Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Twenty-six

"You know, you didn't really have to wear long pants," Abby said, sparing a smile at Clancy on the way to the airport the next day.

"You've got on a dress, and I'm supposed to go in shorts?" Clancy asked. "Are you mad?"

"You're nervous, aren't you?" Abby asked sympathetically. "And come to think of it, where did you get those pants? Did you buy new clothes?"

"Yes," she said, grimacing. "I didn't want to wear those nice crepe ones I bought, and the only other long pants I have are jeans. I thought I could always use a nice pair of navy blue poplin."

Giving her another look, Abby asked, "That's a new blouse, too, isn't it?"

"Yes. I'm trying to at least look my age," she said. "Am I close?"

"You look wonderful. Really. My parents aren't into that dress-to-impress thing, anyway."

"You're wearing a dress," Clancy pointed out.

"Oh. Right." She grinned widely. "But it's a sundress. Practically a swimsuit cover-up."

"Uh-huh. I'd like to see the fool who wears a pink linen dress over a wet swimsuit." She took Abby's hand and gave it a kiss. "You look luscious, by the way. Very East Coast preppy. I like that about you."

"Well, Mom's a Mainer through and through. I guess I adopted the preppy look from her."

"I love the way you dress. Reminds me of the Kennedys, but sexy."

"Jackie or Rose?" Abby asked, winking at her.

"Who's Rose?" Clancy asked, looking blank for a moment before she chuckled evilly. "Gotcha!"

O

They waited at the baggage carousels for what seemed to Clancy like an eternity, but was probably less than twenty minutes. She paced like a caged beast, with Abby watching her, a wry half-smile on her face.

"It'll be fine," she said for the fourth time.

"Easy for you to say - they have to like you!"

"Where's the confident Clancy O'Connor I find so sexy?"

"How can you talk about sex when your parents are going to be here at any minute?" Clancy whispered loudly.

"You're going to be pleasantly surprised," she said. "If they hated the ground you walked on, you'd never know. Trust me on this - if nothing else, they're amazingly polite."

"Well, that's something," Clancy allowed, making Abby smile at her grumpiness.

The plane was announced, and when the luggage started to careen down the chute Clancy grabbed Abby and pressed a kiss to her mouth. "Just in case they ground you and won't let you go out with me again," she said dramatically.

Abby grasped her hand and tugged her over to the escalator that would admit the debarking passengers. She laced their fingers together and held on tight, despite Clancy's attempts to pull away. "Unh-uh," she insisted, putting the linked hands to her lips and gently kissing Clancy's hand. "You're mine. I'm not letting you get away."

Clancy rolled her eyes, but let herself be kept, finding herself reassured by the grasp of Abby's cool, dry hand.

Abby's eyes lit up with delight as a handsome, older couple appeared at the top of the escalator. "Mom, Dad!" she called out to catch their attention. Wide smiles graced both faces, and Clancy felt some of her unease dissipate when she saw nothing but warm affection from the pair. They approached, and each gave Abby a robust hug, allowing Clancy to spend a moment assessing them. Abby's mom was actually a little taller than her daughter, and very impressive looking. She had very broad shoulders and a substantial chest, which narrowed to slim hips and remarkably long legs. Her hair was snow white, and her blue eyes were nearly identical to Abby's. Her jaw was even stronger, and her eyes were set deeper, giving her a very intent, focused look. There was no mistaking that this woman was Abby's mother, but there was also something very dissimilar about them.

Taking a long look at Abby's father, however, snapped the puzzle pieces into place. He was at least five inches shorter than his wife, and what little hair he had was cropped so short it looked like silver peach fuzz. His eyes were also blue, but didn't have the vivid sparkle of his child's. The real similarity between him and his offspring was in their body styles. Abby looked like a slightly taller, distaff version of her father: with defined, but not overly broad shoulders; a long, lean frame; and serviceable, but not bulky musculature. He looked like an athlete, a swimmer perhaps - like his daughter. Their skin tones were similar, too - with the man's skin bearing an even tan that made him appear healthy and vibrant.

"Mom, Dad," Abby said, "this is Clancy O'Connor … my …" She paused and gave Clancy an adorably puzzled look. "Girlfriend?" she finished tentatively.

"Not bad," Clancy said, returning the smile.

She extended her hand, and the older woman said, "Elizabeth Tudor. And this is my husband, Philip."

"It's good to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Tudor," Clancy began, but Elizabeth waved off her attempt at formality.

"Elizabeth and Philip, please, Clancy."

"Will do," she said. "How was your flight?"

"The same as all of them," Elizabeth said. "Flying is the only time in my life that I hope to be bored."

"I'm glad you were bored," Abby said, giving her mother a warm hug. "I really missed you both this summer."

"You couldn't have been too lonely," Elizabeth said. "This is the only summer you haven't come to visit."

"Oh, I missed you," Abby insisted. "I just wanted you to come home sooner."

"Well, we're here now. You'll have to come for twice as long next summer. Have you ever been to Maine, Clancy?" Elizabeth asked.

"No, I never have. I've always wanted to go, though."

"We're there from April to October. You and Abby are welcome at any time."

This is not going half bad, Clancy reassured herself as she smiled at the older woman. Not bad at all.

O

When they neared the car, Philip gave Abby a look and asked, "When did you get this, honey?"

"About an hour ago," she said, popping the locks on the Mercedes SUV. "It's Maria's. I got a new car, but it only seats two comfortably." At her father's raised eyebrow, she said, "Midlife crisis, Dad. A hot car and a younger woman."

"I haven't seen the car," he said, "but you did pretty well in the younger woman department."

Clancy blushed under the weight of his teasing, making her all the more adorable.

"The car's not half as cute," Abby assured him, making even the tips of Clancy's ears color.

O

When they arrived at their home, the Tudors let out twin sighs of relief. "I miss Pasadena when we're in Maine, and I miss Maine when we're in Pasadena," Elizabeth said. "My two favorite places on earth." A smiling, rotund, black woman opened the front door, and both members of the older couple greeted her warmly. "Frances! Now I know I'm home!" Elizabeth cried as she wrapped her arms around the woman.

"As usual, Frances," Abby said dryly, "your greeting was more enthusiastic than mine."

"I cook better than you do," the woman said, giving Abby a hug.

"Clancy," Abby said, "this is Frances Adams, the only woman who can get away with slapping my butt."

Clancy knew that wasn't true, but she decided this wasn't the time to argue. "Hi," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Clancy O'Connor."

"Welcome," Frances said, giving her a friendly smile. She chuckled and said, "Listen to me! I sound like I live here!"

Deciding to inquire about the living arrangements at a later time, Clancy just returned her smile and walked into the entryway.

The house was a very large, Spanish-influenced, two-story stucco home - probably built in the 1920's, by Clancy's estimate. This section of Pasadena, close to the Cal Tech campus, was developed at around that time - when Pasadena was becoming the address for wealthy businessmen and attorneys who traveled into Los Angeles every day.

"Your home is fantastic," Clancy said, looking around at the large, airy, well-laid-out rooms. "Have you lived here long?"

"Not in the scheme of things," Philip said. "But probably a long time in your view. We moved here in 1978."

"Yeah, just when they got rid of me," Abby said. "They waited until I was engaged to get the cool house."

"Abby grew up in a perfectly decent house within walking distance of her school," Elizabeth informed Clancy. "Don't fall for that 'poor me' routine."

"That's true," Abby said, "but this place is a lot nicer than our old house."

"We had substantially more money when we bought this," Elizabeth said. "Those two things go hand in hand. Besides, you moved into a house that most people only dream about when you should have still been in college. Most girls aren't given a house like that, are they Clancy?"

"I'm almost thirty and living in a small apartment in South Pas," she admitted. "My only real furniture is a futon. So, no, I'd say Abby's experience isn't common."

"A futon?" Philip asked, cocking his head.

"Yes," Clancy said. "It's the world's most uncomfortable couch. Its best feature is that it folds out into the world's most uncomfortable bed. It gives you two pieces of furniture in one - but you don't want to use either one of 'em."

"It's not that bad," Abby said. "I was only in traction for a few days after I slept on it for the first time." Elizabeth raised an eyebrow in her daughter's direction and the younger woman said, "Hey, I'm forty-five. My futon days are over."

"Your futon days never started," Clancy reminded her.

Impulsively, Elizabeth put her arm around Clancy's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "I like you," she said, smiling warmly. "You don't let my girl get away with too much."

"She doesn't let me get away with anything," Abby corrected. "And that's just how I like it."

O

It turned out that Abby had inherited her rabid interest in gardening from her father, and after they all sat in the bright living room and enjoyed a glass of iced tea, he took Clancy on a tour.

The Tudor women remained in the light, airy living room, chatting about nothing in particular for a few minutes. After a while, Elizabeth looked at her daughter and said, "Are you sure she's telling the truth about her age? She looks like she's still in school!"

"Well, I haven't checked her license, but I think she's telling the truth," Abby said. "But she does look young, doesn't she?"

"Yes! She's going to love that in a few years, but she probably isn't very fond of it right now."

"Yeah, I think she'd like to look a little older than thirty. I think people think she's my daughter."

"You can't care what people think, honey. You have to live your life and do what you know is right." She cocked her head. "Is she right for you?"

"Yes," Abby said emphatically. "She's perfect for me. She's very child-like and playful, but in some ways she's more mature than I am. She hasn't had the pampered life I've had, Mom. She's had to work for everything she has, and that's made her strong and confident."

"She seems confident," Elizabeth agreed. "And she looks at you like she wants to put you in her pocket and carry you around."

Abby smiled. "She's protective of me, but she doesn't smother me. She really understands how to treat me. And I'm so crazy about her …" She shook her head. "It's actually embarrassing."

"I haven't seen that sparkle in your eyes in five years now. If that young woman is the one who put it back, I say good for you both."

Abby was sitting across the room, but she got up and joined her mother on the sofa. Grasping her hand, she stroked the soft, wrinkled skin and said, "She makes me incredibly happy, Mom. I thought … well, I thought that part of my life was over. I thought I'd have to live without what Will and I had. It's such a wonderful gift to feel that spark … that fire again."

Elizabeth wrapped Abby in her arms and whispered, "I'm happy for you, sweetheart. The last five years have been the hardest ones of my life." She pulled away and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "It's horrible to see your child in so much pain, to see the joy you used to have for life just fade from your eyes." She shook her head roughly and said, "It's been horrid." Brushing the hair from Abby's forehead she cocked her head and asked, "Has it been hard for you to … open yourself up again? I know how much you loved Will, sweetie. Have you been able to love Clancy that way?"

Struggling with her own tears, Abby nodded. "I have." With a tender, half-smile on her face, she said, "I don't know what it is about her, but we've been very open with each other from the start. It's so different," she mused. "In a way, maybe that's why it's easier. It's nothing like it was with Will - this is a totally new experience."

"And you enjoy … what you do together?" Elizabeth asked, with only a tiny bit of hesitation in her voice.

"Yes," Abby said immediately. "Very much so. It's hard to describe, Mom. In a way, it's like it was with Will. I mean, I feel desired and loved and wanted with Clancy, and that's how I felt with Will. But the way we reach those feelings is totally different. I must be bisexual, because there's a whole new side of me that Clancy reaches. The part of me that Will touched is still his, and I really like the fact that it always will be. What I have with Clancy is hers alone. I didn't know I had this side to myself, and even if I had, I wouldn't have wanted to explore it while Will was alive. But I'm glad that I'm exploring it now. And I'm very glad that Clancy's the one who's showing me how to express it. I love her, Mom, and I'm going to do my best to be with her the rest of my life."

"I hope that's true," Elizabeth sighed. "I hope you have a long, loving life together." She pulled away and placed gentle kisses upon each of her child's eyelids. "Forgive me for wishing this, but if this relationship is the right one for you, I hope that you die before she does. I never, ever want you to have to go through the pain of that loss again." She held her daughter tight and soon both were crying softly, sharing once again the heartache that was still so raw, even after five long years.

They snuggled together for a few minutes, a rare but comforting occurrence. "How has my favorite grandson taken the news?" Elizabeth asked.

Abby blew out a breath. "He came through for me," she said. "Just like I'd hoped he would."

Elizabeth cocked her head. "Are you sure he isn't hiding his real feelings?"

Abby took the question at face value, knowing her mother didn't have a hidden agenda. "No, I can't be sure. You know how Trevor is," she admitted. "But he told me it was too soon to have Clancy move in or stay overnight, so I think I'm getting the truth out of him."

Elizabeth's eyes grew wide. "That must have been an interesting conversation."

Abby laughed. "I've had a lot of interesting conversations lately, and I think I'd rather have boring ones!"

O

Clancy was quickly at ease with Philip, and she was soon in her element, exclaiming over the seldom-seen plants with which he had dotted his yard. It became clear that Abby mirrored his style, with Clancy noting the judicious use of showy plants - shades of green and height variations being his main goal. She always felt that eye-popping plants should be highlighted, and she expressed her complete approval of Philip's choice of locations for some of the brightest ones.

"It's always amazed me how few people make use of our remarkable growing season and climate," he said thoughtfully. "Up in Maine people slave over their land - working up until the snow is too high to wade through - just to have a show for four months or so."

"Are you from Maine, too?"

"Oh, no! I'm a third generation Californian," he said proudly. "My grandfather moved here from Chicago, not long after they started settling the place. My grandmother suffered from asthma, and back then everyone believed that the dry air would cure most anything." He smiled at Clancy and said, "This is one of the worst places in the country now for people with respiratory problems. Too much of a good thing, I guess." They walked along, Clancy making note of each item of interest. "What about you? Are you a local girl?"

"Pretty much," she said. "I grew up in Sierra Madre. My parents still live there. On my mom's side, her father came through California when he was in the war, and he vowed he'd move here. Went back to Michigan, married my grandmother, and took off. They settled in Sierra Madre, and he got a job at the quarry in Irwindale. Hard work," she said, shaking her head. "A few years ago he died of a chronic respiratory disease. White lung," she added. "Too much dust."

"What about your father's people?" Philip asked, finding himself thoroughly charmed by the thoughtful young woman.

"The O'Connor's have been in California for years and years. My grandfather moved down from San Francisco, also not long after the war. He was a police officer in the LAPD, but was shot and sustained a permanent injury and had to retire. He and my grandmother moved up to Cucamonga, and he got a job as a security guard. They both died when I was small; I didn't know either of them well."

Philip looked at her sympathetically. "Was your grandfather shot in the line of duty?"

Her gray eyes danced merrily and she lowered her voice, leaning in close. "This is a family secret, but I'll let you in on it. He and his partner were in a bar after work, and I'm guessing they were pretty well crocked. They got into a fight, which I'm told wasn't a rare occurrence," she said, "and his partner took out a stashed weapon and threatened my grandfather with it. They wound up out in the alley, and they wrestled, and somehow the gun went off and got my poor grampa right in the knee."

"Oh, my!" Philip gasped.

"Yeah," Clancy agreed shaking her head. "It was a pisser. But he wasn't the kind of guy to rat out a fellow cop, even though the other guy did shoot him. They made up some story about catching someone who was trying to break into the bar. It worked out all right," she shrugged. "My grampa got a small disability check from the department, and that plus his security guard job paid him about the same. And my gramma liked it better because he didn't have to risk his life on a daily basis."

"Or work with a partner," Philip said, grinning.

"Or work with a partner," Clancy agreed, gracing him with one of her best smiles.

O

After the tour, they switched off - with Elizabeth offering a flimsy excuse about giving Clancy a tour of the house. Both younger women knew it was so Philip could have some time alone with his daughter, but they played along without complaint.

Father and daughter sat out in the shady side yard, Abby enviously eyeing the small stand of lilacs nearby. "I just can't get lilacs to grow on my side of town. Your little microclimate is much more hospitable."

"One good reason to come visit," he said. Cocking his head, his smile growing wider, Philip said, "You know, Abby, if I were thirty years younger, that Clancy would be just my type."

She grinned at him and said, "You'd need to lose thirty years and some important equipment, Dad. She's not as open minded as I am about going from one side to the other."

He patted her gently and chuckled, saying, "I think I'll stick with your mother, then."

"I'm glad you like her, Dad," she said, giving him a quick hug. "I knew you would."

"I do like her, and I hope you know that I don't have negative feelings about the gay lifestyle." He looked at her closely and said, "Having Stephen and Pam and Maria in our lives has really forced me to lose the silly little prejudices I had before I knew any gay people."

She looked at him, a frown settling on her forehead. "Where are you going with this, Dad? I sense a 'but' coming on."

"There is one," he said, dropping his head a little. "I just want you to know that I'm not saying this because of Clancy, nor because she's a woman. And of course, I can hardly make a comment about the age difference."

"Uh-huh," she said. "Get on with it, Dad. You're not good at beating around the bush."

"I don't think you and Clancy should be together," he said. "Your mother and I don't agree about this, but I feel strongly about it."

"I heard that from Hayley," she said, narrowing her eyes at him.

"Right." He got up and shoved his hands into his pockets, standing up a little straighter. "That was a mistake," he admitted. "She was talking about how much she hated the arrangement and I found myself agreeing with her. But I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."

"That's all right, Dad. I assume you didn't do it to undermine me. But it's been hard enough without her thinking she's got you on her side."

"She does," he said, holding up his hands to stop his daughter's from commenting further. "I agree with her completely."

"But why?"

"The kids have been through enough," he said. "Losing their father at such a young age was enough trauma! You're making a huge mistake by doing something like this."

"Like what?" she asked, getting more frustrated by the moment.

"Like getting into a relationship with a woman! Not to mention how young she is! This is too far outside of the norm."

"But you're not antagonistic to gay people," she said flatly. "Just Clancy."

"Honey," he said, "you're not gay. Why would you choose to live this way when you can be happy with a man? It'd be so much easier for the kids."

"It would be easier for the kids if Will were still here," Abby said. "Nothing but losing me will ever be as traumatic for them."

"I know that, Abby, but you have to think about them first. You have to put your own needs aside and focus on them."

She stood abruptly and glared at him. "You're telling me this? After twenty-five years, you think you have to tell me that I have to make sacrifices for them? What do you think I've been doing all this time? Indulging myself?"

He looked up at her, his face pained. "Abby, please sit down. We can't discuss this if you're angry."

"Damned right I'm angry!" She stayed on her feet, unable to make herself let go of her indignation. "I've got an eighteen-year-old kid making demands on me, and now my eighty-year-old father is siding with her! Hell, yes, I'm angry!"

"I'm not siding with her," he said defensively.

"Of course you are! You're telling me to break up with Clancy, aren't you?"

He sighed and got to his feet. Placing his hands on her shoulders he gripped them lightly and said, "I don't want to side with her. I'm on both of your sides. I just … I just don't want to see this blow up in your face. She's your child, Abby, and losing the close relationship you have with her would be tantamount to losing Will again! I don't want to see you risk that."

She nodded, her anger dying down to a point where she was able to listen to him more attentively. "I don't want to risk that either, Dad, but letting her tell me how to live my life isn't the way to be close with her. I'm willing … hell, I'm eager to work to get past this, but she adamantly refuses. I can't give up something that's so important to me, just because my kid is throwing a tantrum!"

"She is still a kid, Abby. I saw that so clearly when she was with us this summer. She looks like an adult, but there's still a young, struggling girl behind that faηade."

"I know that, Dad, I really do." She let him wrap her in a hug, resting her head on his shoulder for comfort. "I love my children more than my own life, but I can't indulge her. She's welcome to express how she feels at any time, and I'll do my best to make this easier on her, but I'm not going to give Clancy up. Hayley's gone now; I'm sure she'll never live in my house again. I'm trying to let her live her life, and she's got to learn to do the same for me."

He pulled away and looked at her for a few moments. "I don't know why you're being so adamant about this, but it's not like you. I think you're letting your desire for Clancy get in the way of thinking straight."

Abby's chin jutted out and she narrowed her eyes. "This is like me, Dad. This is the part of me I've submerged for the last twenty-five years. Yes, I'm still a mom, but I don't have to give up the things that matter to me to keep my kids happy. They're adults now, and they have to learn to deal with disappointments and disagreements. Giving in now would just show Hayley that if she throws a big enough fit, she can get what she wants. I'm too good a mother to do that to her."

"I disagree, honey, but I can see that you're not going to listen to me. I just hope this doesn't blow up in your face. Or Hayley's."

O

True to Abby's prediction, Clancy had no idea that Philip was against their pairing, and when Abby revealed the content of their conversation on the drive home, Clancy was floored. "But he seemed so welcoming and friendly. Like he really liked me!"

"He does," Abby said. "He said if he were thirty years younger, he'd make a play for you himself."

Clancy gaped at that, the thought confusing her all the more. "Then why …?"

"He's worried about my relationship with Hayley. He seems to think that she's still an impressionable kid, and that I have to give in to her demands just to make her happy." She shook her head and said, "I hate it when he gets involved in emotional issues. His engineering mind just wants to eliminate the static - fix the bug - whatever he needs to do to make things run smoothly again."

"So it's really not me?" she asked, her normal confidence entirely absent.

"No, of course not. He liked you a lot. And my mother is wild about you. She said she hopes we're together until death parts us."

"That follows along with my thinking," Clancy said softly, placing her hand on Abby's thigh. "I'm planning on celebrating at least a golden anniversary with you."

"That's a little optimistic," Abby said, smiling sadly.

"No, it's not," Clancy insisted. "I'll protect you and watch over you all the days of your long, long, life, Abby. I promise that."

"I promise the same," Abby sighed, lifting Clancy's hand to kiss the smooth skin. "I look forward to having you right by my side, well into my dotage."

"I'll dote on you into your dotage," Clancy added, giving Abby a smile that conveyed every bit of her love.

O

Chapter Twenty-seven

After church on Sunday, Abby drove by to pick Clancy up for their planned shopping excursion. The gala wasn't for two more weeks, but Clancy wanted to buy something before she changed her mind about going. She was wearing cut off jeans and a bright turquoise Hawaiian shirt, while Abby remained in her outfit from church - a simple, unstructured yellow dress and a straw hat with a pair of sunflowers tucked into the hatband. They looked more like mother and daughter than lovers, but Clancy didn't mind giving people the wrong idea in this instance. She needed all the help she could get when it came to picking out eveningwear, and she wanted a compliant, friendly salesclerk.

They decided on the group of department stores and medium sized boutiques on Lake Street, and since Clancy had been shopping twice in the previous two months she was starting to feel like an old hand.

Starting at the larger stores, they spent no more than five minutes in each, with Abby giving their collections a quick look before leading Clancy out once again. "What are you looking for that no one has?" Clancy asked as she tried to catch up to the longer stride of her partner.

"Those were too old for me," Abby scoffed. "You need something that makes you look like an elegant you, not like someone else."

"Well, I guess I'm not gonna argue with that," Clancy agreed. "But maybe elegant and me just don't go together."

"Nonsense. You're elegant enough for any two women. We just have to find a clothing line that reflects that."

Their next stop was a smaller store, with a very helpful salesperson who seemed to understand the look they were going for. She actually produced a dress that would have looked fabulous on Clancy, but it would have revealed all of her back and most of her shoulders, and Abby discreetly reminded her of her multi-color tan. "This could work," she whispered, "but we'd have to put some self-tanning lotion on all of your pale spots."

"No, thanks," Clancy decided. "We'd never get it all to match, and I don't want to look like I just hopped off my tractor."

Thanking the woman for her time, they stopped at the next store, a medium-sized boutique for young professionals. There was a small section of dressier attire, and in moments they found the perfect outfit: a long silk jacket with a Mandarin collar, and matching slacks that fit like a glove, showing off Clancy's well-proportioned legs to perfection. The background color of the silk was nearly an exact match with Clancy's natural hair color, and there was a faint pattern to the fabric that only revealed itself under direct light. It was a complex, mature look, and Abby was effusive in her compliments. "It looks absolutely perfect on you," she gushed. "You look exactly your age, and very sophisticated. I'm going to drive you up to your parents' house before we go to the dinner. Your mom has got to see this!"

"This is one time that I regret you're a mom," Clancy grumbled. "Why do all moms like to see people in dress-up clothes?"

"It's part of the genetic code," Abby decided. "You can't fight it."

Clancy glanced at the tag on the sleeve and made a face. "Well, this will set me back half a week's pay, but I think it's worth it."

Abby looked like she was hesitant to speak, but did so anyway. "I uhm … was going to offer to pay for your clothes. You're only going to this because of me. I hate to see you spend your hard-earned money on something you'll only wear once."

"Then I guess you'll just have to ask me out again," she said, patting Abby's cheek. She slipped out of the slacks, and handed them to her partner to hold while she unbuttoned the jacket.

"I mean it," Abby said again. "I'd like to pay for this."

Clancy looked at her for a moment, then tried to explain herself. "I started to get paid to work in the flower shop when I was about twelve. I did the same work that an extra employee would have done, so my mom paid me the same wage. From that time on, I've paid for my own clothes, entertainment and incidentals. I stopped feeling like a kid because I was responsible for myself. If I let you buy me clothes it'll make me feel like a kid again, and I don't want that with you - ever. I don't notice our age difference very often, but if you start paying for things like this I'm afraid I'm gonna feel it. Let's not risk that, okay?"

Abby looked at her for a long time, seeing the determined glint in the cool gray eyes. "You know what I love about you?" she finally asked, draping her arms around Clancy's neck.

"What?"

"I love that you know when to say no. You know yourself well enough to set limits about things and stick to them."

Clancy nodded and said, "I do know myself well. And if there's any chance of causing friction later on, I always choose not to take the risk. Our relationship is worth more than any minor thing we might fight over."

"No fighting," Abby sighed. "Just loving." She kissed her gently, sliding her hands inside the open jacket to tickle bare skin. "Only one thing I hate about going to church," she murmured. "No time for love in the morning."

Clancy grasped Abby's wrist and took a look at her watch. "It's not morning, but there's plenty of time for love. I don't have to be at work for eighteen hours." She was dropping soft, wet kisses all over Abby's face while she spoke, and the larger woman gave in willingly, surrendering to Clancy's desires and her proposal.

"Throw some money at someone near a cash register and take me home!"

O

They were both hot and ready for love by the time they burst through the front door of the apartment, giggling while they tried to undress each other. Their lips were merged while Abby's fingers worked at the button on Clancy's pants, then lowered the zipper. She pushed the pants down, then slipped her hand into the bright pink bikinis, palming Clancy's ass. Once she had her hands on her skin, Clancy was hers for the taking. A sturdy thigh wrapped around Abby's legs, and the smaller woman ground her mound into her partner, all the while hungrily consuming her lips.

Abby had nearly lost all sense of decorum, but she retained enough to know they had to get into the bedroom. She had no idea what Michael's schedule was, but she knew she was not going to be the first woman he ever saw Clancy making love to.

Slowly, trying to remain entwined, she maneuvered Clancy out of her pants, across the living room, and into the bedroom. She wrapped her arms around the landscaper and spun, landing flat on her back with Clancy sprawled atop her. Now they both let go, kissing, sucking, biting each other in a frenzy, their lovemaking taking on an urgency and a forcefulness it had never had before.

Hands were everywhere at once, and pieces of clothing occasionally flew from the pile. Groans, moans, and the soft, wet slurp of rough kisses were the only sounds. Finally naked, they clung to one another and began to wrestle, each one trying to be on top. Clancy had never seen Abby behave with such abandon, and she absolutely loved it. The older woman growled when she had her partner on her back, then scooted up so her knees were on Clancy's shoulders, pinning her.

The blonde panted, trying to catch her breath, then stopped to survey the image that presented itself. Abby was wet with sweat, her chest heaving, eyes bright as she looked down at her lover. Clancy lowered her gaze and laughed, low and sexy. "Why in the hell am I fighting? I've never seen a better view." She narrowed her gaze and licked her lips. "Come here, baby, just a little closer. I'm gonna kiss you like you've never been kissed. Come on," she soothed. "Let me get my tongue on you."

Abby shook her head, then put her hands on Clancy's shoulders and scooted back. Lying down, nose to nose, she said, "I won. So I get to do what I want."

Clancy smiled at her, then stuck her arms out, giving up without a fight. "Go, baby. Have at it."

The brunette got a devilish look in her eye and clambered off the futon. She spied two small tables flanking the bed, and went to the one on the left. Giving her lover a wink, she said, "You don't mind if I snoop, do you?"

Clancy made a sweeping gesture with her hand. "Be my guest."

The first table yielded only a large supply of colored pencils, markers and plastic templates. "You want to draw?" Clancy asked, rolling onto her tummy to watch.

"Keep your shirt on," Abby said, walking around the futon to check the other table. "Aha! Here's the stash!" She knelt down and started to root through the contents, with Clancy giggling in the background.

"Sure I can't help you find something in particular?"

"Nope. I know what I want, and I'm sure you have it." She snuck a suspicious look back at Clancy. "Are you sure you've only had five lovers? There are enough things in here to supply an apartment building."

"Gotta be prepared. Never know when you're gonna meet a woman with special needs."

Abby stood up, her treasures hidden behind her back. "Close your eyes," she said. "I don't want to embarrass myself if I fumble around here."

Clancy put a hand over her eyes, but she was obviously peeking through her fingers.

"Come on," Abby pleaded. "Give me a minute to get prepared."

"Okay, okay," the blonde said. "I just like messing with you."

Abby didn't say a word, but Clancy could hear a wide variety of noises coming from her side of the room, including a muttered curse word or two. But in a few minutes she could feel Abby's weight on the bed, and knew the fun would soon begin. To her surprise, the first thing she experienced was a piece of cloth being placed over her eyes. "A blindfold? I had a blindfold in there?"

"Sure did," Abby said. "Do you mind wearing it?"

"No, I don't think you'll rob me when I'm not looking."

She'd barely uttered the last word when Abby started to kiss her again, starting out slow and tender and soft. These were the kisses that Clancy liked the best - the ones that promised a day full of pleasure. There was an unmistakable message to Abby's kisses when she planned on making love, and Clancy had never misread her lover's intent. As soon as she felt Abby's lips touch hers she let out a long sigh and tried to open herself fully to the experience.

Abby sensed her receptivity and explored her body for a long time, lingering for a while at a few favorite spots, but making sure that every part was lavished with affection. Time and again she returned to Clancy's mouth, probing and teasing with her tongue until the blonde was humming with arousal.

The blindfold made the experience so much more intense for Clancy that she wondered why she hadn't pulled it out earlier. But then she remembered that she'd used it just once, with Julie, and she hadn't enjoyed it much at all. But she trusted Abby so completely that she was able to lie still and let the sensations wash over her like a gentle wave. Each kiss carried just a hint of surprise, heightening the pleasure and making Clancy feel like she had to savor each - since she didn't know if there would be another.

Abby worked her lover's body like a pro, caressing each delicate part with the skill and sureness of a master. After what seemed like hours, Abby rolled her partner onto her belly, finally urging her onto her hands and knees. Clancy's ass was twitching with anticipation, making Abby's mouth start to water. The younger woman didn't have a shred of modesty when it came to expressing her sexuality, and Abby loved to watch her body demand what it needed. And there wasn't a doubt that Clancy needed her lover to enter her. She arched her back and spread her legs, presenting such a delightfully beautiful pose that Abby had to pause for a moment in sheer admiration. She ran her hand across Clancy's flank, murmuring, "You're such a beautiful woman. It makes me feel so special to have you be so open with me."

"That's because I love you," Clancy said. "Only you."

Clancy felt her partner shift, then sensed her warm breath on the back of her thigh. Then, just when she was ready to squirm out of her skin, she felt it - the first brush of sensation against her smaller opening. Her back arched even higher, and her legs spread impossibly wide as she pushed herself towards the touch. But Abby wouldn't give in to her desires immediately. She teased her lover for a long time, until she was moaning in frustration. "Please," she begged. "Please."

Abby stroked her back, her mouth watering as she gazed at her Clancy's muscular ass. "Open up for me," she said, quietly but firmly.

"Unghhh!" Clancy reached behind herself, letting her head drop to the mattress. She grasped her cheeks and opened herself as wide as she could, emitting a contented purr when Abby began to tease her ass with the dildo. "Oh, yeah, I need it," she growled. "Put it in, baby. Put it in me."

Hands shaking, Abby bent over a little to make sure her aim was true. She held the petite silicone piece in her hand and slipped it into her partner, delightedly watching as goosebumps broke out all across Clancy's back.

"Yes!" she said, "that feels so damned good!" Abby delicately maneuvered the toy, slowly probing her lover with the well-lubricated object. Clancy had stopped speaking, her body coiled with tension. They settled into a slow, steady rhythm, with Clancy backing into Abby's hand, the wide base of the dildo tight against her cheeks on every stroke.

Eventually, Abby slowed down even further, and Clancy felt her move. Now Abby was pressing something against her cunt, and the blonde hoped she was finally going to get some relief. Arching her back again, she bore down, opening herself to what she hoped was something - anything to fill her up.

Abby didn't disappoint. She pressed a new, bigger toy firmly against Clancy, then moved closer and wrapped her arm around her lover's waist. Without a word, she probed at her opening, then slipped in all at once, stretching Clancy wide open with a smooth, steady pressure. "Oh, Jesus!" the blonde cried, grabbing handfuls of sheet to anchor herself.

Abby rested inside of her, not moving for a good, long time, letting Clancy's body get used to the twin invasions. Finally, Abby grasped her partner's hips and started to move, going so slowly that it seemed like forever for her to nearly slip out.

Just as Clancy thought she'd lose her, Abby started to slide back in, going just as slowly and carefully as before. It was maddening, truly maddening, but Clancy had never felt so aroused in her life. Having Abby stretch her so fully and deny her the fucking she desperately craved was about to make her scream.

Clancy bore down again, trying to force her partner to move faster, harder, but all she managed was to make the smaller dildo almost pop out. Abby seemed to anticipate her action, and on the next maddeningly slow stroke, both dildos entered Clancy with the same, steady, unrelenting pressure. "God damn it, Abby, fuck me!"

"I am fucking you," she murmured, grasping Clancy tight around the waist and burying her teeth into her shoulder. "I'm fucking you slowly." She moved her hand along Clancy's thigh, then slid down between her legs. "And you're loving it," she growled. "You've never been wetter."

Clancy couldn't argue, mainly because she wasn't able to speak. She desperately wanted Abby to get wild, to start really grinding, but the fact that she refused made her crazy with desire. She didn't … couldn't just lose herself to the sensation of being pumped hard. Abby's deliberate style made her feel her flesh stretch bit by bit, feeling every inch of the dildos as they moved inside her. Her hunger grew with every stroke … needing Abby to plunge into her deeper, faster, harder. But her lover seemed to become even more purposeful, driving her mad. Clancy shoved her hips hard, groaning in frustration, but Abby never gave in. The blonde was covered in sweat, her skin glowing pink. The moment Abby saw that Clancy's frustration was beginning to equal her arousal she leaned over her, feeling the heat. "When you're ready, I want you to touch yourself and come for me."

As the words left her mouth, Clancy's hand flew between her legs, while Abby reached under her and pinched her nipples hard enough to make her groan. The nimble fingers gently massaged her clit for mere seconds before she came hard and loud, backing into Abby hard enough to stun the brunette. Spent, Clancy's knees gave out and she fell to the bed, both dildos expelled at the same moment. "Oh … my … God," the blonde mumbled. "What in the hell did you do to me?"

Abby crawled up next to her and helped her onto her side, then cradled her in her arms until both of their heart rates slowed down. Clancy finally removed the blindfold and blinked a few times, the light in the room hurting her eyes at first. Giving Abby a doubtful look, she asked, "Where did you learn to fuck like that?"

The brunette laughed. "I've been fucked a few times, remember? I just did what I like, and I hoped you'd like it, too."

Clancy sat up, resting her weight on her arm. "That's how you like it?"

"One of the ways," Abby said. "I like it a lot of ways, depending on the day."

"But I … I was really aggressive with you. Did you like that?"

"Honey, they heard me coming in the San Fernando Valley." She stroked Clancy's concerned face. "Of course I liked it."

"But you prefer it slow?"

Abby made a face. "I wouldn't put it that way. Sometimes I really like to go at it. But no matter how turned on I am at first, doing it slow and steady always makes me come. Always," she said.

Clancy lay back down, looking unhappy. "I always do it kinda the same way," she said. "It didn't occur to me that you wouldn't like it the same way Jul-" She stopped, mid-word. "Sorry, I know you don't like to think about me with her."

Abby ran her fingers through her wet hair, catching beads of perspiration with her thumb. "It's okay. Did you use toys a lot with Julie?"

Clancy nodded. "Yeah. Pretty much exclusively."

"Well, honey, if you're used to one person, it makes sense that you'd develop a certain way of doing something. That's perfectly understandable."

The blonde's chuckle grew into a full-throated laugh. "Second time you've ever seen a dildo, and you teach me something new."

Abby leaned over her and kissed her soundly. "Who said it's the second time?" she asked. "I was straight, not unimaginative!"

O

Trevor and Hayley sat at a noisy breakfast place near the university on Sunday morning, both a little tired and slow from Saturday night. "It was kinda funny going to a bar with you," the young man said. "First time we've done that."

Hayley smiled at him. "Like we could have gotten away with it at home. You know Mom volunteers at the airport, sniffing for drugs."

Trevor laughed at his sister's penchant for exaggeration. "She's not that bad."

"Yes she is!" the girl insisted. "I couldn't eat rum flavored candy when I was in high school."

"You did whatever you wanted when you stayed overnight at Gretchen's," Trevor reminded her.

"That's my point! I had to leave my own house to have a drink!"

Trevor laughed again, finding his sister's histrionics amusing. "We both knew the rules. Mom told us both that she had a zero-tolerance policy, and she meant it."

"Yeah," she said, a pout on her pretty face. "We had to get the one mother in Pasadena who cared about us."

"I'm sure all of your friends felt sorry for you," Trevor said, trying to sound serious.

"Oh, yeah. That's why someone invited me for a sleep-over every weekend. They knew I was in lock-down at home."

Trevor took a sip of his coffee, trying to hide the smirk that covered his face.

"You seemed to be having a good time last night," Hayley said. "Who was the blonde?"

"What blonde?" Trevor asked, completely innocent.

"The girl you were in the corner playing tongue-hockey with."

He paused and looked like he was thinking about her question. "Oh," he said, nodding. "That was Amber."

"I've never seen you making-out with a girl," she said. "My roommate thinks you're gay," she added.

Trevor laughed. "Gay, huh? What makes Ariel think I'm gay?"

"Well, you never bring girls home, and you've never been in a serious relationship. She thinks you're too close to Mom, too."

Trevor's brow knit and he nodded. "Yeah, that sounds pretty gay." He took another sip of his coffee, not responding further.

She looked at him cautiously, thinking her comment would draw a vigorous denial. "Doesn't it bother you that she thinks that?"

He laughed softly. "Why would it?"

"Most guys don't like being called gay," Hayley said.

"Hmm … I guess I'm not like most guys."

"Trevor!" Hayley was clearly exasperated. "What's going on with you? After Ariel said that I started to wonder, too. All of my friends wanted to go out with you, but you were never, ever interested. Don't you have a sex drive?"

He'd just taken another drink and he almost spit it at her. After swallowing, he smiled and said, "You don't have any limits, do you?"

"Limits?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

"Things that you keep to yourself. You know … a private life."

"I have a private life," she said defensively.

"You do not," he insisted. "You tell everybody everything that you do. I don't."

"What is there to tell?" she asked. "All you do is study."

"Not true," he said. "But I only talk about the things that I want people to know about."

"So you do have a sex life?" she asked bluntly.

"Yes, Hayley, I have a sex life," he said, again only barely answering her question.

"Have you ever had a girlfriend?" she asked, seeing that he would answer a direct question.

"Sure."

"Who was the last one and how long did you go out with her?"

"I went out with a woman named Giselle for about … uhm … a year and a half. We broke up just before we graduated in June."

"You're shitting me!" Hayley's mouth had dropped open in shock.

"Why would I do that?"

"Why would you go out with someone for that long and not tell us?"

"Mostly because I didn't want to."

"Why? Was something wrong with her?"

He laughed. "No, she was great. But if you and Mom knew I'd been with someone for that long you'd both start thinking that we were gonna get married. I'd have to bring her home and have everyone inspect her. I didn't want to," he said. His expression was calm but determined, the one he always bore when a topic wasn't up for discussion.

"That's fucked-up, Trev. I bet she didn't like that you didn't tell your family about her."

"She didn't know," he said, still sounding casual. "I'm not stupid, ya know. I just came up with excuses why I couldn't arrange for her to come to California. I went to her parent's house in New Hampshire all the time."

"You are a weird guy," Hayley said, giving him a curious look. "I swear you were pretty normal until you went to college. What happened?"

"Nothing happened," he said, still unruffled. "I just decided that I needed to keep my personal life personal."

Sensing something about his demeanor, she asked, "Because of Daddy?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I guess. It was really hard coming home and seeing how bad off you and Mom were. I would have stayed at school year-round, but I knew I couldn't do that."

"I bet it was," she said quietly, not making eye contact. We were both a mess for a long time." She looked up at him. "But why did that make you start being secretive?"

"I wasn't secretive," he said. "I just didn't want Mom to worry about me. She had enough on her mind. So I told her the minimum. After a while I realized I liked not having her ask questions. So she only knows about girls from Pasadena, and I was never serious about any of them."

"I can't imagine being like that," she said.

"Yeah, I know," he replied, laughing. "I was surprised Alexander wasn't down here this weekend. I thought I'd have to watch you two going at it every two minutes."

"He's been down every other weekend," she said. "I wanted to have some time alone with you."

"I'm glad," Trevor said. "I didn't really want to spend the weekend with the two of you." He sat back in his chair. "How's it going with him, anyway?"

"Good," she said. "Really good. But I don't want to tell you everything. I know you hate to hear about personal lives." She added a smarmy smile, making him chuckle.

"I don't mind hearing about other people's lives. I just don't wanna talk about mine. Besides, one day I'll get married and have kids and my secret life will be in the past. I'm enjoying it while I can."

"Well, things are great with Alexander. But you'll see for yourself. I'm gonna bring him home for Thanksgiving."

"See?" he smiled. "That's what happens when you have a public life. You've gotta bring the guy home for inspection."

"I don't mind," she said. "Besides, I wanna show him off."

His smile faded, and he said, "Mom's gonna show Clancy off in a couple of weeks."

"Huh?"

"She's taking her to a formal dinner dance." His expression was mostly neutral, but Hayley could see an unreadable emotion hidden behind his blue eyes.

Hayley made every other diner stare at them when she shouted, "A formal dance!"

"Yeah," he said quietly. "They were gonna go shopping this weekend. Clancy doesn't have any nice clothes"

Hayley's head dropped to the table and she moaned, "She's lost her fucking mind."

Trevor patted her on the shoulder, partly to comfort her and partly to stop her from making a scene. "Come on, get up."

She lifted her head, looking disgusted. "How can you stand to be around them? They're like seventh-graders, making sure everybody knows that they're in loooove."

"It's not like that, Hayley. They really are in love. They're just living their lives"

She looked at him like he was mad. "So you're honestly gonna say that it doesn't bother you."

He sat quietly for a moment before saying, "Of course it bothers me. I saw that picture of Mom and Dad at that big anniversary party that Gran and Gramps threw for them." He paused and took in a breath, a fond smile on his face. "They always seemed happier when they were dressed up for a big party. Mom loved to get dressed up and Dad loved looking at her." He looked at his sister and said, "He was so damned crazy about her."

A few tears shone in Hayley's bright eyes, and her voice was hoarse with emotion. "How can you watch them? How can you be there?"

"I'm not around them very much," he said. "I think about Dad all of the time and how different it was when he was alive." He looked out of the window of the restaurant, obviously thinking about something. "I know she loves Clancy, but it's different." He shook his head, looking like he was trying to dislodge a troubling thought. "Maybe it's because it's new. Maybe it's because they're both women. But it's so different."

"And you don't say anything to her?" Hayley asked, clearly frustrated. "She'd tone it down if you told her to. She listens to you."

"Why would I do that?" he asked. "There's nothing wrong with what they're doing, Hayley. Just because it makes us uncomfortable doesn't make it wrong. Mom stays out of my personal life, and I'm gonna stay out of hers."

"I couldn't live with them," she said, a disdainful look on her face. "Not for all the money in the world."

His gaze landed on her and held. He didn't speak until she was becoming uncomfortable with his appraisal. "Maybe we don't feel the same about family."

"What? Our family?"

"Yeah, of course. Our family is one of the most important things in my life. I know how lucky we are to have such a great mom and grandparents. We're not children anymore, Hayley. We can't just expect to be on the receiving end all of the time. We've had a sweet life so far with Mom and Dad supporting us in everything we've ever wanted to do. Well … it's time for a little payback. Mom needs our support, and I'm gonna give it to her. If it kills me," he said, his eyes flinty with determination.

O

The following Friday night, Abby took Clancy out for a lovely dinner at one of Pasadena's finer restaurants. They went back to Clancy's apartment, and within minutes the older woman had begun seducing her partner. Clancy's blouse was partially unbuttoned, and Abby's hands were teasing the sensitive skin on the small of her back.

Clancy draped her arms around her partner's neck, closing her eyes as she kissed her, savoring the softness of her lips.

"Know what I wanna do?" Abby asked, her voice filled with innuendo.

"No, but I wanna do it, too," Clancy said, her breath catching as her zipper was lowered and Abby's inquisitive fingers slipped inside.

"Done," Abby said, capturing Clancy's pink earlobe between her teeth for a nibble. "You're gonna love it."

O

The next morning, Abby hopped out of bed and put on some of Clancy's clothes before heading for the shower. She was back in the room, rubbing her hair with a towel, when Clancy's eyes first opened. The blonde stretched, smiling up at her lover. "Come back here and do me like you did me last night." She threw off the sheet and spread her arms and legs. "I'm all yours."

Abby sat on the edge of the futon and ran her hand across Clancy's belly. "Very tempting, but we'll be late."

"Late for what?"

"We're gonna play tennis with Pam and Maria this morning, remember?"

Clancy sat up quickly. "What? I don't play tennis!"

"But you told me last night that you'd love to play," the brunette said, grinning at her partner.

Clancy looked confused. "I said that? Me?"

"Yeah. I asked if you knew what I wanted to do, and you said you wanted to do it, too. You didn't ask what it was." She leaned over and kissed Clancy, her shower-fresh scent making the smaller woman smile.

"You tricked me," Clancy said. "You intentionally tricked me, and now you're just as happy as can be, aren't ya? You're actually proud of yourself!"

Giggling, Abby nodded. "I am, to tell you the truth. And if you hurry up and get ready, I'll bring you right back here and do you better than I did you last night."

Clancy was standing on the floor before Abby had managed to finish her sentence. "Give me five," she said, scampering off to the bathroom.

O

"I swear it was Pam's idea," Abby said a few minutes later while they drove to the club. "I told her that you didn't play, but she claims that she'd rather play with a rank beginner than with anyone else at the club. And I'd much rather be with you than with anyone else in the world, so it seemed like a great idea to me."

Clancy gave her a puzzled look, then recognition slowly dawned. "She wants me to play because I'll suck … right?"

"No, no, really," Abby said. "She's a pretty good player, but Maria's … well, Maria plays because it's an excuse to force herself to get some regular exercise. She's been playing for a few years now, but to be honest, she hasn't improved at all. It'll be like two beginners and two intermediate players. It should really work out." She put her hand on Clancy's thigh and said, "Besides, I think they both want to get to know you better. This could be fun."

"Or embarrassing," Clancy grumbled.

O

Clancy hadn't played tennis since she was forced to endure a semester's worth of group lessons in high school phys ed. She was obviously strong, and well-muscled, but she'd never been much for sports or organized exercise, and had never been in a gym in her life. Still, she was in good shape from her job, and she did run a few miles in the morning if she hadn't done anything too physical for several days - giving her sufficient cardiovascular fitness to be able to stay on the court for an hour.

What she had in spades, though, was determination, and Abby couldn't help but smile at the younger woman's furrowed brow as she tried to remind her body how to execute the required moves.

To Abby's surprise, Clancy had an absolutely lethal backhand - mainly lethal to the poor soul who got stung by it. Her strokes were wildly unpredictable, but each had enough mustard on it to raise a welt if her opponent got in the way.

They made it through two sets, both won by Abby and Clancy, and decided to have lunch together - winner buying, as usual. "Well, that was the most unusual set of tennis I've ever participated in," Abby said.

"We would have won that second set if Maria hadn't kept ducking," Pam insisted. "You can use your racquet to return the ball you know, honey."

"No way," Maria declared, her eyes wide. "I could lose an eye!"

"I've gotta say," Pam said, laughing, "you two will be unbeatable if Clancy can harness that power."

Abby reached over and playfully felt her lover's upper arm. "She is a powerful little thing, isn't she?"

"Little?" Maria gaped, eyeing the younger woman who bettered her by at least four inches and thirty pounds.

"Only Abby calls me little," Clancy said, giving her partner a warm grin. "Of course, that only refers to my height. She wasn't calling me little the other night when we were leg wrestling."

"Leg wrestling, eh?" Maria asked, seeing the blush that crawled up Abby's cheeks. "Isn't it amazing the creative ways you can manage to touch each other when you're first together?"

They chatted companionably, then tried to decide if they would continue the tennis experiment. "It's up to you, Clancy," Pam said. "Ellen's definitely out, so we've got to find a fourth. I'd rather play with you, but we don't wanna push you."

"Sure, I'll give it a go. It'll be a nice way to spend a little time with my girl." She gave Abby a toothy grin, making her partner laugh at her antics.

"You know," Abby said, "you can only be my guest twice in a month. If you enjoy this, I'll have to add you as my spouse."

"Your spouse?" Clancy asked, her eyes widening.

"Yep. My spouse," Abby said, nodding.

"Can I come to watch the membership director try not to act shocked?" Maria asked.

"How do we ahh … prove that we're spouses?" Clancy asked.

"When we did it we had to show that we lived together, and that we shared financial resources," Pam said.

"Well … we don't do that," Clancy said. "At least not yet."

"But we might … if I'm lucky, right?" Abby asked, her eyes dancing merrily.

"Yes," Clancy allowed. "If you're very, very lucky I might let you move in with me. You can call dibs on which side of the futon you want."

"I'd be the happiest woman in town," Abby sighed, giving Clancy a look that didn't contain a shred of insincerity.

O

Clancy got up to use the restroom, surprised to find Maria following her into the building. Maria touched her shoulder and pointed to a quiet spot near one of the event rooms. "Can we talk for a minute? I was going to follow you into the bathroom, but you never know who's gonna be in there."

"Uhm … sure." Clancy leaned against the wall and cocked her head. "What's up?"

"I wanted to apologize again for being so suspicious of you at first."

"At first?" Clancy asked. "Does that mean you're not suspicious any more?"

"Not at all," Maria said, her sincerity obvious. "I can see how much you two love each other. And if you wanted her money … well … you could have had it by now. She'd obviously give you everything she had if you asked for it."

Clancy's cheeks colored, realizing how true Maria's observation was. "I like that she has money," Clancy said. "I love her big house and that great yard and her pool. And her car is sizzling hot. But I'd feel just the same about her if she were unemployed and living with her parents."

"I can see that," Maria said. "It's obvious this isn't one-sided."

"Thanks," Clancy said. "I appreciate that."

Maria's head tilted, and she asked, "You never told her about my suspicions, did you?"

"No, of course not. You pissed me off, but telling her would have hurt her." Her gaze grew sharp, her gray eyes looking fierce. "I never want to hurt her if I can possibly avoid it."

"Thanks," Maria said. "It would have hurt her, and she'd been hurt enough by Ellen's stupidity. It would have been hard for her to know I was just as stupid."

Clancy's clapped her on the shoulder. "You were looking out for her. That's not the worst thing you could have done."

"But she doesn't need me to do that," Maria said. "She's smarter than I am, and more intuitive about people."

"I know that," Clancy said, her eyes twinkling. "But you weren't trying to be a jerk. That was just the result."

Maria bumped her with her shoulder. "I like you," she said, smiling. "You're gonna make Abby very happy."

"Just like she does for me," Clancy said, with a grin wide enough to light up the San Gabriel Valley. "And speaking of happy, you two should come by the house on your way home. Abby's disappointed that you haven't been by to see the yard yet."

Maria made a face. "We've wanted to, really, but we haven't had the whole day to spend over there."

Clancy cocked her head. "Then just stop by."

"You've never had a child," Maria said. "Alisa was crazy about the pool before. Now that there's a waterfall … we'll have to stay until the moon rises."

"Come this afternoon," Clancy said. "Come by close to dinner and that'll make the day shorter."

"You'll feed us?" Maria asked, smiling so that her teeth showed.

"Yes, we'll feed you," Clancy said, laughing. She clapped the woman on the back and said, "I think I've figured out your hot button already."

O

The charity dinner was scheduled for Friday night, and Clancy knocked off early to make sure she had time for a nap. Carrying her own eveningwear in a garment bag, Abby arrived at the apartment an hour before they had to leave, mostly to ensure her reluctant partner didn't try to escape. After Michael let her in she stood in the doorway to Clancy's room and gazed at her lover, wishing fervently that they had an hour to play as Clancy's bare body started to work its magic on her libido. Instead, she gently woke her by rubbing her back, letting just the tips of her fingers play over the soft skin.

When she was coherent, Clancy mumbled, "Have I ever told you that was how my gramma woke me when I was little?"

Abby lay down and cuddled her close. "No, you haven't, but I assumed someone touched you that way when you were a child. The first morning I did that, you acted like you were in heaven."

"I didn't remember that sensation until you did it the first time," Clancy said. "Maybe it's a mom thing."

"It doesn't bother you when I do things that remind you of your mom or your grandmother, does it?" Abby asked.

"No, not at all. You're all moms, and you just can't help being mom-like sometimes. It only bothers me when I feel like you're trying to be my mom. That's a no-no."

"Got it," Abby said. "Now get your sweet little non-daughterly ass into the bathroom so we're on time."

O

Clancy was dressed, observing herself in the full-length mirror while Abby was still in her slip. "You look wonderful," Abby purred, slipping her arms around her partner.

Barely acknowledging the compliment, Clancy continued to poke at her hair. "Would you like it better all one color?"

"Huh? What brought that on?"

"It doesn't look very sophisticated," Clancy mused, getting to the heart of the matter. "I think it makes me look even younger."

Abby gazed at her thoughtfully, and then nodded her head. "It probably does," she agreed. "But why does that matter?"

"I don't know," Clancy said, looking a trifle adolescent. "I guess I just want to look my age."

"You mean you want to look closer to my age," Abby correctly guessed.

Looking up at her with a question in her eyes, Clancy asked, "Is that such a bad thing?"

"No, not at all. But my hair shouldn't be this gray at forty-five. If you're going to get rid of your blonde to look older, I should get rid of my gray to look younger."

"But I like your gray," Clancy protested.

Kissing her on the crown of the head, Abby reminded her, "And I like your blonde. Why don't we please ourselves and each other, huh? If other people don't like it, they can lump it."

"What does that expression even mean?" Clancy asked, grinning up at her partner.

"No idea. I just know that I love the way you look - it's the look I was first attracted to - and I don't want you to change it unless and until you don't like it any longer. Yours is the only opinion that matters."

O

After an appropriate interlude to admire Abby's sexy black dress, which included an extended session of laying on of hands, they drove up to Sierra Madre to allow for a viewing. Margaret was beside herself, gushing over Clancy like she was wearing a wedding gown. "Abby, I don't know how you did it!" she cried. "She hasn't been this dressed up since her Confirmation into the church in seventh grade."

"Coincidentally, that's when I started buying my own clothes," Clancy said. "I decided I'd never be seen in a dress again, and I've stuck to my resolve."

"Well, you both look wonderful," Eileen said. "John, go get the camera."

He willingly did so, and after every permutation of mother/daughter, grandmother/daughter/daughter, et cetera, they were finally released. "I didn't ever go to a school dance," Clancy said. "Is that what it's like when your date shows up?"

"Pretty much," Abby said. "Darn! I should have bought you a corsage."

"I plant flowers," Clancy declared. "I don't wear 'em."

O

Since the event was for one of the main charity outreaches for her church, Abby knew many of the people in attendance. Her parents were there, as were Maria and Pam, and several other sets of friends. As expected, Ellen and her husband Neil were there as well, but it soon became clear that neither of them was going to come by to say hello. They hadn't been there long when Abby leaned over to Clancy and said, "I'm not going to act like I don't recognize two of my oldest friends. I'll introduce you later - if they're civil." She got up and smoothed out her dress, held her head high, and strode over to the Chenoweths' table.

She knew every one of the eight people sitting around the table, and gave each of them a friendly greeting. After a perfunctory hello, Ellen turned her attention back to the conversation she had been having with the woman to her right, leaving Abby to stand awkwardly behind her. Looking directly at Neil, Abby said, "I was going to bring Clancy over to meet you, but that doesn't seem like a good idea."

"I think you're right," Neil said, looking very uncomfortable. "I'm uhm … sorry, Abby, but I don't think that would be wise."

"It doesn't have to be like this," she said quietly, then turned on her heel and returned to her table.

Everyone at her own table had been stealthily watching, but no one said anything when she returned. Clancy just gripped her hand under the table and gave it a squeeze.

Deciding not to let the slight ruin the evening, Abby stood and tugged Clancy up with her. "It's time to come out to a few people," she said. "Wanna mingle?"

"Love to," Clancy said, beaming up at her.

O

"How many people have you two already told?" Abby asked Maria and Pam when they caught up to them near the dance floor.

"Told? You think we told?" Pam blinked ingenuously. "We're the souls of discretion!"

"I introduced Clancy as my partner to two dozen people, and we barely got a raised eyebrow," Abby said. "I know you two are behind that."

"Well," Maria said, "we wanted this to be as smooth as possible for you two. So we might have hinted at it at the last gay and lesbian outreach advisory board meeting."

"Just a hint though," Pam said, nodding solemnly.

"News about sex travels fast, even at church," Abby said. "My mother said that three people called her this week to get her to deny the vicious rumor. We're semi-celebrities, Clancy. Do you mind?"

"Not a bit. Maybe I'll get some business out of it," she said. "Landscaping isn't that exciting, but if people think I throw in a few orientation-turning lesbian sex acts, my phone might start ringing off the hook."

"You'd better not answer those calls," Abby said, brow furrowing.

"I have a very select list of clients," she said. "It's limited to you." Standing on her tiptoes to equalize for Abby's heels, Clancy placed a chaste kiss on her lips.

They were interrupted by someone standing right behind Abby, clearing his throat dramatically. She turned and smiled at an elegantly attired man and allowed him to kiss her cheek. "Hello, Allan."

"And just what have you been up to, as if I didn't know?" he asked, eyeing Clancy showily.

With a small smile, Abby nodded, "Yes, the rumors are true. Allan Simpkins, this is my partner, Clancy O'Connor."

"Partner, huh?" he asked, nodding his approval. "You girls work fast, don't you?"

"No reason not to when you find the right one," Abby said, giving Clancy a wider smile.

"Well, everyone else was shocked I tell you, just shocked," he said dramatically. "But I didn't blink an eye. I always, and I do mean always, knew." He looked thoroughly pleased with himself, but Clancy saw a look in her lover's eyes that she knew meant trouble.

"What do you mean by that?" Abby asked sharply. Pam and Maria unconsciously backed up, their eyes going round, but Clancy leaned in closer and put her hand on Abby's back, which was tight with tension.

"I only meant that I knew you had some secret yearnings," he whispered loudly, for effect. "It's okay, Abby, the cat's out of the bag now."

She advanced on him, the toes of her shoes touching his. "Listen, Allan," she enunciated sharply, "I loved Will completely - totally - and fully. I never had another thought for another man, or another woman. I deeply resent your implication, and I demand an apology!"

"I only meant …" he said, backing up.

"I know what you meant," she rasped. "I was completely faithful to my husband until the day he died. Now I'm in love with Clancy, and I'll be the same with her! Two discrete events - neither of which has a God damned thing to do with the other!"

"I didn't mean to imply anything different," he said, now backing away even quicker. "I wish you all the best." With that, he turned and practically ran back to his table, leaving three sets of wide eyes to stare at Abby.

"Pompous prick," she muttered.

Maria saw the stunned look on Clancy's face, and explained, "He's a big trouble maker at church. One of those guys who's always trying to create controversy where none exists. He's had that coming for years," she added, giving Abby an admiring look.

"Maybe coming tonight wasn't such a good idea," Abby sighed. "I feel like I've been beaten with clubs."

Clancy grasped her hand and said, "Let's go outside for a bit. A little fresh air will make you feel better."

Abby nodded and let herself be led outdoors. The night was chilly, but the brisk temperature was just the thing to cool down her heated temper. "Why is it such a big deal to have labels for people," she muttered.

"It's only important to some," Clancy said. "The people who matter don't see you as a thing or a stereotype, they see the real you. The you that I see."

"I suppose," Abby sighed, leaning against Clancy's body. "It's just tiring."

"It is. Let's just lie low a little bit and enjoy being with your parents, and Pam and Maria, and the other people who know how to behave."

Clancy started to walk back in, but Abby held her back. Searching her eyes she asked, "You understand, don't you? I didn't want to be with women when I was with Will, and I don't want to be with anyone else now that I'm with you."

Brushing her mouth with a light kiss, Clancy said. "I do." She placed her hands on her lover's hips and pulled her close. "You're one of those rare people who falls in love with the soul, rather than the body."

"I love your soul, Clancy O'Connor," she sighed, then bent to kiss her, lingering until the air began to chill. She ran her hands up and down her partner, feeling the soft flesh and firm muscles. "But I love your body, too. It's the nicest fringe benefit a woman could ever have."

O

At one point in the evening, Clancy found herself alone at the table with Philip. He got up and moved to be able to sit next to her, and said, "I assume that Abby told you I have reservations about your relationship."

"She did," Clancy said, "but I understood your reasons."

"I hope you understand my reservations have nothing to do with you," he said, his gaze fixed on her.

She reached out and patted his hand, giving him a warm smile. "I can tell you like me, Philip. You don't look like the kind of guy who would be able to put on a front like that."

"No, no. I'm polite, but I don't go out of my way to make conversation with people I don't like."

"I know you're worried about Hayley," Clancy said. "I just hope you know that Abby's devoted to those kids. She'd never do anything that she thought would permanently harm their relationship." She looked at him for a moment and said, "I honestly think she's doing what's best for Hayley by going through with this. She wants to show her that they can work things out by discussing them, but not by making demands. I'm not a mom, Philip, but I am a child. If I'd thought I could have made my parents do things my way by pouting, God only knows how I would have turned out."

"I suppose we'll just have to see what happens," he said quietly. "I just wish I knew why Hayley was so antagonistic to the relationship."

Clancy wasn't about to tell him that one element was Hayley's crush on her, so she mentioned one of her other guesses. "I think she's having a hard time seeing Abby be with me because I'm a woman," Clancy said. "I know she's comfortable around gay people, but being comfortable with having your mom be in a gay relationship has to be a shock for a kid. It's probably also hard since I'm closer to her age than I am to Abby's."

"That makes sense," he said thoughtfully. "I just don't want to see any of you get hurt here, Clancy. Those women are my life."

"I know just what you mean, Philip," she said. "I feel the same way about Abby, and Abby won't be happy if Hayley doesn't eventually get comfortable with us. Besides wanting Abby to be happy, it's in my best interests to win Hayley over."

He gave her a look, lingering on her eyes. "You're very honest, aren't you? Most people wouldn't admit to having their own agenda."

She gave him a half-smile and said, "It's easier in the long run to be honest. I'm a very practical person."

"So am I," he said. "The problem is that Hayley isn't. She's still a flighty young woman."

"Yeah, she is," Clancy said. "But Abby thinks it's time for Hayley to learn how to be less self-centered. She's gotta learn sometime, Philip. Now's as good a time as any."

O

To be continued in Part 14

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