Chapter Eleven



"Hey, Tony," Shane called as the young girl came to within earshot of her words, "want a ride home?"

Tony’s smile faded and she hitched her thumb toward the filling buses. "I’ve got to ride the bus."

Shane’s icy eyes darkened for a minute then softened when she met Tony’s. "S’ok, just thought I’d ask. I got some stuff to do but how ‘bout I call you later?"

"Ok," Tony smiled again.

"Um, you won’t get in trouble with your mum if I call, right?"

"No, you can call. If you want," she finished shyly, having no clue as to what they could possibly have to talk about on the phone when most of their real life conversations were few and far between.

"Cool, talk to you later."

Tony watched Shane trot off to join Casey and a few other girls. She sighed and made her way to the crowded bus. She’d have to stand again.





"What’s the plan, Stan?" Casey asked Shane as they lounged around the abandoned apartment building they usually used as a meeting place, sipping warm beer Shane had ‘borrowed’ from her father’s private stash.

Tish had shot up with crack and wasn’t coherent enough to join the conversation. Molly, ‘Ripper’ and Joene were lounging around the floor, each with cans of beer, and cigarettes dangling from their fingers. Cadence was seated beside Shane waving the smoke out of her face and drinking from a can of Sprite.

"Dunno," Shane was on her fourth beer and it didn’t seem to faze her one bit.

"Yah know," Casey began casually, "you and Tony seem awfully friendly these days."

Shane’s eyes narrowed considerably. "I thought we’d settled that."

"Didn’t mean anything by it," Casey treaded carefully on thin ice. "Just wondering what’s up an all."

"Nothings up. She’s just a bright kid. Funny too."

It was certainly more then Casey had expected to hear from her dark friend. She was a woman of few words. But when she did say something it was more than just words. "She’s tough, for just a little girl."

"She’s not so little," Shane replied softly.

"If she’s hangin’ with you I guess she’s not." Casey tossed her empty beer can over to the pile with the others and lay spread eagle on the floor, hands behind her head.

"What’s that suppose to mean?" Shane eyed Casey wearily, not liking that statement in the least.

"Dunno," Casey mumbled, the beer making her sleepy, as it always did. Her eyes blinked shut. "Just guess there’s got to be something cool about her if you let her ride your bike. Even if I can’t figure out what the fuck it is," her voice trailed off into sleep and soft snores.

Shane glanced at Cadence and found her staring. "What?"


"I got something to do," Shane muttered darkly and left the room. She squeezed out between the boards in the back and went down the street to the pay phone. Shit, the cord had been cut. She wondered on to the next one and found the receiver hanging off the bottom in a tangle of wires.

Geez, where’s a phone when you need one. It’s probably too late to call her now anyway. Her mom would throw a hissy.

Whatever, it’s not like Tony’s gonna be waiting by the phone or anything. She’s got better things to do then talk to me. The thought left her oddly depressed.





Tony was waiting by the phone, even if it wasn’t obvious to anyone watching. She was pretending to watch an old black-n-white movie with her Gram. ‘Casablanca’ or something.

As the movie credits rolled Gram looked over at her granddaughter. "It’s late sweetheart, you’d best be getting to bed."

Tony reluctantly focused her eyes out of her peaceful daydream and turned to her Gram. "Can I watch the 11 o’clock news with you?"

"I suppose, but I’d think it’s not the stuff to fill your head with right before sleep." Gram smiled and shuffled from her chair to change the channel.

The evening news came and went, belaying tales of hardships, horror and death. Tony didn’t hear a word of it as she waited for the phone to ring.





"Night Gram," Tony pecked her Gram on the cheek and shuffled dejectedly off to her room.

"Good night, child. Sleep well," Gram replied to the retreating form.

Tony mumbled something in reply and shut the door behind her. I’m going to cry? No way. She rubbed the heel of her hands against her eyes. No crying. It’s not like she promised or anything. Still… it hurt that Shane had forgotten her.

She changed into a sleep shirt, switched off the room light and crawled under the covers. Almost as an after thought her hand shot out from under the blankets and slapped the alarm on.


Chapter Twelve

Two weeks later


Casey’s actually being nice. Ok, not nice but she’s trying. I think. She doesn’t fling daggers at me anymore.

"Stop staring," Tony hissed under her breath.

Casey glared. "I’m not staring."

"Are too."

"Are not."

Tony stuck out her tongue.

Casey flashed hers and phhfftted.

Tony laughed and Casey smiled. This isn’t so bad. At least the cafeteria is tolerable now on rainy days.

It had rained the last week and a half. Endless pattering and sudden downpours. Thunder. Lightning that blew out the grid for five blocks, flooded the subways and left more then one rat floating paws up in the raging gutters.

And left the students edgy and depressed, especially Shane.

For some reason Casey was trying to make up for Shane’s absence by inviting Tony to sit with her at lunch.

Nothing had been said about the missing phone call. Their silence had stretched and Tony found herself floundering in the dim halls, till Casey walked beside her and asked her to lunch. That was almost a week ago.

And it had almost been a week since anyone had seen Shane. Casey and Cadence had assured Tony that Shane did this often. That she disappeared for days and re-appeared as if nothing had happened. They had all learned to live with it, and Tony, she supposed, would have to learn to live with it as well.

But that didn’t mean she had to like it. "Are you sure Shane’s all right? Has she called you or anything?"

"She’s fine and she hasn’t called," Casey sighed. Learning to like Tony hadn’t been as hard as she thought but at times she still wondered what the fuck Shane saw in her.

"Then how do you know if she’s fine?" Tony crumbled up her empty lunch bag. "I mean if she hasn’t call-"

"Tony, she’s fine." Cadence peered at the young girl across the table with a reassuring smile. "Really."


At the deep voice right next to her ear Tony nearly leapt out of her chair. "Shane!" she cried as she whirled around and grabbed her friend in an impulsive hug.

Shane just shrugged as she looked with challenging eyes around the lunch room table at the startled faces of her posse, then wrapped one arm around Tony’s shoulders, gently hugging her back before releasing her.

"So, where were you? What were you doing?" Tony asked as she sat.

The questions started before Shane had even sat down. She grinned wryly. "Nowhere. Whatcha’ll been up to?"

"Well-" Casey started.

"How could you have been nowhere, Shane? You must have been somewhere?" Tony looked expectantly at the dark teen.

Shane was about to snap at Tony when she saw the barely disguised worry in her eyes. "I was out of town," her icy eyes begged with Tony to drop it, that if she could she’d tell her later.

Tony was silent a moment before she shrugged, mistaking Shane’s inability to tell her as a sign of anger. She focused her attention on Casey as she re-hashed the last week’s goings ons, interrupting now and then with her own version of the events.





Shane caught Tony’s elbow on the way out of the cafeteria and pulled her behind the others. They slowed down and stopped as the others rounded the corner.

"What?" Tony asked, not bothering to look at Shane, afraid of what would be clearly written on her face.

"I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others." Shane hastened to explain without really explaining.

"Doesn’t matter," Tony replied offhandedly. She started back down the hall, not really wanting to go to class but not being late was really the only excuse she had.

Shane touched her elbow again, and Tony turned back to her, eyes blazing with fury.

"I was worried," Tony whispered harshly.

"I- I didn’t mean to worry you. I leave like that all the time," Shane cast her eyes down to the ground as she shuffled her feet, startled by Tony’s apparent vehemence.

"You could have told me, at least." Tony tried hard to hold back the tears, but they threatened at the corner of her eyes. She blinked rapidly and looked off down the hall. Through the diminishing throng of students she found Casey waiting at the corner. Watching.

"I realize that now," Shane said softly and gently touched Tony’s chin and turned to look into her dark green eyes. "I should have told you I was going. I- I’m sorry."

The warm fingers on Tony’s chin sent a tingle down her spine and nervously she stepped out of reach. Why is Shane being so… what’s the word? Gentle? No, that’s not it. Maybe she really is sorry. Maybe she really does care if we have a friendship or not. "It’s your life, Shane. It’s not like you have to report to me or anything."

"I know that. It’s just that… well um no one’s really ever worried before. Er, I mean it’s not like I ever needed to tell anyone…" Shane trailed off, at a sudden stuttering loss for words.

Tony sighed slightly. "It’s ok, really." And it was ok, because Shane was here. Now.

Shane smiled widely. She shoved her hands in her pockets and leaned back against the wall, fighting the urge to brush the hair out of Tony’s eyes. Again.

"Wanna walk me to class?" Tony asked, by way of truce.


Casey watched from down the hall. She couldn’t see everything that was happening as students passed back and forth between them, nor could she hear, but for almost a full 30 seconds the hall cleared out. Right at the moment that Shane touched Tony’s chin.

With narrowed eyes Casey saw the dark depths of Shane’s soul and compared it to the almost… tender … girl down the hall. What the hell? She wondered. But her sudden insights were gone as Shane leaned back against the wall, hands in her pockets, with her usual feline grace.





"Room 234?" Tony asked. The second half of her day was now to be filled with senior classes. She didn’t know yet if Shane was in any of her classes because she had not permitted herself to ask, or even hope.

"This way…" Shane took the stairs two at a time and Tony struggled to keep up.

"Hey Shane?" Tony paused to catch her breath. Shane hadn’t heard her. "Hey Shane," she shouted, "wait up!"

Shane turned, then went down a few steps. "Come on, slow poke," she teased.

"Well if ya didn’t go so fast I could keep up," Tony griped good-naturedly.

The dark teen grinned. "If your legs were longer, you mean. Then you could keep up."

Childishly Tony just stuck out her tongue. "Yeah, yeah, yeah… whatever." She adjusted her pack across her shoulders and they made their way back up the stairs, this time keeping pace with one another.





The new classes certainly weren’t challenging, but at least now she wasn’t two years behind. They had the same problem with books and supplies as the lower grades but Tony was satisfied, at least for now, to be back in the academia she was use to.

Classes went by in a blur and for the first time Tony actually had homework she needed to take home, because she actually had to study some of the material this time. She didn’t see Shane at the bus stop, but as she was looking her gaze found Casey’s.

She gave the spiky haired, nose ringed girl a shy smile and waved. Casey waved her over to the grass.

"What’s up?" Tony asked when she was close enough.

"Nada. What’s up with you?" Casey shifted nervously from foot to foot and fingered the stud pierced in her eyebrow. So many questions…

"Gotta get on the bus and go home." Tony shrugged.

"I was gonna get a ride with Cadence, you wanna come?" Casey asked.

Tony sighed. Her mom would kill her. "I, um, I’m not allowed." She blushed to the roots of her hair.

Casey graciously stepped around the uncomfortable topic. "Bummer. You could ride the bus home then like ask if you could hang with us?"

How much I want to do that you have no idea. "I can ask. But ya know my mum is pretty strict. Ah, she’ll wanna meet you n stuff." Tony colored, totally embarrassed. How cool must Casey and Cadence’s moms be if they were allowed out and about?

"No problem. We can always kidnap you," Casey grinned wickedly.

Tony laughed. They parted after Tony gave Casey her address. Cadence would drive them both there and come upstairs to ask if Tony could ‘come out and play.’

Tony prayed her mom wouldn’t freak when she saw Casey’s piercing.





Pure luck would have it that on this particular day Tony’s mom had called Gram to say she was working double shift and wouldn’t be home till 1am.

Cadence had the presence of mind to keep the studded and spiky Casey in the car while she skipped up the stairs two at a time and rapped gently on the apartment door.

"Who is it?" An elderly voice called through the door.

Tony’s voice could be heard in the background, calling something unintelligible, then the door was being pulled open and Tony appeared, bright eyed, at the door.

"Where’s your mum?" Cadence asked as she stepped inside.

"She’s working doubles," Tony grinned. "Gram!" she turned and called.

"Right here, darlin’, no need to shout." Gram stood in the doorway to the kitchen, quietly assessing the dark skinned girl in her front room.

"Hi ma’am," Cadence stepped forward and extended her hand. "My name’s Cadence. I was hoping Tony could hang out with us for awhile?"

Gram took the proffered hand and shook it with surprising strength. "Hang out?" Gram asked skeptically. Another one, she mused. My Antonio sure is the social one. But where is this Casey she was talking about? And where is Shane?

"Yeah, we weren’t sure what we wanted to do yet. We thought maybe a movie, but we can never all agree on the same one." Cadence smiled through the tiny white lie. It was true, if they did go to the movies they never could decide.

"Where’s Casey?" Tony asked, voicing her Grams’ unspoken question.

"She stayed in the car. You know this neighborhood; I wouldn’t trust my car alone out there," Cadence said lightly. Partly true, partly not.

Gram nodded, understanding. "You have a good time with your new friends Antonia, darling, ok?"

"Thanks gram," Tony wrapped her Gram in an impulsive hug.

"Now, I don’t wanna worry so you call your old Gram at least once and let me know what’s going on." Gram ruffled her granddaughter’s soft hair and pushed her out to arm’s length, looking into eager green eyes, and begging silently for Tony to understand as well.

Tony nodded. "I will. Is there anything you want me to pick up at the store or something on the way home?"

"No darlin’ you just go and have a good time. Be home before your mother."

Tony nodded silently and made her way to the doorway with Cadence a step ahead of her. Yes! Her mind sang with excitement as she jogged down the stairs behind Cadence. Yes! Freedom, for at least one afternoon, was hers.

She settled in the middle, with Casey to her right and Cadence to her left, in the driver’s seat.

"Hey Case," Tony grinned.

"I take it your mum said yes," Casey grinned back.

Tony chuckled. "Mum wasn’t home, Gram was. That’s how I got out."

"Hope you don’t mind that I didn’t come upstairs. Mom’s always got a problem with me." Casey swiveled in the seat to face Tony.

"No problem. I figured." Thank you, she added silently, knowing that Casey would accept the sentimental thank you but they’d take a step back in the tiny bond they’d formed. "So, where to?" Tony asked, with an unabashed ear to ear grin.


Chapter Thirteen

Girl talk


Geez, I dunno about this. Tony glanced anxiously around the dim alley and towards the boarded up doors that Casey has just disappeared through. Mom’s gonna kill me…

Cadence held up a loosely hinged board and waved to Tony to go through first.

Yeah, but who’s gonna tell her? Not me! Tony slipped beneath the board, into an even dimmer and dusty hallway.

"This way," Casey said as she waited about halfway down.

Tony sucked in a deep breath and sneezed. She sniffled her nose and finally stepped forward when she felt Cadence’s guiding hand on her back.

The room they entered was relatively small, but held a couple of couches and various other discarded objects. Cadence collapsed onto one of the sheet-covered couches and Tony slid down beside her with an exaggerated sigh.

Casey sat on the floor about a foot away from the couch. She gazed up at Tony, watching her greenish eyes travel constantly around the dim room. "So, what’s your story, morning glory?"

"Pardon me?" Tony’s eyes stopped roving to focus on Casey.

"You’re story, ya know, your history?" The spiky haired girl leaned back on her elbows.

"Oh just ignore her," Cadence said, kicking Casey softly in the thigh, "she’s such a gossip monger."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Doesn’t matter," Tony interrupted. "I don’t have a story to tell anyway."

"Sure you do," Casey said eagerly, "everyone does."

"What if I don’t want to tell?" Tony eyes narrowed and she gazed suspiciously at the girl who had only recently stopped ‘throwing eye daggers’ at her.

Casey shrugged. "No big deal, just curious."

"You go first then," Tony replied quietly.

"Me?" Casey tapped her chest and slowly sat up. "Why?"

"I’m not spillin’ the beans if you’re not," Tony said as she twisted her legs up under her body and settled in on the couch.

Casey considered for a moment. "All right. Suppose that means I go first, huh?"


"Ok, um… " Casey’s mind suddenly went blank. "How ‘bout a beer?" She scrambled up and over to the cooler that was usually kept well stocked. "Anybody want one?"

"No," two voices chimed up.

She came back with her beer and settled on the floor, tapping the top of the can before popping it open. "So, ok… um…"

"You said that already," Tony teased.

Casey grumbled something unintelligible then sighed. "I was the youngest member ever to join Shane’s gang. Your turn." She gulped down a swig of beer.

"What are you called?" Tony asked.


"What’s the name of Shane’s gang?"

"She hasn’t told you?" Casey leaned forward, sensing a tidbit of information she might need to use later.

"No, she didn’t tell me," Tony shrugged. "But then I never asked."

"We’re called the panthers," Cadence jumped in. "We all have tats of the panther." She showed off her tattoo.

Strange purple eyes glowed back at Tony and she smiled nervously. "Cool."

"Shane wasn’t the first leader ya know," Casey scooted even closer on the floor, till her knees were almost on top on Cadence’s boots. "Jynx was."

"Shut up, Case, she doesn’t need to know about that." Cadence shoved her feet forward and shoved Casey backwards, sloshing the beer out of the can and onto the dusty cement floor.

"Why not? She’ll find out sooner or later," Casey said reasonably as she wiped drops of beer off her shirt and sat out of reach of the dark girl’s heavy boots.

Cadence just shot her a dirty look. For a few moments silence surrounded the three girls.

"Who is Jynx?" Tony asked after the silence had become unbearable.

"Jynx is someone you don’t wanna meet in a dark alley," a low voice responded from the doorway.

They all looked up, startled, as Shane sauntered into the room.

"Hey, Shane," Casey mumbled as Shane glared in her direction.

"Not telling any deep, dark secrets about me, are you, Casey?" Shane’s voice lowered an octave and trembled up and down Tony’s spine.

Cadence felt the young girl shake beside her. Tone it down, Shane, she thought, you’re gonna scare the little chica away. Out loud she said, "No, no secrets. Case is just tryin’ to dig up Tony’s past."

"Oh really?" Shane asked, settling down on the couch beside Tony.

Tony shrugged. "For a so called gossip monger Casey sucks." She winked at Casey.

"Jesus!" Casey threw her arms up in exasperation and took her beer to a far corner.

"Hey, I was only kidding," Tony called bewildered.

"Don’t worry about it, she’ll come back," Shane said and soon Casey stomped back and the four girls began an X-rated version of twenty questions, much to Tony’s chagrin.


Chapter Fourteen

Desperate ends


"I’ll take Tony home," Shane said as she led Tony to her bike and glanced over her shoulder at Cadence. "Make sure Case gets up the stairs without falling on her ass, will ya?"

Cadence chuckled. "I’ll get her home, but I dunno about the falling thing. It might actually teach this one a lesson."

"I doubt it," Shane grinned. "She’d just enjoy it."

"True. See ya tomorrow, Shane."

"See ya."





Tony clung desperately to Shane’s waist as they flew down the back streets. One of these days she’s going to get us killed! Her mind was still reeling from earlier and she barely noticed when Shane pulled the bike up to the apartments.

"We’re here," Shane said.

With a barely contained groan Tony loosened her fingers and dismounted the bike. Her knees trembled and her chest still vibrated with the roar of the engine. "Do you always have to go so fast?" she grumbled.

Shane’s eyebrows shot up. "I thought I was going slow." She caught Tony’s elbow as her steps faltered and led her to the edge of the curb. "Sorry, I’ll go slower next time."

"Don’t worry about it," Tony mumbled.

The dark haired teen shrugged and said nothing. The silence extended but it was comfortable, neither feeling the need to invade on the almost peaceful moment.

Till a cat in heat decided to yowl like a mad thing. Then a dog jumped in with an eerie whine, a car screeched around the corner and a baby began to scream.

Tony sighed. "Guess I should get upstairs." It was later then she thought it was, but not late enough that her Gram would worry or her mom be home yet.

"Yeah," Shane replied but didn’t move either.

"See ya tomorrow?" Tony offered.

"Yeah, tomorrow." Shane smiled softly and returned to her bike. She revved the engine as she watched Tony’s lithe form walk up the apartment steps. She smiled all the way home.





Tony wasn’t in school the next day, but it wasn’t noticed till lunch and all the girls were gathered together. All, that is, except Tony.

"Where is she?" Casey asked the obvious.

"Hell if I know," Shane replied, dark eyes roaming the cafeteria.

"It’s not like her to miss school," Cadence said as she unpacked her lunch of carrot sticks and yogurt.

"Oh God, Cadence, don’t eat that stuff in front of me!" Casey made a show of disgust. "I don’t know how you live off that stuff."

"It’s good for you," Cadence bit into a carrot stick and offered one to Case.

"Not on your life," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"Where is she?" Shane wondered aloud, as if the question hadn’t been poised just a moment ago.

"Dunno," Casey responded vaguely.

"You usually know everything, Case, what’s up?" Shane asked darkly.

Casey blinked and looked at her friend. She seemed really worried. "Sorry, Shane, it’s not like I keep tabs on every fucking thing that goes on."

The dark haired girl growled low in her throat and stood to leave the table. She stopped abruptly when Casey stood and looked up at her.

"What?" Shane growled.

Casey swallowed nervously. "She’s a big girl," she said quietly.

Yeah, she’s a big girl. She can take care of herself. So, why am I so worried? The memory of a darkened bedroom and silent sobs came to mind. Shane tossed her leather jacket over her shoulder and plowed through the chaos of students in the cafeteria.

"Shane!" Casey called after her.

"Leave her be," Cadence said softly and pulled Casey back down to the table. "Here, have a carrot."

Casey stuck out her tongue.

Cadence grinned and resisted the sudden urge to stuff the carrot up Casey’s nose.





Shane rapped lightly on the apartment door. She was trying for casual but it didn’t succeed when no one answered. So, she pounded a little bit harder. Her head swung around as the neighbor’s door popped opened.

"Hey!" Shane called.

The graying head began to disappear and Shane rushed to wedge her foot in the door frame. "Hey, where are they?"

Wide frightened eyes stared back at the teen even as the old lady tried to forcibly shut the door; Shane’s foot be damned.

"Where are they?" Shane demanded again.

"H-hospital," the neighbor stammered.

Oh my God… "Which hospital? What happened?"

"Get out of here. I don’t know anything."

Shane pushed her hand against the thin door and stared menacingly at the elderly lady. "I said, which fucking hospital, lady?"

She gulped audibly and stammered out, "C-county."

Growling, Shane whipped her foot from the door, turned on her heel and raced down the stairs. Please be all right Tony, please. I’ll kill that fucking bitch if she hurt you…





County hospital was a joke. It was understaffed, overworked and underpaid. It hosted the worst of the worst; drug deals gone bad – cops and perps on gurney’s right next to each other – gay bashings, malnourished, starving children, gang fights and drivebys…

Shane searched through the chaotic ER for a familiar blond head. There! In a crowded waiting room Tony sat, feet pulled up to her chest and face ghostly pale.

Relief swept over Shane so suddenly that it left her dizzy. Oh thank God, she’s not hurt… "Hey," Shane called.

Tony looked up with pain filled eyes. For a moment she didn’t register the vision standing in front of her. Slowly her puffy eyes focused. Shane! She jumped from the chair and flung herself at the girl.

"Great to see you too," Shane chuckled as she did her best to keep the both of them from falling to the linoleum.

Overwhelming emotions coursed through Tony and all she could do was bury her head in Shane’s chest. Tears that she’d thought she’d cried out hours ago came pouring out again.

"Hey, hey, shhh." Shane shifted the weight anxiously in her arms and led them back to the chairs. She pulled Tony down next to her. "What happened?" The tears continued and there were no answers. "What the hell happened?" Shane finally demanded when she couldn’t take the silence any longer.

Tony just shook her head. Shane pushed her back and tilted her head up. "I was worried when you didn’t show up at school." She gazed deep into pain filled eyes. "So I came over to the apartment looking for you. Your, uh, neighbor said you were here."

"Mrs. Fallinsworth," came the barely audible reply.

"Who? Anyway…. She didn’t know what happened. You gonna tell me?"

Tony looked into the eyes of her friend and her lips trembled dangerously. "Momma didn’t wake me up this morning. She always does…"

"And?" Shane prompted after a long, shaking silence.

"I went to see if her alarm didn’t- " Tony hiccuped, "didn’t go off… and she, she wasn’t in her room. S-so, I looked…" she drew in a deep breath, nearly choking as the tears threatened to consume her, "in the bathroom …" She couldn’t continue.

"It’s ok. Shhh," Shane whispered as she unconsciously nestled Tony closer in her arms. Wild thoughts ran through her mind and she was terrified by how well the young girl fit in her arms. "What happened then?"

"She was in the tub and there was… blood-" she sobbed and returned to choking silence.

Oh God… Tony shouldn’t have seen that. "It’s ok now. I’m here." Shane realized it seemed a rather lame statement, but what else was there to say? "I’m here," she repeated softly.

For a brief moment, before the haggard doctor rounded the corner and called her name, Tony knew that Shane would and possibly could make everything OK.

"Tony Scarletti?"

Tony looked up. And, if it was possible, blanched even more at the look on the doctor’s face.

"Is your grandmother here?" the doctor asked.

Shane suddenly realized who was missing.

"S-she’s getting c-coffee," Tony stammered and cast imploring eyes at Shane.

"Your father then?" the doctor asked patiently. A young girl should not have to hear this kind of news without support.

"My father’s dead," Tony said bluntly.

Shane’s eyebrows skyrocketed up under her bangs. This was news to her. Last she’d heard he’d left. But you never really bothered to ask, did you, Shane? She looked at Tony’s suddenly calm face.

"She’s dead, isn’t she?" With a direct look at the doctor Tony knew it was true, even before the doctor spoke.

"We should wait for your grandmother to get-" The dark haired girl sitting beside Tony was up and in the doctor’s face before she could even blink. A cool, blue gaze raked impassively over the doctor’s face.

"Tell her," Shane demanded.

Nervously the doctor turned to Tony who had come to stand beside the dark teen and said, "Your mother lost too much blood. By the time she got here there was little we could do for her, and without her will to live, if there had been more to do, it would have been up to her…" The doctor let the sentence trail off delicately.

The rest didn’t have to be said.

Tony nodded silently. She stared off into the distance for a moment then cleared her throat. "What now?" She caught site of a graying head. Gram. Her lip quivered with relief and her brief composure was close to breaking.

From down the hall Gram caught site of Tony’s shattered, pale face. With a gasp she dropped the Styrofoam cups of coffee and raced to engulf her only grandchild in a terrifyingly fierce hug. "It’s gonna be all right, sweetheart." It’s gonna be all right, was her mantra as she talked to the doctor over the blond head.




Arrangements would be made later with the help of one of Gram’s friends. Her friend’s son was a lawyer and by the time the phone call was made everything was out of their hands. Neighbors came and went through the apartment, dropping off condolences and trays of food.

Shane stayed by Tony’s side the whole time. Not that Tony would let Shane out of her sight or consciously let go of the audible relief she felt each time Shane casually touched her arm or got her something to drink.

The long shadows of twilight were shading the apartment when the others finally left and the place settled into silence.

"How ya holdin’ up?" Shane asked as they sat side by side on the couch, watching a stupid comedy through the specks of TV snow.

Tony shrugged. "All right, considering."

Yeah, considering… Shane remained silent for a long moment. What now? "I’ve got to head home now," she said reluctantly.

After a second Tony looked up through long, pale lashes. Eyes unfocused she simply stared at the blurry image of Shane’s figure.



"I’ve got to go now."

"Yeah, ok." Tony turned back to the movie playing, not even realizing it was now over. As the credits rolled past she heard Shane stand.

"Will you be in school tomorrow?" the dark teenager asked.

Tony shrugged.

"I’ll come pick you up in the morning?" It was going to be a statement, but tumbled out as more of a hesitant question. Helplessly Shane buried her clenched fists in her pocket.

"Sure," Tony murmured. "I’ll see you then."

Shane left Tony sitting despondently on the couch. How she wanted to stay… to comfort Tony… but there was nothing she could do. The girl just needed time, needed to come to terms with the situation.

And the situation was pretty damn grim from Tony’s perspective. She was now an orphan. And the last moments Alice and Tony had together had been an all out fight. Tony’s last words to her mother had been words of hate. She regretted each and every one of them now. But there was no taking them back.

It was better to forget. Easier to become numb. Silently she padded across the worn hardwood floor and shut her bedroom door behind her.


Chapter Fifteen



"Tony! Shane’s here," gram called through the closed door. The only response were the creaks of the box spring as Tony got up and moved to the door.

She cracked it open and looked out with one puffy green eye. "Tell her to go away."

"I will do no such thing, Antonia," gram replied. "If you want her to go away you’ll have to tell her yourself." She hesitated as Tony mumbled a curse and slammed the door.

A moment later Tony emerged in yesterday’s jeans and T-shirt. Her hair was a mussed halo around her head and she looked terrible. There were dark circles under her eyes and her skin was chalky white.

Hastily Gram stepped back as Tony marched down the hall, through the livingroom and to the door. Shane stood just inside it, shuffling her feet on the floor. She looked up as footsteps approached.

"Hey," Shane said and attempted a smile that faltered as she gazed at Tony’s face.

"I’m not going to school. Go on without me." Tony stopped about two arm’s length from Shane.

"Ahhh, ok."

Tony turned and headed back to her room where she planned to stare at the ceiling all day if need be.

"Wait," Shane jogged to catch up and grabbed Tony’s elbow without thinking. "We don-"

"Let me go," Tony replied angrily as she whipped her arm away from the touch.

"I – I’m sorry," Shane stammered. What the fuck did I do wrong?

"Just go away," Tony said harshly. "I want to be alone."

Shane resisted the sudden urge to snarl her own anger. Fine, let her go off and brood. Let her die inside.…

Just like you, a little voice chuckled and Shane paled. "Tony?" she called softly to the retreating form who stopped in her tracks.

"What?" Tony asked without turning around.

"I want to show you something," Shane’s voice was still low, barely disguising a small tremor.

"I told you-"


Tony sighed. Shane had never said please. Never asked her for anything before. "Show me what?" she asked as she turned to face the dark haired teen.

"I, well… it’s best just to show you," Shane said and began to shuffle her feet again, looking towards the floor and the trap door she prayed would appear, open up and swallow her whole. Tony had no idea what Shane was asking, or willing to offer.


Shane looked up. Ok? "Ok?"

"Yeah, sure. What the heck, right?" Tony waved her arms helplessly in the air. "I need to get out of here for a while anyway."

So, Tony gathered up her shoes and light spring jacket, told Gram that she was going out with Shane and followed the dark girl down the apartment steps to the Harley. Here we go again, she thought as she straddled the bike and wound her arms around Shane’s solid, reassuring waist.





"Where are we going?" Tony shouted at the wind. They’d been riding for a while now and it looked like that was all they were going to do. Shane didn’t seem to hear and since Tony really didn’t seem to care she didn’t ask again. A few minutes later Shane pulled up beside an old, rusted chain-link fence with curly bits of barbed wire across the top.

"We’re here," Shane stated as she turned off the bike and kicked the stand into place.

We’re here? Tony’s head swiveled from side to side, taking in the overgrown lots, cracked asphalt and the rusted out boxcars. "Here? Where the hell is here?" Tony demanded.

Shane shrugged. "It’s an old train lot."

Incredulously Tony followed Shane as she approached the fence.

"Up and over?" Shane waved to the top, then glanced left and right. "Or do you want me to find another way in?"

Tony stood silently with her arms crossed over her chest as if to say ‘neither.’ But when she looked at Shane closely she could clearly see the trepidation and worry in her eyes. God, I’ve never seen eyes so expressive in my entire life. I bet she can kill with those things. Thank God Casey can’t… Tony mentally slapped herself back on track and looked at the fence again.

"Up," she sighed.

The corner of Shane’s mouth quirked into a half smile as she threw her jacket up over the barbwire. "I’ll go first and help ya down the other side." She didn’t wait for an answer and scrambled quickly up. Once at the top she carefully straddled the jacket then kicked her right leg over and jumped. She landed with a hard thud and a cloud of dust riled at her feet.

Tony gulped, glanced one last time to the intimidating barbwire, then stuck the toes of her sneakers into the chain-links and began to climb. She didn’t look down, didn’t look anywhere but her goal; Shane’s jacket. When she reached the top she straddled the jacket like Shane had. Then she froze. There was no way she was going to jump.

"Kick your leg over," Shane instructed when Tony didn’t move. She caught a brief glimpse of startled deer eyes before Tony turned her back to her, kicked her leg over and stood at the top. "That’s it. Climb down just like you climbed up."

The things I do… Tony gasped as a barb grabbed at her arm.

"You all right?" Shane hurried to just under where Tony was and waited to grab her feet and guide her down.

"Fine," Tony replied through gritted teeth as she planted her feet and crawled down, ten times slower then when she’d scrambled up the other side. Her arms ached by the time she felt Shane’s hands on her feet guiding her down the rest of the way.

Once Tony was secure on the ground Shane bounded back up, grabbed her coat and jumped down. "Arm ok?" she asked.

Tony hid the arm behind her back. "Just fine."

"Lemme see," Shane reached out to grab Tony’s arm.

"I said it’s fine," Tony griped as she stepped back from the girl.

"Ok, then let me see it."


"The barbs are rusted. You wanna get tetanus? Let me see it." Shane grabbed for the arm again.

"It’s just a scratch," Tony replied, but let Shane inspect her arm anyway.

It was just a scratch, but Shane insisted that when they got there that she had antiseptic and bandages anyway. So, of course, Tony asked again where they were going, and got a ‘just wait and see’ again from Shane.

Shane led the way through the tall grass and weeds and Tony followed silently behind.

After a bit of walking Shane stopped in the middle of one badly cracked square of asphalt and looked around. Her keen eyes picked up a drunk on the east side, but he wasn’t conscious.

With a quizzical look around Tony watched as Shane bent at the knees and ran her hand over the edge of a broken packing crate. She seriously began to wonder if Shane had lost her mind when the girl pushed the slated wood away to reveal a drain cover.


"Down," Shane confirmed with a strange twinkle in her eyes.

For some reason Tony felt the undeniable urge to smile back but then a waft of something foul reached her nose as Shane pulled the cover up and off to the side. Her stomach churned.

Shane looked up. "After you," she said, waving her hand down towards the smelly darkness. "Climb down and wait for me at the bottom."

Tony shook her head, no.

"Uh, I’ll go first?" Shane offered. She looked up at Tony and noticed the pallor of her skin. This was a stupid idea, she sighed. Just take her back. She won’t understand anyway. Just as she was starting to pull the cover back over the hole Tony bent down and touched her shoulder. The touch was feather light but still Shane shivered. She met blue-green eyes as Tony spoke.

"Can you tell me first? I, uh, um… I’m not too keen on the dark." Tony blushed as she spoke and looked at the dirt.

Oh… Shane reached into her pocket and tugged out her zippo with a flourish. "No problem. See?" She flicked the zippo across her thigh and back, sending a tall flame leaping into the air.

Fascinated beyond explanation Tony watched the lighter’s path across Shane’s muscular thigh. "Ah, ok."

With a lopsided grin Shane flipped the lighter shut and half disappeared into the hole. "Meet you at the bottom," she called and was swallowed up into the darkness.

Tony gulped and knelt over the edge. The smell was bearable, not nearly as bad as she had first thought. She listened as Shane’s biker boots thumped down the metal rungs and thud to the ground as she jumped the last couple. Tony heard the flick of the zippo and peered farther down.

Shane smiled up at her. "Your turn."

"Ok," Tony replied, and stepped back for a deep gulp of fresh air.

The dark teen watched the blond head disappear. It was several moments before she saw the soles of Tony’s sneakers as she planted them on the ladder rungs. She said a few words of encouragement then stepped back a bit as Tony made her way down.

Once her feet were safely on the ground Tony let out a soft sigh. Ok… Not so bad.

"Not so bad, huh?" Shane asked, missing Tony’s raised eyebrows in the semi-darkness. "Burnin’ my fingers," Shane explained as she whipped the lighter closed and plunged them into darkness. She heard Tony gasp and hurried to apologize. "Reach out your hand Tony, I’ve got ya."

Tony flung her arm out in the darkness, nearly taking out Shane’s nose.

"Whoa, easy there. Relax." Shane grabbed the flailing hand and held it securely within her own. "I know this place so well I can walk it blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back."

"Feels like I am blindfolded," Tony mumbled.

"Sorry, lighter gets too hot," she pulled Tony over till their shoulders just barely touched. "There’s a light at the end and you’ll be able to see then. Just hold on and follow me."

Tony scrunched up her eyebrows, searching desperately for any bit of light. She held a little tighter then necessary to Shane’s hand, but the girl didn’t complain and she simply followed as best she could, only stumbling once over something unexpected on the floor. She hoped it was just a rat. A dead one.

They came to another ladder leading down and Shane flicked the lighter back on. Safely down Shane plunged them into darkness once again and led the way.

One pace from the room’s door, in the blinding darkness, Shane stopped and shuffled Tony around until she was in front. "Put your hand out," Shane commanded.

Tony’s fingers darted forward, then timidly back. "What if I touch something… uh, gross?"

"Don’t worry," Shane whispered close to her ear, "I’ll protect you."

The statement and the closeness sent a shiver up and down Tony’s spine. Her hand darted out, if anything to get away from the heat of Shane’s body, pressed close in the confines of the tunnel, and her fingertips poked against rough wood.

Shane’s hand snaked out beside Tony and grabbed the doorknob. "Ready?"

Nodding mutely, aware that Shane couldn’t possibly see her, Tony cleared her throat. "Sure." The door fell away under her fingertips and Shane shuffled off to the side and inside. For a moment Tony stood paralyzed with fear as a loud growl bounced off the walls and surrounded her. Just as she was about to shout out Shane’s name a light flickered on. Then another and another. Three lights total blinked to life around the small room.

Tony blinked, adjusting to the sudden brightness, then turned to Shane. She found those expressive eyes turned towards her once more, and was startled to find Shane awaiting her reaction.

She took a longer look around, passing over trinkets of childhood. Dusty, wooden swords stood in the corner, waiting for their playmates. Barrels and boxes were setup for a ‘TV.’ A small smile quirked her reluctant lips and she turned back to Shane. "You and Charley played here."

"Yes," Shane replied simply and turned away. She stood facing the old cot and it was sometime before she continued. "We had nowhere else to go … when… when we needed to get away. No one else knew but us- me…" Shane’s voice trailed off, shocked at how much she’d said and how much that little bit had hurt.

"Thank you," Tony said softly.

"Thank you?" Shane turned to regard Tony as she asked.

"For taking me here. Thank you for being here for me…" Tears threatened to overwhelm Tony again and she stopped talking to wipe them away.

"You’re welcome." Shane retreated to the cot and smiled gently as Tony sat beside her and clasped their hands together.

The tension gathered in the room as the girls studied the entwined fingers. Light and dark… friends…

"So," Tony quirked a shaky grin, "just how many channels does that ‘TV’ get?"

Shane chuckled and grabbed the air at her side, retrieving a ‘remote.’ "Might be a good action/drama on, wanna see?"






The ‘TV’ bit had been a good stress releaser, but not very practical for two girls who thought they were too grown up to play with it. So, in the end, charades had won.

It was Tony’s turn.

"What am I?" Tony demanded, failing her arms around her head and twirling around.

"Dunno," Shane sighed for the tenth time. Don’t know! Don’t know! Don’t know! "Tell me already."

In exasperation Tony flopped onto the cot beside Shane. "The wind."

"The wind?" the dark teen raised both expressive eyebrows and turned on her side to glance down at Tony. She took a moment to study the girl as she lay, with eyes closed, and arms carelessly thrown over her head. "The wind?" she said again.

"Yes! The wind." Tony’s eyes popped open and for a breathless second she found herself falling into lakes of ice blue. Something hid behind them, something she couldn’t quite reach. She mentally shook her head and sat up. "Your turn."

"No way," Shane exclaimed, shoving away something akin to déjà vu.

"What?" Tony propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Shane’s profile. A mischievous twinkle glimmered in her eyes. "Why not? Chicken?"

"Nope, just haven’t got an imaginative bone in my body."

"Uh huh," Tony replied skeptically. "Who built the ‘TV’?"

"Charley did." Shane stood suddenly and paced the length of the room.

Oh no you don’t, Tony thought. "Tell me about him?" she asked softly. For a second Shane stopped pacing and Tony thought she’d found an opening. "What happened to him?"

The ringing sound of gunshots echoed in her ears… a startled, young face, with blue eyes stared back at her from the center of the ‘screen.’ Shane kicked at the base of the ‘TV’ and sent the barrels flying. "Goddamn, stupid thing," Shane cursed, and fled the room.

Tony jumped to her feet and ran to the door. "Shane!" she cried into the darkness. "Don’t you leave me!"

Shane dashed blindly through the darkness, groping along the walls. In her haze of anger she couldn’t tell where she was, didn’t know how far she’d gone. Only knew she needed to be as far away from that room as possible. But Tony’s yells echoed down the concrete walls and swirled madly in her head. Not now, not now…

I can’t handle this. I can’t. I thought I could… thought I could and I can’t.

"Dammit!" She punched at the wall as she stumbled to a halting stop. Her knuckles burned and she felt a small amount of release in the pain. As she slumped to the floor she dimly heard footsteps bouncing off the walls as they came closer.





Tony’s head poked around the door. She peered into the dark tunnel and a shiver went up her spine. Oh Shane… Two seconds later she gathered up her courage like a cloak to settle on her shoulders, and set off in the direction she thought Shane had gone. Her hands groped along the walls. Each cobweb, each bit of slime and grime halted her in her tracks.

With a sob she gritted her teeth and carried on. "Shane?" she asked at each corner she came to. And at each corner there was no answer. She was ready to give up when she heard the soft scraping of familiar biker boots across the ground. "Shane?"

"Go away, dammit," the voice growled.

Tony slid her arms across the wall as she got on her hands and knees and crawled toward her friend. Her fingertips brushed hard leather and she came to a stop.

"I SAID go away!"


"Tony, get the hell out of here."

"I can’t do that, Shane," Tony replied softly as she brushed her fingers along jean clad legs till she found a cold elbow to hang onto.

"Why not?" Shane growled, but already her anger was diminishing. With each fumbling tap of Tony’s fingers across her body the anger dwindled.

"Because," Tony’s hand found Shane’s wrist, "because I’m your friend, remember?" Her fingers intertwined, once again, with Shane’s.

"Why?" was the simple question.

But there wasn’t such a simple answer. Tony strained her eyes in the pitch-blackness of the tunnel, stalling for time. "Why am I your friend?"

"Yeah," Shane mumbled.

"Why are you MY friend?" Tony countered.

Shane shrugged, then realized neither one of them could see shit down here. She cleared her throat. "I like you."

"I like you too," Tony responded, and an ear to ear grin swept across her face. "Come on, let’s go back. It’s spooky here in the dark."

That’s right… she’s afraid of the dark. And she came looking for me anyway? Something for Shane to ponder later.


Chapter Sixteen

School again, school again…


Oh yippy, Tony thought as she slipped into one of the only seats left in the classroom; in the front. Do I really need to be this close when I’ve got nothing to learn?

The trial period had come and gone, in two days. There were no hassles and so now Tony was going to the rest of the senior classes. The one right after lunch was science. And the man hadn’t a clue.

In a way she felt sorry for him.

She wandered in her mind, going back over the walk through the tunnel and how Shane had held her hand the whole way. When they’d left the tunnels and stepped into the daylight Tony had left some of her pain behind.

It had gotten even better after Shane had bought her ice cream and they’d strolled up and down the boardwalk.

Now, it was two days later and they were falling back into a routine. Shane walking her to classes in the morning, Casey meeting her just before lunch, and all of them eating and talking over lunch in the cafeteria.

After lunch was this class, science, then English with Ms Stewart. Tony had been more then thrilled to find Cadence in the English class with her. And less then thrilled to find out she’d be competing with Casey in gym class after that.

Tony sighed and tried to concentrate on the science teacher. He was probably in his forties, but looked older, with gray hair pushed to the side to cover his bald spot and gold, wire rimmed glasses that were too small for his thick face. All in all he had a grandfatherly look about him. Non threatening, but in a scattered kind of way.

She tossed her science book up onto the graffiti covered desk and sighed again. She wasn’t stupid; she knew the pain of loosing her mother was still there. She knew that the funeral was tomorrow…

"Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Miss Delante," the teacher risked a bit of sarcasm. He was grouchy. It appeared everyone was grouchy or on edge today.

Shane grinned without humor and slid into her seat, not noticing Tony until a startled set of familiar green eyes glanced her way.

"I want everyone to pair up and head to the lab tables."

Tony practically skipped out of her seat then suddenly paused when she realized several people were already approaching Shane. She tried to keep a neutral expression on her face as she glanced about for someone to pair with. It was just like those old nightmares about being the last one picked in gym class.

There was still a small group around Shane, but everyone else had paired up.

"Let’s go ladies and gentlemen, we haven’t got all day," the teacher said sternly as he began to pass out battered and outdated lab books to those already seated at the back tables.

Tony casually made her way toward the back and to the teacher to explain she didn’t have a partner and to ask if she could do it on her own. A hand reached out from the group around Shane and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Hey, kid," he said.

Tony looked up hopefully. "Yes?"

"Maybe you should go back home. No one here likes overachievers. Especially not ugly little girls."

"What did you say?" A dark head popped out of the crowd.

"Nada Hammer, just messin’ ‘round with the ugly duckling," he smiled brilliantly at Shane. He’d win her over yet. No girl could resist his charms. Not for long anyway.

"Quick, you bastard, I’d rip your heart out, if I even thought you had one." Shane grabbed the boy’s neck in one hand.

He yelped and dug his heels into the floor, trying to back away. He couldn’t break her vise-like grip.

The world suddenly slowed down for Tony as she saw the same anger she’d seen that first day in the cafeteria. She watched the amazing show of strength as Shane pulled the boy, Quick, up farther and demanded an apology.

She put her hand out. "Shane?"

Dark, angry eyes turned her way and for a second Tony feared for her life, then dark blues softened.

"Put him down, please?" Tony asked quietly, ignoring the boy’s acute embarrassment and shame, focusing solely on Shane.

For a second nothing happened then Shane suddenly let the boy go with a growl and a menacing ‘If I ever hear you call her names again’ kind of threat.

Quick nodded and retreated to the other side of the room, as far from Shane as he could get.

His tag isn’t Quick for no reason, Tony had the sudden urge to laugh but surpressed it when she glanced back up at Shane with a quirky smile. A weight Tony didn’t realize was on her shoulders suddenly lifted as Shane asked, "Wanna be my partner?"

With the barest hint of a tremor in her voice Tony replied, "Sure, but I gotta warn ya… I tend to blow things up."

A crooked smile lifted the corners of Shane’s lips. "No problem. It’s about time someone spiced this place up."

A very relieved science teacher pushed his specs back up his nose and finally began labs, thanking God no blood had been spilled in his classroom. At least not today.





The funeral… Oh God, the funeral. I can’t go through this again. Not now, not alone. Tony’s fists clenched and unclenched in her lap as she listened to the eulogy after the final viewing. Gram was right beside her, but she was in her own world of despair, and Tony didn’t entertain the idea of leaning on her for support.

She was an adult now. Ok, fifteen wasn’t exactly an adult… but it sure as hell felt like she’d grown up these last two years. Nothing would ever be the same...





Casey doubted Cadence’s sanity for a moment. "We should go where?"

"You heard me. Shane’s going to the funeral and I think we should too." Cadence had a serious look about her face that Casey never argued with. Simply because she never won.

But she had to try anyway. "Shane already left. No one’s gonna care if we show up or not." She shrugged her shoulders and started to walk away.

"Case-" Cadence started angrily.

"Casey, Tony will care. Don’t you think?" Molly stepped in front of Casey’s retreating form and effectively blocked her path.

The spiky haired girl took a moment to study the quietest member of the gang. Her words were few and far between. She rarely even spoke when spoken to. Casey raised her eyebrows in a slightly less then perfect imitation of Shane’s signature gesture and placed her hands on her hips.

Molly stared back. She flipped a short brown curl behind her ear and waited.

"I’ll go," Tish said unexpectedly, breaking the tense silence.

Casey whirled to face her. "You don’t even like Tony."


"Why do you want to go then?"

Tish mumbled something about Shane probably killing them if they didn’t. Casey’s eyes widened. When you put it like that… "Fine," Casey said, "we’ll all go."

All meaning; Tish, Casey, Molly, Cadence, ‘Ripper’ and Dorsey. Half of them tumbled into Tish’s Corvette and the rest in Cadence’s battered old MAZDA CRX.





Tony didn’t see Shane right away, so she stood in the doorway a moment studying the pale, tense face and clenched hands. The words of the pastor floated around her head and past her ears, sounding like the buzzing of bees. Just like it had at Charley’s funeral. Oh God, what a mess that had been.

Purposely she blocked out the painful memories of her mother sobbing over the casket and her father trying to look tough and immovable.

She fairly stalked past the handful of other mourners and sat in the empty chair to the left side of Tony. The blond head whipped up and looked at Shane for a stunned second before she tore her eyes away and faced the front.

"Didn’t think you’d come," Tony whispered.

"That’s what friends are for, right?" Shane whispered back.

Something unclenched in Tony’s chest. It was so palpable it made her grimace.

"You all right?"

Tony nodded silently and felt tears threatening at the edge of her lashes. She blinked them angrily away as she looked down at her shoes. Damn, am I gonna cry for the rest of my life? Someone standing in front of her handed her a tissue. She made a desperate grab for it and looked up.

"C-cadence? Casey?" She looked around at the rest of the small group. Most of them stood awkwardly, hands in pockets and feet shuffling nervously.

"Yup, we’re here for ya darlin.’" Cadence knelt down on one knee in front of Tony and opened up her arms. Tony leaned forward and accepted the hug.

"Thanks for coming. It means the world to me," she whispered in Cadence’s ear and the girl squeezed tighter before gently releasing her and motioning for the others to sit down as she took a seat to Shane’s left.

Cadence glanced at Shane and found an intent stare focused her way. Shane nodded and Cadence smiled slightly, patting Shane on the knee before they both turned their attention back to the pastor.





The sun shining clear and bright belied the fact that one fifteen-year-old girl was going through hell as she watched her mother’s coffin lowered into the ground. How can she leave me? How mother?! How could you leave me like daddy did? You were so goddamned worried that I’d be the one to die… and you leave me!

Tony wanted, no needed, to kick something. To break something. And she was… sorta. She was almost breaking Cadence’s hand. She glanced sideways at Shane and saw her rather calm expression.

Tony’s anger flared. How can Shane be so calm? The rational side of Tony’s mind tried desperately to make her remember that it was her mother and not Shane’s brother going into the ground. Had the roles been reversed would Tony put on the ‘calm facade’ to help her friend through it all?

As soon as Cadence had led Tony out of the funeral home and to her car Shane had stepped back and let her take over. It was all Shane could do to keep from bolting; distancing herself from the situation and Tony’s evident pain.

And it was so much easier for Tony to focus her anger on Shane. Someone living and breathing… her anger sputtered and dwindled to a small coal in her belly. Momma’s really gone… She glanced at her grandmother. Gram had lost her daughter, had lost that twinkle in her eyes. Tony would do anything to give it back.

But not now. Now she couldn’t do anything but hold back the waves of tears that threatened to consume her.

Graveside services came to an end and Tony realized she hadn’t heard a word that was said. Cadence shuffled both her and Gram back towards the cars. Gram gave Tony a fierce hug and slid into her friend’s son’s BMW. The lawyer, if Tony remembered correctly.

With promises to meet them back at the hall Cadence propelled Tony to the CRX and ushered the others to their car as well. Tony slumped into the right front seat and silently stared out the window as the projects, abandoned buildings, ‘mom ‘n’ pop’ stores and gas stations flew past.

Goddamn city…





It’s too much, Tony admitted to herself. She was seated on a dull brown couch that had seen better days. A few feet away tables had been set up and most of the people were seated, in small groups, talking and laughing. Each time a well meaning person came up to her with cliches like ‘The pain will fade’, ‘In time…’, ‘Your mother’s in a better place…’ Tony cringed.

Wasn’t it bad enough that the little children ran around the tables and the legs of the adults, cheerfully oblivious to it all? She’d only been a little older then some of them when her father had died. Alice had tried to piece together their tiny family, tried to keep them in Missouri… but once the will was read – what will there was – they’d practically been thrown off base. They’d wrestled a tiny, one bedroom apartment and Alice had gotten her first job in years. Ends hadn’t been met and Alice had sent a last, desperate call to her mother in NYC.

And here they were… here Tony was.

She glanced at Cadence’s profile and Shane’s a bit farther down on the couch. "I need to get out of here," she whispered.

Cadence turned to her with an understanding look. "Want me to take you home?"

Tony shruddered visibly. "Anywhere but home right now, please."

"You got it."

They all stood as Tony searched for her Gram. "Lemme just tell Gram I’m leaving."

Shane nodded absently. "Meet ya at the car."

Cadence waved Casey over from the table laden with food as Tony made her way to the other side of the room.

"What’s up?" Casey asked.

"Tony needs to get out of here. Let Molly and everybody know, ok?"

"Sure," and Casey wandered off to find the others.

Tony had to wait a moment for her Gram to take notice of her as she stood impatiently on the other side of the table. When Gram looked up from her conversation Tony smiled slightly. "I’m gonna go now."

"You sure, sweetheart?" Gram asked.

She nodded. "Cadence invited me to stay over." The lie rolled easily off her tongue.

"Good, good," Gram replied absently. "Friends are good now."

Tony mumbled an ‘uh huh’ and a ‘see you tomorrow’ before sidestepping around a bunch of rambunctious children on her way to the door.




Chapter Seventeen

Let’s rock the night away


"Where to?" Cadence asked, glancing to her right at Tony’s pale, shattered face, then to the mirror and the stoic face of one very grouchy Shane Delante. When she got no answer she sighed and made her way to the abandoned warehouse, Tish’s Corvette hot on the CRX’s tailpipe.

She drove the little car into the side alley and parked, grinding the parking brake up with a little more force then necessary. "Lock the doors," she ordered as she stepped out. Tony popped the seat up for Shane to scramble out of the back and moved off to the side. Shane locked the door and slammed it shut.

The Corvette pulled up behind them and Tish, Casey, Molly, Ripper and Dorsey all piled out.

Ripper, who Tony had only met once before in passing, held up the sagging, splintery boards for everyone to shimmy under and into the dark hallway. They made their way down the hall with Casey complaining about something or other to Dorsey. No one else said anything.

Once in the room the cooler was broken open and beers passed around. Cadence refused like she always did but Tony sat with a chilled can in her hand, studying the members of Shane’s posse.

Ripper was nearly as tall as Shane, her tanned face in a perpetual frown as if when she looked at the world all she saw was the filth. She was dressed in her customary jeans – 505 button fly Levis – and her usual basic T-shirt, the front pocket crammed with a cigarette pack. Ripper was good looking, in that tom boy way. A baby butch.

Tony grinned slightly. Her gram would be astonished at all the things that had crossed her mind since moving here; her now gutter humor and her blatant cursing… And the way her heart fluttered every time Shane’s eyes met hers. Which they were doing none too frequently at the moment.

The blond haired teen sighed and tucked her feet up under her thighs. She gripped the beer can tighter as she raised it to her lips and took a long swallow. Ick… guess it’s one of those things that has to grow on you.

She took another swallow and turned her attention to the conversation at hand.

"So she pulled up her shirt and flashed Coach," Dorsey was saying. Chuckles went up around the room and when Dorsey turned to her expectantly she realized she’d missed a vital part of the conversation. She smiled, unsure, and Dorsey flashed her a quick grin before returning to the incident in the girl’s locker room she’d been talking about.

Ripper and Dorsey, it appeared, were both on the girl’s basketball team. And it appeared their dislike of the coach was mutual. Conversation flowed back and forth, Tony picking up odds and ends here and there and bantering back and forth with Casey about the fiasco in their gym class the day before the funeral.

Some rather large girl had sat out the game of volleyball the gym teacher had made them reluctantly start. The ball had gone flying out of bounds, popped the girl on the head and sent her careening back into the metal bleacher behind her. All was fine, until the girl tried to get back up. Her butt was pinned between the narrow metal bleacher and the runner board.

Before Tony knew it she had a grin plastered across her face and the constant tension in her shoulders kept rolling out with each bit of laughter. Whether it was the company of friends or the three cans of beer she didn’t care.

By the fourth can she was sprawled out on the floor beside Ripper and trading dirty jokes. She had no idea she knew so many. Ripper’s lean face was flushed red with laughter and Casey had already escaped once to a bathroom somewhere to relieve herself.

Shane was somewhere between her fourth and fifth can, but she had a higher tolerance. She kept an eye on Cadence keeping an eye on Tony. And finally she kept an eye on Ripper and Tony. She watched with narrowed eyes as the usual ‘don’t touch me’ attitude Ripper worked hard to maintain diminished and she touched Tony’s shoulder or knee, smiling constantly.

With a start Shane realized she was jealous. Ripper was ‘out’ and, as she always said, she ‘planned to stay that way, even if it meant getting stabbed in some back alley for being a perve.’

Ripper was honest, to the point of being blunt. It was one of the reasons Shane liked her so much and got along with her. No bullshit. The touching was subtle though. When it came to that kind of thing the nearly 6 foot, well muscled girl was almost shy. Who the hell had decided to give her the tag Ripper?

The only thing Shane had ever seen her rip up was the court or a nasty report card.

For a long moment she nursed her beer in complete silence, narrowed eyes still watching. Then, in one long swig, she finished the beer, got up and fetched another one and plopped her long frame down right between Tony and Ripper.

Tony glanced up with a smile. Her face was flushed and her eyes glimmered in the dull light coming from between the wooden slats on the broken windows. Shane couldn’t blame Ripper one bit for wanting to touch her.

Shane blushed and mumbled a ‘hey.’

"Hey Shane, didja know that Ripper said I was cu-"

"Tony, Shane doesn’t wanna hear what I think," Ripper interrupted with force.

"Oh." Tony turned to look at her new friend, and even through the haze of alcohol could see her discomfort. "Ok."

"Isn’t your Gram gonna wonder where you're at?" Shane discreetly changed the subject.

Tony’s brow furrowed as she tried to remember where her Gram was. "Oh, oh no. I told her I wasn’t gonna come home ta night."

One elegant eyebrow arched. "Where did you tell her you’d be?"

"At Cadence’s."

"What if she calls there?"

"She doesn’t have the number. Neither do I for that fact." Tony’s head swiveled around till she found Cadence. "Oh, there you are! Hey!"

The light, chocolate skinned girl smiled patiently. "Hey yourself." She got up and joined the little group, leaving Casey where she was, passed out cold on the floor.





More conversation, more beers and hours later everyone was either sleeping or passed out somewhere on the dusty floor. Tony being one of the ones who’d passed out, Dorsey and Casey the other two.

Tony woke with a groan, clutching her stomach. She struggled to sit up as a wave of nausea hit her churning stomach. With a dejected moan she crawled on her hands and knees over to Shane’s side.

"Shane, Shane," she whispered urgently, shaking the teen’s shoulder. "I’m gonna be sick. I need a bathroom. Now."

Blue eyes popped open in the semi-darkness. Shane stumbled to her feet and brought Tony up beside her. The girl moaned and clutched her stomach tighter.

"Not gonna make it…" Tony mumbled and slapped a hand over her mouth.

Shane swept her up in strong but tired arms and hurried to a door at the end of the room. She pushed it back on broken hinges, went through quickly and stepped into a tiny portal of a bathroom. There was barely a spec of light but she led Tony to her knees beside the cracked toilet and gently held the girl’s hair back as she leaned over the toilet, just in time.

For several minutes Tony exhausted everything still inside her from the food at the hall while Shane absently rubbed gentle circles across her back. When Tony finally collapsed back against her chest Shane chuckled.

"What?" Tony demanded in a cracked voice.

"Bet you’re not gonna do that again, huh?"

Tony just groaned and pushed off of Shane’s body to stand. The room tilted and twirled dangerously and she was glad when Shane’s strong, sure hands caught her up and held her tightly. She leaned against Shane, face pressed against her chest.

The smell of cigarettes, salt and shampoo that was just so Shane curled protectively around her. She inhaled deeply and pulled away, embarrassed. "Sorry," she mumbled.

"S’ok," Shane replied, slightly flustered. It felt so right holding and comforting Tony. She didn’t really want to let go. But she did when she felt Tony shrugging away. "Come on, there’s an old cot in the other room you can lay on and get some sleep."

The cot looked like a left over war relic, but Tony sank into it anyway, ignoring the slight smells of mold and mildew.

Shane hesitated. "I’ll be in the other room if you need anything."

Tony’s drooping eyes widened in alarm. "It’s dark in here," she murmured.

"It’s not that dark." Shane surveyed the room and her eyes landed on the boarded window on the other side. With purposeful strides she crossed to the window and reached up, tugging down a board. A neon burst of light from the bar a half block down, filtered in and sent a shaft of light across the bottom of the cot. "Better?" she asked.

"No," Tony whispered.

Shane’s brow furrowed together and it dawned on her that this wasn’t entirely about the darkness of the room. She realized, too late, that she shouldn’t have let Tony drink so much. That the pain would come back so much harder once the alcohol was gone. She sighed and made her way over to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Stay here with me?" Tony blurted out, thanking the gods that Shane probably couldn’t see the crimson blush rising from her neck to her cheeks.

"Scoot over then."

Tony eagerly scooted over as Shane settled her long legs on the small cot and laid down beside her, their arms brushing lightly together.

For a while there was only the sound of the squeaky springs as they both tried to get comfortable.



"Does… does it ever get easier?"

Loaded question. "Yeah." Shane regarded the ceiling and the shallow breathing of her bedmate. "But not for a long time."

"Will I always miss her this much?" Tony turned her head to see the darkened profile, wishing she could see Shane’s eyes.

The springs squeaked as Shane rolled onto her side and propped herself up on one elbow to gaze solemnly down. "It’s ok to miss your mom. You love her."

Tony regarded her silently. "I told her… I told her I hated her." Tears sprang to her eyes and she didn’t bother to wipe them away as they spilled out.

"You didn’t mean it. You were just angry."

"But it’s the last thing I ever said to her! She killed herself… because of me!"

"Hey," Shane said, startled. "C’mere." She opened up her arms for Tony to wriggle into and held her friend tightly. "You’re sorry, aren’t you?"

"Yes," Tony choked out.

"Good, then she knows that." She traced her thumb down Tony’s cheek and gently tapped her in the chest, right above her heart. "She knows that, in here."


"My gram, before she died, told me that the dead can hear our thoughts. She said that each night she told grandaddy she loved him and he heard her." Shane brought her arm around Tony’s back and settled her securely against her chest. "So your mom knows."

"But it’s still my fault," Tony whimpered.

"No. Your mom had her own problems Tony," she said forcefully. "She couldn’t face things and she wimped out. Simple as that. You’re the strong one. You’re the one that’s still here, still fighting and living…"

It was probably the most she’d ever heard Shane say in one breath before. "What if I don’t want to be here?" Tony whispered and pulled slightly away, straining to see two pale lakes of blue.

Shane’s heart jumped in alarm and skidded to a stop inside her chest. No! Not when I just found you! "Y-you don’t mean that do you?"

"Sometimes I think I do." Tony listened intently to Shane’s heart beating right beneath her ear. The way it seemed to start and stop, running a marathon in between. "But not… not…"

"But not what?"

But not when you’re here…. "I don’t know."

Exhausted, they slipped into sleep, a mass of tangled arms and legs.





"How are you doing today, Tony?" Anna took the opportunity to kneel beside Tony’s desk, while the other students were busy scribbling in their journals.

Dull blue-green eyes glanced up at her and Anna sighed inwardly.

"I’m fine," Tony said. She went back to journal writing.

"I’m sorry about your mom." Anna stood, glancing across the room. "If there’s ever anything I can do?"

"I’m fine, really." But Tony didn’t look up from the paper.

Awkwardly Anna laid a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze before going back to her desk.

Tony’s pencil stilled as the words blurred into a jumble. She looked across the row and met Cadence’s frank stare. They smiled briefly at one another and went back to work.

A few minutes later Ms Stewart asked for volunteers to read what they’d written. Of course no one volunteered so she randomly called five names. Cadence was one of those names, and so was Tony. Her heart hammering against her ribcage Tony waited her turn.

Reluctantly she stood before the students who were all older then she was. Another one of those nightmares; almost as bad as standing in front of a class in just your underwear.

In a quiet, shaky voice she began. "I dreamed last night, in black and white. I have not dreamed for many years."

A few eyes turned to Tony expectantly.

"The darkness began and there, beyond the horizon, was a horse bathed in silver moonlight. Atop the stallion was a knight."

A few more ears snapped to attention as Tony stood straighter and more self-assured.

"The metal armor gleamed in the moonlight, face plate masking the rider’s identity. The horse and rider sat in tandem, waiting… for something. A cry pierced the night air and the knight issued a war cry and they raced down from the mountain top, banner flying in the air."

Tony cleared her throat and let the paper fall to her side as she closed her eyes and relived the dream. "Darkness all around, the knight raced to the source of the scream. There, in the black and white meadow a maiden was in trouble. It was hard to tell the trees from the shadows, and the warriors from them both. Undaunted the knight rode down, pulling a sword from its sheath in the saddle."

All eyes and ears were on Tony, including the teacher and a very surprised Cadence.

"With amazing strength the knight slashed and twisted the blade, sending each and every warrior to their death. The knight jumped from the horse and knelt beside the fair maiden. Pain lanced through the knight’s heart at the black blood seeping down the front of the maiden’s dress. ‘Shhh,’ the knight said in a deep voice. ‘I’m here now.’ The maiden opened pain filled eyes to look at the knight. ‘I’ve waited for you,’ she said. Behind the mask the knight nodded. ‘I know.’ And the knight pushed the mask back to reveal-"

Just then the bell rang. Several students jumped up and raced out the door while several others rang out in a chorus, "What happened?"

Tony just grinned. Saved by the bell. "The knight pushed back the mask to reveal the only splash of color in the entire dream."

"What color?"

"That’s for me to know and you to find out," Tony smirked. They groaned and shuffled out of the room. Cadence lingered as Tony picked up her books. She was about to say something when the teacher asked if Tony could stay a moment.

"Sure, what’s up?" Tony glanced at Cadence with a slight shrug, as if to say, whatever, see ya in a minute? The dark skinned girl nodded and waited in the hallway just outside the door.

A few moments later Tony emerged with a strange look on her face.

"What is it?" Cadence immediately asked.

"I… I… um, she asked me if I wrote a lot and if I had more shorts like that." Tony glanced around the hallway as if lost. Cadence grabbed her arm and led her to an empty classroom.

"What for? Why did she want to know?"

Tony plodded down in an empty chair. "She thought I should write for the school paper."

"We HAVE a school paper?" Cadence’s eyebrows rose, the shock evident in her voice.

"Sort of. Apparently." Tony didn’t elaborate.

"What’s the problem then? It was a good story." The dark girl crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall to study Tony a moment. She really is a pretty girl. I can see why Ripper would like her. She’s kind of got that I’m an innocent girl I need taking care of look. Of course she’s really the exact opposite… Cadence shook her head and focused in on what Tony was saying.

"… never thought of doing anything like that. I only write for myself and assignments in school, ya know?" Tony looked up expectantly.

"Then do that. Write for yourself still. I, well I could help you sort through stuff you wouldn’t mind sharing… if… um… you wanted that is?"

Tony smiled. "I’d like that."

"I bet Shane would like to read them too."

Wide green eyes looked up at Cadence. "I um don’t think so. Not yet anyway."

Cadence shrugged as the bell rang. "We’d better get going."






I hate gym class! Tony groaned as she tried to pull up to the bar again. She glanced at Casey, showing off beside her, on her 5th pull up. She dropped a foot down to the waxed gym floor.

"Scarletti! Get your butt back up there and do five pull-ups."

No way… "I… can’t," she huffed.

"Get up there, now."

Casey glanced over the top of the bar and saw Tony breathlessly shake her head ‘no.’ Then she looked at the coach who was storming her way.

Uh oh. Casey slowly and quietly lowered herself down.

"Get up there!"

The coach was right up in Tony’s face now, even though she was bent over, clutching her knees and trying to gain her breath and still her racing heart.

"I… I… said I… can’t." Tony stood, her breathing eased slightly, but her heart beating faster as she squarely faced the short, muscular coach.

"Don’t tell me you can’t!" He pointed a finger at her, in full drill sergeant mode. "I will not accept can’t on this floor!" He jabbed his finger closer and closer to emphasize his point.

Casey stalked up silently beside Tony. The coach blinked and turned on her. "Trevors, get back to the bar!"

"No, sir!" Casey barked and the coach glared at her. She put her hands on her hips, sleeveless tank top prominitly revealing the panther tattoo on her shoulder. "Break time, girls!" she called out to her classmates. A collective sigh went up and the girls came down from the bars to stand with the others that had been waiting for their turn.

"Trevors," Coach growled, low enough that only Tony and Casey could hear. "I will not tolerant insubordination in the ranks." He jabbed a threatening finger at Casey’s chest. Her eyes turned icy as he poked her.

She stepped up against his finger, bending it back and got right in his face. "And I will not tolerate…" she laid a hand on his chest and shoved him back, raising her voice at the same time, "you touching me!"

He grabbed her hand. "Enough. I’m tired of you gang girls thinking you run the whole damn school!" His grip tightened with each word.

And, if it was possible Casey’s eyes got icier. She tore her hand from his grasp and swung furiously. The gym was shrouded in dead silence as the coach staggered and grabbed his bloody nose.

"You, bitch!" he cursed.

"Ok, now that was uncalled for." Casey smiled, angry, but enjoying the thought of pummeling the little man senseless. That stupid crew cut… and the fact that he thought he was still a marine. "Stand up straight, soldier," she sneered.

Coach felt his nose for a second, making sure it wasn’t broken, then put his hands on his hips. "Principal’s office, now," he growled, barely keeping his anger reigned in. He wasn’t going to loose his job over some damn little girl.

Casey smirked. "Make me."

"You too, Scarletti," he pointed at Tony, "go to the office." He hadn’t seen a tattoo on that one.

Tony glanced at Casey, then moved to the door. The coach began to follow. "Now, Trevors."

Casey resisted the urge to kick the man in the ass. She briefly considered kicking Tony’s too as she moved easily down the hall ahead of them. Instead she sighed and followed them both to the principal’s office.





Everything about the principal was ‘well groomed’ and cowardly. From his impeccable dark tie that said ‘I’m just like everyone else’ to the dark suit and loafers that said he was just like everyone else.

"Coach Hester, what seems to be the problem?" the principal asked.

"Insubordination in the ranks, sir." He nodded at the girls, glaring at Casey longer then Tony. "This one," he hooked his thumb at the blond, "refused to do pull-ups. And this one," he pointed at Casey, "broke my nose."

"I did not!" Casey said indignitly. "He touched me."

"I did not, you filthy liar."

They were almost nose to nose before the principal held up his hand. "Enough. You, Miss Trevors, have been in this office far too many times and the year has barely begun."

Casey seemed about to protest, but the principal spoke again. "You are suspended for a week for the physical mistreatment of a teacher."

Tony stood silently, watching as Casey struggled to keep her fists at her sides and not end this in bloodshed.

"I didn’t do anything wrong. That idiot was yelling and poking and Tony. Then he touched me." Casey seethed.

"Is this true, Coach?" the principal asked.

"No way. She jumped in while I was explaining to the new girl that I don’t accept quitters in my class. And then she just started hitting me, for no reason."

Casey’s mouth sagged open. Her fists clenched and unclenched.

"That’s not true!" Tony cried incredulously. "I couldn’t do the pull-ups and coach started screaming at me. Casey was just defending me."

"By punching a teacher, Miss Scarletti? That’s not the way to go about these things. I transferred you to senior classes because I thought you were mature enough to handle it." The principal crossed his arms across his chest and looked down his nose at Tony.

"I am mature enough to handle it," she sputtered.

"I don’t see it that way. And since you apparently started all of this I’m going to suspend you for a week as well, so you can think this over carefully. If I decide you are mature enough you will be allowed to return to classes with the seniors."

His look at the door and Coach’s smug smile were dismission enough and Tony grabbed Casey’s arm and pulled the glowering girl out with her.





"I can’t believe he suspended me!" Tony cried as they left the school doors and headed out into the bright afternoon sun.

"I can’t believe it either," Casey said, dangerously calm. After all this time that bastard principal still didn’t realize just what he was dealing with when he came up against ‘the panthers.’ He’ll learn not to mess with ME soon enough.

They walked to where Shane usually parked her bike. It wasn’t there.

Tony sighed. "God, don’t tell me she’s disappeared again!" She threw her hands up in exasperation and slapped them down against her thighs.

Casey grinned suddenly. There, in the far corner was the coach’s car. She grabbed Tony’s hand and dragged the sputtering girl along behind her to the rusted out station wagon.

"Hey," Tony protested.

They pulled to a sudden stop beside the car. "Payback’s a bitch," Casey muttered and slammed her elbow through the window. It wasn’t the shatter proof glass so it imploded on impact. She popped the lock even as she dug into her jeans and pulled out a pocket knife. As she flicked it open she hopped into the driver's seat.

"Get in, Tony."

She shook her head, blond bangs falling into her eyes. "No way."

Casey looked up with a grin akin to madness. "See ya later then." She shrugged and ducked down to splice the wires together.

Tony stepped back as the car sputtered to life. Casey pulled out in a squeal of tires and black smoke. Wide eyed Tony raced from the parking lot and ran half the way home, deciding suddenly, at the apartment doors that she couldn’t face her gram, and made her way aimlessly down the streets.




Chapter Eighteen

Nowhere to go… but down


The warehouse? Too dark… The tunnels? Too dark… and besides I don’t think Shane would like it if I went there myself. Coney Island?

Where the hell is Shane?

Fine. Coney Island it is then.

She wandered aimlessly down the crowded boardwalk, passing dozens of shops, and paying no attention to any of them. Stubbing the toes of her sneakers against the weathered boards as she walked Tony wondered if Casey would be all right. It wasn't like her and Casey were joined at the hip, or even close friends, but the fact was she'd hot wired a car and stolen it right from the school parking lot.

Right with Tony watching. She knew she'd be hard pressed to lie for Casey if asked. She slowed as a rollerblader nearly ran over her and forced her up against the side of a building. With a grumbling sigh and a muttered curse she stepped out of the shade of the wall and stood for a moment wondering where in hell she'd ended up.

In front of her was a gaudy sign with a large handprint. A fortune teller. One store down was a tattoo parlor. Inanely she wondered it if was the place where The Panthers got all their tats.

Tony looked at the pink palm again.

"Are you ready?" it asked in green letters. "$3.00's to see your future."

Geez, what a rip off, Tony thought. But she found her feet shuffling forward of their own accord as her hands brushed aside the beaded doorway.

The inside was dimly lit and much cooler then the air outside. Even in the dim light everything looked too flashy and fake. She was about to turn around and walk back out when a lilting voice called out.

"May I help you?"

Tony looked up at the middle aged woman who had appeared from a back doorway. She certainly didn't look anything like the place would lead one to believe. In fact she only wore a single silver chain around her neck. Her long, dark hair fell in gentle waves down over her slim shoulders. She wore a light cotton sun dress with a splattering of roses, and her hands now rested on her hips impatiently.

"Well, girl?"

"I... I'd like to know my future," Tony finally said.

"Ahh, you would now? This way then." The woman turned, fluttering the sun dress around her slim hips and legs, and glided into the back room.

Tony followed, slowly peeking her head around the doorframe before ascertaining there was nothing there to jump out and get her.

"Have a seat, and we'll see what we shall see." The fortune teller was already seated behind a round table, and she pointed to the metal folding chair in front of her.

Reluctantly Tony sat, wondering why on earth she was here to listen to a bunch of mumbo jumbo anyway. None of this stuff was real.

"Give me your hand, child."

The woman's hand was cool against her fingers and Tony let her palm settle in. It was flipped over and the woman traced a long finger over the thin lines on Tony's palm, her face hidden by a cascade of dark hair. Several moments of silence followed before Tony couldn't take it anymore.

"What do you see?" Tony asked.

"Shhh," the fortune teller reprimanded. "A true reading takes time. Close your eyes for me now."

Obediently Tony closed her eyes. The touch of soft fingers on her palm was soothing and she slowly found her head drooping to her chest.

"That's it, child," the woman whispered. "Close your eyes, bring the future to you." She traced Tony's life line, fascinated by the seeming fact that she had two. One started out slim and sketchy, turning jagged and broken before another line began to run parallel to it. That line was also jagged, but it ran into the first and became one with it. The lines molded into something solid and strong. Interesting...

"What do you see, child?" she asked softly.

"Nothing," Tony mumbled, finding it harder and harder to keep her head up.

"Look closer," the woman said as she closed her own eyes. "Do you see that light ahead?"

Behind closed lids Tony strained through the darkness to see the so called light. Nothing... wait. What's that? In the distance a tiny shaft of light shone down, like a beam of sunlight. "There," Tony whispered back, her heart picking up double time.

"Go to it. What do you see?"

"I... I see... trees."

The woman smiled. "Good girl. Go and sit beneath the tree in the shade."

Tony walked through the vision, over soft blades of grass to the tall tree. Carefully she sat in the grass in the cool shade. Now she could hear the buzzing and whining of insects, smell the pines from across the meadow... Meadow? A large meadow with a tiny brook dividing it in half.

Where the pines began shadows drifted in and out. But they weren't all shadows from the trees. "Someone's there!" Tony said, startled.

"You are safe here, Tony. Just wait for them to come."

Irrational fear took hold of her chest and she stood quickly, her back scraping up against the rough bark of the tree. "I'm afraid."

"Don't be afraid, child. You can not be hurt here." The fortune teller gently ran her fingers in a soothing motion across Tony's palm.

"I think I see someone." And Tony did. One shadow had stepped out from among the others, and it was walking slowly toward her.

"Concentrate on them. Know them..."

"How do I do that?" Tony watched the shadow come closer. It was in the sunlight now, but still bathed in darkness. 'Concentrate... know them...' The shadow was tall. Taller then Tony. Tall... like Shane. Tony gasped. The shadow walked with that same purposeful stride, that walk born of greatness and class.

"What do you see, child?"

"I- I- see... Shane," Tony whispered, disbelieving and afraid. The shadow had reached the edge of the brook and stopped. The darkness clung around her like an evil hand. "Why is she so dark?" she asked in a fear filled voice.

"The darkness surrounds her?"


"Then the past is strong with her, as it is with you, child. Do not be afraid." The fortune teller clasped Tony's hand in both of hers.

"But I came here to see the future..."

"She is your future."

"I don't understand." The vision began to fade. Suddenly panicked Tony began to run toward the shadow. No! Don't go! She reached the edge of the brook. An invisible hand reached out and held her in place. "Please don't go." She reached out her hand. The shadow reached out too.

And disappeared.

"No! Don't go!" Tony's eyes snapped open. Oh my god... it was Shane. What the hell does that mean?

She looked up to capture the eyes of the fortune teller, a million questions stampeding through her mind, but she found herself outside in the sun, the beaded door to her back and streams of tourists passing her by with unabashed curious stares.

Shuddering, she resisted the urge to run as far as she could. Without a glance to the door she began to walk back the way she'd come from.

She ended up on the beach, and sought the shade and quiet confines of the area directly under the boardwalk. Tony went back as far as she could go, ignoring the trash piles and the homeless sleeping under newspapers, and slumped to the cool sand. After taking off her shoes she sunk her toes into the ground and numbly poured sand up to her ankles.

For a while that was all she did; simple mindedly shifting sand through her fingers. It was calming, and some of her thoughts slowly fell into place. But before she could get a handle on any of it a shadow loomed up over her.

Startled, she looked up to find Ripper studying her.

"Heard what happened at school," the tall, athletic girl said, by way of greeting.

Tony shrugged and after a moment Ripper sat down beside her.

"You ok?" Ripper asked.

"Fine, why?"

"Well, I saw ya rushin' down the boardwalk, pale, like ya'd seen a ghost..." Ripper trailed off and hefted a handful of sand. It was easier then looking at Tony.

"I said I'm fine," Tony replied testily.

"Sorry," Ripper muttered and dropped her handful of sand. She stood suddenly and started to walk away. "She didn't get caught," she called over her shoulder.

Tony looked up with wide eyes. "Who?"

Ripper stopped, turned and was startled to find Tony's hands shaking. She came back and knelt beside the girl. "Casey. She didn't get caught. She dumped the car."

"Oh." Tony shoved her hands beneath the sand. Somehow I thought... "I'm sorry for snapping at you, Ripper."

"S'ok." She sat in front of Tony. "Uh, wanna talk about it?"

"How did you know where to find me?" Tony asked, avoiding the question.

"Um, well Casey found me first and told me what had happened. That she'd, uh, seen ya running away. Guess she was kind of worried." Ripper ran her hand through her short hair then nervously scratched the back of her neck.

Tony snorted. "Casey? Worried? Over me? I don't think so."

"She was," Ripper said firmly. "She said we should all look for ya."

"And by chance you saw me on the boardwalk?" Tony asked. She shifted her legs up under her thighs and set her hands in her lap. She just didn't know what to do with them.

"Nah, I know you n Shane come here a lot. So I just thought, ya know, that you might be here."

Tony nodded but didn't meet Ripper's eyes. How could she ask without seeming ungrateful that Ripper even knew where to look, had even bothered in the first place? "Did Shane... um come with you?" Now she did look up.

Ripper smiled slightly, not at all offended. "Shane's vamoosed. Nobody knows where she is."

"Figures," Tony murmured and looked back down at her hands.

"Yeah, she's never told anyone where she goes. Like it's suppose to be some big damn secret." Ripper began to relax and leaned back on her elbows.

"She hasn't told anyone?" Tony asked incredulously. "Not even Casey or Cadence?"

"Nope." Ripper shook her head.

"Isn't that kinda bad? I mean she's your leader, or whatever. Why would she just get up and leave with all that responsi..." Tony suddenly realized that it wasn't really any of her business and she had no right asking.

"Responsibility? It is weird. But maybe that's why she does it." Ripper shrugged. "Maybe she just gets tired of us and gets out."

"But that's not fair to the rest of you," Tony blurted. Or me either.... She quickly banished that line of thought.

"We do just fine by ourselves."

"I'm sorry, that's not what I meant." She studied Ripper, realizing she'd hurt her. Not big, maybe just offended her. Tony sighed. "I just meant-"

"I know what ya meant. It's ok." Self-consciously Ripper sat back up and crossed her legs Indian style. "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Sure," Tony answered absently, her attentions drastically divided.

"Do you remember when we were at the abandoned apartments the other night?" God, she wished she had a basketball in her hands right then. Ripper always felt so much more in control with that bit of air and rubber in her hands, doing just what she wanted.

Tony made a face. "You mean when I drank too much and threw up?"

Ripper blushed. "Uh, yeah, that'd be the night."

"What about it?" Tony's eyes were focused out over the beach goers and she didn't see the embarrassment and discomfort flash across Ripper's lean, tanned face.

"I... um, well... I was wondering' if you remembered anything that, um, that you n me talked about?" Ripper waited, terrified and uncertain.

Tony considered that for a long, silent moment. "I'm sorry, I guess not. All the alcohol." She waved her hand apologetically in the air. "Ya know?"

Ripper didn't know whether she should be feeling relief or sorrow. "Ok."

"Why'd you want to know?" Tony asked curiously, shifting to look at Ripper. She sure turns an interesting shade of red. What the hell DID we talk about that night?

"Just curious." Ripper tried to shrug it off. Tony was staring intently at her. Damn, I never should have brought it up.

"What did we talk about then?"

"Um, oh, ya know, this n that." She blushed even more.

"Well," Tony drawled. "It must have been something pretty interesting." She watched, amused, as Ripper blushed even more and turned her head away.

"Hey Shane, didja know that Ripper said I was cu-" Ripper’s voice rang in Tony's ears. No wonder Ripper's embarrassed. Do I pretend not to remember? Or do I tease her about it? A slow, mischevious sparkle lit up Tony's eyes and turned to a quirky grin.

Ripper was fascinated by the sudden transformation. The girl positively glowed. Ripper's chest ached and she felt a pull to the shy girl with the shining golden hair and gem colored eyes. A little voice, from far far off was trying to tell her something. Trying to remind her... But the voice slipped away as Ripper felt herself falling into Tony's eyes. Hard.

Tony blinked rapidly and the grin slowly slipped away. She also remembered that Ripper hadn't been nearly as drunk as she'd been. "Uh, how about we find Casey? Let her know I didn't fall off a cliff or something?"

Ripper nodded mutely and leapt to her feet, leading the way quickly out from under the boardwalk.

My god, what the hell just happened...

Tony hurried to catch up and match strides with the tall athlete. "Hey," she said softly and tugged on Ripper's arm.

Ripper pulled herself to a reluctant stop and turned sideways to face Tony. The look Tony gave her unsettled the teen, more then simple words. "What?" She crossed her arms across her chest and waited.

"It's ok, ya know?" the shorter girl said. She stood to her full height and looked Ripper in the eye. Tony had the sudden urge to do far more then stand up to the tall butch. However, she didn't know what the hell that would be.

A gull screeched and swooped down from the sky. Ripper turned to watch it fly out over the crashing waves. "S'ok," Ripper mumbled, but wasn't sure just what was ok. She dropped her arms to her sides, knocking Tony's small hand off her forearm. "Time to find Casey, right?"

"Yeah." Tony once again matched Ripper's strides across the sand and up the stairs to the boardwalk. It wasn't until they were out of the gates and on the sidewalk that Tony spoke again. "Ripper?"

"Hmm?" she asked as her eyes shifted from one side of the street to the other, looking for an opening to cross.

"I won't say anything if you don't want people to know," Tony replied as she looked at the strong profile of the girl standing on the sidewalk next to her. In many ways she was a lot like Shane.

There was the break in traffic they needed and they raced across the street, heading to the nearest subway entrance.

"Everyone knows anyway, Tony, it's not a secret," Ripper finally said, hoping they were talking about the fact that she was gay and not the fact that she had a crush on the 'new girl.'

They were past the turnstiles before Ripper had spoken and Tony had thought her comment would go unanswered. As they waited at the stuffy and crowded platform for the next train Tony debated saying more. But it could only get her in trouble so she was silent.

And silent on the train; through two transfers- and still silent as they walked down a back alley to the abandoned apartment building. They were at the boarded up doorway before Tony pulled Ripper to a stop once more.

"Can I ask you something?"

"What?" Ripper glanced around to make sure no one was in the alley with them.

"Why did you tell everyone?" Tony asked.

Evidently it was not the question Ripper was expecting because her brow furrowed and she gave Tony a blank look. "Why did I tell?"

"Yeah. If you're... straight then you don't have to tell anyone. If you're ... not... then why do you have to tell?" she shoved her hands in her pockets as she asked and shuffled her feet nervously.

Ripper studied Tony. She's so young.... looks like she's just a little kid. "It's how you know who your true friends are, Tony," she replied honestly and simply.

Tony looked up and hesitantly met Ripper's dark blue eyes. "Then... then, everyone in the gang is ok with it?"

Ripper sadly shook her head. "No, but it doesn't matter. It only matters how I feel about it."

Then... Tony squared her shoulders and stopped shuffling her feet. She liked Ripper. "Ok, then... since it's cool with you, it's cool with me."

Suddenly Ripper grinned. And Tony grinned back, surprised as the tall girl smacked her playfully on the shoulder.

"Let's get inside, everyone's gonna meet here in a bit."

Tony followed behind Ripper as she ducked under the boards and mumbled something about dumping out all the beer and replacing it with Mountain Dew. Up ahead Ripper chuckled and waited for Tony to catch up before she opened the sagging door and bowed, ushering Tony in with a wave of her arm.

"After you, fair maiden," Ripper said, smirking.

Oh God... Tony's heart rate sped up. "I'm going to kill Cadence," she muttered.

Ripper just laughed.


Continued..Part 3

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