For Disclaimers see Ch. 1

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A Chance Encounter




Bobbie Halchishak


* * *

Luce snapped awake in the blink of an eye going from sound asleep to completely alert so fast she almost didn't realize what was happening. She sat up slowly, feeling the dream fading from her mind and sighed loudly at the now familiar echo of pain and grief her waking left her with. She was really getting tired of the damn thing. She wished she had the first idea what its consistence reoccurrence might mean.

Resigned at being awake, she threw back the covers pushing the dream and its shadow emotions aside and began straightening her bed. Instead she tried to focus on something much more pleasant. Like the events of the night before.

Finishing dinner, the two of them sat down to enjoy the movie The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra . For once Luce found herself enjoying the company more than the movie. Of course that might have been because Kylie kept making smart ass comments during the entire thing. Not to mention that the movie was a whole lot funnier when someone else found it as amusing as she did.

She ended up staying for quite a while as they sat talking for some time after the movie ended. Before when she and Kylie shared pizza in the office of the bookstore, they'd managed to talk but it had been mostly superficial and not nearly as in depth as what they talked about last night. Largely because Kylie's staff was there and the two of them were still feeling each other out a bit.

But the hot meal and relaxed atmosphere in Kylie's home encouraged both of them to open up a bit more and talk a great deal more than they might have before. Luce was pleasantly surprised to find out that Kylie was an avid hiker and some of the beautiful landscapes gracing her home were pictures she herself had taken. She had to admit, she was impressed.

Luce of course loved hiking herself and they spent nearly an hour simply discussing the places they'd been and the sites they'd seen there. Kylie was even nice enough to show her a couple of places on the map and give her a book of things to see while there. The conversation then turned to more physical activities; namely martial arts and yoga.

Luce herself admitted to enjoying both on a regular basis, telling Kylie that she had competed when she was younger; she even managed to acquire a trophy or two before deciding that maybe it was a sport best left behind her in her somewhat misguided youth.

Kylie admitted to enjoying yoga as well but said that sometimes she found more of a sense of peace while on her bike than she did on the yoga mat. For some odd reason this struck Luce as funny and she ended up laughing for several minutes while Kylie continued offering the occasional sarcastic comment about the difficulty and twisted nature of the supposedly gentle sport.

When Luce looked at the clock some time later, she was shocked at how much time had passed and with some regret, decided that it was time for her to go. She grabbed the things she'd stored in Kylie's fridge and bid her host good night, promising that the next time they did this, it would be Luce's turn.

She began wandering around her condo, setting some of the clutter of the previous week right as she did so. The day after her evening at Kylie's was somewhat quiet for her; going through some papers, checking her email and generally keeping herself busy around the house. Today she wondered if she would end up doing more of the same or if maybe she might go out and find something to do.

Her wandering took her into the kitchen where she sat perusing the contents of the fridge for several minutes, wondering what in the world she was going to eat when the strident ring of her phone broke the silence in the condo. Annoyed at the possibility of being disturbed, she snatched it up. “Luce Donavan.”

“Hello lighteyes.” The light pleasant tones of her mother's voice floated over the line.

She smiled. “ Ina .” She sat down on the sofa suddenly in a much better mood than she'd woken up in. “I didn't expect to be hearing from you today.”

There was a soft chuckle. “I woke this morning thinking I needed to call you so I did. How are you my bright one?”

“Busy Ina , very busy.” Luce sighed, rubbing her temples as the tension seemed to just leave her. Her mother often had that affect on her and she always seemed to call Luce when she needed her most.

Her mother tsked over the line. “You are always busy lighteyes.”

Another sigh. “I know.”

“You sound tired lighteyes; have you been sleeping well?” She was digging and they both knew it. But her mother knew her role and played it well.

Luce played along knowing her mother would get around to the real reason she called soon enough. “Not really but I'm used to it.”

“Luce.” There was some warning in her mother's light tone; not much but enough.

Ina , I'm taking care of myself I promise.” Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Luce smiled at the familiar reprimand.

Her mother gave a soft sigh. “How can I know that if I never see you lighteyes?”

Luce's smile widened slightly; they had now reached the true reason behind her mother's phone call. Her mother was always one to keep the peace in the house; preferring instead to guide members of her family rather than scold or admonish them. It wasn't that she never had an opinion of her own, far from it. She was simply of a mind that people were more likely to do what you wanted or needed if they came to that conclusion themselves in their own time rather than being bludgeoned over the head with it.

So, more often than not, she stood in the background quietly questioning and nudging those around her until they came around to her way of thinking. For as quiet a woman as her mother was, she was a formidable force in her own right. Luce understood the philosophy behind that strength she had just never managed to emulate it. Preferring instead to let her own will and authority do for her what soft spoken words never could.

“Funny you should say that, I have today free actually. Can I take you to lunch?”

Her mother chuckled as Luce played along. “Of course my bright one.”

Luce grabbed her wallet and keys and headed towards the condo door. “I'll be there in twenty minutes to pick you up. Where do you want to go?”

“You pick my bright one.” This too was part of the game; her mother would give her the guise of picking the place but somehow they always ended up where she really wanted to go.

Luce nodded. Still playing along she picked the first place that came to mind. “Fine, let's hit up that sushi place I like.”

“I will be ready.”

* * *

“This was a wonderful idea lighteyes; I have not been here in quite a while.” She handed her menu to their waiter and turned her attention to her daughter.

“Me either; I don't seem to have a lot of time for this lately.” She sipped her plum wine and then gave her mother's hand a gentle squeeze. “I'm glad you called me Ina.

“I must confess lighteyes that I had another reason for wanting to see you today.” She hesitated for several moments and then spoke slowly, her tone very neutral. “I got a phone call from your grandfather yesterday.”

Luce stiffened. “What did he want?”

She took a bite of the fried noodles the waiter had set before them. “Well it seems he's in the process of acquiring a new business and he wanted your opinion. He asked if I would have you contact him.”

Luce shook her head stiffly. “No.”


Luce cut her off feeling her chest tightening at the thought of talking to him again. “ Ina , no. I've said everything I mean to say to him. I don't wish to speak with him.” She took a deep drink of her wine and was startled by the waiter as he set her soup down in front of her. She took a moment to calm down and gave her mother a searing look.

Her mother reached across the table and took Luce's hand in her own. “Oh lighteyes, I know he hurt you, I know he's not the nicest person on this Earth and I am not encouraging you to ignore the feelings of your heart. But he is your grandfather, the last piece of your father's family left in this world. You might one day regret not speaking to him when you had the chance.”

Luce turned her attention to the bowl of soup in front of her using it to distract her mind from the painful conversation. “The only thing I'm going to regret is the memory of the hate filled words he spat at me the last time we spoke.” She sighed mentally realizing once again that she had really needed her vacation.

Her mother sensing her turmoil reached out to take her hand. “I am sorry my bright one, I never meant to cause you pain. I just wish that somehow the two of you might come to some understanding.”

Luce shook her head, suddenly saddened at the entire ordeal. “I loved him Ina and not just because he was part of Ate's family but because he was my grandpa and he was the only one I had. I do not remember much of Tunkaschila and despite what you think it does bother me that we're not speaking. But he killed that in me when he threw me out of his house simply because I'm gay.” She was quiet after that as she ate her soup hoping that her mother would take the hint and just let it go.

There was hesitation in her mother's calm face. “Is everything all right lighteyes, you seem very troubled.”

Luce chuckled to herself; saying she was ‘troubled' was her mother's way of telling her she was being a real pain in the ass. “I'm fine Ina , just tired. I was supposed to be on vacation this week. I really needed it.”

Her mother nodded. “I was wondering about that; I thought maybe I had the wrong week when I forgot and called you.”

Luce shook her head. “No, you didn't get it wrong; Jerry called me the night before I was supposed to leave and dumped a real pile of crap in my lap.”

Her mother made several disapproving sounds and said several words in Lakota she was not sure of before switching back to English. “That man works you far too hard lighteyes.”

Luce chuckled to herself at the memory of the last time her mother had expressed that sentiment; to Jerry himself. She actually like him; thought very well of him in fact. But she did not appreciate it went he asked more than she thought he should of her daughter. And she had no problems telling him so whenever she spoke with him. And the last time she told him so had been priceless.

She sobered a bit before going on. “He didn't have a choice Ina ; Carl's wife went into labor early.”

“Everything is ok?” True concern colored her tone.

Luce nodded. “Yeah everyone's good. The baby came along just fine; last I heard from Jerry the new addition was settling into the family quite well.”

Luce's mother nodded. “That is good to hear.” She gazed at her daughter sharply, her dark eyes missing very little as she scrutinized her offspring. “Is there nothing else bothering you? I can tell you know; there's a tightness around your eyes that is not put there by work. What is wrong?”

Luce hesitated for several minutes; normally when her mother dug at her to share her feelings or fears, she had no problem sharing with her. Her mother had a way of simply listening to her and making her feel a great deal better. Even Luce was still left with the problem after speaking with her. But now, now she wasn't sure. Because this seemed different to her somehow and she couldn't even begin to explain why.

She knew her short temper was not simply due to the loss of her much needed vacation; point of fact it really had nothing to with the mess she was currently knee-deep in at the office. It had everything to do with the fact that she wasn't sleeping like she used to; or more importantly, her sleeping mind was slowly driving her mad with her incessantly vivid dream. Still she was not sure she wanted to bother her mother with the dreams; she had no wish to worry her.

But her mother, Luce's grandmother had known a great deal about dreams and been renowned for her interpretations. So for that reason, she would ask. “ Ina , did Unchi ever tell you about dreams?”

Obviously surprised her mother thought a moment. “Dreams? Are they troubling you? Do you still have your dreamcatcher up?

Luce chuckled slightly. “Yes Ina I have it exactly where Unchi put it when she gave it to me. And they haven't been bothering me per se; I've just been having the same one for the past few nights; it's been a bit strange.” She waited to see if her mother would buy her light tone.

“Share lighteyes.”

Luce shook her head not willing yet to share them with anyone, not even her mother. “It's nothing, really I just wanted to ask if recurring dreams mean anything.”

Her mother shrugged. “I'm not sure; I'm not the practitioner that Unchi was; it simply was not my calling. I can look over her notes and journals if you like.”

“Yeah that would be fine.” Luce decided that a change of subject was in order. “How about dessert?”

Her mother chuckled. “Before the meal?” Luce nodded making her mother laugh harder. “Sometimes I forget how much you are your father's daughter.”


* * *

The rest of her lunch with her mother passed in relative peace; her mother let the subject of her grandfather go and Luce was able to relax and once again enjoy her mother's company. A short time later, after having dropped her mother back off at her home, she found herself wandering back home.

Sitting at a light, she caught sight of line of tents just down the block. It sparked a memory of a small column in the paper she'd read the other day. There was a craft festival in town; a rather extravagant one if she remembered correctly. There was even supposed to be a small petting zoo type attraction and a stage with local color performing.

Seized by a sudden impulse, she changed lanes and went in search of a parking spot. Twenty minutes later she was wandering through the canopied booths perusing their wares. Genuinely surprised at the variety and quality she found, she ended up grabbing several items she knew her mother would like, promising to save a couple of them for Christmas.

She stepped away from a booth intending to head to the next one when she heard a familiar voice behind her.

“It's about time I ran into you for a change.” There was a bit of humor in the voice.

Luce turned to see Kylie standing behind her. She smiled at the other woman and noticed something important; Kylie's crutches were gone. “Hey, no crutches. How's it feel?”

Kylie wiggled the leg in question a bit. “Pretty good; still sore though. I'm getting the stitches out next week some time.” Kylie looked behind her as a couple other people approached her. “You remember my sister Molly, this is her husband Keith.”

Keith stepped forward to shake her hand. “Kylie's told us a great deal about you.”

Luce nodded. “Well it's nice to put faces to the people she talks about all the time.”

Kylie waved at the two young boys who were hanging on either side of the large stroller Molly was pushing. “And these two little mongrels that sort of remind you of children in calmer, cleaner settings are Gabriel and Michael.” She knelt down next to the boys, tickling them a bit to get them to giggle before introducing them to her friend. “Guys this is my friend Luce.”

Michael looked at the tall woman shyly before burying his head in Kylie's shoulder making everyone around them laugh.

Luce chuckled as Kylie stood up again. “Looks like you've got quite the handful there.”

Kylie sighed dramatically. “You've no idea.”

Just as suddenly as if it had never been, the peace was shattered. First by Michael who, suddenly forgetting his shyness in front of a stranger, began demanding something to eat. “Mommy, I'm hungry. I wanna corndog.” His high pitched child's voice reached ear splitting levels in a matter of seconds and made nearly every adult around him cringe.

Gabriel not wanting to be left out joined in Michael's refrain. “I want french fries.”

Michael looked at his brother annoyed. “No, I asked first, we're gonna have corndogs.”

Gabriel did what any small child would do at this point he burst into tears. “But I don't wanna corndog.”

Molly reached down to scoop up her youngest and soothe his tears, her temper at its end at their public display. “Boys, knock it off. Michael you'll get your corndog, Gabe, you'll get fries just stop yelling at each other.”

Keith sighed loudly scooping up Michael. “I think we missed nap time.” The boy continued to babble about his corndog even as his father tried to calm him down.

Kylie reached out to stroke Gabe's back as he rested his head on his mother's shoulder. “Mol, why don't you and Keith go get them settled and I'll stand in line for the food. What do you guys want?” She smiled at her nephew as he popped his thumb into his mouth.

Molly shook her head. “Kylie you'll never be able to carry all that yourself.”

“Well, that's why I'm here, plenty of arm space here.” She held her arms out in an exaggerated weight lifters pose and everyone laughed.

Molly nodded feeling better about getting the boys to be quiet for a bit. “Ok, we'll do that. Just get Keith and I a burger and get the two hellions what they wanted. Thanks a lot you two.”

Kylie snorted. “Hey I don't have to sit with ‘em.”

Molly looked as if she were reconsidering them going for a moment at that. “Good point. Hurry back.” She wandered off towards the picnic tables with Keith in tow and Michael still babbling away.

Luce watched them go for a moment before following Kylie into the small food court. “Is it always that crazy?”

Kylie snorted again. “Crazy, that? Oh no that wasn't crazy that was very mild.”

Luce gave her a panicked look. “Mild?”

Kylie found the booth she was looking for and got in line. “Yeah; I come from a family of five; my parents both had huge families themselves and there's a horde of cousins and all their kids; you should see the family reunions. You come from a small family right?”

Luce nodded. “Yeah, just myself and my mother are left; you guys have a clan in comparison.” She began looking over the menu trying to decide if she was hungry enough to eat again after her lunch with her mother. “Does it ever drive you crazy?”

Kylie gave her a startled look. “Being from a big family?” Luce nodded. “Sometimes it does because it seems like there's always someone else in your business or there's always some bit of drama going on. But to be honest, I have no idea what I'd do if they weren't there. My life would be way too quiet I think.” They stepped up to order and stood there to wait.

“Quiet can be a good thing.” Luce took the soda the young vendor handed to her and took a quick sip. She was thinking of her own life and how much quiet she had.

Kylie shrugged. “So can a bit of chaos; keeps you on your toes; makes you feel alive.” She took the box of food being handed to her and turned to lead the way back to her family. “Keep hanging around me, you'll see.”

Luce spent the next hour hanging out with Kylie and her family. After the first several minutes, she had to admit, there was something to what Kylie was saying about chaos. At first, thrown into the middle of the family and totally foreign situation, Luce was tense and had no idea what to do. Normally she didn't often find herself in a family type situations; truth be told she often avoided them. But this time she was quickly sucked in.

The boys finished their food long before the adults and then began hammering questions and requests at all the adults at the table. They were polite and well behaved in that they didn't leave their seats but their little minds were amazing to her. Always jumping from one idea to another; often in leaps of logic that seemed twisted to her well ordered mind. She watched Kylie interacting with them, amazed at how good she was with them. And they just seemed to love their Aunt Ky.

Molly and Keith had picked a table near the playground area so when the boys began showing signs of recovering their energy, she sent them to the monkey bars to run some of it off. Luce watched as Michael grabbed his little brother's hand and the two of the ran off to play. Just a few minutes ago they'd been arguing with each other; now they were acting as if it had never happened. She supposed in their tiny minds it probably hadn't.

“Some days I wonder what we were thinking when we decided it was a good idea to reproduce.” Molly said dramatically even as she continued watching the boys as they played.

Keith snorted. “Where do you think they get it from anyway?”

Molly shot him an indignant look. “They didn't get it from me.”

Keith gave her a sweet smile. “I didn't say they got it from you.” Then he turned to give Kylie a look. Molly did the same, both of them smiling strangely.

Kylie gave them a huff. “Don't blame me, they're your kids.” She crossed her arms over her chest and they all laughed at the annoyed look on Kylie's face. “Besides you can't blame all of this on me; as I recall, Peter was just like them.”

Molly looked at Keith. “Damn she's right, Peter was just like them.”

Keith sighed. “I'm gonna give Peter hell the next time I see him.”

Luce chuckled as they continued to eat. She turned to look at Kylie. “Hey I wanted to thank you again for letting me hang out Friday. I had a lot of fun.”

Kylie nodded. “Stupid movies are always more fun when they're shared, so you're welcome.”

Luce finished her soda before tossing the cup in a nearby trash can. “Listen, I don't know if you have anything planned for next weekend but there's a local band, The Night Grass playing on Saturday. They're pretty good if you like alternative rock. Would you like to go hear them?”

Kylie nodded. “That'd be great actually. I'm always looking for more local flare to pass on.”

“Great, I'll call you later in the week with the details.” She stood as she gathered her purchases.

“You're leaving?” Kylie stood up as well.

Luce nodded. “Yeah I have some stuff I need to do before I go into the office tomorrow.”

“Sounds good, have a good week Luce.”

“See you later Kylie.” She nodded at Keith and Molly. “Nice to see you both.” Then she walked away.

Behind her Molly gave Kylie a wry look. “You two been hanging out? Should I be concerned?”

Kylie snorted. “Not bloody likely. She happens to like stupid movies; unlike present company.”

Keith laughed. “For someone so smart, I'm beginnin' to worry bout you. I think those movies are draggin' down your IQ.”

Kylie shot him a look followed by her balled up napkin. “Don't blame all of that on movies Keith; some of it was because of your company.”

Molly laughed as the two continued to banter back and forth, their bickering filled with affection and drawing the boys back to the table.

Luce headed back home and prepared for the week ahead. On Monday she headed into work and just managed to finish with Frank and the Billing reports by the end of the day. With him out of the way and no obvious problems jumping out at her, she pulled the next file off the stack and the next department head into the conference room to begin all over again. At the rate she was going she was lucky if she'd finish by the end of the month.

But Jerry had never said it was going to be easy to find what was going on and she did like a challenge; it'd been so long since she'd had one that she was starting to wonder if maybe no one had it in them any longer. So she would keep digging and hope that whatever niggling sensation that was buzzing in her head would either resolve itself or point her in the right direction.

So far though, opposition to her presence had begun calming down; the members of the board were at least being civil to her now. Even Don began greeting her every morning when she walked in; of course that might have something to do with the fact that she had a huge order of donuts delivered every morning for the entire staff. In her mind it sure didn't hurt to keep the lower echelons and peons happy. Most of her intell came from the type of people that those in power so often forgot; the cleaning staff, the secretaries, people that operated in the background and were often never really seen by the higher ups.

But it might also be because she herself was in a good mood. After all she'd had a really good weekend; it'd been a long time since that happened. Not to mention having something to look forward to the following weekend; even if it was simply going out with a new friend to catch a local band. Whatever the reason she was grateful for it and she didn't' really want to lose the good mood she found herself in. So in the middle of the week, while taking a break from pouring over reports with the supervisor who's head was currently on the block, Luce decided to get in touch with Kylie about their plans on Saturday.

She decided on a call rather than an email and once she was alone in the boardroom, she dialed Kylie's number.

Kylie picked it up on the first ring. “Kylie Rogers.”

Luce smiled. “Hey Kylie its Luce. I've got the details for Saturday if you're still interested.”

“I am, what time does the band go on?”

“Ten o'clock but the place is kind of small so I thought we could get there at like nine; that ok?”

“Yeah do you want me to meet you there?”

“Yeah I might end up coming from work or some such nonsense who knows.”

“Well I hate to cut this short but I need to find someone to take me into the doctor's to get my stitches out today.” There was a touch of annoyance in her tone.

“Sounds like fun.”

“It might be if I could find someone to go in with me.” She was beginning to sound exasperated.

Remembering how they met, Luce could take a good guess why. “No luck again?”

“No and I'm about ready to pull my hair out.”

Luce chuckled. “Well if you trust me, I could take them out.”

There was a long pause from the other end. “Come again?”

“I used to do it all the time when I worked on my grandfather's horse ranch when I was younger.”

Kylie sighed. “I don't think I've got much choice here; when can you get here?”

“Let me wrap things up here at work and I'll be on my way.” Then she hung up.

* * *

Kylie was in her house pacing back and forth. Part of her was relieved that she wouldn't have to go into a doctor's office but part of her wasn't so sure about letting Luce take her stitches out. She herself had never needed any before and she had no idea if was easy to take them out or not. But the offer to not go to a doctor was just too much to pass up, despite her misgivings.

A couple of hours after Luce called, there was a soft knock on her door. Kylie jumped up to answer it and opening it, saw Luce, her arms full of take out bags standing on the other side.

She reached out and grabbed a bag before moving to the side and letting Luce in. “You didn't have to bring dinner. I should be feeding you for doing me such a huge favor.”

Luce walked past her into the kitchen where she began setting down the feast she'd picked up. “Well I figured it was past my turn to feed that bottomless pit of yours.”

“See, you're catching on.” Kylie joined her, her eyes alight as Luce began pulling cardboard boxes and foil wrapped packages out and setting them down. The smell was amazing.

“Besides I missed lunch today so I'm starving.” She gave her friend an appraising look. “Before or after dinner?”

Kylie sighed. “Before. So what do you need to do this?”

“Just some tweezers, some scissors and a pair of nail clippers if you have them.”

Kylie nodded as she went off to grab the items. “Where do you want to do it?”

“How bout in the dining room; it has enough light in it.” She had Kylie sit in a chair with her leg propped up and began examining the stitches closely. “Ok, this is going to take a bit and some of them might hurt.” She began gently probing for the first knot with the tweezers.

Kylie tensed slightly, her grip on the chair tightening. “Oh that's going to win you a heap of brownie points.”

Luce chuckled as she slowly began removing the stitches. “Would you rather I lied about it and said this shouldn't hurt a bit?”

Kylie snorted. “Not bloody likely.”

“Well let me distract you then.”

She winced slightly as Luce gently kept going. “How do you plan on doing that?”

“I'm sure you can think of something.”

Kylie kept her gaze locked on a spot on the wall just above Luce's head. “Ok fine but I'll remind you later that you opened the door.”

“Fair enough.”

“So you said you used to do this on your grandfather's farm?”

Luce nodded. “His horse ranch yeah; sometimes you just couldn't take the time to get in to town to get sewn up or the stitches out so we learned to doctor each on the minor stuff. I showed an aptitude for it so it tended to fall to me a lot.”

Kylie tried to imagine her friend as a young teenager puttering around doctoring to a bunch of grizzled cowboys; the image made her smile. “So why not become a doctor.”

Luce shrugged. “I toyed with the idea but it wasn't a passion of mine. Besides, Unchi told me I would be pulled in another direction.”

Unchi ?” Kylie's tongue tripped over the unfamiliar word.

“It's Lakota for grandmother; I'm half Lakota on my mother's side.”

“Wow; that's kind of interesting. I always thought I was a bit odd in school for being Irish.” She paused for a moment remembering how some of the country to this day was still filled with hate for those who were different. “What was it like?

“What was what like?”

“Being half Lakota.”

Luce sighed and then gave a shrug. “Well it's not like it was thirty or so years before. Besides I could pass as white if I wanted to so I didn't have too many problems. I got teased more about my height than my bloodline.”

“I can imagine.”

“It wasn't so different growing up really. I just knew more about my heritage than most is all. I kind of liked it actually.”

“How long did you work on your grandfather's horse ranch?”

“Several years, since I could first walk. Tunkaschila had quite the way with horses.”

The musical word rolled out of Luce's mouth and Kylie didn't even attempt to repeat it. “Lakota for grandfather?”

She nodded. “He was a wonderful and gentle man and we took to each other like two long lost friends. I was his shadow, following him everywhere and constantly pelting him with questions. He showed me everything he knew about raising horses; how to calm them, how to train them even talked about breeding them though he didn't have as strong a talent in that.” The affection she felt for the man was obvious to anyone with half a brain. It colored her tone and was written all over her face for anyone to see. And it was also very obvious that she missed him a great deal.

Kylie recognized the look on her face. “When did he die?”

She sobered quite a bit, her eyes looking far off for several seconds. “When I was 13; lung cancer. He smoked like a chimney for decades and it finally caught up with him.”

Kylie reached out to touch the hand on her leg. “I'm sorry about that.”

Luce shrugged touched by the gesture. “It happens; we all begged him to stop but well sometimes you just can't stop doing what's bad for you even though it's killing you.”

Kylie wasn't fooled. “That doesn't mean it doesn't bother you.”

The taller woman shrugged and with one final snip she sat up giving Kylie a smile as she stood up. “There I'm done. You should probably still keep a light bandage on these to keep your clothes from irritating them.” She gathered the tools up, handing them back to Kylie as she went in to the kitchen to dispose of the stitches.

Kylie joined her after a moment and began pulling out dishes to put the food on. Luce watched as the smaller woman piled her plate with food. “So now it's my turn for a question. Why the phobia about hospitals?”

She hesitated slightly. “You would ask that.”

Luce chuckled. “Had to come up sooner or later considering.” She began to pick through the boxes and packages herself.

She sighed loudly as she set down her plate and went to the fridge to grab something to drink. “Well to be blunt I spent several months in one when I was twelve when my parents were killed. Since then I haven't really managed to go into one without a panic attack. Just seeing a doctor makes me sweat.”

Luce stilled beside her for a moment not having expected that exactly. “Do you mind if I ask what happened?”

Kylie shook her head. “No, not really. The short of it is that they were killed in a car accident.”

Luce waited but there was nothing more forthcoming. “And?”

“What do you mean and?” She grabbed her plate and headed towards the dining room.

Luce followed her. “Call me a bit morbid but I think there's more to this story than that.”

Kylie was quiet for several minutes, getting herself settled and taking a few bites before she stopped and started talking once more. “It was spring; funny how I remember that when I hardly remember anything whatsoever about the accident. But I remember it was spring because mom had to force me to wear tights with my dress. I didn't want to wear them because it was too hot for them really. But it was a dance recital so she told me I had to look nice. I remember we argued like crazy over that; 12 years old and I was arguing with her over a pair of tights.”

Luce smiled slightly; she could relate to that. “Sometimes arguing is easier than giving in.”

Kylie nodded and went on. “We were lucky it was just me in the car with them. See Molly, Connor and Melinda all had jobs and were working that day. They weren't even sure they could make it but they were going to try. And Peter was with my Uncle Tom for the day; I can't remember why exactly but they were going to meet us there.

“I remember leaving the house still arguing with mom about the tights and getting into the car, but beyond that it's all a blur until I woke up from the coma two weeks later. The doctors told me that's pretty normal given the trauma I suffered and for years, I had no idea what really happened. Until one day I got up the courage to ask Molly about it.

“Dad was driving and I was just behind him. We were sitting at a stoplight at a very busy intersection, in the far inside lane. A semi was approaching the intersection, its brakes failed and the driver lost control. There was nothing the driver could do and he slammed into our car, sheering off the front end of it and slamming into the cars that were sitting next to us. My parents were killed almost instantly.” She paused at that and took a few more bites of her meal.

“When I woke up in the hospital, my whole world had fallen apart. My brothers and sisters were devastated and worried that I might not survive either and some of the family was fighting about what to do with us. Most of them had large families of their own and didn't know how to cope with us, despite the fact that Molly and Melinda were in college and Connor was on his way there the next year.

“But there was still Peter and I and I was so badly hurt. That's when Uncle Tom stepped in to take all of us in. He's the reason we all stayed together; he's the reason that we all went to college and finished; he saved us.

“People always told me I should have hated the guy who hit us; that I should curse him for killing my parents and destroying my family. But I could never bring myself to do it; it just wasn't in me. I found out later that the poor man worked for a company that had a terrible habit of not maintaining their trucks and he just happened to catch the short straw that day. I felt bad for him because of that; it wasn't really his fault but he ended up killing five people. I figured he was going through enough without me hating him too.”

“You're a bigger person than I am; I'm not sure I could have forgiven someone for that.” Luce reached out to touch her hand, much like Kylie had done just a few moments earlier. “What happened after you woke up?”

“I missed the funeral, I was still in a coma when my parents were buried. And I missed most of the arguing what went on about what to do with us. When I woke up, I didn't even realize what had happened. It took them days to convince me it wasn't a joke and that it really happened. Then I was busy in therapy trying to heal from my injuries and gain back the use of my legs.

“My Uncle and the rest of the family sued the trucking company for negligence and since I had no memory of the accident, I couldn't testify. But we weren't the only ones hurt in the accident and there were plenty of others to tell what happened. By the time the smoke cleared for me and things began making sense again, the trial was over and I'd lost over a year of my life.” She sighed. “So you can see why I've never really liked hospitals or doctors much.”

Despite the seriousness of the story, Luce chuckled. “Understandable.”

“I can't thank you enough for this. I don't think I could've made it in a doctor's office.”

“No problem, I really wasn't looking forward to eating alone anyway.” Luce looked at her watch and frowned. “I hate to cut this short, but I need to get back home; I have a pile of paperwork nearly as tall as I am that I still have to go through.”

Kylie chuckled as she kept on working her way through the pile on her plate. “And I thought my job was bad.”

“Yeah well I've got reports for the last six months on eight separate departments to go through. I'm going to end up cross eyed from all this.” She stood and headed towards the door.

“So I'll see you on Saturday then?”

“Yeah.” She waved Kylie back down as she got to the door. “Sit, eat. I can see myself out.” She opened the door and gave a wave as she left.

“Thanks again Luce.” Kylie called after her and then the taller woman was gone.

After Luce left, Kylie finished eating and then put the food away glad for the leftovers she would have for lunch tomorrow. She then settled down on the sofa with a movie and her laptop for a couple of hours, working on paperwork from the store while listening to the TV.

Reaching the end of her paperwork and feeling surprisingly drained closed down her computer before heading into the kitchen to grab a snack and a beer. She didn't drink often but tonight after the orders and payroll and the inventory snafu she'd just navigated through, a tall cold one was more than called for.

She popped the cap and with a loud groan, took a deep swallow of her favorite beer. She stood there a minute feeling her muscles unwinding a bit when the silence and her peace were broken by the phone.

She scowled at it before stomping over to grab it and answer it. “Kylie Rogers.” Her voice was little more than a growl but she was in no mood to be accommodating at the moment.

There was a moment of hesitation from the other end making her think for a moment that the caller was a solicitor and then a strong masculine voice came over the line. “Hey beautiful.”

Her bad mood vanished in the face of astonishment and a small bit of pleasure as she recognized the voice. “Jace!”

He chuckled. “How you doing?”

“I'm good, just busy. How's it going down there?” She took a deep breath still a bit frazzled; she hadn't expected to hear from him for at least another week. For some reason, his early call was really throwing her off balance.

“Good the prof says we've only got a couple more months before we head back. I finally got to a phone so I thought I'd drop a line and see how you were doing.” There was a loud crash behind him and he started cursing softly. “Damn, I have to go Ky; all hell just broke loose. I just wanted to call and tell you I love you and I'll be home in just awhile.”

“I love you too.” She answered with true affection.

He paused a minute and then his voice was full of longing. “God it's good to hear our voice again.” Then he was gone.

She stood there a moment holding the dead receiver in her hand for several minutes before setting it down softly. She stared at the phone somewhat stunned by both the call and her reaction to it. He was her boyfriend and yet she felt no more emotion about his phone call than she would have if Keith dropped her a line. And she had no idea why.

He'd been gone for only two months, down in South America to finish some strange project with his professor. And yet, for her it was like he'd been gone so much longer. She hadn't thought about him in days in fact and that fact bothered her a great deal. So much so that she felt on the verge of tears.

For years she'd put off dating anyone seriously, something inside of her holding her back from giving too much of herself to anyone she was seeing. But Jace had worn her down and she had found herself saying yes to so many things she'd said no to before. He was kind, funny, sexy and was hopelessly in love with her. That should have been enough for any red blooded American woman. But for some reason, it just didn't seem to be enough for her.

She sighed loudly, grabbed her bear and, after hesitating a moment, snagged a second from the fridge before going back to the living room to veg out for awhile; focusing her attention on some mindless flick rather than the strange mess her personal life seemed to be turning in to. He was going to be gone for at least another month. She had time to sort out what she felt and what she wanted to do about it before he got home. At least she hoped there was time.

* * *

Luce was dancing around her condo, Pink's latest single blaring in the background as she got ready for her night out with Kylie. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror adjusting her jewelry while she sang along. Then she paused a moment to ponder her reflection. For once she was amazed at the image that stared back at her.

Her week was busy but calm, the dreams were still visiting her every night but she'd grown accustomed to them to a large degree and was able to push them to the back of her mind. Her mother hadn't called yet with any revelations from Unchi's journals but she was not that concerned about the nocturnal repetition she was experiencing.

As for her investigation, it was plodding along and she'd even managed to finish with another department before the end of the week. The niggling sensation in her head hadn't left her but it was staying quiet for the most part and she was merely biding her time until it revealed exactly what it was that was bothering her about this whole mess.

Her forward momentum however, was stalled when she picked up the sales report; the department and the report appeared to be a real mess and Luce wasn't sure how soon she could unravel it and make sense of the figures that were given to her. She made a mental note to pass that info along to Jerry. Someone needed to set that department head for a serious discussion about proper record keeping.

She finished her make-up and pushed thoughts of work and the dreams aside, determined to have a good time with her new friend. She needed this; needed a chance to go out with a friend and just enjoy the little things in life again. Something she hadn't managed to do for the last several months. So she shut her stereo down, snagged her purse and headed out the door.

She managed to find a semi decent parking spot near the bar and a few minutes later, walked in to find Kylie already there at the bar, nursing a beer. She walked up next to Kylie, sitting on a stool next to her as she looked up.

Kylie lifted her beer slightly in greeting. “First round's on me, what's your poison tonight Luce?”

“Can I get an amaretto sour?” The bartender nodded and Luce turned her attention to the shorter woman.

Kylie looked around a bit as the bartender made the requested drink. “This is a nice place. When I first got here, I was surprised that I hadn't found it on my own before. Of course I don't usually frequent gay bars.”

Luce chuckled. “A friend told me about this place a few years ago. I really liked it and there are lots of straight people here.” She nodded at the bartender as he set her drink down in front of her.

Kylie nodded. “I've got to admit, the atmosphere is something else. I love it.”

“So how's the leg?” She took a sip out of her drink.

Kylie grinned ruefully. “Nearly healed; itches like crazy though.”

“You look a bit tired busy week?”

Kylie snorted taking another sip of her beer. “Yeah you could say that; or you could say it was just really, really bad.”

“Everything ok?” Luce's voice was concerned; she understood how bad weeks could sneak up on you.

Kylie nodded not elaborating. “Yeah everything's fine; I just really need this, you know?”

“Yeah I do” She looked around a minute and then pointed at a booth somewhat near the stage but far enough away that they might have some privacy if they wanted it. “Why don't we grab a booth before they're all gone?”

“Sounds like a plan.” She followed Luce to the booth and they both settled down. “So how was your week?”

Luce sighed. “Busy and a real pain in the ass; probably a lot like yours.”

“Hey there Luce.” A sultry voice their conversation making both of them look up at the person who intruded on them.

Seeing who it was, Luce could have screamed out loud. Instead she put on a very fake smile and returned the greeting. “Hey Alice.”

Alice toyed with the straw on her drink her eyes running up and down Luce's body suggestively. “Caroline said you'd be here tonight but I didn't really want to believe her. So what you up to tonight?” Alice focused completely on Luce, ignoring the fact that there was another person sitting with her.

Luce indicated Kylie sitting across from her. “ We came in to see The Night Grass .”

Alice's eyes shot over to acknowledge that Luce wasn't alone and she gave a slight sneer. “Oh I thought you mentioned liking them once or twice. Who's your friend?”

Luce gave Kylie an apologetic smile even as she introduced Alice to her. “Kylie, meet Alice. The scourge of every gay bar in the city.” She didn't introduce Kylie to Alice. The warning in her tone was evident.

Next to her Alice laughed a little too hard at the back handed insult. “Ouch Luce, kind of harsh don't you think?”

Luce snorted. “Not really no.” She turned her attention away from Alice hoping that if she ignored her long enough, the other woman would grow bored and leave. “So what brings you here tonight Alice; I didn't think you liked the band.”

Alice gave a sharp humorless laugh. “Oh I don't but you know how it is; they always draw in a new fresh crowd of wide-eyed naïve little lesbians and I thought I'd enjoy opening a few eyes tonight.”

Luce turned her ice blue eyes on the other woman arching a dark brow in her direction. “Well no one does it quite like you. I must say I enjoyed doing it to you.”

Alice paused a second, her face flushing at the obvious verbal slap. “Touché. Well have fun tonight girls don't do anything I wouldn't do.” She gave Kylie a look before turning to saunter away.

Behind her Luce snorted softly her voice raised to carry across the bar. “Funny, that doesn't leave much does it?” She turned to see Kylie staring at the other woman with a strange, unreadable look on her face.

“That was interesting.”

Luce sighed again, sipping at her drink. “Sorry about that. I really wasn't expecting her to be here tonight.” She gave Kylie a searching look. “Did it bother you?”

Kylie laughed softly. “The conversation or that she basically outted you?”

She shrugged. “Sorry to ask it's just that sometimes people say they're open minded but when it comes down to it, they aren't nearly as open minded as they like to think they are. I've learned to ask.”

Kylie nodded. “True.” She thought a moment and then looked Luce square in the eye. “You remember my uncle Tom?” Luce nodded. “The man has got to be the biggest queen I've ever met and I love him more than my life. He's been happily partnered for the past 20 years and we love our Aunt Richard.” Luce unexpectedly laughed out loud. Kylie gave her a wry grin. “Sorry little family humor.”

“It fits somehow.”

Kylie waved her beer bottle in Alice's direction. “So what's the story with Miss Butter Wouldn't Melt Between My Breasts?”

Luce laughed at the scornful tone in Kylie's voice. “When I first realized I was gay, she was the one to ‘open my eyes' so to speak. But it kind of backfired on her.”

Kylie nodded sagely. “She fell for you didn't she?”

Luce nodded. “Yeah she did. Hard. And when I didn't feel the same way it really pissed her off. We really haven't been on civil terms since.”

“Makes sense; someone like her would really hate the tables being turned on her.” She finished her beer and waved at a passing waitress for a refill. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” Luce braced herself for the nearly half a dozen most common questions she got once someone new realized she was a lesbian.

“Is that why you've been hanging out with me, because you're hoping it might lead somewhere?”

Kylie's soft spoken words surprised her into silence for several seconds before she burst out. “God no Kylie.” Then realizing just how that sounded, she tried to back track. “Wait that didn't come out right.” She wracked her brains for a way to explain without making Kylie feel like a complete and utter hag. “Look you're very attractive, it's just that…” she trailed off lamely at a sudden loss for words.

Kylie reached out and saved her. “I don't come across as gay?”

Grateful, Luce nodded. “Yeah and I really am looking for a friend; I won't lie, I did kind of hope you were despite the fact that you don't register on my gaydar but only because it's nice to have friends who are, you don't have to hide so much of yourself for fear of hurting anyone. But I don't make friends very easily; especially not with other lesbians. They see me as competition for some reason.”

Kylie found this extremely funny and began laughing. “With that hair and those eyes, I wonder why.” Luce gave her a somewhat dumbfounded look. “Come on Luce you look like a pinup for the lesbian of the month calendar.”

Luce laughed at that but sobered quickly as she tried to press her point home. “But no seriously, Kylie I never expected this to be anything other than friendship; I've had my share of girlfriends for a bit; I'd like to just have a friend for a while.”

Satisfied, Kylie nodded. “Sounds good to me.” The waitress came back with another beer for her and Kylie gestured at Luce's mostly empty glass. “How about another drink? And someone promised me some dancing.”

Luce nodded at the inquiry for a refill but chuckled at the eagerness in Kylie's face. “No, I promised a band; dancing is all up to you. Just don't be too surprised if you get hit on tonight; I'm not the only one who could pose for the lesbian of the month calendar.”

That comment stopped Kylie cold for a second. “I don't whether to be flattered or terrified by that remark.” And she settled down to wait for the band to start singing.

A couple of hours and several beers later, Kylie and Luce were having a good natured argument brought on by some smart remark from the waiter and too much alcohol. Which was made all the more comical by the fact that it made a strange sort of sense to the both of them.

“Look, all I'm saying is that not every drag queen houses a gay man.”

Kylie snorted as she ribbed her friend. “Next you'll be telling me that the Loch Ness monster is real.”

Luce looked at her in askance. “It's not?”

Kylie gave her a somewhat buzzed appraising look. “Please tell me you're not one of those hardcore believers.”

Luce snorted. “You're not?”

Kylie shook her head. “No, hardly that. My feet are firmly rooted in the real world. There's no such thing.”

Luce's voice dropped to a conspiratol whisper. “How do you know?”

Kylie snorted loudly. “Come on the thing is the direct result of drunken eye witness accounts and mass hysteria.”

Again Luce asked. “But how do you know?”

Annoyed, Kylie jabbed a finger at Luce trying a logical argument. “There's simply no way that something that big exists in a land locked lake without having been seen or recorded by any credible witness. Not to mention that the only proof that it did exist was recently debunked as a hoax.”

Luce seized the opening. “Ah see that's where we differ, I never said it was that big. I'm thinking more along the size of an elephant or something.”

Kylie laughed in derision. “Next you'll tell me it's a mammal.”

“Well.” Luce shrugged.

Kylie shot her a look of pure disbelief. “What? No way, no way, impossible. It's simply not possible.”

“Who says?”

Kylie threw more logic at her. “Come on Luce, have you ever taken a single ecology or biology class? Even if the thing existed it'd have to be some kind of fish or reptile. There's simply no way it could stay fed otherwise; the ecology of the loch couldn't support anything warm blooded. The energy requirements if it were a mammal would be phenomenal; look at the elephant.”

Luce chuckled. “See now we're back to the elephant. I'm part right.”

“I'm sorry there's still no way. Someone would have seen it by now; or they would have noticed when local fish populations took a sudden inexplicable dive.”

“Oh, I don't know; it could be vegan.”

That stumped Kylie's buzzed brain and she hesitated. “Vegan?”

“Yeah why not?”

“Somehow I doubt that something that's made to be forever trapped in water would be vegan; most animals that live there are not vegan.”

“No one said she had to stay in the lake.”

“What? Are you blind? There's no way she could go onto land; she doesn't have feet only flippers.”

Luce swooped in for the kill. “And what are you basing this on? The debunked photo? Now who's being deluded.”

Recognizing that she was losing for some strange reason, Kylie fell back on an age old argument. “Hey, I'm basing this on facts; facts which are true and valid in my world.”

“Somehow I don't think that's going to hold up in court.”

Kylie giggled as she started counting empty beer bottles. “It will when they see how much I've had to drink.” They both found this extremely funny and sat there giggling softly for several minutes. As the humor trailed off, Kylie gave Luce a strange sobering look before the source of her strange mood slipped free. “Jace called me tonight.”

Luce looked at her all ears. “Jace?”

Kylie sighed. “My boyfriend.”

“Oh really.” She'd been wondering if Kylie had one. There were lots of pictures in her apartment of her family and what appeared to be friends but no one in that group seemed to be singled out for that elevated status.

Kylie nodded. “He's down in South America working on his Phd with his professor. He's been gone over two months now.” She fell silent again.

“That's got to be hard. Long distance relationships are never easy.” Luce probed carefully hoping to draw out what was obviously bothering the other woman.

Kylie nodded sagely. “No they're not but I don't think it's the distance that's causing the problems.”

“Why do you say that?” Luce asked quietly.

“Because I don't think I love him.” Her words were soft but full of regret. Kylie looked at Luce and taller woman was amazed at the sadness in her green eyes. “Have you ever become immersed in someone? Loved someone so much that you find yourself a part of them? Have you ever looked at someone and known they were your entire world and never doubted how you knew that?”

Luce shook her head. “No, I can't say I have.” That thought should have saddened her too but for some reason she only felt a bit of relief at that admission.

“When I was younger, a few years after my parents were killed, my sister and I went to a psychic. We were going to ask about our parents but instead when she went to read me, she told me I was a very old soul. And that I was waiting for someone; that I would be incomplete until I found them. When I asked what she meant by that, she told me that someday I would meet someone who would more than sweep me off my feet. One day I would meet the half of myself I was missing and when I did, I would fall hopelessly, deeply in love.”

“So you think that she meant your soulmate?”

Kylie nodded. “Yeah I do.”

“And you don't think he's it.”

She shook her head sadly. “No, I like him, I have fun when I'm with him. But I just don't feel like he's the one for me. I love him, but I'm not in love with him.”

“Maybe you should tell him that then.”

Kylie nodded in agreement. “I don't want to do it over the phone; I was kind of hoping to wait until he gets back. I just can't bring myself to give him a Dear John call.” She sighed loudly staring at what was left of her beer. “God sometimes having a conscience really sucks.”

Luce laughed, grabbing her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thank god for alcohol.”

Kylie squeezed back. “And friends; alcohol and friends.”

Startled Luce nodded dumbly. “And friends.”

To be continued...

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