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Advocate & Rsawest

For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a

1a 1b 2a 2b 3a 3b 4a 4b 5a 5b 6a 6b 7a 7b


Chapter 4a

" sister?" Claire sputtered. "That woman is your sister?" Claire pointed toward the closed door in disbelief. Man, she was right. This is complicated.

Amanda nodded sadly, her mind drifting to the baby sleeping upstairs. Standing, she began walking toward the stairs, stuffing her hands in her pockets. The therapist looked down at the carpet as she spoke. "Claire, I need to go and check on should probably go. I’m sorry you had to see that. I don’t know what to say. I just..."

"I’m not...sorry I was here, that is," Claire offered gently, as she made her way to the retreating blonde. Not wanting to leave, especially after the scene she’d just witnessed, the attorney reached up and laid a hand on her throat, indicating she was thirsty. "How about you go and check on Missy and I’ll make us some tea. Okay?"

Amanda visibly relaxed, relieved beyond reason that Claire wasn’t leaving just yet. Mustering a faint smile, she nodded. "Okay. That would be great. Everything is in the first cabinet. I’ll be back down in a few minutes." But she didn’t move.

Both women stood facing each other at the bottom of the stairs, each hesitant to leave the other. Finally, Amanda leaned forward and on tipped-toes planted a delicate kiss on Claire’s lips. "I’ll be right back," she said as she turned and jogged up the stairs.

As she watched Amanda retreat upstairs, Claire placed a fingertip on her still tingling lips, her mood inexplicably brightened by the simple gesture. Wow! She thought for the hundredth time that night. If that’s how she makes me feel with one kiss, I don’t know if I could handle anything more. Claire let out a giddy chuckle at her own expense, the word "smitten" popping into the forefront of her mind. After a few seconds, she realized she was supposed to do something. Oh, yeah...tea.

Claire pushed off from the stairs, an uneasy knot growing in her stomach. What if they do come back and try to take that baby? Simple, her mind answered. You won’t let them. Detouring from her route to the kitchen, the tall brunette made her way over to the front window. Pulling back the soft green curtains, she peered out into the inky darkness. Scanning the yard, there was no sign of anything. No Monica, no "Chucky", no cars. No cars? "FUCK!" she yelled.

Muttering a long string of colorful expletives, Claire bolted out the front door and into the cold night air. Standing in the front yard, she stared dumbly at the spot where her Explorer used to be parked. A gust of wind blew strands of dark hair across her shocked face. Those assholes stole Gumby!


"What? What is it?" Amanda panted, her eyes darting wildly, looking for whatever had caused her friend explode through the front door. "Are you okay?" the shorter woman asked nervously, as her hands began instinctively roaming Claire’s body, searching for injuries.

Both eyebrows shot skyward at her friend’s physical examination and Claire opened her mouth to speak. For a split second she considered allowing her to continue but Amanda was obviously frightened. "I’m fine," Claire assured.

When Amanda appeared not to notice Claire’s words, the lawyer spoke more firmly. "Mandy," she grabbed the roaming hands, forcing Amanda to look at her face, "I’m okay." Staring into tear filled eyes, she softened her voice. "I promise, Mandy."

"What...What?" Amanda ran a shaky hand through her hair. "Jesus Christ, Claire!" Amanda exhaled raggedly, and lightly bumped Claire with her hip. "You scared the crap out of me!" Claire released Amanda’s wrists but Amanda didn’t back away. " you think I’m a little on edge tonight?" she joked, a wry smile twitching at her lips.

Claire laughed and wrapped her arm around the therapist’s waist, the physical contact seeming comfortable and appropriate after the wild emotional ride both women had taken. "You and me both," she agreed, after a deep exhale of her own.

"Are you gonna tell me what’s up with your ‘bat out of hell’ imitation? As I was coming downstairs I heard you yell and saw you race out the front door."

"Oh...sorry, I hope I didn’t wake Missy. I didn’t mean..."

"It’s okay," Amanda reassured. "Fortunately, the child can sleep through a hurricane. If Monica and her friend didn’t wake her I don’t think you need to worry."

"Good," Claire answered, relieved her profane outburst hadn’t disturbed the little girl.

"Well?" Amanda rolled her eyes at she what was learning was Claire’s closed-mouthed nature.

"Oops...sorry." Claire pointed to the curb at the end of Amanda’s driveway.

Amanda looked around. Her eyebrows knit in confusion. "I don’t see anything."

"I know."

"I’m sorry Claire but I still don’t get..." Amanda paused and refocused her attention along the empty street. Closing her eyes, her fists balled

of their own accord. Shit! Monica, I’m gonna kill you! Amanda winced thinking of the immaculate, new Explorer, and it’s rich leather interior. Amanda crossed her fingers. PleasePleasePlease..."Claire, please tell me that you parked your car around the corner."

Claire shook her head.

"Oh, Claire...I am sooo sorry." Amanda’s voice was equal parts sadness, anger and embarrassment.

"We don’t know for sure it was them." Claire offered lamely.

"Thanks. But, yes we do." Amanda began to steer Claire back into the house. "Come on inside. You need to call the police."

Claire sat down heavily on the sofa as Amanda examined what was left of her front door. After a little maneuvering she was able to push it closed enough to attach the chain lock.

"Mandy, I have really good insurance I could wait and call tomorrow."

In answer, the blonde simply walked over and handed Claire the phone. "I’m going to get that tea. Do you like honey?" Claire nodded. "Okay, then." Amanda looked pointedly at the phone. "Call."


"You didn’t have to do that." Amanda sat her empty mug on the coffee table.

"It’s alright. The police only needed to know it was stolen, telling them about your sister would just make things more difficult for you. Besides, all I really care about is getting car back," Claire quickly added.

The smaller woman raised a questioning brow, but ignored the deepening color of Claire’s cheeks. The darker woman stifled a yawn, making Amanda smile. She fights it just like Missy. The yawn and the light chiming of the clock reminded Amanda of exactly how late it was. Regretfully, the therapist remembered her manners. "I know you must be exhausted. I could wake Missy and drive you home or I could call you a cab?"

" was thinking that I should stay here tonight." Hopeful, steel blue eyes looked up through dark thick lashes and focused intently on open round green. "On the couch, of course," she quickly amended. Slightly embarrassed, the attorney was unable to maintain eye contact with the surprised blonde. Focusing on a watercolor landscape over Amanda’s shoulder, Claire tried to explain. "I’m worried they may come back. And your door won’t shut properly, at least partially due to me. And...well...I wouldn’t sleep at my place anyway. All I’d be doing is worrying about you and Missy," she admitted. Why do I keep doing that? I’m babbling and I sound desperate! Why don’t I just throw myself at her feet and beg to sleep on her floor?

"Are you sure?" For some unearthly reason Amanda felt the need to question Claire’s decision, even though she wholeheartedly agreed with her.

Claire grinned, her confidence slightly restored. "Sure, I’m sure. As long as it won’t be any trouble for you."

"Nope, no trouble for me. I’d love for you to stay." Standing, she reached out for Claire. "Up," she directed.

Claire complied, but shot a questioning look toward her hostess as she grasped the smaller hand and stood.

"Come on," Amanda urged. "I’m taking you upstairs to find you something to sleep in." They climbed the stairs hand-in-hand. "Then I’m tucking you into the guest room."


"No buts. It’ll be too cold to sleep on the couch with the door like it is." When she heard Claire draw a breath as if to protest, she expertly executed a preemptive strike. "Besides, if you’re intent on keeping an eye on me and Missy, it’s best you stay close by. Right?"

"Humph." Claire couldn’t argue.

Amanda led the taller woman into her bedroom, motioning for her to sit down on the bed. "Have a seat. I think I have something that will fit you."

"You don’t need to go to any trouble. I don’t mind sleeping in this although I don’t usually bother sleeping in anything at..." Claire suddenly stopped as she realized what she was going say.

Amanda literally had to bite her tongue to avoid blurting out the comment that was on its tip. Now how am I supposed to sleep with that picture in my head? The young doctor couldn’t help herself as her eyes traveled down Claire’s long legs. She really is gorgeous. And smart. And funny. And...


"Oops, sorry," the smaller woman giggled, embarrassed at being caught mid-fantasy. "Give me a minute."

Claire watched as Amanda disappeared into the walk-in closet. I wonder if she’s finding me as distracting as I find her? Claire immediately dismissed the possibility. Nah.

Claire could hear Amanda milling around the closet and wondered what the petite women could possibly own that would cover everything that needed covering. Claire smirked. There are some advantages to living in a secluded house.

Amanda stood on a small stool and carefully pulled a box down from the highest shelf. Prying open the lid, she began digging through various items until she eventually pulled out a new package of men’s sized extra-large, turquoise, cotton pajamas. These should be perfect.

Flicking off the closet light, Amanda found Claire sitting on the bed looking at small-framed photograph on the nightstand. Amanda sat down next to Claire, their thighs and shoulders touching. Laying down the package, Amanda reached across Claire and picked up the photograph. "That was taken about seven years ago when we were both still in college. It was before the drugs."

Claire’s eyes widened. "That was Monica?"

Sighing, Amanda gently traced the faces on the photograph. "I know. It took me a few seconds to recognize her myself tonight. I’ve never seen her so bad."

Amanda handed Claire the photograph so she could examine it more closely. Making a quick decision, she scooted up to the head of the bed and pulled the pillows out from under the comforter. Positioning a pillow behind her back, she leaned up against the headboard and patted the space next to her. Smiling, Claire used her feet to push off her sneakers, and reclined along side her friend.

Claire took her time examining the photo. The two women within the frame looked to be the about same age, and bore a striking resemblance to each other. Each was a fresh faced, smiling, reddish blonde. And both appeared to be the very picture of youthful health and enthusiasm. How different one of those women looked today.

Gently returning the photograph to the nightstand, Claire shifted her position drawing herself even closer to her companion. Reaching down between their bodies Claire found Amanda’s hand. Pulling it to her, she wrapped the smaller fingers with her own.

Green eyes fluttered shut in contentment, as the young mother eagerly soaked up the simple affection Claire was offering. For a few moments the women sat in comfortable silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

"She looked so thin and pale. I hope she’s not sick." A soft and anguished voice broke the silence.

Amanda didn’t have to spell out what she was wondering. Track marks on nearly translucent skin told their own story, and spoke of a danger beyond the drugs themselves. Claire squeezed the hand resting in hers.

"We used to be real sisters, friends who swapped stories and dreams," Amanda continued. "She’s only 10 months older than I am. We were even in the same grade in school." Amada let out a shaky breath. "But...we...well...I guess we started drifting apart in college. I knew I wanted to go to grad school, so I spent a lot of time studying and keeping my grades up. It was the first time in our lives that we couldn’t spend a lot of time together."

Amanda’s eyes grew misty. "I guess she needed that...more than I realized. She started hanging around with these...these...I dunno. They were just trouble. By the time I finished my B.A. and was ready to move on, our relationship was reduced to visits at family gatherings and the holidays. We didn’t really talk anymore. Not like we used to. And it was about that time that I accepted my sexuality...we had talked about it before. I wanted her to accept it... to accept me as I am. But...well...she just couldn’t."

Claire’s own chest ached as recognized the self-loathing and disgust in her friend’s voice but didn’t interrupt. Blue eyes closed in empathy.

"That picture was taken during my last spring break before graduation. But even then, she was starting to get in trouble. She had already dropped out of school and a few weeks after that picture was taken she moved in with one of the men she met, only God knows how or where."

"Over the next few years things just got worse. She was arrested a couple of times. She stole things from our parents, from me. Once she and Jody really got into it, and had to be physically separated. Somewhere along the line she went from a drug user to an addict." Amanda pulled back their joint hands examining the differences in size and color and shape, as she spoke.

"Anyway...about two years ago...I hadn’t seen her for a while, although I always knew she kept with touch with our parents, even if it was just for money...she showed up pregnant. She said she didn’t know who the father was." Amanda shrugged. "I suppose considering the men Monica always seemed to be with, none of us really wanted to know, so we didn’t ask anymore about it. For a while she wanted to keep the baby, and raise it on her own. She even tried to get her act together...stop the partying and drugs and constant stream of men...but it didn’t last long."

"About a month before Missy was born she finally decided that she wasn’t in a position to be a mother. She knew she couldn’t even take care of herself."

A faint smile graced Amanda’s lips. "Then one day she asked me if I had considered adopting the baby." The smile turned wry. "Which I had...but I hadn’t mentioned it because I knew how Monica felt about my ‘lifestyle’...and I guess I didn’t think she’d want the baby to be with me." Amanda’s brow knit in confusion. "It was really weird." She turned to face Claire. "One day, out of the blue, she said love was the most important thing and that she was sure the baby would have that with me."

Claire didn’t try to stop the affectionate smile that transformed her worried features. "She was right about that, Mandy."

Returning the look, Amanda sighed again. "After Missy was born things went downhill again for Monica. She started disappearing for days, then weeks at a time. Everyone tried to help...again. But she...well...nothing worked. Tonight was the first time I’ve seen her in over a year. She must have checked herself out of the rehab clinic my parents talked her into." Sad eyes pinned Claire. "She looked really bad didn’t she?"

Claire nodded. "I’m sorry, Mandy." Shit! I don’t want to make her feel worse! But I’m not going to lie to her either. "Even without comparing her to the kid in that photograph," she pointed toward the nightstand, "yeah, I’d say she looked pretty bad."

Amanda sensed her friend’s distress. "It’s okay. You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know," she assured. "I should have done more to help her, spent the time she needed, I...I...I don’t know how things every got this far out of control. I should..."

"Stop it."

Amanda looked up in surprise. "But..."

"Just stop it," Claire interrupted. "This isn’t your fault. None of it." Claire quelled her rising anger and consciously gentled her voice. "Mandy, your sister isn’t a drug addict because you wanted to do well in college or because you’re gay. She made her own choices."

"You don’t understand, Claire." When the lawyer opened her mouth to speak Amanda silenced her by pressing two fingers against her lips. Looking up into determined azure eyes, she pressed on. "Even though she’s older I’ve always sort of taken care of her. She’s always been a little...reckless, I guess. Even as little kids my Mom expected me to watch out for her, to keep her out of trouble. She was depending on me and I let her down. I let everyone down." When she finished she pulled back her fingers, her eyes unconsciously drifting the room next door that held her sleeping daughter.

"Amanda." The low, solemn timber of Claire’s voice drew back Amanda’s attention. "It doesn’t matter what everyone expected. That wasn’t your job. It’s not right to put that responsibility on a child or even a young woman. You’re not your sister’s keeper." A large hand comfortingly stroked Amanda’s thigh. "You must know that."

Nodding, Amanda reached up and lightly rubbed her temple in an effort to forestall her impending headache. "I do know that...I head knows what you’re saying is true but...for some reason my heart just can’t seem to accept it."

"I know," Claire softly replied.

The compassion and understanding Claire offered were more than Amanda could bear. It was overwhelming. The tears that had been threatening to fall throughout Amanda’s story finally spilled over. "What am I gonna do?" Tears turned to sobs. "She’s my sister but I’m...I’m not just going to tu...turn over my daughter as though I was babysitting these past two years," she fiercely choked.

Jesus, I am so bad at this. Once again at a loss for words the attorney simply held her crying friend. You don’t have to deal with this alone, Mandy, not if you don’t want to. Claire gently stroked the pale head tucked under her chin until the sobbing slowly receded. Claire inhaled deeply, committing to memory the faint scent of strawberry shampoo and light musk perfume. Snuggling closer, Amanda found herself exhausted and craving sleep, but unwilling to break the physical and emotion connection that had been so quickly forged.

In an exercise of sheer will power, Claire eased away from her companion.

"Mandy, we should really get some sleep." Claire reached up with warm palms and cupped wet cheeks, using her thumbs, she gently wiped away the last of Amanda’s tears. God, I hate it when she cries.

"You’re right," Amanda acknowledged with a sniffle, already missing the contact. Arching her back, she stretched strained, tired, muscles. Leaning forward, she scooted down to the foot of the bed and retrieved the forgotten package. "I found these, they’ll be a little big, but they should work."

Claire curiously fingered the new package of men’s pajamas. A dark eyebrow lifted in question.

Amanda snorted at the look of jealously that flickered behind beautiful eyes. "I bought them for my Dad’s birthday next week."

"Then I can’t..."

"Of course you can. I was thinking about getting him something else anyway. Besides," she weakly teased "I have a sneaky suspicion they’ll you’ll look a lot better on you."

Claire grinned at smaller woman’s improving mood. "Why Amanda, are you flirting with me?"

Amanda pushed herself off the bed and held out a hand to her friend. "Claire, I’m way too tired to flirt. I’m sure you’d look fantastic in anything." Amanda’s eyes naturally raked over Claire body. "Or nothing...for that matter." Uh..oh. Did I just say that last part out loud?

Claire’s eyebrows shot straight up and were lost behind dark bangs. This time both women blushed.

Swallowing her embarrassment Amanda wiggled the fingers on her outstretched hand. "Come on, counselor." Grasping the strong hand, Claire allowed herself to be hauled to her feet. "I need to introduce you to my futon."


Amanda shifted as she tried to control her breathing. After several rapid blinks, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness of the room. She glanced over at the large glowing numbers on her alarm clock. 4:48 a.m.... God, did all that happen just a few hours ago? With a groan, she flopped back down on her pillow, exhaling loudly as her shoulders hit the bed, noting that the sheets were damp with perspiration. She turned away from the glaring numbers wondering why the old but familiar nightmare had returned. I don’t need to wonder. I know exactly why. Is unbelievable stress a good enough reason? Someone else’s problems I can handle. My own... a snort... that’s a whole other ballgame. Closing her eyes, the familiar images played for an audience of one.

"Move your ass, Tubby! You too Greer. I expect both you at the next obstacle pronto!"

"Yessss Drill Sergeant!" both women barked in unison.

The rest of the platoon was at least one or two obstacles ahead, leaving the stragglers alone. Amanda, was in the unfortunate position of squad leader, and was forced to stay behind until the last man was over the wall. Although, she acknowledged, she was in no hurry to tackle the next obstacle. The last man was Pvt. Jordowski, or Tubby, as she was cruelly nicknamed.

"Come on Jordowski, we’ve gotta move it," Amanda impatiently urged. Her breath creating small puffs of smoke in the cold pre-dawn air.

"I know, I know," grunted Jordowski. "I’m trying."

Amanda hit the wall full stride, grabbing the rope and swallowing down her own nervousness. The "wall" was a tall wooden frame with roped netting on two sides. At the top was a 4-foot wide wooden platform you had to throw yourself onto and crawl across to begin the 20-foot descent down the other side.

"Confidence course my ass. This sucks!" Amanda mumbled. Her gloved hands were slipping on the icy ropes. She squeezed harder, feeling her moist palms begin to blister under the cold leather gloves. After a several strong tugs, and a conscience effort not to think about what she was doing, Amanda was near the top.

"Don’t look down... don’t look down," she silently chanted, her chest slightly burning from the cold February air.

"Jordowski, where are you?" Amanda yelled as she felt Jordowski hit the ropes hard beneath her. The netting jerked and slightly swayed. "That’s it, we’re almost there," she encouraged.

The sun was just peaking over the horizon and through the trees that surrounded the course. The thin layer ice that coated the top platform was starting to melt, increasing its slickness. And the sand that had been sprinkled over the platform had long since been knocked away by the struggling bodies crawling over the top.

A sense of relief flooded through her as she reached the top of the wall. "Thank God, I can’t go any higher." Slowly, she leaned forward as far as possible and reached across the slick, sun-streaked platform. "Damn it. I can’t reach," she panted. Not for the first time, Amanda cursed her lineage, which had thoughtlessly failed to provide long arms.

I can do this. I have to. There’s no other way down, she mused. Knees and elbows scraped against cold wood, until...finally...she was able to reach the rope that lined the edge of the other side of the platform. "Yes!!" She hissed in victory.

Amanda grabbed the rope so tightly, that the ice crystals on the surrounding platform cracked away. "The hard part's almost over, Jordowski," she shouted she slid her body over the edge to the opposite side. "You’re almost there!"

Logically, Amanda knew that this "confidence builder" wasn’t intended as torture. Everyone else had managed it with only a few mumbled curses. But her fear of heights had turned this simple exercise, into a nearly nauseating experience.

Two more arms lengths and Amanda was now facing Jordowski through the net. Amanda saw Jordowski glance down. Panic-stricken murky brown eyes met and held green. Amanda could see the pounding of Jordowski pulse in her neck. She was panting heavily and looked slightly dazed. I can’t believe it. She’s even more afraid than I am. The sight of this panic stricken young woman forced Amanda to forget her own fears.

"It’ll be okay. I’ll help you. You won’t fall," Amanda encouraged.

"I..I..I don’t think I can move," stuttered Jordowski.

Amanda was now back at the top of the platform reaching across. "See? Look. You can grab my hand," she soothed. "Robin, I know you can do this." Amanda’s voice was soft but commanding.

The unusual use of Jordowski’s first name and Amanda’s confident tone seemed to snap Jordowski out her fear-induced trance. Once again, she focused on Amanda.

"Ok Amanda, I’m coming." With a deep breath, and one more pull, Jordowski was reaching across platform towards Amanda. Amanda’s smaller gloved hand tightly clasped Jordowski’s. Bathed in bright sunlight, both women’s eyes met again. This time conveying relief and accomplishment.

"I’m sorry Amanda. I should have known I could trus..."

Before she could react Amanda felt the glove pull off her hand. Jordowski’s boot slipped off the edge of the platform, as she frantically tried to grab hold.



Amanda lunged back across the platform trying to regrab Jordowski’s hand. In a panic, Jordowski reached back towards her, but she was already slipping. She watched helplessly as Jordowski began to fall.

"NOOOO!!!," choked Amanda, eyes wide with disbelief.

Immediately, Jordowski’s boot caught on the netting. She felt the strong jerk of the netting as Jordowski’s body fell back, below the level of the tangled boot. For a brief instant Jordowski hung head down, suspended by her boot. Muddy, panic filled eyes met equally terrified green, one final time.

Almost instantly, Jordowski’s boot slipped from the netting. Now she was free-falling... without a sound. Amanda watched in horror as Jordowski dropped 20 feet, headfirst.

Turning her head, she closed her eyes tightly as she heard the sickening crunch of Jordowski’s body on the wood chips below. She's gotta be okay, right? Despite not really wanting to know the truth, Amanda looked down to see Robin. Her body was twisted at an unnatural angle, Amanda’s black leather glove still gripped tightly in her hand.

A warm tear trailed its way down Amanda’s cheek onto the cool blue pillowcase. "I’m so sorry Robin," she whispered in an anguished voice. And for a moment, Amanda allowed the anguish of past mistakes, and the fear of future pain to engulf her.

The therapist felt an almost overwhelming urge to join Claire, and surround herself with the strong comforting arms that had kept her from falling apart after her sister’s traumatic visit. Not wanting to disturb her friend, she ruthlessly pushed away the urge. Closing her eyes, her thoughts began to wander and become fuzzy.

In the stage where the mind is equal parts awake and asleep, the past began merging with the present, and old insecurities blended with new worries. She wanted to run, to hide from the crushing responsibility she had for a small, pale haired child. But her spirit rallied, and Amanda told herself this time she wouldn’t fail. She couldn’t. She would do whatever was necessary to keep Missy safe and happy, and her family intact. Besides, her heart softly reminded, you don’t have to this alone, not anymore. Her resolve firmed, Amanda began to relax.

Her consciousness drifted to a more recent occurrence where an outstretched hand pulled her to safety and comfort and warmth, and she allowed the sweet memory to wash over her and lull her to back to sleep. A tall, blue-eyed attorney, and a perfect kiss, consumed her last waking thoughts.


"Wow, this is your house? I knew I should have gone to law school," Amanda joked as she slowly pulled the car up the long secluded driveway. Claire had wanted to call a cab. But after what had happened the night before, at the very least she owed the woman a ride home.

"That’s a laugh. I didn’t get this because of law school. That rich lawyer perception is a just myth. I guarantee you’re doing better than the average attorney our age." Our age? She must be around my age to have gone through all that school. But she doesn’t look like she’s out of her early twenties. I’ll have to ask about that.

Claire looked out at the property and tried to remember how she felt the first time she saw it. "I received a modest trust when I turned twenty-five. But it was some extremely lucky investments that allowed me to buy this place a few years ago. I guess it is kind of big for one person."

Amanda looked out with admiration. "Remind me to get the name of your stock broker." Pale green eyes traveled over the beautifully sculpted bushes and beds of colorful tulips. "It’s really beautiful, Claire."

Noticing where Amanda was looking, Claire smiled. "Thanks. I did those myself."

"You’re a gardener?" The therapist asked, clearly delighted. "That’s great! Maybe sometime you could give me a few pointers. I think I have a black thumb. I’ve already killed a Chia Pet and several, supposedly indestructible, cacti."

The larger woman chuckled and nodded eagerly. "Any time, Mandy."

Claire unbuckled her seatbelt and slid out of the Audi, enjoying the fresh scent of pine that always greeted her when she came home. Looking down, she saw that Amanda and Missy were still buckled in the car. Sticking her head into open passenger window, she smiled at Missy, who was tightly clutching an already bedraggled looking Elmo. "How about a tour?"

Amanda smiled and looked back at her daughter. "Wadda you say Missy, you wanna see Claire’s house?"

"No!" the child exclaimed.

Claire stepped back, clearly disappointed. She shuffled uncomfortably. "Well okay, no problem. If you don’t want to...I mean you don’t have to come..."

"Claire, wait!" Amanda quickly exited the car and walked over to the taller woman. "She didn’t mean it like that," Amanda explained.

"But she said no."

Amanda rolled her eyes. "Come on, I’ll show you." Grabbing Claire’s hand she dragged her back to the car. Both women poked their heads through the passenger window to observe the happily playing little girl. Amanda shook her head and sighed. "Watch." Snaking out her hand, she tickled the tiny blonde’s foot to get her attention. In a cheerful voice she began to question her daughter.

"Missy would you like to come outside and play?"

"No!" the child grunted.

"Would you like to stay in the car?"

"No!" she repeated.

Claire stared at the child, and Amanda, in wide-eyed fascination.

"Are you being a bad girl?"


"Are you being a good girl?"


"Would you like a delicious hot fudge sundae?"

"N..." the child hesitated, and Claire wondered what Amanda was going to do if the answer was yes. But after a second of hesitation, the child predictably decided to maintain her willful course. "No!" she proclaimed.

Both women ducked their heads out the car. Amanda turned, hands on her hips, and looked at Claire. "Satisfied?"

"Uhh...does she always do that?" Claire inquired.

"No!" Amanda imitated, and both women burst out laughing. "I was only partially joking about the terrible two’s coming early. She doesn’t really mean it. But I’m quite sure she’s enjoying herself saying it." Poking out her bottom lip, Amanda stepped forward and laid her palms flat against Claire’s stomach. She batted round, innocent eyes. "But I’d like a tour, nice lady."

"Okay, okay." Claire threw her hands up in mock surrender. "I can’t resist that very sad..." cocking her head to the side, she arched an eyebrow, "very manipulative," the eyebrow dropped and she smiled warmly, "very pretty face."

Amanda grinned broadly. "Why even try?" she impishly replied. "Self denial starves the soul." Opening Missy’s door, she began unbuckling the car seat.

Claire shrugged. You’re right about that, Mandy. And what I can’t bear to deny myself is you. "Well, since it’s already been established that I can’t resist you, would you like to go car shopping with me on Tuesday?"

Amanda frowned at the reminder of Claire’s stolen car. "I am so sorry about that, Claire. Maybe the police will find your car and you won’t need to get another?" she offered hopefully.

"You’re an actual optimist aren’t you?" Claire watched as Amanda continued to struggle with the car seat.

"I try," Amanda growled, as she finally tugged the buckle free.

"Well, I don’t feel like waiting around to see if the cops find my car. And as much as I like the idea of you and Missy chauffeuring me around town, I might as well take advantage of my time off and look for a replacement. Wadda ya say?"

Amanda chewed her bottom lip trying to remember her schedule for Tuesday. "I don’t have any appointments after lunch, so how about you pick me up at the clinic at noon?" With Missy in her arms, Amanda turned to face Claire.

Claire slipped off her mirrored Ray Bans so Amanda could see the narrowing of her eyes. "Verrry funny Amanda," she purred.

"Oops, sorry, I forgot." Green eyes twinkled, and Claire found herself mesmerized by tiny gold flecks that were amplified by the bright morning sun. "Why don’t I pick you up around 12:30 p.m.?"

How far away is Tuesday? "Deal."

As soon as two tiny feet hit the ground, Missy squealed with delight and bolted toward the wooded area that surrounded Claire’s home. "Missy’s right," Claire announced. Looking up into the clear blue sky, she took a deep breath and extended her arms as if trying to absorb the light itself. "It’s too beautiful to be inside this morning. I’ll show you the outside first."

Amanda laughed softly and nodded, silently acknowledging that the darker woman’s exuberant mood was downright infectious. In spite of herself, and knowing that most likely trouble lay ahead, the young therapist was looking forward to the days to come in a way she never had. Donning her own Ray Bans, she happily grasped Claire’s hand as they trekked after the giggling toddler.


Continues here...

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