Chapter 8

Clad in the ratty flower printed housecoat, Marsha Nieland puttered around the sparsely furnished house in an effort to keep her mind off the disaster that was forming right in front of her eyes. I canıt believe that ungrateful twit hasnıt come home yet. She put a pot on the stove to boil for tea. I give her a roof over her head, clothes on her back, and I taught her about life. This is how she repays me? By humiliating me in front of those uppity folks. She snorted and got out the box of lemon zinger from the dingy white cabinets.

I worked my ass off all those weird jobs for years so Iıd have something now. Donıt hurt to have a little more. Now that sheıs gone, I wonder if theyıll stop the payments? She shuffled across the splotched tiled floor and set the now filled cut on top of the old table. Damn fool woman done ruined it for everybody. Knew she was too much like that useless father of hers even ran away like he did for no reason, and I gave him everything a man could want.Dummies just donıt know when they got it good.

Marsha sat down and pulled her chair up to the table. Now these uppity fools ainıt doing a thing. Connections my ass, and they havenıt even called me to tell me whatıs goin on. The blonde woman stirred her tea with vehemence. I have the mind to pick up the phone and give them a piece. . . The older woman jumped up from the table and went for the phone.

She dialed the St. Jeanıs number and waited as it rung three times. Fair brows bunched in confusion when the phone was picked up with a clatter. ³Hello?² She heard scuffling, but there was no reply. Irritated, she hung up. ³Damn people.²

* * *

Beatrice sucked in a breath and prepared herself for another blow. It landed in her stomach, and she choked down the vomit that threatened to rush upward. She had become good at that as well as silence. A cry meant a harder blow. The woman learned that early on.

What had she done to deserve this? She spilled his morning shot of whiskey and burned his breakfast, which were both punishable crimes in Max Sr.ıs eyes. With eyes hooded in pain, Beatrice peered up at him from the floor, seeing him as a rabid dog, snarling, drooling, and barking incoherently. She then shrunk deep inside herself until there was no pain, no light, no sound just an empty dark place. Her thoughts scattered then united to return to the point that had distracted her in the first place, Michelle.

In the past few weeks, the calls flooded in. Beatrice had never lied so much in her entire life, but sometimes a lie promotes a greater truth. That was what interested her. Itıs what pushed her. Her foundation was rattled by a viscous kick, but it soon righted itself to nothingness. Iım not here anymore. Havenıt been for a long time. You canıt hurt whatıs not there.

Max watched his wife with a snarling smile. I own you just like I own everything in this house. He would be proud if he could see me right now. ³You have to do what you have to do to keep your women in line.² I remember him saying that like yesterday. He was right. He had to keep that whore mother of mine in her place. She cheated. She lied. He told me so. I wonıt have that happen to me, ever. Unless, I tell her to.³You canıt get shit right can you?! Can you!?²She did not answer, and he did not expect her to. Max knocked the suddenly ringing phone to the floor and continued his task.

Max Jr. let himself into his parentsı house. The site that greeted him, as he stepped into the living room stopped him cold. His mother writhed on the floor, not making a sound, while his father stood above her screaming. Max watched a kick land and almost lift her off the floor. Still, she barely let out a sound. He must have made one though because eyes turned to him. He saw one set like his own lit with anger. The others held everything‹agony, sadness, resignation.

Then there was nothing. Maxıs insides cringed in reaction, feeling . . .something. Is this what Michelle looks like when I do this to her. Is that the way she feels? Max Sr. turned to his son and smiled. The younger St. Jean blinked at the smile but ignored it to try to grasp onto unidentified emotions. Before he could, the feeling was gone, and Max Jr. grinned at his father.

Chapter 9

Bobbi stood tall, despite being knee deep in snow. She pulled the white parka closer to her zipping it up all the way over the cream-colored sweater, then wiped away dark tresses the wind blew haphazardly from under the knit cap. Pale blue tracked the Husky as he pranced in the snow. Because of her lack of fear concerning the weather at the moment, Bobbi allowed him to play instead of just taking a quick leg up.

She scanned her yard then the blue-grey sky, knowing they had a long way to go before a thaw was even contemplated. It was just late January. Come on Spring. Iıll even consider going to a tractor pull or two. Taz ran in front of her then around with his tongue lolling and his breath coming out in white clouds. She smiled at his antics. The brunette did not ask for this duty, but it went along with bathing the Husky.It just happened simply because the blonde had yet to step a foot out of the house. She had yet to do a lot of things like even getting dressed.

Sheıs entitled to take it as slow as she wants. It had been a little over three weeks, and she has yelled at me, laughed, read, watched TV, and had finally played on the computer. All things she probably has never done before, and I helped without really helping at all, just being there when it all happened was a revelation. A small smile played on her lips.

She even came to talk to me all excited and a glow. I guess Nora Roberts is her new favorite author. Bobbi recalled their first conversation centered around books. The sparkle in the blondeıs eyes made her eager just to be a part of it.

Bobbi sat at the kitchen table drinking a tall glass of milk and finishing the last vestiges of a ham and cheese sandwich. The brunette took the last bite and licked the mayo from her thumb with a contented hum. Scooting the chair back, she made her way to the sink to wash her dishes.

The sound of the door opening across the hall made her look up to find Michelle with eyes cast to the ground, a book in her hand, and leaning against the far wall of the kitchen.

Careful to stay where she was, the doctor turned off the water and completely turned around to face the blonde. 'I think that she's offering me a chance here,' Bobbi thought to herself. She didnıt say a word, waiting for the petite woman to lead. The kitchen was cast in silence until it was broken by a shy voice.

²H-have you read this one? Hidden Riches ? I started on her other ones already. Donıt know how I keep track, but theyıre all good. I-I just finished this one.² She looked up slightly when she spoke but stayed against the wall as if she were a part of it.

To prevent from saying the wrong thing and maybe draw her out a little, Bobbi simply nodded.'Gotta take this slow.'

Confused, Michelle asked, ³You have read it, or you think theyıre all good?²

They were simple questions that required simple answers. The doctor kept that in mind. ³Yes, both.²'C'mon, it's your turn Michelle.'

Thrown by the doctorıs lack of response, the blonde moved closer. Small hands caressed the book cover. ³I-I laughed, talked out loud to it, and almost cried when. . . Izzy got shot.² She frowned and paled as if remembering losing a best friend. ³Never. . .done that before. Do you?²

Having gotten what she wanted and what she figured the blonde needed, Bobbi started to respond, ³Yeah, I do, but not everybody can. It takes a lot of commitment to lose yourself into a book and actually feel and see whatıs going on. Takes a special person to open herself up like that.² The brunette took the drying towel from her shoulder and folded it.

Michelle shook her head. ³Iım not. . .special. Just never had the chance to. . .² Her hands fell to the side and she fiddled with the seams of her pajama pants as she turned away.

Bobbi hesitated almost taking a step closer. She grasped the sink as some type of anchor to keep her. ³You have all the chances to do what you want now.²

'It's up to you to take them.'

The blonde head jerked up and green eyes studied the taller woman as if trying to read something in her eyes, looking for a secret knowledge. ³I donıt understand. Why?²

²Because everyone should,² Bobbi answered softly.

Jade eyes widened in disbelief. ³But, no one ever. . .helped me.² Her voice trailed off as she turned her head to the side. A second later the blonde looked back. ³Why?²

²Because I want to,² the brunette added with conviction.

Fear and confusion warred in the younger womanıs features. She asked again, ³Why?²

Bobbi paused for only a tick before replying, ³Because itıs your turn.²

'Maybe, I'm doing something right here.'Their gazes locked forlong minutes, asking questions and looking for answers, before the blonde backed out of the kitchen to return to the solitude of her room, leaving the doctor wondering if anything she said was believed.

A gust of frigid air and Taz barking at her brought the brunette back to the present. She looked down at the dog, who looked back at her curiously. ³Do you think she knows that I know about what happened to her? That I suspect?²


²I donıt know, boy that conversation was cutting it pretty close. I donıt want her to be ashamed of what happened. She hasnıt really talked to me in the past couple of days. Itıs not her fault, ya know?²


²Yeah, I know. I guess I canıt stop her from feeling whatever sheıs feeling.² I canıt stop wanting to reach out to her. I know sheıs not you, Stevie. I see that she barely knows who she is at all. I failed you and so many others. I donıt know if thereıs anything inside anymore. Each time, something broke inside me, and each time she laughs or speaks, something wakes up inside me. I donıt know how to explain it, but I want to do more, feel more. I may not get that chance.

Taz nudged her leg. ³This could all just end any day now. You know that, boy? I know Mike said her engine was shot. Thatıs gonna cost a lot to fix. A couple hundred I think she said, but you know, boy? She didnıt look too phased by that. I wonder why?²


She bent down to scratch his ears. ³Yeah, I guess Iım gonna have to be patient. Funny. . .thatıs something Iıve got a lot of all of a sudden.²

She looked up and around at the sound of her name being called. The brunette zeroed in on a figure moving toward her and stopping at the bushes, separating their houses. Bobbi patted Tazıs head, beckoning him to follow as she made her way over to her neighbor.

²Doc B! Glad I caught ya! Was just about to call when I saw ya out here.²He pulled the plaid scarf away from his mouth and gave her a pearly grin, showing his pristine white dentures.

Bobbi smiled fondly at him. ³What can do for ya, Mr. Crenshaw?²

He paused and yanked the red and blue plaid rabbit-eared hat further down on his head. Without saying a word, he removed a glove and stuck his index finger in his mouth. The brunette watched and waited patiently. The old man stepped back from the bushes then turned right to left, holding his wet finger up. ³Hmm.² He wiped his hand on the blue overalls and reapplied the glove. ³Guess thatıs why itıs acting up. More snow coming in a few days from the west. Arthritis been killing me somethin' awful all night. Twas the same way the last storm. You gonna be open this morning?²

²Yep, been up and running for the past few weeks or so, not many patients though. Wanna come on in?²

²Yah, yah wantcha to take a look at it. Usually soakin' helps but it didnıt this time.²

Bobbi wiped at her chin with a gloved hand. ³Well, stop by around ten. Just come on in, and Iıll be in the office.² She gave him a warm smile. ³Iıd much appreciate it if youıd bring me a thermos of youıre wifeıs tea.²

²Eh, ya mean the one that tastes like punch?²

²Yeah, Blue Eyes.I think it's called.Itıll hit the spot.²

Bill Crenshaw nodded his head. ³Yah, yah that it would.² He gave her a wink. ³Iıll bring two cups. Not much for fruity drinks, but Iıll join ya.²

²Good thing.² She winked back. ³See you at ten.²

He turned to go, but not before saying, ³Oh, Iıll be there.²

The doctor watched him limp back to his own house. She glanced down at Taz and frowned. ³See? Itıs so easy to give and be nice to them, patients I mean. I donıt know how to do it with other people. I havenıt in a long time. It hurt too much. I didnıt want to care about anybody and let them down. What am I gonna do, boy?²

He looked up at her and whined.

³I canıt believe Iım even admitting it. But the big question here is what am I gonna do about your mom? She doesnıt need anyone else to let her down.² Bobbi kneeled down far enough to feel the wet snow brushing the seat of her jeans. She wrapped an awkward arm around the dog and hugged him, burying her face in his fur. ³I have a fucked up track record, boy. Seemed like it started the day I was born, thirty-three years. It seems like forever.² The brunette mumbled. ³I hope for all our sakes that I just donıt add to it.²

* * *

Michelle gathered her things for the bath. She looked down at the sleeping Toby before exiting the bedroom. The blonde left the door cracked to allow Tazıs re-entry, knowing he would return and watch over the child. She did the same for the bathroom, allowing him to come get her if something happened.

The petite woman stripped out of her pajamas, while standing in front of the mirror above the sink. She stepped back, getting as much of her body into the reflection as possible. The weight gain from the pregnancy still left her slightly rounded where she was whip thin before. She looked passed the permanent scars. The bruises that lined her torso had all but faded. There was only a mild discoloration now, but this morning, the pain had been so real. Still, it was all a dream. . .a nightmare really.

She had expected them to come earlier, but for some reason her psyche chose this morning. She had awakened in a cold sweat with a soft cry as a prelude to what could have been a bigger one. Hands shook, and breathing rasped. She had wanted to submerge herself in the familiar smell and warmth of her son but was reluctant to wake him from a peaceful sleep. Settling, the blonde drew her knees to her chest, rocking herself until her heart rate proceeded to a normal rhythm and coherence of the present returned.

Frightened green eyes peered back at her from the mirror. I thought Iıd escaped you Max, but youıre still here arenıt you? Inside somewhere. Now that Iım doing more than I ever have, feeling more than I ever have, youıre in here trying to keep me down. I felt everything---the punches and kicks, like it was real. I expected to see your handprints on my body, but there were none. I can laugh now Max. I can read, watch TV and talk if I want to. A glint of determination sparkled in her eye, and the same boldness and bravado that made her leave in the first place, returned.

Why would I want to go back to being nothing? Iım not going to let you take me back. It may have been the only way I know, but Iım learning new ways you bastard. I will be that woman in the mirror no matter how long it takes, and youıre not gonna stop me no matter where you are. I won Max. She walked up to the sink and gripped the edges as she examined herself up close. Eyes full of emotion looked back at her.

I won. I may not have been able to stand up to you in person, but Iım trying to now. I canıt think or do without second-guessing myself because of you and momma. Half the time, I donıt know if Iım coming or going, but Iım here dammit. Her grip tightened. ³Now, please, please let me be her, let me become her. Leave me the hell alone.² Michelle begged softly.

Mentally drained for the moment, the blonde turned to the bathtub and turned on the water, hoping it would replenish whatever she had lost. The week had been one of discovery. She had found a whole new world in reading. It was one she had been to often throughout the week. The Internet was a wonder, taking her to all new places. She went to China, Australia, Greece, and Italy, getting lost in the culture and pictures that made her feel like a dyed in the wool tourist.

Michelle had even learned that getting her car fixed was going to cost more money than she could actually spend. After all, the three thousand was all the money the blonde had in the world. It had to last. She should have been disappointed, distressed, or even fearful that she was stuck somewhere some parts of her didnıt want to be.

But, each morning she woke up, the blonde felt a little safer. It had been a long time since she felt that so long that it felt like never. This house, these walls protected her from the whiteness both inside her head and outside that trapped her many a time. Now, the young woman wished that she could feel completely safe with the owner.

Michelle turned on the shower head and stepped in, letting the burst of cold then hot water wash away the last vestiges of the nightmare and the grimy feel of Maxıs hands on her. Taking the cake of Ivory soap from the soap dish, she built lather until it was thick foam. The blonde scrubbed at her skin, until it was slightly pink. Letting the water bead down on her head, Michelle slicked long blonde strands away from her face and down her back.

Can I get used to it? Is it really my turn? Kindness is something that is as foreign to me as Italy or all those places I looked up. At first, it was as if it was killing her to be nice to me, but now. . .itıs like she does it without thought.. What changed? And will it change again? Is that what Iım afraid of? Itıs like Iım waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I know it always does. Would that woman I see in the mirror be so trusting? Would she welcome all this without a doubt?

I have to wonder if any sane person would. Part of me has to wonder if sheıs doing this all because she feels sorry for me. She knows, at least I think she does. I guess Iım a walking sign for abused wives with the way I act. I donıt want her to feel sorry for me. I think I do enough of that every morning when I wake up.

I havenıt even been able to convince myself to get dressed. My pajamas have sorta become multi-functional. But, today, Iım gonna try to make all that change. Today, Iım going outside. Maybe if she sees that Iım not feeling so sorry for myself, Iıll see who she really is and understand why sheıs really doing this‹why anyone would do this. Caught in her thoughts, Michelle stood directly under the warm stream and rinsed the soap from her body, wishing she could wash away the confusion and the uncertainty.

They remained.

The petite blonde stepped out of the shower and back in front of the mirror. For the first time, her body was her own to do with as she pleased. She turned to the side. All the while wondering if she looked the part of strong and confident, would it really be that way? Maybe the confusion would be a thing of the past. Maybe the uncertain wouldnıt look so daunting. It seemed to work for Bobbi. Michelle had become accustomed to hearing instructions from an exercise video murmured almost every morning. Would she let me use it? She dried off with a thick, fluffy towel then wrapped it twice around her body.

Maybe I could. . . maybe. She paused as the reluctance to break from imposed boundaries returned, convincing her that too much was not safe. Maybe Iıll do the outside first, and then see what tomorrow brings.

Michelle reached for the blow dryer that she brought from the bedroom and plugged it into the socket in the light above the sink. She turned it on low in order to keep one ear on the other room and the cracked door, just in case. Swallowing down some of her apprehension, she picked up a brush and started her task, so she could prepare for a more important one. Outside.

It was time to face the whiteness that should have been associated with purity, but it had only grown to represent pain. Driving and walking in it was a necessity in this region, but Michelle did it as quickly as possible and with grudging reluctance. It was only a means to an end.

Each yell from her mother, each punch from her husband had reminded her of being frostbitten as a child--the burning pain in her arms, legs, and everywhere then the coldness of nothing.

The yelling made her head ache and skin and insides burn. As a ten-year-old, it made her thoughts fuzzy, pasty. Michelle wanted to pull her hair just to feel a different pain, but she did nothing, just stood there and listened with eyes cast to the ground.'It hurts so much.Somebody please make it go away,' she pleaded silently.

³Dontcha ask me to help ya with your homework. You stupid little twit. You donıt need that stuff anyhow. Youıre nothing! I got a math problem for ya. Nothing plus nothing equals nothing. Thatıs what you are and always gonna be!²

³Yes, momma.²

³Now get outta my face. I donıt care where ya go just get outta here. That school canıt teach you as much as I can.²

Michelle stood there waiting for the inevitable, waiting for more. Her head didnıt hurt anymore. She felt nothing at all.

³I said get out!² Marsha grabbed her daughter by the arm and dragged her through the living room to the front door. ³Stupid girl!² She jerked the thick wooden door open and pushed the blonde on the doorstep into the frigid cold, wearing nothing but a light sweater, jeans, and sneakers.

Michelle stood out there for what seemed like hours, watching the other kids walk in groups to the bus stop. They didnıt look her way. They didnıt speak, and she watched on when the bus drove by.

A slow burning started in her fingertips and toes and worked its way up, making her want to scream in pain. Tears fell from her eyes and froze on her face. Unable to take the burning anymore, she ran from it.'So cold.So cold inside and outside,' her mind screamed.

The drifts of white powder made the sun glare angrily, blinding her. It was everywhere, the whiteness. She ran until houses turned into stores. Painful breath rattled in her chest and she slowed from sheer exhaustion. The tears had dried long ago, but she looked down at her hands, seeing them tinged red.

She looked in a store window to see her face the same color, and her nose ran like a faucet. The pain was gone. She couldnıt feel her fingers or her toes. Snow caked her shoes and legs turning the black jeans and a crusty white.

Disoriented and tired, Michelle walked into a busy convenience store and found a place in the back. The burning returned, and she cried silently as her body thawed.'Safe.'

It wasnıt until the tears ran out that she moved from her corner to look at the clock. It was time to go home. School was out.

Despite strange looks, the blonde girl exited the store and stood at the corner quietly until a big yellow bus stopped to pick her up. When she got home, the yelling started again, and so did the burning.

Still, she hated the snow, hated the pain and the numbness it had grown to represent both inside and out. But now, the blonde knew better. It was all in her head‹the association and the fear. If I can escape you, Max, surely I can face this. I can try. Without you and momma here to dirty it anymore, maybe itıll become pure again. Iım taking everything back day by day. In a while, Iıll have everything. Iıll have myself.

Now back in the kitchen, Bobbi filled the dogıs water bowl and his food dish with Purina Dog Chow. She raised a brow when he bypassed it to head straight to his mistressı bedroom. He pushed the cracked door open and let himself inside. The brunette walked to the doorway and stopped to listen. After a few minutes, she heard nothing and turned to go, when the light under the bathroom door caught her eye. What are you getting ready to do today, Michelle? Something new?

Her head turned quickly back to the bedroom at the sound of a soft Œwuff.ı Assuming the blonde was in the bathroom, Bobbi ventured into the room to make sure nothing was amiss. Taz hovered over the crib, supporting himself on two, wet front paws. She looked at him in awe. ³Youıre really something else, boy. How do you know to check up on him?² He glanced at her and whined in reply.

The brunette looked down into the bassinet to see blue-green eyes staring back at her. Toby cooed and moved his arms and legs to the beat of his own drummer. She smiled and lent him a finger to grasp. ³Well, hey there Peanut. Long time no see. You been good company for your momma?²

Toby responded with a gurgle and drool. The doctor almost awed. ³You know you are the cutest thing Iıve seen in a long time.² She clucked her tongue at him. ³Youıre gonna be a real heartbreaker arentcha?² She asked cheerfully. Babies came a dime a dozen in her practice. Bobbi had delivered a lionıs share of them, but she was seldom responsible for one no longer than it took for a check up. Some trusted her more than the new local pediatrician. Still, having one in her house seemed like a novelty at first.

Now, she did not think he could be treated as such anymore. Bobbi caressed his cheek. ³If your mommy letıs me, you and me need to get acquainted. You two might be around a while. I canıt just ogle you like youıre under a glass anymore.² She smirked. ³Good thing you donıt know what Iım saying that could have been insulting.²

She was already unsure how far she could help the blonde, throwing a baby in the mix made her uncertainty grow. ³You canıt need a lot from me, right? Other than babysitting that is. Iım afraid I donıt know how to do anything else, Peanut.²

Still wrapped in the towel and with her pajamas draped over her shoulders, Michelle made her way back to the bedroom. She stopped at the semi-open door, hearing voices. Tentatively, the blonde moved closer and pushed the door open completely. Taz moved toward her, but she shook him away.

Green eyes widened in surprise and sudden trepidation. Her first instinct was a learned one. It was simple. Be still and be quiet. The petite woman sucked in a breath quietly. No one was going to raise their voice. No one was going to raise their fist. No one was going to humiliate her. So, just like that, her first instinct was discarded.

Michelle went with her second one. She watched and analyzed what the brunette was saying, silently. Is that acceptance I hear in her voice? She doesnıt sound upset at the fact that weıre stuck here. Does she want to get to know me as well? I think I was under glass too. Am I finally a person to her?

Sheıs talking to him like she cares. How could she? She doesnıt know us. The woman I want to be maybe wouldıve given her an invitation by now to see whatıs inside. What will she see if I let her? I wonder what she already sees. All I have to do is. . . ³Um, wha. .?² Was all that came out.

Bobbi turned to peer at the blonde then immediately lowered her eyes upon seeing her state of dress. Slightly flustered at getting caught, she murmured, ³Uh, sorry. . .I ,um. . . the dog. . .and checked it out. Wasnıt trying to intrude. . .or anything. Sorry. He was up. . .and I---³ The brunette shrugged and put her hands deep in her jean pockets. Sheıs staring at me. She thinks Iım nuts again. I know it. Okay, I just need to cut my losses and get outta here. Bobbi began to step to the side, trying to give the blonde a wide berth.

Michelle blinked and stared as she tried to decipher the doctorıs words. She seems nervous. I donıt understand. I canıt hurt her. I canıt do anything to her. She sighed inwardly. Where are all my words now? I had so many not too long ago. I must sound like a stuttering idiot to her most of the time. I know Iım not. I have something to say. I just need to. . . ³Thank you.²

Bobbi stopped mid stride. ³You understood all that?² She asked sheepishly.

Feeling a little bolder but not by much, the blonde replied, ³Yeah. . .since you said all that.² She looked away quickly and wrapped her arms around her torso.

The doctorıs eyes widened. A joke. Did she just make a joke? And at my expense? She chuckled. ³Yeah, I did. Didnıt I? Um, you sorta caught me with my hand in the cookie jar. I didnıt want to upset ya.²

Michelle shook her head, causing her newly dried hair to move in waves. ³No, I said. . . thank you.² Watching the brunette cautiously, the blonde walked up to the crib and peered inside. ³I think he likes you. I-I think both my boys do.² Am I doing this, really doing this? Shyness attacked the blonde, and she looked back down. But it was shyness not fear‹a flutter in her chest and heat in her face. It was something new, something she had never felt, something normal.

Wow. Whatıs going on here? Deciding to take a chance and push the envelope, Bobbi asked, ³What about you? ²

It enveloped her, this new emotion, and she was unable to look up. ³I-I donıt know. I donıt know you.² She replied in a small voice.

The doctor nodded even though no one saw it. ³I know how you feel. I donıt know you either. But, maybe. . .² She resisted the urge to take a step forward. ³When youıre ready, maybe we can rectify that. I meant what I said in that note, Michelle. I donıt want anything from you, and you donıt have to take anything from me. Just know that you have my help, freely.² She cringed inwardly. What am I doing offering her something I donıt know if I can sustain? All I know is that I wanna try.

Bobbi paused waiting for the other woman to look up, say something, do anything. When it didnıt happen, she added, ³I think Iıve been in here long enough. Iıll let you get dressed, and Iıll start on breakfast.² She began walking again. The closer she got to the door, the closer Michelle moved toward the crib. They both stood at opposite ends of the room but not that far from each other. Bobbi turned in the doorway and said as an afterthought, ³Weıre having French toast. You seemed to like that.²The brunette made it out to the hall, but not before a soft whisper of ³maybe² touched her ears.

* * *

The doctor had been right. It was one of the only breakfast dishes that she ate completely. She was not an egg and bacon person. Michelle dipped the last piece of French toast, wrapped around a piece of sausage, in the rich maple syrup and brought it to her mouth with a delighted hum. She chewed slowly and adjusted the towel as it started to slip.

Finally finished, the blonde and peaked at the now sleeping and well fed Toby on her way to the dresser. She pulled open a drawer revealing the large assortment of perfectly folded t-shirts. She pulled out a cotton tee along with a long john shirt and threw them toward the bed. Next, she ventured to the closet and retrieved a pair of Wrangler jeans from their segment of the closet.

Michelle went back to her only friend, the woman in the mirror and let the towel fall to the floor. She gazed into the eyes looking back at her. ³Would you do it? Would you believe her? She said it was for free, but you know what she said donıt you? You were there at least for a little while. I know it. I felt different somehow.² She reached out a hand to touch the reflection. ³Thank you. I just wish I knew what to do about her. I want to believe and I want to trust her. Teach me how.²

She sighed as silence greeted her.

Michelle turned around to see Taz gazing at her from his position on the floor. She walked over and sat on the bed. ³What do you see in her that I donıt, boy?² He licked his chops and huffed out a breath. ³Is it always gonna be this hard to believe in someone? They took that away from me, Taz. I want it back.² She paused wringing her hands nervously. ³Iım just scared itıll steer me wrong again.² Taz nudged her naked calf with his cold nose then licked at her skin.

Michelle let out an exasperated breath. ³I guess I have to take one day at a time, and I already got a big one for today.² Anxiety inched up her spine. She swallowed audibly and looked out the window, seeing the brightness that reflected off the white slush. ³I have to try. Itıs the only way I can keep you two from sneaking up on me isnıt it Max? Momma?Every time I see it. I feel you. I have to see if I can feel something else.²

Long minutes later, Michelle stood in front of the mirror fully dressed complete with boots. ³Youıll be out there with me, right? I donıt know if I can do this otherwise.² She took a deep breath and headed for the closet to get the snowsuit and coat.

The blonde pushed the bassinet slowly down the short hall not wanting to wake the sleeping child. Once in the living room, she listened for signs of occupancy. There were none. I guess sheıs giving me space. Now near the front door, Michelle moved the crib a little closer to a heating vent. Taz pranced excitedly beside her. She calmed him by whispering his name. Padded and hooded in layers of green, she kneeled and beckoned him closer with a wave of her hand.

³I know Iıve been neglecting you, boy, and Iım sorry for that. I have to do this by myself right now.² The blonde grasped his head and rubbed him behind the ears. ³I need you to look after Toby for a little bit. Can you do that and bark at me if he wakes up?²

He licked her face affectionately. ³Wuff!²

³Thank you. Good boy.² The petite woman stood up and leaned over the bassinet. Iım doing this for us, Toby. She kissed her fingertips then placed them softly on his cheek.

Donning her gloves and scarf, Michelle pulled the door open and peered outside at the sea of white. Her breath caught and her heart thudded. All the times out in the snow had been necessity that she swallowed and bared. This time was vastly different. ³I have to try,² she whispered and pushed open the heavy metal screen door, letting it close quietly behind her.

The young woman shuffled from the porch to the steps. Emotion twisted her gut. ³They made me dirty, made this dirty.² The snow was pristine, except for branches and the slush in the roads. ³I have to try and make it all clean again.² She took a step forward onto the shoveled walkway. Then, closed her eyes and took another into the yard filled with cold, white powder.

Her eyes shot open when most of her lower leg was swallowed. Panic ceased her, making everything sway. Michelle swallowed the bile in her throat, as old pain and burning rushed into her. She murmured incoherently, knowing it was the only thing keeping her from disappearing. ³No, I canıt let you. I canıt give up.² Visualizing, the blonde called to the image in the mirror. ³Help me. Iıll never be anything if I let them win now.²

Instead of the white, red flashed in front of her face, bringing with it a well of emotion. An inner heat suffused her, causing the bone deep, burning chill to dissipate slowly. A little calmer now, she planted the other foot in the snow and kneeled down grasping a hand full of it. Michelle rolled it in the palm of her hand, watching it become a compact ball. With a dramatic Œhmmph,ı the blonde hurled it as far as she could. A bolt of satisfaction shot through her. I have to make it clean again. Now, she knew how.

* * *

Bobbi sipped from the thermos cup with a contented smile as she followed Mr. Crenshaw into the examining room. She put down the file that she had carried under her arm and gave him a gown.

³Iıll be right outside. Just knock on the door when youıre ready.²

He nodded. ³Will do, Doc B. Good tea wasnıt it?² Bobbi smiled in return.

Pulling at the ponytail that forever got caught in her collar, the brunette leaned against the wall outside the examining and continued to sip her tea. Her thoughts turned to the blonde. I wonder if sheıll ever trust me?She snorted. Iım not even sure that itıs a good idea, but I guess I have to earn it if I want it from her. I got the feeling itıs gonna be a long road.Pale eyes closed and the dark head hung, allowing escaped wisps of black silk to fall past her face. She rubbed the bridge of her nose in contemplation. Can I take it all the way through and break this cycle? If I do Iıll hopefully have something I havenıt had in a long, long time, a friend.

Bobbi was startled by the sudden banging. She went back in the office and set the cup on a nearby counter. Pulling up the rolling chair, she had a seat in front of the older man. The doctor pushed up the gown to examine the knee. There was swelling. She applied gentle pressure to the sides. Mr. Crenshaw jumped. The brunette frowned. ³You know I think this maybe more than arthritis. Did you fall or do you feel like ya pulled something here?² She pointed at his knee.

³Well, yah. Got outta bed the other mornin and wrenched it. But, I didnıt think nothin bout it. Used to it hurtin in this kind of weather.²

³Mmm, you got some swelling. Itıs probably fluid build up. I think ya got you a sprain here. But just to make sure, Iım gonna call and order some x-rays and maybe an MRI to check for ligament damage. You can go right over to Community Radiology. Gonna wrap this up and give you a script for an anti-inflammatory. Call me a couple hours after you go over there, and Iıll give you the results. Weıll go from there.² She patted his other knee.

³Okay, doc.²

Bobbi stood up to move away, but not before she glanced out the window. ³What the hell?² She looked again at the green figure, packing snow.

Mr. Crenshaw leaned to look. ³Well now lookey here. Looks like a kid tryin' to build a snowman.²

Bobbi blinked. ³Thatıs no kid.²What are you doing, Michelle?She turned to her patient. ³Why donıt you go ahead and get dressed. Iıll get those x-rays ordered within the hour. Iıve got something I gotta take care of out there.²

The brunette could not get in her gear fast enough. She stumbled out the side door, pulling on her boot. Trudging through the snow in her yard, she stopped about three feet in front of the blonde, who was furiously packing snow in a big ball. Bobbi watched her for a second, seeing her lips move. Whatıs going on inside you?


The blonde did not look up.

³Michelle!² She said little louder.

The petite woman stopped abruptly and stood up jerkily, making her scarf fall open. Green eyes were wild. Concerned, Bobbi asked, ³Michelle are you okay?²

The blonde head shook. ³N-no not right now, but I will be. . .one day.²

³I donıt understand.²

Her arms spread wide and she reached them toward the sky. ³Donıt you see? I donıt either. What he did to me. What they did to me.² The blonde pulled her arms toward her chest. ³Theyıre inside me, and they wonıt let go!² For the second time in as many weeks, Michelle raised her voice.

Helpless, Bobbi did the only thing that she figured wouldnıt send the other woman running. She listened. Thatıs it talk to me.

The younger woman continued, ³I-I have to do something to start making them leave, or Iıll never be anything, just like she said!²

Bobbi held out her hands, palm out, in a peaceful, calming gesture. ³Okay, then you just do what you need to do to get rid of them,² she commented softly.

Michelle through her hands up in exasperation and cried, ³Itıs not that easy. I donıt know how. I donıt know anything. I donıt know if what I think, feel or do is wrong. I donıt know the difference anymore.² She tore feral eyes away from the blue gaze and stared down at the large ball of snow she had accrued. ³I did this because it felt. . .²

³Go with it. You have the chance to know and learn everything, a chance to be. Go with what youıre feeling right now and then go from there.²

Indecision and uncertainty fought a war across the blondeıs features. A third party won. Their gazes met again, and for the first time jade eyes beckoned. In a voice that was far between childlike and womanly, Michelle asked, ³H-help me, please?² Youıre here arenıt you?She conjured up her own mirror image. I feel you. Stay with me just a little while longer.

Oh God. Bobbi was taken aback by the request. Here it was, right now. She could run or attempt to try. She fought her own war. Iım tired of running. I wanna know what this feels like. I wanna know all of it again. I wanna feel everything again.

They stood a few feet apart, staring and waiting. Bobbiıs gloved hands clenched at her sides, forming tight fists. With the help of a light wind, the long raven ponytail flew around her bare head. Michelle hugged herself, trying to retain the inner warmth that charged her not long ago. Her lips quivered in the cold, and her eyes watered due to the slight wind.

Her decision made, Bobbi simply knelt down, and started adding snow to the already sizeable ball. By the time they were finished, they had fashioned a crude snowman, consisting of three large balls. He had no face, no hat, no scarf, and no arms. The women stood on either side of him, studying their creation.

³What do we do now?²

I try to do what I came out here for. Green eyes scanned the snowy landscape until she spotted a large branch a few feet away. Walking slowly but surely, Michelle went to it, picked it up, and weighed it in her hands. The blonde found it adequate for what she had in mind. Without a look or a word to the doctor, Michelle moved in front of the snowman.

Bobbi backed away to the middle of her yard. She stood tall and peered defiantly at the teenagers that moved slowly down the street. She did not care how they looked. She just did not want the moment disturbed. The brunette watched the group of kids cautiously until they disappeared down the street. She turned back to the blonde and saw her heft the stick on her shoulder then swing it. Do what you need to do, Michelle. Silently, Bobbi found her way to the house.

Michelle let out a hefty cry as she swung the branch in a high wide arch. It hit the first section of snow with a satisfying crunch. A lightness infused her, and she swung again and again until the first two sections were decimated.

Tired and sweating, the blonde threw the branch down and sucked in several deep breaths. Her shoulders slumped slightly. Theyıre still here. I can feel them, but somethingıs different. Youıre in here too. Youıre in here to help, to stay. She titled her head toward the sky and closed her eyes. Thank you. Michelle kneeled down, and grabbed another hand full of snow with her gloved hand. Taking off the other glove with her teeth, she placed the snow in her hand, letting the cold permeate and melt against her skin. Something had definitely changed. The petite blonde turned waded through the whiteness and headed back to the house.

Standing by the bassinet, having checked on the baby, Bobbi watched the rest of the display through the living room window. I think we both passed some kind of test today, Michelle.

Early the next morning, Michelle found herself with Toby lying in her lap in front of the TV, giggling yet again at The Golden Girls. Today, Sofia was her favorite. 


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