The Starry Sky
by Bibbit

Chapters 17-22 (the conclusion)

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 17

Marty called a few days later and invited them to go out again. Kimba thought about not accepting, feeling even less comfortable than the first time they�d went to the bar since this time, they would no longer pass for a couple of straight girls in a lesbian hang out. Somehow it seemed more dangerous, more real. But to her surprise, Julie was eager to go again and to see Marty.

Sitting at a table directly off the dance floor, the low lights sparkling in Julie�s eyes, Kimba completely understood the allure of the place. She�d been comfortable before, felt the unpretentiousness of the place and knew that no one was judging her. Then it was a nice feeling, once she�d realized it was there. Now, with the possible consequences of having a relationship with Julie always tugging at her mind, albeit minutely, the idea that she could throw her concerns out the window was liberating. And since John had been out of the picture for so long now, Kimba felt as if she hadn�t a care in the world.

That left a perfect night to concentrate on her friend and the woman she loved. Marty was a most gracious host, though she hadn�t revealed her motivations for bringing them to the bar again. The stocky blonde said she just wanted to see her friends, but Kimba recognized that little gleam in her eyes and knew that she was up to something. Whatever it was, though, felt too good to worry about, so she didn�t give the matter a second thought.

People swirled about them, entering and exiting the dance floor in pairs, as the threesome drank coke and caught up on all the events they hadn�t talked about at the last softball game. Some serious convincing finally got Kimba out amongst the dancers with Marty.

"So, what�s this all about Marty," she asked without hostility. They both knew she couldn�t fake that if she tried.

"Nothing, Kim. I�m offended. I told you I just wanted to see you guys." The song was a slow one, so they were close, the redhead actually being the taller of the pair and grabbing the lead. She was surprised she didn�t feel any awkwardness between them, after so long and a new relationship. Then again, Marty was a great person and wanted nothing from her, so there was no reason to be apprehensive, even in her arms.

And occasionally catching a pair of blue eyes watching her in quiet devotion didn�t leave much room to consider that she was dancing with another person. "Okay, I guess I believe you. And thanks, by the way. It�s nice to be out."

"I thought it might be. Maybe that stuff with Jordan is finally over," she said uncertainly. "I�m really sorry about the way the department handled that. Old boys club and all that, I guess." They shrugged in unison, then looked at each other and laughed.

"I hope it is over. It was getting really old." She cast a glance over Marty�s shoulder and took in a deep breath. Julie was talking to a tall, strikingly beautiful blonde, who was sitting next to the dark woman. A moment later, Julie smiled and shook her head, prompting the suitor to leave with a smile of her own. The sight was beautiful.

Marty looked over her shoulder and took in the scene with a thoughtful look. Turning back to Kimba, she leaned a little closer and whispered in her ear. "So things are working out for you guys?"

Nodding her head minutely, Kimba was surprised to feel a sudden anxiousness to answer. She hadn�t been able to tell anyone and the freedom to do so was exhilarating. "Yeah, they are. I�ve never been so happy in my whole life." She smiled apologetically at her friend and former lover, who accepted it graciously with a small nod.

"I�m happy for you. You guys make a great couple. She�s beautiful," Marty hugged Kimba a little in the embrace they were already in and pulled back to a more feasible distance.

"Yes, she is that," the attorney answered, accepting credit as if she had anything to do with it. "I never thought it would happen, but I�m in love with a beautiful woman and I wouldn�t change a thing in my life if I could. It�s amazing." And it was all true, which was almost unbelievable in itself. But then her eyes fell upon the subject of the conversation, her heart skipped a beat, and it made perfect sense.

Patting her friend on the back and pulling out of her arms, Marty began guiding them back to the table. "Well, let�s get you and this woman on the floor then."

Moments later, Kimba and Julie were dancing among the other women to an upbeat number, hips swaying sensuously to the music. The fluorescent lights overhead shown down softly on the inhabitants below, casting dark shadows over the myriad of skin colors. Julie�s black, form fitting body sock dress was unaffected by the tones, but her skin turned caramel under the glow, her hair the same jet black as usual. Kimba�s white silk shirt was a milky tan, her red-gold hair a sparkling mahogany.

The music turned again to a slow, rolling rhythm, pairing women in tight embraces. Kimba and Julie did the same, the taller woman in the lead, again, which earned her a smirk from her partner, as well as a gentle massage of her neck. The longer the song played, soulful tones floating across the room in a deep, female voice, the closer the two women pulled to each other. Despite the crowded status of the small, creme tiled dancing surface, they seemed the only people in the room.

Her lips close to the shorter woman�s ear, Julie finally broke the silence in low, husky tones. "You and Marty looked pretty comfortable out here."

"Are you jealous," Kimba asked lightly. The bright banter that was a major part of their relationship never failed to thrill her. Its translation into this new forum had been smooth, helped immensely by the enjoyment they found in each other.

The redhead shivered at the unexpected feeling of teeth on her ear, along with a heated gust of air. "Maybe," was all Julie said.

A pulse began to run through Kimba�s body more fiercely than she could remember feeling. The sultriness of Julie�s voice and the teasing way she was caressing all parts of the body she touched felt like heaven. Definitely the most forward her friend had been about the budding sexual nature of the union, signally that things were probably about to progress in a very major and long awaited direction.

Gathering her scattered thoughts, Kimba tried to keep the conversation moving. "No need to be jealous, Marty doesn�t have a chance with me. She�s a great gal, but how could I think of anyone else when I know that six feet of gorgeous woman is waiting for me?"

"How long do you think I�ll wait," she replied with a slight chuckle.

Kimba pulled far enough away to meet the mischievously twinkling blue eyes, only inches from her own. "I don�t know what you�ve been waiting for all this time. I�ve practically thrown myself at you."

Julie laughed harder at that. "Love is blind, remember...but I�m beginning to believe things are coming into focus."

An undercurrent of seriousness washed over Kimba at that, it being the one thing she�d wanted her whole life. Not sex, although that wouldn�t hurt, but the realization of finally having that one special person to share her life with. Every time she had the clear vision of it in her mind was like the first time she�d fell upon it, joy filling her heart like a raging river. It left her breathless.

"I�ve waited so long for this, Jay," she said, her voice cracking.

Compassion and love filled Julie�s eyes, a lopsided grin gracing her lips. "So have I," she answered softly.

In the crowd of moving bodies shifting all around them, Kimba barely seemed to notice the public forum as her tall partner bent down and kissed her tenderly. The sensation of delicate lips on her own, along with the emotion that filled the action almost had her reeling with happiness.

Neither of them noticed the hulking figure moving stealthily toward them from the entrance until he was on them. With a primal growl, John grasped Julie�s shoulder, pulling her out of the embrace and sending her sprawling backwards. Kimba opened her eyes, dumbfounded, totally unprepared for the blow that landed on her jaw. Before her mind could even comprehend what was happening, she was on her back, cold tile over concrete not the least bit comforting, dozens of pairs of eyes staring at her in disbelief.

"Don�t touch her, bitch," John spat, taking a step toward the prone woman.

Trying to imagine where he had come from, Kimba stood shakily, noticing the swirling of her mind in reaction to the punch. He must have been watching in the damned window or something. I just don�t quite know how he got to us unnoticed through a sea of women in a lesbian bar. Someone must have thought it odd a man was hanging out front. Balancing herself precariously, she waited to see what his next move was going to be, hoping that there was at least one smart person in the bar who would call the police.

"You�ve ruined everything and I�m going to make sure you can�t do it anymore." A backhanded punch caught her off guard again, even though she knew he was going to do it. His eyes flashed angry black in the low light, his mouth turned down in rage.

The blow didn�t knock her down, her head actually beginning to clear from the first punch. The second had bloodied her nose, but left her with her faculties. Instinctively, the short woman stepped forward with surprising speed and lashed out with a fist. Shock flashed across his dark features as the punch connected, sending him back a step. Kimba didn�t think she really had a chance against him, surprising him could only go so far, but she intended to put up a good fight until help arrived.

And Marty did arrive a moment later, as John advanced on the small redhead again, his hands curled, ready for action. The officer pulled a gun from beneath her blazer and assumed the classic ready position, arms outstretched, both hands grasping the black iron. "Stop where you are Jordan, you�re under arrest," she barked in an official tone.

Blinking his eyes rapidly at the development, the raging man looked as if he didn�t comprehend the situation. He stepped forward, stopping only when Marty placed her body, and the gun, between him and Kimba. "I said stop. Let�s not let this turn ugly."

Though he continued to stare angrily at his victim, John complied, stepping back slowly, hands falling peacefully to his sides. His eyes squinted dangerously as Julie rushed past him in a wide arch, stopping only when she had a hand on Kimba�s arm. He remained passive, not reacting as the high pitched wail of sirens intensified upon arriving in front of the normally subdued bar.

An hour later, Kimba was sitting on her bed drying her hair from a quick shower, the sound of rushing water filling the room. They�d both felt like a shower after their little escapade. I was stupid to think it was over. Look where it�s gotten me. I�m not going to let myself imagine this is the end, even though it should be, she thought with a sigh. She still couldn�t believe that he�d gotten to them and actually became violent. The anger glowing in his eyes had been frightening to the extreme, shivers still trailed down her spine.

Very efficiently, the police had secured John, interviewed the two of them, and many other women who had seen the incident, and went on their way. After all, it was pretty open and shut, as Marty had observed. A man attacked Kimba in an establishment whose clientele were all women, in front of at least twenty customers. More people had been present, but Marty had discretely let some escape. With the amount of witnesses they had to the altercation, allowing a few of the women who had more to lose slip out didn�t hurt anything.

She and Julie were supposed to go to the station the next day to take care of all the particulars, which was fine with both of them. The shock of the whole incident still had blood pumping at extraordinary rates through Kimba�s veins. Walking to the window, the soft white light of the half moon falling on the sill, she tried to calm herself.

The sound of Julie emerging from the bathroom brought her attention to the opposite end of the room, green eyes flashing momentarily wide. More olive skin was exposed than she could remember seeing, a fluffy white towel wrapped around a long torso. Kimba regained her composure quicker than she thought possible, considering the increase in speed of her already raging emotions.

Julie�s perfect red lips were curled in a sensuous smile as she crossed to the bed. In an ungraceful flop, she settled on her back, all over the normally plentiful queen sized bed. "Yet another great night to mark down in the history books. I don�t know how we do it," she stated sarcastically.

"Well, it must be your fault. Nothing like this happened before you came along." The younger woman settled on the edge of the bed, one leg hanging off, the other tucked under.

"My life was pretty calm before you too. It must be the combination. Crossed stars or something," she replied with a small chuckle.

Thinking about the truth of that, Kimba pulled Julie�s closest hand to her, brought it to her lips and kissed it softly. Blue eyes quickly tracked to watch, a shimmering twinkle of moonlight reflected in them. "Maybe we should take it as a sign that we shouldn�t be together."

Pulling up onto her elbows, Julie shook her head slowly. "Um...I don�t think so. It...it all makes me want you more," she said in a whisper.

"Why," Kimba asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Because...you�re taking me at my worst. When everything is going wrong in my life and the only thing I have to give is my heart." Blue eyes looked away shyly, unaccustomed to this bearing of feelings. "And if we make it through this, we can make it through anything."

Two fingers under her strong chin brought Julie�s eyes up to meet a pair of mist green ones. "We�ve already made it Jay. It�s just a matter of hammering out the details."

The attorney�s smile widened at the relieved look on her partner�s face. Kimba was hard pressed to accept that she was probably the stronger person between them. The opposite had been true during their first run as friends. Now, in the midst of major life changes for both of them, she was the one who offered the shoulder to cry on, and oddly, it felt good to return the favor.

As the prone woman sat up and pulled Kimba into a fierce embrace, the redhead soon realized that some things felt even better than good. Not the least of which was a pair of tender, hungry lips on her own. Passion swept through her body at a pace she knew could not be easily stopped if Julie wished to do so, as she had before.

When long fingers began unbuttoning the hard plastic buttons holding her cotton pajama shirt together, Kimba excitedly figured out that tonight, Julie had no intention of stopping. She said a silent thanks for that, even as her hands began a graceful exploration of the body below her own and her lips continued their soft assault.

Nothing was awkward about it, as she�d feared, nothing uncomfortable. Even Julie seemed uninhibited as she surrendered her heart without hesitation. It was as if they�d shared of each other forever, in exquisite ecstasy.

Drifting off to sleep quite some time later, her love held securely to her chest, Kimba thought about the last few months and the night they�d just shared. The event wasn�t so much of a pinnacle or summit, as her mind had built it in her fantasies. More accurately, she thought, it was a confirmation of achievement, telling her that what they�d been building up to since meeting, since forever, was solid enough to tear down all barriers that might exist between them. Screaming that there was nothing so bad that it couldn�t be faced together. Nothing that they didn�t share, freely and with zeal.

Chapter 18

The stack of papers on Julie�s desk was not getting any smaller, as she sat staring blankly at a page filled with sloppy blue writing that she was supposed to be grading. Her mind was not remotely attuned to a day of school, and it would not focus, no matter how many times she chastised herself for her foolishness. Being in love...it just felt so good.

The charges against John had been formally made and their statements officially taken at the police station earlier in the morning. Marty had taken them through the process and assured that he was going to jail this time. Assault, battery, and breaking the protective order would be enough to get him locked up for a while. She told Kimba and Julie it would probably be thirty days and no more, but the incarceration would be enough to set him straight or at least make him realize that he couldn�t get away with harassing them.

So she had just been sitting at her desk, unconcerned with her crazy husband, soon to be ex, thankfully, thinking about the wonderful night she�d just spent with her partner. Her lover. My God. I can�t hardly believe that, her mind couldn�t stop repeating. Julie had been more than pleasantly surprised about the night of passion she and Kimba had experienced.

Even though she had known for some time that they were heading in that direction, knew she wanted to share every part of herself with the amazing woman she called best friend, a nagging little voice constantly waged war with her heart. It told her that loving a woman was wrong, and sadly, part of her believed it. She�d imagined that when she finally succumbed to her passion for Kimba, it would be ugly somehow. That it would feel wrong and dirty. That it wouldn�t excite her.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Touching and being touched by the love of her life was nothing less than miraculous. Julie�s other lovers had always seemed to be after pleasure only, which was all she got and all she gave. But with Kimba, the act of love had been a coming home, a sharing of souls that she had never experienced before. And it made all the doubts that she had about the new ground they were treading recede out of her mind�s eye. In perfect clarity, she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life, body and soul, with this amazing woman.

"Mr. Thompson would like to see you in his office, Mrs. Jordan," a timid voice floated from the doorway.

Looking up dazedly, Julie nodded to the office aide, already retreating from the room. She had been wondering what the reaction to John�s arrest was going to be in the gossip filled school. Apparently, at least part of the answer was soon to be forthcoming. Walking down the halls toward the glass walled office, the teacher purposefully ignored the stares and strange looks she received from almost every person she passed. She had expected as much. It wasn�t every day that the school principal gets arrested for assaulting his wife.

Once inside the glass encased office, Julie went directly to the north side and into the lead principal�s office. Mr. Thompson was John�s boss as well as hers. Consistent with his character, her husband had been in charge of school discipline, which he was fairly good at.

Thompson sat at his large oak desk, pushing a pen stealthy across a piece of creme school stationary. The short cropped white hair and beard fairly reflected off his coal skin, his round face and belly making him a perfect candidate for a cheery black Santa Claus. A role he loved playing, as he had at numerous past Christmas parties. It was all a part of his jovial and giving nature.

He looked up from the paper when Julie quietly shut the door, a soft click as she entered the little office. A strong hand motioned to the chair across from him, which she took, trying to contemplate what he might say to her.

"I heard about what happened last night," he came to the point immediately, his emotions unreadable.

"Yeah. I can�t believe John did that. But I want you to know that I�m going to handle this professionally." Julie shifted a little in the thick leather chair, eliciting a high pitched squeak from within its structure.

"He told me that he was adjusting. I�m beginning to think he was hiding a few things from me." The dark woman was surprised at his levity, but accepted it as consistent with his normal nature.

Chuckling a little, Julie relaxed considerably, the stringy tension in her muscles dissolving at the man�s words. The fear that their divorce was going to cost her the job she loved faded into nothingness. "Now we know, I guess."

"Yes. And I have no doubt that you will be a professional about all this." The principal leaned forward, his suited elbows supporting his weight. All the laughter left his features, giving his appearance an additional ten years. "John is temporarily suspended due to his arrest upon my order and that will most likely become permanent at the next board meeting. But we have another problem with this situation."

"Oh," was her surprised response. By the older man�s expression, whatever this problem was, it was to be taken seriously. Racking her brain in furious abandon, Julie had no idea what it might be.

Mr. Thompson�s dark eyes shifted uncomfortably to the papers before him, idle hands moving them minutely on the desk. "You haven�t seen the paper this morning, have you," he asked while handing her the newspaper he pulled from a drawer.

Julie scanned the front page, her eyes quickly finding a small article at the bottom, bold headline reading, "Local Principal Arrested at Gay Bar". Suddenly, a whole new problem possibility sprang to her mind and she had no idea why she hadn�t though of it before. The whole thing had happened at the Pink Elephant, the only lesbian bar in town. The little article didn�t say it, but everyone who read it would think that she was a lesbian, and that couldn�t be good for her school life. She didn�t really think it would, but she supposed it could get her fired.

Yet again, the turmoil her life had become wasn�t over. Now it had merely taken another form, one possibly more damaging than the previous. Julie knew she was about to find out. "Oh God," she gasped softly.

"Now I hope you know that I really like you Julie and I don�t really care what this paper says. I know you�re a good person. The problem is, the people of this town may not like it. I...I�m just saying this to prepare you for what might happen. You should be aware that you could be suspended too." He finished with a sad look, once again playing with the papers under his large, dark hands.

Tears sprang to her eyes assertively, but Julie pulled up the will from deep down to not let them fall. "That�s not fair."

The man�s hand waved in the air animatedly. "I know. Don�t get me wrong, I�m gonna fight for you if it comes to that. You just need to know that it might."

"Okay...thanks for telling me. I guess I should have..." she was cut off by a bright smile from the principal.

"You don�t have to explain to me, Julie. I only ask that you be careful of what you say and not let anything bother you. I�d hate to lose a great teacher over this," he stood from the desk and walked toward the door, signaling that their discussion was coming to an end. In five minutes the first bell was due to ring.

Standing on legs steadier than Julie thought they would be, she turned to the door, stopping next to the round little principal. She tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder, which he covered under his own with no hesitation. "I don�t plan on going anywhere. And besides, she�s a lawyer, so I figure I�ve got a little bargaining power," she added with a wry grin.

Mr. Thompson rolled his eyes, laughing openly as he guided her out of his small office, into the curious stares in the outer area.

Chapter 19

Sun shown brightly into the small window of the office, illuminating the newspaper Kimba stared at on her desk. Roger had brought it in a moment before, throwing it onto her desk without comment. She looked at him coolly, not liking the anger she saw lurking behind his gaze. "I�ve seen it. What�s your point," she asked passively.

The simple wooden chair in front of the desk creaked loudly as he settled into, leaning forward, his posture aggressive. "I thought you weren�t going to let her hurt you."

Frowning, Kimba turned questioning green eyes to her friend. She knew that he cared for her, that he was probably still in love with her, but she didn�t like the direction the conversation was going. "She hasn�t."

"Yes she has. You don�t think this has hurt you," he asked incredulously. "Everyone knows." His voice cracking, he stood abruptly and walked to the window, hands clasped tightly behind his back.

Kimba could see that Roger was in pain. He thought he was best for her and no one else would do. She could see that as well, even though she knew it couldn�t be farther from the truth. In another situation, she might have accepted his love willingly and wouldn�t have been sorry for it. But the way things were, she wanted no one but Julie. And in no fashion would she accept hassle over the decision.

"It�s just as well that everyone knows Roger. I love Julie and not all the busybody gossips in the world are going to change that. They�re going to have to accept it and so are you." A small grin twitched her lips, the ability to make the statement filling her heart. Now if it were actually that easy, things would be great.

"Have you even considered that you could lose your job? What do you suppose Mitchell thinks of this little revelation," he sniped, still staring out the third floor window.

A gravelly voice boomed from the doorway. "Mitchell thinks that Kim Curtis is one hell of an attorney."

The handsome man stepped in front of the office-filling desk, hands in the pockets of his pin striped suit coat. The sun reflected off his silver hair and gleaming white smile. "I can�t say that this isn�t somewhat of a shock, but I tend to judge my employees on their work product, not their personal trysts. If I cared about people leading moral and conventional sex lives, I�d lose somebody at least once a year."

Gravely, Roger turned from the window to face the room�s other chuckling occupants. He was deflated and defeated, but also looked the slightest bit relieved. "I�m glad you guys are having fun with this, but I know nothing good will come of it."

Mitchell Redhorn put an aged hand on the shorter man�s shoulder and squeezed affectionately. "Love always has its share of heartache, Roger. That�s what makes the happy moments so precious," he said, patting Roger�s shoulder. The aging attorney was clearly speaking to both his younger colleagues.

"I guess," was Roger�s quiet reply.

Turning his attention to the redhead still perched behind her desk, Mitchell waxed serious again. "And have no doubt, Kim, that there will be heartache over this. Love never lets you off easy, and you�ve picked someone especially complex to love."

"I know," Kimba responded, sadly to the first part and happily to the second. She knew that they were going to catch negative reaction because of the newspaper article, especially Julie. Historically, parents did not generally favor the idea of their children being taught by anyone unconventional. As if teachers weren�t normal people who had the same faults as everyone else. Still, educators were held to their own standard. One that Julie would have substantial trouble meeting at this point.

"If it comes down to litigation, I�ll be on your side, Kim," the older attorney affirmed.

Kimba stood swiftly and circled the desk. Giving her boss a hug, she spoke softly to him. "That means a lot to me, Mitchell. I�m grateful to have you as a friend." Roger�s eyes were popping out of his head at the embracing pair.

Closeness had never been something she had with her boss, but at that moment, Kimba relished the man and all he offered. It was a great gift. A confirmation that she meant something to him. She knew that it was mostly because of her work under him and not her winning personality and great character, but that was gratifying in itself. All that she had worked for in her career was a reality. The firm valued her work and wished to keep her, even at the expense of bad press. Kimba was touched that her boss would stick up for her in the face of all that. Not many would.

With the two men out of her office, the young attorney continued to stare at her desk, attempting to refocus on the case she�d been trying to research all day. Her mind, however, was still a whirl of emotions. If not thinking about the complications the newspaper mention was sure to produce, she pondered all the delicious revelations her night with Julie had disclosed.

As if on cue, the phone beside her came to noisy life, the secretary�s voice radiating from it in a mechanical jingle. "Julie Jordan on line three," the disembodied voice said tonelessly.

The woman�s heart immediately skipped a beat as she tentatively picked up the receiver. Silly, she knew, but real none the less. "Hey," her voice was soft.

"Hi baby," Julie said in a hushed voice.

Again Kimba felt a thrill run up her spine, the endearment filling her heart. She�d never really liked being called nicknames by her lovers, thought them somewhat demeaning. But the way Julie said it, the most demeaning moniker of them all, the term sounded like a caress.

"Have you seen the paper?" There was no doubt what the call was about. Kimba couldn�t even remember the last time she�d called during the day to the law firm.

A heavy sigh floated over the wire, then a long moment of silence. "Yeah, I got called into the principal�s office because of it. How �bout you?"

"Yeah, I talked to Mitchell. He was really nice about it. There won�t be any problem on my end. What about you," she asked in confidence. Julie probably needed her support very much at the moment.

"Well, he was nice, but he does think that I might have a problem. He said he�ll go to bat for me, though," she said dejectedly.

Wanting to run out of the office and rush to her friend, Kimba calmed herself with effort, searching for the right thing to say to make Julie feel better. "We�ll get through this Julie, don�t worry," she replied.

The sound of a laughing group of people came through the receiver, leaving Julie silent for several moments. When she finally spoke again, her voice was still distant, but tinged with hope. "Do you really think so?"

Kimba had to fight the desire to run again, Julie sounded so much like a lost child, wanting desperately to believe, but knowing from experience that wanting was not always enough. "Yes, I know so. Look at what we went through to get to this point."

The attorney paused for a moment to let that thought sink in. They had been through a lot and always made it. This would be no different. Not now that she had what she�d longed for. "I�ll be damned if I let a bunch of pigheaded homophobes ruin this," she resonated.

A small chuckle came over the phone, easing her tension a little. "Okay," was all Julie said. At least it was a start. With renewed hope, Kimba knew anything was possible.

Chapter 20

The fluffy couch was more than a piece of furniture. It was home. And that meant a great deal to Julie after the day she�d had at school. She settled comfortably in the cushions, sinking in the fabric peacefully, waiting for Kimba to finish changing so they could talk. After all the disapproving stares and whispering voices, a friendly, loving face was a nice idea.

Kimba plopped beside her, eliciting a soft whoosh from the couch. Her smile dazzled her older partner, already making the day seem more like a diminishing nightmare. "So, how did the tar and feathering go," she asked lightly.

Julie scooted a few inches closer and laid a hand on Kimba�s bare thigh. She�d been longing for the warm contact all day. "I�m glad it�s over. Do you think they�ll suspend me?"

"No way. You didn�t do anything wrong, Jay. If you recall, we were the ones attacked. If the school board tries anything...well, I won�t let them," the redhead declared. Julie recognized the set and determined expression on her lover�s face. When she really wanted something, Kimba usually got it. She�d gotten her, after all.

"I...I missed you today. I wanted you there to take up for me," Julie stated softly. And it was a stark truth.

Kimba reached a hand out and caressed an olive cheek gently, her eyes filled with compassion. "I�ll always be here for you, Jay."

Warm green eyes seemed to reach down into her soul, pulling it to the light it had been shadowed from for most of the day. Julie consciously felt all the doubts that had been filling her mind flee in all directions, like dandelions in the wind. All she wanted, needed was the feel of Kimba�s lips on hers and the love that poured forth from her kind heart. No uncertainty could stand up to her partner�s unbending love.

One kiss turned into a dozen. A dozen into even more. Facing each other, knees touching, they gratefully shared the gentle exchange. Kimba�s touch made her feel more exposed than she�d ever been, but Julie was happy for it. The devotion in each caress also made her feel a love never imagined. She welcomed the hand moving up her thigh, slowly burrowing its way under her skirt. In her love�s passion, she could forget about the world, which didn�t really matter compared to what she was feeling.

The sound of a key hitting the front door brought Julie out of the sensuous haze in a rush of fear. Jerking away from the embrace suddenly, the teacher put several feet between her lover and herself. As Jesse came through the door, she tried to ignore the hurt expression on Kimba�s face.

"Hey, Jesse," she greeted him, sounding more cheerful than she felt, her shortness of breath only faintly detectable. The dazed look in Kimba�s eyes hadn�t lessened any, bringing on a wave of guilt in Julie�s gut.

The boy sat down in the chair against the wall opposite them in a defeated slump, his backpack falling to the floor unheeded. "Hi ya�ll."

"It�s been a rough day, huh?" Julie turned back to Kimba as the attorney rose, leaving the room without a word. The older woman already knew her actions were going to take a good deal of explaining, accompanied by a large dose of groveling. Kimba didn�t deserve to be hurt and she�d done just that.

Turning her attention back to her bedraggled son, Julie noticed a guarded sadness in his eyes. She could only imagine what he�d been through during the day. Kids could be so cruel. Jesse, however, was a popular boy, star athlete, excellent student, and having parents in the school system hadn�t hurt his reputation a bit. But there was always someone who attacked weakness, no matter what its form or reason.

Jesse sighed loudly, leaning forward on his elbows, staring at the russet carpet. "Yeah. Rough," he answered dejectedly. He seemed to be searching his brain for the right words, his brow contracted in thought. After a moment, he raised his dark eyes to his mother�s clear blue ones. "I really like Kimba, Mom. And...and I don�t care what anyone says about you guys."

Pain was written across his face in etched lines too ancient for his tender years. For a moment, Julie got a glimpse of what her son would look like at fifty, which churned her gut even more. It wasn�t fair that they were all having to suffer this, after everything else.

"Jesse, that means a lot to me. I�m sorry the kids are bugging you." She paused with a sigh, unsure of what to say to him. Telling him about sex in the first place had been hard enough. Back then, she�d never guessed a conversation about her loving another woman would be necessary. "I...I imagine they said some pretty mean things," she grimaced internally. The appropriate words refused to come.

"It�s...it�s not that big a deal. I�d just never imagined a dyke could look like you," he stated seriously.

Julie stared at him, unsure of his state of mind. When a slow grin finally began stretching across his face, she felt a chuckle building that erupted into loud laughter, Jesse joining in. What a kid I�ve raised, she thought as she began calming. "That�s what they say about me, huh? I...I�m glad you like Kimba. This...this situation is permanent."

"I know. That�s why I don�t mind," he agreed. Picking up the discarded backpack from the floor, he stood up and moved toward her. Jesse placed a gentle kiss on her forehead on his way down the hall, to the solitude of his bedroom.

Sighing, Julie followed suit and headed to the room she shared with Kimba. The discussion with Jesse went well, so she hoped she�d be able to patch things up with her friend equally well. She found the stocky redhead with both hands on the bottom of the window sill, leaning heavily on muscular arms, staring out into the fading light of the afternoon sky.

Tentative footsteps brought her to her partner�s back. She placed a hand on Kimba�s shoulder, where it was quickly covered by a smaller one. "I�m sorry about that Kimba. I guess I�m still not used to all this yet," she rationalized.

"Are you sure that�s it," Kimba responded in a strained voice. "Are you sure you�re not ashamed of me, of us?"

The words tore through her like a sword. Not because of Kimba�s doubt in her, the woman had every right, but because there was a grain of truth in them she could not deny. It was like Kimba had said before, if either of them were a man, Julie would be on top of a mountain declaring her love to the world. But to a degree, she was an old fashioned woman, and there was something tearing away at her because of it. Most people thought their relationship was wrong, and there was still a little part of Julie that wanted to conform with the world she�d tried to fit into her whole life.

The taller woman sucked in a breath to respond, but stopped as Kimba turned, her eyes glimmering with tears and emotion. "Don�t bother, Jay. I already know the answer. I just can�t quite make myself accept it."

"Kimba, I...I�m not ashamed of you. I�m just not ready," she pleaded. Julie knew at that moment she would give anything to take the crushed look out of her love�s soft green eyes. More than her actions from a moment before were behind the emotions suddenly pouring forth. The no-win situation they were in dearly hurt them both.

Shaking her head in disgust or despair, the teacher wasn�t sure which, Kimba walked past Julie and settled on the bed, peering again through the window. The older woman turned to face her, but the stricken expression never changed, her eyes looking beyond, into the fading sky.

"It�s a little too late for you not to be ready. For one thing, the whole world knows by now that we�re a little more than friends. They can figure that out from the paper, unless we can convince them otherwise," she informed her lover dejectedly. Her golden head tilted down as she gathered the bed covers at her sides in both knotted fists. "And for another, you let me believe you were ready. You let me make love to you," she finished softly.

Julie could hear the tears in her voice, wanting to rush to Kimba and hold her. She also heard a tinge of anger, though, that had never been spoken toward her before. Torn between what her heart wanted to do, to take the younger woman in her arms and apologize until her voice went raw, and what her mind demanded, distance, she stood stolidly at the window, unnaturally silent.

With a sniffle, Kimba met her gaze earnestly, a scowl emerging on her face. "I was fooling myself when I thought you�d never hurt me again. To you, I�ve always just been someone to have around when I was convenient."

Gasping in shock, Julie felt the sting of anger arise in her. "That�s not true and you know it. I care for you," she retorted.

Kimba issued a sarcastic little laugh, eerily similar to the hiss of a cobra. "You can�t even lie and say you love me, can you?" She shook her fair head in disbelief. "Well, this time I don�t think it�s going to be quite so easy to get rid of me. I�ll go, but you have a mess that is gonna take a while to clean up," she spat out.

"I don�t want you to leave," Julie shouted, suddenly frantic. She knew she was losing control, but the anger and desperation were over whelming her. Something she didn�t know she needed until she had it was slipping from her boneless grip. None of it was Kimba�s fault, but she was the only target at the moment, no matter how wrong that was.

"I thought you weren�t ready," Kimba asked heatedly.

Grasping for words, Julie stepped toward the bed aggressively. Kimba rose to meet her, staring intently into vivid blue eyes. "I�m ready to show you how I feel. I�ve wanted to for most of my life. I�m just not ready for the whole world to know my business."

"You can�t have it both ways, Jay. At this point, you accept me and the whole world knows," she paused, her eyes brimming with angry tears again. "Or we act like none of this ever happened." Her voice was filled with pain.

"Is that the way you want it? To act like this never happened?" She knew the answer already, but she waited anyway, wanting Kimba to say something to stop what was happening. The situation was completely out of control, but she had no idea how to stop the downward spiral. Her friend was the one who didn�t care what anyone thought and Julie knew the problem was hers. Desperately, she wished she knew how to solve it.

"Fine by me," she said shrilly after she got no reply to her question.

As new tears began streaming down Kimba�s pale cheeks, Julie realized that she was totally going over the edge. The only solution she could think of was to leave, hopefully before she did too much damage.

Driving down the highway in a daze, Julie recognized what a strange position she put herself in. She was running, yet again, from the person she�d pledged to share her life with. The words hadn�t been spoken on her part yet, but she knew her actions had said as much. From John, her running had always come because she was the prey. The one he hunted with his cruel words and intimidation. Now she was running from Kimba because she was afraid that she was doing the same to the love of her life, hurting her beyond reason.

Then again, in a way she could hardly fathom, Julie was once again prey. This time, however, instead of running from a tyrant�s power, she was running from a surrender she didn�t know how to supplicate to. From a love she didn�t know how to feel. And from a fear that she couldn�t overcome. Hunter and hunted, all in one.

When her mother opened the front door of the quaint brick house, a sturdy scowl already in place, Julie began wondering just what she�d been thinking to go there. "Hello, Julie," the silver haired woman greeted flatly.

"Hello Mother," she responded as her mother ushered into the immaculate living room. The tension flowed from the other woman almost visibly, so Julie decided to wait for the explosion she knew was inevitable. For the punishment she knew she deserved.

Mrs. George remained in the walkway, not following Julie into the customary meeting place of the living room. She stood on the reflective tiled floor, glaring at her daughter. "Julie, I don�t even know what to say to you."

Julie felt a laugh bubble up, and although she didn�t know what exactly was coming, she couldn�t contain it. The look on her mother�s face almost prompted her to roll on the floor giggling. "You�ve never been at a loss for words, Mother. Why don�t you just tell me how you feel," she answered in a sarcastic tone.

The rage Julie knew was ever present in her mother quickly appeared on the woman�s features. "Alright. I�ll tell you EXACTLY how I feel. I think it�s a disgrace to this family. That�s what I think. Your father and I didn�t raise you to be one of those people."

"And just what kind of a person do you think I�ve become. Have I suddenly changed? Yesterday I was an upstanding citizen and today I�m a menace to society." Feeling the fury reviving, she took an intimidating step towards her mother. But it didn�t work, of course, her mother had been intimidating Julie all her life. The aging vixen was a master.

"All because I�m in love with a woman," she added for a reaction, which she finally got.

Looking as though she was about to gag, Mrs. George closed the distance between herself and her daughter, their breaths intermingling. "I always knew that trashy little girl was going to ruin you. I�d expect this from someone raised as she was," her voice was venom. "But not you, Julie. I�ve always expected better of you."

A lump suddenly rose in her throat, full of the tears that suddenly demanded to be released. Her mother was saying exactly what she wanted to hear. That she was bad and unnatural and wrong. That what she had couldn�t possible be right. But there was also the warm spot that refused to be pushed from her heart, where Kimba lived, and held on to her with determined tenacity.

The sight of Joe George appearing in the hallway was enough to bring the walls crashing down. Before the older man realized what was going on, his normally stoic daughter was in his arms, crying like a newborn.

When he spoke, his voice was harsher than Julie had ever heard it before. "What the hell is going on here, Wanda?"

"I was just trying to talk some sense into your daughter," the matron retorted defensively. Not waiting to be told, the older woman left the room abruptly, brushing her husband�s shoulder purposefully, letting the kitchen door slam loudly as she closed it behind her.

Holding his daughter gently, Joe guided Julie to the beautifully crafted, but eternally uncomfortable, stiff blue cotton sofa. He rubbed her back comfortingly for several minutes, giving her time to collect herself.

With a final sniff, Julie straightened up, immediately recognizing why she had come here in the first place. Her mother didn�t matter. She�d reacted exactly how her daughter knew she would. What Julie needed was to hear her daddy tell her everything was going to work out, like he�d done so many times before.

"I�ve really messed things up this time, Daddy," she declared in a tear-choked voice.

"I�m sure it�s not that bad, honey," he assured her gently.

Pulling out of his embrace, she looked up into his soft blue eyes, so much like her own. "But it is. I...I think I�ve lost her."

Joe cleared his throat, seeming to search for the words he wanted to say. Julie hadn�t talked to him about her relationship with Kimba, though she believed he knew its true nature. He was reaching high numbers in age, but Joe George was one of the fairest men she�d ever known. She knew that talking about her love with him wouldn�t be the easiest thing in the world, but he would do it to make her feel better.

"Do you love her," he asked simply.

Her eyes widened at his directness. She had expected to have to lead the conversation, but it seemed her faithful father already knew where it was headed. "Yes."

"Are you...lovers," his voice dropped to a bare whisper on the final word, reminding Julie of how worldly her father really wasn�t.

"Yes," she whispered just as softly. The wait for his reaction seemed more like an hour than a short moment, her stomach flip flopping in fear of an anticipated rebuke. His curt nod and twitching lips, almost a smile, brought a sigh of relief from Julie�s lips.

"What happened," he asked after assimilating the information.

She told him the whole sordid tale, leaving none of her indiscretions out, none of which were really substantial individually. Little things, really, that culminated in one moment of revulsion, when she�d pulled away from Kimba on the couch. She realized her partner had overreacted to some degree, but she also knew the transgression was a final straw. All she�d done was lack the ability to give her soul to a woman who would do anything for her. All she�d done was doubt, despite the longing her heart felt to surrender to the sweetest love of her life.

"I haven�t even told her I love her," she finished, almost in tears again. "I do, desperately, I just can�t say it."

The older man soothed his daughter into calmness before speaking again. "Why do you think it�s wrong...to be in love with a woman?"

"Everyone says it�s wrong," was her immediate response. She had no better one.

Her father�s silver head nodded thoughtfully. Pulling back from their embrace, he peered intently into her eyes. "I�ve been married to your mother for forty years. She�s the same person now as she was the day I made her my bride. Cranky, temperamental, silent and brooding." He chuckled at the shocked look on Julie�s face. She�d certainly never heard her father say such a thing before. "I can�t tell you how many times I�ve been asked why on earth I married her."

Julie looked away shyly. A few years ago, she�d asked him that exact question. She�d had a monstrous fight with her mother over something relating to Jesse, driving Julie to the point of almost striking the older woman. She never would have, but after Joe had played his peacemaker role, his gentleness soothing her mad soul, she couldn�t imagine how he could put up with the overpowering woman. At the time, he�d merely shook his head, a lopsided grin on his lips and said, "She�s my wife." Julie didn�t understand.

Her father continued, a slight grin again tugging his lips. "Some people, Julie, are like coconuts. On the outside, they�re rough, splintery, dark and stony. The shell is so hard and ugly, you can�t believe that anything precious can be on the inside," he began wistfully. Julie�s eyes ran over the man, wondering why she�d never heard this romantic side of him before.

"But there always comes some special person who, for reasons no one else can understand, is willing and determined enough to break the shell. When they do, and that rough exterior is torn away, what pours out is sweet and silky and softer than anyone ever dreamed."

The older man leaned back on the couch, stretching out his long legs. He captured her gaze completely, his eyes filled with tender emotion. "For me, your mother is that coconut. To everyone else in the world, even you, her own daughter, she�s so gruff no one could even suspect she has a gentle, loving side, but she does. And I guess I�m the only one whose ever cracked it," he finished with a twitching grin, as if he had trouble believing the statement himself.

"I never knew," Julie stated in awe. She�d never thought of her mother as having a gentle bone in her body. The adoration in her father�s eyes, though, told her it was the truth.

He cleared his throat nervously, sensing an audience that he�d almost forgotten about. "Anyway, my point is that love is not too particular. It takes us where it wants us to go. And that place isn�t always where everyone thinks we belong, or even where we want to go ourselves. If you�d have asked me forty years ago if I would marry Wanda, I would have laughed in your face," he laughed minutely, then continued. "When you find that person and discover all the trouble it takes to crack that shell, to let that special person inside completely out, if only to you, it�s too special to let go. Not if the only reason is because somebody is telling you it�s wrong. If I�d let my friends make the decision for me back then, you wouldn�t be here."

Julie thought about that for a few minutes, gazing into his patient eyes, trying to understand it all. "You love Mom," she asked, needing proof of his statement.

"She�s my life, Julie. And for all the grief she�s caused me, and given me, I�ve never regretted a single moment of it." He took her hand in his and squeezed it.

"But it�s not the same," she protested.

He silenced her with an affirmation so firm that she couldn�t believe he said it. "Love is love, Julie." Her father was suddenly a shock to her brain, the quiet little man she�d loved all her life, but never suspected the depth of character he possessed.

And that brought the sobs on again in full force, because he was right and she�d been so blinded by fear that she�d forgotten. The giddy little feeling in her chest had been overcome by a more blinding sensation that seemed to usurp everything in its reach. By the time Julie fell asleep in her father�s arms, she knew that within her lay the strength to push the near blinding fear aside, in favor of the love that had given her the ability to see the world a new. To see there was so much living left to do.

Chapter 21

Kimba sat at the same burnished desk as she had the day before, the same little office, still unable to concentrate. Unfortunately, the reasons were completely opposite from the previous morning, when she had been childishly giddy. Today, she was wondering if the love of her life had walked out her front door, never to return. The attorney�s stomach had been churning with upset since the night before, and showed no signs of stopping.

Jesse has been his normal sweet self as she drove him to school, offering her encouragement, assuring her that Julie would come back on her hands and knees. He�d even surprised her by declaring that he thought they belonged together, despite the uncomfortable situation. And when he kissed the back of her hand like a knight of the court, for that moment, Kimba had believed every word that came out of his innocent mouth.

That feeling had slowly faded the closer she came to work, and the reality of the rest of the world. So when Roger walked in the room unexpectedly, Kimba hastily wiped a stray tear from her eye.

"Hi Roger," she said with forced casualness.

He eyed her speculatively from the doorway, but made no mention of her disheveled condition. "Everybody�s out, so I�m answering the phone. Julie�s calling for you. She sounds upset." A stocky hand pointed to the flashing light on her intercom phone. "Is everything alright," he asked, genuinely concerned.

"Yeah, things are still a little tough. It�s gonna work out, though." Roger nodded and discretely left down the hall. She shook her head at the man, unable to figure him out. One minute he was trying to convince her to marry him, the next he was foregoing it all to please her. The sad thing was, she loved him for it all.

With a deep sigh, she turned her attention to the flashing light. Before her mind could talk her out of it, Kimba reached out a shaking hand and brought the phone to her ear. "Hello."

"Kimba," Julie�s deep voice asked tentatively.

Her throat closing up with emotion, Kimba instantly wished Julie was in the room, so she could give her a strong hug to squeeze away the fright she heard in her tone. "Yes, it�s me. Are you okay?"

"I...I�m okay. It�s just...the school board called an emergency meeting for this afternoon. I think I�m about to get fired," she informed hurriedly.

This is really gonna help things

, Kimba�s mind added to the whirl of emotions. A dull ache began in her head that no amount of temple massaging seemed to help, but her fingers continued steadily working anyway. "I�ll be at the meeting," she responded, then paused uncertainly. "I mean...if you want me to."

She heard an exasperated chuckle on the line. "Of course I want you there. I...I�m sorry about last night Kimba. I was way outta line."

Soft green eyes closed tightly as Kimba tried to come up with what to say. The only responses that came forward would only serve to exacerbate the problem. Julie saying that she was sorry didn�t change the fact that unresolved issues still existed between them. Those feelings were deeper than an apology could erase. At the moment, though, none of that seemed to matter. "We�ll talk about it later, okay. I�ll see you at the meeting."

"Okay. I can�t wait to see you Kimba. I...I miss you," Julie stammered.

The younger woman could tell her friend was trying to soothe the hurt, even in her own, graceless manner, which filled the hollow part of Kimba�s heart with a warm light. With goodbye said, she hung up the phone. She only had a few hours to come up with some way to fix the mess their lives had become. No matter what, she decided, she would find the answer.

A lot of people mistakenly had the idea that a lawyer knew every legal contingency in every situation. Right now was a perfect example of how wrong that thought was. Not only did Kimba not know how to solve this problem, in the back of her mind always lingered how they would combat the same issue should it come up in a custody fight. Though they hadn�t talked about it much, she feared for what decision she might have to make.

Even as she strode confidently into the classroom, seeing the Board lined up at tables in the front of the crowded room, Kimba loathed the answer she�d come up with. It would work, she had no doubt, but that didn�t make it any less detestable.

John was first to step up to the podium, wearing a shaded gray suit, his hair combed precisely, a far cry from the crazed man who had attacked Kimba two days before. His short jail stay hadn�t been too harsh on him. Conceding to the Board that he needed time off, at the advice of his lawyer, no doubt, the principal dispensed with the usual principles of due process to throw himself at the mercy of his judges.

Julie was next asked to give her side of events, as if she was only there to impact her husband�s fate. They all knew it was a ruse, however, sitting behind the desk with their airy attitudes and the power to turn a person�s life inside out. After Julie recited a narrative of the night and answered a few simple questions, she sat back down in the front row of folding chairs.

Striding up to the podium purposefully, Kimba made a final decision on the tact she was taking. Her possibilities were few. Threatening litigation was a possibility, but it might not do much good since the Supreme Court consistently refused to consider sexual orientation a protected class, like race and age. As the law was, not much could stop a person from discriminating against lesbians and gays. So saying that the School Board would lose in court was not a good idea, since the chance was one in a million, or less. That left only one other possibility to save Julie�s job.

She told her view of the night in the Pink Elephant, not encouraged by the disapproving scowls from the members before her. At the mention of anything lesbian, a few of the people actually turned white. Not a good sign.

An older man in a bright red bow tie asked the first and only question. "Have you ever been to this establishment before, Miss Curtis?"

Kimba saw her opening and jumped for it. "Yes, I occasionally go there with friends of mine. However, this was only Julie�s second visit. Both times she was with me and a companion at our invitation." She smiled her brightest and raised her hands in a friendly shrug. "Julie�s really needed to let her hair down some, what with her divorcing John and all. I took her to the bar to have a good time and I feel like it�s really messed things up."

The roiling feeling in her stomach was becoming increasingly worse with each word. Although she didn�t really care what people thought about her, lying about her relationship with Julie, for better or not, made her feel sick.

Yet she continued with a lilt in her voice. "She�s staying with me until she can get on her feet again. I don�t want anyone to think we�re anything more than friends. I realize this makes it look that way and I�m horrified by it. If Julie gets fired from her job because I took her to a place I hang out, I don�t know what I�ll do," she gave them her best wishful look. "Please don�t make assumptions about Ms. Jordan over this. She�s a fine credit to your school as a teacher and I�d hate to see the kids lose her."

The stodgy board members looked at one another inquisitively, then called a break to the meeting for consideration. As they filed out of the sparsely populated classroom, Kimba began her exit down the aisles of folding chairs toward the exit. She had no desire to hang around and hear the decision. Nothing could be changed about it now. She�d done her best and it had left her drained.

A strong grip on her arm halted her progress. Kimba didn�t need to look up to know Julie was peering down at her with misty blue eyes. "Kimba, you...you didn�t have to do that."

"Yes I did. I�m not going to let you lose your job. Not over this," she whispered fiercely. Neither one of them should have to be going through the situation at all. Any of it.

"Thank you," Julie answered in a low voice, her hand now caressing the arm it held.

Glancing around at the few remaining people in the room, Kimba pulled her arm away and took a step away from her lover. "I...I�ve got to go." And she did. The dirty feeling was clinging to her skin like tape. She desperately wanted to get out of the room, not even caring about the destination.

"Are you going home," Julie asked hopefully.

Green eyes met blue again, but Kimba couldn�t maintain the contact. It was all still too raw. "No, not right now. I�ve got to go...I�ll see you later."

The pain flashing across Julie�s face brought more to her own, but Kimba couldn�t deny the need for solitude. At least for a little while. She needed to be somewhere to try to pick up the pieces of her shattered existence. There would be time to peer into those beautiful eyes again. Time to start working on the love she knew would blossom once more between them.

Chapter 22

"Still not home, huh," Jesse asked as he entered Kimba�s bedroom for the tenth time.

Julie looked up from her position on the bed, sprawled lazily over the bedspread. She�d been laying there waiting, looking up at the starry ceiling, desperately wishing that Kimba was there to point out the constellations. It was getting late, which scared her more than made her worry. If anything, her partner was tough. Maybe a little too tough.

Settling down on the bed beside her, Jesse patted his mother�s thigh lightly. The dark woman sighed heartily and pulled herself up to lean against the headboard. "I don�t know what to do, Jesse." Inwardly she laughed at herself for wanting advice from her teenage son, but she knew that at this point, she was low on options. Not to mention that he had seemed to know her heart better than she did from the start.

"I think you should go find her and tell her you�re sorry," he said unapologetically.

They�d already had the conversation where he told her she shouldn�t worry about what anyone else said about her. In his simple, innocent logic, he�d figured out something she was only just coming to grips with. It was a little embarrassing.

Embarrassing to think that she�d risk the only person in the world that had ever made her happy because of what some stuffy administrators might think of her. The gravity of what she�d done fell on Julie especially hard after the council returned to the classroom with a suspension for John and a verbal caution for her. The message had been something about teachers needing a good reputation in the community and for her not to let her social life get out of hand. Not flatly homophobic, but she figured that message was meant to be in there as well. The council had no doubt made the decision to be on the safe side of public ridicule, since there was really a lack of credible evidence about her love life. She hadn�t heard the last part of the declaration at all. The only thing she could think about was that she�d just been told her job was safe, but it didn�t even matter. What mattered had walked away from her minutes before, holding back hurt, angry tears in deep green eyes.

So Julie had been waiting ever since, hoping with all her might that she hadn�t messed the whole thing up for good. "It�s not that easy," she answered sadly.

"Who said it�s supposed to be easy," her son responded with a gleam in his eye. "I think I�ve heard that a time or two."

Rolling her eyes at the amazing child that surprised her everyday, Julie realized he was right. Nobody said falling in love was easy. Although the falling part was usually painless, the rest of the process could be hell...and heaven. "You�re right. I�m going to go look for her," her voice was full of a conviction she wasn�t sure was real.

Jesse�s smile broadened as he watched his mother rise from the bed with purpose. "Do you know where she is?"

"No. That�s why I have to look." She flashed him a crooked grin, proceeding to pull her shoes on and comb her hair.

Once ready, Julie gave Jesse a pat on the head, then grabbed a small black box from the dresser before heading out to the car. She didn�t know where Kimba was, but the clear, warm night gave her an idea that seemed logical enough. Knowing the sentimental side of her partner, Julie hoped the recent events hadn�t made Kimba want to disassociate with their past.

Kimba�s car was waiting silently in the tall grass, the dark blue paint blending in perfectly with the long shadows cast by the trees and bright shine of a full moon. A sigh of relief issued from Julie�s lungs as she patted the hood, which was well cooled by the night breeze. Kimba had probably been there all night.

The grass thrashed against her bare legs as Julie made her way to the shore. She could hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore and a few night insects singing their timeless songs. Silvery light cascaded over the water sharply, casting the moon�s reflection in a wavy painting. On their trusty old rock, still a perfect platform for star gazing, golden hair absorbed that same light.

Kimba was stretched out on the slick black surface of the stone, her crossed feet submerged in the deep blue water. Her head turned slightly as Julie left the grass, but not enough for the older woman to see her face. Her emotions were well hidden as long as her eyes remained on the lake�s distant shores.

Approaching cautiously, Julie stopped at the edge of the rock and waited, not sure of what she should say. One step would place her on a seat she�d used a thousand times before, but the rigidity of her friend�s body kept her at bay. Desperately, she wished the woman would tell her what she was thinking, screaming or whispering, it didn�t matter.

"You can sit down," Kimba greeted in a quiet voice.

Closing her eyes momentarily, Julie felt a wave of tension flow from her. At least she wasn�t sent away immediately, as she�d feared was a possibility. "Thanks. Have you been here long?"

Julie cringed at herself as she settled on the rock. Small talk was the farthest thing from her mind, but it seemed the easiest way to start the conversation.

Kimba�s eyes remained on the waves beyond as she leaned back heavily on her elbows, firm shoulder muscles flexing under her skin. "Yeah. I...I needed somewhere to think."

"Um...I guess this is the part where I beg you to forgive me," Julie dove in.

She was prepared to do anything to convince Kimba she was committed to their relationship. In the time she�d had to think since talking to her father the night before, the teacher had come to some conclusions. For the last few months, she�d always been running from something. At first and for a long time, it had been John and his abusive attitude and oppressive control. Then she�d been running from herself and her newly emerging feelings. The latest thing she�d been running from was her fear. No more running, she decided. At least no more running away. For once in her life it was time to run toward something, blindly and wholly.

"You don�t have to beg me for anything, Jay," Kimba said, her voice warm.

Shifting slightly and pulling Kimba�s hand into hers, Julie gently corrected her partner. "You�re wrong. I should be on my knees right now begging you for my life...because you own it," she declared. Slightly surprised green eyes finally met her blue, a tired smile pulling at Kimba�s lips. "I never meant to hurt you, Kimba. I hope you believe that."

Raising into a sitting position, the young woman never let the larger hand slip from her grasp. "I know you didn�t. It�s alright. I understand."

"No. No you don�t," Julie tone was more forceful than she�d intended, but she refused to let her actions be passed off as insignificant. All of the healing wouldn�t come from her confession on this beach, on this night, but it could get a good start. "I got caught up thinking about myself and never thought about how my actions might make you feel. You�ve never done that. Ever since we started this thing, since I showed up at your door with a hand print on my face, you�ve bent to my every need." Julie raised a pale hand to her lips and kissed it softly.

Kimba swallowed nervously, remaining silent, waiting for the declaration she could see in Julie�s eyes, longing to burst forth.

"I�ll admit, this has thrown me for a loop. All that time I was figuring out I wanted you...to be my partner...in life, it seemed so simple. We could live together, take care of Jesse, be in love and no one would give a crap." A dark eyebrow rose and Kimba chuckled softly. "That was stupid I guess, but I didn�t quite comprehend that it would be different than when John and I married."

"You need to get out more," Kimba stated with a smirk.

Squeezing her hand in mock reprimand, Julie searched for her next words. Although she wasn�t a complete brute in affairs of the heart, the older woman realized she wasn�t as eloquent as her lover at expressing her feelings. "The thing is, I�m so crazy in love with you I didn�t think about much of anything. The emotions just came and I hoped things would turn out alright."

The smile on Kimba�s face was a sight to behold, love shining bright in her eyes, warring with the glaring moon. Julie snapped a mental picture for later appreciation, but also made a note that if she had anything to do with it, that expression would become even more joyful.

"As you well know, that strategy didn�t work very well. So I�ve decided on a new one," she said confidently. Julie knew she was asking a lot of herself, as she tended to doubt too often and believe too little, but if it made Kimba smile like she was now, nothing could stop her from trying. "I�m not going to say that I�ll get used to everyone talking, but I�m going to at least do my best not to care. The whole world can know the way I feel about you as far as I�m concerned. The only opinion that matters is yours."

Reaching up with a shaky hand, Kimba pulled Julie�s head down for a delicate kiss, imparting her faith with a simple gesture. "Thank you. As long as you�re willing to try...and you�re not ashamed...that�s enough."

"I�m not ashamed to show how I feel for you. I�m just going to need a little time to get used to being in the spotlight," the teacher whispered in a close ear. Kimba turned for another kiss, moving to stand when their lips parted. "I�m not done yet." Julie placed a restraining hand on her friend�s arm.

"My, my. This has got to be some kind of a record," the redhead joked.

Julie narrowed her eyes dangerously and gave the strong arm she was holding a playful slap. Reaching into the pocket of her baggy shorts, Julie took out the fuzzy black box, concealing it in her closed hand. She was thankful she�d went to the jewelry store earlier and bought it. The time was right.

"I love you, Kimba," she said softly.

Her companion�s face lost its playful glint as she sucked in a shaky breath. The emotions evoked from finally hearing the words were plain in her misty eyes and wondering smile.

"In all my life, I�ve never felt more complete than I do right now. I�m not really sure how this is done...but here goes." Julie knelt down on a weak knee.

Kimba�s brow knitted in confusion until her eyes tracked Julie�s hand opening the ring box. "Jay...," she whispered in question.

"I want you to take this as a token of my pledge to you." The dark woman moved the hand she�d been holding between them, slipping the breaded gold band onto its ring finger in a smooth motion. She brought it to her lips for a tender kiss, forever sealing the union. "I promise to love you for the rest of my life. And as long as I live, I�ll do my best to make you happy, and keep you safe, and never, ever hurt you," she finished, her voice uneven.

Seeing tears slowly stream down Kimba�s face, Julie could feel matching ones of her own. The smiles they both held assured her the tears were happy.

Her voice shaky with emotion, Kimba spoke softly. "I�m not sure what to say, except I love you and I accept your promise and make the same to you. As long as I live, you�ll be my life."

With gentle waves crashing against her legs, Julie drew her partner into a tender kiss. Her strong arms held their bodies close as the wind touched their skin and the crickets serenaded the night. In that one perfect moment, she knew beyond reason that the world didn�t have a chance at making her break that promise.

The End

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