~ The Starry Sky ~
by Bibbit

Disclaimers: This story needs no legal disclaimer, because it belongs solely to me. While it started with the vision of two certain ladies in mind, after a few twists and turns of my imagination, the characters became uniquely mine.

With that said, this tale is a drama piece, rather than an action feature. Though it contains several scenes of violence, there are no car chases or explosions. Proceed at your own risk.

A loving relationship between two female characters is contained herein. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Finally, I'd like to thank Charlotte, again, for reading this and convincing me I should post it so that another person or two could read it. I'm going to keep trying until I get this writing thing right.

This story is copyrighted to Bibbit, 1999.

Feedback is welcomed. Contact me at: bibbit@brightok.net

Part 2

Chapter 12

Jesse bounded through the front door to meet them the next morning when they arrived to pick him up. If Kimba didn't know better, she would have sworn he couldn't wait to leave, but then again she couldn't either and she'd just arrived. Something about Julie's mom had always sent a shiver of fear down her spine, whether it was the condescending tone the woman always used or the hateful glances, she didn't know. For some reason, Mrs. George had never approved of her. The young woman realized that her parents hadn't been the best people around the area, but she'd never personally done anything to warrant the treatment.

But the boy's behavior seemed a little too sporadic to be an itching to get away from his overbearing grandmother, who he no doubt loved despite her hard hand. Not to mention that he would be as unable as Kimba not to love Joe, Julie's sweet, demure father. It was still a mystery as to how he had managed to live so long with his wife.

Jesse was positively bouncing around the house, picking up his things from one room and another, stopping occasionally to ask his mother a question.

Kimba and Julie stood quietly in the front room with the matriarch, waiting for the first chance to leave. No one said anything until Jesse reentered the pristine room with his duffel bag bulging and a happy grin on his face. "Did you guys win," he asked excitedly.

"No, but we did make it to the final game. Maybe next time." Kimba shrugged her shoulders and looked to her stoic friend. She wasn't sure, but she thought Julie was as anxious to leave as she and Jesse were. But it was impossible to get out that easy.

Looming over them, Mrs. George finally spoke, in that same condescending, degrading tone that Kimba hated so much. "I don't think you should be taking Jesse around to those games of yours. I've heard rumors about the people who play in them."

Wow, how did she come up with that? She must have used her evil little brain to choose a subject with the potential of screwing everything up, Kimba's mind seethed. She glanced to her side to find two blue eyes studying her intently, a small smile, almost imperceptible, playing on Julie's lips.

"The only kind of people who play in those tournaments, Mother, are softball players. And there is nothing wrong with them. If it's okay with you, let me worry about who I expose my son to. I'll try to skip the ax murderers." She flashed her mother a bigger, fake grin and stepped to the side, motioning for Jesse to head out the door. Kimba followed him, not without flashing a winning smirk at her friend, secretly relieved that Julie hadn't let the barb affect her.

Joe George met them at Julie's black Dodge, apparently escaping the dreary atmosphere of the house by spending time at the nearby catfish pond, as was often his manner. He rested his lanky frame against the passenger door, a soft smile on his lips. "You headed home, Tiger," he asked Jesse, who was rushing up to his grandfather.

"Yeah, we're going home, Pa. Sure you don't want to come," he asked slyly. No one around Mrs. George didn't know how oppressive she could be.

The older man laughed deeply and scooped the boy, already within a couple of inches of his mother in height, into his arms. "I think I'll try and stick it out, son. But if I need rescuing, you'll be the first I'll call." He gave one last squeeze and let the boy loose. His gaze turned serious then, as he bent to Jesse's ear and whispered something for only him to hear.

Both women got hugs, kisses, and a gentle goodbye from the man after he gave the boy one last pat on the head. Short but eager steps took him to the house and he disappeared inside.

Once on the road for a while, Kimba noted her friend's pensiveness, her sharp features set in a tight grimace, the muscles in her jaw clinching intermittently. It was a relief when Julie finally spoke.

"What did Pa say to you before we left, Jesse?" She kept her eyes on the lonely country highway, the midmorning sun reflecting faintly off the glazed asphalt.

Kimba turned in the passenger seat to watch the dark boy, who was looking distractedly out the window. Whatever he was thinking, it was troubling him deeply, small fingers clutched the seatbelt around his chest tightly. "He reminded me to tell you that Dad called me, but I was going to anyway," his voice was trembling slightly.

Sighing audibly, the redhead reached back and lightly patted Jesse's knee, which brought his deep brown eyes to hers. Both summoned a pained smile. Though she'd expected nothing less from a child of Julie's, he was a sweet kid. "What did he say," she asked to break the silence and fulfill her curiosity.

"Not much really. He wanted me to come stay with him for a weekend or something. I told him I didn't know." His larger hand took Kimba's, which was still resting on his knee, and squeezed it lightly, almost as if he didn't know he was doing it. The boy's eyes were trained on his mother, waiting nervously for her response, confusion evident in his young, perfect features.

Julie cleared her throat nervously and continued her silent concentration of the road, but her jaw worked ceaselessly, tongue occasionally poking out between her white teeth. If the situation wasn't so serious, and she knew her friend wasn't working so diligently to answer a hard question, Kimba would have thought the look very cute. As it was, she felt for them all. "Jesse...you can go stay with him if you'd like. I don't want you to think I'm trying to keep you from your father."

A protest rushed to Kimba's lips, but a bite of her tongue kept it from spilling out. There was no way she would allow Jesse to be alone with that man. He was a complete asshole at best and a lunatic at worst, the jury still out on the question. But she could see the method to Julie's offer. Like any good mother, she didn't want him to resent her for taking his father away, and deep down, despite all he'd done, she didn't think John was really that far gone. Kimba, however, was becoming less convinced of that fact with each passing day. Feeling watched twenty-four hours a day wasn't one of her favorite pastimes.

"I don't want to," Jesse answered after a moment. He turned to the window again, examining the stores and occasional houses that were becoming more frequent on the road as they moved closer to town. "I know he's been waiting outside Kimba's house at night. I heard you guys talking about it...He's scaring me, Mom," he confessed timidly.

He turned to Kimba when she squeezed his hand, tears filling his eyes, eager to fall, save the teenage pride that was holding them on the edge of escape. A tremendous urge to hold the boy filled her, along with an almost equal desire to go beat the daylights out of his father. The whole situation was spiraling into a monstrous mess, the conclusion of which she had no clue. The best thing that could come out of it was a really nasty divorce; the worst, well, she didn't even want to think about that.

"Me too. I don't think he'll do anything crazy, Jesse, but he is pretty upset about this. You don't have to go stay with him if you don't want to, but it might be good for him if you talk to him at school. It'll make him feel better." But Kimba could tell by the single tear streaming down the dark woman's face that she wasn't even sure of that. She placed her other hand on Julie's shoulder, which drew her another gentle smile, showing that even through the pain, not everything in the world was skewed.

They spent the rest of the day in lazy Sunday mode, little activities keeping them happily busy, each only checking the front drive every couple of hours. Kimba and Jesse played catch for a good while in the front yard, the boy laughing delightedly at his new friend's skill and teaching ability. The redhead was equally delighted with the interests she shared with her friend's son.

Julie spent most of the day doing little chores around the house, after convincing Kimba if she was indeed going to live there, she was sure as hell going to help keep the place up. To which the redhead had smirked happily and could not help but observe how cute the woman looked when she was mad. And she didn't look very bad tired, either, once they finally settled down on the couch to watch television, having exhausted the daylight and watched a beautiful sun leave the sky.

A short trip to the kitchen brought the stocky woman back with three glasses of tea, which she passed out to Jesse and his mother. She sat her own on the glass coffee table in front of her comfortable couch, moving over to the window for a look. As she stood there, peering out at the green truck and its occupant, Kimba could feel her anger rising. The day had been so good, as if the whole trouble with John didn't exist. After the talk on the way home, no one had even mentioned his name all day. She hadn't felt the need to look over her shoulder to see if he was there, ready to take the drama to the next level. For the first time since they'd realized he was stalking them, Kimba hadn't felt a fear that at any time he could turn up and do Julie harm. And it had felt amazingly fulfilling to let go of that fear for a day.

Now he was sitting out there, as if he had every right to make them nervous and frightened. As if he owned them and their ability to be happy. And Kimba realized, her anger growing to a visible level, her face set in a deep scowl, that he did own them. He would as long as he kept them afraid to do anything, to live.

"I'll be back in a minute," she growled. Julie, so fast Kimba couldn't imagine how she'd gotten there, blocked her exit out the heavy front door. Her anger showing, the attorney put her hands on her hips and waited.

Julie put her hands up, her face a question mark. "Wait a minute. What are you doing?"

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Kimba did her best not to take any of her pent up emotions out on her friend. She had enough of those feelings on her own. But the short woman had made up her mind as to what she was about to do, since not much could make the situation worse. "I refuse to be a captive in my own house, Julie. I'm going to talk to him."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Julie pleaded. She put both hands on broad shoulders and pushed her friend back a step.

Kimba put both hands on the tan forearms holding her and carefully removed them. "It'll be fine. I just want to talk to him." She flashed a quick smile before stepping around the woman in her path.

As the door closed, she thought she heard Julie call to be careful, but she wasn't sure. It could have been her own mind saying that, because every fiber in her being was suddenly coming to life, aware that she was probably doing something quite dangerous. The truth was, she didn't just want to talk. She wanted to walk out to that puke green truck and bash the man's skull in for interrupting her day, her life then, her life now, and for trying to screw up the best thing that had happened to her in a long time.

By the time she reached the passenger door, she was seething with anger again, her face flush with an accompanying snarl on her lips. The newly green grass was soft, so she made no sound as she approached the open window to the truck, but he seemed to be waiting for her nonetheless. He, no doubt, stared at the house the whole time he kept the truck parked there.

"Nice night, huh Kim," he asked conversationally, as if he was unaware that his new companion had murder in her heart.

She took a deep breath, knowing that she needed to keep the confrontation as civil as possible. Not that she wanted to be kind, she just didn't want it to turn into a physical confrontation. The likelihood of her winning another one of those was unlikely, self-defense classes or not. She took him by surprise last time and she knew it. "What are you doing out here?"

The smirk and little chuckle let her know that he thought they both knew the answer to the question, but he replied anyway. "I'm making sure my wife and son are safe. I have responsibilities."

"You know they're fine, John. The only thing this is accomplishing is scaring the hell out of us all. Go home and call your lawyer. That's the only way you should be dealing with Julie right now," she said, her voice shaky with anger and fear. He was too calm about the whole situation, like he didn't care. His dark eyes, barely visible in the moonless sky, seemed vacant of any emotion, crazy or otherwise.

"She's my wife, Kim. I'm taking care of her like I always have," he reiterated, his voice the same eerie level of calm.

Leaning a little further into the cab of the truck, Kimba put her hands on the inside of the window to support her body. The seat was littered with fast food containers and beer cans, a slight smell of hamburger filled the breeze softly flowing through the compartment. "I know you're upset, but sooner or later you need to try to accept that she's not coming back."

For the first time, his body came to life, his eyes snapping up to hers in a flash of rage, his gigantic hands gripping the steering wheel, knuckles turning a glowing white. "She left me for you," he snarled.

Kimba could feel her eyes go wide at the hatred she heard in his voice. That one sentence seemed to double the amount of fear she'd had before, the feral quality of it bringing the threat she'd thought she recognized into a dangerous fact. Yet she'd been waiting to respond to that statement since Julie had shown up at her door, and no amount of hostility was going to stop her. "She didn't leave you for anyone, John. She just left you. Deal with it."

His hand moved down to the darkened seat, moving some of the empty containers into the floorboard, then raised holding a long, black metallic object. Green eyes went wide again as Kimba realized it was a gun. A big one.

"Does she call your name when you touch her, Kimba," his voice drawled on the last word, making a mockery of Julie's nickname for her.

Having no idea what to say, the redhead stared in shock at the gun, its dark brilliance mesmerizing her with the realization that she could be dead at any time if he so chose. The fear gripping her was exponentially more intense than any she'd felt before, manifesting as an empty feeling in her chest. The air seemed thicker than it had been only a moment before. "John...you need to get some help before something happens we'll all regret," she managed to get out, although she wasn't sure if he could hear her. Such as me ending up six feet under, for instance. God, I can't believe this is happening, her mind wearily supplied.

"The only thing I need is for my wife and son to come home with me. And that is going to happen. One way or another." The gun stayed aimed in the direction of the frightened woman, although she couldn't tell where the bullet would hit if he fired. And she had no particular interest in finding out.

Deciding there was nothing else to be said, reasoning with the man was not going well, after all, Kimba tried to imagine what to do. The only thing she came up with was calmly turning around and walking into her house. So she did. And was amazed that she actually made it into the door, shutting it softly behind her. Pressing her back against the cool surface, she slid down to the floor silently, head in hands, trying to regulate her raging heart so that it would not beat completely out of her aching chest.

Warm hands were immediately covering her own, a warm husky voice, thick with emotion, reaching her ears. "Kimba, baby, are you all right?"

It took a couple of tense moments before she could speak, but the insistent hands on her body forced the fear to subside enough to comfort Julie before she got frantic. "I'm fine...that may not have been such a good idea," she informed with a wry chuckle. Laughing felt good, even though she didn't really feel it was an appropriate response. Her mind kept screaming at her for almost getting herself killed.

"What did he say," Julie asked, her voice still filled with concern. The attorney tried to imagine how she must look, but couldn't quite come up with an image that matched the erratic emotions coursing through her body.

Again she laughed, for lack of any other way to deal with what had happened. "It wasn't so much what he said...," she trailed off, unsure how to continue. The best course was probably to come out with the truth and let Julie deal with it. She deserved to know how much actual peril they were in. "He pulled a gun on me and said he would do anything to get you back. I'm thinking we should get that restraining order as soon as possible. Then the next time he parks out there, we can have the police arrest him." She sounded as businesslike as possible, although she was sure it was a complete failure by the astounded look on her friend's face. Kimba could see the last grain of hope for a peaceful resolution to the marriage evaporate in a silent poof in those ice blue eyes.

"Should we call the police right now," she asked, standing up to peek out the window. When she returned to the door, Julie slid her long body down beside Kimba's and leaned into her wearily. "He's gone."

"Good. It won't do much good to call the police now. It would be just my word against his at the moment unless he was stupid enough to keep the gun around. Tomorrow we'll get the order and take it from there. I'm sure he was just trying to scare me," she said, hoping she sounded more convincing than she felt. The amount of faith she was putting in the restraining order would have a lot of room to play on the head of a pin. The only real chance they had for no one ending up hurt from the crazy man stalking them was if he came to his senses. And that didn't seem very likely at the moment, the image of a gun pointing at her body still fresh in her mind.

They spent the rest of the night talking to Jesse and trying to calm him down after informing him of his father's actions. As Kimba was, he was starting to get very mad and frustrated about what was going on. And in the end, what the boy felt was an extremely real and justified sense of betrayal. He thought his father wasn't supposed to do something like this to him and he was completely right.

Kimba waited up for Julie to return from tucking Jesse in, which she didn't do often, but he apparently welcomed the old ritual on such a horrible night. By the time the tall woman crawled under the thick comforter, she looked like she could use a little tucking in as well, but her friend decided that would have to wait for another time. Talking wouldn't hurt, though, so she gave it a try. "That was one hell of an end to a pretty good day, huh?"

She let off a half chuckle, her eyes concentrating on the starred ceiling, which twinkled faintly in the dim light coming in from outside. "Yeah, you could say that. And it was a good day," she finished in a quiet voice.

"I...I hope you're not considering going back to him, Jay. I really think he's flipped his canoe." Kimba hadn't planned it, but her heart had forced out a fear almost as big as the one of the gun she'd experienced earlier. Not only would it kill her to see Julie leave her life, it would definitely not be a good move for the woman.

Turning onto her side to face her friend, Julie gazed at her seriously, searching for words. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again. A couple of moments later, she found what she wanted to say and spoke softly. "Kimba, I'll never go back to him. Do you want to know why," she asked rhetorically, not waiting long for an answer. "I've never been happier in my life than in the time I've spent with you. All the rest of the time, it was like I was just waiting for you to come along again and make me complete. I'm tired of waiting."

For the second time that the day, Kimba had no idea what to say, which was pretty unusual for her since she usually didn't shut up for more than five minutes at a stretch. But that statement was a surprise, a big one. Although she'd known that Julie had been happy since leaving John, the attorney had thought that was most of the reason. There was no doubt that she was responsible for some of the levity that her friend displayed, she could see it in her eyes. She had no idea, though, that Julie felt so strongly about her role in the older woman's life. Kimba was floored.

"And I meant to tell you that I had a wonderful time last night, in case I forgot." Which she had, but Kimba had a pretty good idea that she'd had a fun night out with Marty. She'd smiled that beautiful smile the whole night, not unnoticed by a throng of jealous women who kept giving the redhead envious looks. It had been quite a night.

With a less amazing topic to comment on, although some of the revelations from the bar had been enormous in themselves, Kimba found that she could speak again. "I'm glad you had fun. So did I."

Fun wasn't really the word to describe it. She'd had the best night of her life, pulling the woman of her dreams onto the dance floor, feeling her move unashamed to the music. It was a fantasy that Kimba didn't really think would ever be realized. And although she wasn't one hundred percent sure, she thought there had been some serious sparks flying between them. Imagination, hopeful as it was, could have been responsible for that, but she thought she knew a way to find out. "I hope you didn't get embarrassed about dancing or anything. It seemed like a good tension breaker, which we can both use large doses of," she said lightly.

Unexpectedly, Julie reached out a bronzed hand and moved golden hair out of her friend's eyes, her movements more tender than Kimba had ever seen. Her breath caught when the older woman spoke, her voice a soft whisper. "I loved everything about it. I...I can't wait to do it again."

Kimba didn't know exactly how to take the statement, but she thought by the twinkle in the blue eyes close to hers, that Julie was referring to more than a night on the town with Marty. At least she hoped it meant more. "I can't either."

"We'd better get some sleep. Work tomorrow." The moment was broken gently, both women easing down on their backs in an attempt to drift off to sleep.

Kimba knew that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, the combination of coming within inches of death and the love of her life coming closer to reality was making her head swim with excitement. After at least half an hour of them both lying there awake, Kimba decided to do something she'd been dreaming of for a while. She scooted toward the middle of the bed, turned over on her side, slung an arm over Julie's middle and laid her head on the woman's strong shoulder. The only reaction was the older woman pulling her arm away from her side and maneuvering it under Kimba's head. Then they both sighed happily and slowly moved together into sleep.

Chapter 13

School was a rather somber affair, Julie reflected, like any other typical Monday. She'd always thought that the day should simply be stricken off the calendar and everyone could stay in the house all day and enjoy it as a peaceful holiday. That wouldn't be a good answer, though, she knew, because then Tuesday would be just as bad and the week had to start somewhere. That knowledge, however, hadn't kept her mind on the right track, from which it had wandered all day long.

Most excursions centered around a certain stocky little redhead with whom she had awoken, not uncomfortably so, wrapped around her body like a sea squid. As a matter of fact, it had been one of the most pleasurable moments in her life. And that simple realization had been one of the most surprising.

She had no doubt that she loved Kimba; that was never a question. The woman knew her soul, somehow, better than she knew it herself. And the reverse was true as well. If ever the world had produced more kindred spirits, Julie had never met them. But the slow realization that she never wanted to share her life with another, with a man, was a little farther outside of the realm of possibilities than she'd ever considered seriously before. She'd fantasized, maybe, but she'd never truly considered it could be. Yet now, sitting in front of a class full of thirty half-aware high school students, it was all she could think of. The warm tickle constantly present in her gut wouldn't let the image of her friend stray too far out of mind.

A small murmur passing through the room brought the teacher's attention back to the present, and with it came a bright blush. "Alright, thank you Robbie. That's where we'll start tomorrow. You guys can talk quietly until the bell rings."

Julie looked down at the textbook before her and acted as though she was concentrating on the pages she turned. In truth, she was mentally laughing at herself. The way she was acting was getting pretty ridiculous, but she really didn't mind.

She surveyed the small room in anticipation of when she could leave it and head to Kimba's house, her house. The school was relatively new, the walls still a crisp cream, a bright red line dividing floor from ceiling. The chairs were clustered tightly together, necessary due to the fact that too many students had to be taught there. Julie hated the chairs, their orange seats drew in her eyes involuntarily. The desktops were weak ply board imitations of sturdy wood, that she'd witnessed shatter on more than one occasion. Today, though, luckily enough, hadn't been one of those days, despite its Mondayness.

As a final demonstration of the dismal way the week normally began, a shy young man poked his head in the door, seeking permission to enter. Only a couple of students noted his entrance after Julie waved him in, the rest deep in teenage conversation. The teacher sighed upon spotting what the wiry messenger was carrying. A large bouquet of deep crimson roses.

John. Great. That's just what I need. Flowers after the fact. She thanked the bearer of the roses and watched him hurry out of the classroom. Normally, such deliveries would remain in the office, not worthy of interrupting class, but Julie realized that every member of the faculty was aware of her situation with her husband. Some had given her quiet assurances of support, as long as she understood they didn't want to get on John's bad side. After all, he was the principal. She sympathized, but also knew that just as many were snickering about her behind her back, ready to pounce on whatever carnage might result from the rift. No doubt that was how a delivery of roses made it to her classroom, some office worker noting that they must be from Principal Jordan, so surely a direct conveyance would be acceptable. Julie didn't really care, being as it hadn't disturbed the lesson.

Picking up the card, she could imagine what kind of lame message he would write in a feeble attempt to show his romantic side. I love you or I'm sorry or please come back. He can be so uninspiring, her mind wearily supplied. Julie had to admit though, he was moving in the right direction, assuming he had even the slightest of chances with her, which he didn't. She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten flowers, but she loved them.

Her fingers spread the folded cardboard, blue eyes immediately widening, seeing the firm words written in a precise, familiar hand. Not John's, but Kimba's. A smile creased the dark woman's face as she could feel heat rush her skin again. The surprise was only half of it, the other portion of delight came from the simple sentences written in bright blue ink.

I told you dreams could come true. Who knew I was underestimating how wonderful it would be. Kimba.

A reference to all the dreams the young girl had constantly orated about as they sunned or star gazed on that smooth, water surrounded rock. She had dreamed grandly, enough for both of them, until even Julie had believed they could come true. Until John, of course, but none of that mattered now. Kimba had reclaimed what she'd wanted all along. What Julie knew she'd always actually had, even at a distance: her heart.

The teacher jolted almost out of her seat as the bell rang and a hand clamped down on her shoulder simultaneously. Quickly folding the note to conceal its contents, she focused on the young office aide who was peering at her with a quirky smile. "What? I'm sorry..." she trailed off, knowing she'd missed what the woman had said. I've really got to get a hold of this giddy, falling head over heels thing.

"Principal Jordan would like you to see you in his office," the little blonde annunciated clearly.

Glorious, her mind groaned. "Okay, thanks." The aide scurried out with the pack of students, leaving Julie to contemplate her fate. School had been going quietly as far as John was concerned. He seemed to be trying to give her space at school, an attempt to concede her need for distance from him. She questioned his motives, however. And now this. Whatever he wanted, she had a grim feeling it wasn't going to be pretty.

John's office was the same creamy color of her class, but no red line horizontally separated the floor from ceiling. Several degree and honor plaques spotted the area, although not one picture of her or Jesse hung on the walls, not one happy memory he wanted to be reminded of. Typical. No matter what he was about to say, Julie knew it had been years, if ever, since he really loved her.

He kept her waiting a few minutes before he walked through the open door to his office and shut it firmly behind him. Fear didn't come at that, though she thought that it would. Some inner knowledge affirmed that he wouldn't do anything at school. At least here she was safe. One thing certain about John was that he was a professional, if nothing else. And he had yet to go over that edge.

The big man proceeded silently to the high backed leather chair behind his desk, settling in it comfortably. Leaning back a little, he ran dark eyes over Julie's seated form, making little, irritating nods with his head as if he approved. "You look great Julie. I've missed you," his voice was almost soft, concerned.

But she was ready for this ploy and refused to be fooled by a gentle side that she hadn't seen from her husband in as long as she could remember. The fact that there was no way in hell he could win her again didn't hurt her composure either. "Thanks John. I feel pretty good too." Her smile was sincere, the statement true. There was no need to be hostile with him if she could help it. Maybe there was still a way to make the divorce a clean affair. "Why did you want to see me?"

"Because I love you and I want you and my boy home." His voice was a register lower than before and there was a faint sparkle of tears in his eyes.

It took Julie off guard, to say the least. He couldn't be faking that, no matter what he'd done in the past. A sudden realization struck her hard. The actions he was taking now, the stalking and pulling the gun on Kimba, were not done out of some mean streak to get back at her for leaving him. He really wanted her back, as his wife, forever. John thought what they had together was a good thing, and in his gruff way, he loved her. That couldn't be good.

"Look, John...I...I'm really sorry about the way this all turned out. I didn't ever want to see you hurt, but I think you know that things haven't been right between us for a while," she spoke in a gentle, sincere tone. She couldn't hardly bear the knowledge that she was really hurting him. Although their marriage had been filled with more than its share of fights and painful arguments, there were good times too, like all marriages. She realized she'd lost sight of that, and in doing so, underestimated her husband's motivations.

Large hands clenched together on top of the mahogany desk and John averted his eyes to the wall. Julie could swear she saw regret and guilt in them. "I'll make up for it if you give me a chance. Things will be better."

No way. She couldn't forget how miserable she'd been over the years, made paramount in her mind by the memories of the last few weeks of utter joy she'd experienced. Or dismiss his erratic threats and actions within that same time. And then there was simply Kimba. No way. "I'm sorry John, but it just wouldn't work. We haven't been in love in a long time and I've discovered that's something I can't live without," she pleaded.

"But I do love you," his voiced stressed the 'I' and was beginning to raise in volume.

Julie swallowed hard as the first wave of fear passed over her. The messy part was coming. "John, come on. When was the last time we even had sex? Can you remember? You just think you want me now because you can't have me. Let's make this easy and just let it go."

He couldn't though, and she could see it in his eyes, blazing there like white fire, hot and out of control. "It's not like that," he said in a high, almost panicked pitch. "Won't you let me change?"

"No," she answered, more harsh than she'd intended, but there was no hiding from the truth. "No. The time has passed for that. I've changed enough for both of us. I'm sorry, John, but nothing you do will change my mind. Please accept that and we can move beyond all this."

The chair slammed against the wall when he stood up, his fists pounding on the wood top of the desk as he leaned heavily on them, looming over his wife. "I refuse to accept that. You've always been my wife, loved me, and that's not going to change now." His face was red with rage, his voice surely loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear. "And no restraining order is going to keep me from you."

So that was what prompted this little talk. First he gave me time to see the error of my ways. Then he tried the sweet, 'but I love you' angle. Now we're moving onto the brute force part. The messy part. Julie stood slowly and took a step to the door, intent on not letting any fear, which she was feeling considerably in light of his dominant nature, show in her posture. "I'll have you put in jail if you keep bothering us. Threatening us. You need to get a hold of yourself John. You're scaring me, not to mention your son," she declared.

"Don't mention my son. You have no right to have him. What are you exposing him to over in your girlfriend's house...it turns my stomach to think of you sleeping with her," his voice was dripping with disgust.

A sudden burst of rage attempted to overtake Julie, her head swimming in the sensation. She wanted to cross the room and deck the bastard, but she managed to hold back. The fact that she would probably get beaten to death was a good cap to her anger. But the conversation, and the last chance to resolve their marriage peacefully, was over. That much she could see. "Goodbye John. Please leave us alone." She knew the plea fell on deaf ears, but want overrode good sense so she asked anyway. The next step would be to wait and see if he came to his senses, or see him in jail. The choices weren't very satisfying, but they would have to do.

The door slammed behind her as she stalked from the office.

When she met Jesse in her classroom he was ready to go home early, lucky for him, because he didn't actually have a choice. She'd never been more ready to leave school than she was after the confrontation with John. Some degree of calmness returned to her body by the time they got to Kimba's well kept red brick house. She could tell that Jesse was wondering what was wrong, her jerky, angry movements unavoidable, but he hadn't asked.

Settling on the couch in a defeated slump, Julie looked over at her handsome son as he reclined next to her. "I talked to your father today," she informed him somberly. Although Julie thought that Jesse had a pretty good understanding of what was going on, she couldn't be sure. There was no doubt that he loved his father and she didn't know exactly how to handle that.

"Must have went well. You're in a really crappy mood." He flashed her a small grin and placed his hand on her arm.

The dark woman laughed lightly and shook her head. Despite having a mother that had been miserable for most of his life and an asshole for a father, the boy was turning out amazingly well. "I'm sorry it shows that much, but yes, it didn't go well. He refuses to accept this, Jesse. And he's going to have to, because I'm not going back." And again she affirmed to herself that the decision was right. The only one she could make.

His dark head nodded solemnly. "I know and I...I don't think you should. Dad never has treated you good enough." The surprise must have shown on her face, because he smiled again and looked away. She'd forgotten how perceptive kids could be, forgotten how perceptive she and Kimba had been when they were Jesse's age. Kids noticed everything. "We should stay with Kimba. She makes you happy," he added.

Julie felt her breathing catch at the statement, not knowing exactly how he meant it or how ready she was to discuss the matter with her son. She hadn't even discussed it with herself. "I am happy," was all she could get out. Thoughts swirled through her mind, asking if she was ready to admit what she was feeling to anyone and if Jesse was old enough to understand what those feelings might mean.

"It's okay with me, Mom. I think she's really cute too." He squeezed her arm lightly, pretending not to notice the blush that was brightening her olive skin.

Desperately, she wanted to ask him exactly what he was talking about, how much he knew. But she couldn't call the question out of her lips. Not yet. Even so, his stamp of approval meant more to her than she'd imagined it would. The teacher hadn't ever really thought she'd get his blessing, she thought he would be appalled by the idea, like everyone else would be. Jesse wasn't though, and that knowledge gave his mother one more ounce of courage to face the inevitable.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with a light banter between them, more like friends than mother and son. It was refreshing to Julie, who hadn't spent as much time with Jesse as she should have over the years. The longer she was away from John's oppressive presence, the more she realized what she'd been missing. Right under her nose had been a caring, funny, intelligent young man, and she hadn't had the slightest clue.

Kimba came home from work through the heavy front door with a sense of urgency, no doubt alarmed by the squeals and screams coming from the living room floor. She stopped and scowled at the two of them, Jesse sprawled on his back in the thick brown carpet, his mother pinning him effectively to the ground. Both of them were completely still, taking in the appearance of the stocky redhead with a look of childish guilt. But it passed as soon as her leather briefcase hit the ground and Julie reasserted her dominance by tickling the boy's exposed sides as he writhed wildly in an attempt to escape.

"What the hell are you guys doing," Kimba asked as she inquiringly moved closer to the pair. As soon as a muscular leg was within reach, Julie stretched a long arm out and pulled the woman closer. "Hey," she yelled in surprise.

Within moments it was a three way fight, Julie switching between torturing Kimba and Jesse, both of them trying to get the older woman. Somehow, Julie was dominating them easily, her long fingers tickling sensitive flesh mercilessly.

"Okay...Mom...cut...it...out," Jesse begged in between gasps of breath. Kimba had collapsed on her side momentarily, out of Julie's reach, allowing the wiry boy to take the brunt of his mother's assault. The torture was fun, but she could only take so much tickling before passing out from lack of breath. Luckily, through years of experience, Julie knew that.

As for Jesse, he did not have such a weakness, and his mother knew that as well. They were having more fun than they'd had in a while. It felt good. "Never, boy," she taunted him, his shoulders pinned effectively to the carpet by her knees. The long fingers ceased their movements momentarily as she shifted her hands to hold his body down. He needed to catch his breath, so another torture device was called for. Promptly, Julie began placing sloppy kisses all over his face, brow to chin.

"Aww, come on, Mom. You're embarrassing me," he pleaded with the crazed woman.

Kimba watched the pair with interest, having finally caught her breath. She couldn't keep back the need to laugh at her friends, which was her undoing.

Turning to the giggling woman at her side, Julie arched an eyebrow and released her son. He scrambled away to the couch safely. "Run for it, Jesse. Next thing you know," the redhead stopped speaking in a giggling fit as the dark woman advanced on her, "she'll bust out your naked baby pictures and make us look at them again." Kimba dissolved into a fit of laughter as Julie straddled her body, as she'd done Jesse, pinning her shoulders with strong hands.

"You think that's funny, do you," she asked evilly. Kimba's eyes widened in surprise as Julie lowered her head and began the kissing treatment. Unlike she'd done with Jesse, she ended with a quick, gentle kiss on her lips, lighter and less sloppy than the others. It wasn't a lover's kiss, but something was different about it. Neither of them were laughing as Julie pulled away and rolled off her body.

Jesse finally broke the eerie silence that encompassed them all as he walked by their sprawled forms on his way to the window. "Both of you guys need to take a pill."

Ambiguous again, Julie thought. She was beginning to wonder if she was getting too old to decipher what her son was talking about. "Thanks kid," she sassed to him as he passed. She slapped him on the ankle, then turned to Kimba, who was looking at her with dreamy emerald eyes. "We've got to talk about this, Kimba."

The redhead nodded minutely, needing no explanation of what 'this' she was referring too. They'd been tiptoeing around it for, well, forever. The talk was long overdue. "Later," Kimba said with a motion to the boy at the window.

Alone was definitely a good idea, because it might take a while. Julie had some issues with what was going on, and what might go on. She knew talking to her best friend about her misgivings was the best thing she could do. "Okay...Thanks for the flowers, by the way."

"I'm glad you liked them." Kimba immediately flushed bright red.

"I did," Julie answered, taking the small hand closest to her into her own.

Both women looked over to the window as a sound from Jesse drew their attention. It sounded suspiciously like a growl. "What is it," Julie asked, rising up and pulling her friend with her.

"He's back," was all he said before turning and leaving the room.

Julie went immediately to the phone while Kimba stood there, looking out at the green Ford and cursing. The police got to the house surprisingly fast, but John was already gone when the squad car arrived. The lunatic must have got a scanner, the women surmised.

After a brief, but visibly heated talk with the officer, Kimba returned to the house, face red with rage. "They won't do a damned thing. Said if he didn't get out of the car, he didn't violate the order. Sons of a bitches."

Putting a hand on the fuming woman's shoulder, Julie guided her to the frumpy couch. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the older woman couldn't help but note how sexy Kimba looked when she was furious. "Calm down, okay." She waited until green eyes looked at her with a degree of control before continuing. "Nothing happened..."

Kimba cut her off, hands flying out in animation. "This time. What about next time? That protective order isn't going to do much good when he's already in the house with a fucking gun," her voice was raised louder than Julie had ever heard it. Kimba was scared and so was she.

"I know, Kimba, but there's nothing we can do about it yet. Maybe when he goes before the judge he'll get some sense knocked into him. There's no use driving yourself crazy with it like this. He's gone," Julie used her most soothing voice, which seemed to have an effect on her friend. The attorney looked away, but her shoulders relaxed a little and she leaned back into the cushions.

A few minutes later, they were curled up side by side in the bedroom, watching television and forgetting the world existed, save for their voices and the laughter that danced between them.

Chapter 14

Friday had not meant much to Kimba since she'd graduated from high school. Back then it had been a sanctuary from the week of school and a chance to laze around with her best friend. The feeling had been lost for a long time, but of late, the bubbling happiness that the quiet weekends brought was back in full force. So taking off a couple of hours early from work was becoming a habit. One that she had no intention of trying to get rid of.

She located Jesse immediately upon entering the front lobby, sitting on a long cushioned bench, leaning back against the glass walls that separated it from the office. His shoes squeaked as he rushed across the polished tile floors, a bright grin on his young face. "Hey Kimba."

The boy's use of her nickname brought a warm glow over her. Only he and Julie had the right to call her that. To her it was a marking, a signal to the world that these were her people. That they owned her as no others ever would. And owned her heart they did. Completely. "Hey Jesse. Are you ready," she asked, following him down a long corridor.

The plan was to drop him off at his grandparents' house for the weekend, which he'd agreed to happily. Kimba was afraid that he wouldn't want to spend any more time at the country residence, since he'd stayed there several weekends since the split. But he insisted that it was fine with him, because he loved spending time with both his grandparents. Especially Pa. So Kimba was satisfied that he wouldn't feel left out by the little trip she and Julie were taking. Jesse would probably be bored at a softball tournament anyway.

Jesse went into the quiet classroom first, putting up a hand to hold the redhead back, and a finger over his mouth. He was indeed mischievous. "I brought you a surprise," she heard him tell his mother.

Figuring that was her cue, Kimba stuck her golden head around the doorframe and looked to the front of the room, where her friend was sitting at a desk stacked with papers and notebooks. "Surprise," she exclaimed over-dramatically.

"I hate surprises," she said with a mock scowl, but arose and moved away from the cluttered desk and toward the door. The shorter woman moved in all the way and met her friend, who unexpectedly touched her arm gently and smiled. "How was your day?"

The attorney felt her breathing catch and began wondering what exactly was going on in Julie's head. The look on her face was indescribably tender. "It was fine," she answered softly. "I'm glad it's over though. I can't wait for this weekend." And that was an understatement. The chance to get away from the unstable quandary that was their life, to be alone with her best friend was something she'd been dreaming of for a while.

"Neither can I. Let's get it started." The hand still on her arm moved down to Kimba's smaller one and squeezed it momentarily in a promise she wasn't quite sure she understood. Clearing her throat, Julie looked to Jesse, who was watching the whole scene with a half smile and a raised eyebrow, and motioned him to the door.

Joe met them at the sturdy wooden entrance to the red brick house and ushered them in. "Hello girls. Jesse," he greeted enthusiastically. Evidently, he got as much joy out of the visits as the boy did. "Are you going to stay for dinner?"

Kimba looked to Julie, who simple shrugged in apathy. They weren't leaving until the morning anyway, the first game being at ten and the drive only an hour or so long. The younger woman had been thinking about a little excursion in the area, so she decided for them. "Sure, Joe. I think we might take a walk beforehand, though. It's been too long since we saw these parts," she added with a wink.

"Good idea, but you should watch out." He waited for Jesse to walk down the hall to the extra bedroom where he slept, his mother's childhood room, then turned back to the women. Kimba saw a smirk and twinkle in his eyes and began to get a nervous tickle in her stomach. "Looks like it might rain...Although that might be pretty romantic if that was the mood you were looking for." This time he winked and waggled his salt and pepper eyebrows suggestively.

Both women looked at him with wide eyes, unsure of how to react to the statement, out of the blue as it was. Kimba knew they hadn't done anything outward to alert him that something was going on. Actually, they hadn't done anything, anywhere, to alert anyone, but somehow he could see it. "Um...well...I wasn't much thinking about mood. Just a walk," the younger woman stammered in an attempt to come up with any kind of intelligible comment.

"It's okay with me ladies. Even way back when, I knew there was something between you two that went beyond definition. Then, I would have never said it was a good idea, but now I know better. Don't be scared to consider all possibilities. Second chances are too rare," he finished with a gentle smile. A step forward brought him close to his daughter, pulling her into a tight hug. Kimba could hear a whisper that she couldn't understand before he stepped back and walked into the kitchen where his wife was beginning dinner.

Misty blue eyes turned to her after the man disappeared from the room. Julie looked on the verge of tears, happy ones. "What about that walk," she voiced quietly, a slight crack in the words.

"You bet." Kimba followed her tall friend from the perfectly kept house, into a dimming sky and cool breeze. Spring was finally asserting itself fully, the nights mostly tolerable without a jacket, thunderstorms more common than the calm winter rain. Swirling gray clouds loomed overhead, lacking the dreary blackness that marked a violent storm. If they did get caught out in something, being wet was all they had to worry about.

They walked side by side in comfortable silence away from the house, down the loping hills of grass that dominated the land where it sat. Fifty acres of it belonged to the Georges, which had made for lots of fun room for two adventurous girls to play. Kimba loved it there, remembering the running and rampaging they'd done all over the plot of land. Out of sight of the house and watchful adult eyes had been Egypt and England, Rome and New York, and anywhere else their fertile minds guided them.

Once they were completely alone, visible to no one who might be watching, Kimba tentatively took Julie's hand in her own, lacing their fingers together delicately. She checked the face above her for approval and received it in a lopsided grin, accentuated by a slight blush of olive cheeks. That brought a smile to her lips that she couldn't help and didn't want to, it felt so right.

I never thought it would be like this, falling in love. I thought I was in love before, but I was too young to really understand it all then. There was no way I could know about the pain that came with it. About how much the knowledge of the depths a person could sink to could put the rest in perspective. She sighed thoughtfully as they walked, only aware of the warm feelings filling her soul and the cause of them so close at her side. Now, I know how all that feels, how horrible it was to know that she could hurt me. And yet, when she looks at me, I also realize that we can make it through anything, and that she wants me at her side. Only me. It feels like being in a warm pool of water, surrounded by a safety I've never known was possible.

"Kimba look," Julie's voice floated through her thoughts. Green eyes focused on the horizon, the little hut standing there, where she was guiding them. How many hours had they spent there? She had no idea, but it was a lot. Originally it was built to be a cattle feeding stall until the girls took it over as a club house and Joe had allowed it. The simple plank building hadn't cost that much to replace one field away, so they'd dressed this one up in their childish style and often called it home...

And home it had been for a while for Kimba. Literally. She couldn't quite recall the exact circumstance, since her parents had run off or ended up in jail more times than she cared to remember during her childhood, but shortly after they'd claimed the little house, far out in the fields, she'd found herself alone. Never wanting to return to the house her parents called home, it being not much more luxurious than the hut and considerably more dangerous, she'd moved in.

Julie found her there early one morning after bursting through the door in a panic. "There you are. I've been looking all over, Kimba. I went to get you at your house and Karl said he hadn't seen you in two days," her voice was urgent, but concerned.

The eight-year old sat up in the cot and sleepily rubbed her eyes. "I'm not going back there Jay. Mom and Dad are gone and I don't have any reason to be there. Promise not to tell anyone."

The older girl fidgeted in the doorway before walking closer with a frown. She sat down on the bed and put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "You can't stay out here. Someone will look for you eventually and then our hideout will be shot," she replied reasonably. "You can stay at my house again." She added with a smile.

Kimba sighed deeply. She hated having to rely on Julie's family for sanctuary when her parents were flaking out. Mrs. George always seemed to at least tolerate the inconvenience and Joe was an angel, but she hated being a charity case. Normal people didn't have to find other places to live while their parents got out of whatever trouble they'd gotten into. More than anything, she wanted to be a normal kid, like Julie.

"Okay. But this is the last time." It was more a wish than a promise. Over the next five years she spent as much time at the George household as she did her own. Probably more. Still, on some of those nights when she and Julie were hiding from the world or imagining they were secret agents, they snuck out into the night, to their safe little hut in the middle of the waving brown fields.

The wood panels were worn from weather, faded from years of harsh sunlight, and looked like they would produce multiple splinters upon one touch, but the walls were straight and sturdy and looked as if they would survive many storms to come. Julie went in first, stopping just inside the door with a small gasp. Kimba followed and they both paused for a while, taking in a living piece of their relatively happy childhood.

Along one wall sat a small cot, the fabric torn in several places, leaving more holes than covering over the wooden frame. The canvas chair Julie always loved to sit in was in much the same condition on the opposite wall, its brown fabric caked with dust and age old mold. The damp dark that had filled the room for too many inactive years had taken its toll.

Leaving the door open to let in at least the dim glow permeating the air despite the thick cloud cover, Kimba guided them to the only bare wall and slid down to the dirt silently. Julie followed quickly, still taking in the remnants of their past.

"It's been a while, huh," the older woman asked softly. Kimba couldn't tell exactly what her friend was thinking, but there was a sadness in her crystal eyes that touched her. Regret at what should have been, maybe.

Wondering if anyone had been in the little house since they'd cleaned out their personal items that last time, the attorney surveyed the room fully. The childhood spent there had not always been good, she supposed, but even with total clods as parents, it had been better than most. Through some intervention from God, she had been loved, and that had made all the difference in the world.

"Yeah, it's been too long. Remember when you taught me how to dance in here," she asked contentedly. It felt good to sit here again, shoulder to shoulder, talking freely like they'd always been able to do.

Julie laughed a little, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "I see my lessons stuck. You're quite the dancer."

"Well, I had a lot of chances to practice during college. I was no stranger to frat parties during my career," she answered with a wry chuckle. She realized now that back in college she'd been looking for something, anything, to fill the emptiness that was such a huge part of her life then. Never found it, of course, which she knew since that special something she'd been missing was sitting beside her.

Pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, Julie waited a few moments before responding. "But you wouldn't dance with Marty?"

Chalk up one dead policeman, please, Kimba's nervous mind began racing. There was any number of things that Marty could have told her friend that might be sensitive, but none more so than their short relationship. That was something that needed to come from her lips to Julie's ear directly. "I'm not sure what you mean," she stalled.

The tall woman chuckled slightly, turning her eyes on her friend. "It's okay, Kimba. She told me about the two of you. And about Roger. I don't mind."

"How unfortunate for her," Kimba said apprehensively. She had intended for them to talk on this little outing, but she hadn't planned for them to have 'THE TALK' quite yet. She hadn't been able to map out everything she wanted to say. Now she was going to have to improvise, which she was good at, but still didn't like to do unless forced. "It was a mistake, I guess. She's great but I was using her. Marty deserves better. How...um...how do you feel about it," she had to know, but wasn't sure how to ask.

A dark eyebrow raised with a matching grin. "I don't think Marty could do much better than you, unless I came along, of course."

"Ha, ha." Okay, I see you're going to make this hard. Great. Kimba smirked at her friend before continuing. "I meant, what do you think about me and a woman," she asked seriously.

Julie sighed deeply and pulled a little tighter into the ball she was in. Blue eyes met green in a concentrated glare. "I don't like you and another woman," she said evasively.

Kimba got a spark of hope as she picked up the 'another woman' portion of the statement. She was forced to break her gaze away from the eyes so close to hers to continue. The emotions she saw there were too distracting. "You know, I think your dad is a very smart man. Second chances don't come along too often."

"I agree," Julie said simply.

Turning sideways to face the dark woman, Kimba folded one leg in front and stretched the other across Julie's feet, still tucked against her legs. She put a small hand on the one's clutching her friend's legs tightly. "I'm not wasting mine, Jay. So what I'm about to do is just about the scariest thing I can think of facing. Worse than that gun barrel the other night or anything else I've ever done. Because once I start, I know there's no going back."

Meeting her gaze, Julie nodded slightly and swallowed. She seemed to sense what was coming, taking one hand from her knees and grasping Kimba's lightly. "Go on," she whispered with a nervous smile.

"Well, you said we needed to talk, so this is it. We've been floundering around this since you showed up at my door and I guess it's time to face it. And I want you to know that no matter how it turns out, you'll always be my best friend."

She knew she was stalling already. The fear froze the words on her tongue and she knew the longer she stayed away from saying the inevitable, the longer she could still look Julie in the eye. Her imagination had shown her the ghastly scene a million times, featuring her best friend turning away from her with disgust. There wasn't much she dreaded more.

Julie's dark head nodded again, but she said nothing. Gathering her courage, Kimba took in a deep breath to calm herself. "Since I left here for college, I've spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that you were just a friend to me and that I'd eventually find someone to replace you. I didn't really want to, but without you around to be my friend...well, I needed someone."

She looked out the door in silence for a while, watching the gray light begin to fade even more as the sun set somewhere behind them, unseen through the thick layers of clouds.

When a slight squeeze of her hand brought her back to the task at hand, Kimba was able to continue. "I can't tell you how often I dreamed of the day you and I would be together again. That stupid image I was always talking about of us living in some house somewhere wouldn't get out of my head no matter what I did." She laughed ruefully and shook her golden head. "It took seeing you at my doorstep to realize I'd never be able to replace what you meant to me. I didn't know until right then how much I needed you."

"I always thought you'd find someone. That helped me get through it, the thought that you'd fall in love and be happy," Julie added softly. They both knew this was Kimba's story to tell, though.

"That's just the thing though, Jay. I was already in love. Or at least I imagined I was. And over the years we were apart, that belief wouldn't go away, no matter how unjustified it was...I...I know I was too young then to really know what love was. That was just a silly kid dreaming." Their eyes met again and they sat transfixed, eyes locked at close range, a patter of raindrops beginning to tink on the aluminum roof. "But I'm not a kid anymore," she whispered huskily.

Julie swallowed hard again and straightened up a little against the plank wall. A lopsided grin creased her lips. "I've noticed."

"When you came back to me, I tried to put that possibility out of my mind. Kept telling myself you might still be my best friend, but that was all you were ever going to be." Kimba lazily raised her free hand and brushed stray dark hair off Julie's forehead. "I'm sorry, I really tried, but my heart wouldn't listen to my head. I went ahead and fell in love with you anyway." She immediately felt lighter and a small joy crept into her heart. The response could kill her, but at least she'd finally had the courage to speak something that had needed saying for years.

Closing her eyes and taking another deep breath, Julie sat silently for a moment longer, composing an answer. She licked her lips nervously several times before she looked at Kimba and spoke. "I can't tell you I'm one hundred percent comfortable with this Kimba," she answered, voice shaky. "But I think I want to give it a try." She smiled at the look of relief on her friend's face. "No one has ever made me feel the way you do."

Bringing a hand to an olive cheek, Kimba stroked it lightly, letting out another relieved sigh. The warm feeling radiating within her body was something she never expected to feel. It was glorious. This was the moment she'd been dreaming of...forever.

"You won't regret it, Jay. And if you ever want to put a halt on things...just say so. Okay," she asked softly. The thought of being with a woman had been extremely hard for her at first, made possible only by her undeniable love for Julie. Neither one of them had been brought up in very open environments.

The teacher simply nodded her answer and leaned into Kimba's gentle caress. The redhead didn't even realize her hand was still on Julie's cheek until she felt the pressure. When the dark woman closed her eyes, taking in the pleasure of the moment, Kimba allowed herself to indulge in feeling the sensations she'd kept such a tight lid on. A welcome warmth swept through her body as she moved her other hand to cradle Julie's face.

Julie opened her eyes, which were filled with a giddy joy that Kimba knew were reflected in her own. The older woman raised up on her knees slowly, then pulled her friend into a fierce hug. Which was really more than a hug, because although Kimba was a bit stunned and rather still, Julie's hands were moving in slow circles on her back. A very welcomed feeling indeed. So they sat there like that for a while. Embracing as the friends they still were, always would be, and as what more they were to become.

Finally, Julie pulled back, keeping her arms around the slim waist she held, a few trails of tears marking her cheeks. Kimba smiled indulgently, not saying anything. One thing for sure about her friend was that she didn't show her emotions that well or that often. And if she did, the best thing to do was accept it and move on without bringing too much attention to the fact. To know that Julie was as happy and relieved at the developments of the night as she was made Kimba feel better than any amount of discussion ever would.

She raised her hands slowly, brushed the tears away carefully, then peered again into the most beautiful eyes she'd ever seen. What she wanted to do was kiss her, they were so close and she'd dreamed of it for so long, but there was still that fear there, holding her back, the boldness of her confession inconveniently gone.

Until she felt Julie's strong arms pull her just a little closer and a tentative smile grace her perfect lips. She still had to make sure, though. This was too important to screw up. "Can...can I kiss you," she asked shyly, blood rushing to her fair face. So new to both of them. Not the kissing or physical acts, but the deep emotions that were so intense they were almost dizzying.

"Please," was the throaty response.

They were already so close, a simple raise of her chin brought her up to Julie's bowed head. Their lips met tenderly, softness exquisitely met by softness. More so than the attorney had imagined, the dark woman was gentle and responsive to the kiss. Kimba couldn't tell how long it lasted, but when they pulled away and opened their eyes, both women were slightly out of breath, and smiling.

Julie pushed golden hair back from her friend's head with a negligent hand and straightened up a little without releasing her from the grasp. "We should get back. It's dark."

"Yeah." They stood still for a few moments more, absorbing the sweetness of the moment, gazing into each other's eyes. Then they could both feel the internal chuckle emerging only moments before the two women dissolved into a fit of wayward laughter.

The dinner Mrs. George served them was delicious, as usual. Neither of them commented, though, not wanting to draw the attention of the woman. Upon finishing the meal, they kissed Jesse goodbye and proceeded to drive home, both in a very happy mood. Kimba could feel the joy practically oozing out of her pores, she was so happy. If love truly felt like this, she was more than sorry that it had been denied for so long.

Julie's nervous chatter and constant touches displayed that she too was feeling the effects of the happy revelation. Although it really wasn't a revelation, so to speak. It was more of a confirmation, an assurance that their lives were proceeding on a pre-approved course that would keep them content. And the younger woman knew that she'd never felt more content in her life.

Standing at her front door, eager to unlock it and get inside, Kimba dropped the keys in surprise as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist. She knew it was Julie, but she wasn't expecting the tentative woman to be making so bold a move. She enjoyed it nonetheless.

The door finally closed behind them, Julie pulled the redhead into her arms without a word of warning or explanation. More soft kisses followed, which delighted both women immensely, evidenced by the warmth between them. The dark of the house went unnoticed as the embrace continued and slowly intensified.

Kimba was shocked and a little overwhelmed at the display of passion from her friend. She expected them to consummate their relationship later, rather than sooner. And the way Julie was kissing her...Well, things were getting a little out of hand. Not that it was a bad thing.

They slowly began moving away from the entrance and toward the living room couch, only a few feet away and very, very comfortable. Kimba was walking backwards, her hands twined in silky black hair, a pair of strong hands grasping her waist. When she stepped on some type of cylinder in the floor, both women were so shocked by its placement that Kimba fell on her rear unhindered by her partner's strong arms.

"That must be a sign," Kimba joked.

Julie was in deep shadows of the dark night, only her teeth showing through her wide smile. But the answering grin from the younger woman disappeared quickly as she realized something was wrong. The pain in her hand from the fall was not lessening and something that could only be blood was dripping down her wrist. "Turn on the light."

Light filled the room almost instantly, causing Kimba to blink several times before she was able to adjust to the change. Once her eyes were focused, her stomach cringed fully at the clutter of the room. Every piece of furniture was at least turned over, if not shattered into multiple pieces. Whoever had been in the room had been quite mad and Kimba knew exactly who was responsible.

Green eyes darted back to Julie, who was still standing by the door, her hand on the light switch, her expression horrified. "Go back outside, Jay," Kimba ordered as calmly as possible. She didn't hear anything from further in the house, but there was a possibility that John could still be there. From the evidence sitting in rubble around her, it wouldn't be wise to encounter the man in the near future.

"Are you coming," Julie asked urgently.

Kimba got up quickly and walked to the far corner of the normally impeccable room, where the phone had been sitting on a nicely polished table. The location of that piece of furniture was a mystery to her at the moment, but the phone was partially sticking out from beneath a print that had been on the wall. "I'll call the police and come out. Now go."

She dialed the number and waited patiently for the operator to pick up. If John had been around, she wouldn't still be using the telephone. He wasn't in the house, or anywhere in the vicinity, most likely. The trick now was going to be convincing the police that he had broken in and maybe, just maybe the whole terrible mess could finally come to an end.

Chapter 15

Dim orange light filtered into the room through tattered yellow shades, despite all the trouble Kimba had put into trying to get them shut. The light teased her closed eyes, keeping sleep away from her, as if she could sleep anyway. In the first place, she always had trouble falling into slumber in hotel rooms. Second, anger still thrummed through her veins from the night's developments.

The police didn't do a damned thing, even in the face of a disheveled house and tons of motive. They'd pick him up for questioning, they'd said. Yeah, right. And when he says 'of course I didn't break into that house', he'll go scott free. Bastards, her mind growled angrily. It wasn't fair at all. Every one of the men knew John had been the one to do it, she could see it in their faces. But also present in their eyes was a condescension that sickened her. The look said 'he's the husband and the high school principal and he's not getting arrested for anything short of murder.' Kimba had hoped that it wouldn't come to this, but she'd been around abusive situations enough to know that it probably would. Without bruises or worse, a husband could get away with a lot.

After she'd fought with the on sight officers for an hour, Kimba had stormed to Julie's car, driven out to pick up Jesse, and took them one hundred and fifty miles away to Brighton. Getting away felt like a really good idea for all of them, tournament or no. Most of the nice hotels had been filled, so the one vacant room they'd finally found was anything but elegant, but the bed was soft and the sheets clean. Five minutes after arrival, Julie and Jesse were snoring softly in sleep.

Kimba was still raging internally, slowly trying to let the anger go, which she knew was the proper thing to do, yet still very difficult. It helped that her head was resting on a very comfortable shoulder, rising and falling with each breath Julie took. They'd been sleeping in the same manner for a few weeks, but after the kiss in the country, the sensation was that much more intense. It felt like home.

A soft rustle of linen alerted the redhead to Jesse's alertness. She opened her eyes to see him sitting silently on the other bed, his legs hanging off the side, mouth slightly agape. He was staring at her with a strange expression and she suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to know what the boy was thinking. To know how he felt about her, about them. The thought struck her profoundly that because there was a possibility of a future with his mother, Jesse's approval was something she wanted very badly.

"Are you alright Jesse," she asked quietly. Julie would probably wake up if they talked anyway, but she wanted to let the woman sleep as long as possible.

Jesse whispered as well, his deepening voice rasping each word. "I'm okay. I just...I...is something going on between you guys?" His question sounded a little desperate.

"Would it bother you if there was something between your mother and I?" Nothing had really happened yet, at least not anything that couldn't be taken back, so talking hypothetically seemed relatively safe. For the moment anyway.

Sharp shoulders shrugged beneath his striped pajamas and he looked at the streaming light coming through the shades. After a couple of deep breaths, he spoke again.

"I've never really had to think about stuff like that. I certainly never had to consider my mom being in love with another woman. And two months ago, I probably would have been shocked. But you know something, Kimba," he asked, his dark eyes meeting hers again.

"What," she asked breathlessly.

The boy was struggling with the conversation as much as she was. The thought occurred to her that he might be as eager to know what she was thinking as she was to hear his thoughts. They'd already been through a lot together and Kimba believed they were getting close.

"I've never seen my mom happier than she's been since we moved in with you. It's like for all these years, I had a good mother, who always took care of me and Dad. She did everything he told her to and all the things moms are supposed to do." He scooted forward a little and rested his elbows on his knees, leaning on them for support. A slight grin etched onto his face, seen as a displacement of shadows in the dim orange light. "After we came to you, she's still the same great mom, taking care of everything, but she's a different person. She's fun and cool and if she wasn't my mom, I know I'd like her. For all my life I only had a mother, but now I have this great friend that I can talk to and play with."

Taking in a shaky breath, Kimba could feel a new, soft warmth spreading through her. For a while now she thought she'd made a difference, but to hear him say it so plainly was more satisfying than she could imagine.

"I'm glad she's happy," she whispered.

"She is happy and that's all because of you...And if that means the two of you are going to have some kind of a thing going, well, I guess I'll get used to it." He shrugged, studying his mother's still peaceful face. "I mean, I don't really have a problem with that kind of thing. It's...it's just different."

Julie stirred a little under her, and Kimba thought she might be awake. Then she licked her lips twice absently and released a deep sigh. No, she wasn't awake, which was good and bad. It would have been nice for her to hear her son's comments.

Tomorrow would be soon enough for the recap. The dark woman was peacefully sleeping, deeper than she had in a while, so the redhead allowed her to stay that way. "I know. It's different for us too, Jesse. Neither of us planned what happened. It was fate, I think."

Jesse laughed and leaned back on the bed with a whoosh. "Fate must have a bad sense of humor to pull all this on me then. I'm just a kid for God's sake. More has happened to me in the last month than it has in my whole life."

"Yeah," Kimba agreed thoughtfully. Her eyes were drifting shut sleepily and she could feel her awareness slipping away. "Fate can be a bitch, but life would be boring without her." Within moments of the thought, she was snoring softly against Julie's chest.

Light spraying across her closed eyes brought Kimba around a few hours later, her body still pinning the larger one beneath her. It felt great, so she stayed there for a while, until she realized Julie was awake. "Hey."

A hand lovingly caressed her hair. "Morning. Did you sleep well," Julie asked quietly.

"Great, how 'bout you?" The younger woman leaned over onto her elbow, taking most of her weight back to her own body, but not relinquishing the contact with her partner.

"The sleep was fine, and I can't think of a better way to wake up. Or a better person to do it with." Her voice filled with an awe Kimba had never heard before, clear blue eyes mirroring the emotion. Julie had obviously been thinking.

As she was beginning to, thinking back to the conversation she'd had the night before with Jesse. His mother deserved to know the gist of it. Kimba glanced to the other bed, observing that it was empty. "I had a little talk with Jesse last night."

"Yeah, about what," Julie asked without concern.

Kimba idly played with the cotton fabric draped across her friend's stomach, considering the perfect way to relay what the boy had said. "About us," she finally declared.

The older woman took in a suddenly shaky breath. "What...what did he say?"

Patting the skin beneath her hand reassuringly, Kimba allowed a full smile to come to her lips. It wasn't that hard really, because knowing that Jesse wasn't going to be any trouble for her new relationship with Julie was a great weight lifted from her shoulders. "He said that anyone that made his mother happy was okay with him. He could learn to deal with stuff," she relayed softly.

"Oh...that's great. I suspected he felt that way, but I've been too scared to bring it up," she said with a relieved sigh. "It's not everyday that I have to tell my son I have a girlfriend." Julie chuckled soundlessly and rubbed her hand over Kimba's back.

The redhead straightened up a little, gaining a better line of sight to her friend's face. "If you can't tell your own son, Julie, how are you going to deal with the rest of the world. Are you sure you're up to this," she asked firmly.

Kimba still didn't know exactly how ready she was to announce this new facet of her life to the world, much less how Julie was taking it. Although nothing completely solid had happened between them as of yet, they both wanted it, and she thought it was a permanent commitment. At least that's how she wanted it.

"I...I've been avoiding thinking about it, to tell you the truth. I don't think I can announce it to the world Kimba. Is that a problem," she asked, her voice tinged with hope.

Their eyes searched each other's intently at short range, seeing love, longing, and a bit of uncertainty. Kimba realized that they were heading deeper into uncharted waters everyday they continued on their course, but she also knew that she wouldn't change it for all the world.

"No, that's not a problem," she admitted quietly. "I...I feel the same way, I guess. Part of me wants to go stand on a mountaintop and scream to the world that I love you." She paused to feel the warm hand cupping her cheek and take in the loving gaze from those beautiful eyes. "But another part doesn't want to deal with anyone else and all the grief I know they would cause. I don't want anything to take away how good this feels."

"Exactly," Julie concurred simply.

She welcomed an agreement on that complicated subject, more so since it was easier than she'd imagined. She knew it wouldn't be simple, that measures would have to be taken, but it was a start. They had nothing to hide, but people didn't have a right to interfere with this love that they had. Kimba knew that she'd waited a long time for it to happen and she had no intention of letting the narrow minded people of the world screw it up. A big enough chance of that happening existed without them.

Giving Julie a quick kiss on the forehead, Kimba scrambled out of the bed to search in their bags, strewn across the far wall hastily the night before. She returned moments later, holding a small velvet box behind her back.

"I got this from the house before we left. I wanted to wait for a better time to give it to you, but now feels as good as any," she said hurriedly, thrusting her hands forward, displaying the container to her friend.

"Kimba," Julie drawled in a 'you shouldn't have' tone. But she opened the little box without hesitation and peered misty eyed at its contents. A pair of gold loop earrings stood out against black velvet, simple really, except for the etched design that pulled the light from the air in delicate reflection.

"They're beautiful," she whispered.

Scooting a little closer, her thigh touching Julie's crossed legs, Kimba leaned over to look at the jewelry again. "I thought they'd look sexy on you."

Without her permission, blood rushed up to her cheeks in an outstanding blush. Ridiculous, her mind screamed at the sensation. We're both adults and this isn't the dark ages, yet I still get embarrassed when I let myself think about being with her. I feel like a kid when I look into her eyes. Like I've never been touched by another person. Jeez. Kimba looked away to the slatted window, only to have her face gently pulled back to Julie's waiting glare.

A soft smile awaited on the other woman's lips and Kimba could feel her pulse speed up in reaction. "Thank you."

The kiss was sweet and as gentle as the first, both women not needing to speed up the acquaintance process one bit. A silent agreement seemed to exist that they had all the time in the world and intended to use it. After all, they built up to that first kiss for their entire lives. A little longer for the rest wasn't going to hurt a thing.

Chapter 16

Waves of heat crashed over Julie as she leaned casually back in her seat, watching her only son scoot out to his position at second base. Spring was finally giving way to summer, with no less than a vengeance. A few puffy clouds floated across the mid-day sky, offering little relief from the harsh sunlight beaming down into the stadium. Not that it mattered, though. Sitting next to the love of her life, watching her son have fun, and not worrying about anything, it was a great day.

John was sitting with a group of other teachers about twenty feet away, occasionally shooting her glances, some nasty, some pleasant, and none that she cared to acknowledge. He hadn't tried anything since the break in, but his last stunt was the breaking point for his wife. She wanted nothing to do with him.

The police seemed to have the same attitude. No direct evidence linked him to the clutter in Kimba's home, and he said he didn't have anything to do with it, there was that restraining order in effect, after all. So the police decided it was simply another random break in and put it in that file, which they all knew would not be looked at again.

But it wasn't a total loss, Julie decided. Even if the police refused to consider him a suspect, John realized he was coming awfully close to getting caught. Three weeks had passed without a single sighting of him if the school building didn't count. No matter how far gone he was over the divorce, he didn't want to lose his job or face jail. That left Julie and Kimba with a slight peace of mind, not to mention a little room to breath. If they were lucky, it was actually over.

A slow roller made its way to second base, Jesse scooping it up efficiently and making a smooth throw to first. Julie clapped enthusiastically and yelled words of support to him, with Kimba sitting beside her in silence. The older woman smiled fully to her friend and continued watching the game with apparent absorption.

She was not oblivious, however, to the soft green eyes constantly following her, rarely focusing on anything else for more than a moment or two. In a way, it was a little unnerving to be the object of such devotion, but in a bigger way it was the most touching thing she'd ever experienced. Kimba, in the public eye as they were now, was the perfect friend. In private, she was a sweet suitor, often surprising Julie with small gifts, flowers, and romantic candlelight dinners. More than once she'd told the young woman that she didn't have to do anything to win her over, but the touching tokens kept rolling in. And if she told the truth, which Kimba knew without a verbal acknowledgement, Julie loved every moment of it.

Jesse often gave them funny looks when he caught small glimpses of the budding closeness between them, but he constantly reassured them that he thought it was fine. Not that he saw much of anything, since not much more than holding hands had taken place. Much to Julie's frustration, they hadn't so much as kissed for more than a minute. She wanted to do more, but there was still something stopping them from going farther into a physical relationship. She realized that not only was she holding back, but Kimba was as well. Julie supposed it was hard for both of them to throw away a lifetime of indoctrination. The whole thing would have gone much smoother if they were parading lesbians instead of two friends who had somehow fallen in love.

A collision at second base brought her back to reality and to her feet as Jesse crashed to the ground under a much larger player from the other team. Kimba stood beside her as well, placing a gentle hand on the other woman's arm to comfort her. But being a young stud as her son was, Jesse stood only a minute later, dusted himself off, ready to continue the game. The women returned to their seats and the chatter from the fans around them returned to their ears.

Leaning over so that only Julie could hear, Kimba whispered in her ear. "You know something? You're really sexy when you mother hen."

The blood rushed immediately to Julie's face, as it always did when Kimba got bold. All the older woman could do was cast a menacing glare to her friend, which, judging from the widening smile she received, was not very effective.

"And you're cute when you blush," the golden haired woman whispered again.

Julie slapped the firm shoulder next to her and returned her attention to the game. Well, at least part of her attention. The remainder was flying in the sparse, fluffy clouds that dotted the sky, dreaming of dreams yet to come true. Sure that they would, she waited impatiently for the day, as she'd waited impatiently before and been rewarded with Kimba. Once again she Thanked the powers above that the opportunity to imagine new possibilities had presented itself.

Chapter 17

Marty called a few days later and invited them to go out again. Kimba thought about not accepting, feeling even less comfortable than the first time they'd went to the bar since this time, they would no longer pass for a couple of straight girls in a lesbian hang out. Somehow it seemed more dangerous, more real. But to her surprise, Julie was eager to go again and to see Marty.

Sitting at a table directly off the dance floor, the low lights sparkling in Julie's eyes, Kimba completely understood the allure of the place. She'd been comfortable before, felt the unpretentiousness of the place and knew that no one was judging her. Then it was a nice feeling, once she'd realized it was there. Now, with the possible consequences of having a relationship with Julie always tugging at her mind, albeit minutely, the idea that she could throw her concerns out the window was liberating. And since John had been out of the picture for so long now, Kimba felt as if she hadn't a care in the world.

That left a perfect night to concentrate on her friend and the woman she loved. Marty was a most gracious host, though she hadn't revealed her motivations for bringing them to the bar again. The stocky blonde said she just wanted to see her friends, but Kimba recognized that little gleam in her eyes and knew that she was up to something. Whatever it was, though, felt too good to worry about, so she didn't give the matter a second thought.

People swirled about them, entering and exiting the dance floor in pairs, as the threesome drank coke and caught up on all the events they hadn't talked about at the last softball game. Some serious convincing finally got Kimba out amongst the dancers with Marty.

"So, what's this all about Marty," she asked without hostility. They both knew she couldn't fake that if she tried.

"Nothing, Kim. I'm offended. I told you I just wanted to see you guys." The song was a slow one, so they were close, the redhead actually being the taller of the pair and grabbing the lead. She was surprised she didn't feel any awkwardness between them, after so long and a new relationship. Then again, Marty was a great person and wanted nothing from her, so there was no reason to be apprehensive, even in her arms.

And occasionally catching a pair of blue eyes watching her in quiet devotion didn't leave much room to consider that she was dancing with another person. "Okay, I guess I believe you. And thanks, by the way. It's nice to be out."

"I thought it might be. Maybe that stuff with Jordan is finally over," she said uncertainly. "I'm really sorry about the way the department handled that. Old boys club and all that, I guess." They shrugged in unison, then looked at each other and laughed.

"I hope it is over. It was getting really old." She cast a glance over Marty's shoulder and took in a deep breath. Julie was talking to a tall, strikingly beautiful blonde, who was sitting next to the dark woman. A moment later, Julie smiled and shook her head, prompting the suitor to leave with a smile of her own. The sight was beautiful.

Marty looked over her shoulder and took in the scene with a thoughtful look. Turning back to Kimba, she leaned a little closer and whispered in her ear. "So things are working out for you guys?"

Nodding her head minutely, Kimba was surprised to feel a sudden anxiousness to answer. She hadn't been able to tell anyone and the freedom to do so was exhilarating. "Yeah, they are. I've never been so happy in my whole life." She smiled apologetically at her friend and former lover, who accepted it graciously with a small nod.

"I'm happy for you. You guys make a great couple. She's beautiful," Marty hugged Kimba a little in the embrace they were already in and pulled back to a more feasible distance.

"Yes, she is that," the attorney answered, accepting credit as if she had anything to do with it. "I never thought it would happen, but I'm in love with a beautiful woman and I wouldn't change a thing in my life if I could. It's amazing." And it was all true, which was almost unbelievable in itself. But then her eyes fell upon the subject of the conversation, her heart skipped a beat, and it made perfect sense.

Patting her friend on the back and pulling out of her arms, Marty began guiding them back to the table. "Well, let's get you and this woman on the floor then."

Moments later, Kimba and Julie were dancing among the other women to an upbeat number, hips swaying sensuously to the music. The fluorescent lights overhead shown down softly on the inhabitants below, casting dark shadows over the myriad of skin colors. Julie's black, form fitting body sock dress was unaffected by the tones, but her skin turned caramel under the glow, her hair the same jet black as usual. Kimba's white silk shirt was a milky tan, her red-gold hair a sparkling mahogany.

The music turned again to a slow, rolling rhythm, pairing women in tight embraces. Kimba and Julie did the same, the taller woman in the lead, again, which earned her a smirk from her partner, as well as a gentle massage of her neck. The longer the song played, soulful tones floating across the room in a deep, female voice, the closer the two women pulled to each other. Despite the crowded status of the small, creme tiled dancing surface, they seemed the only people in the room.

Her lips close to the shorter woman's ear, Julie finally broke the silence in low, husky tones. "You and Marty looked pretty comfortable out here."

"Are you jealous," Kimba asked lightly. The bright banter that was a major part of their relationship never failed to thrill her. Its translation into this new forum had been smooth, helped immensely by the enjoyment they found in each other.

The redhead shivered at the unexpected feeling of teeth on her ear, along with a heated gust of air. "Maybe," was all Julie said.

A pulse began to run through Kimba's body more fiercely than she could remember feeling. The sultriness of Julie's voice and the teasing way she was caressing all parts of the body she touched felt like heaven. Definitely the most forward her friend had been about the budding sexual nature of the union, signally that things were probably about to progress in a very major and long awaited direction.

Gathering her scattered thoughts, Kimba tried to keep the conversation moving. "No need to be jealous, Marty doesn't have a chance with me. She's a great gal, but how could I think of anyone else when I know that six feet of gorgeous woman is waiting for me?"

"How long do you think I'll wait," she replied with a slight chuckle.

Kimba pulled far enough away to meet the mischievously twinkling blue eyes, only inches from her own. "I don't know what you've been waiting for all this time. I've practically thrown myself at you."

Julie laughed harder at that. "Love is blind, remember...but I'm beginning to believe things are coming into focus."

An undercurrent of seriousness washed over Kimba at that, it being the one thing she'd wanted her whole life. Not sex, although that wouldn't hurt, but the realization of finally having that one special person to share her life with. Every time she had the clear vision of it in her mind was like the first time she'd fell upon it, joy filling her heart like a raging river. It left her breathless.

"I've waited so long for this, Jay," she said, her voice cracking.

Compassion and love filled Julie's eyes, a lopsided grin gracing her lips. "So have I," she answered softly.

In the crowd of moving bodies shifting all around them, Kimba barely seemed to notice the public forum as her tall partner bent down and kissed her tenderly. The sensation of delicate lips on her own, along with the emotion that filled the action almost had her reeling with happiness.

Neither of them noticed the hulking figure moving stealthily toward them from the entrance until he was on them. With a primal growl, John grasped Julie's shoulder, pulling her out of the embrace and sending her sprawling backwards. Kimba opened her eyes, dumbfounded, totally unprepared for the blow that landed on her jaw. Before her mind could even comprehend what was happening, she was on her back, cold tile over concrete not the least bit comforting, dozens of pairs of eyes staring at her in disbelief.

"Don't touch her, bitch," John spat, taking a step toward the prone woman.

Trying to imagine where he had come from, Kimba stood shakily, noticing the swirling of her mind in reaction to the punch. He must have been watching in the damned window or something. I just don't quite know how he got to us unnoticed through a sea of women in a lesbian bar. Someone must have thought it odd a man was hanging out front. Balancing herself precariously, she waited to see what his next move was going to be, hoping that there was at least one smart person in the bar who would call the police.

"You've ruined everything and I'm going to make sure you can't do it anymore." A backhanded punch caught her off guard again, even though she knew he was going to do it. His eyes flashed angry black in the low light, his mouth turned down in rage.

The blow didn't knock her down, her head actually beginning to clear from the first punch. The second had bloodied her nose, but left her with her faculties. Instinctively, the short woman stepped forward with surprising speed and lashed out with a fist. Shock flashed across his dark features as the punch connected, sending him back a step. Kimba didn't think she really had a chance against him, surprising him could only go so far, but she intended to put up a good fight until help arrived.

And Marty did arrive a moment later, as John advanced on the small redhead again, his hands curled, ready for action. The officer pulled a gun from beneath her blazer and assumed the classic ready position, arms outstretched, both hands grasping the black iron. "Stop where you are Jordan, you're under arrest," she barked in an official tone.

Blinking his eyes rapidly at the development, the raging man looked as if he didn't comprehend the situation. He stepped forward, stopping only when Marty placed her body, and the gun, between him and Kimba. "I said stop. Let's not let this turn ugly."

Though he continued to stare angrily at his victim, John complied, stepping back slowly, hands falling peacefully to his sides. His eyes squinted dangerously as Julie rushed past him in a wide arch, stopping only when she had a hand on Kimba's arm. He remained passive, not reacting as the high pitched wail of sirens intensified upon arriving in front of the normally subdued bar.

An hour later, Kimba was sitting on her bed drying her hair from a quick shower, the sound of rushing water filling the room. They'd both felt like a shower after their little escapade. I was stupid to think it was over. Look where it's gotten me. I'm not going to let myself imagine this is the end, even though it should be, she thought with a sigh. She still couldn't believe that he'd gotten to them and actually became violent. The anger glowing in his eyes had been frightening to the extreme, shivers still trailed down her spine.

Very efficiently, the police had secured John, interviewed the two of them, and many other women who had seen the incident, and went on their way. After all, it was pretty open and shut, as Marty had observed. A man attacked Kimba in an establishment whose clientele were all women, in front of at least twenty customers. More people had been present, but Marty had discretely let some escape. With the amount of witnesses they had to the altercation, allowing a few of the women who had more to lose slip out didn't hurt anything.

She and Julie were supposed to go to the station the next day to take care of all the particulars, which was fine with both of them. The shock of the whole incident still had blood pumping at extraordinary rates through Kimba's veins. Walking to the window, the soft white light of the half moon falling on the sill, she tried to calm herself.

The sound of Julie emerging from the bathroom brought her attention to the opposite end of the room, green eyes flashing momentarily wide. More olive skin was exposed than she could remember seeing, a fluffy white towel wrapped around a long torso. Kimba regained her composure quicker than she thought possible, considering the increase in speed of her already raging emotions.

Julie's perfect red lips were curled in a sensuous smile as she crossed to the bed. In an ungraceful flop, she settled on her back, all over the normally plentiful queen sized bed. "Yet another great night to mark down in the history books. I don't know how we do it," she stated sarcastically.

"Well, it must be your fault. Nothing like this happened before you came along." The younger woman settled on the edge of the bed, one leg hanging off, the other tucked under.

"My life was pretty calm before you too. It must be the combination. Crossed stars or something," she replied with a small chuckle.

Thinking about the truth of that, Kimba pulled Julie's closest hand to her, brought it to her lips and kissed it softly. Blue eyes quickly tracked to watch, a shimmering twinkle of moonlight reflected in them. "Maybe we should take it as a sign that we shouldn't be together."

Pulling up onto her elbows, Julie shook her head slowly. "Um...I don't think so. It...it all makes me want you more," she said in a whisper.

"Why," Kimba asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Because...you're taking me at my worst. When everything is going wrong in my life and the only thing I have to give is my heart." Blue eyes looked away shyly, unaccustomed to this bearing of feelings. "And if we make it through this, we can make it through anything."

Two fingers under her strong chin brought Julie's eyes up to meet a pair of mist green ones. "We've already made it Jay. It's just a matter of hammering out the details."

The attorney's smile widened at the relieved look on her partner's face. Kimba was hard pressed to accept that she was probably the stronger person between them. The opposite had been true during their first run as friends. Now, in the midst of major life changes for both of them, she was the one who offered the shoulder to cry on, and oddly, it felt good to return the favor.

As the prone woman sat up and pulled Kimba into a fierce embrace, the redhead soon realized that some things felt even better than good. Not the least of which was a pair of tender, hungry lips on her own. Passion swept through her body at a pace she knew could not be easily stopped if Julie wished to do so, as she had before.

When long fingers began unbuttoning the hard plastic buttons holding her cotton pajama shirt together, Kimba excitedly figured out that tonight, Julie had no intention of stopping. She said a silent thanks for that, even as her hands began a graceful exploration of the body below her own and her lips continued their soft assault.

Nothing was awkward about it, as she'd feared, nothing uncomfortable. Even Julie seemed uninhibited as she surrendered her heart without hesitation. It was as if they'd shared of each other forever, in exquisite ecstasy.

Drifting off to sleep quite some time later, her love held securely to her chest, Kimba thought about the last few months and the night they'd just shared. The event wasn't so much of a pinnacle or summit, as her mind had built it in her fantasies. More accurately, she thought, it was a confirmation of achievement, telling her that what they'd been building up to since meeting, since forever, was solid enough to tear down all barriers that might exist between them. Screaming that there was nothing so bad that it couldn't be faced together. Nothing that they didn't share, freely and with zeal.

Chapter 18

The stack of papers on Julie's desk was not getting any smaller, as she sat staring blankly at a page filled with sloppy blue writing that she was supposed to be grading. Her mind was not remotely attuned to a day of school, and it would not focus, no matter how many times she chastised herself for her foolishness. Being in love...it just felt so good.

The charges against John had been formally made and their statements officially taken at the police station earlier in the morning. Marty had taken them through the process and assured that he was going to jail this time. Assault, battery, and breaking the protective order would be enough to get him locked up for a while. She told Kimba and Julie it would probably be thirty days and no more, but the incarceration would be enough to set him straight or at least make him realize that he couldn't get away with harassing them.

So she had just been sitting at her desk, unconcerned with her crazy husband, soon to be ex, thankfully, thinking about the wonderful night she'd just spent with her partner. Her lover. My God. I can't hardly believe that, her mind couldn't stop repeating. Julie had been more than pleasantly surprised about the night of passion she and Kimba had experienced.

Even though she had known for some time that they were heading in that direction, knew she wanted to share every part of herself with the amazing woman she called best friend, a nagging little voice constantly waged war with her heart. It told her that loving a woman was wrong, and sadly, part of her believed it. She'd imagined that when she finally succumbed to her passion for Kimba, it would be ugly somehow. That it would feel wrong and dirty. That it wouldn't excite her.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Touching and being touched by the love of her life was nothing less than miraculous. Julie's other lovers had always seemed to be after pleasure only, which was all she got and all she gave. But with Kimba, the act of love had been a coming home, a sharing of souls that she had never experienced before. And it made all the doubts that she had about the new ground they were treading recede out of her mind's eye. In perfect clarity, she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life, body and soul, with this amazing woman.

"Mr. Thompson would like to see you in his office, Mrs. Jordan," a timid voice floated from the doorway.

Looking up dazedly, Julie nodded to the office aide, already retreating from the room. She had been wondering what the reaction to John's arrest was going to be in the gossip filled school. Apparently, at least part of the answer was soon to be forthcoming. Walking down the halls toward the glass walled office, the teacher purposefully ignored the stares and strange looks she received from almost every person she passed. She had expected as much. It wasn't every day that the school principal gets arrested for assaulting his wife.

Once inside the glass encased office, Julie went directly to the north side and into the lead principal's office. Mr. Thompson was John's boss as well as hers. Consistent with his character, her husband had been in charge of school discipline, which he was fairly good at.

Thompson sat at his large oak desk, pushing a pen stealthy across a piece of creme school stationary. The short cropped white hair and beard fairly reflected off his coal skin, his round face and belly making him a perfect candidate for a cheery black Santa Claus. A role he loved playing, as he had at numerous past Christmas parties. It was all a part of his jovial and giving nature.

He looked up from the paper when Julie quietly shut the door, a soft click as she entered the little office. A strong hand motioned to the chair across from him, which she took, trying to contemplate what he might say to her.

"I heard about what happened last night," he came to the point immediately, his emotions unreadable.

"Yeah. I can't believe John did that. But I want you to know that I'm going to handle this professionally." Julie shifted a little in the thick leather chair, eliciting a high pitched squeak from within its structure.

"He told me that he was adjusting. I'm beginning to think he was hiding a few things from me." The dark woman was surprised at his levity, but accepted it as consistent with his normal nature.

Chuckling a little, Julie relaxed considerably, the stringy tension in her muscles dissolving at the man's words. The fear that their divorce was going to cost her the job she loved faded into nothingness. "Now we know, I guess."

"Yes. And I have no doubt that you will be a professional about all this." The principal leaned forward, his suited elbows supporting his weight. All the laughter left his features, giving his appearance an additional ten years. "John is temporarily suspended due to his arrest upon my order and that will most likely become permanent at the next board meeting. But we have another problem with this situation."

"Oh," was her surprised response. By the older man's expression, whatever this problem was, it was to be taken seriously. Racking her brain in furious abandon, Julie had no idea what it might be.

Mr. Thompson's dark eyes shifted uncomfortably to the papers before him, idle hands moving them minutely on the desk. "You haven't seen the paper this morning, have you," he asked while handing her the newspaper he pulled from a drawer.

Julie scanned the front page, her eyes quickly finding a small article at the bottom, bold headline reading, "Local Principal Arrested at Gay Bar". Suddenly, a whole new problem possibility sprang to her mind and she had no idea why she hadn't though of it before. The whole thing had happened at the Pink Elephant, the only lesbian bar in town. The little article didn't say it, but everyone who read it would think that she was a lesbian, and that couldn't be good for her school life. She didn't really think it would, but she supposed it could get her fired.

Yet again, the turmoil her life had become wasn't over. Now it had merely taken another form, one possibly more damaging than the previous. Julie knew she was about to find out. "Oh God," she gasped softly.

"Now I hope you know that I really like you Julie and I don't really care what this paper says. I know you're a good person. The problem is, the people of this town may not like it. I...I'm just saying this to prepare you for what might happen. You should be aware that you could be suspended too." He finished with a sad look, once again playing with the papers under his large, dark hands.

Tears sprang to her eyes assertively, but Julie pulled up the will from deep down to not let them fall. "That's not fair."

The man's hand waved in the air animatedly. "I know. Don't get me wrong, I'm gonna fight for you if it comes to that. You just need to know that it might."

"Okay...thanks for telling me. I guess I should have..." she was cut off by a bright smile from the principal.

"You don't have to explain to me, Julie. I only ask that you be careful of what you say and not let anything bother you. I'd hate to lose a great teacher over this," he stood from the desk and walked toward the door, signaling that their discussion was coming to an end. In five minutes the first bell was due to ring.

Standing on legs steadier than Julie thought they would be, she turned to the door, stopping next to the round little principal. She tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder, which he covered under his own with no hesitation. "I don't plan on going anywhere. And besides, she's a lawyer, so I figure I've got a little bargaining power," she added with a wry grin.

Mr. Thompson rolled his eyes, laughing openly as he guided her out of his small office, into the curious stares in the outer area.

Chapter 19

Sun shown brightly into the small window of the office, illuminating the newspaper Kimba stared at on her desk. Roger had brought it in a moment before, throwing it onto her desk without comment. She looked at him coolly, not liking the anger she saw lurking behind his gaze. "I've seen it. What's your point," she asked passively.

The simple wooden chair in front of the desk creaked loudly as he settled into, leaning forward, his posture aggressive. "I thought you weren't going to let her hurt you."

Frowning, Kimba turned questioning green eyes to her friend. She knew that he cared for her, that he was probably still in love with her, but she didn't like the direction the conversation was going. "She hasn't."

"Yes she has. You don't think this has hurt you," he asked incredulously. "Everyone knows." His voice cracking, he stood abruptly and walked to the window, hands clasped tightly behind his back.

Kimba could see that Roger was in pain. He thought he was best for her and no one else would do. She could see that as well, even though she knew it couldn't be farther from the truth. In another situation, she might have accepted his love willingly and wouldn't have been sorry for it. But the way things were, she wanted no one but Julie. And in no fashion would she accept hassle over the decision.

"It's just as well that everyone knows Roger. I love Julie and not all the busybody gossips in the world are going to change that. They're going to have to accept it and so are you." A small grin twitched her lips, the ability to make the statement filling her heart. Now if it were actually that easy, things would be great.

"Have you even considered that you could lose your job? What do you suppose Mitchell thinks of this little revelation," he sniped, still staring out the third floor window.

A gravelly voice boomed from the doorway. "Mitchell thinks that Kim Curtis is one hell of an attorney."

The handsome man stepped in front of the office-filling desk, hands in the pockets of his pin striped suit coat. The sun reflected off his silver hair and gleaming white smile. "I can't say that this isn't somewhat of a shock, but I tend to judge my employees on their work product, not their personal trysts. If I cared about people leading moral and conventional sex lives, I'd lose somebody at least once a year."

Gravely, Roger turned from the window to face the room's other chuckling occupants. He was deflated and defeated, but also looked the slightest bit relieved. "I'm glad you guys are having fun with this, but I know nothing good will come of it."

Mitchell Redhorn put an aged hand on the shorter man's shoulder and squeezed affectionately. "Love always has its share of heartache, Roger. That's what makes the happy moments so precious," he said, patting Roger's shoulder. The aging attorney was clearly speaking to both his younger colleagues.

"I guess," was Roger's quiet reply.

Turning his attention to the redhead still perched behind her desk, Mitchell waxed serious again. "And have no doubt, Kim, that there will be heartache over this. Love never lets you off easy, and you've picked someone especially complex to love."

"I know," Kimba responded, sadly to the first part and happily to the second. She knew that they were going to catch negative reaction because of the newspaper article, especially Julie. Historically, parents did not generally favor the idea of their children being taught by anyone unconventional. As if teachers weren't normal people who had the same faults as everyone else. Still, educators were held to their own standard. One that Julie would have substantial trouble meeting at this point.

"If it comes down to litigation, I'll be on your side, Kim," the older attorney affirmed.

Kimba stood swiftly and circled the desk. Giving her boss a hug, she spoke softly to him. "That means a lot to me, Mitchell. I'm grateful to have you as a friend." Roger's eyes were popping out of his head at the embracing pair.

Closeness had never been something she had with her boss, but at that moment, Kimba relished the man and all he offered. It was a great gift. A confirmation that she meant something to him. She knew that it was mostly because of her work under him and not her winning personality and great character, but that was gratifying in itself. All that she had worked for in her career was a reality. The firm valued her work and wished to keep her, even at the expense of bad press. Kimba was touched that her boss would stick up for her in the face of all that. Not many would.

With the two men out of her office, the young attorney continued to stare at her desk, attempting to refocus on the case she'd been trying to research all day. Her mind, however, was still a whirl of emotions. If not thinking about the complications the newspaper mention was sure to produce, she pondered all the delicious revelations her night with Julie had disclosed.

As if on cue, the phone beside her came to noisy life, the secretary's voice radiating from it in a mechanical jingle. "Julie Jordan on line three," the disembodied voice said tonelessly.

The woman's heart immediately skipped a beat as she tentatively picked up the receiver. Silly, she knew, but real none the less. "Hey," her voice was soft.

"Hi baby," Julie said in a hushed voice.

Again Kimba felt a thrill run up her spine, the endearment filling her heart. She'd never really liked being called nicknames by her lovers, thought them somewhat demeaning. But the way Julie said it, the most demeaning moniker of them all, the term sounded like a caress.

"Have you seen the paper?" There was no doubt what the call was about. Kimba couldn't even remember the last time she'd called during the day to the law firm.

A heavy sigh floated over the wire, then a long moment of silence. "Yeah, I got called into the principal's office because of it. How 'bout you?"

"Yeah, I talked to Mitchell. He was really nice about it. There won't be any problem on my end. What about you," she asked in confidence. Julie probably needed her support very much at the moment.

"Well, he was nice, but he does think that I might have a problem. He said he'll go to bat for me, though," she said dejectedly.

Wanting to run out of the office and rush to her friend, Kimba calmed herself with effort, searching for the right thing to say to make Julie feel better. "We'll get through this Julie, don't worry," she replied.

The sound of a laughing group of people came through the receiver, leaving Julie silent for several moments. When she finally spoke again, her voice was still distant, but tinged with hope. "Do you really think so?"

Kimba had to fight the desire to run again, Julie sounded so much like a lost child, wanting desperately to believe, but knowing from experience that wanting was not always enough. "Yes, I know so. Look at what we went through to get to this point."

The attorney paused for a moment to let that thought sink in. They had been through a lot and always made it. This would be no different. Not now that she had what she'd longed for. "I'll be damned if I let a bunch of pigheaded homophobes ruin this," she resonated.

A small chuckle came over the phone, easing her tension a little. "Okay," was all Julie said. At least it was a start. With renewed hope, Kimba knew anything was possible.

Chapter 20

The fluffy couch was more than a piece of furniture. It was home. And that meant a great deal to Julie after the day she'd had at school. She settled comfortably in the cushions, sinking in the fabric peacefully, waiting for Kimba to finish changing so they could talk. After all the disapproving stares and whispering voices, a friendly, loving face was a nice idea.

Kimba plopped beside her, eliciting a soft whoosh from the couch. Her smile dazzled her older partner, already making the day seem more like a diminishing nightmare. "So, how did the tar and feathering go," she asked lightly.

Julie scooted a few inches closer and laid a hand on Kimba's bare thigh. She'd been longing for the warm contact all day. "I'm glad it's over. Do you think they'll suspend me?"

"No way. You didn't do anything wrong, Jay. If you recall, we were the ones attacked. If the school board tries anything...well, I won't let them," the redhead declared. Julie recognized the set and determined expression on her lover's face. When she really wanted something, Kimba usually got it. She'd gotten her, after all.

"I...I missed you today. I wanted you there to take up for me," Julie stated softly. And it was a stark truth.

Kimba reached a hand out and caressed an olive cheek gently, her eyes filled with compassion. "I'll always be here for you, Jay."

Warm green eyes seemed to reach down into her soul, pulling it to the light it had been shadowed from for most of the day. Julie consciously felt all the doubts that had been filling her mind flee in all directions, like dandelions in the wind. All she wanted, needed was the feel of Kimba's lips on hers and the love that poured forth from her kind heart. No uncertainty could stand up to her partner's unbending love.

One kiss turned into a dozen. A dozen into even more. Facing each other, knees touching, they gratefully shared the gentle exchange. Kimba's touch made her feel more exposed than she'd ever been, but Julie was happy for it. The devotion in each caress also made her feel a love never imagined. She welcomed the hand moving up her thigh, slowly burrowing its way under her skirt. In her love's passion, she could forget about the world, which didn't really matter compared to what she was feeling.

The sound of a key hitting the front door brought Julie out of the sensuous haze in a rush of fear. Jerking away from the embrace suddenly, the teacher put several feet between her lover and herself. As Jesse came through the door, she tried to ignore the hurt expression on Kimba's face.

"Hey, Jesse," she greeted him, sounding more cheerful than she felt, her shortness of breath only faintly detectable. The dazed look in Kimba's eyes hadn't lessened any, bringing on a wave of guilt in Julie's gut.

The boy sat down in the chair against the wall opposite them in a defeated slump, his backpack falling to the floor unheeded. "Hi ya'll."

"It's been a rough day, huh?" Julie turned back to Kimba as the attorney rose, leaving the room without a word. The older woman already knew her actions were going to take a good deal of explaining, accompanied by a large dose of groveling. Kimba didn't deserve to be hurt and she'd done just that.

Turning her attention back to her bedraggled son, Julie noticed a guarded sadness in his eyes. She could only imagine what he'd been through during the day. Kids could be so cruel. Jesse, however, was a popular boy, star athlete, excellent student, and having parents in the school system hadn't hurt his reputation a bit. But there was always someone who attacked weakness, no matter what its form or reason.

Jesse sighed loudly, leaning forward on his elbows, staring at the russet carpet. "Yeah. Rough," he answered dejectedly. He seemed to be searching his brain for the right words, his brow contracted in thought. After a moment, he raised his dark eyes to his mother's clear blue ones. "I really like Kimba, Mom. And...and I don't care what anyone says about you guys."

Pain was written across his face in etched lines too ancient for his tender years. For a moment, Julie got a glimpse of what her son would look like at fifty, which churned her gut even more. It wasn't fair that they were all having to suffer this, after everything else.

"Jesse, that means a lot to me. I'm sorry the kids are bugging you." She paused with a sigh, unsure of what to say to him. Telling him about sex in the first place had been hard enough. Back then, she'd never guessed a conversation about her loving another woman would be necessary. "I...I imagine they said some pretty mean things," she grimaced internally. The appropriate words refused to come.

"It's...it's not that big a deal. I'd just never imagined a dyke could look like you," he stated seriously.

Julie stared at him, unsure of his state of mind. When a slow grin finally began stretching across his face, she felt a chuckle building that erupted into loud laughter, Jesse joining in. What a kid I've raised, she thought as she began calming. "That's what they say about me, huh? I...I'm glad you like Kimba. This...this situation is permanent."

"I know. That's why I don't mind," he agreed. Picking up the discarded backpack from the floor, he stood up and moved toward her. Jesse placed a gentle kiss on her forehead on his way down the hall, to the solitude of his bedroom.

Sighing, Julie followed suit and headed to the room she shared with Kimba. The discussion with Jesse went well, so she hoped she'd be able to patch things up with her friend equally well. She found the stocky redhead with both hands on the bottom of the window sill, leaning heavily on muscular arms, staring out into the fading light of the afternoon sky.

Tentative footsteps brought her to her partner's back. She placed a hand on Kimba's shoulder, where it was quickly covered by a smaller one. "I'm sorry about that Kimba. I guess I'm still not used to all this yet," she rationalized.

"Are you sure that's it," Kimba responded in a strained voice. "Are you sure you're not ashamed of me, of us?"

The words tore through her like a sword. Not because of Kimba's doubt in her, the woman had every right, but because there was a grain of truth in them she could not deny. It was like Kimba had said before, if either of them were a man, Julie would be on top of a mountain declaring her love to the world. But to a degree, she was an old fashioned woman, and there was something tearing away at her because of it. Most people thought their relationship was wrong, and there was still a little part of Julie that wanted to conform with the world she'd tried to fit into her whole life.

The taller woman sucked in a breath to respond, but stopped as Kimba turned, her eyes glimmering with tears and emotion. "Don't bother, Jay. I already know the answer. I just can't quite make myself accept it."

"Kimba, I...I'm not ashamed of you. I'm just not ready," she pleaded. Julie knew at that moment she would give anything to take the crushed look out of her love's soft green eyes. More than her actions from a moment before were behind the emotions suddenly pouring forth. The no-win situation they were in dearly hurt them both.

Shaking her head in disgust or despair, the teacher wasn't sure which, Kimba walked past Julie and settled on the bed, peering again through the window. The older woman turned to face her, but the stricken expression never changed, her eyes looking beyond, into the fading sky.

"It's a little too late for you not to be ready. For one thing, the whole world knows by now that we're a little more than friends. They can figure that out from the paper, unless we can convince them otherwise," she informed her lover dejectedly. Her golden head tilted down as she gathered the bed covers at her sides in both knotted fists. "And for another, you let me believe you were ready. You let me make love to you," she finished softly.

Julie could hear the tears in her voice, wanting to rush to Kimba and hold her. She also heard a tinge of anger, though, that had never been spoken toward her before. Torn between what her heart wanted to do, to take the younger woman in her arms and apologize until her voice went raw, and what her mind demanded, distance, she stood stolidly at the window, unnaturally silent.

With a sniffle, Kimba met her gaze earnestly, a scowl emerging on her face. "I was fooling myself when I thought you'd never hurt me again. To you, I've always just been someone to have around when I was convenient."

Gasping in shock, Julie felt the sting of anger arise in her. "That's not true and you know it. I care for you," she retorted.

Kimba issued a sarcastic little laugh, eerily similar to the hiss of a cobra. "You can't even lie and say you love me, can you?" She shook her fair head in disbelief. "Well, this time I don't think it's going to be quite so easy to get rid of me. I'll go, but you have a mess that is gonna take a while to clean up," she spat out.

"I don't want you to leave," Julie shouted, suddenly frantic. She knew she was losing control, but the anger and desperation were over whelming her. Something she didn't know she needed until she had it was slipping from her boneless grip. None of it was Kimba's fault, but she was the only target at the moment, no matter how wrong that was.

"I thought you weren't ready," Kimba asked heatedly.

Grasping for words, Julie stepped toward the bed aggressively. Kimba rose to meet her, staring intently into vivid blue eyes. "I'm ready to show you how I feel. I've wanted to for most of my life. I'm just not ready for the whole world to know my business."

"You can't have it both ways, Jay. At this point, you accept me and the whole world knows," she paused, her eyes brimming with angry tears again. "Or we act like none of this ever happened." Her voice was filled with pain.

"Is that the way you want it? To act like this never happened?" She knew the answer already, but she waited anyway, wanting Kimba to say something to stop what was happening. The situation was completely out of control, but she had no idea how to stop the downward spiral. Her friend was the one who didn't care what anyone thought and Julie knew the problem was hers. Desperately, she wished she knew how to solve it.

"Fine by me," she said shrilly after she got no reply to her question.

As new tears began streaming down Kimba's pale cheeks, Julie realized that she was totally going over the edge. The only solution she could think of was to leave, hopefully before she did too much damage.

Driving down the highway in a daze, Julie recognized what a strange position she put herself in. She was running, yet again, from the person she'd pledged to share her life with. The words hadn't been spoken on her part yet, but she knew her actions had said as much. From John, her running had always come because she was the prey. The one he hunted with his cruel words and intimidation. Now she was running from Kimba because she was afraid that she was doing the same to the love of her life, hurting her beyond reason.

Then again, in a way she could hardly fathom, Julie was once again prey. This time, however, instead of running from a tyrant's power, she was running from a surrender she didn't know how to supplicate to. From a love she didn't know how to feel. And from a fear that she couldn't overcome. Hunter and hunted, all in one.

When her mother opened the front door of the quaint brick house, a sturdy scowl already in place, Julie began wondering just what she'd been thinking to go there. "Hello, Julie," the silver haired woman greeted flatly.

"Hello Mother," she responded as her mother ushered into the immaculate living room. The tension flowed from the other woman almost visibly, so Julie decided to wait for the explosion she knew was inevitable. For the punishment she knew she deserved.

Mrs. George remained in the walkway, not following Julie into the customary meeting place of the living room. She stood on the reflective tiled floor, glaring at her daughter. "Julie, I don't even know what to say to you."

Julie felt a laugh bubble up, and although she didn't know what exactly was coming, she couldn't contain it. The look on her mother's face almost prompted her to roll on the floor giggling. "You've never been at a loss for words, Mother. Why don't you just tell me how you feel," she answered in a sarcastic tone.

The rage Julie knew was ever present in her mother quickly appeared on the woman's features. "Alright. I'll tell you EXACTLY how I feel. I think it's a disgrace to this family. That's what I think. Your father and I didn't raise you to be one of those people."

"And just what kind of a person do you think I've become. Have I suddenly changed? Yesterday I was an upstanding citizen and today I'm a menace to society." Feeling the fury reviving, she took an intimidating step towards her mother. But it didn't work, of course, her mother had been intimidating Julie all her life. The aging vixen was a master.

"All because I'm in love with a woman," she added for a reaction, which she finally got.

Looking as though she was about to gag, Mrs. George closed the distance between herself and her daughter, their breaths intermingling. "I always knew that trashy little girl was going to ruin you. I'd expect this from someone raised as she was," her voice was venom. "But not you, Julie. I've always expected better of you."

A lump suddenly rose in her throat, full of the tears that suddenly demanded to be released. Her mother was saying exactly what she wanted to hear. That she was bad and unnatural and wrong. That what she had couldn't possible be right. But there was also the warm spot that refused to be pushed from her heart, where Kimba lived, and held on to her with determined tenacity.

The sight of Joe George appearing in the hallway was enough to bring the walls crashing down. Before the older man realized what was going on, his normally stoic daughter was in his arms, crying like a newborn.

When he spoke, his voice was harsher than Julie had ever heard it before. "What the hell is going on here, Wanda?"

"I was just trying to talk some sense into your daughter," the matron retorted defensively. Not waiting to be told, the older woman left the room abruptly, brushing her husband's shoulder purposefully, letting the kitchen door slam loudly as she closed it behind her.

Holding his daughter gently, Joe guided Julie to the beautifully crafted, but eternally uncomfortable, stiff blue cotton sofa. He rubbed her back comfortingly for several minutes, giving her time to collect herself.

With a final sniff, Julie straightened up, immediately recognizing why she had come here in the first place. Her mother didn't matter. She'd reacted exactly how her daughter knew she would. What Julie needed was to hear her daddy tell her everything was going to work out, like he'd done so many times before.

"I've really messed things up this time, Daddy," she declared in a tear-choked voice.

"I'm sure it's not that bad, honey," he assured her gently.

Pulling out of his embrace, she looked up into his soft blue eyes, so much like her own. "But it is. I...I think I've lost her."

Joe cleared his throat, seeming to search for the words he wanted to say. Julie hadn't talked to him about her relationship with Kimba, though she believed he knew its true nature. He was reaching high numbers in age, but Joe George was one of the fairest men she'd ever known. She knew that talking about her love with him wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world, but he would do it to make her feel better.

"Do you love her," he asked simply.

Her eyes widened at his directness. She had expected to have to lead the conversation, but it seemed her faithful father already knew where it was headed. "Yes."

"Are you...lovers," his voice dropped to a bare whisper on the final word, reminding Julie of how worldly her father really wasn't.

"Yes," she whispered just as softly. The wait for his reaction seemed more like an hour than a short moment, her stomach flip flopping in fear of an anticipated rebuke. His curt nod and twitching lips, almost a smile, brought a sigh of relief from Julie's lips.

"What happened," he asked after assimilating the information.

She told him the whole sordid tale, leaving none of her indiscretions out, none of which were really substantial individually. Little things, really, that culminated in one moment of revulsion, when she'd pulled away from Kimba on the couch. She realized her partner had overreacted to some degree, but she also knew the transgression was a final straw. All she'd done was lack the ability to give her soul to a woman who would do anything for her. All she'd done was doubt, despite the longing her heart felt to surrender to the sweetest love of her life.

"I haven't even told her I love her," she finished, almost in tears again. "I do, desperately, I just can't say it."

The older man soothed his daughter into calmness before speaking again. "Why do you think it's wrong...to be in love with a woman?"

"Everyone says it's wrong," was her immediate response. She had no better one.

Her father's silver head nodded thoughtfully. Pulling back from their embrace, he peered intently into her eyes. "I've been married to your mother for forty years. She's the same person now as she was the day I made her my bride. Cranky, temperamental, silent and brooding." He chuckled at the shocked look on Julie's face. She'd certainly never heard her father say such a thing before. "I can't tell you how many times I've been asked why on earth I married her."

Julie looked away shyly. A few years ago, she'd asked him that exact question. She'd had a monstrous fight with her mother over something relating to Jesse, driving Julie to the point of almost striking the older woman. She never would have, but after Joe had played his peacemaker role, his gentleness soothing her mad soul, she couldn't imagine how he could put up with the overpowering woman. At the time, he'd merely shook his head, a lopsided grin on his lips and said, "She's my wife." Julie didn't understand.

Her father continued, a slight grin again tugging his lips. "Some people, Julie, are like coconuts. On the outside, they're rough, splintery, dark and stony. The shell is so hard and ugly, you can't believe that anything precious can be on the inside," he began wistfully. Julie's eyes ran over the man, wondering why she'd never heard this romantic side of him before.

"But there always comes some special person who, for reasons no one else can understand, is willing and determined enough to break the shell. When they do, and that rough exterior is torn away, what pours out is sweet and silky and softer than anyone ever dreamed."

The older man leaned back on the couch, stretching out his long legs. He captured her gaze completely, his eyes filled with tender emotion. "For me, your mother is that coconut. To everyone else in the world, even you, her own daughter, she's so gruff no one could even suspect she has a gentle, loving side, but she does. And I guess I'm the only one whose ever cracked it," he finished with a twitching grin, as if he had trouble believing the statement himself.

"I never knew," Julie stated in awe. She'd never thought of her mother as having a gentle bone in her body. The adoration in her father's eyes, though, told her it was the truth.

He cleared his throat nervously, sensing an audience that he'd almost forgotten about. "Anyway, my point is that love is not too particular. It takes us where it wants us to go. And that place isn't always where everyone thinks we belong, or even where we want to go ourselves. If you'd have asked me forty years ago if I would marry Wanda, I would have laughed in your face," he laughed minutely, then continued. "When you find that person and discover all the trouble it takes to crack that shell, to let that special person inside completely out, if only to you, it's too special to let go. Not if the only reason is because somebody is telling you it's wrong. If I'd let my friends make the decision for me back then, you wouldn't be here."

Julie thought about that for a few minutes, gazing into his patient eyes, trying to understand it all. "You love Mom," she asked, needing proof of his statement.

"She's my life, Julie. And for all the grief she's caused me, and given me, I've never regretted a single moment of it." He took her hand in his and squeezed it.

"But it's not the same," she protested.

He silenced her with an affirmation so firm that she couldn't believe he said it. "Love is love, Julie." Her father was suddenly a shock to her brain, the quiet little man she'd loved all her life, but never suspected the depth of character he possessed.

And that brought the sobs on again in full force, because he was right and she'd been so blinded by fear that she'd forgotten. The giddy little feeling in her chest had been overcome by a more blinding sensation that seemed to usurp everything in its reach. By the time Julie fell asleep in her father's arms, she knew that within her lay the strength to push the near blinding fear aside, in favor of the love that had given her the ability to see the world a new. To see there was so much living left to do.

Chapter 21

Kimba sat at the same burnished desk as she had the day before, the same little office, still unable to concentrate. Unfortunately, the reasons were completely opposite from the previous morning, when she had been childishly giddy. Today, she was wondering if the love of her life had walked out her front door, never to return. The attorney's stomach had been churning with upset since the night before, and showed no signs of stopping.

Jesse has been his normal sweet self as she drove him to school, offering her encouragement, assuring her that Julie would come back on her hands and knees. He'd even surprised her by declaring that he thought they belonged together, despite the uncomfortable situation. And when he kissed the back of her hand like a knight of the court, for that moment, Kimba had believed every word that came out of his innocent mouth.

That feeling had slowly faded the closer she came to work, and the reality of the rest of the world. So when Roger walked in the room unexpectedly, Kimba hastily wiped a stray tear from her eye.

"Hi Roger," she said with forced casualness.

He eyed her speculatively from the doorway, but made no mention of her disheveled condition. "Everybody's out, so I'm answering the phone. Julie's calling for you. She sounds upset." A stocky hand pointed to the flashing light on her intercom phone. "Is everything alright," he asked, genuinely concerned.

"Yeah, things are still a little tough. It's gonna work out, though." Roger nodded and discretely left down the hall. She shook her head at the man, unable to figure him out. One minute he was trying to convince her to marry him, the next he was foregoing it all to please her. The sad thing was, she loved him for it all.

With a deep sigh, she turned her attention to the flashing light. Before her mind could talk her out of it, Kimba reached out a shaking hand and brought the phone to her ear. "Hello."

"Kimba," Julie's deep voice asked tentatively.

Her throat closing up with emotion, Kimba instantly wished Julie was in the room, so she could give her a strong hug to squeeze away the fright she heard in her tone. "Yes, it's me. Are you okay?"

"I...I'm okay. It's just...the school board called an emergency meeting for this afternoon. I think I'm about to get fired," she informed hurriedly.

This is really gonna help things, Kimba's mind added to the whirl of emotions. A dull ache began in her head that no amount of temple massaging seemed to help, but her fingers continued steadily working anyway. "I'll be at the meeting," she responded, then paused uncertainly. "I mean...if you want me to."

She heard an exasperated chuckle on the line. "Of course I want you there. I...I'm sorry about last night Kimba. I was way outta line."

Soft green eyes closed tightly as Kimba tried to come up with what to say. The only responses that came forward would only serve to exacerbate the problem. Julie saying that she was sorry didn't change the fact that unresolved issues still existed between them. Those feelings were deeper than an apology could erase. At the moment, though, none of that seemed to matter. "We'll talk about it later, okay. I'll see you at the meeting."

"Okay. I can't wait to see you Kimba. I...I miss you," Julie stammered.

The younger woman could tell her friend was trying to soothe the hurt, even in her own, graceless manner, which filled the hollow part of Kimba's heart with a warm light. With goodbye said, she hung up the phone. She only had a few hours to come up with some way to fix the mess their lives had become. No matter what, she decided, she would find the answer.

A lot of people mistakenly had the idea that a lawyer knew every legal contingency in every situation. Right now was a perfect example of how wrong that thought was. Not only did Kimba not know how to solve this problem, in the back of her mind always lingered how they would combat the same issue should it come up in a custody fight. Though they hadn't talked about it much, she feared for what decision she might have to make.

Even as she strode confidently into the classroom, seeing the Board lined up at tables in the front of the crowded room, Kimba loathed the answer she'd come up with. It would work, she had no doubt, but that didn't make it any less detestable.

John was first to step up to the podium, wearing a shaded gray suit, his hair combed precisely, a far cry from the crazed man who had attacked Kimba two days before. His short jail stay hadn't been too harsh on him. Conceding to the Board that he needed time off, at the advice of his lawyer, no doubt, the principal dispensed with the usual principles of due process to throw himself at the mercy of his judges.

Julie was next asked to give her side of events, as if she was only there to impact her husband's fate. They all knew it was a ruse, however, sitting behind the desk with their airy attitudes and the power to turn a person's life inside out. After Julie recited a narrative of the night and answered a few simple questions, she sat back down in the front row of folding chairs.

Striding up to the podium purposefully, Kimba made a final decision on the tact she was taking. Her possibilities were few. Threatening litigation was a possibility, but it might not do much good since the Supreme Court consistently refused to consider sexual orientation a protected class, like race and age. As the law was, not much could stop a person from discriminating against lesbians and gays. So saying that the School Board would lose in court was not a good idea, since the chance was one in a million, or less. That left only one other possibility to save Julie's job.

She told her view of the night in the Pink Elephant, not encouraged by the disapproving scowls from the members before her. At the mention of anything lesbian, a few of the people actually turned white. Not a good sign.

An older man in a bright red bow tie asked the first and only question. "Have you ever been to this establishment before, Miss Curtis?"

Kimba saw her opening and jumped for it. "Yes, I occasionally go there with friends of mine. However, this was only Julie's second visit. Both times she was with me and a companion at our invitation." She smiled her brightest and raised her hands in a friendly shrug. "Julie's really needed to let her hair down some, what with her divorcing John and all. I took her to the bar to have a good time and I feel like it's really messed things up."

The roiling feeling in her stomach was becoming increasingly worse with each word. Although she didn't really care what people thought about her, lying about her relationship with Julie, for better or not, made her feel sick.

Yet she continued with a lilt in her voice. "She's staying with me until she can get on her feet again. I don't want anyone to think we're anything more than friends. I realize this makes it look that way and I'm horrified by it. If Julie gets fired from her job because I took her to a place I hang out, I don't know what I'll do," she gave them her best wishful look. "Please don't make assumptions about Ms. Jordan over this. She's a fine credit to your school as a teacher and I'd hate to see the kids lose her."

The stodgy board members looked at one another inquisitively, then called a break to the meeting for consideration. As they filed out of the sparsely populated classroom, Kimba began her exit down the aisles of folding chairs toward the exit. She had no desire to hang around and hear the decision. Nothing could be changed about it now. She'd done her best and it had left her drained.

A strong grip on her arm halted her progress. Kimba didn't need to look up to know Julie was peering down at her with misty blue eyes. "Kimba, you...you didn't have to do that."

"Yes I did. I'm not going to let you lose your job. Not over this," she whispered fiercely. Neither one of them should have to be going through the situation at all. Any of it.

"Thank you," Julie answered in a low voice, her hand now caressing the arm it held.

Glancing around at the few remaining people in the room, Kimba pulled her arm away and took a step away from her lover. "I...I've got to go." And she did. The dirty feeling was clinging to her skin like tape. She desperately wanted to get out of the room, not even caring about the destination.

"Are you going home," Julie asked hopefully.

Green eyes met blue again, but Kimba couldn't maintain the contact. It was all still too raw. "No, not right now. I've got to go...I'll see you later."

The pain flashing across Julie's face brought more to her own, but Kimba couldn't deny the need for solitude. At least for a little while. She needed to be somewhere to try to pick up the pieces of her shattered existence. There would be time to peer into those beautiful eyes again. Time to start working on the love she knew would blossom once more between them.

Chapter 22

"Still not home, huh," Jesse asked as he entered Kimba's bedroom for the tenth time.

Julie looked up from her position on the bed, sprawled lazily over the bedspread. She'd been laying there waiting, looking up at the starry ceiling, desperately wishing that Kimba was there to point out the constellations. It was getting late, which scared her more than made her worry. If anything, her partner was tough. Maybe a little too tough.

Settling down on the bed beside her, Jesse patted his mother's thigh lightly. The dark woman sighed heartily and pulled herself up to lean against the headboard. "I don't know what to do, Jesse." Inwardly she laughed at herself for wanting advice from her teenage son, but she knew that at this point, she was low on options. Not to mention that he had seemed to know her heart better than she did from the start.

"I think you should go find her and tell her you're sorry," he said unapologetically.

They'd already had the conversation where he told her she shouldn't worry about what anyone else said about her. In his simple, innocent logic, he'd figured out something she was only just coming to grips with. It was a little embarrassing.

Embarrassing to think that she'd risk the only person in the world that had ever made her happy because of what some stuffy administrators might think of her. The gravity of what she'd done fell on Julie especially hard after the council returned to the classroom with a suspension for John and a verbal caution for her. The message had been something about teachers needing a good reputation in the community and for her not to let her social life get out of hand. Not flatly homophobic, but she figured that message was meant to be in there as well. The council had no doubt made the decision to be on the safe side of public ridicule, since there was really a lack of credible evidence about her love life. She hadn't heard the last part of the declaration at all. The only thing she could think about was that she'd just been told her job was safe, but it didn't even matter. What mattered had walked away from her minutes before, holding back hurt, angry tears in deep green eyes.

So Julie had been waiting ever since, hoping with all her might that she hadn't messed the whole thing up for good. "It's not that easy," she answered sadly.

"Who said it's supposed to be easy," her son responded with a gleam in his eye. "I think I've heard that a time or two."

Rolling her eyes at the amazing child that surprised her everyday, Julie realized he was right. Nobody said falling in love was easy. Although the falling part was usually painless, the rest of the process could be hell...and heaven. "You're right. I'm going to go look for her," her voice was full of a conviction she wasn't sure was real.

Jesse's smile broadened as he watched his mother rise from the bed with purpose. "Do you know where she is?"

"No. That's why I have to look." She flashed him a crooked grin, proceeding to pull her shoes on and comb her hair.

Once ready, Julie gave Jesse a pat on the head, then grabbed a small black box from the dresser before heading out to the car. She didn't know where Kimba was, but the clear, warm night gave her an idea that seemed logical enough. Knowing the sentimental side of her partner, Julie hoped the recent events hadn't made Kimba want to disassociate with their past.

Kimba's car was waiting silently in the tall grass, the dark blue paint blending in perfectly with the long shadows cast by the trees and bright shine of a full moon. A sigh of relief issued from Julie's lungs as she patted the hood, which was well cooled by the night breeze. Kimba had probably been there all night.

The grass thrashed against her bare legs as Julie made her way to the shore. She could hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore and a few night insects singing their timeless songs. Silvery light cascaded over the water sharply, casting the moon's reflection in a wavy painting. On their trusty old rock, still a perfect platform for star gazing, golden hair absorbed that same light.

Kimba was stretched out on the slick black surface of the stone, her crossed feet submerged in the deep blue water. Her head turned slightly as Julie left the grass, but not enough for the older woman to see her face. Her emotions were well hidden as long as her eyes remained on the lake's distant shores.

Approaching cautiously, Julie stopped at the edge of the rock and waited, not sure of what she should say. One step would place her on a seat she'd used a thousand times before, but the rigidity of her friend's body kept her at bay. Desperately, she wished the woman would tell her what she was thinking, screaming or whispering, it didn't matter.

"You can sit down," Kimba greeted in a quiet voice.

Closing her eyes momentarily, Julie felt a wave of tension flow from her. At least she wasn't sent away immediately, as she'd feared was a possibility. "Thanks. Have you been here long?"

Julie cringed at herself as she settled on the rock. Small talk was the farthest thing from her mind, but it seemed the easiest way to start the conversation.

Kimba's eyes remained on the waves beyond as she leaned back heavily on her elbows, firm shoulder muscles flexing under her skin. "Yeah. I...I needed somewhere to think."

"Um...I guess this is the part where I beg you to forgive me," Julie dove in.

She was prepared to do anything to convince Kimba she was committed to their relationship. In the time she'd had to think since talking to her father the night before, the teacher had come to some conclusions. For the last few months, she'd always been running from something. At first and for a long time, it had been John and his abusive attitude and oppressive control. Then she'd been running from herself and her newly emerging feelings. The latest thing she'd been running from was her fear. No more running, she decided. At least no more running away. For once in her life it was time to run toward something, blindly and wholly.

"You don't have to beg me for anything, Jay," Kimba said, her voice warm.

Shifting slightly and pulling Kimba's hand into hers, Julie gently corrected her partner. "You're wrong. I should be on my knees right now begging you for my life...because you own it," she declared. Slightly surprised green eyes finally met her blue, a tired smile pulling at Kimba's lips. "I never meant to hurt you, Kimba. I hope you believe that."

Raising into a sitting position, the young woman never let the larger hand slip from her grasp. "I know you didn't. It's alright. I understand."

"No. No you don't," Julie tone was more forceful than she'd intended, but she refused to let her actions be passed off as insignificant. All of the healing wouldn't come from her confession on this beach, on this night, but it could get a good start. "I got caught up thinking about myself and never thought about how my actions might make you feel. You've never done that. Ever since we started this thing, since I showed up at your door with a hand print on my face, you've bent to my every need." Julie raised a pale hand to her lips and kissed it softly.

Kimba swallowed nervously, remaining silent, waiting for the declaration she could see in Julie's eyes, longing to burst forth.

"I'll admit, this has thrown me for a loop. All that time I was figuring out I wanted you...to be my partner...in life, it seemed so simple. We could live together, take care of Jesse, be in love and no one would give a crap." A dark eyebrow rose and Kimba chuckled softly. "That was stupid I guess, but I didn't quite comprehend that it would be different than when John and I married."

"You need to get out more," Kimba stated with a smirk.

Squeezing her hand in mock reprimand, Julie searched for her next words. Although she wasn't a complete brute in affairs of the heart, the older woman realized she wasn't as eloquent as her lover at expressing her feelings. "The thing is, I'm so crazy in love with you I didn't think about much of anything. The emotions just came and I hoped things would turn out alright."

The smile on Kimba's face was a sight to behold, love shining bright in her eyes, warring with the glaring moon. Julie snapped a mental picture for later appreciation, but also made a note that if she had anything to do with it, that expression would become even more joyful.

"As you well know, that strategy didn't work very well. So I've decided on a new one," she said confidently. Julie knew she was asking a lot of herself, as she tended to doubt too often and believe too little, but if it made Kimba smile like she was now, nothing could stop her from trying. "I'm not going to say that I'll get used to everyone talking, but I'm going to at least do my best not to care. The whole world can know the way I feel about you as far as I'm concerned. The only opinion that matters is yours."

Reaching up with a shaky hand, Kimba pulled Julie's head down for a delicate kiss, imparting her faith with a simple gesture. "Thank you. As long as you're willing to try...and you're not ashamed...that's enough."

"I'm not ashamed to show how I feel for you. I'm just going to need a little time to get used to being in the spotlight," the teacher whispered in a close ear. Kimba turned for another kiss, moving to stand when their lips parted. "I'm not done yet." Julie placed a restraining hand on her friend's arm.

"My, my. This has got to be some kind of a record," the redhead joked.

Julie narrowed her eyes dangerously and gave the strong arm she was holding a playful slap. Reaching into the pocket of her baggy shorts, Julie took out the fuzzy black box, concealing it in her closed hand. She was thankful she'd went to the jewelry store earlier and bought it. The time was right.

"I love you, Kimba," she said softly.

Her companion's face lost its playful glint as she sucked in a shaky breath. The emotions evoked from finally hearing the words were plain in her misty eyes and wondering smile.

"In all my life, I've never felt more complete than I do right now. I'm not really sure how this is done...but here goes." Julie knelt down on a weak knee.

Kimba's brow knitted in confusion until her eyes tracked Julie's hand opening the ring box. "Jay...," she whispered in question.

"I want you to take this as a token of my pledge to you." The dark woman moved the hand she'd been holding between them, slipping the breaded gold band onto its ring finger in a smooth motion. She brought it to her lips for a tender kiss, forever sealing the union. "I promise to love you for the rest of my life. And as long as I live, I'll do my best to make you happy, and keep you safe, and never, ever hurt you," she finished, her voice uneven.

Seeing tears slowly stream down Kimba's face, Julie could feel matching ones of her own. The smiles they both held assured her the tears were happy.

Her voice shaky with emotion, Kimba spoke softly. "I'm not sure what to say, except I love you and I accept your promise and make the same to you. As long as I live, you'll be my life."

With gentle waves crashing against her legs, Julie drew her partner into a tender kiss. Her strong arms held their bodies close as the wind touched their skin and the crickets serenaded the night. In that one perfect moment, she knew beyond reason that the world didn't have a chance at making her break that promise.

The End

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive