DISCLAIMERS: This is totally from my imagination so these people are not real and hopefully do not resemble anyone you know. There is consensual sex between women so if it offends you are you are under age please do not read this story.

I would love to have any and all comments sent to

"Okay Charlie, how's this outfit?" Sam twirled around in the "church" dress she hadn't worn in more years than she could say. "I think that when mom sees me in this dress, she'll be disarmed a little."

"Either that or I'll be forced to commit you," Charlie muttered, shaking her head in disgust. She was lounging on the bed, a reluctant participant in this "un-fashion show". Her tall thin figure was clothed in a t-shirt and denim shorts. "I think you should wear something that you're comfortable in, though. I mean, it's not everyday you officially come out to your mother."

"I see your point," Sam agreed with a nod. "Then if she has hysterics, I won't have worn this tired ass dress for nothin'." With a shudder of distaste, she pulled the dress off over her head and threw it over the back of a chair, fairly groaning under the weight of discarded outfits. "I'm kinda embarrassed this thing was still in my closet and not hanging in some Goodwill store. She looked at the chair and the floor around it filled with garments she hadn't been able to throw away. "Its true then," she sighed with a dramatic pause, "I am a packrat."

"Real news flash there, Jones," Charlie scoffed, looking first at the pile of clothes on the chair, then at the Sam. In her black sports bra and matching bikini panties Sam made a delectable picture. Seeing Sam's underwear pulled tight across her behind as she bent over picking up discarded clothes reminded Charlie of the first time she'd ever seen Sam.

Charlie had been sitting on the deck of a coffee shop drinking tea with her best friend Janice and bemoaning her single status. Her last relationship had been over and processed for at least a year and Charlie felt emotionally ready to begin a new relationship. As she was complaining about the lack of eligible women, her friend motioned for her to look at the sports bar deck, only ten feet away.

"Wouldn't I love to be on that soccer team," Janice sighed, casting longing looks at a group of women, outfitted in soccer uniforms. "What a beautiful ass!"

Charlie casually turned her head, trying not to be obvious. The first thing to come into her view was the item in question. One of the players had stood up to reach across the table for a pitcher of beer. Her black shiny shorts pulled taut across her butt, and her thigh muscles bunched tight as she leaned forward. Charlie felt an appreciative quiver at the sight of the shapely body part, and immediately felt guilty for the thought. "You're looking at body parts again, Janice," she said. "Remember these are whole women, not just parts," she admonished her friend as well as herself.

"Parts is parts," Janice replied, laughing at her own joke. Janice was Charlie's oldest friend. They had grown up together in an exclusive neighborhood in Virginia. "I'm sorry Charlie I don't ever think I'll be old enough to be adult like you about these things. Women have great qualities, and I feel compelled to admire them," she said giving a lascivious smile.

"Well, I admire them too," Charlie admitted with a rueful smile, her blue eyes sparkling. "But at least I feel a little guilt at looking at women as objects."

"That's sick, Charlie," Janice replied, shaking her head. "Don't believe all that PC crap you read. There is nothing wrong with admiring a women's body. I see I'm not the only one with an appreciation of the finer things," she added, nodding her head in the direction of the deck.

Charlie turned in time to see one of the soccer players rubbing the admired behind.

"Jeez Annie, give it a rest," the owner of the butt said, removing the hand from her behind. "You guys are a bunch of animals," she added, sitting down.

"I can't help myself if you put it out there on a platter, Sam," Annie protested with a dramatic sigh that caused the rest of the team to start laughing. "It's so round and smooth."

"Yet, hard and subtle," another teammate chimed in, adding to the laughter.

"I've got to see what she looks like," Charlie whispered to Janice tersely. "Let's go over there." She stood up and looked at Janice expectantly.

"You're serious, aren't you?" Janice asked, clearly confused. "I feel a little role reversal going on. Usually I'm the one who wants to go chase down women. Not that this is bad," she added quickly. "Just different. I think I can get used to it though." She stood up and finished off her latte.

Charlie looked at the deck next door to make sure that her target was still there. Her midnight blue eyes were caught in the trap of the most alluring chocolate eyes, she'd ever seen. They were large, with a slight slant and the longest natural looking eyelashes in the known world.

"Okay let's go, Charlie," Janice said eager to go join the group next door. Getting no response, she looked up and realized what had caught Charlie's attention. "Wow the front side is even better," Janice muttered to herself. "We'll be right over," she told the slightly stunned looking soccer player. "Come along, Charlie," Janice prodded, grabbing her arm. "This is just like the movies," she said all giddy. "You girls saw each other and bam." She pulled Charlie over to the stairwell.

"Wait a minute, Janice," Charlie said as they reached the downstairs part of the coffee house. "This is crazy," she added, taking deep breaths. "First I get aroused by a butt, then I get trapped by eyes. I haven't even talked to the woman and already I'm ready to go to bed with her!" She leaned her head against a wall trying to stop her head from pounding. What is wrong with me! I'm much more into cerebral stimulation. This woman is probably a die-hard jock who thinks all women are play toys. Still, there was that moment of some sort of connection.

"Don't chicken out on me now, Charlie," Janice urged realizing that her friend was having second thoughts. "I swear I won't let you do anything too crazy," she promised as she crossed her fingers behind her back. Her friend had been staid much too long.

"I can't go meet her," Charlie wailed looking around in desperation. "She's probably expecting some witty, entertaining, bold women. You know I'm none of the above. I'm no good in a crowd, either." Charlie shut her eyes and grimaced.

"You have to meet this woman," Janice implored pulling Charlie from the wall. "I mean, the way you guys looked at each other was magic. If you let this opportunity pass you'll regret it the rest of your life."

"Let's not get too dramatic," a smooth voice chuckled from behind them. "She might regret it for a little while, but I don't think I'm that great that she would regret it for the rest of her life."

Charlie opened her eyes long enough to see a pair of muddy soccer socks and shoes.

Janice seeing the look Sam was giving Charlie mad a quick decision. "I'll see you guys next door," she said and headed for the exit.

"Wait!" Charlie called out in a panic at the thought of being left with this goddess.

"Hey, it's okay," Sam said with a smile that showcased her dimples. "I promise I don't bite until after the first date," she added, holding up her left hand and placing her right one over her heart. "I'm not usually this bold, but I wanted to catch you before you left." Sam was slightly out of breath from racing down the stairs at the sports bar. She couldn't really explain what had compelled her to move, but the idea of not meeting this woman had put her in a minor panic.

"I'm glad you did," Charlie replied softly, finally looking at Sam's face. She was once again struck by Sam's unconventional beauty. The pug nose, wide eyes, and luscious lips were set perfectly in her bronzed face. "I was in the process of talking myself out of meeting you. Janice is right, I would have regretted it the rest of my life."

"That's absolutely the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me," Sam replied earnestly and reached for Charlie's hand. "Will you marry me?"

"Can I just let you buy me a beer for now?" Charlie asked, squeezing Sam's hand.

"It's a start," Sam replied, unable and unwilling to keep the grin from spreading across her face.

That had been the start, and six years later Charlie still felt the delicious tingle when she trapped in the gaze from Sam's chocolate eyes. To be honest, she still felt the tingle at the sight of that firm, round behind which had initially attracted her attention.

"I need to sort through this closet and clean it out," Sam muttered, as if she had just noticed the clutter. "This is so ridiculous." She started throwing out clothes from the bottom of her side of the closet.

"Sam what exactly are you going to say to your mother?" Charlie asked, remembering the reason for this frantic search through the closet.

"What was that line in the movie 'Steel Magnolias'?" Sam rubbed her forehead thoughtfully. "Oh, I got it!" she announced. "Mom, I have cancer, and I only have a few weeks to live," she said earnestly. "Then just when it's sinking in, I'll say 'not really, I'm just gay.' So, what do you think?" she looked at Charlie expectantly.

"Two thumbs down," Charlie replied, sitting up and pointing her thumbs down. "I'd try something more direct and yet not too harsh," she offered.

"Jeez Charlie, what the hell does that mean?" Sam asked, rolling her eyes. "You've read one self-help book too many, girl," she declared, shaking her finger at Charlie.

"Oh, sometimes you are so..." Charlie stopped searching for the right word to describe her lover.

"Cute, witty, adorable," Sam rattled off helpfully.

"Plebeian," Charlie announced haughtily. "So obviously lacking in any culture," she explained.

"You want culture?" Sam hooted. "I got your culture right here, baby," she added, grabbing her crotch with a broad wink.

"Its times like this that I seriously question what I see in you," Charlie drawled, running a hand through her newly shorn blonde hair and sighing loudly.

"That I'm a hot sex machine?" Sam pursed her lips and blew her partner a kiss. Sooner rather than later, she could always be counted on to introduce sex into any conversation. Sam put up her hand to forestall a response from Charlie. "Okay, joking aside, how do I tell my mother I'm lesbian? And don't you dare say with your mouth," she added quickly, seeing the twinkling in Charlie's blue eyes.

"In that case, what about simply telling her that you're a lesbian? With all the lesbian hype of the last few years, she'll know exactly what you're talking about. You might also mention that the person you've been living with the past five years is more than your roommate," Charlie slipped in a little too casually. She snuck a quick peek at Sam to see her reaction to the last statement.

"Good idea," Sam agreed with a nod. "It'll help to personalize things. Plus it doesn't hurt that she already loves you and thinks of you as family. No pun intended," she quickly corrected.

"You could also point out some of the famous lesbians so she'll know you're in great company."

"Mom won't be impressed by the famous ones," Sam replied, chewing on her lip. "But she always did admire Shirley Chisholm the congress woman from Texas. I bet mom never realized that Shirley was one of us."

"You're right to stay away from the Hollywood types they haven't exactly been a role model of stability," Charlie cautioned.

"I wouldn't even think of it, Charlie," Sam replied. "Okay, so I'll tell her straight out and wear the uniform. You know, a gay themed shirt, black jeans, my boots, and your leather jacket," Sam declared.

"You go, girl," Charlie crowed. "Ooh, just thinking of you in that outfit makes me hot, babe. Come here." She crooked her finger at Sam. "Now that we've decided on a plan and your outfit, we have plenty of time for other things." She patted the bed beside her invitingly.

"Charlotte, how can you be thinking about sex at a time like this?" Sam asked and advanced slowly. "I'm all worried about telling my mom, and you want to go at it," she added in an accusatory manner, stopping directly in front of Charlie. Her flat stomach was even with Charlie's face.

"I'm so ashamed," Charlie sniffed. She leaned forward kissing Sam's stomach. "I can't begin to apologize." She kissed down the fine line of hairs, inhaling Sam's musky scent.

"As long as you're aware of the gross indiscretion, I'm willing to let it go this time," Sam said slowly, trying to keep her voice steady and unaffected by the havoc Charlie's smooth lips were wreaking on her senses. She moaned, closing her eyes as Charlie's tongue stroked her through the cotton fabric of her panties. "It um, appears I will have to forgive you," Sam panted, cupping Charlie's head and holding it close.

Charlie, needing direct contact, stopped licking long enough to push the panties down Sam's legs. Once it was free, she attacked the silken mound with pleasure, enjoying the musky taste of Sam's juices. Charlie parted Sam's lips, stroking the rigid clitoris.

"Oh, Charlie," was all Sam could groan, fighting to keep her legs from buckling. "This feels so intense babe." The slightly rough texture of Charlie's tongue was driving her into a frenzy. With a loud moan, Sam signaled her pleasure at the entrance of three fingers into her already slick passageway. "Oh, Charlie," she gasped thrusting herself onto her lover's fingers. She locked her legs, her body taking it's instructions from the movement of Charlie's tongue. Her hands moved to Charlie's head, drawing her closer. Sam felt the waves rushing upon her as she concentrated on the feel of Charlie's tongue stroking her. With a guttural grunt, she stiffened as much too soon the waves crest into a consuming orgasm. Sam called Charlie's name as spasms, like aftershock, jerked her body.

With trembling legs, Sam dropped to her knees in front of Charlie. She put her lips to Charlie's, tasting herself in Charlie's mouth. Allowing her tongue to caress Charlie's, she deepened the kiss. Sam gently nudged Charlie until the blonde was lying on her back. Stepping out of her panties, Sam straddled Charlie and found her lips again. They kissed, straining against each other with passion. Sam broke off the kiss to find the sensitive spot on Charlie's neck that never failed to drive the other woman crazy.

Her hands moved to Charlie's stomach, pushing aside the offending shirt so that she could feel skin. Sam pushed the shirt upward until Charlie's breasts were exposed. She kissed her way down, capturing a pink nipple in her mouth. Charlie moaned in response, capturing one of Sam's brown nipples between her fingers. Taking her time, Sam divided her attention between the sensitive nipples causing her lover to writhe in pleasure.

With a final kiss for each nipple, Sam man down Charlie's stomach, pulling down shorts and panties as she went. The heat and smell of Charlie intensified her desire. With a hard tug and a little help from Charlie, Sam pushed the shorts down to Charlie's ankles. With a smile of anticipation, she gently kissed Charlie's thighs, deliberately teasing. Wanting to draw out Charlie's pleasure, she kissed up and around the blonde covered mound. Finally giving in to the moaning pleas, Sam parted Charlie's thighs and dove into ambrosia. Licking and sucking, Sam brought a writhing, moaning Charlie to orgasm then held Charlie close until her body stilled.

Charlie pulled Sam up, hugging her close. "I love you Charlie," Sam whispered.

"But not as much as I love you," a content Charlie whispered back, pulling Sam even closer.

"Why you have to be gone for a whole week, I'll never know," Charlie muttered darkly as she watched Sam pack her bags. "Tom is only getting married on one day." They were once again in their bedroom. The room was much clearer because Sam, with help from Charlie, had packed up the discarded clothes and taken them to a shelter. Charlie was sitting in the now cleared chair trying to imagine doing without Sam for a whole week and feeling disgruntled that she had to. Sure, she'd known that Sam's brother was getting married and that therefore her lover would have to attend. Charlie just hadn't planned on Sam being gone so long. It was especially hard because Sam had just gotten back from one of her numerous out of town work trips.

"Look Charlie, we've been over this already. You know you were invited but you wouldn't hear of it," Sam countered swiftly holding up her hand. "So let's drop the subject right now," she added taking a deep breath. Calm down Sam, getting upset with Charlie is not the solution to your frustration. "Besides, it'll probably help you write some of those tragic poems you like to crank out," she added with a tight smile.

"Very funny, Samantha," Charlie sniffed, lifting her nose in the air. "Just don't try to rekindle any romances with the girl next door," she advised, a poor attempt at a joke.

"It's not too late for you to go." Sam looked up from her suitcase with a pleading expression. "Please come with me." Her dark brown eyes met Charlie's midnight blue ones.

"We've been through this before," Charlie replied, letting her eyes slide away from Sam's. "I can't afford to..."

"Don't give me that shit again!" Sam interrupted throwing her arms into the air. "If after six years I can't buy you one fucking ticket then that tells me something about us. I've been doing a lot of thinking this week babe, and it hasn't been all good."

"Just because I won't let you buy me a ticket?" Charlie sat up straight in the chair, fingering the gold hoop earring in her left ear as she did when she was nervous.

"Save the dumb act for somebody else! This is not about a ticket." Sam marched over to the dresser and yanked open a drawer. She hurled bundled up socks into her bag. "My brother tells the world, 'hey I love this woman' and everything is great. If I tell the world 'hey I love this woman', do I get the same reaction? Hell no! I'm some kind of sicko pervert who needs shock therapy or to find a closet and get back in it. I'm sick of this, I'm sick of lying, I'm sick of pretending, I'm just sick!" she yelled, kicking the bed. "It's just not fair to anybody," she finished quietly sinking onto the bed. "That's why I have to tell my parents about me, about us, about who I really am."

"What happens if they freak and kick us out?" Charlie finally said aloud the fear that had been following her for the past couple of weeks. "Where does that leave me or even us?" Charlie asked, continuing to finger the gold hoop.

"I have more trust in my parents than that." Sam crossed the room to where Charlie was sitting and knelt down before her. "Mom may be disappointed because this is not what she wanted for me, but family really does matter to us Jones'. And let's face it, you've been a part of the family for the past four years. Besides you know mom, she'd never disrespect a guest that way."

"This is different, Sam." Charlie picked up one of Sam's hands. "I won't be a guest I'll be the sicko pervert who drove their only daughter to perversion. For all they know, you were straight before we met."

"Then we go stay at Tom's house or come back home," Sam replied matter-of -fact, her eyes never wavering from Charlie's. "Listen, you're my partner and I want my family to know that. I'm tired of denying you and our love. Every time I introduce you to someone as my roommate, or let someone assume you're only a roommate, it's a form of denial. You're the most important person in my life Charlie, if my family can't accept you, then they can't have me."

"You got one of those stupid dresses for me?" Charlie sniffed with a shaky smile. She stood up, pulling Sam with her. "I love you, Samantha Jones." She wrapped her arms around Sam and sighed as warmth from her lover's body sifted through her soul.

"I love you, Charlie Moon," Sam said, inhaling the faint jasmine scent clinging to Charlie's slender body. "At this time when my brother and Janice get to shine in the light of society's blessing I want a little of that approval directed at you and me. I need the whole world to know I am not ashamed of loving you. Now, we need to rearrange your schedule for next week, get you tickets, and find a sitter for Sammy," Sam announced in no uncertain terms. She wasn't taking any chances that Charlie might change her mind.

"I just hope you do not expect me to wear a dress to the wedding," Charlie said, walking to their closet.

"Yeah, right," Sam snorted, punching numbers on the phone. "I only expect you to wear a dress to our wedding, dear," she added, sweetly. "Just grab that outfit you wore to John and Darrel's commitment soiree, you know you looked great in that. It set off your tall string bean figure and brings out light blues in your eyes."

"I can't wear that!" Charlie protested. "That particular outfit has lesbian written all over it."

"Good, then I won't have to tell my mama a thing. Uh, yes," she said into the phone, switching to her professional voice. "I'm calling to check if you have any seats left on flight 187 from Boston to Atlanta. I already have one ticket...It's S. E. Jones...Fantastic! I'll pick it up at the airport...No, that's all for now, thank you." Sam hung up the phone, turning to Charlie. "It's destined that you go. They had a cancellation this morning so you were able to get the last seat on the flight. And get this, the same person was assigned the seat in my row."

"That's sounds too good to be true." Charlie was clearly skeptical. "We may be spending the night at the airport waiting for a flight, you know."

"Fate is fate," Sam replied with a shrug. "I say Sunday night we'll be eating dinner at my parent's house."

Charlie settled for rolling her eyes. "So you think I should wear this to the wedding?" She held up the black silk shirt, the tan vest with a black flower pattern, and tan twill pants. "I wore my black boots before, but maybe I can borrow some regular shoes from Suzy, or buy some at one of those cheap shoe places when we get to Atlanta."

"Nah, wear your boots," Sam said, shaking her head. "At least then one of us will be comfortable at this dumb function." Sam as one of the bridesmaids had to wear a frothy full-length yellow concoction and heels. "I don't know why I have to be a part of this overpriced madness. Sure Joyce is a very nice woman, but I'm not in her family and we are not best friends."

"Tradition, Jones," Charlie explained. "Almost every female has to suffer through the bridesmaid experience, Sam. It's our role in life."

"What's this our business?" Sam threw a pillow, hitting Charlie on the head. "You've never had to do it, nor will you ever have to do it, you only child you," she complained.

"Good Karma," Charlie explained, throwing the pillow back at Sam. "Now can we please get back to business? I still have to make a few calls since I'll be gone for a week."

"Call Janice and see if she can doggie sit, if not I'll call Joshua and see if he can pull some strings at the kennel."

"I also need to call Tina and see if she can help me cover my shifts at the bookstore," Charlie said reaching for her organizer. Tina was her partner in the business. "She was hinting last week that she was more than willing to do it if I should need to go out of town."

"There you have it, girl. If Tina thinks you should go with me to the wedding that's all there is to it." We just won't talk about the fact that I talked to her about being available for this possibility. Sam walked over to the dresser, picked up the phone and walked it back to Charlie. She wanted to be sure that nothing stood in the way of her lover going to Atlanta with her.

Chapter 2

"I'd like to be with you when you tell them," Charlie said, her voice a little shaky. They were on the plane headed towards Atlanta.

"Oh, Charlie," Sam said reaching for her partner's hand. "It would mean so much to me to have you there supporting me as you have for the past six years. No one can tell me what I feel for you is against the teachings of God," Sam said fiercely. "God would never deny the rightness of our emotions. With you by my side everything will be okay."

"Right! We'll get thrown out of the house together," Charlie replied half-way serious. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this, Jones. I swear there area thousand butterflies flittering around in my stomach." She rubbed her stomach nervously.

"Calm down babe, no matter what happens you and I will come out of this stronger. I really believe that. Please trust me, Charlie." She gave the blonde a beautiful smile and squeezed her hand. Sam was reminded of the Charlie she had chased down in the coffee shop, all nervous and shy. To this day going after Charlie was absolutely the most impulsive thing Sam had ever done. Who would have thought she'd be running after some tall, skinny, blonde! Her usual preferences ran to short, dark and a little on the beefier side. But something about the electric shock from those intense blue eyes had driven her on. Charlie was by no beauty by conventional definition, but then Sam wasn't a conventional kind of woman.

Charlie's face was angular and she had a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her small pointed nose. Her chin had just a hint of a cleft and Sam compulsively rubbed it looking for an indentation. Her skin was so fair that when she blushed there was no hiding it.

Despite their differences, and maybe even because of them, their relationship had flourished and grown. From their very first date during which Sam let herself be talked into going to some Vegan establishment, there had been the feeling of rightness. She hadn't even minded when some of her friends had teased her of already being led around by the nose. Those early feelings she had for Charlie had been like nothing she'd ever experienced before. Now, Sam couldn't even begin to imagine a life without Charlie in it. Nor did she want to!

"Yeah, yeah," Charlie muttered. "How can you be so calm at a time like this? I can't believe we're almost here." She glanced at her watch, tapping on the face to make sure it was still working. "Only three hours ago we were safe at our place."

"Charlie, please calm down. You're wearing me out," Sam said sitting up and stretching, drawing Charlie's gaze to her shapely breasts. "I'm here for ya, babe," she patted one of Charlie's hands that gripped the seat rest. "Besides, it's not like I plan to tell them at the airport anyway. Although," she started, breaking off to study Charlie intently. "Now that I think about it, that new buzz cut of yours might give our secret away."

"I knew I should have waited to get my hair cut!" Charlie put her hands on her shorn head. The day before the important decision to go the wedding Charlie gave in to an impulse and had her hair cut to almost nothing. Now she had blonde spikes on the top of her head and very short hair on the sides and back.

"I'm only joking, Charlie." Sam laughed putting a hand on Charlie's thigh and rubbing. "Short hair is the rage these days. You look like one of those graceful creatures that are on the covers of fashion magazines. Without the makeup and the nails, of course," she added quickly.

"Damn straight! Without all those stupid clothes either," Charlie added with a smile, her first genuine one all afternoon. "Ooh," she said as a good thought hit her, "do you suppose your mom fixed greens for dinner tonight?"

"Unless she's dead," Sam replied dryly. "As if my mom would dare not make all your favorites, girl. She treats you better than any of the rest of us anyway," she added and gave a playful pout.

"Hey, it's only because I'm so special," Charlie said, puffing out her meager chest. She sat back and was surprised to discover that her nervousness had subsided. I don't know what I was thinking. Sam's mom and dad love me, I mean her mom is always fixing good food for me. Hell, I feel more welcome at her parent's house than I do at my own parent's house. I have to stop thinking that Sam's parents would react like mine. And after six years, I have to believe that the relationship that Sam and I have fostered can weather any storm. She squeezed Sam's hand and gave her a tremulous smile. "You're right as usual, Sam. It's past time for us to take this step."

"Mom, it's so good to see you again," Sam said from within her mother's tight embrace.

"Well it's about time y'all came back to visit me," Mrs. Jones said beaming. She loosened her grip on Sam and reached for Charlie. Hugging her close and dropping a kiss on cheek. Looking at Shirley Jones it was easy to see where Sam got her medium body build and curvy backside. At fifty-five Shirley still had the figure of a woman much younger than hers. She'd be the first to admit that it was all in her genes and had nothing to do with effort on her part.

"Now don't start on that, Shirley," Mr. Jones said dropping a kiss on Sam's head and pulling her into his arms. Once done, he reached for Charlie and repeated the procedure. "Let the girls get home and settled in before you start your naggin'." Sam took her facial features and her height from her father, Ben Jones. Ben easily topped his daughter by four feet at a couple of inches over six feet. His big brown eyes, long lashes and pug nose gave not doubt whose father her was.

"Ben ain't nobody naggin'," Shirley retorted with a sniff. "I was just making suggestions. Nothin' any other mother wouldn't say. Why my baby had to move so far away, I'll just never know," she sighed, checking to see if her statement was having any effect.

Sam rolled her eyes, but remained silent. It was better to just let her mother talk when she got on one of these kicks. She couldn't remember how many times in the last eight years she'd heard the same spiel.

"You girls have more bags than those, don't you?" Ben asked, motioning to their carry on luggage.

"Yeah," Sam said eager to change the subject. "The sign at the gate said our luggage would be on carousel number eight."

As they proceeded to the baggage claim area, Shirley entertained Sam and Charlie with news from the neighborhood. By the time they pulled up at the old homestead, Sam had the 411 on all her old friends whether they still lived in the area or not.

"Mom, I've said it before and I'll say it again, you should be publishing a neighborhood scandal sheet. You could be making serious cash," Sam pointed out.

"I try to give you a little information and this is the thanks I get," Shirley sighed loudly for dramatic effect. "Children these days just don't appreciate their elders like we used to," she complained. "You realize what I'm trying to do, don't you Charlie?"

Charlie paused in the act of opening the car door. "Of course I do Mrs. Jones. But you know how your daughter is." She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, earning her a poke in the ribs from Sam. "I tell her all the time she should respect her mother more," Charlie added on, with a sly look at Sam.

"Thank you Eddie Clever," Sam said for Charlie's ears only. "Let me help you with those bags dad." She got out of the car, glaring at Charlie across the top. Making sure her mother was already walking towards the house, Sam stuck out her tongue as well.

"Make me hot," Charlie mouthed in return with a grin. She walked around to the trunk seconds before Sam. Mr. Jones had pulled out the bags and placed them on the driveway. Shutting the trunk, he grabbed the two largest bags, leaving the backpacks for the two women.

"Dad, let me help you with one of those," Sam protested, reaching for her bag.

"Don't challenge my manhood, Samantha," Ben growled playfully. "I can carry these dinky bags y'all brought. Now pick up the rest of the stuff and let's get in the house before your mother has to come and get us. She's been so excited that her baby was coming for a long visit this time."

"I'm not a baby anymore!" Sam declared and reached down to pick up her backpack and Charlie's.

"No matter how old you are, you'll always be our baby," Ben said. He sat down the suitcases and opened the door, motioning the women to precede him into the house.

"Some things never change." Sam sighed with satisfaction as she looked around the hallway that allowed glimpses of the living room and the dining room. Portraits of days gone by still lined the walls of the narrow hallway. Simply walking through the door to her childhood home instantly brought back a rush of fond memories for Sam. In this house she had always felt loved and sheltered. She drew in a deep breath catching a faint scent of the mixture of cleaning solutions and the vanilla room deodorizer her mother had used for the past thirty years or so. But the overwhelming smells came from the kitchen where there was sure to be a feast waiting for them. Funny how it took coming back here took her back to her childhood and the old feelings of contentment.

"You're holding up traffic," Charlie said, nudging Sam into the hallway and away from the stairs.

"Thanks, Charlie," Ben threw over his shoulder as he climbed the stairway. "I thought I was going to get stuck holding the bags." He laughed at his own pun.

"Are you girls comin'?" Shirley called down from the top of the staircase. "I fixed the room up just for the two of you. I think you'll like the changes."

Charlie and Sam after sharing a look of question followed Ben up the stairs. Charlie paused to study the family pictures that adorned the walls. They were in chronological order from the bottom to the top. Seeing pictures of a younger Sam always made Charlie wish she had known her then. The impish smile and her button nose made her more cute, than pretty. Sam's hair was invariably escaping the braids her mother had painstakingly put in her hair. It was easy to tell that her partner had been a mischievous child.

The family photo at the top of the stairs had been taken almost two years ago. Charlie gave a brief thought to what the next photo would look like. It would include Joyce, but not her. Then again, after this week the picture might not include Sam either, Charlie thought. She once again let negative thoughts enter her brain as she entered Sam's room.

"Uh mom, what happened to my bunk beds?" Sam asked, noticing the modern looking queen sized sleigh bed positioned where her beds used to be.

"Since you're always complaining about being so grown up, I gave them to Justin. Those twins of his are just about ready for the switch. This is Tom's old bed. Joyce decided she had to have a new one. Not that I blame the poor girl," she was quick to add. "Because I know how my son was carryin' on before he decided to settle down. Are y'all hungry? Here I am chattin' on and you girls are probably starvin'. Charlie you look like you haven't been eating lately. You should make Sam cook for you more. I know she knows how, 'cause I taught her myself," Shirley rattled on. Sometimes when she got to talking it was hard to get a word in edgewise.

"Mom, the room looks great," Sam said as her mother wound down. "Charlie and I don't mind sharing this big bed one little bit," she added tongue-in-cheek. Maybe I need to rethink this coming out thing. Sam looked at her partner with a raised eyebrow. "Now, what were you saying about food?" she asked as her stomach rumbled.

"It'll be ready in ten minutes," Shirley promised. "Y'all come on down after you freshen up." She bustled out of the room, wiping away minute dust specks here and there.

"I hope you girls are hungry," Ben commented after his wife let the room. "Your mother's been cooking all day long. She knows you never get enough to eat when you're out of her house," he added with a chuckle.

"Charlie's already been thinking about greens and macaroni and cheese, so we'll be right down, dad," Sam said with a grin and put her suitcase on the bed. Charlie did likewise, absently rubbing her stomach.

"Are you sure there's anything to out?" Charlie asked, after making sure Mr. Jones was going down the stairs. "One bed?" She cocked her head in the direction of the bed. "Are they telling us something?"

"We can only hope," Sam replied with a shrug. "My favorite synopsis is that my mother takes one of my hands, pats it and says I already know, baby. But that's probably a wild fantasy," she sighed and sat next to her suitcase.

"It could happen. Remember Granna?" Charlie prodded and held up the mate to the necklace Sam wore around her neck, which had been a gift from Charlie's maternal grandmother.

"Nobody can be as special as Granna was, Charlie," Sam replied with a shake of her head. "Let's go eat before mom comes a lookin' for us." She motioned with her head for Charlie to follow her.

Sam preceded Charlie into the kitchen where the small informal table was filled with Charlie's favorite dishes, just as Sam had predicted. "Mother, this looks and smells great." She took a deep breath allowing the wonderful smells to assail her nostrils.

"Absolutely wonderful, Mrs. Jones," Charlie echoed, her stomach growling loudly.

"My girls are here for a week, so of course I have to go all out," Shirley replied as if someone was questioning her mothering skills. "Now Charlie, you can sit on my left side and Sam you sit on the right. Ben, go ahead and bless the table."

Everyone stood as Mr. Jones blessed the food and the table. He finished with an Amen that was echoed by the women.

"Okay, everybody grab a dish, serve yourself, then pass it on," Shirley said, as they were sitting down. "Now Sam, tell me all about your work. The last thing you mentioned was the promotion."

"I'm working as a project manager now," Sam replied, taking a generous serving of green beans. "That means I have more control over the finished project from start to finish." Sam worked for a transportation planning consulting firm. After graduating from MIT with an engineering degree, she'd gone on to graduate school and gotten a joint transportation planning/engineering Masters. Once she got her Masters degree she was quickly hired by an up and coming consultant firm. Hard work and some high impact projects had gotten her to the position she now had.

"It also means she's working more hours a week," Charlie muttered, accepting a dish of macaroni and cheese from Ben.

"Just for a couple more weeks Charlie, then things will slow down," Sam promised. She didn't even want to think of how many times she had said that to her lover.

"You don't want to work yourself to death for money, child," Ben advised. "You'll end up having heart attacks at forty."

"You don't need money do you?" Shirley asked, looking up concerned. "How much do you need? We can find some for you, baby."

"Mom!" Sam groaned. "I promise you I have enough money for my needs. I'm really getting myself into a position to start up a company with a couple of friends in the next five years. My current project is very high profile and if it's successful, I'll be able to make some very useful contacts. May I have some chicken please?" she asked Charlie, giving her a meaningful glance that was met with a wide-eyed response.

"Make sure she's takin' care of herself, Charlie," Shirley said, somewhat appeased. "You call me if you have any trouble with her," she added, shaking her finger at Sam.

"You can count on it, Mrs. Jones," Charlie replied, trying to keep a grin off her face. She also made sure to avoid eye contact with her significant other.

"Now let's talk about you, Charlie." Shirley turned towards Charlie. "How is the bookstore doing these days? I really need to get down there one of these days."

"Business is going about as well as can be expected given the advent of the mega bookstores," Charlie answered after swallowing and wiping her mouth. "We have a very capable assistant manager now, so I don't feel like I need to be at the store all the time anymore." Charlie, along with two other women owned a feminist bookstore. With the death of her beloved Gamma Charlie had inherited enough money to buy her way into a struggling bookstore. For the first couple of years a lot of work had gone into re-making the bookstore into an environment that drew in customers and provided space for women friendly programs and groups. It was still a struggle to fight against the big chain bookstores but by tailoring their books, they served a loyal niche.

"Sam tells me you're writing more poetry now and that you're thinking of trying to get a book published. How's that coming along, dear?" Shirley prodded.

"Much better than I expected, Mrs. Jones. I'm even ahead of my schedule on this one."

"Surely there's not much money in poetry," Ben said. "Have you ever thought about switching to stories? Some of those people seem to be really making money."

"It's only a few at the top, dad," Sam interjected. "The big bucks seem to come from selling the story to TV or the movies."

"Now ain't that the truth. They will make a movie about anythin' these days," Shirley agreed, nodding her head. "Almost everythin' seems to be based on some book. Or it's based on someone's personal tragedy."

"The days of instant media," Sam quipped. "Someone supposedly commits an awful crime, and the next week the book is released."

"Followed shortly by the made-for-TV movie," Charlie added. "I'm so sick of people selling their integrity for a quick buck."

"And half the time it's the friends or relatives tellin' all," Shirley commented. "Anybody can have ten minutes of shame these days."

"And everybody is a part of the problem," Charlie argued. "So many times people want to hear dirt and sleaze. Everyday niceness is too mundane to satisfy the viewing public. If nobody got shot or maimed, then it's a slow news day."

"Before you get started, could you pass the macaroni and cheese?" Sam asked, dryly, forestalling the rest of a frequently vented theory. "So mom is everything ready for this big shindig?" she asked, accepting the dish from Charlie. Sam added a generous helping on her plate.

"I certainly hope so," Shirley said. "We don't have anythin' to do with Saturday but get you there on time. All I really have to worry about is the rehearsal dinner Friday night. I got Sahara to cater that for me at the church. My biggest worry is makin' sure you get to the final fittin' Thursday morning. Why Joyce had to have you in the weddin', I'm not sure," Shirley commented with a shake of her head. "It was already too big, if you ask me," she added with a sniff.

"Shirley, leave it alone," Ben cautioned. "Let Joyce have her day in the limelight. A wedding is not something that happens everyday."

"I certainly hope not," Shirley replied. "And if it makes Joyce happy, then so be it. But I really think it has more to do with her mother," she added cattily. "Now Charlie, are you coming with us to the fittin'? I'm sure you won't want to miss the show my child will put on," she chuckled.

"I wouldn't miss it for anything," Charlie said with a big grin.

"I can't wait," Sam growled with a dark scowl. "Is this fitting just for me, or will the whole zoo be there?"

"Don't talk about your future kin folk that way, girl," Shirley admonished, half- heartedly. "I believe they're all goin' be there at some time durin' the mornin'. I'm sure they'll have video cameras a plenty," she sniffed. While she loved Joyce dearly, she could easily do without that snooty family of hers.

"I'm only staying an hour max," Sam vowed. "It's enough that I've agreed to be a part of this whole charade. And I promise you if any one of those ugly cousins of hers who are not in the wedding say another word to me..."

"Samantha Jeanetta Jones, you'd better remember how your mother raised you," Shirley heeded and shook her finger at her recalcitrant daughter. "You will just remember to ignore those ignorant heifers."

"But mom," Sam protested, "it's just not fair! It's not my fault they're not in the wedding, yet I'm bearing the brunt of their vindictive behavior. Not doing something about the situation will kill me," she whined, accentuating her words by tapping a finger on the table. When Sam had passed through town a couple of months ago, she'd had the bad luck of running into Joyce and the two cousins in question. They had just learned that while they would not be in the wedding, Sam who was not a friend or a relative, would be. If not for Joyce's diplomacy, the whole situation could have turned even uglier than the cousins.

"Sam, soon this will all be over," Ben said soothingly. He had a lot of practice in calming his youngest child. "For your brother's sake, try to smile and get through this circus."

"I guess I can do it for old watermelon head," Sam agreed with reluctance. "Where is that boy anyway? I come all the way to Atlanta to be in his wedding, and he can't even come see me?"

"Joyce's mom scheduled a dinner for family and friends tonight," Shirley explained. "They invited all of us, but I thought later would be soon enough to expose you to everyone. Besides, I knew Charlie would be upset if she came and I didn't have dinner cooked for her."

"That's a fact, mom," Sam said with a smile. "She was wondering if you had cooked her some collards while we were still on the airplane."

"I'm not that bad," Charlie protested with a fake pout. "It's your fault Mrs. J, you shouldn't be such a good cook. I don't suppose there is any of that wonderful walnut pound cake for dessert?" she asked with an encouraging smile.

"Suga', of course there is," Shirley chuckled. "Let me clear off this table, and I'll have your desert in a jiffy."

"Charlie and I can clear the table mom, you go ahead and get the dessert," Sam said, rising. She began stacking the dirty dishes and took them to the sink. "Should I go ahead and put the food away, mom?"

"Just cover the dishes with foil for now," Shirley replied. "Your brother is bound to stop by to see you two and you know that boy can't come over here without eatin'."

"Well then hurry up and cut the cake before he gets here," Sam countered. "In fact, give me two pieces because I know he's going to have his Posse with him and I know how they love to eat."

"Two pieces for me too," Charlie added quickly, stacking more dishes on the counter. "What posse is he bringing with him?"

"Don't pay any attention to that girl, Charlie," Shirley said. "She's still mad at somethin' that took place years ago. Those boys didn't mean to eat all the cheesecake before you got any, Samantha."

"Mom, we've been over this a million times," Sam protested covering the bowls of leftovers with cling wrap. "Those rotten skunks conspired to deny me my rights to that cheesecake. And no one can ever convince me otherwise," she stated firmly. "Let's look at the facts shall we?"

"Here." Shirley quickly thrust a plate with two generous slices of cake at Sam. If she had to hear the cheesecake conspiracy one more time she would scream! "Now sit down and eat this. Maybe it'll sweeten you up," she added under her breath.

"Thanks mom, you're too kind." Not wanting to give in, but at the same time wanting to eat the cake, Sam took the proffered plate and sat down. I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too.

"Here's yours, Charlie. Ben are you having two slices too?"

"One'll be fine with me, Shirley," Ben replied. "I don't have the room to put it away. Besides, I know where the back up cake is," he said with a wink and a chuckle.

"Holwing ow on me, eh?" Sam asked her mouth full.

"Samantha!" Shirley started as the doorbell rang. "I'll get it. I'm sure it's your brother," she sighed, as the doorbell was rung four more times. "The older y'all get the sillier y'all get."

"Where are they?" Tom's voice boomed out. "I told Mac and Derrick they would be in the kitchen grubbin' down. Am I right?"

"Of course we are," Sam yelled back. "As soon as mom told me you'd be coming over, I knew I had to eat before you and your Posse got here."

"How'd you know I was coming?" Derrick asked, walking into the kitchen. Sam stood up to and was gathered into a smothering bear hold. At six-four, two hundred and fifty pounds, Derrick easily lifted Sam up for a quick kiss. "Are you finally ready for us to get married, girl?" Derrick joked as he gave her his patented sexy smile that had every female over twelve at his feet.

"No way," Sam replied with a grin and a slap on the arm. "I have to have me a man I can beat at arm wrestling. Come back when your strength is fading."

"Just don't let me get a turn," Tom complained and edged Derrick out of the way. "Sam you're looking good." He pulled her close for a hug. "I appreciate you coming early, sis." He bent down to give her a kiss. Just looking at the two Jones siblings you knew they were related. Tom like his sister, shared his dad's features, but unlike Sam also shared Ben Jones' height. At six-three, two hundred pounds he was muscular and in great shape.

For all the fussing and fighting they had done as kids, they were very close. As Sam's older brother Tom took it upon himself to make sure nobody but he and his close friends messed with his sister. Although considering how tough Sam had turned out, Tom hadn't had to work too hard at that self appointed job. Of course with the sheer bulk of him and his posse, no one had even had a thought of picking on Sam.

"Yeah, I think Joyce is a little worried you won't show up for the wedding," Derrick added and laughed. "Charlotte darling, you're looking good as always," he dropped a kiss on her head. "Are you ready to get married?"

"Fickle, fickle," Sam hooted before Charlie could reply. "You have not changed a bit Derrick Moore," she added. Finally spying the third posse member she exclaimed, "Oh Mac, it's good to see you again!" and walked over into his embrace. "It's been too many years."

"If I had known you were going to turn out this good, Sam, I wouldn't have spent all those years tormenting you," Mac joked holding her close. She was the little sister he had never had. "All of us together in this kitchen is bringing back a bunch of memories," he added, looking around. Mac couldn't count the number of times he'd been forced to seek the warm, nourishing shelter of this kitchen. He walked over and started to shake hands with Ben Jones, but found himself clasped into a hug instead.

"I know," Shirley beamed while waiting for her hug. It had been at least five years since she'd seen this unofficial adopted son of hers. "It's wonderful to have all my kids here at once. I know I fed you boys enough that you should at least look like me a little bit," she added with a smile and place a kiss on his cheek before gathering him close. Shirley leaned away and looked him over. At five feet ten inches Mac was the runt of the posse. What he lacked in height he made up in speed and endurance. "Now where are my manners? Mac this is Charlie, Charlie meet Mac. I'm pretty sure you two have never been here at the same time," she added.

Mac and Charlie smiled at each other and shook hands. "No we haven't met, but I've heard a lot of good things about you," Mac remarked.

"Well, I can't say that everything I've heard about you has been good," Charlie confessed with a conspiratorial grin. "But you have to consider the source," she added pointing to Sam.

"What?" Sam asked, trying for the innocent look. "I may have made a few comments about the dreadful way you guys treated me, but don't take it personally," she said blithely.

"We treated you?" Derrick hooted. "For everything we did to you, you gave it back to us two-fold."

"Yeah," Mac agreed. "You have to watch her like a hawk, Charlie," he warned.

"Double yeah," Tom agreed and gave the tall blonde a kiss and a hug. "It's good to see you again too, Charlie. I'm glad you could be persuaded to come to the spectacle, oh I mean, wedding," he corrected and cleared his throat. "Speaking of feeding, which I believe you were a minute ago mom, did these pigs leave us anything?"

"No," Charlie replied, sticking out her tongue. "It sure was good." She patted her flat stomach.

"I know no light weight like you took care of all the food I know Ma Shirley cooked," Derrick said, walking to the stove and taking a top off one of the pots. "Man, even the Republicans wouldn't think that plastic chicken and vegetables they served us earlier was food."

"Shoot, I've had better food in the Navy," Mac added leaning over the stove and taking a whiff of the food.

"Well then, you boys sit down," Shirley directed. "I might have a little left over for you."

"Just a little bit though," Ben chuckled. "Shirley's only been cooking enough for an encampment."

"I knew we could count on you Ma Shirley," Derrick said with a heartfelt sigh. He quickly replaced the lid and found a space at the table.

"Don't get used to this mom, but I'll even help you serve the hoard," Sam volunteered. She motioned Mac to come take her place. "What would you guys like to drink?"

"Lemonade will work for me, sis."

"Make that two."

"Me three," Mac added and rubbed his hands together in anticipation of good food. "Oh, by the way Charlie my real name is Douglas MacIntyre. Dubbed Mac by my two buddies here."

"Charlotte Moon," she replied. "But nobody but my mother calls me that, except for Sam when she's being a brat."

"Gottcha. No way you're from here with that accent," he remarked.

"I was born and mostly raised in New Hampshire," Charlie replied with a smile. "Now I live in Boston," she added, exaggerating her accent.

"Too cold for me," Derrick said, shivering. "I don't know how you stand it up there, Sam. No offense meant Charlie, but black folks weren't built for those cold climates."

"You get used to it after awhile," Sam replied, putting the glasses filled with lemonade on the table. "Now there are only about ten days a year that I swear I'm moving back down south."

"Here you boys are." Shirley put heaping plates in front of her guys and that slowed conversation while they wolfed down the food.

Chapter 3

A bleary-eyed Sam sat up the next morning in response to her mother's call. "Okay," she yelled back, "I'm up." Rubbing her eyes, she almost regretted staying up a good portion of the night talking with the "boys". It must have been almost three when they'd decided to call it a night. With a face splitting yawn, she pushed aside the sheet and got out of the bed. Sam collected her robe from the back of the closet door and ambled down the hall to the bathroom.

As the warm water sluiced over her body, she thought about the night before. She was so glad she'd had this last opportunity to talk to Tom before his wedding. Listening to him talk about his feelings for Joyce, gave her a finer appreciation of Tom as a strong black man rather than just her older brother. He was going into this marriage sure of what he wanted to do and determined to make it last. The good nature ribbing from Derrick and Mac hadn't perturbed him one little bit. Tom fully admitted that he was caught, tied and shackled, and it was exactly what he wanted.

Sam was glad she made the decision to tell her parents about herself and her love for Charlie. She had to do her best to make them see the correlation between the love Tom and Joyce shared and the love she shared with Charlie. Though the government did not yet sanction their union, it was every bit as strong as any heterosexual one.

Although she had always been one to scoff a little bit at commitment ceremonies, she suddenly realized the need to make that kind of public announcement about her and Charlie. No that wasn't true, the need had been growing gradually. All the extra time she'd been putting in at work made her think more about their relationship, not less.

On her last two out of town trips, she'd missed Charlie like crazy. They'd talked on the phone into the night, like they'd done when they were first going out. On her second trip, she stumbled upon a small jewelry store, which was filled with unique designs. Sam had spotted an absolutely perfect set of rings in the window. Those rings were still hidden in their fire-proof storage box at home, because the right opportunity had not come up.

Hey, you shouldn't be waiting for the right opportunity. You need to make it happen. Sam decided that when they got back to Boston, she needed to get together with Janice and come up with something special that Charlie would always remember. It would have to be something unconventional to catch her totally off guard. Just like I was caught off guard, the first time I saw her. Sam unconsciously smiled in remembrance. Surely their meeting was destined to happen because Sam only decided at the last minute to go have a drink after the soccer game. She had promised her friend Cyn that she would meet her and a friend of Cyn's for an early dinner. That meant she was supposed to go home right after the game, get cleaned up and go meet her friend and the "treasure" Cyn was trying to push off on her.

It really hadn't taken much effort on her teammate's part to get her to stop by their favorite sports bar for a couple of quick beers. If she timed it right and stayed only for fifteen minutes there would be just enough time to get to Cyn's house by six. And if she was a little late she knew her friend would forgive her. Lord knows she'd had to wait around for Cyn to show up plenty of times.

Knowing she had to make a quick get away Sam drove her own car to the bar. The gang was already pretty lively since they were celebrating a victory. Although, Sam acknowledged ruefully, most people would be hard pressed to distinguish between her team's celebration mode and their 'agony of defeat' mode. The group was lively on most occasions.

Sam was removing a teammates hand from her butt when she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She tried to shrug it off as nothingness but the feeling persisted. Giving in to her instincts, she turned and looked at the deck on the coffee shop next door. Azure eyes trapped her and she felt as if every atom left her body.

"It's her," a voice screamed in her brain. If Sam had been at all coherent she would have asked who her was but in her altered state she just knew. Some part of her mind registered that the tall, thin blonde with the absorbing eyes was moving. Sam's last thought was that she had to stop her. She jumped up, upending her chair and raced downstairs all the while praying she wasn't too late. Jostling through the crowded downstairs unmindful of whom she bumped into, she rushed to the coffee shop.

Her heart pounding furiously she stopped just inside the door as she spied her target leaning against the wall near the stairway. Taking a couple of deep breaths to decrease her heart rate, Sam walked to her destiny.

"Hey you in there, don't use up all the hot water," Charlie said, banging on the door.

Sam gave a start and almost fell down. "I'll be out in a minute, Charlie," she yelled, grabbing for the soap. She quickly lathered her body, rinsed off and turned off the water. Putting on her robe, she strode to the door and opened it. "Sorry, I was lost in thought. You should have just come on in and joined me"

"I figured you were in here sleeping," Charlie replied not even trying to cover a yawn. "I can't believe we stayed up that late," she whined playfully around another yawn.

"Stop that," Sam admonished, yawning in return. "You know those things are contagious. Remind me next time to go to bed earlier."

"I tried, but every time we tried to boot the guys out of the house, Derrick would come up with one more story he had to share. When he finishes up his football career, the guy should be a stand-up comedian."

"He always was the class clown," Sam acknowledged with a grin. Sleepiness left her as she took in the sight of those long thighs left bare by the sleep shirt Charlie was wearing. "You know I think I could use another shower because my back didn't really get scrubbed," Sam suggested, her brown eyes gleaming with sudden desire.

"Not in your parent's house, Sam," was the serious reply. From experience Charlie easily recognized the look in the ebony woman's eyes and knew where the back washing would lead. "With my luck your mom would come up to see what's taking so long," she replied half heartedly, trying to dampen the answering passion awakening inside her.

"Well then we wouldn't have anything to tell her, now would we?" Sam said with a wicked grin. She pulled Charlie into the bathroom, shut, and locked the door.

"Oh no you don't, Samantha Jones," Charlie said, sidestepping her partner. "I said I wanted to be with you when you tell your parents, not show them."

"You're no fun," Sam pouted and lazily parted her robe. "If you don't make a lot of noise we won't be heard over the running water," she promised.

Charlie turned her head from the tempting sight of smooth naked flesh, trying desperately to remember her purpose for being in the bathroom.

Seeing Charlie waver, Sam sidled up behind the blonde and kissed her very sensitive neck. Placing tiny kisses up and down each side, her hands slid under Charlie's shirt and found the already hardening nipples.

"Sam!" Charlie moaned softly. "You're not playing fair," she protested but did not move away.

"Who's playing?" was asked in the husky voice that never failed to arouse Charlie. Sam turned Charlie around to face her, unerringly capturing those soft rose colored lips. Pulling her closer, Sam licked Charlie's lips and was granted access. Deepening the kiss, their tongues dueled each other as they tried to get even closer.

Desire warred with sensibility and won. With a groan Charlie opened Sam's robe even more and grabbed her hips. She tugged until their hot centers made contact causing both of them to moan. Lungs nearly bursting she pulled back a fraction of an inch and sucked in air. "Do you know how hot I am at the thought of making out in this bathroom with the chances of discovery hanging in the air?" she whispered her voice rough with desire.

Sam reached down between them and slid her hand into her lover's panties. She gently parted Charlie's sex and gave a sigh when her hand was moistened with the hot wetness of her partner's desire. "I think I have an idea," she whispered back. "Oh babe, you feel so good," she groaned and thrust two fingers deep into the blonde causing Charlie to breathe deeper and move her hips.

"You are so beautiful to me, Charlie," Sam whispered fervently as she watched Charlie's eyes darken with passion and her face take on the look of intense desire. She felt rather than saw her lover pull ruthlessly on her own panties and spread her hips further.

Taking that as an invitation Sam added anther finger and found the engorged nub with her thumb. Driven by need she increased the thrusts of her fingers and the pressure of her thumb.

Charlie quickly adjusted to the new rhythm and found herself spiraling out of control. "Sam, oh Sam," was all she could pant as the throbbing was taking over her body.

Sam quickly covered Charlie's mouth with her own in order to absorb the scream that would soon follow. As predicted, Charlie came hard, her spasm clinching around Sam's fingers. The only thing that kept her upright was Sam as her legs turned to jelly.

"I love you," Charlie said once she was able to get out a word. "Wow! You almost killed me though," she admitted resting her forehead on Charlie's shoulder.

"Almost only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades," Sam quipped with a self-satisfied smirk. "You forgot all about my mother, admit it?" she taunted gently.

"Not quite," Charlie replied with a mischievous smile. "I told you the thought of getting caught adds to the thrill."

"Kinky, Charlie." Sam's mind envisioned a bathroom scene with her, Charlie and a wedding reception. Maybe wearing a dress wouldn't be so bad after all. A lecherous grin crossed her face.

"What's that look for, Jones?" Charlie questioned. That expression usually meant trouble on the horizon.

"Just sweet thoughts of you and me, babe. Now I really think we'd better get ready and go down or mom will for sure come up here."

"But what about you?" Charlie reached between Sam's legs and cupped her, her hand becoming instantly wet.

"I can wait until tonight," Sam claimed although she had to suck in her breath at the feel of those gentle fingers on her flesh. "We still have to fully try out the new bed." She gently removed the insistent hand from the juncture of her thighs, albeit reluctantly.

"Okay," Charlie sighed. Lifting her hand to her nose she inhaled Sam's scent.

"Who's not playing fair now?" Sam's eyes glistened as her blood started to boil heated up by the sight of enjoyment on the blonde's face.

"Your rules," Charlie taunted and put her fingers into her mouth. Seeing those brown eyes turn to black, Charlie reached for her lover again. Sam's legs spread to allow Charlie full access, her whole body focused on her screaming center. A whimper escaped her lips as Charlie squeezed her clit between two fingers.

"Inside me now," Sam growled and her partner was only too happy to comply.

"I can hardly wait until tonight when my face gets to be where my hand is," Charlie whispered into her lover's ear, breathing heavily as she spoke. "I'm going to eat you up," she promised, kissing Sam's neck.

Sam gave a jerk and slammed into orgasm, the visual of Charlie's mouth on her body throwing her over the edge. She covered her mouth with both hands to keep from screaming out in ecstasy. Letting out a shuddering breath she leaned against Charlie for support.

"Sam, are you two up yet?" Shirley yelled from downstairs. "Do I need to come get you kids out of bed?"

Clearing her throat and taking a couple of deep breaths Sam made an effort to pull herself together. "Give us ten minutes, mom," she croaked after cracking the bathroom door open. She was rather proud that her voice was audible. Sam shut the bathroom door and turned to Charlie. They both burst into a fit of nervous giggles. "We'd really better hurry before she comes to investigate."

It was more like twenty minutes when the pair made their way downstairs. Charlie's stomach started rumbling as the smell of bacon reached her nostrils. "I'm starving," she declared unnecessarily and quickened her pace.

"News flash," Sam muttered, but she picked up her pace as well. She put her hand on her growling stomach to keep it quiet.

"So y'all finally made it down," Shirley said with a smile. She was in the process of removing a large golden waffle from the old waffle iron that had seen a lot of use. Slathering butter on the top, she divided it on to two plates. "There's bacon, juice and some scrambled eggs on the table, girls," she added and handed them the plates.

"Um this smells good, Mrs. Jones."

"Thank you dear." She patted Charlie on the shoulder affectionately.

"Yeah mom and it tastes great," Sam said having already taken a couple of bites. "Much better than waffle house," she added before stuffing her mouth full.

Shirley shook her head as she walked back to the counter to pour some more batter. "What time did you girls get to bed last night? I shut down at twelve and y'all were still goin' strong."

"We finally kicked those knuckle heads out at something to three. You know how hard it is to shut Derrick up when he has Tom to egg him on." Sam rolled her eyes as she made her point.

"That I do, child," Shirley Jones said with a chuckle. "I'm sure you were royally entertained last night, Charlie."

Charlie grinned after swallowing some eggs. "Yeah, I felt like I was at a comedy club."

"So mom, what's on the agenda today? Charlie and I are at your disposal for the next few days."

"I thought you might want to drive around and check things out. I mean it's been a good three years since you've been back. That last visit was so short it didn't really count." Sam's mom busied herself checking the waffle iron. "I assume my girls are ready for another waffle?" She chuckled at the two hands raised enthusiastically. "It's so good to have you two home. I can't believe I have you for the whole week." She deftly separated the waffle with a spatula and delivered them.

The phone rang as she walked back to the counter. "Hello, Jones residence… Why hello Joyce, I hope everything is going okay with you….Let me check, they're right here." Shirley pushed the mute button and turned to the table. "Joyce wants to know if we're available to have dinner with her family tonight. They're very eager to see you Sam."

"Ah, sure," Sam said slowly remembering the words of her father from the night before. "This isn't a formal deal is it? I only brought one nice outfit and that's for the rehearsal dinner," she explained.

"No, it's just at her parent's house and Joyce has warned them about you." Shirley released the mute button and spoke into the phone. "Hello Joyce? Yes, we will be able to make it. Thank your mother for the invitation please. We'll see you later."

Sam gathered some dirty dishes and took them to the double stainless steel sink. With practiced ease she rinsed them off and placed them in the dishwasher. "Charlie and I will clean up the kitchen while you go get ready for our sightseeing tour, mom."

Shirley walked over to her daughter and put a hand to her forehead.

"What?" Sam asked bewildered. "I didn't do anything."

"You've offered to do two things you normally stay far away from. I'm just checkin' to see if you are coming down with a fever."

"Oh mom you're so funny," Sam snorted and waved her mother out of the kitchen.

"Do you think I should go tonight, Sam?" Charlie asked as she brought the rest of the dirty dishes to the sink. "I don't want to cause any trouble."

"Don't even think of backing out, Charlotte Moon," Sam growled. "If I have to go suffer, you will be there eating plastic food with me. Sweetie, Joyce knows you're here and I'm know my brother has alerted her to the nature of our relationship. She would think it very strange if you didn't come with us."

"Do you think her family knows?"

"Not in a million years," Sam scoffed. "Believe me, even if they knew they wouldn't know," she explained. "Don't worry about it, babe. Come on let's go explore the back yard while mom's getting ready." She took Charlie's hand and led her to the back door.

Sam stood on the back deck and let the memories take hold of her. So much of her childhood took place in this backyard. Although the swing set had long been dismantled, the image of it was still very clear. The large yard was surrounded by a privacy fence ringed with trees and bushes. At the very back was a huge oak tree that still held the playhouse that had served as the base for many adventures. There she had been pirates, spies, and astronauts.

"It just occurred to me that this is the first time I've been back during the summer in years," Sam remarked in wonder. "Funny how I just now noticed."

"Well all the other times you were running away from Boston's cold weather," Charlie joked. "The yard does look different than I remember with everything in full bloom."

"You should have seen it when it was filled with kids at my tenth birthday party. Every kid on our block and a few on either side were here. My parents had rented a moonwalk and the word got out quickly. My wily brother and his friends tried to capitalize on this event and started charging ten cents for a ride. That little practice stopped when dad got wind of their scheme and made them give the money back. It's still the best party I ever had."

"Oh yes child, I do remember that," Shirley said as she stepped on the back deck. "It was a whole week before my hearin' returned."

"Mom you know you were in your element with a back yard full of kids to take care of."

"That's true enough Sam," Shirley said shaking a finger at the daughter. "But it still took me a week for my ears to stop ringin' from all the screamin' you kids were doin'. Well I'm ready to go," she announced pointedly.

While Mrs. Jones sat in the back, Sam took Charlie on a tour of some of her old haunts. The first stop was Mays High School.

"Charlie, remind me to never go over to the Hill's house for a holiday meal," Sam said from her sprawled position on the bed. "I can see how Joyce's parents stay so slim. They don't eat," she complained with indignation.

"It wasn't' that bad, Sam. Their chef was just a nouvelle cuisine kind of cook. You have to admit the food was beautifully presented."

"You're absolutely right," Sam agreed. "It looked good and it tasted good. But the portions were so tiny I felt like any minute a sparrow was going to fly in and claim I'd stolen her dinner."

"Smaller portions are better for you, really," Charlie said as much to convince Sam as herself.

"Oh, so that wasn't your stomach rumbling as the maid cleared the dinner dishes? And it wasn't you who almost threw me aside to get to the leftovers in the fridge when we got back?" Sam raised a royal eyebrow and fixed Charlie with a stare.

"My evil twin," Charlie replied with a sniff. "The trouble that woman causes me, you just wouldn't believe."

"Right again, Charlotte. I wouldn't believe it," Sam agreed dryly. "Hey what are you doing over there anyway?" Sam sat up and finally paid attention to where her partner was.

"I'm looking through your old yearbooks, as usual dear."

"One crack about my old gheri curl and I won't be held responsible for my actions," Sam warned with a shake of her finger.

"You're no fun," Charlie pouted. "Grouch," she mumbled not quite under her breath and suppressed a smile. She put the books back on the short over-flowing bookcase and joined Sam on the bed. "Well, can I ask why your hair was all over your head in most of these school pictures?" she asked sweetly.

"It's one of those black things I'm always telling you about. Don't you worry your pretty little head over it."

Charlie snorted inelegantly and stuck out her tongue. "I really like being here at your parent's house with you, Sam. Every time I come and I see more of your childhood possessions and it helps me see how you were before I knew you."

"I was nothing before I knew you," Sam replied in all sincerity. "Now admit it, aren't you glad I talked you into coming with me? Mom would have been so hurt if I had gotten off that plane without you."

"You were right, I was wrong," Charlie admitted freely. "I had such a great time driving around with your mother. It was really interesting driving around her old neighborhood and hearing her talk about how it used to be. Auburn Avenue really came alive for me when she described how it was in its hay day." She paused briefly and bit her lip. "Sam, when are you going to tell them?" she asked quietly.

"Good question," Sam said with a sigh. "I really wanted to tell them tonight but then we got that last minute invite. I'd like to tell them together but maybe we could talk to mom after breakfast tomorrow. Then depending on how she takes it, we can tell dad tomorrow night. There has to be a little recovery time between the "outing" and the wedding."

"Yeah, we don't want to ruin things for Tom and Joyce. Although, your mom did introduce me as her other daughter tonight. I really think they know and are okay with it, Sam."

"But that's not enough, Charlie." Sam reached over and placed a hand on the blonde's arm. "I want our relationship openly acknowledged, at least by my parents. I want them to see you the way they'll see Joyce after she joins the family. When we take the next family picture, I want you by my side. This is probably not the best time to have this discussion with them but it's too good of an opportunity to pass up."

"Then we'll talk to your mom tomorrow. A very wise woman once told me that our love was tough enough to survive most anything." She looked at Sam with all her love clear to see in her eyes.

Sam leaned over and cupped Charlie's face. "Whatever I did to deserve you I give thanks for everyday. You are the other half of the puzzle that is me. I'm a strong woman on my own but with you I'm even stronger."

"Sometimes you blow me away, Samantha Jones." Charlie smiled as she blinked back tears. "I love you so much." She gathered Sam into her arms, content for now to hold her close and listen to their hearts beating as one.

"Who would have thought I'd be so neatly trapped by baby blues," Sam whispered, lovingly stroking Charlie's back.

"Or I by beautiful chocolate orbs," the blonde said dreamily. "But then you know I was attracted to you before I even saw your eyes."

"I definitely have back," was the smug reply.

"And you're not afraid to show it off either. I like that in my woman," Charlie purred. She rolled Sam on her stomach so she could stroke the object of their conversation. "Yeah, you had on those black shorts and they were pulled taut as you leaned over to get the pitcher," Charlie recalled with a dreamy expression. "Then when you looked me in the eyes, it took my breath away."

"No," Sam argued. "You took my breath away. I just know I looked like a sick cow standing there feeling like I'd been struck by lightening."

"We'll still be telling each other this story when we're in our nineties, won't we Sam?"

"Honey, we'll still be telling this story into eternity, because that's how long we'll be together."

"You promise?"

"I promise." Sam sealed her promise with a kiss that started out about love and commitment but quickly heated up into passion. It reminded them both of the promises Charlie had made that morning in the bathroom and the blonde was more than willing to keep her promise.

Chapter Four

A satisfied and contented Sam awoke at seven the following morning. She was spooned with Charlie, her arm holding her lover close. Sam gently eased away having decided to take a quick run while the temperature was still manageable. She walked around the bed and dropped a kiss on Charlie's angelic looking face.

After putting on running gear, she headed for the kitchen to let her mother know where she would be. She stretched out on the front lawn liked she done throughout high school during the track season. Picking one of her old routes that looped through the neighborhood twice and included some challenging hills, she set off. She encountered traffic but it wasn't nearly as heavy as she was used to.

A couple of houses had been added on to, but for the most part her old neighborhood hadn't changed much. The houses were older but still well maintained. The area was middle class filled mostly with moderate sized brick houses.

Approaching the end of the second loop, tension gradually built in Sam's stomach. For Charlie's sake, she'd been calm and low key about discussing when to talk to her parents. Now that it was almost time, she was getting nervous. Part of the problem was within her. While she lived her life as an out lesbian some part of her didn't feel right forcing that upon her parents. Maybe she should be satisfied that her parents accepted Charlie even if they never acknowledged the relationship between the two women. She knew plenty of gays who were ostracized from their family simply because they were gay. Why couldn't she just accept what she had?

Because your parents raised you to want more. You've always been taught not to let what other people think of you decide what you want. I wonder if they'll see the irony in that. Sam laughed out loud at the thought. She knew the real issue was that she wanted to walk through like with Charlie at her side as her mate. That's what the rings were all about, the need to celebrate a union of two spirits. How could I not want my parents to be a part of that? Laughing at the joy in her discovery, Sam quickened her pace and raced to her parent's home.

Hearing voices in the kitchen Sam decided to stop by and check in before taking a shower. She wanted to make sure her mother would be around for at least two hours without interruption. Walking into the kitchen she waved at the two occupants then proceeded to the stainless steel side by side fridge and removed a bottle of water. Dripping with sweat from her exertion Sam leaned her head back and sucked in three-quarter of the contents. "Nothing like cold water to quench a thirst," she declared with satisfaction.

"Did you have a good run, Sam?" Shirley asked from the table.

Sam finally focused on the occupants and noted that her mother and Charlie were seated at the table that was filled with papers. "Hey, I hope you guys didn't eat all the food," she worried noticing the absence of any containers. She looked at the expensive metal stove that had been a gift from her and Tom for any sign of leftovers. Seeing none, she walked to the stove, turned on the oven light and looked inside. "Ah, trying to hide it from me," she joked. Forgetting all about taking a shower, she pulled out the wrapped plate and was delighted to discover bacon and french toast. "This looks good mom."

She was walking to the table with her food and water when she it finally dawned on her to wonder what all the papers were. "What are you guys looking at anyway? I thought the wedding was all planned."

"Oh, just a little information your mother down loaded from the web," Charlie answered with a strained smile. "Information on lesbians and their lifestyle," she added a slight edge to her voice.

Sam in the process of swallowing water promptly choked. She coughed and sputtered, pounding on her chest to bring up the water that went down the wrong way. Charlie was more than happy to jump up and get into the act by whaling away on Sam's back.

"Charlie, you're going to kill me," Sam croaked out and stepped away from the vigorous pounding. "Just give me a minute to recover."

"Sorry," the blonde replied, not sounding the least bit sincere and returned to her seat.

"Now Charlie," Shirley chided gently, "you know these things aren't really about the lesbian lifestyle. They're more about ideas for commitment ceremonies and artificial insemination. I mean, I thought about getting the one on sex but I figured y'all must have that worked out by now," she added with a conspiratorial wink.

"Mom!" Sam choked out and started coughing again. She shot a quick glance at Charlie that carried a silent warning but Charlie had her hands covering her face so she didn't see it.

"Samantha Janetta Jones, don't tell me you're a prude when it come to sex!" Shirley exclaimed giving her daughter a reproving look. "I may be over fifty but I know the importance of sex in a relationship. And you can put down your hands Charlie, I promise not to say anything to embarrass you."

"That's because you've already accomplished that, mom," Sam said pointedly. "No matter how good the relationship is, sex is not something kids and parents should be, uh, you know?" she finished vaguely.

"Fine," Shirley beamed and went in for the kill. "Let's talk about a nice ceremony for the two of you. I was thinking you'd probably want to have it up in Boston," she continued, her eyes twinkling with mirth. The sex issue had really been a set up to get them off balance.

"I really need to shower before I eat this," Sam demurred pointing to her plate. "I'll just put it back in the oven and run upstairs and take a quick shower," she added quickly and practically ran out of the kitchen. Every woman for herself! Good thing I got plenty of good lovin' last night, because it'll be the dog house for me. Suppressing a hysterical giggle she sped up the stairs, threw off her clothes and proceeded to the bathroom. She made sure to lock the door this time. "You are so dead, Jones," she told herself once the giggles faded.

Meanwhile poor Charlie was stuck with a determined Shirley Jones. "I can't believe my daughter deserted you like that." Sam's mom reached over to rub Charlie's arm in a consoling manner. "But like I said earlier, it might be best for you and me to start the discussion on these things. You know how Sam can be," she added with an encouraging smile.

"Well, Mrs. Jones," Charlie stammered.

"Oh call me Ma Shirley like my other adopted kids," the elder woman bade with another encouraging smile.

I'm going to kill, Sam! The question is, how to do it? It has to be something excruciatingly slow and painful. Charlie unknowingly grinned as all sorts of evil thoughts flew through her mind.

"Charlie, you still with me?"

"Sorry Ma Shirley, I spazed out for a minute there," she replied with a warn smile that had nothing to do with Sam's mom but everything to do with torture. "Where were we?"

"Talkin' about settlin' down, you know, startin' a family," was the encouraging reply. "I know you girls are grown and like to do things your own way, but there are some lovely ideas here about ceremonies. Ben and I have enough set aside to finance somethin' real nice."

Charlie swallowed audibly, sure that she was in another dimension. She and Sam were supposed to be talking to Sam's mom about accepting and acknowledging the nature of their relationship, not being prodded about marriage and kids! Hell that subject matter had never even come up before. "Yeah, I know how Sam is," the blonde agreed pleasantly, conveniently ignoring the last comment. "But still, I know she should be here with us as we make any kind of decision." Charlie only hoped she didn't look as unsure as she felt. "If for nothing else but to make her suffer," she added.

"You got that right," Shirley said with a loud laugh.

Sam, after stalling as long as she thought safe, quietly made her way down the stairs. She almost ruined the effort by laughing out loud remembering the times she'd snuck in and out of the house using these very steps. The quiet emanating from the kitchen disconcerted her. She was undecided if this was some kind of trap. Cautiously she peeked her head into the kitchen. Her mom and Charlie were where she had left them, sitting at the table

Clearing her throat, Sam pasted a smile on her face. "Sorry I had to leave so abruptly. The shower was doing some serious calling."

"Well if it isn't the rat that left the sinking ship," Charlie drawled with a menacing undertone and a frown.

"Baby, you've got it all wrong," Sam pleaded, trying out her cute puppy dog look

"Don't even think that's going to work this time, Jones," the blonde growled in return.

"Can the soon to be executed have a final meal?" Sam sniffed trying to look tragic but her stomach foiled her by growling loudly.

"The plate is on the oven where you put it, you condemned person you," Charlie snapped sharply and turned her head so her partner wouldn't notice the beginning of a smile twitching at her lips. She is just too cute when she's begging for forgiveness.

"You probably need to heat it up in the microwave," Shirley pointed out. "I didn't' expect it to take you this long." She followed Charlie's lead and gave her daughter a disapproving frown.

"Sorry mom," Sam said with as much dejection as she could muster and hung her head. She had to give up the martyred look when her stomach once again rumbled loudly.

"Go eat before you blow up the kitchen, child." Shirley waved in the direction of the stove. "I forgive you for desertin' your loved one. Now, Charlie and I were about to look through this stuff for ideas on a commitment ceremony. She wanted to wait for you and you're here now," she fairly beamed at her little girl.

Sam took a few seconds to set the microwave and turned to face her mom. "This is so strange, mom," she said slowly.

"Why is making a public commitment to a woman you love strange, Sam?"

"That's not what I meant," Sam explained. "This morning I was going to talk to you about me being a lesbian and how important it is to me that you and dad embrace Charlie into the family they way you will Joyce."

"I thought we already did that." Shirley turned to Charlie a hurt look on her face. "Do we not make you feel welcome?"

"Of course you do," the blonde replied emphatically. Now it was here turn to stroke Shirley's arm soothingly.

"Mom, I'm the one who started this," Sam admitted. "I know you and dad like Charlie and you've always treated her right." Crossing the room to stoop by her mother's chair, she reached for her hand. "It's just we've never talked about my sexuality and I thought it was time to make sure it was all out in the open. You were so happy that Tom and Joyce are getting married and I want you to be that happy about Charlie and me."

"Sometimes you forget how well I know you, Samantha." Shirley placed a hand under her daughter's chin so she could look her in the eye. "I knew the minute you called me the day after you met Charlie. It was all in your voice when you described her." A smile lit Shirley's face as she remembered that day. Although Sam had not come out and said that Charlie was more than a friend, Shirley had known.

"You knew that soon?" a skeptical Sam asked.

"Mother's always know," Shirley promised. "They might pretend that they don't, but they do. Now you'd better get your food before it gets cold again, dear. And Sam, I am as happy that you have Charlie in your life as I am about Tom having Joyce in his life." She pulled Sam close for a hug before motioning her on.

"I always appreciated that you and Mr. Jones treated me like a daughter," Charlie volunteered, her eye misting at the sign of affection between mother and daughter. "It has really helped me in dealing with some issues."

"You know mom, I should have talked to you about girls a long time ago," Sam said as she sat at the table. "I was just too scared because when I was younger it seemed so wrong. I'm a long way from that girl and even though I know you know, I want to tell you that I am a lesbian."

"Then I guess I should tell you that I know you're a lesbian. I admit I was a little shocked when I figured it out. I know how homophobic black people can be and I didn't want that for my baby," she added with a single nod of her head. "But now I know that it's about the kind of person that you are and so does your dad. I'm glad you brought this up because it is important that you know that."

Sam was smiling even as tears ran down her face. "Thank you for saying that to me mom, it means so much to me."

"No matter what, you'll always be my baby girl," Shirley swore as tears dripped from her eyes as well. "That goes for you too, Charlotte," she added with a wobbly smile.

"That means a lot to me too, Ma Shirley," Charlie replied and joined the other women in little joyful tear letting.

Sam gradually came awake. She stretched, enjoying the slight pull on her muscles. Sitting up, she smiled at the sight of Charlie still hugging one of Sam's old stuffed animals. Once again, she slid off the bed, careful not to wake her partner.

The sharing they had done with her mother this morning had wiped them out by early afternoon. Sam ate a huge lunch to make up for the breakfast she'd never gotten around to eating. To have the first real woman to woman talk with her mother, she would have gladly given up lunch as well; at least that's what she told herself. It felt so good to have the overt acceptance from her mom that previously she'd only received from friends.

After washing her face Sam wandered downstairs. She listened for the sound of her mother but was met with silence. Walking to the fridge she pulled out a bottle of water. The sun glinting off a back yard bird feeder drew her out to the back deck. She shielded her eyes, her gaze went straight to the tree house. It called to her like a siren and she ran across the yard and eagerly scampered up the blocks of wood attached to the tree. When was the last time I was here? What about this place called me to it today?

With a start Sam realized it had probably been eight years since she'd made this climb. The last time was after she'd graduated from Georgia Tech with her Master's degree. At the end of the graduation party her mother had put together, she wandered out to the tree to say goodbye. A job with a relatively new consulting firm was waiting for her in Boston.

The old tree house was the same as she remembered. Constructed by her dad with the "help" of her and her brother, it had been built to last. It looked a bit smaller to her though. Sam smiled as she thought about all the hours she'd spent up here just being. Sitting on one of the built in seats Sam looked around. On one wall she could still see the initials that she and Tom had carved into one of the four walls. Not to be outdone, Derrick and Mac had added their initials as well. The posters and papers that used to cover the walls were long gone, but it only took a minute to bring them to her mind.

Sam laughed out loud as she thought about the arguments she'd had with Tom and his posse about what was acceptable for hanging. They'd insisted that really it was their secret place and that she was only allowed in because of their benevolence. She'd promptly gone to her dad and pleaded with him to handle the matter. After that she'd been grudgingly given her own wall to put things on. Her two favorite posters had been Wonder Woman and She-ra.

"Hey girl, you up there?" Tom called out.

Sam crawled to the opening and looked down. She saw with amusement that Tom had his foot on the first rung. "Come on up, goofy," she urged.

"I got your goofy right here, girl," Tom retorted and could be heard climbing up the tree.

"How did you find me anyway, boy?"

"Yo mama!" Tom said as he pulled himself onto the floor boards.

"Don't you be talkin' about my mama!" Sam faked a punch to her brother's head.

"I was just answering your question, squirt," Tom replied with a smile and a look of innocence.

"How many times has mom told you that it's not what you say, it's how you say it," Sam chanted as she waved her hands back and forth as though directing a chorus.

Tom shook his head and laughed. "Never change, okay?" he pleaded.

"Too late for that ever to happen," Sam promised. "So what brings you here today?"

"Can't a guy just come to visit his little sister? It's probably been a good three years since we've had a good face to face conversation."

"Wedding plans driving you crazy?" Sam guessed in a dry tone and gave him a smirk.

"Well, there's that too," Tom admitted with a sheepish grin. "Why do women want all that hassle? We could have had a simple ceremony, a throw down party and bam! It would have been over with."

"I can't help you on that one, bro. Your way sounds like a winner to me." Sam gave a rueful shrug.

"What about you and Charlie, huh? When are you going to do the for ever after stuff? It's been six years now."

"Have you and mother been talking behind my back?" Sam accused, fixing him with an inquiring stare.

"Sammy," Tom began with a smirk, "you know I like to talk about you to your face. It's much more fun that way. Why would you ask me something like that anyway?"

"Well Smartass, it just so happens that was part of the subject of an intense discussion that Charlie and I had with your mother. She was really pushing ceremonies." Sam leaned forward to rest her elbows on her thighs. "I hate to say it, but I really owe you one Tom."

Tom reared back in surprise. He couldn't think of any recent happenings that would cause this. "Huh? Me?" he pointed to himself in confusion.

"Yeah, you goofy," Sam said and gave him a playful poke. "I don't how it happened but this whole marriage thing got me to look at my relationship with Charlie. You know me," she said with a self depreciating smile, "I always thought I wasn't the declaration of commitment type. Somehow between you making plans to get hitched and me having to be away from Charlie so much this year, I've been thinking."

"Hope you didn't pull anything."

"Shut up," she whined, slapping his arm for the teasing. "Seriously though, I decided that I needed to tell the rents that I'm a lesbian and that Charlie is the one for me." She played with one of her braids while waiting for Tom's reaction.

"Am I right in thinking they already knew both of those items?" Tom guessed.

"Be serious, boy," Sam protested. "The point is that I wanted my relationship to be out in the open. At least with the family," Sam added hastily. "Don't think we're going to throw it in your guests' faces at the wedding."

"Earth to Sam." Tom reached over and tapped his sister on the forehead. "I do know a little bit about you, you know," he said. "I'm glad you had a good talk with mom and I support you and Charlie in whatever you want to say to anyone else."

"Thanks, bro." Sam gave him a soft punch in the arm.

"Wasn't that at least worth a hug, baby sis?" Tom asked holding his arms wide.

Sam went into that hug without hesitation. Although she tried she couldn't keep the moisture from forming in her eyes. She knew she was really lucky to have this wonderful family. "Don't get a swelled head or anything, but you're the best brother in the whole world," she whispered, her voice husky with emotion.

"If I do I'll always have you to bring it back down to size, right?" He kissed her on the forehead and smiled.

"Without a doubt, bro." Sam leaned back and gave him a smile in return.

"Tom, Sam, are you still up there?" Charlie called from below.

"Oh yeah," Tom said touching his forehead. "I was supposed to tell you that mom needs help."

"Help?" Sam quizzed. She stuck her head out of the opening and called to Charlie. "We'll be right down, hon."

"That's almost what Tom said when he came out here to get you," Charlie replied dryly. "I'm staying right here and escorting you back to your mother."

"Bossy little thang," Tom whispered into Sam's ear.

"You should hear her in the bedroom," Sam whispered back and turned to give Tom and wink before climbing down. "Have a good nap, sweetie?" she asked and enveloped the blonde in a hug.

"Very," Charlie replied pulling Sam closer and sneaking a kiss on her neck. "Warning. Ma Shirley is running on full energy and has decided to throw an impromptu barbecue. You and I are on sides detail."

"Alright! Charlie, there is nothing better than a thrown together backyard barbecue." Sam gave Charlie a quick kiss and headed for the house. "Come on Tom," she urged," we got to get a move on. I feel a party startin'." She stopped and did a little dance move.

"And you thought mom was high energy," Tom said to Charlie with a resigned shrug and slung his arm over her shoulder. "Prepare to be worked like a dog."

Charlie gave Tom a mischievous smile and a shrug in return. She was enjoying the brotherly affection. "As long as I'm fed, I can be happy."

Four hours later Charlie was still feeling amazed at the amount of work that had been accomplished. Tom was wrong, she had been worked more like a mule than a dog. Working with Sam they had prepared giant containers of coleslaw, potato salad, and macaroni salad. Tom was dispatched to the grocery for party supplies, while Shirley seasoned the meat and called friends and neighbors with a last minute invitation.

"Your mom was a general in one of her former lives, wasn't she?" Charlie remarked as she surveyed the finished product. She had to lean close to Sam to be heard over the din of the party.

"I wouldn't doubt it, Charlie." Sam took advantage of their closeness to drop a chaste kiss by her lover's ear.

The blonde shivered in response to those smooth lips on her skin. "Uh Sam, don't start none won't be none," Charlie said in her best tough bitch imitation.

"Oh! Aren't we butch tonight." Sam gave a playful growl and winked at her lover.

"Don't think I've forgotten what happened this morning, Jones," Charlie warned. "I will have my pound of flesh." Blue eyes locked onto brown for a searing second.

"Thanks be the goddess!" Sam hissed. She made a fist and pulled her arm back in victory. "I can't wait until later. Care to come up to my room and look at some old art work?"

"Behave," was the response. "Here comes your mom, we'd better go back to mingling."

It was an eye opening evening for Charlie. For one she'd never been around that many people of color at a social function and two, she had never had that much fun at a gathering hosted by somebody's parents.

"I really would have missed out if I hadn't come," Charlie said as she and Sam climbed the stairs. They had just finished helping clean up the remains of the party. "My parents never had get togethers like that."

"You mean the kind that are thrown together at the last minute, but yet everybody brings something?"

"No, the kind where you can actually have fun and really have a chance to talk to people."

"Well for the most part by parents aren't big on formality as you might have already guessed."

"I did kind of notice," Charlie admitted with a grin. "That's why I love coming to visit. I know I can just be myself."

"Yeah, me too." Sam grinned back. She opened the door and ushered Charlie inside her old room. Shutting the door she leaned against it and gave her beloved a sizzling look. "I think I remember something about a pound of flesh," she said letting her voice get deeper and slowly unbuttoning her shirt.

Charlie sat on the bed and motioned her over with one finger. Sam came eagerly. She dropped to her knees, bowed her head and begged, "Mistress, I'm ready for my punishment now." Charlie was only too happy to comply. It took several times before Charlie was satisfied that Sam was truly contrite.

Sam woke to the pounding on the door. With a groan she pulled the sheet over her head. She felt like she had just gone to sleep.

"Girls, it's time to get up and get ready," Shirley called out. "It wouldn't do for us to be late for the fittin'. Poor Joyce is run ragged enough as it is."

"I'm up, mom," Sam grumbled reluctant to pull herself away from the warmth of Charlie's body. The same body she had spent a great deal of time on last night worshipping with her hands and mouth. Feeling a little grumpy, she parted herself from her other half and sat up. With a noisy yawn, she stretched and got out of the bed. Still more asleep than awake, she wandered to the bathroom.

Once in the shower she chanted, "Nothin' to it, but to do it," several times to get her blood flowing. When she turned off the shower ten minutes later Sam felt a little more alive. By then she'd rationalized that a little bit of sleepiness was a small price to pay for the pleasure of the night before.

Sam was brushing her teeth when Charlie entered the bathroom, her eyes mostly squinted shut. "You're going to run into something if you don't open your eyes, Charlie."

"Don't wanna," Charlie replied with a curl to her lip. "Someone was a little too good at being repentant last night," she added, opening one eye to give her lover a baleful stare.

"How rude of someone," Sam sniffed haughtily. She promptly ruined the effort by giving Charlie a saucy wink. "Since you're so sleepy why don't' you just go back to be and I'll wake you up properly when I come back. If you decide to pass on the fitting my feelings won't be hurt." Sam rinsed off her toothbrush and banged it against the side of the sink. "I'd skip the stupid thing myself if I thought mom wouldn't spank me."

"I'm up now anyway." Charlie walked to the shower and turned on the water. She bent over and adjusted the temperature to her liking. "Besides," she added cheering up, "I can't wait to see you poked and prodded with a dress on no less. Your soccer team would kill me if I came back without pictures," she added, slyly.

"No photos permitted, Ms. Moon." Sam turned to Charlie and admonished her with her toothbrush. "This is a closed rehearsal, the press is not allowed."

"I can't hear a thing," Charlie replied as she quickly stepped into the shower and pulled the curtain. With a laugh, she began to hum the wedding march.

"Its times like this that I question what I see in you," Sam quipped.

"A hot sex machine," Charlie shot back, her tone mocking.

"I can only hope the hot water runs out," Sam muttered and left the bathroom. Somehow that woman always remembered her smart aleck remarks and found ways to parrot them back to her. What could you do with a woman like that but respect her, damn it! With a smile, she went to her room to get dressed.

Chapter 5

"Now Sam, please remember we're all on our best behavior," Mrs. Jones admonished as they pulled into the dressmaker's driveway.

"I know, mother," Sam replied, impatient. "I promise that I will not let myself be goaded into anything. See I'm putting on a happy face even as we speak." Sam turned to her mother, her exaggerated social smile in place.

"Let's get in quick before it vanishes," Charlie joked.

"It's here to stay for two hours," Sam promised opening the car door. "After that I can't guarantee anything. Now let's get this over with."

"Do you suppose that's how the wolf smiled before he ate the pigs?" Charlie asked Sam's mother as an aside.

"Somethin' very close to that, I'll guarantee," Shirley replied, a concerned expression on her face.

The door opened as they were walking up the front steps. "Sam, thank you for coming." Joyce stepped out of the door and hugged Sam. "Brace yourself, they're here," she whispered as Sam returned the hug. She turned to the other two women. "Hello Mrs. Jones, it's so nice to see you, and you too Charlie. I can't tell you how much more relaxed I am today since I got to just enjoy myself last night. Thanks again for the invitation. I hope this fitting won't take too long."

"Me either," the other women replied in unison. All four women looked at each other and laughed. Smiles in place they followed Joyce into the dress maker's house.

"We're near the back." Joyce ushered them into the cool darkened sitting room where her family was already assembled. "I just finished trying on my dress," she said, indicating that they should sit. "Tisha is getting poked and prodded now, then it'll be your turn, Sam. You're lucky Janice, Janesee, LaToya and Keisha, all got finished yesterday. I'll be so relieved when this wedding is over, I don't know what to do."

"Everything will get done when it needs to," Sam said, giving Joyce's shoulder a squeeze. "Just remember in two days you'll be enjoying the beach in the Bahamas."

"I keep trying to tell her that myself," Joyce's mom, Aveta Simms remarked from her seat on the sofa. "But I'm just her mother, she won't listen to me. I mean, she has had thirty years of practice not taking my advice, so why would she stop now."

"Hello, Mrs. Simms," Mrs. Jones said all but interrupting. "I can't believe that we're this close to finishin'. Joyce, and you of course, have done such a fine job of pullin' everythin' together. I only hope my part goes as smoothly."

"Well thank you, Mrs. Jones, we have tried the best we could," Mrs. Simms replied, ever gracious. "Samantha, I'm so glad you were able to come a couple of days early for the fitting, Joyce and I really appreciate it. I am not sure I got a chance to tell you the other day when you came to dinner."

"Thank you," Sam said, her smile glued to her face. "You remember Charlie? She and mom couldn't resist the thought of seeing me tormented, so they came along. Charlie, I'm sure you remember Joyce's mother, Mrs. Simms." Sam then proceeded to introduce Charlie to the rest of Joyce's family spread through out the large sitting room. There was Mrs. Simms's two sisters, whom she very rarely did anything without, the two ugly cousins, as well as three non-ugly cousins, and a few assorted grandchildren. One of the ugly cousins was operating a video camera, shining the light in everyone's face periodically.

Sam had a fleeting hope that the ugly cousin wouldn't try to film herself in the mirror, because the ramifications of the mirror and the camera cracking at the same time could cause a shift in the space time continuum. They could leave the house and find themselves in another dimension, or even worse, trapped in the house forever. Sam shook her head to rid it of these fanciful thoughts. She snuck a quick peak at Charlie to see how she was faring as they seated themselves on one of the sofas. How much more nerve racking this must be for her.

"How sweet of you to come all this way to a wedding where you aren't even related to anybody," ugly number one, also known as Sandra, was saying. "It must be nice to be able to throw your money away like that."

"I would never consider visiting Mr. and Mrs. Jones as throwing my money away. Besides, I've know Tom for so long, it feels like my brother is getting married," Charlie replied, her smile never wavering.

"Yes, of course," Sandra said, her tone implying the opposite.

Sam counted to ten very slowly. When was this damn fitting going to get started, she wondered looking at her watch.

"It's got to be something more than that to it," ugly number two, more commonly known as Pam, sniffed under her breath. Unfortunately for her Sam had very good hearing.

"I beg your pardon?" Sam said her tone curt and her smile in serious danger of slipping. Please don't let me hurt this woman!

"Just because your brother insisted that you be a bridesmaid in this wedding doesn't give you the right to look down at me," Pam fired back with a sneer. "I know all about you and Ms. Thing over there," she added pointing in Charlie's direction. "So you betta watch your step."

"If you have something to say please go ahead and do so. But I believe the reason you're not in the wedding is that you're too ugly," Sam hissed softly, and stood up. "They were afraid that mug on your shoulders would break the camera."

At Pam's sharp intake, heads turned their way. Joyce, fearing disaster, reached Sam right before Mrs. Jones. "Sam," she said, grabbing Sam's arm. "I think Mrs. Green is almost ready for you," she added with a nervous smile, dragging a reluctant Sam with her.

"Everybody knows about you and your white girl," Pam said loudly, following Sam and Joyce. "You ain't foolin' nobody up in this camp, bulldagger."

You could have heard a pin drop in the sitting room. Even the children got quiet. Conversations ceased and every head turned in the direction of Pam, Sam and Joyce. Charlie was rooted on the spot, not knowing what to do. Under other circumstances she would never let a homophobic epithet like that go without response. However, this was Sam's family, so it was really up to Sam to set the tone.

Mrs. Jones cleared her throat and gave Sam a speaking glance. Almost identical chocolate eyes held each other in suspension, steel on steel.

"Where is the changing room, Joyce?" Sam said, her voice even, her eyes still locked with her mother's.

"Right through here," Joyce replied, her voice quivering perceptibly as she led Sam toward the back of the house. She seemed unaware that her hand was still gripping Sam's arm. When they were out of sight of the sitting room, she took a deep breath. "I am so sorry, Sam. I knew she was mad I didn't invite her to be in the wedding, but this is going way too far." Joyce was near tears. Not for the world did she want to start her married life off at odds with Tom's family.

"Not your fault," Sam replied, woodenly. "You can choose your friends, but you're pretty much stuck with your family. I'm so glad my mother was here to remind me of my responsibility." She laughed, and to her own ears it sounded hollow. Inside she was seething. She knew her mother would not have wanted her to keep quiet had a racial epithet been uttered.

Sam wanted to hit out at something, or scream! She felt like such a coward, betrayer to every other lesbian, especially Charlie. What cost should she have to pay to keep the peace? The times she had scoffed at others who were afraid to speak out came rushing back. Feeling sickened, she mechanically followed Joyce into the fitting room.

"Would you do me a favor and go check on Charlie?" Sam asked before taking a seat in an overstuffed chair.

"Sure, Sam," Joyce replied and put a consoling hand on her future sister-in-law's shoulder. "It looks like Mrs. Green is almost finished with Tisha."

"That's right, I sure am," Mrs. Green said, kneeling in front of Tisha. "You can go ahead and get changed, honey. Right there, through the curtain."

Sam's went through the fitting on auto pilot. She stood patiently while the seamstress checked the hem, the side inseams and the bust. Any other time Sam would have been proud of her outward demeanor, given the churning that was occurring inside. But not now because no matter how old you get, mothers never seem to loose the ability to make you heel. Here she'd been ready to deliver Pam the needed set down, when her mother willed her not to. So much for all the understanding she thought she'd received from her mother the day before.

Maybe coming here with Charlie wasn't such a good idea after all. Her mother would never understand if she let homophobic remarks go by that unwittingly hurt Sam. Let anyone call her a 'nigger' and retribution from her mother would be instantaneous, but call her a 'bulldagger' and that could be ignored.

My people, my people, Sam thought with a deep sigh.

"That was a pretty big sigh, young lady," Mrs. Green remarked. "Now you're not worried about always being a bridesmaid are you?"

"Huh." Sam jerked to attention, getting stuck in her side with a pin for her abrupt movement.

"I'm sorry honey." Mrs. Green rubbed the stuck area.

"Don't worry about it, Mrs. Green," Sam said with a fake smile. "That was clearly my fault. I was letting my mind race off."

"You gave such a sigh, I was wondering if you was worrying about never getting married."

"Not me," was the quick rejoinder. "I was thinking about something entirely different."

"Well that's good then. I can't tell you how many young girls of today are feeling almost desperate about their chances of getting married."

Sam made a noncommittal response and changed the subject to sewing. Something she had little experience with, but felt Mrs. Green could discourse on for hours. For the remainder of the fitting Mrs. Green gave Sam step by step instructions on the intricacies of refitting slacks. Sam hoped she nodded in the right places.

When Sam returned to the sitting room, Joyce, Charlie, and her mother were the only occupants.

"Mrs. Green says the dress will be ready in a couple of hours," Sam told no one in particular. She was too ashamed to look at Charlie, and too hurt to look at her mother so she looked at nothing.

"Mother's having a catered luncheon at her house, if you are interested," Joyce offered tentatively.

"We already planned to have lunch at Micks," Mrs. Jones replied quickly. "We'll see you this evenin' at the church."

"Probably just as well," Joyce said with a shrug of her shoulders. "Again, I'm so sorry about what happened earlier. I know we won't have a repeat of the problem tonight, and mother is dealing with tomorrow."

"It's not your fault, Joyce." Sam gave her future sister-in-law a hug. "Remember you are not responsible for the actions of your family."

"We'll see about that," Joyce said with a tight smile. 'Enjoy your lunch and I'll see everyone at the rehearsal later. I need to go let Mrs. Green know that we're all leaving."

Sam, Charlie and Mrs. Jones walked to the car in silence. They were equally silent on the cross-town trip to Micks.

Sam wracked her brains wondering what to say to her mother. The day before her brother's wedding was not the best time to fight. Nor did she want their discussion to take place in a public place. Nevertheless, she felt the burning need to let her mother know that the silent acceptance of the nasty remarks hurt. Here they were going to lunch at one of her favorite places and she wasn't a bit hungry. Instead they should be going back to her parent's house so she and Charlie could pack and head to their house and safety.

In the back seat Charlie, her insides still churning furiously, could only stare blankly out of the window. She should have stuck to gut reaction and stayed back in Massachusetts. Mrs. Jones hadn't looked her in the eye since the incident occurred. Charlie had never felt so all alone sitting in that room after Sam left and all eyes seemed to be on her. She also had never been more thankful than when Joyce's mother had whisked everyone away before the animosity could be turned on her. Now all she wanted to do was pack her bags and head for home and put this horrible episode behind her.

Shirley pulled into the parking lot, expertly beating out a Lincoln Town car for one of the few remaining parking spots. The restaurant was crowded as evidenced by the number of people sitting on the benches in front. Mrs. Jones went inside to put her name on the waiting list and returned outside. Charlie and Sam had seated themselves side by side on a shady bench furthest away from the front door. Although they weren't speaking they both were getting comfort from being able to touch each other.

Shirley sat down next to Sam and took her hand. She held it silently for awhile. "You'll make a lovely bridesmaid, darlin'", she started, slowly. "I'm so sorry that you girls were subjected to that awful scene today. I'm also ashamed that I let, no that I made you, let the remarks pass. I was trying to keep the peace. That just wasn't right."

"Oh mom," Sam said, feeling a sparkle of hope. "You can't be blamed for what Pam has to say. That woman has been itching to say something bad about me since this wedding fiasco started."

"I agree I can't control Pam, but I am responsible for how I respond to what she says," Shirley replied. "I should have spoken up and told her to shut her mouth when she first started in about Charlie, but I was hopin' that Joyce's mother or one of her aunts would do somethin' about that situation. I don't know why they let them come in the first place. Everybody knows they're eaten up with jealousy about not bein' in the weddin'."

"Ma Shirley, it's okay," Charlie spoke up. "I know it has to be difficult knowing how much to say in front of Joyce's family. I'm sort of used to that reaction, sad to say."

"But that's part of the problem!" Shirley protested, clearly agitated. "And the good lords knows I'm as guilty as the next person, but when you let that kind of talk pass, you might just as well be agreein' with the person sayin' the mess. Seems like not that long ago black folks had to listen to the same kind of trash and it was wrong then too."

"It's funny," Sam said her brow wrinkled She thought carefully before phrasing her next statement. "While I was trying on the dress I was thinking that if someone had called me the "n" word you wouldn't have let that pass."

"I realized that too, baby." Shirley looked around Sam to Charlie. "I promise the both of you that I won't be silent again. Bein' silent like I was today was not bein' polite, it was breedin' ignorance and hatred. I'm proud of both of you and I want other people to know it as well. Your love is beautiful and no one should doubt that."

"Mom, you have just made my week." Sam squeezed her mother's hand. "No matter what those twerps say to me, I can take it now."

"Oh they'd better hush while they ahead," Shirley warned cocking her head to the side. "I'm done bein' silent."

"Jones your table is now ready," a voice said over the loud speaker.

Before following Sam's mom, Sam and Charlie looked at each other and grinned. Their day had just done a three hundred and sixty degree turn around. Sam knew she still had some apologizing to do to Charlie but that could wait until they were alone.

A hostess met them at the door and led them to a booth in the back of the restaurant. The look and the smell of the food was enough to make anyone hungry. Sam tried to be discreet and not stare as they passed table upon table with delectable looking dishes.

"All of a sudden I'm starving," Sam announced as she slid into the booth.

Her stomach grumbled loudly to back her up.

"Me too," Charlie seconded as she scooted in beside Sam. She wasted no time reaching for a menu. "Everything on here looks good," she complained. "It's almost too hard to choose."

"You girls just remember to save room for desert," Shirley cautioned. "They have that chocolate chip cheese cake you like so much, Sam, and the chocolate pie for you, Charlie."

"Good point," Charlie noted. "I'll have the fried green tomato sandwich and the chocolate pie." Charlie closed her menu and looked around for their server. The others quickly decided on their orders as well.

Letting go of the previous subject, Shirley kept her girls amused with updates of the goings on of her "Christian" church members. She prefaced every story with a reminder of how "Christian" the member professed to be. Luckily they finished before she could dissolution them with tales of the former Minister.

"Mom, I'm so glad to have you," Sam said, taking her mother's hand in hers as they left the restaurant. "I feel ten pounds lighter, even after eating that huge slice of cheesecake."

"Sam, I'm glad to have you too. I want you to know that at no time have you ever disappointed me or let me down. And I got the best daughter in law in the worl'," she said with a smile to Charlie. "Just don't say nothin' to Joyce about that," she added with a wink.

"My lips are sealed," Charlie promised and reached for Shirley's other hand.

"Going back to the earlier subject," Sam interjected. "It's crazy, but to so many people being gay is absolutely the worst thing that could happen to anyone," Sam snorted. "I had a friend whose mother told her she would rather she be on drugs than live her life as a lesbian. It didn't matter that she was in a long term committed relationship with a stable woman."

"People, and I include myself in that bunch, need to learn more about God and Christianity," her mother answered. "A lot of them only want to listen to people who tell them what to do. Nobody wants to do for themselves anymore," she added with a sigh. "I'm so happy to have raised my two to be useful adults. And to think one of them is gettin' married tomorrow." Shirley paused to search her purse for keys, coming to a stop aside the car. "Once I get Tom and Joyce hitched I'll have more time on my hands to help plan other things," she hinted broadly. "Don't even think I've forgotten our discussion early yesterday."

"Mom!" Sam protested. "Can we just get in the car and run those errands of yours before we have to go pick up my dress. You know we have a rehearsal to go to tonight." Sam held the front door open for Charlie and insisted upon helping her get seated.

Charlie was too startled to counteract the move so she sat down quietly. Once Sam was seated in the back seat, the blonde turned around and shot the other woman a dirty look that promised trouble. Sam, remembering her punishment from the night before, started grinning.

Chapter 6

"Are you finished yet?" an impatient Sam asked. "I only wanted a little subtle makeup." Although Charlie had only been applying makeup for less than five minutes, Sam was getting antsy. She felt it was enough punishment that she had to be in a poufy bridesmaids dress and shoes with heels, but then her dear mother had to suggested that Charlie make Sam look even prettier.

"If you would be still, maybe I could finish this job," Charlie huffed. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Remember I learned at the mirror of one of the greatest drag queens this world has yet to discover."

"That's what I'm afraid of Charlie," Sam shot back. "I don't want to look like I'm trying to pretend to be a woman."

"Samantha Jones, you are trying my patience," Charlie warned. "I am almost through and believe me when I finish you'll look so good, you will outshine the bride."

"Not that you think you're good or anything," Sam muttered and sighed.

"There, I'm finished," Charlie said a few minutes later. She took a couple of steps back and pronounced herself satisfied. "Take a look," she invited.

"You're right, babe," Sam said in amazement as she looked into the mirror. "I will look better than the bride," she nodded approvingly. "Thanks. It looks natural but I wouldn't want to sit through this everyday," she added quickly in case her partner got any strange ideas.

"Gee, how did I already know that?"

"Sarcasm is unbecoming, my dear."

"Yes, but unbecoming to what?" Charlie quipped in return.

"Sam, Charlie, come on now," Shirley called. "I want to get a picture of my baby all dressed up. It's probably the last time I'll see her in a dress."

"Just think, in five or so hours this will all be over," Charlie whispered as they headed downstairs.

"Either that or I'll be too drunk to care," Sam whispered back. "I've found that after a few glasses even champagne starts to taste decent."

"Not another table dance," Charlie groaned under her breath and rolled her eyes. She remembered the last reception they had attended all too well. "Please remember that members of the opposite sex will be present," she added as caution.

"I promise to be a quiet drunk this time." Sam patted Charlie on the shoulder. "It'll be easy since I won't be with my soccer buds to egg me on."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Charlie muttered with a shake of her head. "One more thing, stay away from those cousins."

"They had better stay away from me. If I get a clear shot, I'm taking it," Sam vowed and made a fist.

"Samantha Jones, you will do no such thing!" her mom protested from the bottom of the stairs. "You need to let me get the first lick in," she explained with a big grin. "Then if I have any trouble you'll have my back."

"Alright mom!" Sam raised her hand for a high five.

"Charlie, you and I might want to take a separate vehicle," Ben whispered loudly from the doorway. "Now Samantha you look too pretty to be fighting today. Nobody who looks as pretty as you do should be showing out at a wedding. And Shirley I know you don't want to ruin my favorite dress. You know how I like to see you wearing it," he added with a wink.

"Well, since you put it that way I guess I can hold back," Shirley conceded with a smile. "Charlie you did a wonderful job with Sam's makeup. I know it couldn't have been easy holdin' her down that long."

"She wasn't that bad, Ma Shirley," Charlie replied eyeing Sam's face critically. "And she even conceded that I did a good job."

"Sam you sure are lookin' good enough to be the bride," Ben Jones added, giving his tie one last tug. He joined the ladies in the foyer. "I see I will be the most enviable of fellas at this show by having the three most beautiful women in my company."

"Y'all stand there and let me get a picture. Ben you stand between the girls." Shirley took several pictures beaming with pride. She then made everyone else take a picture. Now let's go," she gestured for everyone to exit. "Everythin' went so smoothly last night that I would hate for us to be late today."

"Mom, relax. We have plenty of time."

"Do me a favor girls, don't have a big shindig like this," Mr. Jones begged, as he held open doors. "If I had to wear one of those monkey suits I'd be done for."

"Don't even think about it, dad," Sam said, rolling her eyes. Acceptance was all well and good, but her parents were overdoing it a little. Despite repeated attempts to steer the conversation to other subjects, her mother had managed to give them her views of commitment ceremonies and babies four or five times during the course of the past twenty four hours. Lucky for them, Shirley had practiced prudence and kept the subject from her rehearsal dinner repertoire.

"How did women get around in these long, puffy dresses?" Sam groused as she adjusted her dress in the car. "I can't imagine having to step up into a carriage wearing something like this."

"That's why men had to be so chivalrous," Charlie explained. "And if you were rich, you had attendants to worry about your dress train."

"Looks like you have everything in, Sam," Ben remarked, closing her door.

Sam spent the short drive to the church praying to the goddess for grace and balance. With the unfamiliar high heels she could easily see herself tumbling and rolling down the isle. Lying spread eagle on a floor makes it hard for anyone to retain their dignity. Just her luck she would fall right in front of the pew with the ugly cousins. What a spectacle that would be. If they even cracked a smile, Sam would be forced to come up swinging, and how would that look?

No, she would think positive thoughts. Charlie was always harping about the benefits of positive energy and thought. 'I will sail down the aisle as light as a fairy, like a royal queen,' Sam vowed silently. 'The wedding ceremony will be brief and as soon as the reception line is over, I'll find me a glass of champagne and marvel at what a graceful creature I am.'

Positive powers prevailed and Sam sailed down the isle as graceful as a women forced to wear high heels for only the third time in her life could be. The bride and groom were sure in their responses and the minister felt no need to preach to the guests for more than ten minutes. Sam snuck a surreptitious look at her watch as she was being escorted from the altar and was happy to see only thirty minutes had passed.

After standing in the endless reception line shaking hands with all of the guests, Sam was finally able to slip away, find Charlie and head for the booze. Her feet were killing her and she figured champagne would help with something.

"I want you to know that I will be keeping tabs on you, Sam," Charlie warned as Sam eagerly reached for her first glass.

"Hey, I need something to dull the ache in my feet from these terrible shoes," Sam whined, sipping her champagne. "Tell me again the purpose of these things." She shot a jealous glare at Charlie's feet shod in comfortable boots.

"When you see the munchies, you'll forget all about you feet," Charlie promised. "Joyce and her family went all out for this affair. It's time like this, that I wish I carried a purse, to put some of this food in it."

"Charlie, greed kills," Sam said, but stopped short of the area where the food was laid out. "Wow, this is fantastic!" Her mouth watered as she took in the mound of big fat juicy shrimp, meatballs, fresh fruit, finger sandwiches, cheese, and desserts.

"I'm so glad I ate a light lunch," Charlie said, reaching for a plate. "Just roll me out of here when it's time to go home, Sam."

"I'll be too stuffed to move," Sam replied distracted. She was trying to figure out what to sample first. "We can worry about it later," Sam declared, filling her plate with shrimp and cheese.

Despite being able to sneak in four glasses of champagne, Sam managed to get through the reception without embarrassing herself or her family. She and the beauty challenged cousins exchanged heated glares, but no words during the course of the evening. Sam even managed to catch the bouquet, obviously rocketed her way by Joyce. The fact that she elbowed Pam in the head reaching high, was of course accidental. So was her landing on Sandra's foot on her decent. Damn if those heels didn't turn out to be useful for something!

True to her word, Charlie stuffed more food than even she thought possible down her throat. With Sam's assistance, she was able to waddle to the car. By then Sam had conveniently lost her shoes in some corner or another. She and Charlie looked like some bohemian bride and groom as they left together arm in arm, the bouquet still in Sam's hand.

"You know, that was fun," Charlie said later around a yawn, as she snuggled under the sheet. "After we have a talk to my parents, we should have something like that. Only cooler."

"You talk to your parents, I'll plan the function," Sam mumbled in return. "I mean, it's not really telling, I would think of it more as confirming their worst suspicion. No," she added and paused a moment. "Make that nightmare. You know like on Elm street or the Bates Motel," Sam clarified.

"Sam, I can't express how much of a comfort you are to me," Charlie drawled forgetting her earlier sleepiness she pounced on her unsuspecting girlfriend. A silent tussle ensued, with the usual ending, Sam straddling Charlie, both of them almost breathless from laughter.

"Okay, I guess I could be persuaded to be there with you," Sam said once she got her laughter under control. "It's only fair since you came with me. Although I hope you realize the difference in these situations? My parents love you, your parents hate me. My mother can cook, your mother has some snooty French cook. I hope what I'm saying is making you realize the supreme sacrifice that I will be making in stepping foot in your parent's house. Assuming that they let me in," she added quickly.

"It will not be that bad, Sam," Charlie snorted. "You know my 'oh so politically correct" parents could never admit to hating a black person, so it's just strong dislike. And the dislike is not directed at you, but at the fact that I'm living with you," Charlie countered. "You know," she pondered. "If I don't tell mother that you're coming, she'll be much too polite to not let you cross the threshold."

"She'll probably have those vicious guard dogs all you white people keep attack me on sight," Sam grumbled. "So if I have to go, I'm taking my gun with me," she declared firmly.

"Okay, you can take the gun, but no bullets and that's final," Charlie replied. "Mother does not like ammunition in the house, you know that."

"What about mace or pepper spray, can I take that?"

"Sam, you know my parents are against violence, so they would never do you bodily harm."

"But the dogs could," Sam argued. "You must remember how they wouldn't stop barking at me last time we were there. I bet she's trained them with my picture as bait."

"Trust me Sam, mother would never put that much time into you, dear. Baby, I have to tell you that you sound a little paranoid and delusional."

"Be sure to put that on my tombstone. 'Here lies Sam, my paranoid and delusional lover who was torn to pieces by my mother's attack dogs'."

"Hey, you're going to be cremated."

"Then put it on the jar."

"You won't really be lying though. It's probably more like a pretzel position, with those ashes all on top of each other."

"You're really sick, Charlie. Have some respect for the dead."

"But you're not dead!" the blonde protested.

"We haven't made it to your mother's house yet, now have we?" Sam asked dryly.

"You need help, Sam."

"That's why I need to take the gun," was the triumphant response. Before Charlie could reply, Sam did the only thing she could do to end the conversation while she was ahead. She bent over and took possession of those soft pink lips beckoning her. And we can all guess what pleasures that lead to.

The fact that Sam didn't own a gun, filtered through Charlie's conscience just before succumbing to sleep.

Sam woke up the next morning wishing it were someone else's head on her shoulders. "Why did I drink so much champagne," she moaned unable to open her eyes. She could feel her head beating in time with her heart.

"Total lack of control," Charlie moaned back. She was in the same shape as Sam. "You would think with all the food I consumed that the alcohol would have been soaked up."

"Do you think if I promise never to touch alcohol again the pain will go away?" a raspy voice asked.

"How many times have you tried that, Sam?" Charlie whispered, trying to keep her head still.

"It was worth a shot," a contrite Sam whispered back as she massaged her temples searching for relief. Holding her breath she gently pulled herself upright. With a hoarse groan she rested her elbows on her legs, propping up her head. "This is the true evil of weddings, the hangover. At times like this I understand prohibition."

Only the continued pressure on her bladder drove Sam to get up. Squinting one eye, she felt her way to the bathroom. Once she was finished she continued to sit on the toilet and contemplate what to do next. The last thing she wanted to do was go downstairs and run into her mother. On the other hand, downstairs was where the aspirin that might kill the woodpecker in her brain were. What a dilemma!

"You still alive in there?" Charlie croaked as she pushed open the door. Her hands were covering her eyes even though the bathroom light was not on. She leaned back against a bathroom wall as if she couldn't keep herself upright.

Sam swallowed and tried to clear her throat. "Yeah. I'm weighing the benefit of going downstairs to find aspirin against the detriment of running into my mother."

"Ah." Charlie nodded her head in understanding and instantly regretted it. She grabbed her head to stop it from rolling away. "Okay." She paused and took a deep breath. "You go downstairs as a sacrifice for the good of the group. I'll wait up here."

"What's in it for me?" a petulant Sam asked. She cracked on a blurry eye and looked in Charlie's direction. "I have a better plan. You go down, mom likes you better anyway," she pouted.

"But I'm the guest," Charlie whined, not having any trouble fixing a sorrowful look on her face.

"The things I do for love," Sam grunted. She held onto her head and stood up gingerly. With the utmost care, she maneuvered her way downstairs, grumbling the whole time. The first person she ran into was her dad. He was coming from the kitchen with a glass of red substance.

"Looks like I need to make some of this cure for you too," Ben said as he got a look at his daughter. Trying to repress a smile he held up his concoction for Sam to see. "You go on back upstairs and I'll bring it up just as soon as I see to your mother."

"Uh, mom?" Sam blinked at her father owlishly. "My mom?" she asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yeah," Ben replied with a chuckle. "She was overcome by the thought of grandchildren and had one too many."

"Man, now my head is really spinning. I only wish I felt well enough to kid her about it." With a slow turn she made her way to the stairs. "Oh dad, could you make that two concoctions? Charlie doesn't look any better than I do. And some aspirin would be nice," she begged as prettily as she could considering the state of her head.

"I'll be up in a minute, sweetie." Ah, his women folk he thought and gave a subdued laugh. Maybe now he'd be able to play golf today after all.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent quietly lounging around the den. Charlie and Sam snuggled together on the loveseat, while Shirley stretched out in the recliner. They talked now and then but mostly listened to soft music and recovered.

Once Ben had seen that his ladies were going to recover he took himself off to the golf course. He promised to bring home supper before making his escape.

Tom and Joyce dropped by on their way to the airport, saying good byes and promising to visit Boston at some vague point in time. After they left, Shirley declared that she was recovered. "I actually feel human again. That expensive champagne sure does carry a wallop. I don't see how people can take this kind of thing on a regular basis."

"All I know is the older I get, the harder it is to recover." Sam looked up and caught the accusing look her mother was sending her. "At least, uh, that's what I heard," she quickly amended with an angelic smile.

"I'm sure, dear," Shirley said dryly and rolled her eyes.

"Well mom, I've had a great week visiting with you," Sam said changing the subject.

"I sure have enjoyed having you girls here with me," Shirley responded. "I can't believe how fast the week passed. Seems like you just got here," she added with a touch of sadness.

"I've enjoyed being here too, Ma Shirley. Maybe next time you and Ben can come up and visit us in Boston," Charlie suggested.

"Oh yes, that would be fun," Shirley enthused. "I've never been that far north, you know. Maybe there will be a special event for us to attend," she hinted broadly.

Sam suddenly made a big show of looking at her watch. "Where is dad with our dinner? How long does it take to play a round of golf anyway?"

"Now dear, you know he and his buddies have to stop at their favorite drinking hole and gossip. And they have the nerve to talk about women," she added with a shake of her head. "Besides, you're just trying to change the subject Samantha Jones," Shirley charged.

Sam was saved by the sound of the opening of the garage door. "There's dad," she said jumping up. "Come on Charlie, let's go help him carry in the food. I'm starving!" Beckoning to Charlie she hurried out of the room.

Charlie with a rueful smile to Shirley, quickly followed.

Charlie waited until they were up at cruising altitude to broach the subject from last night. "So Sam," she said with feigned casualness. "What weekend do you want to go to Virginia?"

Sam, looking like a deer caught in headlights, swallowed nervously. "Uh," she stammered. "I need to check my calendar at work, babe. Since I've been gone awhile there are sure to be some problems to clear up. I'll check first thing tomorrow morning," she stalled, whishing they were not cruising above the cloud line in an airplane with an hour before touch down.

"Okay, Sam," Charlie returned dryly, "and while you're at it you'd better buy that gun to shoot the dogs," she finished ever so sweetly.

"So you remember that conversation, huh? I was hoping you would forget given the amount of alcohol consumed by both parties."

"Forget about the gun or forget about going to se my dear, old mother?"

"Well, the gun of course," Sam blustered. "You know maybe you should write your mother in advance of us getting there. Then she will have had time to think things over and the meeting will be more productive."

"Or she will have had time to hire someone to train the dogs to attack you on sight," Charlie pointed out with a sickly, sweet voice.

"Hadn't thought of that," Sam admitted with a grimace. She reached up and scratched behind her left ear. "Okay tomorrow morning I'll check my schedule and at lunch I'll go see about procuring a firearm," she said with a big sigh and sunk down in her seat.

That went well, Charlie thought as she watched her partner return her attention to her book. She turned her attention to the clear blue sky outside her window. Do I really want to force this issue with my parents? There's no way they'll ever be a tenth as understanding or supportive as Sam's parents. Hell, mom goes out of her way to pretend that Sam doesn't even exist. Of course that would be really hard to do if Sam is on her doorstep. A wicked smile twitched at Charlie's lips as she imagined the expression on her mother's face.

Charlie leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. As she tried to clear her mind of anything but good thoughts, a little niggling voice raised the alarm. Could she really be sure that her mother would remember her manners if she and Sam just showed up at her door? She wanted to have Sam with her for support but she didn't want her lover to become the target of her mother's anger. The issue was not really about her relationship with Sam but about her relationship with her mother. Maybe I should write a letter explaining that to her before we go.

Chapter 7

Early morning found Charlie sitting at the table in her bright, sunny kitchen writing a letter to her mother. She had been working on the letter since five o'clock that morning. Once the idea took hold of her on the plane, she'd been eager to write it and get it in the mail. That was yesterday and she still was struggling with what to write.

"How can a simple letter consume my every waking moments!" Charlie muttered, running her fingers through her hair. All she had to show for five hours of concentrated work was three lousy sentences. 'Hello mother. How are you and father getting along? I am doing fine.' Charlie looked in disgust at the pile of crumpled paper in the corner.

The pile was Sam's idea. Her theory was that once Charlie realized the extent of paper wasted on this letter project, she would either give up or write something down and stick with it. To Charlie the pile was a reminder of how miserably she was failing in letter writing. The pile kept growing and growing until finally something had to be done. Charlie declared that she would set aside one whole morning to writing the damn letter and whatever was on paper at the stroke of noon was what would be put in the mail.

Somewhere between making the decision to write the letter and this morning, Charlie realized that one major problem was that she wasn't sure what the tone of the letter should be. On one hand she wanted to touch base with her mother and let her know she was still planning to come for a summer visit. At the same time, it would also be nice to officially come out in the letter and save a little of the emotional outbursts her mother was prone to. Listening to her mother wail and lament would be so much easier when it was coming over the impersonal telephone. There was also that important benefit of having more control over ending the "scene". Phone lines went dead all the time with not a moment's notice.

With a sigh Charlie turned her attention back to letter writing. "It only makes sense to tell them ahead of time what I want to talk about," she said, and proceeded to write herself out. She casually mentioned that Sam would be accompanying her on the trip, and included a sentence about the true nature of their relationship. Charlie knew her mother already knew this information but putting it in writing would make it harder to ignore.

Without giving herself time to think it over, Charlie put the letter in an envelope, addressed it and affixed a stamp. Walking outside, she put the letter in the mail box and raised the flag. Charlie gave a deep sigh, and a smile took over her face. Now she had a free morning to do what she pleased. Time to work on something she really wanted to write about.

Charlie was once again sitting at the kitchen table, sipping some tea and mulling over an old story outline when the doorbell rang. Still thinking about ways to add a new twist to her old story, she peered through the peephole. She quickly moved to open the door upon spying Janice outside, holding up a leash.

"They told me at the shop, you'd stayed home this morning, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to bring the leash and get the gossip," Janice announced cheerfully. She was looking pretty chipper for this time of morning. Her short dark brown hair stood up in spikes on the top.

"Hello to you too, Janice," Charlie replied, stepping back to allow Janice to come inside.

"You're not sick are you? The last thing I need right now is a miserable summer cold. Those things never end, they just keep going and going."

"Much like your mouth." Charlie silently directed Janice to the kitchen. "No, I am not sick so you don't have to worry about germs. I decided to take the morning off and write a letter to my mother."

"Okay, what's up?" Janice was immediately suspicious. "Since when has it taken solitude for you to be able to write a letter? What happened in Atlanta? I want to know right now! Tell me everything from the time you arrived till the time you left." Janice pulled out a chair, turned it around and straddled it. "No start before that, what made you decide to go at the last minute? Not that I had a problem taking Sammy for a week. He and I..."

"Maybe if you stopped talking I could get a word in," Charlie interrupted, placing her hands on the table. "Can I get you something to drink? We could be here awhile."

"Sure, what you got?"

"Your choice is Dr. Pepper or waiting while I brew some more tea."

"Caffeine please," Janice replied. "Now how did it all start anyway?"

"Sam had an incredibly good argument for me going," Charlie replied, putting the soda in front of Janice. "She made me see that our relationship was stronger than a negative reaction from her family. And it seemed right for me to be there to support her in case the situation was disastrous."

"Wow," Janice sighed, "that sounds so romantic. Okay, so how did the big moment go?" Janice put her elbows on the table, propped up her head and looked at Charlie expectantly.

"There wasn't a big moment like you think, Janice," Charlie said ruefully. "Let's see, I was having breakfast with Sam's mom while we waited for Sam to come back from her run. Sam and I had already decided to tell Ma Shirley…"

"Ma Shirley?" Janice's eyebrows shot up on her forehead. "This is too much for me. First you tell me you're not going to the wedding. Then I go out of town for a few days and when I get back you've changed your mind and are going. And now you're calling Sam's mom Ma Shirley. Some big moment had to have taken place somewhere," Janice declared. "What gives?"

"Janice," Charlie said reaching over and grabbing her friend by the chin. "How much caffeine have you had today? Come on, you can tell me," she prompted.

"We're not talking about me here, Charlie" Janice jerked her chin away from her friend's hands. "We're discussing some major changes in your life, remember?"

"And I was explaining it before you so rudely interrupted me," the tall blonde said pointedly.

"Oh yeah, continue on," the short brunette said with a sheepish grin and a wave of her hand.

"So there I was having breakfast with Sam's mom and I was so nervous because we were going to have the "talk" later on," Charlie mimicked quotation marks with her hands. "Then out of the blue she pulls out some information she downloaded from the internet. The topic heading was lesbian lifestyles but most of the info was on commitment ceremonies. Seems she wanted to go through me to prod Sam into thinking about having a commitment ceremony."

"Get out!" Janice exclaimed, sitting up straight. "She knew all along? You mean you guys went there to tell all and she already knew? This would be a good plot for a movie." Janice cocked her head and gave her best friend a calculating look. "This could be it you know, my script to fame."

Charlie scratched her head in pretend confusion. "I thought we agreed that drugs weren't for us anymore, Janice," she said. "The only reason I can think of that you would find this so interesting is that you're high."

"Maybe the large double espresso was a bit much this morning," Janice conceded. "But I don't think you're seeing the big picture," she added and drew a large square box with the hands.

"And I know you don't know the full picture," Charlie replied, dryly.

"Sorry. I did it again, huh?" Janice gave Charlie a sheepish grin. "This time I will keep my mouth shut." She pantomimed zipping her lips.

"That's a good girl," the blonde said and patted her friend on the head. "Now, where was I? Oh yeah, so anyway Sam's mom knew all about us and she approves of our relationship. That's when she told me to call her Ma Shirley. She and Sam really opened up to one another, it was so sweet. We were kind of crying and hugging each other at the same time. Now that was a real movie moment, Janice." Charlie gave Janice a smirk. "Of course that all changed the next day," she said dramatically.

Janice's gray eyes grew larger, but she kept her mouth shut as promised. She silently implored her friend to continue.

"I know you remember that Sam was a member of the wedding.

Janice nodded wildly. Anyone with semi-decent hearing knew about Sam and her displeasure of having to be a bridesmaid in a traditional wedding. Janice figured that probably some deaf people picked up on that fact as well.

"Okay. So the day before the wedding we go to the final fitting," Charlie continued upon seeing the nod. "I went along to get some incriminating pictures and Ma Shirley went to keep Sam in line. Even before we got into the house Tom's fiancé came out to warn us that her cousins were inside. I know you remember the cousins because they were part of Sam's anti-wedding rant," Charlie added.

Janice forgot herself and said, "Who could forget." Then remembering her promise, she slapped her hand across her mouth.

"Anyway, I think they came looking for a fight because almost as soon as we got in the house, one of the cousins started making insulations about me. Of course, things got heated between Sam and one of Joyce's cousins and the woman called Sam a bulldagger."

"What the hell?" Janice sputtered, spewing Dr. Pepper on the table. Her eyebrows shot up her forehead. "A bulldagger? What kind of expression is that?"

"A black southern one I think," Charlie said, grabbing a napkin and wiping up Janice's dribbles. "I've never felt so uncomfortable in all my life, Janice," she admitted. "The whole situation was just so ugly. Sam expected them to try something, but I think the attack even took her by surprise. You could tell she was ready to retaliate when her mother gave her "the look". My poor baby looked like a fish standing there with her mouth open. Before she could shut her mouth Joyce hustled Sam off into another room."

"You mean Sam left you there by yourself?" Joyce shouted clearly outraged.

"She's apologized a hundred times since then," Charlie pointed out quickly. "Well anyway, there I was in a room full of people and all of them were looking at me, and all of them were black. You never appreciate how much of a majority person you are until you're in a minority. It was such a blow because of the good talk we had the day before. I wanted to say something so bad, but I didn't want to totally alienate Sam's mom."

"Sounds like she should have been more worried about alienating you," Janice snorted.

"Before I could feel too sorry for myself, Ma Shirley came over, sat down beside me, took my hand in hers and patted it. Then I really didn't know what to do or think! The messages were so conflicting. On one hand she seemed to accept the slur, but on the other here she was offering me comfort and support."

"How totally hypocritical," Janice said with disgust. "What a horrible position for you to be in. Left with the in-laws so to speak, therefore needing to be somewhat polite through the whole ordeal. I'm not sure I would have been able to bite my tongue."

"It was hard," Charlie admitted. "In real time I know that the situation only lasted five to ten minutes at most, but it felt like it lasted hours. Joyce came back out, had a little discussion with her mother and the entourage packed up and left. Still we just sat there holding hands, not saying a word. Joyce came back in and sat down, not saying a word either and tried her best not to look at me. I could tell she was very embarrassed and that the whole situation was awkward for her as well."

"I can't believe you guys didn't come straight back home. Who needs that kind of shit anymore?"

"Believe me, Janice," Charlie said ruefully, "that was the first thing on my mind. In fact when we were walking to the car after leaving the house I had that thought firmly in my mind. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in the car was so strained, I could hardly stand it. Sam wouldn't even look at me or her mother. I could tell just by looking at her that she felt bad about what had happened. Since we had already made lunch plans we didn't go back to Sam's house right away. But as you can imagine, the ride to the restaurant was made in total silence. My ears almost bled from the loudness of the silence." Charlie grew quiet as she remembered the stomach twisting pain that incident had caused.

Janice gave her best friend a quizzical look. "Can I use that last sentence in my next screenplay?"

"You're so funny, Janice," Charlie replied. "You just had to be there to truly get the vibe."

"That is such a downer," Janice said, unable to keep quiet any longer. "What was going through your head?"

"That I wanted Sam to say something to her mother and I wanted us to leave," Charlie stated baldly. "But then I got to thinking that maybe it would be better if Sam talked to her mother without me there. And if we did leave where would that leave Joyce and Tom? So in the thirty minutes that it took to get us to the restaurant I kind of calmed down. Then while we were waiting for our table, not really speaking to each other, Ma Shirley apologized."

"What exactly did she apologize for?" Janice leaned back, looking skeptical.

"First for keeping Sam from replying to the insult, and then for not speaking up herself. Sam and I kind of sat there not knowing what to say. Not that we really had to say anything because Sam's mom said it all. I think she will turn into an advocate or something. She was pretty shocked to see her child confronted with anti-gay sentiment. Especially realizing that she had enabled it to get brushed aside with no vocalization of protest."

"I'm curious. What did Joyce's mother say during all of this?"

"Nothing. Not one single word," Charlie replied. "No apology, no attempt to retract the statement, not even any small talk to cover the situation. Sam's mom explained that she expected Joyce's mom to deal with the situation, and that's why she stopped Sam from saying anything."

"That must have been a real fun wedding, after the show at the fitting."

"Amazingly we didn't have anymore problems. I assume Joyce or her mother talked to the rest of the family because they were painfully polite. Good thing too, because Sam and her mom were really looking to make up for the day before. I know now where Sam gets her feistiness from."

"Okay, tell the truth," Janice said, punctuating her words with taps on the table. "Isn't there a tiny grain of bad feelings about how Sam and her mother handled the situation? I mean, I wasn't there and it didn't happen to me, but I still feel a little pissed that Sam would leave you hanging in a situation like that. She should have spoken up."

"We can't all hold grudges like you, Janice," Charlie said dryly. "I'm not the least bit mad," she added steadily. "Sometimes when you're dealing with family, you have to make concessions. I know that Sam loves me and is not ashamed to let anyone know about our relationship. That's what convinced me to go home with her in the first place."

"Well if you're not upset, I guess I should get over it too," Janice conceded grudgingly. "She has treated you decently for the past six years. And she was the one who initiated you going back home with her."

"And she is still groveling," Charlie added with a wicked smile that broke into laughter.

"Work it baby!" A laughing Janice lifted her can in a salute. "I just had a horrible thought," Janice said, her laughter ending abruptly. "How does this translate into your mother?" she asked, not really wanting to know the answer. "You don't think that because Sam's mother took it so well that yours will too, do you?" her voice rose an octave at the end. "Your mother is a little bit different from Sam's, Charlie," she pointed out, concern dawning.

"Wow, I'm impressed at your tact, Janice. You're usually more forthcoming on the subject of my mother," Charlie mocked.

"Privilege of having grown up with you, girl," Janice replied cheekily. "But about your ..."

"Rest assured," Charlie interrupted quickly, "that Sam and I have no expectations that mother, or father for that matter, will take the news well. But that does not mean that I can't tell her."

"Why set yourself up for the heartache?" Janice wanted so much for her friend to see the danger. "She's already on your case enough, Charlie. You're just giving her ammunition for years to come. It was bad enough that you didn't marry that weaselly doctor guy she hand-picked for her little princess. This will send your mother to new uglier heights."

"That's why I wrote her about it, Janice." Charlie reached over and covered the brunette's hand with her own. "When she calls and starts ranting I can always have a bad connection or something."

"Knowing your mother, she'll show up on your doorstep whaling away," Janice muttered with a frown. "She'll be telling you the very first moment you were ungrateful for all the wonderful opportunities she's made available for you."

"Stop," Charlie cried with mock horror, holding up her hand. "You sound exactly like her."

"Oh no," Janice groaned holding her head as another thought hit her. "She'll probably blame me. Then she and my mother will have one of their blow-outs and make everybody take sides. I've got to call mom and warn her about this." Janice had grown up in the same affluent environment as Charlie but her parents were very different from Charlie's. They didn't bury their heads in the sand pretending that their daughter was going through a phase. When Janice finally admitted her sexual leanings at eighteen they were kind enough to pretend some surprise. Since then Janice spend most of her time dodging women her mother tried to set her up with.

"There's more," Charlie admitted hesitantly as she fingered the gold hoop in her left ear. She hadn't thought of that ramification. "Sam's coming with me when I go visit later this summer."

"You might as well set yourself and Sam on fire, and get it over with," Janice declared raising her arms as if asking for strength. "That is the craziest idea I have ever heard." She slumped forward and shook her head. "What can I do to talk you out of it?" Janice implored in all seriousness.

"Sam's already tried everything, so don't waste your effort," Charlie replied, biting her lower lip.

"I guess it's up to me to call in the National Guard then," Janice said, and gave a huge sigh as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders.

"Not funny, Janice," Charlie complained all the while trying not to laugh at her theatrical friend. "My parents may be a bit socially conservative, but their upbringing would never allow them to show it in front of a guest." She remember the thoughts that had driven her to write the letter and added, "I think?"

"I'll bet she'll have the dogs trained to attack on sight. You'd better take some big, juicy stakes, or maybe even a side of beef."

"Have you and Sam been talking behind my back?" Charlie charged looking at Janice full of suspicion.

"No," she hooted. "You know Sam and I don't mind talking about you to your face," she scoffed.

"Oh really? I hadn't noticed," Charlie grimaced. "It's funny because Sam said the exact same thing about mother training the dogs. So I figured that she's primed you to talk me out of taking her with me."

"She didn't know I was coming by, or she might have tried it," Janice admitted. "It's a good thing you have her in your debt."

"I told you I was using it for all that I could. She's only tried to get out of going every hour."

"Who can blame her?" Joyce muttered, taking a sip of her Dr. Pepper. "Glad to hear someone in this household has some survival skills left intact. You can't really mean to do this, Charlie?" she pleaded.

"Look Janice, I have to do this. I've already taken some of the sting out by writing ahead. Trust me, it will be all right."

"Hello in there!" Janice knocked on Charlie's forehead. "I know these people remember? Some things are just not to be messed with and your mother is one of those things."

"This coming from the women who is always telling me I need to be out in every facet of my life?" Charlie asked, indignant.

"Every possible facet of your life," Janice corrected. "I don't view your mother as being reasonable in any way shape or form. Hell, most of the free world doesn't think your mother is reasonable!"

"I have to do this, for myself and my love for Sam," Charlie replied with conviction. "My relationship with my mother has always been strongly controlled by her. It's time I stand up and act like the adult I am. I'm thirty years old, part-owner of a semi-successful business, happy in my chosen life and I have the best partner in the world. It is more than time for me to establish an adult relationship with my mother."

"When you put it like that, I can see your point," Janice said, hating to admit that Charlie had a good argument. She had seen Mrs. Moon attempt to destroy Charlie spiritually one time too many though. "I just hope you and Sam are prepared for the ugliest scene in the history of scenes. I also hope Sam is prepared to hold on tighter than tight."

"I know I'm prepared to walk away if that's what has to happen. Maybe the resulting space will be good for both me and mother."

"Sounds like you expect to leave early."

"I'm not sure we'll even get there, Janice," Charlie admitted. "Like you said earlier, I won't be surprised if mother shows up after reading the letter, or after the first time I hang up on her. I was very honest in my letter, so I know she'll be offended."

"Then you should start training Sammy to attack her on sight."

"Janice, don't you dare suggest that to Sam!" Charlie retorted, threatening Janice with her finger. "I'd better hide mother's picture just in case the thought occurs to Sam as well. Wouldn't that make for a pleasant visit?"

"I'd pay money to see it." Janice grinned as the mental picture of Mrs. Moon being licked to death by an exuberant Sammy. Sammy was much too good natured to attack anyone, and she never did anything by command. "We could make a bundle off the tape. Either by selling it to the hoards who would love to see your mother get hers, or some sort of monetary exchange with your mother not to show it."

"You are too much, Janice," Charlie said with a laugh. "But maybe I could trade the tape for certain behavior modifications."

"She would much rather pay money," Janice pointed out quickly.

"You're probably right. Who knows what crazy things I might try to force her to do," she added dryly. "Why are we talking about this anyway? My mother will not come here. If Sam and I have to face her on her own turf, then she'll feel more in control of the situation."

"You're right about the turf part, especially when the dogs get hold of Sam. Hell, your mother might be mad enough to train them to attack you as well."

"Enough of this foolish talk," Charlie declared, standing up. "As if my mother would have dogs. Besides I need to get some writing done before I go to the bookstore."

"I guess that means you don't want to go to lunch with moi?"

"That would be correct. Not to mention that I ate a late breakfast and my stomach is still gnarled up over the letter writing."

"Okay." Janice stood up and stretched. She walked over to the sink, rinsed out her can and turned it upside down to drain. "Let's get together this weekend. Because besides coming to see how your trip went I wanted to tell you about this new woman of mine. She's fantastic and I want you and Sam to meet her."

"Sure," Charlie replied evenly. Not another one! "I believe both Friday and Saturday night are open. I'll check with Sam and get back with you." Maybe by then you will have broken up with her if you stay on your usual course.

Chapter 8

Charlie was leaning against the kitchen counter perusing the cookbook when Sam got home the following evening. She smiled at the excited barks coming from Sammy at the arrival of her other mother. She knew Sam would take a good five minute to pet and wrestle with the young dog.

"Wow, home before eight two days in a row," Charlie marveled as Sam joined her in the kitchen. She eagerly accepted a tender kiss.

"Hey, you might call mom on me if I come home too late," Sam teased pulling her lover close for another deeper kiss. "I'm starved, love. Any ideas on dinner?"

"I'm leaning towards this pasta dish I've been saying I wanted to make." Charlie pointed to the open cookbook.

"Let me get changed and I'll come and help you." With one last kiss Sam sprinted up the stairs with Sammy right behind her. She reappeared ten minutes later clad in gym shorts and a ragged oversized shirt. Noticing the disappearance of the pile she exclaimed, "You finally finished that damned letter!"

"Once I decided what I wanted the letter to do, is was only a matters of minutes," Charlie replied, her head stuck in the refrigerator. "I finished it before the mail carrier got here. Didn't we have some Swiss cheese in here?"

"If you want to call it that. I threw that science experiment out before we left," Sam replied, looking at the recipe. "If you want I can run to the store and get some."

"We don't even have any more Angel Hair Pasta," Charlie complained, having moved to the large walk in pantry.

"I've got an idea. Let's go eat at the Crusty Moon. I'll even pay," Sam coaxed.

"I guess it would be quicker than having to pick up the ingredients and then cook," Charlie conceded, warming up to the idea rather quickly. She would definitely have to drag Sam to the grocery store on Saturday to replenish their supplies.

"You can tell me all about your letter writing experience while we wait for a table," Sam said. "Give me a minute to put on something less grungy and I'll be ready to go."

They walked the few blocks to the Crusty Moon, holding hands and discussing other people's yards. The Crusty Moon restaurant was a relatively small, woman owned restaurant. The decor was sparse, almost to the extreme, but the food was top rate. When the restaurant was favorably reviewed the summer before, it became almost impossible for regulars to get in the place. Since then most of the 'Trendy Crowd' had moved on, but the number of loyal regulars had increased.

As usual there was a waiting list. Sam stood in line to sign up, while Charlie went around back to search for empty seats in the outside waiting area.

"It's only twenty minutes today," Sam commented as she reached Charlie. "Tuesday must be a good day to come." She sat down and picked up one of Charlie's hands.

"Wouldn't it be nice if they let us call from home and put our name on the list?"

"Yeah, but I still think we would have to wait. A lot of the people who come here live around here too. Besides, this place is worth every second of the wait. I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into the warm, crusty bread." Her stomach grumbled loudly, lending credence to her statement.

"What about the Caesar Salad?" Charlie asked, barely able to keep from rubbing her stomach like a child.

"We need to switch the subject," Sam interjected as another gurgle erupted. "I'm getting too hungry," she claimed. "Tell me about the letter. Did my pile-em-high idea help?"

"Sort of," Charlie replied thoughtfully. "It was more a source of failure realization than inspiration, Sam. Although, looking at the pile did make me aware of the gross amount of time I was wasting on that damn letter," the blonde conceded. "So I redirected and spent some time evaluation what I wanted the letter to accomplish. I finally decided it would be easier on us if I went ahead and told mother about me in the letter. I did share a little bit of information about our relationship and the fact that you will be accompanying me on my upcoming visit."

"Your poor mother," Sam said with a shake of her head. "Which is worse, the fact that you're a lesbian, that you're in a relationship with a black lesbian, or that said lesbian is coming with you to visit? What's a poor mother to do?"

"Severe hysterics will be the first course of action," Charlie replied matter of fact. "I should receive a phone call shortly after it all sinks in. I will probably have to hang up the first three times. Her voice gets so shrill sometimes," she joked to keep from crying.

"We have an answering machine, let it screen all the calls," Sam urged. "There is no reason in the world you should have to take that kind of verbal abuse. The fact that you've been taking it for so long, means you should not take anymore! I know she's your mother and I know you love her, but I cringe just thinking about the vile filth that will spew from her mouth. Janice told me some of the details that you left out about what happened when you refused to marry the doctor. Please protect yourself, babe," she begged. Sam could hardly stand the thought of what Mrs. Moon would do or say to her lover in an effort to keep control.

"I promise to hang-up at the first name calling, Sam," Charlie said and gave Sam's hand a squeeze. It felt so good to have somebody as strong as Sam on her side. "All that counseling Janice made me go to really did help. I know now that even if I disagree with my mother, the world as I know it will not end. In fact, I told Janice today that I was ready to establish an adult relationship with my mother. I will do what I can towards that end, but she had to be willing to accept the adult me."

Sam pulled Charlie's hand to her lips and kissed it. "Just remember we can work through anything if we do it together. I'm here to support you in whatever role you want me to be in. If you think going to see your mother, showing her a unified front will help, then I'm with you."

"Table for Sam, party of two is now ready," the hostess called from the back door. She motioned for Sam and Charlie to follow her. The restaurant as usual had only a few empty tables. There were pictures of famous women spread sporadically on the wood walls. Small wooden tables were covered with cheesy red and white blocked table cloths. Each table had a wine bottle candle holder with the burnt down remains of a candle. If you were looking for fine dining, this was not the place to be. If on the other hand you wanted great Italian dishes you were in the right place. "I hope this is what you're looking for," she said to Sam, as she pulled out the chairs at a secluded table in the back.

"Perfect," Sam replied with a smile. It helped to be a regular and a good tipper.

"Enjoy your dinner, ladies. The waitress will be here in a minute to take your order."

"It smells heavenly in here," Charlie commented, inhaling the scents of tomato sauce, spices and garlic. "I suppose you will be having your usual?"

"Of course," Sam scoffed. "Why else would I want to come? I might switch and try a different beer today."

"Hi ladies, I'll be taking care of you tonight." The beaming waitress placed a basket of hot bread and a dish of butter and margarine on the table. "Any chance you want to hear about our specials before you place your order?"

"Well Shannon, as usual we decided before we left the house," Charlie replied with a smile, and proceeded to order the Seafood Linguini with a White Wine Sauce and a Caesar Salad. Sam ordered her angle hair pasta and vegetables, tossed in a balsamic vinegar dressing and a Caesar Salad as well.

They attacked the bread with relish, savoring the blend of garlic and butter.

"Charlie," Sam began after taking a sip of water, "what happens if your mother does the ultimate and severs all contact?" There I've voiced my biggest worry.

"It'll be hard to deal with," Charlie replied slowly as she thought over what she wanted to say. "But I've got to stop using that as an excuse not to acknowledge to her who I am. My family needs to accept me as I am, and accept you for the part you play in my life."

"I'd settle for silent indifference at this point, babe," Sam acknowledged with a grimace. "Have I told you how much I dread the thought of going to your parent's house? I know our love can withstand the pressure your mother will put on it, but will I be able to watch her do her usual number on you and keep quiet? It was hard enough last time and that was only lunch in a restaurant"

"Remember, we are free to leave at any time. I am not committed to staying there until we gain acceptance, Sam."

"There isn't that much time left on this earth," Sam snorted.

The waitress quietly placed salads and drinks in front of each of them and left, leaving them to their conservation.

"Charlie I want you to know that if your mother does not want me to visit, I'm okay with you still going. I think it's important to force your mother to hear this face to face."

"I came to the realization this afternoon that I'm really expecting the total rejection," Charlie replied, with a painful smile. "But I also realized that I could live with that, probably even grow from it. My mother and I can benefit from total separation for a couple of years."

"You know ma will rush in to fill the void," Sam said for levity. "You're her favorite daughter-in-law, remember?" she prodded.

"Can we change the subject for awhile?" Charlie asked, blotting away a tear with her napkin. "I'd like to wait till we're home before I break down."

"Fine with me." Sam was more than willing to change the subject matter. She put a hand on Charlie's knee, squeezing gently. "Eat some of that salad," she urged. "Food always makes you feel better."

"Um," Charlie sighed, savoring a mouthful of salad. She forcefully shelved the thought of her dominant parent to the back of her mind. "Do we have any weekend plans?"

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"Janice has a fantastic new women she'd like us to meet. She was asking about getting together for dinner Friday or Saturday."

"We'd better make it Friday because she could easily be broken up by Saturday," Sam joked. "Did she tell you anything about this woman?"

"No, she was too busy suggesting that mother was training the dogs to attack you on sight," Charlie replied giving her lover a hard stare. "I immediately smelled a conspiracy."

"Just remember I told you so," Sam said , shaking her fork at Charlie. "When two people who have not communicated on a subject come up with the same idea that means it's a real possibility. Black people know most of you white folks train your dogs to attack us anyway. Hell, Al Sharp ton hipped us to that a long time ago," she added, barely able to suppress her laughter.

"Okay, okay," Charlie conceded with a laugh. "But that doesn't mean she would go to the extra effort of training them using your picture," Charlie argued.

"I disagree, Charlie." Sam stopped her fork in mid-air. "I can see her out there in her robe, a cigarette in one hand, the letter in the other, waving my picture in front of the dog cages screaming kill, kill."

"How can she? She has a cigarette in one hand, the letter in the other. Last I checked she only has two hands."

"She'll be mad enough to grow six more arms," Sam explained going for the absurd. "She'll be looking like one of those beasts in a B-grade movie," she proclaimed.

"And I thought I was the writer of the family," Charlie muttered, rolling her eyes. "Leave the fiction to me, sweetie."

"It could happen," Sam replied with a pout. "I bet Janice could see it happening as well," she sniffed.

"I'm not letting you stay up to watch 'Clash of the Titans' anymore, dear," Charlie declared, setting aside her empty bowl. "You were right, the salad did make me feel better. I should be positively ecstatic once my pasta gets here."

"Good," Sam said with a satisfied smile. Feeling she'd ridiculed Charlie's mother enough for one setting she changed the subject. "Did you get any other writing accomplished today?"

"Yes I did," Charlie said with pride. "I composed one of my tragic poems as you like to call them and I continued to rework that old story I told you about yesterday."

"That was the one with the hot sex scene, wasn't it? I think I need to review that for you," she added with self importance. "Ooh, I hope that's our food coming this way," Sam said, spying the waitress walking their way tray in hand.

Once the main entree was in front of them, conservation was temporarily suspended while the two women ate with enjoyment.

"This is so wonderful," Charlie remarked, her plate already half empty. "This is why I'm willing to wait however long it takes for a table."

"It's certainly hitting the spot," Sam said, putting her fork down for a minute. "We're going to need to walk home the long way to digest this good stuff. And maybe stop at the bakery for desert," she added with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

"Okay, but if I burst you have to put me back together again."

On Friday afternoon Sam cautiously unlocked the front door as she came home from work. With some difficulty she attempted to hide the large bouquet of wildflowers behind her back. It had been five long days since Charlie sent the letter and their nerves were stretched to a breaking point waiting for a response. Sam had gotten into the habit of picking up little treats for her lover to brighten up her down mood.

"Lucy, I'm home," she called in her best Desi imitation. She waited but there was no response. "Charlie?" she tried again as she walked into the kitchen. 'She probably took Sammy for a walk', she reasoned. Sam decided to change and go find them. After the stressful week she and Charlie had lived through waiting for a response from Charlie's mother, a brisk walk would do her good. It was too damn bad she was in between Spring and Fall soccer season. Practice always afforded her a way to plunge off stress.

Charlie meanwhile, was laying in wait upstairs. She'd made the decision today to consider herself ex-communicated from her mother. After a long cry, she determined it was time to put it behind her; well as much as it could be put behind. Life was just too short to waste any more time worrying about her mother.

So here she was spread eagle on the bed, smelling sweetly of bathing oil, waiting for her loved one. Although Sam tried to disguise it, Charlie knew the heavy atmosphere around the house was getting her partner down. Charlie smiled, wondering what loving gesture would be given her today. Sam had brought home little surprises three nights in a row and they did do wonders in making her feel special and well loved.

Hearing Sam start up the stairs, she turned on the stereo and arranged herself artfully. She tried not to laugh as she heard Sam's step quicken at the sound of SADE. Charlie willed herself to be as still as possible as the footsteps came to an abrupt stop.

"I've died and gone to heaven," a husky voice said from the doorway. "I always knew there was a goddess," Sam added, looking up and then quickly feasting her eyes on the alluring picture that was the love of her life. "I don't know what happened," she said, starting to shed work clothes, "I'm only grateful."

Charlie beckoned the half-naked Sam to her. "Think globally, act locally," she urged, running her hands up and down her body.

Sam stood still for a moment, her eyes following the path Charlie's hands were taking. She couldn't decide which area deserved first attention. She honed in on the luscious lips, working them like a maestro. But what's a maestro without the hand movement? Sam's searching hand found one of Charlie's breast, gently teasing the nipple. The instant response was gratifying. Sam switched to the other nipple to give it equal pleasure. Then ever so softly and slowly she ran the back of her fingertips down Charlie's body, causing a gasp and shivers. With one last kiss for the lips, she slowly kissed, licked and sucked her way down the path her hand had taken making sure to give the tight pink buds lavish attention.

She resisted the push of Charlie's hands, trying to hurry her along. "I'll drink no wine before it's time," she gently scolded, nipping at Charlie's inner thighs. Sam placed butterfly kisses all over the silken mound, breathing in the scent of her lover's passion. Charlie panted loudly with anticipation. Without warning, Sam found the pulsating clit with her tongue, while thrusting two fingers up Charlie's moist center. Charlie cried out in pleasure trying to she put her hands on Sam's head to keep that wonderful mouth in place. But Sam would not be denied her pleasure and she lessened the pressure of her tongue and slowed down her licks. She was determined to draw this play out.

With incredible patience she brought her lover almost to the brink of orgasm only to back off. Finally when Charlie was begging for release Sam applied steady pressure, entered her and pumped her to release. Charlie clinched her legs, called out Sam's name and exploded into an orgasm. Sam held Charlie close until the shudders subsided.

"You really were ready for me, babe," Sam teased kissing Charlie's ear. "I had to work really hard to keep you from coming too soon and even then I barely got my rhythm going."

"Your rhythm felt just fine to me," Charlie said in reply pulling Sam's lips to her own. "Mighty fine," she added with a contented sigh. "And I was hot for you, babe. I've been laying here for the past thirty minutes, thinking about how to use the new toy I bought today."

"Toy?" Sam sat up like an eager puppy, looking around. 'You have been busy."

"Not as busy as I plan to be," Charlie say with a leer. She leaned off the bed, taking a package from a bedside drawer. "Ta da!," she exclaimed as she unveiled a dildo with a strap-on holster. "I know we've been sort of joking about getting one for awhile, so today I did."

"I want first dibs," Sam said, eyeing the dildo. "Using it, that is." She was quick to take off the rest of her clothes.

"Why should you be first? I bought it."

"Cause you're all juicy and ready for it," Sam countered, rubbing her hand between Charlie's legs. "Slippery when wet." She plucked the dildo from Charlie's hands. "Now lay back and spread your legs. This won't hurt a bit."

"You lay back and spread your legs," Charlie countered, yanking the dildo from Sam. "Or better yet, get on all fours and we'll do it doggie style."

"Hey, give me that back!" Sam reached for the dildo, but Charlie held it higher. With a quick tackle, Sam pinned Charlie to the bed. "Are you going to be reasonable, or do I have to get forceful?" Sam asked, rubbing her body against Charlie's.

"Definite force is called for," Charlie replied, pressing her pelvis against Sam's. "I love a good fight." She rolled over, pinning Sam beneath her. Charlie leaned down and swallowed Sam's protest in a kiss; a kiss that caused Charlie to drop the new toy and concentrate on Sam. Charlie re-introduced the toy at a time when Sam was more than willing, even begging, to be the first experimented on.

"Not that I'm complaining," Sam said later as her breathing evened out some, "but what was all this for?" She spread her arms to encompass the music, incense and unopened bottle of wine.

"I saw it on some talk show dealing with putting the romance back into the relationship," Charlie explained. "Not that there's been a lack of romance in our relationship," she quickly added. She snuck a quick glance at Sam to make sure she hadn't insulted her. "I figured it would be a great stress releaser. We've been so tense this week, what with waiting for my mother to explode on the scene and all."

"I do feel very relaxed," Sam affirmed. She propped herself against the pillows, and laced her hands behind her back. "If I were a smoker, I would definitely be puffing away right now."

"Don't get too relaxed, lover. We still have to meet Janice and the love of her life for dinner."

'Oh, that right," Sam remembered with a grimace. "There goes that lying in bed and ordering pizza idea I had. What time are we supposed to meet them?"

"Eightish at the Blue Whale," Charlie replied, reaching for her watch. "Look at the time! I can't believe it's after seven. We need to hurry it up, sweetie." She stood up with reluctance, casting a longing glance at Sam and the toy. This idea had certainly been a success.

"Yah, it's not everyday Janice has a 'love of her life' for a whole week," Sam commented as she got out of the bed, following Charlie to the shower.

"Oh Sam, you brought me flowers." Charlie finally noticed the bouquet of flowers Sam had dropped to the floor upon entering the room. "Thank you." The shower took slightly longer than planned, what with all the thank yous and all.

Chapter 9

Charlie and Sam made it to the restaurant thirty minutes after eight. The Blue Whale, so called because of the large blue whale painted on the outside of the building, was a popular hangout for the younger set. It was located on the south side of Boston in the gay section of town. The food wasn't anything to write home about but the festive atmosphere and great alcoholic beverages drew in the crowds. As usual on most nights, but especially on Friday nights, the place was packed.

As Sam and Charlie walked into the restaurant they headed straight for the large room with the main bar. The bar stretched along the length of one wall and provided plenty of opportunity for mingling and flirting. The two women stopped in the middle of the room and looked around for the short brunette. Not seeing her they went to the bar and ordered a couple of drinks content to spend the wait time taking in the sights.

The evening was still young so it was still possible to observe the doorway while propped up against the bar. Since it was early, the flirting was relaxed and not as intense as it got later as the night wore on. Charlie easily sighted Janice as she stepped into the bar area and waved her over.

Charlie and Sam exchanged knowing looks at the first sight of Janice's new loved one. The woman by looks, was almost a carbon copy of Janice's usual "type"; - androgynous, medium height, large build, with short dark hair. Janice always maintained she wanted her women to look like a dyke.

"So have you heard from your mother?" Janice asked anxiously after introducing Monica to her friends. "I would have thought she would have come to drag you off by now. It's not like her to let things go so long."

"She must be giving me the silent treatment," Charlie replied with a feigned shrug of indifference. "I haven't heard anything from her, her therapist, her lawyer or my dad. And you know what? I've given up worrying about that over which I have no control," she added, decisively.

"Great!" Janice cheered and gathered her friend close for a hug. "What a great attitude to have, let's get something to toast with." She signaled the bartender and ordered a pitcher of margaritas. When it arrived Janice filled up the four salted glasses and proposed a toast. "May your mother continue to suffer in silence."

"Here, here," Sam replied, lifting her glass. She was joined by Charlie and Monica. They all clinked glasses and took a sip.

"Okay, nothing more abut my mother," Charlie warned. "She's out of my mind for now, so let's keep her that way. I'm going to go put our name on the list for a table."

"Sorry we were late, Sam," Janice apologized not looking the least bit apologetic. "Time just sort of got away from us." She shared a secret smile with Monica.

"We only beat you by ten minutes," Sam replied bemused by the smile Janice and Monica shared. "Time got away from us too. It's been a pretty intense week."

"Waiting for that pipe-bomb in the mail, eh?" Janice nodded in sympathy.

"Or worse yet, in person," Sam shuddered. "But we can't talk about that tonight," Sam remembered. "We're here to get to know Monica and celebrate life."

"Come on Charlie, get in on this toast," Janice urged, motioning for Charlie to quicken her step. "I'd like to propose a toast to Monica, me and two glorious weeks."

"I'll drink to that," Sam said to no one in particular, drinking happily.

"Well we have an hour wait," Charlie informed them, as she put her glass back on the bar. "Keep your eyes out for seats at one of the booths. So tell me Janice, how did you two meet on that glorious day two weeks ago?"

"Through our mothers of all things," Janice said with a grin. "Seems my mom knew Monica's mom way back when. They reconnected recently and discovered they both had single lesbian daughters in the same city. My mom is sure it's fate or destiny."

"After trying to dodge a meeting, we finally decided the easiest thing would be to meet, dislike each other on sight, and satisfy our mothers," Monica added with a goofy grin for Janice.

"Instead we met and clicked right away," Janice finished and couldn't resist putting an arm around Monica's waist. "Now I'm in mom's debt forever, and you know she'll never let me forget it."

"Hey, I'll make it worth you while," Monica promised and fixed Janice with a sappy grin.

"Babe, you already have," Janice replied hugging her closer. "You already have." They stared deep into each other's eyes.

Sam and Charlie exchanged raised eyebrows at Janice's un-Janice like behavior. "Let's toast to love," Sam offered. "May it last forever." Glasses were raised especially high for that one.

"An empty pitcher," Sam observed sadly, twenty minutes later. "We can't have that." She caught the eye of the bartender and signaled for a refill. "I'm starting to get hungry," Sam complained, her stomach growling as if on cue. "Anybody want to split some deluxe nachos with me?"

"Get some hot wings to go with that," Janice suggested, suddenly feeling hungry as well.

"Looks like a booth is opening up over there," Monica noticed. "I'll go claim it." She sped across the room, easily beating another couple intent on reaching the table.

"So you got set up by your mother," Charlie said to Janice with envy watching Monica race across the room. She picked up her glass from the bar and drained it. "That sounds like something out of a book. Nobody's mother sets them up with a person of the same sex. It just isn't done!"

"Beg to differ, Charlie," Sam said, counting her change and adding to the ever present tip jar. "I believe we just heard of two such mothers, so they have to exist."

"I'm just ticked that one of them wasn't mine," Charlie admitted with a cute pout. "I can't even get my mom to accept me, and yours is setting you up with women!" She glared at Janice accusingly.

"Don't look at me, talk to the power above," Janice replied with a big shit-eating grin. "So, what do you think of Monica?"

"Other than the fact that she looks like ten of the last ten women you dated, you mean?" Charlie quipped.

"Don't be nasty, sweetie," Sam chided. "I think we should go join her," she urged. "Besides Janice we just met her, what do we know?" Sam picked up the pitcher, two fresh salted glasses and set off to join Monica.

Janice put a quick hand on Charlie's shoulder to keep her from following. "Hold up a minute. Just give me an initial impression," she begged. "You're so good at that."

"Okay," Charlie agreed easily. "I admit at first I thought she was just like all of your past girlfriends," Charlie said. "But from the little time that we've been in your presence, I think she's steps above your usual type. There's some positive energy between the two of you that's nice to see. Of course that might just be because you can't seem to keep your hands off of her," Charlie added with a smile.

"Remember how you felt when you first looked Sam in the eye?"

"I pray I'm never to old to forget that feeling." Charlie's voice softened and she got a dreamy expression on her face just remembering.

"Well when I looked in to Monica's eyes I felt how you looked that day," Janice explained a look of wonderment on her face. "And that feeling has only gotten stronger in the two weeks we've been dating. I really feel like she could be the one. I know I say that all the time," Janice rushed to add, seeing the skepticism on Charlie's face. "This time is different. This time I feel it with my heart and not just my head. I can't explain it, but it is there."

"I'm happy for you," Charlie responded slowly, taking her time to formulate her next sentence. She'd seen her best friend hurt time and time again by giving her heart too soon. "If it's good it will last. Take your time and let this develop. Don't rush into anything too quickly."

"Monica's not the type to be rushed," Janice admitted with chagrin, acknowledging that she'd already pushed.

"Good for her," Charlie cheered. "She just went up a couple of notches in my estimation. I'll say it again Janice, time will only make your relationship better."

"Hey, Sam asked you to marry her before you guys even went out," Janice said in her own defense.

"And I told her it was too soon for me to commit to that," Charlie promptly replied.

"Give me some credit," the brunette grumbled. "I waited a whole week before I asked her when I wanted to ask after the first kiss." Janice gave a sigh and smiled as she remembered that first mind boggling kiss.

"Wait six months and ask her again," Charlie suggested, once again startled by the look on her friends face at the mere thought of Monica. "I'm sure the answer will be different. Now let's get to that table before Sam has a chance to tell any stories. I want Monica to have a good impression of us."

"Especially since we'll be hanging out together," Janice said with a satisfied smirk. "One more thing, babe. I know you don't want to talk about your mother, but I want you to know that I know that you've taken a big step in your relationship. And that I'm proud of it."

"Thanks, Janice." Charlie gave her a quick hug, her eyes a little teary.

"There you are! We thought you guys were never coming," Sam said as Charlie and Janice approached the table. "I ordered the munchies and another pitcher." She patted the seat next to hers for Charlie to sit down.

Charlie frowned at the almost empty pitcher. "Pace yourself, Jones," she ordered shaking a finger at her partner. "At this rate, you'll be under this table by the time we get a table in the dining room."

"I'm under control," Sam promised, her fingers crossed behind her back. "While you guys were over there conversating, Monica and I found our six degrees of separation," she announced in an attempt to change the subject.

"Your what?" Janice asked, sitting in the chair next to Monica. Without conscious thought she reached for Monica's hand.

"There's a theory that people are all separated from one another by only six people," Monica explained giving Janice a tender look. "The trick is to link the right people."

"I'll go out on a limb and guess that two of the people play soccer," Charlie quipped as she squeezed one of Sam's muscular thighs.

"Three," Monica and Sam said in unison. They looked at each other and laughed.

"It's a small world, and when you're a lesbian it's that much smaller," Monica joked.

"That's why we can't reproduce," Sam announced. "There would be too much in-breeding." She laughed heatedly at her own perceived cleverness.

"She's drunk," Charlie announced, pushing the pitcher away from Sam's easy reach.

"It's too early to cut me off, Charlie," Sam whined. "You need to relax and enjoy yourself tonight. You're celebrating, remember? Besides I got a little something tucked away for the cab ride home."

"What excellent forethought, Sam." Charlie reached for the pitcher and divided the remaining margarita between her glass and Janice's glass. "Do I need to go to the bar to get a refill, or do we actually have table service?"

"I just told you I ordered another one," Sam replied. "And you have the nerve to say I'm drunk," she added with a smirk "See, here comes the pitcher now."

By the time it was their turn to go to the dining room, the four friends were too full from the nachos, hot wings, fried cheese, batter dipped vegetables, and onion rings to want dinner. They stayed in the bar drinking margaritas and trying to figure out all the ways they could be connected to one another.

At one o'clock, Charlie was finally ready to call it quits. While she was having a wonderful time shooting the breeze, her eyes were having trouble staying open. She also had to get up not too many hours from now and go to work. "Ladies, it's time for me to find my bed. I can't walk straight, I can't see, so I know it's time to go."

"I don't want you to walk straight," Sam slurred. "You're gay, remember?" she added with laughter.

"Okay it's time to go," Janice agreed laughing hysterically. "Sam's jokes are getting funny. I know I must be drunk." She burst into another peal of laughter.

"Everybody is a comedian," Sam grumbled as she reached for her wallet. "I'm going home, I don't have to take this kind of abuse." She stood up quickly and managed to grab her chair and the table to keep from falling. "I am drunk," she discovered, her expression one of incredibility. "Taxi is a must."

"I'll go call one," Charlie volunteered slowly. "Somebody flag down our server and get the tab." She stood up gingerly, holding onto the table until she felt steady. Taking a deep breath, she headed for the pay phones. She taken about three steps when their waiter tapped her shoulder gently.

"Excuse me, miss. Can I call you ladies a taxi?" There was no way he was going to let anyone of them get behind the wheel of a car tonight.

"Please," Charlie replied almost crying in relief. She wasn't sure she could actually dial anything right about now. "Did they already ask for the check?" She vaguely pointed in the direction of her friends.

"Yes. I'll go total it up and check on a cab. We usually have a couple waiting around at this time of night."

"I'll just stumble back to the table now." Charlie turned and gave the short trip back her full concentration.

The server was back in minutes with their tab and news of a waiting taxi. They paid their tab, leaving a generous tip.

During the cab ride Janice decided that she and Monica should spend the night at Sam's and Charlie's place since it was much closer and she was ready for bed. They stumbled from the taxi after paying the fare.

"It's a beautiful night, kind of makes me want to sleep outside," Sam said, searching for her keys and gently swaying.

"You lost your keys, didn't you Sam?" Janice groaned in accusation. "I'm going to go sleep in the dog house with Sammy." She stumbled to the side of the house, intent on reaching the back yard.

Sammy alerted by the noise, came out of his house to bark. "Sammy hush!" Janice hissed. Sammy's barks turned to a whine of joy as he recognized his special aunt who must have come to play with him. "Back up so I can get in will you?" Janice pushed opened the gate and reached down to pat an ecstatic Sammy almost falling on her face. "I've got to sit down," she told Sammy and walked towards the covered back porch. Janice was brought up short by the sight before her. "Mrs. Moon?" Janice starred at Charlie's mother owlishly, attempting to stand upright and not sway. "What a surprise," she said slowly and deliberately, still not sure that she wasn't just hallucinating.

"It is about time someone showed up," Mrs. Moon said. She stood up from the lounger having been awakened by the dog's barking. As always ,Victoria Moon was impeccably dressed. Even resting on a lounger for three hours hadn't caused a wrinkle in her crisp linen suit. "Is my daughter with you?," she demanded to know. "I can not believe she was not here waiting for me. She sends me a letter like that, and then goes out. She breaks her mother's heart, and goes out. I have to come all this way, and she goes out..." The sudden brightness from the outside light caused her and Janice to startle. The latter not having the balance to keep from falling over. She was immediately attacked by a soft pink doggy tongue.

"Hope this is enough light to help you find the doghouse," Sam called out loudly, giving no concessions to the neighbors and the time of night.

"I won't be there alone," Janice muttered under her breath, finally able to push Sammy off of her. "Seems you have unexpected company, Samantha," Janice called back.

"What! Has the pup been inviting playmates over when we're not home?" Sam stumbled onto the back porch. She was immediately greeted by an excited Sammy happy that one of his moms had come out to play as well. Sam absently patted in the dog's general direction then started walking toward the spot where Janice was still laying. "Uh, Janice? You are still alive aren't you?" She stopped with a lurch once she spotted Mrs. Moon. Sam starred at Mrs. Moon, forgetting to blink, barely remembering to breath. This is not happening!

"It's late, come on in to bed Janice and Sam," Charlie called out softly from the back door. "The neighbors might want to sleep."

"Is there anybody around here with manners?" Mrs. Moon complained. "I have already been made to wait five hours. Would someone please invite me inside the house?" She stood ramrod straight with her short blonde hair stylishly arranged looking like an older version of her daughter.

"Mother!" A horrified Charlie advanced onto the back porch slowly, shackles seemed to tighten around her limbs with every step. All fuzzy headedness cleared instantly, her mother had managed once again to gain the upper hand. "Since you're here, you might as well come in," Charlie conceded grudgingly as she fought the weight of impending doom. She schooled her features to appear unconcerned. "I suppose you might need the bathroom after your long wait."

"Am I missing the after party?" Monica, tired of waiting inside, joined them on the deck.

"I've walked into an orgy!" Mrs. Moon gasped. "I should have been here much earlier. Charlotte go pack your bags, we will leave this place tonight! I can not have you spend another night in this house of sin, with these people."

Sammy growled at the tone of Mrs. Moon's voice, going to stand in front of Charlie as if to protect her. Charlie reached down to pet him, making Sammy sit. "Didn't you get my letter, mother? This is my home, my love and my friends. Why would I want to leave because you have some perverse notion of homosexual culture?"

"I told your father that you would not listen to reason," Mrs. Moon replied, harshly. "Since it is so late and you and your friends obviously have been drinking, maybe we should discuss this in private later this morning.

"Later this morning is a much better time to clarify this situation, mother," Charlie responded evenly as she mentally ground her teeth. She was damned if she'd let this woman know how much she hurt! "I'll show you where you can stay." She abruptly turned and walked off without checking to see if her mother was following.

"One of you girls can bring my cases when you come in," Mrs. Moon haughtily directed and followed her daughter.

"I really need a drink now," Sam moaned. She dropped down next to Janice and put her head between her hands. "Talk about scared sober."

"You?" Janice cried and plopped back into the grass. "What about poor me? I'm the one who first stumbled upon her. My initial thought was she was conjured by my alcohol fogged brain. Like the 'Wraith of Mrs. Moon', or something.

"She is the 'Wraith of Mrs. Moon', Janice!" Sam retorted. "She's come to take Charlie home, away from me and this evil environment. As if that's all it takes to make her straight," she added with disgust rubbing her head.

"That's how the woman thinks, Sam," Janice pointed out so frustrated that she stood up and started pacing. "She really believes that if she gets Charlie away from us and back in her tight rein, that all will go well. I'd bet money she's already picked out a man for Charlie to start dating. And, she's set up an appointment with some shrink who claims they can change sexual orientation."

"I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone," Monica said reminding the other two that she was still there and sat down in a deck chair. "One minute we're all silly and giddy, the next we're guardedly sober. That kind of shit can give you a serious headache." She rubbed her temples to emphasize her point.

"I'll rub it away," Janice promised. She quickly made her way to the deck and dropped a kiss atop Monica's head.

"Why don't you guys upstairs," Sam said feeling incredibly tired all of a sudden. "Your room is ready as always, Janice. I'll wait for Charlie to finish with her mother. I just want to hold her in my arms and make all this other bullshit go away."

"That's what she needs, Sam," Janice agreed, offering a hand to pull up Monica. "If you need me for anything, you know where I'll be. I don't envy either of you at this moment."

"I honestly believe moments like this strengthen a relationship," Monica offered tentatively. She was feeling uncomfortable to be intruding on such a personal crisis, and glad to be lead upstairs and away from the fire.

Charlie meanwhile, was starring at the ceiling and thinking of a cruise instead of listening to her mother. In her imagination she saw a large ship full of women loving women. Eating at will, lying out by the poolside, and miles and miles away from her mother's voice and presence. Why the hell did I write that damn letter? I should have kept my mouth closed and let mother stay blissfully ignorant. Well not ignorant, but at the very least able to ignore the unspoken.

"Charlotte, you are not listening to me," Mrs. Moon complained after having asked the same question two times.

"I have too much on my mind, mother," Charlie said, her voice curt. "If you have everything, I'll go to bed." She left without waiting for a response, needing to be away from her mother's cloying presence. From somewhere she found the inner strength not to slam the door on her way out.

Charlie went to the back porch, sucking in the night air. She sat down to pet Sammy, who had run out of his house at the opening of the back door.

"What a night," Sam said wearily as she joined her beloved on the back porch. She went to sit on the steps next to Charlie and Sammy.

"My mother always did have a knack for timing," Charlie said, dryly. With a pained expression on her face, she put her head on Sam's shoulder drawing strength from their closeness. "All she did was show up and I immediately felt myself drawn into her power. I'm scared, Sam. What if she takes me away?" In the safety of Sam's arms Charlie was able to voice one of her deepest fears.

"That is not going to happen!" Sam said emphatically. She turned to face Charlie, gripping her arms. "I will not let you go, and I don't believe you will let yourself go. You've come a long way since you were that scared girl your mother could manipulate. Hell, just writing that letter took a lot of guts. Charlie Moon, you do have power and you will use it."

"Oh, Sam." Charlie leaned into Sam, burying her face into Sam's neck. "I want so much to be strong, in control, but right now I do feel like a little girl again. When I think of all the times I almost told my mother no, my stomach starts to churn. I get so anxious! I want to wake up tomorrow and have her gone, or better yet to have this be a dream," Charlie wailed and started to cry.

Sam gathered Charlie onto her lap and held her close, letting her strength surround her lover and help sooth some of Charlie's anguish. Sammy, sensing something was amiss, rested his head on Sam's knee and made sympathetic sounds.

The tears gradually slowed and Charlie drew in a ragged breath. "I guess you won't have to take a shower tonight huh?" She sat up and wiped her face with the back of her palms.

"There is nothing better than a Charlie tear bath," Sam assured her, her own eyes wet with tears. "I'm glad to be here when you need me." She pulled Charlie back against her chest and placed a kiss on her forehead. "Let's go to bed, love." Sam stood up, helping Charlie up as well. "Remember that I'm here for you, Charlie. I won't be put to the side by your mother, your father, their lawyer or their psychotherapist. You and I are forever, babe. Forever," she repeated fiercely knowing that to be true from the bottom of her heart.

"I love you, Samantha Jones." Charlie rested her head on Sam's shoulder. "I'm so glad that it's you that is with me tonight."

"I love you, Charlie Moon." She pulled Charlie close for a kiss. The kiss was not about passion but about closeness and comfort. "Things will look better in the morning." They shared another kiss before going upstairs. Sam and Charlie spent the night holding each other close; each a little afraid to let the other one go.

Chapter 10

Charlie awoke what seem like minutes later, but was really five hours later. She untangled herself from Sam and made for the shower. The hot water cascading over her body helped release some of the stiffness in her neck and shoulders. It was almost like one of the stupid commercials about coming to life in the shower. Charlie made quick work of washing her body and her hair. There was work to be done!

She toweled off and dressed, taking care not to wake Sam. Taking a deep breath, she marched downstairs to take on her mother. Charlie put her ear to the bedroom door, listening for sounds that her mother was awake. Hearing none, she went to kitchen to prepare her breakfast. Before she began, Charlie had a fine time venting some of her anger by slamming the kitchen cabinets. If only the bedroom my mother occupied was closer to the kitchen!

After slamming every cabinet at least once, Charlie decided she needed comfort food. She started looking for the box of Pop-Tarts she kept hidden for just such an occasion.

"Oh, you're up already," Mrs. Moon commented as she entered the kitchen moments later. She was her usual impeccable self showing no signs from the turbulence of the night before. "The state you girls were in last night, I thought for sure you would sleep until noon."

"I do have a job, mother," Charlie fired back feeling her hackles rising. Don't let her get to you! In a brisk business like way she said: "It's my turn to open the shop, so if you want to talk, we need to get on with it."

"Is a cup of coffee too much to ask for, Charlotte? I can make it if you'll show me where the coffee maker is."

"Small problem here, mother," Charlie replied with a smirk. "We don't have a coffee pot. Neither Sam nor I drink the stuff, so why keep one around?"

"But your father and I gave you that coffee/espresso machine a year and a half ago," Mrs. Moon protested. "What happened to it?"

"Though it broke my heart, we gave it to be auctioned off at an AIDS fundraiser. I understand it brought in some good money," Charlie said with a sly grin.

"You gave it away!" Mrs. Moon was clearly appalled. "I gave you that machine so that your guest could be served coffee. It is totally absurd for you not to have a coffee maker, Charlotte. I told you that when we gave you the gift. What do you serve with desert at your dinner parties?," she asked having switched from appalled to exasperated. "Really Charlotte, this will not due. Have you forgotten everything from the etiquette classes I sent you to?"

Charlie felt her blood boil over the pot. "Get in touch with reality, mother," she hissed angrily. "I am not, nor will I ever be, the little princess you meant for me to be. I live by a totally different set of rules than you do. Please don't come here judging how I live my life." Charlie gripped the counter so hard her knuckles turned white. "I am an adult and I demand that you treat me like one." There, it was finally said.

"When you start acting like one, I will," Mrs. Moon retorted, her face and body held taut. "You need to grow up and live the life you were designed for. Look at this house, your clothes, and the people you associate with! It's no wonder you are so confused. Come back with me today, and we can work on your problems," she said in a conciliatory manner. "I have a wonderful therapist all lined up for you."

"Mother, I am not confused!" Charlie shouted. She paused, closed her eyes and took some deep breaths. Screaming would not solve anything. Opening her eyes she looked at her mother; the woman whose goals had never been hers. "I'm here where I want to be, where I belong. I have a wonderful job, a wonderful partner, just a great life. Take a good look at me, mother," she demanded. "This is the real me, the me you've always denied and tried to repress. Unless you can deal with me as I am, then we don't need to deal at all. I love you, but I can't live my life as that caricature you want."

"You were perfectly fine until you moved here with Janice," Mrs. Moon replied, a slight quiver in her voice. "I thought …"

"I was miserable as hell mother and Janice knew it!" Charlie replied. "It is time for you to face the reality of my life back then. I was so whacked out on Prozac that I was a shell. Janice knew that, she knew I needed to get away."

"Those drugs were prescribed by a noted physician, young lady! I would hardly call it being 'whacked out'," Mrs. Moon returned, heatedly. "When I think of all that your father and I have done for you. Is this how you have decided to repay us? What is this a delayed rebellion?"

"Mother, I am a lesbian," Charlie said enunciating each word carefully. "I've had feelings for girls since I was thirteen. I always denied them because I knew that would not be acceptable to you or father. No matter how many men I tried to have sex with, the feelings were still there. No matter how much booze I consumed at all the socialite functions, the feelings were still there. I'm almost thirty years old and the feelings are still here. That's not rebellion, mother. Besides for there to be rebellion there has to be power. You no longer have power over me, I have power over myself," she added and knew at that moment that it was true.

"Is this all because I saw you and that Suzy what's her name, kissing and made her go away?"

"Mother, you're not listening to me." Charlie put her hands to her head in exasperation. "This is not about you, it's all about me," she said, pointing to her chest. "Me and the way I am."

"I suppose you want me to say that it's okay for you to live this kind of perverted lifestyle?" Mrs. Moon said, her mouth pulled tight. "I suppose you want me to welcome you and that black girl with open arms?"

"Before you get too carried away, that black girl has a name," Charlie said, clinching her teeth. "I'm not asking that you okay my lifestyle. I'm not asking that you accept Sam and I with open arms. I just ask that you give up on that mythical creature that you want me to be. Treat me like the grown woman that I am, mother," she finished with quiet dignity.

"What kind of mother would I be if I let you accept this lifestyle as normal?" Mrs. Moon demanded, her back ramrod straight as if preparing for a battle. "A good part of my life has been build around keeping you safe and away from harm."

"Bullshit!" Charlie shouted so angry she could hardly see. She clenched her hands into fists totally unbeknownst to her. "You mean molding me into the person you wanted me to be," she accused. "But this is my house, my partner, my life," she added, punctuating her words by pounding on the counter. "This is my world mom, welcome to it. I can not and will not give up all the ground work I've made up since moving here. I live my life as openly and honestly as I can. I will not go back to pretending to be that person you want me to be. Don't you see, I just can't?" she begged.

"There is nothing more to say then, Charlotte." The stiffness of Mrs. Moon's demeanor now radiated disapproval. "I'll gather my possessions and be out of your lifestyle, your house," she looked around dismissively.

How dare she come here and insinuate that my life isn't worth anything! "I have to go to work, so I'll be happy to drop you at the bus stop," Charlie replied tersely, not giving an inch.

"I'm sure they at the very least, serve coffee," Mrs. Moon replied, her head held high. "If you will show me where the phone is, I'll have the airfield send someone for me."

"What ever," Charlie replied with indifference she was far from feeling. "The phone is over there by the 'fridge." She pointed in the direction, making sure to keep her eyes averted. It wouldn't do for her mother to realize the pain she was causing. Charlie listened absently as her mother made her arrangements, and left the room.

She was still standing at the counter furtively wiping away tears when Sam came into the kitchen some ten minutes later.

"What, breakfast isn't ready yet?" she kissed Charlie on the back of her neck. She suddenly felt the trembling in Charlie's body. "Hey babe, what's wrong?" She folded Charlie into her arms, laying her head on Charlie's.

"Mother's decided she needs to go back to Virginia since we don't have a coffee pot," Charlie blurted out before bursting into tears. "Oh Sam, it was so much easier when I assumed I was ex-communicated. Hearing her say it, was so painful," she sobbed.

"Oh, Charlie," was all Sam could think to say. She turned the blonde around and cradled her close to her heart. She let Charlie cry without interruption, gently rocking her as they stood. "I love you, baby," she said periodically hoping that message would seep through the grief.

Eventually Charlie gave a shuddering breath and slowed down to sniffles. She lifted her head from Sam's shoulder, her eyes red and swollen. "Why is it so hard for her to accept me?" Charlie reached around Sam for a napkin to mop her face and blow her nose. "I'm a good person, I help others, I even pay my taxes, that should be good enough," she sniffed and squeezed her eyes together to get the tears to stop.

"You're right babe, that should be good enough for any parent," Sam agreed readily. "But for some people being gay is the worst thing that could happen. Those people don't define us by who we are, but by whom we have sex with."

"I know that," Charlie replied disgruntled. "But when those people are your parents it hurts so much more. There was a little part of me hoping that this would work out differently," she admitted reaching for another napkin. Dabbing her eyes, Charlie took another shuddering breath to turn off the faucet. "Look at me! Crying over my mother once again. Maybe she does have ultimate power over me."

"Charlie, that's not true." Sam gave her a gentle shake, she was determined that Charlie see this incident as a success not a failure. "No matter how much you prepare yourself for the worst, the worst still hurts. It's not reasonable to expect to get through this experience unscathed. As you're beating yourself up for being hurt, please remember that you finally told your mother no. Not only that but you did it face to face."

"I did, didn't I," Charlie realized with amazement. A tremulous smile crossed her lips. "Instead of crying, I should be celebrating my success."

"I celebrated enough last night to cover today's victory," Sam said and grinned. "If I have to toast anything, it'll be with water."

"Me too," Charlie agreed and once more wiped her face. "I haven't been that intoxicated in a long while. I guess we're either getting older or wiser."

"I'm getting wiser," Sam clarified quickly. "Not to change the subject, but what time do you have to open up the shop?"

"The shop doesn't open till nine-thirty, but I want to get there early enough to put out stock, do paperwork and straighten up before the kids descend upon the place. Why?" she asked playfully.

"I thought maybe you could take me to pick up my car. Then I'll come back here, wait for Janice and Monica to surface and take them to pick up their car." She paused then added: "Oh, does your mother need a lift anywhere? I'll be more than happy to drop her off somewhere," Sam said wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

Charlie gave a fleeting smile. "She called for the airport service to come pick her up." Despite her best intention Charlie's face clouded up again.

Damn that stubborn woman! None of her anger showed on her face as Sam consulted her watch. "I'll go grab a quick shower and be ready to go. I'm proud of you, my love." She gathered Charlie close for a quick kiss and a pinch on the behind. She ran out quickly, before the pinch could be returned.

Charlie turned back to the counter to resume her search for the toaster pastries. They were right where she left them after the last stressful event, preparing herself to go to Tom's wedding. Looking around furtively to make sure no one was watching, she took the silver package out of the box. Grabbing the top she pulled the sides apart and inhaled the scent of the chocolate chips. Popping them into the toaster, she filled a glass with milk.

Sitting at the table, munching away, Charlie realized Sam was right. She needed to give herself credit for standing up to her mother and saying no. Especially when saying no meant so much. Like she told her mother, she was happy with her life. The place she most wanted to be and was right for, was here. One day, her mother might come to see that. Not that she was going to hold her breath waiting for that day. But maybe now that they had each clearly articulated their position some new accord could come of the blowup. While she waited for this to happen, there were good friends to help her fill the void. Plus she had a great mother-in-law who would be happy to assume the mother role at a moment's notice. Charlie absently wiped away the last remains of the tears no longer feeling so lost, alone and motherless.

Never had Charlie been so glad to work on a Saturday. Pre-opening tasks kept her very busy with little time to brood. As luck would have, it was also children's morning at the bookstore. That included story telling, book readings, balloons, face painting and refreshments. Parents with children in tow, started arriving almost as soon as the doors were unlocked, even though the activities weren't scheduled to start until ten o'clock.

By ten o'clock the small store was packed and throbbing with the energy of the eager children. The storyteller settled things down by keeping the children enthralled with tales of magical dragons that flew way up in the sky. She had to stop frequently to answer question about color and size of the creatures.

Sam wandered into the bookstore at ten-fifteen. She had just dropped Janice and Monica off at their car. As a special treat Sam had stopped at Charlie's favorite coffee shop and picked up a large cup of butter rum tea and a everything bagel with light cream cheese.

Walking into the little bookstore Sam immediately spotted her blonde lover sitting on the floor with a couple of tots in her lap. She smiled a welcome and indicated her gifts with a quick lift. Charlie motioned with her head for Sam to take them back to the office.

Gently easing the two tots onto the rug, Charlie made her way to the office. She stepped into the small cluttered room and shut the door. As Charlie turned around Sam was right there to take her into her arms.

"How are you doing, love?" Sam asked as she nuzzled the side of Charlie's neck.

"Much better now that you're here," the blonde replied, absorbing the strength flowing from her partner. "It really helps to have all the little ones as a distraction. Hard to stay sad watching all their antics."

"Good." Sam lifted Charlie's face and placed a kiss on those soft lips. "I brought your favorite tea and one of those bagels with all the junk on it. I figure whatever little bit you ate earlier has probably worn of by now."

"I knew there was a reason I loved you," Charlie said with a wink and gave Sam a kiss in return. "This is so nice sweetie, but I'd better get back out there to watch the hoard."

"You stay right here and eat your breakfast," Sam insisted. "I'll go help out. I thought I'd just, uh, hang around here with you today," Sam explained with a sheepish sideways look.

"My knight in shinning armor." Charlie rubbed Sam's smooth brown check with the back of her hand.

"Just doing my duty, damsel," Sam replied with a bow. "Now go eat," she commanded, shutting the door behind her as she left.

Charlie plopped down at the old, scarred desk with a sigh of contentment. She popped the lid off the tea glad to see that Sam had already disposed of the tea bag. Taking a tentative sip, she smiled at the thoughtfulness of her lover to have added cream and sugar. If it weren't for the crisis with her mother, Charlie realized she'd be feeling pretty damn good.

"Oh, my mother." She leaned back and her mind replayed the scenes from last night and this morning. Sucking in her breath, she again felt the mental hurt her mother had dealt her. "Don't do this to yourself, Moon," she said out loud. "You have to let the pain go."

With a rueful smile she remembered that Janice had always told her that when they were growing up. Later, her therapist had echoed the same thing. She thought she had done a pretty good job of doing that, but that was before yesterday. The tears began to fall again. With shaking hands Charlie reached for a tissue. She gently blotted her eyes because she didn't want the kids or Sam to know she'd been crying. After taking a couple of deep breaths and squeezing her eyes tight, she got herself under control. Knowing she needed to get back to the kids, she made quick work of her bagel.

Charlie pasted a smile on her face before leaving the office. It was times like this that she missed the long hair she used to hide her face. She looked up and came to an abrupt halt as she took in the scene before her. A genuine smile crept over her features. Story time was obviously over and face painting had begun.

Seated on the floor, her face showing extreme concentration, was one Samantha Janetta Jones. The tip of her tongue was sticking out of her mouth as she meticulously painted a multi-colored dragon on a toddler's face. Sam's intense expression was mimicked by the children surrounding her. They were watching the proceedings with the anticipation often seen with the unwrapping of presents.

Charlie instantly wished she had her camera. Wouldn't I love to pull out a picture of this when she's acting all macho. Charlie chuckled at the image of passing the picture around at a soccer team party.

"Excuse me."

Charlie turned to see a tall, striking brunette holding a camera. "What can I help you with?" She easily slipped into her customer service mode.

"The story teller said I should talk to you about pictures," the woman said with a smile. "I took some pictures of this morning's session and I thought you might like to display them for your next session."

"I most certainly would," Charlie replied with enthusiasm, easily returning the charming smile. "Some of the kids are regulars and I know they would love to see pictures of themselves up on the bulletin board. You could e-mail them to me at the store if that's convenient."

"Not a problem. This is my first time here but I see by the look on my son's face that it won't be the last." She pointed to the boy whom Sam was attending to. "My name is Andy," she added and held out her hand.

"I'm Charlie and that's my partner Sam painting your son's face. I'm one of the owners of this store." She shook Andy's hand, liking the sure grip. "How did you hear about us, Andy?"

"My partner was here browsing the other day and noticed the flyer you have out front," Andy explained.

"I'm glad you could make it today. Now I'd better go help with the face painting so we can get these kids out of here before their energy makes them explode," she joked.

Charlie was quickly involved in the face painting and by eleven the last of the happy children left the store sporting a fierce dragon on her face. With a sigh of relief at having pulled off another successful program, Charlie began to clear up the mess. Sam and the volunteer storyteller pitched in as well.

Charlie found she had little time to brood after that because there was a steady stream of customers needing attention in one way or another. When her shift was over at one, Charlie was still assisting customers. She decided to stay around longer and help out, dispatching Sam to fetch lunch from a nearby sandwich shop.

As soon as Sam returned with lunch Charlie discovered that she was ravenous. With a grin of delight, she unwrapped her overstuffed veggie pita and took a big bite.

"Hmm," Charlie mumbled, "dis is soo go."

"Ditto," Sam agreed dealing with her own pita. "You know Charlie, I came to a realization while I was waiting for our lunch to be fixed."

"Yeah?" a blonde eyebrow was cocked in Sam's direction.

"I'm whipped," Sam announced as though surprised. "I've only known you six years but somehow in that time you've managed to bring me over to the dark side," she accused.

Charlie looked at her lover in surprise. Her eyebrows shot up and she pointed to her own chest. "Me?" she squeaked.

"Yes, you," Sam said with a fake growl. "I ordered two veggie sandwiches without even realizing it. But worst of all, I realized that I was actually looking forward to eating this rabbit food!" she added, indignation apparent in her tone.

The blonde bit her lip to keep from laughing at the pout on Sam's face. She is so cute when she does that. "Sorry," was the mild rejoinder. Charlie of course, looked nothing but pleased. She took a bite of her pita to keep the grin off her face.

"But you know what else?" Sam persisted. "I guess this means you're stuck with me forever, Charlie Moon." Brown eyes met blue and each felt the power of their love.

"I can live with that," Charlie said with pretend indifference and a shrug. "What, you figure you'll be around for a good fifty to sixty more years?"

"Babe," Sam replied, her voice deep and smooth, "I'll be around for eternity."

Goosebumps ran up Charlie's spine at the assuredness behind that statement. She knew without a doubt that Sam had just made a promise. Another area in the vicinity of her abdomen started to tingle under the heated look of those big brown eyes. "You would have to say that here, when I have a hand full of pita and a door that can't be locked," she pouted.

"Anticipation, Moon. Anticipation." Sam gave Charlie a knowing wink and casually went back to eating her sandwich. That should give you plenty to think about the rest of the day! Sam kept her expression bland but inside she was smirking with satisfaction.

At four o'clock business started to slow down so Charlie declared it quits. She was ready to go home and process the events of the morning. Charlie disengaged Sam from the erotica section and sent her home with a promise that she would soon follow.

On the way home, Charlie stopped by the market and purchased a few items for dinner. It was a perfect day to cook outside and eat dinner on the patio. She would be away from the phone and any angry messages that might be left. Not that her mother would call, that was all over now. Charlie brushed away tears, exasperated with herself for crying once again.

She really needed to focus on herself and not her mother. The break would hurt for awhile yet, but eventually what happened this morning would be for the best. Now she was free to live her life as she wanted. No more getting calls from strange men her mother sent her way. No more pleading, on the part of her mother, for Charlie to come back to the fold. No more constant negative talk about her mundane hobby, the bookstore.

"I am doing something with my life, mother!" Charlie told the inside of her car. "You will see," she vowed fervently, wiping away the remaining tears and giving a big sigh. How strange life is. Amazing that even the loss of a mother who constantly criticizes and tries to dominate you can hurt so much. Family ties can be like ivy, if not controlled they'll take over.

Chapter 11

Sam and Sammy were sitting on the front steps when Charlie pulled into the driveway. Charlie hastily checked her face in the rearview mirror for evidence of tears. Her eyes were a little puffy, but not too bad. She grabbed her bag and the groceries, automatically holding them high to keep Sammy from getting them.

"What a gorgeous day," Sam commented, standing up as Charlie approached the house. Sam eye's lightly touched on the puffiness of Charlie's eyes but she made no comment. "What's in the bags?"

"A couple of Amberjack steaks and accessories," Charlie replied, grateful that Sam didn't ask about the crying. "I thought it would be a great day to grill dinner and eat it on the back porch."

"Good thinking, Charlie. Sammy and I are getting ready to go for a walk. Would you like to join us? I could use a little stretching out after sitting around most of the day."

"Sure. I need to put the food away and change into something else. I'll be back in a few minutes."

The first five minutes of the walk through the wooded area in close vicinity of their house, was spent in silence. Sammy ran on ahead happily sniffing out the variety of scents present. He paused every now and then to mark a tree or chase the wild life.

"Okay how are you really feeling, Charlie?" Sam asked as they walked along the path holding hands.

"It depends on the time, Sam," Charlie replied honestly. "One minute I'm down, depressed, starting to cry and the next I'm upset with myself for letting her get to me so much. I went through every emotion this past week waiting for a response to the letter. Friday I went through a grieving process and was working on letting go. Then this morning I had to go through everything all over again. It infuriates me because I thought I had every emotion worked out," Charlie kicked the ground, angrily. "It all goes back to that stupid little optimist, living deep inside me, who believed that somehow this situation would work out better. I tried so hard to squash it, but it allowed just enough optimism to creep in that now I feel lower than I did before."

"Yeah, I hate that," Sam agreed with a rueful smile. "That little optimist always has you believing that any minute the phone will ring and all will be okay."

"Even when you know that it's never going to happen! Human beings must need to believe that all will be right, at some level. It's a way of self comfort, I guess," Charlie decided.

"That's true in a way though, Charlie," Sam pointed out. "While all may not be all right, after a time, all gets to be okay. Was that correct English? What I mean is that your relationship with your parents will never go back to what is was, but may turn into something you can adjust to and live with over time."

"I certainly don't want my relationship with my mother to be the same as it has been." Charlie shuddered at the thought. "The real issue I struggle back and forth with, is if a bad relationship is better than no relationship? On an intellectual level, it's easy to say that I'm better off without my mother. But on an emotional level, I feel like I've been abandoned. I guess the trick is to help my brain and my heart compromise and both be happy with something in between."

"You might want to think about calling Debbie and scheduling a session. You always said she was good at helping you arrive at the center of a problem."

"I want to try and help myself first. I think I can use my writing to help me sort this out."

"I'm here for whatever I can do," Sam offered.

"You being here is what keeps me going, Sam," Charlie replied with a smile. "All I have to do is remember the wonderful things you've said about me and our love, and I know I made the right decision to force the issue with my mother. What I did was change the way we interact. It's got to be the healthiest thing I've ever done."

"Keep remembering that when you start feeling down, babe. The healthiest thing you've ever done, remember," Sam urged squeezing her loved one's hand. "Now let's go home and start the grill. That veggie lunch got used up and now I'm hungry."

"Real news flash, Jones," Charlie quipped having had the same phrase thrown at her on a number of occasions. She called Sammy who came storming from under a bush. "You're always hungry. I hope the fish will be enough to satisfy you."

"If not, I'll have you for dessert," Sam said with a leer.

"Promises, promises," Charlie joked, picking up her pace none the less. "Now I'll have to make sure I give you the smaller piece."

"Hey, you'll be dessert no matter how much food I eat," Sam boasted and thumped her chest a couple of times.

"Does that mean I get the cheesecake to myself?" Charlie teased. She knew full well that her partner would never pass up cheesecake no matter how full she was.

"Now Charlie, you know I can always deal with two helpings of dessert."

"Foolish me to forget that," Charlie replied, enjoying their light banter.

"If you're lucky, I'll go for a third helping."

"Bold talk, Sam. I hope you're eyes aren't bigger than your stomach."

"Don't worry your pretty little head about that, girlie. I'll worry about it."

"Gee thanks," Charlie replied, her voice full of saccharine. "It's nice to know I can count on you to protect me from thinking."

"I do what I can, ma'am," Sam said in a deep voice. She gave a broad wink and tipped an imaginary hat.

As they neared the edge of the wooded area, Sam called Sammy who had wandered away again and snapped on his leash. This was necessary because Sammy had a tendency to go on mad dashes without checking right or left for speeding vehicles.

The red flashing on the answering machine signaled a waiting message. Charlie and Sam looked at each other.

"I'm going to the kitchen to season the fish," Charlie declared. She quickly went to the kitchen, not wanting to hear any part of the message. Turning on the tap as hard as it would go, she washed her hands. She couldn't help but strain a little to try and hear some of the message. Charlie relaxed when she recognized the faint strains of Sam's mom's southern accent. She also heard Sam pick up the phone and dial.

Charlie had seasoned the fish and put the vegetables in a marinade when Sam walked into the kitchen with the phone.

"Here she is now, mom," Sam said and handed the phone to Charlie.

By the time Charlie hung up the phone, ten minutes later, she felt much better. Mrs. Jones had been her usual motherly self, checking to make sure Charlie was taking good care of herself, and dropping not so subtle hints about commitment services, artificial insemination and adoption.

"We have got to wean your mother from those day time talk shows, Sam," Charlie said as she clicked off the phone.

"Tell me about it," Sam replied, shaking her head as if to clear it. "Was she laying it on thick or what? Well, I did tell her about the situation with your mom, so maybe she was overcompensating because of that."

"Maybe," Charlie said, "but we know she's been thinking about this since before your brother's wedding. I smell a ramp up in the campaign to get grandchildren. And why is it I have to be the one to get pregnant?" she asked.

"Because you're the fragile feminine one in our relationship," Sam replied matter of fact. " Mom trust you more with that kind of stuff."

"Your body is better suited for it than mine," Charlie countered. "And I am not fragile or feminine," she added, sticking out her tongue. "Now could you please go start the fire for me?" she asked in a little girl voice.

"Whatever you want," Sam said with a laugh and went outside.

"Your mother is too cunning," Charlie announced as she joined Sam on the deck minutes later. "She has us arguing about who's going to carry the baby, when we haven't even been thinking about the subject of parenthood!"

"Sneaky, sneaky. That devious woman has been doing this to me for twenty-eight years and it's still working!" Sam groaned. "You're right Charlie, we are under siege. I suggest we not agree to anything mom says until we've had a chance to talk it over. Who knows what she might have us separately agreeing to?"

"There's no paranoia going on here, is there?" Charlie replied, laughing. "It'll be interesting to see what her overall plan of attack will be."

"Ask my brother," Sam replied, pouring charcoal into the grill. "She's the one who got Tom to the alter, not Joyce. Which reminds me, I need to call that knuckle-head soon. They should be back from their honeymoon today. I hope Joyce knows what she's gotten herself into. My brother is no picnic."

"Funny," Charlie remarked with a grin. "Tom said the same thing about you." Charlie burst into laughter at Sam's look of outrage.

"That rat bastard!" Sam shot out. "He has no right to talk about me like that. You wait until I see him." She squirted the charcoal with lighter fluid as if hitting her brother.

"Sam, you don't know how ridiculous you sound. Tom's only saying the same thing about you as you say about him," she pointed out reasonably.

"Hey, I know my brother," Sam replied. "He would never say anything that tame about me."

"I'm thirsty," Charlie declared, quickly changing the subject. "Can I bring you anything to drink?"

"I'll take a beer," Sam answered, willing to let the subject of her brother drop for now.

"Some people have such short memories."

"I'm limiting myself to one, Charlie. You know I have to drink beer when I grill," Sam explained. "It's an ingrained tradition. My father did it, his father did it, his father did it, and so on."

"Okay, but only one." Charlie held up one finger to emphasize her point.

"Thanks, mom," Sam laughed. She lit the charcoal and watched the resulting fire with fascination. You can't get this with a gas grill.

"That was a great dinner, Charlie," Sam complimented and hour later. She was laying in one of the loungers on the back deck, rubbing her full stomach.

"My compliments to the griller," Charlie replied. "You deserve half the credit for the wonderful feast. Certainly the beautiful evening complimented dinner. I can't believe I can be sitting here so relaxed after the day I had. I'm still sad, but the part of me that's proud of what I accomplished is growing larger and louder."

"That's wonderful, Charlie. But please allow yourself times to feel down and depressed as well. I tell you, this situation with your mother has made me appreciate my mom and dad even more. I hope it's okay for me to admit to some negative feelings about your mother?" she asked tentatively.

"They can't be any worse than mine, Sam," Charlie admitted with a shrug and ran her fingers through her short hair. "I have you, your family and our friends to back me up, imagine the poor souls who get cut off from everyone when they come out to their family."

"That is rough, but when you've survived a crisis of that proportion you must be incredibly strong afterwards."

"Out of all the people I know, you're definitely someone who could survive that. I admire your strength in your convictions. You're always ready to forge ahead."

"I'm no saint," Sam protested. "If I was as strong as you say, I would have come out to my parents a long time ago. It was our love that made me see that it had to fully acknowledged. I was to the point where it wasn't enough that you knew I loved you. Everybody else needed to know it as well."

"And it was your conviction that lead me to writing my mother, Sam. I certainly knew the situation would blow up in my face. Now that it has, I have pain, but I also have gain. Okay, we're in deep trouble, I'm rhyming!" Charlie wailed. "I never rhyme. I go out of my way not to rhyme."

"That's the power of love," Sam supplied all smug. "Or you've come over to my dark side," she added with a wicked chuckle.

"Definite dark side," Charlie agreed. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em kind of thing. After six years it was bound to happen. Do we look alike yet?" She peered at Sam as though looking for likeness.

"We still have many years before that happens, Charlie. We don't start blending into this amorphous creature until the fifteenth year," Sam said with conviction. "Once we've merged together as one being, we split into two. Kind of makes us twisted twins in a way."

"Sam, you should write. All these bizarre ideas of yours need a place outside your head."

"Nah. If I wrote, I wouldn't have all these ideas. You have my full permission to use any of my ramblings as you see fit. Besides when we merge into one blob, I will be a writer because what is you will also be what is me."

"But not for nine more years according to your time table," Charlie replied. "You could be on the bestseller list by then."

"I can wait," Sam assured he with a smile. "I'm in this for the long haul. It lessens the terminal times, you know?"

"You've completely lost me now," Charlie declared, sitting up, her legs straddling either side of the lounger. "I need to listen to some music. Care to join me inside?"

"We can't join for nine more years, Charlie," Sam joked and laughed at her own cleverness. "For now, I would be happy to accompany you inside." She stood up from the lounger and stretched, her brown limbs tight and toned.

"I wonder if you'll have grown up in nine years," Charlie pondered. "I'm not so sure about merging with a perpetual adolescent. Does this mean pimples for the rest of my life? Oh no, I forget, you only act like an adolescent."

"Don't knock it," Sam replied smirking. "You'll keep that youthful edge forever. I've seen Peter Pan, and I won't grow up either."

"How sure are you about this joining/dividing into half thing?"

"You're stuck, Charlie. Now I believe you said something about listening to music?" Sam urged Charlie inside.

They walked to the den, Sammy on their heels. The room was designed with relaxation in mind. The comfortable puffy dark blue leather sofa had a matching loveseat. The room boasted all the latest electronic equipment from the large television to the surround sound experience. Activities in the den ranged from watching sporting events to listening to music.

Charlie put several CDs in the Disc player and joined Sam on the couch. The soulful sounds of Tracy Chapman came on. Sammy found his pillow and plopped down.

"Still feeling just a little depressed, eh?" Sam teased gently. She scooted closer to Charlie and put an arm around her.

"There's nothing like music to help me wallow in depression," Charlie admitted, laying her head on Sam's shoulder.

"And nothing like music to help lift you from depression, either."

"Sam, why do I feel so sad about losing my mother?" Charlie asked, plaintively. "It's not like I particularly want her to be around anyway."

"Charlie, motherhood is such a big issue in our society," Sam replied, thoughtfully. "You have to have a mother and you have to be a mother. A mother is this wonderful magical spirit that keeps you protected from all that's bad. So even though your mother is still alive, for you she's declared herself dead. Death is always hard to deal with no matter how we feel about the person. Like I said before, you have to give yourself grief time," she explained.

"But I don't want to spend any more time on her! I feel like I've already spent a fortune on her up till now."

"Can't be helped, babe." Sam dropped a kiss on the blonde's head. "Dues are dues. You have to pay them even if you receive no benefit. You can be sure that your mother is paying her dues as well. She's given up on her only child and that has to hurt."

"She didn't have to! She made the choice," Charlie argued.

"Pain is pain, whether you invite it or not. Just as coming out to your parents was important, albeit painful, to you, standing her ground was important to your mother."

"You sound like you're defending my mother, Sam. You're supposed to be on my side, remember?" Charlie gave Sam an accusatory stare.

"I'm always on your side, baby. I'm simply pointing out both sides for some stupid reason unknown to me at the moment."

"Not stupid," Charlie grudgingly admitted after pausing to think about it. "I guess if I ever hope to get back with my mother, it would help to acknowledge the pain she's going through. I may get to that one day, right now I'm too selfish. Now I only wanna' deal with my pain."

"That's only natural, sweetie," Sam soothed. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want you to know Charlie, that if you come to some understanding with your mother, I won't hold it against you if it doesn't include me."

"It would have to be an extremely limited understanding not to include you, Sam," Charlie shot back almost bristling from the thought. "You are so important to my life and well being, that it's hard for me to fathom a relationship you were not a part of. I believe someone told me, and I quote "If they can't deal with you, they can't have me." I feel the same way. It's not that we can only function as a couple, but that being in this relationship is too big a part of our lives to compartmentalize it."

"Okay," Sam said with a sigh of relief and hugged Charlie closer. "I confess I was only being noble. I'm glad you feel the way I do," she admitted. "When Tom told me he was getting married, I did a lot of thinking about relationships. Especially about his relationship with Joyce and my relationship with you. Since we're all different people the mechanics of the two relationships are very different."

"Yet the two loves are equal," Charlie added, softly. "Sam," she said then stopped momentarily. "I know I've been through trauma today, but it hasn't made a difference to how I feel." Stopping again, she ran her fingers through her hair. "What I mean is that I don't want you to think that shock has driven me to this."

"Driven you to what, Charlie?" Sam asked, looking somewhat concerned. "Is everything okay?"

Just say it woman! Charlie got down on one knee in front of Sam, grabbing her right hand. "Sam, will you marry me?"

Sam was momentarily stunned. "Hey, that's my job!" she sputtered. "I bought rings and everything."

"Could you please clarify your response?" the blonde teased. "Was that a yes or a no?" Charlie asked, smiling broadly.

"Jeez Charlie, of course it's a yes, yes, yes!" Sam's voice got progressively louder. She pulled Charlie back onto the sofa and into her arms. After a long, leisurely kiss, they silently held each other.

Charlie thought her heart would burst with happiness. This was why she made the right decision this morning. "I love you so much, Sam. I think I knew from the moment our eyes met that you were my soul mate." She pulled back so that she could be caught in the trap of those warm brown eyes.

"I love you too, Charlie," Sam said solemnly as she returned the loving gaze from the baby blues. "This whole commitment thing has been on my mind a lot these last few months," Sam added softly. "Especially since I started having to travel so much. So when I had down time I looked around jewelry and specialty stores. It took me awhile, but I found the most beautiful set of commitment rings."

"You were serious about the rings?" Charlie squeaked in delight and sat up. "Oh Sam, that is so special," she gushed. "When I think of how much I begrudged you being gone on those trips. And you were thinking about us, about me."

"Us and you are indelibly stamped on my mind," Sam told her. "Come upstairs and I'll show you the rings." She stood up and reached out a hand for Charlie giving her a leer..

"Is this like going to see your etchings?" Charlie asked with fake suspicion as she was pulled up.

"Etchings are the farthest thing from my mind, babe," Sam answered, before leaning down to give Charlie a fleeting kiss on the neck. Quickly followed by a flurry of neck kisses in response to the groan from Charlie.

"Sorry for being so suspicious," Charlie said, shivering in delight. The things this woman does to me! She leaned her head to one side to give Sam better access. "What was I thinking?" Most thoughts left her mind except for the need for skin to skin contact.

"About the rings. We're going to go see the rings." Sam gave Charlie's neck one last gentle kiss. "Let me lock up and I'll come upstairs to join you."

"Don't keep me waiting long," Charlie said. She blew Sam and kiss and hurried upstairs where she lit the candles and incense from the day before. She popped some CDs in the player, divested herself of her clothes and laid down on the bed; mere seconds before Sam came barreling up the stairs.

"Heaven two days in a row," Sam commented huskily upon entering the bedroom. She set a bottle down on the bedside table, and made quick work of removing her clothes. "Look what I found downstairs." Sam held up the bottle. "It's that Sparkling Wine we bought to take to a party, but forgot. I thought we could use it to help celebrate our engagement."

"Where are the glasses?" Charlie asked as Sam opened the bottle with a loud pop.

"We don't need glasses, babe." To demonstrate, she poured wine into the dip at Charlie's stomach and quickly slurped it up. "Best glass I ever had," she purred with satisfaction and poured herself another drink.

"Now it's my turn," Charlie said eagerly. She pushed Sam into a reclining position and proceeded to drink wine from Sam's stomach. "Is this how people get drunk with feelings of a loved one?"

"Try if a few more times and we'll know," Sam said, enjoying the feel of Charlie's lips on her stomach. She groaned as Charlie slowly moved from her bellybutton to that dark patch of hair between her thighs.

Charlie liberally splashed Sam's mound with wine and proceeded to lick every drop; very slowly and very methodically. She made sure not to leave any surface area with wine. Charlie licked some more as the scent and heat of Sam's arousal hit her senses driving her to distraction and making her moan.

Sam began to move her body to prolong the contact with the silken tongue. Slowly and deliberately the tongue moved back and forth, until the tension mounted so high it exploded over the top. Charlie thrust two fingers into the moist cavern and moved them rhythmically thrusting Sam over the edge. Sam came in wave after wave after wave. Her body shuddering uncontrollably as she called out Charlie's name.

"This is damn good wine," Charlie commented once the trembling settled down to spasms. "Ambrosia really."

"I don't know about the wine, but it was fantastic being the glass," Sam huffed once her heart stopped beating so hard and she was able to catch her breath. "But now I'm thirsty," she added and smacked her lips. "Pass the wine, please."

"Whatever you say, dear." Charlie moved up until she was almost straddling Sam's head. On her knees with her passion poised above Sam's mouth, she lifted the bottle to her chest and let the wine dribble out. It trickled down her body and into Sam's face.

"Uh, Charlie," Sam sputtered. Causing Charlie to look down and notice that she was missing her target.

"It worked in a movie I saw," Charlie complained with a pout. She put the bottle to her lips and took a drink.

"Well this position does have it's possibilities." Sam lifted her head to kiss a sensitive spot. "I think I've found another source of refreshment," she announced. She pulled Charlie closer, burrowing her face in the warm, moist mound. Using her fingers and tongue she quickly brought Charlie to orgasm. As Charlie shuddered her release, she let go of the bottle of wine showering Sam in the process.

"Uh, Charlie," Sam said, trying to gently bring Charlie's attention to the problem. "Our mattress is getting drunk."

"What?" Charlie looked around still in a sensual haze. Finally realizing what was happening she grabbed the bottle and hopped off the bed narrowly avoiding tripping over Sam's discarded clothes.

Sam quickly got up and pulled the sheets off the bed. She used them to blot the moisture from the mattress. As she walked to the dirty clothes hamper, she burst into laughter. "I bet that didn't happen in your movie, either."

"Weren't you supposed to show me some rings?" Charlie asked with a sheepish grin. "I believe we came up here to see them. It's not my fault, you brought the wine and no glasses," she added before breaking into laughter. "Good thing we have no interest in videotaping our lovemaking sessions. They might end up on 'America's funniest video'.

"The money just might be worth the embarrassment. But honey I don't think America is ready for lesbian sex. They would be so outraged, they would miss the humor."

"You're so literal, Jones. Just joking. Now about those rings," she prompted.

"Okay, Moon. Don't get your panties in a wad."

"I knew I forgot something, Jones," Charlie said dryly as she looked at her lower body. "I don't have on any panties."

"Don't I know it, babe," Sam said with a leer. "You're so literal, Moon," she charged and stuck out her tongue. "Just joking," she mocked. Going to set of drawers in the adjoining room, she pulled out the box holding the rings. She peeped at them real quick to make sure they were as beautiful as she thought they were. The rings looked more magnificent than even she remembered.

Walking over to Charlie, Sam dropped to one knee and reached for the blonde's right hand. "I swear to pledge my like to you for all eternity. Now feast your eyes on these." Sam held the box up for Charlie to see.

"Wow!" Charlie said in awe. "They are so beautiful, Sam. It's uncanny how much the rings reflect both of us." She felt her eyes moisten against her will.

"Like our love," Sam replied with conviction and a smile of pure happiness and love. Her eyes started tearing as well.

"Forever and always," Charlie pledged and pulled Sam up for a soul connecting kiss.


"Sam." Charlie reached over and gave her lover a gentle shake.

"Is it time to get up already?" Sam whined and put her head under the pillow. "Ten more minutes," she mumbled wanting desperately to get back to sleep.

"Sam, this is important so wake up," the blonde persisted.

"My kingdom for ten more minutes," was the muffled reply. That reply earned Sam a couple of pointed pokes in the side. "Okay, okay," she groaned and pulled the pillow from her face while trying to pry open her eyes. She was only able to get the right eyelid to partially separate. "What's so important?"

"Oh, nothing," Charlie replied around a deep sigh. "Sorry I woke you."

Sam rubbed her eyes and sat up. "What's wrong, Charlie? Tell me, please?"

"I was just um, thinking," the blonde replied with seeming nonchalance as she also sat up.

"And?" her lover prompted.

"Do you think it's too late for us to pull together a ceremony before next summer? I don't think we want to have it between November and February, so do we want to rush and do it before November? Maybe we should just wait until next spring."

"Spring seems like a long way away." Too far away if you ask me. I wonder what she wants me to say? "But you're better at this kind of stuff than I am, so you should decide." That was brilliant, Jones. You can still think on your feet!

"Spring does seem like a long way off to me too," Charlie admitted, studying her partner for clues. "But I don't want you to feel well, rushed into anything," she added while fingering the earring in her left ear.

I get it now. Sam reached over, put a finger under Charlie's chin and raised her head until they were eye level. "First off, I love you. Second, I want this ceremony to happen as much as you do so don't ever think you've rushed me into anything. Third, I would do it tomorrow if it was possible, Charlie."

"I guess you were the one who asked me to marry you when we first met," Charlie remembered with a goofy grin. "I just got a little insecure during the night.

"As long as we both feel comfortable waking each other up during these moments we'll be okay, babe." Sam scooted back against the headboard and lifted an arm in invitation.

"You know Sam, I would have regretted not meeting you for the rest of my life," Charlie confessed as she snuggled against her lover.

"Just don't' tell Janice or she'll never let me live it down. I wouldn't want her to think I can be wrong," Sam joked and leaned her cheek on top of Charlie's head.

"Janice already knows, Sam. How can she not?"

Sam gave a sigh of contentment. Here she was with this wonderful woman wrapped in her arms. "I love you Charlie Moon, and I think we should plan a ceremony for August."

"But it's already June," Charlie sputtered and jerked upright. "That's not enough time, Sam. We can't even find a place to rent in that short amount of time," she protested.

"We do have a good sized house with a deck and a backyard," Sam pointed out. "You know I'm not much for formality and how many friends do we have who couldn't commit to a party with a good two months notice? If you insist we can move it to September."

"It just seems so soon," Charlie demurred.

Sam banged her head lightly against the headboard and counted to three. "Then you pick the date, babe," she said patiently. "I was only trying to be helpful and make sure you don't get run ragged like Joyce."

"Simple and informal is good," Charlie acknowledged with a nod of her head. "We should plan it around labor day. Do you think you can get a couple of days off then?"

"I'll work something out," Sam promised vowing that no matter what she would make time for a nice trip to somewhere.

"I'll go get my planner," Charlie said cheerfully and got out of the bed. "I'm wide awake now so we might as well start planning." I can't believe how agreeable she's being about this. The invitations need to got out as soon as possible!

Sam smiled at the blonde's enthusiasm. I don't know why I didn't do this before. This will have to be the best party ever. We can get that caterer who did such a good job at Donna's party and I can draft Denise to help Charlie figure out the decorations. Sam jumped from the bed and started looking around for a pad to write these ideas on. She was back in bed composing a to do list when Charlie returned.

"I called Janice while I was downstairs to make sure she blocks out some time for the wedding. She really has to be there since she was there at the beginning of us."

"Charlie, you do realize it's almost four in the morning don't you?"

"Sam! Something as important as this can not wait," her lover replied with her hands on her hips. "Besides, I knew she was at Monica's place anyway," she added and bounded onto the bed her PDA in hand. "What are you working on anyway?"

"I'm just following orders, master," Sam said meekly. "You said we had to plan the party now and that's what I'm doing." She turned the pad around so that the blonde could see what she had written.

"Good ideas, hon. But be sure to call your mother when we wake back up. It'll save her a call to prod us."

"We'll do it together using the speaker phone. I know mom will want to hear from both of us and that way you can't try to pull anything over on me."

"Paranoid are we?" Charlie raised an imperial brow. She didn't have to heart to point out that she could just as easily call Shirley later and plot. She turned on her PDA and called up the last week in August. "August 30th looks like our date."

Sam nodded in agreement and added the date to her list right after buy invitations. As far as Sam was concerned, she'd just as soon send out an EVITE but she was sure Charlie would like a little more formality. She only hoped her soccer buds would razz her too much about receiving paper invitations and in the mail at that! Their style of communication was much more word of mouth or e-mail. The things I do for love.

Sam and Charlie fell asleep while compiling the guest list. Sam got called to lala land first, soon to be joined by Charlie. If they had been conscious they would have patted themselves on the back for the amount of planning they accomplished in the wee hours of the morning.

Sam was ready to cry when the phone rant later that morning. It felt like she had just closed her eyes. "Charlie," she croaked not bothering to attempt to open her eyes. "It must be for you. No one I know would call this early."

"Your mom would," Charlie croaked in return. "I bet she got psychic vibes that we were planning a wedding and she's call to confirm."

"It's too early for complicated sentences," Sam complained. "Just answer the phone."

A grumbling Charlie gingerly got out of the bed and groped her way to the phone. She cleared her throat to help her voice work before answering the phone. "Hello."

"Are you serious?" Janice screamed into the phone. "I just listened to my messages and I had to call right away. So who popped the question? I know Sam …"

"Janice, calm down," Charlie said slowly, unsuccessful in stifling a yawn. "I promise to call you back later after I've had a couple hours of more sleep, and fill in all the details."

"You realize it's nine already?"

"We were up late, or I should say early, planning this momentous event," Charlie explained trying unsuccessfully to stop yet another yawn. "Excuse me. I promise to call you later, Janice and tell Monica I said hi." Charlie turned off the phone, deciding right then to put it on the night stand on Sam's side of the bed. With a tired grin she got back in the bed and fell right back to sleep.

When the phone rang an hour later Charlie was the one who wanted to cry. Will I never get any sleep? She gave a quick thanks that she'd put the phone closest to Sam and nudged her lover with an elbow.

On the second nudge Sam groaned and reached for the offensive noise. She wasn't fully conscious so it must have been her sub-conscious that made her answer the phone. "Hello," she said brusquely.

"Did I wake you, dear?" came the sweet response.

"Mom? How could you possibly have guessed already? We just decided late last night," a flabbergasted Sam choked out.

"Sam, you need to wake up. You always did have trouble lettin' go of dreams," Shirley said with a chuckle. "I just called to make sure my two girls were still okay from what happened yesterday."

"Oh." Sam sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Sorry mom, I'm a little bit out of it. But it's nothing a couple of liters of Dr. Pepper won't take care of." She covered her mouth to hide a yawn.

"That's good, sweetie. But how is Charlie doin' this morning? I figured she might be a little down when she woke up."

"Other than being very sleepy she's doing pretty good," Sam said, amusement painting her voice. "After dinner she got down on one knee and proposed," she announced with glee.

"She did?" Shirley marveled in a pleased voice. "I always thought it would be you doin' the askin', child."

"I had planed to mom but Charlie beat me to it. I already bought a set of rings and was just waiting for the right moment to pop the question."

"That only happens in movies, Sam. Sometime you just have to make your own moment."

"Or wait for your best girl to do it for you," Sam said saucily. "By the way, you and dad should see about getting tickets for late August. The ceremony will be here at the house on the 30th."

"You do plan to send out invitations, don't you?" Shirley asked knowing her daughter very well. "And I don't mean e-mail or flyers."

"I'm hurt that you would even think for one moment that I wouldn't send out invitations through the snail mail for such an auspicious occasion," Sam huffed playfully.

"Charlie's makin' you?"

"Of course."

Shirley let out a loud chuckle. "I'm so happy for you and Charlie. Now I need to get out of here and get to church. If I don't get there early there's not tellin' what good gossip I might miss out on. I'll call you later"

"Me or Charlie?"

"Bye, child," Shirley said with a laugh and rang off.

Sam clicked off the phone with a grin on her face. She just knew she had the best mother in the universe. Turning to Charlie she gave the sleeping blonde a nudge. "Hey you, are you alive under the covers?"

The only reply was a tortured moan. "I guess that's a yes." Sam let out a wicked yawn and decided that she could do with another couple of hours of sleep.

"How about this one?" Sam asked for what seemed like the hundredth time. She was reaching the end of her patience. To her it seemed like Charlie was determined to dislike every invitation shown to them. Sam wasn't certain, but she was pretty sure the sales associated had ground her teeth when the blonde rejected the last five invitations. And that was following the twenty or so she had already declared were not what she was looking for.

"It's just not what I'm looking for," Charlie announced after contemplating the design. "I don't know what it is exactly but I do know that I'll know it when I see it," she stated firmly.

Sam and Darla, the sales associated, gave twin wrenching sighs. Sam because she was past ready to go. Her plan had been to arrive late and hope that Charlie had already picked out an invitation and was just waiting for her blessing. It should have worked because Charlie had already gone through one large book full of samples by the time Sam arrived.

Remember, this is so important to her. It won't kill you to be supportive. Sam then proceeded to keep her calm as her lover nixed any number of choices presented to her.

It was Charlie's turn to give wrenching sigh as she closed yet another book of invitations. She was extremely disappointed that none of the designs had called out to her. She was sure that the right one was just waiting to be found. If only we had more time to get these out! I need to just accept one that Sam likes and live with it. "I'm sorry for being so picky," Charlie apologized in the direction of Sam. "Why don't we get one of the ones you liked, Sam?"

"Let's try one more book, babe. I want you to have exactly what you want," Sam said with surety.

"Are you sure?" Charlie asked trying not to sound too hopeful. "Because we really could just pick one of the others."

"I'm positive." Sam reached for he lover's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. She checked to make sure that Darla could not see her face before mouthing, 'You owe me' and giving the blonde a wink.

Darla feeling a little encouraged reached for another book of designs. Keeping the smile on her face, she gave a silent prayer as she passed the book to the two women.

Charlie took a deep breath and turned to the first page. She was determined to find some thing she liked this time. With this new mind set she discovered that the first five designs were ones she could definitely live with. But when she pointed them out to Sam it was the brown skinned woman who shook her head.

Luckily another client entered the store saving Darla from voicing her frustration aloud. She excused herself and left the two women alone.

Sam turned the page with resolution, determined now that Charlie get something she really liked. She let out a gasp that directed Charlie's attention back to the book. There before them was the exact yin-yang design that graced their rings. The large black and white symbol was slightly raised and etched upon a gold background.

A shiver ran up Sam's spine at the discovery. She looked at Charlie and saw a look of bemusement on her face. They both grinned at each other like two crazy people.

Charlie was sitting at the kitchen table sipping her morning cup of tea. As she had done for the past eight weeks she was checking and rechecking the to do list for the "party", as Sam like to call it. And as usual everything was still on track with only one more week to go. There was no reason for the blonde to give the list the attention she did.

Part of her worry was the difference in opinion with which she and Sam viewed this event. Sam thought that everything should be informal and just be left to flow. In her opinion all they had to worry about was the food, the drinks, and making sure that Martha, their mix-master friend, showed up.

Charlie, on the other hand, was more concerned about details. It wasn't enough that they had food, drinks and music, she wanted everything to be perfect. She sighed and thought with longing of the wedding planner she had wanted to hire. Charlie gave a jerk of surprise as a pair of hands landed on her shoulders. She looked up with guilt knowing it was too late to hide the lists.

"I'm sorry this is causing you so much stress, Charlie," Sam said as she massaged the tense shoulders under her hands. "You have put so much effort into this event that I know it will be a success, sweetie."

"There are so many things that can go wrong between now and then," Charlie replied stretching her neck forward as Sam deepened the massage. "What if the caterer gets into an accident on the way here?"

"We have Johnny's Pizza on speed dial. I'm sure they could deliver in an hour."

"Pizza! We're committing to each other and you want pizza?" Charlie all but shouted, clearly frazzled.

"No," Sam said soothingly. "But pizza is a good back up plan, Charlie."

"I'm sorry, Sam," Charlie quickly apologized. "I seem to be getting bent out of shape for no reason these days. You're right, I have planned this well enough that I can put of the moment of panic until the day of the ceremony."

"That's my girl." Sam leaned over and kissed the top of the blonde head that was so dear to her. "I need to get to the office. Call me if you have anything else you need me for." On the way out the door she stopped to say goodbye to Sammy. "Don't give that look boy, I took you for a run this morning. Go bother your other mother until she has to go open up the store."

Sammy waved his tail as if he understood and trotted off to where Charlie sat. He sniffed around her chair and then plopped himself down and rested his head on her feet.

Despite her talk with Sam, Charlie went right back to the lists. "Just one more time and I'll put them away for a few days," she promised a non-responsive Sammy.

There were a few bends in the path but overall the necessary ingredients came together for the big day. The early fall day was clear and unseasonably warm; in all the perfect day for a backyard wedding. After much fussing Charlie agreed that the house looked like she wanted it to.

The ceremony and reception went off as planned and Sam restrained herself from giving her lover an 'I told you so' as the food arrived on time without any accidents or other mishaps. Charlie and Sam exchanged vows that each had written in secret but that both expressed their love for one another. Shirley beamed through tears the whole time and proudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen her part in this special occasion.

Throwing aside tradition the newly joined women shared the first dance.

"I don't know that your cheeks will ever be white again," Sam murmured into Charlie's ear. "They are my friends but even I have to admit that you can dress them up but you can't take them anywhere."

"My face isn't that red, Sam," Charlie protested and leaned back to give her new spouse a challenging look.

"Oh yes it is," Sam replied playfully. "You've gone from a white female to a female of color."

"Sam, white is a color," Charlie clarified.

"And it used to look good on you." Sam leaned in to nibble on Charlie's ear. "Have I told you how much I like your outfit?" She ran her hand down an arm left bare by the form fitting vest.

"I could stand to hear it again." She wrinkled her nose and leaned her head to the side to encourage Sam to nibble on her neck. "It's nice to know you still appreciate me in my everyday clothes."

"I appreciate you even more without your everyday clothes." Sam allowed her voice to drop deeper knowing full well the effect it had on the blonde. "Want to go outside and make out?" She increased the pressure of her lips on Charlie's neck and pulled her closer so that their hips were touching intimately.

"All that toasting went to your head, admit it?" Charlie taunted as she put possessive hands on Sam's hips.

"Can't you feel it," Sam replied and ground her groin into Charlie's. "We should probably try out some of the things suggested during the toasting. Seeing as how my dear old mom forced us to sleep apart the past two nights."

Charlie shivered in response, becoming even harder than she had been due to Sam's undulation. "Behave," she said half heartedly. "There's plenty of time for that later."

"You promise."

"Count on it, Jones."

"I guess I should let you go so we can circulate among our guests," Sam said with reluctance as the song ended. She had been enjoying the tortured feel of arousal that was stocking her groin to high heat. Good things come to those who wait, Jones. "Don't even think about getting any sleep tonight," she whispered as she lead Charlie to over where her parents were standing.

"Right back at you," Charlie said sweetly before she willing walked into Shirley's outstretched arms.

"I can't tell you how happy I am that you two girls are settled," the still beaming woman said giving the blonde a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks, mom," was the response from the equally beaming Charlie.

"Well now that you girls are hitched, what about a little artificial insemination?" Shirley suggested.

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