~ Now and Forever ~
by J Brownell


Disclaimer: This story and the characters described exist solely in my head and any resemblance to anything factual is a happy coincidence.

Sex: Yes.

Emails, are welcome at ga_onmymind@yahoo.com

Brief Synopsis: Every life has one-that one decision that changed everything. Alison Harte never thought she would get a chance to make that one decision again.


1.

A single light glowed on the ground floor of the lake house as I added my BMW to the small car lot assembled in the front yard. I remember a time when the only cars were my Mom's and Catherine's. I glanced at the clock on my radio. A little after one in the morning. After my mad dash to leave Chicago and breaking the speed limit across several states, I was disappointed to arrive when everyone was asleep. I missed my daughters and my hurry to get here was to see them tonight. The realization that I would have to wait until morning punctured my excitement and left me simply exhausted.

Sometimes when the loneliness got too much to bear in Chicago, I wondered what insanity possessed me to send my daughters to my parents in Atlanta. Then I would remember those first weeks after my husband's death and how hard it was to be a mother and a grieving widow at the same time. It was easier to pack up our life without them with me. Easier to move everything to Atlanta when that was all I had to concentrate on in my life.

I slipped from the car and was instantly transported back to my childhood. The water slapping against the dock, crickets chirping in the humid night, black sky bright with pinpoints of starlight. I spent every summer here from the time I was eleven. We came some Christmases and occasional spring breaks, but it was the summer time that stood out in my memories. The last time I was here was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

After a brief internal debate, I grabbed my bags from the trunk. I wasn't tired enough to sleep in my current attire and would be happy if I never wore the jeans and Chicago Cubs t-shirt again in my life. Flickering light played across the windows as I crossed the yard to the porch and I was relieved someone was watching TV. Thank God someone was awake. I know from experience that it's not easy to wake someone in this house because the glass is doubled paned.

I peeked inside as I knocked, looking for movement. Nothing. I knocked louder and was rewarded with a dark head lifting with a start from the couch. The woman glanced to the floor before slipping to her feet. She was halfway to the door when I recognized my rescuer. I shut my eyes. Lane. Of course, she was here. Why wouldn't she be?

She checked to see who was knocking this late at night and bright blue eyes widened in surprise. I wasn't expected for a few more days. I wanted to surprise them. Fate, not a friend of mine this year, had cruelly chosen to surprise me instead. She opened the door quickly.

"Alison. Hey. You aren't supposed to be here until tomorrow," she whispered. She locked the door when I was a few feet inside the house.

Her dark blue T-shirt fell mid-thigh. Dark auburn hair brushed her shoulders and was tousled from sleeping on the couch. Sleepy blue eyes stared at me in question. I was stunned. How did the tomboy kid I know blossom into this beautiful woman? She was still gangly and boyish at eighteen.

"I missed my daughters. I rushed every-," I stopped when she motioned for me to be quiet.

She pointed behind me to the floor. Now that I was inside the house, I saw two bodies sprawled in front of the television. "The kids. They wanted to sleep down here. I was watching a video with them."

"Marley and Jaime?" I whispered, joy at possibly seeing my daughter's faces washing away my turbulent feelings at seeing her again. I put my bags on the floor.

"No, Kerry and Jaime. Marley is sleeping in Nik's room."

Her answer stopped me in mid-stride. Kerry. Her daughter. Another detail I pushed ruthlessly away. Whenever I speak with my mother, I tune her out when she mentions Lane. Lane and her family have been part of our lives since Catherine and her new husband, Jon, moved next door when Lane and I were eight. My mother was desperately relieved her new neighbor had a little girl my age.

I turned to face her with a sad smile. "I guess I shouldn't wake her."

She dropped her eyes to the bodies snuggled on the floor. "Is it any consolation that those two wake up before seven? You'll only get to sleep until Jaime realizes you're here, which should be sevenish."

Without another word, she picked up my bags and walked to the staircase. I cast one last wistful glance at my daughter before following her. I could wait six hours. I realized how tired I was as I walked up the staircase. By the time Jaime burst into my room, I may wish I had a few more hours to sleep. I wasn't likely to get another chance until tomorrow night. I had three months of my daughter's lives to catch up on. I didn't plan to waste too much time sleeping when I could be with them.

Lane walked into my room and placed my bags on one of the twin beds. I glanced around the room, mildly surprised that, with the exception of the second twin bed, it was the same room I left eighteen years ago.

"Are you hungry?" Lane offered. "We had spaghetti for supper."

I shook my head. I was a little hungry, but I didn't want to wake our daughters by rummaging in the kitchen. I would gorge tomorrow morning. Breakfast was a big deal with Lane's mother Catherine. "I think I'm too tired to eat."

She nodded. "All right then, goodnight Alison. Sleep well."

Before I could say goodnight, she opened the door to the bathroom that connected my room with hers and quickly left. I stared at the door for a few seconds, trying to read anything into her abrupt departure. I decided there was nothing to read and let it go. I don't know her now the way I knew her then. She was sleepy. She had her own daughter to wake her at seven in the morning.

I pulled a nightgown from my suitcase and left it open on the floor. I stripped, dropped the gown over my head and crawled gratefully into bed. I was exhausted. Sleep should have claimed me quickly, but instead my thoughts drifted to the room connected to mine and to the woman sleeping there. Memories I have denied for eighteen years crowded my thoughts, each demanding acknowledgment. Lane. The most vivid memory was one of the last.

We were in her bedroom at her father's house. It was spring, a few weeks before graduation. Our mothers were home all day, but her father, Christopher, worked. We could be together at his house without worrying about being caught. Lane shocked both families when she came out at fifteen. Not only wasn't I out, I was dating the man I would marry in less than two months.

I don't remember when I started falling for her. We were always close. We had the same friends and shared many of the same activities. The friendship changed when she came out. Suddenly I was competing with other girls for her attention. I hated sharing her. I hated the way she looked at her new girlfriend in ways she never looked at me. Boys I could have handled because I had an edge over them. The girls had an edge over me.

My jealousy turned to some emotion I could not identify when I caught her playing around with her girlfriend. We were sixteen and the school year was ending in a few weeks. My second floor bedroom had a window seat that gave me a perfect view of Lane and her girlfriend swimming in the Cox's pool. Catherine was very strict with Lane. She absolutely positively could not sleep with her girlfriend in her mother's house. Christopher had no such rules and Lane spent more nights at his house than she did with Catherine. I watched them steal kisses and tease each other as if rooted to the floor. Kim Richards was a witless blonde and it wasn't until I saw Lane's hand slide up to caress her breast that I saw the attraction. There couldn't be many girls in our high school that would let her do that.

I spent many hot, achingly sleepless nights tormented by that scene. Slowly, I found myself wanting to know how it felt to kiss another girl, to touch her as Lane touched Kim. I was sleeping with Thomas by then, but nothing we did sent the low clenching heat of that covert caress. Lane and I talked about sex and she was baffled when I complained of frustration and wanting something more. She would try to help me, but it always ended with her saying in a completely bewildered tone that she slept with girls, she didn't know what boys were supposed to do.

Finally summer came. I left Thomas and she left Kim for the annual vacation to the lake house. She didn't want to go and pleaded with her mother to spend the time with her Dad. Catherine wasn't fooled. She knew Lane didn't want to spend three months away from her lover. She spent the first few days in her room sullen and moody. I cajoled, begged, and tempted her with everything I knew to get her to spend time with me. She ignored me by burying her nose in a book.

By the morning of the fifth day, I was bitterly angry with Lane. I was bored and lonely and determined to take everything she said completely the wrong way. She seemed equally as determined not to be pulled into my dark pit of self-pity, but some comment I don't remember now tipped her from apathetic to pissed. After two days of constant bickering and slamming doors, we were sent to our rooms.

It was late when I decided to take a shower. Lane was standing shirtless in the bathroom when I opened the door. She didn't say anything, just gave me a disgusted get-lost-I-was-here-first glare. I watched her strip off her shorts and reach into the tub to turn on the water. I'd seen Lane naked probably a hundred times by then. And a few of those times were recent enough that I shouldn't have been so transfixed by her bare breasts.

I stayed in the doorway until she stepped into the tub and pulled the shower curtain closed. I locked both doors, took off my clothes and stepped into the back of the tub. The moment when she turned to me in surprise, her hands and hair covered in shampoo lather, is crystalline. She had a wide diagonal bruise that started high on her left thigh and ended below her right knee that she got from hitting the dock when she mistimed a swing out over the lake on a rope. The black bikini she wore that summer was perfectly outlined on a body already deeply tanned. What isn't so clear in my memory is what I was thinking when I joined her in the shower and, with her hands still in her hair, pulled her against me to kiss her. The rest of that night, from that first kiss in the shower to the last one several hours later in her bed, is a kaleidoscope of sharply defined images coupled with vague and chaotic thoughts.

Our affair lasted until that day at Christopher's. I was there to tell her I was pregnant and I was going to marry Thomas. I let her tantalizing kisses and touches pull me into one last time with her. When she lay sated in my arms, I held her in a tight hug and quietly broke the news to her. She listened in shocked silence. The disbelief in her blue eyes slowly melted into red-hot fury. She tore herself away from me and ripped me into shreds. I left there numbed and shocked by the anger she unleashed on me.

We never really spoke again. She spent most of her nights at her Dad's. I would see her around school. I never realized until I was confronted with her cold silence just how many things our families did together. When she did speak to me, it was cold and dismissive. She would have skipped our high school graduation if her parents had allowed it. She did talk her grandfather into a trip as her graduation gift and left the day before my wedding for sunny California. My mother was speechless that my best friend, the person everyone assumed would be my maid of honor, skipped the wedding. Catherine, too, seemed at a lost to explain her daughter's sudden personality change. I was living in Chicago when she came back. Tonight is the first time I've seen her in eighteen years.

The girl I remember was lean and lanky with close cropped dark hair. I wasn't prepared for the changes in her. The soft, womanly body under her T-shirt wasn't lost on me. She was grown and her only child was the same age as my youngest. I know that at some point my mother told me about her child and her life, but try as I might, I could pull no details from my memory. I know very little about her life today.

The sky outside my window was still midnight blue when I finally shut my eyes to sleep. I couldn't change the past. I couldn't undo the things I did to her then. My only hope was the calm woman who looked something like my first love would stay around for a while. I expected anger and hatred from Lane. I was bolstered by the absence of both. I refused to let myself wonder if maybe she was calm only because she was sleepy and my presence was unexpected.

This was a bad year. I was willing to believe I was being given a break.

~~

I was jarred to consciousness with excited shrieks of "Mom!" and a body landing on me without warning. I opened heavy eyes to see the pixie cute face of my youngest leaning over mine. Hazel eyes were filled with the wondrous awe usually reserved for Christmas.

"When did you get here?" She demanded her body heavy on mine and her face only inches away.

I pried my arms from under the sheet her legs were pinning to the bed and engulfed my beautiful child in a completely heartfelt bear hug. God how I missed them. "Very late last night."

My hungry gaze was stopped by her short blonde hair. When my mother asked if Jaime could get a haircut, I naturally assumed she meant a trim. Thomas hated short hair on women and refused to allow his daughters to cut their hair above their shoulders. My thoughts of how furious he would be were cut off by the realization that Thomas would never see his youngest with short hair.

Jaime sat back and met my critical gaze with wide eyes. "Are you angry? I like it like this."

I shook my head. She could be bald and I couldn't have cared less at the moment. "No, I'm not angry. Maybe later when I'm not so happy to see you."

She leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. "Hurry up and get dressed. Gran and Aunt Catherine want to see you."

"Gran?" I asked when she almost out of my room.

She grinned at me from the doorway. "Your mother. It's what Kerry calls Aunt Catherine."

I pulled on a pair of khaki shorts and white T-shirt. Everyone knew I drove across two time zones and I forget how many states over several days. I would be given allowances for my appearance. I went to the bathroom to wash my face. The room smelled of a recent shower and light perfume. Brushes, make-up, perfume bottle and toothpaste were lined up neatly on her side of the double sink vanity. I ignored her presence and hurriedly splashed water on my face. God, a month of sharing a bathroom with her. So much for thinking I was finally catching a break.

I heard voices the second I opened my bedroom door. I walked down the short hall that separated the four upstairs bedrooms and stopped at the railing to see who was downstairs. Catherine and my mother were in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Jaime and Kerry were seated at the table. Lane stood behind them pouring milk into glasses. She wore a white swimsuit that left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

Breakfast was blueberry pancakes, my favorite as a child. I was half way down the stairs before I was noticed. My mother hurried from the kitchen to meet me. I've seen her only a few times since my wedding and those were times when she visited us in Chicago. My fear of running into Lane forced me to turn Thomas down every time he suggested we go back to visit. When he demanded to know why I refused to go home, I told him about my affair with Lane. He never asked again.

"Oh honey," she said sadly, but was unable to hide the joy of having me home that was bright in her eyes. She hugged me tightly. "How are you doing?"

I nodded that I was fine. "Hungry. Starved even."

Catherine smiled at me and held out a plate. "Hot off the griddle."

I took the plate and leaned to kiss her on the cheek. "Thank you."

Lane was sitting at the table eating a small bowl of Corn Flakes. I sat in my usual chair next to her. I poured Maple syrup over my short stack of pancakes and said, "I seem to remember another daughter. I think her name was Marley. Is she here anywhere?"

Jaime and Kerry giggled and I glanced at them with a smile. Then I stared at Lane's daughter in fascination. I knew this bright blue-eyed, auburn haired child. I spent many lost summers with her. Kerry caught my stare and her quick grin was the same irrepressible one that crossed her mother's face. Her father, whoever he was, had given her nothing.

"They're still sleeping. Those two sleep until lunch," my mother said from the kitchen.

Lane slipped from her chair. "I'll wake them. Surely this one time of waking before noon won't kill them."

"These are wonderful Catherine," I said after my first bite.

Her smile was brief. "Then talk Lane into eating some."

Before I could reply, Kerry shook her head and scowled at Catherine. "If you don't leave her alone, she's gonna go home. I don't want her to leave."

"I don't want her to leave either sweetheart. But she needs to eat," Catherine said patiently and kissed her granddaughter's head. She looked over at me. "Lane was in a car accident in January. She's only here because she's still recovering."

I was shocked and my eyes immediately went to her daughter. Kerry was staring down at her plate, obviously remembering what had to be the worst time in her young life. I said gently, "I never would have known. She seems just like I remember her."

Kerry looked up and saw me watching her. "She's almost better."

Almost better did not sound good eight months after the accident. I kicked myself for not listening to my mother when she called. Surely she told me of the accident, but skipped the details when I didn't ask if Lane was all right or how badly she was hurt. I'd have to ask later.

"They'll be down in a minute," Lane said as she came down the stairs.

I watched her walk to her seat and looked for signs that she was hurt. She was slender and I didn't think too much about it last night because she always was, but now there was a gauntness about her that didn't seem healthy. When she turned to sit down, I saw the thin faintly red scar that ran along her jaw from her chin to behind her ear. There were several smaller, wider scars on her neck and shoulder.

Silence dropped over the table and I felt rather than saw Lane pick up on the fact that it was because she was back. She sighed and picked up her spoon. "Kerry, before you and Jaime run off to play, we need to call Trish. I know she'll be in her office until ten at least."

My heart stuttered. Trish. A woman's name. Of course, Lane was still gay. Of course, she had a lover. Of course, they would call her. But please God, don't let her of course be coming here on the weekends to be with her girlfriend.

"Why?" Kerry asked bewildered.

Lane stood up with her bowl. "If she wants you this weekend, we have to leave tomorrow night."

Lane walked into the kitchen, obviously thinking the subject was closed. Her words sent an unhappy wave across the room. She rinsed her bowl and put it in the dishwasher.

"Leave tomorrow night?" Catherine echoed. She turned in her chair to watch Lane.

Lane came from the kitchen and picked up a thin paperback from the table. She looked over the table, at the faces staring at her. She nodded, her eyes narrowed in annoyance. "I have an agreement with Trish, remember? That doesn't change just because I have other plans."

Catherine bit down on her own anger. "Invite her here then. We have the room. She liked coming here."

"I don't-" Lane began.

Kerry cut her off to say in a pleading voice, "Can't we even ask? She might want to get away from home, too."

Lane visibly steeled herself. She dropped her eyes to her mother. "And Shelly? Is she included in this invitation?"

Catherine stared up at Lane silently. Finally, she looked over at Kerry's hopeful face before nodding, "Yes, the invitation includes Shelly."

Lane's voice was clipped. "Fine, when we call Kerry can invite them. Is everyone happy now?"

She walked into the living room. Catherine took a deep breath and gave her granddaughter a brief smile. Kerry watched Lane with a frown and looked over at Jaime. My daughter simply shook her head. No, everyone was not happy now.

Breakfast was almost over by the time by oldest managed to come downstairs. A tall cheerleader cute blonde followed her. I was hurt by Marley's lack of excitement. Her hug was brief and she barely met my eyes. I watched her prepare a plate and sit down in the chair next to Jaime. I was astonished to learn the blonde was Nicole, Catherine's youngest. She was one when I married Thomas. I quickly counted up the years and was just as surprised to realize that her son Matthew, the adorable three-year-old ring bearer at my wedding, was now twenty-one.

"Mom, wanna call now?" Kerry asked.

With that, breakfast was over. My mother and Catherine moved to the kitchen to clean up after the meal. Jaime wandered into the living room to wait for Kerry. Marley and Nicole went upstairs to change into swimsuits. I decided to change into my suit as well. Everyone was going to be out by the lake soon and I planned to be with them.

I was scanning the books in my room, a collection of romances I liked to read at seventeen, when someone knocked on the door. "Come in."

I turned when the door closed and was surprised to see Lane leaning back against it. I kept my eyes firmly on her face. That white suit was almost sheer. "I need to ask a favor."

I nodded without giving any real thought to what kind of favor she could ask of me. "Okay."

She looked away, out of the window at the lake. "Trish is my ex. Shelly is her girlfriend. They're going to come up here for the weekend. If Jaime sleeps with you and Kerry sleeps with me, they can have that room. Otherwise, there really isn't room for them. Will you do it?"

"Um, sure. I don't think either of us will mind sharing a room for a few days with our daughters."

A smile quirked her lips briefly. She turned to open the door. "We may not mind, but they do. Kerry wants me to share a room with you so that she can still share with Jaime. I said no, but I expect to be asked again."

She slipped from the room without waiting for my reply. This was good because I didn't have one. The last thing I wanted was to share a room with her. I didn't trust myself to be good with her so close. Which was bad because I didn't know if she had a girlfriend or not. It was safer for me to assume she did. Lane always had a girlfriend.

~~

The house was empty by the time I got downstairs. I went out onto the porch and saw Lane, Marley and Nicole stretched out in lounge chairs. I could see Jaime and Kerry standing on the dock. I glanced over the yard, looking for my mother and Catherine, and noticed one of the cars was gone. I walked to where they were sunning themselves.

"Hey Mom," Marley said with a bright smile. It was the first genuine emotion I felt from her. I patted her on the head and sat in the chair next to hers. I glanced over the covers of the books the others were reading. Marley was reading Sidney Sheldon. Nicole's was a science fiction book with a winged dragon on the cover. My heart stopped when I saw that Lane's had Lesbian Mystery written on the front.

It never occurred to me to worry about my daughters in Atlanta. I refused to think about Lane so I didn't consider her contact with my daughters. I wasn't concerned so much for Marley. She was eighteen. I looked over at Jaime swimming with Kerry. How much did Kerry know of her mother's private life? Did she learn that Mommy likes girls when she learned her ABC's? How much did she know and understand and how much did she tell Jaime? Jaime was only twelve. I heard Jaime laugh, watched her splash Kerry in the face before turning to swim away. Kerry screamed and wiped the water from her eyes before she lunged at Jaime. They were both laughing as they tried to push each other under the water. I looked over at Lane. I had let it go. Whatever Jaime knew, whatever she'd seen, there was nothing I could do about it now.

"Lane, where are Jules and Cat?"

She looked up and glanced at the girls before answering me. "They went to Charleston for groceries."

"Lane can't leave until she gains twenty pounds," Nicole said without looking up from her book.

Lane laughed. "When Shelly gets here, that's going to be the least I can get away with."

Nicole sat up in interest. "Shelly's coming here? Does Mom know?"

Lane peered over the top of her book. "Yes, she knows. This is Trish's weekend with Kerry. Mom doesn't want us to leave so she invited them up here."

"Geez, hell froze over last night," Nicole said softly.

Lane smiled and once again glanced at the girls before replying. "So it would seem. Maybe it is too much to ask, but she would like Shelly if she gave her a chance. Hell, I love Shelly. She's the best thing that ever happened to Trish."

"I thought you were the best thing that ever happened to her," Nicole teased.

"No, neither of us was the best thing that happened to the other." There was a finality to Lane's voice that signaled an end to the conversation.

Talking was limited to the few times Jaime and Kerry came over to ask a question. I was irked by the fact that both went to Lane. She answered without looking at me to see if I had anything to add. Several hours after I came out, she excused herself and walked down to the dock. I glanced up to see Jaime and Kerry walking inside with her. I followed, curious.

"What's going on?" I asked when I found Lane in the kitchen.

She turned in surprise. "What?"

I stared past her to the peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches prepared behind her on the counter. From upstairs, I heard the sounds of water running. I checked my watch, not at all surprised to see that it was only a few minutes before noon.

"What are you doing?"

"Making lunch for the kids," she said slowly, as if I was a dim-witted child.

The kids. I realized that was all she called Jaime and Kerry. Not our daughters. Not by name. The kids, like they were a set. "I can make lunch for my daughter."

She stared at me for several long beats. She dipped her head once at me, conceding the point. "I'm sorry Alison. I'm just used to including Jaime with Kerry."

"What does that mean?"

She saw that I was truly annoyed and I saw her own anger begin to form. "It means that for the past six weeks, your daughter has been living with me. It was either that or give Kerry to Julia. I wasn't willing to do that."

"Jaime's been living with you?" I repeated, stunned. My mother never once mentioned that Jaime was living with Lane.

She walked to the counter that separated us. Her eyes were narrowed and her voice was low. "Yes. Why? Do you have a problem with your daughter staying in my home?"

"Do you have a girlfriend right now?" I asked. That wasn't the question I meant to ask and I knew that my motive for asking wasn't maternal at all, but it was too late to take it back.

Her voice went cold. "My daughter lives in my house, too. Even if I don't want to protect your daughter, I sure as hell protect mine. If you don't want me around your kid, fine. I'll take mine and go home. If I could have found an excuse not to be here, I would be in Atlanta. So give me a reason to leave."

Happy feet scampered down the stairs. Lane shot me a dark look and turned her attention to the two young girls blissfully unaware to the currents flowing over their heads. They had changed into shorts and T-shirts.

"Can we have Coke instead of milk? We had milk for breakfast," Kerry asked. Her mother was holding a gallon of milk.

"You can honey. Jaime, you need to ask your mother," Lane said, barely keeping her voice from sounding clipped.

Jaime looked surprised and turned to look at me with an uncertain expression. Lane handed Kerry a plate, but left the other one sitting on the counter. Jaime had picked up on the tension, but now Kerry did, too. She took the plate and looked from her mother to me.

"So, do we leave? Believe me, I can be packed and out of here within the hour."

"You said you'd stay-" Kerry began, but Lane cut her off with a sharp glance.

"I'm sorry. I overreacted. I was just surprised." My voice sounded hollow to my own ears.

"Whatever," Lane said to me and I recognized the tone in her voice. I was dismissed. She nudged her daughter to the dining table. "Go eat. We're going into Charleston after I take a shower."

I watched her walk up the staircase. She didn't look back.

Kerry sat down slowly at the table and she only turned to look at me after her mother disappeared upstairs. "I don't want to go to Charleston."

I debated about what to do to defuse Lane. I wasn't surprised that she was defensive with me. After all, I did leave her to marry a man she knew I didn't love. I wasn't going to be allowed even an inch with her and I had better chose my words carefully. She would pack up and take her daughter back to Atlanta in a heartbeat.

I smiled at Kerry. "Would you want to go to Charleston if Jaime and I went with you?"

Her eyes lit up and she nodded happily. "Yeah, that'd be great."

"Let me talk to your Mom."

I waited in my room until I heard the water shut off in the bathroom. I summoned my courage and opened the connecting door. Her door was open and I walked through the bathroom and stood in the doorway.

"I'll have to remember to lock the door." She was standing in front of her closet wearing only a pair of Levi's.

"Kerry doesn't want to go to Charleston," I said.

She reached into her closet for a red polo shirt. "I didn't ask if she wanted to go."

I watched her slip on her bra and drop the shirt over her head. Her breasts were fuller than I remembered. She sat on the bed to put on a pair of Nike running shoes. She stood up and looked at me with a cool gaze. "Was there something else?"

"I'm sorry Lane. I would like for Jaime and Kerry to be friends. Moving to Atlanta will be easier for my daughters if they have friends."

She brushed by me to enter the bathroom. She quickly ran a hairbrush through her damp hair. She turned to face me when I continued to stand behind her. "I'll be honest with you. I will do almost anything for my daughter, but putting up with your attitude is not one of them. I am not going to walk on eggshells because you can't handle my life around your kids. Before you decide Kerry would be a good friend for Jaime, you'd better understand that Kerry knows I'm gay and she knows what that means."

I chose my words as carefully as I would walk through a minefield. "I'm an over protective mother. I always have been. But even if Jaime doesn't already know that you're gay, and I am sure that she and Kerry have discussed it at length, I would tell her because you and Kerry are going to part of our lives. I never cared that you're gay Lane. I don't now."

She stared at me, her face closed as she considered my sincerity. I forced myself to meet her distrustful eyes. Finally, she shrugged and nodded. "Fine."

I grinned. "Good, then may Jaime and I come with you to Charleston? Kerry was happier about going when I said we would come if you didn't mind."

"Sure. Just ask me next time before you ask her. I don't like to disappoint her if I don't have to." She turned back to the mirror to finish with her hair. She sprayed perfume across the front of her shirt before she stepped back into her room.

I told her to give me thirty minutes to get ready. I was downstairs ready to walk out to the door in twenty-five.

~~

Charleston is a pleasant thirty-minute drive from the lake house. I was content to sit in the passenger side of Lane's blue Mercedes SUV. I was content to let anyone else do the driving at least for the next few days. Lane hummed to an oldies rock station and the girls chatted happily about the stores they wanted to visit. We were going to the mall.

"Mom," Kerry asked, "Did you ask her yet?"

It was startling to hear someone I remembered as an impossible adolescent being called Mom. It was very hard for me to imagine her as someone's mother. And Lane never mentioned wanting children.

"Ask who what?"

"Did you ask Alison about sharing a room?"

Lane glanced into the rearview mirror at her daughter. "I've already answered that question."

"But you didn't even ask her."

"She won't mind," Jaime chimed in.

Lane shrugged. "I mind. I've been sleeping with her since I was eight. She has cold feet and she hogs the blanket."

Jaime and Kerry laughed. I smiled because she was telling the truth. She once said that the best thing about having sex with me is that I shared the blankets with her.

"But that was ages ago. She could've changed," Kerry persisted.

"Kerry you can sleep with me or you can sleep on the living room floor. Let me know what you decide." Lane said in a calm, somewhat bored voice.

I knew what was coming. I turned to Jaime. "Yes, you can sleep on the floor with her."

They gave each other high fives. Nice. My daughter preferred sleeping on a hardwood floor with another girl rather than sleep in a soft bed in a room with me. I was right. Lane and Kerry were going to be a part of our lives.

The mall was predictably crowded and we were lucky to find a spot half way down a row near the entrance.

"Do we have to stay with you?" Kerry asked as we headed for the doors.

Lane shook her head. "No. You can pretend you don't know us."

"Cool," Jaime said with excitement. Alone in the mall. Every twelve year olds dream; every child molester's fantasy.

She stopped and looked down at her watch. "It's one-thirty. Meet us in the food court every half hour. You don't have to stop, just wave as you pass."

They hurried into the mall, giggling and holding hands. I turned to Lane with a frown. "Does the mother of the second child get a choice in this?"

Black mirrored sunglasses hid her eyes. "I'm sorry Alison. Follow them if you want. But Kerry will find me every time she wants something. She doesn't have any money."

We walked into the air conditioned, sunlit mall. "You're a very good mother. You were such a brat. It's strange to see you not only as her mother, but so good at it."

She shot me a wicked grin. "It's because I was such a brat. That kid doesn't have anything on me. I did it all and thought it all before she was born."

"So Kerry is just like you? I do remember Catherine wishing that upon you once or twice." More like once a week. By the time Lane was seventeen, her parent's control over her was an illusion and all three knew it. She did what she wanted when she wanted and didn't care who knew.

She pulled her sunglasses off and slid one side down between her breasts. "Exactly like me."

We had reached the food court, which was in the middle of the mall. Corridors lined with stores branched off in three directions in front of us. Lane turned to me. "I only want to stay here a few hours. I told the kids yesterday I would bring them here today for books and games. If you don't want to come to the food court every half hour, that's fine. I can. Just come back in about two hours. Okay?"

"I don't want to be here alone, Lane," I said carefully. I was surprised she thought I would go off by myself. Coming to the mall was her idea.

She stared at me. "Then why did you come?"

The simple question erased all thought from my brain. I didn't have an answer for her. Kerry didn't want to come to Charleston without Jaime, but I could have let Jaime go without tagging along with them. I couldn't say I came because I wanted to be with my children. Marley was still at the lake house and Jaime was with Kerry. I came because it never occurred to me that she did not want me here.

"Fine, Alison, you can stay with me. The kids won't be on their own if you're with them."

I followed her into a music store feeling very unwanted.

Several hours later found the four us in a bookstore. I won't say that Lane ignored me that afternoon, but she didn't go out of her way to make me feel welcome. Her smiles were brief, her replies to my questions never more than the question asked. The only time she was animated were the checks with the girls in the food court.

I was wandering through the aisles of books, realizing belatedly that reading was a habit I lost over the years. I couldn't remember the last time I sat down and read for the simple enjoyment of it. I turned a rack of books and discovered Lane and the girls in front of the teen section. Kerry was kneeling beside Lane while Jaime was standing under Lane's arm.

I stepped back and listened to their conversation from the safety of the science fiction section.

"I don't know," Jaime said in a doubtful tone.

Lane replied in a warm, gentle voice, "Well, give the books you want to Kerry and I'll buy them for you. Okay?"

I did not have to see Jaime's face to know she was staring up at Lane with love filled hazel eyes. I heard it clearly in her voice. "Thanks Lane. I'd like that."

"I'm going to the mysteries. Come get me when you're ready."

I waited a minute before walking around the bookrack. Both girls were kneeling on the floor. They were looking at books from a popular line of scary kids books. Books I didn't let Jaime read because the one and only time I did, she spent an hour after her bedtime pleading with me to sleep with her. Thomas finally hit the roof and screamed at her to go to bed. She was withdrawn and silent for days.

"Finding anything?" I asked.

Jaime jumped off balance and fell against Kerry. She looked at me with fear in her eyes. "Uh, yeah, some."

Books were stacked at Kerry's feet and I reached down for the one on top. "Lane lets you read these?"

Kerry nodded and looked over at Jaime before staring up at me with cool blue eyes. "My Mom lets me read what I want."

I handed her the book. Her message was clear: my mother isn't like you. It was a shock to realize that while my daughter loved Lane, her daughter wasn't sure she liked me. "We need to be getting back to the house so hurry up okay?"

They nodded and I walked away. I decided, as I searched the store for Lane, that I would not get angry over this. Jaime could read the books and if sleeping with Kerry wasn't enough to calm her jitters, she could sleep with me. I did cynically acknowledge that she might prefer to sleep with Lane. I'm sure that some time over the past six weeks she had shared her bed with the girls.

"Are you ready to go?" I noticed that her hands were book-free.

She nodded. "I am if you and the kids are."

I didn't say a word as Lane paid for the books Kerry handed her.

We were a quiet group on the drive back to the lake house. I slumped down and felt that I could fall asleep in the comfy bucket leather seat. The girls talked about the books and games she bought them and planned to play Monopoly after dinner.

"What time are Mom and Shelly coming?" Kerry asked suddenly.

"I don't know." Lane sounded drowsy herself.

"Didn't you ask?"

"No."

Kerry sat up to lean over Lane's shoulder. "I have an idea. Can I ask you?"

"Not if it concerns sleeping arrangements over the weekend."

"But Mom, the floor's hard," she said softly pleading.

"You don't have to sleep on the floor. You can sleep with me." Lane's voice warned that she was tired of this subject.

"I know. And I do want to sleep with you. And with Jaime. We could sleep with you and Alison."

Lane shook her head. "No Kerry, don't even ask me. Do you understand? Do not even ask."

Kerry slid down between the bucket seats to look up at her mother. "Please Mom? We can alternate so-"

In a harder tone than I have ever heard her use, Lane said, "Sit back in the seat right now."

The second Kerry was sitting safely on the back seat, Lane swerved to the side of the road and came to a slamming halt. I watched as she jumped from the driver's seat and jerked open Kerry's passenger door. Blue eyes blazed in her face. "Out."

Kerry obeyed without question, but sent a terrified glance back at Jaime before she slipped from the SUV. Lane took her arm and pulled her to the back of the car. I turned and Jaime and I watched them.

Lane began ticking off points on her fingers. Kerry stared up at her and nodded after each point was made. Finally, Lane put her hands on Kerry's shoulders and bent down so that they were eye level. Kerry's head dropped and Lane lifted her face by cupping her chin. She made one final point and Kerry nodded. Lane kissed her on the lips before walking her back to the car door.

Lane closed the door after Kerry was buckled safely in and got back into the driver's seat. I glanced back at Kerry. She was staring at me with bitter eyes. "Mom if you want to go home, we can. I don't mind Sunshine's all that much."

Lane pulled onto the highway before glancing in the rearview mirror at her daughter. "You hate Sunshine's. If I decide to go home, you can stay with your grandmother. Trish and Shelly can have me on your weekends."

Kerry turned to stare out the window. "No, if you leave I'm going with you."

The rest of the drive was made in silence.

~~

I didn't bother to knock on Lane's connecting door. I opened the door and walked into her bedroom. She was sitting on her bed untying her Nikes. She stood up to face me. "Pretend that door doesn't exist, Alison. I don't want to see you walk through it again."

I waved her tone away. I'm not Kerry. She wasn't giving me orders. "What did you say to Kerry on the road?"

"Nothing that concerns you."

"Oh, I think it does. Your daughter hates me and I know it can't be anything I've done so it must be something you said. What did you tell her Lane, that I hate lesbians? I think you should have been sterilized after you came out? What?"

Lane kicked off her shoes. "I told her the truth, that you don't want your daughter sleeping with a queer. If I had known you were like this, I never would have let them become friends. The last thing Kerry needs is another friend with a homophobic mother."

I stared at her in blank amazement. She tossed her shirt and bra to the bed and reached for the top button on her 501's. I was homophobic? Without thinking, I walked over to her. Her pants were unbuttoned and she had her hands at her waist to slide her jeans off. I pushed her to the bed and fell on top of her. Shocked eyes stared up at me.

"Homophobic?" I repeated, astonished she thought she could accuse me of that.

"Get off me. This doesn't prove a damn thing." She was lying under me and her hands were caught under her back. She struggled under me, but I wasn't given her the slightest bit of room to wiggle away.

"What would Lane? Just how do I prove to you that I'm not homophobic?"

Her eyes were cold and hard as she stared up at me. "You can't. Now get off because my door isn't locked and I do not want Kerry to walk in on this."

I met her chilly stare. At that moment, I didn't care if everyone walked in on us. "Why not? Doesn't she know we were lovers? She knows everything else."

"I'm not saying it again, Alison. Get off of me, now," she said with clenched teeth. A fury I remembered all too well burned in her eyes.

I debated my options. I was heavier than she was. I was on top. I was confident that she could not force me off physically. I was also confident that I would win no points with her if I pushed this to a wrestling match. I slipped off of her and watched her push herself to a sitting position.

Her struggle for control was a fascinating thing to watch. I was impressed. Eighteen years ago, she used her fury to tear me apart. Now, she could rein her emotions in with only a little effort. Blue eyes flashed over me and I was jolted by the memory of that same look in her eyes. Hurt from someone she never thought would hurt her. Betrayal from someone she never thought would betray her. I thought I was forgiven. I was wrong.

"Did I hurt you that bad Lane? That you hate me?" I decided to go for the truth. If she hated me, there was no way Jaime and Kerry could be friends.

I thought she was going to ignore me. She sat against the headboard and stared at me coolly before she sighed and looked away. I wanted to demand that she look at me. Her eyes always gave her away. "No, I don't hate you. I don't trust you and I am not letting Kerry get hurt. She's had enough."

I asked softly, "How can I hurt Kerry? I want her to be friends with Jaime. I need them to be friends."

She stood up and buttoned her jeans. She picked a T-shirt up from the foot of the bed and pulled it on. "Not like this, not when I'm waiting for you to freak out on me because of some exposure to my life. I am not going to be blindsided by this and I am not going to spend my time trying to second guess where your lines are drawn."

I would give her that. I had blindsided her in the past. I took my time replying. If I didn't say this exactly right, I had no illusions that she would give me another chance. "I don't have any lines, Lane. Any that you see are ones you drew yourself. Okay, so this morning I overreacted. I'm very sorry for that. You know that it wasn't that you're gay. At least you should know. God, how would you feel if you found out that Kerry had been living with someone for over a month and you didn't know? This is my daughter. Is it really so hard for you to understand that I want to know where she is?"

I walked to where she stood with her arms crossed. She warily watched me come to her. I reached out and very deliberately put my hands on her arms. "I would have been just as stunned and just as upset if I learned she'd been living with Catherine and no one bothered to tell me. Can this be the end of this? Please? I really don't want to keep having this conversation with you."

"Before this is the end, you should know that I let Trish and Shelly have Jaime when they had Kerry." There was a challenge in her tone. A kind of let's see how open-minded you really are quality.

I shrugged. "So? Ex or not, if Trish wasn't trustworthy you would not let Kerry stay with her."

I stepped back, telling myself that I would give her time to get comfortable with me again. So much had changed in our lives the past eighteen years. We were different people as thirty something adults than we were as teenagers. She would have to learn I'm not the same callous kid who left her because I didn't have the courage to live openly as a lesbian.

"I don't mind letting them sleep with me if you don't mind them sleeping with you."

She walked to the bed and unsnapped her jeans. She threw me a tired smile. "No thanks. If I have a choice, I'd rather Kerry didn't sleep with me right now. Besides, last night they begged to sleep down there. They deserve to sleep there."

I stepped into the bathroom. "Alison," I paused with my hand on the door. She was slipping into bed. "I'm going to take a nap. Will you tell the kids and my Mom for me?"

I nodded and watched her slide down under the covers. With only the light from the bathroom falling on her face, the shadows under her eyes were prominent. I quietly shut her door and walked into my own room.

~~

While Lane slept, I took over the maternal role for Jaime and Kerry. Kerry was stiff with me, but I saw hope for a relationship with her when she listened to me when I asked her and Jaime to do something. I was no one to her and her grandmother was handy so she could have easily blown me off without reprimand.

While they were playing a spirited game of Monopoly with Marley and Nikki, I sat with Catherine and my mother at the table. Catherine was torn between letting Lane sleep and waking her to eat. I kept my voice low as I asked, "Lane's accident. How badly was she hurt?"

Catherine darted a quick glance at the players. She turned back to me and I saw in her eyes how horrible that time was for her. "Her neck was broken. At first, they thought she was paralyzed."

My mother reached for Catherine's hand. "Lane had this little sports car and it was totaled. They had to cut her from the car. It seemed like she was in surgery for days."

Catherine shut her eyes. She was shattered and her soft voice betrayed the cracks time could never fill. "They didn't think she would live through the night. They never thought she would walk from the hospital."

I listened to them in a horrified silence. How could I have not heard my mother when she told me this? I know she called and told me. She would have told me the worst thing that happened to either of our families. Was it really possible that I was able to shut Lane so completely from my life that I never heard a word my mother said?

"Is she all right now?" I managed to ask.

Catherine nodded and some of the pain lifted from her eyes. "Almost one hundred percent. She gets tired easily. She still has headaches. She's here to relax."

Almost one hundred percent. Almost better, as Kerry said. I looked to where Lane's young daughter was happily taking a handful of money from Marley. Jaime and Kerry might have been friends anyway, but the fact that one had lost a parent and the other had almost lost one gave them a common ground few other kids their age would have. I was grateful Jaime and Kerry could share that experience with each other. Maybe they would recover faster from it.

~~

I was reading in bed when I heard Lane moving around in her room later that night. I glanced at the clock to see it was after midnight. Jaime and Kerry had gone off to bed without protest at eleven. When I heard her in the bathroom, I decided to check on her. I slipped from my bed and walked over to knock on the closed door.

She cracked open the door and stared at me with one sleepy blue eye. "Yes?"

"Are you all right? Cat wanted to wake you hours ago to eat."

The door opened a few inches. She rested her forehead against the doorframe. "She acts like she just brought me home from the hospital. She tries to feed me every two hours."

"She did just bring you home from the hospital," I reminded her gently.

She lifted her eyes to stare at me for a moment. She nodded with a weary smile. "I know, and I do try to make allowances for that. This has been harder for her and Kerry than it has for me. I want my life back the way it was."

I was surprised she thought that would ever be possible. She almost died. That was something her family would never forget. She was mortal and now they all knew it. "Are you hungry? Cat made you a plate. At least throw the food away so that tomorrow she thinks you ate."

She grinned and for one brief heartbeat, I saw my Lane. I was caught off guard by that glimpse into the past. She turned away and I slowly began to breathe again. She was still there. Behind the responsible mother and successful executive was the beautiful wild young woman I had loved so much.

"Come down with me? I don't want to eat alone," she said through the cracked door. Water was turned on and off.

"Sure, I'll go down, but I'm not hungry. I had a ton of popcorn with the girls."

She came from the bathroom in just her T-shirt. She was sweetly rumpled. I followed her down the stairs, watching the way the T-shirt swayed with every step down and gave me teasing glimpses of lacy pale blue panties. I couldn't believe this beautifully curved woman used to be a lanky, boyish kid. Thank you Kerry.

"What did they watch tonight? I'm sick to death of Finding Nemo. What do you think really happens to video's left in cars during the summer?"

I laughed. "They melt. They watched Star Wars. They want to go tomorrow and rent some new movies."

I sat at the table while she went into the kitchen. "Okay. I don't think Trish and Shelley will be here until late. Trish doesn't leave work early for anything."

She moved around the kitchen. She had her plate warming in the microwave and was pouring a glass of coke. Trish. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the woman who shared her daughter. I wanted to know how they met, how long they were together, if Lane was still in love with her. The usual questions.

"What does she do?" I asked and hoped my tone was casual.

Lane brought the plate and her glass to the table. We'd had meatloaf and a medley of wild rice and vegetables. She sat across from me. "She's an Assistant District Attorney."

"How did you meet?"

Blue eyes flicked up from under her bangs. She shrugged as if mentally deciding she didn't care why I was asking about her ex. "At a bar in Athens. We were both freshmen and gay so it seemed like fate or something. We were together for sixteen years."

I wasn't expecting that. I stared at her. Only months after I left, she met the woman with whom she would have a child and build her life. So much for thinking that I hurt her. So much for thinking I had ever meant anything real to her. Some of my guilt vanished. I had overestimated my place in her life.

"And she gets Kerry every other weekend?" I asked. They were still friends. That said a lot about their relationship and even more about their break-up.

Lane nodded. "And two weeks during summer and part of the holidays. She's Kerry's mother. I'm not doing anything to make either of them think she's less than that. She will always have as much say in Kerry's life as I do."

I was impressed by her generosity. She probably didn't have a legal obligation to let Trish anywhere near their daughter. Gay parents have so few legal rights even when they are the natural parent. I didn't see how Trish could have any rights to Kerry except those that Lane allowed. I doubt I would be so kind to an ex-lover, especially when she already had a new lover.

"How does Kerry get along with her girlfriend?" I watched Lane closely for any sign that she was not as happily adjusted with Trish's girlfriend as she pretended.

Her smile was easy and wistful. "Kerry hated her. She wanted us back together and that wasn't going happen if we were with someone else. She might still hate her if not for my accident. Shelly's a doctor. She broke all kinds of rules for Kerry. She's the one person who really did what was best for Kerry during that time."

"She wasn't one of your doctors though, was she? Cat doesn't like her very much."

"Actually, she was one of my doctors. She was in the ER when I was brought in. She didn't recognize me because, even though we had met a few times, I was in pretty bad shape. She didn't realize who I was until I was off to surgery and she went to talk to the family. She knew Kerry of course."

She ate a few bites before resuming her story. Her voice had none of the chill that had saturated her tone whenever she talked to me during the day. "Mom doesn't like her because she thinks Shelly took Trish away from me. They were sleeping together when Trish was still living with me. What she doesn't understand, and frankly, I haven't tried to explain to her, is that we were friends pretending to be lovers. I tried to be angry about it, but the truth is I was relieved one of us had the courage to end it."

"Then why haven't you found anyone else?" I surprised myself by asking. I was stepping onto forbidden ground. I didn't have any right to ask about the most private part of her life. Especially when I didn't know she hadn't found someone else. She never answered my question about having a girlfriend.

She shrugged and pushed her plate away. She'd eaten over half the meal. "Maybe because after spending all day at the office and after I kiss my daughter goodnight, there is only an hour or two left for me to be Lane. Looking for someone to share that time with is low priority."

I took her plate to the kitchen. "That's sad Lane."

When I came from the kitchen, she was standing in the living room looking through the videos. I stood uncertain by the table and wondered if my presence was still wanted. I was tired, I should have been exhausted, but I doubted I could go to sleep if I lay down. I knew I couldn't if I could spend some more time with her.

She turned to me. Her smile was quick and amused. "I never should've let them pick out the videos. Tomorrow let's get some adult fare while we're at the store."

I took her comment as an invitation to join her in the living room. "Then I guess we go back to Charleston in the morning."

She popped one of the videos into the VCR. "Not really. Baldwin's grown. We have our own little shopping center. There's even a gourmet food shop."

"Do you really think Trish and Shelly will come in late?"

She sat in one of the recliners and I curled up on the couch. This had a familiar feeling. How many times did we come down here and watch videos in the middle of the night when we were kids? Too many to count. At least half the nights we were here, especially before we realized we could skinny-dip in the lake. It seemed that most of the memories, when I really thought about it, was time spent with Lane after midnight.

"Yes. Trish won't want to come early, too tied to work. If Shelly uses her magic powers they'll be here by mid-afternoon."

Her voice was sleepy. I snuggled down on the couch and rested my head on the arm. I should rouse both of us and take us back upstairs. Sleeping in a recliner probably wasn't a place her mother or doctors would approve of her sleeping. I didn't because I didn't want to let this time go. She was only nice to me tonight because she was sleepy. Tomorrow she would be back to her cool, aloof self. Who knew when I would have a chance to be with her like this again? I didn't care that we were both falling asleep or that nothing else would be said between us. I wasn't ready to let her go.

2.

Breakfast was almost over by the time I woke the next morning. I glanced over at the recliner knowing that Lane would be gone. I sat up on the couch. The same players from yesterday were sitting at the table. I glanced to the upstairs. Marley and Nikki went to bed with the girls and were still in their room. I was beginning to wonder just what they were doing up there all this time.

"She's awake," Jaime said loudly.

All heads turned to me. I stood up and stretched. The couch wasn't comfortable. I did not plan to sleep there again, unless of course Lane was sleeping in the recliner. I walked to the dining area. "Good morning."

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, thick slices of bacon, grits, and freshly made biscuits. This was not the kind of breakfast advocated by the medical profession, except for a certain woman recovering from a car accident. I sat next to Lane, glancing at her plate as I did. She wasn't eating cereal this morning and I doubt it would have been allowed. Catherine wasn't making these big breakfasts for anyone else.

"Shelly called early this morning. They'll be here around one so when you're awake enough, do you want to go with us to the video store?" Lane asked, almost continuing our conversation from last night.

A plate appeared in front of me. My mother slipped her arms around my shoulders to give me a brief, tight hug. I felt guilty for staying away so long, especially since my reason for doing so was never valid. "Sure. Do I have time to eat and take a shower?"

Her quick grin was mischievous. "If you must."

I returned her grin. "I must," I replied, using the response we had been using since we were twelve. The last of my fears slid away. We were going to be all right.

Marley and Nikki did not appear before we were ready to go. I decided to have a talk with her some time today. If what I thought was happening was happening, I wanted to know. I think I wanted to know. Did I? I wouldn't be surprised if Nikki was gay. She grew up with Lane as one of her role models. No one would have ever told her she couldn't be a lesbian and she would have learned nothing about the hardships of being gay from Lane's life. She could be gay and she could be happy with that life. I didn't believe it was as easy as it had been for Lane.

I wanted to ask Lane, I believed she would know even if our mothers didn't, but it wasn't something I wanted to ask in front of Jaime and Kerry.

The Baldwin Centre was a U shaped plaza with several stores that catered more to the visitor's that came to Baldwin than to the people who were year round residents. TCBY, Starbucks, and Chili's aren't typical stores for a tiny South Carolina town.

"Why didn't we come here yesterday?" I asked the obvious. Why did our mothers drive all the way to the Charleston for groceries?

"This isn't for the old timers like us. This is for the Brookenridge crowd. Time-share condos. I only come for the video store."

The young woman behind the counter greeted Lane with a very friendly hello and smile. Lane grimaced as she walked past and whispered, "You're all out of Disney aren't you?"

The woman laughed and shook her head. "Sorry."

"What kind of stuff should we get for us?" She asked me. We were standing in the Drama section.

"You know your friends. What do you think they'll like?" I countered.

"They aren't coming here to watch TV. This is for us, for when the kids are in bed."

For us when the kids are in bed? I didn't want to get too excited, but to me that meant last night was to be the norm and not the exception. I glanced over the titles and saw nothing that really caught my eye. "Maybe the Top 40 would be a better place to look."

We left an hour later with ten videos, five for each of us. Disney was featured prominently in the girl's selections. We stopped for yogurt cones before going back home. It was a pleasant hour. I hoped to enjoy many more of them.

~~

"Mom? Can I talk to you for a minute?"

I motioned Marley into my bedroom. I was changing into my swimsuit before joining the others outside by the lake. Marley and Nikki were sunning themselves when we drove up. I didn't see her follow me. "Sure. Come in."

She was nervous and sat on the foot of the bed.

I pulled off my shirt and was unzipping my shorts when the silence had me turning to face her. She was staring down at the hands clasped in her lap. "Marley? Is something wrong?"

She looked up at me with fear in her eyes. I'm not used to my daughters being afraid of me. My alarms went into action.

She swallowed and getting courage from somewhere, she sat up straight. She kind of looked me in the eye. "Do you know that Lane and Nikki are gay?"

I forced a smile to my face. I had to be very careful to not give her any reason to become defensive. I hoped I was ready for this. "Not Nikki, but I know about Lane. She's been out since we were in high school."

Her hazel eyes were troubled. "How do you feel about that?"

"There's nothing to feel. My best friend came out before I knew it was something that would make most people uncomfortable. I love Lane. She likes girls. She also likes chocolate chip ice cream."

That elicited a small smile from her. I was glad to see her fears lessening. "What if...I was gay? Would you feel anything then?"

My heart fell. I hope it didn't show in my eyes how disappointed I was for her. I wanted the best and easiest life for my daughters and I know it's not the gay lifestyle. "I'll be afraid for you. But that's all. I love you."

I asked my next questions hesitantly. "Do you think you might be gay or do you think you are?"

I watched the grin dart across my daughter's face and I knew. She didn't think she might be or think she was, she knew she was because she was involved with someone. She looked up at me and tried to keep the grin down to a smile. "I am. I'm with Nikki."

Maybe she wasn't as straight as I assumed she was when I sent her to my mother three months ago. I sat next to her and took her hand in mine. "Honey, I want you to know that you can tell me anything. I love you and I will always be here for you. Are you okay with this right now?"

She nodded, her eyes bright. "Yeah. I love Nikki."

"Okay then. I'm here if you need to talk."

She threw herself in my arms. "Thanks Mom. Lane was right. You are pretty cool."

So Lane thought I was pretty cool. She must have told Marley that before she decided I was a homophobic with battle lines drawn. I rather doubted they had this conversation since my arrival. Marley would've had to leave Nikki's side for that and except for the few minutes in my room, they were glued at the hip.

~~

Lane was talking on the phone as I came downstairs. I paused on the middle of the stairs and watched her. She was facing away from me, but I could see that she was rubbing her left eyebrow as if she had a headache. She was wearing the same sheer swimsuit she wore yesterday.

"I'm not there Dad," she said in a cool, even tone. "Ask Matt, he should know."

She turned when she heard me come down the stairs. I felt suddenly exposed in my own snug turquoise suit. Odd that I didn't feel this way yesterday.

"Do you want me to come back?" She asked, her tone less even and cool. "Because that's the only way I can personally handle this."

I continued downstairs listening openly to her side of the conversation. Dad meant Christopher, her father. I didn't envy him if he wanted her back in Atlanta. Catherine would not allow that even if Lane's presence was all that kept RAD, the Remick family business, from bankruptcy. Idly, as she listened to him, I wondered what position she had at Remick Aeronautic Designs. As the only child of the only son, it was a foregone conclusion from her birth that Lane would be an executive in the business one day. She never mentioned wanting to be anything except President of RAD. I've always thought it was because it was easier to accept if she thought it was a choice.

"Forget her. Forget the fact that I am on medical leave. Do you need me? Can this not be handled without me?"

I waited and watched her, feeling myself tense. If she went back to Atlanta, Kerry would want to go with her. If Kerry left, Jaime would either be miserable without her or want to go with her. I didn't want to be put in the position of making that decision. I sent up a silent plea Christopher was more afraid of Catherine than he was of whatever problem he was having at RAD.

"All right. I'll talk to you later." She didn't slam the phone down, but I think she would have felt better if she had.

"Problems?" I asked as I walked to her.

She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of iced tea. "Yeah, the biggest being that I'm here."

"What's your position now?" I couldn't even guess at her official role because I don't know what she majored in at UGA. She was thinking about Business Administration at eighteen.

She drained half the glass. "Executive Vice President."

"Already?" I was stunned. She wasn't simply handed the job. It was expected Lane would go into the business and that she would one day run it, but it was also expected that she would earn the position. She began working at RAD part-time when she was ten. She was paid ten dollars a week to empty trash cans and keep the design areas straight and organized.

She leaned against the counter and nodded. "Yes and that has caused major problems for the company this year. I need to be there working, not here lazing in the sun."

"So why are you here?"

She finished off the tea before answering. "Two reasons. One, medically speaking I'm not recovering as quickly as I should. I went back to work too soon. Two, my mother and my daughter. Both pushed every guilt button I have."

She walked around to the counter to pick up her book and a neatly folded towel. "Come on, let's go relax."

Marley and Nikki were laying close together holding hands. I wondered if I was the only one who didn't know they were sleeping together. Lane walked down to the dock to talk with the girls. They were taking turns with the rope swing. I stretched out on a lounge chair and began rubbing oil over my arms.

"Want me to get your back?" Lane asked from my side. I glanced up. She was standing next to me with her hand held out.

I handed her the bottle of oil. "Thanks."

I rolled over. It wasn't until I felt her hands rubbing oil across my shoulders that I realized this was a bad idea. I didn't care that we had an audience. What made this a really bad idea was the warmth I felt at her touch. With my eyes closed, my body remembered her touch, remembered what she could do with those hands.

"You're tight," she said and began massaging the muscles in my back. "I don't recommend that you sleep on the couch again. You're not eighteen anymore."

"Neither are you," I replied. She couldn't have fared much better in the recliner.

I was lost in the sensations. My last affair was over two years ago. I worked to control my breathing, but the heat spreading between my legs was beyond my control. I bit down a moan when she began sliding her hands down my leg. I was almost lost, almost to the point that she could have led me upstairs when she reached my feet. She grabbed my left ankle and held on firmly as her fingertips raced across my instep.

I was helpless and I didn't have the strength to do more than laugh as I tried to weakly pull my foot away. "Lane, please...."

"Please what?" She asked, her tone light and teasing.

I turned my head and stared at her. Was I hearing more than just laughter in her voice? No, I couldn't be. If I was the last woman on earth, Lane would find men more appealing than she found me. "You always were a brat."

She laughed, but my foot was dropped back to the chair. "And you were always my favorite target."

I picked up my book and turned over to sit up. I caught Marley and Nikki watching us with interested eyes. I had to shoot down their speculations and fast. I pointed an accusing finger at Nikki. "If you and Matt had the decency to be born earlier, I would not have been her only target."

The reply had the desired effect. They laughed and lay down. I picked up the bottle of suntan oil and looked over at Lane. "Want me to get your back?"

She shook her head and grinned. "You'll have to do better than that."

The morning quickly became the afternoon. Lane gave our mothers the honor of doing lunch for the girls. My first clue that company had arrived was the slamming screened door on the porch. I looked up with interest and saw Jaime and Kerry hurrying down the steps. Then I heard the car and turned to see the red Mercedes SUV coming up the drive.

"They're here," Kerry called to us.

Lane stood up and wrapped her towel around her waist. I sat up and watched her cross the yard. How cute. They had matching cars.

I was the last to join the group. As I walked over, I watched both women hug Lane and the girls. I stared at the newcomers and wondered which was Trish. They were both of average height with blonde hair, one cut short and the other shoulder length. They wore blue jeans and T-shirts. Marley, Nikki, Jaime, and Kerry grabbed their luggage and headed into the house.

"This is beautiful," said the blonde with long hair. Deductive reasoning said this woman was Shelly. Trish had spent years of weekends and summer breaks here. She knew how beautiful it was at the lake house.

I turned my attention to Lane's ex. She was good looking in the blue eyed, blonde, freshly scrubbed All-American dyke way. She was exactly the type Lane was attracted to in high school.

Lane smiled at me. "Alison, this is Trisha Kerry and Dr. Shelly Mackenzie. Shelly, Alison is also a doctor. She has a PhD in Psychology."

Shelly was very attractive. She was slim with dark brown eyes that glanced at me with curiosity every few seconds. Now she turned her full gaze on me with a bright smile. "Do you teach or do you have a practice?"

Before I could answer, Lane replied, "Neither right now. Remember she's moving to Atlanta from Chicago?"

"Actually, I have been offered a job at Georgia State," I felt compelled to add. For some reason I did not want Trish to think I was unemployed.

Lane slipped her arm around Trish's waist. "Come on. Let's get you settled so we can decide what totally adult thing we are going to do tonight."

Trish grinned and slipped an answering arm around Lane. "I thought I was here for quality time with Kerry."

They began walking to the house arm in arm. Lane laughed and said, "Well, honey you can try but I do think Jaime will put up one hellacious fight. Kerry belongs to her now."

Shelly and I followed them inside the house. If I didn't like the way they had their arms around each other and their easy laughter how did Shelly feel watching them? She was the new girlfriend and Lane was the old wife. I glanced over at her and got my answer in the form of a tight smile. No, Shelly didn't like it either.

While they got settled in their room, I went to my own to take a shower. I didn't feel comfortable in my swimsuit in front of Lane's ex and her new girlfriend. I was standing naked at my dresser selecting shorts and a shirt to wear after my shower when the bathroom door opened.

"Alison, do you-" She came to a stop three steps into my room. Her gaze drifted down my body before snapping back to my face. "Do you want to go to dinner with us tonight? I might be able to talk them into going to the bar."

I didn't have to think about it. Dinner and dancing with them was the last thing I wanted to do. I shook my head. "No thanks. I'll watch Jaime and Kerry."

She frowned and said, "Cat and Jules can do that. Come on, it'll be fun."

I was not going with them. "Really Lane, I'd rather not."

She frowned as she stared at me. I watched her eyes glide over my body one more time. "Okay but think about it."

~~

I stayed in my room reading until Jaime was sent up to tell me supper was ready. Lane and her friends were gone. The living room floor was covered with blankets and pillows. Jaime and Kerry were ready for their night on the floor. I watched videos with them until I thought it was close to the time Lane and her friends would be back from their night out. I went upstairs to finish my book in bed. They had spent the night dancing, drinking, and laughing. I didn't want to feel any more left out than I already did.

"She is who I think she is, isn't she? Alison."

The unexpected voice, so close and clear, startled me. I really thought I'd be asleep before they got back. I put down my book. My bathroom door was slightly open, apparently so was Lane's. The voice that caught my attention was Trish's. I was surprised I didn't hear them come up the stairs.

"Let's not do this," Lane replied in a tone I've never heard her use. It was coolly familiar, the kind of tone developed between lovers over time. The kind of tone that said so much more than what was said aloud.

"She's the one, isn't she?" Trish persisted.

I sat up. The one. I was a the?

"So what's it like seeing her again?" Trish asked after a noted period of silence.

With shocking insight, I realized that Trish knew. I shut my eyes. Of course, she knew. They were together for sixteen years. What did I think they were talking about during that time? Lane wasn't likely to edit her sexual history from her partner. But how did I become a the? And what did that mean exactly?

"Oh come on Lane, don't you think I have a right to ask this?" The amused tone was taking on an edge as Lane's silence continued.

"In a word, no. If we were still together, then yes, you would have that right. We are not together and my feelings for her are no longer any of your concern."

Feelings for me? I should not be listening to this. I should close the door. I should do anything but drop my book on the bed so that I could give the conversation my full attention.

"All right, as a friend then. Are you all right?" Trish's voice changed, her tone more gentle than teasing. More concerned than accusing.

"I'm fine," Lane replied and I didn't have to be in the room to know it wasn't the exact truth.

"I know you better than that," Trish chided.

Again, silence greeted Trish. I wanted to see Lane's face, the color of her eyes. When she was younger, the color changed with her moods. Dark and inky when she was angry, the color of a summer sky when she was happy. I wanted to know what she was feeling. About me.

"Oh babe," Trish said, her words a tender caress of apology. I heard movement, someone walking across the floor. "I should've realized you were doing your tough guy act."

"If Shelly catches us likes this, you're a dead woman," Lane said and they both laughed.

"She'll understand," Trish replied. This time their laughter was the guilty admission that Shelly would not understand. "I can definitely see the attraction for you. She's beautiful."

For a moment, I thought Lane would ignore that as well, but then she said, "Yes. Thomas was a lucky man."

"Lane, I know I'm treading on holy ground here, but are you sure she's straight? She was pregnant and seventeen. What did you expect her to do?"

"Don't you have a lover somewhere? Don't you think you should go to her now? Because this subject is closed." Lane's voice was hard and cold with anger.

Trish answered in kind. "Please, it was never open. At least not for me. You were in love with her, are in love with her, and I wasn't allowed to ask about her. That was unfair Lane. How the hell was I supposed to fight a ghost you wouldn't talk about?"

"Fight for what, Trish? A wife and a life you found so lacking that you found another woman and another life?"

"You never wondered why I was looking for another woman. You never wondered what it was that I found so lacking did you?"

They were yelling at each other now. Their voices had to be carrying down the hallway to the ground floor where two very impressionable young girls were supposed to be sleeping. I got up with the intention of taking them outside. This was one conversation Kerry really did not need to hear. I stepped into the hallway to find Marley, Nikki and Shelly standing in their doorways.

I could hear Lane's voice as clearly in the hallway as I did in my bedroom.

"Something in me obviously. Do you want to tell me now Trish? Because you damn sure never told me before you found her!"

"You were never in love with me. If you had loved me half as much as you love her, we would still be together."

Shelly shut her eyes and let out a deeply held breath slowly. When she opened her eyes, our gazes met and held. This fight was over us, how I sabotaged them in the beginning and how she sabotaged them in the end.

"And you knew it when you met me. You do not get to stand here now eighteen years later and tell me that you cheated on me because I was in love with another woman when we met. I never lied about her. I never pretended it was any different than it really was. You were the one who was so sure that I would fall for you if you only stayed around long enough."

"And I was so wrong wasn't I Lane? Thank God I left you already because it would kill me to be here with you now and know the woman in the next room, with a connecting door no less, is your first and only love. She must have been some lover to keep you so faithful even after she married him."

I felt Marley's shocked gaze on me. All I could do was close my eyes. How could I ever explain this?

Lane's door snapped opened. Her voice was cold and curt. "Goodnight Trisha."

"Typical Lane. You'd rather walk than talk. We might still be together if you had ever wanted to talk about our problems."

"Maybe if you ever wanted to talk before you cheated on me, I might have seen the point." Lane walked from the room and headed towards the staircase. She was blissfully unaware of the audience standing in the hallway behind her.

Trish watched her disappear downstairs before turning around to see us staring at her. Marley and Nikki quickly vanished into their room. Trish wasn't looking at her girlfriend. She was staring at me with bitter blue eyes. I wasn't sure if the bitterness was because I overheard their argument or because I screwed up her life with Lane. Not that the reason mattered. She hated me, if only a little.

She came down the hall and brushed past me to enter the room across the hall from mine.

I turned away, numbed by the revelations and emotional display. I gave her relationship with Lane more weight than my own simply because I was Lane's lover for less than a year. She shared Lane's life for sixteen years.

"Alison," she called to me. I steeled myself and turned to her. She was standing in their bedroom, her hand on the half closed door. "All you have to do is want her."

With that, she shut their door in my face. I stared at the wooden door for several very long minutes. Was that true? Lane would be mine if I wanted her? She would never be that easy. I hurt her too deeply for her to ever be mine just because I wanted her now. And I did want her. The need I had for her now made my aching for her that long junior school year seem like the school girl crush that it was. Trish didn't have the right to be angry with me. I wasn't the one who left Lane because I thought she was lacking in something. I left her because I lacked the courage to stay.

I padded silently to the railing to see what she was doing downstairs. I caught her bending over our daughters, tucking covers snug around them before she dropped a kiss on each face. I wondered who was more relieved they didn't overhear their argument. I was sure Kerry didn't know Trish was sleeping with Shelly when she was still living with Lane. I definitely did not want Jaime to know I was sleeping with Lane when I was dating her father.

She checked the locks before turning out most of the downstairs lights. I crept back to my room before she caught me.

I heard her come into her room after I was under covers. She moved around and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. For one second, I wondered if I went into her room and offered myself to her if she would laugh in my face or lift up the covers. I doubted the last would occur to her even if the first wasn't a reaction. The simple truth was that I didn't know how Lane felt about me. Maybe Trish was right and maybe she was just using me as the reason her life with Lane never lived up to the promises.

Accepting the loss of something you want is easier if you can blame it on someone else.

3.

I didn't sleep well and I woke up tense and restless. I listened for noise in Lane's room and when I heard only silence, I gathered my clothes and crept into the bathroom. She was already dressed and gone. As I walked downstairs, I glanced over the table. Thank God for Marley and Nikki. They were the only reason I wasn't the last one day every morning.

I walked into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. My mother and Catherine were sitting on stools watching the group at the table. I stood next to my mother and leaned against her when she slipped an arm around me. I chanced a look at Lane, Trish and Shelly over the rim of my coffee cup. I didn't want to meet any eyes this morning. Trish and Shelly were sitting where Lane and I usually sat. Lane was sitting at the end of the table with the girls to her left.

"Mom, Trish and Shelly are taking Kerry to Charleston for lunch. Can I go with them?"

I shook my head. "This is Kerry's weekend with her mother. Trish drove over to spend time with her."

Before Jaime could protest, Trish looked at me. "Please let her come. Having Jaime doesn't take away from my time with Kerry. Besides they'll both be miserable apart."

I was undecided. Jaime did things with them before, had spent entire weekends at their house. However, that was before I knew Trish didn't like me. She didn't know back in Atlanta that Jaime was the daughter of Lane's first love. I didn't want any of her anger at me to fall over onto my daughter.

"Let her go Alison," Lane said. She stood up and came into the kitchen. "Remember that day you had to spend here by yourself because I had to go to that family reunion? There isn't anything for her to do alone."

"Fine, take her. But it's this afternoon only. Your agreement with Lane does not include my daughter."

I took my coffee outside before anyone could say a word. I felt my mood slip from restless to churlish. I walked down to the pier and sat down to stick my feet into the still cool water. They were leaving tomorrow. All I had to do was get through tonight and some part of tomorrow morning. I would have a better plan before they came back.

"What was that about?" Lane asked from behind me.

I sipped my coffee and kept my eyes on the distant shore.

She sat next to me and dropped her feet into the water. "Come on Allie, talk to me."

"Don't put me in that position again. I am not sharing my daughter with her every other weekend just because you do. I know you think they are, but my daughter is not a set with yours."

She nodded slowly. "It'll be different back home. Jaime will have other kids and other activities."

I turned to stare at her in disbelief. "It won't be any different back home. Whatever kids Jaime knows are Kerry's friends and whatever activities she's been doing she's been doing with Kerry. It has to stop and now. You've treated them like twins Lane. Like they're yours. And while I am grateful you would do that for my daughter, I want her back."

Lane stared into her coffee cup. "You're right, I'm sorry. I'll talk to Trish. I'll make sure she doesn't include Jaime in her plans." Her tone was placating. I hated that more than I hated the cool, even tone she had perfected over the years.

She pulled her feet from the water and stood up. I turned to watch her head back to the house. The screened door opened and out walked Trish, Shelly, and the girls. I got up. From that distance, if one wasn't blonde and the other brunette, Jaime and Kerry could have been twins. They were the same height, had the same haircut, and both wore blue jean shorts, white T-shirts, and black Nike sandals.

"Be good," I told Jaime as I hugged and kissed her. I'd watched Lane hug both girls as I neared the group, so I turned to Kerry. She slipped her arms around my waist without question. I was surprised by her quick kiss on my cheek. Lane and I stood together as they drove away. This wasn't how I planned to spend my vacation. Jaime was constantly with Kerry; Marley was constantly with Nikki. I felt like I was clashing with Lane every few hours. I thought once I got here I would be spending a little more time with my daughters. And a lot less time with her.

Lane said, "So what are your plans for today?"

I tossed her a dark look. "Well since Jaime is gone for the day with your ex, I guess I'll sit down with Marley and try to explain the remark she overheard last night. The next time you want to fight with Trish, either take it outside or keep your voice down."

"Which remark would that be?" She asked in an icy tone.

"Which remark do you think Lane? That wasn't exactly how I wanted Marley to learn we were lovers."

She stared at me with one eyebrow raised. "How, exactly, did you want her to learn it? I can't see you sharing that with her over a cup of International Coffee."

"You're right, I never would have told her. Just as I have no plans to tell her that I had affairs with women while we lived in Chicago. Dammit, why did you have to tell Trish anyway?"

She swept one hand through her hair in exasperation. "Why do you think?"

She didn't wait for a reply. She spun on her heel and went inside the house. I stayed outside and finished my coffee. What were my plans for today? I turned as the screened door opened again. Lane came out with her towel and book. I watched her go to her lounge chair and stretch out. Marley and Nikki followed her. Sunbathing seemed to be the major daily activity around here. I went inside to change into jeans and a T-shirt. My plans for the day were to shop alone in Charleston. I suddenly didn't want to be here ignoring my daughter's eyes and Lane's sarcasm.

~~

I stopped long enough to tell Marley that I was going into Charleston. I ignored Lane as I left. Let her think what she wanted about my leaving. My thoughts were scattered as I drove. When I thought about living in Atlanta, I really didn't spend much time on Lane and what place she would have in my life. I don't think I thought she would have one until I realized how close Jaime and Kerry were. Now I had to picture a place in my life for Lane. It wasn't a pretty picture.

Lane had a life that was deeply entrenched in the gay community. She had friends and ex-lovers I would have to traverse if I wanted even the stealth life I had in Chicago. I wasn't sure I wanted to live openly as a lesbian. I was sure that I did want a gay side to my life. If I didn't come completely from the closet, Lane would smirk and her sarcasm would cut just a little deeper each time I had to hear it.

And then there was Jaime and Kerry. They would want to spend time together and that would mean frequent contact with Lane. I didn't like the position I was going to be in with Trish getting Kerry every other weekend. Kerry was Jaime's friend, maybe her only real friend in Atlanta. She was going to be miserable without her. Regardless of what Lane told Trish, Kerry was the one I would be turning down every other weekend.

What a mess. For the first time, I wondered why the hell I moved from Chicago. My life was set there. My lovers were also unhappily married women. We knew what to expect of the other. Jaime had several very close friends. The only thing I had in Atlanta was a past that was coming back to haunt me with a vengeance. I almost asked myself what I thought I would gain from coming home, but that was a road I wasn't ready to travel. I wasn't ready to learn if I came back for Lane.

I drifted from store to store in the mall until it was well past four. My only purchase was a few books. I took my time driving home. Ironic that only a few days before I rushed across time zones to be with my daughters and now I was trying to drag out a thirty minute drive. Reality could be a heartless bitch sometimes.

As I drove up the lane to the house, I saw we were having a cook out. Lane, Trish, Shelly, Marley, and Nikki were standing around the grill. Lane and her friends were drinking Coors. I waved to them when Marley called over that we were having chicken for dinner. I went inside to change clothes. I doubted those five capable women needed my help.

"Hey Mom, where'd you go?" Jaime came into my room to ask. She plopped down on my bed and watched me shed my jeans. I cast a critical eye over her, looking for any lingering resentments from the afternoon and saw nothing hiding behind the contented hazel.

I sat down next to her. "You really like Kerry don't you?"

She nodded with the same eagerness that I would have at her age if someone asked me if I liked Lane. "She's my best friend."

"What about Steffie?" I asked naming her best friend in Chicago. They had been together since preschool. They cried the entire last night they spent together. Wendy and I promised both they would see each other several times a year.

Jaime was quiet. I knew then that her friendship with Kerry was serious. It would have to be to challenge her years with Steffie in just a few months. "I love Steffie, you know 'cos I knew her forever, but Kerry is so cool."

Lane had been cool, too. The child she admitted was just like her would be nothing less. I reached out to comb her tousled hair with my fingers. "What about Trish and Shelly? Do you like doing things with them? You know this is Kerry's life."

Jaime shrugged. "It's like doing things with my other friends whose parents are divorced. Usually it's a dad, you know, but Trish has to be like them so it's the same."

"The same how?" I asked, intrigued.

"Well, dads don't have the same time with their kids that moms do. Marley says its quality time and they have to cram all the good things in it. So you get to go to movies and stay up late and eat tons of junk food. It's fun."

I saw problems looming on the horizon. If Trish genuinely wanted to include Jaime and Kerry wanted her to come with them, Jaime was going to want to go. I was going to be placed in an awkward position every other weekend. I was furious with Lane. I understood why she allowed Jaime to go with them, but now I was going to either have to continue the tradition or deal with a sullen, moody child two weekends a month.

"Where did you go?" she repeated her earlier question.

I stood up and went to the dresser for a pair of shorts. "Charleston. I didn't buy any books the other day. I wanted something to read."

She slipped from the bed and walked to the doorway. "Are you gonna read now?"

"I'll be down in a minute." She nodded and left the room. If I thought I would get away with it, I would have stayed in my room for the rest of the night. I knew my mother would be up soon to see if I was all right. I braced myself to endure the evening. At least some time tomorrow Trish had to go.

My mother and Catherine were in the kitchen making the side items for our meal. While my mother chopped tomatoes for the salad, Catherine was unwrapping baked potatoes. I stood across the counter from them. "Need some help?"

My mother shook her head. "No honey, this is it. Go on outside. We have beers and soft drinks in a cooler."

With nothing else to delay my exit, I went outside. I stood on the porch a minute to scan the yard. Jaime and Kerry were sitting on the end of the pier. Lane was flipping chicken on the grill while the others sat at the picnic table. I wondered whose idea this was.

Shelly smiled brightly as I neared the picnic table. "Hi Alison. How was your day?"

I sat across from her. She was very attractive, but I didn't see why Trish would choose her over Lane. I returned her smile. "Good. I bought some books. I've outgrown the collection in my room."

She glanced over her shoulder to where Jaime and Kerry were sitting. "Thanks for letting us take Jaime. I would've been borrowing my niece if I had known how easy Kerry would be with another child."

A Coors bottle entered my line of vision and I looked up. Lane was frowning at Shelly. "What does that mean? I thought Kerry was behaving."

I felt sorry for Shelly in that instant. What a fine line she had to walk. I would not be here now if I was in her shoes. There wasn't a power on earth, even the possibility of a chance that left alone Lane and Trish would rekindle some old times, that would have made me come up here.

Her smile betrayed her nervousness with Lane. "Oh she is Lane. She's just...calmer with another child around."

Trish sat next to her. "What she means is that while Kerry is no longer a holy terror by herself, she is still very competitive. I can't wait to see how she is when you start seeing someone."

Lane sat down next to me. "She'll be fine. Jaime isn't going anywhere."

I let the conversation drift away. No, I had pretty much taken care of where Jaime would spend the next few years. Barring a falling out, they were destined to be friends for a while. Just as I seemed destined to be friends with the women sitting around me. I could fight it, but I knew in the end I would lose. I didn't want Jaime to be miserable. I didn't want to avoid Lane and her friends to live my own life. This was inevitable and I was just going to have to live with it.

Conversation was light and trivial. I was content to let it go on around me without participating. Sometimes I didn't bother to listen. The few times I clued into what was being said, it was reminiscent time. I heard several remember when's followed by laughter. I stayed outside drinking the beers Lane handed to me until Jaime and Kerry went inside to watch videos. I watched them get settled before going to my room. It wasn't until I was navigating the stairs that I tried to remember just how many beers Lane gave me. Too many if my weaving down the hall meant anything.

I was sitting on my bed shirtless and trying to kick off my sandals when the door opened. I stared at her in annoyance. Remembering what she said to me, I said, "I'll have to remember to lock the door."

She closed the door and came a few feet into the room. "You were a little quiet outside. Are you okay?"

I stared at my feet. My sandals were stubborn. Toeing them off was usually easier than this. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Lane came over to kneel in front of me. She had the buckles undone in seconds. She stared up at me with her hands on my ankles. "Need any more help?"

Why did she have to be so beautiful? I could have drowned in the deep blue of her eyes. I could have lost myself in the softness of her lips. I have done both in the past. No other lover has ever come close to making me feel what she was right then and she was only touching my ankles.

"Go away Lane," I whispered. She was too tempting and I was too far gone to keep my feelings hidden. I was on the edge. I would fall into her hands at the slightest encouragement from her.

Warm hands slid slowly up my calves. I stared at her fingers in fascination. They were the same, yet different now. Soft, gentle, but so much more certain than they were eighteen years ago. She leaned into me, her hands moving to caress the outside of my thighs, her face tilted up to me. It was so easy to meet her halfway. So easy to let my lips touch hers, to feel her kiss after so very long.

That first kiss was everything a first kiss should be. Tentative, questioning, innocently teasing. I never wanted that kiss to end.

She pulled away to lay her forehead against my shoulder. Her voice was warm against my neck. "Alison?"

I didn't ask what. I didn't want to know what she was asking. My answer was to pull her down on top of me. She came willingly. Her hands were in my hair, her mouth open to mine. Her urgency caught me off guard. She wanted me. That was all I needed to know. I slipped my hands under her T-shirt.

Suddenly, she broke away from me, her blue eyes hot with desire. She swallowed before summoning up a fleeting smile. "We can't do this. The kids are still awake."

Slowly, I realized what she was saying. Jaime and Kerry could come in on us at any minute. If one door was locked, they would naturally go to the other. They wouldn't understand why both of us were locked in our rooms. We weren't teenagers anymore who only had to worry about our mothers. Now we were mothers who had to be available for our children.

"They'll be asleep soon," she said softly. I heard the question she couldn't bring herself to ask.

Soon was forever away when she was already lying between my legs. I pulled her face down to mine and kissed her until I felt her melt against me. If we had to wait until those two downstairs fell asleep, I didn't want that to be time she used to change her mind. I'd made love with the girl; I desperately wanted to make love with the woman.

She pulled away again and rested her head against mine. "How traumatized do you think they'd be if they caught me going down on you?"

I groaned as the whispered question sent heat curling low in my stomach. "I don't know about them, but I would need years of therapy."

She grinned and brushed her lips over mine. "We said we would watch a video with them. They usually drop off fast."

I watched her leave my room and knew sleep wasn't in my immediate future. The tipsy feeling I had when I came upstairs was gone. Later, if tonight was a really bad idea, I couldn't blame it on the alcohol. I was completely sober. I knew exactly what I was doing. And what I was doing was spending the night in her bed, in her arms.

We never made love in my room. We weren't going to tonight either. I grabbed a book and went across to her room. While my room was stuck in a time warp of the early eighties, hers was the room of a woman. Growing up, we each had one half of a twin bed set in our rooms. I now had both while she had a comfy double. I didn't dwell too long on the reason she needed more space. I made myself comfortable in the middle of her bed and lost track of time in my book.

She was surprised to see me. She closed the door at her back with a shy smile. "I was afraid you would change your mind."

I tossed my book to the floor. "Are we kid-free?"

I met her at the edge of the bed on my knees. She slipped her arms around my waist and pulled me to her. Her answer was to kiss me. The time apart had done little to cool the desire.

"Let's take a shower," I suggested against her lips. We were sweaty and smoky from the cookout.

We locked both sides of the bathroom. If someone came into either room, they would think that one of us was in the shower. The only ones who would go to the other room were asleep downstairs. I stood with the bottom of my T-shirt in my hands, watching her strip in breathless anticipation. She had tantalized me in her swimsuit and now I was impatient to see it all. I wasn't disappointed. My eyes eagerly skimmed up her body. Absently I noted the scars marking the left side of her body. "God, you don't look like a kid anymore."

She tossed me a quick grin. She reached into the shower and turned on the water. "I hope not. I liked the boyish look when I was a teenager. Now I like not being mistaken for a guy."

I stared at her body in profile. Her breasts were fuller. There was no way anyone would ever confuse her for a young, cute guy anymore. She was most definitely a woman. I walked up behind her. One tiny part of my brain, the last sane area, asked if I should be here, if I should be doing this. I slid my hands around her and cupped her breasts in my hands. Whatever sanity I had left abandoned me as her nipples grew hard under my palms. Her neck was exposed and I tenderly kissed the scar that ran behind her ear.

She reached back to run one hand behind my neck. "Hmm," she groaned low in her throat, "That feels so good."

As good as it felt to touch her, I wanted more. I gave her nipples a slow caress before letting her go. She stepped into the bathtub with me on her heels. We had showered together before, most of them being the completely non-sexual baths of children. Our few showers as lovers were long drawn out affairs with little bathing actually being done. This time we limited our kisses and touches as both of us seemed to want to save everything for the dry comfort of her bed. Our eyes met in smoldering glances as we hurried to towel off.

I wanted to be the aggressor. I knew exactly what I wanted to do to her. I took her hand and led her to the bed. As we kissed, I guided her back on the bed and lay on top of her. We were too eager for the slow kisses and light touches of foreplay. She wrapped her legs around me and I could feel how wet she was already.

"Alison," she breathed, "Please."

"Please what?" I whispered in her ear. She felt so right under me.

She put her hands on the sides of my face and pulled me down to her. "I want you now."

I was on top, but she was in the one in control. She nudged me up until was on my hands and knees. She slid down until my breasts were in her face. I stared down to watch her close her mouth over my left nipple and groaned when her hand cupped the right, her thumb brushing over me in slow strokes. Her left hand began a soft caress on my lower back that traveled slowly down my hip and moved to my inner thighs. I was holding myself up on shaky arms.

My breathing was ragged and my mind scattered as my body was overwhelmed with touches that seemed to be everywhere. She moved from one breast to the other, licking and tugging on my hard nipples while the feathery touch of her hand was everywhere but the one place I wanted it to be. Needed it to be.

"Please Lane," I begged as she lightly stroked her fingers through my curls. "God please."

"Lay down, Allie," she said and held me close as we rolled over. She knelt between my legs, her lips soft and hot as she kissed the inside of my thighs. I was ready for her. I wanted her mouth on me. It was exquisite torture to feel her so close and want it to last forever while at the same time I wanted her inside of me, her strokes pushing me over the edge.

I reached down and grabbed a handful of hair. "Now Lane, please now."

She didn't need more begging. She slid two fingers inside of me. When the warmth of her mouth closed over me, I was lost. She was everywhere, holding and touching me, as wave after wave rolled through me. She came to me when I was spread eagle on her bed. The desire I thought was thoroughly sated surged through me when I heard her ragged breathing. It was my turn and I couldn't wait to get my hands all over her.

"Ali-Oh," her words ended in a low moan as I pushed her on her back and moved on top of her, my thigh between her legs. "I was going to hold you."

I stared into her eyes as I slowly lowered my head. "Oh, you did. You held me so tight, so deep. Now I want to hold you."

4.

"Allie, baby, you have to wake up."

Her soft voice tugged me unwillingly from my deep sleep. I rolled over and stared up into sleepy blue eyes. She leaned over and kissed me. "Kerry will tell everyone if she catches you in here."

I put my arms around her neck. She nestled against me, one thigh sliding between mine. I instantly recognized the soft, languid expression. This was the Lane I loved most. The sweetly sensitive lover. I smiled, asking, "What would you say if I said I didn't care if she caught me in here?"

Surprise darted across her face before she smiled. "It's after six now."

My hands fell to her shoulders. "Would you mind if she caught us right now?"

She didn't answer me immediately. She sighed and looked away so I couldn't read her eyes. "Yes." She moved away from me to her side of the bed. I sat up and waited for her continue. Her eyes were wary and guarded. "You have to understand that for most of her life, I've been involved with the same woman. She hasn't been exposed to women coming in and out of my life. She really doesn't see the difference between casual sex and a relationship. If she caught us, she would think we're a couple."

Her words had the shocking sting of ice water thrown in my face. I was casual sex, someone she didn't want Kerry to think was important to her. It was how I felt, but to hear the words coming from her, after last night, it sounded callous and made everything feel cheap. I wasn't ready to be a couple with her, but neither did I want to think I was in her bed because I was convenient.

She saw my hurt and her tone was defensive. "Come on Alison, yesterday you were upset that Marley knew we were lovers in high school. Are you honestly going to tell me that today you don't care if Jaime knows about this?"

I shut my eyes. She was right. I didn't get to be angry with her because she had the courage to say aloud what we were both were feeling. So she didn't want her daughter to know. Neither did I. I opened my eyes when I felt her hands on my face. My smile, though brief, was forgiving. "You're right. I guess I should slink back to my room."

She pulled me to her for a long, deep kiss. "If you like, tomorrow I can slink back."

Again, I heard the question she couldn't bring herself to ask. I shook my head and rolled out of her arms and off the bed. "No thank you. As long as you have the double bed, I'll do the slinking. Sharing a single bed was only fun that summer because we were teenagers."

"Want to take a shower with me?" I asked as I opened the bathroom door and flipped on the light. She wasn't in bed. She was standing at her dresser, fully bathed in the light that fell from the bathroom. I kept my eyes away from the softly shadowed places on her body. I would get caught in here for sure if I let my gaze wander.

She turned from the open dresser drawer to shake her head. Her smile was regretful. "That would be very hard to explain."

I watched her pull a T-shirt over her tousled head and crawl back in bed. I left her to get what little sleep Kerry would allow her. I on the other hand felt wondrously alive. Great sex always did that for me. I didn't even mind Trish's presence. I could afford to be generous. I was the one sharing Lane's bed.

I took a long, steamy bath. My thoughts were so erotic that I gave serious thought to getting caught in her room. I didn't because while I might have been willing to let her daughter catch us, Lane never would. I didn't delve too deeply into why Lane didn't want Kerry to know we were sleeping together. She seemed to be a very protective mother and I choose to believe it was that. I didn't want to admit that maybe it was because she didn't want to confuse Kerry by sleeping with me here and then sleeping with someone else when she got back home.

I went back to my more pleasant first thoughts. They centered on what I wanted to do with Lane later that night. She wasn't the only one who had learned things in the past eighteen years.

I was the first one down this morning. I started a pot of coffee and then sat at the window to watch the sky pale with the rising sun. I felt different inside. Maybe it was contentment or peace I felt. Maybe it was that I no longer felt the tension that became a part of me when I married Thomas. I was free, for the first time in my life, I felt free. To make my own decisions, to live my life on my terms. The girls were almost grown. Marley was grown if I allowed myself to accept it. Jaime was coming into her teens and they would pass in a blur before I was ready to let her go. All I had to do now was decide what I wanted for my life.

I wanted Lane. I just didn't know where in my life to put her. She would never consent to a stealth relationship. She would agree to hide the relationship for a while. She would never bring Kerry into it without believing it was permanent. But I knew that at some point she would want to include her daughter. She didn't hide her life from anyone even if that someone was twelve years old.

The kitchen was scented with the freshly brewed coffee. I poured myself a mug and took my coffee down to the pier. The others would wake soon and begin to wander down. Catherine and my mother would be getting up to prepare breakfast. I wasn't ready to have my thoughts pulled to the present. I wanted to contemplate my future. A mist was rising off the lake and I felt enveloped in my own little world.

My future. Strange to be thinking about my future at this stage in my life. Here I was again wondering if I had the courage to live openly with Lane. Not to mention that I was being very presumptuous to think all I had to do was want a life with her and it was mine. I was only going on Trish's words that I could have her if I wanted. I could be nothing more than a quick, summer fling before she went back to her real life of out, proud lesbian, and full-time single mother. I still wasn't sure I wanted that for myself.

I wouldn't marry again, of that I was sure. I didn't need a man in my life to make me believe I was normal. I didn't think living Lane's life made me less than normal. What it did do, and what I had always feared, was make me different. I did not want to side step questions and censor my life. For so many people being gay meant simply having sex with a person of the same gender. It left out all the depth and nuance that was simply assumed of a heterosexual relationship. I could never see myself introducing Lane as my "lover" or "companion" or the even more dreaded "life partner". I could never see her accepting less.

I heard noises from the house and turned to see the ground floor was now lit. I stood up. It should have been easy to come to a decision in the misty silence of a Sunday morning. I finished off my coffee and made my way across the yard to the house. I wanted to think it would have been easier if I knew Lane wanted nothing but these few weeks with me. I also know a lie when I tell one to myself. While I wasn't sure what I wanted, I desperately wanted Lane to want me in her life completely. As usual, when it came to Lane, I wanted it all.

"Hey Mom, you're up," Jaime greeted me. I went to where she and Kerry were watching cartoons.

I bent to drop a kiss on both heads. "I think I've finally caught up on my sleep."

Kerry got to her feet. "I'm gonna go see if my Mom's awake."

I caught myself from reaching to keep her from waking Lane. This wasn't something I should involve myself in because Kerry was savvy enough to wonder about it. I watched her climb the stairs and vanish down the hallway. I sent up a silent hope that whatever sleep Lane got last night was enough. The last thing she needed was to come down looking wiped out. She was here to rest; she should come down in the mornings looking rested.

I would make sure tonight that we went to sleep before midnight.

~~

Trish and Shelly left before lunch. I was glad to see them go. I liked Shelly and thought I could be friends with her, but I did not see the same potential with Trish. There wasn't anything I could point to as an excuse for not liking her. It wasn't as if she pointedly ignored me or made me feel like an outsider. And I wasn't going to be hypocritical enough to dislike her because she cheated on Lane. Was I jealous? Probably. She had the courage to do what I didn't. She loved Lane, lived with her, and didn't give a damn who knew or approved. If I was jealous, it was only because she could live openly. I didn't envy her the years she had with Lane. I didn't see the point in wanting what she had thrown away.

"Want me to get your back?" I asked Lane when we were once again outside by the lake. I grinned when she looked up from her book and held the suntan oil up for her inspection.

Her smile was knowing and amused. "No thanks. Want me to get yours?"

I thought about it for a moment. I wanted her hands on me, just not here with an audience. I shook my head and sat across from her. She winked before turning back to her book. I watched her behind the safety of my sunglasses. She was gorgeous. I was still stunned by the fact the girl I knew had grown into this woman. It didn't seem possible. She was eighteen when I left. How could she have changed so much when she was already grown then?

She glanced up to check on the girls, swept her hand through her hair and resumed her reading. Had she really changed so much? Or had she only done what we all did, and mature. Certainly Kerry helped her find her way faster than she would have on her own. I don't think I would have been so astonished by the change if I had seen the evolution. I don't think I would have been so impressed with who she was now if I had watched her stumble to find her way.

And I was impressed. Very. The Lane I knew was so different, so wild and free. She was controlled now, contained and composed. I'd seen glimpses of the Lane I knew and I cherished the memory of her. But I was fascinated by who she was now. I watched her cast a careless glance to where our daughters swam, saw a smile cross her face briefly as she watched them play. Getting to know the woman she was now was going to be a pleasure. One I hoped to enjoy for quite a while.

Barely an hour after we came outside, the screen door slammed and Catherine came striding across the yard. She walked up to Lane with a frown on her face. She held out the portable phone. "Christopher. Tell him no."

Lane stared up at her mother for a second before she sat up to take the phone. She kept her gaze angled up to her mother's as she spoke to her father. Her voice was cool. "Hi...Hmm, I don't remember...No, I can't say that. Is it in the contract?...Is it in the contract?...Then I can't agree to it...I don't care what he says. I'm telling you I don't remember...No. His lawyer looked it over before he signed. He should have made sure-...All right...Okay....Yes. I will...Okay bye."

Catherine glared down at her. "You didn't tell him no."

Lane sighed and stood up. "No, I didn't."

"You're not going Lane, and that's final. You are here on a medical leave of absence. Christopher should-"

"Do you know," Lane broke in to ask coolly, "What it's costing him for me to be here?"

Catherine dismissed Christopher with a wave of her hand. "He's the president of the company. What can the vice-president do that the president can't?"

Lane stared at her mother in silence. Her blue eyes were narrowed in irritation. "This has nothing to do with RAD, not really. He wants me there for the same reason you want me here. You need to coddle me and never forget for one second that I almost died in that accident. He needs to not coddle and to forget that I was ever in it. By being here, by not being there, he's forced to remember why."

Catherine stared at her blankly. Lane made a visible effort to control her anger. When she spoke, her tone was more gentle and less cool. "If I died," she paused briefly as Catherine visibly winced from the words, "If I died, it would have been horrible for you. But you have other children and he has none. You would have lost a lot, but he would have lost everything. I understand that you need to hold tight to me. That's why I'm here. You have to understand that I have to be there for him also. That's why I'm going back for a few days."

Catherine continued to stare at Lane with blank brown eyes. I saw what Lane had to see and that was that Catherine didn't understand. Lane steeled herself for whatever her mother would say. She brought her hands to hips and waited.

"One child can never replace another child. I could have a dozen children and would lose everything if I lost any one of them. If Christopher hadn't insisted on you going back to work so soon, you wouldn't need to be here resting. While I am glad he did because you are here, he's not pulling you back again. You need to rest."

"What I need is for my parents to stop pulling me in different directions," Lane corrected. "You two had better get on the same page with this. I don't care if you clone me, cut me in half, or have another child together. God, I'm a grown woman, my own child is half grown, and yet, here we are in the same place we've been my whole life. You don't have custody of me. He doesn't either. So you can both stop acting like you will punish me if I don't obey you."

Before Catherine could recover, Lane turned her back on her mother and called for Kerry to come to her. Anger burned bright in her eyes as she watched her daughter climb from the water and stroll over to her. Kerry listened to her clipped speech with wide, uncertain eyes.

"You promise you're coming back?" She asked, looking up at Lane.

Annoyance snapped in Lane's eyes and she once more reined it in. She nodded. "Yes. Wednesday. Do you want to go or stay? If you go, you go into Sunshine's. I'll be working and there's no one there to keep you."

Catherine stepped behind Kerry and slipped her arms around her granddaughter. "She should stay here. Jaime won't have anyone if she goes."

Lane glared at her mother. "Don't do that to her. You can do it to me all you want, but you are not doing it to my daughter. This isn't a choice between people. I'm not going to let you make it be one."

Kerry looked down at the ground. "If you're coming back, I want to stay. You can concentrate on your job and maybe be back quicker if you don't have to bother with me."

"Come here," Lane told her in a soft voice. Kerry cast a sideways glance up before she walked into her mother's embrace. Lane laid her cheek on the top her daughter's head. "Is that what you think I do, bother with you?"

Kerry shrugged silently in her mother's arms. Lane kissed the crown of her head. "I love you. Do you want anything from the house? I know I forgot a thing or two."

I watched Catherine watch them. Love is such a strange emotion. For all the sweet, sappy songs written about, it can be so destructive. Catherine's heart was ripping as she watched her child hold her own child. In her mind, Lane wasn't a grown woman with her own half grown daughter. She was still the tiny baby Catherine first held so gingerly with the fear she would break her. Catherine's grip was a lot firmer now, this time in the terror that if she didn't hold on so tight Lane would slip away.

Kerry shook her head. She stepped back to look up at her mother. "Nah. I got everything I want."

Lane smiled. "Okay. If you do remember something, call me before Wednesday. I am not turning around for anything."

Kerry allowed herself to be pulled back into her grandmother's arms. Catherine said, "I forgot something. I left some books on the counter. You could make sure Jon's still alive for me when you pick them up."

Lane's smile was forgiving. "And if I find him...occupied. Do you want to know that?"

Catherine's mouth quirked into a half smile. "Just make me a widow without making too much of a mess."

Lane laughed and walked away with a promise to make it a clean widowing. I watched her walk into the house with torn feelings. I searched around for a legitimate reason to accompany Lane to Atlanta. I didn't want to stay without her. I let my gaze drift over my daughters. While I had missed them, they had not really missed me. Marley was discovering love and Jaime was making a best friend. I was just Mom.

"Alison," I looked up at Catherine. Her gaze swept over Marley and Nikki, skipped over Jaime and Kerry before she turned back to me. Her eyes were hesitant. "I hate to ask this. I know you just got here and want to be with your daughters, but would you consider going with Lane? I don't want her to make the drive alone. I know it's a lot to ask. Please?"

I was very grateful for the shield my sunglasses gave my eyes. I know I couldn't have hidden the delighted surprise I felt at her request. Would I go with Lane? I stood up and linked my arm with hers. "If she says it's all right."

Catherine patted my hand. "She'll be all right with it. Because I know she really does not want me driving back with her. She's not leaving here alone."

Oh thank you, Catherine, for being such an over bearing, obsessively maternal mother. She gave me a perfectly legitimate reason to accompany Lane to Atlanta, and was going to make sure Lane wanted me along with her. The sly voice in my head that said just because I was on the trip didn't mean I was with her was shoved to a dark corner. Three days alone with her. Three days to find out if there was a place in her life for me.

"Let me handle her," Catherine said outside Lane's closed bedroom door. "Go on and pack a bag. You can take a shower after she's out."

I nodded and walked into my bedroom. I was packed and waiting on the bed when the shower turned off. I stood with my hand on the doorknob and went into the bathroom when I heard her side open and close. I buried my head under the shower spray. I didn't want to hear Lane refuse to take me with her. I was confident that Catherine would rip her way through any argument like a machete through butter. She would win in the end. Lane would give in to her just as she had given into Christopher.

The house was empty when I was dressed and ready to go. My overnight bag was gone from my bedroom. I took that as I sign that I was going on this brief trip to Atlanta. I found Lane outside with the others. She had changed into jeans and white T-shirt with RAD written across her back in bold red letters.

Lane turned as I walked up. "Ready?" She asked.

"Yes," I said and wished her sunglasses weren't black-mirrored shields. She seemed relaxed and her voice was even, but I wanted to know if Catherine forced me onto her. Or if she was as happy as I was that I was going with her and the reason for it came from someone else. I didn't have a legitimate reason to go and she didn't have one to ask me.

She glanced over at my mother. "Does she have keys? I know Jon does, but without Mom he's lost in that house."

Keys? I frowned and saw my reaction mirrored on the faces of our mothers. My mother sat up and asked, "Keys for what?"

I watched surprise cross Lane's face in the form of her bottom lip dropping a fraction of an inch. She looked around at the people staring at her. "Your house. Paul's deep sea fishing at the beach house this week." She shot me a quick glance, "Or do you already have a set?"

I shook my head silently. Speech was beyond me for the moment. I could share her bed here, I could tag along with her to Atlanta, but I was obviously not staying in her home. The fall from the expectation of three days alone with her to the cold hard truth was brutal. Forget speech, thought was a difficult task as the only clear image in my head was that she didn't want me in her home. I didn't expect this slight rejection to hurt quite so much.

"Oh, let her stay with you," Catherine said with dismissive wave of her hand. "She won't have a car at Julia's if Paul is fishing. It's only for a few days."

Lane gave the suggestion more than a little thought before she shrugged. "Alison how would you like to sleep on Hannah Montana sheets for the next few nights?"

I strived for her casual tone. "Sounds like an adventure."

She grinned and nodded. "That whole room is an adventure."

Goodbyes were quick with hugs and kisses followed by warnings to drive carefully. With promises to call, we were on our way. I was still smarting from the fact that Lane had to be cornered into letting me into her house. Was it only all right for her to be with me here? This was a vacation, a break from her "real life" and she could do things here that didn't count. And I thought I had three days to find a place in her life. In three seconds, she made it clear I had none.

"Alison, you really don't want to sleep on Hannah Montana sheets do you?" she asked when we were only a few miles from the house.

Did she really think I was going to crawl out on that thin, shaky limb? I turned away from my view of the passing trees. "I'm not a fan."

"That's not what I asked."

I turned in the seat to face her. What was she asking exactly? I wanted, oh how I wanted her to be asking me if I wanted to sleep on whatever sheets were on her bed. But if she did, why the charade with our mothers? Why ask if I had keys if she wanted me to stay with her all along? Maybe, just maybe, she wanted the idea of me staying with her to be someone else's. She was so cautious with me, so careful not to leave herself open to my rejection. It was a fear I couldn't begrudge her. If I was hurt that she didn't want me in her home, how much more did I hurt her when I didn't want her in my life? I was stung by her rejection. She was devastated by mine.

I walked out on the limb and told myself it was all right if I fell. I owed it to her to be the one who made that first step in blind faith. "No, I don't want to sleep on Hannah Montana sheets. I will if you want me to, but I'd rather see what kind of sheets are on your bed."

Her delighted laugh was carefree and it took me back a moment, to those days when she was my partner in crime. How many times did we maneuver our mothers into letting us do what we wanted and had them thinking it was their idea? Countless and Lane, as always, was the master manipulator. I grinned in relief. "You knew she'd ask me to go with you didn't you? You knew it."

She tossed me a quick self-satisfied grin. "I knew she wasn't letting me leave there alone. You were the obvious choice. I just left it up to her to arrange. You should have seen the gleam in her eye when I bristled at the mere thought that I wasn't capable of driving alone. She used Kerry against me so you owe me for that."

"And the keys?" I asked because I was still bothered by that.

"That was trickier," she admitted. "But again, I know my mother. Chris and Jon have been a big disappointment to her. You, as a woman, will mother me and keep me on the narrow path to good health and well-being."

She pulled her shades down so that I could see the cool eyes she leveled at me. "Resist the urge to mother me. I'm not a gracious child."

"You never were." But I felt the burden Catherine had laid across my shoulders. Lane's recovery obviously was not progressing at a satisfactory rate if she was on a month's medical leave. Lane loved her mother, but she would never go that far for Catherine. I wanted to know more about her accident, about her long, slow recovery and knew that right then was not the time to ask. She was like her father about the accident and wanted to forget she was ever in it.

I settled back in my seat. I kicked off my loafers and made myself comfortable. "Why are we going back anyway?"

I listened without hearing as she explained the contractual problem at RAD. The conversation drifted to other topics. Lane did most of the talking. I felt warm and safe with her as I watched her talk. She was so beautiful. I closed my eyes and let her soft voice ease me into a gentle sleep. This felt dearly familiar. I wished, as I drifted to sleep, that we could stay in this time suspended cocoon forever.

~~

Someone was kissing me. I turned to the soft warm mouth and wrapped my arms around her neck. Lane. I was kissing Lane. I knew her taste, her feel, even in my dreams, I knew whose mouth was opening over mine. I pulled her close and was startled awake when she pulled back.

"No, not here. Not with a bed upstairs." Her voice was husky, amused.

I blinked my eyes several times as I shifted from semi consciousness to full awake. She was standing in the open door, her blue eyes tired. She held out her hand and I allowed myself to be pulled out. I felt unsteady and disoriented. Kissing her wasn't a dream. I blinked at her sleepily. "Are we there?"

She stepped close to me. I closed my eyes as she leaned into me and kissed me softly, sweetly. "I've gotten everything in but you. I don't think another car trip so soon was a good idea. You're exhausted."

And I was. I was leaning against her and I could have laid my head on her shoulder and slept right there in the open door of her SUV. I gave into the urge and snuggled closer to her. She was soft, warm. I closed my eyes and sighed.

"Come on Allie. I've got the covers turned down for you."

She led me by hand into her home. I followed obediently and didn't bother to form an impression. I wanted to lie down in the promised bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep until tomorrow some time. Preferably into the afternoon. She took me up a single flight of stairs and down a long hallway. Light from her bathroom lit her large bedroom. I sat on her bed and watched her kneel in front of me to slip off my loafers. She stood up, caught me watching her, and smiled. I stared up as she cupped my face with both her hands.

"I'm going to get a light dinner. Do you want me to bring something up to you?"

I might have been hungry, but I was more than tired and wanted to sleep. I shook my head and yawned. She smiled and gave me a brief kiss. "Get undressed and go back to sleep. I'll be in my office if you need anything. I've got some calls to make before I come to bed."

I undressed quickly and rummaged through my bag for a short nightgown. With my travel bag, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Her bathroom was as large as a bedroom. The double sinks were set in a navy marble counter. A mirror covered the wall above the sinks. She had a sunken bathtub with jet sprays and a glass brick enclosed shower. Towels, a pinstripe in the cream wallpaper, and the small accent tiles in the floor were navy.

I left my travel bag on the bathroom counter and walked back into her bedroom. The queen-sized bed was covered with a comforter of rich reds, blues and greens. The bed, bedside tables, and entertainment center several feet from the end of the bed were made from pale wood. The carpet was a plush burgundy. Like the bathroom, the walls were painted cream with a navy pinstripe and were topped with a paisley border. Navy mini blinds covered the windows.

My eyes were closed almost before I was burrowed under the covers. I thought sleep would come quickly. I had fallen asleep in the car. I could barely keep my eyes open coming upstairs. I was in bed, nestled in warm, soft covers. I was in Lane's house, in her bed. The subtle scent of her perfume, her shampoo, her was woven in the air I breathed. The desire for sleep was falling fast down the list of things I wanted right then.

"Until Wednesday. Well, Tuesday actually. I'm expected back on Wednesday."

I sat up as Lane's voice came from very near. A light came on in the room to the left of her bedroom. I slipped from the bed when I heard the tapping of a keyboard.

"Okay, I'm in. Was Lyle the first or last name?"

Was she already working on the RAD problem? I was suddenly very awake. She wasn't even home an hour before she was working. No wonder Catherine was furious with Christopher. I got up and followed the sound of her voice. She was sitting in a plush, well-equipped home office. I leaned in the doorway. Her back was to me as she sat at her desk with a portable phone caught between her shoulder and ear .

"No, Kerry wanted to stay. She and Jaime are inseparable...Okay, I think. She drove over with me. Mom didn't want me coming alone...My crystal ball is in the shop. Here we go. Lyle, Bruce. A million five...One would think...Okay, Dad, I got it. I'll go over it tonight and maybe by tomorrow I'll have a memory of it...You, too."

"What would your mother say?" I asked when she placed the phone into its charging base.

Lane turned in the chair to face me. The surprise on her face turned to an amused smile. "About?"

I walked into her office. "About you working already. You just got here."

"My motto has always been that if she doesn't know I don't have to lie."

"This couldn't wait until tomorrow?" I asked, annoyed at her flip attitude. I knew this is why we were here. She came back for this expressed purpose. But tonight?

She leaned back in her chair, tilted her head to the side and said, "I didn't have anything better to do."

No? I smiled and moved closer to her. When I was standing over her, I put my hands on the arms of her chair and leaned down until I was a breath away from her lips. Her dark eyes stared up at me before sliding down to rest on my lips. "I think you do. Unless you would rather play on the computer."

I brushed a slow kiss over her lips. Her hands came to my hips and pulled me as close as she could get me. She shook her head. "No, I wouldn't rather do anything else. You aren't sleepy?"

There was only one way to answer that. I pulled my nightgown off and slid onto her lap. She cupped my butt in her hands and closed her mouth over my right nipple. She pulled hard and pinched my left between her fingers. I don't know if was the suddenness of her mouth on me or the prick of pain that sent a bolt of desire down between my spread legs. All I could do was moan and grab onto her shoulders for support.

Even with her t-shirt between us, I could feel her hard nipples moving against my skin. I kept one hand on her shoulder and dropped the other to caress her breast. Her ragged breathing and hot mouth sucking hard on me had my hips moving. I almost came when her left hand moved to the back of my thigh and she reached to stroke me with feather light touches. I grabbed my last tattered thread of sanity and pulled away from her. "Stop. Stop, baby. Stop."

I had to fist my hand in her hair to stop her forward motion. She looked up at me with blue eyes glazed with desire. "Why I am I stopping?"

I sat down on her lap to kiss her slow and deep. I pulled away as her hands began to roam. "Let's go to bed."

We were naked by the time we tumbled into her bed. We left a trail of her clothes from the office to the bedroom. Our kisses were hard and demanding. She pushed me on my back. I pulled her down on top of me. She felt so right on me. Her hands were everywhere and the caresses were stealing the very air from my lungs. I wanted her everywhere. I wanted the shivers her kisses brought to my skin. I really didn't need air. I needed her, on me, in me.

"You are so beautiful," she whispered and slid a few inches down on the bed. I watched without blinking as she leaned over me and slowly, her eyes never leaving mine, caressed my nipple slowly with her tongue. She smiled when I gasped. "You like?"

"Yes," I breathed. I loved it. I never wanted her to stop.

I slid my left head behind her neck and pulled her head closer to my breast. "Don't stop."

5.

Lane wanted me to drive her to work the next morning. Since her accident, the SUV was her only car. She said she didn't want to leave me stranded if I decided to go out during the day. I hadn't thought about what I would do while she was at work. My sole focus had been on how we were going to spend the nights. I took the keys without argument. Maybe I would want to wander out to see how much my old stomping grounds had changed while I was gone.

The Remick Aeronautic Designs of my youth was two small Quonset buildings, a badly paved airstrip and a single square building of offices. Lane's great-grandfather returned from World War I a decorated Army pilot who used his government contacts to found RAD. Today, it is two huge Quonset buildings, four hangers of varying size, a two-story building, and at least six perfectly maintained runways. Several work crews were already busy.

I parked in her marked slot near the front door. "Are you sure you won't need your car today?"

I felt like I was abandoning her. RAD isn't on MARTA. She smiled and shook her head. "I can get a car from someone here if I need one. I have some other things to do while I'm here. I don't plan to give Chris another reason to call. I think Cat's relented about as much as she's going to. I'll call when I'm ready to come home. Do something fun today."

She was halfway to the front door when one the work crews hailed her. She handed her briefcase off to another arriving RAD employee before she walked to where the airplane sat on the tarmac. She should have looked out of place in her gray slacks and moss green shirt. She put her hands on her hips as she listened. She nodded and deftly unbuttoned the cuffs of her shirt and rolling her sleeves up, she climbed into the body of the plane.

Do something fun today? I left RAD with the image of her standing in the plane. When the day was over and we compared notes, I wasn't sure that I was the one who had fun today. Lane always loved the airplanes. I could if I had to, but it wasn't ever my favorite mode of travel. Christopher was sneaking her up when she was still in diapers. RAD seemed to be a very successful and profitable company. I'm sure Lane's responsibilities often weighed heavy and I was equally as sure that she felt the perks balanced the scale.

I've been gone from the metro Atlanta area long enough for the town to be barely recognizable. I was confident I could find all my old favorite places, I only had to be willing to brave horrendous weekday traffic and be willing to get lost for several hours. I wasn't willing to do either. I made my way back to Lane's with an idea of a better way to spend my time. I'd seen more of her home while we dressed and ate a quick breakfast and I was impressed with what I saw. I had all day to see more.

Lane and Kerry live in BridgeMark, a gated community of two story brick homes on wide, tree-shaded lots. Sprawling shopping centers and other exclusive planned communities surround BridgeMark. Downtown Atlanta is a quick thirty-minute drive south on I-75. The older security guard waved me through the gate. Lane lived on a quiet cul-de-sac in the back near the environmentally friendly park. Her home was white brick with black wrought iron coverings over the windows and green ivy climbing over the wall around the back of the house. If I had ever thought of Lane, this was not the life I would have imagined for her. This seemed so adult and that was never a word anyone who knew Lane would have used to describe her.

I drove into her garage and entered the house through the kitchen. Her kitchen was homey with red brick floor, cooper pans hanging over a large center butcher's block and bright track lighting. Counters were topped in black tile. Cabinets were glass fronted. Stainless steel appliances included the art-covered refrigerator. I stopped to admire the drawings and I wasn't surprised to find Jaime's name on several. Thomas didn't like for me to put the girl's schoolwork on display. He thought it took away from the professional image he wanted for his home. And it was his home. The girls and I were allowed to live there as long as we followed his rules. I was saddened that Jaime felt more welcome in Lane's home than she had felt in her own.

I left the kitchen and stood in the long hardwood hallway. I already knew the stairs in front of me led to the second floor. To the right and four steps down was a large child friendly den. I stuck my head in to glance around the cozy room. Two couches and three chairs, in the same dark brown, were over stuffed. Wooden end tables and coffee tables bore water marks and scratches. A dark blue carpet covered the floor. The entertainment center held a large flat screen television and stereo system. I bet Kerry was allowed to do just about whatever she wanted in this room.

I followed the hallway to the front of the house. Now this room was a room Kerry would catch hell for even walking past with a glass in her hand. The formal living room was sunken. The furniture in here was dark cherry polished to a gleaming satin glow. The carpet was white. Gold-framed pictures adorned a baby grand. I walked down the two steps to see the photos. Most were of Kerry in various stages of growth. Lane or Trish, both looking impossibly young, was often in the background. I was turning away when a picture half hidden behind the others caught my eye. Lane rarely wore a dress.

My breath caught as I reached for the picture and realized what I was seeing. They both wore white lace. Lane's was strapless and showed off her dark tan. Her hair was gathered back away from her face. Pearls in her ears matched her necklace. She was a lovely bride. I replaced the frame without looking at Trish. I was stunned. I wasn't sure what Lane said or didn't say or why I had the impression that their relationship was something less than a real partnership, but I didn't expect to discover they made a commitment to each other. The kind of commitment that required invitations, reception, lace dresses and the exchange of matching rings.

Because I needed to distract myself with other thoughts, I walked upstairs. The hallway ended at Lane's bedroom door. Two doors opened on each side of the hall. I knew the room to the left of her bedroom was her office. The next-door down opened to an empty room. I knew without a single shred of evidence to support my belief that this room had been Trish's office. I shut the door and walked across the hall. The first room was a disorganized storage room.

I knew, by reasonable deduction, the room to the right of Lane's bedroom was Kerry's. I hesitated before opening the door to her bedroom. I didn't want to invade her privacy. I told myself it wasn't an invasion as long as I didn't open drawers and paw through her belongings. I just wanted to see the room where my child had spent the last six weeks.

The first thing I noticed was that the room was neatly divided in half. A white night table stood between twin beds covered with dark green comforters. Posters of half naked women engaged in various sports covered peach walls. The left side of the room was Jaime's. I walked to the bureau they shared. I stared down on items I knew belonged to my daughter. The gold ID bracelet Thomas gave her for her last birthday, the gold studs she got when her ears were pierced, hair ribbons and scrunchies she didn't need with short hair. The mirror held several snapshots by the corners. I leaned close to see Jaime and Kerry, arms around each other, at Six Flags, at a baseball game, at the beach. Without thinking, I began to open drawers. My daughter's clothes filled the right side of the bureau. I threw open the closet door and saw they had divided there as well. Jaime's few slacks, dress shirts, and dresses were all hung neatly beside Kerry's. The closet floor was a jumble of shoes and I recognized several pairs as my daughter's.

I turned to face the room. Jaime was still living with Lane. She knew I was coming. She knew I would be coming back to Atlanta with them when the summer was over. My eyes slid over the room. She knew I was coming and she packed nothing. Everything that was important to her was left here as if it belonged. The unexpected pain was searing as I stared over this room, at how right her belongings looked next to Kerry's, and realized my daughter already had a home in Atlanta. She lived here and so very obviously believed she was coming back.

My head was pounding. I left their bedroom and went in search of painkillers. Who would have thought a simple stroll through her house would come with so many surprises? I tossed back a few aspirin and went outside to sit on the patio. I forced every thought from my mind and let the sun lull me into a drowsy kind of calm. For the second time, I had to wonder why I thought coming back to Atlanta would be so easy.

And why I never realized just how bad it could hurt.

I stayed outside until the warmth of the sun almost dropped me into a nap. I knew I had some hard truths to accept and a few harder decisions to make. I wasn't in the mood for either. After a quick shower, I laid down to sleep. I told myself it was because of the traveling and the sun. I knew the truth. I needed a few hours of sleep before I could think clearly. My life had taken yet another sharp turn. I was only human to need some time to adjust.

~~

The jarring ring of the phone pulled me from a surprisingly restful nap. I reached for the phone, said hello before I realized I wasn't in my own home and that this wasn't my phone to answer. I sat up on the side of the bed and closed heavy eyes to focus.

"What?"

There was a pause before Lane asked carefully, "Alison, are you all right?"

I opened my eyes to stare around at her bedroom. I nodded and said, "Sleeping. I've been sleeping."

"In my bed? I'm glad I didn't know that. I doubt I would've gotten much accomplished."

I had to smile at the throaty admission, at the warmth in her voice. I leaned back against the pillows. "Did you get a lot done?"

"More than I thought actually. Are you awake enough to drive over? If not Chris is still here and he can drop me off. He'll love the extra time. I know I haven't seen the fuel reports for this quarter yet."

"No, I'll come. I'd like to see Christopher." Lane's father was the cool parent. As long as Lane got great grades and did her job at RAD, he didn't much care what else she did. He didn't mind her girlfriends spending the night, the drinking, or picking her up from the police station at three in the morning. Catherine minded all those things very much. The last time she was picked up for underage drinking, Catherine refused to come for her.

"I'm sure I can keep him around until you get here," she said dryly. "We're on the second floor."

I pulled into her slot less than twenty minutes later. The only other car was a dark blue Mercedes convertible. I didn't need to see the small C. Remick sign to know who owned it. The passion for small, fast cars was only one of the loves Christopher passed onto his only child.

The sparsely decorated lobby was empty, leaving me to find my own way to the executive offices upstairs. Two flights of stairs ended in an open, airy hallway. Thin gray carpet muffled my footsteps. I paused at a half closed door with Lane's name on the brass nameplate. I knew she wasn't in her office because I heard her voice coming from further down the hall. I pushed her office door open anyway. It was my day for snooping.

The office was small and cramped. Her desk faced a wall of battered, well-used books. A computer with two monitors sat on one end of a metal desk. Stacks of color-coded files anchored the other end. The wall behind her desk was a blue print schematic of a small plane. Her home office was more befitting the Vice President of Remick Aeronautic Designs.

There wasn't even a picture of Kerry in the tiny, impersonal room.

Turning away, I followed the faint sounds of conversation.

"It's your call. My notes jibe with what's in the contract. He signed it, presumably after he read it or his lawyer did. Believe me, I have several things I wish I could remember from those two weeks."

A chair creaked. "I know honey. How much time will it add? The money's not the most important issue at the moment. We can swing that. It's the time I'm not so sure about."

I didn't want to hear anymore about this contract. I knocked on the open door and smiled at them. Christopher sat at an ornately heavy oak desk. The picture window behind him looked down on the airstrips. His office was sumptuous compared to Lane's. Everything was polished wood and shiny brass.

"Alison." Christopher rounded his desk with open arms and a wide smile. "Don't you look wonderful."

He had aged very well. Silver streaked auburn hair and laugh lines gave his golden boy face maturity. He looked older and wiser. He caught me in his arms and buried my face against his chest. He squeezed me one last time before setting me back on my feet. His hands stayed on my shoulders. "I'm sorry about Thomas."

I nodded and reached up to kiss his cheek. "You look great yourself. How do you like being in charge?"

He grinned and shot Lane a quick glance. She remained seated in front of his desk with an open blue folder on her lap. "It's what we're born for. Would you like a drink?"

"I'll give her one at home," Lane said and stood up. She closed the folder and dropped it on his clean desk. "As for the time, I'll shift B crew over to help on this if you want. The Davies plane is slightly ahead of schedule. We can shave some time from that."

Christopher smiled down at me. "She wants my job. I could retire tomorrow and she wouldn't care."

Lane laughed and slid her arm around his waist. "Oh, I'd care. You're going to be worse than Granddad and I'll have to deal with both of you. You just have him."

"True," he agreed and kissed her on the top of the head. "Don't forget to call your mother. Preferably before you sound tired."

"The minute I get home," Lane promised and slipped away from him. "Goodnight Dad. I'll shift B crew over as soon as I get in tomorrow morning."

"Good. Alison, we're glad you're back. We've missed you." I hugged Christopher goodbye and smiled at his sincerity. I had shoved Lane so ruthlessly out of my life that I didn't realize just how much I missed this extended family of mine. There are some people whose presence in your life can only be missed and never replaced. My life in Chicago had many holes.

"Do you want me to drive?" I asked Lane in the parking lot.

"If you don't mind. I can't think of anything I'd rather do less right now."

I glanced over when she was silent to see her head resting back against the seat. Her eyes were closed behind her sunglasses. Although I spent the afternoon sleeping, I could go to bed early. I decided as I drove back to her house that after a light dinner, we were going to bed. If we couldn't find something to do, there was always the television in her room. One way or another we were having an early night. An easy, undemanding night.

~~

Another car was parked in the driveway by the time we turned down her street. I recognized the red Mercedes SUV even as I prayed Lane had other friends who shared her taste in cars. If she did, they weren't visiting her today. Trish and Shelly slipped from the car as I drove into the garage. So much for thinking we would have an early night. For an ex who cheated on her, Lane was irritatingly generous with Trish. How else to explain how she knew we were here if Lane didn't call her? I exchanged a brief smile with Shelley, thinking she was far more secure in this relationship than I could ever be.

"Well, this didn't take long," Trish said as they walked into the garage. I was surprised when her angry gaze raked over me.

Lane ignored Trish and walked to unlock the back door without a word of greeting to either woman. She dropped her briefcase on the butcher's block and met Trish's eyes with her own chilly gaze. Shelly and I stayed close to the door while they squared off over the butcher's block. "How did you know I was here?"

Trish turned to shoot me a dark look. "I called the lake house. I was worried about you."

Lane arched one eyebrow. "I'm a big girl."

"Aren't you going to offer us a drink?" Trish asked when Lane had nothing to add.

"You know where it is," Lane invited. Trish quickly left the kitchen and Lane's sigh was weary. She gave Shelly a sad, apologetic smile. "I'm sorry Shelly. She finally gets to be angry with me. I wish you didn't have a ring side seat."

Shelly didn't get a chance to reply. Trish came back with two tumblers of golden alcohol and handed one to Shelly. Shelly put the glass on the counter behind her. Trish drank half of hers before gesturing carelessly to me. "So how long did you last? How many nights did you lay in your bed before you went crawling to hers? God, Lane, where the hell is your pride?"

Trish asked the questions in a voice dripping in disgust. She made it sound like Lane crawled into the sewer. Whatever allowances I was willing to make to Trish for whatever part I may have played in their problems died a quick, painless death. I wasn't here when they met or broke up. Their break-up wasn't my fault and I was not going to make apologies. My part in this little drama was in Trish's head.

"You never asked that when it was your bed I was crawling back to," Lane replied after a long pause. Her slight smile was mocking and her eyes stayed on Trish's face with laser intensity. "You weren't concerned about my pride then. As I recall, Trisha, you were quite happy and relieved I didn't have a shred left to my name. How can you stand there now and condemn me for the very quality you used?"

"Oh please. Pride had nothing to do with that. You stayed with me because it was easy. You never had to worry about Kerry when you went out of town. You never had to worry about her when you were working late. I'm the reason you could concentrate on RAD and still have a home to come home to."

The air around Lane seemed to crackle in the dead silence that followed Trish's derisive words. Lane placed both hands flat on the butcher's block and leaned closer to Trish. The flashing anger in her eyes was at odds with her soft voice. "And I'm the reason you went to Emory Law without having to work day one. I'm the reason none of your little affairs ever got more of you than you wanted them to have. When the rest of your fellow graduates were worrying about the depressed job market, you tried not to be too smug about your guaranteed job at Macklin and Associates, legal counsel for RAD."

They were alone in the kitchen. This was an argument that, for so many different reasons, they were never allowed to have before the relationship ended. I stood and listened, and wished I had the courage to leave the room. I didn't want to hear their secrets and know their intimate betrayals. There are just some things I didn't need to know. I looked over at Shelley to see how she was faring in this no holds barred conversation. She was leaning against the cabinets with her head bowed and arms crossed defensively over her chest. I felt sorry for her. She already knew she was Trish's second choice.

Lane pushed herself away from the butcher's block. "And there's one thing I did for you that you never did for me. I made damn sure you never knew about my affairs."

Even with her back to us, I knew Trish was staggered. Her body flinched from the blow, her head snapped back and she reached out to brace herself. I didn't have to see her face to know she was pale and her eyes wide in shock. I saw the effects of her words all too clearly on Lane's face. She closed her eyes and dropped her head for a moment. She never meant to say that to Trish. She bitterly regretted being goaded into making the admission.

"Lane?"

Lane shook her head against Trish's beseeching whisper. She shoved her hands into her slacks pockets and her face was steeled when she opened her eyes to look at Trish.

"Why were we even together?"

Lane would have preferred Trish yell at her, scream vile and ugly accusations of infidelity. She could have taken a slap across the face much better than she took the soft, bewildered question. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, but it didn't hide the pain. When her eyes opened, she stared at Trish with so much regret on her face I had to look away. Whatever else she may or may not have felt for Trish, Lane had loved her.

"We liked our life. Yes, we used each other. That happens in every relationship. Yes, we hurt each other. That happens in every relationship. But we also made each other happy. Not all the time. Maybe not even most of the time, but we did when it counted. We had love, support, and friendship. We were together because we never found anyone we were willing to give up what we had for. We liked our life. And nothing else that happened changes that."

The seconds ticked away as they stared at each other. Lane's eyes never left Trish. She never looked behind Trish to Shelley or to me. I realized then, in a blinding shock, if they were still together, Lane would never leave Trish for me. The life they had was one she enjoyed. I was not someone she would have been willing to give up that life for.

"How could you be happy?" Trish had to ask. I didn't want to know how she could be happy. I didn't want to know that she still would be if Trish had stayed.

Lane came around the butcher's block with a tender smile. Trish turned to face her. Lane cupped her face in her hands and leaned in for a soft, sweet kiss. She drew back, her hands on Trish's face. "You were in love with me. We had a really neat kid. Everything was going great with RAD. How could I not be happy? Being with you, making love with you, building a life with you, I wouldn't have missed any of that for the world. If I could have changed anything, I would have fallen in love with you. The failing was mine that I didn't. I did love you, Trish. I do love you."

This time, the kiss was a gentle touch of lips. With moves that were smooth from years of practice, they leaned into each other. Trish slid her arms around Lane's waist, Lane's right hand slipped into the short curls at the nape of her neck. The kiss deepened slowly and ended with a quick brush of Lane's lips over hers. Lane grinned and said without turning, "Pay back is hell, isn't it Shelley?"

Shelley pushed away from the counter. "Excruciating."

Lane's arm dropped companionably over Trish's shoulders and she turned them to face us, the current lovers. "Do you want to stay for dinner? It's going to be very easy. I'm thinking sandwiches."

"I'm thinking omelets," I said refusing to be left out of the rest of this conversation.

Shelley smiled at me as if I were a particularly bright student. "With some veggies? Diced ham? Cracked wheat toast?"

I nodded as she put in her order. "I can do that, if Lane has it."

I was surprised to find Trish smiling at me as well. She threw Lane a quick smile. "I'm almost sorry we can't stay."

They left as quickly as they came and I wasn't sorry to see them go. I moved to the refrigerator while they hugged goodbye. I waved bye from the safety of the other side of the room. Shelley was either very secure or very foolish in her relationship with Trish. As far as I could see, neither stance had an upside. And the potential downside would be brutal. I watched Lane lean with her back against the butcher's block as Trish shut the door behind them. She turned with a sigh and her blue eyes were weary.

I placed eggs and butter on the butcher's block. "What do you want in this? We don't have to have what Shelley suggested."

"Alison, I'll make a deal with you," Lane said. "You don't ask me any questions about my marriage and I won't ask you any about yours."

I thought she would try to make some deal about dinner so I wasn't able to hide my smile at her suggestion. "Why should I make a deal like that? What could you possibly know to ask me?"

She stared at me for a moment before she smiled, her smile as wicked as I imagine mine was, and cocked her left eyebrow. "So, just how many affairs did you have in Chicago?"

I felt the smile fall from my face. Just when I was about to ask how she knew about those, I remembered our conversation by the lake, when I carelessly and thoughtlessly revealed my affairs. Did I really think she wasn't going to remember that? I met her eyes. "You have a deal."

She unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled the soft green material to her elbows. "Throw whatever you want in there. Do you want a drink?"

I shook my head. While she went to pour herself one, I rummaged through the cool, almost empty shelves in her refrigerator. I found onions and shredded cheddar cheese. I was looking for a bowl to mix the omelet in when she came back into the room. Without a word, she made a small circle in the kitchen and had the needed utensils out on the butcher's block. "I hope you don't expect more from me than that. I offered sandwiches for dinner."

I shrugged. "I don't mind making dinner. I like cooking."

"I don't," she said and walked behind me. I glanced over my shoulder. She picked up a portable phone on a small table and came back to over to me. She grinned as she passed me. "That's the reason I have a housekeeper. Well, for that and so Kerry doesn't come home to an empty house."

She quickly punched in a long distance number. Her obligatory call to the lake house. "I want to talk to my kids before you hang up."

She nodded and drank half her drink before someone answered the phone. I half listened to her talking to Catherine while I made our meal. I had to smile at the bored expression on her face. This was a phone call she was making under duress. She spoke briefly to Kerry and Jaime before handing the phone off to me. "I'll do the rest."

"There is no rest," I whispered as we traded places.

By the time I spoke with my daughters and promised Jaime I would bring her bracelet, Lane was sitting at the breakfast nook waiting for me. She had added buttered wheat toast to complete the meal. We ate in silence. Lane finished her meal before I did and began to clean up the kitchen. When I tried to help, she waved me away. "You cooked, I'll clean."

I watched her rinse the dishes and stack them in the dishwasher. Her life was unfolding for me in stages and while I was surprised by the different twists it took, I was so impressed with the woman she became. The thought was terrifying. If I fell in love with her again, I would want a life with her.

Lane dried her hands and turned to me with a tired smile. "How rude would it be if I took a shower and got ready for bed? I feel like I was at the office for more than nine hours."

"Not at all. Remember me? I was sent to make sure you came home to rest."

Lane walked over to slip her arms around my waist. "Oh, is that why? I thought it was so we could scream when we made love. Want to take a shower with me?"

I nodded and allowed her to lead me upstairs. I took a shower earlier, but that wasn't why she was asking me to take a shower now. I pushed away thoughts of how much I wanted this in my life. I had her for now and that had to be enough.

Foreplay began with a long kiss under steamy water. Lane backed me against the wall and slid her thigh between mine. All that mattered for now was that she wanted me as much as I wanted her. I would worry about later when I had to. If I had to.

7.

The best of my memories, the ones I cherish most, are of times with Lane at the lake house. They're all colored with the kind of happiness that you don't realize is special until later, when you're older and you come to understand the rarity of it. For a tiny sliver in time, I felt that again in Atlanta. I knew we had to go back. Staying wasn't an option, but I wanted to stay in this place where Lane was mine. Without reservations. Without hesitations. Without questions.

We left Atlanta late Wednesday afternoon. Lane said she didn't want to give Christopher any reason to call her for the rest of the week so she went into the office for a few hours. I was so reluctant to leave. I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to have to censor my words, my touches, or my glances. I looked at her as she drove and wondered what she'd say if I said I wanted to move into her room with her. She wanted to protect Kerry from her intimate relationships. At what point would she feel comfortable letting Kerry know she was sleeping with someone?

"Yes?" She asked, catching me watching her. "Something you want to ask me?"

The questions hovered at the tip of my tongue, waiting for me to have the courage to speak them. Was this still just casual sex to her? Did it mean anything? Was she my girlfriend? Would she be my girlfriend? I didn't ask because I didn't want to know the answers. Yes or no, it didn't matter. At least in the uncertainty, I didn't have to know the truth.

I smiled and ran a finger along her arm. "You are so beautiful. When I got here and you opened the door, I was stunned. I mean, you were cute before. But now, God are you gorgeous."

With a quick glance in the mirror, she pulled off to the side of the road. I sat up, wondering why we were stopping. She released her seatbelt and reached for me. The kiss was hard and seeking, as if we were both searching for something. A reassurance maybe that the last three days did happen and would happen again.

"I can't believe we have to be so quiet tonight," she whispered, her tone endearingly petulant. "I like hearing you say my name."

"I love saying it," I whispered back. God how I loved saying it when she was inside me, touching me and holding me tight.

She moved back to look into my eyes. Her smile was soft and her eyes a vivid blue. "You always took my breath away Alison. When I opened that door and you were standing there, I hated that you still could."

"Really? It didn't show." I was surprised by the admission. My memory of her that night was of a kindness I knew I didn't have the right to expect from her. I remember that more than anything eased most of my fears about seeing her again.

She laughed and turned in her seat for her seatbelt. "Yeah, like I was going to let you see that. You could have stripped bare and I wouldn't have reacted."

I heard, echoing in her words, a steely defiance that was sobering. I could see her telling herself as my arrival became imminent, that regardless of how she felt about me, she would not show it. I was nothing more than old friend. I would be nothing more than an old friend. She would not allow anything more than that. While I steeled myself against her hatred, she steeled herself against her love.

Because I didn't like where I saw this heading, I grinned at her. "You react now."

"Of course I do. I have a pulse."

Her reply was so dead serious we stared at each other in the small silence that followed before laughter filled the SUV. With one last lingering kiss, she merged with the traffic and got us back on our way to the lake house. I still didn't want to go. I'd still rather be back in Atlanta. I felt better knowing that whatever my doubts and insecurities, she shared them.

As Lane turned down the road to the house, I idly wondered if Christopher could manage to pull her away one more time. I'd like to go back with her and spend a weekend there. I'd like to go out with her to a restaurant, on a real date, and go to a bar and close it down dancing in her arms. I wanted to stumble into her house laughing and kissing and trailing clothes from the kitchen to her bedroom.

Excited shrieks drew my thoughts to the present. I grinned as I watched Jaime and Kerry scurry from the pier and race towards us. I glanced over at Lane. "I think we were missed."

"I think you're right."

~~

I was surprised by how much we were missed. Lane and I didn't get another moment alone that night. The girls attached themselves to us until it was their bedtime and when they asked to sleep with us, neither of us had a reason to say no. We sat with our mothers after all the kids where upstairs and sipped iced tea while chatting about the days we were away. Any hope I had of getting her alone vanished when Catherine noticed Lane was nodding off and shooed her to bed.

I watched her weave her way to the second floor, wishing I could go with her. On the one hand, I was uneasy with how quickly we had fallen back into each other's arms. On the other hand, I accepted how much I expected it to happen. I can admit to at least myself that I never would have come back if I didn't believe I had a chance with her. I'm not masochistic enough to sit on the sidelines and be happy for her. If I can't be the one she's happy with, I don't want to watch her be happy with someone else.

"She looks a lot more relaxed," Catherine said quietly. She looked over at me. "She enjoyed working didn't she?"

I wanted to lie. Catherine wanted to believe Christopher dragged Lane back to work early and dragged her back to Atlanta and did both somewhat against her will. The truth was that Lane probably went back to work for herself and she admitted to me she'd rather be in Atlanta than here. I tried levity to soften the blow. "She wants to be president."

Catherine laughed and nodded. "She always did. She's had offers from other companies for years now. Christopher gets such a kick out of it. One company, EastStar I think it is, has offered her the world. Every year they call."

"Do they really think they can compete with the family name?" They didn't know her very well if they thought that. Lane grew up with her name on the business, believing she'd be president before she learned to count. I didn't see her leaving when she was only one step away from having that.

"They must or they would stop calling. Like I said, Christopher gets a kick out of it." She looked down at the table. "Alison, is there anything you need to do in Atlanta?"

The question came around a blind corner. I glanced at my mother to see her remarkably unsurprised by the question. I shook my head. "Um, no, not really. I've got enough time once we get back to get settled before school starts for Jaime and I have to start work."

Actually, I would have about a week and I thought things would be pretty rushed, but at the time, I was grateful to have so little time to get settled. By the time the realization hit us that our life in Chicago was really over, I wanted us to be started on our new life. My concerns were more for Jaime than Marley or myself. Marley was coming to Georgia before Thomas died. She was a freshman in the upcoming class at UGA. I was coming home. I was more grateful to Lane than she would ever know for allowing Jaime into her daughter's life.

Catherine reached over to lay her hand on mine. The gesture gave her my complete attention. Her eyes were hesitant and she looked at my mother before turning back to me. Before I could ask what was going on, Catherine leaned towards me. "I think Lane would be happier in Atlanta, at least for some of the week. I would let her go back if you went with her. You could take care of whatever you need to while you're there."

Something was wrong here. Or off. I didn't know which. I stared between Catherine's sincere expression and my mother's concerned one. Maybe it was just odd that after wanting Lane here so desperately, I didn't trust Catherine suddenly wanting her in Atlanta.

"Is there something you're not telling me?" Because I felt an undercurrent flowing around the table. I could almost swear my mother and Catherine were communicating without having said a word to each other.

I was startled to see tears pool in Catherine's eyes. I turned my hand over to clasp hers. She bit her lip and glanced at my mother. "Her doctors are worried. If she's not...better by the end of the summer, they're hospitalizing her."

I could only stare at Catherine. I think the blood drained from my face. I had so many questions and I so didn't want to know the answers. I closed my eyes and narrowed my thoughts to what was important. When I was sure I was coherent, I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. "Tell me what I need to do."

It was late by the time I crawled into bed with Jaime. Catherine's plan was simple. Lane's being at the lake house was not having the recuperative effect Catherine thought it would. She wasn't happily content to lie in the sun and read for hours on end. She wanted to be at RAD. So, if Lane accepted her terms, Catherine would be supportive of Lane going back to Atlanta.

I drifted off to sleep smiling and wondering if Lane would object. It would be for show, as she had the first time Catherine suggested I go with her to Atlanta. I didn't really care. One of Catherine's conditions was that I stay with Lane. For that, I would agree to almost anything.

~~

The sound of running water woke me early the next morning. I was out of bed and across the room before I was fully awake. My hand was turning the doorknob when I remembered Lane wasn't the only one sleeping in her room. I knocked softly and waited. A sleepy Lane opened the door and reached out to pull me in with her. We were kissing without either of us having said a word.

"Mm, I could be a morning person if this is how I'll wake up," she said softly.

I snuggled against her and closed my eyes. I was stroking her back and I consciously felt the body under my hands. While she was slim, she wasn't so thin her ribs were prominent. I wished I had pressed Catherine a little more about Lane's medical condition. I made a mental note to do that later. It wasn't something I wanted to ask Lane.

Reluctantly, I stepped away from her. When I told her about the plan, I wanted to see her face. Perhaps getting away for a few days once was all right, but it wasn't something she wanted to do again.

"Listen, Cat kind of cornered me last night after you went to bed."

Sleepy blue eyes were instantly alert. She leaned away from me and crossed her arms over her chest. "About what?"

"She noticed that you're more relaxed. She thinks you'll be happier if you can go to work instead of being here."

She nodded and dropped her hands to her side. "I told her that in the beginning. She didn't want to hear me."

I stepped closer to put my arms around her. "She's changed her mind. She suggested that you go back a few days for the rest of the time we're here. With one condition."

Lane stared at me and a smile grew slowly on her face. She tugged me closer and leaned over to bite me gently on the earlobe. "Would it be you coming with me?"

"Uh, yeah." It's hard to think when your brain is concentrating on something else. My brain was busy following Lane's lips across my chin.

"When do we leave?" She asked, her hands now stroking the side of my breasts. I thought briefly of taking a step back so that her hands could stroke a better place, but regretfully realized that nothing could actually happen in here. Even if I knew neither of us would make a sound, I wasn't making love with her with our kids sleeping in the adjoining rooms.

I slid one hand around her neck and pulled her in for a kiss guaranteed to make me regret my decision to not let anything happen here. We were both breathing hard when I stepped back. I fumbled for the doorknob. "Sunday."

She grinned and watched me leave the bathroom.

I leaned back against the door and closed my eyes. I'd have to remember not to do that again. Playing with fire was fun only if you let it burn out on its own. Having to stamp it out was frustrating. Before, when I was certain Lane wanted nothing to do with me, it was easy to ignore my own desires. Well, maybe not easy to ignore, but easier to keep in the realm of fantasy. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be so easy now that I knew my fantasies could be reality.

I smiled and decided to get dressed for the day. I might be frustrated now, but somehow, some time that day, I was certain the embers would flicker and we would find a way to let it burn. I looked forward to seeing how we managed it.

~~

Catherine hit Lane with the news at breakfast. I couldn't see Lane's expression from my chair by her side. Catherine looked a little annoyed at Lane's ready agreement. I bit my lip and stared down at my plate. Poor Catherine. In a perfect world, she would keep Lane here and send her to Atlanta.

"I don't have to go do I?" Kerry asked.

"Not unless you want to."

I mentally crossed my fingers that Kerry wouldn't make good on her threat to leave if Lane did. I didn't even pretend to myself that I wanted her to stay here for Jaime. Lane would take both girls with her without batting an eye. I wanted Lane to myself. I liked being able to kiss her whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted.

"Cool. I'll stay."

Lane stood up and said, "Gee, I'm hurt. I thought for sure you'd want to go with me."

Kerry laughed and looked at Jaime. "Well, maybe if Jaime came, too."

"I don't mind going home. My mom will be there so we don't have to go to Sunshine's."

You could have heard a heart beat in the silence that followed Jaime's casual words. Everyone froze and when I tore my eyes away from my daughter to look at the other adults in the room, I saw emotions other than my shock on their faces. Lane's was concerned as her worried gaze jumped between Jaime and me. Catherine and my mother looked vexed as they frowned at Jaime.

My mother recovered first. "No, you both need to stay here. Your mothers have things they need to do."

"That's right," Catherine chimed in a touch too cheerfully. "Alison would need someone to take you when she's busy."

I almost opened my mouth to deny that statement and then I realized Catherine was on my side. A little too eagerly on my side. I glanced between her and my mother and caught them glancing at each other. I had a déjà vu moment and remembered last night when I felt that there was more going on here than I could see.

"We'll stay," Jaime said decisively. She stood up with her plate and Kerry followed her. The four of us watched them go to the kitchen. Kerry rinsed their plates and handed them to Jaime to stack in the dishwasher. When they were finished, they dashed outside giggling and never had a clue they had four sets of eyes watching their every move.

"Well," Catherine said brightly, "You both should go out with them. Julia and I are going to Charleston."

We watched them go their bedrooms on the ground floor. We looked at each other when we heard their doors close. Lane stood with one hand on her hip, one hand holding her plate and a very confused expression on her face. I'm certain it was mirrored on mine. "What just happened here?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, but I don't think we saw the whole picture. Last night I thought Cat and Jules were saying something to each other without saying a word. It was spooky."

Lane's eyebrows arched comically over her eyes. "Like telepathy?"

I gathered the rest of the plates from the table. Like our daughters before us, Lane rinsed and I stacked. "Something. Was it just me or did you get the feeling that they don't want the kids coming with us?"

"No, it wasn't just you. But my mother will use any excuse to get her hands on Kerry. It's a grandmother thing. You should probably get used to Jules grabbing Jaime when she can."

I took the plate she handed me. "Didn't it seem like they wanted us to be alone?"

Lane turned to me and leaned one hip against the counter. She frowned and threw a quick glance over her shoulder to the downstairs hallway. Her blue eyes were dark when she faced me. "I think they're afraid. We didn't part as friends, Alison. I think they're afraid of what happens if we're still angry at each other. How likely is it that I'll visit my mother if I have to risk running into you? She won't be losing just me if that happens."

I was startled by her words. It's the exact reason I stayed away for eighteen years. I was ashamed that I never looked at my staying away from my mother's point of view. I'm an only child. My granddaughters are her only grandchildren. I could never give her back all the milestones she missed. I was both grateful she'd been there for Kerry's and saddened that she would never experience them with her own.

She reached out to touch my face. "We don't have to worry about that."

I almost missed it, that hesitant catch that made her statement more of a question. I pushed thoughts of my mother and what I had taken from her into a dark corner of my mind. With a quick check to see that we were alone, I leaned in to kiss her lightly on the lips. "No, we don't."

She nodded once. "Ready for some sun? We've got a whole afternoon to waste."

~~

Whatever else that day might have been, wasted it was not. Our mothers spent the day in Charleston and that left Lane and I squarely in charge. People in charge can't slip away for a few hours. I found myself in the rather embarrassing position of envying Marley. I know only too well what it's like to be here as a teenager with my girlfriend and have my mother's attention focused on two younger children. Lane and I got away with so much because Catherine's two toddlers needed constant supervision.

The girls weren't toddlers and I think if circumstances had been different, Lane and I would have spent the day talking mostly to each other. But circumstances are what they are and our daughters were delighted to have us to themselves.

Several times we split into teams to play against each other. Even if it had been fair for Lane and me to play against them, they didn't give us the chance. I thought, the first time Kerry chose to be with me, it was in a desire to beat her mother. The two had a rivalry that was as touching as it was hilarious. It was obvious Kerry wanted to be her mother when she grew up. And just as obvious that Lane had no clue.

It was only later, when it was too hot to be outside and we were watching videos that I realized the child cuddled in my arms wasn't my own. As I stared at the dark head nestled back against my breasts, the morning flashed in front of my eyes. Snapshots of Kerry at my side paraded across my mind. Holding my hand. Wrapping her body around mine in the lake when her feet could no longer touch the sandy bottom. Casual contact that happened in everyday lives and was meaningless.

Except to me. The significance took my breath away. I was on my side with my right arm curled under her, her head under my chin, and my hand held in both of hers. My left hand rested lightly on her stomach. I've held my children like this a million times. How appropriate the first child I'd hold like this that wasn't mine was Lane's.

I peeked over to see Lane in the same position with Jaime. Well, almost the same position. She was dozing with her cheek on the fair-haired child in her arms. My eyes inched over the four of us, basking in the sweet innocence of the scene.

We looked like a family. More so than Thomas and I ever had. I had no memories of us cuddling our daughters like this. Even when they were very young, Thomas never held his daughters as Lane held Jaime. I know he loved them. I know he would have protected them with his life. His sense of duty would have demanded nothing less of him. He did all the things a father was supposed to do. And none that a father should want to do.

Lane moved slightly and I looked over to see her pulling Jaime closer. Sleepily, she kissed Jaime's head. Blue eyes drifted over to rest briefly on the child I held. A gentle smile touched her face. What was she thinking? Did she share my thoughts? When her gaze finally came to me, I saw only contentment in her eyes. I smiled at her. She rested her chin on Jaime's head and smiled back.

"What do you want to do for supper?" She asked softly.

"Pizza," Kerry mumbled.

Jaime nodded. "Yeah. Bacon cheeseburger. Hand tossed."

Lane cocked an eyebrow in silent question. I nodded. Turning her head towards the stairs, she called for Nikki and Marley. I tried not to imagine why it took them several minutes and another call from Lane before they came downstairs.

"Isn't this cozy?" Marley asked as they stood over us. Cowardly, I refused to look up at her. I knew she had to have questions she wanted to ask me. I also knew I wasn't going out of my way to make it easy for her to corner me.

"Will you guys go get pizza? You can take my car."

Kerry sat up, her eyes wide as she stared between Lane and me. "Can we go with them?"

Jaime shot up next to her. "Yeah, can we?"

Lane snuggled down with her pillow. "Ask them, not us. We're not the ones who have to put up with you."

The girls jumped to their feet in excitement when Nikki agreed they could go with them. With her eyes closed, Lane called out what she wanted on one half of any pan pizza, where her keys were, and for them to take money from her wallet for the pizzas. Within minutes, the house was blissfully silent.

I shut my eyes. "Think we can get a nap- Oh!"

Lane stretched out on top of me, her thigh slid between my legs and her blue eyes were anything but sleepy. My breath caught as her left hand brushed over my breast. I barely had time to adjust before she was kissing me. Between her kisses and touches, I was too far gone to protest when she slipped her hand down the front of my shorts. Too quickly, I was moaning and moving under her hands. I came in a rush as she dipped the tip of her finger inside me.

Usually I'm boneless after we make love. I need to wait for the blood to drain from my head. I need time to breathe again. Not this time. I pushed her onto her back and shoved her shirt up with a frenzied desire that surprised me. Maybe I knew we didn't have a lot of time. Our mothers could come home. The kids could have forgotten something. I didn't want to wait until later to make love to her. I didn't think I could wait. I'd put this on hold already once this day.

I latched onto her breast fiercely. I was rewarded with a strangled cry and her fingers digging into my shoulders. She panted in my ear. "Now Alison. Now."

That was all I needed to hear. I sat up just long enough to unbutton and unzip her jean shorts. My fingers slid inside her easily. I was debating taking the time to pull her shorts down over her hips when she took the decision from me. She pulled my head down to her breast and arched her hips, giving me just enough space to push deep inside of her. Again, it was over much too soon.

I dropped down beside her. The only sound was our rasping breathing. Cracking open one eye, I saw her flushed face next to mine. I kissed her on the cheek. "When did you start planning that little attack?"

She had a faint smile on her face. She turned to me and reached out to trail one fingertip down my cheek. "Since this morning in the bathroom. I've just been waiting for my chance."

I rolled to lean over her. Her eyes were a soft, drowsy blue. Slowly, our lips met, brushing before opening to allow our tongues to meet. I could feel desire pooling again.

"Are they sleeping with us again tonight?" She murmured against my lips. "We gotta stop if they are."

I grinned and moved back to smile down on her. "Do we?"

Without taking her eyes from mine, she snagged my nipple between her fingers. She applied enough pressure to have me squirming against her. "Do we?"

I shut my eyes and briefly enjoyed the thought that all I had to do was lay on my back. I wouldn't have to say a word. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes. "Yeah, we do. Either that or slip out of the house later."

Lane's eyes lit up at the suggestion. Words were cut off as we both heard a car outside. With a quickness I haven't needed since the last time she was my lover, we hastily straightened our clothes. Lane leaped to her feet and glanced out of the living room window. "Jules and Cat. You take the bathroom and I'll go to the kitchen. What do you want to drink?"

"Coke," I said as I hurried down to the bathroom our mothers shared. By the time, I was washed up and checked to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be, Lane was lying in front of the TV. Our mothers were sitting in the recliners talking with her.

"So what have you two been doing?" Catherine asked as I lay back down on the floor with Lane. My mind cheerfully provided me with a mental picture and I glanced at Lane with a guilty flush.

She shrugged and looked not at all guilty. "We've been playing with the kids. We stayed in the lake for hours and then sacked out here after our showers."

The small talk continued until the girls arrived back with the pizzas. The rest of the evening followed the pattern of the previous night. The girls wanted to sleep with us again and once again, Lane and I had no reason to say no. A part of me wondered about this sudden need for closeness. Psychologically, if the past year was taken into account, it was reasonable both would feel an uncertainty about us. I was Jaime's only living parent and Kerry spent countless hours at her mother's side in the hospital. Taking into account how they'd reacted since I arrived, I just didn't think that was the reason.

I decided to go upstairs when the girls did in the hope I could talk to Jaime before she went to sleep. I thought my doctorate in Psychology gave me something of an advantage in talking to a twelve year old. I kept my questions simple, yet probing as I tried to see what was happening inside her head. I was sitting frustrated on my bed, having learned nothing from my simple, probing questions except I had a seemingly well-adjusted kid on my hands.

"You like Lane a lot, don't you?" I watched her carefully as I asked the question.

She was curled on her side facing me and covered by a sheet. She'd answered my other questions instantly, her bright eyes on my face. Now, she looked down at the hands lying by her head. She picked at the nail on her thumb. "I love her. Is that all right?"

She asked the question hesitantly. I nodded when her eyes darted to my face. "You can love who you want. Lane's a great choice. You like spending time with her?"

Jaime's eyes darted quickly to look at me before she looked down again. "Uh-huh."

My asking about Lane troubled her. And that troubled me. I had a flash of the bedroom she shared with Kerry in Lane's home, the artwork hanging on the fridge. In six weeks, she made herself very much at home. More than she ever had in mine. I almost asked if she wanted to live with Lane, but didn't because I would only be confirming something I already feared. I didn't ask because I didn't want to see those hazel eyes look up at me with a joy she was much too young to hide.

I slipped from my bed and walked over to kiss her on the forehead. "I love you. Sweet dreams, sweetheart."

Thin arms locked around my neck and she kissed my cheek. "Love you, too, Mom."

"Mom?"

I turned in the doorway. "Hmm?"

"Today was really fun. I didn't know you played like Lane does. Can we do it again tomorrow?"

I know I shouldn't have her heard her say she didn't know I could be as fun as Lane, but I couldn't deny the pain that nicked me at her innocent words. I smiled and nodded. "Sure, honey."

I never would have thought my life in Chicago was simple.

~~

Lane was curled up in a recliner flipping absently through the channels. She didn't look at me as I sat in the other recliner. "Are you looking for something in particular?"

"Not really. I thought there might be an old movie on or something."

"Is Kerry asleep?"

She laughed softly. "I'm sure she is."

I turned to face her. "I think Jaime wants to live with you."

I expected surprise, denials and instead, she went still. She nodded reluctantly and looked over at me with apprehension. "She's asked if she can, at least until you buy a house. She wants to go to school with Kerry. Alison, it doesn't mean anything more than she wants to be with her best friend."

"She loves you." The words came out hard in accusation.

With a quick flick of her wrist, she turned off the TV. Now her eyes were shuttered as she faced me. "Yes, she does. Yes, she's asked to live me. Yes, she is still living in my home. Yes, I would let her live with me until she's eighteen and off to share a dorm room with Kerry. I will not apologize for any of that. Some of that's because she's your daughter. Mostly, though, it's because I love her."

I could only stare at her. She was tense, waiting for the next blow. I was tired of being the one to deliver them. I shut my eyes in a vain attempt to pull my scattered thoughts together. Too much, all I could think was that it was too much. Jaime's feelings for Lane and Kerry; mine for Lane. My fears for the future. I knew coming home wasn't going to be easy. But, really, did it have to be a minefield?

She was staring at me when I opened my eyes. I nodded and reached over for her hand. Her fingers were ice cold. "I know you do, Lane, and I'm grateful for that. But I see problems looming in the future. I don't want her to get hurt."

"You think I don't know what you're feeling?" She knelt down in front of me and took both my hands in hers. "When you say no to Jaime, it'll be my turn next. You probably will put Jaime in Kerry's school. That means someone will have to take her there and pick her up. So why can't Kerry come home with her? Why can't she spend school nights with you? Why can't Jaime spend school nights with me? I know the problems that exist here. They're not just yours."

A blind man could have seen the scenario she painted in stark black and white. I could avoid most of them by not putting Jaime in Kerry's school. I dismissed the thought before I gave it a chance. After taking Jaime from Chicago, how could I not put her in a school where she would at least have a friend?

I cupped Lane's face and chanced a quick kiss on her lips. "We'll get through this together?"

She grinned. "Definitely. I don't want a sullen child sulking around my house anymore than you want one sulking around yours."

There was one solution to our problem that solved every conceivable problem. Jaime and I could move in with Lane and Kerry. The need to ask her if that was a possibility was so strong and it was so hard not to ask. That was another question I wasn't ready for her to answer.

I leaned into her. "Let's go swim."

Her eyes lit up. She stood up and held out her hand to me. Her grin was wicked. "Swimming or skinny dipping?"

"What do you think?"

I felt like a teenager as we left the house holding hands. I pushed the new worries and doubts into a dark corner with the old ones. No decisions would be made this night. No problems solved. I gave into the giddy, guilty feeling that we were getting away with doing something wrong. As we stripped off our clothes and jumped into the cool lake, I couldn't think of a better way for the night to end.

8.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was more than ready for the drive to Atlanta. Actually, I was more ready for a drive to the nearest hotel. How we spent our first day back was how we spent those that followed. Except Lane and I did not have a quickie on the living room floor again. We didn't have a quickie or anything else anywhere. The most we could manage was kissing the few times we were alone. The girls made sure that didn't happen often.

Lane and I decided on Saturday night we were leaving early Sunday morning. We practiced the reasons we would need to leave early, thought up what we thought were reasonable replies to rebuttals that anyone made. Our suitcases were packed and ready when we went down for breakfast.

"Um, Mom, Alison and I were talking last night. The drive to Atlanta's long and there will be a lot of other people driving, too. We decided it's best for us to leave early. So we're going to leave after breakfast." The last words were said in a rush. She expected someone to complain.

Catherine paused in eating her breakfast to stare down the table at Lane. "That's a good idea. The traffic will be murder in the afternoon and if you wait until after then to leave, it'll be late when you get home."

I glanced at Lane and our bewildered gazes met. "Oh, okay then."

Maybe we should have wondered how easy it was to leave. The girls, our constant companions over the last few days, carried our luggage to the car. As we were hugged and kissed, doors were opened for us and we were maneuvered into the front seats. Our mothers closed the doors. The four of them stood in the yard and waved as Lane pulled out of the drive.

I might have questioned it if not for the pent-up desire I had for Lane. I didn't watch in the mirrors as our mothers and daughters shrank into tiny dots in the distance. I turned in my seat and laid a caressing hand on her thigh. "Do you know what I'm going to do to you tonight?"

"Is that before or after I do it to you?" She asked and reaching for my hand, brought it to her lips and kissed my palm.

My senses were filled with her. The air I breathed was laced with her scent. She was the only thing my eyes saw. My fingers tingled in her hand. For that moment in time, she was the whole of my awareness. "I can't wait to get you in bed."

She laughed and kissed my palm again. "And here I was thinking we'd work our way to the bedroom. I thought we could start on the kitchen floor."

An image of us naked on her kitchen floor was conjured up easily. My imagination supplied images of us in other rooms in her home. And on her secluded patio. Of course, the chance of my saying no to making love to Lane in almost any place she suggested was microscopically slim. Especially right then.

I reluctantly withdrew my hand. "Okay. This is a long drive and I think if we don't keep our hands to ourselves, we'll end up sleeping somewhere other than your bed tonight. Tell me your plans for work."

The hours passed quickly as we talked. While Lane slipped back into VP mode, I was going to see what I could do to get Jaime and I settled into our new life in Atlanta. I wasn't sure if I could get her enrolled in school yet, but I would see if Jaime could be enrolled in Kerry's school. Some cities have schools set up in districts and a child has to live in a certain geographical area to be admitted. I was hoping Kerry's either didn't or that exceptions could be made. I wanted Jaime to start off the school year with as few fears as possible.

As Lane drove through her quiet neighborhood with its wide, tree shaded lots, I noticed several For Sale signs. I realized that when I thought about moving back home, I really did just think about moving back home. I had called my mother and asked if the girls and I could stay with them and while I think my mother and I both assumed it was temporary, I gave no thought to where we would go next. A house in Lane's neighborhood would solve several of my problems with Jaime and her friendship with Kerry. I made a mental note to wander the neighborhood tomorrow and see if anything appealed to me.

"Are you kidding?" I sat up in my seat to glare at the red SUV parked in front of her house. "Why is she here?"

"I'll ask her."

The cold, angry tone told me, that like last time, Lane wasn't expecting Trish and Shelly. I hoped, that unlike last time, they didn't use this as an opportunity to clear up more old issues between them. If they did, I wasn't standing by as silent witness this time. Shelly could if she wanted, but I was going upstairs and she was more than welcome to join me. Lane and I had a deal about our marriages and I for one knew all I wanted to know about hers.

The garage was open and as the Mercedes was empty, it was easy to assume they were inside waiting for us. I didn't mind that Trish still had a key to the house. For Kerry's sake, Trish could have reasons she needed to get in when Lane wasn't there. I was a mother and Lane made it clear that Trish was still one of Kerry's. However, I was reasonably sure of two things: Kerry was fine and Trish's presence here had nothing to do with their daughter.

When we left last Sunday, the kitchen was spotless. Lane stopped a few feet inside and I stopped behind her as we both glanced over the counters. Someone was cooking. Four foil wrapped potatoes sat next to the sink. A stack of plates and two glasses were on the butcher's block.

"Oh, you're here." Shelly stood in the doorway, her discomfort obvious as her eyes darted over everything but us. "You made good time."

"Hi Shelly. I don't mean this to be rude, but what are you doing here?"

"It's not rude and I'll let Trish explain." Shelly turned on her heel and vanished.

Lane sighed and looked back at me. "I think we're having lunch with Trish and Shelly."

Did we have to? Couldn't we just leave them down here to their meal and trust them to lock the door behind them? We didn't invite them. I wasn't even hungry. I had just spent four long hours cooped up in a car with Lane. Smelling her. Watching her. Touching her. I did not now want to sit for who knew how long sharing a meal with her ex-lover. Lane read my sulky thoughts easily enough and grinned.

"Hey. How many speeding limits did you break? Catherine said you left at eight-thirty."

Catherine? Catherine! I thought she was angry with Trish. She only grudgingly invited Shelly to the lake house when her only other choice was Lane and Kerry leaving for the weekend. Why did she now sic them on us?

"All of them. I'll need a good attorney. Know one?"

Trish quickly wiped the cheerful, teasing expression off her face. She stared at Lane for several seconds. "I do, but I think I'll need her services myself. It's seems I'm guilty of breaking and entering. When I think about the phone call, I see now that your mother never said you knew we would be here. She suggested that we come here and grill steaks for a late lunch early dinner. She said you wanted to make good time and weren't stopping for food. I'm sorry Lane."

Even I could see that she was genuinely sorry. Lane waved her apology away and I was resigned to spending at least the next few hours in their company. I almost wondered how bad it could be before I remembered the last time the four of us were alone here. I would be nice and I would be pleasant, but at the first snipe I was out of here.

"Give us a few minutes to freshen up and we'll be back down."

Trish nodded and walked over to the far counter. "The potatoes are half baked already. I'll just throw them in now to finish. Alison, how do you like your steak?"

"Medium well." She didn't ask Lane how she wanted hers. The thought was childish, but I couldn't help but think there wasn't a single preference of Lane's in any area that Trish didn't know. All of them, running the gamut from the superficial to the intimate, Trish knew. As if I needed one more reason to dislike her.

Lane followed me upstairs and into her bedroom. In the center of the room, I turned and the anger I felt disappeared as I stared at her slumped against her closed bedroom door with her eyes shut. "I'm sorry baby. I would have bet Kerry's college fund against my mother pulling something like this."

I dropped my bag on the bed and walked over to slide my hands around her waist. When she didn't open her eyes, I leaned in to kiss her exposed neck. I pressed my body against her and she groaned low in her throat. "When they're gone, you're mine."

Amused blue eyes cracked open. "You say that like you think I'm going to argue with you."

"Incentive," I whispered and pressed my thigh against her. I wanted both of us to have a reason to get through the afternoon with as little emotional turmoil as possible. They were here, we would eat, they would leave, and we would have the rest of the night to ourselves. Lane slid her hands under my shirt. The kiss was soft and sweet.

"I don't want to go downstairs," she said in a sullen voice that made me smile. "I was good all weekend. You're supposed to be in bed naked right now."

I bit her pouting bottom lip lightly. "Just remember that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

She pushed me away, laughing. "It's gotta not kill me first."

~~

I went downstairs with torn emotions. I wanted to have a good time because time supposedly flies faster when you're having fun. God knew I wanted that afternoon to go by in a flash. I had one small problem. I did not want to have a good time with Trish. Whatever concessions I was willing to make to her for her place in Kerry's life were not ones I was willing to make to her place in Lane's. I resented her subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that she had one.

"Go on to the patio," Lane said when we reached the downstairs hallway. I could hear someone moving around in the kitchen. "I'll go see if our chef needs help."

I watched her go into the kitchen before I turned to the den. Through the sliding glass doors, I saw Shelly sitting alone on the patio. She looked sad sitting there, her thoughts somewhere else as her fingers absently brushed against the side of her glass. If I didn't want to be around Trish, how much more did she not want to be around Lane?

I snapped a smile on my face and walked out onto the sun washed patio. I took an appreciative sniff of the air. "Hmm, that smells great."

Shelly's answering smile was brief. "Thanks. It's an old family recipe."

The glass table was set for four. I sat down next to her and searched for something to say. Several gambits crossed my mind and all were rejected as sounding either too forced or too obvious. I didn't have a clue what to say to the current lover of my current lover's ex. I was mildly amused to find myself in such a ridiculous situation.

"I hope we're not ruining any plans that you made," Shelly said, finally breaking the uncomfortable silence between us. She glanced at me briefly.

I shook my head. "You're not. What plans of yours did we ruin?"

Her eyes darted to the sliding glass doors. "We didn't have any."

She was lying and if I knew her better, I might have called her on it. But then again maybe not. She had her problems with her girlfriend and I had my problems with her girlfriend. I didn't see any reason for us to discuss them.

"So," she said when the silence had stretched once again, "How much longer do you think we should sit awkwardly out here waiting for them?"

She turned to look at me. Something more than annoyance but not quite anger was churning in her eyes. I felt trapped by the fact that I liked her. She was as caught in the middle of them as I was and thinking that she wasn't as blameless didn't make me feel less sorry for her. I didn't want to assume anything about her relationship with Trish. All I knew was that Trish, whether or not she was with Shelly, would always be a part of Lane's life. And I selfishly wanted Shelly to be part of Trish's.

I leaned close to the table and folded my hands on the glass surface. "I have a feeling that we're going to be spending time together. It's obvious that they're still very good friends. Just between us, I'm glad you came along. I don't think Lane would be single if you hadn't and I wouldn't have this chance with her. I want this chance."

She sat forward and mirrored my posture. "I want you to have this chance. I like Lane, but it's hard to be around her. They have more than Kerry binding them together. If we have to be around Lane, I'd much rather she have a girlfriend. I suppose I shouldn't care, but I'm glad it's you."

Our gazes met and held as we laid our cards on the table. She was right. Lane and Trish did have more than Kerry in common. They shared all the good and bad memories that make up a life built together. Any new lives that Shelly and I built with them would never replace the one they had. We just had to remember that life was past tense.

Laughter caught our attention and we both turned to watch them come onto the patio. Lane carried a stack of plates. Trish balanced a large tray. Both were a lot more relaxed than they were earlier in the kitchen. Jealousy stabbed at me as I wondered what they talked about and why they were laughing now.

I studied Lane's wry grin and heard the mocking tone in Trish's voice as she teased Lane about some incident from the past. Obviously over would never mean forgotten. They chatted amicably while they passed out plates, potatoes and salads. I glanced across the table to see Shelly watching me, a faint understanding smile on her face. Oh yeah, she understood perfectly. This right here was the fine line she walked. Her choice was to share all of Trish's life or a part of it. Choosing all meant going to the lake house, coming here, seeing the obvious rapport they still had. It was also the only choice that meant a future with Trish.

I smiled back with a small nod of acknowledgement. The boat we were in was small and possibly leaky and I was lucky to actually like the companion who shared it with me. I was pretty sure she felt the same.

"Hmm?" I looked up at Lane to see her holding a bottle of Ranch dressing.

"Still your favorite?"

I smiled and held my hand out for the bottle. Trish wasn't the only one who knew preferences. She wasn't the only one who had a past with Lane. I had my own past and my own memories and unlike Trish, I had the chance for more.

~~

"Are you sure you want to have lunch with Shelly?" Lane asked me as the door closed behind them a few hours later. Doubt filled her eyes and colored her tone.

I stared at her over the butcher's block. I debated over how truthful to be with her. I think Shelly and I both expected our confession to be kept between the two of us. I know I didn't want Trish to know what I said. Did I want Lane to know? She lifted her eyebrows in silent question. No, I really didn't want her to know what I said.

"I like her," I admitted that truth. "I think we can be friends."

She stared at me with an expression on her face I couldn't identify. Finally, she shook her head slightly and shrugged. "Fine. I hope you have a good time. I'm going to work for a little while."

Dumbfounded, I could only watch as she left the kitchen. What the hell just happened? We were finally alone and she was going to work for a little while? Even after I reviewed the conversation, I was still clueless. Something had happened, but what it was I didn't know. I left the kitchen with the intent to find out.

Lane was in her office sitting at her computer. I stood in the doorway for a few moments and watched her. If she was working, she wasn't doing anything more than reading the computer screen.

"Want to talk about it?"

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. She didn't turn to look at me. "About what?"

I wandered into the room. Pictures in frameless holders were tucked among the bookshelves, on tables, and hanging on the wall. Most were of Kerry. I was reminded again of how very much she looked like Lane as a child. "About why you're in here working now that we're finally alone."

The silence behind me felt like a wall pressing against me. A thick, high wall separating us, shutting me out and I didn't know how to get past it. I waited, hoping she'd say something until finally I turned to find her watching me. "I don't know what happened so you're going to have to tell me. At least give me a clue."

For one instant, her eyes opened to me and I was astonished to see fear and pain. Fear of what? Pain from where? I went to her and cupped her face. "Baby, talk to me."

She pulled away and my hands fell into her lap. "I don't want you to like Shelly."

I almost asked why. She was friends with Shelly. She was a lot nicer to the woman who took her lover than I would ever be. And then I understood. She'd already lost one lover to Shelly. However foolish I knew her fear to be, it was very real for her. She'd lived through this once already. I don't know how she found out about them or how she reacted to that knowledge. What I saw as acceptance of their relationship could really be an acceptance of the situation. She couldn't change it so she found a way to live with it.

I knelt between her legs and put my hands on her waist. Her eyes refused to meet mine. She was so uncertain, so clearly embarrassed to be exposed in such a way. "Do you know what I like best about Shelly?"

Stormy eyes flitted to my face as she shook her head. I leaned into her. "She's with Trish. Right now, she's in a car with Trish and I'm here with you. Soon, hopefully very soon, we'll be in your bed. I'll be kissing you. I'll be touching you. I'll be making love with you. Because somewhere else, Shelly will be with Trish."

With my first words, Lane stared down at me. I kept our gazes locked as I spoke from my heart. A tiny smile tugged at her lips. The wall was falling and I moved closer to her. She slipped a hand to the back of my neck, pulling me to her as she lowered her head. "I see."

Our lips met softly. We had all night to take this slowly. I had all night to reassure her there was no place I'd rather be and no one I'd rather be with. I never would have thought Lane could be insecure. As far as I was concerned, she was the total package. There wasn't anything more I would want. But she was living with the memory that for someone else, she wasn't enough. I couldn't change that memory for her. I could show her she was everything to me.

I stood up and moved back. I whipped my shirt off. With a smile, I headed for the door. "I'm going to take shower and then see what's on TV. How long do you think you'll be working?"

Hands closed over my breasts after only a few steps. Warm lips sent shivers over my skin with tiny kisses across my bare shoulders. Or maybe it was the light caress of her hands. I laid my head back against her.

"I bet the Braves are playing. We could watch that if you really want to watch TV."

"I could wat-uh oh," my breath caught as she slid her hands under my bra. "Um, watch the Braves."

"Yeah?" She asked in my ear. My knees buckled slightly when she took my earlobe into her mouth. Her hands dropped to my waist to steady me. "I don't think that's how we're going to spend the night."

I turned to face her, sliding my arms around her neck. The desire I'd felt for her all day, for the entire weekend, washed over me in a hot flash. All I could think was finally. We were alone finally. I could indulge every desire finally.

This time our kiss was hard and urgent, leaving no doubts to what we both wanted. Busy fingers tugged on buttons and zippers, stripped shirts and jeans off in a frenzy of need. We dropped to the floor of her office without a word, not caring that her bed was only a few steps away.

"Finally," she breathed, straddling me, sharing my thoughts.

"Yes," I managed as her mouth closed over my tight nipple.

Finally.

~~

I awoke several hours later draped over Lane. The house was completely dark and only her screensaver offered a dim glow of light. I stretched in Lane's arms and felt wonderfully sated. There's something to be said for frustrated passion. It's like a can that gets shaken until the tab is pulled and it explodes, covering everything. I don't ever want to wait days again, but oh my, I could if I knew it would end with Lane begging me. Now, oh please God, now Alison.

Oh yeah. For that, I could be teased and tormented for a few days.

"What are you grinning about?"

I leaned over to kiss her. "You. I love you."

We both froze as the words echoed in the silent room. I wished desperately for a light to see her face, to see into her eyes. How could I say those words? Now? Without knowing how she really felt about me? Time hung with her tensed under me as I waited for some response. Praying that whatever it was I could live with it.

Her hand came up to cup my face. "Before I tell you that I love you, now is your chance to take it back if you just said it in the heat of the moment."

I didn't need to see her face. I heard everything I needed to know in her words, in her soft tone. I knew then that Trish was right. Lane had never fallen completely out of love with me. Just as I never fell completely out of love with her.

"There is no heat of the moment. I've always been in love with you."

She pulled me down into her arms and held me so tight I could feel her heart pounding. I relaxed in her embrace and laid my head on her shoulder. I rubbed her stomach in a slow caress until she loosened her hold on me.

"I've been in love with you forever. You were how I knew I was gay."

The low admission startled me. "What?"

She laughed lightly and ran a hand over my hip. "It was late spring and Cat decided it was warm enough that we could swim in the pool. You came over in that black one-piece you had. Sometime over the winter, under all the sweaters you loved to wear, your breasts began to grow. I could barely keep my eyes off them. Later, we took a shower together. I couldn't figure out a way to ask you if I could touch one. We were twelve."

I frowned as a long buried mystery was solved. "That's when you started wearing sunglasses all the time, isn't it?"

Lane's new habit of wearing her shades whenever we were outside drove Catherine nuts. Sunny, rainy, cloudy, it didn't matter. If it was technically daylight, Lane was wearing her Ray-Bans.

"Yep. Behind the dark lenses, I could ogle you all I wanted." She palmed my breasts in her hands. "By the time these babies were full, I wanted to do more than touch them. I spent years watching you grow into a woman and could never figure out how to tell you how I felt."

"How did you figure out how to tell someone else if you couldn't tell me?" I was hurt that her first was some other girl when it could have been me.

She laughed again. "I didn't. I was at a softball tournament and Laura Benson was sharing a room with me. The first night she took off her clothes and asked if I'd give her a massage. God, the noises she made. The next night, she said it was my turn. A lot of my questions got answered that night."

"Laura Benson was your first?" I vaguely remembered the third base player on the softball team. She was a senior and Lane a sophomore when they played together. I remembered a tall, slender red head with great hands at the hot corner.

"Yes, she was my first. She still likes to be a woman's first. In school, she went for the new kids on the team. Now she goes for 'bi-curious' women. You'll see her when we go out."

I didn't want to see Laura Benson. Lane didn't seem disturbed by how her first time happened. I wanted better for her than to be a notch on some girl's bat. If I couldn't be her first, I wanted it to be someone who cared about her. "I can't wait to go out with you on a real date. I want to dress up and go to a restaurant. Then I want to go somewhere I can dance with you and kiss you and no one will care. We never got to do that."

"We didn't get to do a lot of things couples do."

With one notable exception, we never got to do anything normal couples do. Were we even a couple then? I was dating and sleeping with Thomas. Lane broke up with her girlfriend when we came back from the lake house that summer. When I continued to see Thomas, she began to date other girls. I hated it and we fought bitterly. I've always wondered how much worse the fights would have been if Lane knew then I was still having sex with him. Thinking about it now, I know we never would have made it to spring. It would have been over the second she knew.

She sat up and in the dim light, I watched her yawn and rub her eyes. She sighed, resting her arms on her knees. "I have a friend who owns a romantic restaurant. I'll call her tomorrow and see if we can get reservations for Wednesday. She's usually booked weeks in advanced, but maybe she can work something out for me. We can go to the club afterwards. You didn't want to leave at the break of dawn on Thursday did you?"

I laughed. Even if I did, even if there was something I desperately needed to do at the lake house early Thursday morning, after an invitation like that, anything less than the life of one of the girls would have to wait. I stood up and held out my hands to her. "I'd love to have a romantic night with you."

"Well if For Two is full, I'll find something else. Come hell or high water, we've got a date Wednesday night."

The only "hell" I could think of was Trish popping up. Somehow I didn't think I would have to say a word to her. Lane was getting irritated enough with her for showing up without warning. And whatever I could possibly say to her would never have the impact of what Lane could say.

With our arms wrapped around each other, we went to her room to get ready for bed. As we maneuvered around in her bathroom, talking about nothing really at all, I caught a glimpse of the future. It was easy for me to imagine us getting ready for bed after a day of work and a night of being mothers. This time, alone with the day coming to end, would be ours.

I leaned in the doorway of the bathroom and watched Lane walk to her closet. She pulled a rich blue silky sleep shirt from a drawer. If the girls were sleeping down the hall, I'd have to let her wear that to bed. They weren't so I didn't.

"Are you cold?" I asked and slipped into her bed. "I'll keep you warm."

Surprise crossed her face as she turned to see me wearing nothing at all. With a grin, she put the shirt back in its drawer. I let her roll on top of me and kiss me breathless. Yes, with only a little effort, I could get more than used to this. I could need it. I could want it more than I've wanted anything else in my life.

9.

By the time noon rolled around the next day, I was searching for a way to talk Shelly into having lunch at Lane's. I had questions I thought she would be more likely to answer in private. I thought she had questions, too, and I knew I would censor myself in a restaurant. If we were going to do this, there wasn't any point in having the conversation in a place that wasn't private.

I was flipping through the yellow pages searching for delivery that wasn't pizza when she knocked on the kitchen door promptly at twelve. I closed the thick book and hoped she knew something about the area that I didn't. I opened the door and was relieved to see the distinctive red bucket in her hands. Apprehension quickly followed relief as I realized a part of me had been hoping she would say no.

"You read my mind," I said in a voice that sounded surprisingly ordinary to my own ears.

She put the chicken on the butcher's block and turned to look at me. There was nothing teasing or humorous in the deep brown of her eyes. "Oh that I could."

I walked to the cabinet and took down two plates. She moved to gather forks and spoons. I grabbed two cans of Coke from the fridge and she picked up the bucket. Without either of us saying a word, we took everything out to the patio. It was hot even with the shade of the umbrella. Why we didn't eat in the cool comfort of the kitchen I don't know. Maybe it was in the back of our minds that this was "their" house.

"This would be a lot simpler if I could read your mind," she said as she poured gravy over her mashed potatoes. "I'd know everything I need to know."

Not want, but need to know. I wasn't sure there was anything else I needed to know. The apprehension I felt earlier was gone. The fact that she wanted to talk, that she felt some of the uncertainty that I did, went a long way to calm my anxiety. "Like what?"

"Are you in love with her?"

I know I blinked at her for several long seconds. I didn't expect her to go there. At least not so quickly. I don't think I expected us to get this point at all. "Yes."

Something akin to fear eased out of her eyes and a tension I hadn't noticed before was gone. She nodded and looked down at her plate. "What did you want to know?"

That was it? Of all the things she could ask me and expect that I would answer, how could she stop at just one? "How did you meet Trish?"

I hope she heard what I didn't want to say out loud. It wasn't fair of me to ask how she could become involved with someone she knew was in a relationship. I wasn't on enough moral high ground to think that my affairs with other married women were so different that I could point an accusing finger at someone else.

"I was a witness in a case. She was still with Macklin then. I had never given a deposition before so I didn't know that all the lunches we were having weren't normal. After several weeks of meeting several times a week, I noticed we weren't talking about the case at all. We had dinner at night. She spent nights at my house. We went away for weekends."

Her voice was soft as she spoke. The memory was bittersweet. She could never look back at how they met and got together without remembering that Trish had belonged to someone else. She looked up at me and I didn't doubt the sincerity of the regret I saw so clearly in her eyes. "By the time I knew about Lane, it was too late. I told her she had to choose."

And she chose you, I thought, torn between being angry for Lane and happy for me.

"She couldn't tell Lane so Lane had to admit she already knew about us. She knew almost from the beginning. Trish came to me that night crying."

I could only stare at her. Trish hadn't really chosen her. Lane chose for her. I didn't want to know how she felt when Trish showed up at her door crying tears that weren't from joy. The fine line she walked was so much thinner than I would have ever dreamed. She didn't win Trish fair and square. She didn't win her by hook or crook. She won by default. The words were out before I know I was thinking them. "I'm sorry."

She shrugged and looked away from me. I could only guess at the expression on my face. I could hear Lane saying that she tried to be angry about the affair, but that she was just relieved one of them had the courage to end what wasn't really a relationship anymore. She led me to believe Trish was the one who walked away and I had to wonder now if that wasn't the way Lane saw it. Trish could have stayed. She didn't have to say whatever she said to Lane that put Lane in the position of choosing to tell Trish she already knew about the affair. In her own way, she did choose Shelly. I hoped Shelly saw that one day.

"Lane thinks you're the best thing that ever happened to Trish."

Her startled gaze flew to my face. She asked, stunned, "What?"

I nodded and sat back in my chair. "She was telling Nikki that you and Trish were coming up to the lake house. Nikki was shocked because I understand Catherine is still very angry with Trish about you. Lane said Catherine would like you if she gave you a chance. Then she added that she loved you and you were the best thing that ever happened to Trish."

Was I wrong to tell her that? If I was, I didn't care. The foundation of all love is faith, but even the most sincere believer needs something to hang that belief on. With what I had seen and heard of their relationship, I saw very little of that for Shelly. If I were her, I would have left after that argument the night they came back from the bar. Hearing the woman I love say she would still be with her ex would have been the end for me. At the very least, I would have made Trish come crawling to me begging for forgiveness. I don't know that she didn't do that, but I rather doubted it. She would have to be very secure to make that kind of stand.

"I don't know what to say to that."

"You don't have to say anything. Just let yourself off the hook. You didn't take Trish from Lane."

A bitter little smile twisted her lips for a moment. "Would you understand if I said a wish I had?"

Oh yeah, I could understand that very much. It had nothing to do with Lane and everything to do with Trish. "Yes."

She picked up her forgotten fork and glanced at me before looking down at her plate. "You have a PhD in Psych, right? What will you be teaching at GSU?"

We spent the next hour getting to know another side of each other. She was active in a social group of lesbians in the medical profession and invited me to their next meeting. I surprised myself by agreeing to go. The summer vacation would be over then and we'd all be back in Atlanta. It was after two when I hugged her goodbye. Strangely enough, putting my arms around her came naturally.

As I watched her back out of the drive way, I wondered how she would have reacted if I said Lane was as afraid of her as she was of Lane.

~~

I had supper warming in the oven by five and was waiting for Lane to call. I had gone to a nearby shopping center after Shelly left. Lane's fridge wasn't as bare as one would expect for someone vacationing for a month, but it was lacking in a few of the necessities. I really looked around as I drove over and approved very much of the area. There was very little someone could want that couldn't be found nearby. Jaime and I could be at home here in no time at all.

I was especially relieved by my phone call to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. Because the area was so different, I didn't realize just how close Lane lived to our parents. Jaime would be a classmate of Kerry's regardless of where we lived. I knew for a little while we would be living with my parents, but I hoped that before the school year was out, we'd be somewhere permanent. I checked out the houses for sale in BridgeMark and wondered if I could afford to live here. I wasn't the Executive VP of a thriving airplane company. Thomas's life insurance and sale of our home in Chicago left me more than comfortable. I could afford to be choosy about where we lived. I just needed to remember that in addition to myself and Jaime to support, I had a non-resident daughter in college.

Again, my thoughts went to the obviously solution. Moving in with Lane would solve all my problems. Jaime was already living with her and wanted to stay until I found a house. Neither Lane nor I would be put in the position of having to turn them down when they wanted to be together. I couldn't imagine my childhood without Lane next door. How different everything would have been if there had been more than a swinging fence between us. I wanted that kind of best friend for Jaime.

There was always a but and this one was that while I wanted to spend every night in Lane's bed, I wasn't ready for that bed to be just down the hall from my daughter.

It was close to six by the time Lane called and the lot in front of RAD was empty when I pulled into her slot. I frowned as I glanced around. There were dark shadows even with the security lighting. I couldn't believe she'd been left here alone without car. What the hell was Christopher thinking?

"Alison Hart?"

I jumped at the deep voice that came from one of the shadows and stared at the tall, muscled man who stepped out next to me. He wore dark slacks and I could just read the word Security in white on his dark shirt. I cleared my throat before answering. "Yes, I'm Alison Hart."

"Ms. Remick's waiting in her office." I followed him to the front door. The red light of the door security flicked to green as he swiped his card. He held the door open for me. "Do you know where that is?"

I nodded and walked quickly to the staircase that led to the upper floor. I looked down when I made the turn to the second set of stairs. He was gone. Well at least she was left with what seemed to be a competent guard. The second floor was lit from the light coming from her office. The rapid fire tapping of keys told me she was still working.

I stood in the doorway and watched her a moment. Her dark hair was caught in a pony tail and I had to smile. It was a different look for her, at least for me. Her hair was always short when we were kids. I loved running my fingers through it now. "I thought you were ready."

She shot me a quick glance, her fingers never pausing in their race across the keyboard. Her smile was absent. "Almost. Just a few more minutes."

Slowly, I moved around her office and wondered at the lack of personality. Surely she could have any office she wanted in the building. This small, cramped room didn't even have a window. Books were crammed on the shelves and the word airplane was in every title or subtitle. Even as a child, she was President of RAD while I was playing doctor, lawyer and Indian Chief. I glanced over as the typing paused and watched her flip through papers on her desk. I almost asked if it was everything she thought it would be, being almost President, but then I had to wonder how would she know if it wasn't. So instead, I asked, "Will this all be Kerry's one day?"

She pulled a sheet free from a stack of papers and held it as she resumed typing. "What?"

I walked behind her chair and dropped my hands to her shoulders. I felt her relax as I began a slow massage of her shoulders. "This office. Your job. RAD."

She laughed and shrugged. Her voice was amused as she answered. "I hope so and right now she says all the right things when asked. She's only 12."

"You knew when you were 12," I reminded her.

"I knew I didn't have a choice at 12," she said, still sounding amused. "If she wants to do something else, I'll make sure she gets that chance."

"But you hope she chooses RAD."

"Yes, I hope she chooses RAD."

She shot me a quick smile as she reached for her mouse. Quickly she shut down her computer and took a moment to straighten the piles of papers stacked on her desk. She turned to me and raised both arms to stretch them over her head. My gaze slid slowly down and stopped at the dark blue shirt stretched tight across her breasts. Desire caught me low and tight as I stared at the hard nipples so clearly defined against the linen fabric. Before I knew it, my hands had lifted and were cupping her breasts, my thumbs stroking her. Her eyes snapped open and she gasped softy. I pressed myself against her. "You are so incredibly sexy. I can't keep my hands off you."

"I'm not complaining," she said with a smile and slipped her arms around my waist. She slowly pulled my T-shirt from my jeans. "Do you want to take this home or finish it here?"

I didn't need to glance around her office to know the answer to that. The carpet on her floor was thin and industrial gray. I caught her nipples between my thumb and finger and pressed lightly. "Home. I've got supper waiting for you."

In a quick move I never saw coming, she moved me back against the wall. One leg slid high between my thighs and she pressed herself against me at the same time her lips crushed against mine. When she opened her mouth, I opened mine. Her leg moved against me, pushing in tight before pulling back. I broke the kiss when I felt her hand at the zipper of my jeans. The only sound for several seconds was our ragged breathing. I put my hand over hers. "Home."

With a deep breath she moved back away from me. Her eyes were almost black and the look she sent me made me gasp. No one has ever wanted me the way she did right at that moment. And I have never wanted anyone the way I wanted her. "Let's go."

Locking up consisted of shutting her office door and setting the alarm after we were outside the building. Conscious of the guard lurking in the shadows, I resisted the urge to touch her as I unlocked the passenger side door. It would be so easy to cop a quick kiss or caress before she slid into the car. Driving the speed limit from RAD to her house was an impressive feat of self-control. I wanted to floor it, to screech tires as I took the corners too fast. I turned down her street and the thought that I would kill Trish if she was waiting for us tonight vanished as I saw no cars parked in front of her house. Lane hit the remote so that the garage door was lifting as I drove up the sloping drive.

We made it as far as the downstairs hallway.

~~

"It smells wonderful," Lane said as she reached for the phone. "Supreme, extra cheese?"

"It was wonderful." I watched in disappointment as the roast, baby carrots, and potatoes slid into a burnt pile in the garbage. I'd left the oven on low before I left to pick her up, but between the extra time in her office and sex on the floor the dinner was a little too black and crispy. "No mushrooms."

While she ordered the pizza I poured two glasses of iced tea. I was dropping lemon slices into each when her arms came around me from behind and I leaned back against her. "I wanted to cook you a real meal."

She stopped nibbling on my ear and rested her chin on my shoulder. "Why didn't you say something? I would've stopped."

I closed my eyes, remembering the feelings coursing through me on the drive home. I had wanted her. I wanted her with a desperate need that had me stripping her in the hallway and pushing her to the floor so that I could bury my face between her legs. She was still coming when she pushed me away, pushed me down and took me with her mouth. I don't think I could have said my name when we walked in the door, much less think about the meal warming in the oven. I smiled, saying, "I don't think so. I know I couldn't. Maybe I could've stopped if your house was on fire."

"So you wanted me?" She asked softly as her hands slowly untied the belt on my robe. Her fingers brushed lightly against my skin as she pushed the dark silk away. "Tell me how you wanted me."

My breath caught as one hand slid up to caress my breast and the other slid low. My head dropped back to rest against her. "Wanted isn't the word. I needed you. I needed to be in you so much that I couldn't think of anything else."

"You didn't go in me," She breathed in my ear. "Did you need me in you?"

"Oh yes," I whispered, trembling when her fingers slid down to touch me. "I wanted you so deep inside me."

"Turn around," she said and moved away from me. "Up, onto the butcher's block."

With the help of her hands on my waist, I was soon sitting on the counter with her standing between my legs. Her hands slid along the outside of my thighs as she leaned in to lick my nipple. I fisted both hands in her hair, eyes closed as she licked each nipple until they were hard and throbbing. Her hands were lightly stroking closer to the inside of my thighs and I gasped when she slid one finger through my wet curls. She moved away. I opened my eyes to look into hers.

Two fingers slid inside me of just a little. "Do you want to hold on to me? Or do you think you can lean back on your hands?"

Our gazes were locked as she came out slowly and pushed deeper inside. In answer, I spread my legs wider and reached for her. She was everywhere, her tongue pushing into my mouth as her fingers slid in and out of me. I broke the kiss as the tingles started low and grew. She was whispering in my ear that she loved me, loved seeing me like this when I fell against her in spasms that rocked me deep inside. I would have fallen to the floor if her arm had not locked around me to keep me on the counter. I kissed her softly on the cheek. "You can come out now."

We both jumped when the doorbell rang. She grinned and kissed me quickly on the lips. "I wasn't planning to answer the door in my robe."

I watched her leave the kitchen. God, she was incredible. I braced my hands on the butcher's block and hung my head. I was going to stay there until I was sure I could stand on my own. I thought if I jumped down right then, I would fall on my butt. No one had ever done this to me before. Left me breathless, trembling and still wanting her.

"Hey," I turned to see her framed in the doorway with a brown pizza box in her hands. "Grab some plates, napkins and drinks. Let's eat upstairs."

With her suggestive smile as incentive, I slid from the counter and found the requested items. My legs had stopped shaking by the time I was ready to go upstairs. The long upstairs hallway was lit by the light falling from her bedroom. Soft music began playing as I passed the girl's bedroom. She was pulling the comforter and extra pillows from her bed when I walked into the room.

"How did lunch go?" She asked, her tone not as casual as she probably hoped it was.

Regardless of how much I loved that she was jealous, I wanted her to have absolutely no doubts about my feelings for her. "It was interesting. She's got this group of lesbians in the health field that she thinks I should join. I think it would be good for me professionally."

We sat on the bed and she lifted out gooey slices for each plate. "How was it interesting?"

I took the plate from her and stared at her before I said slowly, "She has this group of lesbians in the health field she thinks I should join. I think that would be good for me professionally."

She dropped all pretense of casual indifference. "You didn't talk about anything personal? I find that hard to believe."

Several replies flashed across my mind and not all of them took into consideration that Lane didn't want to me to have lunch with Shelly in the first place. But I could see it in her eyes, the fear that been so hard for her to admit last night, and I knew I could be nothing less than completely honest with her.

"She asked me if I'm in love with you. I said yes."

She froze at my first sentence and then stared at me for a moment. Her visible relief was painful for me to see. I thought I calmed her fears the night before and it was obvious that there was one I missed. I leaned forward, saying softly, "I've waited all my life to be where I am now. There isn't a woman who can tempt me away now that I'm finally here."

Slowly, she began to smile and I watched that last fear fade away. She leaned forward and gave me a light kiss on the lips. "I've waited all my life for you be here."

We settled back against the pillows stacked at the headboard with our plates and talked casually about our day. Lane had one more day in her office before she was expected back at the lake house. As she talked, her voice frustrated by the time restraint, I had to wonder if coming back for three days was a good thing for her. She clearly did not want to leave what she had on her desk until next week, but didn't seem to think she would finish it off tomorrow. She was torn between more than just her parents; she was torn between what she wanted and what her mother needed.

The one thing that kept me from suggesting she blow off the rest of the time at the lake house was Catherine's warnings about her health. She wasn't spending a month at the lake house just because her mother wanted her to be there. There were medical reasons she was there. I wish I knew more than I did about her condition and I kicked myself for not questioning her doctor when I had her on the patio that afternoon. Surely Shelly wouldn't cite patient confidentiality to me.

"Oh, I talked to Kim this afternoon. We have reservations at eight." Lane was stacking our plates and crumpled napkins on the pizza box as she talked. "That should give us plenty of time to get everything packed to leave and get still dressed for the night."

"How dressed?" I asked, trailing behind her as she left the room. "I didn't bring anything dressy with me."

She turned at the top of the stairs to give me a puzzled look. "Aren't all your clothes at your parent's house? I can give you directions so you can go over in the morning if you want. But 'dressy' is whatever you want to wear to a restaurant and then to a bar."

I followed her downstairs to the kitchen. While she threw away the trash and wedged the left over pizza into the fridge, I grabbed a wet cloth and wiped down the counters. This would be my real first date with her. My real first grown-up date with another woman. I looked across to where she was rinsing our plates before she put them in the dishwasher. I was glad to have at least one first with her. "What do you want me to wear?"

Surprised, she turned to look at me and as she saw whatever expression was on my face, she grinned and leaned back against the counter. "So many choices. Something in black." She had a dreamy look in her eyes. "A little black dress. Do you have one of those?"

"I do," I said as I slid over next to her. Her robe was carelessly tied and I reached out to trace the skin between her breasts. "Spaghetti straps and about six inches above the knees. I have stiletto heels."

The expression on her face was pure lust. I enjoyed it for a few moments, watching her pupils widened and her breathing speed up, knowing it was the image of me that I painted for her that caused the reaction. Knowing that at the moment in time, I was the only thing on her mind. I leaned closer, whispering, "I'll wear it if you do."

Her instinctive nod turned to a confused head shake as what I said penetrated the fog in her brain. She laughed and slipped her arms around me. "Okay then. Slacks it is."

"With a white silk shirt," I said as the image of her in white silk dancing slowly against me in a dark bar filled my mind. I looked into her bright blue eyes, my mind still dancing, and whispered, "I can't wait to take it off you."

My hands slid between us to open her robe. Her skin was so soft and warm against my hands. I let them glide down her back and leaned into her to kiss her heart. "I want to be inside you. I want to feel you so wet and tight around me."

I stepped back and took her hand in mine. Her eyes were dark and half closed. I smiled, aroused by the thought that I could lead her anywhere I wanted right then and do anything I wanted to her. We were very quickly christening all the rooms in her house, but I didn't want another encounter on the floor or piece of furniture. Not that I didn't enjoy the floor in her office and the hallway or the sessions on her counter and in the bathtub. And I wouldn't mind a chance to do something on her secluded patio. But now I wanted her in bed. I wanted to make her weak and sated before pulling her into my arms to sleep.

"Will you wear the little black dress with stiletto heels just for me?" She asked as we walked down the hallway to her bedroom. "Kind of like a date where we never leave the house."

With that tone in her voice, with the images in my head, there was very little she could have asked of me right then that I wouldn't have given her. I agreed to wear the little black dress with stiletto heels just for her. I would have agreed to anything to get her on the bed with our robes flung somewhere on the floor.

"I'm holding you to that promise," she whispered with both hands framing my face as I lay between her legs.

"Anything," I breathed and then her lips were on mine and every thought vanished in the sensations of her skin against mine, her mouth open under mine, in her.

10.

"Come on Alison," Lane said outside Kerry's bedroom. "We're going to be late."

I stepped in front of the full length mirror on the back of the bedroom door. I spent hours at my parent's house that afternoon in pursuit of the perfect ensemble for my first date with Lane. It was that very thought, my first date with Lane, that turned a quick errand into hours spent unpacking every box stacked in my childhood bedroom. I didn't realize that I had a fantasy in my head of this night until I was faced with getting ready to live it. Suddenly nothing I owed was good enough for a fantasy date with my dream girl.

"Now, or I'm leaving without you," Lane threatened and tried to open the door. She laughed when I told her I was dressing in Kerry's bedroom and then tried to follow me when I left her room with my bag. The door was still locked.

I didn't want to get dressed in front of her. If this was a normal date, I'd be dressing at home and we would meet. I'd be completely dressed the first time she saw me and everything she felt would be clear on her face. I wanted that moment. I wanted to watch her eyes, see her face when she saw me in my little black dress and stiletto heels. Silver gleamed from large hoop earrings, the long chain that nestled between my breasts and chunky bracelets. I debated rings and decided to wear a wide silver band on my right thumb. I grabbed my black silk clutch from the bed and paused with my hand on the knob. Closing my eyes as the first date jitters hit, I took a deep breath and then opened the door.

She was standing with one hand on the doorframe and the other on her hip, annoyance dark in her eyes before she slowly stood up with a blank stare. Her eyes fell down to my feet and inched up my body. My breath caught when her lips parted. I had to consciously force myself to be still as her breathing increased and her gaze moved up with the heat of a caress. By the time she got to my face, I managed to pull my emotions under a tenuous control that would take little effort on her part to shatter.

"Hi." My voice came out a whisper.

"Oh," she breathed and her eyes dropped to the deep V of the dress. "Baby."

I moved to her, irresistibly drawn to the desire in her eyes. She was wearing the requested white silk shirt with matching pleated slacks and low heeled white boots. Her hands settled just below my breasts as she pulled me close for a kiss guaranteed to fan the flames already burning. My heels gave me a slight height advantage, but made it easier for her to pull me off balance and I was soon against the wall with her hands sliding under the edges of my dress. "Lane, stop," I said softly and caught her hands before she could push my dress up to my waist.

She stilled against me. "I'll cancel the reservation. We'll go out another time."

"Oh no," I said and slowly slid my hand up to lightly cup her right breast. "We're going out to dinner and then to a bar and when we get home, I will be so ready for you that you can do whatever you want to me."

Her eyes fluttered shut as I stroked my thumb across her hard nipple. "You can do whatever you want to me right now."

God, I was tempted. With her this close, her leg between mine and her breast in my hand, I wanted her. My eyes closed when she leaned in to kiss the sensitive skin between my breasts. But I wanted everything the night had to offer more. Flirting with her over candlelight. Dancing slow, desires simmering under the heat of our bodies touching but kept in check by our public surroundings. The night was going to end in her bed and I wanted that end to follow a slow, torturous seduction. "I want this night."

My eyes sprang open at a sharp bite on my neck. "Whatever I want?"

The husky growl sent shivers across my skin and I pressed against her leg. "Whatever you want."

She moved back and looked deep in my eyes. "I want you."

Stunned by the raw emotion in her voice, I barely felt the brush of her lips on mine. She took my hand in hers and as she led me downstairs, I stared at her. Suddenly the night was more than a fantasy date with Lane. It was a beginning. Of something. I was terrified of how tonight could so drastically change tomorrow. What expectations would we have then that we didn't have now? What were the consequences? We'd already moved so much faster than I would have dreamed possible. I may have wanted to be back in her bed and back in her life, and even if I ever thought it could happen, I would have thought it would take months for her to trust me even a little. I was stunned by how easily I was where I have always wanted to be, living the life I've always wanted.

"I almost bought flowers," Lane said, blissfully unaware of my thoughts. She smiled at me over her shoulder. "I thought that might be a bit too much."

She'd always been very romantic. I would open a book or my locker to find a card from her. Silly little presents would appear in my purse or book bag. I wasn't used to such attention, my experience being with teenage boys at that age, and when I asked her about it, she said she wanted me to know she was thinking about me. I was never able to do the same for her without feeling stupid.

"This is perfect," I said as we walked into the garage. I wouldn't let it be anything less. Tonight was one night. Just one night to be with her the way I've always wanted to be with her. One night to do all the things I want to do with her and to her without worrying about the expectations and consequences.

Lane opened the car door for me and held my hand as I stepped up to the seat. I tugged her hard against me before she could shut the door. Surprised blue eyes were an inch away from my face and I slid one hand behind her neck. My gaze dropped to her lips as I pulled her to me. "I want you."

I crushed my mouth to hers and when her tongue touched mine, I groaned. Her hand slid up the inside of my thigh and I opened my legs for her. Her fingertips stroked lightly on the barrier of my thong and the kiss gentled as her tongue moved in the same rhythm as her fingers.

"You're wet," she whispered against my lips. Her hand paused, her finger tracing the lace edge and my breath caught as she slipped inside. I spread my legs wider, forgetting that I didn't want this now.

My head fell back against the seat as I waited for her to touch me, to go deep inside. Her touch was quick and light, just a single stroke, before she took her hand away. As I watched, she brought her hand to her face and with her eyes never leaving mine, she put the finger in her mouth and oh so slowly pulled it out. "I just wanted a taste."

I stared at her in shock. A taste? I was sitting there with my legs open, drenched, and she only wanted a taste? "Are you kidding?"

Her smile was brilliant as she stepped back to close the door in my face. Open mouthed, I watched her walked around the car and settle in the driver's seat. She laughed at me as she put on her seatbelt. "You said you wanted this night. I'm just giving you what you want."

"You've got an evil streak," I said as I pulled on my seatbelt. "It would serve you right if I finished what you started while you drive."

"Yeah, that would teach me," she said with a quick glance my way. "The button to recline the seat is on the side."

Her tone was dead serious and she looked at me again, expectation glittering in her eyes. I laughed and shook my head. "The only hands I want touching me are yours."

"All night long," she said and backed down the drive.

~~

For Two, Lane's friend's romantic restaurant was exactly what I expected it to be. Intimate tables that sat two were topped with glass over white linen cloth, lit with a fat candle of red or pink and graced with a cut glass flute holding a single rose in full bloom. Dividers made of pale pink and red rice paper gave every setting the feel of privacy in the small dining area. Piano music played softly in the background.

The atmosphere was perfect for lingering touches and longing glances. I barely glanced at Kim, Lane's friend, when she asked that we let her take care of our meal. With my hand in Lane's, with the memory of her hands on me the only thought in my head, I didn't care what we ate. The dinner portion of the date was a mere stepping stone to the bar, where I could do more than hold her hand.

And because we both wanted to do more than hold hands, we didn't linger over the courses Kim brought us. We left For Two a little after nine-thirty. "You have to bring me back when I can enjoy the food and atmosphere. I can't even tell you what I ate."

Lane laughed as she drove out of the restaurant parking lot. "Let's never tell Kim that. She didn't have any reservations available when I called and it's been a while since she personally waited on a table."

I turned in my seat to face her. "Why are you so special? You can't be ex. No one is that gracious to an ex, especially an ex on a date."

"We're old friends." She reached for my hand. "You've met my only ex Allie. Kerry took the break-up really hard, is still taking it hard, and I didn't want to complicate my life by adding another person to it. I might have taken that step by now if I wasn't in the accident. You don't have to worry about running into old lovers."

That wasn't a worry of mine until she mentioned it. It was something I should have thought of before making a date to go to a bar with her. How many women in the bar tonight knew how it felt to have Lane's hands on them? "You don't consider the women you had affairs with old lovers?"

"No. Do you? Sex isn't a relationship. Maybe it's a shade of gray, but I think someone has to be in my life before they can be an ex out of it."

She was making a distinction I had never made and that was that sharing someone's bed wasn't the same as sharing their life. As I flipped through the women I'd slept with in Chicago, I realized they were on the periphery of my life. Mothers of my daughter's friends and wives of Thomas' co-workers. Our conversations out of bed were never personal much less intimate. I almost asked what line had to be crossed for someone to be more than a sexual partner. Had I crossed it yet? It was another question not asked because I wasn't ready to hear the answer.

I held her hand in both of my of mine. "I want to ask where we're going, but it occurs to me the name won't be mean anything. Is this a popular spot, a new one or an old favorite?"

"An old favorite that's also a popular spot."

It was a very popular spot if the number of cars parked in the parking lot on a Wednesday night was any indication. Lane was able to snag a slot near the front door. We were holding hands and she tugged my hand before we reached the entrance. She pulled me off to the side, pressing her body against mine as she slipped her arms around my waist. "How long do you want to stay?"

I had wanted hours dancing with her. Hours of feeling her body moving against mine. Kisses that lasted through several songs. Whispered words of desire and fantasy. When we left the bar, I wanted to be fighting the irresistible urge to rip off her clothes. As I stood there in the dark, her body tight against mine, I realized I was already there. My fingers moved to the buttons on her shirt and toyed with the first one. Seconds really is all it would take for me to have them undone. Have her undone.

I moved close enough to almost kiss her lips. "Long enough for one drink and one dance."

She touched her lips to mine for the smallest of moments. "Let's go."

The bar was typical. Mirrored glass covered the wall behind the L shaped bar, all the barstools were taken and glasses hung overhead for easy reach. Tables and booths were scattered around a small dance floor in the center of the room and the required pool tables and dart board took up a corner. Our progress to the bar was slowed by women surprised and delighted to see her. I was startled the first time she introduced me as her girlfriend. Was I? It was easy in that dark bar, with women looking at me in a combination of surprise and envy, to accept that I wanted to be.

"What do you want?" Lane asked when we were finally at the bar. The three bartenders were busy.

She draped her arm over my shoulders and I leaned into her. "Kiss me."

Lane grinned. "I don't think I've ever had of that. What's in it?"

She was more intoxicating than any drink I've ever had. Every breath I took was laced with her scent and she was clouding my mind. I watched her lips move as she spoke, but all I could think is how much I wanted her mouth on mine. No, not wanted. I needed her mouth on me. I didn't care what she was saying, or even if she was speaking to me. I slid my right hand behind her neck to pull her to me.

"Allie," she said and stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. "I'm trying really hard to give you what you want here, this night, but baby you are not making it easy for me. What do you want?"

Her. I wanted her. Stripped bare, spread open on a bed. Whispering my name like a prayer. I took her hand from my shoulder and kissed the palm. I pressed against her and looked into her blue eyes. "I want you, begging me."

"You mean like I was earlier? When we were already home? With the bed three feet away? Like that?"

"Exactly like that," I laughed.

"What would you ladies like?"

We both looked over at the bored young woman wiping her hands on a towel. Lane shook her head. "Nothing, thanks."

She pulled me away from the bar to an empty space on the edge of the dance floor. "One dance?"

I didn't even think about it. "No. I'm ready to let you do whatever you want to me."

And God if she didn't do it soon, I wasn't responsible for my actions.

What Lane wanted to do with me started before we were in the house. She pulled into the garage and as the door was sliding closed behind us, she told me to stay in the car. I didn't want to stay in the car and hoped she didn't expect me to for long. We'd been good on the drive home, resisting the opportunities to kiss at every stop light and let our hands roam. That was easier for Lane than it was for me. I didn't have the steering wheel to occupy my hands.

I watched impatiently as she came to my side and opened the door. Without a word, without warning, she hit the seat release and I fell back as the seat reclined. One hand slid into my hair to hold my head as she kissed me breathless. The other nudged my legs apart and slid up my thigh, my under dress. She gasped against my mouth when she felt how ready I was for her.

I gasped when she pushed two fingers deep inside me and coming seconds later only intensified the desire throbbing in my body. Blindly, I pulled her shirt from her slacks.

"Wait, wait," Lane said and didn't catch my hands fast enough to save the first button on her shirt from being ripped away. The sound of it pinging against glass gave me just enough pause for her to grab my hands and cradled them against her breasts. "I have to admit, I've never had my shirt torn off."

"We'll never find it," I said, laughing softly with her. Surely that button had rolled to the darkest, cob web infested corner in the garage.

"Forget it," she said. She released one of my hands and stepped back to pull me from the SUV with the other. "You can rip them all off if you want."

I was thinking about it, it was a tempting image, but then she pressed her body against mine and kissed me. The image of buttons flying was replaced by one of her, on her back with me kneeling between her legs.

Slowly we made our way up to her bedroom, leaving a trail of clothing that started in the garage with one white button. By the time we fell into her bed, we were sated and sleepy. I cuddled with my head on her shoulder and listened to her gentle breathing.

She had surpassed every expectation I had for the night. Everything I wanted, she gave me and in a way that was more than I asked. There wasn't anything about it I would change.

"Thank you," I whispered and kissed her neck. "Tonight was perfect."

"Yes, it was," she mumbled from the edge of unconsciousness. "You took my breath away."

I remembered her expression when I opened Kerry's bedroom door. It was better, so much more than I thought it could be. I loved taking her breath away. I loved the darkness of her eyes when she was aroused, the intensity that made me believe I was the only thing on her mind. As if awakened by my thoughts, my left hand began a slow caress across her stomach. Her skin was warm satin and I traced my fingertips in lazy loops as I remembered how her breath caught when I touched her like this. How she moved under me as if trying to get my hands to a certain spot. There were soft pleas with long kisses and gentle strokes. Breathless demands with hard kisses and quick bites. And every sound and kiss and touch in between.

I shivered as her hand moved from my hip. I thought at first that she was shifting in her sleep because I wasn't trying to wake her. I would have soon. I wouldn't have been able to resist.

"You feel good," she whispered and trailed her fingertips up my back as I was doing on her stomach.

I pushed up on my elbow to look into her face. Her eyes fluttered open. I brushed my lips across hers. "I was just thinking the same thing about you."

My hand slid up to circle her breast. Her hand moved to the back of my neck and pulled my face down to her. Her mouth opened slowly under mine. How she felt wasn't good, it was unbelievable. A desire I thought completely satisfied began to burn low. When her nipple was hard against my palm, I broke away from her lips to tease her with the tip of my tongue.

"Touch me," she breathed and covered my hand with hers to guide me down.

~~

Lane was still asleep when I woke up the next morning. I was on my side facing where she lay sprawled on her stomach. Tousled hair hid her face and the blankets were bunched at her waist. Instead of feeling sleepy, I moved closer to her, lured by her exposed back and the curve of her breast. I leaned over to kiss her shoulder and slid one hand under the blankets and over her ass. Her legs were spread enough for my fingers to lightly stroke her as I pressed kisses across her shoulder.

She jerked awake and I leaned down on her to keep her face down on the bed. I said softly in her ear, "Open your legs for me baby."

I continued to touch her with my fingers and tease her by sliding the tip of my middle finger barely inside her. She was wet, but I wanted more. She was moving under me restlessly. "Turn on your side a little."

I wasn't sure I would be able to touch her from behind and suck her breast, but I wanted to try. She pushed the hair out of her face as she rolled over. Her eyes were dark and she was breathing hard. I stole a quick hard kiss before moving under her and taking her nipple into my mouth. She buried both hands in my hair.

"Oh," she breathed and spread her legs wider. "Please."

I slipped my right hand down between us and stroked her as I slid two fingers of my left as deeply inside of her as I could go. Her breathy whispers and body moving against mine as I touched her had me trembling and when she fell on me after she came, I did little more than open my legs for her and let her have her way as she had let me have mine.

She was draped over me when I was breathing again. Her eyes were open when I looked up at her and she smiled softly. "Good morning."

I grinned and cupped her ass in my hands. "A very good morning."

I leaned up for a good morning kiss. It was slow and sweet and when it ended, she snuggled down in my arms. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feel of her warmth against me. "We have to leave soon, don't we?"

But unlike last time, I wasn't reluctant to go. I could go to the lake house knowing I would probably not be the one sharing her bed while we were there. That we would have to steal kisses. That I wouldn't get to her hold her like this until we were back here again. I could go because, while I didn't know when she would be in my arms again, I didn't doubt for a single moment that we would do this again.

"Yes and it's the last weekend, too. We're all coming back on Sunday."

My eyes snapped open. "What?"

She laughed softly and moved to smile down at me. "Yeah, I wish it wasn't true, too."

"But…" But what? Summer had to end. Our mothers had to come back to their husbands. Our daughters to enjoy the last of their freedom before school started. Lane and I to our jobs. Marley was leaving next Wednesday, barely a week from now, to start her freshman year at UGA. "Would you have very strong objections to our mothers moving to the lake house and keeping our daughters there?"

Lane laughed and slid on top of me. "Yes, I would. If anyone's getting Jaime, it's me."

I draped my arms around her neck and hooked my ankles around her calves. "Don't you mean Kerry?"

"I already have Kerry. All I need is Jaime to complete my set."

"No," I said with a laugh. "I meant Kerry gets Jaime if I'm giving her up."

Lane grinned down at me. "I have a firm policy against pets and children. Kerry can't have either until she's paying for the roof over her head. It was sad enough flushing the goldfish and the turtle. I really don't want to have to flush Jaime."

"I don't want this to end," I said and realized I sounded like my own children when they were denied something they really wanted.

"Does it have to?" Lane asked and all the amusement was gone from her face. She wasn't looking at me. She was watching herself play with a lock of my hair. It was the first question she'd asked me that put her in the vulnerable position of being rejected.

No, it didn't have to end, but it wasn't going to be the same. We were seventeen last time and even though we were seniors in high school and both dating other people, we had a lot of time we could spent together without questions. I was one of the few girls Catherine would let spend the night with Lane and we abused that trust more than once. It would seem that as adults now, and both single, we were free to do what we wanted with who we wanted. Except this time we weren't being watched by our mothers, but by two bright almost teenage daughters.

I slid one hand up into the hair at the nape of her neck and moved the other one under her arm so that I could ran my hand down the length of her back. "Do you think Trish will still take Jaime on her weekends with Kerry if she knows I'll be sleeping here with you?"

Surprise widened her eyes before she smiled. "Yes, but she'll make snide little comments."

"I can live with that." Lane's lips brushed mine. I could live with a lot of things for this. As her mouth opened on mine and the kiss deepened, I knew there was very little I wouldn't allow to have her in my life this way.

The phone on her bedside table startled us and Lane rolled away from me to answer it. I grinned as Lane talked with Catherine. From what I heard from Lane's side of the conversation, Catherine was concerned Lane hadn't called to say we were on the way. I got out of bed and gathered up the clothes I wanted to wear for the trip. I gestured for Lane to join me in the shower when she was off the phone.

I hoped the rest of the weekend passed quickly. I hadn't been ready before for us all to return to our normal lives in Atlanta, but now that I was certain Lane wasn't going to end this when we did, I was eager to get my life settled in Atlanta once again.

When the chapter of my life in Chicago closed, I never thought the next one would be a continuation of the chapter I closed when I left Atlanta. Lane and I were picking up where we left off and I was grateful to get this second chance with her.

"We're late," Lane said as she stepped in front of me in the shower. "We should have been almost there already. Why haven't we left yet?"

I grinned as she stuck her head under the spray of water. I waited until she was pouring shampoo in her hand before I asked, "And what did you tell her?"

"The truth. I had a late night and I was sleeping in. She asked why I couldn't sleep in the car while you drove. Did you know we were on a schedule? I didn't."

Because I could, I squirted liquid soap in my hands and stepped close to slide my hands over her body. "Well then, let me help you."

She caught my hands. "That's not helping me. That's getting me in trouble. Now be good."

I stepped back to reluctantly focus on my own body. No touching didn't mean I couldn't watch. I especially liked the way her breasts moved as she worked the shampoo into her hair.

11.

Coming home wasn't what I thought it would be. So much changed while I was in Chicago. The neighborhood where I grew up was new then and the only one in the area at the time. Shopping was more than the five minute drive it was now and today there was an endless choice of shopping centers where we had had a single grocery store. I felt like I was stuck in the same time-warp as my bedroom at the lake house. While everything around me was different, I wasn't part of the change.

It didn't help that while everyone else had lives to come back to in Atlanta, I had a week of nothing really to do before I started working. I was glad my daughters were already settled. That they weren't stumbling to find their way in this new world, one that was shockingly familiar and unfamiliar to me at the same time. Jaime waited eagerly on the front steps for Lane to drop off Kerry before she went to work. They spent most of the day swimming in the Cox's pool. Marley had Nikki and they were cramming in time with Nikki's friends before they all left for their respective colleges. My mother and Catherine brushed me away when I volunteered to babysit the girls so that they could catch up on neglected household chores. I was told to go, enjoy the last days of my vacation.

So I went.

I found Jaime's new school. It would be new to all the students attending that fall. The old one, the one Lane and I had attended, was razed and replaced with a new state of the art facility. I wouldn't have thought I had nostalgic feelings for the old place. I spent three years there and didn't have any particularly good or bad memories of them. But seeing it gone, just one more thing to add to the growing list of things gone from my life in Atlanta, left me sad.

I drove aimlessly around the area, delighted when something unremembered unexpectedly appeared and depressed when something I expected to be there wasn't. What had been forests when I was child was now paved over and filled with shopping centers, strip malls, outlets and sprawling mega malls. If I wanted something and couldn't find it close to home, there was always another ring of shopping centers, strip malls and outlets beyond these.

My nights weren't any better. The two families had bonded instantly when Catherine, Jon and Lane moved next door. Like most families, we had traditions. We went to the lake house every summer. If we didn't go to Colorado for a week every Christmas break, we went to the lake house. Spring breaks were spent in Florida. Holiday meals alternated between the two houses. And we grilled out the last few days of summer after returning from the lake house and before school started. I had very good memories of those last nights of freedom. The days were long and spent swimming when we were younger as Jaime and Kerry did now and once we were older, going places with friends like Marley and Nikki.

I was sitting by myself near the pool on Thursday night when Lane came from inside the house. She was the last to arrive every night. The Vice President of RAD had a lot of makeup work to do. I was basically doing the same thing with my days that we had done as kids and she was second in command of a multi-million dollar business. It was like all that I done and all that I was in Chicago vanished into a black hole, leaving me little more than the child I was when I left.

She wore black slacks and a teal vest. Lane, all grown up and sexy as hell. I had given little thought to how we would be together once we were all back in Atlanta. I was just so relieved to know she wasn't going to end it to wonder how we would manage to be alone. I smiled when she was within in earshot. "You look so grown up."

"I am," she replied, her grin wicked. "I thought I had proven that beyond all doubt."

She had opted for a burger for her supper and placed the plastic cup holding her drink on the little glass table with the remains of my meal. "I am starving. I had back to back to meetings today and forgot to pencil in time for lunch."

"What were the meetings about?" I asked and didn't care. I just wanted to watch her and I sat back as she shoved the lettuce and tomato back into line on her burger and dug into my mother's really good potato salad. She shrugged as she chewed and sat back in the chair in obvious bliss.

"I'm the point of first contact for new clients. I had three of those today. Basically it's getting everything the client wants down on paper so that we can work up a contract. You would think someone who has a bought a plane would walk into my office with at least a basic idea of what they want to do with it. The first question I usually ask is about color scheme and I know right then how the meeting will go. Blank stares mean cancel my next appointment."

"So…you spent the day looking at color swatches?" I asked in a deliberately mocking tone.

She paused with the burger half way to her mouth and looked over at me with narrowed eyes. She saw something on my face that gave away the teasing. "Sadly yes, I spent the day looking at color swatches. And fabric swatches. And saying things like, 'That's a bold choice' when I'm thinking 'Oh my God that's butt-ugly'. I don't care how much money you have or how much the plane cost, if red and yellow are your school colors, buy a jersey. Don't use them to decorate your brand new plane."

I had to laugh at the exasperated tone. I couldn't see the picture she was painting for me, but I've never really seen her in full executive mode. The younger Lane would not have been able to smile and be diplomatic in the situation described. It was nice to know that whatever image she projected that my Lane was in there at least thinking sarcastic remarks. "Did you talk him out of it?"

"Not my job. We have a program with the specs of all the planes. As I'm talking with the client, I can add in their choices and they can see what it'll look like. He lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw it. He's going to pay a small mint so he can have the ugliest plane ever to roll out of RAD. God bless his apparently color blind soul."

"Do you have the time to take tomorrow off?" We were taking the girls shopping for school clothes and supplies. I picked up the list for what the seventh graders would need when I went by their school. Our mothers had always shopped before we went to the lake house. Who wanted to come back and be caught up in the rush of everyone else's last minute shopping? Friday was the first day this week that Lane could take off and that was only because she stacked appointments into yesterday and today.

She nodded, her gazing drifting to where Jaime and Kerry sat with their feet dangling in the pool. A sweet smile softened her face. "Why don't you and Jaime spend the night with us tonight?"

I was surprised by the offer. Lane didn't live so far away that it would be inconvenient for her to pick us up or for me to drive to her house in the morning. I wasn't surprised by how readily I wanted to agree. The thought of spending time alone with her, any time, was incredibly appealing. The girls were on their school schedule and would be in bed by nine. I wasn't sure what Lane would risk with them sleeping in the house, but I was willing to find out. "Okay."

The look she sent me was anything but soft and sweet. I swallowed when she looked away and called for the girls. I suppose it was appropriate after my earlier thoughts of feeling like a kid again that what I was feeling now reminded me of when we were teenaged lovers. I desperately wanted to kiss her. I knew how her lips would feel under mine, how soft and warm her skin would be. It was almost unbearable to have her so very close and not be allowed to touch her at all. When we were kids, this wait to be alone often led to frenzied sex with torn clothing and scratches. I hope we hadn't grown up too much.

I missed Lane asking Jaime if she wanted to spend the night with Kerry, but was brought back to earth by their excited screams. Both girls threw their arms around Lane, knocking her supper to the ground. At least I was prepared for them when they threw themselves at me. They rushed away so Jaime could pack a bag.

Lane sighed and stared down at her feet. "That was a really good burger."

~~

As soon as we walked into the kitchen, Lane sent the girls upstairs to take showers. She told me to make myself at home and that she would be back down after she changed clothes. I stood in the kitchen for long minutes after I was left alone. From upstairs came the sounds of laughter and talking. It wasn't a leap for me to imagine this was just the same as the many nights Jaime had spent living here while I was still in Chicago. A nice easy winding down of a long day.

I poured myself a glass of iced tea and wandered into the den. Lane and I had spent little time in the room on our visits and I preferred her bedroom or lounging by the pool when I was here alone. If you knew nothing else about the family who lived in the house, one look at this room would tell that a much loved, much indulged child lived here.

The dark blue carpet would hide the inevitable spills and the sturdy oak tables in front of the comfortable brown couch and beside the matching chairs were scarred with scratches and marred with water marks. Kerry didn't have a computer in her bedroom because it was here in this room at a small glass desk. Lane left very to little chance when it came to her daughter and there would be no aimless clicking around the internet for Kerry until she was older.

The beige walls were graced with framed posters of cartoon characters. I smiled as I looked up at Bugs Bunny munching on a carrot. I hoped Kerry had a few more years before she decided she was too old for Looney Tunes and was begging for posters of Hollywood's Hottest.

Along with the large screen TV, Sony Playstation, computer and foosball table, there was a bookshelf crammed with childhood classics. Threadbare patches on the spines and rounded, ragged corners told me they were well-read, and hopefully, well-loved. Curious, I pulled out a Nancy Drew and flipped open the cover. I laughed at the words written carefully across the blank first page. This book belongs to Lane Remick was in faded blue ink. And Kerry Remick was written below that in a newer bold blue.

"What's funny?" Lane asked as she came to stand next to me. She had changed into red mesh shorts and plain white Tee.

I handed her the book. "She really likes being your daughter."

Lane smiled softly and shook her head as she brushed her finger across her daughter's name. "I didn't know she did this. Mom gave her the books when we moved in here. She was seven."

"This is great room," I said. "You really don't care what she does in here."

Lane slid the book back in place. "I wouldn't say that. I draw the line at stripper parties."

I was turning away when the leather bound books stacked on the bottom shelf caught my attention. I knelt down and saw they were photo albums. "Ohhh, pictures."

I stood up with all three of the thick books in my arms. Lane reached for the middle one and slid it out of my hands. "This is from college. You can skip this one."

"Wait," I protested and reached for the book. "I definitely want to see the college one."

Lane held the album away from my hands and stared at me, reluctance clear on her face. I don't think if the girls hadn't bounded into the room at the moment in time she would have let me have it back. Kerry knew instantly what Lane was holding and in her excitement, she grabbed it from her mother. I watched Lane frown as Kerry took the album to the coffee table.

"Come on," I said and took her arm to pull her to the couch. "It'll be fun."

Jaime and Kerry were kneeling on the floor in front of the couch and Lane and I sat behind them to lean over their shoulders. I was glad we were starting with the college one. I really wanted to see what it was that Lane really didn't want me to see. I was looking forward to teasing her about whatever embarrassing incident she'd been caught in.

The first few pages were Lane's First Day at UGA. Someone, my money was on Catherine, had posed her all over the campus. She was wearing the same blue jeans, red T-shirt with the face of a Bulldog plastered across the front and Nikes. She looked very young and from the mutinous expression on her face, she wasn't posing happily for the camera.

I nudged her with my elbow. "So, how many rolls of film did Cat use?"

"Let's just say that between her, Chris and Granddad, my name was Supermodel for the first two weeks."

I laughed at the still bitter edge to her words. College is hard enough that first semester away from home. I could only imagine how much worse it would be if you were singled out because of something embarrassing your parents did. "So you won't be lugging a Nikon around when its Kerry's turn right?"

She sent me a quick grin. "Of course not. I'll be filming discreetly from a distance."

Kerry turned the page. "A very far discreet distance. They're not calling me Movie Star for two weeks."

Lane leaned forward and rested her chin on Kerry's shoulder. "Kid, haven't you learned yet that whatever happened to me, happens to you?"

"Not everything," Kerry said as she pointed at a picture and laughed. "That won't happen to me."

I leaned closer to Jaime to better see the picture Kerry was pointing at in the album. Laughing, I looked over at Lane. "I really hope those are yours."

Lane grimaced as she looked at the moment frozen in time when someone had slipped a pair of lacy red panties over her head as she slept. The T-shirt she was sleeping in was bunched around her waist to show white bikinis. "No, they're not. I was just glad they were clean."

"Eeww," Jaime said. "That's gross. Why would someone do that to you?"

"It was pledge week. They did a lot worse, for which I am eternally grateful there are no pictures."

"Pledge week? You were in a sorority?" I didn't expect that. Lane was never a clique joiner in high school.

"Mom's," Lane said simply and that explained it all. I glanced down at Kerry and wondered if she knew that she was looking at her future when she looked at her mother's past. Whatever happened to me, happens to you.

I leaned over Jaime's shoulder as Kerry slowly turned the pages on Lane's life as a co-ed. Most were typically candid and as I saw how happy Lane was, as she laughed and studied with her friends, I remembered that I was supposed to be there with her. I was accepted to UGA and had I not gotten pregnant, I would have been there. I closed my eyes as I realized how much I wish I shared these carefree memories with her.

My eyes opened when I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. I looked over at Lane and shook my head at her concern. I had memories of my own college days and they weren't bad.

I knew she was coming and even as I anticipated her appearance, I couldn't stifle the jealousy I felt when I saw the first picture with Trish. They were stretched out on someone's couch, Trish snuggled in Lane's arms. I thought I would have preferred an X-rated shot instead of something so sweetly innocent, but as the next few pages passed full of cuddles, hugs and scorching kisses, I knew it didn't matter what they were doing. I hated seeing Trish as Lane's girlfriend.

I was getting ready to excuse myself, I had yet to take a shower, when Kerry flipped to a picture that took up the whole page. I blinked, flabbergasted at seeing Lane in a man's arms. She was in front of him, his arms wrapped around her as they smiled for the camera. His hair was a sun streaked blonde and his eyes a clear blue. They were a beautiful couple.

Jaime moved closer to Kerry. "Is that your Dad?"

Dad?! I knew that biologically Kerry had a father, but there was nothing to lead me to believe there had ever been a man in her life she called Dad. I glanced at Lane. She was pulling Kerry back against her as she stared at down at the picture.

Kerry nodded and her voice was small as she said, "Yeah."

"He's really cute." Kerry darted a quick glance at Jaime, but Jaime was leaning forward to touch a small dimple at the right corner of his mouth. "You have that, too, when you smile."

"I do?" There was a world of hope in those two tiny words.

"Yeah, you do," Lane said, her voice soft. She kissed Kerry's head.

It hit me suddenly why Lane didn't want this album in particular brought out. Her reluctance had nothing to do with me or the few embarrassing photos. I watched Kerry reach out to lightly touch her father's face and knew the reason he wasn't a part of her life wasn't because of Lane.

"Mrs. Segal made Chocolate Chip cookies. I bet they're great with milk."

They left the room slowly with Jaime's arm around Kerry's shoulder. When I looked back at Lane, she was staring at the picture.

"His name is Trevor Kerry. He was a year older than Trish. He got sick at the beginning of his junior year. First it was a cold that lingered. Then it was the flu. Then it was pneumonia. By Christmas it was cancer and he was dying. He asked me to come to the hospital one day, alone, because he wanted to talk to me. Trish and I had been together for about a year by then. He was so embarrassed when he told me that he had arranged to have his sperm frozen."

Trish was Kerry's aunt. She was legally and biologically related to the child she was raising as her own. I didn't know what to say. It was obvious that Kerry's father wasn't a part of her life and I had given him no thought at all. Lesbians get pregnant every day without a man in their life. It never occurred to me that Trish had a place in Kerry's life that had nothing to do with her being Lane's ex.

"Jaime's almost right. He's more than cute. He's gorgeous."

Lane turned to look at me. Her eyes were dark and I wasn't prepared for the grief I could see so clearly. She loved him and his death was a loss that still cut deep. "He was a great guy. He would have loved being Uncle Trev."

"Hey Mom," Kerry asked from the doorway. She had a glass of milk in one hand and a cookie in the other. "Am I sleeping with you?"

Casually, Lane reached over to close the photo album. "Why would you be sleeping with me?"

"So Alison can have my bed? I mean, she can't sleep with you."

"Why can't my Mom sleep with her?" Jaime asked from somewhere behind Kerry.

"Nobody is sleeping with anybody," Lane said. "Jaime is sleeping in her bed. Kerry is sleeping in her bed. I'm sleeping in my bed. Alison is sleeping in the guest room."

Kerry laughed. "We don't have a guest room."

"Go look at the room next to my office."

With a puzzled expression, Kerry left to go upstairs. Jaime trailed behind her. I looked down to where Lane was sitting, her eyes on the closed leather cover. I wanted to take her mind off the sad life story of Trevor Kerry. "Why can't Jaime's Mom sleep with you?"

Her head snapped up and before she could look at me, we both looked to the ceiling when we heard the shout from upstairs. I grinned. "I take it Trish's office isn't just an empty room anymore."

She shook her head and stood up with her hand out to me. She pulled me to my feet and the last thing I expected her to do was pull me against her for a deep kiss. Instinctively my hands grabbed her shoulders for balance and my mouth opened under hers. It lasted only seconds, but I was breathless when she broke away. She took a deep breath. "The bathroom connects that room with my office. I'm going to work until they're in bed. If you're asleep, I'll wake you up."

I followed her slowly as she left the den. If I'm asleep? I took my own deep breath as I watched her walk up stairs. With the way I felt right then, I didn't think I would sleep at all if she didn't come to me later. I was a little more centered when I walked behind her into the brand new guest room.

"Comfy?" I asked, amused to see Jaime and Kerry stretched out on the full bed watching TV. Lane was smiling as she leaned in the doorway of the connecting bathroom.

"I want to sleep with you," Jaime said as she snuggled deeper into the soft bed.

"No. You heard Lane. You're sleeping in your bed."

Jaime sat up. "How can it be my bed? I don't live here anymore."

Lane pushed away from the doorjamb with a sunny smile at me. "Well, I have work to do. They're all yours. Kerry must be in a bed by nine."

Must be in a bed by nine? I glared at her back as she strolled away. She was very trusting that I could withstand the pathetic pleadings of two twelve year olds. It would almost be worth it to have them sleeping in here when she snuck in later. I walked to the bed and opened my overnight case. The handy radio clock on the nightstand showed they had thirty minutes before they had to be across the hall and in their own beds. I took out my night gown and travel bag. "You may not live here, but you do have a bed here. You both have thirty minutes before I expect you to be in your beds. Any questions?"

"No," Jaime said and fell back on the bed dramatically. "But it's not fair."

"They don't have to be," Kerry said before I could say anything. "They're mothers."

Grinning at her sage tone, I walked into the bathroom and locked the door. I leaned back against the closed door and stared across the bathroom into Lane's office. She was sitting at her desk and the only thing that kept me from going to her was the rapid typing. If I didn't believe that whatever she was working on now was making it possible for her to take tomorrow off, I would have. With only a little regret, I closed that door. I was past the point where I could stop at just kissing. And I was a little afraid I was beginning to enjoy the sharp edge of frustrated desire.

~~

My plan was to take a long, hot shower. I wanted to use up as much time as I could in the bathroom so that when I walked out, the girls were ready to be tucked into bed. I think if I could have keep Lane out of my head, it would have worked. Instead, when I stood under the stinging spray with my eyes closed, I could feel Lane behind me, spreading my feet apart as her hands slipped around to cup my breasts. The thought of her fingers stroking my nipples, of how her hand would feel sliding down over my stomach, made me groan.

I was bracing a hand against the back wall of the shower before I realized what I was doing. I stared hard at the white tile and thought seriously about a quickie in the shower. This wouldn't be the first time and if the woman waiting for me was anyone but Lane, I probably would have taken the edge off just a little. I knew it wouldn't take much. Except the woman waiting for me was Lane and if our positions were reversed, I'd want her to wait for me. With that as incentive, I hurried through the shower.

The girls were gone when I came from the bathroom. I was so surprised by that I simply stared at the rumpled hunter green comforter, the only sign that they had been there. Sudden laughter pulled me from the guest room and down the hall to stand in front of Lane's bedroom. They were on her bed. The girls were kneeling over Lane as she fought a losing battle from their double team tickling. Lane was very ticklish and just one of the girls could have taken her. There was no way she could win against both.

"Need some help Lane?" I asked as I walked slowly to the bed.

"Oh God yes," she said, laughing breathlessly. "Stop the little monsters."

I sized up my quarry quickly. Jaime isn't especially ticklish, but Kerry was very much Lane's daughter. I pounced on her and was rewarded with shrieks as my fingers found their mark. I knew every spot to hit. I had been merciless with Lane when we were children. There were times I only stopped because one of our mothers stepped in to save her. Now, with Kerry curled on the bed as she tried frantically to shield her ribs from my fingers, I found that I couldn't ignore her pleas for me to stop.

"Breathe," I said and lay down beside her and rubbed my hand over her back in little circles. I looked over to see Lane, Jaime wrapped up in her arms, watching us and grinning.

"Okay guys, its bedtime. We've got a lot to do tomorrow." She let Jaime go and rolled over on her back with her arms spread over her head. "We'll be in there in a minute."

Kerry sat up slowly and Jaime slipped from the bed. I was sitting up and froze, staring, as Kerry lunged at Lane. Before I could move, Lane was up, Kerry caught in her arms. Both were laughing. Lane rolled so that Kerry was laying face first on the bed. "Do you think I can't read your mind little girl? Huh? Is that what you think?"

Lane's fingers were light and quick as she tickled Kerry and asked her questions in a teasing singsong tone. In the same tone, with her fingers showing none of the mercy I had shown, she made Kerry say she was sorry, that she would never, ever do that again, that Lane was faster and that she would never, ever be able to beat her. Leaning over Kerry's red face, Lane kissed her cheek and said, "You lie and lie badly. You're thinking about how you're going to get even."

Kerry pushed herself weakly to a sitting position when Lane let her go. "It's not lying. Promises made under duress aren't legally binding."

Lane laughed and pointed at her open bedroom door. "Go. To. Bed. Now."

She flopped back on the bed and sighed lustily. "They have exhausted me."

I waited until Jaime and Kerry had left the bedroom and were hopefully several steps inside Kerry's bedroom before I reached over and lightly caressed her left breast. Surprise crossed her face and I smiled. Both her nipples were hard now and visible against her T-shirt. "You look awake to me."

She pushed herself up on her elbows. Desire was dark in the eyes that stared into mine. She wasn't smiling as she whispered, "I want to spread you open and lick you until you scream."

I felt my own nipples harden at her low voice, at the crystal clear image of her kneeling between my legs that flashed into my mind. Her eyes dropped to my breasts. "Looks like I'm not the only one awake."

"Mom?" Kerry called and I let out a slow breath. "We're ready."

Lane closed her eyes as she called out in an astonishingly normal voice, "Okay. We're on our way."

Somehow we managed to go to Kerry's bedroom and go through the routine of answering last minute questions about tomorrow, kiss the girls goodnight and tuck the covers around them before turning off the light and leaving the door half way open. I couldn't have told you what the girls asked or what we answered. I was aware of only Lane, of how desperately I needed to be with her.

"I'm going to take a shower and work a little while longer," she said as she stood in the doorway to her bedroom. "Will the typing bother you?"

I shook my head. "No, I doubt I'll even hear you with the TV on."

"Okay then. Goodnight Alison."

My mouth dropped open as she whipped off her T-shirt. I stared at her breasts and took an instinctive step towards her, wanting to feel the weight of them in my hands. She grinned and shook her head. I stopped and closed my eyes. Without another word, I turned around and walked to the guest room. "Goodnight."

I fell face down on the bed. If I didn't have my hands on her soon, I was going to explode. It would be soon, I told myself. Lane was taking the shortest shower of her life and when she came to me, I wanted everything to be ready. Rolling over, I sat up. As my eyes skimmed the room, I stopped and really looked at Lane's new guest room. I couldn't even guess when she had the time to do this. I was pretty sure it was still an empty room last weekend.

The furniture was a full bed with rounded headboard made of pale wood, matching nightstands and a long low chest of drawers. Across from the bed was a set of glass bookshelves holding a TV/DVR combo, brass bookends with leather bound books, and several small plants. The walls were cream wall paper with a pinstripe of dark, dusky orange. There was a large painting over the bed of a misty morning sunrise over a golden beach. The room didn't feel like she had thrown it together but she must have in between being VP of RAD and Mom.

Pushing up off the bed, I walked to the door and hesitated only a moment before I shut and locked it. The mother in me balked at putting up a barrier between me and my child. I shushed the little voice that was whispering a good mother wouldn't lock the door. Jaime wasn't a baby and it wasn't like I wouldn't hear her if she knocked on the door. Next, I turned off the lights and turned on the TV. The sound would cover any noises we made and there was the bonus of light. I would have preferred candles and soft music, but one played the hand that was dealt. Once I had the mood set, I stripped off my nightgown and turning down the covers of the bed, slid between the cool sheets to wait for her. I kept my hands on the outside to ensure I would be good until she got here.

I didn't have to wait long before I saw Lane walk into her office. She was wearing a robe and her hair was slicked back away from her face. She shut her office door and turned on the radio. I was breathing faster now that she was so very close. I shifted on the bed as she came into the bathroom and locked that door behind her.

We didn't speak as she came to my side of the bed. She let her robe fall to the floor and I flipped up the covers in invitation. I let out a low, shaky breath as she lowered her weight on top of me. I slid my hands down her back. God she felt so good. Her skin was still dewy from the shower and the minty scent of her toothpaste mingled with the clean smell of her shampoo.

"You are so beautiful," she said and dipped her head to kiss me on the side of the neck. "It's hard to keep my hands to myself."

I squirmed from the low, throaty words and the teasing brush of her lips. I slid my left hand to her neck and smiled when she shivered from the light caress of my fingers. "Then don't. I want your hands everywhere."

She leaned back to look down at me. "Just my hands?"

"To begin with. Then I want your mouth. I want you to lick me until I scream."

"Oh God," she breathed and sat up to throw the covers off. I barely had time to think about what she was doing before she was off the bed. "Sit on the side of the bed."

"What are you doing?" I asked as I sat up. She spaced my feet wide apart on the wooden frame of the bed and stepped between my legs.

She leaned down and sliding her hands along the outside of my thighs, brought her lips to mine. My hands went around her waist and down to cup her ass. When she reached to stroke me high on the inside of my thigh, my breath caught and she drove her tongue deep inside my mouth. I fell back and threw my hands out to catch myself.

"Stay like that," she said and knelt in front of me. I could see her face clearly in the light from the TV. I couldn't look away from the hungry expression on her face when she put her hands on my knees and spread my legs as far as they would go. Desire burned in the eyes that flicked up to my face. "I love the way you smell."

My arms buckled when she came to me and slipped her tongue inside of me. The blood drained from my head, leaving me lightheaded. It was exquisite, the feel of her tongue moving inside of me and then the tip lapping at the edges before she was inside of me again. I've never had a lover's tongue inside of me before and she made me dizzy. I wished my legs could open wider, wished she could go deeper and as the tingles began in my toes, wished it could go on forever. I could have laid there forever with Lane kneeling between my legs, her hands wrapped around my thighs holding onto me as I fell.

From somewhere I had the presence of mind to grab a pillow and smash it over my face so that when she pushed her tongue inside of me for the last time, the pillow muffled me as I came. My legs were dangling limply off the bed, my face covered with the pillow and both arms stretched out by my side when she stood up. I could barely breathe.

She came up to me, sliding her hand up my stomach as she laid down beside me. I opened my eyes as she moved the pillow and she leaned down to kiss me sweetly on the lips. Her hand was sliding back down and I caught her before she could go too far. I felt like every nerve ending was exposed and throbbing. I would scream if she touched me again and I didn't have my handy pillow. She brushed the hair away from my face and leaned down to kiss me.

Her breasts were right there, brushing against me and I reached up to caress her hard nipples with both hands. She gasped against my mouth and broke away to look down at me. God I loved that look on her face, that naked desire burning in her eyes. I loved knowing that what I wanted to do her, she wanted me to do.

She threw her head back. Her mouth was open and with every touch of my hands on her breasts, she made little breathy sounds of pleasure. I felt myself clench as my body reacted to hers. With little effort, I had her on her back and was leaning over her with one leg between hers. I watched her as I slid my fingers inside of her. Her eyes closed slowly. She groaned low in throat. Her hand slid into my hair when I took her nipple into my mouth and she tightened around my fingers. I let her set the pace and rhythm and when she was thrusting against my fingers, I pulled out.

"No," she said in a tortured whisper and tried to sit up.

I kissed her hard and deep. "Lay down."

I would need a little practice before I could do to her what she had done to me. And I very much wanted to give her that, wanted to give me that. But for now, I settled between her legs and sliding back inside of her, took her clit into my mouth and reveled in the taste of her and the feel of her moving against me. I held on until the hand she had fisted in my hair fell away and she was still.

"We never do this slowly," I said as I moved to her side and stroked her face. She opened her eyes to look up at me. "We never take our time."

One hand slid lazily over my hip. "I'm never sure how much time I have with you. I want to enjoy every second that I do."

"You can have all the time you want with me. And I don't just mean tonight."

12.

"I'll give you one hundred dollars if you will do this by yourself and let me go home."

The dark glare Lane sent my way would have made me react on any other day. But after a night of getting very sleep and after jostling through what seemed to be half of Atlanta's population, I was numbed to the point of being unfazed by anything.

"I'll give you a five," she countered.

"Seven."

"Two thousand."

I stared at her in simple shock. As serious as I was on wanting to dump the girls on her and just go home, I really wouldn't give her a hundred bucks. I had a feeling if I said yes to her, I'd have two thousand dollars in my hand before the day ended. Turning away from her I scanned the crowded food court. "Where are the little demons?"

The day began with what should have been a quick stop at Target to buy their lists of school supplies. There wasn't a lot and what was left on the pallets and hanging on hooks was being pawed through by hordes of other parents who were as stupid as we were to wait until the last minute. The girls weren't happy that they had to settle for the "ugly" colors and patterns for their notebooks and book bags. That resentful tone carried over to the mall, where once again we were warring with others over what had been rejected by the many that came before us.

"Over there, those tables next to McDonald's. We are not sitting with them."

Perversely, her irritated tone was like a balm over my own annoyance. If I had to go through this ordeal, and apparently I couldn't bribe or buy my way out of it, I was glad I was going through it with her. Although I did think Jaime and Kerry were just feeding each other's bad attitude and if we were alone with our own child this wouldn't be quite so bad. I laughed and bumped her with my hip. "They don't want us to sit with them anyway."

"I don't understand it," Lane said as she moved forward in the line at the Chinese food counter. "I know she's going to be thirteen soon, but I think it's unfair of her to morph into a teenager overnight."

I grinned at her bewildered complaint. She sounded so maternal and while I was getting used to the idea that she was someone's mother, it would be a while before I wasn't surprised when she did something typically motherish. Such as reply because I said so to Kerry's demand to know why she couldn't try on a shirt that was more appropriate for a street corner than a class room. I know I shouldn't be amused by how thrown Lane was by her little tomboy choosing decidedly feminine apparel, but I couldn't help it. I was almost sorry Catherine wasn't here to get a little maternal revenge.

"I have a question," I said as we waited. "Why didn't you take Kerry to do this weeks ago? You knew better than to wait this late."

"You said no when Jules called to ask if you wanted her to shop for Jaime. Had I known I wouldn't face the Wrath of Alison for doing it anyway, I would have, but I didn't want to start off on a bad note with you before you even got here."

Before I could respond to that, and really what could I say, it was Lane's turn to place her order. My mother never mentioned that it was Lane who wanted to take Jaime shopping. Why would she? Lane stopped existing in my world the day I left for Chicago. She didn't really answer the question of why she didn't take Kerry, but I knew. Lane didn't take Kerry because she couldn't take Jaime. I watched her slide her green cafeteria tray along the railing as she picked out chicken cashew, shrimp fried rice and iced tea. I would have given a lot to be able to lean over and give her a little thank you kiss on the lips.

Lane paid for both lunches as I grabbed napkins, straws, forks and little plastic packets of soy and duck sauce. We weaved through the occupied tables and booths looking for a place to sit near the girls. A group of teenagers was leaving a table a few feet away and we snagged it. I skimmed my gaze over our little demons, saw they were half finished with their lunch, and hoped the fat from the burgers and fries mellowed out their mood. "Are we almost done with this?"

Lane grinned as she stuck straws into our drinks. "How tired are you of our daughters?"

"Very. I'm dumping Jaime on my mother and locking myself in my room tonight. I don't want to be Mom anymore today."

"This is Trish's weekend with Kerry. She'd like to take Jaime, too. I told her I would ask."

Surprised, I looked up from my plate to see Lane industriously mixing up her cashew chicken with her rice. I glanced over at the girls and instead of feeling annoyed, anxious or any of the other negative emotions I had expected to have at Trish asking for Jaime, I felt extreme relief. I smiled as Lane carefully peeked up at me from under her bangs. "Tell her yes and thank you. I was willing to settle for one night of peace, but a couple of days sounds so much better."

I wasn't even going to feel guilty or hypocritical about letting Trish take Jaime. So what if I said things would be different once we got back to Atlanta. Jaime would want to go if asked and maybe I was going to have be flexible when it came to Lane's ex.

An hour later we were shifting through a rack of shirts while the girls were in the latest in a string of bland, crowded dressing rooms. The afternoon was bearable now that all four of us knew they were spending the weekend with Trish and Shelly. I watched Lane hold up a short sleeve watermelon pink shirt. I wanted to spend the weekend with her. I just couldn't come up with a plausible reason that even I believed.

"I think after this, I'm done," she said and shoved the shirt back onto the overstuffed rack. She glanced over at me. "Are you? Is there anything else you want to do?"

I moved over next to her. "I want to spend the weekend with you."

"We can go to the beach house. I can fly us down tonight."

All the thoughts I had about what kind of excuses we could give for me to spend the weekend with her flew out of my head. It was perfect. I cocked my head to look at her. "You didn't just think that. When were you going to ask me if I wanted to fly down to your beach house?"

"Soon. I didn't think you would say no and I don't want the kids to know. They'll want to go with us."

I glanced towards the back of the store to the dressing rooms. She was right. As long as they got to spend the weekend together, they wouldn't care who they were with and the beach was a lot more fun than Atlanta. I moved over next to her. "How private is this beach house?"

"I guess that depends on what you want to do," she said softly.

Before I could think of a reply to that, the girls were walking our way. It didn't matter. All the things I wanted to do to her I could do inside a house. While Lane and I went to the counter to pay for the clothes they wanted, the girls went to wait on one of the many benches lining the wide mall corridors. We had made two trips to Lane's car to drop off other purchases and I was very glad the one we made this time was the last. I was ready for this day to start winding down.

"Does Trish pick up Kerry or do you take her to her?" I asked as we walked from the store.

"She picks her up," Lane said. I glanced over at her distracted tone and followed her gaze to see a pretty blonde woman with a pretty blonde girl talking with Kerry and Jaime. My eyes narrowed at the bright grin that sprang to Lane's face. I slowed down as Lane moved quickly through the throng. The closer I got the easier it was to see they were mother and child, with the mother's shoulder length wheat colored hair caught up in a high pony tail and the child's cut in the same short style as the girls. Both wore blue jeans and Nikes. RAD was in faded white across the back of the woman's dark blue T-shirt.

I had the bad feeling that I was about to meet one of Lane's lovers. I wondered if her T-shirt was one Lane gave her or if it had actually belonged to Lane. As I walked to the little group, I wished the girls weren't there and I could give into my irresistible desire to lay claim to Lane.

"Alison," Lane said, turning to where she thought I was standing. I watched her as her gaze skimmed over the crowd and landed on me. "Come here. I want you to meet someone."

The woman's big dark brown eyes darted between me and Lane as I walked to the little group. I reminded myself that whatever she had been to Lane, and still was, I was the one Lane was flying to her beach house for the weekend. I was smiling as I shook hands with Casey Harper and met her daughter Brianna. Brianna went to school with Kerry and was probably one of the few friends of hers that didn't have a homophobic mother.

"I'm glad to see I'm not the only crazy one," Casey said with an engaging grin. "Every year I say I'm not waiting until the last minute and I always do. Summer goes by way too fast."

"At least we have an excuse," Lane laughed. "We've been out of town."

At the we've part of that statement, Casey looked at me and my irresistible desire to lay claim to Lane became a slow smile. Yeah Casey, we've been out of town.

A few minutes later, Casey and Brianna disappeared into the crowd to continue their shopping. I was thankful we were done. There wasn't much when we started out that day and I could only imagine what could possibly be left now. I felt sorry for Brianna if they weren't almost finished.

The four of us left the insanity of the mall gratefully. Lane let the girls get a little ahead of us as we walked to her car. "Why don't I drop you off so that you and Jaime can pack and then you come over to my house? We can leave from there after Trish picks them up. The flight to Panama is less than an hour."

"I can't wait," I said. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the last weekend before the vacation of summer ended. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was going to be well- rested and ready for the next phase of my life to begin.

~~

This time as I turned down Lane's street, I wanted to see the red Mercedes parked in front of her house. That meant Trish was here and we would all be leaving soon. I drove up to park next to Lane's car in the garage. I wondered if it felt strange to Trish to be a visitor in what was once her home. I think I would be bothered only when I saw someone else parking where I used to park and entering through the kitchen as if she belonged.

Jaime and I grabbed our overnight bags from the trunk and I stopped Jaime before she could hurry into the house. As this wasn't her first weekend spent with the Trish, I didn't dispense any of the usual motherly advice. I simply pulled out fifty dollars and handed it to her. "I want you to pay for your food and anything else you want. Okay?"

Jaime shrugged and jammed the money into the pocket of her jeans. "Okay."

Lane and Trish were standing at the butcher's block talking when Jaime opened the door. Trish glanced over and was turning back to Lane when her eyes caught the overnight bag slung over my shoulder. She stared at it for a moment and then looked at me. Her eyes were cool, as was her voice when she said, "Hi Alison."

I walked to stand by Lane. "Hello Trish. Thank you for taking Jaime. She's really excited about the game tomorrow. How much do I owe you for the ticket?"

She shook her head. "You don't. We have season tickets."

Before I could say anything, Kerry came into the kitchen with a backpack slung over one shoulder. "It's about time. What took you so long?"

Jaime rolled her eyes. "My mother. She took forever to pack."

"Pack for what?"

Jaime hadn't asked why I was packing; she was too focused on her own to think about me. Now she turned to frown at me and I felt my brain scrambling for a reason. Lane pushed away from the butcher's block. "She's going with me to the beach house. We're flying down tonight and we'll pick you up Sunday afternoon from Trish's. Are you guys ready to go?"

"I ordered pizza and we need to hit the video store soon if we want to be home when it's delivered. So let's go," Trish said, her soft smile amused as she watched the girls nosily leave the kitchen. The smile faded as her eyes drifted over me, over my overnight case before she looked at Lane. "Be nice. No one likes it when you play Red Baron."

"I do," Lane said with a cheeky grin. "So do the kids."

"Yeah, well, when you're in the air you might as well be thirteen," Trish said in a dismissive tone as she left the kitchen. "Like I said, be nice."

I stared at Lane as Trish shut the backdoor. The Red Baron moniker was a good description of Lane as a teenage flyer. She laughed like the insane as she took long rolls and steep, breath taking dives. Obviously, she hadn't outgrown that thrill. "I'm not going unless you promise to fly like an eighty year old woman drives. It wasn't fun when I was sixteen and as much as you think I might enjoy it now, I know I won't. So promise you'll be good or I'm going home."

The smile slipped to a sexy little pout and she moved down to trail a finger up my arm. "Haven't I been good?"

Amused, I leaned against the butcher's block and my arms settled lightly around her waist. I knew what she wanted, which was for me to forget about her promising to fly responsibly, and I was going to enjoy watching her use all her seductive charms. "What do you think?"

"You've been very, very good," she said, her voice dropping low on her last words and her hands slowly pulled my shirt from my jeans. My eyes wanted to close, my body wanted to give into her hands. She was better than very, very good and with the kids gone, I wouldn't need a pillow to muffle just how good she can be.

I waited until her hands were warm against my back before I said, with a casual shrug for that careless touch, "I don't have any complaints."

She stilled, her eyes narrowing at my less than flattering reply. "No complaints," she echoed and the heat from her hands vanished as she pulled them out to brace them on either side of me against the butcher's block. She pressed her body against mine. "Do you have any…suggestions?"

My eyes did close as she leaned in to kiss the side of my neck. I had to swallow before I could speak and my voice wasn't as even as I wanted it to be. "Such as…?"

She kissed the sensitive skin under my ear before she whispered, "…Anything…"

I've never heard anything shaded with so much promise. My mind blanked at the wide open space Lane laid out before me. Anything could mean…anything and there were so many things a woman could do, could want to do, when what could be done was absolutely anything.

"Alison?" Lane whispered and lightly bit my neck, sending a shock of desire straight down.

"Hmm?" I replied absently, my brain beyond words, lost to that place where her lips brushing over my skin was all that existed.

She pulled back and startled me with a quick, hard kiss on the lips. "The car's packed if you're ready to go. We're going to miss a sunset walk on the beach, but I can guarantee a sunrise. If we wake that early, that is."

I stared at her as she walked around the butcher's block to pick up her purse and keys on the opposite counter. I closed my eyes and struggled to pull myself back together. I don't know how she could sound so normal, how she could look as if nothing had happened. She was outside standing in the open back of her car when I finally followed her from the house. Her weekend bag was stashed on top of a big red cooler. Once my bag was stowed away, we got in the car for the short ride to RAD.

13.

Carefully, as if the precious Raspberry mixture was highly volatile, I poured the Margarita drink as evenly as I could between two salt rimmed glasses. It was only our second batch and I was already feeling the Tequila. I turned as Lane walked off the deck and into the kitchen. I handed hers to her and said, "Thank God, I don't think I can carry both."

She grinned as she took the glass and drank enough to get the level in her glass down from the rim. "That is so good. The shrimp and scallops are almost done. I'm going to throw in the rolls. Let's start on the salads."

I nodded as I watched her slide the cookie pan with sour dough dinner rolls into the oven. She was wearing faded blue jean shorts with ragged fraying edges and a faded pink tank. She had pulled her hair into a ponytail that morning and after an afternoon spent doing her impression of a bat out of hell on her jet ski, her usually straight hair was windblown wavy. Her bare shoulders and bridge of her nose were sunburned. I took the salads we made earlier and balanced the plates in one hand and my drink in the other as I left the kitchen.

When Lane called their house a beach house never did I think it was because the house was only a few sand dune covered yards away from the waves. The acreage was prime even if the actual land was tiny. Little more than a path separated Lane from her neighbors. But the view, that wide vista of blue water and brighter blue sky, was absolutely worth whatever they paid for the postage stamp sized lot.

The weathered wooden deck ran the length of the house with a wall of French doors that opened up from every room that had a view of the beach. One half of the deck, the half with the built-in table and bench seats, was screened. Jumbo shrimp and thick scallops skewered with Cherry tomatoes, wedges of onion and bell pepper were sizzling fragrantly on the grill anchoring the unscreened side. I sat down at the table Lane had draped with a navy cloth and sipped my drink as I waited for her.

The beach house, learned from the little things Lane said throughout the day, was the favorite weekend place for both families. My father, her father and step-father came down at least once a month to use the fishing boat they bought together. It seemed that everybody had celebrated a birthday or anniversary, Matt and Nicole brought friends for Spring Break, and it was popular for romantic getaways. Although, Lane had told me with an evil little smile, not so much for Trish anymore. When I asked why she said it was a long drive from Atlanta.

As I watched a seagull land on the railing near the grill, a slim brunette appeared over the sand dune and walked to the deck. She wore a skimpy siren red bikini and held a clear bottle with gold label and foil in her hand. She paused on the steps to fluff her hair and to tug the material barely covering her breasts. Before I could stand up, Lane walked out onto the deck. I don't know who was more startled, Lane or the woman.

"Oh, hi," she said in a low husky voice.

Lane turned to place her drink on the table, gave me an eyebrows raised look, and walked over to open the screen door. "Hi. I'm Lane. Are you looking for someone?"

A bright smile sprang to the woman's face and she walked over to Lane. Very dark brown eyes inched over Lane's face. "You're Chris's daughter. He is so proud of you. Is Kerry here, too?"

Before Lane could reply, she reached out to touch Lane's arm. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Deanna. Deanna Hershey. I live three houses down."

"It's nice to meet you Deanna," Lane said as she waved the woman into the screened part of the patio. "This is my girlfriend Alison. Kerry is with her other mother this weekend."

"It's so nice to meet you. Both of you," she said with a quick skim of my face. "I thought Chris was here. He said he might come down this weekend."

"I'm sorry, I may have bumped him. We had a busy week and I wanted a weekend away from everything."

Deanna's smile turned sympathetic. "Of course he would want that. He's been really worried about you."

"Um, yeah, he has," Lane said after a pause, her tone clearly surprised that her father had shared details of her accident with this woman. Which made her more than the neighbor from three houses down. In a different setting, I could be incredibly amused by this conversation. Kerry's behavior towards Shelly was just one more thing that could be traced back to her mother. "Would you like to join us? We have more than enough."

Deanna shook her head, her eyes regretful. She clearly wanted to say yes and I wondered why she said no. It was a given, wasn't it, that Lane would mention this to her father bright and early Monday morning. Whatever reason Christopher gave for not wanting Deanna to meet his daughter, and I didn't know that he didn't want them to meet, was pointless now. The secret was out, they had met, and when Deanna saw Christopher again, he would know.

"Here," she said as she held the bottle out to Lane. "Enjoy. It was really nice to meet you. Both of you."

Lane took the heavy bottle slowly. She didn't want to let Deanna go, but was still off balance enough to not be able to think of a way to keep her there. "Uh, it was nice to meet you, too. I hope the rest of your weekend is…um...good."

Lane watched her until she disappeared over the dune and then looked at the bottle in a kind of amused bafflement. She shook her as she set the bottle on the center of the table. "I think we should save that for Chris."

"How long do you think that's been going on?"

Still looking baffled and amused, Lane shrugged. "I don't know, but by the price tag of that bottle, if it's not scorching hot new, I'd say a while. I can't wait for Monday morning."

I stabbed a forkful of salad. "I hope you've never wondered where Kerry got her obnoxious behavior towards Shelly."

She laughed. "Oh, I never wonder where Kerry gets any of her behavior."

I watched her slide in across from me and pluck a cherry tomato from her salad. My chewing turned thoughtful as I realized that Kerry was about to launch into the teen years, years that I had enjoyed immensely from my ring side seat. Catherine, on the other hand, probably wouldn't relive Lane's teenage years for anything. I'd still have a ring side seat if Kerry truly was her mother's daughter, but my own almost teenager had the potential to be my own ticket for the ride. I pointed my fork at Lane. "It occurs to me that I probably shouldn't let Kerry be friends with Jaime. She could rub off on her and I have no intention of playing Catherine to Jaime's Lane. I won't think it's funny to get a three a.m. call from the police."

Unconcerned, Lane grinned at me. "We'll let Chris handle it. Why send amateurs when you have a pro?"

"I'm serious," I said and I almost was. "You were a nightmare. Catherine probably still wakes up in the middle of night covered in sweat."

"But we have something she didn't have," Lane said and stood up. "We have me. She was winging it. Will you check the rolls? I think the skewers are done."

I watched her push open the screened door before I slipped from the booth. She was right; we did have her. I just wasn't sure that gave us the advantage she thought it did. It wasn't the lack of surprise I'd feel if I did get that three a.m. call that was concerning me. It was the three a.m. call itself. And the hangovers on the weekend. The indiscriminate sex. The complete and utter disregard for any parental authority. I tipped the cookie sheet to send the rolls tumbling into the basket Lane had waiting on the counter. On the short walk back the booth, I remembered some of the highlights of Teenage Lane and from the perspective of mother, things I thought were reckless fun became chilling thoughts of what if. Like, what if one of those breakneck joy rides on I-75 had ended with a horrifying loss of control?

Lane was coming through the screened door when I walked back on the deck. She put a skewer on each plate before setting the platter of four more off to the side. I gave us each a roll, covered the rest, and put the basket next to the platter. I was still thinking about Lane and the possible influence her teenage self could have on my daughter.

"My mother's biggest problem when I was a teenager was my Dad, not me." She picked up her skewer and neatly slipped the seafood and vegetables to her plate. If her tone had not been so serious, I would probably have jokingly denied that. Lane was three when her parents divorced and seven when Catherine married Jon.

"I got away with the things that I did because Catherine and I both knew that whatever she tried to do, he would countermand. And Catherine and I both knew if she got too strict, I'd go live with him and he'd let me."

"Did you ever threaten her with that?"

Lane shook her head. "I'm the mother I am because of the mother I got to see Catherine be to Matt and Nicole. Kerry will never be me because Trish and I are always united when it comes to her. The rules and the expectations are the same regardless of who she's with and so are the punishments and rewards."

I had never seen her childhood from the perspective of Catherine as hostage. I could see it now with Lane laying it out, but I had never seen that Catherine's loss of control of their daughter had more to do with Christopher's hands off parenting rather than Lane herself.

"Besides," she said and picked up her fork and knife. "She doesn't have time to get into trouble. She's been begging us to take Karate and we've decided to let her. Those classes meet on Monday. She comes to RAD on Tuesday and Thursday. She'll be playing soccer for the Y on Saturdays once school starts. We've got her days pretty much planned to the max right now."

I was silent as she detailed Kerry's school year itinerary. "They've been torturing us all week with schemes to be together after school. Why haven't you used all of that as a very legitimate reason against it?"

With her eyes on her plate, she slowly cut the seafood and vegetables into bite sized pieces. "I want them to be together after school. I want you to have to pick up Jaime from my house after work. I want that to be Jaime's schedule, too."

"I don't understand."

She sat back to look at me and her expression was tense. The fading light of the setting sun cast her face in shadows so that I couldn't read the expression in her eyes. "Yes you do."

I shook my head. I didn't want to have to guess at what she couldn't bring herself to say this time. I didn't want there to be any gray areas that left something important merely assumed. "No, Lane, I don't. You could mean you want Jaime and Kerry to be together a lot because that gives us an excuse to be together. You could mean you want to tell them we're dating and we're going to be doing things together because of that."

My second suggestion clearly surprised her and that surprised me. "Do you not want to tell Kerry that we're dating?"

"I…You…" She reached for her margarita and drained the glass. Dumbfounded, I watched her glance around in confusion before she shook her head and slipped from the table. "I need…a drink."

What the hell? I followed her into the kitchen. I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter as she poured a shot glass full of Tequila. She downed the first shot but leaned against the counter with the second in her hand and stared at me. She looked a little shell shocked and for the life of me I wasn't sure what I said that so completely knocked her off balance.

I shook my head and held out my hands when she continued to stare at me. "What?"

She shook her head. "Are you…out?"

"What?"

"Is telling Kerry and Jaime, and that means pretty much everyone else in our families, that we're dating an option? I didn't think it was. Are you going to be out Alison?"

I didn't get a change to actually answer the question. She saw an instinctive no on my face or in my eyes and downed the shot in her hand. When she looked at me, her eyes were stormy. "I meant that I wanted them to be together so that we could be together. You guys can have dinner with us and on Trish's weekends, I thought we could do something Friday night and then you can spend the night with me."

"You don't want to tell Jaime and Kerry we're together." The realization cut, more deeply than I would have thought possible. The fact that she had spent time on plausible reasons for us to be together went over my head.

She came to me, her eyes never leaving mine. I let her uncross my arms and press her body against me. I turned my head away when she would have kissed me. She slipped her hands under my shirt and her lips were warm on my neck. When I didn't react, she pulled her hands away and braced them on the counter next to me.

"No, I don't want to tell them we're together." Her tone was cool, controlled. "This happened so fast and I think we need to get back into our real lives with our real responsibilities before we make any decisions."

I brought my hands to her waist and brushed my fingers under the fringe of her shirt. Finally, the one question I really, really wanted to ask. The one answer I really, really wanted to hear. "Are we together?"

"Yes," she said her tone still cool, still controlled. She slid her right hand to cup the back of my neck and her left hand came to my face, holding my chin so that I had to look at her. Her eyes were that bright, clear blue that meant she was happy. "And because I didn't say this last time, I want to make sure it's clearly understood this time. Being with me means you are not with anyone else."

"I only want to be with you." I have always only wanted to be with her.

She kissed me slowly, softly, and so, so sweetly. I took my time opening my eyes as the kiss ended. The moment was perfect and I wanted to stay there with her body warm against mine for a little while longer. She was smiling at me when I finally opened my eyes. Lane. I have loved her always. I will be in love with her forever. I pressed a little kiss to her lips. "We should finish supper. We're going to need our strength to get through the night."

She grinned and took my hand to lead me back to the patio. The patio was darker now, the dark orange sun almost half way set. "I'll get a candle."

The breeze coming off the water was cooler and felt good against my skin. Something light and floral drifted in the air. The only sound was the soothing waves as they came to shore. I watch her come from the kitchen, thinking my perfect moment was becoming more than just a fleeting slice of time. She lit a fat white candle and placed it next to the bread basket. "That's nice. I'm glad the we lost the sun."

She glanced behind me to the ocean. "I don't see walking on the beach to see the sunrise in our future tomorrow morning. So next time, I owe you one sunset or sunrise walk on the beach."

"If it's ever a choice between walking on the beach and making love with you, always pick you. That beach has been there a long time. It's got uncountable chances for someone to walk on it."

"All right, I will always pick me," She said with a light laugh.

In the silence that followed as we ate, my thoughts began to circle on choices and how so often choices that seems so similar on the surface had such different results. At eighteen, I had a choice to make on whom to start my adult life. It would be someone who loved me, who I loved, and who wanted the best for me. That was true of both Lane and Thomas, but the life I had with Thomas was not the life I would have had with Lane. I wouldn't have Jaime. She wouldn't have Kerry. Maybe there would have been another child. Maybe Marley would have been it. So many maybes and so many choices that led to new choices and ended others. How was it that I was given this second chance to make a choice I had already made once before?

"Lane?" She looked up from where she was sliding her second kabob off the skewer with her fork. "Why didn't you come here? I mean, I know the summer vacation at the lake house is tradition, but you were on medical leave and you should have been somewhere that was relaxing. That wasn't the lake house. Why didn't you come here?"

"You weren't coming here."

That perfect moment crystallized to a memory that I cherish forever. She answered immediately. No hesitation. No embarrassment. Just a simple statement that told me everything I couldn't ask and everything she wasn't ready to say.

"I love you."

She grinned, and there she was, my Lane. That wicked grin, the bright blue eyes. "I know."

And that was how I was given this second chance to make a choice I had made once before.

The End




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