Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Twenty-four

For a couple of days, Trevor did nothing but sleep and eat, but by Friday he was up in his room, making calls and trying to set up interviews. Abby was proud of how businesslike he was being about finding a job, even as she was disappointed with Hayley's lack of initiative. Her musings about finding a job when she returned from Maine had disappeared, and she seemed content to lie in the pool, listen to her music, and read popular novels.

On Friday afternoon, after having played golf with the women's league at her club, Abby returned to the house. Hayley was sitting on the desk chair in the kitchen, talking on the phone, but when Abby entered, she turned toward the wall and spoke more quietly. Trying to be respectful of the girl's privacy, Abby put a few things into the freezer, then went into the den, staying until she heard Hayley hang up.

The younger woman walked into the den and dropped inelegantly into a chair, her ability to look almost boneless always amazing her mother. "Gramp's not very happy with you," she said with a careless air.

The short hairs on the back of Abby's neck rose. "What?"

"I was talking to Grampa. He thinks you're being selfish."

Abby got up and walked over to her daughter. The look she gave her made the girl sit up straight. "Listen. I'm sick and tired of your acting like a child! You're eighteen years old, and that's long past old enough to be respectful. No matter whom I'm involved with, I'm still your mother, and I'd advise you to remember that." She started to walk out of the room, but she was so angry she turned and added, "You're old enough to decide where to live, Hayley. If you feel closer to your grandparents, you might want to stay there when you're home from school."

The girl's mouth dropped as quickly as the tears started to flow. She got to her feet and ran by her mother, sobbing as she dashed to her room.

Abby stood right where she was, finally looking Heavenward. I'm so damned glad I didn't let you talk me into having another child, Will. God knows what the third one would have been like!

O

Abby spent an hour trying to control her emotions, knowing she couldn't get away with yelling at her father - even though she was forty-five years old. When she felt calm enough to be rational, she called, partially relieved when her mother answered. "Where's you husband?" Abby said, laughing a little at her own tone.

"Oh, lord, what did he do now?"

"He told Hayley I was being selfish! He's conspiring with my child!"

"Oh, crap!"

Profanity was very rare for Elizabeth, and even this mild curse made Abby laugh. "Can you rein him in, Mom? I don't wanna block his calls, but I will."

"I'll talk to him, honey. And I think we'd better come home. I think we all need to sit down and talk about this."

"Tell me when you're coming, and I'll be there to pick you up," Abby promised.

"I'll talk to your father and see what we can agree on. You know he hates to come back while his dahlias are in bloom."

Abby waited a second, trying to stop herself from telling her mother just where she thought her father could stick his dahlias.

"I know you're upset, Abby. We'll be home as soon as we can."

"Thanks, Mom. I could really use some support right now."

O

Abby called Clancy not long after the landscaper had returned home for the day. "Would you like to help me stay out of prison?"

"Ahh yeah," the younger woman said.

"I'm gonna kill my youngest if I have to see her again today. Can you help me out?"

"Sure," Clancy said, laughing. "I'll shower and change, and then come get you."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Does it matter?"

Abby laughed, too. "Nope. I'll be waiting."

O

After listening to Abby rant about Hayley's behavior all the way to Sierra Madre, Clancy turned briefly and said, "I know you're upset, babe, but I can't tell you what to do. I'm too involved, and I don't think I can be objective."

"I don't normally seek advice about how to raise my kids," Abby insisted, "but I'm about ready to have someone step in and take over for me. I'm honestly at a loss."

"If you want someone to tell you what to do, Eileen Donovan is your woman," Clancy said. "Whether you want her to or not, she'll tell you what you should do in any given situation. One really good thing about her, though - she doesn't mind if you ignore her advice, she just wants to offer it."

"I'm at her mercy," Abby moaned, resting her head back against the seat to try and stem the headache that was pounding behind her eyes.

They weren't at the house for more than two minutes when Eileen looked Abby up and down and said, "That kid still giving you trouble?"

"She sure is," Abby said, nodding. "Worse now than ever."

Immediately, the other three members of the family disappeared - everyone recognizing when Eileen was about to deliver a lecture. "Tell me what's going on," she said, leaning back in her chair and gazing thoughtfully at Abby.

"Well, she's unhappy about Clancy and my being together. My father's not happy about it, either. She talked to him on the phone today, and he told her I was being selfish. It's not just that she told me that, but she acted so superior! I honestly wanted to slap her!"

"Did ya?"

"No, of course not! I've never hit the kids."

"Mmm too late to start now, I guess," Eileen mused thoughtfully. "That how she normally is?"

"No, not really, Eileen. She's a lot like me in some ways. It's hard for her to talk about her feelings, but she's usually respectful. Or at least she was before this started."

"What have you and Bitsy been doing to spend time together? Do you go to her place?"

Abby looked a little ashamed of herself when she said, "We haven't been seeing each other much. Clancy and I have had a couple of fights about it. I think she's running out of patience."

"She's never been very patient with girls. She knows what she wants, and she wants it right then."

"I know, but I just don't know what to do about my daughter. I'm struggling," she said.

"So instead of having a plan and sticking with it, you've given the kid what she wants - exactly what she wants," Eileen emphasized.

"I I guess that's right," Abby agreed. "I thought that was the best way to handle it."

"Has it helped?" Eileen persisted. "At all?"

"Uhm no," Abby was forced to admit.

"Look," Eileen said, grasping Abby's hand and holding it firmly. "The kid's manipulating the shit out of you. She's acting like a three-year-old, and you're letting her! Why should she change if she's getting what she wants?"

"What does she want?" Abby asked blankly.

"She doesn't want you and Clancy to be together!" Eileen cried. "Hell, you're the one who told me that in the first place!"

The expression on her face made Abby burst into laughter. "I hardly know my own name at this point."

"Look, Abby, I can tell that you love my little pip, but she's not the kind of kid who'll put up with your kid running her life. Matter of fact - I'm surprised she's hung in there for this long. She's a very independent little cuss, and letting someone else tell her what to do drives her stark raving mad! I hate to see you blow this with her because I can see how much you care for her."

"But what should I do, Eileen?" she begged, panic starting to set in.

"Haven't you been listening?" the older woman asked, cocking her head. "I'll tell you again: stop letting your girl run roughshod over you. You're the adult - remind her of that. It's your house - remind her of that, too. Don't let a three-year-old who's pitchin' a bitch run the damned house. It's not good for her and it's not good for you."

"I'm normally a much better mom, Eileen, I swear it," Abby said earnestly. "I'm just having a hell of a time with this one. I can usually figure out how to help her choose the adult path - just not this time."

"When's the last time you were the issue?" Eileen asked. "It's easier when it's about curfews and boyfriends and jobs. This one hits too close to home."

Abby sat back in her chair and let out a relieved sigh. "I can't thank you enough, Eileen. I'm seeing this clearly for the first time. You're a lifesaver."

"Hope it helps," the older woman said. "I wouldn't have an eighteen-year-old in my house again for all the tea in China!"

O

When Abby got home, there was a message from Maria on her machine. "Hi. Ellen called to say she won't be playing tennis with us anymore. I'm sorry, hon, but I couldn't talk any sense into her. Do you still wanna go tomorrow and look for a single?"

Abby leaned against the counter, trying to will herself not to cry. Hayley walked into the room and said, "Since you're not gonna play tennis tomorrow, can I have the car? I wanna go to Santa Barbara with Gretchen."

There was nothing snotty or rude about the question, but the fact that Hayley didn't show the slightest bit of sympathy for Abby having lost her best friend struck her the wrong way. "No, you can't," she said. "Gretchen has a car. She can drive." She brushed past her daughter without even bothering to say goodnight.

O

Hayley didn't go to Santa Barbara on Saturday, but she did spend much of the day with Gretchen. She got home at around four p.m., finding the garage empty. "Where's Trevor?" she asked her mother.

"He and Sam took the car to go down to San Diego. They're staying overnight."

"Oh." She opened the refrigerator and took out a diet soda, nodding to herself. "That's why I couldn't have the car."

Abby looked at her. "No, it's not. I didn't want you to have it because I was angry with you. I'm angry with you a lot these days," she said, her voice growing softer.

Tears were in Hayley's eyes before Abby could blink. "You've never gotten mad at me before this all started," she said. "Why are you being so mean?"

Abby walked over and put her arms around her. "I'm not trying to be mean, Hayley. But you've been rude and spiteful. You've gone behind my back to talk about me with your grandfather, and you haven't even tried to have any empathy for me. I don't expect this to be easy for you, but I do expect you to talk to me about it like an adult."

"I'm not an adult," the girl said, her tears making her hard to hear.

"Yes, you are," Abby said. "I know you don't always feel like one, but you are, honey. You're going to be a sophomore in college this year. You're old enough to vote, to get married, join the Army - all sorts of things."

"But I don't feel like an adult," she said, nuzzling her face into her mother's shoulder. "I feel like a kid."

"I know it's hard," Abby said. "But you've got to try harder to be mature about this. I can't have this much tension in the house; it's not good for any of us."

"What do you want me to do?" Hayley asked, pulling away and wiping her eyes.

"I've given you a few weeks, honey, and you won't even have a civil discussion with me about Clancy. I can't wait any longer. I'm going to have her come here for dinner, and I'm going to sleep at her house sometimes. I need to see her."

Eyes wide and cheeks hot with anger, Hayley started to say, "You need to fu -" She caught herself and her jaw snapped shut. She stalked out of the room, went into the den and put on her iPod headphones. A moment later, she was lying on the couch, her eyes closed as her music played.

O

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Clancy asked when Abby let her in that evening.

"No. But your grandmother is right. I've given her enough time; now I have to live my life."

"Okay." Clancy stood in the entryway, looking around discreetly.

"She's in her room. Go on into the kitchen and grab a drink. I'll tell her we're having dinner soon." Abby walked upstairs and knocked on Hayley's door, opening it even though she hadn't been invited in. "Clancy's here. We're going to have dinner in about fifteen minutes."

Hayley was sitting in front of her computer, IMing with someone. "Not hungry," she said.

"Suit yourself," Abby said, pursing her lips as she shut the door.

O

After dinner, Abby walked over to her partner and sat on her lap. Leaning close, she whispered. "I wanna make love. How about you?"

Laughing, Clancy nodded. "Yeah, I could get interested. Are we trying to force Hayley's hand?"

Abby kissed her lover on the nose. "I'm tempted, but I think we should go to your house."

Clancy's eyes lit up. "Really? You'll stay over?"

"Of course I will. I've told her that I've got to live my life, and that doesn't include any more drive-by sex."

Leaning her head back, Clancy blew a big air-kiss into the sky. "I'm a happy, happy girl!"

O

The next morning, Abby woke and gingerly tried to get out of bed. She was expecting the worst, but got up without much difficulty. On the way to the bathroom she thought, Either my back has acclimated or I love sleeping with Clancy so much that I don't feel any pain. Oh, well, either way I'm thankful.

Getting back onto the futon, Abby lay there quietly for a while, then decided that Clancy looked so delicious that she had to cuddle her. Within moments, she was sound asleep, the feel of her lover's body acting as a powerful sleep-aid.

They spent the rest of the morning making love and napping. Abby hated to leave, but she was determined to make some headway with Hayley. When she returned home in the early afternoon, she went out onto the patio and saw Hayley floating in the pool. Kicking off her shoes, she padded over and sat on the deck, dangling her feet into the cool, clear water. "Feels good," she said.

That casual comment signaled no hard feelings from the night before, and Hayley sheepishly paddled over to her. "Sorry about last night, Mom. I just I just can't stand to see her," she grumbled. "I feel like I have PMS all the damned time. I wish I could be more polite."

"This is a tough time for you, honey. I understand really I do."

"Thanks," the girl said quietly.

Taking a breath, Abby said, "But even though I have empathy for you, Clancy and I are going to see more of each other. I've tried to give you time to get used to this, but it's hurting our relationship to see so little of Clancy."

The young woman gave her a look that was filled with sadness. She slid from the float and swam for the steps, then stood on the pool deck and said, "I think I need to leave."

"Oh, honey, I wish you'd stay and try to work through your feelings."

"I can't, Mom. I just can't." She wrapped a towel around herself and started for the house, her slumped shoulders showing her defeat.

O

Hayley got on the Internet and found that she could get a fare to San Francisco for the same price as her ticket to San Jose had cost. She sent an e-mail to Alexander, and went next door to Trevor's room, finding him lying on his bed talking on the phone in his "adult" voice. He motioned for her to sit, so she plunked down onto his desk chair and spun around lazily while she waited.

When he hung up, he asked, "What's up?"

"Who were you talking to?" she asked. "You sounded so serious."

"Oh. I called one of my professors to ask if he had any leads on a job. He didn't," he said, getting up and stretching. "I think I might have to go back to being a lifeguard at the country club." He put his hands on his hips, trying to look impressive. "No running, kids! I have a master's degree, and I'm not afraid to use it!"

"Do your friends have jobs yet?"

He sat on the edge of his low dresser. "Some do some don't. Seems like there are more jobs available on the east coast. But I don't think I wanna leave California."

"Not even to get away from Mom and Clancy?" She said the name like she was on the verge of vomiting, and Trevor reached over and flicked her skull with his finger.

"Knock it off, will ya? Why does it matter who she's with? It's not like they're making out in the kitchen."

"That'll be next," Hayley said. "She was here for dinner last night, and Mom said that she's gonna eat here all the time."

Trevor sighed, then got up and flopped back onto his bed, making the box springs cry in protest. "So, what are we supposed to do? I want Mom to be happy. I think this is weird, too, but it's her life. We can't tell her what to do. Hell, we don't want her telling us what to do. It's the same thing, Hales."

"Sucks," she said, pouting.

"Yeah, well, a lot of life does. It sucked to lose Dad. I'm sure as hell not gonna lose Mom. If she wants to date an ax murderer, I'll just do my best not to piss him or her off."

"I can't stand to see them together. I'm gonna go to San Francisco until school starts I think."

"San Francisco?" He sat up and looked at his sister carefully. "You gonna stay with that guy?"

"Yeah," she said, swiveling in the chair. "I think."

"How old is he?"

"About your age. You'd like him. He's kinda like you."

Trevor scowled. "I don't trust an older guy who wants to date someone your age."

"What?" Hayley was clearly outraged.

"You heard me," he said. "A guy my age shouldn't be interested in a girl who's only eighteen. I'd never go out with someone who wasn't at least out of college. If you'd stayed with your class, you'd just be graduating from high school. There should be a big maturity gap."

"I'm mature," she insisted.

He smiled at his little sister. "You're pretty typical for an eighteen-year-old. But you change a lot in college. Things are different when you're working for a living."

"Like you know! You don't have a job!"

"I had a job this summer," he said, "and I interned every summer. It's different."

"Fine," she sniffed. "Maybe Alexander thinks I'm mature, even though you don't."

"Maybe," he said dubiously. "But I know one thing he's gonna expect if you stay with him. Are you ready for that?"

She laughed, seeing that Trevor was embarrassed. "Are you really asking me if I'm gonna have sex with him?"

"No. I'm telling you that he's gonna expect to have sex with you. If you don't wanna, you'd better not stay with him. There's a word for girls who lead a guy on."

She got up and started to walk out of the room, then turned. "It's two words," she said, sticking her tongue out at him. "Hyphenated."

O

Alexander did want Hayley to stay with him, and he offered to pick her up at the airport. All she had to do was convince her mother to pay for the ticket. She went downstairs and found her mother sitting under the pergola, reading a book. Hayley sat down on a chair and put her feet up on the seat of her mother's chair. "Whatcha reading?"

Abby held the large book up. "Robert Caro's biography of LBJ."

"Is it good?" the girl asked, clearly just trying to make conversation.

"Mmm good isn't the right word. But it's very informative. I'm learning a lot about how Johnson's beliefs and policies helped create some of the social programs that people really thought would change America for the better."

"Did they?" Hayley asked.

"Well no, for the most part, they didn't. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 had a decent impact, but I wouldn't say that most of the programs had the intended effect."

"Huh. That must be a bummer. He's not still alive, is he?"

"Gosh, no! He's been dead for a long time."

Hayley nodded. "You don't hear much about Johnson."

"You do if you're interested in American government," Abby said. "He was a very, very powerful president."

Looking puzzled, Hayley said, "I took American government this year. My professor just talked about what an asshole he was because of the Vietnam War."

Abby smiled at her. "You can't take everything your professors say at face value, honey. Teachers always have a point of view that isn't unbiased. If you care about a topic, you'd better do your own research."

"So Johnson wasn't an asshole?"

"I didn't say that," Abby said, smiling. "When I was your age, I certainly thought he was. But he was in a difficult situation. Many people believed that losing Vietnam would spread Communism."

"But it didn't, did it?"

"No, it didn't."

"Why?" Hayley asked, looking truly interested.

"I think the best antidote for Communism is a free, functioning, capitalist state. Communism looks great on paper, but it hasn't worked. Once people in the Communist states began to understand how little they had compared to people in the capitalist countries there was no way the governments could hold. Satellite TV did more to destroy Communism than war ever did."

"That's kinda cool," Hayley said. "And you lived through all of that, huh?"

"Yep. I saw it all. I was passionately opposed to the war, but I think that people who supported it had the best interests of the country at heart, too, even though I didn't think so at the time."

"I guess that's true," Hayley said. She put her feet on her mother's knees and rubbed them up and down. "It's cool that you know stuff. Most of my friends' moms are dolts."

"I don't know if that's true," Abby laughed. "But I appreciate the compliment."

"You think I'll like Clancy someday?" the girl asked, looking innocent and hopeful.

"I sure hope so. I'd like that more than you can imagine."

"Well, it's gonna take a while," Hayley said. "I really don't like her now, and I don't like you for being with her. So I'm gonna go visit Alexander for a week. I can take a nine o'clock flight tonight. Is that okay?"

"A week, huh?" Abby's mind was racing with the implications of what such a visit meant. "Are you sure you're ready for that?"

"Yes, Mother," Hayley said impatiently. "Trevor already asked me that."

"Can you change your ticket?"

"Not without a penalty, but since it's the same price as the ticket for San Jose, I thought you might pay for me to go to San Francisco now and let me use ticket I already have to come home for Thanksgiving. It wouldn't cost you any more," she said quickly.

"That's fine," Abby said, making a dismissive gesture with her hand. "I'm really not cheap, honey. I just want you to make plans and stick with them."

"Okay. I understand."

Abby leaned forward and grasped both of Hayley's ankles, holding them tightly to get her attention. "I worry about you. Are you sure you're ready to spend a whole week with Alexander?"

"Yeah, I am," Hayley said, blushing.

"How will you protect yourself if you have sex with him?"

"If?" Hayley asked, laughing. "Trevor says I'm gonna have to do it just to get a ride from the airport."

A laugh burst from Abby. "Did he really say that?"

"No, but he said Alexander wouldn't want me to stay with him if I don't sleep with him."

"That's probably true," Abby said.

"I know what guys want, Mom. I'm not nine!"

"So what will you use for birth control?"

Hayley pulled her feet away, stood up and unbuttoned her shorts, pulling them and her underwear down a few inches in the back. "I'm on the birth control patch," she said, showing it to her mother. "I went to student health before I left in May." She pulled her pants back up and sat down.

"Safer sex?" Abby asked.

"Yes," Hayley said dramatically. "I'll make him wear five or six condoms."

Abby leaned over and put her hands on Hayley's knees. "I don't want to lecture you, but I want you to make sure you don't get into a situation you're not ready for. You know that having sex is more of an emotional act than a physical one."

"I know that, Mom. Well, I think I do. And if I don't wanna do it, I won't. I don't care what I'm supposed to do."

"Fine," Abby said. "And you'd better have been kidding about extra condoms. You know that using another condom increases the risk of breakage."

Hayley's head dropped back and she stuck out her tongue, acting like she'd been strangled. "You've been talking to me about safe sex since I was born!"

"Safer sex," Abby corrected. "The only safe sex is masturbation."

Hayley put her hands over her ears. "Enough! I know what to do, and I know what not to do!"

"I wouldn't torture you if I didn't love you," Abby said.

Hayley gave her a begrudging smile. "Can't you love me just a little less?"

Looking at her with complete seriousness, Abby said, "No, I can't. I love you with all of my heart, and I always will."

O

After an early dinner, Trevor and Hayley left for the airport. Abby called Clancy, and when the younger woman answered she said, "Want to spend the evening with the world's worst mother?"

"I think she's in prison for killing her kids," Clancy said. "Got anything more interesting in mind?"

"Yeah," Abby said quietly. "I'm really down, and I'd love to curl up in your arms and have you tell me that everything will be all right."

"I'll be there in fifteen," Clancy replied, hanging up without waiting for a response.

True to her word, the yellow truck beeped once exactly fifteen minutes later. Abby stood on the porch and watched her drive in, immeasurably soothed by her mere presence. No sooner was Clancy out of her car than Abby was leaning heavily against her, murmuring, "I know I did the right thing, but my heart's about to break."

"It'll be all right," Clancy whispered into her ear. "Let's go sit down and you can tell me all about it."

They did, sitting on the porch, Abby nestled against Clancy's side.

Abby told her tale, and Clancy said, "I'm sorry that's how it turned out. I kept hoping she'd rally and try to work this out."

"I did too," Abby said softly. "That's what I'm most upset about, to be honest. I'm very disappointed in her. She's she's not the girl I thought she was." She looked up at her partner and said, "I've tried my damnedest to make sure she didn't turn out like so many girls of our social class do - those self-absorbed little monsters who don't care about anything but how they look and what they can buy."

"She's not like that," Clancy soothed. "Really, Abby, she's not. When we were working together, she was very down-to-earth. I'm around a lot of those kids, and I didn't get those rich-bitch vibes from her at all."

"I hope that's true," Abby sighed. She cocked her head and asked, "What do you think of her?"

"Ahh I'd rather not say. I don't know her well enough to have a valid opinion."

"Come on," Abby said. "Don't be a chicken."

"I don't wanna insult her," Clancy said. "Especially since you say she hasn't acted like herself all summer."

"Okay. How was she just this summer? Give me an opinion of her based on your very limited experience."

Clancy rolled her eyes, knowing she wasn't going to get out of this one. "She doesn't act like a rich brat," she said again. "She acts like an average brat."

Abby nodded, not looking surprised by Clancy's opinion. "I swear she's changed so much since she went to school."

"I think that's true of most kids," Clancy assured her. "Give her a little time - I'm sure she'll snap out of it."

Shifting around to slip her legs under herself, Abby settled back against Clancy and said, "I just can't relax, thinking about her wandering around San Francisco with some man I've never met."

"What's the problem?" Clancy asked. "Are you worried about her having sex?"

"No, not really," Abby said. "I trust her to be careful. I mean I don't think she's mature enough to be in a lasting relationship, but who is at first?"

Clancy gave her partner a light kiss on the cheek. "Good point. It's hard to know what you need from a relationship until you've been in a few sucky ones."

"Yeah. I know she's in for a lot of ups and downs before she'll settle down. I don't take most of that too seriously. What's really bothering me is the way that things are changing between us."

"Changing how?"

"Our whole dynamic is getting out of whack. Even though she still acts like a kid most of the time, I felt a shift this afternoon. She's made it clear that she doesn't approve of something I'm doing - and that's never happened before. I felt our roles switch a little, and I hated it!"

"Ooh that makes sense. That would be weird."

"Yeah, it was weird. I liked it better when she was the kid and I was the mom, and I could tell her what to do. I'm not sure I like her being an adult."

"Hard to stop her, though, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Abby laughed and snuggled up against Clancy's sturdy body. "It's funny," she said. "I like Trevor being an adult, but I don't feel like that with Hayley."

"Things will shift and shift again," Clancy said. "She still needs a lot of mothering."

"Oh, I know she does. I just worry that she won't let me give it to her." She made an unhappy little grunt and put her head on Clancy's shoulder, sitting quietly as they watched dusk settle onto the yard, the sound of the waterfall tranquilizing both of them.

O

When it was dark, they went into the house, then decided to swim for a while. Trevor had said he'd be going to visit one of his friends on the west side after he took Hayley to the airport, so Abby wanted to make good use of their alone time.

They swam and played with the dogs for a long time, tossing the girls' favorite toy back and forth to wear them out. When the dogs were sufficiently winded, Clancy held onto the toy and swam over to her lover. She grasped her foot and kicked, dragging Abby with her while she moved towards the waterfall. "Where are we going?" Abby asked, trying to keep her head above water.

As soon as they were under the strong stream, Clancy pulled Abby into her arms. The sound of the water was so loud that it was hard to hear, but Abby stared at her lover, watching her lips. Clancy said, "I imagine we're on our own little island. Just us and this fantastic cool stream pouring over our heads. We're safe here, baby. No one can ham us."

"I always feel safe in your arms," Abby said, watching Clancy's smile bloom.

"Wanna sleep with me tonight?" the blonde asked.

"I wanna sleep with you every night," Abby said. She held on tight and started to kick, moving them away from the powerful water. "But I want to be here when Trevor gets home. I think he's a little upset about Hayley's leaving, too."

"Uhm I guess I can't stay here, huh?"

"I don't think so," Abby said. "Not until I talk to Trev about it. I wouldn't like it if he started bringing a woman home without having asked if I minded."

Clancy let go, then spent a minute floating on her back. "Okay. Give me a few dozen kisses and I'll be on my way."

Abby looked at the dogs and said, "Tell us if Trevor comes home, okay, girls? I'm gonna kiss Clancy until we're both deaf and blind."

O

They were walking to the door when the phone rang and Abby dashed inside to answer. To give her partner some privacy, Clancy stayed outside and threw a ball for the dogs. Neither dog was particularly obsessed with fetch, on dry land, but they were competent at the game and willingly participated, since it seemed important to Clancy.

Abby appearing a few minutes later, wearing a big smile. "Hayley made it to Alexander's apartment, and she wanted me to know that he put her suitcase in the bedroom and told her he'd sleep on the sofa." She sat back down and let her head drop against the back of the chair. "I feel so much better."

"Because she might not have sex?"

"No, that's her business. I'm just glad she called. She wanted me to know she was all right and was taking care of herself."

"I'm glad she called, too," Clancy said. "That was pretty thoughtful of her - given that she's angry."

"Yes, it was," Abby said quietly. Glancing up at Clancy, she said, "That's why it's hard to stay mad at the little scamp! She's not consistently obnoxious!"

"I wouldn't go wishing for that," the younger woman said. "She might go for that one just to spite you."

O

Chapter Twenty-five

Abby was pleased to have Trevor come bounding down the stairs early the next morning, quietly singing a tune to himself. "Hi, Mom," he said, giving her a kiss. "Can I make you breakfast?"

Abby put her arms around him and hugged him close, the calming familiarity of his being home making her giddy with pleasure. "Let me cook for you. I've already eaten."

"You can if you want," he said, pulling away, "but I'm able to take care of myself."

"That's clear, Trev, but I like to pamper you a little bit. I don't get to do it very often. How about some pancakes?"

His smile grew wider. "I haven't had pancakes in months! Let's do it!" He leaned against the counter, clad in a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt.

She patted him on the side, amazed, as always, that the little boy she could effortlessly pick up was now be so strong and solid. "Some young woman is going to be very, very lucky when she meets you."

He smiled his indulgent smile, the one he always gave his mother when she complimented him. "I'm still waiting," he said.

Abby started to mix the batter for the pancakes, thinking to herself that one of Trevor's most charming qualities was that he'd never seemed to realize what a great catch he was. When he asked a girl out, he always acted like he was genuinely surprised that she would accept, even though Abby couldn't think of a girl who had ever turned him down.

He was a handsome young man and exuded a gentleness and sweetness that were obvious in even a casual interaction. He was very mature for his age and always had been. He'd really come through for Abby and Hayley after his father died, shouldering many responsibilities that most men his age would have run from. Abby often thought of how calm and businesslike he'd been when he went with her to make arrangements for his father's funeral. She couldn't have gotten through the day without him, and she knew from that day forward that her son had become a man.

Busying herself with mixing the proper proportions, she asked, "So how are you feeling now that you've been home for a few days?"

"I feel fine," he said. "I'm a little worried about finding a job, but I know I just have to keep working at it."

Smiling to herself, she clarified, "I meant about me and Clancy."

"Oh!" He didn't respond for a few moments, and she was afraid to look at him, finding this level of intimate talk very discomfiting. "I guess I feel fine about it." He cleared his throat and she could hear him shifting his weight. "I meant what I said, Mom. I want you to be happy. If Clancy's the person who makes you happy, that's all that matters."

Abby gathered the courage to face him, relieved to see his neutral smile. "But you have to have some feelings of your own, honey. This can't be what you expected to find when you left for Europe."

He put his arms around her and squeezed her tightly. His voice trembled when he said, "I expected to find you sitting on the porch, that sad look in your eyes that I'd do anything to help take away. I'm so happy that look isn't there any more. I swear that's all that I want, Mom; I just want you to want to live again."

She held onto him while she cried, her tears sliding down her cheeks. "I love you, Trevor," she whispered. "Your father would be so proud of you."

"And he'd be happy for you," he said firmly. "You know he would have been."

She nodded, pulling away to wipe her face. "I know, honey. That's never been an issue."

"But Hayley is," he said. "I wish we could have had more time together before she left. I really think I could have helped bring her around."

"It's hard," Abby said, trying to keep some of her sadness from showing. "I expected her to have a tough time, but this " She reached over to take a tissue from a box and wiped her eyes. "I just hope she snaps out of it. It's breaking my heart to see her struggle like this."

He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "That's just like you."

"What?"

"To be worried about how this is for her. If I were you, I'd be so pissed off, I wouldn't be able to see straight."

She smiled and gave him a tiny shake of her head. "I'm not angry," she said. "I know she's not a bad kid, and she wouldn't behave like she has if this weren't really driving her crazy." She stirred the batter, adding, "Of course, I wish she were more connected to her feelings. This would be a hell of a lot easier."

"You're gonna have to do most of the work there, Mom. She's hopeless."

"Oh, she's not so bad." Abby poured some of the batter onto a hot pan, listening to it sizzle for a moment. "How about you?" she asked. "Are you willing to share some of your feelings?"

He looked confused. "I already did."

"Not the big picture," she said. "I want to know how you feel about something specific."

"Sure. What is it?"

Without turning to look at him, she asked, "How would you feel if Clancy stayed overnight once in a while?" She snuck a look at him, catching him frantically trying to compose his expression.

"Uhm whatever, Mom. That's fine."

He was trying so hard to look indifferent that she would have laughed if the topic weren't so serious. She didn't say anything for a moment, taking the time to flip his first pancake. When she was sure the temperature was right, she turned around and cupped her chin in one hand, studying him carefully. "You're a bad, bad liar, Trev. I don't think anyone would be ambivalent about that question. You should have at least acted like you'd thought about it before you tried to sell that one."

He put his hands in his pockets, pushing them out when he locked his elbows. "Aw, Mom, don't give me a hard time. I really want you to be happy. Can't we leave it at that?"

"No, baby, we can't." She slipped his pancake onto a plate and handed it to him. "Go sit down, and I'll bring you some syrup." He did as she asked and was studiously applying some butter when she sat down next to him. "We have to be honest - completely honest. That's the only way this will work."

"I am being honest," he said. "I honestly want you to do what makes you happy."

"I won't be happy if I think you're uncomfortable. Now tell me the truth. Is it a little soon for Clancy to be staying over?"

He ate a bite, smiling at her with approval. "Maybe a little," he said. "I'd like to spend more time with her, you know? Get to know her a little before she moves in or whatever."

"Clancy and I need to spend time together, but we don't need to live together right now. I was just trying to get a feeling for how comfortable you are with the whole thing."

He took another bite, taking his time chewing while he thought about his answer. "I think I'm doing pretty well. I have to be around you two for a while to get used to this, but I don't lie awake at night worrying about it." He smiled, and his soft laugh made his mother smile in anticipation. "Good thing I'm used to you and Dad chasing each other around the house. At least I'm okay with your being affectionate."

She smiled fondly at her son. "We were affectionate."

He looked down at his empty plate, trying not to laugh. "You were more than that, Mom. You guys woke me up more times than I could count."

"We did not!" she shrieked, crimson with embarrassment.

"You did, too," he said, laughing at her discomfort. "Since you'd told me about making babies, I kept wondering why I didn't have more brothers and sisters; you didn't tell me about birth control."

"Did Hayley hear us, too?" she asked, looking ill.

"Not until she was older," he said. "When she was eleven or twelve I caught her and Gretchen lurking outside your room one Sunday morning. They ran like rats when they saw me, giggling their asses off."

Abby's head dropped to the table. "Dear God," she moaned. "We always tried to be quiet."

He stared at her, eyebrows raised. "If you were trying to be quiet, you totally sucked!"

O

A couple of nights later, Clancy had the evening free, so Abby invited her over for dinner. Not seeing her lover every day was making the older woman mad for her, and she showed the blonde just how much she'd missed her by voraciously devouring her lips. Clancy was pressed up against the counter, her feet spread shoulder-width apart. Abby stood between her legs, kissing her ceaselessly. Her head was tilted, her tongue probing delicately along Clancy's palate, making the younger woman giggle. Clancy's hands were low on Abby's back, lightly squeezing her firm ass.

The soft click of nails on the tile floor didn't register with either woman, but the mumbled, "Oh, shit," did. They broke apart, Abby's hand covering her mouth as she gasped, seeing Trevor standing in the doorway, both dogs sitting in front of him. The young man looked like he wished the floor would open up and swallow him, but the dogs seemed very happy to have a new playmate.

"Trevor, I'm sorry -" Abby started to say, but she stopped herself when she saw Clancy staring at her. Her gaze shifting between her lover and her son, she shut her mouth, waiting for someone else to speak.

Trying to act like nothing out of the ordinary had happened, Trevor walked into the kitchen and extended his hand. Clancy shook it, glad that the young man was doing his best to shrug off the embarrassing moment. "Hi," he said. "Haven't seen you since I got back."

"Good to see you, too, Trevor," she said. She decided to state the obvious, saying, "I'm sorry we were you know. Kind of embarrassing "

"No big deal," he said, smiling at his ashen mother. "Really. Don't worry about it. Hell, Mom's caught me doing worse."

"I have?" Abby asked weakly.

"Well, maybe not," he admitted. "But some of my girlfriends' mothers have."

"I'm sorry," Abby said again. She looked at Clancy quickly. "I know that we're not doing anything wrong, but it feels very odd to have you see us."

"I'm sorry, Mom," the young man said. "I'll try not to sneak up on you."

"Don't be silly, honey. This is your home, too. You shouldn't have to worry about wandering into the kitchen and finding us "

He gave them both a stiff smile. "I just wanted a Coke," he admitted. He walked over to the refrigerator and took out a soda, holding it up as evidence. Then he gave them a short wave and left the room, going back upstairs.

Abby blew out a breath that lasted as long as it took the young man to climb the stairs. "My whole life passed before my eyes," she moaned.

"He seemed fine," Clancy said. "It's over. We'll just make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Ever?" Abby asked, eyes wide. "We'll never be able to kiss when the kids are around?"

"Well no," Clancy admitted. "But it won't be a big deal after a while. He'll get used to our being together."

Abby leaned on her partner heavily, not saying a word.

O

Clancy was in the middle of dicing some red pepper when Abby went over and sat down next to her. "Are we doing the right thing?" she asked, pain and confusion filling her eyes.

"Pardon me?" Clancy blinked. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Have we thought this through well enough?" Abby asked. "There are so many repercussions to our being together, and sometimes I feel like we're just stumbling blithely along without any concern for the consequences."

Clancy placed her hands on Abby's shoulders, but the older woman shook her head and stood - trying to distance herself from the embrace. With a flash of hurt crossing her features, Clancy said, "I know you're upset about Trevor, but it's not a big deal."

"It's not just him," she said. Her arms were folded tightly across her stomach, and she looked like she was on the verge of panic. "There are so many things! We haven't even discussed where we think we're going. Is this permanent? Do you want us to live together?" Her eyes were wide as she said, "And I haven't even been able to work myself up to addressing the biggest issue!"

"What's that?" Clancy was so stunned by her lover's mood swing that she wasn't able to move a muscle.

"I know you want to have children," Abby said, her whole body shaking. "And I love you enough to do anything for you, but I don't think I can go through that again!"

Clancy climbed off her stool and approached her lover gingerly. "Where did this come from? Why are you so upset?" Reaching out with one hand, she placed it gently upon Abby's cheek, slightly heartened when she didn't flinch from the touch. "I want this to be permanent I want to live with you not now, but soon. As soon as Trevor's comfortable with it." Stroking across trembling lips with her thumb, Clancy soothed, "Don't you want this to be permanent? Don't you love me enough to work things through?"

"That's the problem," Abby said, her voice choked with emotion. "I love you enough to let you go if I'm going to hold you back." She fell into Clancy's arms and let herself cry for a few minutes, while the blonde tried to comfort her. "You're so much younger, you have your whole life ahead of you. You could find someone your own age who'd be able to raise a family with you "

Clancy grasped her by the shoulders and held her at arm's length. "What's with this having babies stuff? When have I ever said I wanted to have a baby?"

"At the party " she sobbed. "And your mom -"

"Oh, please!" Pulling her close, Clancy gave her a hearty squeeze and said, "I can see that I'm gonna have to debrief you when you spend time with my mom."

"You don't ?"

"No, I don't," Clancy said firmly. "I love babies, and I love to be around babies. But I pretty much decided a few years ago that I didn't want to have a child. I don't want to give up what I'd have to give up to have one. My mom, however, desperately wants grandchildren - and she thinks that she can coerce me - or my lover - into giving her one."

"But you seemed so happy when you were holding little Jacob "

"I was," she agreed. "I truly love babies." She looked at Abby and asked, "Know what else I love?"

Abby's head shook, and she looked at Clancy curiously.

"Those cute little chimpanzees they have at the zoo. I've often spent the better part of an afternoon there - just looking at those little guys." She soothed the lines on Abby's forehead and added, "If they were giving them out on the street corner I wouldn't take one - but I love them. I feel the same about babies. I love them - I love to be around them - and at the end of the day, I want to go home without one." She placed a warm kiss on Abby's lips. "At the end of the day, I want to go home with you - just you."

"But -"

"But nothing," Clancy said, sounding confident and sure of herself. "Every couple has problems. Every couple has to make adjustments. We'll have to do that, too. But we can do it if we love each other enough."

"I do love you," Abby said. "I do! But you're so young "

"So what? Why does it matter?"

"Our families our friends our interests "

"Abby, we've been together for a while now, and I haven't seen our interests clash. And our families will be fine. What are you talking about?"

"You don't even know about LBJ!" Abby said, sounding a little frantic.

"Who's LBJ?" the younger woman asked in confusion.

"See?"

"No, I don't see," Clancy said. "You're nearly hysterical, baby. Now calm down and let's talk about this rationally."

"I don't know if I can," Abby said, still shaking.

Trevor came back down the stairs, his feet hitting the treads so loudly, he sounded as if he were trying to break them. When he got to the kitchen he took one look at his mother and averted his eyes, quickly saying, "I'm gonna hang out at Sam's, okay?"

"No dinner?" Abby asked, trying to calm herself.

He still didn't look up. "We thought we'd go to In 'n' Out," he said. "I haven't been since Easter."

"All right," Abby said, trying her best to sound like herself. "Have fun."

"Bye, Trevor," Clancy said.

"See ya," he said, exiting the room as quickly as he could.

As soon as he'd left, Abby leaned against her partner and started to cry, letting Clancy's comforting embrace keep her grounded.

O

They had dinner, neither speaking much while they ate. "Wanna watch TV?" Abby asked after they'd loaded the dishwasher.

"If you do."

"What do you like to watch?"

"Mmm nothing in particular. If I want to veg, I watch HGTV. I like to see home remodeling."

"Nothing you watch regularly?"

"Huh-uh. You?"

"No," Abby said. "I just thought that you might. I mean, the kids have a dozen shows they watch."

"I'm not a kid," Clancy said, smiling.

"No, but there are so many things I don't know about you. I mean, how can we be as intimate as we are and not even know if we like the same TV shows."

"Yeah," Clancy said, trying to sound upbeat. "That alone should doom us."

Giving her a pleading look, Abby said, "Don't tease. This worries me."

"Why?" Clancy asked. "We're getting to know each other. That's good," she insisted. "That'll keep us busy when we're not fucking each other stupid." She gave Abby an adorably goofy grin, and the older woman was unable to stop herself from laughing at her.

"I've learned that I love you," Abby said, tugging her into a hug.

"I love you, too." They kissed a few times, but Clancy could tell that Abby wasn't fully relaxed. "Wanna talk some more?"

Abby looked sad and exhausted. She leaned against her partner and said, "Sometimes this seems so hard."

"It is hard," Clancy said. "But what do you do that's really worthwhile that isn't hard?" Abby nodded slowly, but she didn't look convinced. Clancy propped her partner up and slid to the floor. She knelt between Abby's legs, looking into her eyes. "Look, baby, we don't have a lot of choices at this point. We either break up or work through things. There is no middle ground."

The dull blue eyes brightened in fear. "I don't want to break up! I couldn't bear to lose you!"

"Then quit whining," Clancy said. Abby's eyes opened wider at the admonition. "That's right - you're whining. It's not productive. Hell, it's not attractive, either," she said, laughing. "I'm sorry, honey, but whining wasn't allowed at my house. I don't have a lot of tolerance for it."

"I hate it, too," Abby admitted sheepishly. "It drives me crazy when Hayley does it."

"Then stop," Clancy said clearly. She grasped Abby by the shoulders, and shook her gently. "Make a commitment to me and stick with it. No matter what happens, no matter who gives us a hard time - don't second guess us. Don't ever do it again!"

Abby took a few deep breaths; she concentrated on Clancy's hands, finally calming down to the extent that she felt as though they were an extension of her own body. "I won't," she said, her voice strong and calm. "I won't."

O

Trevor had to go to San Francisco on Friday to interview for a job, and he decided to go over to Santa Cruz to see Hayley for the weekend. Since he wouldn't be at the house, Clancy reverted to her favorite Saturday pastime of floating in the pool. While she was snoozing, Abby got out of the pool and called her mother to make arrangements to pick her parents up from the airport the next day.

When she went back outside, Clancy woke from her light slumber. "Where ya been?"

"Talking to my mom."

"Cool." The blonde closed her eyes again, settling her weight on the float.

"Wanna know what we were talking about?"

"Only if you wanna tell me," Clancy said, looking very nonchalant. "I don't wanna butt in."

"You know what?" Abby asked, smiling warmly.

Always enjoying the playfulness and evident thought that Abby's expression conveyed, Clancy paddled over and gazed up at her. "What?"

"I really admire you."

"You do?" Clancy grinned, looking very pleased by the compliment. "What brought that on?"

"I was thinking about the fight we had when you were angry that I didn't tell you everything about my college flirtations."

"Not one of my finer moments," Clancy said. "That shouldn't make you admire me."

"But it does. You want to know what's going on in my head, but you've tried so hard to give me space. Like today," she said. "Most people would be on pins and needles about my family and their opinions, but I can tell you're really not worried about what I was talking to my mom about."

"I'm not. It's your family and your relationship - you'll handle it. If something upsets you, or if you have strong feelings about it, I know you'll try to talk to me about it. You promised, so I know you will. Other than that, I should just keep my nose out of it. I learned my lesson with the college thing. I can only be concerned with the things that happen between us. The rest of your life is your business."

"That's another thing I like," Abby said. "You're darned confident, Clancy O'Connor. You're not always worried that this isn't going to work out. Actually," she amended, "you're cocky."

"Why shouldn't I be?" she asked, flashing a convincingly cocky smile. "If I keep you happy and satisfied, you won't have any reason to leave. And if you do you're obviously not a very bright woman. If that's true, why would I want you?"

"I just love self-confidence," Abby said. "It's so sexy."

"Gotta be honest," Clancy said. "I've had some very shaky days. In the beginning, I was sure you were gonna freak and not be able to hang in there." Abby nodded, having been worried about the same thing. "But once we got past the first couple of weeks, and you started telling people - I figured you probably wouldn't get cold feet." She grasped Abby's legs, which were dangling in the water, and kissed both of her knees. "That doesn't mean that I've been happy with the pace you've set, but I didn't think you'd break up with me. Once I was confident of that, I knew the only thing that would hold on to you, or make you leave, was me. And I'm very confident of me."

"You have every reason to be," Abby agreed, gazing at her lover with a look filled with admiration.

Clancy tugged at Abby's legs until they were wrapped around her waist, then kicked away from the side, nearly submerging herself. She had to work hard to stay above water, but her strong legs kept them afloat. "I'm having such a nice day," she said.

"Me, too," Abby said. "The only think I'd add is a little loving. Up for it?" she asked, taking a nibble of Clancy's wet earlobe.

"Always," the blonde said, grinning sexily. "But only if we go to my house. I don't think I could relax here."

Abby started to protest that Trevor wouldn't return unexpectedly, but she knew that worrying about the smallest thing could ruin the mood. "Okay. Let's have dinner here, then go to your house for dessert."

"My favorite treat," Clancy said. "And it's never too filling."

Abby leaned back, floating while still encircling Clancy's waist. "Would you like to come out as a couple? In public, I mean."

"Uhm sure, I guess. I mean, I'm out to everyone in the world, so it's not an issue for me. I'm a little surprised you're ready to do that, though."

"Why?" Abby started to slap at the water with her open hands. "Everyone I care about knows. Whether or not they're happy about it, they know."

"Good point," Clancy said. She removed Abby's legs from her waist, then moved around to tuck her hands under her lover's arms. "So tell me about our coming out. Is it some kinda party?"

"Yeah, it is." She settled against Clancy's body, letting the shorter woman carry her around the pool. "I love this," Abby said.

"What?"

"Playing like this. I never played in the pool before I met you."

"Really?" Clancy leaned forward so she could see Abby's eyes. "Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know. I guess Will and I tended to act like adults." She laughed a little, then kissed Clancy on the neck and throat. "It's different when you have kids. You tend to forget your childlike traits. You're helping me re-discover them."

"Probably helps that Trevor and Hayley aren't sitting here watching us, too," Clancy said.

"That always helps me feel more uninhibited," Abby agreed.

Clancy twirled in a circle, while Abby leaned back and dropped the top of her head into the water, liking the sensation of the aquatic scalp massage.

"Are you gonna tell me about this party?" Clancy asked when Abby sat up and rested in her arms again.

"Oh! You make me forget my own name when you play with me like this." She recalled where she'd left off and said, "Do you know about my involvement with the local battered women's shelter?"

"No, you've never told me about that. How'd you get involved?"

"Through my church. We're active in a lot of outreach programs, and that one appealed to me."

"I could get into helping a group like that," Clancy said. "My dad's brother and his wife are batterers, and it's really messed their kids up."

Abby gave her a puzzled look. "They batter their children?"

"No, no, not that I know of. They knock the stuffing out of each other."

Abby couldn't stop her eyes from widening, Clancy catching her look when she strained to see her face. "They fight each other?"

"Yeah. My aunt Peggy has a killer right hook. She's broken my uncle's jaw and fractured his eye socket. But he's sent her to the hospital a time or two, also."

"Wow," Abby said, not knowing how to respond.

With a charming grin, Clancy said, "People in your family don't beat each other up, do they?"

"Well," Abby said, trying to be diplomatic, "I don't have a very big family."

Clancy half-closed her eyes and nodded. "So, tell me about this event."

"Okay. They have a big dinner dance, a fundraiser really, in late September. I'd like to take you, if you're willing to get dressed up."

"How dressed?" she asked suspiciously.

"It runs the gamut. Some of the older women will wear evening gowns, some of the men wear tuxedos but there will be a smattering of men in sport coats and khakis."

"I could handle the sport coat," Clancy said, chuckling. She kissed the top of her partner's head. "I'd love to be your date - if you're ready to make a statement. We'll have to go shopping, but I'll make the supreme sacrifice for you and enter a store that doesn't sell fertilizer."

"Excellent! I know I'll be scared, but I'm ready." She smiled broadly and said, "When I'm with you and my parents I can face anything."

Clancy dropped her, laughing when Abby sputtered as her head broke the plane of the water. "Your parents?" the blonde demanded. "When did this come up?"

"That's one of the things I was talking to my mom about," Abby said. "That, and the fact that they're coming home tomorrow."

Clancy stood next to her and grabbed her around the waist, tossing her around like a doll. "I changed my mind! I wanna know every word of every conversation you have!"

Abby grabbed her and held her close. "It'll be okay, honey. You'll like my parents. I thought you could go with me when I pick them up."

Clancy looked a little wide-eyed and said, "I don't even know what they do, or did, for a living. I don't know shit! I'm gonna look like a fool!"

"No, you won't," Abby said, reaching out to pat her. "I'll give you a little background."

"More than a little," Clancy said. "Give me a lot."

Abby nodded and said, "Well, my father is an electrical engineer. He was a professor at Cal Tech when I was a child, but he and another friend started a business in oh 1962 or '63. They started out making specialized tubes for computers - back when a computer could fill a garage. They changed their product line little by little, finally coming up with a design to let computers share certain functions by moving information between multiple computers. In essence, they designed the precursor to the router," she said with a small smile.

"I don't know a lot about computers, but I know that's a big deal," Clancy said. "Does he still have the company?"

"No. They sold out about 1980. Luckily, he struck a wonderful deal with a much larger company that not only paid him quite a bit of money - he also got a small royalty for every router the company sold for a number of years. That was right before the big technology boom, and he did quite well," Abby said, again giving Clancy an enigmatic smile.

"They're loaded, right?" Clancy asked, a similar smile on her face.

"Oh, yeah," Abby smiled. "Very much so."

"And you're their only heir so that makes you "

"Bad assumption," Abby said. "They believe that inherited wealth is a very bad thing. All of their estate will go to their favorite charities."

"Are you serious?" Clancy gasped. "They're not leaving their money to their only child?"

"Nope, and I agree with them completely. They're very generous with me, but their money isn't mine. I didn't earn it, they did."

"Isn't that weird?" Clancy asked, unable to get her mind around this one.

"No, not at all. I do just fine. Will left me well-fixed, and I still receive his share of the profits from his law partnership. I have plenty of money to maintain my lifestyle without ever having to work. That's all that I need."

"Wow," Clancy said. "That's gonna take me a while to get used to." She thought about all of the information for a bit, then asked, "Are we talking a whole lot of money?"

Abby nodded. "A whole lot. Go to Paris for lunch kinda money."

"Wow," Clancy repeated. "I've never known anyone that rich."

"You still don't," Abby teased. "You won't meet my parents until tomorrow."

"I'm being serious," Clancy said, seeing the teasing smile on her partner's face. "Hasn't it ever bothered you that you won't get their money?" She paused for a second, then added, "You don't have that kinda money, do you?"

"No, no, not at all. I have to spend almost all of my income, but I only touch my principle for things like home improvement. Like to have the landscaping done. I had to dip into my stash for that."

"But you have a pretty big stash, right?"

"Mmm it's big for a woman who's never worked, but I'm not in the position to donate a building to UCLA or anything like that." She cocked her head and asked, "Why? You've never been interested in my money before."

Clancy laughed. "I never knew how rich you were! I mean, how rich your parents are. What do the kids think? Are they pissed they're not gonna hit the Mother Lode?"

"They might be, but they'd better get used to it. I'm leaving my money to you."

"To me?" Clancy almost dropped Abby, struggling to get her feet under her again. Abby disentangled her legs and floated a short distance away. "Are you crazy?"

"No," the older woman calmly said, now floating on her back. "Will and I always told them they weren't getting money from us. They might think I've changed my mind, but I'll tell them I haven't."

"Oh, great, another reason to hate me!"

Clancy looked terribly aggrieved, and Abby stood and tried to soothe her. "I won't tell them I'm leaving it to you right away." She put her arms around Clancy and kissed her. "But if it comes up, I'm going to tell them that nothing has changed. They're on their own."

"It's trippy," Clancy said. "I really can't figure this out."

"Why? Your parents didn't even pay for your college tuition."

"No, but they felt like shit about it. They really wanted to pay for me."

"Ahh maybe that's the difference. Well, I've paid for their tuition, their room and board, and given them a generous allowance. I've told them I'll support them as long as they're in school. That includes post-graduate work. But once they're finished with school, they have to work. I might give them money to make a down-payment on a house, but only if they've shown that they're mature enough to handle the mortgage."

"Damn, you're tough! I thought you'd be very " She trailed off, not wanting to say what was really on her mind.

"Very what?" Abby asked.

"Uhm different."

Seeing the evasive look on her face, Abby pinched the blonde on the butt, laughing when Clancy squealed. "You thought I'd give them everything I had, even if I had to move into a transient hotel, didn't you?"

"Well, maybe not that bad," Clancy said. "But I did think you'd baby them."

Abby kissed her again and said, "I baby them emotionally, but I'm trying to stop that."

"Is that how your parents were?"

"Not really," Abby admitted. "My parents are great, but they they treated me like an adult from the time I was in high school. Luckily for them, I usually much acted like one."

"Did your mom work with your dad?"

"No. She was a student of his at Cal Tech, and she went on to get her Ph.D. in computer science. She's been a professor at Cal Tech since I was about three. She should retire, but she loves it too much to even think of it."

"A student of your father's, huh?" Clancy asked. "Does that mean there's an "

"Age difference?" Abby asked. "Yes, indeed. Ten years."

"Phew," Clancy said, wiping her brow. "That's one thing they won't be able to complain about. You're with a poor, relatively uneducated, blue-collar woman, but they can't bitch about the age difference!"

"You're not uneducated," Abby said, then stopped to listen to herself. "That's not what I meant!"

"I know what you meant," Clancy said. "And I'm only relatively uneducated. You've got a master's and your mother has a Ph.D."

Abby wrinkled her nose. "My dad does, too."

"Fuck me," Clancy said, laughing good-naturedly. "Why couldn't you just be rich? Rich and smart is overkill!" She lay on her back and kicked her way around a big circle. "I'm gonna have to practice being self-confident tonight 'cause I'm gonna need all of my goods tomorrow."

To be continued in Part 13

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