The Starry Sky
by Bibbit

Chapters 1-6

Disclaimers


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

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

A loving relationship between two female characters is contained herein. I wouldn�t have it any other way.

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

This story is copyrighted to Bibbit, 1999.

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

 

Chapter 1

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 The next sensation she felt was gravel cutting into her palms, which was soon superseded by a quick rising rage.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

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

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

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

Holding his hands up, smooth palms out, he spoke in his diplomatic principal�s voice. "Now listen, Julie. We can work this out. I�m sorry, I shouldn�t have pushed you." He reached out as if to take her trembling hands, but she stepped quickly out of his reach, slipping slightly on the gravel driveway. "I love you, darlin�. Now lets go back in the house," he gestured toward the gray brick house with one hand and extended the other to his seething wife.

Even as she felt it she knew she�d never be able to describe it, but the sudden sense of control that over came her brought a smile to Julie�s full lips. From somewhere far off a strength was welling up in her that had been missing since her reckless childhood. There was no going back now. As if that wasn�t the last thing she wanted. "I�m leaving John," she stated with a long forgotten twinkle coming into her eyes. "This is the last time we�re going to play out this little scene. I hope you enjoyed it." A full, brilliant smile came to her lips for the first time in years as she turned and walked away.

The car pulled out of the driveway in calm deliberateness, its driver giggling behind the wheel. John was left standing on the front porch step, his hands dropped to his sides in defeat, a look of total shock on his face. It wasn�t like she hadn�t done this before really. She had. But the same internal tickle that was telling her it was a lock this time must have been calling to him as well. She had a feeling that her life was about to take a definite turn for the better.

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

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

How many fish did we catch here, I wonder

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

I really can�t believe that we stayed out here alone so much, though

, she considered in amazement. We were crazy and so were they. It�s a wonder we didn�t wind up dead. But back then they didn�t even think about the danger. No one was bothering them, so it didn�t matter. Their spot at Grove Lake was the place they could come where no one would say Kimba was a stupid kid, or Julie was a square, and if no one ever found it, that was okay with them. It had been great. Until John, that is, Julie�s mind groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

One dark eyebrow lifted as the older girl turned her head toward her friend. She didn�t recognize the tone in Kimba�s voice. There was something compelling about it. "No," she answered simply.

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

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

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

Broadening shoulders shrugged. "Okay, it�s a UFO," Julie said in a quiet voice. Surely it couldn�t hurt to let the girl win an argument every once in a while, she told herself. If there was one thing she�d learned about her friend since they�d met, it was that she was one smart girl. Even on the first day they�d played together she could tell that the little, determined five year old was something different. Her sweet, dreamy personality had allowed Julie to ignore the other neighborhood kids who refused to play with one so small and silly. But Kimba was much more than they would ever be and her friend knew it.

"You know what it�s going to be like ten years from now, Julie," Kimba interrupted the older girl�s thoughts with a question. No answer was expected to this question though, so she continued. "By then, you�re going to be a famous model, making tons of money and being on T.V. everyday." She cast a glance to her friend, who gave a small nod as if to say �that�s the plan.� "And I�m going to be the youngest lawyer ever to win a major civil rights case at the Supreme Court," she declared with a conviction that Julie knew would help her strive for that strangely promising goal.

The taller girl rolled over onto her side, the cold of the rock replaced by her warmth, and propped her head on one hand. "That�s what you want, huh?" But she didn�t need to ask. She�d heard it a hundred times before. For a girl so young, Kimba had a very definite idea of what she wanted her future to be.

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

Julie couldn�t help but think how nice that would be, no matter how improbable. She knew that she was never happier than she was when she and Kimba were together. Such a close friend was a wonderful thing to have. Unfortunately, that wasn�t the way life worked. "But what happens when you want to get married," she asked.

Kimba let out a little laugh that surprised her friend. "Oh, I don�t think I�ll get married. But if I do, he�ll just have to learn to live with you in the house." She rolled her compact body over to mimic her friend�s position, reaching out and taking Julie�s free hand. "No guy would ever be worth giving you up," she replied with a wistful tone in her voice.

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

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

Although they hadn�t spoken for more than two years now, Julie knew exactly where her friend�s house was. She�d moved a year and a half before into a beautiful red brick house nestled among other equally nice houses in an affluent country area. Kimba finally got her dream job at the most prestigious law firm in their less than metropolitan town. On some of her more lonely and dejected nights, Julie had driven by without stopping, wishing she had the guts to go ring the bell. But she didn�t then.

But this is now and nothing is going to stop me this time

, her mind cried as she traversed over smooth roads to her destination. Her black Dodge Shadow pulled into the drive less than ten minutes later, the driver sitting for more than a few minutes trying to dry her eyes enough not to look like a blithering idiot.

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

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

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

A hiccuped sob escaped from the raven-haired woman, but she quickly complied with the command. Although she couldn�t admit it to herself before, this was exactly what she needed. No one else had ever given her the unconditional love Kimba had. And right now, that was what she needed.

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

A small hand stroked her hair and back soothingly, which brought more tears, but Julie didn�t care. The tears now flowing, replacing the empty sadness she felt for John, were ones that needed to be released. Ones that had wanted to be released for years. They represented all the sorrow and guilt she�d been carrying around over how she�d treated someone so sweet and innocent. And with gentle caresses and soft words, Kimba was taking it all from her, without demanding answers or apologies. Just like I knew she would, Julie�s mind responded.

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

After a few more minutes of unabashed crying, Julie finally calmed down enough to want to fix her running nose and puffy eyes. Tears finally running dry and nose well blown, she spoke. "I�ve left John," she wanted more than anything to look into Kimba�s gentle green eyes, but only found herself able to take in the rusty brown shag carpet beneath her feet. "We fight all the time and I just couldn�t take it anymore. It�s never been easy, from the start, but I�m tired of it."

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

It was more than enough.

Chapter 2

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

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

That streak had caused a lot of pain for both of them. So much in fact, that at one point Kimba could take no more. The horror that she�d experienced at losing the best parts of her friend in the first place was eventually surpassed by the disgust she felt at watching someone she loved being tortured. She couldn�t stand for it anymore and told Julie so. The older woman brushed her off and, once again, chose the man she claimed to love. Even with Julie in her care, Kimba still felt the pain of that choice as much as the first day she realized it had been made...

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

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

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

Julie couldn�t bare to allow it. With a grimace on her face, making her look much more than her eighteen years, she held up a hand. "Kimba, I�m getting married...to John," she blurted, her pale blue gaze still focused on the rising sun.

Green eyes widened in surprise at the statement. She�d known that Julie had been dating the boy, that she liked him, but it wasn�t the love that she always claimed she would only settle for. Julie had said as much. John was cute and smart and he would do well enough for now, had been her attitude. Marrying him didn�t fit in. "Why," was all she could say.

"I love him, he asked me, and I�m...I love him," she replied with gritted teeth. As her eyes finally tracked to her friend�s penetrating stare, Julie couldn�t miss the hurt that she�d already put there.

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

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

After the marriage, nothing had been the same for them. Julie did her best to prove that she was exactly where she wanted to be. And when the baby came, it seemed true. He was the light in her eyes and the dark woman devoted every moment she had to the child. Kimba knew she couldn�t compete with that and soon drifted away, her friend doing nothing to try and stop her.

But now, all that�s changed. Maybe, just maybe, I�ll get my friend back. For good

, a hopeful voice in her mind whispered. A small smile came involuntarily to her lips as Julie emerged from the arched hallway, her face finally moving away from the effects of crying into the beautiful countenance that normally rested there. The tall woman settled down on the fluffy sofa cushion beside her with a graceful flop, as only she could.

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

"He�s at Mom and Dad�s. He was there for spring break, thankfully," she paused as a sad look crossed her face. "I don�t know how I�m going to tell him about this." Julie ran both hands through her dark mane, eyes closed tight in frustration.

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

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

The younger woman had no idea what to say. Wasn�t this exactly what she�d been dreaming of. An apology. A reconciliation. So many nights she had laid in bed thinking of what she would say to Julie when it actually happened, as she knew it would. But I didn�t know it would feel like this and I�d want nothing more than to throw my arms around her and say all is forgiven. Because it is, no matter how much it hurt then. As long as she�s here now...

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

"Julie, you don�t have to do this," Kimba tried to stop the threat of anymore sorrow for the night. The violent shake of her friend�s head, however, told her that she had something she had to say.

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

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

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

"Only thing was, I thought it wouldn�t hurt so much. So at first, I just concentrated on Jesse and I could make it through," she stated, her voice moving slowly back to its normal cadence. "But the worse it got with John and the older and more independent Jesse got, it finally hit me how lonely I was," Julie looked into green eyes again, a slow tear slipping from her own eye. "That�s when I knew that I could have had you all along."

Julie stood abruptly, crossing the small room quickly to the back sliding glass door. She physically tried to calm her rapid breaths as she peered out at the small forest behind the house. The rustling branches and scurrying animals that were surely there provided no assistance. When she finally turned around to face her friend, Kimba was sitting with small hands clasped in her lap, waiting. "I�m so sorry that I hurt you, Kimba. You deserved better than that. I don�t expect you to forgive me," she gasped out, failing to control all the tears that wanted to fall.

In the short time it took Kimba to cross the room, she was able to recall all those things that she�d dreamed of saying before, on lonely nights when Julie was the only thing on her mind. Now it was her turn. "Julie, you don�t have to ask for forgiveness. It�s already done," she said in her softest voice.

Blue eyes shot up in disbelief to the small woman now within reaching distance, so the redhead gave a reassuring nod before continuing. This is the hard part, she thought ruefully. The part that has to hurt her more, before we can go on. "Don�t get me wrong, Julie, you hurt me." Probably more than you could ever imagine. "You were my whole world, you know. My hero," she noted wistfully, remembering her childish worship of her friend. Julie had been everything she wasn�t, and looking at the woman now, even in her current broken state, Kimba knew she still was.

Taking in the stricken look on her friend�s face, the attorney resolved silently to make this speech as fast as possible. "You were my best friend. My only friend for a long time. And I would have done anything for you." She reached out tentatively and took two bronzed hands. "When you married John and basically left me behind...I...I couldn�t understand what I�d done wrong," a squeeze on the hands she held forestalled the protest coming to Julie�s lips. Kimba gave a quirky grin and raised eyebrow and continued. "Then I realized that life just went like that sometimes. Friends drift apart for no reason," she waved a hand in the air in a dismissive gestured, then returned it to the comforting grasp. "And I supposed you getting married and having a baby was a decent reason."

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

During the time they waited for the food, the taller woman was extremely preoccupied with the replica antique signs covering the dusty, wood panel walls around her. Kimba knew she wasn�t saying the right things to get the woman to open up, but for the moment she was at a loss. She waited respectfully until all the food on both their plates was gone, then began with a little small talk. "So, how�s it going with your job? Do you enjoy teaching history to teenagers with raging hormones," she asked with a small smile. That was one of the things she�d loved so much about their relationship, the gentle kidding that they constantly participated in. She�d never known a greater joy than making her friend release her low, genuine laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

Kimba delighted at the look. It was the first time she�d seen it since Julie had showed up on her door earlier in the day. That look was the one that meant she believed she could change the world. And Kimba believed it too. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Occasionally I get to work on a case that really means something too. On the others I just try to do my best, even when my heart isn�t completely in it."

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

Even knowing that her answer might make her friend sadder about her own choices, Kimba couldn�t lie. "I love it, Julie. It�s everything I thought it was gonna be and more. I can�t wait to get up in the morning and go to work."

The waiter coming back to the table drew her attention. He filled both of their glasses with water while the women waited in silence. When he was sufficiently out of hearing range, Kimba spoke again. "How is it going to affect you with John being principal at your school and all? He can�t fire you, can he," her voice was cautiously low.

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

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

"I think he�ll be okay with it. He loves his dad, but he�s said more than once that he doesn�t like the way John treats me." Her eyes took on a far away glare for a moment, then returned in sparkling blue. "He�ll want to be with me, where ever I end up."

After only an instant of indecision, Kimba latched firmly onto the idea forming in her mind, and voiced it aloud. "Julie, I�d love it if you�d move in with me," she said with a slight tremor in her voice. It had been so long since she�d had a real best friend, at least one that made her feel as complete as the dark haired woman across from her, and she didn�t want to ruin it. Taking in the surprised expression on Julie�s face, she continued. "I mean, you don�t have to if you don�t want, but I figured you wouldn�t have enough money to get a place by yourself for a while. And I know you would hate to have to ask your parents. So..." She let the sentence trail off and waited expectantly for an answer, praying that her presumption had been right.

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

She�s so stubborn. Nice to see things haven�t changed

, her mind sighed. Kimba reached across the table and took a long hand in her own, demanding that eye contact be made. When it was, she spoke in a gentle voice. "I�ve told you that all that is in the past. I want us to move past it. And as for the years in between, well, for the few hours that we�ve been together tonight I�ve felt like I was thirteen again." A brilliant smile graced her lips, pulling one equally grand from her sullen friend.

Cool blue eyes told that she still wasn�t ready to accept the offer of friendship or housing so soon. "How do you know I haven�t changed? And then there�s Jesse to think about. He can be a handful," she said argumentatively.

"I�m sure you�ve changed, Julie. I know I have." She paused. "That doesn�t mean that we�ve out grown each other. I particularly remember swearing that we�d never do that, no matter what anyone else said." Julie nodded with a reflective smile. "I didn�t think that promise was empty. Did you?"

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

Chapter 4

Bright rays of sunshine roused Julie reluctantly from a deep, contented sleep. Jeez, I can�t remember the last time I slept that well. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes and attempting to regain focus, she surveyed the extra bedroom that she�d been assigned to. It was like the rest of the house, really. Well kept and decorated in a crafty manner. The wallpaper was different, but had the same deliberate feel as the other rooms. It was obvious that Kimba had spent a great deal of time giving each room her own flavor. This one had a rose motif, even the carpet fit right in with its rich green shag. The walls were covered with rose petal designs, each corner hand painted with delicate full bushes. This had to have taken forever. She must have had a lot of time on her hands, the older woman thought sadly.

The conversation at dinner and after the night before had begun unfolding the story of the younger woman�s life after their split. It almost sounded as if Kimba had chosen to stay alone most of the time, but Julie refused to believe it. Although the young Kimba took a lot of jeering from the older kids they hung around, she was bright and very friendly. There was no way a person wouldn�t like her after thirty seconds of meeting the bubbly young woman.

A sound from deeper in the house pulled Julie from her musings. She couldn�t imagine that Kimba was awake before her, as the girl had always been inordinately stubborn about rising before ten. But strolling into the kitchen, she caught sight of her friend over the stove, reddish blonde hair pulled back in a tight braid, fiddling with three different steaming dishes. Julie observed silently as the young woman moved around the kitchen gracefully from one point to another.

Green eyes finally landed on her and were accompanied by a toothy grin. Julie couldn�t help but ask herself the last time she�d been greeted so enthusiastically, knowing that it was before she�d met John. "Good morning," she relayed happily.

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

The small kitchen table was set up with plates and utensils for the two of them, so Julie took the seat facing her friend. "Ha ha. Have your fun, but know that this is a first and probably a last. I haven�t forgotten that your nickname was sleepyhead," she answered in a stern tone.

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

At the comment, Julie turned serious despite the elation she was feeling. "Yes, I can see that you have," she remarked. She hadn�t missed the subtle signs that her friend had grown immeasurably in the years they hadn�t talked. "You look great, by the way. I like your hair long." Julie gave off a smirk as green eyes tracked to blue. "I told you so."

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

"It brings out your eyes more. I knew it would." Julie watched her friend carefully as she finished serving and took a seat. After a few mouthfuls of food, she turned on an immediate and less pleasant subject. "Would you come with me to get some things," she asked, stammering in nervousness at the thought. "I mean, you don�t have to. But John might be a little more civil if you were around." She finished hurriedly and couldn�t keep the hope out of her eyes.

Kimba smiled reassuringly and bright. "I wouldn�t miss it for the world. I know he likes me," she finished sarcastically. During the few years that Kimba tried to keep her friendship after the marriage, John had cursed at her multiple times for being an annoying little tagalong. The older woman could see the mischievous twinkle in her friend�s eyes, knowing she would enjoy her husband�s anger.

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

And angry John was. By the time Julie threw her worn suitcase on the bed, his normally pale cheeks were bright red with blood, his eyes dark with fury. "I don�t understand why you�re doing this Julie. We�ve had fights before," his voice barely below a scream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes remaining tightly shut and fingers massaging her suddenly aching temples, Julie let out a contented sigh upon feeling a comforting hand on her back. If Kimba hadn�t accepted her back into her life, the older woman didn�t know what she�d do. All she knew was that it wouldn�t be good. "Let�s get the hell outta here," the younger woman said in a low rumble. Julie hadn�t heard a better idea in a long time.

Chapter 5

The truck rambled down the highway in silence for half an hour after the duo left John fuming back at his house. Julie had decided it best to go to her parents and retrieve Jesse, although she was clueless as to how she was going to break the news to him. Still, he needed to know and she felt a great urge to be sure of where he was at all times. In John�s current state of rage, he couldn�t be trusted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie could feel her eyebrows raising in question at the statement. It certainly hadn�t been good for her, except for Jesse, of course. And he was something that could be ignored for the moment. "How was that good," she asked tentatively. There was a big chance the answer could hurt her further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sound of a young voice from the hall brought the dark haired woman around and a nervous smile to her lips. She wasn�t going to tell Jesse about the break up here, in her mother�s precise house, but she could already feel the heavy burden of guilt settling on her. "Mom, I think we�re just going to gather Jesse and his things and go," she informed her.

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

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

A strong arm circled his shoulders and he allowed his mother a short hug, visibly weary of more in front of the stranger giving his mother an unnervingly indulgent look. The older woman smiled, flattered that he was feeling a bit protective of her and chagrined that he had surpassed the stage where she could give him unguarded affection. "Some important things, but nothing that won�t wait until later." She brought up a hand and pinched the end of his nose playfully, removing her hand before his fast reflexes caught up with her. "This is Kimba, Jesse. She met you when you were a baby, but I doubt you remember. We�re probably going to be staying with her for a bit," she supplied with a wave of her hand toward the woman at her side.

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

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

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

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

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

Both dark eyebrows rose up to her hairline in astonishment. I had no idea he knew we fought that much. You can�t get anything past a kid, I guess. But it was the break she needed that would make the whole conversation that much easier. "You�re right. We do. And this time I�ve finally decided I�m done with it," she confessed with another heart felt sigh. "I�m leaving your father."

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

"Well, he doesn�t know, exactly. Yet. He thinks I�m just away thinking. But when he figures it out, he will be very mad." A lopsided grin passed over her lips that Jesse knew well.

Despite the news, the boy smiled. "I guess it won�t matter how much of a fit he has though, since we won�t be there to hear it."

The laugh that followed from Julie was one of pure joy at the acceptance she heard in her son�s voice. She hadn�t had any idea of how he would react, but she hadn�t expected the gift he�d given.

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

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

A happy little jump onto the bed was part of her answer and elicited a giggle from the already settled occupant. "Great. He wasn�t very upset. I know he loves his father, but he also knows what goes on between us," she relayed with a sigh. "More so than I thought. He�s a smart kid."

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

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

"What�s wrong with the bed?" Kimba asked.

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

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

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

Although, since the first time they�d met, there hadn�t really been any discord between them, excluding the years after the marriage. And it really all started that first night Kimba had knocked on her bedroom window, looking for her best friend...

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

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

Heart breaking at the fright in the little voice, Julie shut the window immediately and rushed to the back door. Still too young to realize what kind of life it was that Kimba lived, she did know that the girl didn�t have everything she did. And right now she could see that something really bad must have happened. There was no way she could turn her away.

She almost walked past the small form huddled a few feet away from her window. Julie tapped her on the arm and watched her slowly rise, little arms and legs shaking visibly. "Come on. You can stay with me," she said softly. Although she had no doubt her parents would have a major fit upon finding Kimba in the house the next morning, she didn�t care. This girl, who she knew worshiped her, needed her help. Had come to her for it above anyone else, and she wasn�t going to let her down.

Since she was practically covered from head to foot in dust, it took a while to actually get to bed. Julie may have been a bit of a tomboy, but she didn�t take kindly to sleeping in dirt. Kimba crept through the house silently, on tiptoes no less, like she�d done it a thousand times before. And finally, they reached Julie�s tiny bedroom in the back of the home and crawled into bed.

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

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

Feeling a swell in her innocent heart at the faith placed in her abilities, of which she had no idea if she possessed, the dark haired girl stroked the little head at her side gently. "Yeah, I�ll always keep you safe. Always," she affirmed with a strength that she didn�t understand and never fully would.

Kimba was waiting patiently with her arms crossed, looking like she hadn�t even noticed the momentary pause before her friend answered. Or like she expected it. "Oh, staying in here is fine with me if you don�t mind...and if you don�t snore...now," Julie joked, receiving the expected punch to the arm.

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

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

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

The dark of the room was accentuated by the still twinkling stars all around her, keeping Julie company as she slowly drifted off to sleep, to dream dreams that hadn�t been allowed to come before this night.

Chapter 6

Waking up was a relative thing, Kimba knew from long years of fighting the event. She was naturally a late riser, always had been. It was a point Julie loved to tease her about. And even on a day as happy as this one, knowing that things were finally right in her world, the little redhead found herself loathing to open her eyes. Bright light was already peaking in through the dark curtains of the room�s lone window, giving off a dull red glow through her closed lids. If she wanted to, she knew she could sleep in and make this another lazy Sunday, like so many before. But something was different, in the air or her bones, she didn�t know, but it was making her pulse quicken in response.

That something was about eight inches taller than her, stretched out on her side under the thick covers, breathing in slow, but alert breaths. She�s watching me, Kimba�s mind sang in wonder. I can�t believe she�s watching me sleep. This is amazing. She knew a smile was forming on her lips, and so abandoned the effort to maintain the mirage of sleep.

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

"I don�t think I�ll have much trouble keeping that promise if I know you, O�queen of late waking." Both women straightened up to lean against the carved wooden headboard. Kimba stifled another yawn before wiping her eyes in an attempt to gain focus.

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

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

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

"Doesn�t matter. I don�t like putting up with all that mess. People walking around aimlessly, bumping into you, snatching stuff from your hands. It frustrates me. If we go, I won�t be responsible for my actions." She ran a hand through her unbrushed hair absently, bestowing a gentle smile on Kimba.

Who knew it was all just a front. Julie wanted to do something. It was written all over her face. After the last couple of hectic days, it would do her a world of good to get lost in something trivial. "I�ll accept complete liability then. And if you do happen to get in trouble, I know a couple of lawyers that might be able to help you out," she said while delivering a quick blow to the t-shirt covered arm next to her. Before Julie had a chance to retaliate, Kimba was up and off to the dresser, anxious to get the day started.

* * * * * *

Once at the mall, which was small even in comparison to the town�s meager population, Julie was off and running. Kimba couldn�t believe her enthusiasm. It was like the woman wanted to buy everything new, from her socks to sunglasses. While her friend was preoccupied in a woman�s clothing store, the redhead whisked Jesse away to K-Mart for something more their pace. Dresses and shoes definitely held no interest for them.

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

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

Jesse looked around with an embarrassed air. Just like his mother, he was resistant to taking gifts for nothing. "Well, I might like to play some sort of video game, if it wouldn�t be too much."

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

But as they reached a video game display case, tucked away in a separated, secured area of the store, Jesse looked over with a new seriousness in his countenance. "If you and my mom are such good friends, why haven�t I ever met you," he asked with a quiet firmness.

Good question, kid. Out of the blue, but good question.

And she didn�t know how much of the answer should be told at such an early stage in this new experiment. It was a good thing she had a talent for winging it. "I went away to college when you were very young. I did know you, but I guess you�ve forgotten," she answered casually, patting him on a firm shoulder. "I changed more of your diapers than I care to remember."

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

By the time they purchased the new fangled, technologically enhanced, entirely too expensive game console, Julie had rejoined the group, arms empty of any buys. Kimba finished paying a depressed looking K-Mart clerk before moving toward the exit into the mall where mother and son were waiting. "Couldn�t find anything to buy," she asked with a skeptical look. Julie had tried on half the clothes in the last store before she�d been abandoned.

"There were a couple of things, but I needed a second opinion. The mannequins refused to comment." Her voice echoed from shop to shop. The mall was sparsely populated at the moment, which wasn�t too hard to believe. Store spaces throughout the building were vacant and the stores that were filled didn�t have a thriving appearance. In a medium sized town, it seemed like a good idea. But mall walkers were much more numerous than actual shoppers.

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

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

Taking one last look at the intricately carved loops, the short woman turned back down the passageway and continued toward the store Julie had spent so much time in earlier. She knew that it was going to be a hard thing for them to return to the point their friendship had left off, if they could at all, but she was willing to try. It was too soon to lavish gifts on Julie, and she may never actually like it. Perhaps it was more than friendly, more than the woman could handle, but still, Kimba couldn�t help but want to do it. Buying her friend back wasn�t the point. She just wanted to make her happy.

Anything to make her happy.

Continue to Chapters 7-11

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