Disclaimer One: Yep, yep, yep these two resemble you know who our famous Warrior and Bard, but that's where the buck stops because I only get to play with them Ren pics gets to have them. . .well, all the DAMN time. No, no I'm not bitter.

Disclaimer Two: Angst? Oh yeah, you betcha! But, with me, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. There is also a loving relationship between women, soooo if it's not your cup of tea I hear Animal Planet is on 24 hours a day. I'm sure you could find something cuddly and amusing there.










Chapter XXVIII: Winding Roads

I'm beginning to think of my life as some great irony. Irony. I hope I have the definition right. When I first started at The Mission, I knew that I was a step away from being destitute. It was my greatest fear, and as I watched my building burn it was all realized as if some playful, vengeful god was listening to me the whole time and waiting for the right moment to strike. Well, he or she sure picked an awkward moment. I can still feel the flames, smell the acrid smoke as if they were permanently absorbed into my hair and clothing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was falling in love with the most extraordinary woman. I made love to the most unbelievable woman. Now, I'm homeless, and I've been clinging to that woman like a lifeline. I haven't stop falling. There is no stopping that. I just think I'm in deeper than before. Those few hours we shared. I keep with me, so I can go back again over and over. I need to.

Sly. What can I possibly say about her? She has been incredible both at work and at. . .home? Do I dare call this place that? Not too long ago, I viewed it as a second home, but now? I can't afford to get complacent. Not again. I don't want to be at the Mission or in another jail cell like room. I want my house with the garage attached, white picket fence, and big yard. Isn't that the American Dream nowadays? Well, I want it more now than ever. I guess because it's even further away from my grasp.

As for Sly, I know how she feels about The Mission, but she picked up her meager belongings and followed me there like it was the most natural thing in the world. The Mission has been more than accommodating. Maybe it's because I'm a volunteer, but they allow us, Sly and me, our own secluded spot during the day to sleep. As she lays on the cot beside me, I can hear her breathing, deep and steady. Knowing she's there, keeps me from falling apart. Does that make sense?

Everything I owned except for a few items of clothing and some books are gone. Gone, just like they didn't exist. Just like I didn't exist. That's what it feels like. Regardless of my situation before, I was always somewhat self-reliant. I took care of myself the best I could, and when Sly and the rest of our family came along, I did the same for them. I don't even have that anymore. The one thing that kept me from becoming one more in the throng of invisible people was the roof over my head, and the clothes on my back.

Now, I have neither. Yes, these people have become my family, my friends, and yes, I could empathize with what they were going through. Now, I know first hand, and I wish I didn't have to. For the first few days after the fire, I was stunned and numb. I took a couple days off work and clung to Sly like she was air. I didn't want her out of my sight or out of my range of touch. Then, I cried so hard my chest ached. It hurt to breath. My throat was scratchy and raw. It hurt to talk. She held me because I needed her to; because she wanted to; and because she understood.

Here I thought I was finally getting the breaks that were well deserved. I was wrong. Life is a screwball that zigs and zags around you. I was so sure that we make our own fate. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was wrong about a lot of things. I felt like I had a grasp on things before. Now, it feels like I'm tumbling through with no control at all. It's ironic how things can change. There's that word again. I'm probably not using it right here either.

Listless. I'm pretty sure that's what I'm feeling. I don't want to do anything. I don't want to be around anyone. Work is just painful to endure, even though, I could save up the money and get another room somewhere. But, that's not the point. Lola's been trying to get through to me, but I don't want her to. I barely talk to anyone even Sly. I don't want anyone to see me like this. God, I feel like I'm right back where I started all those months ago--scared and unsure. Still, she's here by my side where I need her.

Things have been put on hold. I wanted to help Sly show the people around here that they can do without her-- that they can learn where to go, who to talk to, an when to talk to them. I wanted to help her transition from the streets back to the workforce. I didn't. I wasn't there for her first night. She had to go it alone. I'm so ashamed. She's always been there for me, and for her, I couldn't. Lola got her through it just fine, and Sly didn't seem disappointed at all that I wasn't there. I don't think she would tell me if she was anyway. She's like that. Still, the truth is, part of me has shut down, and I don't know how to get it working again.

So, I'm standing here in my apron and the same shirt I had on yesterday, serving the food, but in a little while I'll be sitting at the tables just like everybody else. I am everybody else. Sly is watching me like a hawk. I feel her eyes on me and tingles assault me. Yeah, that's still there. I want to get lost in her. Maybe that's the way to find myself again, if that makes any sense. I just want things to go back the way they were. I am going to save money, but that doesn't ease this ache. I wonder if anything will.

I wipe my hands on my apron and reach for the ladle to stir the gravy. It's starting to get a film over it. I move like an automaton dumping mashed potatoes and gravy on people's plates without really seeing them. A throat clears and it makes me look up. Stevie stands there. Wise brown eyes bore into me seeing a myriad of things no doubt. Just like real family, they've been here for me. I wish I could open up again.

He scratches at his gnarly beard. "Now, I'm gonna say this again, and I gonna keep sayin' it until ya hear me. Ya can't go 'round feelin' sorry fer yerself. Ya have nothin' to be sorry for. Things happen to people and they jump right back. Yous one of those people."

It would be so easy to believe him, to hear him, but it's not that easy anymore. Not right now. I try to smile at him but it comes out warbled. It's like my face is frozen. "I don't know, Stevie--"

He puts a hand up to stop me then points a finger. "You ain't like us, lil' miss, and neither is Sly. Been tellin' her that fer years. She didn't listen to me until ya came along. People don't need the likes of me and Pauly, but they be needin' you."

Something flutters inside me, and some dark part tries to clamp down on it, snuffing it out. I know what it is. It's hope. Just like it's sister fate they are both so fickle. I don't have a firm hold on either right now. "Why?" It comes out before I can stop it, before I can understand it.

Stevie's eyes narrow and sparkle. I try to hold his gaze, but I end up hanging my head.

"Now ya look at me lil' miss." His voice is deep, authoritative.

I jerk my head back up, and our eyes meet.

"Ya got the nerve to ask me why?" He turns as quickly as his old body would allow. He lifts a wrinkled hand and points. I follow the appendage, and it leads to a pair of beautiful blue eyes that look straight at me. "Cause you make people believe. Lookit what ya did fer her. She was a good one for takin' care of everybody else but hardly gave a good gaddamn about herself. She made folks believe everyday--in themselves and in others. But it wasn't till ya came along that she felt that way 'bout herself." His hand falls back to his side.

I am stunned. It was like knowing something but not really knowing it until it stared you right in the face. It is staring at me right now. I feel its burning gaze where I need it most in my heart and maybe as far as my soul. "I didn't. . . oh."

Stevie nods. "Now heap me a big ol' glob of them taters and gravy on here."

I give him a genuine smile then. One that he gracefully returns, but something nags at me. I am the one lost now. I whisper, "Who is gonna make me believe again?"

Stevie's smile never falters and again, he points at a particular table where a very special woman sits. Then, he moves on down the chow line.

I glance toward Sly and our eyes meet. Is she my salvation? Am I hers? I hope it's that simple.

I look up quickly at the sound of an unpleasant laugh followed by a deep, wet cough. It's Charlie. I remember him, and I bet you Gert does too. I can see her looking over here. He hasn't been around for a while not since Gert's been in and out of the hospital.

"Don't believe a word that old fart says."

The two people in front of him hang their heads and move along quickly--maybe in fear.

I stiffen but refuse to speak as of yet.

"I hear you're one of us now. Takes you down a peg or two, eh? Ain't no comin' back from that. Serves you right for being a friend of that witch over there." He nods his head in Sly's direction.

I glance that way to see her rising. I can see the anger in her face. Her hands are clenched at her sides, and her face is flushed red. I shake my head almost imperceptivity. I want to handle this. I think that I need to. For the moment, anger has replaced the self-pity. No one has the right to talk about my family that way. Heat rushes up to my face and through my body. It is a welcome change because inside it was cold before. "I'm not anything like you."

Charlie's eyes narrow. "Don't you go sassin' me little lady--"

"Shut up!" I am surprised by my own vehemence. "You are a pathetically, bitter, lonely old man who takes it all out on the world and the people in it. I could never be like you. As for my family, none of their names should leave your mouth because you don't deserve to speak them." I could hear the calm, menace in my voice. My words taper off, and I find that I'm breathing heavily.

His eyes goes from narrow to wide as saucers. Charlie glances around him to see if anybody heard. I watch his face redden as the people behind him snicker. He mumbles something intelligible and moves on down the line as if nothing happened.

Maybe there's something in me yet. Maybe. I glance around to see Stevie standing at the end of tables where the dinner rolls are. Pauly is there with him. They both give me broken tooth smiles and hearty chuckles, and to my consternation, they start to clap. Like some wave of hysteria, the others in line begin to clap too as the continued to laugh at the retreating man. I catch my breath only to lose it again. Is that for me? The heat of embarrassment rushes my face. I push a hand through my hair, giving me a moment to try and gain some equilibrium.

"Way to go, Abbie." Someone says excitedly.

I look up to see the familiar face of a woman, holding her child. Her smile is big and welcoming.

"You hang in there. Everything will turn out alright for you."

Our eyes meet, and I am floored by what I see. Compassion. Compassion for me. This woman barely has clothes on her back yet she shows compassion for me. Unbelievable. Something inside me melts and fills me with a pleasant warmth. "I. . .thank you." She nods and makes her way down the line.

I peer toward Sly's table to see her staring right at me. Did she ever stop? I swear that I can see the pride sparkling in her eyes.

I want so much to believe.



Chapter XXIX: This is Your Life!

Again, my life has changed dramatically just over the past two weeks. I'll start from lesser importance and go to greater. First off, I started working. I used to clean up people's money. Now, I clean up people's shit. The only difference being that I like myself in the morning. I didn't like the arrogant twit I was back then. I don't even mind taking orders or cleaning toilets, for right now at least.

On top of everything else she's going through right now, Abbie feels bad about not being there for me the first night of the job. I know she does. That's how she is. I wanted her there, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do. She needed me more than I needed her in this instance. Work was uneventful, the only thing I discovered is that my feet can hurt so bad that I want to chop them off and Lola is a hoot. The woman really doesn't think before things come out of her mouth. It's refreshing. We sit together during lunch--- Lola, Abbie, and me. Abbie hasn't been talking much lately, but I'm here to listen when she does and even when she doesn't.

She looks so lost, and I feel like I'm tumbling with her. I don't know what to do, so I'm just there when she reaches for me. I've helped other people, yes, but this is Abbie. She's not like other people, so I moved to the Mission to be with her.

Here's the kicker and the most important thing. As Abbie fell apart piece by piece, I felt it too and I clung to her to keep us both together. Stoicism be damned. That's when I realized it--I love her. I know her pain, and I know her happiness. She is a part of me. I knew I was falling deeper the day we made love, but somewhere along the way I tripped and fell completely without my knowledge. The intensity of this epiphany slammed into me like a bomb, and I can honestly say it scared me. Those words have never left my mouth, and I always figured it was something that I would never feel. But, I do. This thing between us is living and breathing, and my God it's beautiful.

As I watched the hope disappear from Abbie's eyes, I became even more frightened. I was losing her, and I didn't want to lose her completely by telling her something she couldn't believe in.

That was a huge mistake.

Abbie has become my light, and now that brilliance has dimmed I need to be the one to restore it. I'm the one she trusts-- the one she reaches out to. She can believe in me, find hope in me. I held her while she cried and while she slept. When she didn't reach for me I held her with my eyes, watching out for her and waiting for her to call on me. I guess this is a start, but now, it's time to get to the meat of things. She needs to know how I feel. I have never been so sure of anything in my life. The fear is still there, but this is something greater. My body hums with it just like it does with her touch. My heart and mind sing with it--an irresistible tune. If I can't deny it, why should I deprive her of it?

I watched her today. It's as if my body knows exactly where she is and points me there. So I sat there while my food got cold, while Gert whispered animatedly, I studied Abbie. She moved like a rickety old robot--un-oiled and rusty. Her face was a mask. That is, until Stevie got a hold of her. I know how that is. He gets a hold of me frequently. The man is a Godsend.

When Charile came up to her, my heart stopped. I didn't think she could take anymore. I didn't want her to have to take anymore. I can't describe what I felt when she nodded at me. It was some kind of burst of imaginable feeling that took my breath away. I don't know what was said, but I'm sure it was something about me. I was astounded when Charlie tucked his ass between his legs and sauntered off. Pride is often a dirty word. This time it wasn't the case. I was beyond proud to know this woman was in my corner; in my life; and in my heart. It was like riding a roller coaster with your eyes open. The adrenaline is amazing. You feel every nuance as many senses engage simultaneously. Abbie is simply amazing, and she is my family.

They are breaking down the tables and food bins now, and Abbie seems to have more pep in her step. I'll know for sure when I talk to her, and I have so much to say. I wanted to tell her earlier, but she seemed so tired. I held her while she slept. I'm glad we have one day off together. Suddenly, I'm as nervous as an inexperienced teenager. My hands are sweaty, so I wipe them against the legs of my jeans. The collar to my t-shirt seems too tight, and it's a v-neck for goodness sakes. I'm starting to fidget. I don't fidget. Well, not much anyway.

I can't tell her here. That wouldn't be very romantic. It is a homeless shelter, and she doesn't need any more reminders of our current situation. My thoughts are interrupted as Gert pulls on my arm.

"Why is your upper lip sweating?"

I look at her in confusion until I wipe that area. My fingers come away moist. It's weird for Gert to notice. Ofcourse, she's been almost lucid at times since she got out of the hospital. "Just things on my mind. I guess."

"Uh huh. Well, don't worry about your money. It's safe."

Those moments of lucidity are few and far between.

"That's good to know, Gert. Why don't you go find Stevie? I need to talk to Abbie, and I don't want to leave you alone."

She nods. "I can do that, and let Abbie know that I got her some of Disney like she wanted. But, it's not doing so good. Their last movie bombed." Gert gives me a toothless grin.

I chuckle. "You called that one. They should hire you as a consultant."

"Been tryin' to tell my broker that." She rises. "See ya later."

I watch her waddle away.

Then, I turn to observe Abbie as she sets the white bucket on the table. She reaches in and wrings out a towel. I have a strange sense of deja vu. This is where we started. This situation is where we opened up to each other for the first time. I can't help but think it's symbolic.

Abbie wipes the bangs off her face and begins to wash the tables. I watch as if it is the most interesting thing in the world. To me, it is. I know she can feel my eyes on her. She always could. She looks up at me occasionally, and I swear there is a small smile gracing her lips. I want to go to her, but I will wait until she reaches my table.

Finally, she's here. I continue to sit as she washes around me. The air crackles between us like it always has. The energy we give off together must be something to behold especially now. I can't help it though. My body just reacts to her and so does my heart. I haven't stopped wanting her, but I know when to be patient. I clear my throat, and I'm glad she seems a little less tense. I decide to test the waters.

"Funny, but I think we've done this before." I mutter teasingly.

Abbie glances up at me and blushes, but I see the sparkle in her eyes where they had been dull. "Yeah, it does seem familiar."

"I'll try not to flirt as much this time."

A shadow passes over her face. "No, don't change anything. I like the way things were."

I'm not an idiot. I know that statement has a deeper meaning. "I know you did, Little Bit, and I did too. Not that much has changed. You still have me and the rest of our family." I hear the softness in my own voice.

Abbie throws the cloth back in the bucket and sits down across from me. She hides her hands under the table. "I-I know that, but I can't take care of you like I used to."

Ah, I should have known that would bother her. " You still are look at what you did with Charlie. Let us take care of you now. Let me. . .take care of you. Talk to me."

She looks down at her lap. "I try to, but I'm just not used to this. I'm not used to letting somebody else take the reins."

I nod in understanding. "Neither did I. Tore me up inside that you were giving me. . .us so much, but I couldn't give anything in return."

Abbie begins to shake her head rather vehemently. "No, you gave me everything. You gave me you."

I smile. If only she could listen to her own words. "Yesss, I did, and I do." My eyes widen in an attempt to help her to understand.

For a long minute, Abbie just looks at me strangely. Then, "Ohhh. Is it that simple?"

"No, it's that complicated, but you're talking to me. That's a start."

"I'm sorry. I just had so much going on in my head. It's hard for me to let it all out, even to you," she adds. "It feels like the tables have turned a little bit. Didn't I do this with you? Have this talk?" Abbie turns somber, and a familar look caresses her features.

"Yeah, pretty much, and I'll do what I have to do. " I let my voice trail off. I wish I could get that lost look off her face. It tears me up inside to see it. It's time for me to start acting and not reacting. "Listen, why don't we get away from here for a little while? We could go to The Boardwalk. It's late afteroon, and the sun is setting. I bet it's beautiful."

I hear her sigh. "I don't know. Seems like all I want to do is sleep. I don't know if I have the energy."

I'm not above begging. "Come on. Give it a chance. Just for a little while?" Our eyes meet and hold, and I reach out a hand to her. Without hesitation, Abbie takes it. God, she is so soft. Everything about her is soft--her skin, her heart, her soul. I cant my head to the side and grin at her. I'm hoping to see one of her smiles. I haven't been privy to them for the past two weeks or so. She bites her lip and gives me a shy one. My chest flutters. I love this woman.

"Okay, for a little while."


Even though the heat has gone from sweltering to only baking, people on The Boardwalk are still scarce. I reach for Abbie's hand. I don't give a damn who knows. I don't think she does either anymore. We stop to lean on the railing and look past the dunes to see the sparkling water. The sun glints across it, making the ocean look bright and luminescent. The sky was a soft blue, making it almost impossible to tell where the skyline ends. Big white/black seagulls wade through the shallow water at the shore and pepper the sand with their prescence.

Abbie squeezes my hand, and I turn to her. "What do you think?"

"It seems like ages since I've seen this, but you were right."

Silence lapses between us as my stare returns to the water. I think it is a comfortable one, but I glance toward her and see the wheels in her head turning. Her nose is crinkled and lines mar her forehead. Abbie is thinking about something heavy.

I wait.

"After the trial was over, and you knew you didn' t have a job or anything. Did you feel this. . .lost?"

I rewind time and search my feelings just because she needs me too.

"Yeah, I did. I was angry too. I felt cheated," I answer.

"How did you make those feelings go away?" Abbie continues.

"Well, the anger went away with time. I was still lost, Abbie, for a long time. That is until recently."

"What happened?"

"I met you." My gaze had been steady on her. Finally, she turns to meet it with unbelieving eyes. "I know it sounds corny, but it's true." She shakes her head in denial. I feel my stomach drop. Things are not turning out like I thought they would.

"How? Why? How can you find yourself in me when I'm obviously not who I thought I was?!"

I swallow hard as her voice begins to rise. Abbie's face is flushed and blotchy. Her eyes are wild with unshed tears.

"I thought I had become strong, confident. Don't you see? If I had really been those things, this situation wouldn't have destroyed me like it did! How can you find yourself in that?!"

I reach out to her, but she backs away. I panic as she turns and breaks into a run. My heart ceases as I watch my life run away from me. I can't lose her. Fear moves my feet. Love makes my steps quicken.


I follow her out to the beach. We wade through the thick sand. It slows both of us down.

"Abbie, please wait!" The desperation in my voice is obvious. People stare at us. I can feel their eyes. I don't care. I lunge for her but miss. I can hear her sobbing, and it breaks my heart.

Finally, exhausted, Abbie slows enough for me to reach her. I grab her arm and turn her towards me. Her face is full of devastation. It's up to me to help her believe again. "Little Bit, can't you see? You're all those things and more, but you're also human. You're human, Abbie. We can only lose so much before we break, and you've lost plenty, including your parents."

A sob rips free from her throat.

"It's okay to cry and to hurt. You taught me that. How did you help me find myself? I'll tell you. It's because of the woman inside--the woman you want to be and the woman you are. I love her, and I love you, Abbie." Oh God, I said it. I said it, and I meant every word.

Abbie sobs again, but it is broken by the sound of her sucking in a breath. "Wh-what did you say?"

She wants me to say it again? Hell, who am I kidding? I'd say it every second of the day. "I love you."

Her eyes widen and she steps toward me. Trembling hands reach up and caresses my face. Fingertips linger on my lips. I whisper the three words again. Her eyes and fingers follow the movement of my mouth.

"You love me. . .this way. . .the way that I am?"

"I love you whatever way you are. Nothing can change that." I can see it in her eyes, her features. She wants so much to believe. "Let's go through this together. We can fix this. Believe in me. Believe in us." I swear she said those same words to me not too long ago. I guess that's ironic.


Abbie's hands lower to my chest and so does her head. I wrap my arms around her. "Yeah, together."

"Is it . . .that eas---"

I don't let her finish. "No, it's gonna be hard as hell. Do you think you're up to it?"

She wipes at the tears in her eyes. "I can try."

I guess I did the right thing in telling her after all.



Chapter XXX: A Road Now Taken

I never thought this path would be open to me so early. This kind of love is a road I've never been on, but I go down it gratefully. I know I'm falling for her. Maybe I have. It's not like I have experience in these matters. All I know is when those words left her mouth, something inside me reconnected. Is it okay to be lost as long as you're willing to find yourself again? Maybe so. As I lay here, a myraid of people surround me. Most if not all of them are sleeping and filling the large room with deep breathing and hard snores. I don't really hear them. I don't really feel them. I hear Sly behind me, breathing deeply, sighing occasionally. I feel her molding against me, touching me, holding me. As I lay here with her in the dark, I'm beginning to think all things are possible.

Maybe I was wrong in trying to take this all on by myself. Maybe I was wrong about a lot of things, but maybe. . .maybe definately, I can start to believe again.


Hope you enjoyed this installment. Are you guys still reading? I mean, should I end it here? Or should I go on? Feedback is longed for and greatly appreciated. You can't get this kind of thing from the Animal Planet! LOL Drop me a line at Minerva

Return to The Zone