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For Disclaimers see Chapter 1a
Claire smiled to herself, feeling a little giddy as the scent of Amandas perfume still clung to her clothes. This feels great, she marveled. It's like a high, but without the booze. I havent felt this happy in...a really long time. Claire sat down on her bed and began undressing. As she slipped off her blouse, her mind traveled back more than ten years, to college.
The experience of first love was both exhilarating and heartbreaking. It was one of the few times Claire had truly felt connected to another human being.
Claire, by nature, was a loner. She had very few friends and wasnt close to her parents. In the Easton household your career came first. She learned to accept the lack of attention. And despite it, she appeared to thrive, almost not noticing the loss... almost.
College was the young womans first time away from the security of the nest, but still, she was excited. Although her first two years of school were largely unremarkable, it was during this time that she became aware of her own sexual preferences. It was a discovery that she accepted with remarkable ease. It was, however, a revelation she chose not to share with her parents. Surely they wouldnt notice. Claire wasnt even sure they would care.
Claire met Sarah in an accounting course. They were both business majors and wading their way through Indiana University's infamous semester known as "A Core," an advanced set of classes designed to weed out the last of the weak business majors in the University's well-known business school.
The cheerful blond Sarah took an interest in the somewhat broody Claire. After classes, they began walking around the campus together and talking. Soon, they started going to lunch and dinner together. Claire felt wanted. Someone actually sought her out and wanted to be her friend.
The two young women began confiding in each other. Aside from Mark, Claire never really had a friend. And other than the odd nanny, Sarah was her first female friend. This experience was groundbreaking in a way. The friendship began to deepen as the students spent increasing amounts of time together. It became a nightly ritual for she and Sarah to talk on the phone before bed. When they were together, they read each other stories out loud.
Claire realized that she was falling in with love Sarah, although she wasn't quite sure what that would mean. It was obvious that Sarah was interested in men, but she gave mixed signals to a confused Claire. Claire embraced her own feelings and found a happy medium in her mind between a friendship and a romance. It didn't matter to Claire that Sarah didnt return her feelings outright. Finally, she felt like she belonged to something and someone. She told Sarah she loved her and didn't qualify it or label it as platonic or romantic love. For now, love was simply enough and Claire basked in its happiness for nearly a year.
Gradually, however, the young brunette found herself wanting more. But the more she wanted the more Sarah appeared to pull away. Finally, the young woman's nagging fears of loss started to become a reality. The relationship was suffering.
Sarah told Claire that she was suffocating her and began a long string of romances that left Claire feeling excluded and jealous. She blamed the men in Sarahs life for keeping them apart. The almost pathetic attempts Claire made to hang on to the relationship backfired badly. She desperately wanted to keep Sarah as a friend, but even that seemed impossible now.
One night, in a devastating moment of clarity, the reality of the situation hit her, and Claire found herself in almost unbearable pain. She saw her own jealousy for what it was...a waste. The problem wasnt the men in her friends life but her own feelings for her friend, feelings that couldnt be reciprocated. She was hurt and embarrassed and decided to salvage what was left of her pride.
She and Sarah never discussed it and Claire cut off all contact with her for the sake of her own sanity. But would be years before Claire would reconcile herself with her own loss of control.
In the years following college, Claire had a few discreet and decidedly impersonal flings. Oddly, it was her relationship with Mark that finally allowed her to push beyond painful memories and begin looking toward the future. Mark truly accepted and understood Claire. In his eyes, Claire saw her own relationship with Sarah mirrored. She knew Marks affection for her went beyond friendship. But while Sarah had pushed her away, Claire made sure Mark knew she loved him. And although the relationship wasnt everything Mark wanted, it was still satisfying...for both of them. Mark accepted the level of intimacy Claire could offer with an amount of grace and dignity that Claire couldnt help but admire.
Marko...I should call you tonight, she mused.Claires frown disappeared as her thoughts left the past and firmly planted themselves in the present.
Amanda turned off the ignition and sat staring at her parents white, two-story Tudor home. I can do this! I wont let her make me feel guilty. Claires right. This is NOT my fault. Im tired of taking the blame for something I had no control over. Shes gone too far this time. I cant...no, I wont just let it slide.
The determined blonde marched up the front sidewalk and lifted her hand to knock. She paused. Lowering her hand, she opened the door and entered her childhood home. The familiar, almost comforting scent of wood polish and cinnamon did nothing to quell her anger.
The house was immaculately kept, as always. Great detail was paid to assuring that all the furnishing maintained the proper look. Nothing out of theme was permitted, no family photographs, no mementos, nothing. It was only after several years of begging that two young girls talked their mother into allowing a small black and white television in the den. It was, of course, hidden behind the doors of a cherry wood cabinet.
"MOTHER!!" she bellowed. "I need to see you!"
An elderly, slightly husky man slowly made his way out the den. Standing in the doorway slightly behind Amanda, he removed his bifocals. Leaning against the wooden frame, he stood for a moment, silently watching his youngest daughters rage.
"MOTHER I KNOW YOURE HOME! YOUR CAR IS PARKED IN THE DRIVEWAY!"
After hed seen enough, he gently cleared his throat. Amanda spun toward the sound, her demeanor instantly softening as she recognized its source.
"Hello, Pumpkin," greeted the rich voice.
She looked up into her own eyes. "Hello Daddy," she whispered. Amanda stepped back trying to hold onto her anger in her fathers presence, something she never quite managed to accomplish. "Were you part of this?"
The old man didnt need further explanation. He had expected to see his fiery child sooner. "You know better than that, honey. I was working late that evening. I had stayed at school to grade some exams." His voice echoed with regret. "I..Im sorry. I wouldnt have let anyone take her."
Amanda dropped her eyes. "I know, Daddy." Looking around, she let her anger build again. "Where is she?" She began to pace.
"Dont be too hard on her, Pumpkin. Monica called her at work and made arrangements to come by and pick up Melissa. But your mother was upstairs when she actually arrived. Monica had Gretchen get her the baby. Mom didnt even see Monica until she and...and... that little troll of hers came back a couple of hours later. By that time I was home." The gray haired man sighed. "Amanda, she nearly had a heart attack when she saw your sister. I dont think she would have let her take Melissa if shed seen her first."
"Are you telling me that Monica and "Chucky" waltzed in here and simply took Missy from the housekeeper...with Mothers permission?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes, Amanda. That is exactly what your father is saying." The icy voice caused chills to run down Amandas spine, as she turned to face her mother.
"Violet..." the old mans voice beseeched.
"Hush Harold," the strawberry-blonde scolded. "Go back to the study and finish working on your papers. Ill continue this discussion with Amanda." Though nearly twenty years his junior, Amandas mother commanded her father with negligent ease. As always, he obeyed.
Regretful green eyes flashed over his daughter. Frowning, he turned on his heel and ambled back into the study.
"Now dear, I take it youre not pleased with my decision concerning Missy."
Amandas temper was at its breaking point. "Not pleased doesnt quite cover it, Mother. What in the HELL do you think you were doing?" she challenged.
"Dont swear Amanda," the older woman chided. "Its so unlady like."
With that final censure, the young blondes temper snapped. "Are you insane?" she yelled. Marching up until she was nose to nose with her mother, she continued. "Do you know what could have happened when you turned over Missy to Monica and that little pig of a man she married?"
Her mother gasped. "Are you certain she actually married him, dear. I was hoping..."
"MOTHER! Arent you paying attention?" Amandas hands gestured wildly. "For once this is not about Monica. This is about Missy and how I trusted you to look after her. I should have know something was up when you asked her to spend the night."
Violet brought her hand to her hips in a gesture so familiar Amanda winced. "And just what would you have me do, young lady. Monica wanted to see the child. How could I deny her that? After all, she is her mother."
Amanda closed her eyes and counted to ten, regaining some measure of control before speaking. "How many times are we going to have this same discussion? Monica is Missys Aunt, not her mother. Why cant you just accept that?"
"You may want to believe that Amanda, but no judge can make it true. Monica may have problems but she is still Missys mother and..."
"This is not about what some judge did. Its about who loves Missy, and cares for her, and is raising her, while Monica is off shooting up dope. I AM that childs mother. The fact that I didnt give birth to her, has very little to do with it." Amanda tried to control her shaking hands while trying to reason with her mother. "Mother, Monica shouldnt even be around her. You saw her, shes..."
"And just what are you doing around her?" Violets voice was laced with accusation.
Amanda paused, wondering how conversations with her mother always got derailed. "What are you talking about?" she asked confused.
Violet crossed her arms and turned her back on her daughter. "Nothing."
Amanda walked around her mother, forcing her to face her. "Its not nothing. I want to know what you meant by that." Tears were brimming in her mothers brown eyes. Shes crying? Ive never seen her cry, not even when Grandma or Grandpa died, never...
"Its not right, Amanda," the older woman whispered.
"Whats not right?" The younger womans mind was reeling. She had no idea what her mother was talking about and she was on the verge of tears herself.
"With you, Missy has no chance at having a father or a normal life."
Amanda sat down, stunned. It took a moment for her to find her voice. "Youre suddenly upset that Im raising Missy and Im gay?"
"Ive accepted your choices, Amanda. But Ive come to realize that Missy is too young to be subjected to them."
The younger woman closed her eyes and angrily wiped away tears of frustration. Why is my life going backwards? Rising, she faced her mother again. "My choice as you call it, was no choice at all. Ive always been this way; it just took me a while to get the nerve up to tell you. I cant imagine why," she added sarcastically. "I...I thought we worked this out years ago. You never said anything during the adoption proceedings and now Im supposed to be some sort of perverted influence over my daughter? Is Monica the one who helped you with this new revelation?"
Violet didnt respond, but Amanda could tell from the look on her face shed guessed correctly. "What exactly do you think Im doing in front of Missy?"
"Thats none of my business, Amanda. I shouldnt have asked you that."
"That much is true. But let me put your mind at ease. Im not picking up biker chicks in dike bars and having sex with them in front of Missys crib."
SMACK!! The sound of the vicious slap echoed through the large room. Amanda stood in shocked silence. Lifting a hand she touched her stinging cheek.
Violets voice quivered and her tears flowed freely. "Thats enough, Amanda." The older woman was shaking. "No matter what mistakes Ive made, Im still your mother and I will not have you speak to me that way again." Without a backward glance, she turned and walked up the stairs. "This discussion is over."
Amanda watched her mother until she disappeared behind the curving banister. Digging her keys out of her jean pockets she left the house in a haze of tears. Slamming the front door behind her, she practically ran to her car. FUCK! "That went well," she mumbled as she started the ignition. "Now I get to go have it out with Jody." She pushed hard on the accelerator and the car smoothly shifted into second gear. "No wonder I hate Mondays."
"See you soon," Amanda called after the teenager who was already furiously searching his pockets for his cigarettes. It was 4:30 p.m. and she had just finished with her last appointment for the day. After the conversation with her mother, shed nearly cancelled the remainder of her appointments. But shed promised herself long ago that her patients would never suffer because of her personal life. Besides, she couldnt put off talking with Jody any longer. The two best friends had been little more than civil with each other, since their argument the week before. This ridiculous tension has gone on long enough. Amanda couldnt fathom why Jody was still so upset. Over the years the friends had argued many times. But never had the harsh words or hurt feelings dragged out this long. Amanda gently knocked on her partners office door.
She entered the office and closed the door behind her. Jody was pounding away on her laptop and glanced up to see her friend sitting in the chair in front of her desk. "Just a second, Amanda. Im almost finished." A few more furious keystrokes and Jody ejected her disk, and snapped shut the cover.
"Elvis is running out of juice again," Amanda remarked, as she watched the lethargic swaying of leather covered hips and blue suede shoes.
"I know. Damn thing goes through batteries like you cant believe. Did you need something?"
Amanda scrunched her eyebrows together. "I didnt know I needed a reason to talk to you."
Jody tossed down the pencil she had been twirling between her fingers. "Thats not what I meant and you know it, Amanda."
"I know, Im sorry. I guess today...no this weekend and today have been a real bitch."
Jody leaned forward, eager to cast blame on Claire. "Did Claire do something?"
"No." Amanda shook her head. "Actually, she was the best thing about this weekend. She was terrific, actually."
Annoyed, Jody leaned back in her chair. "What happened then?"
"Do you have a while?" Amanda asked wryly.
"You, my friend, can have all the time you like. Im finished for the day."
Amanda took a deep breath. "You asked for it." And she proceeded to relate the events surrounding her sisters reemergence and her confrontation with her mother.
Jody remained largely silent except for an inappropriate snort when Amanda revealed that Monica had stolen Claires car, and a concerned "are you okay?" when she detailed her mothers physical reaction to her admittedly crass declarations. When Amanda finished, Jody got up out of her chair and leaned forward over the desk, offering her friend a heart-felt hug.
"Shit, Amanda, why are you here at all? If I were you Id be home licking my wounds."
"I didnt want to go home until Id had a chance to talk with you first. Are we okay?" the blonde asked hopefully.
Jody ruffled her own unruly brown locks and focused serious dark eyes on Amanda. "I dont like her Amanda. And I wont pretend otherwise. I think a pair of pretty, longs legs has turned your head and youre not seeing her for what she is."
Amandas temper flared. "And just what is she?"
"Shes an obsessed attorney who thinks shes Jane Friggin Bond! You said yourself she came here looking for information. She thinks were somehow involved with those cases being tossed out of court...and probably Aarons death too. Doesnt that even bother you! What makes you think shes not just trying to worm some top secret information out of you?" Jody taunted.
"Shes not," Amanda stated firmly. Dont ask me how Im sure, Jody. I just know that I am.
"How can you be so sure?"
Figures. "I just am." Amanda growled. The smaller woman ignored her friends other questions and went on the offensive. "Look, I dont appreciate you screening my dates!" The volume of her voice increased with each word. "I wouldnt expect you to live with that!"
"You wouldnt, huh?" Jody smirked. "I seem to recall a certain young blonde psychologist who told me Chester was a self-centered pig that would cheat on me and break my heart...AND THAT WAS ON MY WEDDING DAY!"
"Oh yeah...I forgot about that." Amanda couldnt stop the tiny smile that edged its way across her lips. But she was, just barely, able to stop herself from saying I told you so.
The dark haired woman crossed her arms. "Ill bet you forgot, you little shit. And dont even think about saying I told you so."
Amanda innocently looked up at Jody as though the idea had never entered her mind. And she almost...almost pulled it off...
Both women had just begun laughing when Iris burst into Jodys office, leaving the door swinging back and forth in her wake. Before Amanda or Jody could speak Iris held up a hand in warning.
"I have had enough of you two!" The small redhead pointed a finger at Jody. "I want to see in my office in two minutes!" Jodys eyes widened. As abruptly as Iris entered, she turned and began marching out. When she reached the door she turned back and pointed at Amanda. "And when I finish with Jody, youre next." With that, the older therapist shut the door behind her.
Jody and Amanda looked at each other. "Uh...oh," they muttered simultaneously. Jody gulped and slowly made her way out from behind her desk.
"Goodbye, Jody." Amanda winked.
"Bye." Jody said weakly. The muscular brunette walked out of her office looking very much like a schoolgirl that had been sent to the principals office. Amanda would have laughed, if it werent for the fact that she felt the exact same way.
The young doctor plopped down on Jodys loveseat and awaited her fate. "Elvis," she closed her eyes, "is it still just Monday?"
Jody took a deep breath before she knocked on Iris closed door.
"Come in, Jody," came the muffled voice.
Jody slinked in with a contrite expression and closed the door before she leaned against the wall and waited for Iris.
"Whats going on with you two?" asked Iris, her voice gentler than before.
Jody shifted and looked at the ground for a moment. "Amanda is having some problems," she replied.
"Just Amanda?" Iris raised an eyebrow.
"Well, yeah. Her sister paid a visit and wants Missy back. Shes understandably upset," continued Jody, not ready to share any blame.
Iris looked at her in the eye for a long moment. Jody just sighed and looked away.
"I dont like this Claire person, Iris," the younger woman finally admitted.
"Now, lets talk about that. Is she causing you two a lot of friction?"
Jody told Iris about the incident at Origami and about their conversation today. "...so Im not too pleased with Jane Bond, attorney at law," concluded Jody.
"Don't you think Amanda can take care of herself?" Iris shifted in her chair.
Jody slowly nodded her head and leaned back against the wall again. "Of course she can. Amanda is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, it's just this Claire ...well... Shes dazzled by this lawyer's good looks... she's been charmed."
The younger woman stared at Iris for a moment, waiting for her to say something. Iris was silent, but blue gray eyes meet Jody's. "So you approve of the relationship, Iris?" she asked confused.
Iris smiled. "It's not for me to approve or disapprove of Amanda's romantic relationships."
Jody felt some anger surfacing. "Don't therapize me, Iris, I'm not one of your damn clients. What are you getting at?" she snapped.
"I don't think I am giving you therapy, Jody. You know me better than that. I'm talking to you colleague to colleague and friend to friend. What is really bothering you?"
Jody closed her eyes and rubbed them with irritation. "I'm sorry I snapped. You're right. It's just, well, I don't like the lawyer," Jody said sheepishly.
"Why don't you like her?"
"The investigation thing for one, she thought we were somehow involved in some sort of scheme," Jody persisted.
Iris nodded. "Didn't she explain why?"
"Yeah, she did. And...well...quite honestly, it made sense. I would be suspicious too, I suppose..." Jody admitted as she nervously began pacing along the shiny wood floor. "Amanda really likes her. I've never seen her this way before. It's just that..." she abruptly stopped when she finally realized what was happening. Closing her eyes with realization, Jody expelled a tortured groan. "Im jealous of Claire, aren't I. Shit! I didn't realize until now. I've never felt this way when she was with other women. But this one is different. What if shes the one for Amanda?" Jody looked up with anguished eyes. "I don't want to lose my best friend," she spoke quietly.
Iris nodded in understanding. "Yeah, its a scary thought. It hit me too. I don't want any changes in our set up or routine. But theres no evidence that Amanda is going to drop everything. She's not the type to give up her identity, even for something as important as love. Maybe youre overreacting just a bit?" Iris queried gently.
"And here I am giving her more grief when she has this whole thing with her sister. I need to apologize."
"She needs some time off. This thing with her sister wont go away easily. She isnt doing herself or her clients any favor when shes in this state. We can help her out by doing all her incoming assessments and testing," suggested Iris.
"Yeah, that should help out since she'll only see her regular clients. I'm gonna go and apologize to her."
"When you're done, why don't you both come up so I can let her know about our proposal?"
"Are you gonna bust her chops too?" Jody inquired wryly.
"Nope. I have a feeling youve been doing enough of that lately." The younger woman blanched at the unflattering but accurate assessment of her behavior.
Shaking her head in agreement Jody left the office. "Well be back in a few, Iris," she called over her shoulder.
Jody entered her office expecting to see Amanda milling around among her treasures. The blonde seemed to have a never-ending fascination with her junk as she called it. Instead, she saw a pale head slumped against the tall back of the love seat. Jody approached Amanda quietly and stood over her sleeping friend. Poor thing. Id like to wring Monicas neck. She always was a brat! Jody smiled affectionately at her partner. "Well, Amanda, I guess Im gonna have to get used to sharing your time. That is, unless that stupid lawyer finds a way to mess up a good thing," she murmured.
"Whos stupid?" came the sleepy response, as Amanda shifted around, tipping her head back into a ferocious yawn.
"Nobody." A pause. "Yet," she added. Amanda was too tired to even try to understand Jodys cryptic statement. She shifted over as the larger woman plopped down next to her.
Amanda laid her hand on her Jodys knee. "Was Iris mad?" she asked, hoping it wasnt true. She hated the idea of disappointing the older woman.
"Naaah." Jody drew out the word. "She just wondered what was up with us lately."
"What did you tell her?" Amanda asked, curious herself as to why she and Jody couldnt seem to move past their latest argument.
"Well...err..." she exhaled loudly. "I should start with an apology, Amanda. It wasnt right for me to give you such a hard time about Claire. I guess...I dont know...Im just a little worried."
Amanda drew her eyebrows together. "About me?"
Jody nodded. "Mostly. You seem to really like her. Ive never seen you so excited about anyone before. I guess Im just not handling it very well." Jody paused and began to fidget with the button on her shirt.
Amanda shifted her position. Snuggling deeply into the corner of the loveseat, she threw her legs across Jody lap. Jody smiled at the familiar lets talk gesture.
"Okay, Buddy. Spill it. And I mean all of it," Amanda encouraged as she lightly slapped Jodys shoulder.
"You know this past year hasnt been the greatest for me."
Amanda cocked her head to the side and smiled sympathetically.
"I really relied on you a lot after the divorce, maybe too much. I guess..." A deep breath. "Im a little jealous of Claire. I got sort of used to it being just you, me, and Missy," she rushed out.
Amandas eyes widened slightly but she remained silent.
"Ive acted like a real bitch, Amanda. Im sorry. Ill try my best to be civil to her and respect the fact that you like her."
Amandas eyes widened further. This was an unprecedented apology and concession from her old friend. When Jody turned to face her, Amanda could see the regret written all over her friends face.
Smiling, she put her friend at ease with an admission of her own. "Its okay, Jody. I know just how you feel. I felt the same way when you married Chester. And I seriously considered hiring a hit man when the fool ran off with his secretary."
Both women laughed. "Apology accepted then?" Jody asked as she flashed Amanda her sad face.
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Of course, ya duffus."
The older woman patted her legs. "Time to get up ya bum, Iris wants to see us both now." Amanda swung her legs back down to the floor and stood up with a groan.
"God, this has been the longest day. I think I need a vacation." Jody shut off the lights as she and Amanda left the office.
"Funny you should say that..."
"Iris, I appreciate the thought, I truly do, but I'm capable of doing my job," Amanda sat on Iris' leather couch and tucked her legs up underneath her.
"This isn't about whether you can do your job. Youre under a great amount of pressure right now. You need a break. Take care of the situation with Monica and come back. Jody and I can pick up your assessments and testing. You can still see your clients. There's no harm done," persisted Iris.
Amanda wanted to argue, but realized her mentor was right. The thought of Monica trying to take Missy back made her stomach twist. Some time off would give her a chance to get centered again and spend more time with Claire. She felt a momentary pang of guilt at wanting to spend time with Claire in the middle of this mess with her sister. But Id love every minute it, her heart added.
"I've never been so afraid of losing Missy to Monica before," admitted Amanda softly. For the second time that day, the blonde poured out the story of the past few days.
"I feel so defeated." Amanda rubbed tired green eyes again. "Or, maybe its just that Im worn out. I dont think I slept more than a couple hours these past two nights combined," Amanda finished tiredly.
"I've never known you to be defeated in any way shape or form, no matter what the circumstances. Things havent been all bad the past few days, right?" said Iris.
"You mean Claire?"
"You, Missy, and Claire."
Missy, Claire and I. I could get used to that, Amanda thought with a shy smile.
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