The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
©  2002

Part XVI:  T Minus and Counting


For disclaimers, see Part I

It was Friday, finally Friday.

At the parched Stonecreek Golf Course, there was no time for thinking about missing loved ones because there was too much to be done in preparation for Nelson's farewell party the following night. Saturdays, no matter how oppressive the heat, drew die hard, SPF 45 sunblock lathered golfers, and the course would be teaming with them all day long, leaving not one family member to help Marcy with getting the party ready. So, they had decided to start early prepping on Friday, and hopefully if they worked throughout the day, and long into the evening, the barn and clubhouse and the grounds surrounding them would be sufficiently spruced up in time for the festivities on the following evening.

Nelson was still not speaking to his aunt, and although she had approached him on several different occasions, he was keeping to himself; not away from the rest of the family so much as he just seemed quieter even in the company of those he wasn't angry with.  He busied himself by setting up the platform in the grass surrounding the east side of the parking lot, the area where the karaoke machine would be set up again.  Stan had committed it to the party some months ago, and although Nelson would have been just as happy setting up a boombox and playing CD's the night through, he felt it would be unkind of him to refuse Stan's gracious offer.  So he ran long orange extension cords from the barn to the grassy area, and hoped that no one would trip over them, break a leg and sue his dad for the title to the golf course.  He would drive to Stan's bar on Saturday and put the player and mammoth speakers in the back of his pick up truck.  Across the top of the platform, he ran long strings of lights shaped like hot peppers and the odd assortment of bananas and oranges.  He thought they were pretty lame, but the way Marcy looked at him when he mentioned that made him zip his lip and keep his opinions to himself from there on out  He'd been laboring under the mistaken teenage impression that since the party was in his honor, he should have some say in it. A grouchy Marcy quite succinctly corrected him about that silly notion. Yes, the party was for him, but was not being catered or paid for by him, and until he went off to college, and hosted a few parties of his own, and since he'd not lifted a finger to make one goddamned meatball, he was better off not irritating his future step mother with his suggestions or opinions.

Marcy was busy cracking the whip, writing up long lists of things yet to do, and she ran her command post from the hot confines of the kitchen.  She drove very little these days, not comfortable in the neglected red Miata, and she didn't much like Dave's roomy Explorer either, because in her increasingly heavy pregnant state, it felt like she was bodily hauling a bag of bowling balls with her when she tried to climb up into the high cab. The only vehicle she had been comfortable in of late was Chloe's old Subaru, and that wasn't available, because it was currently parked in the airport long term parking ramp in Cleveland. So Marcy made list after list of things around the house to do, and shopping and errands to be done, and she handed them out to her family members with a gleam in her eye that didn't invite any bitching or arguments. Her meatballin' days were almost at an end, and she was going to marshall her troops and send them into party prep hell while she sat regally at the kitchen table, deciding when the most opportune time would be to thaw out the many, many, many containers of foodstuffs she had prepared for the following night.  She sent Nelson running all over town for every crockpot and warming tray they could borrow, Dave took a long list to a grocery store in Erie to get paper plates, streamers, plastic utensils, cups, and sundries, and Sara was appointed lead ice and beer and general all 'round beverage flunky.

As each of their chores were finished, the clan D'Amico dutifully reported in to her, and she ticked things off her piles of lists. More errands were assigned, and for the majority of the day on Friday Sara, Dave and Nelson saw very little of each other, except in passing. The elderly but hale Ralph Henderson was running the golf course from the barn, with the understanding that if he needed help, he should call up to the house to get Marcy to aid him. He'd lived many years on this earth, and he knew that was not going to happen. Although Marcy seemed to have been mellowing of late, adopting a bewildering new maternal affinity for cutsie stuffed animals and displaying some very uncharacteristic cooking, cleaning and decorating nesting instincts, her demeanor on this hot and humid day was more reminiscent of the times when one of her many relationships was going down the proverbial toilet.  She was again cranky, bossy, and threatening, and very much enjoying the return of her old sense of self.

D'Amico vehicles, in different incarnations, whizzed up and down Route 20 all day and into the evening, too, as Marcy's orders were dutifully carried out. They beeped at each other as they passed in in the long driveway or out on the highway, with the notable exception of Nelson who resolutely ignored his aunt's existence as she went by him in her large van.

In California, Chloe prudently decided to skip the tacky tour of the movie star homes, and chose to repeat her first full day in California. She again headed for the beach for a little peace and quiet, and more nervous reflection on her upcoming reunion with her love. But this time her trip to the beach was different than just a few days ago -- this time she took along her new laptop computer, and after spending a good hour or two soaking up some more tan inducing rays, she found herself a shady spot, and opened up the word processing program on the efficient little machine.  She stared out into the choppy waves for a while, then a small smile came to her face. She began typing.  Her typing skills were a bit rusty, but after twenty minutes or so, and some fumbling while trying to figure out the file menu, she felt confident, and her fingers began picking up speed, and pretty soon they were keeping up with the thoughts that were running through her head, running down her arms, and flying out of her fingertips and onto the screen in front of her. An hour passed, then another went by, and Chloe kept typing, not being able or wanting to stop. But it wasn't like that thought even occurred to her. She was having a hell of a good time, and she didn't even notice the passage of time until she glanced at her watch in surprise some time later.  Late afternoon had snuck up on her, she needed to get back to the hotel, get some dinner and get into bed so she could toss and turn all night. She wasn't planning on this occurrence, but she knew herself, knew it was inevitable, and who was she fooling by thinking otherwise?  She was getting internally wound up and impatient for her trip home, and began to wonder, as all vacationers do, if she shouldn't just take another vacation so she could recuperate from the first one.  She glanced at her watch again, and did a little mental calculating. Flight out at 6 AM, I have to return the car, check my bags, get lost at the airport three or four times, and maybe even on the way there. She laughed as she watched a lone seagull pick at some seaweed near the shore. I should just get back to the hotel, check out right away, and maybe I'll get to my plane on time. As it was, she was looking at leaving her hotel at 3 AM, and being the incorrigible sleepyhead that she was, she wasn't looking forward to rousting herself at that early hour, even if she'd been getting up pretty close to 5 AM, Pacific Time, every day this week. Even missing a minute's worth of sleep time was enough to make Chloe resentful.  But down deep, any complaints about the early morning she would have were snuffed out by the thought that by 10 PM, Eastern time, she would be back in the arms of the woman she loved again, even if she had to rope and hog-tie Sara to pull her into that welcoming embrace.

Dave and Nelson almost bumped into each other as Dave was exiting the barn and Nelson was entering, his arms loaded with boxes stuffed with munchies guaranteed to clog arteries and make one thirsty for a long drink of beer. Dave was looking rather frazzled  Sweat was running off the end of his nose, and he grabbed a box from his son and set it down behind the John Deere. Both men leaned up against the tractor, not anxious to return to the kitchen just yet to get their next set of orders.

Nelson wiped his arm across his forehead, and ran his hand through his hair, kinky and unruly from the lack of a haircut and the humidity permeating the air, then sighed and scratched at a mosquito bite on his arm.

Dave wiped his face off with a bandana, and stuck it in his back pocket. "Damn, did Marcy remember we need some of those citronella candles?  The skeeters tomorrow night are going to be hell. And we need some bug juice to spray on everybody too or we're all going be walking chigger bites."

Nelson shook his head. "It's probably on one of her lists. She has a stack of them, did you see? There must be fourteen or fifteen pages. I'm not kidding."

Dave blew out his cheeks. "I know. She's like Little Hitler in there, I think I saw a hint of a mustache growing over her lip. Sig Heil!"  Dave pursed his lips, furrowed his eyebrows together so they were almost touching, and laid his index finger over the top of his upper lip in his impersonation of Der Furhrer.

Nelson laughed. "I haven't seen you do that since I was a little kid."  He laughed again. "Can you still do that thing where you, you know, pretend to take your thumb off?"

Dave thought a moment, then grinned. He bent one thumb under, then laid the end of the other thumb next to the bent joint, and then laid a finger over where the two met. It looked like he had one long thumb, and as he pulled the one away from the other, it looked like he was pulling the top off his thumb.

Nelson got struck with a case of the giggles. "That's it!  That's it!  That used to scare the shit out of me when I was a little kid!"

Dave chided him gruffly. "Then how come you were always asking me to do it then?  Every day, it was 'Dad, Dad, take your thumb off ! "

Nelson snickered. "And remember when Aunt Sara came to visit, and she taught me how to crack my nose?  You were so grossed out by that and ..."  His voice trailed off, and he got quiet, and cleared his throat. "I suppose I should get back up to the kitchen and see what Marcy has on page 52 for me to do." He saw the look his father was giving him, and it was making him uncomfortable.

"Nels." Dave said quietly, and Nelson glanced at him, certain his father was going to try and attempt to talk to him about Sara. He knew it, Dave knew it, and at this point it was impossible to avoid.

"Yeah?" Nelson had already taken a few steps towards the barn door. When he didn't hear his father's answering reply, he turned and found his father just quietly waiting. "Yeah, Dad?"

"It won't make it any easier."

Nelson looked at him, confused. "What?"

"Staying mad at your Aunt Sara won't make it any easier for you to leave her."

Nelson frowned, and his stubborn streak made a showing. "That's not what I'm doing, Dad." But the look on his face betrayed the truth of the situation, and it was exactly as his father had said. Staying mad at his aunt had made it much easier to think about having to leave her behind here in Stonecreek, while he went off to California without his best friend.

"Nels." Dave had to try once more to get his obstinate son to see the light. He watched as Nelson shook his head, and went on his way, turning to glance at his father with a frown on his face.

Nelson was trying to make his escape, and he didn't want to discuss it, didn't want to admit to his father that he was right. It felt better, much better, to just stay mad, and that was what he planned on doing. Nelson didn't reply this time, he just looked at his father with some regret in his eyes, and gritted his teeth as he headed out of the barn and up to the house.

Chloe had returned to her hotel room, and began the aggravating task of trying to pack for her return trip to Stonecreek.  Her many purchases from the days before were laid out on her bed, and she began folding and stuffing as best she could into her already overloaded suitcase. She had a bag of dirty clothes wedged in, and all of the souvenirs from USC, mostly sweatshirts, were taking up much needed space for the many other items she was taking home. She regretted not buying some sort of a duffel bag so this one forlorn suitcase with the missing wheel wouldn't be bursting at the seams.

She was also feeling chockfull and bloated with her own nervousness and apprehension about returning home. The hours ahead of her seemed to be endless and the journey too long.  Her mind was turning and churning over the possibilities of what she'd decided about her future. She felt confident that her path was a reasonable one, but she knew now that it was no longer a matter of her making decisions on her own anymore. Her road would now be shared by two, hopefully scanning the future ahead of them with a watchful and careful eye. She dearly wanted to call Sara to attempt to smooth over any ruffled feelings before she boarded her plane for her return trip, but decided against it, preferring to wait until she could read her lover's expression when they reunited.  She daydreamed of being lifted into Sara's strong arms, turned around in the air, and settling into a warm and passionate kiss. She reveled in that feeling for a while, until a more insidious vision stealthily took form, that of Sara staring coldly at her, turning away, and refusing to even acknowledge her presence. It took Chloe a long time to dispel this unpleasant image from her mind, no matter how many times she tried to replace it with the original welcoming version. Finally she mustered up a more realistic vision, that of the middleground of a cautious, wary but ultimately loving Sara, one who tempered her irritation with a realization of some happiness at seeing her lover again.

She packed and rearranged several times without success, and then finally took a break, and shoved her remaining clothes to one side on the bed, while she laid down with a weary groan on the other side. She closed her eyes, and fairly quickly her mind drifted to the most satisfying and unrealistic scenario that her tired mind could imagine. This one was pure indulgence, so far from the probable, that it bullseyed on fantasy. And it was a fantasy she enjoyed to its extremes. Her breath began catching, her chest rising with each soft gasp at the heat her imagination was supplying. She pictured a desperately demanding and powerful reunion, where Sara swept her upward into her wonderfully strong arms with a wild, possessive passion and untempered lustful force. Chloe's hand traveled down to loosen the button on the top of her shorts as the vision behind her eyes grew more vivid and sexual in tone and flavor, where the need between the women remained still unspoken, but translated perfectly into physical demonstration at their delight, relief and frantic need to be together again. This incarnation of Sara covered her mouth hungrily, refusing to soften or release the kiss so Chloe could speak, so she didn't have to speak, and so let her body speak for her instead.  As the daydream progressed, Chloe's hand traveled father past the now unzipped opening of her shorts, and snaked down to the most intimate parts of her body. It was not her hand there drawing forth the exquisite sensations, no, in her mind it was Sara's hand pushing against her, Sara's fingers deep inside, Sara's mouth and warm, wet tongue insisting that she give herself to her, now, immediately, because there was nothing else but this gesture of complete surrender that would satisfy her own intense and uncontrollable need. Chloe's imagination most happily gave her body over to Sara's loving but forceful demands, and Chloe's body rapidly climbed to the summit, shuddered and lifted in an arching spasm as she physically released to the desires of her unrelenting lover. Again, and then yet again, Chloe rose and peaked under her imaginary Sara's skillful and insistent stroking, her blue eyes dark and blazing with a deep longing, her desire roughened voice filling Chloe's ears with cajoling, loving, and sometimes downright dirty words.

Temporarily sated, Chloe's eyes slowly opened up to the harsh light of the bedside table, the clothes strewn haphazardly around her, and her vision of Sara quickly faded, and reality snuck up and smacked her upside the head. She zipped up her shorts, and sighed, feeling empty, guilty and edgy again. She turned and wearily stood up from the bed, telling herself over and over that it was useless to try and predict the future.

Returning to the task at hand with a renewed sense of purpose, she pulled some of the bulkier items out of the suitcase and laid them aside, determined to simply wear some of them home, rather than have them take up space in the suitcase. She laid a hooded pullover USC sweatshirt over the back of the desk chair, intending to carry it and her new laptop in its case onto the plane with her. Most of her toiletries also ended up as carryon material for her canvas satchel.

After much rearranging, tugging, pushing, wrestling, swearing like a sailor and grunting, she finally got the suitcase closed, zipped up and bulging.  She pulled it off the bed, and just about pulled a back muscle dragging it across the floor to a spot near the door.  She flopped tiredly onto the mattress, dug out a few ibuprofen from her nearby satchel, and pulled two pillows under head as she reached for the last few sips of her last can of Squirt, intending to eat a calming meal of a seafood salad and bite size Oreos for desert.  She flipped on the TV, and made her way through several cable channels before she hit upon the one she wanted. Alternating bites of shrimp and Oreos, her eyes widened in surprise at what she discovered on the television screen in front of her.

It was nearly 1 AM now in Stonecreek, and Sara Dave and Marcy were all gathered around the kitchen table.  Nelson had left much earlier to take Jeanette to dinner and a movie in Erie.  Marcy was still planted in her command chair at the kitchen table, and she was cross checking her copious notes and asking Dave and Sara if this and that had gotten done, or a needed item had been borrowed or purchased.

Dave leaned back in his seat, and groaned after Marcy had asked him about the beer tap for the keg again. "That's Sara's department, and she already said she's picking it up, with the keg, and the ice, in the morning so it has time to get good and cold." He was tired, and saw that same tiredness reflected in his sister's eyes.

"Keg. Check. Tap. Check. Ice, check." Sara droned, staring off at the wallpaper.

Marcy readjusted in her chair, and felt that small bladder urge signaling that it wouldn't be long until she had to use the facilities again. She recognized that both brother and sister were pretty much not interested in talking about the party prepping any longer, so she decided to cut them a break, and move on to other issues. Although this particular issue was not going to make Sara very happy. "OK, so, screw the party for now.  It'll take care of itself tomorrow, I'm just being anal retentive. Sorry. Now, we need to talk about something else." She took a look at Dave, and then moved her gaze to Sara, who was chewing on some ends of her hair and staring off into space. "We have to talk about Chloe."

Sara pulled the hair ends out of her mouth. "What?  We have to have a meeting about Chloe? What for?"  Her voice bristled with annoyance.

Dave grimaced. "Because, well, she's going to show up, and well, frankly, Marcy and me, well, we're concerned ..."

"Concerned? About what?"  Sara shot back, her eyes squinting at her uncomfortable brother.

Marcy tried to take the heat off of Dave, and spread it out evenly between the two of them. It was late into the night, and she didn't feel like mincing words to spare Sara's feelings.  "Listen, Sara, this party is for Nelson, and we want it to be ... nice .... for him.  If you're planning on ambushing Chloe with an ... attitude ... when she shows up, then, to tell you the truth -- just take it elsewhere, out of earshot and away from the nosey eyes of the attendees."  Marcy's mouth was tight and her words were stern.

Sara shoved her chair back and glared at Marcy. "What, you think there's going to be a scene?  Give me some more credit here, that's not going to happen."

Dave studied Sara, noting how quickly she went on the defensive, and silently couldn't blame her for doing so, the way Marcy's words had come out. "People who know you guys, know about the two of you, well, they'd notice if there was something wrong, Sara.  This should be Nelson's night, and we want everyone to have a good time, including YOU.  You think that's going to be a possibility?  It would help to know what you're thinking."  He put a supportive arm around Marcy. "So, tell us, are you going to greet her with an open mind, open arms?  Do we need to keep a hose nearby just in case it turns nasty?  What's your mindset here?"

"Mindset?  I'm supposed to have a mindset?" Sara muttered.

Marcy butted in.  "Sara, I'm upset with her too, you know. I am. I'm torn between missing her, wanting to hug her when I see her, and then kicking her butt around the first four holes of the golf course.  But I'm going to behave, hard as it may be, until I see what she has to say for herself.  The week that's gone by, I've been silently trying my best to support her, for needing to get away, but ... at the same time, I see what hell she's put you through. So again, I gotta be honest, I'm not liking her much right now. But ... she's my best friend, I'll get over it. I love her. But that's not the same as being in love with her. God forbid." A small smile crept onto Marcy's face as she sought out Sara's eyes. "I have to feel sorry for anyone who's fallen in love with her. She can be ... pretty difficult sometimes."

Sara met the eye contact blankly. "Difficult. Yeah." She rolled her eyes.

Marcy's smile dared to expand a little. "And a little ... confused."

"Confused?  There's an understatement." Sara's lips twitched in uncertainty, and little bit of confusion, too.

"And impossibly ... beautiful and irresistible."  Marcy was grinning now, as was Dave next to her, as they both watched Sara take those words in, and her expression begin to soften.

"Beautiful." A small smile. "Irresistible." A flat out dreamy grin.

A silent truce called, all three people at the table took a moment to reflect on their differing reasons for admiring the confused and compelling Chloe Donahue.

Sara felt much lighter than she'd felt in days. "Got it. Big day for Nelson, lots of people here, me actum like grown up, not some jealous, cranky girlfriend." She sighed, but the tentative smile remained on her face. "She's coming home,"  she stated wistfully, allowing her love for Chloe to momentarily overtake her feelings of insecurity and doubt. It felt much better to her to try and focus on the positives of the situation, not the negatives. She'd been dwelling on, stewing over and battling with the negatives all week, and the weight of it all had overwhelmed her, and she desperately wanted her nerves to settle into a zone that she was comfortable in.

She sucked in her high cheeks and hesitated before she spoke. "I need you two to tell me something."  She looked at them both with hope and a little desperation in her eyes. "Tell me it's all going to be alright, that we're going to get past this .. this ... whatever it is, and that things will go ... well, as normal as things go around here. Tell me ..."

"Chloe loves you, Sara. She's in love with you." Marcy said with as much conviction as she could. She sensed that was what Sara needed to hear. She saw Sara blink, and steadily look into her own eyes for signs of insincerity. She repeated it again, surety and conviction in her voice. "She's in love with you, Sara. She's going to come home to you, and you two can pick up where you left off."

Sara wanted to believe her. She really did. But that nagging nuisance -- doubt-- colored her soft reply. "Maybe that's not a good idea, to go back to where we were. Maybe we need to start from a new place.  I was hoping that I could get the house. That we could live there together, without her ... being financially responsible. That way she wouldn't have to work all these jobs, never be home. But ... it doesn't look like that's going to happen. We'll just go on, her living at her place, me at mine, never getting a life together off the ground. Maybe it's better that way, maybe she's right, it's too big a leap, too soon. It's only the end of August, and we've only been seeing each other since, what, March?" She shook her head. "Way too much, way too fast."

Dave leaned towards his sister, to catch her eye. He even snapped his fingers a few times so he knew he had her undivided attention. "Whoa, Sara. C'mon. Look at Marcy and I, we only were dating, well, just a little longer than you and Chloe when you two got started, and I was hauling your butt around looking for an engagement ring in April, right?  When you know its right, well, you just know it's right. Even if," and he prepared himself for the smack from Marcy that was coming, "I had to knock her up to get her to realize that we ... our relationship ... was inevitable, that it was pointless for her to run screaming into the woods to get away from me. " Smack! "So, no, I don't think you were being overly gooey or unrealistic in thinking that getting a mortgage together was a pipe dream for you guys." He tried to chase her doubtful look away with an encouraging smile.

"Well, it's a moot point, the mortgage, now. That little snot at the bank ..."

"It's not her fault about the mortgage, Sara. We both knew it was a longshot. All you can really fault her for is being a condescending little twit." Dave reasoned.

Sara grudgingly nodded her head in agreement. "But it would have ... fixed ... so much, you know?  Chloe would have had time to sell her own house, not felt so financially strapped ... or trapped into a mortgage with me. We could have just lived together, you know? Instead of all of this running back and forth. A home, a house, a ..."

"Fireplace." Marcy grinned knowingly. "God knows Dave and I put that fireplace to good use. I'm pretty sure Junior here was conceived in front of that there fireplace." She rubbed at her belly, and laughed. "It would be good to keep that fireplace in the family."

Sara silently agreed with a quirk of her lips. "Well, yeah, that's what we ... I ... was thinking, too."  She looked away, another thought interrupting. "But there's an unknown here, one we haven't brought up."

Marcy glanced at Dave, and he gave her a sympathetic smile in return. "Whatsername."

"Yeah, Whatsername."  Sara couldn't find it within herself to even speak her proper name. "What about Whatsername?"

Marcy felt her optimistic mood deflate a little. "That's a tough one, Sara.  I haven't a clue. What, with her moving here, why did Chloe need to talk to her now for?  I mean, Whatserface's probably filling the moving van right now with a lot of whatever pretentious furniture she's bought while living out there. You know I don't like the woman. I never trusted her motives, always thought she was pressuring Chloe into doing something she didn't want to do." She saw Sara's eye's narrow at 'pressuring', and she quickly spoke to reassure her. "Not the same thing, Sara. She wanted Chloe to just forget about living here, wanted Chloe to give up her job here, just follow her there without a second thought. She ... she isn't like you, Sara. Sandy was the leader, not at all an equal partner in their relationship. She was constantly trying to make Chloe feel guilty for not wanting to leave here.  She played her like a violin, and Chloe fell for it, no matter how much I tried to tell her that it was OK for her to make that kind of a tough decision and not feel bad about it. Chloe wasn't ready for that kind of decision, that kind of move, no matter how much she loved Sandy at the time, Sara."

Sara's words were soft and nearly inaudible. "How much she loved Sandy."

"At the time, Sara. At .. the ... time. There's a big difference. And I'm going to tell you something, and if you've never listened to anything I've ever said before, well, listen to this, and believe it. She never, ever loved Sandy the way she loves you. Never."

"Then why go to California just to talk to her?"

A perplexed look crossed Marcy's face. "Maybe just to talk to an old friend, to maybe get some perspective on what's going on .... I don't know. Maybe after I ... broke up with her that night, maybe she felt like she needed someone ... outside to talk to. Somebody gay. I don't know. But I can't believe that it's because she ... wanted anything else from her."

"Can you be sure?" Sara's posture steeled for Marcy's answer.

Marcy thought a moment before answering, and hated herself for being brutally honest. "No. I can't be sure. The best, and worst thing about Chloe is ... she's unpredictable. No way of guessing what she's going to do next. I love it about her, I also hate it about her."

Dave nodded.  "It's part of her charm, but it just makes me a little crazy sometimes. Women, go figure! You used to be rather, uh, unpredictable, too, Sara, until I watched you fall in love. Then you got predictable, too.  Once your mind and heart settled on her, you didn't look back. Didn't second guess yourself.  B.C. Before Chloe -- crazy Sara. AC. After Chloe. Crazy in love Sara." He saw the wry grin break out on his sister's face and he chuckled. "You just concentrated all that energy into one thing. But I'm proud of you, how you handled yourself this week. You got a job, you stuck your neck out there to try and get a loan on your own, you've kept your promise and followed through on taking charge of this talent show or whatever .... all in the hopes that everything would turn out OK.  You didn't used to be like that, Sara. If something gave you trouble, you tossed it off to the wayside, like it wasn't worthy of your time anymore,. You hid when things got tough,. You didn't do that this time."

"So you say. But maybe I ran her out of town in the first place, being so crazy in love and not realizing that she was having ... issues.  And look at what I did to Nelson! He's still not talking to me because I took out all this crap on him."

"You always hurt the ones you love, Sara. It's no fun taking your troubles out on perfect strangers.  I don't think it was just one thing, just a fight with you that got Chloe to the point of leaving on a jet plane. And Nelson, well, don't worry about him; he's already forgiven you.." He saw the look of surprise on her face. "No, really, he has! He's just having a hard time ... trying to adjust to the thought of having to leave here ... leave YOU .... and he's got some dopey notion in his head that it'll be easier to leave if he's pissed off at you."

Sara looked at him hopefully, as she considered the wisdom of his words. They sunk in, and she saw the simple good sense behind them. "Oh." she said, and then realized her sometimes nonsensical brother was being as wise as a sage. "Oh. I get it."  A relieved smile. "Good."

Marcy's bladder was sending her signals she could no longer ignore. She frowned, and worked her way up from the table into a standing position. She looked down at her belly, and said, "Is it just me, or does Junior seem to be growing like a bad seed?  I feel ten pounds heavier, just in the last few days. Gotta hit the bathroom again."

Sara smiled a genuine smile at Marcy. "You know what, Marse?  You've never looked prettier. Even when you're bitching at me, I can't help but notice what a beautiful bitch you are."

Marcy had to put her hand on Dave's shoulder to steady herself, she was so shocked at the oddly phrased sweet sentimentality in Sara's words. She never expected tenderness from Sara, especially a tenderness directed her way. She was so flustered and touched, she couldn't think of a single word to say in reply. She stuttered and then shut her mouth.  A blush highlighted her features and took root in her eyes, and she beamed a pleased and shy gaze at Sara.

Sara just shrugged her shoulders, and gently rolled her eyes, embarrassed at her own frankness. "Just stating the facts," she mumbled, and rubbed her nose.

Dave just grinned as he took in the interaction between the two, and remained silent. He gave Marcy's hand a squeeze as she turned and headed off to the bathroom.

He cleared his throat to gain Sara's attention, she was staring at the wallpaper again, but this time with a small embarrassed grin on her face. "That was a weird but really nice thing to say, Sara."

"Aww." Sara said dismissively, not wanting to discuss it any further.

Dave wasn't about to let it go that easily. "No, really, I tell her she looks wonderful all the time, and she just doesn't believe me. Hearing it from you, that's different. That, I can tell, means something to her."

"Well, she does, she does look wonderful. And she's been wonderful to me, all this week." She saw the grateful gaze in her brother's eyes. "I'm not doing it for you, big guy. I discovered I ... like her ... all on my own. Not because she's marrying you, not because she's hauling around my future niece or nephew, not because she's Chloe's best friend. I just ... like her. Not many people I can say that about. She gives as good as she gets, and dammit, she really gives it to me! And I appreciate that ... even if I don't show it. It's not like either one of us is ... "  She coughed and searched for the right word. "Huggy, you know?"

Dave laughed, enjoying the way his sister was fumbling around with her feelings. He sighed and looked at her thoughtfully.. "So, tomorrow night, if it gets to be too much, too many people, too many nerves about Chloe's triumphant return ..."

Sara swallowed. "Yeah, it's going to be a bit much. I can feel it creeping up on me already. I keep thinking the worst is going to happen. But just talking to you two, tonight, helps alot. I'll do my best, and if Nels decides to start talking to me, that'll help." She paused, her brow furrowing. "But I keep getting this weird feeling that there's something that's going on, or something that I'm not taking into account, something I'm missing and I've got this bad feeling that ...."

Her scattershot thoughts were cut off by Marcy's voice calling them from the living room. "DAVE! SARA! Get your butts out here!"

Both brother and sister scrambled out of their seats, and stumbled over each other in their haste to see what Marcy wanted.  They found her standing next to the coffee table, staring at the TV screen with a wide eyed look on her face.  She pointed at the screen, and they all looked. After a few minutes of listening and watching, all three faces reflected the same shocked emotion. Two present D'Amicos and a future one worked in concert to form a single, startled sentence.

Sara began with wonder in her tone. "Tomorrow ..."

Dave murmured, shocked.. " ...night...."

Marcy finished, breathless, giddy and unbelievingly, "RAIN!"

Continued in Chapter 17

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