Disclaimer One: There isn't one. These characters belong to me. So, don't steal them or use them without permission, please.

Disclaimer Two: Mush alert, but it is Valentine's Day, so I'm allowed. Subtext. Nope, it's maintext.

Dedications: To Camille upon celebration of our second Valentine's together. I know there will be many more. To God up above, thanks for continually blessing me. To all the crazy Kids at Minervasplace, thanks for making me laugh so hard. Monkey Butt. LOL

On with the show.



Copyright © January 2001


Chapter I

Anne. It's short. It's a four-letter word, but it could never be a bad one. The name means nothing to you. Does it? To me, it means everything. A month ago with bags in hand, everything walked out of my life. She met the frigid January Indiana weather head on. Simply, because it was warmer outside than in our own house.

Joni Mitchell didn't lie. She never does. You don't know whatchu got till it's gone. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know. Know what I mean? I miss her so much, and it gets worse every day. I miss her hair. The short strands of blonde looked like sunshine, smelled like it, and felt like silk. I miss her smile and how it crinkled up her nose and made little lines fan out of the corners of her eyes. She never liked when I told her about the little lines. Anne called them character grooves.

I miss that sexy smirk that only she could pull off. Only one side of her mouth would go up, and those eyes. God, the deepest green I had ever seen, would sparkle with some other worldly fire. That fire was for me and me only, but that's gone too. I miss those little mewing, kitten-like noises she made when she got up in the morning, when she stretched, or when she came. I miss seeing her in a pair of jeans. I loved the way they would taper to her legs, making them seem impossibly stronger, and the way they hugged her behind. I swear every time she walked it winked at me.

I miss the little notes in the lunch she used to fix me. The ones that said "I love you, or Hurry home." The smile they put on my face made them famous in the teacher's lounge. I'd become known as Coach Cuddles behind my back ofcourse. Good thing it didn't rub off on my girls. That would have meant extra line and lay up drills for them. All in all, I, Leah, just miss Anne. Yeah, that's me Leah Moore or you can just call me Coach Moore. Everybody does. Anne used to call me her boo bear. Don't laugh because I loved it.

The pain hasn't gone away, despite of what our friends said. Yeah, I still think of them as our friends because if I hadn't been with her, I wouldn't have any. As it is, I've isolated myself from almost all of them. All there is –is work now. I drive my girls to be the best girl's basketball team in the state. Then, after that, I go home to an empty life. At least the crying stopped. I must say that surprised me.

Not that it stopped but that it started in the first place. I didn't cry over anything even as a kid when I watched them lower my mom's coffin in the ground. I didn't cry when the kids at the state run home laughed at me and tried to beat the shit out of me. I didn't cry when foster father after foster father pawed at me like a piece of meat and when my foster mothers yelled at me like it was my fault. Through all the shit, I didn't cry. It all went somewhere inside, deep, and I'm paying for it now. God, am I paying for it.

Here's the rub. I love Anne, and I even told her so. But, you can't say those words and do nothing to back them up. Even when I touched her body, made her scream my name, I held back. She knew this, and now I know this because when she yelled it, I could see the truth in her eyes. I told her that I loved her and revealed nothing of myself. I told her I loved her and refused to let her inside. It wasn't a conscious thing, mind you. I guess it was just what I was used to. I didn't even know it was happening until she told me so.

Now, that I know all of this, there hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't thought about it. You might think or say that if she really loved me, she would have been patient. She was every day for the thirteen months we were together. There's got to be a limit to how much a woman can take. She reached hers. I won't share the gory details of that day just know that she left me.

The truth of the matter is that the more I think about it the more I realize that I want her back. I know, I know. I have to work on me, right? Well, I did, and I am. When I said that I had isolated myself from our friends, there is one, Tim that I allowed in. Why him? I don't know really, but I think it's because he reminds me of this one little boy who hung around with me at the home. He didn't talk much, but when he did, he left you thinking. Tim's a lot like that with the curly red hair and freckle face to boot, except he talks. . .a lot.

He pops up at the school around lunchtime sometimes. I think everyone thinks we're together or they may even think he was the one who packed the notes. I have to snort at that. I've never been with a man, but then again they don't know that. We would make an odd couple because he's a short, pasty very white, white guy, and I'm tall as hell, with dark skin due to the sun and ancestry.

Where his hair is red, mine is very dark almost black really and hangs down my back. I usually wear it in a ponytail at work. The hair and the skin are gifts from my mother. The silver-blue eyes are from the father I never knew. I don't want to get into that. I can't tell you about someone I don't know.

Anyways, Tim has been my sounding board as of late along with the big blue Teddy bear Anne left behind. She said it was the same color as my eyes. I guess that's where the nickname comes in. When Anne left, she took that wall I had around myself with her. I didn't know pain till then, and Oh, God it hurts so much. I have this huge gaping hole inside. It throbs. It bleeds. It's always been there, but now, it's bigger. Anne was the only one that came close to filling it. She could have, if I had let her.

Two days after she left, Tim came over and I gushed all over him like some pent up geyser. The minute she walked out it was like I could see what she saw including the pain I caused her, the anguish, and I had to tell somebody. Does that make sense? He held me in his thin arms, and I cried like a baby. I'm not ashamed to say it. Since Anne left I can't breathe, not properly anyway, and I won't again until she's back in my life.

I'm sure you would like to know something about her. I've been going on about myself for so long. I told you what she looks like. Beautiful, extremely so. Anne still lives in the city near the school, as far as I know. I've only seen her once since the break up. I wanted to give her space. She runs a little coffee shop near the IU campus. It's pretty popular with the kids too. It's called The Quill. I know it sounds like a bookstore, but it's not. The bookstore is next to it, and it's called. . .well, The Book Store.

She's a lot shorter than I am. Vertically challenged, as she likes to call it. Everything about her is tiny including her hands and feet, but her personality is as big as all outdoors. She talks with her eyes, and sometimes with her hands.

The kids love her too, and I hope one of them isn't trying to love her right now. I'd have to kill him or her. This may sound a little arrogant, but I would like to think that she hasn't gotten over me that quickly. Anyways, that's something else altogether. She's extremely smart, funny, fierce, loyal, and when she smiles it brightens up the whole room. People gravitate toward her. I did. We met when I was interviewing for a coaching spot on the IU girl's b-ball team. After the interview, I found her little slice of heaven.

I was dressed to the nine's in what I guess was a nice little skirt number. Dresses aren't my thing. I'm more at home in sweats and a pair of Reeboks. Anne picked that up right off. It must have been the way I kept fidgeting and fingering my pantyhose. She was cleaning off a table, but I noticed her right when I walked in. She had on jeans. Next thing I know, she was staring at me strangely. I finally sat my latte down with a thud and asked angrily, "What?!"

Anne did the one thing I didn't expect. She laughed. I must have had a weird look on my face because she glanced at me and laughed harder. Before I knew it, she was next to me with her hand on my shoulder almost doubled over with laughter. I wanted to throw the latte in her face, but it was hot. And, she was cute. After a minute, she sobered and murmured in a thick voice. "You know, if you didn't look like you do. I ‘d say you're about as comfortable as a boy in a dress. You're acting like you're wearing chain mail."

I tried to glare at her but ended up grinning. "Aren't I?"

She howled, and I ended up staying despite the rush of students until she finally closed up shop. The rest is . . .yadda, yadda, yadda. I didn't get the job. I still work at the high school, but I got the girl for a little while.

I'm sad to say that I don't know much about her personal background except that her parent's kicked her out when she came out to them. Now, I wish that I knew more, but the simple fact is, I never asked. This time, I want to know everything that she's willing to tell.

All in all, I sorta have a plan. Valentine's Day is two days away and that's when my plan goes into action. I have to show her that I've changed, and the only way I can do that is through both actions and words. It's time for her to see a side of me that I never showed her—the side she longed to see-- the Leah that's been hiding, and the Leah that loves her deeply.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but I'm going to her shop. Hopefully, we'll end up doing what we did that first day we met, talking. We talked about nothing big that day, but in two days I hope to be able to talk to her about everything and nothing. I hope to be able to finally listen. I know nothing's gonna be fixed in one day, but it'll be a start.

I'm sitting here in what used to be our apartment. You'd think it would seem larger, but it's not. It feels so much smaller without her larger than life presence. I lean back into the comfortable cushions of the black couch and listen as the re-run of Hunter that I started to watch goes off. I don't care though.

Even, the orange soda sitting on the table has gone untouched. I did sip at the Hinkley Scmidt spring water though out of habit. I love my soda, but Anne wouldn't let me drink one until I had water first. It was just another way she took care of me.

I turn to my blue confidant. "Do you think it's gonna work?" There was silence. "I guess I'll just have to wait and see."

Chapter II
It's a little over sixteen hours until I put my little plan into action. Tim has kidnapped me for lunch. We are at this little Chinese place, called Ting Po's that sells the best General Tso's chicken that I have had in a long time. They have little booths outside to eat during the summer, but with the now melting snow on the ground, I can assure you that summer is a ways off. We're eating inside by the windows, and I watch stealthily as Tim tries to sneak a piece of the succulent chicken off my plate for the last time. I trap his fork in between my chopsticks.

He chuckles and pulls his utensil away. "I always knew you were dangerous. Your eyes are spaced too far apart. Makes you look shifty."

I look at him strangely and reply. "Have I ever told you that you say the strangest things sometimes? Shifty? Come on, Tim!"

The expression on his face is one of incredulity, making him look unbelievably boyish. "What? What did I say?"

I take a sip of my orange soda. Yesss, I already drank the water. It's time for us to talk seriously. "Look, all jokes aside." I pick up a napkin and swipe my lips with it. I need time to gather myself. I look him square in the eye. "I never knew that I could find a friend like you.. I mean, I put you through some heinous shit. It can't be fun sitting with me while I cry or getting phone calls at two in the morning." I reach across the table to grab his hand and squeeze. "I love you, man, and thank you." I do nothing to hide the emotion in my voice. I'm done hiding whether it was intentional or not. I'm done.

He blinks at me several times before clearing his throat. "You really have changed haven't you?"

I give him a small smile and nod.

He pats my hand. "Just open up to her like you've been doing with me, and you'll be fine."

"You think so?"

"I don't know for sure, Leah, but it's worth finding out don't you think?"


He sits down his fork and glances up at me with twinkling brown eyes. "You know, I dropped by there the other day. Was dying for a cappuccino."

I open up mouth to ask the inevitable, and he stops me with a twitching finger. "Ah, ah, ah, let me finish. She asked about you. Wanted to know how you were. I told her that you were coming along nicely. I never pulled any punches with either of you. You know that. I told her how much I think you've changed. I even told her that I always saw that tension around you. You always looked like you were ready to run, Coach. I told her that—that wasn't you anymore."

Hope and fear makes my heart speed up to double time. "What did she say?"

Tim shook his head. "It wasn't what she said, Leah. It was the way she looked. She misses you. Even through all the shit, she misses you, and she wanted to believe me. I could see it in her eyes."

I hold my breath for a moment, hoping to slow the excitement bubbling up inside, down. I don't want to get my hopes up, but I can't really help myself. A smile flutters to my lips.

Tim chuckles again. "One more thing. I love you too. . . man." He says with a sickening smirk on his face. Before I know it, we are standing up and hugging with hands clapping on backs and everything.

I sit back down and end up stopping mid-way when I see who walks through the door. Anne. This place is as famous around her for its Mongolian Pork, which happens to be one of Anne's favorites, as its General Tso's. Tim notices the surprise on my face. "What?"

I point toward the cash register with my eyes and chin. "Oh." He doesn't seem too surprised. I wonder. Like out of some dream all in slow motion, I watch her walk over to our table. Whatever breath that is still in my lungs rushes out. She's as beautiful as ever. Her cheeks and nose are red from the cold, but those eyes are still the way I remember them, deep and luminous.

I continue to observe as she yanks off her gloves and unzips her jacket. By the time it's all the way down, she's standing at our table, and I suddenly don't know what to do. I look away down at my hands as if they could provide inspiration, but I feel those eyes on me. I can feel the heat off her body and smell her perfume. She still wears Cool Water. It makes my mouth water. Wearing a minimum amount of make up like she always did, she looks flawless. For what seems like forever we all wallow in silence. Anne is the first to break it.

"Hey Tim. How are you? Haven't seen you in what—two days?" I could hear the smirk in her voice, and I'm dying to see it. I glance up quickly only to find her gaze on me. Vestiges of the smirk are still there. I've never felt so helpless or unsure in my life. Oh yeah, I HAVE changed. My eyes skitter back to my hands.

From under my lashes, I see Tim look at me quizzically. He clears his throat. "Um, yeah. Same old, same old. You know me. Decided to take my favorite girl out to lunch today is all." I look up in shocked surprise and watch as he stands up. "Why don't I let you two play catch up. I gotta go to the little boys room anyway." Then, just like that, he's gone.

Now, we're sitting in silence. Where is all that courage? Where is my big plan? I need to get a hold of myself here. I need to talk to her. I lift my eyes slowly to see her chin leaning in her hand and her eyes riveted on me. Suddenly I feel sweat dripping down the back of my Nike sweatshirt. Her eyes are full of questions, concern, and curiosity. The latter makes my heart skip a beat.

"Hi." Her voice is hesitant but clear.

The old me would probably put forth some kind of false bravado, but I'm not that person anymore. I allow her to see everything in my eyes: the pain, the misery, the sadness, and the apology. I hear her gasp, but she doesn't tear her eyes away. "Hey yourself," I reply thickly over the enormous frog in my throat.

Anne reaches out like she was about to touch me then draws back at the last second. I let my disappointment show in a sad smile. I see her throat bob on a swallow. I'm throwing her. I know I am. She expects cockiness. "How are you?" She whispers, and I can hear her clearly over the ringing phone and foreign languages being spoken.

"Shitty. How about you?"

She tears her eyes away and mumbles. "The same. . .I guess." She pauses and starts to pull on her earlobe. That's always been a sign of contemplation. "You look good."

"Don't let that fool you, but so do you. How's the shop?"

She nodded and smiled softly. "It's doing great. How's the team?"

I hate this idle chitchat. I hate it. I need to talk in a way that she understands. She appreciates the blunt truth. "They need work. I miss you."

She sucks in a breath, and her hand falls away as she looks at me with pleading eyes. "You miss me too. Don't you?"


I shake my head in disgust. "How did you put up with me all those months, Annie? When I look back on it now, you probably should have been running away screaming."

Green eyes were wide with shock.

I nod somberly. "Yeah, I realized how I treated you. It's part of the reason why I feel so shitty."

"Um, what's the other reason?"

"You're not with me." I answer her honestly and with an unwavering gaze. I know I've said too much because she pulls back and sits up.

"Leah, I—"

I wave my hand to stop her. "No, no I meant it. I just probably shouldn't have said it."

"So, you and Tim have gotten close, huh?"

I give her the reprieve that she's asking for. For now anyway.

I lean forward with my elbows on the table. "Yeah, he's helped me a lot. I don't know what I would have done."

Uncertainty shows in her face. "My leaving hurt you that bad?"

I bite my lip and release it slowly. "Hurt enough to make me feel again. I-I've changed, Annie, and I'm sorry it took all that pain for me to do it." I hope she can hear the sincerity in my voice, see it in my eyes.

"Me too," she murmurs. I left Boo to keep you company." Anne smiles sheepishly.

"He was a big help. I bet he could tell you all my secrets."

Her smile falls. "Why didn't you?" I can hear the pain in her voice.

"It's a long story. One I would like to tell you when you're ready?" I ask hopefully.

Her lips purse and the skin between her eyebrows pinches with the face she's making. "What are you asking?"

I decide not to answer right away. "You know, the first day you left. I wanted to comb the city looking for you. Tim said you needed space, but I was trying to think of ways to make you come back to me. Still, I left you a long time ago didn't I?"

Green eyes darkened with profound sadness. "Yes, but I thought I could. . . Her voice trails off.

"All I'm asking is to talk. I'm asking to let both of us talk and listen like we should have a long time ago. Where we go from there is up in the air, I know."

Whatever Anne was about to say is interrupted by the waiter handing her the take out order. She sits the plastic bag on the table and runs a hand through her hair. It's shaking just like I am on the inside. Our gazes meet and hold for what seems like hours.

The longer it holds the deeper I look. Somewhere under all that pain, I see the fire that's meant only for me, and I show her the fire that should have been there in the first place. The air crackles and thickens between us. I can almost smell its charge. This time she reaches out and doesn't pull back until our fingertips touch somewhere in the middle of the table. "I can do that." Her voice is soft. Her face is flushed and full of the things that she isn't ready to say. She gets up slowly, getting ready to leave.

"Anne?" Will tomorrow be too soon? I have to try. "Um, do you mind if I come by the shop tomorrow."

She hesitates. "Valentine's Day?" I watch in fascination as a slow smirk forms. God, I've missed that. "You're not gonna bring me those nasty chocolates that you got me last year are you?"

I find myself chuckling at her off the wall questions. "No, no I know better now. Only Reese's peanut butter cups for you." She winks at me as she backs away from the table. "Good. Maybe I'll have a soda waiting on you when you get there." Without another word, Anne turns and is out the door. I continue to observe as she walks out. She has on jeans. It's winking at me, and I can't help but smile.

A few minutes later, Tim comes back and sits down with a soft grunt. "You know, if you ate more ruffage you wouldn't have to stay in there so long." He balls up a napkin and throws it at me.

"Now, look at who's saying the weird things. You seem chipper. I guess you liked my early Valentine's Day present? She obviously wanted to come and see you. Why else drive way across town? The Mongolian Pork ain't got nothing on you, my friend."

I flutter my eyes at him. "You say the sweetest things. Why hasn't some woman snagged you up yet?"

Tim shrugs, "Don't know, but I'm definitely snag material." He brushes off his sleeve. "So come on! What happened?"

I bite my lip to keep the smile being too big, but I know my eyes must be snapping with excitement. "She misses me, Tim" Unexpected emotion clogs my throat for a second, but I don't hide it. "I, um, we're gonna talk tomorrow." My eyes widen as he squeals like an old woman. For the second time today, we're hugging each other.

Chapter III
I know you can guess that I didn't get any sleep last night. I went over and over yesterday in my head. She must have seen something. Anne must have sensed the change in me, otherwise she would have never agreed to see me. Running into her, yesterday was the most fortunate thing to happen, and I thanked Tim profusely.

My plan was flawed you see. Thank goodness he saw it. All night, my head was filled with old times. There was a myriad of times that she made me laugh so hard that I couldn't breathe. The incident with the mayonnaise sticks out more than others. Don't ask though. It's too embarrassing. Those were the only times I was more open to her I think. I wish I could explain to you how I used to be, but it has to be experienced. I was cold and quiet, shutting down in any instance of high emotion. I can see that now.

I'm almost ready to go now. During any other weekend, I'm usually busy putting my girls through the proverbial rack, but I gave them the day off. I have more important things to do. It's four now, and I know Anne's place won't be too full. Either way, I'm willing to sit for the next few hours and wait till she closes at nine.

To say that I'm nervous would be the biggest understatement of all time. My hands are shaking, my heart is hammering, and whatever breath that remains in my chest is rattling around.

When I got up this morning, I spent the first half hour staring into the second bedroom, which we had made into Anne's office. It was bare of course, but I remember seeing her lounging in her swiveling chair wearing that ratty ISU t-shirt that came almost to her knees. I used to sip my morning soda and just sand in the doorway watching her.

Anne would always try to ignore me and concentrate on the computer instead. Within minutes, she would turn to me with that sexy smirk I love so much. "You know, if you took a picture or even used a camcorder, it would last longer." I would chuckle at her cheesiness and end up sliding a chair next to her just to be near while she conducted business for the shop. Maybe someday this apartment will be full of new memories. The rest of the day was spent thinking of Anne and doing busy work around the apartment.

I head toward the door, but stop near the couch to give Boo Bear the same hug that I gave Tim. He deserves it for being such a good listener. I put him down and brush a hand over the skirt I am wearing. Yess, it's a skirt. In fact, it's the same outfit I had on when we met. The navy blue skirt taper's to my hips and legs, and the white silk shirt is ideal for my coloring, enhanced by a little make up I left my hair free and flowing down my back. I look good, but I am as uncomfortable as hell. Should be good for a laugh or two. It's the perfect icebreaker.

Before I know it, I ‘m pulling up in front of The Quill. That's a laugh because it's going to take me forever to find a parking space. Damn college kids. Aren't they supposed to be studying? Anyway, after twenty minutes, I find a spot three freakin blocks away. I walk in, and the well polished, wooden tables, each covered in a different cloth, were half full. The air is alive with quiet murmuring and the smell of pastries and strong coffee both exotic and domestic.

The shop is warm and not just by degrees. Old movie posters as well as the most recent stellar ones adorn the walls along with a faux, blown up photo of Anne shaking the hand of that Juan guy. You know the coffee man from Brazil that used to be in all those commercials. Tucked against the far wall is an old style jukebox that contains the latest music. It was quiet for now with the kids choosing laughter and conversation. The checkerboard floors are buffed to a waxy shine.

The glossy black counter near the front and to the side stands tall but not too tall and is teeming with over with containers filled with pastries and cakes. The delectable smell is coming from behind the counter where gallon size coffee makers are busy at work.

Through the low noise, I'm able to hear a gasp. I catch Anne's eyes because I know it's her. The gasp is followed by muffled laughter. I glance at her and roll my eyes. She mouths "chain mail," and I can't stop my smile. I walk up to the counter and set the purchase I made on the way here on top of it. Anne grins at the one pound bag of miniature Reese's cups.

As you have guessed by now, she's no the flowers kind of girl. I know that much. I know that much. Our fingers touch, and a jolt shoots up my arm. I see a slow flush creep up her neck. At least, that's still here.

"Hey," she murmurs softly.

"Hey you," I say in return. God, she looks good. Yes, she is in jeans again, and the green sweater brings out her eyes. Before I blink my eyes, a mocha cappuccino is sitting in front of me along with an apple danish. I smile widely at her. "You know me so well."

Her grin falters. "I wish I did."

Not hesitating at all, I tell her, "You will, and I'll know you, if you give me a chance." She wants to believe me. I can see the war between uncertainty and belief being fought behind her eyes, making the dark, almost stormy.

Instead of responding to the particular statement, she says instead, "Why don't you have a seat, and I'll bring your water and soda, personally, a little later?"

I nod and go to find a seat as close to the counter as possible. I can't take my eyes off her, and I think Anne knows it. She's clumsy, rattling cups and dropping money when she's usually so sure footed. I try to take pity on her and cast my eyes downward, as I sip the now cool coffee, but I just can't. Our eyes catch every few minutes, and I see the recognition of what we had and could have shining in hers. The air is palpable and thick between us. It's the most heady feeling knowing that you're drawn to someone like that and vice versa.

Finally, after what seems like forever, Anne comes over with the bottled water and orange soda. She sits across from me after sitting the drinks in front of me. She blows out a breath, disturbing blonde bangs. Our eyes meet. "Leah, maybe. . . .It's hard for me to work with you here. I can't--- She turns away flustered.

I wanna touch her so bad my teeth ache, but somehow, I refrain myself. "I'm not leaving. I know you feel this too." I pause and gaze at her until she's compelled to look up. "It never left did it?"

Her eyes light with fire. "But, I did. Is that what you're trying to say?" I can almost see the steam rise from her. I smile, but I understand her anger. I even deserve it along with any bitterness she's holding. The smile completely perplexes Anne. Her mouth works but nothing comes out.

"I don't blame you for leaving, Annie. Now, that I look back on it, you shoulda left a long time ago." I place my hands on the table. They find each other and clasp out of nervousness.

"I don't understand you."

I shake my head. "I didn't understand myself until recently. Now that I know, it makes it easier to communicate that to you." I pause and take a long swig of the water. For some reason my throat is parched. I sit it down and continue. "I wanna know you too. Everything that you're willing to tell."

Her eyes close, and she sucks in deep breaths for long minutes. When she opens them again, green eyes are luminous. She's starting to believe. "You've never said anything like that before."

"I know," I tell her softly. Before she could speak again, one of her employees calls her. Anne grimaces in disappointment. "I'll be back. Drink your water."

The last student leaves, and Anne shews away her two employees for the night, telling them that she had help to clean up. I lean back in the wooden chair, and stretch my legs out. I lost my shoes at about seven o'clock. A little apprehension curls in my stomach as Anne makes her way to my table. Like I said before, I'm ready for anger, bitterness, but I pry that I don't get any hate.

She breezes by me, leaving the scent of cool water and sunshine. Now, all I have to do is wait. When Anne first sits down in front of me, she doesn't say a word, but her eyes scream. I can see that she's halfway between belief and pain.

"Why?" Her voice is full of tears, and it breaks my heart. She deserves honesty from me after all I put her through. "Because that's who I was. It was easier for me to hide."

She leans forward on her elbows. Her hands fidget and her face is somber. "Who made you that way?"

I almost laugh. It would be so easy to blame my childhood; blame my mother for dying on me and leaving me in shit. I don't want the easy way out anymore. "I made myself this way." I tell her with certainty. "My mother died when I was nine. Cancer got to her before we could even say goodbye. She was all I had. There was no other family she told me about, so I became a ward of the state."

I go on to tell her a little bit about the home and my large number of foster parents. "I got passed most of it and went to Purdue on a basketball scholarship, if you can believe that, but obviously there was a lot that I didn't get over. I should've gotten help when I had the chance. I never wanted to hurt anyone like you. I never wanted to hurt anybody."

"Oh God, Leah." Her hand shoots out to grasp mine. I jerk away and shake my head. "No, I'm not telling you this to get you back, and I don't want pity. I just want you to understand." Slowly, she reaches out her hand again, opening it and waiting for me. Just as slowly, I slide my hand in hers.

She swallows. "You know, you just told me more about yourself than you ever did during the year we were together?

I squeeze her hand and smile sadly. "I know."

"I wanted so much to get to know the real you. I was so lonely, Leah. I never knew that I could love someone and be so lonely. I had to keep trying though. We Cages are notorious for our stubbornness, but the more I tried the more of me died little by little. I had to get out." Her eyes plead with me to understand.

I ache for the pain I caused her I ache for the lost time between us. I bring her hand to my lips and kiss it softly, reverently. "I know, baby. Now, I know. We have so much to talk about."

She stares at my lips on her hand. "Yeah, we do."

"Can I say something?" She nods. "I feel like I missed out on so much there is so much that I don't know about you. Will you . . . tell me?"

She bites her lip and reaches for her ear with her free hand. "Um, what do you want to know?"

"Everything." I tell her breathlessly. Her eyes search mine, and I hope all she sees is sincerity and love.

"I-I wanted to be a vet, but my parents didn't think that I was smart enough." She chuckles derisively. "Can you believe that?"

I shake my head in disgust. "That's just stupid. I wish that I was as half as smart as you are. Do they know about the shop? How successful it is?"

"No, I don't think they do. We haven't been in contact since my sophomore year in college, so that makes it about seven years now." Her voice is small and child-like.

"You miss them?"

Anne laughs again. "I can't lie. Sometimes I do. They're my parents after all, but they always wanted me to be something I'm not. I'd die around them."

I take in a deep breath. "That's how you felt with me, huh?"

Green eyes are dark with sadness. "Yeah." Her eyes bore into mine.

"I'm so sorry. I wish I could do something to erase all of that." Guilt is a sickening feeling.

"You are right now. Even though I left, it does not mean that I don't love you. I never stopped. I just couldn't live with you. You being here right now shows me how far you've come and me listening to you shows the same thing. I was so mad and hurt. Part of me still is, but the other part just missed you so much."

My heart thuds against my ribcage as hope runs rampant. "Wh-what are you saying?"

Anne shrugs. "I don't know what I'm saying. Let's just talk, and we'll go from there. But, I'll tell you now that I don't want anybody else. I want to see if I can be with you, and this is a start."

I want to do a jig. I want to get on top of the table and tap dance. I want to take her in my arms and kiss her until she's as breathless as I am, but instead of doing all of that, we talk. I tell her about the good and bad in my childhood and she does the same. For long minutes, the sadness of it leaves us silent. She tells me about the first time that she kissed a boy, a girl, and her first girlfriend. We laugh about our high school and college antics. I become privy to her dreams and her to mine. As promised, we talk about everything and nothing.

We chat, we clean, and play with the suds from the unexpected overflow of the dishwasher. I lay it all on the table for her. I want her to be a part of my past, present and future. A weight is lifted, and Anne gets to know h real me at last. So do I.

After hours of conversing, laughing and crying, I finally touch her. Anne had been waiting for it, and so was her body. Leaning against the counter, I slide a hand from her cheek to her neck. Her skin is hot, and she leans into the caress as a whimper exits her throat. Those kitten noises, it's good to hear them again. A small hand finds its way around my bicep, and I lean in until our foreheads touch. Her breath mingles with mine.

Electricity crackles around us, between us, as I reach up with a thumb to trace painted full lips. "Leah." She steps forward, allowing my body to engulf hers. I feel her shiver or is that me? She hugs me, holding on for dear life. I wish that I could live inside her. That way she could always be around me.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Annie," I whisper. I step back and run a hand through blonde locks before I lean down to kiss her forehead, her nose, then her mouth. So sweet. Our lips cling as we continue to indulge in the softest of kisses. It isn't about sex or arousal. It's about discovery. It's a place to start, and it's the best present we can give each other.

Three Months Later. . .

I'm sitting in the teacher's lounge with my lunch. Fortunately, Tim is spending his lunchtime in better company these days. He finally got snagged. So, I'm stuck here to deal with the curious stares I always seem to get. I sit my bottled water on the table followed by the customary soda. I pull out a Tupperware bowl full of last nights spaghetti. Digging deeper into the cloth bag, I feel a thin piece of paper and pull it out curiously. "Hurry home. I love you." I feel my face flush and the goof grin start before I can even thing about stopping it. Glancing up, I see what seems like a million eyes looking back. I don't care. I can breathe again.

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