Chapter 25

The snow had almost dissipated over the past week, leaving everything wet, dripping with a hint of oncoming green. Icicles that covered gutters and windows were gone, giving onlookers a clear view of the uncovered streets. The peace that the snow distilled was replaced by the renewed vigor of oncoming spring. Blue, white, and green houses gleamed and the sun glinted off of freshly washed mini-vans, station wagons, and other family cars. Ignoring the sun's rays that poured into the uncovered windows, Michelle, naked and freshly showered leaned over her son and studied him with the critical eye of a mother as they lay on the bed.  Soft hands reached forward, counted each finger, each toe and cherished it as if it were the first time.  She leaned down even more nuzzling him and taking in Toby's scent. 

Tiny hands clutched at long blonde strands but it did not matter.  Michelle sucked in a deep breath and smiled.  This was what she missed—-the smell of comfort, newness, baby wash, and smooth skin.  Toby gurgled and the blonde's smile got bigger.  It was the sweetest sound. 

"I missed you little man.  Seems like I was gone forever, especially to you.  You won't even take my milk now. I'm sorry about that.  I'm gonna miss that." Michelle frowned slightly as she recalled the disappointment when Toby refused to suckle. It had always fostered the connection between them, but it was gone. Now, she had to settle for rocking him while he sucked formula from the new bottles with artificial nipples. It hurt, but it was something she would get used to. "I missed so much. I don't think that I'll be going back there. Here's where I belong.  Bobbi needs me and so do you. Next time, I could miss your first crawl or step."   Through the disappointment-- instead of the fear creeping up on her, Michelle's insides burst with unmitigated joy.   "Someone needs me. She needs me.   I never thought that I would get to say those words, but they're the right ones.  I feel it." 

She slid her hands over his torso and down little legs.  "You've gotten bigger! I know its hasn't been that long, but you have!"   Toby cooed and smiled as the blonde's hands explored.  "You've been holding out on me, little guy?"   Michelle brushed her fingers over his exposed belly button and heard it as clear as day, a laugh---a loud, robust one.  The blonde's head rose in surprise.  With wide green eyes, Michelle studied her son and made a pass over his navel again.  The sound returned.

Her heart swelled with a myriad of emotions.  "After all that I've put you through, you can still share this with with me?"   She traced his cherubic features with a solitary finger.  In a trembling voice, Michelle added, "Thank you.  If it's in my power, I'll never leave you again.  That's a promise."   Michelle sealed the promise with kiss to his forehead.  Then, she continued to touch him, reminding herself of what she'd missed and hearing over and over again the breathless giggle that made her heart soar.

The need to share this moment was overwhelming.  Michelle turned toward the closed door wanting to go to the brunette and pull her into the moment too.  But, it required courage that she did not think she had right now.  Still, Michelle's inner voice nagged her.  She deserves to be part of this.  Bobbi's part of both of us now.  No one has ever done for me what she has. I didn't know people like her existed.  I'm glad they do.  I'm glad that she does.  I don't think we would be lying here in one piece without her.  How could I ever doubt her?   A sudden warmth invaded the blonde as she remembered the feel of long strong arms around her, escorting her back to reality.   It was where she wanted to be, basking in the warmth while the cold stayed far behind.  While everything else about the past week or so was hazy, Michelle remembered the warmth, the tears, and the feeling of security that she had been searching for.

Michelle's body shook violently as she returned to the world of light.  She clutched the arms around her, willing them to remain, willing them to reach inside and anchor her.   She got her wish.   Smoothly whispered words filled her senses before the sounds of a dog barking and  a baby sobbing filtered in.  Michelle welcomed it all. 'I feel like I'm home,' she thought. Momentarily, she stilled herself, waiting for the cold darkness to catch upwith her. 

It did not come.  

Now alert jade eyes scanned the room, taking in the familiar surroundings of the bassinet, the Husky, and the now decimated mirror.  She gasped but the sound of a rapidly beating heart near her ear, distracted her.   The blonde glanced up to see pale blue pleading, and wet with still falling tears.   She wanted to reach up and touch them, but for the moment each limb felt as heavy as lead.  Instead, she met the cobalt gaze and muttered hoarsely, "You're crying."

The arms squeezed tighter then loosened.  Unashamed by her display of emotion, Bobbi uttered thickly,  "Yeah.  You're back."

Michelle swallowed, trying to work the words out of her mouth. "Yeah.  Are the t-tears . . .for me?"

Still, their eyes held.  Bobbi nodded and answered meekly, "Yeah."  Removing one of her arms from the hug, the brunette raised a hand and brushed, damp blond bangs away from her friend's face.  With the fingers of that same hand, she traced from eyebrow to chin.  Her touch remained, brushing the blonde's forehead and cupping a cheek.

"Um,  w-why?"

"Because I missed you.  We. . . missed you."

"I-I heard you talking to me, calling out to me.  Couldn't understand it all, but I heard you."   Michelle licked dry, cracked lips before speaking again.  "Missed you too."   She heard the heartbeat close to her ear pick up again. 'I needed to hear this and feel this.

"Welcome back."  Of their own mind, the doctor's fingers tweaked the blonde's nose. It crinkled in response,  "How do you feel?"

Michelle took mental inventory of her body then groaned.  "Throat hurts. Everything hurts.  Stiff."

"That's to be expected you were immobile for a while."

Afraid to ask but knowing she needed to, "H-how long?"

Bobbi paused, reluctant to answer.  "Um, a. . . almost ten days,"  she whispered.

Green eyes filled with shock peered back up into pale blue.  "No!  We've lost so much time.  Toby. . ."

"Shhh."  Bobbi squeezed her with the one arm hug and continued to caress the blonde's face in hopes to comfort them both.  "It's okay.  I took care of him and Taz or rather we took care of each other.  Nothing to worry about."

Michelle wiggled in the brunette's hold as all of reality crashed down on her.  "No Max. . . momma.  They're coming for us!"

The doctor refused to let go.  "No, no listen to me, Chelle.  It's okay.  Everyone that saw you agreed to keep quiet.  I trust these people around here.  Do you trust me?"

Michelle eyes again widened in surprise.  "Y-yess, but. . ."

"No, buts trust me to take care of this.  I promise you that they won't get to you.  I'll take you away from here if I have to.  I won't let you down."

Green eyes searched for the truth, and it was there for her, shining brightly.  "You. . .won't will you?"  There was a flash of white as the doctor smiled fully.

"No.  Truth."  Their gazes held, and Bobbi continued to caress satin-like skin, sweeping a thumb close to lips.

For the fist time, Michelle felt the softness of the caresses. It only made the warmth more prominent.  Within her muddled brain, thoughts and words became one.  "You--you're touching me."

The busy fingers stopped, and Bobbi attempted to pull away.  "I'm sorry.  It's just. . ."

"No, don't stop.  I-I like it.  Makes me feel warm inside.  Makes things feel real."

"I-I know what you mean,"  Bobbi answered thickly.

The were startled by the sudden rocking of the bed but looked up to see Taz jumping up beside them.

The doctor grinned as the Husky covered them both in wet kisses.  "See, I told you that we all missed you."


"I'll get Toby for you,"  the brunette untangled herself and strolled toward the nearby crib and the slightly sobbing baby.

Michelle felt the warmth leave her and immediately wanted it back.   It returned two fold, with the presence of the doctor and baby.  As gently as she could,  Bobbi placed Toby in Michelle's stiff arms and watched as the blonde situated herself.  "You okay, Chelle?"

Michelle remained quiet as she peered around her.  She was surrounded by those most important.  For that brief instant, things felt right.  She looked back up at the brunette.  "I-I think so.  Are you?" She asked scratchily.

Bobbi nodded and smiled.  "Yeah, I'm getting there.

The next couple days were filled with stretching to relieve the soreness, tea to ease the blonde's scratchy throat, and talking, as if they were playing catch up. Bobbi filled her in on everything from the weather to why there was a big dusty box sitting in her room. Initially awkwardness and guilt for took hold of Michelle with an iron grip. She grabbed onto anything real, using it as an anchor for fear of flying away again. It ranged from the sound of the doctor's voice, the feel of Taz's fur, and the weight of Toby in her arms. She extended her senses to each one, savoring them to a degree that she had not before. But, it was the guilt and fear that urged her to hang onto Bobbi's every word, to keep Taz close and her son closer. For the first few days, the threesome shared a bed, and Michelle lay awake watching them, touching them, and making sure neither her son or the Husky would disappear. Every nuance of the real world, including food, water, and light, had become more precious than gold.

Realizing that this reality was no longer fleeting, the guilt gave way to a seed of determination that seemed to grow exponentially in spite of the darkness that was never that far away. With each smile and kind word from Bobbi, each time she held her son and caressed the Husky, the seed sprouted deep roots. With a grin, the doctor acknowledged the change from discomfort to wary assureness, and Michelle knew it was truth. It was time to face reality and all its faults head on. It was time to fight even harder.

Back in the present, Michelle peered at the box as she pulled socks over tiny feet, and her thoughts continued to whirl around the doctor. I've never seen her so talkative. It's like she was saving it all up for me. She really did miss me. I think she kept touching me to make sure I wouldn't fly away. It was one of the things that kept me grounded. She says that somehow I helped her get to where she is. I don't know how I did that. I didn't know I was capable of helping anyone. That's a heady feeling to have. I helped change someone's life even when my own slips in and out of the toilet. Besides that, it's almost unbelievable that Bobbi was able to face her history with her brother head on. What must that feel like to conquer a demon? I envy her in a way because mine are constantly chasing me. I've given into more than I've conquered. What will it feel like to be finally free of all of this?

I want to feel it. I think I feel some of it now. Safe. She told me that she would make sure of that. I believe her. It took me a long time to utter those words even to myself, but I believe in her. I know that Bobbi will do what she has to in order to keep us safe. I don't know how I got to this point. I just know I did. She's believed in me, been patient with me, and offered me more than anyone else ever has. Maybe that's how I got here.

Michelle glanced at the foot of the bed as Taz jumped on. He took a seat somewhere in between the blonde and the baby, getting close to both as much as possible. Sitting on his haunches, "Wuff!" He exclaimed.

The petite blonde smiled. "Hey, boy. I'm not trying to ignore you or anything, just thinking." Taz panted and gave her a toothy smile. "You feel it too don't you? Max has never been so close. I was so scared before. I just wanted to disappear so I wouldn't have to face it all, but you and Bobbi wouldn't let me. I'm still scared, but at the same time, I've never felt safer. Does that make sense, boy?" She tickled his fur with a bare foot.


Michelle nodded somberly. "Yeah, I know it's what they call an oxymoron. I think, but it's true. I think part of me knew that and that's some of the reason I came back. It was just a shock, you know? Seeing him there larger than life with those empty eyes, lying just like my mother was about how much they loved me and missed me. It was like my mind couldn't wrap around it so it retreated, you know?"

Taz whined in response and moved closer to bare legs.

"Aww, I love you too, big guy." She tangled toes in the soft fur. "You've got to help me though. I don't want to go back there. It's cold, dark, and lonely. I missed you guys so much. Sometimes, I swear I could feel you next to me. I don't remember much, except for Bobbi's voice and the feel of you. You were there weren't you?"

"Wuff! Wuff!"

Michelle smiled. "Sorry. You're always there."

She peered at Toby, who lay on his stomach wiggling around the middle of the bed. "You guys took good care of her, huh?" Turning him over gently, Michelle passed around his navel once more and smiled at the chortle that ensued. "That's good. She deserves it. Bobbi's taught me so much including how to believe in myself and others, mostly her, but it's a start. I have a voice now, Taz. Someone to listen to me, see me, believe me, and I'll be damned if I lose it now. This is how I'll win. I continue to take back myself."


"Right!" The Husky's thumping tail tickled her leg. Michelle looked over toward the broken mirror as her thoughts turned inward once more. So close, Max. You were so close to claiming me again. You still are. Aren't you? I won't lie. That scares me so much, but I have something now. I have help. I have a friend-- someone who cares. She'll fight with me, and I want to fight more than ever before. I don't care if that involves running, but I won't let you pull me or my son into that darkness again either physically or mentally.

"I won't," Michelle whispered huskily. Something stirred inside—a burning energy, a fire that she never felt before. The blonde thought of Toby, Bobbi, and Taz. She thought about losing them, and the fire grew as did the need to protect what she had so strenuously cultivated---a bond between friends, between parent and child, between them all. With determination burning inside her, the blonde uncovered hidden courage. Michelle's need to share this moment and these revelations with her friend, redoubled. Full lips pursed into a tight line as she diapered Toby before putting on his white t-shirt and pants to cover his chubby legs. In quick, sure motions, the blonde moved from the bed and deposited her son in the bassinet. Mindful of her own nakedness, she pulled bra and panties out of the appropriate drawer and put them on vehemently.

Taz watched the display with wide-eyed interest. They were going somewhere.

Blindly, Michelle reached into the nearby closet and pulled out a pair of well-worn Wranglers instead of her customary sweat pants. Then, she wrestled on a white t-shirt with a rainbow painted in the front. Completely dressed, the petite blonde stared into the broken mirror, seeing nothing but the wooden background. A soft smile covered her lips. She did not need to see the woman in the mirror today. Now, Michelle knew without a doubt that slowly but surely they were becoming one. Without looking back, she pulled on and tied up worn sneakers, grabbed Toby out of his bassinet, and headed for the closed bedroom door.

Wuffing quietly, Taz followed.

* * *

Free of patients for the next thirty minutes, Bobbi tapped long fingers against her office desk. With her other hand, she held up a picture of her family and peered at it with thoughtful eyes. Who would have thought it, Stevie? That a little woman with the strength and guts of ten men would come into my life and set all of this in motion? It's almost unbelievable, but I believe. Oh boy, do I believe. I believe enough to know that my life would be shit without her. My dreams have almost been sedate as of late. I still have a lot to face up to, but I've gotten so far. I've made some peace with you, little brother. I've made some peace with myself.

Freeing the other appendage from its little dance, Bobbi traced the image of her mother. Mom, I know now that I didn't fail you, at least not where Stevie was concerned, but there's so much. . . The doctor shook her head and paused. Just give me time. Maybe someday soon I'll forgive myself for letting you two die. Maybe someday you'll show up in my dreams and hold me like you used to. The brunette sighed and set the picture face up on the desk before leaning back in the chair. With impatient hands, she reached back and pulled the long ponytail from inside the collar of her lab coat. Then, she fingered the charm around her neck, feeling the warmth it had garnered from her body.

Pale blue eyes scanned the office, taking in the familiar, humble setting with the knowledge that this is what she was born to do, help people live a long, happy life. She peered down at hands now in her lap, trying to escape the fact that her intentions and actions did not always coincide. "I guess I'm more like you that way, dad." An image of her father standing tall and proud burned itself into her brain.

You're a whole other thing all together. Aren't you? I thought I'd come to terms with the fact that you loved medicine more than us, a long time ago. Now, I know I haven't. I have you closed up just like I did mom, and Stevie. I wonder if it is fair to blame you for what happened to Stevie. He needed you. Hell, I needed you, but there's nothing I can do now is there? I should just let go. There are no fond memories. There's barely any memories with you in them. That's your loss, dad. I think I figured out a long time ago that we had nothing to do with that. So, why can't l let you go?

Bobbi smoothed a hands over her jean encased thighs. She saw the answer just as clear as day. They came easier to her now because she was willing to face the questions. "I had to lock up the past to keep from feeling, to keep from living," the doctor whispered. "Now, I have so much to face, and it's all because of ‘Chelle." Bobbi could not say the blonde's name without a smile forming.

I don't think that I've ever seen a stronger person. Life keeps throwing shit at her and she throws it back at'em every time. It's so damn contagious and inspiring, and I know that I'm lucky as hell to have her in my life. She pushes me forward without even knowing it. Amazing. The brunette bit her bottom lip as she recalled the tears that she had shed. She wasn't ashamed just surprised they took so long. With the absence of the blonde's laugh, voice, and over all presence, she had ached physically. It both scared her and made her realize the place Michelle has in her life. A place that is essential. "I need her," Bobbi murmured matter of factly.

She chuckled wryly. "I remember when I didn't even want her in my house. Now, I need her." She shook her head in wonder and leaned all the way back in the chair and crossed her arms over her ample chest. The world seems right side up for a change. I hope I do the same for her. "This house wouldn't be the same without her. Thank God, she came back." Her features darkened as she remembered the newscast. Anger, red and pulsating eased into her blood. You won't come near her Max or whatever your name is. We take care of each other in this town. You won't even know she exists. She doesn't belong to you. She never did, and I'll leave everything that I have here to make sure that she and Toby are safe. I promised her, and it's one I intend to keep. It should have shocked the doctor that she cared so much, but it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

With Toby on her hip and Taz behind her, Michelle walked down the hall of the doctor's office. Looking straight ahead, she gritted her teeth and ignored the first open exam room door, hoping to appear nonchalant to whoever was inside. A cool sweat dotted her forehead. Her knees shook and her breath came out in a whimpered pant as she passed the second door. The need to bolt back down to the other end was strong, but the feel of Taz brushing against her provided needed reassurance. I can do this. I need to. I want to. Emerald eyes widened as the waiting room came into view, but she let out a shaky breath upon seeing its emptiness. We can just wait in her office if she's seeing someone. Seeing the open door that she remembered to be the doctor's personal office, Michelle resisted the urge to run toward it and hide inside. She concentrated hard and took deep breaths to try to control her erratic breathing. A few seconds later, she neared the open doorway with a dramatic, triumphant sigh and smiled shyly into the surprised eyes of the brunette. Alarmed, Bobbi stood up and walked toward her. "Chelle? You okay? I mean—"

"Yeah, he laughed, and I put on his clothes. We wanted to show you, but I was scared. The mirror, um," She stopped and took a breath, suddenly aware that she was babbling. Come on! This should be easy now. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Michelle tried again. "Um, hi?"

I don't think there's anything to worry about. She's excited about something. Bobbi grinned. "Hey yourself. I see you brought the whole entourage." She tweaked Toby's nose and smiled down at the Husky that materialized at her side. The urge to grasp the blonde's hand was strong, but she swallowed it down. Bobbi glanced back up and held green eyes that snapped with excitement and relief. "What's up?"

Michelle's smile lengthened to encompass her whole face and her free hand moved through the air expressively. "Toby laughed! He laughed! I tickled him around his belly button, and it just came out!" The blonde relayed in animated fashion.

Michelle's glee was contagious. Bobbi chuckled. "He did?! And you came in here. . ." Her voice trailed off as she realized the implications. Pale blue eyes widened with wonder and admiration. Unable to resist like before, she reached out and engulfed the blonde's smaller hand with her own larger one. I mean something to her. "And you came in here to share it with me despite the fact that there could have been a lot of people around?" Bobbi swallowed and whispered, "Wow. Um, are you okay?"

Michelle squeezed the hand around hers. She knows. She understands that this is all new and scary. Suddenly shy, the blonde head lowered, only to be pushed up again by strategically placed fingers under her chin. "Um, I was scared at first, but this seemed more important. I wanted to share it with you. You're my friend, and because of you I was able to see it. . ." The backs of her eyes burned with tears. The fingers under her chin feel away and cupped a cheek. Michelle leaned into it, loving the warmth and refused to turn away this time. "Thank you," she said thickly. Bobbi wiped at the corner of a watery eye and whispered, "Anytime, and thank you."

Michelle looked up with confused eyes, "But, I didn't do anything."

The brunette smiled softly. "Yeah, you did. I mean, you do. More than you know."

The blonde bit her lip and nodded. She sees something in me. I wish I could look through her eyes.

Continuing to caress a soft cheek, Bobbi peered down at the blonde. It's all there-- helplessness, strength and determination. She gives and takes at the same time. Wanting to give back, Bobbi murmured, "C'mere," and opened her arms.

Without hesitation, Michelle walked into the embrace that included her son. The blonde felt surrounded by heat. She sucked in a breath, taking in the sweet, spicy scent of the doctor's perfume and listened to the strong sure heart beat under her ear. How could I have ever been scared of this? Michelle returned the hug, wrapping her arm around the doctor's broad back and squeezing as hard as she could.

Bobbi rubbed her chin over soft blonde hair and pulled back slightly for Toby's sake. It felt good being held and being able to hold someone again. She felt the blonde's arm tighten around her and smiled. She's never had this. I'm more than happy to give it to her. Feeling left out, Taz brushed against them both and got as close as possible. They stood there for long minutes, until the always squirming baby made himself known. Not wanting to let go, Bobbi moved away slowly and chuckled at the irritation on Toby's face. "Sorry about that, Peanut. I guess we need hugs more than you do." She reached for him. "Can I?"

Michelle nodded and handed him over. She turned around and spotted a chair behind her. Sitting down, she quietly watched their interaction. The Husky followed, sitting at her feet, watching the human interplay. Bobbi sat on the edge of her desk. She clucked her tongue and spoke softly to the bundle in her arms. He had grown so much in almost four months. Blue-green eyes were more alert and they peered up at the brunette as if he understood every soft word. "Hey, Peanut. You laughed for your momma, huh? Will you laugh for me?" With gentle fingers, Bobbi pulled up the white t-shirt, exposing his stomach. She traced light fingertips down his belly and jumped in surprise at the loud giggle that resulted. She glanced up at the blonde excitedly, "Well, I'll be. Would you look at that?" Her heart clenched with surprised joy. Taz even added a happy ‘wuff' to the foray. Bobbi chuckled as she peered at the Huskie. "Even Taz is brimming about it."

Michelle smiled as the doctor exhibited the same reaction she had. She's very good with him. "Yeah, I know. He's laughed before, but never like that." Her smile got bigger. Despite the turmoil chasing them, Toby was flourishing. "He's getting to be a big boy."

"Yeah, I see that. Do you have enough clothes and stuff for him?"

Hanging her head and sobering a little, Michelle nodded. "Yeah, that's one of the things his grandparents made sure of. They got him a lot of clothes in various sizes. He's able to wear the stuff that was too big before."

Seeing the sudden change in her friend, Bobbi reached out and moved a wisp of blonde behind Michelle's ear. Green eyes met blue again. "Hey, it'll be okay. I meant what I said, but it's okay to be scared."

"I know. It's just---" She paused and took a deep, shaky breath. "They keep coming at me one way or the other, and I'm trying to fight back. It's just hard. Every time I make progress something happens. I'm tired of it. I mean, I sit here in this house. Isn't that letting them have some kind of hold over me?" She didn't wait for an answer. "I think it is. I want to go out more, but now that my face has been plastered all over the news, how is that possible?"

Bobbi looked down into green eyes and saw the determination. How does she do it? How does she keep going with all this going on? The doctor mentally shook her head. She's been thinking about this. I can see it, and she's ready. The awe I feel must be showing on my face. Bobbi held the blonde's quizzical gaze. I can help her with this. A light bulb went on. "There could be a way. Um, we could cut your hair. Maybe lighten it a little, and with a little make up, you could look like a different person. "

Michelle moved to the edge of her chair. "You think so?"

The brunette could hear the hope in her voice. "It's worth a try. Just let me know when you want to try this. . ."

"Tomorrow?" Michelle interrupted excitedly.

Bobbi nodded and chuckled, "It's nice to see you so gung ho about this." Her voice gentled. "It's nice to have you back."

"It's great to be back. It's never been that bad before." She swallowed and looked down at suddenly fidgeting hands. "Um, when he used to hit me. I-I sort of caved in on myself to block out the pain and the sound of his voice." Her voice was small and detached.

Not wanting her to wallow in old pain, Bobbi murmured, "Hey. Look at me." Sad green met azure. "You had to have a world of your own. It was your way to survive. There's nothing wrong with that, ‘Chelle. Not a thing."

The blonde head canted to the side and Michelle studied her friend's features, seeing the honesty plainly written there. "Truth," she whispered.

Bobbi smiled slightly. "Yeah, truth. Maybe you have to hit bottom to shoot your way up again. I mean, look at you now. I've never seen you like this. The way you talk to me is even different."

Michelle blushed as the fire that had simmered since the bedroom rose again. "Really? I do feel different somehow. I'm tired, and it seemed like I was crawling before. I still want to take it slow, but I just want more."

Bobbi smiled full out. "Nothing wrong with that either. Where do you want to go? I've got a couple hours free in the morning. No patients till 11:30."

Michelle's smile crinkled her nose. "The library."

The doctor snickered. "Somehow, I knew you were going to say that. I do have a card if you want to check out anything. That way we won't have to give your name."

Giddy with excitement, Michelle muttered, "Great! So we can do my hair tonight after dinner?"

The brunette chuckled good-naturedly at her friend's enthusiasm. "Sure thing. I have a few more patients to see, but I'll be able to poke my head in for lunch, since it is your turn to fix it. I should be finished by 3 o'clock. I'll close early today, so we can get started ahead of time."

Not wanting to leave but taking it as a cue, Michelle stood up. "Okay, if I'm not around at lunch just poke your head in the den. I'll probably be on the computer."

Bobbi stood too and reluctantly handed back the baby. "Okay, what are we having?" She asked with a teasing smirk.

After getting Toby situated, Michelle smiled softly and answered, "Your favorite. Sandwiches."

They both peered toward the open door suddenly at the jangling sound of the entrance bell. With eyes warm with affection, Bobbi glanced back at the blonde. "I guess that's my cue to get back to work." Their gaze held until the sound of footsteps ended it. At the sound, the doctor expected to see fear in the blonde's eyes, but there was only excitement and warmth.

"I'll see you later then," Michelle added.

Before she could reply, the blonde was out the door. Bobbi glanced down at the Husky, who thumbed his tail in acknowledgement. "She's come a long way. Don't you think?"


"I knew she would too," the brunette whispered as she watched Taz leave to go catch his mistress. Suddenly, noon seemed too far away.

Chapter 26

The blonde was true to her word. The doctor found Michelle in the den at lunch time. After kidnapping her from the computer, they talked a little and laughed a lot, while eating ham sandwiches at the kitchen table under the watchful eye of the Husky. After leaving the other woman, Bobbi found that her day moseyed along slowly much like the few hours before lunch. She patched up each patient with quick, competent skill, hoping to make the time go by faster. It didn't help. Now that the blonde was back, the brunette wanted to keep her in sight.

As she escorted the last patient out, Bobbi glanced at her wrist watch to see that it was 2:47pm. She smiled softly to herself and watched as the woman made her way back down the walkway to her car. Pale blue scanned the terrain, seeing signs of late April-— dampness, cool winds and moderate sun. Eyes then glanced at the sky taking in the blue and patchy white of it. A gust of chilled wind entered the open door, biting through the off white crew neck sweater, worn Levi's and making bangs fly as well as the tails of the lab coat. The brunette pulled her head back in and took off her lab coat, hanging it on the patient coat rack instead of the customary place, on the hook behind her office door. She closed the door and switched the sign that said, 'Come in' to 'Closed,' with a flick of her wrist.

While her job was important, Bobbi had something better to do for once. She glanced around the room to make sure nothing was amiss. The padded wooden chairs looked lonely lining the walls, and she ignored the strewn semi-outdated magazines that covered the tables as well as the potted plants that probably needed to be watered. Turning away from it, she walked toward the desk to pick up the phone to change it over to the answering service. The long fingers of one hand bypassed the stack of papers at her fingertips to trace the edges of the smooth, polished wood, as she waited for the appropriate cues. Azure eyes scanned the office again.

You started this, dad, but how can this be more important than what you had at home? That's one lesson I didn't learn from you. Now that I have something to go home to, nothing takes precedence over it. I definitely won't make that mistake. Finally, Bobbi hung up the phone and reached back to remove the scrunchee from her hair. She shook black silk loose then ran deft hands through it for good measure as long strands settled around her shoulders. The dark-haired doctor raised her arms high above her head and stretched as a wide smile took over her features.

The giddiness of earlier today returned two fold. The more sides she saw to Michelle. The more she wanted to see because in return the more the doctor learned about herself. Now moving toward the hallway, Bobbi turned off lights as she went. As she neared the end, for the first time in a long while, the problems of her patients fell away making room for her own as well as a life that had recently become richer. In spite of her demons, Bobbi, sporting a healthy grin, switched off the last light and entered the door that led to the kitchen. "God, Stevie," she whispered, "can you believe it? I feel like a kid again. I'll get it right this time."

* * *

Sitting in the den behind the computer once more, Michelle stared at the screen and tried to enunciate the words exactly the way the voice through the speakers did. Her accent was shoddy but the persistence was there. Along with her fascination of other countries came an interest in the languages. With each new thing she learned, the blond felt like a dry porous sponge, eager to soak every bit of information up. She approached each new discovery with the enthusiasm of a curious child then as an adult with a growing knowledge base. Michelle did not know what to do with it all, but it was there just in case. Whoever said knowledge was a weapon was not kidding.

The blonde canted her head to the side and waited for the beep to mimic the voice. "Hola! ?Que tal?" She cringed at the horrendous accent. It sounded so white bread. The dog at her feet looked up at her with a whine. Michelle looked back. "Oh, don't say a word. Do you think you can do better?"

Taz looked up at her making his tongue loll to the side with his efforts. He sniffed softly before letting out a gentle 'wuff.'

"Unh huh, I thought so." The blonde glanced into the nearby crib to see Toby still sleeping, but a slight beep caught her attention and Michelle uttered the phrase again. Somewhere down the line, her mind began to wander.

I don't know. Was Bobbi right earlier? Everything seems a bit easier now. Maybe I had to have an extended stay in the dark to appreciate this all the more. I feel more open somehow, and the way we talked at lunch, I've never talked to her like that as far as I can remember. I felt like an equal—-like I knew what I was doing and saying. Is that what confidence is? All I know is that if this is the way back up, I'll never go back down to that dank whole again. I've got too much ground to cover. I can't wait to see what being in the light completely is like. Bobbi helped me claw my way up, and I know now that she belongs at my side along with Toby and Taz. I wonder is this why momma never let me have any friends? It makes you feel so powerful that somebody cares. It makes you feel like you can do almost anything. That means that I can beat you Max no matter what you throw at me. We can beat you.

An excited nudge followed by a soft knock on the open door made Michelle look up into smiling blues. "Mmm, thought I'd find you in here. You want to watch a little TV before I fix dinner? I think "Facts of Life" will be on soon, or we can watch a movie?" Bobbi asked hopefully.

Michelle answered back with a grin that did not feel rusty anymore. It crinkled her nose and made green eyes twinkle. Instead of answering the doctor's questions, Michelle eagerly tried out her new skills. "?Como esta?"

Bobbi blinked as she entered the den. Then, dark eyebrows arched in confusion. Elegant to the last, she let out a, "Huh?"

Michelle bit her lip to keep from laughing. Then, she spoke again. "Me llamo Michelle. ?Como te llamas?"

The doctor felt the Husky brush against her leg. She looked down at him for help, but she could have sworn that he shook his head and shrugged furry shoulders. Bobbi gave him a glare before peering back into emerald eyes that sparkled just a little too much. "Wha?" That's when she saw the slow Cheshire like smile. She's enjoying this! She's learning fast.

Michelle's smile was full and toothy. "Um, I'll have to check, but I don't think those are the right responses."

The brunette crossed her arms over her chest and rolled pale eyes heavenward at the sound of the blonde's giggle. Bobbi smirked and waited for the giggle to subside. Raising an elegant brow at the blonde, the doctor asked, "Are you finished playing with me now?"

Michelle's smile seemed to get wider with each passing second. Holding the dark-haired doctor's gaze, the blonde nodded enthusiastically as she began pushing the bassinet toward the door. I like this—-the way it is between us. "Um, yeah?"

Bobbi's eyes narrowed but her voice was full of mirth. "Good. At least somebody's enjoying themselves," she told the blonde as she passed by and headed toward the door. A second later, Bobbi followed the blonde with the same perplexed but smiling countenance. "Spanish," she muttered. "I've got to learn Spanish."

After entering the living room, the duo found that the "Facts of Life" episode was a re-run they had seen. The doctor introduced the blonde to the twists and turns of "Law and Order." Bobbi stopped the tape several times and turned to Michelle, asking her who did it. She replied with a confused shrug, "It would have to be whoever they arrested, right?"

The brunette smiled cryptically then again glanced at her friend to see her mouth opened slightly in surprise as she learned that the man accused had been set up by his wife.

Before another taped episode could come on, Bobbi paused it. "So what did you think?"

The petite woman's brow scrunched. "So, his wife killed his mistress to frame him because he was having an affair? She even testified for him!" Michelle muttered in outrage. She lowered her voice suddenly to keep from waking Toby.

Bobbi nodded and smirked. "Unh huh."

"Are all the episodes like that?" The blonde asked in a hushed voice.

"Yep, they call it the Law and Order twist. Nothing happens the way you think it will."

Delightfully intrigued despite the murder and mayhem, Michelle added, "Can we watch another?"

They watched on until Toby announced his hunger with a plaintive cry. Lactating glands activated, leaking out onto the breast pads. A little somber because of this, Michelle scooped up her son and headed to the kitchen without uttering a word. Here's something you helped to take away from me, Max, and I can't have it back.

A couple of minutes later, Bobbi and Taz followed. As she entered the kitchen, the doctor immediately noticed the absence of a familiar hum. Leaning against the wall, Bobbi observed her friend in silence. I should have known that not being able to breast feed would effect her like this. I guess that I was so glad to have her back. I didn't think about it. After a minute or so, she broke into the quiet. "You haven't lost it, you know. The connection between the two of you."

Startled green eyes met azure. "How did you--?"

Bobbi shrugged. "I guess because I know you. Look at him. Really look at him. Because of you, he's flourishing. He's a very happy baby. That connection is still there. It's just gonna be a little different now, so don't punish yourself for something you didn't have control over."

Michelle studied her friend. She knows me? Yeah, she does. She knows what I like to eat, drink, and she knows how I feel about the relationship with my son. Despite the doctor being a few feet away, warmth spilled all around the blonde's insides, making her feel as though she was glowing from the inside out. "Thank you. I guess, maybe I wasn't thinking about it that way."

Bobbi nodded and pushed herself off the wall. "Anytime. That's what friends are for anyway. Besides, I think you might want to start him on cereal and maybe even baby food soon. I know that it's a big step. . ." Her voice trailed off as she glanced down at her watch. "I'm gonna go ahead and start dinner."

Michelle glanced down at Toby and smiled as he continued to make cute gulping noises. Maybe that could be a start of a whole new connection. "Okay, what are we having?"

Bobbi peered over her shoulder as she searched for the roast she had put in the refrigerator early in the A.M. "Pork roast and veggies."

"Sounds good. Can I slice something for you after I put Toby back down?"

"Sure, um, you can do the carrots and stuff. You know where everything is."

Barely ten minutes later, they worked side by side one on a wooden cutting board the other on a plastic one for the meat. Bobbi glanced at the blonde out of the corner of her eye. I think it just hit me. Things between us have become so domesticated. It feels like she's lived here forever. The banter between us the last few days has been incredible. I've never had that with anybody. The way we used to talk before had a certain innocence, but this is in a class by itself. I'm starting to feel like I've known her for years.

Michelle cut the vegetables with an expert hand. Things keep changing between us, but it's for the better. I've never had a best friend before let alone any friends. Isn't that what a best friend is? Someone you can count on and tell anything to? I feel that. We go well together.

Dinner transpired the same way lunch did. Michelle ate hurriedly and spoke in animated fashion, eager to put their plan into play in hopes that tomorrow would come sooner. She even threw scraps to Taz, who despite already being fed, nudged her to the point of irritation. Bobbi rolled her eyes and joined in on the foray. Thinking how cute he looked, the doctor chuckled when he licked his chops. The Husky had both of them wrapped around his paw.

Not long after that, Bobbi and Michelle with sleeping baby and curious Husky in tow, found themselves in the blonde's bathroom. With her hair dyed, still wet, and combed straight, Michelle peered into the mirror as the doctor stood behind her. Blue met green in their reflection. The blonde fidgeted nervously. "Um, you do know what you're doing right?"

Bobbi snickered, "Heck of a time to ask me, but yeah, I do. Learned through trial and error with the help of slumber parties when I lived here and at college."

Pulling the pink towel closer around her shoulder, the blonde's eyes lit with a question, "Slumber parties?"

"Yeah, you know when girls get together, watch movies, tell secrets, and talk all night long?"

The petite woman shrugged, "Um, isn't that what we do almost every night?"

The doctor grinned sheepishly, "Well, yeah sort of, but this is different I'll have to show you sometime. There's dancing too and all kinds of silliness."

Jade eyes lit up with enthusiasm. "I'd like that."

"Good. We'll have to try it soon." Bobbi took several strands of ash blonde and eased the scissors toward them. "You ready? You already look a little different with the color, but I think a short cut will look better on you. It'll make you look more mature."

"Yeah, go ahead." She paused, listening to the scissors slice through her hair. With relieved eyes she watched the first long wisps fall to the floor. "I wanted to cut my hair when I was in high school. I thought it being long like this made me look like a little girl." She swallowed and continued somewhat thickly. "When me and Max were first married, I tried to cut it, but he noticed. He noticed everything about my appearance. I-I was told what kind of make up to wear---lipstick around the house but everything else had to be on when his parents or somebody came over. He wouldn't even let me wear perfume. Uhm, anyway, I just trimmed my bangs and cut maybe an inch off the ends. It was one of the first times he hit me. I was so scared. It was like everything I-I did was wrong. There were times when I didn't want to get out of bed because I thought even that would trigger something. It was like living in the middle of a busy highway. I didn't know which direction to turn without getting hit." Michelle's voice trailed off into nothingness. She shivered and tried once more to pull the thick, fluffy towel closer to her.

The doctor's heart clenched in pain for her friend, but pity wasn't a part of their equation. Stopping the cutting, Bobbi grasped both of the blonde's shoulders in a gesture of comfort. "Ah, damn Chelle." She took a breath and pushed on. "What do you think now?"

Their gaze met in the mirror once more where jade eyes were sad before, the brunette could see them shining with fire. "My body belongs to me now, and I can do with it what I damn well please." Her tone was angry, almost guttural.

Bobbi smiled in equal parts pride and awe. She squeezed slender shoulders again. "I was hoping you would say that." You really have come a long way. Suddenly, she grew somber. "You had me going a few days ago, kiddo. When you first woke up, you had me scared. The way you were acting. . . it was like you were clinging to every little thing around you. I wasn't so sure that you were gonna let me leave your room." Bobbi paused and whispered thoughtfully. "I would have stayed if you ask me to."

Michelle nodded briskly, feeling the morose mood of a second ago lighten in the wake of friendly warmth. "I-I know. I think some part of me knew that, but thank you. I-I had to keep all you guys in my sights. I didn't want to disappear again or have you three do the same, but it was too much weight to carry, you know? I felt guilty and stuff, but it just didn't feel right to be that way. Staying that way meant that they were winning. Even though they were hundreds of miles away, they were winning. I couldn't let them keep on doing it, and I don't know. Something inside me just lit up. I don't know how else to describe it."

Bobbi slowly removed her hands from Michelle's shoulder and started cutting again. "Well, I'll do my part to keep that fire going." I'll do my damnedest.

A comfortable silence lapsed between them as the doctor watched strand after strand of sunshine fall to the linoleum floor. By the time she finished, the blonde was sporting a short cut that tapered right above her ears—extremely short at the back, sides, and top. Michelle looked like a completely different person. The doctor took a deep breath as she observed her work. "Wow, you look. . .wow. Um, how old are you? About twenty four or twenty five?"

"Um, yeah." The blonde couldn't stop touching it. With the longer hair style, she looked plain, bookish and almost child like. This is what was under there?

Bobbi blinked. "Well, um, let's just say you don't look like a teenager anymore. It looks good on you." The brunette swallowed hard. Who knew? I mean, I knew she was cute, but I didn't know that was under there. Beautiful, and I think she needs to hear that.

Michelle let her hands fall to her side. "You think so?"

The dark-haired doctor nodded. "Yeah, if you didn't know it, you're a beautiful woman."

The petite woman's expression was incredulous. "Beautiful? Me? No. . .now, you look like you could be a model. I'm short, fat, and—" She blushed.

"Very attractive," Bobbi interrupted. "You may be vertically challenged, but that doesn't take away from your appearance at all. As far as being fat, please, whatever extra poundage you still carry after the baby will melt off once you work on it."

Michelle touched her bangs and ran her hand through the wisps of ash blonde at the top. I want to believe her. I really do. I do look totally different. She peered into the mirror. Green eyes looked bigger, more luminous. For once, she could see her ears and the way slightly chubby cheekbones weren't that chubby after all. Her chin jutted out, round but determined. "Wow."

"Yeah, that's what I said."

They were interrupted by the sound of a slight whine. Two sets of eyes peered down to see Taz sniffing at the discarded hair. He then sat on his haunches and stared up at the duo. Bobbi raised an eyebrow. "You think he likes it?"

"Don't know. He looks kinda strange."

The Husky's large curled tail began wag against his back. He nudged the blonde with his head and sat back down again. "Wuff!"

"Um, yeah. I think he does, but I also think that he's a little offended because we were talking about him like he wasn't here. Maybe next time, we should just ask him?" Michelle added.

Bobbi snorted and narrowed her eyes as she peered down at the dog, who smiled up at her. "He can't be just a dog. You sure he isn't something from that "X-Files" show that you watch?"


The brunette rolled her eyes. "Sheesh, I get the point, Taz." She kneeled down. "Are you some alien pod person?" For an answer, Taz attacked her face with licks.

Michelle chuckled. "I guess that's your answer."

Bobbi kissed him back and rubbed behind his ears. "Okay, I get the point, boy."

After a minute she stood up and glanced at the blonde through the mirror. "What do you say we work on your make up in the morning? We can watch more "Law and Order", and I'll show you some other shows that you might like. What do you say? There's a Dr. Pepper waitin' for you."

Michelle smiled softly. "Sure, but let's clean up first."

Side by side they sat on the couch, with the bassinet near and the Husky at their feet, watching television, sometimes laughing and sometimes gasping. Despite their intentions, it became later and later. Michelle felt her eyelids droop along with her neck. She sighed and pillowed against something soft and warm. Startled at first, Bobbi relaxed against the blonde. She grabbed a small pillow and sat it on her thighs before turning her friend gently and guiding her to her lap. The peacefulness was contagious because Bobbi began to suffer the same effects. Her eyes closed slowly, shutting out the images of Janeway and Chakotay, and she leaned her head back against the couch cushion.

They both awoke with a start some time later when Toby announced his hunger. Bobbi mumbled sleepily, "I got ‘em."

Michelle mumbled back, and as if it were the most natural thing in the world to her, the blonde got up groggily and shuffled toward her bedroom, Husky in tow, leaving her son with her best friend.

* * *

Always early to rise without the help of caffeine, Bobbi padded into the living room already dressed in her workout gear. She went to the edge of the living room, and peered down the short hall expecting her blonde houseguest to already be up. A frown of disappointment pulled at her lips when she was unable to tell if the light was on in the room or not. I wonder if she realizes that today would be the first real day we get to work out together? I hope she still wants to do this. I like doing things with her it just feels so natural just like last night did. We're really comfortable with each other if we were able to fall asleep like that. Everything just feels so right nowadays.

The doctor recalled the friends in high school who she refused to let get too close as well as those in college who were just acquaintances and study buddies that she felt some obligation too. "Not this time. That's not me anymore," Bobbi mumbled quietly. Eager to get the day started, she jumped up and headed for the kitchen, glancing shyly all the while at the semi-closed door. Her heart jumped when she saw the light on. Not wanting to catch Michelle in a compromising position, the doctor resisted the urge to knock. She sauntered into the kitchen muttering to herself as she fished out a bottle of Poland Springs water. A minute later, she found herself back in the hallway, staring at the blonde's bedroom door. Bobbi leaned her lanky body against the wall just opposite the door. She peered at it, willing it to open.

Her gaze was so concentrated that she didn't see the petite blonde open the door completely. Michelle stood clad in red sweat pants and teddy bear laden t-shirt with the bassinet in front of her and the Husky behind. She looked at her dark friend quizzically. Their gazes met, and Bobbi's smile was wide and full. "You remembered."

Michelle grinned back. "I wasn't gonna forget something like this. You ready?"

With the smile still plastered on her face, Bobbi led the way. Michelle watched for a second before following. Something struck her. I bet she has no idea how special she is. I am so lucky that we sort of found each other. I trust her. I really trust her. I've never done this friendship thing before, but she makes it feel so natural and effortless. I feel like an expert.

A session of stretching and warm-up came before they worked out with Billy in almost perfect syncopation. The anger and frustration that was there the last time was not present, leaving the blonde a chance to enjoy the exertion of muscle and the togetherness with the brunette.

After their respective showers, the duo stood in front of Michelle's bathroom mirror yet again. The blonde was shaken by the image that gazed back at her. "Wow. . .again," Bobby added quietly. "I don't think anybody would recognize you now. Very, very beautiful woman on the inside and out.

Michelle blinked and continued to stare, taking in the earth tones that covered her face. Her eyes looked greener and her lips fuller. Her thoughts turned inward to the woman in the mirror. I'm getting closer to you everyday.

A little worried about her friends continued silence, Bobbi interrupted the blonde's thoughts. "Chelle, you okay?" God, is she getting cold feet about going out in public? It would be totally understandable. "Look, we can do this another day if—"

"No, today."

Bobbi blew out a relieved breath. "Alright, as long as you're okay."

"I am. Just a little taken back by what I see, and a little nervous about going out there."

"That's completely normal, but I'll be right there with you. If you need to turn back or leave just say the word." She squeezed the other woman's shoulder for emphasis. "I'll go take Taz out, get him fed, and get the car seat ready."

Needing to be alone for a minute, a grateful Michelle reached back and cupped the hand on her shoulder. "Kay, thanks."

Alone now, except for Toby who was absconded to his bassinet, Michelle sat down heavily on the lowered toilet seat. She looked down at hands that had suddenly began to shake. With the trembling came her old friend, fear. It whispered to her, telling her not to go, telling her she would be caught. Her breath came out in gasps and her heart hammered in her chest. She covered her ears with shaking hands, hoping to stop the whispers. Wide, scared eyes peered around the bathroom until they spotted the bassinet. Then, she remembered. This is why I have to fight, have to win.

She heard the sound of a door closing, and her mind turned to Bobbi, recalling that she wasn't fighting alone. "No," she whispered out loud. "I'm going, so leave me the hell alone!" As if startled, her friend stopped whispering, but stayed just under the surface. "I'm used to you being there," she muttered. "One day you won't be."

Having warmed up the car and taken out the dog, Bobbi found her way back into the house and unzipped her coat with gloved hands, letting the blue knit sweater she was wearing breath. She looked down at the Husky. "I had the feeling that she needed to be alone. Didn't you?"


"Yeah, this is a big step for her, but I think she'll get through it okay. She's a very strong woman."

"Wuff! Wuff?"

"Sorry, boy. Gonna have to fill you in on the details when we get back. No pets allowed in the library."


"No, not even the ones that seem human. I'm leaving you in charge here though. Can you handle that?"


She pat him on the head. "Good boy." Bobbi smiled as she watched him scamper off toward the kitchen to the food and water dishes she had filled not long ago.

The sudden ringing of the doorbell startled the doctor, and without thinking, Bobbi snatched open the door. Breathe rattled in her chest, and with great effort, she schooled her features to show only mild surprise, while her insides stiffened painfully. Shit!

"Are you Barbara Waszinski?"

The doctor cleared her throat and answered as evenly as possible. "Yeah, that's me. How can I help you fellas?"

A rather stern looking older man stepped forward. "We're with the IPD, and we're canvassin' this neighborhood because my fellow officer here. . ." He pointed to the gangly looking guy next to him. "May have seen a woman we're trying to find, driving what looked like a Jeep Cherokee. He can't recall the color, so we're knocking on doors of folks with cars like yours. Can you look at this picture for us?"

"Sure." Outside, Bobbi was as cool as ice water, but inside, she screamed. She stared at the picture of Michelle. It was the perfect likeness of the woman she was just yesterday. You're not her anymore. Bobbi looked at it for what seemed like the appropriate of time then handed it back to the burly man. With a straight face, the brunette added. "This is the woman from television, right?"

They nodded. "We're doing the family a favor by looking into this while things are slow. From what I hear, there are a few cops helping out in other counties. Her father-in-law has some pull. The family hasn't brought any charges against her though they could." The burly man shrugged. "Make it easier if they would. Could use more man power. We just want to find her and convince her to go home. I guess she had a little spat with the husband. So, are you sure?"

Little spat my ass! "No, I haven't seen her. Sorry, I can't help." Michelle please don't come out here. Please don't. A few seconds later, Bobbi realized that her prayer was ignored.

"Bobbi, I'm ready to go. Just let me get my coat out of the living room closet." The policemen craned their necks to get a look at the blonde carrying a baby. The doctor closed her eyes and swallowed down a wave of nausea. She had to refrain herself from slamming the door in their faces, knowing it would cause undo suspicion. The brunette turned toward her blond friend just in time to see the color drain from her face. Be strong, Chelle. We might be able to pull this off.

Michelle stood frozen in the middle of the room. Her heart jumped to her throat before dropping down to splash into her stomach, as she recognized the cop who helped her a while back. No! This can't be happening! This is not happening! Panic rose up quick and fierce, and Michelle could feel herself cracking under the pressure. Searching for comfort, she held the squirming bundle in her arms as close as possible. Her eyes widened as they met the brunette's gaze, seeing a mixture of fear and silent confidence. It settled over her like a warm blanket. It was a test, a dangerous one that they did not expect, and Michelle knew that the only way out was lying convincingly. She swallowed down the bile that had inched up her throat. The panic was still present, but it had receded to tolerable levels, filling the blonde with nervous energy. I can do this. I don't have a choice.

Finally, the policeman spoke again, "Ma'am? Can you hand this picture to your friend there? Maybe she knows something that can help us."

Bobbi turned, blinked, and gave them a full smile. She wanted to giggle. Thank you God for idiot small town cops! "Sure thing." Leaving the door open, the doctor walked a few steps toward the blonde and handed her the photo. "Here you go Joann. They want to know if you've seen this woman around here, driving a jeep like mine." Pale blue eyes sparkled with assurance.

Michelle accepted the photo. A few seconds later, with an equally straight face as the brunette, the petite woman murmured, "Oh, this is that girl from the TV. I don't recognize her, but I don't know anybody in this neighborhood. I'm just here visiting for a couple of weeks from Minneapolis." She glanced at them steadily. "Sorry." Her heart started to thud again as she spotted, from the corner of her eye, the Husky coming down the hall. Knowing the cop would surely recognize him, she almost threw the picture back at Bobbi and mumbled, "Forgot his diaper bag," before walking briskly back down the hallway.

With a smile that was just as big as before, Bobbi returned the photo. "Really sorry we couldn't help you, but I hope you find her. Her husband seemed pretty upset."

They nodded simultaneously. "Thank you ma'am. Sorry to knock on your door so early." With another nod, they were gone. Bobbi let out a long frustrated groan and sprinted toward the kitchen.

Blue met green as the brunette entered the doorway. "God, Chelle. My knees were shaking so bad. I can't imagine what you were going through."

The blonde's mouth dropped open slightly, and she shook her head. "They didn't recognize me at all! I can't believe it!" The relief was evident in her voice. "I was so scared. I wanted to take off running in the other direction until you turned to look at me. I'd almost forgotten about the hair and stuff." Her voice became small and shaky. "I was so scared. I thought. . ." She could not finish.

In three steps, Bobbi swooped the blonde into her embrace. "Shhhh, it's okay. I was scared too. I had no idea what I was gonna do if they recognized you." I can't lose you. Not like that. Not until you're ready to walk away on your own, Chelle She stepped back a little to give Toby room to breath. Her expression was serious. "We're gonna have to put off the library until this afternoon. They don't close until 8 o'clock. We can go right after I close the office 'round five, but right now we need discuss possible plans to get away if we have to. That was too close a call."

Michelle soaked in the warmth for a minute more, knowing somehow that this conversation was coming. "I knew you were going to say that," she commented with resolve.

At the moment, Marsha hated the world and everyone in it. The afternoon was bright, sunny, and almost cheerful, and she hated that even more. She grumbled as she watched all the cars drive by with happy owners behind the wheel from the vantage point of her front room window. The world had no right to go on. She was miserable. She was lonely, and the least it could do was stop and acknowledge her existence.

Marsha pulled the faded blue housecoat closer to her body, scooted the rickety wooden chair closer to the window and frowned, regardless of the lines it pulled into already sagging skin. The haggard blonde continued her observance as her mind wandered. They finally called to tell me that the calls were pouring in. That don't mean shit. She's still out there running away from her responsibilities to me and the husband of hers. Hell, I delt with my momma when she was boozin and druggin with those men of hers even though she gave me a couple of smacks for my troubles, and I didn't mind so much being locked away in that dark room. ‘Least folks didn't bother me. Those nightmares are because of that bitch daughter of mine. I was a good mother. She's just a rotten kid. Now, she's runnin' around free doing what she damn well pleases. That ain't right. That sure as hell ain't right.

She opened the dingy curtain wider and continued to scowl, refusing to get dressed for the umpteenth time in as many days and join a world that did not give a damn.

Beatrice was blissfully alone in the house. She stared at the phone and waited an appropriate amount of time to see if her husband or son would return. One evil was not lesser than the other. She sat there stiffly, ramrod straight in a perfect pose of what a lady should be and do, and peered at the silent phone. Time was seeping away, and she knew it. More and more reports came in everyday, and she had to tell more and more lies since she was the one to usually answer the calls. It's time to find the truth. Beatrice opened her hand and looked down at the crumpled piece of paper. She straightened out the best she could, revealing the number to the Ivanhoe Police Department. Listening to the creaking of the house and praying they weren't footsteps, Beatrice took a deep breath and headed for the cream colored phone sitting on the well polished glass stand.

Before she knew it, the numbers were dialed, and she swallowed at the sound of the ringing. Her voice came out an undignified squeak at the first sound of hello. Beatrice closed her eyes. I have to do this. This isn't about me or my fear. It's about saving my grandson.

"Hello, IPD. Is anybody there?"

"Um, y-yes. May I speak to Officer Shlotski please?"

"Hold on, I'll transfer you." The nice woman responded.

Shlotski here.

"Uh, Officer this is Beatrice St. Jean. You called me about the possible sitting of my daughter in law?"

"Ah, yeah. Mrs. St. Jean, we have been working on that. Question some people around the neighborhood where we think she was spotted. Knocked on doors and all that. Didn't pan out though. Sorry to say. There's not a lot more we can do, except keep a eye out, since this isn't a criminal investigation."

"Oh," Beatrice's heart fell a notch. "Um, is there anyway I can get their phone numbers. M-maybe they will be more open to talking to me than a police officer."

"Mrs. St. Jean, that's against regulations I can't do that, even though all of them are listed numbers.

"Please. She could be hurt, and she's been gone for a long time. If I can help, please let me." Her voice trembled. She heard him sigh and blow out a long breath. "I can imagine whatcha goin through I have kids and grandkids. I'd go crazy if one of them left. Listen, I'm gonna do this, and I'm gonna take the heat for it. There's about fifteen names expanding over three or four blocks. We based it on the car she was driving. Do you have a fax machine? I could send them to you."

"No, no I don't. I-is there any way you could read them off to me? Just the names and numbers right?"

"Yeah, right. I guess I can do that."

With eyes filled with hope, Beatrice scanned the living room seeing an open envelope with the mail. She tore off a section, knowing that she had to make it small as possible for safety's sake. "Um, okay. G-go ahead."

Less than an hour later, Beatrice hung up the phone in frustration. So far, the ones she talked to wanted to get more information than they wanted to give. She wondered what type of people lived in Ivanhoe anyway. She looked at the numbers and began to dial the next one. There were two left.
In the middle of warming a bottle, Michelle jumped in surprise at the sound of the ringing wall phone. She stared at it in confusion, realizing that she hadn't heard it ring many times since she had been here. Feeling bold in light of today's events, she hoisted a cooing Toby on her hip and reached for the receiver, fully intending to use the name Joann if the person on the other end asked who it was. It's not like it's for me anyway. I'll just take a message. Michelle picked it up and placed it in the crook of her neck. "Hello? Wazsinski residence." She was met with dead silence.

On the other end, several hundred miles away, Beatrice covered her mouth with a trembling hand. She could recognize the voice anywhere. Michelle. In the background, she heard the faint sounds of cooing. Her heart jumped with joy. Not wanting to scare her off, Beatrice did not dare speak, but she continued to listen to the obviously healthy voices of her daughter-in-law and grandson. Appeased with the knowledge she had gained, Beatrice hung up the phone softly. Somewhat giddy, she still had to ask herself, ‘What do I do now?' She didn't know, but there was one thing for sure. The phone bill would be in the mail soon, and Beatrice knew that her husband was too meticulous not to notice.

Michelle's fair brows scrunched in confusion. "That was weird. Must have been a wrong number." Because there is no way anybody knows that I'm here.
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