Disclaimer: See part one.

A Saving Solace (Part 3)

By DS Bauden

Chapter Nineteen

My mouth began watering just from the aroma as she set my plate down, and the reality exceeded even the expectation. Dinner was fantastic. Susan was an incredible cook. I'd never eaten spaghetti that tasted anything like that before.

God, I could get used to seeing her at my table every day. At my table, on my table, under my table...

Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren't you, Kel?

I don't think so. Why do you ask?

You guys haven't even, well, you know, done the world's most favorite horizontal activity.

What, fly like Superman?

Oh, very cute, Kel. You know what I mean.

Yes, I do. That's not the most important thing, though. Although, the way she makes me feel when we kiss, I know there won't be any problems in that department.

Maybe not for you.

What are you implying? She won't enjoy making love with me?

I'm just saying, don't set your expectations so high. Dinner's one thing, but that next step is another.

A girl can dream, can't she? Don't rain on my parade. This feels more right than anything else I've known. I'm not going to hurt her, dammit. She's got a heart of gold, and I know she'd hurt herself before she'd hurt me.

Okay, if you're sure.

I am sure. I've got this under control. Beat it.

Yes, mistress...


Susan finished up with the dishes, much to my dismay, and finally joined me on the couch.

"Thank you again, sweetheart. Dinner was fantastic. It was the best meal, I've had that I didn't cook myself." I chuckled and leaned over to kiss her cheek.

Susan smiled and turned a light shade of red. "I'll take that as a compliment, I guess."

"You're blushing. You are so beautiful when you do that," I said honestly.

"Thank you," she replied, her features turning ever darker. She smiled shyly. "I told you that I didn't have enough money saved to buy you something, so I figured I could cook you a wonderful meal and just be with you. Merry Christmas, Kelly."

"I couldn't have asked for a better gift. I would put you on the top of my tree if I could. You're my angel, Susan. You really are," I whispered.

"That is the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," she said as her eyes shone with unshed tears.

"Yeah, well, I've only just begun," I smiled, as our eyes locked in an intense stare.

"Yeah, you and the Carpenters," she joked.

"Are you ready to start the tree?" I said as I elbowed her slightly.

"You bet!" Susan exclaimed as she wiped her eyes.

"Great." I stood. "I brought down all the decorations from the attic. I swear one of the boxes actually groaned when I opened it. It's been a long time since I've pulled them out." I pointed to the many boxes sitting on the floor next to the tree.

"I know, honey. I'm so sorry Christmas has been so hard on you," she soothed.

"Thanks. This year, I think, will be a little easier." I caressed her cheek with my thumb. "Thank you for being here." I pulled Susan into a tender embrace and our bodies melted together. Her head fit so perfectly under my chin. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes, and my heart felt like it would explode. She has filled that part of me that has longed to feel this for so long. I lowered my head and our lips met softly. Her taste was nectar from the gods. I'm sure that goes for other regions of her body as well.

God, she makes me so crazy! I'm so turned on from her kisses I could just swallow her whole.

One kiss turned into several. I could feel her pressing her hips into me. I lowered my arms and caressed her lower back, pulling her gently against me. Our breathing escalated in about two seconds, and I knew that shortly we were going to spiral towards the point of no return.

"Mm..." She moaned into my mouth, sending jolts of electricity throughout my body.

"Oh, baby," I whispered as our lips separated.

She moved her assault to my neck. My hold tightened around her as she continued to press herself against me. Her hands had strayed lower down my back and were now kneading the muscles in my butt.

I started to kiss her neck in kind, and felt myself start to lose control. I knew I couldn't take much more of this. I also knew if we continued with this, there was absolutely no way the tree was getting done tonight. If anything was getting trimmed, it was going to be me!

"Susan?" I croaked.

No reply, just murmurs of pleasure.

Not good.

"Susan, honey... we need to stop. I... I can't take much more," I husked out finally.

She pulled back and her face was completely flushed with arousal. Her eyes were focused on mine, and it looked as though I was going to be her next meal. I was excited yet a little nervous with this. A few moments passed as we held each other loosely, and our passion slowly began to simmer down.

Susan's forehead was resting on my breastbone. She was trying to get her breathing under control. "God, Kelly. You make me so crazy!" she said, frustrated.

"I was just thinking the same thing a few moments ago." I smiled and kissed the top of her head.

She took one last deep breath and looked up at me with a beautiful smile. "Let's do this thing! We have unfinished business for later." She winked and walked to the corner of the room to get to the boxes.

"Oh, God..." I breathed as I followed in her footsteps.

This is going to be the fastest tree trimming the world has ever seen.

Chapter Twenty

I think I'll stretch this decorating out as long as I can. I want to see how excited I can get Kelly. I want to try to take away all the bad memories she has and start fresh with our own.

Kelly's the best damn kisser in the world I just know it. I could kiss her all the time. I will tonight. I really think I'm ready for her. I want to love her so badly that my body is literally shaking right now. Just those few minutes with her have made me a walking hormone.

I looked at the boxes she had pulled down from her attic.

Holy cow, she has a lot of decorations.

It would even compete with my parents' collection. This was going to be a beautiful tree.

This was going to be the best Christmas ever.

I could see her watching me and trying to be subtle about it. She's so damn beautiful. I'm the luckiest woman on this planet. I smiled at her to let her know she'd been busted. Her eyes grew wide and she tried to look away. I took her hand in mine and led her to the boxes.

We needed to start this now, before I lost all conscious thought.

"So, where would you like to start?" I asked, looking at all the decorations.

She looked me up and down, and I knew we weren't thinking on the same level at all. "Well, I could think of a few places I'd like to start on, right now."

I was very pleased with her reaction. "The tree, Kel!" I cried with mock outrage.

She laughed, cleared her throat, and then looked at the tree seriously. "Well, you should start with the lights first, then the ornaments, then the tinsel," she smiled. "At least, that's how we've always done it."

"Well, lucky for you, it's the same where I came from, too. Do you have a topper for the tree?"

"Yes, actually. I have a smaller version of you; I have an angel," She dug through a couple of boxes until she found what she was looking for. "It was from my childhood. My mom loved this thing," she whispered as she touched the angel reverently.

"It's lovely, Kelly. I know your mom would be happy that it's making an appearance this year," I said guardedly. I wasn't sure if I should assume anything about her mother.

"Yeah," she breathed. "I think you're right. I think Mom's gonna be happy that I'm dressing the tree with someone special this year, too."

"Good, I know I am," I said with a grin.

"Me, too." She looked deep in thought, then back at me. "Would you like some music to go with our festivities?"

"Sure! I love the classic carols. Do you have Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole? Those are my favorites," I said, sounding like a child. I was actually excited about trimming the tree, even more than before.

"I think I can accommodate you," she smiled, and flipped through her enormous CD collection and pulled out three. She placed the CDs in the player and closed the drawer. Within seconds, the room filled with wonderful sounds, and memories began to invade my brain.

I always loved Christmas with my folks. I was immediately thrown into a memory of my parents and me trimming our tree together: we were laughing and singing without a care in the world. Who knew our lives would change because I didn't want to hide who I was?

How could they forget me so easily? I'll never understand that.

"Susan? Can we make a pact right now?" Kelly said seriously.

"Sure," I said with skepticism.

"Tonight is our night. No more sad thoughts or dwelling on things we can't change. Okay? Let's just enjoy each other and create some new magic. I think we both need that desperately."

I knew I had tears in my eyes again, but I didn't care. She must've seen me drift off. Damn. "Deal. I like that idea very much, Kelly," I agreed. "Now, let's get to work."

Bing crooned some of my favorites and Nat followed shortly behind. I watched as Kelly wrapped the lights around the tree, branch by branch, with a practiced hand.

"I think I know what duty you had," I said brightly.

"Yeah. I was the only one that could wrap the lights up on top without falling off the ladder. I've grown quite fond of this, actually. You have to have the lights just right, otherwise the whole tree is off, you know?" she explained, as she continued to wrap string after string of lights around the branches.

I smiled at her as I watched her dim the overhead lights and squint at the illuminated tree. It was an old trick to make sure there were no blank spots on the tree.

"You are a master, aren't you?" I teased.

"You hush. Just you wait, you'll see what a beauty this one's going to be," she said with a smile.

"I see a beauty all right. But she's not green and prickly," I shot back.

Kelly smiled such an amazing smile at me that it took my breath away. It never ceases to amaze me how gorgeous she is. I could stare at her all night. Perhaps I will, just to make her nervous. She'll try to figure out what I'm thinking, I'll bet. I hope she knows how much she's come to mean to me.

"Okay, I think we're ready for the ornaments," Kelly announced.

I walked towards the boxes and took out a couple of crystal ornaments. They were just stunning. There was one of the Virgin Mary holding a tiny Jesus. I don't know much that wouldn't be beautiful after being carved out of crystal.

"These are gorgeous, Kelly. Are these new, or have you had them a while?" I asked.

"That particular one is old. I think it belongs to my grandmother. Which reminds me, I called her the other day to see what she was doing tonight."

"Really? How is she?" I asked, very pleased she had contacted her.

"She's doing okay. There's still such a distance between us that I really hate. We used to be closer. I just wish we had that again," Kelly said with a sigh.

"You will, honey. How can she resist you? I know I can't," I stated honestly.

I moved to the tree and hung the ornaments that were in my hand. I turned to Kelly and willed her to see the passion that was in my heart. I think she actually felt it. We each took one step closer to each other, then our bodies crashed together.

Our mouths met harshly and we began to suck wildly on each other's lips. The wet smacking sounds drove my hunger to an even higher pitch. I wanted her so badly. I knew we had to finish this tree, though.

Before I knew what was happening, Kelly's tongue rushed past my lips and she began to drink from me. Her tongue was soft yet determined in its exploration. I felt the fireworks go off once again, and my body was humming Kelly's tune. We both need this so badly. And we would have it.

"God, I want you... so much..." Kelly husked into my mouth.

"I'm yours, honey... no one else's..." I whispered back.

Her kisses slowed to tenderness, and then she pulled her head back to look deeply into my eyes. My words began to sink in as she swallowed a few times before speaking. "Do you mean that?" Kelly said, sounding like a small child who was amazed by a gift.

"I do, Kelly. I'm yours if you want me. Forever, if you'd like." I almost whispered the last part. I wasn't sure if I'd asked for too much.

"I'd like that very much, baby. So much..." she growled, as she picked me up and held me tightly against her.

We giggled as she spun me around the living room. I'd never felt so light-hearted. I'd known this woman for so little time, yet she filled a gap in me that I thought would always be empty. It's funny how things happened.

Kelly put me down shortly after that and we finally finished putting all the ornaments and tinsel on the tree. It was just gorgeous. Kelly took the last strand of tinsel and draped it over her mother's picture on her mantel. My heart ached for her. I knew this had to be so hard.

"Merry Christmas, Momma," she whispered, as she kissed the photo again. She turned to me as if to explain, even though it wasn't necessary. "The tinsel was her favorite part of the tree. She always did the tinsel. We covered her casket with it during the funeral." She paused and took a much-needed breath. "God, I miss her, Susan."

"I know, honey, I know. I also know that she's here with us, right now. She only left the physical world." I tried to lighten her mood. "I think God took her then so she could watch over you now. Maybe she can watch you better this way." I could tell that she was thinking about what I'd just said.

"Do you really think so? For the longest time I could never come to terms with why He'd taken her. Susan, she was the most beautiful person on this earth. She did everything for everyone, without hesitation. She was such a good person. She even went to church every flippin' day! I was so angry with God that I stopped talking to Him altogether. I couldn't believe He'd taken someone that had shown such love for Him." She started to pace around while she spoke.

This was the first time she'd really opened up about this. I'm glad she trusted me enough to share it all.

"My anger finally went away, but I was such an angry person for such a long time. I think that's why I slept with so many strangers, I just wanted to feel something else. Anything else. I wanted instant gratification, and I got it. I feel bad for some of the women I slept with, though."

"Why? I can't imagine you were mean to them," I questioned, stopping her pacing.

She came to me and took my hands in hers. She looked down and her blue eyes burned into my soul, and I knew she could never harm anyone.

"No, I wasn't mean, but some of them wanted to pursue relationships. I wanted no part of that. I didn't want to love, because that would only mean it would hurt again the day that I lost it. I felt that loss with Julie. You're the first person I've wanted in my life since her. It scares me to death, though, Susan. You have to know that."

"I think I have a good idea. What we have is very strong and it scares me too, Kelly. I've never felt for anyone, what I feel for you. We've only known each other really for, what, a few weeks, right? But it feels like I've known you my whole life!" I nearly shouted. "I know you're scared, but I'm right there with you, honey."

The grip that was holding my hands loosened a bit as she snuck one arm behind my back. We turned so her arm held my waist and I was leaning into her body. I rested my head on her chest as we stared at our first Christmas tree.

"You do a pretty good tree, Miss Cavanaugh," I said as I smiled into her chest.

"Thanks, darlin'. It is a pretty one."

We waited a few more seconds for the music to shut off and then the only sound to be heard was Mattie's panting from the couch. Kelly turned to face her pet and called to her, "What do you think, Mattie? Should we keep her?"

Mattie's tail thumped wildly against the cushions on the sofa.

"I think so, too," Kelly said as she kissed the top of my head.

"So, should I assume that I'm in?" I teased.

"You?" Kelly's eyebrows shot up. "I was talking about the tree!"

My feigned look of injury couldn't have held water if it needed to. Those baby blues were too much for me. They were dancing with such love and mischief in them. I can't imagine being with anyone else.

"There's one more thing we need to do," she whispered.

"Oh, yeah. It wouldn't be complete without it," I smiled.

"Would you do the honors? I'll hold the stool for you."

She could've asked for anything right then and the answer would have been yes.

"I'd love to, Kelly. Thanks," I beamed.

I reached higher than I thought practical, and rested the angel on the top of the tree. I plugged her in and she lit right up, adding the right touch to make this the perfect Christmas tree.

"How's that?" I asked Kelly's upturned face.


"I think so too," I said as I started to climb down.

I missed the next step down and started to fall. Well-built arms immediately shot out and caught me before I hit the floor.

Thank God for strong women!

"God, I'm sorry!" I shrieked. "Thank you. You're my hero."

"It was no problem. You're a lightweight," she chuckled as she cradled me against her.

I nestled into her embrace for a few moments and sighed loudly. "I feel so safe here, Kelly."

"I feel safe with you here, too.If I could, I'd hold you all day. Just like this."

She kissed me gently on my lips and moved us to the couch. She sat us both down without changing our positions; I sat cradled in her lap with my head against her chest. Her arms wrapped around me protectively, and I knew there would never be another place that would feel like this. I would never have to look again.

Thank God.

"It really is beautiful. I'm so glad you convinced me to do this. Thank you, Susan."

"It was my pleasure. I really wanted to do this with you. I'm glad you let me in. We both have a lot to be thankful for, don't we?"

She nodded. "Which reminds me..." she said as she gracefully tipped me off her lap and got up and went into the kitchen.

She came back with a wrapped gift. I was assuming it was for me.

"Kelly, I thought we said no gifts."

She put her finger to my pouting lips before I could continue. "This is more than a gift. Please, just open it." She sat down next to me and anxiously waited for me to open her gift.

Muttering softly to myself, I took the lightweight gift into my hands and instantly turned back into a child. I shook the box, hoping to guess what was inside. It'd been too long since I'd opened a Christmas gift. I put my ear to it and smiled.

"Well, it's not ticking, so that's a good thing."

"Just open it!" she cried.

"Fine, be a spoiled sport," I grumbled playfully.

I reached to the side of the box and tore open the tape and wrapping. I pulled out the box and saw a cellular phone in my hands.

"Oh, Kelly... this is too much... please... I can't..."

She interrupted me. "Susan, please. Like I said, this is more than a gift. This is a safety thing for me. You don't have a phone at your place and frankly, it makes me crazy!" she laughed. "There were so many nights I wanted just to talk to you, and I couldn't. I hated waiting for you to get to work. Even then we could only talk for a couple of minutes. You use public transportation every day, and anything could happen to you. This way I'll know you're safe all the time. Please, just take this. Please?"

Her big blue eyes were staring at me with such affection that I didn't have a chance in hell at denying her.

"Thank you, Kelly. I just could never afford one of these. No one would've called, so I didn't think to bother."

"Well, it's paid for, and you have a year of service and about a million minutes; so, you'd better use them all on me!" she joked.

I reached over and threw my arms around her. I started to cry before I could stop myself. "Thank you so much," I sobbed. "You are so good to me. Thank you so much."

I continued to sob into Kelly's arms for several moments. She rocked me slowly, and I felt myself begin to calm. My head raised from her shoulder and she wiped my tears with her hands. She reached behind her and grabbed the box of tissues off the table. She gestured for me to blow my nose. I did as she requested, and she continued to wipe my nose for me. She took another tissue and wiped my face, clearing away all evidence of any sadness.

"Ahh, there's my girl," she said as she finished her task.

"I'm so glad that I'm your girl. I've never felt so cared for."

"I do care for you, baby. Very much."

She held me close and softly brushed my cheeks with the backs of her knuckles. Her fingers reached further back and began to massage the back of my head. Tingles went through my body as she lightly scratched my scalp.

"I'll give you six hours to knock that off," I giggled.

"I think I have six hours. In fact, I do believe, I have all night."

"Lucky me," I whispered to Kelly as her face got closer to mine.

"Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing," she said, closing the distance between us with a gentle kiss to my lips.

Chapter Twenty-One

My heart was beating triple time, feeling Susan in my arms. She felt so good against me. Susan was making the most sensual noises against my neck. Between her quick breaths and her deep sighs, she was truly going to drive me insane. She could call the little men in white coats; I couldn't have cared less. A "Susan-jacket" was my idea of absolute pleasure. She could wrap herself around me any time she wanted.

There doesn't seem to be any hesitation from either one of us tonight. I know I'm more than ready to show her how deeply I care for her. I'm pretty sure she's feeling the same for me right now. I'll know soon enough.

I continued my assault on her neck as she purred happily into my ear. "Baby?" I said huskily.

"Yeah?" Susan sighed into my ear sending jolts of desire throughout my body.

"Can we move this into my room? As much as I like playing pretzel on the couch with you, I don't know how much more my back can take." I smiled gently, hoping I wasn't presuming too much.

"I think I'd like you right over there," Susan said with a hand gesture as she wriggled her way out of my grasp and off the couch.

She reached down and grabbed my hand. I watched confused as she led me towards the fireplace and in front of the tree. She turned out the lights in the room, leaving only the tree and the fire in the hearth for light.

"Stay..." She smiled. "Don't move. I'll be right back," she said seductively as I felt the air leave my lungs.

This was really going to happen. Tonight. Holy crap!

She walked over to the couch and grabbed two pillows along with the blanket that was draped along the back of the couch. She took her booty and positioned it on the floor.

"Sit," she gently commanded.

I eagerly complied. I sat on the floor with my elbows resting behind me. Watching Susan in the firelight, I knew I'd never seen anyone more beautiful in my life.

"Are you ready for me? Because I don't think I can wait for you anymore," Susan whispered sexily.

I know I gulped audibly, but I didn't care. "Yes." I nodded as I spoke my monosyllabic word. It was the only word that I could make come out of my mouth. I don't think she had any idea what power she held over me at that moment.

"I'm glad," she said with a saucy smile.

Susan began to slowly undress before my transfixed eyes. She watched me closely for any sign of reluctance. I watched mutely since my brain had shut down.

"I want you to know how much I want you, Kelly," she whispered as she began to unbutton her blouse. I watched as her fingers mastered each button with excruciating slowness.

"I don't think I've ever wanted or desired anyone like I want you right now," I confessed honestly. "Please come down here." I reached up to take her hand, but she refused my request.

"Soon, my darling, patience is a virtue." As my eyebrow raised, she started to sway her hips as she pulled her shirttail from her jeans. I knew that I was in deep trouble.

And Susan was her name-o.

She slipped the blouse off of her shoulders and I watched as it tumbled onto the floor. Susan stood before me in jeans and her bra.

I don't think I'll ever recover from this torture.

I couldn't wait to feel her skin on mine. She knew she was getting to me. I could tell from the expression on her face. She was confident and in control-a deadly combination, or so I was beginning to think.

She moved her fingers to the button on her jeans. She undid the one fastener and slowly slid the zipper down its serrated path. She brought both of her hands inside her waistband and slid the material down her hips and thighs. I think she heard my gasp, because she smirked at me with unbridled lust in her eyes. She knew she had my number, and I was in no shape to argue.

She raised one leg to grasp at the ankle of her pants to release her leg from its hold. She followed suit with her other leg, leaving her practically naked in front of my widening eyes.

"You are so beautiful, Susan," I breathed out.

"Thank you, sweetheart," she said as she knelt in front of me at last.

I sat up and let my eyes travel over her underwear-clad body. She was more shapely and stronger then I could've imagined. Her sandy blonde hair was brushed away from her sculpted face by my trembling hand. It felt like silk against my fingers. Her shoulders and midsection were strong, but with a feminine softness. I wanted to touch her so badly, but I wanted to make sure she wanted that.

This was her show, after all.

"Do you want to touch me, Kelly?" Susan had to know that this was a no-brainer of a question. Who wouldn't want to touch her? My God!

"More than anything," I said with hooded eyes.

"You have to pay a toll first."

My eyes opened a bit at the request, but I would've offered anything at this point and she knew it.

"Whatever you want is yours," I said honestly.

"Your sweater. Off. Now." Susan commanded, and no sooner had the words come from her than my sweater had been removed, leaving me in my bra and slacks.

Somehow, I never imagined myself in the submissive position that I found myself in right now. It was completely different for me to be in this role. I had always controlled the situations when I was with other women. Then it dawned on me that Susan wasn't at all like the other women that I'd slept with. She was more than that and always would be. If she were like them, I never would've fallen in love with her.

Love? Did you say love?

Yes, I did. Holy crap! I'm in love with Susan McGovern!

My heart began to beat wildly at my inner discovery. I found my hands unbuttoning and unzipping my pants hurriedly. I never wanted to do anything so much in my life.

"Slow down, sweetie. We have all night, remember?" Susan cooed softly at me.

I blushed like a schoolgirl. I was so out of control it was making me dizzy. Susan had me wrapped so tightly in her web, and I was sure she didn't even know she'd spun one.

"Let me get those," she said softly as she leaned over me to pull down on the waist of my pants. "Lean back, honey. It's okay, I've got you."

I leaned back and watched as Susan slowly pulled the clothing down my legs; her eyes never leaving mine.

"God, Kelly, you are the most gorgeous woman I've ever laid eyes on."

My cheeks got red with that compliment. She knew my buttons and she was pushing them in all the right places. She reached for my hands and situated us so we were kneeling in front of each other. I held her face with my right hand as she did the same with mine. We stared deeply into each other's eyes and brought our faces even closer. I searched her face one last time looking for any reservations or doubts.

I found none.

Leaning forward, I captured her lips with mine. Her kiss was soft and unprobing. We relished the feeling for many moments. The softness of our lips just tasting each other was making me thirsty for more of her. I gently slid my tongue to her lips and laved the texture that I found there.

Her mouth opened wider, accepting me fully within her. She tasted wonderful. Our kisses became hotter with each moment that passed. Lips and tongues sought out the others, trying to satiate the need that was growing by leaps and bounds.

We took turns taking off the remainder of our clothing, leaving nothing but our nakedness between us. We brought our bodies together and my eyes rolled into my head. She sent chills through my body. Her warm, smooth flesh against mine felt like everything I thought it would and more.

Heaven was just around the corner; I just knew it.

I began to kiss her cheek and then down to her ear. Feeling her grip on me tighten, I breathed softly against her neck. Nipping and sucking the soft skin I found there sent goose bumps down her body.

"Mmm..." she sighed into me.

"You make me so crazy, baby. Do you have any idea?" I said hoarsely, not expecting an answer.

I felt more than heard her reply when her warm tongue trailed down my shoulder and over my collarbone. My body was on fire because of her. She was inflaming me to heights that I'd never felt before. I couldn't help the sighs and moans that were coming from my mouth.

I tilted my head back to give her more access to my body. She took full advantage as she slid her tongue lower to capture my right nipple in her mouth, swirling her tongue over the sensitive peak and wrapping her arms tightly around me.

"Oh, God..." I sighed heavily.

I could feel my body begin to tremble with need. A need to be one with Susan. I brought my hands up to stroke her breasts as she continued to love mine with her mouth. Finding her right nipple, I began to play with it between my thumb and forefinger while caressing the other with my palm.

"More..." she breathed into my flesh.

That was all the encouragement I needed.

I eased Susan down onto the blanketed floor and laid on top of her. I placed my thigh between her legs and groaned at the unbelievable sensations it caused. My skin was tingling from just the contact of her body against mine. I leaned into her, pressing my leg against her warm, wet apex. I watched her rapture as she moaned softly. Our eyes locked, intensifying every emotion we were feeling.

My eyes never left hers as I took one of her nipples into my watering mouth. Her eyes stayed with mine then watched every movement of my tongue. I was spellbound. She brought her hand into my hair and began urging me on. I sucked harder on the erect flesh, which brought a louder response from my lover. Her breathing increased, as did mine. I was getting so aroused by observing her while I loved her breasts. I bit down tentatively, awaiting her response, and wasn't disappointed.

"Oh, God yes," she moaned. "Harder."

I could feel my hips begin to thrust harder against her as I suckled her nipples with every ounce of passion I was feeling. I switched breasts often, trying to give her as much pleasure as possible. The thrusting of her hips was in synch with my own. I could feel the sweat begin to form and roll off of my back. Our fingers intertwined as she held my hands with a strength that surprised me.

My body slid lower until my sex straddled her thigh. Our bodies were moving as one as our passion intensified. I could feel her wetness against my own leg, which ratcheted my desire even higher. I wanted to love her with my mouth; I needed to taste her release. I could feel our souls melding from the sheer intensity.

"Turn over, baby," I whispered.

She nodded and I lifted myself slightly to give her room to roll onto her stomach. I moved up to her neck and began to lick slowly down her spine. Her body arched in response to my actions.

"Oh, Kel... you feel so good," she murmured into the pillow.

She grasped the edges of the pillow as I followed her spine down to her buttocks. I kissed each cheek reverently, feeling more love for Susan with each stroke of my tongue. I knelt between her legs and gently spread her cheeks.

Her breathing hitched as she felt the tip of my tongue run the along the crease of her buttocks. I tongued each of Susan's orifices tenderly but thoroughly, and felt Susan's hips grind into the floor in response.

"Please..." she begged throatily.

I lifted my head from my task and teased Susan. "Please what?"

"Please go inside of me, Kelly. I want to feel you deep inside of me," she answered huskily.

"Anything, baby. I'll give you anything you want," I whispered truthfully.

Bringing my fingers down to her wetness, I found her opening and drove two fingers deep inside, causing her to scream out.

"Yes!" Susan cried.

She raised herself to her knees and I wrapped my left arm around her waist. I began to match the thrusting of my fingers with the movement of her hips. I prolonged the actions of my fingers and took great pleasure in hearing her calling my name. The sound of her voice was bringing me close to my own release.

Without disturbing the rhythm we'd created, I swung myself onto my back, turning so that my head was between her legs. With my unoccupied hand I pulled down on her hips, bringing her swollen clitoris onto my mouth.

"Jesus!" Susan whimpered at the contact.

I began to bathe her clitoris with wild abandon. My tongue and fingers worked in tandem, sending Susan into oblivion. I could hear her breathing quicken with each thrust of my fingers. I could taste her impending climax.

"Omigod!" Susan groaned as she started to buck against my face.

I moaned loudly as I felt my own orgasm crest along with Susan's.

Our bodies continued to thrust blindly until we could no longer move. I laid there kissing the insides of Susan's thighs until I'd worked myself out from under her. Her body collapsed onto the floor with an ungraceful thud. I crawled up next to her and spooned myself against her side.

Kissing her cheek and ear I began to speak from my heart. "God, I love you. I've never met anyone that makes me feel the way you do."

Susan rolled over on her side to face me. She stared into my eyes as her own began to well with unshed tears. "Oh, sweetheart," she breathed. "I love you, too."

My heart melted at her admission as we reached for each other. She rested her head on my chest, and I held her as tightly as I could without hurting her. Her leg was thrown over my own, and her arm grasped my waist as if she were going to fall off of me.

"Easy, baby. I'm not going anywhere, I promise," I whispered into her hair. I rubbed her back tenderly as I felt her grip loosen. I peppered her head with many kisses, trying to convey everything that I was feeling. I could feel her sobs as well as her tears on my bare chest. "Shh... what's wrong, baby? Can you tell me?" I soothed.

She moved her head so her face was looking squarely into my own. Brushing away her tears with my thumbs, she searched my face for any insincerity in my words. I knew she wouldn't be able to find any. Finally, I'd found someone to spend my life with. Someone that would guard my heart as if it were her own.

Susan looked into my eyes with watery affection. "If someone had told me a year ago that my life would be like this, I would've told them they were crazy. I never imagined myself being this happy ever again. Sometimes I wonder when I'm going to wake up from this wonderful dream. Things like this only happen in dreams and storybooks," she sniffled.

"Well, if this is a dream, then I don't want to wake up, either. I never thought I'd find anyone as wonderful as you. I'm so glad I was wrong. You are the most incredible woman I've ever met." I placed my fingers over her lips to stop any kind of rebuttal. "Before you even say anything; it's true. I love you; and I never thought I'd find anyone who I'd want to say that to ever again."

Susan took my fingers from her lips and kissed them one by one. "I was only going to tell you that I love you, too. I've never had this much love in my heart before. I just hope it doesn't go away."

"Me too," I agreed.

"Say it again, Kelly. Tell me you love me again, please?" Susan asked.

"I love you, Susan. I love you with all that I am."

"I love you, too, so much. Thank you for loving me. I can't imagine my life without you," she said, looking as if she were going to cry again.

"I know the feeling. Every thought that I've had in the past weeks has been about you. Anytime I think about something that I'm going to do or need to do, you're in the picture as well. I hope to have you by my side for a long time, Susan. I mean that."

"I'll be here as long as you want me."

"Good. I like you here."

Our embrace became more relaxed as we caressed each other gently. I felt goose bumps rise on her cooled skin and knew we needed to get into the warmth of my bed.

"Are you ready for bed? I'm getting kind of chilly," Susan confessed.

"With you by my side, I'm ready for anything," I said with a smile as I kissed her forehead.

Chapter Twenty-Two

After turning the lights off and closing the doors of the fireplace, we walked arm in arm up the stairs towards Kelly's bedroom. My body was still reeling from what we'd shared downstairs. I knew making love with her was going to be special, but I had no idea how much so.

I will never feel as loved with anyone else again. I know that I've found the other half of my soul in Kelly. We just fit so well.

"You want to wash up first or shall I?" Kelly asked.

"I'll go first. I have to pee anyway," I said sheepishly.

"Okay, darlin'. I'll be waiting for you when you get out," she whispered as she leaned in and kissed my lips.

I walked into the bathroom and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I wasn't sure if I was looking to see a change, but I knew I felt different. I was loved like no other tonight. I felt like the luckiest person on the planet. Nothing would change my feelings for Kelly. We were in this for the long haul.

This I knew for certain.

I used the facilities and brushed my teeth before returning to her room. I found her lying on her bed, wearing nothing but a smile.

"Penny for your thoughts," I giggled.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure you can guess what I'm thinking right now."

"Yeah, I think I can. It's probably what I'm thinking right about now."

"Well, hold onto that thought until I get back," Kelly said as she got up and walked towards me. She leaned down and kissed me deeply before going into the bathroom. The door clicked shut and I felt my heart jump once again. This woman had a hold on me that could challenge a vise grip.

I hopped onto the large bed and assumed my position under the covers. The scent of my lover was everywhere, sending fresh chills down my body. It was something I was growing to love more and more with each day that passed. She had such a clean, fresh smell all the time. Such a change from the people I usually hung out with.

Who'd have thought my life would end up like this? I know I never thought I'd be this fortunate again. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a woman like Kelly could ever love me.

Boy, am I glad I was mistaken. I can't imagine my life without her now.

I heard the water from the faucet turn off a second before I heard the door open. My naked, beautiful lover walked to me as if she were on the hunt. I felt like prey under her smoky gaze. I knew I was powerless to look away, and had no desire to do so.

Her long frame found its way into the bed beside me. She clicked off the light on the nightstand and shifted closer to me.

"Miss me?" Kelly purred as she brought her hand to my breast and squeezed lightly.

"Oh yeah..." I whispered, not being able to keep the desire from my voice.

"I'm glad. I really want to make love with you again. I don't think that I'll ever get enough of you."

"Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere any time soon," I said as I grasped the hand that was rubbing my breast. I squeezed gently letting her know I was all for another round of loving with her.

"I like how you think," she growled playfully, as she tugged a little on my breast.

"I like how you feel," I countered.

"Well, I love how you feel," she challenged again.

"Yeah, well, I love you," I said with the winning blow.

In the darkness, she chuckled into my ear. "I love you, too."

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," I whispered.

"Merry Christmas, baby," Kelly said as she moved her body on top of mine.

Her kisses told me that we weren't going to be sleeping any time soon, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I was starting to think that 'dreams coming true' wasn't such a load of shit anymore. I had my proof right here in my arms.

Right where she belonged.

Chapter Twenty-Three

As I opened my eyes in the early dawn light, I felt a warm, pleasant weight on me. I wondered how I managed to sleep with Kelly resting almost fully on top of me during the night.

Strong ribs I guess.

Her breathing was deep and even, telling me she was still asleep. This allowed me some unguarded time to watch her. God, she's gorgeous. And she loved me.


She loved me. She told me so herself. How lucky was I to have a beautiful creature like Kelly, want someone like me? Words weren't enough to convey what I was feeling. I stroked my fingers down her naked back and felt her nuzzle deeper into me. Her soft sigh of contentment almost melted my very soul. It also cemented the fact that last night really had in fact happened.

So, this is what love is all about.

I was wondering what all the fuss was about. I thought I was in love with Cindy, but this was completely different. I knew I'd found my life partner. God, it felt good.

I took a deep breath and felt Kelly shift again. This time I locked eyes with sleepy blue ones and smiled softly.

"Good morning, sunshine," she whispered.

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart," I said with a tiny smile.

Kelly moved up slowly until I felt her soft lips capture mine in a tender, loving hold. Our lips melded and allowed us to express once more, how much love we had for each other.

We broke apart and Kelly gave me a slow grin that made my heart swell.

"Did you sleep all right?" she rasped in her sleep-filled voice.

"Like a baby." I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

"You're my baby," she stated in a childlike voice.

"I hope so."

"You are so." She sealed her testimony with another searing kiss that curled my toes.

God she had a knack for that.

My stomach took that moment to make its emptiness known, which elicited a throaty chuckle from my lover.

My lover. Wow, I loved the sound of that.

"Three guesses, and the first two don't count," I teased.

"Hmmm... I'll guess that... you're... I don't know... hungry?" she joked.

"Give that woman a prize!" I said, in my best game show host voice.

We giggled and began to wrestle under the covers. She pulled me on top of her and I felt her fingers brush errant strands of my hair behind my ears. Kelly said nothing as she gazed deeply into my eyes. "God, you are so beautiful, Susan."

I swallowed convulsively as I nodded trying not to cry.

I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.

I tried to think that mantra, but felt the tears betray me. As a rebellious tear ran down my cheek, Kelly gently brushed it away with her thumb.

"I love you," I choked out before I rested my body against hers. I felt her hands stroke my back, and then tighten into a strong hold.

"I love you, too."

After a while, we broke apart and got dressed to go eat breakfast. I felt like I could eat the house, I was so hungry. Today was going to be a long day, too. As much as I enjoyed going to the kitchens, it would always be an ugly reminder of what my life had been.

I walked downstairs with Kelly and Mattie and sat down at the kitchen table.

"You gotta go out, girl?" Kelly said, smiling widely at her pup.

Mattie's tail wagged frantically as she waited for her mistress to open the back door. Kelly let her out and watched her as she ran through the backyard.

"She's so pretty when she runs." She looked over at me and had such love in her eyes.

"Yes, she is," I agreed. "So, what's for breakfast? Would you like me to make something? I can make eggs or..."

"Not so fast... It's a Christmas tradition that I make omelets and sausages for Mattie and myself; but since you're here with us this year, I'll just have to make more."

"Well then, by all means, cook away," I said as I gestured to the stove.

Kelly playfully smacked my thigh as she passed me. "You're lucky you're sitting on what I wanted to slap."

"Ooh, I'm not so lucky, then. I'd like it if you smacked my ass." I laughed at Kelly's reaction.

"Are there... um... some things you like that you didn't mention last night?" Kelly asked with wiggling eyebrows.

"You'll just have to wait and see, dear chef."

"Oh, now that's something to look forward to." She smiled that toothy grin at me and I knew she was serious.

Lucky me.


We slowly made our way down to the church where Susan and I would be helping the hungry for most of the day. This was our second venture to the church today. It was really nice to attend Mass with someone on Christmas this year. I was just happy that Susan wanted to go. It made the day even more special for us.

This was going to be an experience for me, since I'd never done anything like it in my life. It was going to break my heart to see such destitute people, but on the other hand, it was always good to have a reality check. Susan's really an amazing person. She had such a beauty inside of her I didn't think she knew was there. It takes a very special person to do what she does.

"I've um... got some questions, if you'd be kind enough to help me out," I said, looking at Susan and the road.

"Sure, honey. What about?"

"About the soup kitchen and such. Is that okay?"

"Shoot. I'll be more than happy to answer them. You're so great to come with me today," Susan beamed at me. I couldn't help but smile back. I had a surprise for her that I knew she'd love.

"Okay, first of all... do they really still call them soup kitchens? I thought that was an old term, but I want to make sure I don't insult anyone."

"Yes, it is an old term, but most everyone knows what it is. I guess they kept it for that reason alone."

"I see, now what about food vans and such. I remember you telling me about Carol coming to you out in the streets on Christmas."

"Yeah, she did, bless her soul. God, I miss her..." Susan stared blankly at the road. "Oh... sorry, sweetie... um... oh yeah... food vans... Well the church has rented one that we will use later in the day. They usually have warmers for the food and shelves all built inside the back. It's a great way for us to get to the people that don't venture out of their 'homes.'"

I imagined Susan and Carol's meeting for the first time. Just picturing her out there sent sadness through me. I won't ever let that happen to her again. No way. I would work fifty jobs if I had to, to keep her from that place again.

"Anything else, honey?" Susan asked, recalling me from my thoughts.

"Umm... I guess I wonder why they do the cafeteria style versus just handing out Styrofoam containers with food already in them."

"Well, we use the cafeteria method to serve the food to keep costs down. The plates or trays we can wash and reuse. They're made of plastic, so no one can harm anyone else if something were to happen, and believe me, something always does."

"What do you mean? What happens?"

"Well, I remember hearing about an addict who caused a big scene a few years back. Generally, they're not allowed if they're using, because things like that can happen. Apparently, this guy fooled someone into believing he was straight and broke a glass or a plate and threatened to cut another person if he wasn't given money or something for drugs. The poor guy he attacked got stitches in his neck, too."

"Wow, that's horrible!" I couldn't believe that. I guess I was more naive than I thought.

"Yeah, it was bad. So, we try to keep everything to a minimum so that the people that do accept our food will be able to eat in peace. That is our main purpose."

"Did you ever eat at one of these?" I wasn't sure if she wanted to talk about her experience, but I really wanted to know.

"Well, like I told you before, it took a lot for me to even accept food from Carol, who actually took food to people. I was one of the proud who didn't like to accept assistance, so, no, I didn't. I thought it made me stronger, knowing I could survive on my own." She looked out the side window and sighed deeply. "It was really stupid to think that way, though. I could've died out there, with no one to blame but myself. I'm so thankful Carol found me."

"So am I, darlin'. So am I." I laced our fingers together as we drove the rest of the way to the church in comfortable silence.

When we arrived at St. Mary's Church, there were quite a few people already waiting to get down to the basement. That alone made me happy about what I'd arranged. Susan was going to be so excited.

"Why are you smiling like that, Kelly?" Susan eyed me warily.

"You'll see, baby."

"Okay. You never cease to amaze me. Why should now be any different?"

"Exactly. Come on, let's go inside."

I directed Susan with my hand at the small of her back. We walked into the church just as Reverend O'Malley finished rearranging the altar from the last Mass of Christmas Day.

"Kelly!" he said with a large grin on his face. He walked from the altar to greet us.

"Hello, Father O'Malley, Merry Christmas. How are you?" I asked, extending my hand to him.

"Good, my dear, thank you. Merry Christmas." He looked over at Susan next to me. "This must be the woman you told me about. Susan, is it?"

Susan's eyes widened at his knowledge of her name. "Yes. Merry Christmas. It's good to meet you. Miriam spoke highly of you at the office. Thank you for allowing us to use the basement this year."

"You are very welcome, Susan. Miriam is a sweet lady and a wonderful parishioner. We've known each other for several years."

Susan nodded and smiled at the friendly priest. "She mentioned you've known each other a while."

Father O'Malley gestured to the basement door. "Well, let's get down there. There is quite a bunch already."

"Really? I thought we told everyone 2 p.m.?" Susan asked, surprised.

"Oh, we did. I guess this year, they didn't want to miss the spread." Susan was confused as she looked at Father O'Malley, then at me.

We walked downstairs and I watched with anticipation as Susan's eyes opened wide as she looked around the tables.

"How did we afford this?" Susan asked quietly, noticing the warming units on the tables with all kinds of foods over them.

The volunteers were everywhere; and people were sitting at tables, eating quietly.

"Why don't you ask her?" Father O'Malley asked Susan, pointing at me.

"You?" Susan choked back a sob as she looked into my face. She wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight. "You are the most wonderful woman I've ever met. Thank you, Kelly. How did you do this?" she mumbled into my chest.

"Well, most of the volunteers work for Saks. I asked some of my employees if they'd help out on Christmas for a few hours. I knew the ones I'd asked wouldn't mind at all. But as far as the food went, I just went to a few restaurants until I found the best deal." I smiled at Susan as the tears streamed freely down her cheeks. "I just think that Christmas should be happy for everyone. At least, as much as possible for the circumstances of their lives."

"Thank you so much. You have no idea what this means to them... and to me."

"I think I do." I leaned down to her ear. "I love you, baby."

Susan wrapped her arms around me one more time and then walked towards the tables to greet everyone. This was turning into one of the best Christmases of my life. I watched my girl interacting with everyone, and I felt a tear sneak down my own cheek. It would only take one other person being here to make this day perfect. I knew she was smiling down on me right now.

Merry Christmas, Momma.


We were able to send some people off with extra food since Kelly had purchased too much. God, she was incredible. What an amazing gift she'd given these people. I'm so damn lucky. I don't know how I became so fortunate, but I didn't want to jinx it by asking too many questions.

Even the press showed up again. The same woman that had interviewed Kelly at Saks the day before was here interviewing the town hero once more. Kelly refused to take more credit than necessary, of course. But I could tell she was happy with what she'd done. How could she not be? I was more than happy to sing her praises, though.


"Miss McGovern? Can you add anything about this joyous occasion?" the newswoman, Tina Simkins, asked.

"Yes. Kelly Cavanaugh has proved once again that she has a heart of gold. I unfortunately have lived the life that most of these people are living now. I would've been much better off had someone donated money for food like this every year. This is a wonderfully selfless thing she's done, and I hope everyone watching would follow her example. She's made this a very happy holiday for everyone here," Susan concluded, as she looked at a blushing Kelly with love in her eyes.

"Indeed she has. The Christmas spirit is alive and well here in the town of Northshire, and the St. Nicholas responsible is once again Kelly Cavanaugh. I'm Tina Simkins, reporting from St. Mary's Church. Back to you, James."

The interview went until a little after five o'clock and ended just in time for us to get into the van to spread more Christmas cheer throughout the homeless community. I was proud of Kelly, and I wanted to make sure the rest of the city knew just how proud I was.

Chapter Twenty-Four

"...I'm Tina Simkins, reporting from St. Mary's Church. Back to you, James."

The television clicked off as the tears streamed down Elise McGovern's face. Seeing her daughter twice in two days, she finally took the step she'd been hesitating over for years.

"Oh, Susan, I'm going to get you back, I promise you. I won't give up on finding you this time."

Mrs. McGovern walked into her kitchen and opened the cabinet containing her phonebook. She leafed through the pages until she found the listing for Saks clothing store.

"General information... Store hours... Shoes... Accessories... Regional Office... Yes, that's what I need," she said to herself.

She nervously picked up her phone, keeping her finger on the number in the phonebook. As she dialed, she felt her heartbeat increase tenfold. The number she had dialed began to ring, and she began to fidget and pace through her kitchen. The answering machine clicked on, as she knew it would.

Click. "Hi, you've reached the office of Kelly Cavanaugh, regional manager for Saks. I'm either on the phone, or away from my office at this time. Please leave me your name, a number where you can be reached, and a brief description of the reason you are calling. Thank you, and have a wonderful holiday." Beep.

Elise paused, not knowing how to start off her message, but finally opened her mouth to speak just as the machine switched off.

"Dammit!" the woman screamed, angry with herself for hesitating. "This is your daughter, Elise McGovern! Don't make that mistake again."

She redialed the number and waited for the message on the machine to finish.


"Hello, Miss Cavanaugh, my name is Elise McGovern. This is going to seem very strange, but I saw you on the news over the holidays and you were with a woman I believe to be my daughter, Susan. I... I would really like to talk to you, so if you could please call me when you get this message, I'd appreciate it more than you know. My number is 487-555-7820. Please feel free to call me any time day or night. Thank you again, Miss Cavanaugh. Merry Christmas."

Elise exhaled loudly as she rested the phone's receiver in its cradle. "Oh, please call. Please," she whispered as she rested her face in her hands.

Chapter Twenty-Five

I drove the van into the heart of the homeless community. Kelly looked around in disbelief as some of the makeshift homes were shown to her for the first time. Boxes and Styrofoam crates sheltered the people in the alleys, while others lay deathly still in doorways of the closed businesses in the neighborhood.

"Jesus..." I heard Kelly breathe.

"Gives you a whole new appreciation for the life you have, doesn't it? And I don't mean that in a snarky way, either."

"I know, baby. But, yes, it really does." She took my hand in a firm grip. "It just tears me up to picture you out here."

I put the van in park when we got to the alley. I turned a little in my seat to look squarely at Kelly. "Don't then. I'm right here with you now. Just imagine me in your arms, like we were last night," I said with a bit of desire in my voice, and Kelly looked at me intently with want in her baby blues.

She leaned over in her seat, grabbed the back of my neck, and kissed me hard. I was relieved that we were stopped because I knew if we hadn't been, we would've crashed. I sank into the kiss she was laying on me, and before I knew it our tongues met in a rhythm that was nothing short of erotic. I could feel my arousal building, but remembered where we were and pulled away breathlessly.

"Kelly..." I exhaled. "We need to stop before we end up doing something in this van that we really shouldn't. Well, not here anyway," I said, with hopes of continuing our kisses after our mission was over.

She rested her forehead against mine and breathed in my air trying to control her own need. "You're right. God, I just look at you and I want you so badly, Susan. I can't help it." Kelly smiled sheepishly.

"It's quite all right. I love that you want me as much as I do you. Perhaps we'll finish early enough to play a little later on."

"Oh, I think that's my new mission," Kelly chuckled.

"Good." I squared my shoulders and took a deep, cleansing breath. "All right. What we'll do is take turns taking the food out to the people, while the other stays by the van in case others show up. Does that sound good?"

"Sure, it sounds fine. We'll be safe enough, right?" Kelly sounded a little unsure of herself.

"We should be. I can't promise anything, because I know what it's like out here, but I'm pretty sure we'll be fine. If not, we do have the intercom thingy." I gestured at the two-way phone we had in the van. Father O'Malley had the other one, and knew that if he heard from us he was to call the police.

Kelly laughed at my description. "It's not a thingy, it's a Nextel phone. It's like a walkie-talkie. They are the best things ever to have been invented. I'm just glad I bought a set. I'm gonna give you one when I'm in the office. That way I can talk to you whenever I want."

"Maybe you're not so selfless after all, Miss Cavanaugh." I smiled as I crossed my arms over my chest and squinted my eyes.

"Not when it comes to you, darlin'. I'm extremely selfish when it comes to you." She leaned over and kissed me again. This time it was a chaste kiss that told me she was ready to start working.

"Come on, let's go." She opened her door and got out into the cold winter air.

I got out of the van, walked around to Kelly's side, and opened the side door. We'd packed the warmers with containers filled with food for anyone we could find. The shelves we'd stocked with more containers to replace the ones we handed out. There was plenty to serve about fifty people or so. I hoped that was enough.

"Okay, I'll make the first foray into the alley. Stay here and give containers to anyone that may wander to the van. Most people expect to see us this time of year."

"All right, but take the phone with you. If you run into trouble, please call Father O'Malley and yell loud enough for me to hear you."

"Kelly, I'll be fine." I knew she wouldn't let it rest, so I took the phone that was held out for me. I hoped I wouldn't need it. There was always an element of fear while doing this, though.

"I love you," Kelly said as she turned to hug me.

"I love you, too. You've made today very special for me. I can't thank you enough for what you did for these people." I couldn't contain the pride in my eyes.

Kelly blushed a little at my compliments. "It was my pleasure. It really felt great to do something for them. I'm glad it made you so happy."

We pulled from our embrace and Kelly loaded me up with as many containers of food as I could carry.

"I'll see you soon," I said as I walked towards the alleyways that I used to call home.

"Be careful," Kelly called after me.


I waited by the van and handed out several containers of food to people that approached. They had such gratitude in their eyes as I gave them the food. I just couldn't imagine living that way-not knowing where your next meal was coming from.

I leaned inside to move some of the containers from the shelf into the warmers. When I turned around, there was an older, scraggly looking man in front of me.

"Ah!" I hollered in surprise. "I'm sorry, you snuck up me and I didn't hear you." The man didn't respond and was a little too close for my comfort. "Would you like some food? I have some for you, if you want it."

"You think you can come 'round here, all high and mighty, doing your duty for us unfortunates?" he spat angrily.

I didn't know what to say. "No, not at all. We just want to spread some Christmas cheer and give you some good nourishment. You don't have to take it, but it's here if you change your mind."

He looked me up and down, giving me the willies all over. "I know what I want and it ain't in them boxes." He leered at me while licking his dry lips, making me want to vomit.

"Look, buddy, you've got about two seconds to turn and walk away if you don't want what I am offering. Because what you want, sure as hell ain't on the menu." I stood to my full height and could tell he was debating what to do next. I looked down and saw his hand in his coat pocket and the protrusion coming from it.

"I don't think you get it. This ain't a request."

He aimed his bulging pocket at me and I began to rapidly sort through my options, which weren't very many. I tried to talk him down. "Whoa, okay, buddy. Calm down for a second there. Is that any way to treat a lady?"

"No, but I's gonna show you." He grabbed his crotch and moved his hand around in a circle and groaned. "Oh, yeah..."

Nice going, Kel. Wrong choice of words there.

"Look, I don't... um..." I saw Susan coming towards the van and her expression changed from happiness to fear when she saw the confrontation. "I um..." I looked back to Susan, and she motioned for me not to look at her.

"What! Come on lady, I don't got time for this. Let's go!" he yelled. He grabbed my forearm with his free hand and started to pull me away from the van.

"Now put your hands up nice and slow, mister. I really don't want to hurt you," Susan hissed in the man's ear as she poked the phone into his back. He immediately raised both hands over his head, letting the comb fall out of his fist.

"I... I... I... didn't mean no harm! Don't shoot!" He stood with his hands up and eyes wide as Susan walked around to face him. "It's only a comb!"

Recognition dawned on Susan's face as she looked at the man in front of us. "Switch? Is that you?"

The man looked at Susan with curious eyes until finally his recollection set in. "Little Ray? Holy Sweet Mother o' Jesus!"

Susan nodded as she embraced the man in her arms. He hugged her back for a long time, while I sat back and stared with my mouth open. "I thought you was dead, Little Ray. I haven't seen you in so long."

I watched in awe as the two friends reunited. Susan finally pulled away from the man.

"Switch, what are you doing, bothering this lady friend of mine? I don't remember you being like that."

"I didn't mean nothing by it, ma'am, really. I didn't know you was friends with Little Ray." He looked back at Susan with shame in his eyes. "Time's is rough these days, Little Ray. I dunno what come over me." He looked back to me. "I'm sorry if'n I scared you."

I shook my confused head and smiled at him. "Don't worry about it. But I wouldn't recommend doing that again. You could get killed that way."

"What happened to you, Little Ray?" Switch said, holding Susan's hand.

"I got out, Switch. I met a woman a couple years ago who offered me some food. After a while I got really sick, remember?" Switch nodded. "Well, she came back and saw how sick I was. She brought me to the clinic and told them I worked for her, and they kept me for a couple of weeks until I got better. I got pneumonia and almost did die, Switch. Anyway, Carol took me in and gave me a job. Now I've got my own place and I work for a living."

"You's lucky, Ray. But I knew you was different than ol' Switch. I been out here for twenty years now. This's my home and always will be." He shook his head in acceptance of his life. "This ain't no place for a soul like yours, Little Ray."

The two hugged again and I offered Switch a container of food, which he took this time. We offered him a seat in the back of the van to eat his Christmas dinner.

"I'm sorry, Kelly. Let me introduce you to the man that was my guardian for a while when I was out here. Switch, this lady here is my partner, Kelly."

We shook hands, and Switch smiled at me for the first time without lust in his eyes. "Nice to meet you, Miss Kelly. Little Ray always liked the ladies. I see she got herself a good one."

"Thanks, Switch. I feel pretty lucky myself." I gazed at Susan and felt the love she was sending. For her, I tried to make conversation with Switch. "So, um... you took care of her out here?"

"I tried to. I finds her one day curled in some box over in that alleyway." He pointed nonchalantly away from us. "She was cryin' her eyes out. Thought I was the devil himself," he chuckled. "After that we was like peas in a pod. I'd tell her stories, and she told me what she was gonna do when she got out." He looked up at Susan and smiled. "I'm so happy you did, Little Ray."

"Um... can I ask why you call her that?" I asked, hoping I wasn't getting too personal.

He smiled when he looked at me. "She was my little ray of sunshine in 'is dark place." Susan went to him and hugged him again. "You always was my Little Ray, and you always will be."

I felt my heart break for him. I could tell that they had shared quite a bit in the time they had together and that he still loved her very much. How could he not?

Hell, she was my sunshine, too.


This would always be remembered as my favorite Christmas. First, Kelly sponsored the food drive, and then seeing Switch again brought me over the top. This would always be a very special day for me.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" I asked Kelly, who was very quiet as she drove us home.

"Yeah, I'm just thinking about the day. So much to take in, you know? I mean, what would've happened if it wasn't a comb in Switch's pocket? What if it was a knife? What if you hadn't known him?" Kelly paused and took a deep breath. "I can't believe you made it out there for so long. I wouldn't have lasted a day." Kelly shook her head and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

"Honey, don't do that. Just know we were fortunate that things worked out the way they did. He did have a comb and I did know who he was. And we are both safe and sound. Don't worry about the what ifs, they'll make you crazy."

"You're right. But when I saw you come for him... God!" Kelly shook her head. "You're right! That'll make me nuts. Okay, so um... tell me, do you plan on seeing Switch again?" Kelly tried to change the subject a little.

"Oh, yes! Now that I know he's still around, I'm gonna visit him. Sadly, I'd forgotten all about him. I don't even think I mentioned him to you before, I'm sorry." Kelly looked at me with a question on her face. "Don't worry, I'll go during the day." I saw the relief flood her expression and knew I'd settled that issue. I shrugged airily.

"I'm glad you said that. I got worried for a second."

"I could tell. Don't worry, I'm not willing to play that game again any time soon." I patted her thigh gently with our entwined hands.

We finished the rest of the drive back home in silence. We held each other's hand and just let ourselves feel. It was so nice to be able to do that with someone. We'd both had incredible days, though for different reasons. All I wanted to do now was snuggle up with Kelly and let her hold me until morning. I knew she had a big day at work tomorrow, being the day after Christmas. I could tell she was dreading it.

We entered her home through the garage and were greeted by a hungry Mattie.

"Hey, girl!" Kelly cooed as she stroked the happy animal. "I bet you gotta go out, huh? We were gone a little longer than I'd planned." Kelly opened the back door for Mattie and watched as she ran into the backyard.

"I'm going to change into my sweats, if you don't mind. I want to be comfy and just cuddle with you on the couch. Does that sound okay?" I asked a smiling Kelly.

"That sounds wonderful. I'll make us some tea." She leaned in and kissed me gently, and I sighed deeply when it ended.

"Hurry back."

"I will." I ran upstairs and into Kelly's bedroom. I could hear her letting Mattie in and the sounds of the can opener opening Mattie's dinner. Kelly began to sing The Christmas Song, and I hummed along with her as I got changed.

I used the bathroom and trotted back downstairs to find Kelly had lit the tree, started a warm fire in the heart and had tea ready for us on the coffee table. She was sitting on the couch with her legs pulled under her and her head resting on her arm that was along the back of the couch.

"Hey there, sexy," I said in a hushed voice. "You waiting for someone?"

"Yeah," she said as she reached for my arm. "You." She pulled me onto the couch with her and held me in a long embrace.

I rested my head against her shoulder and pressed my cheek to her breast. She cradled me like an infant and I felt so incredibly loved.

She leaned down and kissed my head. "I love you, so much. I can't tell you how good it feels to say that to you." She kissed my forehead.

I looked into her dark blue eyes and pulled her head down into a long, fiery kiss. I heard her moan as I used my mouth to suck on her tongue. She glided her fingers through my hair as she explored the depths of my mouth. I could feel her desire building with each passing moment. I knew there wasn't going to be much talking tonight.

I didn't really care. My body was hers, and she could take it any way she wanted. And I knew tonight, she would.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Beep beep beep beep...

I slammed my hand down on the snooze button of my alarm clock, hoping not to wake Susan. She felt so good snuggled into my body. Her thigh was thrown over my legs and her head rested on my chest. I could still smell our essence from last night. God, she was insatiable. My body has that hum going this morning, reminding me that it was put through my paces only a few hours ago. I lost count after three orgasms. Susan was an aphrodisiac to me. All I have to do is think about her and I'm aroused as all get out.


I yawned and involuntarily began to stretch. Susan moved to hold tighter to me. The grip on my waist tensed then eased after a few moments. Today was my least favorite day of the year. I got the nastiest calls on this day, the Return Day, or 'the day after' as I like to refer to it.

I managed to wriggle out of Susan's grasp and headed to the bathroom. I needed a shower and caffeine, in that order.

I took a shower, threw on my robe, and went downstairs to make some tea. I wanted to check my voicemail before I got into my office. I liked to be forearmed on days like today. I let Mattie outside and watched as she ran around the back. The teakettle was still on the stove from last night, so I added fresh water and set it to boil.

Sitting at my kitchen table, I waited for the shrill cry that would signal the water was ready. I picked up my phone and dialed my office number. Grabbing my planner, I jotted down some notes from the messages I'd heard.

"Tina needs new fixtures... Ralph needs employees... Yeah, like I can fix that... Marta needed to see me..."

I broke the tip off my pencil and stopped writing as I heard the woman's voice on the machine.

Susan's mother wanted me to call her? Oh boy. This could get sticky.

I wrote her number down in my planner just as Susan came in to the kitchen.

"Good morning," she whispered as she kissed my cheek. "Whatcha doing?"

I closed my planner and hung up my phone and tried not to panic. The teakettle whistled and its shriek almost knocked me over. I was panicking big time.

"Uh... I was checking my um... voicemail to get a head start on the day... Do you um... want some tea?" I stammered badly, taking the pot off the hot stove.

"Kelly? What's wrong, honey?"

"Nothing... nothing. I just got a message from my... boss, and she's going to be coming in to check on the stores next week. That's all. I always get a bit rattled when she calls."

"Ah, I gotcha... Let me take your mind off of her for a few minutes," Susan husked sexily, and I had to stop her gently before I passed out from hyperventilation.

"As much as I'd love to, I really have to get going soon. Will you uh... need anything today? I'm really jealous you don't have to go back to work until tomorrow."

"I wish you could stay home today too, sweetheart. But no, I'll be fine. I'm actually going to lounge about, if that's okay."

"That's totally fine. My house is yours, you know that," I said, sounding more like myself. The shock of hearing her mother's voice was slowly dissipating. I crossed to her and gave her a large hug and kiss. "Mmm... good morning."

"That's better. I was beginning to wonder who you were earlier. You were so jumpy."

"I know, I'm sorry. You surprised me just as I finished with her message. I got spooked is all. Don't mind me, I think it's because someone's been keeping me awake long past my bedtime the past few nights. I might be a little sleep deprived."

"Oh, poor baby." She kissed me gently. "Okay, scoot. I'll get Mattie in and fix your tea while you get dressed."

"Thanks, darlin'." I kissed her again and quickly made my way upstairs into the bathroom where I promptly threw up. "Oh, God..." I rested my head against the toilet bowl and tried to calm my nerves.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

After role-playing my call to Mrs. McGovern over a hundred times in the car, I walked into my office with a tumultuous headache; and it was only 8:30 in the goddamned morning. Not a good way to start December 26.

I looked to my phone and the message light was already flashing. "Jesus, I just cleared them!" I collapsed into my leather chair, rested my elbows on my desk, and put my head in my hands. "God, this is going to be a long fucking day," I grumbled.

The phone rang, and I considered whether or not I should answer it. I wished I had Caller ID on this phone. I knew I had to answer it, I just didn't want to.

"Good Morning, Saks Regional Office, this is Kelly, how may I help you?" I cheerfully answered.

"Hi there, sexy."

I felt my insides shift at the sound of Susan's husky voice. "God, I'm glad it's you," I sighed. "How are you? Do you miss me already?"

"I'm missing you terribly, and you've only been gone about twenty minutes." I could just picture the pout on Susan's luscious lips.

"Mmm, I wish I was home. My head is killing me. I'm starting to see little birdies floating around my head," I chuckled mirthlessly.

"Honey, are you okay? You looked awfully pale when you left here."

"It'll pass. I just gotta get going and I'll be fine. Don't worry."

"If it involves you, I'll always worry, just know that right now." Susan's voice was calming my head.

"Thank you, baby. I hope you have a nice day. You're not upset that I didn't take you home are you?"

"Oh, right. Leaving me here in this delicious house with food and a television and whatever else at my disposal... Yeah, Kel, I'm really pissed."

I heard her chuckle. "Okay, I just wanted to make sure. Eat whatever, watch... you know whatever and... God, listen to me... just act like it was your home too, okay?" I stuttered.

"Thanks, sweetheart, I will. Thank you for your hospitality. I'd much rather be here than in my box of an apartment. I will have to go back tonight, though, I'm running out of undies." Susan whispered the last part in such a cute voice, I couldn't help but laugh.

"Okay, okay. I'll get you back there. Then we'll have to see about getting you some things that will stay at my place. Okay? I mean... that's not too much too soon is it?"

God, I sounded like such an idiot!

"No, honey. We're fine. I promise, if I was uncomfortable, I'd let you know. Frankly, I love the attention," she admitted.

"Good, I love giving it to you," I replied softly.


"Okay, baby, I gotta run. I should be home around 5 or 5:30. Okay?"

"Okay, honey. I love you."

"I love you, too. Talk to you later."


"Bye, baby." I hung up the phone and felt tons better. I knew I still had to call Susan's mother, and I'd have bet a million bucks that Susan would kill me if she found out I did.

Why me?

The afternoon arrived without much angst from customers. There were the usual "I'm not satisfied with my service. What will you do for me?" sort of calls. I expected those, and just laughed at the ridiculousness of those people. They asked for so much, sometimes it made my head spin.

I looked at my watch and found it was already 2 in the afternoon. I still needed to eat lunch, but the call to Susan's mom was becoming a huge weight on my shoulders. I sighed loudly into the air as I reclined in my chair with my hands behind my head and finally decided to call her.

I opened my planner to get her number and dialed the number she'd given. As her phone began to ring, I felt my nerves kick in once more.

"Hello?" I heard her say. Her voice sounded very much like Susan's.

"Um... hi, Mrs. McGovern?"


"This is Kelly Cavanaugh; you left a message on my machine regarding your daughter, Susan. The woman on the news with me." I swallowed audibly.

"Oh, my God, yes. Then, she is my daughter?"

"Yes, they're the same person."

"Thank you for calling!"

I could hear the relief in her voice. "You're welcome. What can I do for you?"

"Well, Miss Cavanaugh, I'm sure that Susan has told you about our... uh... situation."

"Yes, she told me what happened. What does that have to do with me?" I wanted her to squirm a bit. I wasn't so sure I wanted to risk hurting Susan without knowing just what her mother wanted.

"I know I have absolutely no right to ask anything of her, but I really would like to see her." I could hear the strain in her voice. "I'd like to meet with you and talk about this rather than talk over the phone. Is there some place I can meet you?"

"Well, I'm in my office today. Would you be able to come to Saks? My office is within the Lawrence Street store."

What am I doing?

"Of course. It's only a few miles from my home. I can be there in fifteen minutes, if that's okay with you."

"Yes, that would be fine. Just go to any of the counters and tell them you have an appointment with me. They'll direct you to my office."

"Thank you, Miss Cavanaugh, I really appreciate it."

"I'll see you soon, then."

"I'll be expecting you. Good-bye."


"Oh, Kelly. I hope you know what you're doing." I said into my hands as I hung up the phone.

I busied myself for the interim until I heard a knock on my door. Opening it, I found one of my employees, Therese, and a woman who had to be Susan's mother. They looked so much alike, it was uncanny.

"Kelly, this woman has an appointment with you?" Therese questioned.

"Yes, thank you, Therese." Therese smiled and walked away, leaving me with Susan's mother. "Mrs. McGovern?"

"Yes, Miss Cavanaugh. Thank you for seeing me." We politely shook hands.

"You're welcome." I gestured to my office. "Please, come in and sit down."

"Thank you." She looked around the office as I watched her closely. The resemblance between her and her daughter was remarkable. She noticed me staring at her and I flushed in embarrassment. "Pardon me for staring, but you look so much like your daughter. It's really amazing."

"I'd hoped she'd look more like me. Her father had some traits that just wouldn't have looked good on a woman," she said with a smile, which I returned easily.

"Well, now that we're here, what can I do to help you, ma'am?" I leaned forward on my desk and laced my fingers together. I held my intimidating pose for several moments, waiting for her to start. She began to fidget with the strap on the purse in her lap.

"Well, as I started telling you on the phone, I'd really like to see my daughter. I was hoping that perhaps you could help arrange a meeting."

"Well, I can't guarantee that she'd want to see you or her father. I'm not sure if you have any idea where she's been for the last five years, but it hasn't been a pleasant life for her. In fact, I'd say she's come back from living in hell." I really wanted to make sure she knew I wasn't happy with what she'd done to the woman I've grown to love very much.

"No, you're right. I don't know where she's been, but believe me I've been looking for her. I'd given up all hope until I saw her on the news." She began to cry.

Oh, no. Why did she have to cry?

I leaned over my desk to my box of Kleenex and handed it to her.

"Thank you," she said as she wiped at her eyes with the tissue.

I remained unbending, even though I was starting to feel bad for her. "Mrs. McGovern, Susan has been through hell and is now finally piecing her life back together. She's become a damn fine woman without any help from you or her father."

"I know... I know..." she sobbed. "It was my fault... I couldn't fight him... He... he was so... well, I just never could stand up for myself... I dutifully stood by his side and it cost me my daughter... I was so selfish... I miss her so much... God, I'm so sorry," she sobbed desperately, breaking my heart.

"All I can do is ask if she'll see you both. I can't promise anything. She's a very special person in my life, and I won't do anything to hurt her, ma'am. Not even for you," I warned.

"You and she are... together, then?" she questioned through her tears.

"Yes, Susan is my partner. I love her very much. She is one of the most incredible women I've ever met."

"I'm glad she has you," she sniffled. "It won't be me and my husband, though. It'll just be me. Jonathon... he uh... passed away last January."

Oh, God.

"I'm very sorry, Mrs. McGovern. Can I ask what happened?" I asked with a soft voice.

"Heart attack. He worked himself to death," she said very flatly. "It's all he really cared about. His job... his status... money... I was such a fool to honor his lack of humanity... Miss Cavanaugh..."

"Please, call me Kelly."

"Thank you. Kelly, I'm not at all proud of the woman I was, but I've never stopped thinking about Susan, not for one day. She is my only child, and I love her very much. I didn't have much when I married her father, and I was afraid of losing everything by going against him. If I could go back and change how things went, I would in a heartbeat."

"I'm sure you would, ma'am. Well, like I said, I'll ask Susan if she'll meet with you. That's all I can do."

"Kelly, thank you. You have no idea what this means to me. I've been separated from my daughter for far too long."

I thought about being able to spend even one more day with my mother and my eyes welled with tears. "Yes, I think I have a good idea of what you're feeling. When would you like this meeting?"

"Whenever she'll see me."

"Okay, I'll talk to her for you."

"Thank you, Kelly. Thank you for meeting with me. You've given me a ray of hope that I've not had in years."

"You're welcome, Mrs. McGovern."

"Please, Kelly, call me Elise. Mrs. McGovern was my mother-in-law, and I never really liked that woman." She chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.

It was easy to see where Susan got her sense of humor. I couldn't help but smile at her.

"All right, Elise. I'll call you after I talk to Susan."

"Thank you, again."

"You're welcome. I'll walk you out; I need to grab some lunch anyway."

"That'd be great."

We both stood, and I walked her over to the door. I opened the door to find Susan standing on the other side, just about to knock. Her face changed from joyous to shock when she saw the woman in my office.

Under Susan's scrutinizing stare, I was extremely uncomfortable all of a sudden. She looked back at the woman in my office who hadn't moved since she saw Susan.

"Mother?" Susan choked back a mix of several emotions.

Her mother took a step towards her. "Yes, Susan, it's me."

Susan's expression became one of anger. "What do you want?"

Elise's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Susan. I've been looking for you for so..."

"Don't!" Susan growled, then turned to me. "What are you doing, Kelly? Trying to rip my heart out?"

I attempted to calm her. "No, baby, please. She called me after seeing us on the news. She's been looking for you."

"Whose side are you on? That woman kicked me out and left me to die!" Susan angrily pointed at Elise, who had begun crying in earnest.

"Please, come in here." I gestured to my office. "Please." I pleaded with her with my eyes.

She sighed heavily and walked past her mother and me and stood in the far corner of my office.

"Susan, I'm so sorry. Please... can I have a few minutes to talk to you?" her mother begged.

"Why should I give you anything? You just stood there and said nothing while Daddy threw me out. You did nothing to help me."

Elise sobbed as I watched the two uncomfortably. "I'm sorry, Susan... I'm so sorry," Elise kept repeating.

The silence was killing me. The way Susan was staring at me, I felt like I had betrayed her. The only sound in the last few minutes was Susan's mother crying. This day just wasn't getting any better. My headache had now returned in full force.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

What the hell did Kelly think she was doing anyway? How could she? I wasn't ready to see my mother.

I didn't want to see her. But now here I was. Sitting in Kelly's office having a fucking stare down with Kelly and my mother. I just came to have lunch with her, for fuck sake! I thought I'd surprise her by taking a cab in, and then hang out at ForOthers until she was ready to go home. Well, it looks as if the person surprised here was me.


I looked at the woman who had given me both life and death, in a manner of speaking. God, she looked much older than I remembered. Her face was very drawn and her hair had grayed. I wonder how Daddy was.


I didn't want to talk to either of them. I made it out of hell without them, and I didn't need them now.

"I don't need you," I gritted out. I started to pace in the back of the office like a caged animal. Kelly's eyes hadn't left mine since we'd walked in here. Even when I wasn't looking at her, I could feel the heat of her stare. Why had she done this?

Dammit, I wasn't ready for this!

I heard my mother's voice talking to me. "Please, Susan. All I'm asking for is a little time to explain things to you. Please."

I looked up at her face and felt the tears she was crying. I knew those tears quite intimately since I'd cried plenty of them myself. Why did I still have to care?

I could feel my resolve cracking. I guess it would do me good to finally find out what the hell happened five years ago. Why did they decide that social status was more important than their child? Why was it so easy for them to toss me out like the trash? Why did they never look for me? I think I wanted to know. So, yeah, I'd give her the meeting... for me... not her, but for me.

"Fine. When?" I was curt and to the point.

My mother and Kelly both looked surprised that I'd made that decision. I eyed them, waiting for an answer before I changed my mind.

"How about tomorrow night?" my mother suggested.

"Fine. Where and what time?" I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Well, you could come to the house if... if you wanted. How about, around seven?" The uncertainty in her voice was good for me to hear. I wanted her to feel like I'd felt the last five years.

"Fine, I'll be there."

"I'll take you if you want," Kelly offered quietly. Our eyes stayed locked on each other and remained that way until I heard my mother speak again.

"Thank you, Susan. Thank you so much." She looked at me with such relief in her eyes. "You have no idea what this means to me." She looked at Kelly and me once more. "I'll see you tomorrow at the house around seven, then." She wiped her eyes with a tissue and left the office.

Kelly and I were left alone and I had no idea what to say to her. I was so angry with her for stepping in where she didn't belong.

"Susan... I'm sorry that it happened this way. I wanted to talk to you first before you saw her. I had no idea you'd be coming here." She was always so genuine when she spoke.

"Yeah, well, I guess we're even, because I never in my wildest dreams ever expected to see my mother coming out of your office." I just stared at her, not really knowing what else to say. I just needed to get out of there and be by myself. "I'm gonna go home," I said quietly as I moved towards the door. Kelly reached for my arm and I pulled away.

Kelly attempted to stop my hasty exit. "Susan, please... I'll take you. Just give me a couple minutes."

"No." I looked at her concerned face. "I really just want to be alone right now." I could see the hurt in her eyes, but right now I couldn't think about that. I had so much else to think about. "If you want to drive me tomorrow, that's fine, but I can't guarantee that the mood I'll be in will be light and cheery."

"I don't care about that. I just want to be with you. Please."

I nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."


I watched her swallow convulsively. I had to get out of there.

"I am so sorry," she choked out.

"That seems to be the word of the hour, doesn't it?" We shared another glance and I watched as the tears began to spill down her cheeks.

I definitely had to leave, and fast. I looked at her solemn face once more, then left her office and headed towards the train station. Tomorrow was going to be one hell of a day.

I made my way to the station in time to catch the four o'clock Metra to take me home.


Jesus, what did that word mean to me? Oh, Carol, I wish you were here right now. I'm so confused. I thought I'd found everything in Kelly; now my mother has come back into the picture and thrown a monkey wrench at me. What could she possibly say that would change the way I feel about them? I have no idea what to say to my father without spitting in his face. And why didn't he come with her?

God, please give me control over my actions tomorrow night. I just don't know what I'm doing anymore.


I checked my clock again. This time it read three forty-five. I wasn't going to be able to sleep, no matter what. My head was filled with much too much to relax. Tonight, I was going to talk to my parents.

My parents. That's a funny term to use. Aren't they the ones that were supposed to love their children unconditionally? Ha! That was a laugh.

Even though, I was still angry with Kelly, I was glad she'd be going with me. I hated going to bed without her. My sofa bed wasn't even in the same category as her bed, or her arms. I threw the bedclothes aside and began to pace in my apartment.

"Dammit! Why did she have to do this? If I'd wanted to see my parents, I'd have called them myself. Now I'm going to my old house to listen to their reasons for kicking me to the curb."

I walked over to the window and peered out at the night sky. The stars shone brightly above, as if they hadn't a care in the world. What I wouldn't give to trade places with just one of them.

I fell onto my bed with a thud and groaned in frustration.

"Just a few hours of sleep. That's all I'm asking for," I pleaded. "How about thirty minutes?"


God, I miss having her here.

I knew this was going to lead to problems. I should've just told Susan about her mother's call yesterday when I heard the damn message in the first place. Now I'm in bed, alone, and I can't sleep because I know that she's hurting, but she won't even talk to me. I don't know what I was expecting when I called her tonight. I guess something other than the cold shoulder she gave me.


"Hello?" Susan answered in a not so friendly tone.

No one else would be calling her. It hurt to realize she didn't want to talk to me.

"Hey, baby, it's me."


The silence was deafening.

"What are you up to?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just trying to figure out what to say to my parents now that you've brought us together again."

Ouch. "Susan, your mother called me. She asked me to call her back, so I did." I wasn't much convinced by my own argument.

"So you've said. Don't you think you could've let me know that she called you before you called her back? Did you ever think about that?"

"Well, they say hindsight is 20/20." That wasn't a smart thing to say.

"Your boss isn't really coming is she?" Susan's voice was so flat.

Fuck. "No, she isn't."

"I didn't think so. After seeing you with my mother, it kind of made sense to me why you were so edgy around me this morning."

"I'm sorry," I said again.

"What exactly are you sorry for? You keep saying those words, but I'd like to know what it is you are apologizing for."

"For everything. For not telling you that your mother called. For meeting with her before you had a chance to tell me if it was all right or not."

"How about lying to me?"

"Yes, that too. Baby, I just wanted to help."

Susan became silent again. I didn't like it when she was quiet. I just didn't know what she was thinking. All I knew was that she was pissed.

And pissed at me, in a big way.

"Just do me a favor: in the future, when you want to help me, just think about the consequences before you do anything, all right? I was nowhere near ready to deal with this yet."

I felt like a child being scolded. Jesus, I made a fucking mistake!

"I won't make decisions that involve your life like that again, I promise. Just, please forgive me. I hate feeling like this." I could feel my voice starting to crack from the emotions wrenching my heart.

"I gotta go to bed, Kelly. I have a lot to think about... Good night."

"Goodnight... sweet..." Susan hung up. "...dreams."


That was one of the worst phone calls I'd ever had. I guess I didn't realize the impact this would have on her. I was stupid to do this.


I rolled over again and tried to get comfortable. It was four in the morning, and there was no way I was going to sleep any time soon.

Oh fuck. Me and my big mouth.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Kelly picked me up at six forty-five. I knew she'd left work early, as I had, to get ready for the meeting with my parents. She pulled up in front of the office and waited for me to get in the car. I opened the car door and sat inside the warm vehicle.

"Hi," Kelly greeted.

"Hi," I said back. "Are you sure you want to come with me? I don't think this is going to be a very happy occasion."

She took my hand and kissed my knuckles. "I want to be there for you, Susan. You can still be mad at me, but I want you to know that I'll be there if you need me. Okay?" Her blue eyes pleaded with my heart and won.

"Okay," I said quietly as I squeezed her hand.

We drove the rest of the way to my parents' home in a more comfortable silence this time. I was extremely nervous, and I could tell Kelly was too. We pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. Kelly squeezed my hand once more and got out of the car. She came around to my side, opened my door for me, and offered her hand.

I took her hand and stood taking in the view of my childhood home for the first time in five years, not counting our drive by a few weeks earlier. I could feel my legs turn rubbery, and Kelly steadied my stumble with ease.

"Are you sure you're all right? We can tell her another time, sweetheart."

I shook my head. "No, I want to get this nightmare over with. Once and for all." I felt the strength return to my body and walked with confidence to the front door.

Kelly was soon next to me as I rang the doorbell. Within a few moments, my mother answered the door.

"Hello, Susan. Thank you again for meeting with me."

"Mother," I said with a coldness I'd forgotten I had.

"Hello, Kelly," she said to my partner.

"Good evening, Mrs. McGovern," Kelly greeted.

"Please, come inside." My mother stepped aside and allowed us space to walk into the foyer of the house.

"May I take your coats?" my mother asked politely.

"We won't be staying long. Where's Daddy? Is he waiting to jump out at me before he tells me what a disgusting person I've become?" I asked, looking for the angry, disappointed glare I remembered so clearly from our last good bye.

Mother looked at me strangely and gestured to the living room. "Won't you sit down, and I'll get us some tea."

I felt Kelly's hand at the small of my back as we walked into my living room. The furniture was all the same. The neutral tones that covered the walls, the grand piano in the corner, the grandfather clock, they were all the same as they were when I left. My parents never could get into change, of any kind, apparently.

Mother went into the kitchen and I heard her getting tea for us. I could feel the tenseness of Kelly's muscles through her touch. At least I wasn't the only one uncomfortable with this. I couldn't wait to see Daddy's face when he saw my girlfriend sitting in his living room, holding my hand.


Kelly looked down and offered me a smile. I nervously smiled back as I waited for my mother to return.

"Are you doing okay?" Kelly whispered.

"Peachy," I said sarcastically, and then apologized when I saw the hurt on her face. "I'm sorry, I'm just really nervous."

"It's okay." She squeezed my hand again as my mother entered the room with a tray.

She put the tray on the mahogany coffee table and began passing out saucers and cups. She was fidgeting with them. Apparently, we were all a little nervous.

I heard her take a deep breath, and then she looked at me. She took a Kleenex out of her sweater pocket as the tears began to fall.

"Susan, before you say anything at all, I just want you to listen to me for a few seconds so I can get out what needs to be said." We exchanged looks. "Okay?"

I nodded, but couldn't keep the indifferent look off my face.

"Okay... when your father and I first met, I was poor, with practically nothing to my name. As you know, my mom passed away when I was young, and I pretty much had to rely on my own devices to survive."

"Well, we have that in common now, don't we?" Kelly looked at me and I put my hands up. "Sorry! Please continue."

"Anyway, your father had his own business, he was handsome, and he took care of me. When we were married I knew I'd never have to worry about anything ever again. I lived my life in his shadow. I played golf with the other wives of the club, I went to the restaurants he liked to eat at, I even went to his church because I didn't want to stir the waters, so to speak. We lived this life for a long time, until you were born.

"When you were born, everything changed for me. I finally had something that was truly mine. I don't mean a possession, but I'd created you and you counted on me for everything. To eat, to sleep, to be warm... You get the idea. Well, everything was great until..."

"Until, I wanted to be something you both weren't: my own person."

"Yes. You went against everything that was taught to me. I was taught that men were with women, women were with men, and that was it. Anything else was an abomination. End of story."

"Yeah, end of story," I mumbled.

"But it wasn't!" my mother exclaimed, surprising me. "I envied you so much, Susan. You wanted to live a life that you wanted, not some life that was already drawn out and just waiting for you to be inserted into the picture. You wanted Susan's life. I was so incredibly jealous that you had the will I could only dream of having."

"What do you mean? You had everything, Mother. What didn't you have?"

"I didn't have a voice of my own." I watched as the tears poured down her face. Kelly's eyes were welling with tears as well. "Your father had an image to uphold. He had the club, his clients, and his high society friends. All of which ruled his life. He didn't care what I wanted. He gave me what he thought I should have, and I was supposed to be happy with that."

"And you weren't?" I was stunned by her admission. She had never seemed unhappy when we were younger.

"Not until you came into my life. When we spent time together, it was real, more real than anything I'd ever had." I felt the tears begin to well in my own eyes. "You were my friend as well as my daughter, Susan. I knew what we shared was genuine and not fake like my other friendships. That's why it hurt so much when you were gone."

"Then why the hell did you let him get away with it?"

"I was afraid of losing everything I had."

"So you settled for the material things in your calculated life, while you turned your back on the one thing that made your life real and whole?"

"Yes," she said as she hung her head in shame.

"Why, Mother? Why didn't you stick up for me? Why didn't you just tell Daddy that I wasn't wrong? Why did you let him throw me away like that?" I started to scream. "Why, Mama? Tell me!"

"Because I was a coward!" she cried out. "I knew as soon as I stuck up for you, your father would turn away from me just as he had from you. I was selfish and scared, and I let him run my life." She began to sob, which set off an anger in me towards my father.

"Did you ever tell him that? Does he know how you feel? Does he know how he kept you imprisoned in your own home?"

"No, I never told him," she sobbed quietly. "By the time I got up my nerve, it was too late." She looked at me and I felt a kick to my gut.

"What do you mean, too late? Mama, where's Daddy?" I looked at her and she wouldn't meet my gaze. "Where is that bastard? He needs to know what he's done to me and to you. Stop hiding from him, please. Where is he?"

"Your father's gone, Susan."

"What do you mean gone? Where'd he go?"

"He's dead, honey."

Kelly's hand tightened around mine as I heard my mother's words. "Dead?" I whispered in surprise. "When? How?" I asked dumbly.

"He died last winter of a heart attack. I buried him in All Saints Cemetery on January 12th." Her gaze was soft, but her pain was so evident. The pain wasn't for him though, it was for me.

I sat dumbstruck. My father was dead.

My father was dead.

I launched my body off the couch and ran towards the foyer and out the door. I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I had to get out of there.

"Susan!" Kelly shouted from the doorway.


Oh, God!

I knew she was going to take this badly, but I had no idea it would be this bad. I could do nothing as I watched her leap from the couch and dash out the front door. Her mother and I quickly followed to the door, but she was well on her way down the street by the time we looked out. Her hurt would carry her feet pretty far, I was certain; I was also certain that I didn't want anything to happen to her.

"I'll be back," I told her mother as I ran to my car to search for Susan.

I drove slowly through the neighborhood looking for her. She couldn't have gone too far. I looked through the dark streets, hoping to find her. I picked up my cell phone and dialed her number, willing her to pick it up. I heard it ring several times and almost hung up before I heard her answer.

"Susan! Honey?" I heard her gasping for breath. My heart broke hearing her sobs.

"Baby, talk to me. Where are you? Let me come and get you."

I waited a few more minutes but she didn't speak. "Susan? Can you hear me?" I wondered if she'd hit the talk button by mistake.

"He's dead, Kelly," she sobbed. "My fucking father's dead!"

"I know, sweetheart. I'm so sorry." I waited a few seconds and asked again. "Honey, where are you? Let me pick you up before you catch cold out there."

"I'm on Stevens. I'm walking towards St. Mary's."

"I'll be there in two minutes, baby. Just be careful and don't walk in the street. I don't want anyone hitting you by accident."

I turned the car around and headed towards the church, when I quickly spotted her small form walking along the side of the road. "I can see you, baby. I'm just about behind you."

She turned around and saw me coming and ended our connection. I tossed my phone onto the passenger seat and pulled over to pick her up. Putting the car in park, I flew out of the car to her, wrapping my arms around her as she collapsed against me. I held her close as she wept bitterly about her father's passing. I cooed softly in her ear, letting her know I would do anything I could to make this better. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I'd be damned if I didn't do something.

Susan pulled away from me and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her coat. "I'll never have closure with him, now. I'll never know anything about what happened... how he felt, what he thought... nothing." Her expression hardened and her voice held no emotion. "He'll never know what he put me through."

She turned and went to the car and I followed to make sure she got in. I closed her door as she got inside, then went around the driver's side and sat down. "Do you want to go back to your mother's house?" I asked.

She shook her head frantically. "No, I can't see her any more tonight." Her stare was straight away and very distant.

"Okay. Let me call her to tell her you're safe." I got no reply from Susan, so I picked up my phone, dialed her mother's number, and told her I would be taking Susan back to my house.

After we said our good-byes, I closed the connection and turned to Susan, who hadn't moved since she got in the car.

"I'm taking you back to my house, okay? I don't think you should be alone right now."

She said nothing as I turned the car around. I drove the rest of the way home asking Susan questions that she didn't answer. She just stared through the windshield at the road. I knew she was probably in shock and just needed some time to let this absorb.

As I pulled into the garage, I tried to gauge Susan's mood. Would she want to go to bed right away, or talk, or watch television, or just sit and do nothing? I had no clue what I was doing, I only knew my love was hurting and I had to do what I could to help her.

We walked into the house and Mattie greeted us as usual. Surprising me, Susan got down on her knees and hugged Mattie close. She wept into Mattie's coat as the dog just stayed close, feeling her pain. I knelt down next to them and waited to see what would come next. I rubbed Susan's back as she cried into my pup.

"Let's get your coat off, honey, okay? You're gonna get too warm in here."

She mechanically pulled away from Mattie and shrugged out of her coat. I grabbed the garment and stood, walked into the kitchen, hung her coat on a chair, and added water to the teakettle. I knew some warm tea would feel good going down.

Susan was still on the floor petting Mattie who graciously accepted her attention. She stopped rubbing Mattie's tummy and looked for me. "Kelly?"

I came out of the kitchen and back into the hallway by her. "I'm right here, baby."

"It won't always feel like this, right?" Her voice sounded so childlike it broke my heart all over again.

I shook my head. "No, baby. Every day will get a little bit easier. It'll never fully go away, but today is probably going to hurt the most." I reached over to her and she molded her body against me. As her sobs lessened, she stood up and walked into the living room and sat on the couch.

"I'm making some tea. Do you want some?" I asked, hoping to get something into her stomach. I doubted she would accept any food at this point.

She nodded mutely and leaned back against the couch cushions. This was definitely going to be a long night.

Chapter Thirty

Kelly watched over me most of the night. I had no control of the tears anymore. I watched television shows one after the other without recalling one thing that I'd seen. My body felt so numb from everything I'd heard tonight, I wasn't sure how much more I could take. In the short space of two days my lover lied to me, my abandoning mother re-entered my life, and I found out my father was dead.

I wanted to be dead.

It was too much to take in. Kelly stopped asking questions because I kept snapping at her. It came so naturally that I couldn't stop it. I know she's hurt, but she hurt me, too. I may be acting selfishly, but right now, nothing else mattered. I watched a movie once where a battered child asked someone if life was always this hard. If I were to answer that question tonight, I'd have to say, 'Yes, it's always this hard.'

Kelly asked me if I wanted to go to the cemetery tomorrow to say good-bye to my father. I suppose it wasn't a bad idea. I could see his grave and find some kind of closure there. I didn't know. I was just so tired I couldn't even think straight.

I'll just close my eyes for a little while and I'll feel better when I wake up, I thought to myself as I felt sleep pull me under.


Susan passed out on the couch. When I couldn't wake her, I carried her to my bedroom. She struggled only a little as I placed her on the bed. I heard her murmuring, but had no idea what she'd said. I took off her shoes, but left her clothing on so I wouldn't disturb her. I draped the blankets over her sleeping form and turned out the light.

I quickly changed for bed and got under the covers with her, moving a bit closer to her to feel the warmth that I'd missed so desperately last night. I felt her roll over towards me and instinctively wrap herself around me. I knew she wouldn't have done it if she were conscious. Se had every right to be angry with me.

Tonight I would just hold her gently as we surrendered into sleep; I knew once morning came, she would be a different Susan.


The sun pierced the darkness that had held me asleep for several hours. My body still hurt, but I felt more rested. I turned to find Kelly still asleep next to me. I studied her face and wondered what she dreamt while she slept. I don't remember one dream I had last night other than Kelly sweeping me into her arms and taking me to bed. Looking down at myself, I decided that actually did happen while I was watching through a sleep-induced haze.

I looked at the clock and it showed nine o'clock. Rubbing my eyes, I stretched and swung my legs over the side of the bed to stand. I heard Kelly move, and her yawn told me that she was awake as well.

"Good morning," she said quietly.

"Hi," I said back.

"How are you feeling?"

I shrugged noncommittally at her. "I really don't feel anything," I replied honestly.

"I can understand that," she said somberly, and walked into the bathroom.

When she returned from the bathroom, I agreed to go to the cemetery. What was it going to hurt, right?


It couldn't hurt any worse than it already did.


As we made our way through the cemetery, I matched Susan's pace as it slowed. I could feel the trepidation going through her. This place probably wasn't somewhere she'd visited too often, whereas I came here all the time. For some reason, I felt my mother was closer here. Anytime I would find myself in a bad way, I'd just sit next to her stone and talk to her. It always seemed to calm me. I spent many afternoons just sitting next to her grave. I know she knew I was there.

I even felt the hugs she sent.

If there was a way to lessen Susan's pain, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Finding out the man you once called Daddy, the man who turned around and sent you away because you were gay, was the man you just found out was dead... well there's no way to prepare for that. It had been surprising that she'd agreed to the meeting at all, and the shock of hearing of her father's death was just too much. I'd never seen someone run so fast. I loved my mother like no other and it killed me when she died, but Susan was facing demons I couldn't even fathom. My mother never sent me away, and I never knew my father, but Susan and I were definitely even where pain was concerned. I just hoped she could see that and come to me for comfort.

I hadn't seen her head lift since we exited the car. She just stared at the ground as we walked through the wet grass. I knew she was still mad at me. I hoped that one day soon it'd blow over, though. I had hoped that by seeing her mother, things would get better for her.

Boy, did I blow it.

We followed the map the caretaker had given us until we reached her father's headstone.

Jonathon Edward McGovern
April 5, 1940 - January 10, 2000

I watched the many expressions that washed over Susan's face as she read the stone's inscription. I wanted to reach out to her, but waited for an invitation. "Susan?" I attempted.

"I want to be alone," she said stiffly.

"Baby, are you sure? I know what you must be going through," I consoled. I took a couple of steps towards her, only to have Susan stop me in my tracks.

"Don't!" she growled, and extended her arm out with her palm facing me. "Don't you come near me! You have no idea what you've put me through!" Susan shouted. My eyes widened in shock, as I was completely flabbergasted at her outburst. "We said we loved each other! That means I'm supposed to be able to trust you. You had no right to go behind my back! Wha... wha... what was it, your good deed for the year? Help the poor homeless worker reunite with her long lost family? Well, happy fucking reunion, Kelly!" Susan screamed, her red face filled with rage and betrayal.

I tried to cutoff her ranting. "I made a terrible mistake and I'm sorry, but Susan, you can't believe that..."

"I can't believe what? That you weren't doing your duty for the community? To make yourself a better person? You take a young girl under your wing... invite her over for dinner... seduce her with your money... fuck her... make her believe you loved her... help her feed other destitute people at a soup kitchen that you personally funded out of the goodness of your heart... then go one step further and reunite her with her parents that threw her away like garbage?" Susan accented these points by poking me in the chest with each accusation. "What's not to believe? You hear about shit like this all the time. I just never thought I'd see it coming from you." Susan's breath was labored as the tears ran down her cheeks.

My own eyes filled with unshed tears as her words struck me like slaps in the face.

"You know I didn't do all of that because of some need to fulfill a civic duty. It's crazy to even think that!" I stopped to take a deep breath and looked into her eyes. "I do love you, Susan... and I know you're upset. Believe me, I know what you're going through." I tried to calm her down with softer words.

"You don't have a clue of what I'm going through! You weren't thrown out of your own home by the people you loved the most. You didn't have to sleep in shit with rats for three years, not knowing where your next meal was coming from." Her voice was low and accusatory while the tears stained her face. "You didn't get raped because you had shoes that fit some guy that was passing through the alley. I had NOTHING left in me, Kelly, NOTHING! That life took everything from me when I was only twenty years old! How the fuck could you possibly know what I'm going through?"

I felt my anger reach its limit and couldn't stop the words that flew from my mouth. "How could I possibly know, huh? Let's see, you had nothing at twenty? How about being fifteen and watching your mother, the one person you loved more than life itself, deteriorate into nothing before your eyes without being able to do anything! How about trying to feed her because she can't do it for herself because her arms don't fucking work and then turning around to find that she's vomiting everything you'd just fed her all over herself because her stomach won't digest anything anymore! OR how about having to wipe her ass because she'd shit her pants because her whole fucking body was breaking down more and more with each day!" I glared icily into her eyes through my tears and tried to control my shaking body. "How about watching as her last breath was taken from her body, turning her the ugliest gray you've ever seen... You're right, Susan, I don't have a FUCKING clue what you're going through. I'm just an asshole, right? A fucking bitch with no heart, just a lot of cash doing my civic duty? You know what, Susan...?" Fuck you! I couldn't bear to say the rest, so I ran towards my safety zone-away from Susan and her father's grave.

"Kelly!" I heard her scream, but I couldn't stop. I just kept running until I knew she was far from sight. I hadn't hurt this much since my mother left me. I knew what abandonment felt like, no matter what she fucking thought.


"Kelly!" The scream ripped through my throat as I fell to the ground. "Oh, God, what have I done?" I cried miserable tears with my face in the wet grass. My whole body hurt from our exchange. I'd never meant to say all of that. God, it just hurt so much to see... to see...

I looked up through the angry tears in my eyes and glared at my father's headstone. I felt the rage within me as it tore through my chest.

"YOU BASTARD!" I sobbed as I turned on the ground to kick his stone. "You will not take any more from me, DO YOU UNDERSTAND! You took everything from me before, but no more, Daddy. I won't allow you to take Kelly from me, too. You won't win this time!"

I would die first.

I choked back the sobs that desperately sought release. I had to find Kelly. That was the only thing I was sure of at the moment.



To Be Continued in Part 4.

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