Disclaimer One: Yepper, these ladies and gentlemen are my creation. So, don’t use them without my permission, kay?

Disclaimer Two: There is some mention of some harsh topics here, so at first, this story may be difficult to read. In my stint with CPS in Gary, I came across a lot of horrible things. A situation similar to the one mentioned in the story is loosely based on. Names and such have been changed to protect those involved. There is some violence, and yes some subtext. There is also some use of harsh language, but we’re all adults here.

This installment (the 5th) takes place about almost 2 weeks after Eyes Wide Shut, so if you haven’t read the other stories in this series, I suggest you do so.

Now, on with the show!

See No Evil



Chapter XIII: Aftermaths, Nightmares and Nosy People

Cory’s breath rattled in her ears, but it didn’t blot out the screams. She ran down the long, red carpeted hall, but it seemed to get longer with each step closer. The doors warped and leaned over her ominously as if mocking her inability to get to the right one. The screams of the children became louder and more blood curdling.

"I’m here! I’m coming! She cried out desperately, in response.

Just under the screams, she could hear laughter soft and evil. It rotated between a man and a woman's. The shrieks made her want to cover her ears and the laughter only made her feel helpless. Tired of running and not getting anywhere, she took a dive towards the nearest door. Holding onto the doorknob, she pulled herself up and wiped shaggy blonde bangs from her eyes. She twisted the knob, and it opened only to have the door slam in her face by some unseen force. Anger burst in a starry pattern behind her eyes.

Throwing her weight into the closed door, it finally swung open with satisfying crash. What she saw made her feel instantly dirty. The scene burned into her retinas, making her eyes water. The Smith children lay strapped to an enormous bed while their mother, father, cousins, uncles, etc. waited in line. Her eyes widened as she saw Joe Smith pat an older man on the back as he loosened his belt. The old man's pants pooled around his ankles, and with a little cackle, he crawled up on the wide bed. Grabbing the little girl, Marjorie Smith, by the feet, he spread her legs and mounted her like a two bit whore.

"Nooo!" Exited the caseworkers mouth in a loud yelp.

Marjorie's dull hazel eyes turned toward her, and the little girls mouth opened on a heart rending shout, as if she was being torn apart. Taking his wife's hand, Joe Smith turned to the intruder and chuckled. "You think you people can do anything? You might have taken them away, but we're up here," he pointed towards his head, "and they'll always know what they are."

Ellen Smith's sudden smile made Cory's blood run cold then the comment that came from her mouth made it freeze. "Our property to do with what we please." Disengaging from her husband, Ellen led a young woman to her son. She whispered something in the woman's ear and watched as she disrobed.

Cory's heart split in two and burned in the acid and bile coming up through her stomach. Galvanized into action, she lunged for the bed, but a yelp of surprise was torn from her throat upon the realization that she couldn't move. The Smith's laughed in unison, "Told you there wasn't a damn thing you could do." Cory growled and screamed in frustration as a murderous rage pumped its way through her body. Her scream had turned as blood curdling as the children's.

In the waking world, Cory sat up with a start. She covered her racing heart with a small hand, feeling the sweat that had deposited on the long t-shirt. Her throat dried as she sucked in the cool, dry air of the bedroom. Deep green eyes peered around the room, re-familiarizing herself with the surroundings. She breathed in on a sob as a desolate pained spilled into her chest. It was a pain that spoke of helplessness. 'So many dead eyes. The children. . . so dead inside. Why can't they see what they do to them? Why can't I help them all?' In exasperated fashion, she ran her hands through short blonde tresses, making them stand in golden mountains on her head. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hand in an effort to hold back the tears that were burning her throat.

It had been a long two weeks. First, there was the situation at the Battered Women's Shelter, and then, a few days later, she realized that true evil did exist. Their names with Joe and Ellen Smith. The case was like nothing she had ever worked, but she happened on it as a favor to one of the casemanagers at CPS. So, they had worked together. Paula had removed the children from the home and had the parents arrested, and that left Cory in charge of the two kid's, Majorie, age 12, and Joe Jr., age 11, aftercare, which entailed finding counseling for them. Never had she thought parents would go this far to decimate their children. The Smith family was a close knit bunch that lived around the same vicinity. There consisted of cousins, uncles, and aunts, and all of them had probably had their turn with Majorie and Joe.

From the ages of 9 and 10 respectively, Joe and Ellen hired their children out to the members of the family as sexual toys. Their relatives paid them up to fifty dollars a session for the children. Their excuse was 'we ain't working. Hell, we don't need to, cause they can make the money for us. They're ours, so we can do what we want with them.' Cory stared vacantly at the far wall as she remembered reading the file and seeing the pictures of the children with bites, bruises to their genital areas, and scratches. Her head began to throb with her slowing heart with the recollection of the waif thin children. 'Dead eyes,' she whispered to herself. As she spoke to them, they never flinched and never looked her way. Never had she felt so helpless.

She wanted to yell her frustration from the top of the highest building, hoping that what ever power that guides the human heart and mind could hear. It hurt, right down to the bone, and there was no way that she could disguise it. She recalled the hurt eyes of Barb and other co-workers who were cut down to size in their effort to help the distraught looking caseworker, but deep down, she knew that they understood. Cory remembered the look on Taylor's concerned face as she was called into the office. The warmness in the pale blue almost cut through the wall of pain. Almost. The words that accompanied the eyes had increased the almost quotient.

"Cory, I know you well enough to know that you feel things deeply. I know that I'm not a field person, but I know enough that you have to be able to step back. Can you still do that?" The blue became even warmer. "I'm not talking to you as your boss right now. I'm talking to you as a friend, hopefully a potentially good one. Can you?"

The blonde closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Upon opening them, she knew what was there as she heard Taylor suck in a breath. Lost. She could say nothing.

Taylor had held her eyes and whispered, "Maybe you had better take some time off."

Feeling even more lost, she had answered vehemently, "No. Please put me on light duty. I-I just need someone to talk to. I know that I can't help anybody this way."

She heard the taller woman sigh. "Two weeks Cory. Two weeks of half days and nothing but paper work. You can consult but that's it. Find that somebody to talk to, okay?" The conversation had ended and a couple of days had passed. It was the weekend now and with it came the nightmare.

"Monday, I'll call and make an appointment with somebody. This needs to stop," she said to the empty room.

She wrapped her hands around her torso, hugging herself. A tanned face set off by pale blue eyes flashed in her mind. She let her thoughts overflow with Taylor. So much had changed between them. A warmth enveloped her from the inside out as she remembered long arms, wrapping around her. Warm, safe, protected and understood. There was no other way that she could describe how she had felt. She had seen the same understanding in the blue eyes again during their discussion.

Cory closed her eyes, trying to remember that feeling in another person's arms, in another person's presence. She couldn't. She recalled many friends that she had trusted from college with whom she had lost touch. She thought about the friends that she had now, who mostly consisted of co-workers. No. No one made her feel that. She held herself tighter, cherishing the feeling. The two of them had gone from snapping to laughing. It had been a bumpy ride, but the end results almost justified the means. Cory felt a small smile form as she thought about what was to come.

Her mouth opened wide on a yawn. She turned, looking over her shoulder down at the bed. It still looked inviting, and Barb was tied up with her husband today. So, why work out alone? 'We're going tomorrow.' She yawned again while fluffing the pillows. Laying down, the blonde hummed in delight at the coziness of the warm covers.

A few long minutes later, a loud buzz forced a green eye to open. There it was again. She groaned and covered her head. When it sounded again, she poked at the alarm clock with a blind hand. It wasn't until the fourth buzz that she recognized it for what it was.

The doorbell.

She growled and narrowed green eyes. 'Barb, this better not be you. God, sometimes I swear I hate that woman.' She got up and pulled on nearby sweat pants. Clearing her throat, she prepared herself to fake a cough, cramps or whatever to get out of getting up this early. She walked to the door practicing the cough and threw in a sneeze for good measure. The sound assaulted her ears once more. "I'm coming. Don't have a hissy!" She yelled irritably at the closed door. To her great consternation, a loud mocking knock ensued. "God dammit! I said I was coming!"

The knock became an bang. She tore open the door to stare at the tall blonde man before her in disgust. Scowling, "Jason Riley Donovan! What the hell are you doing ringing my bell at 8am, and who let your ass in this building!" Not bothering to reply, a smug, shiteating grin lightened his features, and she had always hated that grin. It had gotten him out of too much when they were younger. This time she decided to do something about it.

"Hi Bunch. Sur---" He wheezed as the punch landed in his midsection. "prize." It came out as a hoarse croak. The grin was gone, and she now sported one of her own.

"Surprise to you too JR," She chuckled wryly as he followed her into the living room, holding his stomach. He trailed her into the kitchen, and after a few minutes was capable of speech again. "So, what are you doing here, Wipe?" She took out two bowls and spoons from the cabinet and poured Froot Loops in them.

He grimaced at the nickname. "I thought you said you weren't gonna call me that anymore?" He said in a pouty sing song voice.

Cory snorted. "I left out the ass this time didn't I? Don't expect charity."

"Smartass," he mumbled.

"I'll pretend that I didn't hear that little bro. So, what's up?" She asked pulling milk from the fridge and pouring it.

"Eh, just needed someplace to crash for the weekend. Got a seminar in Chicago introducing a new teeth cleaning technique. I didn't have to go, but it sounded interesting."

"Ah, the life and times of a dentist or should I say dental student. Does mom know that you're in the state?"

"Nah," he looked his sister up and down, "was gonna call her when I got here. Say, you look terrible Bunch. You doing okay, or—" The tall blonde smiled lecherously, revealing pearly whites. "You got some hottie that you've been ravishing all night? Can I go see?" He cackled evily.

Green eyes narrowed again for the second time that morning. She raised a closed fist and giggled when JR held his stomach in remembrance. "Oooow!"

"I haven't even hit you yet, nut."

"I know. I was practicing." He smiled sweetly and batted his eyes in an effort to look endearing. Cory couldn't help but laugh as she handed him his bowl.

"See, I'm cute. You wouldn't hurt me." He batted pale lashes again and was rewarded with a mild back hand slap to his stomach.

"Come on Wipe, should be some good cartoons on the Cartoon Network this morning."

Plopping a full spoon in his mouth, he followed her into the living room. "Ugh, wu spill watpth those?"

She stared at him unblinkingly, causing him to swallow the half eaten spoonful painfully. "I'm good. See, I can be good." He held up a free hand in supplication.

Cory turned and padded toward the couch. JR rolled his eyes heaveanward. 'I'll never understand how someone that small could be so intimidating.' He ignored the little voice that whispered, 'cause you're a wussy,' in his ear. He flopped down beside the woman that was a smaller version of himself. Swallowing another bite, he studied her profile as she flipped through the channels. The astute green eyes could see the tightness around her lips and the far away look in her eyes. "So, you wanna tell me what's up?" She shrugged, and he rolled his eyes again. 'Damn Donovan stubbornness.' "Translation. You're having woman problems or job problems."

Cory sighed. "It's the other. I was having woman problems for a while, but it's not what you think," she added, seeing his eyes light up. "It's just some stuff at work getting to me. I'm gonna take it easy for awhile, but I'll be okay."

He chewed slowly as he looked at her. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I know that I can't help anybody in my state of mind right now. I'm not gonna be stupid."

He nodded his head. "You know best, but I'm here if you need me."

She grabbed his knee, squeezing it. "I know Wipe. You can bunk out on the couch, but you'd better go call mom. She'd probably love to hear from you because I bet you haven't called in over a week."

He scowled, "Hey! You women think you know everything!" She threw a pillow at him as he headed toward the bedroom. 'Well, this weekend should be interesting,' she thought to herself and watched the familiar chase scene between Tom and Jerry. Long minutes later, she looked up into shining green eyes. "What?!"

"Mom, says for you to behave."

She sneered at him "Shit!"

He smiled back. "And she said that she could feel when you do me wrong, so you'd better watch it."

Cory stuck out her tongue as he sat back down.

"Careful, you'll freeze that way. Not that many woman wouldn't like it." She popped him in the head with her spoon, and he rubbed the spot in mock anger. "So, what are we gonna do today Bunch? My section of the seminar doesn't come up till 2pm." His eyes lit up. "We could go shopping. I do need some summer clothes to impress the ladies."

Cory rolled her eyes. She didn't hate Barb as much anymore. 'I wonder. Would tying him to the couch be considered wrong?'

Taylor set up in bed at a ninety degree angle, gasping for breath. There it was like clockwork, and she could still smell the salt from the ocean. Residual guilt crashed down, making her shoulders feel heavy and her chest tight. She took several deep breaths to release the band and rolled her shoulders due to their imaginary burden. Shaking her head, she tried to rid herself of the last vestiges of the dream. There was no way that she could let the past debilitate her, so due to long years of practice, she pushed the familiar images far back into the recesses of her mind. Using large, elegant hands, the admin pushed inky tresses away from her face. She peered at the clock. 10:30am. 'Damn, I must have really been tired.'

It had been quite a week, and if there was one time where she was thankful for her career choice, it was now. The field is not a place for the weak-minded, especially with the case load that she had seen this week. It could break the sturdiest of backs, and it did. She closed her eyes remembering the lost look displayed by a certain blonde caseworker. A wave of concern and worry hit her right between the eyes, making her brows scrunch. 'She's too great a caseworker and too beautiful a woman to have eyes so dull and lifeless.' Scratching her chin, she arched an eyebrow at her own description.

'Beautiful huh? Well, I guess I'd have to be dead not to notice. The woman does spit fire, and she glows when she does. Oh, god c'mon. I don't have time for this. I could barely stand the woman and now we're on our way to being friends. I don't need to be thinking about stuff like this. She needs my help. WHOA! Where did that come from? She never said that she wanted me to be that person she unburdens onto.' Little Shelley interjected with a huff, 'It's the perfect way to get to know her you dimwit—see what makes her tick.' Taylor growled at the little voice, but she had to admit that it was right. She shook her head. 'I'm getting ahead of myself here. Why would she want to talk to a virtual stranger who she hated a few weeks ago?' Full lips pursed. 'And I've never been one for the sensitive chats.' Little Shelley screamed in her ear, 'Learn!'

"Ah, geez, would you shut up! I'm in charge here!" Taylor said outloud, and was graced with a little laugh in return. 'Maybe I need to talk to somebody too, hearing voices of co-workers. This damn city is nuts.' She pulled the covers back and hopped out of bed, grumbling to herself. "Enough about Cory. I have things that I have to do today, so I can worry about her Monday." She made her way to the bathroom, stripping as she went. Turning the knobs in the shower, she stepped in and squealed a little at the coolness of the first spray. As the pulsating water cascaded down her lanky body, green eyes still filled her head, causing her to curse and accept the intrusion with great reluctance.

Little Shelley refused to shut up, and in a damning sing song voice she continued to whisper in Taylor's ear. 'You like her.' The admin let the warm water beat against her face as she whispered back, 'Do not! Uh, okay I do, so what?'

Long minutes later her naked body ran through the bedroom to answer the ringing phone. In the span of minutes, her mood had hit the irritation meter all the way to the top. Picking the phone up, she barked, "What?!"

"Well, damn Tay. I love you too," Wendy chuckled at the gruff voice.

'Oh God, Wendy not now. I don't need you probing.' Taylor cleared her throat and tried to sound half way amicable. "Hey, Wendy. What's up?"

"Ah, ah, ah my friend some feather has gotten way up your ass. You wanna tell me what it is?"

'Damn her eyes!' "I could have sworn that I said no the last time. It still counts." She received a lively chuckle in return that made her crack a slight smile.

"Well, well, something has really gotten under you armor miss." Taylor heard a slight intake of breath before she heard the whispered words 'stupid.' "Tay," she said cautiously but knowingly. "It's a woman isn't it?" Pale blue eyes widened and her mouth opened to deny it. "Uh, it's not what you think."

"Tsk, usually when someone says that it's exactly what that other person is thinking. Spill it!"

"Shit, Wendy. I'm serious. It's not. . ."

"Oh yeah, it's nothing. That's why you just cursed at me," the redhead remarked with mirth.

Taylor rolled her eyes then blew out an annoyed breath. "Sometimes I hate you. Arggh. Okay, okay, I was having problems with one of the female caseworkers at work. We butted heads a few times, but we're friends now so everything is going fine."

"Why do have this sneaking suspicion that you're leaving something out? Um, hold up. Did you say friend?" Wendy whistled. "She must really be something to get you to open up even a little. No offense."

"None taken," Taylor spread the towel on the bed and sat down. She was tired of skirting the issue, who better than to talk about it with than her best friend. "Um, it got real nasty there for a while, and we were really going at each other's throats. It sort of through me for a loop because I couldn't stop it. Then through some strange series of events things just changed," she said softly.

Almost a thousand miles away, the redhead sat down in the kitchen chair in wonder. She sounded so, well almost vulnerable. "Uh, okay. What started all this?"

"Well, you know my tactics, weed out the good and bad? I weeded them out alright, and she was right there to tell me about it." Taylor smiled at the memory. "She pretty much told me that I didn't know spit about field work, and it wasn't in a nice way."

Wendy tapped her fingers on the counter top and stopped when she heard the smile in her friend's voice. Interesting. "Uh-huh go on."

"We did the verbal sparring thing until things just got so bad that they had to turn good or sink to subterranean levels. Now, we're trying to start over for lack of a better word. She really is a good person. Cares a lot about the people that she helps, and the whole office loves her. I thought it was important to our working relationship to get to know each other so we could do what the community needs."

Wendy took it all in and processed it silently. She had respect for this woman even though she didn't know her, simply because she had turned Taylor on her head. Not knowing how to react to that, Taylor had folded and let her in. Very interesting.

"Wendy?" The long silence was beginning to make the other woman nervous.

"Huh? Oh, sorry. Can I ask you a question Tay?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Do you like her?"

The dark-haired woman smoothed the edges of the wet towel when her head shot up with the question. Her mouth opened then closed several times before she answered. "Uhm, I. . .guess. She's okay."

"Mmmhmm." Something very, very interesting was going on. Deciding not to push her shell shocked friend further, "Hey listen, I'm calling to tell you that I'm gonna be over that way in about two weeks, and I though you could show me Bumfuck?"

Taylor felt tension leave her body. The questions were going just a little too far right now. She chuckled at her friend's name for the mid-sized city. "Sure, but I have to warn you that I don't know that much about it myself. I only know the mall and a few other places. I was getting ready to make a trip out there when you called and invest in a new weight set."

"I'm sure we'll manage." A little imp took purchase on her shoulder. "You can ask your new friend to show us around," she said with a wide smile. Before the other woman could answer, Wendy heard a slight beep. "Oh, gotta go. Have another phone call. Love you. Bye."

Taylor stared at the phone in irritation. She set it back on its cradle. 'Damn her eyes and her mouth!'

Chapter XIV: The World is Small and Merrilville is Even. . .
Cory hated Merrilville. The people that walked around in the mall seemed like they didn’t have a care in the world, while those actually living in it were experiencing hell. It wasn’t ironic that she was actually one of them this time around. She figured this mall looked like every other one in the country with fake plants, efficient escalators, a wishing fountain, and cheesy stands that sold faux designer sunglasses and jewelry at half price. The air was cool and smelled of popcorn with the sounds being a mixture of murmuring children, loud patrons and splashing water permeating it. All in all, it was a nice little get away if so many people didn’t well. . . get away, which only added to the carefree air.

She hated shopping almost as much as she hated Merrilville. So, by proxy, her mood should have significantly soured, but with JR along,, it was kind of hard to be sour. She had ended up laughing at his antics with the saleswomen, and they both had a good chuckle when talking about old times. She followed him from store to store, critiquing his choice of clothes until time started to wind down.

"Hey Wipe? It’s almost 1 o’clock, so we had better get going."

"Shhh, would you not call me that around here! It’s gonna hurt my rep with the ladies."

Cory snorted. When that sound ended, another began. Two pairs of green eyes looked downward, toward her belly.

"Whoa, that thing sounds like a monster from those old Japanese films." He rubbed her stomach affectionately through the cotton tee. Picking up his bags, he murmured from behind them. "Come on Rodan. Let’s get out of here."

She gave him an evil smirk and fell in beside him.

"Hey! You’re not gonna help?!

Moving in front of him, she rearranged some of the bags and boxes to give a slim view of his surroundings. She clapped and rubbed her hands together. "There. This is my charity to you for the day." She quickly moved to the side as he lunged for her disrupting the precarious packages. "Ah, behave and come on." They made their way to the JCPenny exit, before she looked down and started to fish in her purse for the keys.

Taylor put up a hand in thanks to the car that stopped to let her pass. She jogged quickly across the street heading toward the Penny’s entrance. Despite her attire of white shorts and light sleeveless, blue top, she could still feel the sweltering heat beat down from above. ‘Maybe I’ll get some lighter clothes too.’ Pale blue scanned the sidewalk as she got up to the doors. She blinked as a familiar presence exited from the door that she was about to enter. Taylor blinked again, thinking this was a manifestation of her overheated brain, but there she was with her head buried in a purse. A little ping of giddiness ceased her emotions at the sight of the blonde caseworker. She stopped where she was and waited to be acknowledged. Glancing to the side, she noticed a tall man walking beside the caseworker. Curious green eyes peaked from around the myriad of packages, and she raised a brow at their familiarity.

"Psst! Hey Bunch. . ."

"Hold on JR. I’m trying to find my keys."

"But, Bunch. There’s a—"

"Shhh! I said---"

Her speech was cut off by a shadow that took away needed light.

"Hey buddy you’re in----" She stared at the blue shirted chest and noticed it to be a woman’s. Eyes moved downward over impossibly long tan legs and sandal encased feet. ‘Ooh, nice legs.’ Cory quickly glanced upward and swallowed hard at the laughter in the blue eyes and the smirk on full lips. Her purse dropped from nerveless fingers, causing Taylor to raise an eyebrow in concern. She hadn’t meant to throw the woman off. Bending over, she intended to help the blonde retrieve her belongings. Moving almost simultaneously, heads connected at the midway point.



JR snorted in amusement from his upright position. Rubbing her forehead, Cory wasn’t deterred, she bent and gathered up the spilled contents slowly to give herself time to recuperate from shock. ‘Oh my God! What a small damned world!’ Her heart jumped to her throat, causing the pulse to jump erratically. ‘Um, okay calm girly. It’s not like you haven’t met in public before. Yeah, but last time she fired you. Breathe, breath. There’s no chance of that now. Ugh, so what is there a chance for? God, what do I do?!’ ’First, you CALM DOWN!’ An inner voice screamed. ‘Okay, damn you don’t have to yell!’ Taking a few deep breaths, she felt some tension ease. As she finished picking things up, she stood, getting a bird’s eye view of long, muscular legs again. ‘She really does have nice legs. Oh, shut up!’

Stunned, Taylor looked from the chuckling man to the kneeling woman. ‘Well, that went well. Should I step on her toe next? Of all the places to run into her, this had to be the one. What the hell do I do now?’ She watched the blonde rise and took in the wary look shining in green eyes. ‘Well, at least she’s as weirded out as I am.’

Cory cleared her throat. "Uh, hi. Sorry about. . .well you know." She motioned with her hands.

Green and blue connected as apprehension slipped away and the humor of the situation set in. Taylor couldn’t help but chuckle. "Hi yourself. It’s been a long time since someone made me see stars."

’Oooh was that a joke! Or—nah.’ The blonde smiled. "Well, glad I could oblige."

They all shifted over to let other people through.

"So, what are you doing here at our main attraction?"

"Uh, buy some exercise equipment and maybe a few other things. I haven’t been here before, but I heard one of the caseworker’s talking about it. So, how are you?"

"Uh, I’m doing better," she said turning her head away.

Then, they both turned as JR cleared his throat from behind the packages. Cory gave her brother a smirk. "Oh, sorry. I was here with my brother, following him around like a puppy while he shopped. W- um JR this is my boss, Taylor. Taylor this is JR, my younger brother."

Taylor decided to let the obvious lie go for now and reached out a hand. She couldn’t hide the amusement as the young man dropped the bags and reach for her outstretched hand. JR gave her a toothy smile as her ran a free hand through his hair. It was Cory’s turn to chuckle. "Alright JR, we’d better get going so you won’t be late."

"Oh yeah. Nice to meet you, Taylor." He got a nod in return.

The blonde woman turned to Taylor in explanation. "He has a seminar that he’s attending in Chicago."

Long dark lashes hid her disappointment. ‘Of course she was leaving.’ "Oh, sorry to hold you up. We’ll have to meet somewhere on purpose next time."

Warmth flushed from the inside out. "Um, yeah. That’ll be nice. Well, we’d better get going." She waited for JR to gather his bags then they turned to leave.

Watching them walk away, Taylor didn’t know if it was a whim or silent whisper from Little Shelley. She just didn’t want the conversation to end before it barely got started, and something kept nagging her to find out what was behind those green eyes. She called out, "Hey!" The blonde caseworker turned. "Um, you could stay and show me around this place. We could even catch some lunch?"

Cory glanced at her brother.

"I’ll drive you home if that’s what you’re worried about."

The caseworker took a moment to make her decision. The other woman looked so different outside the office. Would she be different too? Cory recalled the way that they had talked on the way to the board meeting. ‘Yeah, I think she could be different.’ "Sure, give me a minute." She glanced at JR again only to see him smirking. "What?"

"Now, sis that’s what I call a major hottie! Don’t tell me you didn’t notice?"

"Jesus, Wipe. She’s my boss!" She whispered harshly.

"You still didn’t answer the question. Hell, if you don’t want her, fix me up."

Cory stared at him incredulously. "I’m not your pimp! Besides, you’re too young, and she would eat you alive."

He looked down at her confused. "And?"

Sighing, "Nevermind." She slammed the keys in his hand. "Here, just take my car and go on to your seminar. I have a spare house key in my purse."

"Okay, I’ll see you later then." He picked up the his things and left.

Taylor took a few breaths to calm the threatening nerves. ‘Get a hold of yourself Tay. You wanted to get to know her.’ Relief flooded her as the blonde jogged back across the street.

Cory stopped in front of the taller woman and looked up into smiling pale blue. "Hi, again."

Taylor smiled toothily. "Long time no see. Where to first?"

Walking ahead of her, Cory assumed the other woman would follow. "Let’s go find your exercise equipment. Do you have something in mind?"

They walked through a throng of people. "Yeah, a weight set, including a bench.."

The blonde peaked curiously at toned arms. "I thought you went to the gym?"

They both had to talk a little louder over the noises of the crowded mall.

"I am, but I need something more personalized too. That gym doesn’t exactly have grade A equipment."

"Mmm, I think I know the perfect place. It’s this place on the second floor called Gantos. They have all sort of fitness equipment in there. C’mon we need to hop an escalator.”

As they were about to get on the escalator, a gang of kids pushed from behind, trying to get on before them. Cory was jostled to the side, and Taylor wrapped an arm around the caseworker’s waist to move her out of the way faster. The arm felt strong, warm with its heat burning through the thin t-shirt .

"Whoa! Dammit, I hate shopping."

Pulling the smaller form into her body, Taylor ended up facing a wall while warding off the running stragglers with a broad back. "I’ve got you," she whispered in the caseworker’s ear.

The blonde was pillowed into the firm body in back of her. The customary smell of mall popcorn was blotted out with the spicy smell of the other woman’s perfume. She sucked in a deep breath and tingled with the familiar feeling of being safe for the second time in this woman’s arms.

Taylor’s mind screamed at the ease in which she held the woman. There was no awkwardness. No nerves. Just a nice fit. Not wanting to outlast propriety, pale eyes scanned the near vicinity before slowly releasing her hold. "Okay, all clear. I think."

Cory peered from one side to the other. "Whoo, thanks. That’s the only problem with being short. The kids today tower over me and could probably run me over." She looked up into azure with a smile. In another gesture of thanks, the blonde wrapped a hand around the other woman’s forearm, squeezing slightly. "C’mon, let’s go, stretch." Cory’s smile got bigger with the twinkle in the admin’s eyes.

Once in the store, Cory watched as Taylor tried out several forms of equipment. She couldn’t hold her laughter as the sale’s reps fought over the taller woman, and snorted when the woman barked at them to go away.

Now, the older woman lay flat on her back staring up at what looked like a significant amount of weight. The blonde eyed her curiously. Shining blue glanced up at her. "Spot me will ya?"

Cory smirked then nodded her head. She watched in fascination. With a small grunt and a release of air. The woman lifted the bar several times. She sat it back on its rest. Then proceeded to do it again. Sleek muscles in her arms worked and neck muscles stood out in effort. With a final louder grunt, she lifted the bar one last time. "Can you give me a hand here?" Taylor asked in a slightly strained voice.

Cory blinked completely taken in by the site until she heard her name called. Assuming the other woman needed help, she leaned forward placing her hands in the middle of the metal bar. Not realizing that Taylor had loosened her grip on the bar, Cory could feel herself being pulled forward. She squealed in surprise. The admin looked up just in time to see the other woman falling forward. On weakened arms, she struggled to bring the bar back down slowly. The blonde was on her knees, but leaning forward face to face with the other woman. Cory blinked, realizing that she didn’t fall. Releasing her grip, she backed up a little until green met blue. Their faces were so close that short blonde strands were brushing against the other woman’s face. The gaze held, and the caseworker found herself peering into ice blue eyes. The color seemed true with flecks of darker blue in the pupil that only served to accentuate them. It made her breath catch with the urge to swim in them. She tore her gaze away with effort only to have it land on full lips, devoid of lipstick. She couldn’t help but lick her own.

Taylor held her breath, but the peach smell of blonde tresses entered her senses anyway. She followed the line of pure, flawless skin as the blonde moved. The spell was broken with the ringing of the store phone. ‘Whoa, what the hell?’ Cory said to herself. She cleared her throat and moved to her feet. Dusting off the knees of her pants, she drew in a calming breath. "Well, put me in a funky skirt and call me danger prone Daphne."

After putting the bar in it's proper place, Taylor sat up. The moment was broken, but another one started. Her mouth twitched in mirth. She looked up at the smaller woman to see eyes glittering with laughter. They chuckled easily. ‘Very, very, very interesting.’ Little Shelley whispered in her ear. "I think I’ll take this one."

Cory picked up her purse from the floor. "Good, I think they deliver within 24 hours."

With the purchase made, they headed out the store. "Where to next?" The blonde asked.

"Um, I---"

The sentence was interrupted by a loud growling. The caseworker grabbed her stomach and looked up sheepishly.

"Um, lunch definitely. We have to feed that monster in your belly."

They made a beeline for a nearby Ruby Tuesday. Cory recited her order to a young boy who looked at her dreamily. "I'll have the Ceasar Salad with dressing on the side to start with. Then, bring me a bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings instead of fries, a strawberry milkshake, and carrot cake for desert. "

Taylor's mouth twitched but she decided to hold it in until the waiter left. "Uh, I'll have mushroom-swiss burger with steak fries, and a large diet Dr. Pepper."

The green looking boy nodded, gave Cory one last look, then left. The admin let her smile through. "Y'know I think the kid thinks you're my daughter or something. He was giving you the goo-goo eyes."

"Nuh-uh, you're kidding." Green eyes looked around shocked. "I get that a lot actually, and I haven't decided if it's my looks or my height."

Taylor cocked her head to the side, giving the other woman the once over. "You do have a younger face, but anyone should be able to see the experience in your eyes."

Cory glanced up, only to see dark head lower. She took a sip of her water and patiently peered over the cup. Short minutes later, pale blue met hers again. The blonde gave her a slow smile. "I don't know why he thought that you were my mom. You don't have a gray hair in your head and barely a wrinkle, except the ones around your mouth when you smile. Those are just character lines."

The comment earned a raised eyebrow and a crooked grin. "I have the decimated bodies of fired employees in my trunk. Keeps me young," she deadpanned.

Cory couldn't hide the surprise from widening her eyes. Then they narrowed when she realized that it was a joke. "Careful, Taylor, the real you is showing but it's kinda nice to get to know her.”

The admin hid an uncharacteristic blush behind the water glass. She sat it back down with a thud. "Only kind of?" She asked with curious eyes.

Not intimidated or deterred, Cory answered truthfully. "I'll let you know."

Blue eyes darkened with warmth then she let loose a bark of laughter. It was deep, free, and it changed her whole face. Cory decided that she liked it

"Has anybody ever told you that you are beyond blunt?" She charged on, not waiting for an answer. "It's quite invigorating. I like it."

The blonde bit her lip, looking impish. "It's a family curse. You should sit down and talk to my brother. He's shameless."

Taylor gave her a smile instead of commenting as the lovestruck waiter returned. They both watched as he put dish after dish in front of Cory then sat the admin's lunch on the table. The dark haired woman studied the blonde as she tucked into her food with a sensuous sigh.

"Where on earth do you put all of that?"

The blonde caseworker looked up. "Huh? Oh, another family curse, high metabolism. I like working out, but I usually don't have the time to do it regular."

"You look fine to me." A flashback of sweat covered, muscular legs filled her vision from the kickboxing ring.

"You look better." Cory stopped mid-chew, feeling the blush creep up past her neck. "Um, I mean you have a nice body." 'Damn!' "I mean that you must work out a lot. You look pretty toned." She took a long sip of her shake mortified at her own behavior. 'Why don't you just tell her what she looks like naked, idiot!'

Taylor held up a hand. "It's okay. I know what you meant, and I do. It releases a lot of stress."

"Ah, I see. Good idea."

Conversation was sparse as they ate. They barely spoke until the waiter returned to take away empty plates. Cory patted her full stomach and looked across the table as Taylor sipped on a refreshed diet Dr. Pepper. Blue eyes looked up and caught hers suddenly. "I don't mean to pry, but we're friends right?"

The blonde looked at her with a little wariness. "Yeah. . ."

"Then why don't you tell me how you're really doing. You're not a very good liar."

The caseworker sat back in the seat. "And you call me blunt?"

Taylor shrugged. "Just letting you know that I'm here if you want to talk."

The blonde looked into the crystal blue gaze and saw sincerity starring back at her. It would be so easy just to let go, so freeing, and for some reason that she couldn't fathom, she wanted to talk to the very woman sitting across from her. The feeling was part disconcerting and part comforting. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Blowing out a breath, she took the proverbial step forward. "The nightmares started this morning."

Taylor sat down her drink and leaned in with relief, listening closely.

The blonde ran small hands around the sweaty water glass. "I mean I knew when I took this job that I couldn't save everyone, but to know it and KNOW it is two different things. In my dreams, I see kids that I can't help at all. They call for me, but I'm stuck." She stared into blue eyes not seeing. "I have seen so much that can be categorized as evil. Parents that hurt, kill, and maim their kids, and kids who do that to each other. I know all about the cycle of abuse, but I sometimes wonder will it ever end if no one realizes that their in it?"

Taylor swallowed. 'I had no idea, kid, that you felt so much. Don't you realize that you can't take everybody's pain on your shoulder's?' Somehow, instinctively knowing that the other woman needed some kind of contact, Taylor pulled a smaller hand in hers. "Cory, look at me." Green eyes shifted and peered into blue. The admin could see the blonde's heart in her eyes as well as see it breaking. It took her breath away and planted the urge to fix it. Squeezing the hand, she added, "Don't you know that each person that you do help makes the world just a little better? You help to change so many people's lives for the better. I've seen you files. There are kids who sleep safer from their fathers, mothers, and nightmares because of you. You must know that?"

"B-but there are so many that I don't get to help or can't help. . ."

One handed, Taylor searched through her bag for a tiny mirror. She handed it over to the blonde. "Look in there. How many people do you see? One right?"

The caseworker nodded.

"You're only one person. You can't take on the world's pain. It's too much, and it will end up becoming your own. Then, you won't be able to help anyone." She squeezed the hand again and felt it squeeze back. "If it will help you, go talk to the people that you've helped. Maybe it will help you see that evil can be obliterated, but not by one person and only a little bit at a time."

Just then, lover boy returned with the check. Taylor almost laughed at the crestfallen look on his face when he saw their entwined hands. Instead, she reached for the check, only to have Cory lunge for it too. "Ah, ah, ah," the admin clicked with her tongue. "Just think of it as a treat for a new friend." She was relieved to see a ghost of a smile. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Su—" Cory could feel the gravel in her throat and cleared it away before she spoke again. "Um, sure."

"What made you care so much? I mean everybody that works in this field should, but you care a lot more."

The blonde glanced at their entwined hands. She soaked in the strong, soft touch, gathering strength. "This is gonna sound so cliché, but when I was little I witnessed violence that I later identified as racism. Was in a Wal-Mart, and these three little white boys walked up to an African-American kid. The little boy was playing one of those sample games. Atari had just come out back then. I was across on the other side from them, but I could hear and see everything. They yelled, "Nigger" at him, and I don't think he knew what they were talking about. He was such a little guy. Then one of the boys kicked him and kept screaming 'Nigger, Nigger!' One by one they all piled on him. I screamed for them to stop, but they didn't until that kid's dad stopped them."

"By that time, the little boy was crying. His father picked him up without a word and walked away. A few minutes later, the three boys parents showed up. I'm guessing they were brothers, and then they left." She paused taking a sip of the melted shake and saw blue looking back at her patiently. "The racist act wasn't the only thing that caught me. All four boys had raggedy, torn clothes as did their parents. When I was older, I was able to analyze it all. They were all poor, and those white kids were probably taught that blacks were taking away from them, so even at a young age they lashed out. This may sound naïve, but I figured that if I helped the poor that they would realize it's not different races that made them that way it is society as a whole that needs a kick in the ass. To make a long story short, that in a nut shell is why I chose this field."

Taylor blinked, feeling like she had gotten deep insight into a passionate woman. "Uh, wow. That's quite the story. You're just full of surprises. You know that? I would have never thought. . .I think I understand." Taylor smiled as her respect for the little woman grew leaps and bounds. She saw the flush as the blonde hung her head. With a free hand, the admin lifted her chin. "I really mean it. You're a valuable asset to the agency and to my team. I look forward to working with you in starting better programs, but you need. . ."

"I know. I'm gonna call somebody first thing Monday."

Taylor removed her hand from smooth skin. "Good." She picked up her dwindling Dr. Pepper and drained the rest of it. Opening her mouth, in an attempt to speak, it was interrupted by the buzzing of her purse. They both looked down confused.

Cory raised surprised eyebrows. "Your purse is ringing."

Taylor chuckled. "I think it's my cell phone. Hold on."


"Ms. Wilson, this is Barb. Paula from CPS contacted me when she couldn't get Cory. I tried to call her, but her brother answered and said that she was with you. Is she there?"

"Yes. Do you want to talk to her?"

"No, you're a friend. She might take it better coming from somebody in person. Um, Marjorie Smith was found by her foster mother dead in the bathtub. She had cut her wrists."

Oh, God." Dark brows drew together.

Knowing that she was being discussed, the blonde looked on curiously. Apprehension ceased her upon hearing the hoarse quality of the other woman's voice and seeing the look on her face. She whispered, "No," to herself as her heart beat accelerated. The blonde twisted a napkin to pieces in her busy, nervous hands.

"Ah, okay. I'll do what I can. Thanks for letting us know."

Blue eyes closed as their owner tried to prepare herself. That's when the nervous babbling from the other woman began. "That was for me right." She said with a forced smile. "Must of left my phone in the car. I hope JR isn't running up the bill. . .


"I'll kill him if he does."

"Cory listen to me," she said louder.

Green met blue and Taylor cringed at the unchecked emotion shining in them. "I have to tell you—"

A sob escaped the blonde's throat. "No! I don't wanna hear!"

"Cory, please. I need to tell you."

"Tell me what? What's happened now!?"

People began to stare at the raised octave of the blonde's voice. Taylor didn't care, but decided to protect the other woman's privacy. She swallowed. "Maybe we should leave."

Cory laughed without humor. "Oh, no. You're gonna tell me now what the hell is going on."

She could see that the younger woman wasn't going to budge unless she carried her out over her shoulder. Taylor sighed in resignation and leaned forward. "Marjorie Smith was found by her foster mother. It was an apparent suicide."

The words echoed in the blonde's head.


Her heart thudded painfully then stopped altogether. The caseworker blinked as her vision tunneled. The only contact that she could feel was warm flesh. She pulled away. Tears stung the back of her throat, and she wiped at her runny nose with the back of her hand. A hard flash of pain made her grab her chest. Then, it radiated outward, spreading to her gut. "No," she murmured harshly. "Nononononono," she continued to whisper.

Taylor sucked in a breath, shocked by the empathy pain that pummeled her. Instincts kicked in. 'Protect her. Comfort her. Be there for her.' She looked into the lost, watery eyes, and made her decision by whispering a 'yes' to Little Shelley. With the decision made, she threw some bills on the table and pulled Cory up gently by her arm. She mumbled in hushed tones in the small ear, "I've got you. Let's get you home."

Somehow, they got out of the mall into the admin's Accord. She glanced periodically at the huddled form on the passenger side. Reaching over, she squeezed a knee in an effort to relay reassurance.

Cory shivered despite the heat filtering in through the open window. Her insides felt torn as did her heart. She hung on to hope by a little thread. She looked up as the turned in front of a familiar building. Automatically, she got out and started to feel a strong hand guiding her to the door. "Thank you," she husked. She looked from under wet lashes. "Will you stay. . .for awhile?"

Taylor glanced down with a small smile. "Yeah, as long as you need me to."

They entered the apartment, and the admin watched as the caseworker went straight for the couch. Taylor took in the surroundings. The little bric-a-brac that littered the walls was colorful, honest just like the owner. She spied the little Scooby-Doo figurines and smiled. Going to sit by the still form on the couch, she scooted closer before asking, "Do you need me to get you anything?"

"Some aspirin please, and a glass of juice. The bathroom's through there." She pointed the way with a finger. "Pills are in the medicine cabinet."

Taylor got up as requested. Cory wrapped her arms around a pillow. She felt like flying apart, but something was keeping her grounded. Whether it was with a touch or a word, she stayed on the ground. Glancing up, Taylor's lanky form re-entered the room. 'She's what's keeping me grounded, keeping me safe.' The tall woman sat back down next to her. "Here you go."

Swallowing down the juice and pills, the blonde murmured a, "Thank you." She cleared her throat. "Thank you for all this."

She got a smile and a comment in return. "That's what friends are for." The older woman blinked. "Ugh, that was cheesy."

Cory smiled despite herself. She watched as the taller woman moved back, spreading her arms across the back of the couch. The blonde stared at the long appendages, remembering how she felt in them and how she wanted to feel it again. She lowered her lashes, feeling suddenly shy, and schooched over toward the taller form. Taylor watched with held breath. 'I wouldn't mind holding her at all.'

"Um, can I . . ."

Taylor patted the empty space beside her. "C'mere." She released the breath as the blonde snuggled up to her side, and smiled at the small sigh that escaped the other woman's lips. Unable to help herself, the admin bent her head to whisper in a nearby ear, "Don't lose hope, Cory. Don't stop believing."

Cory pillowed her head on a strong shoulder. Laying a stray hand across the other woman's stomach, she bunched the blue shirt in her hand. She sighed again and nodded.

They talked in hushed tones past the afternoon and into the night. The blonde glanced up at the wall clock, but she didn't want it to end. She couldn't hide the disappointment in her voice. "I guess you have to go. It's getting pretty late."

Taylor blinked as she looked up at the clock. 'It is late, but I don't want to leave.' "Um, I can stay on the couch if you need me here?"

"Uh, you can't.

"Oh, then I'd better—"

"No! I mean," she softened her voice. "JR is bunking out on the couch. I have a huge bed, and I don't snore."

As an administrator, she knew that this was wrong. The gossip this could start would be tremendous, even if they were only friends, but as a friend, she couldn't walk away when she was needed. So, she found herself saying, "You'd better not. I have sensitive ears."

The smaller woman yawned for good measure. "I don't have anything for you to sleep in. . ."

"It's okay. I'll live with what I have on. Do you want me to lock up? Give you time to get situated?"

"Yeah, thanks. I don't know when JR is coming in, but he has the key.

Minutes later, Taylor found herself staring at the darkened ceiling as a small form curled up to her side almost immediately.

"Is this okay? I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"It's fine. Don't worry."

Sleep came in time for the both of them. Sometime during the night, the admin's eyes opened. She listened, trying to see what had woke her and heard a small sob. She shushed the quaking form and wrapped her in her arms. Sleep came again.

Cory wanted to purr at the warmth of the other woman's body. She disengaged her body gently and looked down at the sleeping form. She smiled slowly and mumbled, "I'm not the only one full of surprises." Gazing at the expressive face, even in sleep, Cory got up quietly and padded into the bathroom. Finishing up in there, she headed toward the living room to see the sprawled form of her brother on the couch. The blonde looked up at the clock, 8:30am. She made a u-turn for the kitchen. Green eyes looked up surprised when the doorbell rang. 'Who the hell? Ooops, Barb.' She walked briskly toward the door and pulled it open before the bell could go off again. Barb looked at her worriedly from the door way. "Hey, kid, how are you?"

"I'll be okay. I think."

"Well, I figured that you would still need to burn off some steam, so are we still going to the gym?"

"Yeah, Taylor may want to go too. She probably wants to go home and change first though." Cory turned and headed back toward the bedroom.

Barb moved further into the apartment and blinked. 'I can feel it. I must be making my 'Oh my God!' face. She closed the door and blinked again.

Wellllll, what do you think folks? An interesting turn of events to say the least. Give me a jingle at Minerva.

Copyright © Minerva 2000

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