Disclaimer One: Blah, blah, and blah resemblance and Renpics own the rights to them. I however own this story. No copyright infringement was meant. Don't sue me. I don't have any money.

Disclaimer Two: There's some foul language and a romantic relationship between women that does get graphic from time to time. Like I said before---Animal Planet has this really good show called Emergency Vets go watch that if you're not into this. This is also the end of this story that I have worked on forever but as the writer it will never be enough. These characters will stay with me forever. I hope they do the same for you.

Dedications: To the Sly's and Abbie's of the world have hope and believe that the struggle doesn't last forever. To the Big Guy for giving me this cavernous imagination that doesn't seem to stop spinning. Also, thanks to Tish for making me re-evaluate things. I appreciate it.



(Part IX-Conclusion)





Chapter XXXI: Good Love


I am loved. As I look into the murky waters of the porceline bathtub that I am bending over, it's all I can think about. I am loved. Those words have reverberated through my head the entire week, even more so when Sly whispers them again and again.

I pull on the heavy duty gloves and reach for a sponge to tackle the scum around the tub. I'm smiling when I thought I'd never be able to again. I have something that I never thought I would. When I think back to seeing the way my parents looked at each other, the touches, and the kisses, I know that I have discovered their secret. To have that kind of love you simply give everything. Every single day Sly claims another piece of my heart.

When I start to think about my situation, when I get down about it, Sly refuses to let me stay there. She is there quickly with a hug, a kiss, and a promise that I take to heart. If she can believe, if she can hope then so can I. It was very dark where I was. For a little while the color had seeped out of my world. It's coming back now.

My nose twitches as the smell of scrubbing bubbles teases it, and the sponge swishes through the substance, leaving behind a trail of cleanliness. My family. God, just that world makes my smile wider than before. I can feel it almost splitting my face. We make a rag tag bunch, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Gert, Pauly, Stevie, and Sly--they are my life, and they have taken good care of me. I find myself chuckling then almost crying as I think about the other day.

I was extra tired after having worked extra days, but the money was good that's all that mattered. My limbs felt like lead, and I could feel the circles dropping under my eyes. Still, I had to do my part for the Mission. As I stood in the serving line, I glanced upward from time to time. They were all sitting there at our table eating and laughing away. The sight made my heart swell. I was so glad they snapped me out of my funk.

I absently stirred at the customary bins of mashed potatotes and gravy and adjusted the canned heat so the food wouldn't get cold. I don't even remember how it happened. All I know is that I started leaning forward, and all of a sudden I felt lighter than air. A hand on my shoulder snapped me out of it. I looked up to see Mike. His face was a picture of concern.

"You okay, Abbie? Should I get Sly?" Thank goodness he finally got a clue.

"Why what happened?"

"Well, it looked like you were falling asleep. You were about to take a header into the gravy.

"Oh, sorry about that. I guess I'm more tired than I thought." I felt my cheeks blush in embarassment. I took a quick peek at our table to see four pairs of concerned eyes staring back at me. I offered them a warbly smile and a pitiful wave. I turned back to Mike. "No, um, don't bother her. We're about to break things down anyway. I'll sit down in a few minutes to get a little rest."

He nodded and turned away. I could still feel their eyes on me, but a few minutes later the chow line was dismantled. I put a little soap in a bucket and filled it up with warm water with the intention of getting to the tables after I had some time to myself. I stepped away for a few minutes to go to the bathroom.

I came back out and almost choked at what I saw. All four of them had found towels and were cleaning off my tables. They must have heard my gasp of breath because they looked up. Sly threw me a wink.

"Why don't you sit and get some rest, Little Bit?"

"Yeah, take a load off Abbie we got this," Pauly added.

Gert gave me a smile as she wrung out her towel before smacking it against the table once more.

With Stevie, there was only a gentle stare. It was all that I needed. I was stunned. I was flustered, and I was beyond grateful. I could feel the tears prickle the back of my eyes as I looked on. Before I knew it, Sly was at my side. She touched my cheek, and I turned to her, getting captured in her gaze. Her smile was dazzling. She leaned forward and brushed her lips with mine before stepping away and pulling out a chair.

"Have a seat, Abbie. Remember it's our turn to take care of you."

I sat down but with rapidly blinking eyes, I continued to look up at her. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything. It's the little things that count. They add up to the big things. We just want you to feel better."

I nodded and whispered, "I do."


The whispered words of love, and all the little things those guys have done for me have added up to something huge. I'm ready to fight again. How can I not? Look at what I have. Some people who live on the street don't even have this. I can't feel sorry for myself when I know, I KNOW that I will have a roof over my head and my life back together as soon as I can. I am human, and what's happened to me hurt. It hurt something awful, but I'm willing to go through the pain to get to the other side as long as I have my family with me. Sly taught me that. You know that's kinda funny I helped her believe and find hope, and here she is giving it back to me.

Sly is an amazing woman. I often wonder if I would respond the same to her if I knew her the way she was before. Would I have the same effect on her and vice versa? I'd like to think that we are meant to be. There is no other way to explain it, but I don't think she would be as ready to love me then as she is now.

I watch the water go down the tub drain. Sly loves me. God, I almost want to giggle. I miss being near her. I mean, I do get to be near her but we've had little time alone since the fire. I can't touch her like I want laying curled up on a small cot in a room full of people. It's been three weeks since we've made love, and I miss that too. Just thinking about that morning makes me ache. The way she sounded, the way her skin tasted, and the way she moved is imprinted on my brain. I want to cherish that--cherish her the way she should be. But, I want the real thing. After all that's happened, I think we need to reconnect physically too. It deepens what we have. We have a lot to explore, and I know she feels this. The door has been opened. It can't close again. I don't want it to. She has been patient with me, and I guess that's part of love. Then again, so is this.

My body tingles and I shake my head to clear it. I have more work to do, and I can't keep this in my head. I'll be a mess when I see her at lunch. I am in this so deep. There is no getting out. I want to be buried up to my eyeballs. This has to be love. What else could it possibly be? I can't see my life without her. I sigh and get up from the area around the bathtub to start on the toilet. I look at it and cringe. How can a man's aim be that off? I can't help but ask as I look at the dried urine covering the lid.


It's a little while later, and I'm back in the hallway pushing my cart toward the supply closet. I've run out of toilet paper. The wheels squeak and swish on the carpet, but I pay it no mind. I'm used to the sound. The tiny hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand up on end. Someone's watching me. I glance around the corridor. I don't see anyone, so I try to shake it off. Still, my body is tingling with awareness.

I get to the supply closet and notice that the door is ajar. My eyebrows droop in consternation. Reaching to pull it open even more, I let out an undignified squeak as I am pulled inside. A dark but very familiar chuckle assails my ears. "Sly! What are you doing?!"

She chuckles again. "Getting some closet time with the woman I love. What are you doing?"

I can hear the smirk in her voice even though I can't see her. I am amused. I can't help myself. "Closet time? I didn't think we were in the closet."

"Consider this a special case. I was thinking about you, and I had to come see you."

God, how could I be down with this woman around? "You're gonna get in trouble if the boss lady finds out. I can't believe you did this for me." I reach out for her in the dark. I touch something soft. I hear her groan. My breath catches. "Um, I was just thinking about you too actually."

"Oh really? What about?"

I hear my swallow. I'm sure she does too. What do I tell her? That I was having sexy thoughts? "Uh. . ."

Her laugh is low and throaty. She's playing with me. "Mmm, that good, huh?"

"Well, I--" I can feel myself blushing and my heart skips.

"It's okay, Little Bit." Her voice softens. "How are you tonight?"

It makes me feel so good, hearing the concern in her voice. I haven't heard it in anyone else's since I was a teenager. "Just a little tired. I'm ready for lunch."

"No bad thoughts?"

"No, I would tell you if I had any. I reminisced mostly about how good you guys have been to me."

"Ah, but Abbie don't you know we would do anything for you just to see one of your smiles? Especially me. You light up everything." Her voice is so gentle.

I suck in a breath. "You are so sweet."

"That's easy when you love someone like I love you."

"I'll never get tired of hearing that." I move as close to Sly as I can. I can feel her heat, and she meets me the rest of the way. It's where I want to be --in her arms. "I miss being with you like this. I miss touching you." I wrap myself around her.

Sly's hands caress up and down my back. I don't hide the tremble. "Me too, Abbie."

I lift my face to hers wishing that I could see. I feel with my hands instead. They whisper over her forehead, her cheeks, then finally her mouth and chin. Sweet breath whooshes out over my fingertips. I lean in to taste it. Her lips are moist and so soft. I cling to them, brushing back and forth. My hands wind around her neck into the hair at her nape. Suddenly, I wish she didn't have to wear the ponytail.

"Mmm, you taste so good," Sly murmurs as she comes back for more. Her legs quiver. Yes, she misses this.

This may be enough to sustain me--this gentleness, this closeness. The brush of her tongue against my bottom lip catches me by surprise. Sly does it again, and I whimper at the luscious sensation. My mouth opens, and she slides inside, deep. I feel her groan roar in her chest before I hear it.

I was fine until she did this. It's way to close to my thoughts of a few minutes ago. Too close and too much like what I wanted. My chest begins to burn as my breathing turns ragged. The kiss has gone from gentle to searing and intense. Her tongue is mapping my mouth and sliding over mine in tantilizing fashion.

My mind and body are flooded with memories of the previous time we made love, and my body reacts accordingly. The craving starts. The ache starts, and the throbbing starts. Liquid heat sluices through my body and lands between my legs. I groan loudly, and Sly pulls me impossibly closer. I need her. I need this to bring me all the way back where I belong. Right here. Right now. With a cry muffled by her lips, I put my all into the kiss. It becomes feverish.

"Mmm, God, Abbie." Sly's voice is harsh, needy. Her hips start to undulate.

We're moving backward, but we stop once my back is against a cabinet. Before I know it, my dress is hiked up and my legs are wrapped around her waist. I am meeting her thrust for thrust. I whimper each time as pleasure jar my bones. How did I become so aroused so quickly? My sex feels swollen and slick, and I long for Sly to touch me there.

Sly tears her mouth away. Her hips continue their cadence, and her hands have found her way to my breasts kneading them through the fabric of my uniform. My nipples scrape against the material, making them more sensitive with each pass of Sly's fingers. I arch into her, and she responds. Her moan is loud, breathy, and her voice is pleading, "We should stop. We gotta. . .stop." She adds unexpectantly.

I can't. I won't. We need this. I don't care that it's some supply closet. Us. It's all that matters. "No. . .please." I grasp her behind and pull her into me. Sly emits a small cry as her hips fall into a hard grind. "Need you," I whisper hotly into her ear before I caress the shell of it with my tongue.

"Uhhh, what do you do. . .to me?" Sly asks brokenly. I don't have time to answer as her mouth seeks out mine again.

My inner thighs quiver in anticipation of the pleasure sure to come. I moan at the thought of it, but I need more. I want to feel her inside of me. It's something I have yet to experience, and I ache for it. I feel empty inside, and somewhere deep I know she's the only one who can fill me up. I wrench my mouth away. "Please. . .inside. . .please."

I hear her groan. She's eager to feel it also. Our positions change. My wobbly legs are back on the floor, but Sly is holding me up with one strong hand at my back. She drags her moistened sex over the outside of my hip. I feel the wet heat everywhere. Sly's hands are quick but shaky as she moves the crotch of my panties aside. The air caresses my wetness. I moan, but we both do when her fingers come in contact with flesh. Without preamble, her fingers slide deep inside me. I throw my head back and bite my lip to keep from screaming. A warm wetness gushes over my thigh, where she is positioned, along with several hard grinds. Sly loves it too.

Her fingers retract slowly. The friction against my inner walls is tremendous, making it hard to breathe and think. Sly's hot breath is on my ear. "Yesss, you are so. . .is it all for me, Abbie?"

God, the things she says could be my undoing. "Yes. . for you." Sly plunges back inside, and I can't help myself this time. I cry out as a stray finger rubs furiously at the sensitive bundle of nerves further up. The pleasure is unbelievable. My hips undulate wildly. Her speed increases meeting my heated pace.. All the while, she is grinding into me--hot, slick.

Our mouths meet again and cling. I am flying so high that bright light flashes in front of my eyes. Sly's fingers curve upward. She hits a spot that sends me reeling. Again and again, she returns. I sob. The inner walls of my sex try desperately to suck her in as she retreats. Fire races up my spine and flushes through my body. She swallows my cries, and then suddenly I am flying and falling at the same time as orgasm pummels me off guard.. My thighs won't stop shaking. My body won't stop convulsing, and I hear a high pitched whine filling the little room as her fingers continue to move in me deeply, wringing me dry.

A few seconds later a hoarse cry fills my ears as Sly pounds her hips against me. I would do anythiing to see her face right now. She lets out a series of whimpers that shoot straight to my groin. My sex clenches in empathy and renewed arousal. Her body stills then trembles around me. "Unngh, Abbie!" I pull her close to me, letting her fall apart.

Long minutes later, I fall back to earth on a nice cushy cloud. Sly's breathing has returned to normal also.

"Mmm," she snuggles into me. "Not enough light in here. Wish I could see you. Let me see . . .there should be--" She pulls out of me, and my sex clutches at the empty air. I groan.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, just a reflex I guess."

"Believe me. I didn't want to leave," Sly adds.

I'm blushing. I know it.

After a couple of minutes soft light gives us partial illumination. It is enough. Sly looks down at me with a smile gracing swollen, red lips. Her face is flushed and sweaty, and her eyes are a brilliant blue. "Hey."

I grin back and meet her halfway as she bends down for a kiss.

"I guess we needed that, huh? It makes me feel more a part of you."

Sly takes the words right out of my mouth. "I was just about to say that. Things feel more right somehow. I'm just sorry it had to be a supply closet. I didn't expect that," I murmur.

"Me either. I was just hoping to grab a few kisses and surprise you. Soon, we'll be making love in our own bed."

"You think so?" I ask.

"I know so. That is, if you want to be with me like that. You know I love you, and I know you care about me. But, I'll understand if you need your own space." I hear Sly swallow and watch her throat bob.

She needs to hear this. "I can't see my future without you in it, and I do care. But, it's more than that. I don't know what else to call this but love. I've never felt anything like it. So, I do. I do love you."

I have never seen her face light up like that. I have never seen her so happy. Sly squeals, and I find myself being twirled around in the air. "Whooo! I'd be lying if I say I haven't been waiting to hear those words. I love you too, Abbie. Together then?"

I nod, and she starts talking excitedly. "That's great! Once we save a few thousand dollars, we can start looking for an apartment. A two bedroom, a furnished one. Maybe something with a couch that lets out into a bed. That way everybody will have somewhere to sleep. I know saving that kind of money is gonna take a while with what we make, but we can do it. Don't you think?"

Her enthusiasm and confidence is contagious. "Yeah, I believe we can." I mean every word. We may not have everything right now, but we have plans and hopes. Sometimes that's enough especially if you finally feel that you can make it all come to fruition.

"We probably need to open a bank account that would be easiest. Where are you keeping your money now?"

I shrug. "I usually keep it on me. It's never that much especially after rent and groceries so I just pin it in my clothes. It's become habit."

"Hmm, I was starting to do that too. That's too dangerous. We should definately go to a bank tomorrow."

"Sounds like a plan," I mutter in agreement.

Sly's grin is a mile wide. I can't help but return it. I look at her and try to convey all my feelings through my eyes. There is so much she has done for me. "Thank you."

Her eyebrows raise. "For what?"

"For bringing me back."

Her smile is gentle and soft. "Just returning the favor, Little Bit."

Sly pulls me close as I lean my head against her chest before glancing upward again. I guess from the sudden somber expression on my face she knows that I need to talk. "When I first came to the Mission that was my biggest fear, that I'd end up living there one day. Maybe if it hadn't happened like it had, maybe I wouldn't have been so torn up by it, but that whole day was like a roller coaster. It was like going from one extreme to another. I just never experienced anything like that before. I wasn't prepared for it. When you told me you got a housekeeping job and then we made love, it just felt like I touched the sun." I watch as Sly's eyes sparkle in agreement.

"It was the most beautiful thing to happen to me, Abbie." Her voice is hoarse but sincere.

"Me too, but then with the fire, it was like somebody up there was laughing and saying, "Look, this is what you can't have.' I guess I thought I was going to lose everything. I'm glad you and Stevie talked some sense into me."

"I'm here to stay, Abbie. I just wanted to make sure you knew that." Sly murmurs above my head.

"It's sinking in. It's finally sinking in. You know the same goes for me. I'm not going anywhere."

"Mmm," Sly plants a moist kiss on my lips. "I'm glad to hear that on both our parts." We both go quiete as if soaking in the surroundings and each other.

I watch as Sly looks around us. "I hate to say it, but you s'pose we should get out of here?"

"Don't know. I've gotten all comfortable."

"Uh huh, neither one of us will be too comfortable if we get caught in here."

I pause for a minute. She's right. "Yeah, Lola's probably looking for us anyway. It was close to lunch time when I came this way." I try my best to straighten my uniform and hair. "Let me go out first." God, who would have thought I would be doing this? Wasn't I the shy one months ago? I shake my head and step away from Sly to go. Before I get to the door, her fingers wrap around my arm and pull me back.

"Hey," The look in her eyes is soft and loving. ". . .tell me again."

I don't hesitate. There is no need to. I turn to her and get as close as possible our faces are almost touching. "I love you," I whisper.

Sly whimpers and captures my lips in a long, gentle kiss. I happily respond, wrapping my arms around her neck once more.


"Love you."

"God," Her voice cracks with emotion. ". . .I never thought I'd hear those words from anyone."

I lift a hand to her cheek, trailing my fingertips over it. "You'll hear it from me everyday."

After a few minutes more of intense stares and even more intense kisses. I exit the closet, only to hear the sound of of my name being called.

"Abbie! Where are chu girl? I see your cart."

Lola rounds the corridor, and I bite my lip before giving her a big smile. This woman has the weirdest timing.

Her eyes narrow. "I was jus here. Chu weren't. What is goin' on?"

My smile grows. Oh boy. "Um--" I feel a whoosh of air as the supply closet door opens behind me. I turn just as Sly is poking her head out.

"Is the coast clear?"

I groan inwardly. I'll never hear the last of this.

"Ohhhhhhhhhh, Abbie you didn't!" Lola's eyes widen to the size of saucers as she gives me the once over, taking in the wrinkled uniform. "Jessssss, you did!"

I hear Sly moan behind me as she emerges out of the closet. "Noooooooo, we didn't. Abbie was jes--just helping me find something."

Lola puts a hand on her hips and taps her foot. "Un huh. I didn't jes fall off turneep truck chu know. I know when sex has been had, and chu two are glowing. Sex has been had!" She adds with a triumphant smile.

I look from Sly to Lola hoping some way will come to me to nip this in the butt. Lola's grin just gets wider. I throw my hands up in exasperation. "Arrghh! Okay, we were, but it's not like we have anywhere else to go, you know?" I look at my blonde friend pleadingly. It glance a Sly to see her trying to hide her face behind a hand but peering at me from between the opening of her fingers expectantly. She expects me to take care of this!

Lola's grin turns into a smirk. "Aye, chica calm down. I'm jes teasing. I'm so glad to see chu doing better. I know what chu two are going through, and if I lived by myself chu would be more than happy to use my place." She looks back and forth between Sly and me. "Let me tell chu a secret." She leans in, and I find myself leaning in also curious as to what she has to say. Sly is doing the same. "The closet in the section Sly works is much bigger and more comfortable. Chu could lay down in there." Blond brows wriggle.

Blood floods my face leaving it unbelievably hot. The things this woman says! "Lola!"

Her face takes on the mask of innocence. "What? What did I say?"

I peer at Sly to find that her hand is covering her mouth this time obviously hoping to hide her laughter. It wasn't working. I could see it in her eyes. The amusement in the situation is bursting forth. I let out a chuckle before I can contain it. They hear it and look at me as if waiting. I sigh and smile before rolling my eyes and decide to add my own bit of teasing. "And how do you know about this closet?"

Lola's smile is sensual and rakish. "Let's jes say chu are not the first women to take a quick. . .break."

I look at her increduously. "Lola! Did you seduce women into going in there?"

"I not tell. It's lunchtime. Let's eat." She walks off briskly toward the service elevator.

I glance at Sly who is as amused by this as I am. Her eyes are twinkling. "Tomorrow night. My closet?"

I feel my own eyes widen. Lola is rubbing off on her. They are both incorrigible"Sly!"

Both of her eyebrows rise knowingly. "Abbie?"

I can't help it. I smile hugely. There is no way I'd pass up this chance. "God, I love you. Is 3 A.M. okay?"

Sly chuckles and looks at me affectionately. "It's perfect." She holds out a hand, and I take it immediately.

I'm back. We're back. Everything is back, and it is good.


Chapter: XXXII: Square in the Face


Perfect. It's almost as if my life is perfect. I have everything I ever wanted--a family who loves me. Now, it's time to work on the secondary things. It's late morning, and I sit virtually alone in the common room waiting for Abbie to finish washing up. We have a date at the bank. Abbie. My God, I can't think about her without thinking about what happened last night. She is the most sensual person I have ever met. She bathed me in heat and in love, and being inside her was like coming home. It feels so new with her--making love. Each caress is like being reborn--a baptism of sorts. I'm finding my way to where I belong, and every time we touch the path is just a little brighter. I now know the difference between sex and making love. Nothing could compare with being with Abbie. Absolutely nothing.

I'm glad she's back . . .no I'm elated because she definately spruces up the place, my family, and my heart. Nothing would be the same without those crooked little smiles that call to you, and before you know it, you're smiling too as if you're privy to the secret she knows. I chuckle at the thought of it. Looking up, I spot Gert waddling this way. She usually hangs around while Stevie and Pauly go out and about. She waves as she gets closer. I throw her a smile.

"Where's your other half?" She asks. Ahhh, she's lucid today. I can see it in her eyes, and other half, I like that.

"She's getting cleaned up we're making a trip to the bank. You wanna come?" I love seeing her and Abbie interact. They totally understand each other. It's eerie. They talk and laugh about nonsense.

"Sure, I got some deposits to make myself."

I raise a brow and smile at her indulgently. I would love to know Gert's story, but I know that I probably never will. The way she talks about money all the time leads me to think she had a lot of it at one time and lost it all. Now, just the mention of cash is her way of holding on to something she doesn't have anymore. "Well, have a seat. She might be awhile."

We lapse into a comfortable silence, but I have some things on my mind. I clear my throat. "You had me scared there for a little while Gertie."

She turns to look at me with her ragged face and wind burned hair. "You mean, when I was sick? I really missed being with you all."

"We missed you too, and I don't want you to be sick again if I can help it. You understand what I'm saying?" I look at her expectantly.

Gert looks confused for a moment. Then, she nods. "That's why you got the job, then?"

"Yeah, I want us all to be together. You, Stevie, Pauly, Abbie and me--"

"Like family?" Gert finishes for me. Her voice cracks. I am tempted to ask a lot more. This is the most lucid she has been in a long, long time. I don't know why.

"Yeah, like family. Do you. . .do you have other family maybe looking for you, Gertie?" I ask her softly.

Her head snaps up and her face hardens. "They didn't want me." To my surprise I see tears shining in her eyes.

"We want you, Gertie. We'll take care of you." Somehow, I end up hugging her. Seconds later, she is pulling away.

"I need to go call my broker. Be right back."

I watch her as she leaves. Maybe I don't need to know about her other family. I think she just told me all I wanted to hear.


Long minutes later, I spy Abbie coming down the hall. She offers me a half smile as she breezes in the room filling it with the scent of jasmine. I take in a deep breath then grin back at her.

"Were you making yourself all pretty for me?"

She's standing over me now. A teasing grin steals across her face. "No, I was getting rid of that Ajax smell. It seems to cling."

I narrow my eyes at her then purse my lips to keep from smiling. I bet my eyes give me away though. I can't hide anything from her. It's so nice to have her back. "You enjoyed that didn't you?"

The grin widens. "Immensely."

I snort. "Lola is rubbing off on you more than I thought."

"Funny, I was thinking the exact same thing about you last night."

I love being able to play with her like this. It's damn stimulating. Making love has opened her up in more ways than one. I love this side of her. I'm sure I would have seen it sooner if it wasn't for the fire. "You could think last night?" I whisper and glance around to see the other two people asleep. One is sitting awkwardly in a chair while the other has procured the couch.

She blushes. Score one for me.

"Um, well. . .after. . .you know." Abbie hangs her head in an attempt to hide.

"Oh yeah, I know." My voice lowers an octave without permission, and my body zings with memories.

Her head snaps back up and our eyes meet. The room suddenly crackles with tension, and I want nothing more than to grab her and kiss her senseless. I watch as her tongue snakes out to lick dry lips. I almost groan at the sight. Somehow my breathing has become slightly ragged. Abbie leans toward me, and my heart and stomach flutter in anticipation. I reach out a hand and trail fingertips up and down her arm. Gooseflesh rises. She moves in closer until I can feel hot, sweet breath caress my face. My gaze goes from her eyes to her lips to the rapidly beating pulse in her neck.

"Can we make that 2:30?" Abbie mutters thickly.

Oh God, I wish it was right now. "Uh huh." I all but squeak.

A voice clears somewhere behind us. I almost jump out of my seat in surprise. Abbie's eyes get huge. I bet she's wondering how much this person heard.

"Uh, sorry to interrupt." The voice is timid and very female.

Abbie moves out of the way so that we can both get a view of our visitor. She's tall and way too thin. Stringy red hair falls over her shoulders and eyes, hiding them from me. She looks very familiar. I've seen her around. "It's okay. Were you looking for somebody?"

"Actually, I'm looking for you. You're Sly right?" She asks almost shyly.

I glance at Abbie, and I see that she's just as curious as I am. "Yeah. Now that you know who I am. Can I ask who you are?"

"Oh, um, sorry. I'm Jen. I've been living here about a month. People told me that you are the person I come to if I need anything." She walks foward and extends her hand. I take it gladly. Her hand is so small and fragile. It feels like I could break it if I squeeze too hard.

I smile at Jen. "Nice to meet you. This is Abbie." I jerk my head in her direction.

Jen grins. "Oh, I've heard of you too." She reaches out a hand to Abbie. My eyebrows raise. My Abbie is becoming a household name around here.

"Hi," I hear Abbie mutter.

I turn back to the redhead. "What can I help you with?" Before I know it, my arm is being nudged. I look up at Abbie in confusion.

"Can I talk to you for a minute," she whispers. I eye her in confusion but nod my head anyway.

"Be right back, Jen." I get up and follow her to the other side of the room.

"What's up?" I look into green eyes snapping with excitement.

"Now's your chance. It can start with her. It's time for you to teach and not just do."

"Oh! I didn't realize." I pause. "But, she's new around here. Maybe I should--"

"No, it's perfect. If you show one person, she will show another and so on. It's a good way to start. We've been putting this on the backburner for way too long. It's time."

I stare at Abbie for a moment. This is a huge step for me. I'm a doer not a teacher. At least, I don't think so. "I don't know, Abbie. I've never done this teaching thing--"

"That's crap." Abbie interrupts. My eyebrows spring high on my forehead.


"Look at what you did for me. Look what you taught me." Her voice is sincere and so is her expression.

"Oh, I didn't think about that." I take a deep breath. "Okay, I'll give it a try." I reach for her hand as we go back to Jen.

The redhead's eyes are expectant. She glances down out our joined hands and looks back up at me with a big grin. Ah, that's what she heard. "Sorry about that. What were you saying?"

"Um, I have a daughter who I want to enroll in school here come Fall, and I found out her books are gonna cost a lot of money. The Mission can help with some of them but not all. Is there any way you can get the rest for me?" She starts to dig in her pockets. "I have the list right here. I know it's early, but I want her to start reading as soon as possible."

I squeeze Abbie's hand, and she squeezes back. I take another deep breath. "Um, I'm a lot more busy these days, so I can't do it for you. But, I can tell you where to go. If that's okay?" I look at her hoping not to see disappointment. I don't.

"Oh, well that's just as good! Can you write it down for me. I'm sure I can find my way around." She starts fishing in her pockets again. "I have a pen somewhere."

I am stunned for a moment. That was easy. I hope everybody else takes it this way. I peer down at Abbie to see a huge smile spread across her face. She knew I could do it. I grin back and unlatch our hands to take the pen and paper. "Um, there's this old guy on Artic and New York avenue that owns a used book store. He lets me borrow reading material from there. Tell him I sent you. His name is Bob, nice guy, and he should have what you need. If he doesn't, he'll find it, but you have to give them back." I look at her pointedly as I begin to write.

"I promise." Jen nods.

"Good." I finish writing the address and hand the paper back to her.

"Thank you so much! It was nice meeting both of you." She gives us both another smile then turns to go.

I stand there looking at the empty hallway. "Well, I--"

"You did it," Abbie whispers. "Was it as hard as you thought?"

I think for a minute. "No actually. I hope everyone else takes it like she does. I've walked around this city a lot. I have a lot of connections."

I hear her sigh, and I glance down to see her expression somber. "A lot of people depend on you, Sly. Some of them won't be that easy on you. They might say all kinds of nasty things including accusing you of abandoning them. Are you ready for that?"

I scratch my nose before answering. "As long as you're here, I'll be okay." It's the truth. I feel like I could take on anything.

Abbie smiles gently. "Good thing that's a lesson we've both learned."


We're on the Boardwalk, heading toward the first bank we see. More than likely it will be Fleet. I shake my head and chuckle as I listen to my two favorite women converse.

"But, Gert, how do you know how much to put in what stock?"

Gert cackles as if she has the biggest secret in the world. "You have to find a broker who you can trust. They'll know what to do with it."

"But you said yours wouldn't listen to you."

Gert pauses and cants her head to the side. "I know. That's what makes him good."

Abbie stops mid-stride. I catch her eye, and I see green eyes sparkling with mirth. I smile crookedly.

"Gert did you just make a funny?" I ask.

She just cackles and walks ahead of us.

I laugh, and Abbie joins in.

We continue to walk slowly. The day is nice, and I find myself trailing behind those two as I watch the seagulls fly over head and land in the sand. My life is full of beauty and promise. That's something that I've never had. Everything seems brighter, cleaner somehow. I glance ahead of me to see green eyes looking back. She's the reason why. I grin, and Abbie returns it. "I love you," I mouth. She blushes and stumbles. Abbie peers at me accusingly, but beams nonetheless as she mouths the same words back. My heart races, and I almost miss the street marker indicating our stop. Abbie is quite the distraction.

"Um, we need to turn and get on Atlantic, ladies." I check my jeans pocket one last time to make sure I have the proper ID. I see Abbie doing the same.

Finally, we stop in front of the financial institution. I snort. I haven't been in one of these in years. Didn't think I'd be back either. What was the point? I didn't have any money. Ahh, but life is funny the way it twists and turns. Here I am about to open a savings account. I look down as I feel a hand caress my back.

"You okay?" Abbie's eyes are concerned.

I smile at her. "Yeah, I am. Um, do you want to do this jointly or. . .?"

She nods. "Jointly. What's mine is yours. You know that."

I am flooded with warmth. It's quite a feeling to have someone trust you like that. "Okay, together."

Now, inside, and after a few minutes wait, we both sit on the other side of the financial consultant's desk. Me and Abbie are quiet as he types our information in. He stops and picks up the paper with the Mission's address on it.

"Is this a permanant address?"

"No, it's only temporary," I answer quickly. I feel Abbie's eyes on me, and I turn to see her smiling.

He looks at us confused. "Um, okay just notify us when you want to change it. So. . ." he trails off as he punches a few more keys. "You have four hundred five dollars to put in today? Would you like ATM cards for the account? There's no charge for them here."

"Sure," we both answer almost simulataneously. That's the one thing The Mission takes care of is people's mail. I guess who's ever in charge of it is really organized. God, this feels so good. Four hundred five dollars. It's been ages since I've had four dollars. I need to sit down and do some figuring on how long is it gonna take us to save the money we need. We all need clothes for the upcoming winter, and we'll need the little things for the apartment. . .

"Just sign here," the man mutters, interrupting my thoughts.

We are finally finished. Abbie rises, and I see it in her face. She is about to bubble over with excitement. I chuckle at her, and she smirks crookedly as we walk toward the waiting area where Gert is sitting.

"It feels like things are finally starting to come together," Abbie gushes.

"Slowly but surely they are," I agree. "I just need to sit down and figure out how long it's gonna take to save the money we need. I want to be out of the Mission before winter."

"Do you think we can do that?"

"I don't know. I'm going to do some calculating. We'll need to save a few thousand dollars, which will be starting off money." While I'm talking, I'm adding and multiplying in my head. I make less than Abbie because I'm just starting--$6.75/hr. Ugh, why didn't I do this before? It's gonna take us forever to save what we need. We don't have forever. I sigh quietly, trying not to let dejection take over. We've got a long road ahead of us it seems.

Abbie hands slides into mine. She's counting on me. Maybe this road needs to change a little.

I glance down at Gert. "You ready to go? We're finished here."

Gert grumbles. 'Told ya. I got something to deposit."

My gaze meets Abbie's. She shrugs. Surely Gert was kidding. She stands up and starts to dig in the pockets of the tattered work pants. I didn't notice before, but they are bulging. I peer at Abbie again. She's looking the same place I am.

Gert starts to pull out the contents of her pockets. I gasp as I see what it is.

She had me going there for a minute. Gert piles waded up paper towels on the little table in front of her.

I lock eyes with Abbie. We seem to both let out a long breath. That would have been something if real money sat on that table.

Gert starts to mutter. "Don't have all of it. Have to come back another time. I told that man to liquidate more!"

We watch as Gert stuffs her pockets again. Without another word, she gets up to leave.

"Whoa,' I can't help but utter.

"Yeah, you were thinking the same thing I was weren't you?"

"Yeah, that would have been---"

"Something," Abbie adds.

"Yeah. Um, we better go catch up with her."


Abbie is as giddy as a child. It's way past our usual bedtime. Her back is to me. I pull her close in an attempt to still her, but the cot groans as she continues to wiggle. "You know we're gonna end up on the floor if you don't stop moving around like that." I whisper in her ear.

"I know. I'm just so---"

"Excited?" I finish for her.

"Yeah! Excited. It feels like I'm moving again. For a long time, I was just, you know, stagnant, and I didn't have it in me to do a thing about it."

"Yeah, I know what you're saying."

She turns over to look at me. A hand reaches up and fingers smooth over my forehead. That worried crease is there I can feel it.

"You've been awfully quiet about all this since we left the bank."

I sigh. I have been, and it's because I didn't like what I saw. I need to do something about this, but I can't go back to that life. I can't be who I was. It would be an easy trap to fall into, I think, and that scares me. "I know. I did some calculations, Abby. It will be over six months before we save the money we need. I didn't want it to take that long. It just hit me smack dab between the eyeballs."

"Oh, I didn't realize." I hear her voice falter from its jovial tone. I didn't mean to do that--get rid of that happy edge. Maybe I'm just being impatient, but it seems like more than that.

"Don't get me wrong, Little Bit. We can do it. It's just gonna take time. I figure we need five to six thousand to get all the things we need. Maybe more." Suddenly I wish that paper towel in Gert's pockets had been hundreds.

She looks at me with a confused expression. "Then why do you seem so worried about this?"

"To be honest, I don't know. It's a combination of things, I guess. I should be doing more. I mean, all the education I have. . . I should be doing more. I'm just--" I let my voice trail off.

The fingers on my forehead move down to my cheek, caressing softly. "You're just what?"

"I'm scared, Abbie." I lay myself bare for this woman. There is no hiding, and I think I'm better for it. "I was a real shitty person back then. Money was all I cared about, and now, it seems like it's starting again. Everything goes back to money. Even with you in my life, what if I---mmmph."

Abbie kisses me then pulls away to look me squarely in the eye. "No, you're not that person anymore. Think about it Sly. Look what you had in your life then and what you have in it now. You had money, a girlfriend, and material things, but you weren't happy. I think that's what kept you going back, working harder. You thought the more money you made the happier you would be, but you know now that it doesn't work like that. Are you happy, Sly?"

I don't hesitate. "Yes. I didn't think it was possible but yes."

"Then that makes all the difference."

I stare at her dumbfounded, and that damn saying starts to run through my head. The only thing to fear is fear itself. "I've got some thinking to do, huh?"

"Yeah, it sounds like you do."

I lean down to kiss her. She hums against my lips. "You're wonderful. You know that?" As an answer, Abbie blushes. "I love it when you do that." Her blush deepens as I trace its path from her neck to cheeks. "And I love you." She smiles through the flush and graces my chin with a kiss.

"Love you too. Now, go to sleep." She adds with a grin.

"Hey! You're the one keeping me up!" I tell her incredously.

"That's not the point. Go to sleep."

I grumble as she wiggles until her head is situated on my shoulder. I feel a slight kiss on my neck as she throws a leg over me. I'm trapped, but I have no desire to go anywhere. Pulling her into me once more, I let my mind wander. Is it time for me to really venture out into the world again? I'm giddy at the thought of crunching numbers. It's what my mind was built to do. Would anybody hire me? It's been two years, and that's a big gap between accounting jobs. Maybe if I tell the truth. It will get me somewhere. After all, I was exonerated.

Abbie mews as she burrows further into my chest. For her, I would do anything. She believes in me, and I believe in myself. The stage is set. I'm trying to do right by the community by teaching them to fend more for themselves. That frees me up big time, and getting this kind of job will get us where we need to go so much quicker. Maybe it's time for me; for Abbie; and for my family.


Two days later, I'm sitting in a chair as I survey the room I'm about to clean. It's disgusting what people do or think they can do just because they have money. Hell, I used to be those people. Angry, I throw the rag that I am using to dust the table on the floor. My teeth grind as I try not to let the anger take over.

Why am I here? I can do better than this. Isn't being here letting them, my parents, and that lying cheat, win? I'm not angry at them that would give them too much power over me. I'm angry at myself. I can do better than this, and I need to. Abbie said I had some thinking to do. I have been. I've thought enough, and something has finally clicked into place. Maybe it took seeing this shit to know that I'm still a doer, and it's time to do just that. I glance at the digital clock on the nightstand. It's 2:15 a.m. Almost time for me to meet Abbie in my closet. This time we're going to do a lot more talking.


I open the door to the closet, and I am immediately yanked inside by a giggling Abbie. "What took you so long?" Her arms wrap around me, and I smile as I search around for the light.

I flip the switch. "Ah, there we go," I mutter.

"So?" Abbie asks impatiently.

I smirk. "So what?"

Her eyes roll. "You know what I mean?!"

"Wellll, I was thinking." I tell her cryptically.

"About?" I watch in amusement as her exasperation grows. Green eyes glint dangerously at me.

"I was thinking about how to put together my resume." I look at her and wait.


I didn't have to wait long.

"You're gonna do it?" Her arms move from my torso to around my neck. "I can't wait to tell the others!" Abbie is wiggling excitedly. "You're so. . .so"

My eyes widen as she crushes her lips to mine. My surprise changes to a groan of enjoyment. The kiss is intensly passionate. Her tongue plunders my mouth as if it was hungry for it. I let her have her way. Like I always do. Abbie whimpers, and her lips gentle until our mouths are just brushing. She pulls back.

"I love you so much, and I knew you had it in you--all that confidence and cockiness. The Sly I fell in love with--the one who doesn't take shit. You're one in the same. Your heart is just open now."

Nimble hands start to unbutton my uniform. After three buttons, her hands slides in over my heart, and Abbie's lips brush mine again. I smile into the kiss before pulling her into me and deepening the contact once more. Abbie moans, and her hand moves over to my left breast. Her fingers flick lazily over my nipple. I gasp at the spark the shoots through my body. "Abbie," I say breathlessly. "I thought maybe we could talk. . .God!" I cry out as she plucks the aroused tip of my breast.

Abbie's hot, soft lips move from my mouth to my neck. Her mouth opens wide over the flesh there, and her tongue comes into play. "Mmm, about?"

I try to think. "I-I don't know. . .stuff?" How the hell does she do this to me? How the hell did I get so aroused already? My stomach clenches along with my sex, and my thighs are slick with a flowing wetness. She bites into my neck and my breathing stops then becomes ragged. I moan loudly as her other hand-- that I had forgotten about- slides over my behind. I could have sworn I had on underwear.

"Mmm, I love that sound."

My God, I've created a wanton, and she's all mine. I smile slowly as she sucks at my pulse point.

"Now, shhh, and let me show you how proud I am," Blunt nails rake over the flesh of my behind. ". . .of you." With one hand, Abbie undoes more buttons and moves the material aside until skin is exposed. Good thing I don't wear a bra. I watch as her head descends. I watch as her tongue flicks slowly making my nipple come up big and hard. It's the most erotic sight I have ever seen.

"Oh yess, show me." Her mouth engulfs me. I hiss and throw my head back. She moans. I have to see more. It's too delicious a sight to turn away from.

After leaving both nipples red and sensitive to even the air, I watch as Abbie kneels. My heart races at the prospect. She's never tasted me before, but I've been down on her enough for her to know just where to go. Just the thought of it makes me open my legs wide.

Cool air rushes over my wet sex. Then, soft, probing fingers open me. "Oh God, Abbie!" I hear her whimper in response. Oh yes, she is very proud.


It's after breakfast at The Mission, and we sit here in the common room waiting for Stevie and the rest of the gang to arrive. Abbie stands over me rubbing my back. I glance up at her and smile. This is the right decision. I feel it in my gut, my heart, and my head. I blow out a breath. This is still a big step for all of us. I will work the housekeeping job until I find a new one. I may not get a big job like I had before, but I would be happy doing the books for a small store or any other kind of business.

I look up to see Stevie and Pauly filing in. Gert is right behind them. For some reason, their faces are wary. Did I miss something here?

Stevie and Pauly grab chairs and move them near us. Gert decides to stand to my left. She gives me a little smile before looking away. I clear my throat and open my mouth. But, Pauly raises a hand to stop me.

"Let me say somethin' first, Sly." He looks from Stevie to Gert then wipes his hands on the ratty khakis he's wearing. "We've been talking. Been tryin' to include Gert, but it's hard to get stuff out of her, you know?"

I nod. That means she probably wasn't able to tell them about my plans to have them live with us.

"Um, we see that you and the lil' miss over there love each other. You picked good, and she has been good to us. But, you're young and need to start off on your own. You don't need us holding you down." I see him glance at Stevie again. "We figured we'd tell ya this before you told us. So no feelings would be hurt. We understand that you can't be with us anymore. . ."

My body jolts in shock, and I don't hear another word. I look up at Abbie, and she's as horrified as I am. I know I have to say something. "Whoa, Pauly! What the hell? You are my family all of you, and where I go you go. No ifs, and's or but's about it. You got me here to the person I am today, and I'll be damned before I abandon either one of you. I didn't ask you to meet me here to dump you. I asked you here to ask yall to come with us! I told Gertie the other day, and I'm sure if she could have she would have relayed all of this."

Stevie and Pauly look at each other in surprise. "Sho?! Didn't think ya meant it when ya said it a while back. Thought was jus somethin' to say. I been hopin'. Yall's my family. Don't wanna lose none of ya," Stevie announces as his eyes takes in all of us.

I take a few deep breaths to calm down. Abbie squeezes my shoulder. I look up at her and see a determined expression. She has something to say.

"I hope you know that Sly speaks for us both on this. You guys changed my world, and it wouldn't be the same without you in it. It wouldn't be the same at all. I'm holding on to you. You're my family, and I love you all." Abbie's voice is emotion filled. A silence lapses between us.

"I always knew Sly would take care of us," Gert is the first one to break into the quiet. "She didn't care about my money like them others did. Not even like my broker."

I look over at the older woman gratefully. All of them---they are something else. They love me enough to let me go. I'm guessing that's a whole lot of love. I glance around the room, holding each of their gazes--Pauly, Stevie, and then Gert. "We all know where we stand, right?" The nod, and I continue. "We stand together." I feel Abbie wrap an arm around me. I've never felt so safe, and so sure. "Okay, this is the plan. We're gonna save money, and I'm gonna work as a housekeeper until I can get something better. It might take a while, but I'm gonna try. When we save enough, we're gonna rent a house with enough room for everybody. I was thinking about an apartment at first, but we should go bigger since there are five of us. . ."

As I continue to speak, my heart swells. Here is where the journey leads me. I've had many twists and turns, and there may be many more. I've never been more ready for them. I could stumble somewhere in between, but I know someone is here to pick me up. I have an angel watching over me. I feel her kissing the top of my head now. I have family around me. I feel them loving me now, and most of all, I have hope.


Chapter XXXIII: At last

This is where I belong at Sly's side. Right here is where I feel complete. Standing here, I feel like I could do anything. She motivates me. She moves me to want more out of life than I thought it would ever offer me. I may not have her education or intelligence, but I'm smart in my own right. I just need to go after what I want, and I will. As a part of this family, I have responsibility to them. There's other jobs in the casino that pay more. I just have to save the money to get the license for them. It's that simple now.

I glance around the room. I see Stevie and Pauly. I picture them clean, shaven, and flourishing like they should be. It's quite a picture. My gaze emcompasses Gert. I want to be able to get her the help she needs. There's a story in her somewhere.

I close my eyes and look within. My parents would be proud, I know that. They wouldn't like me being homeless, but they would love the person I've become. I feel it somewhere deep down. It's been quite a transition from helplessness to hopefulness. I have love in my life. I have family. I have everything. I may have been afraid before to have that. . .everything. I closed myself to it because I watched it crumble before my eyes as a child. I see again. I feel again, and I'm open again to everything. I pull Sly closer as she continues to talk. She's still my hero, but I guess I rescued her too. Opening my eyes, I find myself bending down placing a kiss at the top of her head. Life is truly worth the struggle it takes to live it, and I know that I'm going to win.


The End


Author's Notes *

Some of you may not like this ending; some of you may not understand it; and some of you will. Let me hear from all of you. I know the updates on this story have been far between, for that I am sorry. Re-read this story from the beginning. Find its message. It's one of hope, home, and family. It's a story that's meant to Linger in your head an heart. This is a big one for me in many ways because I work with the "invisible people." Their struggle continues. Also, this is the first novel or novella that I've finished. I feel like my kids are leaving the nest or something. It's a very strange feeling, a haunting one at that. Still, I know they'll always be close. That's a stronger feeling. I hope you've enjoyed and learned from the ride. Please let me know at Minerva

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