True Colours, Part 7
Mare had heard both Paula and Erin speak of TJ's dislike of the counseling sessions but she hadn't realized what a profound effect the mere notion of going to one had on the woman. The days leading up to the session were a lesson that Mare wouldn't soon forget. TJ was a kaleidoscope of mood swings; one moment she was on a high, the next she was a brooding recluse. Even Mare had a hard time shaking her out of the depressive attitude. Paula and Erin, however, assured her that this was the normal build-up to her meetings with Peter. Mare had to wonder whether her therapist wasn't a big part of TJ's reluctance to talk about her problems.
Mare suggested that she drive TJ to the session by herself, but Erin said that it probably would be better if she drove. Mare would be free to concentrate on TJ, especially if Peter actually got TJ to open up about her father. Though Mare was under the increasing impression that Peter wasn't going to get much enlightenment out of the resistant TJ, she agreed.
Mare spent the night prior to the appointment at the ranch. TJ was in a quiet mood and they retired to bed early, where the two women were content to lay in each other's arms, savoring the closeness their relationship had brought them.
The drive into Sharlesburg the next morning was a subdued affair. TJ sat and stared out of the window for most of the drive, giving one-word answers to the questions she was asked as Mare and Erin tried to draw her into the conversation.
Erin jumped out of the van and grabbed TJ' s chair from the back. Mare clambered out and looked at the imposing building before her. An old, red brick building four floors high, it had a small well-kept lawn in the front. Steps led up to the main entrance and to the side there was a ramp for disabled users. Mare frowned at this. The ramp, though advertised for use by the disabled, was quite steep and Mare knew that even with TJ's incredible upper body strength, she would have difficulty negotiating it by herself. I dislike this place already and I don't even have to be here; no wonder TJ hates it. I hope Peter is better than he sounds. Mare looked over at TJ as Erin wheeled her around the van. She reached over and squeezed her hand.
"You okay?" she asked with concern.
TJ squeezed her hand back. "Yeah. Come on, let's just get this over with." Erin, taking the hint, turned TJ's chair and pushed her up the ramp to the building.
Mare's first impressions of Peter's waiting room were good. His secretary was a discreet distance from where his patients sat, allowing them reasonable privacy to talk, and the room was brightly decorated with various scenes painted on the walls. Mare especially liked the one of the sailboat on the ocean at sunset; it had a soothing quality to it. The chairs were comfortable and gracefully spaced. These touches, together with the varying plant life and the light from the large windows, made the room quite pleasant.
Peter's secretary was a white-haired lady, mid fifties in age by Mare's guess. She greeted both TJ and Erin by name. She asked the usual pleasantries and informed Peter that they were waiting. TJ immediately wheeled herself over to the window that looked out the back of the building towards Sharlesburg's central park.
The park was a field of grass and walkways hidden within large stands of trees. The residents of the city were making the most of the warm and sunny day, playing ball and lying around the recreational areas.
Erin stayed by the desk, chatting with the secretary, while Mare went to keep TJ company, sliding into the seat nearest to the tense, brooding woman. Mare knew that anything she said wasn't going to ease the tension and trepidation that TJ was feeling, only her continued presence could do that. She let her hand rest on TJ's arm, just letting her know she was nearby.
A door opened and Mare turned to see a medium-sized gentleman with short, brown hair, beard and wire-rimmed spectacles walk from the inner room. He glanced over toward her and TJ but made no greeting, walking immediately to Erin. They had a quiet conversation and Mare saw Erin gesture across toward them.
Mare's hackles rose. From the description that TJ had given during one of their midnight chats she knew that this was Peter. The fact that he hadn't even bothered to say anything to TJ but had headed straight to Erin spoke volumes about his attitude towards his patient. Mare patted TJ's arm then stood and walked over to where Erin and the doctor were talking, catching the tail end of the conversation.
"...well, I dont really think that is appropriate," said the therapist as Mare approached.
Erin looked over his shoulder and beckoned Mare forward. "Peter, I'd like you to meet Mare Gillespie."
Mare strode forward and held her hand out. "Doctor," she said as she shook his hand, which totally enveloped hers.
"Miss Gillespie," he said in return.
"I was just explaining to Peter why I thought he might make more headway with TJ if you were with her today," said Erin.
"And I was just explaining to Miss Scott why I thought that wouldn't be a good idea," replied Peter.
"And why would that be?" inquired Mare, raising her eyebrow in imitation of TJ's favored expression.
"Because, Miss Gillespie..."
"Please call me Mare," interrupted the vet. Erin grinned, seeing another of TJ's tactics in action.
"Because, Mare, patients often feel inhibited when close friends or members of the family are included in this type of session. I'm trying to get TJ to open up about feelings that obviously cause her some distress." Peter had a placating look on his face.
"I see," said Mare, seemingly pondering his words. "And it makes no difference to you that I already know the details you are trying to get TJ to tell you? Or the fact that I wouldn't be here unless TJ had requested my presence?" Peter opened his mouth to reply but Mare wouldn't let him speak. "In fact, why don't we ask your patient exactly what she'd prefer?" Mare paused in her tirade. "It occurs to me, Doctor, that you would get a lot further in your sessions if TJ felt at ease with you, but she obviously doesn't. I really can't say I blame her seeing as you haven't even acknowledged her presence yet." Mare ended pointedly, staring Peter in the face. Erin had to hide her mouth behind her hand to prevent Peter from seeing the grin that was spreading.
"There is no need to be confrontational, Miss Gillespie "
"Mare," interrupted the vet once again.
"Yes, Mare. As I said there is no need to be confrontational "
"I don't believe I was being confrontational at all; I was merely stating a fact. Because, let me tell you, Peter, if I were the one sitting in that chair and the first thing you did when you walked into the room was to walk over and talk to my care giver, and not to me, I'd be a little put out. In fact I might even think that you were checking up on me, or maybe I'd be paranoid enough to think that you actually had her watching me. Tell me, just how would that help me to trust you?"
"Do you have any idea why Miss Meridian is in therapy?" Mare opened her mouth to speak, but a familiar voice answered for her.
"Of course she does, Peter. Why do you think I asked her along?" All eyes turned to TJ as she wheeled herself across to them. "Now, shall we get on with this session or can I leave this hellhole and go home?"
Peter stood and watched TJ, weighing the pros and cons of arguing the matter with her. He knew from past experience that if TJ decided she was going, then nobody was going to be able to stop her. She had even managed it when he persuaded Paula to leave TJ here while she dealt with a business meeting in town. He thought he had TJ cornered and unable to leave, since Paula wasn't around. How wrong he had been. She pulled out her cell phone and within minutes had a limousine and driver outside waiting for her. If he expected her to stay, he had come to learn that challenging TJ's authority over her own life and decisions was a mistake.
"Okay, then. Let's go into the office." He swept his arm before him, indicating that Mare should precede him.
The small entourage entered the room and Erin watched the door closing firmly behind them. She looked over to the secretary and smiled. "I'll just wait here, then."
Mare studied the office as she entered, noting Peter's impressive display of diplomas from varying schools of medicine and psychology. Shame his bedside manner isn't as impressive. TJ wheeled herself over near the window as Peter sat behind the desk. The positioning of the players intrigued Mare. TJ was subtly telling everybody that she didnt want to be here, that the room felt as though it was imprisoning her, hence the window positioning. And Peter was obviously intimidated by TJ. His sitting behind the desk immediately put a barrier between him and her. For someone supposed to be breaking down TJ's emotional barriers, putting a physical one in the way didnt seem too wise. I wonder why these two are so uncomfortable with each other?
"So, TJ," said Peter, trying to get the session started, "how have you been since we last spoke?"
"Fine," she replied, still looking out of the window. Mare walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. TJ looked up and smiled, feeling Mare's welcome caress.
"You gonna stop dreaming out the window and come join us?" asked Mare, gently reminding TJ that she was supposed to take an active part in the session, not just give one-word answers. TJ sighed but took off the brakes and wheeled away from the window, closer to Peter's desk. Mare took a seat nearby.
"Sorry. I'm fine, thank you, Peter," TJ said, shooting a quick glance at Mare.
Peter sat back in his chair, not quite knowing what to make of the exchange between the two women. There was certainly a dynamic working between them. And he hadn't seen TJ Meridian respond that benignly to anybody before. Maybe having Mare Gillespie here was a good idea, after all. "Do you have anything in particular you'd like to discuss today?"
TJ remained silent till she heard Mare start to move behind her. Go on spit it out. You know Mare is gonna hit you with those eyes, if you don't. "Well," she spared another look at Mare, seeing her loving support. "You've wanted to know about my father, so I guess we can start there today." TJ felt her hand creep in Mare's direction, needing more than her gaze to bolster her courage, now that she had said it. She felt the strong, yet gentle, squeeze of her lover's hand as she grasped hold.
TJ's statement astonished Peter. After months of trying to get TJ to open up about her father and finally giving up on it, here she was offering the information
The next hour and a half flew by for Mare as she sat supporting her lover through the ordeal of telling Peter what her father had done to her through her life. Mare's perception of Peter changed over the session as well. It wasn't that he wasn't good at his job, he just had no idea of how to handle TJ. He obviously thought of TJ as an emotionally vulnerable and fragile person. While in some ways that was true, TJ reacted badly to anybody treating her that way.
Now that he had something to work with, though, he wasn't letting TJ get away with skirting around the issues of her father. Although TJ didn't particularly like that he wouldn't let her hide, neither did she try to be obstructive. Throughout the session, Mare felt TJ's hold on her emotions waver; the tense grip on her hand didn't loosen at all. Mare kept her eyes on her partner's face, so that whenever she looked over she saw her love looking back.
For TJ the session was the longest she'd ever been in. Even when she had been in the hospital and physically unable to get away from the sessions, she had been able to tune them out of her mind. Now, though, with Mare by her side, she wasn't able to leave the office when things started to hurt and Mare's constant grip on her hand kept her mind grounded in reality.
She spoke of life in the Meridian household and the constant battle to be true to herself in the midst of her father's abuse. She spoke about things that she hadn't wanted to remember. She told of the times she had ended up in her father's doctor's office, being patched up from the vicious beatings; the concerned look in the doctor's eyes, while refusing to report her father; the time she had been hit so hard that her arm had been broken.
When the hospital inquired how it happened, her mother told them she fell off of her horse. The strange looks and whispers of the nursing staff told a different story, but this was the all-powerful Tom Meridian they were talking about, he wouldnt beat his daughter, would he?
When TJ felt her emotional resolve weaken at the constant onslaught of memories, she felt Mare's presence and continued on.
Peter was having a similar reaction to the session; his whole demeanor toward TJ was changing. When he had taken on the case referral he thought that her attempt at suicide was nothing more than a rich girl's being unable to cope with what life had thrown at her. But from what he was finding out now, it was clear to him that he had completely misjudged the situation. To survive the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, TJ had built an incredible strength of will. When you added to that her need to protect her brother from similar abuse, her suicide attempt was painted in an entirely different light. TJ's attempt hadn't really been a cry for help; it was a desperate need to rejoin the one person in her life who had shown her unconditional love. He looked over at Mare and adjusted that thought. One person till now, that is.
We may have a long road ahead of us, TJ, but at least now we are headed in the right direction.
The drive home was another silent study of contemplation. This time, TJ had insisted on riding in the back with Mare. Legs on the back seat, torso enclosed, she felt safe after pouring out her innermost secrets.
Mare sat with her arms lovingly wrapped around her, accepting TJ's need for silence. Concentrating on TJ's need for comfort.
Erin drove, her eyes occasionally straying to the rearview mirror, smiling at the sight of the two lovers embraced.
Mare had just dropped her bag in its nook in the kitchen when the phone rang. She grabbed it and spouted her usual greeting. "Doctor Gillespie."
The caller's slight hesitation told the vet at once who it was and a smile broke out as warmth spread through her. "Hi, Mare. Are you going to be home in the next half hour?" TJ's voice oozed into her body like oil into a wick, ready to be set aflame.
"For you, anytime, anywhere."
"Sure, tell me that sometime when you have a sick cow to take care of," TJ kidded. "I want to stop by; I have some information about your father."
The vet came quickly back to earth. "What? Have they found him? Who is he? Where "
"Yes, we found him. I'll tell you all about it as soon as I get there."
"TJ! I don't have a lot of patience."
The low chuckle sent a shiver of yearning through Mare. "I know, my love, but I don't want to give it to you in bits and pieces over the phone. I'll be right over as fast as I can."
"Okay, but hurry, please?"
"You know I will."
After she hung up, Mare got a ready-made salad and a soda from the fridge and had a quick supper, too fidgety to even taste what she ate. They found him! My father's alive!
Afterwards, a need to find some respite from her jangling nerves led her to the piano. She ran through a few light pieces to limber up her fingers, then launched into more robust compositions. Engrossed in her music, she didn't hear the door open or wheels coming through the kitchen.
Mare finished the piece she was playing and stopped. Clapping hands from behind startled her and she swiveled around rapidly on the piano seat. TJ and Erin both wore large smiles and were clapping vigorously. Mare blushed self-consciously. "Hi, TJ, Erin." She walked over to TJ and kissed her welcoming lips. "C'mon into the kitchen. What would you like to drink, Erin? Soda, lemonade, beer?"
"TJ, tell me what you've heard about my father before I have a nervous breakdown!" While she talked, Mare held a pitcher of lemonade up and raised her eyebrows to Erin. The curly-headed blonde mouthed the word "beer" and the vet opened a bottle, handed it to her and opened two more for TJ and herself. She pulled a chair out of the way so TJ could wheel close to the table. Then she sat in the chair, scooted up next to TJ, and Erin took a seat across from them.
TJ pulled a large envelope from the pocket on the side of the chair and laid it in front of Mare. "Take a look."
With trembling hands, the vet pulled the contents of the envelope out and put it on the table. She grabbed the picture that was lying on top and stared at it for several long moments. It was a professional portrait of a distinguished looking sandy-haired man with emerald-green eyes exactly like Mare's. Even the shape of their faces was the same except the man's was a little longer than Mare's.
"He looks like me. I mean, I look like him. I looked at every male in that graduating class and I didn't see him." Mare ran her fingers over the picture as if she could feel the face whose paper replica she touched. Her questioning eyes looked up at TJ. "Why couldn't I find him?"
"Your mother didn't lie to you, but she didn't tell you the whole truth, either. Your father and mother didn't go to the same college. My people ran through everybody at her college, then started on every college within 50 miles of it and finally found him."
Moving the picture off to the side, Mare's eyes fell on the name at the top of the first paper beneath it. "Michael Thomas Gillis, MD. My father." Mare gazed up at TJ and smiled through the tears that trickled down her cheeks. "He's a doctor! And look at his name same initials as mine and a very similar last name. I guess Mother really did love him."
While Mare shuffled through the papers and pictures, Erin finished her beer and got up. She whispered something into TJ's ear and the dark head nodded. The she picked up a box of tissues from a counter and brought them to Mare, taking several out and handing them to her before setting the box within easy reach. Erin bent down and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm going home for awhile. I'll stop back about 10 o'clock for TJ. I'm really happy for you, Mare. I hope things work out well for you and your father." Mare smiled her thanks. Erin patted her on the shoulder and left.
The investigators had taken numerous photos of the doctor, his office, his home, even pictures of him entering and leaving the hospital where he practiced. TJ looked on with an affectionate smile as Mare's face lit with excitement at every new picture she saw. You have such an expressive face, my love. I delight in watching it reveal the poetry of your heart. TJ's mouth curled higher. You even bring out the poetry in me!
Mare picked up the sheaf of papers and made an attempt to read them. She shook her head and turned toward the eyes watching her so tenderly. "I'm too nervous. Would you read it to me, please?" She placed the papers in the extended hand, sat back and listened to TJ's warm voice fill her in on her father's life history.
TJ read through Dr. Gillis' medical school attendance, internship, and specialization. As she narrated the report on the doctor's specialization, three words jumped out at her. They had startled her at her first reading of the report and she still stumbled over them. "Dr. Gillis specialized in neurosurgery and has won many awards. He is a recognized authority in the field of spi spinal cord injury."
Mare put an arm on the table and leaned forward to look into TJ's face. "Did you say spinal cord injury?"
"Yes. Kind of eerie, isn't it?" Her wide-eyed look swept to meet Mare's inquiring gaze. "SCI. Your father is a recognized authority in the field of spinal cord injury."
"My gosh, TJ, I'm getting goose bumps."
"Yeah, I did, too."
The two women sat looking at each other for a moment, then Mare patted TJ's arm. "Keep reading, okay? I want to hear everything there is to hear. We can follow up on that later."
TJ finished the career investigation and proceeded to the personal history. Mare's father had made his career his life. He had never married and lived in a large, well-appointed house in an elite area bordering Dorburton Lakes, just outside Springerly, the city of his practice.
"Springerly's only a couple hours' drive from here." Mare's face and voice turned wistful. "All these years, my father's been just a couple of hours away."
Mare's expression tore at TJ's heart and she returned the pat on the arm. "But you've found him now, Mare. You know what they say, 'Better late than never.'" Then she grinned. "And he's wealthy, too."
Mare mused about that for all of three seconds. "Lucky me," she scoffed.
"And listen to this, Mare." TJ handed her a flyer as she continued to read aloud. "A student of classical music, Dr. Gillis gives semi-annual piano recitals on behalf of SCI patients who need financial assistance."
Mare's eyes beamed as she looked up from the flyer. "And his next recital is only a couple of days away. I have to go. Just think, he's a doctor, he plays the piano, and we look just alike. I can hardly believe it."
Looking to TJ for advice, she asked. "Now what do I do? Do you think he would want to know that he has a daughter?"
TJ's sweet smile wrapped itself around Mare's heart. "I guarantee that once he knows you, he will love you. But I don't think you should drop in on him unannounced; it's safer not to presume anything." Picking up the loose papers, TJ jogged them together, laid them on top of the envelope they came in and placed the pictures on top of them.
"I think going to the recital might help you find a little more comfort with the idea of meeting him. But I think he needs that chance, too. How about if I talk with him, show him a report just like this one that explains the highlights of your background and the situation, and let him decide if he wants to meet you?"
Mare, her face a study in serious concern, nodded. "Could you do that before the recital? Then maybe we could meet soon afterwards."
"Do you really think I should approach him right now? This will be an emotional moment; it has to be. That might disturb his recital."
"Oh, no, TJ. Music flows from emotion. The stronger the musician's feelings, the stronger the performance."
"All right, you're the expert. I'll try to set up a meeting as soon as possible. My team has already gathered information on you."
"You've had people checking up on me?" Mare frowned, not entirely comfortable with that idea.
TJ looked away, a little abashed. "It was before you even set foot on the ranch, Mare. Before I knew you. I mean, you were just a name to me and we knew the people in Meridian wouldn't be happy to see us here." She glanced sideways at Mare whose eyes were still on TJ's face. "Look, I told you I'm not an especially trusting person, okay?"
Mare's frown slowly lightened and she nodded. Then she poked TJ's side. "Just don't ever do it again."
TJ threw a hand down to protect her ribs, and quirked an eyebrow. "But the report didn't tell me half what I've learned through personal contact." Then she grinned, turning it into a leer. "Especially how emotion strengthens a musician's performance."
Mollified, Mare wrinkled her nose and grinned back. "Very funny."
TJ looked at her watch. "Hey, it's 9:50, Erin will be here in about ten minutes. Do you want to play?"
"Umm. I thought you'd never ask." In one continuous motion, Mare swung around, pulled the wheelchair arm out of the way, reached under TJ's shirt and zeroed in on her intended objective.
TJ gasped, startled by her body's unhesitating response. "I meant the piano."
Transferring to a seat on TJ's lap, Mare growled in pleasure at her lover's reaction. "Quiet, woman, we only have nine more minutes." A moist mouth smothered TJ's laugh.
The nurse came through the waiting room door, holding it open with one hand. "TJ Meridian?"
TJ laid down the book she had been leafing through and steered the electric wheelchair through the doorway. The nurse went ahead of her and held open an office door. Smiling at TJ, she said, "Dr. Gillis will be with you soon. Please make yourself comfortable."
Does every office in the world have buff walls? TJ wondered with a grin. But the yellow birch furniture, dark gold rug and dark green upholstery gave the pleasant room a light warmth. Sunny prints of several master works dotted the walls, balancing the black and white austerity of the framed diplomas and awards.
Within minutes, the doctor entered the room. He walked over to TJ and shook her hand. "Miss Meridian, how are you?" TJ was momentarily disconcerted by the direct gaze of the emerald green eyes of her lover, ensconced in a different face.
"I'm just fine, Doctor." TJ laid a large envelope on the desk as the doctor moved behind it and sat down.
"Your message intrigued me. I do remember Jane Arnold, very well. I was saddened to hear that she died last year. You said you had a letter from her that you wished to give me?"
"Actually, Doctor, I have a copy of a letter from her. It's not addressed to you, but when you read it, you will understand why I've brought it to you." TJ handed the copy to the sandy-haired man and watched as he read it.
At first he looked naturally puzzled. As he read a small smile appeared, then his face went slack and his jaw dropped. When he had finished he set the letter on the desk and sat back in his chair, his eyes still down and his breathing rapid. After a minute, he looked up at TJ and his eyes showed the struggle he was having to comprehend what he had just read. "We had a daughter? Jane and I had a daughter?"
TJ nodded. With his elbow on the desk and his chin resting on his hand, Dr. Gillis sat there thinking. Suddenly his eyes jerked up to TJ's and he asked, "Is it are you ?"
"No, not me." TJ's soft voice held his attention. Reaching into the envelope, she drew out its contents and laid them in front of the confused man. Mare's picture was on top.
"My God, she looks just like me." He dropped his fingers to the portrait and ran them over its surface, just as his daughter had done to his. "But she's beautiful."
Twisting her lips, TJ managed to get one word out. "Perfectly."
"Where is she? Can I see her? Can we meet? What's her name? Where does she live?"
TJ had a terrible time keeping a straight face. He even talks like Mare. "We'll make arrangements for you to meet. I've given you the answers to most of your other questions in the papers you have there, under the picture."
He pulled the papers out and read the name aloud. "Mary Theresa Gillespie." His voice broke a little as he made the same discovery Mare had made. "Same initials almost the same last name." He put his head down against his hand. "Jane, Jane, Jane." His eyes came up to meet TJ's sympathetic ones. "She always was independent. A remarkable woman. And I know she meant well, but she cheated both of us out of a lifetime together." Then he smiled. "But she left me a daughter. What's she like? Do you know her well?"
TJ finally let her smile break across her face. "Yes, I know her very well. She's a remarkable woman, too, and a special favorite of mine. You'll love her. We all do."
His eyes lit up as he read further. "She's a veterinarian! A doctor, too! And she plays the piano. Amazing." He shook his head at the similarities that were showing up. "When can I meet her?"
"You have a concert tomorrow, right?" The doctor nodded. "She wants to come to the concert, check you out, so to speak. Maybe, if she's willing, you could meet together after the concert."
"Yes! How many will be in your party?"
"Four of us. I have two personal attendants who accompany me to public functions."
"I have a townhouse directly across from the hall. After the concert, a small reception is being held there for a few of my friends. Please bring your whole party and we will have a chance to meet with less pressure on both of us. Having her friends around will, I hope, make her feel more comfortable.
"That's very thoughtful, Doctor. I know Mare will appreciate it."
"Mare? Is that what she's called?" He smiled and nodded to himself. "I'll have to remember that."
"I'll say goodbye, Doctor. We'll see you tomorrow evening at the recital."
Dr. Gillis came around the end of the desk and took TJ's hand in both of his. Instead of shaking it, he raised it to his lips and kissed it. "Thank you, Miss Meridian. You've brought me the happiest news I've ever had."
The nurse appeared, summoned by a silent bell. "Miss Hansen, please show Miss Meridian out. Goodbye."
The door closed and the doctor sat again at his desk. Thoughts of Jane wandered through his mind. The only woman he had ever loved. In all these years, I never met a woman who could chase your memory from my heart. Now I find, too late, that you left me because you loved me. The tears he had managed to stifle during the meeting now ran down his cheeks, unchecked. But you gave me a daughter. I have a daughter. Thank you, Jane.
TJ decided to lay on the grand treatment for the occasion of attending Doctor Gillis' recital. She provided one of the company helicopters to fly all four women to Springerly and directed the pilot to wait to take them home. A folding wheelchair, carried at all times by the helicopter, ferried TJ between vehicles. After they arrived at the airfield near Springerly, a Meridian limousine took them to the concert hall where TJ had reserved a box. The light shining forth from Mare's face and eyes when she squeezed TJ's hand in gratitude made every gesture worthwhile.
Paula had arranged for two Meridian employees to be waiting at the concert hall with an electric wheelchair. As the limousine approached their destination, the driver called ahead to alert them to TJ's imminent arrival.
The women being assisted from the limousine drew close attention from the bystanders, people standing behind police barricades who had come to watch the cream of society gather. Each attractive in her own right, together the four made an impressive array. Necks craned to watch as first Paula, wearing a deep rose gown, then Erin, in shimmering burgundy, emerged, followed by Mare, resplendent in antique gold. The chair was wheeled to the door of the limo and all eyes watched as the two attendants assisted the last occupant from the limo into the chair. TJ was dressed in a cocktail length sheath, with the bottom two thirds of the material black and the top third of a blue that matched her eyes. Thin, black, spaghetti straps held the top, while the neckline plunged to a diamond shaped opening, tied together above her breasts with a thin, black string that matched the straps.
Once settled in the chair, TJ raised her eyes to Mare's and smiled. She knew the vet was so excited at the prospect of seeing and meeting her father that she could barely stand still, so she steered the chair right up to her. "Ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be." Paula and Erin moved in behind them and they entered the hall and were escorted to the box. All the extra chairs had been removed to make access easier for TJ so she moved right up to the rail and halted. The others sat and looked out over the assembly.
"How were you able to get this box on such short notice? These have to be the best seats in the hall." Mare marveled at the perfect view of the stage from the box, which slightly overhung one end of it.
TJ's eyes twinkled. "I had Erin check out the person who had it and she found out he's a local horse breeder. I offered to share our box at the Kentucky Derby with him and his guests, in return for letting me rent this one from him. He jumped at the chance and here we are."
Smiling, Mare shook her head. "I'll never get used to how easily you seem to make things happen. Or how you think of every tiny detail." Just as she finished speaking, an usher arrived and handed her a corsage of white orchids. Mare's eyebrows went up as she looked from the flowers to TJ.
The dark head swung back and forth. "That's not my doing. Read the card."
Mare pulled out the card from the envelope that rested on the florist box. "To my dearest daughter from your fa " Mare stopped as her breath caught. She bit down on her lip and tried to blink back tears but it was a losing battle.
Erin reached in her bag, handed her some tissues and patted her arm. Hearing a suspicious sniff from Paula, she turned to give her some, too.
TJ put a hand on Mare's arm and tried to chuckle. "Hey, cut that out, you'll ruin your makeup." Seeing TJ's brimming eyes, Erin handed her some tissues, too. Then she took one and daubed her own eyes.
The curly-haired blonde reached for the florist box. "Here, Mare, let me pin this on for you." The greenery that nestled against the orchids was the perfect touch, forming a beautiful border against the antique gold gown and deepening the color in Mare's green eyes.
Mare sniffled and tried to laugh. "Boy, we sure look like a happy group." She jumped as the lights dimmed then came back up. A nervous wreck, she grabbed the hand lying on her arm and squeezed it between her own.
Smiling, TJ watched every movement of her love's face as the lights dimmed again, the stage lights came up and Dr. Gillis walked out for his bow. Dressed in a long-tailed tuxedo, he looked handsome and youthful. He walked to the piano and just before he sat down, he looked up at their box, nodded his head and smiled. Had the size of their hands been reversed, TJ would have been suffering some broken bones. Oh, Mare, I hope your father's a decent man. He certainly seems like one. If he's not, he'll answer to me. No one I know will ever go through what I went through.
The music filled their minds and hearts as it filled the hall. My father plays well; really, really well. Mare couldn't take her eyes from him. She had an irrational feeling that if she looked away, he would disappear.
Because Mare held her hand, TJ found herself in an awkward position. She tried to stay still to avoid interrupting Mare's concentration, but finally, just at intermission, a cramping shoulder forced her to move. Mare tore her eyes from her departing father and swept them to TJ. Suddenly, she realized she was crushing TJ's hand, or trying to.
She raised the strong hand to her lips for a quick kiss and whispered, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"I'll probably never write again with that hand, but it was worth it." TJ's smile, filled with love, made Mare's heart flip-flop.
"Oh, TJ, he's wonderful, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is. Are you ready to meet him?"
"Oh, yes. I can't wait. And I can't thank you enough for finding him for me." How was I the lucky one, TJ? What did you see in me that made you fall in love with me? Someday, I'll have to ask you that.
"I'm just thrilled for you that my people were able to find him. If he had changed his name and moved away, like your mother did, it would have been a lot tougher."
"Poor Mother. She had too much pride for her own good." Mare looked sad for a moment, but then she shook it off. She gave a tug to the hand she still held. "Sort of like you, sometimes."
"Me?" TJ laughed. "Never. And you can stop that snorting, Paula. You're supposed to act like a lady tonight."
Now Erin snorted and all four women laughed.
The lights dimmed again and the hall hushed as Mare's father re-entered the stage to complete his performance--and to bring him closer to meeting his daughter.
Numerous quiet conversations spread a blanket of warmth through the reception. "This has a good feel to it. The people seem happy and friendly." TJ tried to divert Mare's nervous impatience with small talk. Again, she had latched onto a hand, but this time she stroked it rather than squeezed.
"Yes, yes. I wonder what's taking him so long?"
"I'm sure he had some backstage visitors, Mare. He'll be here soon. Have you thought about what you are going to do when he comes through the door?"
Erin and Paula were just choosing drinks and hors d'oeuvres from a series of trays brought around by white-jacketed servers. They handed drinks to TJ and Mare.
"I'm not sure what to do. Have you any suggestions?" Mare took a reflex sip, totally unaware of what was in the glass.
"It might be best to wait here and let him come to us in his own time. You wouldn't want to upset his usual routine. You think?"
Mare sighed. "You're right. I really just want to run to him and throw my arms around him. But I realize that isn't quite the thing to do."
TJ took a hefty drink from the glass she held in her free hand and her eyes swiftly flashed up to Paula's. Paula had already tasted hers and she grinned at TJ's surprised face. "Double Manhattan."
"Whew!" TJ chuckled and shook her head. "It's a wonder the cherry isn't desiccated. Don't hand me anymore, even if I beg you, okay?"
"Darn, guess I'll have to drink your share." A sharp look from Erin brought a frown of mock disappointment to her partner's face. "You weren't supposed to hear that."
Erin was just about to answer, when a round of applause signaled the entrance of their host and the four women turned toward the doorway.
Dr. Gillis appeared to be the epitome of charm and graciousness as he made his way through his admirers, gathering their congratulations and accolades. Although his eyes hadn't made an obvious search for them, TJ saw that he circled around their group, leaving them for last.
Finally, he arrived. Although he walked to TJ, took her free hand and nodded, his eyes immediately went to Mare's. "Miss Meridian, welcome."
TJ smiled brilliantly, tilted her head to see Mare's face and said, "Dr. Gillis, may I present Erin Scott, Paula Tanner and Dr. Mare Gillespie?"
Dr. Gillis smiled at Erin and Paula as he shook their hands and welcomed them. Then he grasped Mare's hand in both of his and the two just stood there looking into each other's eyes. Mare tried to laugh and talk at the same time, but tears choked her throat. Her father's eyes filled, too, and he gently drew Mare into his arms. The two stood embracing and crying quietly.
At last they parted and Erin handed them tissues from her never-ending supply. "Hello, Mare." Michael Gillis spoke his first words to his daughter.
Mare grinned and her eyes brimmed again. "May I call you Dad?"
No one would have believed that Michael's face could light up any more than it already had, but somehow it managed to. "I would be absolutely thrilled to have you call me Dad." He turned to encompass the other women in his look. "Why don't we sit on the couch and chairs over in that corner and chat?"
"Why don't you and Mare go ahead, Doctor? You must have a lot to talk about and we can mingle for awhile." TJ, reveling in Mare's happiness, found herself enthralled by two pairs of emerald green eyes that looked almost exactly alike.
The doctors excused themselves and went to the corner couch. They were laughing and talking even before they reached it.
Erin nudged Paula with her elbow and tilted her head toward TJ. They watched the rapt expression on their friend's face as her eyes followed Mare and her father. After a few moments, she turned and looked up at her two grinning observers. "What?" An eyebrow crooked up and blue eyes struggled to cool down.
"We were just enjoying one of the most beautiful faces in the world," Erin explained.
TJ's eyes swept to Mare and back up to Erin. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"
"She is, TJ, but Erin meant you." Paula tapped TJ's creamy shoulder.
The startling blue eyes widened in surprise, then a blush rose from TJ's neck up over her cheeks. "Cut it out, you two. You looking for a raise or something?" Her lips twisted into a mock smile as she taunted her friends in friendly retaliation for embarrassing her. "Paula, go get us a couple more Manhattans, will you?"
"Just one more," Erin admonished.
"Why? We're not driving." Paula put on her best aggrieved look.
Erin looked from one to the other and grinned. "TJ is."
The co-conspirators looked at each other and frowned. In a moment, they realized that Erin was teasing about TJ driving the wheelchair and they chuckled. "Erin, this is one time when I'll be glad to let you push me around... in the wheelchair, that is. Go for the Manhattans, Paula."
Erin rolled her eyes but actually she was glad TJ was enjoying herself. The
raven-haired woman had worked hard to help make Mare's first meeting with her father go as
smoothly as possible and she had earned this small reward. It also tickled Erin that Paula
stood next to her waiting for her "permission."
She grinned at her partner's hesitation. "Go ahead. I'll be designated driver for her."
This evening has turned out really, really well. TJ's heart swelled with happiness for Mare and for her own part in bringing her lover such delirious joy. One for the "Memories" scrapbook.
All the way back home, first in the limousine, then the helicopter, then the car that met them at the airport and transported them to the ranch, Mare talked. Her meeting with her father had been a huge moment in her life and she was totally wound up over it. TJ, Erin and Paula happily let her retell, several times over, every word, every nuance of the conversation she had with Dr. Gillis. Her nervous energy was finally winding down as they reached the ranch and piled out of the car.
The driver retrieved TJ's lightweight wheelchair from the porch, brought it to the car and helped her into it. "I can take it from here, Jeff. Thanks for your help."
"My pleasure, Miss Meridian. Just call whenever you need me again." Jeff touched his forehead in an abbreviated salute, climbed back into the car and drove away.
The four women made their way into the house. "I don't know about you gals, but I'm dying to get outta this gown and hit the shower. It's been a wonderful, but tiring night. Thanks, TJ." Paula hugged TJ and kissed her cheek. "Happy for you, Mare." Paula gave the vet's shoulders a quick squeeze.
"Yeah, TJ. Thanks. Everything was lovely. Glad things worked out well for you and your father, Mare." Erin gave each of the women a hug and a kiss and she and Paula went upstairs to prepare for bed.
When she had come to the ranch earlier in the day to dress for her momentous meeting, Mare had brought an overnight bag with clean clothes. Now she followed TJ into her bedroom and lifted the bag onto the chair at the foot of the bed. Unzipping the bag, Mare pulled out a pale green garment.
"What's that?" TJ tilted her head sideways, propping it on her hand and lifting her brows.
"I thought I would slip this on after my shower." Mare grinned at her lover. "At least for a little while."
TJ reached to the console next to her bed and turned a rheostat to dim the lights a little. "Why don't you slip it on now, then help me undress? Forget the shower." TJ's voice had dropped into its seductive lower register that turned Mare's will power to marshmallow fluff.
Somewhat self-consciously, Mare slipped out of the gown, her shoes, stockings, slip, bra and panties. She thrust her arms and head into the oversized T-shirt, wriggling her body to settle it past her hips, feeling TJ's eyes on her every movement. Finally, she mustered the courage to raise her own eyes and was astounded by the sweet look of adoration spread across that stunning face. In five swift steps she reached the chair and gently melted her lips against the mouth that opened to greet her arrival.
Pulling slowly from the kiss, Mare moved the chair arm out of the way and swung onto TJ's lap. Two long arms wrapped around her. "I've had a wonderful reunion with my father, my love, and it's all been your doing. I'll never be able to thank you enough."
"I was thrilled to do it, Mare. You know that."
"I know, and that made it even better."
The vet's face turned stern and her words became more forceful. "But there is one thing that, no matter how excited I was at meeting my dad, I will never forgive you for."
TJ's eyes widened and she looked dumfounded. "What are you so disturbed about, Mare?"
"This." Mare frowned and her forefinger bounced on the black string bow that held the front of TJ's gown together. "Every time I looked your way, this little black bow rose and fell signaling, 'Untie me. Untie me.' Like it was holding a couple of prisoners, begging for release. Drove me crazy!"
A delicious smile transformed TJ's concerned features. "Well, are you going to listen to it, or not?"
Mare tugged on the bow playfully for a few moments, pretending to untie it, but only rolling it between her fingers. "I really should shower first " Now she had turned the tables and was driving TJ crazy with anticipation.
"You haven't done any heavy work; will you forget the damn shower! Besides," TJ's tone dipped again, "I want to smell you and taste you and " Her voice cut off sharply as Mare pulled the bow's string and lifted one of the freed prisoners to meet her descending mouth.
"Mare, the recital was a great experience. Your dad plays beautifully." Erin collected the empty cereal bowls and stacked them in the dishwasher.
"You should hear Mare, she's pretty good, too." Paula cleared the cereal boxes, milk and sugar as Erin finished putting the cups and utensils in the racks.
"I did hear her, when I dropped TJ off the other day. You are outstanding, Mare."
The praise heightened the color on the vet's fair cheeks. "It takes years to play as well as my dad does." Two words replayed in her mind and she grinned at the novelty of them. "My dad." The others smiled at how her face lit up.
"When did you say you will see him again?" Mare had told the women every detail of their conversation, but TJ wanted to watch her say it again.
"He invited me for a late dinner this coming Friday and I'm to stay over and we'll spend Saturday together. We want to see if we can set up some sort of regular visiting schedule." Her eyes, which had brightened as she spoke, now dimmed a little. She put her hand on TJ's arm. "That's going to cut into our time together."
TJ looked down at Mare's hand, reached her own hand over and patted it. Then her eyes swept up and grabbed Mare's heart. "Nothing's ever easy, is it?"
"Maybe we could have you and your dad over here a few times for dinner." At least TJ would get a chance to see you, and maybe you could stay awhile after your dad leaves. For confirmation, Erin looked at TJ who nodded vigorously.
"That sounds like a good plan. By the way, don't we have a singing date tomorrow night?" Mare directed the question to Paula who agreed.
"Sure do." She turned to her partner who had missed the byplay last week about TJ's singing. "Mare's coming over and TJ is going to sing. Eight songs."
When Erin saw TJ roll her eyes, she figured the decision had been made for her, but she didn't deny that she would sing. "Wonderful! You haven't sung for quite a while. I miss hearing you."
"Show up in the music room at 6 o'clock. That's performance time." Mare squeezed TJ's arm and got up. "Well, folks, I have to get to work. I'll see you tonight. Thanks for breakfast."
Mare leaned down and kissed TJ's waiting lips. "Ummm thank you, too." TJ winked at her lover and Mare left.
"You okay, TJ?" Erin had noticed that TJ was a little quieter than usual.
"It has dawned on me that Mare's finding her father may have created a monster."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Erin furrowed her brow and Paula stopped wiping the counter to turn and listen.
"You just heard one problem. Mare has only so much free time so that means we won't see each other as often."
"But there's something else?"
"Yeah." Anxiety showed in the depths of the blue eyes that swung from Erin to Paula and back. "What if her dad is opposed to our loving each other?"
A look of consternation passed between Paula and Erin then their eyes came back to TJ's vulnerable expression. "Do you think she would choose me over her new-found father?"
Erin pulled a chair out and sat down next to her friend. "Look, TJ. Granted, Paula and I have been very fortunate that both our families accepted us as lovers. And I know a lot of families have made life miserable for their children who happen to prefer people of the same gender. But let's not borrow trouble, okay? Her dad's a doctor, a famous specialist who's been all over the world. He's probably a lot more tolerant than you seem to be giving him credit for."
"Plus," Paula walked over to stand in front of TJ. She put her hands on her hips in a challenging attitude. "I don't think you're giving Mare enough credit for her own strength of character. I've seen her face when she looks at you, and you're not watching. The woman's in love with you, body, soul, heart, thought, emotions, whatever. You name it, she's offering it to you. So instead of worrying yourself sick over something that might never happen, suck in your gut, TJ, and show some gratitude. The woman is yours."
Paula and Erin watched a bevy of emotions cross the strong-jawed face until one overpowered the others--respect. She reached her hand out to shake Paula's then pulled her close and kissed her firmly on the lips. "Thank you." One side of her mouth quirked up just a little when she saw a flush cross Paula's startled features.
TJ turned to Erin who tried to smother her grin. She wound her fingers in the blonde's tight curls, pulled her forward and kissed her lips, too. "And thank you." Swinging the wheelchair around, TJ left the kitchen.
Ignoring her self-consciousness at the kiss, Erin got up and put her arm around Paula's waist. "I am so proud of you, Polly. You said exactly the right thing."
"Well, I'm more than just a pretty face, you know." Paula basked in the praise. "Hey, Erin "
"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to kiss TJ's gorgeous lips?"
"Maybe. Is this a trick question?"
Paula laughed. "No, I've wondered myself sometimes. Just curious."
"And what's your verdict?"
Paula slipped one arm overtop Erin's and the other around her waist, bringing her close. "It was very nice, but her lips don't belong to me. I think I'll stick with the ones that do." She dipped her head and met Erin's eager mouth with her own.
"Hmmmm. Me, too." The women parted and scrambled out the door, tickling each other.
Mare's ongoing visits with her dad had brought the two to the closeness that both yearned for. Similar tastes in many areas surrounded them with a natural comfort zone. Mare's narration of her life history continued with each visit as Michael added bits and pieces of his own, intertwining segments of his and Jane's time together.
Unfortunately, TJ had proved prophetic in her assessment of Mare's limited free time. Because of the two-hour driving time each way, Mare's visits to the townhouse at Springerly or her dad's main house at Dorburton Lakes generally extended through the weekend. Coverage of her practice by her vet friend in Sharlesburg helped to make this possible.
Ironically, the vet's extra duties related to Meridian ranch's start up made free time even more sparse. Mare rushed so much to keep on top of those duties and her practice's usual responsibilities that even lunch together was hurried. A late call to a sick animal's side had forced a last-minute postponement of TJ's evening of singing, stealing away that chance for another night together.
Any physical relationship beyond hugging and kissing reached a point of non-existence while Mare concentrated on becoming acquainted with her dad.
Paula and Erin tiptoed around TJ's moodiness, understanding the cause of it, but unable to do anything but sympathize. Contrary to past behavior, though, TJ's moods didn't deteriorate into nastiness, a welcome change they noted and attributed to Mare's influence
They all breathed a combined sigh of relief when, at last, Michael's schedule enabled him to accept the standing invitation to dinner at the ranch. If nothing else, TJ would have her love near for the evening, which might help to soften the edge of her frustration.
On the phone that afternoon, Mare had promised to stay overnight if she could think of a suitable excuse to her father as to why he should follow her to the ranch in his own car. Waiting in the living room for their arrival, TJ's smile threatened to burst the bonds of her face when Erin informed her they had just pulled in with two separate vehicles. Mare, my love, I can't believe how I've missed you. Telephones just aren't an adequate substitute for your presence.
Paula had gone out to meet their guests and escort them in the front door. Michael nodded to Erin, "Hello, Miss Scott," and walked briskly to TJ, accepting the hand that she offered as Mare gave Erin a hug. "Miss Meridian, I am so glad I was at last able to accept your generous invitation. I would have been here sooner if my schedule had permitted it."
"I understand that, Doctor and I'm delighted that you are able to be here tonight. But, please, call me TJ and this is Erin and Paula."
The doctor nodded again to the two women, his eyes crinkling. "I'd be happy to, if you will call me Michael."
TJ inclined her head. "Michael it is."
Erin slipped her arm through Michael's. "Mare has agreed to provide some preprandial music for us, Michael. Please come with me; I'll escort you to the music room." They went on toward the music room with Paula following as Mare stepped up to TJ.
"We'll be with you in just a minute," she called to their departing backs.
Glancing toward the group to make sure they exited the living room, Mare turned back and pressed her lips to her lover's, a darting tongue teasing its adversary into retaliation. Breaking away before she succumbed to total loss of control, Mare whispered, "Till tonight." The yearning felt by the two formed an almost tangible bond. TJ's eyes darkened and her lids lowered as pictures of their past passion played across the screen of her mind.
"Hey." Mare chuckled, pulled a tissue from her jeans and patted the moisture from TJ's upper lip and around her hairline. "You can't go in there looking like this, your face will be a dead giveaway." Mare and TJ had talked it over and decided to let Mare's dad get to know both of them better before revealing to him their relationship.
Sculpted lips twisted into one of TJ's lopsided smiles that Mare found so endearing. "Just how am I supposed to turn myself off?" As Mare anticipated, one raven eyebrow lifted in accompaniment to the question.
Music sounded as Mare's dad apparently was trying out the piano. "I've got to get in there. I'll send Erin out to you. That will give you a little time to regroup." Mare couldn't resist, she had to kiss TJ one more time, then spent a moment quieting her own emotions before moving to the music room. True to her promise, she sent Erin back to TJ.
"Whoa, honey." Erin's eyes danced with merriment when she got a close look at TJ's face. "No wonder Mare said you need help. Maybe a bucket of cold water?"
Both Erin and Paula were enjoying the development of the relationship between TJ and Mare. It even served to add some extra spice to their own passion by recalling their first encounters with each other. The two had met in their second year of college but for months had shied away from confessing their mutual attraction until TJ had informed each of them of the other's interest. By their third year, they realized that theirs was a lifetime commitment and their love had deepened and expanded ever since.
"Funny, funny," TJ said drily. "Wait until I send Paula to Europe for several months and see how you feel."
Erin's jaw dropped and her face paled. "You wouldn't do that to us, would you?"
TJ laughed quietly. "No, but the look on your face is so comical, it's helping me cool down."
Erin cuffed the dark-haired woman's shoulder. "One of these days, TJ, you are really going to get it."
"It sure as hell better be tonight," TJ said fervently and the two of them chuckled. Feeling a lot calmer, TJ wheeled into the music room with Erin walking beside her.
When they entered the room, they saw Mare and her dad both sitting at the piano, running through exercises. Paula sat over to the side with two empty chairs next to her. Erin settled next to her partner and TJ wheeled alongside her. Paula leaned forward to include TJ in her vision. "Mare and Michael have a surprise for us."
Hearing a voice, both pianists stopped and turned toward the women. Mare winked her far eye at TJ who quickly tightened and released the skin around her eyes in a surreptitious glare. This brought a broadened smile to the face that was carved on her heart.
"Are you ready?" Mare asked the double entendre with feigned innocence and TJ swallowed hard, but managed to nod.
Mare and her dad smiled at each other, turned to the keyboard and played a duet that swept the three listeners into their circle, twirled their psyches gloriously around in a high-stepping routine, then set them sweetly back to earth, finishing with a charming trill.
The duo rose and moved around past the piano seat to stand together and bow to the applause they heard. When they lifted from the bow, Mare saw that TJ hadn't joined in the applause. She sat with her head lowered, one hand across her eyes.
Mare rushed to her side, with Michael coming over right next to his daughter. "TJ, what's wrong? Are you ill?" Disturbed, Mare rested her hand for a moment on the raven locks.
TJ dropped her hand and lifted her head. She raised her powerful gaze to two sets of green eyes and two hearts lurched.
Her voice exuded wonderment and she blinked back moisture that had accumulated in the blue orbs. "You made me walk again. For just a few precious moments, I walked again." A brilliant smile appeared even as Mare wiped away the tear that had overflowed onto her love's cheek. "And not just walked, I danced!"
TJ threw her arms wide and Erin jumped up and hugged her before Mare had a chance to collapse into her embrace. The action brought Mare back to her senses and she turned and hugged her father who had been watching the obviously emotional exchange between Mare and TJ. "I'd say the surprise was a huge success," he remarked with a pleased smile.
Erin stepped away from TJ, smiling at the "Thanks" that had been whispered in her ear.
"Dad composed that piece." Mare's eyes shone with pride and Paula and Erin each remarked on the beauty of the music and how it had moved them.
Martha, one of the women from the ranch's cookhouse, appeared in the doorway. TJ had recruited the two cooks to prepare and serve the dinner. "Dinner's ready, ma'am."
"We'll be right there, Martha." TJ wheeled around and led the group into the dining room.
Dinner was a thoroughly entertaining affair. Michael proved to be a nimble raconteur with a broad repertoire of fascinating anecdotes. With Mare's natural affinity for chatting, and TJ's expertise as an accomplished hostess assuring that each person contributed to the conversation, the time flew by. After the dessert, Paula and Erin excused themselves, allowing the others some private time together as they lingered over coffee.
The conversation had continued without effort. TJ's charming hostess side was new to Mare and she found it very appealing. Her father seemed to be totally captivated, too. Look at her. She's got him wrapped around her little finger. Hmmph, she laughed at herself, just like me.
"TJ, Dad has made me a marvelously generous offer." The sudden closing of a curtain over TJ's eyes startled Mare.
"Oh? What's that?" If you tell me you are leaving here, I'll die. Please, God, not that. Anything but that.
Puzzled by TJ's reaction, Mare halted. Michael picked up where she left off. "Since Mare's my only living relative "
I knew it! You're going to go live with him! The color blanched from TJ's face, worrying Mare that she might be ill. Michael, too, looked concerned.
"Someday she'll inherit all I own. I've persuaded her to let me settle some of my estate on her now. She was reluctant to take it, but after a long, hard discussion, I convinced her that she would be doing me a favor. I mean, why should she have to wait until I die to use what will be hers one day anyway? I'd rather be here to see her enjoy it."
Mare thought TJ looked a little strange. "Are you all right, TJ?"
TJ took a couple of deep breaths and began to recover her color. One side of her mouth curved into a smile. "I'm fine, Mare. Just a little jolt there for a minute. I think that's a wonderful idea, Michael."
"I told Dad you would handle the transfer from his lawyer. Is that okay?"
Yeah, I'm okay now, TJ's heart sang. "I'd be happy to. Just a minute and I'll give you the names of my lawyers." She pushed a button on the side of the chair arm and Erin appeared with little delay. "Erin bring Michael a card for my lawyers, will you, please?"
Erin reappeared shortly with the requested card then left.
"This will do fine, TJ. Now," he got up from the chair, "it's time for me to leave this remarkable company." He got up and took TJ's hand, bowing low over it. "I have had a wonderful time and a delicious dinner. Thank you for inviting me."
"We were delighted to have you. And the invitation is still standing. Anytime you can fit us in, we would love to have you."
"Thanks, I'll try my best to take you up on that. May I use your powder room facilities before I leave?"
"Certainly. Mare, there's one in the music room." Michael smiled, then turned to allow Mare to escort him to the music room. As she waited outside the powder room, Mare ran her fingers along the piano's keys, musing over what a good time she had had tonight.
Michael flushed the toilet then moved to the sink to wash his hands. A soft light flickering through the chest-high window drew his curiosity. He stepped close and peered out. The window opened onto a dimly lit courtyard that seemed to contain trees, bushes and benches. A flickering yellow citronella candle sat on a pathway next to one of the benches. Two people on the bench were kissing. The darker head lifted from the kiss, into a beam of light coming from some place along the wall. It's Paula. The other person sat up straighter, put an arm around Paula's neck and kissed her again. The blonde curls left little doubt as to who it was. Erin and Paula kissing? Their hands started moving and Michael jerked his head back. What are you, some kind of voyeur? What does it matter to you what they're doing, they're adults, aren't they?
Still, Michael had been raised with the conventional idea that men are attracted to women and vice versa. He knew that wasn't always the case, but he'd never come face-to-face with the reality before and he was a bit uncomfortable with it. I wonder if Mare knows? My God, I wonder if Mare No, I don't even want to think about that possibility. He could hear Mare's light touch on the piano. Deciding not to make an issue of something that was, after all, none of his business, he walked back into the music room and Mare showed him to his car. They spoke a few minutes, kissed goodbye and Michael got in his car and left.
Mare ran back into the house, her head swiveling, looking for TJ. "TJ? Where are you?" She ran into the hall and saw the light showing through the transom above TJ's bathroom door. She tried the door then knocked on it. "TJ?"
"Just a minute," TJ answered in a sing-song voice.
"I'll be right back." Mare dashed to the powder room, made use of it herself, then ran back to TJ's bathroom, just as her wheelchair was coming through the doorway. Mare opened the bedroom door. TJ wheeled in then swung around, lifted the arm and went "ooph" as Mare landed against her stomach. Long arms pulled the supple body as tight as they could against TJ's chest and two mouths joined for a banquet of treats.
They eventually parted and Mare reached for TJ's straps. "Wait " TJ said. "Let's get on the bed. I can move better there."
"Just a minute, " Mare said in a perfect imitation of TJ's earlier sing-song, bringing a smile to her lover's face. Mare slid the straps down and TJ lifted her arms through. The top was cotton and tight enough that it wouldn't fall so Mare sat a little away from TJ, put her hands, palms flat, thumbs down, on the top of her chest and slid them down, pushing the blouse lower in tiny tantalizing increments. This was a purposely slow process, made even slower by the massaging that went on with each lowering of the blouse. As her hands slid against skin, Mare's thumbs played a counterpoint through the blouse material. When her hands almost reached the critical masses, now yearning for a bare touch, Mare stopped. "Now, we'll get on the bed."
TJ clamped her hands on Mare's wrists. "My God, Mare, you can't leave me like this. Stop tormenting me."
"But you are soooo much fun to torment, sweetheart." Mare leaned in till her mouth was next to TJ's ear. "Just wait till you see what we do in the bed," she purred and blew her warm breath into the ear's sensitive opening.
TJ let loose of her wrists and said, in agony, "Okay, okay, let's move to the bed floor anywhere Just doooo something anything! Help!"
Soft light had just entered the room when TJ awoke. Mare's body covered hers, the top of the golden head even with TJ's eyes, which fit the curves and valleys of their breasts perfectly together. TJ closed her eyes and smiled, remembering their escapades of the night before. Just when I think we've tried about everything, Mare comes up with something new. Well, she's a musician, right? And musicians are creative, right? She sure is that and, boy, does she ever know how to play me. I'm gonna have to work on some way to surprise her.
"Ummm." The golden head glanced up at open blue eyes then turned to put warm lips against TJ's neck and start nibbling. Then she stopped and TJ felt a puff of breath against the dampness as Mare snorted a laugh. "Believe it or not, I think I'm worn out."
TJ chuckled. "No wonder. You've been working like a madwoman, then you spend half the night working on me, turning me into a begging mound of marshmallow. You should be worn out."
"A mound of marshmallow? Now there's a picture. You're all muscle and you know it." Mare moved her chest back and forth against TJ's. "Well, almost all muscle," she giggled.
"Well, if exercise builds muscle, then you've got them on a strong path to change." Both women laughed.
Mare's voice sobered. "TJ, when my dad gives me that money, I have some plans for it."
Mare moved off of TJ and onto the bed beside her so she could look into her face. "I've decided I'm going to hire an assistant. I can't stand being away from you for so long."
Delight leaped into her lover's blue eyes. "Mare, that's wonderful news! How soon do you think you could get someone?"
"Hard to tell. How soon do you think I will get the money?"
"Maybe a couple weeks, maybe a month. Depends on how fast these lawyers move. But you could go ahead and advertise, start interviewing. Things are going to be picking up around here, Mare. The area will be expanding. Your assistant will earn his own keep soon." TJ's business mind was gearing up.
Mare recognized this and wanted to bring her back. "Does the offer for me to move out here still stand?"
TJ threw her arms onto the bed above her head, causing an interesting change in her chest. "Pinch me, I'm dreaming!"
So Mare pinched.
"Mare!" TJ's arms came back down in a hurry. "You didn't have to pinch there, for Pete's sake. They're still tender from last night."
"Oh, poor babies. Let me kiss them and make them better." Mare leaned forward and TJ pushed her back, laughing.
"No you don't. You have to get up and go to work and so do I."
"Darn!" Mare grinned and winked, twice. "But I'll be back, you guys."
To be continued in Part 8
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Karen A. Surtees or PruferBlue
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