For disclaimers see part one.

 Specific disclaimer for this part: there is mentioning of sexual assault. Fortunately is was an attempt only, 'though I realize that can be traumatic as well.

The Reef – Part Two
Lois Kay

Jody had just drifted off into a peaceful slumber when the ringing sound of her phone violently interrupted an image of a blue eyed, blond woman, smiling at her, bending her head close to whisper something in her ear.

" O, come on. It can't be morning yet, " she exclaimed frustrated, hiding her head underneath her pillow, to block out the sound. " Have mercy on me !! Please!!"

The phone clearly didn't care, because the ringing relentlessly kept on going.

A green orb peeked up from under the pillow, rapidly blinking a few times when finally realizing she was hearing the phone and not the alarm clock.

" This should better be good, " Jody grunted, still feeling drowsy from sleep.

"Hello, " her voice croaked, hoarse from sleep, and the lack thereof.

" Miss McDonnell. I'm sorry to disturb you in the middle of the night. My name is Carol Wong and I'm with the police-department. I'm afraid there's a situation at 'The Reef".

That statement had the same effect on Jody as a bucket of cold water would have had. She nearly jumped out of bed, all traces of sleep disappeared.

" What kind of a situation ?"

" Um…apparently the manager…William…Jensen… can't be reached, so…"

" What situation ?" Jody repeated, more sharply than intended.

" There's been a fire. A small one and everything in under control, but we would like to speak to someone who is in charge. Quite a few guests are upset, so…"

Jody pushed her disheveled hair away from her forehead and let out a deep sigh.

" I'll be right there. Give me five minutes, " she promised. " Um…Miss Wong, are there…any.."

" Don't worry, " Carol Wong interrupted. " There are no casualties, although the fire brigade did have to pick up someone from the roof."

" Ï'll be over in a few minutes, " Jody promised.

Sam was sitting on one of the wooden benches outside "The Reef", watching her surroundings with keen interest. A few firemen were organizing their equipment, putting everything back in their trucks in neatly arranged order. It had only taken them less than fifteen minutes to put out the fire and give the 'all clear' sign. That was about the same amount of time Sam spent on the roof, before two of the firefighters came up the fire escape to get her off the roof.

Climbing up on the roof from the fifth floor hadn't been that hard. She had used one of the chairs she came across as a sort of a leg up. Standing on one of the armrests of the chair she had been able to reach the roof and simply pulled herself up. The fire-escape , that was on the side of the building , only reached as high as the fifth floor and Sam had found herself trapped. Jumping from the roof down to the iron steps of the fire-escape was no option, since Sam's arms and legs had been shaking both from strain and low blood sugars. So, she had taken a seat on one of the air-conditioning outlets, patiently waiting for someone to help her down.

Sam was amazed at the amount of people that showed up in the middle of the night, attracted by the sensation of a fire and it's possible victims.

" Disaster- tourists, " she thought with disgust. " Just like a flock of vultures."

A handful of policemen were busy keeping the onlookers at a safe distance, making sure nobody would be in the way of the emergency teams that were doing their jobs. Her eyes caught sight of a man who was standing in the front. To Sam he looked very nervous. He seemed to flinch every time one of the policemen was coming close to him, nearly crawling away. Sam was too tired to think anything about it, but she did make a mental note of it, storing the information away for future reference.

Sam was in good shape and very healthy, but climbing up the fourth and the fifth floor had put a lot of strain on her arms and legs and she knew her body would be aching badly the next morning. While climbing down the stairs her legs had started shaking so much, one of the firemen had to help her down. Immediately putting in the care of an ambulance team, but she had refused all help, telling them she was all right, just a bit tired. Which must have been the understatement of the year.

Sam shivered when the night breeze ruffled her hair and cooled her overheated skin. She could feel the throbbing ache in her right leg and knew she had to get up and walk around to keep her muscles warm. With a sigh she got on her feet and carefully stretched her leg, straining the muscles in her calf. She winced when she could feel the cramp and grunted in frustration, quickly dropping back on the bench.

" I don't know what's worse, " she sighed. " Actually climbing up two floors or the after effects of it. I think I'll vote for the latter one."

" Are you all right, lass ?"

An elderly police-officer shot her a worried look and Sam managed to smile at him.

" I'm fine, just a few cramps, that's all."

" Walking on bare feet ,outside, in the middle of the night won't make it better, " he reprimanded, pointing towards her feet.

" I forgot to put my shoes on, " Sam answered, smiling a little sheepish. " I was in a hurry, you know. Didn't want to get fried."

Constable Tierny returned the smile and slowly shook his head.

" How did you get up there anyway ?"

" Lots of gymnastics, a little luck and some help from above, " Sam grinned, enjoying the confused look on his face. " I climbed up, " she explained. " I sort of hopped from one balcony to the other. Much like one of your precious kangaroos."

" You're joking," he cried horrified.

" No, I'm afraid not. "

From the corner of her eye Sam saw a familiar red head approaching. " Just don't tell my friend, please. She'll go bananas. It might be better if I'll tell her myself."

Jody had been talking to Carol Wong, very concerned about the guests 'The Reef" was housing. No one had been hurt, although Jody only believed that when she could see it with her own eyes.

" You mentioned something about somebody on the roof ?" Jody asked the petite, Asian-Australian policewoman, who had been writing down her statement.

Carol Wong nodded, scribbling something on her notepad. Jody patiently waited until she was finished and a pair of dark brown eyes looked up.

" Apparently one of your guests who was staying on the third floor, near the offices. Although there weren't many flames, there still was a lot of smoke and…"

" Wait a second, " Jody interrupted, suddenly very pale. " A guest on the third floor ? Near the offices ? Are you referring to the executive suite ? "

Carol Wong glanced at her notepad and nodded.

" Um…yeah, that's right, the executive suite, are you… ?"

" Is she all right ?" Jody gasped, her heart pounding in her chest. " I mean…."

She paused and cast the policewoman a puzzled look. Letting the information slowly sink in.

" She was on the roof ?"

Her eyes gazed at the building, searching for the third floor and slowly traveling up.

" How ?" was the only word that came into her mind.

Carol Wong had been a member of the police force for nearly a decade and couldn't be surprised much anymore." She climbed the balconies, " she casually informed Jody. " Must have a hell of a physique. She does look good, actually. And being tall certainly does has it advantages." She chuckled. " I should know."

Jody couldn't answer. Her eyes were still glued to the roof and her brain was frantically trying to comprehend what the other woman was telling her.

" Where is she ?" she finally managed to ask.

Carol Wong pointed towards the entrance where a small group of firemen and members of the police force were obviously sharing a joke, because there was a lot of laughter. A few feet behind them Jody could see a familiar form and she was flooded with a sense of relief.

" Do you need to know anything else ?" she asked. " Or am I…"

" I'll let you know if I do, " Carol Wong answered with a smile. " You can go and see for yourself that your guest is still in one piece. Thank you for coming, miss McDonnell."

Jody returned the friendly smile and walked towards the entrance, her eyes never leaving Sam's tall form.

Sam's eyes had been following Jody from the moment she arrived and she braced herself when her old friend finally caught up with her. At first she didn't speak, but Sam could almost feel the green eyes piercing her skin, searching for injuries. Sam waited patiently until Jody finished her precise inspection. Her blue eyes were fastened on the green ones and one eyebrow was raised when she saw the look of concern on the other woman's face.

" Sam, where are your shoes ?" was the only thing Jody could ask, realizing she must sound like a parent and immediately regretting her words.

Sam looked like a little girl who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. A pink flush colored her face and she cast down her eyes, feeling a little insecure of herself, something she hadn't felt in years.

" Um… my room ?" she finally answered, completely missing the twinkle in Jody's eyes.

A chuckle made her look up and much to her relief she saw a radiating smile being sent her way. She grinned back and casually shrugged her shoulders, like a silent apology.

Jody took a seat next to her and Sam could feel her small hand on her knee, softly rubbing the fabric of her sweats. They sat like that for a long time, not talking, but watching the scene around them, reveling in a mutual shared warmth that had been missed for such a long time. Finally Jody sighed, casting a glance at her companion, who was gazing in the distance without seeing much., obviously very tired.

" They told me you've been doing some climbing tonight, " she mentioned, her voice a bit hoarse from emotion.

" Well, ever since I was a kid, they told me I was a monkey, " Sam joked. " Always been better at climbing trees than Tom, and…"

" You could have fallen to your death, Sam."

A pair of gentle blue eyes searched for her green ones and a strong hand covered Jody's, interlacing their fingers. Jody could feel the gaze, but refused to look up, afraid she would break down and cry. The image of Sam slipping off the railing and falling down, firmly planted in her mind.

" I didn't, Jody. I'm still here, in one piece, " Sam softly answered. " Don't dwell on it. Please."

Jody still stared at the ground in front of her, trying to avert those captivating blue eyes, until Sam's other hand cupped her chin and lifted up her face. Completely unaware of her surroundings. Not at all bothered by the few curious stares they were attracting.

" Look at me, Jody."

Jody finally gave in and Sam felt a stab of pain when she saw the unshed tears in her friends eyes. Her thumb softly followed the line of a cheekbone, caressing the silky skin. With a heartfelt sigh Jody leaned into the contact and closed her eyes, desperately wishing that time could be turned back. That very moment she realized the bond they had shared all those years ago was still there. It had never been broken, just faded away. And suddenly the loss of those years and the realization of all the things that could have been hit her with full force and her resistance broke, giving way to tears.

Sam didn't try to stop them. She just wrapped her arm around the silently crying woman and pulled her close, leaning her cheek on top of fragrant reddish blond hair. Trying to put all the comfort in the warmth of her presence and the soft caresses of her hand, still holding the smaller one.

After a long time, the shaking slowly subsided and Sam noticed Jody drying her eyes.

" I'm sorry about that, Sam " she apologized. " I didn't meant to behave like a baby. It's just that…"

" You don't have to apologize, Jody, " Sam interrupted. " I know I pulled off a dangerous stunt, but it was the only thing I could do. The hallway was just full of smoke and I couldn't risk losing my way trying to find the staircase. Breathing in smoke for thirty seconds can really kill a person, and I sure didn't want to wait for it to catch up with me in my room. At least climbing up gave me a chance. And it worked out pretty good."

" I know, " Jody sighed.

 That's not why I was crying, Sam. I might tell you the real reason later. If I'll get the chance. And the courage.

 " That police woman, Carol Wong, told me the fire started in my office. She says it's a mess. There were two computers in there and they are just melted away. That's probably where all the smoke came from."

Sam pondered about that information for a while, unconsciously biting the inside of her lip. Her hand was still holding Jody's, squeezing the smaller digits into her own, without even knowing she was doing so. Jody returned the pressure, a small, wistful smile on her face.

" You know what that means, Jody, " Sam thoughtfully said. " All the information that was stored at the hard disk of your computer has been lost. Damn, " she continued a bit more forceful. " there's no way I can find out what's been going on now. That's real fu….frustrating, " she ended with a sigh, raking her hand through her hair with an impatient gesture.

" Mmmm…," was her companions's only comment and Sam shot her a puzzled look.

Jody looked up into a pair of eyes that were almost turned see through by the scarce illumination of the street lights, a couple of feet away. A smirk crossed her face and Sam looked at it with amazement.

" What are you up to ?" she quickly asked. " What's that smirk for ?"

That 'smirk' turned into a high wattage smile and in spite of the tears a few minutes before, Jody suddenly felt very pleased with herself. And it showed.

" Tell me, you little sneak, " Sam urged, but her smile took the sting out of the words.

" I've got copy's , " Jody answered. " I copied everything and I kept the disks at my apartment."

" You didn't " Sam gasped, but a bright smile was painting her face and she just beamed.

" I did, " Jody confirmed. " Want to see them ?"

" O, Yes, " Sam replied. " I don't think this fire was an accident, you know. Someone must feel some hot breath down his neck and I have the intention to find out who that someone is and why he or she is trying to cover up things. Don't you ?"

" Definitely, " Jody answered, fighting the urgent desire to wrap her arms around Sam, bury her face into her chest and never let go.

Her feelings must have showed, because Sam's features softened and the fingers that were squeezing Jody's just a minute before, started caressing her hand again, slowly traveling up her arm. Their eyes were locked into a wordless gaze, looking deep into each others souls. They didn't need words. Their eyes were saying it all and they both felt strengthened with promises silently shared.

" I'd better go and see if there's a room available, " Sam finally broke the spell. " I need a hot shower and a warm bed."

" Are you nuts ? " Jody strongly replied. " You are not staying here. You're coming with me….and I don't want to hear you object, Sam. I'm serious. "

" I can't impose on you like that, Jo, I…"

" No objection, Sam. Or do you want to argue with me ?"

" What about Jennifer De Wit ? " Sam tried. She knew once Jody made up her mind about something, it was hard to convince her otherwise.

Jody had to think about that question for a few minutes. Her eyes squinted and a crease in her forehead gave away her state of concentration.

" To hell with Jennifer De Wit, " she finally stated with determination. " You're coming home with me. And that's final."

He had been walking for hours, deep in thought, not seeing where his footsteps were leading him. Taking step after step after step, until, at the horizon, the edge of the dark night sky started to change color, announcing the birth of yet another day.

 He didn't notice the beauty of the deep orange sun, peeping up at the skyline, nor the way the changing in light painted the majestic ocean into a huge blanket of happily dancing waves. His vision was darkened. With slumped shoulders, his hands buried deep inside his pockets, he unconsciously followed his own footsteps imprinted in the sand. Even though his soul was lost, his body still knew the way home.

 It was Saturday morning and he still had four days left. Ninety six hours. Maybe the fire bought him more time. He knew his corruption had been discovered. He did manage to delay things for a couple of months, but the arrival of someone from the head office was too much a coincidence. Or was it ?

He had been watching, when the fire brigade arrived at 'The Reef", being one of the anonymous onlookers. He knew there wouldn't be too much damage, because that had not been the intention. The only thing he wanted was to erase his tracks. By destroying the computer and, hopefully, the cabinet files, he should have accomplished at least that.

Seeing the tall, Dutch woman being brought down from the roof had scared him, even made him feel guilty. But a little voice inside his head had quickly reassured him. She was all right. No harm done. Just a little shaken up, maybe, but she would get over it.

 When his assistant-manager had arrived, anxiety had nearly taken him over. He had flinched when he saw her talking to the police woman, wondering if it were him she was talking about. Again the little voice had come to his aid. She might suspect certain things, but she can't prove it. Not now. Not anymore.

 The interaction between his assistant-manager and the woman from the head office had startled him. They clearly knew each other very well. Seeing them together had strengthened his belief that the blond one was sent down to investigate. The fear that brought a tightening to his chest was lifted when he realized he did buy himself some time. He had done good. No one was hurt, but his traces were gone.

 He looked at his watch. Ninety five hours.

Jody closed the door of her apartment behind her and tossed her keys at the coffee table. Her cell phone immediately followed. She walked towards the kitchen, blindly hitting the light switch when she passed it.

" Sit down, Sam, I'll make us a cuppa."

" A 'cuppa' what ?" Sam teasingly asked.

" A ' cuppa' whatever you want, " Jody dryly replied, but Sam could hear the smile in her voice. " Smartass," she softly added.

" I heard that, " Sam's voice suddenly sounded from the kitchen entrance. " And yes, I'd love a cup of tea."

She looked around with appreciative eyes. The apartment was rather small, but was furnished and decorated very tasteful. It had a wooden floor and at the sitting area a large, dark blue rug was spread across it. The couch was made from a very soft looking, light yellow leather and seemed very comfortable. One of the walls was covered with a huge bookcase, stacked to its full limit. Opposite the couch was an entertainment set and Sam could almost picture Jody sitting on that couch, her feet on the table, glass of wine in her hand, watching a good movie and being totally relaxed.

" So, what's the verdict ?" Jody's voice disturbed her musings.

" It's cozy, " Sam smiled. " I like the bookcase. Guess you still read a lot, huh ?"

" Whenever I've got the time, " Jody answered, taking two teacups from one of the kitchen cabinets. " Which isn't too often anymore these days."

" Mmmm, I know what you mean, " Sam replied, while her eyes were scanning the titles. " I see you like a good mystery novel. Aha, Patricia Cornwell, good choice, I like her too."

" Gaining some points there ?" Jody smiled, putting the steaming cups on the coffee table and sitting down.

" Definitely, " Sam grinned, casting a look at her friend. " Not that you needed some, but a little extra credit never did hurt anybody, now, did it ?'

" Sit down and drink your tea, while it's still hot, Miss Quick-witted. I want to take a look at your foot. When you were putting on those sneakers that Brian gave you I saw some blood. You must have grazed it somehow."

" Yeah, I wonder how, " Sam joked, obediently sitting down and taking off the oversized shoes.

" Put ' em up, Spiderwoman."

Jody invitingly patted her lap and gained a raised eyebrow in response.

" Come on, Sam. I want to see where the blood came from, I'm not going to bite."

" My feet are filthy, Jo, " Sam objected, wiggling her toes to prove her point.

" And the problem with that is, what ? " Jody laughed. " You should know better than that, you goof ! Don't you remember the mud fights we had ? Or the way we looked after going out in the bush, when it had been raining ? Your feet look clean in comparison to what they did then. Put ' em up and let me have a look."

With an exaggerated sigh Sam complied, leaning back against the armrest of the couch and putting her feet in Jody's lap, who immediately started her inspection.

" You've got a cut right here, " she declared, tracing the instep of Sam's right foot with her finger. " It's not bleeding anymore, but I think you should clean it."

" It will wash off in the shower, " Sam answered, not bothered at all . " You do have a shower, don't you ?"

Jody didn't answer that question, but merely snorted, sipping her tea, her hand still resting on Sam's foot.

Sam was quiet content to be where she was and didn't want to move an inch. Relaxing on the couch, her feet on Jody's lap, drinking a cup of sweet, hot tea was much more than she would have bargained for, just a few hours earlier.

" I could easily fall asleep like this, God, this feels good."

The hot beverage warmed her insides and she could feel her body starting to relax when a sudden cramp in her right leg almost made her cry out. Her body jerked in response and Sam clenched her teeth, willing the pain to subside.

Jody could feel Sam's body go rigid and she quickly put down her cup, grabbing the long legs with both hands. Her eyes were full of concern when she looked at Sam's pained face.

 " Sam ? What is it ? "

" Cramp, " Sam managed to hiss, silently cursing her damaged leg. " My right…leg…it…"

" Is there anything I can do ?"

" It will go away in a minute, " Sam growled in frustration. " It always does."

Jody decided not to wait for that. She put her hand on Sam's right calve and started to massage the tense muscles she could feel through the fabric of the sweats. Her eyes never left Sam's face, wanting to see every change in the blond's features that could tell her if her actions did have any effect. After a while she could feel the muscles slowly relax, as did Sam's face and her own tension faded away.

" Better ?" she gently asked.

Sam could only nod in response. She bit her lip and Jody saw the tears in her eyes, knowing her friend was trying with all her might, to bite them back.

" That was a bad one, " Sam finally explained, her voice a little hoarse. She knew Jody's gaze had not missed the tears she had been able to blink back. It hadn't been the cramp that had caused them. It had been the feeling of those warm, strong hands selflessly trying to ease the pain. That had evoked a sense of loss she had never experienced before. Knowing it all could have been different, if only….

" I think you should take a hot shower and go to sleep, " Jody's soft voice broke the silence. " It's nearly morning already and you are clearly exhausted. So am I, really. Come on Sam, you think you can stand up ?"

Jody stood up extending her hand in invitation and Sam gratefully accepted it. They shared a smile when Jody opened the door to the bathroom.

 " Towels are on the top shelf of that cabinet, " she explained. " A couple of toothbrushes and toothpaste in the drawer. Use whatever you need. I'll get you a shirt and some shorts Bird has left here. They should fit you, I guess."

" Wow, you're prepared, " Sam reacted in surprise and all of a sudden she felt a little twinge of jealousy.

 " Got unexpected guests more often, huh ?"

It didn't sound as casual as she thought it would and Jody caught on immediately.

 " Well, Lucy and Bird have a habit of dropping by unexpectedly, " she smiled, secretely pleased with Sam's display of insecurity. " They can be really wild sometimes, so at least I'll keep 'em well fed and clean."

 " Oh…smart woman, " Sam grinned sheepishly. " Still the big sister, huh ?"

" I'll always be that, Sam. It's a birthright."

Jody winked and closed the door behind her, leaving Sam in a turmoil of emotions.

" Where did that come from, Stevens ?" Sam scolded at her image in the mirror. " Never taken you for the jealous type."

Never had a reason to be jealous. Never cared for someone enough, I guess, except for one time…about eight years ago…Better not go there. What happened to that famous Dutch matter-of-fact thing ? Left it on the roof, did you ? It must still be up there, next to the leftovers of your good intentions. Ready to be scattered by the wind and blown to the four corners of the earth.

Jody had put up Sam in the guestroom, making sure she was comfortable. After that she took a quick shower herself, checked up on Sam, who was already sound asleep and finally went to bed, while the sky was already changing colors.

Before leaving 'The Reef' that night she had told Brian she would be back on Monday, leaving him in charge and telling him she only wanted to be paged in case of an extreme emergency.

 " Like what ?" he had asked.

 " Like a Tsunami, " Jody had answered, much to Sam's amusement. " Not that I could stop it, but at least I would know I don't have to show up for work on Monday. Okay ?"

Brian had just laughed, appreciating Jody's trust in him. He liked his boss and there wasn't much he wouldn't do for her. He knew she worked hard, too hard sometimes and staying away for the weekend was a very wise thing to do.

 " Okay, boss. I'll see you Monday then. Make sure to catch up on some rest. Go for a bush walk, read a book, relax at the beach…whatever. Just stay away from here."

Sam was the first one to get up. At first she was a little disoriented, but she quickly remembered where she was. She lazily stretched her long frame, pleased to notice that she did have some muscular pain, but the throbbing ache in her right leg had vanished. Thanks to a good night rest.

 She cast a look at her watch and seeing it was a quarter to two she decided to get up and see if she could make some breakfast. She made a much needed stop at the bathroom, after which she padded to the kitchen, in search for, at least, some coffee. She had the dark brown stuff brewing and was just making some toast, when she heard the sound of the doorbell. She hurried to open it, not wanting Jody to wake up yet and stood face to face with Lucy. For a few moments nothing was said, but Lucy got over her initial surprise real quick and with resignation Sam saw the face of the woman opposite her shift into teasing mode.

 " Hey, Luce, " she greeted, afraid of what was undoubtedly coming. " I suppose you're welcome to come in."

Lucy just grinned and stepped past Sam, walking towards the living room. She let herself drop on the couch and looked up, a devilish glint in her eyes.

 " Well…Sam…I must say, I did not expect to see you here. Diner went well last night, huh ? "

" It did, " Sam agreed. " But not as well as you'd like to belief. I did sleep here, yes, but we didn't sleep together. Got it ?"

 " Well, it's a start, " Lucy replied with a smirk. " I guess it's a good start too."

" What is ?" a sleepy voice suddenly sounded when Jody entered the room.

She was walking on bare feet, wearing a dark blue pair of pajamas, her long hair disheveled from sleep, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand and Sam thought she just looked adorable.

 " What is, sis ?" Jody repeated, sitting down next to her sibling.

 " I was just telling Sam that you two must have had a good night last night. You know, with Sam staying over and all…"

" O, God, " Jody groaned in response. " I know what you're hinting at, sis, but I guess Sam already filled you in on it, so let me wake up first, okay. You're having an advantage here."

Lucy just laughed and jumped to her feet.

 " I can smell some coffee, " she grinned. " Let me get you two sleepyheads some caffeine. Trust me, you'll need it."

She disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Sam and Jody staring at each other.

 " You will have to excuse her, Sam, she is hopeless."

Sam shrugged her shoulders and just smiled at the still sleepy woman who was rubbing her face, yawning. Her eyes softened and she couldn't help wondering what it would be like to see Jody like that every morning, for the rest of her life.

 Heaven, she thought, while her heart rate picked up.

Jody must have felt her gaze, because she looked up and their eyes locked, just staring at each other in silent wonder, not being able to look away. It was like some mysterious force drew them together and although they both remained seated, opposite each other, it was like the distance was somehow crossed. Sam was convinced she could feel the warmth of Jody's skin against her own and Jody could have sworn she felt Sam's breath brushing her cheek. It was like the merging of two souls and the magical moment was broken, when Lucy returned with the coffee.

With raised eyebrows she looked from Jody to Sam and back again, seeing them reluctantly breaking eye contact. The tension in the air was almost palpable and uncharacteristically she remained silent. Suspecting something intimate had just taken place.

Despite all the teasing, Lucy loved both her sister and Sam intensely and she would do anything to get them back together again. Even keeping her mouth shut, when needed. Like now.

" So, big sister, " Lucy finally broke the silence. " I somehow have the feeling you forgot all about our diner arrangements."

Jody was just taking a sip from her coffee and she looked up, unpleasantly surprised.

 " What diner arrange…Oh, my God ! " she clasped her hand in front of her mouth and stared at her sister wide eyed.

 " Guessed right then, " Lucy smirked.

" That's real smart of me, " Jody sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. " Lucy and I are supposed to visit friends of ours. They're having a barbecue and…"

 " I'm sure they'd love to meet Sam, " Lucy interrupted. " Why don't we give them a call ?"

" No, I can't, " Sam immediately objected. " Lucy, I'm a total stranger to them, besides, I've got a heap of things to do, so…"

" Can I use your phone, Jo ?" Lucy asked, completely ignoring Sam and already dialing the number.

 Jody glanced at Sam and shrugged her shoulders. She knew her stubborn sister wouldn't listen, she hardly ever did. She also knew Megan and Sarah wouldn't mind Sam to come along, but deep down inside she felt a little tense, knowing her former lover and Sam would be meeting each other sooner than anticipated. It's not that she wanted to hide anything from her Dutch friend, but there were certain things she hadn't told her yet and with Lucy around she probably wouldn't get the chance any time soon.

She avoided Sam's eyes and stared at her feet, frantically trying to come up with a plan to talk to her in private. One thing she knew for sure, she didn't want her sister to be present when telling Sam about certain parts of her past. Lucy knew most of it, but not everything and she wanted to keep it that way.

" Hey Sarah, " Lucy cheerfully greeted her friend. " It's me, Lucy."

The person on the other side must have said something funny, because Lucy chuckled.

" No, I'm not canceling, so don't put those steaks in the freezer. And no we're not late. Just wanted to know if you guys would mind if we brought a friend ?"

" Yep, the same one. How did you guess ?"

" Fire ? What fire ?" Lucy repeated, staring at her sister with an astonished look.

" Of course I read the papers…usually, " she added. " Hold on a sec, Sez."

She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and cast a threatening look at Jody, who was returning the stare with a victorious smile.

" Why didn't you tell me ?" she hissed accusingly.

" Like I got the chance, " Jody replied with a sweet smile. " You come in here and start raving on about all sorts of things. I didn't exactly had the opportunity yet, now, did I ?"

" Sarah, we'll be there at five. …Yep, the three of us….all right, see ya."

She broke the connection and turned to Sam who had been following the conversation with an amused smile on her face.

" You're invited, " Lucy declared.

" Some sort of invitation, " Sam snorted. " You didn't give her a choice, did you ?"

" No, she didn't, " Jody reacted with a heartfelt sigh. " But I do know they won't mind, Sam. They're very nice. I am sure you'll like them."

" Now, tell me about this fire, " Lucy urged. " How come I didn't know ? What happened ?"

" Wow, Samantha Stevens, you are really something, " Lucy breathed after hearing the story about the fire, brought to her in a very in matter-of -fact kind of way. " And I sincerely belief you are deliberately making it sound casual, aren't you. Wait 'til I tell Megan and Sarah about it."

Lucy stared at Sam in awe, trying to picture her climbing up two balconies in order to get to safety. Surprisingly it wasn't that hard. Sam looked strong and had a very athletic build. And besides, Lucy could still remember a few play fights between Sam and Matthew in which her sister's friend had made quite an impression.

 " Luce, can I talk to you for a minute ?"

Jody had jumped to her feet and walked towards her bedroom, not looking back, confident her younger sister would follow her. Lucy did. She cast Sam a puzzled look, but the blond woman just shrugged her shoulders and pulled a face, making Lucy chuckle. When she entered the bedroom, Jody was sitting on the edge of the bed, patting the empty space beside her.

 " Sit down. I need a favor."

 Lucy obediently sat down and looked at her older sister with an expectant look on her face. Jody's hands were resting in her lap and to a stranger she would have seemed relaxed, but Lucy noticed the nervously tightening of her fingers and she covered the fidgeting digits with her hand.

 " What's up ? "

" I hate to ask this of you, " Jody started with a sigh. " I don't want you to feel…excluded, or something, but I haven't told Sam about Megan yet, and…well…"

" You want me to make myself scarce for a while," Lucy concluded, with a touch of humor in her voice. " Come on, Pea, you don't have to sweat over it. I understand, you know. I'm not as thickheaded as I look. God, I'm human after all, " she joked.

 Jody sent her an utterly relieved and thankful look and Lucy affectionately squeezed the hand she was still holding.

 " She means a lot to you, huh ? " she stated. " Always has, hasn't she ?"

Jody could only nod, while she tried to swallow away the lump in her throat.

 " I'm glad," Lucy confessed, brushing away a strand of reddish blond hair. " I know I don't say it very often, but I love you heaps, sis, and I really want to see you happy. I just know you and Sam…well…the two of you should be together. Realizing what dad has done to you just breaks my heart. It's so unfair and I'm still so very pissed off, I could just…never mind. Better not get bloodthirsty here, Sam might think I'm slapping you around. And that's one woman I don't want to wrestle with. She would have me for breakfast."

 " Thanks, Lucy."

Jody gave her sister a kiss on her cheek and jumped to her feet.

 " Yeah, better get going, before we get all mushy, " Lucy agreed with a grin.

 She walked back into the living room and grabbed her purse from the coffee table, noticing Sam was drinking her coffee, looking very relaxed and well rested.

 " I'll see you in a bit, Sam, " Lucy waved. " I have some things to do before we hit the barbecue. I'll be picking you guys up later. See ya."

Before Sam could even ask where she was going the door was closed and a pair of very puzzled eyes traveled from the front door towards Jody, who was just entering the living room.

 " Did the two of you had a fight ?" she asked with concern. She knew Lucy could be a pest sometimes, but usually Jody didn't let her sister get to her. Ignoring her sibling had always been the best way of dealing with a potential conflict.

 Jody sat down and grabbed her coffee. Not that she was interested in the lukewarm beverage, although her mouth had suddenly gone dry. She just needed to hold on to something, afraid she would start fiddling again, thus showing Sam how nervous she was.

 " No, we didn't fight, " she answered. " I…Maybe…I need to tell you something, Sam, before we visit Megan and Sarah."

 She glanced over the rim of her cup and saw Sam raise her eyebrows, slightly leaning forward, not saying a word, but silently inviting Jody to continue. A small smile on her face. Jody took courage from that.

 " Megan and I used to be lovers, " she confessed, her voice a little hoarse.

 Sam didn't look surprised. Her eyes held Jody's and she nodded.

 " It seems you are still good friends, " she concluded. " What happened ?"

The McDonnell family was a very religious one. Although they didn't go to their church meetings every week, David and Joan made sure their children regularly attended bible study classes. Being children, they sometimes tried to get out of it by feigning a headache, a lot of homework or a stomach ache. While Joan sometimes wanted to give in to their excuses, aware of the fact it was hard on her energetic offspring to sit still and concentrate for an hour an a half, David was inexorable. Only when they were really ill, and according to his standards that was only when they were having a fever, they were allowed to stay home.

 Once, when Jody was about thirteen years old, she was having a very bad stomachache, due to having recently started her period. Joan understood, fully aware of that part of being a woman, always suffering from backaches herself. She knew Jody wasn't faking it, because her eldest daughter just wasn't the kind of child to be dishonest. But David told her to go. She wasn't having a fever, now, was she ? Besides, women were created that way and it served a purpose. Didn't God himself told Eve he would increase the pain of her pregnancy and children would be brought forth in birth pangs ? Jody had to attend the bible study. She didn't argue with her father, knowing it would only make him angry. So, she went. Feeling sick to her stomach and vomiting twice on the way to church, nearly passing out when fierce cramps assaulted her body.

 They never talked about that day again, but it did change the young girl. She never stopped believing, but the seed of resentment against the religious pressure of her father was born. And she promised herself, the day she would leave home, she would do it her own way.

 And she did. Ever since Jody left home that day, nearly eight years ago, she never attended another sermon or bible%20study again. The weeks before she left, her father had told her time and time again that people like Sam and herself didn't deserve the love of God. They were wicked and immoral and one day would be sentenced by God.

 Away from the controlling presence of her father, Jody tipped the scales. Trying to forget the pain of losing Sam and her family she jumped into the always exciting nightlife at the Gold coast, hanging out in bars and nightclubs and attracting a lot of new friends, who really enjoyed inciting the inexperienced young woman. They did like to buy her a few drinks, seeing her, at first, getting tipsy and after that quickly getting drunk.

 There were mornings when Jody woke up at the little house at the back of Mrs. Jenkins' place, not knowing how she ended up there. At first it scared her, but thinking about her father brought back all the hurt and anger, until she finally completely lost control. Mrs. Jenkins, who really liked the young woman, had never felt the need to supervise Jody. She completely trusted her and only started to worry when the dark circles around the usually bright green eyes became permanent ones. Jody, knowing her new friend loved her like her own daughter, felt very guilty about her excessive drinking and partying, avoiding her as much as she could. Trapped within a vortex of anger, pain and guilt, that nearly drowned her. Until she met Megan.

It was a Saturday night and Jody had visited a few bars with some of her friends. She had been drinking steadily and by midnight she was already dead drunk, like the rest of the group she was with. Acting silly, being noisy and troubling other visitors, until the manager of the club had enough of it. He threw them all out, telling them not to come back again. That had them all in fits of laughter, until the manager, who was really fed up with them, called the police. Within a few minutes the group had split up and Jody found herself alone with one of her drinking mates, who volunteered to drive her home. Not being able to think straight Jody accepted and got in the car with him. Miraculously they managed to make it to Mrs. Jenkins' place, without causing an accident and injuring or killing themselves or somebody else. With some difficulty Jody managed to open the door and wanted to get out of the car, when she was being pulled back by her companion. In spite of her intoxicated state she fully understood what he was after and suddenly she was panic stricken, fighting him off.

She never remembered how she did it, but eventually she got out of the car. Her dress torn apart, but her body undamaged. Sobbing with relief and still scared out of her wits. Luckily her 'friend', whose name she didn't even know, immediately drove off, leaving a devastated Jody behind.

She managed to cross the garden and reach the front door of her little shelter, but when stepping up the porch her legs gave away and she sank to the floor, hysterically sobbing. The frightening event had somewhat sobered her up and Jody realized, all her life, she had never felt so miserable and lonely.

 The feeling of a hand touching her shoulder nearly made her jump, but an unfamiliar, yet gentle voice tried to reassure her. When she looked up through watery eyes, she saw a dark haired young woman, who she recognized from the pictures on Mrs. Jenkins' mantelpiece.

 " You're Megan, " she slurred.

" That's right and you must be Jody. I don't need to ask you if you' ve been drinking. Good grief, you smell like a distillery. Where are your keys, so I can get you inside ?"

Still shaken up, Jody handed Megan her purse to retrieve the requested item The latter one kept silent while taking out the keys and opening the door. She extended her hand and pulled Jody to her feet, her arm firmly wrapped around a slim waist, to make sure she didn't stumble or crash into the door-post. Inside she sat Jody down on a kitchen chair and, still silent, put on the kettle to make a cup of tea. After that she sat down herself and looked at the woman in front of her.

 " What happened to your dress ?" she finally asked.

 Jody slowly cast down her eyes to inspect the fabric that was torn off her right shoulder, revealing part of her bare chest. With shaking fingers she tried to cover herself, while tears rolled down her cheeks.

 " Did he rape you ?" Megan asked, not knowing how to ask a question like that in a tactful way and choosing the direct approach.

 " No, " Jody whispered, suddenly feeling very sick and very, very stupid.

Megan let out a breath of relief and studied the younger woman, who was still avoiding her eyes, looking mortally embarrassed. Her eyes were puffy and her tear-streaked face was pale, making the freckles on her nose and cheekbones clearly stand out. At that moment she looked much younger than her actual age, twenty-one, and Megan took pity on her, never been able to turn away from a hurting soul.

 " Do you want to talk about it ?" she asked. Her eyes softening when she saw Jody flinch.

 " Are you…are you tell..your mother ?" Jody asked in fear. " I…she's been so good to me, and I…"

Again her body shook with gut wrenching sobs and instinctively Megan knew the only thing she could do to help her mother's young friend, was to let her cry, to release some of the build up tension. So she decided not to interfere and leave Jody be, until she was either ready to talk, or too tired to stay awake. But Jody didn't fall asleep. After a while she calmed down enough to blow her nose and sip from the tea Megan had put in front of her. Without looking up she was aware of a pair of dark brown eyes, studying her with genuine interest.

 " I totally fu…I really messed up, didn't I ?"

 " If 'fucked up' is what you wanted to say, I can only agree, " Megan answered smiling. " While I was traveling across Europe my mom wrote me about you, Jody. Somehow I didn't picture you like this."

 " Cause it's not like me, at all," was the honest answer. Her voice was bitter and full of self-contempt. "Lately it seems I don't know what I'm doing anymore."

 " What are you running away from ?"

 Jody stared at her fingers, fiddling with her dress, tying two torn pieces of fabric into knots, searching her brain for an answer. A quick look across the table showed a gentle face, with a pair of soulful brown eyes, that didn't radiate contempt or disgust but held only kindness.

And finally she gave in, telling Megan everything about her strict and religious upbringing. The joy and love she found when meeting Sam. The heartbreak and suffering when she lost the friend that had become the center of her universe. The way her father had treated her. Her anger about his prejudiced and judgmental attitude and the confusion about the way God created her.

 They talked, or better said, Megan let Jody talk until the sun was rising, warming the earth in abundance. And when she was finally finished, her throat was sore and her head was aching, but for the first time in months Jody felt relaxed. Drained but relieved and very grateful for finding a friend who was willing to acknowledge her pain and help her carry her burden.

" Seems to me she really took good care of you, " Sam smiled. " She must be a precious friend."

" She is, " Jody admitted, the warmth evident in her voice.

Halfway through the story, Sam had traded her seat on the chair for one on the couch, next to Jody and they looked at each other from close distance.

 " You probably never expected me to behave that way, did you ?" Jody asked and Sam could see the insecurity in her eyes. " I was real lost there for a while, Sam, I…"

 " Don't do this, Jody." Sam interrupted. " You don't have to apologize for what you did. You were hurt, lost…and all alone. God knows what I would have done in a situation like that. You came out of it in one piece, and that's all that matters. You're here now, completely sane and sober."

That last remark put a smile on Jody's face and she gratefully grabbed Sam's hand, holding her tight.

 " I didn't really know how to tell you all this, but I should have known you wouldn't judge me. You never did."

 " Well, I'm not the one to talk. You should have seen me when I came back home eight years ago. I was unbearable. With all those fractures and stuff I couldn't go to college for quite a while, so I had to stay home. I just lashed out at everyone around me, especially my family. I couldn't cope with my frustrations for a long time and instead of talking about it, I tried to make everyone as miserable as I was."

 " You ?" Jody whispered in disbelief.

 " Yes, me, " Sam smiled. " I came to my senses one day, when Tom, who had only been trying to help me, finally gave up and started crying. I 'd seen him angry with me, yelling at me, even threatening to beat me up, but actually seeing him break down and cry…well, that was getting my attention all right."

 " I just can't picture you like that, Sam. You always seem so…in control."

" I was hurt too, Jody. I couldn't understand what had happened. Couldn't figure out why you dumped me, because that was how it felt to me, back then. I'd expected our friendship to be stronger. Our bond unbreakable." Sam's voice was soft and melancholic, but lacked any trace of reproach.

 Jody stared at the thumb that was absently stroking the back of her hand and a small wistful smile appeared.

 " Maybe now we have a second chance."

 Their eyes met and again time stood still. They were so close their breath mingled and deep down into those clear blue eyes, Jody could see something she thought she had lost forever.

 " Maybe, " Sam smiled and tantalizing slow their faces were drawn together. Jody held her breath, feeling her heart pounding in her chest, so loud she wondered if Sam could hear it. A warm flow flushed her system and she could feel her body leaning into Sam's. Desperately craving the contact. Her nerve endings almost reaching out to feel the other woman touch her. Her lips slightly parted in anticipation.

 " Jody, " Sam whispered. " I…."

The doorbell rang, the sound making them freeze in mid-motion. Jody cursed under her breath, utterly frustrated and ready to slap around the person who had the nerve to shatter an almost perfect moment. She jumped up and yanked the door open to find herself staring into a pair of sparkling, dark green eyes.

 " Hey, sis, " Lucy greeted. " Got it all out in the open ?"

There weren't many people on the beach, although it was a Saturday afternoon. Scattered around the yellowish sand little flocks of people were relaxing and having a good time. A lifeguard kept a watchful eye, noticing any irregularity in the water, ready to jump up and dive into the ocean in order to give assistance to those who were in need of it.

 Somewhere near some big rocks that were once washed ashore, long before James Cook set foot on the East coast, a solitaire figure was sitting in the sand, staring at the endless supply of waves, crashing at the shore before slowly pulling back. His fingers were clenched around an object that was small enough to be hidden inside the palm of his hand. From time to time he looked at it, a pleading look on his face. Finally it started vibrating and eagerly he brought it to his ear.

 " Hello."

" G'day, Billie Boy. I read the newspaper today and I'm proud of you, mate. Did you come up with that plan all by yourself ?"

William Jensen nodded his head and suddenly noticed how dry his mouth was. He tried to moisten his lips, a little salty after sitting in the same spot for such a long time, and audibly swallowed. Despite the words of the person who was talking to him, the tone of the voice made the hair on his arms stand up.

 " Wha…What do you mean, Joe ? " he stammered. " I erased my tracks like you told me to do."

" Are you sure,genius ?"

" The computer melted, both of them did, they're completely useless. Besides, before burning it I deleted some files, just in case it wouldn't work. There's nothing to be found anymore, Joe."

A throaty chuckle was the response and his stomach contracted. He felt the bile rise and convulsively swallowed it down.

 " Tell me, Einstein, are you sure the girl doesn't have any copies ?"

" I… I…I never…I don't think she has, Joe, " he objected. " She always works on the office, I don't think she took anything home with her."

 " You think, you THINK ? What about making sure, you idiot ?If she's clever enough to see you've been messing with the books, she'll be smart enough to make some copies to secure the evidence. DON'T YOU THINK ?"

" I'll…I'll…see if I can check out her apartment and…"

 " No, you're not. I'll have to clean up after you this time, now, don't I ? You might be recognized and that would cost me a lot of money. You just stay put and wait 'till you hear from me again. You got it ?"

" Yes, Joe, I will, " he almost whispered. " Joe, you 're not going to…? I mean, you will not…hurt her, will you ?"

" Depends on the mood I' m in, you little piece of shit. Stay put."

A soft, buzzing sound told him the connection had been broken and nervously biting his fingernails he stared at the ocean. Wondering if walking into those soft looking waves and letting himself be swallowed up by them, would hurt. He slowly shook his head. No, there was still a chance to solve all of this. He did have some time left.

" God, you took your time, " Lucy welcomed Sam, who had been to 'The Reef' to get some clothes and other belongings.

 " I had to convince an inspector from the fire department I simply couldn't go to diner dressed in sweats and a t-shirt."

" Was he investigating the place ?" Lucy asked, closing the door and following Sam into the living room.

 " Yeah, he was."

 " And, did he find out anything yet ? Come on, Sam, you can tell me."

Sam dropped her bag on the floor and shrugged her shoulders.

 " He only told me it wasn't an accident, but I already knew that. I'd like to know who did it and how and why. You should see the place, Luce, it's a mess. There was even soot in my room. The sheets of the bed turned from crispy white to gray and you could use the door to draw charcoal pictures."

" That bad, huh ?"

 Sam nodded and stared out of the window, still very impressed by the way the place had looked. She had never seen the after effects of a fire before and was unpleasantly surprised by it. Thinking what could have happened if she had been fast asleep at the time, made a chill run up her spine. She could easily have died from smoke inhalation. Sam shivered, suddenly feeling cold and when she turned around she was startled when all of a sudden two pair of green eyes were looking at her intently.

 " Are you all right, Sam ? " Jody asked. " You look a little pale."

" That's just my Dutch trademark, " Sam joked, winking at Lucy, who chuckled in response. " Too much sun doesn't agree with me."

" I dare to disagree, " Lucy responded with a wink. " I can still remember what a tanned Sam looked like and believe me, you looked…." She cast a quick look on Jody, hiding a grin. "….absolutely hot !"

 Jody ignored that last remark and walked over to Sam, touching her back with the flat of her hand, making slow, circular movements.

 " You okay ?" she repeated, feeling the muscular back relax underneath her touch.

 Sam smiled at her warmly, igniting little sparks in her eyes and a blazing fire in Jody's chest, nearly making her gasp. For a few moments they stayed like that, until Jody pulled away her hand and managed a weak smile.

 " I'll have a shower and get dressed. " she sighed.

 " Don't use up all the water, " Sam playfully whispered. " I hate cold showers."

 Jody knew exactly what she was referring to and she could feel a warm blush creeping up her neck, quickly covering her cheeks. Still she wasn't able to avert her eyes from those enchanting blue ones.

" You're bad, " she mouthed, turning around and starting to walk away. A strong hand on her shoulder made her stop.

 " Can I have a quick look at those files ?" Sam asked. " It might be worth the trouble to send them to Tom."

Jody looked a little confused.

 " Um…I don't have a computer here, Sam, so I…"

" That's all right, " Sam interrupted.

" So how are you going to have a look ?" Lucy snorted. " Hold them up against the light ?"

" Nope. I'll use my computer."

Two pair of eyes simultaneously traveled towards the bag on the floor.

 " You've got a computer in there ?" Lucy asked.

 " Nope. I have a laptop and it's in my backpack."

With a shocked look on her face Jody looked up at Sam.

 " You have a laptop in your backpack ? The one you were climbing up the balconies with last night ? "

" What do you think ? Tom would skin me alive if I'd ruined the damn thing. It's company property and it did cost him a fortune, you know. Took me forever to talk him into getting me one."

 Her infectious laugh brought a smile on Jody's face and shaking her head she walked towards her bedroom.

 " An attitude like that deserves a few disks, don't you think ?"

" Megan, would you please sit down!! You're making me seasick."

With a resigned look on her face, an auburn haired woman patiently watched her lover walk back and forth the spacious kitchen.

 " You' ll wear out the floor, " Sarah added with a wry smile, watching the other woman slump into a chair.

 " Aren't you the funny one, " Megan grunted, pushing her dark hair out of her eyes.

 " Honey, what are you so nervous about ? Is it Sam ? From what Lucy told us the other day, she does seem nice enough. Or are you in protection mode ?"

 " What do you mean ?" A pair of dark eyes looked at her and Sarah noticed the tension in it.

 " You've always been very protective when it comes to Jody. Is it bothering you she and Sam are…well, what are they anyway…friends again ?"

 " Maybe, " Megan answered in all honesty. " I care about her, Sarah. I don't want to see her get hurt again.I seriously don't think she could cope with that a second time."

With a loving look Sarah studied the woman she had vowed to share the rest of her life with. Her Megan, always protecting the needy ones, never turning her back when she knew someone needed help. She was a very caring soul, but people sometimes were mistaken by her gentleness. She was very strong willed and could be as stubborn as a mule. She fought for what she believed in with a passion that was impressive, sometimes surprising friend and foe.

" What ? " the subject of her thoughts asked, noticing the pensive look on Sarah's face.

 " I love you, " Sarah simply answered, her grey eyes reflecting her emotions.

 Megan could feel the tension leave her body and she stood up to wrap her arms around the slightly smaller woman.

 " I know, " she whispered, burying her face into Sarah's neck, breathing in her scent and a touch of Truth. " You are my anchor, you know that ? You keep me sane. I love you too."

Her lips caressed the soft skin of her neck, slowly finding their way to her pulse point, up to her chin and finally resting on an equally soft pair of lips, slightly parting them to taste the inside of her mouth.

 " Megan," Sarah breathed, softly groaning and quickly losing all control. " Megan…if…you…keep…this up, we'll have…to send…away…our…guests "

 Her body had a mind of it's own, pressing herself up against Megan's, moaning when she felt a pair soft mounds, hidden underneath a thin layer of fabric, connecting with her own.

 " How much time have we got ?" Megan whispered, her voice husky with desire.

 " None, " Sarah managed to answer, feeling her knees almost give out when a moist tongue traveled down to her cleavage, playfully dipping in between her breasts and returning back up again, while a pair of insistent hands started kneading the firm flesh of her behind, slowly pulling up her dress. She needed all her self control to push Megan away and watched her with evident desire.

 " We have to stop this, honey," she urged, slightly out of breath and willing her body to listen to her mind. " And I mean right now. If Lucy catches us like this, we'll never hear the end of it. And you know it."

Megan blew out a breath and rubbed the flushed skin of her face.

 " You're right, '" she reluctantly admitted. " God, what a bummer !! Make sure you hold that thought, though," she added with a leer. " It was a perfectly good one."

 Sarah swallowed hard, quickly stepping back when Megan reached out a hand.

 " I won't do anything, " Megan chuckled. " It's just that one of those tiny little buttons is undone and I can look right into a place I can't wait to get my hands on."

Sarah immediately looked down, noticing she was showing more cleavage than intended and she quickly fastened the button.

 " You're incorrigible."

" Nah, just not satisfied, " Megan purred, waggling her eyebrows. " Yet."

Lucy drove her air conditioned car off the main road, entering a dirt track, full of dust and put holes. Concentrating on the road, she had no eyes for the beauty that surrounded them. The huge trees that were lined up alongside the track provided much needed shade, slowly moving their crown in the always present ocean breeze.

They were leaving the ocean behind them, climbing up the hill that would lead them to their destination. A barking dog followed the car for about half a kilometer, but eventually gave up, panting. His tongue dripping wet and his chest heaving.

 " Too hot for that, Fifi, " Lucy scolded at him. " Pay attention Sam, it's just around the corner. You'll love their place. It's beautiful ."

 This time Lucy hadn't exaggerated. When they rounded the corner, Sam caught sight of a huge clearing, surrounded by trees and shrub, providing the place with excellent privacy. The house was nearly on top of the hill and was build up from grey river rocks, making it blend in with it's surroundings. It looked sturdy and very cozy with the wooden verandah that was wrapped around the house and Sam liked it already.

 " Look behind you, Sam, " Jody advised.

 Sam turned around and the view was breathtaking. In the distance she could see the ocean, a massive patch of blue, clearly standing out between all the shades of green. They could overlook the treetops, that hid the valley below, not seeing the highway or the crowded tourist centre. The only thing in sight was a part of glorious creation.

 " It's magnificent, " she breathed. " What a place to live !"

 " Well, here are the owners, " Lucy chuckled, seeing her friends coming through the kitchen door. She waved at them and parked the car in the shadow of a big tree. " They're lovely, " she added, winking at Sam before leaving the car.

 " Hey, girls," she greeted, before disappearing into a double-hug.

Sam looked at the scene with a smile on her face, that deepened when the dark haired woman walked towards her, her hand extended. Sam took it and was pleasantly surprised by the firm grip.

 " You must be Sam, " Megan smiled.

 Sam noticed the warmth of her smile and returned it immediately.

 " It's nice to meet you, Megan, " she said.

 " What makes you so sure I'm not Sarah ?" Megan teased.

 " Jody told me a lot about you. I recognize you from her stories, " Sam answered in sober earnest.

 " Just try to ignore her, Sam, " an auburn haired woman interrupted, shaking her hand. " God knows I do. Thank you for coming along, the more, the merrier."

" I should thank you for inviting me, but I'm afraid that was not the case, " Sam deadpanned, a twinkle in her eyes. " So, maybe I should thank you for patiently indulging Lucy's whims."

They all started laughing but Lucy just shrugged her shoulders, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

 " What can I say ? It was just another brilliant idea, " she smirked.

While Sarah and Lucy were starting the barbecue, Megan and Jody gave Sam a tour around the house. The latter one was very impressed. Being made out of rocks the house was pleasantly cool inside. Sturdy looking furniture radiated a natural look and nicely colored rugs and accessories added a sense of warmth.

 Sam observed the interaction between Jody and Megan and if Jody hadn't told her about their shared past, she never would have suspected them to be former lovers. Their fondness of each other was obvious.And the way they acted around each other was very comfortable and amicable. They clearly were the best of friends.

 Jody hid a smile when she saw the pensive look in her Dutch friend's eyes, knowing her busy brain was processing all the impressions and information her eyes were sending to that mass of grey cells. Sam caught her looking and a smile lit up her face. Without thought she stretched out her hand, gently caressing Jody's cheek. For a brief moment Megan was forgotten and the dark haired woman cast down her eyes, realizing she had been anxious for no reason. It was clear to see that Sam cared deeply for Jody. She only had to look at the taller woman's face. The softening of her features, the way her eyes turned into glowing pieces of crystal, radiating tenderness, every time she looked at her friend.

 Jody returned the smile, aware of Megan, who was patiently waiting for them. She took the hand that had cupped her cheek and let their fingers entwine, her eyes never leaving Sam's.

 " Let's follow the guide, " she smiled, squeezing the larger hand she was holding, feeling the fingers tighten. Their eyes broke contact, but their hands were still holding on when they continued their tour.

" Megan, Sarah, I'm stuffed, " Lucy sighed, shamelessly unbuttoning the top button of her jeans. " This must have been the best BBQ I have ever had. Those kebabs with that peanut sauce were just…devine."

 She was sprawled in her chair, her legs crossed at her ankles, looking totally relaxed.

 Sarah shot a look at the younger woman and shook her head in disbelief.

 " I still can't believe you ate all that."

" And more, " Jody added, remembering all the salad, fruit and bread her sister had managed to eat.

 " Can't help it, " Lucy yawned. " At least I don't have to worry about what I'm eating."

Jody decided not to react to that statement, knowing full well her sister was only trying to wind her up. She didn't take the bait, just smiled at her sweetly, not missing the little lights in those dark green eyes.

 The evening had been very pleasant. Jody had expected Sam to get along with Sarah and Megan, but they seem to really like each other a lot, having animated discussions about traveling through Europe, something both Megan and Sarah had been doing, comparing experiences and sharing anecdotes. Sam had turned out to be quite the storyteller. She often emphasized her words using both hands and her face constantly changed expression. She regularly had them all doubled over in laughter.

Jody thoroughly enjoyed herself just watching Sam. And every time their eyes met, she felt her heart skip a beat and a fluttering in her stomach.

 It's really happening. She mused, while Megan was relating a story involving an old Greek farmer, a donkey, a lack of water and a roadmap that didn't make sense. I'm here with Sam. We're here, after all those years and we're still friends, good friends. And again I am falling in love with her. I don't think I ever stopped loving her. Maybe that's why it didn't work out with Megan, my heart simply couldn't forget Sam. Is that what it feels like having a soul mate ? Not being able to fully give yourself to anybody else, even if you're not together anymore ? Is Sam my soul mate ? Am I her other half ? If so, does that mean we can't be whole without each other ? Do I need her ? Can I live without her ? No, I can't. Or won't ?

Jody felt a pair of eyes resting on her face and let her gaze slowly travel to the source. Sam's eyes were pensive, but lightened up when their eyes met, a wistful smile on her face. An eyebrow was raised and Jody understood the unspoken question. Hardly noticeable she shook her head, returning the smile.

 No, I can't.

Her musings were interrupted when the sound of a ringing cell phone rang through the warm evening air. Lucy got up, clearly not in any hurry at all and strolled towards the kitchen where she had left the noisy machine.

 " Take your time, sis, " Jody sneered. " Don't want you to get tired."

 Lucy didn't answer, just stuck out her tongue before entering the house.

 Sam grinned and thought life was never dull when Lucy McDonnell was around. She was so totally different from her sister it still amazed her sometimes. She loved Lucy and thought the younger woman was fun to be around with, but she was glad Jody was the more softhearted and gentle one. If Jody was right about her youngest sister, Fiona, taking after Lucy that much, she pitied their mother.

 Lucy had only been in the house for a few minutes and when she came outside again Jody wanted to comment on that, but swallowed her remark when she saw her face. All color had been drained from her face, causing her dark eyes to stand out. It wasn't the contrast of colors that worried Jody, it was the emptiness in her eyes, giving her a haunted look.

 Jody felt her mouth go dry, realizing something must be terribly wrong. She swallowed hard and moistened her lips.

 " Lucy, what's wrong ?" she asked with a whisper.

 Lucy looked up at her sister, trying to come up with the words to tell her what had happened. There was no easy way.

 " Dad just had a heart attack."

Continued in part 3

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