~ Noemí ~
by Katia N. Ruiz

Disclaimers: See Part 1

If you have comments, non-destructive comments, of course, send me an email at Passionatetyger@aol.com.

Author Comments at the end of Part 1

[Part 2]

By Katia N. Ruiz
Copyright 2000, 2002


Terri woke up late, her dreams finally disturbing her into wakefulness. Her alarm clock said it was eleven in the morning, and she hustled out of bed. The previous night, before falling asleep, she had decided she would go to Jamaica Center early this morning and maybe sell some of her drawings. She'd made some money every once in a while when she'd needed it. She was always loath to sell any of her works, she loved them so, but times were getting desperate. She had to have some food to feed her baby, if not herself.

She sighed as she entered her bathroom, turning the shower on and stepping under the sorry excuse for a shower. The spray was barely a trickle, and it always took her double the time it usually would to just take a shower. As she soaped herself, she thought about the events of the day before. She'd completely underestimated Noemí Leone. The woman was like a walking time bomb; she was all raw anger, lurking just beneath the surface and ready to explode.

From what Terri got while chatting with Anthony, Noemí was a formidable woman. Anthony seemed to be a little afraid of her, and at the same time he seemed to admire her. That she was a lesbian didn't seem to bother him too much; except when girls he knew and liked wanted to know more about her instead of him. That was as far as he'd gone when referring to his sister; Terri perceived that there was something going on with her that he didn't want to talk too much about. She was sure the scars on Noemí's arm had something to do with it.

Victoria climbed into the passenger seat, her dark curly hair looking unruly, her clothes wrinkled. She lived two blocks away from Noemí, at another one of those large houses that ruled the area. Noemí looked her over closely. "Had a good time?" She asked teasingly as she drove away. This was the first time ever that she had seen Victoria looking so rumpled and tired after a long night of lovemaking.

Victoria yawned. "Jesus, if I knew she'd keep me awake the whole night, I would have told you to forget it." She said, her voice groggy. "What impression am I going to make on this girl, you know?" Victoria was one of those firm believers in the fact that every single straight woman had to switch at some point in her life. So far, she had been mostly proven correct; almost every single straight woman that she had met had ended up in her bed at some point, doing things for her they would have never found themselves doing for any man.

"You are a pompous, conceited individual." Noemí said laughingly, reaching over and pinching her cheek. "Up until three weeks ago, this woman was sleeping with my brother."

"So?" Victoria countered, slapping her hand away. Then she looked at her suspiciously. "Who are you and what have you done with my best friend? Are you actually smiling?" She asked, and then hooted and slapped her thigh as Noemí smiled. "I haven't seen a smile coming from that beautiful face in so long; I forgot what it looked like!" She reached over and kissed Noemí's cheek noisily and sloppily, despite the fact that the car swerved.

Noemí righted the car as Victoria pulled away from her and slipped on her seatbelt. "You look gorgeous, Vicki." Noemí said as Victoria twisted the rearview mirror and looked at herself. "And what's with this Michaela Cavanaugh of the Cavanaugh horses?" She asked, giving her friend a side-glance.

Victoria shrugged, as if it weren't a big deal; Noemí could see that it was. "I met her a few days ago. I'm her father's accountant. He owns a horse farm a few miles outside of New York City, very well known, plus he owns an incredible advertising company. She works for him, and he sent her into my office to review the books with me. He's planning on retiring from the advertising agency soon, and she's taking over." Her smile grew, took on a dreamy quality. "So the third day we meet, she sits there with me, and she looks so good, and smells like an angel. Estrogen is working overtime and I invite her to dinner at my place, and she says yes. The next thing I know, there we are for like five hours, non-stop." She looked accusingly at Noemí, but she couldn't help the fondness that showed through her eyes. "Until a certain important person in my life calls me." Her attempt at giving Noemí even a semblance of an angry glance was foiled, and she smiled fully.

Noemí nodded and smiled softly. "She's a fast mover, looks to me, just like you." She said. "Looks like you found your match." She arched an eyebrow at Victoria, who laughed, dismissing her words as a tease.

Victoria fell asleep as Noemí drove to Terri's house, and jumped in her seat as Noemí shook her awake. "God, I didn't know I was so tired." She whined as they got out of the car. She looked around at the area, then at the building, and made a disgusted face. "Yuck, this is ugly!" She looked at Noemí, who was wearing a white T-shirt and thin gray sweats and white Nike sneakers, comfortable in the heat. "At least you match with our surroundings."

Going to the steps, Noemí didn't answer as she pushed the door open and walked through, followed by Victoria. She climbed the steps to the second floor and looked at the doors. There was an apartment on either side of the hall, running the length of the house. The hall smelled like old garbage and urine, and Victoria pinched her nose closed with a gag. Noemí slapped her hand from her nose and knocked on the door to their left.

Almost a half hour later, Terri emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped around her torso. She shook out her wet hair, going towards her bed, where a pair of worn shorts and a t-shirt lay. After donning them, she sat down on the bed and reached for her comb. A knock on her door stopped her from putting it to use, and she stood to open it.

"Who is it?" Noemí recognized Terri's muffled voice and smiled, looking at Victoria.

"It is Noemí, with a friend. We've come to talk about the situation." Noemí replied with her mouth close to the door. She pulled back and waited.

The door swung open, and Victoria released a low whistle behind Noemí. Terri looked attractive in worn gray shorts and a white T-shirt; her dark hair was wet and her long bangs were matted across her forehead wetly. She was barefoot. Her skin was flushed from her shower and she didn't meet Noemí's eyes as she stepped away from the entrance and gestured Noemí and Victoria in.

Victoria walked in and stood beside her, seemingly forgetting their surroundings. She extended her hand and grinned flirtatiously as she introduced herself. "My name is Victoria Terrence, and allow me to tell you that Anthony is a big jerk for doing what he's done to such a beautiful woman as yourself." She said all in one breath, and Noemí wondered at how much practice she got.

Terri shook her hand and smiled shyly. "Nice to meet you." She said in a low voice. "I'm Terri Bledsoe."

"Well, Terri," Victoria said with a warm voice. "Let me tell you that it is a great pleasure meeting you-"

"Cut the bullshit, Victoria, this is serious." Noemí cut the banter off icily. Victoria lifted her hands in a peace gesture and as Terri turned to Noemí, she gave her a once over and shot Noemí a sign of approval. Noemí shook her head and looked around at the apartment. Terri stared at her, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

She looked at Noemí's bandaged hand and felt embarrassed. She could see the long scar she'd spied in the car, and saw that it ran up her arm from her wrist to the crook of her elbow, and she felt even worse to have added the most minimal scar to her hand. Noemí saw her look and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about the hand, its fine. Now, can we sit and discuss this like adults? Without the charade of yesterday?"

"Yes." Terri gestured them to sit on her only chairs, two table chairs in the kitchen. The apartment turned out to be a studio; it was even smaller than Noemí thought. The bed was a twin size and it sat on a corner of the room, the kitchenette was on the other side. There was another door that presumably led to the bathroom. There were only three windows, one by the kitchenette, and the others by the bed. Terri seemed embarrassed with their surroundings and she looked down at the worn wood floor. There were paintings all over the walls and Noemí stared at them. "Mind if I look at these, Ms. Bledsoe?" She asked Terri, and was answered with a brief nod.

Victoria stood beside her and both women studied, with growing admiration, the works of art hanging with scotch tape on the walls. They were on regular white printer paper. Watercolors mixed and used so cleverly and beautifully to depict forests, people, the city.

Touched, Noemí turned to stare at Terri. "You are very clever with colors, Ms. Bledsoe." She said softly, knowing she guessed correctly by the pleased flush on Terri's cheeks. "My mother is an avid admirer of art, and she would enjoy looking at these works of yours. Are watercolors the only thing you use?" She was aware of Victoria's eyes still captured by the pretty drawings.

Terri blushed with pleasure at the compliment, and she shook her head. "It's all I can afford." She whispered softly, and continued to stare at the floor.

"Can you look at me, Ms. Bledsoe?" She asked softly, and Terri straightened to look into her eyes. Noemí noticed for the first time that Terri had beautiful eyes. "Good," She said, and gestured to the chairs. Terri hesitated and looked at Victoria, who was engrossed with every single detail of each painting. "Sit down, she's a big girl. You need all the comfort." Noemí reassured her, a hand on her arm. Terri sat and rubbed her hands together, staring down at her feet. "Look at me, Ms. Bledsoe."

"Terri is fine," Terri whispered, and met her eyes again; they were the brave gray-brown that Noemí had been remembering the whole night. "Have you spoken to your brother?" She asked suddenly, suddenly gaining valor. "Has he confirmed or has he lied?"

Noemí sat at the edge of the chair, and rested her elbows on her knees, forcing their eyes to remain in contact. "I spoke to my parents, we spoke to Anthony, and we have reason to believe you. My parents would like to meet you; they would like to know you. We know that your baby may be Anthony's, just because he slept with you without protection," Noemí said.

"I used the pill-" Terri said.

Noemí cut her off, waving her hand. "I know, Anthony seemed to think that was enough of a reason for you not to be pregnant. But my mother has first hand knowledge on accidental pregnancies." She said, and felt Victoria's eyes on them, though she remained politely silent, leaning against the wall. After a brief pause, she said: "Now, they'd like to meet you this afternoon, if that is possible for you."

Terri sat wide-eyed, staring into Noemí's eyes. "This afternoon?" She squeaked. "I don't have the clothes-"

Noemí lifted a hand to stop her, and smiled softly. "You don't need to worry about clothes with my parents; the smallest things impress them, like intelligence. Just be nice, not the person I met yesterday." Noemí said teasingly, and sat back on the chair. "What do you say?"

"What about Anthony?" Terri asked softly, ignoring the tease in Noemí's voice. She was totally unnerved by this Noemí, the one that was pleasant, and who smiled, even if it was only a tiny little bit; the difference from yesterday threw Terri off.

Noemí took a deep breath, and glanced briefly at Victoria. "Anthony has been cut loose, basically, and he will have to fend for himself." Noemí answered. When Terri looked guilty, she explained truthfully: "He has a good inheritance from an uncle, and he will live off it. He wants nothing to do with you or the child." She paused, letting the truth sink in. "He refused to even think about marriage, and that, in my father's eyes, did it."

Terri sat up. "I don't want to marry Anthony; he's irresponsible and a brat. And I don't feel anything for him." She blurted, and blushed at Noemí's surprised expression. "I'm sorry, he's your brother."

Noemí chuckled and shook her head. "I understand completely how you feel." She said truthfully. "I tell you, that if he were here, I'd break his filthy mouth. He denied having anything to do with you, and then eventually admitted it, when I told him what you knew about his… anatomy."

Terri's skin flushed a deeper shade of red. "In- in front of your parents?" She asked meekly.

Victoria chuckled. "Trust me, Ms. Bledsoe, Mr. and Mrs. Leone are no saints." She said.

Terri looked at Victoria and smiled tentatively, and then her eyes returned to Noemí and looked anxious. "Now?" She asked.

"Yes." Noemí replied.

"Oh, come on," Victoria said, and kneeled beside Noemí, smiling up at Terri. "Her folks are not that bad, when they've managed to deal with me practically my whole life. And trust me; I'm definitely no saint myself."

Terri smiled uncertainly. "I might as well get it over with, right?" Both Noemí and Victoria smiled and nodded reassuringly. "Okay, can you wait for me downstairs? As you can see," She made a sweeping motion with her hand. "I have no place to change, but right in front of you."

Victoria rose and grinned playfully. "Oh, we wouldn't mi-" She began to say, but Noemí jumped to her feet and pulled her towards the door.

"We'll be in the car." She said over her shoulder, and they left Terri alone in the apartment, wondering what Anthony had gotten her into.

"Are you crazy?" Noemí demanded, glaring at Victoria through the rearview mirror.

Victoria sat comfortably on the backseat, her head resting against the arms, her legs resting across the seat. She yawned, and smiled lazily. "She doesn't look pregnant to me." She said.

"Well, she is. You just can't see it yet, you can feel it though." Noemí said to her, gripping the steering wheel.

"And how, my friend, did you feel her stomach?" Victoria asked with arched eyebrows.

"Well," Noemí was embarrassed. "When we had the fight, I had to drag her up the block to the parking lot."

"I see." Victoria laughed softly. "Feisty little thing, isn't she? Didn't seem that way to me up there."

"I guess she got it out of her system." Noemí said, leaning over and looking out the passenger window. "What's taking her so long?"

"Well, buddy," Victoria said flippantly. "Think about this. She is the poorest of the poor, probably has nothing, nothing, at all to wear that she feels is dignified of a super rich family." She flipped her wrist. "You tell me why she's taking so long."

"I wonder what she lives off of." Noemí wondered aloud.

"Probably welfare." Victoria said with another yawn.

"That is not nice, Victoria." Noemí admonished. "I thought you were nicer."

"I am, baby," Victoria said smoothly, and leaned forward on her seat, throwing her arms over the front seats. "I'm just being practical." She paused. "She's gorgeous, Noemí. God, did you see those eyes? And that body?"

"Mom says pregnancy always makes women beautiful." Noemí said distractedly, leaning over again and looking out the window.

"No, my love, she is a natural beauty, the pregnancy has enhanced her beauty even more." Victoria corrected her, then sat back and mused with a smile. "I've never made love to a pregnant woman before."

"Victoria, stop it." Noemí said in a warning tone.

"So tell me," Victoria said, restlessly leaning forward again. "What do you know about pregnant women?"

Noemí twisted around to look at Victoria as if she were crazy. "What?" She exclaimed.

Victoria smiled and patted Noemí's face as if she were loosing her mind. "Pay attention, will you?" She said in a playfully impatient voice. "She is a very pregnant woman with a volatile temper. You want to take her to live in your house, where you will have to deal with her bullshit for God knows how long. We all know that Ms. Noemí Leone is not the most patient individual on this earth, hence her restlessness at this very moment. What do you know about pregnant women?"

Noemí turned and stared out the windshield, and remembered. "Amelia was pregnant." She said softly, sorrow burning her heart.

Victoria shifted over and wrapped her arms around her friend's shoulders. "Oh, honey, I know," She whispered softly against her ear. "I know she was pregnant, but Amelia was always happy, God bless her soul. It was what you both wanted so badly. But Terri will not take the place of Amelia, honey. She is a straight pregnant woman."

Noemí nodded. "I know, Victoria." She said softly, holding Victoria's hands tightly in her own. "I just want to do for her what Anthony is not doing. I want to give that baby all it needs, so that it never needs anything in its life. I'm convincing Terri to take my offer to live in the house; the other bedroom is so beautiful. Besides, it would be as if she is living there on her own, I'm hardly ever there as it is."

The passenger door opened, stopping Victoria from saying anything more. She sat back and slipped on her seatbelt. "Noe, take me home first. Michaela is waiting for me." She said with a little smile and a wink.

"Oh, is she?" Noemí asked with a smile. To Terri, she said: "We're taking a little detour."

Terri nodded, and Noemí drove off.

Thomas and Natalie were sitting outside, relaxing on their comfortable lawn chairs in their patio; each enjoyed a cold glass of lemon iced tea prepared expertly by Natalie. Saturday was René's day off and she'd gone off as usual to visit some of her family.

They looked up at blue sky, which was partly shielded from the sun by the trees surrounding the house. Holding hands, they sat close together. Thomas, wearing a light blue tank top shirt and red swimming trunks, was feeling comfortable as they waited for Noemí to show up with Terri. Natalie wore white shorts with a white T-shirt, comfortable under the warm sunshine.

"Oh, honey," Natalie said sadly. "I wish Anthony would change his mind, and at least be there for that child. He thinks having children is like tying yourself down. We never taught him that."

"I'm sure plenty of his friends tell him that, he is so easily influenced." Thomas replied, and took a good mouthful from his iced tea. They heard the sound of a car door slamming, and they both sat up expectantly, suddenly nervous. "They're here." He whispered, and stood up.

Two minutes later, Noemí was guiding a very reluctant looking young woman up to them. "Oh, Thomas, she's beautiful." Natalie breathed close to his ear, and sighed as Noemí guided the young woman to stand in front of them.

Thomas stared down at the young woman with a smile on his handsome face. His eyes crinkled at the corners, a line forming on his cheek. Anthony's taste is immaculate, if not his morals. He thought. "Well, hello there, Ms. Bledsoe." He said, and extended his hand.

"Hello mom, dad." Noemí said as Terri reached to shake her father's hand. She leaned towards her mother and kissed her cheek. "Hi, mom."

"Hi, baby," Natalie said, kissing her back. Then Terri became the center of her attention, and the shy demeanor mixed with strong pride charmed her. "Hello, Terri, I am Natalie, and this is my husband Thomas. Come, sit down with us." She said and gestured her to sit on one of the chairs around the table.

Terri complied, and sat staring down at the ground in silence as they studied her. Noemí sat beside her mother and remained politely detached, letting them do their thing. "Tell us, Terri," Natalie said suddenly, and Terri's eyes snapped up to her. "Are you originally from New York?"

Terri shook her head and took a deep breath. "No, I'm from Pennsylvania." She responded and met her eyes, then Thomas'. Suddenly, she felt flustered at having to be under their scrutiny, as if she was a lab specimen under observation. She felt intimidated by their beauty. Even Mr. Leone was a striking man, with massive shoulders like Anthony and thick white hair. Terri could see where Noemí got her extreme attractiveness from.

Terri continued in a rush. "Listen, I am sorry that this is happening this way, I never wanted to take advantage of Anthony's situation. I was taking the pill every day and I didn't stop. I was as surprised as he was to find that I was pregnant. I just don't believe in abortion, and if I did, I- don't think I'd have the courage anyway." She met Noemí's eyes, giving her the reason she had almost broken her mouth back at the office.

Noemí acknowledged her reason, and smiled reassuringly, reaching up with her hand and rubbing the bruised spot of her jaw.

Thomas, charmed by the straightforward nature of this young woman, sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees like Noemí had done back at her apartment. Terri could see how alike their mannerisms were. She thought of Anthony, and of how his mannerisms were not at all gentle like his parents' and even Noemí's. Thomas' gentle voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Noemí mentioned you had brothers and a father. If it is not too much, may we ask why you left them?" He asked.

Terri shook her head, meeting his eyes. "I prefer not to talk about the circumstances of my departure from home, sir, if you don't mind." She said softly, and was strangely comforted by the look of sympathy in his eyes.

"I Understand, young woman," Thomas said indulgently, smiling tenderly, already liking her honesty. "Maybe some day we can talk about it?" She nodded, and he smiled at her. "We need to know some other things, also." She nodded again, and he asked: "What physician has seen you about your pregnancy?"

"I go to the clinic with Jamaica Hospital. It's called Medisys, and they help you get medical assistance even if you don't have welfare." Terri answered truthfully, fidgeting in her seat. "They helped me get into welfare, so now I have Medicaid. But I don't see a regular physician, sir."

Thomas lifted a hand and smiled at her. "Thomas is fine, dear." He assured her.

"It seems like disrespect to you, sir." Terri said nervously. She was thrown for a loop; she had expected Anthony's family to be stuck-up and boorish towards her, considering their circumstances.

Thomas laughed softly, and then lifted a finger and wagged it at her. "Let me tell you something, Terri, just because we're rich, we don't ask people who are not as fortunate as us to call us by the words Sir or Madam. Makes us feel old." He said, and Natalie nodded her agreement. "Our maid, whom we've had for over twenty-seven years, calls us by first name basis, and we've never required her to call us any other way." He paused and looked her straight in the eyes, with those eyes so similar to Noemí's. "Now, about the doctor. You will see our family physician from now on."

"But," Terri stuttered.

Thomas cut her off gently. "Now, you have nothing to hide," Terri shook her head, her mouth hanging open. She looked at Noemí with wide eyes. Thomas smiled at his daughter, who was sitting there the whole time, very quiet, smiling at Terri softly, reassuring her. "And," Thomas continued. "Since there is a great possibility that child is Anthony's-"

"I don't want to be disrespectful, sir, er, Thomas," Terri said apologetically. "But I swear on my life and my baby's that I have never been with any other man. Please, believe me." Her eyes grew moist and her voice broke a little.

Thomas reached over and took her small hand in his, squeezing gently before letting go, touched by her sensitivity. "Okay, Terri, you have to understand how we feel. We want to be sure that this child is Anthony's. When that child is born, we'll know. In the meantime, just because Anthony committed the irresponsible act of having unsafe sex with you, we feel responsible to you." He said softly, and Natalie agreed with him. "We are going to provide for you and your unborn baby, as if you were part of our family. The money that was going to Anthony, will be coming to you, and we will pay for your medical expenses."

Terri stared at him, dumbfounded; her face was pale. "I-"

"Now," Thomas cut her off once again. "About your living arrangement." He glanced at Noemí, and she nodded softly. "Noemí has commented about the area you live in. We don't want you there any more. Noemí has enough room in her own home to provide comfort for you." He chuckled softly at her shocked stare, and watched as she looked from him to Natalie and then to Noemí.

"No," She said suddenly, her face tense. "I can't accept." She stood, and made a move to walk away. Noemí moved quickly and stood in front of her, taking a hold of her arms. "Please, let me go, Noemí. I'll take the train home, I can't accept this."

Thomas gestured to Noemí and she nodded. "Why don't we go have a drink somewhere?" She suggested to Terri.

"I can't drink, my baby-" Terri began to say, but Noemí smiled down at her.

"You can have orange juice, and I'll have a drink." She said, and winked at her parents, guiding her away. "We'll be back in a little while." She called over her shoulder, but her parents followed them around the house to the driveway, obviously reluctant to see Terri go.

Terri got into the car, and slipped on her seatbelt. She waited for Noemí to get into the car also, but Noemí was speaking to her parents, hands shoved into her sweats' pockets. She rocked slightly on the heels of her sneakers, and Terri could only hear the sound of their voices, their words undecipherable. Thomas said something to Noemí and glanced at Terri, smiling at her reassuringly. Terri nodded at him and smiled back, blushing in embarrassment. She crossed her arms protectively over her chest and stared down at her feet.

She wondered at their willingness to help her, even though they didn't know her. Obviously, they had been expecting this to happen for a long time. That they were even willing to support her surprised her even more. For all they knew, she could be lying, trying to get good money at their expense. They were so trusting that it was difficult for her not to like them already. She had had preconceived notions, by seeing the way Anthony was, that they were morons. Now she knew she was wrong, even though she still had her doubts.

I should have known better, I guess. She thought to herself. Noemí Leone is nothing like Anthony. She is so intense and serious, and intelligent. I can see that just by the way she talks, walks, and even sits. Obviously, Anthony's Parents did something right where Noemí Leone is concerned.

Suddenly, Noemí opened the driver's side door and leaned in. "Let's take a walk, there is a little place close by we can go to." She said, meeting her eyes.

Terri nodded and climbed out of the car. She looked at Thomas and Natalie, her expression apologetic. "I'm sorry." She said softly, and followed Noemí down the long driveway onto the sidewalk.

Thomas and Natalie watched them silently as they went, walking slowly down to Austin Street. "Why should she be sorry?" Natalie whispered at Thomas and he shrugged.

He turned and wrapped his arms around his wife, smiling down at her. "Maybe she doesn't want the comfort we can provide for her." He said softly, kissing her lips gently. "She'll have to take it, whether she wants it or not. For that child she's carrying."


Friday's was like any other restaurant, but like few, it had a bar also. Noemí had not been there in a few years, since Amelia passed away. But today, there were important matters to discuss, and this was the place that brought her peace despite its often-noisy crowds and her memories. Noemí, as they waited for the matron to greet them, studied Terri. "Do you want something to eat?" She asked, and thought she saw Terri's eyes light up at the idea of lunch. "Okay," Noemí said, smiling softly. "You'll enjoy the food here."

The matron, a short red headed woman was heading their way, and she smiled at Noemí in recognition. "Noemí! Long time!" She exclaimed, sounding very happy indeed to see her. Her brown eyes traveled the length of Noemí's body, and the heated look she gave her was not lost on Terri.

Noemí smiled at the woman, and moved forward to hug her. "Melanie. How are you?" She said warmly, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Then she looked her up and down. "You look great."

Melanie flushed with pleasure, pulling back and slapping Noemí's arm gently. "Fine, fine. Got a promotion since the last time you were here, as you can see." She replied, gesturing for them to follow her and guiding them to the back, where most of the eating area was. She looked Terri over briefly and then shot Noemí a questioning look.

Noemí smiled at her and shook her head in answer. Melanie's smile grew, and she handed them each a menu. "See you later, then." She said, and turned to go. It seemed she thought of something else, because she turned back to Noemí. "Does this mean you're back?" She asked in very suggestive tone.

Noemí smiled, and pulled out her business card from her wallet, handing it over to Melanie. "Give me a call Monday, maybe we can have dinner somewhere." Was all she said, and this pleased Melanie; she beamed as she left them to do her job.

Terri stared at Noemí curiously and Noemí met her eyes. "Old friend?" She asked.

"Yes," Noemí replied, and looked down at her menu with a heavy sigh. "Old, old friend."

Terri slightly pursed her lips and looked down at the menu, looking through the plastic coated pages. "I don't know what I should have." She said after a while, and Noemí smiled at her.

She looked at her own menu and then at Terri. "How about some steak?" She suggested, and Terri looked up at her with wide eyes. "With mashed potatoes?" She stopped and looked at the younger woman with concern. "Is something wrong?"

Terri looked away from her. "Uh, nothing." She stuttered. "I just rarely have any meat, that's all."

"Are you a vegetarian?" Noemí asked.

Terri flushed a deep shade of red, and braved a look at Noemí. Noemí was now studying the menu for something without meat. "I can't afford it all the time." She said with difficulty.

Noemí was speechless, and she felt like an insensitive jerk. "Sorry, I didn't think." She apologized just as the waiter came to their table with his little notepad and pen in hand. She ordered a steak and mashed potatoes with orange juice for Terri and a chicken salad with a Vodka mix for herself. He smiled at them and took away the menus. "It doesn't have to be that way, Terri," She said to her with a low tone of voice. "You can have anything you want, if you'd only put that pride to sleep for a while. Like it or not, you're stuck with us."

Leaning forward, her elbows on the table, Noemí pointed a slender finger down at her womb. "That child inside you is my parents' grandchild and my niece or nephew." She whispered fiercely. "You can't only think about yourself now. You have another life inside you now that you have to think about, and we can provide for you and your child what you can't right now." She paused and studied Terri's expression for a reaction.

The more Noemí spoke, the more Terri became afraid. What if they're trying to take my baby? She whimpered very softly, and half turned away from Noemí, she could feel a light sweat break out all over her body. She trembled and wrapped her arms around herself. "I don't want you take my baby away from me." She whispered softly.

Noemí stared at her, at first confused, and then realization dawned on her. Feeling horrified that Terri had assumed that they would want to take her baby away from her, she shook her head. "No," She whispered softly, bending forward more. "No! That's not what we want, Terri. We want to be there for this baby. We want it to know it has family, to have our last name. We don't want it to ever need anything. Don't you understand? Don't you feel the same way? Don't you want a family?" Terri met her eyes again, and nodded very slowly, almost imperceptibly, and Noemí sighed. "Then won't you at least think about it?" She asked softly.

Terri looked down at the table, and whispered: "I'll think about it." She twisted in her seat, and was sitting facing Noemí again, looking at her with guarded eyes.

Noemí sat back and met her eyes. "My mother wants me to go with you to your first visit with our family doctor." She said.

"It seems you discussed a lot about me without talking to me." Terri said defensively, narrowing her eyes. Now they're trying to control my life. She thought, feeling a little angry.

"No, no, you don't understand." Noemí said, sounding irritated. "It is only if you want me to go, if you want to get to know me. She likes you already, Terri, she believes you when you say that you are the mother of her grandchild."

Terri looked directly into her eyes. "You don't?" She asked.

Noemí sat back. "That will be proven when that child is born." She answered Terri's accusation evasively.

Terri shook her head, and laughed softly. "What is it about your bloodline that will let you know who is a Leone and who is not?" She asked sarcastically.

Noemí leaned forward again, and moved a hand to stroke her hair by an area on the right side of the top of her head close to her forehead, which sent her hair slightly to the left side. "You see this little part here?" She asked, fingering it and eyeing Terri closely. Terri nodded; she'd seen the same part on the same area of Anthony's head. "This is the Leone hair part, not one child in our family is born who doesn't have this; unless for some reason or another that baby ends up not being a Leone. Call us foolish, but it is true. We haven't had a case like that in a long time, but you see…"

Relaxing a little, Terri smiled. "But what if it comes out with my part?" She asked teasingly.

"Our bloodline runs deep in every Leone." Noemí said proudly, sitting back again. "We have beauty marks in certain areas of our bodies," She cleared her throat. "You would know."

Terri's smile faded, and she looked away. Their food arrived, and they proceeded to eat silently. Noemí hardly touched her salad, and nursed her drink carefully. By the time Terri finished with her lunch, stuffed to capacity, Noemí had finished three drinks. Terri noticed the way her eyes were slightly unfocused, and that she now blinked very slowly.

"Have you thought of my offer to stay in my house?" Noemí asked suddenly, her words ran together a little.

"Yes." Terri answered as the waiter came back around and removed her plate, and Noemí's barely touched plate.

"Bring the check." Noemí said and the waiter nodded. She looked at Terri, and closed her eyes for a second. "Yes, you've thought about it, or yes, you accept my offer?" She asked very slowly.

"I accept." Terri said recklessly, and looked down at the tabletop shyly. Noemí smiled.

The check arrived, and Noemí pulled out a few bills from her wallet and threw them on the table, standing up. She almost lurched away from the table, and Terri followed her out to the street. She followed Noemí back the way they came, and walked silently beside her as Noemí walked along, seemingly thinking deeply about something. She was a little drunk, Terri could see. They turned on the street her parents lived in, and Noemí took her elbow and guided her the rest of the way. She pulled out her key chain from her pocket and slipped a key into the hole.

As she walked through the front door, Terri's eyes widened in awe as she studied the beautiful interior. Everything was made of wood, a dark wood that shone brilliantly and cleanly. She stumbled over her own feet as she looked into the living room, and Noemí held her up. "Be careful." She whispered good-naturedly.

Terri looked at her with glassy eyes, her mouth parted slightly. "This is wonderful." She whispered back, and continued to look all around. Noemí chuckled softly, and called out to her father. He called back from somewhere down the hall and she guided Terri into his study. Terri couldn't hold back the gasp that came forth.

There were books, on shelves that covered all of the walls from floor to ceiling. Soft classical music came from hidden speakers around the room. Natalie sat on a large rocking chair by the large window; her knitting rested on her lap as her small hands did the work. Thomas sat behind his huge desk, leaning back on his chair, a large book sitting across his lap. He pulled off his glasses, and sat forward, smiling a welcome at Terri. "Hello there." He said softly, standing up and walking around the desk. He smiled down at her reassuringly. "You're feeling better now, I trust?"

Terri nodded, and was surprised when Natalie came to her and kissed her cheek. She'd never known such gentle mannered people in her life. Anthony doesn't know how lucky he is, she thought fleetingly, allowing their caring demeanor to take her in. "Sit down, sit down." Natalie told her and guided her to one of the chairs.

Noemí went to the window and stared out, sitting on the custom made seat right in front of it. "She has accepted the offer to live in my house." She said quietly, and Thomas seemed very happy, even going so far as to leaning down and hugging Terri with his big bulk.

"Smart girl." He said, and moved to sit behind his desk again. "Good job, Noemí."

Noemí smiled softly at him, and turned her face again to stare out the window into the beautiful afternoon.

Natalie sat on the other chair, and gazed at Terri with a gentle smile. Terri blushed, and she looked down at her lap. "What's the matter?" Natalie asked softly, leaning forward and touching her arm gently.

Terri looked at her, her eyes glassy with suppressed tears. She felt Thomas and Noemí's eyes on her and was uncomfortable. "I've never been offered this type of comfort." She said uneasily, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

Natalie scoffed tenderly, and leaned back in her seat. "This is only the beginning child. By the time we're done with you, you will never want us to go away." She said with a small laugh. "We're very lovable people, you know."

Terri believed her with all her heart, and she did her best not to find them irresistibly lovable. "It makes me wonder what happened with Anthony." She said suddenly, not thinking, and was met with a warm smile from Thomas.

"I often wonder that myself." He said reassuringly, and he looked at her stomach. "You're not showing much, yet." He continued, and she instinctively pressed her hands to her hardening stomach.

Natalie waved him off, and leaned over to touch her arm again. She whispered in a confidential tone, a twinkle in her eye: "He doesn't know much about pregnant women. I wouldn't let him near me when I was pregnant with my babies." Terri couldn't help but laugh, and covered her mouth. Natalie looked happy at having made her laugh, and said condescendingly to Thomas: "She's only four months along, Thomas. Wait another two months, and she'll be a balloon." Thomas broke out in laughter.

"Balloon?" Terri whispered, wide-eyed.

Noemí laughed softly, and stood behind Terri's chair. "Mom, you're scaring her. Stop it." She said in a mock stern tone, and Natalie laughed; her laugh was identical to Noemí's, Terri noticed. "You should know, Terri," She said, placing a now gentle hand on her shoulder, unnerving her. "That it is only natural for a pregnant woman to blow up after some time. But once they give birth, most go back to their original look, with a few more enticing curves." She smiled down at Terri when she twisted to look up at her curiously. She lifted her eyes from Terri's and looked at her mother again. "She's a painter, mom." She said to Natalie, who smiled brightly upon hearing that. "Really excellent."

Before Natalie could say a thing, Terri was shaking her head and saying in a self-deprecating manner: "Oh, nothing big, Mrs. Leone, only watercolors."

"That is bull, mom," Noemí said with a low husky laugh. "She is good. As soon as you get the chance, mom, since you know all the painters in New York, I want you to get her canvas and whatever else painters use."

Natalie surprised Terri by saying: "Why of course, as soon as you get her settled into your house."

Terri stared at her then stood up abruptly. She looked at Noemí for a long time. "I'd like to go home now, please. I'm very tired." She whispered softly, her eyes watery and reddish. She looked like she was about to cry, but she made it past their already loving good-byes and out of the house. She sat pensively in Noemí's car, and waited for her to join her in the vehicle.

A few minutes later, Noemí came and got into the car, slipping the key in the ignition hole and starting the car. Her parents had already closed the door behind them, and Noemí sat quietly in the car. Suddenly, she twisted around and looked at her for a long time. She reached over and touched Terri's shoulder softly. "I know my parents can be overwhelming sometimes-"

"No," Terri cut her off with a husky voice, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening. "They're wonderful. I always wished my dad were like yours is, and that my mom hadn't died and left me with him. I imagine she would have been like your mother." She laughed softly, and it sounded like a half-suppressed sob. She pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, and a tear slipped out. She wiped at it, and said with an attempt at levity: "But it looks like our brothers were cut of the same paper, eh?"

Noemí joined in her laughter, trying to let her compose herself, and she straightened in her seat, slipping on her seatbelt. She twisted again, this time putting her arm behind the passenger seat. She brought the car in reverse onto the street. With a lurch, they moved forward down the street onto Queens Boulevard. Terri fell asleep as Noemí drove her home.


Michaela cuddled in Victoria's arms; they were sitting up in bed, talking. They had barely been apart since the day they met a week ago, only separating when both women had to go to work; they'd been together every single night since then. Every time Victoria returned to the apartment, she always found Michaela curled up on the couch, the television still on, either deeply asleep, or calmly watching television. Victoria always felt as tired as Michaela, but she always woke her or took her attention away from the television to make love again. Today, it had turned dark before they even realized it. They decided to give sex a tiny rest and to talk and get to know each other. "Tell me about Noemí." Michaela said in her bossy tone.

Victoria pulled back and smiled down at her. "Jesus, can't you calm down with the bossiness? I'm not one of those people," She said jokingly. "I don't take orders." They both knew that Michaela's assertive nature aroused Victoria to the point of submission; something she'd never felt before.

Michaela slapped her arm gently. "Shut up." She said softly. "Now tell me about Noemí. Why is she so important to you?" Victoria studied her for a long time, trying to discern if Michaela was jealous or obsessive or any of those excuses she'd used before to get rid of one woman or another. All that she could come up with as she looked at her was that Michaela was wonderful. Oh my god, those lips! Victoria thought to herself as her gaze turned hot. "Tell me." Michaela said, smiling teasingly at the look in Victoria's eyes; she seemed genuinely curious about Noemí in the 'I want to know your life' kind of way.

"Well," Victoria whispered, reaching out and stroking Michaela's hair gently. "Noemí and I grew up practically together. My father is her father's best friend, and surprisingly, my mother is her mother's best friend." She sighed, and looked up at the reflections of the lights outside on the walls. "Dad is the NYPD commissioner, mom his secretary. Dad and Thomas have known each other for more than thirty years.

"I'm older than Noemí by about a year, but as soon as she was born, according to our parents, I was endeared by those eyes." She laughed softly. "We grew up right next to each other, next door neighbors. My parents still live in the next house, but they're on vacation right now. So we grew up together, went to Catholic girls' school together. We did so many things together to the other kids," She said with a small laugh. "We were the pranksters, everybody was scared of us. And we've never had a single fight with each other."

"Sounds wonderful," Michaela said with a tender kiss to the almost invisible cleft of Victoria's chin. She looked up at her and saw her smile fade. "What is it?"

Victoria's lips twisted as she thought about the events of years ago. "Well, everything was fine. It's just that Noemí has changed a lot, she's not the person she was five years ago." She paused and took a deep breath. Michaela waited silently, allowing her tell their tale at her own pace. "Almost eight years ago, I introduced her to Amelia, she was a fellow accountant. Beautiful, like a princess, and sweet and tender like a baby's butt." Michaela smiled at the comparison. "Noemí fell in love with her right away, and Amelia fell hard for Noemí too. They were so happy." Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes.

Michaela sat up and touched her cheek gently with a hand. She kissed away her tears and crooned gently in her ear. She felt Victoria's arms wind tightly around her. Victoria got a hold of herself and she cleared her throat to continue. "Well, they used to go away on the weekends, a lot, and I used to go with them sometimes. That last time I went with them, a group of us friends went together. It was Providence Town; we had the greatest time there. And when we were coming home, they were rammed by some asshole in a truck and they went down a ditch-"

Her voice broke again, and she cried the tears she never cried. Even when Noemí had been in the hospital, in a coma and very close to dying, Victoria's eyes had remained stoically dry. "Shit," She whispered after a few minutes, stiffening and pulling away from Michaela. She felt uneasy, never being one to cry in front of women that way, except maybe her mother and Noemí. She didn't like showing her vulnerability, but Michaela did that to her. She made Victoria feel vulnerable with her gentle care.

"Oh, baby, its okay." Michaela said, sensing the truth of her discomfort. "You don't have to hide anything from me." She lay down in her arms again, and felt Victoria reluctantly yield to her again. "Tell me the rest."

"Amelia was pregnant," Victoria sobbed, and couldn't help the tears that fell from her eyes. She continued with the tears flowing freely, her voice breaking over and over: "Oh, God, they wanted that child practically from the beginning of their relationship, and I wanted it right with them. I wanted it just as badly, if not more. Because Noemí and I always promised each other that we would be each other's children's godmothers, and that would have been my godchild. It was our project, that baby."

"Oh, honey," Michaela whispered, tears of her own staining her cheeks.

"We were all so devastated," Victoria whispered back, trembling against her and crying. "Amelia and the baby died right away, and Noemí was stuck in that goddamn car for hours, pressed right against Amelia's body, almost dying herself. It was such an experience, God." She trembled even harder. "Three friends of ours were in my car. Noemí's car was a two-seater, and mine was bigger. All of us saw the accident happen, and I thought I'd lost my best friend! I almost went crazy."

She cried again, reliving the fear of that accident. "I lost her, kind of. She was almost dead when they could finally get her out of that car; she almost lost her right arm. She has this big scar on her arm from the dash crushing her to Amelia, and a big one on her left thigh from the car crumpling and pressing her from the left. Every time I see them, I remember. She's blind on her left eye because of the goddamn bastard!"

"Oh, baby." Michaela whispered, and held her tighter. "How is Noemí dealing with it?" She asked gently.

"She drinks," Victoria said shortly, shaking her head and pressing her face into Michaela's soft throat. "Exercises… and works herself to near exhaustion. She doesn't sleep, has nightmares every single time she closes her eyes."

"She talks to you about it?" Michaela asked, and sat up, brushing her fingers through Victoria's hair.

Victoria nodded and closed her eyes to the comforting feeling of Michaela's fingers in her hair. "Yes, not often, but she does." She whispered. "I have nightmares myself, from time to time. Of course, not as bad as hers, but I can swear I still see the car falling off into that ditch." She stayed quiet for a long moment, gazing into space. Then she suddenly pulled Michaela down and they forgot everything, as they once again lost their senses in one another.


The interoffice line rang, and Noemí reached over for the receiver. "Hello," She said distractedly, kneading the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index fingers.

"Noemí, Melanie is on line one for you." Her secretary said.

With a soft smile, Noemí said: "Put her through."

"Hi, Noemí." Melanie said, sounding glad to hear her voice. "How are you?"

Leaning back on her seat, Noemí twirled her pen between her fingers. "I am fine, and yourself?" She replied.

"Doing well," Melanie said, and sighed. She said nothing for a long moment, and Noemí could hear her breathing softly on the other end. "So when can we have dinner?" She now sounded a little nervous.

Noemí thought about it. "Tonight after I get out of the office, if you like." She said, on an impulse.

Melanie laughed delightedly. "Sounds like a great idea to me." She agreed, and they set a time and place to meet.

Noemí leaned back on her chair, and spun around to stare out the windows at the blue sky, smiling as she thought about her younger days. Those days when everything was fun and uncomplicated, when death couldn't touch her or hurt her. Her smile faded as her memories returned to Amelia, the only woman that made her heart do a dance in her chest. She closed her eyes softly, and imagined that she could still feel Amelia's lips brush hers softly, hear her voice full of passion telling her she loved her. Feel her slender hands touching her arms and back reverently, their bodies dancing against one another as they made passionate love.

The phone rang, and she started from her thoughts, spinning her chair to reach for the receiver again, welcoming the distraction.

Noemí sat across from Melanie, looking like a commercial for fashion. Her work clothes had no wrinkles, her shirt had the top three buttons undone, and Melanie couldn't help but gaze at the revealed smooth skin with desire. Noemí had always had that effect on her; she had always made her feel this way, this breathless feeling of want and heat. She gazed at her as she talked about everything that had happened to her all those years since they last saw each other. "Tell me about you, Noemí. How are you?" She said, wanting to hear her voice.

Noemí leaned forward, resting an arm on the table, and her smile faded a little. "I'd rather talk about you." She said evasively, looking down at the table.

"You'd rather not talk about what's happened with you?" Melanie said softly, reaching over and touching the back of her hand with soft and slender fingers. "Why?" She knew why, but she wanted to hear Noemí's version of things.

Noemí narrowed her eyes, and she looked down at Melanie's fingers touching her hand. "Come on, Melanie," She said softly, looking up to meet her eyes. "You know why, and I know that you know, things get around in our circle more than we'd like."

Melanie smiled softly, brushing her hair from her forehead with her other hand. She'd heard about Noemí's accident from a lot of people, and about how her lover had died. She had shown up at the hospital every day during that first month when Noemí had been in a coma, and Victoria had been her contact. Once it was known that Noemí would recover, she had stopped going, not having the courage to face her, knowing that to Noemí it would make no difference whether she was there or not. "I know, Noemí." She said. "I just wanted to hear it from you."

Noemí shrugged, shaking her head. "I'm not good at talking about it, I'm sorry." She said huskily.

Melanie pulled her hand away, and smiled at her. "You don't have to then, unless you feel like you should. Remember that I'm always here no matter what." She reassured her.

Noemí nodded and smiled, and everything felt all right again. Their food arrived and they began to eat. Noemí asked her about her family, and Melanie answered her eagerly, happy to have her close again.

After dropping Melanie off at home, Noemí drove around Queens a little. It was still early and she felt restless. On a whim, she drove towards Jamaica, deciding to go see Terri. She wanted the woman to know that her family was there for her no matter what. She thought back to Saturday, and Terri's horror at the thought of the Leone family taking her baby away. Obviously she hasn't been given much in life, more like taken from. Noemí assumed.

She parked a few houses down from Terri's apartment, and looked around as she got out of the car. There were people hanging out all over the street, some looking at her as if shocked at her appearance. Obviously, she didn't live around here, as her car and clothes attested to. She wasn't intimidated by the hostile looks she received, and she made a show of locking her car, not turning the alarm on.

With a quick smile at a group of kids sitting on a stoop, she made her way to Terri's apartment. Once inside the old house, she went up the stairs to the second floor landing. She was aware of a huge row going on in the apartment beside Terri, sounds of glass breaking and fists landing muffled through the door. Shaking her head, she turned to Terri's door and knocked.

"Who is it?" Terri's voice sounded strained through the door, and Noemí felt sorry for the situation she was in.

"It is Noemí." Noemí replied. She winced as the sound of glass hitting the wall of the apartment next door reverberated throughout the hallway. After a little fumbling, Terri opened the door and pulled Noemí inside by the sleeve, quickly slamming the door closed again. She placed a chair beneath the knob, and turned to look at Noemí, who stared at her with an arched eyebrow. "Happens often?" She inquired.

Terri nodded and gestured her to sit on the only available chair, not meeting her eyes. Noemí shook her head and gestured Terri to sit instead. "What is it?" Terri asked, not accepting the invitation. She'd been trying to paint, but the increasingly violent couple next door was breaking her concentration. Her hands were shaking, and she was fighting a wave of nausea.

Leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing her arms over her chest, Noemí gazed at the younger woman for a long moment. She looked around and noticed the drawing papers lying on the table in disarray. "Why don't you move in this weekend?" She asked softly. "You don't need this," She gestured towards the apartment next door. "It only adds stress to your pregnancy."

Terri shook her head and grimaced, running a hand through already unkempt hair. "Not yet, I'm not ready." She said, walking towards her bed and flopping down.

Noemí could see the lines of stress etched across her pretty features, the shaking of her hands as they raked through her hair once again. Noemí finally sat down on the chair, facing Terri, crossing her legs and slouching back. "Have they been doing this for long?" She finally asked.

Terri nodded, staring down at the floor and letting her head drop forward. "Oh yeah," she replied. "Usually it revs up into World War Three and then they fuck their brains out."

Noemí chuckled, shaking her head at Terri's choice words. "Do you sleep at all?" She asked gently.

Terri looked up and met Noemí's ice-colored eyes, immediately looking back down at her hands, which were stained with the watercolor paints. "I'm used to it." She said. When she looked up, Terri also noticed Noemí's seemingly relaxed posture. But she could see past the body language; the tenseness of the older woman's shoulders, and the way her eyes narrowed every so often.

Glancing at her watch, Noemí took a deep breath. "I have to go." She said, unwinding from her seemingly relaxed position and stood up. "I just wanted to see that you were doing alright." She moved towards the door and waited for Terri to join her. When the young woman reached her side, she reached out and squeezed her arm gently. "Call me tomorrow." She said huskily, and proceeded to let herself out.

Terri nodded and locked the door again, moving towards the table again. She glanced down at the topmost drawing, looking back up towards the dark window. She had been trying to draw Noemí, and Terri felt like she'd summoned her with her thoughts of the complicated woman. She had wanted to see her again, memorize a little more about her features, to be able to work more on her drawing.

Noemí slipped onto a stool and gestured the bartender over. "A bottle of Jack Daniels," She said when he reached her. Ignoring the wide-eyed surprised look in his eyes, she pulled out a roll of cash. Placing a fifty dollar bill on the counter, she looked up at him and waited for him to open the bottle for her. Pouring a short glass for her, he watched as she downed it in one gulp and poured herself another one, sad eyes staring down at the counter. He watched her for a long time, finally shrugging and walking away, leaving her to her woes.


Noemí sat in her office, immersed in paperwork and company statistics, when the private line rang. She picked it up absently, her eyes never leaving the pages in front of her. Terri's voice brought her out of her thoughts of numbers and words; she sounded distressed. For the past week and a half, they had talked every day, Terri checking in with her, as agreed with Thomas and Natalie. Still reluctant to move into the house, Terri procrastinated on making a decision for which day she would move. Noemí kept arguing with her every day, on the verge of loosing her patience. "What's up?" She asked, pulling off her thin-frame reading glasses.

There was some background sound, and Noemí could tell she was outside somewhere. She stood and moved around the desk, stretching her back.

"I don't know if we should do this, Noemí. I mean, I'm the kind of person who takes her time with everything, and you like things done fast. I don't know if I can deal with you." Terri found another excuse, another silly one.

Noemí threw her reading glasses down on the desk, and leaned back on the desk with an annoyed sigh, crossing her arms and holding the phone between her ear and shoulder. "Look, Terri, we agreed that you would move in, and every single day of this month, you have been jerking me around about the date that you want to move in." Noemí said in a quiet monotone, sounding very irritated indeed. "Every time I ask you if you want an apartment by yourself then, you say no, when I ask if you prefer to live in my house then, with my company to help you if any problem arises, you say you don't know.

"Now, today, when I get out of here," She looked at her watch. "In an hour and a half, I'm going to pass by your apartment to pick you up for good. If you're thinking about your child, then you will be ready with your belongings. I am very tired. Do we understand each other, Terri? Also," She said with great emphasis. "I am taking the day off tomorrow, so that we can go to the doctor, so that he can take a good look at you. You have been avoiding the subject."

Terri remained silent for a few seconds, and then she said: "Okay, I will be ready." She paused hesitantly. "Can I bring my drawings?" She asked shyly.

Noemí's smile was more like a grimace and she pinched the bridge of her nose with her index finger and thumb. This woman is something! "You can bring anything short of bed and chairs." She said huskily. "You won't need any of that any more; you will have anything you want from now on. I promise you that." She had already bought her the most comfortable king-sized canopy bed and installed it herself the same day of the purchase and delivery. Her mother, who had always had the eye for art, had taken charge of the decorations in the room; she decorated it as she saw fit for Terri.

Terri remained quiet again, but then she said in a low voice: "I'll be ready when you get here. I don't have that much anyway, and the tables and bed belong to the apartment."

When they hung up, Noemí leaned back on her chair and relaxed, kneading her eyes tiredly. She sighed and reached for the phone. She dialed and René answered on the second ring. "René, let me talk to mom, please." She said after pleasantries.

"Sure, honey." She said. "Tell me something, when am I going to meet that lovely young woman Natalie talks so much about? The mother of little Anthony's child."

Noemí chuckled softly. Terri had only been there that first day, and always avoided the subject of returning. Noemí knew she liked her parents, and that she didn't want to like them too much. "Anthony is hardly a little kid any more." She said. "And I'm trying to get mom to take her somewhere to buy clothes or something. Maybe mom will take you, if you ask her."

René sounded pleased with that prospect. She put the phone down and minutes later, Natalie came on the phone; she sounded out of breath. "What is the matter, honey? Is something wrong?" Was the first thing she asked; everything in her mind for the past month had been Terri and the baby. Every time Noemí had called, the first few minutes were spent with Noemí reassuring her that Terri was fine, and that all she wanted was to hear her pleasant motherly voice. Today, she'd be giving her good news.

"Everything is fine." Noemí said with a laugh. "I have good news for you. You should take the things you bought to my house; Terri is finally moving in about two hours, when I pick her up from her apartment. I'm going to see Travis with her tomorrow; I talked to her about that too."

Natalie sighed with happy relief. "Oh, honey, she has been giving you the runaround for the past few weeks. Are you sure you didn't let your patience run out and rained all over her?" She asked.

Noemí smiled into the phone; her mother knew her too well. She had been tempted to let it rip. "No, mom." She said in her low voice. "I was perfectly nice, I think. You need to ask her."

Natalie laughed softly, and they said goodbye. The things would be in the house in half an hour.

After working for another half-hour, hardly able to concentrate, she stood up and went by the window, looking down at the city. She thought that her solitude would be interrupted, and in a way she felt pleased about that. They still got along fairly, but she welcomed the new company. At times, Terri could be the most pleasant and agreeable individual, but at other times she could be irritatingly closed and stubborn. They'd seen each other almost every other night during the past few weeks, Noemí trying to get her to stop the excuses and do what they had agreed she would do. Terri would say okay, and the next day, they would be on zero once again.

Unwilling to work anymore, Noemí stood and walked over to get her jacket from the coat hanger and slipped it on. She stepped outside the office, and stood by her secretary's desk. She sat on the edge and smiled down at her. Her secretary, a pretty dark-haired Hispanic young woman, looked up from the computer with a welcoming smile. "How would you like to take the rest of the day off, Paula?" Noemí asked.

Paula seemed actually surprised at the offer. She had two children, - a ten year old boy and an eight year old girl- she hardly had time to spend with, working so hard at the office. Her smile to Noemí was bright, and she said in an almost shy tone: "Yes, of course, I'd love to go home and spend time with my kids."

Noemí stood up straight again, and smiled down at her. "Go ahead, I'm leaving now." She said, and walked away from the desk. The temperature outside felt more pleasant today; the past few days had been unbearably hot and humid. She walked next door to the parking lot, hands shoved into her trouser pockets, whistling softly.

She drove with her top and the windows down; the much cooler air touched her skin in a sort of caress. Because of the early time in the afternoon, rush hour had not yet set in. There was only a short thirty-minute drive to Terri's apartment, and she arrived more than forty-five minutes earlier than she had said. She sat in her car for a long time, tapping the wheel to the music playing softly from her speakers. She looked up at the window, and decided to go in, in case Terri needed any help. As she reached out to push the door to building, it swung open and Terri stood there, two large boxes behind her.

Noemí eyed the boxes, and then Terri, a scowl furrowing her brow. "You brought that down by yourself?" She asked in a bewildered tone, pointing at the boxes and looking at Terri as if she had gone crazy.

Terri nodded and looked at Noemí as if nothing in the world was wrong. "Yes, why?" She said with a shrug.

Noemí made an exasperated sound. "You're pregnant, Terri," She said almost shrilly. "That is why. I don't know how much you know, but it is dangerous for a pregnant woman to be lifting heavy things. You can cause yourself an abortion." She moved past her and reached for a box. It felt only slightly heavy to her, but to Terri's small frame it must surely have been a lead weight.

"Is that true?" Terri whispered, grasping her shoulder and stopping her. Noemí could see that she scared her. She did not mean to. Terri's eyes held tears and her face paled. "I don't want to loose my baby, Noemí. Is that true?"

Noemí propped the box against the doorframe and touched Terri's face softly with a finger. "Yes," She said in a low voice. "You just have to take care of yourself, that's all. You need to relax; you should have waited for me to do it."

Terri nodded, and said: "But I saw you drive up, and I saw that you didn't get out of the car, so I thought that meant for me to bring the boxes down to the car myself." She said in a rush, visibly shaking.

Noemí felt very stupid and she put the box down. She turned to Terri and took her face in her hands, looking into her eyes. "I was early, and I thought I'd give you a little more time before I went charging in." She said in a gentle voice. Then, to her surprise and Terri's, she bent and touched the smooth forehead with her lips. A feeling of tenderness shook her, and she pulled back, embarrassed. She turned and reached for the box again, hiding her blush. "Go get in the car, I'll be right there." She said.

Terri said nothing and moved past her obediently, getting in the car and watching at her put the boxes in the car. In less than two minutes, Noemí had both boxes in the back seat. She walked around the back of the car and slipped into the driver's seat. She turned and touched Terri's shoulder gently, and noticed the thin streak of tears on her pale cheeks. "Oh, Terri," She whispered tenderly, and touched her cheek with the backs of her fingers, wiping the tears slowly. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you. I can be very brutal sometimes."

Terri shook her head and looked down at her lap. "No, you're right." She said. "It was stupid of me. It's just the thought of loosing my baby terrifies me." She closed her eyes momentarily, and then looked up at Noemí with a shaky smile on her lips. "You know I felt it move again?"

Noemí was so pleased that she stroked her cheek again and squeezed her shoulder. "Great!" She said, and her smile grew. "Maybe you'll let me feel it move sometime." She continued, and turned on her seat to drive.

She didn't see the blush covering Terri's cheeks as she drove off.

"Oh God," Terri breathed to herself as her eyes took in all of the living room. "It's beautiful!" She walked deeper into the room, and looked at the furnishings, at the paintings and family pictures all over the place, at the glass coffee table of intricate design. She stepped down onto the slightly lower floor of the living room. Her fingers touched and stroked the materials as she told herself that this was all real. She turned as Noemí walked in with the second box, her eyes shiny. "I'm going to live here?" She asked in a whisper, not believing it.

Noemí smiled as she put the box down right inside the door. She shrugged and nodded, the material of her shirt stretching across her strong shoulders. "Yes," She said, blinking. "You like it?"

Terri blinked back. Like it? Like it? This is wonderful, Ms. Leone. Maybe you take it for granted because you've always been rich. But me? I'm a bum from the streets, Ms. Leone, I've never been around such riches, and Anthony only took me out once in his beautiful BMW! "It's, um, nice." She said in a low voice and continued to look around.

"Help yourself to anything, Terri. Look around, this is your home now." Noemí said gently. When Terri didn't move, Noemí walked to her and took her arm, gently guiding her out of the living room and down one of the halls leading into other areas of the house. There were two doors to the left, and two to the right, there was another one facing them at the end of the hall. Noemí showed her into the first door. The room was large, larger than Terri was accustomed to.

In that room, facing away from the window, was a large desk cluttered with papers; a black IBM computer and a printer shared the messy space. Full of novels and such, against the wall stood a large bookcase, a copying and faxing machine on a medium sized table to the right. A large window behind the desk gave a beautiful view of the trees that cradled the large house around three sides. "My office, I work here sometimes, as you can see by the mess on my desk." Noemí explained with a dry chuckle; Terri couldn't help but be impressed.

Noemí guided her out of the office and into the hallway again. Opening the first door on the right, she showed her into a bedroom. The room was much larger than the office, but it smelled unused and the furnishings were very dusty. Painted an off-white color, the room looked almost cheerful. Unaware of Noemí's sudden tenseness, Terri noticed that the room seemed hardly lived in, as if Noemí never slept there. The large bed was neatly made, and it looked as if it hasn't been unmade for a long time. A long mahogany dresser to one side of the bed, would have shone beautifully in the sunlight streaming from a pretty bay window if it weren't from the dust gathering on top of it. There were pictures in frames on it. Brushes, perfumes and makeup stuff sat neatly above the surface, as if they hadn't been moved in ages, also gathering dust. The closet, right beside the entrance, could be accessed easily if she turned to her right.

"This is my bedroom," Noemí said softly, and swallowed hard, guiding Terri out of the room too quickly.

Terri finally noticed the tenseness of Noemí's stance. "You hardly use your bedroom." Terri said softly, wondering at the reason. She thought about the makeup stuff on the dresser, and knew they weren't Noemí's. I wonder whose they were. She thought.

Noemí's jaw clenched suddenly and she didn't answer as she opened the second door on the left side of the hall. Inside, Noemí had set up a gym. The metals of a treadmill, bike, a weightlifting set and other assorted exercise materials shone cleanly, which let Terri know that they were used very often. A window to the back of the room, like in Noemí's office, lit the room with a beautiful glow, shining off the clean metal of the equipment.

"My gym," Noemí said, sounding at ease again, and she continued with some levity: "Maybe after the baby is born, you'll want to do exercise." Chuckled and shrugging, she guided Terri out of the room. She stopped at the door perpendicular to the gym's door, and opened it. Inside was the largest bathroom Terri had ever seen, she gasped and walked inside, eyeing everything. Noemí came in after her, and took a hold of her arm. "You can look at this later." She said gently, and guided her out and to the last of the doors, pausing and looking at Terri. "This is your room; we can buy a crib later on." She whispered and pushed the door open.

"Oh wow." Terri breathed softly, taking in everything in the room as she walked in. The bed, nestled below the window, was completely made up with pink quilts and covers. The pillows were plump and brand new, as well as the mattress. The canopy frame, black in color, felt smoothly comforting as she stroked it with shaky fingers, standing on the right side. Looking around the room, thin boxes propped up against the wall on the other side of the bed drew her shocked eyes. A closed tripod leaned beside them also.

A red box shone beside the boxes and Terri suspected she knew what it was. She walked tentatively around the bed and made her way to the box, heart beating fast. There were drawing notepads on top of the box, more than ten, for sure. Kneeling down, she removed the pads and placed them on the bed. She unclasped the top and opened it. Paints of all colors, brushes of all sizes, and a palette were inside the large sized box. She pulled out a brush, and stroked the wood handle slowly, then the beautiful soft brush.

Terri didn't realize she was crying until a thick tear fell on her wrist, and she jumped as Noemí's hand touched her shoulder gently. She looked up at her. Noemí gave her a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes but at the same time was reassuring. She looked down at Terri, and with her gold hair falling over her forehead, almost covering her eyes, she looked so endearing. Terri looked down at the box again, and she tried to control her tears. "This-" She began, but her voice broke. "This is wonderful." She looked at the large but thin boxes, and she instinctively knew that they were canvases. "This is too much." She shook her head and closed her eyes tightly.

Noemí sat down on the floor, legs crossed, back resting against the bed. "Well, I think you deserve something from us, don't you?" Noemí said softly, looking down at the oil based colors stacked together inside the box, the brushes lying across the compartment above. She reached over and took one of the brushes and gently stroked the horsehair brush with her long fingers. She smiled at Terri. "You ever paint with oil paint?" She asked.

"In high school," Terri replied her voice hoarse with suppressed emotion. "They had an art program for painters, and I learned to use them. I only used them in school, since they supplied us with them. When I left home and ended up in New York, I couldn't afford anything." She stopped and stayed silent, looking down at the brush in her hand, her hair falling over her cheeks from her ever-present ponytail.

Noemí could imagine what Terri left unsaid. She surmised that Terri's father never did anything to help the young Terri further her painting abilities. She smiled softly in reassurance, and brushed the hair from the pretty cheeks. "Well, now you have all the time, and all the support in the world to paint what you want." She said and smiled.

Terri lifted her eyes and looked at her for a long moment. "I want to paint you." She said with a small smile. She saw Noemí as such a mix of emotions and colors; Noemí intrigued her.

Noemí's smile faded and she pulled her hand away, clearing her throat. "Why would you want to paint me?" She asked uneasily, looking away.

"Because," Terri said with a shrug, sitting down and resting her back on the bed like Noemí. "I find you intriguing. I'd like to see what's inside you, and painting you is the only way." If she took the time to associate Noemí with a color, it would be gray. Her emotions were gray, far from happy.

Noemí shook her head and made a face, not a face of disgust or anger, but of dismissal. "No, I don't like being painted." She said and stood up, walking to the window. She stared out as if looking for something amongst the trees behind the house, shoving her hands into her trouser pockets.

It's as if she instinctively knows that I can see deep into her soul if I she lets me paint her. Terri thought, surprised. With a frown, she thoroughly studied the woman before her. Noemí's jaw was not square, but it looked strong. Her nose, in profile, was straight. Her lower lip pouted slightly and her upper lip curled a little as she seemed to be in deep thought. Her upper back widened as it reached the strong shoulders, visibly tapering down to a trim waist…

Suddenly, Noemí turned to Terri, making the smaller woman jump from her musings, and said: "You're hungry?" Terri nodded and put her brushes away, still surprised at Noemí's reaction to her desire to paint her. "Good, I'll order something out. I barely eat here, and I can't cook."

"I can cook." Terri said, and Noemí smiled as she shook her head.

"Not tonight, you make yourself comfortable." She walked to the door, and lingered there for a few seconds, her hand on the knob as she stared at Terri. "I'll go order the food, then I'll take a shower, and then we can eat." She said in a soft tone, and left Terri to explore her new bedroom.

Terri sank her fork into a thick piece of rib tip; her mouth watered as she lifted it to her mouth. Chewing, she closed her eyes and moaned with satisfaction. "This is delicious!" She said softly, and opened her eyes to find Noemí staring at her with a small smile on her face. They sat at the kitchen table, a bag of Italian food to one side of the table. A big glass of apple juice sat in front of Terri's plate, and she reached for it to wash down the piece of rib.

Noemí had turned on only one light in the kitchen, the one right above the table, which reflected a low yellowish light onto the table. Already dark outside, they sat in the house's comfortable silence, only the sound of Terri's eating was heard; the rest of the lights in the house were off. "I have honestly never tasted something this delicious, Noemí." She whispered, embarrassed and blushing. "I'm sorry; I think I'm extremely impressed."

Noemí smiled and leaned forward. She enjoyed the way Terri treated everything, the awe and appreciation she showed for every object she saw in the house. It was refreshing to see such enthusiasm. She propped her arms on the table, pushing the barely touched plate of Fettuccini Alfredo aside. As she leaned her chin on a hand, Terri could see the muscles of her arms work through her T-shirt. Fascinating, the younger woman thought, again getting lost on the thought of what colors she would use to paint the other woman.

"It is understandable, if you've never experienced anything like this." Noemí interrupted her thoughts once again, and played with her fork.

Terri looked at the other woman's plate, and noticed that Noemí hadn't touched it. "Why didn't you eat?" She asked.

Noemí sat back and looked uncomfortable. "I ate enough today." She answered.

For the first time, with the help of the shadows that the light had made Terri noticed the hollows under her eyes, the way her cheeks were slightly sunken in. Tall, no less than five feet eleven inches, with broad shoulders and well-defined muscles, Noemí was what her brother was not; she was elegant, where Anthony could be any of Terri's brothers. Noemí now sported a T-shirt and sweatpants that did not take away from her attractiveness. Her eyes were a strange pale blue in the dark lighting, yellowish in color. Terri suspected that Noemí didn't eat like she should, but she didn't dare point it out to her.

Suddenly aware of the close scrutiny she was under, Noemí stood up from her chair and brought her plate to the sink. "It's almost September," She said as she pushed the food into the electric disposal, her back turned to Terri. "Fall is coming soon, and you'll need some winter clothes. Mom is taking you shopping tomorrow after the doctor; you'll be going with René." She paused.

"Will you be coming with us?" Terri asked, strangely wanting her company.

Noemí shook her head and washed her plate. "No, I'll be seeing Victoria," She said, and placed the plate next to the sink. "I haven't seen her in quite a few days." She turned around to look at Terri, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You love each other very much." Terri stated more than asked.

A smile crossed Noemí's handsome features, this time touching her eyes. She stared off into space. "She's like my sister. She has been my support system all my life. Can't go without seeing her for a few days." She said in a low voice.

Terri misunderstood her words, and looked at her in bewilderment. "You're telling me you didn't have a happy childhood? But with those parents-"

Noemí shook her head and smiled. "That's not what I said." She corrected Terri. "We have always been there for each other. And she's kept me sane for the past few years." She bit her lower lip and seemed like she was in deep thought.

"Why the past few years?" Terri asked, picking up from her words. "What has happened in the past few years that you need her so much?"

Noemí seemed to loose her temper, and her smile faded as she stared at Terri. "Can't someone need her best friend without something having happened?" She snapped at her, and she ran a hand through her hair. "What is it with you?" She stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Terri looking after her as if she were crazy, not knowing what she did wrong. She stood up to pick up the mess.

When she finished in the kitchen, she walked down the hall and found Noemí sitting on the couch, bent forward, her elbows resting on her knees and a drink already in her hand. An open bottle of Jack Daniels sat in front of her on the coffee table and she stared at it fixedly. A scowl pushed down her eyebrows and her hair fell forward onto her forehead in unruly locks. She took a long drink from her glass, grimacing and licking her lips slowly. Terri stood silently, watching her, waiting to see if Noemí would say anything to her.

The older woman remained silent and Terri turned away to walk down the hall. "It's a long story, you know." Noemí whispered hoarsely, and Terri stopped in her tracks at the lost sound in Noemí's voice. "But I'll never tell you about it."

Terri looked at the floor, still turned away from her. "I've never had a best friend, Noemí." She said softly, and she knew that in the silent house, Noemí could hear every word she was saying. "I'm sorry if I asked too many questions for your comfort." She continued, and walked down the hall, leaving Noemí alone in the living room.

Late into the night, she could still feel and hear Noemí walking around the house. To Terri, it was as if there was an unspent energy within her that didn't allow her to sit still, much less sleep. Her light footsteps passed in front of Terri's door and disappeared into the room directly in front of hers. The door closed softly behind her. The gym, Terri figured, and soon heard the muffled sound of the weights and Noemí's grunts of effort. She couldn't understand the restlessness within Noemí, and put it out of her mind as she closed her eyes, shifted on her comfortable new bed, and fell asleep with the ease of pregnant women.

Her arms were bulging, the veins showing, as she pushed the weights up away from her chest. The weights were set at 360 pounds, and she lifted them almost too easily. Three years of practice had left her strong. Since she began therapy three months after the accident, two months after waking up from a coma, she had exercised almost every night, when sleep eluded her. With each lift of the weight, she fought the memories threatening to fill her mind, to drive her to insanity.

The light film of sweat all over her body comforted her, let her know that she was working hard, and kept her mind from her memories. The clenching of her toned muscles reminded her that she was alive, that she could feel pain. And with this knowledge, she continued for hours, moving from machine to machine.


"Wait outside, Noemí, I'm going to check her out and I'll call you back in when we finish." Doctor Travis Martin said to Noemí. He gestured her in. "If you may come in, Ms. Bledsoe." She preceded him into the office, both leaving Noemí alone in the waiting room.

A pleasant man well into his fifties, Travis still looked fit and handsome. He had been the Leone's doctor for a long time, since before Noemí was born. He was her godfather, and he loved her like he would a daughter. He had been there that long month in which she'd been between life and death, in such a deep coma that doctors thought she was brain dead. He made sure himself that she was being taken care of properly and had cried with her parents when she came to. When they had found out that she would remain blind in her left eye, he fought and fought to find a way to fix it, letting his emotional attachment to the Leone children and parents overlook his professional knowledge.

He'd been the one who convinced her that she could still drive, though with a little more caution. He'd been with her when she'd first gotten behind the wheel of a car more than a year after the accident, grasping her shoulder comfortingly, though he was a little frightened when she finally thought she could drive normally again and swerved awkwardly. It took a lot of work, but she drove now as if nothing was wrong with one of her eyes.

Noemí sat down on one of the waiting chairs and leaned her head back against the wall. Nursing a little hangover, she became aware of her body ache. She'd spent most of the night in her little gym, and had exhausted every muscle in her body. Her arms, shoulders, and thighs felt taut.

Today, she wore khaki slacks, a white T-shirt and brown loafers. She felt comfortable and relished that rare occasion. She waited more than an hour, knowing very well how Travis Martin could be exaggeratedly thorough, especially with a first time patient. She was standing again, studying one of the numerous paintings in the room when Travis came out of his examining room. He closed the door quietly and Noemí didn't realize he was next to her until he cleared his throat.

She half-turned to look at him and smiled. "So," She began. "How are she and the baby?"

Travis looked at her for a long moment. "First of all," He said, wagging a stern finger at her. "Don't think I don't notice that you haven't been eating or sleeping, my dear patient; and that you haven't come in here for a checkup in a long time. Do you think, by any chance, that I am stupid? Don't try to act like there is nothing going on." He sounded very angry with her, and she stared at him for a long time before answering.

Noemí felt body stiffen as she got angry. "Travis," She said slowly, through clenched teeth. "This appointment is not about me, okay?" She pointed at the door to the examining room. "I brought her in here to talk about her health, not about mine, so let's not get sidetracked. Okay?"

He moved closer to her and looked into her eyes. "You haven't been sleeping, why?" He asked in a quiet voice, ignoring the warning in her voice that he knew so well. "What is going on? Why don't you talk to me?"

Noemí looked away from him and shoved her hands in her pockets. "There is nothing going on with me. What about her?" She said, again through clenched teeth. "That is what I'm here for, remember?"

He knew he was getting to her, so he backpedaled, sighing. "We will talk later." He warned as he guided her towards the examining room.

Terri sat on the examining table, fully clothed already, though her worn shoes lay on the floor. She looked at Noemí pleadingly. "I can't bend down to even put my shoes back on." She said, wondering how she'd done it this morning.

Noemí eyed her stomach as she bent down to pick up one shoe and slipped it into her swelling foot, and saw hardly any difference in its size. Travis saw her look and explained: "As you know, darling, the fetus doesn't blow up until about the end of the second trimester. She's only in the beginning, but its can be already difficult for her to do certain things. Come sit on these chairs." They did so and he continued: "She's slightly anemic," He saw the look of alarm in Noemí's eyes and soothed her. "There is nothing wrong if we take care of that; prenatal vitamins, regular checkups. That type of thing. I'm recommending her to take a Lamaze class."

Noemí started. "La-what?" She asked, sitting forward on the seat.

Travis smiled as he pulled his prescription pad and began to write a prescription for the vitamins Terri had to drink for the remaining months of the pregnancy. He caught the confused look Terri sent Noemí's way. "Lamaze," He repeated for Terri's benefit, he knew Noemí knew what Lamaze was. "It is basically a physical and psychological course for the first-time mother to learn the art of being completely connected to the moment of childbirth without drugs.

"Usually, the fathers, or the other half of the couple learn with the mother, so that he or she can be there to help her when the moment gets tough. In the case of single mothers, usually a friend or family member joins that person in the birthing room, and they usually won't allow them in unless they have Lamaze training, a few exceptions included." He paused, then to their amazement, said: "I'd prefer if you, Noemí, since you will be sharing most of the time with Terri, take the Lamaze class with her."

Noemí looked at him, thinking: He is crazy! She shook her head and sat back, glancing at Terri, who looked at her dubiously. "We can hardly get along for more than two hours without fighting, Travis." She said as a means of explanation. Terri nodded her agreement.

Travis gave the papers from the pad to Terri and laced his fingers patiently in front of his face, his elbows resting on the arm rests of his chair. "I understand that, Terri said a little something of that herself." He said with a suppressed smile. "But if I'm correct about Lamaze, it will also bring you to understand each other and connect better and communicate." Travis had an unconventional spiritual belief in the connecting of the minds. "I made the appointment yesterday. For Friday evening, to give you a better time after work, Noemí." He pointedly ignored the withering look she sent his way, smiling pleasantly at both of them.

Terri stood in the outside room as Noemí remained inside with Travis. "Damn you, Travis," She hissed in a low voice after closing the door to the outer room. He remained calm, staring at her as she vented her frustration. "You know damn well that I can't go to one of those classes. It hurts me; Amelia and I had gone-" Her voice broke and she let her head hang, her chin pressed against her chest. She took a deep breath and fought the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

His hand touched her shoulder, and she shrugged it away. He could infuriate her so much sometimes. "I know how you feel, Noemí," He said in a low voice, knowing Noemí's pain. "But you have to face the memories and the pain. You have to move on, you're stalling." He reached to touch her shoulder again, but she stepped back, her eyes hard.

She hissed at him in anger, anger that he'd gotten very used to. "Fuck you!" And stormed out of the office, barking at Terri to come with her or find her own way back home. Terri followed her with one last glance at Dr. Martin; she liked him, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out why Noemí was so angry with him when she seemed to love him so much. He smiled at her in his pleasant way; a slight nod bid her goodbye.

Outside, as they walked to the spot Noemí had found to park, Terri struggled to catch up to her. She wheezed for breath, and she already felt tired. Noemí's long legs took her ahead of Terri by a few feet, and she didn't notice that Terri lagged behind. "Noemí," Terri panted, her swelling legs aching. "Please, slow down."

Noemí at first acted as if she didn't hear the plea, but then her straight tense shoulders hunched and her legs slowed to allow the smaller woman to catch up with her. As she caught up to the much taller woman, Terri looked up at her face. Noemí's jaw clenched as she walked at a more sedate pace; her eyes narrowed and her lips were pulled in a tight angry line. "I like Doctor Martin, Noemí." She said, trying to appease her. "He talked to me a lot, more than those doctors at the clinic."

"Good for you." Noemí said shortly, as if she hadn't the care in the world for what Terri had to say. She clenched her fists and could feel her hands shaking. After a long moment, she realized that Terri lagged behind her once again, and she didn't care to turn to see if she was close to her. They reached the car; she unlocked and opened the door to the passenger side for Terri. But Terri remained a few feet away, staring at her with gray brown fury. "Are you getting in any time soon?" Noemí snapped at her, unable to curb her anger. "I have things to do."

Terri's stare didn't waver. "What did I do?" She asked, and remained standing there in the middle of the sidewalk with her arms crossed.

Noemí's patience and temper flared, she felt herself loosing control. "Nothing!" She said loudly, her eyes flashing fire, momentarily frightening Terri. "Nothing," She said again. "You did nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing!" She stalked to the other side of her car and tried to slip the key into the hole, but her hands were trembling violently and she failed. She cursed loudly and kicked at the door viciously. By this time, people were staring, and she glared at them hard, forcing them to look away.

Terri's worry grew greater than her fear of Noemí, and she watched Noemí abuse the car she seemed to love so much. "Noemí," She whispered, and moved as if to walk around the car to her.

"Leave me alone, Terri." Noemí said in a low warning voice, and to Terri it felt as if all the warmth between them had turned to ice.

Terri's step faltered. "Noemí, I-"

"Get away from me." Noemí whispered tightly as she leaned against the car, knowing she was being unfair, feeling tired herself from the anger having its course through her body. What I need right now is a drink, not comfort, she thought to herself, feeling suddenly thirsty for a nice glass of warm Brandy. She felt Terri's hand on her shoulder and pushed it away, anger surfacing anew.

But Terri's own anger was unleashed, and she glowered at Noemí for a long moment. "I'll leave you alone." She said coldly, turning and walking away, her back rigid with her struggle for composure.

Noemí walked after her and grabbed her by the arm, yanking her around and pulling her towards the car. Her voice low and cold, she said close to her ear: "Get in the car."

Terri fought against her grip, the pain searing through her arm as Noemí's strong fingers dug into her skin. "Let me go, Noemí," She said in an equally cold voice, her words clipped. "You are a self absorbed bitch, and I want nothing more to do with you. It was a pleasure having shared your house for one night, but I'd like to go back to my studio."

"Self absorbed!" Noemí exclaimed, stopping short and flinging Terri's arm, making her stagger. "Me, self absorbed, who has helped you as best as I could, who has offered you the roof of my house. I'm self absorbed!" Her eyes flashed with fury not directed at her, but landing on her just the same.

Terri spun around and started to walk away. A few feet later, she felt strong hands wrap around each of her arms and jerk her against a tall muscled body. She cried out, suddenly in fear for herself and her baby, forgetting that the only person who would take hold of her that way was Noemí. An image of her large father and brothers, especially Kevin, coming at her flashed behind her eyes and she closed them tightly as her feet were almost lifted off the ground and strong arms held her tight.

"My baby, please don't hurt my baby!" She moaned softly, feeling and not feeling the gentle pressure of Noemí's face pressing against the back of her head, the quickness of her breath against her hair. She felt her own arms pressed against her sides by the strong, yet gentle, arms. Tears filled her eyes and her body trembled.

"I'm sorry," A husky voice murmured against her ear, and she recognized it as Noemí's through the fearful muddle in her mind. "Oh, God, Terri, I'm so sorry! It's not you, you did nothing." She lifted her head and pressed it against the back of Terri's head again, her body shaking against Terri's.

"I want to go home." Terri moaned softly, trying to free her arms from the tight grasp. "Please take me home, I can't take this." She became aware of being set back on her feet, and she turned willingly into Noemí's arms. She didn't feel the fist tight tenseness of anger in Noemí's body any more, only tenderness and apology. She felt Noemí's warm quivering breath against her forehead and she wrapped her arms around her waist. "Why are you like this?" She asked, but Noemí didn't answer for a long time.

Terri could hear the sob in her voice as Noemí answered: "You- you wouldn't understand, Terri," A deep tremble shook her body anew. "You would never understand."

Natalie exchanged a glance with Renée. Terri seemed terribly distracted and listless. She hadn't been paying attention at all to the things they'd been buying and she sighed from time to time. Finally, Terri's eyes focused on her companions. "What happened to Noemí?" She asked softly, scowling slightly.

Both women were taken aback at the question. "What?" Renée asked for both of them.

"The scars, on her arm and head. What happened to her? Why is she so…?" Terri was at a loss for words, and she frowned, searching for the right word. "Angry. Sad." She shrugged, and looked at both women, suddenly aware of their discomfort.

"I'm sorry, honey, but that's not for us to discuss, honestly." Natalie said gently, moving closer to the younger woman and reaching for her hand. She squeezed gently, smiling reassuringly. "Did something happen?" Natalie asked worriedly. She was very aware of Noemí's volatile emotions. She met Renée's eyes; her confidant and friend seemed as worried as she felt.

Terri frowned fully, shaking her head. "I'm not exactly sure…"

Victoria smiled when she opened the front door to find Noemí standing there, but her smile faded when she saw the pallor on her best friend's skin. She pulled her into the apartment and closed the door after her. "What's going on?" She asked, pushing her towards the living room. "How is Terri? There's nothing wrong, is there?"

Noemí remained quiet for a long time; she flopped down on the couch with a heavy thud. "Nothing's wrong with Terri, she's perfectly fine." She said in a whisper. "We had a little falling out."

"Why?" Victoria asked, sitting down beside her.

Noemí sighed and sat rigidly, anger seeming to rake through her again. "Travis, that son of a bitch, he-"

"Your godfather?" Victoria asked in shock.

"Yes, him," Noemí said with enough venom in her voice to kill a million people. "He suggested I go to Lamaze classes with Terri, as if he forgot that he sent me to Lamaze with Amelia."

Victoria could see the method he was trying to use on Noemí. "Face your memories," she could imagine he'd said to Noemí, and Noemí had lashed out on him with her always-repressed anger. "So he did." She breathed thoughtfully, index and thumb hugging her chin. "Well, Terri needs the help, don't you think?"

"Fuck what Terri needs." Noemí burst in a moment of childish rebellion, and she regretted it, because she knew that Terri wouldn't be in the current situation if it weren't for her irresponsible brother. "No, forget I said that," She waved her long fingers. "I don't know what to say. All I know is I scared the shit out of her, and she probably thought I'd hurt her like her father and brothers did."

Victoria was thinking quietly. Two volatile tempers in one house, oh boy! "Did you apologize?" She asked in a quiet voice, knowing that wasn't always the answer. Noemí nodded and closed her eyes. "Where is she now?"

"She's with mom and René, shopping baby stuff and clothes for her." Noemí replied with sigh. She leaned back against the couch, and then suddenly stood up. She went to Victoria's liquor cabinet in the kitchen.

As she reached in to pick out the Brandy, she felt Victoria's hand on her shoulder pulling her back. "Oh, no," Victoria said firmly. "You're not drinking now. We're going to talk, both of us nice and sober." Noemí pushed her hand away and moved back to take the bottle. Victoria, as tall as Noemí but not as strong, knew that Noemí could overpower easily. Still, she was willing to wrestle her to the ground if she so much as tried to have that drink. Her hand went back to her shoulder.

"Stop it!" Noemí snapped at her, spinning around and shoving her away. "Don't touch me." She said in a softer tone, almost a plead, and she turned around to the cabinet again.

"Noemí," Victoria said, surprised by Noemí's sudden reaction. Before she knew it, Noemí pushed her out of the kitchen onto the hallway wall, her hands grasping the front of her shirt and lifting her off her feet. Noemí brought her face close to hers and her eyes were almost unrecognizable, her anger getting the best of her; her breath quickened as she came closer to loosing total control.

"Get the fuck out of here, Noemí!" Victoria hissed, her momentary fear waning in her bewilderment. "Let me go and get the fuck out of here."

Noemí's eyes seemed to change as she realized what she had done. Suddenly, she let Victoria go, and before Victoria could say a word, she was through the front door and running down the driveway. She continued on down the street. Shit! Victoria thought to herself as she reached for her house keys, ran after her. Outside, she looked up and down the street frantically; there was no sight of Noemí or her car anywhere. She ran down the block towards Metropolitan Avenue, which was two blocks away. Culkin's, an Irish bar she and Noemí had frequented since they came of age was quiet in the early afternoon, and she hoped that she would find Noemí there.

Inside, a pleasant coolness and chatter replaced the warmth. Suddenly dark to her eyes, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the dim interior; looking carefully at everybody, she couldn't find Noemí there. She ran back outside, and jumped at the sound of a blaring horn. She walked down the block to go back to her apartment. She heard the blasting horn again, and turned towards its source. She recognized Michaela's Audi and watched as she double-parked. She leaned far in the passenger window and kissed Michaela softly, feeling happy that she came. Michaela pulled back and looked into her eyes, sensing her distracted worry. "What's going on? Why are you running around Metropolitan Avenue?" She asked.

Victoria braced herself against the roof of the car, lifting her legs and bringing them through the open window. Settling herself on the passenger seat, she sighed and brought up the passenger side window. "I'm trying to find Noemí. She's going through something right now." She replied as Michaela drove off down the street.

"What's wrong with her?" Michaela, concerned, threw a side-glance at Victoria.

"Well, she has memories, Michaela." Victoria said softly and shook her head. "You have to be careful about the way you say certain things to her. She remembers the accident as if it were happening to her at that same moment and she runs away from it, turning to alcohol and anger. Today, when she went with Terri to the doctor, he suggested Noemí go to Lamaze classes with her." She kneaded the bridge of her nose. "When Amelia was alive, they were going to the Lamaze classes. They never finished them." She heard Michaela's soft gasp of sympathy, and reached over to take her hand in hers.

Michaela returned the gentle touch. "So where to?" She asked softly.

Victoria made a sound of frustration. "I don't know." She said in a soft tone. "I don't want to worry her father, but maybe I should call him. He trusts me to call him whenever something like this happens. We've been dealing with these moments for years, but we're still not used to it. We're afraid that Noemí might kill herself one day, drinking like she does and then driving." What's ironic is that she's doing the same thing the drunk was doing the day Amelia died. Tears stung her eyes, and she tried to fight them, winning out after a long time. She rubbed a hand over her mouth and thought hard. "Okay, she may be at Friday's; she's always liked that restaurant. I know she started going again, when she took Terri there to eat. We have a friend who works there, an old fling-"

"Of yours or of Noemí's?" Michaela couldn't help but ask.

Victoria looked at her for a long moment, and then said: "An old fling of Noemí's, before Amelia came along. This woman is still carrying a torch for her; she had been going after her since high school, until Noemí finally gave in. They became good friends after it ended between them, but I know they hadn't seen each other in a while."

Michaela nodded, and made a U-turn when it became possible, driving back towards Lefferts Boulevard.

Continued in Part 3

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