Disclaimers: The characters in the following story are of my own creation. Any similarities to anyone living or dead are purely coincidental. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from me, the author.

If the thought of two women being romantically involved is not for you, then this story is one you won't want to read. If you are underage or live somewhere that this type of material is not allowed, please find something more appropriate.

Sit back and enjoy the story, and I welcome any comments at terrali20@yahoo.com.

I want to thank my betas for correcting this for me. Lenore, Beth and Sue, you are all godsends. I bow to your grammatical knowledge and for your continued dedication and support.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the wonderful people who take the time to read these stories. Thank you for all the great notes you have sent. I appreciate them all.

This is dedicated, as always, to the woman who holds my heart. Things have been so rough lately through no fault of our own, so I give thanks to the heavens every day that you are with me making even the bleakest days joyful. You make me laugh, feel special and mostly important, feel loved. Thank you for being my Valentine.

February 2006


Skipping Stones

Ali Vali


Chapter 1

"Do you think it's possible?"

The short man looked at her standing by the window in his office as if she had lost her mind. This young woman's innocence and charm were such a welcome. It made him smile at the simplicity of the gesture. Most of his clients didn't ask about possibilities, they expected the world to be laid at their feet simply because they wanted it.

"Mrs. Lowe. . ."

Kiki Lowe turned from the window and gave Bernard Rosemount the smile that had charmed New Orleans society from the first time she'd appeared publicly on Julian Lowe's arm. "Please, Bernard, I've told you more than once now, call me Kiki."

"As I was saying, Mrs. Lowe. . ." he put both of his hands up and made a clucking noise with his tongue before she could protest again. "As long as Eugenia Lowe draws breath, I'll address you properly, lest the woman sever some body part I'm fond of. We both know what she's capable of when she sets her mind to it."

She laughed when she thought of Julian's feisty grandmother. "I'd argue with you, but when it comes to the Grande Dame, I'd have to agree." Her laughter was so genuine and heart felt it inspired him to do whatever he could to make Kiki's request a reality.

"I'm not making any promises, but let me make a few phone calls." He laughed at the hopeful expression she gave him. "I said, I'm not making any promises so don't get your hopes up, and don't give me that puppy dog face. What you're asking for qualifies as a tall order, and while I am a miracle worker, this is going to take some doing."

"If there's anyone who can, it's you. We still have plenty of time so I'm not worried."

"Plenty of time she says," he told her in a joking manner.

"I have faith in you, Bernard."

"Oh, now that's just plain playing dirty. Now I have no choice but to come through."

"Like I said, I have every faith in you, and I'll leave you to your work and not bother you anymore. Thank you again for seeing me this morning." Kiki kissed his cheek before saying goodbye, leaving behind a hint of delectable perfume he couldn't name.

He watched from the same window Kiki had just stood at as the driver opened the rear door for his charge. A strand of blond hair fell across her face and he continued to look on as delicate fingers brushed it back into place. The ring Julian had given her sat prominently and proudly on her finger and for the second time in his life he could see what attracted most men to beautiful women. It wasn't his usual taste, but someone like Kiki Lowe could turn even an old queen's head.

"Ah, Sebastian, you'd be so proud to know the small acorn you left behind has grown into a might oak who's doing a fine job of building her own family." Once the car turned the corner and out of sight, Bernard looked at the frame in his wall of bookcases. It held an old photograph that captured one of the happiest moments of his life.

"And my dear, Birdie," he took the picture off the shelf and gazed at the woman standing next to a much younger version of himself. "Your pup has charmed her own beauty and she is simply perfect. I just wish you'd have been around to see it since I know you would've loved her. Her passion to please Julian I think might surpass even your drive to make Sebastian happy, as hard as that is to believe."

Bernard pressed his fingers to his lips before pressing them to the smiling woman in the picture. Birdie Lowe had fulfilled his dream years before by helping him set up his gallery. He remembered how she'd laugh when he would tell her how he wanted to steal her away from the dashing and handsome Sebastian. It sounded so much like Kiki's laugh still echoing in his head.

"Yes beautiful, Kiki, you're about to find out there aren't too many impossibilities in your life anymore, and the Lowe money has nothing to do with why. I think Julian is just like her father with his own beautiful bride, in that she'll move mountains just to see you smile until the day her body draws no more breath." With a sigh, he put the past back on the shelf and started making phone calls.


Julian Lowe held the door open while Tiger and Summer released themselves from the booster seats in the back. She stood patiently while small fingers worked the buckles knowing the two liked doing it themselves, and Kiki explained it helped build independence and self-esteem.

"What, princess?" The blond little girl, who looked so much like Kiki, smiled at the nickname.

"Where's Mama?"

"She's on a secret mission this morning, that's all she told me so you guys are stuck with me for now."

"What kind of secret mission?" piped in the third blonde in Julian's life. Tiger had grown extremely close to Julian in the months since his mom and he had taken her name and moved in. While Julian was a woman, she gave the boy the attention and balance he'd never had in his life with Rhonda Plessy, his mother's ex.

"She wouldn't tell me, buddy, that's why it's a secret."

The one thing the kids still enjoyed was having Julian swing them down from the high backseat of the SUV she'd purchased after acquiring a family. It was one of her favorite parts of the morning after she started driving them all to the office. The new habit gave Rudy a reprieve to stay at home and help Rebecca, unless Kiki needed a ride like she had that morning.

"Will Mama be in later?" Summer put her arms up so Julian could put her down next to her brother. Any residual bad memories from her life with her biological mother, Deanne, had been erased with the stability Kiki and Julian had given her.

The litany of questions was something else Julian had gotten used to. No matter how many answers she came up with, the two little tykes could think of something else to ask. "You don't think Mama is going to miss out on spending the day with you guys, do you?" With a small hand in both of hers, Julian started for the elevator. Her new role as mom and spouse had made her seem more accessible, so she and the kids gave their share of greetings before reaching the daycare center.

When the elevator doors opened to the newly remodeled center, Chris was on duty with a new employee who was completing her internship in secondary education. It was a program Kiki had initiated with Tulane University to give the students an opportunity to gain experience with fair pay, but in reality it was more selfish on her part. By making their center a certified pre-K learning facility, it kept her children with her that much longer. The fact both Tiger and Summer would only be with her for only ten more months was making her a little crazy.

"How are my favorite niece and nephew?" Chris got down on her knees to accept hugs and give out kisses. The same thought popped into her head every time she saw the two kids together. Even though Summer was no blood relation to her brother, she could have been Tiger's twin in both coloring and temperament.

"They're both getting over all the hotdogs they ate this weekend," supplied Julian. She waved goodbye to the two as the young woman led them to one of the low tables for a snack. "It was the first warm day we've had that we could take the boat out and hotdogs are the easiest thing to make when you're out there."

"How about you, stud? Are the death sticks, as Kiki loves to refer to those things, off your list of stuff to eat?" Now that they were somewhat alone, Chris turned her teasing personality to Julian. "I want to make sure she's taking good care of you so that this incredibly sexy body doesn't go to pot."

"You know, Chris, you're going to get us both in trouble talking to me like that. Not that it isn't true mind you, but for your sister's sake you should cut it out. She's tiny but scary when she gets angry."

The elevator opened again and slim arms came around Julian's hips before she could go on. "You're not causing trouble are you?"

"Of course not. Chris was just telling me what a stud I am and what a sexy body I have."

"You aren't so bored with me already are you, that you're down here trolling for dates in a daycare center are you?"

"It's hard to find dates now that you've tattooed your name on my ass. There's no way to explain it if I get lucky." She made the tease just low enough so that no one would overhear her before she kissed Kiki who had moved in front of her. "I would've met you for drinks later, Chris, but my wife won't let me."

"Remind me to smack you later." Kiki moved her hands under Julian's jacket and onto her butt. "And you," she looked back at her sibling, "don't make me hurt you."

"If you really loved me you would've fallen in love with and married the perfect woman."

"I must really love you then," said Kiki when she looked up at her idea of perfection.

"You didn't let me finish. The perfect woman with the perfect sister you could've set me up with."

Julian laughed before kissing her wife one more time. "You two behave and try not to teach my kids any bad habits."

"Says she who's raising two poker playing card sharks," chided Kiki as she pinched Julian's butt.

"I have to run, love, but I wanted to know if everything went all right this morning." A few more parents had come in and smiled at the cute couple. "Do you need my help with anything?"

"You're helping me plenty, honey, don't worry about it." She moved her hand to Julian's cheek when the first signs of a pout appeared. "Come on, don't give me that look. Believe it or not, you are helping me and I'm trying hard to surprise you with something."

"How am I helping you if you haven't asked for anything yet?"

The small frown wasn't disappearing so Kiki pulled her partner toward her office. When the door closed behind them, Kiki stepped into her one favorite spot in the world. As always, Julian's arms came around her and filled her heart with belonging. "Listen to me, all right?" She cupped the handsome face with both hands and placed a light kiss on Julian's lips. "You helped me by making me your wife and giving me this great last name."

"Great huh?"

"Are you kidding me? Lowe must be Yiddish for 'golden key that opens all doors.'"

In a small way she wasn't kidding. From the first time after they'd had their commitment ceremony and she'd changed her name to Lowe, Kiki had experienced a change in her life when she introduced herself to someone at an event she and Julian were attending. It was something she was still trying to adjust to, but in her heart she knew it wouldn't ever be something she would ever come to be totally comfortable with.

People treated you differently when they found out who you were with and what your new last name was. The true translation of Lowe was old New Orleans money whose coffers had been restored to their original grandeur under Julian's tutelage.

Kiki felt the deep laugh as it rumbled through Julian's chest. "Ah, Nanna would be so proud of you for figuring it out."

"You do realize though, I didn't marry you for the money or the prestige of the name," continued Kiki. The hand moving slowly up her side made her stop and close her eyes.

"You didn't?" Julian stopped at just the underside of a perfect breast.

"Behave, and no, I didn't." The fingers wreaking havoc with her senses had inched closer but stopped at her reprimand. "I married you for your body, and for your. . ." A knock on the door stopped Kiki from her own form of torture. "Come in, and you," she put her finger on Julian's chest. "Remember where we left off."

The door opened to allow the rest of the Lowe family to enter, and Kiki let Julian go to greet their children. In their time together, Summer had become particularly close to her new mother who watched over her on a daily basis, and sat up with her those first months when the nightmares of her life with Deanne would invade Summer's dreams. It was Kiki the child ran to first now, as always.

On the flip side, Tiger had become his second mom's new shadow, following Julian whenever she gave him the opportunity. He may not have been born a Lowe by blood, but in his heart he belonged to Julian and showed an interest in carrying on her legacy. The boy had grown to love big ships, the sea and the woman who spent countless hours teaching him about both.

After everyone had been kissed and hugged, Julian and Kiki were left alone again, Kiki wanted to make the most of it before she lost Julian to work for the rest of the day. Lowe, Inc. had started construction on the Sea Dragon's sisters but with fluctuations in steel prices, disgruntled engine representatives and weather delays; time with Julian had become a rare commodity.

"Where did I leave off?" asked Julian moving closer again.

"Tonight I promise, baby." Kiki kissed her slowly while holding Julian's hands still. "Can you come down today?"

"I'll try, but I have a meeting with Cassandra's replacement."

"Please tell me it's a man? An old man with a severe facial tick, who likes to spit maybe?" The aggressive saleswoman who had tried to land more than Julian's business was still at the top of Kiki's most disliked people list. Cassandra Jarvis had given new meaning to the term full court press when it had come to chasing the head of Lowe Shipping. Kiki doubted that Julian being married would stop her from continuing that quest if Lowe was still one of her accounts.

"Love," Julian placed her hands on Kiki's hips and kissed her forehead. "It could be a super model and it wouldn't matter. I love you and you're the only woman I want."

"You're a sweet talker I give you that, but if it's a super model, I'm going to kill you. You know this right?" She pressed her face into Julian's chest, pulling away when she thought she might wrinkle the starched surface. She smiled when her partner pulled her gently back. "I know you love me, but I'm still rooting for the bald guy with a facial tick."

"If it helps any, he called for an appointment. Darlene said his name was Roscoe and he managed to call her sweetheart and sugar before he hung up, so I can't wait to meet him. There might not be a facial tick but I'm guessing there'll be a beer belly and a panache for cute nicknames he thinks are endearing. Depending on how this meeting goes, we may be using a new vendor. Between Cassandra and some of the problems we've had on the Sea Dragon, I'm willing to give someone else a try."

Kiki kissed the spot over Julian's heart before she leaned back. "Go to work, sailor, and try your best to come and have lunch with us."

"What's on the menu?"

"Your favorite, so try not to miss out. I even ordered strawberry preserves instead of grape jelly in your honor." They held hands as she walked Julian back to the elevator. "And please don't take this as nagging, but the kids really missed you last night. I was told on more than once occasion my character voices weren't as good as yours, and I didn't give into an extra cookie before bed."

"You're a cruel woman, Katherine," teased Julian. They had all figured out rather quickly when they got back from their honeymoon that Julian was an atrocious discipliner. "I can't help it," Julian continued when Kiki gave her a look. "All three of you have those killer green eyes I can't say no to when you use them to good effect."

"Ah ha, so you readily admit to sugaring them up right before bedtime."

"I'm getting all my spoiling in while I can. Before you know it, they'll be in college and it'll be too far to drive to give them a cookie before they go to bed."

The comment was supposed to be a tease but Kiki's eyes glassed over with tears. She loved her job, but what made it special was spending the bulk of her day teaching their children along with the others. Kiki was dreading the moment Summer and Tiger would start kindergarten and she would have to hand them off to someone else's care.

"Hey, what's this?" Julian guided her behind the counter so the kids wouldn't see her tears. "You can tell me, honey."

"I'm just being an idiot."

"Calling my wife an idiot can get you fired, so spill it, short stuff."

"Do you ever think what it's going to be like when you descend from the ivory tower to just have lunch with me?"

"You think I don't like having lunch with you?"

She slapped Julian's arm and laughed. "No, goober. I mean if, or should I say when, you come down and the kids won't be here."

"You planning on giving them the slip at the grocery or shipping them off somewhere? I'm not up on all the laws in the state, but I'm thinking they would frown on something like that."

"Julian, honey, work with me here." She massaged the wrinkles out of Julian's brow that always appeared when she was confused. "They'll eventually have to go off to school. Remember how we went and signed them up at your alma mater? That means they'll eventually be there and not here."

"That's months away, baby."

"Only ten months, and it's going to be here before you know it." She tried to smile when Julian wiped away her tears.

"I could move accounting out of the building and open the Lowe Academy of Learning." That got her a laugh and a hug. "Or you could tell me how to make you feel better and I'll try to make it happen."

"I love you more than anyone or anything in the world, you know that too right?"


Not giving a damn about wrinkles, she pulled Julian's head down by tugging on her lapels. "No buts, just fact and we'll finish this later." They kissed again, pulling apart when Tiger walked up and leaned against Julian's leg.


"That's me, buddy."

"You didn't forget about today did you?"

Julian smiled for Kiki before looking down at their son. "Me forget about you? No way that'll ever happen. I did though forget to ask your mom if it was all right, so I can't say yes just yet."

"Ask me what?" Kiki turned from one troublemaker to the other.

"Mama, is it all right if Tiger leaves with me for a little while today? We're testing the pumping systems on the new boat and I wanted to be there."

"Yeah, Mama, it makes the best water thing you've ever seen." He seemed excited about the prospect of going but remembered his manners. "If you want, you and Summer could come and see too."

"Well if it's the best water thing ever, how can I say no?"

"You don't have to go if you don't want to, it's just that I want to go." He leaned further into Julian and gazed up at his mother with a woeful expression.

"Of course you can go, honey, and I'll ask your sister if she wants to go too. If you don't mind us coming along that is." Kiki smacked Julian on the butt again when she heard and felt her laughing.

"Thanks, Mama. I'll see you later, Bernie." When he was done he ran back to the rest of the kids with a huge smile on his face.

"I don't want to hear it, Bernie," warned Kiki in a teasing tone when Julian went to say something about how easily she'd given in. "What time is the big water thing supposed to happen?"

"I had them move it to three so he wouldn't miss his nap, and it's called a big stream of water, not the big water thing. It's the new fire vessel we're donating to the city, but I wanted to put her through her paces before we hand her over. He's right though, it's really cool." Julian leaned back against the counter and brushed some of her wife's hair behind her ear. "Tell me what's bothering you, love, and please don't say it's nothing. I can see it every time I come down here. Is it something you're missing or that you need? You have influence with upper management, so all you have to do is ask and I'll see that you get it."

"Can I tell you about it later?" She pressed her fingers into Julian's lips trying to keep the pout from coming back. "It's not that I don't want to tell you, I just don't want to get into it here and now."

"You take all the time you need, but just remember I love you and I'm in the building if you need to talk to me."

"Thanks, my love, I do want to talk to you about it, but when I do, I don't want there to be some old guy with a severe facial tick waiting somewhere to see you," Kiki teased. "Go do your thing and remember we'll be waiting down here with peanut butter and strawberry preserves."

"Best offer I've had all day."

Julian received another pinch on the butt. "It better be the only offer you've had all day."


"Put the games away, guys, and come sit down," said Chris, as she clapped her hands to get the children's attention.

They had already had to call housekeeping three times to have finger paint steamed out of the carpeting, and one of the newer kids had thrown up in his lap during story hour. Mondays were usually a bear but this one was going for some sort of mishap record. To top it off, Chris hadn't found the opportunity to question her sister about the little emotional display earlier. It was too early in their relationship for her and Julian to be having problems, so Chris was curious as to what had made her sister cry.

"Especially since Bernie is nothing like Rhonda," she muttered, referring to Kiki's ex-partner.

"Talking to yourself, Miss Breaux? We cover therapy if you need it."

Chris whipped around to find her sister-in-law leaning against the wall near the elevator. "Bernie, I thought you weren't coming."

"It took some doing but Darlene convinced me it isn't a bad thing to delegate stuff when you're the boss."

Chris moved closer and slumped against Julian's chest. She found it humorous that both the Breaux sisters were so affectionate with her, only on different levels. She had never been hugged or used as a leaning post so often in her life until they had come along. "You should give your assistant a raise, she's a very smart woman."

"She already makes more than anyone in the building including me so don't give her any ideas. Though, her idea did clear my schedule so I could have lunch with my girl." Julian kept her arm around Chris and moved them to the small lockers where the children kept the supplies they brought from home. Julian scanned the room looking for the woman who held her heart. "Is she doing okay?"

"She's fine, but you want to tell me what this morning was about?" Chris rubbed the middle of Julian's back, feeling slightly jealous over her sister's good fortune. If there was one thing about Julian, it was how solicitous she was about Kiki's feelings.

"That's why I'm here." Julian waved to Tiger when he spotted her and smiled. "She didn't give you a hint as to what's bothering her?"

Kiki's arrival cut off any answers from her sister. "How'd I get so lucky, huh?"

"What are you talking about, baby?" Julian smiled for her and lifted her free arm away from her body. "You know how much I love spending time with you."

"Are you staying?" She stepped closer and leaned into Julian's unoccupied side. "For lunch I mean."

"Actually I'm not." It took some effort on Julian's part, but she didn't show any pain from the pinch Chris was delivering to her side.

"What are you doing here then?" The tears came back making Kiki's eyes glassy.

"I came to get you for lunch if you're up to it."

"Baby, you know I'd love to, but we're short handed today and it's been the day from hell." The stress was evident in Kiki's voice and Julian let go of Chris so she could put both her arms around her wife. "Can we try for tomorrow?"

With a wink for Chris, Julian bent a little at the knees and scooped Kiki off her feet. "How about we try for today? I promise the place won't burn down while you're gone since we're leaving Chris in charge." She moved to the elevator and laughed when Chris ran up behind them to get the button.

"See you in a little while," Kiki said to her sister, deciding to just hang on and enjoy the ride.

"God, I hope not. If she can pick you up like nothing, then I'm thinking the big brute's got some stamina." Both Julian and Chris laughed at the blush coloring Kiki's whole face and neck.


The elevator opened to the top floor and, as always, Kiki was amazed by the quiet. She and her partner worked in the same building but their environments were vastly different. The one thing in their time together she had noticed about the CEO of Lowe Shipping, was the chaos of the fourth floor was starting to rub off on her. Julian now seemed as much at home in the daycare facility as she did here on the posh top floor.

They walked hand in hand, Kiki smiling and waving at some of the secretaries scattered throughout the space, as they headed toward Julian's huge office suite. "Did you forget something, before you kidnap me from the building?" She asked and got picked up again for her trouble as Darlene stood and opened the door of Julian's office for them.

"Have a nice lunch, Mrs. Lowe, and I'll hold all your calls, Ms. Lowe." The use of titles was not something the assistant usually did after being reprimanded on the subject frequently, but it helped to set boundaries every so often. Especially for the other women on the floor who were seeing a whole new side of Julian since she'd merged her life with Kiki's.

"Thank you," answered Julian before stepping in wanting to enjoy the look on Kiki's face over her surprise.

The reality of Julian's life, before Kiki had turned it upside down, was that she had dated only when the need for companionship became something she noticed. Usually she worked long hours, and sailed in her spare time, either alone or with her best friend J.J. Levine, in a small sloop she had built in high school.

Romance was something Julian had heard stories about from her grandmother over the years, but she hadn't met a woman she wanted to go through the trouble for. But it had still been a secret longing of hers after listening to some of the things both her grandfather and father had done for the special women in their lives.

A secret longing that had vanished with Kiki, and from the expression on her face, Julian had succeeded again. "I promise not to keep you too long, but you looked like you needed something special this morning," she explained as she set Kiki on her feet.

"Honey, I'm hoping you're planning on keeping me for a very long time, and I'm sorry about this morning. I promise it's nothing you did, or didn't do for that matter."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Kiki looked back at the very nice picnic lunch spread out over a blanket near one of the large panes of glass that made up two walls in Julian's office and shook her head. "How about if you carry me over there and we enjoy some lunch and we'll leave my problems for later?"

"If you have a problem, I want to know about it, Kiki. Perhaps there's something I can do to make it better, but I can't try until you talk to me."

Kiki put her hands on Julian's face and slowly slid them up until they were in her hair. "The only person in the world who can make this particular problem go away is you, honey, but I need a little more time to put my thoughts in order before I can talk to you about it." She leaned forward and kissed the lips that at times drove her insane with want. "Can you give me a little more time?"

"I'll give you anything you want, whenever you want it, you know that."

She moved them to the blanket and put Kiki down gently. "Do you know something, Julian Bernstein Lowe?"

"I know a great many things, but I'm guessing I don't know what you're thinking at this moment," she teased.

Moving a couple of plates aside, Kiki moved into Julian's arms and pushed her onto her back. "As hard as my life was before I met you, I'd do it over a million times to end up at your side. You, my love, make me feel as if nothing is impossible."

When she was finished, Kiki dipped her head and kissed her for as long as their lungs would hold out. It was intended not only as an act of devotion but also an invitation for Julian's libido to rev up. "Hmm, that was nice," said Julian when their mouths came apart.

"I know it's the middle of the day and we are in your office, but. . ."

"But I remember a certain afternoon a certain blonde came in here and broke the news she had to move out for a week," Julian finished for her. "Darlene did say she was holding all my calls and she didn't say anything about that last interesting visit, so tell me what you have in mind."

"Get real, honey, no one is going to admit they heard you having your way with me in your office."

The deep laugh shook Kiki when Julian couldn't help herself. "Me having my way with you, I think not. All those women out there think you're just some innocent thing, but if they only knew the truth."

"That you married a wild woman? True, but I'm your wild woman and I haven't gotten any memos from the complaint department so I'm going with what I know." Kiki sat up and hovered over Julian enough to get her partner's belt open.

"What do you know, baby?"

When Julian's pants were unbuttoned and unzipped, Kiki sat back up and pulled her own shirt off revealing the lace bra she was wearing. "I know that pink might just be one of your favorite colors." The comment was said in jest as she reached behind her to unfasten the pink undergarment. "But as much as you like pink, it's the flesh color pink that really makes you want to take your pants off." The bra dropped on Julian's face obstructing her view of the tantalizing amount of skin Kiki had just uncovered.

"All true so far," the bra landed on the top of the picnic basket as Julian tossed it aside before putting her hands behind her head. "What else do you know?"

"I know that. . ." she stood for a minute to get her shoes and pants off leaving her only in the matching pink panties. She felt comfortable since she knew the windows were tinted so that you could see out but no one in the surrounding structures could see in. "If you ask nicely, I'll give you these." She put her fingers in the sides of the underwear and smiled.

"You think I'm that easy huh?"

Kiki dropped to her knees again and reached past the open zipper and white jockeys finding the wetness she was hoping for. She moved her fingers slowly up and down a few times until they were wet before pinching the hard bundle she also found between her index and middle fingers. "Something tells me you are."

"Only with you, baby. Only with you."

"Good answer, baby." Not wanting to feel anything but skin when she sat again, Kiki removed Julian's pants and threw them over a chair. The sway of her hips when she walked back was enough to make Julian sit up and take off her shirt.

The sight of Julian lying naked on the blanket brought back memories of their honeymoon. Julian had surprised her with a trip to Tahiti where their bungalow was out on the water with a small dock for the sailboat Julian had rented. They had spent most afternoons anchored in one secluded spot after another making love on the deck.

Having Julian all to herself for two weeks had been the best gift of all, and a memory Kiki treasured. Their hectic days had made those memories all the more precious when they returned, but it was days like this one that made her realize how lucky she was to have been given this second chance at a life she wanted.

"Where did you fly off to?" asked Julian, as she pressed up against her back.

"I'm reliving my honeymoon," she answered, putting her hand over Julian's.

"You do realize we have an anniversary coming up." Julian turned her around and picked her up, loving the way Kiki's legs wrapped around her.

"Honey, our anniversary is ten months away."

"I personally feel like I'm on my honeymoon everyday, but going somewhere, just the two of us, would be a good way of keeping that feeling alive."

"Not getting bored are you?" She smiled, clearly enjoying the ride back to the blanket. The way Julian was looking at her made her almost forget that the world was just on the other side of the door.

"Not likely, sweetheart."

Julian was able to sit without putting her down. Now straddling Julian's lap, Kiki had to laugh. "Chris was right, bruiser."

"About what?"

"You do have stamina and it's time to prove it."

Julian's first move was meant to tease as she put her hand between Kiki's legs, but the wetness she found ignited her passion. She looked down to watch her fingers slide into her wife, wanting more than anything to make Kiki feel good.

"Honey, I really can't think when you do that," said Kiki.

"Right now I don't want you to think," her fingers slid all the way in and her thumb pressed against the hard point. It felt so good it made Kiki's hips buck forward. "Right now I want you to feel me loving you." She pulled out just enough to feel the walls of Kiki's sex clutch around her fingers, trying to keep her in place. "I love you," whispered Julian when Kiki's head fell forward to rest on her shoulder.

They sped up their movements as Kiki felt her orgasm start. Julian held her and whispered endearments into her ear. All of it made Kiki feel cherished, something that still snuck up on her from time to time. No one in her life had ever taken care of her like Julian, and she did it with such devotion that Kiki had come to crave the attention.

"Oh God baby." She moved her hips to the cadence Julian had set and bit into Julian's shoulder to keep from screaming. "Don't stop."

"Let it go baby," Julian kissed the side of her head. "Jump and I'll catch you," she promised.

She stiffened for a long moment before she slumped against Julian as if she'd been drained of her strength. "I have to admit that you sure know how to show a girl a good time," said Kiki. She turned her head and kissed Julian's neck.

"If it's the right girl, you bet."

"I'd better be the only girl."

"For the rest of my life, darlin'," Julian promised. She smiled when she felt Kiki exhale against her neck. "Hungry?"

"For you." Kiki went to move but Julian held her in place. "Come on baby, tell me you don't want me to touch you."

"More than anything, but today isn't about me - it's about you." Julian reached over and grabbed a stem of grapes. "I've been busy lately and I miss you, so I wanted to indulge myself a little by surprising you, and doing my fair share of pampering you." She held up the piece of fruit and fed it to Kiki.

"Planning this for a long time were you?" Julian went willingly when Kiki pushed her back. Once she was lying down, Kiki followed her and used Julian's shoulder as a pillow. "Or did my stupid crying jag this morning make you rearrange your schedule?"

"I love you, so there won't come a day that you get upset about something and I'm just going to ignore it."

Kiki kissed her shoulder before she sat up just enough to see Julian's face. "Honey, I can't believe you did that to Darlene. I know what a bitch it is keeping your day straight and running smoothly."

"Darlene is a big fan of true love, so don't feel guilty about putting her out. Actually, had I gone with your plan, Darlene would've called Nanna and told on me, and you know how Eugenia feels about the woman responsible for giving her great-grandchildren. Nanna would kick my ass for putting the business before you." Julian reached up and pressed her hand to the side of Kiki's face. "So please tell me what's bothering you."

"Only if you promise something in return."

"Name it," said Julian without hesitation.

"See, that's what I love about you, baby. You say things in such a way that I have no choice but to believe you."

"Well I realize my grandmother loves you, but it doesn't come close to how much I love you, so of course you can believe me."

Kiki sat up and went back to the position they started in with her on Julian's lap. Being so close gave her the opportunity to look into Julian's beautiful blue eyes. In business Julian might have been able to mask her true feelings, but Kiki would see the truth of how she felt about what she was getting ready to ask.

"I want you to promise me that you'll tell me what you really think and not what you think I want to hear." She cupped Julian's face in her hands. "Do you promise?"

"With all my heart, so just tell me."

"I want another baby." Julian's face didn't twitch. "I know we have a million things going on, and it isn't the best time. . ."


"And I'm sure it'll take the kids some time to adjust having to share us," Kiki went on not having heard Julian's answer. It was an old habit, but she rambled when she was nervous. "I just always wanted a big family, and we never talked about it, but the kids will be gone soon and. . ."

"Baby, breathe for me okay? I said yes." Julian put her fingers over Kiki's lips to get her to stop the self-torture.

"You said yes?" she mumbled around Julian's fingers.

"Actually I said okay, but it means the same thing," teased Julian. "If you want, we'll have a baby every year until we have a brood, or until we run out of bedrooms in the house. You might just get tired before that happens."

"This has to be something we both want, and not something you're going along with to make me happy."

"For a very long time it was only Nanna and me," said Julian pulling her closer. "Rudy and Rebecca were also a big part of my life, but Nanna was my only family. When Deanne left Summer with me, then I met you and Tiger, I finally realized why I do all this," she waved one hand to indicate the office.

"Why do you do all this?"

She smiled at the wonder in Kiki's voice. "I do it because I want something special, something I'm proud of, to leave to my family to carry on. You and our kids are what give my life meaning and why I work so hard. If you want to add to that, how could I not want it?"

"The kids are right, Bernie. You're the best." Kiki kissed her, wanting to celebrate.

Julian held up another treat when they pulled apart. "That's because I travel with cookies." She laughed when Kiki bit into the double chocolate chunk cookie that was her favorite.

"You know how much I love these, but there was some other treat I was thinking of, but this is one that's mine alone." She pushed a very willing Julian onto her back. "I love you and want nothing more than to show you."


Julian walked her back downstairs and kissed her softly in the waiting area of the daycare facility. With a very gentle touch, Julian brushed back strands of blond hair, liking the way it felt against her fingers. From the other side of the counter, Chris watched as Julian whispered something into her sister's ear that made Kiki smile.

When the elevator doors closed on Julian, Chris joined her. "You look a lot better than you did when you left earlier."

"I have to keep pinching myself to make sure I'm not sleeping and making Julian up in some dream." Kiki's eyes stayed on the door of the elevator. "She's just so different from what I'm used to."

"Yes I can see where it would be hard to compare her to your first stellar choice," Chris put her arm around her shoulders and smiled to show she was kidding. "Julian's actually a part of the human race so there's no comparison."

"You're nothing if not a smart ass."

"Sadly there's nothing you can do about it. We're related so you're stuck with me," teased Chris. "So what did Ms. Wonderful do now?"

"You know, honey, we need to get you a date."

"Whoa. How did we get there from the question I asked?" Chris put her hands up and tried to appear indignant.

"It's just that I'm so happy because I did find Ms. Wonderful and I want the same for my sister. Is that a crime?"

Chris took her hand and pulled her toward the office. The kids were all down for their afternoon naps, giving the staff an hour's reprieve to prepare for the rest of the afternoon. Kiki stopped and looked at Tiger and Summer lying close to each other with Summer's stuffed rabbit, Binky between them.

"So what's going on?" asked Chris as she prepared a pot of coffee.

"I've just had something on my mind that I've been wanting to talk to Julian about. At lunch today I finally worked up the courage and she was really great about it."

Chris rolled her eyes without Kiki seeing her. "Kiki, when are you going to realize that she'd jump off the building in her underwear if you asked her?"

"I don't want her to jump off anything or feel like she has to prove how much she loves me. This was just something I had to think about before I asked her to commit to it."

The coffee pot finished just as Kiki did, so Chris poured them two cups. When she turned around to hand Kiki hers, it came to her what her sister was talking about. The commitment she was talking about was something Rhonda Plessy had agreed to in an effort to make Kiki shut up about it, then ran as far away from it as fast as she could once it became a reality.

"You want another baby, don't you?" asked Chris.

"I'm not the only one," answered Kiki, smiling from behind her mug.

"That's great, sis, and if you want my opinion, it's going to be fabulous."

"That's why I want the same for you. When it's fabulous then there isn't anything that isn't possible."

"Mama?" They both turned to the door to find Tiger standing there, almost swaying he was so tired.

"What are you doing up?" Kiki picked him up, swaying herself under his weight.

"Did Bernie forget about me?" He burrowed into Kiki's side when she sat down with him. "She didn't come for lunch today."

"That's because she was having a special lunch with just me. Remember how sometimes at night Bernie takes me out to dinner?"

"Date night?" Bernie had explained it to him one day as they sailed his toy boat in the pool. Just because he and Summer didn't get to go didn't mean they weren't loved, she'd told him.

"That's right, only this time it was during the day," said Kiki over Chris' snort. "She told me we weren't going until three so you could get to take a nap. You don't want to be tired do you?"

"She's still here?"

It took a phone call upstairs before he would lie down again. "And you want more of these little guys, right?" asked Chris as they put him back down on his mat.

"You talk a big game, but we'll see when these two head off for kindergarten. Then you'll have just me to harass."

Chris nodded and pointed back to the office, not wanting to wake anyone. As much as she loved working with the kids, she enjoyed the quiet of naptime. "Is Julian taking Tiger somewhere?"

"I forgot to tell you, you're in charge this afternoon."

"Not another boat thing, huh?"

"The new fire boat is going through her paces this afternoon and Tiger wants to go see."

"Do you ever get her to talk about anything other than things that float?" asked Chris.

"I'm fairly certain the topic of boats didn't come up at lunch," said Kiki, tapping her finger against her chin. "Julian most times doesn't need to talk at all to be entertaining."

"I'll just bet, and stop gloating. If I call human resources I bet there's some rule Nanna put in place about having sex in the building."

"Nanna already knows more about my sex life than she should so don't give her any more ideas. I'm going to be eighty and she's still going to be giving me a hard time about it."

"Speaking of which, Daddy's expecting our sea woman for a round of golf this weekend so tell her not to forget. He said something about a new course and he's going to kick her ass was all I caught."

"She remembers, trust me. Who would've thought Daddy would get along with someone so well?"

"It's because Julian gives him as much shit as he gives her," said Chris. She'd moved back with their parents after her last girlfriend had relocated further north. For once, her father's comments about his daughter-in-law didn't begin with 'that bitch'. He never gave Rhonda the time of day because he couldn't stand her much less tease her about anything.

"That chapter of my life is definitely closed and I don't want to waste anymore time talking about her."

"Want me to come over and help you with the kids while the golf pros do their thing?"

"How about you come over and then I'll take you all sailing when I'm done, cute stuff?" said Julian from the doorway.

"Honey, you're early," said Kiki.

"Be quiet and let her finish telling me how cute I am," whined Chris.

"You're precious," Julian told Chris, "and Roscoe had to reschedule, so I thought I'd come down and surprise you," she said to Kiki. "I also brought reinforcements from upstairs with me so if you'd like to join us today Chris, you're welcome to come."

"Who'd you bring?" asked Kiki.

"Darlene and her assistant. I believe she has a crush on the new girl from Tulane."

"Your assistant has an assistant?" asked Chris.

"I'm a multi-tasker so it takes a crew to keep up with me," teased Julian.

"Don't we know it," said Kiki.

"I'd love to come," Chris waved to them as she was leaving. "Just let me know when."

Once they were alone, Kiki stood from her office chair and patted the surface for Julian to take a seat. As Julian did, Kiki settled into place on her lap. "What are you up to, oh love of my life?"

"J.J. called and she sounded a little depressed, so I thought I'd come down here and remind myself of how good I have it."

Kiki ran her fingers through Julian's hair, combing back the dark locks. "Things didn't work out with her latest Barbie doll?"

"Ouch, honey, that's harsh, but true. It sounds like that's what happened, but this time around she sounds more disgusted then ever. I keep telling her to try to meet people outside the bar and she might have better luck."

"I think she's just a little jealous of her best friend who's finally settled down," teased Kiki.

"Everyone in their right mind is jealous of me," she stopped to kiss Kiki before going on. "And since I know someone else who needs a little prod in that direction, I thought it was worth giving them a little shove."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but J.J.'s the biggest playgirl I've ever met. Do you really think she'll be good for my sister?"

The deep laugh made Kiki pull on her hair gently. "And your sister is the biggest flirt in the world and can hold her own, so I'm not worried. Love, you know how I feel about Chris, but more importantly, I know how you feel about her. I'd never set her up for something that would hurt her." She pulled Kiki's hand down and intertwined their fingers. "I've known J.J. for years and she's got a good heart. She's just waiting for the right person to give it to."

"I trust you, that isn't the problem. If this doesn't work out though, it could get ugly." When she turned her hand over the sight of the ring Julian had given her stopped any other negative thing she had to say. If Chris could find this kind of happiness then she wasn't going to stand in the way of that.

"We'll just push gently and see what happens. It's just that I love them both and want to see them happy."

"It's a good thing I got to you first." Kiki leaned in and kissed her. "Had anyone else found out how perfect you are, and what a romantic mush ball you are, I'd have missed out." Julian's laugh shook her again but didn't displace her lips when she moved in for another kiss.


J.J. Levine stepped out of her car near the docks inside Lowe Construction. There were workers scattered everywhere working on the tanker that was starting to take shape. After some conversations on the company's newest addition, the Sea Dragon, she knew Julian wanted to work slowly on replacing their fleet with these more efficient ships. The Sea Warrior was set for completion in nine months, but Julian's latest project was bobbing close to where she was standing, ready to start working.

The slamming of car doors close by diverted her attention behind her to her best friend and family. Seeing Julian surrounded by the newest additions in her life made J.J. envious. That kind of happiness was hard to find, and if one of them deserved it, she was glad Julian was the lucky bastard. Life had already thrown her more than her share of shit and for once it was nice to see the fates smiling down on her.

"Aunt J.J.," yelled Tiger when he spotted her.

Watching him run full speed toward her made J.J. bend down and scoop him off the ground. Having just enough time to put him down so she could repeat the action because Summer was right behind him.

"Hey guys, your mom let you skip school huh?"

"We weren't starting advanced math until tomorrow so we thought it was okay to let them out early today," said Kiki. She stood on her toes and pressed a kiss to J.J.'s cheek. "You remember Chris don't you?"

"Of course I remember your sister. Anyone who has that much fun at a wedding reception is hard to forget."

"Very funny, and there was a slick spot on the dance floor. Why won't anyone believe me?" asked Chris.

"Because the story is much funnier when it involves how drunk you were when you fell on your face. A slick spot just doesn't carry the same comedic impact," teased Julian. She put her arm around Chris' shoulder and laughed at the memory. "I wouldn't sweat it though, most everyone thought you were doing some form of break dancing."

"Explain to me again why my sister thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread?"

"We don't have time to get into the list now, it's so extensive, but remind me later and I'll go over it with you." Julian squeezed her shoulder once before letting go and walking toward Kiki to take her hand. "You ready to go, guys?" she asked the children.

"Honey, stop asking questions like that unless you want to have to stop for a bathroom break," said Kiki, knowing how excited they got when Julian was anywhere in the vicinity, especially Tiger.

"Mama, can I go?" he asked looking up at her like his world would end if she said no.

"Go on and don't forget to come and get your sister later and let her take a turn."

They walked on board where the representatives of the fire department met them. Julian's company had built the boat, but after today it would be donated to the city to replace the oldest vessel in their fleet. As they headed up for the bridge, Kiki noticed that Julian's enthusiasm closely resembled their son's. It was almost like watching a big kid heading up the stairs as she helped Tiger.

"Thanks again for talking her into this, Kiki," said one of the firemen that was helping to get them on the boat. He didn't want to interrupt Julian and Tiger on their way up. The blue uniform looked good on him since he had the same coloring as Kiki, and since he wasn't much taller they appeared to be siblings. "The guys think I move in some pretty special circles to pull this off." He moved closer and hugged both Kiki and Chris in greeting.

Kermit Jenkins was their cousin, the eldest son of the girls' aunt on their mother's side. He was a year younger than Chris and had loved coming over to their house as a child to play board games and get in trouble while their moms visited. The girls' father, Arthur, had always joked that Kermit was the son he never had, and since his own father had died in the line of duty with the fire department when he was four, Kermit had always looked up to Arthur as just that.

"Me talk Bernie into building a boat? That's like talking an alcoholic into taking their next drink. Trust me it wasn't a hardship. Just tell me you're going to be assigned to the damn thing."

"I got my orders this morning. This is going to be sweet cruising the river every day. Mom is more excited than I am since she figures I'll be safer out here than on a truck in the city."

"You'd better stay safe or your mom will be least of your problems, Kermit," said Chris.

"You guys make yourselves comfortable and let me go back to work. I promise we'll get to visit again before you leave."

The crew untied them and Julian fired up the engines. While she navigated them down the river toward the bend, the fire department guys got the equipment ready. The tourists walking along Waldenberg Park next to the aquarium got a nice show as Tiger fired up the hoses, knowing exactly how to work the equipment. With her internal pumps the 'Katherine' took river water and shot it out the hoses with an incredible spray. Julian didn't mind building the craft if she got to name her, and after marrying Kiki she figured more than one vessel would carry some form of her wife's name in the future.

Julian left the kids up in the bridge so they could take turns aiming the water in different directions, as long as there was no other river traffic, after she officially turned the boat over to her new captain. The rest of the passengers were seated in the dining area looking out the window in an effort to stay dry.

"This is great, honey," said Kiki, when Julian made it in. "I figure we'll be cruising until the kids go to sleep at this rate if they're still up there playing with the equipment."

"I told Captain Gorman to let them play a little while longer since technically it's now his boat, and I doubt he'll let Tiger and Summer come aboard to try out the equipment whenever they like."

Chris let out a snort and pointed a finger at her. "Admit it, if they really like playing with this stuff, you'd install one on your boat. Those kids have your number, Bernie, and they aren't afraid to use it."

"That's what makes her a great parent," defended J.J. "All my dad ever did was bitch about what a disappointment I was, so it would've been nice to have someone who just liked to play every so often." The outburst was a surprise and Julian reached up and put her hand on J.J.'s shoulder.

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Julian knows I'm kidding around with her." Chris crossed her arms over her chest and just couldn't help herself. "What's the matter, your girlfriend figure out you treat the world like your own personal candy jar and it's making you cranky?" she asked out of the blue, shocking Julian and Kiki as well as J.J.

"What's that supposed to mean?" J.J. stood up and stalked outside.

"And this is why you're still single," said Kiki before Julian had a chance to jump in and defend her friend. "You need to go out there and apologize."

"Why should I?" Chris sat back appearing defiant.

"Excuse us a second will you, baby, Chris and I need to use the head." Kiki grabbed her sister by the arm and dragged her toward the bunk area. A bit of heated whispering took place and Julian just sat and watched while keeping an eye on J.J. as well.

She sat until Kiki turned to her as Chris was talking and pointed outside with an expression on her face that warned Julian not to make her come in there and tell her what she needed to be doing. The river, she noticed, had widened in the section they were in and from experience she guessed they were about twenty miles out of the center of town. J.J. stood by the railing holding on so tight that her fingers were turning white.

"Did she hit a nerve?" she asked J.J.

"Hell, and here I thought I was defending you. I also don't appreciate my life being gossip for your new family."

"You know better than that. She just knows you well enough to have guessed right. And if there's one thing I've learned from being married, buddy, is that there is no defense when it comes to those women in there," she pointed over her shoulder with her thumb. "The thing is though, when it comes down to it, I'd be willing to do just about anything to spend time with them."

"Kiki I could see, but that sister of hers has quite the mouth on her. You're just lucky Kiki didn't make it into the bar before you got together. I would've never given you the chance."

It was a joke she knew, since J.J. had as much honor as she did, but she punched her in the arm anyway. "You didn't get that chance because Kiki isn't the bar type, and that's what you should be looking for. You need to find someone who you can build a life with. This stuff you've been doing, a new girl every week, that's great when you're in college, but don't you want something more now?"

"Of course I do, but lightening doesn't strike twice in one place. Since I'm always standing so close to you, I figure I'll go through life alone. I can usually blow off stuff like what Chris just did, but that last girl made me think that a life of celibacy didn't sound all that bad. She gave new meaning to the word twisted."

Julian laughed at the thought, knowing her friend. "Do you trust me?" She put her hand on J.J.'s shoulder again and squeezed.

"Since we've been in the third grade, Bernie. Why do you ask?"

"I want you to do me a favor and I don't want you to give me any shit about it." She explained what she wanted and waited for the explosion.

"You've got to be kidding me right? Tell me you're kidding." J.J. turned toward her and put her hands out to her sides. "Tell me you're kidding," she repeated.

"One time is all I'm asking then I'll leave you to your misery. What do you have to lose by trying?" she asked.

"My mind maybe?"

"You'd swear I'm asking you to shave your head." Julian turned to go back inside and threw her arms up. "I tell you what, forget it. Just chalk it up to me being wrong so do whatever you want. I'm asking because I love you and want to help you out."

Before she made it back inside Kermit stepped up and held out his hand. "Hey, cousin, I wanted to thank you before we made it back to the dock."

"Kermit, hey man. Did Tiger and Summer let you take a turn up there yet?"

He laughed and slapped her in the arm. "You all right?" His smile never faltered but he was looking at J.J. and how upset she seemed with Julian.

"J.J.'s bite is much worse than anything else about her, don't worry." She kept walking back to the small dining area as she put her arm around his shoulder. "Kiki and Chris told me they saw your mom this week. She was complaining about not seeing you often enough, so I thought we'd do something about that. Actually it was Kiki's idea but I figure it might help me out a little with Arthur too. You busy on Saturday?"

"My next shift doesn't begin until next Monday so I'm free. What do you have in mind?"

Julian opened the door for all of them and waved them in since J.J. had decided to join them. "How about joining Arthur and me for a round of golf at nine?"

"You got a nine tee time?" He walked in and hugged Kiki. "Thank you so much for getting married."

It was the sense of family that finally got J.J. to see what Julian was trying to tell her. She still didn't feel good about what she was getting ready to do, but she decided to follow her friend's advice. Taking a deep breath, she walked up to Chris and tried to ignore the combative pose she had taken.

"Are you busy on Saturday?" asked J.J.

Chris opened her mouth to answer and heard Kiki clear her throat. "What did you have in mind?" she asked sweetly even though her arms were still crossed over her chest. "I'm helping Kiki in the morning and then having lunch with my family, so it would have to be after that."

"I understand you enjoy Chinese art, and a friend of mine just happens to own a gallery that's hosting a special exhibit at the moment. If you're free on Saturday there's a special showing for private members that starts at eight. We could go to the showing then maybe get something to eat afterward." It occurred to her about half way through the explanation that this was the hardest she'd ever had to work to sell a woman on going out with her. Usually she was dressed and out the door before she strung this many sentences together. "I'll pick you up at seven-thirty."

"And who said yes?" asked Chris.

J.J. took another deep breath and kept her smile. "I'm sorry, would you like to go with me?"

"I'll expect you at seven-thirty."

It was so tempting to shoot back some smart answer but she kept her mouth shut. "Thank you, I just need an address."

"I live with my parents. It's the same place you attended that first engagement party for Julian and Kiki."

"It's hard to forget that barbeque. Your dad grills some mean chicken." From the view outside the window J.J. could tell they'd be back in no time, so the torture would come to an end soon enough. "Thanks again for agreeing to go and I wanted to apologize for earlier. Julian and I go way back and I'm not used to anyone else giving her a hard time."

"Family's are given special privileges so don't worry about it."

Behind them Kiki listened to Julian and her cousin talk about the boat and all the special equipment and features Julian had thought to install, but she kept her eyes on the back corner. She wanted to be ready to send Julian to J.J.'s rescue if it was called for.

Some more of the crew carried the kids down to sit with their parents while they docked the boat, then the conversation centered around the two excited five-year-olds retelling their adventures. By the time they finished they acted like balloons that had the air let out of them they were so tired. Julian carried Tiger and J.J. carried Summer to the car, and Julian gave her friend a wink for taking her advice. Now she just hoped she wasn't making a big mistake.


The next morning, Eugenia Lowe sat outside on her patio admiring the multitude of rose bushes that were in bloom in her garden. There were more comfortable chairs inside but she enjoyed how the warmth of the sun eased the ache in her hips. Growing old was something she was trying to do gracefully, but on mornings like this it was just a pain in the ass.

"Good morning, Nanna." Julian bent and kissed her on the cheek before taking the seat next to her. After a conversation the night before, Julian hadn't liked the way her grandmother had sounded so she'd sent Kiki to work with the kids and Rudy so she could come by for a visit. "Picking winners for this year's garden show?"

"Actually I was sitting out here thinking about the foxtrot."

"As in dancing?"

"I'm old but in my day I was a hell of a dancer. I was a hell of a walker too, but I'm not doing a great job of either one." She patted the cane learning against her chair and laughed. "But enough about my old lady problems. How are Kiki and the kids?"

"They're fine but they wanted me to tell you that we don't see enough of you."

"Newlyweds don't need grandparents underfoot, my love."

"I'm a newlywed with kids – I can use all the backup I can get my hands on," teased Julian.

"Ah, you sound a lot like your father when your mom was about eight months pregnant. He had everyone on high alert in case they got home with you and didn't know what to do. You like having a family?"

"Aside from having you, Nanna, it's the best thing in my life. It's one of the reasons I'm here. I want you to start spending more time with us. Kiki feels like our being together has given you the impression that we don't have time for you."

"She told you that?"

"Not in so many words, but she asks about you so often in a way that gives me that impression. You're my family and she wants the kids to spend time with you."

Eugenia's hand came up and grabbed Julian's in worry. "There isn't anything else wrong is there?"

"Of course not. We just miss you and I think Kiki will eventually need help with different things."

"She's the most capable young woman I know aside from you. The only thing that would slow her down is pregnancy, and even then I'm not so sure." The size of Julian's smile made her laugh. "You got her pregnant already? Quick worker aren't you?"

"We're talking about it, and it's something Kiki really wants."

"How about you? Is this something you want?"

"It makes me crazy when I realize just how much I want this. I try not to think about all the stuff that could go wrong, and just concentrate on all the things I'm lucky to have."

"That's the best gift you could have ever given me." Eugenia lifted her hand and placed it on Julian's cheek. "You were always the best child, but I always tried to bring out the carefree happiness in your heart. I'm glad to see that you've found someone that was able to unlock your heart like no one else before."

"I love you, Nanna, and if it hadn't been for your giving nature, I'd never have become someone Kiki would've been interested in."

"I don't know, honey, that cute butt of yours might have done it even if you had been a jerk. I'm just thankful that Nanna did such a good job and I got the good looking package wrapped around a good heart," said Kiki from the door.

The laugh that escaped out of Eugenia made her forget all of the pain she'd woken up with. "I've been telling her that for years and she would never believe it. I see what it took was a pretty face and even prettier green eyes. How are you, sweetheart? I hear there might be more blessings coming soon?"

"I'll be happy to tell you all about it, Nanna, but first Julian has to go back to work. Roscoe is on his way and he told your office he had some special offers for you after having to cancel on you yesterday."

"You came all the way over here to tell me that?" asked Julian. "With the size of what his commission is going to be, you'd think he could have called himself."

"I didn't mind. The interns are all in the daycare center today and I thought I could sneak out and come for a visit too." She kissed Eugenia before going to stand behind Julian's chair and putting her hands on her broad shoulders. "Get going, baby. Rudy is waiting to bring me back when I'm ready to go, so don't worry about a thing."

As the young couple said their goodbyes, Eugenia looked on and just smiled at the way Julian held Kiki and whispered more than one thing in her ear. Not minding that she had an audience, Julian then bent her head and kissed Kiki like they wouldn't be seeing each other for another three months.

"I think you've taken my Julian and made her rather sappy, sweetheart."

"She's incredibly sappy, but I happen to love that. Enough about that though, that's not why I'm here." Kiki took Julian's chair and pointed at Eugenia like she had something on her mind.

"Ooh, it sounds like I'm in trouble."

"You are believe me. I want to know why you've been holed up in the house? You're making your granddaughter crazy thinking she's done something wrong." She held her hand up before Eugenia could say anything. "And before you tell me you're giving us time alone like you told Julian, make something else up. I'm not buying that bull."

"Why do I suddenly feel sorry for my granddaughter? Poor thing is never going to have a chance under this kind of barrage. You're right though, that's not why I've stayed away."

She leaned forward and put her hand on Eugenia's knee. "Then why? If it's something I've done, please tell me. I just can't have Bernie thinking that you all of a sudden you don't want to have anything to do with us."

"I look at Bernie now and she seems so happy," said Eugenia, her eyes going back to her roses.

"She is happy."

"I know, sweet girl." Eugenia covered Kiki's hand with her own. "I just haven't been feeling well and I didn't want her to worry. With two small children and a new wife, she doesn't need anything else on her plate."

"Are we talking about the same Bernie? Because the woman I know and love spends so much time thinking about what she can do to make it better, she loses sleep over it. She's losing sleep over you and you're telling me it's because you don't feel well. So you see, you're worried about her being worried, and she already is."

Eugenia turned to her one briefly before going back to her flowers. "Are you trying to make feel guilty?"

"If I wanted to make you feel guilty, I would've sent my mother over here to give you a hard time. I just want to understand because I love Bernie and I want nothing more than to make her happy, and to let her sleep at night. She'll only do that if there isn't anything rattling around her brain." She stood up and pulled Eugenia out of her seat and handed her the cane. "Come on, let's go for a walk in this obscenely large yard of yours and I'm going to keep you out there until you tell me what's really wrong."

They walked about half way to the wall at the back of the property before Eugenia said anything, and then it was only so Kiki would guide her over to a bench under the large elm tree they were near. "Can we just leave it at the fact I'm acting like an old fool and be done with it?"

"What we're going to do is talk and then I'll decide if you're an old fool."

"When they told me my son had died, and that Birdie was in the hospital clinging to life, I really wasn't paying much attention. The fact my Sebastian was gone, was all that had broken through the fog of that horrible time. Nothing I felt would ever break through the pain of losing the one thing that up to that moment had given my life meaning." Eugenia pulled a tissue out of her pocket and dabbed the sides of her eyes. "I sat in that waiting room praying to God to strike me dead."

"I'm glad He didn't listen to you."

Eugenia laughed and looped her arm through Kiki's. "I'm glad too. If I'd been struck dead I wouldn't have lived to have that nurse put the most gorgeous child in my arms. Do you know when they handed my husband and me Bernie right after she was born, she never cried? She just looked up at us with those big blue eyes and we really expected her to say something she had such an expression of concentration on her face."

"I've seen pictures of the three of you together back then, and it makes me so glad that you were there since they couldn't be." Kiki rested her head on Eugenia's shoulder and sighed.

"Me too, sweetheart. Bernie became my strength when I lost my husband, and was the reason I never lost all this to bankruptcy."

"Then why would you pull back now? And don't give a story about not feeling well."

"Because Bernie's moved on and found her own source of strength."

"Nanna, you think she replaced you with me?"

"She doesn't need to come to me with her problems and such because she has you now. And before you say it, I know it sounds petty. I just don't feel needed anymore."

"The first thing I should do is crack this cane over your head." Kiki grabbed the stick and held it over Eugenia's head. "After that I should give you a hard smack to the bottom for thinking that."

"You have an interesting way of putting things."

"I'm Julian's wife, and I want to be the mother of her children. There will never come a day when she doesn't feel like she can't come to me with anything, but there's something I can't give her."


"I can't give her the love and nurturing that can only come from the woman who raised her. I want to be her partner, but you're her mother in every sense of that word." She put the cane down and put her arm around Eugenia's shoulder. "I can't fill that spot in her heart, you old fool."

"I'll have you know that I'm only fifty-nine," teased Eugenia.

"And since Bernie's now thirty-six, that means you had Sebastian when you were four months old." She pulled Eugenia back up and they started back toward the patio. "Tonight is pizza night, so I'll expect you and Alice at six."

"Good, you can tell me about the news Bernie laid on me earlier."

"No, it's great, since I need your help with something." They walked slowly enough for Kiki to be able to stoop and pick a flower to put behind Eugenia's ear. "I need help with two somethings actually."

"You threaten me with bodily harm, call me an old fool and you expect me to help you?"

"With a big smile on your face, and I promise not to share this conversation with Bernie."

Eugenia stopped and laughed at the glare Kiki was giving her. "You don't play very fair, so I'm guessing with or without my help you're going to get what you want."

"Since what I want is to make Bernie happy, I think you're right."

Continued in Chapter 2

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