Disclaimer One: These folks are mine, so please dont use them without permission.
You would have a heartbroken bard on your hands.
Disclaimer Two: There is some use of strong language; some obvious subtext; some humor; and some surprises. Oh yeah, there's angst too.
Dedications: To my one and only, Camille. Stay with me always. Thanks to all the readers and bards for the feedback. It means a lot. Maybe more than youll ever know. Thanks to God for feeding my talent. I will be forever grateful.
This installment takes place a couple of days after Blinded. We get a little peak inside our caring caseworker. Taylor and Cory have started to work diligently on the presentations (sort of), and Wendy has even offered a hand in more areas than one. This is sort of a relationship piece, so it's a tad bit calmer than the last one. Thats all Im saying. :) There are some surprises in this one, so hold on for the ride. Cryptic enough? Well read on.
~ Looking Within ~
Chapter XXI: One Step Forward
The blonde sighed. Here she was in Merrilville again, in an office that was too close to the Mall for her taste. Much to her delight the building housing Dr. Zawid was non-descript, looking like the average red brick containing professional services. She thanked whoever was listening that it didnt have that fake fan fare that the Mall and so many other businesses close to it reveled in. She walked slowly around the office, studying it for the second time. The thick shag carpeting urged her to remove her shoes, but she suspected thats what the doctor wanted, for the client to relax. The office looked like it belonged to a child psychologist really. A myriad of little yellow trolls with different color hair lined the front of the womans desk, and unidentifiable trinkets and accessories were held up in one corner. Stress relievers the doctor had called them. Cushy black leather chairs, aptly positioned in front of a large oak desk, whispered words of comfort that the blonde tried not to listen to. Pictures of the good doctor receiving awards and degrees adorned the wall, reminding her that this woman was indeed qualified to pick her brain. The blonde absorbed it all in her attempt to decide if she wanted to be picked.
Continuing her circle around the office, Cory stood in front of the Venetian blinds, pulling the string and watching the pliable material turn and reflect the waning sunlight. Through the slight opening, sea green eyes studied a child and his mother, heading toward a car, probably coming from the Mall not too far away. She smiled to herself as he skipped along behind the woman without a care or responsibility in the world. Wish it was me. So full of innocence and awe with no responsibilities. Maybe I wouldnt be here now. She sighed and pulled the cord once more, blocking out most of the light. Still not turning around, she took a few deep breaths, wanting to have a few minutes alone before she spilled her insides. She could feel soft brown eyes staring at her back, waiting to pick through those insides and decipher the mess. Finally turning, the blonde met the eyes of the doctor.
The small rounded face turned up into a ghost of a smile. "Take your time, Cory. Im ready when you are." Moving her eyes away, the blonde caseworker continued to pace in front of the window a few feet away from the seated doctor. She refused to sit down and get too comfortable, fearing that she would spill it all. "This is harder than I thought it was. After being here last week, I assumed it would get easier."
In a voice laced with a New England accent, the doctor replied, "Never said that it would be easy Cory. The easy part was coming here, but the challenge is in staying."
"Maybe, but I dont even know where to start. So much has happened between this Thursday and the last." She crossed her arms over her chest and bit the inside of her lip in an attempt to gather her thoughts.
"Where ever you want."
The blonde lapsed into silence and continued to pace. She eyed the empty chair speculatively. Deciding to compromise, she stopped and sat on the arm. Just like that, the words spilled from her mouth. "A man with a gun came into the agency, and I knew him. I knew him because I helped to take away his children, making me directly responsible for separating his family." She laughed without humor. "He even told me so. He proceeded to tell me and the rest of the caseworkers how worthless and evil we were," She swallowed, suddenly remembering the sickening sound of the single gunshot and the coppery smell of fresh blood. Going into the office after the evidence of the disaster had been cleaned was no better. A rich red stain still pooled in the middle of the floor as a reminder. "And then he blew his head off right in front of us." The sentence ended on a croak with her voice thick with emotion. She pressed the back of her hand against her lips, trying to control the impending sobs. They came anyway. "I have never felt so helpless in my life. It was an empty feeling, sort of like I wasnt there anymore. I-I guess its symbolic? I couldnt help anybody, and things just fell apart around me. I was so sure that I had destroyed so many families." She paused, moving a stray blonde lock out of her face and glancing toward the other woman. Silence fell once more.
"So what youre saying is that it was a culmination of events? The last straw per se?"
"Yeah, it was. I felt something die in me. It was like I pulled the trigger, and everything just exploded in my face." The sobs stopped, but the tears began. She wiped at the salty drops.
Knowing that the woman needed the tears, the older woman didnt interfere as they fell. In a soft voice, she asked, "In your first statement about the incident, you used the past tense when talking about the families you thought that you destroyed. Did something else happen?"
Cory laughed through the tears. "You know Doc? In school, I never could grasp the meaning of the word ironic, but I think I did that day. An old client called me to say thanks for turning her family around." The blonde pointed a finger at her own chest. "She wanted to thank ME for helping her." She paused wiping at her leaking eyes and sniffing. "It was like this light burst inside my chest. I dont know any other way to describe it. I felt so warm. Then it all came back to me. This past year I have seen so much shit that I had forgotten that there were people who survived, who I helped survive."
"Thats very important to you isnt it? Helping people? It sounds like its tied to who you are."
"As far back as I can remember, it always has been. I took care of my brother while my parents were at work. I took care of my mother while she was sick. My father couldnt be there. Someone had to make money. Sometimes I feel like I took care of everybody. I dont think that I know how to do anything else."
"Theres still you Cory, and youve got to take care of yourself. Do you have friends or a personal life that can separate you from the professional persona?"
The tears started to dry as she revealed new found hope, making her voice stronger and more sure. "Sure, I have friends. The closest one that I had for three years is probably sitting in an office just like this at the moment. I was so wound up with what was going on inside me that I didnt see her falling. Its a good thing she did. There are other co-workers that I call friends too. They understand you know?"
"What about your personal life? Is there someone. . ." The question trailed off as the doctor watched the blonde blush. "Ah, there is."
Cory looked down, finding her fingernails of the utmost interest. Arctic blue eyes and chiseled features swam in front of her face. An involuntary smile lit her countenance. "No, I dont know what it is. Theres an attraction, and I think she feels it too." Green eyes scanned upward to meet brown, knowing that she had just divulged a big piece of herself. "Uh, thats okay isnt it? It doesnt make you uncomfortable?"
"No, not at all. It doesnt make you uncomfortable to know Im straight does it?" She gave the caseworker a ghost of a smile, and Cory smirked back.
The smirk fell from her face. "Weve turned into great friends, and I dont want to lose that. It took us a while to even get there, and I get so many mixed signals from her as it is. Hell, I dont know if shes straight or what. Still, the bottom line is that shes been there for me like nobody ever has. She takes me for who I am with no questions asked. Its very refreshing. I cant lose that just because Im attracted to her." She looked down at her hands and back up again, trying to hide the anguish in her eyes. "Its getting hard though not to touch or look. Were around each other a lot, and whatever is between us is getting stronger." She swallowed again, recalling the long looks and mutual touches. "Shes an incredible woman. There are so many contradictions that I would gladly spend forever trying to figure her out. In fact, Im going over there after this session for dinner, and the biggest part of me is so glad that were not going to be alone. She has a friend in town. Otherwise, I dont know what would happen." She let out a bark of laughter. "Probably make a fool of myself. Its exciting and a little depressing at the same time."
"Why not let it grow naturally?"
"Thats the depressing part. We can never be more than friends because of the ethics involved. I think were already skirting around the edges. We cant. Shes my boss."
"Do you want to get any beer?" Wendys yell was muffled from inside the store cooler.
Both Taylor and the liquor store clerk turned to the vicinity of the voice. All they saw was a shapely derriere and long legs, encased in jean shorts, peeking out of the glass door. The brunette turned and sat the single bottle of white wine on the counter with a thud and called over her shoulder. "No, the wine is enough. Were going to be working too." She fished in her short pockets for money and waited for the clerk to ring up her purchase. Even though she hated this area, it was conveniently placed with stores to the left and the right. Unfortunately, things didnt feel too convenient at the moment, when his head hadnt turned from the sight near the rows of refrigerators. Blue eyes rolled with impatience and mischief. Leaning over the counter a little, she whispered in the young mans ear. "She really does have a nice ass doesnt she?" Hazel eyes set in a scruffy face looked back at her. "Oh, yeah."
Men, some things never change. Here, here. LS added. Continuing to play, Taylor smiled sexily. "You know that shes a famous stripper, right?"
His eyes widened. "Man, I thought she looked familiar."
Her smile got bigger. "Well, if you throw in a pack of cigarettes and some whiskey, I bet I can get her to lap dance for you right here and now."
"Oh man, really? My friends would never believe this." His face flushed as the redhead made her way to the counter.
The grin on the brunettes face was deadly and saccharine sweet. Picking up the bottle again, she slammed it down on the counter. The clerk jumped in surprise. In a sing song voice, she answered, "No, not reallly. Now, pop your eyes back in your head and ring me up!"
The young man moved as if a fire had been lit. He nervously grabbed the bottle, trying to hide his flushed face. Taylor turned to leave, but taking pity on him, Wendy stayed behind. "Hey kid? Her bark is worse than her bite, okay?"
He nodded his head jerkily, and hazel eyes followed as the redhead exited the store.
Wendy folded herself into the Accord. She gave her friend a sidelong glance; grabbed her hand; and then smacked it. "Bad, Taylor, bad." The admin jerked her appendage away with a smirk. "Well, he was staring at your ass."
"How did you know if you werent staring too, hmm?"
"Theres a difference, Red. I dont stare at it like that anymore."
The redhead grabbed her chest. "Oh, Im almost hurt. So, you were protecting my honor then? Come on save yourself."
Taylor threw her a flash of a white smile as she pulled out of the parking lot. "Yeah, that and I didnt want him slobbering all over the counter and onto my hand."
Gray eyes shot daggers. "See, you almost had me. Whats with you today? Youre certainly in a good mood." Wendy glanced at her dark friends profile. "Ah, I know. Its the fact that Corys coming over soon." Her eyes widened as she followed the flush up the tanned neck. "Oh my. Are you sure you dont have something to tell me?"
Taylor cleared her throat. Just the mention of the petite blondes name suffused her with heat. She fought down the impending smile. "No, theres nothing to tell because were just friends."
"Yeah, right now. I saw the way you looked at her, touched her, Tay. Somethings brewing."
"Its not that simple. There are ethical matters that. . ."
"And if they werent there? That touch you shared in the office would have been a kiss, right?"
Taylor growled in frustration. "Its not like that. . ."
"Bullshit, I know you want her. Its so obvious, and its almost painful to be around you two. Shes touched something inside you. Hasnt she? Ive never seen you like that around anyone." Wendy willed blue eyes to turn her way, but the jumping motion in the other womans jaw was answer enough.
Pulling into her parking space, the brunette removed the key and sat there silently, not daring to turn around. Pale eyes closed, remembering the touches and most of all recalling the way the younger woman felt in her arms. After the ordeal the other day, she had awakened to the dimness of night with Corys body wrapped around her like a blanket. The other womans t-shirt had ridden up, revealing creamy thighs. With a mind of its own, her hand had taken privileges that her heart would not. Softly, teasingly, she had followed the line of a curvy hip all the way up to brief purple panties. Her fingertips felt scorched, touching skin so soft and warm. She had gone back for more, so careful not to wake her. The admin sucked in a groan when she realized that seconds were more profound than firsts. The flash of arousal had been the strongest surge she had ever experience. It had been enough to make her snatch her hand away and climb out of bed. She had whispered bathroom when a husky voice asked where she was going. Yes, I want her. The edge of the ethics book nicked her ear, and she could have sworn that she heard Little Shelley sigh.
Wendy watched her silent friend through knowing eyes. She means a lot to you. You cant hold it in forever. Reaching over, she captured a hand that had been fisted in the other womans lap. "Tay, its okay if you dont want to talk about it right now. I. . ."
Sad blue eyes bore into gray. "She doesnt know, Wendy."
The redhead flinched at the emotion shining in the usually stoic womans eyes. "Huh, she doesnt know what?"
Turning away, she stared out the window at the perfect grass, and bushes. "She doesnt know about me."
"Oh. Oh! So, shes. . ."
"Yeah, found out not to long ago."
It was the redheads turn to close her eyes. "Oh God Tay, when she finds out---"
"I know, but I couldnt. I think its probably the only thing holding me back. You know?"
Wendy squeezed the hand that she was holding. "Yeah, I know," she added quietly. This was something big. "Listen, lets get inside. She should be over in a little bit right?"
Taylor pushed an ebony lock behind her ear. "Yeah, I want to have dinner at least almost ready when she gets here."
Wendy watched the womans tall frame get out of the car. You never cease to amaze me. Ill never understand how you could be so fierce and vulnerable at the same time. I think you have met your match, my friend. Getting out of the car, she followed the admin into the apartment building.
Wendy leaned against the counter, watching as the older woman puttered around the kitchen. "So, what are you going to cook for her?"
Taylor looked up and ran her hand over her bangs. She tore the package of chicken breast open and turned on the sink. "Um, I don't exactly know what she likes. So, I figured that I couldn't go wrong with chicken. I'm going to make a scampi sauce for it though."
The redhead smirked. "Oooh, fancy."
Taylor stuck out her tongue. "We're having pasta and some kind of veggie with it too. Don't know which yet. You guys can choose when she gets here."
The wheels were forever turning behind the red hair. "Tay? You don't know much about her, so what does she know about you?"
Busy hands continued to de-vein the chicken. "I never said that I didn't know much about her. In fact, I think that I've learned quiet a bit. As far as what she knows about me," The brunette paused and turned troubled eyes to her friend. "Um, she knows about my parents. I don't know why I told her. It just came spilling out, but she makes it so easy. You know?" She turned back to the chicken, cutting it into symmetrical strips. Recalling the conversation that took place in her office two short days ago, Taylor whispered, "I think she has me pretty much pegged."
Auburn eyebrows rimmed downward. "What? I didn't catch that."
"Uh, nothing. Just talking to myself."
Not believing her one bit, Wendy let it go anyway. "What are you going to do about this? You can't deny that there's something there."
"There's nothing I can do about it Wendy. If we get involved, it could mean both our jobs and reputations. Despite all of that, part of me wants to give in and the other half wants to run away screaming. Her not knowing about me is the one thing that's keeping me in check, even then it's still hard. Sometimes I feel like chopping my hands off to keep from touching her."
Wendy sucked in a breath. 'God, she has it bad.' The redhead walked up behind her friend, putting a hand to her back and rubbing for comfort. "You have changed so much since I've seen you last. You were always able to talk to me about anything, but to open up to her so quick, that's something special. I hope you don't lose it by keeping this secret from her."
"I know, but there's no other way around it."
"I don't know Tay. Are you keeping this from her to protect your jobs or to protect yourself?"
Hesitant blue met gray. "I don't have an answer for that, not right now." 'Time to change the subject.' "You know what? I don't want to spend all this time talking about me. I need to play catch up with you too. Seeing anybody?"
Wendy chuckled. "Subtle you are not, but okay, I'll drop it for now. Yeah, I'm seeing somebody. Two or three somebodies to be exact. What can I say? Men love the red hair."
Cory pulled up to the empty parking space beside Taylors Accord. She gathered together her purse and the files full of information needed for the presentation. Today, wasnt a day that they were supposed to meet, but the excitement a few days ago had set them back.
Flipping off the ignition, she let her mind wander. Was her self esteem really tied to this need to successfully help or care? She knew it would explain so much, especially her recent slump lately. Dr. Zawid made her think despite the jumbled mass her brain had been in lately. She made her think about a lot of things. Now, standing outside, she pushed the button to ring Taylors apartment. Even with her voice diffused by a speaker, Cory felt the shiver of awareness creep its way up her back at the sound of the other womans voice. She shook it off with much determination and watched wide-eyed as both the outside and inside door opened.
Letting herself in, her thoughts went back to the doctors office. Surprisingly, Dr. Zawid didnt seem shocked with her present situation with Taylor only wary of the consequences since the caseworker could end up losing a job that she loved. Soft brown eyes had watched the blonde as she was told thatthat in itself could lead to a deeper depression. Still, Cory had blushed deeper when the doctor told her that a huge bright spot seemed to exist in her life because of Taylor.
Green eyes rolled skyward as she got on the smart elevator. She sighed in frustration. Either way this whole thing was a risk, and the blonde knew that she had to figure out if she was willing to take it. The only things that she was sure about today was that she was looking forward to dinner, getting to know Wendy, and being near Taylor.
The petite blonde stopped in front of the door and listened to the throaty crooning of Janis Joplin singing about Summertime as it seeped from the closed door. She smirked and pushed the doorbell
Plopping the spoon of peanut butter in her mouth, Taylor did a light sprint toward the door. Wendy followed slowly, watching from the vantage point near the kitchen door. The admin tried to clamp down on the sense of giddiness that assailed her as she opened the door. The grin on the blondes face didnt help any. It only made a smile spread itself around the peanut butter coated spoon.
"Hey." Green eyes tried to hide the admiring glance as they took in the long expanse of leg peaking out of the blue shorts. Looking up wasnt any better since the cleavage exposed by the v-neck shirt caught her eye too. Oh my, I think this woman would look good to me in a paper sack. She licked suddenly dry lips.
"Hey wo. Get in ere." Warm blue eyes beckoned her, as she took the books and papers from the blondes hands.
"Ooh, something smells good, but I hope were not having that for dinner." Cory pointed at the spoon. "What are you eating anyway?"
The brunette deposited the books on a nearby table. "Itws peanut buffer." Realizing how ridiculous she sounded, Taylor sucked the rest of the snack off the spoon and pulled it from her mouth. She chuckled apologetically. "Dinner was taking longer than I expected, so I got a snack. Its the snack of champions you know."
"Mmm, more like the snack of big kid Taylor." She eyed the other woman with a teasing glint in her eye.
"Hey, I dont rag you about your Froot Loops and cartoons."
"Wendy observed the conversation with a slightly exasperated look. Theyre like big kids. Im just waiting for one to smack the other on the arm and say you got cooties. Ugh, its almost sickeningly cute. She had to do something before this really got out of hand. "Ahem, hey short stuff. Long time no see."
Corys head whipped around. She had completely forgotten that the other woman was going to be here too. Need to watch that tunnel vision, girlie. She turned to the voice before sitting on the couch, giving her an apologetic smile. "Oh, hey nice to see you again, Red Hots."
She heard the snort come from the admins mouth before the woman could hold it.
Wendy blinked, trying to process what she had just heard. "Red Hots? What on earth. . ."
Cory held up a hand. "The way I figure it. We both got teased a lot for obvious reasons growing up, so I was thinking that adding to it wouldnt hurt. Is that what you were thinking?"
Oh, shes quick. "Touché. I knew I liked you." The redhead made her way to the couch, but not before she heard the quiet chuckle come from the brunettes mouth. Taylor turned and made her way back to the kitchen. There was no reason to worry about those two. No reason at all.
Cory folded one leg under her as she scooted back on the couch. Turning at an angle she sat face to face with the redhead. Green eyes gave her the once over. There is something about her that I just like. "Im glad that we get to meet under much calmer circumstances."
Gray eyes bucked. "Yeah, you two throw a hell of a welcome party."
Cory chuckled wryly. "Yeah, I have to say that its been eventful since Taylor came aboard, but the other day was something I just wasnt prepared for." Her eyes darkened in remembrance.
Wendy eyes rounded. "Oh, Im sorry. I dont mean to make light of what happened. I just put my foot in it sometimes."
The blonde shook her head. "No, its okay. I think I would have fared a lot worse if Taylor hadnt been there."
"Yeah, shes a rock in any situation. The woman doesnt crack often." Except when it comes to you blondie.
But, shes so vulnerable when she does. "Ive noticed that about her. Um, do you mind if I asked how you two met?"
Wendy laughed. "Shell probably kill me if she finds out."
Cory leaned in enjoying the conspiracy. "Shell never hear it from me."
The redhead rubbed her hands together. "Well, you know we went to Rutgers right? Im from Jersey, and so is Tay." The blond nodded. "I was a Sophomore, majoring in accounting, and she was a second year Senior. I had seen her before because she was dating this g--, um, one of my roommates at the time, but I didnt really know her. One thing we had in common is that we shared a professor. They had this proff for a higher level class, and I was in an elective. Anyway, I found out later that the proff was gay and made a pass at my roommate." She touched Cory on the leg. "Taylor found out somehow, and the Taylor then wasnt as mellow as the Taylor now, meaning she was twice as intimidating." Wendy mentally wiped her brow. She had never gone into a discussion without being able to use pronouns. "Anyway, I just happened to have a meeting with him one day, and as I came around the corner, guess who had beat me to his office?" The redhead sighed. It was just too hard, lying and using him made it so much easier. "Taylor had the man against the door, poking him in the chest and calling him names that would make a sailor blush. Now, not much scares me, but the look on her face was enough to do it. Apparently, it was enough for him too. All I heard was a growl, and I stood there and watched while he peed on himself."
She smiled as Cory muffled a laugh.
"Taylor is almost six feet. This guy was little and skinny, so he didnt stand a chance. I didnt think that I stood one either. I hoped she hadnt seen me yet, so I tried my best to get out of there as quietly as I could. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and ran for it. Unfortunately, I had on sandals and they had just waxed the floors. Soon as I turned a corner, I landed on my ass and slid about three feet. I let out a scream that could wake the dead, and no sooner than I stopped spinning that I looked up into these two blue chips of ice. And do you know what she did? The hussy laughed at me! Was she scared that I had probably just seen her assault a professor? No way, and I told her as much. It only made her laugh harder. With as much dignity as I could muster, I got up, scowled at her, and tried to pick up the books that had spilled from my bag. She pushed my hands out of the way and got them for me, chuckling all the time. She walked me home, saying that anybody that could make her laugh could hang out with her anytime. Things just went from there." She smirked inwardly, knowing she had to leave out the part about them becoming lovers.
Wendy studied the blonde for a moment, suspecting that the woman had been eating up her every word. "Shes a great person to have in your life."
Cory laughed and shook her head. "Im learning that." She paused. "So, did her boyfriend ever find out about what happed or did anybody?"
"No, we are the only three, uh, make that four that knows, and you my dear have to promise to take this to your grave."
The blonde chuckled. "Ill do a pinky swear if you want me to?"
"No, no scouts honor will be enough." They laughed again. "Um, Cory? I need to tell you how much I appreciate you befriending Taylor. Im a thousand miles away, and lets face it, the woman can be so intense sometimes that its scary. She needs somebody here that she can count on, and she doesnt just let anybody in. I dont know you that well, but I like what I see. What Im trying to say is that Im just glad she opened up to you."
The blonde nodded suddenly feeling a little shy. "Thanks. It took us a while to get to this point." She blushed remembering the screaming matches and the name calling. "It was pretty nasty at first. She even fired me, but know I can honestly say that I dont know what I would do without her."
Green and gray met sharing a mutual moment.
"I know what you mean shor--,um, Cory." All of a sudden feeling like she should but out, Wendy decided to change the subject. "Hey, Taylor wants us to decide on a vegetable. I say we freak her out and ask for brussel sprouts. She hates those things."
"Mmm, lima beans," Cory deadpanned.
The redhead snorted.
Taylor stood rod still listening at the kitchen door. She hadnt meant to, but when she heard her name mentioned, curiosity got the better of her. Now, the brunette muffled her laughter. They were really two of a kind. She was still going to kill Wendy for telling that old story. She was no where near that bad then or now. Was I? Still, she had to admire the way that the redhead kept the fact that her roommate was female a secret.
Absentmindedly, she put her hands to her cheeks feeling the heat that was still there. Corys whispered words had landed solidly in her heart, making warmth spread. Hearing those words come out of the blondes mouth, somehow made her feel stronger more confident, almost like she could conquer the world with the knowledge that the blonde believed in her.
How can she believe in you totally with you keeping things from her.
Taylor gnashed her teeth. Little Shelley had picked a fine time to rear her head. Because Im afraid of what I might do. It could all fall down on you when she finds out. Oh God, I know. I know. Feeling slightly dejected, she moved deeper into the kitchen to stir the simmering sauce. She had moved just in time. Cory walked in like a beautiful afterthought. The impish grin on the her face made the admins potentially foul mood disappear. "Almost done. Is that monster protesting yet?"
The grin got wider. "No, but it does smell unbelievable in here. What are you cooking?"
With a motion of her hand, Taylor urged her closer to the stove. "I didnt know what you liked, so I figured Chicken Scampi was a safe dish." She continued to stir the contents of the pot. "Do you wanna taste?" The brunette smiled full out at the look of girlish delight on the younger womans face. "I take that as a yes?"
Cory could feel her head bob up and down as she took a step forward and moved to the left to stand beside the brunette. Their elbows touched as the older woman used her right hand to catch some sauce in the spoon. With her right hand under it to prevent spilling, she brought the utensil to the blondes mouth. "Careful. You should blow on it because its hot."
Cory nodded again and pursed her lips. Utterly fascinated, Taylor watched through hooded eyes as the ripe lips slightly parted. She could feel the heat rush to her face again, but this time it didnt just stop there. She watched on as the blonde sipped from the spoon. Green eyes closed and lips parted again on a sensual moan. Taylor knew that the color had just left her face because all the blood, by mutual consent, pooled elsewhere. Oh sweet mother--- Emerald green picked that moment to open and look directly at her. Cory, please dont look at me. I dont know what Ill do.
Cory blinked. When had their faces gotten so close? She could see the darker chips of blue hiding within the other womans irises, and minute lines fanning from her eyes and around her mouth. That mouth. It was close as well. The blonde licked her lips involuntarily, tasting the left over blend of spices. Would her mouth be spicy as well? She moaned inwardly. I can even smell her. She swallowed. I can see it in her eyes. She knows. She feels this. The swallow was followed by a deep breath. Gotta stop this. Stepping back took considerable effort, but she did it. Speaking was even harder. She had to swallow a few times to even get her mouth to open. "Um, thats great. Whats in it?" The blonde hoped her voice didnt sound as husky as it felt.
Taylor took a little longer to come out of the spell, but eventually she did. "Uh, what?" Her eyes felt unfocused and her tongue thick.
"The sauce. I dont think Ive ever had Chicken Scampi before."
"Oh!" Taylor shook her head slightly to clear it. "Just some garlic, lemon juice, Chardonnay, and butter." Her body felt like it had been shot by a heat ray. She swallowed hard, trying to immerse herself in calmer waters.
Cory smiled, feeling a little more settled. "Where did you learn to cook like this?" She stepped back to lean against the counter and grimaced as the sharp edges poked her spine in the wrong place. Still, it was somewhere safe. The iron band of tension had been cracked but not broken.
"Survival skill that I had to learn in college, and I picked up a few things from Wendy."
The caseworker chuckled. "How did I know that you were going to say that? Somehow she strikes me as a person that knows a little bit about a lot."
"Yeah, that sounds about right. I was hoping that you two would get along. I guess I got my wish. I heard laughing out there."
"Definitely. I like her, and I dont think I can help it."
"Yep, thats the same way I felt. By the way, what did you two decide on for a vegetable."
"Broccoli won out."
"Ah, I see. Well, let me start the pasta, and then Ill steam the broccoli." She turned off the sauce.
"Okay, but do you mind if I stay in here with you? I wanted to talk to you about something.
Blue eyes dark with concern and left over arousal turned her way. "Is something wrong?"
"No, not really. I was just thinking about something yesterday, and I wondered if you would go for it."
"Well, you never know. Shoot."
Well, um, given what we all saw a couple of days ago, I think that you should bring an outside counselor in to gage the situation. What happened wasnt an everyday thing, and its bound to get to most people. Hell, its getting to me, but I have Dr. Zawid."
"Mmm," she pursed her lips in thought. "I dont know why I didnt think of that. Do you think its really needed?"
"Yeah, it could be very beneficial, especially to the new staff."
"Then its done."
Cory felt her mouth hanging open. "Um, just like that?"
Taylor turned from the slowly boiling pot and leaned against the part of the counter nearest the stove. "Yeah, its that simple. I trust your judgment on this. Youve worked with these people longer than I have."
The blonde smiled. "We have come a long way havent we? There was a time not to long ago where I didnt want to listen to a word that came out of your mouth."
Blue eyes sparkled with mirth. "Yeah, it was right about the same time that I wanted to sew yours shut." Good thing you listened to me. "Its a good thing that I listened to Barb that day at the gym, or you wouldnt be anywhere at all." She could have sworn she heard LS blow raspberries. "Speaking of which how is she? Luckily, I was able to give her time off immediately.
Cory shook her head. "I dont know how she is. I tried to call yesterday, but it wasnt returned. I do miss her. She kept me from floating off into space somewhere. As you have just pointed out, I do have a problem with my mouth." The caseworker smirked wryly. "I think shell be okay. I trust she would call you if something really went wrong."
"I dont know. The look in her eyes scared me."
"I bet it did. You had the same look in your eyes a few days ago, and it scared me too."
The blondes mouth opened, but nothing came out. "I-I dont know what to say about that."
The admin smiled softly. "Its okay. You dont have to say anything. I just want you to get back completely to the old Cory with the runny mouth."
The blonde head hung, trying to hide the quick blush. "Um, thank you for caring and looking out for me. It helps a lot. I dont feel like Im flying apart like I did before, but I still cant believe that he killed himself."
"I know. I wasnt prepared for anything like that happening. Its a good thing that carpet is being replaced in the morning. None of us need reminders."
Cory cocked her head to the side, caught up in a replay of the gory scene. "You know, I felt something in me crack when I saw that. It was like I was outside myself. Kind of hollow. When Mrs. Brown called, I felt almost full again. I dont know where I would be if it wasnt for that or for you. I dont even want to think about where I would be."
Taylors throat bobbed. She remembered how she had begged the other woman to stay when she saw the light go off in her eyes. It was something she didnt want to see ever again. "Im here if you need me for whatever reason. I dont want to lose you as a co-worker or a friend." She stuffed her hands in her pockets feeling nerves and other emotions creep up. Um, can I ask you something? Is the doctor helping?"
"Yeah, she is. Shes made me realize a lot about myself that I didnt see before. Ive said some things out loud to her that were just running around wild in my head." Like about you.
"So, do you think youre going to be ready to go back out in the field starting Monday?"
Cory shook her head slowly. "I honestly dont know. I dont want to walk into something that Im not prepared to handle."
"Okay. How about this? You talk to your doctor and let me know when youre ready."
"Are you sure? With Barb gone, I dont want to put any extra strain on anybody else."
"I can understand that, but you want to get back to where youre helping people, Cory, and not hurting yourself."
"I know youre right. Ill just have to be more patient."
They were interrupted by the black pot on the stove coming to a rolling boil. "Well, I think its time to put the pasta in." Turning around, she grabbed the package of thin spaghetti and poured a good portion of it in her hand. Before breaking the sticks in half, she called over her shoulder. "Hey, look in the veggie crisper in the fridge and give me the broccoli?" She completed the breaking motion and separated what she could with small tongs.
Cory opened the behemoth of a refrigerator and smirked when she heard a drum roll come from behind. "Smartass, " she muttered, but she only got a chuckle in return.
"I cant believe Wendy didnt follow you in here. Whats she doing out there?"
"Oh, shes watching some womens game on Lifetime," Cory replied to the other womans back. What a nice back it is too. Down girlie.
"Thats the WNBA. Whos playing?"
"Uhm, Houston and Sacramento. I think."
The admin let go of an amused chuckle. "Houston will wipe the floor with them."
A blonde brow raised in interest. "You follow that stuff?"
"Yeah, I used to play in college. Power forward."
She chuckled again. "It was my position. Was pretty good too, but it was just something to let off steam because of classes and stuff."
God, there goes that sexy chuckle again. "I see. You know I seem to learn something new about you everyday. I might have to expand my definition of your type pretty soon."
Taylor flashed a smile over her shoulder, but didnt comment. Cory reared back into the counter again. "Ouch!"
Through talking over her shoulder, the admin turned completely around. "You okay?"
"Yeah, its just that the counter edge is hitting me in the wrong spot."
"Oh, why dont you jump up then?"
"Dont want to mess up your counter, and its pretty high off the ground. Why dont I just go get a chair and bring it in here?"
"No, its okay. Ill give you a boost."
Before the blonde could protest, the woman was in front of her, and strong hands wrapped around her waist. Placing small hands around the other womans biceps for leverage, with a little hop, she found herself on top of the black, immaculate countertop. She also found herself face to face with a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman who she was attracted to. The crack in the tension lessened as blue and green met in the suddenly charged silence.
Taylor became hyper aware of strong thighs near the top of her own and the feel of soft flesh on flesh. A familiar floral smell assaulted her senses, making her nostrils flare and her heart slam against her chest. This contact was too much too soon. Unchained arousal flooded her body. Her breathing hitched, and a growl hung in the back of her throat. Blood rushed to the area between her legs, making her sensitive to her own clothing. They were so close. All she had to do was flex her hips forward to relieve the pressure. Blue, darkened with desire, bore into green that seemed just as cloudy. She can feel it too. I know she can." The admin felt a fine shiver quake within the blonde. It only confirmed what she already knew.
Sparkling blue looked longer and harder as if asking for permission to touch, to move, to feel. The emerald gaze didnt flinch, didnt falter, but it grew darker. It was all the permission she needed. Bracing shaky hands on either side of the blondes elevated hips, she undulated her own and was rewarded with the smallest and sexiest of whimpers that released her own growl and made breathing suddenly impossible.
Corys mind swam from either lack of oxygen or the overflow of sensation. She didnt care which. She just didnt want it to stop. She ignored the nagging voice that whispered, she sure seems to know what shes doing.
It was all okay until she saw the flush of tanned skin, the glint in silver-blue eyes, and heard the sensual growl. She read the message that they sent. It was need, plain and simple. A need that she knew mirrored her own. Caught up in the wave of it all, she squeezed the thighs in between her own as a precursor to crossing her legs behind the other womans waist. Sinking blunt fingernails into taught biceps, she met Taylors hips with gyrations of her own. Her breath came out in harsh pants as quick arousal snaked its way through her blood and pooled in her crotch.
The second whimper was longer, louder. Bare skin exposed from beneath brief shorts that had ridden up, brushed sensuously as hips moved slightly faster. Heads leaned in, and foreheads touched. Still, eyes refused to break contact and lips danced dangerously close to each other. The kitchen was suffused with the sounds of harsh breathing, breathless moans, and boiling water. Deep in a spell of their own casting, they didnt hear the door swish open, but they did hear the shocked, "Holy Shit!"
Corys body stiffened, and she began to hastily push off the counter. It was a mistake with legs that had the consistency of Jell-O. Trying to hide the blush of embarrassment and arousal, Taylor kept her head down, and luckily, she was able to see the blondes distress. Wrapping her hands around the small waist once more, she helped her to the ground. They glanced at each other briefly then at the floor in an attempt to get breathing under control.
Wendy watched them both and waited patiently with a knowing smile plastered on her face. Cory was the first to look up. A deep red assaulted her features, but her gaze was steady. The redheads smile grew. Taylor glanced upward at her friend with a glare already in place. When she saw that the smile only got wider, the glare changed to a scowl. Completely forgetting what she had come in the kitchen for, the redhead simply said, "Taylor, you need to think about getting a lock on the kitchen door," and left with a swoosh.
Cory could feel reality crashing in on her like a ten ton boulder. They had just skipped about a million steps, and they were steps she wasnt even sure the brunette was willing to take. Deep down she knew that the attraction was mutual, but what they had just shared had the force of a twenty megaton bomb. She completely lost herself in it, and it scared her. It scared her big time, making her heart thud for a different reason all together.
Her thoughts began to roam, and confusion took the place of aforementioned arousal. Wouldnt she tell me if she had done this before? When I was outed it was the perfect time to say that she was family. Surely she wouldnt keep something like this from me? Puzzled eyes glanced up to find pale blue that were wild with their own uncertainty.
Every ethics book that she had ever read fell on her head like a ton of bricks. Little Shelley simply whispered, Its about time. None of it was any help at all. The line between them had been wiped away by a touch. A touch that quickly went out of control. She had done what she had longed to do two nights ago, and the only thing she felt right now was rotten and scared. The rotten feelings came from the fact that she had been hiding behind a lie that she suddenly didnt know how to tell anymore, and the scared ones existed because she didnt know where they stood, if they stood at all. Suddenly, the job or the rep didnt matter. A pang of emptiness made her heart ache. The only thing that mattered was preserving whatever had been shattered, but deep down she had to admit that she wanted them both, the fiery connection and the friendly one.
The flying elephant that had been in the room with them for so long, now, had to be acknowledged and discussed.
The admin watched through haggard eyes as the caseworker retreated to a safe distance by the stove. Thankfully, somebody had the sense left to turn off the food, and she also knew that somebody had to say something.
Confused green eyes filled her gaze, and thoughts flew. "Um, we need to talk."
The blonde head nodded before she spoke. "Yeah, we do. Um, can we do it after dinner? I need time to, um, you know?" Small hands wrung, and green eyes silently pleaded.
"Yeah, sure. Do you want to leave the presentation for another night? It would be kinda hard to focus now." Taylor dropped her head sheepishly and put her hands in her pockets. She watched the blonde head nod again as the woman made a retreat to the living room. Taylor stood there feeling something she hadnt felt in a while between them, awkwardness.
Chapter XXII: . . .Two Steps Back
Like the trooper she was, Cory walked into the living room and sat right beside Wendy.
Oooh, this girls has balls. Im liking her more and more. The
blonde sat ram rod straight on the edge of the cushion. Slowly, the caseworkers head
turned. The redhead became more impressed when the blush she was expecting didnt
appear. Cory was the first one to speak. "I guess you didnt expect to see that,
Wendy pursed her lips to keep from smirking. "No, not when all I came in there for was a glass of wine."
"Well, you couldnt be nearly as surprised as I was that it happened," she replied dryly.
The redhead reached over to squeeze the closest knee. It was time to stop playing. The confusion and fear in the green eyes told her so. "Hey, its okay. Whatever happened in there is between you and Taylor. Im nosey, but I do know when and where to draw the line. Taylors my best friend, and I consider you a friend also. I learned a long time ago not to really interfere in her life unless she asked me to. Im guessing that you two have some talking to do, and far be it for me to but in. Ill stay for dinner just because it would be a sin to pass up on her cooking, but after that Ill leave." The redhead accountant was hoping to get a smile from her last statement. She came out fifty-fifty when the caseworker displayed a wobbly grin.
Dinner was an exercise in complete futility. The only one who ate with any gusto was Wendy. Cory opted for the seat on the other side, closer to the redhead. She picked over her food as her brain turned over images of what had just transpired in the kitchen long minutes ago. With a snap of a finger, things had changed between them. Feelings of loss and worry made her forehead crease. She knows about me. Maybe the attraction is just curiosity on her part. God knows that I dont want to go down that road again. Its crooked and leads to a dead end. Still, wouldnt she tell me if she was gay? Wouldnt I know? There isnt a reason for her to lie to me. Not now, when weve come so far. No, its got to be curiosity, and maybe we can fix this before it gets out of hand, saving at least the friendship. She speared a broccoli floret and put it in her mouth. It tasted like green paste. Her appetite left the minute they pulled apart in the kitchen. Trying to exercise stealth, she discreetly glanced at the brunette seated on the other side of the table She didnt appear to be any better. What a mess.
Even though the chicken was marinated to perfection, it tasted like sawdust in Taylors mouth. With hooded eyes, she glanced around the table. She had taken out her mothers good china for them to eat and for her to serve the food in. It had all been for her to make her feel better; to show her that someone cared, and it had all been ruined by her own raging hormones. A friendship could be gone and a professional relationship might have suffered. She had been lying to herself when she thought her little secret would keep the lines drawn in the sand. Maybe I shot off like Roger Ramjet because I havent been involved in the past few years. She could hear Little Shelleys dry laughter. No dear. It was because of her plain and simple. She replied just as dryly. Okay no-it-all, what do I do now? Tell her and deal with the consequences. That way at least you two can start with a clean slate. Start what? She waited a few seconds for the answer, but LS had gone quiet.
Wendy watched the two of them over her glass as she sipped. Look at them. Watching each other and pretending like they arent. Jeez, Taylor, I knew that you cared about her, but who knew you were going to pounce like that? She turned an eye to Cory. And blondie here looked like she was enjoying it. Whoo, you got some explaining to do, Tay. She turned an eye to her friend. But both of you are just sitting here like knots on a log. Well, somebody needs to say something. The redhead snorted. Figures it would be me. She smacked her lips after taking another sip. "Houston won."
A dark head raised and blue eyes glared at her friend, but Wendy being Wendy, she just kept on talking. "I know that probably whats on your mind right now, Coop scored thirty," she deadpanned. She saw the full lips twitch. "Swoopes only scored fifteen but she had three steals. I knew youd want to know." The lips pursed but formed a smirk anyway. With surprised eyes and armed with a fork, the redhead pointed at her ebony haired friend. "Ooh, whats that? Was it that famous crooked smile?" She turned to Cory. "What do you think? Did it pass muster?"
The blonde felt two sets of eyes on her that were within smirking faces. She sighed. Was this woman for real? She peered at the redhead through narrowed eyes. Yeah, she definitely is. Knowing that she didnt have a choice, she answered. "No, the lip needs to curl more on the left side."
This time Wendy snorted out loud. It was followed by Taylors chuckle then Corys. The accountant eyed her handy work. Not bad. "Good. Are you two gonna eat now? Youre making me feel malnourished." That earned another round of chuckles. After that, dinner at least passed with light conversation.
Now finished, Cory was attacked by a fit of nerves. She didnt want Wendy to leave, and she didnt want her and Taylors little talk to happen. At that moment, she wanted to try her best at forgetting the whole thing, and going back to where they were. Her inner voice laughed and called it a childish wish, but she was going to try to make it come true, nonetheless. She didnt want to hear, Im curious. Can you help? or anything else that was going to hurt. She watched as Taylor gathered plates and take them into the kitchen. Waiting for the kitchen door the swish closed, she leaned toward Wendy. "Um, why dont you stay for awhile? We can watch a movie. She has a DVD and a VCR." The blonde blinked against Wendys penetrating stare. "Getting cold feet?"
Cory shook her head vehemently. "No, no. I just want to get to know you better. I know that youre leaving in a couple of days."
Wendy turned away to drain her almost empty wine glass. She glanced back quipped, "Uh-huh." She got up to carry some of the fragile china into the kitchen. Before getting to the door, she called over her shoulder, "Thats the same entertainment center Tay had in Jersey. The tape deck is at the bottom."
Cory nodded and watched her disappear into the kitchen before she got up to do a frantic search. She kneeled in front of the huge piece of furniture. The little door at the bottom opened with snap then a creek, and she peered in. The video tapes were on top, so she decided to peruse them first. Her brow scrunched. Desert Hearts? Ive never heard of that. Curious, she pulled out the tape to read the back cover.
Wendy sat the plates and utensils on the counter since the brunette was washing dishes. "Your friend in there just had an attack of the nerves. I told her that I would leave after dinner so that you two could talk, but she just asked me to stay. She wants to watch a movie, so I told her where to find them. I hope its okay, but Ill leave anyway if you want me to." The redhead talked to her friends back. Concern made her brows go up when she saw said back stiffen. Reaching out a hand, she touched the admins shoulder. "Tay? You okay?"
Dishes fell into the water, dropped by her suddenly nerveless fingers. "Oh God, all my movies are in there. All of them. I didnt want her to find out this way." Then like a shot, she was gone. Wendy stared at the sud drippings. "Oh." Then she followed.
Cory swallowed hard, and her heart beat painfully against her ribs. Realization dawned, and she didnt feel all that enlightened. She only felt betrayed. She had gone through the bulk of them over and over again, but they were still mostly lesbian films: Bound, Bar Girls, High Art, and a host of others. To top it all off was an obvious porno, Where the Boys Arent 12. She lied to me. She fucking lied to me. She knew how I felt about her. I know she did. I couldnt hide it anymore, but SHE didnt mind hiding. She didnt mind it all. She threw the tapes down in disgust and turned when she heard the swish of the door and quickened footsteps. Green eyes glanced upward alight with fury. Her face flushed red and her breathing came in gasps. She stood up slowly, making the most out of her five feet and four inches and got as close to the other woman as she could without touching.
Taylor felt the fury before she saw it. It came off the woman in huge waves. Feeling lost and scared, she didnt know what to say, so two words stumbled from her mouth, "Cory, I" She saw a small hand raise, but wasnt prepared for the slap that resulted. It stung, but she welcomed the pain. Anything was better than the fear that tumbled through her body. Im going to lose her.
"Shut up!" She screamed. "Why? You had the perfect opportunity to tell me. Why didnt you?"
The anguish spilling from darkened green made her flinch. Her voice was hoarse with emotion. "I was going to tell you---
She was interrupted by dry laughter. "When? When I couldnt take it anymore and was begging you to touch me?! You knew that I was attracted to you. I know you did. I could see it in your eyes Taylor. . ."
The admin flinched again with the use of past tense.
"But you hid from me. What do you think this is? Some sort of sick game to play with my head? Did you just want to see how far you could push? Was the kitchen far enough for you!? I cant believe I trusted you, and I thought I knew you. All that time, you were just showing me what you wanted me to see. Do you know how sick that is?"
Taylor shook her head and took a step toward her with her hands reaching outward. If I could just take her in my arms and show her. . .
"No, stay away from me! Dont touch me," the blondes voice fell to a throaty whisper.
She turned away from the taller woman and searched the room frantically for her belongings. Green met gray and Wendy had to look away. The pain was too much. Cory spied her purse on the couch. "I-I need to get out of here." She grabbed it and headed for the door.
"Cory, wait!" But it was said to the blondes back and then, the slamming door. Taylors heart fell in her stomach and sour bile made its way to her throat. Why didnt I listen? Now, I dont have anything! Her chest heaved as the pain poured into her torso. At least, it was something. It filled up the big empty hole that formed when the door slammed. Hands fisted and fell to her side, and she felt fingernails biting into her skin but welcomed it. Finally, she turned wild, bereft eyes towards Wendy. Oh God, Ive never seen her like this before. The redhead took a step forward, but she was waved away. So, she settled for talking instead. "Taylor, dont do this to yourself. Go to her. Talk to her." Blue eyes stared back as if they didnt understand. "Get out of here and go catch her!" It was all the admin needed to hear.
She ran down the hall at break neck speed, bypassing the elevator that was already in use. The door to the stairwell flew open and banged against the wall with an ear shattering thud. With the ebony mane flying behind her, she took the steps two and three at a time and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the door to the first floor. Standing in the foyer, she looked up at the elevator and wondered if she had beat it. She waited a second, hearing her heart thunder in her ears. It was long enough. The brunette pushed her way through the doors not caring if the glass broke as they banged against the other side of the wall. She stood on the front two steps with blue eyes searching the dark, and she saw a blonde head shining in the street lamps as it edged closer and closer to the familiar looking car. The admin took off at full speed again, cutting across the immaculate grass. She ignored the feeling of dripping cold water as the sprinklers soaked her legs and torso. "Cory, wait!" Please dont leave me! Just a little further, Taylor. You can make it!
Cory heard her name being called. The sound of the womans voice ripped through her, pulling her into two parts. Part of her wanted to stay and the other part urged her to run. She sped up to a brisk walk. She lied to me. She whispered it like a mantra.
Taylor felt like she had been running forever. Then suddenly she was within arms length. She reached out and grabbed Corys flailing hand. Taking hold, she clasped tighter when the blonde tried to wrench away. "No, let me go!" Tears made the caseworkers voice higher. With the strength she had left, Taylor pulled the smaller woman toward her. "No, I cant. Not now."
Corys body sagged as she continued to sob, but she refused to make eye contact. "Why did you lie to me?"
Using her free hand, Taylor lifted the blonde womans chin willing her to look her in the eyes to see her own pain. "Im so sorry. I-I thought that I had to. To stop this"
The large hand released the smaller one, and she brought cool, wet fingers to trace the blondes trembling mouth. Using both hands to cup the other womans chin, she lifted her face to bring it closer to her own. Without another word or a whisper, the dark head descended. In a moment of perfect pain and passion, their lips touched. Taylor groaned at the first taste. Full lips brushed and lifted, brushed and lifted, and her body trembled not because of the cold but because she felt for the first time in her life.
Again, Cory felt herself get lost in the emotional tide sweeping them. The gentleness of the kisses made her heart quiver and her whole body follow suit. It would have been so easy to give into what she was feeling, but once again, the fear surfaced. She wrenched her mouth away and took a shaky step back. "No, no!" Silver blue implored her, and strong arms reached out. Still, she backed away.
Taylor continued to reach out helplessly, trying to touch perfection yet again. All she felt was air. She watched in horror as the blonde closed her car door. With the sound of the slam, her insides caved.
Cory wiped angrily at the tears as she started the ignition and peeled away. Looking into the rearview mirror, she could see Taylors outline, and the tears started anew. Why are you running? A little voice asked. She lied to me No, look within. You knew all you needed to know, but you just chose not to see it. Youre running because youre scared of where caring about her could lead. The blondes foot pressed on the gas in her attempt to outrun the voice.
What can I say? Into every life, some hard rain must fall. Dont yell at me too much. Theres more to come soon. You know where to reach me. Minerva
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