For Disclaimers see Chapter 1-2

White Nights
(Chapter 12-14)


Copyright © 2001

Chapter 12

Beatrice St. Jean sat at the kitchen table staring into nothingness. For once in a long while, there was silence---save the eerie creaking of the house. She sat as straight as her body would allow, clad in her customary attire of a neatly pressed skirt and faux silk shirt that closed with a bow.

With elbows on the table and hands clasped in a tight ball, Beatrice let the nothingness that lived in the nearby wall to seep into her eyes, making them look and feel dead inside. It was an accurate description because there was nothing left, save the pain. Everything hurt. It hurt to think and to move. It just hurt to be. For now, it was all tolerated, and it knew no limits. Beatrice couldn’t see an end but hoped that one would be revealed to her in time.

For now, she allowed pain to come forth as her mind swirled with thoughts of how it used to be. Do I have a right to question it? This is what I am now. I can barely remember what I was before: an only child from a good family, a child who was loved, and a child who was raised to please.

That’s all I wanted, after daddy died, was to see that sparkle in her eyes again. I saw it when I introduced her to Max. He was my saviour as well as hers. It was later during our wedding night that I learned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It was the first night that I had been introduced to cruelty in all forms—mental and physical. The yelling, the slapping was enough to make me curl inside myself, but it was a skill I didn’t have then. I just lay there completely still while he grunted and rutted like a pig on top of me.

But, if she knew all of this, that sparkle would have gone away. Wouldn’t it? I guess I’ll never know. You died with it in your eyes, mom. I hope I made you happy, mom, because I’ll never be. I know that now. It’s what I am now. His.
Beatrice heard the sound of the jiggling lock and door. Her short reprieve was over.
Max Sr. stormed into the house bringing in the bitter cold and the remains of thickly packed snow. He caught the eye of his wife before she tore her gaze away, causing him to smirk in reaction. Max Sr. imagined fear, submission and everything he wanted, needed in her gaze. The tall, burly man walked toward the table and slapped his hands down on the surface with a loud smack just to see her jump. His voice was low, menacing. “Is this whatcha do when I’m not here? Not a damn thing?! Get outta my face. You’re useless!” He watched her skitter away, all legs, like a scared cat.

The elder St. Jean headed toward the liquor cabinet, grabbing the snifter and pouring a large dose of cheap scotch before dropping with an ‘umph’ in one of the dining room chairs.

He sat the container on the table and knocked the drink back in one smooth move, feeling his face screw up as a result of the warm burn. Max Sr. shrugged out of his jacket, revealing a thick, dark blue flannel shirt. He threw the discarded clothing on the back of the other chair before running a hand over his still cold, ruddy face.

“Eh, you’re prolly rolling over in your grave. Arentcha, dad? But, you can’t fault me though. Look at the shit I got to work with. “A great man surrounds himself with greatness.” I remember you saying it. I thought I did, but Beatrice is weak, and she gave me a weak son. Tried my damnedest to keep ‘em in line for appearance sake, and it worked just like you said it would. I’m still a great man, dad. The whole town thinks so; I think so; I make Beatrice think so.” He chuckled and filled his glass again. “And Jr. knows so.”

Chapter 13

Driving the Cherokee slow and easy, Bobbi made a left turn onto the still slushy road. She headed down South Norman Street on her way to Spartan Stores to pick up a few groceries. Multi-colored houses and brave kids playing whisked by like scenes in a movie.

The brunette grumbled as she stopped for a red light. “More damn snow. Glad I closed the office for today. Well, tis the season. At least, I’m not stuck in that house by myself this time. I have a baby, and huge dog, and a scared woman to keep me company.” Bobbi chuckled at the irony. “Okay, there are two scared women, but we’re both making headway. I think.”

Her mind wrapped around the events of a few days ago, as the light changed to green. Finally, I made some progress. God, that was scary—the pain. I didn’t know the past had a hold of me like that. Who am I kidding? Yeah, I did. Seeing mom’s stuff brought back a whole lot of things. It was like a combination of guilt along with good and bad memories eating at me. Sorta like touching her, hugging her, and failing her all over again. It hurt and felt so good at the same time.

I really don’t understand it. I remember seeing her cheering on the sidelines at soccer practice and my games, and the smell of her when she hugged me whether we won or lost. I remember the lost look in her eyes when we left daddy. She had the same look when Steve retreated into himself. I think all those emotions kept me from going into Stevie’s room. I couldn’t take anymore, so I think I’ll save it for another day.

Funny thing this is, battling demons. It leaves you drained, making you wonder who won exactly. I faced one of mine, but I don’t think I won. I felt buried in all that dust and memories. When I can stand on top of them, making them part of my pain, my past, and part of me. I think I that’s when I win. That’s a long ways off for both of us. I think seeing her become a little more individual everyday keeps me honest, keeps me going, and lets me know I should be doing the same thing. Michelle didn’t even blanch at seeing me, covered in dust and clad in only panties and t-shirt, coming down the stairs wiping my eyes and sobbing. I told her so much that day. I think it was waiting to come out.

Emotion filled, blue met green from across the living room. Michelle jerked the headphones off her head and continued to stare wide eyed at the woman who had tried to sneak past her. Without hesitation, Taz trotted toward the doctor and sat by her feet. He looked from one woman to the other.

The silence was thick between them and almost uncomfortable. The blonde was the first to break it.

”You’ve, um, been upstairs?” Her voice was small but curious.

Bobbi tugged at the edges of her t-shirt but continued eye contact. She swallowed. “Yeah.”

Small feet shifted back and forth and even smaller hands played with the cord of the headphones. “Y-You haven’t been up there in a long time, huh?”

Bobbi turned away then, knowing there were many things she hadn’t done in a long time. The brunette looked back, feeling that she had to tell somebody the truth if only to ease her own heart. “Uhm, not since I moved here, no.” She paused for a long moment. “I-I brought a lot of my mom’s and brother’s stuff back with me. Was too hard to just get rid of it.”

”You’re crying.” Michelle added with a bluntness she seemed to have developed over the past weeks.

”It hurt, but I had to do it, you know?”

The blonde head nodded. “I know.” Forest green peered down at her busy hands then glanced back up again. “You, uh, must have loved them very much. It must be nice to feel that.”

Bobbi moved back against the nearest wall, needing some sort of anchor. Her voice was a shaky whisper. “They were everything to me. My dad, he, uhm, was invisible to all of us, I think. His first love was medicine, and. . . I think that’s why my mom left him, why we left him.” The brunette stopped and swallowed hard as she stared into a space only she could see.

“Everything went to hell then. Stevie changed so much. I think he blamed us for what happened with dad.” New tears glistened in her eyes. They didn’t fall but could be heard in her voice. “You know, we used to play together when we lived here. We climbed trees, camped out with mom down at Lake Shaokatan, and played in the snow when we could. But, when we moved, he wouldn’t even let me close to him anymore. When Stevie got older, he disappeared just like dad did.” She sucked in a shaky breath. “It wasn’t him anymore. He still lived with us and respected us to a degree, but I think he thought his real family were in the streets.

Then, BAM!” She smacked a fist into her hand. “All of a sudden they both were gone, and I didn’t do a thing to stop it.”

Green eyes blinked and went along with the confused expression on the blonde’s face. “Y-you blame yourself?”

Bobbi let out a bark of bitter laughter. “I’m a doctor, and I didn’t do my job.”

The confusion refused to leave. Michelle murmured, “I don’t understand.”

The brunette shook her head in disgust. “I don’t either, but I hope I will someday.”

They stood there for a few more quiet minutes, until Bobbi pushed herself off the wall and headed toward her bedroom without a word.

”Maybe we can help each other understand,” the brunette whispered as she grasped the pendant around her neck. “Maybe this thing is starting to work.”

Bobbi sighed as she made her last turn right into the Spartan Stores parking lot. It was jammed packed with customers and discarded shopping carts. “Damn fools always acting like the next snow means the end of the world. Should be used to it by now.”

She parked as close to the entrance as she could and hopped out, almost slipping on a patch of black ice. “Oooh, lawsuit. It’s too damned cold not to have this lot completely cleared out.” Pale eyes scanned the area, seeing a myriad of such patches along with huge piles of snow shovelled near the back of the lot. Bobbi adjusted her scarf and headed for the automatic doors. The smell of fresh green veggies assaulted her senses. She grabbed a cart and headed down said isle, picking up corn, broccoli, etc. before heading to the next isle.

The store was built warehouse style with huge metal cabinets where an abundance of foods rested in each section, tempting the customer to buy in bulk. The floors were tiled, clean, but well worn with the tread of shopping carts and feet. Colourful hangings dropped from the ceiling indicating which isle held what.

Bobbi moseyed along just like the rest of the patrons. She waved at people she knew and even stopped to talk to a few. The doctor groaned inwardly when she spotted Paula and Janie. Paula gave her a welcoming smile, but the brunette decided to stay away from any women who called her a tramp even in an economy of words.

After her mother turned away, Janie made a very familiar gesture with her hands. Forming an “O” with one hand, she shoved two fingers of the other hand into the hole. She shook her head, making red curls bounce, with the action. Bobbi fought the urge to roll her eyes and gave the young girl a thumbs up instead.

Making her way through the store, the doctor picked up the meats, pork and chicken, which she knew the blonde liked, along with a couple of nice juicy steaks for herself. The brunette picked up extra bread, eggs and other fixings for French Toast, along with milk, Fruity Pebbles for herself for the rushed mornings. She scrunched her nose as she passed an assortment of coffees, detesting the smell as well as the weird effects of caffeine, settling for water, orange and apple juice, along with the occasional glass of milk. Bobbi passed from isle to isle picking up a few things for the house in general including a big box of Cheer detergent to go in the basement, Caress and Ivory soaps, toilet paper and so on. The brunette did a sweep of the Deli making sure to get the fixings for sandwiches in the form of her favorite, Virgina Ham, smoked turkey breasts, and an assortment of cheeses. Going to a few more sections, she snatched, Purina Dog food, chips, pretzels and picked up a six pack of the first soda she saw, Dr. Pepper.

Near the end of her shopping spree, Bobbi bit her lip and made a last minute decision to pick up an assortment of pads and some tampons. “You never know.” In the process of throwing the things into the cart, the dark haired doctor caught the eye of boy who looked all of twelve. Big eyes set in a red embarrassed face looked from the boxes in her hands to the brunette’s face. To her chagrin, Bobbi could feel her own face flushing. She turned away abruptly after throwing the products into the cart. Okay, next time, Michelle, I hope you decide to go with me, so HE can stare at you. Maybe that’ll be real soon. I got the feeling that—that cabin fever is really getting to ya.


After finishing the last of her laundry down in the heated basement, Michelle found a comfortable place on the couch and sank into the soft pillows. She felt lighter than before, more free than before, and more herself than ever before. Today, Max was a thousand miles away. Today, the woman in the mirror was much closer.

Short, strong legs, clad in the cotton of blue sweat pants, were bent at the knee, providing a haven for the child, who cooed up at the smiling face of his mother. “I did it, Toby.” Her grin was wide as a Cheshire’s. “God, I’m so sore. It may not be anything big to you, but I consider it quiet the accomplishment to get through a Tae Bo workout.”

Toby gurgled in reaction.

Michelle’s grin brightened. “You are so sweet. Do you know that?” A sudden whining caught the blonde’s attention. Laying his head on her lower thigh, Taz glanced up at the petite woman. She chuckled, “You are too, Taz. I could never leave you out.”


She sighed. “You know it’s gonna snow again. I don’t mind so much anymore. It’s just that part of me is tired of being cooped up in here. Maybe could take a walk around the neighbourhood or something?” But, what if somebody sees me, wants to talk to me? Fear crept up on her, making the blonde angry at the emotion she had come to know well. Her teeth clenched as she took a deep breath. “I have to do something or I might not ever take the chance.”

”Wuff!” Taz nudged the blonde’s leg with his cold nose.

Michelle looked at the dog in surprise. “You’d come with me?”

”Wuff, wuff.”

”I don’t know. It would be better if we had a car.” She paused. “You think she’ll let us? And maybe keep an eye on Toby?”

Taz’s mouth opened in a doggie smile. It was all the answer she needed.

Michelle reached out a hand to scratch the Huskie behind his ears. “You really do like her, I know. But, I betcha didn’t know that she’s dealing with a lot of stuff just like I am. She’s blaming herself for what happened with her family.

I can understand that, boy because I used to do the same when he hit me, when mother yelled at me. A part of me stopped that, and I think that’s what made me finally leave.”

The blonde sighed. “She really needs someone to listen. I saw that the other day. The funny thing is that I do too. No one ever did before.” Michelle gave him an extra scratch. “I think I like her too or I’m starting to. It’s okay to laugh with her, talk with her. I like that a lot.” Her attention went back to her son. She leaned in, placing a warm kiss on his forehead. Thoughts whirled. There’s still the what if’s. What if taking on her baggage adds to mine? It wouldn’t do either one of us any good, but isn’t that what she did for me? Is that how this friend thing works? Maybe I can do a little bit at a time. God, they just took everything from me didn’t they? Thank you for giving me a chance to get it back.

Michelle sighed again and reached for the remote. Maybe there was something on TV to rid her of sombre thoughts. She flipped through the channels and settled for what looked like a talk show. The loudness of the ruckus crowd caught her attention. The blonde watched for long minutes not understanding the subject or the show until it was blatantly revealed after commercial.

Jerry Springer stood near the stage asking an assortment of woman to reveal to their boyfriends and husbands that they were porn stars. Green eyes widened in surprise as one woman with breasts the size of large melons came out in a skimpy black dress.

Her mouth dropped as some of the men revealed that they wanted to join in, while others considered it cheating and wanted it all to end. Before she knew it, Michelle was yelling back at the TV, hissing, begging the woman to get a life, and laughing when an audience member put in their two cents. “Oh, please! She gets off on that! She’s not gonna stop!” The petite blonde all but screamed, causing Toby to raise his own voice in reaction.

Bobbi sat a few bags on the carpet near the floor. A dark brow rose at the blonde’s exclamation. The brunette smirked, knowing instantly that the other woman hadn’t heard her come in. She cleared her throat loudly.

Michelle turned and looked up in surprise. Her face flushed a hot red. “Um. . .hi? Did you hear. . .?”

Bobbi chuckled. “Unh-huh.”

The blonde turned redder and pointed toward the TV. “Uhm, . . .porn.” Michelle groaned inwardly. Ah, come on I can do better than that! “Jerry Springer.”

The doctor nodded. “Oh, gotten into that have we?” You’re just full of surprises.

”Uhm, no not really. Is that stuff real? I like the audience more than the guest. I don’t think they believe it either.”

Bobbi unzipped the white coat and laughed as she bent to pick up the bags at her feet. She’s developed quite a dry sense of humor. I bet she didn’t know that she had it in her. “Don’t know, but I know what you mean.”

Michelle noticed the groceries. “Need any help.”

”No, s’okay. You got the baby.”

The blonde watched as the doctor made trip after trip outside. Figuring that the brunette was finally finished, she scooped Toby up and followed her to the kitchen with Taz at her side. Green eyes widened when she saw all the bags littering the table. “Wow, that’s a lot of food.” For some reason, Michelle wanted to hear her laugh again. It was like a new found secret power. “It’s not the end of the world is it?”

Bobbi snorted in response. Her voice was still full of mirth. “No, no I just hate shopping of any kind. When I do go for food, I usually get enough to last a month or so.” She removed her gloves, scarf, and coat, hanging them on a chair.

Michelle felt a rusty smile forming. I really like this. “I know what you mean. I used to have our groceries delivered. I think I would have loved going shopping for clothes and stuff though. Maybe I’ll find out.”

Bobbi threw her a smile. “Maybe.” I still can’t believe she’s talking to me now. I was scared to say hi to her once. I guess me splitting my pants was a real ice breaker.

Feeling the sudden urge to do something, the blonde asked, “You need some help? I can put him in his crib.” She hefted the baby up on one hip.

That cabin fever really is getting to her. “Sure.” Bobbi sifted threw a few bags then sat them on the floor near the vicinity of the blonde. “You can push Toby in here. I’ll watch him. There’s some things for the bathrooms, detergent to go in the basement and some other stuff.”

After coming from the basement, Michelle put away the soap in the cabinet under the sink. Something in me must trust her to leave my son with her even for a little while, or maybe I’m just learning to trust her. The blonde pulled out the assortment of feminine hygiene products. Her brows scrunched. Then, with a shrug, she placed them next to the Ivory soap. How did she know I used this brand? She shrugged and finished her task.

Michelle made her way back to the kitchen just in time to see Taz snatch what looked like a dog biscuit from the air. Questioning green eyes turned to the doctor. Bobbi smiled sheepishly. “He’s such a good boy. I thought he deserved something special. Hope you don’t mind?”

The blonde held up a hand in supplication. “It’s okay. I think he’s becoming yours too. I hardly see him, and I’m surprised he still chooses to sleep in my room.” The petite woman studied the strange look on the doctor’s face. Now, what is that for? Did I say something wrong? At least I’m not second guessing myself as much as I used to.

Bobbi leaned heavily against the table I remember I told him not to get attached, and now, I talk to him like an old friend. Pale blue peered over at the crib. I could get attached to all of them. That could be a good and bad thing. Someday, they’ll all leave. I hope it’s a long time from now. She glanced up to see the blonde studying her. Bobbi smiled wanly. “Uhm, it’s okay. I guess you’re right, but I like all of you here.”

Michelle returned the small smile. “I-I think I like it here too.”

”That’s good to know.” The brunette replied softly. “Uh, I was thinking while you were putting that other stuff away. If you don’t have any plans for today, maybe we could have lunch in the living room and watch a movie. I’ve got a lot of video tapes and some DVD’s.” The doctor added as an afterthought. “I can sit on the floor, and you can have the couch.” Come on, Michelle. I’m trying here. We’re gonna be cooped up when the snow comes tonight. Might as well try to get a little more comfortable with each other. I hope we can.

I can do this. I know she doesn’t mean any harm. Maybe it’ll be a chance for us to talk some more. I think we both need that. I can do this. SHE can help me do it. I know that she’s becoming a part of me. I can look in the mirror and almost touch her. “Okay, I think I can do that.”

Bobbi grinned and clapped her hands in delight. “Good—“

”But only if you let me do lunch?” The blonde interrupted.

The brunette raised an inquisitive brow. “You just did breakfast. By the way, those omeletes were great.”

”It’s okay. I-I’m starting to enjoy cooking again.”

Curious, Bobbi asked, “Where did you learn?”

”Um, when my mom left me alone I used to just whip up dishes. I loved it, but I had to eat somehow.” The blonde head hung.

Oh, shit. “Look, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to rehash bad memories.”

Michelle shook her head and looked up. “It’s okay.” She laughed derisively. “Almost all of them were bad, until Toby came along.”

”I can understand that. He’s a special little guy. I knew that the first day I held him.” They both glanced at the crib. “Um, lunch is yours then. I don’t want to keep you from anything you enjoy.”

”Uhm, thanks.” Michelle felt suddenly nervous at the thought of asking the brunette to borrow her jeep, but she didn’t want to back down. “I-I wanted to ask a favor?” The blue gaze met hers. “I was wondering if I could borrow your jeep. I sorta wanted to look around the neighborhood. I won’t go far. I don’t think I could. I just wanted to see what’s out there, and today, I feel able to go out and do it. I-I can give you money for gas—“

Suspecting the blonde would continue to babble nervously, Bobbi put an end to it with a quiet, “Yes.”

Taken aback, Michelle’s mouth snapped shut. She blinked. Then asked, “Huh?”

I wouldn’t keep you from anything, Michelle. The doctor chuckled. “I said, yes. I’d be more than willing to watch Toby and Taz if you want.”

”Oh, um Taz is coming with me. He said. . .” Michelle blushed furiously, realizing what she was about to say.

The brunette snickered even more. “He talks to you too, huh? Shoulda known that.”

”Wuff!” Taz added along with the thump of his tail against the linoleum. He peered at them both then sat back down by the crib. They both laughed.

”Thanks so much. I’d like to go before lunch if you don’t mind?” Michelle asked hesitantly.

Bobbi waved her hand nonchalantly. “Whatever you want to do. Me and the little guy will be here.”

”What would you like for lunch?”

”Oh, doesn’t matter. I’m a sandwich woman myself. Hell, I ended up slapping some jelly on a couple pieces of toast this morning and putting the omelette on it. I think I’d probably eat anything on a sandwich. Some weird habit I picked up in college and med school, I think. I bought some ham and turkey. Got some chips too. That’ll work if you like?”

The blonde nodded vigorously. “Yeah, um, that sounds good. I’ve learned to eat just about anything these days.”

”You don’t like beef.” Bobbi blurted then looked away.

Surprised, Michelle asked, “How--?”

The brunette shrugged. “I just notice things is all. You picked over the steak the other day.”

”Oh, just like the French toast thing?”

”Mmm, yeah. Listen you’d better get goin if you’re gonna go exploring.”

Suddenly unsure, the blonde added. “Yeah, um, I really don’t know where I’m going.”

”You’re sticking close right? Well, this is 171 Saxon. If you go up the corner and hang a right you have Newton, Rowena, Central, and then Milton. To the left—“

The petite blonde held up a hand to stop her companion. ”Ah, too much to remember. I think I’ll stay to the right. Why do some of those street names sound familiar?”

Bobbi blinked in surprise. “I guess I didn’t tell you, huh? Does the name of the town sound familiar? Ivanhoe?”

”Yeah, it does. A movie or something?”

”Or something. You probably heard the name in an English class in high school. It’s a book written by Sir Walter Scott. Some of the streets are named after the characters—Saxon, Rotherwood, Rowena, and Cedric are just a few. It’s pretty dry stuff, probably worse than that Agatha Christie novel you tried to read, but it’s this town’s claim to fame along with a couple of parks like Hole in The Mountain county park, and B&B’s near here. This is agricultural community, but we got our burbs too as you can see. Got a website on it and everything. I can give you the addy if you like?”

Michelle smiled and nodded, relishing the idea of finding out something new. “I’d like that.”

Bobbi grinned back, “Deal.” She twirled around and headed for her coat. “Here’s the keys, and I’m gonna give you my cell just in case you need directions, okay?”



The blonde and her furry companion had been gone for only a few minutes. Bobbi sat on the edge of her bed, peering over into the crib. She smirked sheepishly, “I really hope you don’t get hungry until your mom gets back. I remember that breast pump. Unless, she expressed some milk, we’re up shit creek, peanut. The brunette chuckled as she watched the child coo and kick without a care in the world.

”Your momma’s a brave woman. You should be very proud of her for what she did for the both of you. I know what it’s like not to have a daddy, but I’m sure she’ll give you whatever you need. Just love her. I think she needs that right now. You’re probably what’s keeping her sane. I know you would be, if I were in her shoes. Either way, peanut, I hope some of what she has rubs off on me big time.” Toby gurgled.

Bobbi glanced around her room. “I guess I’d better try to clean up. You know the only reason why the rest of the house looks liveable is because you guys are here. I don’t want to look like too much of a slob. Don’t know why I bother in here though. No one’s been in this bed besides me in a long time.” She smirked and got up. I could at least make up the bed and get some of the clothes off the floor, huh? Then, I’ll check that diaper of yours.”

The doctor picked up a pile of clothes and lifted them to her nose one by one. “Okay, peanut, you’re gonna learn a little lesson here. To keep from doing massive loads of laundry every week this is what you do.” ‘Sniff.’ “This is clean” She dropped it on the floor to begin a pile. ‘Sniff.’ “This, I can wear maybe one more time.” The brunette started a separate pile. ‘Sniff, sniff.’ The elegant face screwed up in disgust. “Oooh, this goes in the dirty pile.”

After returning from the laundry room, Bobbi lay Toby on the bed. She looked down at him. “You know, me and you haven’t had a chance to talk in a while, little man. You’re still cute. Looks like you’ve gotten bigger too.”

The brunette wrestled him out of his onesie. “I remember what I said to you last time, and I guess things have sorta changed. You guys are gonna be here for a while.” Bobbi leaned forward to undue the diaper. Loose, sable hair spilled down. Toby locked his hand around some strands. The doctor smirked and crawled up on the bed, not wanting to lift the little boy if she jerked upward.

Blue-green eyes held her unwavering. Bobbi’s heart lurched, and before she knew it, the brunette found herself kissing his forehead. “You really are a precious little thing,” she whispered. “You give this house a newness it hasn’t had in a long while. Thank you for that.” She smiled at him, and he cooed back.

Having freed her hair, Bobbi completely removed Toby’s diaper. His tiny legs kicked in the air. She groaned at the sudden feel of warm wetness, dampening the lower part of her sweater. The doctor glanced down at the child. “If you could giggle, you’d be doing it right now. Wouldn’t you?”

Despite the bitter cold, Michelle had let the driver side window down a crack, allowing some of the crispness to enter the well heated jeep. The streets were bare now, no doubt because of the coming storm. The pavement was still mushy in places with forgotten snow and ice, making her drive at a moderate pace. Curious green eyes scanned the neighborhood. It all looked like something out of a storybook. Each house lined up was prettier than the next and ranged from white, yellow, pink, pastel blue to a soft rose color. They all had front yards, and from what she could tell, back yards just as big. It looked ideal to live and ideal to raise children, but then again so had Pine River. Look what hid behind those doors. Michelle reached over, needing contact. She dug her hand gently into Taz’s thick fur. “There’s a difference here though isn’t there, boy? Some people are nice and some care. I’m learning that.”


Releasing her hold on the Huskie, without a word, Michelle turned over to the next street. She glanced up into the rear view mirror to see a cop car not far behind. A sudden fear grabbed at her throat. What if he’s looking for me? I can’t go back. I can’t! Her chest heaved in distress, and she reached for Taz again. He whined and huddled close. An enlightened thought made its way through. How could they know? This is Bobbi’s car not mine. Yes, makes since, but I can’t be seen driving the wagon. They’re probably looking for it. I need to calm down. It’s okay. I’m okay. The blonde took in and released several deep breaths. Her attention on the road wavered, and the jeep skidded as it hit a left over patch of black ice.

Michelle screamed as they swerved and memories of the not too distant past smothered her. She twisted the steering wheel with vehemence, trying to right the vehicle. Finally, they came to a sudden stop, missing a parked car by a hair.

The blonde crouched over. Her breath wheezed out, and small, shaking hands gripped the steering wheel as if death himself was beside her. In the distance, she heard the siren of the police car, but her mind ignored it.

It wasn’t until the knock on the window that Michelle jumped and cried out again. Taz barked viscously, not understanding the uniform only seeing a man and Michelle’s fear.

Without fear, the policeman tapped again. “Ma’am you okay in there? Do you need any assistance?” She jerked toward the sound of the voice with eyes laced with a different kind of horror. Caught in a whirlwind of fright, all Michelle saw was a man reaching for her. She cringed, moving closer to the growling Taz. That place—that quiet place beckoned, and she was so tempted to go there after being absent for so long. No one could hurt her there.

The irrationality of the situation nagged at the outer reaches of her mind, moving in slowly. A voice, very soft but commanding whispered in her ear. Think, Michelle, think. Look at him. Her conscious murmured. For a moment, green eyes cleared. It was all it took for the blue uniform to register. “Y-You’re a cop?” She muttered to the young man.

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am do you need help?”

Help, he wants to help me. The cloying fear dissipated in the wake of reason. A warmth settled over her. Am I safe? Is this what I’m feeling? He cares. Bobbi cares. Can I really be safe? All I have to do is take a chance. “Um,” Her voice was hoarse, shaky. She cleared it. “Y-Yes, can you tell me how to get back to Saxon Street.”

He smiled softly and gave her directions with a few hand gestures. Michelle backed into an abandoned driveway to turn around.

The blonde glanced over at Taz, who had since calmed down. “Thank you, boy. I was scared too, but we have a home now—somewhere warm and where someone cares.” Michelle smiled as the white house with the black trim came into view—171 Saxon Street. She couldn’t wait to go inside.

Chapter 14

Michelle covered her mouth and snorted for what seemed like the umpteenth million time at the antics of Grandma on ”Nutty Professor.” With eyes riveted to the TV, she reached for the big red bowl of popcorn then pushed it back toward the brunette, who was sitting on the floor in front of the sturdy glass table.

The blonde took a quick glance toward the sleeping dog that lay at the foot of the crib, parked as close to the couch as it could be. Knowing that he would jump alert at any sound, Michelle lay back and jerked up the legs of her sweat pants in an attempt to get more comfortable. The faded whiteness of her pants almost blended in with the soft cream color of the couch.

Before taking a sip of her Dr. Pepper, the blonde peered at the back of the doctor’s head. Momentarily, her thoughts turned inward. I guess this is the kind of fun that I missed in high school, while being locked up in my room--- spending the night over a friend’s house, talking, laughing, and staying up all night. I’m sorta glad that I didn’t experience it then. They were all fakers. Bobbi isn’t.

I know that now. I never had a home before. I never felt at ease anywhere before, and I think that I’m starting to here. I don’t want it to end, but I know he’s coming. I can hardly think of anything else. It’s scary really, being bombarded with all these emotions with most of them being new, but fear is an old one that I know very well. At least, I’m able to talk about it a little more now.

At the sound of a chuckle, Michelle turned her attention back to the TV only to see the credits rolling. Then, her eyes shifted back to the shaking shoulders of the brunette. Bobbi turned abruptly, finding herself caught in the dark green gaze. She smiled softly in acknowledgment. I wonder what’s in that head sometimes. “Did you have a good time? I have other movies, if you want to give them a go?”

”Yeah, I did, but surely you have things you want to do—“

It was Bobbi’s turn to snort. “You’ve got to be kidding!? It’s not as bad as the weatherman said it would be, but it’s still snowing. I just got warm again not too long ago from taking Taz out. ‘Sides, I’m sorta enjoying this. These past couple days have been. . .I don’t know, calming for lack of a better word.”

The doctor mushed her bare feet into the carpet nervously. Am I boring her to death? “Um, or we can talk if you want to. If you don’t mind me saying, you’ve been pretty quiet about that trip around the neighborhood you took the other day. It’s not that bad around here is it?” Bobbi turned around to face the blonde. With a flip of her head, she moved loose, sable strands out of her face onto broad a broad shoulder. Feeling shorts-- donned instead of her customary sleepwear of T-shirt and panties-- ride up, she smoothed them over her thighs before peering up at the other woman. The brunette started at the look of resignation and acceptance on the petite blonde’s face. “Michelle, did something happen?”

Michelle pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. Why didn’t I tell her from the get go? I guess—I guess I had things to come to terms with on my own. They could be looking for me right now. It scares me to death, but for some reason it all seems so far away sort of like a reality that I don’t want to deal with. I can’t afford to feel that way for Toby’s sake as well as for mine. I have to prepare myself somehow.

The sound of her name being called brought Michelle back to earth. She sat up and green eyes blinked before focusing on the brunette. In a hollow voice, Michelle answered the doctor’s question. “It’s a nice neighborhood, but then again they all are. They all look the same. It’s the people behind the doors that give it all meaning. Look at what Max did to me, what the people turned their backs to.” She paused and gathered the wherewithal to say what she needed to. “They’re looking for me. I can’t get the wagon back because they’ll be looking for it.”

Fear for the blonde crept up Bobbi’s back, making her sit up completely straight. “Wha—how do you know?”

Michelle smiled shakily but without humor. “Because I know Max. To him, my leaving is a humiliation. He’ll need to bring me back to save face with the community and his parents. It all hit me when I was out in the jeep the other day. I saw a cop, and I got so scared. I-I skidded, but I didn’t mess up your car!” The blonde said in a quick succession of words.

Bobbi held up a hand. “No, it’s okay. I don’t care about that. It’s just that you sound so calm about this.” Trust me. Talk to me, please. I can feel that you want to.

For once, Michelle was eager to open up. It was a testament to her growing trust. ”Do I? Well, it’s a lie. It has to be. I think I’m just trying to break it down to manageable levels. The fear, I mean. It all seems so far away now, but I’m scared.” Her voice became child-like. “I can’t go back there again.” Suddenly the possibility of renewed pain and humiliation seemed right at her heels, generating emotion that she should have felt at first. Horror.

Knees bent, and Michelle brought them back up to her chest. She wrapped her arms around knees and began rocking to hide the shaking. The air she breathed became thick with her own tension, making it almost impossible to breathe. In turn, Michelle’s heart worked triple time, nearly beating out of her chest. A sob escaped the blonde’s throat, but she continued in a warbly, desperate voice, still refusing to cry. “I can’t. I’d die, and he would kill whatever spirit Toby has. I can’t let that happen.” In a few words, Michelle revealed her world to the brunette like she never had before.

Having put the television on mute, the tape stopped and rewound quietly. The silence was deafening, and Bobbi hadn’t felt such helplessness since they wheeled the battered bodies of her family past her in the ER. She stood on the precipice of it, and like the huge, gaping maw that it was, it widened and threatened to suck her in. Oh, God. What do I do? What is she asking me to do? If I say the wrong thing, I’ve failed her just like I did them. I don’t want to see the look in her eyes that I see in mom’s and Stevie’s every night. I don’t think I could stand seeing it in one more person’s eyes.

Fear of the same caliber but different source gripped the brunette. Some part of her still wanted to run, and some part wanted to wrap and soothe the blonde in her arms. Still another side just wanted to help her through this. Wide uncertain eyes, looked down at large, elegant hands that had helped so few and hurt so many. The answer came out of nowhere like a blinding epiphany, calming her slowly with its enlightenment. She sobered.

All she asked me to do was to listen not to solve all her problems. All I can do is offer another option. For all the uncertainty Bobbi felt minutes ago, she spoke with confidence now. “We’ll call Mike and tell him not to give out any information, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll let you take Dad’s caddy.” Dark green eyes peered back at her full of an emotion that the doctor couldn’t identify.

”I-I can’t let you do that, Bobbi—“

”Yes, you can. Think of it as a favor from a friend. If it comes to that, you can keep it until you get settled.” Hell, you can keep it, but won’t offer you that. I know it’ll be too much.

”I-I don’t know what to say. Are all the people here like you?”

Bobbi smiled sadly. “No, they’re not like me. I became like them.”

Michelle cleared her throat. The fear still hung around the edges, reminding her of its presence, but it had dissipated somewhat with the knowledge that for once she had someone in her corner—a friend. “I think I understand, but I-I just don’t know what to say.”

Bobbi swallowed. “Um, you don’t have to say anything.”

Yes, I do. I think you need someone to talk to just like I do. Maybe it’s time that I start to try being your friend too. “Uh, you figured out all this stuff about me—“ Michelle paused, gathering words the she had never used before. “But I don’t know that much about you. Can you, uhm, tell me more about you and your brother as kids?” Michelle’s head lowered when shocked blue eyes met green ones. “Y-you don’t have to—“

”No, it’s not that. I just don’t want to add to what you’re going through.” I don’t know if either one of us is ready for this.

”Um, isn’t that what friends are for?”

Surprised blue met green. “Are you sure about this?”

She got a solemn nod in return.

”Only if you can tell me a little more about you.”

”There’s not much, but I-I can try.”


Bobbi wound the ends of her hair around her fingers in contemplation. She decided to start with the good and work her way up to the bad. The doctor turned to the side and tucked her feet up under her before she began her tale. “Remember I told you that my mom used to take us camping up on the lake?”

A nod was her reply.

We would fish too and have so much fun. Used to catch bass as long as Stevie’s arm. My mom used to tell me that my Grandpa grew up in a fishing village in Greece. Fishing came as natural to us as breathing.” She chuckled, remembering old times. “I don’t think either one of us thought that about Stevie at first. Hell, he hooked his clothes so many times that they had little holes in them. I was afraid to stand next to him for a long time.”

Bobbi peered at the blonde and saw her smiling softly. “He used to get sooo jealous when I caught a lot of fish. It was cute. He’d stomp his little feet and get this petulant look on his face. It reminded me of those playful cherubs that you see in some of those period paintings.

Hell, at first there used to be good competition between us. Who could run the fastest; who could climb the highest; who could eat the biggest sandwich. It was like that a lot, especially with me being a tomboy and all. With dad hiding in his office and the local hospital all day, all we had was each other. There was some really good times and some really awesome snow ball fights. I loved getting dirty.”

Bobbi shook her head and chortled self-depreciatively. “I guess that’s why I’m so messy today. You should see my room. The only reason the house is clean is because you’re here. Otherwise, there would be a major slob alert.”

The doctor sobered as she got back on memory lane. She licked her lips and tugged at the edges of her T-shirt. “During all the fun we had, my mom always tried to look like she was really enjoying it too. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I know she was, but she always seemed so lonely. I don’t know it was something in her eyes.

My dad was never around, and when he was, they didn’t argue. I don’t think he cared enough too, and I think Ma knew that. Then, one day we just left, and I knew that—that look in her eye was something big. We moved to Indiana, and they got a divorce. He sent money, but I think she used it all on us or saved it to help me through school because she was always looking for the next best job. We didn’t live badly. We just didn’t live the way we used to.

I remember that the refrigerator used to be my alarm to get up. Ma would open it in the morning and this weird noise would emanate from it. Something always needed to be fixed in the apartment, and I noticed that no matter how much we cleaned, it never seemed to be clean enough there was this dingy film to everything—the carpets, the furniture, the floors, all of that. During all that time, Dad called a little but he didn’t talk with us long. He always sounded so hollow, and I knew later that he was probably doing it out of some guilt or obligation.

Anyway, it was hard for all of us to start all over again. I’ve never made friends easily. Stevie and mom had always been there, you know. I pretty much kept to myself, and tried to keep it just the three of us. But, Stevie just collapsed in on himself. He started acting out at school. Ma used to have to get off work to come get him, and she lost a lot of jobs that way. He acted out at school but when he got home, he wouldn’t say a word. I tried my best to coax it out of him. I cooked for him, tried to drag him outside to the snow, but sometimes he wouldn’t even look at me.”

Her voice filled with pain as old memories flooded in. “I think Ma thought he would snap out of it in time, so she didn’t take him to a doctor or anything. But, he never did. There were times when he seemed to come out of it, but it never lasted long.

I didn’t have anybody then. Ma was at work all the time, and there’s no fun in doing all the things we used to do by myself. I made friends, and it was one the hardest things I ever did. I couldn’t bring them home and had to keep them at arms distance. So, as you can imagine they weren’t very good friends. It sorta got worse in high school. I mean I had girlfriends, but I got the feeling they would talk about me behind my back.

I wasn’t exactly Ms. Popular. When everybody was wearing the latest jeans, I was wearing corduroys. I think I was pretty much the strange weird chick of the high school. Regardless, boys started to take notice of me.” And girls, Bobbi added silently. It made things even harder, and Stevie—“ She paused and swallowed.

“He just went to hell in a hand basket. Apparently what he couldn’t find at home anymore, he got out in the streets. He ran with gangs and got in trouble with the law. There was many a night where I hugged ma while she cried. I think she would have kicked him out, but it just wasn’t her way. Some days, Stevie would come home and show so much promise. He’d joke with us, talk with us, and just be himself, but other times he was so angry. She never did kick him out.

My mom, she was so gentle. She was a great woman. All that time, she could have poisoned us to dad, but she never said a word against him. He missed birthdays, holidays, and never came to my graduations. I didn’t want anything to do with him or medicine, because of what I saw in her and Stevie everyday. I mean, she worked so hard and kept trying to fix things. I could see her grow older right before my eyes. I guess I still feel guilty about this.”

Her voice became thick with emotion. “But I was so glad to go off to college. I just didn’t know how to deal with it all anymore. So, what does that make me?” Pale blue eyes alight with unshed tears turned to the blonde as if she had all the answers.

Michelle could feel the pity in her gaze, but who would want it? She never did. Bobbi wanted the same thing she did, understanding. This is what caused that look in all of your eyes. God, to know a degree of happiness and have it disappear. What must it be like? The blonde continued to meet the brunette’s gaze. Is this what it does to you? Then, I more than understand. Pain is pain.

It seemed like an eternity before Michelle answered. The statement tumbled out of her mouth effortlessly as if she was an aficionado on the subject. “It makes you human,” the petite woman replied softly. They stared at each other in silence.

Bobbi was taken aback by the blonde’s statement. She wiped at unshed tears with the backs of her hands as her thoughts turned inward. We’ve both grown, Michelle. I’ve never talk to anyone like this before, and neither have you. Now, we listen to each other like we’ve done this a million times before. I think that we’ve helped each other to grow, to change, and I think there is so much more we can do for each other. I know there is. “You do understand. Don’t you?”

Michelle gave her a solemn nod. “I understand pain and loss, so yeah, I do.” For a moment, the blonde looked older, wiser than her twenty odd years. She looked as though she had experienced the pain of a lifetime. Sitting up tall against the arm of the couch, Michelle peered down at the brunette, and Bobbi could finally see the growth in the blonde.

Lines of pain that were still etched around her mouth and eyes had become softer with smiles, knowledge and growing wisdom. The crinkle of her nose that was only visible with a smile or a laugh denoted to growing dry sense of humor, and the fear that darkened green was still there but it was tempered with the twinkle of growing intelligence and confidence. “You have come such a long way, Michelle. I wanted to tell you in case you didn’t realize it.”

Bobbi watched as the blonde head dropped with an impending flush. “I-I thought we were talking about you?” The petite woman murmured.

”No, I was talking about me. There will be plenty of time for that. There is so much. I-I can’t tell it all in a one day. I don’t know if I want to. Talk to me if you can. I won’t push, and you don’t have to. It’s just that when you first came here—“ Bobbi shook her head. “God, you’ve changed. It’s nice to talk to the person hidden inside of you.”

Michelle blinked back in surprise. You are in there aren’t you? You’re becoming a part of me. I’m becoming a part of you. She glanced down at her hands, needing a moment to collect herself. After a couple of minutes, she spoke. “I-I’ve never trusted anyone before, except for Taz.” The Huskie looked up sleepily at the sound of his name. “I still don’t—I mean, I must trust you to an extent. I’m talking to you, but sometimes it’s just so hard. I’m so used to people wanting things from me in one form or another. I still don’t know about this. I just need time to come to grips with it. I just want you to know that I like being here, and I feel safer than I ever felt.”

”It think that I can understand that.”

Michelle cocked her head to the side and studied the brunette. “You’ve changed too. At first, you seemed so reluctant to help us, so angry and closed off that I didn’t know what to expect. Now, it’s as if all of this comes easy to you.”

Bobbi snorted. “No, that’s not the case. Let’s just say you facing your own demons inspired me to do the same. Someday, I’m gonna be able to go through all of those rooms upstairs, but enough about me.”

Michelle bit her lip and scratched her chin nervously. “I-I don’t know where to start.”

”It’s okay. Same place I did if you want.”

The blonde nodded but remained silent for a few long minutes. I used to feel so ashamed of this, but it wasn’t my fault. It was your doing, momma. “I-I envy the good times you had with some of your family. Um, my dad left us when I was really young. I never knew him really, and she blamed me for it everyday of my life with her. I think she wanted me to be miserable just like her. There was always yelling, and sometimes she would. . .

But, there was mostly yelling. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t even exist, and she told me when I did that my existence wasn’t even worth it. In school, I was invisible. I wasn’t allowed friends. I don’t think anyone wanted to be around me anyway, and I couldn’t study too hard. She used to tell me no man would like that.” Michelle’s voice was hollow as if coming from far away.

We moved around the Midwest a lot. I missed a lot of school because she wouldn’t enroll me until really late. Sometimes, she wouldn’t even wake me up for school, but there were other times when she’d kick me out in the snow. I’d end up spending the day in someone’s garage or in a nearby store. It was always so cold, and I hated the snow.

There were times when she locked me in my room, but after a little while I learned how to pick the lock. I’d come out while she was at work. I had to learn to cook for myself early.”

Bobbi felt her anger rise at the incredulity of it. She shook her head and interrupted. “How could she do that to you and no one not say anything? I mean, your teachers—“

”Some of those people who live in nice houses aren’t nice at all, Bobbi. I learned that real early, along with the ability to keep my mouth shut. I was too scared to say anything. I—“ They both jumped at the sound of Toby’s wail. Michelle felt a familiar tingle in her breasts. Caught in the past, she felt herself being thrown in the present, where things were more pleasant. It must mean something that I’m able to talk about some of this---that I want to talk about this.

Feeling disappointed but happy about the time she was about to spend with Toby, Michelle rose from the couch. “Um, I’m sorry. He needs to eat.” The blonde glanced toward the flaying limbs poking out of the crib and down at the now prancing Huskie. She turned back to Bobbi. “Uhm, I-I enjoy talking to you, but—“

Bobbi gave her a gentle smile. “It’s okay. Go ahead. We might as well call it a night. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later if you want. It doesn’t always have to be so heavy.” The doctor watched as the blonde scooped up her son and began to rock him. Unsure green eyes looked back at her.

”I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all tragic on you—“

”No, no it’s not that. I just mean that we’re both going through a lot right now.” She clenched her fist in frustration, as she tried to find the words. “Ah hell, I just mean that feel free to talk to me about anything. I think it’ll make us both feel better.”

”Oh, okay. Um, I’d better go feed him. I’ll see you in the morning?”

”Yeah, you will.” Bobbi watched her go and Taz follow. The Huskie turned to look at her, giving her a soft ‘wuff’. She smiled in return.

The doctor gathered the bowl and the empty soda cans. Stopping by the windows near the front door, Bobbi pulled the shade all the way up. The snow had ceased with what looked like about almost a foot of accumulation. It glowed, pale and ghostly against the moonlight that played peek-a-boo with dissipating clouds.

Fat, sharp icicles hung from the windows in recognition of the frigid temperature. It was all beautiful but completely frigid. She shivered unconsciously and headed toward the kitchen. The sound of humming stopped her, causing the brunette to listen quietly for a moment. Bobbi smiled and moved on. “Toby will have it better than both of us, Michelle. You’ll see.”

Michelle woke upon the last vestiges of a dream that could have been a nightmare, but Taz was there to prevent it from being so. The images of Max’s angry face and screams of pain still echoed in her mind. With slashing teeth, Taz stopped impending fists, leaving the blonde knee deep in relief. She sat up in the big bed and adjusted the top of her pajamas, while scanning the room for her protector. Green eyes spotted him on the floor near the foot of the bed.

The blonde clapped softly. “C’mere, boy.” Without hesitance, Taz jumped in the bed and moved toward the blonde’s face to give a lick of good morning. Michelle sneered up her nose in disgust. “Whoa, boy is that you?” He whimpered in response. “I haven’t given you a bath in a while. Have I?


”Sorry about that, but thank you for this morning.” She latched her arms around him, regardless of the smell that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.


”I’ll tell you about it later. Let’s go see if the little man is awake and get you both cleaned up.” Michelle got up to find Toby in mid-yawn. She smiled at the sight. “Hey there, let’s get you cleaned up and all ready for the day.” Despite Taz’s heroics, the dream still nagged at her consciousness, and she knew the only way to soothe it was to bask in the dependence and unconditional love Toby generated. Big blue-green eyes looked up at her, and she started to feel it already.

After feeding him, cleaning him and wrapping his naked body in a towel, Michelle headed for the bathroom and the baby tub that she stored in there. She peered down at Taz who moved to follow. “First him, then you, boy, and I guess that I’ll get cleaned up sometime before breakfast.” She disregarded her own appearance, knowing her hair was probably sticking up due to a rough sleep.

The sleep-rumpled blonde opened the door and glanced into the kitchen as an afterthought. Memories of last night, tickled the back of her head. She walked toward the kitchen entrance and peered at the figure bent over with her head buried in the refrigerator. Who would have thought we’d have so much in common? Pain can make strangers into friend’s I guess.

Instead of feeling obligated to talk like she had other times not too far away, Michelle wanted to speak. “Uh, hi?” She said louder than she intended to. There was a thump then a muffled exclamation of ‘shit,’ as the doctor banged her head against the top of the refrigerator.

Michelle bit back sudden laughter and met the eyes of the brunette, who was rubbing the top of her head.

”Uh, yeah hi.” Bobbi paused and smirked, able to read the mirth in the blonde’s face. “Go ahead, laugh. You’re little dog too.”

Taz wuffed and pranced animatedly.

Michelle chuckled openly, loving the sound of her own amusement. It was few and far between. “Um, sorry didn’t mean to scare you.”

”S’okay. Was just about to dig out stuff for breakfast. Was gonna fix French toast and sausage.” Bobbi looked at the blonde expectantly.

”Uhm, the little link sausages?” Michelle licked her lips.


”Oh, okay. Could you keep it warm for me? I have to give Toby a bath then give Taz one afterwards. He’s not smelling so good.”

”Oh yeah?” The brunette peered down at the Huskie and smirked again. “Why don’t I take him off your hands? I can take him out then give him a bath. Shouldn’t take that long, and then I’ll do breakfast.”

Michelle bit her lip. “Uhm, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. He doesn’t exactly like water. Are you sure?”

The doctor nodded vigorously. “Yeah, sure. We’re buds. Aren’t we, Taz?”


”Okay, let me get the shampoo for you,” Michelle added.


The bathtub spigot dripped despite being turned off. Bobbi wiped her brow with her wet hand. She snickered at the sight of the dripping dog, looking like a waif instead of his full-coated brawny self. Blue eyes darker than her own gazed at her miserably. “She was right. You did stink.” Bobbi capped the Hertz shampoo and conditioner and tapped the top. Standing on all fours, shivering and dripping. Taz simply blinked in response.

”Your mom is something else, boy, but I think you know that already. She opened up more to me last night than she ever had I think, even though we were interrupted. I think I pretty much did the same too. We make quite the pair, your mom and me. What’s that saying? Misery loves company. Funny, around her I don’t feel so miserable, and it’s so easy talking to her. Makes me feel a little lighter inside. Maybe I’ll be able to tell her everything soon. Whatcha think?”

Taz let out a warbly whimper and an even more pathetic growl. “Um, okay. Should we talk again when I have you all dried off?”

He blinked again, but Bobbi swore she saw a twinkle. “Oh no. You wouldn’t.” She backed away but tripped over the rug behind her. Taz shook his coat with vigor, emptying it of as much water as he could. With a loud smack, the droplets of now cold water flew everywhere, but mainly covering the reclining brunette.

Growling in irritation, she wiped water away the water that was dripping off her nose and pushed dark wet strands off her forehead. Looking down, the red t-shirt that she had slept in was darkened and clinging to her chest. The black Nike shorts were plastered to her thighs. She wrung the extra moisture out of her clothes and glanced up to see Taz half in and half out of the bathtub. His mouth was open and his tongue lolled contentedly in a doggie smile.

Pale blue eyes narrowed. “Good thing Michelle only has two men in her life right now. You guys just love getting me wet.”


Michelle hummed “Greensleeves,” as she rinsed the Baby Magic wash from Toby’s skin. When she was alone with Toby, Max couldn’t invade. He never did physically or mentally. This time was no different. The images of the dream faded with every hum, every stroke of baby soft skin, and every coo Toby gave in return. “Maybe I had another protector all this time, but didn’t know it. I don’t know where I’d be without you, little man.”

Toby gurgled in response.

”Right now, we’re as safe as we can be, and I promise that I won’t let him near you. I promise.” Michelle leaned down and kissed his balled fist that punched the air.


That same morning despite the unbelievable cold, Max Jr. stumbled into his parents house hatless and gloveless, but full of liquor and anger. They had made fun of him—his so called friends. He snorted remembering Cain’s words and how they stung along with the laughter of the other two companions that followed. The conversation rang in his head like a bell.

They practically yelled over the load murmur of the crowd the bellowing of Randy Travis from the jukebox. The smoke that wafted throughout the bar stung his eyes, but Max was beyond caring. The four of them giggled like schoolgirls at comment he’d made at a passing waitress. The giggling stopped as they took long swigs from draft beers, before renewing the conversation.

Cain, loud, and ignorant with the blonde looks of Adonis was the first to speak. “Speakin of pieces of ass, how’s that choice piece you got at home, Maxie? Haven’t seen her over at Cobb’s lately.”

Panic flared through his curly head and down his spine as he glanced at the suddenly attentive three pairs of eyes. His daddy had taught him to save face, and Max Sr.’s voice bellowed in his head saving him. Max sneered. “Hell, I made her quit that job. She got a baby and me to take care of. Her ass needs to be at home!” He said, full of confidence.

Cain took another long swig of his beer and slammed it against the bar counter. “Uh-huh, well that ain’t what I heard. Is it boys? They nodded silently. I got me a cousin that’s a cop a couple counties over. He done told me, that she ran away, and that you’re a looking for her. Don’t that be all fellas?”

They nodded again.

The Pine River football hero can’t keep his woman in line? What’s wrong Maxie? That little dick scare her away or what?!”

With shocked eyes, Max watched in horror as they laughed at him. He wanted to scream. Part of him wanted to cry, and part of him wanted to hit something. Instead, he sucked all the snot out of his nose that he could with one sniff and spit it out of his mouth, hurling it toward his high school friend before fleeing and not looking back.

Damn you, Michelle. On wobbly legs, Max Jr. opened the back door and headed through the kitchen. The smells of breakfast cooking made his stomach clench in protest. He looked up bleary eyed at his mother standing over the stove.

Beatrice saw the flash of pain in her son eyes, and for some reason at that moment she wanted to fix it. As he walked past, she reached out a hand and called his name. Max jerked back and lifted his hand high in the air. His face was covered with disgust. “Don’t touch me old woman. You never did before.” His need to hit something returned, and Max reared his hand back further intending to strike. The confusion and fright in her eyes fed him. He glanced up at the sound of footsteps. Max Sr. filled the hallway with his burly form. Their eyes met, and a smile spread over his father’s face. “G’wan, you need the practice.”

Inside, Max raged, but he slowly lowered his hand. It’s what his father wanted him to do. Hit her, but instead, Max walked away without a word.

Marsha stared down at the pictures in her hand. Some were of her ex-husband the others were of Michelle. They both looked so miserable, so alone. She recognized the signs that she knew so well. Recognition cleared her long cloudy brain. “I didn’t know how to make you happy,” she whispered.

Marsha continued to study the photos laid out on the rickety table. After a few minutes, old pain and memories clouded her consciousness once again. With a viscous snarl, she tore the pictures up one by one into tiny pieces. “No one deserves to be that way, especially you. You both left me!” Like confetti, the ripped paper littered the floor.


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