Staying in the Game
by Nann Dunne (PruferBlue)

Part 6, Conclusion
See Part 1 for Disclaimers.

Chapter 15

Shelley was forced to stay under tight security until the bitter end of the trial. It was finally over and all five defendants had received the death penalty, thanks chiefly to the girl's eyewitness testimony. She hadn't been able to contact Angela prior to the verdict and wouldn't have anyway. She was determined that her life with Angela be completely divorced from the traumatic distress of the trial.

When she was released, Jeff Cruz took her to Helen's house. He greeted the judge then took his leave. After a prolonged hug, Helen ushered Shelley to the kitchen table where she doled out a bowl of homemade vegetable soup accompanied with a fresh loaf of Italian bread.

Helen sat and watched her ward eat, happy to have the heavy responsibilities of the trial lifted from her young shoulders. Four years of waiting for the hammer to fall had exacted sacrifices from both of them… and now it was over. But Shelley looked exhausted; dark circles lay beneath her gorgeous eyes and her mouth drooped.

"Shelley, I think you should take a long vacation. Why don't you just stay here with me for a month; get yourself rested and relaxed, decide what you want to do? I'll make sure that no one bothers you here." Helen's head tilted questioningly.

Shelley spooned the last of the soup into her mouth and swallowed it before meeting her guardian's eyes. "I've had plenty of time to think about what I want to do, Aunt Helen. I really appreciate what you are suggesting. I am tired and I know I need to rest and relax, but I want to do it with Angela."

"Darling, I don't mean to sound like a cautious mother-figure, but just how much can you depend on Angela? You barely had a chance to get to know each other and you've been separated for months now. Her feelings might have changed. I don't want you to be hurt."

The dark-haired girl leaned away from the table and settled back against the chair. With a soft look on her face, her beautiful lips curved into a gentle smile. "I fought against being attracted to Angela. When I realized I was losing that battle, I was pretty upset because I thought she already had a girl friend." Remembrance of the day she found out differently warmed her thoughts. "When I asked her if she did, and she said no, something happened between us… like our hearts just slid together in a perfect fit. I knew then that Angela and I are soulmates. I know she feels that way, too."

As tired as she was, an aura of self-confidence that had been missing for a long time radiated from Shelley. Helen became convinced that her ward believed in Angela's love. So she did the only thing she could do. "You can take the Durango," she offered.

Shelley jumped up and pushed her tiredness deeper inside. She threw her arms around Helen and gave her a big kiss. "Thanks, Aunt Helen, you're the greatest!"

The judge laughed and hugged her back. "Go get my pocketbook and I'll give you the keys; time's a-wasting."

Helen handed Shelley four keys and grinned when the tall girl quirked her eyebrow in question. "I went ahead and registered you at Spofford this year. One extra key is for your locker and another for your apartment at Bricker Apartments--the same one. I packed a trunk for you and your bike's in the back of the Durango."

Shelley just engulfed her again, without a word, but her body language said it all.


It was Saturday morning and the girls had finished softball practice and returned home to shower and enjoy a long brunch. They were just cleaning up--spurred by Merrill and Angela as usual--when someone knocked on the apartment door.

Angela hung a damp dishcloth beneath the sink and grabbed a towel. "I'll get it."

The girls continued cleaning up and chatting for a little while before it dawned on them that the redhead hadn't returned. Marva, closest to the living room doorway, looked through and turned back with an ear-to-ear smile. She put her finger to her lips to shush the girls and beckoned them over to the door.

Angela sauntered to the apartment door, drying her hands on the towel, while another knock came. "Okay, okay, I'm coming," she grumbled.

She turned the lock, opened the door and dropped the towel to the floor from suddenly numb fingers. Her heart thudded in her chest as her startled eyes met Shelley's. The taller girl's voice caressed the one word, "Angela," as she watched the play of emotions across her love's face. She walked into the room and closed her eyes with joy as Angela's arms lifted around her neck and they kissed. They stood locked together, drinking in their connection, and when they parted, neither one could speak past her emotion.

Angela felt Shelley stiffen and turned to follow the path of her eyes to the girls in the kitchen doorway. With her right arm still around her love, and Shelley's left around her, she beckoned them into the living room. "Look who's back," she finally managed to say.

The girls came in slowly, all a little wary of what Shelley's reception of them would be. After all, they had suspected her of being a murderer. The icy stare they were currently being exposed to added to their discomfort.

Angela, puzzled by the reactions of both Shelley and her friends, asked, "What's going on here, guys? Aren't you happy to see each other?"

Merrill stepped forward, her face burning with embarrassment. "Of course we're happy to see you, Shelley. We feel pretty sick about suspecting you of killing those girls." Her curls danced as she shook her head. "Especially me; I was the worst of all."

"But we were all suspicious," Kath interposed. "It's just so many things pointed to you: your past history, the switchblade, the record of the killings you had taped to your closet door…"

Shelley's stony expression hardened to granite. "My past history?" she said, each word grating against the next.

Now it was Kath's turn to blush. "I saw a report about you, lying on Dean Lohman's desk. I know I shouldn't have read it, but I did. It told all about the trouble you had with the law when you were fourteen."

Shelley's jaw clenched, the muscles rippling across it. Angela tightened the arm she still had around the taller girl's waist. "And who did you tell about it?"

Angela shivered as she wondered how such a quiet voice could sound so menacing. She put her left hand on the long one lying against her stomach and began stroking it with her fingers.

Kath's hand swiveled on her wrist. "Just us," she answered, her voice wavering.

"It scared us, Shelley," Marva admitted. "We know now we were wrong to be scared and we're truly sorry we suspected you. But at the time, your guilt really seemed possible to all of us… that is, all except Angie. She never believed you were guilty."

The ice-blue eyes shifted down toward Angela. The redhead squeezed Shelley's waist and slowly, a sad smile crossed her face. "I was fooled in the lab--and even I lost faith in you for a while. Can you ever forgive us?"

Merrill marched her five-foot-tall body up to Shelley, tilted her head back and stared up into the frigid pools. "We really are sorry we misjudged you so badly, Shelley. Mostly we were worried for Angie's sake. We knew she was falling for you and we didn't want her to get hurt. We were all overjoyed to hear you were innocent." She stopped a moment, stretched as tall as she could and said sternly, "But if you ever harm her, in any way at all, you are going to have to answer to me."

Angela's eyes widened as they switched from Merrill to Shelley and back again. Oh, god, please don't let her lose her temper. Merry will be toast. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she felt Shelley's stiff body relax and a quick look up at her face revealed a melting of the icy glare.

A twitch moved one corner of Shelley's sculpted lips before she spoke. "Good for you, Merr. Looks like we're both on the same side." Shelley extended her hand and Merrill looked at it for a moment then clasped it with both of her own. "Welcome back, Shelley," she said, pushing her lips together in a smile.

The other two girls came forward and shook her hand also, welcoming her. Shelley saw Merrill bend down and pick up the dishtowel Angela had dropped. The dark-haired girl's eyes caught Marva's who shrugged and grinned. "You know they're both neatniks. That'll never change."

Merrill made a face at Marva and took the towel back into the kitchen as Angela led Shelley to the couch. Marva and Kath sat on the floor and Merrill soon joined them.

Sitting next to her love, Angela slipped an arm behind her waist. "We're dying to hear your side of everything that happened. Do you feel up to telling us now?"

The blue eyes were warming up and had a special glow when they looked at Angela. "Sure," she agreed.

She fingered the star pendant hanging from its chain around Angela's neck and when the redhead lifted her face in a smile, Shelley kissed her.

"You think we'll ever hear this story?" Marva stage-whispered after a long moment. Shelley and Angela started chuckling and broke apart but Angela immediately rested her head on Shelley's shoulder as long arms slipped tightly around her and lips pressed against the side of her forehead.

"We all want to hear about the 'real' Michelle Stella, the details of the fight and your recuperation, and the trial. But before you start on that," Angela announced, "I have something to ask you that is really bugging me."

Shelley tilted her head down and looked into Angela's eyes. "And what is that?"

"When we had all those suspicions about you, why didn't you just tell us you were sneaking into the labs? That might have taken some flak off of you."

The dark-haired girl straightened up and rested her head against the wall behind the couch. "Do you know Ernie Fleer, the night watchman at the science building?" The girls shook their heads no. "What with my working, doing drama classes and playing softball, there just weren't enough daytime hours for me to keep up with my lab work, so I paid him to let me sneak in and catch up on it."

Kath raised her eyebrows. "And he agreed to that?"

Shelley head bobbed against the wall as she nodded. "He's got a sick wife to support and could use the money. But he was scared that he could lose his job so I gave him my solemn word I wouldn't tell anyone. I had to beg him for a week and he finally agreed when I convinced him I would fail otherwise."

The girls looked dubious and Angela voiced their problem. "That doesn't sound like much of a reason to let yourself be suspected of murder, Shelley."

"Well, your suspicions didn't seem all that serious to me--except for keeping you from trusting me. And I knew that eventually I would be cleared and your worries would be resolved."

Angela tilted her head back against Shelley's shoulder so she could see her love's face. "But you could have trusted me not to tell on the watchman," she insisted. "It would have saved us both a lot of grief."

"Listen to yourself, sweetheart." Shelley closed her eyes, reopened them and glanced down at the redhead. "You're promising you would keep your word at the same time you're saying I should have broken mine."

After a moment's hesitation, Angela sighed and nodded. "You're right. But it sure played havoc with my thoughts."

"I'm really sorry about that. It upset me, too, but a promise is a promise," Shelley murmured and kissed the top of Angela's head.

Shelley spent the next hour describing and explaining past events and answering the girls' questions. Kath, in particular, wanted to know about Ted's involvement.

Shelley knew Kath had really liked Ted and she made an effort to be kind. "I did get a chance to speak to Ted, Kath, and I asked him about his part in the whole affair. He was sent to Spofford as a student to keep an eye on what was going on. We were all concerned that the murders might be a disguised attempt to kill me and he was sent there to protect me." Which didn't work out at all, she thought but neglected to say.

"When he revived from the knockout drops and confirmed what they were, he knew the murderer was making a move. The same drugs had been found in the other victims. He called the police and dashed out of the hospital because he was frantic that something might happen to me before he could stop it."

"Why did he let us follow you if he thought there might be trouble?" Merrill asked. "Wasn't that pretty dangerous for us?"

Shelley pursed her lips and nodded. "It did turn out to be pretty dangerous for Angela," she said and glanced down at her love, "but she wasn't supposed to follow me into the building." She grinned at the blush that rose across the redhead's complexion.

"He was trying to cover as many bases as he could. For all he knew, one of you could have been the killer. By keeping you busy and knowing where you were, he had more free time to search out other possibilities. He said he knew I was sneaking into the college and, other than your discovering that, he presumed that nothing was likely to happen there. But when Allie's plans to knock me out were botched, he realized anything was possible, so he was desperate to get there and protect me."

Noticing that Shelley was approaching exhaustion, Angela called a stop. "Okay, guys, time out. Shelley looks like she could use a rest. We can mop up any other questions later." The other girls got up and Merrill went next door with Kath and Marva, leaving Shelley and Angela alone.

They enjoyed a long, lingering kiss, then Shelley yawned and stretched. "I think I need a nap," she said ruefully.

"You can sleep in my bed if you want," Angela offered and blushed at Shelley's wicked little laugh.

Then the dark-haired girl relented. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I said this courtship would be slow and thorough and I meant that. We'll go at whatever pace you want. I still have the apartment upstairs; Aunt Helen kept it for me."

"That's good news! About the apartment, I mean… that you still have it." Angela blushed again then laughed at herself. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do," Shelley said and grinned back even as her eyelids drooped.

Angela slipped out of their embrace and stood. "Stay right here, why don't you? I'll get you a pillow and cover."

Shelley lifted her feet onto the couch and slid down. By the time Angela got the proffered items, she was sound asleep. The redhead gently placed the pillow under her head and covered her, then pushed the raven hair back and kissed her forehead. Her heart sang, thudding against the wall of her chest, "Shel…ley, Shel…ley." My love is back, and I'm content.


The girls piled out of the car with their softball gear and trekked to the field. The team was in decent shape this year, having lost only two starters and a pitcher to graduation… and, of course, Shelley and Allie. The new outfielders were proving to be excellent in the field and Angela and the coach had been working on their batting which was showing progress.

As they approached the field, quite a few of the girls recognized Shelley and called out to her, welcoming her back. She smiled and waved in acknowledgement.

Coach Palmer's attention really perked up when she saw Angela coming toward her with a tall, familiar figure at her side. "Hi, Coach," both girls greeted her.

"Shelley's back!" Angela enthused and the coach's interest turned to ecstatic joy. "Only now her name is Michelle Stella," Angela supplied.

Coach Palmer put out her hand and Shelley took it. "Welcome back, Michelle," she said with a huge grin.

"I'm still Shelley," replied the velvet voice that the coach remembered. "That was my nickname and I've just kept it as my given name."

"Fine with me. You ready to play first base?"

Shelley glanced down at Angela and raised her eyebrows. The redhead just grinned and nodded.

Coach Palmer looked from one to the other. "Angie didn't tell you? She's our new shortstop. That rifle arm of hers and her remarkable fielding made her a shoo-in for the position when Roz graduated."

Delighted, Shelley hit Angela's arm with her elbow. "You go, girl. I'm sure you're a great shortstop. You like it?"

"I love it," Angela admitted. "I always wanted to play shortstop, but never had the arm for it. Until now." She threw Shelley a grateful look that melted her heart.

"How do the team's chances at first place look this season?" Shelley asked.

"They look darn good, and now that you're back, they look terrific!" Coach Palmer literally beamed. "Let's get to work and get those skills sharpened up."

Shelley and Angela started to turn away to their respective positions when the coach spoke once more. "Shelley, you know what Stella means, don't you?

Shelley rubbed the back of her neck and could feel the heat rising from her chest and moving up her face. "Yeah, I do," she answered.

Angela watched this exchange curiously. "What does Stella mean?" she asked. Shelley gave Coach Palmer a beseeching look and the coach just grinned.

"Ask Shelley," Palmer suggested.

Angela let a small chuckle erupt from her body. "I don't think I've ever seen you blush so red before, Shelley. What the heck does it mean?"

"It means 'star,'" Shelley mumbled.

"Star!" Angela shouted so loudly that Shelley jumped then tried to shush her. But Angela showed no mercy. "Hey, guys," she hollered to her teammates, capturing their attention. "Shelley's last name means 'star'!"

Shelley shook her head and gave Angela a withering glance. When she saw that her teammates liked the association, her mood improved. But she knew she would be stuck with the nickname forever.

Angela was enjoying Shelley's discomfort. She moved closer to her and murmured, "What was that you said to me one day? Win some, lose some?"

"Remember, I will get even later," Shelley murmured back and Angela shivered at the delicious feeling the deepened voice spread through her.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she laughed and shoved Shelley's shoulder. "Go play first base, Star, and stop your moaning."


"You nervous?" Shelley glanced over at Angela then brought her eyes back to the road. The Durango drove beautifully and she liked being up higher than in a car; the view of both traffic and scenery was much better.

Angela turned her head toward the dark-haired girl, letting her eyes pleasure themselves with her beauty. "Yeah, I am, a little. Your Aunt Helen is special to you and I don't want her to be disappointed in me."

Shelley reached down and squeezed the hand that rested deliciously on her thigh. "She can't possibly be disappointed in you. I know I'm not."

Angela twisted her hand over and returned the squeeze. "Yeah, but you are biased," she said, grinning.

Shelley let go of Angela and spun the wheel into a driveway. "Well, we'll soon find out… here we are." She bounced out of the vehicle and hurried to Angela's side as she stepped out.

The judge's home was lovely. Made of smooth, white stucco that had mellowed to ivory, the house sat back two hundred feet from the road on a lot covered with trees. The cozy looking building was at a slight distance from the similarly stuccoed garage and at some point in time a brownstone breezeway had been added. The deep-set windows were framed on either side with dark-brown shutters that matched the roof and the front door, which had a small entryway surrounding it.

Shelley tucked Angela's hand in the corner of her elbow and they walked up to the decorative front door. It opened before they had a chance to ring the bell and Aunt Helen beckoned them in. Shelley gave her a big hug, then turned to introduce Angela.

"Angela… at last," Aunt Helen said with a big smile. She opened her arms and gave Angela a hug, too.

"Wow," Angela said, encircled in the welcoming arms, "are you sure you two aren't related? You both give the same great hugs." She and the judge both chuckled as Angela stepped back.

Shelley was relieved to see that the women hit it off right away. Aunt Helen gave Angela a tour of her house and the redhead fell in love with it. Especially the kitchen. "Ohmigosh, this room is perfect! A cook's dream come true." She glanced at Helen. "Did you design this?"

"No, I did," Shelley joked then squeaked as Aunt Helen pinched her side.

"That would be the day," the judge rolled her eyes. "This room is alien territory to our girl. Never could get her interested in cooking. Yes, I did design it. Maybe you'd like to help me fix supper later on?"

Angela's eyes lit up. "I would love to."

"We have a date, then, about three o'clock. By the way, Shelley, I have something for you." As Shelley lifted an eyebrow, Helen went to a drawer and pulled out the item to which she was referring.

Shelley grinned as she recognized the switchblade at once. "So you did get it? Super! I wish I could have seen that… idiotic… cop's face when he had to hand it over. What a jerk!"

Angela eyed the knife warily. "You aren't really going to keep carrying that, are you?"

Shelley gazed at her for a long moment then sighed. "No, I guess not. I don't need it anymore. Aunt Helen bought this for me a couple of years ago when we had a scare that someone had discovered who I was."

Helen commented, "It was a false alarm, just some kid who had taken a fancy to Shelley and was following her, but I wanted her to have something for protection." Then she grimaced. "When she really needed it, she didn't have it."

"Thanks to that stupid cop. I guess you can retire it, Aunt Helen." She handed it back to the judge who grinned, well aware that Angela had made that decision. Looks like Shell has a new guardian.

"I'll put it in the living room on the mantel. If you ever change your mind, it will be there."

"Thanks," Shelley said. "By the way, do you think you could give Angela your recipe for chocolate chip cookies?"

"Of course I will," the judge answered, "and I'm glad you reminded me." She bustled over to the counter and picked up a cookie jar shaped like a roly-poly little girl dressed in blue dirndl and white blouse, complete with blonde, ceramic pigtails.

Holding it against her ample bosom, she brought it back to the two girls and lifted the lid.

"Ooooohhh," Shelley groaned in anticipation. She reached in, grabbed a cookie and handed it to Angela. "Take a bite of food for the gods," she said as she lifted one to her own lips and Helen took one, too.

It struck Shelley that this simple moment was one of the happiest in her life. The two women she loved most in the world were by her side, sharing this tiny moment of joy. "I really am a very lucky girl," she said distinctly, and bent down to get two great hugs at the same time.


Chapter 16

Time flew by and the team looked awesome. They had hitters all the way down the lineup and their fielding sparkled. Coach Palmer had visions of taking first place away from Scatsboro and the thought was sweet. They won the first battle between the two teams in a squeaker, 1-0. A win in their second match-up would mean a division championship for Spofford for the first time in their history.

Beyond their time together on the softball field, Shelley courted Angela as thoroughly as she could on a limited budget, taking her to movies, an occasional dinner and mostly just going on long walks, talking and getting to know each other. Neither ever questioned their love which just grew deeper day by day.

Tonight Angela had cooked a dinner for two at Shelley's apartment. When it was ready, she invited Shelley to a seat at the table. "It's nothing fancy, now, just spaghetti and sausage with salad and garlic bread. I love to cook but I don't really have enough time to do it justice here at school."

"It smells great. Let's give it a try," Shelley said. She wound the long strands on her fork and took a bite. "Um, this is good, Angela." Then she picked a small piece of sausage up and tried it. "Whew! That's pretty spicy," she remarked and reached for a piece of garlic bread to offset it.

"I used two kinds of Italian sausage, hot and sweet. The hot ones are the shorter pieces. Try a longer one if that's too hot."

Shelley tried a sweet sausage. "Yeah, these are pretty good, but I think I like the hot better." She speared several short pieces from the serving bowl.

Angela grinned. "Somehow I thought you might prefer the hot. Seems to suit your temperament better."

The seductive sidelong glance she received made every minute she had spent cooking worthwhile. "You think I'm hot?" Shelley's voice curled her toes. Then the corners of Shelley's blue eyes crinkled. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Shelley's pure beauty caught Angela's breath and she swallowed hard before she could answer. "Promises, promises," she said, trying to treat it as a joke. Shelley just grinned. She twisted the end of a strand on her fork and put it between her lips, then infinitely… slowly… sucked the rest of the strand into her mouth.

Angela had to look away. Never knew spaghetti could be so darn exciting. "Behave yourself. You keep that up and we'll never finish dinner."

Shelley laughed out loud at the double meaning but she went back to eating properly.

In spite of Angela's disclaimers, the dinner was tasty and they both enjoyed it. They cleaned up afterward and went to sit in the living room. All the furnished apartments were decorated alike, so they sat on the same chocolate-brown couch that Angela had at her place.

BANG! Both girls jumped and then flopped onto the green-carpeted floor. Shelley threw herself on top of Angela as they landed. After a moment, they realized the sound must have been a car backfiring.

Shelley sat up against the base of the couch and pulled a shaking Angela up into her arms. "I think we need to talk about this, Angela," she said.

"Ta… talk about what?"

"About your shooting me. That's why you're shaking, isn't it? It still bothers you?"

Angela buried her head against the chest she had put a bullet in. She nodded and shuddered. "I feel so damn guilty. I love you so much and still I shot you. I could have killed you."

"You should have."

Angela's head jerked back and she looked up at Shelley's somber face. "What are you saying?"

"You thought I was the killer and that I was coming back to kill you. You were right to shoot me--you should have killed me. How could you know I was innocent? If I really were that maniac, I could have murdered you and gone on to kill a lot of other girls."

Angela grimaced. "I keep telling myself it was a case of mistaken identity but I still feel guilty. I think I always will, sweetheart. You're the last person I would ever want to hurt." Angela shook her head.

"But I wish I had killed Allie," she muttered. "She deserved killing. All those girls…"

"No, Angela, you couldn't kill anyone without regretting it the rest of your life," Shelley said. "That's why I stopped you." Then her expression grew pained. "All those girls died because of me."

Angela looked deeply into her love's anguished blue eyes and saw the torment in them. She reached a hand to Shelley's cheek and cupped it in her palm. "Don't torture yourself with those thoughts, sweetheart. It all goes back four years ago to the murders in the restaurant. That was the real cause, not you."

The dark-haired girl winced and her voice thickened for a moment. "Like you, I have trouble convincing myself of that. Someday I'll talk to you about that awful time, Angela… about my parents. Dying as they lay across my body. I'm just not ready to yet."

Angela stroked Shelley's cheek with her thumb and felt her leaning into it. "Tell you what, honey. You help me with my guilt and I'll help you with yours. Deal?"

Shelley smiled sadly and nodded. "Deal."

"Let's talk about something more pleasant. Like us." Angela pulled gently with her cupped hand and lifted her lips to meet Shelley's. She felt like she was drowning in the blue pools that fluttered closed as their mouths joined. She wondered which was more precious--the kiss, or watching those magnificent eyes reopen, hooded with passion, as their lips separated.

"I love you, Angela," Shelley said, her voice rumbling through the warm body she held tightly against her. For someone who had difficulty managing her passions, Shelley had done a remarkable job of reining in her ardor, waiting for Angela to signal her readiness to proceed. Right now she could feel an internal vibration as every fiber in her being wanted to express her love.

"I love you, too, Shelley," Angela responded, "…and I love your voice… and the way you say my name. Everyone else calls me Angie but you call me… "

"Angela," Shelley murmured on cue. "Your name is as beautiful as you are."

"You make me feel beautiful when you say it. Your voice is like warm, thick syrup seeping slowly into every single part of my body, clear down to my toes. I can't begin to describe what effect it has on me." She wriggled closer. "I just know it makes me tingle all over."

"Hmmmm. Maybe I should investigate all these places my voice is traveling to." Shelley's tone dropped as she lifted an eyebrow.

Angela could feel the heat rising in her body but it wasn't a blush this time, it was desire. She slipped a hand beneath Shelley's shirt and began to stroke her way across her belly and up her ribs, setting sensitive muscles in motion. "Sounds like a great idea to me," she murmured as their lips met again and Shelley's eager hands started their own exploration of Angela's lush curves.

Wrapped in each other's arms, they rolled over onto the carpet. Shelley's deep kiss was the sweetest Angela had ever experienced, except for their first one. Only this time, there was no need to pull away and Angela delighted in its sweet passion. Her heart was thudding even before Shelley stopped the kiss and very gently lifted first Angela's then her own T-shirt over their heads and dropped them on the floor, soon to be followed by two bras.

A small whimper escaped Angela as she saw the bullet scar in the tan skin near Shelley's shoulder. She reached a hand to gently touch it and looked up sadly at her love who knelt, straddling her.

"Kiss it," Shelley said hoarsely, her eyes intense. When Angela's eyes widened, she repeated, "Kiss it. Kiss it hello, good-bye, whatever. Then forget about it. I have."

Angela reached for the dark-haired girl's shoulders and slowly pulled her toward her lips. She kissed the slightly puckered scar lightly, then caressed it with her tongue and kissed it again. She slid her hands down the muscled back and moved her lips from the scar to Shelley's breast. With a moan, the long body lowered to meet Angela's.

Shelley's lips, tongue and hands moved across moist, rounded flesh, breathing extra fire into Angela's desire. Quickly, the rest of their clothing was discarded as Angela intensified her caresses to Shelley's silky skin and the two of them slid together, touching, moving, twisting and surging against each other until they reached the heights of their passion. The heavens seemed to open to them, drawing them into exquisite pleasure.

It was an exciting, sensuous journey of discovery and they reveled in it. At last they paused, panting from the exhilaration.

Angela rolled onto her back and threw her arms above her head. The spectre of Vicki's humiliation that had haunted her for months had just been banished forever. "Oh, Shelley, my girl, why did I let you wait so long?"

"You're calling me 'girl'? Don't I qualify as a woman yet?" A lop-sided smile and devilish eyes that raked the length of her form stirred Angela all over again. She rolled back against her lover and began kissing the slippery, salty body that she suddenly couldn't get enough of.

She folded her arms around Shelley's neck and pulled herself up to her ear, breasts sliding against breasts and stomach against stomach. "I think we need a few more tries before I make that judgement," she whispered, then outlined the ear with her tongue and began nibbling its lobe.

Shelley moaned and grabbed Angela's buttocks. And they soared again… and again.

Finally, spent, they wandered hand in hand into the bedroom and fell into the large bed. Angela tucked her head against Shelley's shoulder and their arms twined around each other.

"Goodnight, sweetheart," Shelley said.

"Goodnight… woman," Angela answered and grinned sleepily as she felt Shelley's chuckle bubble through her.


Kath and Marva showed up at their neighbors' apartment the next morning as usual. Silly grins appeared on their faces as they noticed Angela's conspicuous absence. "All right, you guys, no teasing when you see them," Merrill warned, pointing a finger at them.

"Who, me tease?" Marva faked an injured pout. "I'd be scared to tease Shelley and I'm too damn jealous to tease them anyway."

"Jealous? I thought you and Barb were making some progress," Merrill said, surprised at Marva's answer. Marva and Barb Olanti had been meeting each other for months now. Marva hadn't offered any explanations, but the girls had assumed that they were getting pretty friendly.

"No progress that way," Marva admitted. "We found out we are too much alike. But we enjoy each other's company so we've been hanging around together, checking out the dating scene. Having company makes it a lot more fun."

Kath looked at her best friend wistfully. "Too bad we weren't either both gay or both straight. We could keep each other company. Life's funny sometimes isn't it? Like there's somebody out there who occasionally likes to play jokes with people's lives."

Marva threw an arm across Kath's shoulder and gave her a hug. "It's too early to despair, darlin'. There's gotta be a straight Marv and a gay Kath out there somewhere looking for us. Though we're probably way too different to ever make it as lovers," she said with some truth.

The idea made Kath chuckle. Marva always had been able to lift her spirits.

A knock came on the door and Merrill moved to open it. A girl stood outside with a basket of flowers, wrapped in gift paper. "These flowers are for 110A and no one answers. Can I leave them here?"

"Sure," Merrill answered, taking them from her while Marva and Kath raised their eyebrows at each other. Merrill looked at the card. "They're for you, Kath," she announced, handing them to her.

"Who the heck is sending me flowers?" Kath mused. Instead of the usual florist's card, a long envelope was attached. Kath removed the envelope, tore off the gift paper and threw it away. Everyone admired the flowers and she set the basket on the lamp table. As she opened the letter and read it, her face turned scarlet.

"Well, come on, sweetie, tell us who it's from," begged Marva.

"It's from Ted Hoffman," she said breathlessly. "I'll read it to you." She sat on the couch and began:

'Dear Kath,

'I know I have no right to be sending you anything and I don't blame you if you totally ignore this. But there are a few things I must tell you.

'Firstly, I am truly sorry if I hurt you in any way. Dating you was not part of my duties; in fact I shouldn't have dated you at all. But I was very attracted to you and wasn't strong enough to stay away from you so I rationalized that dating you was helping my case.

'Secondly, I suppose by now that Shelley has told you of my involvement with her problems. If not, let me just say that it was my job to protect her and I very nearly failed. I just got lucky that Shelley and Angela's own resourcefulness saved their lives, no thanks to me.

'Thirdly, I was afraid that you would feel that I had used you and I was too cowardly up to now to contact you and tell you differently.

'Last, but not least, I find myself thinking of you constantly. You have made an impression on me that no other woman has ever made. I humbly ask that you will let me call you and start our relationship over, on an honest basis this time. If you would be kind enough to give me a second chance, I will be eternally grateful.

'Please mark the enclosed postcard with your answer and send it back to me. I am anxiously awaiting your decision.

Your friend, Ted Hoffman'"

Marva and Merrill were sitting on the floor and Kath glanced down at them. "What do you think?"

Marva and Merrill looked at each other and grinned. Marva started the answer, "Anyone who writes a love letter that has firstly, secondly, thirdly in it… " she stopped and laid her palm out, offering Merrill a chance to continue the sentence.

"… has to be the right guy for you," Merrill finished, her curls bouncing as she and Marva chuckled. "And I bet the postcard has tick boxes on it, right?"

Kath reddened, but she laughed, too, as she turned the stamped postcard around and showed them the boxes. The sentence next to the first box said "Drop dead, I hate you," and the second said, "Call me and let's talk."

"No contest, Kath, you have to let the guy call you. We all liked him from the start and I definitely approve," Marva said.

"Me, too," Merrill agreed, her cheeks dimpling. "There's a pen in the lamp table drawer," she added.

Kath, her face still red, pulled the pen out and checked the tick box next to "Call me and let's talk."

Merrill got up and kissed Kath's cheek. "Good luck, honey. Let's hope this is the beginning of a long relationship."

A key turned in the lock and Angela and Shelley strolled in with Shelley already wearing her game uniform. They were slightly embarrassed as everyone looked at them with a grin but their self-consciousness was softened by Kath's news.

Angela gave her a hug. "That is so cool, Kath," she said, "I really liked Ted."

"Yeah, Kath, me, too," Shelley added.

Merrill looked at her watch. "Almost time to head out for the game. Guess we better get our uniforms on."

Shelley waited on the couch while the others went off to change. When all were ready, they got in the car and headed for the field.


This was the most important game of the season. If the Spofford Jaguars would win, they would go to the regional playoffs. If they lost, a rubber game would have to be played with the Scatsboro Pumas to determine the division winner. Coach Palmer was working hard to look cool while her insides churned with excitement.

She strode over to Shelley who was scheduled to pitch the game and was warming up near the home team dugout. She watched the six-foot-tall girl leap from the practice mound with each windmill pitch, flinging the ball from a distance that made the batter feel like she was jumping down her throat.

"Looking good, Shelley," she praised. "Feel ready for the big one?"

"Just about, Coach. A couple more tosses and I'll be ready to kick butt."

Coach Palmer laughed. "Just what I like to hear." She waved and walked away, studying the other team's lineup from the card she held in her hand.

Marva caught Shelley's next few throws then walked up to her when she finished. "You know, Shelley," she said in a quiet voice, fighting to keep a straight face, "they say you shouldn't be 'doing it' the night before a big game; it saps your strength."

"Really?" A full smile spread across Shelley's countenance and she bounced on the balls of her feet. "Just you watch, Marv. I am so damn high on joy right now that win, lose or draw, I won't come down for a week."

Marva chuckled. "I believe you. You two have sunshine bursting out at your seams. Let's hope it means good luck for the team."

The game started and momentum seesawed back and forth from inning to inning, but neither team was able to score until the top of the fourth. With two out, and 2-2 on the batter, Shelley threw two borderline strikes that the umpire called balls, and the batter walked to first base. The next batter caught a hanging curve and blasted it off the wall in the left centerfield gap, tripling the runner home.

Shelley was fuming and Marva and Angela both walked up to her and calmed her down a bit. Scatsboro's next batter popped out, leaving the score at 1-0.

Spofford's team came into the dugout and Shelley threw her glove against the ground. "Damn umpire! That batter was out!"

Angela grabbed her arm and started rubbing it, knowing she had the power to help soothe this volatile, complex woman she loved. "We all know she was, but don't worry, Shelley. We'll get it back. I know we will. Remember what the coach said about staying close. Come on, use that anger to keep getting them out, don't let it burn you out."

Marva was right behind them. "Yeah, what happened to that high you said you were on?" she asked then winked.

Shelley hesitated, fighting for control, and finally nodded. "You're right. You're both right." She picked her glove back up, dusted it off against her leg and laid it on the bench. "Let's go get 'em."

Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. Scatsboro's pitcher was tossing a tough game. But Shelley continued her strong effort and Spofford came to the bottom of the seventh still trailing, but only by the one run.

Barb Olanti went down on a third strike that she tipped and the catcher caught. Amber Zorno, playing right field and batting third, hit a hard grounder to the first baseman. The girl bobbled the ball but recovered in time to beat Amber to the bag for the second out. Angela came up next and hit a long double off the wall in left centerfield but that took the bat out of Shelley's hands. The tall girl was quite capable of hitting the ball over the fence. With an eerie sense that this was the player who could beat her team, the Scatsboro coach decided to intentionally walk her. She knew it wasn't a good idea to put the winning run on base, but she also knew, statistically, her pitcher had a better chance of getting the next batter out. And Shelley had burned her team before.

Marva stepped to the plate with her nerves as tight as strung wire. This was such an important game and she realized the outcome of it might rest squarely on her shoulders. In disbelief she watched as two strikes were called, both borderline pitches. Why the hell didn't you call those for Shelley, you idiot? she thought, silently cursing the umpire. She stepped away from the plate and wiped her wristband across her forehead, trying to catch the sweat that was overflowing her headband.

Both teams were startled when Shelley called time out and went trotting in to the plate. She slowed as she approached a wide-eyed Marva and stopped right next to her. Leaning down, she whispered in her ear, "You weren't by any chance, 'doing it' last night, were you, Marv?"

Stunned for a moment, Marva hesitated, then almost laughed out loud at the outrageous question. "Hell, no, I'm not as lucky as you are," she answered flippantly.

"Then you got no excuse--you better slam the damn ball," Shelley whispered fiercely then flashed her wickedest smile. She turned around and jogged back to first base, leaving a very loose Marva grinning after her.

Marva stepped back in to the plate, saw a rising fast ball coming at her that looked like a cantaloupe and swung as hard as she could. The ball sailed in a line drive over the infield, bounced once and skidded past the centerfielder as it headed for the gap. The fielder hurried to the ball, and quickly threw it to the relay player. The shortstop had to turn around to make her throw, but she threw a perfect strike to home plate.

Angela and Shelley both had judged the ball well and started running before it hit the ground. Angela charged around third base as fast as she could, but Shelley's long legs were eating up ground and the redhead could hear her closing the gap between them as she headed toward home plate, her heart slamming against her ribcage.

Angela no sooner crossed the plate than she heard the whap as the catcher received the ball and she turned around as quickly as her momentum would allow. Shelley and the ball arrived at the plate at almost the same moment and the scene played out in front of Angela in slow motion. The catcher's leg came across the edge of the plate to block it as she came around with her mitt to make the tag.

Shelley launched herself off to the back side of the plate to avoid the catcher's shin guard block. She slid on her face and belly with her left hand high in the air and the catcher's tag went under it, just missing her. Before the catcher could recover, Shelley's long arm came down and touched the plate as her body skidded on past it.

The umpire had been right on top of the bang-bang play and when his arms went out in the "safe" sign, Spofford's bench and fans erupted.

Angela barely had time to help Shelley up and attempt to dust off her scraped face before Marva ran back from first base and the rest of the Jaguars converged on her and Shelley with thumps and shouts of joy. Kath grabbed Coach Palmer's hand and pulled her out onto the field to join the happy chaos. The coach joined in the pummeling with the rest of them and even took her own pummeling in stride. Two of the girls managed to get her raised on their shoulders and they carried an ecstatic coach off the field.

Eventually the pandemonium quieted down a bit and the team shook hands with the Scatsboro players then headed back to their dugout to clean up their equipment.

Angela took a good look at her dirt-covered lover with the raw-looking cheek and winced. "Gods, Shelley, you look awful."

Shelley flapped dust from the front of her shirt and pulled against the belt of her shorts, trying to dislodge some of the dirt that had made its way under the fabric. "Gee, thanks, Angela," she answered. "I feel pretty awful, too. Or maybe I should say pretty itchy."

Angela chuckled then her eyes gleamed with pride. "You were absolutely great, scoring that winning run. I thought you were going to run right up my back."

Marva stuck her head up from behind Angela and laid her chin on her shoulder. "Yeah, I thought so, too. Guess Angie was the one whose strength got sapped," she laughed.

"What are you talking about?" Angela pulled her head back to look at her friend.

"Never mind, kiddo. Shelley will explain." Shelley shook a fist at Marva then quickly hid it behind her back as Angela's gaze came back to her, eyebrows raised.

"Er… ah… later. I'll explain it later," the taller girl said with a toss of her head. Angela reached up and pushed her lover's bangs back from her face.

"By the way, just what did you say to Marv at the plate?" she asked.

"Heh heh," Shelley reddened and tried for an innocent look that didn't quite work. "I'll explain that later, too," she promised.

"Aren't we going to the Steak House to celebrate?" Marva asked loudly, coming to Shelley's rescue.

"Yeah!" came a chorus from behind her.

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"

Angela shook her head as Shelley grinned, grabbed her shoulders, turned her around and guided her out of the dugout right behind a chuckling Marva.

The celebration went on for several hours and finally Shelley and Angela talked the other girls into going home. Shelley went up to her apartment with a promise from Angela to come up as soon as she showered and changed.

The hour was late, so Shelley showered and dressed for bed in a navy-blue T-shirt over panties. When the knock came on the door, she jumped up from the couch and let Angela in. The door barely closed before they were in each other's arms, their lips melting together. They moved to the couch and kissed several times before pausing. Angela settled down against Shelley's shoulder and the dark-haired girl kissed the top of her head.

"Ummm, I love that strawberry shampoo you use," she murmured.

Angela chuckled. "Remember last year when you were teaching me to throw? You said my hair smelled like strawberries and then you plopped down onto the ground and started plucking grass. You looked so forlorn."

"Hey, don't laugh. I worked real hard on reeling you in with that poor, pathetic, lost-little-girl look."

"Right." Angela reached back and poked her thumb into Shelley's side.

Shelley jumped then laughed and tightened her arms around the redhead, drumming her fingers on her stomach. "Well, it must have worked, 'cause I caught ya."

Angela was wearing only a gray halter and loose shorts and Shelley's restless hand on the bare skin of her midriff was adding to the excitement for both of them.

Suddenly Angela pulled back and turned toward her. "Did you put anything on your face? You have a pretty nasty scrape there."

"Nah, it'll be all right. Just lost a little skin is all."

Angela got up and headed toward the bathroom. "I'm going to get some ointment for it. Do you have anything?"

Shelley almost forgot to answer the question as she watched the interesting sway of Angela's hips as she walked away. "Oh, yeah, there should be an antibiotic ointment in the medicine cabinet." Shelley leaned way over the side of the couch, following Angela's progress, knowing what would happen when she walked into the bedroom on her way to the bathroom.

Sure enough, right inside the bedroom door, Angela bent over and picked up Shelley's discarded clothes and put them in the hamper. Whoooooeeeee! What a picture! I think I'll throw my dirty clothes on the floor forever! Shelley joked to herself about it but she knew that her lifestyle was about to change. Life with a neatnik would take some getting used to. But Angela's worth it, her racing heartbeat emphasized.

The redhead brought the ointment back and knelt on the couch next to her lover, facing her. She leaned forward and gently applied the salve to the perfectly shaped cheek, which at the moment looked pretty sore. "You know you'll have to learn to take better care of the face I love," Angela scolded. "That must hurt."

Shelley's smile curled up on the "good" side of her face. "I'll try to remember that," she promised. She reached up and touched the star pendant then hooked a finger in the center of Angela's halter and tugged it away from her. "Right now the view is taking away any soreness. But it sure is messing up my loins."

"Messing up your loins?" Angela repeated with a grin as she set the ointment down and playfully slapped Shelley's hand away. "That doesn't sound too romantic."

"Romantic? You want romantic? Sit back and stay very still and I'll show you romantic." Shelley grabbed the slapping hand and sucked the redhead's thumb into her mouth, curling her tongue around it. Angela sat back as directed and smilingly watched her lover in action. One at a time, Shelley drew the fingers into her mouth and tasted them, while treating them to the feel of her textured tongue. Then she moved to Angela's arm--mouthing, tasting and nipping it all along the underside of its length as she worked her way up to and across her collarbone and onto her neck.

She continued the seductive assault across Angela's jaw and cheek until she captured her lips and Angela's arms encircled her neck. Her tongue delved deeply into the moist receptacle, searching for its companion. When they met, Shelley caressed it, running the tip of her tongue slowly up and down it and across the roof of Angela's mouth. Then she pulled away with a quick brush of a kiss and moved from Angela's arms.

"Stay still, remember?" she whispered. With a roguish grin at the surprised redhead, she dropped to the floor and fastened a hand around Angela's ankle. Her mouth started a second assault up the leg of sun-tinted skin that was lightly sprinkled with freckles.

Angela moaned as Shelley's mouth passed over her knee and reached the inside of her thigh, slowly but surely reaching higher and higher. She couldn't help herself, her hands twined in the raven hair that edged toward her center but Shelley teasingly skipped past the shorts and moved her lips to Angela's belly. She ringed her navel with her tongue, then reached a hand to pull the tie holding the halter together. The material came apart and the sight of Angela's full breasts drew a choked cry from Shelley. She gazed in awe for a moment as they rose and fell with Angela's quickened breathing then both hands came up to hold and caress them, softening the nipples with her thumbs. The hands that were still twisted in her hair urged her closer and Shelley tasted and suckled, savoring the gift Angela was so freely giving her.

She reluctantly lifted her lips away and with a slightly arrogant tilt to her head, grinned seductively up toward the hazel eyes grown dark with passion. "Have I… put you in the mood?" she murmured, her voice erotic enough to accomplish that on its own.

"Oh… yeah," Angela said on a soft breath, loving that haughty look. She loosened her hold on the raven hair and opened her arms. "Come closer. I want to touch you."

Shelley quivered with anticipation. She reached behind her head, grabbed the neck of her shirt and pulled it off with one quick motion, dropping it on the floor. She lowered herself against her lover and one hand continued stroking as the other curled behind Angela's neck.

As soon as Shelley's body came within reach, Angela's hands carried out their own bold expedition on her slippery skin--exploring, stroking and teasing.

Shelley's mouth touched on her lover's racing pulse point, then she seized the lips that opened to her, drawing her in. Her tongue searched aggressively for an opponent this time and when the two met they twisted and turned and battled, mirroring the two heated bodies that now writhed against each other.

Their lips parted as they paused to renew their breath. "Please," Angela whispered, "let's go to your bed."

Shelley stood and removed the rest of Angela's clothing and hers. She reached under Angela's knees and around her back and effortlessly picked her up, glorying in the ability to sweep her lover into her arms.

"You mean 'our' bed," Shelley corrected in her low, silken voice, raising a euphoric smile on Angela's face as she laid her gently on the mattress.

"Always," the redhead answered. Their hungry lips and bodies met again and Angela's arms closed even more tightly around Shelley's neck as one long leg stretched out its toes and pushed the door closed.


The End.

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