Chapter 3


Time passed by with a slow crawl, but Bobbi was prepared to wait it out. She rubbed absently at the gold pendant around her neck and stayed as close to the door as possible, giving the blonde her space. No, I can't get involved in this, no matter how much I'm itching to. I can look at her and tell she needs way, way too much help. Besides, I'm a medical doctor, not a shrink. It's all too much to handle. When somebody comes, I'll just turn her over to him, especially if it's a cop. Then, I can go take care of Karen.

Michelle stared out her own window into the never-ending white that plastered her car. Is that going to happen every time somebody reaches for me-- every time I get around people I don't know? He's ruined me! I can't look at anybody and not see him. How do I get away from that? How do I stop it? I can't let him win anymore, not when I've come this far.

Taking the initiative and bolstering courage from some deep reserve, Michelle turned to the brunette. "Um, B-Bobbi?" Curious but guarded blue eyes turned to meet her. Caught in the doctor's gaze, Michelle lost her nerve. I can't. I just wanted to thank her. Michelle crawled back into the shell that she had peaked out of. She turned her head away.

Bobbi caught a glimpse of imploring green for as long as she could before giving in with a muted sigh. Who am I kidding? I can't turn her over to some guy. Look at the way she reacted to me. She wouldn't get two feet. I can't, in good conscience, let things go like that. I'm not that damned cold. Reverting back to the dream, the doctor recalled the many hands reaching out; pleading for her to do something she could not -- save them. Still, here was one person that she could save -- flesh and blood reality, but with just her eyes, the blonde asked for too much.

I can't give her much at all... I can't give anyone that anymore, but I can give her what she needs right now, somewhere to hide. With the way she's acting, I think she'll stay out my way, and I'll sure as hell stay out of hers. I musta hit my head, too. I canıt believe I'm about to do this. Damn Hippocratic oath. It's just for a few days. I have to keep telling myself that. "Look, I can only guess at what you're running from. . . or who. Just tell me this much, you're not in trouble with the cops, are you?"

Michelle shook her head vehemently. "No, I haven't done anything wrong!" What is she thinking?

"That's good to hear. Listen, I can go one-up on the phone call. You need someplace to crash, right?"

"R- right, but I have money to pay..."

"Nothing but B&B's around here. Whatever you got will be gone before you know it, spending it in one of those places. I have a big house with some extra room. You can stay with me for a couple of days until the snow breaks again. Then, you can be on your way, no strings."

Flustered, Michelle looked at the other woman incredulously. Does she want something from me? "Why are you doing this?"

The brunette shrugged, but on the inside, she was chuckling at how many times she had contradicted herself in the past couple of hours. "Damned if I know."

Confused, Michelle continued to stare from under fair lashes.

Feeling antsy, Bobbi added, "Look, don't analyze it too much. You're looking a gift horse in the mouth." Realizing she had an edge in her voice, Bobbi softened her tone. "We can borrow a crib or bassinet from the Polinski's, if we ever get there. They buy a new one for each new child. I'm sure they'll do the neighborly thing."

Put off by the doctorıs defensive tone, Michelle quickly tore her eyes away and looked down at the cooing baby. God, I hope I'm doing the right thing. "Um, I can pay you for letting me stay," she murmured quietly.

Geez, I'm sounding like an idiot. I just need to treat her like a patient and that'll help me through this. "Don't worry about it. Think of it as born and bred Minnesota hospitality. In fact..." she paused to listen. "I could swear I just heard the revving of a truck engine. Be quiet for a minute." She leaned in as close to the cold window as possible. Nothing. "Damn, just wishful thinking I guess..." They both jumped in surprise at the knocking on the window. "Ahh!" In one hop, Bobbie jumped to the middle of the seat then turned to look at the wide-eyed blonde. "You okay, Michelle?"

The blonde swallowed and nodded. "Uh, yeah. Y-You think it's okay to see who it is?"

Bobbi swallowed down her own sudden fear, knowing they had to take the chance. "We'll never know unless we try." Taking a deep breath, she gave the other woman a glance. "Ready?"

"Yeah, but you're gonna be careful, r-right?"

Bobbi smiled slightly. "Yep, always." Despite it the reassurance of the conversation, the brunette started again with another knock. "Okay, here goes." Scooting over, she wiped the mist from the window. Then, she rolled her eyes when she saw who it was.

"Doc B? Is that you?!" The boy's voice was somewhere between puberty and manhood.

Bobbi cracked the window. "Yep, Kevin, it is. What on earth are you doing out in this mess?"

His eyes looked everywhere except at her. "Uh, well, see me and Janie were down at the lake..."

Waving her hand to interrupt, she interjected, "Never mind, glad you're here. We need a ride to the Polinski's. Karen's in labor and I need you to come back here and do some things for me. I'll pay you, of course, but I need you to dig our cars out once it looks like it's letting up and move all that stuff in the back here," she turned and pointed, "into the jeep before you come to pick us back up. We're gonna be a while, so that should give the snow a chance to slack up and the town a chance to clear some of the roads. Can you do that for me, Kevin? There's fifty in it for you, and I'll even tell your mom you were out helping me."

His cap covered head bounced up and down. "Yah, you betcha. Sounds good to me." He peered around in the cab of the wagon. "Wicked lookin' dog!"

"Well, you can look at him while we're in your truck, okay? Now, let's get movinı."

After a few more minutes and a cramped fit, they all found themselves in the cab of the full-size Ford truck. Holding the car seat in her lap, Michelle dared to sigh in what came as close to relief as possible. Maybe there was a reason why all of this happened tonight. There has to be, for us to go through all of that. The blonde turned to look at the doctor's profile. I didn't know women could be like her. She seems so forceful and knows what to do. Can that be me someday?

Bobbi glanced at the blonde, curly headed sixteen-year-old. Right now, she could kiss him and she didn't even mind the hot dog breath on her neck coming from Taz, who had found a seat in the little compartment in the back.

"Hey, Doc?" The teenager didn't take his eyes off the road. "We saw a UFO out there on the lake. Looked like something glowin' was floatin' in the trees." He turned slightly to see two sets of eyes on him.

Bobbi snorted. "Is that the story you're gonna tell your mom?"

"No, no, for real! It was like something out of the X-Files! I bet the government is doin' some kind of testing. I read on the Internet about it. They do it in small hick towns because they think that people are too dumb to notice."

"Do you believe everything you read, Kevin?"

He shrugged and glanced over quickly. "Sure, I figure, why would somebody take all that time to write the stuff down and lie?"

"Hmm. Oh, is believing in that like that giant crocodile you swore you saw in the toilet after watching the movie about it when you were twelve?"

"Nah, I poured drain cleaner down my toilet and killed it, but I'm telling ya! The X-files are real!"

Not saying a word, Bobbi turned to the blonde who was wearing a very confused and somewhat frightened expression. About to ask an inevitable question, Michelle opened her mouth, but the brunette held up a hand to stop her. She leaned closer and mouthed, "Don't ask. Too much TV." Clearing her throat, the doctor spoke out loud this time. "I should warn you, the Polinski's are a little strange."

Michelle eyes widened as if asking, "Stranger than this?"

Bobbi chuckled at the look on the blonde's face. "This isn't a big town. There are only about seven hundred people here and they've been here forever. I don't know them all, but the ones that I do are kinda set in their ways. They may be a little strange, but they are some of the sweetest people you ever wanna meet, as you can see," she pointed to Kevin. "We help each other out, too. So, I don't think you have to worry about anything here."

"Well, I don't think we're all that strange! We got cable, sports and a lot of other stuff the same as big-city people in Minneapolis. I was just watching MTV the other day," Kevin added, somewhat affronted.

"Don't get your shorts all in a bunch, Kev. I said everybody around here was sweet too, especially you for doing this." Bobbi patted him on the shoulder in thanks, causing him to blush and turn his face away from view.

"We're almost there, Doc."

As they made a sliding stop in front of a house Michelle assumed was the Polinski's, the blonde mulled over what the brunette had just told her. They take care of each other. No one's ever taken care of me. How come no one saw what he was doing to me? Is everybody that blind? I just don't understand people sometimes. What made him hit me? What made her want to help me when it's obvious that she didn't want to? Now she tells me that they care for each other, do for each other here. I want to know what that feels like.

Getting out of the truck, Michelle, with an armful of baby, followed closely behind Bobbi and the doctorıs new best friend, Taz. Bobbi knocked on the door, mindful of the wreath, and they were greeted by a short, stocky, redheaded man in his late thirties, carrying a cup of what looked like crushed ice in one hand and a camcorder in the other, pointed directly in their faces. He tipped up the cup and sipped.

"Jesus Christ, Doc B! Where were ya? Was gonna call again, but the phone isn't working right, dontcha know?"

Bobbi regarded him closely as they walked in. His brow and shirt was covered in sweat. Oh, boy. "Aren't you supposed to be feeding that to Karen?" She didn't wait for his answer and pushed on. "Got caught in the snow and had to help this lady, here." Bobbi jerked her head toward the blonde. "By the way, can she use one of you guys' bassinets?"

"Sure, sure." Taking a quick sip out of the cup, he sauntered briskly toward another room.

Looking around warily, Michelle laid Toby in the bassinet and brushed a finger over his warm cheeks. It should be time for him to eat any minute. I don't know if I can do that in front of all these people. The blonde turned and almost banged heads with Keith Polinski. Both him and his camera were mere inches from her face. Startled, she huddled closer to the bassinet and the Huskie.

Bobbi took it in with a shake of her head. "Keith! Why are you in this woman's face like that? She's new around here and you're gonna scare her, so stop being so weird." Yeah, stay over there, lady. I'm not the protector you want or need.

Ignoring the doctor's words, the redheaded man turned to get a close up shot of Bobbi. He then panned around the room, taking in the sight with his mouth hanging open in concentration. "Just want to make sure I get it all in, ya know?" Suddenly, his face turned deep red. Groaning, he bent over and grabbed his stomach.

Yep, oh boy! Here we go. I've seen sympathy pains before but this is really something. Maybe Iıll call Guinness next time. Bobbie mumbled in her head.

Keith's groans became louder and with a piercing shriek, he screamed out, "Contraction!" A few short seconds later there was a similar cry from somewhere in the house. Bobbi lunged forward, yanked the camcorder from his hands and shoved it at Michelle.

"Come on, Keith. Take deep breaths and let 'em out slowly." She rubbed his back and continued to whisper in his ear.

Michelle looked down at the piece of equipment then glanced back up at the other occupants in the room. Taz walked over and took a seat next to her feet. She peered down at him, thinking he had the same look she did -- head canted to the side; eyes wide and mouth open in utter confusion. The blonde heard a throat clear and glanced up to see blue eyes studying her. "Um, what do I do..."

"Just give it back to him. He's fine for the time being."

Staying as far away from the strange man as possible, Michelle handed him the camera. After doing so, Toby picked that time to announce his hunger, and Michelle's body reacted accordingly. Slightly embarrassed, she kept her head lowered and muttered, "Um, where can I feed him. I don't want to do it around..."

Instantly knowing what was going on, Bobbi pointed down the hall. "Down there, two doors down and to the right. When you get finished, Karen's sister is seeing to the other kids and she's great with them. You might want to put Toby in there. I might need your help."

Used to orders, the blonde began to move but came to a sudden stop as the words finally sank in. You need me? She wanted to ask, but didn't. Somebody needs me. For once, I can prove you wrong, Momma. It was a very foreign concept.

It was not until a cry pierced her thoughts that she moved toward her son. It all was moving way too fast, leaving little room for fear. Even though she was standing in a strangerıs house, the atmosphere lacked malevolence. It contained only warmth, but even that left the young woman unsure. For some reason, the blonde latched onto the competency and confidence oozing from the doctor and she did as she was told.

Long minutes later, Michelle knocked on a door and went in when she heard a muffled "come in." She gazed the shorthaired brunette sitting in the rocking chair and then scanned the room. Both children were asleep. "Um, Bobbi said you would watch him for me? I-I'm going to help, uh, her," she added in a wary tone.

The brunette nodded and smiled. "Okay, no problem, but who are you?"

Pulling the door closed, she responded, "I don't know... nobody."

After making sure Taz would stay put, Michelle headed down the other end of the hall where she could hear talking. Before she could knock on the door, Bobbi, with a blue surgical gown covering her clothes, opened it. "Oh, good. I was just coming to see about you. Grab some towels out of there,² she pointed to the closet across from them, "and meet me back in here." As an afterthought, Bobbi interjected, "Uh, you don't have to help ifŠ"

Not wanting to miss the chance to be useful to somebody, anybody, Michelle shook her head violently, ³NO, no I-I want to try. Just let me get the towels,² she peered down at her feet, ³and, uhm, I'll be right back."

The brunette watched the woman's back as she turned. God, this is getting complicated already. She looked at me like I threw her a lifeline. What have I gotten myself into?


The bedroom was alive with periodic screams of pain from both the expectant mother and father, but Keith Polinski seemed to be recovering the fastest. Michelle stood near the wall watching the continued scene in wonder.

Bobbi snapped on a new pair of latex gloves and kneeled between Karen Polinski's legs, parting the flesh of her sex to get a better look.

"Whatcha see? Anything interesting?" Karen asked breathlessly.

Bobbi raised a brow and replied, "Oh, I see a lot of interesting things."

"This isn't the time for your weird sense of humor, Bobbi Waszinski!"

The brunette chuckled, "Okay, okay, you're about eight centimeters and coming along quickly. You're doing good, Karen." The doctor began to stand and bumped into Keith and his camcorder. "Keith! Aren't you supposed to be up there with your wife?"

He frowned and moved the camcorder from his face. Leaning in, he whispered to Bobby, "Yah, but she says these things. Nasty things, I never heard them come out of her mouth before."

Bobbi quirked a grin, "You know that's just the pain talking. You feel it too and know how bad it can get. Go to her. Maybe I can get Michelle to video tape all this for ya."

"Yah, sure now?"

"Now, have I ever let you down?"

Instead of answering, he handed her the camcorder and walked briskly to the side of the bed. Before he got there, Keith was doubled over again. "Contraction!"

Hardly, before another second had passed, Bobbi turned around and gave the camcorder to the surprised blonde without a word.

Karen Polinski cried out.

"Okay, Karen, do you're breathing. Come on. Don't push Œtil I say so. We're almost there, just a little while longer." Bobbi looked over to see a red faced Keith kneeling and holding hands with his wife.

"This is the last time you put me through this you little shit!"

"But, honey..."

For the next hour or so, the room was filled with cries, insults and apologies. Almost forgetting about the blonde, Bobbi turned to her. "Geez, you're so quiet, I almost forgot you were in here. You okay?"

Michelle's face was awash with fascination. "Uh, yeah. Been through it before but never from this end," she replied shyly. "I didn't know it was like this."

"It's generally not. They're a pretty unique couple. Keithıs tried to tape the other two births, but by the time she's fully dilated, he's writhing in pain. He's doing a lot better this time, but this is the first time he's got to be with her with an almost clear head. She's ready to push any minute now and I need you to do both me and Keith a favor."

Small doses of confidence seeped in from secret sources. Michelle nodded.

"Tape the birth. Just hold the camera like you saw Keith doing and stand a little bit behind me so I'll have room to work."

The blonde nodded and added, "Uh, o-okay. I'll try." Through the lenses of a camera, Michelle saw a new life brought into the world. The sounds of Bobbi yelling "push", the Polinski's simultaneous cries and Karen's he-he, he-he meshed together in a symphony. This is what it's like to come into the world -- pain, blood and blinding light. Michelle watched on as Bobbi caught the baby gently as it eased from the birth canal. The cry of the newborn added to the symphony, making it complete.

There was laughter and coos of joy when the baby girl was placed on her mother's stomach and as the proud father came around to cut the cord. But then there is so much joy. It's my turn to feel that. Haven't I been reborn, in a sense? I went through the blood and pain, and now that I'm alive, I want to learn to experience the joy. Michelle held the camera as steady as she could on the happy parents as Bobbi massaged the afterbirth from Karen's womb and later cleaned the baby. They make it look so easy. I can see it on their faces. My son brings me a certain joy, but something's missing. I can feel it, and I have to find it.

A while later, they both ventured out into the living room to find Kevin waiting for them. "Is Mrs. P okay?" he asked with his face tight with concern.

Bobbi laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Karen and little baby Susan are doing just fine." She left him to look out the window. "Snow let up any?"

"Yah," Kevin answered. "But I got some good news and bad news." He pulled off the Minnesota Timberwolves cap and played with the rim nervously. "I got the jeep out just fine, even got it loaded. Was able to dig out the wagon, too, but when I started it, engine ran hot Œfore I even had a chance to move it. Think it blew a rod or maybe a piston. Thing almost blew up in my face." He turned to Michelle, "Sorry, miss. I'll get one of my friend's dads to tow it for you in the mornin'."

Bobbi was the first to comment. "Not your fault, Kev. You did good."

Following the brunette's lead, the blonde whispered, "Yeah, it's okay," and it was. At the moment, Michelle did not care about her car because the town of Ivanhoe was a whole lot more important. She felt something here. She had yet to identify what it was, but for once, it was something. The feeling was something she did not want to leave anytime soon. Maybe there was a reason for the storm after all.


Now absconded to her jeep with the extra passengers and luggage, including the borrowed bassinet, Bobbi drove slowly, cautiously over the slick roads. Her engine is dead and she didn't even look upset about it. What's going on in that woman's head? What am I gonna do? Every time I asked her for help, she acted like it as the most important job in the world. The woman is starving, needy, so what the hell am I doing taking her to my house to stay for God knows how long now? I don't know, but I'm obviously doing it whatever the hell it is -- just like another patient. I've got to remember that.

They pulled into the two-car garage attached to Bobbi's house. She got out and glanced briefly at her father's caddy, covered in a dusty tarp. Karen just had another one, Dad. Dismissing morose thoughts, she went over to the passenger side to help the blonde. She pulled the door open and gave her space. The doctor pointed at a door on the far right. "I'll give you the keys and you, Toby and Taz can go in through that door. I'll bring your stuff in. You go on in and make yourselves comfortable."

Bobbi watched mother and son go and peered down at Taz, who decided to stay behind. He sat on his hindquarters with thumping tail and big doggie smile. She shook her head and moved back toward the jeep. I may not know what I'm doing, but Mom taught me good manners. I betcha Mom would know exactly what to do right now. Wish she were here to tell me. The brunette sighed and began to pull luggage out the back.

Michelle walked in slowly, scanning as she went. The house was beautiful both inside and out. The stark whiteness of the exterior blended in perfectly with the snow. She could hardly tell where the powdery substance ended and white siding began, only the black window trimming told the tale. It stuck out like a sore thumb as the only house on the block lacking any holiday decorations.

The inside was decorated with ivory and black furniture, complete with shiny hardwood floors. She sat on the couch and sighed at the feeling of sinking into a cloud. Michelle laid Toby on one of the cushions, allowing her hands free to touch. The upholstery was as smooth and supple as butter. Her mind flooded with thoughts. She's some rich woman that likes helping people like me. It probably gives her a thrill. I knew she wanted something from me. I can't believe Taz has gotten so attached to her already. I don't see how he could.

"You like it? It's my dad's stuff. Too gaudy for me but who has the time to redecorate?" Bobbi interrupted as she came in loaded down with bags.

I can admit that I may be wrong about her. She did seem reluctant to do this for me. That, in itself, must mean something. She ran deft fingers over the couch arm again. "Soft."

The doctor walked up to the couch and let her load fall to the floor. "Yeah, so is a baby's butt. Neither one does a thing for me. I'd settle for good ole polyester/cotton any day." She scratched her chin. "Well, I'll go get the rest of your bags." She was followed by her shadow.

Green eyes continued in their scan and widened when she saw the huge entertainment center. I wonder what it's like to live like this.

*  *  *

Bobbi pushed open the door to the spare bedroom and wheeled in the bassinet. "There are other bedrooms here, but they, um, have a lot of stuff in them. I would take you for a tour but I betcha you're tired and hungry. You can help yourself to anything in the fridge, while I drag the rest of your stuff in here."

She turned to go but knew she was not alone at the sound of little footsteps and slight breathing. Just as he had decided to stay with her in the garage, Taz decided to follow her now. Turning back, Bobbi peered down at the dog and whispered as she scratched him behind the ears, "I like you too, boy, but don't get too close. Please don't."


Michelle laid Toby on the bed and finally unwrapped him from the blankets. Once his feet were free, they went up in the air. She smiled as he kicked playfully. "Yeah, little one, it'll be nice to have a room of our own without all the noise, huh? Even for a little while." She leaned down and began to remove his outer clothing, letting curious eyes study the room. The bed was at least a queen and it was covered in a deep red comforter that felt as soft as down.

The hardwood floor was semi-covered in dark, rich red carpeting and the room had its own dresser, nightstands, full-length mirror and what looked to be a huge closet. "I never knew people with such nice things would be willing to share them," she murmured. "I think it's best if we eat our own food. I don't want her to think I'm taking advantage." Michelle leaned down and kissed Toby's now bare foot. "So, let's get you changed and you just give me a holler when you're hungry again, okay?" Toby cooed and continued to kick his legs out. The blonde yawned. "Mommy's so tired, Toby. She can hardly think." Exhausted mentally and physically, Michelle lay down and continued to mumble. "Just let me close my eyes for a minute then we can start again."

That is how Bobbi found them. The blonde lay curled around the baby who kicked and looked around the room curiously. She quietly sat the bags down and walked over to the bed with Taz not far behind. Geez, she looks stressed even when she's asleep. Probably got the same demons she's running from chasing her in her dreams. I know all about that, too.

The doctor glanced at the baby who seemed to hold her gaze. Knowing she could not leave Toby on the bed, Bobbi picked him up. He blew raspberries and continued to stare at her. Oh, God, what am I about to do? I don't need to get attached to the dog, the baby or anything, but right now, he needs help. She sighed and whispered softly, "What say we leave Mom to sleep? I'll put you in your crib and you can watch me clean up this pig sty before anyone sees what a slob I am." He smiled at her soothing voice and she clucked her tongue at him.

Wheeling him into her room, she parked him near the king-sized bed, littered with blankets and pale blue sheets and moved rapidly around the room, sorting the strewn clothes into piles of semi-clean and definitely dirty, revealing the highly polished hard wood floors once again. Bobbi went back and forth checking on the child even though Taz never left his side. After cleaning, the doctor noticed for the first time, how barren the room looked, containing only a bed, a mirror, a chest of drawers, bedside tables, a small picture of her family, a trunk and four walls. This is how I wanted it, right?

For the fourth time, she checked on him to see that he was sleeping quietly. Your mom and me wish we could sleep as peaceful as you, Toby. She gazed for another second before sweeping her thumb gently over his forehead. It was time for him to go back to his mother and time for her to tackle the mound of dishes in the kitchen.

Bobbi pushed the crib back in the bedroom as softly as possible. Going all the way in the room, she peered down at the sleeping blonde and cautiously reached for the cover on the other side of the bed in order to tuck her in. The doctor shook her head and headed for the door, but not before asking herself once more, What am I doing?

*  *  *

The next morning, Bobbi, clad in Nike shorts and a matching t-shirt, stood in front of the big screen TV and shook out her arms and legs in order to loosen the muscles. In secrecy, from his vantage point of the hallway, Taz watched the brunette curiously. She jumped up and down a couple of times and waited for the videotape to play. After a few seconds, Billy Blanks appeared to get ready to start his advanced Tae Bo work out. Knowing it by heart, she turned the volume down on the TV and hiked up the sound on the stereo system. Lenny Kravitz began to sing:

I wish that I could fly, into the sky, so very high.

Heart racing, Michelle sat up straight in the bed, confused of her whereabouts. The screaming Toby reminded her. Jumping up, she smoothed down the blonde crests sticking up in her hair and headed toward the crib. She picked him up and tried shushing and humming. Nothing would work.

Oh, I want to get away. I want to fly away. Yeah, yeahh, yeahhhŠ

Anger shot through her and without pause. She pulled open the door and ventured toward the loud noises. In her brisk departure, she did not bother to catalogue the burst of emotion as what it was, her first confrontation. She only took in that both Toby and she had been rudely awakened.

She made it to the living room and almost tripped over Taz. Righting herself, she walked right up to the kicking and punching brunette and yelled, "Are you crazy? There's a baby in here and some people were trying to sleep!"

Bobbi jumped in surprise and quickly shut off the stereo. Looking sheepish, she smiled crookedly and rubbed a hand down her sweat soaked leg. "Um, sorry. I forgot you guys were here."

Michelle gave her a glare and made her way back to the spare bedroom. She sat down heavily on the bed and tried to close her hanging mouth. Everything she had missed before came crashing down like an ominous dark cloud, the residual emotion and the fear. She covered her mouth with a small, shaky hand and mumbled, "Oh, my god!"

Bobbi stood there in the middle of the living room blinking in surprise. "Whoa, I didn't realize she could get that loud." Last night, I could barely get her to look me in the eye and now she'sŠ What happened here?

Chapter 4

Michelle sat in the middle of the bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. Toby found a home there and she peered down at him lovingly as little arms with balled fist at the end batted the air. With tender fingers, she traced soft cheeks tweaked the tiny nose and glazed over tiny lips.

This morning, the events of the last five days crashed down on her like a ton of bricks. The New Year had come and gone with a whimper. It meant nothing and it meant everything at the same time. It brought with it fear and realization--fear of the situation of what she said and what she did ran rampant. The bravado she felt a few days ago had fizzled. The real Michelle had returned, the one she was used to, the one that was horrified of everything. Holding Toby was her only solace. Am I that desperate that I took an invitation to stay with someone I don't even know? I don't know who she is and I can't figure her out. I don't care how safe this town feels. Deep down, she doesn't want me here. I could sense it in her reluctance to help me in the first place. She seems so self-assured and I must admit that I envy that. Despite it, can I trust her? That's a laugh, because I donıt know how to trust anymore. Taz likes her, but can I let that be enough with what's at stake?

After all that we've been through, I would think that I would have learned to be more careful, more cautious. I haven't learned a thing. All I know is that I don't want anyoneıs pity. I'm sure of that and I don't even think I could deal with a lot of people right now. I can barely deal with one. I don't know why being in the wagon was different, and for once, she made me feel needed, useful. That feeling didn't last. Nothing ever does.

Now, I don't know how to approach her and I don't know if I want to, despite my little display the other morning. What kind of situation have I gotten us into? It scares me that I canıt answer that question. It scares me to death since I still dont know what to do.

Michelle glanced up at the door that she only used when she had to go to the bathroom next door or the kitchen. Over the past couple of days, she'd become good at the game of avoidance. If she heard the tall brunette puttering somewhere around the house, back though that door she went. Somehow, she knew that Bobbi was aware of this and played along. It should have been a point in her favor, but it only left the blonde confused. Nothing had changed today. Things just looked worse. Yesterday, she woke up to more whiteness-- inches piled on inches and turned into feet.

A storm had hit full blast and showed no signs of letting up. Her car was sitting at Mike's Garage and she was stuck in the brunetteıs house without the ability to trust or the motivation to interact. Green eyes turned to the window, seeing and hearing the pounding sheets of snow and ice and hating it because once again she felt like a prisoner-- one in her own mind and desperate to find a way out.

Scooping Toby up, she placed him in his crib and walked toward the full-length mirror. Her image, first small, enlarged with each step and she took in the woman before her. Examining her face first, it was devoid of make up. With steady green eyes, she followed the slope of her chin, the curve of slightly chubby cheeks and the little lines around her nose and mouth that made her look older than her twenty-five years. "Who are you?" Michelle answered the question as accurate as she could, "A woman."

Deep green followed the voluptuous curves of her figure encased in the green paisley pajamas that nearly swallowed her whole. Making a quick decision, the blonde stripped naked and studied her body, seeing the fading bruises and old scars. She looked like a woman, but gently inquired out loud,  "Am I? What is a woman?" Michelle shook her head wondering if it was her mother or the tall brunette lurking around her own house. Thoughts of her mother took over as she remembered being yelled at, put down and being schooled on what she should become. "Or am I what you molded me into, Momma?"

Flashes of dark hair and arctic eyes played in her mind like a movie. She saw the strength, the competence and a whole lot more. "She is a woman," the blonde whispered, "and she is who you kept me from being, Momma, but you're not here to stop me now. I'm the only one that can do that. I know that now. I can be who I wanna be. I wanna know what makes me laugh, cry and feel. I wanna be smart. I wanna make something of myself and be proud, make my son proud. Even if it takes forever, I'm gonna learn how. I'm scared, but I'm gonna learn how."

Her image in the mirror began to blur and she lifted her hands to her face to find it wet. These were good tears, marking a tentative beginning to discovery. As a result, Michelle raised her chin and let them fall. Bobbi made an appearance in her mind again, rattling her. She reminded herself that they were stuck together and fear of the unknown, fear of potential pain and fear of the situation assailed her, making her heart beat in a staccato rhythm.

Maybe it's time to jump a few steps and face those fears. Maybe it was time to see the situation for what it was, a chance to learn, to be. This is New Years after all, and everything has the potential to change. So do I. She made the move to get dressed for the first time since stepping into the house. Today was going to be the day that she began talking, laughing and learning. All I have to do is go out that door and open my mouth. I'm so close to where I wanna go. All I have to do is reach out and grab it. Take the initiative.

Thinking about it, Michelle felt apprehension tear at the edges and seep in, making her flustered once more. She pulled on the pajamas jerkily and sat at the edge of the bed, trying to calm her racing heart, rapid breathing, ease the tight band of panic that clenched her stomach. I don't know if I can do this today. MaybeŠ just maybe.

She put her hands to her flushed face, feeling the hot blood there. Perhaps today was not the day. Perhaps she was not a risk-taker, as of yet and, perhaps, she had to take it slow.

Gaining back her equilibrium, she got up and ventured over toward the crib. "Soon, Toby. I'll be a woman I can be proud of. I mean, I left him and I know that's something, but I still got a long way to go." The petite blonde reached down to pick up the child. "I had to get you away from him. I couldn't let you grow up to be like him and I know thatıs what they would have done-- made you just like them, thinking the world owes you something and you can take what you want. I want you to proud of me, Toby, but I want a son I can be proud of, too."

Leaning in, she rubbed her cheek against the soft hair of his head and inhaled, taking in his scent. With dried tears still streaking her cheeks, Michelle began to hum his song. Slow. I can do this, just slowly.


Bobbi, clad in tattered, worn button-fly Levi's and a sleeveless t-shirt, sat down heavily at the kitchen table and peered down at the dog close to her feet. He stuck out like a sore thumb on the white tiled floor. "No matter what I say, you're gonna follow me around, arentcha?"

"Wuff?" Taz replied followed by a wag of his tail.

"Thought so. You'd think I'd be happy that your mom has been keeping a low profile, but I get the feeling she's scared of me, even after what we went through a few days ago. That, my friend, does not sit well with me, but Iım gonna give her the space she seems to need."

Bobbi leaned back in the chair lifting its front legs off the ground and put her own legs on top of the well-polished wood. She scratched her chin then crossed her arms over an ample chest. "I canıt believe that Iım even considering what she needs, but she needs help. For some reason, I can't ignore that. She reminds me of some kid lost and alone in a department store."

The brunette ran a hand through long, dark hair. "I hate this, Taz, but I canıt just turn her over to the police. You saw how she reacted to me just touching her. Somebody hurt her bad."

Taz whined in response, as if remembering the last confrontation.

Pale blue eyes gazed into darker blue. "She doesnıt trust anybody, least of all me. Thatıs painfully obvious, so the police would have a hell of a time with her. Anybody would. Hell, I canıt believe she let me help her like she did, and I certainly canıt believe she came back to my house." The doctor paused. "Desperate I guess. Sheıs got a baby to worry about and itıs not like Iım a serial killer or anything. I donıt come off mean like that, do I, Taz?"

The Husky's head canted to the side, making his tongue loll. "Wuff."

"I hope that was a 'no' because you jumped on the band wagon quick, furball." Unable to sit still, Bobbi pushed her arms out in front, linked her hands and cracked her fingers with a loud pop. "And now weıre stuck together for God knows how long. What a wicked joke that is. No patients, spotty phone lines, hardly any TV-- just a radio, a woman who wonıt talk or look at me and a dog. A very happy New Year indeed."

"Wuff. Wuff," Taz added, as if offended.

"Well, what do you think you are? Human?"

He jumped up placing a meaty paw on her thigh. "Wuff!"

Bobbi rolled her eyes. "Oookay, how about I just call you the dog that talks back? Will that do?"

Taz stood on his hind legs, placed the other paw on the brunetteıs leg and looked her straight in the eye. "Wuff!"

Bobbi smirked and wagged a finger at him. "Now, I know that was a yes." He wagged his tail in reply.

"Okay, but since we're friends now, you gotta help me out. Your mom canıt stay in that room the whole time, that's just not healthy." She held up her hands, "Not that I can heal her that way, boy. Iım just a medical doctor remember?" The brunette took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm convinced that we can get along without me getting involved. I can't do that, boy. Getting involved always hurts too much. I just gotta figure out what she needs from me." Bobbi chuckled, "There go those contradictions again. How the hell do I give her anything without getting involved? I don't know, but Iım gonna try my damnedest."

She scratched the dog behind his ears and glanced out the kitchen window at the raging storm. "I wish there was at least some way I could get around and check on folks. Thank goodness Mom and baby are doing fine, but thereıs still so many I need to check on." She ticked them off on her fingers. "There's old Mrs. Farmer, Mr. Lainge, and Mr. and Mrs. Shawoski. Theyıre up there in age, boy, and donıt really have anybody to look after them, except for neighbors. God, I hope their heat and rations hold up. This storm looks like the worst we had in years -- up to three feet or more with all the other snow on the ground." The brunette massaged the bridge of her nose. "I'm gonna get out there if it lets up any and shovel. I have to get out there and see them."

Bobbi let out an exasperated breath that sounded closer to a growl. "I hate not being able to do anything. I mean . . .I've been stuck in here before, but never with anyone who's content to ignore me. I should be frickin' happy about that, but I'm not. That's what I donıt understand, Taz. Why her?"


The doctor waved her hand in dismissal. "Ah, you're no help. I just don't know. There's gotta be a way I can do this. Maybe if I show her Iım not the bad guy. I meanŠ I don't want anything from her. Maybe she needs to know that too. Then, we can go from there. I just need to find out how to start. Do I just offer an olive branch and let her take the lead?"

"Wuff. Wuff!"

"Yeah? But will she, you think? I mean, thereıs gotta be a personality hiding under all that hesitancy. What do you think?"

"Wuff. Arrrgh!"

"Yeah, I think so, too. How about a little Tae Bo to loosen up then weıll take her some breakfast to start?"


"Yeah, I can cook! Iım not one of those people who eats take out or delivery all the time. You saw my fridge! How can you even suggest it? Is it just because I did cereal and sandwiches the past couple days? Iıll have you know that I'm the sandwich queen!"


Bobbi gave him a mock sneer. "Well, didn't hear you complaining when you were eating my ham."

Taz whined and lay on the floor.

"Mmm, thought so. Did I tell you yet that I liked you?"


"Yeah, I know. So, do you wanna go see my offices before we do Billy? Weıre probably gonna be the only ones in there, unless somebody can get through this mess." Bobbi jumped up, patting Tazıs head in the process. "Come on."


Going through the short hallway from the kitchen, Bobbi steered toward her office first. She moved her bare feet quietly across the carpet and sat at the end of her large oak desk, surveying the room, lined with file cabinets and bookshelves. She glanced at the two large, leather chairs in front of her and then turned to start picking at the bric-a-brac on her desk. The brunette picked up the tension ball and tossed it in the air before catching it. She fiddled with the little plaque that said, ŒDoctors do it betterı and fingered psychedelic coffee cup holding her pens and pencils. There were files, papers and a desk-sized calendar that she ignored.

Bobbi turned around and glanced down at the dog sitting obediently in the middle of the room. "Well, whatcha think? I have three rooms equipped to see patients and the fourth room was more two rooms, but my father had the wall knocked out to make one big one. I use it as a waiting area. It has a receptionist area. I used to have one of those, but she quit about a month ago when her husband got a better job in Michigan."


"Yeah, I do okay." The brunette pointed toward the open door and across the hall, "That was my dad's office." Her voice became strangely devoid of emotion, "I closed it up. He wonıt be here to use it anymore." The doctor lowered her head, cleared her throat and scooted back on the desk. Something hit the desk in a crash. Bobbi jerked around to see what it was and saw a picture frame turned over on its face. Where she was devoid with emotion a second ago, her throat was now clouded with it as she picked up the picture with shaky fingers. The glass face had one big zigzag down the middle, but it didn't separate the people locked in each otherıs arms forever.

Bobbi let out a trembling breath as she peered down at the photo of herself, her brother and mother. I miss you guys and I am so, so sorry. With gentle fingers, she traced the image of her mother, standing just as tall as her with dark, Grecian looks and a shock of black hair, and then at her brother, inheriting their father's dirty-blonde hair and pale skin, but they all possessed the same silver-blue eyes. Their appearance was vastly different from most of those in Ivanhoe and she had often wondered, probably like the rest of the community, what was the attraction between her parents. Her mother had been a free spirit, while she considered her father a stuffed shirt, but somehow they had met in New York, near her fatherıs medical convention.

Unaware until they fell like drops of summer rain onto the photo, Bobbi realized that this little trip down memory lane had left her crying. She wiped at her eyes and let out a self-depreciating chuckle, "I said I wasnıt going to do this anymore. I can't change anything." She stared at the picture for a long time.

"You know, now that I think about it, she reminds me of you, Stevie. How you were when we left Dad. Quiet, withdrawn, edgy and more than a little scared." She sat the picture down, "Wait a minute, here. Is that why I'm doing this, to saveŠ Nah, it can't be that simple." Bobbi shook her head and pursed full lips. Only itıs not simple at all. Itıs as complicated as it can get.

Left shaken and thinking hard, Bobbi whispered to the dog, "Let's forget about Billy this morning, Taz, and go straight for breakfast. I'll get you some, too."

Chapter 5

Michelle found herself where she had started the morning, sitting in the middle of the bed. She tore a piece off a strawberry Nutri-grain bar and popped it in her mouth. Toby lay in his crib, full, content and sleeping.

The blonde sniffed the air, heavy with the aroma of sizzling bacon and sausage and her stomach growled as a result. Bobbiıs refrigerator was stuffed with every food imaginable, so were the cupboards. She caved in after the second day and raised the shelves. Maybe when she's finished, I'll go in and fix myself something. Michelle hung her head and cursed herself for the lack of courage. All I have to freakinı do is walk in there and say, "Can I join you?" or is it, "May I join you?" I wonder if she would just stare at me or would she just point toward the food without a word, she swallowed, or would she just blow me off like everyone else does?

She went over scenario after scenario in her head until boredom gripped her. Taz chooses to spend his time with her, which is okay, but that just leaves me with Toby, who sleeps most of the time. I wish there was something I could do. I couldŠ I could read. I wonder what kind of books she has. I bet she has a computer; maybe I could teach myself about that. Iıve wanted to for a long time. Michelle fell back on the bed with a little growl and covered her face. But I have to ask her first! Ugh! I'm gonna go crazy in here.

For the first time the doors were open for her. She could do what she wanted without being scared of getting caught or of a raised fist, but right now, she was just scared.

Having loaded the tray with scrambled eggs, as well as eggs over-easy, along with bacon, sausage, toast, strawberry and grape jelly, orange juice, cocoa and milk, Bobbi balanced it precariously as she walked slowly to the closed bedroom door. She looked down at Taz, who stopped near her feet and asked with a raised brow, "You don't think this is too much, do you? I wasn't sure what she liked."

Instead of a whine or a bark, Taz jumped up and pranced around excitedly.

Bobbi chuckled quietly. "Okay, okay if she doesn't want the sausage you can have it." He sat down on his haunches and thumped his tail against the floor.

The brunette turned back to the closed door and took a long nervous breath. This is either gonna start something or blow up big time in my face. Okay, don't think too much, B, just do it. It annoyed and disturbed her that her heart was racing in her chest, especially when she could not think of a reason for it. Ignoring the effects, she gently tapped on the door with her foot.

Michelle jumped almost a mile into the air and when she came back down, her heart hammered in her chest and breath rattled there also. She swallowed audibly. What's going on? Why is she trying to come in here? She put a hand over her pulsating chest. I don't know if I can do this. Not right now. Maybe if I just be quietŠ

Bobbi bit her bottom lip. Okay, maybe she didn't here me or maybe she's cowering in the closet, thinking I'm about to snatch her up or something. I guess I should announce myself and reassure her. I got the feeling that this is going to get a lot harder. "Michelle?" she called out softly.

The blonde exploded off the bed and stopped dead in the middle of the room. She wanted to hide under the bed, in the closet, anywhere to keep from doing something she hadnıt done before, reaching out.


However, for the time being, hiding was out of the question. She swallowed hard above the roar of her heart and opened her mouth to speak to the first coherent human she had seen in days. "What do you want?" the blonde walked slowly toward the door.

A dark brow rose. Well, I guess that's as good a start as any. Here goes nothing. "I-I fixed breakfast. Figured youıd be hungry. Didnıt know what you liked so, um, I fixed a bit of everything." God, why am I nervous and stuttering?

The blonde wrung her hands in indecision. She almost sounds a little nervous, but I don't know. I just donıt know.

Feeling that she was rapidly losing the battle, Bobbi decided on a compromise. "Um, I can just leave it here and you can get it when I go back into the kitchen. Is that okay?"

Michelle's brow wrinkled. I don't understand her at all. She sounds soŠ I don't even have a word for it. Throwing her hands up and gathering fake courage with an intake of breath, she headed briskly for the door and wrenched it up, catching a surprised Bobbi kneeling.

The brunette looked through dark bangs with wide eyes. "Uh, I'll just set this down and get out of your way." She peered into green eyes that were just as scared as they were before, but there was something else in them this time -- something she couldn't make out. What are you thinking?

Suddenly compelled to do something, Michelle called out a soft, "No," as the doctor turned to go. Stopping almost immediately, Bobby turned around and smiled softly at her. There's that smile again, but somehow it's different todayŠ maybe not as forced. Tearing her eyes away, the blonde looked down at the tray. It was laden with food, making her eyes widen. She did this for me. I wonder why? Feeling skittish, she peered at the brunette tentatively, as if asking permission.

Seeing the look for what it was, Bobbi nodded and added, "It's okay. Go ahead."

Michelle bent to retrieve the tray. The brunette watched, knowing she would need help. Again, going on instinct, she kneeled to help her. Their fingers touched underneath the tray and Michelle jumped back as if bitten or burned. Green eyes looked everywhere but at the tall brunette.

Damn, I shoulda known better. I remember how Steve was as skittish as a colt, scared to leave the house and scared to be in it. He would barely let me touch him, hold him, always saying that I was gonna go away too. Careful, B, be real careful. Go slow. "Sorry, I just didn't want you to spill it all over yourself. I worked real hard to get that bacon crisp. Be a shame to lose it." Her smile was slow but wide.

Michelle blinked and sucked in her bottom lip. She keeps smiling at me. Itıs almost like she means it. ³Um, you can come in," the blonde added softly, but, she moved away slowly as the brunette made it to the middle of the room. Panic seized her. "Stop. Please stop. I'm sorry. IŠ"

Bobbi did as she was told. "It's okay. Iıll just sit it right here and you can grab what you want, okay?"

The blonde nodded and watched as Bobbi backed away toward the bassinet. She looked down at the sleeping child and touched his cheek softly. "Toby is a good boy. I took him the other day so you could get some sleep. He didn't cry of fuss a bit."

Michelle watched cautiously as the brunette approached the crib, then leaned over it. What is she doing? She did what?! A whoosh of breath forced its way out of her lungs. I was wondering how he got into the crib. She did thatŠ for me. He isn't hurt, so I know she took good care of him. She is a doctor, after all. "Thank you. I was wondering about that." She bit into a piece of crispy bacon and almost moaned as her stomach finally stopped its whining. "Um, it's good."

Bobbi shoved her hands in her pockets and pulled the jeans tight around her thighs. Whew, score another small one for Doc B! She watched as the blonde lowered her head and chewed slowly. "Um, Michelle. I want you to feel free to roam the house. Learn it, if you can, especially places like the basement. Thatıs where wash is done. Iıll stay out of your way as much as I can. There are some places I donıt go, anyways." The doctor swallowed and looked away.

The blonde stopped mid-chew. Can I do that? She seems so sincere, but how can I tell? She peered down at Taz who smiled at her, showing all his teeth. He leaned softly against the brunetteıs leg. As if reading her distressed thoughts, Taz whined and sauntered over toward her, taking a seat right in front of her. She rubbed his head and fed him the rest of the strip of bacon. Kneeling down, she grasped his jaws to steady his head. Michelle gazed deeply in his eyes in hopes of reading something, anything. He licked her face and turned partially back toward where the brunette was standing.

I believe he can smell good and bad. He knew Max was bad from jump one. When he brought him home, Max was complaining about him trying to bite his fingers. I know he would give his life to protect Toby and me, but he didn't attack her, not even when she got in the car. He's a dog, though; I canıt just go by that. It would be irrational, and I have Toby to worry about. I need to see for myself, but can I? It's so hard.

Michelle let him go as she stood up. Instead of speaking her answer, she simply nodded in the direction of the doctor. With her hands still in her pockets, Bobbi made fists. I guess this is as far as she can go right now. Slow, remember? Real slow. She turned to go.

Again, from somewhere deep inside that she didn't know existed, Michelle pulled up a little courage. "Um, do you haveŠ books? I always wanted toŠ" she asked hesitantly, letting her voice trail off.

Bobbi froze in her tracks. Maybe we aren't finished after all. She turned around. "Yeah, I got lots of 'em. What do you like to read?"

The blonde head hung. "Uh, don't know. Haven't read sinceŠ since high school."

Taking a step back into the room, the brunette inquired, "Well, what did you like to read then?"

Michelleıs face tightened in pain. "Nothing really. I wasn't allowed. . . I don't know."

Wondering about the pain, but knowing she couldn't push, the doctor added, "Well, we can try a good mystery. Makes you think. Challenges the mind."

A small slice of elation pushed its way through her heart. I can really do whatever I want now. The blonde head nodded up and down, and she whispered, "Okay."

"Good, well, weıll have to go to the den." She saw the green eyes darken. "Um, or I could bring you one. How about that?"

I can do this. I can. "Uh, no, I can follow you. Taz can stay with Toby."

Michelle waited until the brunette walked out of the room. She snagged another piece of bacon and some toast. When she stood back up, the blonde caught her reflection in the mirror. To her eyes, it seemed a little larger, a little brighter. Turning and gulping down some juice, she ordered Taz to stay and followed slowly behind the brunette.

They passed an open door on their way and Michelle peeked in. Clothes were strewn all over the floor and the bed was unmade. She bit her lip and smiled softly. Maybe this lady was human after all.

Bobbi pushed the door open to the den. They entered a large room, decorated in earthy browns, blacks and other masculine tones. Michelle looked around with wide eyes, taking in the two large bookshelves, the dart board, the large desk with a couple of smoking pipes, books and what looked to be a computer on it, along with a big leather chair behind it. She looked to the side to see a medium-sized table with a green top and holes. Curious, the blonde walked slowly toward it and ran her hand over the green felt.

Apprehension gripped her and she jerked her hand away before turning to the brunette with apologetic eyes. Reading it all, Bobbi spoke up, "Itıs okay. Itıs a billiards table. It was my fatherıs. This whole room was pretty much his. I put the computer in after he died." My God, I saw that look, Michelle. What happened to you?

Itıs okay. Everything is okay, the blonde told herself. She swallowed and her gaze riveted on the computer monitor. "Um, so that's yours?"

Bobbi watched as the blonde stared at it. She acts as though she missed so much. I bet she did. "Yeah, it's mine and you're welcome to it. The phone lines are going in and out, but you can still putter with it."

Michelle shook her head, "I don't knowŠ"

The brunette held up a hand and interrupted. "There's a tutorial on it. Shows you all you need to know and itıs real easy to follow. Like I said, youıre welcome to it. Just let me know. Iıll turn it on for you and leave you to it." Seeing the blonde nod the affirmative, Bobbi turned back toward the bookshelves. She pursed her lips and whispered, "Mystery, let's seeŠ" She followed the spines of some of the hard covers as well as the paperbacks until she got to Agatha Christie and pulled out Secret Adversary.

Turning back toward the blonde, Bobbi added, "Now, her books are kinda interesting and you really have to put your nose in it to figure them out. Should be pretty challenging and the characters are good. At least thatıs what my father used to say." Instead of handing the book to her, she walked over and set it at the edge of the desk.

Tentatively, Michelle moved toward it, peering down at the cover first. There was nothing fascinating about it; it was old, faded and worn, but she traced it reverently before picking it up. If I had known it would be so long before I even picked up a book again, I would have savored what I had, even the science book. Everything just feels so new. The blonde mashed the book to her chest, loving the smell of paper and the sweetness of old tobacco that never seemed to have left the room. She turned to the brunette with a light in her eyes and a soft, shy smile on her face that crinkled up her nose. "Thank you."

Bobbi smiled back. Sheıs almost like a child, experiencing everything for the first time. Itıs like she was sheltered. I have toŠ "If you have questions about that," she pointed to the book, "or you want to talk about it, just let me know."

Will I be able to do that? I hope she doesn't laugh at me if I canıt figure it out. Will she even listen to me? No one has for a long time. I donıt know if anyone ever has. I think I can talk to her. I think. "Uhm, okay."

They both fell silent and Bobbi was the first one to break it. Itıs like sheıs waiting for permission. "I hope you enjoy your book. Uh, can you find your way back?"

Wanting to leave and get started, but not knowing how, Michelle simply nodded and walked through the open door, down the hall.

Alone, Bobbi sat down heavily in the huge leather, swiveling chair and pushed her hands through thick, dark hair. Her thoughts turned to her brother and for the umpteenth time, she wondered if the dead could hear the thoughts of the living. Stevie, I canıt let her turn bitter and angry like you did. I wasn't able to keep you from that. I wasn't able to keep you from the wrong crowd or hurting others. I couldn't save you, period, and I am so sorry.

I donıt know her story, but she is so much like you were-- scared, reluctant and vulnerable. I can't give her what I donıt have in me anymore, but I can try and help her. I can try.

Michelle burst through the bedroom door and jumped on the bed, thankful that it only made a swooping sound as she bounced. Forgetting Toby for a minute, she got up to check on him to found him still sleeping. Unable to hide her elation, she smiled down at Taz. "Would you like me to read it to you, boy?" He whined and followed behind her as she moved back toward the bed.

Lying on her stomach, she opened the book with both hands. An expression of wonder crossed her face as if beams of light shot from the pages. Green eyes scanned the reviews of the remastered text. Some read, "Gripping! A real page-turner! Youıll think you know, but you wonıt." Anticipation made her heart slam against her chest. Michelle turned past the copyright page but browsed the next one that listed other works. She wanted to read them all. Finally, she got to the title page. Words stood out in medium-sized, bold letters-- The Secret Adversary. The blonde swallowed and flipped until she got to the first official page. She licked her lips and read out loud, hardly able to contain the excitement in her voice. "Prologue. It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915Š"


Marsha Nieland stood by the sink in the sunny yellow kitchen, along with Beatrice St. Jean. She had been gazing at the womanıs profile for the past ten minutes, but the eyes had refused to meet her own green. She even talked with her head down. "S'pose we all need to work together right now to find that stupid daughter of mine," Marsha quipped quietly over the voices of the men at the table.

Barely able to breath because of the pain in her ribs or stand up because of the deep bruise on her hip, Beatrice nodded and whispered softly, "I guess so."

Marsha canted her head to the side in an effort to figure out what was wrong with the woman. It was like she wasnıt here at all. She was taking up space, but nothing was inside. What the hell drugs is she on? Shoulda gave some to that dumb daughter of mine. She never does what she sıpose to do. Damn fool Max canıt even keep her in line. She peered over at the two Maxıs sitting at the kitchen table, knocking back whiskey as fast as they could pour it. "S'pose we should let the men handle this. This is not work for us. We need to just hold the household t'gether."

Beatrice tried to take a deep breath and almost cried out in pain, but she didnıt. She had become an expert at that, taking her punishment quietly. She blinked. Did she just speak to me again? I can't think. It hurts so much. They all want her back, but I hope they never find her or my grandson. I wonıt let them make him into a monster. Run, Michelle. Run. You have what I never did-- a chance. I don't know why I let him make me into nothing. I thought I loved him, but Iıve learned better. Itıs too late for me. Iım too old to start over. I envy you for getting away, Michelle.

Irritated that she wasnıt being paid attention to, Marsha reached out to grab the skittish womanıs hand, but she recoiled so quickly that it left the dirty blondeıs mouth agape. What the hell is her problem? She's not rich just a little high up on the totem pole is all. Prissy bitch.

Marsha took her hand away and sighed. Well, I guess this is mostly my fault for not teachin' Michelle better. The husband is the head of the household and what he says goes. The Bible even says so. Maybe I shoulda beat it into her. Yelling just didn't work. She found herself glancing again at the men, trying hard not to listen to their conversation because it was not the lady-like thing to do.

Beatrice turned and shuffled as slowly as possible across the linoleum floor toward the table where her husband and son were talking. The whiskey bottle was getting low and it was time for her to get another one. She paused for a minute studying them. I canıt tell them apart anymore. They look so much alike, act so much alike, but thatıs partly my fault. I should have left, but I didn't. I couldnıt with no money, no car and nowhere to go. I had to stay and watch Max mold our son into his monstrous image. Iıll burn in hell for that. I know it. Taking baby steps, she moved towards the cabinet by the refrigerator, where most of the liquor was held.

Maxwell Sr. scratched at the dark growth of beard and peered at his son across the table. With a toss of his head, he knocked back a shot of whisky and slammed the glass on the table with a thump. "Boy, didn't you listen to anything I taught you? Now, look at your momma," they both turned to the slow moving woman. "I got her so scared that I know she's not goin' anywhere. You rule with firm hand, son. Dontcha know that?" He made a hard fist with large hands and shook it for emphasis.

An elegant, shaking hand reached between them to remove the empty bottle. Max Sr. grabbed it. "You see it?! Look at the way she shakes! Look at it!" he held up Beatriceıs trembling hand, then pushed her away like a rag doll. "If your Michelle was like that, she wouldnıta left with my grandson. I guarantee you that. You fucked up, boy. You fucked up good." The tall dark man stood up reached across the table with an open hand and smacked his son in the head with a tremendous 'thwack'. "Now, I gotta save youıre ass," he sniffed and pulled up the thick corded jeans that had fallen below his slightly protruding stomach.

Max Jr. held the side of his head. "Thank you, Daddy. I-I appreciate this. What are we gonna do?" Look what you did, bitch, humiliated me in front of my father. Oh, you're gonna pay big.

"It's what I'm gonna do, boy." His dark brown eyes narrowed, making his hawk-like features look even more menacing. "I have some connections both north and south of us. Know some cops who can pull their buddies into this and keep things quiet. Theyıll look for her 'cause, hell, we can't afford a private dick. She could come back on her own, but I think this is the way to go for now. It'll have to do. She didn't get far in this storm."

Max Jr. smiled cruelly. Told ya, Michelle, it's just a matter of time now.

Continued ...

Hope you got something out of these few chapters. Let me know cuz I'm a feedback ho'. (LOL) Drop me a line at Minerva

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