Disclaimer: See part one.

A Saving Solace (Part 4)

By DS Bauden


Chapter Thirty-One

I sat on my mother's stone for at least a half an hour after our confrontation. I couldn't believe what had happened. I just wept as I stroked the cement engraving of my mother's name.

Dorothy Ruth Cavanaugh
September 24, 1955 - December 28, 1990
Mother - Daughter - Friend - Angel

"What I wouldn't give to have you with me right now. I need you so badly," I sobbed. "What do I do now?" I was crying so hard I couldn't think clearly.

I felt like the last few weeks didn't matter. My love for Susan didn't matter.

Nothing mattered.

How could Susan think so little of me? How could she think so little of what we'd shared?

My mind was racing a million thoughts a second. The tears hadn't stopped since I'd started to run to my safety cocoon. I couldn't breathe; I felt like someone had knocked me down, picked me back up, and then knocked me down again at least a thousand times. My heart was hurting beyond words. I never would have thought I'd be capable of being so cold towards her. God, I loved her with my life! I laid so much of myself out there for her. For what? She turned around and stabbed my heart in places I didn't even know existed.

This is why I stopped extending myself. This is why I stopped dating. This is why I didn't share my mother's pain with her. I knew this would eventually happen.

That's all women do to me: they love me, and then break me. I just can't do this anymore.

"I just can't," I whispered through my tears.

My phone rang again, or I should say vibrated, against my hip. I contemplated not answering it considering my state of mind, but I knew that I probably should. I reached through my layers of clothing to pluck it open and answer. I wiped my eyes and stared at the number in confusion. Expecting it to be Susan again, my mind was dismayed by new possibilities. I took in a much-needed breath then hit the talk button. Nothing could have prepared me for this.

"Hello?" I answered shakily, and then heard their greeting. "Yes, this is Kelly Cavanaugh."

I listened to the voice on the other end, and my heart stopped cold.

"What room is she in?" I closed my eyes in silent prayer as the tears rolled down my face. "ICU #4? Okay... yes, thank you for calling."

I quickly closed the connection and looked down. "Oh, Momma." I sadly shook my head and ran to find my car.


*~*~*~*

Walking around for nearly an hour, I couldn't find Kelly anywhere. I knew she was hurting, and I desperately needed to find her, to apologize. I was so wrong in yelling at her the way that I did. I had no idea she'd been through such hell with her mother. If she had told me, I might not have reacted the way I had to her.

Who was I kidding? I was out of control. Plain and simple. Now I've wounded the woman I supposedly loved with all my heart. I never knew such cruelty could be directed towards her from my own mouth.

God, I am such an asshole.

"Kelly!" I shouted again, hoping to find her. I was certain I should have found her by now. I thought she'd have gone to her mother's grave. The caretaker I found on the grounds was kind enough to show me where her plot was. But here I was, and Kelly was nowhere to be found. I looked down to the engraving on her mother's stone. The date of her death brought a new realization to me.

December 28th.

Jesus, that's today!

I'm even more of an asshole now. I'm sure she was feeling incredibly sad and vulnerable with this being the anniversary of her mother's death. And I added to that nice, excruciating pain. I can't imagine how she feels right now.

Nice going, Susan.

No wonder she wanted to come here today. This revelation brought on tears, and I felt about two inches tall. I wouldn't be surprised if Kelly never wanted to see me again.

I think I've just fucked up the best thing that's ever happened to me.

"God, Kelly, I'm so sorry. I had no idea," I whispered to myself sadly.

The rain had begun to fall and the temperature was starting to chill my bones. Kelly was here somewhere; of this I was certain. I swear I could feel her. But I knew that I had to leave and find a way back home soon.

I reached in my pocket, again tracing the antenna of my cell phone with my finger. I tried calling Kelly's phone, but there was no answer. Pulling it out, I began to dial a number I never thought I'd ever dial again.

"Hello?"

I almost hung up when I heard her voice. I took a deep breath and spoke. "Mother?"

"Susan?" she asked with a quiet tentativeness.

"Yeah," I answered, then stopped, trying to figure out why I was calling her. I knew why.

"Honey, are you all right?" I heard her voice again and it brought a well of tears to my eyes.

"Oh, Mom, I really screwed things up," I started to say as the emotion clouded my voice.

"What? Honey, where are you? Can I pick you up somewhere?"

There was another pause as I tried to collect myself enough to answer. "I'm at the cemetery," I said through my tears. "Kelly um..." I couldn't stop myself from crying. My heart was breaking with each and every moment away from her. "Kelly and I had a fight and uh... I... I can't find her!"

"Shh, honey, it'll be okay. Stay where you are, and I'll come and get you. The weather is going to be awful the next few hours. I don't want you getting ill." The maternal instinct in her took over, even though we'd been practically strangers for five years.

I couldn't stop myself from accepting her offer. "I'll be by Dad," I informed her, knowing she'd know where to find me. My eyes scanned the cemetery, looking for any sign of Kelly and finding none. "Thanks, Mom," I said into the phone and then we said our good byes.

I clicked off the phone and began to walk towards my father's grave. I couldn't help but worry for Kelly. Even if she had left, her emotional state was nowhere near what it needed to be to drive safely.

"I'm so sorry!" I screamed into the now raging storm. The raindrops had already thoroughly soaked my hair, and the sky didn't look like it was going to calm any time soon. I knew that this was one storm that was going to need a very large rainbow.


*~*~*~*

I waited for my mother by the side of the road. I had no idea what kind of car to expect, so when I saw headlights approaching me, I hoped it was her.

Thankfully, it was.

The black Acura made its way slowly towards me, as if not to splash, and stopped. I saw my mother's face and she waved me inside. Grabbing the door handle, I quickly opened the door and got inside the warm automobile. As soon as I sat down I realized how wet I was and cringed outwardly. "Oh crap! I'm sorry. I'm going to ruin the leather!" I said through chattering teeth, wiping away my unstoppable tears.

"Nonsense, it will dry," she replied, patting my forearm. "And so will they." She pointed to my tear soaked face and gave me a warm sincere smile, which of course, set me off again.

She immediately reached over to her glove box and pulled out some Kleenex for me. I gratefully accepted the tissues and dabbed my eyes and cheeks. She turned in her seat to face me and stroked my arm with her hand. "Wanna talk about it?" she asked gently.

"Can we go home first?" I answered automatically.

When no answer came, I looked up to find a confused look on my mother's face.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Whose home do you want me to take you to? Mine or yours?" she asked wistfully.

"Yours, please. If that's all right."

"Of course it's all right. It will always be your home, Susan," she said with as much love as she could muster. I could feel the tears threatening again and could only answer with a nod of my head.

She turned back in her seat and put the car in drive. Our trip back to my childhood home was very quiet. She gave me the space and peace that I needed to think about what had happened today. I was very grateful for that. She always knew when I needed to just think. I'd missed this part of our relationship. No one knew me like she did.

You were always an introverted child, Susan. I remembered her saying that more than once in my life. I guess some things never change.

We pulled into the driveway and I watched as the garage door opened, welcoming us back home. It had been too long since I felt like this. I felt like there was hope for my mother and me. I still had so much to talk to her about, but for right now, I'd let her take care of me. I think she and I needed this more than we'd ever say aloud.

My mother's touch drew me back from my thoughts. "You coming? Or do you want to stay in here for a little longer?" She smiled.

"No, I mean, yes. I've got to get out of these clothes." I shook my coat as I got out of the car, spraying the rainwater onto the floor.

"I kept everything of yours, honey. I'm sure you can find something warm to wear upstairs," she said as she opened the door leading into the house.

The smell of my old home warmed me instantly. I knew things were going to be hard and slow going, but I had hope again. I nodded to myself and walked into the family room. The same furniture rested on the same carpeting my parents had had since I was in high school. I shook my head and grinned at my mother who was watching me with interest.

"What?" she asked with a curious smile of her own.

I looked around the room again. "It's just that everything is the same as it was when I left or um..." I paused, not wanting to be so harsh with her anymore.

"You can say it, honey," she said with shame. "When your father and I kicked you out."

"Yeah," I breathed out and closed my eyes against the memory of that night.


*~*~*~*

"Get out of my house!" Susan's father screamed.

"You're kicking me out?" Susan asked incredulously. "I'm your daughter!"

"You are no daughter of mine! My daughter isn't queer! My daughter isn't a freak! My daughter isn't an abomination to God!" he spat, within inches of Susan's face.

"You're right. Your daughter isn't any of those things. I am a human being who happens to love another woman." When Susan's father turned a deaf ear to her, she began to show her anger. "I'm sorry, Daddy! You can't change who I am!"

"No, I can't. But I don't have to look at you, either. You disgust me!"

Tears were streaming down Susan's face as she looked to her mother for support. "Mama? Are you going to let this happen?"

Her mother looked at her feet, not meeting her daughter's eyes.

Jonathon McGovern didn't wait for his wife's answer. "Your mother is just as disgusted as I am! Don't look to her for salvation, because you won't find any here!" he continued to rage.

"Mama, say something!" Susan pleaded with her mother as her father grabbed her arms and moved her towards the door.

Elise McGovern never looked up from the floor. Susan could see the tears soaking through her mother's blouse. "Please, Mama! Don't let him do this!"

Her mother turned and walked into the kitchen. Away from her daughter. Away from her cowardice.

"Don't even think about coming back or I'll have you arrested for trespassing!" Jonathon screamed.

"Daddy, no! Please!" Finally, Susan was shoved out of her home. With one final breath she called out to the one person she had always counted on. "Mama!"

Elise shook with sobs as she heard Susan's last call to her. She heard the front door slam and knew she would never see her daughter again.


*~*~*~*

"That was the worst day of my life, Susan," Mother said to me. "I never thought I'd turn my back on my own flesh and blood. I can never ask your forgiveness."

Our family room was quiet as I listened to my mother's quiet voice. I knew she was sorry. I just wished that he was.

"You'll find dry clothes in your closet. They should still fit you. I don't want you to catch cold in those wet things. I'd like to talk..."

"We'll talk more. I'm just going to go upstairs and change then, if that's all right?" I looked into my mother's sad eyes and she nodded. "I'll be right back."

I walked through the foyer and up the stairs leading to my old bedroom. The same floorboards creaked as I made my way down the hallway. The bedroom door was slightly ajar, so I pushed it open to reveal my room. It hadn't changed one iota in five years.

The same pictures still hung on the walls. The two twin beds had the same sheets and comforters on them. I walked towards my closet and opened the sliding door. I reached instinctively to the switch just inside the doors to turn on the light. I grabbed a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans from the shelves, turned the light off, and closed the door.

I removed my wet clothing and hung them on my desk chair. I fit easily into my old clothes, with a little room to spare. I sat on my bed for a moment absorbing all that had happened in the last 72 hours. A wonderful Christmas spent with the most wonderful woman on the planet. A reunion with the woman that allowed her husband to disown me. Visiting my father at his gravesite. Screaming vicious words at the same woman who had made passionate love to me only days before. Now I was sitting on my bed in the home I wasn't welcome in for five years. My body turned to jelly and I found my head on my pillow.

I sobbed endlessly for several minutes as I tried not to think about how badly I hurt Kelly. She meant well, I know she did. God knows I know that. I just let my emotions take over, and then BAM! I lost complete control and now probably Kelly, too.

Why did life have to be so hard?


*~*~*~*

Why did life have to be so hard?

I looked at the still form that was my grandmother. She was seventy-four years old, but her face was so pale and looked so much older than I remembered. I tried to imagine her face without all the tubes running through her. When I looked at her, all I saw was my mother.

Dying.

My grandmother was dying. She'd had a stroke and her neighbor, Sally, had found her in her apartment. My grandma was a stickler for punctuality, so when she didn't come over for lunch, Sally knew something was wrong.

If you're late, I won't wait, she'd always say in her singsong voice.

"What I wouldn't give to hear your voice now," I said through my tears. I took her hand in mine and sat in the chair close to the bed. "I love you, Gram." I kissed her hand and rested my cheek on it.

It must have been the toll the day had taken, because I didn't realize I had fallen asleep. I woke to the loud beeping of the monitors and felt the weight of something on my head. My grandmother had put her hand on my head while I was asleep. The sound of feet approaching quickly took me out of my slumber-like trance.

"Code blue!" I heard one of the nurses cry out. She looked at me and took my arm. "Miss, you'll have to leave, now. I'll let you know something as soon as I can, I promise." She escorted me gently out of the area.

I looked back at my grandmother and saw them trying to revive her. I knew they wouldn't be able to. This is what she'd wanted since the day my mother left her. I was incapable of stopping it. No one should have to bury a child. I can't even imagine what that felt like. I couldn't fathom living day to day after losing my child. Apparently Gram couldn't either, and after eleven years to the day, she finally got her wish.

I mutely walked into the waiting room waiting to hear the news that I already knew in my heart.

My grandma was gone.

"We did everything we could for her. I'm sorry," the doctor finished as I stared into his sympathetic eyes.

"I know you did. I'm just glad I got to see her one last time," I said quietly, almost to myself.

He put his hand on my shoulder, gave it a light squeeze, and then quietly walked away. I sat back down and stared dumbly at the walls of the waiting room.

Alone.


Chapter Thirty-Two

I hung up the phone after speaking with the funeral director at Scott's Funeral Home. He was such a nice man. I wondered if I could ever do that kind of work. It took a very special person to run a funeral home. They help us all say one final goodbye to the people we've loved in our lives. They make that last visit as painless as possible. I really admired that.

"One last call to make and I'm out of here," I said to myself, pinching the bridge of my nose to ward off the migraine I knew was coming.

I picked up the phone and called my boss to let her know I was taking some time off. "Shannon? Hi, it's Kelly."

"Hello, Kelly. How are you?" she said cheerfully into the receiver.

"I'm not well, actually. My grandmother passed away yesterday, and I'm going to need some time off." I said as I fiddled with the paper on my desk, trying hard not to cry again.

"Oh, Kelly. I'm so sorry," she said with genuine regret.

"Thanks," I replied.

"You take whatever time you need. I'll have Brad watch over your market until you get back. Don't worry about anything, okay?"

"I'll do my best." I paused and took a breath. "Thanks, Shannon. I really appreciate it."

"You bet. Again, please know how sorry I am. When you get a chance, can you let me know where the services are? I'd like to send something."S

My eyes welled up at her kindness. "Thank you, Shannon. I'll send you an email before I leave today."

"You're at the office? Go home, Kelly. Whatever you're doing can wait until you get back." When I didn't respond, she repeated herself. "I mean it, Kelly. Go home. Please."

"I will," I acquiesced.

"Take care of yourself."

"You too, Shannon. Bye."

"Bye."

Hanging up the phone, I collected my belongings. I looked at the paper on which I'd been writing and sighed. "You'll never forget about her, so stop trying," I said to myself as I grabbed the piece of paper, crumpled it, and threw it towards the trashcan. I missed the can, but left it on the floor, not wanting to waste any more energy on it.

Or her.


*~*~*~*

I had fallen asleep and woke to feel my mother's touch on my head. She was stroking my hair as she sat next to me. She was humming a tune she used to sing to me when I was a child. It always had a calming effect on me, and today was no different.

I groggily looked into her loving eyes. "Must have fallen asleep. Sorry, about that."

"Oh, honey, don't apologize. You obviously needed it," she said as she continued to play with my hair. "You know, I've missed this... missed you."

I looked into her guilt-ridden eyes and realized that my hell had been out in the streets, while she'd never left hers. Not long ago I would've been happy to know she was hurting as badly as I had. Now, I wasn't so sure I'd want anyone to feel that way. I sighed in contentment. "Me too, Mama. Me, too."

I closed my eyes and just let her try to free the demons she'd been keeping inside herself for so long. I wasn't sure why I was so readily allowing her to touch me. I wasn't sure about anything at this point. All I knew was that I'd hurt the woman who I'd thought would spend the rest of my life with me.

Hurt her badly.

I hadn't left a message when I called her cell phone. In hindsight, I wished I had. My heart began to race, not knowing how much time had passed since I'd heard her voice. "What time is it, Mama?"

"You slept through to tomorrow, honey. It's a little after ten."

I sat up abruptly and noticed that I was in the clothes I'd changed into, but under my covers.

My mom put a calming hand on my shoulder. "When you didn't come back down last night, I came in and found you asleep on top of your bed. I maneuvered you under the covers, but obviously you were too wiped out to remember," she explained.

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. I'd never slept so long before. "I have to find Kelly, Mom, I do. I said some awful things to her. Things I shouldn't have ever said, least of all yesterday."

"What was yesterday?" she asked.

"The anniversary of her mother's death," I said regretfully.

"I see," she said, without commenting further.

"Would you mind if I borrowed the car? I'm sure she's at the office. I won't be long, I promise."

"On one condition," she started to negotiate.

"Yes?"

"You take a shower and come downstairs to eat some breakfast. You haven't had an ounce of food since God knows when. I might not have seen you in the last few years, but I sure remember how you can get if you haven't eaten," she smiled playfully.

"You've got a deal." I smiled at her as she stood to leave me to shower. "Mom?" She turned to look at me with a questioning glance. "Thank you for coming to get me yesterday. It meant a lot to me." I could feel the emotions building again as my eyes teared up.

"You don't have to thank me, sweetie," she almost whispered, then looked me in the eye. "Thank you for calling me. That meant the world to me."

I stood up and did something I hadn't done in five years. "Can I hold you?" I asked in a very childlike voice.

She stretched out her arms and I fell into them desperately, hugging my mother for all I was worth. She wrapped her arms around me very tightly. I could feel her heartbeat racing right along with my own. I had truly missed this feeling. I wasn't going to let it go for anything in the world.

We parted and had watery smiles for each other. She squeezed my forearm and walked out into the hallway, closing my door on her way out.


*~*~*~*

I showered, dressed, and ate before my mother gave me the keys to my father's old BMW. I wondered why she hadn't sold it, but she said she liked the car too much to get rid of it. Looking up at the convertible top, I couldn't have agreed with her more. I backed out of the driveway and made my way towards Saks. I wasn't sure what kind of reception I was going to get, but I was going to do my damndest to let her know how sorry I was. I didn't care if she punched me square in the face. She was going to hear me out.

I pulled into a parking spot on Lawrence and went into ForOthers. I entered and saw Miriam at her desk. "Hi, Miriam," I said as she looked up from her paperwork.

"Hey, stranger. How are things going for you? Any better?"

"Well, I've had the most traumatic last few days. I know I didn't really tell you much when I called, but I was really out of it."

"You wanna talk about it?" she asked.

"Well, I do, but I can't at the moment. I came in here to see if you guys can do without me for a little while. I really need some time off."

Miriam looked at me with wonder. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes. Just say you'll give me this time, and I'll be okay in a couple of weeks."

"You know I wouldn't deny you anything. From the looks of you, something big must have happened."

Looking down, I noticed the clothes I was wearing. Designer clothing. Something I'd not worn in a long time. "Yeah, I stayed at my mom's last night."

Her eyes got wide. "You're kidding! Susan, that's great!" she cried. "Is everything going okay?"

"Well, it's going to take a lot more time for us, but Mom and I have always had a closeness that even our past couldn't take away. I did find out my father died in January, though."

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry," she started to say and I raised my hand to stop her.

"Don't be sorry. The only thing you should feel for my father is pity... I won't miss him."

I'll miss the man who used to be my daddy.

Looking down at my boots, I realized I'd been here longer than I wanted to be. I had to get to Kelly. "Hey, I really have to get going. Thank you for the time off. I really do appreciate it."

Miriam came from around her desk and enveloped me in a hug. "You're welcome, honey. You come back when you're up to it. We'll be here." She smiled as she pulled away from me.

"See you later," I said, and left the building.

I walked down the sidewalk towards the Saks building. My stomach was in such knots, I thought I was going to throw up. Taking a deep breath, I walked into the store, immediately spotting Kelly's favorite employee, Therese, behind a counter sorting ties. She looked up and saw me and gave me a very friendly smile.

"Hi, Therese. I was looking for Kelly. Is she in?"

"Mmm... I haven't seen her in a while. You can go back and check, though. She looked pretty beat, I know seeing you will cheer her up." She winked at me.

I challenged her knowledge of our relationship. "It will, huh?"

She rose right to the challenge and knocked me on my ass. "I was there, you know," she said, chuckling. My face instantly blushed remembering the kiss I had given her on a very live newscast. "Don't worry about it. You guys look good together."

"Thanks, Therese." Now I knew why Kelly liked her so much. I walked towards Kelly's office and found the door closed. I knocked after a few moments of trying to calm my nerves. Hearing no response, I knocked again. I finally grabbed the doorknob and found it unlocked.

"Kelly?" I said as I entered the office. There was no sign of her or her belongings. Obviously, she had left for the day. I turned to leave, and a balled up piece of paper caught my eye. Instinctively, I picked it up to throw it into the trashcan, when I saw my name written on it. Curiosity got the best of me, and I carefully uncrumpled the piece of paper. I saw my name written a few times on the page, but what I also found shattered my heart.

Untitled

I'm looking in a mirror
Where a window used to be
Instead of looking outside
All I see is me
I stare at my reflection
And I begin to cry
What used to give me inspiration
Won't look me in the eye

How did this change abruptly
I begin to question now
One day I'm feeling more than loved
Today I wonder how
I'm trapped inside my anguish
It's trapped inside itself
I know I can't endure more pain
Release me from myself!

Please hear me as I whisper
Please hear me when I pray
Please free me from this hellish ache
That fills me now today
I've plunged into this new abyss
That plagues me with despair
Erase this fragrant memory of
The sunshine in her hair.

As the tears rolled down my face, I was startled by Therese's reappearance. "You find her?"

Wiping my eyes, I folded the piece of paper up and put it in my pants pocket. "No, I think she's gone for the day."

"Was the door unlocked?" I nodded. "Well, we should lock it when you leave, because she would freak if she realized she left her office open all night."

"Good idea." I motioned her towards the door. "I'm done, we can go."

"All right. If I see her, I'll tell her you were looking for her."

"Thanks."

Therese locked the door handle and pulled the door closed. "You guys have plans for New Years?"

That question brought incredible sadness to my heart. "I don't know yet. Haven't really talked about it."

"Well, if I don't see you, have a happy New Year."

"You, too." I waved at her as I tried to exit the store nonchalantly. I ran to the car and got in and just stared out into the street. I pulled Kelly's poem from my pocket and reread it three more times.

God, she's devastated. I have to find her.

I turned over the engine and put it in drive. If she wasn't home when I arrived, then I was going to wait for her.

All night if I had to.


Chapter Thirty-Three

I saw a black BMW convertible in my driveway as I drove closer to my house. I had a feeling it was Susan. I had so much going on in my head, I wasn't sure what I would say at this point. I really didn't want to see her, even though I really wanted to see her.

How's that for a paradox?

As I drove into my driveway, the driver of the BMW opened the door of their car. It was in fact, Susan.

"Dammit," I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

Susan looked up at me and waved with a small smile on her face. The headlights of my car were the only things to highlight her expression. I hit my garage door opener without acknowledging her wave. As the door slowly opened, I felt her eyes burning me with the fierceness of her stare. I used every Jedi mind trick in the book not to look at her.

And failed.

Seeing her questioning brown eyes, I knew it was going to be a much longer night than I'd bargained for. I just wanted to sleep. I'd met Sally at her apartment earlier in the evening.


*~*~*~*

Kelly pulled up to her grandmother's building and parked the car in her space. Connie's space was always empty since she never owned a car. She much preferred public transportation. Somehow Kelly didn't blame her.

She buzzed Sally's apartment and her grandmother's friend met her at the door. Sally Jenkins was a forty-something woman with short, deep red hair and beautiful green eyes. Her small frame was filled up completely. Kelly's grandma had always tried to get her to lose some of that weight. Said she didn't want to lose her to a "heart attack or some such nonsense." Sally was the only one Kelly knew of that she'd connected with since she lived there. Her grandma and Sally had been friends for at least six or seven years. She had a softness and warmth about her that always made Kelly smile.

"Hi, Kel." She leaned closer and hugged Kelly tightly in the foyer.

"Hey, Sally. Thank you so much for everything you did for her. She loved you very much," Kelly said as she held her.

"You are very welcome. Connie was a sweetheart, and I'll never forget her. She brought such color into my life," Sally continued, as they walked towards her residence. "She had a story to tell for everything."

Kelly smiled in remembrance. My grandma always did have a way with words. I remember having a hard time in History class. I couldn't remember what happened during what wars and who signed what. She would somehow turn a situation around and put it into the present and use names and places I knew, just so I'd understand it better. God, I'm going to miss her. She turned her focus back to Sally.

"That she did, Kelly." Sally motioned for Kelly to enter her place when she opened the door. The taller woman walked into Sally's living room and took a brief glance around. It was quite charming. There were lots of knick-knacks and family pictures throughout the room. "You know, I don't remember if I've ever been here," Kelly commented.

"Mmm..." Sally thought for a moment. "I think you have, but it was a long time ago. Probably when I first moved in if I recall correctly."

Kelly nodded her agreement as Sally walked into her kitchen area. "Would you like some coffee or tea or something?" she asked politely.

"Just some water would be great," Kelly answered.

"You got it." She grabbed a glass out of her cabinet and filled it with water from the dispenser against the refrigerator. "Best damn thing I ever bought. I hate tap water from this place. Tastes like you're sucking on a nail." She handed a thirsty Kelly the glass.

"Well, that can't be good," the auburn-haired woman said with a grin, taking a sip from the glass.

Kelly stared at the floor, not knowing quite what to say. They sat in silence for a few moments, and then Sally asked, "Would you like to go to her place? I have a key." She pointed to her key ring hanging on a hook by the door.

Kelly's head instantly popped up. "Would you mind?"

"Not at all, honey." She went to the hook and grabbed the key ring. Kelly set the water glass down on the coffee table and walked over to her, then Sally handed her the key. "You go. I'm sure you'd like some time alone in there."

Kelly leaned over to her and hugged her tightly. "I know why Gram always thought so much of you, Sally. Thank you." Kelly's eyes watered.

They separated and Sally's eyes were full of tears as well. "She was like my own grandmother. I never had one of my own, but I was honored to have her step in. I know how sad she was since losing your mother. I don't think she ever bounced back from that." She raked her fingers through her short hair. "She talked about your mom all the time. Losing her killed something inside of her. I wish I would have known her before she got so sad."

"So do I, Sally. It feels like we knew two different women. I knew her before Mom died, and you knew the woman she became afterwards." Kelly stood and pondered that thought for a bit until she felt Sally's hand on her arm. Kelly looked into wet, caring eyes, and fell into her arms again and wept.

Sally rubbed her back and head, whispering sweet words. "It's okay, honey. Let it out." Kelly cried for a long while as she held tighter to Sally. The tears felt like they wouldn't stop. She felt Sally crying right along with her. They'd both suffered a great loss in their lives, so Kelly let her have her tears, too. Kelly was first to pull away and begin to wipe her eyes. My heart is completely broken. I am amazed that I have blood flowing through me at all. Kelly thought.

Kelly fiddled with the key ring she'd been given. "I'm gonna go next door now, if that's okay."

Sally nodded. "You go and spend whatever time you need to there. I'll be right here if you need me."

Kelly leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Thanks, and if it gets too late, I'll just give the key back to you tomorrow."

"Okay, honey. Take care."

"You, too."

She walked out of Sally's place and down the hall to her grandmother's. Kelly took a deep breath and put the key in the lock. Turning the doorknob and opening the door, her grandma's scent instantly greeted her. She had that scent Kelly thought everyone's grandmother would have. The smells combined from the cooking, cleaning, and fragrant plants but with every window nailed tightly shut to ward off any unforeseen chill. The images of her doing all of those things made Kelly smile. She refused to let anyone do anything for her. "As long as I'm able to walk, I'm able to clean my own damn house!" Kelly heard the memory in her head as if she were standing right next to her grandmother. I never offered to get her a cleaning lady again.

Kelly clicked on the light switch and looked around her grandmother's home. She noticed nothing out of place from the last time she was there. All of her pictures were still on the windowsills; all of her planters were hanging from the ceiling. Everything that was her grandma was right there in that apartment. She walked towards the couch and sat down and leaned her head back against the cushions. She sighed quietly as the tears began to cascade down her face again.

"Oh, Gram, I'm gonna miss you so much." She felt her chest grow tight and then fill with extreme warmth. Kelly smiled through her tears, feeling the hug that was sent to her. Whether it was from her grandma or her mother, she'd never know. She absolutely knew that they were together again.

And they were happy.

"One day we'll all be together again. You can count on that."

She leaned forward and rested her head in her hands and continued to cry. Kelly knew it would take a while before that urge would go away. She welcomed the cleansing. She rested her head in her hands for several moments, trying to collect herself. Kelly knew her grandma was in a better place now. She was with the daughter she could never say good-bye to. That knowledge alone helped her greatly.

As she sat there feeling the acceptance of her passing, Kelly's mind once again went to Susan. "What is going to happen with her? I know I love her, but she obviously doesn't know how she truly feels towards me. Otherwise, how could she have said all those things to me? They say that people say things in anger that they don't really mean. Well, those feelings came from somewhere, so there had to be an ounce of some truth in there. God, if she had all of that bottled up inside her, do I even want to know the stuff she didn't say? God, I hate mind games."

She looked at her watch and noticed it was almost ten. She was so tired and only wanted to go to sleep. She rubbed her eyes and took another look around. She knew the next time she came there she'd be cleaning the place out. I want one more memory of the way it used to be.

Kelly rose from the couch and made her way towards the door. "I'll be back, Gram," she said as she opened the door and walked into the hallway. She put the key in the lock and secured the deadbolt. As she walked down the hall towards Sally's place, Kelly noticed the light that was under the door had gone out. Sensing she'd gone to bed, Kelly kept walking until she reached her car. This night was almost over and she could almost feel the sheets of her bed on her skin.

Kelly shivered in anticipation.


*~*~*~*

Pulling into the garage, I got out of my car. I turned towards the driveway to find Susan waiting patiently for me by her car. Taking a deep breath, I walked over to her.

"Been waiting long?" I asked, sounding a bit harsher than I had intended.

"A little while," she said, leaning against the car. Somehow I didn't believe her.

I looked at her and the car. "Yours?"

"My father's, actually. My mother didn't want to part with it," she explained.

"What do you want, Susan?" I asked, wanting to cut to the chase. I was fucking tired and I had no idea what was in store for me with her here.

"I want to talk, Kelly," she started.

"What, like yesterday? I'm not up for another shouting match with you. I'm tired and the past 36 hours have been beyond shitty, so if you don't mind, I'd like to go inside my house and go to bed. Go home, Susan." I started to walk past Susan and she grabbed my arm. I didn't turn around to face her, but I heard her voice behind me.

"Home? I don't even know where that is anymore. So much has happened to me, even in the last couple days!"

"I suppose that's my fault, too?"

"Please, Kelly. I don't want to fight. I want to apologize for my horrific behavior yesterday." At this admission I turned around and looked into sad, guilt-ridden brown eyes. "I went to find you today at your office, but you had left already," she continued without releasing my arm.

"Yeah, I had some things to deal with today." I didn't offer anything about my grandma. I felt mistrust for Susan right now, and I knew I couldn't share anything too personal at the moment.

"Kelly, please talk to me. I know I was out of control. I didn't mean the things I said to you. I swear to God, I didn't." I could feel my teeth begin to chatter and my legs were feeling very cold.

"So, you're sorry. Well, I'm freezing. Now that we've established that, good night." I tried to pull free from Susan and go inside, but she wouldn't release me. I was unable to listen to her words tonight. All I heard were the words she'd shouted the day before. The anger that I'd felt yesterday was still very fresh in my heart. "Susan, I really don't want to get into this right now. Let me go."

Her eyes pleaded with mine to believe her words. "I can't," she choked out. "Kelly, I love you!"

"You sure have a fucked up way of showing it." I pulled my arm free. "Now if you don't mind, this civic minded person wants to get inside her civic house and sleep in her civic bed. Alone."

With those words, Susan crumbled to her knees and began to weep. She looked up at me with tear-stained cheeks and begged me to listen. "Kelly, I'm so sorry! I freaked out at seeing my dad's grave. I didn't know what I was saying. Please... you... you have to know that! I can't lose you! Please don't leave me!" she cried out between sobs. My resolve was shattering as I listened to her wailing. "I love you," she wept again.

I felt a knot in my stomach and tried to walk away, leaving her in the same anguish I felt yesterday.

But I couldn't.

The tears rolled down my cheeks before I could stop them and my arms reached out to pick Susan off the ground. She saw my arms open and she lunged right into them, clinging to me like a lifeline. She was trembling terribly. Her sobs were long and heartbreaking. Holding her close to me, I kissed the top of her head; her hair still smelled so damn good. I closed my tear-filled eyes and wanted to believe her. I knew she hadn't meant those things she'd said. She was filled with all kinds of raw emotions that she was unable to deal with. Above everything else, I knew deep down she was grieving for a man that had died long before his heart attack.

I knew that feeling all too well.

"It's okay, baby. I'm right here," I whispered in her ear. "Come on, let's go inside." I felt her nod into my chest, but she didn't let go. We walked clumsily through my garage and into my house. I closed the garage and the door leading into the house. Mattie met us with a happily wagging tail.

Susan turned in my arms and looked down. "Hey, sweetie." She reached down and petted my pup, much to Mattie's delight. We walked into the family room and sat on the couch. Her hold on me didn't slacken at all, and I relished the feel of her in my arms again. I had missed holding her like this. I knew we had a long night ahead of us, but the outcome was a lot more appealing to me.

A lot more appealing.


Chapter Thirty-Four

Kelly's arms were so warm around me. I never thought I'd be here again. I just hoped she could forgive me. Holding her tightly, I continued to cry into her chest. She held me close and rubbed my neck and arms. She was such a loving woman.

How could I have said that she was doing this out of some sort of duty? How could I have even thought that?

I knew we were in for a long talk tonight. I just hoped that she was up for it. I had so much apologizing to do. I really prayed that we could work through this.

Pulling back from Kelly's embrace, I looked into her watery eyes. "Thank you, Kelly. Thank you for talking to me. I know seeing me probably wasn't first on your list for the night."

She looked down at me as the tears continued to fall down her beautifully sculpted face. "No, it wasn't. I really wasn't expecting you at all." Silence came between us for a few moments. "Now that you're here, we do have a lot to talk about."

"Yeah, we do," I agreed. "Please, if you'll allow me to go first?"

Kelly nodded as we pulled apart from each other. We turned on the couch to sit sideways in order to have a clear view of each other. Taking her hands in mine, I hoped she believed the words that would soon come from my heart.

"First, you need to know how sorry I am for what I said. I know you didn't lure me into your clutches or your bed only to procure a medal from the mayor. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it. When I saw my father's gravestone, I got so angry." I squeezed her hands as I spoke. "I got angry because I will never be able to resolve anything with him now. He'll never know what happened to me because of his bigotry. He'll never know the hell he put my mom through, either."

"But what did that have to do with me? Was it that you were still angry about me meeting with your mother?" Kelly asked softly.

"I guess so. I was angry that you didn't tell me she called you. You lied to me about it to boot. I don't know if I was ready to see my parents, but I would've reacted better if I'd had a say in the matter. You went behind my back to decide MY future with MY parents. That was wrong," I said sternly, looking into her eyes.

Her head bowed looking at our hands and then she looked back at me. "And I apologized for that over and over. I had NO idea your mom was going to call me. I can't be held responsible for her seeing us on the news, Susan."

Kelly's words were getting heated. I knew I needed to calm the waters a bit if I wanted to get anywhere tonight. "I know that, honey, I really do. I just wish you would've told me about it, so I could've prepared myself. Seeing her in your office was the last thing I ever expected to encounter." Watching me wipe my eyes with the sleeve of my coat, Kelly reached behind her to give me some tissues from the end table. "Thank you," I said, blotting my eyes.

"I didn't expect her there, either. When I called her back, she asked to speak to me in person as opposed to talking on the phone. Believe me, had I known this was going to happen, I never would have agreed to it," Kelly explained more gently this time. "I know I should've told you. You don't know how sorry I am for that."

I sat and listened to her explain and tried to put myself in her shoes. Would I have said anything if our roles were reversed? Maybe not, knowing the angst I felt for them at the time. Maybe she was just trying to protect me. I mechanically slipped my coat off and rested it beside me on the couch.

"I see the engines going in your head, what are you thinking about?"

Smiling at Kelly, I replied, "I was just wondering what I would've done if I were you in that situation. After realizing how hostile I got from just talking about them, I think I would've done the same thing."

Kelly's eyes widened. "You would have?" she exclaimed incredulously.

"Yeah." I nodded. "Now that I've had the time to think about it, I know you were just trying to protect me. I know I overreacted. You were only being the middleman, and you would've told me about talking with her after you found out what she wanted. Right?" I questioned.

"Absolutely! You know I wouldn't have sent you to the front lines without a damn good weapon." She smiled softly at me melting my heart once again.

I smiled gently back at her. "I know that now. I was just really freaked out, for lack of a better phrase. When you and I went to my mother's house the other day, it was like I was watching everything through someone else's eyes. It was so surreal for me to be there again, a place I wasn't welcomed in for five years! Once I was seated in my living room and my mom told me how unhappy her life was because of my father, I realized I wasn't the only one he'd hurt. I started to actually feel for her again; and it was something other than hate." Kelly rubbed my wrists gently with her thumbs as I began to recap the last few days.

Taking a deep breath, I felt the pain of the next thoughts through my head. "Then she told me he was gone. My brain went dead, Kel. I was so angry that I couldn't even think straight. I had to get out of there before I blew a gasket. As soon as I started running, I knew everything would be different. It's like this coldness came over me. I was so pissed that he was dead!" Kelly's eyebrows rose with my voice. "I know it sounds kind of whacked, but I wanted him to know what he'd done to us." I paused to collect myself before I started crying again. "He needed to know the monster he had become; and that he was no longer the man I used to call Daddy." My voice dropped in register with my last remark.

Kelly continued to stroke my wrists with her thumbs. She held an extreme sadness in her expression. I knew she was hurting for me, for herself, and for us. "Kelly, I'm sorry about yesterday. I know what a difficult day that must have been for you. It took me a while to put together that it was the anniversary of your mother's death. I felt like the worst person on the planet once I saw her stone."

Her eyes met mine for a moment. "You saw her stone?"

"Yeah. I went looking for you after you ran away. I must have walked around that cemetery forever before I found a caretaker to show me your mom's plot. I had hoped you would be there, but you weren't. I saw that the grass was disturbed, so I had a feeling you'd been there before me."

"Yeah, I was there." Kelly looked like she was fighting with something before she continued. "I um... I got a call that uh... made me leave." She paused again and started crying.

My heart flooded with sadness and I threw my arms around her. "It's okay, sweetheart. Whatever it is, we'll get through it," I soothed as I stroked her back. "I'm never leaving you, Kelly. I promise."

She pulled back from me abruptly. "You can't make that promise, Susan. You can't! Death takes whomever it Goddamn wants to, whenever it wants to! Don't tell me you won't leave me; you don't know that for certain. No one does." Her voice sounded so haunted, it scared me.

I knew her pain had to stem from the call she'd gotten. "Kelly, what happened? Who called you?"

Kelly turned and rested her back against the cushions of the couch and stared off into space. I gave her space to get out whatever it was she needed to tell me.

"The saddest part about the call is that I'm not sure if I can tell you about it." My eyes registered shock, I'm sure. I knew they felt about a mile wide. She kept her eyes straight ahead, but her tears continued to fall endlessly. "What happened yesterday hurt me more than I can tell you. I hadn't had anyone, anyone that mattered, in my life for a long time. I also hadn't trusted anyone with my heart until you. You shattered it yesterday, Susan. You may have hurt badly, but you crossed a line. You said things to me I never thought I'd hear. Especially not from you." Kelly turned to face me. "You turned the love we shared into something dirty and calculated. You didn't even think about the effect you might have had as you ripped my heart out, did you? I was just someone to wipe your soddened boots on, wasn't I? Well, guess what? I will not be a doormat for anyone, Susan, not even you."

Staring through my tears at Kelly, I saw the hurt in her eyes. A hurt that I had put there. Her heart was filled with such pain, I wasn't sure if there was any room in it for forgiveness. "Can you ever forgive me, Kelly? If I could change everything that happened yesterday, I would. I'd do everything differently. I swear to God, Kelly! I can't apologize enough for the things I said. All I can promise you is that I won't treat you that way again. It wasn't your fault that my father kicked me out. It wasn't your fault that he died without knowing how I felt. It wasn't your fault that I hadn't tried to see him before now. None of that was your fault, yet I treated you as if you were him. I wanted to hurt him, but you were the one who was there. So I hurt you instead. I'll never forgive myself for the way I treated you, Kelly. I acted without thinking, and I'm truly, truly sorry for that. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Kelly blinked away her tears and rested her head against the cushions again, sighing deeply. "I know."

We sat in silence for several minutes, not quite knowing what to say. A whimper from Mattie got my attention and I got up to let her out. Kelly gave my hand a light squeeze as I passed her to open the back door for the dog.

"Come on girl, let's get you outside." I opened the door and let her out. My arms wrapped around my upper body as I watched Mattie run around the backyard. For several moments her grace calmed me.

"My grandma died," I heard the small voice say behind me.

I turned around slowly, not believing I'd heard correctly. Looking at Kelly's forlorn face, I knew I'd not misheard her. "Oh, my God, sweetie. When?" I immediately was kneeling before her, taking her hands into my own.

"Yesterday," she whispered hoarsely.

I drew her to me and pulled her into a strong embrace. "I'm so sorry, honey. I'm so, so sorry," I whispered to her over and over as she cried out her grief. I couldn't believe this was happening to her.

And on the same day as her mother. God, how awful.

Kelly clung to me; fresh sobs continued to come from within her. I knew she was crumbling inside and could do nothing about it. I held her for a long time, waiting for her spasms to lessen. When they finally did, I pulled slowly from our embrace and peppered her face with tiny, loving kisses.

"I can't say it enough. I'm so sorry about your grandmother."

She looked at me with watery eyes and forced a pained smile, "I really wanted her to meet you."

I stroked her cheek with the back of my knuckles. "She knows me now, honey."

"I suppose. It's just not quite the same, you know?" Kelly sounded like such a young child as she spoke.

"I do, sweetie, I do." I looked at her, my eyes trying to convey the love I had for her.

"I love you," she said before she embraced me again.

My heart skipped several beats, knowing how hard that has been for her. "I love you, too, Kel. More than I can ever say."

She pulled away from our embrace and cupped my face gently with her hands. Her eyes locked on mine with such intensity I thought I would combust. Kelly's lips devoured mine before I knew what was happening. Her kiss was demanding and strong. Her tongue bathed my own with dominating strokes. I knew she was looking for a connection. I needed this like I needed air. We needed this so we could believe in us again.

Rising from my kneeling position without breaking contact, I climbed into Kelly's lap. She grasped onto me with zealous passion. Her fervor excited me incredibly. I returned her heated kisses tenfold. She rolled us into a laying position, peeling her coat off as we sunk into each other. More articles of clothing were shed from us both. I couldn't get close enough to Kelly. I was bursting with such desire, I felt faint. I wanted to feel her skin against my own. Once we stripped off our clothing and kicked off our shoes, we began an age-old rhythm of love and passion.

I heard Kelly groaning in my ear while she moved against me. The sounds she was making, made my toes curl instantly. Her thigh moved deliberately between my legs, and I moved mine between hers. Our movements were rough, synchronized, and incredibly hot. Her hand found my left nipple and began to tug and twist it between her thumb and forefinger. I was so close, but I didn't want to come until Kelly was ready.

I grabbed onto her hips to urge her to move faster against me. I wanted to feel all of her passion. I needed all of it. She looked down into my eyes and I could tell she was just about there. We drove into each other, desperately seeking release. The sweat began to drip onto me from Kelly's shoulders and arms.

"Come on, sweetie, I know you're there," I said to her seductively. "I'm right there with you." I watched as her face began to contort from the pleasure racing through her. "That's right, honey. Let go. Let me feel you."

"Oh, fuck..." Kelly whimpered as she thrust blindly into me. We crested together and screamed out our gratification, continuing to move until the spasms left our bodies. Her forehead rested on my shoulder as she kissed me softly around my collarbone and breast. "I love you so much, baby."

I held tightly to Kelly so she wouldn't see my tears again. We'd cried way too much this night already. "I love you. No more fighting, I promise," I managed to say as I recovered from my intense orgasm. "I hate feeling like that."

"Me, too." I could feel her body slow down as our breathing came back to normal.

Our lips came together once again; this time was gentler and much softer. We parted and stared into each other's eyes until a soft bark was heard from the outside porch. Kelly buried her head into my chest and began to chuckle. She kissed me again and started to get up.

"I'll get her." She pulled herself off of me and walked her beautifully naked body to the back door. Mattie came bounding inside, shaking her coat free of the frozen rain that had begun to fall. Kelly shrieked and jumped away as the icy droplets hit her exposed skin.

Sitting up, I chuckled as I watched the interaction between human and canine. They were a precious duo, and I hoped to see more of them on a daily basis. I had forgotten how long 24 hours could be. I knew I would do anything to prevent a separation from Kelly. Once was enough for my lifetime.

Kelly walked over to the couch and gathered our clothing. "Do you think we could continue this upstairs?"

That was music to my ears. "Absolutely. I need to call my mother first and let her know I'll be staying here." I paused to clarify Kelly's offer. "I am staying the night, yes?"

She leaned over me and gave me a soul filled kiss. "Definitely."

I could feel the goose bumps start to dance all over my body. "Let me make that call before you make me forget."

"Forget what?" she asked, as she pinned me to the couch with another searing kiss.

"Mmmm..." I sank into her kiss, then pushed her back when I realized I'd been had. "Go on. I'll meet you upstairs," I said breathlessly.

She pecked my lips again and smiled saucily at me. "I'll be waiting."

I watched the sway of her gorgeous ass until she walked out of sight. "Jesus," I breathed out. I picked up the phone and called my mother. I knew she'd answer. I'd called from Kelly's driveway earlier telling her the situation.

After letting my mom know my whereabouts, I shut off the lights and went upstairs to make up with my girlfriend. I was compelled to show her exactly how much I had missed her. It was going to take some convincing on my part.

I had a feeling she was going to like my version of reparations.


Chapter Thirty-Five

As I rested my head on Kelly's chest and listened to the slow, steady beating of her heart, I realized how close we had come to losing this. All of this. But after last night, I knew we'd be all right. Okay, very all right. We were great together, that was for sure. Much better than being apart. Even though we'd only been together a few weeks, I knew that neither of us had ever had anything as special before. Our connection was one that I knew I wouldn't find with anyone else. We were soul mates, nothing less. It would take a force greater than either one of us to pull us apart. I felt very safe knowing that.

A smile came to my face as I felt Kelly stir beneath me. Her hand unconsciously started to rub my head in slow circles sending gooseflesh down my body. A simple touch, an act of tenderness, is what made me love Kelly so much. She did those things, and so much more, without even realizing she's done them. I was such a fool. Never again would I risk losing her... never ever again.

"What are you thinking?" I heard her hoarsely ask.

"I'm thinking about how lucky we are to have this again." I smiled and inhaled Kelly's scent from the blankets wrapped around us.

Her arms drew me even closer to her. I felt her kiss the top of my head. "Thank you for coming over last night."

"You're welcome."

Not speaking, we lay together for several moments simply enjoying the feel of each other. In point of fact, we hadn't spoken much after we had come upstairs the night before, either. Kelly had given me far better things to do with my mouth. I smiled at the memory of our lovemaking, and the gooseflesh rose again at my recollection.

"Are you cold?" Kelly asked, gathering more of the blanket around us.

I shook my head against her chest. "No, just thinking about last night. It was fantastic, Kelly. I don't know about you, but I've never felt like that before."

I felt Kelly's chuckle rumble through her chest, and she kissed my head once more. "No, I can honestly agree that no one has ever made me feel what I felt last night."

Turning to look up at her, I locked on to her gentle eyes. Our lips met softly as she caressed my cheek with her thumb. As we drew apart, she stared into my eyes and I felt whole once more. She smiled softly and pulled me down onto her chest, cushioning my head with her breast. Her tender touches against my back and shoulders made me sigh with contentment. I felt my body relax fully into hers, and knew I'd be asleep within minutes. It was still early; we still had a few hours to kill.


*~*~*~*

By the time Susan pulled out of my driveway, my heart felt so much lighter. The weight of the world didn't feel so heavy anymore. I still had my grandmother's funeral ahead of me, but with Susan at my side, I felt like I could get through anything.

I was happy to hear that she and her mother were doing so well. We both knew there was a lot that needed to be discussed and worked out, but there was something that wasn't there before... hope. We had hope. It was a word that had been so foreign to me for such a long time. It's in my vocabulary once again, and I truly believe it will remain there. I still had a bone to pick with God about some things, but all in all, having hope alone was a miracle to me.

As I sat on my couch flipping through channels on TV, I marveled at how much we'd shared in the few weeks we'd known each other. It felt like we'd been together for years. I can't say that about many people. Even though we'd hurt each other, there was a bond between us that couldn't be broken.

Tomorrow was New Year's Eve. A new year. I needed a new year, because this one was really starting to wear on me.

Big time.


*~*~*~*

Mom was sitting on the couch waiting for me as I entered the family room. She smiled at me, and I couldn't help but return the gesture.

"I take it things are okay between you two?" she asked.

Not hiding my excitement, I plopped onto the seat next to hers and beamed. "We're going to be just fine, Mom. We have such a strong connection it would take hell freezing over to pull us apart."

She reached for my hand and I let her take it. "I'm so happy for you, sweetie." The look on my face must have mirrored my doubt, because she was quick to add, "I truly mean that."

Looking into her eyes, I saw nothing but sincerity. "Thank you."

We exchanged smiles and I leaned into her, resting my head on her shoulder. She reached up and stroked my hair. I sighed in response. "I've missed you so much, Mom. I really hope this is a new beginning for us. I missed having my best friend around."

I felt my mom's breathing change and knew I'd struck a chord. Turning my head, I noticed a tear rolling down her cheek.

Brushing it away, she said, "Susan, if I have to pay with my soul in the afterlife, I will do everything in my power to make it right between us. I won't lose you again, to anyone." She slid her arm around me and held me tightly.

After several moments, I pulled back and looked at my mother. For the first time, really looked at her. She'd aged so much in five years. Wondering what she'd been up to, I voiced my question aloud. "So tell me, what have you been up to while I've been away? I mean, besides losing Daddy."

Her face registered a brief moment of pain, but changed into a sad smile. "After your father passed away, I tried to live the life I'd denied myself for so long. I took an art class, did some sculpting, and whatnot. It gave me some of the peace I'd been looking for."

"Mom, that's great. I'm so glad that helped."

She smiled in agreement. "It did. When he died, all the chains melted away and I was free to do what I wanted. I had freedom! For the longest time I'd had no idea what that was. Now I just take things day by day. If I feel the need to do something, then I do it. If I want to laze around all day, then by God, I do it," she said with a confidence that surprised me.

Her expression was one of deep warmth and love. "Finding you has been the greatest thing of all, though. I prayed that I'd find you again, but I'd lost hope of that long ago. Then I saw you and Kelly on the news, of all places. Sucking face, I might add," she teased and nudged me.

"Mom!" I cried, feeling a blush creep across my cheeks.

"What?" She raised her eyebrows in question. "Don't you kids call it that anymore?"

"It's not that, you just surprised me, is all."

She patted my shoulder and continued. "Anyway, after all of that, here we are; and I couldn't ask for anything more." She looked at me with such love in her eyes it made mine water. "Thank you for coming back to me."

Overflowing with emotion, I opted not to say anything, but rested my head again on her shoulder. I felt her breathing become more rapid and knew she had more to say. "What is it, Mom?"

"Will you tell me what it was like for you... out there? I want to know — I need to know."

I raised my head again and looked into her determined eyes. "It's not a pretty picture. Let me simply say I wouldn't wish that life on anyone and leave it at that, okay?"

"No!" she exclaimed, startling me a little. She took a deep breath and composed herself before speaking again. "No, it's not okay, Susan. It was my cowardly behavior that put you out there in the first place. I want to know what happened to my baby. Please, Susan, please tell me."

Seeing the sad but unwavering expression on her face, I knew there was no way I could satisfy her without telling her the truth. The whole truth. "Well, if you let me grab something to drink first, I'll tell you. It's going to be hard on me to relive some of that again."

"I'm so sorry..."

"I know, Mom, I know." I kissed the side of her head and walked into the kitchen that I knew so well. I grabbed a glass and filled it with water, then returned to my mom who hadn't moved from her place on the couch. Sitting back down and taking a deep breath, I began to tell my mother of the nightmare that had been my life.

A couple of hours and five glasses of water later, I had told my mother more than she could've possibly expected to hear. I truly doubt she had been prepared to learn what her little girl had had to do to survive. Sometimes, I still can't believe I'm here. There were many times I thought death was imminent, with me staring at its ugly face so many times I thought for sure I was next. But Carol had made sure my number was nowhere near up. And I had shared it all with my mother. Her tears never stopped from the time I started until at last I ran out of words. She went to the bathroom to wash her face and try to compose herself.

God bless you, Carol. I hope you know how much I miss you.

Mom returned a few moments later, looking a little less pale. "You feeling a little better?" I asked gently.

She nodded and sat quietly on the couch. "I had no idea people could live through things like that." She looked at me with respect and awe. "I'm so grateful you made it out of there alive and back to me." She shook her head over and over. "I can't believe I abandoned you to such a place. Could you ever forgive me?"

That was the million-dollar question. A few weeks earlier, I would've answered it quite negatively. Now, I wasn't eager to be mean, nor was I wanting to push the dagger deeper. I knew that she didn't have it in her to protect me back then and I also knew she was devastatingly sorry. The retelling of my tale probably hurt her more than I could imagine. What mother wants to hear about the hell she put her own child through? She deserved an honest answer. "I'll tell you this much, Mom... And I'm going to be completely honest with you."

"Okay," she said softly.

"If you'd asked me that question a while ago, I would've told you to go straight to hell." I watched as she flinched at my brutal honesty. "Now that I'm here with you, and have heard of your own hell that daddy so nicely provided, well, I can't feel that anger anymore. I will never forget what happened to me, because it's made me the woman I am right now... but I can forgive you, Mom. It just might take me a while. I don't want any secrets or pain between us anymore. I just want you to promise me one thing."

Her eyes met mine, waiting like a puppy, wanting to please me regardless of what I asked. "Anything, Susan."

"Promise me you'll never turn your back on me again." The tears rolled down my face as the truth of my own words hit my heart. "I couldn't bear to lose you again."

Mother reached across the empty cushion and grabbed onto me with a vise grip. "Oh, sweetheart, I promise you, I will never let anyone take you from me again. Nothing but death can take me from you. And even then, I'm not so sure," she sobbed into my shoulder as we rocked away our pain.

Having my mother hold me again gave me peace. A peace I never wanted to leave again. I pulled away and just looked at my mom for the longest time, remembering her from my childhood, and how happy we were in this house. I looked around the family room and felt more warmth spread through me. It was so beautiful here. It made me not want to return to my hole-in-the-wall apartment. Ever.

My mother looked at me with concern. "What is it, honey?" she said, her voice matching her expression.

"I was just thinking about how happy we were when I was a kid. This house is in all my memories of my youth until that awful day. I loved it here."

"Well, sweetie, you know you are welcome here anytime you want. You could even..." She stopped and looked away.

"What were you going to say, Mom? Remember, no more secrets, okay?"

She cleared her throat and clasped my hands. "What I was going to say was that you could move back here if you wanted to. I mean, I know we've only just begun to work everything out, but I think it would be great to have you here with me again."

My eyes teared up again as I listened to her heartfelt offer. "My lease isn't up for a few months yet, but if things continue like this, I would love to move back here with you."

"You just say the word, sweetheart. This home will always be yours."

"Thanks, Mom. That means the world to me." I reached over and hugged her tight.

We would've stayed like that longer, but the ringing of the phone startled us. She pulled slowly from me and reached for the cordless phone on the coffee table. Clearing her throat, she answered it.

"Hello?" She listened to the caller's voice and smiled. "Hi, Kelly... No, we're fine, just catching up... Yes, she's right here, hang on a moment." She passed the phone to me, and I couldn't help the excited grin that formed on my face.

"Hi, honey," I greeted.

"Hey, baby, how are things going with your mom?" she asked in a deliberately light tone.

"Things are fine... a little hard for Mom right now since she just heard an unabridged version of my time away from home." I gave my mom a comforting glance and grasped her hand.

"God, I'm sure that was hard for her to hear. I know just from the few things I've heard, how awful things were for you."

"Yeah, her pallor kind of scared me at first, but she washed her face and came back from the bathroom looking much better."

"That's good to hear. Listen, we haven't talked about this, but tomorrow is New Year's Eve. Would you and your mom like to have dinner with me to celebrate the New Year? I'm thinking of having Sally over, too."

"Sally?"

"I'm sorry, I guess I didn't mention her. She was my gram's neighbor and good friend. She found Gram... um... after her stroke." Her voice sounded like it was beginning to cloud with emotion. "So um... I got to thinking that maybe we could all use a bit of family right about now, and um..."

God, she's adorable!

"We'd love to!" I cut off her nervousness with my confident answer. I hadn't asked Mom, but I was sure she'd want to participate. "I think it's what we all need right about now," I mimicked her words.

"Are you making fun of me?" she teased.

"Absolutely not!" I feigned outrage.

"Good, then come to my place around five."

"What should we bring?"

"Just yourselves. You know how much I love to cook," she said with a smile in her voice.

"I do, and I remember how well you cook, too. I can't wait to see you." I said the last part in a whisper, watching my mother leave the room.

"I can't wait to see you, either."

"I miss you," I whispered again.

"How much?"

"Very much."

"Can I see you tonight?"

"Well, Mom and I aren't doing anything except chatting, maybe watching a movie or something. Why, what did you have planned?"

"Well —"

Hearing the doorbell ring, I cut her off. "Hang on a second, someone's at the door."

"Sure."

"Mom? You want me to get it?" I called to her. Not hearing an answer, I called out again, "Mom?"

"Susan, hang up the phone," I heard my mother say from the other room.

"Why?" Confused, I walked towards the front door, only to find Kelly holding the cell phone to her ear and my mother smiling back at me.

"Because it's a waste of my minutes when I can talk to you face to face," Kelly said, ending our phone connection.

Lunging at her and hugging her with enthusiasm, I said, "You think you're so funny."

"I know I am, but looks aren't everything," she said into my cheek.

I pulled back, staring at her like she had two heads. "You aren't the least bit funny looking, Kelly. I'll have you know I have excellent taste!" I mocked indignation, only to have her laugh at me.

Mom cleared her throat, pointing at the still open door. "Can I close this now? I'm not heating the neighborhood, you know."

Our faces flushed at her comment, and we both walked into the foyer of the house.

"Would you like to eat with us and maybe watch a movie?" Mom asked, smiling at Kelly.

"If I'm not imposing, I would love it." Kelly paused for a moment and looked back and forth between my mother and me. "I don't really want to be alone."

My mother reached up and lightly grasped Kelly's arm. "You can stay as long as you like. This is more company than I've had in a long time."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it." Kelly's eyes were red rimmed. She looked as if she had been crying.

"Are you okay, honey?"

She sighed deeply, and Mom took that as her cue to leave us alone. She smiled warmly at us and put out her hand for Kelly's coat. Kelly happily shrugged out of her coat and gave it to my mother to hang in the hall closet. Mom looked at us one last time and strolled into the kitchen.

I laced my fingers with hers and gestured with my head to the stairs. "Wanna go up to my room? Um... my old room?" I corrected.

"It will always be your room!" Mom shouted from the kitchen.

"Boy, the walls have ears!" I countered, hearing a chuckle from the other room. Looking seriously at Kelly, I said, "Come on, let's go talk upstairs. You can get a visual from the stories I've told you about this place."

Kelly nodded and followed me up the stairs. She paused to look at the family pictures on the walls, smiling at each one. "You were such a cute baby!" she cooed at my six-month-old picture.

"Were? Oh, the cruelty of some people," I said, pretending to be hurt. Grabbing her hand, I led her into my bedroom.

Looking around, Kelly's smile increased when she saw the twin beds I had spoken of. She sat down on my bed and bounced a little on the mattress. "So, this is the bed where it all happened, eh?" She winked at me when she realized I caught her Cindy reference.

"Yep, the very same. Jealous?" I wiggled my eyebrows at her.

"Of a memory? Not even close," she whispered, pulling me into her lap.

Humming softly with happiness, I accepted the tenderness Kelly was offering me. It was bliss to be in her arms. The arms around me tightened, and I could hear and feel her breathing pattern change. "Honey, what is it? I can tell from your eyes you've been crying. You don't hide your emotions well, sorry to say," I said softly.

Childlike, Kelly sniffled quietly and shrugged her shoulders. "I thought I did an okay job masking my feelings until recently. I'm breaking down in front of everyone these days!" I looked at her lost expression and waited for her to continue. "When I saw Sally yesterday, I totally broke down at her apartment. I don't cry in front of just anyone, Susan; but there I was in Sally's arms, crying like a little baby."

Putting my fingers gently on her lips, I began to convince her otherwise. "First of all, you are my baby; and I love that fact. Secondly, sweetheart, you just lost your grandma, for Christ's sake! I know how much she meant to you. If you weren't upset by this, I'd be more concerned about you. It's only natural to cry when you lose someone you love, especially on the anniversary of your mom's death. I mean, come on! There's only so much one person can take! I'd have lost it for sure!" I ran my fingers through her silky hair, calming her frazzledness. Her head rested on my breast while I continued to console her. "I'm sure Sally understood; she loved your grandma, right?" I felt her nod against my chest. "See? Don't worry about that stuff. You've heard the phrase, 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' right? Well, here it is again," I answered without waiting for her response.

Kelly's head came up and our eyes locked together. A small smile made its way to Kelly's lips. "I love you so much, baby. I hope you realize how much."

"I do, sweetie, I do." We hugged again and stayed that way for a few moments. "So, guess what? After talking with my mom, she said I could move back here whenever I wanted."

Our bodies separated enough for her to look at me squarely. "Are you ready for that?"

"Honestly, I think I am. I know in my heart that we'll be fine. And God knows this place is heaven compared to my apartment. But unfortunately, the lease isn't up for a few months, so, I guess I'll just stay there until it's up."

"Could you get out of it? I mean, if you wanted to."

Shaking my head, I replied, "I don't have the money. There is a penalty; and they keep my deposit if I break the lease. I'm not in a position to do that." She smiled goofily at me. "What?"

"Honey, if money is the only obstacle, don't you think we could get around that?"

"Meaning..."

"Meaning, if you wanted to come home, I'm sure your mother or I could figure out a way to get you here sooner. If that's what you wanted, of course," she reiterated.

"No way, Kelly. I don't want you doing anything like that. We're talking a couple thousand dollars. I'll stay there until it's up. I've been there a while already, it's fine."

"You deserve more than fine, baby." I started to protest, but she silenced me with her fingers on my mouth this time. "I'm just saying, it can be a reality if you want it to be. There... I'm done now," she said with a nod.

"As much as I appreciate the offer, I'll wait it out."

We grinned at each other until my stomach growled loudly. Kelly laughed heartily when she heard the sound. "I guess that answers my next question."

"Which was?"

"Are you getting hungry, because I'm famished and would love some dinner."

I smiled back at her. "Yes, I am hungry, thank you very much! Let's go harass Mom into ordering a pizza!" I said excitedly.

"You're on!"

We shared a tender kiss and made our way down to the kitchen.


Chapter Thirty-Six

Pulling the bread out of the oven, I checked the time on the wall clock, 4:50. "They should be here soon, Mattie!" I said in a singsong voice to my dog, who was happily thumping her tail on the linoleum floor.

I rested the pan on the stove to cool before I removed the loaf. Lasagna had always been one of my favorites, so I was hoping it would work for the rest of the clan. I placed the pasta in the warmer on the dining room table and looked out the snow-bedecked window. I was saddened that Sally had made other plans and couldn't come out tonight, but she was spending the holiday with her family.

I guess we all had the same idea.

The doorbell rang, and Mattie barked and ran to greet her friends at the door. Wiping my hands on a dishtowel, I walked to the foyer to open the door. The snow had been falling at a rapid pace. At least four inches of snow had fallen in just a few hours, and it showed no signs of stopping. Opening the door, the first face I saw was my angel's. With snowflakes adorning her head and shoulders, Susan looked up at me, staring all of the love out of herself and into me. For this one moment in time, I felt complete. No troubles, no fears, no pain. I felt only love. This woman was the reason for all of this. Never again, would I let her out of my life.

Pulling her to me, I squeezed gently. Inhaling her scent, I whispered quietly into her ear, "God, I missed you last night."

Pulling out of my embrace, Susan smiled at me. "You could've stayed over, you know. Mom said it was okay."

Smiling and waving at Susan's mother who was walking towards us, I replied. "I know, but Mattie is here, and I had a whole lotta shopping to do today. Thank God I got it done before all this snow dropped."

Nudging Susan aside playfully, Elise stretched up on her tiptoes to give me a hug. "Happy New Year, Kelly."

I returned her hug enthusiastically. "Happy New Year, Elise." Realizing my manners were still on the snowy stoop, I offered them the warmth of my home. "Please, come in and out of this wet stuff."

"Thanks," they said simultaneously, then laughed at themselves.

"You're just in time. I just took dinner out of the stove," I said, my stomach growling at the smells wafting in from the kitchen.

Both women took deep breaths and hummed happily in unison, "Mmmm."

I looked at them with a crooked grin on my face. "Are you guys linked tonight, or what?"

They both answered, "Looks like it!" They both leaned down to take off their shoes, bumping into each other as they hunched over.

I rolled my eyes as the women laughed again. Taking their wet coats and gloves and hanging them in the closet to dry, I led them into the family room where Mattie would no longer be denied. Barking at her new best friend, Mattie looked at Susan pitifully.

"Oh, yes, my girl. How are you, sweetie? Were you a good girl, keeping mommy company last night?" Mattie shamelessly rolled onto her back with Susan taking the hint to scratch her tummy.

"She's a pleasure hound, what can I say?" I said, laughing at the display.

"Just like your mommy, right?" Susan cooed at my pup, making her wriggle with joy.

"She's beautiful, Kelly. Is she a golden retriever?" Elise asked, also smiling at her daughter's antics with Mattie.

"Yellow lab, actually. She's really a great dog."

Susan returned her attention to Elise and myself. "So? I remember hearing something about food."

This time, Elise rolled her eyes. "That's my girl. Always thinking with her stomach first."

"Damn right. You of all people know what I'm like when I haven't eaten."

"Don't remind me."

The subtle banter between mother and daughter brought a melancholy feel to my heart. I missed that part of my relationship with my mom.

I hope you and gram are whooping it up tonight, Momma.

Feeling a warm hand on my forearm, I looked into Elise's comforting eyes. "They're both here tonight, Kelly. You can be sure of that."

Swallowing the lump of emotion in my throat, I replied hoarsely, "I know. I'll never stop missing them. Mom especially. She loved celebrating the holidays."

We all exchanged sad smiles and, deciding to change the mood, I suggested we go and sit. "If you guys take a seat in the dining room, I'll bring the rest of dinner out."

"Can we help with anything?" Susan chimed in.

"Nope. Just show your mom the way, and I'll be in shortly."

"Okay," she agreed, standing on her toes to give me a tender kiss, then leading her mother to the dining room. Realizing I hadn't opened the wine, I called after Susan, "Baby, you can do something for me, actually."

"Sure, honey."

"Will you open the wine on the table? The corkscrew is next to the bottle."

"You got it!" she said with a wink.

Watching Susan escort her mother into the dining room, I sliced the loaf of bread, and placed it into a linen covered basket. The lasagna was on the table, as was the wine, so all that was left was the bread and myself.

Walking into the dining room, basket in hand, I saw my new family patiently waiting for me to join them. "Here's the last of it. Let's dig in!" I said with a toothy smile.

As I walked around to my seat, Susan stood and pulled my chair out for me. "Paybacks for our first date."

I smiled in memory of our first night together. Complete strangers breaking bread, sharing heartfelt memories for the first time. It seemed to me that ours was a predetermined reunion of souls. How else could I explain our bond?

"Why, thank you, Milady," I said, pulling my chair closer to the table.

"It looks and smells wonderful, Kelly," Elise complimented, Susan nodding along in agreement.

"Well, I've always loved a good lasagna, so I hope you both do as well."

"One of my favorites, too. Let's tear into it!" Susan said excitedly.

Laughing, I handed her the serving knife. "Would you care to do the honors?"

"Absolutely!" she cried, almost ripping the knife from my grasp.

Serving huge portions to all of us, Susan sat down and filled my glass with the Merlot I'd selected for dinner. Holding her glass high in the air, her mother and I mimicked her actions. "To old and new friends... new relationships and reconciliations," Susan began.

"Hear, hear!" Elise and I started to toast, but were stopped by Susan's hand.

"Hang on, I'm not done yet." She took a deep breath and a flush suddenly colored her cheeks. Filled with emotion, she stood and continued. "The similarities between you two are endless. I love you both more than I can say, and sadly, I almost lost you both. Mom, I did lose you when our lives were ripped apart by hatred and fear. Daddy acted out and did what he thought was best. Unfortunately, his best wasn't good for anyone but him. I lost my mom and my best friend the day he kicked me out. Now that we're together again, nothing will ever come between us. I feel sorry for anyone that even tries. We'll work this out and we'll be stronger because of it. I love you, Mama." Susan leaned down and kissed her mother tenderly on her cheek. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Elise stood clumsily and leaned over to hug her little girl. The sounds of small cries filled the room, with Susan and her mom locked in a tight embrace. Sniffling as they pulled apart, Susan's mother handed her a napkin to wipe her tears. Looking over to me, Susan's moist eyes locked with my own. "Your turn," she choked out.

"Be gentle," I teased.

Clearing her throat, she captured one of my hands with one of her own. "Kelly, you are my heart and soul; and I will never be as grateful as I was the day you walked up to me. You've changed my life. When we met, I was a scared, tattered, and lonely young woman. I had a little voice in my head that would always be at war with me over any decisions I made. I was self-conscious, and I felt absolutely no self-worth. In the short time we have known one another, you've calmed my soul and eased away my fears. Rejection had always been in the forefront in my life. Being away from real relationships and love for so long had really taken its toll on me. When you wanted to take me out, I was terrified that it was tainted by some reason other than just you finding an interest in me. Now, before you think anything else, that was before I knew the woman that's in front of me. People used me for whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, then discarded me like trash." Susan's mother continued to cry softly during Susan's toast. My throat was constricting with so much emotion, I wasn't sure I would be tear-free by the time she was finished.

"You came along on your white charger and rescued me from a world that I never thought I'd escape again. You freely opened your heart and showed me everything you had to offer. I would've been a fool not to accept such a gift. I'm so glad I'm not a fool." Looking over briefly at her mother, she put down her glass and took her mother's hand, linking us all together. "You brought my mother back to me. You didn't think of anything or anyone but me and my happiness. Bringing her back to me was taking a huge risk, since you didn't know how I would react. Sadly, I reacted rather badly. I know now, in my heart, you did it out of love for me; and I will never be able to thank you enough. I know how much you miss your mom, and if I could bring her back to you, I would without hesitation. Instead, I offer to you the only thing I am able-me, Susan McGovern; and I promise you, that I will take good care of your heart from now on. I will love you for as long as you'll have me; and so help me God, I promise never to hurt you like I did at the cemetery. You are the most precious gift I have ever received, and I swear... I swear that I will treasure you until the end of our days," Susan choked out the rest of her toast. I jumped up to embrace the woman that had stolen my heart completely. I sobbed into her, feeling so much inside of me.

"Thank you, baby. Thank you so much," I managed to squeak out. Looking over at her mother, I saw that she hadn't stopped crying. "Come here, Mom," I said, extending my arm out for her to take. Stepping into our group hug, Susan's mother held tightly to us. "Boy, when I asked you both over for dinner, I had no idea we'd be having a crying fest!" I cried out through my tears.

Taking a cleansing breath, Susan's mom spoke softly. "I am so glad you are a part of my little girl's life. I know you will keep her safe and loved forever. I'm thankful you have found each other. It's pretty clear that the fates knew what they were doing when they matched you up. I have never met two people that were more deserving of each other than you. Thank you for loving my daughter so much that it brought her back to me, Kelly."

Kissing Elise's forehead, I replied, "You don't have to thank me. It is my pleasure to love her. I pledge to you both, that I will continue to do so every minute of every day, until I am no longer. Even then, I have a feeling we'll meet up again, one day. Like you said, the fates have a way of making things happen. I'm just grateful that I was on the receiving end of their offering to the love altar." We all chuckled at my lame attempt to be witty.

"Oh, that was bad, sweetheart," Susan groaned, sniffling away her tears.

"See what you have to look forward to? Years and years of my glorious sense of humor."

Trying to break free of our circle, Susan teased, "You sure it's too late to run?"

Pulling her back to me, I replied, "Yes, I'm very sure." Looking down at our cooling plates of food, I tried to resume my role as hostess. "If we're done snotting all over each other, I'd love to eat now."

Smacking me in the stomach, Susan cried out, "Eww! Kelly, that's gross."

"Just another of my wonderful qualities. All for you, baby. All for you." I kissed the top of her head and we all sat down in our seats to eat.

Finally.


*~*~*~*

Dinner was wonderful, once our emotions were, at long last, under control. Susan's mother was charming and funny and all the things I saw in her daughter. It was easy to see whose side of the family Susan took after. Our time together passed quickly and before we knew it, Father New Year made his entrance precisely at midnight.

Champagne flutes in hand, our glasses clinked in sync with the chimes on the clock. We toasted the coming New Year and prayed for a better time for us all. We sat in the family room with a warm fire blazing in the hearth. The snow had prevented Susan and her mother from leaving, which was totally fine with me. I loved their company, and knew it was something I would enjoy more and more with each passing day.

The light snores coming from the small body nestled beside me, told me Susan was down for the count with her mother right alongside her. Looking to the mantle of my fireplace, I saw the picture of me with my mom and grandmother. Saying a silent prayer of love and thanks to them, I felt the warmth of the hugs they sent from above. I knew the pain of losing them would lessen with each day. Hell, Gram's funeral might even be bearable with the love and support I was receiving from Susan and her mother. Life goes on when we least want it to. It's the hardest lesson I've had to learn. Wanting to shrivel up and wait for my time to come will never again be in my thoughts. That was a Kelly who was young and looking to find redemption for a wrong she couldn't right. I have finally found a calm within myself, and with that came a love, a peace, and a place to call home.


*~*~*~*

The End

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