Chapter 15

With dark hair loose and spilling over the arm of the couch, the doctor lounged on the cream-colored piece of furniture like a large cat with a long, shiny mane. She chuckled as the early morning episode of "Bewitched" went off. "God, Larry is such a putz, and Sam rules that house without them even knowing it." Bobbi snickered again and glanced toward the pinking morning, filtering in through the raised shade of the window. Drawn to the myriad of reds and oranges flicking through the living room, Bobbi got up and headed toward the source.

She adjusted blue drawstring shorts that had ridden up and pulled the green T-shirt away from her chest. The brunette placed her hands on the window seal and leaned in while peering out at the pristine whiteness of the snow. Unfortunately, it had snowed again last night, refilling the walkways and roads that Kevin had shoveled days before. "Beautiful," she whispered.

Everything was quiet and gleaming with whiteness.Bobbi hated when the stuff came down, but loved looking out at the beauty it left behind. The beginning rays of the sun reflected off the white surface making things seem brighter than they really were. Cars parked in driveways and in the front of houses seemed frozen in time, covered by nature's form of icy dust. It reminded her of how quiet and peaceful the world could actually be.

The brunette let out a low whistle. "Probably no school for you, Kev. You and the city have your work cut out for ya. At least you'll make some extra money." She continued her perusal of the outdoors but turned her thoughts inward.

I've seen more sunrises the past couple months than I've seen in years. At first, it was because the dreams were getting worse. Now, I have something to look forward to. It's not just Billy and me anymore; thank god. I guess that I just look at things differently now. So much has changed. Hell, I've changed. I'm able to feel again without being so scared of the consequences. One day, I'll face up to it all.

Bobbi pushed herself away from the window and brushed the hair away from her face with an errant hand. On bare feet with long, languid strides, she made it back to the couch and sat down, drawing one leg under her. I guess some of Michelle's courage really is rubbing off on me. She's so strong, and I bet she doesn't even know it.

She's made me see that I've given up so much--the good memories and the things I used to do that made me part of the human race. I don't camp, fish or do anything anymore besides seeing patients and watching TV. I used to do so much, and she's never done anything.

"Maybe we can learn together. Michelle deserves a lot of firsts in her life. Who better to show her than a friend?" She said out loud. Bobbi leaned on elbows, strategically placed on her knees. She moved stray strands of sable away from her eyes with a flip of her hand. "A friend; it's damned nice to have one of those." She paused. "It's damned nice to be one of those." She's talking to me, and I bet that she has so much more to say. Then again, so do I. Bobbi glanced at the mumbling TV and smiled. "I guess I'd better get with Billy, a shower, and making breakfast before she wakes up."


A thin shaft of light pierced through the half-shaded window, illuminating the blonde's countenance, which was flushed and drenched with sweat, causing fair bangs to taper to her forehead.  Michelle thrashed back and forth, throwing the covers from her body. Stationed on the floor, near the foot of the bed, Taz rose and whined softly with concern for his mistress. He laid his head on the mattress near her pillow and huffed, bathing Michelle with his warm breath. In response, she mewed quietly.

Michelle's breath rattled in her chest and sounded broken and shaky to her own ears, as her heart hammered against her ribcage. Fear was a tight band circling her body making it difficult to move, to see, to breathe, and to think. But the coppery sweet smell of something familiar along with a low cackle spurred her on. She flattened her body against the wall, using it as an anchor and inching along toward the inevitable.

The hallway leading to the bedroom she shared with Max was longer than she remembered and darker, so much darker. The blonde could barely see a hand in front of her face, but there was one room that had light, one room that had sound--their bedroom.

Taz's loud, painful whine, followed by a familiar laugh stopped Michelle in her tracks then galvanized her into action. Tears of fear and anger spilled down her cheeks, as she whispered, "You're here Max aren't you? You've always been here." Her shuffling feet picked up momentum, and the coppery smell became stronger, thicker the closer Michelle got.

A minute later, she stood just beside the doorway. The sounds of a metallic 'swish' along with a wet splash gave her pause. Michelle whimpered and covered her mouth with a small hand. The smell was unbearable. She knew what it was now. Blood. The blonde's whole body began to shake, and her heart flipped, crawling up to her throat, almost choking her. Overwhelming concern for the Husky and Toby mingled with the fear.

She grabbed onto the edge of the wall where the doorway began and flung herself into the room. Her blood froze and a scream clawed at her throat in reaction to the display. Taz's lifeless body laid on top of the familiar blue comforter that was now dripping with the dog's blood. Crimson fluid littered the beige lampshades that  rested on the small tables by the bed. It was everywhere. Michelle's took in the dog's dead, vacant stare.

His mouth was open; filled, and dripping with a mixture of frothy white saliva and red liquid. The beauty that was once his thick black and white coat was now a garish, ruddy pink.  Standing over the limp dog was Max's tall, hulking form with a large butcher knife in his right hand. Like his hairy arms and the front of his sleeveless shirt, the knife was covered in red gore. He turned toward her, walking slowly and sporting the cruelest of smiles. "You think you can get away from me? I'm in here." He tapped his forehead with a finger. "You'll never be free no matter what you learn, who you know, or who you become. You hear me?!"

Terror ceased her, but Michelle shook her head vehemently. "No, no, no!"


The sound of Toby's cry startled them both. Max spun on his heels and moved quickly toward the crib, beating the suddenly lunging Michelle to it. His grin widened became darker, more sinister and brown eyes twinkled with madness. Michelle grasped at air as he breezed by her. She looked up to see him raising the gory knife far above his head. Her shocked and frightened eyes widened.

"It all belongs to me, Michelle, and I can take it all away!"

Feeling her world tilt and stop, horror replaced the blood that pounded through the blonde's veins. She reached out and did the only thing she could, scream.

"No you bastard! No!" She shrieked as her body jerked into an upright position, resulting in Taz's bark and Toby's cry.

Bobbi's heart flipped, and she jumped up from the couch, hearing the bloodcurdling scream. Instinct drove her, sending the brunette running down the short hall without pause. The doctor jiggled with the knob and then pushed the door open with such force that the knob embedded its impression into the other side of the wall. The bark of the dog, the cries of Toby, and Michelle's muffled whimpers greeted her ears. The shaking, tear streaked blonde filled her eyes. Bobbi rushed in like a fabled hero, heedless of her own safety.

Through bleary eyes, Michelle saw the dark figure rushing toward her. Still caught in the realm of nightmares, she yelled her apprehension. "No! Stay away from me!" Small hands formed into tight fists, and Michelle shrank back into the bed until she felt as though she was part of the headboard. The figure continued to approach.

Driven by concern for her friend, Bobbi was deaf to Michelle's initial objection, and blind to everything except the blonde's huddled form. She continued moving forward until something slammed into her shoulder. Pain flared, bringing her to her knees.

Shocked and wide-eyed, Bobbi wrapped a hand around the left side of her neck, letting fingers venture under her now torn t-shirt. The sting intensified, and her hand came away sticky and wet. Incredulous pale blue eyes glanced to the floor to see the shattered remains of a mauve vase that used to have a home on the nightstand by the bed. Azure eyes, wild with pain, finally met the figure in the bed.

Sitting up in the bed with the help of her knees, Michelle studied the room with fevered eyes. Sweaty blonde strands of hair were plastered to her face and caught in her lips. Her face was flushed and dark red with anger, defiance, and fear. She lifted her second weapon in her right hand. It was a thick, heavy looking book that had been procured from the library.

Knowing she had been caught up in the blonde's storm of emotion, Bobbi tried to rise from her knees. She cried out, when in haste she tried to use her left arm to push herself up. Breathing hard, shallow, and sweating profusely, the brunette stood up on wobbly legs. Disoriented, she looked down to see Taz beside her.

With a loud whine, he grabbed hold of the leg of the long drawstring shorts and tried to pull her toward the door. Again, Bobbi didn't take heed. The welfare of her friend took priority. As softly as her ragged breathless voice would allow, the doctor pleaded, "Michelle, listen--" the book sailed past her head and fell harmlessly to the floor.

"No! I won't let you take us. I won't let you hurt us anymore! Do you hear me?" Michelle screamed over the loud cries of the baby.

Taz yanked hard on the brunette's shorts almost ripping them. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Bobbi did the only thing that was probably best for both of them. She retreated. Holding her shoulder, Bobbi left the room as quickly as she could, slamming the door behind her. She leaned against the wall on the other side, trying to catch her breath and bearings.

The brunette whimpered as a new wave of pain assailed her. She looked down at the feel of a gentle nudging then laid her head back against the wall providing the cream colored walls with a splash of ebony color. "Oh my God, boy. What happened in there?"


"I--I don't know either, but I need to take care of this cut. Feels like something is in there." Bobbi made her way into the bathroom next door to Michelle's room. She sat on the covered toilet and reached under the sink with her good arm to get the first aid kit. With a grunt, she ripped a larger whole in her shirt and saw a nice size chunk of the vase embedded a little ways into her skin.

Bobbi bit her lip and snatched it out before she could take another breath. After moving stringy, damp hair out of her eyes with her good hand, she reached across to turn on the sink. Picking up a towel from nearby, she cleaned the cut, then fished out the small bottle of peroxide and opened it with her teeth before pouring it over the wound.

She cringed at the bubbling sensation the compound caused when it met damaged skin. After supplying pressure and a couple more applications of peroxide. The wound stopped bleeding, giving her a view of torn skin. It was a clean gash of about an inch. Checking the depth of it, Bobbi saw it was deep, but not too deep. The doctor was satisfied that stitches were unnecessary, even though it had bled profusely. She slathered it with an iodine solution and covered it with a large bandage.

Pale eyes stared down at the tiled floor. Seeing the Husky sitting in her line of sight, Bobbi began to speak. "Oh God, I'm such a fuck up! How could I do that? I know how she is about space. I just didn't think." She banged the heel of her hand against her forehead. "I can't ever do the right thing!" Her tortured mind omitted the thoughts of making Michelle laugh of seeing her smile for the first time, of hearing her talk. "Just like. . ."

The doctor tried to bite back a sob, but it came anyway. Her mind became immersed in different memories. They flashed in her mind like a reel time flick. She blinked as the memories of Stevie spitting, throwing dishes and food, biting, and screaming at her, assaulted her senses as if they happened yesterday. Bobbi covered her face with a hand and murmured, "God, Stevie. I failed you. I failed you and ma. I couldn't make it right, and it was my responsibility damn it!" The sob transformed into hot tears, and she wiped at them with trembling hands.

"What am I gonna do now, huh? I ruin everything I touch. How am I gonna help her or myself?" Soft fur brushed her leg, but Bobbi ignored it. It was of little solace. Self-pity swallowed her whole, blocking out the sounds of the still crying baby next door.

Long minutes later, anger pushed its way in; anger at the predicament, anger at herself, and anger at her lack of confidence and lack of knowledge of human nature. It ate at her slowly, making her twitch, making her rebel against old feelings and old pain. Large hands clenched into fists, and Bobbi stood up. It rules me! All of it! I can't let it! With jerky steps, she exited the bathroom and headed for the living room. The brunette didn't stop as she mounted the steps one by one.

She stood at the top of the stairs battling against the pain in her shoulder and the one in her heart. They mingled and intensified, but anger was enough to numb it all. Bobbi pressed on, going toward the room, she couldn't bring herself to enter last time.


Moments before, Michelle shuffled across the room on autopilot. The blonde rocked Toby, but he sensed the upset in his mother and refused to be calmed. Michelle wanted to sing, but at the moment, there was no song in her. The only symphony was the cries of the infant, and the hard thud of her heart. But for the moment, the sweat and tears had finally dried.

Michelle cradled Toby in the crook of her neck, trying to draw comfort. None was forthcoming. After a minute or so his cry changed, activating mammary glands. Without pause, the blonde unbuttoned her pajama shirt, giving the little boy immediate access to a plump, dusky nipple.

There was no solace from that either. With the slamming of the door, Michelle's mind cleared, and she realized what she had done. She peered down at the broken shards of the vase and drops of blood that littered the carpet. "What have I done?" She whispered over and over again like a prayer of absolution.

The petite blonde looked inside, searching what was left of her soul. So good; things were going so good. I knew it couldn't last. I knew he would come back somehow. Damn you Max! The one person who could help me, who was helping me, I end up hurting. I can't let you haunt me, but you keep getting in somehow. It was easier said than done. With blind eyes, Michelle looked down at the precious form attached to her chest. Toby suckled noisily. Icy tendrils of fear laced through her as she flashed back to the raised knife. "Oh God."

The tears began anew and the heart-rending sobs returned full force. The need to run and hide was so strong that it was palpable. The need to retreat into herself was even stronger. Don't want to be here anymore. Her mind whispered seductively. You'll never get away--never.  The inner voice continued to murmur.

Michelle's special place called to her. It beckoned. It had been so long since she visited. With one leap all the fear and all the pain would dissipate. The temptation was overwhelming, so much so that Michelle couldn't fight it. She reached out grasping the darkness, hugging it, and sliver by sliver it engulfed her.

From far away, like a distant echo, sound reached her--a small gasp. The gurgle that followed was louder and hinted at danger. A hyper awareness that only mothers possess gripped the blonde, and for the moment, she re-entered the world of reality to find her son red faced, choking, and thrashing in her arms in reaction.

Michelle cried out in anguish. In that instant her heart stopped, and she went on instinct alone. Recalling training she had received at the hospital, Michelle jumped from the bed, and with shaking hands, carefully flipped Toby over on his stomach, cradling his body with the use of her forearm. After a back blow, the blonde heard coughing and a warm rush of liquid trickled over her hand. Toby cried out in protest of his positioning and treatment. It was the sweetest sound the petite woman had ever heard.

Hot tears of relief replaced the ones of fear and pain. Needing to comfort them both, she moved backward until the bed hit her legs. Burrowing the infant against her chest, the blonde sat down and began to rock them both in hopes of restoring some kind of equilibrium. She hiccupped and her chest shook with painful sobs. "Oh God. Oh God, I'm so selfish. Almost lost you. I can't lose you." In a different kind of darkness that was more threatening than the emptiness she craved, Michelle saw the light. It reminded her of many things. This was worth existing for. This was worth fighting for. She glanced toward the mirror and whispered brokenly, "For you and for me. I have to remember that."

Toby quieted, and the blonde brought him down to her lap. She peered down at him, unable to take her eyes away. "I'll fight," Michelle murmured, but deep inside she knew that this wouldn't be the last struggle, the last contradiction, or the last temptation to escape. It was just the latest, but the incident was big enough to clear parts of her mind that had been cloudy before. The blonde got up pacing the room and trying to dry her eyes with the back of her hand.

Her mind replayed recent events. I didn't know I had that kind of violence in me. In a way, I think I was fighting back, but I'm so sorry Bobbi. You didn't deserve what you got. Neither did Toby. How can I be so selfish? Michelle stopped pacing, and she began to wonder where the doctor was. She remembered the blood. I hope you're okay.

Her concern galvanized her into action, but before she could move, the blonde glanced down at the feel of her hair being tugged. Blue green eyes met her jade ones. She leaned in, rubbing her cheek against downy like hair before placing a soft kiss on the child's forehead. He waved fist in the air. "I know, little guy. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I promise, and I'm so sorry. I lost sight for a little while." Michelle kissed him again and headed for the bedroom door. She had a friend to apologize to also.

Michelle saw drops of blood leading toward her bathroom. She peeked in to see a mess of bloody towels, a scattered first aid kit, and bandage wrappers. Pale brows drew together in concern when she found the kitchen empty also. Making her way into the living room, a muffled crash from the vicinity of upstairs, alerted her to the brunette's whereabouts. After gathering a head of steam, the blonde grabbed the baby carrier from behind the couch and made her way upstairs. "Please, let her be okay."


Cursing silently, Bobbi emptied box after box onto the carpeted floor. A persistent scowl that left her lip in a snarl and brows crinkled screwed with her beauty, making her look rakish.

The pile in front of her had slowly turned into a large collection of Spider Man and X-Men comics, sports paraphernalia, unframed pictures, and clothing. She ignored her curious, fury onlooker, who sat on his hind legs in the far corner of the room. "This is all I have of you," Bobbi muttered. "And you haunt me like you are living person. I know what I did and didn't do, and I hated myself a long time for it. I can't hate myself anymore! I just don't know how to go about doing it. Help me dammit! I tried so hard with you, Stevie, and you never gave me an inch. Give me one now! Do you hear me? Let me go, so that I can learn how to do the same. You, ma, and daddy, I have to face it all. I know that already."

There were no answers forthcoming. She ignored the pain in her shoulder and turned over another box. That woman downstairs has more courage in her little finger than I have in my whole body. I don't think I would be doing this if she weren't here. Thank God, that she is.

A brisk knock at the door silenced the brunette's thoughts. Michelle waited then knocked again. "B-bobbi? Are you okay?"

Silver blue eyes widened in surprise, and the scowl disappeared. I would have never thought that she-- "Um, yeah, come on in."

Getting a better grip on the carrier that was now occupied by the fidgety infant, Michelle pushed the door open. She gasped at what she saw. Bobbi stood tall but was coated from head to toe in dust. The shredded t-shirt hung off her shoulder, revealing olive toned skin covered by a bandage.

Green eyes were glued to the white bandage that was rapidly turning red. Finally, Michelle met the doctor's eyes. They were filled with anger, fear, and traces of pain. The blonde head hung as more shame piled on her shoulders. Am I responsible for the way she is right now? "Uhm, are y-you okay?" The blonde asked her shoes.

Compassion mingled with the cornucopia of feelings that were already present, as Bobbi saw the shyness and shame wrap around the blonde. "Yeah, just a scratch. Don't worry about it. Should have known better than to barge in like that. I heard you scream.  Are you okay? You looked so scared before. I've never seen..."

Michelle moved further into the room and glanced up at the brunette. "It's the dreams. Sometimes they're not so bad, but this one. . ." the blonde interrupted and shook her head in remembrance. "I'm sorry. All I--I saw was someone tall and dark heading toward me." See, Max I win this round. I have Toby, and Bobbi is still talking to me. I have them both. Taz nudged her leg, and she peered down at him. "I ran you away too, boy?"

He whined and rubbed his head against her pajama-clad leg. "I'm okay now, Taz."

Bobbi looked down at the mess she made, as if seeing if for the first time. She cringed at the sight. I can definitely relate to those flashbacks. "I can understand that. You just scared me is all. Um, it was that bad? Your dream I mean?"

"Yeah," Michelle replied softly. Jade eyes landed on her sock-covered feet again. "I'm not ready. . ." She took a breath. "I can't talk about it yet." The blonde swallowed hard as memories crawled through the back of her mind. I won't forget anything that happened in there today. I won't. Wanting and needing to change the subject, Michelle added, "Uh, were you. . . hiding from me?" I would have. I don't think friends treat each other that way. Her feet didn't answer, but the brunette did in the customary rich alto voice.

"No, I didn't come up here to hide that's for sure." She sighed feeling the steam the anger had caused dissipate. "I came in here to find something, I guess. This is my..."

"Your brother's stuff. I know. D--did you find what you were looking for?"

Bobbi let out a bitter laugh. "No, I guess I have a lot to face up to. There's so much and; so many feelings, but I think it was an accomplishment just coming in here and touching this stuff.   I couldn't do it before. Felt like a vampire being warned off by garlic or something. Physically, I just couldn't make it up here." Now, look at what you've done for me. "But since you've been here. . .I don't know. I could face it somehow. I've failed so many people, and it makes me angry sometimes, but I think this is the first time the anger helped me. "

Flustered, Michelle found her eyes on pale blue once more. "Are you saying that I..."

"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying."

Suddenly shy again, the blonde replied, "Oh." Wanting some insight into this woman, Michelle asked softly, "H--how did you fail them?"

Needing to take a load off, Bobbi sat on the old mattress behind her. It groaned as it took her weight. She lifted her undamaged arm and ran a quick hand through dusty, sable hair. I've never talked about this to anyone. Why do I feel that I'm able to now? Bobbi peered at the blonde in wonder. "I've never. . .are you sure you want to hear this?"

The blonde looked up and blinked. She did the only thing that she knew how to do, answer honestly. "I want to know about you, yes."

Bobbi smiled softly. "Can I know more about you too?"

Michelle hesitated. "I can do that."

The brunette's smile brightened a little then fell all together. She needed to do this. She wanted to do this. Maybe just maybe it would bring her one step closer to chasing down those demons because today she only looked one in the eye.

"I--I think I told you about the car wreck. Steve and mom were coming to see me?" Bobbi didn't wait for an answer. "They ended up being a part of a pile up on the highway. I worked in the ER at Cook County then, was a resident." Her voice was distant and far away. The doctor spoke the words, but it was as if she didn't want to own them. She paused and looked down at her hands, knowing now what they could and couldn't do. "They came to my hospital. The EMT wheeled them right past me, and they were a mess." Bobbi swallowed as feelings of guilt and shame filled her heart like old friends.

"I--I was starting to figure out by then that emergency medicine or surgery wasn't the way I wanted to go." She laughed without humor. "But, I guess I waited too late to make that decision. I froze. They needed me--the other doctors, Ma, Stevie. They needed me, and I could do nothing. I didn't want to fail them by not being able to help them. Ironic isn't it? I failed them any damn way." She laced her hands together and squeezed. "I let them die. I let a lot of people die." After a minute, Bobbi glanced up, expecting to see pity and a host of other things, but to her surprise, she saw confusion.

The blonde peered at the doctor for a long minute. Then, readjusted the baby carrier in her arms. She glanced inside to see fist and feet waving around the cooing baby. Satisfied that Toby was okay, Michelle looked back up at the brunette. She has so much on her shoulders, and she takes me into her house. Do I add to it? I don't know but I can understand the feelings she's having. I know them well. I just don't understand. . . Epiphany hit her as she remembered how Scully had accused Mulder of it once, concerning a case of a missing little girl. "You care too much."

Bobbi's shocked eyes met the blonde's. She had gotten in a few words what took her years to figure out. She cleared her throat before answering. "Yeah, it's a good trait in a country doc, but not in a surgeon, where the odds of patients living through complicated procedures are against them."

Pushing further without realizing it, Michelle asked, "Were the rest of the doctors not, uhm, good?"

Bobbi blinked, suddenly confused herself. "No, they were some of the best in the country. I think."

"Then, how can it be your fault? I don't think I understand. Maybe it was just their time."

Oh God, it can't be that simple. It is never that simple. "It's so much more complicated than that. They were my family. I loved them." Bobbi added a little impatiently.

Michelle's head dropped, and she murmured softly, "I guess that's what I don't understand. S-sorry." What must that be like? To feel that way about someone and have them feel that about you? "I guess I'm not being a very good listener."

Bobbi felt like a total heel. Aw, damn, B. Strike one. She wanted to reach out to the blonde, touch and reassure her, but knew it wouldn't be welcome. "Ah, Michelle, I'm sorry I wasn't thinking. I didn't mean it like that."

"‘S okay." The blonde whispered, getting rather acquainted with her feet.

Bobbi put the gentleness back in her voice. "Hey." She waited until the blonde looked up before continuing. "Thanks for listening. You're the first person I was able to tell about that. That says a lot about our friendship, I think."

Brightening a little, Michelle inquired, "Y--yeah? You think so? Did I help you any?"

Bobbi took a mental inventory of herself. The burden of guilt and shame weighted heavy on her shoulders like always, but the tight band it had around her heart had loosened. "Yeah, I think you did. It's nice to have somebody to talk to." She shrugged and hissed as the wound in her shoulder made itself known once again. The doctor glanced down at the bloody bandage. "Hey, why don't you follow me to my office? I need to fix this up a little better, and I could show you around if you like? I'll clean up this mess later."

"Um, okay, sure. Uh, can you look at Toby? He was choking earlier, and I just want to make sure that he's okay." The blonde's face flushed at remembered shame.

Dark brows drew together in concern. "Oh, why didn't you tell me earlier instead of letting me go on about my own problems?"

Because I wanted to. "Because. . .you needed a friend."

Bobbi stood up and moved toward the doorway. Michelle backed out and away. The doctor turned to the blonde as she cleared the door. "So do you, Michelle." Taz sat on his hind legs in the space between them as two pair of eyes met and held, exchanging emotions they were both familiar with. "Follow me, and we'll get the little man taken care of."

Michelle followed behind from a distance, with Taz trailing behind her. I never knew I needed anyone. Everybody always wanted so much from me, but I was used to asking for and getting nothing. I'd forgotten what it feels like to get anything until Toby, and now Bobbi. She's given me so much, and hasn't asked for anything except friendship. That, I think, I can learn to give. I'll try my best.

Green eyes looked around surprised as the exited the kitchen and ended up in a well-lit hallway with rooms on both sides. She had to ask. "Wha ...was this house bought this way?" Michelle could hear the throaty chuckle despite the distance between them.

"No, he had it built for my mom when they first got married. I guess that he thought having his practice so close would ensure him time with his family." Bobbi called out. Boy, that was one plan that didn't work. She thought wryly. "I added a few touches myself. Knocked out a wall or two to make things bigger. Always thought the waiting area was too small."

Michelle stopped dead in her tracks as fear assailed her. "Um, th--there's not going to be. . .  I mean no one is going to show up, right?" Her voice trembled.

Bobbi closed her eyes as she turned a familiar corner. God, I can't  imagine what a fear like that feels like. "No, it's just us. I'm open for emergencies only," she reassured the blonde softly. The stopped in front of a room marked one. "You three can go in here. I'm gonna go get my bag and wash my hands. I'll be right across the hall if you need me, okay?"

" ‘Kay."

Bobbi puttered around her office. She changed the bandage on her shoulder as quickly as possible, knowing she would look at it later. The doctor threw a gown over her clothes, but didn't bother to tie it at the back. Then, turning on the water and grabbing Dial anti-bacterial soap, she began to wash her hands.

Who woulda thought the day would start out like this? I shoulda figured her nightmares would get pretty bad. I wish I could get her to go out and maybe release some stress, but I know she can't be around other people right now. I wonder if can get her to at least go outside and play in the snow? Bet she never did that. Bobbi shrugged. "It's an idea. We both deserve a little stress reliever."


The doctor returned to room one to find the blonde woman, sitting in the chair across from the examination table with Taz laying at her feet. Bobbi resisted the urge to scratch her head. "Um, okay. How do you want to do this? You can lay him on the table or I can get him from you."

Michelle got up and headed toward the exam table.

"Lay him on the table, right." She took a breath. "So, you wanna tell me what happened? Oh, and just to let you know, I'm gonna have to unbutton his Onesie to give him the once over."

With her back to the blonde, Bobbi waited long minutes for a reply or comment. None was forthcoming. She looked over her shoulder to see, the blonde woman standing primly with hands clasped in front of her and head down. The brunette scooped the child up and turned to face her friend. "Hold on, Peanut." She whispered to the little boy, who gurgled back. "Michelle, you okay?" The other woman looked up, and Bobbi was able to see the disgrace and fear that covered her reddened face.

Shame cut through her like a forest fire. I can't afford to be selfish, but that what I was. How could I be when he's given me so much? "I--It's my fault. I wasn't paying attention when I was. . .feeding him. I-I did that maneuver they taught me in the hospital."

Bobbi looked on confused. "Well that's good. I'll look for bruising on his back too just to make sure that---"

A sob left Michelle's throat before she could stop it. "Oh, God! Am I just going to keep hurting him?"

Bobbi went on full alert. "Whoa, let's go back here. What did you mean by that?"

The truth used to be Michelle's only ally. She didn't dare betray it now. "The dreams. H--he won't leave me alone. He says and does horrible things. Sometimes there's so much blood. I thought I could deal with it, but I really just want to hide. I just want to go inside and disappear. I--I wanted to today, and Toby. . .Oh God!" Michelle covered her face with small hands and began to cry in earnest. Taz, whining in concern, stood up and moved toward his mistress.

Bobbi's heart broke in two. She wanted to wrap her arms around the blonde. It was out of the question, so pale blue had to tell the story. With compassion, understanding and friendship shining in pale eyes, the doctor called the blonde's name. " ‘Chelle, listen to me. Everything is okay. You did what you had to do. . . what you knew how to do."

Hands left the blonde's face to reveal, tear streaked eyes. "But, Toby. . .what I did was so selfish!"

"He's fine. He'll be fine."

Michelle peered into eyes that held soft emotions that she didn't recognize. All she knew was that it made her want to believe. "But, what about next time?"

"Next time you come to me. Stand in my bedroom doorway if you have to. I don't care if I'm sleep or what. Come to me, and tell me about it if you can. If you can't, we'll talk about whatever you want. You can bring Toby and Taz too.'

Michelle gave the brunette a look of incredulity. "B--but, you're a doctor you need to sleep--"

Bobbi held up a hand and shrugged her shoulders, ignoring the slight pain. "I'm a very light sleeper. ‘Sides, like I said before, you need a friend, and I'm glad to be one."

Still reluctant, the blonde added, "But, I can't do that for you yet. . ." Her voice trailed off.

"You do what you can." The doctor said softly. "It'll be enough."

"Are you s--sure?"

The brunette raised a dark brow. "I try not to say things that I don't mean, but yeah, I'm sure." They were silent for a long while, and Bobbi tried to reassure her through eyes she hoped glowed with sincerity. The blonde acquiesced with a nod and a soft ‘okay'.  The doctor gave her friend a gentle smile. "Now, scoot that chair as close as you can so I can look over Little Man here." They both looked down at Toby, who cooed and chewed on his fist in response to being talked about.

After giving Toby a clean bill of health, Bobbi took care of her own wound, taping it up with a better bandage. She gave the blonde a short tour of the office. They went from room to room. They passed a door without opening it. Curious, Michelle spoke up. "Um, what's in there?"

Bobbi stopped and turned toward the blonde, as they were about to enter the waiting room. "It's my dad's office. Maybe one day I'll be able to go in there too."

Not knowing what else to say at the moment, Michelle reaffirmed her grip on the baby before muttering, "Oh." They moved on into the waiting room.

Bobbi raised her arms and twirled around in the center of the waiting room. "Okay, this is it. Taz had the grand tour a while back. It's small, I know, and I'm not filthy rich or anything. But, I like what I'm doing now."

"Um, it feels just like I'm in another part of the house, except for the equipment. It's cozy," Michelle added as she continued to scan the large room. She glanced toward the desk. "You have someone else working with you?"

Bobbi shook her head. "I had a nurse/receptionist, but she moved. I put an ad in the paper, but I probably won't get any response until the weather clears up a little." A light bulb went on in her head. "Or the job is yours when you're ready. It'll help pay that twenty dollar rent we agreed to without tearing into the money you have just in case."

"Oh, I--I don't know. I worked at a shoe store back in Pine River. I don't know if I want to work with people in that way again. I--I think I would like to work at a library though and be around all those books that I can read now. Um, I thought it was thirty five?"

Bobbi chuckled. "Just making sure you were paying attention. A library huh? Well, whatever you decide; just let me know." The brunette clapped her hands together. "Well, let me go get cleaned up. It's my turn with breakfast." She led them back toward the kitchen. Before getting there, the brunette turned slightly. "So you're from Pine River? I was kinda wondering."

"Yeah, I'm from there." Michelle paused. "But, I'm never going back again."

Bobbi nodded. "Good for you." Good for all of us. As an afterthought, she interjected, "say, how about after breakfast we take a trip outside? Plenty of snow out there, and there is a lot we can do with it."

Michelle paused at the entrance to the kitchen, and murmured, "There is? Um, like what?"

"Oh. . . like snow angels. Ever make'em?"


"Okay, how about we leave the glass door open with the bassinet beside it. He should be asleep by then, and Taz can watch him for a few minutes. I know you won't want to leave him for long after what happened, but we. . ."

Chapter 16

Kevin ejected the Marilyn Manson CD and threw it at his friend. "Man, how can ya listen to that crap. That guy is scary!"

"He's not! All the pins he had in his face were just a trick in the video!" Cam answered.

"Unh-huh, you believe that then. But, I tell ya that guy is too freaky for me. I don't want it playin in my dad's truck. Might curse it or somethin. Ya ever listen to some of that music backward. Real heinous stuff!"

"Duh! You can't listen to a CD backward a-hole. ‘Sides, he's got a great voice. It's all gravely. Gives you shivers, man."

For a minute, Kevin listened to the screech of the shovel attachment as it was dragged over the road. After he turned the corner safely, the teen glared at his friend then swung at the top of his head with an open hand. "Sometimes you're just so damned weird, Cam. I don't know why I hang out with you." He paused. "So you think we'll find anything this time?'

Cam shrugged. "Don't know. Told ya we shoulda brought the metal detector!"

"Oh well. Hey, look we're on Doc B's block. Let's stop by and see if she needs some work done. She always pays the most."

Cam nodded. "Yah, cool. I need some paper!"

Confused, Kevin gave his friend a look. "Whatcha talkin' ‘bout? I borrowed paper from you when we were in school last. You've got plenty!"

"Ah, geez Kev, get with the times. I meant money! Paper means money."

"Where did ya hear that from?"

"Saw it on a rap video on MTV."

Kevin swung at his friend's head again. "Weirdo."


Michelle giggled as she flailed her arms and legs about in the snow. She felt like a kid who had discovered a secret toy. It was a freeing sensation when weeks ago she could barely stand the sight of the whiteness. They had both bundled up tight in coats, hats, and gloves after a breakfast of cheese omelets and hash browns. Now, they both lay in the snow, laughing like school children.

"I like this!" Michelle called out to her friend who lay a few feet away.

"I'm glad! I thought you would. I haven't done anything like this since I was little. Feels good, huh?!" Bobbi called back.

"Yeah, but will they really look like angels when we get through?!"

"Don't know. We'll just have to see when we finish in a minute. Then, we'll just practice until they're perfect!"

This is what being a kid felt like? I missed so much, and I can't begin to thank her for showing me. "Thank you so much!" Her voice was shaky with emotion.

"You're very welcome, ‘Chelle! What are friends for?"

" ‘Chelle, I like that!"

Bobbi chuckled. "Then ‘Chelle it is. You can call me B if you want!" She laughed again as years and the weight of her burden lightened. "Hey! Let's see what they look like!"

They both rose slowly, knocking away snow from the backs of thick, well-insulated coats. They turned and peered down at the misplaced snow, then turned to each other. Bobbi raised a brow. "Um, I guess we keep practicing?"

"So they're not ‘pose to look like that?" Michelle pointed toward the ground.

"Um, that would be no."

Michelle laughed. "Oh." Moving around through the thick snow, she found a clean spot not far away. She lined herself up the way Bobbi showed her and let herself fall backwards into the white fluffiness, trusting it not to hurt her anymore.

Kevin pulled up in front of the doctor's house. He glanced out the driver side window and saw two figures, one in white the other in green, rise up out of the snow. He turned to his friend and grabbed him by the shoulder. Cam leaned forward and looked then snorted. "And you call me weird."


They all sat around the kitchen table as if plotting like an evil conglomerate. All of them except, Beatrice, she leaned against the sink, staying out of the way. She knew her husband wanted it that way. I don't want any part in this. Except to help her. It's better this way.

"Bea! Get your tired butt over here and pour this woman a drink!"

Marsha watched the shaking hands from under hooded blue eyes. Maybe when that daughter of mine gets back, she can take a few lessons from this one here on how a woman should act. Hard for me to teach her I guess without a man around.

Max Sr. smacked his son on the back, almost knocking him out his chair. He was on his fifth scotch. It wouldn't be hard. Max Jr. gulped down his sixth, and grunted as it burned his gut. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to be anywhere, but it was what his father wanted. Max knew that this wasn't a time to try and defy him. He had fallen in his father's eyes long ago, and recently, he fell a few more steps. Michelle was the only way he could reclaim his station. So despite the new urges of defiance, Max wiped dark curls out of his face, sat quietly, and listened. This won't take forever Michelle. Enjoy it while you can. ‘Cause if I have to live like this, so do you. Jr. cleared his throat. "So what's the new update, dad?"

"Well, boy." He paused to suck down a drink. "Since the cops ain't helpin none. Maybe it's time we went to the media and put our own spin on things." Looks passed between the three of them. Beatrice's grip on the sink became of the white knuckled variety as she searched her brain for ideas on how to help the young woman as much as she could.

Chapter 17

Bobbi reached for the offered hand but stared at the appendage in confusion and joy. It was so much more than she had gotten before. There were no accusations and no attempts to hurt. Her own pale blue peered into his, and Bobbi whispered his name reverently, "Stevie."

He stepped closer, giving the doctor an unobstructed view of his face. For the first time there was forgiveness and absolution, and Bobbi wanted so much to touch it, cradle it against her, and wallow in it. She stepped forward and immediately noticed that the distance between them increased. Bobbi stretched her arm out, feeling panic take over. She was so close, so close. The doctor blinked, and he was gone.

Back in her own reality that consisted of a messy room with a queen size bed in the middle, Bobbi sat up ramrod straight in the bed, shaking shaggy bangs out of her eyes. She sucked in breath and pulled back the hand that was reaching for air. The brunette let out a pained sigh and wiped her damp brow with a forearm. She shook her head, displacing strands of black silk and smoothed a hand over the pale blue t-shirt that clung to her chest. "Am I that close or was that some cruel joke? Is it something I just wanted to see? He reached out to me, wanted to forgive me."

Bobbi pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes in an attempt to recapture the dream, but it was gone. She blinked into the dimness of the room and sighed again in exasperation. Suddenly, the hair on the back of her neck tingled, making cautious eyes scan the room. Pale blue stopped at the two dim figures outlined in the doorway. Bobbi was instantly alert. "Chelle? You okay?"

The figures moved forward, prompting Bobbi to reach over and snap on a bedside lamp. She turned back to see a mixture of curiosity and worry mingling in green eyes. Clad in her green paisley pajamas, Michelle hoisted Toby up further on her shoulder and peered at her friend warily. "I'm fine. Um, we were watching "The Golden Girls", and I thought I heard you cry out. Are y-you okay?"

Bobbi's insides warmed. Someone's  worried about me. I haven't had that in a long, long time. Hesitantly, she asked, "Uhm, you came in here for me?"

Michelle nodded and smiled softly, making the warmth billowing through the brunette increase tenfold. Feeling totally unlike herself, Bobbi's eyes fell to hands that were fidgeting with blankets. It's so nice to feel again, but I still have so much to get used to.

Misunderstanding her friend's silence, Michelle stepped in closer. It was all the cue Taz needed. He wuffed quietly and padded over to the bed to get a closer look. "Bobbi, are you sure you're okay?"

She didn't answer. The silver-blue gaze met the Husky's darker one. Taz whined and put his two front paws on the edge of the bed. Unable to resist, Bobbi smiled and scratched him behind the ears. She glanced up at Michelle and murmured, "Didn't mean to worry you. Just had this weird dream. It wasn't like the others. It was almost normal."

I don't think I've ever had a normal dream. I think it would throw me off too. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Their gazes met, unwaveringly, but Bobbi was the first to look away. I can't  burden her with this. She said herself that she may not be ready for this. Not knowing what else to do, the brunette changed the subject. "How's Peanut this morning? Still no ill effects from last week?" Bobbi asked, finding the blanket and Taz more interesting.

Admittedly, Michelle knew little of actual human nature, but the blonde knew enough to recognize subterfuge. She looked down at the baby, who gnawed his fist contentedly, then searched for the azure gaze. Michelle didn't find it, but she answered anyway. "He's fine." She paused and added softly, "Bobbi, talk to me." The words felt right as if she had said them a million times before. Everything about this house and the person who lives in it is starting to feel right.

The dark head jerked up in surprise. The warmth returned. "Are you sure?"

Michelle only continued to stare as she thought silently, 'As sure as I can be.'

Bobbi swallowed and threw the covers off her, revealing white Nike shorts. She turned in the bed and crossed her legs Indian style. The doctor glanced at the empty space beside her. If Michelle wasn't the person she was, the brunette wondered if she would pat the space on the bed, beckoning for her to come closer. She dismissed the thought and caught the green gaze.

"I-it's kinda hard to explain, I guess." She stopped and looked down at her hands that were fiddling with the drawstring of the shorts. Gathering her thoughts, Bobbi glanced back up again. "Have you ever been so close to something and reached out for it only to find out that you can't quite touch it?"

Michelle responded by canting her head to the side and displaying a soft smile.

Bobbi bit her lip and nodded. "Oh. Um, since you've been here, I've faced up to a lot of things and asked myself a lot of questions. I don't know, but this morning I felt that the answers were right in front of me. Either I'm not seeing them or I can't grasp them as of yet. You know what I mean?" The brunette searched jade eyes for understanding. She found it.

Michelle shifted Toby to the other shoulder and spoke without hesitation. "I do know what you mean, but it's all new to me. I didn't start feeling that way until I was getting ready to leave Max, and now, it's become an everyday thing. I guess it's because I'm finding out who I am."

Dark brows drew together in concentration. "Maybe I am too. For a long time, I thought of myself as a failure, and everywhere I turned and everything I did proved it. I still feel the guilt, but somehow everything isn't as heavy as it used to be." Bobbi hesitated.

"Um. . .Stevie came to me this morning, and for the first time he looked like he understood it all. He understood that I was just trying to help when he was little, and he understood that I just couldn't be part of any more death. I saw it in his eyes. He reached out to me, but when I tried to meet him, he faded away." The brunette scratched her head. "I really don't understand what that means. I may have been seeing what I wanted to see." Their gazes continued to hold, and Bobbi hoped that hers wasn't pleading for answers that she was unable to find herself.

Suddenly realizing that a couple of months before she would have shied away from her own shadow, Michelle felt strong enough, confident enough to look into someone else's emotions. It was a battle she had won sometime ago. I win this round too, Max.

"Sometimes. . ." she paused and swallowed, "Sometimes, I get so angry with myself for believing all the lies momma and Max told me. It's hard to forgive myself for what I am. . .was, but everyday that I'm away from them it happens a little piece at a time. I hope someday that I'll wake up and there'll be nothing more to forgive." Suddenly shy, Michelle shrugged and looked down at her feet. "Um, maybe you're sort of like me. You can't reach him because you're not able to forgive or look deep inside yourself yet."

Bobbi was stunned to silence. She peered at the top of the blonde's head then found herself doing the same with Taz. He stared back and lolled his tongue in a doggie smile as if to say, "I told you so." She has so much inside her eager to get out. I can't wait to see it. I want to be a part of it. "You are a very wise woman, Chelle," Bobbi whispered.

The blonde looked up with eyes wide with surprise and disbelief. She began to shake her head immediately. "N--no, no, I'm not--"

With a gentle smile, Bobbi nodded her head in the affirmative. "Yeah, you are. Remember, I try not to say things that I don't mean, and I can honesty say that you could be right. It makes sense. A lot is starting to make sense these days."

A silence lapsed between them, a comfortable one. Eyes scanned the room before they met again. Bobbi was the first to break the quiet. "What are you doing up so early, anyway?" she asked softly.

Michelle blinked and shuffled her feed in shyness. "Um, Toby woke up hungry, and he wouldn't go back to sleep. We came out here for a little while. That's when I heard you, and um, I thought you might need someone. . ." Her sentence broke off.

Bobbi felt a nudge on her leg. Knowing it was Taz, she ignored it and kept her attention on the blonde. "You were right. I did. You didn't have a . . ."

Michelle looked on in confusion before realization dawned. "Oh, I think I did because I was sweating when I woke up. I don't remember it though. Sometimes I don't and that's a blessing I s'pose."

"Yeah, it can be." I don't wanna go back to sleep, and I sure as hell don't want to be alone right now. "Uh, do you mind if I watch TV with you?" Bobbi asked hopefully.

"I--I think "The Golden Girls" went off some time ago."

Deciding to push a little, Bobbi added, "That's okay. I'm sure we can find something on."

Maybe it would be nice. "Okay, we can do that."

Elated, Bobbi hesitated a moment before rising. After adjusting her shirt and shorts, she stood tall and waited for the petite blonde to exit before her. The doctor felt Taz brush against her, but looked down this time. Glancing back up, blue met green from the same spot as before.

Confusion spread across Michelle's face. "Um, are you coming?"

Bobbi nodded and stepped forward cautiously. Nervously, she pushed hands deep into short pockets and played with the lint there. "Uh, yeah. . .but I was just trying to. . .um wait and give you space." She gave the blonde a sheepish expression from under dark lashes.

Realization dawned. I almost felt normal. For a minute, he was completely gone. Soon, he will be. "Oh. . .um, okay." Michelle moved away, out into the hall and back into the living room. Bobbi smoothed a hand over sleep-tousled hair and followed.

From the open blinds of the window, the flaring reds and oranges of the early morning met them. Bobbi found a place to sit on the floor in front of the table. Taz joined her. She turned to look behind her, waiting for the blonde to get settled. Their eyes met, and the brunette exhibited a soft smile. "It's a beautiful morning. Too bad I have to work today or I would take you out in the snow."

Having found a comfortable space laying back against the arm of the couch with the baby in her lap, Michelle felt her face light-up with anticipation. "Um, can we still? When you close up?"

Bobbi nodded and smiled full out. "Sure, I'll probably only have a few walk-ins anyway since there's still so much snow." The brunette stopped and looked down at her growling stomach. "I'm gonna go grab some cereal and feed the furry monster here. Do you want some?"

Michelle nodded and watched them go. She peered down into blue-green eyes. "I've learned and done so much already. I can't wait to show you, to teach you." She brushed away dark blonde locks and leaned in to kiss Toby's forehead. You can never take this away from me, Max.

A minute later, Bobbi returned alone, balancing bowls of cereal in her hand. She set one down near the blonde as she passed the table. "Some Fruity Pebbles for you." The brunette set her own bowl on the table and sat down facing her friend, maneuvering long, lithe legs under the table. Bobbi picked up the spoon and dug in. She glanced up to see Michelle doing the same.

The blonde took one bite and chewed carefully. Her nose crinkled in disgust. Bobbi raised a brow in surprise. "What? You don't like it?"

Michelle stuck out her tongue, making a face. "Tastes like a mouth full of sugar."

The doctor chuckled. "Well, that's what it is."

"Oh, you like this stuff?"

"On occasion. Guess there's a kid in me somewhere. Say, next time I go grocery shopping, if you're not able to go, I'll just get a variety of cereal. You can see which one you like."

"I don't want to--"

Bobbi held her hand up in interruption, "And it's not an imposition. I know that's what you were going to say."

Michelle gave her companion a soft smile through the flush she could feel shooting up her neck. "Um, okay. I'll go ahead and finish this."

Bobbi finished her own breakfast and reached for the remote. "I'm pretty sure I can find something on that you'll enjoy." The brunette flipped to the TV guide channel and smiled inwardly when she saw that "Facts of Life" was on TV Land. She turned slightly toward the blonde. "Oh you'll love this. I used to watch it when I was a kid. It's a funny show."

After a few minutes of silence, they were both laughing at Tootie's antics.


With hands behind her head and feet up on the receptionist's desk, Bobbi leaned back in the leather chair as far as it could go. She sighed in irritation and pulled the long black ponytail out of the collar of her lab coat for the umpteenth time. Taking a quick glance at her watch, the doctor muttered to herself in exasperation. "One patient, and time's ass is crawling. It's barely time to break for lunch." She sat up and reached forward to rub at a black scuffmark on the white Reeboks. They went well with the faded jeans and white sweater that she was wearing.

Moving back to her former position, Bobbi stared indignantly at the silent phone. Finally, she threw her hands up. "My mind isn't into it anyway. Rather be playing in the snow." She stopped abruptly. Boy, that sounded weird, but I liked it. It's nice to relive old times again, but they aren't really. I guess I'm making all new memories.

"Maybe I could fix us an early lunch, and we could go outside for a while. Taz can sit at the door and watch over Toby. I'm sure he'll let us know if something is wrong." Having convinced herself, Bobbi clapped her hands and got ready to stand up when a figure coming up the shoveled sidewalk caught her eye. She groaned. "That would happen."

As the figure got closer, Bobbi recognized it as a woman, a woman she knew religiously. She groaned again. "Yeah, this would definitely happen." As the woman entered, Bobbi resisted the urge to display a fake smile and an even more fake greeting. She simply looked up at the tall, svelte redhead and nodded in recognition before muttering, "Shelia."

Shelia smiled, transforming the peaches and cream complexion to dazzling. Bobbi didn't blink an eye. Propping her chin up on a raised hand, the doctor simply said, "What's the problem?"

The redhead's smile turned into a smirk, "Still the same old B. So communicative."

Bobbi cursed inwardly, realizing what she was doing. I'm not her anymore. Dark features lightened somewhat, and the brunette sat up straight in her chair. "Sorry, just been a boring day so far."

Rich brown eyes widened in surprise. "Wait a minute. Where did you go?"

Bobbi found herself chuckling warmly. "I'm still right here where you left me."

Dark eyes narrowed but snapped jovially. "Mm, oookay. If you say so." The smile returned, rounding out narrow cheekbones and lifting the point of her chin.

"I say so. Tell me, what brings you here? You okay?"

Shelia frowned slightly and pulled on her ear, making the coat of her gray pantsuit lift lightly under the white wool overcoat. "Don't know. Was in town visiting my aunt. Got caught in the snow, and to make it worse my ear has been killing me for the past three days."

Bobbi stood up and adjusted the stethoscope around her neck. "Well, let's go get you checked out and get you back to Minneapolis."

Auburn brows raised. "Trying to get rid of me already? I thought we parted as friends?"

The brunette crossed her arms over her chest and smiled ruefully. "No, we didn't. I didn't have friends. You knew that."

Shelia nodded slowly and pulled on her ear again. "Yeah, I guess I did know that much about you." She took a step forward. "What about now? I'm involved with someone right now, and I'm trying to get back here regularly to visit Aunt Fanny. It'll be nice to have someone to hang out with."

Momentarily, blue peered into brown before meeting the white of scattered papers on the desk. Friends. That whole damned concept has been foreign to me for so long, and now so much has changed. Have things changed enough for me to let someone else in? Maybe it has. It's worth a try. If it wasn't for Michelle. . .  She glanced upward meeting the other woman's eyes again and saw only sincerity in them. In the time that they knew each other, the redhead never lied, never manipulated. In fact, she had been one to reach out despite knowing that the brunette couldn't reach back.

"I think we can do that. Come on, let's go get you checked out for now."

When Bobbi finished the examination, she concluded that the redhead did indeed have an ear infection and accepted an invitation to Aunt Fanny's for dinner in order for them to play catch up.

Now, sitting on the vacated examination table, Bobbi blinked in utter fascination. "My God, I really have changed. Maybe I looked inside myself a little today."


After bathing Toby and taking a shower, Michelle, dressed in a pair of pink sweatpants and white t-shirt. She found herself in the den, in front of the computer. She pulled the bassinet closer and peered inside at the sleeping baby. Feeling soft fur against her bare feet, the blonde rubbed Taz absently with her foot, which gave her a modicum of comfort.

Michelle turned back toward the computer monitor and gripped the sides of the desk in a white knuckled grasp. What made me do this? I wanted to know. I wanted to know if I could really forgive myself. I want to understand why I stayed so long, why I accepted it, and why I lived it.

With  a shaky hand, she nervously scrolled down the page. With wide eyes, Michelle read about the ongoing cycle of abuse against women; that every minute another woman was assaulted by someone she knew, how hundreds were murdered by their spouses, that some of the women even ended up killing their abusers. Michelle discovered how very few women actually ever left their abusive situations.

Small hands shook terribly, but Michelle continued to read until the end of the page.] She sobbed and covered her face with her hands. I got out. I was one who got out. I have to survive, learn to forgive, and break the cycle. She wiped at her eyes. I've changed so much. I know it, and I can feel it. Maybe I've already started to break the cycle. Her thoughts went to Bobbi. Maybe she's one of the reasons why.

Michelle sat on the edge of the couch with remote control in hand, flipping through channels like an expert surfer.  She took a minute and peered over at the bassinet, seeing the sleeping child,  knowing he would be up any minute. That knowledge did not take away the feelings coursing through the blonde. For the first time Michelle could remember, she was bursting with anticipation because of Bobbi's impending return.

In the In the den earlier, it all became clear to Michelle. I know now. I finally know what good is. I've been dancing with the devil for so long that I'd gotten used to it. I couldn't see anything else. Now, I know the difference. Bobbi helped me see that. I needed to see it just to make the little progress that I have since being here. I need the good, and I need a friend like Bobbi in my life. I want to make sure that she knows that. Michelle glanced down at the Husky near her feet. Taz looked up as if he could hear her thoughts. "How do I let her know, Boy?"


She gave him a grin of gratitude. "Maybe I should just play it by ear."

Giddy with this new feeling, Michelle stared at the TV screen without actually seeing it. Stocking feet tapped nervously, and she switched the remote from one sweaty hand to the other . A small, unfamiliar smile played at the corner of her lips, making her nose crinkle, and she blew at blonde bangs, causing them to flutter. It all felt very new, but good. It was as though she had acquired something that no one could take away. It was a heady feeling. I survived it all to get to this. Thank goodness I got this far. The sound of a door closing in the kitchen made the blonde sit up a little straighter.

Sans lab coat, Bobbi made her way into the kitchen. She stopped at the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Poland Springs water. She unscrewed the cap and took a swig. Stopping in the middle of the kitchen, the doctor took a deep breath. I have to admit that I've been looking forward to this all day. She makes me feel like a kid again. I get to experience life for a second time. With a soft smile on her face, Bobbi made her way into the living room.

Michelle heard the soft footfalls. At first, she craned her neck. Finding it uncomfortable, the blonde turned to the side as the brunette made her entrance. Their gazes met, and pale blue widened in surprise upon seeing the undisguised warmth displayed by the smile and glow of forest green. Something's changed.

"H--Hi. Did you close the office already?"

"Yeah, it was pretty slow. Only had two patients, and I didn't want to sit there all day twiddling my thumbs." Thrusting her hands into her jean pockets, Bobbi moved a step closer. "Um, you okay? You seem. . .I don't know..."

"Just been doing some thinking is all."

Dark brows drew together in worry, causing a wrinkle in her forehead. "Oh, hope it wasn't anything bad."

Michelle shook her head, unsettling blonde strands. "No, not all of it. I just wanted to say . . . thank you." Despite feeling the blush of embarrassment and shyness, the blonde was determined to hold the pale gaze.

Bobbi felt her hands nervously clench into fists. "For what?" She asked with a voice laced with confusion.

The blonde searched her mind for the proper words and only came up with one. "For everything." She paused. "Especially your friendship. I think I just realized how much it means to me and how much it has changed me. I've learned so much."

Floored and flooded with warmth by the admission, Bobbi replied with the ever  ungraceful, "Oh." The temptation to look down at her white Reeboks was too great, and Bobbi peered down at her shuffling feet. A spark of happiness bubbled up inside. It was the affirmation she had been waiting for. The doctor glanced back up to meet unwavering green. "Um, so I'm doing it right?" Bobbi chuckled at the perplexed look on the blonde's face.

"There's a right or wrong way?"

The brunette bit her lip but continued to smile slightly. "Don't know. S'pose you don't either?"

"No, I don't." Michelle shrugged and switched the remote to the other hand for the umpteenth time.

"Guess we're learning together then, huh?" Bobbi took her hands from her pockets and rubbed them on the top of her thighs. I can't wait to see what's next.

"I guess so."

The sudden sound of a low growl made them both look down. Bobbi raised her hand sheepishly, while rubbing her stomach with the other. "Um, that was mine. Lunch?"

Smiling slightly, Michelle nodded and murmured, "Sandwiches?"

A sable brow raised. "Hey! How did--" She's getting to know me. "Mustard instead of mayo, the last Dr. Pepper and chips, right?"

The blonde nodded with the smile getting a little bigger.

"Good. It'll be quick and we can get out there and get back in before the little guy wakes up." Bobbi turned to go, but a nudge against her leg stopped her. She glanced down to see dark blue eyes peering up at her. Damn, almost forgot you were here. With a look of chagrin, the doctor mumbled. "Oh, sorry, Boy. Forgot about you. Let's get you some lunch too."

Taz licked his chops and wuffed quietly, as he followed the brunette into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, in what had become a ritual for them during most meals, they sat watching TV in the living room --one on the couch and the other on the floor a few feet away.

Once outside, Michelle pulled the scarf up to her face to ward off the chilly air. Trudging and crunching through the snow in the yard, she spied the snow angels they had made a few days before. The sight brought a smile to her face. Michelle looked out at the cleared roads and sidewalks, along with the other houses that still had snow caked to the windows as well as their yards. Everything seemed so simple, and the past seemed so far away, blighted by the pleasantries of the present. There's some places where even your poison won't touch, Momma, and even you can't spoil this, Max. Not right now, not today. I'm a survivor. That knowledge alone made her feel a little more free.

The blonde watched as the doctor sloshed her way to the middle of the yard with her back to her. For the first time, Michelle felt a mischievous presence settle itself around her before landing squarely on her shoulders. With childlike wonder, she allowed the feeling to blossom. Giggles bubbled up from somewhere deep inside and threatened to spill out. Her heart soared with a different type of freedom-- that of a child. A playful thought formed in the blonde's head as she looked from her gloved hands down to the snow.  Bending down quietly, she gathered a handful of snow and packed it like she had seen other kids do so long ago.

Letting her scarf stay around her neck, Bobbi leaned her head back and took in a lung full of the frigid air. It was clean, crisp, and shot renewed life through her body. This is what I need. Everything seems so new to me now. All I needed was a fresh perspective on things, on life, and now that I have it, I'll be damned if I squander it. We'll both get to experience what we missed. Coming out of her reverie, Bobbi clapped her hands together in anticipation as she turned around. "How about doing something diffe--"

A wet, cold, and rather crunchy snowball hit her squarely in the face, and the sound of lilting laughter greeted her ears. Stunned and blinking the snow out of her eyes, Bobbi stared into jade green that twinkled with merriment and wonder. She did not just do what I think she did! Looks like she enjoyed it too. The doctor spit out a bit of leaf and completed her sentence. "rent." Pale blue eyes darkened with challenge and her blood fired with the prospect of fun and competition. She gave the blonde a slow, feral grin. "I'll take that as a challenge."

Michelle pulled the scarf away from her face and gave the brunette a genuine smile. Her face was awash with the cold and excitement. This is what you took away from me, Momma. I'm taking it back piece by piece. She didn't know what had possessed her but it flooded her system now. "Um, yeah, I guess it is," Michelle responded happily.

Bobbi pursed her lips in thought. "First one to take the other down, wins."

Almost bursting with newfound joy, Michelle resisted the urge to clap and prance. "Deal," she murmured.

Moving as quickly as possible, Bobbi squatted and prepared to make her own snowballs. Her hands had barely dug in the snow before another one nicked her right shoulder. The doctor glanced up to see the blonde covering her mouth with gloved hands in an attempt to stop the squeals of laughter. I've never seen her like this before, but it's so refreshing. Something really has changed.

The blonde's excitement suffused Bobbi. A syrupy warmth invaded, leaving her giddy and pumped with adrenaline. "You'd better run now!" She called out as she launched her first counterattack. Quick on her feet despite the snow, Michelle zigzagged around some of the doctor's best tosses, while her own seemed to connect time after time. The front yard was alive with the sound of laughter and squeals, causing some to peek out their windows and doors. They were ignored. by the two playful women.

Out of breath from laughing, and freezing from the neck up, Bobbi's last toss brought her to her knees. She let out a final chuckle as Michelle's snowball got[caught OR hit]the side of her head, filtering snow in her ear despite her hood. Totally breathless and flushed with happiness, the doctor fell backward into the snow. She let out a contented breath and peered up into the blue sky, riddled with puffy gray and white clouds. A smile split her cheeks. Her thoughts and her attention turned inward. Ugh, beaten by a novice. You would love her Stevie. She's so full of spirit despite it all, and she's giving me mine back. I'll be able to face you and let you and mom go soon.

Michelle waited patiently for the doctor's lanky form to pop back up. When she didn't, the blonde took a step forward and called out, "B?" There was no answer. "Bobbi?" The blonde called out the doctor's name a couple more times before concern grasped her. I didn't hit her that hard, did I? Maybe the cold got to her.

Worry spurred the petite woman into action, she took several more steps forward. As Michelle got closer, panic set in. She began to wring gloved hands as her heart beat loud and hard against her ribcage. Breath, harsh and raspy, whistled in her ears and chest, and the blonde could feel drops of sweat both on her upper lip and down her back, despite the cold. With growing trepidation, she took another step forward anyway, putting her less than two feet away from the brunette. It was the closest she had been to another adult human being in months and that fact alone left her trembling with fear of the unknown. It's just Bobbi. I know now that she would never hurt me. I can do this. She may need me.

Giving one last ditch effort, Michelle opened her mouth to call out the doctor's name one last time--only a shaky croak came out. She gritted her teeth in disappointment. Green eyes closed, and Michelle called up the image in the mirror. She reached for it, drawing strength and confidence from deep within. Her eyes opened slowly and cautiously but without hesitation, the blonde squatted near her friend's prone form. With a single gloved hand, she reached out and touched a thigh, at the same time whispering the brunette's name.

The heat from the doctor's body suffused her hand even through the glove, making her want to snatch it away, but Michelle held fast. Her over active senses calmed, and forest green eyes traveled up the taller woman's body until she connected with surprised azure.

Startled, Bobbi jerked up quickly. She peered from the small hand on her body to the scared but resigned eyes staring back at her. Her mouth opened and closed several times before a dumbfounded, "huh" left her lips. It only took a second to compose herself, but Bobbi continued to stare at the hand, knowing what it meant, knowing that some obstacle had been hurdled; and, she was in the middle of it all. Reading the fear in the blonde's eyes before, the doctor wanted to engulf the appendage in her own until the look went away but thought better of it. One wall at a time. "Um, ‘Chelle? Are you okay?"

Michelle blinked and croaked out in a harsh whisper, "Was worried. I--I called you, but you didn't answer."

Bobbi dug a gloved hand into the snow. She was worried about me."Sorry. I was in my own little world." The brunette swallowed and decided to push things out into the open. "You're touching me."

Michelle glanced down at her hand. Insecurity assailed her. "I--is that okay?" She asked shyly.

Bobbi nodded, "If it is with you. Don't be scared. It's okay," she added softly. The brunette tried to reassure her with pale eyes and a warbling smile. It didn't feel like it was enough, so the doctor decided then and there to push the envelope, hoping it wouldn't burn up in her hands. "Um, can I try to touch you?" Her voice, just on the other side of velvet was gentle, soothing as if trying to calm a jittery or frightened child. Eyes on the verge of panic stared back at her. "Shh, it's okay. I won't hurt you. You know that, right?"

Michelle swallowed hard and nodded. "I k--know, but it's just that they were always hitting me. I don't remember anyone just touching me before. It's scary. Um, friend's touch each other though, right?"

Holding the green gaze, with a soft smile, Bobbi answered, "Yeah, they do, and  we are."

"It's okay then?" The blonde's voice shook with nervousness and leftover fear.
"Yeah, everything is okay now."

"I--I guess I can try." Her eyes pleaded for gentleness.

Bobbi gave it to her. With gloved encased fingertips, she traced the back of Michelle's hand. Their eyes locked and she noticed the blonde's body tensing, as if getting ready to bolt. "It's okay, ‘Chelle. It's me. It's just me."

Michelle cringed inside in anticipation. She waited for the fire of fear and pain to come. Splitting her attention between the gloved hand and blue eyes, the blonde whispered silently to herself to ward off impending doom, "She won't hurt me. She's Bobbi."

The feelings never came. A solid warmth took their place. She whimpered in surprise and met silver-blue eyes with wonder. Seeing the feelings chase themselves across the blonde's face and knowing they were good, Bobbi engulfed the hand with hers. Even though she had never been a touchy feely person, this felt as natural as breathing. The look of wonderment on the blonde's face made the doctor smile in response.

Michelle waited another beat. The world didn't end, and the pain still didn't come. Realization hit hard, reaffirming what she had learned about the brunette so far. "You won't hurt me," she said with conviction and confidence.

Bobbi's smile widened, and she squeezed the hand under hers. She knows now. She really knows. "No. Never."

Relief flooded her being and added to the freedom that she had already attained. For the first time, Michelle knew what truth looked like. It was shining in pale blue. "I believe you." She felt like she was soaring. The blonde threw her head back and laughed, enjoying the freedom of it. "I believe!" She shouted.

Bobbi watched in amazement. "I believe too," she whispered. The brunette let the laughter and heat surround her. She reveled in it, letting it lift her and feeling her spirit become stronger because of it.

The cold dampness of the snow began to seep in. Bobbi ignored it for as long as she could, but the clammy feeling on the backs of her thighs was more than she could stand. The laughter stopped, but the contentment was still there in the form of a full smile that wrinkled the blonde's nose and crinkled the skin around her eyes. The brunette had no choice; she smiled back. Their gazes locked, and the growing bonds of friendship solidified just a little bit more.

Bobbi squeezed the hand under hers in apology as she murmured, "I don't know about you, but I'm getting soaked." With a grunt, she pushed herself up, bringing Michelle with her. "Come on, we can talk more inside." She glanced toward the house, seeing a set of ears and eyes through the glass door. "Plus, Taz is looking kind of pitiful or he's trying to tell us something."

Michelle chuckled lightly and took her hand away to dust the snow away from her knees. The weight against the appendage was instantly missed, but she was hesitant about asking for its return. She didn't know how yet. Instead, the blonde followed closely behind the doctor as she headed back toward the front door. She glanced back at the snow. For years, the whiteness meant terror, but piece by piece it began to foster her salvation. I'm winning myself back. Deep down, I knew I could, but it became more of a reality today. I believe that too.

They trudged into the house after stomping snow from their boots on the welcome mat outside. Taz pranced around them excitedly. Bobbi snickered. "Yeah, I think that he was trying to tell us something. He probably needs to go out."

Michelle peered lovingly into the nearby crib, seeing groggy blue-green eyes staring back at her. "He was trying to tell us that Toby was waking up too."

Bobbi glanced down into the crib with a smile. "Hey, Peanut." The little boy gurgled and blew a spit bubble before chewing on his fist. "Mmm, my guess is the little guy needs changing and food." Shrugging out of her coat and other things, she turned back to look at the blonde still encased in the green coat and all the accessories. "I'll change him, and you can take Mr. Dance Fever out. Okay?"

Without hesitation, Michelle murmured, "Okay." She gave a short whistle and Taz followed her back out the door.

Bobbi threw her coat and all on the nearby couch. She went back toward the bassinet and happily scooped Toby up. She grabbed one of the diapers from the nearby bag and sauntered back over to the couch. Lying him down, she put a pillow beside him for his own protection. Bobbi unsnapped the Onesie with infinite skill. "Hey, Peanut. I know you probably know this already, but you've got one hell of a mom. I think that she's gonna raise one hell of a man. Your mom has come a long way, and watching her has helped me a lot. I hope she knows that." The doctor cleaned his bottom with the help of a wipe.

"We need to do right by her. She deserves it." She powdered him and pinned the new diaper in place. Bobbi leaned down and kissed a raised foot. "I'm getting hooked on you guys. You know that, right?" Bobbi looked down into the cherub like face. "I really am, and if your mom trusts me with you then I know that I'm doing something right." The brunette rubbed a flailing fist until it opened and closed around her finger. "She crossed a big bridge today. You shoulda seen her. It was contagious. It was like some weight had been lifted. She's learning that it's okay to be happy."

Michelle watched from the door. She couldn't hear, but she saw the little kisses as well as the brunette's lips moving. The same warmth that she felt when she and Bobbi held hands engulfed her. It was a feeling so new that it equally frightened her as well as entranced her. I've never seen anybody else be that way with him. Someone cares for us. Please, God, don't take it away. She wanted to cry with joy, but decided that any large outburst of emotion would jinx everything. Inside, she celebrated.

The soft wuff and the push against her calf brought her back. She glanced down at the Husky. "I told her, Boy."


Michelle smiled. "Yeah, you're right a lot." She paused. "Come on, let's go inside."

The blonde entered to find Bobbi cradling Toby to her chest. "Hey," Michelle said softly as she leaned against the couch arm.

Bobbi looked up with a smile. "Hi. He's all dry, if you want to go ahead and take him."

Michelle bit her lip and nodded toward the display. "He looks pretty comfortable where he is."

The doctor chuckled, "Well, me and the Peanut have an understanding. We've talked a few times since you guys have been here." Bobbi paused and swallowed. It was a big step, but it felt right. "I think we'd enjoy talking a little more. Um, I could help out with him if you let me. Watch him while you're on the computer, reading, sleep or something." Her voice trailed off softly. Silence lapsed between them, and Bobbi peered into green in hopes of reading them. They sparkled with something new and unfamiliar. "Uhm, it was just a thought. You don't have to..."

"Yes," she murmured so low Bobbi couldn't be sure she heard it.

"Yeah?" The blonde smiled slightly and her head nodded. "Oh. Uhm, okay."

Michelle glanced down at her feet, then back up again. "Uh, can I tell you something?"

The seriousness in the green gaze got Bobbi's attention. "Sure. Go ahead."

"I, uh, was standing at the door, and I saw you holding him and talking to him." Her voice was thick with emotion. "No one. . ." She felt the tears coming even though she promised herself not to get overly emotional. "Uh, no one's ever. . .treated him like that, not his father or his grandparents. It was like he was some kind of property to them, you know? Something to be owned." The tears came freely now. "T--Thank you for this." Ashamed, she wiped at the tears with the back of her hand.

Feeling that she was finally free to do so, Bobbi reached out. With only a fraction of hesitation, the small, damp hand was captured by her larger one. "Oh, Chelle. He's a special little guy. All of you, uhm, it means a lot. . .that you're here." She squeezed the hand in hers for emphasis.

Again, Michelle saw the truth staring her in the face. "Thank you so much."

"No problem. I mean that."

The blonde smiled through her drying tears. "I know you do."

"Good." She lifted Toby away from her chest. "I should really give him to you so you can go feed him."

"Oh, it's okay. I can just go warm him a bottle. I expressed some milk earlier. I can sit here and feed him."

"Okay. Well, I'll keep him till then."

Alone with the only males in her house, Bobbi glanced down at Taz, who lay near her feet. "You know, it's been a long time since I was attached to males of any species. How did you two get in? You didn't play fair did you?"


"Smart ass!"

Bobbi kept one eye and ear on the TV and the other on Michelle, who sat a few feet away. She watched as the blonde disappeared into a world that only contained mother and son, and listened to the soft melody that the petite woman hummed all the while. I didn't know it would feel like this to know someone trusted me again. She's getting comfortable with me, and it makes me feel almost ten feet tall. It's like I could conquer it all, and that's a heady feeling to have. I don't want it to stop.

After a while, the hum faded into a soft whisper. Looking with both eyes, she saw that Toby had again lapsed into sleep. The green gaze caught hers, and Bobbi looked away hurriedly, suddenly embarrassed.

Even though she was confused by her friend's actions, Michelle let it pass. "Um, it's my turn to fix dinner tonight. I was thinking about pork chops. . .

Bobbi groaned inwardly. She had forgotten about dinner with Shelia. Playing catch- up didn't seem so exciting anymore, but dinner was dinner. "Uhm, I sorta already have plans. An old acquaintance came by. She's visiting a relative, and it's been years since I've seen her. I was gonna go over there, and--"

"Oh," Michelle whispered. She glanced down at the top of her son's head then up again. The feelings of disappointment flummoxed her, and it showed on her face. I guess that I'm so used to her being here all the time. I just didn't think. . . "Um, okay. That's fine."

Feeling instantly like a heel, Bobbi strongly considered going with the urge to cancel, but a little voice nagged her that ‘maybe it's good to make other friends, maybe it's good to put into practice what you've learned.' Maybe. "Will you be okay here by yourself?"

The question irritated the blonde, and she searched for the reasons why. A frown tugged on her lips, creating a crease in her forehead. It's almost like she's talking to a child. I'm not one. I know when I first got here there was so much I didn't know, but I'm not a child. Determination and bravado rose inside her, pushing her chin and chest out. "We'll be fine. It's not like we haven't been alone before," Michelle answered crisply.

A dark brow raised at the frostiness in the blonde's voice. Whoa, all that assertion. Glad it's coming out, but not at me. "I didn't mean it like that, but okay. Um, will it be okay if I give you a call just for my piece of mind?"

Michelle deflated a little, but not much. "Yeah, I guess."

Bobbi glanced at her watch. "Well, I'm gonna try to get a quick nap in before I go. Come on in if you need anything, okay?"

Feeling slightly ashamed, Michelle only nodded her acquiescence.

Chapter 18

Freshly showered, the brunette decided on a spray of Casmir instead of the usual Tommy Girl. After redressing her shoulder, Bobbi pulled on the pair of chinos and struggled to get into the print sweater without mussing her hair that she decided to let hang loose. Despite her pains to get ready for her dinner with Shelia, the brunette's heart wasn't in it. She listened to the blonde's laughter at something on TV. I'd much rather be doing that, but I think I need this dry run with Shelia to see if I can be open and all that stuff. With a sigh, she sat down on the bed and put on ankle length, black leather boots. Not even gazing at her appearance in the mirror, Bobbi grabbed her beeper and cell phone. Throwing one in her pocket and clipping the other to her waist, she made her way into the living room.

Michelle looked away from the episode of "Family Matters" and glanced at the brunette. "Um, I guess it's that time, huh?"

Bobbi shrugged then nodded. "Yeah. I'll only be gone for a couple of hours."

"It's okay." Michelle looked down at her hands as they wrung in her lap. "Uh, listen, I'm sorry about the way I acted earlier--"

Bobbi held up a hand. "It's okay. I think I understand. I need to remind myself that you're not the same person who walked in here a couple months ago. I think you called me out rather well." The brunette grinned, hoping to get a ghost of a smile. She got one.

Bobbi walked to the end table that held the phone. She picked up a pen and scribbled on a blank portion of a menu. "This is my pager and cell numbers, and the third number is the number here. If you page me just follow the voice instructions, okay? But, I will call you as soon as I can. I'll let it ring twice then call again, so you'll know that it's me."

"You don't have to do all that."

"Yeah, I do, just to be on the safe side." Bobbi grabbed her still-damp coat from off the end of the couch, where she left it. "Okay, I'm off. I'll be back before you know it."

"Okay." Not knowing what else to do, Michelle raised her hand and gave a little wave as the doctor made her way to the door. After the door closed, the blonde peered at her still raised hand. She cringed. "Even I know that was really geeky."

Taz stood up, placing his paws on her thigh. "Wuff!"

Green eyes turned to slits as her gaze met the Husky's. "What did you say?"


A few blocks away, Bobbi let herself out of the Cherokee and looked at the number on the plain white house, surrounded by a garden that had frozen over long ago. I didn't even know she had an aunt around here. Guess I didn't care to.

The doctor sauntered up the walkway and rang the doorbell without hesitation. After a few seconds, sporting a friendly smile and the same kind of attire, Shelia opened the door.

"Hey, come on in." She moved back and to the side to admit the brunette.

The smell of mothballs and pot roast assaulted her senses, making her nose twitch. Strange combination. I don't want to smell it again anytime soon. Bobbi glanced around the living room to see the furniture covered in plastic, including the coffee table. She chanced a look at the redhead.

Shelia chuckled, "She's a little strange, but harmless. I would love for you to meet her, but she's napping right now. Although she might wake-up before you leave."

"That's not a threat is it?" Bobbi asked with a raised brow.

The redhead laughed outright. "No, no wait until you taste my pot roast. That's the threat."

The doctor displayed a mock shiver. "See, now you're scaring me."

Shelia swatted her shoulder. "Go sit down, you. Dinner is almost ready. I just have to set the table."

Bobbi made her way to the couch. The plastic protested loudly, as she tried to make herself comfortable. She cringed, but called out to the other woman's retreating back. "You need some help?"

"No, almost done!" There was a pause. "You know, I sort of expected you to cancel on me. You would have in the past. Isn't this a bit too intimate for you?"

Feeling no need to lie, the brunette responded honestly. "I almost did, but it didn't have anything to do with that!" Bobbi's ears perked-up at the sound of muffled footsteps.

Shelia peeked out the doorway "Oh"? You really have changed. I didn't expect honesty."

Pale blue met brown. "I never lied to you.

"You never told me anything either."

Azure eyes turned sad. "I know, and I'm sorry about that."

Brown eyes widened in surprise. "What's happened to you?" She asked softly.

Bobbi let out a deep breath and bark of laughter as she swept her bangs back with an errant hand. "Let's just say my life sorta changed overnight."

Shelia smiled softly. "For the better I'd say."

"Me too." Pale eyes stared far and away, then looked down at her hands.

Crossing her arms over her chest, Shelia leaned against the wall. Curiosity got the better of her. "Seeing someone?"

The doctor snickered. "No. I just, uh, opened myself to new friendships."

The redhead pushed away from the wall. "Good for me. It's about time." After a few seconds, light brown eyes darkened with sadness. "I heard about your dad. I'm sorry, Bobbi."

The brunette swallowed and clamped down on the unexpected surge of regret. "Uh, yeah thanks. There's a lot of water left under that bridge, you know?"

Shelia's expression remained sad. "No, I don't. Maybe you'll tell me about it someday?"

Lashes blinked rapidly in order to clear leftover emotion from pale blue. "Yeah, maybe I will."

The redhead waved her toward the dining room. "Come on. Soup's on."

Despite the overdone pot roast, Bobbi found herself laughing about the plastic tablecloth, among other things, and having an enjoyable time, but her eyes were drawn to her watch every few minutes. She glanced at it again, but continued talking to play it off. "So how's the computer business-- and tell me about this new woman in your life."

Shelia wound her hand in a nonchalant gesture. "You know it's same-old, same- old. Reggie livens it up though."

Bobbi stabbed at a potato. "Oh, how so?"

Shelia leaned in as if she were about to divulge a deep, dark secret. "Well, don't you dare laugh at the cliché, but she's my new admin assistant." Her face flushed, and she rubbed her cheeks in embarrassment. "I don't know, B. She just swept me off my feet, and that's not an easy thing to do by any means."

"I bet." Again, her eyes found her watch. I wonder what she's doing? Probably laughing at some show. God, I'll never forget the first morning I heard her laugh. It was nice to have it in the house again.

Disturbed by the far-away look in the brunette's eyes, and her lack of attentiveness, Shelia asked quietly, "Bobbi? Where are you?"

Surprised by the question, the doctor met her friend's eyes. "Huh, what do you mean?"

The redhead squared her shoulders and cleared her throat. "I mean, that I admire your ability to split your attention between two things, but you're obviously not where you want to be. And, if you stare at your watch one more time, I'm gonna stab you with my fork!"

Bobbi chuckled ruefully. "I'm sorry. Its just that. . .ah, can I use your phone?"

Shelia waited a beat for more information. When she saw that none was forthcoming, she pointed back toward the living room.

Bobbi wiped her mouth with a napkin and muttered a ‘thanks'. She went into the living room and sat on the crunchy love seat as she called home. I hope she's okay.


After having a long talk with her son, Michelle fed him and put him down for another nap. Now, Toby knew what his mother had accomplished today. With excited utterances, Michelle shared each and every detail as if it happened only a minute ago instead of several hours. She told him of her newfound sense of hope, freedom, and understanding, and the blonde explained how she was going to try to pass it on to him. Michelle informed Toby of the good she found in Bobbi; of the things she learned from the brunette; and of the things she hoped to learn in the future.

Toby seemed to hold her eyes the whole time and even responded with subtle coos around the fist in his mouth. Smiling at his gurgling, grinning form, she finally fed and sang to him, leaving her and Taz alone with just the murmur of the TV. The house felt empty somehow. Michelle was used to having the Bobbi nearby, and the doctor's presence lingered with her tonight. The feeling was there with her now, but fainter, weaker. Things didn't feel the same. I guess that I've gotten so used to having her around. I think I miss her. Michelle peered down at the Husky, whose head found a home on one of her bare feet. "Do you, Taz?  Miss her?"

He glanced upward and wuffed gently.

"Yeah, everything does seem different."

She let out a breath and picked up the remote. She should have been reading, but the urge just wasn't there at the moment. Instead, the blonde flipped through the channels in hopes of finding something interesting. She finally settled on the movie The Howling that was already half way through, according to the information blinking on the TV screen.

Folding her legs up under her, Michelle jumped and cringed during the scary parts. Learning fast, she picked up a pillow to cover her face during the next gory scene. The blonde growled and squealed in outrage when the main male character cheated on his wife with a she-wolf then smirked in satisfaction as he realized what he was becoming. Later on, the petite woman stood up and exclaimed, "Dammit!" when she realized the main character was bitten by her ‘dead' husband.

By the time the female newscaster was on the air, revealing that she was a werewolf, Michelle was in tears, especially when the woman's friend shot her to put her out of her misery. The credits were rolling, and Michelle was still dabbing at her eyes. The shrill ring of the phone startled her, and she picked it up without thinking. Sniffing through her tears, she murmured, "H--Hello?"

"You didn't wait for my special rings," Bobbi responded briskly.

The blonde sniffed again. "S--sorry."

Sable brows raised as she realized her friend was crying. Her heart picked up in alarm. "Chelle, you okay? Are you crying?"

"It was sad", was Michelle's only reply.

"Talk to me. What's sad? Is Toby okay?"

"She died!"

The doctor's voice rose an octave in distress, "Who died! I'm coming home!" Her grip on the phone turned white-knuckled, and she jumped up and scanned the living room for her coat.

"That son-of-a bitch cheated on her, then bit her!" She sobbed. The blonde reached down to hug Taz, who had nearly jumped up on the couch to see to his mistress.

Bobbi sat back down with a crunchy thump as confusion assailed her. Her brow wrinkled heavily in response and she rubbed her forehead to ease her apprehension. "Chelle? What are you talking about?"

"And then her friend had to shoot her because she turned into a werewolf on TV."

"Michelle, calm down and talk to me. What's going on over there?"

The blonde hiccupped, "The movie. I told you it was sad."

Bobbi sighed with relief and held back a stress-relieving chuckle. Such a big heart that even things on TV affect her. "Chelle, it's okay," the brunette added softly. "It's just a movie. How about I rent something funny, and buy some more popcorn and Dr. Pepper before I come home. I'll have you laughing in no time."

"R--really?" Michelle wiped at her leaking nose and felt her mood start to lighten.

"Yeah, really. I'll be home in about thirty minutes, okay." Her whole body sagged as she let out a long sigh.

"I'm taking you away from your dinner. I'm sorry. I don't mean to."

Bobbi smiled into the phone. "It's okay. I'd rather. . .I'll be home in a little while." Sensing eyes on her, the doctor glanced upward to see the redhead standing in the doorway. Pale eyes gleamed with apology.

"O--okay. I guess I'll see you in a little bit." Her mood lightened a little more.

The brunette whispered, ‘bye' and hung up the phone. She met Shelia's eyes. "I'm sorry. I was having a nice time."

Shelia shook her head in interruption. "Is that…that the new friendship you were speaking of?" She asked with a smirk.

"Yeah. She's staying with me."

"She?" Brown eyes bucked.

"No, it's not like that," Bobbi denied vehemently.

Shelia held up her hands. "It's okay. You don't have to explain. I was having a good time too. I would really like to get to know the new you. She really seems like someone I'd want to befriend."

The brunette flushed with the compliment. "You think so?"

"Yeah. You used to have this coldness about you B. It's not there anymore."

Bobbi gave her a genuine smile. "Thanks. I think I really needed to hear that."

The redhead's face screwed in mock disgust. "Look at you getting all mushy. You'd better hurry up and get outta here."

The doctor chuckled. "I'm going. I'm going."

Shelia escorted her friend to the door. "Maybe next time, B. I'll get to know the new you a little better."

Bobbi turned as she began to shrug on her coat. She offered her hand but decided on a hug instead. "I think I'd like that."


Bobbi got out of the jeep, pulling the bags containing, There's Something About Mary, microwave popcorn, and a six pack of Dr. Pepper. She smiled and found that she was looking forward to the next few hours of quiet time in her own house with a friend. The brunette chuckled. I bet she's gonna be embarrassed as hell when I walk in there. Poor thing. The situation would be almost funny if she hadn't scared me half to death. Her thoughts turned to Shelia. But the earlier part of the night was worth it. I'm really not who I used to be and that's good to know.

She let herself in and found the blonde on the couch, basically where she'd been when she left. Green eyes glanced up, then skittered away, back to the cooing baby in her arms. Taz greeted the doctor with a nudge. Bobbi patted his head affectionately as she made her way over to the couch. She peered down at the top of the blonde woman's head until embarrassed jade eyes met pale ones. The gaze only stayed for a second before scattering again.

"Um, Toby woke up a few minutes ago. I guess all the crying..." Michelle glanced up again as if testing the waters and found amused azure staring back. "Um, sorry?" She added sheepishly.

With a smirk firmly in place, Bobbi added, "No more werewolves?"

Feeling relieved, Michelle exhibited a small smile of her own. "Uh, no they're all gone." I can't believe that I acted like that. No more horror movies for me, but it feels good to know that she was so concerned.

The brunette grinned full out. "Okay, then. Let me go change into my comfy clothes, and we can get the movie started. I think you'll like it." She made her way around the table toward her bedroom. "Oh I got you some things as promised. Why don't you do the popcorn and drinks. I'll be right back."

A few minutes later, clad in familiar black Nike shorts and a white t-shirt, Bobbi stared at the big bowl of popcorn and the bottle of Amstel Light that sit not far from the Dr. Pepper in front of the couch on the table. "Are you sure? I don't want to crowd you or anything," she asked gently. Touching her and invading her space can be two different things. I hope I don't scare her away.

Michelle nodded. "It's okay. I think. There's plenty of room for the both of us." I have to see if I can really do this. For the first time, when someone reached out to me, I didn't see Max's face snarling back at me. I need to see if this is for real.

Tentative, aware of the blonde not far from her, Bobbi sat on the edge of the couch cushion. She glanced at Michelle with a question in her eyes. "Okay?"

She waited for the flash of fear, but like earlier-- outside, it didn't happen. All the pain took another step back, and with open arms, she welcome the growing promise of today. The petite blonde nodded nervously. "Okay." She paused. "Um, I already put the DVD in, so all you have to do is push play."

"It's okay. You can do the honors." Bobbi took a swig of her beer and scooted back a little. As she suspected, the blonde howled with laughter from the beginning to the outtakes at the end, making Taz slink into one of the bedrooms in search of silence. Not wanting the night to end, Bobbi put in another movie only to look over half way through it to see Michelle sleeping with Toby, lying on her chest, and doing the same. The display warmed her heart but Michelle's position, with her neck arched against the couch arm looked uncomfortable. Getting up, careful to not make a sound, the doctor leaned over the duo. She called the blonde's name softly several times, but it did not work. Having no other recourse, the brunette reached out a hand and shook the smaller woman gently.

Michelle sucked in a deep breath and bolted upright in fright. Instinct made her clasp her hands to her chest, protecting Toby from a fall.

Bobbi raised her hands in peace and moved back a step. "It's just me. Why don't you go get in bed."

Groggy, the blonde rubbed at her eyes with a free hand. "Sorry," she said hoarsely. "Just not used to this yet."

"It's okay. Off to bed with you two."

"But, I'll miss the movie," she almost whined.

"It's okay. Another time."

"'Kay." Still gangly with sleep, Michelle struggled to get up with the precious package on her chest.

"Here, I'll get him and follow you."

"Kay." Lying still, Michelle watch through hooded eyes as the brunette scooped her son up in her arms.

Huddling her quarry to her chest, Bobbi reached out the other hand to help the blonde up. With only slight hesitation, Michelle took it. Quietly, with the sleeping baby in her arms and pulling the crib behind her, Bobbi followed the other woman.

Michelle mumbled to Taz, who moved off the bed as the blonde pulled the covers back. With sweat pants and all, she climbed in, barely acknowledging it when the Husky jumped back into the bed.

Bobbi laid the slumbering child into the bassinet and pushed it close to the bed. "No pj's?"

Michelle looked up at the brunette through crossed eyes. "Mmm, too tired."

The taller woman snickered lightly. "Okay, see you in the morning." She was met with silence. She peered at the now sleeping woman and whispered, "Sweet dreams, Chelle." Bobbi exited and decided to head for her own bed. It had been a day of discovery, and this explorer, like the other one, was dead tired.


Leaning back in the receptionist's chair once again, Bobbi found herself in the same predicament, clockwatching and bored. "Ugh, I've got to get out of here for a while. I wonder if Michelle will want to go." Holding on to the idea, the doctor jumped up and closed the office quickly in order to beat possible interruptions.

She found the blonde in the den on the computer.

"Hey, you three up for a little adventure?"

Michelle tore her eyes away from the computer screen to glance at the brunette. "Don't know; depend on what it is."

"Well how about I show you the neighborhood along with where the stores and stuff are for when you start driving the jeep on a regular basis."

Part of her wanted to jump at the chance, but the other part, "I don't know. What if…"

"We'll stay in the jeep. No one will see you unless you want them to."

"Um, okay. I think I can do that."

Bobbi clapped her hands in delight. "Great, let's get you both bundled up and ready to cruise."

It was another day and time for new discoveries.


Beatrice woke that morning having made a decision. It seemed to be the only way. My grandson will be not raised as a monster. A news-- broadcast would pretty much ensure that. I'd rather not see him again. She passed by her son's room and heard him moving around. Her eyes closed. "I'm so sorry Max, so sorry. If I could make it all right, I would." She walked on, heading toward the kitchen with full knowledge of the danger she faced and its possible consequences.

Tying the ratty half-apron around her customary skirt and tucked-in blouse, Beatrice started breakfast. Her husband would be down soon.

Max Sr. grumbled as he sat at the table. He hated waiting. Making him wait carried a penalty. He sipped his orange juice as his mind wondered. "Shit!" The juice was ice cold, making his teeth and gums sting. She knew that he liked his orange juice lukewarm. That mistake was punishable too. Max Sr. glared at his wife with dark eyes as she made her way toward him carrying a plate of eggs.

Beatrice took each step slowly. She prayed to a god she hadn't talked to in years for the welfare of her grandson, and she asked for forgiveness for all the wrongs she had perpetuated against her own son knowingly and otherwise. I have to do this. I don't matter anymore. I have to protect what I can, who I can. She stopped in front of her husband. He grabbed her wrist in a bruising grip, but she pushed on. Without hesitation, she dumped the plate of hot eggs in his lap.

The first smack was so hard that her teeth rattled, and the pain was just as intense. In his rage, Max Sr. forgot himself and went for her face. Somewhere deep inside, the real Beatrice folded in on herself into a little ball. There, she felt nothing as punch after punch pummeled her. With learned patience, she waited, knowing he would leave afterward, and she could put her plan into action.

Still groggy from sleep, Max Jr. heard the blows, but they didn't register until he saw it with his own eyes. He stood in the kitchen doorway and watched as his mother took blow after blow. Blood leaked from her busted lip and nose, but still she made no sound. That fact alone enraged him. He wanted to grab her, shake her, and scream, "Do something! Why didn't you ever do something!" Max's body shook with anger, and he swallowed the bile that burned its way up his throat. Eyes so like his own met him. He saw the same anger there, but something was different about it. His father's eyes seemed to scream. "You're nothing! Nothing!" The anger died as quickly as it came, and without a word, Max Jr. left through the front door.

Beatrice dragged herself up from the floor. Her whole body screamed in pain, but she was alone. She held the apron up to her dripping lip, and eyed the phone. It seemed so far away, but she started the long trek toward it, limping all the way. Finally, she reached the phone and tiredly punched in three numbers. "H--hello? I would like to file a compliant. M--my husband hit me." A few minutes later, she made her way back to the table and sat down in the chair her husband had abandoned. With a mighty groan of pain, she rested her body and waited.

The knock at the kitchen door came only fifteen minutes later, but her heart dropped when she saw who it was. Inside, she sobbed. Clemy, and old friend of Max's stared back at her through the glass. Inside, the rest of her died, as he pleaded with her not to file the report, not to press charges. When that didn't work, he flat out refused. Long minutes later, he left her there; broken, battered, and without hope.
Thanks for reading let me know what you thought. Drop me some lines at Minerva

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