Chapter 34

Dinner at the Vilmos household consisted of a tuna casserole, freshly baked biscuits, and a deliciously sweet and hearty bread pudding for dessert. The sky was completely dark by dinnertime; luckily, the lights were back on by then. The oven had considerably warmed up the house, and the girls shucked the blankets they had around their shoulders for most of the day.

"So what next?" Jessie asked Kelsey.

Her mother interjected, "Dishes first."

"Mom!" Jessie scowled. Her mother simply scowled back. "Alright," she grumbled. "Hey, Kelsey, you can dry dishes."

Twenty minutes later they had the dishes done. "Whew," Kelsey said. "Didn't know baking required so many utensils."

"Well, it does," Jessie sighed. "Now you know why people insist on eating cardboard TV dinners."

"So now what?"

"Jessie, take out the garbage," Mother said.

Jessie sighed pathetically, then walked over to the trashcan, hefted the sack out by the yellow handles, tied them, then walked it to the black garbage can by the side of the house.

She came back in, the screen door making a noisy clatter before she shut the back door. "What do you want to do this evening?"

"Hmm. Last time we decided Monopoly was too slow...what other board games you got?"

"Let's look." They clambered down the hall into Jessie's bedroom. To one corner was her bed, in another corner opposite the door was her desk, which was nothing more than a fold up table with a two drawer file cabinet to the side. A bookshelf edged over the desk, and turned the corner, stopping a foot before the window. On the other side of the window was a bookshelf, then along the wall was the closet, a chest of drawers, and a mirror.

Jessie knelt in front of the bookshelf and thumbed through the board games on the bottom shelf. "There's Scrabble, Boggle, Monopoly--"

"Monopoly is out."

"Right," Jessie affirmed. "Mousetrap, checkers, chess, backgammon, and Parcheesi. Take your pick."


Jessie slipped the game out from its perch and took it to the table in the kitchen to play.

"I wonder when Cassie is coming back to school," Kelsey muttered off handed before throwing the dice out of the tumbler and moving a man out of the starting gate.

"I talked to Mr. Eldon, he said she'd return next month."



"I thought she'd be suspended longer," Kelsey said.

"I thought they were only going to give her a slap on the wrist, to be honest," Jessie said. "It's barely November and she has to sit out this entire month."

"I think sitting out just a month IS a slap on the wrist!" Kelsey vehemently argued. "After all, she did land you in the hospital!"

"True." Jessie moved her men around the board. "Then again, Cassie's parents are some pretty high ranking officials in this town."

"Yeah, but that doesn't excuse it," Kelsey argued.

"You heard the rumor about her mother sleeping with the Superintendent?"

Kelsey choked on the mouthful of Pepsi she had just imbibed.

"But considering the source of that rumor, it's 98 percent likely to be false."

Twenty minutes later Jessie moved all her men home. "At last! At last! I beat Kelsey at some game!"

"Just not cards. I'm still the undisputed queen of that," Kelsey retorted.

Kelsey turned over, and opened one eye to catch a glimpse of the alarm clock. You rat, you hid the digits, she fumed. Not to be deterred, she got up under the ruse of 'going to the bathroom' and checked the little clock in there. 2:43. Gotta go!

She snuck out of the house and began her nightly prowl of checking the house to make sure Lee wasn't there. Through empty streets she padded through in her pajamas (which were simply sweats and a tshirt) and skate shoes, the soles silently covering the ground like a cat making its midnight rounds, careful not to even crinkle a single leaf.

She snuck into the tree and shrub covered lot behind her house and disappeared into the cloak of darkness, resting ten seconds to let her eyes readjust to the darkness and her ears to detect nearby sounds. In the distance she could hear cats in heat yowling and dogs, both big and small, yipping and barking, and owls screeching and hooting, looking for their meal so they could fly back to their roost and settle down for sleep before the morning sun crested over the horizon.

She didn't hear anything alarming, so she descended into the dark lot, closer to the chainlink fence that was the boundary between the empty lot and her home. Each step was slow and meticulous, starting with the heel first, then the outer side of the foot and rolling the foot in until the entire surface was in contact with the ground. She would repeat the neat footwork for each step, slow and ready to spring back if a telltale crinkle started.

She came to the fence, and peered through the diagonal metal wire, on the lookout for any intruder. She felt an electric sensation on the nape of her neck--not a pleasant sensation, but rather put her senses on full alert, cautious and wary.

She didn't see anything, so she carefully began to climb over, careful not to snag her clothes on any stray bits of wire. She carefully climbed down the other side, then put her feet down on the soggy grass at the bottom.

It wasn't until she was nearly to the house that she figured out why she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand straight on end--she saw a dark shadow jimmy open a window. Oh shit, an intruder and I don't have anything to defend myself with except this itty bitty Swiss Army knife in my pocket. Glad she had stuck to the side of the fence where the moon cast a shadow, she looked furiously to find something to defend herself with. Ah ha! A crowbar. She tenderly picked up the heavy makeshift weapon and carried it close to her side, blending it into her siloutte, and then creeping slowly and silently towards the intruder, who was wedging himself inside the window.

He fell to the floor with a clatter. Mother must have heard that, she mused, perched next to the window but not about to follow him in by the shirt tails quite yet. She heard him crash into the door and then open it, the telltale creek spurring a hushed "fuck!" under his heavy breath.

He's out of the room. Kelsey set the crowbar on edge outside of the window, then easily slipped through the open window, her estimation of where the floor was dead on accurate, for not a sound was heard when she landed. She inched the crowbar through the open window, pulled it up to her chest and braced it against herself, to best blend it and still have it handy.

She watched him approach Mother's bedroom. I don't think she heard him and he's fast approaching. I think I can steer him into the room adjacent. She closed the gap between her and the intruder, and as he approached the room adjacent, Kelsey made her move. Taking the crowbar, she clipped him under the right armpit and taking the other hand, used it to upset his balance so he toppled into the other room. She then drew the crowbar back to hit him again, a resounding crack reverberating through his ribcage. You sorry son of a bitch, she thought of him.

Desperate, he grabbed for a lamp and lunged at Kelsey, missing and swinging himself around in an arc. She took his open vunerability to whack him in the ribs again, causing him to whimper. He drew the lamp back and fumbled in the dark, trying to find his attacker who was quickly ruining his plans of getting even with his ex-wife once and for all.

Mother Slevin heard the commotion, and grabbed the Glock by her bedstand. You dirty bastard. She stuck an extra magazine in the pocket of her nightshirt, got out of bed, and with gun drawn, looked for the intruder. She carefully opened her bedroom door, prepared in case he was right outside. Instead, she deduced the ruckus was coming from Shana's room adjacent to hers, and approached, noting the open door.

Two figures were battling it out between each other with a lamp and what appeared to be a crowbar. Unsure of who was whom or who the other person was, she flicked on the light, her Glock held tightly in the other hand to stop what was presumably Lee.

KELSEY! she angrily thought. There was a clear path between Lee and her, and she emptied the entire magazine into him, some missing and going off into the wall and some hitting him square on. He grunted, but when he saw Mother Slevin fish for the second magazine, he took out a black Saturday night special and aimed it for her.

Noting his distraction, Kelsey swung at him with the crowbar, causing the gun to fire into the ceiling and knocking out one of the lightbulbs in the overhead light. Seeing that he was getting disorientated, Kelsey decided to finish him off, arching the crowbar and wielding it over her head.

His left arm disabled, Lee knew he was in certain danger if he didn't get rid of his pesky offspring. He wielded the gun to face Kelsey and held down the trigger, firing until the revolver ran out of rounds.

But it was too late. The momentum of the heavy crowbar smashed down upon his skull, shattering it. Blood ran out his nose and his eyes bulged, and he did not move once he hit the ground, save a post mortem spasm.

Kelsey likewise fell in a heap, limp and unresponsive. Mother rushed over. "Kelsey!" She saw the blood flowing from the bullet wounds in her chest. "Got to call 911 now!"

The neighbors had heard the entire commotion and had beaten her to the call--as she entered the kitchen to reach the phone paramedics and police rushed in.

"Where is he?" the policeman asked, gun drawn.

"They're both unconscious," she replied. "Back of the house."

He didn't put his gun back in the holster but told the paramedics to follow close behind.

Mother came back into the Shana's bedroom. "He's dead," the policeman informed her, "and she needs to be rushed out of here right now." The paramedics lifted her into the stretcher and whisked her away. "Ma'am, you're going to have to evacuate the area and give us a statement of what happened."

Mother Slevin was pallid, frightened that Kelsey was in an ambulance fighting for her life as she stood there.

It was around 7 that morning when the phone rang at the Slevin house. She waited three rings to ensure it wasn't a telemarketer, then answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Mrs. Slevin? This is Jessie. Have you seen Kelsey?"

"She's in the hospital."

"Oh..." was the disbelief she heard on the other line.

"I was on my way there. You want a ride?"

"Sure." Then Jessie hung up, shaking her head. She was scared to know what happened.

Chapter 35

She woke up panicked and trembling. The dark haired beauty bolted up in bed, breathing hard as if she had just finished a laborious wind sprint. She placed one hand on her chest, trying to will herself to slow her breathing to a normal pace. Slowly she turned her head, to eye the clock. 3:11 am. It was dark and moonless, the clouds obscuring the Lady of the Night from shining in her full majestic glory.

What did I just dream about? Julia wondered to herself. I didn't wake up terrorized for nothing. She leaned back, reclining on one arm and scratching her head with her other hand. I cannot think of what I was dreaming of.

She looked at the alarm clock again. 3:12 am. She reclined to lay flat on the bed again, and shut her eyes to go back asleep, albeit a troubled sleep.

The Williamses drove into the church parking lot, amidst a plethora of other cars and an assortment of people from elderly men and women to baby boomers to young couples and kids dressed in their Sunday best.

Julia resisted the urge to fidget in her floral print dress in fear her mother would scold her. She found it to be rather constricting, partly in fact that she had to be real observant to keep her legs crossed at all times. Rhett went ahead and slouched in the pew, legs apart and arms draped over everything while Julia was expected to take up as little space as possible, sitting upright like a trained seal, hands together on her lap, legs together. And there's the difference between men and women, folks, she noted. Men can do whatever the hell they want and women are expected to be petite, tidy, and ready to be bossed around at the snap of a finger. She felt an anger simmer, but concealed it, knowing Mother Williams would probably slap her if she voiced that anger.

You're only brewing trouble, Julia thought. If I was any more headstrong you'd have hell to pay. Aren't you lucky I am such a pliant doormat!

Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today! Julia thought to herself. When she went back to sleep earlier that morning, it was a troubled sleep that didn't refresh her but drained her emotional energy. She had an entire day and she was already running on empty.

Rhett found a parking spot and pulled into it, put the maroon car in park, and turned the ignition off. The family got out of the car, locked the doors, and walked towards the bustling Western Baptist church.

"Are you excited about today's service?" Rhett asked.

Julia knew he was referring to the Hell House she helped pull off. They were going to congratulate Julia for her exceptional service and Mother said she arraigned a talk with Reverend Kendall afterwards about being baptized into Western Baptist.

"But I've already been baptized!" she countered.

Mother shook her head. "The spirit of the Lord was not in that old church we went to. You were dunked in water, but not baptized."

Julia knew it was a crock but didn't feel like arguing with Mother. Nothing would change her mind. If she tried to argue, the pressure would intensify from all ends and she'd be even more trapped. They were going to make her do it, whether she wanted to or not.

She felt her mood sour from anger to depression and helplessness, but kept her face still. They came to the front of the church, where Julia noticed Shana was alone, crying.

"Shana!" she said, rushing over to her friend's side. "What's wrong?"

Tears streamed down the blonde's face. "It's Kelsey..." she sobbed. Unbeknownst to either of them, Justin had quietly slithered behind them, hiding in the shadows to eavesdrop. He leaned against the wall, one hand in the pocket of his navy Dockers, his maroon jacket bundled tightly around himself.

"What about her?" Julia asked. Her blue eyes further studied Shana's face to see if she could get any leads. "What happened?" she asked, panic rising in her voice.

"She's...she's hurt," Shana sobbed.

"How bad?"

"Intensive care in the hospital."

"Oh my God!" Julia gasped. "Which hospital?"

"Mercy General," she replied, another sob escaping.

"Let's pray," Julia said. "Our Father in Heaven, let Kelsey be okay. Don't let her die, merciful and omnipotent Lord. Please don't let her die. In Jesus's name we pray, amen."

"Amen," Shana stammered.

Justin then chose to make his cameo appearance from the shadows. "Praying for the damned?" he asked.

Julia whirled around to face him. "Excuse me?" she demanded, aghast he could say such a callous thing in front of Shana.

"Let them die and go to hell," he said disgustedly, his face crinkled in a grimace. "What's the difference if we're missing another sinner?"

A pale blue ice crusted over the reserved gentle blue her eyes usually were. Her jaw and fists clenched, her eyes never leaving his face. Then, like the strike of a rattle snake, she drew her hand back and slapped him, hard. The onlookers who weren't paying attention a moment ago suddenly gasped as he stumbled back into the wall and nearly fell.

"You bitch!" Justin screamed back at her. "What has possessed you!"

"I ask the same about you. What happened to good old Christian charity?"

"Unnatural woman! You are NOT to defy what I told you!"

"I'm not your husband!" Julia hissed, feeling the eyes burning into her. I think I've just dug my own grave. Mind as well go all out then!

"Not yet, anyways!" he retorted.

Mother Williams walked over to her daughter and seized her by the wrist. "Julia Marie Williams, you are an embarrassment!"

"Yeah, where did your daughter learn to cuss like a sailor?" Justin asked, baiting her mother.

Mother turned to face her daughter again, her hand coming back to slap her. "Julia Mar--"

A primal rage ripped through Julia, a repressed anger from years of resentment unfurling it fury. Instead of meekly taking the punishment as she usually did, Julia caught her mother's hand before she could slap her.

Ice blue eyes met her mother's to see a strange look meet hers back. It wasn't the stern look Julia was used to--no, Mother was at a loss to do.

"Dad, could you possibly drive me to Mercy General?"

Rhett shrugged. "Why?"

"Kelsey got hurt."


"No," Mother said. "You're attending this service!"

"But what if she dies in the middle of it?"


The tall, dark haired girl whirled about on her heels and left to walk to the hospital instead. The crowd watched the scene, Rhett keeping towards the back, out of sight. If he got involved, he'd inevitably do something wrong according to Mother and get an earful later of how he screwed up, once again.

Mother ran to catch up to the angry girl. "And just where do you think you are going! I told you to go to church!"

"It's more unchristian to not say goodbye to a friend just to make sure you're doing your christian duty of being in church!"

"You heard what Justin said!" Mother protested. "Who will miss a sinner or two anyway?"

"Get away from me, Mother," Julia growled.

"I'm not letting you off so easily!" She reached out to seize her daughter's wrist, but Julia shoved her aside.

"GO AWAY!!!!!!!!"

She walked back to church, furious. Rhett tried to put an arm around her to reassure her, but she shoved him aside and walked alone.

She walked into the hospital, shivering. What would have been a five minute drive in a warm, heated car turned into a twenty minute walk out in the cold. She walked into the lobby of Mercy General and sighed a breath of relief. "It's warm in here."

She walked to the reception desk. "May I help you?" a clerk asked after taking a phone call.

"Which room is Kelsey Slevin in?"

"She's in ICU. Only family admitted."

Julia felt a wave of hopelessness crash over her. "Okay," she said dejectedly. She wandered over into the spacious lobby, where she immediately spotted Jessie, who had dark circles under her eyes.

She sat next to the tall brunette. "You okay, Jessie?" she asked.

The brunette shook her head but said nothing. The raven hair girl wrapped her arms around Jessie and gave her a long, tight hug.

"I told her it was fool thing to go back to the house," Jessie said in a absent, hazy voice hoarse from disbelief and tears. She unburied her head from between her hands and looked at Julia. "Cold?" she asked.

"Try walking out in the cold for twenty minutes in just this and tell me how you feel."

Jessie looked at her in disbelief. "What the hell were you doing walking in the cold for twenty minutes?"

"My parents refused to drive me here."

"What?! Why?!"

"They couldn't give a damn about Kelsey."

Jessie shook her head. "I'm sorry you had to put up with it."

"I hate fundamentalism," Julia muttered offhand.

Jessie looked at her, a little surprised, her eyes asking, "Why?"

Julia continued, "I should have seen it sooner!" she ranted.

"Seen what sooner?"

Julia turned to face Jessie squarely. "You want to know what Justin said?!"

"Um...I probably don't want to know but tell me anyway."

"He said quote 'let the damned die--who'll miss a sinner or two?' end quote. Something like that."

"That...that..." Jessie wanted to take his head off, but the last she heard, Julia was still going out with the bastard...

"And then he had the gall to say he was going to marry me, whether I want to or not! And my parents agreed! I hate them! Damn my mother, that wicked witch! I'm so fucking sick of her manipulating me!!!"

Jessie put her large hand around Julia's arm. "Julia, Julia, calm down, you're working yourself into a frenzy."

A few errant tears glistened in her eyes. "I never meant to be the problem child, but I feel like a doormat."

A nurse interrupted the conversation. "Jessie Vilmos?"

"That'd be me," Jessie replied.

"Mrs. Slevin asked for you to come up."

"All right." She turned to face Julia. "Um..."

"Go," Julia said.

She wandered the halls until she found the solarium at the opposite end. Sitting on the couch by the window sill, she tucked her cold feet under herself to keep them warming, staring outside to see the snow started once again.

Hearing the solitary 'click click' of shoes, she turned around to see who it was. She was a middle aged woman with a heavily scarred face, most noticeably the red blotch on the right side that looked like an old burn.

The woman saw Julia and muttered, "Where have I seen you before?"

Julia quirked a brow. She couldn't quite place where she saw the woman either. Wait, that's Kelsey's mother! "Good morning, Mrs. Slevin."

The woman still didn't recognize her. "I'm Julia."

"Ah, I remember."

"How's Kelsey doing?"

Mother Slevin shook her head. "Not too well, but she's stabilizing."

"What happened?"

Mrs. Slevin sat down on the couch next to her. "My quiet but headstrong child always did what she felt was right," she sighed. "If she had only listened to me, telling her it was too dangerous to go back!"

"I'm sorry," Julia said. "What exactly happened?"

"Jessie told me that apparently she had been sneaking out at night when everyone was asleep. She said she confronted her about it and said the same thing I did, but she still didn't listen. She came back to see him break into the house--" Mother sighed, swallowed a few tears, then continued on. "--and followed him in, with a crowbar in her hand."

Mrs. Slevin continued: "I had heard him rustling out in the backyard and already had my Glock ready, but I couldn't quite see where he came in. Lee didn't see her for a while until she got two good whacks into his ribcage, and not wanting to make a scene, he grabbed a lamp and tried to fend her off. But I knew exactly where he was from his thrashing, and came in, firing three shots, I believe, into him."

She shook her head sadly. "Madmen don't respond instantly to bullets like they do in the movies. But the neighbors heard the commotion and called 911. Kelsey charged forward, about to slug him across the head when he got out a Saturday night special and fired three times. She let the momentum of the crowbar come crashing down upon his head before falling."

"What happened to him? Don't tell me he got away," Julia pled.

"No, he's dead."

Julia couldn't respond. Plain and simple, her friend had taken his life. If she lived through this, she was going to have to bear the blood guilt for the rest of her days...

Two hours later Julia was allowed to visit Kelsey in ICU, albeit with a face mask on to prevent her from breathing germs on her fresh incisions.

She took the chair beside the bed, pulled it up, and sat down, the room silent except for the heart monitor in the background. She studied the face of her unresponsive friend, who had an uncanny, eerie look of peace upon her face. It looked like the peace the dead welcomed after a long, hard lived life, and Julia wanted to cry out and sob right there, screaming that she was but a girl still and it was too early for the Good Lord to take her away.

She grasped the red head's hand, and gripped it as if she feared letting go would sever the life force that sustained Kelsey's fragile state. "Don't die on me, Kelsey," Julia whispered, placing a tender kiss upon her palm. "You've fought too long and hard to give up so soon."

She lifted her eyes up, perhaps in hopes that chaste kiss would awaken the sleeping princess. "Wake up," Julia pleaded, but the delicate blonde lashes would not budge. She felt her eyes moisten around the edges, and struggled to stifle more sobs.

"I...I know I wasn't exactly nice to you these past two months," she stuttered, "and...and I'm rather ashamed to admit what a fool I was. You''re a sweet girl and..." she wiped the tears draining out her left eye with her other hand, "...and the world lacks sweet people like you, who actually care about others." The tears ran faster, and her shirt sleeve was getting rather soggy from the saline tears.

"I wish...I never screamed at you those times because of some misguided notion of mine--" since when did I think homosexuality is okay? "--and I wish you never had to listen to Justin or Luke take those cowardly cuts at you--" me, just as guilty... "--and there were so many times I wish I could simply take away the pain that I knew you bore upon your shoulders, where you wanted to confess it or not."

Julia continued, not bothering to wipe away the tears any longer, "I remember the first time I saw you. Well, Luke and Cassie were feeding me a bunch of garbage beforehand about your friend Natasha, and somehow you got in the fray of discussion, but I had no clue who they were talking about. You were leaning against that Datsun of yours, yelling at Shana to hurry up so you two wouldn't be locked out of the house. You did look like the classic bad girl then, complete with black Doc Martins and a butch swagger." The thoughts of Kelsey actually doing that made her giggle a tad.

"I thought it was quite queer---wait, wrong word, strange--that your mother would lock up the house so early. Luke said your mother was nuts, but..." she looked at the pallid face of her friend, "obviously your mother was dead on."

She readjusted the hand that gently held Kelsey's, her large hand dwarfing her friend's. "Those fights between Natasha and Cassie were something else, weren't they? Practically had to get out the fire extinguisher for those. Didn't help that all four of us ganged up on her, but at least you and Jessie were loyal enough to tell us to back off when it got excessive," she lamented. "At least you and Jessie were loyal friends. Luke and Cassie, I just have an awful feeling they were never trustworthy to begin with. God knows what they have said behind my back since I broke up with him. He even lied to my mother and said I dumped him to go out with you!"

"They encouraged me to say some nasty things to you guys. I regretted it afterwards, but I tried to tell myself it was the Christian thing to do. Maybe if I actually read my scripture I would have thought twice about saying those things or even bowing down to peer pressure!"

"Maybe that dream was a holy vision," Julia continued. "You know how Western Baptist is notorious for its picketing?" She shrugged self depreciatively. "Well, the night after picketing the Methodist church I had an awful nightmare that you were walking down the aisle with your wife, and we were in the pews, screaming, spitting, and shaking our posters. I couldn't tell it was you until you passed by me, and I...I knew it was going too far. You had this weary look in your eyes."

Julia laughed, mostly out of embarrassment of what she was about to say next. "Then I saw your wife to be. I wondered what the hell you saw in her. I guess I was a little envious...silly me."

"I never did figure out why I was drawn to you so," she prattled on, well knowing her listener couldn't hear a word she said. "I liked you better than I ever did Luke or Justin. They were just boys. If it wasn't for risk of letting the cat out of the bag, I'd ask Jessie what the hell she sees in guys that she thinks they're so sexy!"

A lone figure perched at the edge of the doorway, not coming in but standing there, watching Julia. Uh huh. My hunch was right. There's something definitely going on.

Julia dropped her shoulders and hung her heads. "I bet my feelings towards you aren't shared in return, are they? I mean, if I was in a coma, you wouldn't be at my bedside prattling on about nonsense like this. There's been many people I've adored and..." tears began to run down her face, "...they never knew I existed or cared, and how am I supposed to know if you're any different?" Her voice got the hoarser the more she spoke. "I'm just a fool thinking that someone would care about me the same way I cared about them! Just a foolish little girl!"

She heard someone sniffle and turned around to see Jessie standing at the doorway, her hand over her nose and her eyes watering as if she had just surpressed a mighty sneeze. "Oh, hi."

"Didn't mean to surprise you," Jessie apologized.

"Uh, how much did you hear?" Julia asked awkwardly, blushing.

"Enough to know that the two of you are stubborn as hell," Jessie said, crossing her arms.

"Huh?" Surely you don't mean Kelsey likes some miscreant like me!

"Sounds like the two of you have some, let's say, issues to deal with when she wakes up."

"If she wakes up," timidly said Julia.

"Oh, she will," Jessie said. "She's stubborn as a mule!"

It gave a small measure of relief to Julia.

Chapter 36

Where am I? Why can't I see a bloody thing? I feel my fingers but I cannot move them. My eyes won't open. Why is Mother crying? Why can't I wake up? chest hurts really bad. It feels like I can't breathe but I can feel myself breathing.

Why am I drifting from my body? Am I dead? ... ... ... What's that silver cord attached to my physical head? Seems to be following me everywhere. Ah...yes, got one here too. body is glowing orange with a large patch of black around my chest and some lavender shafts around my head. Just where the hell am I? SOMEONE ANSWER!!!!!!

I'm drifting farther...out of the hospital...I'm scared...I pray there is no such thing as Hell...

She watched in horror as Roman soldiers on horseback set fire to the thatched roofs of their village. Terrified, they ran into the night forest, into the arms of the waiting company of mercenaries.

The mercenaries charged, swords drawn. She grabbed her sister and let the hordes charge by in a panicked rush in midst of the mayhem. A centurion rushed them, and her sister ducked behind her, cowering.

Slavers, she realized, seeing the other villagers being shackled. "Take me, leave my sister alone," she said, trying not to tremble and sound weak in front of the stern, clean shaven soldiers.

The man laughed. "Hahahaha, you humor me, little girl. Everyone goes!" He approached and she kicked him in the shin. "You dirty little whore!" he yelled, taking his whip and lashing her repeatedly.

Hysterically her sister screamed at him to stop, but he kept lashing her, the blood spurring him on to lash her more.

Suddenly, he crumpled to the ground, along with a couple of others. She barely saw the outline of a whirling silver circle that had felled the soldiers before it disappeared back into the hand of its owner.

"What in Blaize's name?" her sister muttered under her breath.

She averted her eyes to the mysterious figure with the silver circle. Dark, flowing hair rested upon her crown, a long, black, shimmering cape draped over her shoulders concealing nearly the rest of her save a pair of black boots.

The other Roman soldiers in the company noticed something was amiss and charged to settle the problem, only to be greeted by the silver circle that cut down the earlier wave. And then there were no more Romans left.

The woman in black walked towards the decimated village, her gait like a panther's: smooth, silent, and steady. She took the silver circle and started cutting off the shackles the prisoners were bound in, and then she stopped in front of her, to undo her chains.

"Tha--thanks," she said, looking up into the woman's equally mysterious pale blue eyes...

"Caelan," the dark woman with the black cape addressed her.

"Yes, Aineen?" she addressed her back.

"I'm going to go down to the brook and catch some dinner. I'll be right back," the mysterious woman with the brilliant blue eyes said, then disappearing into the dark forest that surrounded them.

Caelan tended the fire, and let her mind wander upon the dark haired Aineen. She was a wanderer, of a Teutonic clan Uilliam, she said; when the villagers had cried in anguish that their healer had been killed, Aineen took pity on the girl who had been nearly lashed unconscious and took her under her arm. When she got well the girl insisted on following her, and there they were today, nearing the channel across Britannia, where Aineen felt she was being driven to for some reason she couldn't lay a finger upon.

She heard a rustling in the bushes and prepared to defend herself, but it was only Aineen, who had three fish dangling from her lines. "Here."

After a filling meal of roast fish and biscuits, Aineen rolled out her bedroll and set her sword and the silver circle on it along with the grinding stone she used to hone her weapons every night. Caelan remained sitting against the fallen tree trunk, not ready to get up yet.

Aineen sat next to her. "Close your eyes and open your mouth." Caelan did so, and was rewarded with a juicy blackberry.

"Where'd you find these?"

"In the berry thicket by the river."

"This are heavenly," Caelan said, savoring the sweet juiciness of it.

"Open up again," Aineen repeated, giving her another berry.

"I can feed myself, you know," Caelan protested half heartedly.

"I know," Aineen said. Caelan found it hard not to nibble on those tempting long, graceful fingers, but wasn't sure Aineen felt the same way about her. She sure wasn't about to find out the hard way and be left to fend for herself in a lonely forest between her home village in central Gaul and Britannia!

She must have given away her bluff, because she saw Aineen's pale blue eyes darken--not darken in anger but something else--desire? Dream on. But she felt Aineen lean closer, until they were face to face with only inches separating them. "But it's much more fun if I feed you."

She felt the warm breath upon her face, and couldn't quite surpress a shudder of desire. I hope your having fun tormenting me. She was about to lean back when she felt Aineen close the distance and place a feather light kiss upon her lips. I second that--omigods...

I can't see. I can't move. Shit. Argh... ... ... soft lips, there I go again, imagining things.

"Wake up," a familiar voice begged.

I know that voice. But whom's?

"You''re a sweet girl and... ...and the world lacks sweet people like you, who actually care about others."

"I wish...I never screamed at you those times because of some misguided notion of mine and I wish you never had to listen to Justin or Luke take those cowardly cuts at you and there were so many times I wish I could simply take away the pain that I knew you bore upon your shoulders, whether you wanted to confess it or not."


"You did look like the classic bad girl then, complete with black Doc Martins and a butch swagger," she giggled.

This must be a dream. She doesn't know shit about the lesbian scene.

"Luke and Cassie, I just have an awful feeling they were never trustworthy to begin with. God knows what they have said behind my back since I broke up with him. He even lied to my mother and said I dumped him to go out with you!"

That shithead!!! Nothing could be farther from the truth.

"The night after picketing the Methodist church I had an awful nightmare that you were walking down the aisle with your wife, and we were in the pews, screaming, spitting, and shaking our posters. I couldn't tell it was you until you passed by me, and I...I knew it was going too far. You had this weary look in your eyes. Then I saw your wife to be. I wondered what the hell you saw in her. I guess I was a little envious...silly me."

Definately a dream. The real Julia Williams is straight. Why would a straight woman be jealous that she wasn't the wife of some lesbian?

"I never did figure out why I was drawn to you so. I liked you better than I ever did Luke or Justin. They were just boys. If it wasn't for risk of letting the cat out of the bag, I'd ask Jessie what the hell she sees in guys that she thinks they're so sexy!"

So it's just a dream. But this is actually becoming quite comical. Shut up and kiss me then, it's my stupid fantasy.

"I bet my feelings towards you aren't shared in return, are they? I mean, if I was in a coma, you wouldn't be at my bedside prattling on about nonsense like this. There's been many people I've adored and they never knew I existed or cared, and how am I supposed to know if you're any different. I'm just a fool thinking that someone would care about me the same way I cared about them! Just a foolish little girl!"

Oh Julia, people are full of shit to not see your beauty, both inside and out. Wait, now I hear Jessie. Julia sure sounds embarrassed. And damn it, Jessie's at this matchmaker deal again! And I can't stop her!!!

"If she wakes up." I better wake up!!!!! I don't want to be stuck in this limbo forever!!!!!

[ Chapters 37-39 (conclusion ]

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