Lacy Levine woke from a deep sleep after hearing several tiny whimpers in the early morning air. Groggy, she untangled her legs from her partner, ready to check on their youngest child in the adjacent room. When Lacy swung her long legs over the side of the bed, a small cry escaped from her partner.
Lacy's head snapped around to see her lover's restless body fight with the covers. Concerned, Lacy shook her lover lightly. "Sweetheart?"
Gage Ballant twisted and turned, yanking the covers up over her blonde head. "No!"
Scooting closer in order to pull the blonde into her comforting arms, Lacy tried to wake her partner of six years. "Gage? Sweetheart, what is it?" Over the last couple of weeks, Lacy had awakened nearly every night to the tossing and turning of her lover.
Gage curled around, burying herself deeper in her covers as Lacy tried to untangle the blonde. The haunting dream that had disturbed Gage over the last ten days seemed to grow in its intensity. The more Gage fought against the demons that entered her sleeping state, the more real it seemed to her. In the dream, she was fighting against long forgotten memories that were now insisting upon revealing themselves. She struggled but was unable to escape the magnetic hold they had on her. It was when a sharp, vivid picture of an unhappy Derek snapped into focus in her mind that she jumped up, coming to a full waken state. Breathing heavily, Gage clawed at her covers in a desperate bid to unwrap herself from her self-inflicted mummy cocoon.
"Hold on, Gage." Lacy fought against her lover's persistent hands that were insistently pushing the covers off. Finally, unveiling her lover's blonde head, Lacy pulled her close. Stroking her partner's cheek, Lacy tried to calm Gage. "Sweetheart, it's okay. Everything's okay."
But it wasn't and both women knew it.
The dreams were getting worse and the more the younger woman attempted to get Gage to talk about it, the more Gage retreated to her writing and on several occasions she asked to be left alone. At first, Lacy thought it was because three of their children were off in Los Angeles visiting their father since the nightly dreams started shortly after they left. But then that didn't make sense because in their years together, there were several times that Lacy and Gage were left alone while their children were gone.
When Gage finally took stock of her emotional wrecked state, she eased herself from Lacy's arms only to get out of bed. With one forlorn look at Lacy, Gage dropped her head. "I'll see if Hayley is up yet."
Gage knew she was driving her devoted partner away with her silence and reasoned that Lacy deserved much better but, at present, she was unable to give anymore. Guilt grew inside the blonde with each retreating step. Thank God, Hayley's still here. Upon entering the adjoining room, Gage winked at her smiling daughter. As she reached down to pick Hayley up, the taller blonde said. "I hope I didn't wake you up to."
The two year old stretched then crunched her face before producing another smile. "Hold me."
"Okay." Gage lifted Hayley up. "I guess you wanna see your momma."
"Uh huh, I know that means yes." Gage laughed.
Upon hearing her partner's welcomed laughter, Lacy allowed a momentary smile. She remained in bed, hoping for a few quiet moments with Gage before the start of their day which for the last week seemed to be filled with Gage writing while Lacy occupied her time painting. They did spend the occasional walk or quiet evening together at Hayley's insistence. Thank God, Hayley's still here.
When Gage stepped back in the master bedroom, the telephone rang causing her to jerk from the unexpected early morning ring.
Lacy astutely noticed Gage's startled reaction to the telephone ringing. She motioned for Gage to bring their daughter to the bed. Picking up the telephone from the side table, Lacy patted the spot on the bed next to her. "Hello." She smiled at the sound of the voice on the other end. "Hi, mom."
Gage sat Hayley between them and the little girl immediately crawled on to her mother's lap.
Brushing her lips against her daughter's head, Lacy listened to her mother on the telephone. She sighed. "No. Not today. I think we'll just hang around the house."
Gage tried to get her partner's attention but Lacy ignored her. When Gage heard Lacy say goodbye to her mother, the blonde asked. "Why didn't you go with her today? She's been after you all week to go shopping."
Lacy's blue eyes turned downcast. Reluctant to answer, Lacy drew in a deep breath but still refused to say a word.
Sensing the tension between her parents, Hayley crawled toward the foot of the bed intent on dispersing the anxiety in the air.
Neither Lacy nor Gage took note of their daughter undressing herself since they were locked in a wordless battle of wills. Gage scratched her ear and sighed, hoping for a reprieve from the prodding questions her partner was sure to have. Lacy closed her eyes, offering a silent pray that Gage would find the courage to open up and share the torments of her past. All the while, Hayley was putting her plan into action.
When the young impish naked blonde stood up and bounced on the bed several times, she waited just long enough to get her parents attention before scrambling off the bed onto the floor. "Momma? Catch me."
Hayley ran around the room as Lacy and Gage chased the speedy toddler. Hayley giggled as she slipped past Gage's grappling hands, missing her again. "Momma help me!" Hayley ran from Gage to her mother but ducked between Lacy's long legs, alluding capture. The tiny blonde climbed upon the hope chest Lacy's grandmother had given her. Balancing herself first, Hayley then bounced a couple of times and clapped her hands in victory.
"I thought you wanted me to help you?" Lacy shook her head at her daughter's antics.
Propping her hands on her hips, Gage let out a genuine laugh. "Look at her. She's just like her mother."
A petulant eyebrow rose in question. "What do you mean?"
Nodding at their daughter, Gage said. "Running around naked as the day she was born." Then Gage smirked before she continued. "And I've got pictures to prove it."
"Oh, no, you don't. I was never naked." Lacy tilted her head, referring to her many photo shoots for magazines. "Only nearly naked."
"I'm not talking about that?not those pictures." Gage countered.
The same eyebrow hiked even higher.
"You know? the Polaroids." Gage's twinkling green eyes shifted towards where Hayley was standing. "The ones we took here? in the bedroom."
Lacy stepped closer to her partner. "Oh, those. By the way, where'd you put them?"
"In the hope chest." Gage winked.
Taking a leap of faith, Lacy wrapped her arm around Gage, embracing her. Pulling Gage close, Lacy whispered. "Maybe tonight we could look at them and??" She left her lascivious suggestion dangle in mid-air.
Gage squeezed her partner before offering her lover a sweet and gentle kiss then with a silly grin said. "You hope."
There were no truer words that Lacy could of heard in that moment. The couple relished the closeness they shared only briefly before one set of blue and another set of green eyes zeroed in on their mischievous daughter.
Hayley's greenish blue eyes widened. "Uh oh!" Seeing her parents embrace, the young child knew her mission had been accomplished. A small smile beamed brightly at Lacy and Gage before she quickly turned and jumped onto their bed, wrapping the covers around her.
What promised to be a sensual morning of intimacy between the couple, turned out to be another day just like the rest of the week. After a quiet breakfast, the couple went their separate ways. Gage sequestered herself in her writing room working on her newest screenplay, 'Angel In Disguise' while Lacy took Hayley with her and reluctantly lost herself in the unfinished painting on the canvas.
With each stroke of the brush, Lacy felt the distance between her and Gage grow wider. She turned to see her daughter playing with some Mardi Gras beads. "What color is that one, Hayley?"
Having gotten her distant mother's attention, Hayley jumped up. "Blue." She slung it over her neck and selected another one. "Purple." She held the long string of beads out toward Lacy.
"That's right, honey." Lacy stooped down next to her tiny daughter. "And this one. What color is this one?"
Smiling, Hayley answered without hesitation. "Green."
Lacy selected several more strings of beads. "How many do I have, Hayley?"
The small child scrunched her face and pointed. "One, two, thwee?. four."
"That's right." Lacy kissed her daughter's head. "You are so precious. You know that?"
"Gimme." Hayley grabbed each set of beads and placed them over her head.
"You look so cute." An idea popped in her head. "It's such a beautiful day. You want to go outside?"
Hayley's eyes brightened considerably. "Outside? Hi."
Lacy laughed. "I'll take that as a yes." She scooped her young daughter up in her arms. "Why don't we see if we can get Gage to go outside with us?"
Hayley bounced in her mother's arms. "Outside!"
Gage was reluctant to admit it but being dragged out into the fresh air by her partner and daughter was exactly what she needed. "I have work to do, you know."
"Push me." Hayley guided the stroller up to Gage. When the taller blonde squinted her eyes at Hayley, the toddler produced an endearing smile. "Pwease."
That was Gage's undoing. "Oh, okay." Gage secured Hayley in the stroller before grabbing the handle. "Which way?"
"Water!" Hayley yelled. "Want water."
"Big surprise there." Gage glanced up at Lacy. "She gets that from Dani."
Shyly, Lacy slipped her hand around Gage's elbow and when the blonde didn't protest, the dark haired woman sighed in relief. "Well, I'm sure Dani would much rather be here than in LA at the moment."
"Mmmm?" Gage guided the stroller along the concrete path to the lake's shore.
"Which is kinda unusual since she's always enjoyed being with her dad." Lacy's thoughts turned to her oldest son. "But what's really weird is how much Derek seems to be enjoying this visit with his father." She was jolted from her musings when she felt Gage tense up. "Sweetheart?" Sensing she had hit a nerve in her partner, Lacy tentatively asked. "Something on your mind?"
"No. Nuthin." Gage shrugged and wished Lacy would drop the subject.
It seemed like forever to reach the dock where she was sure Hayley would insist on getting into the water. While Gage complied with their daughter's wishes, Lacy pondered the reason for her already reticent lover to become even more distant.
The warm, sunny day offered a beautiful backdrop as Hayley splashed in the water. Gage had undressed Hayley down to her diaper and remaining beads but when the diaper was soaked, she disposed of it and declared their private beach a nude one. "But only for you, Hayley. No one else can gallivant around here naked." Gage cast a quick look at her partner who seemed to be distracted. Again, Gage felt a ton of guilt fall on her shoulders as she kept Lacy at arm's distance. I should just leave before?..
A speeding boat brought several pounding waves to the shoreline as Lacy gazed across the lake to the distant shore. She had always enjoyed the lake and the kids had such a wonderful time here with all the laughter and fun shared by all. It was then an idea popped into her head. I'll talk with Gage about it later. Lacy tapped her finger to her lips. But first I've got to figure out what's bothering her. Lacy knew the answer to that question was there floating around in her head but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
Gage nudged her partner. "Hey, what you thinking?"
Surprised, Lacy smiled at her partner then leaned over to give Gage a kiss. "You."
Not at all surprised by Lacy's answer, Gage remained silent. A long moment passed and Gage was on the verge of saying something when Hayley waddled up to them.
Demanding, she yanked at Gage. "Pway with me." Cocking her head, she added. "Pwease."
Lacy bumped her lover. "She misses the rest of the kids."
"Me, too." A sad look covered Gage's face.
"Me, three." Leaning against Gage, Lacy grabbed their daughter. "Come here, Hayley." Sitting next to her lover, Lacy sat Hayley partially on her lap and Gage's.
Hayley would be content to sit with her parents and be a very patient little girl. Somehow she sensed the much needed connection she offered her parents.
With each stroke of the key on her laptop, Gage knew the distance between her and Lacy was growing wider. Finishing her sentence, Gage saved the document before turning the computer off. She relaxed back in her chair and stretched.
Gage shrugged. "Long day. You?"
"Bout the same." Lacy's shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, unsure if she should go in. "I put Hayley to bed. She said she'd go to sleep only after you came up and said goodnight."
Gage chuckled on her way toward the door. "Demanding little thing, isn't she?"
Lacy placed a gentle touch on Gage's arm. "Yeah, just like some other blonde I know."
Green eyes closed before Gage rubbed her temple. "I'm sorry."
"Gage?" Lacy turned her lover around to face her. "I was just kidding."
Slowly, Gage's guilty green eyes lifted to meet Lacy. "But it's true."
Pulling Gage into her arms, Lacy felt her body shudder under all the pressure the couple had been putting on themselves. "Go on. Tuck Hayley in and say goodnight. Then come to bed."
Gage pulled back from her lover and could only simply shake her head.
For the longest time, Lacy just lay there in their big lonely bed waiting for the love of her life. Tears started to fill her eyes at the thought of losing Gage. I don't know what I would do. Grasping the silky sheet below her, Lacy grunted loudly in frustration. "I don't even know what's going on."
Upon hearing her lover's cry, Gage stood frozen at the doorway. Sucking in a deep breath, the writer made a forced entrance. "Well, she's off to sleep." Gage offered Lacy a hard-pressed smile.
Trying to wipe her nearly overflowing watery eyes, Lacy sat up. She watched Gage take off her clothes and deliberately put them away. Chewing on the inside skin of her mouth, Lacy pondered her next move. "Gage?"
The blonde turned to look at Lacy.
"Sweetheart. We should talk." Lacy held her breath for what seemed an eternity before the woman she loved finally spoke.
"Okay." Gage knew Lacy had every right to ask even demand from her an explanation for her behavior of late. She just didn't know how to explain it without risking the one thing she held most dear in her life. Lacy. But then again, if she didn't summon the courage to face the torments of her past and share them with her lover, Gage knew it would be a forgone conclusion that Lacy would leave her like all the rest did. The blonde's unexamined thought was playing havoc with her decisions of late and without realizing it, with her silence, Gage was bringing about the one thing she feared most. Slipping down on the bed, Gage asked. "What's on your mind?"
"It's what's on your mind that interest me." Lacy's words cut a bit sharper than she intended. "I'm sorry."
Holding up her hand, Gage said. "No. I'm the one that should be sorry. And I am."
Lacy scooted closer. "Why don't we forget about that for now?" She wanted her lover to relax before Lacy ventured into sensitive territory so she offered another tact. Rubbing her lover's arm, Lacy asked. "Are you anxious about the book tour?"
"A little." Gage was surprised about Lacy's choice of subject. She thought for sure Lacy would ask about the dreams. More like nightmares. "I'm not big on crowds."
"And getting all that attention?" Gage nodded. "You deserve it. Your last novel is excellent. Are you upset that Mark asked you to go on this tour?"
"No, not really. I know that's part of the promotion thing. He just wants the book to do well." Gage scratched the back of her neck. "Besides, it's only a couple of places here and New York City. I couldn't say no."
"Yes, you could have and you know it. But that's not you. I think you'd do anything Mark asked of you." Lacy said.
Pursing her lips together, Gage agreed. "Nearly." Sad green eyes searched out and found Lacy's caring blue ones. I should be able to do anything you ask of me. "You deserve more."
"Oh, Gage. I have you and our children. I have exactly what I've always wanted. It's just that?" Lacy was finding it hard to express her feelings since so many emotions were waging a war inside of her. She had been unwearied with Gage for years and now her patience was wearing dangerously thin.
Resigned to failing her lover's needs, Gage asked. "What do you want to do?" Hoping against hope that Lacy would not tell her to leave. Again, the irrational thought plagued her mind, running rampant.
"You've been shutting me out? more and more. I don't know what to do. I don't even know why." Grabbing her lover's hand, Lacy pleaded. "I want to be there for you?. like you've been there for us."
"Lacy, you have?."
"No!" Lacy halted her partner's words. "You won't let me. You won't even talk to me." More tears spilled out unheeded.
Gage wrapped her arms around her distraught lover. "It's not that I don't want to tell you. I never have? not even with Mark. Not really. It's something I've always had to sort out myself. The only time?." A distant hurtful memory flooded the blonde's mind. "Besides you have too much to worry about."
A dark glare torpedoed through Gage's core when Lacy turned toward her. "Yes, I do. Us."
Gage pulled Lacy down next to her, offering gentle strokes of soothing comfort as her hand trailed up and down Lacy's arm. What words could be said that would turn this unheeded devastating stampede hurling between them. Even the whispered words of love and comfort did nothing to chase away the ever-growing doubt that was eroding their relationship.
Impatiently waiting by the front door, Gage fidgeted with her watch. Lacy returned to their bedroom at the last minute after Hayley gave her the look indicating she needed a diaper change. It gave Gage just enough time to allow her nerves to spin out of control again about the upcoming book signing. Glancing at her watch once more, Gage mumbled. "Come on, I want to get this over with."
In her career as a writer, Gage had only done a couple dozen book signings and each one brought with it anxiety. She had coaxed Lacy in attending the book signing with her. Gage figured with Lacy there the fans would be more interested in meeting the popular movie star. Less attention on me. Just when she allowed that comforting thought to ease some of her self-inflicted stress, the telephone rang out. Startled, Gage jumped. After the telephone rang a couple more times, Gage relented and answered it. "Hello." She was somewhat relieved to hear the male voice on the other end of the line.
"Gage. Is Lacy around?" Art Graham asked.
"She'll be down in a minute. She's changing Hayley then we've got that book thing to go to."
"Okay. When you get back, have her give me a call. It's nothing important." Lacy's agent shrugged.
For some reason that last statement struck an emotional wired cord in Gage and being stressed already didn't help her mood. "Not important, huh? Tell me, Art. How come Lacy's only got a pittance of parts offered to her over the last year or so?"
Art recognized the hostility in Gage's voice and being a good agent, he tried to diffuse it. "Good parts are hard to come by?.."
The fuming writer interrupted the agent. "She won the fuckin' Oscar!"
"?for someone with Lacy's acting caliber." Art finished. "Gage? Lacy's indicated she's pretty okay with the way her career is going."
The blonde bit her bottom lip before asking the real the question at the heart of her concern. "It's because of me, isn't it?"
Not wanting to reveal his client's confidentiality, Art assured the insecure writer with a very laconic answer. "No."
"That's it? That's all you're going to say." Gage paused only briefly. "Then what is it?"
Art Graham pushed back in his wooden office chair and scratched the back of his neck. "That's all I can say." He didn't want to get between his client and her partner. "Have her give me a call, okay?"
Sucking in a frustrated breath, Gage made another vain attempt at controlling her spiraling emotions. "Okay. And?. Art?"
Shifting forward in this chair, Art assured the blonde. "No problem. Good luck at the book signing."
With that Gage hung the telephone up. She was just about to turn when Lacy arrived with Hayley in her arms. "You ready?"
"Mmmm? hmmm. Was that the kids?" Lacy asked as Hayley reached for Gage.
The older blonde took her daughter. "No. Art wants you to call him back later." Gage walked to the door with Hayley in her arms. Without looking back, Gage said dismissively. "Said it was nothing important."
Her agent's message wasn't what produced the concerned look on Lacy's face. Again at a loss as to what was going on in Gage's mind, the dark haired woman quietly followed her partner and daughter to the car.
At the bookstore located in the city's mall, Gage ran her hand for the hundredth time through her short blonde hair as the storeowner went over some minor details. Several sideway glances ensured the nervous writer that Lacy was still close by as she talked with a couple of the stores clerks. "I'm sorry. What did you?.."
Lightly touching the writer's shoulder the storeowner assured Gage. "Ms. Ballant, it's quite?."
"Gage. Please call me Gage."
Smiling, the older woman continued. "There's no reason to be nervous. Trust me, everyone coming is already a huge fan of yours or they wouldn't be here." Pointing at the large placard of Gage's latest book, Cast of Suspicious Characters, the storeowner asked. "Looks great, doesn't it?"
A genuine smile crossed Gage's face when she noticed the credit given to the designer of the book cover. "Yes, it does. Thanks."
Gage loosened up a bit when she felt the calming hand of her lover rub the small of her back. Lacy noticed Gage relax as well. "You're going to do great." Lacy brushed her lips against her lover's head and whispered. "I love you."
"I'm glad you're here." Seeing the growing crowd fill the bookstore from the small back office, Gage sighed.
"Don't worry about it. They'll love you like we do." Tapping her blonde daughter's nose, Lacy asked. "Hayley, don't we love Gage?"
Smiling, Hayley agreed. "Hi." But her attention soon turned to all the excitement and noise being produced as more people strolled into the store, crowding around the lectern.
Gage had requested the taller stand instead of the usual table because she wanted to be on eye level with the people requesting autographs. The storeowner thoughtfully added the high stool behind the stand in case the writer needed a reprieve from standing for the next few hours.
When the storeowner waved toward Gage, the writer turned to Lacy. "It's time. You ready?"
"Gage, sweetheart?" Gage easily recognized the hesitation in Lacy's voice would not bode well for her. "This is your moment." Lacy continued to gently stroke Gage's back. "I thought Hayley and I would go next door and visit with Nate."
"Can I go too?" Gage pleaded.
Embracing her reluctant writer, the dark haired woman assured Gage. "Go on now. You don't want your daughter to see you chicken out?"
Gage knew Lacy was teasing her. "Lacy, it's not because I'm? afraid or anything but you're the one who designed the book jacket and that's the only reason anyone bought the darn book in the first place and?"
A lone finger on the blonde's lips halted Gage's rambling. "Sweetheart. Go! Hayley and I will stop back by and check on you later. Then I'll let you take us out to dinner. Deal?"
Resigned to the fact that she was going to have to fly solo, Gage agreed. "Deal. But Hayley and I get to pick the place."
With one quick kiss, Lacy ushered her reluctant partner out on center stage. She watched Gage slowly walk toward the podium. The blonde's gait was at first unsteady but with each step, Lacy could tell her partner's confidence grew.
Several times it crossed the writer's mind to make a hasty escape until one fan yelled above the din. "Is Lacy Levine really here?"
Relieved, Gage smiled. Good? they want to hear about my favorite subject.
Nathan Lewis stuffed the merchandise in the bag and handed it to the young woman, flashing her a friendly smile. "If you have any questions installing this program, give me a call. I'll be here till five."
The pretty girl hesitated as if she wanted to say something but with Lacy hovering nearby, she offered the handsome young man a smile then dashed off.
"Another one fallen under your charm?" Nate's oldest sister teased.
"Mmmm?? I hardly think so." Nate stepped from behind the counter. "Come here, squirt."
Hayley jumped in his arms. As her uncle lifted her up, the fearless toddler demanded. "Higher!"
Nate tossed his niece in the air several times much to the delight of Hayley and several passing customers. "Come on, I've been waiting to take my break." With Hayley tucked in one arm, Nate grabbed his sister's hand and guided them out into the mall's small courtyard.
After settling down and ordering a couple of soft drinks, Lacy asked. "Is it always this crowded?"
Without looking around, Nate answered his sister, still intent on playing with his niece. "The usual Saturday fare."
Lacy couldn't help but notice all the teens and even younger kids running around the mall together. "I'm surprised to see all the young ones hanging out here. Where are their parents?"
"Come on, Lacy. You're not that old." Nate winked.
"Very funny. I've been to the mall many times before? guess I just never really noticed." Lacy said seriously.
"Well?." Nate bounced Hayley on his knee. "Stick around till tonight, it'll be packed with kids. Same goes for Friday night. A lot of the kids go to the movie theater then head over here till the mall closes."
"No, thank you. Gage's taking us out to dinner when she's done." A bright smile beamed on Lacy's face. "We pick the kids up early in the morning. It's been two long weeks."
"Why didn't you go out to LA?"
"David." Lacy sipped her soda pop. "Gage and I wanted to go."
"Me?me?" Hayley scrunched her tiny eyebrows together.
"Yes, you, too, honey." Lacy sighed. "David wanted time with the kids. Without us there, so he could make a real connection with them... again. Especially Derek."
Nate raised a questioning eyebrow that Hayley duplicated and that made Lacy laugh.
"Actually, I think he's serious. He seems to be trying." Lacy was convinced that her ex-husband's attitude had changed for the better where their children were concerned. It appeared that David was sincerely focused on establishing his parental role in the lives of his children.
Touching his sister's knee, Nate nodded. "I'm glad then."
"By the way, you finished that computer class?"
Insistent hands reached for Nate's drink. "Gimme."
Nate held onto the cup even though Hayley wanted to hold it all by herself. When his niece finally conceded that he wouldn't let go, she sucked on the straw. "Yeah, and I really enjoyed it. The graphics were cool. It's amazing what you can do."
"Mom showed me some of your work. You have a real talent." Every once in a while, Lacy's mind wandered toward the bookstore.
Nate noticed his sister was pre-occupied. "Why don't you go see how things are going? I'll watch this little peek squeak."
Tempted, Lacy finally asked. "Are you sure? You won't get in trouble?"
"Are you kidding?" Nate sat the empty cup on the table. "She'll be my little chick magnet."
"Nate! My daughter is not a chick magnet." Lacy scolded her brother with a mock glare.
Nate and Hayley looked at Lacy innocently before the handsome man said. "She can't help it. Her mother is."
Shaking her head, Lacy wasn't sure to whom her brother was referring to her or Gage. "Just stay out of trouble." She warned him.
"Okay." Hayley smiled.
When Lacy overheard one customer wishing the dark haired movie star would return, she nearly turned and left, not wanting to take any attention away from her deserving partner. But something forced her to remain.
Gage held the same wish as the customer. You and me both. Gage finished signing the book then offered. "Why don't I go look for her?" Happy at the prospect of getting out from under the limelight, the writer slipped off the stool.
"Looking for me?" Lacy draped her arm over her partner's shoulder.
Smiling brightly, Gage slipped her arm around Lacy's waist. "Well everybody. Here she is. Did everyone see the artwork on the book cover? Lacy did it." Gage spouted proudly.
Through the years, Lacy and Gage received some very unwelcome receptions to their relationship but it seemed that people tended to overlook that aspect of their life together when they were able to relate to them on personal level. In this case, many of the people present had come to love Lacy's work in her roles and many others enjoyed Gage's stories.
Yet, the uncertainty of how people would react in this very public arena was one cause of Gage's stress. The blonde was willing to deal with those unfriendly encounters but felt guilty when Lacy had to do the same.
As it was though, the remaining hour was spent with many well-wishers and questions about what the couple were going to do next. When the line finally dwindled down, Lacy noticed a familiar young woman and her son approach.
Extending her hand, the beautiful blonde woman greeted Lacy and Gage. "Lacy?"
Lacy pulled Alexus McKenna Grayson in for a warm hug. "How are you?"
"Just great." Lexi turned to Gage, handing her a copy of her recently purchased book. "I don't suppose you have time for one more autograph?"
"I think I can get my cramped fingers to etch out one more." Gage opened the front cover and signed it. She looked back up at Lexi who was about the same age as Lacy. "You'll want Lacy's, too. She did the cover."
"Gaaaage." Lacy warned her partner upon hearing the suggestion.
"Yes, I know." Lexi handed the book to Lacy. "Would you mind?"
Taking the book, Lacy squinted her blue eyes at Gage but said to Lexi. "She thinks she's my agent."
That statement produced a frown on the writer's face.
After Lacy gave the book back to Lexi, she turned to the young man standing next to his mother. "Hi, Lane."
"Hello." Normally, Lane Grayson wasn't shy but facing the mother of the girl he liked prompted his reticent response. However, he did summon up the courage to ask about the girl in question. "Dani's coming home tomorrow?"
"Yes. We should be home by the afternoon. Why don't you give her a call? I'm sure she'd love to hear from you." Lacy encouraged the nearly sixteen year old.
Pensive, Lane shifted his weight from one foot to the next. "Maybe."
The blonde Lexi wrapped her arm around her son. "I guess we should get going. Thanks for the autographs."
"Hey! Thank you for buying the book." With a kidding grin, Gage added. "That one put me over a hundred."
After Lexi and her son left, Gage shot her partner a 'you're gonna be trouble' look.
"Lacy. Dani's not gonna like that. You know the two of them have been playing cat and mouse with each other. Liking each other but pretending not to." Gage shook her head. "Someone's in big trouble."
Lacy mused a long moment in silence before she mumbled. "Yeah, she's not been too keen lately when I butted in. Oh, well."
"Come on. Let's go get something to eat." Gage yanked at her lover's arm.
"Then we need to go by the grocery store and stock up." Lacy added as an afterthought, knowing their food supplies needed replenishing.
Remembering she had eaten the last of Lacy's favorite cookies and received a good tongue lashing over that misdeed, Gage insisted. "First thing we get is? oatmeal cookies."
Lacy countered. "No. First, we go get our daughter."
Sunday started out to be a long day filled with stories of the children's adventures at their father's home in Los Angeles and ended with increasing tension. The first word out of Dani's mouth when the children arrived at the airport was a request for her own cell phone. And that prompted her nine-year-old brother to demand a cell phone of his own if his sister got one. Derek didn't really want a cell phone but reasoned that he could get something if Dani got one. After all, he hadn't been around his older sister all his life without learning a trick or two.
"We'll talk about it when we get home." Lacy hugged each of her children tightly. Sammy was the only one who kept hold of his mother and wouldn't let go so she carried him all the way to the waiting car.
On the ride home from the airport, Dani only had one thing on her mind and whined. "But mom?. all my friends have one."
"Dani, I said we'd talk about it later."
The fourteen year old crossed her arms in frustration before she mumbled. "Dad let me use his. Maybe he'll get me one."
Lacy turned in her seat to face her daughter. "I'm glad to see you, too."
"Oh, mom." Dani rolled her baby blue eyes then quickly offered her mom a sincere smile. "Me, too."
Gage caught a glimpse of Derek through the rearview mirror. "Hey, sport. You have fun in California?" The blonde was reluctant to ask after the conversation she had with him over the telephone more than a week ago. What started out to be the usual conversation between the two best buddies suddenly turned for the worse. Gage wanted to make sure Derek was having a good time so she asked him several questions about how he was getting along with his father. Derek's demeanor turned chilly on several occasions during the conversation causing Gage to prod further with her questions. Before the talk ended, both of them felt a sharp chill strike through their warm and loving relationship.
"Yeah. I guess." Derek politely answered before he turned his attention to Hayley who was buckled in her car seat next to him. "Hayley? Would you stop grabbing at me?"
"She's just happy to see you. Hayley missed all of you so much." Lacy informed her children.
Derek pushed his youngest sister's hand away. "Well, let her be happy to see Sammy or Dani."
"Stella? How about you? You have a good time?" Lacy asked.
The sixty-four year old nanny turned grandmother nodded. "With these three, I always have a good time if not interesting." She reached for Hayley's outstretched hand. "And I missed you very much."
This produced a genuine smile from the two year old. With outstretched hands, Hayley begged. "Memaw. Hold me."
"Wait till we get home, honey. And I'll carry you around with me the rest of the day." Stella kissed her youngest grandchild.
"Okay." Hayley agreed.
"Mom? Can I come up there with you?" The five-year-old Sammy asked. The trip to Los Angeles was rough on him. Even though he loved his father, Sammy never wanted to stray too far from his mother. The first few days out in LA he clung to either Stella or Dani. Lacy called and talked with him at least a half dozen times each day until she was assured he was doing reasonably well. She fought numerous urges to charter a plane for her, Gage and Hayley after talking with her youngest son.
Smiling sweetly at Sammy, Lacy suggested. "When we get home and get something to eat, how bout I tell you a story. Would you like that?"
His blue eyes brightened as he happily agreed because he always got to sit on his mother's lap when she told him a story. "Okay."
"I want story." Hayley chimed in.
"What about you, Derek?" The very much-relieved mother at having all of her children home asked.
"I'm too big for a story." Derek replied.
Once again, Gage caught sight of the young boy in her rearview mirror. "Oh, come on, Derek. Your mom came up with a great new story about Devlin and Gentry." These were two of Derek's all time favorite cartoon characters.
He propped a fist under his chin and frowned. "They're just cartoons. I'm nine, you know."
The connection between Derek and his former personal hero was slowly eroding and with it brought very real fears that were summoning up demons from Gage's past. She knew this demise in their relationship had triggered the dreams she had been having of late.
His response reminded Lacy of another time at the lake after David's visit and Dani suddenly decided she needed to be all grown up in order to get her father's approval. Lacy shifted her concerned blue eyes between Gage and her son. For the first time, the caring woman sensed the reason for her partner's distant demeanor. Life sure has a circular nature to it.
Later that day as promised, Lacy told several stories to her willing audience while Derek played on the floor with his race cars and Dani wanted to get caught up with calls to her friends via the telephone. All in all, it was a good day but one Lacy realized was a turning point in her family's dynamics. She sucked in a deep breath and prayed she would have the strength to see it through.
The next morning after breakfast, Gage took the three youngest children down to the beach while Lacy, Dani and Stella lingered in the kitchen. They worked together cleaning the dishes and table.
"Mom?" Dani said tentatively. When she recognized the arched eyebrow of her mother pointing in her direction, Dani continued. "You said we could talk about it now."
Lacy put away the dish she had just finished drying. "I suspect you have a list of reasons why you should get one." But before Dani could confirm that assumption. "You know when school starts in the fall, you can't take it with you to classes."
"Like I know that mom." The other eyebrow of her mother's hiked up upon her response. Uh oh, that was a little bit too sharp. She reeled in her sarcastic tone. "I was thinking that it would come in handy when I go to the mall with my friends."
Remembering all the young kids she'd seen at the mall milling about, Lacy braced herself for a lively debate with her daughter. Several red flags shot up in her mind regarding her child's safety versus Dani's journey on her way to becoming a young independent woman. She wanted Dani to be self-reliant, strong and self-sufficient but letting go of her maternal safety net link to her daughter would have to slowly loosen over time.
"All my friends go there all the time."
Lacy's mind drifted back to the point at hand. "So?"
Stella took the dishtowel from Lacy's hand to dry the pan. "It's all the rage." Both mother and daughter looked at Stella who shrugged. "That's what Dani tells me."
"Summer's just beginning, mom. Hanging out at the mall with my friends is what everyone does." She pleaded. "And I was hoping to have a fun time this summer. I've already missed two parties."
"You can have a get together here. Anytime. You know that. Your friends are always welcome." Lacy wanted to keep her children close and out of harm's way.
Dani decided on another tact. "Well, I was going to have a swim party one weekend."
Lacy walked over to her daughter and wrapped her arms around Dani. "That would be great. Just remember this next week we're flying to New York. Gage has that book signing."
"Do I have to go?" Dani didn't want another trip keeping her from her friends.
"You had a good time in LA and you didn't want to go there to start with it." Lacy pointed out.
Dani broke away from her mother's embrace then flopped down on the chair. "Yeah, but that was to see dad. And most of the time, all he did was try and make Derek and Sammy like him." She blew a frustrated puff of air up at her bangs.
Lacy sought Stella's silent confirmation regarding Dani's assessment and got it before she asked. "I thought you enjoyed your visit?"
"I did but that was because dad let me use his cell phone." Dani seized another chance to get a cell phone of her own.
"And you were on the internet most of the time? when you weren't swimming." Stella added.
This latest news concerned Lacy and she decided to talk with Stella privately but first she had to deal with her daughter. "Dani? This week we'll go to the mall? you and me? and look for one. I'm not saying we'll get one but we can look."
That brought a smile to the young girl's face.
Lacy had another reason for wanting some time alone with Dani and she figured she would accomplish that goal along with checking the mall out again. Nate works there. Maybe I'll see when he's working and then maybe?. Lacy refused to finish that thought.
When Dani heard the telephone ring, she rushed off assured that it was for her. Her friend, Katie, was due to call so she could get updated on all the latest happenings that went on while she was gone. It didn't matter that they had talked nearly every day on the phone and spent hours instant messaging each other on the internet.
Lacy turned to Stella and asked seriously. "Could we talk a moment?"
The older woman pulled up a chair but not before asking Lacy if she wanted something to drink. When Lacy declined, Stella crossed her hands together and waited.
While watching the children play, Gage sat back against the six-foot log at the edge of the bank. It had drifted up to shore one day and the kids declared it their own personal floatation device for when they wanted Gage to give them rides on it.
Derek was splashing Sammy and the younger boy was holding his own in the water fight. They were playing well together until Hayley grabbed a handful of mud and threw it at her oldest brother. "Hey! Stop it."
Both Hayley and Sammy laughed at Derek trying to wash off the mud from his swim shorts.
This further irritated him and before Gage knew what was happening, Derek splashed Hayley then pushed a still giggling Sammy down into the water. "Shut up!"
Gage jumped up. "Derek!" Gage lifted Sammy up with one hand while reaching for her daughter. She wiped the excess water from Hayley's eyes then ensured that Sammy was okay. Gage gathered both children up in her arms then headed to the grassy area where their towels waited. As she was drying the two youngest kids, Gage asked Derek. "What was that all about? It was just a little bit of mud." When the young boy refused to answer, Gage tried to get his attention. "Derek?"
"What?" The scowl on his face spoke volumes.
"That's what I was asking." The blonde was at a loss as to what caused Derek's unusual behavior. "What happened?"
His only answer was a long hard glare before he turned away. Gage wasn't quite sure who that wicked look was meant for.
Without looking back, Derek stomped off toward the house.
Once they returned from the lake, Lacy was only too happy to change the kids from their wet clothes while Gage headed off to her writing room. She sensed her partner needed some time alone after Gage filled Lacy in on what happened while they were swimming. I'll talk to her later about what Stella told me.
After sitting her three youngest kids at the table, Lacy poured them some milk to go along with their cookies. Derek and Sammy were already munching on a cookie but Hayley couldn't quite reach them. "Cook!"
"Derek? Get Hayley a cookie."
He snatched one from the container then tossed it at her like a Frisbee. It bounced in front of the little blonde a couple of times before she grabbed it and stuffed it in her mouth.
Having caught sight of the cookie flying through the air, Lacy lightly scolded her son. "Derek. Next time, just hand it to her please."
His only response was a grunt but he grew more agitated when Sammy giggled. As his mother returned the milk carton to the refrigerator, in a low and menacing voice Derek threatened Sammy. "Stop it? or else." Which only caused Sammy to giggle even harder so Derek kicked him under the table.
"Hey!" Sammy complained.
"What is it, Sammy? Mmmm?" Turning back toward the table, Lacy sat down and reached for one of the last cookies. Just as Lacy was about to savor the first bite of her oatmeal cookie, she heard.
"Stop it. Damn it!" Derek yelled, after Sammy kicked him in retaliation.
The cookie's journey screeched to a halt within a nano width of her lips. Turning slowly toward her son, she put the cookie down on the table where Hayley immediately snatched it up. "Excuse me, Derek. What did you say?"
With his head hung low, he mumbled. "Nuthin'."
"He said 'damn it'." The happy younger boy claimed as he took another bite of his cookie.
Searing blues eyes bounced toward Sammy briefly before returning to her oldest son.
Sammy ignored his mother's seemingly irritated look while Derek tried to escape her intense glare of dissatisfaction. In an attempt to avoid answering her, he slipped from his chair and dug in his pockets, pretending to look for something.
Finally, he turned to face his mother. "I didn't say 'damn it'. I said 'darn it'."
With crumbs falling from his mouth, Sammy corrected his brother. "No, you didn't. You said?"
"Sammy! That's enough. I know what he said. And that's not something I want repeated. Okay?"
The dark haired young boy scrunched his face in sorrow. He wiped the crumbs from his mouth with his arm and hurried around the table to his mother. Hugging her, he apologized. "I'm sorry."
Lacy ran her hands through his short hair and returned the hug. "It's okay." She pulled him up on her lap but spoke to Derek, stopping him from his attempted covert retreat. "Derek? If you're finished with your milk and cookies, clean up your mess then go up to your room." He rolled his gray eyes. "I'll be up in a minute."
Derek did as his mother requested and took a welcomed opportunity to shoot his younger brother a disapproving look.
Lacy cleared the table with Sammy's help then she brushed off the crumbs on Hayley's face. The toddler stuck her face out; happy with all the attention her mother was giving her. "Momma?"
"Me?me, too. I want more." Sammy added, not wanting to be left out.
There was only one cookie left and Lacy had yet to have one. "Can mommy have the last one?" Both of her children frowned but finally gave their approval when their mother added. "Please." But Lacy wasn't in the mood for eating at the moment so she put it away until later.
Lacy handed over baby sitting duties to Gage before she headed up to see Derek and have a little chat. "Sweetheart, could you watch her a minute? I want to talk with Derek."
Gage nodded and took her daughter. "Where's Sammy?"
"He's in his room. That's where I'm heading right now." Frustrated, Lacy hesitated at the doorway.
"What's wrong?" The writer sat Hayley down in front of her at her laptop. And it didn't take long for her tiny fingers to run across the keys.
"Derek said his first cuss word."
"Well, don't be too hard on him." A few memories came barreling to the forefront of her mind as she recalled a few choice words she'd learned around that age. "Nine's a time when kids start expanding their vocabulary. It's only natural."
Not quite buying into that theory, Lacy felt there was something more driving her son's recent erratic behavior. Before Lacy left the room, she overheard Gage bartering with their daughter.
"Hayley? Let me save that last scene first and then I'll let you type anything you want for a while. Okay?"
Slowly, Lacy climbed the staircase trying to analyze her son's mood change and how it was related to Gage's restless nights. She knew deep down inside that there was a connection. However, with both Gage and Derek in full reticent mood, she knew it would be a task for a master detective. But there was one thing she was sure of about herself. I'm not one to give up?. especially when it comes to the ones I love. Then she heard a loud crash.
The next day Lacy and Gage along with their two sons moved Sammy's things to another room. When Lacy had arrived the day before to talk with Derek about his cussing, she found Sammy crying because Derek was yelling at him. As it turned out, Derek was trying to get his younger brother to clean his side of the room. Stella had asked Derek to pick up all his toys at the start of the day and he kept putting it off. But since his mom was on her way up, the nine year old didn't want to get into more trouble. When Sammy wasn't working fast enough, Derek nudged him, causing the younger boy to trip over the racecar track and that's when Derek lost it.
At his mother's directive, Derek remained in his room most of the day while the rest of the Ballant clan was struggling with the disharmony everyone felt. When Lacy started to read Hayley and Sammy a story that evening, the youngest child complained. "More. I want more."
Sitting nearby, Gage waited to see what Lacy would decide as did Stella and Dani. Seeing that her partner was a crossroads as what to do, Gage suggested. "It probably wouldn't hurt for him to come out of his room. After all, he did say he was sorry."
Lacy knew exactly what her daughter was demanding. Hayley was happiest when everyone in the family was together especially at story time. Her mind was made up after Sammy asked. "Can he please, mom?"
When Lacy nodded, Gage jumped up, as did Sammy. "I'm going with you." Sammy scrambled right behind.
Hayley's bright eyes beamed while clapping her hands together. "More for me."
Stella laughed when her daughter-in-law quickly succumbed to her children's wishes. "You just can't say no, can you?"
With a pouting fist propping up her chin, Dani mumbled. "Wanna bet?" She still hadn't convinced her mom to buy her a new cell phone.
"Dani?" Lacy shot her daughter a hard glare. "You still want to go to the Mall tomorrow?" Dani nodded quickly. "Then I suggest you drop the attitude."
"Okay. I'm sorry." The fourteen year old was increasingly becoming less patient.
While waiting for Sammy and Gage to return with Derek, again Lacy mulled over the brewing frustrations inside her. Everything seemed to be out of sorts. She hoped their trip to New York would alleviate some of the tension.
The next morning while Derek and Sammy were playing nicely in the living room with their racecars, Dani was playing some music for Hayley. The little show off danced by bouncing up and down as she clapped to the beat of the music.
"Come here, Hayley." Dani called. "I got your beads."
Hayley scampered toward her sister. "Gimme beads." The blonde named the color of the beads before she strung them around her neck.
Dani counted them one by one. "That's enough, Hayley."
"No!" The little girl ran away from her oldest sibling, giggling all the way. "Help me. Help me." She tromped across the boys' racetrack, bringing their contest to a screeching halt.
"Hayley, stop it!" Derek sighed before he fell back on the floor in frustration with his sister's antics.
Sammy jumped up to join in on the fun. "I wanna play. Catch me if you can." He said even as he chased after his oldest sister who was hot on the heels of Hayley.
"Sammy, are you gonna come back and play or not?" Derek repositioned the two racecars. "Mom, said we had to play nice. You want me to tell on you?"
When Dani finally corralled her little runaway sister, she finally coaxed Hayley back down next to her CD player. Sammy flopped down next to them.
"You wanna sing a song?" Hayley shook her head. "But it's your favorite one."
Sammy started to sing. "Old McDonald had a farm. Eeee?Ii? Eee? I? oh."
Hayley clapped as Dani continued the song. "And on his farm he had a?.." She waited for Hayley to fill in the line.
"Beads!" Hayley exclaimed.
From the distance, Derek rolled his eyes and corrected her sharply. "He had a cow."
"You're gonna have a cow if you don't drop your attitude." Dani's words to Derek echoed that of the same ones her mother treated her to the night before.
"Like I care." Derek shot back.
With the song interrupted, Sammy chimed in. "Me, either." Now bored with his sisters, the five year old returned to play with his brother.
Ignoring them, Dani continued the song. "Okay, Hayley. Old McDonald had a farm. Eee.. Ii?Eee.. I.. Oh! And on his farm he had a?.."
Hayley smiled then said. "Jesus."
When both Derek and Sammy laughed at her attempt to get Hayley to sing along with the right words, Dani glared at them before she returned her attention to her sister. "Hayley. That's your other favorite song."
That prompted the young girl to sing it. "Jesus loves me?."
"Yes I know, Hayley. But Jesus isn't here right now." It seemed the little blonde girl always broke out in that song whenever she would see of picture of Jesus around the house or in church.
"Oh, I don't know about that, Dani." Gage had dropped by the living room to check on the children then reminded Dani. "When you were telling me about Jesus, you said He was everywhere."
"That was God." She corrected Gage.
"You also told me that God and Jesus were one in the same? along with that other fella." Gage recited from the religion lessons Dani had taught her.
"You mean the Holy Spirit." Dani glared at her seemingly smart aleck student.
"Right?.. Him." Over the last couple of years, Gage tagged along with Lacy and kids to church nearly every Sunday. Turning her attention to Hayley, Gage asked. "Hayley? What kind of animal did old McDonald have on his farm?"
The tiny blonde was about to respond when Dani interrupted her. "And don't say Jesus."
"Did he have a frog?" Gage prompted Hayley much to Dani's dismay.
As soon as she heard that, Hayley immediately got on all fours and lunged forward. "Ribbit?. ribbit."
Gage burst out laughing as did Derek and his brother. Even Dani couldn't help but join in.
The little girl lunged forward again and again. "Ribbit? ribbit." She paused only long enough to ensure that she was getting everyone's attention. "Ribbit? ribbet."
Sammy couldn't resist joining in on the fun. Before long he was on all fours chasing after his little sister as he croaked out the animal's sound. When Lacy entered, she smiled at seeing her two frog jumping children along side each other. She gleefully added to the laughter in the room.
Sammy was the first to see his mother. "Mom." He jumped up on two feet and ran into her arms.
"Hey, there. Having a good time, huh?" Sammy eagerly nodded.
Seeing her mom, Hayley raced toward her on all fours.
Gage shook her head at her daughter as she came barreling across the floor. "She can walk. Why is she crawling around on all fours?"
Lacy looked at Gage. "She gets that from you."
"I don't do that." Gage protested.
Lacy nudged her lover. "Then what is it you do in the bedroom?"
Gage playfully slapped her hand over her partner's mouth. "Hey! The kids are here."
"Mom? Are we going to the Mall today?" Dani asked.
This prompted Derek to stand up and hurry over to his mother. "I'm going to."
"Me, too. Me, me." Sammy bounced in her arms. "I get to go with you."
Pulling Hayley up from the floor, Gage was a bit surprised when her daughter kissed her on the cheek and said. "Mimi."
Dani busted out laughing. "She called you Mimi."
Gage frowned at the laughing young teen.
"Don't worry." Dani touched Gage's arm. "I'll teach her how to say your name."
For the longest time, both Lacy and Gage figured that every time Hayley wanted the blonde, the little girl would say 'me, me' like Sammy did when he wanted to be included in on something. Recently, it had become clear that Hayley had given Gage that as a name. "Mimi! Great." Again, Gage frowned.
Lacy knew her partner didn't mind the nickname because Gage loved everything their young daughter did. No matter what kind of trouble she had gotten into.
After Lacy and Dani headed off to the Mall, Gage left Stella with the three youngest kids while she worked on her screenplay. She wanted to finish it before she met with Mark in New York. Gage heard the doorbell ring just before her telephone did the same.
"Gage? Hi!" Mark greeted his best friend. "Did you get the papers I sent?"
The writer relaxed back in her wooden swivel chair. "Nope. But I'm glad you called."
"Something on your mind?" Mark adjusted the picture of his wife that was sitting on his antique desk.
Feeling a little pensive, she replied. "Maybe. What'd you send me?"
"Couple of contracts I want you to look over before we have that conference call with Ryan on Sunday."
"By the way, he says the movie's right on schedule and they should be leaving for Africa to finish filming it early July. What'd you say we jump on a plane and head down there? I'm so tired all of these negotiations lately." Mark shuffled some papers in his briefcase. "Matter of fact, I've got another meeting to finalize the deal. Thank God Mitch's the one who's really got a handle on it. He hammered out the details and we came out ahead."
"Him and his wife still together?"
"Yes. He even mentioned that his stepson and him are actually getting along fairly well. By the way, I've planned a small get together when you and Lacy get here. Julie can't wait to see all of you again." Clicking his briefcase shut, Mark finished. "Listen, I've got to get going. Look over the contracts when they get there and we'll talk Sunday."
"Bye." Gage wasn't too anxious about the trip to New York but it would be good to see Mark and Julie along with her children. She was somewhat ambivalent about seeing Mitch again. They had talked a few times over the last two years but Gage never did think Lacy was very comfortable with it. "Oh, well, back to my story."
After Stella left the living room to answer the doorbell, Derek marched his younger siblings off to the kitchen. He was thirsty and their grandmother left him in charge. "Want something to eat?" He asked to two nodding heads.
"Cook!" Hayley announced her choice.
"Me. I want one." Sammy ran over to the stool when his brother stopped him. "I can get it."
"No." Instead, Derek used the step stool to check on their supply. When he only found one oatmeal cookie left, Derek informed the hungry party of two. "No cookies. How bout some crackers?"
"Want cook." Hayley insisted.
"Me, too." Sammy echoed, propping his fist under his chin.
"I said there's no more cookies." Derek retrieved the graham crackers, giving them each one. "Here. Now go back in the living room." After they left, Derek hastily climbed the step stool again and grabbed the last cookie. He quickly ate it before rejoining his siblings in the living room. Since Stella had not returned, Derek announced that they were going to play tag. "You're it."
Sammy immediately didn't like the game since Derek punched his arm and ran off. He turned to Hayley. "You're it."
"Okay." Hayley was happy with the attention.
Derek whined to his brother. "She doesn't know how to play. You have to chase me."
Dutifully, Sammy whizzed past his sister in hopes of catching Derek.
"Gage?" Stella slipped her head through her daughter's study.
Looking up, Gage acknowledged the older woman. "Hi, mom. Come on in. I need a break."
Holding out the package, Stella said. "This is for you."
Gage shot up from her chair. "Oh, that must be from Mark." The writer took it then tore it open. "Yep. Contracts. Maybe I'll wait till Lacy gets home. She can cipher through all that legal mumbo jumbo."
"Alright then. I didn't want to disturb you." Before Stella could retreat, Gage stopped her.
"Wait a minute." Gage motioned toward the couch. "We haven't really talked since you got back from LA. You like it?"
Stella made herself comfortable on the couch. "I just enjoy being with the kids but I must admit I missed Hayley." The older woman smiled when her thoughts turned to her granddaughter and how much she reminded Stella of Gage when she was around that age. Stella hadn't actually seen Gage at age two but the blonde's caseworker, Grace Davidson, had some pictures of her small daughter.
"And I missed the other three. Lacy and I both did." Gage sat down next to her mother. "And you know what?"
"We missed you, too."
When her heart skipped a beat, Stella also felt a lump form in her throat. She treasured moments like this especially since Stella never thought she would ever see her daughter again. Placing a hand on Gage's knee, Stella smiled then kissed her daughter cheek. "Thank you. I missed you and Lacy as well."
It surprised Gage, not the kiss, but the fact that she so easily revealed her feelings to her mother. Guess Lacy is rubbing off on me.
When a loud thud echoed into Gage's study, she sighed. "Uh, oh!"
With Gage in the lead, Stella followed her daughter to the living room where they found three innocent faces staring up at them.
"I didn't do it." Derek declared.
When his older brother nudged him, Sammy chimed in. "Me, either."
Hayley felt no pressure under her brother's two sets of eyes, accusing her of the misdeed. She innocently smiled at Gage. "Uh, oh."
Lacy and Dani walked through the mall checking out numerous outfits in the windows. The dark haired woman astutely observed the surrounding area, noticing that there weren't as many unescorted teens running about. Well, it is the middle of the week.
Dani tugged on her mom's arm. "In here, mom." The young girl bounced across the floor toward her uncle. "Nate!"
Hugging his niece, Nate asked. "Where have you been?"
Dani jerked her thumb over her shoulder at her mom. "She's had her mind on other things. Where are the cell phones?"
Nate directed his niece to the colorful display before turning his attention to his oldest sister.
"Wow!" Dani's blue eyes widened at the array of styles and colors. She rushed over to the counter and grabbed a cell phone.
Lacy brushed a quick kiss on her brother's cheek. "Dani informed me you'd give us a good deal since you work here."
"Really? She only called me and asked if we sold them." Nate sensed his sister's frustration with something. "You know, you don't have to get them everything they want."
"Spoken from someone who doesn't have kids." Lacy smiled at him.
"But I was one." Nate chuckled before he added. "Mom still says I act like one sometimes. Lacy?" The tall man wrapped a loving arm around his sister. "Mom and dad didn't get us everything we wanted and we turned out pretty good. If I do say so myself."
"True." Lacy mused over the differences between her years growing up and that of her children. "It's just that there are some things I'm reluctant? when I was younger, it wasn't a big deal staying overnights with my friends or hanging out with them but?"
"Being the child of a famous movie star puts them in danger." Nate understood his sister's dilemma. "But you can't shield them forever, Lacy."
"I know. I know." Lacy glanced at her excited daughter who was checking out the phones. "She wants to hang out with her friends here."
"I see." The very astute young man squeezed Lacy. "I work this Friday and Saturday night. Why don't you give it a trial run? I promise I'll keep an eye out on her even if it means tailing her around the mall for awhile."
"But what about your work here?"
Nate shrugged. "If they fire me, they fire me. Besides, I have a very rich sister I could bum off of for a while."
Reluctant to even consider the idea of her daughter alone on a Friday night out with her friends scraped hard against her parental protectiveness but she realized Nate was right. Sooner or later Dani would demand her independence. I wish it would be later. Maybe we can ease into it. With a forced smile, Lacy looked at her salesman brother. "All right, just how much of a commission are you going to get off of the incredible savings you're giving my daughter?"
Rubbing his hands together mischievously, Nate wiggled his eyebrows. "For you my dear sister, I have a special deal."
"Uh huh." Lacy walked with him over to where Dani had a phone to each ear pretending to talk on them. "Just remember who your rich sister is and that she could cut you off like that."
When Lacy snapped her fingers together, Nate pretended to come to full military attention. "Why Lacy I would never take advantage of you."
"Yeah, that's right ? 'uh oh'." Gage stared at the broken lamp then to her daughter. "Do I have to ask who did this?"
When Derek pointed at Hayley, Sammy hesitated to point the finger at her until his brother nudged him then the older brother claimed. "She did it."
Dropping down on her knee, Gage took Hayley's small hands. "Hayley. Did you break the lamp? Mmmmm?"
"Hi." The innocence little girl agreed that the lamp was broken as she pointed at it. "It fall down."
"Well, okay. I guess we'll just clean it up before your mom gets home." Gage announced.
"Momma?" The bright eyed little girl beamed.
"Yeah, momma." Gage agreed then suddenly laughed when she saw a frown form on Sammy's face. "Don't worry, she won't be mad."
Surprised, Derek perked up. "She won't?"
Stella stepped around the two boys. "Of course not. It was an accident, right?"
"Come here you two. Take Hayley and sit over there while I clean it up." Gage turned her daughter over to her brothers. Gage started picking up the broken shards while Stella retrieved a small broom and dustpan. Dusting off her hands after the last piece was disposed of, Gage glanced at the quiet trio. "Guess we'll need to go shopping and get your mom a new one. That is if we can find one that matches."
When Stella returned to the living room, she overheard her daughter. "That won't be easy. I thought Lacy said those were one of a kind? the only two left."
Remembering where they had bought the matched set, Gage rubbed her temple. "Uh oh."
Suddenly, Derek was very concerned. "What do you mean 'uh oh'?"
"No, it's Gage." Derek repeated.
Smiling, Hayley repeated. "Gay."
"That's pretty close." Sammy assured his older brother. "Better than 'Mimi'."
"Yeah, I guess so." Derek sighed. The young boy had worked for the last half an hour trying to get his sister to pronounce Gage's name correctly. "Maybe Dani can help us?"
"Want me to get her?" Sammy poised, ready to take off and find his older sister.
"Not yet." Derek mused over the dilemma before him. His mother wasn't very happy to find out that her lamp was broken but what made matters worse was when Sammy apologized to her about breaking the lamp. Of course, that brought surprised looks to not only his mom but Gage and Stella as well. Then it was just a matter of time before the whole story came out. While Sammy and his brother played tag, Derek had tripped and bumped into the coffee table that resulted in the lamp toppling over.
Derek wanted to make amends for lying to Gage by getting Hayley to say her name. He had already offered to clean up the paints and brushes his mom used in order to pay for the lamp.
"Well?" Sammy propped his hand on his hips. "Do I get her or not?"
"Not." Derek turned back to his sister. "We have to do this on our own." He didn't want Dani getting the credit for this seemingly impossible challenge. "Now, Hayley, one more time say Gage."
"Gay!" Hayley shouted then clapped.
Frustrated, Derek sighed. "Okay, it's back to Mimi."
"Mimi!" Hayley yelled and promptly spun around, leaving her brother's room. "Go get Mimi."
"Oh, boy." Sammy followed his sister out the door.
Gage placed a comforting hand over Lacy's. "She'll be okay. Nate said he'd watch out for her and you got her that phone. We can call her later if you want."
"Oh, that'll buy me points. Checking up on her while she's out with her friends." Lacy frowned.
Stella got up from the kitchen table. "You need something to drink."
"Scotch and soda." Lacy ordered.
The grandmother retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator, placing in it front of Lacy. "Here. Start with some milk." Stella took her place at the table again. "Lacy, you're going to pick her up at ten, right?" Lacy nodded. "The movie started at seven and by the time they get out, she'll only have about an hour to walk around the mall."
"Yeah, and besides, they'll probably get something to eat at the food court. So how much running around could she do?" Gage tried to be helpful. "And did I mention that Nate will be there."
"Yes, you did. Thank you." Lacy offered a tentative smile. "Both of you. To tell you the truth, I'm worried about Dani, yes, but right now I'm more concerned about Derek."
"His lying?" Stella asked.
Gage added. "And cussing."
"His general attitude since he's been back." Lacy sipped her milk. "Gage, sweetheart, would you get me a cookie?"
The blonde jumped up and headed toward the cabinet. "Absolutely."
Just then, Derek, followed by his two siblings entered the kitchen only to hear Gage proclaim. "Ahh, Lacy. The carton's here but there's not one cookie left." Gage held up the empty tray.
"Uh oh!" Derek did a one-eighty quickly heading out of the room while his two followers followed suit.
When Sammy turned, he mimicked his brother. "Uh oh."
With Hayley bringing up the rear, she echoed. "Uh oh."
As Gage had predicted, Dani and her friends headed to the food court in order to get something to drink along with fries and onion rings. But before she did, Dani stopped by the computer store where her uncle worked and said 'hi' as her mother requested.
With food and drinks on the table, the girls surveyed the area looking for anyone they knew. "I hope he comes tonight. Troy said he would." The blonde haired girl, Katie, had a new boyfriend named Drake and her friend, Troy, assured her that he would be there. "I don't see him."
"There's Troy." Dani pointed.
Katie motioned for him to come over to their table. "I'll see if he knows if Drake is here."
The curly haired red headed girl sitting next to Katie shook her head. "Katie, Troy's the one that likes you."
Dani sipped her soda, trying to ignore Cindy's proclamation.
"Is that true, Dani?" Katie demanded.
"Everybody likes you." Dani gave an attempt at being a diplomat.
"Here he comes. Let's ask him." Cindy announced.
As Troy approached, Katie's brown eyes flared. "Don't you dare! I don't want him to think I like him? not that way."
The tall, slim boy ambled over to the girl's table. Troy pushed back his glasses. "Hi."
"Sit down." Cindy ordered.
A sharp glare from Katie challenged Cindy to say more. When she was assured her friend would remain quiet at least for the moment, Katie asked Troy. "See Drake tonight?"
"Earlier." Troy scooted up to the table in his chair.
"Want something?" Dani asked.
Shaking his head, Troy asked. "You guys go to the movie?"
Cindy felt safe in answering that question. "It was cool. I've seen it twice now. I love Reese Witherspoon."
"When earlier?" Katie wasn't satisfied with his laconic response about Drake.
Feeling like he wouldn't lose anything, Troy declared. "I don't know why you're so interested in him anyway. He's not really your boyfriend."
That made Katie fume since she had told both Dani and Cindy he was very much her new boyfriend. "That's not true. What do you know?" Katie attempted to dismiss his declaration as a matter left to the green-eyed monster.
Troy stood up. "Do you know how old he is? Nineteen. And just because he buys you a few things doesn't mean he's like you? not like that anyway." Frustrated, Troy ran his fingers through his short dark hair. "He's just trying to get to you? to do things? oh, never mind." Troy stormed off.
Katie totally dismissed his warning words. "He's just jealous."
"Is he really nineteen?" Dani asked.
Katie sipped her drink and admitted. "He is older."
Cindy munched on a fry but had to ask. "What's he want you to do?"
"Will you two stop it?" Katie was upset with this line of questioning so she searched for a diversion. "Isn't that your uncle?"
When Nate showed up at the food court, he headed straight for the burger counter, pretending not to notice Dani and her friends. After he received his food, Nate turned around looking in his niece's direction. When he saw her wave at him, Nate hurried over to her table. "Just getting something to eat."
Dani picked at her fries. "We did, too." Her mind was still on this nineteen year old that Katie insisted was her boyfriend.
"You girls having fun?" Nate bit into his hamburger.
"Totally." Cindy smiled at him. "When do you get off work?"
The way she asked it put Nate on high alert, realizing the young girl may have a crush on him. "When the mall closes at ten. But then we have to straighten up before we leave." Turning to his niece, he asked. "Dani, instead of your mom or Gage picking you up why don't you stop by the store and I'll drive you home."
"Ah?." Dani glanced at her two friends.
"I'll call Lacy and let her know." Nate suggested.
Katie rolled her eyes, trying to get Dani's attention. She knew that Drake hung around outside the mall after it closed and hoped to introduce her friends to him.
"I guess so." Dani reluctantly agreed. "But don't worry about calling mom. I've got my own phone now." She held up her new light blue cell phone. For some reason, Dani wasn't too enthusiastic about meeting Katie's nineteen year old friend. Since she knew Troy all through school, she reasoned that if Troy was concerned about this fellow named Drake so should she be and Dani was smart enough to know that it wasn't just because he liked Katie. "I'll come by when we're through here."
Nate stopped himself from hugging and kissing his niece but just barely. "See you at ten then. Anybody want the rest of my fries?"
"I do." Smiling, Cindy reached for them. "Thank you."
Nate winked at the young red headed teen then said to Dani. "See you at ten."
Upset, Katie practically yelled. "Why'd you go and do that? I wanted you to meet Drake." As much as the young blonde was attracted to Drake, she didn't really want to be alone with him at least not outside in the dark. She was counting on Dani supplying the necessary element to the theory that there was safety in numbers. Besides Katie thought one of Drake's friends was scary.
"Oh, who cares about Drake? Drake this, Drake that. That's all I've heard about this past month." Cindy had never actually seen him and was beginning to believe he was just her friend's fictitious boyfriend. But then again, Katie did show me those cool clothes he bought her. "You should stick to Troy. I like him."
"Then you go after him like you were doing with her uncle, flirting with him." Katie accused the red headed friend.
Stunned, Dani asked. "You were flirting with my uncle?"
"I think he's cute." Cindy declared before she grabbed her purse and left. "I gotta go. Mom's probably outside waiting already."
Dani gathered her things as well. "Maybe we should go, too."
"Hold on. Let's walk around a few times more. Please." Katie begged.
Looking at her watch, Dani reluctantly agreed. "Okay. Just once."
"What was that all about?" Stella asked.
Gage flopped the empty cookie container on the table. "I think it had to do with no more cookies left."
Lacy licked her lips. "There aren't even any crumbs."
Gage sat down. "Well, I don't think Sammy would have been able to climb up there and get them."
"Hayley either." Stella added.
Scrunching her eyebrows together, Gage entertained another notion regarding her rambunctious daughter. "I don't know about that. She's a little climber."
"There was only one left. I'm betting it was Derek." Suddenly, Lacy smiled. "I guess I'll have to teach them a valuable lesson my mom taught us kids."
Gage and Stella waited patiently for Lacy to reveal that said lesson.
"I quickly learned never be the first one to open anything and you never took the last one either." Lacy said then further explained. "Mom always asked who opened it or who took the last one. She never asked who ate all the middle ones. I remember Nate took the brunt of it most of the time."
"You mean after you or your brothers coaxed him into opening the package of cookies?" Gage grinned.
"Not me? it was Lisa." Finally, Lacy acknowledged. "Oh, okay, we got her to get him to open them."
"Like mother, like son." Gage declared.
"Stella? Would you add another package of oatmeal cookies to the list?" While the older woman nodded, Lacy rethought her request. "Better make that two."
"And we'll hide one of them." Gage said to a smiling Lacy.
The next afternoon as Lacy stood before a nearly empty canvas with paintbrush in hand, she ran over and over in her mind what she could do about the recent developments in her family. Absent-mindedly she applied the red tipped brush to the canvas.
"Interesting color for grass." Lynn Lewis noted.
Surprised, Lacy almost dropped the brush. "What are you doing here?"
"You sound like you don't want to see me." Lynn teased her daughter. "Come here."
Lacy hugged her mother. "I'm always glad to see you."
Moving back from Lacy, Lynn jested toward Stella who stood a few feet away and was the one who let Lynn in. "You're in the clear, Stella."
Stella chuckled then sat down to rest her tired feet. "You don't know how glad I am. Although if I would have been in trouble, it may have gotten me a few days off."
Concerned, Lacy stepped forward. "Stella, if you need some time to yourself." Lacy slapped her head. "What am I saying? Of course, you would. After all you were the one that went to LA?."
"Lacy, I was just kidding." Stella assured her daughter-in-law.
Lynn touched her daughter's arm. "Honey, what's wrong? Here come sit over here with us."
Lacy allowed her mother to guide her to the couch. "What isn't? Dani, Derek?"
"Stella told me." Lynn scooted a little closer to Lacy. "When I raised you kids, I guess life was simpler then. I didn't have to worry much about the kids playing outside or spending the night with their friends. And I know you've got that added concern?" Lynn sucked in a deep breath before suggesting. "Maybe you should get a full time bodyguard."
Lacy glanced at her mother then looked away. "That's not going to solve everything. More and more Dani will need her space. I can't keep her fourteen forever. And not only that, I don't want her to feel trapped or like a prisoner."
Stella felt comfortable enough to add her two cents. "Why don't you talk to her? Explain how things are. Dani's the brightest fourteen year old I've ever known." Stella looked down and nervously rubbed her hands together before she admitted. "Of course, other than Julie's daughter, Jessie, I don't have much experience with teenage girls."
Sensing Stella's remorse over her decision to give Gage up for adoption, Lacy reached over to the older woman and placed a comforting hand on Stella's knee. "I think that's a wonderful idea." Lacy's comment brought a smile to Stella's face. "Now you got any ideas about how to handle Derek?"
"I do." A voice from the doorway claimed.
The trio of women turned to see Dani enter the room. The youngest woman in the room asked. "Okay, Dani, what should I do?"
The fourteen year old flopped on the couch next to her grandmother. "I'd send him to his room until he dropped his attitude." Then a mischievous smile crossed her face. "Or swat him on the bottom a couple of times."
"Do you think that last suggestion of yours should apply to a fourteen girl we know?" Lacy asked.
"Oh, mom!" Dani was aghast at her mother's question. "I'm way too old to be spanked."
Lynn laughed. "I don't think anyone every laid a hand on that bottom of yours."
Seriously, Dani proclaimed. "That's because I was always good."
"Uh?huh." Lacy spoke for the threesome.
"Okay, fine." Dani pulled her leg up under her and leaned forward. "I didn't want to say this? because you know I like dad and all but?."
Lacy waited for the confirmation to what she assumed and Stella had hinted at in their conversation. "Go on."
"You know how dad used to be? well, kinda hard on Derek?" Lacy nodded. "This last time I think he went overboard."
Shocked by her daughter's words, Lacy shot a look toward Stella, thinking that David was harsh toward their son. "Overboard?"
"Not that way, mom. The other way overboard." Dani explained. "Anytime Derek did anything, dad was all like 'you're so wonderful' every time Derek caught a ball. Things like that."
Lynn rubbed her chin before asking. "So Derek finally got his dad's approval."
"Yeah, even when he did things that weren't?"
"Weren't what?" Lacy inquired.
Lacy turned toward Gage's mother. "Stella?"
"I already told you what I saw, Lacy. I think he was just trying to build Derek's self-esteem." But Stella did admit. "It got playful sometimes? with Derek and the staff."
"How do you mean playful, Stella?" Lynn was very interested in getting some examples.
But it was Dani who provided the telltale evidence. "Like playing jokes on dad's staff especially? Mason.
Lynn hiked an eyebrow in question.
"The butler." Lacy informed her. "What else did your father encourage Derek to do?"
Dani let out a small giggle. "It was with Hayston. And I shouldn't be telling because she'd kill me but?."
The older women leaned in closer toward their informant.
From the window of her study, Gage watched Daniel Lewis play with her three youngest kids outside in the yard. She turned back to stare for a brief moment at her laptop. "I need to get that done before next week but?"
"More!" Derek screamed.
Sammy echoed his brother's request. "Come on, grandpa. One more time."
Daniel Lewis leaned up against the lawn tractor he had just slipped off of. "So, you want another ride?"
"Yes!" The brothers yelled simultaneously.
"More ride." Hayley' bounced up and down in the trailer that was attached to the tractor.
"Just when am I gonna get this lawn mowed then?" Daniel pretended to be frustrated with the trio. "Huh?"
"Who cares?" Derek frowned.
When it appeared that their grandfather wasn't too happy with Derek's response, Sammy prompted his sister. "Say please, Hayley."
Bright eyes shined at her grandfather. "Pwease Haywee."
Derek rolled his gray eyes. "She can't even say her own name right."
"No, Hayley. Say please grandpa."
"Okay." The little blonde said then paused until Sammy nudged her. "Pwease pawpaw."
Daniel grabbed the toddler under her arms and lifted her up high into the air. "You want your pawpaw to take you on another ride, do you?"
"Me? me, too, grandpa." Sammy stood in the trailer. "I wanna fly, too."
"Uh? oh." Instead of his mock attempt at discouraging the kids from one more ride so he could finish the lawn, Daniel had inadvertently now put himself in a position that required him to give his youngest grandson a flying ride. I hope Derek doesn't want to fly. Don't think my back could take it. Oh, well. Daniel placed Hayley gently back in the trailer. "Come here, Sammy."
When his grandfather was finished giving Derek's siblings several flying rides, the young boy demanded in a very impatient voice. "Now for the ride please."
Daniel tapped his oldest grandson on the nose. "Not with that attitude."
Derek scrunched his eyebrows together then said through tight lips. "I said please."
Daniel stooped down. "It wasn't what you said but the way you said it."
The young boy wasn't happy at being called on the carpet and hearing the giggles from his siblings sent him in an even fouler mood. "That's the way dad does it."
"I see." Daniel sat back on his heels when he heard his knee creak. It was the one he had surgery on a while back.
Sammy and Hayley laughed again at their brother's grimacing face.
"Shut up!" The young boy yelled at his siblings.
"Derek!" A firm voice came from behind the young boy. "I think that's enough son."
Derek's angry gray eyes swung around and glared hard at Gage. "I am not your son." He jumped out of the trailer and ran off toward the lakeshore.
Stunned, Gage's connection with the young boy crumbled under Derek's verbal accusation. A dark cloud shadowed her memories, spiraling around in a vortex that forced Gage to relive in her mind numerous other insensitive, hurtful accusations directed toward her when she was a kid. She felt the same abrasive tone she had taken with Derek beat up against her as it lashed back into her consciousness.
Daniel stood silent as Gage, without a word, simply turned and walked in the other direction. Both Sammy and Hayley felt the tension in the air as they, too, remained quiet.
"Hayston was upset that day because?" Dani shot a quick look toward her mother. "Well, she was just upset and Derek snuck into her dressing room and?"
The three women leaned in even closer.
"?Derek decided that he would help rearrange some of her make-up and things. Dad was always frustrated because it took her so long to get ready. Anyway, Derek switched a few items around and loosened some caps?." Dani finished, pausing only briefly in order to look at both her grandmothers and her mom before adding. "?with dad's help."
When Lacy's cocked a questioning eyebrow, the young girl clarified. "Hayston had been on him about his? drinking so?."
Lacy simply nodded as another clue fell into place.
After the third attempt that evening, David Levine finally answered his telephone. "Hello."
"Where have you been?" Lacy demanded.
"Hold on there." David loosened his tie then picked up his drink. "We're not married anymore."
With anger in her voice, she asked. "Just what have you been telling my son?"
"Our son." David corrected her. "You didn't forget that little detail, did you?"
With pursed lips, Lacy spat back at him. "How could I?" Lacy determined to steady her teetering emotions. In a calmer voice, she continued. "David? I thought we agreed. I wouldn't come out there so you could bond with our children and yet ever since Derek's been back, he's been?" She sucked in another calming breath. "?lying, cussing and just exactly what have you been saying to him about Gage?" The last question related to what Stella had overheard between father and son.
"So you think you've got me in the crosshairs?" David plopped down in one of his living room chairs. He wasn't in the mood for a confrontation with his ex-wife. "Why don't you ask the nanny or should I say spy you sent along with the kids?"
"You know as well as I do that Stella came along so you and Hayston wouldn't have to find a sitter whenever the two of you wanted to go out." Lacy fumed at his accusation.
"Fine. Listen, Lacy. I did try to get to know my sons and you may not like it but Derek and I did get along. I thought you wanted that." He taunted her.
"I do? but not at the expense of putting someone else down in the process."
"You mean your precious Gage." The very tired man slurred the blonde's name.
"And I suppose Hayston was thrilled when you encouraged our son to sabotage her make-up kit?" Lacy shot back at him.
"Yeah, well, she deserved that." David remembered the incident clearly. "You know, I don't think she likes kids."
"You just now finding that out?" When Lacy realized what she had said, she recanted somewhat. "Perhaps it's because she lost a child of her own."
"Mmmm?" David was spent and didn't want to expend the energy it would take to continue with the bickering back and forth between them so he acquiesced to Lacy's accusations. "Maybe I did correct our son about who his real parents are."
"Whether you like it or not Gage is a real parent to him. She loves him dearly and with her help Derek has come out of his shell and become more sure of himself."
"Yeah, I thought for sure he'd grow up to be?" David remembered, thinking that his son was a scardy cat.
"Don't you dare say it." Lacy sternly warned him.
"Actually, I'm quite proud of him. He can hold his own." David declared before he shook his empty glass in the air at Mason. The butler took the glass and refilled it.
David's smug compliment about Derek in one way did please her. "I'm glad you do. But no more talking about Gage. She doesn't say anything bad about you to him."
This piqued David's interest since he had overheard the conversation between his son and Gage. "Really? Then why was she grilling him on the phone about how I was treating him?"
Since Lacy was in the room part of the time when Gage talked with Derek, she was somewhat aware of what transpired between the two during that phone call. It was shortly after that when Gage? Oh my God, that's when the restless dreams began. "She just wanted Derek to have fun while he was there."
"Sure, Lacy. Did she convince you of that during one of your little bedroom chats?"
"David! You're obviously drunk. When you sober up, maybe we can talk about this civilly. Until then you're not going to see any of our children unless I'm present." Lacy slammed the phone down before he could even take a breath.
Dejected, Lacy walked into their bedroom where she saw Gage meticulously stuffing the pillows exactly the way she liked them. Lacy didn't have the energy to say a word so she continued on to the bathroom in order to get ready for bed. While she brushed her teeth, over and over in her mind she kept asking herself 'where do I start?'
Summoning up her courage, Lacy hesitantly shut the bathroom door and looked steadily at her lover on the bed. Lacy Levine Ballant does not give up! I just have to handle this? delicately.
Lacy decided to start this conversation off gently as she dropped her silky robe to the floor. "How's your screenplay going?"
Gage rolled over. "It's coming along."
The dark haired woman climbed on the bed and crawled over to her lover. "Is there a part in it for me?"
"Hmmmm?" Gage mused. "I always write a part for you."
Lacy laid her head on Gage's shoulder. "I'm glad."
The blonde wrapped her arm around Lacy, pulling her closer. "I know you want to talk about it."
Lacy's head popped up. This is a good sign. "Do you mind? I think we should."
Resigned to the inevitable, Gage agreed. "I know we should."
Gage's green eyes glanced at her lover. "No buts? you start though."
"You already overheard the last part of what I said to David." When Gage heard Lacy yell at one point in her conversation with her ex-husband, Gage quickly put the kids to bed then made her way back to Lacy who was in her study. Gage arrived just in time to hear her partner accuse David of being drunk.
"Do you think he's drinking that much?" Gage asked sincerely.
Lacy shrugged. "I don't know for sure. David was always a social drinker but nothing to excess." When a quick memory flashed through her mind, she remembered. "There was one time when things weren't going so well in his career."
"You think that's it?" Gage ran her fingers up and down Lacy's arm.
"Ryan might know something or Ron Griffen." Lacy referred to two of David's former business associates.
Gage twisted slightly so she could look directly at her partner. "Mark and I are going to have Ryan on a conference call tomorrow. We could ask, you know, in a casual way."
"I guess so." Lacy turned to the real question at hand. "How are we going to handle Derek?"
"Maybe he needs time to sort it out? what he's feeling."
Lacy propped herself up on her elbow. "Gage? He's nine. You don't just let him sort it out by himself."
The blonde turned away. "I did."
Realizing she had struck a very sensitive cord, Lacy hooked her lover's chin with her finger. "Yes, but you didn't have us."
Sad green eyes turned down. "You're right. You don't want him to turn out like me."
"Stop that." Lacy steadied her last bit of patience. "Look at me."
When green eyes lifted to meet loving blue, Gage offered a tentative smile. "Then what do you suggest?"
Lacy steeled her resolve. "I think we need to establish some firm expectations for his behavior and the consequences if he doesn't comply."
Upset, Gage pushed back. "God, Lacy, you sound like some psycho-analyst in some clinical setting. Not at all like a mother. It's not like he committed a felony." That thought produced some very unpleasant memories to rise up and grate against the blonde.
Taken aback by her partner's unexpected response, Lacy sat up. "I know what he's done. I know exactly what's going on with him. Even though there's always been a strained relationship between him and David, Derek for the first time in his life wants his father's approval. He's confused and David isn't helping much."
"I guess I'm not either." Gage's sharp tone cut through the air.
On her last nerve, Lacy heaved a heavy sigh. "Not like this you're not."
The blonde flopped back down on the bed, jerked the covers up over her and turned away from Lacy.
A deep shudder vibrated through the emotionally taxed woman. She eased herself down on the bed next to Gage as she longed for the contact with her soulmate even though she could feel the tension between them. Lacy was glad she had decided not to tell her lover that she had a short discussion about their relationship with her mom and Stella. Nope, this isn't the time.
As usual on Sunday morning, Lacy gathered the children along with her partner and headed off to Mass. She was glad Gage didn't renege on her pledge about going along with them. Even though the writer was not Catholic, Gage felt it was important to support Lacy and her choice in raising their children in that religion and she wanted to learn all she could about it.
Most of the day while Dani was on the phone, the other children played quietly sometimes together and sometimes alone. When Mark Calico called, Stella decided to take the three youngest ones for a walk.
Gage pushed the speakerphone button so Lacy could hear the conversation. "Mark, you gonna get Ryan on the phone now?"
"In a minute. Did you have time to look over those contracts?" Mark asked from his Long Island home.
The writer picked them up from her desk. "Mark, they look fine to me but I don't know much about all this stuff about the party of the first part and the party of the?."
Rolling her eyes, Lacy cut her partner off. "Mark, I read over them this morning. Anything specific you wanted to know?"
"Not really. Just want to keep you both in the loop." The contracts established legal ties with their company, Shadow Productions, and Julie Grant's production company, Primrose Pictures. "Oh, by the way, the merger we were working on came through. Picked up a some TV stations in it."
Gage and Lacy were aware that Mark's communication corporation had through the years bought up other companies and now with his latest acquisition was breaking into another arena. "Television? Wow. Do you think you could get one of them to put Cagney and Lacey back on?" Crunching her eyebrows together, Lacy nudged her partner, prompting Gage to request her partner's recent TV show. "Of course, only after you have reruns of 'Crackdown' playing."
Slapping Gage's arm lightly, Lacy shook her head. "That's not what I meant silly."
You could hear the smile on Mark's face in his words. "How bout a marathon of Lacy's old shows?"
Surprised, Gage asked. "Can you do that?"
"It appears so." Mark marveled at the business savvy his Vice-President Mitch Stone had used in securing the lucrative properties for Calico Corporation. "It's more like a television network."
Lacy added her congratulations then asked. "Mark, you know, Shanti and the others have been doing lots of work on their documentaries. Is it the kind of station where they could run those kinds of shows?"
"Anything's possible. Right now, it's mostly old shows in reruns but we could change that. Update." Mark paused a moment before adding. "As a matter of fact, Gage, when you come up this week, why don't you sit down with Mitch and see what kinds of things we could do with it."
With a hesitant glance toward Lacy first, Gage reluctantly said. "Maybe? I don't know much about it."
Perched on the edge of her partner's desk, Lacy reached over, touching Gage on the shoulder and smiled. "I think she'd do a wonderful job. Good idea, Mark."
"It's settled then." The executive shifted gears. "Is your screenplay finished yet?"
"If you mean finished in its rough form then yes." For some reason, Gage had a hard time focusing on the story. 'Angel in Disguise' was about a heavenly guide sent to protect a young detective who was in hot pursuit of a master criminal. And Gage had yet to work out an intricate part of the plot.
"I read it and it's perfect." Lacy declared.
Surprised, Gage asked. "You did?"
Lacy shrugged. "I couldn't sleep last night."
This statement caused a frown on Gage's face.
Even through the phone line, Mark sensed the tension between Gage and Lacy. I'll have to talk to her about it when she gets here. "How bout I get Ryan on the line now? Hold on."
While Mark made the connection, Gage's sad expression prompted Lacy to step closer to her partner. Lacy leaned down and kissed Gage on the head while she massaged her lover's strained neck muscles.
"Ryan, I've got Gage and Lacy on the line. How are things going out there in Hollywood?" Mark inquired.
The busy director relaxed in his home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. "Surprisingly quite well. Couple of more weeks here then we're off to Africa."
"You're not having any problems with the shooting schedule?" Mark was interested in every aspect of their new business and disappointed that his other business took him away from the filming of 'Heart of Africa'.
"Like I said great. Shanti's been fantastic." Ryan White alluded to the actress that had a part in the last movie he directed with Lacy who now starred in the leading role. "Michael's been great and believe it or not Griff's been? well, she's quite enthused about this film."
"Like that's a surprise." Gage said in a very deadpan voice.
"Mmmmm?" Lacy moved around to sit on her lover's lap. "It couldn't be because of the way you're filming this story, could it?"
"It is rather unique." Ryan admitted.
"That's because it was Gage's idea." Lacy said proudly.
"I just have to say again that Shanti's doing a wonderful job. She's perfect for this part and is very convincing in her dual role." Ryan wanted his partners to know the exceptional job the young actress was turning in for the part. "Lacy? Thanks for recommending her."
"You're quite welcome." Lacy said then she asked with mock sarcasm. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Marta." The one word from Ryan mouth made Lacy roll her eyes. "Still haven't been able to cast that one yet. Interested?"
Anxious green eyes stared straight into tempting blue ones. Gage had written the small role specifically for Lacy. In the writer's mind, her partner was the only one to play this pivotal part. But Gage remained mute about encouraging Lacy to take the role.
Well aware of her partner's silent wishes, Lacy asked. "Can you give me time to think about it?" The actress had much more important issues to attend to before taking another role in a movie even if the screenplay was written by her partner.
"Sure. We won't even be heading down there till after the 4th of July and then we can shoot around your part." Ryan was encouraged about the prospects of Lacy's participation.
"Okay then. I'll let you know." Content to put that issue on the back burner, Lacy had a request for the director. "By the way, would you mind telling Shanti that my brother has the movie studio equipped now and they can do all their editing on their documentaries here? There's a small stage ready, too, in case they have some promos to film."
"Consider it done. When can we get in there and start filming Gage's next movie?" The anxious director asked, happy to hear the news about the progress of Gage and Mark's new movie studio just outside of St. Troy.
"Hold on, Ryan. The script's still got a few bugs to work out and?"
"Don't believe her. It's perfect. But Hank's says there's about couple of months before we could use it for the kind of production you're talking about." Lacy advised him.
Feeling left out, Mark announced. "Did you hear I got a new TV network to play with?"
Gage had to smile. "I thought you said I could play with it?"
Mark sighed. "Everybody gets all the fun except me. Ryan's shooting a movie, Gage, you're writing one and Lacy? well, you get to do whatever you want?"
"You got that right." Lacy assured him while she pressed her lips to her lover's neck, sucking lightly.
"?and I'm stuck here in business negotiations." Mark finished.
"I'm sure Julie would like to hear all about you not having any fun." Ryan kidded his business partner.
Mark quickly corrected his friend. "I didn't say that. Julie, the kids and I are having a great time? when I'm not working."
Gage hugged her lover and said to her old friend. "Well, put on your party hat on, Mark, cause we're coming to town."
Gage opened the newspaper and saw the full-page ad announcing the book signing of G.S. Ballantine's new murder/mystery, 'Cast of Suspicious Characters'. "Damn that, Mark."
Lacy lightly touched her partner's shoulder. "Sweetheart, the kids."
Her green eyes tracked the whereabouts of their children in their New York City hotel suite. Gage saw the location of three of them but completely missed the alert boy hanging around the corner. "Sorry."
Lacy grabbed the paper. "Here. Let me see." She perused the ad and it met with her approval. "I like it."
Taking it back from her partner, Gage folded the paper then placed it on the table. "I like the part about you. You're coming Saturday, right?"
Lacy leaned in as she passed the blonde, kissing her and said. "Absolutely."
That brought a sigh of relief from the anxious writer. "Hey, who wants to check out the pool?" Four screaming kids stampeded toward her. "Okay then. Lacy? You wanna go to?"
"Nah, you go ahead. Maybe Stella will keep me company and we'll unpack." When the older woman nodded, Lacy walked to the front door. She kissed all of them one by one then said. "Don't be too long. I was going to order room service in a little while."
"Can I do that, mom?" Derek asked excitedly.
His mother ran a loving hand along his face. "Maybe another time."
Satisfied, Derek commanded the rest of them. "Let's go." And he led them out the door and down the long elaborate corridor to the elevator.
The grand and expensive hotel was fancy. Too fancy, Gage thought. However, since they declined an offer to stay at Mark's home because Lacy and Gage promised the kids they would take them to the huge toy store across the street and to the park, it was more convenient to stay in Manhattan. The other reason for choosing this hotel was that it provided adequate security for their children.
Stella grabbed a suitcase, looked around the huge three-bedroom suite and asked. "Where do we start?"
Smiling, Lacy yanked up two bags of her own. "Does it matter? Which room do you want?"
"The smallest one. Less to clean." Stella laughed. She wasn't used to maid service and was the kind of person who made her own bed and tidied up a bit before she allowed the service to come in.
In short order, the two women had unpacked the clothes for their five-day stay. Lacy insisted that Stella sit down while she served them some drinks from the suite's refrigerator. "I don't mind telling you this but this is kinda exciting being back in the big city."
Their hometown, St. Troy, was large but nothing compared to New York City. And somehow with where they lived, St. Troy seemed homier rather than the excitement that accompanied the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
"Do you miss it?" Stella asked seriously.
Lacy thought for a moment before declaring. "No. Not really. I like home. I enjoy the visiting but it's not something I would want all the time."
"Well then? what's next on the agenda?" The grandmother asked.
"I thought we'd hang out here today and get a good night's rest. Then tomorrow, we promised to take the kids around." Lacy sat forward in her seat and gave Stella a conniving wink before she said. "I figure after that we could talk Gage into watching the three littlest ones while you, me and Dani go shopping."
"Ah? a conspiracy. Count me in." Stella lifted her glass to Lacy's. "Here's to Gage never knowing what hit her."
They clicked their glasses together and took a sip. "Even if she did, hands down she would rather play with the kids than go shopping."
Stella smiled. "Lucky us."
A pensive look came over Lacy's face. Yes, lucky me that she loves our children so much. "I think I'll order something to eat for when they come back. The food on the plane wasn't very appetizing." And Lacy usually didn't eat much when she traveled.
"Except the peanuts. I liked them. By the way?." Stella got up to search the cabinets next to the refrigerator. "I'm still hungry. I had to fight with Derek over Sammy's peanuts."
As Lacy punched the numbers on the phone, she recalled the near war over said peanuts. Sammy didn't want his and both her mother-in-law and son were vying for them, offering the young boy compensation. Gage was ready to buy all the peanuts on the plane so the two would stop but as it was they enjoyed the game more than really wanting the peanuts. "Hello. Room service?" Before Lacy placed her order she yelled over at Stella. "I have a bag left."
"Where'd you get it?"
Lacy shrugged. "From Gage. She had me save it for later."
Rubbing her hands together, an evil look crossed Stella's face. "Where is it?"
Lacy pointed her purse out to Stella then placed the dinner order for her family.
"Can we go swimming now?" Dani asked. She was very reluctant to come to New York because she was going to miss another big party back in St. Troy. If mom would have let me go in the first place.
"Me?me, too. I wanna swim." Sammy echoed.
Hayley zipped over to the water's edge, ready to jump. She was fearless. However, Dani's snatched the back of her pants and pulled her back into the safety of her arms. "I know what you mean but first you have to put on your arm floating thingies."
"Okay." Hayley agreed. She spun around looking for them.
While Gage was trying to calm her racing heart after her daughter took off toward the deep end of the huge pool, Derek snuck around behind all of them. He lay down near the edge of the pool and with his cupped hand started splashing water at the foursome and a few other swimmers.
"Hey!" Gage frowned. "Knock it off, Derek."
The young boy jumped up then took off, whizzing around the lounge chairs and other hotel guests. He ducked behind the towel cart then pushed off when Gage approached. The blonde barely kept the wobbly cart upright.
"Derek!" Dani commanded her brother's full attention as he passed near her and his two other siblings. "I'm going tell."
The young boy stopped dead in his tracks and glared at his older sister.
"Mom's not going to like it."
Derek rolled his eyes then flopped on the lounge chair, mumbling. "Who cares? I wanna have some fun." He didn't like being ordered around especially after he had full run at his dad's home in LA.
When Gage caught up with the boy, she glanced between him and Dani. "It's okay. It was really my fault. It was just a little water." The blonde was being very sensitive to anything Derek did since their relationship sprung a leak. She didn't want to push him away any further but was at a loss as what to do in order to get things back the way they were. "Come on, I bet your mom's got food for us."
Gage picked up Hayley and grabbed Sammy's hand. Dani took up the position on the other side of Gage while Derek hung back a few paces.
The next day Lacy and Gage took the kids to the huge toy store across the street and what promised to be a delightful morning turned into a near catastrophe. At first, all four children stood in silent amazement upon seeing an array of toys and things throughout the big store. Hayley insisted on touching everything she pointed to and Sammy ran from toy to toy in hopes of playing with everything there.
Dani was more reserved in her method of exploring the store's contents separating herself from what she considered her sibling's childish behavior. "They act like they've never been in a place like this before."
"They haven't." Lacy reminded her now seemingly sophisticated daughter. "And Derek was too little to remember." Years ago, Lacy and David had brought their two oldest children to this very same store on a visit to New York.
"Lacy?" Gage reached for Hayley. "Why don't I take her? And I'll watch Sammy. Derek wants to go upstairs."
Lacy astutely realized that once again Gage withdrew from her interaction with Derek and knew the reason why. Before they left for New York, Lacy had suggested to Gage for her and Derek to do something together like they did on their float trip. The dark haired mother thought it would help mend their shaky relationship. But Gage ignored Lacy's suggestion and the younger woman suspected that her partner was afraid. She just didn't know of what. "Okay. Let's meet back here in an hour at the big grandfather's clock. Dani? You wanna come with us?"
When it seemed as if Gage had shown her two charges everything on the first floor of the store, she heard a thundering crash overhead. "Uh oh."
"Uh oh." Hayley echoed as she looked up. Smiling, the little girl pointed. "Dewek!"
It felt like slow motion as Gage's head lifted upward and when her green eyes came to rest, she saw her son dangling from a net attached to the underside of the second floor as stuffed animals rained down upon them. "Oh, my God!"
Dani screamed as Lacy rushed to her son. "Derek! Hold on."
Scrambling up the staircase with both Hayley and Sammy in her arms, Gage pushed through several customers to get to the rest of her family. "Lacy? Here, Dani." Gage handed the two youngest kids over to their sister.
"Where's Derek?" Sammy asked because he could no longer see his brother hanging from the underbelly of the railing. He crouched down between the legs of the tall guy in front of him in order to see.
"Momma?" Hayley heard her mother yelling.
"Shhh?. Hayley." Dani reached for her younger brother who had started to crawl through the man's legs. "Hold on there, buster."
Shoving her long arm through the railing, Lacy struggled to reach the net's edge so she could pull it up. "Derek hold on!"
When Gage arrived, she immediately hiked a leg up over the railing but Lacy stopped her. "Wait Gage. Let me."
"Mom?" In a small fearful voice, Derek called to his mother. He ventured to look down at the floor below and saw several people milling around with the heads tilted up toward him. He looked back up at his mother. "Mom!"
"I'm coming." Lacy assured her son. "Gage?" She turned toward her partner and said. "Make sure we don't fall."
"You won't." Gage vowed to Lacy. The blonde wasn't sure of her partner's plan but there wasn't time to talk about it as Lacy hiked a long leg up and over the railing, Gage steadied her partner. Noticing the tall young man behind her, Gage ordered. "Go downstairs and see if they have one of those tall ladders."
He dashed off without a word.
When Lacy inserted her legs between the spindles of the railing, she hooked them securely. Letting go of Gage's hand, Lacy was now dangling over the side of the banister. The blonde had reached through the railing, holding on to Lacy's legs.
"Mom?" Derek called in a very timid voice.
Memories flooded back to the forefront of Lacy's mind to when she was on the set of Crackdown and the wire she was hanging from slipped. The mother knew exactly what must be going through her son's mind. She had to steel her nerves for her son. Leaning downward, Lacy stretched her long arms for her son. "Derek? You need to swing toward me. Okay?"
Afraid, Derek shook his head as he hung on for dear life.
"You can do it. Just a little bit. I can almost reach you." The net was just out of her reach. With his mother's coaxing, Derek did as requested and it was just enough for Lacy to snag the net. She slowly pulled it toward her. Now that Derek was positioned directly below her, Lacy pulled hard. It was difficult and she feared the net would tear. "Honey, can you?." The scared mother sorted through her alternatives. "?can you climb up just a little bit." The net wasn't long enough for the boy to climb down and perhaps jump to safety. She reasoned her only option was for him to climb up it.
"Mom, I can't?"
Green eyes slammed shut when Gage heard the fear in Derek's voice. Please God, please do something. Not being very religious Gage didn't know what to ask for but Dani had once assured her that God would do anything you asked if you did it in His name. Okay, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit? all of you. Please get Derek back up here safely.
"Come on, Derek. Just look at me." When he focused his scared gray eyes fully on his mother, she continued. "You can do it. Take one hand and reach up. Grab the next loop. Go ahead." The young boy did as requested and his right foot automatically slid up to find another secure loop in the net.
Lacy saw all the commotion below as someone pushed a tall wheeled ladder through the crowd below but she didn't know if the net would hold long enough for them to reach him. She decided to have him climb even further up. "Derek. Everything's going to be fine. One more. Take your other hand and grab the loop above that."
Sucking in a deep breath, Derek stared hard into his mother's reassuring eyes. "Okay." When he did, Lacy stretched her long body as far as she could and clutched her hand around his wrist.
"I've got you." Lacy steadied her breathing. Now what? "Gage?"
The blonde stared over the side and saw that Lacy had their son temporarily secured. "Lacy, hold on. Can you hold on?" The blonde saw the tall ladder being cranked higher toward Derek. "They're lifting the ladder."
In her concentration to reach her son, Lacy had forgot about the ladder. She could see it below and it was now within a few feet of Derek. "Okay, Derek. Now listen to me. Right below you?" Her son started to look. "Derek look at me." She said sharply then softened her voice when he did as instructed. "There's a man on a ladder right below you. When he gets closer and gets hold of you, I'm going to let go. Okay?"
Nodding quickly, the frightened boy agreed. "Okay."
Lacy waited what seemed like forever for the ladder to ascend those last few feet to her son. When the guy on the ladder was even with Derek, she spoke with gentle words to her son. "You're all right now. I'm going to let go. Okay?"
Nodding again, Derek allowed his mother to release him as he fell into the tall stranger's arms. The dark haired teenager winked at Derek. "You're cool now."
Lacy hung there until the ladder had fully descended and her son was safe on the ground. Lifting up, Lacy utilized every stomach muscle she had in order to reach the poles of the banister. Carefully, she untangled her legs from the poles and lifted herself up and over the railing. Barely feeling the hug Gage gave her, Lacy flew down the stairs.
With her son safe in her arms, the distraught mother was able to allow the floodgate of emotions to break free. Tears ran down her face in joy at holding her son. "Thank God, you're safe." She kissed him mercilessly over and over again.
Gage guided the rest of the kids down the stairs to where Lacy was holding Derek. She thanked the men responsible for getting the ladder. The blonde turned to Derek's tall savior. "Thank you."
"Sure, no problem." The eighteen year old didn't look much like a savior with his short spiked hair, earrings in both ears and some kind of metal thing pierced through his eyebrow but Gage was eternally grateful to him.
Gage shook the tall stranger's hand before suggesting to Lacy that they go back to the hotel.
Lacy was reluctant to leave her son when Dani suggested that they go on their planned shopping trip but Derek insisted that he was okay. Even though the nine-year-old boy admitted to himself that he was totally scared hanging from that net, he was unwilling to let on about it. He knew his dad wouldn't be happy with him if he heard that Derek was afraid. Lacy only at the last minute succumbed to the shopping spree after Gage insisted that she go and get her mind off of what happened. Being held by her lover reassured her enough to reveal one of her worst fears. "I'm always so conscious of someone else hurting our children and? I forget that? that?"
"Things happens, Lacy." Gage supplied. "You have every reason to put their safety first but when you're a kid sometimes you do what Derek did today. I admit I never jumped from a banister onto a net before but I did do some very stupid things in my life."
"What are you going to do while we're gone?"
Gage escorted Lacy to the door where Stella and Dani were patiently waiting. "To the pool." She said to the cheers from the three youngest kids.
Late Friday afternoon, the Ballant clan arrived at Mark and Julie's home on Long Island. Mark planned a barbeque for his old friend and had invited Mitchell Stone and his wife, Bev, along. He was surprised when Jett, Beverly's son accompanied them. Julie Grant was less surprised informing Mark that she suspected Jett liked Jessie.
"But she's got a boyfriend." Mark said of his wife's daughter.
Julie cupped his face with her hand. "Darling, sometimes things like that just don't matter."
He noticed Jett make a beeline for Jessie's room telling everyone that he wanted to say 'hi'. If it was up to Mark, he wouldn't allow Jessie to date until she was twenty-five. When he had shared that with Julie, she laughed. "I can't believe how parental you can be." Julie kissed him soundly in appreciation of how much Mark had come to love her children.
Mark wrapped his arm around Julie as he introduced his guests to each other. "Lacy, Gage, you already know Mitch and this is his wife, Beverly."
"It's nice to meet you." Bev smiled at Gage. I wonder if I should be jealous. She chanced a glance at her husband before turning to Lacy. "And I feel like I already know you from your show."
Lacy extended her hand, smiling. "Don't believe everything you see. It's nice to meet you."
Holding Hayley, Gage introduced the rest of their family to Mitch and his wife. "This is Stella, my mom."
"Hello." Stella smiled.
Nodding, Gage continued the introductions. "Our children Dani and Derek?" The blonde searched a moment then saw her youngest son. "Sammy, come here."
The small boy peeked out from behind his mother. He shot his small hand up for a quick wave before taking refuge behind Lacy again.
"That's Sammy and this?" Gage propped Hayley up a little higher. "?is our littlest, Hayley."
With a generous smile, Mitch beamed at seeing Gage with her child. It warmed his heart to see such love between parent and child. She deserves it.
Gage turned slightly. "Hayley, you remember Julie and Mark."
Julie took a step forward and took hold of her tiny hand. "Hello, Hayley." The child giggled. "Mark, look how she's grown."
Proudly, Mark said. "And she's so pretty. Just like her mother."
"Then you mean beautiful." Gage corrected her friend. "Cause Lacy's the most beautiful woman in the world."
"Yes, she is." Mark agreed then astutely pointed out. "Right behind Julie here."
Lacy laughed. "Good save there, Mark."
Julie nudged her husband. "Yeah, ya big lug."
"Mark?" Gage moved closer. "Why don't you hold her?"
Panic held court briefly in his blue eyes. "I? I don't?"
"Here." Gage slipped Hayley into her biological father's arms.
Nervous, Mark marveled at the tiny girl he was holding. This wasn't the first time he had held Hayley or had spent time with her but it never ceased to amaze him that he was part of her creation. Instinctively, Mark bounced Hayley in his arms.
"Hayley, say hi to Mark." Gage prompted her daughter.
"Hi." Her eyes studied the man holding her for a moment before she reached up and tugged on his nose.
When Gage laughed, so did Hayley. "Do you think that's funny, Hayley?"
"Hi." The little girl agreed with Gage and did it again. This time when Mark offered a slight frown in response the small child said. "Uh oh."
"Uh ohs right." Mark smiled. "Why don't you pull her nose?" Mark leaned Hayley toward Gage. "Go ahead. Get her. Get Gage."
Hayley reached forward and said quite clearly. "Gay."
That word coming from the little girl's mouth shocked the room in complete silence. Only Derek uttered a soft. "Uh oh." Then promptly hid behind his mother right along side Sammy.
Silence reigned until Gage spoke. "Great. My own daughter outs me in front of my family and friends."
Nearly everyone else joined Gage's laughter except for the two conspirators still hiding behind Lacy.
"Come here." After Mark returned Hayley to Gage, the blonde asked. "Now just where? who taught you that?"
Sensing that Gage was not the happiest camper in the world, Hayley popped her small hand over her mouth and said. "Uh oh."
Dani was getting rather bored with all of the introductions so she asked. "Where's Jessie?"
Julie stepped through the crowd toward the young girl. "She's up in her room. Come on, I'll show you where it is." Over her shoulder, the hostess called to Mark. "Why don't you get our guests something to drink?"
After Jessie yelled for Dani to come in, the young girl opened the bedroom door and was completely surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here." Jessie shot back teasingly.
"No. Him." Dani pointed to the tall boy sitting on the edge of Jessie's bed.
"Dani, this is Jett. Bev's son, Mitch's?." The nineteen-year-old girl started to explain.
"You're Jett? But?"
When the tall boy saw that both girls were confused, he explained to Jessie. "I saw Dani at the toy store yesterday."
"You're the one that came up the ladder to get Derek."
"What?" Jessie was thoroughly confused now.
After Jett explained the whole situation, Jessie heard her mother calling them to come down and join the rest of the group. "We'll be down in a minute." She looked at Jett. "We need to freshen up, would you mind?"
"That's my clue." Jett straightened up. "Later."
When he was gone, Jessie asked Dani. "Well, what you do you think?"
"He's gorgeous." Dani gushed.
Jessie smiled. "I think so, too."
The lanky teen ambled down the long staircase glad he rode his motorcycle here. He only came to see Jessie and when he found out that she had a date later, he figured he would stay and check out her boyfriend. Competition. The smug adolescent reasoned that he would bide his time. The light haired girl with chocolate brown eyes was the first girl Jett was really smitten with. He wasn't paying much attention when he bumped into the kid at the bottom of the stairs. "Hey!"
Mesmerized by the teen's appearance in a black leather vest, black jeans with several chains hanging from the loops, the young child just stood there.
"Oh, it's you." Jett gave the little guy a crooked smile then mused his short hair. "Haven't been hanging around again, have ya?"
Derek shook his head and finally found his voice. "What's that on your arm?"
Jett swung his shoulder around. "This? It's a snake eye. See it? Right there in the middle."
"What's it for?" Derek stared at the colorful tattoo.
"Nothing you need to know about." Jett glanced around the huge hall. "Hey, where's your mom? She was kinda cute."
Pointing to a sliding door that led to the outside courtyard, Derek continued his questioning. "Where'd ya get it?"
Jett strutted toward the door. "Little shop in the village."
"Oh." Derek followed him not having a clue as to what village he was referring to. "Do you have anymore?"
The tall teen swung around and stooped down. "Yep." He winked at Derek before saying. "But none that I can show ya."
"Oh." Derek wasn't sure what that meant but he also wasn't going to let on.
Jett stood at the doorway, whipped out a cigarette from his vest and lit it. He inhaled a couple of times. Glancing at Derek, he shoved the lit cigarette toward the young boy. "Wanna drag?"
Quickly, Derek shook his head. But secretly he couldn't help but think how cool Jett looked and wondered what it would taste like.
Sucking on the death stick again, Jett mumbled. "Ah, hell." Impatient, he looked at Derek. "Should I wait? See what this jokers got to offer."
Clueless, Derek nodded but only because he didn't want Jett to leave yet. "You wanna go outside?"
Jett dropped down next to Derek. "First rule? when they?" Jett pointed to the group of adults outside. "?are outside, you stay inside. When they come in, you go out. Saves you lots of hassles in the long run."
"Right." The impressionable nine-year-old eagerly agreed.
Jett along with Derek finally did make their presence known among the adults when Jessie and Dani showed up outside. Both Lacy and Gage heralded their appreciation to him and his parents about what he done the day before. Derek was a quick study on how cool Jett was and began to idolize him even more after all the praise and thanks Lacy and Gage showered on the young man.
Bev wrapped her arm around his lean waist. "I'm proud of him."
Mitch inserted his feelings. "We both are." The strain between Mitch and the teen had lessened but there was still a long way to go. While his mother's idealist view of her son was blurry, Mitch had a clearer picture of exactly what Jett was still into these days.
After everyone ate, Jett lingered for a while talking with Jessie and Dani with Derek close by. The young boy didn't say much but hung on Jett's every word. When Sammy and his younger sister wanted him to play for a while, Derek turned them down flat. He was much too interested in what Jett had to say.
"Come on, Jessie. Forget about him." Jett referred to her boyfriend. "I'll take you for a ride on my bike."
"I'll go for a ride." Derek popped up.
Musing the young boy's hair, Jett dismissed him. "Later."
Secretly, Dani was hoping for a ride on his bike.
"Come on." Jett glanced over toward the group of adults in the distance. "Just a quick ride up and down the street." When Jessie shook her head, he turned to Dani. "You wanna ride, don't ya?"
"Yes." Dani about jumped out her shoes when he asked.
"No." Jessie countered. "She's too young. Besides, I don't think her mom would let her."
Before Dani could speak for herself, Jett spat. "Oh, fuck this. I'm outta here." Jett made a half-hearted wave toward his mother before he took his leave.
Frowning at Jessie, Derek walked away. The young boy was convinced that Jett would take him for a ride later like he promised.
"You wanna go back up to my room before my date comes?" Jessie asked Dani.
"Sure." But only after a few steps, Dani pulled at the older girl's arm. "Jessie? Why didn't you want me to ride with him? Is it because you like him?"
Jessie motioned for her young friend to sit on the short stonewall leading back up to the house. "Yeah, I like him okay but that's not it. Dani?" Jessie took a minute to formulate her thoughts. "I think deep down Jett's got a lot of good in him but it's like he's got a chip on his shoulder. I think it has something to do with his parents divorcing but I'm not sure."
Dani nodded. She understood about parents divorcing.
"And he's been into some things like drugs? I know he used to belong to a gang but in all fairness he says he's not into that anymore. I don't know." Jessie took a deep and thoughtful breath. "I think one day he'll get it all together but right now? he's confused and? dangerous." When she saw Dani's blue eyes widen upon hearing that word, Jessie modified her statement. "I don't mean it that way. More like out of control. He's unpredictable."
Tentatively, Dani asked. "What if he wasn't? Would you go out with him?"
"Well, you know I have a boyfriend." Dani nodded. "But? maybe. He's so cute."
They both smiled.
Mark and Gage waited until Mitch and his wife left before sitting down to talk business about their production company. "I slave hours over getting my screenplay finished and you don't even ask about it."
"Hand it over." Mark took the script. "I'm sure Lacy's correct in her assessment of it."
"Mmmmm? hmmm? I think she's a little bias."
Mark smiled, knowing he held a certain bias when it came to his best friend.
"By the way, Mitch and I talked briefly about his ideas for the TV network you've acquired. He's got some great ideas." Gage watched Mark flip through her script. "I'm not sure I can add much to it."
Mark tossed the script to the side. "Nonsense. There's always something percolating up there in that noggin of yours. I'm glad you and Lacy could come and visit. With all the negotiations going on here, I've not been able to get away."
"You mean forced. You forced me to come here setting up that book signing." Gage kidded her partner and friend.
"I had to get you here some way." Then Mark asked seriously. "You and Lacy okay?"
"Yeah." Gage dismissed the worried look in his blue eyes. "You know how it is? life, the kids. Things like that."
Smiling, Mark turned reflective thinking about the tiny blonde girl. "She looks just like you."
"Actually, I think she looks more like Lacy and you. Except for the blonde hair." Gage sat up in her chair. "Mark, I want her to know you? and not just as a friend to the family."
Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Mark advised Gage. "I told you that's up to you and Lacy. I don't want to intrude."
"Intrude? Without you, Lacy and I wouldn't have her. No. Lacy and I've talked about it. I don't know when exactly but one day, she will know you're her father. And I want you to think about something."
His dark eyebrow rose in question.
"What if she started calling you? 'daddy'?" Gage offered a smile to her friend.
"Spoken from someone whose daughter calls her 'gay'."
"Hey, I don't know where she came up with that. I have my suspicions about that one though." Gage said then the blonde rolled her eyes and admitted. "She calls me 'Mimi'. It all started with Sammy."
"Lacy told me or rather Julie then it finally got to me." Mark folded his hands together. "Why not 'mom'?"
"That's what she calls Lacy." When he remained silent, obviously not satisfied with her answer, Gage continued. "Come on, Mark, do I look like a mom?"
Smiling, Mark got up. "You look fine to me. Come on, let's go back outside before they miss us and?" Mark's blue eyes gazed at Gage. "I'll think about the daddy thing. I just don't want to confuse her."
"Oh, trust me you won't. That little kid is so smart. Nothing gets past her." Gage pulled him closer. "She'll probably figure out you're her father long before we tell her. Matter fact, I bet she already knows."
Nervously, Gage stood at the back door of the New York bookstore. She held Lacy's hand tightly. "You're coming with me, right?" When Lacy didn't answer, Gage turned around. Lacy was still on her cell phone with Stella. I'm so keyed up I didn't hear the phone ring.
"Stella, tell him we'll talk about it later. But between you and me the answer is a definitive no!" Frustrated, Lacy blew a puff of air up that caused her bangs to fly.
Looking back at the crowd gathering in the store, Gage asked. "No what?"
Lacy ended her call and announced. "He wants a tattoo."
Distracted for a moment, Lacy's words finally penetrated the blonde's mind. "He wants a what?"
"You heard me. A tattoo. Like Jett's."
A deep shudder vibrated through the blonde's whole body.
Lacy wrapped her arm around Gage when she felt the nervousness in her partner. "Sweetheart, I'll be right there by your side the whole time. Okay?"
Gage turned to meet her partner's concerned blue eyes. "Lacy?" She hesitated before she proposed. "Maybe we should think about it."
Confused, Lacy asked. "You don't want me with you?"
"No!" Trying to find a way to express her concerns regarding Derek, Gage closed her eyes for a brief moment. "Derek? maybe we should think about, you know, a tattoo for him." When the blonde saw her partner begin to protest, Gage rushed her next words. "Nothing big? a little tiny one."
"Gage?" The bookstore owner interrupted the couple. "It's time."
Baffled blue stared into anxious green eyes for a moment in time before, they both shook off their concerns and walked hand in hand out to the waiting crowd.
The afternoon went well and true to her word Lacy stayed nearby the whole time. Gage took every chance she could to make sure the people crowded around were well aware of Lacy's art design on the cover of her book. As usual Lacy dismissed her contribution but received the praise with elegant grace, making all those gathered feel special. When the last few autograph seekers had dwindled down, Lacy asked Gage if she wanted something to drink.
The blonde smiled then nodded to Lacy as she signed one more book for one of the store's patrons. "I hope you enjoy it." Before the customer left, Gage glanced around quickly to look for her partner.
That was when it happened.
When the siren voice from the past entered Gage's consciousness, the blonde looked back around and standing before her was the woman that changed her life dramatically. Swallowing hard, Gage croaked. "Gail?"
Warm green eyes greeted her old friend as Gail Randall walked around the podium and hugged Gage. "Oh, it's so nice to see you again." The slightly shorter woman lingered in her hold on the writer. It was as if she was trying to reclaim the past and perhaps even Gage's heart. "I've missed you." Gail pulled Gage's chin down and placed a sweet kiss on the still stunned writer's lips.
From a distance, Lacy stood in shock as a dark haired woman stroked her partner's face.
Gage was so stunned she didn't realize that Gail still held her close and was taking liberties that in the past had been welcomed. And we're in public, too.
It further infuriated Lacy that her partner wasn't rebuking the offending intimate gestures from the stranger. Sitting the bottle of water aside, Lacy determinedly strolled across the room, prepared for battle if it came to that. "Excuse me!" Pulling Gage from her shocked state, Lacy got both of their attentions. "I believe you're flirting with my woman." Cold ice blue eyes shifted quickly to her lover before landing squarely on the dark headed stranger.
"Oh!" Gail withdrew from the blonde but held her ground still well within Gage's personal space.
Lacy immediately cupped her arm through Gage's and jerked the blonde closer like a rag doll. "I don't believe we've met. Gage? You mind introducing us."
"Uh?" The blonde's voice stumbled.
The shorter dark haired woman extended her hand. "I'm Gail Randall. Gage and I were friends a long time ago." Smiling, the green-eyed woman added. "Very close friends."
With a tight smile, Lacy shook her hand. "I see."
Gail tilted her head as if she was contemplating something then spat sarcastically. "Why Gage you never told her about us?"
There was only one other time Gage had witnessed that evil streak in her old friend and the thought of it brought back hoards of dark memories, threatening to overcome the shaken blonde. "Uh? no."
"Secrets don't make friends." Gail said with a haunting laugh.
This brought out an evil streak in Lacy to match that of the stranger. "Gage and I have no secrets? there are just some things that are too trivial to even mention."
"Touché." Gail's green eyes examined her competition. She's a formidable force but then again? so can I be? if necessary.
Finally coming out of her stupor, Gage spoke. "Gail, this is Lacy Levine?"
"Ballant." Lacy added without missing a beat.
"Ballant." Gage gulped then continued. "And Lacy, Gail."
"Yes, we've already met." Lacy smiled at her partner but it didn't reach her cool blue eyes.
Nervously, Gage shifted her green eyes between the two. "So you have. Well?"
When the three stood there for a long moment in silence, Lacy finally asked. "Gail, would you like to have dinner with us tonight?" She believed in the theory of keeping your enemy close so you could keep an eye on them.
Surprised, Gail composed herself and smiled. "Actually, I just came to get my book signed." She handed it to Gage. "Would you be so kind? For old time's sake." Gail purred.
"Sure." Gage quickly signed her name and noted that Lacy was trying to see what she wrote. Handing the book back to her old friend, Gage dismissed Lacy's idea of dinner. "I'm afraid Lacy forgot that we have plans tonight so about dinner?"
Touching Gage's face with the tips of her fingers, Gail stared deeply into the blonde's eyes. "I understand?" And as if stating a deeper meaning that only the blonde would understand, she continued. "?about everything."
Relieved and bewildered, Gage sighed but looked steadily into Gail's green eyes as she recalled their past together. But I don't.
Lacy recognized a sexual torrent undertone transpired between the two and she was not thrilled with her partner's silence. "Perhaps another time?"
Dragging her hungry eyes from Gage, the shorter woman looked at Lacy. "Perhaps." Turning back to the blonde, Gail smiled sweetly. "Thank you." Then leaned in to kiss Gage on the cheek. Before another word was spoken, Gail Randall had walked out of Gage's life for the second time.
On the ride home, Lacy remained quiet much to Gage's chagrin. "Lacy? Are you going to talk to me?" When her partner remained silent, Gage asked. "Never?"
Leaving a space between them in the back of the cab, Lacy turned to her partner and with a stone look on her face, she proclaimed. "Oh, now you want to talk. How convenient."
Without a word, Lacy crossed their huge suite entering her bedroom and slammed the door. Stella watched with concerned green eyes as Gage dragged behind.
Hearing the door slam, Derek ran out of his bedroom. "Where's mom?"
Stella held him back while an inpatient Gage said. "Derek? Can it wait? Your mom?" She stood there at loss of words barely noticing her son's new hairstyle. Your mom what? Your mom's gonna leave me. Your mom's mad at me.
The grandmother interceded. "Your mom's not feeling well. Let's give it a bit of time. Okay?"
Derek crunched his eyebrows together, thinking heavily. "Gage, would you ask mom about letting me have a tattoo?" The little guy figured that if anyone could sway his mom than it would be Gage. He astutely pointed out the fact that Dani got her ears pierced. When Gage didn't respond, Derek remembered that his dad was all for Dani getting her ears pierced even though his mom was against it. Seeing that Gage wasn't paying attention to him, he shrugged. "Never mind." Off he ran to his room searching for his older sister.
Touching her daughter's arm, Stella asked. "Are you okay?"
With a blank look on her face, Gage felt her world about to collapse. "I don't know." She turned toward their bedroom. "I guess I'm gonna be find."
With that said, Stella watched her daughter slowly walk toward the door Lacy recently slammed shut. "I guess I should ask the kids what they want to eat and call room service." The family had plans to go out to eat but now it seemed like that was out of the question.
"Derek, don't take too long." Dani reluctantly handed her cell phone to her brother. "I don't want to use up all of my minutes."
"It's Saturday." Derek rolled his eyes. Even he knew she had unlimited minutes on the weekend. "I'm just calling dad."
"I know but I'm expecting a call?" Dani noticed something out the corner of her eye. "Hayley! What the heck are you up to now?"
The tiny blonde was crawling up on the long cabinet where her younger brother was sitting while he applied Dani's purple lip gloss to the mirror. When Dani saw Sammy, she ran across the room. "Oh no you two? not again."
Stella heard the commotion when she entered the kid's room. Seeing that Dani was prying the various make-up items out of both Hayley and Sammy's hands, she had to laugh. "Here let me help. I was going to see what you guys wanted to eat but?" The mirror was covered with markings. "I guess we better clean this up first."
Derek overheard his grandmother and since he couldn't reach his father decided he would help out. He ran out of their room and straight to the suite's telephone. "Hello? Room Service. I'd like to order?"
Gage quietly shut the door to their bedroom. Guilt overwhelmed her upon seeing Lacy lying on the bed. She could tell her partner was crying yet tried to cover it. The blonde stood there staring at Lacy not knowing what to say. It was true. Gage remembered the conversation she had with Lacy after it was revealed at Mark's bachelor party that the blonde was once involved with Mitchell Stone.
Praying the conversation had ended, Gage released a heavy sigh and then it happened. Lacy asked one more question.
"Anyone else I should know about?"
Gage shivered at the question her lover asked as an uneasy rumbling stirred in her in the darkest, deepest part of her memory. A distant recollection tried to scratch its way to the surface bringing with it an overwhelming and crippling pain so great that Gage pushed the dark remembrance back. Bolting the door to the secret that was so dark and profound, it had changed her life drastically. The lock and chain she applied so many years ago to restrain this memory from ever reaching her conscious state now laid dormant again as Gage tossed the key away for good and prayed it would never return. Her simple answer did not put to rest the uneasy feeling that still hung in the air between Gage and her lover. "No."
The blonde knew she had lied to her partner. And the other thing that she realized was that she had lied to herself by suppressing that part of her life and now it was reaching from the far corner of her life, threatening to destroy everything she treasured. No reasoning in the world could every justify this lie even though it was one that Gage herself pushed from her conscious mind so far back that even she hardly remembered it until it came barreling forward with the sudden appearance of Gail Randall.
After Derek had ordered plenty of food for his family, he punched in hid dad's number again. This time he was successful. "Dad? Hi, this is Derek."
Laughing, David said. "I know son."
Oh, the sound of that word warmed the little boy's heart. Derek could not honestly remember his dad ever calling him that before until he stayed with his father during the last month. "How ya doing?"
"You know me, top of the world. Couldn't be better." David sipped his cocktail. "So what'd you call for? Time is money." The not so busy man joked.
"Remember you told me I need to?" Derek tried to remember the big word 'assertive' his father used. "?do things my own way."
Nodding, David inserted the word his son had forgot. "Assert yourself."
"Yeah, right. I think I should assert myself. Don't you think so?" Derek asked in a very vague way.
"Absolutely. If there's something you want, you get it." David was happy to supply his son with some sound advice. "Don't let anybody stand in your way. You got to take what you want." If the slightly inebriated man had heard himself, he would have realized that the advice he gave was really directed at himself and not his nine-year-old son.
Determined, Derek vowed. "I'm gonna do that."
"Way to go boy. I'm proud of you."
But before David could ask his son just exactly what Derek's plans were, the boy disconnected the line. "Hmmm?" Not giving anymore thought to the conversation, he added. "That's my boy."
The knock on the door brought room service and even Dani was surprised when seven trays of food arrived. Stella stood in total disbelief. "Where? I think you have the wrong room. We didn't order this."
One of the attendants supplied the older woman a slip.
Stella just stared at it while Dani perused the dessert cart. "Who wants cake?"
"Me? me. I do." Sammy reached up and over the cart to grab a piece for him and his little sister.
"Honey, wait." Stella tried to deal the two youngest kids and at the same time get the attendant to take some of the food back. "Dani, put them over at the table and get them something?" She glanced at a couple of the carts. "Substantial to eat."
Dani herded the two youngest kids to the table then headed back to check on what was available.
"Just sign right there, ma'am." The tall attendant pointed at the slip.
"Where's Derek?" Running her eyes around the room to find him since his name was on the order slip, Stella was at a loss. "Dani? Is Derek in his room?"
"Uh uhh?" Dani placed some food on a couple of plates then sat them down in front of Sammy and Hayley.
"We want cake." Sammy declared after seeing the dessert cart before.
"Cake! Cake..." Hayley echoed.
The hotel attendant frowned a bit before asking Stella. "Little guy about this high?" He motioned with his hand. "? with dark hair? kinda spiked?"
Twisting around quickly, Stella confirmed. "Yes, that's him."
The hotel attendant jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said. "He was asking the concierge about some place in the village."
Stella swallowed hard. "A tattoo place?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Gage! Lacy!" Stella yelled.
When Dani's eyes popped open, she expelled. "Uh oh." Sammy and Hayley echoed the same sentiment as Lacy and Gage ran from their room.
Fortunately, the concierge was smart enough to sidetrack the young boy who wanted directions to the village until he could get word to the boy's parents. When Lacy and Gage arrived in the lobby, the concierge pointed at Derek, happily playing with the pinball machine. Derek thought he was waiting for the concierge to hail him a cab. He was quite surprised when a determined tap came hard down on his shoulder.
"Derek!" Grabbing his hand, Lacy was barely able to control her over taxed emotional state. "Come with me!"
The young gray-eyed boy shot an evil glare at the concierge at being ratted out and mumbled. "Fuck this!"
That brought his mother to a standstill. Seizing, Lacy grasped her son's hand tighter, pulling him closer. Without looking back, she steadfastly led him as she walked to the elevator.
Gage followed behind knowing that she had added to her partner's overwrought state. Right before her mother screamed their names, Gage's fingers were a mere millimeter from Lacy's arm. Determined, she vowed to expel every demon inside her and face her fears before Lacy even if it meant the woman she loved would leave her. Now with this latest development with Derek, Gage withdrew, bundling back up the hidden past she was about to release to the only woman who would ever understand. Gage felt she had missed her chance but dealing with Derek was much more important right now. And so it was, the time for her cleansing was put on hold, another strain in their already precarious relationship.
The long plane ride home didn't soothe the aching distance between Lacy and Gage. As a matter of fact, Lacy had Derek sitting next to her the whole trip while Gage was content to be sandwiched between Sammy and Hayley. Sparing glances between the two partners only seemed to make each of them ponder their future together.
When Lacy readily agreed to Dani's request of having her friends over for a swimming party the very next day after they arrived back home, doubt in Gage's mind plagued her and caused her to feel even guiltier. She contemplated several times writing a letter to Lacy and just leaving. She'd be better off without me.
As for Lacy, she felt alone. Alone in having to handle Derek's behavior since Gage continued to withdraw from any interaction with him. Alone in the fact that Lacy was very open with her partner about her past and Gage refused to allow her any entrance into much of the blonde's history. And now with this new revelation of a former love that she distinctly remembered asking Gage about and her partner lying to her, Lacy was at a loss as what to do. Derek needs me now as do the rest of my children. But I need Gage?all of her.
So the day after they arrived home, they set out that afternoon for some fun in the sun even though the two grown-ups knew for them it would be more like torture. Gage and Dani picked up her two close friends, Katie and Cindy. When they arrived back home, Lacy was at the beach with the rest of the children. Stella was in the kitchen preparing some snacks. Gage sent the trio on down to the beach while she talked to her mother.
"Need some help?" Gage asked.
Stella meticulously cut the sandwiches in front of her but paid careful attention to her forlorn daughter. "No. But I guess I could use some company."
Gage plopped down on the chair and grabbed a sandwich. "Where's the banana? You know I like peanut butter and banana sandwiches."
"I do. And those aren't for you." Stella smiled, and then reached around to get another tray with several sandwiches prepared the way her daughter liked them. "Here."
Having already bit into the plain peanut butter sandwich, Gage shrugged. "Save one of those for me later." The blonde winked.
"I can do that." Stella watched her daughter chew diligently on her sandwich. "You wanna tell me what's going on in that head of yours?"
Stella sat down next to her daughter. "Don't hmmm? me. Gage, listen, I know something's going on between you and Lacy. That's obvious." She reached out her hand and laid it over her daughter's hand. "I'm here? if you need to someone to talk to." Then a dark memory shot to the forefront of her mind. "I know I haven't been there in the?"
"Stop it." Gage turned her hand over, now holding her mother's hand. "I understand. I really do. We've already resolved that. Lacy told me once that a person at some point in their lives has to stop blaming their parents or others for what their lives have become and it's really about time that I do that but?"
Gage released a heavy sigh. "Now she won't talk to me."
Stella got up and pulled her daughter into her arms. She savored the feel of Gage being so close to her. "Honey, Lacy loves you more than life itself. And I'd bet everything I have that she's the woman? the only one that can help you with whatever it is that you're struggling with." The older woman realized that the remnants of her daughter's childhood and everything that happened to her was the impenetrable wall blocking Gage from fully opening up. And she blamed herself even after Gage forgave her but this was something her daughter had to face and she would only traverse that minefield with Lacy. The only thing Stella could do was to step back and assure her daughter that she would be there for her.
Gage kissed her mother's cheek. "Thank you." Releasing her mom, the blonde smiled. "You coming swimming?"
Stella slapped her daughter's arm slightly. "Me? In a bathing suit? I don't think so. But I tell you what, I'll bring some food down later and find me a nice big shade tree to sit under."
"Deal." Gage gave her mother a quick hug before she headed to the shore to join the rest of her family.
"Derek? Wait for Gage to get here." Lacy said for the third time to her rambunctious child who was playing on one of the jet skis.
Scrunching his eyebrows together, he glared straight forward so his mother couldn't see him. "I can ride by myself you know."
Lacy waded further in the water pushing the large net covered inner tube that held her two youngest children. "Be careful. I don't want you to get wet." She called to Derek before turning around to watch Dani play with her two friends near the shoreline.
Bored now that he couldn't ride the Jet Ski by himself, Derek ran over to where his older sister was playing with her friends. They had pulled the six-foot log in the water and were talking while they alternated trying to sit on the log.
"Wanna go to the mall tonight?" Katie asked her two friends.
Cindy balanced herself on the log while Dani and Katie held it. "Okay. Can you go Dani?"
"Hmm? I guess so. I have to ask mom first though." Dani cast a quick glance at her mother then asked Cindy. "You ready?"
"Yep. Give it all you got." The redheaded girl squeezed her legs together while her friends jostled the log up and down in the water. "Hey? okay, okay? that's en?." She splashed into the three-foot deep water.
Dani waited for Cindy to surface. "You okay?"
"Yep." She answered, wiping the water from her eyes. "Your turn."
"I wanna do it." Derek splashed the three girls as he tried to climb on the log.
"No." Dani yanked the log from him. She usually didn't mind Derek hanging around but today she was just not in the mood. "You go play with mom."
Derek grabbed for the log again. "I wanna play. You can't knock me off."
"I said no." When her brother tried again to grab the log, Dani yelled for her mother. "Mom? Will you tell Derek to leave us alone?"
"Yeah, Derek. Go away." Katie slapped the surface of the water, causing some of it to hit him.
Squinting his gray eyes together, Derek spat. "I hate you."
Katie acted hurt but said sarcastically. "Oh, yeah, who cares?"
Before Dani could say a word, Cindy cut the blonde off. "Knock it off, Katie." Cindy remembered all too well how she always wanted to play or hang around with her older sister but was rebuked time and time again.
"Derek, come on. Why don't you go play with Hayley and Sammy?" Dani tried to coax her brother into leaving them alone for the moment. When Derek refused to leave, Dani started to call to her mom once again but saw Gage approach and directed Derek to her. "Here's Gage. She'll take you a ride on the jet ski."
Although Derek wanted to ride alone, he reasoned that going with Gage might be his only chance so he went along reluctantly. "Fine." The nine year old headed for the dock.
When Gage arrived at the beach, she sucked in a deep breath then smiled. "Hayley, Sammy, are you two having fun?" The blonde wanted to tread the water where Lacy was standing with the kids but decided against it.
Hayley slapped her hands together while Sammy bounced on the inner tube. Shyly, Lacy ventured a look at her partner. "I think that's a yes. Gage, sweet?" Lacy stopped herself not knowing if the endearment would be welcome. "Would you mind giving Derek a ride on the jet ski? He's getting mad not being able to get ride it."
The blonde saw Derek already perched on the Jet Ski wearing his life vest. "Sure." Gage ambled over the wooden deck to the large shed that housed some of their swimming stuff. She grabbed a swim vest, put it on then headed toward Derek. "I can see you're ready."
"Vroommm?" Derek pretended to ride the jet ski. "Let's go."
"Okay, scoot up." Gage requested of the boy so she could get behind him.
"Uh uhn?" He jumped off the ski. "I wanna ride on the back."
"Derek, you always ride in front." Gage said.
Shaking his head, Derek insisted. "I'm big enough." He held his ground, refusing to get on the jet ski until Gage did.
When Gage glanced at Lacy for her approval, the dark haired mother shrugged leaving the decision up to the blonde. "Well, okay, but you have to hold on tight."
Having won that battle of wills, he assured her. "I will." Now positioned behind the blonde, Derek wrapped his arms around her. "Let's go."
Gage fired up the engine and took off. She eased the sleek machine on, getting a feel for it especially with Derek riding behind her now. As she twisted the throttle more, they went faster and faster. The squeals from Derek proved it met with his approval. "You having fun?"
"Uh huh?" When they hit one of their own waves, Derek squeezed Gage tighter. "Faster."
Circling around several times, Gage caught several more of their own waves. The cove was relatively quiet with only an odd boat or two that decided to venture down the long cove for a look. It was usually on the weekend when the water in and around the cove got rougher due to the high traffic from boaters. Gage felt relatively safe weaving in and around the water and started to enjoy the ride herself. She was careful not to make too sharp a turn since she didn't want Derek fall off. The blonde noticed a small ski boat approach then make a sharp turn at the end of the cove. She figured she could catch the tail end of its waves. "You ready for some more waves." She could feel Derek nod his head against her. "Here goes."
It was then that it happened.
As Gage hit the two foot wave head on with the jet ski, she knew Derek would squeeze tighter but when they landed, the blonde was suddenly aware that she couldn't feel Derek behind her. Gage quickly twisted the jet ski around and let off of the throttle. She didn't see the ski boat make another sharp turn back toward them. Apparently the driver of the boat wanted to catch come of his own waves.
From a distance, Lacy watched Gage hit the wave and to her complete surprise she watched helplessly as if in slow motion when her son jumped high up in the air off of the jet ski and came splashing down in the water. Suddenly, the small ski boat came into focus as it seemingly was heading for the exact place where her son had landed in the water.
Seeing the ski boat now, Gage gunned the throttle for where she saw Derek's head bob up and down several times. The small boy was oblivious to what was happening around him. Gage tried to wave the ski boat off with her horn but it appeared as if the driver of the boat wasn't paying attention.
Gage heard Lacy scream in the distance as she sped toward Derek. Knowing that she had one chance, Gage reached down with one arm, barely catching the shoulder edge of Derek's vest. The blonde swooped him up and shoved him down in front of her.
When the driver of the boat realized what was happening, he swung left and killed his engine, narrowly missing the woman and small boy on the jet ski. "Damn? that was close." Shaking, the driver fell back in the captain's chair and just stared at the sky for a long time before deciding to face the two he almost ran down.
Gage headed straight back to the dock and she could see Lacy safely placing their two youngest kids in the hands of Stella who had witnessed the very end of the dramatic scene on the water.
Lacy ran across the dock and even before Gage was able to secure the jet ski to the side, the mother grabbed her son in her arms. "Derek? Are you alright?"
The blonde secured the jet ski and slowly got off of it. Feeling that it was all her fault, Gage again wondered if she should leave. But suddenly she felt Lacy's arm around her even as she continued to hold Derek.
"I'm fine. Mom?" Derek tried to squeeze out of her death grip.
Lacy smothered him with several kisses before she did the same to her partner. "Thank God both of you are alright."
Gage held on for dear life to both of them, thankful that Lacy wasn't mad at her. When the blonde saw the driver of the both approach, she gently withdrew from Lacy's grasp. "Lacy, why don't you and Derek go on? I'll talk to this him." She nodded toward the boat.
Lacy was only too glad to get to dry land. When she stepped back on the shoreline from the dock, Stella had a towel handy. The mother dried her son while several others watched curiously.
Feeling bold, Dani said. "Wow, Derek. That was cool." She thought she could help by trying to ease the tension filled moment.
Excited, Derek asked. "You think so? I can do it again. Only higher."
A sharp glance from her mother caused Dani to rethink her comment.
Hayley was the second person to notice her mother's dark look at her sister and said. "Uh oh."
That caused Lacy to smile. "Uh ohs right." Lacy tapped her daughter on the nose, which produced a giggle. Turning to Sammy, she teased. "And you buster? I don't want you laughing, too." Which, of course, extracted a smile and giggle from him. Her children's laughter helped Lacy calm down. "I think it's time to call it a day."
Stella agreed as she grabbed the picnic basket and picked up Hayley. "We'll eat at the house."
Lacy grabbed Derek's hand and took her other son's hand. "Let's go."
The three girls followed reluctantly as Katie complained. "I hope your mom's not too mad that you can't go to the mall tonight."
With a sharp jab to Katie's side, Dani glared at her. "Is that all you think about?"
Then Cindy added. "And boys."
That statement caused all three teens to giggle.
Meanwhile back at the dock, Gage kept her calm as the driver of the boat apologized profusely. "It's a new boat? actually I bought it used but new to me and I when I turned, my drink slid off the dash and so I reached for it?it's was just a soda?" He explained quickly." ".. well, that's? next thing I know when I look up?" His head dropped. "I'm so sorry. It happened so fast."
Thankful that Derek was safe, Gage sighed. "It's okay? really. I should've anticipated that you might turn back around. I saw you do that at the end of the cove." Gage tried to ease the boater's mind. "Out on the water you have to eyes in the back of your head. You have to be looking everywhere? 360."
"I won't be so careless next time." With remorse the boater asked. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Drive careful. Okay?" The boater nodded then spun his boat around, heading back out of the cove. Gage shed her swim vest, putting in back in the dock's shack. She paused for a brief moment before heading back up to the house.
Even with the day's stressful events, Lacy allowed Dani to go along with her friends to the mall for a couple of hours. Gage was the deciding influence on Lacy's decision when she offered to take them there and pick them up and with the added fact that Nate would be working at the mall that evening, Lacy relented.
Katie strained her neck, looking for a certain nineteen year old. Although it was Monday night, the blonde hoped he would show up. She let him know that she might be there with her two friends after seeing Drake over the weekend. Katie noticed Drake's interest pique when she mentioned Dani and Cindy. "Let's just sit here. He knows this is my usual table."
They had been sitting there for over an hour and Cindy was getting restless. "Why can't we walk around some? I wanted to do some window shopping and there's this new CD?."
"Oh?" Katie pointed at a tall good-looking dark headed young man approach. "There he is."
His suave demeanor and cool arrival at the girl's table made all of their heads turn and take notice. "God, he is cute." Cindy exclaimed.
Dani was dumbstruck when he flashed his pearly whites producing the cutest dimples she had ever seen. "You can say that again."
Katie jumped up to hug Drake. "Hey, I'm glad you came."
Drake squeezed the young girl. "I can see that." As he hugged Katie, his grazing brown eyes took stock of the other two teens at the table, coming to rest on Dani. "Hi."
Katie felt him pushing her back before he walked around the table and sat down next to Dani. "Drake, this is Cindy?" The blonde waited for Drake to pull his eyes off of Dani.
He nodded. "Hello."
"Hi!" The redhead gave a short wave.
"And Dani." That lackluster introduction by Katie warned others of her disapproval about the way Drake was paying attention to Dani.
But Drake dismissed her completely as he grabbed Dani's hand. "Katie's told me all about you. You're beautiful."
Dani gulped since this was the first time any boy other than her uncle Nate that had referred to her that way. "Really?"
Katie yanked on his short T-shirt sleeve. "Drake? Over here."
Turning around, he winked at her and asked. "Yeah, what do ya want babe?"
A little attention directed my way would be nice. Smiling, she scooted her chair closer. "You wanna go look at a couple of tops I saw earlier?" Katie was eager to show off to her friends that Drake would buy her anything she requested.
"Mmmm?not tonight babe." He relaxed back in his chair, glancing around the table. "Listen, what do you girls say about a little party? I've got some friends getting together later."
Although that offer excited all of the girls, Dani was the first to refuse. "We can't. Gage is picking us up in an half hour."
"Gage?" Drake asked curiously.
Dani nodded but Cindy answered. "That's her mom's girlfriend."
"They're married." Dani waited for any kind of negative reaction from him.
That news pleasantly surprised the tall young man. "Cool." He sat up in his chair. "Listen, if you can't come tonight then perhaps Friday night. We'll meet here say around seven and I'll drive all of us to a friend's house." When Dani started to protest, he continued. "You can tell your parents you're going to a movie. I'll get you back before the mall closes."
Katie readily agreed. "Sounds good. Dani, Cindy? What do you say?"
"Hey guys." A strong arm touched Dani's shoulder. "How ya'll doin' tonight?"
Katie rolled her chocolate brown eyes at the interfering and unwelcome guest. "Hey, Troy."
He sat on the other side of Dani. "I had to stop off at the computer store?" He turned to Dani. "Your uncle's there. He gave me a real sweet deal on a laptop. Mom said that if my grades?"
"Troy!" Katie interrupted him.
The news about Dani's uncle produced a concerned look on Drake's otherwise charming face. "Listen girls? think about it?" He leaned over and kissed Katie on the cheek, whispering. "See you Friday night."
After the taller boy left, Troy frowned. "What are you guys suppose to think about?"
All three girls remained silent.
After Gage picked up and dropped off Dani's friends, she checked on all the children before heading off to bed. When she arrived in her bedroom, Hayley was sitting in the middle of her and Lacy's bed with a huge frown on her face. "What's the matter with her?"
Lacy pulled the tiny blonde in her arms. "She's not happy with us."
The older blonde stripped off her clothes before heading to the adjoining bathroom. "You mean, she's not happy with me." Gage knew she was the real culprit in the problems between her and Lacy. And their daughter was keenly aware of the tension between them.
Lacy brushed her lips against Hayley's temple. "Come on, honey. Smile for your mommy." The toddler refused. "Gage, would you hurry up and get back in here. She's not going to be happy until we're all together."
"Hi! Want more." Hayley indicated clearly that she would only be satisfied when Gage joined them on the bed.
"Okay, okay." Gage finished brushing her teeth then headed off to bed. The blonde jumped on the bed, making Hayley laugh for the first time. "You wanna play?"
"Hi!" Hayley lunged toward Gage.
"Sweetheart?" That word made Gage smile. "The idea is to get her to go to sleep not wired up."
Gage fell back on the bed with Hayley hanging over her, held up by the blonde's arms. "Okay, how bout we play in the morning?"
Hayley shook her head. "No."
"Yes." Gage countered.
"No." Hayley determinedly shot back.
"Hi." Gage said the word Hayley used for yes to affirm her decision.
"Okay." Hayley acquiesced quickly. "Pway later. More now."
Lacy eased down next to Gage, taking Hayley in her arms and resting their daughter on top of them. "Alright, honey. This is what you want."
The couple lay there with their daughter and somehow the tension eased and for a moment in time all seemed right and peaceful in their world. As Hayley's sleepy eyes fought to stay awake, Gage patted the toddler's back.
"Did Dani have fun?"
"Yep." Gage turned to look directly at Lacy. "Although the three of them whispered about something all the way home."
"Probably just boys? the usual teenage stuff." Lacy dismissed any other thoughts regarding her daughter for the moment.
That statement made Gage recall some of her days as a teenager and none of it was usual. She had seen the seedier side of being a teenager and it was far from pleasant or innocent. "Maybe." The blonde wasn't really worried about Dani. The young girl was mature beyond her age and had always been upfront and honest with them. "How's Derek?"
"Hmmm?" Lacy kissed her daughter's head. "He was sorry later. I'm not sure if he said it because he thought I wanted him to or he realized the whole situation."
Sensing Lacy was still aggravated about the near disastrous event on the lake, Gage tried to ease her mind. "Kids do a lot of crazy things. They don't think ahead." The blonde propped herself up on her elbow and uncharacteristically asked. "Did I ever tell you about the time I hid in a ditch and tried to scare my friend?"
That question certainly got Lacy's attention. "No." Lacy waited patiently for the small nugget of her partner's past that she was now willing to share for some unknown reason and Lacy wasn't about to stop her.
Gage chuckled. "I was trying to get Johnnie back for jumping at me in the barn. Scared the? anyway? Oh, Johnnie was at the same foster home as I was when we were?" Gage calculated the time frame in her mind. "Ten, I think. The foster parents lived on a farm and they had a couple of horses as well as the usual animals." She turned a serious eye at Lacy. "I think they had us kids to work the farm for them. But every once in a while, we'd have some fun. Anyway, Johnnie decided to ride the old mare down the gravel road when I saw him. So I high tailed it across the field through the corn so he couldn't see me and hid in the ditch. All I wanted to do was scare him back like he did me in the barn. Well, just when he was about ten feet in front of me, I jumped up and yelled as loud as I could."
"What happened then?" Lacy encouraged Gage to continue.
"Funny thing is I never once thought that in scaring Johnnie the horse would be scared, too. She reared up and off went Johnnie. Plopped right on the gravel road."
"Oh, I didn't wait to see if he was hurt. I just took off running to the house." The scene of Gage dashing back across the field played havoc in her mind as it related to another event later in her teen years that involved Johnnie as well. "Of course that was a mistake."
Gage slipped back down on the bed. "I got whupped bad. I think they were more upset that I scared the horse cause it took them a couple of hours to round her up. Johnnie was okay. We both kinda laughed it off later. Course I couldn't sit down for the next couple of days."
Lacy ran her fingers along her partner's jaw. "I'm sorry. I wish I would have been there for you."
Gage fell into the seductive touch of her lover. "Thanks but I wouldn't want you there. It was too bad a place for someone as nice and special as you."
Lacy rewarded the blonde with a soft kiss.
"Is she sleeping?" When Lacy nodded, Gage slipped her daughter into her arms. "I'll be right back."
When Gage got back into bed, Lacy easily slipped into her partner's arms. "I love it when you hold me like this."
"Me, too." Gage savored the precious moment between them. "Lacy?"
"Hmm?" The dark haired woman lounged her body alongside her lover.
Gage ran her hand up and down her partner's arm. "About Gail?" She felt Lacy stiffen slightly but determined to say what was on her mind. "It's not that I wanted to lie to you? it's just that?" The blonde sucked in a deep breath. "I wanted to forget, never to remember the hurt I felt and?"
Lacy lifted up even though she was tired from the last few days upsetting events. "Sweetheart, I just have one question." The dark haired woman prepared herself for the response. "Do you still love her?"
Shaking her head, Gage adamantly confirmed her feelings. "No! I have so much more with you. Sometimes it's almost too much that I don't know how to?"
Lacy wiped the tears forming in Gage's eyes. Even Lacy realized her partner was dangling perilously close to an emotional edge so she assured her lover. "Gage, sweetheart, it's okay. Everything will be okay." Lacy guided her lover's head to her shoulder and they stayed like that for the rest of the night.
Continued in Chapter 11