Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Twenty-two

Abby walked into the kitchen the next morning and gave her daughter a bright smile, trying to hide her dark mood. She hated that she was so staged around the girl, but she didn't feel safe around her anymore. "Want to go to church with me?"

Hayley looked up from her cereal and said, "Wish I could, but Lori invited me to go to Magic Mountain. She's gonna come pick me up."

"Oh well, maybe next week. Everyone has been asking about you."

"I don't feel very religious, Mom, but I'll try to go with you before I leave."

"Only if you want to," Abby said. "Your spiritual life is your own. I was just making an offer."

Hayley looked at her for a second, her expressive eyes showing some wariness. As she often did when she felt her mother pull away, she tried to move closer. "I should be home by late afternoon. Wanna hang out in the pool and barbeque or something?"

"Okay. That would be fun. We only have a couple more weekends before you have to go back to school."

The girl looked at her again and gave her such a warm, loving smile that Abby felt her own lips parrot the expression. She bent and kissed her cheek, then headed for the car, happy that her daughter had rebuffed her offer. She slid into her car and turned the engine over. The little red convertible didn't want to go to church, and it knew that Abby didn't either. With hardly any help, it drove straight to Clancy's.

Michael answered the door, giving Abby a warm, albeit curious smile. "Is Clancy expecting you? 'Cause she's still zonked."

"No, she's not expecting me," Abby said. "I thought she might like to go to church with me or spend the morning together."

"My guess is that she'd rather spend the morning with you than with Jesus," he said. "Want me to call her?"

"Mmm, no thanks. I know how she likes to be woken."

"I bet she likes your way better than mine," he mused. "I tend to stand at her door and holler at her."

"Feel free to keep doing it the way you've always done," Abby said, her hand on the door handle. She gave Michael an impish smile and added, "I'd prefer to be the only one who wakes her my way."

Soundlessly entering the room, Abby closed the door and leaned against it for a moment, taking in the sleeping form of her lover. She wasn't sure exactly what the pull was, but she found that she was inexorably drawn to her when the blonde was unaware she was being watched. There was a childlike innocence about Clancy that made Abby's heart ache, but the round, womanly curves made other, more southerly parts ache as well, and it was those parts that urged her to strip off her clothes and join her lover in bed.

Even though they'd parted on bad terms, Abby trusted her partner enough to know that she wouldn't be turned away. She expected they'd have a serious discussion, or even an argument, but she felt they were on surprisingly solid ground, given the lack of support they'd gotten so far. She wasn't sure why she was so confident, other than for the fact that Clancy was so mature - so stable.

Abby stepped out of her skirt, then pulled off her shell, leaving a silk camisole and matching bikinis. After a moment's thought, she decided to leave the garments on to give Clancy a nice, smooth surface to nestle against. Silently, stealthily, she slipped under the comforter. With a tiny, muted whimper, Clancy's body curled against hers, her breathing evening out immediately. I was more anxious than tired two minutes ago, but now I feel safe and sleepy. Rather than fight the urge, she allowed herself to drift into a contented doze, savoring the wish that someday they'd sleep in each other's arms every night. When she woke a short while later, Abby started to nuzzle the back of Clancy's neck, while her hand made gentle, soothing circles on her bare body.

"Damn, how baked was I last night?" the fuzzy voice mumbled. "I wake up with a gorgeous woman wrapped around me, and I have no recollection whatsoever of how she got here."

Abby's hand stopped stroking and she tried to keep the surprise and jealousy from her voice. "Did you get high after you came home last night? You were perfectly sober when you dropped me off."

"I went back to the party," Clancy mumbled. "Stayed 'til the cops showed up after the neighbors complained. Then we went to an all-night diner until I was sober enough to drive home."

"We?" Abby reminded herself to work on delivering lines like this with no affect.

"Yeah. Some of my friends. Jacey drove my truck, then she went home with her girlfriend when I convinced 'em I was sober."

Trying to keep her tone light and cheerful, Abby said, "My, what a wild life you lead. Am I going to have to try to keep pace with you?"

"It won't be hard. That's the first time I've been out past twelve all year." She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Abby, smiling up at her. "I was so pissed off at you last night that I couldn't stand the thought of going home alone. Being around my friends and smoking a little dope cheered me up."

"I'm so sorry I made you angry," Abby whispered. "I've really screwed things up."

Clancy put a hand on the back of her head and pulled her close. A long, loving hug made both of them feel better immediately. "It's not a big deal. I'm just easy to annoy lately. Sorry I was so whatever I was."

"No, it is a big deal. I spent most of the night thinking about it, and I think I know why I didn't tell you everything about my college experimentation."

Clancy lay on her back, looking at her partner with a calm, interested expression. "Tell me if you want, but you don't have to. I know you don't like to spill your guts. I'll just have to get used to it."

"No, no," Abby said. "I shouldn't be so bottled up." She kissed her gently and said, "I think it's because I'm not used to sharing feelings. I have to practice."

Nodding her understanding, Clancy said, "I guess you haven't had much practice since Will's been gone."

"No, this isn't new. I've always been like this."

Rising up onto an elbow, Clancy gazed at her quizzically. "What do you mean? I thought you and Will were really close."

"We were," Abby said. "We were very close. But it's different with a woman. Damn, Clancy, I don't think there were five times in over twenty years that Will asked me about my feelings. We just didn't do that."

Only a few seconds passed before Clancy said, "Huh? How could you not do that?"

Abby laughed. "He was a man. I'm sure some men like to talk about feelings, but I never went out with one. Will used to say that men thought the four scariest words were 'We have to talk.'"

Clancy looked at her suspiciously. "Are you serious? I mean, I hear jokes about that all of the time, but I thought it was pretty exaggerated."

"Not in my experience," Abby said. "My inner life was fully my own. Will didn't want to know what I was thinking, or feeling. It's not that he didn't care about me - he did. But he assumed I'd tell him if something interested or bothered me. If I didn't bring something up, we didn't discuss it."

"Even if you acted like you were angry or upset?"

"Especially then!" Abby laughed, thinking back to the ways she'd tried to get her husband's attention. "If he could ignore it, he did! Actually, if I acted like I was upset, he was always extra nice - joking and trying to make me laugh. He'd do anything to try to divert me." She was smiling, thinking of the way they'd interacted.

"Didn't that drive you nuts?"

"No. Not at all. That's just how things were between us. I honestly liked the way he and I interacted. It makes me uncomfortable when you try to make me tell you what's going on in my head. It doesn't come easily for me."

Clancy scratched her head, looking completely flummoxed. "I've never known a woman who didn't like to talk about her feelings."

"You do now," Abby said. "I'm not nuts about it."

Collapsing to the mattress, Clancy said, "I thought you'd talk more when you trusted me more. I'm I'm not sure how things will work if that's not true."

With her eyes searching Clancy's calm face for clues, Abby tried to figure out whether or not her lover was upset. "Are you angry?" she asked, feeling very much out of her depth.

The younger woman sat up, then wrapped her arms around her knees. "No, I'm not angry." Her face bore an expression that Abby had never seen on her before, and she had a very hard time deciphering it. "I'm worried."

Abby reached out to touch Clancy's face, but the blonde moved back just enough to elude the attempt. "I don't feel like touching right now," she said. "I thought we'd just had a misunderstanding. But I'm starting to feel like we might never be as close as I want to be." She leveled her gaze and stared at Abby for a moment. "As close as I need to be."

The older woman's heart started to beat so quickly that she felt the pounding in her chest. "What are you saying?" she asked, her voice higher and thinner than normal. "Are you giving up?"

She reached out one more time, but Clancy rolled away and stood. She pulled on her shorts and tank top from the night before and sat back down on the edge of the futon, looking serious and thoughtful. "I don't want to give up," she said softly. "But I'd rather break up now than a year from now." She looked at Abby again and said, "I need a partner who shares things with me. Not little, ordinary things. I don't want to know everything that's on your mind. But I have to know how you're feeling about things. I have to. I can't compromise on this."

Abby scooted across the bed, her knees almost, but not quite, touching her partner's thigh. "I don't want you to compromise," she said. She was so frightened, that her voice was shaking noticeably and she had to keep blinking hard to hold back the tears. "I want to change. I swear I do!"

Giving her a sad, resigned look, Clancy said, "How do you do that? How do you change your personality to please me?"

"I work at it," the brunette said. "I make myself go out of my comfort zone." She thought she saw Clancy's posture soften a little, so she put a hand on her shoulder. Exerting a little pressure, she pushed until Clancy was facing her. Their eyes met, and the younger woman could see that her lover was near panic. "I can't lose you, Clancy. I'll do whatever I have to do to change. I swear it."

Their gaze stayed locked, and Clancy started to feel a knot in her throat forming at the frightened, yet determined look on her lover's face. "I don't wanna give up," she said, surprised when tears started to trickle down her cheeks. "I love you so much."

Before she finished the sentence, Abby was in her arms, both of them crying so hard their bodies shook. "Please don't leave me," Abby begged, her voice hoarse and ragged. "Please, please, please!"

"I love you," Clancy said again. "But I can't be with you for the rest of my life if I'm gonna have to drag everything out of you. You're gonna have to learn how to share you feelings with me," she said. "You have to tell me when you're upset or anxious or worried. That's the whole point of being lovers."

"I swear I'll try harder," Abby said. "I'll practice every day!"

Looking at the earnest expression on Abby's face made her heart break, and Clancy tightened her hold. "I just want you to try," she said. "I need for you to make an effort and acknowledge that you understand why I want to know what's on your mind."

"I think I do," Abby said. "I think you want to know because my mood affects us. Sometimes you might be able to help me through something, rather than my struggling alone."

"Yeah, yeah," Clancy said. "That's it exactly. If we're gonna be lovers there's an us. It's not just you and me. You have to take care of yourself, but you have to take care of us, too."

"I think I understand," Abby said. "But can you be patient with me while I try to change? I know I'll mess things up sometimes."

Clancy pulled away and looked deep into her eyes. "Of course I can be patient. I just haven't felt that you've been trying at all. And I can't live with a woman who tries to keep her life separate from mine. I just can't do it."

"I understand." She let out a big breath and sat up straight. "I feel very confused and conflicted. I'm going through so much with Hayley that it's about to drive me mad. Sometimes I don't even want her in my house, and that's never happened before. I wish I knew how to fix everything, but I don't," she said, tears starting to fall again.

Clancy put her arms around her and urged her stiff body to relax. "It's okay," she said quietly into Abby's ear. "You don't have to have all of the answers today. Just tell me what goes through your mind. What worries you. Those kinds of things."

Looking at Clancy through her tears, she said, "What worries me is losing you. I never thought things were that bad. I I I was sure you'd welcome me into your bed this morning. I've been so confident about us."

"Shhh," Clancy said, feeling like a brute for hurting her lover so badly. "I'm confident, too. I am, baby. It just threw me for a loop when you said you and Will didn't share feelings and you liked it that way. That had never occurred to me."

"If something's bothering you, you have to tell me before you get to the point where you're ready to break up with me," Abby said, her voice still shaking. "It's cruel to spring something like that on me."

"I'm sorry," Clancy said. "I'm really sorry. I never should have said that."

"Promise you won't do it again," Abby said. "Please promise me."

Clancy nodded emphatically. "I do. I promise I won't ever threaten to give up on us unless we both agree that we can't get past something. If I ever say it again, it won't be a surprise."

"I promise, too," Abby said. "I want you beside me for the rest of my life. We can work through anything, baby. Anything."

Clancy put her arms around Abby's neck, letting her hands dangle down her back. "Let's lie down and start this day over again."

Letting herself be moved, they lay together on the futon, Abby's head resting just above Clancy's heart. "This is my favorite place in the world," the brunette said. "I don't know how I'd go on without you."

Clancy kissed the top of her head, staying right where she was so that she could breathe in her scent and feel the softness of her hair. "I must have still be stoned, because I'd rather cut off an arm than lose you. You mean everything to me, sweetheart. You're my heart."

They lay quietly for a while, both of them lost in their thoughts. Even though they were physically close, there was a distance that didn't close until Clancy turned on her side and started to kiss her partner. Long, soft, slow, gentle kisses that helped tumble the walls each had put up during the fight. Slowly, Clancy began to turn up the heat, smiling to herself when Abby started to move under her. "How long can you stay?" she asked.

"All afternoon. I told Hayley that we could have dinner together tonight, but I'm free until then."

Clancy pushed up onto an arm, staying so close that her breath warmed Abby's lips. "I want to make love. Lots of love. But first I have to get up and take a shower and brush my teeth. Any chance of your making me a little breakfast? Just toast and juice, or something simple."

"Sure. Can I put on some of your shorts and a shirt? I don't want to have to get dressed again."

"Michael would love to see you in that camisole," Clancy assured her.

"Maybe so, but it's not his day I'm trying to perk up."

O

Abby curled up between Clancy's legs and rested her head on a muscled thigh while she ate her breakfast. "I can see why Athena likes it here," she murmured. "I feel snug as a bug in a rug."

"I miss the girls," Clancy said, sounding a little wistful. "We couldn't have a dog when I was growing up since no one was home much of the time, and I've never been in a position to have one."

"They miss you, too," Abby said. "Athena lies by the back door and moans when she sees you out on the hill."

After taking a noisy bite of her toast, Clancy said, "That's one worry you won't have for long. We're putting in the sod tomorrow. I'll put a plastic fence around the lawn to keep the pups off, but they can have the rest of the yard back tomorrow."

"Mmm I'm so excited I could burst," Abby said, her eyes animated.

"We tested everything on Friday while you were playing golf. Everything works perfectly."

"I'm not surprised," Abby said. "Although I can't believe you haven't let me see the waterfall running. You're very secretive, Ms. O'Connor."

"No, I'm not really, I just want you to get the full impact. It loses its spark when you see it before it's complete."

"We've got to think of a way to celebrate," Abby said. She tickled under Clancy's chin, but the landscaper didn't giggle as she usually did.

"Don't you mean schedule a time to celebrate?" Clancy look perturbed and her voice was nearly a growl. "This isn't working. At all. We've got to come up with a plan so we can have more time together - not to celebrate, to live."

Abby's heart started to beat a little faster at Clancy's no-nonsense tone. "I know how hard this is for you," she said.

"It's screwing with my mood and my concentration. I'm not used to things throwing me off my stride like this. I'm patient, but it's a lot easier to be patient when you know what you're working for."

Abby blinked. "We're working to make sure my kids get comfortable with this. You know that!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," she said. She put her plate on the bedside table, then lay down.

"I'll make love to you all afternoon long," Abby murmured, drawing patterns on the whisper-soft skin of the thigh beneath her head. "That should help take the edge off, shouldn't it?"

Clancy's body stiffened. "Is that what you think this is? You think I'm just horny? I can have an orgasm any time I need one," she snapped.

Sitting up quickly, Abby faced her and searched her eyes, unsure of where the anger was stemming from. "I didn't that's not what "

Taking a deep breath, then patting her lover absently, Clancy shook her head and said, "Aw, fuck, I'm sorry. I'm trying, but my temper gets the best of me when I'm under stress." She locked eyes with Abby and said, "That's the problem: it's the stress. I don't know when, or where, or how we'll be together again, and that's screwing me up. It's the uncertainly!" She scratched her head, raking her nails through her hair so roughly that Abby could hear them. "Yes, of course I miss making love with you. But what I miss more is being able to talk to you when I want to, to sit under the pergola and watch the sun set after I'm finished working, to hold you when we sleep, to have you over on my side of the bed when I come back from the bathroom in the middle of the night. That's what I miss!"

"I know. I know." Abby climbed up to lie next to her. Grasping her tightly, she cooed softly into her ear. "We'll figure this out. I promise we will." Pulling back, she took a quick breath and said, "Let's make some plans. As soon as Hayley goes back to school, I want you to move in."

The blonde pulled away and stared at her. "What? Where did that come from?"

"Well, once she's gone, we don't have anything keeping us from being together. I don't care if the neighbors know, or my friends "

Clancy nodded. "We'll see how it goes. I don't wanna get my hopes up."

"I want your hopes to be up, permanently."

"Get me another glass of juice and you've made some progress," Clancy said, smiling as she watched Abby slip back into her clothes from the night before. She looked silly in Clancy's clothes, but the fact that she didn't mind looking silly even in front of Michael gave Clancy more hope about their future than words alone could do.

O

"What took you so long?" Clancy asked in her sexiest voice. She was lying on her side, head braced on her hand when Abby returned with the juice.

"I was only gone a minute."

"I got excited while you were gone," she said seductively. Rolling onto her back, the sheet tented up over her pelvis and her hand slid under the crisp blue cotton and started to stroke up and down, her bicep twitching with each motion. Her eyes were locked on Abby's, and the taller woman gulped in surprise.

"What have you got under there? You don't have a pet snake, do you?"

"Come over here and see for yourself," Clancy drawled. "You're gonna be intimately familiar with it in a few minutes."

Eyes wide, Abby asked, "I am?"

"Uh-huh. Very intimate. Very familiar."

Abby placed the juice on the bedside table, then tossed off the clothes and slipped under the sheet, cuddling up against Clancy's chest. "Wanna introduce me to your friend?"

Clancy grabbed her in a tight hug. "I wanna blow some steam off. Sometimes I feel like making soft, sweet love, but today I wanna rock." She pulled back enough to look into Abby's eyes. "Are you okay with that?"

"Yeah," she said, her voice sexy and low. "There's nothing better than make-up sex. Really helps clean out the emotional leftovers."

Clancy lay down and put both hands behind her head. Twitching her hips, she asked, "Sure you don't mind getting a little wild?"

"Mind? You don't know me very well." Abby leaned in and kissed her soundly, running her cool hand down her lover's belly, pausing to tickle the defined abs that always caught her attention. Her hand paused when she reached the top of Clancy's pelvis and she encountered supple, smooth leather. As her tongue entered Clancy's warm mouth, her fingers dipped lower and encountered a cool, pliable phallus of some girth. With a final heated kiss, she pulled the sheet back and slid down, her hot breath against Clancy's stomach as she said, "My, my, my, what a well-endowed woman you are." She grasped the tip and brought it to her mouth, giving it a kiss. "Flexible, too." With a thoroughly fascinated look on her face, Abby twisted the toy into a few extreme positions. "Looks like one of my lovemaking skills is gonna be wasted here. If this doesn't hurt, you won't be able to appreciate my genius."

"Well, I'll admit that I can't feel the same things that a guy can, but I get quite a buzz when it presses against me in just the right spot."

Eyes glimmering with excitement, Abby said, "I wanna give you a buzz. Show me how."

"I thought this was one of your lovemaking skills," Clancy said, giving her partner a mock scowl. "Now you want instruction?"

"I have plenty of experience," Abby said, smiling seductively as she moved her hand gently up and down the shaft. "But with a man, the sensation is in the penis. I don't think that's what'll work for you, big girl."

Clancy gave her an inquisitive look, a little surprised by Abby's interest. "You sure you wanna do this?"

"Yeah, I really am." She scooted down and kissed all across Clancy's belly, finally peering up at her with half-hooded eyes. "It turns me on to think about grinding this against you." She started to dip her head, but stopped herself abruptly. "Uhm is this too heterosexual for you? I don't want to talk you into "

Clancy put her hand on the side of Abby's face, urging her to meet her eyes. "If you're involved it's sexy. Period."

A shy but pleased smile lit Abby's face. "Really?"

"Really. Let's rock." Clancy hopped out of bed before Abby could blink, put one foot on the low futon and grinned wickedly at her partner. "Work your magic."

"I'm been in this position before," Abby said, chuckling mildly as she dropped to her knees. Giving Clancy a stupendously sexy look, Abby opened her mouth and began to delicately lick the silicone, keeping her eyes locked on her lover as she moved from base to tip. Pulling back, she held the toy in her hand and licked her lips, gazing at the object with a salacious smile. Shifting her eyes back to her partner, Abby sucked her in and started to slide up and down the length, a tiny grin pulling at the corners of her mouth. She had obviously done this many times, and it was clear that she was enjoying herself as much as her partner. The dildo wasn't even pressing against Clancy yet, but the landscaper began to grow tremendously aroused, just from the look on her lover's face. Clancy let her mind drift to thoughts of Abby performing this act on a man, a fantasy she'd used many times. She was particular about it, preferring to think of Abby in college, blowing one of the UCLA boys who couldn't break a pencil in half - but it always worked, and she began to moan softly. Swiveling her hips in a slow circle, she started to play with her nipples, grinding her teeth at the pulsing she felt in her groin.

When Abby heard the first signs of her partner's arousal, she pulled all the way back and flicked the tip of the toy with her tongue, then delivered several wet, noisy kisses. With a sexy pout, she placed her elegant fingers along the shaft and swallowed Clancy in one stroke, pressing her lips against the base to push it firmly against the groaning woman. Staying right where she was, Abby nuzzled her entire face into Clancy while she grabbed her ass - hard, making the blonde shiver all over. "My God," Clancy moaned, running her hand through Abby's hair. "If this thing had sensation, I'd be done!"

Abby started to move her head, sliding up and down on the dildo, grinding it into the blonde on each downward stroke. Grasping Clancy's ass, Abby pressed hard against her partner, making the blonde gasp. Looking up, the older woman caught sight of Clancy: eyes closed tightly, tugging and pinching her nipples, her chest heaving. Seeing the familiar signs of her impending climax, Abby pushed her partner onto the futon and shoved the dildo aside, going down on her in a frenzy. Clancy's feet immediately settled onto Abby's shoulders, and her agile body began to twist and jerk in response to the stimulation. "Gentle, gentle, baby," the blonde begged, writhing and shaking. "Kiss me. Just kiss me."

Reining in the passion that was on the verge of exploding, Abby forced herself to follow instructions, barely letting her tongue and lips caress the soft skin. As soon as she lightened up to a whisper-soft touch, Clancy cried out and climaxed noisily, her body shaking so hard that the futon rocked.

The younger woman groaned throatily, pulling Abby to her chest. "Jesus!" she cried, panting raggedly for several moments. "I have never, ever, been blown like that!"

"That's what you get for never giving a straight girl a chance," Abby murmured, cradling Clancy in her arms. "You have to learn to exploit our talents."

Her voice a burr, Clancy said, "If every straight woman gave head like that, there'd be no such thing as divorce."

Abby looked at the totally sated look on her partner's face, Clancy's small smile almost narcotized. Pleased by the sincere compliment, Abby leaned over and kissed her soundly, chuckling. "I told you that I wanted to make sure Will never had the energy to even think about straying. If a man knows he'll always have his needs met, he can't wait to come home at night."

Clancy cuddled her lover tight and said, "God knows I can't wait to get home to be with you. I can only imagine how he felt." She kissed Abby's head and asked, "Did you really like giving head? I've never talked to a woman who does."

"Really?" Abby sat up a little and gazed at Clancy with a puzzled look. "How large is your sample size?"

"Well, not very big, and every one of them was a lesbian at the time we talked about it. Maybe that's part of the reason."

"Mmm might be. I really enjoyed it once I got used to it. When I saw how much Will enjoyed it, I decided to learn how to do it as well as possible." She laughed softly and recalled, "Stephen lent me some gay videos so I could learn a few tricks. They were really helpful, to tell you the truth. Shocked the hell out of Will the first time I stopped him from coming by pressing hard against the base of his "

Suddenly, Clancy's hand was covering her mouth. The blonde kissed her partner's forehead, chuckling. "I have a feeling you were just about to jump into TMI." At Abby's questioning look, she explained, "Too much information. I like to fantasize about you with a man, but I never, ever think about you with Will. You're always with a skinny college boy in my fantasies, and I'd like to keep it there."

Her brow furrowed, Abby said, "But I thought that you liked -"

"I do, baby," Clancy said. "I love hearing about how you felt about Will, and how much you loved each other. I love to hear about the things you did together, and all of the important events of your lives. But a little sexual detail goes a long, long way."

Abby nodded and said, "That makes sense. If I thought about you with Julie, It'd ruin the mood."

"You never think about me with another woman?" Clancy asked.

"No. I don't like to think of that - at all. I like to believe that you're mine alone."

"I am," Clancy said, giving her partner a warm, wet kiss.

"But it doesn't bother you to think about me with men in general?"

"Huh-uh. I think it's hot. Guys are almost always pretty sexual, and I like to think of you giving as much as you got."

Abby smiled at her, then gave her a sexy kiss. "I love to hear about your fantasies. But what d'ya say we take our minds off our pasts and get busy with the present? I've got a clit that just won't quit!" She tugged on the dildo, eyes bright with desire. "What do you say we take this thing for a spin?"

Without a verbal response, the younger woman pounced on Abby and tossed her onto her back. Abby's legs opened immediately and Clancy's toy slipped between them, making her purr. Reaching down, Abby tried to manipulate the toy into herself, but Clancy shook her head and kissed her gently. "Not so fast, speedy. Let's take our time. I want you nice and wet."

Her voice heavy with desire, Abby said, "I'm as wet as I've ever been in my life." She took her lover's hand and slid it down her body, pressing callused fingers between her legs. "Yeah," she purred. "Come on in, baby. I'm ready for you."

"Almost ready," Clancy murmured. "But I think I can make you even hotter." They started to kiss and caress each other, their exploration building to a fever pitch in a matter of minutes. It wasn't the dildo that made Abby's pulse quicken, it was that Clancy was wearing it - trying to entice and excite her - the pure sexiness of the act - and it was working perfectly.

"Come on - come inside me," Abby growled after a particularly fierce bite on the neck.

Clancy shifted her hips and wound up on her back once again. Looking up at Abby with a wicked gleam in her eye, she said, "I think you're ready now, hot stuff." Cocking her head, her eyes slightly narrowed, the blonde said, "You look like the kinda woman who likes to be on top. Come on," she taunted, wrapping her hand around the base of the dildo, and wiggling it provocatively, "I want to watch you ride me."

A jolt of white-hot desire hit Abby right between the legs at the incendiary words. She covered Clancy's mouth and kissed her voraciously, biting and sucking at her lips and tongue while she pinned her to the mattress by the shoulders. "Oh, I'm gonna ride you like you've never been ridden."

Getting to her knees astride Clancy's hips, Abby grasped the phallus and worked the tip of it against herself for a few moments. Clancy's heart almost stopped at the wantonly sexy look on her lover's face, as Abby's eyelids grew heavy and finally closed. Her hips were shifting slowly back and forth, forcing her wetness against the slick knob. She reached out and grabbed Clancy's shoulder hard with one hand, while the other forced just the tip of the phallus between her lips. "Ooo," she gasped, shivering roughly when the firm object began to enter her. "Damn! You're a big girl!"

"Too big? I can go down a step."

"No, no," Abby said, her eyes squeezed shut. "I want you to stretch me wide open, baby."

"Mmm, that's what I want, too," Clancy purred. She placed two fingers astride Abby's opening, a shiver chasing down her spine when she felt the flesh stretched tight. "Come on, you can do it. Take it slow that's it take your time ease it in, baby. Don't force it."

Abby let out a deep breath, her eyes still shuttered tightly, fingers clenched around Clancy's muscular shoulder. Her flesh pulsed lightly against the silicone, and she felt her muscles slowly begin to stretch and loosen to allow her to accommodate the intrusion. Clancy's fingers continued to gently rub the distended tissues, simultaneously coating the phallus with the juices that flowed abundantly from her partner. A deep, throaty moan slipped from Abby's lips as she eased more and more of the hefty toy into herself. Her body was stiff - not a muscle moving except for her thighs, which slowly lowered her until the last inch disappeared. Her eyes opened, then immediately rolled back in her head and she lowered herself onto Clancy's chest, murmuring, "I did the hard work. Now let's see if you know how to use it."

"Oh, baby, I know how to use it," Clancy purred. "You just lie back and enjoy the ride." Using her powerful thighs and torso, Clancy rolled over, taking Abby with her. The blonde hovered over her lover for a moment, and said, "Talk to me, sweetheart. Tell me how it feels."

"I'm not sure I can speak," Abby said, letting out a gentle laugh. "But, I'll try."

With a wicked grin, Clancy started to move, pressing into Abby with short, quick thrusts. When she was sure the dildo was well coated, she slowed down, compressing the base against her lover's vulva on every deliberate stroke. As soon as Abby started to pant, Clancy slowed down until she was barely moving; then spent a long, leisurely time kissing her partner with all of the love she felt in her heart. "How ya doin', baby?" Clancy asked, lifting her head a few inches.

"Mmm I'm in heaven."

"Hitting all of your favorite spots?" Clancy asked, nuzzling against Abby's neck.

"Well, not all of 'em, but the ones you're getting to are very, very happy. No complaints, love."

"Hang in there, babe, I'll get to every spot - guaranteed."

Giving her partner a puzzled look, Abby began to ask, "How ?"

"Trust me, lover. I know what I'm doing." With that, Clancy began to move her, turning Abby onto her side, the dildo still wedged deep inside of her. Pushing Abby's leg up to her chest, the smaller woman instructed, "Grab your knee and get ready. I'm gonna rock you." This angle let Clancy push hard, and in moments Abby was grunting with each thrust, unable to form words.

Slowing her pace, Clancy wiped the sweat from her eyes and slipped out of her partner, kissing Abby's cheek when she let out a small whimper. "I'll be right back," Clancy purred, pushing Abby onto her belly.

The taller woman stretched out, her muscles slightly fatigued from exertion. "I need a little rest," she sighed. "Lie on me, Clance. Let me feel your body." Clancy immediately fulfilled her request, letting the dildo slide between Abby's cheeks. "Uh-unh not there," she said, chuckling. "That monster's way too big."

"I've got one no bigger than my finger," Clancy murmured. "I think you might like it."

The brunette snuck a glance over her shoulder, a wicked smile on her face.

With a quick bite to her partner's neck, Clancy said, "I love a woman who's willing to try everything." She rubbed her body against Abby, purring contentedly as their moist skin created just the right amount of friction. Sliding down just a bit, Clancy started to suck and bite her way down Abby's body, making her partner squirm under her assault. By the time she reached her smooth cheeks, Abby was growling - her low, sexy voice making Clancy's clit throb.

"Fill me up again," the taller woman begged. "I need you inside me."

Pushing one of Abby's legs up, Clancy entered her again, and began to thrust - first deeply, then shallowly, never staying with any one movement for too long - always keeping Abby slightly off balance. Clancy was clearly running the show, and Abby surrendered to her completely - knowing that the more experienced woman would take her just where she needed to go.

Clancy began to thrust harder and faster, the soft silicone rubbing against her own vulva. Spreading her hands across Abby's ass, she lifted up just enough to be able to pump into her with all of her might, getting such a perfect rhythm going that before she knew it, she was crying out in a loud voice - her own climax catching her completely off guard. "Oh, my God," she moaned, having collapsed heavily against her partner. "God damn that felt good!"

"Ooo, I was close," Abby groaned, her fists pounding against the mattress. "So close."

"Oh, damn, baby, I'm sorry. I got carried away."

"No, no," Abby soothed. "I'm not ready to come - but I almost couldn't stop myself. Take a minute and rest, sweetheart, and let me get my bearings." She reached behind herself and patted Clancy's wet ass. "You're working so hard - you deserve a nice rest."

Clancy obviously had more stamina than Abby would have guessed, because without even knowing how she got there, Abby found herself stretched out on her belly on the edge of the futon, her feet barely touching the floor. "And you need a nice, big orgasm," Clancy growled, nipping at the soft skin on Abby's back. Clancy stood and pressed into her until Abby saw stars, then the landscaper pulled back until she was barely inside. Adjusting her angle, she gently pumped her hips back and forth - only just managing to stay inside. With a deep groan, Abby started to pant, then let out some of the most tortured sounds that Clancy had ever heard. Abby's clit had been pulsing painfully for untold minutes, but she didn't want this delicious ride to come to an end. "Give me a minute," she panted, holding onto Clancy's hip. "I'm close, but it feels sooooo good. I don't want it to stop - ever."

"I've got all day," Clancy soothed, lovingly brushing the damp strands of hair from Abby's face. She withdrew once again and helped her partner lie down on her back, then climbed on top of her again. She dipped her head, kissing Abby slowly, letting her tongue explore the heated depths of her mouth. "I'm not too heavy for you, am I?"

Abby wrapped her arms around her lover, holding on so tightly that she nearly bruised her. "No, no, I want you as close as you can get. I love to feel you pressing me into the mattress just as hard as you can."

Clancy moved her hips just a few inches, gently sliding the dildo along Abby's swollen outer lips, making the older woman grunt. "Ready for a little more?"

"Mmm give me another minute," Abby murmured. "I'm still throbbing hard."

Trying to wedge her hand between their merged bodies, Clancy got an impish look on her face and asked, "Can I feel?"

"Huh-uh," Abby said, shaking her head while she chuckled weakly. "One touch and I'm gone."

"You're in charge. You decide when you want to come."

"Oh, Clancy," Abby sighed. "This feels so fantastic. To have you lying on top of me, working so hard to bring me pleasure. I love being able to kiss you and look into your eyes while you're inside me."

"I love being with you like this," Clancy said, dipping her head to kiss Abby thoroughly. "I feel so close to you. I can feel your heart beating against my chest."

Abby held her tightly, then began to return her kisses, the caress growing in intensity until she was holding Clancy's head with both hands and hungrily consuming her. Abby's legs suddenly wrapped around Clancy's hips, and she pulled away just enough to murmur, "A little more, baby."

"You want it - I've got it," the blonde growled as she glided into her, Abby's slickness easing the way. The younger woman pushed up onto her hands and thrust firmly, making Abby moan throatily.

"Deeper," Abby panted, hitting the mattress with the flat of her hands. "I need you deep inside."

Immediately fulfilling her partner's need, Clancy pried Abby's legs from their crushing hold and maneuvered one of them onto her shoulder. Pushing deep inside, she felt Abby's hands move to her arms, gripping them with a power that surprised her. The growl that sprang from Abby's throat was deeply thrilling for Clancy, and she tried to make her partner do it again. She slung Abby's other leg up and held on to her thighs, lifting her hips off the bed. Bracing herself firmly, she thrust hard, and deep, watching Abby's eyes and mouth open wide - unable to emit a single sound.

Clancy gave her everything she had, the sweat dripping down her chin to land on Abby's chest. The blonde worked over her, her buttocks clenching with each powerful thrust. After just a few moments, Abby's expression grew pained, and Clancy could see that she was struggling.

Dipping her head until they were face to face, Clancy rasped, "You know you wanna come. Don't fight it. Come on, baby, come for me." That simple command released Abby, and as soon as the base of the toy brushed against her clit she came explosively, grabbing everything her hands came in contact with - Clancy's hair, her skin, her sturdy biceps, the sweat-soaked sheet - her body jerking and spasming ceaselessly. The blonde slowed to a snail's pace, rocking gently while Abby's flesh pulsed and twitched.

Suddenly, Abby was kissing her - kissing every part of her lover that her lips could reach. Lavishing kisses in her hair, on her damp face, all over her neck and shoulders. Wrapping her arms around Clancy, she grasped her in a bone-bruising embrace that seemed to grow tighter as the moments ticked by.

Slowly, Abby became aware of her surroundings again and loosened her fervid hold. "Jesus, you do know how to use that thing," she moaned. "But my legs were so fatigued that I had a hard time letting go enough to come."

"Mmm simple solution," Clancy said, grinning wickedly. "Ankle restraints. I'll slap a pair on your ankles and tie them together. Then you can let your legs dangle around my shoulders without holding them up on your own."

"Damn, you do know what you're doing," Abby teased. Reaching down, she started to slide the phallus from herself, but stopped abruptly. "Too soon," she murmured, patting Clancy's back. "Can you hold still for a minute, honey? I'm locked around this thing like a vise. Men get a little smaller when they're finished, but I don't think this thing has that ability."

"No rush, take all the time you need." Clancy was hovering over her, and she gently kissed her a few times. Slowly, Abby began to relax and get into the kisses, and after a few minutes, the dildo popped out all on its own, making Abby shiver roughly. "You must never, ever let men know how effective those are," she murmured. "They'll be outlawed before you can blink."

"It'll be our little secret," Clancy said, kissing a path down her throat and nipping at her still-thrumming pulse. She cuddled up against Abby and they kissed gently, just exploring each other for long minutes, letting their kisses calm Abby's racing heart while they simultaneously managed to quicken Clancy's.

Slowly but surely, the passion started to grow, with Clancy eventually lying on her back, panting softly as Abby kissed her hungrily. The blonde was still wearing the dildo, and Abby stroked it with her fist, her hand sliding up and down the slick surface easily. "So, do you uhm can I ?"

"You want me to flip for you?" Clancy asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uhm is that what it's called?" Abby asked tentatively.

"Yeah. That's what they call it. Some women won't flip for anyone." Clancy kissed her again and said, "I'm particular, but I'll gladly flip for you. I'll flip for any woman who can give me a good workout."

Eyes wide, Abby said, "Maybe we'd better wait until I have some more instruction. I'm sure I can't use it like you can."

"You can if you practice," Clancy said. "And there's no time like the present."

"Tell ya what," Abby said, "This time, why don't you use it on yourself while I do my favorite thing? I want to watch how you move it in yourself."

"Gladly," Clancy said, giving her lover a gentle smile. "We'll work up to the big show."

"How about we choose a day where I have some control of my muscles," Abby suggested, laughing weakly. "You wore me out."

"That's my goal," Clancy said, beaming a grin at her. "I want you to be too tired to even think about ever leaving my bed."

"Mission accomplished," Abby assured her, sliding down Clancy's body to get to the business at hand.

O

A half hour later, Abby was jumping around the room, the silicone bouncing up to slap against her stomach. "Having one of these is fun!" she giggled, wiggling the well-used device at Clancy. "No wonder men are so fond of them."

"I think they're even more fun when you add a few million nerve cells and a nice blood supply."

"Yeah, yeah, of course that's true," Abby said, her voice bright and animated. "But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the way it makes you feel to have one of these big things hanging between your legs."

Clancy reached over and wrapped her hand around the base of the toy. "There'd be fewer wars if everyone had one this big," she said. "What a wonderful world it would be if every one was exactly the same size. The 'mine's bigger than yours' fights would be a thing of the past."

"Oh, if it wasn't that, it would be the size of their hands or their feet," Abby said. "Guys would be stuffing newspaper into their shoes to be able to wear a bigger size." Abby lifted her arms over her head and wiggled her hips to make the hefty appendage dance. "It just makes you feel powerful - like you rule the world!"

Clancy sat halfway up, an amused smile on her face. "You're really getting off on this, aren't you? I can't wait to see how you feel when you actually use it!"

"Yeah, I am." Abby grinned shyly and said, "I feel differently about myself when I'm wearing this. I might wear it all the time!"

"People do," Clancy drawled, giggling at Abby's expression.

"You're kidding. Women do?"

"Yep. They call it 'packing'. They sell these cool little flesh colored penises that I'm told feel like the real thing."

"To the wearer?" Abby asked, confusedly.

"Ahh no," Clancy said, chuckling. "That would be a brisk seller, though, wouldn't it? No," she said still laughing. "They say it really feels like flesh - but there's no sensation, of course. Some women like to wear jockey shorts and put one of these little gizmos in the pouch. It's more of a mental thing than a physical thing, I'd think."

"I can see that," Abby said, unconsciously dropping her hand to stroke her faux phallus. "It really does give you a feeling of power - albeit temporarily. I mean, our culture is all about the power of sex and this monster is the poster child for sex, isn't it?"

"Sure, I guess," Clancy said. Rolling onto her stomach, she crossed her legs at the ankle and lazily flexed her knees. "I've never seen anyone try on a simple sex toy and launch into a political analysis." Grinning wickedly, she asked, "Is this what those long nights in the dorm at UCLA were like?"

Abby climbed onto the futon and grabbed Clancy in a rough embrace. They wrestled playfully, with Clancy pinning her easily. Panting from exertion, the larger, but weaker, woman said, "When I was at UCLA, I opted out of the dildo demonstration, but the political elements were always present."

"Do you regret it?" Clancy asked, leaning over her from her victorious position.

"Not a bit," she said. "I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did today. I enjoy sex much more now than I did then."

"I'll say it once again," Clancy said. "I'm a lucky, lucky woman."

O

Chapter Twenty-three

Clancy was just getting out of the shower on Monday morning when her cell phone rang. Dashing for her room, still dripping, she picked up the little device, pleased and a little concerned to see Abby's name in the caller identification window. "Hi," she said, slightly out of breath.

"Do you have plans for breakfast?"

"Uhm no. Why?"

"I'd like to make you a nice meal and have a little time with you. Whadda say?"

"You're on," Clancy said, her smile blooming. "Be there in twenty."

O

Having breakfast together cheered Clancy up dramatically. For the first time since she had been working on the landscape, she wished the day would go slower because it was the last one at the Graham house. At three o'clock, she was rolling the new sod, taking her time to make sure it was done perfectly - as well as to waste enough time for Abby to get home from her afternoon meeting.

Her heart started to beat a little faster when she heard a quick horn honk and looked up to see Abby pulling into the driveway. She made it to the yard in record time, her ebullient smile warming Clancy's heart. "Today's the day!" she said, waving to all of the workmen.

"Sure is," Clancy said. "I was afraid we'd be gone by the time you got home, and we only like to do that when things don't work well." Abby walked over to her and put an arm around her, giving her a squeeze that looked far too friendly to be coming from a client.

The dogs had heard their owner drive up, and they began to bark their heads off once they saw her in the yard with Clancy. "Can I bring my entourage?" she asked.

"Yeah, but let us get rid of the last of our equipment first. I don't wanna risk having the gate left open."

"You're always so thoughtful," Abby said, making Clancy blush when every one of her men heard the compliment.

Ramon, always gallant, gave Abby one of his brilliant smiles. "Let me take the roller out, and you can show Mrs. Graham some of the details."

"I'll help you," Clancy said. She looked at Abby and held up a finger. "One minute." She pushed the roller, while Ramon and the other men scrambled around making sure they'd taken everything to the truck. Two of the men pushed the roller up the ramp and into the truck as Ramon walked over to Clancy. He leaned over and kissed her on the head, a rare but not unknown gesture. "I'm very happy for you, jefa," he said. "Mrs. Graham is a lovely woman, and it's easy to see how happy you make her."

Clancy flushed pink in a matter of seconds. "Thanks," she said. "I'm sorry I didn't come right out and tell you, but we're trying to take things slow."

"The daughter is a problem, no?"

"Yep. The daughter is a problem, but things will calm down I hope."

"Things will be fine," Ramon said. "You are both very strong women. I have confidence in you."

Clancy gave him a hug, feeling a little awkward when she did. They had always been friendly and had often had barbeques together. She'd gone to watch soccer with the crew several times, and they'd all been to her parents' house for parties. But there had always been a bit of a barrier. She wasn't sure if it was cultural or because she was a woman or because she was the boss, but she knew it was something. Nonetheless, she knew Ramon cared for her, and she felt the same about him. "Thanks," she said again, unable to think of anything more demonstrative. "Thanks a lot."

He pulled away and started to walk to the truck. "Enjoy the presentation," he said. "We'll leave you alone."

"You guys did most of the work," she complained. "Come take some of the praise!"

"No, no," he said. "This is for you alone. See you tomorrow." He ducked into the truck, turned on his banda music and took off, leaving Clancy standing on the street, smiling at him.

When Clancy opened the gate, the dogs ran for her. After kissing her repeatedly, they ran around like they'd been captives for months - which in a way, they had. Having the work crew in the yard all summer had really interfered with their usual routine of sunning themselves, frequent dips in the pool, and barking at the UPS truck, but the end was finally at hand.

Abby walked over to the gate and took Clancy's hand as she surveyed the entire picture. The finished product was more than she'd hoped for, with the wall and waterfall giving the impression they'd been in place for years. The flow of the water had real force, which was exactly what Abby wanted to drown out the noise of the neighbors. "We can adjust the water pressure if you want," Clancy said. "This is pretty loud, but it's a nice, calming noise, versus the shrieks of those kids."

"No," Abby said, shaking her head. "This is just what I wanted. Oh, the plants look wonderful, Clancy. You put in some very nice specimens. They really look healthy."

Clancy decided not to mention that her nurseryman was barely speaking to her after she'd made him re-order the plants three times when they didn't meet her exacting standards. It was vital to her that every element of the job was perfect for Abby, and she was going to do whatever she had to do to make sure that happened. "I left a little space on both sides of the stream for you to add things that strike your fancy," Clancy said. "Once you get used to it, I assume you'll want to tweak the design a bit. I know how you gardeners are."

"It's perfect," Abby said. "I couldn't be happier with it or with you." She kissed her gently, running her hands up and down Clancy's shoulders and back.

"Isn't Hayley -?"

"Yes, she's home, but she can't see us here. Besides, I don't care who sees us. I have to kiss you to thank you for this fantastic yard. I've never been happier." They stood there for a few minutes, while Abby's sharp eyes took in every detail. "I just wish we could christen it," she said, her voice falling in disappointment.

"Christen it?"

"Yeah. I wanna hop in the pool and sample the waterfall for a bit, then spread out a few cushions on the patio and see how much noise the water cancels out."

"Huh? What noise?"

"The moans and groans and whimpers that will come out of your mouth when I make love to you. That's what I've been dreaming of ever since I started to fall in love with you."

Clancy hugged her, holding on for a long time. "We'll do that as soon as Hayley leaves for school. We just have to wait."

"I hate to wait," Abby said, leaning her head against her lover's.

O

The couple didn't see each other for the rest of the week. Clancy was roaming all over the San Gabriel Valley, and it was inconvenient for her to stop by Abby's at 6:00 a.m. just so they could have breakfast together. Abby still didn't feel comfortable going out at night if Hayley was going to be home, and the girl seemed to like nothing better than having a friend over for dinner - trapping her mother.

Hayley decided to have a big pool party on Sunday, and she and Abby were busy all weekend with preparations for the event. Clancy decided it was self-defeating to sit around and do nothing just because Abby wasn't available, so she invited Michael up to her parents' house for a barbeque of their own on Saturday.

Sunday morning was a reprise of the previous weekend - with Abby sneaking over to Clancy's for a sensual, rather than spiritual communion. Clancy opened the door with a wide, sexy grin on her face. "I normally don't open the door to people trying to spread the good word, but you're too pretty to turn away. Come on in and tell me all about Jesus." She reached out and snuck her finger into the waistband of Abby's melon-colored linen skirt and gave it a tug. When Abby was standing on the threshold, Clancy let her hands wander over and under the wide straps of the square-cut, white linen, sleeveless top. "Very pretty," she said. "It's a shame it has to come off." Before Abby could reply, the top was lying on the small, wooden table by the door, and Clancy's mouth was nuzzling her breast through her camisole.

Strong hands went to Clancy's head and pulled her close, pressing her hard against the breast. "We've gotta work fast," the brunette got out, her words half-moaned. "I can only stay an hour."

Clancy's mouth stopped sucking, and her grip eased, then released. She stood and looked at Abby with annoyance. "What?"

Immediately trying to placate her, Abby said, "Only two more weeks. Then Hayley's back at school."

Turning, the blonde walked into the kitchen and picked up her coffee cup. She hoisted herself onto the counter and assessed Abby with cool eyes. "Then Trevor gets home, and for all we know, he'll throw a bigger fit than Hayley has." Her mouth was working, and she looked like she wanted to say something more, but she put the big cup to her lips and sipped slowly, trying to control her temper.

Abby went to her and stood between her legs, gently stroking the skin that peeked out from her boxer shorts. "I know this is hard, honey, but we have so little time together " She waited for an answer, and when she didn't receive one, she went on. "Let's not fight. We're wasting the only hour we've had alone this week."

"You wanted to make love?" Clancy asked, her tone even and calm.

With a nervous laugh, Abby nodded. "Yes, of course. I feel so close to you when we do." She trailed her fingers down Clancy's bare chest, feeling the soft skin where it covered bone, then muscle, then pliable flesh. Her hand covered the decorated breast, and she squeezed it, then leaned in to kiss her partner.

Clancy kissed her but didn't try to escalate matters. She looked at Abby again and asked, "It doesn't bother you to fly over here, throw your clothes off, have sex, get dressed and run home - all in an hour?"

"I'd rather we had all day. Hell, I'd rather we had all of our lives! But we don't right now. So, I think about it like I did when I was in high school and my boyfriend and I would park in front of my parents' house." She laughed now, her lips parting as she recalled those days. "On the drive home, I'd think about what we'd do, and as soon as we parked, we'd be in this mad rush to touch each other. I knew we'd have a half-hour or so before my father turned the light on and off a couple of times, signaling me to come inside." She smiled at Clancy and said, "It wasn't what I wanted, but it was very exciting. Sometimes quick sex is a real turn-on."

Clancy put her cup on the counter and squirmed away from Abby. She slid from her perch and walked away, depositing herself on the sofa. "I like quick sex, too. But I like it because we're so hot for each other we can't wait, not because you lie to your child about going to church and show up unannounced."

Stung, Abby stayed right where she was. "I I asked Hayley to go with me. I wasn't sure if she would or not until I was ready to leave the house."

Looking at the clock on her VCR, Clancy said, "It's 11:45. Is this the first service they have?"

"No," Abby said, confused. "But I always go to the 11:15 service. I always have."

"But you could go earlier?"

"Yes. There's a nine o'clock mass."

"So you could have left before Hayley got up like at 7:00, and have been gone for hours without her even noticing, right?"

Her voice had taken on a razor-sharp edge, and Abby knew she'd made a very serious error in judgment. She walked over to the sofa and sat down next to her partner. "Yes, I could have." She let out a heavy breath. "I don't know why I didn't."

Clancy pulled her legs up, planting both feet on the edge of the sofa. Her arms rested on her knees, hands dangling. "Maybe it's more exciting for you to make this like a game. Maybe the whole thing seems like a game."

Abby's voice grew sharp. "Don't put thoughts in my head, Clancy. It might seem like I'm okay with how things are, but that's only because I'm trying my best to be upbeat. I hate this as much as you do."

Still not looking at her lover, Clancy said, "You don't know how much I hate this, so don't assume you know how I feel. You don't."

Angry and hurt, Abby got up and walked to the door. She slipped her top back on and said, "Call me when you feel like having a conversation. I don't have the strength to deal with both you and Hayley pouting." She waited a moment, hoping Clancy would ask her to stay, but the blonde head remained unmoved, staring at the blank television.

O

Clancy knew she should call and apologize, but she felt like sulking. Having little else to keep herself occupied, she went up to Sierra Madre, surprising her mother when she walked into the house in the late afternoon, sipping one of her favorite malts.

"Well, Clancy O'Connor, I think I've seen more of you in the last twenty-four hours than I have in the last three months!"

"Complaining?"

"Never!" Margaret kissed her and said, "You just missed your grandmother. Daddy just dropped her off at the church to play bingo."

Clancy found it funny that her grandmother had given up the religion long before, but was completely unable to forsake her addiction to bingo - exclusively of the Catholic variety. "I'm gonna hang for a while, if that's okay. Want me to go to the store and buy something for dinner?"

"Are you quite all right?" Margaret asked, making a show of feeling her daughter's forehead.

"I owe you a few thousand meals, Mom. I'd be happy to pop for one."

Looking at her quizzically, Margaret said, "I'm serious. Is everything all right, honey?"

"No." She gave her mother a smile and said, "I've been thinking about how hard it is to be a parent. Watching Abby go through all of this crap with Hayley has given me a new perspective on how kids suck the life right out of you."

Margaret wrapped her daughter in a warm hug and said, "It was never hard being your mom." After placing a kiss on both cheeks, she released her child and said, "I really don't envy Abby, though. This has got to be hard on the whole family."

"Yeah, I'm sure it won't be a day at the beach with Trevor, either. Even though Abby thinks he'll be fine with it." Clancy had finished her malt, and she walked into the kitchen to throw the container away. She poked her head into the refrigerator and saw that the cupboard was pretty bare. "Let me go to the store and buy a nice roast. We can cook it outside on the rotisserie. You know how Dad loves that."

Margaret gave her daughter a kiss and patted her on the butt. "That would be lovely, honey. Buy whatever looks good."

O

When Clancy returned, her father was already getting the rotisserie ready. "There's my best girl," he beamed when she went out back to say hello.

"Hi, Pop." She gave him a kiss and sat down to watch him putter with his toys.

Looking at her speculatively, he asked, "Fight?"

"Yeah."

"Talk about it?"

"Nah."

She watched him work and nodded when he offered a beer. He returned a few minutes later with the roast on the spit and two beers held by their necks in one large hand. She took hers and sipped on it, not saying another word. John hummed a little while he worked, then sat down and watched the roast begin to spin. They watched the meat as though it were a fascinating television show, neither speaking until it had begun to brown. "I'm so sick of Hayley that I'm thinking of going on vacation until she leaves for school."

"In August?" John's incredulity could be heard loud and clear. "You can't pick up and leave during your busiest season!"

"It's my business," she grumbled, knowing she was acting childish.

"True. It's yours for as long as you don't piss off your clients or your crew." He took the bottle cap he'd removed earlier and flipped it at her, catching her on the shoulder. "What's really goin' on? The kid's gotta be leaving soon."

"Two weeks," Clancy said.

"Since when can't you wait two weeks for somethin' you really want? Jesus, you waited two years to go to college so you could go where you really wanted!"

"It's not the time," she said, feeling tired and cranky. "It's it's that Hayley always comes first."

"You knew that going in," John said. "Little late to have circumstances change."

"I know that," she said, her voice testy and sharp. "I don't want circumstances to change. I just want Abby to spend a little time thinking of ways to see me more. We didn't have any time together this week, and it makes me nuts!"

"What does she say when you tell her that?"

Clancy leaned back in her chair and let her head loll back. "I just told her today. That's what we fought about."

"What did she say?" he asked again.

She gave him a vague shrug. "She didn't say much. She was mad at me for being mad at her."

John got up and put a thermometer in the roast, nodding to himself when it registered just where he expected it to be. "So, you told her you want her to keep you in the game, right?"

"Right."

"But this is the first time you've told her that, right?"

She shrugged again. "Not really. She knows I'm not happy with the way things are."

He put his hands on his hips, adopting the same stance he did when he chewed out one of his employees. "Have you specifically told her what you need her to do to make you happy?"

"No," she said, her voice barely audible.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" he asked, making her head snap up. "You don't take off from your job in August, and you don't get pissed because somebody isn't doing something if you didn't ask her to do it. Grow up!"

"I'm plenty grown up," she snapped.

"The hell you are! You knew this was gonna be hard, but you didn't want to quit. You've been stewing about this for a while, but you haven't told her how to fix it. That's not fair to her, and that's not mature! Now straighten out and fly right or cut her loose. The last thing she needs is another kid!"

Clancy pressed her lips together, knowing she was on the verge of saying something very rude. Her father went into the house to get another beer, and she tried to calm her racing mind to let his words sink in. He was gone much longer than he needed to be, and when he came back, she took the offered beer and said, "Abby said the same thing to me today."

"What?"

"She said she didn't have the strength to have both Hayley and me acting like children."

"She's right," he said.

"I get it, Dad. I get it. You've made your point. I'll call her tonight and apologize."

"'Bout time," he mumbled, laughing softly to himself.

"Do you ever get tired of being right?"

"Not really. Comes naturally."

"Too bad I didn't get your hilarious sense of humor," she said, obviously teasing.

"I always thought so." He fussed with his roast for a moment and said, "To tell you the truth, I'm surprised it took you this long to snap. Not like you to be this patient with a woman."

She grinned wryly at him. "I've never been in love with one before, Dad. The rules change."

"They do indeed," he nodded, chuckling softly. "So, is this kid always gonna be a problem?"

"Looks like it," she said. "But it's something I'm going to have to learn to deal with. I'd rather she was childless, but she's not. You've gotta take people like you find 'em."

"Too damned bad, ain't it?"

"Sure as hell is," she agreed, taking a long pull on her beer.

O

Because of Hayley's party, a short phone conversation was all that Abby could manage, but she was very relieved to have Clancy call to apologize. She did the same, and they hung up, agreeing to try to find some time to see each other even though it was difficult.

O

The next afternoon, Clancy was idling on the Pasadena freeway when she answered her cell phone.

"Where are you, honey?"

"Heading home. I'm almost at Fair Oaks."

"Did you have a good day?"

"Not bad. I spent too long at a client's house in Beverlywood, and now I'm stuck in traffic. I'm trying to get home to take a quick nap before dance class."

Abby pouted. "I wanna go."

"Michael's always happy to bow out. You know I'd rather take you."

With a tone filled with yearning, Abby said, "Hayley's gonna be home for dinner. I should stay."

"Whatever," the blonde said. "I'll think of you when I'm leading Michael around the dance floor."

"You lead?'

"Yep. I told you before," Clancy said, her wicked grin managing to make it through the phone line. "I always lead."

Abby hung up, standing in place with her hand still on the phone, thinking of how wonderful it felt to have Clancy guide her around the dance floor. Hayley walked into the room and said, "That won't make it ring."

Shaking her head, Abby pulled her hand away and walked into the den, irritated by Hayley's mere presence.

O

On Tuesday morning, Hayley was up earlier than usual. She walked downstairs, wearing a mysterious smile. "Hey," she said when she spotted her mother. "Can I borrow the car this morning?"

"Sure. Going somewhere special?"

"Uh-huh."

Her smile grew, and she turned to go back upstairs, with Abby following her with her eyes. I think I could pin her. If I got her out the front door and called the locksmith

O

Around noon, the dogs started to bark, and a moment later Abby heard the garage door open. A loud clatter from the laundry room made her get up to see what was going on. She pushed open the door at the same time Trevor was pulling it from his side. Caught off-balance, she fell into his arms, feeling his sturdy body hold her effortlessly. "You must've missed me," he said, laughing.

She had to scramble to get her feet set in the small space, since both dogs were jumping, barking, and doing their patented flips of joy at seeing Trevor. "God, yes!" she cried. She wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a long, strong hug. "I missed you like crazy!"

"I missed you, too, Mom," he said softly. "Very much."

"Nice surprise, huh?" Hayley asked, giggling.

"The nicest," Abby agreed.

She backed up, giving the kids room to walk into the kitchen. She watched as Trevor hefted his bags into the room, marveling at how much his body looked like his father's. She gazed at him with a wistful smile, making him reach out and tweak her nose. "Don't tell me: I look older and better than when I left."

She hugged him again, letting her hand fall to give him a swat on the seat. "I know I'm predictable, but you should be used to that by now."

"You're not so predictable," Hayley said, her words teasing but her tone serious.

"Depends on the day," Abby said, refusing to let her daughter bait her into talking about Clancy at that moment. "Are you hungry, honey?" she asked her son.

"A little. I had lunch and dinner on the plane, but it wasn't very good."

"Oh, right, your body thinks it's 9:00 p.m., doesn't it?"

"Yeah. Maybe I'll just have some caffeine. I wanna stay up so I can go to bed around 10:00. I wanna get back on California time as soon as I can."

He walked over to the refrigerator and took out a can of Coke. While he poured it into a glass, Abby asked, "Did you leave early, honey, or did the program end sooner than it was supposed to?"

Trevor tilted his head back and nearly drained his glass. "A little of both," he said. "We were finished, but the other people in the program were dragging their feet in writing out the final report. They were working a couple of hours a day and hanging out until three or four a.m. I got sick of it and wanted to come home - so I left."

Abby stood next to him and put her hand on his waist. "Really?"

He avoided her eyes while filling his glass. "Yeah. I want to find a job, not sit around getting drunk in Venice. I mean, it was fun, but we'd been partying for over two weeks." He looked down and smiled at his mother. "Maybe I was just pissed that I hadn't hooked up with anyone."

"No one?" she asked, grinning at him.

"Nope. There were ten girls in the program, and the only decent ones were engaged. I didn't have a date the whole time I was gone."

"You should have been here," Hayley said. "Love was in the air." She was sitting on one of the tall chairs by Abby's counter-height desk. Her mother had grown tired of her lobbing innuendo-filled bombs into the conversation.

Staring at Hayley, Abby said, "I'm sure Trevor and I will discuss Clancy, but we'll do it alone."

The girl gulped noticeably, not used to having her mother be obviously upset with her. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I'll go swim for a while so you can talk."

"You don't need to leave, Hayley. You just need to stop being passive-aggressive."

Hayley nodded. "I think I'm better at leaving." With that, she went into the downstairs bathroom to put on her swimsuit.

As soon as she left, Trevor looked at his mother. "Has she been like this all summer?"

"Uh-huh. I almost put her in a FedEx box and sent her to you."

Trevor touched his mother's shoulder. "You should have, Mom. I'm serious. You shouldn't have to put up with her when she's being a jerk."

Abby laughed softly. "I think she acts like a jerk because I allow her to." She took her son's hand and led him into the living room so Hayley wouldn't hear them. They sat down on the sofa, just close enough to be able to touch once in a while. "I always encouraged you to say what was on your mind, Trevor, and you never abused that privilege. But Hayley's a very different kid. I think I should have set firmer limits with her. I thought the same techniques I used with you would work with her, but they haven't."

"She's not a bad kid, Mom. Believe me, I'd rather be with Hayley than most of the girls on my project. At least she's not obsessed with how she looks and whether someone else is getting attention."

"Really a bad bunch, huh?"

"Yeah," he said, his forehead wrinkled in thought. "The guys were good, but the girls really sucked. They were always pouting about something."

"Hayley's been doing her share of pouting," Abby said, smiling.

"Yeah, but at least she's not usually like that. She she's having a real hard time with this, Mom."

She put her hand on his knee, giving it a squeeze. "I know, honey." She took a deep breath. "How much do you know?"

"I know just about everything," he said. "I know what happened, and I know how it happened, and I know how Hayley feels about it." He shrugged. "It's more than a little weird, but I'm not mad at you or anything."

She gazed at him for a moment, feeling so much better to have him home again. "How do you feel, sweetheart?"

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I guess it depends on the day. I want you to be happy, Mom, so that's what I focus on. If you're happy with Clancy I want you to go for it."

"I think I already have," Abby said, her smile wry. "I've told your grandparents, Ellen, Pam, Maria, Spencer I'm sure it won't be long before Marjorie is marching up and down the hill telling all of the neighbors."

He laughed at that, imagining the older, rotund woman hefting herself up the steep hill to spread her juicy news. "How did everyone take it?"

"Ellen has been the worst," Abby said. "Well, your grandfather isn't very happy about it, but at least he hasn't insulted my intelligence."

Trevor's mouth dropped open. "Ellen did that?"

"Yep." Abby let her head drop back and felt the cushion press against the spot where she was getting a headache. "She told me she couldn't be friends with me anymore."

"No!" The look on his face showed that he assumed she was kidding, but her expression showed she was deadly serious. "But why ?"

"She thinks I'm being selfish," Abby said. "She thinks I'm putting my needs before yours and Hayley's."

His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head. "We're adults now; you don't have to treat us like little kids anymore. It's not like being with a woman is such a big deal." He shoved some of his thick, dark hair from his eyes. "I mean, yeah, it's weird, and it's gonna take some getting used to, but it's not like you're going out with somebody who's mean or evil or something. Clancy's just a chick right?"

"Pretty much," Abby agreed. "A young chick, but a chick."

"Yeah. That part's a little weird, too," he admitted. "I never thought my stepfather would be a girl just about my age, but I guess you didn't either, right?"

His gaze had sharpened, and Abby had a feeling he wasn't asking his question. "What's on your mind, Trev? Come on, tell me."

He sat quietly for a moment, then asked, "You haven't been uhm wanting to be with women before, right?"

She took a moment to consider his words. "Do you mean while your father was alive?"

"Yeah." He put his head down, unable to look at her.

She put her hand on his cheek, urging him to meet her eyes. "Honey, I loved your dad more than you'll ever know. He was my first love, and I wouldn't have traded him for all of the women in the world. I never, ever wished that I'd picked another man or a woman. He was the one. He'll always be the one."

She was crying now, and Trevor scooted over to hold her. "But you love Clancy, right?" he asked.

"Yes, of course I do. But it's not the same. It's hard to explain, but there's something unique about your first love. When you marry and have children together, there's I don't even know how to put it into words. But it's different. Your father was the love of my life. That will never change, no matter how much I love Clancy. She'll be my partner, but with your dad we were a family. Having you and Hayley made us into a unit. I know it'll never be like that with Clancy. And so does she," she added. "She wants to fit in, but she can't act like she's related to you and Hayley. She'll be your mother's partner."

"But you'll want her to be at all of our family events, right?"

"Of course!"

"I'd like to have some kinda relationship with her," he said, looking a little confused. "But I don't know -"

"Honey. Just let things happen. If you like her, something will develop. If you don't like her well I guess you'll just have to have a few drinks to get through holiday dinners." She leaned over and tickled him on the ribs, making him giggle like a child.

"Stop!" he begged, squirming. "Please!"

"I'll be good," she promised, holding her hands up.

"Not fair," he insisted. "You know all of my weak spots."

She put her arm around him and hugged him tight. "I do. But you know most of mine, too. The blessing and the curse of family."

O

Trevor went upstairs to unpack, but after just a few moments he came racing down the stairs. "Mom! Why didn't you tell me you were done?"

"What?" she asked, meeting him at the stairs.

"The yard!" He trotted for the back door, both dogs following him. Abby was delighted by his glee, and she fell in line. They went outdoors and Trevor stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head in amazement. "I never would have believed this was our yard," he said. "This isn't just an improvement - it's a complete transformation." He turned and smiled at his mother. "Clancy's got a load of talent, Mom."

His smile was contagious, and she matched it immediately. "She is, Trev. Thanks for saying so."

"I've got to get into my suit and let that waterfall hit me," he said, grinning like a child. "Wanna join me?"

"Not right now, but I will soon."

He ran into the house, taking the stairs two at a time. "Hurry up, Mom. That pool looks too good!"

As soon as Trevor went outside, Abby reached Clancy on her cell phone. "Guess who's home," she said.

"Hmm I'm gonna say Trevor, since he's the only one who's been gone. Isn't he home early?"

"Yeah. I think he's worried about his mom."

"Not angry with her?"

"Doesn't seem to be," Abby said. "We had a very nice chat, baby. And he positively loved the back yard. He wants to get to know you better, too. He seemed very accepting."

"Whew! Thank God someone's acting like he's supposed to."

"You can say that again! My boy came through for me!"

O

To be continued in Part 12

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