Helen of the Plains

by JS Stephens
Copyright 1999, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: libriscat@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: I don't own Xena or Gabrielle, just borrowing them for this uberstory. What happens here is part of my overactive imagination, not that of the production staff, actors, producers, directors, writers, etc. of Renaissance Pictures or Universal or whomever else.

Additional Disclaimer: there may be a love story between two women. In fact, I know there will be one -- but the mystery, dear reader, is who will be the two lucky gals? There may also be implied or actual violence or other bothersome things, but this story is set in the early 1980's, so it goes with modern life.

Chapter 1

Brigid Anderson looked up from her book long enough to see the tall, dark-haired woman taking boxes into the house next door. Intrigued, she carefully marked her place with a sliver of paper, laid it down, then walked across lawn the to meet the woman. She nearly collided with her, stammering, "Hi, I'm Brigid Anderson from next door, who are you?"

The woman let loose a dazzling smile, one good enough for a toothpaste commercial, then held out her hand. "I'm Helen Pappas, your new neighbor. My grandparents left me this house and I'm moving in. Grab a box and help, if you'd like."

Brigid shook the woman's hand, then followed her to the moving van and grabbed a box. "What's in this?" she grunted.

Helen grinned. "Textbooks, Brigid, I'm the new history professor at Asbury State. I specialize in ancient Greek history. Are you a student there?"

"Naw, I'm still in high school," admitted the girl, "but, I'll be a senior this year. Dad teaches at Asbury in the economics department and Mom is a real estate agent." She followed Helen up the steps and into the older house, then all the way up to the second floor. "So, it looks like you're keeping the Millers' furniture," she commented, looking around at the familiar settings.

"Yes, I didn't have any of my own to speak of and I knew this stuff would be much better. So, a senior, huh? What subjects do you like in school, if you don't mind my asking?" Helen asked over her shoulder.

The dark blonde grinned as she followed Helen down the stairs to get another box. "Oh, most of them, especially journalism, I think I'd like to be a writer. I'd like to work for a news magazine or something like that. Then, I'll write a couple of great American novels and retire. What do you think of my plan?"

Helen chuckled as she climbed up into the van and grabbed a box. "Grand plan, Brigid, just grand. Grab another box, I only have twenty to go." She jumped down as the girl groaned about mountains of books to move. "Oh, no, I have a few clothes and some music too," Helen added helpfully.

An few hours later, Helen and Brigid sat in a couple of rocking chairs on Helen's front porch, sipping ice water. Brigid was in the middle of describing her turn as Leisl in the school production of "The Sound of Music" when she heard her mother drive up. "Um, I should be going now, nice to meet you, Helen."

"Wait-" Helen started to say, but the girl was gone. "Odd," she mused to herself, "it's almost as if she didn't want to be seen with me." She had hoped to meet the parents as well, but there would be time for that later. "Guess I'd better clean up and go get something to eat," she muttered to herself as she picked up the glasses.

"Hi, I'm Ed Anderson and this is my wife, Marcella. Oh, here comes our sleepy head, Brigid. Welcome to the neighborhood." Helen brushed off her hands on her shorts as she took Ed's proffered hand, then shook Marcella's and Brigid's hands. "I understand that you will be teaching Greek history starting this fall at the university. I teach economics there and my wife here is a real estate agent. Brigid will be starting as a senior at Asbury High this fall."

"Thanks," Helen said simply. "Would you all like to have a glass of tea? I have a pitcher on the front porch and can fetch some glasses."

"No, we're about to go shopping, but we appreciate the offer," Marcella said coolly, arching a penciled eyebrow. "Edward wanted to meet you."

Helen lifted a black eyebrow, saying, "Sorry you don't have much time, then." She turned to the dark blonde girl. "Say, Brigid, how are you at yard work? Would you like a job?"

Brigid looked at her parents, then at the tall woman before her. "Sure."

"But-" Marcella started.

"What my wife was about to say," Ed interjected hastily, "is that Brigid should be earning some money this summer. I don't see a problem with that, we'll talk about it tonight. Would you like to come over for supper, say about seven?"

"I'd love to," Helen replied smoothly. Ed smiled winningly at her, his smile echoed by his daughter. Marcella looked suspiciously at the lot of them, but kept her mouth shut. "Would you like for me to bring anything?"

"Just yourself," Marcella answered grudgingly. "We have to go now or we won't get our errands done. Nice to meet you, Helen," she said insincerely.

"Nice to meet you too," Helen replied. She noticed Brigid glancing back as her parents started walking toward their car, so she winked at the girl. She was rewarded by a big grin and a small wave, which caused her to chuckle. Interesting family, she thought sarcastically.

Supper that night was a strained affair, but Brigid managed to get through it anyway. She silently blessed her new neighbor for sparing her the torment of working in her mother's office for another summer, like she had done last summer. If she had to file one more piece of paper she might scream!

But, it looked like Helen had charmed her father and at least silenced her mother with a combination of funny stories and a promise of hard work for Brigid. In addition, she would pay Brigid a set amount weekly, but expected her to work Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. Helen explained that she would provide lunches and two breaks, just like a regular job. When Marcella started to protest, Helen said, "Hey, it beats flipping burgers or working retail!" Even Marcella had to grudgingly agree to that, with Ed trying not to laugh.

"So, when do you want Brigid to start?" Marcella asked finally.

Helen looked at Brigid and said, "Monday morning. Actually, if you have time, I'd like for you to come over tomorrow afternoon so I can show you what needs to be done."

"No, she has church activities, Miss Pappas," Marcella replied frostily.

"Sorry, wouldn't want to interfere with her church activities. By the way, that's Dr. Pappas, but you may call me Helen," Helen answered, mildly ticked off. She hoped she would not have to deal with the mother very often.

Ed quickly jumped in with, "Well, I think it's about time for dessert, who all wants cheesecake? I picked some up from the store yesterday on my way home." He shot a warning look at his wife as he went to the kitchen for the dessert. Helen glanced at Brigid, who rolled her eyes in mock despair. Helen smothered a grin behind her napkin as she pretended to choke on her water. What an overprotective mother, she thought to herself. Poor Brigid.

Monday morning came bright and early and Brigid could hardly wait to get started. She was the first one up, showered and cooking breakfast before her parents got up, prompting a comment from her father on how unusual this was for her. She just laughed and kissed the top of his head as she went by.

By lunchtime, Brigid was not so sure about this job. She was already sore and tired from weeding, but Helen had insisted that they get all the weeds out of the yard and flower beds before doing anything fun, like replanting flowers or cutting grass. Helen merely stared at her for a moment with those wonderful blue eyes and asked, "Would you rather be shuffling paper at your mother's office?"

"Heck no," Brigid answered quickly. She stuffed the last bite in her mouth and chased it with a gulp of iced tea, looking around the sunny kitchen. "So, you inherited this place from your grandparents, eh? I knew them, they were cool people."

"Thank you. I barely knew them, they were my mother's parents, and I inherited the house and the estate. Enough about me, Brigid, have you always lived here? I don't remember you from the last time I was here."

Brigid answered, "No, we moved here about eight years ago, when Dad started teaching at Asbury. I like it here, this neighborhood is about a hundred years old, so all the houses are big and it is close to my high school and the university. So where did you grow up, Helen?"

Helen pushed back from the table, stretching her long body. "Oh, here and there. Both of my parents were in the military, Dad was shot down in Viet Nam, and Mom died while on a Red Cross mission. I was a bit wild, and my grandparents couldn't handle me, so I spent the last years of high school with Dad's aunts in South Carolina. But, enough about me, I hear some weeds calling our names, Brigid. Let's clean the dishes, then go back out."

"Okay." Brigid got up and stretched, then carried her dishes over to the sink. She helped Helen wash the dishes, then followed her back out into the yard, starting to ask more questions, but Helen simply pointed to a patch of weeds. Brigid sighed and applied herself to the total annihilation of weed kind.

The summer had gone by in a leisurely fashion for Brigid. She helped Helen annihilate the weeds, restore the flower beds to their full glory and build a small pond. She was really sorry to see the summer come to a close, especially since it meant that she would not see Helen on a daily basis. Her mother questioned her from time to time on what they did, but her reply never varied, "Just look outside, Mom." She asked Helen one day about her mother's questioning and Helen suggested that she either ignore it or ask her mother to watch them one day. She chose to ignore it, deciding that she didn't want anyone else intruding on her time with Helen.

Brigid had grown very fond of Helen, finding that even though Helen was nine years her senior, she treated Brigid like an adult. Brigid became quite fascinated by Greek mythology, quizzing Helen about the relationships between the gods and goddesses, the gods and the mortals, and the goddesses and the mortals. "So, the immortals, these god creatures, just thought that mortals should worship them, accept being raped and buffeted around? I don't get it," Brigid said as they were finishing their work for the day.

Helen finished cleaning her trowel before hanging it on the pegboard in the shed. "Well, what do you consider acts of the Judeo-Christian God? He tells his chosen folks to take over inhabited lands, sends them on forty year journeys, then impregnates a young virgin just to bring his kid into the world. Isn't that the same thing?"

Brigid wrinkled her forehead as she followed Helen into the house. "If you put it that way, I guess so, but it was a great honor for Mary to carry the Son of God. She even said so in Luke 1:46 through 1:55, the basis of the Magnificat. She said 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.' Isn't that stirring?"

Helen looked down at the girl as they sat at the kitchen table. Did Brigid really believe that, or was she just repeating what she had learned in church? Maybe she does mean it, her face is glowing with conviction. "Lovely song, but remember, Luke or whoever he was wrote this around 70 AD at the earliest, probably later. Luke based his gospel on writings from Mark and Matthew, and possibly embellished with other oral traditions. As a future journalist, would you consider that very reliable?"

"How do you know so much about the Bible if you don't believe?" Brigid asked.

Helen drummer her fingers on the table. "Honey," she said, "the Greeks influenced Christianity, then Christianity almost lost Greek history, then found it again. It's a very long story."

"How Greek history was lost or why you don't believe?" Brigid asked, curiosity bubbling over.

Helen got up and took a couple of sodas from the refrigerator. "Thirsty?"

"Sure. Now, what happened to make you lose your faith?" the girl persisted.

Helen handed her a soda, remarking, "Brigid, did anyone tell you that although curiosity is a great trait in a journalist, that people deserve to keep some things private? My faith or lack thereof is a very private matter. Next question, please."

Brigid looked down at her hands, a blush creeping up her neck. "Sorry," she muttered, "I won't ever ask you anything again." She stood up as of to leave, but Helen grabbed her arm. "What?"

Helen asked softly, "Did you want your final paycheck or not?"

Brigid sagged back in her seat. "Yeah, I guess so."

"Then quit sulking. I hate it when people sulk, I find it very manipulative," Helen said quietly.

"Are you accusing me of manipulating you?" Brigid yelled.

Helen said calmly, "Nope, I'm not accusing you of anything, Brigid, I'm simply pointing out that sulking can be very manipulative." Her expression softened as she pulled her hand back. "I apologize, I was out of line. Look, I know I won't see you much after today since you'll be starting school and I'll be teaching and starting the tenure rat race, so let's part as friends, shall we?"

Brigid took a long sip of her soda, then put the can down. "Okay, friends it is," she said quietly, still upset with herself for being too nosy.

Helen added quietly, "If you ever need anything, I'm a phone call away, just remember that."

Brigid brightened. "I'll memorize your phone number." She paused, then asked, "Hey, what is your phone number?"

The school year was going by quickly and slowly for Brigid. She was busy with classes, the school newspaper, sending out applications for college, church youth activities and hanging out with friends. She sometimes caught glimpses of Helen in the yard or through a window, but rarely got a chance to talk with her. She missed their conversations, despite how busy she was, but was afraid to just go over and ring the doorbell. Well, her father wouldn't mind, but her mother would. Why her mother disliked Helen so much she couldn't understand, really, but it did keep her from seeing her neighbor.

Helen kept busy as well, teaching a full load and working on several articles and starting research for a book all at the same time. She found herself wondering how Brigid was doing in school, how she was getting along with her parents, what she would think of this or that.

The radio played softly in the background one Saturday morning, still set to Brigid's favorite station. She smiled as she remembered the teenager changing the stations one afternoon as they holed up during a sudden thunderstorm. She never had the heart to change it back for some reason, even though she usually preferred jazz over popular music, especially this stuff. She rolled her eyes in disgust as the announced intoned, "Now for the J. Geils Band playing, 'Centerfold'."

"Oh, barf, what a stupid song," Helen grumbled as she snapped the radio off. She got up and wandered around her study restlessly, finally giving up and going outside. Maybe she should plant those pansies she bought last nigh, no need in letting them go to waste. She pulled on a sweatshirt, then headed out the door.

"Hey, long time no see!" she heard a familiar voice calling. Helen stood up, brushing her hands off on her jeans. "Guess what, Helen? Jake asked me to Homecoming! Imagine, me going with Jake Masterson, the captain of the basketball team!"

"Congratulations," Helen said as she watched her neighbor bouncing around. "Is it that time already?" Helen had never bothered with homecoming, either here or in South Carolina.

"Yup," Brigid answered, "and I never knew that Jake was interested in me. He came up today and asked me, so I said yes. Gosh, my first real date and everything! I called Mom, she's gonna take me shopping tonight for my dress and stuff like that. She's pretty happy, Jake's parents are real big society people and they are looking for a bigger house. Mom's thrilled, I tell you, thrilled."

"So, is this a nice boy?" Helen asked. Something felt wrong for some reason, but she couldn't put her finger to it. Maybe she was just feeling a little protective toward her young friend.

Brigid laughed as she grabbed Helen by the hand and pulled her onto the porch swing. "Jake is so handsome, just think of Harrison Ford with darker hair and a bit taller. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, gorgeous muscles and he's going to Harvard next year! Of course, I can't go there, but guess what? I've been accepted to the college your aunts teach at in South Carolina!"

Helen resigned herself to hearing all about the boy. "It seems that many congratulations are in order. When you go next fall, I'll give you their phone number, they'd be glad to hear from anyone. So, tell me more about this Jake."

Brigid lolled dreamily against the swing, sighing dramatically. "Well, I told you he's the basketball captain and smart. Handsome, too. Why he took notice of me I have no idea, really." She nibbled a thumbnail, then sat up. "Maybe I enchanted him with my good looks! Naw, I could believe it if you enchanted a guy with your good looks."

Helen smiled gently at the girl, remembering her own high school days. "Not really, I was short and chunky until my senior year. I didn't even date until I was in college."

"Really? But you are so beautiful, Helen, like your namesake," Brigid babbled.

"Namesake?" Helen asked, trying to follow the rapid conversational switches.

"Yeah, Helen of Troy, only you're like Helen of the Plains or something. Helen of Asbury just doesn't cut it," the dark blonde explained.

"Especially since I'm not United Methodist," Helen replied, finally catching up with the conversation.


"Asbury, Francis Asbury, one of the first bishops appointed by John Wesley to come to the New World to tame the heathens and whatnot. Didn't you learn that in confirmation class or something?"

Brigid blushed becomingly. "Ah, Helen, I don't remember, I was not too interested in church history then. How did you know all this stuff?"

"One of my friends grew up Methodist. My parents never really believed in any religion, so I was very curious about religion. Then, after they died, I moved in with the Millers for a few months, then moved in with my aunts. But, back to the homecoming shindig, is this Jake taking you to the game and the dance?" Helen asked.

"Yeah. Oh, Helen, what do I do? How do I act?"

Helen reached over and ruffled the girl's hair. "Just be your charming self, Brigid, but don't let him push you into a dark corner. Otherwise, everything will be fine."

"I sure hope so," Brigid replied, suddenly moody. "I just can't figure out why one of the most popular guys in school would ask me out."

"Maybe he has good taste," Helen teased. "Seriously, you don't have to marry the boy, just go on a date with him. It's better going on a date in a big crowd the first time, less potential for problems."

Brigid grumbled, "Oh, I know about sex, don't give me any lectures."

"I wasn't going to," Helen smirked, "thankfully not my job."

Brigid looked at her neighbor for a moment, broke into a smile. "Thanks, God knows I don't need any more lectures. I guess I'd better go back home to do my homework now. I'll tell you all about my date later." She impulsively reached over and hugged Helen, then bounced down the stairs and over to her own house.

Helen watched the girl disappear, shaking her head. Teenagers! "Now about those pansies," she mumbled out loud as she walked to her shed.

Brigid sat next to Jake in the old bleachers of the high school stadium. Their team was ahead, barely, but was threatening to score again. The game had been terrific, Jake was attentive, and the weather was cool and crisp. Brigid was glad that her mother had bought the sweater dress for her, it was warmer than the sheer dress she had been eyeing. Not that she could have persuaded her mother to buy it, though.

"Go, go, go!" Jake suddenly screamed as one of the receivers blew past a guard, then another. Brigid jumped up with Jake, screaming with the rest of the crowd as the boy on the field outran all of the defenders and scored the winning touchdown. Jake grabbed Brigid and kissed her soundly and excitedly, then released her to jump up and down. "Way to go!"

"Did you see how he blew past everyone?" Jake was asking later as they entered the gym.

"Yes, it was quite exciting," Brigid replied, barely glancing at the colorful streamers and balloons. "The best game we've played so far this year."

They came to a halt at the edge of the bleachers, looking at the dance floor, then at each other. Jake suddenly laughed, saying, "You know, you're pretty cool, Brigid, you know more about football than I do. Other girls I've taken out got bored halfway through the game. Um, I do have a confession to make."

"Confession?" she repeated, "what do you have to confess?"

Jake blushed, but kept looking at her, taking her hands in his. "I've been taking dance lessons, which is not cool, but I wanted to be the best dancer out there. Would you care to dance?"

"I'd love to dance," Brigid said as she followed Jake out to the dance floor. A slow song started and Jake pulled Brigid close to him, confidently guiding her though the sea of couples, revealing that he must have paid attention in class to dance so well. She relaxed and followed him around the floor, enjoying the sensation of being in his arms.

Nearly an hour later, Brigid excused herself. When she came back into the gym, she nearly ran into her neighbor. "Helen, what are you doing here?" she asked, confused by Helen's sudden appearance.

Helen simply said, "Tell Jake good-bye, I'm taking you to the hospital."

"What?" Brigid asked, heart pounding. Hospital?

"Oh, gods, I'm saying it all wrong," Helen said urgently, "Brigid, your dad came over and asked me to get you, he and your mom have gone to Memorial Hospital, your mom's father had a massive heart attack. I volunteered to bring you to the hospital so they wouldn't have to wait on you. Do you want to go home and change first, or go directly to the emergency room?"

The world was suddenly spinning out of contol for Brigid. She simply stared at the older woman, unable to take in what she was saying. Jake appeared and asked, "Ma'am, what is going on?"

Helen turned to him, asking, "Are you Jake?" He nodded. "Jake, I'm Helen Pappas, Brigid's next door neighbor. Her dad sent me here to take Brigid to the hospital, her grandfather had a massive heart attack. I'm sorry to break up your dance this way, but we need to leave now."

Jake was stunned. He stared at the tall dark woman for a few seconds before gathering his thoughts enough to ask Brigid, "Um, do you want me to go with you to the hospital?" She shook her head no, unable to speak for fear that she would start crying. Jake stood uneasily for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "I hope he gets well," the boy said softly. "I'll call you tomorrow to find out how he is."

"Thank you, Jake," she said, thoughts already on her grandfather instead of the dance. "Talk to you tomorrow." She turned and followed Helen out of the gym.

Chapter 2

Brigid had been completely silent during the long minute drive to the hospital. Helen felt uncharacteristically shy, wondering what to say to the girl, finally settling on saying nothing. She was having uneasy thoughts herself, memories of visiting her grandparents at the same hospital just a year ago as they died, her grandfather from a heart attack and her grandmother a month later from a massive stroke.

When they finally arrived, Brigid asked Helen softly, "What if Grandpa died already? What if I took too long changing into my jeans?"

Helen looked into those worried green eyes and bit back a sigh. She wrapped her arm around Brigid's shoulders and said quietly, "Brigid, you barely took any time changing clothes. We'll just have to see when we get there, okay?" Brigid nodded once, still in shock, stumbling along. Helen gritted her teeth and steered her young friend toward the ICU. "This way," she said.

"How do you know the way, Helen?" Brigid asked suddenly as they stopped in front of the elevators.

Helen punched the button for the elevator before replying. "Because my grandparents were there last year. Thinking back, I'm surprised I didn't meet you then."

Brigid replied numbly, "We were on vacation when Mr. Miller died, and I was on a church retreat when Mrs. Miller died." She sighed. "I miss them, they were like another set of grandparents. My mom's parents live here, but travel a lot, and my dad's folks died when I was young." The door whooshed open and Helen gently guided Brigid toward the ICU waiting room. Brigid continued, "Well, they travelled until now, I guess if something happens, Mema probably won't travel without him. Do you miss your grandparents, Helen?"

"Terribly. But, I had been away for many years. We're here, I see your parents in the waiting room." She dropped her arm, hanging back a step.

Brigid turned back, stricken by fear. "You aren't leaving, are you?"

Helen looked at the girl for a long moment, noting the terror and confusion in her face. She softened, knowing that the papers would get graded sometime. "I'll stay awhile, Brigid. Now, go see your folks."

She watched as the girl slowly walked across the room to her parents. Marcella Anderson seemed pretty composed to have her father seriously ill, but Ed looked like he'd lost his best friend. Funny how people coped with serious illness, she thought as she sat down in a chair, picking up an old issue of National Geographic.

A few minutes later, Ed detached himself from his family and came to sit beside Helen. "Helen, I'd like to thank you for bring Brigid up, I'd hate for her to have driven herself here. God, this is tough, Marcella's dad treats me just like I was his son." He ran a hand through thinning sandy brown hair, then asked, "How is Brigid? How was her date?"

"I'm not sure, Ed, she didn't say a word on the way up, just sat staring out the window. But, I think she had a good time at the game and dance, the boy seemed pretty nice." Helen hesitated, then asked, "Is it okay if I stay for a while? Brigid asked me to stay."

"I don't see a problem with that, Brigid adores you." Ed rubbed his eyes. "Marcella may not like it, I have no idea what she has against you, but you're a fine neighbor. I never got the chance to thank you for keeping Brigid busy this summer, I've worried about her. She had a friend the summer before who was pretty wild, caught drinking and smoking pot, and I just didn't want my daughter to be around that sort of thing." Ed stopped abruptly, chagrined at his babbling. "Sorry, Helen, I didn't mean to go on like that. Wait, here comes the doctor, I need to see what's going on."

"I'll be here," Helen promised. Ed went over to join the gathered family. Helen picked the magazine back up, prepared to wait it out.

The Andersons huddled together with the doctor for several minutes, then Marcella briefly sagged against Ed. Brigid slipped away and came back to sit next to Helen, leaning her head against Helen's arm. "He's not doing well," she reported, "they got his heart jump started, but it doesn't look good. He may die before the night is through." Brigid reached up and wiped a tear from her face. "Please stay?" she queried softly.

Helen nodded. "I'll stay as long as you need me," she promised.

Brigid woke up, groggy, wondering where she was. She lay still, trying to figure out why she would be laying in someone's lap, not trusting herself to open her eyes just yet. Had she gotten drunk and was sleeping on Jake? No, her head didn't hurt like the one time Sylvia got her drunk and had let her lay down in her lap while they watched a movie on TV last summer. Wait, a woman's lap? She sat up abruptly, the top of her head colliding with someone's chin.

"Hey, watch it," she heard Helen say quietly, "I like my chin in one piece." Brigid slowly sat up and looked at a very bleary eyed Helen. "Did you rest well, Brigid? You fell asleep and one of the nurses brought the blanket, you kept shivering."

Brigid nodded, then asked "How's Grandpa? Any word?"

"Not too good, according to your dad. Your parents went in to see him a few minutes ago, they should be back out soon. Did you want to get up and go in?" Helen asked.

"No, I saw him last night," Brigid replied slowly. "Um, Mom let me sleep in your lap?"

Helen looked puzzled. "She never said anything, why?"

"No reason," Brigid said. Before she could say anything else, her parents came out of the room, looking grim. "Uh, guess I'd better go," Brigid said as she pulled the blanket off. Helen watched her go over to her parents, looking forlorn.

Helen heard Marcella announce distinctly, "He died a few minutes ago, Brigid. I'd better go see about the funeral plans." Marcella simply walked over to the phone and started dialing, completely ignoring her daughter and husband.>/p>

Ed pulled Brigid into his arms as his daughter burst into tears, rocking her as he tried to comfort her. Helen decided that she'd better go soon, they probably didn't need her here any longer and she hated emotional scenes. She stood up to leave, but Brigid saw her and rushed over, flinging herself in the startled woman's arms. "Don't leave, not yet, please don't leave me, Helen!" she implored, voice muffled in Helen's chest.

"Okay, honey, I won't leave yet," Helen whispered, putting her arms around the sobbing girl. "I know it's hard," she said, gently stroking the dark blonde hair, "but I'll help you through, if I can." She felt Brigid nod, then glanced over at the Andersons.

Marcella finally noticed her and was about to stalk over, but was stopped by Ed, who said something to his wife. Marcella looked angrily at her husband, then stiffly sat down in a chair, whipping a small notepad from her purse and starting to write furiously. Helen continued to hold Brigid, gently stroking her hair and back, feeling her tears dampen her sweatshirt, wondering how in the world she'd suddenly become Brigid's comforter.

"What a rotten way to remember homecoming," Brigid groused to Jake the next week after the funeral. "I had to leave you and go see my grandpa die."

Jake put his arm around Brigid and kissed her cheek. "I understand, baby," he said, "I'm just sorry you had to lose your grandfather. So, your neighbor who came to get you, who is she?" he asked.

"Dr. Helen Pappas, she's a history professor at the university. Why do you ask?"

"I thought she was an aunt or cousin or something, you seemed pretty close," Jake observed.

Brigid snorted a brief laugh. "Well, she tolerates me around, Jake. She paid me last summer to help her with yard work after she moved into the house next door."

"She sure is beautiful," he said, thinking about the tall, lean woman.

"Yes, she is," Brigid agreed. "Hey Jake, um, do you want to go to church with me this weekend? I don't mean the service, I mean the youth activities Sunday night."

Jake smiled at her. "Sure, Brigid, why not?" He laughed as she did a little fist pump of joy. "Oh, I'm having a party at my house in a couple of weeks, you want to come? My folks will be there and everything, it's for my eighteenth birthday. Think you can make it?" He turned to face her as he asked, holding her green eyes with his soft brown eyes.

Brigid's heart started beating faster. "I'll check, but I'm pretty sure I can, Jake." He smiled, bending down to kiss her lips gently. She found herself pressing against him, then was jarred back to reality by the bell ringing. "I'd better scat, time for English. See you soon."

"Soon, sweetheart," Jake said as the girl ran down the hall. God, she is something else, he thought.

"Hey dude, what's happening?" a voice inquired silkily. Jake turned slowly to find his friend Rodolfo staring after Brigid. "How's it going with the girlfriend?"

"Fine," Jake answered curtly. "Look, I'd appreciate you're leaving her alone, okay? Her grandfather just died last week and she's pretty broken up about it."

"Okay, man, if that's what you want." The tall dark-skinned boy grinned wolfishly. "She's turning out to be quite a babe, you know. You made any advances yet? I bet she's pretty hot, never had a boyfriend before, just ready for the picking."

Jack blew out a frustrated breath. "Jesus, man, I just told you that she lost her grandfather! I need to give her some space."

"So?" Rodolfo asked, lazily watching his buddy.

"So, like I told you, I can't screw this up! Hey, my folks are sending me to Harvard next year, I really want to do well. Why don't you just back off and leave me the fuck alone!" Jake exploded.

Rodolfo closed the distance between them, staring into Jake's eyes, grinning cruelly. "Remember, you bet me that you could get into her pants, said that anyone could, she'd probably be grateful. Isn't your specialty, deflowering virgins?" he reminded the athlete.

Jake scowled at Rodolfo, saying, "Maybe it was, but she's different. The bet is off, man, I mean it, so back off."

Rodolfo pushed Jake against the wall, saying softly, "No, it isn't, or I reveal that the vaunted captain of the basketball team and salutatorian was puffing weed last year. I have evidence, my man, and I won't hesitate to use it." He backed off, then sauntered down the hall. Jake stood for a moment, deflated, then slowly turned and walked to his next class.

Helen finished grading papers and glanced at her watch. It was nearly seven o'clock and she realized that she was ravenous, as she had completely forgotten to eat lunch today. She grinned at herself, remembering the long debate she'd had with several graduate students after her afternoon class, then she'd gone straight to her office to grade papers. She usually ate after her class, but what the heck, she could grab a bite to eat now. She grabbed her coat, shoved the papers in her briefcase, then locked up her office and took off for the pizza joint by the school. Cheap, filling, noisy -- two out of three weren't bad.

Several minutes later, Helen was sitting down with her pizza, beer and the campus newspaper. At least it was something to read while she munched her pizza, even if it wasn't the best quality in the world. As she read about the football team, she became aware of someone standing next to her table, so she carefully folded the paper and set it down before looking up. "Sophia?" she asked. The other woman nodded, then Helen simply stared before belatedly asking, "Won't you sit down?"

"I believe I will," the other woman said in a sultry voice. She looked around, then back at Helen. "I would not have expected to find you in a pizza joint, but sometimes the fates are kind. So, your aunts said that you were teaching. Do you like it?"

"Yes. How did you track me down?" Helen asked warily, senses on high alert.

Sophia smiled her Mona Lisa smile, saying, "Let's just say that I'm resourceful, my dear. Your Aunt Mel mentioned that you were teaching Greek history now, but carefully forgot to say where. I went through some previous issues of history journals, academic newspapers and such until I found the job advertisement that said 'Helen'. I called the university to see if you were truly here and they obligingly said that you were teaching here. I just got into town a few hours ago and was hungry, so I thought I'd scare up a cheap meal. That enough information for you, my dear?"

Helen took a long sip of her beer, trying to come up with an answer. Damn, Sophia is more beautiful than she had been in high school! "Perhaps too much information, Sophia, and I am certainly not your dear."

Sophia laughed as she slid into the booth opposite of Helen. "Ah, Helen, still denying your true nature. It doesn't bother you that...well, I'll not cover that territory. Are you even vaguely interested in what I am doing these days?"

Helen gave up on reading the rest of the paper. "You are a disk jockey for a radio station in California, I hear," she said.

"How did you know that?" Sophia asked, surprised.

Helen grinned wickedly. "I sometimes read popular magazines, Sophia, how could I miss the articles on the 'woman who may bring back jazz with just her announcing'? God knows, your voice is good enough."

"Yes, I recall that you loved to hear me talk," Sophia countered smoothly. "But, I digress, I am in town for a few days to speak to some of the radio/tv/film students about the importance of a good radio voice, etc. I'd love to see you for dinner one night, perhaps take in a movie or something?"

Helen shook her head. "I'm pretty busy these days, writing articles, grading papers, doing research, all that stuff. You know, tenure track, keeps me too busy for a social life."

Hazel eyes met blue eyes in battle until Sophia had to look away. "You won't forgive me for that little trick I played on you in high school, will you?" she asked, already knowing the answer, but hoping for the best.

Helen picked up her beer again, taking a sip to draw out the moment before finally answering, "Nope, you got me kicked out of school. Feeding me hallucinogenic drugs in school was not the brightest stunt you pulled, but it was the one that put me over the top. My grandparents couldn't handle me, so I was shipped off to Aunt Mel and Aunt Janice."

"But look at how well you turned out!" Sophia noted, eyes slowly sweeping up and down, lingering on Helen's cleavage.

Helen snorted. "Are you suggesting that I turned out so well because I was shipped off again?" She finished her beer in one swallow. "Sophia, I trusted you, you were my friend. But, you screwed me royally and I don't forget it when someone screws me that well. I'm not the forgiving type, so don't bat your pretty eyes at me."

Sophia shrugged as she stood up to leave. "I tried, can't blame a woman for trying." She paused, then asked the question that had been on her mind for years. "So did you ever love me, Helen?"

Helen stood up, grabbing her briefcase and jacket. "I'll walk you to your car. Where are you parked?" she asked as she left money on the table.

"This way, Helen." Sophia led Helen to the parking lot behind the restaurant to her new BMW.

Helen stood to one side, waiting as Sophia unlocked the door and tossed her purse in before answering. "I thought I loved you, but frankly, you scared the hell out of me. Always trying the next batch of drugs, sneaking out all the time, climbing the tree to slip in my window at night. Feeding me those drugs at school and having the audacity to claim you didn't know that I would react so badly and beat that poor boy up. All he did was ask me what time it was." Helen shook her head at the old memories, then continued, "Sophia, you brought out the worst in me. Why should I wish to relive that?"

The other woman reached up and put her hand on Helen's cheek, cupping it lightly. "Oh, I don't know," she answered lightly, "but I had hoped that you had forgotten the bad times. I loved sneaking up to your room, my parents never knew I was gone, nor did they care." She gently stroked Helen's cheek, then dropped her hand with a heavy sigh. "I dreamed that you would take me away from my home, just the two of us. Helen, you know that I had the biggest crush on you back then."

"What?" Helen asked, startled.

"A crush, my dear, I was completely taken in by your stunning good looks and brilliant mind. After you feel asleep, I would just watch you sleep, wishing I could snuggle up to you, that you would protect me from all evil. But, when I did try one night, you just rolled over and I was so upset that I cried myself to sleep. I guess I've been looking for a replacement for you since, my current girlfriend is also tall with dark hair, but she has brown eyes." Sophia leaned her head against the car for a moment, then whispered, "I'll go now."

Helen stared at Sophia for a long moment, then said quietly, "I had no idea, Sophia. Maybe we should get together for dinner."

Sophia flashed a tired smile. "No, I'd probably get you in trouble again, I'd try to lure you into my bed or something equally disastrous. Take care, my dear." She kissed Helen's cheek, then got in the car and took off. Helen watched her drive out of sight, then finally started slowly walking toward her own car.

She frowned as she tried to put the pieces of this new puzzle together, Sophia was a lesbian? Not that it should bother me, hell, I lived with Aunt Mel and Aunt Janice for years! she thought. I guess I just missed the signs.

But did this mean that Sophia thinks I am like her? Helen tried to follow the logic here, she had dated some in college, but never got serious about any man, and Sophia had been her last close female friend, except for her neighbor, Brigid. But one could hardly call Brigid a woman, could they? she wondered.

Helen came up to her car and piled her stuff in, then simply sat for a moment before starting the engine. Am I closer to Brigid than I should be? No, Brigid was dating Jake and seems to be very attached to him. "Too much thinking, Pappas," she said out loud as she started the engine. "Too damn much thinking."

"I think you'll look very sophisticated like this, Brigid," Amy said as she twisted Brigid's hair into a French braid. "Jake won't be able to keep his eyes off of you all night. You two look so good together, blonde and brunette. There, take a look now," she said, wheeling Brigid around to see in the vanity mirror.

Brigid peered at herself, amazed at the transformation. Her hair was braided neatly, her makeup was subtle, yet adult, and her forest green sweater made her eyes a much deeper green than normal. She turned back to face her friend, noting that Amy's dark eyes danced in excitement. "You'll be the belle of the ball, Brigid."

"It's just a Christmas party," Brigid said, but in her mind, it was already much more.

"Sweetie, it is a Christmas party, Jake's birthday party, and his parents' housewarming all at once. Just think, we can even sneak some wine if we're careful! It's a good thing that I was invited too, that way you could get out from your parents' thumbs for one night." Amy plucked a lipstick case from the vanity and carefully outlined her own lips, then continued, "I'll leave the window cracked in case you want to get in really late."

Brigid blushed at the implication, then grabbed her purse and coat. "Guess we'd better get going, then. My bag is here, which car should we take, yours or mine?"

Amy answered, "Oh, let's take mine. I can't believe that your parents actually went out of town this weekend."

"Dad insisted, one of best friends from college was getting remarried, and he really wanted to go to the wedding. Besides, when you offered to let me stay over, Mom couldn't say no." Brigid took one last look in the mirror, then said, "Okay, we're both beautiful enough, let's go." Amy grabbed her purse and coat, then led Brigid to her car.

The girls were amazed at the house when they arrived. It had cathedral ceilings, a huge live Christmas tree in the living room, professional decorating elsewhere, and a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. The buffet covered the entire length of the dining room, and a small band was playing Christmas music in the den. "Welcome, girls," Jake said as he spied them. He shook Amy's hand and kissed Brigid, then asked, "Would you like a tour of the house?"

Several hours later, Brigid decided that this was heaven. She had been dancing with Jake in the formal ballroom, deciding that the commission on this house was probably enough to send her through college. She nearly laughed at the thought, but managed not to say anything. She hadn't put it together before then, but recognized the address as a recent sale her mother made. Maybe it wasn't so bad to work in her mom's office on some weekends after all.

Jake was attentive and very handsome in his holiday attire of a navy suit, white shirt, red and green tie and red suspenders with little Santas on them. After they danced for a long time, Jake casually suggested that they take a break and go see gameroom in the basement. Brigid agreed, so they slipped away. "Even though I'll be leaving for college next year, my younger brother and sister will make good use of this room," Jake said as he pointed out the pool table, ping pong table and TV area. "Do you play pool?"

"No, I never have," Brigid replied.

"No time like the present to learn, then," Jake said as he selected two cue sticks. "I'll line up the balls, then show you how to shoot. It's lots of fun." He handed her the sticks, rounded up the balls and placed them in the triangle. "I'll break, then show you what to do," he said as he took back one of the sticks. He quickly broke, then propped his stick against the wall. "Take the stick like this," he said, sliding behind her, "and aim it just so," as he wrapped his arms around hers, steadying her and helping her get the cue balanced just right.

As the game progressed, Jake kept insisting on holding Brigid while she shot, adjusting her shots slightly, managing to brush his hand against her breasts a few times. She was starting to feel uncomfortable, then finally asked, "Can you let me shoot by myself?"

"Oh, sorry," he said, stepping back. Brigid took a deep breath, then managed to sink five in a row before missing one. Jake said, "Bravo! come claim your prize!"

"Prize?" she laughed.

"Prize!" he repeated as he pulled her into his arms. Brown eyes met green eyes, then Jake leaned over to kiss Brigid, gently at first, then more insistently. He broke the kiss finally, saying, "Merry Christmas, honey."

"Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday," she replied. "Um, won't anyone miss us upstairs? We've been gone awhile," she pointed out, starting to feel uneasy.

"No problem, honey, there are so many people that we won't be missed." He kissed her again, this time running his hands freely up and down her sides, then cupping her rear in his hands, moaning slightly. Brigid was suddenly wary and tried to pull away, but Jake pulled her tighter to him, kissing her more fiercely, trying to work his hands under her sweater.

"Jake! What the hell are you doing?" Brigid squeaked as she managed to pull away.

He looked at her with lust in his eyes, pulling her back to him. "Don't you love me? Don't you trust me? I have condoms, so you won't have to worry about a thing," he said as he tried to slide his hands under her sweater.

"I'm not ready for that," Brigid panted, fear flooding her chest. "Jake, if you really love me, you'll wait."

His face darkened as he snarled, "You're a prick tease, Brigid!" He swallowed hard, trying to cool down a little. "I just want to make love to you, I promise to be gentle, I know you'll love it!"

She stared at him, holding him back, saying firmly, "No. I don't believe in sex before marriage."

Suddenly Jake wrenched himself away and sat down on the couch, dropping his head in his hands. He sat like that for several long minutes, then looked up at Brigid and asked, "Will you sit down for a minute? I promise to be good now." Warily, she sat down, just out of reach.

Jake ran a hand through his hair, trying to line up the words, then gave up and simply said, "Brigid, I'm really sorry, I guess I'm kinda mixed up. You see, I started dating you under false pretenses. Rodolfo bet me that I could seduce you, so I took him up on it. I didn't really want to take the bet, but he has something on me."

"Has what on you?" Brigid asked, feeling sick and used.

"Sweetheart, I did a bit of weed last year, and I was hanging around Rodolfo. He's a gang leader, but the attention was so flattering, and he was giving me the weed for free." He stopped a moment, then forced himself to look her in the eye. "Brigid, I've always been able to woo any girl I wanted into my bed since I was a sophomore, but you are different. I don't want to hurt you, I actually like you and respect you."

"Some respect," she said bitterly.

Jake said wearily, "Maybe you'd better leave. I'll leak the word that you broke up with me because I was trying to take advantage of you. My reputation as a ladies' man will be intact and your reputation as the ice princess will be intact."

Brigid felt a swirl of conflicting emotion snaking through her gut. One the one hand, she really liked him, and was very curious about sex, but on the other hand, he was just trying to win a bet by taking her out. "It probably will be best for us to break up. Not that it sounds like there was an us to begin with," she concluded bitterly. "When you were so gentle and understanding when my grandfather died, I thought you really cared, I guess it was all part of your master plan." Before Jake has a chance to respond, she ran up the stairs in search of Amy, so she could go home to lick her wounds.

But when she found Amy, Amy was extremely drunk. "Brigid," Amy said, trying to focus on her face, "you'll just have to find another way home. I'm what you call impaired," she giggled, "besides, I think my car is hemmed in. Hemmed in, is it a skirt?" Amy laughed. "You can come over tomorrow. I'll probably stay here until I sober up. Toodles!" Amy stumbled off to go dance with one of their friends. Brigid watched Amy stumble off, feeling angry and confused, angry that Amy would get drunk, confused about the whole evening. She finally went to get her coat and purse and found a phone in the coat room and called Helen to please come pick her up.

Chapter 3

While Brigid waited outside for Helen to drive up, Rodolfo found her and sauntered up, asking, "How did it go tonight? Is Jake everything you ever dreamed of?"

Brigid stared at him, fury suddenly welling up within her. "You made a bet with Jake that he could get me in bed! I don't appreciate that, Rodolfo."

"Hey, I was trying to do you a favor," he snickered, "there was a rumor going around that you were gay. After all, you were such good friends with Sylvia last year and you two seemed too close." His dark eyes sparkled speculatively. "Besides, who would have thought that Mr. Cool would have been interested in the school geek?"

Rodolfo took a few steps closer, reaching out to grab her chin. "But my man Jake tells me that you pulled the ice princess routine and cooled his libido. You do know that you just screwed his reputation now, don't you? I'll tell everyone, in my own subtle way, that he was inhaling weed with me last year, that unbeknownst to him, I was also feeding him steroids. Did you ever wonder why he grew so much last spring?"

"You creep!" Brigid snarled, trying to pull away from him.

He laughed, pulling her closer, stroking her hair in a parody of a lover's touch. "Ooh, call me bad names, I'm so hurt," he purred. "Maybe I should try my hand with you instead of Jake." She struggled harder to get out of his grip and he merely laughed, crushing her closer to him. "I love it when girls resist, it makes sex so much more fun," he said as he slid a hand under her sweater and bent down to kiss her.

Before his lips made contact, he felt a hand grab his collar and yank him away from Brigid. He was suddenly face to face with a tall woman, with deadly blue eyes boring into his. The woman said quietly, "If she is resisting, she is not interested. What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

Rodolfo felt terror for the first time since he saw his oldest brother kill a man, saw the same deadly light in the woman's eyes that was in his brother's eyes. He couldn't talk to save his life, just stared gape-jawed at the woman.

She lifted one perfect black eyebrow, continuing in the same quiet voice, "I suggest that you leave my friend alone. I also suggest that you leave all other girls alone." She shook him hard, then flung him on the sidewalk. "I suggest you leave and never return, or I'll hunt down your sorry hide and I promise you, I won't be gentle, and you sure as hell won't like it. Now scram!" The boy scuttled backwards until he was out of reach, then jumped to his feet and ran until he was out of sight.

Helen turned to Brigid and asked, "Ready to leave?"

Helen and Brigid didn't talk in the car as Helen drove them back to her house. Helen was afraid that she had frightened the girl with her display, but sometimes she felt a presence taking over, making people cower with terror. When she pulled into her driveway, she asked quietly, "What do you want to do?"

Brigid didn't answer, just opened her door and walked toward Helen's back door, waiting for Helen to unlock it. Helen took that as a sign that Brigid wasn't ready to go home just yet, so she let the girl in, asking, "Do you want some cocoa or something?" Brigid nodded and followed Helen into the kitchen, sitting mutely as Helen put the kettle on and measured the mix into two mugs.

Finally, after Brigid had drunk half of her cocoa, she asked timidly, "Helen, can I stay here tonight? My parents are gone to a wedding this weekend and I was supposed to stay with Amy, but she's still at Jake's. Please?" She looked up at Helen, hoping that she would say yes. Helen finally nodded yes. "Thank you," Brigid sighed. She stirred her cocoa with her spoon, then asked, "Do you have something for me to sleep in? I left my bag at Amy's and don't feel like going home."

Helen smiled slightly, answering, "I don't think my pajamas would fit, the arms and legs would spill over by a few inches. However, I could find a t-shirt and a robe, I think. Would that suffice?"


"Well, finish your cocoa and I'll find something," Helen said as she stood up to rinse out her mug. Brigid gulped the last of her cocoa, hurrying to rinse her mug and follow older woman up the back stairs to the bedrooms.

Helen led Brigid into her bedroom, rummaging through a drawer for a t-shirt, coming up with a Star Wars t-shirt. She handed it to Brigid, then reached into her closet for a flannel robe. "Come on, I'll show you the guest room, you'll have your own bathroom," she said as she walked across the hall. "The bed has fresh sheets, I changed them last week," she said, aware that she was starting to babble. "Um, if you want a shower, there are towels, shampoo and soap in the cabinet. Should be a fresh toothbrush and toothpaste too. You need anything else?"

Brigid shook her head no, then tossed the nightclothes on the bed. She looked around at the comfortable room, then turned back to Helen. "Thanks for rescuing me," she said softly. "I was pretty scared."

Helen said lightly, "Rescues are my specialty, Brigid, so don't hesitate to call for help," she said, touching the girl's shoulder. "I know what it's like to be in a bad situation."

Brigid suddenly flung herself into Helen's arms, hugging her fiercely. Helen was caught off guard, but held the girl, feeling her trembling, wishing she knew what to do. What else happened to this poor child? she wondered. Brigid finally pulled back, whispered, "Thanks," and disappeared into the bathroom. Helen watched the door shut, then went back to her own room, hoping that Brigid would be all right.

Helen heard a moaning coming from across the hall. She sleepily tried to place the sound, knowing it didn't sound like the house settling or the wind whipping through the chimney. She started to fall back asleep, then bolted upright, remembering rescuing Brigid from that boy. Was Brigid having a nightmare or something?

Helen heard the moaning change to loud sobbing, which propelled her quickly to her feet and across the hall. She burst into the room asking, "Brigid? Are you okay?" She could see a dim outline of the girl sitting up in bed, sobbing into her hands. "Hey, I'm here," she said as she sat on the edge of the bed, pulling Brigid into her arms. "I'm here, you're safe with me," she whispered as she rocked the girl back and forth, trying to sooth her.

Brigid eventually got her sobbing under control, vaguely aware that Helen was holding her, murmuring that she was safe. The tatters of the dream started sliding away as she became more aware of the woman who was holding her. She laid her head against Helen's chest, unable to look up.

How embarrassing, waking Helen up because she'd had a nightmare! But how good it felt, how safe it felt, here in Helen's protective arms. She could smell the faint scent of sandalwood rising from Helen's skin, feel the warmth of her body against her cheek, hear Helen's heart beating reassuringly. She sighed, snuggling closer, feeling the terrors of the night receding as she sat in this safe spot. She could feel Helen lay her cheek on top of her head, completing the feeling of being cocooned in warmth. Her mother had never held her like this when she had nightmares as a child, she had merely told her to go back to sleep and quit being so childish. The thought of her mother made her shiver, which caused Helen to tighten her grip.

Finally, Brigid looked up, seeing concern in those amazing blue eyes. She tried to smile, saying, "It was just a dream, Helen, I'm fine now." She didn't really feel fine, though, and it seemed that Helen saw that. "No, really, I'll be okay," she tried to reassure the older woman.

Helen cocked an eyebrow, asking softly, "Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?"

Tears threatened again as Brigid admitted, "No, I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if I want to talk about it, Helen." She belatedly realized that Helen didn't even have on her robe or slippers and it was rather chilly in the room. "Would you like for me to scoot over? Your feet must be freezing," Brigid offered. Helen hesitated, but took the girl up on her offer, sliding her long legs gratefully under the covers. Brigid snuggled back up against the woman, saying, "I found out tonight that Jake was dating me on a bet, Rodolfo bet that Jake could seduce me."

"So, that was Rodolfo attacking you outside the house?" Helen asked.

"Yes." Brigid trembled again, thinking how close she came raped by two different boys. "He has a reputation as a drug dealer and a gang member. I don't know why Jake ever listened to him." She turned to look at Helen. "Why can't people stay away from bad influences?"

Helen looked at her and answered honestly, "Because evil is so seductive, Brigid." She thought back to Sophia and their antics. "I had a friend who got me in a lot of trouble, Brigid. I was chunky and shorter when I was in high school and felt like the ugly duckling. Sophia was the most beautiful, most popular girl in school. Why she picked me to be her friend I don't know, but the attention was so flattering. My parents were dead, and my grandparents didn't really know what to do with me. I loved them, but they couldn't discipline me enough."<.p>

She sighed, running her hands through her dark hair as she thought back to those unhappy times. "But when Sophia fed me acid-laced brownies, I had a bad trip and beat a boy pretty seriously. That was the last straw, my grandparents called my aunts to come get me." She smiled at the memory of Janice and Mel taking her in and not putting up with her wild ways. "Janice treated me like a boot camp sergeant while Mel pampered me with kindness. Together, they managed to get me through those days of hell. But, you really didn't want to hear my life history."

"Oh, no, I do," said Brigid, her journalist's instinct waking up. "What happened next?"

Helen yawned and answered sleepily, "I grew five inches in one year, then went to college and discovered I really enjoyed learning. You'd better get some sleep, honey."

"Okay, I'll try," Brigid replied. She pulled Helen's arm around her and laid her head on Helen's shoulder.As she drifted into sleep, she thought, This feels so right, wish I could always sleep with Helen.

Helen was dreaming about Sophia stroking her face, saying, "I've always wanted to kiss you," Helen kissed Sophia passionately, as she had always wanted to. She felt a raw bolt of desire sizzle through her belly, thrilled and terrified at this first contact with her friend. After all, hadn't Sophia expressed desire for her just a few days ago? What was wrong with taking advantage of an offer? She moaned as she rolled on top of Sophia and started kissing that slender neck, letting her hands wander over Sophia's small breasts--

Sophia had large breasts, not small ones.

Helen's eyes flew open as she realized that she had been kissing the girl next door. "God, I'm sorry," she croaked as she frantically jumped out of bed. "You'd better get dressed and leave now," she yelled as she ran back to her own room and slammed the door. She leaned against the door, shaking with interrupted desire and fear. I'm no better than those boys, no wonder Marcella doesn't want me around her daughter!

Brigid was confused. She had been dreaming that Jake was kissing her again. It had been so real, but Jake melted into Sylvia, who grinned knowingly as she started kissing Brigid's neck, whispering, "You know you want this, Brigid." When she realized it was Helen, she didn't have time to react before the older woman dashed off and slammed her own door.

Brigid was torn between her awakening desire and fear that the rumors were right, that she wanted women, not men. She could still feel her lips tingling where Helen had kissed her, could feel the warm dampness between her legs, wanted to run but also wanted to fling that door open and finish what they had started.

But Helen was yelling at her to leave.

Brigid went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her, and bursting into tears of confusion and sorrow, covering her face with a towel so Helen wouldn't hear her.

A while later, Brigid finally descended the stairs, intending to sneak out quietly, but was stopped by the smells of breakfast. She hung her coat and purse on the entryway coat rack, then followed the smells into the kitchen. "Hey, smells good," she ventured tentatively, stomach growling in agreement.

Helen silently dished up eggs, bacon and biscuits on a second plate and handed them to Brigid. "Milk's in the fridge," she said tiredly. Brigid went over and poured herself a glass, then sat down at the table. Her hunger overcame her shyness as she tucked into the meal, not daring to look up at her neighbor.

Finally, Brigid finished eating and put down her fork. She could feel Helen watching her, so she looked up to find red-rimmed eyes boring into her own. "I'm sorry about this morning," Helen said hoarsely, "I'm not sure what happened. It would probably be better if you didn't come over for a while."

Brigid moved her fork restlessly around the empty plate, replying "I think it was as much me as you, Helen. I was dreaming about Jake, then about..." She hesitated, unsure how to continue. "God, it was so real! Sylvia was there, kissing me, then I woke up and it was you. Does this mean, well, we're, um, lesbians or something?"

Helen rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, then looked bleakly at the girl. "I don't know, to tell you the truth. I haven't let anyone get to be friendly with me since I left here, except my aunts. Maybe I should leave for Christmas break early, I've already given finals and turned in my grades."

Brigid asked timidly, "Were you dreaming about someone, too?"

"Yes," Helen acknowledge.

"Well?" Brigid prompted after Helen had gone silent again.

The older woman rubbed her forehead, wishing away the burgeoning headache. "Honey, I made a mistake, I took advantage of you. I should have gone back to my own bed, but I was so tired and you were so cute and so warm." Helen started to reach for Brigid's hand, then stopped herself. "Look, I'm an adult and you are a high school student. You're not eighteen yet, are you?" Brigid shook her head no. "Your parents could raise a stink, statutory rape charges, worse than if a man did the same thing. Let's just leave each other alone, our lives could be ruined if we do anything else."

"Do anything else? I'm confused, Helen, help me understand."

"So am I, Brigid. You'd better go now. Please go now, before it gets worse," Helen said.

Brigid slowly stood up and took her plate to the sink, emotions swirling through her brain. Did that mean that Helen felt the same desire that had run through her? Was her feeling for Jake, or was it really for Helen? She paused behind Helen's chair, then leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. "Good-bye," she whispered.

"Good-bye," Helen whispered back. She heard Brigid go to the door and leave, quietly closing the door behind her. Helen sighed, wondering what she had done to deserve all this. Finally, she picked up the phone and called the airlines. "Yes, I'd like to move my flight from Monday to today. I know I'll have to pay a penalty, I don't give a damn, just do it, please," she said into the phone.

Ed Anderson realized immediately that something had happened to Brigid over the weekend. He was puzzled by Brigid's quiet, her pleading fatigue and going to bed early, her general lack of enthusiasm for anything. He also knew that Marcella never would catch on, never would engage their daughter in the usual mother-daughter talks, so he decided to draw out his daughter instead.

Marcella was still glowing with the huge commission check she had received from selling that huge house to the Mastersons and didn't seem to care about anything else. Maybe he could wait until Friday, he remembered that Brigid was getting out of school early that day. Yes, that would be perfect, he thought, my semester is over, I don't have any meetings, and I can take Brigid shopping. She loves to shop.

When Ed picked Brigid up from school at noon, she was still unusually withdrawn, but perked up when he suggested, "Hey, let's go to the mall and do a spot of Christmas shopping. Do you feel up to it?"

"Yes, Dad, that sounds wonderful. Can we eat hamburgers there? You know how Mom hates for us to eat junk food," Brigid replied. Ed laughed at his daughter's suggestion and agreed. Brigid looked a little more relaxed, then asked, "Who all are we shopping for?"

Ed replied casually, "Oh, we'll try to find something for your mother first, since she's the hardest. Then, if you'll help me find something your grandmother, I'll help you find little things for your friends. Maybe you can even help me find something for my secretary. She's been with the department for twenty years this fall, and I've been designated to find Jeanne an extra special gift."

"Sure, I'd be glad to help, Dad," Brigid said, looking more relaxed.

Several hours later, they piled their bags into the trunk of the car. Ed was a puzzled that Brigid never mentioned Helen, he thought for sure she would have wanted to get a little something for her. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Helen this week. "Brigid, do you want to go get some ice cream?"

She made a face. "Dad, it's cold outside."

"With hot fudge," he amended.

"And nuts?" she asked.

Ed grinned. "We'll share one, Brigid."

"You're on, Daddy." Brigid's eyes twinkled, then she held out her hand. "Keys, please." Ed ruffled her hair affectionately as he handed over the car keys, going around to the passenger side. "All aboard for ice cream adventures!" Brigid called out as she carefully backed out the car. Ed relaxed a bit, Brigid really is a pretty good driver for her age, he thought.

A short time later, they were seated in the ice cream parlor and had given their order. Ed finally asked the question that had bugged him all week. "Brigid, is everything going okay with you? You've seemed awfully quiet this week. Care to talk about it?"

Brigid played with her water glass, making new circles on the table. She finally looked up at her dad and said quietly, "Jake and I broke up last weekend at the party."

When she didn't elaborate, Ed asked, "Honey, what happened? I thought you two were getting along really well. Did you have a fight?"

Brigid squirmed in her seat, then waited to answer until the waitress had brought their sundae. She ate a couple of bites, then pushed it away. "Dad, I'm not sure how to say this, but Jake tried to take advantage of me. I told him no and he stopped, but I couldn't leave with Amy, she was too drunk. So, I called Helen to pick me up."

Ed took a couple of bites, waiting for Brigid to continue. When it was apparent that she wasn't planning to say anything more, he asked, "What else happened? I'm not going to get mad, no matter what. It sounds like you used good judgment in getting away from the situation."

She looked out the window as she answered, "Dad, I almost let Jake take advantage of me, but then I called Helen to come get me when I found that Amy was too drunk to drive. Rodolfo tried to kiss me as Helen drove up, so she rescued me. She scared him pretty bad, then she took me home. I went back over to Amy's Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend there. End of story."

Ed looked at her unhappy face, knowing that there was more to the story, but wasn't sure how to proceed. Finally, he asked, "Did anything else happen?"

"I don't want to talk about it, Dad, please."

"Please tell me, honey, I'm concerned about you," Ed pleaded, sensing there was still much more to the tale.

Brigid took a deep breath and said quietly, "I had a nightmare while I was at Helen's, so she stayed with me the rest of the night. The next morning, we woke up kissing, but she force me to leave, saying that she was going to leave for South Carolina that day. Before I went to Amy's, I saw her tossing her suitcase into her car, so I guess she found an earlier flight. Now you can rant and rave at me, but I'm so confused, Dad, I really am."

Ed laid down his spoon, now really unsure how to proceed. At least the woman stopped things in time, he mused, but did Brigid have a crush on Helen? He stroked his chin as he thought back during the year. It did seem like Brigid was very fond of Helen, always talking about her until she started dating Jake. "Brigid, I'm not going to rant and rave at you. Helen did the right thing, you don't need to get involved with someone so much older than you are, especially at your age. Right now, let's keep this between the two of us, not tell your mother, okay?"

"Mom would have a cow, wouldn't she?" Brigid asked in a small voice.

Ed grinned, replying, "No, honey, she would have an entire herd." His grin faded as he said more seriously, "Brigid, I've always taught you to respect differences, but your mother seems to not quite follow the same tact. She's already planning your wedding to Jake in her mind, you know."

Brigid started eating again, then asked, "Daddy, why is Mother so determined that I do things her way?"

Ed shifted uncomfortably, then took a sip of water before answering. "You were not our first child, Brigid. We had a son named Christopher, but he died when he was sixteen months old. By then, your mother was pregnant with you but had you prematurely. She didn't do much with you for the first few months of your life, so I finally took a leave of absence from school to take care of you. To make matters worse, my sister moved in to help out, but Marcella kicked Debbie out when Debbie fell in love with Betty."

Brigid stared at her father, trying to absorb what he'd just said. "Wait, Dad, you're telling me that Aunt Debbie is gay?"

Ed nodded. "Yes. She and Betty lasted about three years, then she met Rose. Your mother didn't approve, but I said that Debbie was my sister and I wasn't going to sever contact with her just because she loved a woman. Your mother almost left me over that, but I prevailed." He sipped his water again, then said, "I fell head over heels for you when you were born, my daughter, partly because you reminded me so much of Debbie, whom I really adored and looked up to. But promise me one thing."

"What's that, Dad?" Brigid asked.

"If you do enter a relationship with another woman, use the same judgment you would with a man. Don't hop in the sack immediately, and please wait until you've at least gone to college. I don't want to deal with your mother if she finds you in bed with your girlfriend."

Brigid patted her dad's hand. "I promise, Dad. Hey, you're pretty cool for a dad, you know. I thought you'd blow your top and say that any feelings like that were sinful and all that."

Ed held his daughter's hand tenderly and said, "No, I'm just relieved that you will still talk to your dear old dad. Now, let's finish this sundae before it melts." Brigid smiled at him and started attacking the ice cream. "Hey, leave a little for me!"

Helen slept a lot during her first two days of vacation. Janice fumed, she wanted to talk to Helen about some new theories of Xena (okay, and Gabrielle's) existence, but the girl kept sleeping! "Mel," she grumbled after Helen went back to her room after dinner, "that girl never does more than sleep and eat a few bites. What the hell is going on?"

Melinda calmly cleared the table, listening to her partner's fussing, but waiting to comment. Finally, she came back into the dining room and said, "Why, Janice, can't you see that she's upset about something? That's why she keeps sleeping, not just to avoid your badgering about new evidence of the Xena scrolls."

"Hell, she's got a cushy job at that university, inherited a nice house, what more could she want? Why would she be unhappy?" Janice persisted as she followed her lover out of the kitchen.

Mel simply took her partner by the hand and led her into their office, then closed the door for privacy before answering. Janice dropped into her chair, waiting impatiently for Mel to continue. Mel sat primly in her chair, then said, "Janice, honey, she shows the signs of having an unhappy love affair. She just needs a bit of time before we pelt her with questions, okay? Remember how much she slept when she first came to live with us? I'd bet that she's reacting the same way as she did then. Just give her a bit of time, hon, and I'm sure she'll tell us what's bothering her soon."

Janice absently reached for a cigar before remembering that she had given up smoking. It was hell growing old, she decided, especially when the doctor made her give up smoking and most drinking. Instead, she grabbed a pencil and chewed on it thoughtfully, thinking about what Mel had said. Yes, it was possible that Helen was upset, she conceded. "Okay, what's the plan, then, my love?"

"Just let her be, she'll tell us what's going on when she's good and ready. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that she was your niece, not mine," Mel added playfully.

Janice glared unconvincingly at her partner. "Humph."

Before Mel could retort, there was a gentle knock at the door. "Come in," Mel called out. Helen opened the door uncertainly, looking around the room.

"Helen, do come on in and take a seat," Mel said, rising gracefully from her chair. "Janice and I were about to have an after diner brandy. Would you like one as well?" Janice raised an eyebrow but managed to keep her mouth shut. We never had after dinner drinks these days, so this must be part of Mel's plan, she deduced.

"I believe I will, Aunt Mel," Helen said as she walked into the room and plopped down in a chair. She watched her tall, graceful aunt pour three brandies, musing that she hoped to look that good when she was Mel's age. Mel had to be what, in her sixties or seventies? Her dark hair was still beautiful, with just a light sprinkling of gray, and her fair skin showed few wrinkles. Janice, on the other hand, had lots of wrinkles from years of digging in the sun, and that faded look that blondes got when they went gray. Helen suddenly realized that Janice was thinner than before, even though she still looked strong enough to take on the world.

Mel handed her the brandy, which Helen took a sip of immediately, letting the liquid roll around her mouth, tasting the complex flavors before swallowing. She was aware that both of her aunts were watching her closely, Mel with veiled interest and Janice with undisguised curiosity. Helen set her glass down on the desk and said, "I think I'm in love."

Chapter 4

"In love? With whom?" Janice blurted out. "Is she cute?"

"Sweetheart, let Helen tell us without interruption." Mel said warningly. "Please continue and ignore your aunt's bad manners."

Helen took another sip of brandy and smiled to herself. "Aunt Janice, she is cute, you hit the nail on the head with that one. The problem is that she's seventeen, a high school senior. You know what that means, trouble."

Janice started laughing, saying, "Hell, I was dating high school girls when I was in college--"

"But it isn't the same now, Aunt Janice," Helen interrupted, "people are more conservative now. Look, that actor is in the president's office, we're starting to hear the argument that women should stay at home again, some strange disease is hitting the gay population, I just can't think of a worse time to realize that I'm possibly gay. Her mother has been suspicious of me since I moved it, but her dad is pretty cool." Helen paused to gulp the rest of her drink. "Besides, I teach at a private university, a church supported one at that. If word got out, I'd be up a creek without a paddle." She got up and started pacing. "Why can't I fall for a man like I'm supposed to?"

Mel said quietly, "If you really like women, trying to date a man won't work, it will just make matters worse. Now, sit down and tell us exactly how you met her. What is her name? What made you fall for her?"

Helen dropped in the chair again, staring at her empty glass. Mel glanced at Janice, who obediently got up and poured Helen another glass of brandy. Helen sipped it, then said slowly, "Well, Brigid came over when I was moving in, so I put her to work helping me with my boxes of books. I met her folks that day and I came up with the bright idea to hire her to help me with yard work. Her mother, Marcella, didn't seem too keen on the idea, but her dad, Ed, was in favor. So, for five days a week, Brigid helped me weed, rip up the yard, lay sod, create flower beds and build a small pond. I was pretty impressed by her perseverance, most kids that age would not have stuck with all that hard work. She's determined to be a journalist, always asking questions."

"So far so good," Janice interjected.

Helen smiled sadly, then continued, "Well, you can't just work together and not get to be friendly. We talked a lot about history, music, movies, stuff like that. I admit I looked forward to seeing her every day and missed her when school started, even with my killer schedule. She even offered to help me do research for my first articles, but I declined. You know the tenure racket, publish or perish. I guess I was comfortable just letting her hang around. Then, I ran into Sophia one night, she was in town for some speech or something. She made it clear that she had been very interested in me in high school and even hinted at, um..."

"A temporary liaison?" Janice supplied.

"Yes." Helen blushed, but went on. "I said no. A few days later, Brigid called out of the blue one night needing me to pick her up from a party, her boyfriend was pretty fresh and she didn't like it." Helen sipped her brandy again, marshaling her thoughts. "Her friend Amy was supposed to take her home, but the idiot got drunk, so Brigid called me since her folks were out of town at a wedding."

"Then what?" Janice prompted.

"As I pulled up, I saw this other guy bothering her. He was holding her with his hands in her sweater, so I gave him that Xena glare and yanked him off of her, then drove her home with me." Helen finished her brandy, then continued. "I put her in the guest bedroom, but she had a nightmare in the middle of the night and I went to her and comforted her. I swear that I didn't think about it when she wanted me to stay the rest of the night." Helen swallowed painfully, but forced herself to continue. "I dreamed I was kissing Sophia, but I was kissing Brigid. I made her leave and flew out here to get away from her."

Mel asked softly, "How does Brigid feel about this?"

Helen mumbled, "I don't know, I haven't talked to her since. Hell, I took advantage of her, Aunt Mel, I shouldn't ever talk to her again!"

"Honey, naturally you're upset, but you need to talk to her sometime, doesn't she, Janice?"

Janice cleared her throat and said, "I never contradict Melinda. Yes, you need to talk to her." She grinned sheepishly, saying, "It took Xena and Gabrielle both to knock sense into my head, to make me see how wonderful Mel was. Hey, just think, Gabrielle was only a year older than your Brigid when she ran off with Xena."

Helen pointed out sensibly, "But people matured faster back then, married sooner and all that. Well, thanks for the drinks, I think I'll go back to bed now."

"Good-night, then," Mel said as she stood up. "Janice, I'll be back in a moment." She walked with Helen to her room, and asked, "Are you going to talk to Brigid sometime soon? She must be as confused and upset as you are."

"I don't know, Aunt Mel. Maybe I'll just be celibate for the rest of my life. She may take back up with Jake, who knows? Her mother would probably kick her out if she found out about us." Helen sat down on the bed and started yanking off her shoes.

Mel sat down beside her and advised, "Just don't shut yourself up completely, honey. This may be a passing crush, or it could be the real thing. Soul mates are found in the most unlikely places, you know, just look at Janice and me." She chuckled, thinking back to their adventures while tracking down Xena artifacts. "Janice didn't want to fall for me, you know, tried to resist me, but when I realized that she was the one for me, nothing stopped me. Not even Dr. Leesto and a refrigerator."

Helen smiled, remembering the story of how Janice and Mel were trapped together in a walk in refrigerator. "I doubt I'll be trapped like that with Brigid."

Mel hugged the younger woman, then suddenly asked, "Do you know what Brigid means?"

"No, I know that my name means 'light'." Helen answered.

"Brigid is a Celtic name meaning 'strong'. I have a feeling that she is stronger than you give her credit for, especially with a mother with the name of Marcella."

"Huh?" Helen looked at her aunt, trying to catch up as the brandy slowed down her thoughts.

Mel smiled. "Marcella means 'warring'. French, I think, but from Latin most likely. You know, Mars, Roman god of war."

Helen groaned. "Okay, I get the picture. Well, this light one had better get some sleep. Good night." Mel kissed her niece on the forehead, then left the room. Helen thought for a long time before she dropped off to sleep. Should I talk to Brigid again? Would it ruin my career if I am caught with a young woman? She finally dropped into a fitful sleep, dreaming of sitting on her front porch, chatting with Brigid about gods and goddesses and Xena and Gabrielle...

"Brigid," Marcella said stiffly, "your friend Sylvia is here. Would you like to see her?"

"Sure, I'll be right down," Brigid said. Sylvia, here? Oh, right, she must be home from college for the holidays, Brigid thought as she yanked the paper out of the typewriter. She neatly laid it on the other sheets, then grabbed her purse and coat, deciding that it might be better to talk elsewhere. She zipped down the stairs to find Sylvia calmly talking with her mother, telling her about wanting to join the honor society at her college and how the classes were finally a little bit challenging. "Sylvia!" Brigid exclaimed, "you look wonderful!"

Sylvia got up from the couch and went to hug Brigid. "Yes, amazing what a semester away from home will do. Would you like to go to lunch and a movie? Mrs. Anderson, would you mind if we went out for a few hours? I'll bring her home before dinner time, I promise."

"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt. Brigid, be careful now and don't forget that you still have homework over the holidays," Marcella reminded her.

"Yes, Mother, I've been working on my term paper, it's nearly finished. Bye, we'll be careful," she called over her shoulder as she followed Sylvia out the door. "So how is college? Do you like Seattle?"

"Yes, better than the Midwest, thank you. Let's go to Johnny's and get some old fashioned burgers, I haven't eaten any good burgers since I left. Then, I thought we'd go see Tootsie, if you haven't seen it already."

"Are you kidding? I broke up with Jake just before it came to town. Oh, you don't know about Jake, I'll have to fill you in over lunch." Brigid slipped in the passenger seat and shut her door. "Do you remember Jake Masterson, the basketball captain?"

"Sure I do, he was hanging around Rodolfo last year. Go on," Sylvia said as she pulled away from the curb. As she drove to the burger joint, Brigid filled her in on Jake, their break up, and her wondering what would happen next. She mentioned Helen coming to rescue her, but didn't mention what happened the next morning. By this time, they had pulled into the parking lot and were headed into Johnny's. "Sounds like you and Jake had some crossed wires, think there's a chance of working things out with him?"

"I'm not sure, to be honest. Sometimes I think I'd like to get back together, other times I think I'd love to be unattached again and concentrate fully on school. Relationships take up so much free time," Brigid said.

Sylvia laughed at the last remark, commenting, "Yes, but what happens if you don't have any relationships?" They paused in their conversation to order, then after getting their food, Sylvia continued, "Okay, answer me honestly, if you had to do it all over again, would you go out with Jake?"

Brigid bit into her burger and chewed, stalling for time on the question. She had asked herself the same thing several times lately, but never coming to any real conclusion. Finally, she swallowed and answered, "I did enjoy going out with Jake, but sometimes I wish we were just friends instead of dating. He was really kind to me after my grandfather died, but then he pulled that stunt at his party. I don't know, I'm wondering if I liked the security of dating more than the actual dating. Do you understand?"

Sylvia nodded slowly, then looked at her watch. "We'd better hurry if we want to catch the movie."

Brigid started to say something, then changed her mind. It was bad enough that she had told her father about Helen, she couldn't imagine telling Sylvia as well. Well, maybe Sylvia would understand, but then again, maybe she wouldn't. She finished her lunch quickly so they could go watch the movie.

After the movie, Sylvia suggested that they go by her house for a little bit. They talked about how well Dustin Hoffman did in portraying Dorothy. As they sat facing each other on Sylvia's bed, Sylvia asked, "What did you think about the way they handled Dustin's and Jessica's characters nearly kissing in that one scene? I thought they cheated in a way."

"Cheated? How?" Brigid asked curiously.

Sylvia answered, "Well, they could have kissed and then had to really deal with the fact that Dustin was a man sooner. It also could have been that Jessica's character realized that she was a lesbian, then when Dustin revealed his true gender, she could tell him, 'I could love you as a woman, but not as a man.' That would have made it really unique."

Brigid thought about it for a bit, it made sense to her. "So, that's how you would have done it?"

"Yeah," Sylvia said, "but then again, I am a lesbian."

Brigid stared at her, shocked but intensely curious. "You are? I mean, how do you know?"

Sylvia smiled dreamily, replying, "I fell in love, silly. Her name is Loretta, we met in freshman English this fall and started talking after class. It was the last class of the day for both of us and I guess we just clicked. We started doing stuff together all the time and just it just happened. Loretta convinced me to straighten up my act, I haven't touched so much as a beer in two months, she told me that she doesn't like kissing girls with beer breath or cigarette breath. So, I've stopped drinking, smoking and taking drugs; I want this relationship to last."

"She kisses you? What does it feel like? Is it different to kiss a girl than a boy?" Brigid asked.

"My, my, Brigid, you are full of curiosity, this isn't one of your interviews," Sylvia teased. "But, for me, it is different to kiss a girl, girls are softer and more exciting. I'll tell you the truth, I am not a virgin, I've been with a few guys, but with Loretta, I feel like a virgin all over again. Before you ask, no, we haven't gone to the next step, we want to wait until we are ready to make some sort of commitment."

Brigid stared unbelievingly at her friend, trying to absorb the changes. If this Loretta could convince her friend to go clean and sober, maybe being a lesbian wasn't so bad. But, "Um, did you have any idea before that you were a lesbian? Do your parents know?"

"I haven't told them yet, Loretta says to wait until the right time. Well, she's a little older, she served a hitch in the Navy first before going to school. She says that society is really down on queers and that it is very important to pick your battles. She had a girlfriend in the Navy and the girlfriend got dishonorably discharged just for being a lesbian. Loretta had broken up with her before then and says that she's still not sure how she missed getting discharged as well, that her ex must not have turned her in, so she is pretty cautious."

"But how exactly did you know?" Brigid persisted.

Sylvia smiled, "Back to your question, oh impatient one, I sometimes dreamed about kissing girls, and it was pretty intense. I think that's why I went to bed with several guys, I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn't gay." Sylvia took Brigid's hands and continued seriously, "Remember when I came over to spend the night and snuck in that wine? How I got you drunk?"

Brigid nodded. "Yes, I remember, we watched TV. Dad caught us drinking, but he said he wouldn't tell Mom if we never did it again."

Sylvia took a deep breath. "Brigid, remember me pulling you into my arms as we watched TV? Just snuggling?"

"Yes," she answered slowly.

"If I hadn't been drunk, I wouldn't have touched you. My God, girl, you were so trusting and I was fighting the desire to kiss you the whole time. Now I almost wish I had, but I also know that it would have destroyed our friendship. You were the only girl in school who treated me decently. The other girls were afraid I'd steal their boyfriends." She grinned ironically. "Now they won't have to worry, will they?"

Brigid sat quietly, trying to sort out her feelings about this new development. She was surprised to discover that she was disappointed that she lost her chance to be kissed and was faintly jealous of Loretta. Another thought struck her -- was it possible that Helen was a lesbian? She flushed as she suddenly remembered the weight of Helen's body on top of hers, Helen's lips burning hers, the strange feelings that she had never felt with Jake.

Sylvia looked at her questioningly and Brigid caught the look and blushed deeper. "Ah, I was just imagining, well..." her voice trailed off as she ducked her head and withdrew her hands from Sylvia's. "You'd better take me back home soon, it's nearly dinner time and you know how pissed Mom gets when I'm late."

"Hey, we still have half an hour before we have to leave, what's bothering you? I'm not going to jump you, I promise," Sylvia said, puzzled by Brigid's actions.

"I still have my term paper to do and school starts next week. I'm glad I go to see you and go to the movie, I had fun."

"Brigid," Sylvia started.

"Really, I should go now, please take me home." Brigid jumped off the bed and reached for her coat and purse.

Sylvia watched her friend, then said quietly, "I never thought that you would be prejudiced against anyone, Brigid. You've always stood up for the underdog, always bravely stepped in when kids were taunting anyone different, managed to talk kids into seeking peaceful resolutions to their differences. Why can't you do the same for me, accept that I'm different?"

Brigid leaned her head against the bedroom door and whispered, "I'm scared, Sylvia, scared that I might be gay too." She turned and faced her friend. "I really wasn't that drunk and to be honest, I wanted you to kiss me, but you never did. I have kissed a woman, I haven't told anyone but Dad, but I'm scared, she's a lot older than I am. I think it spooked her more than me and I don't know what to do about it."

Sylvia walked over and hugged Brigid, gently stroking her hair. "Sweetie, it is scary at first. Do you want to continue with this woman? Is she a friend of the family or something?"

Brigid moaned. "No, she's our neighbor, she moved in last summer and I did yard work for her, she's a history professor at the university."

"Oh, I see. I won't ask how it happened, but were you two friends?" Sylvia asked.

"Yes. Jesus, Sylvia, Helen shoved me out the door pretty fast then went away for Christmas break. I don't even know if she's mad at me now, if she'll ever talk to me again, or what, but I do know that I can't stand the silence. I want her back, I want to discuss mythology with her again, I want to curl up in her study again, I want to be held in her arms and make the world go away. She's beautiful and doesn't seem to know it either. I liked Jake, but I didn't get that shivery feeling with him. Helen has always treated me like an adult friend, not the kid next door and I'm scared I'm going to lose her. What do I do now?"

Sylvia led Brigid back to the bed to sit down, keeping an arm around her. Brigid laid her head on Sylvia's shoulder, trying hard not to cry but failing. She clutched Sylvia, seeking comfort as the sobs broke out, embarrassed by her emotion but relieved as well. Sylvia rocked her, murmuring soft words of support, handing her tissues until the storm was over. Brigid heaved a great sigh, finally looking up at her friend. "Thanks," she said hoarsely.

"You're welcome. What else are friends for, if not to be a human handkerchief?" Sylvia asked, mischief glinting in her gray eyes. Brigid smiled a little bit. Sylvia kissed her forehead, then said, "Why don't you go wash your face, then when you feel up to it, I'll take you home. Unless, of course, you don't feel up to it, I'm sure my mom would be willing to call your mom and ask if you could stay for supper."

Brigid walked unsteadily to the bathroom, glad that it was attached to the bedroom so she wouldn't run into Sylvia's parents. She washed her face, then held the washcloth to her eyes for a long time, trying to erase the evidence of her tears. Finally, she hung up the washcloth and came back into the room. "I think I'd like to stay awhile," she said. "Thanks for the offer."

"Hey, no problem, you need some time to chill out. I'll go talk to Mom while you freshen your makeup." Sylvia started to open the door, but went back and hugged Brigid again first. "You'll be fine, kid." She then left to make the arrangements. Brigid opened her purse and set about the task of repairing her makeup, grateful for such a good friend.

Brigid was determined to talk to Helen after she came back from her vacation, but Helen managed to elude her. Brigid was frustrated by the noncommunication, but was afraid to push too hard, sensing that the older woman might clam up and never talk to her, or that it would appear to be stalking.

Meanwhile, Jake tried his best to woo her back, sending her flowers, stuffing notes in her locker at school, even asking if they could study together. Brigid was torn, she really liked Jake in some ways but she also wanted to at least find out what Helen really thought of her. She became even more withdrawn, spending more time than ever on her homework, spending long hours in her room by herself. Her father noticed, but when he tried to talk to her, she simply said, "I'm preparing for college, Dad, you should be proud."

Ed considered talking to his wife, but when he tried to bring up the subject, she cut him off, saying, "So she's doing school work, what's wrong with that? Better than hanging around at the mall like some kids I've seen. I need to go work on this house contract, it may sell tomorrow." Ed just stared at Marcella, wondering why she was so cool toward their daughter. But, Marcella had never really recovered from their son before Brigid was born. He ran his hands through his hair, wondering for the millionth time why he didn't just leave his wife and take his daughter with him. His rational self replied it was money, pure and simple, Marcella made very good money as a real estate agent and he was counting on that money to send Brigid off to college. Asbury sure didn't pay well enough for him to send her to college.

Ed was still thinking about Brigid and her unusual quietness when he went to his next meeting. How he got shanghaied into sitting on the search committee, he wasn't sure, but interviewing candidates for the next dean of the college of arts and sciences was not his favorite thing to do. At least they had a good cross-section of professors from various departments, he thought as he watched people coming into the room.

He sat up a little straighter when Helen Pappas entered. Unusual to have such a new professor on the committee, who has she pissed off already? he wondered. He watched Dr. Pappas look around the room for a seat, then saw her lips tighten into a thin line when she realized that the only seat left was next to him. After she sat down, he leaned over and said, "I don't bite, Dr. Pappas, if that's what you're worried about." She gave him a startled look, then actually grinned slightly and relaxed.

After the meeting broke up, Ed touched Helen's arm, saying, "Dr. Pappas, can I talk to you a moment?"

"I suppose, Dr. Anderson." They waited for everyone else to leave, then she asked warily, "Why do you want to talk to me?"

Ed took a deep breath, then asked bluntly, "How long are you going to ignore Brigid? She's been miserable and depressed since you left for Christmas. Don't play ignorant, she told me what happened after Jake's party. Before you say anything, my favorite aunt in the world is gay and I adore her lover. My wife doesn't feel the same way, but that's tough. I'm just worried about my little girl, I want her to be happy."

"Dr. Anderson, what I do is my own affair. May I leave now?" Helen asked, pointedly picking up her briefcase and coat.

"Damn it, Helen, I just bared my heart to you! My daughter is wasting away, she doesn't eat, she only gets out to go to school and church, she's pining away! Please, just talk to her, you don't have to start an affair, but just tell her how you feel!" he exploded.

Helen threw him a cold look. "Ed, I appreciate your concern about your daughter, but I don't really have anything to say to her."

He slammed his fist against the table in frustration. "I'm not getting through, am I? Yes, I'm concerned that she has a crush on a woman many years her senior, but unlike Marcella, I've always trusted Brigid to make the best decisions for herself."

Helen regarded him coolly, then queried, "Suppose I don't return her feelings?"

"Then tell her, damn it! You two got along so well, I trusted you to help her through when her grandfather died. Was I mistaken? I thought you two were friends. I guess I was wrong, then. She's a young woman, not just a little girl, you know," he snapped, getting up in her face.

"Yes, I am well aware of that, Ed." Helen suddenly looked weary. "Have you considered that if any whiff of inappropriate behavior gets back to the administration, I'm out of here, kicked out on the morals clause? I'd rather not throw out my chances, history professors are a dime a dozen. I'm not interested in anything but teaching and writing, I can't afford to..."

"To what?" Ed asked gently. "To realize that you really do care about Brigid? Look, even if you don't return her affection, at least return her friendship."

"But she's underage," Helen pointed out again.

Ed looked uncomprehendingly for a moment, then the cloud cleared up. "Oh, I see, she won't be eighteen until June. I understand, I really do." He scrubbed his face with his hands, then said, "Let me tell you a story, Helen. Please, have a seat."

He waited until she sat back down, then continued, "I met Marcella in college, the last semester of my senior year. She was lovely and sparkly, like Brigid is on a good day. I was soon head over heels in love with her, she was everything I dreamed of, smart, beautiful, attentive, sexy as hell. After I got my acceptance to graduate school, I told her that I really loved her, but that I wanted to get through school before getting serious. I guess she expected that I would find a job and marry her instead, so we had a terrible argument about it. To make a long story short, she seduced me one night, then a few weeks later announced that she was pregnant with my child. I had to marry her, then, but I insisted on still going to graduate school, I had a very good scholarship."

"She was pregnant with Brigid?" Helen asked.

"No, with Christopher. We married in June, a swanky affair that I sometimes regret to this day. Christopher was born seven months later, but fortunately looked premature. I got a job as a teaching assistant and Marcella stayed home, having to cope with being a new mother with a husband who didn't have much time for either one of them. When Christopher was a year old, she announced she was pregnant again and I blew up at her, yelling that she did it deliberately, that we could barely afford one child. She announced, okay, she would go to work, so she went to work for a real estate agent and put Christopher into day care. But, when she was five months pregnant, Christopher came down with what we thought was a simple cold. Two days later, he died. Marcella reacted by throwing herself into her new job and announced that she wanted an abortion and a divorce."

"No!" Helen blurted out, horrified.

"Yes. I convinced her to stay with me. I'm glad, I fell for Brigid as soon as she was born. Somehow, we made it through my masters and doctorate without killing each other. After I taught in a couple of places, we arrived here and Marcella decided that she liked it here. We came close to divorcing several times, but she realized that her social standing would be shot if she were divorced. She's always been cool toward Brigid, so I've tried to compensate by being more attentive. Hell, until Brigid was in school, I used to take her to class, then to work with me every day. I just don't want to see my baby hurting so bad."

Helen absorbed this, trying to find something to say. Ed sat, clenching and unclenching his fists, watching her. She finally said quietly, "I didn't know, Ed. Okay, I'll talk to her sometime, but I'm just interested in her as a friend, you understand, don't you?"

"Sure, whatever you say, Helen. Marcella will be gone to a convention next week, why don't you come over for dinner one night? That way, you and Brigid can talk in the living room while I grade papers in the den."

"Sounds workable, Ed." She stood up and started to walk toward the door, then turned back. "I'm not that way, Ed, I guess I just, um, reacted that time. But, Brigid is a neat kid, I sometimes miss her chatter and stories. Let me know what night and if I can bring anything."

"Okay, I'll call your office Monday." He watched her walk out the door, then said mockingly, "liar" after the door shut. He sat for a moment longer, gathering his thoughts, then went back to his office. Paperwork never waited for any man, he thought wryly.

Chapter 5

Dinner was awkwardly quiet at first, but then Brigid finally asked Helen about her aunts in South Carolina. Helen grudgingly started talking about them at first, then got more animated as she told funny stories about Janice and Mel. "You should have seen the look on Janice's face when Aunt Mel scolded her about her muddy boots. Boy, talk about henpecked! I decided right then and there that Aunt Mel was actually the more dangerous of the two, Janice might sound tough, but Melinda had a steel spine and wasn't afraid to tell you just like it was and how she thought it should be. All in that soft drawl, of course, which made it five times worse."

Helen flashed a grin, shaking her head at their antics. "They did a very good job with me, I was an angry girl when my grandparents sent me there to live. I owe them a great debt, they were the ones who opened my eyes to the fascination of history. I guess when I was with them was the first time I'd made straight A's since the accident."

Brigid was hanging on her every word, her face glowing with admiration. Ed noticed that it was the most relaxed he had seen his daughter in some time. Helen is a terrific storyteller, he mused, this must be why her classes were so full this semester, the word must have gotten out. He pulled his attention back to the present and went to the kitchen to bring out the cherry cobbler that Helen had brought over. "Anyone want coffee with their dessert?" he asked as he set the pie on the table. Helen said she would and Brigid quickly seconded. Ed raised an eyebrow at that, Brigid rarely drank coffee unless it was, as he teased her, "liquid candy", full of sugar and milk. "You want sugar and milk?" he asked her.

"No, black," she said.

"Okay, it will be out in a jiffy," he promised as he went back to the kitchen.

Brigid looked back at Helen, drinking in her beauty. She'd never really noticed just how beautiful the woman was. Her summer tan had faded, leaving her skin creamy. Her face was angular, with sharp cheekbones, thin black eyebrows, beautiful lips. Her eyes were vivid blue, her black hair an amazing contrast to her skin and eyes. Her body was lush, yet slender, but her hands were plain, long fingers, but blunt on the end. You could see faint scars on the backs of her hands from "A fight with a blackberry bush," Helen had joked earlier in the evening.

While Brigid was admiring Helen, Helen finished another Mel and Janice story, then lost track of what else she wanted to say, realizing that Brigid was looking at her very frankly. She stared back at the girl, realizing that Brigid had matured quite a bit in the past few months. Her hair was an even richer darker gold, tumbling just past her shoulders, with reddish highlights. Brigid's eyes were deeper green than she remembered, her face changing, baby fat giving way to slimmer cheeks, light brown eyebrows, a wide friendly mouth, small slender hands. Even with a sweater, she could tell that Brigid had slimmed down recently, yet her bust had filled out. She could scarcely concentrate, captivated by the electricity building between them, finding herself wanting to take Brigid in her arms, to see if she smelled and tasted as good as she looked.

"Coffee's ready, ladies," Ed said as he brought in an elegant silver pot and three mugs. He saw the two women break off their rapt gaze and swerve toward him, both blushing faintly. He pretended not to notice as he set the mugs down and poured the coffee, handing it around. "The cobbler looks good, Helen, did you make it from a family recipe? I've never seen such a thick crust on a fruit cobbler."

"Um, yes, it is my grandmother's recipe, I found it in the cabinets when I was cleaning up the other day," Helen said, glad for a distraction. She picked up the bowl and scooped out a helping for herself, then handed it to Brigid. Their fingertips touched and she was stunned at the electricity that passed between them. God, let me make it through the evening without doing anything stupid, she prayed fervently.

After the dinner dishes had been cleared away, Ed disappeared into his study while Brigid and Helen retired to the couch to watch TV. As Remington Steele bumbled his way through another case, Brigid and Helen both fidgeted, unsure what to do or say next. Finally, as the ending credits rolled, Helen casually said, "It seems that your father and I are on the same search committee for a dean."

"He did mention that."

They stared at each other for a moment, then Helen started laughing. "Brigid, this is just too funny, I feel like I'm the one in high school again. Your dad invited me over to eat so we could have a chance to talk and all I want to do is stare at you. I'm not sure what to say or how to begin, except that I've missed having you around."

"Really? You've missed me?"Brigid repeated.

"Really, I have missed you," Helen repeated as she reached over and took Brigid's hand in hers. "I'm also scared to death, because you are still a minor and I've never really fallen for anyone, especially not someone so much younger than me." Helen sighed, then leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. "If we go forward, even consider going beyond friendship, it will be difficult at best."

"I know, that's what Sylvia told me," Brigid said.

"Who?" Helen asked.

Brigid quickly summarized her conversation with Sylvia over Christmas. "So, I'm very aware of the problems. I even know, being a professor's daughter, that if the wrong people found out you would be out of a job and blacklisted."

"You are wise beyond your years, my dear," Helen said softly. "But, as Aunt Mel reminded me, sometimes you just have to take chances."

"She sounds so nice."

"She is. She is also right," Helen replied as she leaned over to kiss Brigid. They kissed gently, tentatively, with the promise of more in the future, breaking off, breathing elevated. Brigid reached up and pulled Helen's head down again for a longer, deeper kiss. They finally broke it off, both laughing nervously and leaning back, scared to kiss any more, but glad they did. "Um, what's on TV now?" Helen asked distractedly.

"I'm not sure, there may be something on cable," Brigid replied as she jumped up to change channels. She landed on a movie channel, then sat back on the couch as the opening scene of Victor/Victoria came on. "How cool," she said as she pulled Helen's arm around her, "that we land on a movie about a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman."

Spring burst forth in a show of flowers, blue skies and final exams. Brigid reluctantly told Helen that she had to stop seeing her for a few days so she could study for her finals and Helen said it was okay, she had to write the final exams for her students. They had been seeing each other steadily, several times a week, usually meeting at the library or the mall and either studying together or just talking. Helen helped proofread Brigid's senior theme and Brigid helped Helen research the Trojan War. "How appropriate," Brigid said one day, "that the beautiful Helen is researching her ancestor."

Helen arched an eyebrow, replying, "Just how do you know that Helen of Troy was my ancestor?"

"Because you are Helen of the Plains, you have launched a thousand kisses with your face," Brigid teased, smiling coyly.

Helen snorted. "Nice try, kid. Here's the next five articles I need, do you have enough change to copy them?"

"Gee, I pay you a nice compliment and all you can do is give me more work. Slave driver." She stuck her tongue out, causing Helen to chuckle. Helen bent back down to her work, pretending to ignore the girl. "Hey, ignore me, will you?"

"Yup. Oh, on your way back from the library, can you grab me a cup of coffee?" Helen called out.

"Sure." Brigid wished she could kiss Helen, but this was Helen's office and someone might walk in at the wrong time. Damn, no one cared when Jake kissed her in front of the school, how unfair! She grabbed her backpack and left on her errand. Helen just leaned back over her desk, rapidly writing the outline for her next article.

Several minutes passed. Helen heard footsteps and looked up, wondering what Brigid had pretended to forget. "Hello, Mrs. Anderson, what brings you to my humble office?" Helen said, trying not to look shocked.

"My daughter, Dr. Pappas, I want you to leave her alone." Marcella stood, arms crossed, anger blazing in her eyes.

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Brigid is running errands for me, I'm helping her with her senior theme," Helen replied smoothly.

Marcella sat down and glared at the younger woman and hissed, "You know what I mean, Dr. Pappas. My girl may be intelligent, but she sometimes lacks common sense. Even I can see that you two are carrying on a disgusting relationship and I want it to stop immediately, or I will tell your department chairman."

Helen's pulse started racing, but she tried to remain calm as she said quietly, "I assure you that we are not doing anything wrong, Mrs. Anderson. Yes, Brigid is very bright, bright enough to make her own decisions in life."

Marcella hissed, "Who do you think you are to tell me what is best for my daughter? I never liked you from the moment I set eyes on you, Dr. Pappas, and furthermore, I happen to know that your aunt is one of those disgusting types as well. If Melinda Pappas weren't so rich, Janice Covington would have never had the chance to be a professor, nor to publish anything. You probably learned your disgusting, lecherous ways from them, I found out that you were sent to live with them after your dear grandparents couldn't do anything with you. I won't subject my daughter to such depravity, such immoral influences. She is a fine, church-going girl, and I won't see her trapped in such an ugly relationship."

"Helen, I couldn't find one of the articles...hello, Mother." Brigid froze, the articles still gripped in her hand.

Marcella stood up and grabbed her daughter by the arm. "Come on, we're going home."

"Wait, what is going on here?" Brigid demanded, yanking her arm away.

"I am taking you away from this evil woman. Remember, Dr. Pappas, you touch her again and I'll break you. Get your things, Brigid, we're going home," her mother demanded, trying to grab her arm again.

"But Mother-"

"Brigid, go home," Helen said wearily. Brigid stared at her, shocked, tears filling her eyes. She started to protest, but noticed Helen quickly flashing the "I love you" handsign. She sniffed hard, then followed her mother out the door. Helen watched them leave, then laid her head on her desk. It just wasn't fair, she thought, just not fair.

"Mother, just what in the hell is going on?" Brigid yelled when they got back home. "You go in and start threatening Helen for no good reason."

"Oh, I have a perfectly good reason, Brigid, I am protecting your reputation. Besides, you really aren't like her, you dated Jake for a while, although why you broke up with him I still can't fathom." Marcella sat down at the kitchen table and motioned for Brigid to do the same. Brigid dropped her backpack, then slumped down in a chair, refusing to look at her mother. "Brigid, I'm only trying to do what is best for you. You are too young to realize what that kind of relationship can do to you, I have to protect you."

Brigid looked up, anger and hate in her eyes. She said tersely, "You can't keep on protecting me, Mother. In fact, Helen has done a better job of protecting my virtue that you have, you keep trying to push me back to Jake. Well, let me tell you, Jake tried to seduce me at Christmas, then admitted that he was only dating me on a goddammed dare!"

"Don't you dare raise your voice at me!" Marcella snapped.

"Didn't you hear what I just said?" Brigid asked. "Jake was dared to relieve me of my virginity. It was at that Christmas party I went to at his house. His parents didn't know or care, his buddy Rodolfo tried to rape me outside the house, with other people looking on. I had already called Helen to pick me up, you and Dad were away at that wedding. Helen yanked Rodolfo off of me and saved my precious virginity! You should be grateful to her, not threatening to get her fired! Daddy knows all about this and told us both that we can only see each other in public places or here when he is home, and then only in the living room, just like the rules he had for me when I was dating Jake!"

Marcella sat back, unused to her daughter talking back to her like that. "But the Mastersons seem like such nice people," she protested weakly.

Brigid glared at her mother and hissed, "Yes, and Aunt Debbie is gay and has stayed with the Rose for years. Damn it, I'd not sleeping with Helen, all we've ever done is kiss! I promised Daddy that I would not go to bed with anyone until I've at least gone to college, besides, we're not ready for that kind of commitment yet."

Marcella pounced. "Then, you admit that you have feelings for this woman."

"Yes. I love Helen and she loves me, but we're taking it slowly, Mother. A lot more slowly than you and Daddy took it, I believe," Brigid said triumphantly.

Marcella's eyes narrowed. "What are you trying to say?"

"Well, either you got pregnant on your honeymoon and Christopher was two months premature, or you were pregnant when you and Daddy married. Which was it?"

"She was already pregnant, Brigid." Both women turned to see Ed standing there. "One thing I've always been curious about, Marcella, did anyone in your family have black eyes? No one in mine did, yet Christopher had black eyes and black hair."

Marcella paled and whispered, "But anything can happen, Ed."

"Yes, anything can happen." He stood there, folding his arms over his chest. "I just went by Helen's office to pick up Brigid and she looked like hell. I asked what was the matter, she refused to say at first, but she finally said, 'Marcella took Brigid home,' so I deduced the rest. So, have you told Brigid how sinful and horrible she is?"

"Edward, this is different."

"Oh, I see, if Jake had gotten her pregnant, it would be fine, but for her to fall for a woman and voluntarily restrain herself is not fine. Marcella, I've always known you were a hypocrite, but this seals it." Ed shook his head sadly.

"Brigid, I'm sorry you had to find out the truth about your parents this way and Marcella, I'm sorry that you are such a narrow-minded bigot. You were so withdraw after your son's death that I had to take care of Brigid, not that I minded. I should have been more of a man when you tossed Debbie out, she was only trying to help out with the baby, but I let you railroad me. No more, Marcella, no more. You can either keep your damned prejudices out of our lives or you can leave. Your choice, I won't have you trying to emotionally cripple our daughter. Yes, I would love grandchildren some day, but I'd gladly give up the chance of being a grandfather just to see Brigid happy." He picked up his briefcase and left the kitchen.

Marcella stared after him, then turned to Brigid and explained, "I've only been thinking of your welfare, really I have."

"No dice, Mother, no dice. I'm going to finish my homework." Brigid got up and stormed up the stairs. Marcella heard her door slam shut. She sat there for a long time, staring into space, not sure where to turn any longer.

"Thank you for letting my dad and me spend Christmas with you," Brigid said to Mel and Janice. "It's been an interesting few years."

Mel hugged the girl and announced, "Why, darling, you're just more than welcome, any friends of Helen's are friends of ours, aren't they, Janice?" Janice nodded, then turned back to arguing ancient economics with Ed. "I'm just glad that y'all stayed for the holidays, especially since you will be starting your new job next month. Aren't you needing to look for an apartment or something?"

Brigid smiled at her dad, then looked back at her host. "Mel, I've accepted a job with NewsTime, so I'll be staying in Asbury from now on. The other job didn't seem quite right, it was too far away from Helen and Dad. In fact, Helen said that I could just stay with her."

Janice looked up and snorted. "So, when are you two getting married?"

Brigid blushed, but replied, "This summer, Janice. Well, I'm going to call it a night, see y'all in the morning." She left the room.

Ed watched his daughter proudly, then turned to the other women. "There goes one hell of a daughter," he beamed. "Graduating in three and a half years, then getting multiple job offers. Oh, I have some news as well, I've already told Brigid and Helen."

"Do tell," Mel cooed.

"Well, I'm accepting a position here at the university, starting the spring semester." He grinned, then added, "I think I can persuade Helen and Brigid to come back here for their wedding, what do you two think?"

"A wedding? Mel will be so pleased to plan it," Janice grumbled good-naturedly. "But hey, what about your house?"

"Marcella is selling it for me. After she left me for Bruce, who turned out to be the father of our first child, I kept it, but since I'll be here, I see no need in keeping it any longer. Especially with Brigid settled with Helen." Ed grinned ever bigger. "Well, ladies, I'm off to bed, it was a wonderful holiday. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate the way you helped care for Brigid the last few years."

"Our pleasure, Ed," Mel said, "she is such a sweet girl."

"Beautiful, too," Janice added wolfishly. "Ow, Mel, I can look, can't I?"

Upstairs, Helen sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at Brigid. "Honey, I can't believe that you're coming home to stay soon, I'm so proud of you." Brigid smiled up at her sweetheart. "I'm so glad that your father got that job here, it gives us the perfect excuse to come back even more often. Well, I guess I'd better go back to my room now and get some sleep."

Brigid sat up and purred, "What's your hurry?"


Brigid stroked Helen's face and continued, "Helen of the Plains, I promised Dad I'd be good during college, but I'm out of college now. We don't have to worry about pregnancy, you know."


Brigid stopped Helen with a kiss, one designed to ignite desire. Finally, she pulled back and growled, "Helen, I love you. The engagement ring you gave me tonight is beautiful, and I want to celebrate it. In fact, maybe we should move the wedding up a few months."

"What, and deprive Aunt Mel of the planning? I think not, my love."

"I still want to celebrate," Brigid continued as she pulled Helen closer. "I want to see you naked, want to hold you in my arms, want to cover your body with kisses, want to ignite your lust, then satiate it with my touch. Honey, we've waited for four years to consummate our love, tonight should be it. Besides, Christmas is so close to Solstice, which is the beginning of the new year, I'm sure that Xena and Gabrielle would agree."


"No buts," Brigid said softly as she pulled Helen on top of her, "I want to celebrate, honey. The time is right." She pulled Helen into another soul-searing kiss, causing the older woman to moan in pleasure. She stopped and yanked off Helen's pajama top, staring happily at her breasts. "Hello, my lovelies," she crooned as she cupped them in her hands for the first time.

And so, they celebrated love and their new life together.

The End

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