Taught by Love

Part 12

Some weeks later, as she made the short drive to school in the early morning hour, Molly thought of the first few swimming lessons that Noelle and she had. It had become a common occurrence two or three times each week for the last three weeks. The stern dean smiled as she remembered their very first lesson. Sharing the laughter and fun right after that couple of rough days had done wonders for their relationship. It brought them closer together as friends, made their bond stronger.

Molly quickly stopped home to dig out her suit. A bathing suit in the middle of November in the snow belt? Who’d have thought? the dark haired woman mused as she grabbed a big lime green beach towel and stuffed it into her gym bag with her generic black bathing suit. It wasn’t long before she was back in the Rover again heading over to the school.

When Molly pulled into the school’s lot, she saw Noelle’s Jimmy already parked there. She picked up her bag, locked her SUV, and jogged into the school. She greeted the night custodian as she strode purposefully past him.

The tall woman shouldered her way into the girls’ locker room and smiled again when she saw Noelle’s things scattered in a corner of the large room. It’s so like her to just toss things in the corner, the tall woman thought indulgently. Then Molly shed her parka, first stuffing her gloves in the pockets, and hung it in an empty locker near Noelle’s pile. She fished her suit out of the bag and stepped into a stall to change into it.

After folding her clothes and putting them back in the bag, and tossing the bag into the locker, Molly slung her towel over her shoulder and walked into the natatorium. The woman stopped and inhaled the strong chlorine smell into her lungs as her eyes searched for Noelle. She found the smaller woman almost immediately, her brilliant blue eyes focusing on the form cutting a clean, strong line through the water as she swam laps. Silently, after dropping her towel on a nearby chair, Molly sat on the edge of the pool, letting her legs dangle in the warm water.

Mmm. Nice, she thought absently as she continued to watch the other woman.

Finally Noelle came to a stop at the shallow end of the Olympic-sized pool. She shook the water from her hair then ran her fingers through it, causing it to stand up all over her head. The sight was captivating to Molly, and she simply watched Noelle’s actions.

Noelle turned her head to look for Molly, and when she saw her, she grinned in delight.

"Hi," she called, swimming lazily to where Molly sat nearer the deep end.

Noelle’s voice echoed in the large, vaulted natatorium. It should have sounded harsh, but to Molly it sounded beautiful. Like the woman moving through the water toward her.

She’s happy, Molly thought suddenly, her heart swelling gently when she saw the sparkle in the green eyes. She watched Noelle prop her arms on the edge of the pool and slowly move her legs up and down. "Hi," Molly said softly.

Noelle looked intently at Molly, once again taking in the view of Molly’s bathing suit clad body. It was a plain black suit that hid nothing and accentuated everything. The dark color on the dark woman caused her eyes to appear even lighter and clearer. And more beautiful, Noelle thought.

Molly’s long, muscular legs were submerged to the knee in the water, her hands on the tile on either side of her hips. Her dark hair hung freely around her shoulders, and her breasts were nestled perfectly in the dark suit. Noelle’s eyes lingered appreciatively on that particular area before moving up to meet Molly’s blue eyes.

But when months before Noelle had thought Molly was a man, now she knew that Molly was all woman… all fire. She mentally shook her head and brought her attention back to the task at hand.

Seems my little Noe likes what she sees, Molly thought, feeling her nipples harden under Noelle’s gaze. I’m glad she’s looking. I’ll let her lead this one… for now.

"So you coming?" Noelle asked finally, wanting Molly to get into the water as soon as possible.

Molly raised an eyebrow. "I wish," she said wickedly.

"Huh?" the blond questioned, not understanding.

The dark woman smiled slowly, a deliciously sexy twinkle in her eyes.

"You mean… I didn’t… you thought…" Noelle sputtered as realization dawned. "Molly Cartwright!" she squeaked in indignation.


Instead of answering, however, Noelle pushed off from the wall, floating on her back, only a few parts of her body out of the water. And one part was her chest. Her breasts peeked out of the water, their nipples clearly outlined by the red racing suit Noelle wore.

Noticing that Molly’s attention was diverted… elsewhere, Noelle snorted. She’s so predictable. Then, she grinned widely and kicked her legs violently, splashing Molly. "Cool off, hot stuff!" she yelled as she continued to kick.

Molly put her hands up to ward off the water, but it was no use. She was soaked. When Noelle had kicked far enough away that she was no longer splashing her, Molly grinned ferally at her. "This means war, pal," she hissed. She prepared to slide into the water.

Noelle, sensing Molly’s intent, stopped swimming and began to tread water, moving a bit closer to the other woman. "Uh, Mol? That might not be a good idea, honey," she warned.

Molly stopped, momentarily concerned. Then she saw the twinkle in Noelle’s expressive eyes. "Nice try, Noe, but you’ll have to do better than that."

"But you can’t…" Noelle began as Molly hopped into the water. "…swim," she finished lamely as she watched Molly flounder and sink. "And there she goes, like the RMS Titanic," Noelle muttered as she swam swiftly to where Molly sank like a lead weight.

When she reached the spot and could see Molly beneath the surface flopping around like a dying fish, she performed a quick feet-first surface dive to get to her. She opened her eyes, letting the chlorinated water wash over them, the familiar sting comforting. When she was face to face with the dark woman, she touched her broad shoulder. Noelle watched Molly’s eyes pop open in confusion. Then those eyes focused on her own green ones.

And Molly smiled, no sign of the panic Noelle thought would be in her eyes and body.

Noelle almost burst out laughing, but instead of doing that, Which wouldn’t be a good idea, the blond thought quickly, she spun Molly around and brought them to the surface with powerful kicks.

"Iceberg right ahead!" she yelled loudly as she swam with the larger woman to the shallow end. She swam in the lifeguard rescue position, on her back with her arms under Molly’s and clasped around her upper chest. "Reverse engines!" She felt Molly’s body shake with laughter.

The dark head turned and blue eyes peered over a broad shoulder. "I thought you hated Celine?" she teased, a big grin suffusing her face and eyes.

"I didn’t watch it for the song, crazy. Or the sappy love story, either. I watch it for the present day dive scenes to the Ship of Dreams," Noelle stated matter-of-factly. Deciding that she liked the feel of the taller woman in her arms in the warm water, Noelle nonchalantly steered them back toward the deeper water.

Molly noticed suddenly that they were no longer headed where they just were. "Hey, umm, dollface?" she questioned, picking her head up to look around.

"Mmm?" came Noelle’s lazy answer.

Molly felt Noelle’s body shift, somehow causing them to float even more and making the effort Noelle expended considerably less. "Aren’t we going the wrong way?"

Molly’s body shivered when she felt Noelle’s breath in her ear. "Shh. Just relax. We’re just going to float around for a bit." And with that, Noelle leaned her head back farther into the water and closed her eyes. She gently urged Molly to lean her head onto her chest, unconsciously making the floating easier for the big woman. She scissored her legs every now and again, but she didn’t open her eyes, content to just float lazily in the pool.

"OW!" Noelle yelped, the floating women having bumped hard into the wall of the pool. "Jesus, that hurt," she complained as she grabbed hold of the side. "Come on, you big lug, help me out here. Grab hold right here," she instructed.

When Molly had done that, Noelle turned to look at her companion. "So, you want a swimming lesson, or what?"

Molly nodded, her wet hair plastered to her head, the bangs sticking straight up in the air.

The new ‘do caught Noelle’s attention. She nodded her head toward Molly’s hair. "Nice look on you, by the way," she commented seriously.

Molly’s hand flew to her hair, patting at the bangs. "Jesus, again my hair looks like hell while yours looks…" Molly’s voice softened. "… beautiful," she finished.

Noelle looked away, soft pink rising to cover her neck and face. "I do not," she contradicted softly.

Molly nodded, still patting her hair.

Noelle burst out laughing. "You are such a girl, sometimes," she exclaimed. "Who cares what your hair looks like? We’re swimming, for God’s sake." Then she pushed off the wall, executed a surface dive, touched the bottom of the pool, and kicked back to the surface. Instead of tilting her head back as she usually did to get the hair out of her eyes, she broke straight through the surface, the hair lying flat against her skull. When she reached the wall where Molly was, she treaded water and purposefully stuck her hair up. "There. Feel better now, baby?" she teased.

"Somehow I don’t think you mean "baby" in a good way, huh?"

"Nope. Now let’s get swimming," Noelle commanded. "Stay here once. I’ll be right back."

Molly watched the subtle play of understated muscles across Noelle’s slim back and shoulders as she hauled herself gracefully out of the water. She strode over to a pile of flutterboards and picked up two of them. When she got close enough to the pool, she tossed them in then took a running start and dove in the pool, arcing high over Molly’s head.

When she surfaced again, Molly hollered, "Show off!"

"Yup," Noelle agreed as she came back to Molly. "Okay, let’s start with kicking," she began.

The women stayed in the water for a full hour after that, working on kicking and a few elementary strokes. When they sat on the edge of the pool, their legs in the water, Molly turned to Noelle.

"Thank you for this," she said, wanting very badly to touch the woman next to her. "It was fun."

Noelle nodded in agreement. "It was, wasn’t it? You’re a quick learner, Molly. I think you’ll be swimming before you know it. Just do me a favor, okay?"

"If I can, yes."

"Look before you leap, eh?" Noelle cautioned.

Molly burst out laughing, the delight at spending time with this one woman washing over her and spilling out of her. Noelle joined her, and they continued to laugh as they made their way into the locker room to change.

Noelle stepped into the shower room to rinse off the chlorine. She turned the hot water on, adjusting the tap until the temperature suited her, then she stepped under the spray, letting it wash the traces of chlorine from her body. She tilted her head back, the water streaming down her face and body.

Molly stood in the door of the tiled room, the vision of Noelle under the water filling all of her senses. She smelled the chlorine and hot water. And the special scent that was Noelle. She heard the water and the soft sounds of Noelle’s movements. She felt the steam from the hot water swirl around her, enveloping her in its heat.

And she drank in the sight of the woman she loved. The look of contentment and happiness on the smaller woman’s face was stunning.

Molly’s heart filled again with the love she felt for the small woman. Thank you, she prayed silently.

Just then Noelle opened her eyes and connected with Molly’s. She reached out a hand. "Come rinse off," she said softly.

Molly stepped under the water, standing next to Noelle, closing her eyes and enjoying the shower. She felt the hot water on her body, letting it relax muscles that were tired from the swimming session.

"WHOA!" she yelped suddenly, the water having gone ice cold. She scrambled to shut the water off, turning to see Noelle lazing in the doorway.

"You looked like you needed to cool off again," she said, laughter lacing the words.

Molly narrowed her eyes. "You do realize," she said dangerously as she stalked closer to Noelle, "that you’ll pay. For all of it."

Noelle’s green eyes went huge, and she swallowed nervously before answering. "I can only hope," she agreed, her eyes fixated on Molly’s form stalking closer and closer. As Molly approached, Noelle said absently, "I suppose now is when I should run, right?" her eyes never leaving the woman in front of her.

Molly nodded, her own eyes watching the blush move from Noelle’s chest up to her neck and to face. She knew, though, that it wasn’t a blush of embarrassment. It was a blush of arousal, and it fed her own.

"I don’t want to," was Noelle’s soft admission.

"Oh, love," Molly whispered, her face softening. "I don’t want you to, either."

Just as Molly drew close to her, Noelle looked around and sighed. "I suppose we should change and get out of here."

At the same time Molly admired the other woman’s presence of mind, she was frustrated at their location. She growled in frustration as she kept walking past Noelle, not giving in to the temptation to touch her.

Molly sighed as she unlocked her office door. I just want to be with her, she thought simply, the idea not surprising her at all. She sat behind her desk, logging on to her computer to check her district mail.

"Nothing important. Good."

"Hey, another one who talks to herself," a voice said from the door.

"Morning, Tony. Who’s the other?" Molly asked, getting up from her chair and stepping to the filing cabinet.

Tony laughed. "Noelle Potter," he supplied.

Molly located the file she needed and pushed the big drawer shut with her elbow. "Ahh," she commented nonchalantly. "You need something, Tony?"

Tony chuckled again. "Always direct, aren’t you?" His tone changed from friendly to business in the blink of an eye. "Seems our boy had trouble again last night. Jim’s bringing him in this morning." Tony paused, a deep sigh coming form his chest. "What the hell do we do with this kid?" he asked his dean. "How do we stop this before it escalates into the violence I know it’s going to?"

Molly sat on the edge of her desk, lost in thought. "Is he in counseling?" she finally asked Tony.

Tony shook his head. "No. He refuses. And I’m not sure it would help."

Molly paused again, looking down at the file folder she held in her hand. "Well, why is he still coming to school? Is it so we can babysit him? He’s a bit old for that." Then she looked at Tony, her eyes as hard as diamonds. And just as arresting.

"We can’t put the rest of these kids in danger. Tom’s a live wire, and it won’t take a damned thing to set him off. We need to come up with a plan then act on it. I won’t let anyone else be hurt by this kid," she finished, her voice low and intense.

Then Molly moved back around her desk and sat in her chair. She looked again at Tony. "I won’t do it, Tony."

Tony nodded. "I’ll call a meeting of the SAP team and see what we can come up with."


After the senior administrator left her office, Molly sat back in her chair and exhaled. Okay, let’s take stock for a minute. Just because he gets in trouble outside of school, doesn’t mean we can’t handle him here. Molly snorted out loud. And I’m Glinda the Good Witch.

Molly shook her head with a chuckle as that mental picture flashed through her brain. "Jesus, I’m going nutty," she said before getting to work on the various forms and files she had to finish.

It wasn’t until later that morning that Molly saw, or rather heard, Noelle. She was monitoring the halls and came up the back stairs once again. She heard Noelle’s lyrical voice talking with her senior philosophy of life class.

"That’s crap, Ms. P," she heard a young male voice say.

Molly stuck her head around the corner to see if she could locate Noelle. The blond had pulled a student desk a bit apart from the rest of the desks which were formed in a haphazard circle. She sat on the desk with her feet on the chair, the skirt of her denim dress settled around her legs, only her black flats peeking from beneath it.

"Okay, Pete, I accept your opinion. Now tell me why you say that," the English teacher urged, her attention focused on the boy.

"Well, okay," the boy said hesitantly. Molly heard him shuffle his books around a bit, apparently searching for something. "Okay… you just said that when Gibran wrote …ummm… ‘The very strength that protects the heart from injury is the strength that protects the heart from enlarging to its intended greatness within’ that he meant that protecting the heart is like squashing it. Not letting it grow. Right?"

Noelle nodded. "Very good. That’s pretty much what I said, yes. But…?" she encouraged.

"Okay, that was from The Secrets of the Heart. But…" and Molly heard Pete ruffling through another book. "Found it. Here, in The Prophet, he writes ‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears… The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’ I don’t get it. It sounds like crap to me," the boy finished.

"Yeah, Ms. P.," another voice, female this time, chimed in. "it’s almost like he’s sorta telling us to look for pain. ‘Cause right here, when he writes On Love, he’s saying that."

"Read it for us, Alicia," Noelle asked.

"Sure… ‘When love beckons you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.’" The girl looked up from the book. "So he’s telling you to go out and get hurt. That’s pretty stupid, don’t you think?"

Noelle shook her head, the excitement for the topic growing more evident on her face and in her posture. "Valid points, all of them. But let me see if I can clear this up. Gibran does, in fact, say those things, but I think we have to look at them on a deeper level. Let’s start with what he says in Secrets."

Noelle slid off the desk and moved to the center of the circle. "On the surface, it probably does appear that Gibran is telling the reader to go out and get his or her heart broken. Not very sound advice, if you ask me." She waited until the majority of students nodded in agreement before continuing. "But think about it!" she exclaimed suddenly. "In Secrets Gibran writes that whole bit about the strength that protects also squashes. What he’s really saying is that, by not letting yourself take chances, by always hiding your heart, your heart won’t ever reach its fullness. You see?"

Seeing the still confused looks, Noelle continued. "Okay," she said, pacing a bit, thinking as she moved. "Ah! Let’s look at the whole thing this way." As she began to speak, Noelle became much more animated. "What happens when you lift too much weight? Or when you fun too far?" she asked.

"Your legs hurt," someone called out.

Noelle whirled on the speaker, pointing at him. "Exactly. Why do they hurt?"

The boy shrugged. "I don’t know."

"You worked ‘em too hard," another boy supplied.

"Right again. So you lift too much weight on Monday, and Tuesday you can hardly walk because it hurts so badly, right?"

Heads nodded all around the circle.

"But what happens the next time you lift that much weight?" she asked earnestly.

"Your legs still hurt?" a girl questioned.

Noelle laughed along with the students. "True, Maria, very true. But I meant what happens if you keep lifting that same amount of weight? Do your legs keep hurting?"

"Well, no. It gets easier after a while."

"Why?" Noelle asked, walking to stand in front of the girl.

Maria shrugged, her long, curly dark hair shifting with the movement. "I guess ‘cause your legs get stronger."

Noelle smiled. "Precisely. So," she sighed dramatically as she turned back to the circle, "what do you think I’m going to say now?"

There was along pause as each of the students in the small class pondered what their teacher had said.

"Come on," Noelle urged softly. "Think. Think about it… you work you leg muscles hard. It hurts. But the get stronger eventually. So you lift more weight. They hurt some more…" she recited, still softly, as she walked around the inside of the circle.

"But they get stronger," someone finished absently.

Noelle smiled but remained silent.

"So each time our hearts get broken," Maria began slowly, the light brightening in her dark eyes.

"We hurt," Pete assisted.

"But our hearts get stronger," Alicia finished with a half smile.

"Yes!" Noelle said excitedly. "Yes. SO pain, to a certain extent, is actually beneficial to us." Noelle glanced down at the watch on her right wrist. "We only have a few minutes before the bell rings, so let’s look quickly at what Pete read to us." Noelle paused, taking a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice, which was normally very young sounding despite her age, sounded wise beyond her years. She recited the passage from memory, the look in her green eyes far away.

" ‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’"

Noelle stopped to look at each student in turn. All eyes, and complete attention, were focused on her.

Then she continued, this time even softer, her hands, for once, still at her sides. "When you are joyous, look deep into your heart, and you shall find that it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been you delight. Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater." But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weight his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall."

From outside the room, Molly thought she could have heard a pin drop inside. My God. She’s incredible, Molly thought in awe. Her heart went out to the woman. The woman who had suffered so much and was still taking a chance.

When the bell rang, not a student moved. "I’d like you to write a journal entry for me tonight on this," Noelle instructed softly. Then she grinned widely. "Have a GREAT day! Now shoo!"

Noelle smiled as the students gathered their things and left her room. She followed them out into the hall, passing greetings to students she knew. And to students she didn’t know. Her smile grew when she spotted Molly across the hall speaking with Dom Union, a fellow English teacher.

Noelle’s smile faded slightly, however, when Jilly passed her. The young girl made eye contact briefly, then looked away as she picked up her pace and walked right by the teacher without saying hello. Noelle hurried to catch up with her and fell into step alongside the girl.

"It’s customary, not to mention polite, to say hello when you see someone you know," she said softly, keeping her eyes on the students moving through the hall.

Not looking at her teacher, Jilly said in a low voice, "If he sees me with you he’ll think I’m… I’m… sayin’ stuff. And I’m not," the girl finished defensively.

"I never said you were telling things to me. Not to Tom anyway," Noelle replied.

"Yeah, well, he knows," Jilly said defensively.

Noelle stopped walking and stepped out of the flow of traffic through the hall, gently tugging Jilly with her. "Has he hurt you again?"

The short girl looked surprised. And frightened. "He never… he doesn’t hurt me."

"Jilly," Noelle began, "I know he-"

"Forget it! Just forget it! He loves me. He tells me he does. Everything is fine. He’s fine. I don’t want-"

"What are you doin’, Jilly," a young male voice asked.

Noelle and Jilly turned to see Tom standing a bit off to the side.

"Hello, Tom," Noelle greeted warmly. "Jilly and I were just talking about basketball practice," she said smoothly. Then she looked at Jilly. The girl’s eyes were fixed on Tom. Like a deer caught in headlights. Oh, Jilly. It doesn’t have to be like that. "7:30 tonight, Jill. Don’t be late," she said cheerfully.

"Let’s go, Jilly," Tom said coldly. He turned to walk away, fully expecting his girlfriend to follow.

"Excuse me, Mr. Kline," Noelle said, suddenly the English teacher again. When he turned, she looked at him sternly, her green eyes snapping at him angrily. "I am a member of the faculty in this building, and an adult, and as such," the diminutive teacher stepped into the boy’s space, "you will show me the proper courtesy and respect. I have always done the same for you, and, frankly, I expect… no, I demand it in return. Do you understand me, Mr. Kline?" Noelle asked harshly.

For a brief instant, for one short second, Noelle caught a glimpse of the boy Tom used to be. Then that boy was gone, and in his place once again stood a hardened, bitter young man.

"Sorry, Ms. Potter," he said formally. "We need to go before we’re late for class. It was nice talking to you."

Noelle smiled gently. "Thank you, Tom," she said softly. "I feel better now. Have a nice day, okay?"

The tall young man nodded and walked away.

Jilly looked at Noelle. "I better… I have to go. See ya, Ms. P."

Noelle watched the girl follow Tom, sadness in her green eyes. When they had disappeared down the stairs, Noelle sighed and walked back to her classroom as the bell rang. "There’s got to be a way," she mumbled to herself, stepping behind her desk to take a breath for the first time that day. She had the period to herself, and she planned on working on SAP team items.

"A way to what?" a low voice spoke from the door.

Noelle smiled as she looked up. The tall dean stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. God she looks wonderful, Noelle thought. Molly wore her customary black pants, this time heavier material as a bow to the weather, and a red silk shirt. Her dark hair was pulled back from her face, but it flowed freely around her broad shoulders. She looked dangerous… and stunning.

"Hi," Noelle said softly. Then her face grew serious and her eyes moved to look out the window. "A way to get to Tom. He’s in there, I know he is. We just have to find a way."

"No way," Molly said suddenly, her entire demeanor changing as she said the two words.

Green eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, "No way"?"

"No way are you to be alone with that boy. Not for any reason, do you hear me?" Molly stated commandingly.

The blond felt the anger surge, but she fought it down. She didn’t want to fight with the other woman. She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Molly, please. We’ve been through all of this before. It’s my job." Then quieter, "I need to do it."

Molly stepped into the room, lowering her voice. "Please listen to me, Noe." She waited for Noelle to look at her. "He’s dangerous. It won’t take much to set him off. Please stay away from him. He could hurt you," Molly said urgently.

"He could. But he won’t," Noelle refuted. "He likes me. You saw that yourself. Maybe I’m the one to get to him."

"No, damn it! Stay away fr-" The woman was interrupted by an announcement over the PA system.

"Pardon the interruption. Ms. Cartwright will you please report to the main office," the disembodied voice stated.

Molly clenched her jaw. "Damn it," she muttered. Then she looked pointedly at the small woman behind the desk. "We are not done with this conversation," she said, her words clipped.

"Yes we are. Now go on. They’re looking for you," Noelle said, not unkindly.

Molly spun on her heel and left the room, not looking back.

"Well that sucked." Noelle shook her head again and grabbed her plan book, putting thoughts of Tom from her mind.

After school that afternoon, the SAP team gathered in their customary meeting place. They made small talk about their respective days until Noelle burst through the door.

Tony chuckled. "Can’t you ever just enter a room?"

"What’s the point of that?" she asked seriously.

The group laughed. Or everyone except the dean did. Noelle caught her eye, knowing instinctively that the look there didn’t bode well for the meeting, or her. She sighed. "How ‘bout we get going so we can get out of here?"

Tony nodded. "Fine. Tom had some problems again last night. Jim had to bring him in this morning," the principal informed the group.

"He didn’t give anyone trouble today, did he?" Mike asked, concern evident in his voice.

"No. No, he didn’t," Tony answered slowly.

"I want to talk to him," Noelle said quietly. "I want to talk with him and see if I can get him to tell me what’s going on."

"No!" Molly exploded from her chair. She had kept quiet during the entire course of the meeting, but when she heard Noelle say what she just did, it was enough to make her speak up.

"Absolutely not. Tom Kline is unstable, he’s not safe, and I won’t allow you to be anywhere near that boy," she said heatedly.

"Excuse me?" Noelle asked coldly. "You won’t allow it?"

Tony watched the interactions of the two women. "Uh, Molly, you want to share with us why Noelle shouldn’t be alone with Tom?" he asked politely.

Molly snapped angry blue eyes to Tony, suddenly realizing they were in a room full of other people. Damn. "No one should be alone with that boy, not just Ms. Potter," she covered smoothly. "If anyone is going to talk with him, I will be in the room, as well."

"You know how he feels about you," Noelle said incredulously. "He’d never talk to me with you there, for God’s sake."

"I don’t care. He’s not safe, and I won’t needlessly put anyone in danger because of some misplaced sense of ‘do-good’," Molly stated firmly.

"This is ridiculous!" Noelle exclaimed. "You can’t presume to tell any of us what we can and cannot do."

"Yes, I can, Ms. Potter," Molly said coldly. "It’s my job to not only keep the students safe, but every person in this building, faculty and staff included."

Noelle turned to Tony. "Tony-"

The principal held up a hand. "I have to agree with Molly on this, Noelle. He’s not safe to be with right now. And we don’t want to send him over the edge." Tony paused and massaged his temples with his fingertips. Then he looked at the staff members around the table. "No one is alone with Tom Kline. If we see him alone with another student, we step in. If any of you find yourselves alone with him, rectify the situation immediately."

Tony turned to look hard at Noelle. "No one, Noelle."

The small woman nodded. "I understand," she said in a low voice.

Tony nodded. "Good." And in the same breath, "It’s starting to snow, so let’s call it a wrap and get out of here before it gets too bad. Maybe we’ll get a day off tomorrow," he finished with a smile.


"Yeah, baby!"

"We can only hope."

Tony laughed loudly at the comments from the teachers as they gathered their things and put on various pieces of outerwear. "You people are worse than the kids. Now go home."

The group left, talking and joking with each other about the possibilities of a snow day the following day. The only one who remained in the room was Noelle.

The English teacher slipped into her parka, tugging on her mittens then shouldering her bag. There was a lot on her mind as she exited the conference room and walked slowly past the main office.

"Hey, Ms. Potter," Tony called as he opened the door to the office. "Come here once, would you?"

Noelle veered towards the office. "Yeah?"

"Look," he began, letting the door swing shut behind her. He leaned against the counter as he spoke to Noelle. "It wasn’t directed solely at you in there. We just can’t afford a mistake, no matter how well-meant, right now."

"I know," Noelle sighed.

Tony studied his team leader closely for a moment, knowing the whole Tom situation troubled her. "Just be careful, okay?"

"Mmhm," she agreed. "Have a good night," she added absently as she left the office.

Noelle inhaled the icy cold air deeply into her lungs, allowing it to refresh her and clear her mind. She grinned when she took note of the snow on the Jimmy. "Looks like it’s scraping time."

When she reached the SUV, she unlocked the door, tossed her bag into the back seat, and started the engine, giving it time to warm up. She grabbed the ice-scraper from under the driver’s seat and started to brush the snow off the windows. "There’s gotta be something we can do for Tom," she mumbled to herself as she scraped. God in heaven, we HAVE to do something for Jilly. "Fuck," she swore softly. "I hate my job some days."

When the scraping chore was completed, Noelle climbed into the Jimmy, relishing the warmth inside the vehicle. "Woo! It’s cold out there. Wow."

The blond made the short drive to Mary’s, it taking a bit longer than usual because of the weather. Noelle pulled into the driveway at Mary’s house and hopped out of the Jimmy. As she trotted briskly up the sidewalk, she assessed the walk and driveway, determining the need for shoveling. It can wait, thank God.

Noelle stepped into the entryway, not bothering to take off her shoes. "Hey, Mare!" she yelled.

After closing the door, Noelle poked her head into the living room. When she didn’t see her mother, she strode to the kitchen. "Mom?"

"Mom, where are you?" she called as she walked to the door of her mother’s room.

She pushed the door open, only to find her mother lying on her bed. Jesus! She took the three steps to the side of Mary’s bed. She reached over and shook her mother gently. "Mom?" she asked, fear lacing the words. "Hey, Ma?" She shook the older woman’s shoulder harder, suddenly desperately afraid.


Noelle sighed a deep breath of relief when Mary opened her eyes. "Hmm?" When Mary’s eyes focused on her daughter, she smiled slightly, sleepily. "Hey, honey. What time is it?"

Noelle glanced at her watch. "Almost 5. Are you okay?"

Mary started to sit up, but Noelle put a hand on her shoulder. "No, stay there, okay? What’s wrong, Mom? Are you okay?" she asked again, panic tinging her voice.

Mary waved off the hand and sat up, her face pale and her breath a bit labored. "Stop it. I’m fine, Noe. I was just tired, the bed was the nearest piece of comfortable furniture, so I laid down. Now stop worrying," Mary said briskly. "I’m fine," she repeated.

"But you don’t loo-"

Mary cut off any protest with a sharp glance. "I’m still your mother, Noelle Beatrice. Do not presume to tell me what I am or am not."

Noelle looked at her mother in shock. "I… okay. I’m sorry." She turned her eyes to the window then brought them back to Mary. "I missed you today, Mom," she whispered.

Mary took a deep breath and her face gentled. "And I missed you, sweetie. I know you worry, but really there’s no need." The older woman got up from the bed and walked out into the kitchen. She started the chore of putting a pot of coffee together. She gazed out the window. "It’s snowing," she stated absently.

"Umm… yeah, that’s why I stopped by, actually. Do you need anything? It looks like it’s going to stick." Noelle grinned. "We’re hoping for a day off tomorrow."

Mary laughed. "You’re worse than the kids."

"Tony said the same thing," Noelle said mischievously. "Well, a girl can only hope." She paused and looked out the window, watching the small flakes swirl around in the darkening sky. "The first real snow fall…" she mused.

"Mmm," the older woman agreed. "And no, I don’t need anything."

"Mkay. I’m not going to shovel now because there’s no sense, not with it still snowing like it is."

Mary nodded. "Makes sense. Now, why don’t you get home before the roads get too bad?"

"Yeah, that’s a good idea, I guess." Noelle hesitated before continuing. "Are you…"

Mary smiled and nodded. She walked to her daughter and wrapped her arms around the young woman. Mary held Noelle tightly, the two women just standing there holding each other.

Then Mary looked deeply into Noelle’s eyes. "I’m fine," she said softly. "I’m fine."

The young woman smiled tremulously at her mother’s words. "Okay, Ma. If we get called out, I’ll let you know, okay?"

"That’s fine. Now go on home before your stuck here."

Noelle laughed. "God forbid that." She kissed her mother on the cheek. "Talk to you tomorrow. I’ll be over to shovel."

After bidding each other good night, Noelle left, closing the door quietly behind her. The snow was falling more furiously than it had been before she went inside. "Ooooh, we’re gonna get off. I just know it," she said gleefully as she backed carefully out of the driveway.

It didn’t take Noelle long to reach her house, and she hurried in to the warmth. "Wooo. It’s freaking cold." As she talked to herself, Noelle hung up her coat to dry and kicked off her shoes. She padded into her room, unbuttoning the first few buttons of her dress as she walked.

After tossing the garment into the laundry basket at the bottom of her closet, she slipped into the sweats that were at the foot of the small bed. She sat on the bed to put on some wool socks when an idea slipped into her mind. Noelle grinned as she picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.

"Hello?" a familiar voice answered.

"Ever been sledriding?"

There was silence on the other end of the line for a minute. "Uh, no?"

Noelle laughed. "Good. Then get dressed, warmly, damn it, and get over here. I’ll be waiting," and with that, the woman hung up. Quickly she dressed for the weather, then she walked back into the foyer to get her outerwear. After pulling her ski pants and Sorels out of the closet, Noelle grabbed a bottle of juice and the small first aid kit from the bathroom and tossed the items in the daypack she had by the door.

"’Kay, that should do it. Let’s see… where the hell are the sleds?" In the garage? The cellar? Deciding she’d check the cellar first, Noelle slipped on her cellar-shoes and went down the stairs, flipping on the light as she went. Not liking to be down in the creepy basement, she looked at the walls, still standing on the bottom step. "Oh good, they’re not here." Then she clomped up the stairs, closing the light and the door.

Noelle stopped in the kitchen and took what she’d need for dinner from the cabinet. Then she put a pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti she would make for dinner.

By that time, she was looking out the window for the Rover, not so patiently waiting for Molly. A grin lit her face when she spotted the vehicle slowly turn the corner. Noelle opened the front door and watched Molly as she got out of the vehicle. "Hurry up! It’s damned cold out there," she called. She saw the grin that washed over Molly’s face even from that far.

Noelle opened the screen door then stepped aside to let the taller woman in. "Hi," she greeted softly.

Blue looked into green. "Hi."

Noelle watched, mesmerized, as Molly leaned down to place a gentle, fairly chaste kiss on her lips. She closed her eyes, briefly savoring the sensations and feelings the other woman invoked.

When the kiss ended, Noelle looked up at Molly. "You hungry?"

Molly grinned rakishly. "Oh yeah," the low voice replied. "Always…"

Noelle felt the heat crawl up her neck and onto her face. She hung her head then snapped it up again. "Jesus, Molly," she whined. "Can’t you be good for five minutes?"

A dark eyebrow went up. "I can be good for longer than that," she answered as she used her bigger body to push the other woman gently against the wall. "I’m very, very good," she repeated.

Wants to play, does she? Noelle thought wickedly. She moved her hips against Molly’s just a tiny bit, grinning at the hitch in Molly’s breath. She knew she was playing with fire, but the heat was irresistible. Her hands moved to grip the other woman’s hips, bringing their bodies even closer together.

Molly brought her hands up to brace on the wall on either side of Noelle’s head. She groaned when she felt the hips move against her own again. "You’re going to kill me," she growled as she leaned in for another kiss. The instant before her lips caught Noelle’s, the smaller woman ducked under her arm and waltzed into the kitchen.

"Let’s get dinner," Noelle tossed over her shoulder.


"Mmhm. Now come on, I’m hungry."

"Me, too," Molly grumbled. "But not for pasta, that’s for sure."

"I heard that," Noelle called. "Pasta’s all your getting, Cartwright, so get in here and set the table, you hag."

"Hag? Hag?! They call me Ms. Hag!" Molly teased. As she walked past Noelle she swatted the smaller woman on the backside, laughing when she yelped.

After dinner was eaten and the table cleared, Molly and Noelle suited up for the trek outdoors. Noelle donned the backpack with the juice and the kit. "Always be prepared," she told Molly.

The snow continued to fall, blanketing the world with its whiteness.

The tracks of Molly’s Rover were already covered, and there was almost 5 inches of the white stuff on the ground. Night had fallen while the women ate, but a full moon peeked through the clouds to give enough light to see.

Noelle jumped off the last step and landed in the snow. She shuffled around a bit, testing the depth. "Well, there’s not a whole lot yet, but enough to play for a while," she said with a grin. "Come on, let’s get the sleds." With that, Noelle headed back to the garage where she knew the sleds were housed. After retrieving the vehicles, Noelle led the tall woman around the back of the garage and out into the woods.

The walk through the snowy woods was brisk. Noelle followed a barely discernible path, and she walked quickly. Molly looked over the woman’s shoulder to what she thought might have been a clearing. It was lighter, and the trees seemed to just end. When they reached the end of the path and stepped out into the small clearing, Molly stood in awe.

Moonbeams glinted off the snow and the falling flakes, causing them to sparkle like the glitter in a snowglobe when someone shakes it. The snow swirled around on the breeze when it blew, but the strength of it wasn’t enough to shake the snow out of the trees surrounding the clearing. Dark branches dripped with snow, the white startling against the dark.

"If you listen close enough," Noelle whispered, "you can hear the snow fall. Hear it?"

Both women stood perfectly, completely still, the only movement the steam coming from their noses. Molly strained her ears to hear. She almost said no, but then she caught it.

Thbub, thbub, thbub.

It sounded like cotton dropping onto cotton. It was such a soft sound that it was almost undetectable, but she heard it.

"Oh wow," she breathed. "I can hear it. I didn’t know… I never knew."

Noelle turned and smiled at the woman. "Wonderful, isn’t it?"

Molly nodded. "It’s ama-"

She was cut off by a handful of snow being scrubbed in her face. When she cleared her eyes, Noelle had already scampered up the short hill across from them.

The blond dragged the bigger sled with her, leaving the disc with Molly. After dropping her pack in the snow, Noelle lay on her stomach, bending her legs at the knee before pushing off with her mittened hands.

"WooooooOOOOOOOOO," she hollered as she came whizzing down the hill. Molly watched, a huge grin on her face. The grin turned slightly confused when she saw Noelle roll off the sled into the snow, letting the plastic vehicle run right into a tree.

Noelle got up, grabbed the pull-string of the sled, and started back up the hill. This time, however, instead of lying down on her stomach, she sat on the sled, stretching her legs out and settling her feet in the front. She grabbed the string and pushed off with her hand again.


And again she rolled off the moving sled right before it hit a tree.

When she got up, she quickly made a snowball and lobbed it at Molly, missing her by 6 miles.

Molly watched the arc of the ball until it landed in the snow to her left. "You suck!"

Noelle laughed loudly. "I meant to miss you. I’d have hit you if I intended to, and you know it! Now come on, Poky Joe, get your sled!"

Molly followed the smaller woman up the hill, stopping at the flat spot at the top.

Noelle turned to her companion. "Umm, the flying saucer you have may be a tight squeeze for you, Stretch, but that’s the point. Siddown and cross your legs."

Molly did as instructed and looked in surprise when Noelle knelt in front of her. Green eyes peered at her with wicked glee. "Hold on to the… yeah, that’s it." Then Noelle helped Molly cram her long legs and booted feet onto the round orange sled. "Those boots suck, Cartwright. Gotta get a pair of Sorels. They rock."

Noelle stood up, her tassel cap blending in with the night sky. Snowflakes landed and lived a brief life, stark against the dark knit, before melting away.

She stood there with her hands on her hips, giving instruction. "Okay, listen up. I’ll give you a boost this first time, but after this, you’re on your own." She turned and pointed to the trees where they stood before. "You gotta get off before you hit the tree. It’ll smart some if you do, but it won’t be fatal… I hope."

Molly nodded in understanding, her blue eyes huge. "Uh, Noelle… is this safe?"

"Pfffft," Noelle waved. "People’ve been doin’ it since… forever. You’ll be fine."

That didn’t exactly answer my question…

Noelle moved around behind the seated woman, once again kneeling down. She leaned in slightly to speak softly in Molly’s knit-covered ear. "Remember to roll off before you hit the tree." And, with a grunt, Noelle sent Molly off into the night on the saucer.

The woman sat back on her heels and watched. Her eyes opened wider as Molly neared the trees, making no attempt to abandon ship.

"Get off!" she advised through hands cupped around her mouth. "Bail out, Molly! Watch the-"

But it was too late. Noelle watched the drama unfold in slow motion. Molly had, as the case usually was with a flying saucer, spun around so she faced UP the hill even though she was going DOWN the hill. Not able to see how close she was to the trees, the riding woman had no idea that it was time to bail.

Noelle put her hands in front of her face, the gaps between her fingers wide enough to allow her to continue watching. Oh fuck. This won’t be good. The bright orange sled carrying the tall woman whipped down the hill, covering the short straight stretch to the trees in a heartbeat. Then, to Noelle’s complete astonishment, the sled hit a tree. But because of the snow drifting at the base, the sled traveled up the trunk of the tree about a foot, promptly dumping its passenger on her face in the snow and then coming to rest on top of her.

There was utter stillness at the accident site.

"Oh shit." Noelle scrambled to her sled, heaving herself on it even as she shoved off. It didn’t take her long to reach the bailing out point. Not paying any heed to her sled, Noelle got up from the ground, running to where Molly lay in the snow.

She flipped the sled off the woman, a look of sheer horror on her face.

Then she started laughing. Molly had lost her hat on impact, and her hair was in wild disarray.

Noelle laughed so hard that she had to lean against the offending conifer, holding her stomach. The more she tried to stop laughing, the harder she laughed.

"Are you… are you okay?" she hooted finally, unable to stop laughing.

One blue eye opened and glared evilly at the laughing woman. "Laugh it up, chucklehead."

Molly jumped to her feet, shaking the dark mane out of her eyes. "I’m fine," she said in a low, intense voice. "No thanks to you."

Noelle laughed harder. "Me?" she gasped. "What’d I… do?"

"It won’t be fatal," she mimicked in a high, nasal voice.

"You’re still breathing, aren’t you?" Noelle asked, finally able to bring the laughter under control.

Blue eyes narrowed. "Why didn’t you tell me I’d spin around like that?"

"I forgot?" Noelle answered innocently.

Molly snorted. "You forgot, my ass."

"No no. I forgot to tell you you’d spin. I didn’t forget your ass," Noelle corrected. Shaking her head and still chuckling, Noelle grabbed her sled and started back up the hill.

"Don’t forget your hat," she reminded over her shoulder, the words fading into laughter.

The two women played in the snow for what seemed like hours, but was really… well, hours, before the wind started to pick up and the flakes become smaller and harder.

When they both reached the bottom of the hill and got their sleds, Noelle turned to Molly. "Let’s take one more turn, then we’d better head in. Leave yours here, we’ll both ride mine."

At the top of the hill, Noelle positioned the sled, telling Molly to it on it and scoot all the way back until her backside touched the rim. Then she turned and lowered herself between Molly’s long legs. She scooted back until her body was flush against the bigger body behind her. Her feet were tucked into the sled, and she helped Molly do the same to hers.

"You’ll need to hold on to the sides of the sled," she mentioned. "Or you can do that, too," she smiled as she felt strong arms wrap around her body.

Molly tugged the younger woman closer to her, then she rested her chin on the shoulder in front of her.

Noelle picked up the rope and snuggled down into Molly’s embrace. "Don’t forget to roll off, okay?" When she felt the nod, she started scooching her body forward to get the sled moving. "Help me out here, kid. I need a hand."

Molly reached behind the sled and shoved off hard while Noelle continued to shimmy forward.

"Here we GOOOOO!" the blond yelled as they took off at top speed. Arms tightened around the small body, holding her close.

"Off!" Noelle squeaked, rolling her body to the left. When she came to a stop, she realized her body was tangled with Molly’s. She was half on top of Molly, her arms pinned between their bodies.

Without thinking, Noelle brought her mouth to Molly’s, lips touching lips in a tender kiss. Noelle’s tongue traced Molly’s lips, seeking entrance to the secrets inside.

Molly closed her eyes and parted her lips, her hands resting on the small of the other woman’s back. She groaned when she felt the first shy touch of Noelle’s tongue on her own.

Noelle broke the kiss, dropping her forehead to the chest beneath her. Then she looked at Molly for a long moment.

"Stay with me tonight."

Continued part 13

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