~ The Starry Sky ~
by Bibbit

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

Part 1 Chapter 1

Emerging from the inky blackness of unconsciousness, all Julie Jordan could comprehend was the throbbing in her head and the slow trickle of tears down her cheeks. The next sensation she felt was gravel cutting into her palms, which was soon superseded by a quick rising rage. Without a doubt, she knew this was the last straw.

Once her cool blue eyes managed to focus on her tormentor, she struggled to her feet to face him. The normally strong, stringy muscles on her six foot frame, were now weak from the short nap they'd been treated to. The fog in her head made the action far more difficult than it should have been. The sensation fanned the rage building inside the woman until she could maintain her calm no more.

"You son of a bitch," she spat as she advanced on her adversary, long raven hair flowing behind her. "If you ever touch me again I'll kill you." The angry woman stopped within a foot of the confident, scowling man, fists clenching and unclenching, held to her sides by sheer force of will.

To Julie's astonishment, his lips merely turned up into an all too familiar grin. She knew it well. The look was usually accompanied by some lame statement that boiled down to 'you're my wife, you love me, and tomorrow it'll be like this never happened.' But it's been twelve years and it's never gotten better. And I'm too tired of this shit to give him his precious one last try, her mind fiercely provided.

Holding his hands up, smooth palms out, he spoke in his diplomatic principal's voice. "Now listen, Julie. We can work this out. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have pushed you." He reached out as if to take her trembling hands, but she stepped quickly out of his reach, slipping slightly on the gravel driveway. "I love you, darlin'. Now lets go back in the house," he gestured toward the gray brick house with one hand and extended the other to his seething wife.

Even as she felt it she knew she'd never be able to describe it, but the sudden sense of control that over came her brought a smile to Julie's full lips. From somewhere far off a strength was welling up in her that had been missing since her reckless childhood. There was no going back now. As if that wasn't the last thing she wanted. "I'm leaving John," she stated with a long forgotten twinkle coming into her eyes. "This is the last time we're going to play out this little scene. I hope you enjoyed it." A full, brilliant smile came to her lips for the first time in years as she turned and walked away.

The car pulled out of the driveway in calm deliberateness, its driver giggling behind the wheel. John was left standing on the front porch step, his hands dropped to his sides in defeat, a look of total shock on his face. It wasn't like she hadn't done this before really. She had. But the same internal tickle that was telling her it was a lock this time must have been calling to him as well. She had a feeling that her life was about to take a definite turn for the better.

After two hours of driving aimlessly, Julie pulled the car off the paved road onto a barely discernible grass one. It was really no more than two very shallow ruts in a field, but it lead to a place she knew extremely well. Or at least I used to, she thought dejectedly. The elation of making the concrete decision to leave John was beginning to fade as she became aware that she had no idea of what to do next.

When she finally sat on the once familiar rock, knees pulled up to her chest, the woman allowed herself a moment to take in her surroundings. The lake was up, evidenced by the waves gently lapping below her tucked feet. The water was clear, though, or at least clear by Grove Lake standards. Its rusty winter hue had given way to a shiny green in the spring rains, providing for a view to the bottom sand close to the shore. Oak and pecan trees were again asserting their brilliant greens around the secluded glade where Julie sat.

How many fish did we catch here, I wonder, she asked herself, more tears filling her eyes. Probably more than most could count, truth be told. She and Kimba had spent practically every summer day camped a few feet from the spot where she was perched, fishing, talking, and doing whatever they could get away with. The only way their parents allowed them to spend so much time at the lake was by demanding sufficient evidence that they were actually fishing and not just meeting boys or doing something else foolish. And somehow the age difference helped. Neither set of brooding parents could believe that a fifteen year old and a ten year old could get into any kind of serious trouble together.

I really can't believe that we stayed out here alone so much, though, she considered in amazement. We were crazy and so were they. It's a wonder we didn't wind up dead. But back then they didn't even think about the danger. No one was bothering them, so it didn't matter. Their spot at Grove Lake was the place they could come where no one would say Kimba was a stupid kid, or Julie was a square, and if no one ever found it, that was okay with them. It had been great. Until John, that is, Julie's mind groaned.

That last summer before she'd met John had been the best. Kimba was finally blossoming into a beautiful young woman, in all of her thirteen years, and she was totally devoted to her best friend. It would have been easy for Julie to have abused the power she had over the younger girl, but she was equally devoted to the friendship...

The rock was cool against their backs, contrasting nicely with the stuffy, hot summer air. The sun would rise in a couple of hours and bring back the stiflingly thick air, but in the night stillness, the whole lake seemed at peace.

"Look," Kimba extended a small hand into the sky, one pudgy finger indicating a direction. "UFO."

With a smirk already forming, Julie cast her gaze to the stars they were facing, searching the millions before her for the one that was an extra-terrestrial. It was a game. Kimba would find something in the myriad of lights that moved or shimmered, and then Julie would tell her how wrong she was. And other conversation would weave throughout the star search for most of the night. "That's probably just an airplane or something. It's moving too fast. That means it's closer than it looks," she replied, knowing there was probably not one bit of proof to back up her statement.

Soft green eyes turned to her and Kimba rested a cheek on the rock. "Do you know what it is for sure," she asked in a playfully low growl.

One dark eyebrow lifted as the older girl turned her head toward her friend. She didn't recognize the tone in Kimba's voice. There was something compelling about it. "No," she answered simply.

"Then it's unidentified, right," Kimba said with a bright smile forming on her lips. "So it is an unidentified flying object. A UFO."

Julie chuckled softly. That was a new tactic. Well, she's got me there, she thought. Leave it to Kimba. "But it's not an alien ship or something," she traditionally continued the friendly argument. It wouldn't do to give in to logic.

Returning her gaze to the shimmering lights of the night sky, Kimba took in a deep breath of triumph. "I never said it was." She waited for the cool flowing wind to blow over them and rustle through the trees. "But it is a UFO. Admit it," she prodded.

Broadening shoulders shrugged. "Okay, it's a UFO," Julie said in a quiet voice. Surely it couldn't hurt to let the girl win an argument every once in a while, she told herself. If there was one thing she'd learned about her friend since they'd met, it was that she was one smart girl. Even on the first day they'd played together she could tell that the little, determined five year old was something different. Her sweet, dreamy personality had allowed Julie to ignore the other neighborhood kids who refused to play with one so small and silly. But Kimba was much more than they would ever be and her friend knew it.

"You know what it's going to be like ten years from now, Julie," Kimba interrupted the older girl's thoughts with a question. No answer was expected to this question though, so she continued. "By then, you're going to be a famous model, making tons of money and being on T.V. everyday." She cast a glance to her friend, who gave a small nod as if to say 'that's the plan.' "And I'm going to be the youngest lawyer ever to win a major civil rights case at the Supreme Court," she declared with a conviction that Julie knew would help her strive for that strangely promising goal.

The taller girl rolled over onto her side, the cold of the rock replaced by her warmth, and propped her head on one hand. "That's what you want, huh?" But she didn't need to ask. She'd heard it a hundred times before. For a girl so young, Kimba had a very definite idea of what she wanted her future to be.

"Yeah, that's what I want," she spoke softly. She took a long breath, then extended the dream to where it had never been taken before. To a place that warmed Julie's heart, thinking of how precious her little friend was. "And I want for us to have a house together in California, or wherever you have to be to model. So that we never have to be apart."

Julie couldn't help but think how nice that would be, no matter how improbable. She knew that she was never happier than she was when she and Kimba were together. Such a close friend was a wonderful thing to have. Unfortunately, that wasn't the way life worked. "But what happens when you want to get married," she asked.

Kimba let out a little laugh that surprised her friend. "Oh, I don't think I'll get married. But if I do, he'll just have to learn to live with you in the house." She rolled her compact body over to mimic her friend's position, reaching out and taking Julie's free hand. "No guy would ever be worth giving you up," she replied with a wistful tone in her voice.

The sudden intake of breath and the flutter in her heart was not something the older girl expected, but she was feeling too good to worry about it. Knowing that someone really loved her that much, even this ever present, sometimes annoying, thirteen year old girl, was a wonder to Julie. And even then, in the summer before she blew it all, she knew that she had a friend for life. One that would always be around when she really needed her. Nothing had ever warmed her heart more.

A wave lapped at her feet as more tears left lonely tracks on her face. With a heavy sigh, Julie pulled herself up and moved back to her car, which waited silently in the thigh high brown grass. There was only one thing she could do, or wanted to do, and suddenly she saw it with perfect clarity. More than anything in her world before, at this moment, when her life was in a shambles of her own making, she wanted to see Kimba.

Although they hadn't spoken for more than two years now, Julie knew exactly where her friend's house was. She'd moved a year and a half before into a beautiful red brick house nestled among other equally nice houses in an affluent country area. Kimba finally got her dream job at the most prestigious law firm in their less than metropolitan town. On some of her more lonely and dejected nights, Julie had driven by without stopping, wishing she had the guts to go ring the bell. But she didn't then.

But this is now and nothing is going to stop me this time, her mind cried as she traversed over smooth roads to her destination. Her black Dodge Shadow pulled into the drive less than ten minutes later, the driver sitting for more than a few minutes trying to dry her eyes enough not to look like a blithering idiot.

She might as well have not even bothered. When Kimba opened her front door on the second ring, long golden hair billowing in the soft afternoon breeze, tears immediately reasserted themselves on their well-known path down Julie's cheeks. I've really got to pull it together, but...everything is so screwed up. She tried to smile at her friend, her best friend.

Kimba was visibly taken aback by the woman standing at her door. The short redhead looked as though she were trying to dredge up the anger that no doubt filled her over what had happened between them, her brow furrowing momentarily, but the attempt was useless. The heart broken look Julie displayed left room only for action.

With a tentative smile and a wide opening of her arms, Kimba spoke for the first time. "Come here."

A hiccuped sob escaped from the raven-haired woman, but she quickly complied with the command. Although she couldn't admit it to herself before, this was exactly what she needed. No one else had ever given her the unconditional love Kimba had. And right now, that was what she needed.

"I'm sorry Kimba," she gasped between sobs as the smaller woman pulled her in the house. "I'm sorry for it all. I've been such an ass." Julie continued to sob as her friend moved them onto a soft sofa, arms still firmly wrapped around each other.

A small hand stroked her hair and back soothingly, which brought more tears, but Julie didn't care. The tears now flowing, replacing the empty sadness she felt for John, were ones that needed to be released. Ones that had wanted to be released for years. They represented all the sorrow and guilt she'd been carrying around over how she'd treated someone so sweet and innocent. And with gentle caresses and soft words, Kimba was taking it all from her, without demanding answers or apologies. Just like I knew she would, Julie's mind responded.

"Shh, Julie, shh," she cooed. "Calm down, okay. I need to know what's wrong," she spoke in her flawlessly smooth voice, trying to bring her friend to a sensible, understandable state.

After a few more minutes of unabashed crying, Julie finally calmed down enough to want to fix her running nose and puffy eyes. Tears finally running dry and nose well blown, she spoke. "I've left John," she wanted more than anything to look into Kimba's gentle green eyes, but only found herself able to take in the rusty brown shag carpet beneath her feet. "We fight all the time and I just couldn't take it anymore. It's never been easy, from the start, but I'm tired of it."

Taking a larger, darker hand in her own, Kimba waited until blue eyes ascended wearily to meet hers. "I'm glad you came," was all she said.

It was more than enough.

Chapter 2

When Kimba Curtis opened her front door to the sight of her long lost best friend, obviously distressed, her heart leapt to her throat with surprising swiftness. Long ago she had vowed that she was finished pining away over the beautiful, dark woman's friendship. But when Julie's chilling blue eyes released the first tear to course down her high, noble cheek bones, Kimba knew she was undone. Despite the years and hurt feelings, she still loved the woman who, as a brash young girl, had been her most cherished friend.

It took Julie a little while to gain her normal stoic composure, but once she did, Kimba was overwhelmed at the information she received. John was finally going to be done making her friend's life a misery. He was the one who had caused the rift between them, of course. Time after time Kimba had tried to convince Julie to leave the man, but each attempt had been met with seemingly more hostility. It was that damned stubborn streak of hers. She never could admit she was wrong, Kimba thought with a sad smile.

That streak had caused a lot of pain for both of them. So much in fact, that at one point Kimba could take no more. The horror that she'd experienced at losing the best parts of her friend in the first place was eventually surpassed by the disgust she felt at watching someone she loved being tortured. She couldn't stand for it anymore and told Julie so. The older woman brushed her off and, once again, chose the man she claimed to love. Even with Julie in her care, Kimba still felt the pain of that choice as much as the first day she realized it had been made...

They'd been at the lake all weekend, as usual, but this trip was anything but normal. For one thing, Kimba was about to start school for the first time without her friend doing the same. Julie had graduated the previous May and was supposed to be starting classes at a local college, although she never did.

By the time Sunday morning came around, the sun beginning to peak above the eastern horizon as they gazed at its orange light from their spot on the rock, Kimba knew that this was more of a farewell to her than it was to the summer. Julie had been acting awfully nostalgic.

"Do you know what it's going to be like ten years from now," Kimba had asked gently, wanting to hear the dream one more time before it shattered.

Julie couldn't bare to allow it. With a grimace on her face, making her look much more than her eighteen years, she held up a hand. "Kimba, I'm getting married...to John," she blurted, her pale blue gaze still focused on the rising sun.

Green eyes widened in surprise at the statement. She'd known that Julie had been dating the boy, that she liked him, but it wasn't the love that she always claimed she would only settle for. Julie had said as much. John was cute and smart and he would do well enough for now, had been her attitude. Marrying him didn't fit in. "Why," was all she could say.

"I love him, he asked me, and I'm...I love him," she replied with gritted teeth. As her eyes finally tracked to her friend's penetrating stare, Julie couldn't miss the hurt that she'd already put there.

Kimba's fiery eyebrows rose in question. When she spoke her voice quivered with the tears that longed to fall. "But what about school? What about modeling? That agent wants to see you in a week," she pleaded for an answer. One that would make her understand why Julie had made this decision that was more than inconceivable only a moment before.

The truth came out very convincing, although no less heartbreaking in its finality. "I'm pregnant, Kimba," she stated without emotion.

After the marriage, nothing had been the same for them. Julie did her best to prove that she was exactly where she wanted to be. And when the baby came, it seemed true. He was the light in her eyes and the dark woman devoted every moment she had to the child. Kimba knew she couldn't compete with that and soon drifted away, her friend doing nothing to try and stop her.

But now, all that's changed. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get my friend back. For good, a hopeful voice in her mind whispered. A small smile came involuntarily to her lips as Julie emerged from the arched hallway, her face finally moving away from the effects of crying into the beautiful countenance that normally rested there. The tall woman settled down on the fluffy sofa cushion beside her with a graceful flop, as only she could.

Kimba chuckled at the playful, simple act, reminded once again of the friend that she'd had so long ago. Hope sprang again that maybe she was really back. "Where's Jesse," she asked casually.

"He's at Mom and Dad's. He was there for spring break, thankfully," she paused as a sad look crossed her face. "I don't know how I'm going to tell him about this." Julie ran both hands through her dark mane, eyes closed tight in frustration.

Knowing that her friend was on a roller coaster of emotion did little to help Kimba know what to do. She was quite inexperienced at dealing with people and their problems. The number of relationships she'd ever had she could count on one hand. It was unknown territory alright, but nothing was going to stop her from exploring it. "What are you going to do," was all she could think of to say.

A small laugh escaped from Julie's mouth, although no smile accompanied it. "I was just wondering that myself. Great minds think alike," she remarked quietly. For the first time since coming back from cleaning herself up, Julie brought her impossibly blue eyes up of her own accord and gazed on her friend fully. "I just had to see you Kimba. I know I messed things up before...but you're the only one who knows me."

The younger woman had no idea what to say. Wasn't this exactly what she'd been dreaming of. An apology. A reconciliation. So many nights she had laid in bed thinking of what she would say to Julie when it actually happened, as she knew it would. But I didn't know it would feel like this and I'd want nothing more than to throw my arms around her and say all is forgiven. Because it is, no matter how much it hurt then. As long as she's here now...

Obviously weary of the silence, Julie continued in her low pitched voice. "I always thought that I could make it work with me and John. But it's been so long now and he never admits that he's done anything wrong." Kimba gave an accepting nod as she leaned back on the blue flowered surface of the cushy sofa, her long reddish blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. "It took me five years just to realize how bad I'd treated you. By then it was too late," she confessed as tears again made her eyes shine.

"Julie, you don't have to do this," Kimba tried to stop the threat of anymore sorrow for the night. The violent shake of her friend's head, however, told her that she had something she had to say.

"It's been too long for us to sit here and chat like nothing happened. Before we can really be friends again, there are some things I've got to tell you," she confirmed, her voice a shaky timbre.

All Kimba could do was give a nod and a grim smile. "Okay," the older woman sighed. "At first, I guess, I thought it was right. Giving you up for a man, I mean. You were so young and I thought that I was supposed to cast you away."

As Julie paused, her gaze on the carpet again, Kimba could see the strain that she was under. Apparently their friendship, or lack of one, had weighed as greatly on her friend as it had her.

"Only thing was, I thought it wouldn't hurt so much. So at first, I just concentrated on Jesse and I could make it through," she stated, her voice moving slowly back to its normal cadence. "But the worse it got with John and the older and more independent Jesse got, it finally hit me how lonely I was," Julie looked into green eyes again, a slow tear slipping from her own eye. "That's when I knew that I could have had you all along."

Julie stood abruptly, crossing the small room quickly to the back sliding glass door. She physically tried to calm her rapid breaths as she peered out at the small forest behind the house. The rustling branches and scurrying animals that were surely there provided no assistance. When she finally turned around to face her friend, Kimba was sitting with small hands clasped in her lap, waiting. "I'm so sorry that I hurt you, Kimba. You deserved better than that. I don't expect you to forgive me," she gasped out, failing to control all the tears that wanted to fall.

In the short time it took Kimba to cross the room, she was able to recall all those things that she'd dreamed of saying before, on lonely nights when Julie was the only thing on her mind. Now it was her turn. "Julie, you don't have to ask for forgiveness. It's already done," she said in her softest voice.

Blue eyes shot up in disbelief to the small woman now within reaching distance, so the redhead gave a reassuring nod before continuing. This is the hard part, she thought ruefully. The part that has to hurt her more, before we can go on. "Don't get me wrong, Julie, you hurt me." Probably more than you could ever imagine. "You were my whole world, you know. My hero," she noted wistfully, remembering her childish worship of her friend. Julie had been everything she wasn't, and looking at the woman now, even in her current broken state, Kimba knew she still was.

Taking in the stricken look on her friend's face, the attorney resolved silently to make this speech as fast as possible. "You were my best friend. My only friend for a long time. And I would have done anything for you." She reached out tentatively and took two bronzed hands. "When you married John and basically left me behind...I...I couldn't understand what I'd done wrong," a squeeze on the hands she held forestalled the protest coming to Julie's lips. Kimba gave a quirky grin and raised eyebrow and continued. "Then I realized that life just went like that sometimes. Friends drift apart for no reason," she waved a hand in the air in a dismissive gestured, then returned it to the comforting grasp. "And I supposed you getting married and having a baby was a decent reason."

Now she smiled a full, genuine smile, revealing her perfect teeth. "But that acceptance never stopped me from wanting you back. Everyday I wished I had you to tell all my secrets to," she commented with a dry laugh. They both knew she was terrible at keeping secrets.

"For a long time I was mad at you, or wanted to be, maybe until you knocked on my door today," she admitted. "But with you here, none of that matters anymore. You're still my best friend." With that said, tears sliding lopingly down her own cheeks, she pulled the older woman into a tight hug, hoping she could convince her of her forgiveness by the strength of the embrace.

Chapter 3

Kimba glanced impatiently around the dimly lit room where they were seated, deep in a corner concealed from most of the restaurant. By the time she was convinced the waiter had forgotten them completely, the thin man in khakis and apron sauntered up to the table and distributed the food expertly. It had taken some time to persuade Julie to come out of the house at all, but her friend was sure it would do her good.

As a concession, the redhead had agreed to take them to a low key diner on the edge of town, making it highly unlikely that anyone would see them there. Lord knows that's right, she pondered with a silent chuckle. None of the lawyers at my office would be caught dead in this dump and I doubt many of her fellow teachers would either. But the food is good and that's all that matters to me.

During the time they waited for the food, the taller woman was extremely preoccupied with the replica antique signs covering the dusty, wood panel walls around her. Kimba knew she wasn't saying the right things to get the woman to open up, but for the moment she was at a loss. She waited respectfully until all the food on both their plates was gone, then began with a little small talk. "So, how's it going with your job? Do you enjoy teaching history to teenagers with raging hormones," she asked with a small smile. That was one of the things she'd loved so much about their relationship, the gentle kidding that they constantly participated in. She'd never known a greater joy than making her friend release her low, genuine laugh.

The dark haired woman rolled her eyes and shook her head ruefully, but there was a slight smile on her lips as well. "You have no idea. Most of the time, teaching these kids is like trying to push a watermelon through a keyhole. They have no motivation," she replied with a lilt in her voice. "You know, they always ask 'why do we need to know history?' And what do I say to convince them...," she paused for an answer.

Realizing that something was expected of her, Kimba straightened in her chair and began racking her brain. Then it came to her in a calming flash. "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it?"

Julie donned her crooked little smirk, indicating that she had known her friend would come through. "That's what I used to tell them. It's philosophical and seems so right, doesn't it." She leaned forward, weight on her elbows, dark hair falling over her broad shoulders within an inch of her empty plate. "But since I wised up to the game, I just tell them that if they don't make a good effort, I'll bring The Grapes of Wrath and make them watch it everyday." She quirked an eyebrow. "I'm not sure why, but I don't have too much trouble," she added as she leaned against the scruffed wooden back of the chair.

Two golden eyebrows furrowed as Kimba chuckled at her friend. "Hey, I liked that movie. The book was good too," she retorted with mock offense.

"Yeah, you would," came the slow reply. "Seriously, though, it's hit and miss. I just try to get to the kids I can. Every once in a while, a kid comes along that you can really touch. That makes all the tough cases worth it," blue eyes twinkled wistfully.

Kimba delighted at the look. It was the first time she'd seen it since Julie had showed up on her door earlier in the day. That look was the one that meant she believed she could change the world. And Kimba believed it too. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Occasionally I get to work on a case that really means something too. On the others I just try to do my best, even when my heart isn't completely in it."

"So you like it," Julie asked in a hesitant voice. Kimba could see the conflict in her face. After all, she had followed her dream to its fullest while the dark haired woman across from her had given up any hope she'd had to do what she wanted. Teaching was great, the attorney was sure, but Julie would always wonder what would have happened if she'd been able to meet that agent so long ago.

Even knowing that her answer might make her friend sadder about her own choices, Kimba couldn't lie. "I love it, Julie. It's everything I thought it was gonna be and more. I can't wait to get up in the morning and go to work."

The waiter coming back to the table drew her attention. He filled both of their glasses with water while the women waited in silence. When he was sufficiently out of hearing range, Kimba spoke again. "How is it going to affect you with John being principal at your school and all? He can't fire you, can he," her voice was cautiously low.

Drawing in a deep, hesitant breath, Julie seemed to consider the problem for the first time. Both elbows fell onto the table again, two fingers of one slender hand tapping her lips. After a moment, she sighed and arched her dark eyebrows. "Well, no, he can't fire me. I have tenure. But I can only imagine that things are going to be...difficult." She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders, making the plastic-like fabric of the jump suit she was wearing make a sliding sound. "Once he figures out I'm serious, he's not going to be a happy man."

Kimba couldn't help but smile. She'd already dismissed the possibility that this was all a mirage. Julie was away from that man, and all appearances made it seem that she wouldn't go back. Not this time. "He'll get over it," she interjected with a bright smirk, which her friend returned. The younger woman then resumed her seriousness. "But what about Jesse?"

"I think he'll be okay with it. He loves his dad, but he's said more than once that he doesn't like the way John treats me." Her eyes took on a far away glare for a moment, then returned in sparkling blue. "He'll want to be with me, where ever I end up."

After only an instant of indecision, Kimba latched firmly onto the idea forming in her mind, and voiced it aloud. "Julie, I'd love it if you'd move in with me," she said with a slight tremor in her voice. It had been so long since she'd had a real best friend, at least one that made her feel as complete as the dark haired woman across from her, and she didn't want to ruin it. Taking in the surprised expression on Julie's face, she continued. "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want, but I figured you wouldn't have enough money to get a place by yourself for a while. And I know you would hate to have to ask your parents. So..." She let the sentence trail off and waited expectantly for an answer, praying that her presumption had been right.

The older woman's brow was furrowed in concentration, the thoughts in her mind almost visibly racing behind her eyes. "Kimba, I couldn't ask that of you. Not after what I did and how long it's been." She looked away in shame once again, making the redhead take a deep breath to drive the frustration away.

She's so stubborn. Nice to see things haven't changed, her mind sighed. Kimba reached across the table and took a long hand in her own, demanding that eye contact be made. When it was, she spoke in a gentle voice. "I've told you that all that is in the past. I want us to move past it. And as for the years in between, well, for the few hours that we've been together tonight I've felt like I was thirteen again." A brilliant smile graced her lips, pulling one equally grand from her sullen friend.

Cool blue eyes told that she still wasn't ready to accept the offer of friendship or housing so soon. "How do you know I haven't changed? And then there's Jesse to think about. He can be a handful," she said argumentatively.

"I'm sure you've changed, Julie. I know I have." She paused. "That doesn't mean that we've out grown each other. I particularly remember swearing that we'd never do that, no matter what anyone else said." Julie nodded with a reflective smile. "I didn't think that promise was empty. Did you?"

The dark woman squeezed the hand holding hers and gave a defeated chuckle. They both knew it was a token argument anyway. "No, I don't think you've out grown me. Or at least I hope not. And I guess we're going to find out."

Chapter 4

Bright rays of sunshine roused Julie reluctantly from a deep, contented sleep. Jeez, I can't remember the last time I slept that well. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes and attempting to regain focus, she surveyed the extra bedroom that she'd been assigned to. It was like the rest of the house, really. Well kept and decorated in a crafty manner. The wallpaper was different, but had the same deliberate feel as the other rooms. It was obvious that Kimba had spent a great deal of time giving each room her own flavor. This one had a rose motif, even the carpet fit right in with its rich green shag. The walls were covered with rose petal designs, each corner hand painted with delicate full bushes. This had to have taken forever. She must have had a lot of time on her hands , the older woman thought sadly.

The conversation at dinner and after the night before had begun unfolding the story of the younger woman's life after their split. It almost sounded as if Kimba had chosen to stay alone most of the time, but Julie refused to believe it. Although the young Kimba took a lot of jeering by the older kids they hung around, she was bright and very friendly. There was no way a person wouldn't like her after thirty seconds of meeting the bubbly young woman.

A sound from deeper in the house pulled Julie from her musings. She couldn't imagine that Kimba was awake before her, as the girl had always been inordinately stubborn about rising before ten. But strolling into the kitchen, she caught sight of her friend over the stove, reddish blonde hair pulled back in a tight braid, fiddling with three different steaming dishes. Julie observed silently as the young woman moved around the kitchen gracefully from one point to another.

Green eyes finally landed on her and were accompanied by a toothy grin. Julie couldn't help but ask herself the last time she'd been greeted so enthusiastically, knowing that it was before she'd met John. "Good morning," she relayed happily.

"Good morning yourself. I was wondering if you were ever going to get up." Kimba turned back to the sizzling of the stove, but the older woman detected a slight giggle in the air and a minute shaking of her muscular, broad shoulders.

The small kitchen table was set up with plates and utensils for the two of them, so Julie took the seat facing her friend. "Ha ha. Have your fun, but know that this is a first and probably a last. I haven't forgotten that your nickname was sleepyhead," she answered in a stern tone.

"Oh, well I've changed since the last time you called me that." She began bringing over pans filled with food and transferring it onto the plates in equal portions. Bright yellow eggs, sandy hash browns, and fluffy shortcakes scented up to her nose deliciously. From the looks of things, Kimba had learned to cook, breakfast at least.

At the comment, Julie turned serious despite the elation she was feeling. "Yes, I can see that you have," she remarked. She hadn't missed the subtle signs that her friend had grown immeasurably in the years they hadn't talked. "You look great, by the way. I like your hair long." Julie gave off a smirk as green eyes tracked to blue. "I told you so."

Kimba blushed brightly at the compliment and continued her serving. "You did. I like it too. I did it for you, of course." Her face turned a deeper shade of red. "Or because of you, I mean," she corrected.

"It brings out your eyes more. I knew it would." Julie watched her friend carefully as she finished serving and took a seat. After a few mouthfuls of food, she turned on an immediate and less pleasant subject. "Would you come with me to get some things," she asked, stammering in nervousness at the thought. "I mean, you don't have to. But John might be a little more civil if you were around." She finished hurriedly and couldn't keep the hope out of her eyes.

Kimba smiled reassuringly and bright. "I wouldn't miss it for the world. I know he likes me," she finished sarcastically. During the few years that Kimba tried to keep her friendship after the marriage, John had cursed at her multiple times for being an annoying little tagalong. The older woman could see the mischievous twinkle in her friend's eyes, knowing she would enjoy her husband's anger.

After the filling breakfast, the pair shoved down the lingering apprehension and set off for Julie's house.

And angry John was. By the time Julie threw her worn suitcase on the bed, his normally pale cheeks were bright red with blood, his eyes dark with fury. "I don't understand why you're doing this Julie. We've had fights before," his voice barely below a scream.

The room seemed small with the three of them in it and John puffing up his chest for maximum effect. Its decoration matched the rest of the house, or rather unmatched it. The whole place had no pattern to it, full of the little trinkets and furniture the family had collected over the years. Each room was spotlessly kept, but the decor told the story that was her life, simple and unremarked. Julie had obviously spent time on it, yet it had no firm distinction that showed her to be its owner. Not like Kimba's, which spoke of tender care and exuded her effervescent personality.

Blowing dark hair off her forehead, Julie kept her eyes on packing the clothes, not sparing him the satisfaction of a glance. Besides, she didn't want to fall into any traps his expression might have for her, be they love or fear. "I told you John, I'm tired of the way you treat me. For too many years I've been the next thing to a slave. Apparently, you're never going to change, so I'm leaving," she smiled inwardly at the calm sound her voice had. Inside she was quivering with nervous energy.

"Dammit, you cannot leave me," he bellowed, taking a menacing step toward her. She reflexively took a step deeper into the room, bumping into Kimba, who was standing stoically behind her. The collision seemed to pull the angry man's gaze to the redhead for the first time, pulling her into the tirade. "You're not going to leave me for this little bitch. It took long enough to get rid of her in the first place," his tone was deadly.

Nothing she'd imagined about coming back to her house compared to how the scene was actually playing out. John was getting violent. He'd pushed her around before, physically and mentally, and she hated him for it all, but he'd never hit her. As he stared at them, only one corner of the rumpled queen sized bed separating the three, his fists were tightly clenched at his sides. Julie had never seen the pure rage that currently swirled in his eyes.

With the first step he took on their side of the bed, she knew that she had to say or do something before the morning turned extremely ugly. "Listen John, I'm not leaving you for anyone," she intoned softly, intentionally using her surging emotions to put a tremor in her voice. Whatever really caused it, which was probably fear, she hoped he took it as indecision. "I just need to sort things out. This doesn't have to be permanent. But I have to get away." She took another step toward him, noting her baggy t-shirt tail stayed behind momentarily in Kimba's grasp. "Let me think this out for a while and then we can talk." Fully within striking distance, she stopped and prayed that the years they'd spent together meant something to the man. If not, the next trip for the day would be to the hospital.

His round chest rose with a statement that refused to come, then fell. After a moment, his body seemed to relax, although his gaze remained hostile. "Okay Julie. I'll give you a few days to figure out what the hell your problem is. You've got until Monday, then I want you back into this house," he pointed an angry finger to the ground in emphasis. John turned around, not before giving Kimba a disgusted look, and walked to the doorway. He stopped there rigidly and spoke without turning. "Then I'll try and act like this little episode never happened," he growled. When the sound of his shoes slashing through the carpeted house finally faded, the two women let out held breaths.

Julie slapped the palm of her hand to her forehead with a thump. "I hope we can do that again sometime," she sighed in exasperation. What she'd told him was a complete lie. Going back to John was about as likely as a revival of her modeling career, but she'd had to say something. He'd get the real message when the divorce papers were served and she was miles away. Things would be much safer that way.

Eyes remaining tightly shut and fingers massaging her suddenly aching temples, Julie let out a contented sigh upon feeling a comforting hand on her back. If Kimba hadn't accepted her back into her life, the older woman didn't know what she'd do. All she knew was that it wouldn't be good. "Let's get the hell outta here," the younger woman said in a low rumble. Julie hadn't heard a better idea in a long time.

Chapter 5

The truck rambled down the highway in silence for half an hour after the duo left John fuming back at his house. Julie had decided it best to go to her parents and retrieve Jesse, although she was clueless as to how she was going to break the news to him. Still, he needed to know and she felt a great urge to be sure of where he was at all times. In John's current state of rage, he couldn't be trusted.

Kimba's gentle voice finally pulled her friend from the tumultuous thoughts that were racing through her mind. It must have shown on her face. "Julie, are you okay?"

The dark haired woman let out a short laugh, then sniffled. "I've been better Kimba," she said with as much lightness as her mood would allow. The acknowledging smile on Kimba's face showed that her comment was taken as the joke it was meant. "I'll be alright. This is harder than I thought it was going to be, though."

"I've always found that the things that are best for us are the hardest to do," she replied while giving a friendly wave to a passing car.

Julie couldn't help but chuckle at her friend. Not too many people still gave the friendly passing waves that had once been common place in the country. An act like that could get a person killed. But the closer they got to her parents' house, the more Kimba was becoming the giddy farm kid she had once been.

With an accepting sigh, Julie turned serious once again. "Yeah, I've heard that. But I also know that things not so good for you can hurt too." And with a start, thinking about her separation from Kimba all those years ago, the older woman realized that event had already ripped her heart completely out. This new struggle over her apathetic husband didn't even compare. Still, it didn't feel good. She felt enlightened by the new perspective, although terribly sad.

Kimba gripped the steering wheel tightly, knuckles white with strain. "The most painful day of my life was when I realized that I'd never be your best friend again," she said quietly, almost a whisper. The redhead cleared her throat before she could continue. "And even that was good for me."

Julie could feel her eyebrows raising in question at the statement. It certainly hadn't been good for her, except for Jesse, of course. And he was something that could be ignored for the moment. "How was that good," she asked tentatively. There was a big chance the answer could hurt her further.

Kimba removed a hand from the wheel and took one of her friend's, making Julie wistfully recall how physically needy her friend had always been. The girl loved to hug people, and by her, they loved to be hugged. "It was good because you got Jesse, and I know you love him. For me, I was able to devote all my time to one of my dreams and achieve it," she informed with more confidence. "Sometimes...I begged for my life to be different...for you to be in it, but in the end, some good did come out of it," she paused uncertainly again. "I think I was able to find a piece of myself I would never have seen if we'd have stayed together."

"I guess you're right," Julie agreed. Once again, she could tell that her naive little friend had done some growing since they'd last met. More than she'd suspected. Most of it at the expense of a very generous heart, unfortunately. But it was probably something that she'd be thankful for at one time or another. At least now they both knew what it was like to live without each other's love. Neither seemed to want to return to that state.

As the black Ford Ranger pulled down the long concrete drive to the George household, Julie felt the darkness of the day's events returning. The next step was to face her mother, who had been none too happy when her daughter had called and told her the situation. Her parents may not have liked John in the beginning, but they certainly didn't like the idea of divorce any better. They'll just have to get used to the idea, then. Because nothing in this world is going to stop it from happening, she thought with a conviction she wasn't completely convinced she held.

"Well, this is certainly a surprise," the gray haired woman drawled as she admitted the two women into the house. Julie took a deep breath and tried to ignore the contempt in her mother's voice. Emerald George had never really liked Kimba, saying it wasn't natural the way the girl hung around so much. This was definitely not going to help her mother's ideas about that any. She'd probably try and put the blame on the younger woman somehow.

Her mother's home was always so tidy, as if she always expected company over, never letting a cushion stay turned or a coat lay over a chair. Julie paused in the entryway to the living room, taking it in through eyes that recalled all the turmoil that began there. The moment she'd told her parents she was pregnant they'd insisted she marry John, even as they called him several of their most vile curses. Now the faded whiteness of the walls and time-worn picture frames reminded her of each day she'd wasted on a man she never should have given a second look at. Should never have traded her future for, baby or no baby.

Kimba gave her friend a weary look before finally breaking the uncomfortable silence. Her eyes told Julie she should have done so, which she would have, had she any coherent thought at that moment. "It's nice to see you again Mrs. George. It's been too long since I've been back out here."

"I've heard you've done well for yourself, Kim. Sorry about your parents though," she sighed as though the Curtises had passed on the day before. Julie could see little emotion in her friend's eyes as she calculated the time her family had been gone. Eight years. Kimba had been all alone for eight years.

The sound of a young voice from the hall brought the dark haired woman around and a nervous smile to her lips. She wasn't going to tell Jesse about the break up here, in her mother's precise house, but she could already feel the heavy burden of guilt settling on her. "Mom, I think we're just going to gather Jesse and his things and go," she informed her.

A little grunt of condescension from her dumpy, gray mother suddenly made Julie's teeth grind in anger, but the sight of her son and Kimba's warm presence kept her from exploding. "Go ahead, but call me later. I think you two need to talk," she jibed, turning her back on her seething daughter and exiting into the hall.

Jesse walked past her with a fading grin from his normally happy expression. His loose dark hair bobbed up and down with his chopping steps, reminding his mother that she wanted to take him to the barber tomorrow. "What do we need to talk about," he asked curiously, a smile tentatively returning to his angled features. Julie had always loved that he was her spitting image and retained none of his father's blocky characteristics.

A strong arm circled his shoulders and he allowed his mother a short hug, visibly weary of more in front of the stranger giving his mother an unnervingly indulgent look. The older woman smiled, flattered that he was feeling a bit protective of her and chagrined that he had surpassed the stage where she could give him unguarded affection. "Some important things, but nothing that won't wait until later." She brought up a hand and pinched the end of his nose playfully, removing her hand before his fast reflexes caught up with her. "This is Kimba, Jesse. She met you when you were a baby, but I doubt you remember. We're probably going to be staying with her for a bit," she supplied with a wave of her hand toward the woman at her side.

"Hi," he replied shyly before looking away. Julie thought she could see a faint blush creeping up his cheeks and won in an attempt to keep from giggling. She knew all too well how adorable her friend was.

After a mundane ride crunched in the cab of the Ranger, the three settled comfortably in Kimba's living room. Julie and Jesse sat a reasonable distance apart on the medium sized couch that lined the far wall of the room, while the redhead took residence in one of the recliners.

Within a moment of sitting, however, Kimba's eyes began shifting with recognition of the conversation that was about to take place. "I think I'll go watch some television in my room. Call me if you need anything."

Nodding understandingly, Julie turned her attention to her son, who was patiently waiting for something, although he clearly had no idea what. A deep sigh helped the struggling woman gain some confidence to go on and she was able to start. "Jesse, your father and I had a pretty big fight while you were gone," she said dejectedly. If there was one thing she hated to do it was to tell her son about any kind of problem she and John had.

But he surprised her again. "What's new? You guys fight all the time."

Both dark eyebrows rose up to her hairline in astonishment. I had no idea he knew we fought that much. You can't get anything past a kid, I guess. But it was the break she needed that would make the whole conversation that much easier. "You're right. We do. And this time I've finally decided I'm done with it," she confessed with another heart felt sigh. "I'm leaving your father."

Deep brown eyes widened briefly at the revelation, then returned to their normal state. "Really? Is he mad," he asked in wonder.

"Well, he doesn't know, exactly. Yet. He thinks I'm just away thinking. But when he figures it out, he will be very mad." A lopsided grin passed over her lips that Jesse knew well.

Despite the news, the boy smiled. "I guess it won't matter how much of a fit he has though, since we won't be there to hear it."

The laugh that followed from Julie was one of pure joy at the acceptance she heard in her son's voice. She hadn't had any idea of how he would react, but she hadn't expected the gift he'd given.

A gentle smile still graced her lips as she searched out her friend after sending Jesse to bed in the rose filled extra bedroom. Kimba was leaning lazily against her headboard in the master bedroom, distinct in its spaciousness. Its decorations were similar to the rest of the house, except instead of flowers or trees, the walls and ceilings were painted carefully with stars and moons. Julie felt a small gasp escape her lips as she took it in, each constellation shimmering as if alive in the glow of light coming from the television.

Patting the cover beside her with a small, pale hand, Kimba motioned the older woman over. "Well, how'd it go?"

A happy little jump onto the bed was part of her answer and elicited a giggle from the already settled occupant. "Great. He wasn't very upset. I know he loves his father, but he also knows what goes on between us," she relayed with a sigh. "More so than I thought. He's a smart kid."

"How could he not be? Look who his mother is," Kimba answered with a little chuck to her friend's arm. It was a familiar action to Julie. She clearly remembered threatening the girl with a tickle torture death if she hit her one more time, on more than one occasion. Physical contact was simply her way of communication, and most of the time, it was oddly comforting.

Julie leaned back and tried to stifle a yawn that would not be stopped. Her fist covered her mouth until the action passed, then she turned tiring blue eyes to gentle green ones. "If you'll get me a blanket, I think I'll hit the couch."

"What's wrong with the bed," Kimba asked.

"Nothing, except it has a twelve year old boy in it who's too old to sleep with his mother. I'm getting really old, Kimba," she announced with an exaggerated sigh. Truly, it was a little disquieting that Jesse was growing up so fast, it seemed, but exciting too. He was becoming a fine young man. A better one than his father would ever be, and for that she was very thankful.

Kimba shook her red hair and raised a golden eyebrow at Julie, who mirrored the look with one of confusion. "Not that bed, this one."

Long fingers raised back up to her lips as she tried to absorb the statement. In so little time, could Kimba be so comfortable with her again to share the same bed. They'd done it often enough before, for sure, but a lot had happened since then. It would surely take a considerable amount of time before things were back to a level of companionship they were both happy with.

Although, since the first time they'd met, there hadn't really been any discord between them, excluding the years after the marriage. And it really all started that first night Kimba had knocked on her bedroom window, looking for her best friend...

Something had happened at her house, which was never a happy place. The next day they'd figured out it was some sort of drug bust, but when Kimba rapped on the window, Julie instinctively knew it was that strange little girl from across the field. And still, something had made her open the window to look down on her short cropped red head. "What do you want," she'd asked with more than a little terseness in her normally light, ten year old voice.

After a couple of sniffles, watery green eyes turned up to the window and a barely audible voice spoke. "I want to sleep with you, Jay."

Heart breaking at the fright in the little voice, Julie shut the window immediately and rushed to the back door. Still too young to realize what kind of life it was that Kimba lived, she did know that the girl didn't have everything she did. And right now she could see that something really bad must have happened. There was no way she could turn her away.

She almost walked past the small form huddled a few feet away from her window. Julie tapped her on the arm and watched her slowly rise, little arms and legs shaking visibly. "Come on. You can stay with me," she said softly. Although she had no doubt her parents would have a major fit upon finding Kimba in the house the next morning, she didn't care. This girl, who she knew worshiped her, needed her help. Had come to her for it above anyone else, and she wasn't going to let her down.

Since she was practically covered from head to foot in dust, it took a while to actually get to bed. Julie may have been a bit of a tomboy, but she didn't take kindly to sleeping in dirt. Kimba crept through the house silently, on tiptoes no less, like she'd done it a thousand times before. And finally, they reached Julie's tiny bedroom in the back of the home and crawled into bed.

"If we wake up early, we can sneak you out before my parents get up, okay," Julie asked before the girl slipped off into the inevitable sleep she saw coming in her intent eyes.

Snuggling up on the older girl's shoulder for comfort, Kimba nodded minutely. "Okay. They'll be gone by then. You'll keep me safe, right?"

Feeling a swell in her innocent heart at the faith placed in her abilities, of which she had no idea if she possessed, the dark haired girl stroked the little head at her side gently. "Yeah, I'll always keep you safe. Always," she affirmed with a strength that she didn't understand and never fully would.

Kimba was waiting patiently with her arms crossed, looking like she hadn't even noticed the momentary pause before her friend answered. Or like she expected it. "Oh, staying in here is fine with me if you don't mind...and if you don't snore...now," Julie joked, receiving the expected punch to the arm.

"I never snored. The only problem we had sleeping in the same bed was you taking all the covers and trying to justify it by the fact that you're taller." Kimba pulled the covers that Julie was climbing into away with force and sneered territorially. "This is my house and that excuse is no longer accepted. Try it and suffer the consequences," she insisted.

Throwing her hands up in defeat, the larger woman cast a lopsided smile at her friend. "I bend to your wishes, oh great master."

"It's about time," Kimba replied, turning on her side and switching off the light.

The dark of the room was accentuated by the still twinkling stars all around her, keeping Julie company as she slowly drifted off to sleep, to dream dreams that hadn't been allowed to come before this night.

Chapter 6

Waking up was a relative thing, Kimba knew from long years of fighting the event. She was naturally a late riser, always had been. It was a point Julie loved to tease her about. And even on a day as happy as this one, knowing that things were finally right in her world, the little redhead found herself loathing to open her eyes. Bright light was already peaking in through the dark curtains of the room's lone window, giving off a dull red glow through her closed lids. If she wanted to, she knew she could sleep in and make this another lazy Sunday, like so many before. But something was different, in the air or her bones, she didn't know, but it was making her pulse quicken in response.

That something was about eight inches taller than her, stretched out on her side under the thick covers, breathing in slow, but alert breaths. She's watching meKimba's mind sang in wonder. I can't believe she's watching me sleep. This is amazing. She knew a smile was forming on her lips, and so abandoned the effort to maintain the mirage of sleep.

A deep breath, followed by a hearty yawn and stretch, alerted Julie of her wakefulness shortly before sleepy green eyes opened. And still, Kimba felt her breath catch at the gentle adoring look in the blue eyes so close to hers, before the expression was covered by more controlled emotions. "Morning Julie. I see you kept your promise from yesterday," her voice still somewhat thick from sleep.

"I don't think I'll have much trouble keeping that promise if I know you, O'queen of late waking." Both women straightened up to lean against the carved wooden headboard. Kimba stifled another yawn before wiping her eyes in an attempt to gain focus.

When she did, blue eyes were still gracing her, taking in her pajama top with a wry twinkle. The younger woman could see a quip about the bears and rabbits forming on her friend's lips, but decided to let it form unabated. It was nice to have someone to play around with. "So, how do you feel about a day at the mall," she asked.

The taller woman let out a derisive snort and rolled her eyes, which brought the same reaction from her friend. "Kimba, you know I hate to shop," she replied flatly.

Throwing up her hands in a defensive gesture, Kimba began her case. She knew that Julie had never been one to hang around a mall, but this was different. If she was going to be staying, they needed to buy some things. "What about if I'm paying?"

"Doesn't matter. I don't like putting up with all that mess. People walking around aimlessly, bumping into you, snatching stuff from your hands. It frustrates me. If we go, I won't be responsible for my actions." She ran a hand through her unbrushed hair absently, bestowing a gentle smile on Kimba.

Who knew it was all just a front. Julie wanted to do something. It was written all over her face. After the last couple of hectic days, it would do her a world of good to get lost in something trivial. "I'll accept complete liability then. And if you do happen to get in trouble, I know a couple of lawyers that might be able to help you out," she said while delivering a quick blow to the t-shirt covered arm next to her. Before Julie had a chance to retaliate, Kimba was up and off to the dresser, anxious to get the day started.

Once at the mall, which was small even in comparison to the town's meager population, Julie was off and running. Kimba couldn't believe her enthusiasm. It was like the woman wanted to buy everything new, from her socks to sunglasses. While her friend was preoccupied in a woman's clothing store, the redhead whisked Jesse away to K-Mart for something more their pace. Dresses and shoes definitely held no interest for them.

The store held surprisingly few people as compared to the rest of the little complex. But then again, the Wal-Mart next door was always bustling with customers, so there was a good reason. Still, they could do some shopping in this place.

"So, what do you think we should get to keep you occupied while you're at my house," she asked brightly. The slow walk they were engaged in was drawing suspiciously toward the electronics section. Kimba had thought this type of thing might interest him, and since money was of no object, she wanted to grant any wish the boy had.

Jesse looked around with an embarrassed air. Just like his mother, he was resistant to taking gifts for nothing. "Well, I might like to play some sort of video game, if it wouldn't be too much."

Stroking his dark hair gently, Kimba waited until his bashful gaze pulled up to hers. "That will be great, Jesse. I've been thinking about buying some sort of system, I just have never had the time before." The sudden twinkle in the boy's eyes transformed his face into a moon of joy. Kimba could see the wheels turning in his brain, surely trying to decide what to do with this free rein to buy anything he wanted. She envied him this type of childhood.

But as they reached a video game display case, tucked away in a separated, secured area of the store, Jesse looked over with a new seriousness in his countenance. "If you and my mom are such good friends, why haven't I ever met you," he asked with a quiet firmness.

Good question, kid. Out of the blue, but good question. And she didn't know how much of the answer should be told at such an early stage in this new experiment. It was a good thing she had a talent for winging it. "I went away to college when you were very young. I did know you, but I guess you've forgotten," she answered casually, patting him on a firm shoulder. "I changed more of your diapers than I care to remember."

The boy's face screwed up at the mention of his infancy. Julie was the type to dwell on cuteness, so he had surely been subjected to hour after hour of naked picture gazing and cooing. The statement seemed to be enough to make his insecurities vanish, or it could have been the game system that he knew he was going to take home. Either way, he smiled fully before launching into a dissertation about which type of set up to buy.

By the time they purchased the new fangled, technologically enhanced, entirely too expensive game console, Julie had rejoined the group, arms empty of any buys. Kimba finished paying a depressed looking K-Mart clerk before moving toward the exit into the mall where mother and son were waiting. "Couldn't find anything to buy," she asked with a skeptical look. Julie had tried on half the clothes in the last store before she'd been abandoned.

"There were a couple of things, but I needed a second opinion. The mannequins refused to comment." Her voice echoed from shop to shop. The mall was sparsely populated at the moment, which wasn't too hard to believe. Store spaces throughout the building were vacant and the stores that were filled didn't have a thriving appearance. In a medium sized town, it seemed like a good idea. But mall walkers were much more numerous than actual shoppers.

Kimba pulled up in front of a jewelry store window, waiting only a moment for Julie to back track and see what was up. The taller woman waited in silence as her friend peered at a display of earrings. "I think those would look great on you," she whispered low enough so only Julie would hear, although she had no idea why she felt a need for discretion.

"Don't be ridiculous. I may let you buy me a new outfit for work, but you're not going to buy me something that frivolous," the older woman replied quickly. She must have picked up on the disappointment that Kimba attempted to hide, because she tempered to her statement. "Although they are lovely."

Taking one last look at the intricately carved loops, the short woman turned back down the passageway and continued toward the store Julie had spent so much time in earlier. She knew that it was going to be a hard thing for them to return to the point their friendship had left off, if they could at all, but she was willing to try. It was too soon to lavish gifts on Julie, and she may never actually like it. Perhaps it was more than friendly, more than the woman could handle, but still, Kimba couldn't help but want to do it. Buying her friend back wasn't the point. She just wanted to make her happy.

Anything to make her happy.

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?"

Kimba smiled widely and a flush came to her cheeks, but she was always bold enough to say what was on her subversive little mind, even when her body was telling her it probably wasn't appropriate. "Yeah. For all the time we've spent here they're giving us anything we want." She reached a small hand over and took Julie's larger one gently. "I've got my wish, what's yours," she asked quietly, her voice full of hope.

Another quick breath, and Julie was searching for a response. None seemed to be forthcoming, so she pulled up the hand she held and kissed the back of it softly. There was a small flash of surprise from the redhead, but she took the act as the answer it was and they both settled back to silently gaze at the stars.

This isn't right, Julie's mind kept declaring, but she couldn't help but let it go on. At least for tonight. Since they both had the same unattainable little fantasy, it wouldn't hurt either of them to believe it for a while. Believe that it could last. No matter that the girl wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license or a hundred other considerations. Julie tried to put it out of her thoughts. For one night, maybe, she could have at least the illusion of what her mind begged her to be true.

It wasn't as if she hadn't been thinking about it all summer, and subtle little gestures and comments told her that Kimba was too. There was a blaze in her green eyes that screamed 'one of these days you'll be mine.' And Julie wanted to believe that so badly it hurt. The pain came from the thousands of reasons why it would never happen.

For one thing, Kimba was too young to know what she wanted. She definitely shouldn't be encouraging the kid to act in a way that would be frowned on... no, strongly objected to? by every person they knew. And yet, her friend was so sure about everything, so why should this be any different. First, she was going to be a lawyer. Second, they were going to be together forever. Easy as that. At least that's the way the determined little girl made it seem, as if nothing could stop her from getting what she wanted.

The thing of it was that Julie had no desire to stop her from achieving those goals. If it were a perfect world, well, there would be no question as to who she'd be with in ten years. But their world was far from perfect, a fact that was becoming more and more clear by the day. How could she add one more obstacle in Kimba's path of success? It wouldn't be right to ask the young woman to be burdened by her and all that would mean. She had enough problems as it was.

And Julie realized she had problems of her own. The minute she'd told John about the current situation he'd asked her to marry him. It hadn't been romantic or dramatic, but it had been responsible, and reasonable, and right, and a way out of it all. By saying one little word to him, all the uncertainty that had been growing from the beginning of summer could be wiped out. Kimba would be able to go on without any hint that anything more could ever be possible between them. They would still be friends and things wouldn't have to get so...complicated.

Pulling up on one elbow, facing Kimba, Julie's mind suddenly came to a decision. A hard one that she didn't really want to make, but one that seemed an answer to the strange gnawing in her gut that felt wondrous and ominous at the same time. Maybe, she thought, just maybe I can protect us both.

A gentle smile graced the young woman's face as she looked at her friend and one answered back. But it was the last time for quite a while that Julie would be able to smile so genuinely.

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.

Continued in Part 2.

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