Taught By Love

by Zoe

Disclaimer: Let's see. I'm not exactly sure how to proceed with this part, so I will simply say that Xena and Co. belong to MCA/Universal. But my girls aren't their girls, so I should be okay, right? Anyway, that's that. Oh, yeah, you can't have them.

Violence Warning: There are scenes of violence in this baby. And school violence, to boot. This story deals with violence in American schools (think Littleton, et al, and you got it) and the aftermath of that violence. Rather than present the facts of what has happened in our schools in the last 3 years or so HERE, why not just email me and I'll tell you, okay?

Language Warning: There is some potentially objectionable language, but nothing too darned bad (See? I don't even say anything bad here. Wow.). Well, at least I don't think it's all that bad, but I may be world-weary, or used to it… Nah. But don't say I didn't tell you.

Other Stuff: There isn't any, really. WAIT!! How about my addy so you can tell me if you like it or not? Whaddaya say? Here it is just in case-- zoe_c71@yahoo.com . Oh, okay. I can thank my beta-reader for her help… but she won't let me mention her name so I'm hoping she'll know that this is for her.!

Now, without further ado…

Part 10

After school that day, Noelle stopped at her mother's house to chat for a few minutes and see how Mary was feeling. She jogged to the front door, the air biting her skin, causing it to sting and turn bright red in that short distance. "Jesus, it's cold," she muttered to no one in particular as she slipped into Mary's house. The first thing Noelle noticed as she kicked off her shoes was that the house was unusually warm. Shrugging it off as simply being cold then coming into a warm house, Noelle put the thought out of her mind.

"Mom," she called after she took off her coat and hung it on a hook. She was on her way to the kitchen even before the answer came.

"In he- Oh, I guess you knew that," Mary laughed when she looked up and saw her daughter standing in the door to the kitchen. Then Mary smiled gently at her only child. "Hello, Noelle Potter."

Noelle stepped over to her mother and kissed her on the cheek. "I missed you today, Mare," she said softly.

"And I you, Noe." The two women looked deeply into each other's eyes for a long moment silently communicating their love for each other, then Noelle broke the contact by looking down at Mary's mug.

"Refill?" she asked, turning to fill a mug with coffee for herself.

Mary held out her mug. "A warm up would be nice, yes."

When Noelle had finished her task, she sat opposite Mary and wrapped both hands around the hot mug, enjoying the silence she shared with her mother.

"Did you have a good day at school?" Mary asked.

"For the most part, yeah. We've started Macbeth."

"Oh good," Mary replied, knowing full well how much her daughter liked the drama. "Playing the part of the second witch again this year?"

Noelle nodded then laughed. "I scared the pants off of one of my juniors when I jumped down his throat in Will's language. It was a hoot."

Mary laughed with her. Then she sobered. "They really are fortunate to have you as their teacher, Noelle. I hope they tell you that."

Noelle shrugged. "Don't have to, Ma. I do it because I love it. It's that simple." Noelle paused. "And I care about them, too. They seem to actually like it this year, though, which makes it even more fun." She paused again thoughtfully. "Hell, Mom, I'd think it was fun even if they all passed out from the horror of it all," she amended with a sheepish shrug.

Mary laughed again. "I believe it."

The mother and daughter chatted amiably as they finished their coffee. When they were done, Noelle stood up and took her mug to the sink. She gave Mary another kiss.

"I better get going, Mare. I want to go back to the gym and shoot around some then get home and make it an early night. I'll stop by tomorrow, okay?"

Mary nodded. "Sure. Just be careful, you hear?"

Noelle smiled at her mother. "Always, Ma, always. Love you."

"I know. Now go on with you, Bratty."

Satisfied that Mary was okay, Noelle ran home, changed clothes, and made the short drive back to school. She jogged into the building, the cold outside air again nipping her nose and cheeks. She didn't stop until she reached the gym where she dragged out the ball rack from the supply closet. She grabbed a ball and dribbled it as she ran warm-up laps.

The physical activity was always an outlet for Noelle, allowing her to work things out in her mind while she kept her body busy. Most times it was sailing that did it, but when it became too cold for her to sail, as it did in November in the Great Lakes region, she turned to basketball. Playing ball was actually physically more demanding for Noelle, yet it still afforded her the opportunity to straighten things out.

It's Tom. I know it is. God, she's too damned young to have to deal with this… How do I get her to talk to me? How do I get her to trust me? The situation caused memories she thought she'd dealt with to come rushing back. She stuffed the memories back where they belonged, not wanting to look at them again.

Noelle put the thoughts out of her mind temporarily as she ran two line sprints to further warm up. Then she picked up right where she left off in her mind. What if I talk to her after school… or before practice? Shit, maybe I should just leave it to Sandra and the guidance department. Shit, she growled to herself. "This sucks," she snapped out loud. "What the hell do I freaking do?"

Noelle stayed in the gym shooting and running for quite some time, occasionally talking to herself out loud as she worked. It was close to 8:30 when Noelle decided she'd had enough. She gathered the loose balls, put them on the rack and wheeled it into the supply closet. Her frustration at not having resolved anything, in her mind, was evident in her actions. She sighed and locked the door, leaving the gym to head home.

When Noelle got home, she hung up her coat, kicked off her sneakers, and wandered into the kitchen to find something to eat. Grabbing the turkey, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise from the refrigerator, she quickly made a sandwich to appease her growling stomach. When she was done eating it, she rinsed her plate and left it in the sink for the morning.

Shutting off the lights as she went, Noelle moved into the bathroom. As she ran the water to get it hot, the small woman stripped off her clothes. She stepped under the water, letting it wash over her tired body.

"OW! Shit, that's hot," she exclaimed, not moving to adjust the water. She stayed under the hot spray until her body got used to the heat. Then she washed and conditioned her hair with a minimum of movement.

Soaping her body, however, took her slightly longer than washing her hair. She let the hot water soothe her tired muscles. She ran her hands slowly across her wet skin, enjoying the feel of her hands softly touching her body.

Better to do this in bed… The thought caused her to quickly finish her shower.

Noelle turned off the water, toweled dry, then wrapped the damp cloth around her body, brushed her teeth, and padded to her room, definitely ready to go to bed. She sat on the bed and ran her fingers through her hair, sticking the wet locks up all over her head. She discarded the towel and slid between the cool sheets.

Noelle closed her eyes and let her mind, and her hands, wander. Soon, it was no longer her hands that were touching her body… they were Molly's big hands touching her, arousing her. Her hands moved to her breasts, which she cupped firmly, and she massaged the nipples with her thumbs, imagining the entire time that it was Molly's hands on her. She lifted her breasts, stroking them lightly, feeling her nipples harden. She rolled the pebble-hard nubs between her thumb and forefinger, tugging slightly. Noelle moaned at the sensation, letting her head fall back onto the pillow and thrusting into her own hands.

The small woman slid her right hand down her stomach, taking her sweet time, until she reached the springy curls that lay at the juncture of her thighs. She spread her legs more, allowing more access to her body. Noelle combed her fingers through the wet hair lightly, twitching when her finger accidentally brushed her most sensitive spot. "Ohhh," she moaned softly. She rubbed over the swollen protrusion again, this time more firmly. Oh God… Molly…

In her mind, it was Molly's fingers on her, massaging her, bringing her closer to the edge, pushing her… "Yesss," she hissed, feeling the pressure building as she flicked faster and harder. Noelle turned her head to the side, one hand teasing her nipple, the other rubbing the sensitive bundle.

Ohhh… so close… oh yes… At the moment when she knew she'd explode, when she knew she was at the edge ready to jump off, she slid one finger inside of herself, feeling her body's wetness and arousal… and then she jumped from the ledge, the orgasm rippling through her body, causing her legs to tremble and her body to shudder over and over as the waves flowed around her. She felt her body convulse around her finger, and she inserted another, adding to the already powerful sensations in her body.

She continued to massage her clit while she slowly thrust her fingers inside her body over and over, eventually bringing herself to another orgasm, this one even stronger than the first. She kept her fingers inside of her folds, feeling the wetness flow freely as she thought of the dark woman's fingers inside of her… on her… touching her… Ohhhh… Molly… Oh God…

Noelle had to stop touching herself, her clit so very sensitive that it bordered on the painful… but she kept the two fingers inside herself for another moment before slowly withdrawing them from her slick opening.

"Ohhh, Molly…" she moaned as she quivered at the sensation of her fingers slowly sliding out of her body. She gasped slightly, trying to catch her breath as her body calmed. Then she brought her wet fingers to her mouth, tempted to taste herself, but instead she rested her hands above her head on the pillow. She stayed that way catching her breath and feeling her body relax.

When she finally had control again, she grinned. "Wow," she said. "Mmmm, that was… wow."

She was startled when the phone rang.

Who the hell is calling me at 10:00 at night? she thought as she reached for the phone by her bed, glancing at her alarm clock.


"Hi," a low, familiar voice rumbled through the line.

Noelle's heart did a little flip-flop. "Hi," she answered softly.

"What're you doin'?" Molly asked.

Noelle blushed a furious red, as if the dark woman really knew just what she'd been doing. "Ummm… nothing?" she answered hesitantly.

There was a low chuckle. "Sure, that sounds convincing. I just called to say hi and apologize for not being able to stop today. It was a hell of a day," Molly sighed.

"It's okay. You sound tired," Noelle commented quietly.

"Yeah, kinda. I'm lying in my bed even as we speak," Molly replied. Then in a softer, huskier voice, "And wishing you were here."

"Oh… I, uh… mmhm… yeah," Noelle stuttered, feeling the blush suffuse her face once again. "I… ummmm… oh boy," she muttered softly.

Molly chuckled again. "I'm only teasing… sorta."

Noelle could hear the wickedness in her voice, could well imagine the glint in those amazing blue eyes. Then she heard a sigh issue through the line.

"I suppose I'll let you go then. Good night, Noelle. I hope you sleep well," the dark woman said softly.

Noelle grinned. "Oh, I will… after my… shower, you can bet I will," she laughed seductively.

"But… wait… tell me abo-"

"Good night, Molly." Then she hung up the phone. Shaking her head in amusement, Noelle let her head flop back on the pillow. She sighed and snuggled deeper under the covers. It wasn't long before she drifted off to sleep with thoughts of a tall, dark woman on her mind.

***** ***** *****

Molly hung up the phone, dropping her head back onto the pillow, cushioning it with her hands. She's trying to kill me. She is, the tall woman thought matter-of-factly. Yep, she is… and she's damned well going to succeed. Jesus, that shower…

Molly let her thoughts wander to Noelle in the shower, her small, lithe body wet and glistening from the spray, tiny droplets of hot water perched on her nipples…

Molly groaned, the images flashing in her mind, becoming more erotic with each one that floated into her mind. She allowed one particular image to stay in her mind, arousing her body and making her burn for the blond woman…

She opened the door to Noelle's bathroom, hearing the other woman moving in the shower. The steam effectively shrouded her movement, allowing her to draw closer to the woman without her knowing. She quickly shed her clothing, pulling the curtain aside only enough to peek in at Noelle.

Molly watched the small woman's hands skim over her small, round breasts, stopping briefly at her nipples to caress and tug on them. The moan that came from deep inside the blond caused the waves of arousal inside of Molly to grow more intense. She watched raptly as Noelle brought a hand down to the dark blond curls between her legs.

Before the woman could go any further, Molly moved to slide into the shower. She stepped up behind Noelle, the woman facing the stream of water so caught up in what she was doing, what she was feeling that she didn't know the dark woman was there behind her.

Molly wrapped her arms around the younger woman, feeling her jump in surprise. Molly nuzzled the small, pink ear. "Mmmm… shhh, it's just me," she moaned into it. She lightly stroked Noelle's breasts, the sight of her darker hands covering the lighter skin of the small woman inflaming her senses even more. She teased and caressed the small breasts, but she didn't linger long, her desire to touch and feel the small woman too overwhelming.

Molly took one of the small hands in her larger one and guided them down to Noelle's wet curls. Molly closed her eyes and inhaled sharply when she felt the heat coming from the blond. "Oh, Noelle, I want you so badly," she whispered just before nipping a tender earlobe.

She felt Noelle lean her smaller body into her own bigger body. She used both her finger and Noelle's to stroke the woman's folds, feeling how wet she was, how hot. The urge to simply push Noelle hard against the shower wall and take her was almost uncontrollable. But she suppressed it, pushed it back into the far corner of her mind.

Instead, Molly slowly stroked Noelle's clit, feeling it harden under their joined fingers. She licked the wet skin at Noelle's shoulder and thrust her hips gently into the woman's firm backside.

"Don't stop… don't stop touching yourself, Noe…" she instructed. She waited until she felt Noelle's fingers moving on their own, then she took her hand away, moving both to hold the shapely hips of the woman in front of her. She held the small body steady as she continued to thrust slowly against her, licking and nipping her neck as she did.

When Molly felt Noelle's breathing quicken, when she heard the tiny noises coming from her, she slid a hand around to the woman's stomach. She caressed the wet skin there, still thrusting her hips slowly. She used her thigh to spread Noelle's legs wider, then she glided a hand down to the wet folds. Without warning, she thrust two fingers deep inside of the woman, feeling how tight and hot she was, feeling how easily her fingers slid through the wetness there.

The dark woman thrust her fingers in rhythm with her hips, slowly making love to the small body. She licked Noelle's ear, whispering into it, "I love how your body feels around my fingers, Noelle… I love how you sound…"

In response, Noelle only moaned softly.

Molly kept the rhythm steady, feeling Noelle's body tighten around her fingers. When Noelle's legs started to tremble, and when her breath came in gasps, Molly spoke low in her ear.

"Come for me, Noelle… I want you to come for me now." She thrust her fingers one more time deeply, then she held them still as Noelle pulsed around her fingers, her orgasm hitting her hard and fast.

"That's it, Noe… that's it, I want to hear…" she coaxed.

Noelle moaned, her body quivering and shuddering.

"Yesss, I want to hear…" Molly said again.

She held the small body, finally withdrawing her fingers slowly from the wetness. Molly wrapped her arms around the woman again, drawing her back tighter against her, kissing her neck, whispering words of praise in the small ear.

She felt as if her own body was a live-wire, just waiting to be touched by this one small woman…

***** ***** *****

Noelle sprinted across the parking lot, her denim skirt wrapping itself around her legs. Damn good thing I'm not as late today as I was yesterday… She burst through the door of the office, skidding to a halt on the plastic runner. She waved at everyone as she caught her breath and checked in.

Noelle caught brilliant blue eyes focused on her, and she smiled slightly, quickly, before turning away and leaving the office in a flurry of motion. She was all too aware of the gossip that could develop if anyone suspected anything between the English teacher and the dean of students.

Molly shook her head. She is absolutely wonderful, the dark woman thought as she followed Noelle with her eyes. She's such a… a… breath of fresh air. God, I need that. I need that in my life. Molly chuckled out loud. I think I just plain like the whirlwind. She just blew into my life and… changed it. Thank God. Thank God she changed it. Have I ever told her that? How much she means to me? Jesus, I don't want to scare her away, though. She shook her head, the dark hair tumbling around her shoulders in disarray.

Shoot! Have I told her about the meeting this afternoon? Whoops, better tell her. Molly swung the door open and strode down the hall looking for Noelle. Seeing her enter the empty stairwell, Molly picked up her pace to a jog and called to the blond woman.

Noelle stopped and turned around when she heard her name called by a familiar voice. A warm smile broke out on her face when she saw the tall woman jogging toward her with a grin on her face.

"Hey, Ms. Potter," Molly greeted formally when she reached the woman. "Someone neglected to tell you that we need to have a quick meeting of the SAP team this afternoon. We need to alert the others to Jilly's potential problem so we can keep an eye out."

"Mmm, okay. But, look, we really need to keep this quiet. If we spook her, or him… well, it'll only serve to make it worse." Noelle paused, her brow wrinkled in thought. "But… yeah, okay, I'll be there."

Molly smiled at the blond woman and leaned in to whisper for her ears only, "You really have to tell me about that shower soon." Then she winked and turned on her heel and strode down the hall, stooping to pick up a piece of paper before rounding the corner.

Noelle just shook her head. She's… well, we won't go there right now… And she finished the short trip to her room to greet her first period class.

Noelle was in the middle of teaching her fifth period lit class when she heard a commotion down the hall. Thinking it was one of the other teachers in her wing doing his teaching thing, she paid the noise no attention. As she walked through the room monitoring students, though, she caught a glimpse of Molly and Tony running down the hall toward the noise.

Noelle strolled to the door casually, not wanting to alarm the students. A couple looked up from their work. "Get busy," she told them as she leaned against the doorframe.

Then she peeked her head out the door to see what was going on. There was a small group gathered in the hall a few doors down from Noelle. When she couldn't see anything right away, she shook her head as she closed the door. I guess we'll find out later what's going on.

"Okay, let's go over these…" And with that, Noelle got back to the task of teaching.

Later that afternoon, after the students had been dismissed, Noelle ran down the hall into the conference room where the SAP meeting was being held. She crashed through the door, her hair and clothing scattered all over the place. She dropped her clipboard onto the table and plopped into the seat at the head of the table, conveniently next to the dean of students. Well, isn't that nice? she thought quickly.

Then she looked up to find 6 pairs of eyes staring at her expectantly.

"What? Like you really thought I'd be on time? Schyeah right."

Everyone laughed, and the meeting got underway.

"Okay, so why are we here?" Noelle asked Tony, turning the time over to him.

"I think I'll field the question and toss it to Molly to answer. She knows better what's going on," Tony demurred.

"Well, okay. Someone just tell us what's going on now," Noelle growled in mock severity.

"This afternoon," Molly began, all eyes turning to her, "some of you may have heard the commotion outside Don Deane's room up in the B wing. Apparently, Tom Kline asked for permission from his fifth period teacher to use the restroom. Instead of doing that, however, he went to Don's room and caused quite a scene." Molly paused. "Jilly Michaels is in Don's class fifth period. Tom wanted to talk to her. After talking with Jilly, I gathered that they had some kind of argument and she wasn't speaking to him. I guess that upset him," Molly continued with a shrug. "Don tried to get him to leave, but Tom got more combative until Don found it necessary to call Tony and me up there. We brought Tom down here and sent him home to cool off," the dean concluded.

"I think things are heating up with this guy," she added almost as an afterthought, the words causing a feeling of foreboding to settle over the group like a dark cloud.

Sandra spoke into the silence that Molly's words left. "We can't know that for certain." Those words caused a mini-uproar around the table, faculty members vying with each other for talk-time.

Here we go again, Noelle thought with a mental roll of her eyes. She put a hand up for everyone to stop talking. "Hang on… look, gang… HEY!!" she finally yelled. "Would all of you please shut your mouths for a second?" She waited for everyone to stop speaking and listen. Noelle shook her head. "Jesus, you're all worse than the kids, for God's sake."

Noelle paused for effect. Silence reigned. "Better. Now, let's not get into the semantics of the whole damned thing… 'is he or isn't he a criminal/delinquent/ offender/whatever' Who really cares at this point? The crucial point is that we need to take measures to keep Jilly, and the rest of the student population, safe from harm. Are we all in agreement?"

Everyone nodded except Sandra who opened her mouth as if to argue.

"No, Sandra. I love you, you know it, but please just answer the question. Do you agree that our first priority right now is keeping our students safe?" Noelle repeated.

Sandra sighed. Then she nodded. "Yes."

Noelle nodded back. "Good. Before we talk about how, I think everyone needs to know that something may be going on between Tom and Jilly." Noelle paused, looking down at the pencil she twirled in her fingers. "I spoke with Jilly yesterday afternoon. She had a black eye and a split lip. She said it was because she ran into an open cabinet door." Noelle looked hard at each member of the team. "I don't believe that. I think… I think he did it to her and she's just afraid to tell anyone," she said softly, looking down at her hands. "I think for now all we should do is keep an eye on things, see what's going to happen now. But we need to be careful we don't back Tom into a corner where he's going to hurt her worse, or do something more." She paused then nodded. "Now let's have some discussion on how we can do this without alarming anyone…"

In the middle of the discussion on what the faculty could do to get the situation under control, Molly casually dropped a folded piece of paper onto Noelle's clipboard.

Noelle, preparing to jump into the argument with one of the other team members about something or other, scooped up the note, thinking it was about the discussion. She quickly opened it and read the contents.

Dinner my house.

Tonight, 7:30.

Noelle looked at Molly in confusion, then she looked again at the note. Dinner at HER house? What the hell is she talking about? Dinner? What?

Noelle turned her head to look at the dark woman again. She caught the blue eyes with her own, and Molly nodded once. Guess I'm going to Molly's for dinner. The thought brought a strangely warm feeling to her heart and mind. Good I'm going to- My God… I'm going to dinner at Molly's… she thought in sudden alarm. Oh shit. Shit, what am I going to wear? SHIT!

The meeting adjourned shortly after that, and Noelle hustled to her SUV, not bothering to say good bye to the dean. She quickly stopped at Mary's house to tell her where she was going and to call if she needed anything. Then she went home to shower and change.

The blond took a quick shower. No fun tonight… at least not in the shower, Noelle thought wickedly. Gotta get a move on. When she was through with her shower, she yanked a pair of overalls out of her closet and a long-sleeved t-shirt and lacy white bra from her drawers. She slipped on a pair of white silk boxers and her bra, then finished dressing in the shirt and overalls. To finish it off, Noelle added a pair of hoop earrings and white sneakers without socks.

Before leaving her room, Noelle looked at herself in the mirror, noticing that because she had forgotten to brush her short hair right after the shower, the blond locks were tossed all around her head, no order to it at all. Sighing at her reflection, she realized it was too late to do anything besides re-wet her hair and comb it, which she wasn't about to do.

"Oh well," she sighed to herself. "Guess you're gonna stay like that."

Noelle left her room and threw on her parka before leaving and locking the door behind her.

The drive across town was short, but it gave Noelle time to get nervous about the whole thing. Shit… is this a date? Am I going on a date? Holy crap, it's not. It is absolutely NOT a date… is it?

"Oh jeez," she groaned out loud. "This can't be good." Noelle seriously debated with herself about just turning around and going home, but by the time she decided to do that, she was pulling up in front of Molly's small T-shaped house.

The blond woman sat in her Jimmy, still debating with herself until she glanced at the house and saw Molly standing in the open doorway. Her tall frame was backlit by the inside lights, but Noelle could see that she stood there with her arms crossed. She leaned casually against the doorframe, but Noelle picked up on the tension in the big body.

She looks nervous, Noelle observed, the thought bringing a comforting feeling to the English teacher. For some reason, Noelle took great comfort in the fact that Molly might just be as nervous as she was.

Noelle smiled at the woman in the doorway. Then she blew out a breath, got out of the Jimmy, and trotted across the street. Noelle noticed that Molly wore a smile on her face, and as she drew nearer to the dark woman, she watched as the smile bloomed into a full-blown grin. When she stopped in front of the dark woman, Noelle thought she detected relief in the clear blue depths. She IS as nervous as I am.

The blond woman smiled again. "Hi," she said softly, feeling the awkwardness in the atmosphere around them.

"Hi," Molly answered just as softly. Then the woman reached for her guest's hand and gently tugged her inside the house.

The warmth immediately enveloped the small woman, and she shivered slightly.

"I can turn up the heat," Molly's low voice said directly behind her.

Without turning, Noelle shook her head. "I'm fine." Then she looked over her shoulder, grinning mischievously. "But I AM starving."

Molly looked startled. Then she laughed, the tension between the women easing considerably. "Okay. Let me take your coat," she motioned for the article in question. "I hope you like Chinese," she added as she hung up Noelle's parka.

"Mmmm, yeah. The Emperor's Palace?" she asked.

Molly raised an eyebrow at her. "You don't think I can do Chinese?" she teased.

Noelle blinked at her innocently. "You said it, not me… the Cartwright beans-n-weenies is the only dish you can fix."

Molly threw her head back and laughed. "Okay, you got me… the Emperor's Palace it is."

She stepped back to indicate to Noelle where to put her sneakers, and as the small woman untied and kicked them off, Molly took the opportunity to study Noelle.

She looked absolutely wonderful. She wore a pale green long-sleeved t-shirt and denim overalls that were just a bit too big. Noelle had rolled up the legs twice so she didn't trip over them, and her sleeves were pushed up to her elbows. The necklace and charm hung outside the shirt, and the hoop earrings added an elegant touch. The blond hair was delightfully messy, and Molly had the strong urge to run her fingers through the hair, wanting to feel the silkiness of it.

Later, Cartwright, she scolded herself.

Suddenly uncharacteristically nervous, afraid Noelle would think the entire thing was silly, Molly blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. "Want the nickel tour?"

Surprised at the offer, Noelle nevertheless accepted. She smiled and nodded her head. "I'd love it. Thank you."

The blond jumped slightly when she felt a warm hand close around and hold hers gently. She quickly looked at their joined hands then back to the blue eyes. She squeezed the big hand gently with her own and said softly, "Lead on, lady."

Molly squeezed back then led Noelle into a big open area, studiously avoiding what Noelle assumed was the living room. Why aren't we- Her thought was interrupted when they stepped into the kitchen. It was a big room with two big windows and French doors leading to a small deck. The room was done in chrome and black, the appliances all chrome with black accents, the upholstery for the chairs and the island stools black with little silver geometric shapes throughout it. Yet despite the color scheme, it was still a surprisingly inviting room. All in all, it was very sophisticated… and unused, by the looks of it.

"Ever use it?" Noelle asked her guide.

"Use what? The kitchen?"


"Not at all," Molly stated matter-of-factly. "The only reason I even come in here is to occasionally use the table to eat. That's it."

Noelle laughed out loud. "I figured as much. What's next?"

Molly led her to the left of the kitchen, letting her peek her head into the bathroom. It was a medium-sized room done in black and gold, right down to the shower curtain that was large black and gold blocks.

"Impressive. But not yours, right?" Noelle commented.

"Um… no. There's one in my room that I use," the dark woman answered hastily.

"So let's see it, Cartwright," Noelle demanded. She looked to her left and pointed at a partially closed door. "That's it, isn't it?" She wiggled her hand from Molly's and stepped to the door in question. Before pushing it open, however, Noelle turned and silently asked for permission.

Molly sighed dramatically then waved her hand. "Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you, damn it," she snapped with mock irritation.

Noelle grinned engagingly at the tall woman then pushed the door open and stepped into the dark interior. She blinked when Molly snapped on the bright overhead light.

Then she blinked again.

Then she laughed. And kept laughing until Molly poked her in the back. "Shut up," she growled.

"It's… oh God, it's…" Noelle hooted.

"Potter," Molly growled again in warning. "I'm telling you to shut up."

Then suddenly the absurdity of the room, which was at complete odds with her personality, hit Molly square in the funny bone and she laughed with the small blond. The dark woman abruptly picked Noelle up and heaved her onto the big bed.

Noelle had her eyes closed as she laughed, but when she felt herself being lifted and tossed, she squeaked in fright. She felt Molly's bigger body settle on top of hers and loosely trap her hands on either side of her head. Then Noelle started laughing all over again when she opened her eyes and found herself amid the… pink and white flowered bedclothes.

"Oh Mol… you can't… be serious," she gasped, once again looking at the room.

It was a beautiful room, really, but so unexpected that it was somewhat of a… shock. The bed was large, king-sized, and it sat higher than usual off the ground. The headboard, dresser, and armoire were all light pine, a soft, buttery color of wood, and it was exquisite to look at. The walls were done in an cream-colored paper that had little pink flowers and spring green leaves sprinkled all over it. The carpet was the same light green as the leaves.

All of that was fine and not at all out of the ordinary. What threw Noelle into hysterics was the bedding and curtains. It was a light pink with tiny white roses and those green leaves on the spread, and there were ruffles, eyelet, and lace at the edges. There were fluffy white and pink lacy pillows on the bed and strewn haphazardly on the floor. The curtains were of the very same pattern, complete with the same ruffles and lace as the spread. It was all so… girly. And so endearing.

The bed wasn't made and Noelle knew, she just knew, that if she turned her nose into the pillow that her head was on, she'd smell Molly… and sleep. She would have done just that if Molly's bigger body hadn't been pinning her to the bed.

She gradually stopped laughing and found herself looking into eyes that were so clear and so bright that it took her breath away. She watched, mesmerized, as Molly leaned in to claim her lips in a soft, gentle kiss.

The kiss only lasted a second, but it was enough to take her breath away. Then Noelle closed her eyes again and imagined a naked Molly Cartwright in the bed that she was lying on, imagined touching that naked body, imagined being touched by the woman on top of her. It aroused her physically and mentally.

But then she envisioned the sheets and spread… and started laughing again. The blond felt the woman on top of her laughing silently with her.

"Oh, Molly… I'm sorry, it's just so… funny," she gasped.

"Yeah, I know, but I like it, damn it, so leave it alone now," the dark woman said with mock severity.

Noelle's eyes popped open in surprise, and the small woman turned the shining green depths to the blue above her. "You do?" she squeaked, this time in surprise rather than fright.

Molly just nodded. Then she answered softly, seriously, "I do."

Noelle felt the mood shift slightly, moving to a more serious plane. She saw the blue eyes deepen, felt the big body on top of her still. She sighed deeply and relaxed her body, feeling Molly's weight settle further into her body.

She turned her head to the right then, her eyes landing on the dresser… and a picture. She stared for a long moment at the picture, her fingers unconsciously curling with Molly's longer ones.

"Oh, Molly," she finally whispered gently. "Is that Eli?"

Molly froze, her mood changing immediately. Then the dark head turned to look where Noelle was looking. "Yeah," she answered, her voice cracking slightly. "Want to see?"

Realizing the gift that the offer was, Noelle just nodded and waited for Molly to get off the bed and retrieve the picture. She opened her arms to the tall woman when she returned with the large framed photo.

Without a word, Molly settled into the comfort of Noelle's arms and handed her the frame. When the blond took the picture, Molly shifted her body to wrap her arms around the small body and hold her tight.

Noelle studied the picture. She could easily tell that the young boy in the picture was Molly's son. The shape of his face and his coloring were exactly like his mother's. The only difference between the young boy in the picture and the woman in bed next to her was the eye color. Where Molly's were a startling, brilliant blue, the boy's eyes were a deep gray.

The picture was a candid one… the background was pine trees, and lots of them. The boy's dark coloring and the setting's dark colors were set off by the red jacket that the boy wore. It was a beautiful picture, and Noelle knew Molly cherished it.

"He looks about…" she started.

"He was 8," Molly supplied. "We had gone to one of the parks just outside of Pitt, and I called to him. When he turned, I snapped the picture," she finished with a shrug.

"It's beautiful."

Molly cleared her throat. "I… there's another. It's… it's my favorite. Would you-"

Noelle nodded. "I'd love to. But only if you're comfortable showing me."

Instead of answering, Molly reached over to her nightstand, opened the drawer, and pulled out a smaller framed photo. She silently handed the picture to the woman in her arms and waited.

Noelle felt the tears gather even before she took a closer look at it. When she did, the tears flowed freely for the woman in the picture… and what she suffered so many years ago.

The photo was of a much younger, softer Molly Cartwright holding a dark-haired toddler who had his little arms wrapped around his mama's neck. The toddler was laughing joyously, the look on his face one of pure baby boy pleasure. The little boy looked to be around two and a half years. They stood on a deserted, windy beach somewhere, and they were both dressed in all white. Both mother and son were tanned and their dark hair was messed by the wind.

And the baby's mother looked at him with such love, such devotion that even a camera was able to pick up on it.

Noelle took a trembling breath as she turned to wrap the woman next to her in a hug, words failing her.

And maybe words weren't even necessary right then.

The two women stayed as they were for a few minutes, the blond woman giving comfort, and the dark woman taking it.

Finally Molly sighed tremulously. She gently took the pictures from Noelle and laid them on the nightstand. She kissed the top of the blond head and shoved her gently off the bed.

"Come on, dinner's going to get cold, and I don't know about you, but I despise cold Chinese," Molly said in a shaky voice, trying to get the lighthearted, teasing mood back.

Understanding what she was doing, Noelle nodded and hopped off the bed. She reached a hand out to Molly, but when the dark woman moved to take the proffered hand, she snatched it back and grinned mischievously.

Then she stuck her tongue out at her and ran out of the room.

Molly shook her head and jumped off the bed to race after the small woman.

It was a good thing the dark woman was paying attention to her surroundings because she would have run straight into the body frozen in the doorway to the living room if she hadn't been.

Shoot. What if she doesn't like it? Molly thought nervously.

Noelle stood in the doorway, not moving, staring in amazement. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. My God… it's… wonderful, she thought in awe.

She turned big green eyes to the tall woman standing uncertainly behind her.

"You… for me?" she asked softly.

Molly nodded then looked past Noelle. "Ummm, yeah."

Noelle turned back to the room. A soft light burned in the corner near the extra-large couch. The low, long coffee table was pulled into the middle of the deep wine-colored carpet and there were big decorative pillows scattered around it. The table was set for two, complete with wineglasses and flowers. There was a candle lit in the middle of the table giving off a faint cinnamon scent. Soft music came from a hidden stereo, and it added to the whole atmosphere.

The room was a dark, cool room, the colors maroon and a deep forest green. The couch was predominantly green, but there were dark blues and maroon worked into the pattern of the material. The floor length draperies were the same color as the carpet, but they had tiny green diamonds printed on them. A huge entertainment center took up most of one wall, and bookshelves lined the others.

It took Noelle only a moment to notice and process the colors before her attention moved back to the dark cherry table.

"Thank you," she said hesitantly.

"No," Molly said softly. "There's no need to thank me. I wanted to do this for you, take you on a date the only way we can here. This is the best I could do." The woman paused, her eyes dropping to the floor. "I wish I could-"

"No," the blond interrupted softly. Noelle turned shining eyes up to the woman. She stepped closer and placed a gentle, sweet kiss on the dark woman's full red lips. She stepped back and looked deeply into the blue eyes. "It's perfect. I'd rather be here than in any restaurant in any city in the world."

Molly smiled and gently tugged the woman toward the pillows. "Sit down and I'll get dinner." She waited until Noelle sat on one of the big, soft pillows, then she kneeled next to her. She ran a hand through the soft strawberry blond hair, loving the feel of it sliding between her fingers. Molly leaned close enough to the woman on the pillow to rub her nose against the pert, freckled one of the blond.

She kissed the nose. "I'll be right back."

Molly disappeared into the kitchen presumably to get their dinner. She returned a few minutes later with a tray laden with two bowls of egg drop soup, two bowls of hot and sour soup, two small plates with an egg roll on each, and a bottle of chilled wine. Molly set one of each bowl and an egg roll in front of her guest and filled both glasses with the wine.

"I, ummm… wasn't sure what you like so I kind of got some of… well, everything, I guess," she said uncomfortably after settling on a pillow across from her guest.

Noelle covered Molly's hand with her own and waited until the blue eyes met her own green ones. "It's perfect," she said seriously. "And even if I hated everything that you bought, I'd choke it down somehow. I promise."

Noelle said it in such a deadpan tone, that for the briefest instant, Molly believed her and her jaw dropped open. Then she saw the sparkle in those green eyes and the quivering chin. She narrowed her eyes at the woman across from her.

Noelle burst out in loud laughter for a long moment. "You should have… have seen your face," she laughed loudly. Then she fell over onto the pile of pillows next to her, holding her stomach and laughing harder.

The dark woman just raised an eyebrow at her laughing guest. Thinks it's funny, does she? Well, we'll see about that… Molly waited for Noelle to settle down, but, finally tired of the wait, she threw a fried noodle at the laughing woman. "Get over it, already," she said with a grin.

Noelle struggled to sit up and pull herself together. "Okay… I'm fine… just fine." She chuckled again and wiped her eyes. "Mmhm… wooo, you're funny, Molly Cartwright."

Molly just shook her head and took a sip of her soup. "Hey, wow. That's really kind of good," she said in surprise.

"Well of COURSE it's good. What'd you think? That we can't do it as good here as you can in the big city," Noelle asked indignantly.

"Oh, I'm sure you can do it just fine," Molly answered, her voice taking on a low, seductive quality.

Noelle blushed a bright red. "I meant… I mean, you don't… Molly! You be good now," she scolded.

Molly just raised an eyebrow again.

Noelle blushed even harder and groaned. "I… oh hell. Forget it. I'm shutting up now."

Molly chuckled. Silence prevailed while the two women ate their soup and egg rolls. Then Molly stacked the bowls and plates on the tray and carried it to the kitchen.

She returned a short time later with the tray again filled to capacity with food. There were several types of Chinese dishes in glass bowls, and Molly set these on the table. She stuck a serving spoon in each bowl and motioned to Noelle to help herself.

The two women ate and chatted, exchanging little bits of information about themselves with each other, Noelle learning about Molly's life in Pittsburgh, Molly listening to stories of Noelle's childhood in rural America. Finally, however, Noelle pushed her plate away and leaned farther into the pillows surrounding her.

She looked silently at her host. "Thank you," she said finally. "This was… wonderful." She looked down at her hands in her lap. "I don't remember… well, never mind. Anyway, thank you."

"Noe," Molly said softly.

Noelle looked up to find Molly looking at her, her blue eyes deep and intense.

"It was my pleasure. I wanted to do this for you, so thank YOU for letting me," she said, her voice gentle and soft. There was a pause then, but it was filled with none of the usual awkwardness that was most prevalent in these silences. The two women simply looked at each other. And they both enjoyed the presence of the other.

Noelle was aware of the CD player changing discs, soft music once again flooding the room. She knew the artist, but she had never heard the song before this.

Molly smiled, having recognized the touching, slow ballad by Mark Anthony. She picked up the CD remote that was under the low table and turned up the volume, the voice singing the song flowing through the room. It was the perfect slow dancing song, so Molly stood up, came around the table, and held out a hand to Noelle, silently asking her to dance.

As I look into your eyes

I see all the reasons why

My life's worth a thousand skies

You're the simplest love I've known

And the purest one I'll own

Know you'll never be alone

Noelle blushed, not certain she wanted to dance with the woman standing in front of her. But as soon as she saw that wonderful, sweet, shy smile that the tough, unyielding dean of students was wearing, she took the offered hand and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet.

My baby you

Are the reason I could fly

And 'cause of you

I don't have to wonder why

Baby you

There's no more just getting by

You're the reason I feel so alive

Molly pulled the blond woman inexorably closer to her, her eyes never leaving Noelle's hesitant green ones. When the smaller body was close to hers, she placed her hands gently on the hips of the woman in front of her, fitting Noelle's hips against her own. She felt Noelle's hands come to rest lightly on her chest, not holding on, but not pushing her away, either.

And slowly she started to move them.

Molly felt how stiff and nervous Noelle was. "Close your eyes and listen to the music," she instructed in a whisper. "It's just like being on the water," she encouraged.

She watched as the green eyes were shuttered by long lashes. "That's it."

Noelle closed her eyes and listened to the music, feeling it flow through her veins, feeling it draw her closer to the tall woman.

Though these words I sing are true

They still fail to capture you

As mere words can only do

The two women continued to dance slowly, the words of the song, the music sailing them toward deeper, more emotional waters. Noelle let the music take her, she let it fill her heart and mind. And soul.

Her hands curled slightly on Molly's chest, feeling the gentle swell of the taller woman's breasts. But, more importantly, feeling the beating of her heart. It was slow and steady, and Noelle leaned slightly closer to it, as if to listen with her ears and not just her hands.

How do I explain that smile

And how it turns my world around

Keeping my feet on the ground

"Noelle," she heard the husky voice whisper.

"Noe, look at me for a second. Please?" the voice asked shakily.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Molly's blue ones so close to hers that she was momentarily startled. Then she watched the beautiful mouth descend to hers to kiss her gently. She brought her hands up to thread through the dark locks, holding them tightly as if to hold on forever. The kiss was full of love, full of promise and giving. Then it ended and Noelle opened her eyes again to look steadily into Molly's.

I will soothe you if you fall

I'll be right there if you call

You're my greatest love of all

"Noelle Potter, I… I love you."

Continued in Part 11.

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