The girl handed it back to the brunette, who smiled at Abel, her beautiful blue eyes twinkling. Abel smiled back, and turned back to her own dinner.
She brought her hand up, resting her chin in the palm, and watched the interaction between the two young women. She was glad that her baby had such a good friend. Sherry knew instinctively that Zac would do anything for Abel. Would jump through any fire for her, and she was glad. Abel would do anything for Zac as well.
Zac began to feel a little more at ease with the Cohens, though only if Spinney was at her side. She pondered why it was that Ben kept staring at her. He made her uncomfortable. She kept an eye on him.
"Okay, gang. Presents time!" Adam exclaimed, his eyes shining brightly. He hurried over to the Christmas tree that Abel and Zac had decorated, the lights blinking and chasing each other. Beck and Rachel squealed as they raced to sit on the floor next to it, followed by the rest of the Cohen family and Zac.
"Sit with me?" the blonde asked, patting the spot on the love seat next to her. She looked up at Zac with big, beseeching eyes. The brunette grinned, and plopped down. Like there was a chance shed say no!
Becky and Rachel insisted on playing Santa, and were given the honorary red hats to go along with the role. Rachel helped Becky read the names on the labels, and passed the gifts around.
Zac watched in fascination as the family talked with each other, laughing and playfully smacking each other. She felt a lump in the pit of her stomach, the wistfulness, not for the first time, making itself known. She turned to see understanding green eyes smiling at her.
"You okay?" Spinney asked softly, and Zac nodded, with a forced smile. "Do you need to leave?"
"No," the brunette hastily replied. She wasnt going to leave her friend alone this day. "Im just watching."
"Okay," the blonde said softly, taking Zacs hand for a squeeze, then turning her attention back to the festivities.
The mountains of gifts were quickly disappearing, leaving behind piles of discarded wrapping paper, bows, and hordes of giggles and squeals of excitement.
Zac smiled and chuckled now and then. Especially when her Spinney had opened her gifts. Her green eyes had sparkled and danced, and she had shown her friend every single thing shed received.
Finally everyone had opened their gifts, and Abel looked to her mother, and after seeing Sherrys nod, the blonde hurried out of the room. Zac felt a moment of panic, looking around to see all eyes on her. Ben smiled, and she weakly smiled back, relief flowing through her when she heard the movement of her friend just outside the room.
"Merry Christmas, Zac!" Abel boomed, with Rachels help, setting down a myriad of gifts at her shocked friends feet. The Cohens watched eagerly for the brunettes reaction. No pressure.
Zac looked around at all the anxious faces, then turned to see Spinney, who was kneeling in front of her, a grin from ear to ear on her face. "I, I dont know what to say," she said quietly, so only the blonde would hear her. She suddenly felt so unsure.
"You dont have to say anything," Spinney said, placing her hand on Zacs knee for support. "Just open your gifts." The smiling reassurance of her Spinney gave Zac the confidence she needed.
As she tore into the gifts, she couldnt keep the dopey grin from her face. She had never felt so warm or content as she did with the Cohen family. She had never felt so loved. Spinney helpfully, and unnecessarily, explained what each and every thing was that Zac unwrapped. The brunette didnt have the heart to disappoint her friends excitement. She oohed and ahhhed, enjoying the smile that graced Spinneys lips.
Zac was truly touched by the thoughtfulness of Spinney and her family. She looked on in awe at the nice, comfortable, and warm sleeping bag that the blonde had bought all by herself. It was waterproof, and lined with down, whatever that meant. She was anxious to put the solar-powered heater to use, given to her by all of Spinneys brothers and sisters. The cookware, and finally the big box, which ended up being a nice tent, were compliments of Adam and Sherry Cohen.
Spinneys dad went on to tell Zac about all the virtues of this particular tent, and told her that after much discussion, he and his wife wanted Zac to stay in the tent on their property. He said that way she would have no fear of being shooed away by forest rangers for staying on the governments land, as well as she could look after the cabin for them.
The brunette almost felt overwhelmed by the generosity and caring from Spinneys family. Though it shouldnt have been a surprise, she was stunned all the same.
"And last but not least," Sherry Cohen said, sitting next to Zac on the couch. She handed the taller girl a simple key. "This is to our cabin, Zac. Should you need to come in, for any reason, you can. Okay?" Green eyes, so much like her daughters, regarded her with warmth and friendship.
Zac nodded, taking the shiny key from Mrs. Cohens fingers.
"Any reason, Zac. You need a shower, you need to watch TV, whatever," Spinney said softly, placing her hand on her friends knee. Zac met her gaze, and smiled with a short nod.
"Okay." She wanted to cry with the trust that was being bestowed upon her. At what cost? And for what reason? She didnt understand it.
Zac noted with excitement the stack of her new toys by the door. The tent, still in its box, which Spinney promised to help her set up. The large cooler, which Sherry promised to fill up with enough food to keep the brunette fed throughout the winter, and the key that rested in her pocket. Adam Cohen had promised to show her how the alarm system to the cabin worked, and how to disengage it.
So many promises, her heart felt light and happy.
The brunette started, turning to see Spinneys brother, Ben, standing there, leaning against the doorframe to the kitchen opposite to the one Zac leaned against.
"Oh. Hi," she said, her voice quiet, unsteady.
"Did you enjoy your Christmas?" he asked, his voice light, eyes sparkling with amusement.
"Yes. It was nice." Zac tried to smile, but it didnt work so well. She felt nervous, her heart racing as she tried to fight the urge to run, or at the very least, search for Spinney.
"How much do you know about Christmas tradition?" Ben asked, pushing off the doorframe with his shoulder, and nodding his head up. Blue eyes followed where he indicated, and she saw a simple little bunch of leaves and berries attached to the wood of the doorframe. She met Bens gaze with confusion. "Its called mistletoe," he explained.
"Mistletoe," she repeated, tilting her head to take in the small plant. "What is it for?" She reached up to touch it, but her hand was caught. Startled blue eyes met green, and Ben grinned.
"Not for touching. Its said that if youre caught underneath the mistletoe, you have to kiss the person standing there with you." He raised a challenging brow, meeting drawn dark. "Have you ever kissed a guy before, Zac?"
"No." She slowly shook her head from side to side, not sure what to make of this, or of Ben.
"Uh oh! Whos standing under the mistletoe?" Sherry beamed.
Abel bounded down the stairs, her bladder eternally grateful after being full for so long after the meal. She heard laughter, and looked toward the kitchen. There she saw her mother and Rachel watching as a nervous-looking Zac and Ben stood in the doorway. Under the mistletoe.
Her steps slowed as she neared, watching.
"Come on, Benny. Lay it on her!" Sherry grinned. She knew her son had the hots for the beautiful, enigmatic girl, and thought it was adorable. Ben looked at Zac, and leaned in. Zac, not wanting any part of this, turned her head, and felt soft lips, and bit of tickling stubble, touch her cheek.
Abel felt her eyes go round when she saw her brother kiss her friend, even on the cheek. She was surprised that Zac had allowed that! And that little rat of a brother . . .
She moved past the kitchen to the front door, picking up the cooler loaded with all the new clothes Zac had gotten for Christmas.
"Come on, Zac. You wanted to get this stuff to your place," she called out, her voice sounding slightly more harsh than she had intended.
Grateful, Zac pushed away from Ben and hurried over to her friend. Spinney nearly dropped the cooler, and cursed softly under her breath as she gathered a shirt that had toppled out of the thing.
"You okay, Spinney?"
"Fine." The blonde smiled, and balanced the cooler on her thigh as she opened the front door. The brunette watched, confused, as the normally even-tempered little blonde huffed out onto the porch. She looked back over her shoulder to see that Sherry Cohen was watching, too.
Abel and Zac walked through the forest to Zacs place in silence. The brunette had loaded her arms up with her goods, and had quickly followed her friend, feeling the emotions roll of the blonde in waves. She glanced over at Spinney once in a while, but had yet to say anything.
When they finally pushed through the trees that opened up to Zacs overhang, Abel turned to her friend.
"Are you okay?" she asked, setting the heavy cooler down at the entrance of Zacs home.
"Im fine. Why?" Zac, stack of boxes in her arms, raised a brow.
"Well . . ." Abel kicked at some snow with the toe of her boot, wondering if she was being stupid. But it had made her angry when shed seen Ben kiss Zac. How could he take advantage of her like that? She growled at the memory. "Did my brother make you uncomfortable?"
Zac thought about it for a moment as she crawled into her place, rearranging some things so thered be room. She was anxious to get the tent set up. From what Mr. Cohen had said, it was big enough that shed even be able to stand up in it!
"A little," she finally muttered.
"Im sorry, Zac. That was really stupid of him." The blonde squatted down next to her friend, watching as the brunette slowly dragged one thing at a time into her lean-to. "Very stupid."
"Why?" Zac grunted as she tugged at her bedroll. She was thrilled at the prospect of the sleeping bag that night, and almost wanted to go to bed at that moment to try it out.
"Because," Abel stammered. "You dont know him that well, and it was taking advantage of you, and your lack of knowledge of that kind of thing. And you dont even know what mistletoe is, or what the tradition is. Or even really know him well enough to do something like that"
"Spinney?" Zac cut in, looking over her shoulder at her babbling friend.
"Its okay." She smiled gently, unsure why her friend was having such a problem.
"It is?" Abel looked at her for a moment, trying to process the events. Why was she so up in arms? It was innocent, and she was putting way too much into it. Wasnt she?
"Yes." She backpedaled until she was squatting in the snow next to the blonde. "Spinney, I dont think Ben meant anything by it. Did he?" She cocked her head to the side, trying to read her friend. Maybe she knew something she didnt.
Realizing what Zac was asking, and knowing it wasnt the case, Abel quickly shook her head. "I dont think so. I think he was just trying to be cute." Abel smiled, though it didnt fully reach her eyes. She knew her brother was only interested in Zac, and would never do anything to hurt her, but still . . .
Abel was thrown out of her thoughts by the brunettes soft voice.
"Huh?" She met twinkling blue eyes.
"I didnt want to kiss him."
"No?" Abel asked, suddenly feeling relieved. Zac shook her head. "Oh. Good."
Abel laid in her bed, hands behind her head, staring up at the ceiling. It had been a good Christmas, and she was so happy that Zac had joined in with the fun.
Then her mind turned back to seeing Ben and the taller girl standing under the mistletoe. She felt the burn start again, and was clueless as to figure out just why it was there. Ben was a boy, Zac was a girl, and a beautiful one at that. The kid had every right to have a crush on Zac. Zac didnt feel the same way, but still. What if she did? What if Zac and Ben got together, or Zac and anyone. Where would that leave Abel?
She felt completely selfish in her thinking, but Zac had needed her for so long, and she wanted so badly to be the one there for her. To teach her new things, and be the one that brought that sparkle of awe and wonder into those incredible blue eyes. She wanted to be Zacs Spinney.
Sighing in frustration, she turned over and closed her eyes.
"Youll be here in how long? Five? Okay. Ill get her." Abel hung up the phone, and face split open in a grin, she ran outside, calling Zacs name.
"You rang?" The brunette grinned, stepping out from her large, dome tent that she and Adam had set up two days prior.
"I just love having you like ten yards away instead of God only knows where." The blonde grinned, running over to her friend. She took her hand, and began to lead her toward the cabin.
"Whats up?" the brunette asked, sensing that something was awry.
"Oh, nothing." The blonde grinned back at her, but kept them going at their steady pace. "You stay here." Abel sat her down on the top stair of the porch, and hurried off inside.
"Hey, Zac!" Rachel called out from her snowball fight with Jake.
"Hi!" Zac called out, waving. She grinned, liking Spinneys younger sister. Heck, she liked them all.
"Okay. Close your eyes," Abel said, running from inside and heading out toward the driveway, where Mr. Cohen was pulling up in their SUV. Confused, but following orders, Zac closed her eyes.
Abel reached for the door handle before her dad even had the car totally at a stop. He grinned, loving his daughters excitement. The blonde carefully took the cardboard box from the back seat, peeking inside. She grinned at her dad, eyes bright. She put a finger in front of her lips, and her father nodded understanding.
Taking careful steps to not jostle her bundle, Abel made her way over to where her friend sat, hands in lap, eyes tightly closed. She marveled at the small smile that curled up the corners of Zacs lips.
"Okay," she said softly, placing the box on the step between Zacs booted feet. "Open your eyes, Zac."
Blue opened, and she looked down to see a box, the flaps haphazardly closed. Peeling one of them back, her face split into a massive smile.
"Oh," she breathed, opening the rest of the flaps, the tiny whimpers reaching her ears. She looked up into Spinneys expectant eyes, then back at the box. Reaching in, she felt the soft velvety fur, and found the small, fat body. "So cute," she whispered, looking at the little yellow lab puppy she was holding in her hands. "How old is he?" She looked into the droopy brown eyes, the little guy looking as though hed been half asleep.
"I think a couple months old," Abel said, her voice soft and wistful as she looked at the puppy who was coming around. He turned and looked up into Zacs face.
"Hi, baby," she cooed, running her hand through the soft fur on his back. "How are you, fella?"
Abel watched her friend with the gift that her father had rushed to town to get. She was awed and inspired by how gentle Zac was, how much caring and nurturing poured from her.
"Whats his name, Zac?" She petted the pups ears. Blue eyes met hers.
"I dont know. What is it?" she asked, baffled.
"Hes yours, Zac. You name him."
Zac looked up, brows drawn. "Mine? But how?"
The blonde looked up, smiling at her family who had gathered on the porch behind the taller girl.
"Hes a gift from all of us," she said, indicating everyone. "This little guy here will be your company, and you can protect him." The blonde winked, Zac grinned. She looked behind her, seeing the people she hadnt even realized were there.
"All of you?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper in her amazement and happiness. Sherry Cohen nodded with a soft smile.
"I hope you like him, honey." She placed a hand on Zacs upper back, pleased when the girl didnt flinch.
"Wow." Zac turned back to her new friend. "What am I gonna name you, huh?" She grinned when a pink tongue came out to lick the tip of her nose. She wrinkled her brow as she studied him, trying to think of what shed name him. She looked into his puppy face, and it struck her. "Aureate," she said. "Ill call you Aure for short." When the family looked at her like shed lost her mind, she explained. "It means golden." She gave Spinney a sheepish grin.
"Its a good name." Abel smiled. The two shared a look, both communicating what words could never say.
Zac watched with sadness as her friend loaded up her blue car, ready to head back to school. She stuffed her hands deep into her pockets, chewing on her lower lip. She felt such sadness wash over her, it was startling.
Abel, for her part, was doing her best to keep her emotions under control. She felt like she and Zac had really bonded over the winter, and she felt so connected to her. She wanted so badly to take her back with her to Boston. A part of her knew that the taller girl probably wouldnt be able to survive. So many people, and strange things and sounds. Zac would lose her mind.
She put the last of her bags into the small car, and turned to Zac. She gave her a smile, though it was incredibly weak and watery.
"Well, I guess I should go," she said, her voice soft. The brunette nodded. Aure stood at her side, his too-big feet disappearing under the blanket of snow.
"Im gonna miss you, Spinney," Zac said, her head hung. The blonde tried to see her eyes, but they were lost behind the curtain of dark hair.
"Me, too, Zac." She opened her arms, and instantly they were filled. Zac closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of her friend, and the feel of her warmth and comfort.
Not going to cry, not going to cry. Okay, not going to let Spinney see me cry. Not going to let Spinney see me cry.
She held on, holding the small blonde close and tight. When they parted, she looked into those green eyes to see that they were filled with tears.
"Dont cry, Spinney." She reached up and ran her fingertip under an eye, catching the wetness before it could fall.
"Im trying." Abel smiled, still holding on to Zacs shoulders. "Ill see you this summer, okay?" She looked up into understanding blue eyes. She could see the emotion just below the surface.
"Okay," Zac said, her voice a mere whisper now as she tried to keep the tears at bay. "Be careful."
"I will. You, too. And you stay put!" She jabbed a finger into Zacs chest. "I dont want to have to worry about you anymore than I already do." She smiled, straightening Zacs coat. "You know, I thought of something the other night. You and me, as different as A to Z." She smiled at her little joke. "But, like two bookends, we seem to cram all those differences between and they dont matter."
The brunette smiled, not fully understanding the reference, but she got the ideology behind the words. She pulled Spinney in for one last hug, then let her go, and reached into her coat. She pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper, and handed it to her. Spinney took it, then smiled up at Zac.
"Merry Christmas, Spinney," Zac said quietly.
"Merry Christmas," She whispered back. The blonde said her goodbyes to Aure, and got into her car. She could see Zac and the dog in the rearview mirror as she drove away.
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