Taught by Love

Part 15

Thanksgiving day dawned cloudy and cold, a fact which Molly commented on repeatedly as she loaded the Land Rover with the pies and salad she was bringing for the dinner meal. She had called Mary earlier in the week and asked her what she could bring. When the older woman told her she had to bring nothing, Molly threatened to bring fruited jell-o, or something equally hideous. Mary had laughed and suggested a pie or a salad.

Molly had made a trip to the larger grocery store a short drive away and purchased two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, vanilla ice cream and whipped topping. For the salad, she had bought two bags of prepared salad, dumped it into a big serving bowl, and tossed on some croutons. To accompany the salad, she was bringing a bevy of salad dressings, unsure what Mary liked on hers.

When she finally climbed behind the wheel, the vehicle was warm. Because she promised to be at Mary's early to help with the day-long preparations, it was still very early in the morning. As she drove through the silent streets, Molly took a few moments to appreciate the winter beauty of the surrounding scenery.

It had flurried the night before, just enough to re-cover the already felled snow. The fresh cover gave the world a pristine, crystal clear look. The brown-black trees stood proudly naked on the mountains, in stark contrast to the pure white snow. The sky was a cloudy blue-white that looked bitterly cold. Molly knew that if she rolled down her window, she would be able to smell the frigid air, any moisture in her nose immediately freezing. Eyup, the boogers would freeze, she thought, laughing out loud at the words. And she also knew she would feel the stinging bite of the cold on any uncovered skin.

Molly grinned bigger. Who knew something inanimate like cold would feel so alive? Then she laughed again, this time in delight. I'm starting to sound just like a certain feisty blond I know.

But the smile died as she recalled the previous weekend. The two women had laughed and loved; they had teased one another; they had snuggled on the couch. They had talked and shared things about themselves. Yet despite all of that, despite the fun and levity, there was no light in those expressive green eyes. That fire that had first attracted the dark woman had gone out. And it worried her.

Then all thought was pushed aside when a thrill of excitement shot through Molly. She smiled when she saw the electric blue Jimmy parked in the driveway at Mary's house. She parked her Rover across the driveway and climbed out. She strode to the door and knocked firmly, shuffling her feet to keep them warm.

When a hand pushed the curtain aside and chocolate brown eyes peered out through the glass, Molly wiggled the fingers of her left hand, the right embedded in the warmth of her coat's pocket.

Mary threw the door open and smiled at the tall woman. "Morning, Molly," she greeted cheerfully.

Molly smiled in return and bent to place a quick kiss on the older woman's cheek. "Good morning to you, Mary. And happy Thanksgiving."

"To you, as well. I'm glad you decided to spend the day with us."

Molly removed her coat and hung it on an empty hook. "No place I'd rather be, Mare."

After kicking off her shoes and placing them neatly below her coat, Molly asked Mary the burning question. "Where is-" But she didn't get to finish the question before Mary answered.

"In the kitchen."

When Molly made to step around the woman, Mary grabbed her arm. "Just a second. She's in a stubborn, rather foul mood. Obviously these early mornings still aren't Ms. Thing's cup of tea."

Molly grinned slowly. "Good."

Mary chuckled and shook her head. "You two… Just be warned." Then she turned on her heel and walked in to the living room.

Molly proceeded to the kitchen, stopping to watch Noelle. The other woman stood at the sink, a very large bird in the basin. One hand held the legs spread, and she repeatedly brought her fingers to the opening of the body cavity. But just as she should have reached in, each time she snatched her hand away like the dead thing just bit her.

Wrong end for that, sweetheart, Molly thought wickedly. I've heard of being bitten in the ass, but never by the ass.

Instead of offering to help like she knew she should, Molly preferred to watch the antics being performed at the sink.

"Okay, you bastard," Noelle muttered. "I'm ripping your guts out, Tommy-boy, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it, chump. You're dead. You sicko."

Then Noelle screwed up her face in a look of complete distaste, her tongue sticking out, and jammed her hand into the opening. "Jesus Christ," she swore softly. "This is just plain disgusting. Not to mention obscene. Blech. I think I'm gonna puke."

Molly silently walked to stand behind the smaller woman.

"Ugh," Noelle grunted as she groped for the bag of innards. "Come on… come on," she coaxed quietly. Still not reaching the plastic through the tight opening, she yanked the leg she was holding wider.

"Careful with that," a voice said behind her.

"Jesus, Molly!" she yelped, letting go of the leg she was holding.

"I certainly hope you don't look like that with your hand between my legs," Molly whispered sexily, her low voice right beside Noelle's ear.

"Har har," Noelle snorted. She could feel the blush starting, but was determined to not give in to it. She grinned lecherously at the tall woman. "It's much nicer between your legs. Not as slimy. Now help me, damn it. I think my hand is stuck."

The sight of Noelle with her hand stuck inside the turkey was suddenly so funny that Molly began to laugh. The more Noelle tried to unstick her hand, the harder Molly laughed, until finally she had to sit at the table.

"Mooo-ooolly," Noelle whined. "I'm stuck. Help me out here!" When the only reply she got was more laughing, Noelle stomped her foot. "That's it. I'm calling my mother." And she sucked in a big breath and opened her mouth to yell for Mary.

But she was stopped by a hand slapped over her mouth.

"Don't do it," Molly hissed in mock anger, lowering her hand.

The blond woman glared at her. "Ow. That hurt, you big jerk. Now you better kiss it and make it better," she finished with a grin.

Molly grinned back at her and slowly leaned in to do as she was directed. Before connecting with the waiting lips, Molly traced them with the tip of her tongue. Then she captured the lips with hers, her hands moving to rest on the slender hips of the other woman.

At the touch of the lips on hers, Noelle groaned softly and pushed into the bigger body. When the kiss was finally broken, green eyes opened to look at Molly. "Hi," she whispered.

"Hi yourself," Molly responded. "Happy Thanksgiving," she added, hugging the woman to her.

"Uh, Mol? I could use a little help here for real. I really am stuck," Noelle said, shaking her head.

It didn't take the dark woman long to help Noelle get her hand out. She reached in and yanked out the small plastic bag on the first attempt. She held it up. "Ah HA! Got it!" Taking in the look on Noelle’s face, Molly just shook her head and dumped the bag in the trashcan herself.

Noelle smiled. "Now let’s get this freak in the oven. He’s gotta roast for, oh…" Realizing she didn’t know exactly how long Tom had to sleep in the sauna, she yelled for her mother.

"Mom! How long does this bird have to cook?"

"How big is it?" her mother asked from the door.

Both Noelle and Molly turned to look at Mary. "He’s 27 pounds," the blond answered.

Mary whistled. "That’s a big boy. Why the hell did you get a turkey that size? You’ll be eating leftovers for weeks! Jeez."

"Yeah yeah, Mare." Noelle rolled her eyes, twirling her finger in the air. "Now how ‘bout it? How long does this big guy have to roast?"

"Figure 20 minutes per pound. So, 20 times 27 is about 540 minutes, divided by 60…" Mary figured.

"Oh, for God’s sake, Ma. How the hell long do we cook the blasted thing?" Noelle huffed as Molly began to laugh.

"About 8 hours," Mary finally stated.

"At…?" Noelle hedged.

"350*," Mary supplied. Then the older woman went back into the living room.

Noelle turned to set the oven to the correct temperature then looked at the clock. "M’kay, it’s 7:15, so 8 hours will put us at… about 3:00. Good. That still gives us time to cook the lasagna and stuff."

Noelle made short work of putting the bird in the disposable pan. When she tried to lift it, grunting as she did, Molly stepped beside her and pushed her aside.

"Let me do that, please," she offered.

"Oooooh, Super Molly to the rescue. Whoopie," Noelle teased.

"Oh, stuff it," Molly grumbled, sliding the pan in the oven.

"Um, no. I’ll make it separately later," Noelle responded with a grin.

The dark head shook in exasperation. Then she got back to the business at hand. "Now what?" she asked.

Noelle put her hands on her hips and looked around the small kitchen. "Well, I guess I can put the pan of lasagna together and put it in the fridge ‘til later."

"Can I help?"

Noelle snorted again. "You? Please. I doubt the woman who’s only specialty is beans-n-weenies will be able to help with an Italian dish the likes of this. Forget it, pal."

"Teach me," the dark woman asked. "I’m a quick learner."

The blond sighed dramatically. "Fine. I suppose someone’s got to show you the proper way. Go wash your hands. And do it good!" Noelle instructed.

Molly turned from the sink and leaned close to the smaller woman. "I always do, wouldn’t you think?" she asked huskily.

The blush started again. But Noelle smiled innocently. "Sometimes, anyway." Then she turned away to grab another, smaller foil pan.


Noelle looked over her shoulder at the dark woman, a smile lighting her entire face. "You started it. Now wash ‘em, kid."

When hands were washed, the two women stood at the counter, shoulders brushing. "Okay," Noelle began, looking up at the taller woman. "I cooked the noodles when I got here this morning, so all we have to do is whip up the cheese, and layer it."

Molly nodded. "Okay. So what’s in the cheese stuff?" she asked.

"Ahh, well, you see, I can’t tell you. It’s an old family recipe. I can’t tell you," Noelle repeated.

"Well, shoot. Come on, I won’t tell anyone." Long black lashes batted their way into Noelle’s heart.

She was just about to give in when good sense once again took over. "Ha. No way. Now, go talk to Mary for a few minutes until I call you." When Molly made no move to leave the kitchen, Noelle glared at her and tapped her foot impatiently. "Move it," she growled.

"There we go with that pretend growl again," Molly teased.

"Oh be quiet. And go!"

Molly raised her hands in surrender. "Fine, fine. I’m going." She stopped at the entrance to the room and turned to look at the blond. "I’ll be back," she said in a fair imitation of the Terminator.

"Don’t threaten me," Noelle tossed over her shoulder as she reached for a mixing bowl in the cabinet. Her fingertips just brushed the bowl, pushing it further back. And further out of her reach. "Damn," she muttered.

She looked up in time to see a long arm reach the bowl easily. It was set on the counter, and when Noelle would have turned to thank her rescuer, she was stopped by a mouth on her neck.

"God, I love the way you smell," a low voice whispered in her ear as lean hips ground gently into her backside.

Noelle closed her eyes and sucked in a breath. "Mmm…" Then she opened them and pushed Molly away with her body. "Get out of here."

Molly laughed and walked into the living room.

Noelle quickly got out the ingredients for the cheese filling, put it together, then called Molly. Together the women made up the tray of noodles, sauce, and cheese. When it was completed, Noelle covered the pan with aluminum foil and made a spot for it in the refrigerator. Then they quickly washed the dishes they used and made their way into the living room.

Mary was sitting on the couch, but when the girls walked in, she stood up and tossed the remote at her daughter. "Here. I’m going to lay down for a bit."

Noelle looked carefully at her mother. "You feeling okay, Ma?" she asked, concern filling her voice.

Mary rolled her eyes. "Yes, Noelle. I just got up too early, that’s all."

When those brown eyes connected with blue, a look passed through them that said Later, okay? Molly nodded imperceptibly, acquiescing to Mary’s wishes.

Noelle kissed her mother on the cheek. "Okay, Mare. I believe you. We’ll wake you for lunch."

Mary burst out laughing. "Jeez, I’ll be awake before then, for God’s sake. I just need an hour or so." The older woman started to leave but stopped and fixed the "mother" stare on the two younger women. "Be good."

The dark woman smiled at Mary. Out of the corner of her mouth, she whispered to Noelle, "Don’t even go there."

Noelle slapped her own hand over her mouth, trying to hold the laughter in. With her other hand, she backhanded Molly in the stomach and just looked at Mary, her eyes sparkling with mirth.

Mary pointed at Molly. "Heard that, young lady."

"But… I…" Molly spluttered.

A hand came up. "Never mind that," Mary interrupted. "Now I’m going." And with that, the older woman left the room.

Noelle and Molly just stared after her, then they looked at each other guiltily before bursting out in laughter.

"Oh, God," Noelle gasped. "I have to sit down."

Both women finally settled down enough to sit on the couch, Noelle curled around the bigger woman. She had control of the remote, flipping the channels.

"Oh WOW!" she exclaimed, sitting up a bit. "Oh wow. They’re on!"

Molly looked at her in confusion. "Um, what’s on?"

"Monster movies! All the old classics. Oh yeah, what a day!" Noelle supplied.

The dark woman still stared at Noelle. "Monster movies?" she asked skeptically.

"Yes. Monster movies. You know, all the old B movies… Godzilla, King Kong, the Blob. All those." Noelle smiled happily. "My dad and I used to watch these when he was alive. Every Thanksgiving, we’d do this all day while Mare did all the work," she reminisced.

A soft smile transformed her face into gentleness and warmth. It was a look that Molly missed these last couple of weeks. I hope it comes back to stay, she thought briefly.

"Monster movies, huh?" she asked again.

Noelle nodded, her eyes glued to the set. "Mmh- Whoopie!" she interrupted herself. "Mighty Joe Young is starting," she breathed in awe. "I love this one."

"Is this the Disney movie? I’ve seen it then."

Green eyes looked at her with scorn. "Puh-lease. Disney?" Noelle snorted. "No way. It’s the legit, black and white, old version. The original. The best. The one and only. Disney. Ha."

Noelle turned back to the TV, intent on watching the movie. Without thinking about it, she leaned into Molly, her hand resting on a well-muscled thigh.

Monster movies, Molly thought, mentally shrugging her shoulders. "Monster movies it is, then."

"Shhh," Noelle shushed her, settling contentedly next to the bigger body.

Molly sat in the corner of the couch, and Noelle got as close to her as possible, her feet tucked under her body. Molly's feet were on the ottoman that she had pulled over for just that purpose.

They were on their third movie when Noelle glanced over at Molly and smiled. The dark woman's head rested on the back of the couch and she dozed peacefully.

"Too early for you, kid?" Noelle asked the sleeping woman, her voice just above a whisper. Then she kissed the smooth cheek softly, not wanting to disturb Molly.

She turned back to the movie, not expecting an answer. At the next commercial break, Noelle padded into the kitchen to baste the bird. She grabbed a handful of chicken-flavored crackers and stuffed three of them into her mouth as she pulled a pop from the refrigerator. She gulped down a big swallow on her way back to the living room.

Unconsciously, though, she swerved to peek into her mother's room, wanting to check on the older woman. Seeing Mary resting comfortably on the bed put her mind at ease and Noelle went back into the living room. She smiled again at the sight of the sleeping woman.

She's amazing, the blond thought, her heart warming at the sight of the dark woman.

After settling back on the couch, Noelle's attention focused on the TV; she didn't want to miss any of the action of the big lizard versus the giant ape.

"So who do you want to win?" Molly's husky voice said a while later.

Noelle turned and smiled at her. "Done sleeping?" she asked.

Molly nodded. "Mmhm. Anyway, even if I wasn't, the smell of that turkey would've woken me up." The tall woman stretched, her arms reaching toward the ceiling. "Mmmm… the big guy smells good. Makes me hungry."

Noelle glanced at the wall clock. "This is almost over. I'll throw together some lunch as soon as it is. Fair enough?" she asked, still watching the TV.

"Sounds like a plan," Molly agreed. She took the time to study the woman next to her. And she liked what she found. No, I love what I find. What've you done to my heart, Noelle Potter? You stole it right out from under me. Molly smiled. She didn't steal it, I gave it to her. Freely, willingly, knowingly. I gave it to her.

"Stop looking at me, Molly," Noelle said without turning her head. She could feel a blush creeping up her neck at the woman's perusal.

"But I like what I see. I really like what I see," Molly teased.

Then Noelle turned to her. She grinned devilishly. "Oh yeah?" she asked.

Molly just nodded, waiting to see what the other woman would do. Her blue eyes opened in surprise when the small woman scrambled to straddle her lap. Molly's hands immediately went to rest on slender hips.

Noelle cupped Molly's face in her hands, and simply gazed for a long moment into the blue eyes. Then she leaned in to gently kiss the lips that called to her. When she felt the lips part, Noelle slowly thrust her tongue inside the wet warmth.

She broke the kiss, her breathing ragged, and she was oddly pleased that Molly's breathing matched her own. She leaned her forehead against the other woman's and just held her. "I want to do that to your body. Show me how?" she whispered.

Molly groaned, a long, low sound. "Oh, babe. I'll show you. I promise I'll show you." She pulled back to look into Noelle's eyes. "Come home with me tonight," she offered.

Green eyes opened and a smile graced the heart-shaped face. Noelle nodded. "I'd like that."

Then suddenly the small woman hopped off Molly. "Let's go get something to eat."

Molly followed the other woman into the kitchen and together they prepared a simple, light lunch, keeping in mind that dinner would start in a few hours and last throughout the evening.

Wiping her hands on the apron that she wore, a fact for which she took much teasing from Molly, Noelle stepped out to wake her mother. She leaned over the sleeping form and shook the woman gently.

"Mom," she whispered. "Hey, Mom?" Not getting any response, Noelle shook her mother harder. "Mom", she called louder. Feeling the panic rise, she leaned closer to Mary, unconsciously checking for breath sounds. A small wave of relief washed through her when she heard it. But it was shallow and somewhat rapid.

"Mom! Come on, Mare. Lunch is ready. Molly's waiting in the kitchen," Noelle said loudly.

Hearing the words from the kitchen, Molly was standing in the doorway in an instant. "Everything okay, Noe?" she asked, concerned about the two women in the darkened bedroom.

"She… she won't… wake up," Noelle supplied hesitantly. Terrified green eyes looked up at Molly. "She… I need to wake her up."

Molly stepped quickly into the room and stood next to the frightened woman. She listened carefully. "She's still breathing, Noe. I think maybe Mary's just over-tired. Why don't you go make sure lunch is ready and I'll wake her up. Okay?" Molly took the smaller woman by the shoulders and led her to the door. "Go on, we'll be right there."

Noelle hesitated. "But-"

"No, honey," Molly interrupted softly. "We'll be right out." Molly desperately wanted Noelle out of the room for what she had to do next. She knew, somewhere inside of her she knew, that she’d have a difficult time waking up the other woman.

If she was able to at all.

When Noelle left, Molly sat on the edge of the bed and bent close to Mary, listening closely. She shook the older woman hard, not getting any response. Finally, Molly stepped out into the bathroom, got a cold, wet washcloth and wiped Mary’s face and neck, calling her name loudly.

At the end of her rope, Molly yanked Mary upright and lightly slapped her cheeks, relieved beyond imagining when the older woman’s eyes began to flutter.

"Hey, Mare. You with me, lady?" she called softly, still holding her upright.

"What… what’s wrong?" the older woman asked groggily, her breathing still not what it should be.

"Christ, Mary," Molly swore as she laid the woman back on the pillow. "What the hell is going on?" Molly noted that her lips were a funny color. My God, they’re blue!

Mary closed her eyes, the fatigue and fear evident on her face. She drew in a breath, trying to ease the tightness in her chest. "I’ve… it’s… it won’t be long, Molly," she said finally, her voice barely above a whisper.

"What?" Molly asked in alarm. "What won't be long? Whatever it is, it's just nonsense, Mary Potter. You’re tired, that's-"

She was interrupted by a soft hand on her forearm. "Please, Molly. Just listen to me." Mary waited for Molly to look at her again before speaking. "I don’t have long. I’ve been… to the doctor. He says it won’t be long. I haven’t… I haven’t said anything to Noe because I know how upset she gets, not to mention all that’s been going on at school."

Molly looked at the older woman; she saw the truth in the deep brown eyes, saw the end. "Oh God… Mary," she gasped, her breath hitching in her chest. "No… it’s a mistake. He’s wrong. He is. You’ll be fine," Molly whispered. But she knew it to be the truth.

Mary was dying.

The blue eyes filled with tears at the thought of losing the woman she had come to love like a mother. But she ached more for Noelle, for what she knew Mary’s death would do to the small woman.

"Is there… isn’t there anything…" her voice trailed off because she knew the answer. Molly knew it was a waiting game now.

Mary shook her head tiredly. "I’ve started taking care of everything. When the time comes, Molly, you’ll find a folder in my top drawer there," she pointed to her dresser. "It has everything in it that Noelle will need. I’ve ordered the… casket," Mary’s voice caught on the word, but she moved ahead. "I contacted the funeral home in town, and… and the plot next to Joe’s is mine. There’s also the insurance papers." She looked at the dark woman, a tear slipping out of her eye and trailing down her cheek.

Molly reached a hand out and cupped Mary’s cheek. "Oh, Mare," she whispered, her voice filled with anguish. "I… what can I do?"

"Noelle." Mary paused and let the word sink in. "She’s going to need someone. But it won’t be easy." The ghost of a smile touched the blue-tinged lips. "We both know how she is. She’ll try to do it alone, Molly. But that’s when she’ll need someone the most. Don’t leave her. Don’t leave my baby. Please."

Molly let out a soft sob before gathering Mary into her arms. She felt how fragile the woman’s body had become in the last months. She held the woman tightly, but she was afraid she would hurt her.

"You won’t hurt me," Mary answered, as if she read Molly’s thought.

The two women held each other until Mary pulled back and straightened her shoulders. "I guess we better go eat lunch. She’s probably chewing her nails to shreds by now." Mary got out of bed with the dark woman’s help, even going so far as to allow Molly to help her to the bathroom. But she stopped at the door with a chuckle. "That’s far enough, Molly Cartwright. I’ll see you in the kitchen."

Before Molly walked into the kitchen, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She stepped into the room to find Noelle crouching down to baste the turkey again.

"Hi," she called softly.

Noelle stood up, closed the oven door, and looked at Molly. "Mary's coming in, right?"

The hope in the voice almost broke Molly's heart. She wished, more than anything, that she could make it right for Noelle. But it wasn't possible. And she knew it. She wondered briefly if keeping this from Noelle was the right thing to do. But it's what Mary wants, she reasoned. So Molly chose to keep silent about it.

The dark woman nodded and smiled. "She'll be right in."

Noelle saw… something in Molly's eyes, but the hope was strong inside of her. "She was just sleeping heavily, right?" she asked, the hope shining bright in her eyes.

Molly could no longer resist the urge to touch the woman so she pulled her into a fierce hug. She kissed the top of the blond head. "Yeah, Noe. She was just over-tired," she whispered, not letting go of the woman.

"You two at it again?" a voice asked from the door.

Mary walked slowly into the room, her feet shuffling, and her breathing still labored.

She looks so old. The thought came unbidden into Molly's mind, and the sadness got heavier. Yet the sadness for Noelle was greater. Oh, babe, let me help you… It was going to be a long couple of weeks, Molly knew.

Lunch was quick; Mary didn't eat much, and neither of the other women felt like eating. After the light meal, the dinner preparations kicked into high gear.

Noelle kept a close eye on the bird, not wanting it to dry out, while Molly brought her contribution from the Rover. She was sprinkled with large flakes of snow when she came back in, stomping her feet to rid her shoes of the white stuff.

"Wow," she said to the two women. "It's stinking cold out there."

Mary was overseeing the final details from her seat at the table. She had a cup of coffee in front of her, holding it in both hands in an effort to warm herself. "It's a bit chilly in here, too," she mentioned despite the extra heat from the oven. "Noe, put the lasagna in the oven now. Molly, will you turn the thermostat up a couple degrees?"

After doing her bidding, Noelle turned the potatoes on to boil so she could mash them later. Then she sat down across from Mary and looked at her expectantly.

Mary sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "Fine. Go get them," she advised.

Noelle let out a whoop and darted out of the kitchen to the hall closet.

Mary looked over at Molly. "Better finish up there and take a seat. She's bringing in the games," Mary said, as if that explained everything.

Molly raised a dark eyebrow, but did as Mary suggested. She turned from the counter just in time to see Noelle carrying in a stack of board games that looked ready to topple over.

She grabbed the stack just as the top boxes were about to go. "Got 'em!"

The blond smiled her thanks and directed Molly to put them on the counter. She selected one and brought it to the table. Mother and daughter waited for Molly to join them before setting the pawns and cards up.

"Come on, Mol," Noelle said finally. "We've done this every holiday for forever, I think. I'm not about to wait all damned day for you," she growled in mock severity.

Molly sat down and looked closely at the game for the first time. "I… it's been a long time since I've… played this one. It was his favorite," she mused softly, not at all sure if she wanted to play right then.

Noelle, knowing instinctively to whom Molly was referring, put her hand on top of the bigger one and squeezed. "It'll be fun," she urged gently. "I bet he wouldn't mind."

Blue eyes flew to green. Noelle smiled encouragingly at Molly. "I bet he would want you to play," she repeated softly. "Play with us. Please?"

Without saying a word, Molly just nodded. Suddenly she wanted to share this with the woman next to her.

Halfway through the game, Molly realized she was laughing and really enjoying herself. She felt Noelle's eyes on her often, but she basked in the warmth rather than feel uncomfortable. And when she felt Noelle's small hand come to rest on her thigh, she put her hand over it and squeezed.

"I won!" Molly crowed, jumping up from her seat. "I won!" After doing a tiny victory dance, she sat back down. "I've never won this game in my entire life! I always figured they named it for me, because I was so pathetic and could never win." Molly's voice became quieter as she reminisced. "Eli used to win every time. He really felt bad sometimes. Hell, I think he even tried to lose a couple times so I wouldn't feel bad," she said, a grin touching her lips. "God, I love this game." She turned warm blue eyes on Mary and Noelle. "Thank you."

Both women smiled at her, pleased that the normally private woman shared so much with them.

"But you're both Sorry!" Molly said softly, a huge grin threatening to split her face.

The women laughed loudly, and Mary cuffed Molly on the back of the head. "Don't gloat," she admonished good-naturedly.

Blue eyes looked contrite… and full of humor. "Yes'm."

They spent the rest of the afternoon playing other games, each winning in her own right. Then Mary called the games over for the day. "It's time to finish dinner."

Noelle and Molly made short work of putting the games up, then they came back into the kitchen to finish dinner. Mary was at the stove stirring the potatoes that had been taken off the burner some time ago. Without turning to the women, Mary announced the spuds ready for mashing.

"Will you do the honors, Molly?" she asked.

Molly grinned wickedly. "Heck yeah I will."

Noelle stepped in front of the taller woman. "Uh, Ma? You don't want to do that. This kid can't cook more than dogs and beans. You really don't want to do that."

Molly shoved the smaller woman out of the way. "Move it, Potter," she hissed. Then she turned to Mary. "I will not fail in this endeavor that I am about to undertake for one who possesses such great beauty and grace such as yours, Mary Potter," Molly recited eloquently, giving the older woman a courtly bow.

Mary chuckled. "Let’s give it a chance, Noe."

Noelle raised her hands in surrender. "Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though, when we’re chewing on lumpy mashed potatoes." She set about putting the dinnerware on the table, getting ready for dinner.

She lifted the foil on the lasagna, and the wonderful aroma wafted throughout the kitchen.

"Mmm," Mary sighed. "That smells delicious. Let’s eat. I’m starving."

Noelle glanced at her mother. "You are?"

The older woman looked at her daughter strangely. "Well, yeah. I haven’t eaten anything all day. Of course I’m hungry."

It wasn’t long before the three women sat down at the table with the first course of the holiday meal. Before eating, though, they bowed their heads and thanked God for all He had given them. As they were eating the salad, they shared all the things for which they were thankful. A warm feeling pervaded the room, and each woman took it into her heart, the memories important. And lasting.

When they moved on to the lasagna, they touched on Christmas and made some tentative plans. It didn’t escape Molly that Mary didn’t join in that particular conversation very much.

Oh, Mary. Tell her. Just tell her, she thought to herself. She’s going to be so much more hurt, so much angrier if she ever finds out you didn’t tell her. Have faith in her.

Molly sighed, pushing the thoughts out of her mind for the time being. She turned her attention to watching Noelle wield the big knife and attempt to carve the golden brown turkey.

She got up and stood behind the shorter woman, putting her arms around Noelle and placing her hands over the smaller ones. When Noelle looked back at her, Molly just smiled. And together they carved the Thanksgiving bird.

They lingered over the main course, each of them going back for a second helping. Finally they almost simultaneously pushed their plates back and called it quits.

The two younger women shooed Mary into the living room to relax while they did the dishes and took care of the leftovers. When the kitchen chores were completed, they made it into the living room just in time to watch…

"A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving!" Noelle yelped. "Yeah! I’m not leaving ‘til this is over, Ma," she said, already engrossed in the special. She sat on the floor, her back between Molly’s long legs and against the chair the tall woman sat in.

Molly looked down at Noelle when she heard the delighted laughter. "What?" she questioned.

"I love Lucy. God, she’s such a beast," the other woman commented. "She kills me. She’s so self-righteously evil that it’s hysterical. Jesus, she thinks the world revolves around Lucy Van Pelt. I love it."

Molly shook her head at the commentary, amazed that someone could read so much from a children’s cartoon.

"And Charles Schultz never meant it to be a kids’ strip, you know," Noelle said suddenly. She turned to look at the woman behind her when she heard the dark woman start to laugh. "What’s so funny?"

"You," Molly answered. "I was just wondering at the fact that someone, you, could read so much into the Peanuts gang. And then you said what you just said."

Noelle grinned. "Well it’s true." Then she went back to watching the movie.

Much later that night, dark hair and blond mingled on a pillow in Molly’s big bed. Noelle held the bigger woman, her hand making gentle, soothing circles on the smooth skin of Molly’s stomach.

"So, Noelle Potter, do you have any plans for this long weekend we have?" a deep, husky voice asked in the darkness.

Noelle responded immediately. "No. Well, wait. Not until Monday, at least," she restated.

"What’s Monday?"

Noelle chuckled, her warm breath caressing Molly’s neck. "It’s the first day of buck."

The bigger woman shifted slightly. "Huh? Is that why we have off?" she asked incredulously. Hailing from Pittsburgh, the concept of a day off for hunting was a rather foreign one for the big woman. Sure, she knew all about the big hunting deal to most people in the area, but a day off? she asked herself. How asinine.

Noelle nodded. "Don’t bother asking why. I have no idea, it’s just been like that forever, and then some. We get the first day of antlered and the first day of antlerless off. It’s how it is."

Molly snorted. "Sure." Then she thought about Noelle’s original answer. "But wait. You hunt?" she asked pointedly.

The blond head nodded.

"Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who hunts. That’s awesome." After a short pause, "Can I come?"

Sparkling green eyes looked into blue. "I thought you just did," Noelle answered wickedly.

Molly snorted, a rather unladylike sound, and commented drily, "Very funny, pal. But I meant hunting, silly."

"Ohhhh, I understand completely. And the answer in a resounding… NO," she finished with emphasis.

"But… well… why the hell not?" the dark woman asked indignantly.

Noelle placed a big kiss on Molly's cheek. "Because I'm not spending the entire morning in the snow and cold answering questions that I can answer here."

"Huh? I don't get it," Molly grumbled. "Why won't you let me co… go with you?"

The blond woman smiled at the almost-slip-up. "Look, I'd love for you to come hunting with me, but it's not very practical. You'll be asking lots of questions, I'm sure. I can't spend the morning answering them. And besides, you'd actually have to be silent for long periods of time," Noelle finished smugly.

"Hey!" Molly exclaimed as she rolled on top of the smaller woman. "Are you insinuating, Potter, that I can't be quiet for long periods of time?" she growled, her hands capturing Noelle's over her head.

Big green eyes, eyes full of mischief, looked up into narrowed blue. "Uh… yeah." Then she started laughing loudly.

"What's so funny?" When Noelle only laughed harder, the big woman was more insulted. "What, damn it? What're you laughing at?"

Noelle shook her head, her short hair rustling on the pillow. "You're so cute," she answered finally. When she calmed down enough to speak intelligently, she gazed into the blue eyes above her. "God I l… like you," she whispered.

Molly smiled. "I like you, too, Noelle Potter."

"But you're still not going hunting with me. How 'bout I call you when I get home so you can come see the buck?"

Molly rolled off the woman and tugged her against her body. "Gee, that's so nice of you," she simpered in a high-pitched voice.

"Oh stop, you freak. I won't call you then. Suit yourself." At odds with her words, Noelle snuggled closer to Molly's warm body, her hand once again on her stomach. "Good thing I like you."

"Good thing is right," Molly agreed sleepily. "Now go to sleep."

"Yes'm." But it was a long while before Noelle fell asleep.

Continued part 16

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