The Starry Sky
by Bibbit

Chapters 7-11

Disclaimers
This story needs no legal disclaimer, because it belongs solely to me. While it started with the vision of two certain ladies in mind, after a few twists and turns of my imagination, the characters became uniquely mine.

With that said, this tale is a drama piece, rather than an action feature. Though it contains several scenes of violence, there are no car chases or explosions. Proceed at your own risk.

A loving relationship between two female characters is contained herein. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finally, I’d like to thank Charlotte, again, for reading this and convincing me I should post it so that another person or two could read it. I’m going to keep trying until I get this writing thing right.

This story is copyrighted to Bibbit, 1999.

Feedback is welcomed. Contact me at: bibbit@brightok.net

 

Chapter 7

The office wasn’t much, its walls barely ten feet apart on all sides, but it was hers. She’d only been at the firm for two years, after all. Plus, the lived in look was more her style than a fancy office would be. So the diploma on the wall up next to the flowered print made the room her own and the raise she’d received last month was more than enough to tell Kimba the rest of the firm appreciated her hard work.

As did the compassion Rawlings, the managing partner, had shown her when she’d strode into his office and told him of her friend’s situation. They’d decided it would be best for Roger to handle the divorce, since she was too close, and the rush had been put on the case’s commencement. By three o’clock the stocky little man was at her door, papers in hand along with a huge smile.

"It’s all set, honey," he refrained happily, as he always did. He really was a sweet man and Kimba was glad to have him as a friend.

She accepted the forms with a matching grin and motioned to the meagerly padded chair across from her desk. The firm hadn’t provided her with much in the way of comforts, since she rarely met with clients. And if the need ever did arise to see someone, she did it either in a conference room or someone else’s office. "Thanks so much Roger, this means a lot to me."

"I can see that. Johnson should be serving the guy at any minute. Is there really gonna be a problem with him," he asked with an arch of his russet eyebrow.

"I hope not, but I’m afraid it could come to that. He’s been violent in the past. And he’s not happy about this at all." Kimba threw up her hands and shrugged broad shoulders. "I told Julie to come here as soon as school let out."

Agreeing that the precaution was a good idea, Roger nodded his head, light brown hair slightly shifting with the movement. He wasn’t the best looking man she’d ever seen, but he was on the cute side. And the fact that he loved her had taken the decision to like him out of Kimba’s hands long ago. When he declared his feelings for her, the idea that he accepted the fact that she could never be in love with him was enough to allow the man into the empty spot that existed in her soul. Much to his horror, he’d never been able to fill the void completely, but it was enough for both of them that he could make the ache a little less.

Leaning forward in the chair, he rested rounded forearms on the faded wood surface of the desk. He arched his eyebrows into a playful look that his companion knew well. "So this is THE Julie, huh? I can’t believe I’m finally going to meet her."

Kimba leaned forward to match his stance, bringing them only a foot apart. The bright sparkle remained in her eyes, but she pulled a serious look onto her face. "Not a word about us to her, got it? I’ll tell her, but nothing like that has come up yet, so I’m going to leave it that way for now," she said in a low voice.

"Can’t have her getting jealous over poor little Roger, now can we," he replied with a hint of disappointment in his voice.

Kimba knew that he always secretly thought she’d fall for him, even though he swore he understood. But then she’d catch that look in his deep green eyes and her heart would ache for him. She knew what it was like to love someone you could never have. Still, he came when she called, fully acknowledging that it might be the last time. He was really an amazing man. Or maybe just a glutton for punishment.

Placing a small hand on his arm, Kimba smiled sadly at him with a tilt of her head. "It’s not like that, Roger. I plan to tell her about you, everything about you, but I don’t know when it will come up."

He moved a pudgy hand over hers and shook his head ruefully. "You’re not going to let her hurt you again, are you?"

It was a simple question really, but the answer was so hard. Roger was the only person who knew what had happened between Julie and herself. She’d had to tell someone, and he was the only person Kimba had ever met that seemed to want nothing from her. Except love of course, but he didn’t push that. And so she’d said what needed to be said, what she had to get out. The slip that led to the conversation had been totally unintended, during the second time they’d made love. A name, not his. So afterward it had all come pouring out, even things she’d never had the courage to admit to herself before.

"Roger, you know I appreciate the way you look out for me, but I can handle this. Whatever happens, I accept the consequences," answered quietly, almost as a pact to herself that she’d live up to her word. But it had hurt so much last time...

That last day she’d seen Julie had been a hot one, over one hundred degrees. Kimba was a little surprised her friend hadn’t invited her into the cooled house, but she hadn’t, so they’d stood on the porch and talked. The tall woman wore simple shorts and a t- shirt, still looking every bit the model five years after giving up that dream.

Small talk lasted a while, being as they didn’t see each other very often. Once a month, maybe, so there was plenty of catching up to do. Kimba was eager to hear of Jesse’s latest exploits and Julie’s progress into her last semester at the local college. It was still hard to believe she was going to be a teacher.

Then finally, it came time to get the point, so Kimba did. "Jay, I’m leaving for school tomorrow. I...I’m not sure when I’ll make it back this way," no matter how much she’d rehearsed it or how hard she tried, the tremor crept into her voice.

Blue eyes slowly left hers, moving to the grassy ground lately a much easier place for them to rest. The younger woman was always nervous when her friend wouldn’t look her in the eye. "You’re going to have a lot of fun at Brown, Kimba," she said in a quiet voice. "I’m really proud of you." She finally looked up to give a smile that was surely meant as encouraging, but to the woman across from her, it looked desperate.

"Do you think you could come visit me sometime? It could be just the two of again, for a little while." A long sigh escaped the older woman as Julie looked away again. Kimba couldn’t quite pinpoint when things had gotten so hard between them. She only knew that they had.

It had all began, of course, when Julie married John. He thought of Kimba as an annoying little third wheel and made no bones about letting her know it. Julie had constantly defended her friend to her husband, but over the years, the times they’d spent together had become fewer and more tension filled.

The dark haired woman walked to the white rail that circled the house’s porch and heavily leaned on it. Her eyes slowly took in the crowded little neighborhood before she spoke. "You know I’d love to, but we probably can’t afford something like that for me. Maybe when I get a job, but that’s a ways off."

Kimba settled beside her friend, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, drawing glazed eyes to her own. At that look of utter fright, of what she knew not, the younger woman drew in a calming breath. It wouldn’t do any good to get upset. "It would be a nice break for you," she stated softly.

An imperceptible nod was her answer, the one she knew came from the heart, but her friend’s words brought the answer she’d expected, considering the gulf between them.

"John probably wouldn’t like the idea."

"John has been running your life for over five years, Jay. Why don’t you do something you want for once," she growled fiercely.

Julie cast a glance back to the door before bestowing a scowl on her friend. "Let’s not get into this, okay."

But it was too late. The realization was slowly seeping into Kimba’s mind that this could be the last time she would see the person who meant the most to her in the world, despite the recent hurdles in their relationship. Nothing was going to stop her from saying what was raging through her mind. "I can’t even remember the last time I saw you smile, Jay. Do you know how much I miss that? You can’t let him..."

"You don’t understand," she pleaded in a low voice. Twisting back around, body facing the front yard, her slender fingers turned white against the railing they held. "Jesse and I are in a good position, here. I couldn’t support him by myself. John provides for us." Misty eyes turned onto Kimba again, then lowered in defeat. "He’s a good man and I love him." But they both knew it was a lie.

Gently caressing her friend’s strong cheek, Kimba turned the crystal blue eyes to hers. Both of them were losing a few stray tears. "Come with me, Jay. We’ll find a way to take care of Jesse and you can be happy again. You don’t deserve the way he treats you," she implored in a raspy tone.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it explosively, Julie lips upturned slightly. "It wouldn’t work, but it is a tempting offer." She reached up to Kimba’s face and caressed it lovingly. "I would give almost anything for things to be back the way they were, but it can’t happen, Kimba. This is my life now. I’ve got to live it," she spoke quietly while gently brushing tears off her friend’s face. "Things will be okay. John loves me and..."

Something in Kimba snapped at that. A sudden motion had both of Julie’s hands in her own and their faces only inches apart. "He’ll never love you like I do," she interjected.

This was it. The moment when she either won it all or lost it. All the years and wonderful times they’d had were in the balance. And Kimba realized what she was asking, that it was a lot, that it was everything to Julie. But it was everything to her as well.

The taller woman caught her breath at the words and tears began flowing freely. Her energy immediately went into an attempt not to completely break down. In between sobs, she managed to gasp the words that broke Kimba’s heart. "I can’t...I can’t go with you, no matter how much I want to. I’m sorry."

Pulling away from the contact between them, Kimba took in as much air as her lungs would hold while raising her hands as if to ward off some danger. A million things to say ran through her mind, but some inner voice was declaring that it was too late for anything. Julie wouldn’t leave the man now, or probably ever. And it was over between them. "I’m gonna miss you...so much."

Backing off the porch, the young woman made a purposeful attempt to study her friend completely. No matter how painful this moment was, there were so many good things to remember about her best friend. She didn’t want to forget a one.

Roger shook his head and gave a slight smile. "Okay, if you say so. But Kim, you know I’m always here for you." His hand squeezed hers tighter and she responded in kind. He was a great friend.

"Thanks Roger. It’ll be fine. You just need to take care of this divorce for her. It could get messy," she reported sadly.

"What could get messy," came a familiar voice from the door. They both looked up to see Julie standing there, elegantly wearing a navy blue pant suit, long black hair rolled in a precise bun. Kimba smiled appreciatively at the teacher look.

The redhead stood and gapped the space between her friend and Roger, who was now also standing. "Oh, this little business of getting you unconnected to that man." A dark eyebrow rose quickly, countered by a smirk from Kimba. There was no use trying to hide her feelings. If Julie didn’t know by now how she felt about John, she must have been living in another dimension. "Julie, this is Roger Barnes. He’s going to be handling your affairs," she introduced them, motioning to each with a wave of the arm.

Leaving the two of them alone to iron out the business details and further discuss the situation, Kimba decided to visit the little firm’s kitchen. Like the tightly clustered offices, the entire place wasn’t very big. The mini-refrigerator and sink took up one wall and a simple wooden dining table took up the rest. It wasn’t that the firm didn’t have money, because it did okay in the revenue department. The partners had simply made a conscious decision to keep a tight budget so that all excess funds could go either back into the practice or in the pockets of the lawyers that produced them. Everyone thought it was a good plan, so few complaints were heard of the tiny, unremarkable offices or the occasional lack of luxuries heard tell of from other firms.

Kimba didn’t mind much at all. In fact, it was a comfort to her to know that the managing partner wasn’t down the hall in a lush office laughing at her brown paper bag accommodations. By the time law school graduation had approached, the stocky woman had been unsure of what life in the real world of law would bring her, but the fears proved to be unfounded. Her career had turned out to be all she thought it would be. Through a couple of very long years it had helped her turn away from the rest of her existence, which hadn’t turned out so great.

Green eyes turned to the open doorway as Mary, the all-purpose, all important, super secretary appeared. The young lawyer had relied on her fully for the first year of her career, which helped foster a very close working relationship between the two. "Hey, Mary. Are you about ready to go home," she asked lightly.

"I’m getting there, honey." The slight woman, shorter in stature than Kimba and thinner to a great degree, plopped a stack of papers on the table. The gust of wind it created blew red-gold hair into a whirl and Kimba cast her a mock stern glare. "That’s everything I could find on the drainage situation. Anything else is beyond my expertise, so you’re on your own."

Picking up the stack of cases, the younger woman nodded her head in understanding. The project was something trivial that would require a lot of fruitless research. Generally, she would love something like it, but at the moment, and for the last few days, she seemed to have something else completely on her mind. "I’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s gonna take a while...but I’m about to leave myself, so it can wait," she replied with a sigh.

A gleam took over Mary’s dark brown eyes and her smile widened. "So, is everything alright with your friend?"

"I think so. She’s talking to Roger right now about the divorce action. Once we get that out of the way, things’ll be great." Even feeling her muscles twitching and the uncontrollable urge to smile didn’t stop Kimba from trying to stop the grin. She couldn’t seem to help it lately.

Mary stepped closer and lowered her voice to almost a whisper. "I’m glad it’s working out, honey. She’s very pretty," she confided with what Kimba thought was a wink.

My God! Can everyone see it that clearly, Kimba’s mind furiously asked. Surely the secretary didn’t suspect her feelings. The grinding of her teeth tempered the silly smile, but the blush that crept up her fair cheeks could not be hidden in the least. A little nod of her head seemed to satisfy Mary as an answer, as the older woman patted her on the shoulder before exiting the room.

Roger and Julie talked for thirty minutes about all the details that needed to be ironed out. At least for the moment, they hoped everything would be easy. In the divorce petition, she was only asking for a modest amount of child support and joint custody. Jesse and his father got along fine, so that wasn’t a worry. Now the only missing factor in the equation was whether John was going to throw a big fit over the whole thing or not. Julie seemed to think he could adjust to the idea, but Kimba had some serious doubts. The man was too possessive to let his wife go without a fight.

Picking up Jesse from baseball practice had been a nervous event. John had probably already been served with the court papers and both women feared that he would be sitting in the parking lot waiting for them. Kimba had no doubt there was going to be at least one more volatile scene, though hopefully it wouldn’t happen in front of a lot of people. Especially people at school. They both had reputations to maintain, after all.

But he hadn’t been there, so the drive home was filled with at least a small degree of hope that things would be all right. Then Julie informed them that John had probably been at a principals meeting he was required to go to by the school district. With his deeply ingrained sense of duty, he wouldn’t miss something like that. They decided that either way, it was a good thing, in the least giving him a chance to cool off and think rationally.

In front of the television, network comedies playing on unnoticed by the occupants of the fluffy sofa, they finally started talking about it. Kimba hadn’t really asked much about why Julie had finally decided to leave the jerk, preferring to let her friend tell in her own time. Apparently, it was time.

"I’m not sure what he’s going to think about this. He probably didn’t even realize I was unhappy. I’ve been that way for so long," she sighed with a sad smile.

Kimba nodded in understanding. She knew what it was like to be unhappy. Had been that way for years. If it hadn’t been for her insatiable quest for the career she’d dreamed of, she didn’t know how she would have made it. She suspected Jesse had done much the same for the dark haired beauty sitting casually beside her. "Well, I’m sure he’ll realize that if this is what you want, you should have it. He must care about you that much."

Julie inhaled deeply and raised both eyebrows in a questioning glance. "He...he’s a very dominant man, Kimba. I’m not so sure he’ll give me up so easily." Turning her eyes away, shame evident on her sharp features, she continued. "I mean, I know that I’ve practically been his slave for twelve years. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I did anything he didn’t approve of. This is a pretty big way to start," she snorted softly. "Maybe I should have tried buying a new dress first or something."

"You always did go for the big stuff, Julie. It wouldn’t be you if it didn’t cause some sort of disaster." Laughing softly, Kimba placed a hand on her friend’s knee.

The picture she was getting of the woman Julie had become was somewhat disconcerting. The girl she’d known in her childhood had been so different. Nobody messed with them for fear of suffering her intimidating wrath, possibly a punch in the nose or a degrading verbal assault. Early in their friendship, Julie had made it well known that no one was to question her choice of friends, and after a couple of apt demonstrations, no one tried. Now, the thought of her demurring to that pompous man made the lawyer’s stomach do circus flips.

Running a hand through dark hair, the woman laughed self-depreciatingly, but the smile was soon over run by a sadness that struck a sour chord in the little redhead. A melancholy silence hung in the air. Kimba couldn’t reconcile the two pictures in her mind. She refused to. Julie didn’t want to be the dutiful wife to anyone, no matter about Jesse or not. And she didn’t have to. When they were young she was a spitfire, and a happy one at that. There was no reason she couldn’t be one again once they managed to get John and his depressive power out of her life for good.

An insistent bang on the front door drew both women’s attention to the room’s foreground, startled glares taking in the shaking white metal and mahogany frame. No doubt about it, that couldn’t be good.

"Don’t answer it," Julie whispered, the fright trembling her voice.

Shaking her head and steeling her nerves against what was about to happen, Kimba arose and went to the door. The man was going to be around whether they liked it or not and this confrontation was inevitable. She reasoned it was better to get it over with now. Despite the anguish in Julie’s eyes, nothing worse than a few angry words was going to happen anyway. This was a person that her friend had loved and married, so he couldn’t be that bad.

After a deep breath, Kimba pulled the door open as more hard raps violently shook it. Her eyes widened at the red, angry face of John Jordan, only inches from her own. His dark eyes were wild and a snarl turned his lips into a thin angry slit. Breathing ragged, his voice dripped with rage as he got the fight started. "Where the hell is my wife, bitch?"

Kimba swallowed involuntarily and took a half step back. She didn’t want to back down, but her body was trying to betray her. The way he said bitch made her heart stop beating for a long moment. She’d had fights with him before and he’d never sounded like this. It could have been his thick voice, or the fact that she wasn’t quite sure which one of them he was referring to, or just all of his menacing rage. The only definite idea she had was that she’d underestimated the severity of the situation when she’d oh so casually opened the door.

Drawing from all the strength she had, at least the part of it that wasn’t going into keeping her knees from buckling, Kimba straightened up to her full, meager height and replied. "She’s here, John, but I think you need to cool down a little before you two talk."

He snorted heavily, brought his arm to her shoulder and easily shoved her further into the house. "Get out of my way," he growled.

Catching her balance at the last minute, the small woman righted herself and followed the seething man into the living room, where he stopped a couple of feet from the couch and stared down at the frightened woman still sitting there. Julie was paralyzed with shock, her blue eyes wide, already watering in anticipation.

"What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t leave me," he shouted loud enough for anyone in the house to hear.

Kimba looked back to the hall leading to the bedrooms, hoping that Jesse would have the sense to stay in his room during all this. Her eyes pulled back to the scene in front of her as Julie quietly spoke.

"John, it’s over between us and you know it. I’m tired of serving you." She swallowed hard but kept eye contact with the fidgeting man. "You can find someone else to take care of your needs. It’s just not going to be me."

He took in a deep breath and held it for a moment. Kimba was convinced he was going to explode until he finally let it out with an animal like growl, frustration evident on his face. "Where the hell did this come from?" His hands flexed out at his sides exasperatedly.

Kimba knew it was involuntary, but blue eyes tracked over his broad shoulder and found her own for an instant. She knew the look would probably go over as well as a train full of people sailing into the Grand Canyon. "It’s been a long time since we’ve been in love, John. I’m tired of hurting," she replied in trembling distress.

Again, an intense intake of breath from the tall, dark man, accompanied by flexing fists. "This is about her, isn’t it," he asked, glancing briefly back to the woman behind him. "I hoped that once I finally got rid of her we wouldn’t have to worry about your little obsession anymore. And now you’re leaving me for the little bitch. This is rich."

Watching Julie stand up abruptly, Kimba was more than a little shocked about the animation her friend’s face suddenly took on. It seemed to go from pale to blazing red in a single moment. This was more like the Julie she knew. "This isn’t about her, you bastard. This is about the fact that you’ve never asked me what I want about anything." She actually took a step toward the imposing man, seemingly oblivious to his physical advantage. "I’ve finally decided what it is that I want," she rasped, an evil little grin twitching her lips. "And you don’t even come close."

Kimba lurched forward as she realized what was happening, but she couldn’t stop it. His fist glanced off Julie’s cheek in a blur of motion, sending the stout woman flying as if hit by a truck. She crashed back into the soft sofa, long fingers immediately drawn to her face. Already in motion, Kimba grabbed John’s arm as he moved in for more.

If she hadn’t already been so mad, the little woman would have been scared witless. As it was, the man looming over her, teeth clenched into a hideous snarl, only served to heighten her instincts to protect her friend. Before he could fully draw back the hand that was certainly meant to connect with some portion of her body, she launched a powerful leg into his crotch, knee connecting solidly with the soft appendages resting there. He quickly dropped to his knees with a gasp of pain. Without even thinking, Kimba smashed his face with a right uppercut that would have made any professional boxer envious. She watched dispassionately as the large man slumped to the floor unconscious, a trickle of blood covering his lips.

Sprinting to the couch, small hands touched Julie’s olive face tenderly, green eyes peering deeply into the ones before her. "Are you alright?"

"I...I...Kimba, how did you do that," she asked, confusion coloring her voice.

The redhead laughed a little and glanced back at the slowly stirring man. She had no idea how she’d done it, she just had. Even though she’d taken plenty of self-defense classes and other such physically enhancing work, none of it had prepared her for that. It was all instinct. "Don’t worry about it. Do you want me to call the cops?" She knew it would be the best thing to do, but she also knew that it would infinitely complicate the situation. If they could manage to get past this part, the rest might go off without incident and no one would be subjected to public scrutiny. Julie wanted to do everything possible to prevent her correction of past mistakes from becoming a spectacle.

"No," she replied quickly, as her friend suspected she would.

Smiling gently, Kimba stroked the face still in her hands, then straightened up. "Okay, go into my closet and get my bat. I hope he’ll leave, but he’s waking up and I have a feeling he’s gonna be a little pissed."

As Julie rushed down the hall, Kimba positioned herself over the prone man’s head. Grabbing his enormous hands firmly and ignoring the groan the waking man sounded, she began pulling him toward the door. Once she got there, he attempted to get his hands away as his eyes groggily popped open.

"Let go of me, bitch," he slurred, slowly pulling his body up.

Mind racing in an attempt to figure out how they were going to get out of this without someone being seriously hurt, Kimba backed to the edge of the room. She looked down the hall to see if the bat was forthcoming. It wasn’t, but something much worse was.

John shook himself off, cobwebs visibly clearing from his eyes. He stopped advancing toward Kimba after the first step, his eyes catching his son’s wiry frame entering the room. Anger seemed to struggle with some other emotion as he stood frozen in place.

Jesse’s voice was small and trembling, matching the slow tears tracking his cheeks. "Dad, please leave. Mama wants this, so let her have it."

Face twisting into a confused scowl, the man took another step toward the pair, but he seemed less threatening somehow. "Come with me Jesse. We’ll get your mama back and be a family," he said, his voice still harsh, but slightly tempered.

"No. I want her to be happy. You don’t need her." Kimba heard resentment then and truly felt for the boy. She knew what it was like to deal with parents that were less than loving. Nothing hurt more and this boy showed it, in his tense stance and his quavering voice. His words were evidence that he’d learned a lot for his twelve years. "I’m staying here, and so is she."

Kimba detected a shifting in the air as John took a step back and Julie reentered the room, red aluminum bat in hand. Thank goodness they weren’t going to need it. No more words were spoken as the man turned, a perceptible sadness in his eyes, and exited the house. Three loud sighs of relief filled the room.

They all silently contributed to cleaning up the mess in the living room, which mostly consisted of dumped furniture and luckily no blood on the deep brown carpet. Jesse gave his mom a supportive hug and kiss before going back to his room. Julie tried to talk to him about the incident, but he seemed to understand it all and had no intention of discussing it. At least not at the moment.

And when the two women crawled under the dark blue comforter, Julie seemed to have the same attitude. She didn’t want to talk. So they laid there on their backs for a long stretch of time, both quietly staring at the star filled sky above them. At that moment, Kimba realized how great an idea the design for the room had been. It was almost exactly like being at the lake, staring at the sky as they’d done together so many times before, needing to say nothing in their silent communication. Of course she knew that’s why she’d done it, but now it really seemed like more than an act by a love struck, lonely woman.

Soft sobs alerted her to Julie’s internal torment, bringing tears to her own eyes as well. The last week had been something else for both of them. On her part, it had been mostly joy at having her best friend back. This was definite evidence that it hadn’t been quite as rosy on Julie’s side of the coin.

Without a word, Kimba scooted closer to the tall woman beside her, slipping an arm behind her shuddering back. Julie responded by rolling on her side and burying her dark head in a strong shoulder, staying that way until sleep claimed them both.

Chapter 8

The day had been less than stellar, Julie mused as she lay sprawled across the bed in Kimba’s room. Every person she’d come in contact with had asked what the hell happened to her face. Last night’s excitement left an angry red and purple bruise covering her cheek obtrusively. It was a waste of time to even try to conceal it, so she hadn’t. The best story she could think of was something lame about Jesse and a baseball. No one questioned her openly about it, but she knew some didn’t believe her, and she didn’t really care.

By some amazing act of God, she managed to avoid John the whole day at school. Although she had to admit, if he wanted to see her, all he had to do was come get her out of class. It was almost enough temptation to go find him just to see what he looked like the day after. She still couldn’t believe how her little friend had waylaid the man.

She’d suggested Jesse go to a friend’s house for the night. It would be safer for him in case there was a repeat performance of the previous night’s incident. Not to mention that it would give her some time alone to think about what in the world was going on in her life and how she’d gotten into the crazy situation in the first place. Her husband was probably due to kill her at any moment, and if by some act of the Fates nothing that drastic happened, at least get her fired from her job.

Of course, she wouldn’t really be alone with Jesse gone. Kimba would be there, which was a thought more comforting than she could have imagined it would be. And she’d thought about it a lot, all those dreary years she’d spent being John’s wife and nothing more. With the help of her fiery friend, Julie was actually beginning to believe she could be happy again.

The snapping sound of the heavy metal front door awoke her with a start. She immediately began rubbing her eyes and running a hand through her errant hair. It was past six and Kimba was finally home. And as if for good measure, while waking alertness filled her mind, so too did the faint throbbing of an uncomfortable nap induced headache.

The stocky redhead came into the room, stopped with a raised eyebrow, and took in her friend’s disarray. "Did you have a good nap, Princess," she asked with a wink.

"Funny. Where have you been?" Julie stretched her long legs parallel with the floor, flexing her toes and wiggling them.

Sharp green eyes coursed down the appendages and stared at the waving toes, a crooked grin on her expressive face. Once the movement finally stopped, Kimba looked back up and began unbuttoning her blue silk blouse. "Some of us work. Now change into some sweats or jeans or something and get ready to go," she finished authoritatively.

A protest came to her lips, but Julie quickly pushed it away with a hard shove. Whatever Kimba wanted to do to distract her was fine in her book. Anything would be better than sitting around contemplating what disaster was going to happen next.

At no time did the thought come to her mind, however, that they would end up where they did. But it was perfect and sweet and nothing less than she’d expect from her very perceptive, caring friend. So as they lay back on the rock and watched the Grove Lake water lapped the surface, all Julie could do was smile.

The weather was perfect, somehow, and the sky was full of stars, even the moon seeming to demur to the greater good and allow only the shimmering brightness of its far off neighbors to fill the night. The light jackets they wore were just enough to temper the slight, early spring breeze. The cackling branches in the woods around them accompanied the calm slapping of the waves against the sandy bank.

"It’s beautiful Kimba. Just like I’ve always remembered it," Julie said quietly. She turned her head away from the mesmerizing sky to look upon the silent woman at her side. They’d been talking for hours already, only settling for a comfortable lull in the last couple of minutes. Their little spot seemed so much more full with her friend there.

Taking in a deep breath of the soothing night air, the small woman responded in a dreamy tone. "Yeah, this has always been a great spot. Our spot." She turned her compact body onto its side, signaling a change of pace in the conversation. Julie didn’t know what was coming, but it had to be heavy to warrant face to face communication. She likewise turned to face her friend. Kimba’s expression was dour. "You’re through with him, right?"

Not what she expected at all. The question was full of raw emotion, fear and hope mixing clearly in its recesses. No time like the present to lay it all on the line, is there? She deserves to know the truth, her mind spoke calmly, but her voice gave away fear of its own. "Yes. I...I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. Before, I married John for all the wrong reasons. There’s no way I’m staying with him for one more minute." She paused and thought of all the amazing things she’d learned in the last week, even with all the turmoil tearing through her life. When she spoke, eye contact was impossible, blue eyes darted away to some indistinguishable point on the dark horizon, her voice a bare whisper. "Not since I know now what I’ve been missing."

Twelve years before, sitting on the same flat rock, she’d had no idea. Well, maybe she’d had an idea, but a loud voice in her mind constantly screamed it was a life she couldn’t have...

The summer air rushed over her on a stuffy breeze. If she was smart, she’d have been down in the water with Kimba, who was sitting in the shallows, six feet from her lounging friend, letting the water lap across her chest.

It was just another night, one of many they’d spent at the lake. They both knew it was their last summer together like this, kindred friends, but neither knew exactly how it was going to end. Julie had an idea about it that had something to do with being two weeks late for her period. Soon enough she’d have to grow the guts to find out if something horrible was going on.

As it was, they were having their typical fun. Fun like none of her other supposedly more mature friends could provide her. Kimba brought out everything that Julie longed to be. When they were together, no walls or false faces were needed. It was perfect. None of the guys she’d been associating with in the last couple of years came even close to making her feel like her friend did, completely at ease with life. And that was the problem.

Julie opened her eyes as a few drops of water scattered over her reclined body, landing mostly on her well toned and fully exposed stomach. Kimba was still submerged, trying to look innocent, which she did an amazing job of.

"Maybe we should go, it’s raining," she seriously conveyed, despite the cloudless sky that floated above them.

"Nah, that was just the water fairies blessing you." The girl rose out of the water in all of her five foot glory and Julie caught herself mesmerized again.

She’d noticed of late, what a great body her young friend was developing, knowing that it was only going to improve in the years of growing she still had to do. Kimba was going to be a little powerhouse. She had the stocky build that would be perfect for the sports she always played, except basketball, of course. Her thick legs were finely toned already, giving her a speed that surpassed Julie’s own, even though she would never admit it. They simply never raced anymore. And the girl’s arms...the muscles there were already developed and she had never picked up a weight. And then, of course, there was that cute little button nose and the silly smile that often graced her lips. Soft green eyes that made her older, serious friend slip into daydreams where her heart was captured by the vision before her.

The daydream in question settled back on the rock, water from her bikini flowing down the surface in tiny rivulets. Julie knew that she’d been staring, but with her mind in all the uproar that it was, she really didn’t care. "Blessing me, huh?"

Again, as she had those years before, Kimba’s small, pale hand took the darker one at her side, making Julie smile at how much her friend hadn’t changed and never would. She was amazing. "I’ll never make that mistake again, Kimba," she relayed with conviction.

"I know," she replied, nodding solemnly. Then there was that dreamy look, one that hadn’t crossed her features for more years that she could remember. It gave them both a pleasantly familiar ache. "It’s gonna be great. After we get this mess with John sorted out and the divorce taken care of, we’re gonna do everything we’ve missed for the last twelve years."

A shudder ran down Julie’s spine at the hopeful tone in Kimba’s voice, the promise of things to come it held. Who knew what she thought they’d missed, but it was definitely going to be worth the wait to find out.

Chapter 9

One of the things they’d missed over the years had been playing softball together, which Kimba often talked her older friend into doing when they’d been young. Some convincing was needed to get Julie to do it again, but she’d managed, so they were standing in deep centerfield, waiting for a ball to be hit their way.

The teacher had protested vigorously at first, citing the fact that she hadn’t picked up a ball in ten years, not to mention that she was never that good anyway. But Kimba didn’t buy a word of it. Julie was too good actually, a natural, she just didn’t like to put much effort into it. Hence, the woman could walk out onto the field after the long hiatus from the sport and be better than most of the well practiced players there. She normally hated that kind of person on general principles, but since it was Julie, Kimba decided she could handle it.

The grass expanse where they stood crunched under their feet, still brown and yellow from a harsh winter barrage of subfreezing temperatures and gusty windstorms. The dawning of spring would soon bring the field around to a measure of greenness, although the meager amount of grounds keeping done on the city owned fields would never bring them into lushness. The best the grass could hope for was a minimum amount of water and as few truck tracks as possible. Most of the budget for the summer had already been spent rebuilding a barrier around the complex that had been more holes than fence. Decent outfields would have to wait until next year.

As far as Kimba was concerned, the condition of the field didn’t matter. She liked being out there with her game and her friends. Serious athletes shunned the sport as more of a party event, but there weren’t too many places a woman could get competition after leaving the high school and college levels. If slow pitch softball was it, she didn’t mind. Hanging out and playing was fun and in the last few years, a night at the ballpark was often the only source of that she’d had.

The golden redhead took a couple of steps closer to her friend, who was intently watching the batter spray hits among the other women scattered about the outfield. "What do you think so far," she asked casually.

"It’s alright," Julie answered, still staring at home plate. Playing so far out in the field, it was unlikely that a ball would be hit their way that wouldn’t roll to them, but Kimba didn’t want to make her friend self-conscious by informing her of that. "I guess I hit okay considered how long it’s been."

And of course she had. Lines drives that would have been easy hits in a game, drawing a giggling Kimba to taunt her with ‘I told you so’ one too many times. But the little punch had been worth the depreciating shrug and crooked smile she’d received.

"Yeah, I knew you could do it. This is gonna be fun, don’t worry." Kimba felt her eyebrows involuntarily raise as Rana, the batter, exited the box, stopped in the batting circle and gave Halle, her lover, a peck on the lips. She’d seen it before, many times since they were a very open and affectionate couple. What brought a queasy feeling to her stomach was wondering how Julie would react to the display.

Before the whole John fiasco, Kimba had thought she’d seen the tendency in Julie to appreciate a woman. Well, not a woman, but a girl, since the person in question had been herself. Little comments and thoughtful looks had made her think her friend wished she was just a few years older so that she could act on what she felt. For a while there at the end, when she was beginning to realize that she thought of Julie as more than just a friend, Kimba had herself convinced that the older girl felt the same way. Gone had been the days when she believed that she would one day have to share her friend with a husband. Since she had everything she needed in her best friend, why bother with a man. At least that’s what she thought then.

Now she wasn’t so sure, though. Not that she expected Julie to make a pass at her or something after all that had happened to keep them apart, but the woman had given no indication whatsoever of that sort of interest. She’d always been the quiet sort, Kimba was the talker and she knew it, but this once she wished that her friend would come out and say something like ‘you know, back then I was in love with you.’ It would make things so much easier. As it was, they slept in the same bed every night, the younger woman dreaming the same dreams that she had been dreaming for practically her whole life, with absolutely no idea if there was any possibility that they could ever come true. Nothing on the face of the earth could provoke the saucy redhead to do anything that would jeopardize the life giving friendship she had with Julie. Living the rest of her life with the unrequited love she’d dealt with in the past wasn’t a heartening prospect, but having no friendship at all was a worse scenario. It was a very frustrating predicament to be in.

Rana and Halle kissing in the batter’s box might give some insight into the problem, she realized, but it was a scary thing. The thought of hearing a disapproving comment about the women’s choice of partners made Kimba’s heart begin pounding in her ears.

"Did they just kiss or was that my imagination," Julie asked, her voice low despite the fact that no one was within hearing distance.

Kimba glanced over to gauge her friend’s expression, which showed nothing, as usual. Julie had a knack for revealing nothing if she didn’t want to. So far so good, though. Might as well dive right in. "It wasn’t your imagination. They’ve been together as long as I’ve known them, at least five years. They make a cute couple, don’t you think," she asked, surprising herself at her boldness.

Shooting her friend a quick look, Julie again concentrated on the batter, who was conveniently pulling every ball down the left field line. "They’re lesbians?"

That didn’t sound so good, Kimba thought at the questioning tone of Julie’s voice. Not that she could blame her. It had been an adjustment for her at first, to be around a gay couple that was so open about their mutual love. A person didn’t encounter two women kissing or holding hands everyday. But it hadn’t taken her long to get used to the idea, not to mention that it helped her focus the confusing feelings that she’d had about her estranged friend.

"Yeah, they are. You don’t have a problem with that, do you," her voice was now lowered as well, but not so much out of fear of anyone overhearing as with simple genuine fear.

"No, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just that I’ve never...well, I’ve never actually seen women kiss before. I guess you have, seen them, I mean." Julie stumbled a little nervously over the last words, which did not go unnoticed by the skittish woman beside her.

It was a good thing Julie’s eyes were still glued to home plate, because if she would have been looking to her side, she would have seen Kimba’s green eyes go wide and wild. Yeah, I’ve seen two women kiss a time or two. Rather up close actually, her mind laughed. But no need to go into that at the moment. I don’t have the foggiest of when it will be a good time, but there will definitely be a better time for that heart to heart later. "I’ve been around them for a while, so it doesn’t phase me. They’re just like anybody else. Besides the lesbian thing, anyway." Kimba chuckled at the smirk quickly fired her way. "And just so you’ll know, Marty has the same inclinations."

Taking her eyes completely off the batter for the first time since they entered the field, the tall woman walked to her friend’s side and settled there. They hadn’t gotten a ball in fifteen minutes, which made it a little harder to concentrate on the boring act of batting practice. "Who’s that," she asked, her voice tinged with curiosity.

Swallowing hard and taking the first breath in what seemed like minutes, Kimba could feel her tension easing. Her friend’s reaction was very similar to what her own had been, more curious than apprehensive. Definitely a good sign. Now if she could just maneuver smoothly around the Marty situation, everything would be great. "She’s the pitcher."

Blue eyes focused intently on the chunky blonde on the mound. Chunky may not have been the perfect description, though. She wasn’t really fat, but she also was in no danger of anorexia. In fact, she’d gained at least fifteen pounds in the last two months. Her short curly hair barely reached her shoulders and did nothing to make her look thinner.

"We’re pretty good friends," Kimba informed her still silent friend. Julie was studying the pitcher closely, as if waiting for her to do something to prove the supposition of what they were discussing. "Sometimes we do stuff together. She’s real cool. Crazy, but cool." That was definitely true, Kimba mused. If she thought about it, she still couldn’t believe some of the outlandish things the woman had gotten her to do. Anything from hiking up impossibly steep mountains to the bungee jumping they’d done. At the time, it felt exhilarating. She knew Marty had been doing anything to cheer her up, and that made the activities feel even better. But nothing they’d done together had filled the void in her heart and they’d both known that as well.

After chasing down a slow roller that came in their general direction, Julie trotted back to their spot, displaying an approving grin. She put an olive hand on Kimba’s shoulder and squeezed slightly. "Well, if she’s a friend of yours, I can’t wait to meet her. That fact alone proves she’s crazy," she joked, dodging Kimba’s cuff at the last second, as she had an uncanny knack of doing.

Not fifteen minutes later, Kimba had the joy of tensing up as Marty jogged out to their position in deep center, her intent to make the redhead squirm clear in her twinkling blue eyes. Steeling herself for the blonde’s strange sense of humor, she silently prayed that the woman would keep her head, and her promise.

"Hey Kim, you haven’t introduced me to your friend." Stopping and turning around to face the now active batter’s box, Marty bumped the redhead shoulder to shoulder. "Very rude," she accused.

"You’ve been a little busy pitching, Marty." Kimba stepped back from between the two women and motioned to both of them. "Marty, this is Julie. Julie, Marty." She watched a little uneasily as both women exchanged greetings, gently shaking hands, then stepped back to her place in the middle. She didn’t know what she was going to do if they hit it off. Or if they didn’t get along for that matter. If Marty didn’t like Julie, some very bad realities could come about.

Thankfully, only one batter was left after Marty made her appearance in the outfield, so the introduction was about as far as the relationship could go for the night. Thirty minutes later, the two women were settled comfortably on Kimba’s cushy couch, talking in the same casual fashion they had for all their lives. The attorney couldn’t help but inwardly sigh in happiness at the bullet she’d obviously avoided. In the least, Julie was not repulsed by the idea of two women having a relationship. By no means was it a green light to do something foolish, but it also wasn’t a crushing blow to her fantasies.

Jesse was neatly tucked into his bed, much to his embarrassment, when Kimba finally walked to the front door to turn out the living room light for the night. Passing by the window, the inside of the house dark, she noticed a familiar green Ford truck sitting by the curb. The truck appeared lifeless, no lights making it stand out on the darkened street. The only reason she could see its driver sitting idly behind the wheel was the dull glow of moonlight illuminating the cab. The stern profile was all too familiar, sending a strong shiver down her spine.

"Julie, come here," she called to the back room. Kimba considered that it might be best not to tell her, since Julie was gonna freak out. Then again, stalking was a step higher than a simply estranged husband. If this thing was going to get serious, they were going to take action to try and prevent it. There was no way she was going to sit a prisoner in her own home, fearful of some nut that had no right to make her miserable.

The tall woman settled beside her, expression matching the stern one she found on her friend’s face. "What is...," her voice trailed off as she followed Kimba’s gaze out the window. "Oh shit."

"Yeah," she agreed, her flat tone identical to Julie’s. "How long do you think he’s been out there?"

Running a hand through her hair, she shook her dark head, startled eyes wide. "I have no idea." Julie paused, taking a deep breath, holding it for too long, then released it explosively. Both of them knew how bad a development this was. They should have known it wasn’t going to be easy. "Never thought he’d do something like this. It’s not like he really loves me anymore...if he ever really did," she continued quietly.

"You never know what’s running through his head though. I know I’d go crazy if I lost you again." The words were out before she realized it, but she didn’t really want to take them back anyway. Julie’s cautious smile made it okay, though. There was no use in trying to fix the statement, the woman had already processed a meaning for it and it had brought a smile to her face, so it couldn’t be that bad. Now if she could figure out a way to make the jackass stalking her best friend disappear, the world would be a really nice place.

Chapter 10

Another quiet night in front of Kimba’s house, the wind breezing lightly through the open truck windows, John watched and waited. His heart called out to him fiercely, ordering him to rush in the taunting front door and take what was his.

She loves me, no matter what she says, his mind screamed in anguish. They’d been together for so long, he couldn’t quite grasp what was happening or why. I give her everything. A son, a home, a stable life. How can she do this to me? All I’ve ever done is love her.

A shadowed figure walked past the living room window, too fast for him to tell if it was Julie or Jesse. Jesse. My son. I can’t let either of those women take him from me. A boy needs his father. Sitting in front of the house almost every night since being served the divorce papers, John constantly searched his mind for a solution to the problem. He’d tried talking to her, asking her nicely to come back. Nothing worked. Julie insisted that she didn’t love him. Resignation to that claim would never come for the man, he knew.

Julie had been everything to him. The first day he’d seen her, sitting in the back row of homeroom English, he had to have her. Then and now, she was the most beautiful woman around. Men wanted her and women were jealous. Julie was the best of her stock and he insisted on taking her as his wife.

And now, he watched the street in disgust as a car passed him slowly. Now he was sitting around waiting for her to come back to him. Waiting for her to leave her little friend. Bitch, he wailed silently. Kim Curtis had always been a wedge between them. The first half of their marriage had been spent trying to get rid of her. John had been very surprised that he actually succeeded on that count in the first place, but it appeared his success was shorter lived that he thought it would be.

A solution to his problem was within his grasp if he could only grab hold of it. Leaning back to stretch in the cramped truck seat, the tall man smiled wickedly. One way or another, he was sure, he would reclaim his family.

Chapter 11

Standing as close to the chain link fence as possible, her toes extended for full height, Julie had an unobstructed view of her golden haired friend at bat, waiting for the pitcher’s next offering. She chose to sit out the last game in favor of someone a little more fresh or, honestly, someone in a little better shape. The game may have just been slow pitch softball, but a whole day of it could cause someone such as Julie, who hadn’t exercised much in the recent past, to get a little fatigued. In fact, in the middle of last game she’d decided her legs had turned to lead for no apparent biological reason. All in all, it was a little depressing.

Kimba, of course, was still going strong, her determined personality and constant physical activity allowing the day to be one of fun and frolic. The bubbly and joking nature she displayed during the activity was proof to the older woman that Kimba truly loved to play. Not a bad thing to have to watch.

But this game, the championship, depreciated beyond hope after only two innings. The other team was outstanding, as evidenced by the diving grab the shortstop made on Kimba’s screaming liner up the middle of the field. A hit just like it had been a single all day, but in this game, it was one more out closer to the inevitable.

As she watched her friend stride purposefully to her side, Julie could feel the familiar smile forming on her lips. The same look had been there for almost three weeks now, with only a few anomalous moments of unhappiness mixed in. Mainly thoughts and interactions with John brought about those aberrations. He was the only dark spot in her current existence, continuously sitting outside the house as if waiting for her to pack up and ask to be taken home. Only once had he called her out of class during school to try and plead his case. Actually, the man was being very polite for the most part, which was as unnerving as the threats he’d made when the whole mess began. At least with the intimidation she’d been sure of his true intentions. Now he seemed to be trying to wait her out, which he had no chance of doing, considering she’d never felt happier in her life. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to get that fact through his thick skull.

The source of that happiness leaned heavily against the fence beside her, watching the field with a grim expression. "Well, I guess that about does it," she said as the opposition produced the second out.

About to respond, Julie went rigid upon feeling large arms circle her waist, a body press against her back, and warm breath fill her ear. For a moment she tried to tell herself it was just someone on the team playing around, they had all gotten more familiar over the last couple of weeks, but her inner senses told her that this was a person she knew all too well. And that response triggered a headlong crash into a fear that she’d never known could be so intense.

His lips barely touching the sensitive skin of her ear, he spoke quietly enough so that Kimba still did not detect his presence, concentrated as she was on the last out being made on the field. "How’s it going darlin’?"

Flesh crawling all over her body, Julie lunged forward as far as possible, which wasn’t very far considering she’d been standing within a foot of the fence to begin with. The clanking of her body into the fence brought the short woman’s attention to her, green eyes immediately filling with fire.

"Let me go, John," Julie growled to the man behind her.

Immediately he pulled his arms away and took a step back, his captive sighing in relief. Maybe he really is beginning to take this better, she thought. But then she caught the look in his eyes and remembered his truck looming outside the house night after night. Something wasn’t right with the situation and she suddenly had a feeling it was going to get a lot worse.

"No problem, Julie. I don’t want any trouble. I just wanted to see you," he said, his voice emotionless. Julie couldn’t remember ever hearing him so calm, his voice usually raised or lowered with excitement as he spoke.

She took a deep breath to respond, then another. Stick with the plan. That was what they’d decided to do, keep telling him that their marriage was over and that she didn’t have any hard feelings about anything. Things simply didn’t work out. Surely if she said it enough he would come to understand that, it happened to a lot of people. They grew apart and then made it final. No hard feelings.

"John, that’s really nice of you, but I think we should stay apart as much as possible until both of us get used to this. It’s going to take some time, but it really is for the best," she informed him softly. She thought it probably would have been a nice touch to place a hand on his arm, but her body rebelled at the idea of touching the man again. The words would have to do.

Yet it didn’t seem to be enough for the dark man, as animation reentered his features in a fury, brown eyes blazing, fists clenching tightly at his sides. "I’m never going to get used to this. You’re my wife," he spat out the last part as if it explained everything.

The first few members of the team were returning to the dugout after having shaken hands with the other team. Everyone’s attention was diverted to the scene of Kimba and Julie standing side by side, facing a man who was raising his voice to them. Most stopped and concentrated on picking up their equipment, only Marty deciding to intervene in the situation, or at least watch and see what happened. As Julie saw her stepping closer, she realized how convenient it was to have police officers on the team.

"We’ve talked about this John," she hissed under her voice, trying not to alert the whole team as to what exactly was going on. "Let’s not do this here."

That seemed to be the breaking point, for some reason, as John threw back his head in a maniacal laugh, the sound throwing a bitter shiver down Julie’s spine. She’d definitely never heard something like that from her husband. "Where would you prefer we do this then? Huh? At your little dyke’s house?" He cast a disgusted look at Kimba and took a step back toward them both, effectively pinning them to the fence.

Not knowing what to say, since she certainly didn’t want to have the conversation anywhere, Julie was relieved to see Marty beginning a purposeful walk toward the scene. Although she wanted to get back at him for the insult he’d given her friend, she really didn’t want to do anything to make him angrier.

"Is there a problem here," the officer asked, the playful tone present in her voice all day vanished. The stocky little blonde was all business.

Turning his intent glare from his two victims, John looked at the woman approaching him with equal hatred. "Who the hell are you?"

"I’m a police officer and I think you had better leave these two ladies alone before you wind up in jail." She stopped beside him, hands on hips, chin up, allowing an unfettered look into her intent eyes. Despite the almost foot difference in height, she did not appear to be intimidated at all, which, Julie realized with a little surprise, she wasn’t.

John pursed his lips to say something several times, then grunted in frustration. He whirled around to go, but not before giving his wife one final evil glare. The three women were silent as they watched him walk swiftly to the parking lot, long legs stepping in sporadic anger.

Marty broke the silence first, the lightness present in her tone once again. "Let’s say we go out for a night on the town, ladies?"

Not knowing exactly what that meant, even though after the tenseness of the last couple of minutes, any distraction sounded really good, Julie turned to Kimba for an answer. The redhead stared at Marty for a moment, raised one eyebrow, then shrugged.

"What the hell? A night out with you can’t be any worse than watching that bastard sit outside my house," she said with a smirk at the blonde. After a pause she said, "At least I don’t think it could be worse." And with that, they were heading to the parking lot themselves, trying to put the angry man’s image, shadowy eyes and snarling smile, out of their heads.

In her quiet, rather boring life, Julie had not been in an overabundance of bars, but the one Marty brought them to seemed very nice. Circular tables surrounded a small dancing area, a long bar ran along one wall, and curtained windows covered the other. The air lacked the smoke filled sludge she’d experienced in bars before and a soft chatter was the only sound filling the room. No television blared in the background. Another crucial element was missing from the place as well. Men. The room was filled with women, head to foot, and the lack of drunken men significantly bolstered the extremely civil atmosphere. Not that women wouldn’t get tipsy and obnoxious, but it was early yet, so at the moment quiet conversations were the only activities afoot.

Upon realizing that she was sitting in a lesbian bar, the teacher’s first thought had been a fear of what anyone who saw her might think. That was until she saw a fellow teacher she’d known for ten years, without a clue as to her sexuality, sitting at an intimate table in the corner, holding hands with a petite blonde, and realized that anyone who saw her would not be spreading rumors that would implicate themselves. Pushing away those thoughts left her free to relax a little and enjoy the homey environment of the bar.

"So, are you guys going to tell me what that was all about earlier," Marty finally asked directly after a bit of small talk. She was nothing if not direct.

Kimba sought and received a nod of approval before launching into an explanation. "I’ve told you that Julie was getting a divorce. That was her husband John. Obviously, he’s not happy with the situation." The small woman shrugged and made a dismissive gesture with both hands.

Nodding and pursing her lips, the police officer slid into her professional mode for a moment. "Has he done anything else like this?"

"He’s been pretty good lately, but," Kimba paused, unsure. They’d talked about consulting the police after the first incident in the living room and agreed it would be the best course. And still they’d decided not to do it. "We had a fight after he got the papers and he’s been sitting outside my house everyday for about three weeks." The attorney finished in a rush.

Marty reflected on the information a moment before speaking. "A fight," she asked skeptically.

Julie decided to help her friend in the ever-plummeting conversation, feeling a stern tongue lashing was imminent. "Kimba beat the crap out of him. You should have seen it."

Blonde hair bobbing again as if in agreement, the officer continued to analyze the situation. Julie wasn’t sure if the explanation was going well or not. She didn’t know Marty well enough to gauge what her reaction was going to be. Anger at their stupidity for letting things go so far was not out of the realm of possibility, especially since Julie herself was quickly coming to terms with the errors they’d committed.

"Hmmm...and he’s been stalking the house too." The blonde turned her attention solely to Kimba, who was staring at the dance floor where a few women began to gather. "What the hell are you doing Kim? You should have had a protective order after the first incident and alerted the police. This doesn’t sound like something you should be screwing around with," she informed sternly, concern quickly filling her raspy voice.

Returning her attention to the officer, Kimba shrugged apologetically. "I know Marty, but we wanted to try to handle it ourselves. He hasn’t threatened us until tonight. We were hoping to avoid making this a national issue. They both have jobs and there’s Jesse to consider." She paused for another shrug. Those were the main reason’s they’d discussed in deciding not to go to the police, but not the real ones. Julie had convinced her that John wouldn’t do anything rash, that he wasn’t even capable of such a thing. After his recent tirade, she wasn’t so sure that was a correct assumption. "Besides, you know how the cops treat a situation like this. Nothing gets done until somebody gets hurt anyway," she continued.

The chunky blonde straightened up in her chair, ready for a fight. "You know that’s not true. Going to the police would be a good move to make sure things don’t escalate. We can’t predict when something’s gonna happen, but we can work prevention to some degree. Have faith for God’s sake," she pleaded with her friend.

"Alright Marty, we’ll take care of it Monday, but it’s not gonna help. If he wants to do something, no protective order is gonna stop him. And that’s something you can’t prevent," Kimba spoke regretfully.

Marty seemed to accept it as heart felt opinion and reluctantly agreed. It was a good compromise and it made Julie feel a little better after the incident at the ballpark. John was definitely going over the edge.

"I’m gonna go dance," Kimba announced suddenly before leaving the table.

Julie stared at her friend in shock for a moment, then looked to Marty, who was still planted firmly in the chair beside her with an equally amazed expression. "I can’t believe Kimba is dancing," she said softly.

The dancing wasn’t all that surprised her though, she knew her friend could move. What was a shock was that Kimba was dancing with a woman, an action which Julie hadn’t allowed herself to consider that the younger woman might do. Long ago she’d written off the possibility that her fiery little friend had kept the feelings she made so plain when they’d been young. But apparently, as she was learning more and more everyday, Kimba hadn’t changed that much at all.

One thing was for sure. Kimba could dance. Gone was the awkward, budding teenage body Julie remembered. The woman on the floor, facing a slightly chubby brunette, moved perfectly in time to the drums pounding behind the medium paced, guitar driven song. There was nothing awkward in the way her muscled body shifted with the beat, the way small hands delicately waved at her sides.

Julie was so enrapt at the scene, she almost missed Marty’s response to her statement, but it slowly crept into her consciousness and made her minutely start at its implications.

"She never would dance with me," the officer said with a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Tearing her eyes from the scene, the dark woman took in her tablemate’s wistful expression as she too was captured by the redhead on the dance floor. "Were you two...," her voice trailed of as she realized she had no idea how to ask the question. Julie had never even considered that Kimba might prefer to date women. Not once since they’d reacquainted had her friend mentioned any romantic partners, man or woman. She’d assumed that what relationships had taken place had been with men.

Marty understood the question and took pity on Julie’s inexperience in the matter. "We were together for a short while. Last summer. It...it just didn’t work out." She finished quietly, finally turning to face Julie.

"What happened," the teacher asked with interest. The words coming from her own lips surprised her, not for the nosy side she was showing, but for the ever increasing vivid curiosity that filled her soul at this revelation about her friend. The desire to hear about the relationship was a palpable sensation.

The blonde took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. She shrugged her shoulders, reminding Julie of the same action she’d noticed Kimba do often. "It didn’t end bad, as you can see, we’re still good friends. But...it started out as kind of a fluke thing. She kissed me out of the blue one day and we got to talking. Kim said she wanted to know what it was like." Sad blue eyes turned longingly out to the mass of dancing women again before she continued. "So I showed her. Then after we’d been together a couple of months, she told me she had to break it off before she hurt me anymore. She said she was in love with someone else," she finished quietly, releasing another deep sigh.

Realizing with a bit of a start that Marty was quite possibly still in love with Kimba, from the lost look that filled her eyes, Julie felt a pang of anguish for the woman as a profound silence surrounded them. With that kind of feeling left in the open, it was amazing she could still be friendly with the object of her desire. I couldn’t do the same, though, could I. I just pushed her away until the whole situation was so painful she left me, her mind supplied in anger. That had been part of the whole problem back then. After a while, she’d found it too difficult to deal with Kimba as only a friend when she wanted more and knew she could never have it.

Marty’s last statement stuck in her mind with relentless tickling as they both sat and watched Kimba take a different partner during the next song and continue her sensuous movements. Her need to know more eventually forced her to break the silence. "Do you know who she was in love with?"

After several more moments, the officer pulled her gaze from the dancing and captured Julie’s pale blue eyes with a serious intensity. "At the time, I thought it was Roger, from her law firm. We all knew they’d had a thing going since college and I thought maybe she was still hung up on him." A small grin came to her lips, to which she brought her glass of beer and took a quick sip before returning it to the cloth covered table. "After seeing her with you, I’ve changed my mind," she finished with a triumphant lilt to her voice.

About to respond to the implication by asking Marty flatly, hopefully, desperately, if she really thought it was true, Julie abruptly halted any movement of her body, including breathing. The arms that slid smoothly around her waist brought a moment of alarm, but only a short one as she identified them as belonging to Kimba. The frightened feeling was replaced by an even scarier exhilaration at the thought of her friend’s arms around her.

Even though she didn’t believe it was possible, her heart beat double time to its fast pace when the redhead spoke, the woman’s mouth was so close breath tickled her ear. "C’mon Jay, dance with me," Kimba asked in a sultry, low voice.

If Julie didn’t know better, she would have sworn her friend had been drinking. Boldness shined from her eyes and filtered across her muscled form. But they’d both only had coke since arriving, Kimba because she swore long ago to never touch alcohol and had apparently kept that promise, and Julie in deference to the other woman’s choice. And that name!!! How long have I waited to hear that again? Feels like forever. There really wasn’t much she could do except rise from the comfortable little chair and follow the stocky woman to the floor, butterflies filling her stomach at an exorbitant rate.

"It’s been a long time," she muttered when they reached a clear space and faced each other. When her eyes met green ones, the rounded face was serious, and it was obvious that Kimba knew she wasn’t referring to the act of dancing, which she couldn’t remember the last time she’d tried, but everything that was happening. The giddy little flutter in her chest was so foreign, Julie could never remember feeling it at all. She only knew that the way it was making her head swim had to be good.

The first few moments felt like trying to work stiffness out of an abused muscle, but the beat of the music brought back the ease of movement that she’d always been capable of. John hadn’t been much of a dancer, so the dark headed woman was quite out of practice, but her partner didn’t seem to notice, by the smile on her face as her eyes moved from point to point on Julie’s body. The teacher didn’t quite know what was bringing out this side of Kimba, but she was glad that it had surfaced. The not knowing and wondering had been too hard.

With a little relief on Julie’s part, the fast paced song finally ended with one last hard riff, her breath beginning to calm immediately. Dancing was harder work than she remembered, not to mention that she’d been in a lot better shape the last time she’d done it. But the next song brought a new kind of ragged edge to her breathing as a soft piano floated across the air in an easy waltz. Couples all around them immediately melded together into a congregation of four legged creatures moving as one. Green eyes met blue in question, seeing only a sea of confusion from the flustered teacher.

But upon seeing a defeated, disappointed little sigh escape Kimba’s lips, Julie reached out a hand and took an arm to stop her friend’s exit. A grin quirked both sets of lips. "I know you can slow dance. Or have you already forgotten what I taught you," she asked jokingly as Kimba stepped back toward her.

"I’ve never forgotten one thing you taught me, Jay," the redhead whispered when her mouth was close to an ear again. Julie tried to halt the intake of breath, but her fluttering lungs wouldn’t allow it and she knew her friend felt and heard the slip. Her senses were heightened to a fever pitch at the moment, soaring on a wave that she couldn’t understand the source of.

Swallowing hard, Julie concentrated on keeping her breathing even, which wasn’t easy considering the warmth she was getting from the body so close to hers. They weren’t actually touching, except for Kimba’s strong arms around her waist and Julie’s around her neck, but the feelings the older woman was getting as a result of the closeness was a startling surprise. For a long time she knew that she craved her friend’s bright soul, but actually figuring out that a physical need still accompanied that was a little shocking. So she tried to think about something else.

"I thought the taller person got to lead," she asked into Kimba’s nearby ear, praying her voice didn’t betray her raging emotions.

The redhead was caught a little off guard, casting a skeptical glance Julie’s way. Then, settling into the banter they were so good at, that also acted as a good shield from anything more uncomfortable, she smirked up at nervous blue eyes. "That’s just because the taller person is usually a man. As you’ve probably already guessed, we’re not going by those rules tonight."

"I’ve noticed," she answered with a chuckle. Maybe that explained Kimba’s bold actions. In this place, nothing of the outside world seemed to matter, only the dim lights hanging over each table and the soft hum of music filling the air. The rest of the world didn’t exist amongst the paired off women, drinks in hand and smiles on faces. There was an air of fantasy to the whole situation.

"So, do you always get to lead," the words came out before she picked up possible hidden meanings, wondering if it was an intentional slip of her devious mind or not.

Kimba considered the question for a moment, then moved her arms up around Julie’s neck, forcing her to move her hands down to the small woman’s waist. "No, I choose to think of it as an equal partnership, so we both lead." Small hands grasped the back of Julie’s neck and began kneading the muscles there, which were more tense than she realized, but she had a suspicion as to why that was so. And the rubbing wasn’t helping the situation much.

The song wound down slowly and another, more lively tune took its place, leaving the two women standing there holding each other. Neither wanted to break apart, and when they did, the spell between them was broken. But it wasn’t a painful break, merely a pause in a tense set of emotions that would need more exploration later. Enthusiastically, they rejoined Marty at the table and picked up the light playfulness of the night, which was almost as satisfying as finding out at least partial answers to some desperate questions.

Continue to chapters 12-16

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