To Hope Again


This story is a novelization of previously published work -
for Catherine Linda Michel

Hope Promised

At a large welcoming home in Sigourney, Iowa...

The figure walked up the path from the driveway to the front entrance. She appeared to be about seventy or so, attractive for her age, albeit for her decidedly short hair, which still held some bits of brown mixed in with the white. She wore a long sweater-coat, green and hooded, over a v-neck black silk top along with jeans and some low heeled calf-length boots.

Her makeup, such as it was, did little to hide the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, but she was fine with that. Over seven decades of a wonderful life, filled with so much experience, both good and bad, gave her pause to treasure the rich life the lines bore witness to. She took note of the brass plate on the right side of the doorway:

The Home that Love Built

Failing to notice the doorbell, she knocked on the front door, hard enough to remind her of the arthritis that now beset her hands. After a few moments, the door opened to reveal a very friendly face belonging to a nice woman likely ages with her.

"Oh,Hi," the woman said warmly, you must be Andrea. I’m Sandra. "Come on in. I've just taken the kettle off the stove, and we can have some tea."

"I'm glad I found the place. I lost the directions somewhere between my apartment and my car, but I guess my sense of direction still works somewhat,"

The two stepped inside and walked past a large room that appeared to be an office of some sort. They arrived at end of the hall and walked into a nice dining room, where two other women sat at the table, already talking and drinking tea."

"Ladies, I'd like you to meet Andrea." Andrea had already exchanged pleasantries with Sandra over the phone.

"Andrea, I'd like you to meet some of our staff. Janet here is a registered nurse...nurse practitioner actually. She's been with us from almost the beginning."

Janet offered her hand, which Andrea took gladly in greeting. "What a lovely smile." Andrea thought as she returned the warm smile with her own.

"Connie here is our accountant. She's been here since May, and we just love her to pieces." Connie blushed and Andrea noticed that her eyes were misty.

"I'm's just I never thought in a million years that there would ever be a place for me." She wanted to continue but the mist turned to tears. Sandra looked at Connie seeking permission to continue her story. Connie nodded, and Sandra smiled at Andrea and said,

"She was let go in March from her company. We expect it was because she was in the midst of her transition, and the management just couldn't handle the fallout from the staff. She had the support of several of her co-workers, but her manager just couldn't accept her. It would be a case of discrimination except that her work reviews were consistently poor and they stated that she failed to improve despite several warnings from management."

"It's a nice way of saying 'you're a transsexual, we can't come up with anything to complain about, so we'll just report that you can't do your job' even though she was getting more done in her department than half the other staff." Janet interjected with more than a little anger.

"That doesn't seem fair at all. Isn't that illegal?" Andrea said.

"It would appear so, but it's hard to prove...especially if it isn't documented or if the documentation isn't descriptive enough." Sandra stated with a frown. "We're not the only ones who deal with this, but other groups seem to get more attention and make more progress since they've become "acceptable," whereas we're still treated like outcasts."

"Will you be moving in today, Andrea? I'd be happy to help you unpack?" Janet said with a smile.

"Actually, she’s not going to live here." Cathilynn, the founder of the refuge said as she walked into the dining room. “She’s still living at home.” Cathilynn walked over and gave Andrea a hug.

“I’m so glad you came…you’ll fit it here, and I hope we can bless you as much as you will bless us. Janet raised one eyebrow in surprise. Connie looked disappointed as well. The grandmotherly woman before her looked like someone she would really love to know.

"Oh, I'm sorry..." Cathilynn apologized, "Andrea is here to volunteer. She doesn't live far from here, and has her own apartment....which is actually a Godsend, since we've really very little space while the expansion takes place." The home was doubling in size as the foundation had purchased the adjacent property after securing a variance from the town.

"Well, we're glad to meet you, Andrea, what do you bring to the table?" Janet said. It wasn't really abrupt or rude; Janet had smiled and actually pointed to the dining room table.

"You can call me friends all do. I'm a psychologist by trade, but lately I've been involved in other work."

"Drea has agreed to work in the new program we're starting when the expansion is completed."

Janet's eyes widened, since she was also slated to work in the new program as well.

"Which program is that, Cathilynn?" Connie asked.

"Hospice" Cathilynn said with a half-smile; knowing the need for Drea's services.

"She's a grief and hospice counselor, and she's agreed to volunteer to help Janet get the program going." Janet looked over at Drea and smiled, almost with the same expression as Cathilynn. Bittersweet emotion as she thought of two of the new girls. Both had come within the past two weeks; one being Laurie, a pre-op girl from Kansas who would likely never see the day of her GRS. She was in stage four of acute lymphoma, and had very little time left, with no support but for the women at the home. Her wife had left her years ago, and her parents were deceased.

"I bet Nikki will be thrilled." Connie said, but her enthusiasm was blunted by the tears streaming down her cheeks. Nikki was finally losing her valiant battle against A.I.D.S. after three years being symptom free. She had been a runaway at sixteen, and had gotten into prostitution. Eventually a minister and his wife took her in after she finally was able to get off the street and into a treatment program. She had turned her life around, and was looking forward to transitioning herself when she was diagnosed with H.I.V.

Unlike so many fortunate souls who have lived long after that discovery, her system finally was giving in to the ravages of the virus. Despite her grim future, Nikki remained upbeat and positive. Not in a Pollyanna fashion, since she knew there was ultimately nothing medicine could do to prevent the inevitable. Her newly rediscovered faith had given her hope, not for her own health, but hope for the other women in the home.

"Cathilynn told me about Nikki...I plan on asking her for help as much as she can when more girls arrive." Drea blinked back her own tears, remembering the beginning of her journey.

The DiMaggio home, in the not too distant past...

“Daddy, are you okay,” I said as I rubbed my father’s shoulder. It had already been a long day; we’d been at the hospital since nine that morning and it was nearly midnight.

“Sure, Angie…I’ll be okay…it’s just so hard. We knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would hurt this much.”

“Daddy…you’ve loved Mommy like…forever.” I said and I leaned into him for a hug. I couldn’t help it…I started crying. I knew it would be catching, and in a moment we were both weeping. Mommy was sleeping in her room as we stood in the hallway holding onto each other for dear life. They had been married for nearly thirty-five years, and it was time to say goodbye…..We didn’t want to…it wasn’t fair somehow…but Mommy was ready to go home, like some people say.

“Andy…Andy…” my mother’s voice was a little raspy but she was calm.

“I’m here, honey….” My dad choked back his tears and walked into the room. I wanted to compose myself, and they needed some time alone…it wouldn’t be long, and I could wait a few more moments. I could hear them….

“Mi Mancherai, mi amore, mi dolce espousa,” Daddy tried to use Italian whenever he could remember the phrases. “More romantic, I
think,” he’d always say.

“Annie McCullough, I love you so much.” Mommy was one of six sisters, all beautiful. Our family friend Bobby McDowell said one time at a church picnic, “Andy…there’s a McCullough here for everybody!” Mommy was beautiful…

“Andrew DiMaggio, I love you more than life itself…I have been truly blessed.” Mommy rasped.

I peeked in and they kissed…right on the lips…like the most romantic thing I would ever see.

“Angie…honey, come…sweetie, come now.” Daddy’s voice was soft and calm, but I understood the urgency. I walked into the room and walked up to the bed.

“Honey…I love you….tell the boys (Danny and Andrew, my sons) that I love them so much, okay. And tell Sal he’s the best son-in-law ever.” Her voice was clear but fading.

“Now give your Mommy a hug, okay?” I couldn’t help it. The tears were rolling off my nose and dropping quickly to the floor. I fell on the bed and wept; Mommy put her hand on my head and said a silent prayer. Daddy hugged me and kissed Mommy on the forehead, like a blessing almost. We didn’t even notice the loud beep of the monitor until the nurse came a few moments later, but there was nothing to do…Mommy was gone. After a minute or so Daddy and I stood up and hugged. Daddy was always one to cry, I recall, but I don’t remember him ever crying as hard as that night. It hurt and felt good at the same time.

"Drea..." Janet said as she patted the seat next to her. "Have a seat, and we can talk about what we see happening for the program."

Drea walked over and sat down. She smiled warmly at Janet, noticing the sparkle in her eyes. But there seemed to be something more...something sad...something secret.

The Longest Day

The weight of the world, the need to survive
Has made you believe, that you've got no right
Then out of the blue, you meet someone
Who offers a place, warm as the sun

In the past....

I walked into the living room. Daddy was sitting on the end of the couch. He looked tired.

"We've got about an hour before we have to leave for the airport, Dad, wanna get a quick bite to eat?" I was flying home after spending the week helping Dad get everything sorted out.

"Good Will is coming to pick up the furniture," Dad said quietly. He looked around the living room, which held so many wonderful memories for me growing up...The Christmas tree always in the same corner. Rusty's dog bed next to the fireplace.

"I'm going to miss this place, honey, but I don't feel like I want to be here now that your mom is gone...Did I make a know...selling it so soon?" Tears filled his eyes as he grabbed my hand, as if comforting me would comfort him.

"It's okay Daddy...and you'll be living just a few towns over...Back near everybody...the boys will be able to see you…it's what you wanted to do, Dad and we miss you anyway.

"It wouldn't be the same...this big house with just me...." He put his hand to his face to hide his tears. I grabbed his arm and put my head on his shoulder.

"I miss her too, Daddy...something awful." I blinked back my own tears as quickly as I could, but they came like rain from heaven. I rubbed my face with my sleeve and pulled out the present I had set on the table behind the couch. It was wrapped in a nice embossed foil with a pretty green ribbon.

"What's this?" Daddy took the package and held it in front of him. "Very pretty, sweetheart. Green was your mother's favorite color."

"Go ahead, open it..." I put my hand on his arm and kissed him on the cheek."

"What's that for?" He asked as he began to open the present.

"It's time, Daddy." I said, rubbing his arm.

He carefully removed the ribbon and the paper. Folding back the tissue in the box, he saw what I think may have been the best present I have ever given my father. A soft mint green silk scarf, folded carefully, along with a jade brooch and matching earrings. Daddy's eye widened in recognition

"I saw you yesterday packing your mom's stuff. I thought you were going to keep this." He said. He looked down at the scarf and jewelry. He tried hard not to cry but put his hand to his face once again and wept.

" need to keep remind yourself of Mommy." I choked back my own tears and continued. I know Mommy wanted you to be happy, and it's know it is." I kissed him again and leaned on his shoulder once more.

"It's such a big step, sweetheart...I don't know if I'm ready." He bit his tongue and looked away.

“Daddy,” I said quietly, “You’ve been ready for this all your life.” I grabbed his hand in mine and pulled him close.

“Mommy knew and loved you.” I began to sob. “Shhee….she loved you so much, Daddy. It’s okay to love yourself…who you are…every bit of you…shhheee…dddid.” I buried my face in his sleeve and cried harder than I had ever cried…or cried since. We held each other and wept…for the last time as father and daughter.

“Only promise me this….please?” I said as I wiped my face again with my sleeve. “No matter where you go…No matter what you do….I don’t care…No matter who you become.” I looked up one last time into my father’s face.

“You’ll always be my Daddy, okay? Always!”

“Always, Angie.” He said softly.

"Drea, got a sec?" Irene stood in the doorway of the office with a big smile on her face.

"Irene...for you, anything!" Drea smiled and waited for Irene to continue.

"Our package is here...would you mind taking care of it?" She laughed softly and smiled again.

"No problem...I'm so glad...I'll go get Connie, okay?" Drea said as she stood up. She walked down the hall to the main office where Connie was busy sorting out some paperwork.

"Hey, Connie, you have a few minutes?" Drea said as she leaned against the doorway. Connie looked up from her work with a broad grin. She had come to see Drea as a mother figure, and was eager to please, as much to be helpful as anything, but also from a history of rejection by her family. She was always seeking affirmation and approval.

"Sure, anything you need, I'm your man...sorry...girl" The old expression was innocent enough but stung even if it came from her own mouth. Years of misunderstanding and neglect had a lasting effect on the young woman who presented herself as attractive and intelligent, but saw herself as ugly and stupid. Even after several months in therapy and support from the ladies at the home, she still struggled with complements and encouragement

"Sweetie, I hate to dump this on you, but I have an important phone call I have to take in about fifteen minutes. The mother of one of our girls is here, and I need someone to spend some time with her around until her daughter can get here. Would you mind?"

Drea smiled and pointed to the large family room at the end of the hall.

"I'd be happy to help. I'm so glad someone is getting a visit...they don't come often, but it's always great when family can support us." She looked eager and happy, but the look in her eyes could not mask her own disappointment. She had no family other than her mother, but even that was painful. She and her mother only talked on rare occasions and they hadn't seen each other in two years.

"That's great...I'll be back after my call, okay?" Drea smiled once again and left the office. As she walked down the hall, she began to sing softly to herself,

"Oh I believe in you...I believe in you..."

Connie walked down the hall and entered the family room through the large archway. She noticed a small woman, likely ages with Drea standing at the large window with her back to the room. Connie stood in the middle of the room and said,

"Hello, I'm Connie...Drea had to take a call, she'll be with us shortly." She waited for a reply. The woman turned to her and Connie's eyes widened in joyful recognition.

'Hi, honey...." The woman stood facing Connie, her eyes filled with tears.

"Mommy? MOMMY!" Connie said simply over and over as she hugged the woman...her mother. They embraced for minutes, both crying.

" I'mm...sooo...sorreeee." Her mother nearly collapsed in her arms, saying over and over "I'm so sorry."

Connie led her over to a couch and they sat down. Both women continued crying and Connie stroked her mother's hair. She buried her face in her mother's shoulder as they continued to weep.

"It's okay,'s okay." Connie continued to stroke her mother's hair. After a few minutes they broke their embrace, but only far enough to look into each other's eyes.

"David....I'm so sorry....Connie....I was so wrong...I never knew...I'm so sad...please forgive me?"

"It's over's past...I love you so much, Mom. I forgive you...can you forgive me? I was so angry...I said some things I shouldn't have...You didn't deserve didn't and I am so sorry!" Connie buried her face in her mother's breast and wept, more out of relief and joy than sadness, but she was still sad.

"You have nothing to be sorry for...I am your mother and I treated you like a stranger...we both said things we shouldn't have...I forgive you" They embraced and continued to cry for several minutes, almost to the point of exhaustion, but surgery will do that to you. Years of bitterness and hate were cut away by the scalpel of forgiveness.

Drea hung up the phone and found Irene at her doorway once again.

“How’d she take it?” Irene asked, as she took a bite of an apple.

“Not a dry eye in the house. I’m glad you were able to talk to Connie’s mom. Cathilynn had been trying to get a hold of her and she wasn’t answering her calls.”

“Oh, I don’t want to take any credit…it’s not too hard to find someone at home if you call them at midnight,” Irene laughed.

“Some good news. Cathilynn was over to Sam’s to sign some custody papers. Carolyn comes here tomorrow afternoon…Good work, yourself.” Irene smiled. It wasn’t often that girls arrived at the home under good circumstances.

“It’s easy when the foster parents contact us,” Drea said, sipping a mug of coffee.

“They don’t have the resources, and this really works out well for everybody. It frees up some room for another child at home and they’re going to stay involved all through and past Carolyn’s transition. She started her RLT last fall, and her stay here will also work toward her internship for her undergrad degree; she’ll be working with me and Janet at the hospice as well as any other help the home might need.
Great to have more help…I didn’t expect to have the program up and running, and it’s been a real challenge.”

“Laurie doesn’t have much time, does she?” Irene dropped the apple core into the trash and choked back some tears. “She’s such a precious girl…it’s too bad her family doesn’t want to see her through these last days….It’s just not fair.” Irene lost the battle and began to cry. Drea got up from her desk and hugged Irene.

“That’s why the home is so important, honey, and why we’re all glad to be of help. I’m going to drop in and see how she’s doing, and I’m not looking forward to it at all. I think I need a hug as well.” Drea said as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Laurie lay in bed. Her body was shutting down faster than any measure they tried, and it wasn’t going to be long…hours at best. Nikki sat beside her, holding her hand. Nikki was only a few steps behind Laurie, as some might say, but you couldn’t have known it from looking at her. She stroked Laurie’s hair as she cooed a lullaby to the dying girl. Laurie clutched a teddy bear…an antique Steif, with brown fur and cream colored muzzle. The teddy bear sported a bow tie, red, and a cream colored vest as well.

Laurie peered through nearly sightless eyes and whispered softly,

“Sissy…sissy..are you there?” She called out to Nikki.

“I’m here honey…I’m holding your hand.”

“Sing it again…would you?” Nikki looked at Laurie and the tears came like a river, flowing down her face in a torrent of grief and sadness, but her voice was clear and happy.

“Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face? Soon you will see all of your fears will pass away; safe in my arms…you're only sleeping.” Nikki’s song turned to sobs as she sang, and she put her head down and rested it next to Laurie’s face and kissed her gently on the cheek.

“Sissy..Are you there…” Laurie whispered once again. “Kiss me again, Sissy and then I think I’ll take a rest…I’m so tired…okay?’

“Sure, honey” Nikki said as Drea and Janet moved next to the bed. Drea put her hand on Nikki’s shoulder. She leaned over and kissed Nikki on the top of the head as the soft sounds of Nikki’s sweet song were interrupted by the loud monotone of the monitor. It was over. Janet checked Laurie’s pulse and looked at Drea and shook her head. She mouthed “4:17 pm” silently and reached over and closed Laurie’s eyes for the last time.

“That was such a blessing, honey.” Janet said to Nikki as she wept. She lifted her head off of Laurie’s arm. It was a sweet moment of misunderstanding as Nikki said,

“Oh, yes…” She wiped her face with her sleeve and said,

“I can’t imagine anything more special than to be with her at the end…Thank you for letting me help.” Janet had meant that Nikki’s song had been a special moment, likely one of the happiest times in Laurie’s all-too-brief life, but really…it was so important and precious for Nikki as well, being a part of the moment; feeling useful and special herself after years of waste and neglect in her own life.

“Yes, honey, it was very special and I’m so glad you were here to be with her. You were her best friend ever, and I know that when she reaches heaven she’ll remember that you helped her.” Drea wiped her own tears and kissed Nikki on the cheek before leaving the room. As she stepped into the hall, she saw Sandra leaning against the wall, covering her face with her hand.

“It never gets easier, does it, sweetheart,” Drea said as she pulled Sandra in for a hug. “And you’ve seen so many come and go…” Drea kissed Sandra’s cheek as the woman wept in her arms.

“I saw what you did…” Drea said as she choked back her own tears.

“What do you mean?” Sandra really didn’t have any idea what Drea was talking about.

“The teddy bear.” Drea smiled and looked back into the room where Laurie lay.

“She mentioned it the first day she came…when she was little…the teddy bear her Uncle Danny gave her…the only one who listened to her…the only one who ever cared for the girl. You got the bear for her. I bet he cost a fortune.” Drea smiled.

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about….” Sandra pulled back abruptly and straightened up, but she couldn’t change the look on her face, no matter how hard she tried to deny it.

“Don’t worry,” Drea said, “It will be our secret, hon.” She touched Sandra’s arm and winked with a smile.

Drea sat at the table in the dining room, drinking her fourth cup of coffee for the day. The clock over the buffet read 8:35, and it had been likely one of the longest days of her life, save for the day her sweetheart passed. She closed her eyes and remembered the peace she felt and how this day was no different. Her faith had seen her through some rough patches, and would continue to bring her solace and comfort for days like this one as well.

“I’m beat,” a voice came from behind her in the archway to the hall. She turned and saw Janet standing there, leaning against the archway and looking very tired.

“I’m awfully glad this arch is here, otherwise I think I’d fall over.” She laughed and sat down across from Drea at the table.

“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Janet asked, as she grabbed a Poland Spring out of the bowl on the table. Opening the bottle, she took a short sip and smiled weakly.

Drea looked at her and worried that she wanted to talk about Laurie. She had been up since four thirty that morning. Hyper-vigilance was one old friend that continued to visit her from time to time, a final but fading relic of her childhood. Janet looked at her and smiled, almost in an enigmatic way; a modern day Mona Lisa with a secret perhaps.

“I know you.” She said.

Drea thought to herself, “Oh no, not a New Age enlightenment moment. Her brief thought was quickly interrupted.

“You really don’t know, do you?” She smiled and laughed. “Well, it has been over forty years; I’d be surprised if you did.” She smiled again and continued.

“Makes me think that all that money I paid to have this work done has finally paid off.” Drea looked at her and wondered where the conversation was going.

“You know my name, right?”

“Yes, of course, Janet McGuire. What of it.”

“Doesn’t it sound familiar? I know you’ve heard it before…at least the last name.”

“McGuire…sure, plenty of times. It was my first wife’s last name. Are you related to her?” Drea was caught between being intrigued and fearful of the answer.

“And your last name is?” This was almost to the point of being annoying.

“DiMaggio. Janet, I’m pretty good at Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy, but I’ve never been really good at guessing games.”

“You told us your story the first night you came to volunteer…You’d been married, widowed. You’ve got a daughter Angie who lives with her husband and two boys in Darby not too far from here.”

“Janet…get to the point. I love you like a sister, sweetie, but I’ve been up since I don’t know when, okay?”

“You told us your first marriage broke up before you met Annie, right? And that your first wife’s name was Antoinette? Toni? Toni McGuire?”

Drea was surprised that Janet had remembered so many details of her story after hearing it only the one time. She was about to say,

“And?” when Janet said,

“Toni is my sister.” Janet smiled the Mona Lisa smile once again, prompting a puzzled look followed by a very confused look.

“She lives in town. I told her all about you and she wants to see you.” Another enigmatic smile, which finally evoked,

“Andy…It’s me.”

Drea was floored. Toni was her first love…childhood sweethearts…Saddest part of her life…saddest behavior followed by an even sadder divorce. She never kept in touch after a brief reconciliation of sorts after Toni remarried and before she met Annie. But the real kicker came next.

“And Toni…I know what you’re thinking….She misses you…she asks about you all the time, and she wants to see you.” Janet smiled once again and started to laugh.

“Drea, honey…I know it’s been a long time, but I know you remember…Toni didn’t have a sister. Sweetie…It’s me….Kenny.”

A Day to Remember
Just when you think love is a distant dream
Oh, fate give you wings

"Kenny?" Drea looked into Janet's eyes with a flash of recognition clouded slightly by nearly forty years of separation.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Janet said as she waved her hand across her body in a broad gesture of display.

"1985, Canada...Montreal." Janet said while continuing to grin.

"That was the year Toni and I split up..." Drea said trailing off. She bit her lip and looked away." She felt Janet's hand pat her wrist.

"It's okay honey," Janet said as Kenny disappeared, so to speak. "She wants to see you."

"I don't know," Drea said. "After all these years? It was a lifetime ago." Drea put her hand to her face and wiped a piece of "sleep" out of her eye, aided by the beginnings of tears.

"And a whole other life ago, too, Sweetie." It felt odd for Drea, who only moments ago sat across the table from her former brother-in-law. But now, Janet once again was her understanding colleague and, more importantly, her sister.

"Here's her number," Janet said, sliding a piece of paper across the table.

"Go ahead...for old time's sake." Janet said, smiling.

"For old time's sake," Drea thought as she remembered another time and another place.

Daddy stood next to his lawyer and looked over at his soon to be ex-wife. He was beyond his anger, but had still hoped to persuade Toni to drop the divorce proceedings and reconcile. All of his attempts at reconciliation had been rebuffed, but really he shouldn’t have been too surprised. They had been separated for nearly two years with virtually no contact.

“If there is no other matter before the court?” The judge looked down from the bench.

“No, your honor,” the attorney said as he snapped his briefcase closed. His counterpart at the other table just shook her head no.

“This court is adjourned.” The judge said, rapping his gavel.

As everyone filed out, Daddy walked over to Toni and put his hand on her arm.

“I am so sorry,” he said, expecting her to pull her arm away. She looked in his eyes and he could see she had been crying.

“I’m sorry, too, Andy,” she said quietly. She kissed him softly on the cheek and said,

“Have a good, life, Andy. I mean that.” Toni touched his arm lightly before walking over to her fiancée, who held her coat. He looked at

Andy and smiled warmly. He watched her walk away for the last time, ever.

In the present, at the home...

A few days later found Drea at her desk in her office, head back against the bookshelf behind her, lost in thought.

"Drea...." a soft voice interrupted Drea's thoughts.

"It's Nikki, honey...she's...she's calling for you two." Drea looked up to see Cathilynn standing at the doorway. The clock said 10:30 sharp but it had been a long morning already. She had been napping for nearly an hour after rising at 5:07am. She went to stand up but noticed Janet wasn't moving.

"Honey...I can't...not this time." Janet sat at the chair next to Drea's desk. Tears streamed down her face as she sat almost paralyzed.

"Janet...You owe it to her to be there...and more importantly, you owe it to yourself." Drea had anticipated Janet's reluctance, but her words still sounded more like a rebuke.

"I'm sorry, honey..." Drea's tone softened. She walked around the desk and put her hands on Janet's shoulders, hugging her.

"You know you'll never forgive yourself if you don't." Drea said, this time almost as a plea.

"She's not like the others..." Janet immediately felt guilty. She tried to look away, but her head was between Drea's arms. She thought of Laurie's death only days before.

"Nikki...Oh, Drea, I can't say goodbye...I just can't...she's...." Tears filled Janet's eyes as she lifted her head and looked at Cathilynn, who waited patiently at the doorway. She understood Janet's reluctance, but said,

"Honey, I know, but that's why it's so important for both of you. Come on, it's going to be alright."

Janet loved the family. Apart from her sister Toni, Janet had no one. A series of relationships after her surgery...boyfriends, girlfriends, brought disappointment.

She discovered that the surgery had changed nothing inside. Expecting a brand new life, she was plagued with frustration as she discovered she was still the same person. The same person her mother accepted, but also same person whose father rejected her before he died; the same person who loved a boy who never would love her.

After years of therapy, she had decided to move on. Seeking fulfillment in serving, she discovered the Home that Love Built. A refuge for girls like her...her refuge came in being a part of the blessing the home had become.

She was warm and friendly, but remained guarded, not wanting to let anyone in. Never to be a father; that life had been over for years. But never a mother, either, until Nikki arrived.

Drea and Janet stood next to Nikki’s bed; it seemed they arrived not a moment too soon.

"Janet...I'm so tired...and it hurts." Nikki said weakly, struggling to lift her head of the pillow.

"Just rest easy,'re going to be okay." Janet said as she stroked the girl’s hair.

"I know I'm dying, Janet. You don't have to pretend...I need to say goodbye." The girl lifted her head off the pillow and looked around the room until she saw a familiar face.

“Cathi…hug?” Tears cascaded down Cathilynn’s face. Too many girls had been hurt or discarded; too many hearts she’d allowed into her own. But Nikki was special…alive…and filled with joy.

“I love you so much, sweetheart,” Cathilynn said as she hugged the girl. Backing away she covered her face with her hands and wept on Drea’s shoulder. The girl once again sought another loved one.

“Sandra…Sandy?” Sandra would correct the girl daily. It became a playful tease between the two of them… Sandra choked back her tears and walked to the bed. She put her hand in Nikki’s.

“That’s Sandra,” she’d say, and Nikki would always reply, “Yes, Ma’am.” Sandra thought as the girl pulled her close and whispered with a raspy voice.

“Make sure Lisa gets Laurie’s teddy bear, okay? And tell her I’ll be waiting for her.” Nikki smiled weakly at Sandra, who was not going to tell the girl that Lisa would be waiting in heaven for her, having passed at 5:03 that morning. Nikki pulled Sandra in for a kiss on the cheek.

“Okay, honey,” Sandra said. She turned away in a vain effort to stop her tears.

“Drea?” Nikki called out weakly…It was almost time.

“Yes, honey, here I am.” Drea wiped her face with her sweater sleeve and stepped close to the bed.

“You take care of Janet for me, okay?” Nikki had very little time left. Her eyes betrayed her tearless weeping as she struggled to speak.

“Come here, ‘kay?” Her voice was almost a raspy whisper. Drea put her ear to the girl’s lips.

“Go for it….be happy.” Drea choked back a sob and put her hand to her mouth.

“I will, honey, I will. Oh God I love you so much.”

“I know you don’t want to cry,” the girl whispered. “It’s okay…these are good tears…trust me, I’m going….to….be….alright….Kiss Irene for me…and tell her thanks.” (Irene was on her way back from New York City with a fourteen year old girl whose parents had abused repeatedly until Social Services intervened.) Irene had found Nikki’s cousin after a long search. They spoke on the phone the day before…for the first time and sadly only time. It was a touching moment that brought joy to the girl who’d brought joy to everyone at the home since her arrival.

“Janet…kiss? Like Momma, okay?” The girl struggled to raise her head, but had almost no strength left.

“Pucker up, baby girl.” Janet almost sobbed, but kept control. Nikki’s mother would tuck her in at night with a kiss on the lips.

“Kisses…” Nikki’s voice trailed off until she whispered, “Momma….Momma.” Janet looked at her.

“It’s almost time,” Janet thought. “She’s hallucinating…Oh, God.” Her thoughts were interrupted by a tug on her sleeve.

“Janet…Momma Janet.” Nikki looked up with almost sightless eyes.

“I know it’s you…I know it’s time,” Nikki said with a faint smile.

“I love you, Janet.” A moment passed as the girl squeezed Janet’s hand. The girl's hand fell back to the bed…

Janet turned and fell into Drea’s arms and wept. Her body convulsed in sheer grief. For her father’s hatred; for the loss of her own mother. Her struggles…But nothing was as sad as gaining a beautiful daughter….She was a modern-day Rachael…She had prayed to God, almost as a mantra,

“Please give me a child….”

Some might have felt that fate…or Someone had dealt Janet a cruel and teasing blow; gaining a daughter only to lose her? But Janet felt more blessed at that moment than at any other time in her life… and she wept.

As Drea held the woman in her arms, she thought of what Nikki had said, and she sobbed into her friend’s shoulder, receiving as well as giving comfort.

“Go for it…” the girl had said in her final moments. “Go for it.”

Connie was going over the paperwork for the audit scheduled on Thursday when a tall man knocked softly on the open door to the office.
He wore a uniform that indicated he worked for the phone company.

“Excuse me, Miss, but can you direct me to the men’s room?” he said with a decidedly Southern accent and smiled.

“Sure...straight down the hall...” Connie paused. She had to think about which door it was.

“Third door on the left...I think.” She looked away, embarrassed needlessly. Having never used the men’s least two years at last look...she had no real idea, and guessed.

“Thanks,” the man said as he exited hastily and hurried down the hallway. Two things struck Connie as she thought about the exchange.
First, she realized her eyes had remained glued to his rear as he exited the office, which evoked even more embarrassment, once again needlessly. And second, she realized as she spoke her thought aloud,

“That’s the first time anyone has ever called me Miss.” This time she grew very red and covered her face with her hand.
A few minutes later she was deep in thought about an entry in the record on her laptop when another knock at the door interrupted her.

“Pardon me, Miss.” The young man stood at the door again. He smiled and continued.

“Is this the place where....where transsexuals come?” He said but with his drawl, the word came out more like, transectials, sounding like an Algebra term. Connie looked back at her laptop and hid her frown.

“Oh, god, not one of those,” she thought to herself. “I can handle this...It’s okay,” she thought again.

“Yes, this is the place.” She said, to which the man replied,

“I’m this where girls who used to be boys come to stay?” He went on.

Connie again turned away, and her smile had turned this time to a frown. She turned back, hoping that her attempt to be cordial had spread to her face, but she was afraid her frustration was displayed instead.

“Yes...boys and men who have come to realize that they are actually women, and that they can find a refuge here.” It came out almost like the brochure, but no brochure could have matched the iciness of her tone.

“I church...” he began, but she cut him off.

“Yes, what about your church?” This was too much. He was probably one of those...those…folks she’d dealt with in the past. Old hurts rose quickly to the surface as she glared at the young man.

“Well, that’s good to know,” he said with an odd smile. “We’ve been lookin’ for opportunities to volunteer, and I see that your lawn outside is a might overgrown.” The old Toro riding mower had broken down, and it was at the shop for repair.

“Gary and I...Gary’s my cousin...Gary and I have a mowing service on the side. We’d be happy to come and mow the lawn for you ladies.” He smiled once again.

“Is this guy kidding?” she wondered. I just told him who stays here and he uses the word ‘ladies?’”

“We can come by late tomorrow, if that’s okay?” He smiled again, which caused Connie to grow less anxious, but still somewhat cautious.

“Shh...Sure, that will be fine.” Connie looked at him and grew immediately disappointed. If it weren’t for the fact that he was…well, she’d really love to get to know him.

“Okay,” the young man said as he began to back out the door.

Connie returned her attention to her laptop. She had just entered another screen when a familiar voice interrupted her a third time.

“Excuse me, Miss?” The young man stood at the doorway again.

“Yes,” she snapped impatiently. The young man paid no heed to her tone as he walked slowly up to her desk and simply said,

“Do you have any literature?” he asked. It sounded more like “literchur” causing Connie to roll her eyes. She grabbed a stack of brochures from the credenza behind her desk and handed them to him abruptly.

“Here you are,” she said finally. The young man smiled again, this time looking right into her eyes. His eyes, she noted, were almost a baby blue. His face was rugged but welcoming and she found herself staring. The young man finally spoke.

“Thank you. This means the world to me. My baby brother...sorry, my baby sister is almost sixteen and she’s really havin’ a hard time at school. Things have been rough on her since we moved here for my job. Is there anyone here who could talk to her about what she’s goin’ through?”

Connie turned away, feeling more embarrassed and not just a little ashamed. She took a breath and composed herself. Turning back, she saw the young man was still standing in front of her desk, with those big baby blues looking right into her eyes.

“Oh, yes. She can call the number on the back,” Connie pointed to the brochures in the man’s hands.

“Thanks again, Miss.” He turned to walk out but stopped at the door. Turning back once again, he said,

“Excuse me, Miss Bevaqua, would you be free for lunch?” Connie was surprised and she just said,

“Okay, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull. First, you come in here asking all sorts of questions...” She blew out a breath as the young man hung his head. Second, you’ve got to know that we only have “transectials” working here!”

She made a point of imitating his accent.

"Third, just how did you know my name; I never told you.” She folded her arms in a “go ahead, entertain me” pose, waiting for his reply.
He took a few steps closer to the desk and smiled once again.

“Well, Miss Bevaqua,” He made a point to say her name.

“I asked questions because where I come from it’s the best way to get information. Second, I already knew that you…well, like I said…my baby sister?” He smiled again and laughed softly.

Connie grew quiet, wishing there were a secret door behind her desk so she could exit the office. She looked at him once again and he said, pointing to her desk,

“I believe your nameplate says it all, Connie Bevaqua. Senior Accountant”

His smile grew broader and his laugh deeper. Connie had already shown just how red she could get...or so she thought, as she felt a very warm feeling in her cheeks.

“I am so sorry…I’m so used to people…well, you know.” She looked at him and he nodded with an understanding smile.

“Please forgive me. Have your sister call me directly, okay? Here’s my card,” Connie said, but she looked slightly down at her desk instead of him.

“So, Miss Connie Bevaqua, Senior Accountant,” he grinned once again and continued, “the offer still stands, that is if you’re allowed to date fellas like know, guys that don’t mind datin’ transectials” He laughed once again and finished with,

“Oh, and my name is Eddie...Eddie Sprague. Pleased to meet you, Miss Connie Bevaqua, Senior Accountant.”

Connie sat stunned. She waited as Eddie stood in front of her desk. Finally, she offered her hand in greeting with a puzzled look.

“Hello, Eddie...I’m...pleased to meet you as well. Yes, I would love to have lunch with you sometime.” She smiled as he started to walk away. He stopped and turned.

“Oh, and Miss Bevaqua?” Eddie smiled once again.


“Where I come from a gentleman never offers his hand to a pretty lady until she extends hers.” He smiled and started to walk out before turning one last time.

“I’ll be back at 12:30, okay?” He smiled and turned and was out the door before she could answer.

Connie felt the warmth leave her face as she stared at the vacant doorway for several seconds before two very important things came to her. First, this was the first real date since her transition, which was hard enough to grasp. The second realization came in the form of a statement that left her lips before she knew she was speaking.

“He said I was a lady…a pretty lady…” Characteristically, her face reddened one last time before she realized she was crying.

Drea nervously punched the number into her cell and pressed “call.” After a few moments the characteristic click came, followed by a voice that hearkened back decades, and into another life.

“Hello? Toni McGuire.”

The voice was as pleasant and melodic as Drea thought she remembered, completely unlike the actual tone from their last conversation.

Several years before...

“I’m sorry, Andy, but that’s the way it has to be.”

Daddy had called Toni in a last ditch effort to dissuade her from marrying Lenny Calabrese. Anthony had been Toni’s boyfriend before she met Daddy after breaking up with Lenny.

“He’s no good, Toni….you know that. Don’t make the same mistake with him…that you made with me.” Daddy’s voice trailed off as Toni said the last words he thought he’d ever here from her.

“I have to find myself, Andy.” She said quietly. “You don’t know Tony now…he’s changed.” Daddy told me she sounded like she wanted to convince herself as much as him.

“Have a great life, Andy.”

The phone went dead as Daddy stared off. He felt hopeless, but then he didn’t yet know what life had in store for him with Mommy. He just gave up hope…forever he thought.

“Toni…it’s me, Andy.” Drea said it quietly, like she wanted her to here the difference. Decades apart fell away almost meaninglessly as Toni replied,

“Andy? I’m so glad you called. I was afraid you….that you wouldn’t want to talk to me after all these years.” Her voice, while not as melodic as Drea remembered, still sounded as sweet as she hoped.

“Janet told me you were volunteering at the home. This is so…it’s such a blessing after all these years.” She sounded excited, more than Drea had imagined.

“It is a blessing, Toni,” Drea said, feeling more than a bit awkward.

“Why don’t you come by with Janet tomorrow for dinner, for old time’s sake.” Toni almost sounded as if she was smiling.

“Oh….okay. th…that would be nice. I don’t have much to wear…I’ve…well, Janet must have told you?”

Drea looked down at herself. The rust-colored corduroy skirt and jean jacket might look fine for the Home, but not for dinner with her ex. Toni interrupted him with a soft laugh.

“Andy…I know who you are…and who you’ve become. I’m sure anything you choose from your wardrobe will be just fine.” She chortled. Drea hadn’t heard her laugh for forever.

“And Andy…just one favor?” Toni got very quiet and serious-sounding. Drea expected the worst until she heard Toni laugh once more.
“I’ll be wearing earth tones, so wear something in a soft green so we blend, okay?” She laughed once again and said finally,

“If it makes it any easier for you, I can just call you Andy with an “I” instead of a “y,” okay? See you tomorrow.” Drea closed the phone and smiled through the tears and thought,

“For old times’ sake…” She blinked back tears and remembered Nikki’s last words once again,

“Go for it.”

A Beautiful Afternoon

There's this place in me where your finger prints still rest...
your kisses still linger and your whispers softly echo...
It's the place where a part of you will forever be a part of me.

Drea looked in the mirror. While she wasn't entirely displeased with what she saw, she nevertheless felt insecure about her appearance. She stared at her reflection, as if to prompt her image to move away from the mirror and accept what she saw.

"Soft green...hmmm, I hope this works." She looked at her dress, which was darker pastel green corduroy. She wore a brown leather belt and her boots, while low heel still were fairly stylish and blended well with her dress.

"She said she was wearing earth tones. I hope we don't clash," Drea said as she picked up and put on the long cocoa brown sweater coat.

"Not bad for seventy-one," she said to herself as she picked up her purse. It felt odd, even though she had been living as a woman nearly immediately after Annie's passing. Annie used to kid her...

"Sweetheart, you're so far back in the closet, you'll probably run into Mr. Tumnus and Lucy Pevensie if you don't watch where you're going," Mommy laughed. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was my favorite book and they took turns reading it to me most nights when I was little.

"Come on,'ve got to make up your mind." Mommy's tone sounded ominous until she continued,

"Forest Green or Chocolate brown. Make up your mind, 'cause whichever you don't pick, I want for myself." Mommy smiled at Daddy and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"I'm not so sure about this, sweetie." Daddy looked in the mirror nervously. He had been letting his hair grow since retirement, and it had reached well past his collar. Mommy walked behind him and wrapped her arms around him in a hug.

"You of all people should know that it's okay. You've been helping kids and their families with this for so long, you should be able to close your eyes and see yourself the way you are, honey." Mommy walked around and pulled Daddy's shirt closed and began to button it. She was wearing her favorite boots. The three inch heels would have seemed a bit much for someone in their "twilight" years, but Mommy looked great, and the heels placed her eye to eye with Daddy.

"Now pick..." She saw he was looking away, and she pulled his face back to hers with a gentle tug. He had tears in his eyes.

"You've got nothing to be ashamed of. I still love you...maybe even more than ever before. Either way, this is something we've talked and prayed about for a long time. And it's just a trip to Carmine's for a pizza and beer." She pulled Daddy's face to hers and kissed him.

"You're still my husband, even if you look almost as good in that skirt as I do; and I love you very much. Let's just go have some fun?”

"I'm afraid, Annie...really scared." Daddy said looking away again.

"None of that, sweetheart. If you want, you don't have to go, but I'm telling you it's okay. I don't mind at all, and part of me has been looking forward to this for a long time." Mommy grabbed both of his hands and faced him once again.

"You've been a great husband and a great father, but it's time we just looked at things the way they are." She kissed him again, this time with more passion, which caused his face to grow warm and dark.

"You're my best friend...we started out as best friends, and we'll finish as best friends, for as long as we live, no matter what else our relationship is." Mommy looked in Daddy's eyes and her own eyes were filling quickly with tears.

Mommy acted like the moment had taken her, and she was trying to put on a brave face to convince Daddy about his decision to live full time as a woman. She had something she had to tell him, but she wanted that night to be special... an adolescent rite of passage over fifty years in the making. She had decided that her secret could wait. Nothing would change what she had to say, and telling him now would only cast a pall on what she had planned would be one of the best evenings they ever had. She didn't tell him that night, or any other night for a while.

Drea looked once again in the mirror, trying to decide if things looked as bad as she thought. A knock came at the door. Janet stood on the front step. She was wearing a nice Navy blue dress, full skirt, with tights and black calf-length boots. She had worn a nice black leather fringed jacket, looking almost like she was going to a Faith Hill concert instead of dinner at her sister’s with her former…well now that was difficult, since everyone had changed since they knew each other the first time around. Janet smiled at Drea and said,

“If you walked up to me when we were kids and told me we’d be going to Toni’s dressed like this, I would have hit you with my Wiffleball bat.” Janet laughed. A lifetime ago, the three played wiffle ball in apartments across from their houses. Now, decades later, three women would be getting together for dinner and coffee; a far cry from who and what all of them had been.

“Give me a sec, I’ve got to do my lips, okay?” Having never had this conversation with her former brother-in-law, it felt odd, but was entirely fun.

“Now don’t let me rush you, okay, dear?” Janet was entirely feminine in her real life; she had been since she was a little boy looking up to her older sister Toni. That night, she was acting almost “overly” feminine; really to tease Drea, who felt awkward enough meeting her ex-wife after years of separation.

“This is difficult enough as it is…would you please stop?” Drea laughed despite her efforts to remain serious. “Say, how is Candace working out? Cathilynn said that she’s been very eager to please and that she wants to help at the hospice.

“I’m actually worried about her. She seems too eager to please. Not that helping is wrong.” Janet pursed her lips in thought and continued.

“It’s almost as if she’d doing everything she thinks we want her to do.” Janet blew out a breath in frustration.

“Don’t get me wrong. With three girls going almost back-to-back, it’s been hard just keeping up with everything, and God knows we could use the help.”

“You think she’s volunteering just because she thinks that we want her to?” Drea asked as she walked in the living room once again.

“More than that…like she feels compelled to…like she doesn’t have a choice.” Janet looked down and away from Drea.

“Like how I was when I was her age.” Janet didn’t speak much of it, but she had been abused by a male cousin when she was twelve. She remembered the eager to please persona that she had adopted to cope.

“You think someone molested her, don’t you?” Drea shook her head, not in disagreement, but in disappointment that one more girl would be coming to the Home with a history that went beyond the already horrible pain of rejection.

“I’d bet my life on it.” Janet said almost in anger. She took a calming breath and went on.

“Somebody close…authority figure, maybe her father, maybe someone at her school.” Janet looked at Drea as if seeking help solving a psychic crossword puzzle.

“Well, I know you’ll tread easy…I already hear the concern in your voice.” Drea blinked back a few tears.

“Sweetie…she looks an awful lot like Nikki…be careful. Okay?” Drea had known Janet since they were kids, when Kenny and Toni and Andy all played in the neighborhood. She could see her friend hadn’t changed much inside since childhood, and still wore her heart on her sleeve. But what Janet saw as a weakness and a drawback, Drea saw as a supreme blessing to everyone she knew.
Janet said nothing, prompting Drea to say again,

“Okay, honey?’ Janet would find a way to reach the girl, even if it was to her own detriment.

At Toni's home....

"Are you sure you don't want any desert? Here, honey, let me fix something for you,” Toni said as she poured a cup of coffee for Drea.

"I've got to get back. I haven't finished all the paperwork" Janet's voice trailed off as Toni walked around the table to hug her sister.

"I want you to come over tomorrow, okay?" Toni kissed Janet as her sister put on her jacket. Janet waved at Drea and said,

"Stop by my room when you can, sweetie?" Drea felt awkward at the word "sweetie." Janet had been calling her that since Drea had first started volunteering, but the context seemed odd now that Drea knew that Janet at one time had been her former brother in law. As "sensitive" as Kenny had been, the word "sweetie" would never have left his lips.

“Promise me you’ll be here tomorrow, honey,” Toni said once again as she kissed Janet on the cheek.” Drea couldn’t help but notice how different Janet had become, even in the few weeks they had known each other. She had come to develop a new-found pride in her connection with Janet, even if it were partly through Drea’s relationship with her ex wife.

“I swear…I’ll be here tomorrow…okay...satisfied?” There were times that Janet almost felt that in the shifting of roles and personae for everybody over the years, Toni had become more like her mother than her sister.

“I’ll even bring the cheesecake…we can do the McGuire sister’s version of Golden Girls. Sophia.” Toni laughed as she watched Janet walk to her car.

“Now where were we?” Toni said as Drea sipped her coffee. She felt her heart pounding in her ears, and she had bit hard enough on her lip to hurt.

“We need to talk.” Toni said as she sat down at the table across from Drea. “Okay?”

At the home a short while later...

Janet walked through the entrance way to the home and stood at the archway into the main family room. The lights were off, but she noticed a figure sitting in the dark.

“Candace? Is that you? It’s so late.” Janet wanted to see the girl, so she turned the dimmer switch for the light slowly until she could see her more clearly. She had tears in her eyes.

“Honey…what’s wrong? Is there anything I can do?” Janet smiled and stepped into the room

“NO…I just want to be alone.” Candace snapped. Janet looked at the girl and thought,

“Oh. Oh. Maybe thereal Candace has arrived.” She stepped closer, which was met by Candace pulling her legs up and sitting in a fetal position on the couch.

“Say…you don’t have to talk…I have to finish some paperwork. You can come sit with me…I’ll put on some music and we can have tea while I work, okay?”

“Look…I know you mean well, but I just want to be alone, okay? Is that too much to ask?” Candace turned her face to the wall. Candace’s New York/Ponce accent seemed to grow more intense.

“Alright…whatever you want,” Janet said, “You can do whatever you choose. You’re a big girl…”

“Look,” Candace said loudly, “Just leave me the fuck alone.” Janet had struck a nerve; a very raw one at that. Remembering her conversation with Drea earlier, she wondered just what was going on.

“What the fuck are you still here for? Just go away and leave me alone.” Candace was trying hard not to cry, but the tears came like a mountain stream after a thaw.

“ can be by yourself, I won’t bother you…I thought you’d want company, but I was wrong…I’m not here to tell you what to do…You’re a big girl…”

“Don’t fucking say that…just shut the fuck up!’ Candace buried her face in the bolster of the couch and began to sob.

“Son of a bitch,” Janet thought to herself. “She can’t sleep…she stays awake until she can’t help but crash…mood swings…Oh God!” Janet put her hand to her mouth to stifle her own angry sob. She bit her tongue, afraid and almost ashamed at what she was about to do, but the girl was on the verge of opening up, and Janet was damned if she’d lose.

“Oh, come on…don’t be such a baby,” Janet said, cringing even as the words left her lips.

“You’re a big girl…you can take it.” Her words were interrupted as Candace picked up a figurine from the end table and threw it across the room. It hit just above Janet’s head and shattered against the wall.

“Is that the best you can do? “ Janet was glad the room was dim; she didn’t want Candace to see the tears in her eyes. Janet stepped closer to the crying girl.

“Shut up…will you please shut the fuck up?” Candace stood up and started to walk toward the doorway. Janet stood in front of her, almost daring her to get past. She bit her tongue once again and said,

“Don’t be a baby, Candace…don’t you want to be a big girl?” Janet put her hands at her side in a submissive pose, waiting for the inevitable, if she knew the girl like she thought she did. A moment later her expectations were sadly met.

“I told you not to say that…I’m not a big girl…shut up…I hate you…shut up.” Candace began pounding on Janet’s shoulders. Janet grabbed her in a bear hug around her shoulders, keeping the girl from flailing.

“You’re a big girl, Candace everyone can see that.” By now Janet almost hated herself, but she knew the girl was about to have a break through.

“I bet your family thinks you’re a big girl.” The girl tensed up and began to yell.

“I’m not a big girl…I don’t want to be a big girl…I hate you….I hate her.”

“Who do you hate? Why don’t you want to be a big girl?” Janet held her tight, and the girl began to sob.

“Do I have to fucking spell it out? Okay, fuck….Mommy…was….sick….Daddy needed me…”

“What did she do?” Janet was weeping silently at what she knew the girl would say.”

“Come be a good girl…Be a big girl and help Daddy….Oh fuck…oh fuck….NOOOO!” She began to wail and collapsed in Janet’s arms.

Sandra came running down the hall. Too many times this scene had been played out at the home. Different girls and different staff but always the same story.

Janet looked over the girl’s shoulder and saw Sandra standing in the archway. She smiled and nodded and Sandra nodded back. She went to the entrance way and intercepted a few girls who were returning after a night out at the movies. Putting her finger to her lips, she pointed in the direction of the back of the home, urging the party to use the rear entrance.

“Honey…it’s’s going to be okay.” She relaxed her grip on the girl who fell down her body and onto the floor, weeping.

“She made me…Daddy …I hate her…I hate her…” The girl started to wail silently…crying so hard that no sound escaped her mouth. Janet dropped to the floor and hugged the girl.

“Shh….shhh…” Janet said, stroking the girl’s hair. “You’re safe, honey….it’s okay.”

“Please don’t make me go back…please…” the girl sobbed. And then she got sick right there. Janet wiped the girls face with her sleeve and rocked the girl in her arms.

“Shh….” Janet said as the girl grew calmer. She cooed softly in the girl’s ear,

"You’re safe, baby….I’m here.”

About the same time in the office...

Irene was just finishing uploading some Harry Connick Jr. onto her computer.

"Why after all these years does he still go by "junior?" Irene thought when she looked up and spotted Connie leaning on her doorframe.

“So….how did it go?” Irene finished her apple and tossed the core in the trash, quickly followed by her empty diet coke can. She reached into her small fridge by her desk and grabbed another can. Holding it up as an offer, she quickly retrieved another can at Connie’s nod.

“It was okay.” Connie’s voice sounded like a verbal shrug. “I met Eddie’s family at the picnic. His aunt…very funny sense of humor…made me feel right at home.” Connie popped open the can and took a sip.”

“And?” Irene turned her head and glanced sideways as a non-verbal question.

“I met Nancy, Eddie’s sister. She is so sweet. She turns fifteen in two weeks.”

“How’s she doing?” Irene was aware of Nancy’s TG status and that she’d been having some trouble at school.

“Much better and she’s gotten support from the most unlikely source.” Connie smiled and took another sip of soda. “The after-school Bible club.” Connie added.

“The kids are really cool…the club is run by a girl from right in town, and Nancy says they’ve just loved her and made her feel accepted. Go figure.” Connie shrugged, this time physically.

“And what about the family?” Irene asked.

“They support her completely. Her cousin Gary drives her to and from school every day…you know…he and Eddie have been doing the lawn work to help out here?” Connie smiled, but with little enthusiasm.

They don’t have the resources for her to begin her journey, so to speak.”

“I’ve got an answer for that.” Irene said with a big smile. “Cathilynn wants to keep this low key for now…she’s hoping to get help from some other sources, but for now, today, she’s started a fund, and we’ve talked about who’d be the ideal candidate.”

“What are you saying?” Connie knew that whatever it was Irene was referring to had to be good, but just what?

“Let’s just say that you can tell Nancy when you talk to her that she’s got a “full-ride scholarship to Transition University, okay? Now tell me more.” Connie contained her excitement and said,

“Gary’s sisters…Margot and Paulette, they’re about my age. They’ve taken her under their wings so to speak.” Connie smiled again.

“Okay…I get that…what about Eddie.” Irene looked at Connie with a mock scowl.

“He’s such a sweet guy…good looking…a little intense, but nice….” Connie’s voice trailed off.

“But?” Irene’s question came out much louder than she wanted. Connie looked away, almost embarrassed.

“Well…he’s just not my type.” She said softly, almost apologetically.

Irene started to laugh, prompting Connie’s face to grow warm. She sounded almost hurt.

“What’s so funny?” She said.

“In all the years I’ve been here? We’ve had so many girls here…and they’ve had relationships, you know?” Irene finished her diet coke and tossed the can in the trash.

“Nobody’s ever said that…they may have thought that, but you’re the first girl I’ve ever heard say that.”

Connie relaxed a bit and blew out a breath.

“I just remember when I first came here; Cathilynn reminded me that I don’t need to be anything for anyone but myself. Eddie just isn’t my type.” She seemed to frown, prompting Irene to say,

“I’m sorry, honey. You must be disappointed.” Irene smiled and grabbed Connie’s hand and patted it.

“That’s okay…” Connie started to smile. “Besides…I’ve got a date for dinner this Saturday. Le Ville in town.” Her grin widened as she giggled just a bit.

“Oh, honey…that’s great.” Irene said as she opened another diet coke. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Excusez-moi, mais le garçon est une jeune fille .” Connie said in her best French.

“Gee, Connie, I took Spanish in college, what did you just say.” Irene looked puzzled

“I said, ‘pardon me, but the boy is a girl.’” Connie laughed. “And her name is Paulette.”


Drea had gotten only about halfway to the home when she had to pull over. Her eyes were filled with tears, and she could hardly see the road.

“We’re different people now,” Toni had said. She wanted to renew her friendship with Drea, but just as friends.

“How utterly stupid?” Drea said to herself as she tried in vain to staunch the flow of tears. She grabbed a jacket from the passenger seat and used it as a makeshift pillow.

“I’m so stupid.” She was overwhelmed with grief as hope died that night…or so she thought. She rested her head against the window and began to weep softly. A few moments later she awoke to the sensation of someone squeezing the back of her neck…a welcome and familiar feeling. She turned her head and found herself face to face with her wife Annie.

“Annie…?” Immediately followed by…”But you’re…”

“Dead? Yes, Andy…I’m not here. But you are. You’ve got to let go of the past and move on…” Annie leaned over and kissed Drea on the cheek. She looked at Annie and wondered until she heard,”

“You gotta go for it.” The youthful voice declared from the back seat. Drea turned and saw Nikki sitting there with her typical grin.
“Mrs. D is right. You gotta move forward…” She smiled at both of them and continued. “You were right, Drea. Mrs. D is just as nice as you said. We’ve made friends, and she and I and Laurie have been spending a lot of time since I…well you know.” Nikki smiled and patted Drea on the back.

Annie kissed Drea on the cheek...soft, airy...

“Honey…it’s okay…I’m fine…and I miss you, but you know we’ll see each other…you’ve got to move forward,’ve got to…”

“Move forward.” A loud voice accompanied by a nightstick tapping the window.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” said a young woman who stood next to the driver’s door, wearing a police uniform. “You’re blocking this driveway, and you need to move forward. Is there some problem? “

“Oh no, officer…just a very long day. I work at the Home that love Built. I’m a grief and hospice counselor and one of our girls died this morning. I just pulled over for a moment. I’ll be going now, if that’s okay?” Drea said, embarrassed.

“Sure thing, Ma’am….Go for it.” The officer said as she turned and walked back to her patrol car.

A few days later at the home....

The pop of the champagne cork got everyone’s attention.

“Thank you all for coming and especially, I’d like to thank our friends at the Church of the Nazarene here in town for providing lunch. That is such a nice blessing, and thank you for your tireless efforts to make us feel at home here at our home.” Cathilynn smiled at the small crowd.

“I’d like to thank those of you who work here to make this place a haven of hope for those of us who have no home. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to expand and add to bring even more help and hope to the lost and hopeless. It is with great pride that we dedicate the new addition to the home, and specifically today, our new hospice center. The Nikki Petersen Center.” Cathilynn choked up at the last sentence, but she had company among many within the small crowd.

Drea stood by Candace and Janet as the food was being laid out at the buffet tables for the luncheon. Candace stood next to Janet, her head leaning softly on Janet’s shoulder.

“It’s fitting that it’s named after her,” Janet said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Sandra designed the plaque, you know.” Janet pointed to the door to the clinic. The plaque read, “Nikki Petersen Hospice Center. Safe in My Arms, You’re Only Sleeping” with an etching of Nikki’s face and a teddy bear.

“How are you to getting along?” Drea asked. She looked at the girl’s face, and already knew the answer.

“Well, the custody papers are filed, and we should be official by tomorrow.” Janet smiled through her tears.

“You’ve always been a mom, Janet.” Drea smiled and kissed Janet on the cheek.

A short while later at the luncheon...

“This Chicken Parmesan is excellent. How did you ever manage to get this recipe?” Drea asked the woman standing next to the serving table. Nancy’s aunt, Maybelle Sprague, just smiled and laughed softly.

“It’s my grandmother’s recipe…she adds a little blackberry wine to the sauce.” She grinned again, somewhat enigmatically and laughed softly as Drea looked at her with an odd expression.

She leaned closer and whispered, “Sprague’s’ my married name….my late husband, god bless his soul, never could get used to being married to a Benedetto.” Drea looked oddly at her again.

“Mirabella Seraphina Bennedetto, my father was right off the boat from Sicily.” Her breath tickled Drea’s ear, and she put her hand on Drea’s arm and shook it softly.

“How long?” She said softly as she held Drea’s arm.

“What do you mean?” Drea still struggled for a meaning for the conversation.

“You still wear your ring…How long has your husband been gone.” She smiled with a warm welcome expression; not intrusive, but a safe friend for confiding.

Drea’s face grew red. She looked somewhat sheepishly at Mirabella.

“Oh, Jeez…what the hell was I thinking? You work here…” She actually snorted, trying not hard not to laugh. “Your wife…I am so sorry.” Her face grew much redder than Drea’s. The two looked at each other and began to laugh.

“Actually, I take that as a compliment.” Drea smiled at Mirabella, who had not let go of her arm.

“You look great…very lovely….Oh god…there I go again…” Mirabella bit her tongue to keep from laughing.

“That’s okay…some of my best friends are non-transgender.” Drea laughed. She noticed that

Mirabella had not let go of her arm once during the exchange.

“Well, Mirabella Seraphina Benedetto…it has been a pleasure to meet you.” Drea smiled and went to turn to walk away. The woman held fast to her arm and said softly.

“All my good friends call me Bella.” She leaned in and kissed Drea on the cheek.

“Nice to meet you as well, sweetie.” She said softly and then she walked away, leaving Drea to wonder just what had happened. As she stood looking vacantly at the scene before her, she heard a soft, familiar voice in the back of her head say one last time.

“I’ll always love you, dearest…now go for it.”

Abiding Hope

I pray you'll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don't know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we'll be safe

A few months later, in Drea's office...

“It’s so frustrating,” Drea said, looking out the window onto the grounds of the home.

“Irene has sent three letters, all registered mail, and no response; even though we know she signed for them.” Drea shook her head.

“How about phone calls,” Cathilynn asked. She almost could predict the answer, having been frustrated herself over the lack of family support in general, and now for the guest of the hospice.

“The kids answer and say their mother isn’t home.” Drea bit her lip.

“Carla says she and her ex always told the kids to never answer the phone, and her ex would never let the kids stay alone even though the boy is nearly thirteen.” Cathilynn nodded in recognition; the story played out over and over throughout the years as family after family ignored and abandoned the women at the Home.

“I think she just tells the kids to say she’s not in, as if we were bill collectors or a charity asking for help…well…” Of course the Home was charity…charitas…A gift…but one that was too necessary and altogether too sad.

“What about the parents…they must be…what…in their seventies?”

“Carla’s father I think is seventy-seven…I’m not sure about her mother.” Drea promised herself she wouldn’t cry, and she was damn well determined to see that promise fulfilled. Nevertheless, tears began to flow.

“Carla’s dad is just like mine…he’s so determined to keep his faith that he’s left his daughter to fate. ‘No son of mine…’ you know?” Drea shook her head no, as if by that gesture, things would magically change, and Carla’s parents would call up from the airport and announce their arrival.

“Honey, you’ve done what you could. It’s nearly midnight and you and Janet have been going since five this morning. Go home and we’ll put our heads together tomorrow, okay?” Cathilynn put her hand on Drea’s shoulder and pushed her gently toward the front door.

“It’ll be okay, honey…it always is, in some way.” Cathilynn called out to Drea as she walked to her car.

“It has to be,” Cathilynn said to herself, almost as a prayer.

“It just has to be.

Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe

A few days later, the DiMaggio-Sprague home...

“Betty died this morning…nobody…nobody came.” Drea said as she collapsed in exhaustion on the couch. Bella brought her a cup of tea and sat down, putting her head on Drea’s shoulder.

“Janet and you held her hand and you sang, didn’t you?” Bella said as she kissed her spouse on the cheek, tasting the salt of old tears.
“Yes… Janet held her hand and squeezed and patted.” Drea said.

“I pray we'll find your light and hold it in our hearts.” Drea never made any attempt to change her voice over the years, still singing and speaking in a nice tenor ranging up to alto. The Prayer had been a favorite of Annie’s and it was nice to find out that Bella loved the song as well.

“I don’t know if I can keep this up.” Drea had seen all too much sadness and loss in her life. She still struggled with the ghosts of the past who came nightly to accuse her of things she did and didn’t do. Bella took her hand.

“La forza che ci d il desiderio che ognuno trovi amor intorno e dentro,“ (We ask that life be kind and watch us from above; we hope each soul will find another soul to love) Bella sang in her wife’s ear. A lovely mezzo still rich after decades of a full life.

“You’ve done all that anyone could and more honey…let’s go to bed and hold each other tight…okay?” Bella said as she kissed Drea once again. “A soul for me to love, yes?”

Irene's office, the following day...

“I’m so tired I could fall asleep just leaning against the door,” Irene said as she tossed her apple core into the trash by the door to her office. Sandra stood in the hallway looking just as tired as Irene.

“No luck with the parents or the ex, huh?” Sandra said almost as the altogether too frequent statement.

“Nope…” Irene looked angry, but she was more frustrated than anything else. It was almost easier when they had an outright rejection. No futile hope for promises unfulfilled or a change of heart. Not knowing was almost too much to bear, since the promises and hope lingered long enough to bring unbearable pain when a guest finally passed without family or friends.

“I’ve seen that look, sister dear,” Sandra said as she smiled wryly. “What do you have up your sleeve?”

“What I’ve got up my sleeve is a whole bunch of unused miles on Continental and an address where the ex and the kids live in Baltimore!”

Later that afternoon...

“Anyone see Irene?” Cathilynn asked as she stood in the archway to the dining room.

“She’s gone on an errand,” Sandra said. It wasn’t that Irene went to Baltimore, but that she was going on her own time. She didn’t want to burden the Home with a trip if it didn’t pan out, so she was using what little vacation time she had to search.

“Well, I don’t want to know, because I know it won’t be into town or over to Child Welfare.” Cathilynn smiled and walked down the hall to her office.

Cathilynn’s health had improved dramatically in the last year after a sudden but altogether real encounter with mortality. Between listening finally, not only to the doctor, but also to her own body, she was growing stronger every day. More importantly, she was able to delegate a lot of responsibility to others, leaving her to plan for new projects and services that the Home might provide.

Between Dr. Garber and the blessing his expertise provided, and the hospice, the Home employed seven medical professionals as well as seven other volunteers. And while she was a little disappointed at Irene’s absence, she also knew that the call of present needs always outweighed what might or might not take place.

She sat back in her chair and looked out the window. The sheer weight of the responsibility of the Home was almost too much for her to bear, even with all the help she had. She put her head down on the desk and thought of Betty, the girl who had died the day before, and all the other Betty’s she had seen over the years. And she gave way to the inevitable flood of tears.

It's the faith
you light in us
I feel it will save us

The following day...

Irene parked her rental car and got out. After an early morning flight, she had arrived in Baltimore Washington Airport at 9am. A quick hop up 295 into Lansdowne and she was there by 9:48. Irene walked up the walk to the front door. A small plaque underneath the door chime read Schroeder. She pushed the button once and a few moments later a woman came to the door. She stood about 5’10”, about eye-to-eye with Irene.

“May I help you,” The woman asked warily.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry to trouble you. Are you Margo Schroeder?” Irene asked.

“Yes…well, Margo Richelli; I go by my maiden name these days.”

“Hi, Ms. Richelli,” Irene said as she offered a hand. “I’m Irene Smith, I spoke with your son last week….I’m from the Home that Love Built.
May I come in?” She quickly entered when Margo stepped aside, puzzled.

“I’m sorry, Ms.?” Margo stood in the living room facing Irene.


“Ms. Smith, there must be some mistake…you say you talked to my son?” Irene wondered where this was going.

“He said his mother wasn’t home…I asked if you had gotten our letters?”

“Keith…can you come here?” Margo called up the stairwell. A moment later a boy, about thirteen or so, came bounding down the stairs.

“Whatcha need, Mom?” the boy asked. He noticed Irene standing next to his mother and his expression changed from enthusiastic to worried in a moment.

“Keith, this is Irene…” She looked at Irene and repeated, “Smith. She says she spoke to you last week on the phone?”

“Ahhh….yeah….didn’t…didn’t I tell you about that call…Maybe I wrote a note.” Keith hesitated.

“She says she’s sent letters?” Margo looked askance at her son, who just looked at the floor.

“Keith?” Margo raised her voice slightly. He walked over to the desk and opened a drawer, pulling out three envelopes, all with white and green labels on the front.

“You mean these? I thought I told you about them.” He lied, looking once again at the floor.

“You most certainly did not.” Margo turned to Irene.

“I am so sorry this happened.” She looked at letters and noted the postmark.

“You flew all the way from there to here…jeez, that’s about miles one way. What’s this about? Wait…do you have any news of my husband? Have you seen Carl?” Her voice became bright, almost like a child wanting to stay up an extra hour.

“Ms. Ricelli, I have some news, but I can’t say whether it’s good or not.” Irene pointed to the envelope.

“Perhaps reading the letter might help?”

With Irene’s gesture, Margo walked to the couch and sat down. After a few moments, she looked up, her eyes filled with tears.

“How can this be? We’ve been looking for him for almost two years.” Margo looked at Keith, who was edging his way toward the stairs.

“Keith…why didn’t you give me these? What were you thinking?” She wasn’t accusatory so much as pleading.

“I don’t fucking care…I hate him…I fucking hate him.” His eyes were filled with tears as well, and he ran up the stairs. Irene winced at the slam of his bedroom door.

“I’m so sorry.” Irene said as she sat down next to Margo.

“She has little time…this kind of cancer…sarcoma…moves fast, and she was in stage three before she even knew she was sick. I’m sorry.”

“So he’s at your home and he’s dying. Oh God, why didn’t he just come home?” Margo looked at the letters as if the writing would change; that it would all be a dream. She wiped her face with her sleeve as she looked up and saw daughter standing in the hall way.

“Did someone find Daddy, Mom?” She ran to her mother, who took her in her arms.

“Yes, honey…someone found Daddy.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair and wept.

“Mommy, aren’t you happy?” Kyra asked.

“Yes, honey, Mommy’s very happy.”


“I’ve got tickets for the three of you. We’ve booked a motel nearby, but you’re all welcome to stay at the home.” Irene looked at Margo, whose eyes were still red from the news of her husband Carl, now Carla’s illness.

“I’m sorry there isn’t much notice, but there’s little time to waste. We may already be too late, but we have to try, okay?” Irene looked at Kyra, who clutched a Teddy Bear, long discarded, but a renewed comfort after her mother explained why they would be traveling halfway across the country.

“I don’t want Daddy to die, Mom…it’s not fair.” She choked back a sob.

“I’m not going!” Keith sat in the kitchen with his arms folded. He had been crying as well, but his expression was anything but sad.

“There’s no one to leave you with…all your friends went camping and your grandmother is visiting my sister. You have to come. That’s final.” Margo was angry with Keith, not so much over his present stance as his deceit. Precious time had been lost because of his lie, and there was a good possibility they would arrive at the home too late.

“Fine, but I’m not talking to him.” He crushed his soda can in his hand.

“As far as I’m concerned, he can…” He hadn’t yet finished his sentence when his mother said very loudly,

“Keith Joseph Schroeder, you knock it off right now. I don’t have time for this. We have to be at the airport in an hour.”

“Don’t worry about anything other than your clothes…the Home is paying for the trip, okay?” Irene saw the pain in Margo’s face.

“We’ll get through this.” She walked over to Kyra and said,

“Ca…..your Daddy has been talking about you ever since…he…got to our home. You like to play soccer, right? And your Mom tells me you sew? Well, I like to sew, too. Maybe we can look at my machine when we have some time, okay?” Irene felt sad and defeated; it was rare to have a family involved, especially with the guests of the hospice. And now, with this family ready… She thought of Keith’s anger but knew that might change. To fly halfway across the country…She prayed desperately that they wouldn’t be late.

Everyone gives the hand to his neighbours
Symbol of peace, of fraternity

That evening, in Iowa...

Drea had walked over to the clinic from the Home. It was well past six and Dr. Garber’s office light was still on. She walked past the reception area and down the hall. She knocked on the door. Instead of hello, she was greeted with,

"Where's Karen," Stephen said, looking up from his desk.

"She's gone home; she'll be back tomorrow." Drea said as she stood in the doorway.

"What do you mean, gone home? We were supposed to go over the schedule for tomorrow." Dr. Stephen Garber looked up from his paperwork, angry and frustrated.

"Her daughter came home sick from school; she had to go pick her up and bring her to the doctor's." Drea said calmly.

"This is important...I need her here." Steve looked impatient, and his tone was getting more and more angry.

"Steve... she couldn't stay. You can go over the schedule in the morning." Drea took a sip from her diet Pepsi.

"I can't rely on anyone around here." He said, tossing a folder on the desk as he rose.

"I'll have to do it myself."

"Steve...Listen to yourself. You never get this upset. What's going on?" Drea asked.

"What's going on is I've got three procedures in the next three days, and I need help here." He snapped.

"'s not like this can't wait." Drea said, almost expecting another angry reply.

"This is important work we're doing here....I wish everyone took it more seriously." His tone and body language almost seemed to accuse Drea. She blew out a breath and said,

"Everyone here...everyone takes this work seriously. But everyone here is just as tired as you are." She said calmly. She took another sip of her soda, waiting for his response.

"Sorry, but I didn't think that this isn’t important like some people; these girls need our help." Steve spat out rudely. It was uncharacteristic of him to behave as he was. Drea waited for him to finish.

"Terri and Kayla are scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday. Why don't you bump Nancy to next Monday and take a few days off?"

"Are they going to take a day off?" He snapped.

"Steve..." Drea said simply.

"What?" His demeanor had softened somewhat.

"It's not about's all about her." Drea said calmly, almost in a monotone; emotionless, but with emotion in the words themselves.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He said and turned away.

"Steve, honey, listen. You can't change can't bring her back."

"I don't follow you," he said quietly, but he knew exactly what Drea was talking about.

"No matter how hard you work; no matter how many girls you help here, I think in your mind, it will never be enough." Drea stepped next to him and put her hand on his arm.

"I don't know what you mean."

"You blame yourself for her death, don't you?" Drea said this as a matter of fact; no accusation was given but he took it that way.

"You weren't can't understand." Steve pulled his arm away from her.

"You think you're the only one who cares?" Drea knew she had to challenge him, for everyone's sake, including his.

"You snapped at Sandra yesterday about something...she was in tears." What was so important that it couldn't wait...and for that matter, why so rude?"

"I asked her three times about the shipment from the supply was like she was ignoring me." Steve said.

"She didn't answer because she had just got off the phone with her sister. Her best friend from high school is very ill, and she's not expected to make it." Drea looked at Steve, who almost seemed to rise up.

"Well, how was I supposed to know? She didn't say anything.”

"Maybe if you had taken some time, you would have seen the tears in her eyes?" Drea didn't wait for an answer.

"This isn't like're impatient, and you're getting to the point where Colleen is seriously considering quitting. And we can’t afford to lose any help at this point.

"That's not fair...I put in more hours than anyone here. They should be willing to sacrifice," he said.

"Everyone here is sacrificing. I'm retired, and I can afford to help where I can, but most of the girls here could be doing something somewhere else. They have their own lives to lead, and they've chosen to be a part of what we do here...what we all do here." She
stressed the word "all."

"Yes, but I'm the only doctor. Nobody can do what I do here. I need help." He folded his arms.

"Steve...this isn't a competition or a debate. We can only do so much. Janet spends more time working with you than she does at the hospice. And she spends a lot of time there, so don't say you don't have any help."

"But I need more help...I can't work without some help here."

"You just have to pace everybody else." Drea was losing patience with him; she wanted to help him understand. Whether it was frustration or providence, she blurted out,

"'re not the only one to ever lose someone you love." Drea was thinking of Annie, the love of her life. "Connie lost her mom to cancer last year…just as things had gotten good between them. God knows how many girls Cathilynn has grown to love, only to lose them to illness...suicide."

"Now wait a minute, Drea…that's not fair." He said.

"That's the whole point, Steve...nothing is's just what it is." She paused only enough to catch her breath.

"Your girlfriend killed herself for the very same reason this place was built...she lost hope! Hope that the Home provides. But you're here because you think if you only work hard enough...if you only help enough girls...somehow her life will have had meaning? Her life always had meaning ...she just was too hurt to see it."

"You don't understand!"

"I don't? I threw myself into my work after my first wife left me...I was going to do the same when Annie died, but my daughter reminded me that I wasn't here to save anyone..." Tears welled in Drea's eyes.

"We're here to participate in what goes on...nobody here has a corner on grief. And we can't help everyone."
Steve's eyes flashed at that and he said angrily,

"What do you know? I was there...I know."

"You blame yourself because you couldn't prevent her from making her own choice. And then, you feel like you have to be the doctor to help girls like her, right?" Steve stood silent, his fists clenched and tears in his eyes.

"You would better serve this community if you were kind and thoughtful again. But the job…and it is a job to becoming more important than the people you serve with. Do you really think that's what honors her memory?"

"Now wait a minute, you can't come barging in here and..."

"Steve...I know it’s the anniversary…it wasn't your fault." Drea said softly, her hand reaching once again to touch his arm. He went to pull away, but she grabbed his arm softly and said,

"She made a choice...that put you on the path that brought you here. But you need to understand," Drea paused once again. She smiled and patted him on the shoulder softly.

"You're here in spite of what she did, not because of it."


That next morning...

Janet had just wiped Carla’s forehead with a cold compress when she looked up to see Margo and the children standing in the doorway. Carla lay on her side, staring out the window.

“Daddy?” Kyra cried as she ran to the bed. Margo quickly followed, but Keith stood at the doorway with his arms folded.

“Honey, come see your father, okay,” Margo said as she beckoned Keith with her hand.

No…you can if you want, I don’t fucking care anymore!” He said and stormed down the hallway. He punched the wall once, knocking a picture off and onto the floor. Sandra came out of the office and looked. This was one scene she never got used to. Keith reminded her of so many children over the years who had come to visit. She shook her head and decided to give the boy some space.

Keith sat on the floor, putting his elbows on his knees, propping up his head. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he hit himself in the head with his fists in anger and frustration. A girl, about sixteen years old, walked slowly past him, trying without success not to disturb him.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” He snapped at the girl, who failed in her attempt not to stare at the scene played out before her.

“You okay?” She said, not knowing what else to say.

“Does it look like I’m fucking okay? Fuck no!” He snapped at her again. She resisted her own urge to tell him to “fuck off,” and said,

“Hey, I’m sorry. You look really pissed off. Never mind!” She started to squeeze past him.

“Oh, fuck! I’m sorry…” He put his head in his hands once again, trying to hide his face. He wasn’t going to cry in front of a girl.

“What’s wrong?” The girl asked. She stepped back and leaned against the wall, almost anticipating another angry outburst.

“My dad is ….He’s in there,” he said, pointing to the room down the hall.

“Oh shit…sorry…You must be Carla’s son.” She looked at him and tried not to frown, but her face was etched with concern.

“What? Oh, fuck no! His name is Carl…Schroeder…HE’S my DAD!” Keith snapped once again.

“Ca…sorry….your dad isn’t doing too well. I’m so sorry.” Empathy was a new thing for her.

She resisted the urge to put her hand on his shoulder, instead sitting down on the floor catty-corner to him.

“I’m Candace. I live here with my foster mom. She works here as a nurse…She’s been helping your dad.”

“You live here?” Keith asked, his eyes widening in recognition.

“Yeah…I’ve been here for about a year. I’m from New York…my family…..” Her voice trailed off. She looked at him, waiting for his response.

“Wait a second…What the fuck?” Keith didn’t mean to be rude, but he was too angry to think.

“Are you… of them?” He looked at her, almost horrified.

“Yeah, what of it?” Candace’s eyes widened.

“Nothing…it’s just…” Keith tried to speak, but his words seemed to be lodged in his throat.

“I don’t look like a fucking boy because I’m not a fucking boy,” she snapped.


“But what…I look like a girl because I am one, jackass.” Which was mostly true. Candace looked at Keith, waiting angrily for a response.

“Fuck, you don’t have to bite my fucking head off, I just…well, besides my dad…” He shook his head and looked down the hall.

"I never even saw one of them." Keith said.

“Jeez…you are so…” Candace shook her head.

“You fucking asshole…she’s the best thing that ever happened to me besides Janet, and you’re just throwing that away.”

“Who the fuck are you to tell me? He’s my father, not yours.’

“And thank God for that. You don’t know what you’re missing. I wish I had someone, anyone just like her when I was growing up.” Candace looked down the hall and then back at Keith.

“Stop saying that…HE’s my DAD!”

“I don’t care what the fuck you call her, but you should be in there with your mother and sister. You should be saying good bye!” Candace tried oh so hard not to, but she buried her face in her hand and began to cry.

“What’s that for? Oh fuck…I’m sorry…shit…I’m sorry…please don’t cry.”

“Listen…” Candace held back a sob.

“There’s plenty of time to be fucking angry after she’s gone, but right now she needs you…SHE needs you,” Candace pointed down the hall.

“I only wish I had a dad like her.” Candace realized what she said and added,

“You know what I mean, so shut the fuck up.” She wiped her face with her sleeve.

“What was so bad about your dad?” Keith asked. “It can’t be worse than having a fucking father who wants to be your fucking mom!”

“I never knew my dad…and my step dad…” Her voice turned from sad to angry almost instantaneously.

“What…what was so bad?” Keith had grown impatient.

“My mom…fuck….Do I have to spell it out? My mom pimped me out to my stepdad, okay? Fuck!” She lost all control and began weeping. Sandra came out of her office and looked down the hall. She watched as Keith tried to console Candace. He put his hand on her shoulder, but she shied away.

“Is that why you want to be a girl?” Keith meant well but he had no idea.

“No…I wanted to be a girl ever since I can remember. That had nothing….. I am a girl! Look, just get the fuck away from me, okay? Go see your father…go see CARLA…yes… Carla… she’s fucking dying, you fucking jackass. Go see her!” Candace turned her head to the wall.

Let this be our prayer, just like every child
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace

Keith hesitated before walking back down the hall. He lingered at the door to the room, watching as Sandra came out of her office and led Candace down the hall. He turned and entered the room as his mother was talking.

“Honey, Kyra wants to tell you something, okay?” Margo’s eyes were red, but she had kept from sobbing by biting her lip.

“Hey, sweetheart,” Carla said in a whisper so soft Kyra had to put her ear next to Carla’s mouth.

“I love you Daddy. Mommy says I can call you Aunt Carla…is that okay?” Kyra started to cry.

“Of course, honey. I love you so much.” She could hardly be heard above the heart monitor.

“Give me kisses?” Carla said and Kyra leaned closer and began kissing Carla all over her face.

“Daddy…do you have to die? Can’t you stay? Please?” The little girl began to cry once again. Margo put her arm around her daughter. She stared at Carla’s face, looking for strength to say what she needed to say.

“I don’t understand this at all. You should have come home. We all love you.” She tried to smile, but her tears gave way to sobbing.

“I am so fucking angry with you,” she said, forgetting that Kyra was next to her. Kyra was crying into Carla’s sleeve and didn’t hear the words.

“You should have come back. Why didn’t you come back?” Margo needed to know, and Carla needed to be free.

“I thought it would be best for you and the kids,” Carla said weakly…Her voice was almost too soft to hear.

“Best for us?” She said.

“I…I nnneee…ver stopped loving you, Carl…never.” Margo leaned over and kissed Carla’s forehead.

“I can’t…I won’t be angry any more. I forgive you….Just tell me you love us and it will be okay …please… for the kids…for me…” Margo sobbed and fell to her knees. She leaned closer and kissed Carla on the cheek.

“I love you Carl…I always will. Always. And I love you too, Carla…I don’t know who you are, but you’re part of my best friend…so I guess I…oh I don’t know.” It was all too much for Margo to understand, but she didn’t travel nearly thirteen hundred miles just to get stuck on principle.

“No matter what, I love all of you.” She choked back a sob.

“NO!” The voice came from the doorway.

“I hate you…I hate you!” Keith yelled as he rushed to the bed. Margo went to grab him, but he pushed past her and fell against Carla’s prostrate form. He put his head on Carla’s chest and sobbed, over and over.

“I hate you. I hate you, Daddy…I hate you.” Carla raised her hand feebly and stroked Keith’s hair.

“I hate you….Daddy….noooo.nnnnooo I’m sorry Daddy….don’t go ….I love you…please…please.” Keith wept in Carla’s arms and Margo put her hand on his shoulder.

“I love you Keith….I love you all.” Carla continued to stroke Keith’s hair and pat Kyra on the back. Her hand brushed against Margo’s. She felt Margo grip her hand and her voice saying simply,

“It’s okay…we love you…we love you.” A few moments later, Margo felt Carla’s hand go limp. Keith looked up and saw Carla’s face. She was smiling, but there was no light in her eyes. Keith looked up at his mother who took her right hand and covered her mouth. She went to cry, but no sound came out. She tried to reach out to Keith, but he had stood up. He took his sister in his arms and cried as hard as he ever had. She was nine and she almost understood what was happening.

“Four seventeen,” the voice said from the other side of the bed. Janet stood next to Carla’s body and tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked up and saw Candace standing in the doorway, weeping.

“Excuse me...I’ll leave you for a moment,” Janet said as she walked to the doorway. Gathering Candace in her arms, she kissed the girl on the forehead, pulling her in more. Candace buried her face in Janet’s sweater and sobbed.

“It’s okay, honey, Momma’s here.” Janet said softly as she stroked Candace’s hair…”It’s okay.”

That evening...

Beth had gotten off work at the Home late, trying to make sense of the books. Connie had left when she and her new bride departed on their honeymoon, and the books were in a system that Connie and Connie alone could understand. Time doesn’t stand still, even for romance, so Cathilynn asked Beth to fill in for Connie until she returned. She knocked on the door softly. Stepping in, she noticed a familiar figure sitting on the couch.

“Simon?” She said. He was watching Paula Deen expound on the benefits of cooking with butter.

“Hi, Simon, have you seen Carter?” She asked. Simon was her brother’s best friend, so it wasn’t unusual to find him at Carter’s apartment. Never the less, she found herself startled at his presence.

“He called to say he wouldn’t be able to make your dinner date; something about a last-minute meeting at work. He said he couldn’t get you on your cell phone or at work. So he asked me to come over here to meet you.” Simon smiled warmly.

“Thanks, Simon…. I've been in a lot of meetings over the last couple of days, and we seem to have been playing phone tag. Anyway, thanks again. And good seeing you.” Beth never used pleasantries like that.

“Say, since you’re here already, why don’t we go out for some dinner?” He smiled again…that smile. Beth felt oddly warm and found herself saying,

“Sure, why not,” even as she felt like saying the opposite. She wasn’t surprised that Simon would have asked her that, but she was completely surprised when he added,

“My treat.” He smiled once more. This was getting painful.

“Sure,” she said, but quickly added,

“Why?” Her voice sounded almost suspicious.

“Why what?” Simon asked as he smiled again, disarming Beth's suspicions.

“Why treat?” Beth was almost angry with herself over the question.

“I’m generous to a fault, I suppose.” He laughed, which did little to dispel Beth’s fears and everything to make her wish she hadn’t asked.

“Actually, I’ve been trying to think of a way to ask you out without asking you out…been hard to remember what a date was like, you know?” He smiled once again, which further eroded Beth’s defenses.

“Really,” Beth looked at Simon and her face began to turn crimson.

“Of course. You know, your brother often sings your praises.” Simon smiled, evoking an even darker shade of red to spread across Beth’s cheeks.

“He’s your biggest fan, you know? He thinks the world of you!” Simon said.

“That’s Carter alright.” Beth said, forcing a smile.

“I happen to agree,” Simon smiled yet again.

Beth frowned and bit the inside of her mouth.

“Simon, I’m not really who you think I am,” she said, adding to herself, “or what.”

“Does my heroine have feet of clay?” Simon smiled once again; it was almost excruciating.

“If he only knew…” she thought, unconsciously shaking her head

“Relax, Beth,” Simon began abruptly. It occurred to her that she hadn’t heard her name spoken by a man in a long time…it felt uncomfortable and good at the same time.

“Beth…It’s okay….I know.” She blinked her eyes in comprehension as he repeated once again,

“Beth…It’s okay…I know.”

Give us strength so we'll be safe.

Extravagant Love

these are days you'll remember
never before and never since, I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
and as you feel it, you'll know it's true
that you are blessed and lucky
it's true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

At the Home...

"You leavin' today?" Candace sat on the floor in the hallway and looked at the boy.

"Yeah...Mom and that lady...Irene? They were talkin' about the funeral and everything."

"I'm really sorry about yesterday...You didn't need me yellin' at you and all." She looked down at her shoes. For some reason, Candace felt the need to wear jeans and a tee shirt. Her sneakers were nondescript.

"Keith? I'm sorry, but this is really hard for me...I'm tryin' but I can't think of your dad without sayin' Carla...I think of her..not him...I'll try to remember that..but it's hard to say the other words..his name, you know. I've know her...him for six months...She even started teachin' me guitar."

Candace put her head down and started to cry. Instead of sympathy, Candace was met with anger.

"See...that's what makes me so fucking angry. You got to spend time with my fucking dad..not me...not my mom...not my sister. It's so fucking unfair." He punched the wall, once again knocking a picture down.

"Before yesterday...fuck...I haven't seen my dad in over two you know what that feels like?" Keith tried hard not to cry. He was almost fourteen, and he wasn’t going to show any weakness in front of the girl.

“No…I don’t. I wish I did. I wish I had a father that actually cared for me. I wish my step-father…” Her voice trailed off. Keith looked at her, and he began to understand even as he hated his father he loved his father…the person he never understood…the person who left him…

“I wish your dad never died…I miss…oh fuck…I’m so sorry.” Candace got up and ran down the hall, nearly running into Drea as she stepped into the hall from Sandra’s office.

“Candace,” Drea called out but the girl had already left the building. “Damn,” Drea said to herself as she saw Keith sitting on the hallway floor. With Candace gone, Keith’s defenses departed as well and he wept openly once again. Drea walked down the hallway and sat down on the floor next to the boy.

“Keith…your mom and sis are taking a nap…You’re going home tomorrow instead.” She said softly, putting her hand on the boy’s shoulder. He pulled away sharply, banging his elbow into the wall. The picture on the wall came crashing down onto the hallway floor.

“Keith…it’s okay to cry…it really is. Your mom and I just had a good cry together.” Drea put her hand on the boy’s shoulder once again. This time he offered no resistance, but said angrily,

“What do you know…you’re probably just like my Dad. Did you leave your family, huh? I bet you left your family and hurt them too!” The boy was almost hysterical, but Drea persisted, stroking the boy’s hair. He began to calm down as his defenses departed completely. Collapsing into her arms, he wept hard enough to shake them both.

“Why did he leave me? What did I do…What’s wrong with me. Why didn’t he love me?” He said over and over, like a mantra. His body convulsed, releasing a year’s worth of anger and frustration.

“You didn’t do anything, Keith.” Drea said. She felt the boy’s shaking subside. Pulling a tissue out of her sweater pocket, she handed it to Keith. Holding him at arm’s length, she looked at him and said once again,

“Keith…you didn’t do anything. Your mom didn’t do anything. Your sister didn’t do anything. Your dad told me just yesterday morning how much he loved you.” Drea respected Carla’s decision, but she also knew that the woman she came to know in her brief time at the hospice would understand the use of male pronouns and her old title for her son’s sake.

“Janet was going through your Dad’s things and came across an envelope with some letters in it. This one is addressed to you. I know you’ll want to read this. I can leave you alone or stay, whatever you want.” Drea said softly to the boy.

“I…guess…you can stay…don’t go,” Keith said. He felt strange, talking to the woman next to him, knowing that she was probably just like his Dad…at least he thought. As angry and sad and scared as he was, something inside him felt safe with Drea at his side.

“Here’s the letter…no one has opened it…that’s for you to do, okay. I’ll just sit here and you can talk or not…okay?” Drea said softly.

“Yeah, okay.” Keith found himself squeezing her hand as he sat up. He opened the letter carefully and tenderly, like it was a treasure. Unfolding the note, he noticed the paper was white. He had almost expected pink, not knowing what to think about his father. He read…

Dear Keith,

I am so sorry I left. Do you remember when the neighbor’s dog bit Kyra? She wouldn’t go near any dog, and the sound of barking…even on the TV…would scare her. It took a while, but she was able to be around dogs. But you remember how scared she was. You used to say to her, ‘Hey..It’s okay!’ Remember…and she was okay. Well I was scared, and I didn’t have anyone to tell me not to be scared. I wish I had listened to you when you helped Kyra…I’m so ashamed for making you and your mom and your sister worry. I never meant to hurt you, and I am so sorry that I left…I know I said that, but you have to know it wasn’t because of anything you did. You are the best son anyone could ever have. I am so proud of how you have taken care of your mom and sis. Know that I love you and I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming. Give Kyra a kiss for me, okay? Dad

Keith looked at Drea, as if to ask a question. Looking at the letter once again, he began to cry, not hysterically or loudly, but softly. He might have felt uncomfortable had he thought about it, but it felt entirely okay as he put his head on her shoulder and wept. She held him and rocked him, saying softly,

“It’s okay, Keith…go ahead…let it out.” Tears streamed down her own cheeks as she felt connected to the boy’s grief and sadness. “It’s ok"

these days you might feel a shaft of light
make its way across your face
and when you do
you'll know how it was meant to be
see the signs and know their meaning

At the office that afternoon...

Connie walked into the office aglow. She and Paulette had just gotten back from their honeymoon. She ignored the pile of work on her desk; plenty of time for that on Monday when she returned. Beth looked up from her desk and half-frowned, but then jumped up and ran to her friend.

“How was the trip, honey?” Beth wrapped her arms around Connie and kissed her on the cheek in welcome.

“It was fabulous…I never had so much fun in my life, and it’s wonderful to have someone to love.” Connie beamed as her partner Paulette walked into the office carrying a large bag.

“We got some nice scarves and some other nice things,” Paulette said as she put the bag on the credenza behind Connie’s desk. She walked over and kissed Connie lightly on the lips before pulling Beth in for a hug.

“You two look just wonderful together…I’m so happy for you!” Beth said. She hoped that things would be just as lovely...maybe Simon might ask her? He and her brother had talked about her...status. He found her amusing and charming and simply lovely, but even though her past had not put him off, neither had he expressed any commitment other than a least for now.

Irene and Kerry walked in at that moment. Both women walked quickly to the happy couple and greeted them with kisses and hugs.

“You got back just in time. I was wondering if I was going to have to spring for a wig, since Beth has been pulling her hair out since you left.” Irene laughed.

“Oh stop…everything is okay. I hope you don’t mind, but what documents I couldn’t find a file for I shredded, is that alright?” Beth chuckled.

“Very funny!” Connie smiled and walked over to her desk. A note sat on top of her day-planner. The envelope simply read, “See me, hon. Drea.”

“Is Drea around?” Connie asked, holding up the note.

“She was talking with the Shroeder family a moment ago. You might find her on the back deck.” Beth said. Connie nodded and smiled.

“Be right back, okay?” She said as she walked toward the doorway.

“I’ll just hang here and regale our friends with tales of our wedding night, okay?” Paulette said with a smile. Paulette’s remark was met with a chorus of “oohs” as Connie walked down the hall to the back exit.

Drea sat on the railing of the deck, sipping a Diet Pepsi. She looked up and saw Connie come out on the deck.

“Hi, sweetie, welcome back. You look radiant!” Drea said as she hugged Connie. “You get my note?” She smiled.

Connie nodded and Drea looked over at the picnic table in the middle of the deck. Sitting on it was a large carton.

“Let me show you something honey.” Drea said as she walked over to the table as Connie followed. Drea picked up a thin book off the table. Connie recognized it instantly and tears came to her eyes.

“Where did you get that…I’ve been looking all over for a copy since the coffeemaker broke and spilled all over mine.” She received the book as if it were a treasure.

“Let’s sit down honey. I’ve got something I want to talk with you about, okay?” Drea pointed to two chairs that stood against the railing of the deck. They walked over and sat down.

I know it was so hard for you, honey, and I know you wanted to put a good face on for the wedding,” Drea said. She smiled warmly and continued.

“It must have been so hard to keep from crying before the ceremony. I know your mom would have been there if she could.” Drea found herself misting from just the thought of Connie’s pain.

“She was there in spirit…I guess,” Connie said half-heartedly. She looked past Drea onto the grounds behind the home, busy with new construction and landscaping.

“To have her die just before the wedding must have been so painful.” Drea didn’t want to stir up things, but what she ultimately had to share with Connie would be a blessing, if they could just get past this part. Connie began to sob softly.

“She….we had just gotten to know each other again.” Connie looked up as if to pray.

“I know it isn’t fair or unfair. But it hurt that she couldn’t be there. That’s why this is so…so precious.” She held the book up.

“I know, honey. She gave you that when she came the first time…after so many months without a word.” Drea found herself crying along with Connie.

“She never understood. Daddy didn’t just not understand, he hated me…absolutely hated me. I tried for so long to fit in. When he died and Mom blamed me…it hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt.” Connie shook her head, wondering how anyone, much less her own mother, could have said such a thing.

“But it didn’t end there,” Drea said, almost like a child completing a chapter of a favorite story. She smiled, knowing the response.

“She came that day you got me from the office. She was so sorry. She didn’t understand why I did what I did,” Connie said, recalling her surgery.

“You know the funny thing? She never did understand. But that day she came she told me she wanted to understand; that I was her baby no matter what.” Connie held up the book again.

“And she gave me this,” Connie blinked away her tears and continued.

“I’ll Love You Forever,” Connie spoke the title. “By Robert Munsch…the most precious gift I’ll ever get.” She looked again at the book and began reciting by memory,

“I’ll love you forever; I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

Connie had barely finished the words when she collapsed into tears. She didn’t notice that Paulette had come out on the deck. Paulette walked over and knelt down and cradled Connie’s head in her hands, kissing her on the forehead. And to Connie’s surprise, Paulette sang in her own melody,

Well, that mother, she got older.
She got older and older and older.
One day she called up her daughter and said,
"You'd better come see me because I'm very old and sick."
So her daughter came to see her.

When she came in the door she tried to sing the song. She sang:
I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always...
But she couldn't finish because she was too old and sick.
The daughter went to her mother.
She picked her up and rocked her back and forth,
back and forth, back and forth.
And she sang this song:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my Mommy you'll be.

All three smiled and wept as they remembered Connie’s mother. Drea waited until the crying had at least ebbed a bit. She grabbed Connie’s hand and said softly,

“Sweetie, I’ve got something that you’ll want to see. Come with me, okay?” Drea stood up and walked to the table. She pulled open the carton and pointed to the contents. In the box were fifty copies of the book in paperback.

“Sandra has five more cartons in her office. We figured this was a good way to honor your mother’s memory.”

Drea picked up a small carton and opened it. The carton contained a card-sized insert reading,

Complements of The Home That Love Built
Restoring Families and Dreams.
In Loving Memory of Angelique Bevaqua
I don’t understand, but I love you, and that is enough.

“We plan on sending these out with our fundraiser next month. I hope you don’t mind?” Drea said as she put the insert back in the box.

“This is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me. I won’t forget this.” Connie said as Paulette squeezed Drea’s hand and mouthed, “Thank you!”

The next morning Candace sat on the railing of the front porch, looking at the construction in the lot next door. The clinic had expanded to include the hospice and a respite house for family members, or at least would be once it was completed in a few months. The sound of the backhoe digging for the foundation prevented her from hearing the figure approach from behind.

“Hey…” Keith said, waving at Candace. She turned and half-frowned, but quickly said,

“So you leavin’ today?” Candace said, her frown changing quickly to a surprising smile.

“Yeah…the funeral is Saturday, and we’ve got a lot to get ready. That lady Irene gave my mom a check for a bunch of cash…Mom didn’t say anything but I figured by the way she was cryin’ it was a lot.” Keith smiled back, feeling odd but good.

“Yeah…she’s pretty awesome! I had to get new contacts and she took care of it.” Candace found herself smiling once again, and it felt odd but good.

“You from Baltimore? I heard the Ravens are thinkin’ of gettin’ a new half back.” Candace said. Keith looked at her and almost did a double take.

“You follow football?” He asked, shaking his head.

“Sure, why the fuck not…why not, sorry. Janet’s been tryin’ to help me stop that.” Candace’s face turned red.

“I thought you didn’t like sports…I mean girls like you. I mean…Oh fuck!” Keith started to turn red himself.

“Whaddya mean, girls like me?” Candace asked with a glare.

“I’m sorry…I don’t know what the fuck you like…what do girls like you like…I mean don’t you like girl stuff?”

“Football is girl stuff.” Candace said with a hint of anger in her voice. But she followed with,

“I bet your mom likes football!” Candace smiled knowingly.

“Yeah…we watch the Ravens all the time. Who do you like?” Keith found himself smiling even though he wanted to frown.

“The Giants…I’m from New York, remember?” Keith didn’t remember at all. He found himself staring at her and said,

“You like Manning…He’s a dog!” He laughed. Candace looked at him and frowned and said in return,

“Yeah, I love Manning.” It came out a little more emphatic than she had meant.

“Yeah…I figured…well, he’s married. You’ll have to find another QB to root for…How about Sanchez…I think he’s available.” Keith smirked.

“You jackass! Manning won a Super Bowl, Joey Flacco is a moron!” She stuck her tongue out.

“Sorrrreeee!” Keith said. “I just thought…you’re a girl and…”

“I like football…I also like music and singing and….sewing.” Candace said sheepishly. She was only a little embarrassed. Being a girl was a lifelong journey. Learning about being a girl was almost brand new, and stereotypes and differences got all mixed together, making for a confusing if interesting trip.

“I bet you like the Yankees…you look like a Yankee fan!” Keith laughed at the joke only he got.

“I don’t like baseball…it’s boring…takes too long and nothing happens. Now I do like basketball.”

“Yeah…the fucking WNBA!” He laughed until she punched him hard in the arm.

“Yeah...and the final four…NCAA you know…and NBA LeBron and Kobe! And Steve Nash!” At the mention of the Sun’s point guard, Candace’s newly discovered crush betrayed her…”

“He’s got funny eyes.” Keith said.

“Does not…besides…he’s the best passer in the league!” She smiled once again.

“I guess…” Keith looked at Candace, and it almost seemed like he was beginning to understand.

“Keith, honey, we’ve got to go…say goodbye to your friend.” Margo called from the van in the driveway.

“Well, I gotta go. I guess I’ll see you, huh?” Keith smiled awkwardly and then frowned at himself as Candace said,

“Not unless you move here or me and Janet move to Baltimore.” Candace hopped off the railing. She hadn’t planned on it, far from it in
fact, but she went to hug Keith goodbye. They stood facing each other for a few seconds and then it happened. It wasn’t real...was it? It couldn’t be, but it happened.

“Well, see you anyway…I’m really sorry about…your Dad.” Candace said. Keith smiled and without thinking kissed Candace on the cheek. He stared at her again for a moment and it hit him.

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry.” He said, and he was; not for kissing her, but for kissing her without warning. He had never kissed anyone besides his mother, his sister, his dad and his grandmother. And there he was, turning an even darker shade of red than before.
Candace stood there for a moment, almost matching Keith’s embarrassment. But she smiled and said,

“That’s okay. Have a good life, okay?” She looked at him and carried away by the moment, she leaned in and kissed him full on the lips. Realizing what she had done, she stepped back and said quickly,

“Bye!” She darted into the front door and was gone. Keith stood dumbfounded for a moment and shook his head. He walked down the steps to the van where his mother stood.

“Let’s go home, honey, okay?” She said, pulling him into a hug before they both got into the van. As they pulled away, Keith looked back one last time at the home and smiled. And while he felt good, he had absolutely no idea why.

The curtains parted slightly in the front family room. Candace smiled as she watched the van drive off. Janet walked into the room and asked,

“So where’s Keith, baby girl?” Candace turned around and thought for a moment about what Janet had just said. She ran right into Janet’s arms and burst into tears.

“It’s okay, honey, Momma’s here! It’s okay!”

these are days you'll remember
when May is rushing over you with desire
to be part of the miracles you see in every hour
you'll know it's true, that you are blessed and lucky
it's true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

Joyful in Hope

Each time I see a crowd of people
Just like a fool I stop and stare
It's really not the proper thing to do
But maybe you'll be there

At the home....

"Hey, Beth, have you seen Irene or Cathilynn?" Kerry walked into the office and went right to the mini fridge. She offered her a bottle of water, but Beth pointed to the diet Peach Snapple on her desk.

"They just went to Irene's office to look for a menu for that Thai restaurant that opened up last week.

"Oh that sounds like fun, let's all go over for lunch." Kerry smiled and continued

"James is taking the boys to soccer practice later, so I've got the afternoon to myself." Kerry was proud of how well their boys, two Afghani orphans they had adopted, had managed to fit in without sacrificing who they were or their culture.

"Oh, I don't know... Payday's three days away, and I'm not exactly dressed to go out." Beth pointed to her jeans and tee shirt.

"Oh, hell, I got a sweater in my office that'll fit you, and it's my treat, kid." Kerry smiled, but her glad look was met with a half-frown.

"Okay...come on...give...what's really going on?" Kerry was still smiling, but her tone had almost changed to motherly.

"It's stupid...really nothing...I..." Beth turned away.

"He hasn't called, has he?" Kerry asked with a frown, which gave Beth permission to cry.

"I don't know what i said or did." She started tearing up.

"He was so receptive…he knew that you were trans and yet he asked you out...that has to count for something?" Kerry asked.

"I thought so, but he's backed off so much, it's almost like we never talked about my past, like he's having second thoughts or maybe he just realized that he doesn't want to marry.... someone..." Kerry didn't have to hear the finish to Beth's sentence. She walked over to Beth's desk and lifted her gently out of her chair and hugged her.

"I know he wants kids…we even talked about adopting if it came to..." Beth looked down at her stomach and imagined a womb that would never be. She began crying hard enough to shake Kerry.

"I know, Beth, honey." Kerry was perceived by more than a few people as being tough, which she was, but her own journey had brought her full circle to see her own innocence and tenderness restored. She stroked Beth's hair and said,

"I bet it feels like you wish he had never talked to you in the first place," Kerry said. Judging by Beth's reaction one might have thought it was the wrong question because Beth practically dissolved in Kerry's arms. But it was exactly the thing that was on her heart, and the thing that needed to be released. Irene and Cathilynn walked in and noticed the two standing at Beth's desk. Kerry turned around and said quietly,

"Hey, why don't you order lunch for four…my treat...we'll eat here, okay?" Irene nodded and walked over to a desk and picked up a phone. Cathilynn walked over to Beth and Kerry and kissed the girl on the cheek.

"It's going to be okay,'s going to be okay." And once again, as she had for countless other girls, Cathilynn tilted her head back slightly, looked up and said softly,

"Please let it be okay?"

You said your arms would always hold me
You said you lips were mine alone to kiss
Now after all those things you told me
How could it end like this

That evening, Sandra was coming out of her office when she heard the front door open. Walking down the hall she saw a girl standing in the doorway under the entryway light. She was wearing jeans and a tee shirt. Her hair was black and cut short and misshapen, almost like an anime character.

“May I help you?” Sandra asked; which startled the girl. She turned toward Sandra and the overhead light revealed her to be in her mid to late twenties, but her demeanor was more that of a younger woman. Her lip was swollen and cut, and she her left eye was blackened. She was shaking from the cold of the opened door, and she offered no response, so Sandra said again,

“Honey, is there something I can do for you?” The girl whimpered something indiscernible, prompting Sandra to reach out to grab the girl’s hand. She winced, but Sandra insisted, saying,

“Let’s just go back to the kitchen to get an icepack for that eye and we can talk, okay?” After closing the door, Sandra walked down the hall, the girl following in tow close behind. As they entered the kitchen, Sandra motioned for the girl to sit down at the kitchen table while she opened the freezer. She produced an ice pack and said,

“Here, honey, put this over your eye.” She smiled and said, “Would you like some tea, or maybe some cocoa?” The girl shook her head no and looked away. Sandra walked to the range and turned on one of the burners and put the kettle on. A sweet soft voice, deeper than an alto, perhaps, asked, “May I change my mind?” Sandra turned and smiled, holding up two mugs.

“Is Cocoa alright?” The girl said yes and Sandra nodded, turning her back to get the mugs ready. A couple of minutes later, Sandra brought two mugs of cocoa to the table and sat down.

“What’s your name, honey?” Sandra looked at the girl and smiled again.

“B..BBi…Billie,” she said and she looked down at the table.

“I’m going to make a quick call, okay?” Sandra said as she got up.

“It’s going to be okay, Billie, I promise.” Sandra placed her hand softly on the girl’s shoulder before picking up the phone.”

“Karen,” Sandra said into the phone, “Is Nancy Kane still around? Oh shoot, anybody over there?” she asked. A moment later another voice came on.

“Jeez, Janet, don’t you ever go home? I’ve got a girl who just arrived…yeah, she’s just got the clothes on her back, and she’s pretty shaken up….yeah…she got hit and she’s got a black eye and her lip is cut. Is there anyone there that can do an eval? Drea is still there? You two ought to learn when to go home. Okay, ten minutes…I’ll see you in the kitchen over here, okay?”

Sandra walked back to the table where Billie had put her head on her arms. She lifted her head and looked at Sandra. Her eyes were red from crying. Sandra kissed her on the top of the head and sat down.

“I’ve got a couple of friends who are coming over in a few minutes. You need to have someone look at your lip and eye, honey, okay?” Billie nodded and put her head back down.

“I’m sure we can get you something to make you feel a little more comfortable.” Sandra said, shaking her head. She was glad the girl couldn’t see the angry look on her face. A moment later the back door of the kitchen opened and Janet and Drea walked in. Janet sat down immediately. Drea smiled at Billie, who had lifted her head to see who had come in. Drea walked over to the fridge and grabbed two cans of Diet Pepsi. Handing a can to Janet, she sat down next to the girl, whose look almost seemed to plead for attention.

“Hi, honey, I’m Andrea, but you can call me Drea. This is Janet, and you’ve already met Sandra.” Sandra realized she hadn’t even mentioned her name to the girl.

“Janet is going to look at your face and see if you need some medical attention. Don’t worry, she’s a nurse…one of the best.” Drea smiled at Janet who smiled at the girl.

“After she’s finished, I’m going to ask you a few questions so we can know how we can help you, okay?” Billie blinked back some tears and nodded. Drea reached into sweater and pulled out a tissue, offering it to the girl. Billie took the tissue and wiped her eyes.

A few moments later, Janet had finished. The lip, while cut, wasn’t bad enough for stitches, and thankfully no cut was open over the girl’s eye, but her black eye promised to be a rainbow of color in the morning.

“Can you tell me your name?” Drea asked.

“Billie…Billie Penn.” The girl looked down at the table.

“Billie…I’m going to ask you a few questions; just to get to know you and see how we can help you, is that okay?” Billie nodded.

“Can you tell me who hurt you?” Billie looked up and looked down once again.

“That’s okay. Billie, look at me for a second. I’ll ask you and you just nod yes or no, okay?” She nodded yes.

“Was it someone you know?” Nod.

“Family?” Billie shook her head no.

“Friend?” Billie nodded slowly.

“Boyfriend?” She looked up and tears streamed down her face.

“Honey, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do…I know what I’d do, but you need to decide for yourself. Sandra?” Sandra nodded and walked out of the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a camera.

“Billie,” Sandra said softly, “I’m going to take a couple of pictures, just in case you decide to take this further. You don’t have to do anything tonight, okay?” Billie looked up and Sandra pointed the camera at the girl’s face. A few moments later she put the camera down. She walked up and kissed the girl on the head once again.

“I’ve got to get going. Eleven is open and made up. I’ll leave my office open so you can get the key.” Sandra smiled and left.

“Does that mean…can I stay here tonight? I promise I’ll find a place to stay tomorrow, really,” Billie said as she wiped her nose with her arm.

“Oh, honey…you don’t have to find a place…you can stay here as long as you like.” Janet squeezed the girl’s hand. She pulled her hand away and rubbed the back of her neck. As she moved her hand, she felt the hair line. She pulled her hand down and started weeping.

“Did someone cut your hair like that?” Janet asked. The girl shook her head no. Drea’s eyes widened in recognition.

“You cut your hair, didn’t you?” It wasn’t an accusation, but a statement, accompanied by an assuring pat on the girl’s hand.

“They said I couldn’t come home….like….” She tried to speak but she began to sob.

“Your family didn’t want you as a girl, is that right honey?” Drea asked. Billie looked up and nodded.

“I…I went home. Mom met me at the door. She just said, ‘well, come in.’ When I tried to hug her, she just looked back at Daddy and then pulled away. Daddy was standing at the foot of the steps.” Billie wiped her face again.

“He looked at me and said that he told me it would happen and then he said, ‘I hope you’ve learned your lesson.’ I hope you’ve learned your lesson? Maybe I should have listened…He was fucking right,” Billie wept as she pointed to her bruised face.

“No, honey, no…you didn’t do anything wrong.” Drea shook her head and wiped the tears from her own eyes. “Nobody deserves to be treated this way.”

“It…it doesn’t make any difference. He looked at me and said, ‘Well, at least you cut your hair.” As she said it she unconsciously bit her lip, which evoked a wince of pain.

“I mean…I had the surgery three years ago…when I was twenty-four...what did they expect? I should have shut up, but I told him that he just taught me the last lesson I’ll ever need to know.” She put her hand to her face to cover her misplaced shame.

“I went to hug my mom and they both just stood there, staring at me like I was some sort of freak.” She looked back and forth between Drea and Janet.

“Now I don’t have anywhere to live and my own family hates me. I don’t even have a home anymore.” She put her head down on the table and wept, her shoulders rising and falling with each sob. Janet put her hand on the girl’s back and rubbed it gently.

“You do now, sweetie, you do now,” Janet said softly.

The following adternoon….

It had been a long day, and Janet was ready to crash even though five o'clock was still over an hour away. Candace came into the Clinic and said,

“You got time to talk?” Janet looked up at her and smiled. Anyone else would have gotten a reply best left unsaid, but Candace was almost her world, so to speak. She waved Candace around and smiled as the girl hugged her tightly with an “mmmmm.”

“I love your hugs, kiddo, you do know that?” Janet said as Candace grabbed a chair from Karen’s office and scooted over next to Janet’s desk.

“I think I know what I want to be when I grow up,” Candace said it in an almost sing-song voice to kid Janet. They had been joking about it since Candace recently passed 5’9’ and was already eye to forehead with Janet.

“Okay, child of mine, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Janet smiled. The girl was determined to face life head on. She was doing much better than anyone had expected in therapy, and her hormone treatment was going as her doctor had anticipated. She would likely have surgery sometime after her eighteenth birthday, which was now less than two years away. By the time the summer would be over that year, her plans were to enter Johns Hopkins University as a Nursing student with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.

“I want to go into Obstetrics!” Candace practically yelled. Most parents would have been even the tiniest bit disappointed if their child didn’t follow them in their field. Not Janet. She understood even as the words left Candace’s mouth.

“You know, after being here for a while and being with you, I think I want to be where people ‘check in’ instead of ‘check out.’” She giggled, which got Janet laughing.

“Sounds like a great plan, baby girl. You think you can handle it?” Janet smiled, knowing full well the girl could likely handle anything thrown at her after her horrific childhood. At sixteen she had a good head on her shoulders, with a heart of compassion that beat loud and clear.

“No problem! Just one thing, though…it’s not much, if you don’t mind.” She smiled as Janet looked at her quizzically.

“Once the adoption papers go through, can I start callin’ you Mom?” Janet thought she was kidding, but she looked and saw tears in the girl’s eyes. Janet started to mist up, no knowing what to say. Candace did, and she went ahead and said it.

“Never mind, just forget about it,” she said in a mock serious voice. “I can’t wait…Mom!” She threw her arms around Janet and produced an envelope.

“Irene handed it to me when I got off the bus. ‘Candace Maria Martinez...McGuire.’ I’m all yours!” She threw her arms around Janet and began to cry, but the tears both of them shed were supremely joyful.”

“Has a nice sound to it, Candace McGuire.” Candace said as Janet hugged her and cried harder and happier than she had ever cried before.

Someday if all my prayers are answered
I'll hear a footstep on the stair
With anxious heart
I'll hurry to the door
And maybe you'll
Be there

Patient in Affliction

See here, she said. You know it seems
That children rove while mothers sleep
The time that left is yours to keep
It falls from her like a cry
Softly like a lullaby
I can hear her sing with half-closed eyes
See here, she said. Dreams never lie

Later that week...

“Are you okay?” Cathilynn asked the woman sitting across from her as she shuffled some papers on her desk.

“Well, I guess I am.” Ronnie looked out the window into the parking lot beyond, as if to find some strength.

“Running a therapy group for relapse prevention or thinking errors is one thing. A survivor group is something else entirely.
Ronnie Sexton was visiting the Home while on an extended leave from the substance abuse program she ran in Sacramento; she was taking some time to recharge. Cathilynn was an old friend from “before,” and now they both were fairly settled into their respective fields.

“Tell me why it is you want me to run this group in particular?” Ronnie asked. Nancy Kane was visiting her daughter in South Dakota along with her son-in-law and new grand-daughter. So Ronnie was available, but why this group? Both of them were aware of Ronnie’s history. She, like many others, had a history of abuse as a child. Ronnie had overcome many of her demons, but again, like many others, was always in recovery mode.

“I think you bring a nice perspective to the process. Your personality, for one. Your humor is a life-giver to everybody who knows you, dear.” Cathilynn smiled warmly at Ronnie. She reached into the fridge on her credenza and grabbed two diet Raspberry Snapples.

“Hey, how many transsexuals does it take to change a light bulb?” Ronnie smiled and Cathilynn winced, fearing the answer.

“Only one, but she needs a note from two doctors.” Ronnie laughed and shook her head.

“Oh, I’ve got one for you.” Cathilynn smiled again, feeling confident. ‘What were DeForrest Kelley’s last words?

“I’m dead, Jim.” Ronnie laughed and added, “Cathi, I told you that joke last time I was here.”

“Some things never change….at least most things," Ronnie thought as Cathilynn handed her the Snapple.


“Karen, would you come here for a moment?” Steve Garber had just sat down at his desk and discovered a note addressed to him. A moment later, Karen walked into his office.

“What’s up?” He pointed to the note.

“I found that under the door this morning. I don’t know what it means.” She shrugged her shoulders.

“Can you get me Janet? This looks like her handwriting.” A few moments later, Drea stood at Steve’s door.

“Janet didn’t write the note, Steve, I did.” Drea took a bite out of a pear and threw the core in the trash. She walked over and sat down. Steve seemed taken aback and leaned forward in his chair.

“Who do you think you are? You had no right to interfere.” He pointed to the note. Dina Chang had decided not to have her surgery, and had taken a last-minute flight to Chicago.

“I should have been told. I’m her doctor,” he said angrily. Drea smiled and looked at the note as if she hadn’t seen it.

“Steve, relax. She’s just having last minute jitters. She’ll probably change her mind sometime soon and return.” Drea leaned back and reached into her sweater pocket and pulled out a diet Pepsi. Popping the tab, she took a sip and smiled again at Steve.

“See, that’s why you should have told me. I could have talked her out of it.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But thanks to you, it’s too late.”

“Too late for what, Steve? For the surgery? Hell, she’s only twenty-seven. It’s not like it can’t wait a few weeks.” She smiled again.

“In a few weeks she might not want the surgery at all. You know she’s talked about going back to boy-mode. If I had time to talk to her…” Drea cut him off.

“Steve? Are you even listening to yourself? That’s the whole point. If she’s this uncertain about the surgery and even about transitioning, then she’s not ready for surgery to begin with.” She said this with a smile once again, but she was beginning to get annoyed, more out of her own problems of the day.

“I’m her doctor; I should be the one to decide that,” he said, but he didn’t look convinced of his own words.

“You are one of four doctors, as I remember. Nancy Kane is her Psychiatrist. Dr. Flores in town is her GP, and she’s got an endocrinologist that she sees as well. “

“Well I should have been consulted. You should have called me! I have a right to know.” Steve was more disappointed and frustrated than angry at that point. Drea shook her head.

“She called me from the airport. She was just about to board, and she didn’t want us to worry. She only talked to Nancy, and no one else.”

“Well Nancy should have called me right away.”

“Steve…she told Nancy not to tell you until after she had left. She didn’t want to talk to you because she was afraid you’d try to talk her out of her decision.” Steve got a pained, sad look on his face as Drea continued.

“From what I gather, this has been going on for weeks. She told Nancy that she was having second thoughts because her family has threatened to disown her. I can’t imagine being in that situation, but it has to be excruciating.” Drea recalled her family’s acceptance of her own decision and felt for the girl.

“Doesn’t she see that’s caving into their demands?” Steve asked. He wanted the best for her, but in this case Drea disagreed with his approach.

“Of course she does. But she has to make a choice based on what she can bear, not what we think is best. This sucks, but that’s what she’s faced with. Is she going to fulfill whom she feels she is, or is she going to hold onto her family. Either way she’s fucked…you know that, don’t you?” Drea rarely swore…at least in conversation, but she wanted Steve to know just how desperate the girl was.

“Should she be able to have both? Of course, but then we wouldn’t need the Home then, would we?” Drea’s eyes began to mist.

“She has two sisters that she misses terribly. She probably will change her mind a few times between now and when she finally is forced to choose. I hate that she has to choose, but that’s her life, and the life of a lot of the girls here.”

“You’re right…I just hate to see her dreams go…the life she could be living.” He wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“Her mom is a lot more open than her dad, but right now, it’s one or the other; surgery or family. You don’t have any family to speak of right now and mine accepts who I am. For almost everybody else who walks through the doors here…including the people who work here…it’s not that way. They have to literally walk away from people they love in order to be whom they feel they were meant to be. I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to make that choice…Fuck; I did with my first marriage, and years of denying myself with my second marriage. Only at the end did I realize Annie had accepted what I was…even before I did. We all have to keep that in mind with everyone here; it’s their dream, not ours. “ She paused and wiped her face with her sleeve.

“Working here isn’t a duty or obligation; it’s a privilege and a blessing. Steve…It’s okay to want to succeed. But ultimately we’re not the
Doctor here; we’re the instruments, right?” Steve nodded but he didn’t seem convinced.

“Two things come to mind that may help ease our disappointment." Drea made a point to emphasize "our," to show Steve he wasn't alone.

“Last week Annika Lindstrom died. And I wasn’t there.” Drea’s eyes began to mist; she still struggled with the guilt she felt even as she told the story.

“My medications have been giving me fits lately. The day she died I sat with her and her mom for about three hours. About five o’clock that afternoon, I started to get sick. I excused myself and went to the restroom. I didn’t expect I’d be that sick, but I was gone for about fifteen minutes.” Drea hadn’t told anybody, but her medication wasn’t the problem; it was that it wasn’t working any longer.

“Anyway…” Tears began to stream from her eyes as she recalled the moment. “When I came back….she was gone…I was only away for a few minutes and I felt like I had let her down.” Drea shook her head, trying hard not to cry. She swallowed and continued.

“Her mother came up to me and hugged me. ‘Thank you for this precious child,’ she said to me.” Steve looked at her and picked up where she had stopped.

“I remember…Janet said that Candace had been doing her homework and remembered she left her Calculus book in the hospice. She came in and noticed Annika and her mom.”

“Yep…not just a coincidence, from where I sit. She spent the next ten minutes holding Annika’s hand and talking about Stockholm. How she always wanted to visit Sweden. Then she talked about how she’d heard how pretty Sweden is in the summer. Annika died with Candace singing a nice song about wildflowers. She died knowing that people cared. I wasn’t there, but Candace was…it didn’t matter to Annika who held her hand; only that someone did.”

Candace’s act did little to comfort Drea. She still felt guilty over missing Annika's “departure.” And her own mortality was staring her in the face as well.

“And do you remember what Stacy said when she came out of recovery? You told me yourself, right?” She smiled and shrugged he shoulders.

“Dr. Steve…” His voice began to falter and the tears began to flow. Steve Garber was no less or no more proud than any other; his emotion wasn’t from pride, but from belonging.

“Dr. Steve,” he began again. “You saved my life.” He bit his lip and shook his head. Drea nodded in agreement.

“We get to be involved; like I felt when I got to ride along with my Dad on Saturdays when I was a kid, when he’d go fix someone’s sink or bathtub. I felt like I was part of a team…like how I feel now…like I belong. We get to be a part of what goes on here.”

“Yeah,” Steve said…"I see what you mean…a privilege and a blessing...I belong."

"And Steve, not to worry...Dina's staying with friends in Chicago. I expect she'll be back here sometime soon, okay?"

That evening...

Beth was sitting on the couch in her apartment, wondering what was going on inside her. She still had feelings for Simon. But something new was stirring; something altogether foreign in a way, but hearkening back to a time when Beth didn’t even exist; at least in name. She scratched Pablo’s ears and a loud purr erupted from the kitten’s throat. Newly adopted from the shelter, the kitten was almost a kindred spirit; no one to claim him. Beth’s parents had died a while back and her brother was always busy with his own pursuits. She had started to zone out from the warmth of her comforter and the soothing sound of the kitten when the phone rang, waking her up.

“Hello…Oh…Hi, Simon.” She perked up even more at the sound of his voice.

“Dinner Tuesday? That would be great.” She smiled and looked at the kitten in her lap as if to say, “Things are picking up.” He climbed onto her shoulder and nuzzled her neck before settling on the cushion behind her head.

“Schiavelli’s? Sure…meet you there. Okay…bye.” In her joy over the call, she had completely forgotten any other concern she had.

“I guess we’re reconnecting, huh kitty?” She smiled at the kitten; who by now had started playing with the yarn to the new sweater she was knitting.

She hadn’t meant to get gushy at all, but she picked up the notebook that held her knitting designs. She turned to the back cover, which was filled with writing. Looking it over, she smiled, determining to add to the collection she had begun. Picking up the sharpie, she began to write.

“Beth Woodward….Elizabeth Woodward….Beth Davidson Woodward….and finally, Mrs. Simon Woodward.” She went to write another name, but hesitated. She looked at Pablo once again, who had dug his claws into her knee and was reaching to swat her pen as she wrote.

“I’s one….Pablo Davidson Woodward.” She scratched the kitten’s ears once again. Fifteen minutes later, Beth lay on her side, covered by the down comforter. Lying on her on the comforter, Pablo tread on Beth’s shoulder, alternating paws while digging sharply into her arm with his claws. Beth fell asleep, but it wasn't Simon's face she saw as she faded...she saw someone else and she was at peace, and she almost seemed to purr as well.

"Elizabeth...." Pablo nuzzled her neck as she fell asleep uttering a single word softly....


My dreams are visions on the wind
Of places I have never been
Pictures only I can see
Songs that sleep inside of me

The DiMaggio-Sprague home....

Drea had just put her purse on the hall table when two arms enveloped her in a soft hug.

“How’s my girl today?” Bella said as she squeezed Drea from behind.

“Tired…We have nobody in the hospice right now, which is a blessing. Don’t get me wrong. This kind of idleness I can live with. But I’m tired and I could hardly get going today. Any word? I didn’t check my messages before I left.” Drea sat down on the couch and put her head up against a pillow leaning on the wing.

“Lynn called from Dr. Jensen’s office. The results are in, and she wants us to come in tomorrow afternoon. Lynn sounded upbeat so I guess we can breathe a sigh of relief?” Bella smiled and kissed Drea on the cheek. She put her head on Drea’s shoulder. Drea turned her head slightly and blinked out some tears. Lynn had indeed sounded upbeat, but only because she had talked briefly with Drea that afternoon. Her mood then was entirely different; Lynn struggled with hiding her feelings, and her concern had come through in her voice.

“Do me a favor,” Drea had asked. “Call Bella at home and tell her that the results are in and give her a day for the appointment. Don’t tell her we talked, okay?” Drea had pled. Lynn did remarkably well at sounding upbeat. She would never share results over the phone, but her tone told Drea everything she needed to hear. No sense in spoiling the evening.

“Drea honey…Drea?” Bella said loudly, interrupting Drea’s train of thought.

“Oh, sorry, honey…I must have dozed off…What is it?” Drea said softly.

“Connie and Paulette will be here in about an hour. Janet and Candace will probably arrive at the same time. Candace has her debate team practice until 5:30 or so and then they’ll come straight here. Why don’t you go lie down for a nap, okay?” Bella kissed Drea once more before getting up.

“Mostaccioli and meatballs okay?” Bella asked. Drea had already fallen asleep, more worn out over the news she already suspected that the doctor would give them than the events of the day.

See here, she said. You must believe
See here, she said. Look at your dreams
For children rove and lover’s sleep
The time that’s left is yours to keep

The same evening at the home...

Billie sat down at the desk in her room and looked for a pen. She pulled out her diary and began to write.

“Dear Diary: today was such a painful day. Beth keeps avoiding me and I don’t know why. Maybe she doesn’t like me like that. I guess that’s okay. I don’t even know what to think anymore. When Danny hit me, I started thinking about what’s important. I think last night’s group helped.”

Billie put down the diary and hopped onto her bed. She put her head down on the pillow, but her mind was racing, and a nap wouldn’t happen; at least not for a while. She thought of the group and how things seemed more in focus after she talked to the moderator after the session.

Earlier that day...

“I’m glad I met you all. Cathilynn tells me that Nancy won’t be back until Friday. First grandchildren always seem to get a lot of attention. So you’re stuck with me for at least another meeting. Pretty cool meeting you all. I’ll see you Thursday, okay?”

Ronnie breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t planned on talking about her own experience, but it seemed to be the thing to do. Her candor opened up the group enough that Beth actually talked about her Dad for the first time ever; a major victory due in no small part to openness that came from Ronnie’s willingness to be vulnerable. As she picked up her purse, Billie came up to her.

“Excuse me, Ronnie? You got a few minutes to talk?” Billie put her head down, almost expecting a refusal.

“Sure, what can I do for you?” Nearly seventy, she was still the picture of health, and looked as if she could have done three more groups and a family session.”

“I was wondering…how do you know…” Billie started to ask, but Ronnie cut her off.

“Whether you should be with a guy or a girl?” It almost seemed clairvoyant until she followed up with, “Relax, kid…I’m not a mind reader. You talked about your boyfriend and you kept looking at that other girl…Beth? All during the session. And no…nobody else saw you.

“Oh gosh…was I that obvious?” Billie’s face, normally a very pale pink, began turning darker.

“Relax. I sat across from you and most everybody else was either crying or laughing hysterically at my jokes...or was it crying hysterically at my jokes,” she quipped. “Nobody else saw. You’re just coming out of a shitty relationship and you’ve got the hots for a co-worker. So what else is new? Let me clue you in. There’s no ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ when it comes to TG relationships … non-TG for that matter. You love whom you love.“

“Gosh,” Billie said softly as she shook her head. She opened her mouth to speak, but Ronnie cut her off again, “And you want to know if you’re TG, because you got molested, right?” Once again, Ronnie’s insight seemed uncanny.

“The answer is…I don’t know…but I’d be willing to bet you do.” She smiled.

“Let’s take for example…Pam is hurt by her Uncle Joey when she’s six and when she’s nine she feels like she doesn’t fit in…like she would feel more comfortable going to Mary’s house to play dress up than to Davy’s to play Nintendo. Suzie is molested by her Cousin Louie when she’s nine. She remembers wanting to be just like mom when she’s seven. Almost seems like cause and effect, right?“ She smiled and Billie put her head down, shaking it from side to side, confused.

“Kid…the two sometimes are connected but a lot of times...most times actually, one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. The best thing is this…do you have a good counselor you talk to?” Billie nodded but then shook her head.

“I talk to Drea once and a while, but she says I need to talk with someone who deals with ….I forgot what she said…post something.”
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Ronnie nodded. “Something war vets and abuse survivors have a lot in common. They're affected by past stuff as if it was still happening. You have any memories?” Billie looked down and her eyes quickly filled with tears, telling Ronnie all she needed to know.

“You sit down with Drea and with Nancy, and see if you can find a good counselor; somebody who hopefully who deals with gender issues as well as PTSD, you know? Someone who can walk you through that?“ Billie put her head down and her shoulders began to shake.

“But….” Billie started to cry.

“You don’t have to put your life on hold, kid. Talking helps, but you still have to live your life.” Ronnie pulled the girl in for a tentative hug.

“You’re going to find out the who’s and what’s and where’s and why’s and how’s, kid. And the people here will help you do that. And Billie?”

"Yes?" She almost cringed.

"I think you're a very sweet girl, and whoever you end up with will be one blessed girl...a person know what I mean." Billie smiled, blinking back some tears.

"One last question, Billie, maybe the most important thing I'll ask you all evening."

"Yes," Billie did cringe this time, evoking big smile and laugh from Ronnie.

"Are there any good Pizza joints around here...I haven't eaten since yesterday!"

Billie put down her diary and climbed in her bed. She brushed her face with her hand; the physical pain of Danny’s punch was long gone, but the memory and emotion of the moment lingered. She closed her eyes slowly, fearing that she would see his cruel face. Instead, the warm smile of a pretty coworker filled her vision. She wanted to know for sure what to do. She had feelings for Beth, and this invasion of her vision was unsettling and comforting at the same time. She turned over, buried her face in her pillow and cried herself to sleep.

My dreams are visions on the wind
Of places I have never been
Pictures only I can see
Songs that sleep inside of me

Home Sweet Home

I have a feeling, it's a feeling,
I'm concealing, I don't know why
It's just a mental, sentimental alibi
But I adore you
So strong for you
Why go on stalling
I am falling
Our love is calling
Why be shy?

The Following Tuesday…

Beth was so excited that she arrived at the restaurant a half-hour early. She walked to the podium in the front by the bar and mentioned that her boyfriend had reserved a table. The hostess looked at the sign-up register.

"I'm sorry, there's no reservation listed for Woodward. Perhaps under another name?" She smiled at Beth.

"Well, you could try Davidson, but my boyfriend made the reservations." She peered over the podium, trying to read the entries upside down. The woman half-frowned and shook her head.

"Maybe I got the days mixed up..." She thought out loud. Opening her purse, she pulled out the post-it she had written on when Simon called.

"Tuesday...7:30...Schiavelli's." She was going to show the note to the hostess but thought better of it. She pulled out her cell phone and hit the preset for Simon. The phone rang several times before going to voicemail. She shook her head and wondered what was going on. A few moments, her questions were answered painfully? She started to walk to the bar.

"Maybe he didn't make reservations...Tuesday...slow night...that must be it." She thought. She sat down at the bar and ordered an O'Doul's. As she took the first sip she heard a familiar voice.

"Excuse me…Has a Miss Davidson been here?" Simon asked.

"Why yes," the hostess said. "She was here just a moment ago."

"When she returns, can you have her join me?" he said as he pointed to the table a few feet away.

"Certainly." The hostess smiled and looked in the direction of the Lady's room. Beth was about to get up from the bar when she saw an attractive woman walk to Simon's table. She kissed him on the cheek and sat down next to him. A moment later they were holding hands. Beth couldn't believe her eyes. She rose from the stool and walked slowly over to the table.

"Oh...ohhh…Hi…Hi Beth...I wasn't expecting you so soon." Simon said as his face grew two shades darker. The woman grabbed him by the wrist. She had a very pained look on her face and a very attractive diamond ring on her left hand.

"God, didn't tell her? Oh my God...I am so sorry." The woman sat and looked at Beth before looking back at Simon, who offered no word to either woman.

"Yeah...I'm sorry, too." Beth said as tears streamed down her cheeks. She walked out of the restaurant quickly, barely making it to her car before she collapsed behind the wheel in a torrent of tears.

One Week Later - At the Clinic…

Let's close our eyes and make our own paradise
Little we know of it, still we can try
To make a go of it

“Excuse me,” the man asked softly. “Can you tell me where I might find Dr. DiMaggio?” Janet looked up from her crossword puzzle and came face to face with the most handsome man she had ever seen. Almost silver-haired, he was about her age, making him at least sixty-five.

“Hardly anyone calls her doctor, so you must be her eleven o’clock appointment.” Janet rose and walked around the desk. She offered her hand, and the man shook it gently but firmly; a man’s handshake she thought.

“Andrea and I go way back," he said and smiled warmly.

"Hi....I’m Janet...Janet McGuire."

Janet looked into his eyes; gentle and warm, a light brown, almost amber. He smiled warmly and said,

“I knew Andrea when she was Andy and lived in the same apartment complex when we both went for our doctorates; she was two years ahead of me in the program. Seems odd to call Andy a she, but that’s what she was, I suppose.” He put his hand to his chin, as if to try to recall an important detail, which he did a moment later.

“Oh, my, I’m so sorry. My name is Cal, Cal Meacham.” He shook his head once and smiled again. “I do that all the time. Anyway, I would like you to know at least that if I do forget my own name from time to time, I rarely forget a name that goes with a pretty face."

He smiled again and took Janet’s proffered hand and shook it gently. Janet wasn’t even aware that she was shaking hands once again until she felt the soft brush of lips at the back of her hand. She was still staring at her hand when Drea came down the hall way.

“Hey old friend,” Drea said as she hugged Cal, who patted her on the back awkwardly.

“Sorry, but it still seems odd after all these years.” Cal said as he broke the embrace. Drea noticed the look on Janet’s face and quickly said, “Oh, not THAT…he just hates hugging. His own mother still wonders if she’ll get a handshake when he visits.” She laughed.

“Why don’t you come back to my office and then I’ll give you the tour, okay?” Drea said as they walked down the hall. Janet followed their progress until they entered the office suite. She was surprised that Drea was hiring someone extra to help with the hospice. Between Drea and Giselle, the intern and herself, they had it covered. Janet spent more time at the clinic than at the hospice, and it made no sense to add another counselor.

Janet also wondered about her own reaction to Cal. Apart from a handful of brief relationships after her surgery, she hadn’t entertained any significant thoughts about her status as a single woman. Certainly as well, her time had been filled with the pull of need by the hospice as well adopting a teenager girl with gender issues of her own. And yet there was something completely different going on; she hadn’t felt this way since she had a crush on Bobby Wainwright in the sixth grade. She was lost in thought for a while, recalling long forgotten feelings.

“Excuse me,” She heard that same soft voice again.

“We’ve just finished our tour,” Cal said with a smile. “I was just wondering what you were doing for lunch.” He smiled again and Janet replied.

“Nothing…are you two going out for lunch?” She found herself staring into those soft brown eyes once again. Drea noticed but didn’t let on, saying instead,

“Oh…Not us. Bella and I were going to an appointment at lunch time, but you and Cal can go. I told him about that Thai restaurant everyone seems to like.” She smiled almost conspiratorially.

“Drea tells me that you’re a tea girl.” It would have seemed incredibly rude if anyone else had asked, Janet thought, but those eyes and that voice made it seem like such an innocent question.

“Ye….yyess....since 1985.” Janet stammered. Not knowing what else to say, she said,

“Dddddooo you like Thai?”

Cal smiled at her and said, “With you? Of course.” He smiled again.

“Of course.” The conversation was positively cerebral!

“Janet?" Drea interrupted. "Cal was talking about tea instead of coffee? He knows all about the home. It would be a surprise if he met anyone woman here who wasn’t tee!” She laughed.

“I’m sorry. Andrea and I chat online all the time. Since my wife Lydia’s passing several years ago we sort of leaned on each other. Drea's Annie was Lydia’s maid of honor.” His eyes seemed to twinkle when he mentioned Lydia’s name.

“You remind me a lot of Lydia…very keen eyes…like a mother eagle; you know...protective? I’ll bet you love children.”

“Boy, has he got me pegged…Oh…Drea must have said something” Janet thought almost missing the next few words.

“You favor her with your eyes…very attractive.” He said softly.

“Eyes…yes…” Janet said, she said as she stared into Cal’s eyes once again.

“Mmmmm, yes.” She said. “Eyes.”

Later that afternoon…

We might have been meant for each other
To be or not to be
Let our hearts discover

“Billie, can you come over here for a second?” Beth called from somewhere behind a desk on the other side of the office.
Billie walked over and found Beth sitting on the floor.

“This folder must have fallen out of the file. It’s stuck between the cabinet and the floor, and I’m afraid if I try to pull it out, it will rip. Can you reach over and pull up a little under the top drawer opening?”

“Sure,” Billie said, thinking to herself, “That’s the first time she’s spoken to me directly in a week.”

She reached over and lifted up slightly, freeing the folder. Beth placed it on the desk next to her and went to stand up. She had gotten wedged between the desk and the cabinet and had no traction.

“Here,” Billie said, noticing her difficulty. She placed one hand on the desk for leverage and pulled Beth up with the other hand. Billie went to turn to give Beth room to move but she realized she was still holding her hand. She looked at her hand and back at Beth, who said,

“Thanks, I’ve got it from here.”

Billie noticed Beth’s smile, which was quickly replaced with a frown. She was about to apologize when Beth said, “Oh, crap…it’s the wrong folder after all that. I’m sorry to waste your time, hon.” Beth smiled and tossed the folder on the desk.

“It wasn’t a waste of time at all,” Billie thought to herself. She was almost lost in that thought when Beth said, “Billie…you can let go of my hand now.” Another smile and a nod. Billie released her hand and Beth squeezed past her. As she walked past the credenza she noticed another folder.

“I can’t believe I missed this,” she said as Billie returned to her own desk. “Thanks anyway.”

“No problem.”

Billie returned her attention to her own work. Something made her think of a time long ago. When she was about twelve, she met Sarah McLaughlin backstage after a concert. She shook hands with her and vowed never to wash her hand again. She stared blankly until her train of thought was interrupted by a voice.

“You doing anything for lunch?” Beth was standing at her desk, almost leaning over. Like a pre-pubescent boy, she found herself staring at Beth’s cleavage.

“Luuunnnch???” She stammered, wanting to hide.

“Yes…You know…midday meal….soup…sandwiches…been all the rage for several millennia.” Beth laughed, and Billie found the down on her arms raise slightly.

“Oh…yeeahh.” She stammered once again.

“Look, you just started. My treat, okay?”

Beth put her hand out, innocently she would say later, and placed it lightly on Billie’s wrist, causing her to pull back sharply. Her hand hit the three-hour-old coffee sitting on her desk, sending it splashing onto her blouse. Beth ran to the credenza for some paper towels. She walked around to the side of Billie’s desk to hand her the wad of towels and her heel caught the edge of the carpet protector, sending her right into Billie’s arms.

“Get up…get up.” Billie almost pled, but Beth’s sweater sleeve was snagged on the armrest of Billie’s chair. Beth’s face lay inches away from Billie’s when it happened. Beth looked into those breathtakingly beautiful sea-green eyes and melted. She found herself literally letting go as her hands pushed away from the chair and she settled into Billie’s arms. With nothing to support her, Beth’s head fell forward and her lips came into contact with Billie’s cheek.

“Stop…stop it. Beth! Stop!” Billie said, but the more she spoke the words the less convinced she became. That Beth’s lips were now caressing hers may have had something to do with it.

“Staaahhhp….mmmm….sthhhaaap….mmmm.” Billie began to kiss back, first tentatively. It was the first time she had kissed a girl since she kissed Alicia DiMattea in fourth grade. A little boy may have kissed Alicia long ago, but the woman he became kissed a girl for the very first time.

“Nohhhooh…mmmm…..oooohhhh,” Beth uttered in return. A moment later they disengaged,.

“I’m sorry, Billie…I’ve never…” Beth had never kissed anybody like that. She looked away and her face turned dark pink.

“I’m so…soooo sorry.” She burst into tears and ran out of the office. Billie made a half-hearted attempt to stop her, but she was just as embarrassed and anxious as Beth.

“Oh, God, what do I do now?” It was more of an expression than a prayer. She heard a sound at the door and turned to see Irene standing in the doorway with her arms folded.

“She’s going to fire me…Oh shit…damn it!” She looked back at Irene, who smiled and said,


“I’m sorry, Ms. Smith. I’m so sorry…it won’t happen again.” She wiped some tears from her face, almost cringing at the sight of Irene walking slowly toward her. “Please, Ms. Smith?”

“No…no…not that.” Irene said and broke out into a broad grin.

“Whhhaaaa…whaaat?” Billie looked down at her shoes.

Irene actually grabbed her by the chin and lifted her head up. “Well? Aren’t you going to go after her?” Irene took her hand and turned Billie’s face to the doorway.

“Honey…it’s okay…go.” Irene smiled again. Billie stood up and started to walk to the door. She looked back and tilted her head as if to say, “Are you sure?”


Let's fall in love
Why shouldn't we fall in love?
Our hearts are made of it
Let's take a chance
Why be afraid of it

We might have been meant for each other
To be or not to be
Let our hearts discover

Let's fall in love
Why shouldn't we fall in love?
Now is the time for it, while we are young
Let's fall in love

Someone Old, Someone New

We are both lost
And alone in the world
Walk with me
In the gentle rain
Don’t be afraid
I’ve a hand for your hand
And I will be your love for a while?

"Beth...Come out." Billie knocked on the door.

"No...I can't...I'm so sorry." Beth called out from behind the bathroom door. Billie tried the knob, but it wouldn't budge.

"Stop, Billie...I'm sorry... I can't...I just can't. I'm not supposed to ...this isn't right." Billie heard a bump on the door which she guessed was Beth's head.

"I'm not going anywhere. You can hang in there 'til the end of the day, but I'm not leaving!" Billie said as she turned around. She lowered herself to the floor and leaned her back against the door.

"And you're not either unless you come out and talk." Billie wasn't used to being this assertive, but it was something that just seemed so right.

"Billie, I'm not kidding. I can't do this. It's not supposed to happen this way." She was crying almost hysterically.

"What's supposed to happen?" Billie asked, turning her head to face the closed door.

"I'm not supposed" Her voice trailed off and Billie heard her sit down on the toilet.

"What? A girl?" Billie hit her fist on the door trim, evoking a wince of pain.

"Yeessss.....I'm supposed to...." The voice coming from the bathroom was softer and almost subdued.

"You are supposed to do whatever the fuck pleases you!" Billie said. She looked down the hall and Irene was standing in the office door way, moving her hands as if motioning Billie to continue. By now Sandra and Cathilynn were also standing at the other end of the hallway.

Billie felt the push of the bathroom door against her back. She stretched her legs across the hallway and pushed against the far wall.

“Sorry. Not going anywhere. Listen to yourself.” She heard the latch click as the door pushed back into the doorway.

“But you don’t understand.” Beth was calmer, but still crying. “I’m doing what I have to do.”

“According to whom, dear?” Billie was getting tired of pushing and eased up on the door. Feeling nothing she relaxed.

“What do you want, Beth? What do you want?” Billie turned her head and seemed to be talking to the door. Sandra and Cathilynn stepped closer before Billie put her finger to her lips and actually mouthed “Be vewy kwiet…I’m hunting fowh an Ewiszabeff.” Both of them put their fingers up to their own lips in acknowledgment. Sandra practically tip-toed up to Billie and handed her a spare master key,

"Just in case," she whispered.

“I want…I... God I don’t even know.” She was crying harder now, and both Sandra and Cathilynn turned and started walking back down the hallway.

“Well, I know what I want, and I’m not leaving until you know, too!” She bit her lip. It played out almost comically, but she knew the pain Beth was in; she had felt it herself. Years of doing exactly what was expected brought her through her circuitous journey to her own crossroads, and Beth was standing in the middle of the intersection.

“I didn’t know myself until now, but I want you, Beth, if you’ll have me. I’m fucking damaged goods. I don’t have my head screwed all the way on, and I’m scared to admit it, but I need you. I need you more than I’ve ever needed anything or anyone. When we kissed just now, it was like you freed me from myself…all the stupid stuff I’ve ever done just went away…gone!” She was trying not to cry herself; someone had to be strong and Beth wasn’t about to.

“But what if?? What if you find you don’t like me?” She cried from behind the door. This wasn’t hysterical, but real ingrained fear reinforced with years of benign neglect by her brother and rejection by all of the ones who urged her to change but failed to validate her once the change was real.

“I don’t know? At this point, sister, I’m not even sure that I do like you, but I know I love you. More than anyone I’ve ever met. Ever!” Billie put her hand to her face and bit her fist to keep from crying. The tears began to fall down her cheeks and drip onto her shoe.

“I….I….don’t like….me either.” Beth wept out of frustration. Years of compliance were keeping the door closed even more than Billie ever could. She felt like she had to fit someone else’s expectations. Relationship after relationship failed as she found she could never measure up to requirements that never should have been placed upon her. She went on.

“I…can’t stand how I just give up…like I don’t belong or have anything to offer. I hate how I don’t say what’s on my mind.” She was more collected even as she wept softly.

“Billie? Billie? Are you still there?” She cried out, and her answer came in the door opening. Those sea-green eyes were filled with their own tears as Billie held out her arms. It was a simple and unassuming gesture upon first glance, but very important; Beth would have to decide. She would have to make up her mind to come to Billie. Either she wanted this or not, and it was up to her; not anyone or anything else.

“I’m right here in front of you. I love you. Do you love me?” It was an easy enough question to ask; much more difficult to answer. Did Beth really want what she had always pursued? Was it something she truly desired, or was there another way. She answered in the only way she knew how. Stepping out of the bathroom into the hallway, she kissed Billie. Not sensual in the true sense, but it was. Not romantic in the deepest way, but it was.

“Mmmm….sooo…sohhhrrreee.” She kissed Billie’s face as if it were the last time they would ever kiss. Her lips caressed Billie’s cheeks and chin. Her own lip bent almost sideways brushing against Billie’s ear. She cooed and sobbed and laughed and whispered and cried again. Billie answered back in the only way she knew how.

“I’m….soo…sohrreee….yoooo feeel…so bad.” She kissed Beth’s eyes. Her nostrils flared at the scent of Beth’s shampoo and she breathed deep at the smell of her cologne. She kissed Beth as tenderly as sisters do, and then as passionately as lovers will. She pulled back briefly. Beth’s eyes were still closed, and the tears just kept coming, but they were no longer fearful, dreadful tears. These were cleansing and freeing and comforting.

“I love you. I think fell in love with you the day we really met; when your hand touched mine and I felt your energy…your life touched mine that day.” She said softly as she kissed the tears off of Beth’s face. Her face pressed against Beth’s and their tears mingled in a wedding of emotion and love; a taste of what would come…what was yet to be realized but promised in this one gesture.

“Oh, God, Billie, I love you so much. When we met at the picnic…I couldn’t keep my eyes off you. I didn’t know why.” She began to sob in Billie’s arms.

“I’m sohhreeee……that you don’t ….lllliiiiike meee.” She continued to weep. Billie took her hand and brushed Beth’s hair from her forehead. She softly pulled Beth to her and kissed her forehead like a blessing and said.

“Oh……Beth……I’m….so sorry. I do like you. I like you a lot.” She turned and Irene was gone from the hallway. Sandra had retreated to her office, leaving one lone figure in the archway at the end of the hallway, where Cathilynn wiped her own tears with a handkerchief. She smiled and nodded once and then disappeared through her own office doorway. Billie turned again and looked at Beth, who had opened her eyes, her own beautiful brown eyes. She smiled through her tears and placed her head on Billie’s shoulder.

“I like you, too. A lot.” She said and put her hand on Billie’s heart.

“A lot.”

I feel your tears
As they fall on my cheek
They are warm like the gentle rain
Come little one you have me in the world
And our love will be sweet very sweet

Meanwhile, at Thai Gardens Restaurant…

“So…Andrea tells me you and she used to be in-laws?” Cal smiled as he sipped his green tea. Janet smiled back but her body language was anything but welcoming.

“Yes, but not in the way you might suspect.” She smiled again, but her affect looked very nervous. She pushed her Salmon Panang with her fork.

“You were her ex-wife’s brother?” Cal smiled warmly; an entirely unexpected expression given what he had just said. He leaned over and grabbed Janet’s wrist softly and patted her hand. She put up no resistance, which surprised her more than it did Cal.

“Relax Janet. I’m an old hand at this.” He pointed to the wedding ring he still wore.

“Lydia worked at my step-brother’s clinic in's where we met; and then as a nurse and later administrator before we relocated to Montreal.” He smiled at the warm grin widening on her face.

“Your step brother is…” She paused.

“Anders Nillson … your surgeon if I read the look on your face correctly.” He laughed softly at the growing irony of the conversation.

“Yes…I remember your wife…so sweet and supportive.” Janet’s eyes began to mist at the thought that her nurse had been the late wife of the man holding her hand.

“Oh...your Step-brother?” She asked. He nodded.

“Dad married his mom. He felt it was important for Anders to keep his family name; to honor his dad.” She nodded. What a remarkable family.

“I suppose I’m indebted to Andy one more time?” He smiled and looked at her again. She smiled back, but her expression grew quizzical.

“After all, I have him to thank for helping you on your journey. We might not have met otherwise, and that would have been an awful shame.” He surprised her by bringing her hand to his lips to kiss it softly.

There might have been a time where that gesture would not only have felt awkward, but downright embarrassing. She looked at his hand holding hers, and as they say, she melted. Right there in the restaurant between the main course and the complimentary vanilla ice cream.

He smiled once before speaking again. “I hate to impose, but there’s one last question I need to ask before we go any further. It’s really personal, and I hope it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable."

The very mention of the word uncomfortable did exactly what it wasn’t intended to do; it made her very anxious and worried about what he might ask. She nervously nodded yes.

“Janet McGuire, are you free for dinner?”

We both are lost
And alone in the world
Walk with me
In the gentle rain
Don’t be afraid
I’ve a hand for your hand
And I will be your love for a while

At the same time, across town…

“I’m so sorry. I wish I had better news, but we all knew this was almost a desperate measure.” Marnie Jensen sat at her desk, rubbing her face with her hand and blinking out some tears.

“There’s nothing desperate here, Marnie. We can always hope and pray.” Drea held Bella’s hand softly. “Still plenty of time, I’d say.” She smiled.

“Yes, I suppose that’s a good way of looking at it.” She bit her lip. In her years of practice, she had met many folks with faith that went beyond any prognosis. The couple in front of her seemed to thrive on challenge, from what she knew of them.

“I’m glad you’re our doctor, dear,” Bella said with a smile. I’ve known you since you were in kindergarten. To know that a friend is taking care of Drea means the world to me. “

“It’s times like this that challenge me and my faith.” Marnie said. “I know it’s not merely my skill and understanding as a doctor, but when I see something that affects people I actually know and care about, you know?” She shook her head and half-frowned, her own eyes uncharacteristically tearing up.

“Oh, gosh, yes. I understand perfectly. When my sister was dying, I thought of how much effort you put into helping the whole family cope. And then I realized…she was your babysitter …she held you in her arms, and it must have hurt so bad to feel so helpless.” Bella began to mist up.

“I’m just glad things are at least better than we had expected even if they’re not as good as what we had hoped for.” Drea said as she smiled at Marnie. “I’m going to be alright…we’ve got time enough, okay?” She reached over and put her hand on Marnie's wrist, patting it softly. "We're going to be okay."

Back at the home…

Cathilynn sat at her desk looking out the window. She smiled at the thought of what she had just witnessed a short while before. Beth was a real work in progress, and she was so relieved to find that she was discovering finally discovering herself. Billie was really a
Godsend in a way, and not just for Beth, but her own recovery was a real testimony to the great need and reward of working there at the home. A soft knock came at her doorway.

“Hey, Cathi, have you seen my Mom?” Candace asked as she stood against the doorway, almost as if she was half-hiding.

“She went out to lunch with a friend of Drea’s…I expect she’ll be back any minute.”

“O…okay…if you see her can you tell her that I’m home and I need to talk to her?” Her voice was anxious, as if there was something quite wrong.

“Okay, honey…Is there anything I can do?” Cathilynn asked. She took a sip of her cranberry juice and smiled.

“Ah…maybe…..yeah…I think so.” Candace stepped out from behind the doorway. Next to her stood a teen about her age. The child was wearing a tee shirt and jeans and Sketchers.

“My friend here needs a place to stay.” She pointed to the child, who looked almost androgynous at first glance. Candace turned and motioned for her friend to enter Cathilynn’s office.

“This is Ethan….” She hesitated before correcting herself as her friend shook her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking at her friend. “This is my friend…Emma.” Cathilynn looked the child up and down, and recognition flashed in her eyes.

“Candace? I thought we talked about this?” She frowned, but she wasn’t angry, just frustrated. She was going to continue but she noticed something that gave her pause. She blew out a breath, hoping she was wrong.

“Hi…Emma,” she hesitated as the girl stepped backward, her face beginning to redden.

“Oh, honey, it’s okay, I’m sorry if I was abrupt. So you’re a friend of Candace? School?” The girl nodded nervously and stepped forward, almost clinging to Candace while standing behind her.

“Sweetie, why don’t you sit down. I have some orange juice or water, are you thirsty?” She expected the girl would be very thirsty; she looked unhealthy and tired. Candace grabbed her by the arm and they both sat down in front of Cathi’s desk.

“She doesn’t talk much,” Candace said, looking at Emma, who sat quietly, almost cowering.

“Honey, are you alright?” Cathilynn asked. The girl remained silent as Candace shook her head. There were bruises around her left wrist and she looked like she hadn’t eaten for days.

“Candace, sweetie, why don’t you take Emma to the kitchen. There’s probably some pizza left from last night that you can have, okay?” She motioned to the doorway and noticing Emma’s distraction, she nodded and winked at Candace. The girls stood and walked out of the office and down the hall toward the kitchen. She looked out her doorway and then picked up the phone.

“Sam? We’ve got a problem.”

I feel your tears
As they fall on my cheek
They are warm like the gentle rain
Come little one you have me in the world
And our love will be sweet very sad very sweet
Like the gentle rain
Like the gentle rain
Like the gentle rain

Love, Sweet Love!

The look of love is in your eyes
A look your smile can't disguise
The look of love is saying so much
more than just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard,
well it takes my breath away

A few days later in Cathilynn's office…

"So tell me again why you keep ignoring me." Sam smiled and laughed softly. It was a dance that the two of them had been doing for years. For the most part, Cathilynn heeded Sam's advice. But today was one of those 'special' occasions where her heart dictated a contrary course of action.

"She's got at least two old fractures of her right arm, and her collarbone has been broken as well."

"That part I understand. What part of "Mayor's son" don't you understand?" The wording might have been abrupt, but his tone was soft and almost warm.

"Sam, come on...I don't care whose kid she is...she's been hurt and more than once...and it's still going on. You saw the bruise on her wrist. This kid needs our help."

"HE is the mayor's son, regardless of how she presents herself. You know that I support you 110% when it comes to the home, but we're not talking about a regular kid here. This could jeopardize everything you do here. Is one kid worth all that risk?" Sam felt bad even as the words left his mouth.

'Yes, old friend, she is worth everything if only for the fact that she's a living example of why we built the Home in the first place. Besides, once Social Services finds out, it won't make any difference what the mayor feels, or anybody else for that matter. I asked Bella's nephew to place the call from his cell so that it's removed from any connection to the Home. That way we can avoid any conflict that might arise regarding our involvement."

"I hope you know what you're doing. This could blow up in your face, and I can't fix it if it does." He paused and shook his head before adding,

"But you know I'll be down in the rubble helping you rebuild if it does."

"I know. You've given me excellent advice Sam. But sometimes what is expedient and what is moral are two different things. Whatever happens, know that I appreciate every single thing you have done and continue to do for us. We would never have made it if you hadn't been part of this. It's partly your legacy as well, dear one." She smiled and looked out the window.

"What the hell, if worse comes to worse, we can always sell the property for a strip mall or office buildings, right?"

"Yeah, just what this community needs...another tanning salon and pizza joint." He laughed and Cathilynn joined him.

"But just to be on the safe side, I'm going to go home and make sure my property taxes are paid up...just in case." Sam laughed heartily and Cathilynn looked at him.

"I don't suppose you have a spare bedroom you'd be willing to rent out to an old friend?"

The next day in the Home dining room…

Janet shook her head and squeezed Drea’s hand.

“So that’s it? There’s nothing more to be done?” Janet choked back a sob.

“It’s okay, really. Hell, I’m seventy-two next month. Dr. Simon gives me three years at the outside; a sesquicentennial celebration to look forward to, yes, since I've lived enough for two lifetimes? I have had a great life…blessed with three wonderful marriages; a beautiful daughter and two lovely step-daughters and two terrific grandsons. I’ve no complaints.” Drea smiled and Bella leaned on her shoulder, squeezing her other hand.

“And what was it you said, my dear?” Drea turned to Bella who laughed softly.

“I said that my fiftieth class reunion is next week, and I bet I’ll be the only woman there who is escorted by a beautiful wife.”

“So, tell me what your good news is.” Drea looked at Janet, hoping that she was able to let go. They had known each other since Drea dated and then married Janet’s sister Toni.

“Cal is taking me out to dinner tonight.” She smiled with an air of pride like nothing either Drea or Bella had seen.

“Every night this week, right?” Drea looked at Janet and smiled.

“He’s going to return to the city to finalize his move, but he hasn’t told me what his plans are after that.” She sighed, and her expression failed to hide her obvious frustration. Bella reached across the table and patted Janet’s wrist.

“Sounds like you have it bad, sweetie.” Bella smiled and patted her wrist once again.

“I can safely say that in all the years I’ve know Janet, I don’t recall her every having It bad for anyone.” Drea laughed softly. She turned to face Janet and noticed a grin on her face.

“What?” Drea raised an eyebrow and cocked her head slightly.

“Well, I can say that I’ve never ever felt anything like I feel for Cal.” She couldn’t believe she was so quick to admit it, but at sixty-five, she could ill afford to be coy.

“But when I was a kid, I had a crush. It was so hard, because I saw him every day for like…forever.” She chuckled softly and looked right at Drea.

“You can’t believe how much I used to dream about you when Toni first started dating you.

“I can see why you would,” Bella smiled up at Drea.

“Well, I’m glad at least we’ve been friends all this time. It’s been a great life, honey, and you have been no small part of it, no matter who and what we’ve both become after all these years.” Drea began to tear up, causing Janet to do the same. Bella quickly changed the subject back to the evening at hand.

“Where are you going? You’re running out of options, aren’t you?” She asked.

“He hasn’t told me yet, but he said he has some things to talk about, including ‘us’.” She looked away and her eyes filled with tears. “Can you believe that, he actually said ‘us?’ I don’t know…. I’m not used to this type of relationship. He’s completely open about himself…his fears, his hopes…you know? We talk about everything. And he’ll e-mail me only minutes after he gets back to his hotel even though we’ve talked all evening.

Bella smiled but said nothing. Drea patted her once again on the wrist.

“Well, keep us posted.” The three got up and Bella hugged Janet.

“He’s a wonderful man, sweetie. I so hope it works out for you.”

“I think that for the first time in my life, I hope it works out as well.”

That afternoon in the Home business office…

"No, I don’t think we can. It'll cost too much and we can't afford the expense."

Billie looked as Beth went through the brochure one more time. A big 'wedding' wouldn't do for their budget. They had no family to speak of. Beth's mother had left when she was eleven, and Beth, rather her male counterpart, had been raised by her dad. He had been entirely supportive of her decision to go ahead and have the surgery after he saw how much of a daughter his son actually had been all along. He lived long enough to see his daughter safely through her first year of transition before succumbing to cancer at forty-seven. Her mother had been estranged for years, and had only recently begun to ignore her phone calls, as she liked to put it.

Billie's parents refused to acknowledge her at all. At twenty-seven, she was three years past her surgery, and her father still called her William, more as a pointed way of expressing his disapproval for her decision. Her mother deferred to her father in everything except one; she called her child Billie, but still remained unable to embrace her, either physically or emotionally. So neither bride would be having any family attend what proved already to be an expensive proposition.

Beth looked once more at the brochure. A trip to Cancun this time of the year was almost prohibitive to begin with, and with neither girl having much in the way of resources, it looked like a weekend honeymoon was all they could afford.

"We can save up and go next year for the anniversary, okay honey?" Beth wasn't trying to control the situation. If anything, she had ceded much of the responsibility for planning to Billie, and was happy to support her fiancé' in every way. But she was also more pragmatic, even if it was borne originally out of fear and insecurity. They just couldn't afford a big trip.

"'s not the trip that's important, anyway, right?" Billie blinked out some tears and forced a smile.

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry. Maybe we can put it on my VISA, and pay it off on time. I'll check with the bank and see if I can extend my line of credit." Beth didn't hold out any hope of that happening, but she wanted Billie to know that it was just as important to her.

"No, that's okay. We can't really afford to go any further into debt. Next year is okay, because I've got two things to look forward to." Billie smiled and squeezed Beth's wrist.

"Two things?" Beth looked at her, puzzled.

"Yeah. First, I get to go to Cancun." Beth nodded but asked,

"What's the second?"

"I get to go with you, honey." Billie smiled once again. She leaned forward and kissed Beth. She would have loved to have taken it further but a soft, “Ahem" came from behind.

"Oh… Sandra." The two said almost in unison. Billie stood straight while Beth swiveled in her chair to face Sandra. They might be two different and entirely unique girls, but they resembled twins in that both complexions turned the same shade of red.

"This came for you...both of you actually," Sandra said as she handed Billie a FedEx envelope addressed to Beth Davidson and Billie Penn.

"What?" Beth said as Billie showed her the envelope.

“Here…Open it.” Billie handed her the envelope, and watched as she pulled out a smaller letter sized envelope with their names written in script. She slipped her finger under the flap and popped it open.

“Dearest Elizabeth and Wilhelmina, You are both cordially invited to stop working immediately and join us in the dining room for a party in your honor. Attire is whatever you happen to have put on this morning, although you are free to change into ball gowns if you have them available. We’re waiting, dear ones. Much love!”

The two looked up to see that Sandra had left the room. On the open door of the office, a large sign had been taped, reading “THIS WAY!” with an arrow pointing in the direction of the dining room... Beth got up from the chair and the two slowly walked down the hall, almost tip-toeing in anticipation. As they reached the French doors leading to the dining room, they could hear mariachi music emanating from within. A sign had been taped over the door that read,

Bienvenido a la hermosa novias (Welcome to the beautiful brides).

Beth knew Spanish and translated for Billie, who immediately began to cry. She fell into her lover’s arms and wept. It was the most special thing anyone had ever done for her, and it was only the beginning.

“Billie…Honey…look at this.” Beth pulled another envelope off the door. In it she found two round trip tickets to Cancun and a hotel voucher. Billie took a quick look at the tickets and once again started to cry, and was quickly joined by her fiancé. On the other side of the door, Cathilynn turned to Sandra and smiled.

“I think they found the envelope,” she said with a soft laugh before taking a sip of punch.

“Yes…I think they did.” Sandra smiled and touched her glass of punch to Cathilynn’s.


Cathilynn's office the following afternoon…

“You are not going to believe this.” Sam looked at Cathilynn and Irene and shrugged his shoulders.

“Emma’s parents are fine with her, in a manner of speaking,” He chuckled and shook his head.

“The mayor and his wife have been out of town; he’s in rehab for pain pills and she’s staying at the hotel in town to support him. The kid has been staying with the wife’s sister while the younger sister has been staying with friends. Mom’s sister’s son has been beating Emma up on a regular basis and had been threatening to hurt her younger sister if she talks.”

“Holy shit,” Irene said. Not one normally given to expletives, so to speak, she felt compelled to take it a bit further.

"Son of a bitch!" She looked at Sam as if he had two heads. He looked back and smiled.

“Dad isn’t due out of the program for another six weeks. Mom is going to be traveling back and forth for the time being and asked if we’d keep an eye on Emma while they get healthy. Her daughter is going to stay with her at the hotel. Mom has been attending the groups at the facility, and things seem to be getting better.” Sam looked relieved but added,

“They want someone to work with her until they get home, and maybe beyond that. To keep things consistent. This works for everybody.”
“What about the cousin?” Cathilynn asked, her eyebrow arching in surprise.

“He’s been arraigned on a variety of charges. The kicker is…and this will absolutely kill you…. He’s not beating the kid up for being TG. He has an anger problem due to some stuff that has never been diagnosed, and the court and both families believe everyone would be better off if he got treatment in an inpatient program at the state capitol. Go figure!”

“Son of a bitch!” Irene said again, this time with a soft laugh.

“I know just who Emma can stay with, and I know just who can work with her.”

“Yeppers,” Irene said with a smile. I was just thinking the same thing, especially with the changes that are going to happen around here.

“I know this is the best place for her, and not just because the Home is my baby, you know?” Cathilynn smiled, and beamed with pride.

“We’ve got the best folks working here, and I think we’re going to see even more support for the Home come out of this, you know? Now I just have to figure out how it all will fit together.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Irene looked at Sam who looked at Cathilynn. All three nodded and smiled.

The Home dining room that evening…

“So you’re going to move?” Janet was nervous about the answer. In the week after Cal arrived, the Home had literally been turned upside down by the events of new romance, new friends, and one scared girl. What would Cal; say. It had been decades since she felt this way about anyone, but she was overwhelmed by the ghosts of the past and feared disappointment.

“Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve already bought a new place.” He smiled warmly.

“And….where…where would that be?” Janet asked timidly, almost like a child fearing a punishment.

“Are you serious? Why here in town, of course.” He patted her on the hand as she looked away.

“Janet? Janet, dear one?” She turned to find Cal staring at her. He patted her wrist once again and spoke.

“Cathilynn has asked me to come on board, so to speak. I’m to work in the hospice with you.”

“Wha…what?” Janet’s eyes widened, more out of surprise, but a warm feeling overcame her and she began to blush.

“I’m going to work with you at the hospice. Isn’t that grand?” He smiled before chuckling softly.

“I find it ironic that I came here for a few weeks to get away from work and here I will stay.” He smiled and patted her wrist yet again.

“No? What?” Janet looked into his eyes, noting that they had begun to tear up. “Are you going to…to run the program?” She swallowed a mouthful of coffee and cringed, fearing what she might hear.

“Actually…no, I’m not….I am looking forward to working with you, however. We should make a beautiful team. I’m coming out of retirement to return to nursing.” He laughed softly.

“Oh…I see.” She really didn’t see but it was about to become clear. Cathilynn knocked on the door frame and leaned in.

“Oh great! Just the folks we need to see.” She turned and motioned to someone in the hallway. A moment later, Drea and Irene and Kerry walked into the dining room. All four pulled up chairs and sat down.

“Drea has decided to step down as the director of the hospice.” Cathilynn said and Janet gasped.

“Oh, don’t worry, sweetie, I’m not going anywhere. Bea has decided to move to San Francisco to be closer to family, so I’m going to take her position as child psychologist. Just a sideways move.” She smiled and Janet looked relieved, if a little puzzled.

“Who’s going to be director? Cal tells me he’s coming on board as a nurse here.” She looked at Cathilynn who smiled and looked over to Irene, who said,

“Well, you’ve finished your degree, and I understand you’ve submitted all of your paperwork to the Academy for Grief Counseling for certification, so I guess you’d be the one?” She laughed softly as Cathilynn nodded.

“That is, if you want the position.”

“We want you to move into the new staff cottage that just opened up. If that’s okay with you,” Kerry said.

“Oh, gosh yes….it’s….” wonderful!” Janet was never one to care about position or status, but this was different. She felt like she had finally gotten to the place where she could actually feel good about herself.

“We’ve got one more favor to ask, if you don’t mind?” Irene smiled again; she was already confident that Janet would say yes.

“Emma’s parents are going to be in California along with her kid sister. They’re working hard in his re-hab program, and getting couples counseling, so they’ve asked if someone would be kind enough to keep an eye on Emma until they return in six weeks. You don’t know anyone who’d be willing to take that on, do you?”

“Oh gosh, yes….yes and yes.” Janet looked around the table and saw everyone smiling. It had been a great day, and the emotion of the moment overwhelmed her. She began to weep, more out of joy and relief than at any other time in her life. A welcome but surprising comfort came as Cal pulled her in and hugged her. She buried her face in his sweater and held onto him by gripping his sleeves.

“Well, looks like we’re both having a great day.” Cal said and kissed her. Her first kiss in ages and the only meaningful kiss she had ever had in her life. She kissed back, her tears streaming down her cheeks as she laughed and cried at the same time. A split-second later she pulled back, realizing they were not alone.

“Oh gosh, don’t mind us,” Kerry said with a laugh. “Come on, folks…let’s give these two lovebirds some privacy. Cal looked at them and smiled.

“That sounds like a splendid idea. Thank you.” He didn’t wait for an answer and kissed Janet once again.

“A splendid idea, indeed!”

The side lawn of the Home the following Saturday…

You've got the
Look of love, it's on your face
A look that time can't erase
Be mine tonight, let this be just
the start of so many nights like this
Let's take a lover's vow and then
seal it with a kiss

Billie and Beth stood side by side, holding hands with heads bowed as the congregation of friends and family stood on the stage and placed their hands on them in prayer. Leading the prayers were Connie and Paulette, their matrons of honor.

‘Dear God, thank you for new beginnings and second chances. Please bless our friends with long life and happiness in peace,” Paulette said. A moment later, Connie took a breath and added.

“May they have your joy, your contentment, your faithfulness to each other and may they be as happy as Paulette and I are.” Sandra choked back a sob as the two stood in front of the minister once again. They exchanged vows and rings before the minister pronounced the happy couple’s union one of blessing and example. She then closed the ceremony in prayer

“Dear God, we thank you for this couple and we vow before you and pray with our own understanding and acceptance of your heart to love them and support them and encourage them May you bless them and bless this place and the people therein that have been so much of these young ladies’ lives….May the blessings of this place carry beyond its walls and borders to help them live and be blessed in their own Home that love will build. Amen.”

I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you, now that I have found you
Don't ever go
Don't ever go

A Chesapeake Romance

these are days you'll remember
never before and never since, I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
and as you feel it, you'll know it's true
that you are blessed and lucky
it's true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

Candace wiped the tear from her face and looked away. Something was going on inside her; something she thought would never happen. The memory of the kiss brought back more than the past. It brought back that feeling she had lost since then…that she wasn’t a pretender. She wasn’t deluded or foolish, and she could look in the mirror once again and accept that she could be loved.

Baltimore, Maryland, years later…

"Hello, I'm here about the apartment...we talked yesterday on the phone." The petite girl stood at the doorway looking as friendly as anyone Candace had ever met.

"Oh yes, you must be Kyra," Candace said as she opened the door wider to greet the girl, who looked scanned the room before saying,

"Unless someone else has a claim, I'd like to be considered. This is a nice place, and I can see it already suits my needs. Now to whether I suit yours?" She laughed softly.

"You said you're in your senior year of premed...." Candace hesitated, allowing Kyra an in.

"I know; I barely look like I should be in high school. I just turned nineteen last week. I'm what they like to call....gifted." She laughed softly again, evoking a familiarity that Candace couldn't place.

"You said your soon-to-be-former roommate is moving this weekend? I can be ready to move in Sunday afternoon, if that meets with your and your other roommate's approval.

"Sure, we already checked your references, and I don't see why not. I know Debbie met you over at the student union the other day and she's fine, so if you want to look around before you sign the lease?" There was something about Kyra that reminded her of someone she had met years before, but again, her memory failed her. Kyra solved that problem almost immediately.

" don't remember me, but I remember you. I was about nine and you were about ages with my brother...maybe a year older." That smile again. She'd seen it before, and not just on Kyra. She closed her eyes, trying to pull something from her memory to place where she'd met the girl.

"You were at the home where my dad....where Carla was cared for. Your mom, if I recall was a nurse, and you helped her take care of Carla." Her eyes began to mist and she turned away.

"Funny, he...she died ten years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday." She shook her head. Candace's eyes widened in recognition as she recalled the day.

The Home that Love Built, ten years before

“I love you Carl…I always will. Always. And I love you too, Carla…I don’t know who you are, but you’re part of my best friend…so I guess I…oh I don’t know.”

It was all too much for Margo to understand, but she didn’t travel nearly thirteen hundred miles just to get stuck on principle.

“No matter what, I love all of you.” She choked back a sob.

“NO!” The voice came from the doorway.

“I hate you…I hate you!” Keith yelled as he rushed to the bed. Margo went to grab him, but he pushed past her and fell against Carla’s prostrate form. He put his head on Carla’s chest and sobbed, over and over.

“I hate you. I hate you, Daddy…I hate you.” Carla raised her hand feebly and stroked Keith’s hair.

“I hate you….Daddy….noooo.nnnnooo I’m sorry Daddy….don’t go ….I love you…please…please.” Keith wept in Carla’s arms and Margo put her hand on his shoulder.

“I love you Keith….I love you all.” Carla continued to stroke Keith’s hair and pat Kyra on the back. Her hand brushed against Margo’s. She felt Margo grip her hand and her voice saying simply,

“It’s okay…we love you…we love you.”

A few moments later, Margo felt Carla’s hand go limp. Keith looked up and saw Carla’s face. She was smiling, but there was no light in her eyes. Keith looked up at his mother who took her right hand and covered her mouth. She went to cry, but no sound came out. She tried to reach out to Keith, but he had stood up. He took his sister in his arms and cried as hard as he ever had. She was nine and she almost understood what was happening.

“Four seventeen,” the voice said from the other side of the bed. Janet stood next to Carla’s body and tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked up and saw Candace standing in the doorway, weeping.

“Excuse me...I’ll leave you for a moment,” Janet said as she walked to the doorway. Gathering Candace in her arms, she kissed the girl on the forehead, pulling her in more. Candace buried her face in Janet’s sweater and sobbed.

“It’s okay, honey, Momma’s here.” Janet said softly as she stroked Candace’s hair…”It’s okay.”

Back in the apartment

“I brought cash.” Kyra said softly while gently tugging on Candace’s sleeve. Candace shook her head and opened her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I was lost in thought; what did you say?”

“I brought cash for the first month’s rent and deposit. I figured cash would be helpful.” Kyra smiled…that smile once again. Candace smiled back and then realized what was poking her in the head.

“Oh…you live in Baltimore. Why the apartment?” That wasn’t really what she was driving at, but she didn’t want to dive into the deep end of the pool just yet.

“My mom got remarried. Nice guy from Hagerstown. She closes on the family home next month, so I had to find a place.“

“Oh…that’s cool.” She turned her head and grimaced. “That’s cool?” She thought, wishing she’d kept quiet.

“Yes.” Kyra grinned.

“And yes to your next question.” She laughed softly.

“Whhat..what question?” Candace said nervously as her face began to grow warm.

“Does my brother still live in Baltimore…the answer is yes.” She laughed again.

“Oh…that’s nice.” Candace winced after the words left her mouth.

“You might even know him. I remember that you like sports…I’m surprised you don’t know.” She laughed again. Very sweet.

“Don’t know…what?” She grew red and turned her head, wondering if the answer was written somewhere on the wall of the apartment.

“He’s the eleven o’clock sports anchor for WMAR right here in town. You know…Keith Schroeder?”

“Oh shit…Oh…sorry. I…I watch him all the time.” She fibbed. She hardly watched broadcast TV; ESPN was almost always on her bedroom cable TV.

“If you do, you’re one of the few. MAR is tanking in the ratings, and he’s on the bubble to lose his job. Rumor is that they want to bring the evening girl in from New York, but they haven’t come out and said anything to him."

“Oh shit…Oh…sorry.” Her face had cooled off just enough for her to notice the warmth returning to her cheeks.

“Anyway, he’s helping me move in…I am moving in, right? Kyra smiled and rubbed Candace’s arm, causing her to wince.

“Oh…yes…you’re moving in…Ummm…let’s sit down and look at the lease, okay?”

Candace pointed to the kitchen table. She closed her eyes and thought once again about Kyra’s brother, and struggled to think of what he looked like. When she opened them up she realized that she was still standing in the middle of the room and that Kyra was still holding her arm.

That weekend at the apartment...

The move went smoothly, insofar as the furniture was minimal and fit in Kyra’s room and a nice dining room set replaced their worn kitchen dinette.

“I can’t believe running into you after all these years.”

Keith Schroeder was truly amazed, and he was amazing, as far as Debbie and Candace were concerned. He had grown quite a bit in the ten years since his mother and sister and he visited the Home that Love Built. At six-four he was strikingly handsome, but not in the look-at-me way that some guys display. And he was actually quite modest for a sportscaster. He was grateful for his opportunity to work in Baltimore, and he was quite popular even if he worked for the number four network out of six.

“You look terrific, Candace,” he said as he grabbed a second slice of mushroom and onion pizza from the box on the counter. She found herself staring at him and looked away, her cheeks growing red yet again from the embarrassment.

“You look terrific?” She mouthed silently.

She had always been self conscious around men; even more so nearly three years past her surgery. The abuse that she suffered at the hands of her step father was still taking its toll years later, despite therapy and the support of Janet and Cal, her adoptive parents. Being a transsexual didn’t help her self esteem. Years of misplaced guilt and shame had led to few if any serious relationships. And to see Keith after all these years?

“So you guys know each other?” Debbie looked back and forth between Kyra and Keith and Candace.

“Oh, yes…Candace lived at the home where our dad…where Carla ended up. The hospice there took such good care of him.” Kyra’s eyes began to mist.

“Oh, I’m sorry…I still have the hardest time remembering.” She shook her head and Keith spoke up.

“It was so difficult to find out that our…our dad wanted to be…was a woman.” He shook his head, mirroring his sister’s embarrassment.

“That’s okay…I understand. You knew your dad for years and only had a few days to get to know his other self.” Debbie put her hand on Kyra’s shoulder.

“I never had a problem. When I came out to my parents and sister they just looked at me as if I were their daughter and sister all along. Most of us don’t have that acceptance. If we did, Candace’s mom and dad would be out of a job…happily, but it just isn’t happening for a lot of us.”

She smiled warmly and Keith caught what looked almost like a twinkle in her eyes. The look wasn’t lost on Candace either. She turned away and sighed.

“Candace helped her mom and her mom’s boss with Daddy all the way to the end.” Keith smiled and continued.

“How is that doctor who worked there? She was such a big help to us…to me.” He thought back to that day long ago and the letter from his father that Drea had given him.

Years before at the Home….
I never meant to hurt you, and I am so sorry that I left…I know I said that, but you have to know it wasn’t because of anything you did. You are the best son anyone could ever have. I am so proud of how you have taken care of your mom and sis. Know that I love you and I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming. Give Kyra a kiss for me, okay? Dad

Keith looked at Drea, as if to ask a question. Looking at the letter once again, he began to cry, not hysterically or loudly, but softly. He might have felt uncomfortable had he thought about it, but it felt entirely okay as he put his head on her shoulder and wept. She held him and rocked him, saying softly,

“It’s okay, Keith…go ahead…let it out.” Tears streamed down her own cheeks as she felt connected to the boy’s grief and sadness. “It’s okay.”

Back in the present...

“How is she? I think of her now and then.” Keith smiled and noticed the sad look on Candace’s face.

“She passed away a few years ago. It was a precious time.” Keith’s eyes widened and he turned to Kyra who shook her head and half-smiled.

“I like to think she’s looking down on us, you know? Like a grandmother.” Candace bit her lip and grinned warmly, trying to hold back her tears.

“That day we left?” Kyra laughed softly, her warm tone breaking the sad silence.

“You guys kissed on the porch. Mom was sitting in the front seat of the van with that lady Irene and I was sitting in the back. Keith came back to the van and he had the reddest look on his face…just like that,” she said as she pointed to her brother's magenta complexion and sheepish grin.

“First time I ever kissed a girl!” He laughed softly and smiled at Candace, whose turn it was to grow red as well.

“It was the most beautiful moment in a week full of sadness,” Kyra said as she grabbed Keith’s arm. You had been so wonderful to him, and it was a big help to all of us…you were so dear to Daddy and we can’t begin to thank you.”

“Carla was so nice to me…she was the first person I spoke to when I got to the Home besides my Mom and she made me feel like I belonged even though she was in such pain. I loved her like she was my family. I have to thank you.”

Candace wiped the tear from her face and looked away. Something was going on inside her; something she thought would never happen. The memory of the kiss brought back more than the past. It brought back that feeling she had lost since then…that she wasn’t a pretender. She wasn’t deluded or foolish, and she could look in the mirror once again and accept that she could be loved.

New Friends

You know everything that I'm afraid of
You do everything I wish i did
Everybody wants you, everybody loves you
I know i should tell you how i feel
I wish everyone would disappear
Every time time you call me, I'm too scared to be me
And I'm too shy to say

The girls' apartment in Baltimore on moving day

"So you'll come? I thought a big celebrity like you wouldn't have time for us little folk?" Candace smiled.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world. Can I bring a date?" Keith asked as he grabbed a diet root beer out of the fridge. Candace took a short breath and turned away. She bit her tongue and without turning around said,

"Sure. That'll be okay." It wasn't okay at all. Candace had looked forward to the party. It seemed like a time to renew friendships and maybe see if new things could begin. She fought back tears and walked out of the room.

"Give me a sec, okay... gotta get something from my room." She'd likely find a book or a CD that would fit the bill to disguise the fact that she needed to be anywhere but in the same room with her first crush.

"Okay. I'll still be here when you get back." Keith noticed nothing, which was likely to his advantage for the moment, since things would ultimately work out between the two of them; just not in the way either of them would have anticipated.

Ooh, I got a crush on you
I hope you feel the way that i do
I get a rush
When I'm with you
Ooh, I've got a crush on you
A crush on you

The girls' apartment the following Saturday

“Candace, I’d like you to meet Gina Edelsohn. She’s a meteorologist at the station. Gina, this is Candace McGuire, a good friend of mine who I’m happy to say has re-made my acquaintance.” Keith smiled as the two women shook hands. Candace looked uncomfortable as Gina began to speak.

“Keith tells me you’re going for your doctorate in Nursing Education. That’s wonderful. My mom and my Sis are both nurses at Johns Hopkins, and my partner is a nursing instructor at Georgetown. She’s dropping by later if it’s not too much trouble. My ride home since I’ve got the early morning weather these days.” Candace turned as she felt her face grow warm. She faked a sneeze and turned back to see Keith smiling.

“Funny, Schroeder, really funny.” She punched him hard in the arm as Gina looked on in amazement.

“Keith, you are a brat…. Did he tell you I was his date? He’s like a brother to me…a really bratty snot-nosed sticking your pigtails in the inkwell brother.” She laughed and punched his other arm.

“Ow…you guys hit hard.” He winced as Candace stared at him.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll let you guys catch up, okay. I’ll go say hi to Kyra.” She was off into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. You are such an easy target.” He said. The playfulness seemed to disappear for Candace as she thought of how disappointed she’d become when she thought Keith was taken.

“Hey, it isn’t like we’re going to start dating… I’m sure you’ve got someone. You do, don’t you?” She did if by having someone included listening to Josh Groban and crying into her pillow. She had almost given up hope of ever loving someone. Keith seemed to reinforce her fears when he spoke again.

“I asked your roommate out…I hope you don’t mind?” She looked over at Debbie who was pouring some ginger ale for Kyra.

“Mind? No...Not at all…why should I? It isn’t like we were dating or anything?” Candace had been in fairly good control up to that point. She lost it all as she shook her head.

“Excuse me…I...I’ve got to …sorry…” She said as she walked out of the living room and down the hallway to her bedroom. Closing the door behind her, she fell onto the bed and wept.

“It’s not fair…son of a bitch….it’s not fair…..” She buried her face in her pillow and was sobbing so hard as to shake her bed. She didn’t hear the door open slightly and didn’t see the figure at the doorway shaking their head. Or the soft voice that nearly whispered,

“Nope…not fair at all….” Tears fell from the girl’s face as she witnessed her sad friend weep in despair; perhaps the same despair and feelings of being an oddity that she felt as well.

“Nope…not fair at all”

Ooh, I wish i could tell somebody
But there's no one to talk to, nobody knows
I've got a crush on you
A crush on you, I got a crush

Sunday morning

“I know he never said anything, Mom…but…” Candace spoke softly into the phone, trying to plead her case with Janet.

“Well, I thought that seeing me again…the kiss…Gosh mom, I know it was ten years ago…” She bit her lip as she listened to her mother tell her how special and important she was.

“Look how long it took for you to meet Cal…Mom…I can’t wait that long…” She felt like throwing the phone. She wasn’t angry at her mother; just what her mother pointed out…that life isn’t fair.

“Okay…I’ll call you tomorrow. NO, I haven’t run out of Kleenex…” she chuckled.

“I love you so much Mommy!” The ‘Mommy’ was rarely invoked, saved for only special occasions and dire straits.

“Love you…bye…yeah I will…bye Mom!” She clicked the phone off and sat down at the kitchen table. She rested her head on her arms and began to cry softly.

“Hey...whatever it is, we’ll get through it, right,” She heard a voice from behind as soft hands began to massage her shoulders. She turned to see Kyra smiling at her.

“I saw the look on your face last night. Come on, Cee, It’s me, you can tell me anything.” She half-frowned in sympathy and continued.

“Debbie is so upset and sad about this.…they just hit it off, sweetie…you know how that can happen.” Without looking up, Candace sobbed softly,

“Just by reading about it…I…I nehhhhver had a boy friend. I neeehhhverr had aneebuhhhdddddeeee.”

“I know…I’ve never had anybody either, honey…I know how hard it can be when you don’t feel like you fit in.” Kyra kept massaging Candace’s shoulders.

“Whhaaat??? How would you know?” Like many of us, at the moment of her despair, Candace was convinced that no one could ever understand how she felt.

“I never had any boyfriends either, but not because they didn’t like me. It’s because I only liked them as friends, sweetie. You know?” She smiled and kept her ministrations going as Candace grew less tense until,

“What? You only like boys as friends?” Her shoulders tensed as she sat up, turning around to face Kyra.

“Yeah…what of it…ohhhh shit….” She pulled her hands away from Candace’s shoulders as she shook her head.

“No…no ….not… I just wanted….” Her face grew bright red and she burst into tears. She ran down the hallway and ran into her room, slamming the door behind her, more out of fear and embarrassment than anything else.

Candace stood up and shook her head. She wiped the tears from her eyes and went to walk down the hall. As she grew closer to Kyra’s room she could hear sobbing. Thinking better of it, she backed off and walked down the hallway and sat back down at the kitchen table. She shook her head once before returning it to her arms on the table as she began once again to weep softly.

Tuesday afternoon at Pei Wei Asian Diner

“You really should say something to Candace.” Debbie brushed her hair out of her eyes and began again.

“Keith…I mean it…she really thought you were going to …you know…like a fairy tale almost…when she saw you after all this time? I’ve known her for nearly four years, and I’ve never seen a look on her face like what she showed the other night. She’s hurt, and you…well we both need to talk to her about us. It’s only fair to her and to me.”

“You’re right. I’ve been thinking about it since we started going out. I didn’ t even know that she was the same Candace until I got to the apartment with my sister; Kyra’s one for surprises and that surprised the heck out of me. I’m sure it didn’t do her any good the other night when she found out you and I were dating. Well…”

“It certainly didn’t help when you acted like you were just asking me out when we’ve been dating for two months, Keith. Why would you let her think that? She’s upset and insecure at this point.!”

Keith looked away, knowing ahead of time it wasn’t time to joke, but he did anyway.

“At least she knows it isn’t because she’s trans.” No sooner did the words leave his mouth then Debbie looked at him in embarrassment.

“I’m so glad I got to be the subject of your object lesson. Is that what I am to you? Just a t-girl? Just someone you can point to and say how broadminded you are? How could you?” Debbie stood up, her face red and her eyes beginning to fill with tears.

“Fine…I’m glad I could help. Maybe this will get you that Community Service Award you keep talking about? Date a trans and show how tolerant you are? Fuck off, Keith Schroeder!” She ran from the restaurant and was gone as Keith sat quietly at the table.

Saturday morning at the girls' apartment

It’s said in some circles that women who live together for a length of time sometimes will have their cycles coincide. In the apartment, the crying cycle seemed to be synchronized as all three of the women sat in various rooms while weeping. Every once and a while their paths would cross. They would shake their heads and shrug their shoulders before returning to the living room or the bathroom or the kitchen or their own bedrooms, only to begin crying again. A knock on the door interrupted them. Kyra walked to the door to find Keith standing on the landing. His eyes were red and he looked very tired.

“Hey sis! Are the girls in?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think this is a good time to….” She barely got that out when he walked past her into the living room. Candace looked up and shook her head. She went to rise when Keith blurted out,

“Good…don’t move.” He walked down the hallway and knocked on Debbie’s door.

“Go away!” The voice cried from under some blankets and a pillow. Keith tried the door and it opened.
He walked up to the bed and asked,”

“You got your pajamas on?” Debbie nodded and went to speak. He grabbed her by the hand and lifted her out of bed. Wasting no time, he walked her down the hallway and sat her down on the couch opposite Candace. He pointed to the chair next to Candace and Kyra sat down as he sat down on the couch next to Debbie.

“Good…let’s clear the air, shall we? I’ll begin. Hi, I’m Keith Schroeder, and I’m a complete ass! Mind you, that’s not as bad as being half-assed, but still.” His attempt at humor failed to amuse. Kyra shook her head, Debbie just put her head down, and Candace buried her face into the wing of the chair.

“Let me start over,” he said in a softer voice.

“Ladies. I am so sorry for my behavior. I should have communicated better. You deserve more than just that, but at the least, I was so insensitive.” He looked at Candace as she faced him.

“We had something very special that day so long ago. I will always remember you as the first girl I kissed. And I should have told you how special that was. But I also needed to tell you right away that Debbie and I had already met even before Kyra moved in. You are one special woman, Candace, but just not for me. I’m sorry for hurting you.” She turned away and wept again, but not bitterly but with disappointment nonetheless.

“Debbie. I am so sorry for being so foolish the other day. I knew from the moment I met you that you I…well? There was something between us like I’ve never had. And it didn’t make any difference one way or the other about how you got to be who you are. You aren’t a t-girl to me…you’re a woman I’ve fallen in love with. I am sorry for taking so long to say that, but I love you, and I am so glad you’re in my life. Can you forgive me?”

“You…you love me?” Debbie’s eyes widened as she looked at Keith.

“Yes…I do. Very much so. Can you forgive me?”

“You love me? Of course I forgive you.” Her lip began to quiver and she started crying all over again.

“What? Debbie…Why are you crying?”

“Bbbb…because you love me.” She tilted her head and half-smiled even as the tears fell from her chin.

That evening...

“Hey.” Kyra said softly as she entered the room. Candace lifted her head from her arms and smiled weakly.

“You gonna be okay?” Kyra said as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

“Yeah…I’m okay…just getting used to being a woman instead of a starstruck teenager.” She smiled and sat up.

“No more crying…ever!” She laughed softly which evoked a soft “mmm” from Kyra.

“I mean it…no crying ever again for any reason. Hmmhph…wish it were so,” she said softly as tears filled her eyes. Kyra put her cup of coffee down and walked behind Candace. Putting her hands on Candace’s shoulders, she began to massage.

“You know, tears can be very cleansing. I think all of us have got that down pretty good. It’s the laughing and smiling and all that other good stuff we need to get a handle on.” Her hands felt Candace tense up as she began to sob.

“Hey…none of that.” She leaned closer and started to sing in Candace’s ear,

"You know, I'm the one that you can talk to
And sometimes you tell me things that i don't want to know
I just want to hold you
And you say exactly how you feel about him."

(And I wonder, could you ever think of me that way) She left the last line unsung, but she thought it anyway.

“It’s okay, honey, let it out…it’s alright.” Kyra embraced Candace from behind and began to weep along with her friend. Mostly for Candace’s sadness, but also for that part of her that felt she would never be able to tell her how she felt. Never be able to be loved as well. She kissed Candace on the cheek, tasting her tears. Candace turned to face her.

“Hehhhey…don’t cry…I’ll be alright…it’s okay.” She half-smiled and hugged her friend.

“I just hate to see you so sad…it hurts me so much to see you sad.” By then, tears were streaming down the faces of both girls.

“That’s so sweet.” She pulled Kyra closer to kiss her, a sisterly kiss of course. As she brought her face close to Kyra’s she felt something change; in an instant things were quite different for her than a moment ago. She kissed Kyra on the lips; it was right and wonderful and sad and happy and lovely all at once; the magic of that first kiss was left far behind as she discovered that the one thing that trumps one’s first kiss is the kiss of one’s true love.

Ooh, I got a crush on you
I hope you feel the way that i do
I get a rush
When I'm with you
Ooh, I've got a crush on you
A crush on you

A Wrinkle in Time

Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin
And constant craving
Has always been

A few days later...

“Honey? Are you okay?” Kyra walked into the kitchen and noticed Candace had laid her head on the table.

“Yeah,” she said as she looked up, but there were tears in her eyes. Kyra saw that Candace wasn’t quite at home but had slipped through a wrinkle in time, as the book read, which too often swept her back to a day where hurt and pain were her routine. Candace had told her about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother and stepfather before she came to the Home that Love Built and her adoption by Janet McGuire.

“Nightmares? Oh damn, Sweetie, you’ve been dealing with that for so long…I wish there was something I could do?” She leaned closer from behind and embraced her girlfriend and kissed her softly on the ear.

“You’re doing exactly what you can, Ky… hold me tight, okay? Hug me as tight as you can?” Candace turned to face her and smiled. Kyra pulled close and kissed her, making sure she paid care to the girl’s eyelids; Candace loved that part of Kyra’s playful attention.

“Mmmmm…that’s nice.” She was still crying, but the tears were abating as she gave herself to the moment. She pulled Kyra around and pulled her down on her lap, continuing to kiss back until the two broke off at the sound of a loud clink. The screw holding the back left leg popped and caromed off the oven door with a ping as they plummeted to the floor with a very loud thud.

“Ow…” Candace rolled off the broken chair and looked over at her girlfriend, who sat on the floor leaning against the oven; her face was covered with tears, but she was laughing and sported a silly grin.

“What?” Candace slapped Kyra’s knee.

“I… I guess I’ve really fallen for you.” She rolled over onto the floor and laughed hysterically, her eyes closed. A moment later she felt the soft weight of her lover slip atop her body, hands caressing and patting and pinching and stroking gently.

“I love you.” Candace said before she resumed kissing her lover and soon to be fiancee’ if she could just get the courage to speak. Kyra cooed softly as she enjoyed Candace’ attention.

“M…Mmmmm.” Kyra moaned, and Candace responded with a cooing sing-song voice.

“Mmmm….to you, too.” Candace thought she echoed until Kyra tried to speak.

“MMMM!” She wasn’t able to manage more than that with Candace’ lips placed firmly against hers. She reached up and grabbed the girl’s face with both hands, firmly but gently pushing it away long enough to blurt out,

“Marry me!”

Amaryllis Jewelers, Baltimore Maryland...that same day...

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls towards truth
Or maybe it is life itself
Leads wisdom
To its youth
Constant craving
Has always been

Keith looked around nervously at the array of jewelry in the displays. He felt for some strange and entirely ignorant reason that the ring had to be more special than just an engagement ring; that somehow his commitment to Debbie went beyond their love into some acknowledgement of her ‘status.’ Even after spending time with her over the past several months, he still remained clueless in that regard. One thing was absolutely sure, even if he didn’t get the details right…he loved her more than anything, and it was really him just trying too hard instead of listening to what she said.

“Decided yet, sir?” The girl behind the display case teased. Between today and the past three days, he had spent nearly three hours mulling over which ring to buy. The girl finally took pity on him and said quietly,

“You probably need to think about the girl first, and the ring will follow.”

“I’m not following you… think about the girl?” Keith looked down at the rings in the display case and they again at the sales girl…”Judy.”

She actually resembled the elf in The Santa Clause.

“What kind of girl is she? Does she love jewelry or is she the kind of girl who wears it out of necessity? Does she like simple or extravagant? What kind of personality is she; vivacious? Reserved? Shy? Care free? Think about the girl and the ring will follow."

He stood there for a moment and stared down at the array of rings; not just single rings, but sets of engagement rings and matching wedding bands. He swallowed hard at the thought of engagement and marriage; he wasn’t afraid of getting married so much as wondering if he’d make a suitable husband. He thought of the years of ignorance and lost opportunities to be kind and caring, and he felt ashamed. And well he should, apart from the fact that he had asked for and received forgiveness from those he hurt. And he thought about Debbie…how she would see him was just as important as how he had come to see her.

“See anything that suits her?” Judy smiled and pointed to the case. “No hurry. Alice and I are having lunch delivered…can I get you anything?” She teased.

“That one!” He pointed to the ring in the far corner of the display case; it was almost like a wallflower at the senior prom, so separated it was from the others. But it was also set apart because it was special; earmarked just for him to discover. Judy opened the case from the back and grabbed the small box and handed it to Keith.

“This one is so perfect, I bet, because she’s such a special girl to you. I’d guess it took a while to decide to ask her…you don’t feel you’re good enough, right? I’ve seen that look plenty of times. You know…” She paused.

“What’s your name?” She smiled at him and he practically whispered,


“You know, Keith…wanting to be perfect is a nice thought, but no one ever reaches that…at least in this lifetime. But that you feel unworthy? She’s a lucky girl to have you. I can see that. I’m sure she’ll love this…it took a lot of thought and a lot of care.” She smiled again as he reached for his wallet and pulled out the credit card.

“Oooh…I just remembered…today is ‘I can’t decide because she’s just such a wonderful girl discount day!’ 20% off! And it also comes with a free complete dinner voucher for two at Pazo’s over on Alicannas.” She smiled.

“Really, wow…I really lucked out.” He laughed softly but his expression turned puzzled when she started to laugh.

“Not really, Keith. Debbie and I went to high school together. She was my brother’s best friend growing up until she hit high school and realized she wasn’t cut out for shirts and ties. Oh, and Pazo’s is my cousin’s restaurant. Tell Tony that Judy says she’ll get him wholesale on anything he likes if he introduces me to Joey Flacco, okay?”

“He knows Joey Flacco? Oh gosh… you and Debbie are friends?”

“BFF! And the ring… It’s my gift to you and Debbie, okay…” She sighed and looked at her bare ring finger.

“I would think working at WMAR that you’d know Joey Flacco…Hall of Fame…Super Bowl and all. Anyway, c’mere and give me a hug. I’m so happy for you two.”

Keith walked over to the end of the counter and Judy hugged him.

“God bless you two, okay?”

Back at the apartment...

Kyra had managed to extricate herself from under Candace, who by then had fallen sideways and was lying on the floor beside her. She stood up and then helped Candace to her feet. The girl’s face told Kyra everything she needed to know, but Candace quickly followed with a kiss and a hug, along with a big,


Ah ha
Constant craving
Has always been

Here Come The Brides...

And who can say
if your love grows
as your heart chose
only time

Somewhere on the western shore of the Chesapeake River in Maryland…

“Oh, God, Keith…it’s beautiful.” Debbie said as her soft alto voice hit the rare soprano range with “beautiful. She stared at the ring in the jeweler’s box and began to cry.

“I realized two things yesterday when I talked to your friend. One I was already aware of, and one was brand new. He smiled as he gently lifted her left hand, pushing the ring onto Debbie’s finger.

“I know that I’m not at all able to be the perfect husband…because I’m far from perfect.” He sighed as tears came to his own eyes.

“But I also learned that I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to be willing to do whatever it takes to be the best husband I can be.”

Debbie started to cry harder. Her mother would have at one time almost demanded that it would be ‘her’ that would be the perfect husband, but her transition train picked up three passengers only a few years ago as her mother and father and brother finally realized just what a wonderful woman their son and brother actually was.

“Do you know what I love about you?” Keith asked as he kissed her hand; his tears hit the gem in the middle of the ring and the prism of the facets caused them to appear almost like a rainbow.

“What?” Debbie remained understandably insecure, and knowing what he loved would help her duplicate it. He smiled at her and said,

“Nothing…..and everything. Honey…you don’t have to earn my love. You don’t have to perform…You just have to be. I love you so much.” He choked back a sob with the last words before drawing her closer for a kiss; their tears mingled together as they celebrated their first engagement kiss.

Who can say
where the road goes
where the day flows
only time

The girl’s apartment…several weeks later…

Kyra’s voice came softly from the bedroom as she sang while she folded clothes. Candace came up from behind and whispered,

“I don’t know…” Kyra turned quickly with a start.

“What…what don’t you know?”
“The song…you were singing…I really don’t know who can say….I just know that at the end of the day….you’re here…for me.” She leaned into Kyra’s shoulder and kissed her neck gently.

“And who can say if your love grows?” Kyra sang; tilting her head backs as Candace began to move up her neck toward her ear. She shuddered as her lover’s eyelashes brushed her lobe.

“Mine has…” Candace whispered again.

“I know…” Kyra shuddered again. She smiled, but she pulled away, leaving Candace as she shook her head and returned to the laundry.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…it’s just that we have to get the place ready for Janet and Cal and my Mom, too.” She shrugged her shoulders, but her expression seemed almost sad.

“I know…but that’s not what’s going on here.” Candace shook her head slightly and finished, “Is it?”

“No…yes? Oh, I don’t know. I’m just…”

“Is it because of tomorrow?” Candace looked over at the picture on the faux fireplace mantel. A picture of a woman…in a bed with Candace and her mom Janet on either side. The woman appeared weak, but her smile was warm and inviting.

“It’s been eleven years, you know? I see that picture and it makes me… “

“She came to us when she was so near the end…it was a miracle you guys even got there…”

“Don’t try to explain it, okay?” Kyra snapped and turned her back and began to toss the folded tees and underwear back in the basket.

“I’m sorry…I just….” Candace wanted things to be different, but Kyra and Keith both only had a day with their…what to even call her…Carla? Ms. Schroeder? Their other mother?

“He…You had all that time to get to know her, and I only met her once…the day she died, damn it. I only remember her as my father. I was eleven years old, Cee, you know…” She said over her shoulder before returning the clothes.

“Look…I understand.”

“Do you? I suppose you do have a right to talk, with the way your step-father and mother treated you…but that’s just it. You never had what I had. He was my fucking father, and he left us…I cried every week for a whole year before you guys came and got us…And I cried every night for a year after he died…I don’t know how to put it, Cee. Sure…she was a woman, I guess, but…”

“You guess? What does that make me?”

“What?” Kyra turned around and blinked out the tears that blurred her view of Candace, who was red-faced and shaking.

“If you don’t know if she was a woman? What does that make me? I had…I thought you understood…I guess you don’t.” Candace shook her head once before running down the hall and slamming the door.

And who can say
if your love grows
as your heart chose
only time

“Cee…Candace? Come on…open the door.”

“Go away…just go away.”

“I didn’t mean it that way…we just have to talk more?”

“Really…oh yeah…that’s great. Look how well we’ve done already.” Candace said before sobbing.

“Cee…come on…you know what I meant….Okay…you didn’t, but I didn’t mean it that way. Would I even be here if I didn’t care about you?” Kyra leaned against the door with her cheek against the top panel and her palm resting on the door frame.

“I didn’t say you didn’t love me, Ky…I know you love me…but do you understand me? Who I am…what I am…” Candace choked back a sob.

“I’m just like your dad… and you’ve know me longer than you knew him…longer than you knew her…don’t you get it? When you say stuff like that it hurts…like I’m some sort of substitute like Sweet n’ Low.”

“That’s just it, Cee… I do get it…Because I got the chance to know you…to know who you are. I already know what you are…you’re a woman, just like me. Think back…Keith has his own apartment…I wasn’t in the way there, but I chose to move here when you had the opening. Why would I do that…Why, Candace?” Kyra raised her voice but still managed to avoid yelling.

“I don’t know…you tell me!” Candace shot back, and her tone was mixed with anger and sadness.

“I wanted to be near you. I’ve done nothing but think about you for the past ten years. Oh sure, I had girlfriends and such…and even dated a guy for a while, but none of them approached you. The kindness you and your mom showed my family in the midst of your own grief. You knew my dad as a woman I only got to meet briefly…you touched her heart in a way I can only imagine. And she was better for it, even if it only lasted for a short time.

“You mean that…” Candace sobbed.

“I love you more than anything else in the whole world, Cee…We never grew up together and I never kissed you until now, but in a big way, you’ve always been my childhood sweetheart. A Damsel in Shining Armor, I suppose.”

“You…you mean that?” Candace said haltingly as her sobs grew softer.

“You open this door and I’ll show you, okay?” Kyra laughed out of frustration, but she so longed to show Candace how much she cared. Candace still had walls around her from her childhood that only Janet had been able to break through, and only to a point.

“Let me in, Cee, please.” Kyra banged on the doorframe with her palm, twisting her wrist.

“Ow…” She cried out and then began to cry. She slumped down to the floor, her head still resting against the door. She kept crying until she heard a click as the lock turned and the door opened. Candace dropped to the floor and threw her arms around Kyra, kissing her repeatedly.

“I’m so sorry…” Over and over, she kept saying it; all the while continuing to kiss Kyra.

“I’m sorry, too, Cee…” Kyra said quietly between hugs before kissing back.

Who can say
why your heart sighs
as your love flies
only time
And who can say
why your heart cries
when your love lies
only time

A few weeks later...

“Who gives this woman in marriage?” The grandfatherly looking man on the platform asked with a big smile. Janet and Cal stepped forward, placing their hands on Candace’s shoulder.

“We do.”

The minister nodded with a grin before turning his attention to the other side of the aisle.

“And who gives this woman in marriage?” He smiled as Kyra’s mother and step-father drew close and said,

“We do,” Margo said. She squeezed her husband’s hand with a nod as her right hand swept back to point at the empty seat in the front row where a picture of a woman leaned against the back rest of the chair. Kyra stared at the photo of her other parent, the father she loved forever who was Carla Schroeder, the woman who she was coming to know through the memories of others. She sobbed once before composing herself as Candace reached over and grabbed her hand.

“May we have the rings please?” The reverend grandpa said softly. Keith stepped forward and handed a ring to Kyra while Debbie, the most recently married Mrs. Debbie Schroeder, handed Candace a ring. The minister nodded again and Kyra and Candace sang the first part of their vows, a duet that posed a rhetorical question…

Who can say
if your love grows
as your heart chose
only time
And who can say
where the road goes
where the day flows
only time

“I, Candace, give you, Kyra, all my love and support…as much as I can whenever I can. I love you, and I vow to treasure you and keep you in my heart.

I, Kyra, give you, Candace, the same love back as we reflect our care and support. I love you more than life itself, and I pray that I can be for you what you have already become for me; my dear love.

“Insofar as these two have expressed their commitment to each other, and as witnessed by these wonderful families and you lovely people, I, by the power vested in me by God and the state of acceptance and love, pronounce these two married, despite whatever ordinances and customs might say to the contrary. You two may go ahead…I suppose it still is in form and makes sense to say,

“You each may kiss the Bride,“ he laughed softly as Kyra and Candace kissed…as only two women in love can.

Who can say
when the roads meet
that love might be
in your heart
And who can say
when the day sleeps
if the night keeps
all your heart
Night keeps all your heart
Who knows - only time
Who knows - only time

Once again I would like to thank Catherine Linda Michel for allowing me to contribute my heart and my talent to this wonderful series. I have enjoyed every bit of the process. I’d like to thank all of the other authors who have contributed to this series as well. It is my fondest hope to see Catherine’s dream of this Home come true. And it is even more a dream of mine and I expect yours as well that someday a home like this will no longer be needed as people everywhere open their hearts in welcome. Thanks for reading.

Second Chance
Words and music by
Irene Kelley, Clay Mills, and Tony Ramey
As performed by Trisha Yearwood

The Prayer
Words and Music by
Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster, David Walter Foster
as performed by Celine Dion and Josh Groban

I'll Love You Forever
by Robert Munsch

These Are the Days
As Performed by Natalie Merchant
Words and Music by Natalie Merchant

Maybe You'll Be There
As Performed by Diana Krall
Words and Music by
Sammy Gallop and Rube Bloom

See Here, She Said
Words and Music by Kate Wolf
1942 – 1986

Let's Fall in Love
Words and Music by
Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen
as performed by Diana Krall

Gentle Rain
Words and Music by
Matt Dubay and Louis Bonfa
As Performed by
Lark and Spur

The Look of Love
Words and Music by
Burt Bacharach and Hal David
as performed by Diana Krall

These Are the Days (Reprise)
As Performed by Natalie Merchant
Words and Music by Natalie Merchant

Words and Music by
Kenny Gioia and Shep Goodman
as performed by
Mandy Moore

Constant Craving
Words and music by
K.D. Lang and Ben Mink
As perfomed by K.D. Lang

Only Time
Words and music and
performance by
Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (Enya)

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