~ Summer of Love ~
by Zoe

Disclaimer: Let's see. I'm not exactly sure how to proceed with this part, so I will simply say that Xena and Co. belong to MCA/Universal. But my girls aren't their girls, so I should be okay, right? Anyway, that's that. Oh, yeah, you can't have them.

Language Warning: There is some potentially objectionable language, but nothing too darned bad (See? I don't even say anything bad here. Wow.). Well, at least I don't think it's all that bad, but I may be world-weary, or used to it? Nah. But don't say I didn't tell you.

Other Stuff: There isn't any, really. WAIT!! How about my addy so you can tell me if you like it or not? Whaddaya say? Here it is just in case-- zoe_c71@yahoo.com . Oh, okay. I can thank my beta-reader for her help? but she won't let me mention her name so I'm hoping she'll know that this is for her.!

Now, without further ado?

Part 1

"Whose idea was this, anyway? Are we almost there? I don't think I like this, or you, very much right now."

The remark was answered with a snorted laugh, then, "Umm? I think it was your idea, if I remember correctly."

"They say senility is one of the first signs of old age, you know," the woman retorted.

"'Let's do something you like, Molly.' Remember?" the tall woman continued as if there was no interruption.

"What FOOL said that?" was the muttered reply.

"Quit your whining. Anyway, this is good for you," the husky voice teased.

"Yeah, the same way that death is good for the DYING."

"And you love me."

"Somebody LIED to you that day, girlfriend," the helmeted figure announced. "How much further?" she yelled to the retreating figure, as the tall woman started up the trail again.

"Another couple miles."

"Oh my GOD!" came the shrieking groan.

"It's not my fault you're out of shape, Potter. Now LET'S GO!!"

Noelle Potter glared balefully at the love of her life, who was, at that very moment, pedaling her mountain bike up a rather steep, rocky, treacherously narrow path. Treacherous is right. Realizing that resistance, at that point, was futile, the sturdy blonde stomped her left foot onto the pedal and pushed off hard. She took her mind off the physically draining exercise by thinking up different ways to torture and torment tall, dark, and stunning. Thumb screws to start, she thought evilly.

If she would have been paying attention to her surroundings, Noelle would have been delighted at what she saw. It was a beautiful early June morning, the sun just starting to peek over the mountaintops to the east. The sky was a cheery light blue with small, wispy clouds skittering around on the blue background. The trees waved gently on the soft, cooling breeze.

The trail they were biking didn't go through particularly deep woods. In fact, right then, it meandered uphill through a small clearing filled with tall, dark green grass and bright yellow dandelions. The meadow was surrounded by dark woods, and riding into it was almost like stepping into a dream.

Dragonflies snapped here and there, while butterflies did their "Woodstock" impressions. Birds hidden somewhere in the trees called to the wind, and, if they were silent long enough, the wind answered them.

"Don't go into the long grass!" she yelled after the dark woman, pedaling faster to catch up, the line from that dinosaur movie suddenly popping into her head. Shivering slightly at the thought, Noelle looked around quickly, checking for any signs of giant, carnivorous, reptilian creatures, as she pumped her feet as fast as she could.

But why I'm pedaling faster is beyond me. I'm not going anywhere, for God's sake. Which, of course, was true. Because of the low gear, Noelle's legs were pedaling furiously, but she was getting nowhere fast. Death by T. rex, right now, isn't such a bad thing, really. And I'll never be able to move this blasted bike in a higher gear. Damn her. She screamed in frustration again.

Blue eyes, unknown to Noelle, twinkled merrily at the sound of the scream.

"Sounds like she's having a great time," Molly snickered. Standing up on her pedals to use more leg power, the tall woman glanced quickly around, taking in the scenery. She breathed in deeply when she felt the

now-familiar twinge on the right side of her groin, then she brought her concentration back to the trail ahead of her.

After only a few minutes, Molly noticed that the trail seemed to just end about a hundred yards in front of her, so she slowed down and finally stopped. "What the hell?" she muttered to herself as she waited for Noelle.

"What's going on?" the blonde panted when she stopped just behind the taller woman.

"Nothing, I hope. See the trail?" she asked, pointing ahead, not taking her eyes from the spot where she pointed. "Let's check it out on foo-" "False horizon," Noelle commented cheerfully.

Blue eyes turned to her in confusion. "False what? What the hell is that?"

"Horizon. False horizon," Noelle repeated slowly, as if speaking to a daft person. "Boating term. Usually means waterfall, so my guess is that there's a rather steep descent just right there."

The last words were spoken so matter-of-factly, so normally, that Molly just stared at her. "So now what?"

"Well, we keep riding, of course."

"But it could be dangerous," Molly answered, a note of worry in her voice.

"We'd better-"

"I thought you extreme-biker-chick types just rode like lunatics off these things and hoped for the best, or something equally moronic."

Blue eyes widened slightly, before narrowing suspiciously. "Extreme-biker types, huh?" she asked. Then, without another word, she slowly lowered her bike to the ground, took off her helmet, and stared menacingly at the other woman. "Extreme-biker types?"

Feeling the eyes on her and hearing the tone of the voice, Noelle cut her eyes to the side without moving her head, trying to check out her partner without looking like she was checking her out. But it was to no avail.

Green connected with blue, and Noelle knew she was sunk.

"Uh, Mol? You're looking, ummm? kinda scary there, sister." Without taking her eyes from the woman who preyed upon her, Noelle lowered her bike to the trail, then took a step back, making sure the bike was between her and Molly. Her hands came up to ward off the impending attack. "Play nice now?"

The tall woman didn't move. She just continued to stare at Noelle as she took another step backward. Finally Molly moved a half-step to the side, intent on chasing the blonde. But she was completely taken by surprise when Noelle yelped, tossed her helmet at her, and jumped over the bike, sprinting up the trail.

"What the he-" Then she dropped the helmet and tore off after the screaming woman. "Come back here, woman!"

The edge? holy shit, the EDGE! The realization dawned on her that Noelle was running toward- only God knows. Just as she was about to yell at her to stop, she watched as Noelle suddenly disappeared over the edge, a bloodcurdling scream issuing from her throat.

"JESUS!" Molly yelled, pounding up the last few feet of trail, not thinking about the pull in her leg. She skidded to a halt and peered over the edge, and what she saw, or, rather, didn't see, stopped her heart cold.


But where the blonde should have been on the trail, there was only?

emptiness. Taking a fortifying breath, Molly continued down the trail, calling the name of the woman she loved. Jesus, where'd she go?

"NOE- Oof!" she grunted as a small, sturdy body tackled her. Before she even hit the ground, though, Molly had turned her big body to catch Noelle and continue the momentum to roll them over, her bigger body covering Noelle's.

"I gotcha now," Molly taunted softly.

"I know," Noelle breathed in response. She watched, mesmerized, as the dark head lowered. Green eyes drifted closed as Molly's lips captured her own in a soft, gentle kiss.

"You didn't hurt anything?" she asked, worry clouding the earnest green eyes that suddenly popped open.

"No, Noe, I didn't hurt anything. Now please stop worrying, okay? I'm fine. I promise."

Then Noelle buried her hands in the dark hair and kissed Molly fiercely, thrusting her tongue deeply into the woman's mouth. She pushed her hips up to rub provocatively against Molly's as she moved her mouth to nip and suck the conveniently placed earlobe.

"Do you know," she whispered hotly between nips, "how much I want you? How hot you make me?"

The big woman groaned at the words. Red hot desire streaked through her body as Noelle continued to tease her. She slowly pushed her hips into the soft body under her, wishing they were someplace soft and private.

"Do you want to touch me?" Noelle whispered. "Do you want me to touch you?"

"Yes," Molly hissed.

"Too bad," Noelle whispered after a second's pause. "Now get off me, you big moose!" she yelled playfully.

Using her body to its fullest, Noelle wiggled out from beneath Molly, making certain she rubbed against the big body in all the right places. "Come on, big girl. Let's go find someplace to eat. I'm hungry."

Molly rolled onto her back, throwing an arm over her eyes and groaning softly. "I'm hungry, too." With an inner strength borne of long hours of practice, the dark woman brought her raging desire under control.

A finger wagged at her. "No no no, not that kind of hungry. I mean food hungry."

"You're evil," Molly replied.

"Yeah, I know."

Molly moved her arm enough to uncover one eye and she watched Noelle walk back up and over the crest of the trail.

"Nice ass," she called.

"Yeah, I know," Noelle called back, sashaying a bit more dramatically, her voice carrying easily on the breeze.

The big woman stayed lying in the middle of the trail until she heard Noelle's bike coming toward her.

"Get out of the way, you big lug!" Noelle yelled in warning.

Rolling out of the way just in time, Molly picked up her head and watched the small woman sail past her. "Slow down!"

"Make me!"

The challenge spurred Molly into action and she jumped to her feet, sprinted up and over the crest, and mounted her bike after donning her helmet.

"You little minx," she growled. Although she wanted to catch up to her, Molly rode slowly, staying in a low gear on the descent and picking her way carefully around the rocks that littered the trail.

Ten minutes later, the desire she had just fought so hard to control burst into flames again. The first thing she spotted when she rode into the clearing was Noelle bending over her bike, rummaging through one of her saddlebags. The black biking shorts she wore left nothing, absolutely nothing, to the imagination. It was quite obvious that Noelle wore no underwear underneath, even to a blind person, and all Molly could think was that was mighty thankful she wasn't blind and that she'd love to be inside those shorts right then.

Stopping right beside the other woman, Molly dismounted and let her helmet drop to the ground beside her bike. She strode the few steps required to stand behind the smaller woman. Big hands moved to stroke the firm

backside, thumbs sliding sensually across the seam and slightly down between Noelle's legs.

Molly closed her eyes when she met the heat of Noelle's body, her own body temperature rising a couple hundred degrees.

"God," she ground out. Her hands moved to the other woman's hips, holding her steady as she rubbed her body against Noelle's backside. "I want you so much."

Swallowing convulsively, Noelle managed to swat the hands away, and then she took a step forward and turned around to face the tall woman. "Cut it out," she said sternly. "We have to eat-" "Oh, I'm looking to eat alright. But not those sandwiches we have," Molly commented as she leered at Noelle.

"Oh yeah? Well, that's all we packed, so what're you planning to have?" she demanded, her hands on her hips.

A dark eyebrow raised in answer.

Seeing the look in the blue eyes and the arched eyebrow, Noelle's own eyes widened. "Oh," she whispered, her hands dropping to hang limply by her side. "Oh," she repeated.

Molly watched in delight as a blush crept up Noelle's neck and across the fair skin of her face. On most other people, the effect would be harsh, but on Noelle's slightly freckled face, the effect of the blush was

breathtaking. It softened the freckles and made her green eyes brighter.

Pulling the blonde close for a big hug, Molly held her and chuckled. "You always fall for it. God, I love you." She seems so? sophisticated and? worldly sometimes. But she's so innocent inside. Deep inside where it counts, she's just? Noelle. "I love you," she repeated.

"Of course you do. I mean, what's not to love? I'm wonderful?"

"Absolutely," Molly agreed.





"And? well? hmmm? I guess that's it," Noelle finished with a shrug.

"Beautiful. You forgot beautiful," Molly whispered.

Shaking her head, Noelle gently cupped Molly's strong face. "No, Molly Cartwright. You're the one who's beautiful, not me," she answered softly.

Then, putting everything she felt into it, she kissed the woman who held her. When she pulled back, she looked deep into blue eyes that were filled with love. "Can we eat now?"

Grinning, Molly let her arms drop. "That appetite of yours is insatiable."

Noelle snorted. "So's yours, pal." But instead of having the desired effect, Noelle was the one who blushed when Molly just leered at her again.

"Shut up."

"But I didn't say anything," Molly retorted.

"But you were going to. Now give me some food."

It didn't take long for the two women to spread the sheet and set out the light lunch they brought with them. As they sat munching the ham and cheese sandwiches and drinking the iced tea, Noelle brought up the subject of summer vacation.

"Staff training starts in two weeks. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Although she'd never say it, Noelle feared the answer.

Laying a hand on the muscular thigh next to her own, Molly answered. "I haven't changed my mind, Noe. It'll be good for me, good for us, especially after the past couple of months." She straightened up and bit into her sandwich again. "Besides," she added around a mouthful of bread and meat, "it'll be fun, right?"

"Oh, Molly, it is fun. These kids, they're so different than the students at school. They're young and so? vulnerable and some of them are hurting so much. It's just as wonderful as teaching, only? different somehow." Noelle shook her head and looked off into the distance. "Sometimes I think maybe it's not too late for them."

Putting her sandwich down and gathering the small woman into her arms, Molly held her close. "You can't reach all of them, Noe. Not every one."

"Yeah, I know, but I just wish it had been different."

Silence reigned then, both women lost in their thoughts.

After the shooting, it took many days for the school to return to some semblence of order. Those first days after the incident, less than a quarter of the enrolled students came to school, most parents keeping their children home and close to them. For those who did arrive, there were grief counselors and therapists experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder at the school to help them deal with what happened.

But these things Noelle didn't know because she had spent her time at the hospital with Molly. The injured woman was in the hospital for more than three weeks and it was a long time before she recovered enough to go back to her job. And her upper thigh and hip would always ache when she worked too hard or when cold weather came.

The dean didn't come back to school until the middle of May, with only 3 weeks left in the year. Although she did her job as well as before the incident, she never let on to anyone that she was completely exhausted at each day's end. But, with Noelle's love and companionhip and the physical therapy she attended 3 days a week, Molly was able to regain her strength.

Tony hadn't wanted to lose his dean, but, in a meeting on the last

in-service day, the three of them decided it would be best if Molly filled a vacant position in the IU. It would mean more money, and the tall woman wouldn't be on her feet for so many hours. Neither woman liked the move, having to work in separate places with the new job. But they accepted the offer, simply because it allowed them to be slightly freer with their affections.

That was all behind them now? thank God, Molly thought. They had summer to look forward to, and, according to Noelle, it promised to be a good one.

"So tell me more about this place," she urged Noelle.

Taking a moment to swallow the mouthful of sandwich, Noelle looked at the

other woman. Before she even began speaking, Molly could tell that this was

something that excited Noelle. There was a sparkle in the green eyes and an

animation to her body language that only occurred when Noelle was really

excited about something.

"Well, training starts in two weeks, like I said. Then-"

"What's this training like?" Molly interrupted. "You said it's for, what?

A week?"

The blonde head nodded. "Mmhm. It's a week of team building stuff, skills

tests, and a backpacking trip."

"A what? A backpacking trip? You mean? with backpacks and stuff?" Molly

asked incredulously.

Laughing at the questions, Noelle smacked the tall woman on the arm. "Yes

with backpacks and stuff."

"Why do I have to do that? I'm hired as the mountain biking instructor, for

God's sake."

"And I'm the waterfront director and head sailing instructor, but I have to

do it, too. It's fun." There was a pause. "Kind of."

"Oh boy, this is another Potter experience, isn't it?" Molly asked


"Oh stop. It'll be fun." Noelle wiggled her eyebrows at Molly. "Besides,"

she added with a grin, "we can share a tent."

"Where do I sign up?"

The blonde chuckled, then took a gulp of water from the bottle next to her.

Noelle wiped her mouth and continued. "Let's see, what else can I tell you?

the kids come for the entire summer. Most of them are from low-income

families who-"

"If they're low-income, how can they afford camp for an entire summer? It

can't be cheap," Molly questioned.

"It's not, but the Y in Erie gets funding from the government and private

grants to defray some of the costs. Sometimes, families that are better off

or don't have kids themselves sponsor some of the kids. And all parents or

guardians are required to pay a nominal fee, something like $50 for the

summer, mostly so they can feel like they're doing their part, I guess."

Serious green eyes turned to Molly. "We don't get paid much, but no one

does it for the money, obviously."

"Just like teaching."


"And just like teaching, you love it, don't you?" Although the answer was

apparent, Molly just liked to watch Noelle talk. Listen, yes, but watch, as


"Heck yeah, I do. They're all younger than our kids at school, some as

young as 6, and they have so many problems. But to see their little faces

when they first see the lake, or when they get their new clothes? it's

amazing," she finished softly.

"New clothes? They get new clothes? I don't get it," Molly frowned.

"I could just let you find out during training, but since you and I are a

big part of it, I might as well go 'head and tell you now. See, because of

their backgrounds, most of the kids come with so very little. No

toothbrushes, only a couple of articles of clothing, no soap or shampoo or

anything like that. So, throughout the year, Winky, the director, asks for,

and gathers together, donations from a whole bunch of places. She works

with the store managers at a couple of Wal-Marts and Goodwill stores, as

well as smaller places, to get some of the things they need."

"So the kids get? stuff?"

"Yeah. We know their sizes and spend a day during training week getting

packages together for them. We put in clothes, toiletries, and a small

personal kind of thing."

"And we do all this in one day? That's a lot of work, don't you think?"

Noelle nodded. "Well, yeah it is. But the camp isn't all that big, only 12

cabins of 6 kids each, so there are only 72 packages to put together. And

with about 25 people working on it, it doesn't take longer than the one

day," she finished with a shrug.

Silence fell over the two women as they mulled over their conversation. The

wind continued to blow gently, providing them with a cooling breeze.

"So how far do we go to get out of this place?" Noelle finally asked as they

gathered up their trash and stuffed it in the saddlebags.

"About 3 miles," Molly answered nonchalantly.

"Holy SMOKES!" Noelle yelled. "I have to pedal that beast for another THREE

miles? Jesus!"

"Now, Noe," Molly began placatingly.

"Don't you 'Noe' me, Cartwright. I was ready to heave the damned thing over

the cliff about 3 miles AGO, and now I have to go three MORE? That is NOT funny."

"But it's all downhill from here, so we'll just be riding the brake the

whole time. Well, except for that little bit at that one spot," Molly said

to herself, scratching her chin.

"What little bit?" Noelle asked suspiciously.

A slow grin washed over Molly's face. "I was only teasing. It really is

downhill from here. It's still rocky and there are a couple of switchbacks,

but there's no more uphill."

"You're damned lucky," Noelle sniffed.

"Oh yeah? What would you have done if it wasn't downhill, huh?" Molly


"Made YOU ride my bike."

"And you would've gotten back? how, exactly?"

Noelle answered very matter-of-factly. "Walked." Then she buckled up her

helmet and started off down the trail.

"Wrong way!" Molly yelled before the other woman got too far.

As she rode back past her, Noelle retorted, "I knew that," and then she

disappeared around a bend.

***** *****

Molly came out of the bathroom the morning of the first day of staff

training to find Noelle still sleeping. She strode over to the bed they

shared and lay next to the sleeping woman. She pushed the hair back from

the warm face and kissed Noelle's forehead. "Come on, Noe, we have to get

moving. We have to leave in less than a half hour." She slid closer to the

other woman, slowly pulling the sheet down that covered the naked body.

Facing her, Noelle's position afforded Molly a perfect view of the small

body. She lay on her side facing the tall woman, one arm under the pillow

and the other resting on it. Small, full breasts with soft pink nipples

peeked from beneath the arm that partially covered Noelle's upper body. Her

legs were separated a bit, the top one slightly in front of the bottom one,

effectively covering what Molly wanted most to see.

Reaching out a long finger, Molly gently stroked a nipple.

"Do we have time?" a sleepy voice asked.

Molly looked up to see hazy green eyes looking at her.

"Good morning, baby."

"Hi," Noelle answered softly. "Kiss me?" she asked, not moving a muscle.

Instead of answering, Molly simply leaned in close and placed a kiss on the

waiting lips. "I love you."

"I know," was Noelle's reply. Then her eyes drifted closed again.

The tall woman rolled out of bed, then playfully slapped Noelle's backside.

"Let's go, camper!"

"OW!" Noelle jumped, then rubbed the spot. "That hurt, creep," she said

with a scowl.

"Want me to kiss it?"

The blonde head nodded. "Yes," she breathed.

Molly kneeled on the bed and urged the woman to roll onto her stomach.

After first rubbing the spot, she leaned over and kissed it. She dragged

her tongue around the handmark, then placed tiny kisses all around it. When

she felt Noelle starting to respond, she bit her.

"Ow!" the blonde yelped again as she rolled away. She stood up on the other

side of the bed and pointed a finger at Molly. "That wasn't very nice."

"Yeah, I know," Molly snickered.

"You shouldn't have done that, you big jerk."

"Yeah, I know," Molly answered, leaning back on her heels and crossing her


"You should be nicer to me."


"You're very mean, Cartwright," Noelle said, her hands on her hips.

"And you're very naked, Potter," Molly pointed out.

"I'm wha- oh," Noelle finished lamely, grabbing the nightgown hanging over

the bedstead and putting it on. "I think I'll go use the bathroom now," she

informed Molly, mustering up as much dignity as she possibly could.

Molly grinned at her and turned to watch as the small woman walked around

the edge of the bed and through the door to the bathroom. Molly loved how

she looked in the sleeveless white summer gown. It was calf-length, with a

ruffle around the bottom and lace around the neckline and shoulders. Noelle

just looked so feminine and dainty wearing it. She'd kill me if she ever

heard me say that. 'Molly Cartwright, I am anything but dainty!' I can

hear it now.

When she heard the water running, Molly got off the bed and went to her

dresser, grabbing a pair of khaki shorts and a yellow polo shirt. "Do I

need my bathing suit?" she called into the bathroom.

"Uh? yeah, bring it just in case," the muffled voice replied.

Molly dug it out and stuffed it in a daypack along with a beach towel and

some sunscreen and lip balm.

"Don't forget sunscreen," Noelle instructed.

"HA! Beat you to it," Molly yelled back.

"You know," Noelle started, opening the door and leaving the bathroom.

"You'd think some people would be grateful for the concern, but nooooo, some

people would rather HASSLE you." She still wore the nightgown, and she

hadn't bothered to brush her hair because she was going to put a hat on.

Not answering, Molly stripped her sleeping clothes off and got dressed. It

was in companionable silence that the two of them got ready for the day


Noelle wore the standard summer "uniform", tan shorts and a t-shirt. She

put on socks and her hiking boots then stood up and looked expectantly at

the other woman.

"You ready?" she asked.

"Just need to put my hair back, but yes." Quickly accomplishing the task,

Molly turned to survey Noelle. "I like that color," she complimented,

motioning to the pink shirt. "And that's quite a 'do you have there."

Blushing as pink as her shirt, Noelle just muttered her thanks then hustled

the tall woman out the door. "We're going to be late if we don't get a move


"I tried telling you that when you were laying in bed like a fat, lazy


"Hey, speaking of, where the hell are those two? And it's lying."

Molly looked around, rather comically. "Who's lying?"

Shaking her head in exasperation, Noelle just sighed. "Forget it. Where

are they? Roocifee!!! Bingo!!!" There was a short pause. "Come out, you

two! Pss pss psss?"

"They're somewhere around here."

"I kinda figured that, yeah," Noelle said, rolling her eyes.

Just then, two pretty, roly-poly kittens came trundling out of the kitchen.

The smaller one, a tiny black and white kitten, led a much larger bushy

orange coon-cat over to where the two women stood waiting.

"Well hi, you two," Noelle crooned as she picked up the soft balls of fur.

"You heard me talking about you, didn't you?" The blonde schmoozed the two

kittens a bit before putting them down again. "Okay, you kids be good now."

Then the two women were out the door.

***** ***** *****

"They're a bunch of kids," the tall woman said to no one in particular. She

scanned the small group assembled in the dining hall waiting for the first

training meeting to start.

Molly turned her attention to her partner who was, at that moment, mingling

with the other counselors in the dining hall, presumably greeting and asking

how each was. She liked to watch Noelle work the crowd; she did it with

such grace and sincerity. She could tell that Noelle made certain each

counselor felt special before she moved on. Not only was it a lost social

grace, but it was something very, very few people could do even if they

wanted to do it.

Noelle felt eyes on her and turned to smile at the culprit. Her heart beat

just a tiny bit faster when she connected with warm blue eyes. She smiled

at the tall woman and made her way over to her. "Hi. Winky should be here

in a couple of minutes, but I'm going to get this show started." Not

waiting for an answer, Noelle hopped up on the big hearth that spread out in

front of the gigantic fireplace.

Suddenly a loud, piercing whistle split the air, drawing the attention of

every person in the airy hall.

"Welcome back, returners!" Noelle yelled when she was sure she had

everyone's attention. "And welcome to the rookies. For those of you who

don't know me, and for those of you who forgot, although I don't see how

THAT'S possible, I'm-"

"Fern," a warm female voice finished.

Noelle turned to see her good friend and the camp's director, Winky,

standing at the door, her arms full of bunches of papers. "Winkster!" she

yelled as she jumped down and hustled to the woman. She threw her arms

around the stout woman, hugging her and laughing.

"How the heck are you? God, you look great!"

"Hang on, Fern, let me put these dumb papers down." The director placed the

stacks of paper on the nearest table and hugged Noelle back. Then she

pulled back and looked at Noelle gently. "I heard about Mary, and I'm

sorry. How are you doing?"

Molly felt a strange stirring at the sight of her woman hugging another

woman. My woman? she asked herself. Damned straight she's my woman.

All mine. Feeling the proprietary attitude and recognizing it as the

slight jealousy it was, the dark woman strode over to where the other two

women were chatting and stood behind Noelle, her arms crossed over her


Feeling the presence behind her, Noelle didn't have to look to know who it

was. She thumbed over her shoulder at Molly. "Winky, this is my partner,


Winky reached a hand around Noelle and offered it to Molly. "Nice to meet

you, Molly." After shaking hands, Winky turned back to Noelle. "I think

Ice Queen'll work, don't you?"

Green eyes looked perplexed? and more than a little amused. "You don't

think it'll be too intimidating to the campers?"

"I see what you mean. Hmm? what about? Yukon?"

Noelle choked with laughter. "Umm? how about Pike?"

Shaking her head, Winky responded. "No, I like the ice theme thingy. What

about? I GOT IT!" she yelled so loudly that the entire dining hall turned to

look at her. "Snowflake!"

Without another word, the short, round woman moved to the front of the crowd

of mostly college kids.

"Hey, gang, welcome back. We've got a busy week ahead of us. There are

about six million things to do, and only 6 days to do it all in. So let's get started. First off, I'm Winky, or any derivation thereof, and I am, along with my husband, Trek, the director of this fine establishment. He'll be here this afternoon; he's picking up a few last minute things."

As the director continued on with a few opening remarks, Noelle and Molly

settled down at a table on the perimeter of the small group.

"Uh, Noe?" Molly whispered, not taking her eyes from the director. "Did she

just name me Snowflake?"

Nodding, Noelle answered. "Yup. And it's a great name," she teased.

"Suits you perfectly."

"Snowflake? As in the white stuff that falls from the sky in the winter?

THAT kind of snowflake?" Molly asked incredulously.

A nod of the blonde head was her only answer.

"Snowflake?" she muttered to herself. "Snowflake? Dear God, what have I

gotten myself into? I think I just stepped into the Twilight Zone." She

turned again to Noelle. "What's with the name? And how the hell did you

get pegged with Fern?"

"Shh," Noelle hissed. "I'll tell you later."

"But anyway," Winky was saying, "instead of jumping right into assignments

and paperwork and all that, let's play a game."

The director moved to the back of the dining hall where a space was clear of

tables. She waved the others to the back of the room and instructed them to

sit in a circle.

Molly followed slowly and suspiciously, knowing exactly how Mulder and

Scully felt whenever they walked into a new X-File. She settled down between

Noelle and a husky college guy named Mouse.

"Okay, well, my name is Winky and I'm going on a picnic. I'm bringing?

wine," she said with a grin. "But don't let any of the campers know that."

The other people in the group looked at each other quizzically. Seeing that

they weren't catching on all that quickly, the director turned to Noelle.

"Fern, you come with me. What're you going to bring?"

Knowing just what the game was, Noelle answered surely. "That's Winky," she

began, pointing at the woman to her left. "And she's bringing wine. I'm

Fern and I'm bringing? french toast." Then she turned expectantly to Molly.

"Your turn," she offered cheerfully.

Molly growled softly at her then turned to address the group. "She's Winky

and she's bringing wine, and that's Fern and she's bringing french toast.

Apparently I'm? Snowflake," she said with a raised eyebrow, to which

everyone responded with a chuckle, "and I'm bringing?" The dark woman

paused, completely baffled. What the hell am I supposed to bring? What

the hell kind of game is this? Damn! "Damn," she repeated softly. "A


Winky and Noelle laughed. "Nope," Noelle said. "Sorry, nice try."

The game continued with Mouse trying to bring beef jerky and being rejected.

The tall girl next to him caught on, and with an elbow to Mouse's side,

said her name was Rudolph and she was bringing raspberries.

"Sonofabitch," Molly grumbled fifteen minutes later, when she was the only

one left who wasn't going on the picnic. "Why the hell can't I come?" she

yelled. "Is there some kind of CODE or something that I'm missing?

Something you people know and aren't telling me?"

Seeing that her partner was getting terribly frustrated, Noelle stopped

laughing long enough to instruct Molly to say as many names and picnic items

as she could remember.

The laughter died down as Molly began pointing at people and saying names,

not missing one person at all.

When she was through, she looked at Noelle as if to say "Now what?"

"Think about it, Snowflake," the blonde said with a grin. "I'm FFFFFFern

and I'm bringing FFFFFFrench toast," she commented, really dragging out the

F sound. "That's WWWWWWWinky, and she's bringing WWWWWWWWine." Noelle

paused, giving Molly a chance to think. "Now, tell me, SSSSSSnowflake,

what're you bringing?"

Dark eyebrows knit in concentration and confusion. There was a long silence

as everyone held their breath, waiting for the dark woman to catch on.

"Rice pudding?"

The dining hall rang with shouts of laughter and hoots of amusement. Noelle

fell against Winky, holding her stomach and laughing hysterically. "Rice

pudding? Holy? smokes!" she gasped, tears leaking out of her eyes. "No!

You can't bring rice pudding!"

Then Molly screamed in complete, primal, animal frustration. Hard blue eyes

looked around the small group. "Damn it," she growled, "someone better let

me go on this damned picnic," she hissed.

Butter, a soft-looking, round college student came over and did the most

extraordinary thing to Molly.

She hugged the tall woman.

Noelle's breath caught when she saw Butter, who was so gentle and warm and

sweet? and short, walk to Molly and hug her. Please don't explode, she

begged silently. Her eyes widened and she heaved a sigh of relief when she

saw Molly return the hug.

Not knowing exactly what to do, Molly awkwardly hugged Butter back, patting

her clumsily on the back. Wha- Wow?

God I love her, Noelle thought simply as she watched the scene unfold in

front of her.

"Snowflake," Butter spoke softly, looking directly into bemused blue eyes.

"You have to bring something that starts with the same letter that your name

starts with. I'm Butter and I'm bringing boiled yams. She's Fern and she's

bringing french toast. See?"

Now disbelieving blue eyes turned to laughing green. "So that's it? It's

that simple?"

Noelle nodded, desperately trying to hold the laughter in. "That's it."

"Damn," Molly swore softly. "I can't believe it." She shook her head, then

suddenly burst into laughter. "I can't believe I didn't get it," she said

again, laughing ruefully at herself.

The group of counselors joined in the laughter, and the crowd moved back to

the tables. Without being asked, and after only the one game, the small

group sat closer together.

"Okay," Winky began, "we've got a couple of rookies this year, so let's go 'round and everyone tell something about yourself. I'll start... I'm Winky, I've been the director here for, oh, going on 12 years now. In the off-season, I teach emotional-support kids up in Erie. So, who's next?" The short woman looked at Mouse. "Go on, Mouse-man. You're up."

The burly young man stood up and faced the group, his brown hair styled in a crew cut. "Hey. I'm Mouse, I play football at Slippery Rock, and I'm a senior in child psych. I, uh, hope to do what Winky does someday."

After Mouse sat down, Butter stood up. "I'm Butter, and I'm a junior at Pitt in special ed. I'll teach someday."

It finally rolled around to Noelle. "I'm Fern," she stated as she stood up and grinned at everyone. "I'm NOT a student, but I teach. I teach high school English and literature and I'm here because? well, dang it, I like it. Someday I hope to? start my own charter school." The blonde turned to her partner. "Your turn, Snowy," she teased.

Standing up slowly to her full height, Molly looked sternly at the group. Then her face lit up as she broke out into a big grin. "I'm obviously Snowflake, or Snowy," she interjected, looking at Noelle fondly. "I was the dean of students at the same school where No- Fern teaches, but this year I'll be starting as the school security advisor for the IU. I'm here because she" and here she thumbed over to Noelle, "told me I had to come." There was a short pause. "But I can see that I'll be glad she did." The tall woman started to sit down but stopped and straightened back up. "Oh yeah, and I don't like picnics." Then she really did sit down. The group erupted into brief laughter, settling down quickly to let everyone have his or her turn.

Just as the last counselor, a guy by the name of Tarzan, was telling the rest of them that he was a junior in elementary education, a giant of man walked through the double doors of the dining hall.

Molly watched as the returners smiled and began chattering as soon as he walked in. She leaned over to Noelle and was just about to ask who this was when the blonde grinned at her and said simply, "Trek".


The tall woman watched as Winky bustled over to her husband and planted an affectionate smooch on his cheek. Then she turned to the group. "Folks, this is Trek, for those of you who don't know him. He's directs this place with me, and he's also head of maintenance and grounds, so, Digger, you'll be working with him."

There was a pause, then suddenly a hoarse yell rent the silence. "Coffee!"

The sound startled Molly so that she almost snapped her neck in at least three places trying to see who yelled. "Dear God, what's going on?"

Noelle turned to smile at the dark woman. "Come on, Snowy-girl, it's break time." Without waiting for the other woman, Noelle strode through the small crowd to the industrial-sized coffee pot that had mysteriously appeared on a table near a long, shuttered window. She grabbed a large styrofoam cup and looked around expectantly. "Hey, Kernel! Where the hell is the cocoa?" she asked indignantly. "I don't drink this oil," she lamented.

"Quit yer belly-achin', girl. It's right here." A tall, wiry man came

through the kitchen door carrying a large tea pot and a handful of hot

chocolate packets. After dumping the lot unceremoniously on the table, the tall man turned to Noelle, his deep blue eyes twinkling behind black-framed glasses. He had a short, neat, snow-white beard and his head was shaved. The man smiled at the blonde, showing a row of perfectly even? dentures, Molly thought.

"Ferny, how's my gal doin'?" he asked, grabbing her in a friendly hug.

"Been awhile. How's yer Mama?"

Green eyes clouded in pain. But even before she said a word, the old man shook his head. "I'm awful sorry, Fern. Yer Mama was a good woman." And then, knowing, as only the old can know, to change the subject, he stepped back and studied her. "Looks like things've ben goin' good for ya, though."

Grinning, Noelle again thumbed over her shoulder at Molly. "Her fault,

Kernel. She's the one doing it all." She reached behind her and tugged the tall woman next to her. "Kernel, this is Molly Cartwright, camp name: Snowflake."

No more words were needed, so none were spoken. The keen old man knew just exactly who Molly was to Noelle. Knew how important and vital she was to the small woman.

"Molly," Noelle continued, "this is the Kernel, a retired colonel in the United States Army and present truck driver for JB Hunt."

"Colonel," Molly said politely, almost feeling like she should stand at

attention and salute.

"Uh, no, Mol, you're thinking of the wrong colonel. It's Kernel. As in popcorn. A play on words? that kind of thing? You with me?" she ended in a shout.

The tall woman laughed. "Yeah, yeah, I hear you. God, you have a big


Light brown eyebrows waggled suggestively. "But you like my big mouth," she whispered for Molly's ears only.

Snorting, the dark woman turned back to the old man. "Kernel, Colonel,

whatever the hell it is, it's nice to meet you."

"Yer damned straight it's nice to meet me," he said with mock severity, then he turned and stomped back into his kitchen.

"Don't mind his bark, Molly; he's all bark and no bite. But, boy, does he make a MEAN beef stew. Wow."

Laughing blue eyes turned to Noelle. "I think I'm going to like it here."

Continued in Part 2.

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