Disclaimers: These little beauties (depending upon your individual tastes) are all mine. Although some personality traits may resemble those of certain characters we know and love, I promise that it wasn't intended that way. Also, I may have (ok, I did) stolen some lines here and there from the show, songs, and other places, but no copyright infringement was intended. I just borrowed them.

Violence: Unfortunately there will be some bad stuff in this. The first part deals mostly with the aftermath of domestic violence. Eventually the story will also touch on the subject of alcohol abuse, child abuse and rape. There is nothing graphic regarding any of that but it is essential to the story line. I hope this doesn't hinder anyone from reading. Oh yeah, there's a bit of the potty mouth in this too, so again forgive me.

Hurt/Angst: Well, given the kind of violence described above, yeah there will be some hurting and some comforting going on in here. In fact that leads us to...

Love/Sex: This story depicts love, romance, and the physical expression of both (50 cent words for sex). The main characters are women and yes they are the ones doing the expressing so if you are too young to be reading this, offended by it, or living somewhere it is illegal then please stop reading.

Potpourri: Okay folks this is how this is going to go. I know that this first part will seem like it is starting in the middle of the story. Well, it's supposed to. This story contain a lot of flashback scenes that will fill in the blanks that this first part might not address. I promise that all will be revealed in time. I've got most of the story finished, but I'm posting it in parts...how many there will be I have no idea but I'm hoping for weekly if not biweekly updates. This is only the second story I've ever written so feedback is really, really important to me. If you love it, like it, have a strictly platonic relationship with it or outright hate it I'd like to know. Thanks for your time and I hope you enjoy it.

Deconstructing the Box

By Kel

Part 1

Every time I think you might have changed, put aside the anger and the blame, make myself believe that there's a way to work it out. Every time you say, "let's try again", every time I let you back in back in...Every time I do, every time you lie, every time I cry


Every Time I Cry- Terri Clark


"I can't believe this shit," yelled Maggie, "what the fuck are these people thinking?"


Reilly sat on their sofa cringing at yet another outburst of fury from her girlfriend. It was an everyday thing that Reilly feared... coming home or being home when Maggie stepped through the door, never quite sure if she would get a kiss or a verbal assault. More often than not, Maggie would come through the door and greet her with a string of curses and violent outbursts that had broken more than a few dishes and indirectly had left a reminder of her girlfriend's frustrations in the form of a three-inch scar on the side of her face.

"What's wrong honey," Reilly had asked in a timid yet tired voice. She knew that these tirades meant that she would once again bear the brunt of Maggie's anger and she tried to be supportive instead of calming since the latter only served to incense her roommate further.

"I hate my fucking life, that's what's wrong," the shorter brunette stated bitterly, "I hate this fucking school, my fucking professors, and my fucking job."

"What happened?"

"I'm just sick of all of it. I'm sick of classes and doing this mindless shit for people who couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag and then going to work with assholes who think I don't have a life outside of that god forsaken place."

Maggie walked out of the room with her cell phone in hand so she could call to find someone to cover her shift that weekend so she could get some studying done. Reilly, just shook her head and thought how irrational Maggie was being about classes seeing as how her schedule didn't compare to the chaos of hers. Reilly, a recent physical therapy graduate, had often started her days at 6 in the morning and never finished before 4 or 5 any given day of the week then she would have to stay up until pretty late to study after she got back from work. But, she reflected, it was worth it...the long days, the longer nights, and the constant pressure and stress had been worth it. She had achieved her goal and at the end of the summer, she'd be starting her new job as a licensed physical therapist. Maggie would be graduating at the end of the summer, after completing her internship hours for her master's degree. Everything seemed to be falling into place and she thought for sure that Maggie would realize that when she calmed down. With a sigh, Reilly went back to studying for her boards.

She had just found her concentration when she heard Maggie yell, "Fuck!" and come storming back into the room. Reilly looked up just in time to see Maggie slam her cell phone onto the floor, but couldn't react fast enough to duck as the small phone bounced off the carpeted floor and hit her in the face.

The phone connected with her glasses and caught the upper part of her right orbit, carrying with it pieces of her shattered lens. Reilly screamed and put her hand immediately up to her eye. Out of her good eye, she saw Maggie standing in the middle of the living room stunned, but still fuming. Reilly got up from the couch and stumbled dizzily to the kitchen sink and tried to force water into her bleeding eye to clean out the glass and control the bleeding. When she was confident she had cleaned out the glass, she went upstairs to the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror.

What she saw, beyond the dark bruise already forming under her eyebrow and the gash that was dangerously close to her already swollen eye ,was a woman she didn't recognize. Staring back at her was a scared, submissive, sad woman where a strong, proud, confident, happy person had once been. When she saw Maggie's tear stained face appear behind her, she snapped. She whirled around to face her jailer and stated very softly, but with palpable fury that it was over.

"Baby, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Let me take you to the hospital. I'm sorry. It was an accident," Maggie pled.


Soft, light brown eyes turned the color of coal as Reilly reached out, grabbed Maggie by the back of her shirt and forced her to look in the mirror at the two of them.

"You're sorry!?" Reilly asked incredulously, "You're sorry. Look at me. See this," she pointed to the fresh wound, "Does this look like you're sorry. And this," she pointed the scar on her right cheek, "Does this look like you're sorry? Does it!?"


Maggie was sobbing at this point. She knew she had a problem, but just couldn't seem to get a handle on it. She was sorry that had hurt Reilly, but didn't understand why her girlfriend was so angry instead of trying to console her and reassure her like she always did.

"Reilly, I'm sorry. But, look...let's get you to the hospital and make sure you're eye is ok. Then we'll come home and hold each other. Please honey, let's go. You need to go."

"Oh, you're right about that, Maggie. I do need to go, but not the hospital. I'm leaving. I'm done. You have been a psychotic bitch for the last several months and nothing I do, no amount of love I give seems to put a dent in whatever is going on inside you. I'm done."

"No! You can't leave me. The only reason I stay in this fucking school or even in this state is because of you. Please, I'm sorry. I'd never intentionally hurt you baby, this was an accident just like..." Maggie trailed off as her gaze fell to the scar.


"Just like last time? Is that what you were going to say?" Reilly was already backing away, "That's right, Maggie. Just like last time. You never mean to throw shit, you didn't mean to cut me with that damn glass 3 months ago, and I'm sure you didn't mean to do this. But that doesn't change the fact that you have been using me as a verbal punching bag for the better part of a year and I've had it. I've loved you for longer than I can remember and the reason I fell in love with you is still very fresh in my mind, but I can't and won't live like this anymore."

"What do you mean punching bag," Maggie shouted as she followed Reilly into their bedroom. Reilly had her own room, but the both slept in Maggie's and that's where a lot of Reilly's things were. "I've never hit you, Reilly. I never would. I'm sorry I hurt you tonight and that other time, but I've never hurt you physically and besides, you said that I was getting better. After I started going to counseling, you said I was getting better."

"You may not go off as much as you did before Maggie, but you are still doing it. Just because someone doesn't beat their lover as often doesn't mean that's it's any better. It just took me 'til now to realize it. And I'm leaving."

With that said, Reilly pulled out a sweatshirt and jogging pants from the closet and changed clothes while Maggie stood in the background pleading with her. She didn't try to stop her, she just begged Reilly not to leave her claiming that she would surely die without her. Her pleas did not fall on deaf ears, but as the taller woman continued to dress she felt her courage growing as Maggie tried once again to manipulate her into staying in a situation that was neither healthy nor about love.

Reilly moved downstairs and retrieved her keys and wallet then slipped on her shoes and went to leave.

"Maggie, I love you. I have since the first day I met you and have meant it every time I told you, even now. But I will not do this anymore. You have run out of second chances. I will be back tomorrow to get my stuff and then I'm leaving. Don't worry about the rent or other bills, I'll continue to pay on everything until the lease is up, but I won't be back. I hope you get some help someday and I hope you learn to love yourself again. I love you."

Maggie watched as her lover walked out the door and when the door closed she picked up a candle from the end table and threw it at the door with a wild yell. She then started screaming as she hit things, threw things and generally let the rage finally take her over. Reilly heard it all from outside as she stood by her car still too shaken to drive. After a few minutes she got in, wiped the tears from her eyes and drove to the hospital to get her eye taken care of. When she left the emergency department, she didn't know where to go, so she went up the med center where the PT department kept rooms open late for studying and fell asleep. She could have gone to her friend Al, but she didn't feel like talking. Her anger had long since dissipated and she was just starting to feel the ache of a good heart that had been shattered.



Reilly's watch alarm went off at 6 am and the young woman struggled into consciousness. Her head hurt and her back ached from sleeping in the uncomfortable desk all night. She gathered her wallet and keys, spent a few minutes trying to work the kinks out of her body, then slipped quietly from the room and down the hallway. Given the early hour, there was no one lurking about yet, so she made her way to the elevator.

Since she'd finished with her classes, there was no place in particular she needed to be so she decided that she'd stop to be some breakfast and then head over to Al's house and explain what had happened. With that plan in her mind, she turned her thoughts to the more immediate task and that was getting out of the building without any of the staff seeing her. She was nervous as she waited for the elevator...constantly looking over her shoulder to see if anyone was lurking about. The elevator bell rang, signaling the arrival of the car and Reilly felt a sense of relief, thinking that she'd managed to avoid seeing anyone, thus saving her from having to explain her injuries. But when the doors opened her heart jumped into her throat when one of her teachers, Dr. Tia Rickman stepped out of the elevator.

The small professor was one of Reilly's favorite teachers as well as a friend. The two of them had shown an instant liking of each other almost from the first day Reilly started school, but even though she liked and trusted the small professor, she had never revealed much about her personal life.

Dr. Tia Rickman was a petite woman with short dark hair and an attractively athletic build. Her bright blue eyes normally shone with quiet intelligence and intensity, but when she raised her eyes to take in the sight of her student and friend, they showed nothing but concern and fear.

Before either could say a word, Dr. Rickman grasped Reilly gently by the arm and led her away from the elevator. The young woman went willingly and soon found herself behind the closed door of her teacher's office, crying softly while Dr. Rickman held her.

Long moments passed while Reilly cried in her teacher's arms. Dr. Rickman held her tightly, but rocked her gently as she cried both from embarrassment and a broken heart.

When Reilly had calmed a bit, she sat back and looked at her friend with sad eyes that had gone a brilliant green due to the tears. Reilly was not shocked to find tears in her friend's eyes, but was surprised at the thinly veiled anger she saw burning in the normally pacific blue.

To say that Tia Rickman was concerned was an extreme understatement, but to say that she wasn't burning with fury over who had hurt her friend was a boldfaced lie. The small professor took in the red, tear-stained face that was sporting a huge bruise above the right eye as well as a neat bandage that was wet with both tears and blood and felt her anger rise. With a shaky hand, Dr. Rickman touched Reilly's cheek below the bandage and tried her best to show her support as she asked her friend and colleague what had happened.

Since she felt embarrassed for breaking down and even more so at her current state, Reilly gave her friend the condensed version of what had transpired the night before. She simply said that she and her lover had gotten into a fight and that it had ended with her walking out of the apartment and the relationship.

The professor listened to the story and instantly knew there was more to it. She kept in constant contact with the younger woman as she talked and pulled her into another hug when she'd finished. Without discussing it with Reilly or thinking, really, Tia picked up the phone and called her supervisor and the department head, Dr. Elizabeth Baldwin at home.


When she heard her boss's voice, Tia quickly explained that an emergency had come up and that she wouldn't be attending classes. Dr. Elizabeth Baldwin had wanted an explanation, but Tia simply stated that she had an emergency to tend to and would call her later in the day with details. When she hung up the phone, she coaxed Reilly into standing and took them down the staff elevator so that none of Reilly's teachers or classmates would see them if they had come in early.

Tia took Reilly to her home, got her to take a shower and change clothes, and convinced her to lay down and try to sleep. While the young woman got some much-needed sleep on her sofa, Tia called Dr. Baldwin back and filled her in on the gist of her sudden absence. Dr. Baldwin had listened as Tia relayed the information and felt her own heart go out to Reilly.

When Tia finished explaining, Dr. Baldwin finally spoke, "Tia, that poor girl is in a lousy spot I agree, but what are you going to do about it?"

Tia ran a hand through her short, black hair "Elizabeth, I don't know. She needed help. I don't know if she has anywhere else to go."

"I know, Tia. Try to calm down. I'm not faulting you for you actions or for caring, I'm just asking what you plan to do."

"Thanks, Elizabeth. I have no idea what to do. I know what my first reaction was, but I don't think that would be a good idea."

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and quirked a grin as she sat back in her chair, "And what's that?"

"I want to kick someone's ass," Tia stated matter factly.

Elizabeth burst out laughing, "And just whose ass are you going to kick, Tia? You don't even know everything that happened. Besides, maybe Reilly already took care of that."

"Yeah right," Tia said disbelievingly, but with affection, "Reilly is just a big teddy bear. She wouldn't hurt a fly...okay, maybe a fly but certainly not anyone else. Besides, you should have seen her, Elizabeth...she looked so broken."

"I can only, imagine, Tia," Elizabeth said, "But what are you going to do now?"

Tia was silent for a moment, trying to decide if her boss would be upset with her for revealing her close friendship with the student. Deciding that it certainly couldn't hurt anything, she sighed and started to speak.

"Elizabeth," she started, "I need to ask you something."

On the other end of the phone, Elizabeth smiled. She knew that Tia and Reilly were close friends and had known for a long time, despite their attempts to keep it hidden when they were at work.

"Go ahead, Tia," the older professor encouraged.

"Well," Tia said, with a touch of nervousness in her voice, "How upset would you be if you found out that a professor and a student had kind of developed a close friendship and...um...hung out and did stuff together outside of classes?"

Elizabeth laughed so loudly that her secretary poked her head around the corner of office door and looked at her quizzically. Dr. Baldwin smiled, waved her off, and waited until she disappeared before answering Tia's question.

"Oh Tia, do you really think I don't know what's going on in my own department?"

Tia was silent so Elizabeth continued, "Tia, it's not a problem. From the moment I met Reilly during her first year here, I knew she was going to be a person you would like. And when she was in your class, I could see how much you both liked each other. For three years neither of you have given me a reason to think that your friendship was affecting her school work or your job. I'm glad you two are friends."

Tia released the breath she had been holding and chuckled, "You are too smart for your own good, you do know that right?"

Elizabeth smiled and answered, "Don't you just hate it when I do that?"

"Yes," Tia stated bluntly, "I do, but I love you for it. Okay, so you know that Reilly and are friends. That's good because I have idea of what to do about my friend's current situation."

Uh oh, I don't know if I'm gonna like this, Elizabeth thought, but waited in silence for Tia to continue.

"I want her to stay with me for a while," Tia said quickly, "I can't let her go back to where she was...even if she wanted to which I doubt. She's not my student anymore and she won't be starting at the hospital until she passes her boards. If she'll agree, I'm going to let her stay here until she can get another apartment or whatever it is she needs to do."

Elizabeth wasn't sure how she was supposed to react to that. Tia was correct in that Reilly was not her student anymore, however if any of the other students or staff found out that Reilly had moved in with Tia it could cause some suspicion regarding Reilly's performance in her classes.

"Elizabeth, are you there?" Tia said worriedly. She knew what her friend was probably thinking, but desperately needed her opinion and hopefully her approval.

"You know there will be talk," Elizabeth stated.

"There might be," Tia conceded, "But who the hell cares. Reilly got through the program on her own merit with a lot of hard work against an apparently uphill current. Come on, Elizabeth, I'm not asking for your permission, but I would like your honest opinion. Forget about my job for a minute and talk to me like a friend. Would it be a really bad idea for her to stay here?"

Elizabeth was silent for several moments. Tia crossed all her fingers and toes, hoping that her friend would give her some encouragement.

"Go for it," Elizabeth said with confidence, "You are both adults and now colleagues, it's not a big deal."

Tia beamed at the phone and said, "Thanks, Elizabeth. The hard part is going to be getting Reilly to agree to it, but I think I can out stubborn her."

"Of that I have no doubt," Elizabeth chuckled.

Tia looked at the clock and noticed that it was about time for Elizabeth's first class, "Well, I'd better let you go. Thanks for understanding about today."

"No problem, Tia," Elizabeth said sincerely, "In fact, if Reilly takes you up on your offer, why don't you just take the rest of the week off. You're only helping Jason with his class so you can afford the time. It's just the beginning of summer session so not much is going on."

"Thanks, boss," Tia said grinning widely, "I think I will."

"One more thing...what are you planning on doing with her today?"

"I haven't really gotten that far yet," Tia admitted, "I guess I should just let her sleep for now. After that, I'm gonna try to feed her and see if I can get her to tell me what happened. She'll probably need to go back to her apartment to get some of her stuff so I'll probably go with her to do that."

Elizabeth was silent for a moment then said, "Ok, I'm going to make a suggestion. Wait for a couple of days before you let her go back there. If I know Reilly the way I think I do, you're going to have a tough time with that, but that's where I come in."


"Can I come over and bring dinner? I want to talk to Reilly. I care about her too and you may need some back up when you try to convince her to let you take care of her for a while."

If Elizabeth had been standing in the room at the time, Tia would have hugged the bigger woman and kissed her soundly.

"Thank you Elizabeth. Thank you for caring about her. She makes it really easy for people to like her...even if the little shit can try the patience of Job sometimes," Tia said with great affection.

"I couldn't agree with you more Tia. And I'd say that 'little' isn't an appropriate description for her, but the 'shit' part certainly applies," Elizabeth said with a chuckle, "She is a special woman, though."

"That she is, Elizabeth, that she is. I'll see you later?"

"Yeah, I'll probably drop by around 4:30. Tell Reilly to take it easy, okay? And if she'll be uncomfortable with me there, call me and let me know."

"Okay, I will. Talk to you later, Elizabeth."

"See you later Tia, I'll bring Chinese. That damn kid ate almost the whole buffet the last time the planning committee went to lunch so I know she likes it," Elizabeth said with a laugh, "Oh and Tia..."


"You did the right thing. See you later."

Tia clicked off the phone once her boss had hung up. She was glad that Elizabeth had agreed to everything and that she was so willing to help the broken woman sleeping on her couch.

After changing from her suit to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, Tia sat down on her love seat and watched Reilly sleep. Tia had meant it when she told Baldwin that the young firecracker could be as exhausting as the day is long with her incessant questions and comments in class, but all of her instructors knew it was because that out of all of the other students in her class, Reilly had an honest hunger for knowledge and a burning desire to realize her dream of becoming a therapist. All of her instructors loved her dedication, her organization and her enthusiasm even if they did tease her about on occasion. The ease with which she interacted with her teachers and the instant rapport she developed with her clinical instructors and patients often made her an outcast with her fellow classmates, but the young woman just took it in stride. Over the past three years, none of her teachers, Tia included, could have guessed that the student with the quick smile and even faster wit was enduring a private hell.

The small professor stared at Reilly's open, innocent face and felt her heart go out once again. Despite the bandage covering her right eye and the scar that ran down her cheek, Reilly was an attractive woman.

The short dark hair that was sprinkled with light highlights which Reilly had explained was her sister's experiment with hair coloring, gave the 26 year old woman an even more youthful appearance. Her eyes were a caramel color that Tia had seen lighten to almost yellow when she was happy, darken to almost black when she was concentrating hard or frustrated, and when she had cried in her office earlier, Tia watched as Reilly's eyes turned the most beautiful shade of green she had ever seen.

As she kept vigil over her young charge, Tia continued her visual perusal of her student. She knew she shouldn't be, but she couldn't help it. Reilly had fascinated her from the moment she met her. Most of the other students were either just into their twenties or hadn't gotten there yet. Reilly had been a lot older than the other students in her class and therefore held none of the outward youth that her classmates harbored. She was a grown woman, but still had an inner strength that nicely complimented her playful nature.


Tia smiled as she remembered the first day of anatomy lab three years ago, when Reilly had come to class in her cotton shorts and tank top. Reilly was in great shape and always managed to find time to work out despite her school and work schedules. When Reilly had walked in that day, Tia was held in rapt attention as she watched Reilly offer her body to her classmates for palpation of muscle in her shoulders and neck. When it came time for the class to move on to back muscles, Tia's heart almost stopped when Reilly took off her shirt and revealed her tanned back that contrasted very nicely to the white sports bra she wore. Tia had noticed that the other women and some of the men in the class had become self conscious at the sight of the well toned woman, but Reilly was oblivious.

Toward the end of class, Reilly's group had finished their list or muscles and structures to palpate so they decided to go back over everything to make sure they had it. Reilly's classmate Anna had been having trouble finding a particular muscle, so Reilly had asked Tia to come over and show them. Tia smiled as she remembered.

"Dr. Rickman, could you help us for a sec?" Reilly had asked with a grin.

"Sure, what's up, girls?" Tia had asked while trying to keep her eyes off the buff young woman sitting next to her.


"Anna is having a bit of trouble making my scalenes pop out and locating the brachial plexus and I can't show her where they are and turn my head at the same time. Could you help us out?"


"Sure," Tia turned her head to Anna and asked, "Ok, first question, do you know where the scalenes are supposed to be at?"


"Between the 'a' and the 't' on preposition lane," Reilly mumbled softly and then turned horrified toward Tia for her smart remark.


Tia simply raised an eyebrow and asked, "Excuse me, Ms. Frederick?"


"Oh, Dr. Rickman I'm so sorry. It's automatic. My dad was a real stickler about grammar when my sister and I were growing up and whenever we ended a sentence with 'at' he would pop off with that. It kind of became a habit," Reilly explained hastily.


Tia just grinned, then turned to Anna and said, "Ok, Anna do you know where the scalenes are supposed to be?" she asked and glanced at Reilly who was blushing furiously.


"Yes ma'am, I do," Anna replied, "I'm just not quite sure what I'm looking at or how to get them to really stand out."


"Ok, I'll show you," Tia stated then proceeded to make the subtle neck muscles pop out on Reilly's neck. When she performed the maneuver, she had to steal herself against the reaction her body had seeing Reilly's other neck and shoulder muscles standing out in relief then let a wicked grin shape her lips as she turned to Anna.


"See Anna, that's how you make them stand out. Actually, you can see them very well on Reilly and the brachial plexus is right in the middle of them, right here," with that she took her fingernail and followed the muscles down from Reilly's ear, scraping lightly down the side of her neck and into the junction of her shoulder. Reilly shivered visibly as much from being ticklish as from being surprised and mildly aroused at the action.


"What's wrong, Reilly?" Tia asked innocently as she released Reilly's chin, "Did that hurt?"


"Uh, no Dr. Rickman I'm just very uh, ticklish on my neck," Reilly said and refused to meet her instructor's eyes.


"Do you think you've got it now Anna?" Tia asked.


"Uh, yeah I got it thanks, Dr. Rickman. I'm gonna go get my notebook so I can make some notes on that."


When Anna walked away, Tia leaned down next to Reilly's ear and whispered, "Teach you to sass me."


Tia stood up with a grin and wink then walked away from a very embarrassed and highly flustered Reilly Fredericks.


Tia chuckled at the memory. It had been such a huge ice-breaker for the two of them and afterward, they both seemed very comfortable around each other.


During the time that Reilly had attended PT school, the two of them had developed a very strong, very important friendship. The first semester had been the hardest on both of them. Reilly had a lovely personality and never gave herself enough credit. She was older than most of her other classmates and had almost a whole professional lifetime of experience under her belt. That experience combined with her hunger and drive to become a therapist often made her put out the extra effort to always have the right answers. Many of her classmates didn't like that. When Tia had first witnessed Reilly's reluctance to speak up during lectures or to answer direct questions from her professors, she thought it was odd that a seemingly bright and outgoing person could be so closed mouth around her younger classmates. So Tia got on her case. One day after class, Tia had asked Reilly to stay after for a minute and when the other students left, the small professor closed the door and preceded to chew off her student's butt and hand it to her on a silver platter.

She remembered the astonished and sheepish expressions that had crossed Reilly's face during her little diatribe. If she hadn't been so angry at the other students for ostracizing the bright young woman and at Reilly for allowing them to bully her, she might have been laughing. When she was finished, Reilly promised to do better. Toward the end of the semester, Reilly did come out of her self-imposed shell...partly on her own and partly because Tia simply wouldn't let her get away with being quiet in class. Almost every question the professor asked during lecture was directed at Reilly. At the end of the semester, Reilly had come out at the top of her class in grades and when Tia had congratulated her on that accomplishment, Reilly had told her that it wasn't as if she'd had a choice since Tia's apparent mission was to make sure that she answered every question that was posed in lecture.

It was after that first semester, that Tia and Reilly started realizing that they liked each other outside of the teacher-student relationship. They had met a couple of times, by accident, in the cafeteria and had spent some time getting to know one another as future colleagues. By beginning of the second year, Reilly and Tia had become friends. They had kept things strictly professional when they were at school, but after hours or on weekends, they were just Tia and Reilly...friends.

The two women often went for coffee or worked out together early in the morning at the campus fitness facility. On the weekends, the pair would go hiking or biking at the state forest. Tia's favorable musings were darkened suddenly as she remember the couple of times that Maggie, Reilly's ex-girlfriend, had joined them on their hikes. If the professor were to be honest with herself, she would admit that she had never liked the woman. Tia had witnessed the possessive, almost compulsive behavior that Maggie had demonstrated toward her friend and couldn't believe that Reilly shared her life with someone so obviously insecure. She felt that Reilly deserved better. During their time together, Tia had a feeling that something was going on in Reilly's personal life that was stressing her out. On a couple of occasions, she'd tried to talk to her friend about it, but Reilly would just flash that winning smile and say "oh, it's nothing."

Nothing, Tia thought sadly, but with a touch of anger. Seeing what Maggie had done to her friend that morning was most definitely not nothing. Glancing at the peaceful profile, she felt her anger rising as she realized that the other scar that had marred the beautiful face was more than likely another gift from Maggie. She decided that she'd ask her friend about it later...when she felt ready to talk.


Tia was brought out of her musing when she heard Reilly whimper slightly in her sleep. Tia reached out and smoothed the hair on her head to quiet her and very slowly Reilly's good eye blinked open. She was disoriented for a few moments before she caught sight of her teacher and friend and smiled. However, as soon as the smile had formed it disappeared and Reilly sat up, swung her legs onto the floor and refused to meet her teacher's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Tia. You shouldn't have let me sleep like that."

"Reilly, you needed it. And before you go getting all embarrassed, don't. I'm not going to judge you and before you go apologizing for imposing, brining me into this, or anything else asinine like that just stop. You're here because I care. Simple as that,"

Tia smiled and was relieved to see Reilly meet her gaze and quirk a tiny smile.

"Yes ma'am," Reilly said in her slight southern drawl.

"Good, glad we got that settled and for once you didn't ask me a thousand questions to clarify," Tia teased good-naturedly and was relieved to hear Reilly laugh.

A silence fell as Tia tried to figure out the best way to make her offer to Reilly and the younger woman tried to get over her irritation at her situation and the embarrassment she felt for falling apart in front of her friend.

"Uh, Tia, what time is it? I need to go back to my house and get my books and some clothes and stuff. I also need to call my friend Al and ask if I can crash at her house tonight."

Reilly stood up and immediately sat back down as her head started spinning from the pain in her head.Tia moved instantly to sit beside her friend on the couch.


"Reilly, you need to take it easy ok?I will take you to get your things, but honey you gotta rest a little bit,"

"Tia, I'm not going to let her win like this," Reilly stated with indignation flashing in her eyes, "I have my boards to study for and business to run..." Reilly stopped and bent her head and started crying, "Oh God, we have to work together.I can't do it, Tia.I can't do it, but I need to work so I can pay my bills and now I'll have to pay rent on two places because I'm stuck in a lease with her for another couple months.Oh, God," the proud woman broke down into sobs and Tia just rubbed her back and let her cry.

"Reilly, let's just take this one thing at a time.First of all, you don't need to go back there just yet.Second..." Tia stopped abruptly and looked at her friend in confusion, "Wait, what business? You own a business?Why didn't I know this?"

"Um," Reilly started awkwardly, "I guess I never got around to telling you."

Tia looked at her incredulously, "Never got around to telling me?What kind of an excuse is that?We've been friends now for almost a year and half, why didn't you mention that?"

Reilly couldn't tell if her friend was really upset or if she was just surprised.Tia must have sensed the indecision and quickly tried to dissuade her discomfort.

"Rei, I'm not mad, sweetheart. I'm surprised and just a wee bit hurt that you never told me, but it's not that big of deal.Although, I am terribly curious about this business."

Reilly smiled at her friend and replied, "I'm sorry I never told you.You know that bookstore I told you I work at?"

Tia's jaw dropped, "You mean you own TAB's?"

Reilly nodded.

"Holy shit, Rei, why didn't you ever tell me that?"

Reilly shrugged, "I don't know. I guess it just never came up.I mean you knew I worked there...although to my knowledge you've never been in there.It just didn't seem like a big deal."

Tia was shocked at her friend's modesty and humble attitude, "Wow, so you've owned it for...what...about two years?"

Sheepishly, Reilly replied, "Yeah, I got the idea to open my own bookstore. I'd always wanted to do it because I love reading so much.Maggie wasn't too keen on it at the time, but I did all the research and took care of most of the paper work.When she figured out that it could possibly happen, she started taking an interest.The business is in my name as far as legal stuff goes, but Maggie and I both run the place."

The professor just shook her head disbelieving.

Reilly continued, "It's downtown. It's not that big really.It's just a little bookstore.We serve coffee and have a little patio area where people can take books out to read and we have some internet connections where people can hook up to the net."

Tia just shook her head, "Unbelievable.You own one of the hottest stores in town."

Reilly blushed, "Yep, that's me. My dad and my uncle Max helped me buy the store and helped me get everything started.With their help I didn't have to take out any money myself.They said they liked the idea but didn't want me to have to worry about paying back a loan plus pay for school.So, everything that I make at the store basically pays for school, rent, and all that."

Tia was dumbstruck, "Holy cow," she said, "I had no idea.You're right, I've never been there myself, but I hear it's great."

"Thanks," Reilly said again, "It's not that big a deal really.It was just an idea I'd had for a while and when I told dad about it, he and uncle Max told me to do the research and when I needed it, they would put up the money.Fortunately it's been pretty successful."

"From what I hear, it's a big hit, Reilly.When I first heard about it, I thought it was going to be geared more toward people your age, but my friends say it has a great atmosphere and that they love going out there."

"My friend Al, that's short for Alysha, runs the place most of the time.She handled most of the day to day things while I was in school and I go in two or three days a week to help out and take care of inventory, payroll and stuff like that."

While Tia absorbed all the new information, Reilly grew very pensive.The small professor noticed a look of utter sadness cross the expressive features of her friend.

Tia's eyebrows crinkled in confusion at the young woman, "Reilly, what's wrong?"

The young woman didn't reply for several seconds then heaved a heavy sigh, "Tia, what am I going to do? Maggie and I always work on the weekends for a few hours and we are always around for the Saturday open mic nights.I don't know how I am going to work this."

Tia's heart went out again to her student.She still wanted to help, but silently admitted that the issue of the bookstore wasn't something she had factored into the equation.Several minutes passed as both women reviewed their own thoughts.Finally, Tia broke the silence.

"Okay," she stated firmly, "Give me a chance to explain myself before you say anything okay?"Reilly nodded.

"Alright, I don't think that you should worry about the bookstore at the present moment.I think that you should give your manager a call and let her know that you will be unavailable at least this week and that you will be there as usual on Saturday.That will give you some time to heal and some time for us to get your eye looked at and all that."

Reilly looked as though she was contemplating what Tia had just said, then nodded her head in agreement with her professor's logic.

Tia accepted this and continued, "Okay, since you're done with classes and all that, you don't really have to be anywhere so you can just bum around for a while...which leads me to my offer."

Reilly cocked her head to the side and waited.

Tia shifted nervously then began, "You have every right to refuse this, but I have already thought about it and I'm sure we can talk about it more if you want to, but...um if you want, you don't have to find another apartment right away...you can stay here for a while."

Reilly's eyebrows shot into her hairline so far, Tia thought that they might jump right off her forehead, "What the hell are you talking about?Move in?Here?"


Tia sighed, "Reilly, listen...I'm offering you a place to stay, free of charge for as long as you need...for as long as you want.I consider you one of my best friends and I want to help any way I can."

"Tia, no offense, but have you lost your mind?I can't live here. First of all, even though I'm not your student anymore I don't think it would look right if after I graduated I started living with my professor...Baldwin would freak.Secondly, I can't impose you on you like that. I'm not trying to be overly proud or obnoxious, I'm just saying that I can't let you do that."

"Reilly, you are not letting me do anything ...I'm offering.I already talked to Elizabeth.She already knew that we are friends and she knows that something is wrong right now...she understands why I want to do this."

Reilly hung her head and softly stated, "You told her."

Tia placed her hand on Reilly's chin and lifted so that Reilly's haunted brown eyes met her blue ones, "Honey, she wanted and explanation for why I called off so suddenly and I needed to explain things so she had to know the gist of the situation.I couldn't tell her a whole lot because I don't know a whole lot, yet.All I told her was that you needed help and I wanted to provide it if you would let me. She's coming over here later this evening to check on you.She cares about you, Reilly. We both do very much.You have a way of warming the hearts of all you meet."

Reilly listened as Tia explained her conversation with Elizabeth, with equal amounts of trepidation, gratefulness, and awe at the lengths to which Tia was willing to go to help and protect her.When she had finished her explanation, Reilly simply looked at her teacher and friend with respect and adoration for all she was willing to do.She was thankful to have such a person in her life and accepted Tia's offer...temporarily.She told Tia that she would love to share the space with her for a while, but that she would have to talk with her dad to get his input.She also argued against Tia's refusal to accept rent for the time she was there and grudgingly conceded the battle of wills when Tia said that she would only accept money for utilities. The younger woman also made her friend promise to tell her if she was in the way at any time.Tia laughed it off as impossible, but agreed just the same.

After they had finished their talk, it was close to lunch time so Tia got up to fix them both something to eat. When she returned from the kitchen with two sandwiches and soft drinks, she found Reilly fast asleep again on the couch.She smiled and returned to the kitchen to eat her own lunch and wrapped Reilly sandwich up so she could eat it later if she wanted.When she went back into the living room, she pulled the quilt off the back of the couch and settled it over Reilly.She then went to her briefcase she had dropped by the door, took out her laptop and sat down on the loveseat to try to get some work done.Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep with the computer still booting on her lap.


"Damnit, Reilly let me the fuck in," Reilly heard the angry shouts through the door of her seldom used bedroom.She and Maggie had gotten into a huge fight and this had been one of the few occasions when Reilly had actually told her lover that she was sick of listening to her bitch all the time.Maggie had been pissed off about something, Reilly wasn't sure what.All she knew was the burning pain in her cheek from the shattered glass that had cut her when Maggie threw a glass against the wall.When that happened, Reilly went to her room and locked the door refusing to open it.Like so many times before, she needed to distance herself from her lover, not because she was afraid of her, more because she was afraid of herself.She was never afraid of her lover, never feared for her safety although the gash on her face told her she should be.But, she knew she could stop Maggie if she ever got physical with her.No, she was hiding to control her own rage, so she had simply walked out of the kitchen and into her bedroom and locked the door while she pressed a clean t-shirt to her face to stop the bleeding.Maggie was just outside the door beating on it, shouting that she was sorry and Reilly could hear her crying.Reilly didn't open the door and soon Maggie was just beating on it shouting in rage for her to open it.Reilly focused on the door and it shook violently.Her whole world focused on that door and the endless, relentless pounding, pounding, pounding...


Reilly woke up with a scream and thrashed against the quilt that had gotten tangled around her legs.She could still hear the pounding and in her semi-conscious state she was terrified.Tia had woken up as soon as she heard Reilly's scream and ignored the knocking at the door in order to calm the frantic woman on the couch.

"Reilly, honey calm down, calm down. It's okay, wake up honey," Tia pled.

Reilly's eyes were open, but she wasn't yet awake and Tia's voice only upset her more.She tried to jump up and get away, but the quilt tangled around her legs tripped her and fell hard to the floor and hit her head knocking her out instantly.

"Reilly!!" Tia shouted then ran to the door to let Elizabeth come in and help her.

"Tia, what the hell is going on? Who screamed?I heard that and started knocking louder so you'd let me in."

"Elizabeth, come on," Tia ordered as she tugged the older woman in and led her to the living room, "Reilly had a nightmare or something and when she tried to jump up and run away she tripped, fell and hit her head.She's unconscious...hurry."

Elizabeth put down the bags of food and rushed to help Tia get Reilly back onto the couch, then went to the kitchen to get some ice to reduce the swelling on the knot already forming on the young woman's head.Tia simply cradled the young woman and gently tried to coax her back into consciousness. Elizabeth paused in the doorway to watch her colleague speak soft, encouraging words to her young charge.The older woman smiled and quietly approached the two just as Reilly's eyes opened.

When Reilly's vision focused, she saw Elizabeth standing over her with the bag of ice and managed a small smile, "Come on, Doc.We're not in classes anymore, you can't hit me now."

Both Tia and Elizabeth laughed in relief and amusement at Reilly's humor.Both of the older women thought that if anyone could rise above circumstance and rotten luck it would be this woman.

"Sure I can," Elizabeth said with a wide smile, "Didn't you know that your degree came with a contract that says I can still hit you when you get out of line and scare the shit out of me? You okay?"

With a groan, Reilly held the ice pack in place and sat up, glancing back quickly to offer a thanks to Tia for holding her, "Argh, yeah, I'm fine.What the hell did you hit me with?"

Tia grinned again, "Nothing, you had a nightmare or something and when I tried to wake you up you bolted, got tangled up in the quilt, tripped and hit your head on the floor."

"Ah, that would explain it," Reilly said, "Well, this is interesting.By the way, hi Dr. Baldwin.Do I smell Chinese?"

Both older woman laughed out loud and even Reilly joined in the mirth, "Yeah, Trouble, I brought Chinese.Unfortunately they wouldn't let me bring the whole buffet so you'll have to settle for a rather limited menu.I still don't know how you managed to put all that away."

Tia and Elizabeth left Reilly on the sofa and went to fetch plates, silverware, drinks, and the food so they could enjoy dinner.As she watched her professors set up dinner on the coffee table of Tia's living room, Reilly just shook her head in amazement.

Tia caught her and asked, "What? Is your head hurting?"

Reilly chuckled, "No, no I'm fine. I guess my brain having trouble processing the image of my professors spreading Chinese takeout cartons on top of the coffee table."

Again, all three women laughed and sat down to eat dinner.As they ate, Reilly filled both professors in on what had occurred the night before and gave them all the background information on her relationship with Maggie.They listened with rapt attention as the young woman, who they already knew had a very good heart, described how she had fallen in love with a woman whom, they agreed, had been very lovely and worthy of their student's heart...at first.They laughed as Reilly told them of her antics to woo Maggie, awed at the romantic gestures they had shared and at the poetic words Reilly used to describe her former lover, and both felt irrational anger, abounding sympathy, and overwhelming sadness when Reilly had told them of the gradual decline of the relationship that had culminated into the previous evening's events.By the time Reilly had finished talking, it was dark outside and all the food and coffee they had made had been consumed.Tia had lit several candles around the room in deference to Reilly being a little light sensitive due to her injury.

Elizabeth finally broke the silence, "Reilly, darlin'... since the end of spring semester last year I knew something was going on, but I didn't know how to approach you about it.I'm not accusing or questioning you, but I would like to know one thing...why didn't you come to one of us sooner?"

"Dr. B, to tell you the truth I was embarrassed to be in this situation.I knew that it was abusive, but do you know how hard it is for someone like me...supposedly so strong and confident, to admit that she can't handle the emotional and verbal shit that her lover throws at her? Plus, I didn't want anything to get in the way of school...I thought I could handle it and I didn't want anyone to think that I couldn't handle my own personal problems."

"Reilly, I really hope you don't take this the wrong way, but...you know better than that," Elizabeth gently chided, "You're right, it was abusive no matter if the blows came from fists or from words.And even the strongest object on earth cannot withstand that kind of stress forever without breaking."

"I know, I know," Reilly paused and ran a frustrated hand through her hair, "God, it seems like I'm always saying 'I know, I know' but I guess I never really did until last night.I just remember looking in that mirror and seeing a total stranger."

"You're right kiddo, it's not you," said Elizabeth, "But, we all have problems of some sort and we all need someone to help us out every now and then. I hope you'll let us help you.Can I ask another question without you getting offended?"

"Of course, how much more personal can we get here," Reilly tried to joke.

Elizabeth smiled briefly, but quickly sobered, "Reilly, is part of the reason you didn't come to us because you were afraid of how we'd react to finding out you were gay?"

Reilly went deathly still on the couch. Elizabeth and Tia both smiled as they both saw the 'oh shit' form in a little bubble over Reilly's head.

"Yes," Reilly quietly confirmed, "I mean, Tia knew because she's met Maggie and I knew it wasn't an issue for her.But with you, I just...I mean I figured you'd be okay with it, but I didn't want to jeopardize anything.This degree means everything to me.I know that by university law I can't be discriminated against because of this, but at first I was still afraid."

"So, other than the fact that you needed help, why tell us now?"

"Well, like I said...I thought you'd be cool and that a couple of the others wouldn't care one way or the other as long as I had the right answer during test time. I guess after a while I figured that if it came up, I'd address it.I just didn't think it would appropriate or appreciated if I just walked up to you after class and said, 'hey, could you explain the ALS pathway to me because I'm kind of confused and, oh, by the way does it bug you I'm gay?'"

Both women laughed out loud at the deadpanned response from their young friend.

Tia was the first to recover, "No, I guess that wouldn't have been very PC now would it?But seriously, you were right we couldn't have discriminated against you even if we wanted to.I can't say how everyone else, your classmates and instructors included, would feel about you being gay, but I can tell you that you have earned a healthy dose of respect yourself from all of the faculty and most of your classmates. So, it doesn't matter."

Reilly released the breath she had been holding and nodded at Tia.She was sure that she was sporting the stupidest grin ever, but couldn't help it.The young woman was pathetically grateful she had the small professor in her life.

Dr. Baldwin had risen to her feet and stretched before facing the other two women, "Well, ladies I think I'd better get going. The kids are going to think I've abandoned them and I have classes in the morning.Now listen to me both of you," she paused to make sure she had their attention and chuckled to herself at the look of apprehension on Tia's and Reilly's faces, "Calm down, I'm not going to lecture you.I was just going to tell you both to take care of yourselves and call me if you have any problems.Tia, you take as much time as you need and Reilly if you need anything at all...just give me a call."

Both women nodded and Tia got up to walk Elizabeth to the door.Before she went to collect her purse and keys, the older woman bent to hug Reilly and placed a very light kiss to her forehead.Reilly was momentarily stunned, but sunk gratefully into the warmth of embrace.

At the door, Tia regarded her boss seriously, "Elizabeth, thanks for everything.I honestly cannot explain my actions other than to say that I care.I feel that I'm being irrational and trust you to tell me, honestly, if I am."

Elizabeth's brown eyes warmed, even in the cold night air, "Tia, you have the biggest heart I've ever seen for someone your size.No, you are not being irrational.I can see how much you care for our auspicious student in there and right now she needs caring and support.She's a tough kid and even if I hadn't seen it before she told us that story, I definitely see now that she has a great, big heart of her own that needs some serious mending. I think you can help her with that."

Tia reached out and hugged her boss and friend very tightly.Elizabeth had been there for her during her divorce two years ago and she hoped she could be as wonderful for Reilly as her boss had been for her, "Thanks, be careful going home."

"I will.Talk to you tomorrow," with that said Elizabeth turned and walked away.Tia watched her until she got in her car then closed and locked the door before returning to her living room.

Reilly was busy picking up plates and empty food cartons and Tia wordlessly started to help.In comfortable silence, the two cleaned up the living room and stashed the dishes in the dishwasher to be taken care of in the morning.

Tia sent Reilly back into the living room as she finished straightening up the kitchen.When Tia returned to the living room she stopped mid-stride in the doorway at the sight before her.Reilly was sitting in front of the fireplace with her knees drawn up to her chest facing sideways.The flickering of the dancing candlelight lit up her face and Tia saw how young the 26 year old really was.She also noted again, how attractive the brunette was.With half of her face hidden in the shadows and her uncovered eye catching the red-orange light, Tia saw, perhaps for the first time, the true depth of those magnificent eyes.

The younger woman was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't acknowledge Tia until the smaller woman reach out a hand and placed it on her shoulder.Reilly turned and looked up at her mentor and hesitantly covered the hand on her shoulder with her own.

When golden brown eyes met Tia's pale blue ones which had gone silver in the candlelight, Reilly pulled gently asking for comfort from the one of the only people she felt she could trust at the moment.The small professor willingly sank to her knees and drew the strong shoulders of the broken woman back against her chest and wrapped small arms around the broad torso.Reilly leaned back into the embrace and covered her friend's arms with her bigger hands.For what seemed like the hundredth time in 24 hours, Reilly wept.She leaned her head back onto Tia's shoulder and gratefully accepted the embrace and the understanding that the older woman had to offer.As the sobs became more intense, Tia let go and slid around to face her young friend.Reilly raised her head to once again look into silver eyes and Tia's heart broke.With a trembling hand, Tia reach out to wipe the tears from Reilly's face and saw the anguish that had once again turned light brown eyes to green.She put her hand on Reilly's shoulder to try and pull her forward into an embrace, but felt resistance.

"Tia, I'm sorry to drag you into this," Reilly said in a small voice, thick with emotion.

"Reilly, I already told you, you didn't drag me into anything.I just want to help.I do care about you very much and I promise you that things will work out."

"I just can't help but think that you'll think less of me now that you've seen me like this.I mean, I see things on the news all the time about women who are in abusive situations, but never leave or end up in the hospital almost dead, but go back to the same assholes.Every time I see something like that I get so frustrated and wonder why they just don't leave.Why didn't I leave, Tia?I'm not like them, am I?"

The pain in Reilly's voice was too much for Tia to bear so she leaned forward and pulled Reilly into a desperate embrace, "No, honey you are not like them and I am not judging you.I would never judge you.Yes, you were in a bad situation and yes, you did get hurt, but honey it doesn't matter now why you didn't leave.All that matters now, is that you left.You're out and I'm pretty confident that even with as big as your heart is, you won't be going back."

Reilly pulled out of her friend's deceptively strong arms and gazed at her again, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," was all Tia said as she ran her fingers through Reilly's soft hair.

After several minutes, Tia noticed that Reilly's eyes were closed and asked, "Are you asleep?"

"No, but I'm gonna be if you keep doing that with my hair.To this day, my dad still teases me."

Tia smiled, "Why does he tease you about your hair?"

Reilly laughed, "Because from the time that I was a baby and had enough hair to play with, my dad says he could always tell when I was tired or about to fall asleep because I would play with my hair by either twisting it or running my fingers through it.And when I was being fussy or sick, dad would come in and play with my hair until I fell asleep.Worked every time."

Tia laughed, "I've wondered about that, you used to do it sometimes in class."

"Uh oh, busted," Reilly said with a small chuckle.

"Well, I'm assuming that you are tired and I know that I am, so let's get going.I have a spare bedroom upstairs that is all yours and I'll give you some of my brother's clothes to sleep in."

As she stood up Reilly looked down at her teacher's still seated form and said, "Thanks again Tia," and she reached her hand down and tugged the smaller woman to her feet.

"Again, you're welcome, now let's go.I want to change that bandage before you go to sleep."

The two of them climbed the stairs to the second floor.Reilly finally took the time to notice how nice Tia's house was and how it seemed perfectly suited to her professor. In all the time they had known each other, Reilly had never seen anything but the outside of her friend's home.She felt like she had gained entrance to the secret, inner sanctum of Tia Rickman. Everything was neat and in it's place with modest and carefully chosen d»cor.All of the colors were deep reds, browns, and greens and scattered all over the house were photos of Tia's family...especially her nieces and nephews, whose artwork decorated every inch of wall in her office at school.

Tia led her to the bedroom and gave her a change of clothes.When Reilly had changed, she went to the bathroom down the hall and waited for Tia to return.When she turned on the light and stood by the sink, her gaze immediately went to the bandage that covered her right eye.The area around it was swollen and purple.The harsh light of the bathroom made her feel as though she was totally exposed and she lowered her gaze as Tia came through the door.

Tia knew she was upset, but felt that she shouldn't ask about it so she simply gathered the bandages and medicine she needed from her cabinet and instructed Reilly to sit on the toilet so she could change her dressing.Reilly wordlessly complied and when Tia went to remove the bandage, her hand shot up and stopped her.

"Reilly, what's wrong honey?I have to take a look at this.It needs to be changed," Tia said in a soothing voice.

"I don't want you to see it," Reilly said as a tear ran escaped from her uncovered eye, "It already looks horrible and I don't want you to see it."

"Reilly, look at me," Tia gently commanded and lifted Reilly's chin, "You have to let me look at it.I promise you, it will fade with time.I will try my best not to hurt you, but you have to trust me."

"I do trust you, Tia, I do.It's just..." Reilly stopped and stood up next to her teacher in front of the mirror, looking at herself, "Tia look at me. Look at this," she said and ran her finger down the scar that marred her right cheek, "How could I let this happen?"

"Reilly, listen to me," Tia said forcefully, "This is not your fault.I swear to you on my soul, it isn't," she ran her own finger across Reilly's brow above her injured eye and down the scar, "These are not your fault and they don't change who you are.They don't make you ugly or serve to punish you for anything.Anyone who loves you and cares about you, won't even see them."

Reilly simply nodded and sat back down to let Tia remove the bandages, cleaned the area, and put on a fresh dressing.When she picked up her old glasses, she flipped them over in her hand and said, "There is something I need to do tomorrow.I need to go get some new glasses.The 'script in these is so old I can't see a damn thing."

"No prob," said Tia as she put the supplies away and the two headed for Reilly's new room, "Tomorrow when you get up, I'll call my eye doctor and we'll go over there and get you a new pair.On the way back, we'll stop by the med center and pick up your jeep."

"Okay, sounds good."

"Do you have everything you need? Will you need more blankets or anything?" Tia asked.

"Nah, I'll be fine.I'll see you in the morning ok?"

"Alright," Tia said and paused for just a moment.When she turned to leave, Reilly stopped her, spun her around and pulled her into a warm embrace.Her height advantage allowed her to rest her chin on Tia's head and she couldn't ignore the security that swept over her when she felt the smaller woman sink into the hug.

"You are a wonderful person, Dr. Rickman."

"And so are you, Ms. Frederick. Now get some sleep."

The two women pulled away from the hug and each went their separate directions. Lying in bed that night, sleep was elusive to both as one fought the demons of her ex-lover and the other fought her own desires.Only hours before dawn, both finally relaxed into the realm of Morpheus.



The next morning, Tia woke up to the smell of coffee and what smelled suspiciously like breakfast.She glanced at the clock and was amazed to see that it was late into the morning.She threw on a robe and her slippers and walked downstairs toward the enticing aroma of her morning caffeine.

She paused in the doorway of the kitchen and couldn't help the smile at the sight before her.Reilly, was standing in front of the stove cooking eggs and home fries while swaying gently to a song that was playing softly on her kitchen radio.Tia listened as the young woman hummed along with the song and was surprised that Reilly had such a rich voice.She cleared her throat and continued to walk into the kitchen so Reilly wouldn't know that she had been watching.

"Morning, Doc," Reilly said with a smile, "I hope you don't mind.I got hungry and I can't function without my coffee."

"Tell you what, any time you wanna fix me breakfast and have coffee waiting for me when I get up is fine with me," Tia said with a wink and helped herself to the dark, steaming liquid.

"You got it," Reilly said and turned back to the stove while reaching to turn the radio off.

"No, don't let me disturb you, leave it on.You know I love listening to you sing."

Reilly blushed, "Thanks."

Tia smiled, walked to the radio and turned it up.She cringed when she heard a very twangy, very country song coming through the speakers, "I thought we talked about this...no country music in my presence."

"Aw come on, Doc" Reilly said with a sly grin, "This is good stuff."

"Reilly, do you hear that twangy, hillbilly accent?That is not my idea of entertainment."

"That's because you aren't listening to the right twangy, hillbilly singing it."

"Oh really?

"Yep.And don't give me that crap about country music only being about losing your wife, your dog, your truck, yada, yada, yada.Not all of it is like that and not all of it is twangy. I'll admit that a lot of it is, but not all."

"Ok, I'll concede that, but please tell me that you aren't planning on listening to this all the time...I know you like different kinds of music."

"You are such a wuss," Reilly said with a twinkle in her yes, "Yes, Doc I will listen to other types of music..but I will turn you eventually."

Reilly grinned when she heard the strains of one of her favorite songs start playing.Tia watched her smile and said, "Ok, since you obviously know this song and like it, sing it."

Reilly blushed and was about to refuse, but the music carried her.She closed her eyes and sang:

Bobby played his guitar, on the harder side of town

Where it's hard for a poor boy to find the money

He had dedication, he had the heart and soul

Somehow knew he was born to play.

People said get a real job, support your family

'Cause there's no future in the road you're taking.

He never said a word, the dreamer just kept on

Late at night you could hear him sing

I'm gonna be somebody

One of these days I'm gonna break these chains

I'm gonna be somebody, someday

You can bet your hard earned dollar I will

The road was a struggle, took him 10 years to the top

Now he's number one on the stage and the radio

Still he can't believe how people come from miles around

When it seems like only yesterday, he was singing

I'm gonna be somebody

One of these days I'm gonna break these chains

I'm gonna be somebody, someday

You can bet your hard earned dollar I will.

Bobby played his hometown,

One fully moon August night

When he heard a voice in the front row, singing

It was a sandy-haired river boy

With the same old hungry eyes

Looked up at Bobby and said,

I'm gonna be somebody

One of these days I'm gonna break these chains

I'm gonna be somebody, someday

You can bet your hard earned dollar I will

You know I will, yeah yeah

I'm gonna be somebody, someday

You can bet your hard earned dollar I will

You can bet your hard earned dollar, I will...


As Reilly finished the song, Tia stood there stunned.She'd heard her friend singing softly along with the radio in the car on a few occasions, but she'd never actually heard Reilly sing out loud.She was surprised at the rich voice and even more surprised that she liked the song and expressed that to Reilly.

Reilly laughed, "Thanks.I'm always happy to see a convert."

"I wouldn't go that far, but I will concede that not all country songs are evil."

Reilly sighed dramatically, "Well, it's a start."

The two women sat in silence at the kitchen table and at their breakfast.Reilly had indeed been a busy woman as Tia found out as she ate not only eggs and home fries, but also biscuits that Reilly had made from scratch after running to the store.

At the end of breakfast Tia questioned her on where she had found the ingredients for breakfast given the fact that she knew there were no such things in her refrigerator the night before.

Reilly grinned as she finished putting the dishes into the dishwasher and started it, "I like to run in the mornings and when I went out this morning to do so, I realized what a mistake that was when my head started spinning, so I just walked out to that little store down the street and picked up what I wanted.I hope you don't mind, I like to cook breakfast and I was in the mood for some 'comfort food' this morning. Oh, I also washed and dried my unmentionables this morning."

"Comfort food?" Tia questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Uh, yeah.At home on Sundays before church my whole family used to meet at my grandmother's house to cook breakfast.We had everything that is bad for you but tastes so good you don't care.We had bacon, sausage, sausage gravy, homemade biscuits, eggs, waffles, pancakes, fresh juice and other fruit, and the best part of all...coffee soakie"

Tia's mouth was watering at the sound of all the food despite the fact that she had just eaten and could see why it was a special time, "Ok, I still don't understand comfort food and what is coffee soakie?"

"Well, it's comfort food because when I got old enough to help, I figured out I loved cooking breakfast.It's the only meal that is worthy of the time it takes to make it and eat it, in my opinion.Also, I guess I just needed a little connection to home and what seems familiar to me."Reilly paused for a moment to collect herself then quirked a grin and continued, "Now, coffee soakie is truly a treat.Do you think you could hold just a little more food?"

Tia nodded and sat down.Reilly pulled one of the biscuits she had put back into the oven to keep warm and broke it in half.She then proceeded to pour a liberal amount of sugar and milk into about a half a cup of coffee.She then took the biscuit halves and placed them into the cups and allowed the bread to soak up the liquid.

"This is coffee soakie," Reilly stated proudly.Tia looked into her cup and saw that the biscuit had soaked up the coffee and milk.It didn't look all that great but she trusted Reilly.

"Now, you just eat it out of the cup with your spoon.Trust me, you'll like it."

Tia took a very small bit of the biscuit onto her spoon and tentatively put it in her mouth.Her eyes lit up at the mixtures of flavors that assaulted her and she finished the whole thing in record time.Reilly smiled triumphantly and finished her own dessert then rinsed the cups and sat them in the sink.

"You win, Ms. Frederick.That was truly delicious.Who came up with that?"

"Thank you.My grandmother did.When I was little I was always bothering the adults to give me coffee when they were drinking it.My mom would try to pacify me by giving me juice in a coffee cup but I wasn't falling for it.So one day, my grandmother said she would give me my own special kind of coffee that the grown-ups couldn't have.She called it coffee soakie."

Tia just shook her head and smiled, "Reilly, I have a feeling I'm going to be privy to a lot more stories about your family and benefit from them as well."

Reilly laughed and said, "Probably, but remember that every bit of ornery that is in me, I came by naturally and honestly."

"Of that I have no doubt," Tia stated, "Now, why don't we get dressed and go get you some new glasses?I'm going to call my doctor right now."

"Alright, but I need to stop by the bank first.I've got to transfer some money so I can pay for them.It will take me about a month to recover from buying the jeep."

Tia quirked a grin and said, "Let's just hold off on that for a bit shall we?Let me see what I can work out, he may agree to bill you later if that's okay with you."

"Alright that will work.I'll be ready in a jiffy."

She was halfway up the stairs when she turned and asked, "Uh, Tia I really hate to ask this, but do you have any of your brother's jeans here?I mean, if you don't that's ok, I'd just feel a little less self-conscious if I wasn't running around in sweat pants."

Tia was completely charmed by the young woman and nodded, "Yeah, I think I can find you something.I'm not sure how they will fit since you are a bit smaller than he is but I'll try...I might also be able to find you one of his old shirts."

Reilly smiled, "Thanks, I really appreciate this," and she dashed upstairs to get her clothes out of the drier and change.

Tia just shook her head and wandered into her room where she kept her "brother's" things.In all honesty, the clothes Reilly was wearing belonged to her ex-husband.For some reason she had never bothered to take his clothes out of his dresser or from his side of the closet.She didn't miss him and didn't hate him, but still couldn't bring herself to let him go.He had simply never come home from work one day.Tia had waited and waited for a phone call and watched anxiously from the window for his car to pull up and park.After several hours of frantic worrying, the phone rang and he simply told her that he wasn't coming back and told her good-by.No explanation, no haggling, and the divorce had been quiet and without fanfare. He never came for his things, he simply left behind his old life and started a new one.She hadn't heard from him since their divorce was final.

From his dresser he pulled out a pair of neatly folded jeans and from another drawer she pulled out a dark green t-shirt.She changed herself, putting on a pair of jeans and tan, sleeveless shirt.

She knocked lightly on Reilly's door and was already opening the door when she heard a voice call out, "Wait a sec."But it was too late, Tia had entered the room and blushed to the roots of her jet black hair at the sight before her.

Reilly was wearing only her sports bra and panties; both white and both standing out in contrast to her olive colored skin.Tia got a quick look before she turned around and apologized before reaching the clothes behind her back so Reilly could get dressed then left the room.When she got back out into the hallway she seriously considered changing clothes because the ones she was in suddenly seemed like too much for her.Just the seconds Tia had seen Reilly all but naked in front of her had made the smaller woman scorching hot.The sight of the finely toned body with just the right mixture of hard muscle and soft curves was enough to make the professional in her appreciate it and woman in her outright drool. She had just composed herself when the bedroom door opened and Reilly stepped out and her hormones jump-started once again.The jeans she had given the younger woman were indeed too big, but the way they hung low on Reilly's hips made them look very feminine and very flattering.Reilly wore the t-shirt tucked into the jeans so that her flat stomach was obvious.Her short hair was a bit mussed, but it fit the younger woman's normally easy-going style. To Tia she looked like she had just stepped out of an L.L.Bean magazine.

"I am so sorry about that, Tia," Reilly began.

"What?Why are you apologizing?I'm the one that walked in on you.I'm sorry."

The both laughed and headed downstairs.They donned their tennis shoes then got into Tia's car and headed out to the doctor's office.

Along the way, Reilly explained that she had also called her store manager/best friend, Al, to let her know she'd be incommunicado for the rest of the week. Tia laughed as Reilly explained the colorful expletives her friend had used at being roused at such an early hour and was relieved to hear that Al was more than happy to cover for her boss until she returned to work.

Reilly was fidgeting nervously in the exam chair of Dr. Walker's darkened exam room.When the doctor came to meet the young woman his niece, Tia had told him about he insisted that she let him examine her.When Reilly protested on the basis that she couldn't afford an eye exam and a new pair of glasses, the doctor and Tia shared a conspiratorial grin.Reilly glanced at the two of them in confusion until Tia explained the Dr. Walker was her uncle and would perform the exam and get her the glasses free of charge. Again, Reilly wanted to protest because she didn't want to take advantage of anyone, but Dr. Walker insisted that she at least let him do the exam and they could negotiate later about the glasses.

Tia held Reilly's hand as her uncle removed the bandage from her eye.When the covering was removed, Reilly was glad it was dark because she knew from the night before that bright light hurt her eye and gave her a headache.Dr. Walker carefully probed the area around the eye, which had already begun to heal a little bit, and did a very thorough exam of Reilly's eye itself.When he finished will all his tests, he asked if Reilly would step outside while he talked to his niece.Tia saw the panic in Reilly's eyes and told her uncle that Reilly should stay...especially if it concerned the young woman.The man agreed with a smile, instantly appreciating his niece's protection of her new roommate.

"Well, the area around the eye is fine.You didn't break any bones, the laceration is healing nicely, and the swelling isn't really that bad.In a couple of days if you come back I will remove the stitches for you."

"Thank you, Dr. Walker.I'd appreciate that," Reilly said politely, "But I have the feeling I'm not gonna like what else you have to say."

The doctor and his niece locked gazes over Reilly's head and when Tia's hand came down on her shoulder, Reilly looked at the doctor in fear.

"Reilly, there is a lot of swelling inside your eye.I know you can't see out of that eye right now and that you kind of expected that, but there is a little more too it than that.The swelling could cause you some major problems, sweetheart.I know you don't want to hear this, but there is a possibility that if it doesn't go down, you will lose partial if not all your vision in that one eye."

Tia rubbed light circles on Reilly's back ask her uncle spoke and she felt Reilly let out a defeated sigh.

"Alright," Reilly said quietly, "Is there anything I can do to prevent that from happening or at least give me a shot a recovering?"

"Yes, there is. Rest.I know it sounds very simple, but you have to give your body time to heal.There really isn't any medication that I would recommend at this point.It is relatively early to be considering surgical options, but in a few days if the swelling doesn't subside then I'm afraid that's what you might be looking at in order to restore your sight."

"I understand, Dr. Walker.I promise I'll take it easy."

"Reilly, I'm sorry that I had to tell you this.I really am. I'm confident, based on how well your outer tissues are healing, that you will get your sight back by the end of the week, but I needed you to know what could happen."

"Dr. Walker, really I do understand.I promise I'll take it easy.If I don't, Tia and Dr. Baldwin will kick my scrawny butt all over the university."

The older two chuckled at the young woman's attempt at humor and the doctor stood up and said, "Well, now that we have that settled, let's go get you some new glasses.Since you brought in your most recent prescription, I'll go ahead and make the glasses from that.And before you start trying to tell me that you are paying for them, you can just zap that thought right out of that pretty little head.Any friend of my niece is a friend of mine, so don't argue with me," he smiled smugly then left the exam room.

Tia simply grinned at her and said, "You may as well just accept his offer and say thank you, Reilly.He's like that and he likes you.Just accept his offer."

"Tia, I just feel funny about this," Reilly stated pleadingly.

"Well, you shouldn't.He's just a good guy and he does this for a lot of students so don't think you are a special charity case or something. The man's been practicing for almost longer than I've been alive and he has saved very, very wisely.He really only works now because a lot of his patients refuse to go elsewhere and he helps out a lot of people.Let him, ok?"

Reilly sighed defeated, but couldn't help but respect Tia's uncle, "Alright."



When the pair finally left the doctor's office, Reilly had a new pair of glasses that fit her perfectly.The were thin yet sturdy wire rims, with almost octagon shaped lens that flattered her face.The doctor had also thrown in a pair of prescription sunglasses for Reilly to wear so that she could go without the patch for part of the day and light wouldn't hurt her.Reilly still felt a little funny about not paying the doctor for his services, but she took Tia at her word and just tried to be grateful for the help.While they were out, Reilly told Tia that she wanted to swing by her old apartment so she could get her books and some of her own clothes.The older woman was reluctant, but figured that on top of being more comfortable in her own clothes, the younger woman also needed to feel that she was in control of her life.Tia offered to go with her, but suggested that they go have some lunch and pick up some boxes from Tia's house before they picked up Reilly's jeep and headed over to the old apartment.Reilly agreed and after a quick lunch of tuna fish sandwiches, the two set out once again.

Knowing that her former lover didn't have class on Wednesday afternoons, Reilly was surprised at the absence of Maggie's car, but was relieved that she wouldn't have to go through another confrontation with her ex.Reilly pulled her jeep into her parking spot as Tia pulled in beside her.Even though she didn't think Maggie was home, the younger woman asked Tia to stay put for a minute while she checked.

Wanting desperately to help her friend, Tia argued valiantly for Reilly to allow her to go into the apartment with her but still Reilly refused.On top of possibly making the situation worse, Reilly didn't want Tia anywhere near her volatile former lover.

Tia watched as Reilly walked up to the front door and used her key to enter her old apartment.The professor was on pins and needles waiting for Reilly to return.To her surprise, Reilly came out just minutes after she had entered.The young woman approached the driver's side of the car and Tia lowered her window to hear what she had to say.

"She's not there.She left a message on the machine from wherever she is, telling me to pack my shit and get out," Reilly's face was a mixture of relief and sadness.

"Do you want some help so we can get out of here?" Tia asked gently.

"Yeah, I can load up some stuff in my car and if you wouldn't mind hauling my bags in yours then I think we'll be okay.I'm not going to take everything, like my desk and such because there's no room in your house for it and the damn thing won't take being pulled apart again."

"Reilly, take whatever you want. I've got plenty of room and we can set up an office or whatever you need."

"I appreciate that.I'm honestly telling you, that desk in there will not take the strain of another move," Reilly said with a sheepish grin.

Tia laughed, "Ok, let's get started so we can get out of here."

Tia and Reilly worked quickly and within an hour they had all of Reilly's things packed and loaded into the two cars.With tears in her eyes, Reilly attached her bike the bike rack on her Jeep and after tightening the last strap she turned toward Tia.

"Well, that's it," Reilly said as she shifted nervously from foot to foot.

"Reilly, are you okay?Do you want to go back inside for one last look around?" Tia asked gently.

"No, I just want to get out of here and go back to your place.I've seen enough."

Tia watched while Reilly got into her car and started the engine.The professor got into her own vehicle and they drove back to Tia's house where they worked for a solid 3 hours unloading the cars, getting Reilly settled and finding space for her things.Reilly had informed Tia that she would go out the next day and find a desk for her computer and the older woman agreed to go with her if she wanted.By the time they were done, Reilly had carved out her own little space in Tia's home.The younger woman decided to show appreciation for her hostess' kindness by once again fixing a meal.She informed Tia that while breakfast was her favorite meal to cook, dinner was a close second.

While Reilly cooked, Tia went to her own study to check her email and call Elizabeth.Her email was relatively uneventful, just a few notes from her colleagues wishing her well and hoping that her "personal emergency" would turn out well.She closed out her computer and called her boss.Elizabeth listened as Tia explained their moving Reilly out of her old apartment, the eye doctor's appointment, and the news about Reilly's vision. The older professor listened intently and was hesitant to share her news with Tia given that Reilly had already been through a lot for one day, but Reilly trusted her so she had to tell the truth.

"Tia, I don't know how to tell you this, but the reason Maggie wasn't there today is because she's in jail."

"What?" Tia practically yelled into the phone, "How the hell did she end up in there?"

"Because I had her arrested. She burst into my office and demanded that I tell her where, and I quote, 'her bitch was'."

"Oh my God Elizabeth!She didn't hurt you or anyone else did she?"

"No, no.Linda heard her and called security. Before they got here, she marched down to your office and started pounding on the door demanding that you answer her.Andy came out of his office and asked her what she was doing. She tried to take a swing at him and he tackled her and held until the guards got there.They restrained her, while she was still yelling I might add, and took her away.They called just a little while ago and told me she was being held."

"Oh, shit.I really don't want to have to tell Reilly about this.That would explain the message that she left on the answering machine telling Reilly to pack her things and get out."

"I know, Tia.If you want, I'll tell her if you put her on the phone or you could wait until tomorrow and I'll come by and tell her."

"Well, you can still come by tomorrow if you'd like, but I'll tell her after dinner tonight."

"Alright Tia, if you need back up give me a call at home.I'm about to take off.Your classes went fine today."

"Okay, thanks for the update Elizabeth.Will we see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I'll drop by."

"Okay, we'll see you tomorrow then."

"You bet, have a good evening Tia. Bye."

"Bye Elizabeth."

Tia hung up the phone and put her head down on her crossed arms.She really didn't want to deliver more bad news to Reilly, but also reasoned that this would be a good opportunity to see if Reilly really was ready to move on with her life.The professor sighed heavily and managed to look reasonably calm when she walked out of her study and made her way down the kitchen.Just like that morning, Tia's senses were assaulted by mouth-watering aromas and the very lovely sight of Reilly moving slightly to music and singing along softly.

"How's it coming?" Tia asked as she walked into the kitchen.

"Just fine, Doc," Reilly said with a smile as she turned around, "I'm just about done."

"What are you listening to?" Tia questioned as she moved to stand closer the radio.

Reilly just smiled, "I thought I'd give you a reprieve from country music...I am going to break you in slowly."

"Smart ass," Tia said with a laugh, "Alright, is there anything I can do to help?"

"Other than getting the salad out of the refrigerator, no.I'm just about done."

"What are we having anyway?It smells fabulous."

"Well, I'd like to say that it is my own unique creation, but the truth is I got the idea from TV.We're having baked chicken with mushroom soup, wild rice, and salad."

"You found ingredients for that in my kitchen?"

Reilly chuckled, "You're not in here much are you?Yes, as a matter of fact I did.Will this be, ok?"

"Oh yeah, it sounds and smells great.What do you want to drink?I am going to have some wine, would you like some?"

"No, I'm just going to drink some water. I'm not that crazy about wine and I don't like to drink alcohol anymore," Reilly said with a bright smile.

"Is it going to bother you if I drink a little bit?" Tia wanted to smack herself in the head.She had known of Reilly's former problem with alcohol and felt monumentally stupid for forgetting it momentarily.

"Oh, no.Please, help yourself."

All through dinner the two women talked about Reilly's upcoming board exam, their families, and other miscellaneous things.Reilly cleared away the dinner dishes and the two retired to the living room with cups of the hazelnut coffee Reilly had brought from her house.

They sat in the living room, Tia on the couch and Reilly on the floor, her back to the coffee table.They kept the lights down in the room and lit some candles so the younger woman could take off her bandage.Tia watched as Reilly self-consciously tried to keep her right side from facing her and reassured the young woman again that she had nothing to be embarrassed about.The smaller woman noted again, how good the new glasses looked and asked the younger woman if she had always worn them or if she had ever tried contacts.

"Yeah, I tried to use those damn things when I was still playing a lot of sports in high school, but I just can't get used to them.They were fine for a couple of hours of practice or for games, but as soon as I was done the damn things came out.I don't really like them."

"I love mine.I'm blind as a bat without my contacts or glasses and I very rarely wear my glasses."

Reilly looked into her teacher's eyes and smiled, "I can't imagine seeing you in glasses.I mean, I'm sure they would look fine, but you just don't strike me as the glasses type."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Tia said with awry smile, "You on the other hand, look very much like the glasses type.When you used to put them on top of your head when you were reading in class, it took me a sec to realize it was still you."

"I like wearing my glasses.When I figured out that I really didn't like contacts at all, I started buying frames that fit not only my face, but this odd sense of style that I thought I had."

"Well, it worked. While we're on the subject, why did you used to put your glasses on top of your head when you were reading in class? I've been meaning to ask you that."

"Oh, well I do a lot of reading," Tia smirked and Reilly chuckled, "My eyes get tired when I read for a long time or have to look at something too close up for too long so I have to give them a break."

Tia nodded and silence fell around them again. Reilly's intelligent, curious gaze was traveling around the living room taking in every detail and suddenly Tia felt a little exposed and uncomfortable.When the chocolate colored eyes met hers, she could only hold them for a few seconds before she turned away.

"Tia," Reilly asked in a gentle voice, "You wanna tell me whatever it is you need to tell me?"

Tia sighed, "Reilly, in all honesty no I do not want to tell you.I would rather not cause you any more problems than you have already had, but I guess I have to.When I talked to Elizabeth today, she told me that Maggie had been arrested."

Both of Reilly's eyebrows shot into her hairline and she sat straight up, "What?How the hell did that happen?"

Tia chuckled a bit, "Sorry, I don't mean to laugh, but that is exactly what I said to Elizabeth."

Reilly listened intently as Tia reiterated what Elizabeth had told her.Just as Tia had, Reilly asked if Elizabeth or anyone else had gotten hurt. The professor assured her that everyone was fine, but that Maggie had taken a swing at one of the police officers as well as Andy so that's why she was being held in jail.

When Tia finished talking, Reilly hung her head.For several minutes, the silence in the room seemed to boom in Tia's ears. She wanted to console her friend, but felt that she should wait to see what Reilly wanted.

Finally, the young woman turned back to her teacher and said, "Serves her right."

Tia was surprised by the fury in the gentle brown eyes, but it didn't scare her.It wasn't anger, it was indignation and determination flashing in the smoldering gaze.Tia had to lean back a little bit to distance herself from the intensity of those eyes, but she knew Reilly had every right to be upset.

Reilly stood up and began to pace. At first, Tia had thought she looked like a caged animal ready to strike, but Reilly's pace was more methodical than agitated, so she realized that her young friend was thinking and planning.

Reilly talked as she paced, "You know, I don't know what upsets me more: the fact that she thought I would go back to her after a stunt like that or the audacity of her to just waltz into Baldwin's office demanding they tell her where I am.If you'll pardon my language, Tia, she's one fu..., uh, screwed up bitch."

Tia nodded her head, "No, you were right the first time, she is fucked up," Tia said with a smile at her student's shocked expression, "But you know it isn't your fault she did this, don't you."

Reilly sighed, "Yeah, I know that. I just can't believe she would go that far.I hope that's as far as she goes."

Tia agreed and after a few more trips across the floor, Reilly moved to sit beside her teacher, "Tia, can I ask you a question?"

At her teacher's nod Reilly continued, "Do you wonder why I never fought back?Why I never defended myself?"

The smaller woman shifted her position so that she was leaning against the arm of the couch with one leg curled up underneath her, "Yes, the thought has crossed my mind.But not because I'm blaming you for anything," she hastily explained.

Reilly placed her hand on her friend's outstretched leg and said, "I know that.It's okay.I'd like to explain it to you...if that's okay."

"Reilly, you don't owe me or anyone else any explanation.I..."

"Tia, I'd like to," the younger woman said as she locked eyes with her teacher.

With a sigh and an encouraging smile Tia replied, "Then I'll listen."

"Just let me finish before you interrupt then I promise I'll answer any questions.It's not a big deal really, it's just a little hard for me to talk about."

Tia nodded and listened as Reilly spoke.

"When I was younger, I had a really bad problem with my temper.Even when I was a toddler, my parents never knew what was going to set me off so they, my mother in particular, would shut me down before I ever got the chance to get worked up.It didn't matter if I was happy, frustrated, sad, or whatever, she shut me down. It seemed like the only emotion I was allowed to express was anger because that's the one Mom learned how to deal with.So, everything I felt that wasn't happy, automatically got transformed into anger.What was scary is that when you combine constantly angry with a fuse the length of a green bean, you get one very difficult dangerous child.As odd as it may sound, it was comfortable for me.I wasn't happy about it, but it was comfortable.As I got older, I learned to control the temper a little bit more and I ventured out of that zone every now and then, but when I got frustrated or overwhelmed either I or my mother would pull me right back into it.My mom never gave me any credit or tried to help me deal with things as I got older.She just shut me down to any other emotions.Oh, I loved her and my sister very much and I positively adored my father, but that was it.I had fun with friends, but if they made me mad, they paid for it.I never got into anything more than regular kid scuffles, so I never really hurt anyone."

Reilly paused to collect herself for a moment, then continued.

"The one thing that really made me happy was playing soccer because I was good at it.I loved to have my parents on the sidelines cheering me on and I loved the competition and the energy it took to play.I had wanted to get into martial arts, but Dad refused. When I asked him if he would sign me up for lessons, he actually got in my face and told me that there was no way in hell he was going give me the ability to really hurt someone because I couldn't control my anger.In fact, he was reluctant to put me on a soccer field for the same reason, but the first time he saw me play he knew I had found something I loved so he supported me wholeheartedly."

"Through playing I gradually learned to get a better handle on my temper and after I had achieved so much, my parents relaxed a little bit and just let me play.Oh, I used to get frustrated because I was still young and still learning, but I never hurt anyone on the field.Still, I never really learned to control it off the field.I blew up regularly at home or at school, but never on the field.I just got comfortable.I never hurt anyone physically, I just got very angry and would beat the hell out of my soccer ball or tear my room apart then clean it up to calm down.I'm not proud of this, but all of my friends were afraid of me and because of that no one really messed with me.It never occurred to me that I had a problem and was out of control until I was about 14 and did something I never did, I lost it on the field."

Reilly paused and moved away from Tia as if she expected the older, smaller woman to be afraid her.She risked a look to Tia's face and saw only compassion and encouragement so she took a deep breath and continued.

"My girl's team was playing in a boy's tournament and the team we faced in the finals was coached by a real bastard.He shouted from the sidelines through the whole game for his boys to hurt us.My other teammates were getting very frustrated and the guys were doing their level best not only beat us, which they were by 10 points, but to take out as many of us as they could.I managed to keep my temper through the whole game until I watched from the other end of the court as the coach's son knocked my goalie and best friend head first into the wall behind her, knocking her unconscious and breaking her arm.Between that and two of the guys on the other team trying to slam me up against the bleachers and trying to break my foot, I snapped.They quickly found out why I was the youngest member of a champion team and a 3 year starter on a team of 16 year old boys.I don't remember much of what happened.All I saw was red.By the time the game stopped, I had scored 4 points and just about all of the guys on the other team were down.The worst however, was that I was standing over the coach's son with the toe of my shoe only inches from the base of his skull.My dad had jumped down from the bleachers and gently picked me up and took me out the gym.He put me in the car then went back to get my stuff.By the time he got back, I was falling apart.I couldn't remember what I had done and he just held me, trying to get me to calm down.Dad told me that I had lost all control after what happened to Nikki, the goalie.He said that if it hadn't been for the violence, I would have turned the heads of college scouts with the way that I played, but that I made sure that for every move I made I took somebody down.I asked him about the coaches son and he sighed.Apparently, John, that's the kid's name, and I went head to head.He's a very talented player with wonderful skills, but so was I. When we met at center court and he tried to get around me, I just kicked with all my might and we contacted the ball at the same time.The ball spun up into the air and so did John.I had kicked his legs out from under him, but I was only focused on the ball.I watched as the ball came down and I drew back to kick it again with everything I had.When the ball hit the ground, right in front of John's head I went to kick but the ball was spinning wildly and bounced off to the side.I stopped my foot just before it would have contacted the base of head.If I had thrown that kick, I would have broken his neck or taken his head off.I could have killed him."

Reilly was crying now and Tia was torn between shock and sympathy for the young woman in front of her.She wanted to reach out and hold Reilly in her arms and take away the pain, but she didn't think her student was quite ready for that.

"After Dad told me what happened, I knew I had a choice to make.I needed to get a handle on my temper.An honest, to goodness grip so that I didn't hurt anyone, ever again.It was after that, my dad and I sat down and he told me a story that changed everything.He told me where my temper came from.He told me of the man I had known as my granddaddy and of the son of bitch he was before I came along.He told me of the alcoholism, the beatings my grandmothers and my dad had taken, and of how all that changed the day little Reilly came home from the hospital. Then Dad told me another story, one that I had lived, but didn't remember.He told me of how my mother had threatened to take my sister and I away from him if he ever laid a hand on me again.Dad cried as he told me about how the stress from his job had finally taken it's toll and he lashed out and beat me when I was very young.I was shocked and cried right along with him as his words hit home.I didn't know the man he described my grandfather to be, I didn't remember the beating I had suffered at his hand, and I couldn't remember almost killing that guy on the soccer court, but I did realize that just like my grandfather and father before me, I had reached my day of reckoning.I decided, then and there that the violence and anger would end with me. I never wanted to have the same talk with my children that my father had to have with me and I never wanted to find myself in the situation of knowing that I could have killed someone out of blind rage."

"So, I straightened up.My friends, teachers, teammates, coaches, and even my family noticed an immediate change...instead of the angry teenager, I was starting to be happy for the first time in my life.I found balance, with a lot of help from a woman I came to regard as my big sister, Jo.Things were going good and I had calmed considerably until my sister hit high school and everything went to shit again."

"My sister being the little hellion she was, drove my parents crazy at every turn.Every night for almost 2 years I went to bed listening to my parents and my sister screaming at each other.Everyday they fought about something else.My household was a very angry place and every time I came home, that anger was like a dark claw reaching out trying to pull me into it with them.College saved my life.I finally got out of there and my family eventually worked out their differences although my mother was never really the same.She was very angry afterward and no matter what I did, I never seemed to please her.

Well, since I've already talked your ear off I guess I should make it to my point.The reason I never fought back with Maggie or argued was because I didn't want to give into the temptation of hurting her...with words or otherwise.I never wanted to hurt her, never wanted to hit her, or lash out.Every time she backed me into a corner, literally or figuratively, my first reaction was to give into the darkness and come out fighting...but I never did.I would beg her to calm down or raise my voice to get her attention, but I never fought because I had worked so hard to control my temper that I didn't want to throw it all away on a lost cause.I know now, she was never going to change.But, every time I refused to fight, every time I let her walk all over me, another wall went up around me and before I knew it, I was in a box that just got smaller and smaller."

A silence fell as Reilly finished her tale.It had only been about 20 minutes since the young woman had started her tale, but Tia felt as though she had just taken the 24 year journey of Reilly's life.She waited for several seconds to see if Reilly was finished talking.When the young woman's eyes finally looked up, Tia saw uncertainty and fear of being rejected in haunted brown eyes.Without thinking, the small professor slid across the couch, closing the distance between them, and wrapped her arms around Reilly.The taller woman stiffened at first, but Tia held on until she felt the tension leave the strong body then leaned both of them back on the couch. Reilly turned her dark head into Tia's chest, wrapped her own strong arms around the slight waist and held on for dear life.She didn't cry. Reilly just held on thankful that this woman, whom she respected with all her heart, was not rejecting her.The pair sat on the couch for several minutes in silence.When the larger woman finally sat up she smiled an honest to goodness smile born of relief and thankfulness for her friend's acceptance.

"Thanks Tia," Reilly said sheepishly and released the smaller woman.

"You're welcome," Tia smiled reassuringly, "Can I talk now?"

Reilly sat back against the arm of the couch and waited.

"Reilly, I didn't think it was possible for me to respect you any more than I already did, but after what you just told me...your stock has soared.Before you start getting all embarrassed and self-conscious, know you have nothing to be ashamed of.I'm glad you felt like you could share all that with me.And I'm glad that you didn't allow Maggie and her troubles to drag you back into that...I know it seems like she was boxing you in, but now you've taken the first step towards deconstructing the box."

"Thanks, Tia."

Reilly was exhausted from the days events and their talk, so she told Tia she was going to check her email and go to bed.The older woman was tired herself, so they said goodnight.

Reilly went to her room and booted up her laptop to check her mail.As expected, she had several messages from Maggie that had been sent the night she left, a couple from her friends Kayla and Taylor asking her to call them, and surprisingly a note from her dad.When she opened the message up, all the color drained from her face.Her father was coming to the university the next day for a conference and wanted to know if he could stay with her and Maggie.Since it was so late, she knew she couldn't call home and even she could, what would she say? Reilly closed down her computer and left her room to seek out Tia.Hesitantly she knocked on the professor's door.

"Come on in, Rei," she heard Tia call out.

Reilly entered the room and stood at the foot of the bed, shifting nervously from foot to foot.Tia waited patiently, wondering what had the young woman so spooked.

"My dad emailed me, he's coming here tomorrow for a conference and wants to stay the night with me and Maggie."

Tia's blue eyes widened and her eyebrows lifted in surprise.She had no idea what to say or what to do with the information Reilly had just shared.


Reilly continued, "I don't know what to tell him.I know he'll leave very early in the morning and by the time I'll reach him on his cell, he will be halfway here."

Tia patted the bed beside her and Reilly sat down heavily and dropped her head to hands, "Calm down, Reilly. First of all, do you want to see your dad?"

Reilly nodded, "Ok," Tia continued while she rubbed the strong back beside her, "In the morning, try to reach you dad on his cell.You don't need to tell him what happened over the phone, just tell him to meet you at Health Sciences before his first meeting.I'll go to meet him, tell him basically what is going on, and offer to let him stay here.Does he know about you and Maggie?"

"Yeah, he does.Dad is really cool about the whole thing.Mom was a tougher sell, but eventually she accepted who I am.Tia, he's gonna flip.I can tell you that right now.Jail will be a safe place for Maggie when he sees what's happened.I haven't been home since I got the cut on my cheek so he hasn't seen that either."

"Honey, calm down and give your dad some credit.If he is half as wonderful as he seems...I'm guessing he is since you say that you are just like him...then he will understand and he'll even help you out, ok?"

Reilly sat there contemplating her teacher's reasoning.In her head it made sense and she knew that her dad would just hold her, telling her that it would be alright.In her heart though, she feared her father's disappointment and the hurt he would feel because she had kept her troubles from him.

She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed, "Ok, Tia.I'll call him in the morning.He'll probably want to stay at a hotel instead of here, so don't get offended if he turns you down.He's funny about stuff like that and doesn't like to feel like he's imposing."

Tia grinned wryly, "Gee, I never would have thought that," she said with a twinkle in her cornflower eyes.

Reilly said goodnight once again, hugged her older friend, and returned to her room feeling a little bit better. She wanted very much for dad to come see her and couldn't wait to see him, even if she was a bit nervous.After about an hour of tossing and turning, she realized sleep would be a long time coming, so she quietly left her room and went down to the living room.Sitting on the floor under a small lamp, she pulled the laptopshe had brought with her closer spent the next couple of hours just writing down all of the thoughts, feelings, and fears that were racing through her mind.

The young woman was so focused on the screen that she didn't hear Tia come down the stairs and stand behind her, until the small woman cleared her throat and asked, "Can't sleep?"

Reilly grinned sheepishly, "No, I couldn't.I'm nervous about Dad coming tomorrow and my mind just won't calm down.Did I wake you?"

"No, I was having trouble sleeping myself," Tia said and moved to sit on the floor where Reilly was laying beside her, "What are you doing?"

"Oh, sometimes when I can't sleep or just need to get my thoughts organized, I write a little bit."

"Just random thoughts?"

"Well...uh," the tall woman was a little flustered and Tia was wondering if she had said something wrong.She was about to apologize when Reilly spoke.

"I'm a bit of an author I suppose. I'm not very good at writing stories, although I do try.I've been published a couple of times for my poetry."

"Really?" Tia was intrigued, "What kind of poetry?"

"Oh, the regular kind I guess. I never really mean to write poetry, but it just comes out like that by the time I get done ranting."

Tia shook her head, "Yet another piece to the Reilly puzzle."

Reilly looked at her professor for several moments and asked, "Wanna read some?"

"Would you mind?I'm curious," Tia asked.

"No, I wouldn't mind.But you have to promise to be honest with me about what you think, ok?"

"I promise."

Reilly turned the laptop so that Tia could see the screen and chewed her lip as her professor began to read.

I surrendered my battle

To keep you at bay

Lowered the walls

And let you in.

I surrendered my heart

And let the love flow

And found that real courage

Was walking into the unknown.

The darkness fell again

When the light of love faded

The darkness closed in

A black curtain descended.

I fought hard to keep you

And battled my own pain

But the darkness never consumed

The light you brought with you

So, I let you go

And surrendered again.

Tia was amazed at the depth of the this young woman.She finished reading and looked at Reilly with a sense of wonder on her face.Reilly took her expression to mean that she hated the poem.She took the laptop back and closed the window, still waiting for her teacher to say something.

Tia noticed the crestfallen look on woman's face and quickly found her wits, "Reilly, that was very good.I'm not much of a poetry fan, but like country music I guess I wasn't reading the right person's poetry.I loved this.You came up with this on the fly?"

Reilly blushed, but grinned widely, "Yeah, like I said I never plan it, it just happens."

"Well if it happens often enough, you'll be the most successful therapist around if you did that and published your work."

Reilly smiled even bigger, "Thanks.Actually, I have been published.Just one book though.We sell it at TAB's."

Tia looked impressed, but did nothing more than smile at her talented student.

Sometime during her reading of the poem and the brief talk, Tia had started stroking Reilly's dark hair.After only a few moments, Reilly's eyes fluttered closed, and she fell deeply asleep.Tia stretched out beside her friend and continued to watch her sleeping face as she continued to play with the baby soft hair.The small professor knew she was losing her heart...hell, she'd lost her heart already.What she didn't know was whether or not anything would come of it.Ever so slowly, Tia's eyes drifted closed and she joined Reilly in sleep...her last conscious thought was a wish that the attractive student would join her in her dreams.

After a briefly embarrassing moment for both women when they awoke next to each other, Tia went to take a shower while Reilly called her dad.He had readily agreed to meet his daughter at the med center and told her he loved her before disconnecting.After Tia finished in the bathroom, Reilly changed and they enjoyed a breakfast of bagels and coffee, before Tia left to meet Reilly's father, Tyler Fredericks.

After Tia left, Reilly discovered she was very nervous.After several trips around the house, she decided to take her mind off waiting by getting some studying done.Instead of dark blackness, she could see some light blurriness with her right eye and was relieved.Still, she put her patch on so the light she needed for reading wouldn't give her a headache. With her exam book on her lap, she settled on the couch to study.

Tia had arrived at the med center about 10 minutes early.She watched as different men, all dressed in dark gray or black suits walked past her, none of them matching the description Reilly had given of her father. The closer it got to noon, Tia was beginning to wonder if she had missed the older Fredericks and he had gone in when he didn't see his daughter.Then, she saw him.

Walking toward her, talking amiably with a colleague, was a man only slightly taller than Reilly's 5'7'', dressed in a tailored, dark blue suit.He was well built with dark black hair peppered lightly with gray that made him look very dignified.When he neared the door to the auditorium, he bid his comrades good-by and turned to look for his daughter.Tia mentally shook herself and approached the man.

"Mr. Fredericks?" Tia asked.

Familiar chocolate eyes turned on her as well as a familiar, charming smile, "Yes?Can I help you?"

Tia smiled, "My name is Dr. Tia Rickman, I'm one of Reilly's instructors."

"Ah, wonderful to meet you Dr. Rickman.Reilly has told me a lot about you.Please call me Tyler. Where is Junior anyway?I'm supposed to meet her here."

"Please, call me Tia," the young professor smiled completely charmed, "Actually, I need to speak with you a moment about Reilly.Can you spare just a few moments?"

The man's expression turned serious, "Is she ok?"

"Yes, she's fine, but she asked me to meet you in her place.She had a bit of an accident a couple nights ago and didn't want to distract you from your meeting.She is also not staying at her apartment right now."

"Come on," he said and led her gently by the elbow to the corridor where it wasn't as crowded, "Dr. Rickman...Tia, I assure you I would rather spend time with daughter than these people, especially if she needs me.Now, what's going on?"

Tia smiled as her suspicions from the previous evening about Tyler Fredericks were confirmed.He wanted to see his daughter.

"Sir, it would be better if you came to see her for yourself.I'm not trying to alarm you, I just think Reilly would rather tell you herself what is going on.I will tell you that she is in bad situation and could really use her father's support right now."

The older man studied her intently for a moment then nodded, "Okay, can I follow you to your house?Just give me a minute to make my excuses and I'll meet you right here."

Tia nodded and watched him walk away with confident strides.While waiting for his return she reflected that Reilly had been right...she does come by everything honestly.

Mr. Fredericks followed Tia from the med center to her home just a few miles away. When they entered the front door, Mr. Fredericks saw his daughter sitting on the couch with her back to him rubbing her eyes.

"Hey Junior," the man said lightly, but with a hint of confusion.


Reilly froze with her hand on her face and hesitated before turning around.The sound of her father's voice caused instant tears and slowly she turned around.

To say that Mr. Fredericks was shocked and appalled by his daughter's condition was an understatement.The well-dressed, handsome, friendly gentleman Tia had met earlier practically shouted, "What the fuck!" as he rushed to gather his daughter in his strong arms.

Reilly hung desperately to her father and cried into his broad shoulder while he stroked her hair, trying to calm and soothe her.Tia felt she was intruding, she quietly made her way through the living room, into the kitchen where she put on some coffee and cried once again for Reilly Fredericks.


Father and daughter held each other for several minutes, both crying, both basking in the other's presence. When Reilly had finally cried the last of her tears, she sat back to talk to her father, but not without kissing his cheek first.

Tyler wiped his eyes and regarded his daughter as only a father could...with unconditional love and devotion.

"Baby," he started in a voice thick with emotion, "What happened?"

Her father listened as she told him what happened to her eye, her cheek, and the entire story of her last months with Maggie.When she finished, he didn't say a word.He just pulled his daughter once again to his broad chest, kissed her head, and held on tightly...wishing he could erase the difficult times his baby had endured.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Reilly apologized quickly, "Everything just happened so quickly these past couple of days."

"It's ok, baby," Tyler replied as he stroked his daughter's hair, "It's ok.I understand and I think you are extremely lucky to have someone like Dr. Rickman looking after you."

"Dad, Tia has been great. I tried to tell her that she didn't have to let me stay here and all that, but she insisted and I didn't want to insult her."

"Honey, it's okay.I want to talk to Dr. Rickman myself, but I promise we will work things out.I think it might be good for you to stay here too.Let me go talk to her, see what she and I can work out."

"Thank you, Daddy.I'm sorry," Reilly started crying again.

"Shh, baby.It's alright.I am so sorry that I couldn't protect you from this.I never thought Maggie would turn out like this.It is not your fault that this happened.I promise," he cooed, "Let me go talk to Dr. Rickman."

Reilly kissed her father again and watched him as he walked into the kitchen to find Tia.For the first time in a couple of days, she felt calm and relatively relaxed.She knew her dad would make it better.

In the kitchen, Tia had just composed herself when Reilly's father walked in.She hung her head so that he wouldn't see that she had been crying.Before she could look up, Tyler had dropped to his knees in front of the smaller woman and wrapped his strong arms around her, thanking her for helping his little girl.Tia started crying again and held on tightly to the man whose embrace held the same warmth as her student's.


When the two parted, Tyler Fredericks expressed his thanks for the care Tia had given to his daughter.He explained that the situation could have been much worse and his daughter could have been hurt even worse than she already was if she had stayed in that situation.Tia agreed and told him the plans she had made regarding Reilly's living arrangements.Again, the older man thanked her.

"Dr. Rickman," he began then smiled at her raised eyebrow, "I'm sorry...Tia.I do appreciate everything you have done for my daughter, but I agree with Reilly in that she can't stay here without kicking in some money."

Tia started to protest, but he held up his hand to stop her, "Hold on a sec, what I'm proposing is very simple if you will agree to it.I am going to go ahead and pay off the last 3 months of Reilly's lease on her other apartment. I think I can convince Reilly that paying for utilities that she won't be using is rather pointless, but she is correct in that she owes money on the bills that will come this month.What I'm asking is that you allow Reilly to pay off her other debts to settle the score with that bit...uh, with Maggie and then she will pay you for utilities since she told me you are dead set against her paying rent."

Tia wanted to protest, but there was a firm finality to Tyler's words that made her realize arguing was pointless.She reluctantly agreed.

Tyler smiled, "Good.You two can work out the logistics of what will happen after she takes her boards and begins working here."

"Thank you, Tyler.As far as I'm concerned she can stay here as long as she likes. I consider Reilly one of my best friends and she is welcome here."

"Well, like I said you two can work out the logistics of that when the time comes.I know my daughter and she would feel that she was placing a terrible burden on you if she stayed too long and she is way too independent for her own stubborn good sometimes," he smirked just a bit and added, "That's another unfortunate quality she got from me, I'm afraid."

Tia smiled, "I don't doubt it. But seriously, let's just see what happens.Hopefully she'll stay here until she finishes her board exam. She doesn't need to make decisions about this right now."

Tyler nodded and agreed to talk with his daughter about it.However, he wanted to wait a little while until she had calmed down a bit.He explained to Tia how the emotional impact of Reilly's situation was far greater than any physical harm Maggie could have inflicted.The older man told the professor how fragile his daughter actually was despite her outward projection of confident and cool.Tia told him that Reilly had already explained a little bit to her and that the rest she had figured out on her own.She agreed that the mental toll it had taken on his daughter was deep and wide, but assured him that she would do her best to protect Reilly.

"I can see that, Tia. Thank you for caring about my daughter.You are a very good friend," he said softly and hugged her again, "Now, if I know Junior she is sitting in there chewing her fingers off wondering what the hell is taking us so long to join her."

The professor laughed, "Probably. Can I ask you a question?"


"Why do you call her Junior? I mean, you couldn't deny her if you tried, but still..."

Tyler Fredericks laughed, "I'll tell you in a second.Come on." He stood up and waited for her to join him in the doorway before calling out to his daughter in a teasing manner, "Hey Junior."

Reilly spun around to see her dad smirking in the doorway and her teacher right beside him with a confused look on her face.

"Oh Dad," she pled, "Please, please tell me you didn't just call me that." The young woman's face was bright red.

The gentleman laughed and turned to Tia, "She pinks right up, doesn't she?"

Tia laughed as Reilly's face turned an even deeper red, "Okay, so why do you call her Junior?Now I'm really curious."

"Because he has a twisted sense of humor and had no back up plan when I was born," Reilly mumbled.

"Alright, squirt," her father gently threatened, "Be careful or I will be forced to tell all sorts of stories of your precocious youth."

Reilly blanched slightly as her father and teacher came into the room.Reilly's father sat down on the love seat and Tia took a seat right beside her student, patiently waiting for an explanation.

"Somebody wanna fill me in here?" Tia asked and watched as two identical expressions formed on the faces of her two guests.

"Reilly is practically named after me and as you pointed out in the kitchen, I couldn't deny the little twit if I tried...so she gets called Junior."

"Named after you?" Tia asked.

"His name," Reilly interrupted, "Is Tyler Riley...R-I-L-E-Y Fredericks."

"And her name is Taylor Reilly...R-E-I-L-L-Y Fredericks.See, practically named after me."

Tia chuckled at the mock glares father and daughter were giving each other.Even though she had only been around them together for a few minutes, she could easily see the resemblance and strong bond that they shared.

"So you see what I mean about no back-up plan when I was born.He wanted a son who would bear his initials and had picked out my name, only with 'Reilly' spelled like his. So, when I popped out and he had a daughter, he convinced my mother that my name could be a girl's name on the condition that they change the spelling of my middle name and that I go by it."

"Well, I guess that makes sense," the professor agreed, "Besides, it fits."

"Yeah, too well if you ask me," Reilly stated, "When I was growing up it got kind of confusing because when mom or grandma would yell either of our full names through the house... we never knew which one was in trouble."

All three had a good laugh at that.They spent the rest of the afternoon talking. As Reilly had predicted, her father refused Tia's invitation to stay the night, but agreed to stay for dinner since Elizabeth was coming over.Tyler offered to buy dinner for everyone, so Tia called Elizabeth at work to find out what she might like.With orders taken, Tyler promised his daughter he would be back shortly and left to secure a hotel room and pick up dinner.

When he left, Tia and Reilly settled down in the living room once again and talked.Mostly they talked about Reilly's dad, with Tia commenting on how alike the two of them were.Reilly blushed, but agreed that she and her dad were a lot alike.She confided that sometimes the likeness had caused problems with her mom, because she had inherited a lot of the characteristics her mother had found infuriating in her father, but that she was proud to be like him.Tia agreed that she should be very proud indeed.

After about 45 minutes, the two women looked up to the sound of the front door opening.Tyler Fredericks came in, arms full of bags of food and Elizabeth Baldwin right behind him.

"I hope you don't mind, but this lovely woman was just lurking around outside so I thought I'd invite her in for dinner," Tyler said with a twinkle in his eyes.

"And I'm never one to turn down an offer for dinner from such a good looking man," Elizabeth said with equal mirth.

Tia laughed when Reilly said, "Hey!That's my teacher and my dad you people are talking about!"

The older adults laughed at the young woman's mock outrage and the 4 of them set about getting plates and silverware so they could sit down to eat.

Throughout dinner, the conversation was kept light as they discussed a range of topics from Tyler's work to the physical therapy program.As Tia had been before, Elizabeth was amazed at the similarities between the two Fredericks.The older woman watched the interaction between father and child with rapt attention, fascinated with their bond and understanding of each other.They had the same mannerisms, features, intelligence and wickedly, quick wit Elizabeth as well as her colleague had come to like about Reilly.

It was late by the time they had finished dinner and coffee, so the young woman asked if she and her father could excuse themselves for a while to say goodnight.

Tia and Elizabeth nodded their understanding and bid Reilly goodnight as the father and daughter climbed the stairs.

Reilly led her father to her bedroom and once the door was closed, she sank into the embrace that her father readily provided.

"Dad, I'm so embarrassed by all of this," she said as she fought the tears, "I can't believe that I didn't get out of it.I knew what was happening, I knew ever since the first time she came home raging like a storm that I shouldn't stay.But I couldn't stand the thought of hurting her.We had so many good times.There were times she was the woman I fell in the love with...warm, funny, loving, and giving.I don't know what happened and I kept thinking I could change it or that it would pass."

Her father held her tighter, "Baby, I know.I know how you work, Junior.I understand more than you think about why you stayed and all that is going on that in pretty head of yours."

"But, Dad, I'm just like all of those women in bad relationships who stay because they think they can change their lovers.Even after I knew things weren't going to change, I still stayed because she made me think that I was the one who was making her do the things she was doing.How more clich» can you get?"

"Honey, you are anything but a clich».I admit that this isn't the first time someone has gone through this and it won't be the last.But the point now is not that you stayed or why you did," Tyler spoke as he pulled away from his daughter and lifted her chin, "The point is that you did what was right for you and left."

The look her father gave her was full of pride and love.Reilly felt herself relax for the first time in days, grateful that dad still loved her and was still supporting her.

"Thank you, daddy."

"You're welcome, Junior.Now get your pj's on and get in that bed. I think somebody needs her head rubbed."

Tyler laughed and turned his head as his daughter scampered to get ready for bed then dove under the covers. The older man sat down next to her and gently brushed his fingers through her soft hair.Reilly knew she wouldn't last long so she told her father she loved him before she fell asleep.After on a few minutes, Tyler heard the deep, even breathing so he bent down to kiss his daughter's forehead before he left the room.

Downstairs, Elizabeth and his daughter's new roommate were talking quietly in the living room oblivious to his presence.He regarded the two women who cared so much for his daughter, smiling as he thanked God for them. He cleared his throat gently as he entered the room, smiling as two sets of blue eyes turned to greet him.

"Is she okay," Tia asked timidly, afraid that she might sound as though she were prying.

"Yeah, she's still a little unsteady," Tyler said, sitting in a chair and running his fingers through his hair much like his daughter does, "She's beating herself up because she feels that she should have been smarter by getting out sooner, but don't worry. I know Junior, and when she starts to think logically about all this she'll realize that she has nothing to be ashamed of."

Elizabeth nodded her head in agreement, "Mr. Fredericks, you have an extraordinary daughter."

"Thank you, Dr. Baldwin," Tyler said with a smile, "And you have a wonderful employee." He shot a quick glance at Tia and smiled when she blushed slightly.

"That I do," Elizabeth agreed.

"Seriously," Tyler said as he stood, "I want to thank both of you for helping Reilly.

Normally, my hard-headed daughter would rather cut off her own arm than ask for or accept help from anyone, but I'm glad that you two intervened and didn't give her a choice.She may drive you crazy, but I assure you she appreciates it."

"We were happy to do it, Tyler," Tia said, "Reilly has managed to win the hearts of several of her teachers. She's a wonderful student and a very good person.I know she hates to ask for help, but I'm glad she let us do it."

Tyler nodded, "Well ladies, I think I'm going to head back to the hotel.As much as I love playing hookie, there are some meetings tomorrow that I have to attend and afterward I have to head home."

The two women rose to see Reilly's father to the door and to thank him again for buying dinner.

"Tyler, it was very nice to meet you," Elizabeth said as she moved to shake his hand, but found herself wrapped in a warm hug instead.

Tyler released the older woman and hugged Tia as well, "It was very nice to meet you both as well.Hopefully the next time we all get the chance to get together it will be under happier circumstances."

"I'm sure they will be," Tia said, "I can't imagine that you won't be checking up on Reilly every now and then."

Tyler laughed, "Well, I can see that you are more than capable of looking after my little girl, but you're right I'm going to try to be a little more available."

The three of them said good-by and Tyler Frederick walked out the door with a promise that he would be by the next day to say good-by to his daughter.

When Tia closed the door, she and Elizabeth looked at each other and sighed heavily then burst out laughing.

Elizabeth recovered first, commenting, "Well, the apple didn't fall too far from that tree did it?"

"If it were possible, I'd say that Reilly was simply a female clone of her father.She looks just like him," Tia said as they made their way back into the living room.

"The looks are only the half of it, she it seems our student also inherited his wit and devastating charm.They are so funny together."

Tia agreed and yawned.

"I should get going myself," Tia's boss said as she rose from her seat, "If you need anything at all, just call me."

Tia hung her head, "Thank you, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth slipped her purse over her shoulder and dug her keys out, "Now go get some sleep and call me tomorrow.I want to know what your uncle says about Reilly's eye."

"Ok, see you later Elizabeth."


Tia had been sleeping soundly when a noise woke her up.She sat up in bed and listened to see if she would hear it again.When she did, she got up and walked out of her bedroom trying to locate the source of the noise which seemed to be coming from Reilly's bedroom. Tia knocked softly on the bedroom door. Reilly didn't answer, but the professor could still hear whimpering and thrashing coming from the room.

Opening the door, Tia immediately rushed to her friend's side as she watched tears stream down Reilly's face.

"Reilly, honey," Tia said soothingly, "Wake up, Reilly.It's ok.You're okay, wake up honey."

When Tia touched her shoulder, Reilly's arm flew out and nearly knocked her off the bed.She scrambled backward, only half awake, trying to get away from what her unconscious mind told her was trying to hurt her.

"Whoa, whoa," Tia said recovering from having the wind knocked out of her, "Reilly, it's Tia.Calm down, honey.Calm down."

Reilly was disoriented, but when she woke up she looked at Tia with a mixture of confusion and fear.

"Tia, what are you doing in here?"

"You were having a nightmare and calling out in your sleep.I heard you and wanted to make sure you were all right."

"I'm sorry I woke you up," Reilly apologized, "What was I saying?"

"Nothing really concrete.You were thrashing pretty badly when I came in and you called for your dad."

Reilly noticed that Tia was breathing a little heavily and holding her side, "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine.When I put my hand on your shoulder to wake you up, I scared you and you kind of threw out your arm."

Reilly's eyes went wide, "Oh my God, Tia.I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"

"Calm down, I'm okay.I know better than to wake someone up when they are having a nightmare.I'm okay really.I'm worried about you.That seemed like an intense dream."

Reilly ran her fingers through her hair, "I don't really remember it.I mean, my heart is still racing so I know it was scary, but I don't remember it.Are you sure I didn't hurt you?"

"Yes, I'm fine.Do you feel better?"

"I think so, I just need to calm down.When did my dad leave?"

"He left around 10.He said he would stop by tomorrow after his meetings."

"Okay, I guess I conked out him, but that was his plan."

"Reilly, I really like your dad. It's obvious that you two love each other very, very much.And you were right, you do come everything inside of you very honestly."

Reilly laughed, "I told you. He's a great guy and a great dad."

"Yes he is," Tia agreed, "You okay?Or do you want to talk for a little bit?"

"No, I'm okay.Thanks for coming in here.I'm sorry I hurt you though."

"You didn't hurt me, Reilly. It was an accident."

The two women said goodnight and Tia returned to her room.The smaller woman settled under her covers and gazed up at the ceiling, hoping that sleep would return quickly.She thought of the conversation she'd had with Elizabeth while Reilly and her father were saying goodnight and had to admit that her boss was correct in that having a roommate was a big change after being alone for so long.

However, the newest addition to her life was complicating it in another way that Tia wasn't sure she was ready to face.As she lay there in the dark, she mentally reviewed the last few days in her mind and came to the familiar realization that Reilly's safety and well being weren't the only reasons she had wanted to help the young woman.Since she met her, Tia had cared deeply for her young student, but as her eyes drifted closed, Tia Rickman admitted to herself that she had fallen in deeply and unashamedly in love with Reilly Fredericks.

To be continued

Return to the Academy