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The Edge

PART II

By thenorm


For all disclaimers and all that business, please see Part I.

Please keep feeding the bard... thenorm_chabak@yahoo.com

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Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V
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Chapter 4

Abigail felt her heart pounding wildly in her chest. Sweat poured off her as she sprinted through the dense fog, trying to get away. The woods! Iíve got to get to the woods! She stumbled, sinking in a depression on the dirt road. Fear coursed through her veins as her body tumbled forward.

"No!" She struggled, trying desperately to catch herself.

It was too late. Her feet lost purchase and she found herself face down in the dirt. She felt a hand grabbing her, wrenching her left shoulder.

"Abigail," she heard a voice softly say. "Abigail, wake up." Christina lightly grasped her left shoulder, trying to wake her slowly.

"Whaaa..."

Abigailís eyes flew open. Squinting, she saw that Christina was kneeling by her chair. There was a blue bimini top covering the rear of the boat that she didnít remember.

Christina tried to reassure her. "You had a bad dream."

"Did I ever." Feeling embarrassed and out of sorts, she stood up and stretched.

Christina walked to the blue cooler in front of Abigailís chair. "You want some water?"

"Yeah." Feigning nonchalance, she attempted to pop her back while stifling a yawn. "Hey, what time is it?"

"About three-thirty."

Christina handed her a bottle of water. "Here you go. I put the top up to keep you from getting sunburned."

"Thanks."

"Want some lunch? I caught a few rock bass while you were sleeping. Wonít take but a minute to fix." Christina began to walk towards the cabin entrance when she noticed Abigailís empty gaze.

Lightly touching Abigailís forearm with her fingertips, she asked, "You okay?"

"Yes...no...no, not at all." Abigail sighed deeply, trying to ease the tension out of her body. "I know it was just a stupid dream..."

Christinaí eyebrow arched as she gingerly rubbed Abigailís arm. "Youíve got enough going on to give you a nightmare, donícha think?"

"Yeah," Abigail answered, sipping on her water.

"Well, I hope you donít mind being stuck with me for a little while." Christina grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "After all, weíre about four miles out on the boat. Iím not going very far unless Iím swimming!"

That brought a small smile to Abigailís face. Christina was glad. She hated to see this beautiful woman in so much pain. "Besides, I invited ya fishiní, ya know? If it gets back to the kitchen that I took you out here and you hated it, how would I ever find anyone to fish with?"

Abigail laughed in spite of herself. Christinaís fishing obsession was no secret!

"Come on." Christina stood up and extended a hand to the strawberry-blonde. "You go take a shower and Iíll fix lunch. If you want some company walking to work, Iíve got to go in anyway. End of week inventory and all that fun stuff."

"That would be nice," Abigail replied, stepping into the cabin.

The taller brunette hummed to herself as she prepared the fish. Mustíve been about that psycho. Well, I wonít bring it up if she doesnít.

"Um, Christina?"

"Whaícha need?" Wiping hands on a dishtowel, she walked towards the sleeping compartment.

"I only brought my uniform."

Unconsciously, she pictured Abigail wandering around the boat, her scantily clad body glistening and gliding, with a resplendent, smiling face adorning the image. And the way she tossed her head when she laughed....

"Christina?"

She shook herself out of her fantasies quickly. "Right. Let me get you something to wear." Whatís wrong with me? A friend is what she really needs!

Christina launched a pair of blue sweat pants and old Miami Jai Alai shirt towards the door of the bathroom. "There you go. I need to go finish lunch."

Abigail emerged a few minutes later, dwarfed in the taller womanís oversized clothes. "Thanks. I really mean that. I know I had that nightmare and all, but Iíve really been able to relax out here."

"Evidently. Every time I turned around, you were catching so many Zís, you should have built them a corral."

"Hah hah," she retorted sarcastically. "Hey, whatís Miami Jai Alai?"

Christina fixed the lunch plates as she answered. "Jai Alaiís kind of like an incredibly fast-paced game of racquetball. The game is played in round robin style and is usually played with either eight players or eight teams. The main object of the game is to hurl the pelota, which is a handmade rubber ball, against the front court wall with so much speed and with such a spin that the opponent canít return it on the fly or the first bounce. The players wear a cesta, which means basket in Spanish. The cesta is wooden with reeds and has a leather glove sewn to the outside for the playerís hand. A pelota is slightly smaller than a baseball and has been clocked in excess speeds of one hundred, eighty-five miles per hour; theyíve even shattered bullet-proof glass."

"Sounds like a pretty exciting game," Abigail commented as she accepted her plate.

"Yeah, Owen and I go to Miami to watch it during off-season." She sat her plate on the table and opened her icebox. "What do you want to drink? You have a variety of choices: water and Citrus Splash."

Without warning, memories of her friend dying come flooding back to her.

"Hey," Christina said softly, trying to bring Abigail out of her solitude.

Abigail glanced downward, burying her face in her hands.

"If you want to talk, Iím here." Christina surprised herself by reaching for Abigailís hand. Damn bodyís got a mind of its own. She felt uncomfortable but didnít want to pull away and risk alienating the woman in front of her who looked so terribly alone.

Abigail reached for the extended hand, feeling somewhat comforted. The tears were welling in her eyes. Without thinking twice, Christina was at Abigailís chair, hugging her. "Itís okay. Youíre safe now. Only a dream." She gently rocked Abigail back and forth. "Sssh."

The warmth of Christinaís body against hers was almost more than Abigail could take. But she needed the comforting touches; she wanted to be held. Slowly, she relaxed in the grip as deep sobs began to emerge.

Christina kissed the top of Abigailís head and brought it into her shoulder. Gently, she lifted Abigailís chin to wipe the tears. As blue eyes melted into green, she found herself unable to resist Abigailís soft, rosy lips.

Abigail slipped her arms around Christinaís neck and pulled her closer. As their lips merged with greater intensity, she was overwhelmed by the strength of the emotions stirring within her.

Unable to deal with her mounting passion, Abigail disengaged from the hug.

"You okay?" Christina searched Abigailís eyes with concern.

"Yeah." She sighed, trying to regain control of her breathing.

"Are you sure?"

"Iím okay," she lied. Between the terror that hung in her heart from Lita Tomlinson and the attraction she felt for Christina, Abigail knew she was walking on dangerous ground and decided it was time to leave. "I need to get ready for work."

Sensing Abigailís need for space, Christina volunteered, "Iím going to straighten out the deck before I take us in. If you need me for anything, just holler." Way to go, Bozo! As if she doesnít have enough on her mind, youíre busy coming on to her. Some friend you are!

 

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Abigail found Christina sitting in her chair on the deck. She called to her softly. "Hey. I need to get going."

"Abigail, Iím really sorry. I donít know what came over me." Oh yes, you do! You knew you were playing with fire!

Abigail took Christinaís hand and looked into her eyes. "Itís okay. Honest." She touched the brunetteís angular face, trying to reassure her. "Really."

Sheepishly, she looked at the smaller woman. "You sure?"

"Yeah." Smiling, Abigail took Christinaís hand. "Iíve got to get to work. Walk with me?

"Sure."

After they arrived at the restaurant, Christina busied herself in the stockroom, organizing it for end of week inventory. It gave her a good reason to avoid everyone.

As Kitchen Manager, she was responsible for the food inventory and it was easier to count if she made sure it was straightened out. That was one of the first management lessons sheíd learned the hard way: Stay on top of your area and keep it organized.

The first inventory she conducted by herself took two and a half hours, counting and recounting, trying to discover where the miscount was or if the food cost was really that astronomical!

It was easier to accomplish this task when she wasnít assigned to shift, which was why she asked Owen to schedule her off on Sundays. She was glad she was a salaried manger; if she were still hourly, sheíd be less inclined to adjust her hours and leave early on Saturdays.

Owen...heís supposed to be back in town tomorrow. Food Cost should be in line, and Iíve watched my labor closely. She smiled to herself as she moved the seasonings together. Wonder if he found his new General Manager yet?

"Misseyh!"

She knew that voice too well. Damn! I thought I had Maggie scheduled off tonight! "Iím in the stockroom!"

Maggie strutted into the stockroom in a pair of long shorts and a flowered blouse that hung loosely off of her tall frame.

Adjusting her glasses, Maggie pronounced, "You thank yuh cute, donícha, gul!"

"Say again?"

"Leaving me with Jack! That skinny little boy donít know shit!"

"Maggie, heís in training."

"Ahím telliní ya Ah donít thank I kin train him! He gets on my last nerve!" Maggie grimaced and leaned closer to Christinaís face. "Gul, Ah was wishiní if only that Eye-talian was heah, sheíd straighten him out!"

Christina smiled, looking at Maggie. "Maggie, Iím not Italian."

Maggie guffawed, slapping Christina on the back. "Thatís just what Ah call yuh, gul."

"Alright." She knew there was no winning this one. Even if she continued to schedule Jack with Maggie, Maggie would probably just run off the poor guy. "Iíll work with him a little more, see if we canít salvage him."

"Thanks." Maggie smiled, a little too smugly for Christinaís tastes. "Bettuh you than me!"

Christina shook her head and walked off. Running into Maggie was always interesting.

She made a mental note to check the Cooksí schedule before departing. Returning to the task at hand, she finished straightening the stockroom and headed for the cooler/freezer area.

As she put her hand on the cooler door, she heard the hostess beckoning her.

"Hey Christina, phone call, line one. Itís Owen."

Damn! Iím never gonna finish! "Iíll get it in the office."

After opening the office door, she picked up the telephone receiver. "Christina Stavros, may I help you?"

"Hey Christina, this is Owen. Everything going alright?" She could barely make out what he was saying due to the crackling on the phone.

"You in the hills?"

"Yeah. Give me a minute, Iím cresting this one." He paused for a moment. "Got a new GM."

"Yeah?"

"Sheíll be meeting me at the store at nine-thirty. Listen, since youíre already there, why donít you go ahead and knock out inventory tonight and come in at nine-thirty? Make sure you bring in an extra person so your portion of opening the restaurant is covered."

"Alright, Iíll check the schedule and do that."

"Okay. Tell Fred to be there, too. Whoops, another hill coming up. Gotta go."

Christina hung up the phone and left the office. Taking the Cooksí schedule and the end of week paperwork with her, she decided to grab a booth. Ah, the fringe benefits of management...I eat for free!

As she entered the dining room, or what the servers referred to as the floor, she noticed a small booth open by the door. Grabbing some tea, she sat down and laid the paperwork in neat stacks. Stopping a server passing her, she asked for a Chicken Caesar Salad and settled into her paperwork.

She was comparing the tracking logs to the actual invoices, making certain everything had been entered correctly. As she was double-checking the cost per unit purchase price, Abigail approached, unnoticed by her.

"Need some more tea?" Abigail had heard horror stories of those who bothered Christina while she was working on paperwork. Christina was meticulous, if not a perfectionist, where paperwork was concerned. There were quite a few servers who would rather not wait on her.

"Yeah. That salad about ready?" She didnít even bother to look up as she corrected a mistake.

"Almost. We had to go to the barnyard and pluck the chicken fresh for you."

Christina finally looked up, her eyes cold as ice.

"Er, ah, let me get you a fresh glass!" Abigail scooted away from the table, grabbing the empty one.

Christina rubbed her temples and tried to relax. Why her section? Damn, I shouldíve stayed in the office to do this!

"Here you go." Abigail sat the glass down and kept walking.

"Abigail, Iím sorry."

Facing her friend, the strawberry-blonde brushed Christina off. "Itís okay."

"No, really, Iím sorry." Christina looked at Abigail in earnest, hoping to convince her of the sincerity of the apology.

Abigail smoothed out her apron and clipped out a response. "I shouldnít have bothered you."

Christina smiled, trying to get through the barrier. "It was me. Really."

Abigail couldnít help returning the smile offered. "Yeah, well, do it again and Iíll put hot sauce in your tea!"

The dark haired woman laughed. "Deal."

"Christina, Owenís on the phone again." The hostess handed her the portable phone.

"Christina Stavros."


"Itís me. Listen, Iím not going to make it until the morning. Think you can handle all the paperwork?"

"And this is different from last week? How?"

She could hear Owen laughing on the other end. "Yeah, thatís what I figured youíd say. See you at nine-thirty."

Handing the phone to Abigail, she looked around for Fred, the Service Manager. "Abigail, would you mind getting Fred for me? I donít want to leave this paperwork out here."

As the strawberry-blonde disappeared through the kitchen door, Christina began looking over the schedule. Might as well see how this needs to be changed. Itís gonna be a long night.

 

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The morning sun was blazing as Owen drove towards his restaurant. He smiled as he sipped his coffee, happy that his searching had finally produced a viable candidate for General Manger for the Pinkston restaurant. Running his small restaurant chain was not an easy task; it became even more daunting missing a general manager. He hoped that by hiring Darlene Hughes, he could finally get back to his real moneymaking stores.

It wasnít that Fred and Christina were doing a poor job, he contemplated, but the store needed a leader to take over. Fred and Christina were both too inexperienced in management to effectively run the restaurant. Every store needed a leader. His more demanding stores were clamoring for his attention and he couldnít continue to provide that leadership.

As he followed south on Highway 98, he said a silent prayer for his sister, Cindy. His heart skipped a beat as he saw her in his mindís eye, lying in the hospital bed. She was gaunt and jaundiced, in the last stages of cirrhosis. If only I couldíve been there for her...

He pushed those memories from his mind. Even after all these years, they were still too raw. Instead, he focused on Christina. God, how she has changed! People who met her today would have a difficult time envisioning the person she used to be.

It was about the time he and Aaron were calling it quits that he met Christina. Aaron was with him when Cindy died. But he could no longer reconcile his conscience and continue to be involved with Aaron. Knowing how Aaron, or Mr. A., as Christina knew him, eked out his living, taking advantage of others, gnawed at him more and more. Ironically, it was the first time that he ever met any of Aaronís "business" associates when he became acquainted with Christina.

Owen remembered seeing Christina for the first time. The fire in her eyes, the weight of the world on her shoulders Ė it was almost as if Cindyís spirit was inside of her! Thatís when he knew he had to try to help her get out of that horrible fighting business. At the time, he wasnít aware how much like Cindy she really was.

It wasnít long after they met that he was able to surmise the few differences between Christina and Cindy. The biggest difference was Christina was an alcoholic who was alive and his sister was one dead from the addiction.

Even though heíd learned much of the disease process after his sister died, he couldnít shake the guilt he felt that he should have made a difference with her. He promised himself at her deathbed that if he ever got the opportunity, he would make a difference. One look at Christina and he knew heíd been blessed with a chance.

Look at her now Ė sheís been sober for damn near eight years!

Owen was so proud of her. Not only had she stayed sober, but she also took a high school completion course. And she was doing so well at work. Any fool could see she was a natural manager!

As he pulled into the parking lot, a huge grin erupted. Todayís gonna be a great day!

 

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Christina and Fred double-checked the restaurant again. They didnít want to embarrass themselves or Owen in front of this new manager.

They watched the tall, feminine figure as she approached the front doors.

"Damn, Chris, sheís talleríen you! Like a frigginí Amazon or something!"

Christina rolled her eyes and motioned Fred to the door. "Fred, Iím only five feet, eight. For cryiní out loud, show her we have manners and get the door."

"Hi, my name is Darlene Hughes and Iím here to see Owen." Darlene smiled as she spoke, quickly surveying the restaurant.

"Hi," Christina said, approaching her with her right hand extended. "Iím Christina Stavros and this is Fred Harris. Owen will be here any minute." After shaking hands, Christina led Darlene to a large corner booth. "Would you care for coffee or anything to drink?"

"Some coffee would be great. Four creams, please."

Christina asked a server to bring them coffee and the three sat down.

Once the coffee arrived, Fred introduced himself. "Iím the Dining Room Manager. If thereís anything out front, itís my ball game. I take care of servers and host schedules. I also handle the majority of guest relations."

Darlene looked at Fred through her wire rim glasses. "And how long have you been in this position?"

Fred beamed as he continued. "I promoted up from server about six months ago. Iíve been with the company for almost three years."

Darlene faced Christina.

"Iíve been with this company about eight years. I started out as dishwasher, then promoted to cook. After being moved up to lead cook, Owen offered me the position of Kitchen Manager. That was about two years ago."

"Youíve been here for eight years and a Kitchen Manager for two?"

"Yes Maíam. I help Owen out with the restaurant paperwork and take care of ordering and inventory."

Darlene looked at the young woman. She was bright, to say the least and had quite a bit of seniority for restaurant work. Wonder why she isnít bucking for GM?

Fred was the first to notice Owenís car. "Hey, thereís Owen pulling in. Let me go get him."

Fred returned with Owen.

"I trust youíve met these two." Owen sat opposite Darlene.

"Yes, I have."

Christina stood up, joining Fred standing by the table. "Owen, Fred and I need to go check on the progress of the open." Facing Darlene, she politely added, "Ms. Hughes, it was a pleasure meeting you."

Leaving Owen and Darlene alone in the dining room, Fred and Christina went quickly to the office. Christina started the conversation as soon as they were both inside. "What do you think?"

"You donít know her?"

"Why would I?"

"Man, Chris, you donít get out much, do ya?" Fred shook his head in amazement. "She used to run Billyís Bar & Grill. They said that to say she ruled with an iron fist was a nice way to put it!"

"Fred," Christina said, shaking her head, "most of those guys at Billyís are lazy as hell. You told me not to hire Ďem."

"Yeah, but what if she comes in here, flippiní everything around? Weíre makiní money right now."

"Yes, and that is exactly why she wonít change everything suddenly. I donít know about you, but Iíd like to have some of this extra burden off my shoulders."

Fred looked at Christina. It was obvious that she didnít share his fear.

"Look Fred, Iíve known Owen a lot longer than you. Heís not gonna leave us hanging. He hasnít yet." Christina opened the office door and stepped out. "Come on, weíve got a store to open."

 

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It had been one of the busiest Mondays Christina could remember. Joining Fred for a bite to eat, she was very glad her shift was over!

"I bet youíre glad youíre not pulling a split shift tonight, Chris. Itís a drag to have to work through lunch, disappear for a couple of hours and have to return for the dinner shift, then close the damned place. Canít get any rest!" Fred was busy stuffing his face with a Philly sandwich.

"Man, you ainít lyiní! Where did all those people come from?" Christina was grateful that she wasnít scheduled for one of those awful eleven a.m. to two p.m./four p.m. to close shifts.

"I dunno. Guess weíre getting more traffic from all those early travelers. It only made us look good in front of our new boss."

"Alright, Fred, spit it out. What was it like, working with Ms Hughes?" Christina bit down on her veggie burger hungrily.

Fred looked thoughtful for a moment as he drank his sweet tea. "Well, she really knew how to keep service moving. It didnít seem to bother her when everyone was busy and tables needed to be cleaned Ė she got right out there and did it. And it didnít take her long to figure out our pass-through window or dining room set-up."

Christina smiled, taking a smaller bite of her sandwich. "Hey, you guys didnít wait on food today, did ya?"

"Nah, you guys were doiní some serious humpiní back there."

Christina looked up. "Fred, thereís Ms. Hughes. Iím gonna see if she wants to join us."

In a few moments, Christina returned with the taller redhead. "Hello, Fred."

"Hey, Ms. Hughes. Have a seat." Fred slid over on the bench.

After both ladies were seated, the server returned with a Philly sandwich platter and coffee for Ms. Hughes. "Christina, your kitchen did an outstanding job today."

"Thanks, Ms. Hughes."

"Okay, thatís it. I expect everyone in the restaurant to call me Ms. Hughes except my management staff. Weíre peers. Call me Darlene."

Christina and Fred looked at one another and shrugged shoulders.

"Fred," Darlene said, turning her attention to him. "The front did well. I noticed youíve got all the servers immediately restocking after lunch, but the door isnít unattended."

"Thanks, Darlene."

"Christina, Iíd like to meet with you tomorrow and go over the kitchen. What are you scheduled to work?"

"Iím off, actually, but I can be here. What time?"

"Letís say nine." She paused for a moment, taking a sip of coffee. "Who runs the kitchen in your absence?"

"Samantha Martin is my lead day cook. If Iím not here, sheís here. At night, I donít have a lead cook yet, so I generally work splits on Thursdays and Fridays since thatís when Iím needed."

"I see. And what about your area, Fred?"

"Daphne Baker is my head waitress. If sheís not here, her assistant, Michelle Turner does the job."

"And Daphne has dayshift while Michelle takes care of nights?"

"Yes Maíam."

"Well, I look forward to working with both of you and planning strategy for the restaurant." Darlene gathered her purse and left the table.

"Yeesh," Fred sighed. "Whaddya think now?"

"I think Iím going home." Christina stood up and stretched her back. "Wanna come fishiní?"

"Nah, Iíll pass this time. I want to talk to that new server."

"Which one?"

"Abigail Thanis." He responded absently, "You know, the one that I put through orientation when you hired Jack."

"Whatís up?" Christina tried to affect an air of indifference.

"I just want to check in with her, see how sheís doing. Sheís been here about a month and Michelle says sheís caught on pretty well. Iím a little short on Friday lunches. I thought maybe Iíd see if sheíd be interested in doing a split."

 

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Christina sat in the aft of her boat, disgusted with herself. All she could think about was how soft Abigailís lips were and how good it felt to hold her. Some friend you turned out to be!

"Christina?"

Forgot about Owen stopping by after work! "Hey, Owen!"

"Hey girl," Owen said as he approached. "Boat looks good. Been doing a lot of work on it?"

"Yeah," she replied, smiling at the compliment.

"So whatís been going on with you? We havenít had much chance to talk outside work." Owen sat in the chair next to Christina.

"Not much. You want something to drink?"

"Iíll take some water."

Christina grabbed two bottles of water from the blue cooler. "Actually, there is something I wanted to discuss."

"Okay."

She handed Owen his water and sat down. "Thereís somebody I think Iím interested in."

"Oh?" Owen fought to keep the smile off his face.

"Yeah." She took a sip of water as she stared at the stars in the sky behind him. "And you know my track record with relationships."

"Thatís the past, Christina."

"Yeah, well," she began, trailing off.

"What happened between you and Gwen happened three years ago."

Christina stared over the boat railing, avoiding Owenís gaze.

"That was a long time ago, you know. Youíve changed."

"It doesnít feel that long ago."

Owen brought Christinaís face back to his gently. "You were just getting sober. It was a crazy time for you."

She backed away in stony silence.

"Not every experience will be like your first relationship, Christina. You were so raw, so inexperienced. You didnít even really know what emotions were when you two got involved. It overwhelmed you and sucked you dry. Even so, youíve grown and changed because of it."

"Well, I donít really see how it benefited me."

"Did you learn from it?"

Christina laughed sarcastically. "Yeah. Donít do it again."

Owen got up and kneeled next to Christina and draped his arm over her shoulder. "Youíre a card, Chris. Real funny. Now who is it thatís caught your eye?"

Christina sighed, giving up her attitude. "Her nameís Abigail. Sheís a server at the restaurant."

"Abigail." Owen pondered for a moment. "That Abigail who worked tonight? Cute strawberry-blonde with an adorable smile?"

Christina looked at Owen, rolling her eyes and forcing out a sigh. "Yes, Owen. Thatís her."

"Good choice. Perky, intelligent - not to mention very shapely!"

Christina snapped back. "Sheís a lot of fun to be around, given the fact that sheís being hounded by a psycho."

"Christina, donít talk about yourself that way," Owen admonished.

"Not me!" Christina stood up and stomped towards the cabin. "That idiot who killed that friend of hers."

"Sorry. Old reflexes. Thought you were trashing yourself again." Owen followed Christina to the cabin. "Tell me the story."

"She saw a friend of hers getting killed and the killer is after her. Happened about five years ago." She paused as they entered the cabin and sat at the table. "She saw the whole thing go down. Her apartment got trashed Friday night."

"Yeah, I think I remember hearing about that." He stopped as he tried to remember what the local newspaper had printed about it. "Does she have a safe place to stay?"

"Yeah, she staying with that new cook, Jack. Can you believe she didnít even take a day off?"

Owen was more interested in the fact that Abigail was staying with Jack than her attendance record at the moment. "Youíre not after a straight woman, are you?"

Christina considered throwing her water on Owen, but thought better of it. Just a mess Iíd have to clean! "No, Owen, Iím not. Sheís bleeping so high on my gaydar, I wish it was a fish finder!"

Owen smirked at Christina. "Oh, but it is!"

She playfully slapped him on the back. "Oh, stop it!"

"So you really like Abigail? Is this just physical or something more?"

"If it was only physical, it would be over and done with."

"Yeah," Owen replied. "You donít really mess around in that area."

"Well, I think Iíd be better off distancing myself from her."

"Why? Because somebody might actually get to know you instead of the tumble and go method?"

She glared at him. "Weíve both got pretty full plates, donít you think?"

"Thatís up to you, girl. But itíll be your loss. If you never take the chance, youíll never know." Deciding it was time to back off, Owen changed the subject. "What did you think of Darlene?"

 

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Abigail settled into Jackís apartment. She didnít know how much more of this she could take.

She thought Jack understood the situation. It wasnít like she hid her sexuality from him. Still, every day, she awoke to breakfast and Jack doting over her. This canít go on. Either Iíve got to go back to my place or find somewhere else to go. I thought by now he would have picked up on that clue by four I hit him with!

Absently, she ran her fingers through her hair. She smiled as she remembered the weekend. It was so comfortable, being with Christina.

"Hey, Abby," Jack called from the bathroom, interrupting her thoughts. "Can you bring me a new towel? I forgot to get one."

"Sure." She grabbed a towel from his closet and handed it to him through the door.

After getting dressed, he exited, rubbing his hair with his towel. "Ab, it sure has been nice having you around. Itís gets boring, living alone. Iím glad youíre here."

Uh oh. She could see where this was leading. "Well, Iím glad you let me stay here."

"Hey," Jack responded. "You can stay as long as you want to." Forever would be fine with me!

She looked at her friend, wanting to let him down easily. "Jack, you know, Iíve been meaning to talk to you about that."

Jackís mahogany eyes shone with hope. He fought to surpress a smile.

"I really appreciate what youíve done for me, but I think itís time I returned to my apartment."

"What?" Crestfallen, he fought to keep the disappointment off his face.

"I need to deal with this. I canít let her win."

"Abby, Lita Tomlinson is a dangerous, crazy bitch!"

"And I canít let her control my life."

Jack waved his arms in complete frustration. "This isnít a game! She killed Mike!"

She took a deep breath, keeping her composure. "Yes, she did. But I made a life for myself after that. I went through therapy to deal with it. I canít just let her live in my head, rent free."

Jack sunk down on the couch in defeat. It was painfully obvious that her decision had been made. "Well, at least stay tonight, Abby."

"I will. But I need to leave in the morning."

 

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

 

Eight a.m. came early for Christina. It was another sleepless night. Rather than her usual nightmares, her mind continued to replay her conversation with Owen. Bypassing her morning run, she gathered her paperwork and walked to the restaurant.

Samantha greeted her at the back door. "Hey, Christina!"

"Morning, Sam."

"I thought you were off today." Samantha took a drag from her cigarette and exhaled, careful not to blow the smoke in Christinaís face.

"I am. Iíve got a meeting with our new GM. Have you met her yet?"

"Met her? Are you kidding? Samantha smiled and shook her head. "She beat me here this morning!"

"You werenít late, were you?"

"Oh, no." Samantha took a quick puff.

"Howís the opening going? You guys arenít making me look bad, are you?"

"Nah, weíre ahead this morning. All the prepís done. Weíre doing some extra cleaning."

"Great! Well, Iím going to my meeting." Christina opened the door as Samantha stepped aside.

The meeting with Darlene went better than Christina had anticipated. Darlene seemed genuinely pleased with the management plan implemented for the kitchen. Sheíd asked Christina very pointed questions and had been quite pleased with the knowledgeable answers sheíd received.

All phases of training were clearly outlined and personnel retention was fairly high. That meant less money lost in payroll and food cost due to new hire training.

As Darlene perused the paperwork, she smiled satisfactorily. "Everything seems in order. I appreciate your meeting with me on your day off."

"Not a problem."

"Christina, what is your goal with this company?"

"Right now, Iím just trying to be the best Kitchen Manager I can be.

"Hmm." She paused thoughtfully. "I donít want to hold you up. I know how important it is to have a life outside of work."

Yeah, like I have one. "Well, if I can be of any assistance to you..."

Darlene rose, dismissing her as she shook her hand. "Thank you, Christina. Iíll bear that in mind."

 

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

 

Even though Abigailís apartment was a mess, she was glad to return. At least she wouldnít have to deal with Jack, waiting on her hand and foot.

She wondered what Christina was doing. Probably fishing!

Her apartment was in ruins because a psychopath was out to get her. She sarcastically laughed as she thought about how she would approach Christina. Hi, beautiful! Wanna go to my place? We can snuggle and enjoy each other...then for fun, you can watch in shocked amazement as Lita Tomlinson attempts to kill me! "Yup," she said to herself. "Thatís the pick-up line of the year!"

Abigail felt nauseated as she began straightening her apartment. Getting a huge trash bag, she picked up what was left of her living room. She tried to look at the situation optimistically. At least my clothes were only strewn over the furniture, not ruined!

The telephone rang, disturbing her contemplation. "Hello?"

"Hi, Abigail. Itís Christina."

"Christina! Howíd you track me down?"

Yeah, Iím really staying away. "Ran into Jack at work. He said you went home."

"I had to face this mess sooner or later." Abigailís voice was flat as she spoke.

"Doesnít sound like youíre having much fun."

"Huh! You want to come over and help me sort this crap out? Nothing like having your life thrown around your living room!"

Attempting to sound lighthearted, she replied. "Well, you did go fishing with me two days in a row. If you want, I could help you." Go ahead, stick your foot in it this time!

"Christina, I was only kidding." Abigail paused, then added quickly. "But Iíd love some company."

Owenís voice resounded in Christinaís mind. Not every experience will be like your first relationship...If you never take the chance, youíll never know. "Fair is fair. Iíll give you a hand."

"Great!"

Owen, if youíre wrong about this... "Samís getting ready to go on break. Iíll ask her to drop me off."

 

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

 

Lita yawned as she sat on the jetties. It had been a stupidly boring weekend. Abigail Thanis had seemingly vanished over the weekend and the meeting with her old friends was a definite bust.

Well, thereís always Andrew! She laughed to herself as she thought about Andrew. He tried so hard not to show his fear. She grinned as she thought of the slight tremble in his hands, constantly betraying him. Yes, Andrew can be such fun!

She stood up from her spot and stretched. It was time to go find some fun!

It wasnít hard for her to locate Andrew. He was nursing a fifth near his favorite sand dune.

"Hi, Andrew," she purred as she approached.

"Lita," he responded, attempting to stand. His eyes were slightly glazed from all the alcohol heíd consumed.

Running her hands along his chest, she gingerly unbuttoned his shirt, sliding her hands inside. "Did you really miss me?"

The alcohol dulled any other feelings Andrew had. "Oh baby, I missed ya."

As he brought his hands up to hold hers, she pushed him backward, laughing as he stumbled in the sand. "Sheesh! Whaja do that for?"

"I like you better like this."

Andrewís gray eyes blurred slightly as his head continued to spin. With his head slowly bobbing from side to side, he extended what he thought was a steady hand. "Whaddya waitiní for then? Címere!"

Slowly, Lita lowered herself by Andrew, staying just beyond his reach. "Didnít seem like many of our old friends were happy to see me, Andrew."

"Aw, whaddya need them for, Hon? You got me!" He attempted to look meaningfully into her eyes, but he couldnít focus.

"Youíre right, Andrew." She scooted closer behind him, putting her arms around him but keeping her breast away from his back. "And youíre going to help me, right?"

He got dizzy as he turned his head, trying to look at her. "íCoursh I am. Hey, címere!"

She moved in a little closer and began nuzzling his ear. "Youíre going to help me find Abigail Thanis, arenít you? Sheís the reason we havenít been together."

"Yeah," he responded languidly.

Nibbling slowly along his neck, she continued. "You know, we canít really be together until we make her pay for sending me away."

He groaned with desire. "Whadja want me ta do?"

She kissed him on the lips and let her hands roam freely. "Find out everything you can about her, Andrew. You can do that for me, canít you?"

As she pressed her body against his, he groaned in response. "Sure, baby, anything you want. Iím your man."

 

Continued in Part III....

 

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