Having just fed Toby and put him back to sleep, Michelle lay on the bed with her hands linked behind her head. She turned to glance out the window, seeing a ghost of dim daylight filter in and again, restlessness and boredom were fast becoming her friends.
The snow was still falling off and on. Each flake added to what seemed like tons that was already on the ground. She figured if the front door were opened, piles of cold, white powder would come barreling in, burying them all completely instead of just surrounding them.
The past week went on without incident -- physical ones, anyway. The petite blonde noticed that Bobbi had remained unbelievably nice and cordial, bringing her breakfast in the morning and a snack in the afternoon. The rest of the meals had been up to her alone. However, Michelle felt particularly proud of the events from the past day.
Knowing the brunette was lurking impossibly close in the living room, she had ventured into the kitchen, tip-toeing like a child about to rob the cookie jar. It was a mild achievement, but an achievement nonetheless. The doctor had to have known she was there with the amount of racket she made, but she never came to see what the clatter was, keeping her promise about space.
She listens to me. I've never had that before. She stops when I say stop and goes just the same. I still don't know, though. She seems so sincere, but I have to laugh at that, don't I? Because I don't know what sincere is. No, wait. That's a lie. My mother was sincere in her efforts to break me. Max was sincere in his efforts to make sure there was nothing left. I guess I do know what it is. I'm just used to the negative side of it, and I hope I can take the positive. It hurts a lot less.
I guess I made another breakthrough too. I don't like Agatha Christie, not this book, anyway. I don't think people really talked like that then, and I can't get used to it now; seems too unreal. I was scared to tell her that though, even when she asked. Don't know what I was expecting her to do, but curiosity is killing me. All those books in there. There's gotta be one I like.
Michelle sat up on the bed and scooted toward the edge. Taz huffed softly when small feet landed in his mid section. "Oh, sorry boy. I didn't see you. Didn't mean to wake you. Um, but now that you are, can I run something by you?"
"Aroo? Wuff?" he inquired gently.
She rubbed nervous hands on her green pajama-clad legs. "Well, I sorta wanna go exploring, especially in the den, but I don't know if that's okay. I mean, she said it was, but I don't wanna do anything wrong." What is the right and wrong thing? I did the right thing; I got yelled at or smacked. If I did the wrong thing, I got the same thing, but just a little bit worse. It's confusing now, trying to do this on my own.
"So whatcha think?"
"I guess that's a go ahead, but it's kinda scary, you know?" Michelle got up slowly and walked around the room in a nervous flutter complete with hand wringing. She paused, caught her reflection in the mirror and stopped. I'm starting to think of her as who I want to be. She looks like me, but as I get closer, sheıs larger in life. She would do this without hesitation, without any thought at all.
As the sun rose quickly, its beams skewed off the snow, making them bright, gloriously so, as they shone through the window. The refracted rays illuminated the blonde, but she did not see it, only seeing her dream self, wallowing in the light that she hoped to be in someday. Look, Momma, she is the woman I'll be one day. You can't put someone like that down. There's too much beauty and light around her. You wouldn't even be able to get in. She'd blind you.
Michelle took a deep breath, thrusting out her chest. "I'm gonna do it, Taz, but I need you to stay here." She walked over to the bassinet and peered down in surprise as blue-green eyes stared back at her. The blonde smiled affectionately. "Well, hey little man. You're supposed to be sleeping." Toby shoved the end of fist in his mouth and kicked his feet from under the blue blanket. "I guess I'll have to take you with me then, but that's okay. Makes me feel a little safer.
Without another word, she scooped him up, blanket and all, and headed toward the door. Once there, she stopped, attacked by sudden nerves. "It will be okay, right Taz?" Her voice was small, almost childlike. The dog nudged her lower leg.
Cradling Toby in one arm, Michelle pulled the door open with the other one. The house was quiet enough to make her think of eerie things. Getting used to the dimness, she searched the murky halls with green eyes that whipped back and forth down both ends of the short hallway.
On bare feet, she moved out of the room but kept her left shoulder against the wall to lead her and Taz closely behind. The rays from the rising sun filtered in, casting shadows on the wall and across her body, making the images look like shape-shifting monsters waiting in the wings. Michelle swallowed. There are no monsters, just humans who can be evil animals and the only human here is sleeping. She would never hurt. . . "I don't know that," she whispered out loud. Even though she hasn't so far. One thing at a time, I can do this.
Michelle passed through the living room to the other side of the hall without incident. The curious Husky spotted a half-open door and stuck his nose in when he recognized a familiar scent. He pushed the door open further with a tiny squeak and trotted inside.
Thinking she heard something, the blonde stopped as the blood pounded in her ears and breath rattled in her chest. She cradled Toby closer, but didn't dare look behind her. Suddenly beyond scared, the petite blonde tried to tell herself that it was nothing, but irrationality took over, making her break into a run.
With wisps of blonde flying behind her, Michelle darted for the den door on brisk moving feet. She tore the door open and jumped inside with an undignified squeak. The blonde turned her back to the room and inched away from the door. She held her breath and waited.
The little woman sighed and let some of the tension leave her body. Jade eyes searched the room for the dog but saw no sign of him. She called his name out as quietly as possible. There was no answer. Maybe he went exploring on his own.
Michelle looked down into the cherub-like face, framed with dark blonde hair. "We made it, little man. All by ourselves, we made it." She bent down and brushed his forehead with soft lips.
Feeling relief, she turned to the bookcases and began to peruse. The books seemed to be in alphabetical order and she looked for what seemed like forever before seeing a familiar name. I used to overhear the girls at school talking about them, Penny Jordan and Nora Roberts. I remember them saying something about good romance.
Making sure she had a good grip on Toby, the blonde bent and pulled out Hidden Riches by Nora Roberts. She held the thick paperback in one hand, turned it over and skimmed the synopsis. The words murder, smuggling, theft and romance jumped out at her.
Michelle turned it back and flipped the front cover open with her thumb and did the same thing with the reviews, seeing "funny", "a wild ride" and "a great romance." She pursed her lips and decided that it sounded interesting. Maybe it was what she needed to make her laugh, make her cry. Finished with her assessment of the reading material, she looked over at the computer in regret, deciding that it had to wait until another time.
The blonde peeked out the den door. Seeing that everything was fine and slightly illuminated, she came out of the room, closed the door but still walked as fast as possible without jostling the baby. Once Michelle got to the living room, she stopped to take a breather. That wasn't that hard at all, but I still can't believe that I did it. She paused for a second. Maybe I shoulda put that other book back where it belonged. I donıt want anybody to be mad. Giving her mind the time to grasp the concept, the blonde woman whispered, "But there's only her." What does that mean exactly? She shook her head. I don't have a clue.
Realizing where she was, she scanned the living room, now bathed in streaky sunlight. Curiosity gnawed at her. It was a sensation she had become accustomed to in the last couple days. Green eyes glanced toward the stairs, wondering what was on the second floor. She then panned the entire room, until her eyes riveted on the TV.
The blonde's head canted to the side. Had she ever gotten to watch TV? Right now, she couldn't remember. With her mom, there were only soap operas and talk shows. With Max, there was wrestling, Minnesota Vikings, Timberwolves, tractor pulls and monster truck rallies. He had made her sit and watch, pretending to be a normal spectator. I don't even know what's on TV these days. Would it be something I'd like to watch? They're not here to order me, to stop me. I can do this if I want? That woman in the mirror would.
Michelle peered down at the ivory couch, seeing the remote control caught in between the cushions. With bravado, she reached for it then sat tentatively on the edge of the couch. Her brow was scrunched in concentration as she looked down at Toby. "Do you wanna see what's on TV?" He blinked and pumped the air with a fist. Michelle took it as a yes.
Realizing she was not comfortable, she scooted back until her back hit something soft and firm. Michelle sank into the downy cushions, and without thought, she found herself lying there with her back to the arm with Toby positioned on her pulled up legs. The blonde frowned suddenly, remembering the doctorıs words about the lack of TV. "Maybe because it's not as bad, the reception will be better."
Michelle pushed the red power button and adjusted the volume. To her disappointment, there was only snow. She began to flip from channel to channel, and just when she was about to give up, the blonde found a clear one that was more than likely a local station. She watched the commercials in irritation. I always hated them, even back then.
Her eyes widened in anticipation when theme music started playing and a logo appeared on the screen, announcing the beginning of The Golden Girls. She watched the four women in rapt fascination. Fair eyebrows rose when the character Rose began to tell a story about St. Olaf. The blonde leaned forward a little bit and listened. Laughter bubbled inside her and she opened her mouth to let it out. It sounded rich, full bodied and throaty to her ears. A minute later, she did it again.
Michelle's heart fluttered with a certain
lightness she had never felt. It reminded her of butterfly wings, which
was a softness she hadn't experienced since being a small child. When another
commercial came on, she stiffened as if something dark was near and looked
around in guilt and growing fear. He's not here. I can finally laugh.
I finally have something to laugh about. The combination of fear and
guilt receded marginally, and the blonde was able to turn her attention
back to the show. The laughter continued.
Sleeping on her belly, Bobbi woke with a start and a silent scream. She ignored the heaviness on her back, the loud thump and reared up on all fours, dragging the light-colored fitted sheet with her. With her back arched, black hair in sleepy disarray, sweaty brow and wheezing breaths, she froze and tried to will herself back into reality. The brunette blinked several times and flipped over on her back, when her arms began to quiver.
She pushed her hands through her hair and tried to concentrate. Damn it! I should be used to this by now, but it still shakes me. Probably always will. I'm trying, Stevie. I'm trying to make it up to you, just give me time. The sudden phantom movement of her blankets tore her from the reverie. "What the hell?" Her mind went on rewind, remembering the heaviness on her back and the thump that she swore she heard.
Bobbi crawled over and peeked over the edge of the bed. There, tangled in her collection of covers was Taz. If a dog could look sheepish or embarrassed, he did at the moment. The brunette raised a dark brow then chuckled at his continued struggle. "Well, thanks, buddy. I needed a laugh right about now. What are ya doin' in here anyway?"
Stuck on his side he turned his head and looked up at her with his tongue lolling to the side. Taz licked his chops then whined pathetically.
Bobbi rose up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, I gotcha. Give me a sec." She gave the covers a good hard yank and the Husky came free with a dramatic "oof." The doctor righted herself on the bed and smirked when the dog jumped back on the bed and by her side. She laid her head against him, feeling the soft fur against her cheek. "How'd you know I wouldn't mind this, boy? How'd you know I needed this?"
"Oh, I see. Psychic, huh?"
Bobbi wrapped an arm around him. "I warned you to not get too close, now look at me," she sighed and turned her thoughts inward. It's getting worse. There's more blood. It almost drowned me this time and with mom, Steve and the things they say, it's worse than it's ever been. She shivered. I don't know what I'm doing here. I have no earthly idea of how I can help this woman when I can't even help my fuckin' self! Not even a new year changes that! No matter what my resolutions are.
I can't give her anything because there's nothing left in me. The doctor rubbed her face with one large hand. The same hand formed into a fist. Me being here, helping these people isn't enough for you, Mom and Stevie? So you sent me her. Can't you see I don't know how to do this?
I'm a failure. I couldn't patch all those people from the trauma unit up. I couldn't even save my own family! The only thing I'm good for these days are treating ear infections and colds. Old friends, anger and self-pity, dropped in to say hello to her, and she ached to drown it in a woman like she had done more than a few times before. It was not an option now.
Reaching back, she recalled her school days, including college and medical. When the pressure and stress seemed insurmountable, she hiked up her stereo as high as she dared, blaring the heavily strummed guitars, deep base and crashing drums of rock. It was just her, the music and her air guitar.
The brunette would get on her knees, jump in the air, dance and arch her body until her hair was plastered to her face and neck and her heart was racing. Friends had been few and far between, with competition running rampant like it was. Even when she made some, there never seemed to be time to truly open up and she never wanted to.
Bobbi had never been the quiet one or the loud one, falling somewhere in between, but knowing when to venture to both ends of the extreme. Music had been her way to scream, especially when growing up. At the moment, Bobbi longed for a little Def Leopard, Van Halen, Aerosmith or Lenny Kravitz, but she knew it was out of the question for right now.
Right now, the doctor knew it was time for quiet. It was time for the other end of the extreme. The only thing that did that for her was cooking. There was something about the creating, organizing, mixing and the preciseness that eased and soothed her. It had been that way when her mom let her flip her first pancake, a year after they left her father.
From then on, when Steve would barricade himself in his room, she cooked to combat the loneliness and pain, hoping that presenting him with a treat would help him, too. It was then that the laughter, the hugging, the joking and the bond between the three of them had frayed; leaving them with a relationship that glimmered only occasionally. With heaps of responsibility on her shoulders, Bobbi never quit trying to fix things, and she had plenty of memories of trying to do just that.
Having already turned on the small oven and readied the cookie sheet, Bobbi took the packaged Pillsbury cookie dough out of the refrigerator and sat it on the counter, as she pushed long straight back hair back behind her ears. "Mom will come home with a better job and see that Steve is okay today," she thought to herself. "I'm gonna make him better."Bobbi was pulled from memory lane by several licks on her cheek. She turned toward the source in confusion and got a lick on her nose for her trouble. She sighed and hung her head in contemplation, tightening her grip around the dog. "At least your mommy didn't act like that when I brought her food," she said as if he was privy to her inner thoughts. "It was bad back then, boy," the brunette added.
She got out a small sharp knife and used it to cut the metal wrapped tip off the package. With a spoon, the brunette dipped out portions of the dough and spread it out over the cookie sheet. She picked up the little white timer and set it for twelve minutes.
Long legs bent at the knee and she hopped up on stained white countertop to wait. "Just like it's my job to cook when Mom's not here, it's my job to take care of Stevie. He likes chocolate chips. He always did and when they're finished, he'll eat 'em and talk to me like he used to. Everything will be like it used to be," the twelve-year-old told herself. Thin, long legs swung back and forth and feet hit the side of the counter with a constant thump as she waited.
The timer finally went off and she hopped off the counter, removed the cookies and let them cool before piling them high on top of a plate. With a happy smile, Bobbi headed toward her brother's room.
She knocked once and let herself in. Sharp blue eyes searched through the dimness until she saw him in a red and white striped t-shirt and blue jeans, huddled in the far corner of the room. Bobbi walked slowly toward the huddled figure. "He looks so sad, but I can make it all better. I have to. That's my job."
"Stevie, I made your favorite."
He did not answer and she could not see his face because it was well hidden by his arms. However, she could hear his deep raspy breathing.
"Stevie, are you crying? You don't have to. Everything will be like it was. I promise. Dontcha just wanna look and see what I brought you?"
She walked closer and kneeled on the floor in front of him. "Look, it's chocolate chips." Bobbi reached out a hand to touch his arm, and without warning, his arms flailed about, striking her and knocking the plate over. Steve screamed like a banshee and his arms moved like windmills striking out at anything near. Bobbi screamed, covered her face and ran from the room, leaving the plate and fallen cookies behind.
Tears streamed down her face as she ran back toward the kitchen. Once there, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and began preparations for another batch of cookies. She had to keep trying.
"I tried everything I knew to help him, but nothing worked, not even a therapist. It only got worse. Guess I shoulda taken the hint then, huh? Maybe somebody else could have saved all those people. At least I realized that I wasn't cut out to be a surgeon. I don't think I'm cut out for this, either."
The doctor's mind was heavy, making her shoulders feel tight, weary. "I can't get bogged down with this, Taz. If the Big Guy put me in Michelle's path to help her, I wish He would give me some hints. I don't know what to do here." Bobbi sighed, shook her head and rolled broad shoulders hidden under the frayed white Reebok t-shirt. It was time to do something to regain even a modicum of equilibrium.
"Cooking, I guess it is, Taz." The brunette got up from the bed and pulled on a pair of sweatpants over a pair of brief white panties. She righted her t-shirt and turned to look at the dog who still stood on the bed, waiting. "Come on, boy. Let's work up a sweat with Billy B first and then I'll get us all something to eat, a lot of something to eat."
Bobbi padded toward the door with bare feet. She opened it all the way and headed down the short hall toward the living area and kitchen. Not even halfway near her destination, the sound of unfamiliar laughter stopped her. Dark brows drew together in confusion. She motioned for the dog to be quiet and to stay put as she tiptoed the rest of the way.
She hid in the shadows that were left and watched the display before her. Michelle was lying on the couch with the baby on her lap, watching TV and laughing. Blonde hair flew from side to side as she shook her head with each guffaw. The sound was full, but rusty, as if her cords were trying to get used to making that particular noise. Green eyes were round, full of wonder and the slightly chubby face was flushed with excitement.
Everything about her has this hungry quality to it. It's like she can't wait to devour. She hasn't done any of this before. I can see it now. This is her first time out on her own. This is her first time for everything. Who kept you or beat you into a cage, Michelle? It must be who you're running from. I shoulda seen it before. You show classic signs, but I still don't know if I'm the right person to help you hide. I wanted to show you that I'm not some weirdo and I hope I've done that. I just don't know where to go from here. I promised Steve that I'd try to maybe put both our demons to rest.
Knowing the blonde needed her space, Bobbi tried her best to move past her without being seen, but Taz had other ideas. He wuffed and ran toward his mistress. Somewhere behind the couch, the brunette stopped dead in her tracks as if she was caught in a spot light.
Michelle turned her way and yelped in surprise at the nearness of the doctor. She scooped up Toby and jumped from the couch. The blonde turned frightened eyes on the brunette. "I'm sorry . . . to wake you up. You said. . . I could. . ." I did something wrong. I know I did.
Bobbi's eyes widened and she held up her hands in a peaceful gesture, while trying to decipher the petite blonde's jumbled speech. "Whoa, hold on a minute. I'm the one that needs to apologize. I didn't mean to scare you. Was just trying to get to the kitchen to start breakfast without disturbing you." I'm not the one who kept you locked up and tied down, Michelle. I could never do that to anyone. "I meant what I said, Michelle. It's okay."
Still unsure of herself, Michelle asked with a stutter, "Is it? I-I really didnıt mean to wake you up.²"She rubbed a hand against her thigh nervously and cradled the squirming Toby to her chest and neck.
Bobbi kept her distance. "It's okay, really. I'm an early bird anyway. Plus, I had a present in my bed this morning using me as a pillow," the brunette smirked.
They both looked down at Taz, who gave them a wide toothy smile.
"S-sorry about that too. He's really gotten attached to you."
The brunette chuckled. "It's okay. We understand each other. Don't we, boy" She clapped her hands, he came running happily over to her and Bobbi scratched behind his ears as a reward. She glanced back up at the blonde. "You're up early, too."
"Couldn't go back to sleep after feeding Toby."
"Well, sounded like you were having a good time in here," Bobbi smiled hugely.
Michelle blinked at the showing of teeth and simply nodded her head. "Um, was watching something called The Golden Girls? Funny real funny." I can't even talk to her without stuttering. She would be able to without a problem --the woman in the mirror. She would be able to talk to anybody and know how to make them laugh and think. I can't wait to be her.
"Yeah, that one is. Can't believe it still comes on in re-runs after all this time."
"I've never seen it before. Uh, I think I like Dorothy best. She's smart and makes you think when she says something funny." Am I standing here talking to her? Am I? Old fear grabbed her, making her hang her head and shut her mouth.
It's fine, Michelle. I think those were the most words you've said, but I betcha there's plenty more in you. Pale eyes scanned the room until they came to the paperback sitting on the couch. "You finished reading the Agatha Christie book already?"
Michelle could feel her face redden guiltily and she did not dare look up. "Um, I didn't like. . ."
Bobbi chuckled as if she had some kind of hidden knowledge, "Too dry for you, huh? I donıt like them much myself. My Dad loved them though."
Still unable to look up, Michelle asked. "You don't mind me taking another book? Uh, I left the other one in my room. I can go get it and put it back if you want?" she added nervously.
The brunette shook her head. "Just put it back whenever you want to. Thereıs no hurry and you're free to read whatever's in there, even the dry stuff."
Thinking that the woman in the mirror had taken sudden control of her body, Michelle felt a flash of boldness. "I wanna play with the computer when the phone comes back on." After she made the statement, the blonde slowly lifted her head to meet silver-blue eyes.
Ah, you're so used to asking permission for everything aren't cha, Michelle? Just saying what you did must seem like a triumph. I canıt even imagine what he did to you, but I shoulda guessed that night in the car. Bobbi slapped her hands to her side and shrugged, "Sure, I'll explain to you how to turn it on and you can have at it. You don't really need the phone, ya know. It's just to getcha connected to the net."
Jade eyes lit up. "Is it true that you can find anything you want on there?" I can't imagine what I can learn in just one day on there. All the things they wouldn't let me.
"Yeah, you could even go to college on the net if you wanted to." It would be wrong, wouldn't it, to let her know that I figured out what happened to her? I'm pretty sure she would clam right up. Maybe I can open the door for her to a lot of new things, things sheıs always wanted to experience.
"R-really? I always wanted to. . ." be smart, she started to say, but for some reason the words stuck in her throat. I canıt believe it. Sheıs talking to me, not at me or down to me. She thinks what I already know -- that I'm a person and one day Iıll be whole. I don't understand. Why couldn't they do this? Why? Michelle hung onto Toby like an anchor. She gripped him tightly, so tightly that he let out an irritated yelp. The blonde lowered him back in her arms and shushed him apologetically.
Taking a couple of steps to clear the couch and to get a view of the baby, Bobbi asked, "How is the little peanut this morning?"
Michelle felt a change in her surroundings. It was as if someone had penetrated a secret force field around her. Alarmed, her head jerked up and around to see that the brunette had moved closer. The blonde felt suddenly claustrophobic and took some steps back.
Why is she doing this? I need my space. I thought she understood that. Donıt do this to me now. Someone was always here, in my face close to me, touching me, hitting me or yelling at me. I just need to breathe my own air for a little while. "Don't. . . please stay right there. I-I can't. . . take it. I-I think I can talk to you, but please. . . that's it."
Bobbi held up her hands palm facing outward in a gesture of surrender. "I'm sorry, really. I don't realize that Iım doing it. Just wanted to see the baby. I delivered quite a few of them around here. I sorta like 'em," she shrugged sheepishly. They don't talk back and they don't need much of anything because I can always give them back to their parents. I'd be deluding myself if I didnıt admit that -- that's why I like them so much. That's pathetic, B, very much so.
"I honestly. . . don't know about that either -- you being near him." Indecisiveness and uncertainty assailed her. Some days I donıt even know about this arrangement. Michelleıs feelings filtered out into her speech. "I-I still don't understand why you're doing this. I mean . . . you don't even know me," the blonde added shakily as she rocked Toby in her arms at a quickened pace.
Oh, boy. I'm gonna have to tread lightly here, but what do I say that won't be taken the wrong way? "I just wanna help."
Michelle moved back another step. It all just sounded to good to be true. "But why? No one's. . . e-ever wanted to before. Why should I believe it's different now? I don't know you," her voice was full of doubt and fear. She sucked in a deep breath, hoping it would calm suddenly jangling nerves.
Bobbi made sure to stay put. She didnıt need the blonde to take off running. Have that many people in your life been cruel to you, Michelle, that you canıt see good anywhere? The brunette wrung her hands. "I . . ." Should I be honest with her here? What can it hurt? "You remind me of someone who was very important to me." Azure eyes were wide open and dripping with sadness as thoughts of her brother ran rampant.
Gooseflesh washed over Michelle as she thought about this. She's using me, using me as a substitute, but isnt that what Max was doing? Isn't that what my mother was trying to do? I was a substitute for their own anger and bitterness. I can't do this again. It'll kill me. She only sees her chance to make things right with this other person.
The blonde shook her head from side to side vehemently; wisps of hair beat against her face and got caught in the moistness of her lips. She took two more steps backward. 'I-I can't do that. I c-can't be this person you're talking about. Don'tchu see?" her voice raised an octave and hard, biting anger exploded within. There could be no more. Simply because she decided she was not going to take it. "I can't be anybody else, because I donıt even know who I am!" Fat tears squeezed out the corners of the Michelleıs eyes. "Why can't any of you understand that, huh?! Why?!'
Michelle turned toward the hallway and her first instinct
was to get out. She followed it and ran back toward the room. Even though
Taz had become attached to the brunette, the most important human was his
mistress. He ran after her.
* * *
Bobbi stood frozen to the spot. She longed to throw something to alleviate the sudden pressure building in her body. Instead, she screamed inside. I don't know what Iım doing here! Everything I touch and try to make right turns to shit! So what am I supposed to do now? How the hell do I fix this?
In disgust, the doctor flopped down on the couch. It was time to think hard and find answers. She covered her face with her hands and lowered them until they were almost in her lap. Long, inky tresses spilled past the face and knees. After a few long moments, familiar voices started to whisper in her ear; voices she thought that sheıd never hear again, reminding her the tenacity she used to possess and the patience that held them all together when it looked like a slight gust of wind would blow them apart. Her motherıs voice had always been soothing, and the effects still had not changed.
I don't know if I have it in me to do that anymore, but I'll try. Maybe she needs a different kind of help is all. I bet that she's seen so much cruelty that itıs become how she defines almost everything. Maybe she just needs someone to show her the compassionate and kind portion of human nature. Maybe I can do that by just putting whatever she missed in her path, letting her decide what to do with it. She needs to be whom she wants. She's not you, Stevie. She's not you. I need to be able to see that.
The brunette reared up and laid her head on the back of the couch. "I've gotta try." She stood up abruptly. It was time to lose herself in the kitchen.
Toby squirmed, but was otherwise quiet, considering the turmoil his mother was going through. Michelle put him in the crib, walked over to the bed and threw herself on top of it. Taz jumped up after her. Since she was lying on her stomach, he nudged her side. When that did not get a reaction, the Husky put his cold, wet nose on the side of her throat and whined. Michelle turned over and pushed hair out of her face and tears from her eyes. "I shoulda known, Taz," her voice was thick and hoarse. "Shoulda known that she would be no different than anybody else. She wants something from me, just like they all did. Well, I can't save her," the blonde sniffled and rubbed her red nose. "I'm still trying to save us."
Taz whined again and laid his head on top of her chest. She patted his head and turned to look out the window. There were no downy like flakes falling from the sky, just dull sunlight. "Maybe the snow has stopped for a while. Maybe it's time to see about the wagon." Maybe itıs time to get out of here, away from the whiteness and the prison it puts me in.
Despite all that had happened, Bobbi had a smile on her face as she balanced the tray, laden with food and a little extra. From what the radio weatherman said, the snow had stopped, at least for a few days. The brunette had even picked up the phone and found it working with a minimum of crackle, which meant her cell phone was probably functional also. She hadnıt checked it in days, knowing from experience that she would never get a good signal, especially in a blizzard. Still, things seemed to be up and running for the time being. That meant patients would come to her and she could go see them.
Bobbi figured that she could check up on the new mom as well as a couple of the old timers that had been on her mind before the deep freeze set in. The brunette made her way down the short hall. Cooking had soothed her mind just like it always did. French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage and juice weighed down the tray as well as the discarded book with a little something inside. I'm gonna keep trying, Michelle, for my sake and for yours.
Bobbi stood in front of the bedroom door, knowing she would not be invited in this time. I was going about this all wrong and you were right, Michelle. She listened for a moment but heard nothing. Letting out a shaky breath, the doctor crouched down and placed the tray in front of the door. On her way back up, she knocked softly on the door and said just as quietly, "Michelle? Breakfast." Without another word, the brunette walked back toward the other end of the hall to ready herself for the day.
Michelle jumped at the sound of the knock then waited apprehensively for the door to open. It never did. She only heard a few words and footsteps going the other way. When the blonde could not hear them anymore, she got up slowly from the bed and made her way toward the door. She put her ear to it and listened for a minute before pulling it open.
Michelle could smell the tray before she looked down for it. Confusion made her brow scrunch, but she picked it up anyway. It tipped precariously as she walked toward the bed, but one thing stood out on the tray, the Nora Roberts book with a piece of white paper sticking out of it.
Setting the tray on the floor by the bed, curiosity made her grab the book first. She calmed the Husky, who pranced on the bed at the smell of food, with a touch of her hand. Without preamble, Michelle opened the book, took out the paper and began to read the short note.
You were so right in what you said. In you, I saw a chance to redeem myself and get rid of my own demons, but you made me see that it is something I have to do myself just like you do. I am so sorry for my mistake.
I won't ask for forgiveness or another chance, because I know that, for you, it just may be too much, so I won't ask for anything that way. There will be nothing to return. You are free to do what you want, just as I am free to dispense kindness. Nothing has changed. You still have use of everything in this house. The phones are on now, and I left instructions in the den on how to use the 'puter. You will also find the number to Mike's to check on your car. I may be in my office or out seeing patients today, once I try to clear the driveway and sidewalks. If you have any questions, leave me a note or ask, whichever one makes you more comfortable.
PS. You'll love this book, especially
read and reread the note until the words blurred together. Then, she folded
it neatly and placed it in the back of the paperback. The blonde sat on
the bed with a muted thump. Who are you? I don't understand this or
you. People like you didn't exist where I come from. They couldn't have.
It's so hard and I want to believe you, trust you, but the only thing I
could rely on for so long was the insults, the slaps and the raised fists.
I knew those. I don't know anything about kindness. I canıt trust it and
I need time to learn. I just need time. The blonde's mind was a whirl
and, without a word, she picked up a sausage and fed it the dog that had
inched near her again.
Kevin fiddled with the controls and lowered the shovel-like apparatus attached to his father's truck. With a thump, it hit the thick, packed, white snow. He hit another button and heard the shovel dig in with a loud, jarring metallic sound, then proceeded to start driving, moving mounds of white stuff as he went.
"So, we should make it over at Doc Bıs in a minute, Cam. If we shovel her out, I betcha she pays us good."
The tall, teenage boy with long stringy blonde hair, blotchy face, muted whiskers turned to his best friend, "Yah? Ya think so?"
"Yah. Ya know, I was telling her about what me and Janie saw the other night. Just like on the X-files, but I bet the snow has more X-files stuff in it than we could shake a stick at." The truck made a grinding noise and Kevin stopped to dump the snow on the side of the road.
"Yah, Kev? How so?"
Kevin lunged and smacked his friend softly in the head. "Think! All that government stuff, I betcha they got going on 'round here. Perfect place is to bury it in the snow. Betcha they dump all the alien parts they tore up all over the place at night when we're sleepin'."
Still rubbing the side of his head, Cam added, "Yah, betcha if we find some, they'll try to pay us off, huh, Kev?"
Kevin rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue. "No way you, i'git. They'll do us just like they do Scully and Mulder. Hell, look what they did to him!" His eyes narrowed. "Ya know, I betcha there's agents, just like them, snooping around, trying to find proof. So, if we find it before them, theyıll come to us, Cam. We should start sifting through the snow when we get to Doc B's and go from there. Just think about it! We'll be working with the Feebs!"
"Yah, I betcha Janie would put out to ya then, huh?"
They looked at each other briefly before nodding. "Yah!"
Was there simultaneous reply.
Bobbi opened her garage door to the sound of scraping. She blinked to adjust to the brightness and then looked down at the snow that came to her knees. Taking a few steps forward, the brunette angled her hand above her eyes to get a better view of things. She looked out in the huge yard to see one boy bundled tightly with ear muffs and all, finishing shoveling her sidewalk and about to start with the driveway. The other boy was crouched over with his arms, pit deep in the snow as if he was looking for something.
"Hey, you two!"
Kevin waved and made his way toward her. "Hey, Doc B. Thought ya might need some help. We're gonna get as many yards as we can today. Started with yours. . . clearing some of the side streets, too."
Bobbi smirked. Sheıd known this boy for a long time. "Mighty nice of ya. Who's that?" she pointed towards her yard.
"Eh, ya know, thatıs Cam. Comes out with me every year. Say, Doc, anything we find in your yard we get to keep, right?"
Smiling now, the brunette answered. "Well, yeah. You can consider that payment, but I know you are doing this just to be nice, right?"
Bobbi waited a beat.
"We can't even get a little?"
She chuckled, "I was just yankin' your chain, Kev. Course Iım gonna pay you two. I know how hard ya work. Give me a holler when youıre finished with the driveway, I need to get out of here and check on some people."
He held up his hand and nodded. "Will do, Doc."
Now on the slushy roads, Bobbi's thoughts turned back to the new occupants of her house. I hope they'll be okay by themselves. Good thing I left my cell number for her in the den, too. She turned up the road and headed toward the Polinskiıs house, passing by the now infamous stretch of road that had caught them both. You ran away from your demons, Michelle. Now, youıre trying to exorcise them. You're a strong one. I'm still running and I don't know how to stop. If this works out for you, maybe you could show me your method. Maybe I could learn to actually see real people again, not just patients.
She paused as she pulled the Cherokee up in front of the house. Maybe I already started.
Bobbi knocked on the door and was admitted with a happy grin by Keith Polinski. He patted her on the back and led her in. "Doc B! Good to see ya! How's that bassinet workin' out for your friend?"
"Toby seems to like it fine and I guess as long as he's happy, it's what matters," she answered evasively.
"Quiet thing she was, but thank her just the same for helping out. Tell her to come on over to the house for a meal when this mess gets cleaned up. Good thing the snow stopped. I can get back to my pharmacy. Must be people needin' medicine. Did you have a good New Year?"
The people of this town are amazing, always thinking of others. I wish she could see this, learn from it. Bobbi purposely ignored the last question. "Will do."
"Soo, come to see our little wonder, have ya?"
"Yep, how is little Susie?"
"Oh, sheıs fine. The sweetest little thing you ever did see, just like her mom."
Bobbi smirked. "Karen still saying those dirty words to ya, Keith?" To her consternation, the redheaded man blushed all the way to the roots of his hair, making them seem redder.
They stopped in the middle of the living room. Wearing an expression of embarrassment, Keith Polinski stood there, hands in pocket and moving up and down on the balls of his feet. He leaned toward her and talked out the side of his mouth as if the room was full of people. "Yah, she does, but theyıre different kind of dirty things, ya know? I think she aims to torture me for the next few weeks, Doc."
Dark brows shot up before her head fell back in laughter. After a few more chuckles, Bobbi pointed out the window. "Plenty of snow out there, Keith, to get you through those days." She clapped him on the back, despite his bemused expression, as they moved toward the back rooms.
Sure that the new addition to the Polinski family, as well as her mother, was fine, Bobbi found herself on the way to past Cedric Avenue, named after another character in Ivanhoe. This town took its claim to fame seriously. The brunette smiled as she remembered finding the Ivanhoe site on the web and how it detailed the townıs history. Still, she thought what made the few people that did visit was the hospitality and the nice people.
Putting those thoughts behind, Bobbi pulled in front of old Mrs. Farmerıs house. She skated up the now cleared sidewalk and knocked on the door. The brunette heard the old womanıs mouth before she even got to the door.
"Yah, yah! I'm coming. Don't cha dare lay on that bell or you'll be out there all day I tell ya!"
Bobbi chuckled and smiled at the woman as she opened the door. "Evenin' Mrs. Farmer!" she all but screamed at the woman, who was hard of hearing.
The white haired woman chewed her gums and stared at the brunette for a minute before recognition hit. "Oh, Bobbi! Good thing youıre here. Ya can help me find my teeth!" the caramel-skinned woman waved her in.
The doctor walked into the house and took a big whiff. It smelled of mothballs and comfort. "I just came by to see how you're doin'!"
She waved her hand as she shuffled along, "Oh fine, fine. Just glad this snow stopped. Haven't seen so much white since I went into town!" she cackled at her own joke, and Bobbi couldn't help but smile. "I'll be better if you can help me find my teeth. Don't like suckin' my food."
Bobbi shook her head. Even at eighty, Martha Farmer was a heck of a woman. Ivanhoe had been her home for almost sixty years. The brunette had heard the stories how her and her husband Henry were shunned and ostracized because of their skin color. She also heard the stories of them being respected for the kind people they were because of one act of kindness to a little white boy stranded in the snow years ago. When Henry went to WWII and failed to return, the town made sure he received a hero's funeral.
"You have a seat, Mrs. Farmer, and Iıll look in the couch cushions for ya!" Bobbi searched the couch then kneeled down to look under. "Has Henry visited you any since I saw you last!" She was content to humor the older woman, who swore that her husband's ghost visited her. Still searching for the dentures, the doctor made a sound of relief as she pulled them from under the couch.
"Yah, he looked so handsome in his uniform, just like the day he left. He stayed with me all day on New Years."
"Good, good. Well, I found them! Let me put them in a cup for you to clean them and I'll come look you over!"
Kneeling and holding the stethoscope to the older womanıs chest, Bobbi found still astute brown eyes staring down at her. "Something you not telling me, Mrs. Farmer?"
"No, no just wonderin' why a pretty thing like you don't have a husband. You one of them new age women, aren't cha?²
Bobbi chuckled and pulled a blood pressure cuff from her bag. "Somethin' like that. I might settle down someday. Ya never know."
She cackled. "Whoever it is, is gonna have to be something to tame the likes of you. You're a smart one. He's gonna have to respect that."
The brunette wrapped the blood pressure cuff around the womanıs slim, wrinkled arm. "Yeah, he's gonna have to respect a lot of things."
"Mmm-hmm, my Henry wanted me to get an education. We grew up together, ya know, in Minneapolis. He had to work for his family, but I went to school. He wanted me to be educated so I could teach him. He was some man. Wish I could have borne him children."
And you are some woman. "We'll watch after ya Mrs. Farmer."
Michelle let what seemed to be hours go by as she lay on her stomach on the bed, reading page after page of her new book. Her stomach was full of the French toast that had become her favorite, as was Toby's of mother's milk. Reluctantly, she got up to make sure Taz's was too. The blonde had dishes to do, anyway.
Keeping an eye on the bassinet not too far away from her was just one of the things Michelle was wrangling in the kitchen. With one hand, she emptied the contents of the breakfast tray into the garbage and the sink. In the other hand, she held the paperback and used her thumb to turn the pages. She could hear Taz nearby lapping up water from his bowl.
She laughed out-loud as she turned to another page. Her apprehension was low with the knowledge that no one was going to barge in and humiliate her before fists went flying. For just a few minutes, Michelle didn't jump at the tiniest sound
She was right about this book. I feel like Iım in another world. This is what I've been missing out on all these years, a verbal getaway. I still need time to believe in what she's saying, what sheıs doing for me. I hope she can understand that. I'm making headway in things, but I donıt think that's one of them yet. I was able to call Mike's Garage all by myself, but part of me was relieved when no one answered. Maybe Iıll try back later. That could mean another day here. Still, I don't think I mind as much anymore.
Bobbi pulled into the driveway and thanked the Big Guy. Everyone she was worried about seemed to be okay. She called the Sholwaskiıs on her cell phone, only to get a message that they had been out of town the whole time, visiting grandchildren for the holidays. Mr. Lainge was with his son. Now, I have to go in and deal with this. I don't know whoıs gonna be behind that door -- the woman who thinks I'm using her or the woman who may have found even the slightest truth in my letter. I donıt know, but I think I can deal with either one. I can deal with the distance. She needs it and I think I do, too. Neither one of us is ready for more.
I still can't believe this, really. For the first time in years, I want to help someone who isn't physically ill or dying. For the first time in ages, I want to deal with an individual who has the capacity to talk, act, rage and feel. Maybe Iım starting to get tired of running from my demons.
When the garage door opened all the way, the brunette drove inside. After getting her keys and medical bag, she jumped out of the cab and headed for the door. "Okay, let's see what's behind door number one.² Bobbi opened the door and Taz greeted her. She bent down awkwardly, wrapped in layers of clothing and patted him with a gloved hand. Stopping in the living room, she wrestled her way out of the thick coat and accessories.
By the time the brunette finished, she stood upright and cocked her head to the side. Michelle was in the kitchen. Bobbi heard the water running then cut off. Standing stock still, she listened to the sound of wheels moving across the tiled floor. Knowing that the blondeıs room was near the kitchen, Bobbi figured that, being where she was, she was okay, space-wise.
Michelle heard the door open and close. The doctor was back and the petite woman watched nervously as Taz ran from the kitchen to greet her. Should I say something to her? That note sounded so sincere. I should at least Slowly, the blonde pushed the crib across the floor until she got to the open area leading to the hallway and the living room. Green eyes peeked around the corner to see the brunette standing still and tall. She moved a little closer to the doorway, so that she could be seen, as well.
Blue and green met before the blonde tore her gaze away. Michelle peered from under fair lashes. She swallowed, and spoke softly, "H-Hi."
Is she offering me a truce of some kind by doing this? Bobbi scratched her chin and nodded, "Evenin'."
I don't know what to say to her. Maybe I should just thank her for what sheıs done. "Uh, thanks for breakfast. It was good and so is the book. I-I can't put it down."
The brunette smiled slightly and shoved her hands in deep jean pockets. "Anytime." Let her lead.
"Um, m-maybe we could talk about the book when I'm done?"
"Sure, just let me know. Come get me or leave a note where I can find it. We can work out something to make sure youıre comfortable."
Not knowing what else to say, Michelle was desperate to return to the book. She pointed nervously at the bedroom door just across the hall. "Um, I'm gonna go" she pointed again.
"Okay, talk to you later." And I will, won't I? I really think I will.
Michelle bit her lip and whispered, "Yeah, okay."
Michelle called Mike's Garage again the next morning only to find that they were backed up because of the storm. It would be at least a week before they could even look at the wagon. At least a week, she decided that it wasn't so bad here after all.
Maxwell St. Jean, Sr. stared at his wife while the phone rang. With a jerk of his head, he ordered her to answer it, just like he always did. Beatrice got up slowly and shuffled over. She picked it up on the third ring. "H-Hello?"
"Mrs. St. Jean is that you?"
"Yes, how may I help you."
"Well, this is Dan and Iım a deputy with the Chippewa county Police. I'm a friend of you husband's. Could ya give him a message? It's about that woman he was looking for."
Beatrice's heart fell in her stomach. Please tell me you didn't find her. "Hold on, let me get some paper," she picked up the phone pad and the pen sitting beside it. "Go ahead, Dan."
"Well, I don't know if this'll help, but someone may have spotted the car heading south a day before the storm hit. That's as much as we got right now, sorry to say."
"Thank you and I'll relay the message."
She hung up the phone with a click and sat the pen back down. He barked at her in impatience. "Well who was it, you fool woman!" She's so damned slow. I need to light a fire under her real soon. Daddy always said your woman should jump right when you say jump.
Beatrice tore the piece of paper off the pad. He was so
wrong about her being scared. She wasn't anymore, just resigned to her
fate, but she didn't wish it on anybody else, so Beatrice St. Jean did
the only thing she could do. She lied to her husband in words and on paper.
With her eyes cast down, she handed him the message. "That was Dan in Chippewa.
Said Michelle's car may have been spotted headed North right before the
storm hit." He grumbled and shoved his glass toward her. She took it obediently
and went to pour him another drink.
Max Jr. wrapped large hands in the blondeıs hair, pulling her closer to his body. "Harder! Suck harder, bitch!"
He did not know her name but she was right were he liked his women, subservient and on her knees. Maxıs thoughts strayed to his wife, a rage washed over him and he pulled on the blondeıs hair hard. "I said suck it, Michelle. Suck it like I taught you!" The woman increased the suction to that of a Hoover.
Max grasped the sides of her head and pumped into her mouth. "Yeah, like that," he groaned. Smack dab in the middle of his own living room, he stood tall, majestic with his pants and underwear around his ankles, revealing well toned, hairy legs. The room was alive with the sound of slurping, fake moans and real ones. The pleasure blotted out his anger for the moment, but it didnıt last long.
The rage returned white hot in its intensity. He had been humiliated in the eyes of his father and in the eyes of his friends by a pissant of a woman. A woman who was supposed to obey him, fear him and serve him. His wife. Max looked down at the blonde head that suddenly reminded him so much of Michelleıs. He moaned loudly as orgasm rushed up on him and the anger made it sweeter. The blonde pulled away and his seed spilled over her face and neck.
Max didnıt waste any time. With dark, burning eyes he stared down at her as the furnace built higher and higher. Raising his hand high, he struck her across the jaw. She fell backward and he laughed at the blood that flew from her mouth. He had never hit another woman before, besides Michelle, but it felt good, real good.
The blonde cupped her jaw and peered
up at him with frightened eyes. "Please. . ."
He ignored her and pulled his leg back. With lightening speed, the kick sped toward her naked torso. The woman screamed in pain and moved to a fetal position.
"You bitch! You don't leave me. I'll kill you! Do you understand?!" Max leaned down and forward. Grabbing a hand full of hair, he pulled her up. "Do you hear me?!" Spittle flew from his mouth adding to the moisture already dripping off her face. The fear in her eyes made him hard again, made him whole again. He threw back his head and laughed as he let her fall back to the floor.
Mewling in pain, the blonde was coherent enough to scurry across the floor, picking up her clothes as she went. In a mad dash, she headed for the door; ready to scream louder if he caught up with her. She turned back briefly to see him still laughing. Without another pause, she ran out the house, naked from the waist up.
Still standing proud and erect, Max raised his arms to the ceiling. "You see that, Dad?! I can do it!" his voice cracked. "I can be who you want me to be!" He let out a loud bark of laughter, "Dad!" The laughter abruptly changed to tears.
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