Chapter 10

Marsha woke with the scream still pounding in her head and ears. She let out a little cry and drew her knees up to her chest, causing the ratty white nightgown to almost swallow her whole. The nightmare had been a familiar yet one that she hadn't had in years. A younger version of herself stood in the middle of pitch-blackness. She couldn't see in front, to the side or to the back of her. Any movement or escape was futile because some invisible barrier boxed her in. Marsha screamed for help until her throat was raw, aching, but none was forthcoming. She was irrevocably alone.

For the first time since Michelle had disappeared, Marsha realized that she was. . . alone--alone in misery and alone in anger. There was no one to make her feel big, no one to make her feel beautiful. The woman straightened out her legs and looked at the wrinkling, bony hands sitting in her lap, and not for the first time, she realized that she was what she accused Michelle of being, nothing.

It was at these times, between the sun and the moon, that reality made itself known to the blonde. Mark, her husband and Michelle's father, left when their marriage and child was young because of her attempt to drive the nothingness into him. The hollow emptiness remained. The older woman couldn't remember a day when those feelings were different. She continued to glare down at trembling hands, and Marsha guessed that it was a normal feeling that a child experienced when she was ignored or preached to about how to act and how to be for the better part of her childhood and teenage existence. Her mother excelled at doing just that while parading and catering to a myriad of boyfriends. Alone. Damn you for bringing me into this world. Glad you're dead.

She pressed the heels of her hands against gritty eyes, hoping to alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling, then found a better place for the appendages as she pushed them through limp blonde hair, wishing desperately for the cigarettes that she had given up a few years back. There had to be something to ease this ache. For the first time, Marsha wished she could hold her liquor. Jack Daniels would probably be her best friend right now.

Trapped in her hopelessness, she had no choice but to wallow in it. Marsha leaned back in the bed and brought the scratchy, thin green covers up to her chin. She sucked in a shaky breath. These feelings were a bitter pill to swallow, but she would take them for now, secure in the knowledge that she could push them on others. And damn you for leaving me like this, Michelle. For an illuminating moment, Marsha hated her daughter because she had something that she would never have-strength and freedom.

* * *

Max Jr. covered his head with a pillow, hoping to block out the sounds of his father's rage. It was the same as when he walked in on them last week. His mother refused to make a sound.

It was late when they finished drinking, and after puking up his guts, Max hadn't felt like leaving. So, he stayed in his old room that had become a shrine to the boy he used to be. Everywhere he looked little men holding footballs stared back at him. It was an eerie and familiar feeling that he should be used to, being watched. Everywhere he went and every play he made, Max saw his father's eyes, heard his father's mouth, always staring, always shouting and urging him to be something he knew that he could not be-perfect.

He listened to every story, every diatribe, every lesson, but it didn't matter because Max Jr. knew he would never achieve perfection in his father's eyes. He failed to make it to college, the pros, with Michelle, but it never stopped him from trying.

Max Jr. continued to listen as his father humiliated, insulted, and brutalized the woman who birthed him. The pillow did not do a thing to shut it all out. He jerked it off his head and threw it across the room. "Why didn't you protect me, Ma?" He whispered. "Why didn't you tell him to leave me be and let me live my own life? I hate you for not being there. I hate you for not being strong enough to beat him back for your sake and mine." Max paused as the familiar feelings of listlessness and anger assailed him. He wanted to cry out, but in some morbid sense of etiquette, he did not want to disturb anyone.

Angry tears spilled down his face instead. "Now, we both belong to him. I hate myself for that." Max heard a door slam then footsteps. Please don't come in here. The steps slowed when they neared his door. He held his breath and rubbed at his eyes, knowing he was not in the mood for the gloating and the faking he would have to do in his father's presence. The footsteps continued to proceed down the hall.

Max sat up again against the headboard and ran a hand through dark, curly hair. His thoughts turned to Michelle. She had been his last chance to shine in his father's eyes, and it made him more determined than ever to get her back. Well over a month had passed and his child was older. He hoped that his wife had become careless in her new found freedom. They were still receiving differing reports, but he held on to the possibility that one of them would be a good lead.

He eased back down into the bed and turned to his side, hoping that sleep would come to him if he just lay still. I have to find you, Michelle; I don't have a choice.

Chapter 11

Scratching her abdomen through the red Nike t-shirt, Bobbi took a swig of the Amstel Light and sauntered on bare feet from the kitchen back to the living room. Pale eyes glanced toward the window as she went, seeing the first pinking of daylight, knowing the sun would shine, but the frigid temperature would keep the snow from melting.

By normal standards, she should have been sleeping, but things around the house were anything but normal. Just ten scant days before, Bobbi made the decision to join the ranks of the human race again. She was no longer just a doctor equipped with the program of healing and comparable bedside manner.

Now, the brunette lay on the couch clad in paisley boxers and Nike t-shirt, as a living, breathing, feeling, open, compassionate individual, and all it took was one phrase, "Help me." Since then, Bobbi slept little, filled with the giddiness a teenager possesses upon finding a new friend. When she did sleep, the dreams were still there, but they were somehow milder and less Kafka-like.

The raven-haired doctor jumped over the top of the couch and landed with a muffled thud. She reached for the bowl of pretzels and the remote control that were left on the floor and got herself in a comfortable lounging position. With a click, Star Trek Voyager was on again. "Thank God, for VCR's and timer recording," she said out loud. Television was never something she watched a lot of, but there were certain shows that caught her attention. There were La Femme Nikita, Law and Order, re-runs of The Profiler, with actress, Ally Walker of course. They were all recorded on meticulously labeled tapes.

Bobbi, stretched out with her feet up and her head against the arm rest, crunched on a pretzel and scrutinized the interaction between Seven and Janeway. She had concluded long ago, despite what was all over the Internet, that all those two had was a mentor- like relationship. There was more fire between Seven and B' Elanna as far as she was concerned. Getting bored with the episode that seemed to spotlight the Doctor, Bobbi's thoughts turned inward. Janeway brought her from a child to a woman. Is that what I have to do with Michelle? But, all the Captain did was guide her in the right direction and offer advice, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I don't think Michelle could tolerate anything else. I don't know how to do anything else right now.

Is that where I messed up with you Stevie? Maybe you just needed somebody to be by your side and listen instead of trying to force you out of your funk. At least, I know what not to do. It's amazing really. She's come such a long way. At first, she was scared to do anything. Now, I can't get her off the computer, and how many times have I woke up to the sound of her laughing. I even think those PJ's of hers have been retired, and to top it all off, she talks to me.

As for me, I still can't believe this. Where did I get the strength to open myself up again, even if it is just a little bit? I mean, I was so sure that there was only emptiness inside, and I was so sure that I wanted it that way. What made the difference? Why her?

Was it because she reminded me so much of Stevie at first? At least, I'm able to ask myself these questions and others that I was afraid to before. It's a start, but I'm still scared shitless that I'm gonna say or do the wrong thing that's going to send both of us running again. Hell, I could help her run by paying for the repairs on her car, but she has to ask me first. I won't be that presumptuous. I don't know if I want to be. The house has life again; It has sound, feeling, and laughter that haven't been here in a lot of years. I really don't want that to stop, and I think I told her as much.

Before she knew it, Bobbi was watching the credits and the previews to the next week's show. Unperturbed, she raised the beer bottle to the screen. "Here's to you Seven and Janeway."


Lounging in the green pajamas for the time being, Michelle listened as the TV was finally turned off. She had missed the early morning version of The Golden Girls, and had even taken a liking to a strangely, addictive show that re-ran at about midnight, The X-files. But, right now the blonde found her own entertainment in Toby. He was a month older today, February 10th, and she was two months wiser.

As if knowing that he was safe from harm, Toby woke up in the early A.M. more animated and more vocal than usual, making the usually taciturn Taz giddy at the sight. He pranced around the bed until the blonde waved him on. Even after feeding, the child remained alert and active. He found a home laying in her raised lap.

Michelle bent forward, allowing him to grasp at long strands of her hair. "Good morning, my boy. You're getting big, and you're feeling it too aren'tcha? It's like everything is a little further away today. I can almost believe it. I just wish I had the courage to take you out and show you off. You're my pride and joy. Do you know that? You're four months now, and I'm so sorry I missed this date last month. There was so much. . ." The blonde leaned closer, kissing him on the forehead. ". . . on my mind, but you gave me strength when I didn't think I had any. I'm doing all of this for you as much as for myself. You will be proud of me, Toby. I'll be everything my mother couldn't. I'll sure as hell try."

Drooling on the blue bib, Toby blew a spit bubble and smiled lazily as an indistinct, very adorable noise escaped his mouth, making his mother grin and giggle.

"I can say one thing for your daddy, little one. All the good that was in him gave me you."

Michelle rose up a little. "As for me, I'm learning, Toby. It's gonna take a while, but I'm learning. I wanna believe that there are good people in the world, and I wanna believe that Bobbi is one of them. She helped me more than she'll even know last week, and she listened to me. She listened to me, Toby, talk about nonsense that I'm sure she thought was stupid, but everything is so new to me. I get all excited over practically anything."

Toby cooed and kicked his legs, making his t-shirt ride up a bit.

The blonde chuckled and pulled the material over his stomach, "You know. You're a good listener yourself." A comfortable silence settled over her, and she listened to his voice instead. Still, her mind would not be quiet.

I still can't believe so much time has gone by. It seems like forever and a day since I tasted what this feels like to have freedom. I didn't truly have that to begin with though. I'm still scared, but not as much as I was at first. That's progress isn't it? I'm still scared that I'll never be who I want to be. I'm scared that the woman in the mirror will disappear or that I'll just lose sight of her. I'm scared that this is all a dream, and I'll wake up to the real nightmare. I'm still scared of all this, but the fear has lessened a little. I mean. . .I can see what I want. I just need to learn how to get it, and there is so much I wanna learn about life and about everything.

I like learning about other places, other languages, and other people. I didn't know people had so many differences. That computer is a revelation. I need to find some way to thank Bobbi for this, for giving me this chance, for offering me so much. She's listened to me rant and go on about everything under the sun when I talked to her. She's never pushed me, not anymore, and she never complained about me taking up space in her house, even when I got in her way.

Michelle sat in the comfortable leather chair, leaning toward the computer pecking at the keys as best she could. Her eyes shined as she glanced from one piece of equipment to another. She muttered quietly as yet another website loaded; this one on Greek and Roman Mythology. It even had visual and sound effects ranging from lightening bolts to clashing swords. Green eyes widened as pictures of men and women clad in billowing robes appeared on the screen. They got even wider as she read about them. "This is amazing, simply amazing," a little voice inside her head told her.

The sudden sound of a throat clearing made the blonde squeal in surprise. Keeping the door open, but walking in a little way, Bobbi held up her hands in surrender.

"Whoa, I'm sorry. My fault. Didn't know you were in here."

Michelle jumped out of the chair, almost toppling it over. "No, no I'm sorry. Toby was sleeping, and. . .I'm sorry. You must want to use this."

The brunette shook her head, "Well yeah, but I bet you get more enjoyment out of it than I do." She grimaced. "I play the odd pc game, but mostly it's business and the few e-mails that I get."

The blonde's brow scrunched in confusion. "I still don't mean to get in your way. It is your house." 'I think I have to remember that, no matter how kind she is to me.

Bobbi nodded. "That's true, but it's yours too, as long as you want it." She held up her hands again when the blonde shook her head. "No, no hear me out. I've been by myself for awhile now, and I have to admit that I was a little wary at first with {about} you being here, but I kinda like it now. If it will make you feel better, you can pay me rent."

Obviously flustered, Michelle's mouth opened but nothing came out for a full minute. "I-I don't have much money just three thousand dollars." She shrugged when the brunette did not respond right away. "Told you it wasn't that much."

"Twenty dollars a month? Will that work for you? I'm not trying to patronize or anything, but at least you'll have a part in helping with things."

"Why. . . are you doing this?" 'I didn't even know people like her existed.'

"Because I want to. I wasn't sure before, but I know I want to. If you need time to think. . ."

"Yes," Michelle interrupted. "But only if we make it thirty. When I'm able, maybe I can find a job and pay more. I-thank you for this, and I'm sorry for the way that I've treated you. It's just that-" 'I want to carry my weight around here. I need to try to give back to her when I learn how.'

The dark head shook, "No, you don't have to explain."

Isn't this all the proof I need that she's one of the good guys? Some part of me must believe that otherwise I wouldn't have accepted her offer. The blonde peered across the room at the mirror. "Maybe you're the one who believes." Michelle glanced back at her son just in time to see blue-green eyes drooping. "Ah, back to bed for someone." She rocked him and hummed for a few minutes until he was completely asleep.

Getting up, Michelle placed Toby in his bassinet a few feet from the bed. Taz followed her. She looked down at him. "I think your new friend finally went back to bed, but don't look so sad. She'll be up again in a few hours I think."

Taz wuffed softly in reply.

Gravitating toward the mirror, Michelle found herself in front of it yet again. She saw her staring back. "You are in there aren't you?" Jade eyes blinked back at her. "Maybe you can help me do something about this?" Using a hand, she swept over her whole body. "All this belongs to me now. I've never cared before, but I think it will make me feel a little better about myself. Maybe it'll bring that goal of becoming you a little closer to earth."

With her mind made up, Michelle ran a brush through long blonde tresses and searched through her drawers, finding a pair of sweat pants, a faded but still colorful tie-dye t-shirt, and old sneakers.

Michelle pushed the Tae Bo Basics tape into the VCR as quietly as she could. She lowered he volume and glanced toward the short hall, seeing the open door to the brunette's room. I hope I don't wake her, but I think I need to do this.

She went back by the couch to check on a sleeping Toby, tucked safely in his bassinet and peered down at Taz, who lounged near the couch.

The blonde stood in front of the TV, concentrating on Billy Blanks and his friends. Feeling uncoordinated and shy, Michelle threw a punch anyway. Her arm moved like a limp noodle. She pulled it back and tried again with the same results. Well, he did say practice until you get it. Despite that, Michelle moved on to the kicks. It was a mess. It was like she forgot how to use them and could barely tell which leg was which.

Ashamed, the blonde turned away from the TV to look around the room in embarrassment. She glanced down at Taz to find him on his back, staring at her. His mouth opened, making his tongue loll to the side.

Green eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Are you laughing at me?" Michelle whispered.

Taz wiggled and turned his head almost completely her way, baring almost all of his teeth.

The blonde placed hands on her hips. "You are, aren't you?"

His tale thumped against the hardwood floor.

"When did you get to be such a smart ass?"

He whined.

"I guess he's been hanging out with me too much. Sorry." A husky, sleep-roughened voice answered.

Michelle twirled around and covered her mouth to stop a scream.

Bobbi scratched her chin and yawned as she leaned against the hallway entrance. "Mmm, sorry didn't mean to scare you." A hand found a way to her hair to smooth down dark tresses. The brunette had found sleep to still be elusive and ended up cat napping instead.

The blonde could feel the flush of embarrassment coming, but couldn't do a thing about it. "Um," she wrung her hands, then picked at the tattered t-shirt. "Did I wake you?"

Bobbi shook her head. "No, I was just laying there anyways. Thought I heard something out here. Billy called to you, huh?"

"Yeah, um. . . fat." Green eyes widened. All I need is a little confidence. I can't even talk right. "I mean, I'm fat. Haven't. . . lost the weight from the baby yet."

The brunette shrugged. "Well, he keeps me in shape, and I'm not one to workout. Use it anytime you want."

The blonde head hung. "I-I don't know if I can. Can't seem to get the hang of it." I hate not being able to do this simple thing.

She looks so down about this. "Look, it takes time. I even had to give it a few days before I go it. I mean. . . I was into sports when I was younger, but that was then. Look at me. I'm all legs and arms." Bobbi waved the appendages slightly. "I would offer to help, but I don't want to crowd you." I don't want to scare you away.

"I know. I-I'm sorry about that. It's hard to let anyone close right now." It's gonna be hard to let anyone close again both physically and emotionally.

Bobbi nodded, "I can totally understand that. I think I learned it the hard way with you and my brother. If I do something you don't like just let me know, okay?"

Michelle looked up again, "Um, okay." Curiosity reared its head. Where are all these people she talks about? I kinda want to know. "I-I know about your father passing on, but you don't have any other family that comes to visit? I don't want to intrude. . ."

"I don't have anyone." Bobbi took a breath and fought with the lump in her throat and chest. It had been so long since she talked about it. The memories felt rusty. Where is this coming from? Maybe we have crossed some sort of invisible line. Maybe she'll even open up to me soon. A little shaky, the doctor looked down at her fingernails then began to pick at them. "I-I lost them in a car wreck a few years back, both my brother and my mom. It's just me now." The brunette said with an air of finality. "It's hard 'cause I miss them, but sometimes I feel them around me, you know?"

Feeling like she intruded on a private moment in the brunette's life, Michelle turned her head toward the TV and Billy Blanks. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to rehash anything."

Bobbi waved her comment away. "It's okay. I just haven't talked about it in a long, long time. Didn't have anyone to talk to about it really."

Glancing back, surprised, Michelle asked, "You don't have any friends you can talk to? You seem so nice. Why wouldn't anybody. . .?"

The doctor picked at her fingernail nail blindly and continued to look up. "I wanted it that way for a long time," she interrupted. "There were a lot of things going on, and it just made things easier. Things have sorta changed now, um, with you being here."

Michelle sucked in a breath. That's what she wants from me? Friendship. Is that what she has always wanted? Does she realize that? Emerald eyes glanced down at the fidgeting hands. She's nervous. "Uh, am I your friend?"

Pale blue widened. Dammit did I say too much? "I-I. . .only if you want to be. I don't want to force anything on you, and only when you're ready to be."

She just shared so much with me. I feel like I should try. She would want me to. Instead of commenting on the before mentioned statement, Michelle added, "Sometimes I wish my family were dead." Shocked with herself, the blonde sat down gingerly on the couch. "I'm sorry that must sound. . .mean. I just wish bad people didn't exist."

Stepping away from the door, Bobbi felt compelled to ask, "Were they bad people?" Realizing her mistake, she stepped back. Easy B. "Um, you don't have to answer that; I don't mean to push."

Michelle blinked unable to stop the words from rushing out. "Very bad, but I think people were mean to them too. It made them that way." She pressed her hands together between her legs, hoping to keep them from shaking if they decided to start. Am I giving you and Max an excuse, Momma? I don't think so. It's unforgivable , what you did to me. She suddenly wanted to change the subject. "Y-yes, you can be my friend, but I don't know if I'm ready, um, to be yours yet." She met blue eyes briefly. "Uh, does that sound selfish?"

"No. It sounds like it's what you need to do."

Bobbi waited for the blonde to say more, but there was only silence. She peered at her once more to find her staring at something that she could not see. Wow, if today brought this, I can't wait to see what later or tomorrow brings. "Um, I guess I'll go start breakfast."

A voice caught her as she headed for the kitchen. "No, please wait."

Michelle swallowed. Her body felt heavy and light at the same time, like she had revealed or cleaned some of her soul and took it back. It was a strange feeling, but not an unpleasant one. Maybe if I talk more? But still, even if I can't be her friend right now; I need to show her my thanks for listening to me, for putting up with me. "Let me fix it. It's the least I can do." She paused and looked over at the bassinet. "Um, can you watch Toby and come get me if something happens?"

A little floored, Bobbi only nodded and watched her walk into the kitchen. "Well, damn." She looked down at Taz. "Your mom is something else."

"Wuff." Translation: I already knew that.

Freshly showered and newly invigorated, Bobbi headed for her office. Breakfast, consisting of the lightest pancakes she had ever eaten, was very good. It went along well with her favorite apricot syrup. She ended up eating alone in the kitchen, but still, it was good. Who knew that you were such a good cook, Michelle? You probably had to be though. Despite that, I think you were right. I do need a friend. I think you came along at the right time and gave me the chance I needed. I guess I wanted something from you after all.

Bobbi stepped into her office and pulled the white lab coat on over her Levi's and sweater, flicking her long, dark ponytail over the collar. She sighed. And whether you know it or not, you need a friend too, Michelle. I'll try my best to be there. Isn't that what friend's do? The brunette circled her desk and took a seat. "Damn if I know. I'm rusty as hell. I just hope this doesn't blow up in my face."

She reached for her appointment book and flipped through it, already knowing she had only two appointments. It was just a refresher on the times. The rest of the day would be full of walk-ins. Bobbi cringed, missing the presence of a receptionist/nurse. "Good thing I don't get ultra busy. The threat of more snow is keeping most everybody in, so guess I have to run an ad in the Times again," she said out loud by way of complaint, and to fill the silence. The dark-haired woman got up reluctantly, glanced at the slim, black Timex on her wrist, and went to unlock the waiting room door. Her first client would be in anytime now.

A few hours later, she escorted Mr. Crenshaw out after checking the progress of his bone bruise. Closing the door, pale eyes scanned the waiting room. Still, a few chairs were taken, but she knew that they could be cleared by lunchtime. Bobbi flashed a quick smile at Janie Lithgow and her mother, Paula, as she headed back toward the abandoned receptionist's desk to look at the sign in roster.

Janie's name was next, but as she called it out, to the doctor's surprise, Paula, sporting a somewhat uncomfortable expression, stayed behind. The teenage girl followed her back to the examining room. As they neared the entrance, Bobbi turned to the redhead. "How goes it J?"

The girl shrugged, "S' okay just needed to talk to ya bout something."

The dark-haired doctor opened the door and waved the girl in. "Okay, why don't you hop up." She waited until Janie was seated before moving in closer with the aid of the rolling stool. Bobbi did not try to hide her concern. "Something going on that you want to tell me about?"

Janie's face flushed red, and she turned away.

Curious. "It's okay, kiddo. You can tell me anything." Bobbi's voice softened as she patted the girl's knee.

"I-I wanna do it." She pushed the words out as quickly as possible.

The brunette raised a brow. Uh-oh. "Um, do what exactly?"

Janie sighed and gestured with her hands, forming a perfect "o" with one and using one finger of the other to stab the inside. "You know, this. Sex with Kevin on Valentine's Day." She replied in a tight whisper as if the walls could hear.

Bobbi tore her eyes away from the gesticulating appendages and mentally rolled her eyes. Oh, man. At least she didn't do anything with her tongue. Gathering herself, Bobbi leaned in and whispered back, "Um, okay how can I help you with that? I can give you pills, informational pamphlets on disease and reproduction. . ."

Hazel eyes widened in horror, and the girl crossed fairly long legs nervously. "He has something?! He told me that he wasn't with anybody else!"

Oh, someone help me now. Bobbi renewed the patting to her patient's knee. "No, no calm down. I'm not saying that. I just want to know how I can help. Are you sure you're ready for this?"

The redhead nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah. . .told my mom and everything."

How very progressive. Points for you Paula. "Why isn't she in here with you? She usually is."

The girl's head ducked again. "Uh-uhm, she wouldn't tell me any. . .does it hurt?" She looked back up with curiosity shining in her eyes.

Bobbi groaned inwardly. I take those points back. "Your mom never talked to you about sex, did she?" She held the girl's gaze.

"Uhm, no not really. She said I should come to you because you're young and have been around the block a lot of times," Janie replied innocently.

Oh sweet Lord, I have been around the block. Probably not the around the one she wants. Either way, I think that I've just been called a slut! "Well, I've had my share of. . .uhm, relationships, yes, but-"

"So does it hurt, and is that stuff that comes out as gross as they say? Do I have to touch it? How do I do it?" The girl fell silent.

Bobbi blinked. How does she get all that out without taking a breath in between? She shook herself. "I can only help you so much, Janie." Well, I could help her a lot, but maybe I can pull Paula out of her shell. "Let me call your mom, okay? Maybe she'll talk easier with me in here to back her up."

Wide eyed, Janie nodded with the same enthusiasm she had shown before. Bobbi got up, opened the exam room door, and looked down the unobstructed hallway before yelling, "Paula!"


Refreshed from her shower, Michelle stood looking out her bedroom window. The landscape was still covered in white, but its power over her had waned. One day, I'll be able to play in it with my son. Her gaze encompassed the front yard and more. The snow had barely melted due to the continued frigid temperatures, turning formerly white powder into crunchy ice.

The blonde looked down when her leg was nudged. "You like it here. Don't you boy? Well, I could too. Some part of me must trust your new friend. I just don't know what part it is. Don't think I could agree to stay otherwise. I felt something calming in this town from the get go. I think that's why getting my car fixed lost its importance."

"Wuff, wuff!" Taz replied.

Michelle peered inward, needing the quiet. This town seems like it has so much to offer with the people and all. I think it's somewhere I wanna be. The courage to go out there and see what these people are about is coming. I can feel it. In time, I know I will.

I wanna know what it's like to have friends and people who care. I have a friend already, and I didn't know it could feel like this-so good to be listened to. I feel like I count. I feel. . . alive more than I ever have. This is what's been missing, and there is so much more. I'm still standing, Max.

The petite blonde stood in front of the window for a little while longer, before heading back toward the bed, and the brush she left there. Gazing at her turtleneck and jean clad form, Michelle found herself standing at her customary spot, in front of the mirror. She brushed her hair to a pleasant shine, letting it fall, like spun gold, over her shoulders. The blonde clutched the brush in her hand and took a step closer, touching her reflection. A slow smile spread over her features, making her look younger than her twenty-four years. "You will be me."

The sound of the cooing Toby pulled her from her reverie. With a wide smile, Michelle glanced down at the baby. She scooped him up and danced around the prancing husky. "Hey little guy. I'm not the only one glad to see you up again." She leaned down, and he caught blonde strands in his fingers. Michelle chuckled. "Gotta let mommy go. I kinda need that." The petite woman wrangled her hair out of a tiny hand, as they sat down on the edge of the bed. The longer the blonde sat, the smaller the room became.

Michelle got up again, baby in tow, and began to pace the room. Taz walked beside her, keeping in perfect step. Curiosity and boredom coursed through her in a plea for attention. The need to explore and branch out was overwhelming. Michelle stopped pacing and blew out a breath, disturbing her bangs. "Is this what they call cabin fever?"


She looked down at her companion. "You've probably seen more of the house than I have. Haven't you?"


Curiosity won. "Been upstairs?"

Blue eyes gazed back at the blonde. "Wuff?"

Making a decision in the blink of an eye, Michelle asked, "Wanna go?"

Taz began prancing again. The young woman grinned. "I guess that's a yes?"

Long minutes later, after feeding Toby and putting the wiggling child in the carrier portion of the dismantled car seat, the threesome headed upstairs. The hall was a bit longer and harbored the same hardwood floor. Michelle counted four doors, two on each side. She ventured to the first one on the left. Hiking up the carrier in one arm, the young blonde turned the knob with a free hand. A slow creak greeted her along with a musty smell, but she went in anyway. In the middle of the room was a huge bare bed, lined with labeled boxes. The same boxes littered the floor, making it hard to move around.

Green eyes scanned the room, seeing the ivory-colored chest of drawers and a make-up table similar to the other piece of furniture. They were both covered in a thick layer of dust, as if no one had been in here for a very long time. Michelle walked in further. The blonde jumped a little at the sound of a sneeze. She peered down at Taz, who shook his head in irritation. Curiosity was a strong friend for the moment, and she couldn't decide where they should go first. Michelle made the decision. Setting the carrier down in a clear spot, she moved some of the boxes from the bed, hoping it would provide a secure place for the baby.

The blonde sat on the floor. Her nose and brow wrinkled in irritation when she realized she couldn't see her son. So, she brought him down to the floor next to her as she began digging through the box marked 'pictures.' The dog found a spot close to them both. Michelle reached in, pulling out a hand full of small-framed photos. Bobbi smiled back at her at various ages. In one, the very young brunette was covered in dirt and dressed in what looked like a soccer uniform. In others, she stood next to with her arm around a little boy, who was just as dark but with light hair. Their eyes shined with warmth and fun. "Her brother." Michelle whispered out loud. The blonde pulled out more, but they were of an older Bobbi. The smile was still there, but there was no sparkle in her eyes. The little boy was older, but his body sagged, going along with his blank expression. "Something happened to you."

Jade eyes glanced upward at the child, seeing his eyes drooping in sleepiness. Satisfied that Toby was okay, Michelle soon covered a small area of the floor with pictures. She pulled out a few featuring a third person, a woman, who the blonde assumed was their mother. She was tall, dark, and beautiful with raven hair falling over her shoulders in waves. Still, the woman's beauty was lessened by the look of strain on her face that couldn't be hidden by the smile. "Something happened to all of you."

Michelle continued to study the photos until realization dawned. "Where's your father?" Intrigued, the blonde got up and puttered through the box marked clothes. They were all women's attire. She glanced down at Taz, wishing he had the answers. All of a sudden, the dark-haired doctor had become a mystery that the young woman was tempted to solve. Michelle went from one room to the next. This room was filled with boxes, containing boy's and men clothing, comics, and bric-a-brac. In both rooms, she found that the boxes were full and that everything was covered with dust, as if old memories were held here that could not be let go of or faced.

Now, in front of the last door, the blonde reached out to try the knob. It was locked. So, she tried it again to be sure. Her brow scrunched in disappointment. Maybe you have your own pain to deal with Bobbi, but like me, I think you barely started. We have something in common after all.

* * *

Bobbi put the TV on mute when she saw who was on. "You may be the rest of this state's governor, but you ain't mine," the doctor whispered at the image of Jessie "The Body" Ventura.

With the push of a button, she switched on the CD player and then plugged in the headphones, not wanting to disturb the blonde in the bedroom. Bobbi had wanted to knock on the other woman's door but something stopped her. Either way, it was time to relax.

The first part of the day had gone smoothly with only a few bumps in between. The Janie situation was settled when a nervous mother finally opened up and admitted her fears and reservations to the sixteen-year-old. Janie had listened, but Bobbi was still unsure how it would all work out. The main thing was that mother and daughter were communicating.

After clearing the waiting room, Bobbi headed toward the kitchen to the Celeste pizza she had tucked in the freezer. With the pizza came jumbled thoughts on the upcoming holiday and her own mother. What was it, Mom, that you loved so much about this holiday. You never got a thing. He never gave you flowers, candy or anything as far as I remember. Maybe you were holding on to who he used to be. You never told me why, even though you were always open, always bold.

I remember when you found out I was having sex. The next day you brought home pamphlets, books, and diagrams I didn't even know existed. You dropped them all on the kitchen table. I even recall what you said, "We can both find out what we need to know." We ended up giggling and blushing before all was said and done.

I still have to wonder what you never told me, mom. I miss you guys something awful, but you're with me the only way I know how to keep you. She paused, almost having forgotten about the array of boxes that were piled in the rooms. Someday, I'll be able to go up there and go through it all. Someday, I'll be able to get through the pain.

The now somber Bobbi willed herself to the present and covered her ears with the headphones. She turned it up as loud as she could stand it and moved the extra long cord out of the way to keep from tripping.

Pale blue eyes closed as Lenny Kravitz's guitar played with her eardrums. Before she knew it, the brunette had gotten lost and flew away like the artist suggested. For now, it was the right thing. Bobbi threw her hands up in the air and pranced around the room, making her ponytail fly while grinding and shaking what she could. By the next song, the doctor grabbed the remote, using it as a microphone. She belted out off-key notes along with Lenny, oblivious to her surroundings.

Michelle made her way downstairs and stopped in surprise as she descended the final two. She glanced down at Taz, who began to whine continuously as if singing along with the offbeat doctor. The blonde watched mesmerized, as the brunette jumped in the air, doing a split kick. Green eyes widened as the other woman tried to finish the move with the splits. There was a loud rip, followed by, "Shit!"

Michelle covered her mouth with a free hand, as the giggles assailed her. She heard a shuffle as equipment was shifted about, a groan, and, "I'm too old for this crap!"

Her giggles changed to chuckles. There was another groan, as the doctor finally rose. Her body was twisted in an attempt to look down at the seat of her jeans. Michelle bit her lip in order to hide her smile. She cleared her throat, loudly. The dark head jerked upward, and pale eyes widened to the size of saucers. "Oh!" Bobbi looked down embarrassed and covered her derrière with one hand. "Um, how long have you been here?" Her face flushed a bright red. Michelle turned away, unable to hide her amusement.

Grrreat! "Ah, never mind. Don't answer that."

The blonde looked back with a twinkle of laughter in her eyes and the strain of mirth in her voice. "Uhm, you okay?"

The brunette smirked. "You were laughing at me weren't you?" A dark brow rose in question. She was. I know it. Ease on out of that shell, Michelle, and I'll try to come out of mine too.

Wallowing in her new found feelings, the blonde's head nodded vigorously. "Uh, yeah, but. . .not until I knew you were okay."

Silver-blue squinted. "Unh-huh." Bobbi looked down at the feeling of her leg being bumped. "You were too. Weren'tcha?"


Michelle let out a peel of genuine laughter. Feeling light and freed by it, she did it again. I've never laughed with anyone. I like this. She took a step forward then another.

Bobbi glanced at the laughing blonde then at the stairs. You're making progress everyday aren'tcha? Very good for you; I hope you didn't think what you found up there was too morbid. "Oh yeah, just laugh it up!" Bobbi threw her hands up in the air in mock irritation.

Michelle got a few more chuckles out, but her eyes snapped with life. Holding one hand over her drafty butt, the dark-haired doctor gestured with the other. "Been exploring I see."

The petite blonde felt a slight pang of fear. Then, just like that, it dispersed. "Uh, yeah we were getting kinda bored." She shrugged and looked down at the sleeping Toby.

"Mmm, yeah, cabin fever can be a bitch." In an instant, Bobbi decided to take a chance. "You can come over to my office if you like see some of the town folk. They are some of the nicest people you ever wanna meet."

Part of the blonde wanted to say yes, but the larger part knew that she wasn't ready. With a nervous swipe, she moved bangs out of her eyes. "Um, thank you, but I. . .I don't think I can take a lot of people right now."

Bobbi nodded in understanding, but knowing it was worth a try.

Wanting to change the subject, Michelle asked, "What were you listening to?"

The brunette glanced down at the headphones on the floor. "Oh, just some Lenny Kravitz."


The doctor bent down slowly to pick up the equipment. "You can listen if you want." She held out the headphones. Come on. Take a chance. "The cord stretches. I can just toss them to you."

Curious again, Michelle nodded. "Um, can you just put them on the table? I want to sit him down on the couch." She glanced down at Toby.

"Sure." The doctor sat the headphones down then moved away with her back to the wall. Taz stared back and forth between them.

Michelle sat the carrier on the couch, surrounding it with pillows. Without hesitation, she grasped the headphones and pulled them over her ears. There was no sound. Questioning green met blue. Bobbi smirked apologetically. "Uh, push the play button in the middle of the console."

The blonde did as she was told. The doctor leaned back and watched as the petite woman's nose scrunched up in distaste. Bobbi chuckled. Well, I know what you don't like.

Michelle yanked off the headphones and dug in her ear, hoping to stop the ringing. She glanced up at the smirking brunette. "Don't like it."

Bobbi shrugged. "Was wondering if you would. I can show you how to change CD's. I think I may have some you can get into. Do you mind?"

Michelle nodded and backed away. Careful to keep things at a side view, Bobbi bent, unloaded then loaded the CD changer with Jewel, Annie Lennox, and Best of Sade. "I don't listen to these very much, but we'll see how you like them." The doctor glanced up to see the blonde's eyes riveted on the TV. "Ah, I see our illustrious governor caught your eye."

Michelle turned to peer at the brunette than back at the soundless TV. "I don't really know what's going on in politics these days, but I-I don't understand this." The words spilled out as if she were talking with an old friend-easy, smooth. "Max used to watch him all the time. Um, he seemed kinda on the dumb side to me, but I guess he's smart enough to get elected. I-I asked Max how he did it, and he told me that he was a great wrestler." The blonde paused as the first tendrils of sarcasm snaked into her mind. Her look was thoughtful. "Um, I 'm a great cook, so can I be president? Taz, here, can be my aide."

Bobbi blinked once then twice before she let out a loud bark of laughter. Startled, Michelle peered at the doctor unaware of what she had done. "Um, was that funny?" I said something funny?

Bobbi wiped at her eyes and held out her hand to ask for more time. After a second, she answered in a voice thick with mirth, "Oh yeah too funny." The brunette sobered. She's talking to me, really talking to me. I knew there was someone under there. I guess this Max person tried to beat it out of her. "Um, is he your boyfriend?"

Looking confused, Michelle asked, "Who?"

"The guy you were talking about, Max."

Jade eyes widened. Her mind went on rewind. I've barely been able to say his name out loud. I don't know. It just felt okay to say it, okay to say it to her. Am I finally getting comfortable with her? Should I tell her more? Before she could ponder the question, consciously. Something opened inside her subconsciously. "He's my husband."

Dark brows rose in surprise. "I wasn't sure. You don't wear a ring."

Michelle fidgeted. "H-he gave me one but took it back when we got married. I-I'm not sure why." The blonde head hung, and she looked down at the whining Taz. Suddenly, she felt drained, mentally. In that instant, it hurt to think. Green eyes rose slowly. The glitter was gone. "I don't want to talk about this anymore." Her voice was thick with emotion. I feel all jumbled up inside. That's one thing I think isn't gonna go away for a long while.

Bobbi shook her head in the affirmative. Learning everyday, aren't we, Michelle? The brunette opened her mouth to apologize, but the blonde had already pulled on the headphones.


Early in the A.M. on Valentine's Day, Bobbi sat in the middle of her bed clad only in a t-shirt and panties, with knees drawn up to her chest. Breathing like the bellows, she stared into the nothingness of the far wall. She didn't bother to wipe the sweat from her brow. The hands woke her. It was the way they reached out so desperately, as if trying to claim the only thing she had left, her soul. Steve had been there, along with their mother. They had been reaching out too.

The dreams had been getting better, but for some reason, this morning her demons were chasing her double time. Bobbi racked her brain trying to figure out what made the nightmare come back with such severity. Scared, tired eyes flicked back and forth, looking for hidden shadows as her mind worked in feverish fashion. I don't understand. Everything's been going so well with Michelle. We talk more. She laughs more. She has become more.

The brunette gasped. Her heart fell into her stomach, causing bile and a host of other acidic tasting things to rush up to her throat as epiphany slammed into her like a fist. "She's facing hers. She's fighting them. What have I done to rid myself of mine?" Bobbi asked out loud in a hoarse, scratchy voice. "I've admitted that I need somebody, a friend. I've admitted that I needed to feel, but what have I done to the monster's under my bed?" The doctor let out a bark of derisive laughter. "They're hiding just like the monster's upstairs in those rooms." Bobbi laughed again. "If she can do it, why can't I?"

The question alone was enough to galvanize her into action. The brunette untangled herself from the dampened sheets and walked out of the room heading for the upstairs just as fast as her wobbly legs would carry her. Bobbi took the steps two at a time. When she got to the top, a large portion of her determination deflated, leaving her running on fumes. Help me. Somebody, please! The brunette stretched out her arms using the walls as an anchor and guide.

Breath rattled in her chest, prickles of sweat ran down her back, making the t-shirt stick even more to her damp body. Bobbi inched forward, shuffling bare feet across the floor. Then, the pain came. Creeping up on her like a professional assassin. It started as a flutter in her stomach. Still, the dark-haired woman took another step. It blossomed into a pounding that moved to her chest. She clutched at it, hoping to rip it out and throw it away.

The doctor took yet another step but cried out at the sudden throbbing in her head. Bobbi, sweaty and broken, fell to her knees. Crying now, she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and sat up on her haunches. "Oh God, I have to do this. I have to." Her whispered plea reverberated down the hall like a scream. "Momma, help me!" A sob tore from her throat as her body settled into the pain. It was then that she started to crawl toward the first door on the left. Finally, on her knees, Bobbi kneeled down in front of it. With a shaky hand, she reached up to turn the knob. It was time to try and battle with those demons.

Michelle woke with a languid stretch and yawn. She scooted toward the edge of the bed and peered over in the bassinet to find Toby still sleeping. "Happy Valentine's Day, little guy." She got up to reach down with a gentle finger, brushing the smooth skin of her son's forehead. "For the first time it's a good one. It's supposed to be a day about love. I know what that is now because of you. It never meant a thing to your father. It wouldn't to people who don't love, I guess. It was just another day to do what he did best." This time, the thoughts did not drag her down as much. The pain had lessened a fraction. This time she could breathe.

The blonde glanced back toward the bed upon hearing a high-pitched keening, only to see Taz yawning and stretching. Michelle chuckled and clapped softly. With wagging tale and all, Taz came forward without hesitation. The petite woman kneeled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I love you too, boy." He whined and licked her face in reply.

She stood up but continued to pat him. "What do you say to us going to see Billy and listening to a little music before we fix breakfast? I'm finally getting the hang of those kicks, and I know you like "Whiter Shade of Pale" just as much as I do." Michelle scratched behind the Husky's ears and grinned slightly. "I heard you trying to sing."

Taz let his tongue poke out from his semi-closed mouth. "Wuff!"

Continued ...

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