~ MVP ~
by C. E. Gray

Top 25: Apr. 29, 2002
Standard Disclaimer: This is an Uber, so the characters will probably remind you of our two favorite ladies, but other than that, it's mine. Let me know if you want to borrow anything, or the like.

MVP is copyrighted ©2001 CE Gray

Sex Disclaimer: But of course! This is the story of two women who love each other, and have been known to express that love. Nothing extremely graphic, as always, but if you can't handle a little love, I suggest you click "back".

Language Disclaimer: Let's just say I'd be in big trouble if I ever talked like this in front of my mother. There are lots and lots of bad words in here, because a six-foot tall woman is not someone you want to piss off, but when she gets mad, she does curse. Please have a bar of soap handy.

Thanks to: Again, thanks to my beta and best friend, Amber, and my friend Charlene, for all their input into this story. And for keeping this little bard going when things got tough. I love you guys!

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.

- Robert Frost

Without further ado, the story!


Part 1


Cody Madison sighed as she sat on the bench. The crowd sounded in her ears, screaming fans cheering on the home team, but Madison had long since learned to tune them out. Nothing was worth hearing, unless Joe Henry, her coach, was talking to her, or one of her teammates had something to say.

After three years with the San Diego Warriors, still a fairly new baseball team, Cody knew what she had to do to concentrate: nothing. The woman was the only female on the team, and she had to block out the sounds of her male companions, the fans, and even her own breathing. Nothing could be focused on other than her own mind, in which she was formulating where to send the ball.

"Madison, you're up after Brunswick," called Joe, bringing her out of her thoughts, and Cody nodded. She was always up to bat after Matthew, but that was only because she had the power to hit almost every ball through nearly all the opposing team's basemen or outfielders, and Matt was usually only up when there was one out and at least one on base.

Number 23 got to her feet, stretching her tall six foot frame, making sure her long black hair was still braided tightly. She tucked it under her helmet, before picking up her trusty black wooden bat, which she secretly referred to as Dark Sky. The way she figured it, if men could give names to their cars, among other more private things, why couldn't she name her bat?

Cody stood just outside the dugout, doing a few practice swings, letting herself get back into the feeling.

Cody watched as Matt hit a strong line drive over the first baseman's head, managing to get to first safely. The bases were loaded, now.

"Go for it, Madison," said Joe, and she nodded to him. Adjusting her gloves, and her gray uniform, which had the word "Warriors" written in black cursive letters across the front, Cody Madison stepped to the plate, smiling inwardly when the outfielders took a few paces back.

The third basemen for the opposing team, the Saint Louis Cardinals, Nick Hunter, tightened his glove, hoping against hope that Madison wouldn't send a ball in his direction. The last time the woman had been on plate against his team, a few months ago, she had hit a strong line drive right to first, which Hunter had tried to catch. The ball went into his glove with such speed, that he dropped it as his wrist was wrenched backwards, spraining it severely.

He hoped he wouldn't have to go through a month of physical therapy, again.

Cody wrapped both hands around her bat, and brought it above her right shoulder, keeping a close watch on the position of the pitcher.

Hm, she thought. He's gonna try to get me to strike with a fast ball. Fat chance. Guy must be new; most know that I live for fast pitches.

Smiling to herself as she felt Dark Sky connect solidly with the ball, Cody took off for first base, glancing up just in time to see the white sphere glide into some lucky fan's glove. She jogged the rest of the way back to home plate, allowing herself to listen to the crowd, as they chanted her name.

"Way to go, Cody," said Matt, giving her a high-five as she returned to the dugout, where the entire team was cheering her. "That puts us in a 12-3 lead!"

"Nice hit, Madison," added Joe, the manager. "I knew there was a reason I liked you." Cody just nodded, and retreated back to the bench to meditate, until the teams changed positions, or it was her turn to bat again; whichever came first.

"Wakey, wakey, Cody," said Matt, a while later, tapping her on the shoulder. Blue eyes fell upon the man, as she raised an eyebrow at his interruption. "Come on, girl. We're out. Joe says he wants you to play left field." Again, the woman of many words, Cody nodded, and grabbed her glove as she followed the guys to the playing field.

Well, if it isn't the almighty Mark McGwire, Jr., thought Cody, upon

seeing who was up first to bat. Taking after his old man, who retired years ago, in 2007 or so. Oh, well.

As the blonde man stepped up to the plate, his physique rather impressive given his age, he dug his feet into the dirt, and eyed the pitcher, carefully, ready to add another home run to his record, which was steadily approaching that of his father. When the ball was thrown, Mark swung with all his might, sending the ball straight to the short stop, who caught it with ease. The legend's son threw his bat to the ground as he returned to the dugout, angry with himself.

You're letting all that fame and pressure go to your head, smirked Cody. Temper, temper. No need to throw things, Mark.

Oh, great. It's Rick Rutland, Mr. Ground Ball himself.

Cody steeled herself for the ball, which was sent to right field, so she shrugged it off, spitting out her gum as it lost its taste. It was the last inning, and there was no doubt the Warriors were going to win, but that didn't mean Cody didn't play with any less heart.

One out, one on first, and only two pitches into the last half of the inning, she thought, proud of her team. She watched, uninterested, as the next batter struck out at the hands of one of the Warriors' best pitchers, James Corbel.

And what have we here? Oh, Jim? tsk, tsk, tsk, she scolded the Cardinal's new manager in her mind. You're sending Ramirez out in the ninth? What are you smoking? Jesus Christ, man, don't send out your weakest hitter when you're this far behind! For crying out loud, use that tiny brain of yours for something, Jim!

Jesus Ramirez missed the first two pitches, giving him one strike and one ball, and told himself he had to connect with this one. His career had been going badly all season, and his fans, even at home, were depleting, so he had to bring his reputation back up somehow.

The pitch was made, and so was the hit; a low ball to left field. Cody saw this, and ran towards it, realizing it was going to bounce.

Son of a bitch!

With a burst of speed, the woman stuck out her glove as she slid on her side, and felt the satisfying pressure as the ball entered her mitt. Getting to her knees, she threw the baseball to second, where Matt caught it, and the runner was pronounced out.

A cheer went up in the stands, and on the field, as the Warriors remained undefeated. Matt helped Cody to her feet, before slapping her on the back, happily.

"That was a great catch, Cody," he said, and Cody playfully knocked his helmet off his head, revealing black hair in a crew cut, and dancing brown eyes that were usually hidden by the brim of his hat. The man looked up at her, wryly, but smiled.

"Not so bad yourself," she said, giving the man a small grin. Matt was one of the few people who could get more than a nod, shrug, or noncommittal grunt out of the tall woman.

"Yeah, just don't throw so hard next time, huh?" he asked, jokingly, flexing his wrist. "You about took my hand off." Cody shrugged, as if she couldn't help it, and allowed her teammates to congratulate and thank her, before heading into the dugout to retrieve her bat and other belongings.

"Where'd you learn a move like that, Madison?" asked Joe. "I sure as hell never taught you that!" Cody chuckled, but shrugged. "Well, good play, at any rate. We've got a few days off, and then a game in Phoenix, so enjoy it. Good game, guys," he said, and moved on to speak with the other players.

Cody placed her glove over her bat, grabbed her black baseball cap, and went to the locker room, slipping away before any reporters had a chance to catch her. Screaming fans, proud teammates, and autographs she could handle pretty well, but Cody Madison despised talking to the press. She'd avoid the torture anyway she could, no matter if she was the hero of the game or not.

Shoving her things in the locker, the woman decided to hit the showers while the other guys were busy answering the press. Not that she would've cared had the entire male team been in there with her, it was just nice to get a shower alone once in a while.

Letting the hot water run over her body, she felt her right shoulder, not happy with the way it was sore. She wouldn't tell anyone, for fear of having to make an appointment with the athletics physician/therapist, but she thought she pulled the muscle with the home run, and just aggravated it further when she had to rush the ball to second, for the game-winning catch.

Drying herself with a clean towel, Cody dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and sneakers. Taking her hair down, she slipped her sunglasses on, and put a few things in her backpack. Items she always carried, just in case, like a pen, a few extra caps, an extra T-shirt, and something no one else knew was there - a nice-sized knife. She'd had enough run-ins with crazed, drunken, stupid fans in unlit places to feel the need to carry the weapon.

Swinging the pack over her shoulder, and preparing to dodge the bright camera flashes, Cody stepped out into the public once more. Evading the numerous reporters' demands with a cold "No comment", Cody made her way to the street, glad that most of the fans had left already. Even in the year 2017, vulture-like reporters and ecstatic fans hadn't changed; neither had the all-American game of baseball, really.

Instead of going through the main parking lot, Cody went around the back of the stadium, and hailed a passing cab. She'd hitched a ride with Matt to this game, so her vehicle was still twenty-five miles away, at home.

"Hey, aren't you??" asked the cabdriver, and Cody just glared at him.

"Take me to Garret's Restaurant," she said, quieting the man, who nodded his

assent. Garret's was a small, but well known restaurant that Cody went to often when she was at a home game, which wasn't often. At least, it hadn't been, lately. The owner, Garret Wilson, was a close friend, since long before the day she went pro. A friend of her father's, he had quickly befriended the quiet teenager that was Stephen Madison's daughter, and insisted that she keep playing baseball, despite the fact that all players during that time were men.

Three years later, at seventeen, when her father died, Garret was what kept Cody in the game. He became a second father, taking her under his wing since she had no willing relatives, her mother being lost many years before. The man was very kind and understanding, and coached her until the Warriors' scout spotted her years later, and convinced the coach that she was "a real gem".

Two batting-practices and three trial games later, Cody was signed up.

"Here we are," said the driver, and Cody handed the man a twenty, not bothering to wait for her change, thanking him as she climbed out of the cab.

The tall woman entered the restaurant, which also served as a bar, and noticed with irritation that her regular table was occupied by strangers. A small blonde and her younger brother, it seemed, apparently taking advantage of the rule that children were admitted until ten o'clock.

With a heavy sigh, she decided not to tell the duo that they were sitting at her table, and took the nearest empty seat.

Within moments, Garret found her. "Hey, Cody," he greeted, and she stood,

giving the graying man a strong hug.

"Hi, Garret," she said. "How are you?"

"Oh, I'm doing fine," he said, running an aging hand through his amazingly

thick crop of black hair, which was only lightly streaked with gray. "I saw that catch, by the way. Good one, kid. Didn't I tell you that move would come in handy?" he asked, and Cody laughed.

"Yeah, sure did. You were right," she added, sitting back down. "My coach

couldn't figure out how I learned to do it."

"So, how are you doing?" Garret asked.

Cody shrugged. "Same shit, different day," she replied, grinning a little when the man set a glass of Coca-Cola in front of her. "Thanks. Say, it's not often you let someone sit at my table. What gives?"

The man glanced up, only then realizing that Cody's table was indeed taken. "Oh, sorry, I didn't notice. Want me to ask them to move?" he offered, but the woman shook her head.

"No, it's okay," she shrugged. "They look comfortable. No biggie."

Garret wanted to sit next to his girl, and get her to talk about what was bothering her, because he knew it was probably somehow connected to her lack of a social life, but he had impatient customers waiting at the bar. "I've got to run before those guys break into my liquor, but stay for a while, can you? We'll talk later," he added, and bustled off to take care of his buyers.

She was taking a sip of her soda, when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

"Excuse me," said the man, when she glanced back at him, "would you mind signing an autograph for me?"

Cody sighed, and extended her hand, into which the man placed a pen and paper. Signing her name quickly on the napkin, she handed it back to him, and accepted his profuse thanks, until it got on her nerves, and she told him to back off.

As if a neon light had been alighted above her head, saying "Hey, look! Cody

Madison is here! Yeah, she's right down here!" a horde of anxious fans surrounded the woman, demanding an autograph on something or another. One man wanted his book signed, another wanted his shirt endorsed, and one woman somehow held her bra out to be autographed, the owner of which received an amused look and a raised eyebrow from the baseball star, who signed it nonetheless.

Garret came to her rescue. "Hey, you guys think an autograph is cool, let me

tell you! I've known Cody since she was a teenager. Have I got some stories to tell," he said, and Cody didn't care which ones he told as long as it wasn't the one about her bold questioning of her mother in the supermarket at seven-years-old as to why boys were different than girls. She gave him a grateful look and slipped away, while the crowd was otherwise entertained.

"Mind if I sit here?" asked Cody, upon noticing that, while her table was still occupied by the same two people, they were the only ones in the establishment who seemed uninterested in her fame.

"Sure, have a seat," smiled the young blonde woman. Her green eyes looked

friendly, and Cody pulled out the chair, sitting beside the young boy. Cody guessed him to be about four or five, with sandy-colored hair and innocent brown eyes, and he sat in the chair next to the blonde, munching on a few pretzels.

"Trying to escape the crowd, hm?" she asked, and Cody froze. What was that

saying? Out of the frying pan, into the fire? What had she gotten herself into?

Mutely, she nodded, and another smile graced the woman's features.

"Yeah, I don't blame you. I don't see what they're all fussing about, anyway.

Garret is always telling stories about that Cody girl," she shrugged, and Cody's jaw nearly dropped in surprise. "I don't pay all that much attention, to tell you the truth."

She doesn't know who I am, thought Cody. She figured if she ever met a person who didn't recognize her that she'd feel neglected, but she actually felt pleasantly relieved. Maybe now she could be treated like a person, not some rich star that could not possibly be the same as everyone else.

"Is he? I don't come here very often," she said, regaining her voice, and the woman nodded.

"Yeah, mostly every night we've been here. Jeffrey, sweetheart, don't play

with your food," she said, softly talking to the boy, who immediately put the pretzel in his mouth, instead of running it around on the table as he had been, making galloping noises.

"Good boy," she praised, brushing the boy's shaggy hair out of his eyes, and

kissing his forehead, at which Jeffrey grinned up at her, lovingly.

Cody took a chance. "Is he your brother?" she asked, and the blonde blushed.

A charming color, Cody thought, and then shook her head of such ideas.

"No, he's my son," she said, and Cody's jaw almost dropped again. The woman

looked too young to have a kid, even a toddler! "He's five and a half," she continued.

"You look too young," blurted Cody, and the flush on the woman's cheeks

increased at the compliment.

"Well, I'm twenty-five, but thank you," she said. "I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, suddenly. "Here I've been, chatting with you, and we don't even know each other. I'm Jennie Donavon," she said, extending her hand.

The dreaded introductions, she sighed.

Cody gripped her hand, and said, "Nice to meet you, Jennie." She didn't offer her name, but knew it was too much to hope for, for the woman not to ask.

"And you are??" she asked, and Cody sighed.

"Cody Madison," she replied, but the blonde only smiled.

"That's a lovely name," Jennie said. "This is Jeffrey. He's my big stuff, aren't you?" The boy nodded, and giggled as his mother tickled him for a moment. She glanced at her watch, and her green eyes widened. "It's been very nice talking with you, Cody, but we've got to be going; my parents are expecting me. Maybe I'll see you around again sometime," she said, wiping Jeffrey's mouth of crumbs as she spoke.

"I'd like that," Cody heard herself say, and then looked away.

"So would I. Bye," she said, picking her son up as she walked to the door, waving to the tall woman before she left. Cody returned her wave, and ordered another soda, feeling much better than she had a half hour ago.

Upon catching the tail end of Garret's story, she groaned and tried desperately to crawl under the table, as the laughter echoed from the man's finish of, "So, at the top of her lungs in the middle of the checkout line, Cody asks, 'But, mom, why do boys have penises?'"


"That Jennie is something else, isn't she?" asked Garret, having dispersed the crowd, and taking a seat next to Cody, who just shrugged after giving him The Look for the story he'd chosen to tell to a group of strangers.

"Yeah, I guess," she said, hiding any further response by taking a long drink of her soda, swallowing nearly half of the glass.

"Quite a looker, too," he added, nudging Cody, who rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, I guess," she shrugged, again.

"Is that all you can say?" demanded the man, and Cody smirked.

"Yeah, I guess." That earned her a punch in the arm. The right arm, to be precise, and she winced.

"Oh, sorry, kid. Are you all right?" Garret asked, seeing that Cody's pain was genuine, not feigned as he had first suspected.

"Yeah, just pulled a muscle on that home run, I think," she admitted, rubbing the joint and rotating it slowly in an attempt to make it feel a little better. "It's nothing serious." Garret knew better, but didn't say anything, because he also knew Cody wouldn't go to the doctor unless she was too injured to fight off the people who would drag her to the physician.

"So, what's the game plan for the next few weeks?" he asked, and Cody sighed.

"Joe says we've got a few days off before we head to Phoenix, where it sounds like we'll play a game or two against them, and after that, I'm not sure. I haven't been paying much attention to the schedule, to tell you the truth," she said, and Garret nodded.

"That's okay. What have you been up to lately, Cody? I've missed our talks," he said, and Cody agreed.

"Me, too," she said, sadly. "But, you know me, Garret. I'm not one for conversation."

"All right, Cody Madison, what's bothering you?"

Cody's eyes widened. "Huh? What do you mean?" she asked, playing innocent.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," said Garret. "You only turn down our talks, which usually turn out to be just a contest to see who can tell the dirtiest joke, anyway, when there's something wrong that you really don't want to talk about. So, talk," he finished, and Cody sighed, again.

"Garret, you know I love you, but?" she began, but the man cut her off, his brown eyes firm.

"No buts young lady," he said, and Cody turned back to her drink, which was now empty. "I want to know what's going on in that head of yours, and why you're upset."

Cody scowled. "Barry called me last night," she admitted, and Garret was shocked.

"Barry? As in, your brother that you haven't talked to in God knows how long? That Barry?" he asked, and Cody nodded. "Wow. What'd he have to say?"

"Not much," she shrugged. "He was just calling because he wanted money. Said since his little sister's rich, that surely she can spare some dough for her brother. He said he needed it because his daughter needed braces or some shit like that," she scoffed.

"And? What'd you tell him?" asked Garret, already knowing it would be bad.

"I told him to fuck off," she said, simply.

"Cody, he's your brother," began the man, gently, but Cody shook her head.

"No, he's not. He disowned me, remember? About twelve years ago, just after Dad died," Cody reminded him. "But now that I've got money, I'm suddenly back in the family? Hell no."

Garret sighed. He knew it wouldn't do any good to try to convince Cody to get back on better terms with Barry, because the woman could hold a grudge longer than anyone he knew, and while she had every right to be angry for the cruel things Barry had said, they were still family. But the baseball player didn't care.

"So that's what's bothering you?" clarified Garret, and Cody shrugged.

"Yeah, basically," she responded.

"Basically? It can't just be your brother, Cody, and your game's been great, so it's not that. What is it?" asked Garret, softly. Cody shifted lower in her seat, and looked away. "You're lonely," the man said, suddenly, as if it had just been revealed to him.

Cody's face held an expression of surprise and annoyance. "What? No! I'm not lonely. I like everything just fine the way it is, Garret," she sighed.

Except that I'm lonely, she thought, sadly. How long has it been since I've had a real relationship with someone? Three, four? five years? I can't even remember. Shit, Cody. No wonder you're so withdrawn. "People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges," isn't that right, Mr. Joeseph F. Newton?

"Fuck," she muttered, chewing on a piece of ice. "I hate self-analysis."

"What was that?" asked Garret, not understanding what she had mumbled.

"Nothing, just thinking," she responded, before getting to her feet. "Listen, it's been great seeing you again, and I'll probably be back tomorrow night, but I'm gonna catch a cab and head home. I'll see you around, Garret," she said, giving the man a strong hug before she left, placing a $20 bill on the table as she walked out the door.

A half hour long cab ride later, and she was home. Without bothering to heck her messages, or fix herself something to eat, the baseball star sank tiredly into bed, falling asleep with her shoes on.

* * * * *

Jennie smiled as she tucked her son into bed, and kissed him goodnight, after reading him his favorite bedtime story. They'd kneeled beside his bed as he said his prayers, as they did every night, and then they'd brushed their teeth, and he climbed into bed for the nightly ritualistic reading of Dr. Suess. The author that had been one of her favorites was now a first choice for her son.

The visit with her parents had been nice, and they really enjoyed spending a few hours with their grandson, spoiling him rotten as grandparents did, getting him all wound up and then sending him home. Jennie had managed to deftly slide out of two dates that her mother had lined her up with; more rich pretty boys, she assumed. How did she tell her mother that all she could think about all night long was a tall, dark, and incredibly beautiful woman?

"I can just see it," she muttered to herself, as she climbed into bed and pulled up the covers. "'No, mom, I'm sorry. I'm afraid I can't go out with John and Jim, because they're just not my type. Oh, what is my type? It runs along the lines of six-feet tall, jet black hair, gorgeous blue eyes, with a voice and a body to die for. Have I met him? Well, in a sense? You see, mom, he is a she.' Oh, yeah," she sighed. "That'd go over like a lead balloon."

While Jennie had not been able to get up the courage to tell her parents about her lifestyle yet, she was glad that Jeffrey was too young to remember the last time she had a girlfriend, which had been about three years before.

So, she didn't have to worry about him accidentally saying something to Grandma or Grandpa.

Jennie chuckled to herself as she drifted off to sleep, and a sudden phrase popped into her head. "Hey, Grandma! I saw Mommy kissing Mrs. Santa Claus!" Closing her eyes, the blonde succumbed to sleep.

* * * * *

The next day, Jennie didn't even have time to think about Cody Madison; she had a crisis on her hands. Two of the people who were supposed to help her take care of the kids at the daycare where she worked called in sick, so it was just her and "Uncle Mac" the entire day.

Mac Donaldson, or "Uncle Mac" to the kids, was an elderly looking gentleman, and he would have made a terrific Grandfather, except for one minor detail - he hated kids. Rather than assist Jennie in her duties, he sat in the back office, smoking a cigar and falling asleep in the big chair at his desk. The only reason he held the job at all was because he owned the place, and knew a lot of money could be raked in, in the business, if you played your cards right. Most of the parents had never met the Mac in "Uncle Mac's Daycare", and Jennie was glad - they'd pull their kids in an instant, if they thought he came anywhere near the children, which he didn't.

That Saturday had started out like any other; not many kids, thankfully, because not many of the parents worked on weekends. One of the kids fell in the small playground, so Jennie nursed a scraped knee and a wounded spirit.

While she was placing a bandage on the child's knee, and assuring her that the pain would go away when she said the magic words, a cry came from the other room. Quickly waving her hands across the injury, Jennie said, "Folly kazoo!", kissed the girl's forehead, and set her on the floor to play, which she did, happily bouncing around as if she hadn't a care in the world.

"Okay, now what's this all about?" she asked, upon seeing that the daycare's bully, James Riley, was pushing Jeffrey to the ground.

Separating the boys, Jennie repeated her question, to which James replied, "He started it! He took my crayons!"

Jennie kneeled down to be eye-level with the two. Facing her son, she asked, "Jeffrey, did you take his crayons? Tell the truth."

"No! I only used the red one 'cause he was all done with it!" the boy protested, and Jennie nodded, holding up a hand to silence James' shouts.

"It doesn't matter who took what, there are enough crayons for everyone to share, okay?" The boys nodded. "Now, is fighting how we solve things?" A shake of their heads. "What did I do to solve the problem?"

The kids thought for a moment. Then, Jeffrey said, quietly, "You talked to us about it."

Jennie nodded. "That's right. It's better to use words than fists, remember that. Now, go play," she said, shooing the boys off, and she was glad to see James ask Jeffrey if he could borrow the red crayon, to which Jeffrey nodded, and handed it over. Her grin grew when she realized the two boys were now coloring a picture together.

Adults could really learn from kids, she thought, as she went out to do a quick patrol of the playground. Seeing that all was well, she turned to go back inside, when one little girl ran up to her, in tears, holding her finger in her mouth.

"What's wrong, Nicole?" she asked the girl, smoothing her thin blonde hair back from her face and behind her ear, lovingly. The girl pulled her finger out of her mouth, and showed it to the woman, her frightened brown eyes imploring for her to do something. Jennie examined the digit carefully, and finally spied the problem - a splinter. And a nice-sized one, too.


Well, this one's gonna be fun to get out without a scream or two, Jennie thought, leading the girl inside to find the tweezers.

"Hey, Nicole. Do you know what these are?" she asked the youngster, who nodded.

"Tweezers," she responded, and Jennie nodded.

"That's right. But, these are magical tweezers. They don't hurt," she said. "See the little point right there?" Nicole nodded. "That's where the magic is. When I use that to get rid of the nasty splinter, it won't hurt at all, because the magic will suck up all the pain, okay?" Her eyes wide, and a small expectant grin on her face, Nicole nodded.

"Where did you get the splinter from, Nicole?" she asked, trying to keep the girl talking while she dug for the splinter.

The girl didn't even flinch, convinced the magic was working. "On the slide," she replied, watching Jennie interestedly. "Is the splinter hiding?"

Jennie smiled. "Yes, sweetheart, I think it is. But, I'll bet you the magic tweezers can find it. What do you think?" Nicole nodded, and clapped when Jennie removed the sliver from her finger.

"Do you need a Band-Aid?" she asked, but the girl shook her head.

"Well, let's wash our hands, just to be sure, okay?" Nicole nodded, and Jennie

washed her hands as the girl stood on the step-stool to reach the sink, and did the same.

Drying their hands, Jennie said, "You were a very brave girl, Nicole. I'll make sure to tell your mom all about it, okay?" The girl agreed, enthusiastically, and scampered off to play. Doing one last check, and announcing nap-time for a while, Jennie served each child a carton of juice, and put them down on their blankets. When all was silent, she crept out of the main room, and into Mac's office.

The man was sound asleep, his large feet resting on his desk, as a loud snore emitted from underneath a ragged felt poor-excuse for a cowboy hat.

"Mr. Donaldson," she said, quietly. "Mr. Donaldson!"

The man jerked awake, and glared at her as he barely kept his hat from falling to the ground in his surprise. "What do you want? Is it time to go home yet?" he demanded, and Jennie shook her head.

"Not yet, sir. It's barely noon. I wanted to speak with you about the slide again," she said, and winced, knowing what was coming.

"I told you, we're not replacing anything in the playground. The brats can play with what they've got, and if they don't like it, they can stay inside!" he cried.

"They like it just fine, Mr. Donaldson, it's just that it's dangerous. You see, they've been getting hurt on it for the past few months, and it's not safe anymore. Just last week, Timothy fell off when one of the old pieces of timber on the ladder snapped. And today, Nicole came in with a big splinter in her finger," she said. "I really think we need to invest in a new slide, if not a whole new playground set, before one of the children really gets hurt."

"Kids get hurt all the time, Jennifer," he said, and she resisted the urge to tell him her name was Jennie, and it was not short for anything.

"I understand that minor injuries occur often, but I'm talking about real problems here," she insisted, not wanting to raise her voice if she could help it. "I will not stand by and continue working in a place where the children's health is at risk!"

"Then do something about it on your own time, or quit, I don't care. But stop bothering me," he said, gruffly, closing his eyes and falling right back asleep. Jennie sighed, and left the room. If it wasn't for the pay, she'd quit. But, she needed the money, and she loved kids. There was no way around it - she was going to have to find some way to fix the problem herself.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, with no major incidents, save another scratched knee. When the parents came, and picked up their children, they were met with a cheerily smiling blonde and a good report.

"See you Monday, Lauren!" she called to the girl, as her mother walked with her out to the car. The girl waved, and the two drove away. Knocking on Mac's door, Jennie told him it was time to go, and then locked up, before climbing in her own vehicle with Jeffrey, and driving home.

"You did good today, Mom," said the boy, and his mother smiled at him.

"Thanks, Big Guy. I appreciate that you shared with James. It looked like you two got along okay afterwards," she hinted, and Jeffrey nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "He said he thinks he has to be mean 'cause that's what his Dad does, but I told him he doesn't have to, he can be nice and still be a big kid."

"That was very nice of you, Jeff," Jennie said, wincing inwardly at the implication that James' father was abusive or controlling. She wished it didn't have to be like that, abuse in the world of a child, but knew there was nothing she could do about it, except give James a good environment at the daycare.

And Jeffrey was helping a lot, whether it was passing out the juices, making sure that if anyone got hurt Jennie was the first to know, or just being a friend to the other kids. Jennie felt lucky to have such a good son.

"Are we going to see Garret again?" he asked, and she nodded.

"I thought we'd stop by and say hello. Do you not want to go?" she asked, careful to phrase the question so it didn't sound like she was pressuring him, but the boy shook his head.

"No, I wanna go, I just hope that lady's there again. She was nice," he said.

Jennie hid a smile. "How do you know that, Jeff? We only talked for a few minutes, and she didn't even say anything to you."

The boy shrugged. "I don't know, I just like her," he said, and Jennie echoed the sentiment in her mind. A few minutes later, spent in comfortable silence, Jennie pulled into the parking lot, and put the car in park.

"Don't forget to lock your door," she said, as Jeffrey climbed out. Obediently pushing the button, he closed the door, and held his mother's hand as they walked into the restaurant.

"Hi, Jennie!" called Garret, upon seeing her enter. "Hi, Jeffrey."

"Hello, Garret," said Jennie, and Jeff waved at the kind man. "It looks like the same table's open. You wanna go sit down?" The boy was off like a shot, wolfing down the bowl of complimentary pretzels that had been placed there, until his mother sat down beside him.

"Careful, Jeff," she warned, "don't eat so fast. You'll get sick." The child slowed his pace, and Jennie smiled at him. "Do you want something to drink?"

"Yeah!" he said, happily. "Can I have one of those churches?"

Jennie paused for a moment, and then laughed. "Garret, Jeff would like a "church", and I'll take the same," she said, and the man laughed.

"Two Shirley Temples, coming up," he said, chuckling at the youngster's name for the drink, which wasn't much more than cherry flavored soda and a few Maraschino cherries on top. "Temple, church, I get it," he muttered, filling the requests.

The drinks came, and shortly after, a dark shadow loomed over the table.

"Mind if I sit down?" asked a voice, and Jennie glanced up to see Cody standing behind a chair.

The blonde smiled. "Not at all," she said, "have a seat." Cody pulled out the chair, and sat down, glancing over at Jeffrey, who was sipping his drink, contentedly.

"Hey, Jeffrey," she said, and the boy's face lit up.

"Hi, Cody!" he replied. "Want a drink of my church?" he asked, and Cody raised an eyebrow at him. With a frown of concentration, he tried to imitate her. It wasn't long before the tall woman burst into laughter, and ruffled his hair.

"Nice try, little man," she said, gently. "Now, what's that you're drinking?"

"A Shirley Temple," said Jennie, and Cody nodded.

"I see. Excellent choice," she said, the boy beamed. "Hey, I brought something for you." An excited look came into his eyes. Cody reached into her bag, and pulled out a cap, sliding it onto his head, chuckling when it fell over his eyes. Taking it back, she adjusted it, and tried a second time, smiling when it stayed atop the child's head, and showed his happy brown eyes.

"Thanks!" he exclaimed, graciously.

"You're welcome."

The woman hadn't been able to think about anything else all day, except for Jennie and her son, even during her extensive workout. She realized she felt something when she was around the blonde that she hadn't felt in a long time, and it felt? nice. And Jeffrey was a cute kid, even if he did seem kind of quiet. All in all, Cody decided she wanted to please both of them.

"Got one for your mom, too," she said, handing one to Jennie, who took it politely.

"Thank you, Cody, but you didn't have to get us anything," she protested, kindly.

Cody grinned. "Don't worry about it," she said. "I wanted to. Besides, I just happen to have a few connections with the Warriors, so it's not a problem." Neither recipient realized that their cap had been autographed by #23.

"Do you play baseball?" asked Jeffrey, sipping his drink through the straw, all the while trying to get used the feeling of the cap on his head.

Cody smiled. "Yeah," she said, "I do. Do you want me to teach you sometime?" Jeffrey nodded, and they both looked at Jennie, who tried to look firm, but finally gave in.

"Oh, all right," she said, and Cody gave the boy a high-five. "Just so long as he doesn't get hurt."

The tall woman looked at Jennie, and, in all seriousness, said, "Him? With an arm like that, I think it's me you've got to worry about!" Jeffrey laughed happily, and so did Jennie, when she saw Cody was being funny for the boy's benefit.

"Hey, Cody, when can you teach me?" he asked, and Jennie was about to tell the boy he needed to have a little patience, because the tall woman surely had other things to do, when Cody spoke first.

"Anytime you're ready, little man," she said, grinning.

God, I haven't been this at ease, or had this much fun in as long as I can remember! Cody thought, contentedly. Jeffrey really is a great kid, and Jennie's a great mom. It's gotta be their smiles?

"Mom, can we go home and play?" asked Jeff, hopefully.

"Sweetheart, we don't have any equipment," Jennie said, gently. "And I'm sure Cody's had a long day. Why don't we wait for a while?"

Cody found she didn't like seeing the boy disappointed, so she said, "Tell you what. Why don't you guys head on home, give me the address, and I can stop by after I pick up a few things? How about it?" she offered.

Jennie looked like she was going to protest, but Cody looked like she was looking forward to it just as much as Jeffrey, so she nodded. "Okay," she said, "that sounds great. Here's the address," she said, writing the details on a napkin. "Do you need directions?" Cody glanced at the information, and shook her head. "I guess we'll see you in a little while, then. Jeffrey, do me a favor and give this to Garret." Handing the boy a five-dollar bill, she shooed him off, and he did as he was told.

"Cody, I know you have better things to do than to teach Jeffrey baseball?" she began, but the woman cut her off.

"Not true," she smiled. "I have other things to do, not better. They can wait. I'll teach him every night, if that's okay. I have to go out of town in a few days, but I'll be back, and he can practice on his own while I'm gone. Is that okay?" she asked, hopeful.

Jennie decided that Cody could look just as cute as her son, and nodded. "That's great. Thank you, Cody. I really appreciate it," she said, and the star just smiled.

"Don't mention it. I'll see you guys in about twenty minutes," she said, as Jennie took her son by the hand and exited the bar. As soon as they were out of sight, Garret approached Cody, an amused look in his eye.

"Do I hear a date, Cody?" he asked, and Cody rolled her eyes.

"Not unless you'd call a five-year-old a date," she said. "I'm getting to that. I hope," she added, and Garret smiled. "I volunteered to teach Jeff baseball, and that'll keep me close to Jennie, too."

"Nice plan," he said. "She still doesn't know you're Cody Madison, Warriors' best player in the professional baseball league, does she?" Cody shook her head. "She's a smart girl, Cody. She'll figure it out soon enough, if you don't tell her."

"I know," sighed Cody. "And I hope she won't treat me any different."

"I'd bet my bar she won't bat an eye," Garret said, seriously. "Now, if I heard correctly, you've got a few stops to make before you can start in on that plan of yours. So, go. And tell me all about later," he added.

Cody grinned. "You eavesdropping son of a gun," she said. "All right, later. Thanks, Garret." Leaving the man a ten-dollar bill, although she had ordered nothing, Cody left the bar, and hopped on her motorcycle. She drove back to the stadium, found her keys, and went to the locker room to retrieve her glove and a ball. Then, running down to the local sports store, she bought a smaller glove for Jeff, and figured he could grow into it if he wanted to keep it.

With butterflies in her stomach, which she couldn't explain, Cody drove the remaining miles to Jennie's house, and knocked on the door.


Cody smiled when Jeffrey came to the door, asking, "Who is it?" through the wood.

"Your baseball instructor," she said, and she heard the sound of the door being unlocked, followed by the doorknob being turned. A smiling cherub of a face was revealed, and Jeffrey surprised her by giving her a large hug, which she returned.

"You came! All right! Mom, she's here!" he called, racing back into the house, leaving Cody to stand awkwardly in the doorway, before gathering her wits and deciding she should probably come inside, at least to close the door.

"Come on in and have a seat in the living room, if you'd like," Jennie called, from back in her bedroom. "Make yourself at home."

"Thanks," Cody said, and sat down on the couch, taking a few moments to glance around the house. A TV and DVD player were visible in a small entertainment center, with a boom box for a stereo system, and a small electronic keyboard. Cody noticed that while Jennie seemed to have everything a five-year-old could want, she didn't seem to have many things for herself - no books were visible, or magazines, or anything of the sort. She wondered what the woman did for a living.

Sure, she lived decently, but it didn't go unnoticed by the baseball star that Jennie wasn't living well. Cody assumed she was probably living from paycheck-to-paycheck, a way she recognized all too well, having lived like that for a few years, before her career got going, when she'd gotten into some trouble?

Before she had a chance to reminisce on the bad memories, Jennie came out of her bedroom, busily trying to get a knot undone from a small sneaker. Having no luck, Cody took it from her hands, and untangled it, handing it back to her.

"Thanks," she smiled, and Cody just nodded, not sure she trusted her voice when her heart was pounding so fast.

Yep, it's definitely her smile, she thought.

"So, Cody, do you always sign your name this legibly?" she asked, casually, examining her cap.

Cody replied without even thinking. "Well, not usually, I just? uh-oh," she gulped, audibly.

"Busted," laughed Jennie. "So, you're the Cody that Garret is always talking about," she grinned, and Cody looked chagrined. "Number 23, is it?" Cody nodded. "I'm glad you know what you're doing when you teach my son."

The star smiled, and was going to reply, when she was met with a squeal. "Is that your bike?" asked Jeff, looking out the window to stare wondrously at the light blue motorcycle that was parked in his driveway.

"Yep," said Cody, proudly. Her Honda Gold Wing was her baby. It was a classic that she'd rebuilt herself, the only change needed was the conversion of gas-powered to electric. Everything else was exactly like the 20th century models.

"Come on, I'll show you," she said. As the boy followed her outside, his jaw almost on the ground at the sight of the gorgeous vehicle, Cody reached into the rear compartment and withdrew two baseball gloves and a ball.

"This is for you," she said, giving him the smaller of the two gloves. "It's a little big now, but I'll show you how to take care of it, if you want to really get into it." Jeff nodded, slipping the glove over his hand, only to have it fall off.

Cody laughed. "That's all right, you don't have to use it right now," she said. "Let's go in the yard, and we'll start the lesson, all right?"

"Cool!" exclaimed the child, running to the yard, and standing a few feet away from the tall woman.

"Now," instructed Cody, tossing the ball up in the air and catching it in her mitt as it came back down, "it's really easy. All you have to do is watch the ball. Don't worry about your hands, if you keep looking at the ball, your hands will follow, and catch it. You got that?"

Jeff nodded. "Watch the ball, uh-huh," he repeated.

"Okay. I'm gonna throw it up in the air in an arc, and it'll come down right in front of you. Ready?" The boy nodded, again, and Cody released the ball. Just like she said, in was up in an arc, and, just like she told him, Jeffrey watched it carefully. The sphere fell perfectly and lightly into his two small hands.

"I did it!" he exclaimed, happily, jumping up and down. "Hey, mom!" Jennie was watching from the front step, and clapped, as did Cody.

"Great catch," she said. "Now, you throw it to me, underhand, just like I threw it to you." Biting his lip in concentration, Jeff jumped up in the air with the ball, but let it go, for a beautiful arc nonetheless. Cody caught it easily with her left hand, and couldn't help but chuckle at the young man's form.

"Ready?" The boy nodded, and Cody threw the ball again, smiling when the child moved a little to the left, and caught it successfully. "Good job," she praised. "This time, when you throw it back, just move your arm, all right?"

"I'll try," he said, not sure he knew what she meant.

Cody grinned. "That's all I ask," she said, gently. Putting his arm down at his side, Jeff launched his arm upwards, and released the ball, but did not move any other part of his body. The tall woman merely stuck her glove up in the air, as the sphere went high above her head, and caught it with ease.

"Well, you didn't move your body, that's for sure," she said. "Here we go." The game of catch went on for about an hour, and by the time it was too dark to play, Cody was very pleased with Jeffrey's progress. He was eager to learn, and listened well.

"You did a terrific job out there, little man," she said, and Jeff grinned, surprising her by running into her arms, and wrapping his arms around her neck.

"Thanks!" he said, and she returned the hug, a smile on her face as he pulled back.

"My pleasure," she smiled. "Let's go into the house, and I'll show you how to take care of your glove." The boy took her by the hand, and led her inside, sitting down beside her on the sofa. Cody took her time with the youngster, repeating some things, and making sure he knew what to do.

Half an hour later, the boy was falling asleep where he sat. Jennie had been looking through the paper, when a whispered voice startled her out of her thoughts.

"Psst?" said Cody, quietly. Jennie looked up to see her sleeping son held securely in the woman's arms. "Where do I put him?" The blonde smiled, and led the tall woman to Jeff's bedroom. As gently as she could, without waking him, Cody put the little boy in his bed, and covered him up. Tiptoeing out of the room, the baseball star followed Jennie back out into the living room.

"What are you looking for?" asked Cody, upon seeing that the woman was looking through the classified ads.

"A slide for the kids," she replied. At Cody's puzzled look, she explained, "I work at a daycare, and we have an old playground in the back. The wooden slide is becoming very unstable, and several kids have been injured, so I'm trying to find a replacement I can afford."

"Why doesn't the owner do it?"

Jennie sighed. "Mac doesn't care about the children," she said. "And the other two people I work with wouldn't dare use their own money, so it's up to me. I won't allow the children to be in a dangerous environment," she said, testily.

Cody smiled, and raised her hands, defensively. "Hey, you don't have to convince me," she said, and Jennie looked apologetic. "It's all right. I can tell you care for the children. Is there anyway I can help? Maybe I can get some guys together and we can build another one, or something," she offered.

"Oh, Cody, I couldn't ask you to do that!" exclaimed the woman. Her green eyes sparkled with delight at the proposal, but her heart wouldn't let her accept such an extravagant offer.

"You didn't," smiled Cody, "I offered. Besides, stars always do stuff for kids, right? I'll just talk to some friends of mine, and we can get together one day to put the playground together. Why don't you give me the address, so I can stop by and see what we'll need?"

Jennie agreed, and wrote down the information on a small piece of paper, handing it to Cody, who put it in her pocket. "Great," she said. "I'll probably be over Monday. I have to go to Phoenix for a game or two, I think I leave Tuesday or Wednesday, so I won't be here for a few days, but Jeffrey can practice on his own, and I'll be back at night to help him, if it's okay," she added.

The blonde smiled. "That's fine," she said, gently. "I really appreciate all you're doing for us, Cody. For Jeffrey and I, as well as for the children. I mean, you hardly know us, and here you are, offering your time and money to help us. That really means a lot."

Cody shrugged, embarrassed, not used to such profound compliments and thanks, even as a star. "Don't worry about it," she said. "Glad I can be of service." She smiled a full smile, and Jennie was sure it was the most dazzling sight she'd ever seen, and it warmed her very heart? and a lower region, which she didn't want to admit to herself.

"Well, it's getting late," she said, standing to walk the tall woman to the door. "You're probably tired. Thank you again for coming."

"Like I told Jeff, my pleasure," grinned the star. Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen from the table, Cody scribbled a few numbers on it. "Here's my number, if you need anything. I don't think I have to ask you not to give it out to anyone, do I?"

Jennie shook her head, and raised to fingers, imitating "Scout's Honor". "Nope," she said, "it won't leave this house."

"Great," said Cody. "You can call anytime, all right? Don't worry about what time it is, chances are, I'll be up. I'd better get going, though," she said, regretfully. "Thanks for having me over, and letting me work with Jeff. He's a great kid." Jennie smiled at the praise of her son, and stood just inside the doorway as Cody stood a few inches away, outside on the front steps.

"Uh, Jennie," began Cody, awkwardly, shifting her feet and looking at the ground. She was nervous as hell, but couldn't walk away without doing what she'd wanted since laying eyes upon the young woman; not without kicking herself later, anyway.

"What is it?" asked the blonde, kindly.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"This," said Cody, leaning down to place a soft kiss on the woman's cheek, which remained there for a few seconds. When she began to pull back, the tall woman was deeply surprised when Jennie reached for her neck, and brought her head back down until their lips touched, softly.

Cody parted her lips, and pressed her tongue against Jennie's closed lips, softly, asking a gentle question. The blonde accepted her eagerly, taking the woman's tongue into her mouth as she carefully probed Cody's mouth with her own. The tall baseball star wrapped her left arm around Jennie, pulling her closer, while placing the other on the door frame to steady herself. Both women felt the exquisite warmth of the kiss as it traveled to parts that neither of them knew could feel so good.

They pulled back slowly, Jennie's hands on the taller woman's waist, and Cody caressing the blonde's face with her hands.

Jennie caught Cody's eye, and said, "Don't you dare apologize for that!"

Cody laughed, and leaned down so their foreheads touched. "Wouldn't dream of it," she promised, smiling softly as she stared into sparkling green pools.

"The way I see it, we have three options. One, which I would love to do, we can stay out here all night long, but I think your neighbors might get a little suspicious, more than they probably are already, so I guess that's out. Two, we could go inside, but I don't think either of us are ready for that, seeing as I can't keep my hands off you out here," she grinned, making the blonde blush.

"So, that leaves option number three: I force myself to go home," she concluded. "Much as I might not want to, it is getting late. I'll see you tomorrow night?" The blonde nodded, and Cody kissed her once more, quickly.

"Good night, Jen," she called, as she walked out to her motorcycle.

"'Night," murmured Jennie, as she watched the tall woman drive off.

Hm, she called "Jen", the woman thought, as she walked into her bedroom. I've never let anyone call me anything other than "Jennie"? but I think I like her calling me "Jen". Yeah, that can be her name for me that no one else can use.

I guess that answered my question about her feelings for me, she told herself, climbing under the covers, as she felt the kiss on her lips, the sensation lingering long into the night. I can't believe she was nervous about kissing me! 'Course, not like I have room to talk? I wonder if those butterflies finally left?

Still thinking of the tall baseball star, the blonde fell into a deep sleep.

* * * * *

Cody walked up to Matt the next morning, trying to hide her smile and failing miserably.

"Who'd you kill, Cody?" The woman looked confused. "C-girl, you look like the cat that ate the canary. Hell, you look like the cat that ate the damned parrot!" Matt corrected.

The woman chuckled. "I'm playing hooky from practice for a few days, all right?"

Matt raised an eyebrow, but was wise enough not to say anything. "Okay," he shrugged. Cody, you've never missed a day of practice, and you're most certainly not sick. Hm? he thought, maybe you are sick, C-girl. Lovesick.

"Thanks," she said. "I need a favor," she added, and the man nodded. "Can you, and maybe James, go with me tomorrow? I need to put together a few things, and I could use a few extra pairs of hands."

"I'll talk to James," Matt agreed.

Cody slapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks," she grinned, and walked out of the stadium, humming as she strolled along. Once she was sure she'd have enough help to build the slide, she figured the next step was going over to the daycare to see what kind of repairs needed to be made, and to get an estimate on the amount of work that needed to be done.

Arriving at Mac's Daycare around nine, Cody sauntered around to the back, which was enclosed by a chain-link fence, and peered over the top at the playground, shocked by what she saw.

"A slide with a wooden ladder, a tiny sandbox, and a rusted set of monkey-bars? You've got to be shitting me! That's it?" she said, incredulous. "Not even a fucking tire swing, for God's sake! Every kid has to have a tire swing! Well, I guess this is gonna be more work than I thought?"

The star resigned the rest of the day to searching numerous different stores for various pieces of equipment, racking up quite a bill by the time she was done. Asking everyone to hold the items until the next morning, she signed a few autographs to ensure the safety of her purchases, and left with a smile on her face.

At six, Cody dialed Jennie's number, and smiled to herself when Jeff answered.

"Hey, little man," she greeted, and heard the boy laugh.

"Hi, Cody!" he exclaimed. "Are you gonna come over tonight?" he asked, innocently.

"Jeffrey!" Cody heard Jennie scold from the background, and laughed.

"I'm gonna try, Jeff," she said, and he grinned - she could feel it over the phone line. "Let me talk to your mom for a minute, all right?"

"Here she is," he said, handing his mother the phone, as she took a break from drawing outlined pictures for the children to color.

"Thanks," she told her son, who just nodded, and went back to working with his glove. "Not in the house, honey! Hi," she said, smiling when Jeffrey obediently took his baseball outside.

"Hey," responded Cody, and Jennie felt a tremor go through her body at the low contralto voice. "I just called to see if I could convince you to let me bring dinner over, so we could eat before I started working with Jeff."

Jennie smiled. "Since I know you won't take no for an answer, that'd be great, Cody," she said, and Cody grinned. "Thank you."

"No problem," the star replied. "How does pizza sound? I'm afraid I'm not much of a cook, but I figure I can't ruin anything if I don't step foot in the kitchen."

The blonde laughed. "That sounds terrific," she said. "One thing - Jeffrey's allergic to pineapple."

"Okay. One pizza, sans the pineapple. Gotcha," she said. "And how about if I bring something for us, afterwards?" Cody's heart was in her throat as she made the proposal, and hoped she wasn't moving too fast for the gentle woman, as she subtly asked if she could stay after her lessons with the young boy were over.

"Well, I'd be inclined to agree, but I don't drink," she said.

"Who said I do? I was thinking of something along the lines of a cold soda," said Cody and Jennie agreed. "Great. I'll see you in about an hour, then?"

"Can't wait," said Jennie, before she could stop herself.

Cody smiled. "Me, neither," she replied, and both women hung up, reluctantly. Cody sighed happily as she dialed the number for the local pizza restaurant.

It's been a good day, she thought, as she placed her order for a large pepperoni pizza. I got the materials I need to build the playground, I got the people I need to build the playground, and now I'm ordering dinner for more than just myself. I'm going to eat pizza, play ball, and then drink sodas and talk for a while with a beautiful woman.

A good day, indeed.


Cody smiled as she sat down on the couch next to Jennie, after putting an exhausted young Jeffrey to bed. The two had spent more than two hours playing catch, as well as hide-and-seek, and other games that Cody hadn't played in many years, after finishing off the pizza that Cody brought.

"I still can't believe we finished that entire pizza," the star said, pouring soda from a 2-liter bottle into two glasses, handing one to Jennie, and taking one for herself.

Jennie laughed. "I told you, I always eat a lot," she said.

"Could have fooled me," complimented Cody, smiling to herself when Jennie blushed, realizing she liked being able to please the woman so easily.

"Cheers," she grinned, tipping her glass towards the still rose-colored blonde, who returned the gesture.

"To the beginning of a beautiful relationship," said Jennie, quietly, hoping she wasn't being too presumptuous.

"Here, here," smiled Cody, kissing the top of the woman's head, as she discreetly scooted a little closer. "Boy, Jeff is just a bundle of energy! I didn't know who'd wear out first - me or him!"

Jennie grinned. "Yeah, he's got more energy than I do, most days," she agreed. "But, he's a big help at the daycare."

"How many other people do you work with?" Cody asked, not wanting the blonde to stay quiet for too long, because she found she liked hearing the gentle woman's soothing voice.

"Two, right now," she said, and then sighed, heavily. "I think they're both thinking of quitting, though. They want better pay."

"And you stay because of the kids," Cody stated, and Jennie nodded.

"Yes," she said. "I love children, and I need the job. Plus, I couldn't leave them with Mac," she added, sadly.

"Speaking of the daycare, I've got everything ready to go, and we can be there first thing in the morning." She grinned when her blue eyes met happy green ones.

"You're really going to do this, aren't you?" she asked, and Cody got the distinct feeling that she was afraid of disappointment.

Someone probably let her down, she assumed. How could anyone possibly hurt the beautiful woman I see in front of me? She's much too gentle to warrant any kind of pain.

"Of course," smiled Cody, leaning down for a quick kiss, which ended up deepening. Trying hard to keep her hands on respectable body parts, since Cody knew she had no chance of keeping them to herself, she placed her left hand against the side of Jennie's cheek, still holding her drink in her right.

"Keep that up, and I'll agree to anything," said Cody, as Jennie smiled, and reached up to take Cody's hand in her own, interlacing their fingers as she leaned against the tall woman, happily.

"Oh, Cody, look!" said Jennie, and Cody followed her gaze, to meet the red-orange sunset that Jennie was pointing out. "Isn't it gorgeous?"

"Absolutely," said Cody, as she rested her head against the blonde's for a moment, before setting down her now empty glass, and bringing her right hand around and placing it over her other one, totally encasing Jennie's small hand in her two larger ones.

"It's strange," the tall woman commented, after a short period of silence. "I just got to thinking about how different things are, from the 20th century, but it's not as profound as people were expecting. Sure, computers and electronics have advanced to voice commands, cars run on electricity instead of gasoline, and we have clothes that keep our body at a certain temperature regardless of the outside weather.

"But, there hasn't been the total burst of technology breakthroughs that were anticipated," she said. "My mother seemed to think we'd be living on the moon by now, or something."

Jennie grinned. "Well, most of the changes have been in medicine, I think, rather than the general public's everyday lives," she said, and Cody agreed. "Breakthroughs aside, I'm glad we haven't found a way to change the sunset. I don't think we'll ever invent anything as breathtaking as this," she added.

It was on the tip of Cody's tongue to say that something had already been invented that rivaled the beauty of the sunset, and it was sitting right in front of her, but she caught herself, and merely said, still without realizing it, "Where we cannot invent, at least we may improve."

The blonde glanced up at her, a small smile on her face. "Where'd you hear that?" she asked, softly.

Cody shrugged, and suddenly seemed uncomfortable. "Charles Caleb Colton

said it," she muttered. "My mom was big on quotes, so I'm always spouting them out, about one thing or another." Jennie just grinned, and snuggled closer to the woman, who gladly held the blonde close.

Most people gave Cody strange looks, or laughed at her, when she started reciting quotes, so she didn't do it if she could help it. More often than not, she couldn't, so she was glad that Jennie hadn't made fun of her knowledge.

She even seemed impressed, Cody thought to herself, for once not minding the silence, as she wrapped her arms around the young blonde.

It was almost 10 o'clock before Cody glanced up at the clock, and realized she'd been holding the woman in her arms for an hour.

"Jennie," Cody whispered, tilting her head to the side as she spoke, only to find that the blonde was fast asleep. Smiling to herself, Cody picked her up with ease, and carried her into her bedroom. Taking off her shoes, Cody gently tucked the woman under the covers, kissed her goodnight, and then let herself out the door.

* * * * *

Jennie awoke the next morning at 6 o'clock, when her alarm went off, and was surprised to find herself in her own bed. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep in Cody's arms.

The blonde smiled to herself - that was a nice memory. She'd felt safe, warm, and protected, all at the same time, and she'd fallen asleep listening to the beat of the tall woman's heart. It had been a while since she'd been in a relationship, but being with Cody just felt so right, she found herself feeling as though she'd known the woman for more than just one day? more like a lifetime.

Shaking her head, she realized she needed to get up and get ready for work. Running through a quick shower, she was glad to see that Jeffrey was awake by the time she finished dressing.

"Come on, honey," she called, "time to get dressed." The boy groaned a response, but got to his feet, closing the door to his room as he searched for clean clothes. Jennie raised an eyebrow, knocked on the door, and then opened it.

"Sweetie, what are you doing?"

"Getting dressed," was the response, as the boy picked out a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt.

"You want me to help you?" asked the blonde, helpfully, but the boy shook his head.

"No, I can do it."

"Okay," sighed the woman. "I'll be in my room if you need me. Breakfast is in ten minutes." The child nodded, and Jennie walked out the door, as her son closed it behind her. Jennie took a deep breath as she retrieved a pair of socks from her dresser.

"My little boy's growing up," she muttered, sadly. "I didn't think he'd

be so independent so soon."

Come on, Jennie, she told herself. It has to happen sometime.

Deciding not to dwell on the memories of her baby boy just yet, when she didn't have the time, the woman called her son for breakfast, feeling pride as well as sorrow when he sat down at the table, appropriately dressed. His hair was even brushed.

"My, don't you look nice. You're getting to be a big boy, aren't you?" she asked, and he grinned up at her, his eyes sparkling.

"Am I still your Big Stuff?"

"Oh, Jeff," said Jennie, kneeling, drawing her son into a tight hug. "You'll always be my Big Stuff. Don't you worry about that, okay? No matter how old you get, you'll always be my little boy," she assured him, and he smiled.

"Okay," he agreed, happily, giving his mother a hug, before sitting down in his chair as he poured his cereal, managing to keep most of it in the bowl, but let her cut up his banana. He sensed that his mother was a little sad, and wanted to do things for him, so rather than tell her that he was sure he could handle the knife without cutting himself, he said nothing, and let her help.

"Thanks." The two ate breakfast in silence, Jennie deciding not to mention Cody's impending visit; she wanted it to be a surprise, and didn't want to get the boy's hopes up, in case something came up, and the woman couldn't make it.

"Cody says I'm getting real good at baseball," he commented, as Jennie drove to the daycare.

"She does, does she?" The child nodded, and Jennie smiled. "Well, then you must be doing very well. Do you have fun with her?"

Jeff smiled. "Yeah," he said. "I like her. She's cool. Hey, mom," he said, as they pulled into the parking lot, "I don't see Uncle Mac's car. He's the first one here a lot of the days."

Jennie shrugged. "Maybe he took the day off, Jeff," she said. "I've got

the keys, so it's okay. Do you want to open up for me?"

"Yeah!" the towhead exclaimed, taking the keys from his mother, and rushing to the door. He grinned as he unlocked the door and swung it open. "I like it when it's all dark and quiet in here," he said.

"Me, too," agreed Jennie. "Come on. You wanna help me set up the chairs?" With her son's help, the daycare was open by 7:30, just as parents started arriving with their children. Stealing away for a moment, when there was a slight break, Jennie asked Jeff to keep an eye on his two friends, the only ones there as of yet, and she silently crept into Mac's office.

Knowing she probably shouldn't be in the room without the man's permission, she used the copier quickly, making numerous copies of the various pictures she had drawn for the children the night before, and then hurried out to the main playroom. By that time, more people were arriving, and the phone was ringing, so Jennie rushed to take care of it all.

As it turned out, the first two phone calls were from Theresa and Diane, the two other women who worked with Jennie, or used to - they called to leave a message for Mac, telling him they were quitting. They'd found a place with a nicer manager and better pay, and jumped at it. Jennie held back an exasperated sigh, and went back to work, knowing she'd probably be alone on the job for quite a while.

It didn't calm down until almost 9 o'clock, when Timothy, the last child of the day, was dropped off. Then, Jennie got down to work, handing out pictures for them to color, taking a moment to sit out and enjoy the peace and quiet.

* * * * *

"Now, you guys have to watch your language around the kids," said Cody, as she parked her bike, and waited patiently for Matt and James to join her, taking a few minutes to brief them before going inside.

"Us? What about you?" asked James, and Cody smirked.

"Yeah, I know. I have to, too," she agreed. "We'll check out the inside first, see if we can bring the stuff through, or if we have to go around. And, I want you guys to meet Jennie. She basically runs this place, even though she's not the owner," she added. "So, everybody ready?"

Matt grinned. "Cody, you're having us skip practice to hang out with a bunch of kids," he said. "If I knew it would do any good, I'd kiss you."

Cody raised an eyebrow at him. "Not a chance, my friend," she laughed, and motioned them to follow her inside. All three wore jeans and white shirts, and Cody had her sunglasses on again, as she almost always did. James and Matt could have been brothers, save James' green eyes, dark Italian skin - not to mention slight accent, and the fact that he was about three inches taller than the other man.

And Cody towered over both of them.

The tall star was struck by the silence that enveloped her when she walked in the building - she was expecting to see a bunch of wild kids, running and screaming, but instead found two or three dozen youngsters sitting quietly at a few tables, coloring happily.

Seeing Jennie, the woman smiled, and walked over to where she was sitting. "Hey," she said. "Hope we're not disturbing anything."

Jennie returned the smile. "No," she said, "just coloring a few new pictures."

"I see," she said. "Jen, these are my friends, Matt and James. Guys, this is Jennie Donavon."

James and Matt shook her hand in turn, Matt gripping it gently, bringing it up and kissing the back softly, lingering until Cody smacked the back of his head.

"Hey!" he exclaimed, releasing the laughing woman's hand to rub the back of his head.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Cody, sweetly. "Did that hurt?" The man glared at her, but then all four of them grinned. "I've got everything we need. What do you think, guys? Will it fit through the hallway?"

The three workers scouted the area, and decided it would work just fine bringing the materials through the front, so James, Matt, and Cody went out to James' pickup truck to unload. Carrying boxes, lumber, and various tools in a dozen trips, they finally had everything they needed outside.

And, they had an audience. The entire daycare was standing outside, watching them, curiously.

"Hi," said Cody, smiling at the nearest little girl. "I'm Cody. What's your name?"

"Nicole," said the youngster, shyly.

Cody shook her hand. "These are my friends, James and Matt. Do you guys want to watch us work?" she asked the kids, and everyone nodded. "Okay. Why don't you all sit down on the porch, and you can watch, just stay back there, all right? Don't want anyone getting hurt," she added, and they all scampered to the concrete.

The tall woman met Jennie's eyes, and the blonde nodded that it was okay, so Cody joined James and Matt, who were already beginning to disassemble the old playground. That took just a few minutes, and soon they were putting together the new pieces, much to the delight of the children, once they realized what was being built.

"We're gonna get a new playground?" Jeff asked Jennie, and she nodded.

A few hours later, after the kids had eaten their lunches outside, Cody was connecting the tire to the chain, when she felt a hand tug on her jeans.

Glancing down, she smiled at the young child.

"Hi," she said, and the boy grinned.

"My name's James," the small boy said, his dark blue eyes meeting the older woman's. "My dad watches baseball, and you look like the lady on the TV."

Cody smirked. "Well, I am," she said, ruffling his blonde hair. "My name's Cody Madison. Nice to meet you, James. See him?" she asked, pointing out Corbel. The boy nodded. "His name is James, too." The child smiled as James waved at him, grinning.

"How many others know me?" she called, and a few hands went up. "Tell

you what. Why don't you all finish coloring those pictures you were working on when we came in, and when you get done, you can come see the new playground, and I'll sign everyone's picture. Is that okay with you?" she asked, and in response, 35 little bodies ran back into the daycare, with Jennie not far behind to supervise.

Matt caught James' eye, and they both made a snapping motion with their wrists, followed by the sound of a cracking whip. Cody shoved them, and them said, "Come on, boys. Let's get back to work."

By the time the children were finished with their drawings, Cody and the others were taking a break, having finally finished. It was hard work, and the woman had worked just as hard as - if not harder than - the men.

Jennie had to admit to herself that she couldn't help but enjoy as she watched the

play of muscles in the woman's strong arms and back as she worked, lifting the heaviest pieces of timber and the large bags of sand with ease.

"Wow!" exclaimed the children, rushing outside to examine the new toys. Laughter floated on the breeze, as they played on the tire swing, and the sandbox, and the numerous other additions they found.

Cody grinned as she stepped back to stand beside Jennie, as the blonde offered all three workers a glass of water, which they gratefully accepted.

"The best way to make children good is to make them happy," the tall woman said, as she took a sip of her water. "Oscar Wilde," she said, in answer to Jennie's questioning look. The blonde smiled, and then joined the kids to check out the new equipment, thrilled when everything was found to be sturdy, durable, and most of all, safe.

"This is great," said the woman, smiling at the only other adults in the daycare. "Thank you all, I really appreciate it. The kids appreciate it," she added, and James nodded.

"No problem," he said, smiling. "My little boy has an area similar to this, at home. I think they'll enjoy it just as much as he does," he added, and Matt agreed.

"Yeah," said the man. "I was wondering why Cody was skipping out on practice, but I don't blame her. Thanks, C-girl. This was fun," he grinned, but found Cody was shooting him a fierce look.

Jennie paused. "Skipping out on practice?" she asked, and Matt looked away.

Cody shrugged. "It's no big deal," she insisted. "My coach knows a few days won't hurt, and I keep up with the exercises, so it's all right."

The blonde nodded, and frowned when she heard the front door open. Peeking inside, she groaned. "Oh, no," she said. "Mac's here."

"Is that a problem?" asked James.

"It could be," the blonde muttered, and noticed that Cody had raised an eyebrow at her, urging her to continue.

"Mac's the owner," she explained. "I don't know why he's here at two in the afternoon, but I certainly didn't expect him to be in today. Can you stay with the kids for just a minute?" They nodded, so the blonde went inside to speak with her boss.

"Jennifer!" he called, and she approached him, slowly.

"Yes, Mr. Donaldson?" she responded.

"Where are the brats? It is Monday, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," she said. "The children are out back, on the playground."

"All of them?" he demanded, and Jennie nodded.

Jeffrey slipped inside, watching with interest. He knew his mother didn't like Uncle Mac, and neither did he, but the man seemed particularly mean today, he noticed.

"Shouldn't you be out there watching them?" he shouted.

"Yes, sir," she replied, and turned to leave, feeling relieved. The man was obviously drunk, probably drinking out a hangover from the night before, so Jennie was glad he seemed to be content with spending the day in his office, which was where he was headed.

"Jennifer!" he bellowed, suddenly. "Get in here, now!" Her green eyes widening slightly, Jennie hurried down the hallway, while Jeffrey quietly followed not far behind.

"What is it?" she asked, softly.

"Somebody's been in my office!" he cried, and Jennie didn't know how he

could possibly tell - nothing was disturbed, that she could tell. "Who the fuck was in here?" Hearing the man curse, Jeff took off down the hallway and out the door, intent on finding the tall woman he trusted, and knew would protect his mom.

"I was," admitted Jennie.

"Without my permission? You went into my office without my permission?" he charged. "Just what the hell were you doing in here?"

"I was just using the copier," she said, quietly. "I made pictures last night, and needed to make copies so there would be enough for everyone to color."

"Why didn't you just copy them by hand, instead of barging in my office and using my goddamn property?" he demanded. "You had no fucking right! If I ever catch you in here again, you're fired, do you understand me?"

Jennie nodded, and the man made a move to grab her chin, so she would look into his eyes and tell him the truth - he knew he could, because she needed the job desperately and wouldn't quit for anything - but something stopped him. A crushing force around his hand, more specifically.

"She was only helping the children," said a voice, smoothly. "Now, apologize."

"I ain't apologizing to no one," he spat, pushing back from Cody with his free hand, managing to strike Jennie's shoulder in the process. Before he knew what was happening, he was being shoved up against the wall, as icy blue globes seemed to bore into his own alcohol-hazed stare.

"You ever touch her again and I will give you a vasectomy with my bare hands so fast it will make your head spin," she growled. "You got me?" The man tried to squirm out of her grasp, but she only tightened her grip, lifting the man's feet off the floor as she slammed him into the wall of his office again.

"I asked you a question. Do you understand me?" she demanded, and he nodded, slumping to the floor as she released her hold on his shirt. "Men are respectable only as they respect," she added, as she walked away, carefully leading Jennie out the door.

"Are you all right?" she asked, and the blonde nodded.

"Yeah," she said, "thanks."

"Don't thank me," said Cody, "thank your son. He came and got me when he

heard Mac swear, and got worried about your safety." Jennie smiled, and beckoned the boy to her. Jeff walked over to her, from where he had been hiding behind Cody, and gave his mother a strong hug.

"Uncle Mac scared me," he admitted, and Jennie squeezed him, tightly.

"I know, Jeff," she said, "but it's okay now. Thank you for getting help when you thought I was in trouble. What do you say I put you guys down for a quick nap, hm?"

Jeffrey protested, "But, Cody has to sign our pictures!"

The star grinned. "Tell you what, little man. I'll sign everybody's picture before they lay down, and then slip out while you guys sleep. Is that okay with you?" she asked, and he nodded.

"You gonna come play ball tonight?" he asked, hopefully, as James walked in.

"We leave tomorrow at eight in the morning, Cody," he reminded her. "Early flight to Phoenix."

Cody just shot him a glance when the boy's face fell, and said, "Sure, I'll be there, Jeff. You make sure to take care of your glove, okay? I've got to go away for a few days, but you can practice on your own until I get back," she added, and he looked a little sad as he nodded.

"Hey, why the long face?" she asked, tapping his chin with her finger. "I'll be back in just a few days, all right?" Jeff nodded, and went to get his picture so Cody could sign it, without another word. Cody sighed, and shoved James - she'd meant to tell the boy on her own, and in her own time.

Blows that idea all to Hell, she thought, grimly.

After signing all the kids' pictures, they laid down, and curled up on the floor with their blankets, clutching the autographs in their little hands as they slept. James and Matt took that opportunity to bid Jennie goodbye, and sneak out the front door, telling Cody they'd meet her outside.

"That Mac guy is drunk," said Cody, gently. "If he gives you anymore trouble, let me know, all right?"

Jennie nodded. "Thanks," she said, and spared the woman a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. "I'll see you tonight."

Cody agreed. "I'll talk to Jeff later, if that's all right," she offered. "I meant to tell him tonight, but James?" she ended her sentence in a growl.

Jennie smiled, and Cody's anger dissipated at once. "That's okay," she said. "Be careful, and see you soon." The star nodded, gave the small blonde a slight wink, and walked out the door, joining her patient friends.

The woman immediately slapped James in the back of the head.

"What was that for?" he demanded, and swallowed his anger when six-feet of blazing blue fury towered over him.

"For opening your goddamn mouth," she spat, out of earshot of the kids, her cursing back to its normal stream. It had been hard to watch her language, especially around Mac, but she had done it - for Jennie, more than anything else.

"I was gonna tell Jeff in my own time, in my own way," she continued. "He didn't know I was leaving, and not so soon. I was gonna break it to him gentle, you ass."

"Gee, Cody," remarked Matt, "didn't know you cared."

The blue eyes were pinned on him, next. "I do," she responded, seriously. "Now, let's head back. It's been a long day, and I just wanna go home for a bit." The men agreed, silently, and each got in their respective trucks, as they watched the blue Honda motorcycle pull away.

"Computer, messages," she said, as she walked in the door of her spacious, two bedroom, two bathroom, single-story home.

"You have one message," the automated voice replied, as the tall baseball

star glanced in her refrigerator for something to eat. "Good afternoon, Cody."

"Same to you," she replied to the programmed greeting. "Play message."

The message from Joe Henry sounded in her ears as she got the ingredients out

for a sandwich.

"Hi, Cody, it's Joe."

"Hello, Joe," responded Cody, as she spread the mayonnaise on two pieces of white bread.

"I was just calling to see if you were home sick, since you weren't at practice today or yesterday," the man's voice said.

"I do have a life, Joe," said the woman, carefully spreading the mayonnaise and mustard on the bread, along with a few slices of tomato, cold bacon, and lettuce.

"Well, give me a call when you get in, will you? I'll be home all night. Later," he finished.

"End of messages."

"Erase," she said, and the machine responded with an affirmative, and the message was deleted. "Can't take a day's vacation," the woman muttered, as she bit into her freshly made BLT sandwich.

"Computer, reminder to buy more mayonnaise," she said, and the computer, which sat on her desk in the living room, made a few beeping noises.

"Stored," came the response. "You have e-mail messages waiting."

Cody sighed. "How many?" she asked.


The star almost choked on her sandwich. "Seven? I knew it was a mistake to let Joe promote my e-mail address. Play e-mail messages," she ordered. They were all from fans, and she sent a quick response, basically saying "Hi, thanks for writing. Take care. Bye," adding an occasional "No, I'm not available," where necessary.

She glanced at her watch as she finished her glass of milk, washing down the remains of her sandwich. It was five minutes past four. "Guess I'd better call Joe before

I head over to Jennie's," she decided.

"Computer, dial 555-7983. Speaker phone," she added, and listened as the last numbers were punched in. It rang four times, and the answering machine picked up.

"Home all night, are we?" she asked, after the tone. "Joe, this is Cody. I'm not sick, I just had some things to finish up. Thought I'd return your message. See you tomorrow." Walking over to her desk, she ended the phone program on her computer, and entered her room, removing her clothes as she went.

Her shirt was left in the living room, on the floor next to the couch, in front of the television. The sofa faced the large TV, and a grand stereo-system was to the left, with speakers covering all areas of the room, the desk with the computer on the right. Plush grayish carpet covered the floor, with a few pictures on the wall, mainly of Cody's parents. In the back of the room, a tall bookcase could be seen, filled with books.

The star's bra was in the start of the hallway, which led to the two bedrooms and one of the baths, the other being adjacent to the main bedroom, and was adorned with various paintings. Her shoes were found at the end, in front of her bedroom door, while the other articles were dropped in front of her large and comfortable bed. Taking her watch off and setting it on the small bedside table, she walked past her dressers and closet, completely nude by the time she entered the bathroom.

Taking a long shower, Cody once again tested her shoulder, finding that the day's labors had done nothing to lessen its soreness. Drying off with a towel when she was finished, the woman dressed in black jeans, a black sleeveless T-shirt, and black tennis shoes. All in all, when she slipped on her sunglasses, she was dressed to either lurk into the shadows as an FBI informant, or play baseball with a five-year-old boy.

Cody was more interested in doing the latter.

Continued in Part 2.

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive