Part IV


Copyright (c) December 2000

Part I for disclaimers.

Chapter XIV: Abbie's Heart

It's been three days, and thank God the hospital never called. Gert's been getting a little better each day and has been asking me how many shares of Disney I want. I know she's feeling better. Sly's been staying with me for the past three nights, and they have been the happiest and most torturous in my life. She makes me laugh one minute and the next she makes me quiver with just a look, a smile, or a gentle touch. Simply, Sly throws me totally off kilter. Totally. I don't know if that is good or bad. All I know is that it's happening.

She reads to me and I to her. We've gone through one and a half Scappatone books. Her voice mesmerizes me with its throaty, deep timbre. She ended up reading mostly to me while sitting on the floor leaning between my splayed legs. That only added to the torture. Believe me.

Religiously, Sly walks me to work. I feel protected from the shadows the casino lights hide, from the twenties crowd of men, heading to the strip bars, who get a little too boisterous sometimes. Like some dark swathed hero, she hovers over me, stands beside me, refracting the dark she is so fond of and giving me a little light. It's what I need. She's what I need. I have no problem admitting that now. I don't give a damn about the stares we receive. Two women holding hands has become natural to me.

Lola has been off the past couple of days. I miss her, but knowing Sly is sleeping in my room has helped the past couple of nights fly by in a pleasant haze. When I get off work and see her standing outside waiting for me with the waking sun at her back, my heart does a flip-flop. She stands there tall and defiant, wearing just about the same clothes everyday, a sweatshirt or t-shirt, well-worn jeans, and that black coat. I don't care about that. I wash them for her, and I know who she is under it all.

I have shifted my schedule at the Mission, allowing me to come in later. Stevie and Pauly meet us at my building, and I take them up to my room to feed them some of my meagre supply of Ramen noodles and mac and cheese. I wash their clothes too. Got them as clean as I could in case security decided to hassle us again, but we'll be ready for them this time.

I don't care that the other tenants gawk at the sight. They act as if they haven't seen people before. That is who they are, people, who have become like a family to me. After eating, we all walk to the hospital to spend a couple hours with Gert. I hope she gets used to seeing me. I'm going to be around a lot. By the time we usually leave the hospital, it is lunchtime, and we all make our way to the Mission. I put my apron on, and they get in line for food. When I finally get to sit down, Stevie and Pauly are gone, along with the rest of the crowd, leaving Sly and me alone. It has been our routine for the past few days.

When we get back to the apartment, if she doesn't read till I'm asleep we talk about everything and nothing until I get too tired. I have to sleep sometime before work. Sly isn't shy when we talk. She is as bold as they come. I think I learned that when we first met, but the notion is solidified now. With one question she has the ability to ask me who, why, and how. One conversation stands out among the rest.

"What are you doing here?" She asked me as if I was some ghost that could disappear at any moment.

I smiled cryptically and replied, "I came from nowhere to nowhere."

Her gaze was long and intense before she whispered, "I know what you mean."

It is when the conversation started in earnest, and I opened up like a well-worn book.

"Grew up in the Midwest-Indiana, but I already told you that. My parents died within a year of each other when I was kinda young, and my relatives didn't want some teenager they hardly knew. So, I became a ward of the state. Foster parents meant nothing to me. It wasn't that they were not good people. It was impossible for me to feel that way again without ripping myself to shreds when I left."

Her larger hand slipped around mine, swallowing it, and she leaned back against my thigh allowing dark hair to brush against me like silk. It was fast becoming her favorite place and mine. Her head was pillowed against me, angled upward, and I could feel blue eyes studying me. Still, I expected to feel some twinge of pain from going down memory lane but there was hardly none, only a sadness concerning days gone by.

Flustered, but trying hard not to show it, I pushed on. "They didn't have much, and I didn't want to take it so I worked for everything." Her hand squeezed mine as if apologizing for my plight. "Grades weren't good enough to do anything with. It was by word of mouth that I ended up here, from nowhere to nowhere."

I looked down to see her face full of sadness, and at that moment, I didn't know who it was for. Unable to help myself, I reached down and brushed sable bangs away from her forehead, where I longed to plant a kiss. I didn't, but I'm almost sure that my eyes told her that I wanted to because hers darkened and sparkled with secret knowledge. When she spoke again, her voice was thick, "I take it you were close?"

I nodded and smiled grimly. "Yeah, we were. Everybody took a back seat to them. My dad died suddenly from a heart attack, and I guess my mom just didn't want to stay here without him. I couldn't even hold her here. When he died, all the laughing, playing, and all the good times went with him. It was hard on both of us. But, after losing her, I just couldn't invest that much feeling into anybody or anything else." Somehow, my hands found their way through thick tresses, smoothing them and messaging her scalp at the same time. While she is not the shy one, I know that I can sometimes be, especially when emotions are involved. It hit me right there and then, making the words come out in an ungraceful squeak. "Until the mission. Until. . . you." I felt a flush redden my face.

Open book? Yeah, it was all laid bare for her to see. In a few words, I wanted her to know she made me see again, feel again, and be again. Her eyes locked with mine, and she brought my hand to her mouth, kissing the open palm. Her mouth was moist, warm, making me shiver. Her words were simple, but her eyes---her eyes told a different story.

"I know what you mean," she said again, huskily, but her eyes whispered, "Thank you for seeing me, understanding me, and being with me." Cobalt orbs held all the things that weren't easy to relate. I couldn't look away, so I just sank in, treading deep water easily. Then, she spoke with a voice thick with emotion, "You're lucky to have what you did and to be able to hold on to that memory. I had everything and nothing at the same time. Rich parents who gave me everything and wanted me to be their picture perfect trophy in return. They didn't want me to feel or to act, only to do their biding. I did for a long time, and I got everything money could buy in return, including cars, clothes, and Princeton".

"The only thing I didn't get or hear was, "I love you, Sloane." And that one thing seemed like everything when you're young and not sure who your friends are. When I told them who I really was, they called me every pervert in the book. I found out real quick who my friends were, who cared about me. It wasn't them. One of the first things out of their mouths was a conversation between them on damage control."

Her chuckle was derisive and caused me to cringe. It was my turn to do the squeezing. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When they opened again, there was calm where there was rising storm before. "I shouldn't let it get to me anymore, but it's hard when your parents treat you like you're dead. They never called or showed when I got arrested. It was all over the papers. They should have known. Part of me wanted to go to them and renounce my lifestyle to get a little piece of my dignity and the pie back. It only took me a few minutes to realize that I would completely abandon what dignity I had left if I went back. So, here I am."

She lifted her free arm, spreading it wide in a sweeping gesture. "I still only have that little piece left. It's the only thing I do have besides the friends I made."

I tried to hide the disappointment in my eyes. Was I just a friend to her still or something much more? I couldn't hide for long. I could feel her eyes boring into the top of my bent head. She whispered my name reverently like it was some sacred word only known between us. My insides melted as I looked up. The hand that wasn't holding mine reached up to caress my cheek. I leaned into it, and this time hid behind eyelids to conceal the longing to feel the fingertips brush over my lips and neck. Part of my heart was ramming against my chest while the other part shined in my eyes.

Sly wouldn't let me hide there either. "Little bit, look at me." I opened my eyes again and could only guess at what was in them. I heard her gasp, and my heart pounded harder.

"What are you feeling?" She murmured, hoarsely. I gazed down into eyes that must have been as dark and glittering as my own at that moment. I opened my mouth to speak and got one of my wishes. Deft fingers traced my lower lip gently. I swallowed the whimper, but could not contain the ragged breaths. "So. . . much. I can't think." Like I said before, off kilter, totally so. After a few seconds of almost total quiet, Sly's fingers traveled to my chin, caressing the rounded tip. "I know. I feel it too."

I swallowed then watched her do it in turn. "Sly, I-"

"Shhh, do you know what you are to me, Abbie?" She didn't wait for me to reply. "Something I've never had before. Something I've been looking for, and something I didn't think I could have." She paused and sniffed. "I wanted to tell you that the other day, but was afraid it wouldn't come out right."

I didn't know what else to say with her eyes and hands touching me like that. Instinct must have taken over. "You can have me." When I heard the words come out of my mouth, I knew I meant it. It was the right thing to say too because her face lit up like a child on Christmas morning, knowing he or she had received the grandest of all presents. The look said it all.

Me and this woman are kindred spirits. We both know enormous pain with different causes, but pain is pain. Together, I think we're trying to heal ourselves. I would give everything to this woman because somehow I know that I would get that and more in return. I knew right then that I was losing my heart to her, and it's a part of me that I'm more than glad to lose.

Today hasn't deviated from our now established routine that's why I can't believe I'm thinking about this right now, while I am, of all places, at the Mission. Despite what I felt at first, I have come to learn that every person that comes through the food line needs to be noticed, and usually, I am more than obliged to do so. They need to know someone cares and respects them, but as I use the scoop to pile mashed potatoes on Jeanie's (I think that's her name) plate, I can feel Sly's eyes on me from across the room. I don't even have to look up. They have been on me since we got here, and I think that I have been spaced out for just as long, making it a good thing the line has thinned out. I can feel all these emotions boiling inside me because of her, thanks to her, but for the past few days, I've been feeling like I'm about to explode. To regain some sort of equilibrium, I turn away and wipe fidgety hands on my apron.

I watch as Mike steps back from his post down by the meats to come see about me. His face is drawn in concern. I don't know what I've done to make him think that I am interested in him. All I do is smile. Even though he has seen me leave with Sly numerous times, he has tried to give me a ride home or go out on a date. It has sorta been that way from the first day I came here, but it kinda ended up on the back burner with all the things going on with Sly. I've tried to ignore it, and I guess that's what I'll continue to do because he hasn't really harassed me. He doesn't seem like the stalker type after all. Still, today, his timing is perfect. Sometimes this uncontrolled feeling I get around Sly is overwhelming. Mike brings me back to earth quickly.

I feel his hand on my shoulder, but I step back from it. "You okay, Abbie? No one's bothering you are they?" He asks.

He reaches for my arm, and I pull it away hastily. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just flustered I guess."

He smiles and adds, "Well why don't you let me take you out to lunch then? All work and no play. . ."

I give him a tight smile before responding, "Nah, not hungry." The sound of someone clearing their throat behind us makes me turn around. I guess the line wasn't that thin after all. I smile genuinely this time and push the bangs away from my forehead with my other hand before scooping potatoes on his plate. The frail looking old white man gives me a toothless grin. I haven't seen him before, so he must be new and there is nothing prestigious about being a new member of the underclass.

Within the few weeks I've been here, I've noticed a contradiction in what the media portrays as the homeless and what I've seen so far. On TV, they show them as elderly and minorities. That's not at all what I've seen. They've mostly been my age, white, and sometimes younger. Everyone else is few and far between. But, I imagine AC is a small sample. Yeah, right. Still, maybe we shouldn't believe everything we see? It's just a thought.

Coming back to things at hand, my smile widens, "You're new here aren't you?"

He nods his head in a wide arc up and down and scratches under his beard. When he lifts his head, I get a clear view of things that are growing or what has gotten stuck in his facial hair. It is simply a tragedy for someone to have to live like this. I hope my face doesn't show pity. It's not a popular emotion around here, and I can understand why. Pity is for the weak, and these people are among the strongest I have ever seen. They have to be to survive. By this time his grin has become a full smile. "Yep, yep, I caught a bus outta Philly was lucky enough to save nuff change. Name's Curtis," he finally says and sticks out his hand for me to shake. I take it without hesitation.

That's another concept that's not welcome around here. It translates to second guesses and afterthoughts of fear and disgust to the people around here. Still, I can't help but think that maybe Curtis should have stayed in Philly. Anyplace has got to be better than here. "I'm Abbie, one of the volunteers. You'll be seeing me around." We chatted for a few more minutes. I guess Mike found better things to do because he's not standing behind me anymore. I've come back to the ground with a thump thanks to him and Curtis. Unfortunately or fortunately, I end up glancing upward toward the right and see pale, amused blue eyes riveted on me. I'm soaring again.

Chapter XV: Sly's Eyes

I don't know what this food tastes like because my senses are otherwise engaged. It seems that way anyway. I can't take my eyes off her. If this is some kind of new disorder or disease, they need to put my picture next to its definition because I have it, and I don't want to get rid of it anytime soon. Abbie is beautiful, and she has no idea. I think this is one way my subconscious has chosen to tell her. The other way is the little touches.

She is the picture of strength just standing there. Abbie has changed so much, and I don't think she even knew that strength was there. I'm glad she found it. It has changed a scared little woman into someone remarkable. Her eyes are open to all of us now, not just me, and the people around her respect her for it. Stevie and Pauly haven't been able to stop talking about her. They even have the audacity to snicker like schoolgirls when they catch me staring. You see what I have to put up with?

Anyway, the past few days have been like a whirlwind of ups and downs. There is the thing with Gert. The doc says she is progressing slowly but surely, but I, for one, have never seen her look so frail and vulnerable. Abbie has been a lifesaver during all of this. Somehow she keeps my head up with just a word. I think she does that with the guys too. They really like her, and so do I. Abbie has done things for us that no normal person would even consider doing. She let Pauly and Stevie come up to her room.

They looked at her in surprise, but I could only look at her with pride in my eyes. They stink to high heaven, and they are loud. I can say this about them 'cause I love them, but she had them sitting on her furniture as if they were the prissiest of guest. Unbelievable. This woman is totally unbelievable. She's is fast becoming the glue holding us all together. Thank God that I have her that we have her. I promised myself not to let anything, including me, come between us again. So far so good.

I watch her smile and sometimes laugh at and with each person that stops in front of her. Her nose crinkles in that little way I like, but I can't wait until they all leave so I can see that special smile she saves for me. I know Abbie can feel me staring. It's all in the way she refuses to look over here. It's kinda nice to know that I can totally discombobulate somebody. I love the way she blushes, and I wonder does she know that I catch that little hitch in her breathing when I touch her?

I see Mike make his way over to her when she turns around, and I can't help but roll my eyes. He's been sniffing around her for a while now, but he's a good, totally harmless kid. There's nothing to worry about. I am more worried as Pauly decides to shove me, hard, but I hear his guffaws as Stevie and him point toward the food line. "Look there, Sly. You got some com-pi-tition!"

"Sho do. That lil white boy gone snatch her up!" Stevie adds with a laugh. I turn to them with the intention of giving them "the look" before I remember that it doesn't work anymore. They laugh harder. A little imp starts to play around in my head. I let it. With a evil smile, I ask them, "Say, how do you think all that food would look on your nice clean clothes? I'm curious to know. How about you?" The glare at me in surprise and simultaneously scoot their chairs away a few inches. It's my turn to laugh now. I give them a triumphant grin when Abbie turns away from Mike, leaving him flailing. Maybe somebody needs to have a chat with him after all.

I go back to my favorite pastime. There are others, but the big ones are sleeping next to Abbie and reading to her. I haven't awakened with anybody holding me in a long time. In fact, I don't think I ever have. The feeling of safety and security shot straight through me. I'll never for get that first night. She has shown and told me so much of herself, but I feel lacking in that category. It's nothing but fear that's keeping me from showing her what she needs to see. I fear that she'll be disgusted by the way I live. I fear that she'll see that it's too much to handle.

Something in the back of mind keeps reminding me that she sees the real me. She sees beyond all of it, but I am only human and with that frailty comes insecurity. I swallow as I realise that she needs to know, needs to see. It's a test we both have to go through, and I have to have faith that we'll pass. Tonight, it has to be tonight while I have the courage. I'll come get her for work a little early. Unless, she lets me stay. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to.

Being near her is an addiction that I admit to having, and I'll take it anyway I can get it. I smile at that, and I can't help it. I'm pathetic, acting like a teenager with a crush. That's when I catch her, Abbie finally looks my way and I can see her chest heave from here. I know how she feels. I don't think I've breathed once since I sat down. Her eyes hold mine, and I see everything from her struggle for control to her acknowledgement of the pull between us. God, I want to go to her, and. . .ah, hell and do I don't know what. I can tell you this much. It's getting harder and harder not to really touch her. The only thing that's keeping me at bay is the belief that she's not ready, and something tells me that once I start my heart won't be mine anymore. That's a laugh really because part of it is hers already.

"You can have me."

When Abbie said it, I knew it was the truth, but I have to be so careful. Her heart needs to be handled with kit gloves and tenderness. She doesn't deserve any less, only a lot more, which is something I've never given-- more of myself. I think I can give it to her, I mean, because she makes it so easy. These feelings are new to both of us, and I pray we go in the right direction.

Our gazes are still locked, and I can see her hands shake from here, along with the flush that covers her face. Abbie tries to hide her shakiness in the way she bunches the purple apron, but I see it just fine. Her lips are partially open, and I watch as she moistens them with her tongue. A liquid warmth starts in my belly, and it's my turn to be flustered. The sudden heat in my cheeks doesn't match the one in my stomach, but it is close enough. The need to go to her is compelling now, and I procure a white knuckled grip around the fork that has been sticking into the mystery meat for some time.

It's only another hard shove from Pauly that snaps me out of it. I ignore their chuckles, as they finally get up to leave, to glance back up. She is looking down at something that is no doubt interesting, growing in the potatoes. Whatever it is, it has her total attention, but I can still see her chest heaving. Those potatoes have got nothing on me.

People are starting to leave now, and they are taking down the food bins. I can't wait to see my special smile.

Chapter XVI: Smiling, Laughing, and Revealing

I'm glad I don't work with Sly. Those blue eyes would be my undoing, and I would never get any work done. I need to clean off the tables before I sit down, and I can feel those eyes on me like cool fire. Good thing there are still a few people left in here putting up food. I think that is what's keeping me from dissolving into giggles. She's been 'pssting' at me for the past ten minutes. I wait until the last person leaves before sitting down at her table. She's lounging there like some lazy cat with her legs stretched out in the chair across from her.

Sly's grin is big and infectious, and I can't help but return it. A large hand reaches out to touch my nose that I can feel scrunching. Then, long fingers caress the slight lines around my smile. Blue eyes are studying my face as if committing it to memory. I love it when she touches me. Each caress is getting bolder and longer. I wonder if she's aware of this? I wrap my smaller hand around her wrist and lean into the touch. A flush covers her cheeks before she pulls away slowly. She is the first to speak. "Hey, saw you up there." She jerks her head toward the now disbanded food line.

My smile gets bigger because I know her eyes hardly ever left me. I nod and say, "I noticed that."

Silver blue eyes widened and her flush went up a notch. "Uh, you don't mind? I can't help it."

She looks almost childlike with the admission, and I can't help but be truthful. "No, I like it. It's just sometimes I can't breath when you do it." I reach out and take her hand for emphasis.

Sly smirks as if I've told her something she already knew. "Mmm, good to know."

That would be arrogance on anybody else, but it's just all part of Sly.

"Mike likes you, not that I blame him. I like you too."

Whoa, that was a total three sixty. I bet my confusion is showing. Is she jealous? I bite my lip to keep from grinning.

She holds up a hand and moves it emphatically. "I mean, I'm not jealous or anything. Just making an observation."

The grin comes anyway, and I squeeze her hand. "Uh-huh, well, I think he's harmless."

Sly purses her lips and shrugs broad shoulders. "If you think so."

I lean in a little closer and reach out with my free hand to wound a thick, dark, strand around my finger. "I like you too." I watch as that smirk comes back---the one where the left side of her mouth lifts crookedly and her eyes sparkle. Why do I get the feeling she knows all of this already? I like this. I've never really flirted with anyone before. Don't know where I learned the skill. Maybe some of Sly's boldness has rubbed off on me. "Will you read to me today?" I see surprise in her eyes. She wasn't expecting that one.

"You want me to . . come back with you? I don't want to wear out my welcome."

I can't help but chuckle. "That'll never happen. Please?" Her eyes are warm as she looks at me. I could get lost in them and wouldn't care less.

"Yeah, no problem." She gives me a toothy smile.

For some reason that makes me think of the toothless guy I just met not too long ago. "Speaking of problems." I hate to end this. "Saw a new guy around that might need your help. He's staying at the Mission, but. . ."

I could swear that I see disappointment in her eyes. Sly likes this banter just as much as I do. Still, she nods her head, and I reclaim my finger. "But he may not stay here for long. Most people go for the streets. It's a little less crowded and we look out for each other. I'll ask around and see if I can find him a good spot.""

I squeeze her hand and give her a crooked grin, "I knew you were the one to come see about that."

Sly cocks her head slightly to the side. "You really care don't you? When I first met you, I wasn't so sure, but now. . .you do don't you?"

I am a little taken aback that she would ask me such a question, but knowing, Sly, she has her reasons. "Well, yeah, how could I not? I'm human."

She laughs but it's without humor and it doesn't reach her eyes. "That doesn't mean a damn thing these days. I'd say you're a little more than human, Abbie. You're unique, and it takes someone like that to open your eyes like you have."

For some reason, after she says her piece, Sly refuses to meet my eyes. In fact, her head hangs. She's worried about something, really worried. I duck my head in an attempt to catch her eyes, but she evades me. So, I do it the old fashion way and lift her chin with the help of a few fingers. "Sly, talk to me. What's wrong?"

Her eyes are dark with emotion and I see her swallow before her mouth opens to speak. "You've told me so much about yourself, Abbie. I feel that I know you. I don't think I've told or shown you half as much."

I shake my head in confusion and wonder where this is going. "It's not a contest, Sly. I figured you would open up as we go along."

"I want to, Abbie, but I'm scared. It's time though." Her voice has a note of finality in it that causes me pause.

Still confused, I ask, "Time to what?" That's when I see it, her eyes are full of fear. "Time for what, Sly"

"For you to see how I live."

It falls on me like a ton of bricks. She thinks I'll see something I can't live with, and we'll be over. It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, but then, I rewind what she said about 'being human.' Now, it makes sense. I guess I'll just have to prove myself. "If you're sure?"

Sly purses her lips and her expression is more than serious. "Yeah, I know you need your sleep, so if we could leave a little early tonight? You're gonna have to carry your uniform to work. Don't want you to get it dirty."

I see, now that she needs this too. "That'll be fine. Do I need anything else?"

"A flashlight. We'll get some batteries from here if you don't have any."

I pull her much larger hand into both of mine and smile to try and reassure her. "Do you believe in me? Trust me?"

Her brows rise in consternation. "Of course, how could you even ask. . ."

"Then trust that it will be okay." I see that I have surprised her again, and I want to leave her that way. I lean in and do something that I've wanted to for days, I kiss her cheek before getting up. "I have to finish cleaning, and then we'll go. We can give Gert's room a call and talk to the guys to make sure she's okay." She doesn't answer, and I don't expect her to.


Even when we get up to my room, and find out that Gert is doing okay, Sly is still quiet. I've got to do something to bring her out of this funk. Barely looking at me, she grabs the light blue robe. "I'm gonna go take a quick shower. Didn't get the chance to this morning," she mumbles. I sigh, nod my head, and turn to give her some privacy. I hear the rustle of clothes being removed and folded and resist the urge to look. Curiosity is killing me. I've never seen another woman naked besides my mother and that doesn't count. Do I want to see Sly naked? My breath catches at the thought of it. I thought I wasn't ready for a lot of things a little while ago, but now, I'm not so sure. She does something to me, but now is not the time to think about it.

I hear her soft, "Okay." And I turn to look at her. She has two deep grooves of worry in her forehead, and it causes me to walk up to her because I need to make them go away. I try to smooth them out with my thumb, and she sighs before giving me a warbly grin. Peering deep in her eyes, I see a sparkle return, especially when I stand on tip-toe to try and bring us eyeball to eyeball. Sly chuckles at my antics then adds, "I'm trying, Abbie."

I grin back. "That's good because there's nothing that could scare me away, not now."

She tweaks my nose and jerks her head toward the door, "Well, I'm gonna, you know. Be back in a few minutes."

I sit heavily on the bed when she leaves, and it hits me. I've changed more than I originally thought. I've never been outgoing, but somehow it's what I've become. I've never allowed myself to feel, but now, I do. I feel so much. I've never allowed myself to be attracted to anyone, and now, I am, unbelievably so. It's been so much in such a little time.

I can't wait to see what happens next. Grabbing my book, I turn the page to get to where we left off. Sitting it on the bed, I change into my sleepwear. I almost hope Sly will have another nightmare, if only so I can hold her. I wanted to the other two nights but didn't have it in me. So, now, I scoot back on the bed and wait.

When Sly comes back in, she hangs her towel beside mine behind the door and rubs a hand through her water slicked hair. I love it like that. The way it shines and smells wet and just washed makes me want to play in it. I bite my lip and smile at her hopefully. She returns it and takes her place, sitting between my legs. Sly turns and pale blue catches me. Her eyebrows shoot up, and I wonder what my face is showing. Thank God, she doesn't call me on it. "You ready to start?" She asks with that damn smirk on her face.

I resist the urge to narrow my eyes at her and hand her the book. Our fingers touch in the exchange, and an electric jolt shoots up my arm down to my stomach, causing me to suck in a breath. I glance down and see that her fingers linger against mine. A lone thumb caresses my knuckles almost absently. "Um," my voice is a high squeak, so I clear it. "Um, I marked the p-paragraph." The smirk turns into a grin that looks almost rakish.

"Okay, let's get started then, and I'll read till I know you're asleep."

I nod, deciding not to say anything, but at the last second, I add, "Okay, if you get hungry or anything just help yourself to whatever's here."

She turns to the side and only nods. I feel the jolt again when drying, dark silk caresses my thigh. It may be a while before I get to sleep.

Chapter XVII: Brooding and Trouble

I'm doing it again. It's almost time for Abbie to get up, and I'm watching her while she sleeps. If I didn't know better, I'd say this is getting a tad bit obsessive, but I know better. She dropped off about an hour into my reading, and surprisingly, I found myself napping too. Now, I'm awake and brooding. Worry is tugging hard at my brain.

She said nothing would change, but that hasn't been my experience. Except for the friends that I've made in my current condition, everyone left me when things changed. It's what I'm used to, and dare I say that I don't know any better yet? I hope she proves me wrong. There's that word again, and I'm putting it to full use tonight.

I look down at her as I stand over the bed. She looks so peaceful, and I wonder if this is the first time in years that, that peaceful look has carried over into the waking hours. Abbie looked so tortured when I first met her. I hope I don't cause that look again, when she gets her first look under the Boardwalk.

I reach out and shake her shoulder gently. She makes a noise that isn't half human. "Mmrrfffp?" It is beyond adorable. "Little Bit, time to get up. I wanted to show you some things, remember?"

Slowly, Abbie flips over on her back, and sleepy green eyes open to look up at me. She smiles dreamily. Her words come out a little bit slurred. "Oooh, riiiight. Can have a hug firsts?"

Way beyond adorable, especially with her hair sticking up in odd places like blonde mountains. My heart lurches at her request. This is something new. I would be an idiot to deny myself the experience. I've hugged her before, so I know what I've been missing. I lean down, assuming she would meet me half way, but with a hard jerk she pulls me down on top of her ,wrapping her arms tightly around my torso. "Oooh nice, warm hugs." The heat of her body is incredible. It serves to move mine up a few notches. In an attempt to rectify things, I push up with my hands, which are planted on the mattress. "C'mere." I almost groan when she pulls me down with a sharp smack. Thank the Lord she is covered. I don't think I would survive her bare legs against mine.

Something must have happened. It is enough to wake her up. Our faces are as close as they can get without kissing, and her eyes are staring into mine while her lips form a perfect "O". With the help of the lamp, I turned on a few minutes ago, I see her flush, deeply. I don't know what to say, so something just comes out. "Um, hi?" And it is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. To top it all off, my voice was two octaves higher. Her nose crinkles, and I feel it coming before I see it, the giggles. In between them, she adds, "Fancy meeting you here, huh?"

I expected her to be embarrassed or even scared, but this is a total surprise. I'm sure it shows on my face because she giggles harder. I feel my mouth twitching before I can help it. Soon, I join her, but I don't giggle. They're chuckles. I could have sworn I was brooding a minute ago. I have to ask, "Uh, this doesn't bother you?"

"No, I've hugged you before. It feels nice, very nice, but I'm sorry I pulled you down here. I get goofy when I'm real tired."

Very interesting, but somewhere way back in my mind, the scared part of me hears a way out. "If you're too tired, why don't you get some more sleep? We can do this some other time."

Abbie shakes her head no before she says it and smoothes away the worry lines that I know are on my forehead. "No, I want to. I've got somethings to prove to you."

Well, I guess that settles that. The test is on. "Okay, I guess we need to get dressed then." I move to get up, but not before I see her turn and bury her face into my hair that has fallen past my face and onto her. She's smelling my hair! I have to admit. I don't want to get up anymore, and I think it shows in my face because wide green eyes turn to study me unexpectantly. They are wide, dark, and her lips are parted and moist. I feel her chest rising and falling rapidly, or is that mine? Either way, I am again thankful that she is wrapped in the covers. It's getting way too hot in here. I promised myself that I wouldn't do this not until she's ready. I won't know that until she makes a move. I watch as she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "Okay, we'd better get moving." The timbre of her voice is husky.

It's not the time.

Nervousness assaults me as we move along the Boardwalk, but it is her hand in mine that's keeping me from skittering away. This place really is beautiful at night with the moon hanging clear, and low. The water now looks black in the darkness but I can hear it lap against the sand and smell it perfuming the air. It is a shame to show her such ugliness on such a pretty night.

We pass a couple of Boardwalk cops. All they do is whisper because when I'm with her, they see me. Right now, I don't care what they see, and I don't think Abbie does either. She moves closer. "Check the flashlight," I whisper to her. "We're almost there. We'll wake Pauly and Stevie. They'll grumble at first, but they'll be okay."

I watch as she takes the flashlight from underneath her folded uniform. "It's okay." She stops, making me do so too. "And we will be too."

I want to believe her, but as I see a familiar stretch of sand, doubt resurfaces. I swallow and nod my head instead of answering. We're there, and she follows me down the ramp onto the beach. I don't look back, but I hear a click and see a beam of light on side of me.

I stop abruptly as I see other beams of light and two people, shining the beams into my home. As I get closer, I hear whispers and realize that they aren't Stevie and Pauly. They sound too young. I pull Abbie behind me and watch on. The two men bang on the wood and start yelling, "Hey assholes! We know somebody's in there. We're taking this spot so get the fuck out!"

Someone else calls out from underneath, "The fuck you ain't!" It's Stevie, and he sounds mad.

The two men turn to each other and whisper some more. My blood starts to burn when I see one of them crouch in an attempt to crawl under. This is our home, our territory. This is shit, and I don't take it. Turning to Abbie, I grab the flashlight from her hands and whisper heatedly, "Stay here!" I take off before I get a reply. Running as fast as I can in the sand, I make it just as the man's feet are about to disappear. His partner turns to me, and before I get any closer I smell them. It's the horrid stench of boose, urine and puke. They're the guys who give homeless people bad names.

I shine my light in his face as he screams, "So'ma bitch! Who da fuck are you?!"

"I'm the head asshole that lives here," I growl in reply.

He cackles, and I hear him spit in the sand. "Well, lookey here. Got myself a girl. Wish Bob could see dis, but he's a busy kicking yo friend's ass! I'm gonna teach you some manners, girl!" He steps forward, but I hold my ground. Still, stinky decides to take a swing. Unfortunately, the sand makes me slow, and the punch connects with my jaw. It's hard enough to make me fall on one knee. The flashlight fell in my attempt to move away. Now, it's spinning somewhere near me. Where, I can't see.

Stinky moves toward me again, but before he could get any further I hear a screech of, "NO!" And from what I could see, he falls to the sand with a groan. I look up from my kneeling position to see Abbie reflected in the flashlight beam. I'm angry and elated at the same time. "I thought I told you to stay put!"

She gets down on her knees in front of me and yells back, "I never said I would!"

Good point, but I don't tell her that.

"Well, thanks, but we need to get under there. That other guy. . ."

"Yeah, I saw. Let's go."

I watch in silent pride as she gets on her hands and knees then to her belly. I don't doubt it anymore. I think she's here to stay.

I slide in beside her, but before we get half way, I hear Stevie scream, "Bastard!" Then there was a clunk. Fear races through me, and I wiggle under as fast as I can.

"Stevie! Paulie! You two okay?!" I hear another thunk.

"Yep, we are now!" Paulie calls back. "But we need you to help take out the garbage, Sly!" To my consternation, I hear them both cackling like arrogant roosters. You see? What I have to put up with?

I sigh in relief. "Well, me and Abbie will take care of that just stay put!" Like I have given her some silent order, I see the flashlight pan around until we both see a still figure.

"There he is," Abbie whispers. "You two didn't kill him did you boys?!" There was another cackle. Would you look at her, adding fuel to the fire. You'd almost think they're enjoying this!

Finally, we get Stinky 2 out. With Abbie's help, we drag them near the ramp, make noise, and run as the Boardwalk cops come. Walking back on the sand, I watch through the darkness as she rubs and claps her hands to get the sand off. "You okay?"

"Yeah, fine. You? I saw you go down. Scared me to death." She is breathless.

I'd forgotten about that. I flex my jaw then suck in a breath at the pain. "Yeah, he got me good. Gonna need some ice." She was something out here tonight, and I have to tell her so. "You did good, Abbie."

"Just protecting you. I hope I didn't hurt him. Well. . .bad." She turns toward me and takes my hand. "Don't worry about your jaw. After we make sure the guys are okay, I'll take care of you back at my place."

Shocked, I blurt out, "But, Abbie! You're gonna be late for work."

She squeezes my hand. "It's okay. I'll just call from the pay phone and tell them I'm gonna be late because of a family emergency. One point won't hurt. I don't have any."

When my heartbeat slows, I know that this woman will do anything for me. It's a heady feeling. "Um, okay."

We slide back under the Boardwalk, and I reach to take the flashlight from her. I want her to see everything now. There's not a doubt left in my mind. In silence, I show her my little area, cornered off with cardboard. I open the door to allow her in, and I crawl in after her. Without a word, I give her free reign, and watch her pick up my copy of Catcher in the Rye .

Abbie's fingers trace over my radio gently as if it's the most fragile piece of China in the world. She treats each item like that. My heart constricts as she finally looks up at me, and her eyes are so full of sadness and pride that it floors me. Sadness yes, but I did not expect her to be proud. I open my mouth to speak, but she shakes her head and points toward the cardboard door. Again, I crawl out behind her where she waits for me and takes back the flashlight. She pans it around until she comes to a jumble of blankets and cardboard. "Gertie's," I tell her, and I hear her hitch in breath. Is she crying? Why?

A minute later, I crawl after her as she heads for Stevie and Pauly. They've remained remarkably quiet. I think they know how important this is. Abbie moves the flashlight around until she has them in her sights. I hear the hitch in her breath again then a sob. Oh God, she is crying. "Abbie?"

She shushes me, and I hear her swallow like she's trying to regain her voice. We are sitting up as much as we can. Finally, she speaks. "Sly? Remember today what you said about the human race?" She doesn't wait for my answer. "You were right." Her voice is thick with tears. "But, it goes for all of you too. You all are beyond human. No regular person could survive this. No regular person would want to, and I am so grateful," she pauses, and I hear another sob. "I'm so grateful that you guys have included me in your family. I would do anything for you guys because I don't think you could even begin to know what you've done for me."

I wait a minute, but she doesn't speak again. There are only sniffles. I follow the sound of them and take her in my arms as much as I can under here. It ends up being a one armed hug, but she holds on for dear life. There is silence. I imagine that the guys are as flabbergasted as I am. She's here to stay, and we all know it. I do the only thing I can think of and whisper thank you over and over in her ear. We all passed the test.

"Damn, lil un. You sho something else." Stevie adds. His voice is deep, husky. He's touched.

"Yeah, you gotta good heart, Abbiegirl." Pauly inserts. We all are.

We lapse into a peaceful quiet, and I know it is getting late. So, I ask, "You guys, okay?"

I could hear Stevie scratching his beard. "Yep, reckon we are. Damn shame about that bottle we broke over his head tho."

Pauly and Stevie dissolve into chuckles. I couldn't help but roll my eyes. My eyes round when I feel the giggle bug bite Abbie. Unable to stop it, I join them. Chucking not giggling.

After a few minutes, I remind her, "Abbie, you need to go call your job."

She jumps, "Oh yeah, almost forgot. I need to get my uniform first. Left it right outside. Then, I'll take care of you." She sniffs and adds, "Um, I'll see you guys in the morning."

She found her uniform, and we said our byes. This is turning into quiet a night. I guess there is more than one newbie in town. Pity, they picked with the wrong family to mess with, and Abbie, my God, she's more than I hoped she would ever be. For once, I have someone to protect me and cherish me. I feel like I'm flying.

Chapter XVIII: Abbie's Journey

We got back to my room in record time, but I am still reeling from all the emotions. It's a combination of what happened here, the fight, and all the other stuff. One minute I'm aroused, next I'm in a fight, then I'm crying, followed by laughing. I feel like my blood is boiling. All the excitement is still right here in front of me. It's Sly, and I want to fall inside.

Regardless of how I feel right now, something changed tonight. She knows that I'm on this road for the long haul. I don't know how because she couldn't really see my face. I guess it was something she felt. She didn't really explain that part to me while we were walking here. Everything I said back there I meant. Everything. I would have scratched that guys eyes out if he had hurt any of them. It feels good to have that again, and I will fight tooth and nail not to lose it. It's a promise that I'm making to myself right now.

I watch her as she moves around the room. She seems just as high energy as I am right now. I know how she feels now, when she does it to me. It's like I'm absorbed in her and everything around her. I can't take my eyes away, until I remember that I have to call my job. "Hey, get the first aid kit and have a seat on the bed. I don't have ice, but the least I can do is bandage that cut." We both didn't realize that there was one until we got into the light. I go to take care of the phone call.

When I return, she looks up at me expectantly. "Told you it was okay. I told them I would be about an hour or so late. I'm gonna have to take a shower." I walk slowly toward her, keeping her in my sights. Something is brewing inside me, and I don't know if I want to stop it, especially since it involves Sly. She watches me move toward her, and I pause right in front of her. Sly has to look up at me, but her eyes hesitate somewhere.

I swallow because I don't care where. I just need them on me right now. Reaching down, I take the band-aid and alcohol pad from her fingers. We touch, and my breath catches. I know she heard it because I can see her eyes darkening with secret knowledge. She knows that I want to touch her, be touched by her. I have to ask myself when did this happen? When did I become so greedy? There is an answer. The first day she touched me.

I kneel down, and blue eyes follow me just as my gaze is locked on her. I take hold of her thighs to steady myself, and I feel her whoosh of breath disturb my hair. Somebody needs to stop this or step forward. I don't know how to stop it or start it. So, I try my best to remain neutral even though I don't feel that way. "We make a good team. Don't you think?"

Her eyes are drowning me, and I fall helplessly. She only nods to my question. Maybe she doesn't know what to do either. I try again. "I'm glad those two are okay. They had me scared there for a while. Shoulda known they'd take care of it."

She nods again, and I fall further inside the blue ocean. Help me. No, I don't mean it. I cup her cheek and move her head to the side. Her skin is like fire, but it's a burn I like. I lift the alcohol pad to my mouth and rip the top off. She watches the whole time. Her throat bobs and chest rises. Falling, and I don't care how far as long as she catches me. I brush the cut with the alcohol, and she jumps and takes hold of my shoulder, as I swab the whole area. The wrapper and pad fall to the floor, and I tear away the covering of the band-aid, putting it on as quickly as possible.

Moving my hand away, I whisper, "There." Then abruptly, all breathe and speech leaves me as her large hands push through my hair, sensitizing my scalp. Am I ready for this? My whole body quakes in a way that can't be missed. God, yes I am. I need to tell her. With ragged breath, I watch as her lips open to speak before mine do. "Abbie."

I hear it, and I whimper as heat curls its fingers deep in my belly. It wasn't that she said my name. It was the way she said it like an ache or a need. "What are you doing to me?" I ask huskily as I push up from the floor in attempt to meet her. I come to my feet completely but shakily, and she wraps her fingers in the empty belt loops of my jeans, pulling me closer.

"The same thing you're doing to me." She replies. It's enough for me. I go without hesitation and lean forward as I do so. On a husked breath, our lips meet softly. My hands mesh in her hair, and I groan at the fell of it. My lips cling to her and hers to mine. There is no move to deepen the contact because just like me, I think she wants to savor this moment. This perfect moment. After a few long seconds, I feel her hands snake up my back, and she kneads the covered skin then balls the cloth into her fists.

Somehow I think our eyes open at the same time because I suddenly find myself staring into hers. Her pupils are large, dark, and I see it. She wants more, but is letting me lead. For some reason, at this, heat slams a fist in my stomach, making my breath come out in a gasp. This is need. It has to be because I am compelled to brush her lips with my own. I brush and lift several times before I feel her fists flex at my back. Sly's mouth opens. She moans, and I slip my tongue inside, needing to taste. It feels like it belongs there. My heart slams against my chest. This is desire. She is sweet to the taste, so I go back for more, moaning when her tongue touches mine.

The kiss never changes cadence. It remains deep, soft, but needy. Both my hands grasp the back of her neck, lifting her head in search of a different angle. It continues on for what seems like forever before my lungs burn with the need to breath. With a whimper, I pull away to draw in air. Leaning in, I lay my forehead against hers, and I hear her sucking wind also. I open eyes to see hers still closed, but I do see full lips, swollen and moist. As if Sly knows she is being watched, baby blues open, and the need I see in them makes me want to kiss her all over again.

Her hands find their way to my face, cupping my cheeks, running over my chin and lips. It was as if she thought I was going to disappear. "God, Abbie, I wanna kiss you again, but you gotta get to work." Her voice is a pained whisper.

She is right, but I don't want to. For some reason, I get an attack of shyness, and I close my eyes. "Can we. . . do this again?" I ask quietly.

Sly touches my lids, bidding them to open. I can't resist her, and I see the most beautiful smile shining back at me. "Any time you want," she answers.

I really don't want to stop. "Right now?" I feel the grin tugging on my lips and let it come. She throws her head back and laughs. I love the sound.

"Work, remember?"

I don't think I've ever had so much trouble getting to work.


At work, now, even the roar of the vacuum cleaner does not stop me from reminiscing. While Sly walked me to work, we held hands, but all I wanted to do was feel her lips again. I don't think I'm ready for much more, but this is quiet the beginning. We talked along the way, and she told me how nice it was. Sly even told me that she never had a kiss like that. I guess it's a first for both of us.

I raise the bed covers to get under the bed. It's been an easy night so far. I don't think I care either way. She's waiting for me, at home, and I know I'll get to see her wrapped in the dark trench coat, waiting for me. For me. I'm so glad she finally knows that I see past the way she lives, the way she dresses to the outstanding person underneath.

Flicking with my foot, I stop the drone of the vacuum cleaner and turn around to see Lola leaning against the door. I smile at her what must be the goofiest smile ever, and she raises a blond brow. "Oookay, I've been standing here forever. Is lunchtime, girl. Chu ready to eat?"

She walks in because I know the smile is still there. Her eyes narrow. "What cloud chu hanging from, Abbie?"

I come back with a graceful, "Huh?"

Lola rolls her eyes and throws up her hands. "What chu don't speak no English today? Maybe I'll try Spanish, no?" She chuckles at her own joke. Snapping out of it, I join her. "No, I'm okay. Just a little dazed I guess."

She moves closer and continues the squint. "Uh-huh, what's going on with chu? Chu have this look. . .about chu."

I bite my lip and try to move past her, but she reaches out her arm, wrapping it around my torso. "Ah, ah, is that woman isn't it? What her name, Sly?" A weird smile starts to play around her lips. "Oooh, did chu rub monkeys wit her?!"

Oh my God, this woman! I can feel my face turn a horrendous shade of red. "Rub monkeys?! No, we did not!" Breaking free from her hold, I made my way out of the room with her close on my heels.

"Hey! Don't chu run for me! Did chu rub something?"

I put my head down in order to walk as fast as I could. I don't think she'll give me a chance to eat tonight.

Chapter XIX: Inside Sly

I woke up to the pitter patter of rain against, Abbie's window. It's a good thing I have this coat with me. Only my hair is soaked. The rain seems to roll off the coat. I need to hurry because I don't want her to get too wet, so I speed into a run. My thoughts race through my head just as fast.

Look what happens when I let her take the lead? I guess she was ready. . . just a few hours later. Still, I did not expect that! It felt like my head was going to explode and implode at the same time. I didn't know a kiss would move me so, but when you think about it, I should have known that Abbie's kisses would because she moves me. Everything that is wrong in my life felt like it was set right with her touch. I can't help but think we're helping each other, changing each other.

I run harder as I pass the Sands casino. I'm almost there. The sound of the Rolling Stones, blaring from The Hard Rock Café's speakers, meet me as I round the corner. Seeing her at the side entrance, I come to a stop, letting the rain pelt me and sting my eyes. I don't care. Abbie is huddled against the wall, trying to avoid the fat raindrops, but she isn't very successful. Her hair is slick with it, and so is one side of her uniform. As if she senses me, her head jerks up and our eyes meet. Her arm lifts in a wave as her lips do the same in a smile. It pulls me forward, and I go to meet her. Abbie's smile makes me forget about the rain. "Hey," she says. "It's raining."

"Is it? Barely noticed."

She rubs her hand through my wet hair. "Uh huh, sure. So how are we going to do this?" She points at the crying sky.

I open up a side of my coat. "Slowly. You can get under here. Good thing it's clean, huh?"

She nods and flattens her hands against my chest. It rattles me, and I grab her wrists, holding her to me. I look down in her eyes. They are dark but pulsating with her own brand of light. I could live in them forever. Following the path of her gaze, I notice that it leads directly to my mouth. I smile because I can't help myself. "Abbie, it's raining."

"No it's not. You said so yourself. You said anytime I wanted too, remember?" She grins, and her nose crinkles. "Pleaase?"

Who am I to deny her? I nod, and before I know it, she is dragging me by my coat back toward Sands and The Hard Rock Café. The sounds of "Me and Bobby McGhee" meets us as she pulls me into a shadowed corner. I raise an eyebrow at her inquisitively. "Here? Someone will see."

"I don't care." Her voice is husky, and I believe her. Without preamble, Abbie wraps her hands in my hair and pulls my head down. Our rain moistened lips meet, and she tastes sweeter than before, needier than before. Her mouth opens under mine without my asking. I take the invitation. She whimpers into my mouth, and I swallow it. Just as she does mine a second later. The rain, Janis Joplin, and kissing Abbie---I think I found a new favorite pastime.

Hope you really enjoyed this one. Let me know at Minerva

Part 5

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