Chapter 23

Max Jr. rubbed his face with a large hand before leaning in and peering into the bathroom mirror. Dark eyes took in his freshly scrubbed face, brushed hair, and the overnight growth of beard—all with a hard swallow. Even with the peach fuzz covering his face, he could not see where his father stopped, and he began. The similarity between their looks had always been beyond uncanny, even for father and son.

He wants me to become him, or am I you already, Dad? Have I been what you wanted all along? Was there ever a chance for me to become anything else? Max Jr. threw back his head and bellowed with humorless laughter. I already know the answer to that one. Feeling the chill of the porcelain sink pressed against his naked body, he backed away from the mirror having made the decision to keep the stubble. It was the only thing that made him different. Max Jr. had given into his father once again. For the moment, there was no token fight left.

I'll do whatever I need to do to you, Michelle to make things right. As Max moved away, his image in the mirror become smaller and more distorted. Brown eyes squinted in an attempt to keep it in focus, but he steadily distanced himself from it until the cool wall touched his back. Unable to go further, Max canted his head to the side as he peered at the small image that resembled him. It was the same inside—the feeling of smallness, insignificance, and distortion—and it was way too late to fix.

Jr. blinked, recalling the exact time when gave his soul to the devil. Damn you daddy, just like you damned me. You got what you wanted. His eyes closed as memories assaulted him like the sharp edge of a razor, stripping his senses.

A fourteen year old Max peered around the always sunny kitchen, seeing his mother at constant vigil at the sink. For some time he noticed that she seemed to be shrinking, disappearing almost. There was no echo of her in the house, no scent, no laughter, no impression, just emptiness. It was not like this at his friend's houses, only his.

How could she be here and not be here? Not wanting to ponder it at a time of elation, Max pulled out a chair, sat down and let his thoughts wander. Bristling with excitement, he hoped his news could bring a smile to his brooding father's face. Basketball. He was going to play basketball for Pine River-Backus High School.

Barely able to contain himself, Max sat at the kitchen table and waited for his father to return home from work at the local logging factory. So when Max Sr. barreled through the door, his teenaged likeness greeted him with a smile even though he knew it was not to be returned. Completely animated now with flailing arms and prancing limbs, Max jumped up to reveal the news.

"I got accepted to the team, dad. Gonna play forward." His father grunted before removing his padded jacket.

"That sure as hell ain't football is it?" He went on to bark.

Taken aback by the ugly tone in his father's voice, Max swallowed hard. 'He's never been like this with me before. He's barely ever said anything.'

With a jerk of his head, a drink appeared in his hand as if by magic. Max fidgeted nervously and watched his father knock back the glass of amber liquid. Dark eyes met more ominous ones, and the younger St. Jean read the tension in wide shoulders but pushed on.

"But, I don't wanna play. . .

The glass hit the table with a loud smack. Max jumped in reaction.

"When has it been about what you want, boy?! Everything in this house belongs to me, including you. You don't have the right to want anything unless I tell you to. You hear?"

The teenage Max mumbled, but it was not enough for the older man. "I said, you hear!"

"Yes sir!" Max said in horrified fashion.

Another drink appeared. "Good. You play football and you'll be damn well good at it. Hell, if I tell you to play that fag game of tennis and like you'll do it."

Too afraid to be defiant, Jr. nodded quietly and asked to be excused. He breezed by the ghost at the sink and headed down the hall toward his room.

Hazy and shaken, Max opened his eyes and stumbled out of the bathroom, tripping over a mounting collection of shoes and clothes that he refused to put away. He scanned the wreck of the room in an attempt to bury himself in the present. To anybody else, the memory may have been just a simple denial in childhood, but to him, it was the death of Max the individual and the birth of Max Jr, becoming whatever Max Sr. dictated. Today, the present was no different. Like the mindless machine he was becoming, Max Jr. pulled on his corded jeans jerkily over hairy legs, before finding a sweat shirt for his equally furried torso.

It was time to go to work. As he left the house, Max Jr. wondered who Toby would belong to and figured it did not make a difference. It was all a matter of time now.

* * *

Beatrice floated around the kitchen like an apparition in an attempt to be as quiet and as invisible as possible to her husband, sitting a few feet away at the kitchen table. She once welcomed the beating in the name of her grandson. Today, she did everything she could to avoid one. It was time to put to use the knowledge she had acquired. Knowledge only Beatrice possessed. It made her somewhat giddy despite the blanket of melancholy that always seemed to cover the house and the sunny, yellow kitchen.

My mother told me once that too much knowledge would ensure that I led a single life. I wish I had. None of this would be happening. The monster I made would not exist, but maybe with what I know, I can stop the creation of another. If only I could figure out how. Her mind raced with scenario after scenario, but she rejected them all knowing that the resources and know how did not exist for her.

Her mind froze on the conversation with the deputy from Ivanhoe, and Beatrice thanked whatever god who was listening for the invention of caller ID. That was the key, keeping in touch with him and knowing what he knew.

Feeling the heat and rage teem off her husband's body, Beatrice huddled over the sink trying to shrink into nothingness as he brushed by without a word, leaving the table in a customary mess. She swallowed down stirrings of hope in an attempt not to ask for too much too soon. Hopefully, time was on her side.

Chapter 24

Sitting almost eerily still, Bobbi stared blankly out of the kitchen door. She did not see the midday sun bouncing off the left over slush. She did not see the squirming baby in the bassinet only two feet away. The doctor saw epiphany staring her in the face for what seemed like the umpteenth time since the blonde's arrival.

Azure eyes peered ahead caught in the play of memories that trapped her somewhere between the past and the present.

It was one of Stevie's bad days. They knew it as soon as the stumbled through the door after being gone all night, reeking of alcohol as he headed straight toward his room.

Camped out in the living room, without a word, a much younger Bobbi turned around and draped her arms around the back of the plush chair, meeting eyes so like her own in the kitchen. Those eyes were hesitant, helpless, and pleading silently, asking Bobbi to do what she could not anymore.

Gone was the free spirit, leaving only a mother at the end of her rope. With an almost imperceptible nod of her head, Bobbi headed for her brother's room. She swallowed down the stirrings of many rejections to try one more time to pull Stevie from the fire.

The brunette's stomach churned as memories of screaming, throwing, biting, and hitting assailed her. Still, she pressed on and pushed Stevie's ajar door completely open. She stood tall with the light of the hallway behind her, trying to ooze into the darkness aided by drawn curtains. Bobbi swallowed hard. "S-Stevie?"

His reply was immediate and snarling. "Don't start this shit with me this morning, B. I'm not in the mood for it."

Wary, Bobbi took a couple of steps into the room and adjusted to the dark, able to see the outline of his tall, lanky form. "But you know you can't keep doing this. One minute you're okay and the next you pull a stunt like this. You're not just hurting momma. You're hurting yourself too."

Steive turned over in his bead, but his face remained in shadow. He barked, "Where the fuck did you get that? It sounded so fuckin cliché. It's not even funny."

The brunette cringed at her brother's language as well as his tone. "It's true though."

"I don't give a damn, B. I don't give a damn about anything anymore." He let out a defeated sigh. "Didn't you figure that out a long time ago? Let her kick me out is she wants to. I have a place to go."

Quietly, Bobbi added, "You know she won't do that." She heard another rustle and found that she was talking to his back.

"No she won't, so just leave me the hell alone."

The young woman's dark head bowed. She had ran out of words, out of arguments, and out of passionate sayings long ago. Bobbi realized that she did not what else to do, and suddenly she was glad to be leaving for college the next day---glad to get away. She pulled the door closed with an audible click, but instead of facing her mother with another failure, Bobbi went to her own room.

Finally blinking back in the present, she saw the simple truth of that memory and hundreds like it, and the doctor found it in the most unlikely of places, in the whitened, criss cross of old wounds that littered Michelle's body like scars of war. A little more than a week before, the brunette had seen them up close for the first time---old lines, pale with age that looked so out of place on such a young body. Anger and sadness gripped her, making it difficult to complete the sponge bath that she had prepared for the blonde, but with shaky hands, Bobbi finished the task.

Each day the feelings returned, until she was finally overcome, peering at Michelle's still despondent, unclothed body as if it were the worst of atrocities. In it, she saw the truth she had promised the blonde as well as her own truth. Michelle needed help, wanted it. Stevie never did. She had been fighting a lost cause all along. Bobbi let out a long sigh and pushed a hand through her bangs.

It wasn't my fault. I was blind all that time. Did momma not see it either? God, he was my brother. I had to try. I had to keep on trying. I think a little part of me knew and that's why I didn't fight as hard anymore. Is it that simple? Is it all that simple? It wasn't my fault, but how can someone beaten into submission have enough spirit to reachout, and a boy surrounded by people who love him have none at all?

It was a question that Bobbi knew she may never find the answer to. I know one thing for sure. I've got to get her back. An amazing woman is lying in that bed. Slowly awareness of her surroundings returned, and the brunette blinked at the bright light filtering in through the kitchen windows.

Almost instinctively, Bobbi reached for the bassinet, pulling Toby toward her, letting her see the balled fist and feet flailing angrily. To make up for her lack of attention, the doctor scooped him up and brought him to rest the soft well-worn cotton of a faded Nike shirt, in hopes that her heart beat would soothe him before the cries began. Her heart constricted as he curled into her chest as if it were a second home.

"I know, Peanut. I'm sorry." Bobbi added in a voice thick with emotion. "I got a lot of things on my mind. Your momma just helped me more than she'll probably ever know. See, Peanut, I learned something this morning that's kind of hard to swallow. You're too young to know about guilt, but it's been a good friend of mine for a long time. Today, though, I think our friendship became a little strained. I know you don't understand, but that's okay. I don't understand it all either, but at least the safety issue is out of the way for the time being."

The doctor made promised calls to the parties involved and swore them to secrecy with a minimum of fuss and information. All except for Kevin, who was sure of a government conspiracy somewhere. The brunette had relayed the news in detail, hoping to get a twinge of recognition from her friend. There was nothing.

Bobbi rubbed the soft blond down at the top of his head before placing a kiss there. "Either way, it's not something I can harp on right now. Your momma needs us. Maybe I'll have time for this later. I'm glad I closed my practice for the time being, and those monthly home visits are gonna have to wait." Despite the task at hand, Bobbi felt a little lighter, a little more confident, and a little more in touch with a past that haunted her. "Stevie wasn't my fault."

* * *

Trapped in the darkness that seemed like an ever reaching void, Michelle curled her body in a fetal position and extended her senses, reaching for the dim light that she knew could lead her home. In reality, she curled a small hand around the ever present soft fur, hoping to give the blond girl within the brightness she craved.

It was not enough. Ears perked listening for the sound, the voice that was as smooth as velvet and about as rough as the edges of a feather. Nothing. Deep down, Michelle felt a pang of loss. Some part of her wanted to cry out for it, run toward it, beg for it. Still, the majority in control shrank from it, knowing that the slightest force of feeling, however pleasant, would bring with it unbearable pain. Pain? A tiny voice whispered from somewhere inside, and the blonde recognized it as her own. I know it well.

In fact, the young blonde had spent each day wallowing in it, but somewhere down deep it wedded with the tentative happiness and discovery of the past few months, which made all the hurt bearable. Inside, Michelle cried and ached for that balance. One word reverberated, "Bobbi," like an echo appearing loud, cacophonous then becoming bitter sweet as it ended in a whimper.

In a glimpse of coherence, Michelle knew the tall brunette was at least partly responsible for the delicate balance. Lips pursed and formed around the name, feeling and owning it. Instead of the word itself, a sigh escaped as thoughts began to form in a technicolor collage. Able to observe from some point outside herself, Michelle watched as she mounted the silent rebellion against an atrocity who looked sickeningly familiar. The quiet denial to clean, the clever plan to save cash, and the defiance she could see in the tilt of her own head.

She took in the small smile of triumph that covered her features as she packed haphazardly. That's when it started. That's me fighting. That's me. Michelle reached for her own image and watched it blur softly around the edges but stay firm. I'm real. The scenes changed to those of violence. Michelle flinched but was compelled to watch as her own form crumpled to the floor. They're winning. I'm letting them win. The scene changed yet again as a sudden wave of warmth caused her to shudder.

Her eyes looked down lovingly at the bundle she held. Toby. He needs me. I need him. Laughter filled her ears and other senses as flashes of movies, books, the living room couch, and Bobbi assailed her. Taz was next followed by the snow and freedom. A deep need pierced her---the need to expand, to discover, and experience. I've felt this. I know this feeling.

The moving pictures reverted back to hairy arms and slashing fists. I know all of this. It's who I am. It all belongs to me--the pain, the laughter, the warmth, and the need. It's all me. The darkness lightened to a gunmetal gray. Michelle wanted it back --all of it.

Taz whimpered, feeling the torment and the heat roll off his mistress in waves. He rose to look when it all calmed, seeing a look akin to wonder spread over the blonde's features. His tail thumped in recognition, and Taz leaned in, giving the familiar face a few licks. "Wuff," he exclaimed quietly, happily. Something was happening.


Bobbi made a quick stop to the den before entering the blonde's room again. Pulling the baby and crib with one hand, she toted The Secret Adversary in the other. The doctor pushed the door open without preamble, feeling welcome despite Michelle's state, and was immediately assailed by the prancing Huskie. "Whoa, boy. What's going on?"

Taz huffed, thumbed his tail happily, and gazed at the brunette with shining blue eyes. "What? What are you so happy about?" With another slight ‘wuff', realization hit the doctor hard. "Something happened with, Chelle, didn't it?" Bobbi asked excitedly. "You wouldn't step a foot away from her otherwise." With the bassinet behind her, the brunette made a beeline for the bed only to see Michelle in the same pose that she had left her in this morning, sitting up against the pillows and staring into nothingness.

Wrinkling her brow in confusion, Bobbi leaned forward and studied the blonde. A slow smile lit her features as she took in the flash of color in the younger woman's features where there was only sallow paleness before. "You're right, Taz. She does look better. Let's see if we can bring her back all the way, kay boy?"

"Wuff!" Taz pranced over toward the brunette and was met with a congratulatory scratch behind the ear.

"Okay, calm down, and hop back up on the bed beside her. We've got work to do." Taz did as was told, and Bobbi set the book on the nightstand before picking up a still animated Toby. She cooed down at him. "Let's go say hi to mommy. I know she misses you." The bed dipped slightly as Bobbi sat on the edge and inched inward. Depositing Toby in the crook of her arm, the doctor scooted back against the headboard and engulfed the blonde's hand with her larger one.

"Hey, Chelle. I sure miss your voice around here. Taz may try, but he certainly doesn't talk back." Deep blue eyes peered at her. Bobbi smirked. "Well, not really, and the Peanut here, well let's just say I'm not fluent in baby talk. Don't know how to translate coos and goos. I miss you, and the little guy here does to." Bobbi lifted Michelle's hand and spread the cooperative palm before laying it on the baby. "Feel him. I know you remember him--the way he smells, the way his eyes light up, and that crooked little smile he has that crinkles up his nose just like yours does. I had to start him on formula, Similac. I don't know if it will be possible for him to go back to breast-feeding, but I'll consult with a pediatric doctor friend of mine. You've got to come back, Chelle. I'm not a substitute for you. I mean, I care about the little guy a lot, probably more than that, but you're his mother. You guys need each other."

The hand, engulfed in her own, squeezed hard, making the doctor jump in surprise. "You can hear me can't you?"

In the gunmetal gray dimness, Michelle perked her ears and listened to the smooth voice that filtered through the walls of her prison. Distant noises, incoherent ones met her ears also. She stretched her senses to encompass them and felt the heart that seemed to have just started back beating pick up in rhythm. Toby? Oh, baby. She tried her best to burrow into the warmth holding her. It translated into squeezing the hand that held hers.

Bobbi peered at the blonde's profile, seeing a muscle twitch around her eye and in her jaw. "You can hear me can't you?" A well of emotion lodged in the doctor's chest, making it difficult to speak. "We're here. All of us, we're here," she added thickly. Moving her legs up in an angle, Bobbi lay Toby in the indentation between her thighs and reached for the wisps of blonde that covered Michelle's forehead and eyes, brushing them away. For the first time, she noticed the way the blonde's hair was mushed on one side and frayed on the other.

"Looks like I've been forgetting something. Would you like me to brush your hair? My mother used to do it for me when I was little. It would always soothe me for some reason. I bet you would like that." Bobbi swallowed hard. "I know you're in there. Come back please." For long minutes, quiet reigned except for the murmur of the baby. Bobbi was content to gaze at the blonde's profile, willing her return. Come back to me.

Inside, Michelle screamed and banged against the prison that held her. It was time to fight. She wanted to be a part of that warmth again, beating the cold that always seemed to follow her. I want out!

Finally, Bobbi sighed at the lack of response, but it was not in defeat. I can't let her down. She won't let me. I know she hears me in there. Maybe it's time to bring in a professional, but I know they'll try to put her in a hospital. She wouldn't want that. I know she wouldn't. Maybe I'll do some research later.

Resigned to a duty that she was more than happy to perform, the doctor reached for the book she brought. With Toby still in her lap, she opened the cover. "I brought something to read to you. I learned in med school that with coma patients it's good for them to hear the voice of someone they trust. You trust me don't you? I think you do." Bobbi licked her finger and flipped the page. Looking down, blue-green eyes caught hers. "Oh, you wanna hear this one too?" She leaned in. "Don't tell anyone, but this isn't one of your mom's favorites, so feel free to voice your opinion, kay?" Toby gurgled and offered her a teasing smile. Bobbi smirked and continued.

"Okay, Chelle stop me if you've heard this before. "Prologue. It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. . ." Bobbi read on for what seemed like the next few hours, stopping a few times to glance at the occupants of the bed. She found Toby asleep as well as Taz along with Michelle in the same state as before and still hanging on to her hand for dear life.

Michelle let the voice calm her and soothe the mounting anger at her inability to break free. The smooth huskiness of it washed over her like mounting waves until it was only that voice that held her. I hear you, B. I just don't know how to get back to you.

Closing the book but keeping her thumb in the mark the pages, Bobbi let her pale blue gaze once again encompass the blonde. "You know by now that you've read this before. Remember? Dry and confusing? Well, let me tell you it's still the same. I remember the first time I tried to read one of her books, and I'm not a dummy mind you. I wanted to throw the damn thing." Bobbi paused. "This is the part where you laugh just in case you didn't know." The brunette waited another beat. "Feel free the scream at me to stop cause I'm gonna keep reading if you don't, unless I end up screaming myself." She blinked and waited.

"No?" The doctor sighed. "I remember when women used to think my humor was charming." After a few seconds, azure eyes widened, and Bobbi sputtered, "Um, pretend you didn't hear that. I won't hold you to it." She could feel the flush all the way up to her ears. God, see what happens when I don't have anyone to talk to especially when I've gotten used to the opposite? All kinds of shit comes out of my mouth.

"Uh, how does chicken sound for dinner? I was thinking about maybe sautéing some breasts in garlic and ginger. There's some broccoli in there too. We could have that and maybe some corn." I'm babbling. It took concentrated effort to quiet herself, but Bobbi finally did. Careful not to jar the blonde too much, the brunette placed the baby back in his crib. She turned back and slowly removed her hand from Michelle's. "I guess I'll go start on that dinner now."

She moved from the bed but paused still reluctant to leave. "I'll leave the door open so you can call me if you need to." Hesitantly, Bobbi turned to Taz. "Outside, boy?" With a leap, he was off the bed and at her side. "Good boy, but remember we can't make it long. We've got these two to look after."


Alone in the kitchen, Bobbi tried to let the delectable smell soothe her. She stirred and chopped, but it was to no avail. Along with loneliness, memories of Stevie, her mother, and her recent discovery bombarded her. Mentally exhausted, the doctor sat down with a ‘thump' and reached for the bottle of Poland Springs and gulped from it. With elbows on the table, she pushed large hands through her hair in exasperation. It's starting to feel like I'm by myself here. I don't want to feel that, and I probably wouldn't have if Michelle hadn't showed up. I don't like that feeling anymore. I don't know when it happened, but I need her here, otherwise I'd still be going through the motions like before.

Who knew? Who knew that helping her would help me? Now, all of these doors are open, and I don't know which one to go in first.
Bobbi looked at the far wall as if she could see through it and see the stairs leading up. Stevie, I wish you had let me help you. We'd both be different for it. I can feel it, and maybe you and momma would still be alive. Now brooding, Bobbi let her thoughts swirl into a mitigated mess. A tight fist banged on the wood of the table in frustration. "I don't know what to do." She turned back toward the far wall and gazed at it again. Deep inside, something stirred and compelled her to move. Grabbing the little timer, she headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs with a purpose.

As she neared the top, a look of wonder flooded her features, producing an excited flush. The pain that was there before was gracefully missing this time. On brisk feet, she moved toward the room that used to be her brother's and stopped in front of the door with a hand poised over the knob. I can do this. It's time. Bobbi pushed the door open and was met with a swirl of dust along with the smell of musk. She walked in slowly and stopped in the middle of the room. The mess that she had left before still waited for her. Closing her eyes and titling her head back, the doctor whispered, "I'm here, Stevie. One last time."

Throwing the cooking timer on the bare bed, Bobbi eased herself to the floor, crossed her legs Indian style, and reached for item closest to her. It was a picture of them at the campgrounds at the lake. Almost the same height, they were arm in arm and holding fishing poles in the opposite hand. The brunette let the good memories surround her. She smiled and laughed at each photo she picked up. Placing some pictures back in the box, Bobbi left others out with then intention of framing them and reliving the memories with every glance.

Finally, she got to the clothes and the comic books, leaving those out too. "Toby may be able to use these one day, and Michelle can read these books to him until she teaches him how." For a minute the memories faded, usurped by flashes of the future. Bobbi could see it as plain as day—an older Toby, laughing, walking, reading along with Michelle who smiled and laughed with him. "I don't want them to leave."

The ding of the timer brought the brunette out of her reverie. She grabbed the clock and rushed downstairs. With quick hands, Bobbi put the food in microwave safe bowls, hoping to keep it at least warm. She peeked into Michelle's room to find the trio quiet with Taz and Toby still sleeping. Bobbi stood at the door and watched Michelle's unmoving form. "I'll be back," she whispered. "But you have to promise me that you'll come back too." Without another word, she turned and headed back upstairs.

Having procured the vacuum cleaner, a broom, cleaning products, and fresh linen, Bobbi headed back to her brother's room. She used the Pledge to dust the wooden dressers and nightstands. The doctor spoke out loud as she scrubbed. "You know, Stevie. I can still feel you here—the way you used to be. I tried to make you that boy again, but I was trying to change you into something you weren't anymore. Wasn't I?"

"I see that now, and I'm sorry about that. You wanted the pain, the bitterness, but you wanted us too. Didn't you? That's why you never left momma. I think I understand. I went through something similar, myself. I used to be a cold bitch, Stevie. Momma was probably turning over in her grave, but I'm not that person anymore. Michelle helped me to get this far. You see, that's what friends do for each other. I know that now too. I don't think I've ever had a friend like her. No, I know I haven't." She went from wiping to sweeping the carpeted hardwood floor. "I think I can let you go a little today, Stevie. There's still so much. . ." Flashes of Stevie splashed with blood played in her head. "There's still that I have to deal with." She swallowed and finished the cleaning."

Going back out into the hall, Bobbi set down the box containing comics and clothes. With slow measured steps, she crossed the hall to the room her mother used. The brunette laid an open palm against the face of the wood. "Soon, ma, but not yet." She then glanced down at the third room, knowing that was another ball of wax altogether. How do you come to terms with a father who did not show an ounce of love to his child? Bobbi sighed.

Having left the supplies in the room for the time being, Bobbi, smelling of various cleaning fluids, took the box and made her way down. Once downstairs, she placed her package outside Michelle's door and entered the kitchen to put dinner together.

Deep in her own thoughts, Bobbi sat on the bed and fed Michelle as though she had been doing it forever. Silence surrounded them, and the doctor pretended not to see the sparkless green eyes, staring blankly at her. They made her feel just as empty, and she knew that despite her own growing victory over her demons something was missing. Michelle was missing. The part that had been ruling her for the past couple of weeks tried to maintain the calm from before, but other parts wanted her to beg or shake the blonde awake. It's where the loneliness lived. With one task done, Bobbi fed herself as quickly as possible.


Now standing in the middle of the dimness, alert green eyes looked around and waited for the voice the lighten the grayness even more. It never came. Michelle spoke Bobbi's name and again it echoed to a whisper. In reality, Michelle reached out for the warmth and felt flesh meet flesh. The warmth that seemed to engulf her before was lacking. It was there along with spots of cold.

Back in the darkness, again, the doctor's name reverberated. It's cold. Why is she cold? It was then that the blonde frantically wished she could produce her own heat to share. Trapped but determined to reach out again somehow, Michelle concentrated, making the little warmth filtering through her grow with the power of happy times and memories. Bobbi.

"Whoa!" Breaking the silence, the brunette exclaimed in surprise as the blonde jerked their joined hands toward her own body and pulling Bobbi with them. Taz looked up curiously at the ruckus.

Literally jerked out of her funk, Bobbi righted herself on the bed, she glanced at Michelle, looking for changes in her countenance. There were none except for a definite sparkle in jade eyes. "You're in there. I know it, and I guess you don't know your own strength, huh?" She peered at their hands now resting in the blonde's lap. "I-I wasn't ignoring you. My head has just been all over the place today." But somehow always with you.

"Um, how about I do your hair now? There's a brush already here on the nightstand." Without pause, Bobbi manuvered Michelle's pliant body until she was behind her. The doctor sighed as she adjusted her position against the headboard before allowing the blonde to lean into her body. "There, I hope you're comfy."

Michelle felt a blast of warmth engulf her like an electric blanket. She wallowed in it and waited patiently to hear more of the doctor's husky, deep tones. Sometimes, she was able to decipher the words, sometimes not, but all the time the sound was enough. Talk to me. I'm here. Help me.

With a gentle hand, Bobbi brushed long blonde strands, taking the time to tenderly work out the kinks. Being used to talking to the young blonde about everyday matters, the doctor could not help herself as the joy and turmoil of her day spilled from her lips. "I guess you could say a lot happened today after I got you cleaned up. I don't even know where to start."

The brunette stopped and took a breath. "I-I cleaned out Stevie's room today. Um, brought some stuff down here you might want to give to the Peanut. Uh, what can I say? You were right. It wasn't my fault. It's that simple. He didn't want help, even when he was younger, he didn't want it, but I kept trying because I loved him. I mean, that's what sisters do isn't it? I know that's what friends do. I know you need me, and I'm here as much as I can be. There's still a bigger picture here. Is that why. . ." She paused as emotion lumped in her throat.

"Is that why I couldn't help him that day at the hospital? I mean, it can't be because I let momma die too. They tried to tell me that there was nothing to be done. I want to believe them. I do, but I've held onto this for so long that I don't have anything else. I didn't anyway, until you guys, and now you're not here. I don't have. . ." The highs and lows of the day, along with the emerging loneliness tumbled down on Bobbi's broad shoulders making them sag. Her eyes burned with tears that should have been shed earlier.

She closed them and leaned in, placing her chin on top of the blonde's head. Clear, salty drops found a way out, dribbling down her cheeks into Michelle's hair. The doctor sniffled and sobbed as quietly as possible, but the unseen dam was broken, letting loose the floods. The sobs became louder. "Come back please. I know. . . it's selfish, but I can't do this on my own." Long arms wrapped around Michelle imprisoning her in softness, strength and warmth. "Please, we all need you to just come back. I won't let them hurt you. I won't let them near you. Truth."

The slight smell of Pledge and dust, permeated the now shallow walls around Michelle. She could hear it—the sobbing, and she could feel the trembling of the warm body behind her. Words, broken but coherent pummelled her ears. Come back. . .need you. . .won't hurt you. . .truth.

She's hurting. I'm hurting. We know about pain, but we know about happiness now too. She showed it to me, all of it. I showed her too. We need. . .each other. I'm tired of hurting and hiding. Concentrating and trying to break through the surrounding darkness, Michelle involuntarily wrapped her hands around the strong forearms that held her. Blunt nails dug into the flesh.

Taking seconds for it to register in her current state, Bobbi continued to sniffle but called out the blonde's name in rising hope, "Chelle?"

Michelle peered around in the dimness, spying for the first time, since her imprisonment, a steep hill, and she ran for it seeing the growing light surrounding the very top. It had to be the way out. Hand over fist, she climbed, and the higher she got the harder it became. Her breathing became shallow and a cold sweat broke on her forehead. She pressed on even though the darkness beckoned and tantalized.

When she did not answer, it followed her, swirling up behind her and under her demanding attention. Michelle pushed on clawing her way out of it, seeing the safety of the top of the hill. Inside, she let out a tremendous yell and heaved herself over the top, but it followed her, roaring at her back as she broke in a dead run over the flat terrain ahead. "Bobbi!" She cried our hoarsely, her voice rusty from lack of usage.

The brunette wrestled her body from behind the blonde to end up facing her. She ignored the now animated Huskie to stare into green eyes. Grabbing Michelle by the shoulders, Bobbi shook her. "Chelle! Can you hear me?" A look of panic combined with excitement crossed her features, making her cheeks flush red and blue eyes shine.

The blonde ran toward the light, hoping to jump into it. She put her head down and flapped her arms as her feet moved faster. Afraid to look back, she jumped for it, hoping to at least touch the light in case the dark caught up. "Bobbi!"

The doctor stared into the blonde's face as her name left her lips again. She saw something that she had almost begged the gods for the past week, recognition. "Chelle, talk to me!"

Pushing herself forward on her hands and knees, Michelle entered the light, the real warmth that had been calling her all along. But, she felt the darkness tugging at her ankles as she peered up into a face she had missed seeing. Her eyes and lips pleaded, "Bobbi, please I don't want to go back. Don't let it take me back!"

Panic gripped the brunette full force as the sparkle began to fade out of deep green. Desperate, Bobbi took Michelle completely in her arms, burying her in her chest. "No, stay here! I won't let anything hurt you." Her hold on the blonde tightened.

Bathed in heat, Michelle held onto it with both hands as the violent tugging continued. With each pull, its strength lessened until it became a meek irritation. Michelle kicked it away as reality filtered in around her--- the rapid beat of the heart against her ear, the barking of the Husky, and the cry of her son. It all never sounded more beautiful.
I'm a feedback ho' so give it to me. Drop me some lines at Minerva.

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