The Awakening

Part 10 (Conclusion)



Thanks to Shannon, Rose and Bookie for their invaluable advice. My heartfelt gratitude to the readers for their patience and loyalty.

Rachel sat upon the cold stone bench within the camellia garden, buried deep within her favorite coat, as she related her experiences with her partner's family over the holidays to Dr. Morgan. "It was wonderful but really scarey at the same time. I didn't know how to take them, you know? They were all so kind and charitable toward me, especially Gram. . . That's Meg's grandmother. She was amazing."

"But you don't trust them. You don't trust their sincerity. Am I right?"

Rachel burrowed further into her over-coat. "Yeah, I guess I just have no frame of reference for them, for that whole "home and hearth" thing."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"I guess so. . . Yeah, I did. I was surprised that Meg's grandmother and I clicked so well. I felt a kinship with her."

"Why is that?"

"I guess it was the story she told me about her life. She lost her family too, in just a different way than I did."

"Rachel, your family is still alive." Dr. Morgan responded, trying to keep her teeth from chattering.

"Not to me, they're not. And, they don't give a rat's ass about me." A shadow passed across dark features and brown eyes flashed in anger.

"You don't know that. Things can change in, what is it now, nearly thirteen years?"

"Nothing's changed!" Rachel bellowed.

"Ok, ok. Don't get upset. I just want you to keep open the possibility that your parents may have gotten help just like you did. You'll never know unless you contact them."

"I told you that NOTHING'S CHANGED! Now leave it alone!" Rachel stood up and began to pace, swatting at the browning foliage.

"Be that as it may, we have an appointment for Friday before group. I'd like Meg to attend if she can." Dr. Morgan looked up at Rachel expectantly.

She nodded. "I'll ask her. See you Friday." Rachel turned on her heel and walked toward Cherry.

* * *

"Rachel, sweetheart, what's wrong? Did something happen in your session with Dr. Morgan today to upset you?" Meg approached her tense partner and wrapped her arms around a slim waist.

"I don't want to talk about it. I'm going skating in the park. I'll be back in an hour. Sandy, come." Rachel extricated herself from Meg's embrace, grabbed her skates and hurried out of the front door with her dog, letting the screen door slam in her wake.

'What the Hell happened this morning?' Meg pursed her lips, blowing out hot air in frustration.

* * *

"Hello?" The ringing phone disturbed Dr. Morgan's nap, as she had fallen asleep in front of the fire in her favorite easy chair. An empty cup of herbal tea and the case histories she had been reading rested in her lap.

"Ricky?" Meg didn't recognize the sleep-roughened voice.

"Yeah . . . uh . hum." The groggy woman cleared her throat.

"Ricky, it's Meg Poche'. Did I wake you?"

"Oh, Meg, hi. I must have dozed off. What can I do for you?"

"I'm worried about Rachel. She was upset when she got home from your session and just took off. Is there something I should know about, without breaking her confidentiality? I just need to know if she's in trouble." Meg asked.

"I don't think she's in trouble, Meg. You needn't worry. I'm afraid I brought up her family and that upset her."

"What about her family?" Meg was puzzled.

"Well, I wanted to make a point that in the last 13 years her parents may have gotten counseling or joined a 12 step program. That they may be totally different people today. She wasn't willing to even entertain the possibility." Dr. Morgan sighed.

"You know, I've never even thought about that. Do you really think it's possible. I mean, I know it's possible, but doesn't it stand to reason that they would have tried to contact their only child to make amends to her if they had received help?"

"Of course it does stand to reason. I won't bring it up again. I'm truly sorry that I did. I think I owe Rachel an apology."

"I'm sure she'd appreciate that. I won't tell her I called you. She doesn't need to think I'm checking up on her. Thanks for sharing that with me, Ricky. She's been working doubles at the ER this week to try and make up for all the hours she lost when she was sick. She's over-tired and overwrought. I do believe she's in need of some serious pampering before she goes back to work in the morning. She's on the 7 am to 11 p.m. shifts tomorrow. Those swing shifts are the worse. At least I can make sure she eats and gets some sleep before I leave for work."

"Sounds like a plan. Oh, Meg, I'd like for you to come to group Friday night. Can you make it?"

"I'll be there. Thanks, again, Ricky. You've been a great help to Rachel, to us both."

"My pleasure. I'll see you on Friday. Bye now."

"Bye, Bye." Meg hung up the phone and headed for the kitchen to make her partner's favorite buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. "Let the pampering begin."

* * *

"Ooooh, something smells good." Rachel purred as she set her skates in the coat closet and followed the scent into the kitchen. Sandy sniffed the air and wagged her tail vigorously. "Sorry, girl, but no table food for you."

"Made your favorite breakfast for lunch, since I'm quite sure you didn't take the time out to eat breakfast before running to meet Dr. Morgan in the park after work this morning."

Rachel looked sheepish. "Well, we had some last minute emergencies come in and I didn't want to be late for my session."

"I know. Would you like eggs with that?" Meg asked as she put the frying pan on the stove, already knowing the answer.

"Oh, yeah. How about two eggs over easy with hot sauce." Her dark eyes sparkled.

"Coming right up."

The two women ate in companionable silence, absentmindedly petting each other's forearms and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes.

"This is delicious, Meggie. Thank you." Rachel said around a mouthful of pancakes.

Meg giggled at her partner's gluttony. "You're quite welcome. Now, do you want to tell me what had you so riled up this morning?" Meg rested her hand on Rachel's knee.

"I'm sorry about that. It was something Ricky said about my parents maybe having changed and I wouldn't know anything about it because I haven't spoken to them in so many years. I think it's a load of bull." Rachel wiped her mouth with a linen napkin, then absentmindedly pet Sandy's head that rest upon her lap in hopes of a fallen morsel.

"I agree with you. If they had changed, gotten the help they so obviously needed, they would have contacted you. You are in the book, after all." Meg commiserated with her partner.

Rachel smiled, her dark eyes full of love. "I'm glad you understand."

"I do. And, I'm sure when Ricky thinks about it, she will too. Now, why don't you go take a hot soak and a nice long nap. I'll be home from the office at around 1830 and I intend to spoil you rotten tonight. You'll need your rest." Meg smiled and kissed Rachel's dark head, then gathered the dirty dishes to wash.

"Yes, ma'am. I can't wait." Rachel came up behind Meg and wrapped her long arms around her slim waist, whispering in her ear. "I love you, my heart. I can't wait til you get home." Rachel let long fingers roam over soft curves and moaned out her arousal.

"Down, Tiger. I have to go to work and you need some sleep. Just hold that thought." Meg slapped wandering hands away.

"Party pooper." Rachel pouted and headed for the bathroom as Meg grinned.

* * *

It was nearly 1900 hours when Rachel heard Meg's key in the front door and she, and Sandy, hopped off of the couch to greet her. "Whatcha got there?" Rachel took the large flat box from Meg's hands. "Mmmmm, that smells decadent."

"It should. I stopped off at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen and picked up a large with everything on it."

"You are an angel of mercy, my love. And, you're pretty hot too." Rachel grinned and wiggled her dark eyebrows.

"I'm gonna slip out of this dress and I'll be right back. Would you pour us some Barq's, please ma'am?" Meg said.

"Be glad to." Rachel headed to the kitchen, breathing deeply of the tantalizing aromas.

The two women munched on their pizza, while chatting away about a dozen different subjects until Rachel surprised her partner. "I'd like to invite your entire family over Saturday after next for lunch and to watch the film I took at their house over New Year's. Whatta you think?"

Meg's face broke into a huge grin. "You mean it? You'd do that for me?"

"Not just for you. I'd really like to try being a member of your family. They made me feel so welcome, especially Gram. There's a lot I can learn from her. She made me feel . . . I belong." Rachel lowered her dark head as she felt the blush creep up her neck.

"That's because you do belong, Rachel." Meg hugged her partner. "Thank you. You've made me very happy." The petite blonde looked lovingly into warm brown eyes. "Oh . . . wait a minute. I can't do it on Saturday. How about Sunday?"

"What's going on Saturday that you can't rearrange?" Rachel looked at Meg curiously.

"I. . . um. . .have this thing I have to do at the gym. I thought you were working Saturday. What happened with that?" Meg tried to avoid divulging her secret.

"Nothing. I haven't signed up for that weekend yet. And, I just thought we could spend some quality time together with your family. You sound like you're trying to get rid of me."

Meg looked alarmed. "No! It's not that."

"I thought you'd be happy." Rachel was totally confused.

"I am."

"You sure don't act like it."

Meg's voice was contrite. "I'm sorry sweetheart. It's just that I had plans for Saturday. Can't we invite the family for Sunday?"

Rachel became suspicious. "What's going on at the gym that's so important you can't cancel out?"

Meg got up and stood looking out the kitchen window over the sink. "I kinda joined the kickboxing team and we have final's matches against Gold's gym that day. You know, the Orleans Parish tournament championship competitions are being held every Saturday this month and I don't want to disappoint the team.

Rachel got up and walked over to the couch and plopped down, mouth agape, staring at her partner. "You must have been at the gym every evening and Saturday that I've been at work."

Meg nodded.

"When were you going to tell me, after you got your teeth knocked out? Yeah, I may have noticed that." Rachel shook her head.

"I don't know. I hadn't thought that far ahead." Meg looked sheepishly at her lover.

"So it was your intention to keep this competing thing from me?" She looked appraisingly at Meg, who looked away.

"What if you get hurt? What then, Meg? You are small. They're not going to cut you any slack just because you're cute."

"I'm good, Rachel. Just ask Tory." Meg beseeched.

"Oh, I intend to. I guess Tory wasn't going to tell me either until after you got hurt?" Rachel jumped from the couch and paced the floor. "Why, Meg? Why is this so important to you, important enough for you to go behind my back? That's so unlike you."

Meg didn't know what to say. She felt awful and ashamed, but still determined to fight.

"Well!?!" Rachel bellowed, losing her temper at being deceived and at Meg's silence.

"I'm sorry." Meg whispered.

"I'm sorry, too." Rachel sighed, grabbed her keys and wallet. "We'll talk about this later." She stated, then stormed out of the door.

* * *

Rachel drove straight to Tory's. It was nearly 9 p.m. The irate woman rang the bell at the rear entrance and yelled into the intercom when a familiar voice called down demanding who was ringing her bell "at this hour".

"Open the door, Tory. We need to talk." Rachel demanded.

"Rachel, is that you?"

"Yes, it's me. Now, let me in!"

"Ok, Ok, but listen, Jenny's here so behave yourself."

"I don't give a good god damn if the Pope's up there. Just open the damn door!"

"Shit! Jenny, you might want to make yourself scarce. She sounds really pissed off about something and I have a pretty good idea what it is."

Jenny got off the couch and grabbed her purse. "I was thinking how good some café' au lait and beignets would taste about now. Would you care for some?"

Tory hugged her lover. "Sounds great to me. Better leave through the gym."

"Gotcha." Jenny kissed Tory's cheek and trotted out of the apartment as Rachel burst in through the back door.

Rachel had built up a good head of steam and was ready to blow. She stood with hands on hips in the doorway. "How could you put Meg in danger? You're supposed to be her friend."

"I'm glad she finally told you." Tory tried to appear calm.

"She only told me because she had no choice. I thought I made it quite clear how I feel about this kickboxing shit. But, I tried to be open minded. If it would make Meg happy to participate in the classes, then Ok. Now she's competing in matches with people who have been doing this stuff for years, people who are bigger and meaner and can beat the crap out of her. What the Hell is wrong with you!?!"

"Well, if you would let me get a word in I'd tell you. Would you sit down a minute and let me say something please?"

Rachel sat down in an over-stuffed chair, breathing heavily and glaring at her old friend. "Ok. I'm listening."

"She's good, Rachel. I mean really, really good. It's amazing to watch her with seasoned veterans of the game. She's fast and nimble. They can't lay a glove on her."

"I can't believe you're defending this insanity."

"You said you'd listen, so hush. She made the cut for the gym's team. We have a big match coming up against Gold's Gym. We can win if we have her, but that's not what is motivating Meg." Tory shook her head and took a deep breath. "Joey is on Gold's team."

The silence was deafening and Rachel began to visibly shake. "Oh God. . ." The dark woman rose to her feet. "Are you insane!?! He'll hurt her. This is a nightmare . . ." Rachel began to pace, shaking the fists from her hands. "How could you do this to me?"

"Rach, please listen to me. Meg promised she'd tell you herself. That's why I stayed quiet. We've watched all his matches the last few weeks and she can slaughter him. He's slow and thick in the middle, now. He's no match for her speed and agility."

"You knew Joey was competing for Gold's and told Meg?" Rachel looked hurt and confused.

"No! I had no idea. She had him investigated. It wasn't until I saw the Team rosters that I recognized his name and age. I knew it had to be the same guy. That's when I knew why Meg developed this sudden interest in kickboxing."

Rachel sat down slowly. "She's been planning this for months then. . . behind my back." Tears filled pained dark eyes.

Tory sat on the arm of the chair and placed her hand tentatively on Rachel's shoulder. "No, now don't think of it like that. Try to see it from Meg's perspective. She has a chance to have some kind of justice for what he did to the woman she loves, in a fair fight, just her and Joey. She's not doing this to hurt you, but to avenge you."

Rachel wiped at her eyes. "I don't know, Tor. It's a lot to absorb."

"I'm sure it is. Please, Rach, think about what I've said."

Rachel nodded and sighed.

"Does Meg know where you are? It's getting pretty late. You don't want to worry her." Tory asked.

"I think she does."

"Why don't you give her a call and let her know you're alright."

"Ok." Rachel sat on the coffee table and dialed her home.

Meg answered. "Rachel?"

"Yeah, it's me. I just called to let you know that I'm at Tory's and I'll be home after while."

"Are you alright? I've been so worried." Meg asked as she rubbed Sandy's soft fur for comfort.

"I had a long talk with Tory and I think I understand everything a lot better. I don't like it, but I understand it."

"Are you still angry with me?" Meg asked, timidly.

Rachel sighed heavily. "Look, I'm gonna work out in the gym for an hour or so, then I'll be home. Don't wait up. I need to get some sleep. Early shift tomorrow." Rachel stated.

Meg tried not to let her disappointment show. "Oh . . . Ok. I'll see you tomorrow night then."

"Good night, Meg." Rachel hung up the phone.

"Tor, can I use the gym for a couple of hours? I'll lock up." Rachel said just as Jenny entered the apartment with a bag full of treats.

"Oh, I thought . . . well, hi Rachel." Jenny was afraid she'd walked in on something.

"Hi, Jenny. It's Ok. I'm just going down to the gym for a little while. Y'all enjoy your evening." Rachel rushed through the door and proceeded to work herself into an exhausted sweat.

* * *

Rachel came straight home from work. She canceled her second shift, finding her mind not on her patients but on the situation at home.

The two women looked at each other warily as Rachel entered the living room. "Hi"

"Hi" Meg didn't know what else to say.

"I didn't expect you'd be home so early." Rachel said.

"I couldn't keep my mind on my work. You're home early too."

"I know just how you feel. I canceled my second shift. I wasn't much good to anyone."

The two women looked shyly at each other.

"I need a shower." Rachel walked to the bathroom, leaving Meg in a vacuum of emotions.

* * *

Meg stood over the stove scrambling eggs and frying bacon.

"Is that for me?" Rachel asked.

The petite blonde looked up from her tasks. "Yeah. I thought you'd be hungry."

"What about you? Aren't you eating?"

"No. I haven't got much of an appetite today. . . Why don't you get something to drink?" Meg filled a plate and set it in front of her partner, then sat across from her at the kitchen table.

Rachel ate in silence.

"How was your day?" Meg asked, trying to break some of the tension in the room.

"Confusing. I kept running what you've done over and over in my mind. I guess I should be flattered that my Knight in Shining Armor wants to ride in on her White Charger and slay the Dark Knight in defense of my honor."

Meg grinned. "It's something like that. I need this Rachel. I know it's not the mature or even the Christian thing to do, but . . . I just don't care. I want him to pay for what he did to you . . , to us."

"What if he hurts you? How do I live with that?" Rachel put her fork down and rubbed her tired eyes in frustration.

Meg's expression turned hard. "He won't. I know I can beat him. I've studied him. I know his every move. . . Rachel, please try to understand."

Rachel sighed, stood and took her dirty dishes to the sink to wash. "I do understand, Meg. Still I'm afraid for you . . , for us." She turned around and stared into sea-green eyes. "But, I can see your mind is made up." Her petite partner nodded. "Then, I want to be involved. If that's Ok."

"I'd like that. I have a match this Saturday morning. Will you come?"

"I'll be there."

"Ok." There was a pregnant pause. "Um . . . Joey has a match Saturday afternoon at Gold's Gym. Tory and I are going to study him some more. Would you like to join us?"

Rachel thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. I would."

Another long pause as Meg sought out and then searched dark, veiled eyes. "Are you Ok with this?"

Rachel walked to the screened door, gazing out blindly. "Am I Ok that you kept something this important from me, that you went behind my back and involved my best friend in your scheme? No. I'm not. I hate that this has damaged my trust in you, Meg." Her strong jaw clenched.

Meg jumped to her feet to approach her lover. "Oh, no, Rachel, you can trust me . . ."

Rachel held up her hands to ward off Meg's words. "Obviously, that's not true."

Meg felt tears prick her eyes and nose.

Rachel sighed resignedly. "However, I meant it when I said that I do understand why you did it, why you feel you have to confront Joey."

Meg sniffled. "You do?"

Rachel walked into the living room, with Meg close behind, and sat on the arm of the couch. "Yes, I do. I just wish you had come to me with the truth from the beginning." She sighed and stared down at her hands.

Meg's tears slid down her sad face. "I'm so sorry, Rachel." Meg walked to the far end of the couch and curled up into the corner. "I was afraid to tell you. I knew you would try to stop me and . . . I need this."

"I wouldn't have liked it, but you are a grown woman and I don't have the right to forbid you to do anything you feel you need to do. Just, please, don't ever lie to me again."

Meg wiped her eyes. "I promise."

* * *

Rachel went to the gym to observe Meg in action. She was relieved at just how good her partner was in comparison to her teammates and awed at the amount of training involved. Meg jumped rope, worked the bags, lifted weights and sparred for hours.

In spite of all Meg's preparations and obvious aptitude, the dark beauty's innate fear of her tormentor continued to eat at her. Rachel looked forward to Friday's group session to voice her concerns and clear her head of the doubts she still held about Meg. If she were honest with herself, she also wanted to punish her partner by "telling on her". She knew it was childish, but she couldn't help how she felt.

* * *

Meg sat quietly as Rachel expressed her anger and disappointment in her to the group. She felt embarrassed and a little angry at being held up to ridicule, but the other group members offered her emotional support as they "read Rachel's mail" as to her motives for painting her partner as "the bad guy".

Group member number one, "You say you can forgive Meg, that you understand why she did what she did. Meg swears she'll never deceive you again. Do you believe her?"

Meg looked longingly into cold dark eyes, watching them soften and glisten with unshed tears.

"Yes. I do believe her." Rachel responded.

Group member number two, "Then forgive her and stop trying to punish her. You have to let go and move on."

Rachel's eyes got big around. "Is that what I was doing, trying to punish you?" She looked puzzled for a moment, then reached for her partner's hand. "God, Meggie, I'm so sorry. That's exactly what I've been doing, isn't it?"

Meg looked at their joined hands and felt hot tears roll down her face.

Rachel looked at the other group members. "I've refused to touch her, to hug her, or to even cuddle in bed at night. I know how much she loves that. I've taken that away from her." Rachel looked into Meg's eyes. "And, now I've tried to humiliate you in front of our peers and make you "The bad guy". How childish is that?"

Meg kissed her lover's hand. "But I am the bad guy here."

"And you apologized and promised that I can trust you. I said I could forgive you, but I lied."

Meg took a sudden deep breath, feeling her world crumble around her ears.

Rachel quickly knelt in front of the stricken woman. "No, baby, I don't mean it like that. I didn't really forgive you then. I wanted to make you pay for what you did to us. That's not forgiveness. I'm sorry for punishing you like this. I do forgive you and I will trust you again. . . Can you forgive me for being a horse's ass?" Rachel gazed into her lover's eyes, reaching out to wipe away the tears from flushed cheeks. "Please, Meggie. I love you so much."

Meg dived into Rachel's strong arms and cried with abandon. "Of course I forgive you . . . I love you too."

Dr. Morgan, "Well, I'd say we've had a successful session, ladies. Let's adjourn to Café Du Monde."

"If y'all will excuse us, I think my partner and I need to go home and make up for lost time together." Rachel looked tenderly at her lover, then kissed her forehead. "Let's go cuddle on the couch and watch sappy movies. How does that sound?"

Meg ran a trembling hand down her partner's cheek. "Like heaven."

* * *

Saturday's match went well, with Meg effortlessly out performing her opponent. Rachel's chest swelled with pride as her fears lessened.

Meg, Tory and Rachel ate a salad for lunch before heading to Gold's Gym to watch Joey's match. It would be the first time the adult Rachel would see her older cousin and the author of her nightmares.

Rachel stood in the shadows behind the bleachers where she knew Joey couldn't see her. Meg watched her partner's pulse thrum in her neck. "He looks so small. I remember him being much bigger and really strong."

"You were a little girl then, Rachel. He is strong, though. But, he's only about three inches taller than me."

"He's gotten so old." Rachel didn't know how to react. She searched her heart surprised to find she felt no fear only anger at what he'd stolen from her. She watched him move and judged Meg's chances of beating him in the ring and smiled. His opponent punched him in his stomach, sending a thrill through her.

"She can handle him, Rachel. I wouldn't allow her in the ring with him if I had any doubt." Tory reassured her friend.

Rachel smiled at Tory and wrapped a long arm around Meg's shoulders. "Let's go home, Slugger."

* * *

The following week Rachel worked the day shift so she could accompany her partner to the gym to show her support and to fulfill her need to reinforce their connection. She worked out with her until she tired, shocked to realize she couldn't keep up with the little dynamo she used to skate circles around. Wiping the sweat off with a towel, Rachel leaned against Tory as she tried to catch her breath. "Am I getting old, Tor?"

Tory laughed. "No, not you baby. She's just that good . . . um, and that young." Rachel swung the damp towel and popped her best friend in the arse. Tory took off running with Rachel hot on her heels.

Meg yelled from the weight bench, "Go get her, Rachel!" causing all the inhabitants of the gym to start chanting Rachel's name and clapping to goad her on. Rachel caught Tory and, lifting her best friend, politely plunging her into the Jacuzzi, shoes and all. The dark woman stood tall, laughing and pointing at the gym owner's new "drowned rat" coif when a whirlwind of activity behind her gave her too short warning that she was about to join her. "Whoa!!!" She screamed as strong arms wrapped around her hips sending both she and her very sweaty lover into the warm swirling waters. Rachel popped up spitting and snorting water through her nose until she noticed Meg laughing with glee within arm's reach. A feral grin formed on her beautiful features before she dived for Meg's feet. With Meg's feet firmly in her hands, Rachel moved backward in a circle, placing the struggling blonde at her mercy. Rachel laughed evilly as she pulled Meg's right foot to her mouth, holding the left foot far enough away to prevent getting a kick in the nose. Still moving to keep Meg off balance, she took the extremely ticklish large metatarsal into her mouth, sucking and licking it and it's mates until the helpless woman pleaded for mercy and threatened to pee in their shared water.

"Don't you dare! Rachel, let her go! I swear if she pees in here you're draining this pool and scrubbing it clean. You hear me!?!" Tory had pulled herself out of harm's way and was watching the show.

Rachel thought for a moment, then released her captive. "Pay backs are a bitch, aren't they Shortie?"

Meg fled from the water and ran for the loo.

* * *

Tory and Rachel rested their feet on the back porch railing, both having unbuttoned the top button of their individual slacks in order to breathe after wolfing down a ten ounce filet and baked sweet potato with cinnamon, butter and sugar, along with a large helping of creamed spinach each.

"Good golly, but that Jenny of yours can sure cook." Rachel praised Tory's girlfriend, who was in the kitchen with Meg cleaning up and retrieving the pot of coffee with chicory that had been brewing while they ate.

"Yeppers. I have to work out twice as much since I've been dating her. Those Cajuns know how to cook." Tory smiled. "I don't know what I did to deserve Jenny, Rach, but I'm so very grateful that she walked into my life and decided to stay."

Rachel reached over and patted her friend's shoulder. "I am too, Tor. And I'm sorry it took me so long to get to know her. She's good to you and for you. I can see that now. How is the kid? Etienne isn't it?"

Tory's eyes softened and she grinned. "He's great. I really like him and I think he likes me too. We have a great time doing the athletic stuff together that Jenny's not too fond of. He loves baseball and roller blading. He goes fishing with his dad, so I don't get to share that with him. But, I do get to take him swimming. That boy should have gills. I've never seen anyone so at home in the water before. I'm going to ask Jenny if I can get him scuba certified this summer. But, I'm waiting 'til she's in a really good mood."

Rachel smiled warmly at her friend. "You are a great parent, Tory. He's a very lucky little boy to have you in his life. And, I know from whence I speak." The women clasped hands and shared a tender moment.

"Hey you bums, coffee's ready." Meg called from the kitchen.

"Can we have it out here?" Rachel called back as her partner and Jenny both appeared in the doorway with coffee pot and tray of cups, saucers, spoons and condiments. "Awww, you two are going to spoil us." Rachel looked longingly at the offering.

The four friends sat around, drinking coffee as Jenny and Tory told entertaining stories about Etienne. Rachel and Tory took off on a tangent about the beauty and benefits of scuba diving, paving the way for the question Tory would broach later, when they were alone.

After their company left, Rachel and Meg slid into a hot tub, Meg lying against her lover's slippery breasts, luxuriating at the feeling of warm soapy water and the soft mounds that supported her. They talked about Tory and Jenny and how pleased they were with their dear friend's chosen partner, especially Tory's close relationship with Jenny's young son. "I'm so happy for her. She's always wanted kids, but Claire became ill before they could pursue having a family of their own. Did you see her face when she talked about Etienne? She absolutely glowed." Rachel said as she washed Meg's back.

"Yeah. That was too cute. I'm so grateful to Jenny for giving Tory another chance at happiness." Meg responded.

"Have you ever thought about having children?" Rachel remembered the strange reaction her lover had when her brother and sister-in-law announced their pregnancy.

Meg was glad she was facing away from her sensitive partner. "I don't worry about what I can't have Rachel. It's a waste of resources."

Rachel didn't know how to react to Meg's rather cold statement. She continued to bathe her partner, sliding the sponge down one arm, then the other, kissing and licking an exposed neck and shoulder. "Why can't we have children, Meggie? Is it because of my age? I mean, a lot of women raise children in their forties these days."

Meg froze. "Are you saying that you want kids, Rachel? I mean, you've never mentioned kids before."

Rachel dropped the sponge and wrapped her arms around Meg's body, pulling her close. "No. . . I think if things had been different for me I would have wanted a house full, but I was so fucked up for most of my adult life that I never considered it a choice for me. I wasn't parent material. But now . . . I mean, if you wanted to, I think I could try. That's if you wanted to." Rachel's voice was tentative and insecure.

"What brought this on?" Meg inquired as she pet Rachel's forearms.

"Well, I saw how you reacted to Gaston and Kathy's baby news and I got the impression that maybe you were a little upset."

"You're perceptive, aren't you?"

"Were you upset?" Rachel quietly asked.

"Yeah. A little. I decided a long time ago that being a gay woman I had a snowman's chance in hell of building a stable, long term, committed relationship with anyone and that bringing a child into that kind of environment was not fair. I wanted my child to have the kind of home that I came from. It takes two to create that kind of stable, loving, nurturing environment. I had no illusions that I could provide that."

"And, what about now?"

"Now?" Meg turned to sit on her lover's lap and wrapped her legs around Rachel's hips. "Now, I want to make love to you." Small, gentle hands slid into the warmth of her tall partner's sex, eliciting a moan of arousal.

"You're avoiding the question." Rachel complained.

Meg lifted a full breast to her mouth and latched onto the dark nipple.

"Oh, God, Meg." Rachel's eyes rolled back into her head and all discussion was forgotten.

* * *

"Good morning, lazy bones." Meg greeted her partner as she filled their breakfast plates with buckwheat pancakes and bacon.

"You wore me out last night. Not that I'm complaining. I think all that working out you're doing at the gym is definitely increasing your stamina. Ooooh, that smells good."

"Sit down and I'll serve you, my love." Meg grinned and proceeded to do just that.

The lovers enjoyed their breakfast in relative quiet. When Meg got up the courage to broach the subject that had been on her mind all morning. She took a deep breath and began. "Rachel, about what we were discussing last night."

"You mean raising a family?"

"Yeah. . . I don't think I'm ready to discuss that. I'm very touched that you are willing to but I'd like to mull it over in my mind a while before we have that talk. Is that Ok with you?"

"Sure." Rachel reached over and squeezed Meg's hand. "Take all the time you need. Just know that when you are ready to talk, I'm here for you. I'll always be here Meggie. I promise. And, in the meantime, we have our own little hairy baby to spoil." Rachel said as she looked down at the furry head resting in her lap.

Meg raised their entwined hands to her lips and tenderly kissed her partner's knuckles. "Thanks tiger."

"Any time. But we have to get moving if we're going stick to our morning ritual."

"I'll grab our roller blades." Meg offered.

"I'll warm up Cherry. I have my session with Dr. Morgan today. Would you like to meet me for a late lunch?" Rachel asked.

"Sure, but aren't you going to work this afternoon?"

"No. I don't want to miss your work out. Tell you the truth, I'm really enjoying the competition. It's a whole different concept of fitness training than I've practiced all these years. But, I'll catch on. I like that it's not making you bulk up. You just seem to be stronger, faster and more agile then you were. And, the concentration you exhibit in the ring is down right spooky. We'd better get a move on. I have my diabetic education class at Children's this morning before I go meet Ricky." Rachel grabbed her keys and a water jug, then trotted out the door.

* * *

"Tell me how you are feeling about Meg's behavior now." Dr. Morgan instructed as she and her client walked amongst the camellias in City Park.

"I feel we're past that. It's amazing to me, but I totally understand why she did it and now that I've seen both she and Joey in the ring, I am confident that she'll be fine. I'll probably be a nervous wreck watching them fight, but that's Ok too." Rachel truly felt comfortable with the whole situation now.

"That's good. I think you've done a fine job of working with your partner toward resolving what could have been a relationship breaking situation."

Rachel stopped and looked at Dr. Morgan. "I'm totally committed to my life with Meg. There is nothing we can't overcome as long as we're together. I know that to be a fact."

Dr. Morgan smiled. "Rachel. I am very proud of you. And, I think it's time for us to cut back on our sessions. You have the tools you need to cope with your past and your future. I would like you to continue with the group sessions, though. Would you be comfortable with seeing me every other week for however long you need to?"

Rachel smiled with a touch of sadness in her eyes. "You've helped me so much, Ricky. I'll always be grateful to you. And, yeah, I am willing to try this every other week thing. But, if I get panicky I can still call you for an impromptu session . . . ?"

"Of course, you can, Rachel. Call me anytime you feel the need." Dr. Morgan answered and patted her back reassuringly.

"Great. Now, I've got to run. Gotta hot lunch date." Rachel grinned and quickly hugged her therapist, then jogged to Cherry, feeling a strength and confidence in herself she'd never quite felt before.

* * *

Friday night came. Meg and Rachel spoke to Meg's Mom and Dad on the two extensions of their phone until nearly 2100 hours. The whole family agreed to lunch on Sunday. They planned the menu to fit everyone's diet, including Kathy's, who'd been suffering from morning sickness and couldn't tolerate their usual Cajun fare. The conversation was too short for Rachel's needs and she paced the floor, from room to room afterward, trying to work off some of her nervous tension. She couldn't stop playing out different scenarios of the pending bout in her mind's eye.

"Get in the car. We're going to the gym and work you til you drop." Meg commanded.

"But you need to rest so you'll be fresh in the morning." Rachel complained.

"Oh, I intend to soak in the hot tub while you sweat, tiger." Meg said, waggling her eyebrows. She picked up the phone and dialed Tory's number. A very irritated voice answered.

"What!?!" Tory was very irate at having her love making interrupted.

"Whoa! Bad day?" Meg assessed the situation right away.

"Oh, hi, Meg. Um, I was busy. Jenny's here." Tory blushed.

"I figured. Look, we're not going to bother you. We just wanted you to know that we're coming over to use the gym. Rachel is about to climb the walls worrying about tomorrow."

"Sure. Use your key. Just lock up when you leave. You'll forgive us if we don't socialize."

"No problem. Please, return to what you were doing before Jenny loses the mood." Meg giggled and hung up the phone.

* * *

The couple walked the elevated track to warm up their muscles, then broke into a brisk jog until their clothes were drenched with sweat. "Hey, tiger, want to join me in the hot tub?" Meg asked with a lascivious grin that was not lost on her tall lover.

"Sounds like a plan. I'll race ya." Rachel sprinted down the stairs as she removed her wet clothes with Meg close behind doing the same.

The women hopped into the warm, soothing water side by side. "Ooooooh, that feels soooo good!" Meg purred.

Rachel came up behind her partner, wrapping long arms around her and held a buoyant breast in each hand with great reverence. "It sure does."

"Not me, the water." Meg giggled.

"Oh, yeah, that too." The tall, dark beauty turned her lover around, then peppered her face with tender kisses. "I love you, my Meggie. Be careful tomorrow."

"I will. I promise." Meg said before lathing tempting lips with her tongue, begging entry.

Rachel squeezed her lover's buttocks as she invited Meg's tongue into her warm mouth and got lost in the silky smoothness of it as it perused every surface therein. Both women moaned their pleasure, prompting Meg to cup and fondle Rachel's full, heaving bosom. She pinched and twirled the hardening nipples, eliciting another, deeper moan from her lover that caused a sharp clenching in her southerly regions. Meg suckled upon Rachel's tongue, knowing it would spur her arousal to new heights. Rachel turned and sat her lover on a convenient step so she could release her hands to prowl at will. She pulled away from the torturous mouth and ran a trail of kisses down Meg's jaw, into her ear, then latched onto her pulse point, sending further jolts of arousal to the small woman's center. Meg let go of one breast, freeing her hand to trail down Rachel's firm abdomen, through her pubic hair to play in slick folds. Rachel released Meg's neck to avoid biting her as her own sex clenched and her pelvis pumped gently in anticipation. Meg took advantage of the freedom to lift Rachel's oh-so-soft breast to her mouth and latch onto the jutting nipple and suckle as if for nourishment. "Oh yeah." Rachel exclaimed as she began to throb and a tingling spread from her clit, as if there was a direct line there from her nipple. Meg found Rachel's engorged clit, placed it between her thumb and forefinger and proceeded to milk it as if it were a tiny penis. She slid the foreskin up and down the short shaft, pinching it occasionally to increase the stimulation as she continued suckling and fondling the delicious breast in her mouth. Rachel lost awareness of everything but the incredible feelings her lover was eliciting from her body. Her pelvis began to pump in earnest as her breathing hitched. Her hands ran through her lover's hair, pulling her even closer against her so receptive breast. Loud moans of pleasure came from deep in Rachel's throat, then she jerked, over and over again, calling out Meg's name until her orgasm began to fade. She fell limp into Meg's waiting arms, breathing roughly and repeating over and over "I love you, I love you."

"I love you too, Tiger." Meg replied as she comforted her lover, trying to ignore the intense thrumming of her own need. Rachel opened her eyes to see a tempting breast and licked it, making Meg jump. She then latched onto the nipple, sucking strongly knowing how aroused her partner had to be. Meg trembled and murmured encouragement. It didn't take much. Rachel placed her hands under her lover's buttocks again and lifted her to the edge of the hot tub, threw the short muscular legs over her shoulders and looked deeply into the eyes of the woman who owned her heart. She used one long elegant hand to spread the folds of Meg's sex and ran her tongue through them. Meg moaned loudly and tilted her pelvis higher, encouraging Rachel's attentions to her clit. "Please, baby." Meg entreated her partner, her need was so great. Rachel grinned and kept eye contact with Meg as she licked her clit first up and down then side to side. Meg's lips parted and her eyes glazed over. Rachel was fascinated at how her lover's features changed with arousal. But knowing she couldn't play long, she covered the tingling bud with her mouth, sucking gently and laving the tip with her tongue. "Oh God, Rachel, just like that." Meg said quite loudly. Rachel continued her ministrations on the bundle of nerves as Meg began to pump into her mouth. Nectar rolled down her chin as Rachel increased the suction and pushed her chin against Meg's clenching vagina. A small hand grasped her hair, pulling her harder against her need as Meg screamed out in orgasm, bucking and lifting her buttocks completely off of the tile. After Rachel was sure Meg's aftershocks were completely over, she lifted her shiny face and grinned broadly at her sated lover. "God, but you're good at that, Tiger." Meg panted.

"I aim to please." Rachel said, lying her chin on Meg's pubic bone.

"Let me congratulate you on your aim. Woohoo."

The two lovers slipped back into the hot tub to wash off, then crawled out to dress when a loud, piercing scream assaulted them, coming from Tory's upstairs apartment.

"Holy shit! And I thought you were loud. Tory must have had the world's biggest orgasm." Rachel chuckled and continued to dress when the door to the apartment flew open and a very naked Jenny ran out to the bannister.

"Rachel, come quick! Tory's hurt!" Jenny yelled.

Rachel and Meg stood dumfounded at the sight of the very thin woman with her small firm breasts and curly blonde bush hanging over the railing. The words sunk into them both at the same time and they quickly ascended the stairs to see their friend writhing in pain on the floor, naked as a jaybird.

The couple knelt on either side of their friend. "What happened? Don't answer that. Where does it hurt?" Rachel blushed.

"My back. Dammit, Rachel! I threw my damn back out again." Tory yelled in pain and frustration.

"Ok. I can fix this. You know the drill. Lay flat on your belly." Rachel helped Tory into position then looked up at Jenny, who's bush was right at her eye level. "Jenny, for pity's sake, put some clothes on."

Jenny looked down at her body and turned beet red. "Oh mon dieu!" She quickly started dressing, allowing Rachel to concentrate on helping poor Tory.

"Hurry up, Rach. It's killing me." Tory pleaded.

Rachel carefully put one foot and then the other on her best friend's low back and signaled Meg to stand nearby so she could hold onto her shoulder for balance. Then she slowly and deliberately walked up Tory's spine. They all heard the pop as everything fell back into place, followed by Tory's sigh of relief.

"Rach, you are a goddess. Thank you." Tory said.

"You're welcome. Now I have to go home and wash out my eyeballs." Rachel groaned at having seen her parental figure and her lover naked.

Jenny piped up. "Thank you both, so much. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been here."

Meg took Rachel's arm and led her away. "You're welcome, Jenny. We'll see you here in the morning. I'm going to do a light work out before the big bout. Now, I have to put Rachel to bed. Good night y'all."

"G'night." Rachel mumbled, shaking her head and craving a tall, very strong drink.

* * *

Rachel wolf-whistled at the sight of her partner, dressed in the team colors. She wore a gai of royal blue with the rainbow flag colors down the outer aspect of her pant legs and top.

"You ready?" Tory asked her prize pupil.

Meg nodded and shook out her arms. "Ready as I'll ever be."

"Um . . . I think we should take my car. The way Rachel is bouncing off the walls, she might drive Cherry into a tree." Tory suggested.

"Good idea." Meg agreed and all four women left for Gold's Gym.

* * *

The opponents bowed to each other then assumed an opening stance. Meg stared daggers into cold black eyes. The older man was thrown by her intensity. He jabbed, she swayed and bobbed keeping out of his reach. She used her superior speed and stamina to keep him moving, knowing he'd tire far before she would. Frustrated with his inability to make contact he swung high and she quickly entered his personal space with a kick to his solar plexus, pushing him off balance, following up with a round house kick to his ribs, then moving quickly out of reach.

Meg was intent upon her goal. She continued to bob and sway, baiting him to reach toward his left with his strong right jab. She spun with all of her might, laying a kick under his right arm, causing him to bend over in pain just enough for her to get under him and get in a few combinations and an upper-cut. Joey was forced to backpedal to escape the barrage of vicious punches Meg was landing. Her score was soaring and her victory seemed assured.

He was confused and shaken by this little woman's skill and speed. He had accepted the match because he was sure a woman would be an easy win. Now, he was angry and desperate not to lose the match to a "little girl". He charged forward, surprising Meg, pinning her in the corner of the ring. She couldn't avoid the jab to her face. The protective headgear tempered the jolt that made her ears ring and brought moisture to her eyes. She ignored the pain and concentrated on assessing her options for escape before his greater size and strength overwhelmed her. Using her powerful thigh muscles, she jumped straight up and landed with all of her weight upon the arc of his foot, while protecting herself with her arms. Having successfully averted Joey's attention from her for a moment, she scampered out of his reach, then jumped up again and landed all her weight upon the outer aspect of his right knee. He went down, then Meg spun into a round house kick, landing her foot firmly through his face mask and into his nose. Blood splattered all over her foot and the canvas. The match was called as Meg stood over her opponent, panting, pulse racing. She removed her mouth piece and headgear, then leaned down to look directly into bleary eyes.

"I want you to know who I am and why I'm here. You're a child molester." Meg spit out.

Joey's eyes got big and he tried to rebuff the accusation through his aching, bleeding nose.

"Don't even try. I know all about what you did to your cousin, Rachel. You have no idea what you took from her. She's been paying all her life. I can't change what you did, but I'll be damned if you're going to get off scot-free."

Joey knelt on the mat, blood dripping off of his chin from his broken nose. Dazed, he watched as a dark blur flew over the ropes of the ring and grabbed the shoulders of his opponent. Rachel carefully studied the small cut in Meg's eyebrow and the reddened area around her eye.

"You alright?" Rachel asked.

"I'm great!" Meg exclaimed.

"You're gonna have a shiner by morning." Rachel observed.

"I'll wear it with pride, Rachel."

The lovers looked at each other in warm understanding.

Recognition dawned on Joey's face. "Rachel?"

His tall, strikingly beautiful cousin looked her nemesis in the eye and realized she felt nothing for the now insignificant creature bleeding before her.

"Joseph. You should get that looked at. I bet it hurts like the dickens." She couldn't help but taunt him.

The opponent's coach climbed into the ring with a first aide kit and towels.

Joey glanced from one woman to the other, feeling there was something he should understand but his head hurt too badly to comprehend it.

"Oh, where are my manners? May I introduce my partner, Meg, who just rearranged your face in defense of my honor. Meg, I believe you've already met my cousin Joey, the pedofile, who molested me and nearly ruined my entire life."

Meg grinned. "Yes. We've met."

Joey's coach, who had knelt by his side, washing the blood from his face, froze, then quickly backed away in disgust. "Creep!" She threw the towel in his face and left the ring.

Joey looked like a goldfish as his eyes got wide and he opened and closed his mouth several times without emitting a sound.

"Come on, Meg. Let's go home."

The couple crawled through the ropes and was greeted by Tory's excited hugs. "Hey champ! You were awesome in there! Jenny and I want to take the two of you out to La Peniche for dinner tonight to celebrate. Now, go home and let Rachel take care of that eye. We'll pick y'all up at 1900."

Rachel and Meg looked at each other and smiled. "We'll be ready."


Rachel sat at the breakfast table, dressed and ready for the evening. Meg watched her as she played with a pencil, paper and calculator.

"What are you working on, tiger?" Meg inquired.

"Oh, hi. I didn't hear you come in, slugger. How do you feel?"

"I feel pretty incredible." Meg gloated and fell into her partner's lap for a hug.

"I don't know how you're gonna explain that shiner to your family tomorrow." Rachel mused.

"Me? I thought we were a team." Meg groused.

"I'm chicken." Rachel gave Meg her best pout and batted long dark lashes.

"Well, then, I'll just have to tell them I've been taking kickboxing and got smacked. It's the truth. And, as I have recently learned, honesty is the best policy. Right?"

Rachel smiled and kissed Meg's tempting nose. "Right."

"So, what are you working on?" Meg asked.

"Our finances. I'd like to make an offer on the house. I want it to really be ours, permanently. How do you feel about making that kind of commitment with me?" Rachel asked, looking deeply into Meg's eyes.

"I love the idea. But, hasn't Tory turned you down before?"

"Yes. But, things are different now. She has Jenny. I think she wants to make a life with her. I'm sure she wouldn't want to start her new life with her new partner in this house. But, I sure do. Meg, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life doing my very best to make you happy. We can't get married in this state, but if we buy this house that holds so many memories for us, good and bad, then it would be like announcing to the world our commitment to each other."

A tear slid down Meg's face. "I love you so very much, Rachel Vincenti. I want this to be our permanent home, too, forever." The lovers hugged each other tightly. "Now, let me help you figure out what we can afford, then we can give Tory our offer tonight."

Rachel smiled through her tears, "Great!"

* * *

Dinner was spent celebrating Meg's victory and discussing the smallest nuances of the battle. After everyone enjoyed their meal, Tory ordered a bottle of champagne.

"Rachel and Meg, Jenny and I have decided to find a place of our own, where we can raise Etienne and grow old together." The last words were said with a wistful smile. "So, after much discussion, we've decided to ask if you still want to buy the cottage . . ."

"Yes!" Both women burst out. "That's incredible. We were going to ask you tonight if you'd reconsider and sell it to us. We even have an offer all drawn up for you to look at."

"That's great! Let me see what you've got." Tory said, taking the offer and reading it. "That sounds good to me." She said as she handed the offer to Jenny. "I'm glad that you two will continue to live in the cottage. It holds very special memories for me and I'd hate not being able to visit."

"You know that you and Jenny are always welcome, Tor." Rachel said as she placed a loving hand upon her friend's shoulder.

"I know." Tory covered Rachel's large hand with her own.

"I hate to be all sappy, but I'm just so proud of you, Rachel. Facing your demons took a special kind of courage. And, I'm forever grateful to you, Meg, for standing by my baby girl here while she struggled through her therapy. That took true love and devotion. Now, you two have a fighting chance at happiness and I couldn't be more pleased." Tory choked on her last words as tears stung her hazel eyes.

"Aw, Tor, don't cry. I couldn't have done it without you. You've been the only one who has always believed in me and loved me unconditionally. . . until Meg, that is." Rachel gazed lovingly at her partner. "And now you're giving us the opportunity to own the home that we love so much. I can't thank you enough."

"No thanks necessary, baby. You have always been a blessing to me. I don't think I could have survived losing Claire without you." Tory sniffled.

"And now you have a new love in your life. . . Thank you, Jenny, for making my dear friend here happy again. It's about time."

Rachel poured each of her friends a drink and raised her glass. "To new beginnings."

Everyone joined in, "To new beginnings."

The End

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