~ Blessings In Disguise ~
by Ambrosia

Disclaimers: Hate to sound possessive but all characters within this story belong to me (grin). If they remind you of someone that ya know, that's just a co-in-ki-dink.

Feedback: If ya'll feel so inclined, you may send your comments to me at SumrBrezze@aol.com. Thank you and very Happy Holidays! (Um, yes I'm pathetically late?or early)

Part 1

December 18th 2005

They were almost at the security checkpoint when she abruptly stopped walking within the busy terminal. Her partner took another dozen steps before she realized that the tall redhead wasn't beside or right behind her. Turning around with the handle of her suitcase within her grasp, she looked at the other woman curiously. Why was she frowning? Had she left something at home? They had made a 'do not forget' list days in advance of this trip and that morning had successfully checked off all items, so what could she have possibly left behind?

"Honey, come on," Layne called, taking a few steps toward her. "Is something wrong? Did we forget something?"

"We should talk."

"Okay." Layne offered her a smile as she used her thumb to point over her shoulder toward the growing checkpoint. "Can it wait until we find our seats on the plane though? There's a window seat with your name on it."

Shoulder length curly red hair shook from side to side. "No. I rather discuss this now." Picking up her luggage, she headed toward a row of empty seats, choosing one toward the middle. She watched as Layne followed, sitting beside her. "This is so hard for me." Too nervous to keep her eyes on her partner, she stared ahead observing as a little girl asked her mother if they would get to go visit Santa when their plane arrived in grandma's state. "Layne I?you can't get on that plane."

It was Layne's turn to frown. "What? I don't understand. Why can't I get on the plane? Promise I won't freak out and attempt to squeeze all of the blood out of your hand if there's some turbulence," she joked, hoping to gain a smile from the redhead. Unfortunately, her hopes went unanswered since Kirsten's expression didn't alter. Trying not to look as anxious as she felt, Layne fingered the identification tag attached to her black Samsonite upright. "What's going on here Kirsten?"

She opened and closed her mouth several times before the words she needed to say would begin tumbling out. "I was on the Internet one night four months ago and discovered an email from an old flame who I hadn't spoken with since college. We started corresponding by email and then Yahoo Instant Messenger and then decided to meet about a month after the first email sent to me." Sighing, she chanced a look into Layne's now expressionless face. "You have to understand Layne that none of this was planned. It just happened. But even on the few times that we've met, I never was unfaithful to you. We kissed a handful of times--I admit that but that's all.

"But that's not all we want. As much as this pains me to tell you, we want to be together. I've been trying to gather the courage to tell you for two weeks. He still lives in Albany near my parents so I'll see him while I'm there and we'll tell our parents that we're getting back together. My parents will be so happy--they've always loved Darren. Not that they haven't adored you."

"What?" It wasn't necessary for Kirsten to look at her face in order to decipher the shock. No longer wishing to sit next to her partner, Layne scooted one seat down putting a chair length between them. "You've been cheating on me for months--"

"No, no." She wagged an index finger at Layne, which she had delusions of snapping off. "I never cheated. I wouldn't allow our relationship to go that far out of the respect that I hold for you."

Gray eyes narrowing, Layne's tight fist broke the thin rope connecting her identification tag to her suitcase. "Gee thanks for being so considerate of me that you refrained from sexing up your?boyfriend! BOYFRIEND! Not only did you cheat on me emotionally, you did it with a man? You're not a lesbian anymore?" Not that it truly mattered, but it irritated Layne even more that Kirsten had a mister instead of a mistress.

"I was never a lesbian," Kirsten explained, sounding calm when compared to Layne's near hysteric tone.

If Layne's eyes narrowed any further she wouldn't be able to see. "Four years together and now you admit that you're not a lesbian. Guess this has been an extensive experiment?! Why you Anne Heche mimicking--"

"I never told you that. I'm attracted to men and women, which makes me bisexual. And calling me Anne Heche is insulting Layne."

"You deserve every insult I can think of to hurl at you."

The redhead shrugged. "Maybe, but I can't help that by reopening those lines of communication with Darren that I fell back in love with him. We were a couple throughout high school, but we were young then. Now we're adults and able to bridge a deep and hopefully lasting commitment."

"I don't really care what you and he are able to bridge. Hell, you both can jump off of one."

"Layne I never meant to hurt you. You've been great and you've shared so much of yourself with me, which I know isn't easy for you. But I have to follow my heart." The other woman offered nothing so she continued. "I'll always love you, but it's time for us to part. I know this is lousy timing--one week before Christmas and you'll be all alone--"

"That's right Kirsten. Just dig that knife in deeper by reminding me that I'll be alone in time for Christmas. Why did it take me four years to realize that you were a cold untrustworthy bitch?" It was obviously a rhetorical question since Layne rose and grabbed her suitcase beginning to walk away. She ignored the woman calling her name who had become a stranger within a few minutes. The hurried footsteps approaching caused her to finally turn around. "Go away. Don't want to miss your flight to see lover boy and your family who loves him so very much."

"Layne this isn't some cheap affair. Darren is my first--"

Layne held up a hand, forestalling her declaration of love. "Here's my third!" Her ex caught her meaning when she lowered every finger but the middle one. Taking advantage of Kirsten's speechlessness, she stormed off with the wheels of the Samsonite rolling so rapidly behind that it was a wonder heated smoke didn't emanate from them.


November 26th 2005

Sprawled across her couch, a supremely bored Dylan Tate channel surfed until her thumb began to ache from punching the tiny up and down arrow buttons. Almost a hundred bucks per month for cable and half the time she couldn't find anything decent to watch. All the movie channels circulated the same few movies several times a week.

Movies. She grinned as her eyes zeroed in on the never before watched by her DVD placed on the scarred wooden coffee table. Always buying cheap bootleg copies of movies her cousin Jimmy had given this particular DVD to her the day before yesterday when he went to her mother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Dylan's mother might have killed her nephew had she noticed the title.

Santa's Naughty Elves: The Sequel. Dylan displayed a mischievous grin. She hadn't seen the first one, but she supposed that she couldn't have missed anything vital. Sitting up, she grabbed the DVD, pried the cover open and carefully removed the shiny disc. She had just inserted it into her DVD player when the doorbell rang. Sprinting toward the door she threw it open seeing no one. Looking up and down the empty hall an irritated Dylan shook her head. Little punk ass pranksters.

She almost had the door closed when she heard the tiniest mewl. She expected to spot a kitten when she looked down. To her surprise there was an infant instead. Laying in a car seat and wrapped in a soft pink blanket, the baby slept, unaware that she had been dropped off at someone's doorstep. Dylan merely stared at her for a quarter of a minute before her brain resumed its normal function.

No freaking way.

Slipping passed the baby, she ran down the hall glancing toward the bank of elevators on her way to the stairwell. Six floors up from the apartment lobby, long legs moved quickly down the steps, often taking two at a time. Finally pushing through the exit door, Dylan heavily breathed as she hurried up to the late twenties doorman whom she had spoken with just about every day since she moved in two years ago.

"Henry did anyone carrying a baby walk in here recently?" She asked while trying to catch her breath. She peered through the double glass doors although she hadn't a clue who to look for. Who would just leave their new baby on a stranger's doorstep? And why would they travel six floors up to do it?

"I dunno Dyl." The lean young doorman stroked a mostly smooth chin, which he had been trying to grow a beard on since high school. "I don't remember. Think you can refresh my memory somehow?" Although mostly 94% sweet, Henry didn't mind exploiting a situation to make some extra money. That summer he bribed the husband in #4F who he caught cheating for the third time. Henry sweetly ignored his first two indiscretions. However, what he made from the third offense was enough to pay off the balance on his Visa.

Wondering what to charge Dylan for the information she sought, he immediately lost his concentration when a strong hand gripped the crotch of his pants. Grimacing from the pain, Henry stumbled backward until he felt the cool wall at his back. He hoped that someone, anyone would enter the lobby, but the elevators, stairs and front entrance were quiet. If she didn't let up on the pressure soon surely he would pass out.

"How is this for refreshing your memory Henry?" Dylan sarcastically inquired while her hand seemed to further tighten. "Does it help you any?"

The doorman nodded with such intensity that the back of his head banged against the wall. "Yeah, yeah. A lady walked in about ten minutes ago with a baby. Please Dyl," he hoarsely pleaded. "I wanna procreate eventually and I'll need those. Lemme go please."

"You'll tell me whatever I want to know?" When he nodded again she released him. Dylan waited for his sigh of relief to pass before she asked if he recalled what the woman looked like.

Although aching, Henry conjured up an image of the woman. "Yeah, yeah. She was about three inches shorter than you--5'6" I'd say, approximately 120 pounds, between ages 28-32. Caucasian, fair-skinned, shoulder length reddish blonde hair--strawberry blonde I suppose and gray eyes. She wore blue jeans with a rip in the left knee area and a pink long-sleeved blouse trimmed in white around the collar." Dylan seemed so amazed by his description that a proud smile tugged at the doorman's lips. His ambition to become a screenplay writer, Henry always made sure to pay close attention to details.

"Did she say anything to you?"

"No. Nodded and smiled a little as she walked by to an elevator. When she returned she didn't look at me. Just hurried out the door moving noticeably quicker than she had coming in." He had questioned that, but chalked it up to her being a mother who had dropped her infant off with the babysitter before hurrying off to work because she was late or close to it. She looked familiar, yet Henry couldn't place where he had seen her.

"Which way did she go? Do you know how she was traveling?" Dylan's blue eyes scanned the sidewalk in front of the apartment complex as though expecting the baby deliverer to return.

"Yeah, yeah. She went down the stairs here and to the right. Last time I saw her a block down she was on foot."

Thanking him, Dylan pushed the door open. Thinking before she could bolt, she turned back to Henry. "Do me a favor and go up to my apartment and watch that baby, okay? I'll give you twenty dollars when I get back."

Henry nodded profusely, imaginary dollar signs appearing before his eyes. She had him at 'I'll give'. "Yeah, yeah. Good luck tracking her down Dyl." A moment later she was running along the sidewalk checking each person as she passed them while Henry waited for an elevator car to return to the lobby.


The door leading into her apartment closed when she returned fifteen minutes later, Dylan twisted the knob and walked inside where she found Henry seated on her couch playing with the tiny socked feet of the abandoned and now awake baby girl. Releasing her feet, he looked up into an obviously disappointed face.

"No luck, huh?"

Shaking her head, Dylan slumped onto the couch. Her eyes connected with a pair that perfectly matched her own. She thought about that for a second before deeming it irrelevant. "What the hell am I gonna do Henry? Why did that woman give me her baby?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. But maybe this will shed some light." Picking up an envelope from the cushion, the doorman gave it to her. "Found that tucked into the side of her car seat."

Her heart sank lower when she read the words printed in the middle of the standard white envelope.

For Dylan Tate

She groaned. "They know me? They gave me this baby on purpose?"

Henry shrugged again. "Certainly seems like it. Open it and read it." The main reason he wanted her to read the letter was because he suffered from an incurable case of nose trouble. Hopefully Dylan was a quick reader because he had to return to the lobby in a few minutes.

Inserting her finger through the corner of the envelope, Dylan slowly loosened the adhesive flap until she reached the opposite corner. She apprehensively stared at the thin sheet of paper inside as though she suspected that it might be covered in anthrax. Henry was on the verge of asking if she wanted him to read it for her when Dylan pulled the letter out and unfolded it. Because she opted to read it silently, the doorman was forced to scoot close to join her.


After enduring nearly two months of motherhood I've decided that it isn't the right path for me. I'm no good for Robin, therefore I've selected the person I trust more than anyone to take on the responsibility of raising her, providing for her, loving her--none of which I'm capable of doing.

She's your daughter Dylan. She belongs with you. If it weren't for you, Robin wouldn't exist. I'm sorry to spring this on you, but I know that it's for the best and I didn't feel like confronting you about it face to face knowing the first words out of your mouth might be something akin to 'no freaking (or the more graphic f word) way'. You'll find her important documents (birth certificate, social security card etc.) in her diaper bag.

Remember that Robin is your responsibility now, so take good care of her. Don't try to find me. I'm already gone.


"No fu--" Dylan growled low in her throat as she tossed the letter onto the coffee table. "Can you believe that self-centered nitwit?" She inquired, eyes attempting to burn a hole into the piece of paper written by the person liable for ruining her weekend. "She's my daughter? What the hell does that mean? I don't recall donating any of my eggs to Celeste."

"Don't curse in front of Robin."

"What?" Dylan turned blazing eyes on the doorman.

He swallowed yet found the courage to repeat his statement. "Don't curse in front of Robin. Yeah, she's very young but we never know what their little ears may absorb, so be mindful of what you say." He paused thinking back to the woman walking through the lobby with her baby. "Yeah, yeah. I knew she looked familiar. Celeste allowed her hair to grow out."

"Forget her hair. What am I'm going to do about this baby?" She pointed toward Robin who was preparing to take her umpteenth nap today. "I shouldn't be responsible for a baby. I wouldn't trust myself with a cactus! I barely trust myself with me!"

Wearing a thoughtful expression, Henry tapped a finger against his lips as he watched the adorable infant drift off. "She does kinda look like you Dyl. The eye color resemblance is uncanny. And you both have that tiny dimple in your chins."

"Henry there is no way that this baby can biologically belong to me. I've never had any children?I don't want any children." Standing up, Dylan grabbed the teddy bear littered pink and blue diaper bag, slinging the strap over her shoulder. The doorman asked her where she was headed. "Going to see someone who has ample child experience having raised three of her own. My mom." Getting a hold on Robin's method of transportation, Dylan was halfway to the front door when the man remaining on her couch called her back.

"Um, I'm wondering about that twenty you said that you'd give me?"


December 18th 2005

The small blue velvet bag clutched in her hand, Layne walked into a pawnshop, which happened to be open on a Sunday. The idle pawnbroker festively dressed in a Santa hat and a green sweater with reindeer across it, folded a section of the thick New York Times and laid it on the counter. Greeting his customer with a cheery 'Merry Christmas' he reached for the bag, carefully emptying its contents. Adopting a composed expression although he was beaming on the inside because of the costly jewelry before him, the pawnbroker examined each item.

"I'll give you $1200 for everything," he commented in a voice, which sounded resigned as though he were offering a higher amount than he should.

Layne thoughtfully nodded. "Alright." Gathering the three bracelets, two necklaces each with its own charm and diamond ring, she tossed them back into the soft bag as the pawnbroker looked at her with bemusement. "I'll find another pawnshop that won't try to rip me off. You know these pieces are worth more than twelve hundred dollars. I've been screwed with enough today." Tugging on the small ropes in order to close the bag, Layne started to leave.

"Miss I'll give you $2000." Relieved, he watched when she turned back to him. That jewelry was too beautiful to fall into the hands of another broker.

"The cheapest of these cost me about five hundred." It made Layne ill to think of all the money she had spent on Kirsten over the last four years whether it be in jewelry, clothes, a down payment on a brand new car or the eight months she took care of her because she had been laid off from her job and had difficulty finding another that paid just as well. And now two hours ago she had been abandoned at the airport for a first love. Layne couldn't wait to get rid of her jewelry, but she wouldn't let it all go for only two grand.

The pawnbroker sighed inwardly. His large profit was beginning to dwindle. "Okay?$2700. That's my final offer."

Walking over, Layne placed the bag on the counter. "I accept your final offer."


November 26th 2005

"Aren't you a cutie pie? Yes, you are! I could just eat you up!" Madeline Tate gushed, kissing the tiny fingertips as the baby seemed to smile at her. The moment that she was introduced to her, she fell in love with her newest 'granddaughter'. If only Reginald had lived to see her.

"Yes, me too," said the younger woman standing next to her, green eyes on the little bundle. "Dylan, go fetch us a couple of spoons." She and her mother shared a chuckle while Dylan perched on the arm of the couch rolled her eyes. Since she didn't move, she obviously didn't intend to appease her younger sibling's request.

Shaking her head from side to side, she watched the pair fussing over the baby. Never mind that she had been saddled with a child that didn't belong with her. Her mother and sister weren't interested in paying any attention to the major issue at hand. Robin was too adorable to think about anything else. Dylan cleared her throat several times before they looked her way.

"I have a plan but I need you two to help me out."

"What's your plan?" Her sister Angela asked, holding up the baby's birth certificate. "Daddy?" Angela grinned, thoroughly enjoying Dylan's resulting frown. Though her name couldn't be on the birth certificate without her permission, Celeste had thought of another route to link her newborn to her ex-lover. Her baby's full name had been typed up as Robin Elaine Tate. Celeste Marie Anderson was her mother and there wasn't an entry for father.

"Mom," she pointedly ignored Angela, "could you take care of the baby while I go search for her mother? Actually find a detective to search? Once Celeste is found and I talk some sense into her she can retrieve her daughter from you." So what if Celeste claimed in her letter that she was gone. Dylan would hire the best detective money could buy--or at least the best detective she could afford. She was certain that the baby's mother would be apprehended soon. Her mission was to find Celeste and then make her believe that she could raise her own child. She just needed to believe in herself. Dylan's speech still needed some work of course.

Madeline shook her head, the opposite of what her eldest daughter figured she would do. She spoke up before Dylan could argue. "You read Celeste's letter. Robin is your responsibility and because you've been allergic to that for 35 years, it's about time that you learn the meaning of the word now."

"What Mom is trying to say is grow up and behave like a woman." Angela was powerless to conceal her grin. She loved her sister, but it was fun to have something to tease her over. "I have four children eleven being the oldest--you can't handle one itty bitty seven week old baby?"

"I don't know the first thing about children!"

"You think motherhood comes with a handbook?" Madeline asked. "Angie and I both had to learn by trial and error. Now so will you. If I didn't believe that you could handle it, I would look after Robin but I know you could if you just tried. If you need help just call me or come right over. We're only nine miles apart."

Nine miles might as well have been fifty for all the comfort the rather short distance gave her. Although she was beginning to truly panic, Dylan hoped that it wasn't revealed on her face. "Seriously? You want me to take that baby home?"

"That baby has a name and it's Robin," Angela mentioned. "You want me to baby-sit while you nab a detective? I'll give you the sisterly discount, which means that my services are free. When you're done we'll go shopping."

"What for? I'm not in the mood to shop."

"For the baby moron." Neither her mother nor sister figured out how she managed to sound affectionate despite the insult. "Diapers, formula, more clothing. Robin doesn't have much to pick from in that bag and she'll need warmer clothes. Too cold in San Fran for what Celeste packed."

Dylan quickly nodded, anxious to leave. "Sure. Are you going home now?"

"No, one of Calvin's friend's is celebrating his sixth birthday so I'm taking him to the party. Just call my cell when you're ready to pick her up." As if on cue Angela's five-year-old son rushed down the stairs making a beeline for his favorite and only aunt.

Wrapping his arms around her legs, he smiled up at her with one tooth missing toward the front. "Hiya Auntie Dyl."

Rustling his hair, Dylan smiled back. Being an aunt was the closest that she ever wanted to get to having children in her life. "Hey buddy. You ready for your friend's party?"

"Yep! You wanna come with me and Mommy?"

"Wish I could buddy, but I've got to go hire a detective."

Calvin frowned in thought. "What's a detective?"

"A detective is someone you give money to so they can find missing people."

"Who's missing?" He logically inquired.

"A friend of mine named Celeste."

Obviously a pro at asking questions, Calvin drilled his aunt further. Perhaps he would become a lawyer one day. One of the honorable one's of course. "Why is she missing?"

Dylan shrugged one shoulder. "Because she wants to be buddy."

The explanation not making any sense to him, Calvin looked perplexed. "But why? Who wants to be lost?"

His mother was about to intervene when Dylan indicated that she could handle it. Kneeling on the floor so that they could be closer to eye level, she softly smiled at her nephew. "I'm gonna tell you the truth 'cause you're a big boy." He confirmed that with a hearty nod. "I'm not really babysitting. Celeste is the--Robin's mother and this morning she left her on my doorstep because she wants me to have her. I'm not sure why she would do this, so I'm gonna try to find her."

Calvin's eyes brightened considerably. "You mean Robin belongs to us now?" When he first saw the baby, he looked at her as though she were a shiny new bicycle positioned underneath the tree on Christmas morning. Speaking of bicycles, he really had scribbled 'blue bike' on his wish list this year, so he kept his fingers crossed that Santa or Mommy or Daddy would leave one at their tree after they bought and decorated one.

Dylan quickly shook her head. "No, she's Celeste's daughter."

"But she doesn't want her, so why can't we just keep her?" Finders keepers as far as he was concerned.

Is your mother sure that you're only five? Dylan inwardly groaned. "Because it wouldn't be right buddy. Robin should be with her mommy and I'm going to make her mommy understand that they should be together. Celeste is just confused and I intend to help her."

"But for now," Calvin's own mother interjected as she caressed the baby girl's soft cheek with a finger, "Robin will hang out with us while Auntie Dylan goes to take care of some business."

Calvin smiled again. "Cool! She can go to the party?" When his mother assured him that she would, he proceeded to jump around the living room like a miniature kangaroo.

A few minutes later, hugging her mother, sister and no longer bouncing nephew goodbye, Dylan headed toward the front door when Madeline announced that she was forgetting something.

Blue eyes searched the room quizzically. "What Mom?"

"You didn't say goodbye to Robin."

Dylan stared at the older woman. "Mom, she's a week shy of being only two months old. I doubt she'll notice if I leave without letting her know." When Madeline silently gave her the look that she had come to know so well around the tender age of five, Dylan walked back toward the couch, leaned over the dozing baby and whispered goodbye to her.


December 19th 2005

As the plane traveled through the darkened sky, Layne reflected on her day with her eyes closed. That morning--technically yesterday morning now-- without any warning she was dumped at JFK airport for an old boyfriend. Returning to she and Kirsten's home she spent the remainder of the morning and part of the afternoon packing everything that belonged to the redhead except for the jewelry she had bought, which she pawned.

After her trip to the pawnshop, Layne carted half a dozen large cardboard boxes to the nearest UPS where she paid to ship them to Kirsten's parents house. Her first inclination was to destroy Kirsten's belongings, but she thought that creating a bonfire in the backyard was a touch too dramatic. Plus, she didn't want to risk getting caught and end up spending the night in jail. It would be just her luck for that to happen.

Needing to get out of New York City, Layne returned to the airport with no destination in mind. It wasn't until she spied a woman wearing an 'I (heart) San Francisco' sweatshirt that she decided where to travel. An expensive coach ticket purchased to a nonstop flight that wouldn't leave until 1:15 a.m., Layne spent a great deal of the many hours she had to kill inside Starbucks reading a paperback novel and inhaling so much caffeine that there wasn't the slightest chance of her getting any sleep during the approximate six hour flight.

The cabin lights lowered because this was a red eye flight, Layne pressed the tiny button on the side of her digital watch to illuminate the time. Lit with a pale blue light was the time of 2:24. She sighed. So much time with so little to do but to think about the upcoming holiday, which would be torture because she was alone. The worst time of year to be alone was around Christmas. Before she met Kirsten she loathed the holidays. Now those negative feelings had returned with a vengeance.

"Excuse me? Is anyone sitting next to you?"

Layne glanced up to the softly smiling countenance of a woman who appeared to be around her age. She couldn't fathom why or exactly how, but Layne felt the most comfortable rush of warmth flow through her body in that moment. Speech delayed, she shook her head no.

"Would you mind if I sat with you?"

Again, her head shook. Giving herself a mental slap, Layne whispered, "No. I wouldn't." She wondered if she had met this woman before. Something about her was so familiar.

"Thank you." Smiling again, the woman occupied the aisle seat. "Patricia--the person I was sitting next to fell asleep. After I went to the restroom I noticed that you were awake and thought I'd come over to see if you'd like to strike up a conversation."

Layne surprisingly discovered that she didn't mind the company of this woman although a minute ago she hadn't any desire to talk to others. There was something very tranquil about her. "What's your name?"

"You may call me Rose. What's yours?"


"Layne." Rose allowed the name to roll over her tongue thoughtfully. "Is that short for anything? Elaine perhaps?"

"No. Just Layne."

The brunette nodded. "I like it. It's unique."

Layne didn't immediately realize that she was smiling. "Thank you. I've always thought Rose was a pretty name. So feminine and delicate."

"Thank you back Layne. Sweet of you." Readjusting herself in the seat, Rose rested clasped hands in her lap, twiddling her thumbs as she gazed toward her new companion. "Do you have family in San Francisco?"

Family. Not a topic that Layne preferred to discuss. However, she answered the question. "No, I don't. Just visiting the city. Never been there before. You have family there?"

Rose smiled in a way as though she were the keeper of some great secret. "I have family in many places. You'll enjoy San Francisco. I'm certain. It's a beautiful city filled with such diversity." Reaching out, she touched Layne's knee. "Whatever you do, make sure that you pay a visit to Tacky Taco. You will not be disappointed."

One eyebrow arched. "Tacky Taco?"

Rose grinned. "Yes, it's a Mexican restaurant. Everything there is to die for. I'll give you the address and directions from SFO." When she stood up to pull a small notepad and pen from the back pocket of her Levi's, gray eyes were drawn to her shirt. Layne stared in recognition.

"It was you," she half whispered as Rose reclaimed her seat. When the woman asked her what she meant, she continued, "Your shirt was the reason I selected San Francisco to visit. Now I know that I really have seen you before--inside the airport. What a coincidence that we'd meet again."

Rose nodded her agreement. Releasing the tray attached to the seat in front of hers, she opened her notepad and used the tray to write down the directions for Layne. The smaller woman had a sheet of paper folded and tucked into her pocket when a stewardess appeared next to them, a polite smile on her face as she regarded the pair.

"Good morning ladies. Could I offer either of you a beverage or a snack? Maybe a pillow if you wanted to get some rest?" Both declined a pillow, but Layne did order a Coke (she felt like asking the stewardess to add a splash or two of Jack Daniel's to the drink, but decided against it) while Rose asked if they had eggnog.

"We sure do." Leaning over, she whispered, "Would you like to add a little something special to it?"

Rose chuckled good-naturedly. "No, thanks. I'm not much of a drinker. Straight nog for me please."

"You've got it," the stewardess replied while moving back into an upright position. "I'll be back in a jiff with your drinks ladies."

Rose quietly watched Layne for a minute as she gazed through the small window next to her seat. The dejection she felt plainly showed on her face. "You're just visiting San Francisco a week before Christmas, but what are your plans for it?"

Layne shrugged keeping her eyes on the window. "Nothing is set in stone."

"The breakup is difficult for you."

That drew her attention. Layne stared at her, suspicion in her voice when she spoke. "How did you know about my breakup?"

Rose pointed at her bare left ring finger. "The skin at the base of your finger is pale and about the width of a standard sized ring. I assumed that you recently took one off. One reason a person would do that was if someone they were no longer with gave the ring to them. If I'm wrong I apologize."

The stewardess returned with their drinks and Layne waited for her to leave before replying. "No, I'm the one who should be apologizing. I'm sorry Rose."

"What for sweetheart?" The brunette inquired in such a tender voice. "You haven't done anything wrong."

"I sounded accusatory."

"Well, it was a peculiar statement for me to make considering that we met two minutes ago." Lifting her glass, she took a sip of the sweetened drink. She said nothing more, waiting for Layne to take the lead, which she soon did.

"We broke up this--yesterday morning. At JFK." Her voice was soft as she looked at the ice cubes clinking amongst the brown fizzy liquid. "She broke up with me." Layne glanced toward the other passenger to gauge her reaction from the admission of 'she' instead of the most likely expected 'he'. Rose merely wore a 'keep going, I'm listening' expression. Within a few minutes Layne had relayed the details of the break up and all that she had done as a result of it.

A warm hand covered hers and gently squeezed. "I'm sorry that you've had such an arduous day Layne. But you know what?"

Tears threatening to escape to her cheeks, Layne shook her head. "What?" She looked grateful when the other woman dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief that she seemingly pulled out of nowhere. When she finished, Rose placed the snow-white cloth in her palm for her to keep.

"Fair warning that this is going to sound trite, but everything truly does happen for a reason Layne," Rose said, her tone remaining gentle despite the candidness of her assertion. "You and Kirsten obviously were not meant to be together for the rest of your lives. It's my belief that your relationship with her prepared you for one filled with so much more meaning and love--you just have to go out there and search for it. Some we're supposed to be with for a while until we hopefully find that special love of a lifetime."

"I don't think I will." She appeared tired?defeated.

Smiling, Rose squeezed the hand she still held. "I wouldn't throw in the towel so soon if I were you Layne. Think of it this way?Kirsten did you a favor."

Watery gray eyes widened. "Really? Breaking my heart was a favor?"

An enigmatic smile was her immediate reply. A brief and simple 'yes' was her second.


November 26th 2005

"Why do they charge so much?" Dylan asked, clutching at a pair of tiny pants. "These are for babies, which means less material goes into making them. So what's up with the high prices?"

Her sister rolled her eyes. "I don't know Dyl." She whispered 'cheapo' under her breath.

"I heard that." Dylan smirked, returning the pants to the rack. "And I'm not cheap. Merely economical." She smirked again when she heard Angela's disbelieving snort. "Babies grow fast right? So why buy these expensive clothes when she won't be wearing them in two minutes?"

Angela indicated Robin who was slumbering inside her new stroller, which was three times the price of a stroller that Dylan wanted to purchase. One look at its thin material and Angela was afraid that the baby would fall right through. "So what do you suggest Dyl? Let her go naked until the rate of her growing decreases?"

Dylan rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "That's not a bad idea." A fist connected with her bicep. She rubbed the not so sore spot. "You're mean."

"Ha! Look who's talking, Scrooge."

"Take it back."

Angela defiantly shook her head. "I will not." Her eyes settled on a pinstriped pink and white jumper, which she snatched from a rack within a millisecond. "Is this cute or what?"

Dylan answered with a noncommittal shrug. You've seen one miniature clothing item, you've seen them all. "It's fine I guess."

"Danger Dylan. You're close to marring the ultra cool personification that you've built by acting so very enthusiastic over shopping for your baby."

"Firstly, I couldn't mar my coolness if I tried. The cool factor is so deeply ingrained in my soul that it's not going anywhere." She grinned through her sister's expected eye roll. "Secondly, she's not my baby. She's Celeste's and some most likely random--" Dylan's eyes opened to the size of a pair of blue saucers. "Holy mother of?" Long legs feeling a bit weak, she wanted to sit but since there wasn't a chair around them, she chose to lean against the wall.

"What?" Concerned, Angela watched the blood drain from her sibling's face. "Dylan what's wrong?!"

Eleven months ago

Juggling a grease stained paper bag filled with boxes of Chinese food and two 16-ounce bottles of chilled Coke in one arm, it took Dylan a minute to get the front door unlocked. As was usually the case when her girlfriend wasn't at work, she expected to find Celeste seated on the couch watching television or reading a magazine but the t.v. screen was blank and the living room undisturbed.

It was almost eleven o'clock, so maybe she had already gone to bed. Out of town the last couple of days because of a comic book signing her agent set up, Dylan wasn't supposed to return to San Francisco until tomorrow morning, but wanting to surprise Celeste she obtained an earlier flight. And despite the fact that she had probably eaten dinner already, she always had extra room for Chinese--her favorite food.

Depositing her aromatic loot in the kitchen, Dylan headed down the hall to her bedroom. The door ajar, she heard a noise--a moan. Celeste must have fallen asleep with the television on. Grinning, Dylan placed a palm on the door, beginning to push it further open. The following moans led her to believe that her girlfriend had been watching Cinemax or one of the 'special' DVD's Jimmy had supplied his cousin with.

Dylan's libido escaped into the abyss the moment her eyes landed on her bed. Her bed. They were doing it on HER bed! Standing at the entrance of her bedroom door, Dylan was somewhere between revolted and completely revolted.

In television shows and movies, there was a variety of ways that people dealt with coming home and face to face with their partner's infidelity. Some simply turned around, left and pretended that they hadn't seen it for reasons only they may be aware of. Some confronted their cheating spouse right there, causing the immoral duo to frantically crawl out of the bed and scramble for their clothing as they tried to come up with a plausible reason for what they had just been caught doing, though none existed. Others drastically snapped doing something that would presumably have them introduced to a prison cell for a minimum of 5-10 years.

Too pissed to leave without them knowing and not pissed enough to risk being handcuffed and taken to jail, Dylan opted for the confrontation. Teeth unclenching, she opened her mouth. "Are we having fun guys?"

Using the man four years her junior for a chair, Celeste hurriedly looked over her shoulder while the young man anxiously peered around her. "Shit?Dylan you weren't supposed to be home until tomorrow." Getting off of him, the strawberry blonde stood up and searched the carpet for her panties, which were half concealed by the bed skirt.

"I'm so sorry for interrupting your screwing session. Should I leave my apartment and return in the morning when you and my brother are done? Or would you like some extra time? Will noon be enough?"

"Sis, it's not what it looked like," her brother shakily stated, pulling on his pants and briefs at the same time.

"Of course it wasn't. You were naked wrestling--a wonderful sport. How stupid do you think I am Reggie?" When Dylan took a step toward him, he jumped back knocking the lamp off the nightstand in the process. Twenty-five bucks down the drain. If required to she would terrify his unscrupulous ass into reimbursing her for breaking it.

"N--not stupid Dyl." Their matching blue orbs interlocked. "Look, it only happened a few--" A second later Reginald Tate Jr. found out what 'punch your lights out' truly meant when he slumped to the floor, dead to the world.

Back to the present

"You really think Robin could be Reggie's daughter?" Angela asked. Sharing a paper basket of chili cheese fries, they occupied a booth within the food courtyard on the second level of the mall.

Dylan nodded, her lips wrapped around the straw partially buried inside a thick chocolate shake. She swallowed. "It's possible. It explains why people seem to think that this baby--Robin looks like me. Out of the three of us, Reggie and I look the most alike." Thinking back to that day again, she groaned. "And the time they had their week long affair correlates with Robin's birth date. And it explains why Celeste thinks she should be with me. In her twisted way I'm the reason why this baby exists. Like it's my fault that she cheated on me with my own damn brother." Shoving a cheesy fry into her mouth, she asked Angela where their sibling was.

"I don't know." To her credit, Angela's expression revealed nothing. Unfortunately, Dylan remained convinced that there wasn't something to be revealed, so again she asked. "Dylan, I swear."

Wiping her chili scented digits with her napkin, Dylan tossed the soiled balled up paper on the table and sat back, a dark brow rising in suspicion. "You think I believe you Angie?"

Angela raised her own eyebrow, however, she deemed it didn't look anywhere near as intimidating as her sister's. "Think I care if you believe me?" She didn't give the older woman a chance to respond. "Hypothetically speaking, if I did know where Reggie was, why should I tell you? You broke his nose."

"Hypothetically my a--" She glanced at Robin who had awakened but seemingly paid no attention to their conversation. "Butt. Reggie deserved it. Of all the women in San Fran he fu--sleeps with my girlfriend! My flesh and blood brother of all people!" Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that the small group seated at the booth near theirs curiously looked her way, so she lowered her voice. "Angie, I need to find him. He needs to know about Robin. Promise I won't break any other part of his body. Just wanna talk."

Sighing, Angela nibbled on the tip of a fry, contemplating whether she should tell when Reggie practically begged her not to the day he left San Francisco, a splint covering his bruised and fractured face. So distressed was he to leave the town where his irate sibling resided that bits of the clothing he haphazardly packed could be viewed from the sides of his suitcase. Angela frowned when Dylan pulled the basket of food away from her. "Hey what are you?"

"No more munchies until you tell me where our wayward little brother is hiding out."

"He's not hiding out. He's living his life elsewhere."

Dylan appeared triumphant. "So you do know where he is! Tell me." As an afterthought she added 'please'. Angela kept her mouth shut, aggravating the other woman. "Why are you protecting Reggie? Giving him money and--"

"How do you know I gave him money?"

"I saw it written in your checkbook a few months back. A copy of a two hundred dollar check with the memo 'for Reggie'.

"And what were you doing looking in my checkbook?"

Dylan knowingly smirked. "You're not redirecting this conversation. If it's crossed your mind I wasn't stealing. On that particular day I was over at your house when the paperboy came to collect payment. You were busy admonishing Natalie for encouraging Calvin to insert his head through the banister where he was at that time stuck."

"Oh, yeah. I recall that." Angela nodded, remembering that day as clearly as if it had occurred just yesterday. Crisco had come in handy for more than cooking chicken that day.

"Yes. You had the check filled out already, but it was still attached to your checkbook, so you asked me to tear it out and give it to him. That's when I saw the copy of the amount you gave--I say gave because I'm sure he never repaid you--to Reggie. So, I'm asking you again. Where is he?" Dylan was 99% positive that Reggie wouldn't be thrilled to learn that he might have a daughter, but he did have the right to know. She doubted that Celeste had discovered where he was and told him.

Drumming her fingertips on the table, Angela thought for five more seconds before caving. "New York City."


December 19th 2005

Suppressing a yawn, Layne carefully watched the other passengers vacate the airplane she'd walked off of a few minutes ago. She was on the lookout for Rose, but so far she hadn't seen her walk into SFO.

When the pilot alerted them that the plane would be landing soon, Rose decided to head back to her seat. Gracing Layne with what was most certainly the best hug of her life, the woman smiled tenderly and walked down the aisle toward the back of the plane. Scooting into the empty seat, Layne was able to see where she was seated next to Patricia who was now awake and reading a magazine. And that was the last time she saw Rose.

When the crewmembers entered the airport, Layne began to frown. That was it. They were closing the door. So where was she? She hadn't missed Rose. Layne had searched every face that had been on the red eye flight.

Locating her airline, Layne walked right up to a woman who looked cheerful and bright-eyed despite the time. She then spied the gigantic container of coffee sitting by the employee's computer and inwardly smiled. That probably had something to do with it.

"Morning Tammy," Layne read her badge as she casually leaned against the desk. "I'm looking for someone. Think you can help me?"

"I sure hope so. Just maybe I can. What do you need?" Tammy looked borderline flirtatious, a grin playing on her crimson tinted lips as she eyed what she silently called a lethally cute little blonde.

"This woman and I were on the same flight together, which just arrived not too long ago from JFK airport and we spent most of that flight talking, but I never caught her last name. I know it might be against policy, but you could please look it up for me? I'd be so grateful."

Tammy couldn't hide her disappointment. So the lethal blonde was interested in someone she met during the flight. Oh, well. She consoled herself with the fact that there were plenty of fish in the sea. However, few were as fetching as the one before her. Making sure that no one was listening, she asked Layne for her acquaintance's first name.

The blonde gratefully answered, "Rose."

Both of the employee's eyebrows rose as she studied the results on her screen. She then glanced up toward Layne and back to the screen in perplexity. "Hm, honey, tell me you're not crushing on a 73 year old."


Tammy tapped the screen with a French tip manicured nail. "The only Rose on flight 181--is that your flight?" Layne nodded. "Okay, the only passenger that goes by that name is Rose Miller and she's 73."

"That's not my Rose. I'd say that she was in her thirties. What if you tried Roslyn, Roseanne, Rosanna or something?"

Tammy shook her head. "Already done. Just Rose Miller. Maybe she gave you a false name?" She offered as gently as she could.

Layne shrugged. Perhaps she had, although she couldn't come up with a reason why Rose would lie about her name. You may call me Rose, was what she said when asked about her name. Not plain old 'it's Rose', but you may call me Rose. Could that have been her way of getting around the customary inquiry without technically telling a lie? Either that or she was extremely well kept for someone in her early seventies.

Layne had a thought. "Patricia. She was seated next to a woman named Patricia, but she sat in the vacant seat next to mine during the majority of the flight. Could you search for those who were booked next to someone named Patricia? She could have been mid-forties."

Endlessly patient, especially with cute little blondes, Tammy resumed her search for the elusive 'Rose'. "I've come up with three Patricias. One was seated next to her husband and another Patricia was 24 years old and seated on a row of three seats, the middle seat vacant. The last was 46, but she was seated alone."

A blonde head eagerly moved back and forth. "That has to be her. Rose was her seating companion."

Tammy shrugged, at a loss. "Perhaps, but if so she had the wrong seat."

Layne was on the verge of conceding defeat that she would never find Rose when she spied a stewardess rolling what was probably her own suitcase. She was the same stewardess that took their drink orders. She could confirm that Layne wasn't losing what remained of her mind. Remembering her name, she cupped her hands around her mouth and called out the employee's name. She had to do so twice before the woman turned around quizzically. Making a u-turn she walked up to Layne, that polite smile in place.

"Hi, thanks for coming over. Do you remember me by any chance?"

The stewardess seemed to think for a moment and then her eyes lit with recognition. "You ordered the Coke. Seat 35C." She was often told that she had the memory of an elephant. She gave credit to a daily intake of ginkgo biloba.

"Yes. Do you recall the seat number of the woman who sat next to me for most of the flight?"

The stewardess's smile faltered as she started to frown. "You sat alone." When she glanced in Tammy's direction, the woman just shrugged.

"I know there wasn't anyone reserved to sit next to me, but she came over a little while after we were in the air. Her name is Rose."

"Ma'am, every time I passed by your row, you were alone."

Running a hand through short golden locks, Layne aimed to hide her agitation. None of this made any sense. "You remembered me ordering a Coke but you don't remember that Rose ordered an eggnog?" The other woman stared with a blank expression. "You asked if she wanted something special added to it."

"I don't recall such a conversation. I'm so sorry ma'am. I never ever saw you talking with anyone."

Tammy asked Layne if she would like her to page security. The events of the last twenty-four hours slammed into her. Every ounce of patience drained into an imaginary sink, Layne whirled on Tammy. "What for?! So they can haul me off to a loony bin?" She started to speak again and the passenger cut her off. "No. I've noticed the looks you two have been giving each other. Why don't you just say it? You think I'm crazy!" Layne released a shaky breath, the tears welling within her eyes. "Shit, maybe I am!"

The stewardess dared to touch her arm the two seconds Layne allowed before stepping backward. "Ma'am, why don't we have a seat and--"

"Thanks for the offer but I'd rather not sit!" As curious passerby looked in their direction, the tears fell. The sympathetic glances from Tammy and the stewardess only agitated her further. "I just want to find my friend but you two are hinting that she doesn't exist. It sucks when you've lost everyone and then you can't even hold on to an 'invented' friend. Everyone leaves?everyone." Layne decided to leave before she had a total breakdown in front of strangers. "One more question. Either of you know how far the Golden Gate Bridge is from here?"

"Uh, about twenty miles give or take," Tammy quietly answered while wondering why she wanted to know. The passenger thanked them and headed off. She kept walking when Tammy voiced her question. She and the stewardess exchanged equally concerned and helpless looks.

Seated on the lid of a toilet five minutes later, Layne reached toward the roll of tissue paper to snag a few sections when she remembered the handkerchief that Rose had given her when she cried on the plane. Now if she weren't real, Layne shouldn't be able to find it.

She didn't know whether she should laugh or cry when she pulled the directions to Tacky Taco and the handkerchief from her pocket. It wasn't her handwriting and how would she know how to direct herself to the restaurant when she had never been there? For the first time she noticed the initials stitched in silver thread on the soft cloth. Neither letter was an 'R' for Rose. So who in the world was D.T.?


November 27th 2005

"Dylan. Dylan," she softly called. "Dylan," she called a little louder once five seconds passed without comment. When that didn't work, she tapped her on the forehead. A soft grunt and the other woman stirred, long lashes blinking several times. She looked around in confusion before she remembered that they were on a plane headed to New York City.

Wiping at her eyes, she looked toward the left where her sister was seated. "What?" Her voice sounded thick so she cleared her throat. "Did you slap me on the head?"

Angela slowly batted her eyelashes. "Now why would I do something like that to you?"

"Cause you're mean?"

"That's the second time in twenty-four hours that you've called me mean."

Dylan stared for a moment. "Then this should reveal something about your personality that you should work on changing for the better little sister."

Between them, Robin lay sucking her pacifier as she checked out her surroundings within her new car seat, which converted into a stroller. Awake since the plane took off down the runway, she showed no signs of drifting to sleep. When a finger stroked her cheek she looked up at her possible youngest aunt and displayed a toothless smile once the pacifier escaped from her mouth and rolled down her chest.

Angela waited to see if Dylan would assist the baby in retrieving her spit shined implement. When Dylan only looked away, Angela picked up and cleaned the pacifier before gently reinserting it between soft rosy lips. The only times that Dylan had vaguely interacted with Robin was to carry her inside the car seat or push her around with the stroller. She hadn't picked her up, fed her, changed a dirty diaper?nothing. In fact, she rarely looked the baby's way as though she were afraid that Robin was a pint-sized Medusa who could turn her into stone with one glance.

Deciding to join Dylan on her trip to NYC to visit their brother (her main reason to chaperone so that a fight wouldn't break out between the two) they booked a flight leaving early the next morning. Although she and their mother agreed that Robin was Dylan's responsibility, she took the baby home with her for the night after her sister hinted that she would prefer her to. This pleased Calvin very much. So much that he neglected his bed to sleep in the same room with his just discovered 'cousin'.

"Dylan I've made a decision," Angela started, this being the reason she wanted her sister to wake up.


"Regardless of what we discover in New York with the paternity test, I'll take Robin home with me. You don't have to keep her until you find Celeste. It's obvious that you two aren't bonding."

Dylan ignored the last part of that. "What if I don't find her and the baby isn't related to us?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."


December 19th 2005

She didn't bother renting an automobile, so Layne took a taxi to the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, having spent the day sightseeing. Paying the cabbie and adding a nice tip, she grabbed her luggage and exited the car. Glad that she had thought to pack a jacket and was wearing it, she pulled up the attached hood, allowing it to frame her face. Pulling her luggage behind, she stepped onto the empty walkway choosing a direction.

About midway through the massive bridge, Layne walked up to the railing gazing toward the strait, which appeared darker than it would during the daytime. The cab driver insisted that she return in the morning to stroll along the bridge since pedestrians were supposed to be there only during the daylight hours and the gates would be closing at six o'clock. However, when Layne graced him with the largest tip he had received in months, he shut up. If she wanted to walk the bridge in freezing temperatures at night then that was her business.

Layne removed the item covered with a paper bag from her suitcase. Pulling it out, she stuffed the bag back into the suitcase before she looked at the glass sheathed amber liquid. A stop at the liquor store and she ended up having that Jack Daniels anyway. Good old Jack Daniels?pain numbing J.D. Layne smiled ruefully. Pathetic, but he was the closest she felt to having a friend right now.

Carefully arranging the bottle of whiskey on the railing, Layne climbed it, within seconds seated on it. That wasn't the most comfortable position, but it would have to do. The whiskey remaining undisturbed, Layne wrapped her chilled fingers around the railing as she swung her legs to and fro. As she enjoyed the view as much as she could enjoy anything with the mood she was in, she wondered if she were to disappear if anyone would truly miss her. She thought about everyone that she knew, ultimately shaking her head.

Not a soul.

Lifting the bottle, she ran her fingers over the label. "Just you and me buddy. Merry Christmas Jack."


November 27th 2005

Because Angela had taken the baby to the restroom to change her diaper, Reginald Tate Jr. was apprehensive about walking up to his other sister without Angela there acting as a buffer. True, she hadn't attempted to break his nose again, but this didn't mean that Reggie wasn't on high alert. Dylan wasn't exactly behaving warm and friendly toward him, which he completely understood.

Last year he had betrayed her and would never forgive himself. Now that unforgivable action may have resulted in a child. A child his sisters had been correct about--he was nowhere near ready to be someone's father.

Biting the bullet, Reggie soundlessly walked further into the waiting room, which was empty except for he and Dylan. Damn. No witnesses in case she decided to get physical. He was debating whether to leave until Angela returned when inquisitive blue eyes met his.


His gulp was loud enough that she had to have heard it. "Um, could we talk? About the baby?"

"Okay." Folding her arms over her chest, she waited for him to elaborate.

Reggie didn't bother to sit because this conversation wouldn't last long unless Dylan chose to extend it. "If the DNA test proves that I'm the father, I can't really be her father. I know I'm almost thirty, but you know that I've never wanted kids and obviously Celeste didn't want me to have or even know about her anyway. So?it's up to you and Angie what you wanna do. I'll relinquish my rights. Just send me the papers or whatever."

Dylan remained unsurprised. The moment Reggie learned of his possible daughter that morning when they showed up on his doorstep, he looked like someone had just informed him that he had a week left to live. "Okay."

"So?can I take off now? You and Angie will call me tomorrow with the results? Or did you want me to come back to this lab?"

"We'll call you."

Reggie nodded, her brevity putting him more ill at ease. "Alright, I'll go. You have my cell number." Dylan nodded. "Okay, well?bye Dyl."

She actually raised a hand to wave. "Bye." She watched her brother turn to leave and then change his mind, heading back toward her. Opening his green and blue Velcro wallet, he extracted a twenty and ten-dollar bill, which he tried to give Dylan. She wouldn't accept. "Don't want your money Reggie."

Insisting, he thrust the bills into her hand, keeping his fingers wrapped over hers. "It's not much, but please take it anyway. You can buy you and Angie some lunch. I got paid Friday and I'll only end up doing something stupid with it, so with you it'll be put to better use."

"Okay." Dylan tried to take her hand back yet he wouldn't let go. She looked up, Reggie finally surprising her when she observed his handsome face. The last time Dylan remembered seeing tears in his eyes was on the day they buried their father nearly four years ago. "Reggie?"

"Dylan I?" His dark head shaking, Reggie squeezed the hand containing thirty dollars that no longer belonged to him. Hot tears slid down his lightly bearded face as he tugged his sister's hand, silently urging her to rise. When her rear failed to budge from the chair, Reggie sent her an imploring look. "Please," his voice softening, he tried another tug. "Hug me Dylan. I need a hug from you." The crack in his voice effectively melted a chunk of the glacier surrounding the part of her heart sealed off from her brother.

Dylan had barely stood up when the tall man rushed into her arms, holding on like someone trying to cling to life itself. Slowly, she raised her arms and wrapped them around his torso as she felt his tears dampening the skin of her neck. His body shook as he released the anguish held inside since the day he annihilated the trust and love between he and Dylan.

"I'm sorry Dyl," Reggie whispered, his face pressed into the side of her neck. "I'm so sorry for what I did. I didn't?I never wanted to hurt you. Love you, I do. I miss you."

Eyes glistening with tears, Dylan noticed Angela pushing the stroller away from the room to give them some privacy. Inhaling deeply, she clutched the nape of her brother's neck, gently squeezing. "I know you didn't want to hurt me, but you did. You hurt me more than Celeste because you're my family."

Reggie took a step backward so that he could see her. Hands on her shoulders, he sniffed in need of a tissue. "I'll never do anything like that again. I swear Dyl. You, Mom and Angie are the last people I ever wanna hurt."

Dylan seemed thoughtful, not giving him a swift reply. When she did speak she eased his despair somewhat. "Why don't you come home for Christmas? Mom would love for you to be there. Your niece and nephews would too." Angie's children loved their uncle. He almost always had miniature Hershey's in his pockets whenever he visited. However, they loved him just as much on those rare occasions that he forgot to purchase some of the chocolate little candies.


She nodded. "Yes. Really. You could stay with me while you're in town if you want." If someone had told her even an hour ago that she would be inviting her brother home for Christmas, she would call him or her crazy.

Reggie beamed, his face twice as handsome because of it. "I believe I'll take you up on that." Again he grabbed her hand, but released it within a few seconds. "Thank you Dylan. I know we have a long way to go, but--" Two fingers sealed his lips together.

"I love you too Reggie," Dylan quietly stated. "And I didn't realize until today--stubbornness wouldn't permit me to realize that I've missed you." If he beamed anymore she would require shades to look at him. "See you next month okay?"

"Okay. Great. I can't wait." Another quick hug and Reggie headed out. A couple of minutes later Angela wheeled Robin in.

Smiling, she threw an arm around her older sibling's shoulders and planted a large wet kiss on her cheek. "I'm so proud of you for mending things with Reggie. Never saw that coming."

"Neither did I."

From the convertible stroller Robin gurgled her agreement.


It was Angela's turn to wait while her sister partook of the DNA laboratory's restroom. Eyes a faint pink from crying, Dylan washed her face with cool water before she used the tiny bottle of Clear Eyes that Angela had in her purse. After several attempts, she successfully put two drops in each eye.

She was wiping the wasted drops from her face when the entrance to the restroom opened and an employee walked in. Dylan recognized her as the technician who took DNA samples from the inside of hers and Reggie's cheeks. Because they didn't have a sample of Celeste's DNA to compare Reggie's with, which would make the results more accurate, Dylan was having a test conducted as well. Although her results wouldn't be irrefutable proof that she had a biological relation to Robin because she wasn't her parent, it could help in determining whether they were likely to be relatives.

"We meet again Dylan," the tech amicably stated, eyes falling on the small bottle placed on the counter. Pointing at it she asked, "You suffer with dry eyes? I have that problem around this time of the year. Sometimes I wipe so much, I visualize that my eyeballs will fall out rolling across the floor like those 25 cents gumballs."

That made Dylan laugh. "No, Kirsten. I uh?got a little weepy." Grabbing the Clear Eyes, she put it inside her jacket.

"Oh, yeah?" Walking up to the long row of sinks, Kirsten rested her hip against the counter. "Want to talk about it? Nervous about the results?"

"I guess. Yeah, I am nervous."

"What are you hoping for?"

Dylan mulled over the question. She realized that she didn't quite know what she was hoping the test results would reveal and said as much. "If she's my brother's child, she's family regardless of how he feels about being a father. I guess my sister will seek guardianship. If she's not my brother's child and her mother doesn't return?" Dylan moved her shoulders up and down once. "I don't know. I don't know what we'll do." Blood or no blood, she couldn't imagine taking Robin to child welfare, where she would undoubtedly be placed in a foster home. Although there had to be good ones, Dylan had heard her share of horror stories concerning foster homes. The guilt would consume her as she imagined which Robin had ended up in.

"Celeste--that's the mother's name right?"


"She left Robin with you? I mean on your doorstep?" Dylan nodded. "May I ask why you're evidently not going to seek guardianship?" Kirsten smiled a bit. "I thought she was your daughter when I first saw you two."

"I wouldn't make a good mo--guardian."

"How will you know for sure unless you try? You might surprise yourself Dylan."

Yeah, maybe surprise myself by screwing up more than I suspected. "Do you have children?"

"I did," Kirsten softly replied. "A girl. She passed away last year, ten days before Christmas. She had SIDS."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I?I can't imagine?"

"It was worse on my partner. She blamed herself--still does--but she didn't do anything wrong. She read so many books while she was pregnant with Kate that she could give Dr. Spock tips." Kirsten thoughtfully paused, twirling a lock of red hair around her finger. "We are grateful for the time we had with our daughter. Kate gave us three beautiful months."

Dylan suddenly felt like crying again. "Will you and your partner have another baby?"

"No," the technician resolutely answered. "Listen Dylan," she touched the woman's arm, "don't be so quick to denounce yourself as a good parent. You need to believe in yourself. As parents we learn along the way. There would be times when you'd screw up, but guess what? You're only human." Kirsten smiled at her. "You're supposed to screw up. Hell, it's practically an obligation. Give yourself a break because I assure you that you can do a hell of a lot more than you think." A couple of pats to Dylan's arm and she headed toward a stall.


Insistent wailing woke Dylan up at the outrageous time of 2:14 a.m. She peeked from underneath the covers toward the crib provided by their hotel placed in front of the window. Through the bars she noticed one little fist thrusting into the air, its owner demanding some attention. Since Angela was sleeping in the full-sized bed five feet from hers, Dylan looked at her, willing her to awaken with that look. It didn't do any good. Angela neither moved nor made a sound.

When did she become a deep sleeper? It wasn't like she had time to practice with four rugrats (affectionately referred to as) running around. Dylan could remember when they were children her sister could wake up if a cotton ball fell on the floor so this didn't add up. A burglar wouldn't be able to make it pass the window. However, she couldn't just allow the baby to ball her head off until she was too tired to cry anymore.

Throwing the covers back, Dylan was grateful that they had left the heater on auto. She felt comfortably warm moving around the small bedroom in boxer shorts and a short-sleeved undershirt. Once she reached the cherry wood crib she glanced over her shoulder to check her younger sibling's condition because if she was awake she could take over. Still comatose. Dylan smirked. Or pretending to be.

Hands on the railing, Dylan gazed toward the fussy baby. Cheeks reddened, Robin looked back, pleading to be comforted.

"What's the matter Robin?" The brunette whispered. She waited a moment as if she expected Robin to reply. Of course, she only continued to cry. Sighing, Dylan thought about waking her sister up, but if she didn't want to be disturbed than she could (hopefully) handle this on her own. After all, Angela had helped her so much already and taking a couple of days off work to accompany her to New York on the spur of the moment was wonderful of the busy woman with her own large family to take care of.

"Are you wet?" Undoing the snaps on her soft pink romper, Dylan gently inserted an index finger underneath the baby's diaper. Quickly removing her finger, Dylan nodded to herself. Robin definitely needed a fresh Pamper. "Okay, okay. It's gonna be all right. I'll take care of it." After a trip to the bathroom to give her hands a thorough washing, Dylan carefully lifted the baby girl who had quieted for the most part and carried her to the changing table, which already held everything that she would need.

Dylan gave herself a pep talk. She wasn't a stranger to changing diapers. Not many, but at some points in their infancy she had cleaned all of her niece and nephews tushies. This would be a piece of cake right? She nodded in reply to her own question, agreeing with?herself.

Seconds short of ten minutes later, Robin had been rid of her soiled diaper, cleansed with baby wipes and secured with a dry Pamper. Her look of contentment vanished, replaced with cries when she was placed back inside the crib. Obviously, this was Robin's way of saying that she wasn't ready to go back to bed. The moment Dylan reclaimed her, the cries ceased. She looked up when the woman who very well could be her aunt sighed.

"What is it Robin? Aren't you tired? It's late." The baby began to whimper. "Are you hungry? Let's go find you a bottle." Thinking that was the solution to her problem, Dylan carried Robin into the small living room, their destination the kitchenette. Half a dozen times she tried unsuccessfully to get the baby to accept the bottle of warm milk, but Robin wouldn't have it. She kept turning her head from side to side, softly whimpering each time the rubber nipple brushed against her mouth.

Surrendering to defeat, the brunette dropped the bottle on the counter, her eyes moving to the bedroom door, which she had kept cracked. She stared longingly, willing her sister to come to her rescue. All of her staring didn't make the woman snuggled within the bed on the other side get up and enter the front of their hotel room. A fussy infant cried, needing her attention. Blinking, Dylan looked down at her.

"Okay Robbie, you've got me." She felt a smile tugging at her lips. "You like that for a nickname kid? Robbie." She started to stroll across the carpet, recalling that babies tended to gain comfort from motion. "Your mother selected a pretty name for you, but Robbie is cool for a girl's nickname." Robin yawned causing Dylan to laugh. "Am I boring you? Or are you just tired?" It was then that she had another idea. Perhaps this wouldn't fail. "You want to hear a song? Maybe that'll send you to dreamland. What kind of music do you like?"

Dylan thought about some of the many songs that she knew by heart, songs that had anything to do with the word 'baby'. She couldn't remember the last time that she had sung for another person. Most of her singing was reserved for shower time or while she drove without passengers. "Okay, how about this?"

Baby hold on to me
Whatever will be, will be
The future is ours to see
So baby hold on to me

Dylan began to tap her foot to the rhythm of the rock song, Robin gently swaying in her arms.

Baby, what's these things you've been sayin'
About me behind my--

Robin's sudden cry assured the person holding her that she had had enough of the song. "You don't like Eddie Money, eh?" Robin continued to cry. "Alright, let's try another tune. Ooh, maybe you'd prefer a lullaby?" Did she know any lullabies? Dylan searched the dusty child related files within her brain. Locating one that she knew the lyrics to she blew the particles of dust from its portfolio. "Got one!"

Hush, little baby, don't say a word
Dylan's gonna buy you a mockingbird

And if that mockingbird won't sing
Dylan's gonna buy you a diamond--

Diamonds were not Robin's best friends. Her cries were louder with the lullaby than the Eddie Money song. Dylan returned to the files. When she started Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite, she didn't get passed the first line. "Aw, Robbie. Not making this easy are you?" She paced the carpet, feeling a pair of watery blue eyes watching her. It occurred to Dylan that the baby girl might not be a fan of lullabies. Or maybe she just didn't like those particular songs. Well since they were the only ones Dylan could recover from her internal file cabinets, she thought it best to come up with something else to sing.

"Ah, it's the holidays right? Think we should sing something Christmassy?" Robin just stared at her while smacking her lips together. "Alright. I'll take that as a yes." A cabinet containing much less dust was opened and within seconds Dylan found a carol, which she happened to enjoy listening to around this time of the year. She didn't recognize that her audience had doubled when she began, her lilting voice drawing the interest of both.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
'Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly ghosts sing alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Oh, Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.

A bright smile on her lips and tears shining in her emerald eyes, Angela soundlessly slipped back into the room. She would wait until later to compliment her sister on the beautiful mini performance. She couldn't have sounded much better if she had an orchestra accompanying her.

Dylan smiled as well, watching the infant finally drift to sleep. Go Silent Night! Instead of putting Robin back to bed, she carefully sat down in the recliner after pushing back the heavy curtains so she could view the nightlights of the city. Reflectively gazing through the picture window, she absently rubbed Robin's soft cheek.

"Robbie, it's not that I don't like you," she said, aware that the baby was fully asleep. "I think you're adorable, sweet and you smell good even when you have a poopy diaper." Dylan smiled down at the bundle nestled within her arms. "But you know, I just?the reason I've ignored you is because I'm afraid. I'm afraid that I'll do something stupid and you're too precious for me to screw up.

"I never wanted children though I love being an aunt. My niece and nephews have spent the night before, but I have the luxury of knowing that it's temporary. I can easily send 'em back. But my own children." The woman shivered. "I'd be responsible for them around the clock until they're at least eighteen. I won't bull--I won't lie. That terrifies me kid.

"So as you can see there's no way that I could keep you. You deserve better than me. You could do so much better, which is why I and your Aunt Angela think you should live with her. At least until we find Celeste." Releasing an exasperated breath Dylan looked through the window just in time to witness a falling star. She closed her eyes as she thought of a wish.

My wish is that?I wish that Robin would have a blessed life.


December 19th 2005

Perched on her railing, Layne watched the bright star soaring over the sky. Thinking that she should make a wish even though she doubted that it would ever come to fruition, the blonde softly spoke.

"I wish that my life would take a turn for the better." She snorted derisively. Layne tried to shy away from self pity, but she could only absorb so much tribulation until getting to that point where she wondered 'why me'. She had reached that point tonight. What had she done to deserve this loneliness? Throughout her life it had been by her side on and off (more on than off). Layne was tired of being alone. Ending up alone.

Oh, yes. She still had Jack. Picking up the unopened bottle, Layne wrapped her hand around the top ready to break the seal.

"You always drink alone?" Asked the person not sounding more than a few feet away from where the moody woman sat. "And seated on the railings of a bridge?"

"What's it to you?" Layne asked, turning her head to the right and looking over her shoulder to where a young man stood. His hair briefly caught her attention. The mop of dark brown locks reminded her of curly fries. Wonder if it's painful to comb all that out?

Although catching the hint that he wasn't wanted, he smiled. "I'm a curious kinda dude."

Layne glanced behind him to a parked blue car, the make of which she couldn't decipher in the dimmed light. So why had this young man pulled over on the Golden Gate Bridge? To help her? Her thoughts led to Rose, who she was 80% sure didn't exist despite the directions to Tacky Taco and the handkerchief. Was he a figment of her imagination too? A male version of Rose?

"Did Rose send you?" Layne noted that he seemed genuinely confused by the question.

"Who's Rose?" Shoving his hands into the deep pockets of baggy black jeans, he inched toward her. "I know a Lily." His smile made him appear even younger. "She's a friend of my sister's. Hot too. Older than me, but I prefer my women seasoned. Now I just have to figure out how to get Lily to be my woman. Been trying for ten years."

"You get points for persistence." Still trying to decide whether he and his car were real, Layne chuckled. "What're you doing here?"

"Jimmy. Jimmy Tate."

He offered a last name unlike Rose. However, that didn't prove his existence. "Okay Jimmy Tate. What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way home and I saw you sitting here by yourself. Something told me to stop and come see how you were."

"Thank you Jimmy. That's very kind of you, but I'm fine. You go on home. It's cold out here."

"Doesn't bother me. I'm cold-natured." Like Elvis would say, he was shaking like a leaf on a tree. "Did you drive here?" Layne shook her head. "I'll give you a lift then. The pedestrian walk is gonna close in a few minutes." Jimmy wasn't routinely slapped with the stupid stick. Spotting a hooded figure as he drove across the bridge, his gut told him that the person was a prospective jumper. Unfortunately, the Golden Gate Bridge was a popular location for those who wanted to end their lives. If he had anything to say about it, there wouldn't be a successful attempt that evening.

"I know it'll close at six. I'll be leaving soon."

Jimmy frowned. The way she said that didn't settle well with him. He actually felt nauseous. Grabbing the neck of the Jack Daniels, his pitching skills aided him when he threw it. They watched the bottle flip through the air until gravity called it toward the water. A splash and it disappeared beneath, never to be seen by either of them again.

"Why did you do that?" Layne inquired. She sounded more curious than angry that her unopened whiskey was thrown away without her consent.

"You don't need alcohol. Especially when you're sitting on the ledge of a bridge that has a two-hundred foot drop."

Bringing her upper body forward, the blonde looked below. Removing his hands from his pockets, Jimmy prepared himself to catch as he closely watched her, hoping that she wouldn't decide to let go. "Is that the downward distance?"

"Y--yes. Hey, what's your name?"

"Layne." A pause. "Layne Bishop."

"Well Layne I'd like to treat you to a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. How does that sound, huh? Whipped cream, marshmallows?I promise you can have a cherry on top if you want."

Continuing to stare downward, she didn't give the frantic young man an immediate response. When she did look toward him there was a trace of a smile on her lips. "Jimmy have you heard of a restaurant called Tacky Taco?"


November 28th 2005

She had another niece. For the hundredth time today Dylan mentioned this little fact to herself. The results from she and Reggie's DNA samples strongly indicated that Robin was a bona fide Tate. Along with reminding herself that she had another niece, she questioned 'what now'.

On the plane ride home it was her turn to awaken her sister. One squeeze of the shoulder and Angela was wide-awake. "What's up? Are we there?"

"Not yet. We need to talk. I've been thinking while you slept."

"Ow. Did that hurt you?"

"That's so freaking hilarious Angie." Dylan smirked. "Seriously. I need to talk with you about our niece." Between them like the last trip, Robin was catching up on her beauty sleep.

"Alright sweetie. I'm listening."

"Um," collecting her words, Dylan took a couple of sips from her glass of Sprite. Slowly placing it on the table she turned toward her attentive sibling. Fingers drummed an unsteady beat on her thighs while she tried to push the words out of her mouth. "I uh, I'll take her--you know, like on a trial basis."

Angela raised one eyebrow and then decided to add its twin. Her ears were surely playing tricks. "Please rephrase that."

As if it gave her courage, Dylan swallowed the remainder of her beverage. "Celeste left her with me. You and Mom said that she was my responsibility and I've come to realize that you're right. You have your own family and I'm older with no one to look after but myself. I should do this. I should at least try to do this, which is why I tacked on the trial basis. Robin stays with me, but I'll need daily input from you and Mom, okay? Don't be surprised if I call around midnight. First thing tomorrow I'll go wherever I need to go to obtain guardianship."

Dylan fished a piece of ice from her glass as her sister began to smile a very proud smile. At age 35 she was finally becoming a grownup. Who would have thunk it? "What made you change your mind?"

Strong teeth crunched the ice cube into tiny pieces. "That's just it. I think I've misplaced it somewhere."


December 19th 2005

Braking at a stoplight, Jimmy covertly glanced toward his introverted passenger. With the hood lowered he couldn't shake the feeling that he had seen her somewhere before. She sure was pretty. Obviously sad though. He wondered what events in her life had been responsible for Layne wanting to end it all by jumping off a bridge.

"I wouldn't have jumped," the blonde commented as though she had read his inward musings. She smiled at him though the sadness remained visible. "I admit that I thought about it during my taxi ride to Golden Gate, but I honestly believe that I wouldn't have gone through with it. My life is shitty right now, but?" She shrugged. "It's mine. What's the use of throwing it away?"

Relieved, Jimmy might have reached over to embrace her if the light hadn't chosen that instant to turn green. "Dude I'm so glad to hear you say that Layne. My sentiments exactly too. There isn't any use doing that. No matter how much crap life throws your way, you gotta keep fighting. Don't give up."

Her smile brightened a fraction. What a cutie he was. Not having any siblings, Layne wished that she had a little brother just like him. "I won't Jimmy."

The silence resumed until Jimmy thought of something else to say. "Is there anyone you'd like to call? I have plenty of minutes on my cell if you wanna use it."

Layne shook her head. "Thank you, but there's no one Jimmy."

"You sure? A boyfriend? Parents? Sister or brother? A friend maybe?"

"I'm gay, but no girlfriend either. I never knew my parents. No siblings and?no friends really." Her friends were originally Kirsten's friends; therefore with their breakup those friends disappeared.

"Were you adopted?" Jimmy gently asked. His heart was breaking for her. How could she be so alone?

"No. More foster parents than I can remember though." A week after she turned eighteen Layne was informed none too gently that she was officially on her own. Since her last foster parents would no longer receive monthly checks for sheltering her, she wasn't any good to them. Fortunately, Layne had prepared for being let go on her 18th birthday by having held one job or another the last three years and saving most of what she made in a steel cash box, which had to be opened with the small key she kept in her possession at all times.

The day she left her final foster home, she moved into her first apartment, which she had scouted out weeks before. It was tiny enough that the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom seemed to be in such close proximity of each other that one could almost sit on the bed brushing their teeth while watching their eggs scramble in a frying pan, but at least she had a place to call home. Layne had known many of the kids she met in foster care to end up on the streets once they reached adulthood.

Like many who grew up in foster homes or were adopted, Layne felt an urge to locate her biological parents. Obviously they never wanted her, but at least they could answer her questions concerning the precise reason she was given away. A few months prior to her 19th birthday, she was successful. However, Jonathan and Ella Brown wouldn't be offering her any answers because they were in a fatal car accident back in 1977 when Layne was five years old. Most of her resentment departing within seconds of discovering this, she spent the next several days crying as though she remembered them.

What she did learn was that Jonathan and Ella was a young married couple around her age when she was conceived. They chose to give her away three months after her birth, so Layne had deduced that they couldn't handle being parents and thought this was best for their new baby. She searched for other relatives but came up with nothing. The common surname of Brown wasn't exactly helpful.

"I'm sorry Layne."

"Thanks Jimmy, but it's alright." It really wasn't, but she tried to pretend as though it was. Depressed enough without thoughts of her biological parents, Layne sought to change the subject. "So tell me something about you. I already know that you're one of the sweetest young men I've ever met." She noticed his blushing cheeks in the darkened car.

"Don't let me fool you. You just need to get to know me better!" Jimmy was delighted that his reply made her laugh. "Let's see?I'm 24, single and searching and I'm an employee in my dad's lawn care business. Been doing that for four years now."

"So you mow lawns and whatnot?"

Jimmy nodded, the mop on his head bouncing in every direction. "Yeah. I have a good list of steady clients. Along with mowing their lawns I trim and shape hedges, cultivate flower gardens and I've recently gotten into installing sprinkler systems."

"Can you create those interesting designs out of hedges?" Layne grinned. "Like Edward Scissorhands?"

The young man chuckled. "Not quite that good, but I do alright. What do you do for a living Layne?"

"I'm a freelance muralist."

Jimmy's face screwed up in thought. "Is that somebody who paints pictures on walls?"


"Wicked! Where can I find your work?"

Layne chuckled. "You'd have to go to NYC and surrounding cities. This is my first day in San Francisco. Too bad I didn't bring my portfolio. I have pictures of every mural I've ever created in there."

"Internet maybe?"

Layne lightly slapped her forehead. "Now why didn't I think of that? I have a website. It's sketchy because I put it together myself and I'm lacking in Internet design competence, but you can see some of my murals there." She removed one of the business cards, which she liked to keep a few of in her wallet and handed it to Jimmy. With a basic background of a bucket of blue paint with a wood-handled paintbrush sticking from it, the rectangular card had the heading 'Bishop Designs' arched across it. Below that in a small black font was the muralist's full name, cell and office number and both email and website addresses.

"I could fix it up for you. Your website," Jimmy offered, already having decided that he would do it for free.

"On top being one of San Francisco's most prolific lawn care specialists, you're a web designer as well?"

Through his reddening face Jimmy grinned. "I'm not sure what prolific means, but it's the perfect description of me!"


December 19th 2005 (continuance)

Cell phone in hand, Dylan checked for any messages that she might have missed, which would have been difficult since she had it on vibrate and the ringtone volume at the highest level. However, just in case?

"What are you doin'?" Her friend asked as she returned to their table at Tacky Taco. Reseated, Lindsay Stansfield's expression switched between irritation and amusement. She was convinced that if Dylan could, she would glue that phone to her palm. Practically having to drag her out of her apartment so she could hang out with grownups for a while, Lindsay had to continually remind her that Angela, a mother of four was more than capable of taking care of Robin for a few hours.

"Just checking for messages." Dylan sipped from a glass containing her virgin strawberry margarita. She'd never had a virgin before. Margarita that is.

"And did you find any?" Lindsay inquired, already knowing her answer.

"No." A brief pause and then she asked her friend if she should call her sister just to make sure that everything was alright.

"Everything is alright. If it weren't Angela would call you. I know ya love that baby, but ya don't have to be with her 24/7 Dyl." Lindsay muttered something under her breath about her friends turning toward domestication.

Putting the menu down, Dylan looked at her. "Huh?"

Lindsay attempted to refrain from explaining with a quiet 'never mind', but the other woman insisted. She traced the ring of moisture left on the table from her iced tea glass. "Adriana--she's late by the way--is dating this woman who has two small children and last week mentioned that they're thinkin' 'bout movin' in together. Eleven months--doesn't that seem soon to you?"

Dylan shrugged. "Seems alright to me. A little month shy of a year of dating." She produced an even bigger shrug when Lindsay frowned, not liking that they weren't in accordance. "Well, it does."

"And my friends Erin and Court are having a baby and every other word outta their mouths is about pregnancy, babies, parenting techniques, cloth or disposable diapers for his or her delicate bottom? Now as excited as I am for 'em, it seems like lately that they only have baby on the brain. I wonder how much that'll increase once Erin gives birth next spring." She looked quite miserable. "They probably won't hang out with friends again until that child is in preschool. Or high school. Nah, college."

Chuckling, Dylan selected a warm tortilla chip from the festive basket of red and green ones. "Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Everything alright with you and Nancy?" She thought about pointing out that Lindsay and her girlfriend had been together longer than the married couple she just spoke of who were into domestication, but she kept this thought to herself.

"Fine?so far."


"Meanin' that I'm just waitin' for that day when she pops the question or hints that I should. So far, I haven't gotten the impression she's ready to get hitched. I love Nancy and all, but marriage is a giant leap and I wanna wait 'til I'm sure that we're absolutely ready for it."

"Maybe she's subtle. Or you're oblivious. I'd bet big bucks on that last one." Dylan barely dodged a chip hurled toward her forehead.

"Don't play with your food," their just arrived mutual friend Iris said while hooking the strap of her purse on the back of a chair waiting for her behind. Coming from an uber neat family she leaned down, retrieved the chip and then wrapped it inside a napkin to be thrown away. Sitting, she rolled dark eyes at the pair. "30+ women should display more intelligence."

"Bite me." The Southerner teasingly grinned.

Iris chuckled despite the effort not to. "Where's Adriana?"

"I don't believe this shit," Dylan grumbled.

"Be cool Dyl. You're that hungry? She's not that late. Probably traffic or her two acquired kids holdin' her up." Lindsay realized that her friend wasn't looking at her, but over her shoulder. She would hate to be the person receiving that glare. Both she and Iris turned, not immediately seeing what had the now fuming woman's attention.

Without a word, she was up and on the move, long legs carrying her quickly through the restaurant as her friends watched inquisitively from their table. Lindsay and Iris shared a gasp when Dylan stopped in front of a table with two customers familiar to them. What were they doing at Tacky Taco together? Better yet, why was one of them still in San Francisco?

Lindsay's eyes opened comically wide. "Pardon my coarse language, but the shit's gonna hit the fan now!" Iris nodded in agreement, looking toward the table although she wouldn't be able to hear them.

Dylan began to speak when the duo looked up at her. "This is what I'd call partial déjà vu. Only because you're with another member of my family and this time I caught you with your clothes on." Because she didn't want to draw the attention of other customers and the Tacky Taco staff, Dylan pulled out a chair and sat, her cousin on her left side and her ex on her right. She distributed her glower between them, because both were in the doghouse. "How nice of you to treat her to dinner first Jimmy. Make sure you put little jimmy on 'cause I don't want another baby left on my doorstep."

Her cousin stared, obviously bemused. "What? I dunno what you're talking about Dyl."

She looked at him as though he just asked what two plus two equaled. "You dunno Jimmy?" Without removing her eyes from him, she jabbed a thumb toward his eating companion. "That's what I'm talking about. Of all people what are you doing with her?"

Jimmy nervously glanced toward the similarly bemused blonde. "Uh, we're just here to eat dinner. She got a recommendation for Mexican. You know Layne?"

"Who the hell is Layne?"

"I am," the blonde softly admitted. She wished that she hadn't said anything when those blazing blue orbs settled on her.

"Layne? Your name is Layne now?" Scaring the proverbial crap out of them, Dylan laughed. They were grateful that it didn't last long.

"Now? It's always been Layne. Do you think I'm someone else?"

"Give it up Celeste. I wasn't born yesterday."

"Whoa hold on. You think she's Robin's mother?"

Dylan clenched her hands together to reduce the temptation to slap him upside his curly head. "It's a fact Jimmy. Except for the hair color change and the much shorter style, she looks exactly like her 'cause she is her!" It occurred to Dylan that maybe her cousin wasn't aware of who he was dining with. He saw Celeste on a few occasions during the time they dated. He didn't remember her face? She asked him.

When Jimmy started to answer in the affirmative, he realized that he didn't actually have a clear picture of his cousin's ex-girlfriend. However, Layne's earlier familiarity now made sense. But--she couldn't be Celeste, right? There wouldn't be any point in pretending that she was someone else. Plus, anyone who wanted to be in disguise should do more than alter their hairstyle.

Layne incredulously looked at the young man. "You're suspicious of me too? You saw my business card with my name printed on it. Layne Bishop. Not Celeste?"

"Anderson," Dylan helpfully supplied. "Why are you still in San Francisco? I thought you'd live two thousand miles away by now." Last week Dylan informed her private detective that she would no longer require his services. Unfortunately, he hadn't found any leads on where Celeste might have gone. She wasn't the world's best mother, but she was a pro at playing hide and go seek.

"I just arrived here this morning. This is my first trip to SF. I reside in New York City."

Dylan's eyebrows lifted into her hairline. Could it be a coincidence that she lived in the same city as Reggie? Doubtful. "See Reggie much?" She smirked in response to the other woman's blank stare. "Allow me to guess. You don't know who Reggie is? Perhaps you're suffering from amnesia Celeste."

"Stop calling me Celeste."

"Just because you've given yourself a different name doesn't mean that you're not the same selfish bitch I know and despise."

Tossing her cloth napkin on the table, Layne rose and stormed away from the table. She had just made it outside when Dylan and Jimmy caught up with her. She jerked her arm away when Dylan tried to grip it. The taller woman took an involuntary step back when she was pushed in the chest.

"Do not touch me," Layne warned, appearing just as incensed as this stranger she wanted to slug. "Don't you ever put your hands on me."

Dylan apologized before could stop that part of her brain which felt remorse from sending the signal to convey it to her lips. She didn't owe Celeste an apology. That should have gone the other way around. "Look. We need to talk."

"No we don't, because I don't know who you are. I don't know what you're talking about. Jimmy could you open your car so I can retrieve my luggage?"

Keys in hand, Jimmy headed into the parking lot while Dylan asked the blonde if she cared about her baby at all. She was unprepared to witness the sorrow, which entered those haunting gray eyes.

"I love my baby with all my heart." Layne threw her hands up in the air. "What is this about? I honestly don't know where you're coming from and I can't fathom how you would know anything about my daughter. Who are you?"

Groaning, Dylan briskly rubbed her palms up and down her face several times before dropping them. "You admit that you have a daughter, but you won't admit that you know me?" Layne didn't speak. "Fine. I'll play this your way. My name is Dylan Tate and your baby was left on my doorstep on November 26th and with my family's guidance I've been taking care of her ever since. I tried to find you, but last Thursday I surrendered. I should have listened to what you wrote in the letter you left with the baby. Don't try to find you because you're already gone. But now, here you are."

"Is this some sick joke?"

Again, Dylan was caught off guard. "What?"

"You saying that you have my daughter. That's?" Layne stood there slowly shaking her head as Jimmy quietly approached with her suitcase. "I can't even find the correct word for it. My daughter passed away last December." Because she had the brunette speechless, Layne pulled a photograph from her wallet, holding it in front of the woman's face. "This is my daughter Katherine. Do you have her Dylan? Because I was under the impression that she was being taken care of by angels, which you most certainly are not." Putting her photo away, Layne grabbed her suitcase's handle.

"Um," Jimmy chose to take advantage of the resulting silence, "Cuz I think you have the wrong person. That baby isn't Robin. Why would Celeste be carrying a picture of another child?"

"She just happens to look identical to Celeste?" Jimmy shrugged. Layne glared. Dylan cursed. "This isn't a sick joke. I wouldn't joke about a child. I have a baby--she's ten weeks old. Her name is Robin and her mother Celeste left her in my care last month. A couple of days after I had her I found out that Reggie, who is my brother, is her father through a DNA test. However, he doesn't want to be a father so I being Robin's aunt attained guardianship. You're telling me that you are not Celeste although you look exactly like her?"


"That's hard for me to believe."

"Well you better try harder. I don't have any other children. How can I make you understand I'm not the person you've been searching for? I'd like to do that so I can be on my way."

Dylan looked thoughtful. "Celeste has a tattoo. A red and black butterfly in the middle of her lower back."

Without comment, Layne turned around and pulled up her blouse halfway to expose a smooth unmarked back. As if she suspected trickery, Dylan moved closer, bending over so that she could inspect the area where the butterfly should have been. So far, possibly one point went to Layne, yet she wasn't thoroughly convinced. Surely no two strangers looked this much alike.

"You could have had laser surgery."

Gray eyes rolled. Like being dumped days before Christmas and then making a fool of herself at SFO airport that morning wasn't enough to deal with. Now she was being accused of abandoning a baby that she never laid eyes on. One day she would be able to reflect back on the end of 2005 and laugh about these peculiar happenings right? Uh huh. "Anything else then? Anything else distinctive about her?"

"Kind of strawberry-shaped birthmark on the back of her left shoulder."

Layne revealed her left shoulder, which was devoid of a birthmark. "Did I have that removed as well?" She smirked. "FYI, I did have a birthmark on my right shoulder, but it faded years ago."

A frown in place, Dylan folded her arms over her chest. "Your age?"


Her eyes narrowed. "Same as Celeste."

"Fantastic," was the younger woman's dry response. "Here." Taking out her wallet again she slapped it into Dylan's palm. "Go through my wallet. Do you sincerely think if I were Celeste that I would go through all the trouble to create not only a new I.D. card but also credit cards, business cards, my social security card? All of that is fake?"

Taking her up on the generous offer, Dylan rifled through the wallet. To her untrained eye everything looked authentic. Two credit cards, an ATM/debit card, drivers' license, social security card, business cards and two photos, both of the baby named Katherine. The second photograph included the blonde with shoulder length hair. Holding an obvious freshly arrived from the womb Katherine in her arms, she smiled for the camera while reclining in a rocking chair.

The photograph wasn't a fake. Layne or Celeste was holding a baby who although just as pretty as her Robin, wasn't her.

"Does she know how to draw?" Focused on the photo, Dylan had to ask her to repeat the question. "Celeste. Has she ever displayed any drawing talent?"

Dylan shook her head as she returned the wallet to its owner. "I'm a comic strip artist and sometimes she--"

"Don't forget that you're now a comic book artist too." A proud smile lit up Jimmy's previously tense face when he reminded his cousin about the acclaimed comic book based on her strip that was published last year. It seemed to take hundreds of revisions (at least to him) but finally Dylan was content with what she had created. The comic book did so well that her agent, fans, friends and family (especially Jimmy) encouraged her to publish a sequel.

"Right Jimmy." The brunette's cheeks looked a bit rosy. "So sometimes Celeste would doodle in my sketch pads. I'll put her talents this way--she couldn't draw well enough to give a kindergartener competition."

Her suitcase unzipped and quickly rummaged through, Layne produced a notebook with a mechanical pencil clipped to it. She asked the other woman to give her something to draw as she found a blank page. Taking the risk of getting her pants dirty, Layne kneeled on the ground using her thigh as an anchor for the notebook. Pencil hovering above paper she waited for Dylan to speak. She expected for her to come up with something such as a horse, oak tree, a basket of fruit or a stately house?

"A fully loaded taco. Doing a dance."

Layne stared in disbelief. "You want me to draw a dancing taco?" She watched as Dylan shrugged and thought she heard Jimmy faintly chuckle, but since she only had eyes for his accusatory cousin she couldn't be sure.

Dylan pointed toward the luminescent Tacky Taco sign. "In honor of one of the best Mexican restaurants in San Francisco."

"O?kay. Give me a few minutes." Lead introduced to the paper, Layne began to draw, her hand effortlessly moving along the page. Dylan and Jimmy observed with fascination as the image of an animated taco steadily formed. Loaded with ground beef, lettuce, diced tomatoes and shredded cheese, the taco had a pair of round bright eyes on the front of its crispy shell along with a smiling mouth. Lean although shapely legs extended from the bottom of the taco shell complete with laced up sneakers. In its slim fingers the dancing taco held a Walkman, earphones on either side of the top of its shell.

When she finished Layne signed her name in the lower right corner of the page, tore it from her notebook and handed it to Dylan. Putting her belongings away, she eyed the woman studying her drawing.

"Let me guess Dylan," Layne started as she stood. "During the months you haven't seen me I took an art class and that's why I now can draw. Am I right? Is this what's going through that head of yours?"

Dazed blue eyes remained glued to the dancing taco. "You used your right hand without any problems," she softly replied.

"I should. I'm right-handed."

Lowering the blonde's artwork, Dylan stared at her. "Celeste is left-handed."

A hand on his cousin's shoulder, Jimmy squeezed. "Cuz I'm believing more and more that you're barking up the wrong tree. She looks like Celeste yeah, but she's not her."

When Dylan refused to quickly concur with the young man Layne groaned. Why wasn't there a way to fast forward through the rest of December? If a magical remote control existed she would be willing to pay a good sum of money for it. "I'll take a DNA test and then you can leave me alone once you get the results back."

"You'll really do that?"

"To get rid of you? Absolutely. Where did you get the test done with your brother to prove paternity?"

"That was in New York. I'll have to find a lab here."

Layne offered her a business card. "Call me when you have a place and I'll meet you there." Bidding them both a goodnight, she started to leave when predictably Dylan called her back. "What is it now? I've had a long day and I'm tired. Right now I just want to get a hotel room and go to sleep."

"How do I know you're not gonna try to skip town?" Dylan tapped the card in her hand. "These phone numbers and Internet addresses won't help me in tracking you down."

A light chuckle passing her lips, Layne sifted a hand through her hair making the short blonde locks stand at odd angles. "I'm going to give it to you straight Dylan. I don't owe you shit. I've agreed to this DNA test just to get you out of my face. So to answer your question you don't know that I'll leave. But you have no alternative but to practice a little blind faith. And if you try to follow me I won't hesitate to call the police to have your paranoid ass arrested for harassment. Now goodnight Dylan." Taking a deep breath she turned to Jimmy. "Jimmy despite the events of the last twenty minutes it was nice to meet you. Thank you for being so kind. Have a good night."

"You too Layne. It was nice meeting you," he responded, wearing an apologetic expression. "Could I give you a ride?"

"No thank you. During our drive to this restaurant I noticed a hotel, which is within walking distance. If they don't have any vacancies I can just call a taxi to another." A small wave only meant for Jimmy and Layne began to walk toward the street, her suitcase traveling immediately behind.


The festive Jingle Bells ringtone on her cell started as she was unpacking her suitcase. Just after Thanksgiving she had selected it to play every time she received a call. She would have to change it although Christmas wasn't over yet. Christmas?bah hum bug.

Tossing a rolled up pair of socks in the drawer she grabbed the tiny phone flipping it open. "Hello?"

"Hi. Is Celeste there?"

She smirked into the receiver. An attempted trick. How endearing. "No it's Layne, Dylan. I don't have the slightest idea where Celeste is."

"How did you know it was me?"

"I heard you speak less than an hour ago. I remembered your annoying voice." She actually thought it was sexy, but Dylan didn't have to know that.

The comic ignored her reply. "One of Jimmy's best friend's mother is a physician who specializes in DNA analysis and she's willing to see us tonight. So can you meet me?"

Layne glanced at the clock. "Tonight? It's almost nine!" Her longing gaze drifted to the bed. She could almost hear it calling out her name. Layne, oh Layne?lay your head on my pillow.

"If we collect yours and Robin's DNA tonight we can have the results by tomorrow afternoon. The sooner we do this the sooner you can get my paranoid ass out of your life right?"

"Well when you put it that way?"


Dylan knocked on the door and then walked inside the office when she noticed the blonde seated before a large desk sipping coffee from a mug with the name of the laboratory printed around it. Murmuring a 'good afternoon' she occupied the chair next to her. Putting the mug on a coaster, the other woman looked toward her right studying empty arms.

"Do you really have a baby?"

Dylan raised an inquisitive brow. "Pardon?"

"Robin. I've yet to see her." When Layne arrived last night, she discovered that Robin's DNA had already been collected and that she was on her way back to her Aunt Angela's home. However, Dylan didn't leave until Layne's part of the process was completed. Probably because she wanted to guarantee that the 'so-called' muralist truly left her buccal swab.

"Miss her?"

"I can't miss her because I've never met her Dylan," Layne managed to patiently reply.

"Oh, that's right."

Layne would have chosen that moment to roll her eyes but another knock stopped it. Stark white lab coat swaying behind her, Dr. Kwan pleasantly greeted the pair as she settled behind her desk, laying the portfolio that she brought on top of it. Tucking the arms of her reading glasses behind her ears, she opened the portfolio containing the test results, although she had already scoured over them. Paternity tests Dr. Kwan was used to, but DNA collected to prove maternity was rare. And Dylan and Layne's type of case was completely new to her.

"What do the results say Dr. Kwan?" Dylan asked.

"Well," the doctor glanced between the two. Neither of them appeared nervous, yet she expected that to change within the span of a minute. "We conducted two tests on Layne and Robin's samples and the results were in accordance of each other. Layne to an accuracy of 99.9% you are Robin's biological mother."

The blonde could have sworn her heart stopped for several seconds. "You mean I'm not her mother."

"No. I mean you are her mother. If you weren't, I would have said 100%."

Dylan shook her head. "You almost had me fooled Celeste."

Layne ignored her. "The results are wrong. They have to be."

"Layne I can assure you that this is an exemplary and wholly reliable DNA lab and we do not make those types of mistakes. If this test stated that you are the mother then you are indeed."

"Dr. Kwan," scooting her chair closer to the desk, Layne gripped the edge of it, "Robin is not my child. There's a huge difference between a potential mother and potential father denying parentage. A man can swear up and down that it's not his baby, but if a woman does odds are she isn't because unless she's a pathological liar or unbelievably dense she should know when and if she gave birth. I have once but that was fifteen months ago and Robin's two and half months old so you do the math."

Thoughtfully chewing on her bottom lip, Dr. Kwan looked down studying the results as though the numbers would change at any moment. She was positive that these results were accurate yet Layne seemed sincere in her adamancy that she wasn't the mother. However, the figure of 99.9% proved differently.

"There isn't another explanation?" Layne asked, nervous fingers tapping on the sides of her coffee mug.

"The only other way that you could have such a secure genetic code match to Robin is for your identical twin to be her mother. Identical twins have identical DNA; therefore in something such as a paternity case where a pair of twin brothers may have had relations with a woman around the same time and she conceived, the paternity results could not exclusively confirm one of them as the father. It could be either twin because their DNA is virtually indistinguishable.

"From what you and Dylan have told me, either you or Celeste is the mother, though I had the impression that you didn't know her. Was I wrong? Is she your twin sister?"

"This is turning into an episode of the Jerry Springer show crossed with a far-fetched storyline straight out of a daytime soap opera," Dylan commented before Layne could speak. When she had Dr. Kwan's attention, she continued. "Celeste's parents died when she was little--like around four or five. She didn't have suitable relatives to take care of her, so she was put up for adoption. Fortunately, a married couple adopted her within a few months. She never mentioned having any biological siblings. In fact, I think she actually told me once that she was an only child."

"Were they in a car accident?" Layne tentatively asked.

"Why are you still pretending? You already know."

Her skin paling, the blonde looked ready to lose the contents of her stomach. "Excuse me," she whispered as she rose and hurried out of the office.

Minutes later, Dylan found her within the restroom inside the stall furthest from the entrance. The unpleasant sound of retching caused her to peek underneath the door where Layne was on her knees, hands gripping the sides of porcelain. She didn't make her presence known until a shaky hand flushed the toilet.

"Are you alright now?"

Glancing over her shoulder, Layne spotted the woman on hands and knees, her head between the gap separating the bottom of the door from the tiled flooring. "Not really." And I don't know why you're asking. Not like you care.

"Just because we've learned the truth, that doesn't mean that I'm going to force you to take Robin back. So you don't have to worry." She had to scramble backward to avoid being struck when the door quickly opened. Walking past without so much as a glance, Layne went to a sink where she rinsed her mouth and washed her face with cool water.

She wordlessly accepted a Listerine breath strip from the pack held out to her and dropped the thin green sheet on her tongue where it dissolved within seconds. The refreshing burst of flavor in her mouth was quite welcome.

"Did you hear what I said?"

Layne nodded. "But we haven't learned the truth Dylan. At least not the truth you believe."

"Cryptic much?"

The blonde looked reflective. Her next words were sure to blow the comic's mind. "No worry here. I'll take her."

"Take her?"


Dylan stared at the younger woman as though an extra head had just sprouted from her neck. "What? What do you mean?" She inquired, sounding on the brink of alarm.

"Those tests results claim that I'm her mother right? So I believe that it's my responsibility to take care of her." Layne pointed toward the exit. "Mind taking me to see Robin?"


Parking next to the curb in front of her mother's home, Dylan shut off the ignition and removed her seatbelt yet declined from opening the door. When Layne started to, she asked her to wait. Without comment, she placed her hands back in her lap and looked toward the driver curiously. Layne had spoken very little since they left the laboratory and Dylan had said even less. She was still trying to wrap her head around the fact that Celeste wanted to resume being a parent.

"Why are you doing this?"


"Pretending like you want to be a mother again."

"I'm not pretending," Layne sincerely replied.

"Why now?"

"Why not?"

Groaning, Dylan thumped the steering wheel with an open hand. "Damn it Celeste. What are you up to? You didn't want to be a mother last month yet now you think Robin is your responsibility? You tried to lie last night!" The blonde floored her with a resulting smile.

"Dylan I've never lied to you."

"How could you say that with a straight face? You fooled around with my brother for weeks behind my back. What's that called?"

"Cheating. But I've never cheated on you because I was never with you. And I was definitely never with your brother because I'm a lesbian and I've known that since I was in grade school. Men do not appeal to me."

Dylan presented her with a stare that had Layne guessing that she wanted to ask her if she was a Coke short of a six-pack. However, she didn't get the opportunity to relay any questions because light tapping on the passenger window interrupted the tense moment. Turning toward the right, Layne smiled into the beautiful face, which gave her a good estimate of how Dylan might look in twenty-five years. That was if she let her live that long.

Layne was about to open the door when the drivers' side door slammed, Dylan marching around the front of her car like someone on a serious mission. She had whispered something into her mother's ear by the time her passenger exited the car waiting to be introduced. Although Dylan probably assumed that she knew her, unless Celeste never met her mother.

Lost in thought, Layne was startled when palms cooled by the chill in the air cupped her cheeks as Madeline studied her face. Neither of them spoke during the ten-second observation.

"I need to ask you some questions. Will you be truthful with me?" Layne barely kept from laughing when a snorting Dylan was quickly chastised with one warning look from her mother.

"Yes ma'am."

"It's Madeline or Maddie honey. I'm not quite old enough to be called ma'am." When she winked at the younger woman Layne did laugh.

"Yes Maddie. I'll be truthful."

"Last month did you give your baby to Dylan?"

Layne's head moved from side to side several times. "As of last month I didn't have a baby to give your daughter."

"Dylan tells me that you're a muralist. Tell me a little about that. Did you take art classes?"

Although thrown by the unexpected change in topic, Layne went with the flow. "Ever since I was a child I enjoyed drawing, sketching, painting. By the time I entered my teens I was selling pencil drawn portraits of people on the street for five to ten dollars. Soon I learned that business was more lucrative during the weekends in popular parks.

"In 1995 I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from NYU and within a year of graduating began my muralist business called Bishop Designs, which isn't an imaginative name but it works for me. Throughout the years I've occasionally hired people to assist me, but for the most part I enjoy working solo. I have a website if you would like to view some of my murals."

Madeline readily agreed that she would before again changing the topic. "The DNA test proved that you're Robin's mother. How do you explain that?"

"It's simple. I'm her aunt. I just discovered today that her real mother Celeste is my identical twin."

If she was nonplused, Madeline didn't allow it to show. It was difficult to tell which of the younger women was more surprised when she reached for Layne's hand, sandwiching it between both of hers. "Welcome Layne. It's nice to meet you."


Stupefied, Dylan watched as her mother cleaned her granddaughter's bottom, quietly handing her a diaper when she was ready. "Mom?" Downstairs Layne waited to be introduced to the baby.


"Please tell me that you're not buying her story. It just so happens that she's Celeste's long lost twin given up for adoption three months after birth? Give me a break. What are the odds?"

Clothes readjusted, Robin was lifted into her grandma's arms. Resting a cheek against grandma's chest, she turned bright blue eyes on her auntie, smiling all gums when Dylan kissed the back of her small fist. "When did you stop believing in miracles?" Grandma Maddie asked while swaying Robin from side to side, which she enjoyed.

"I don't remember telling you that I believed in miracles."

"Robin isn't a miracle? Look what she's done for you."

Groaning, Dylan rubbed a hand over her face. "Mom yes, of course she is. I feel blessed that Robbie is in our lives, but a long lost twin sounds ridiculous. God only knows why she's playing us, but that's Celeste in your living room. And she wants to meet her 'niece'? She has to be taking some type of mind-altering medication. And you won't believe what she said--Mom?Mom where are you going?" Mouth hanging open, Dylan watched her mother leave the bedroom. Muttering illegibly she followed.

Choosing to stop at the bottom of the stairs, Dylan folded her arms on top of the banister while studying the three females interaction. She refused to think about how the blonde once again had a golden opportunity to disappear, but she hadn't taken advantage while they were upstairs. She could have been on her way to the bus station, airport or hitching a ride out of San Fran, yet she decided to stay. Nope, Dylan wasn't giving her an ounce of credit. It didn't prove a thing.

Neither did the fact that when Madeline showed her the baby 'Layne' failed in showing recognition. It was as though this were truly their first meeting. Dylan listened as she asked the proud grandma if she could hold her, unconsciously holding her breath when Robin was transferred into the woman's arms. When the baby girl greeted Layne with a smile and soft coo, Dylan aware that it was childish, thought her undeserving of such a winsome expression. That was until she spotted the tears gleaming in the gray eyes. Standing nearby, Madeline also watched.

"Hello beautiful," Layne spoke as she moved toward the sliding glass doors leading out to Madeline's flowery backyard. "I'm your Aunt Layne and it's such a pleasure to meet you." Burying her nose in soft dark locks, she deeply inhaled the gentle lavender fragrance of Robin's shampoo. She closed her eyes recollecting, two tears squeezed out and falling into the baby's hair. With a shuddering breath her lips puckered for a kiss left on top of Robin's head. "Oh, baby," Layne reverently whispered. "Sweet, sweet baby."

Another kiss on her head and Layne passed her to Madeline while further tears escaped. Excusing herself, she went back to the glass doors, opened them and stepped out into the backyard. She would have closed the door, but a stronger hand pushed it toward the opposite direction. Guessing which Tate that hand belonged to, Layne neglected to look, instead watching the rich verdant grass dampened from the earlier light rain they had. She heard the other woman mention how cold it was out there yet didn't comment.

Disappearing inside the house, Dylan quickly returned with a knit afghan that she wrapped around the smaller woman's shoulders. Keeping her hands on the immobile shoulders, she peered at the blonde's face, stained with her tears. "Layne please don't cry."

She might as well have said 'Layne please cry harder'. Encouraging her to turn around, she embraced her, holding on tight while Layne proceeded to moisten her shirt. Because she hadn't opted to retrieve an afghan for herself, Dylan soon began to feel like someone had dropped a tray full of ice cubes into her clothes. Layne's cries having downgraded to sniffles, the brunette unthinkingly picked her up, beginning to carry her into the house much like a groom would do for his new bride on their wedding night. What the hell am I doing? She can walk!

Relieved that her mother wasn't in the living room to witness her gentlewomanly behavior, she gently placed Layne on the couch, grabbed her a couple of tissues from a nearby box and then sat next to the quiet muralist. Dylan hoped that she would speak first. Seconds later her hopes were answered.

"I could have walked you know," Layne said, although faintly smiling. She dabbed at her cheeks with the soft tissue.

Dylan returned the smile. "Yes, I know."

"You called me Layne."

"Well duh. It is your name." Dylan made a show of rolling her eyes, which had the other woman chuckling.

"Does that mean you believe me?" Her question was responded to by a silent nod. "Why?"

"It started when my Mom gave you the baby. I've never seen Celeste interact with Robin or any other children, but I strongly disbelieve that she could display half the tenderness that you just did. And you didn't fake that. You were 110% genuine." Dylan shook her head. "It's still weird that you and Celeste could be--well have to be siblings, but I think you've been telling the truth all along." Layne just stared, seemingly without blinking. "What?

"I'm thinking," raising her index finger, she scratched her chin with the blunt nail, "all this verifiable information that I'm not Celeste. No tattoo, no birthmark, I draw, which she doesn't. You could easily have a background check done on me and it'll show that I've been residing and working for many years in New York City under the name Layne Bishop and there are people there, specifically my clients who know me as Layne Bishop, yet you base your belief on tenderness. That's?remarkable Dylan."

Dylan cocked her head to the side, brow furrowed. "I can't tell. Are your pissed?"

"With you?"



Silence interrupted for several seconds. The way she said 'with you' had Dylan wondering. "Are you pissed with someone else?"

"More hurt than pissed, but the anger is mixed in there somewhere."

The brunette had to coax her to continue. "Who are you talking about?"

"My parents." Lowering her head, Layne looked at her lap. "The couple that should have been my parents. All these years I've convinced myself that their giving me away was for my best interest. They tried to take care of me for three months, but then decided due mainly to financial woes that I'd have a better chance with adopted parents. But?I now find out that I had a twin?and they kept her," the last part whispered, Layne's eyes refilled. "Why didn't they give us both up or try harder to keep us? Why choose only one?" She rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. "That's what hurts so damn much. They kept Celeste and raised her until they died while I?shit." The afghan quickly folded and dropped on the couch she stood up.

"Where are you going?"

Layne started to answer when she realized that she didn't have one. Instead she shrugged. "I'm not sure. I have some thinking to do. My hotel I guess."

"I'll drive you."

Layne shook her head while Dylan took out her keys. "You don't have to. I can call a taxi." The brunette started to argue when she forestalled her with a raised hand. "It's alright Dylan. I'll be in touch, okay?"

"Okay. But you're not leaving the house now are you? You'll wait for the taxi in here?"

"No. I spied a Starbucks nearby. I'll walk there."

"Too cold."

Layne softly smiled. "I'll walk briskly. Remember I'm a New Yorker."


Bathed, dressed in her pajamas and cradled in the gentle arms of her Aunt Dylan, Robin enjoyed her fine dinner of formula while listening to the hummed rendition of Silent Night. Within minutes her suckling ceased, as her eyelids grew heavy. It was time to call it a night. Putting the bottle in the kitchen, Dylan raised her until her chin was tucked on her shoulder, which was covered with a towel because of past spit up experiences, and began to lightly pat Robin's back until she released a tiny burp. Smiling, she walked her back and forth in the living room, caressing her back as she drifted to sleep.

Dylan's thoughts drifted to Layne, wondering what she was doing at that moment. She hadn't seen nor heard from the blonde since that afternoon at her mother's house. She repeatedly checked her cell for Layne's messages, which were never there. Perhaps she would call in the morning. When she did get in touch what would she say? Did she mean what she said at the lab? Did she really want to take care of Robin? Take her all the way back to New York? That was so far away. Too far.

A knock on the door tore Dylan away from her musings. Sleeping baby in her arms, she headed toward it. Maybe Henry the doorman was checking in on them before he went home for the evening. He had routinely visited her apartment since Dylan chose to be Robin's guardian.

A blue eye looked through the peephole. So, she had thought up on her. A deep breath and Dylan pulled the door open, pasting on a welcoming smile. "Good evening."

"Evening back at you," Layne replied although her eyes were on the baby. "I hope it's not too late." It was 7:48, but she felt like it should have been later. She supposed that she was still operating on Eastern Standard Time.

"No, come on in." Once Layne was inside, Dylan asked if she would like to hold Robin, which she eagerly said yes to.

Unaware of her new carrier, the baby girl continued to sleep, her cheek resting against Layne's shoulder. Asking her guest if she would care for anything to drink, Dylan headed into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. When she returned to an empty living room, alarm seized her for a second until something told her to check the spare bedroom, which had been turned into a nursery. She breathed a sigh of relief upon observing Layne as she placed Robin inside her crib before starting up the mobile of illuminated colorful stars and different shaped moons (full, crescent, half). The tune from the children's song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star proceeded to play.

"She's such a beauty," Layne softly commented, her back still turned to the woman standing just inside the room. Agreeing, Dylan walked further into the nursery, standing next to Robin's other auntie. "She looks just like you." Reaching over the railing, Layne touched the slight indentation in Robin's chin with a finger.

Since that sounded like a compliment, Dylan blushed, glad that the main source of light in the room hadn't been switched on. "She looks like Reggie, but because we have similar features she could pass for my?"


Dylan focused on the circulating mobile. "Yes." During the brief silence she thought back to the photographs she spotted in Layne's wallet, guilt slamming into her like an 18-wheeler. "I'm so sorry about your daughter. I should have believed you when you showed me those pictures. Instead I kept hounding you and I feel like such an ass. Layne, I'm sorry. I really am."

"It's alright Dylan. In your shoes it would have been difficult for me to believe it as well. Celeste and I are identical."

"Do you want to find her?"

The blonde looked thoughtful. "Although she's the first living relative I've discovered-- besides Robin that is-- I'm not sure that I do. I don't know if I'll actively search for her. You know anything about her adoptive parents?"

"No. I never met them and Celeste didn't speak much about them. I think they live in Florida."

"Is the coffee ready?"

"Let's go find out."

"Layne?" Dylan hesitantly spoke her name.

"Hm?" Blowing across the mocha surface of the heated mug filled with some of the best coffee she had drank in a while, Layne looked toward her.

Dylan stopped and started three times before she was able to get her question out. "Do you have any plans where Robin is concerned?" Her heart forgot to beat for a second when the petite woman nodded soberly. Unknowingly distressing Dylan further, she sipped from the mug.

"I'd like to take her home with me to New York and start the adoption process." Putting the mug on the table, she searched Dylan's face trying to decipher her expression. "How does that sound to you?"

Nowhere as good as it would have on the day I found Robin on my doorstep! "Just like that you're prepared to adopt her?"

"Yes, Robin is family, my niece. And based on DNA she could practically be my biological child."

Dylan nodded while unaware of the frown giving her forehead a slight crinkle. "Right. So?you'll take her to NYC?raise her there." She was busy thinking of the 'many' reasons why Robin shouldn't go to New York. Too much crime there, the streets were congested with people and automobiles, the latter aiding to an already out of control pollution problem. It was too expensive. Now granted Robin wouldn't have to worry about her finances until she reached adulthood, but someday if she chose to stay in New York, she would be forced to deal with the price of living. And how expensive would it be for her in the year 2024?

"Dylan I'm not taking her away for good." When Layne was certain that she had her attention, she continued. "I didn't have the opportunity to grow up in a family and because I went without, I especially know how vital that is. Robin has two loving aunties, a wonderful grandmother, cousins?it's important for her to have you all in her life. So we'll come here often to visit and you guys can show up at our NYC doorstep whenever you feel like it. Between visits we'll regularly call each other, send emails and letters, IM?everything we can think of." Clutching Dylan's knee, she squeezed it. "You're her family."

Feeling like a bobblehead, the brunette moved her head to and fro. "When will you leave?"

"I'm not certain. I need to make an appointment with an attorney first so I can learn how to go about adopting her."

Although heartbroken that her Robbie would be leaving soon, Dylan sought to be supportive. "I could help you with that if you want."

Layne's resulting smile lit up her face. "Thanks Dylan. I want."

Continued in Part 2

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