Part VI

Copyright © 2001

Chapter XXIII: Black Water

"Abbie, are you sure that you want to stay with the Mission?"

I didn't even have to think about it. "Yeah, it just feels right. I figure that they could use all the volunteers that they can get."

Sly goes quiet and clutches at my hand in the semi-darkness. I'm off tonight and nervous, almost giddy about this new job. I've been fidgeting around for the past week, and Sly has been so patient with me, so quick with the smiles, the hugs, and the kisses.

I am also officially finished with my community service. Went to court and everything to present the judge with the paperwork. He seemed so surprised when I looked him in the face and told him I was staying on there. Probably thought I wasn't the same person as before. He would be right. I'm as at home at The Mission as I am in my own little room. It's almost like a second home now.

We spent some time there today, Sly, Pauly, Stevie, and me. Then, we went to go see Gert. She's looking a lot better, and I have never seen her look so clean. Her face still has deep smudges that don't seem to want to go away, and hair that had been denied treatment for so long is damaged and brittle. She was also a lot thinner. With the shock of white hair and still sallow features, she looked haunted, but she is still able to smile every time we enter the room. The doctor said that she'd be ready to go in a few days. She wanted to keep her longer to make sure we had a living situation arranged for her, even temporarily. The conditions under The Boardwalk could cause a relapse. None of us want that to happen. That was all earlier today.

Now, it's night time, we are walking along the Boardwalk, holding hands, and about to do something I've never done in my few years here‹walk on the beach. The salt smell surrounds me, making me want to take big gulps of air to pull it in. It's amazing that I could have missed this all before.

I feel her presence next to me all warm and gentle, and I still can't believe that Sly's all mine. I lace our fingers together, enjoying the tingles that result, and she turns to me with a smile that looks a little sad. I can tell by the grooves in her forehead. I know that something is on her mind. "Tell me," I whisper even though I know she will. She usually needs time to fix it all in her head, but sometimes, Sly thinks too much.

Sly lowers her head and the light from the lamps around us makes her hair look blue in its blackness. She sighs and mutters, "It's not because of me is it? You're not doing this out of some obligation to me are you?"

My eyes widen, and it hits me that sometimes this woman thinks that she's not worthy. But, she is, very much so. I snake my arm through hers around the material of the coat she always wears and lean against her as we walk slowly. "You're not an obligation. You're a necessity to me, but The Mission has nothing to do with you. I'm doing that because I need to. It's sort of a reminder of where I am and where I could be. Besides, you guys could use a cheery face around there. Do you understand?" I lean in further as a brisk wind blows going right through the plain white t-shirt and the well worn khaki walking shorts that I am wearing. We pause and she looks down at me with unfathomable eyes.

"Yeah, I think I do." She scratches her chin and drops her head. "Sometimes, I just----"

"I know," I tell her.

"Know me that well do you?" Sly asks with that all-knowing grin.

"Yeah, I do." I tell her with a grin of my own. I follow her as we turn off toward stairs that lead to the beach. "Why are we out here at night again?" I have to ask.

"Mmm, let's see. To start to relax you for your interview that you have in a few days; to show you what the ocean looks like at night; and to try to be a little romantic, I guess," she added quietly, almost shyly.

I chuckle. She can be so sweet at times. "Sounds like a plan to me." The job interview. I have to admit that I'm a little nervous about it. I applied last week, and I have an interview in two days. Things could change more than a little for both of us in two days. Even if I don't get it, I still want her to apply for something in the casino. They're always looking to hire. I told her that just the other day, and she nodded without hesitation. God, she's wonderful.

Sifting through the sand now, we both look out at the dark water to see the beach deserted, while behind us a scattering of people still meander The Boardwalk. A sparse amount of cracked shells pepper the sand and glow in the moonlight, giving the area an unearthly facade. I feel them crunch under the weight of my feet, but it only adds to the ambiance. We both stop and glance down at them as the water laps around us. Then, I look up at her face, seeing the hard angles in shadows, but they soften for me as her lips curve into a smile.

"I would have loved to come out here barefoot with you, but the shells make it dangerous. They're not many but they hurt like hell. You should really see it in the daytime too. All the terns and gulls swoop down. It's a graceful thing to watch," Sly whispers to me as she pulls me in front of her to stare out at the water. I see the bubbled foam gleam up but the rest looks black and almost tranquil between small waves. Sly wraps her arms around me from behind, and I feel at peace and on fire at the same time. "What do you think?" she asks.

For a full minute, I say nothing as I revel in the tingles and the feel of her against me. Her firm hug brings me back. "It's beautiful," I manage to murmur. "It's amazing how you take the time to see all this. Most people don't. I know I never did."

I could feel her shrug. Then, a blast of heat meets my ear, causing me to shiver. I think she knows that it isn't from the cold because she leans in closer. "When you live like I do, Abbie, you notice every little thing and most of it is the stuff that the rest of the world takes for granted. I'm glad you can see through my eyes now." Her lips are so close that I feel them moving. My body erupts when I feel her mouth brush my ear moistly.

I cover the hands she has wrapped around my torso and mutter huskily, "Me too." Her arms flex around me and I feel her sigh before it actually comes out.

"You're gonna have to help me. You know that. I'm used to being the strong one for all of us. It's gonna be a switch teaching instead of just doing."

This has been on her mind for days every since she agreed to apply for a housekeeping job. It's been gnawing at her. This is who she is, the worrier, the doer‹for everyone. I don't want that to ever change. I trace a large hand with my fingertips. "I know, but you have to know that doing this won't change who you are. It just adds to it. We'll survive better knowing what you do."

Sly pulls me into her body more snugly, and I can feel its imprint against my back from her breasts to hip. "You see the good in almost everything don't you?" she asks.

I can almost laugh at that if she hadn't stole my breath moments ago. How can I even answer her? I feel her. . .everywhere like a damp heat enveloping me. It's overwhelming ¯ the feel of this. I have to ask myself does she know what she's doing to me? Does she know that I can't think at times like this? Does she know and get as much pleasure out of it all as I do? I want to just crawl up in her. When did this start? A few days ago? A week? Yesterday? I know I wanted to take this slow, but the heat, God it's consuming. She calls my name again to pull me from this hold, but inadvertently or not, Sly pushes me in deeper as she places another kiss on my ear. Back to her original question. If I can only remember what it was. Oh, seeing the good. "I didn't always. You know that. You met the woman I used to be---scared as hell. I didn't see the good or the bad. I didn't see anything. Now, it's all around me." I know for a fact that I didn't see or feel until that moment that Sly came up to me in the food line. Things haven't been the same since, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sly slumps over me like she wants to draw me in. Something else is wrong. I should have seen it when the lines on her forehead refused to disappear. I wait because I know it will come out. There's no need to coax. For a while we stand there quietly listening to the lap of waves around us, the murmur of voices far away; watching the moon do her job; and feeling the connection between us.

I hear and feel her take a deep breath and the words just trickle out like slowly moving water. "I'm scared." I feel the mild tremor in her body to coincide with her words.

"Of what?" I lower my voice to the softest register.

Sly responds. "It's the same everytime, and it's so damned hard to shake. I'm scared of who I used to be, of who I am, and of who I can become. I'm scared of failure. I don't think I can handle another one. I'm scared of letting you down, of letting everybody down. I don't want to get my hopes up about this job thing because I know for sure that it can be snatched away from me like the opportunity never existed." She trials off in a shaky voice filled with emotion.

I have to ask even though I already know the answer; even though I told her the answer myself. "You're scared that that will happen to me aren't you?"

Sly doesn't say a word. She rests her chin on my shoulder and I feel her head bob up and down. Her hands tighten around me. It should be painful but all I feel is heat and safety. "I know what you told me, but sometimes things are out of our control. Sometimes, I feel like I'm cursed. I want you. I want a life, but I can't help but think sometimes that someone up there won't let me have both without some big drawbacks."

"Do you believe that? You make it almost sound like fate. I remember reading something about that in high school."

I could feel her head shake from side to side. "I don't want to, but it's hard with all that's happened. All strings seem attached and lead to the same place---fuckin' with my life."

I feel her words rumble through her chest to mine. She means every one of them. I look out to see the far away line of the black ocean and the crescent moon that hangs over it like some sort of bright guardian. It's a sight to see, but it only distracts me for a second. Sly can distract me for what seems like an eternity. I bite my bottom lip as I soak in her previous words.

Then, I add my own. "I can't agree with you on that. I think fate had me right where it wanted me in Indiana. I could have been like everyone else there---in a rut, but I don't know. I just took a chance and ended up here. . . in a different kind of rut. Part of me wanted to stay and deal with things familiar, but I just couldn't. I've had it hard since I've been here, but I met you. If I had stayed there, this. . ." I trail my hands over her forearms, "would have never happened. If fate is responsible for that, I think I made my own. I think you have to fight for what you want, and all the misery that comes with it, is just a part of it all. If I had to live the life I have since I've been here over again, I wouldn't complain as long as it led to you. I would fight hard and even dirty to make sure that happens." I say it with as much sureness in my voice as I can muster.

Before I know it, her face is buried in my neck, and I feel her mouth open over the flesh there. She can't stop touching me. Even with the seriousness of the situation and the words, she can't stop. I don't want her to. Slow, I try to remember to tell myself that, but it feels so good. I gasp at the feel of the open mouth scraping against me. My breathing is rapid and thick. Suddenly, her lips are gone. I begin to turn to protest, but breathing that was rapid before turns ragged as her mouth brushes against the shell of my ear again. My nails dig into the skin of her arms as she whispers in a low, husky voice, "You're amazing. You mean all of that don't you?" I lean my head to the side, involuntarily giving her more.

"Y-yes," I squeak out.

Large hands that were almost idle before start to move over my t-shirted stomach. An unbelievable heat brands my skin with each pass of her hands. As if I'm in some sort of trance, I stare out at the water, and for the first time I notice that with each wave the cast off is getting closer and closer to us. Will it be cold? Or hot like this is? I watch on, feeling all of this at the same time. Words spill from my mouth. "Fight for me?" I ask softly. I want so much for her to believe in us, in herself, in a lot of things.

Those appendages continue to spread fire inside me as she breathes out, "Yess," against my ear.

For the first time, I notice that her breath is as ragged as mine. It makes me tremble. "Fight for. . .everything?" If I have to say the same thing everyday to keep her in the fight, to keep the fears away, I will. Thoughts flutter out of my head, making it hard to concentrate. I know though that it is an important request. This is serious, but for the moment that and the sensuous seemed to be intertwined where we're concerned.


I could feel the moist heat of her breath against me. It makes me feel damp from the inside out. Somewhere, inside me, there is throbbing. I don't know where. Right now, my body has many hearts. Her hands stop under my breasts, and her thumbs caress the sides gently. Unable to help myself I arch outward encouraging the touch. I hear a low growl and the fire in my belly turns to liquid as it trickles down to parts south. It's never gone this far before---the touching, these feelings. It's then that I realize that I want to feel more. Slow, maybe after tonight. Sly growls again but it sounds more like a keening animal. All of a sudden, sensation shoots through my body with intensity. Her tongue plunges in my ear, lapping at sensitive places I wasn't aware of. I can't help myself. I cry out. "Sly!" The knots and curls in my stomach make me whimper. Romance. This is romance? I like it.

The black water that I had been staring out at finally meets me. It soaks through my sandals and licks at my toes. The water is warm like Sly's tongue. The thought of it makes me reach up and wind a hand through thick dark hair, pulling her to me. I whimper again. I don't recognize myself. A woman is doing this to me. A woman is making me feel. A woman is making me need. This . . .woman the missing piece.

Just as quickly as the feelings started, they are gone. I turn to see Sly backing away from me. Her eyes are wide, apologetic, and she is holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to push. . ."

Her voice trails off and Sly looks away trying to hid her flushing face. I attempt to move forward only to feel my feet sinking into the wet sand. Seeing my distress and despite her own, Sly reaches out to help. Her hand takes mine. Somehow she stumbles. I watch her free arm flail as she falls backward, taking me with her. I land on her with a hard smack, knocking the wind out of us both. Her coat is open and fans around us like a blanket protecting us both from the jagged pieces of shell. Surprised but still caught up in the moment, I put my hands in the wet sand and push up and over until I am straddling her and staring down into her face. She is visibly upset. Blue eyes are dark and glittering, and her lip is a thin line. Her chest is heaving with every breath making it brush against my own. I feel the tips of my breast harden and expand. "Dammit," I hear her mutter. I immediately think that I have done something, said something to make her stop or make her angry. I stare over her head into the darkness as my mind flashes over the last few minutes, trying to find something to apologize for. Anything, I just want her to touch me again. I get my wish. Sly reaches up to cup my face. I take it as an invitation. My lips brush hers and we cling to each other. I make a sound in the back of my throat that I can't identify. I only know that I want more. My hands find their way into her hair. I continue to graze her mouth with my own but she only lays there. I whimper in frustration and the throbbing inside me continues. "Please?"

Her face clinches up as if in pain. Sly pushes my bangs off my forehead. "It's not you."

I'm confused, and I am sure it shows on my face. "Tell me please." Big hands trail through my hair, leaving my scalp sensitized. Everything is burning. I groan, and I hear a hitch in her breathing.

Her voice is thick, rough. "I want you. Been holding back. . ."

Realization dawns, I knew this. Words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. "Don't. . .hold back. Touch me." I didn't know how far I wanted things to go, but I know that I want. . .things. I lower my mouth to hers, and I can feel our breaths mingle. "Please." When did I become so bold and straightforward? Does it matter? This is who I am now.

Her moan is long and low, and before I know it, she is crushing me against her. Her mouth is open wide over my own, deliciously devouring. With each spear of her tongue inside I hear her whimper as if she loves my taste and can't get enough. The kiss is rough, savage and all consuming. I realize that I want to be consumed by it, so I try to give as good as I get. What is she doing to me? What are we doing to each other? I feel like I'm flying apart and coming together again simultaneously. I moan at the heady feel of it-- her around me, inside me, underneath me. I feel my hips start to lurch against her. Sly snatches her mouth away, and I feel her whole body shudder as she cries out, "God!"

Her hands.-- oh my God, they are so hot‹snake inside the loose legs of my khaki shorts to palm my thighs. She pulls me to her roughly, and I feel narrow hips grind against me. Lava-like heat, that's the only way I can describe it, flows through me molten and liquid. So good, and I tell her so with a loud groan. The lower half of my body is on fire, and it is spreading so quickly. It's so intense. I should be scared. I should be. Maybe in a few moments I will be. This is what she's been holding back from me‹this hunger, this need. Is it all for me? Before I can answer my own question, she says my name. "Abbie." Her voice, it sounds so needful, so aching. I respond to it by covering her mouth with my own again. She cries out and I swallow it. Our noises mingle‹the little whimpers, keening sounds and moans, and all the time I grind into her like I've done this before, felt this before.

Her hands flex, kneed and pull my thighs, meshing me into her. It's for me. All of it. I know it. I can feel it, and I'm all for her. I feel a dampness at my knees and have the coherence to know that it's the water lapping against us, drenching her coat. I feel the same way, drenched and heavy.

The sudden appearance of flashing blue and red lights along with the sound of a car revving on The Boardwalk bring it all to a startling halt. We tear away from each other to peer toward The Boardwalk, hoping we aren't the ones that have been spotted.

A loud speaker blared, "There is no bike riding at this hour."

I groan in relief and agitation. Didn't Boardwalk cops have something better to do? I glance down at Sly to see an amused smirk showing on shadowed features. "What's funny?"

Sly chuckles. "I wonder what he would have said if it was us he caught? There is no groping on the beach at this hour!"

I snicker with her and shift to get more comfortable. It only brings our hips together again. I become aware of her hands on my thighs. She pulls me into her and I see her features sober.

"I-is this okay, little bit?"

I can hear the uncertainty in her voice. "Yes, I, um, I wanted to take things. . ."

"Slow," she interrupts.

"Yeah, but it feels. . ." I search for words, "so good. I've never felt this good before." Her hands continue to caress me. I shiver.

"I didn't want to scare you, but I wanted," she pauses. "God, its been so long since I've felt this, and its never been like this. . .so intense. Even when you look at me, I get. . .ugh."

"Ugh?" I am teasing, but I really want to know.

"Hot and cold," Sly clarifies.

I find myself nodding. "Yeah, I know what you mean, but I want to feel this. I want it to be okay to feel this."

Sly chuckles again. "That's good because I was walking around feeling like the top of my head was about to pop off." Her voice trails off again. "Just tell me if I push too far."

"Okay, I can do that. If you tell me too?"

I see her eyes widen. She wasn't expecting that. "Deal."

It is quiet again except for the sound of the waves. "So what do you want to do now?" She removes her hands from my thighs and pulls me into a hug. I sigh at the loss of heat.

I kiss her nose and answer, "I don't know. You're all wet, and. . ." Sly lets out a bark of laughter. I cant my head to the side in confusion until it dawns on me. I feel heat flood my face. "Um, oh."

"Mmm, yeah oh."

"Uh, I mean your coat is wet, so we should get you dried off."

Sly tweaks me nose. "It's okay, little bit. I know what you meant. Let's go." She helps me up, and I return the favor. I wade through the water for a minute cleaning off my feet and sandals. I do the same for my hands.

Holding hands, we find ourselves walking on the Boardwalk again but this time in the opposite direction. "So, Abbie? Did it work?" I turn to look at her in confusion only to see that smile that I've come to recognize as trademark.

"Did what work?"

With her free hand she splays it out to encompass all of outdoors. "You know, the Boardwalk, the beach, romance. Are you still nervous?"

Compared to the chance and the step I just took out there on the sand, I feel like I could take anything on. "No, " I tell her. "I don't think I've felt more relaxed, but I feel pent up at the same time with all this energy."

Sly let out another bark of laughter. "I know that feeling well."

I feel myself smiling, but I need to add this even though we already discussed it. "Will you go with me and put in an application if you can?" She's quiet for a long moment then I feel a soft squeeze of my hand. "Yes," she whispers.

Chapter XXIV: Home

I watch her as she tosses around in the bed in an attempt to get comfortable, and I have to be honest with myself. I wish that I was there with her. Who knew that my Abbie had as much pent up as I did? I quiver as my body remembers what happened on the beach. I know now. She's still leading, but we seemed to have upped the ante a little bit. I like upping the ante, but not as much as I love touching and kissing her. It's an addiction all to itself.

The words that come out of her mouth, they are so easy to believe. I find hope in them every time when old fears creep up on me, which they are prone to do. I think that I'm addicted to that too. Is that a bad thing?

I sit on the floor in my pile of blankets watching her as I towel my hair dry. She is so unbelievable and so damn smart. I don't think she realizes that. I think it's my duty to help her with that. It's only fair. She's given me so much. I'm changing. I have changed, and it's time for even more change. Abbie is right. I know she is about teaching the others to do and fend for themselves within this screwed-ass system. It's good to be the screwer and not the screwee. Are those words? Who cares, they are now. Anyway, I want to show them what it feels like to know where to go and who to talk to ¯ to keep their children up on their education; to keep their belongings safe; to keep themselves safe. That's a good thing about invisibility. You can move through hard-ass walls unsuspected here in the country of denial.

A job. I could have a job soon. I have to say that I'm a little excited about that despite the fact that it could come and go like the wind. Either way, I've forgotten what money smelled like. So, my little Abbie believes that we make our own fate. It's an idea to ponder I must say. Maybe this job can be my chance. Maybe I can get it and keep it. Hell, I'd be willing to kiss a few asses if necessary. Maybe I can get a room just like this one and sneak Pauly, Stevie and Gert in. It's an idea. I'm tired of things just happening to me. It's time to make things happen instead of waiting. Well look at that. There's something to this fate thing. Is it as simple at that? I guess that I'll see. Abbie girl, you're one wise woman.

I glance back up at Abbie. She's settled in and has her arms wrapped around the pillow like a lifeline. I smile. I remember when she did that to me. It's a nice way to wake up. I pull the robe close around me and burrow under my own blankets. I lace my hands behind my head and look up at the ceiling. I grin in wonder. Despite the destitute thing, these have been the best few months of my life. Abbie was right when she said I feared her being taken away, but I said I would fight. I promised, and I refuse to break a promise to her even if it means doing things I didn't think I was capable of. The guilt is still there, and I reckon it will be for a while until I see that they can do for themselves‹the ones that want to. Still, it's good to know that I have the people who I can count on around me. Pauly and Stevie are a hop skip and a jump away, and Gertie. . . It's so good to see her well again.

I find myself laughing silently at something she said when we were there earlier today. "You're cleanin' up, Sly." Translation: She knows that Abbie and me are getting closer and likes the effect on me. I know she noticed long before by the little twinkle in her eye, but she never said anything just gave me a look. That's okay though we don't need words. I'm glad she's getting out in a few days, but I'm scared too. She'll have to stay at The Mission away from the elements. I've already talked to the doctor about it. There are some good things about The Mission. The counselors there will see that she gets her medication as well as keep her cool and dry in all this heat. They're gonna try to anyway. It helps that I'm gonna be there everyday to make sure that they do. I know that there's no other way, and I'm gonna have to get the gangs help to talk her into it. I need to get this job so I can take care of her properly.

I turn back to Abbie. And I need her. I groan as flashes of a few hours ago pummel me. Wrapping a pillow over my face, I moan again. That cold shower didn't help. I guess that make out session we had on the floor in lieu of reading didn't either. We talked, laughed, kissed and touched. Yeah, I like upping the ante.

Chapter XXV: Together Again

I hear the ding of elevators and the murmur of passersby around me, but I'm not really paying attention. The past two days have been, for lack of a better word, wow. I've learned so much about Abbie, and I think that I've been open about myself as well. I'm sure she knows all about my shitty past now, including my clueless parents. I know how wonderful hers were. After she related to me about her time in foster care, I feel like I was on a cake walk up until the jail thing. She makes it so easy‹this talking thing. I just look at her and the words just spill. It's really something to see. There was something she said during that time that almost blew me away.

While sitting on the floor, Abbie lounges in my lap as we lean against the bedframe. Her ear is against my chest with her arms wrapped around my torso. She squeezed me while at the same time, murmuring, "Can I tell you something?"

"Anything little bit. You know that."

She paused for what seems like a long time. "You gave me a chance to dream back."

My heart flutters, and I think she feels it too.

"Did I do that? Just by saying. . ."

"Yeah," I whisper huskily. "You did."

She goes quiet again and I feel her ear pressed harder against my chest, listening to my heart spasm.

"For a long time there was just my parents. I wasn't prepared for anything more. I just thought they would always be here. I didn't want to run out and go to college or anything, but I'm sure they had plans for me. Then, there was a whole lot of nothing, and I realized that my dream was to be safe and loved. I never thought I would feel that again. "I just wanted to survive, but you make me want more. I feel like there's so much that I've missed and just now get to see." Green eyes peer up at me, pleading for understanding.

I nod. "I think I pretty much feel the same way. All I wanted was money, material things, and women. I got all three and then some, but something was missing. It just didn't feel right. It took me until I got arrested to understand that. Boy, did I understand. The dreams I had were all selfish and self serving. Being out on the street changed me a lot made me see others as actual people rather than some hump I could take for a ride. After all these years, I didn't realize that there was more I could have, more that I deserved. Then, I'll be damned if I didn't see this little blonde woman in line one day." I pull her close and listen to her chuckle. I end up doing the same.

"You know I've never talked as much as I do to you."

She grins in empathy. "I haven't either. You think we bring it out in each other?"

"Mmm, could be. I know one thing. I wouldn't trade any of this for anything."

I'm brought back to the present by the sound of a doctor being paged, but still the conversation hangs with me. I gave her back the ability to dream to want more. She's done the same for me, but I think she is my dream. I glance around. The four of us find ourselves sitting in the waiting room on Gert's floor as the doctor gives her one last once over. There's no danger of us being kicked out this time.

Abbie isn't really sitting, she's standing in front of the vending machine a few feet away. "I want those honey coated nuts," Stevie calls out.

Abbie gives him a smile and puts in the change. I see her glance at Pauly. "Let me guess. The cheese and crackers?"

Pauly lets out a laugh. "Naw, little miss you know I have a sweet tooth." He gives her a rotten tooth smile, and I almost laugh at the absurdity of it. Sweet tooth. I think Abbie gets the irony too. Green eyes twinkle and smile back at me. "Snickers it is," she mumbles.

After procuring that treat, she turns to me. I smile wickedly and take in the simple green skirt that snuggles her hips perfectly along with the silky white top. She looks older and more delectable than ever. Who said they didn't have good clothes at the Salvation Army? I smooth my hands over my own khakis and button down tee. Good thing Abbie only had to spend four dollars. I need this job. I want to be the one getting her things. I'm brought back by the sound of my name from her lips. "Sly, what do you want?" The wicked grin is back. I mouth Œyou.' She becomes immediately flustered almost dropping the snacks from her hand, but I see that smile, that one just for me, lighting up her red face.

I glance out the side of my eye then turn to see Pauly and Stevie giving me knowing looks. I raise a brow at them. "What?"

Stevie cackles, "Shame on you, Sly. You dog."

I repeat my question as innocently as possible. "What?"

Stevie rolls his eyes and peers over at Pauly who adds his two cents. "You're embarrassin' her with the googly eyed looks."

I blink. "Googly eyed?"

"Yeah, look at'er. She's a turnin' nine different shades over there." He points at Abbie. The flush on her face an neck darken.

My grin turns rakish as I give Abbie the once over again. I'm full of myself. I know. "Uh huh." I swallow and my eyes widen as she saunters toward me red face and all. This new Abbie likes the unexpected. I scratch my nose and peer over at my comrades only to see the snicker at my sudden lack of comfort. I turn back to see green eyes staring down at me from a very close distance. Before I know it, she's in my lap with her hands firmly wrapped around my neck. The two men beside me exploded with wheezing laughter. I feel my face turn the shade that Abbie's was a moment ago. TouchÈ. I acknowledge my defeat with a wink and smile to the woman in my arms who chuckles and buries her face in my neck. God, this woman.

Pauly and Stevie continue to laugh. "Let's not play kissie face and get all messed up for yall's big day!" Pauly adds around a guffaw.

Abbie's head lifts and we turn to each other and smile. "Wish me luck you two?" She asks shyly.

Their heads bob. "Good luck to you both bout time Sly done take the bull by the horns," Stevie replies.

I turn to look at them both. I have to ask. "So you're not mad? I wanted to tell you guys earlier, but I've been. . ." I feel her arms squeeze me in reassurance. "It's for all of you too." I hold up a free hand when they start to protest. "You're my family, and you belong with me. What's mine is yours. It's as simple as that." They nod and hang their heads but I see the soft smiles on their faces. Men. My thoughts turn to Gert. "Look guys. We need to figure out a way to get Gertie to stay at The Mission for a little while. I‹"

"Yeah, Sly we know. Me and Stevie was discussin' it last night. We were thinkin' that if we stayed there she would too. We don't want her to be sick again."

I smile. "Great minds think alike."

We are interrupted by a throat clearing above us. Four sets of eyes turned upward to look up at the woman doctor. I glance down to see Abbie blushing again. I smirk. "She ready?"

The doctor nods with a smirk of her own. "Yeah, she's up, dressed, and ready to go."

Abbie slides off my lap and rises. I do too, but I grab her hand without shame as I bend to retrieve the coat I had tucked against the side of the chair. Our eyes meet, and I silently ask if the hand holding is okay. Her nose crinkles and she gives me a squeeze. It's very okay.

Abbie is the first to enter the room followed by us stragglers. She greets Gertie with a beaming smile that the old woman returns. Right before my eyes, she releases my hand and engulfs Gert in a hug. Gert's surprised eyes meet mine. I shrug and give her a thumbs up.

"You're stock just went up, Abbie," Gert tells her.

"That's good to know," Abbie mutters back with the smile still in place. "Now, let's get you out of here and somewhere where you can call your broker."

Within seconds, Gert is surrounded by the people who love her. Her clothes are the same, but she looks more rested despite dropping a few pounds. Pauly and Stevie pat her on the back in greeting. I drape the coat around her shoulders. "I think it's time you have this back." I glance at Abbie who just happened to be already looking at me. Giving her a soft smile, I continue, "I have other ways to keep warm these days."

I watch the blush light Abbie's features, and I listen to the warm laughter around us. Gert joins in. She may be a little crazy but she's not dumb.

It's just Abbie and me now walking toward what I can assume are the Human Resource offices of Claridge casino. People mill all around us, and I think Abbie senses my discomfort. I see her about to reach for my hand. Indecision crosses her face. She squeezes my arm instead. That's good. I wouldn't let her hold my hand anyway. I want to get this job or any job for that matter.

"You okay?" Her voice is loud among the murmuring people, but it's still sweet.

I swallow and nod my head. She knows that I'm lying. I need to fix it in my head before I say anything.

"I'm glad Stevie and Pauly's little trick worked like a charm. If it hadn't worked, she would be staying with me."

I look down at this woman, and I am eternally grateful. She is truly amazing. "Thank you." I pause and add. "I'm nervous." I wasn't till now. I really wasn't. It's just that it's been so long. How the hell am I going to explain the gap in employment? Ugh. And what about what happened few years ago with getting arrested. God, I hope that's water under the bridge. I was exonerated by the court at least. Thank goodness that I'm just filling out an application. I don't think I'm ready to kiss ass as of yet, and thank God The Mission helped me keep my ID valid. Despite what happened to Curtis and the guilt I still feel over it, it's time to join the ranks of the living and the visible again. It's time. I'm tired of being kicked out and manhandled.

"I know." She leans in and brushes the side of my body with her own.

Suddenly I feel like a totally selfish ass. She's the one with the interview. "Are you?"

She looks up at me with twinkling eyes. "A little. I've never had an interview this big before. Any advice?"

I tell her the truth. "Just be who you are now, and it will go fine."

Abbie bumps me with her hip. I raise an eyebrow in surprise. She smiles. "Take your own advice." I shake my head in wonder and watch as she glances around. Suddenly, she jerks on my arm and we head toward what looks like the bathroom. "C'mon. I've got some different kind of advice." My eyebrows raise high into my bangs. Abbie. You devil you.

Before the bathroom attendant could even look up, Abbie has us both against the wall of a very roomy stall. I try to keep my moan in check as she winds her fingers through my hair. I'm glad I wore it down. Very glad. Her hands form into fists and she pulls me to her. I can't help myself this time. I moan loudly. She tastes so damn sweet even with the cheap lipstick we're both wearing. Her tongue laves my bottom lip. I quiver and open for her. This time it's her who whimpers when our tongues touch. I wrap my arms around her and pull her to me, needing to feel her closer. Our sounds blend, and finally, the need to breathe makes us break away. Abbie traces my now swollen lips with her fingertips and mutters, "A kiss for luck." I could love this woman and what she's becoming. I really could.

Give me a holler and tell me what you think. Don't make me beg. It's not a pretty sight. Drop me a line at Minerva

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