DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to Katherine Brooks. I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, all I have left in my wallet is a couple of Euros. Really not worth the hassle.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To All Over Me.

By Piranha


June 2008.

No matter how hard she tried to have a little lie in in the morning, Annabelle always woke up around the same time. Going to bed really late, studying for an exam until the crack of dawn or making love to Simone all night long, no matter what she did, her eyes invariably blinked open at her usual hour. She didn't even know why they bothered setting the alarm, her internal clock was spookily accurate. She didn't really mind waking up early, at least it gave her a chance to cuddle up with Simone, a treat that meant the world to her. She loved basking in the warmth of her lover's embrace; it was an opportunity to just quietly be as nothing was expected of her. Nothing really mattered as daunting worries and haunting doubts were temporarily cast aside. She couldn't get enough of watching Simone sleep, she always looked so adoringly angelic, younger even when the day to day stress of deadlines and grading papers wasn't plaguing her and invariably snuggled closer as if sensing Annabelle was watching her. Sometimes Annabelle didn't know where she began and Simone ended, no matter how far apart they started, even if she'd been banished to the couch after an argument, they always ended up wrapped around each other. They were both definitely cuddlers.

Not that they argued a lot, but it happened. They fought like they loved, with intensity, fire and passion. Anger and impatience bubbling close to the surface, tempers frayed, exploding in one big volcanic eruption, leaving them both distraught and licking their wounds. At other times their anger suddenly turned into full fledged lust. Thinking about their last fight, she couldn't even remember what it was about, probably something stupid and inconsequential. In the middle of their shouting match, their tempers getting the better of them, Simone had just looked at her and before she knew it, they had been all over each other, ripping each other's clothes off. Simone taking her against the fridge such an incredibly erotic experience, Annabelle shuddered at the mere memory.

They were both too passionate and headstrong not to clash at times, but even when they ended up with a cooling off period, one of them taking up residence on the couch in a righteous huff, they always ended up in each other's arms. They missed each other too much, they loved each other too much to let a silly argument come between them. It was just a matter of who swallowed their pride and gave in first. Usually it was the one on the couch, though surprisingly comfortable, the couch was way too short for a decent night's sleep. Last time she'd been banished to the couch, she'd laid there waiting in the dark until she'd heard Simone tiptoe down the stairs. Wanting to keep ride to herself, she had been right damn it, the guy was interested in Simone in a more than friendly fashion, she had absolutely refused to go back to the bedroom, forcing Simone to snuggle up to her on the small, short couch. Though they'd ended up with stiff limbs the next morning, the athletic make up sex in a confined space had been more than worth it.

Today was different though, even combing her fingers through Simone's hair as she laid half on top of her didn't give her the peace of mind she so desperately craved. She was too pumped up, too wired to stay in bed. She had all this nervous energy coursing through her, aching for release and it was making her jittery. She always felt like this on important events and today was no different, her first day of working at the centre and Simone's meeting later on the day had her stomach in a knot. As part of her lab work, she had chosen to work at the centre, where she was to help counsellors deal with abused and traumatised children, teenage junkies and runaways. She was absolutely dreading it, but at the same time, in a rather sadistic way, she was also looking forward to it. It was her maiden voyage into counselling, her plunge at the deep end. She just hoped that it wouldn't be a catastrophe, that she'd turn out to be the Titanic of psychology. When she had expressed her doubts to her professor, to Simone, even to her mother, they'd all told her that she was ready, that it was something she was born to do, but she still wasn't entirely convinced. Though deep down she knew she could do it, she was still worried.

Knowing her eternal tossing and turning would only disturb Simone – she needed her sleep, she had a potentially life changing meeting later on – Annabelle gently detangled herself from her lover's octopus embrace and reached for her robe. Normally she would have rushed through the house in a mad, frantic dash, banging all the doors and cupboards as she scurried around, loudly singing along with one of her CDs, but … she knew better by now. A pissed off Simone Bradley wasn't one to tangle with on the best of days, something her mother could attest to, but facing the wrath of a cranky and sleep deprived Simone Bradley before she'd had her first cup of coffee was sheer suicidal. She still wondered how in hell she had escaped throwing that glass of water in Simone's face that time at the beach house unscathed. It wasn't something she'd do again anytime soon, Simone would probably tear her from limb to limb. She should have known better really, her mother was just the same, which is probably why her dad never dared tease her mother before she had woken up properly.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she stretched out lazily before shrugging her robe on. Yawning widely as she rubbed her eyes, she padded around the bedroom. Opening the window, she leant against the wall, shivering lightly in the early morning chill. Pulling the robe tighter around her, she watched the world come to life with a contented smile on her face. The sun, a bi and angry orange ball of fire slowly rose over the rooftops, painting the once ink black sky in a beautiful tapestry of light colours. The beautiful simplicity of the sunrise made her realise how tiny and insignificant her worries really were in the bigger scheme of things, a warm invigorating sense of calm invading her once again. The fresh smell of morning dew, still recognisable underneath what promised to be another smog filled day, a sole bird tweeting in a nearby tree, barely audible over the heavy traffic on the interstate, the sun tickling her face with the promise of another hot summer day …. It made her smile and realise that a brand new day, full of hope and promise had begun.

Taking a deep breath of air, a decided expression on her face, she took a step back, determined to take the centre by storm. The window slightly ajar to allow a cool breeze in, the wind toyed with the curtains, intermittently bathing the room in shadow and light. Pushing herself off the wall, Annabelle walked the short distance to the bed. Not wanting to break the serene spell she was under just yet, she knelt beside it and just watched Simone sleep for a while. Simone's soft murmurs and tired little groans making her smile, she slowly reached out her hand. A look of intense devotion on her face, her fingers trembling, she lovingly caressed Simone's cheek, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. When Simone stirred and pulled Annabelle's pillow closer, really snuggling into it, mumbling something incomprehensible, Annabelle gave her a chaste kiss before pulling the covers higher over her sleeping lover and quietly leaving the room.

Knowing full well by now how hazardous waking up a still slumbering Simone would be for her continued wellbeing, Annabelle slowly and carefully made her way down the stairs, almost taking a tumble whilst trying to avoid a creaky step. Heaving a small sigh of relief when she reached the hallways without making a ruckus, she combed her fingers through her hair before opening the front door. Cursing under her breath when she couldn't find the morning paper on the door step, that lazy arse paperboy had probably thrown it halfway down the garden again, she tied her robe even tighter around herself before venturing out. She didn't want to flash a neighbour again. The grass tickling her bare feet, she was so focused on the headlines that she jumped up when her neighbour's head suddenly popped up from behind the hedge, letting out an undignified and rather girlish shriek. Her heart thumping in her throat, she escaped the woman's gossiping clutches by pretending to hear the phone ring and dashing inside. Folding the paper open, shaking her head in dismay at some of the government's latest decisions, she made her way to the kitchen on automatic pilot. The coffee machine soon gurgling and hissing, she searched the crap drawer for cigarettes and a lighter. Closing the drawer again with a decided thud, wincing slightly when she heard the sound echo through the eerily silent house, she grabbed a cup of coffee and the newspaper before making her way outside. The garden was calling for her.

A dull thud reverberating through the house waking her up, Simone lifted her head and slowly cracked one eye open. Noticing she was hugging Annabelle's pillow rather than her lover, she tossed the pillow away with a dissatisfied sigh and rolled onto her back. Stretching out with feline grace, the covers migrating even lower, she let out a sleepy moan, rolling her head to get rid of the crick in her neck. Knowing she couldn't postpone the inevitable, she had to get up sometime, she threw off the covers, putting on her slippers as she padded to the door naked. Taking Annabelle's way too short black kimono off the peg on the door, she tied it loosely before venturing down in search of her illusive lover, desperately hoping she had the coffee on. Pouring herself a cup, she leaned against the kitchen counter, closing her eyes in unadulterated joy as she savoured the divine taste of freshly brewed coffee. Their neighbour might be the biggest gossip monger and a nosy busybody, but she certainly knew her coffee, having smuggled in far too many kilos on her last trip to Hawaii. Spotting Annabelle in the garden and by the slump of her shoulders immediately realising that she was nervous about her first day at the centre, she quickly rinsed her mug before joining her outside. Not even contemplating sitting down on one of the iron garden chairs they had so painstakingly restored to their original state, she found them a bit hard, she plopped herself down on Annabelle's lap, curling her arms around her rather startled lover's neck. Pulling her closer, she planted a kiss on Annabelle's lips before leaning back with a satisfied smile. "Good morning," she husked, curling herself into a more comfortable position.

"Morning," Annabelle replied as she slid her arms around Simone, pulling her even closer. "How did you sleep?"

Her breath tickling Annabelle's ear, Simone replied: "I slept like a baby, I didn't even hear you get up. I only noticed that you were gone when I woke up hugging and kissing your pillow, not a very worthy substitute for the original. What are you doing up so early anyway? You don't have to be there until eleven. Didn't you sleep well?"

"No, not really," Annabelle said, sighing deeply. "I was too restless to stay in bed. I guess I'm a bit nervous about today, what with your meeting and me starting at the centre. I didn't want to wake you, so I came downstairs. I tried to be quiet."

"My poor baby," Simone purred as she caressed Annabelle's cheek before leaning in and giving her a kiss. "You know…. We still have some time on our hands, why don't we go back to bed for a while?"

Shaking her head dejectedly, Annabelle mumbled: "what's the point? I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway."

Sliding her hand into Annabelle's robe, slowly and teasingly scraping her nail over a nipple, Simone husked: "who said anything about sleeping?"

Trebling slightly, Simone was doing heavenly things with her hand, Annabelle's breath hitched as she stammered: "what? But … don't you have classes this morning?"

Knowing she had won the plea, Annabelle could never resist her for too long, Simone got up of Annabelle's lap and held her hand out invitingly. A seductive smile curling around her lips, she replied: "I have no classes scheduled for today, remember? I only have that lunch meeting downtown. We still have a couple of hours, why don't we make the most of it? I bet it'll make us both less nervous."

A seductive grin appearing on Annabelle's face as she studied Simone, giving her an ant agonisingly slow once over, Annabelle licked her lips ever so slowly. Entranced, tantalised by the wicked gleam in Simone's eyes, she pushed herself out of the chair, all the while keeping her eye on Simone. Flicking her attention to Simone's outstretched hand for just a second, a diabolical smirk on her face, she made a grab for Simone, laughing when Simone let out a startled shriek and started running towards the house. Quickly chasing after her, catching up with her when Simone had trouble with the kitchen door, she pushed her inside and pinned her to the door. Trapping Simone's wrists above her head with one hand, she pushed herself even closer, feeling Simone's breath on her face. "You're mine now," Annabelle husked with a devilish grin, looking at Simone's lips, Simone's accelerated breathing spurring her on even more.

Liquid desire coursing through her veins as Simone groaned softly, their lips only a breath apart, she deftly untied the kimono, growling softly when she noticed Simone wasn't anything underneath. Slipping her hand inside, she smirked when she felt Simone shudder. Looking her in the eye, decided on teasing her a little longer, she pulled back when Simone tried to kiss her, their lips never more than a few millimetres apart. Grinning at Simone's pout, she was so damn adorable when she pouted, Annabelle slid her hand from Simone's hip, over a quivering belly to the underside of her breast, exhilarated at the short intake of breath. Her fingers slowly wandered upwards, gracing a hardening nipple with a feather light touch. Their lips still not quite touching, she whispered "I love you" as she cupped a breast, enjoying the weight in her hand before unhurriedly rolling the nipple between her fingers.

Thinking she'd explode if Annabelle didn't kiss her soon, Simone hooked a leg around Annabelle's hip, pulling her closer. As Annabelle let go of her wrists, startled by the sneak attack, she curled her arm around Annabelle's neck and kissed her passionately, fusing their lips together. Hearing Annabelle's surprised gasp at the ferocity of her attack, she took advantage, exploring every inch of Annabelle's mouth, their tongues duelling. Moaning at Simone's unexpected aggressiveness, Annabelle felt faint, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't think. Still kissing Annabelle hungrily, Simone realised that they had to move from there and quickly. Otherwise they'd only end up fucking each other senseless against the kitchen door and that wasn't what she had in mind. Slowly she started pushing Annabelle backwards, mindful not to bump into furniture, her lips still attached to Annabelle's, her hands starting a maddening caress on Annabelle's back, a shiver of delight running through her as she felt Annabelle's nails scrape along her spine. Knowing they'd never make it to the bedroom, she pushed Annabelle down on the easy chair. The black kimono hanging open, her lips swollen by kisses, her eyes ablaze with ill concealed lust, her breathing ragged, she just stared at Annabelle for a second before slowly straddling her on the easy chair, her thighs on either side of Annabelle's legs. "Now that you have me," she taunted huskily, "what are you going to do with me?"

Reaching up with a trembling hand, she caressed Simone's cheek before tucking away some stray hairs. Reverently she whispered: "I'll love and cherish you forever." The heartfelt emotions behind the words turning her on even more, Simone kissed Annabelle without any hesitation, a deep kiss of fire and passion. Trailing open mouthed kisses from Simone's lips to her collarbone, Annabelle sucked on her pulse point, marking Simone as hers, her hand slipping beneath the kimono to unhurriedly caress Simone's back. Trailing a finger over an already rock hard nipple, she licked her lips in anticipation, making Simone groan at the lust filled look in her eyes. She slowly kissed and licked her way down again, making Simone claw her fingers into Annabelle's shoulders as she arched her back. She flicked her tongue over a nipple and licked it unhurriedly, making Simone whimper almost inaudibly. Opening her lips to take the nipple into her mouth, she sucked it before biting down gently.

Holding a hand on Simone's back in support, she turned her attention to the other breast as she traced Simone's lips with her fingers. Groaning softly when Simone started sucking on her fingers in the same rhythm, she released Simone's nipple and just stared at her for a second, her breathing ragged. Releasing the fingers with an audible pop, she kissed Simone ferociously, her fingers crawling down ever so slowly, making Simone's stomach quiver and flutter at the feather light touch. As her nails scratched lightly through the curly hair, Simone groaned and began rocking against the hand, inviting it to venture down even further. Trawling a finger through copious amounts of wetness, she slowly pushed a finger in, soon followed by a second one, venturing in and out, matching the rhythm set by Simone's pumping hips. Keeping a constant pressure on Simone's throbbing clit, she pumped harder and faster with each trust, still kissing her passionately. Feeling the first signs of Simone's impending orgasm, she curled her fingers.

Breathlessly Simone called out Annabelle's name as she came. She was flying, the rollercoaster ride she was on carried her to the top of the world, leaving her writhing in ecstasy. Riding out the last waves, she kissed Annabelle ferociously before slumping against her shoulder. Her breathing still erratic, she eased back after a while to look Annabelle in the eye. Smiling mischievously, she said: "I can't say I'm nervous anymore, how about you?", her voices so serious that Annabelle couldn't help but pull her closer, laughing merrily.

Still in deep slumber, actually in the throws of a rather fun and incredibly vivid dream, her heart racing and a lazy, contented smile tugging at her lips at the erotic explicitness of her nocturnal adventures, morning came far too soon for Annabelle when the alarm clock started blaring in her ears. Groaning at the unwanted, unwelcome intrusion, pouting when the intricate details of her dream slowly evaporated, she slowly detangled herself from Simone's hugging embrace. Gingerly reaching her hand out, not even opening her eyes, she tried to thump the old fashioned alarm clock into silence, actually needing a few attempts before she hit the damn thing. The last lingering remnants of her dream slowly dissipating, she sagged down on the bed again with a sigh. Yawning widely, she rubbed her still sleep filled eyes, blinking a couple of times before she dared open them. As soft morning light permeated through the curtains, chasing away the harsh, dark shadows of the night, she stared at the ceiling for a while, swallowing a strangled sob as reality hit her with full force, the eternal optimism of sunshine and bright skies a bright contrast to her inner turmoil.

Looking over to Simone, needing her warmth, presence and love to chase away the anguish and doubts, she couldn't help but smile, rolling her eyes in fond exasperation as Simone had buried her herself beneath the pillow to block out the harsh shrill of the alarm clock. Simone was just so adoringly predictable in the morning that it tugged at Annabelle's heartstrings. It might drive her up the walls at times, but at the same time, it made her love her even more, it was just part of the quirks and idiosyncrasies she loved about her. Her ways of postponing waking up properly often really was too cute for words. Teasingly running a fingertip along her lover's naked back, she watched tiny goose bumps appear, delighting in the strangled moan Simone emitted as she wriggled even closer. Softly scratching her nails along Simone's spine, she smiled when Simone stirred but kept on sleeping, clutching her pillow even tighter. Gently pushing the pillow a bit further away, careful not to wake her in the process, she placed a light kiss on her shoulder before scooting down the bed. Feeling her soft and rhythmic breathing, Annabelle snuggled even closer, throwing the sheets over them both to lock the rest of the world out a little longer, creating a tiny island where only they existed. She needed the closeness right now, she needed Simone to keep the darkness at bay. She needed to be wrapped up in the comforting cocoon of Simone's love.

Sighing deeply as a nauseating feeling of dread filled her heart at their impending separation, she wrapped an arm around Simone and buried her head in Simone's neck, the slow and steady thumping of Simone's heart underneath her hand slowly claming her down. She hated being away from Simone for even a day, let alone a whole week! No matter how many times she told herself that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Simone, that Rafe Ségara didn't organise an exposition for just anyone, she still had this aching feeling deep inside her heart, a deep sense of loss and loneliness before Simone had even left. They'd never been away from each other for more than a day, how in hell was she going to survive this? She hated being stuck in Los Angeles for the week, working at the centre, sitting her final exam and meeting her professor to discuss her dissertation.

She wanted to go with Simone, be there for her on her day of glory, stand by her side. She wanted to see the sparkle in Simone's eyes when the gallery opened, she wanted to witness the shiver of excitement run through her when she sold her first photograph, she wanted to smile indulgently at her nervous fretting minutes before the exposition opened as Simone clutched her hand tightly, she wanted to shake her head in fond exasperation when a pink flush tainted Simone's cheeks at the praise lavished upon her, but …. It wasn't to be. Taking a quick look at the clock, she gently caressed Simone's back, drawing soothing circles, smiling when she heard Simone smack her lips, a telltale sign she was finally waking up. Caressing her cheek when Simone slowly cracked one eye open, she whispered: "hey sleepyhead, time to get up. San Francisco is waiting for you."

"Oh, just a few more minutes," Simone mumbled incoherently, her voice thick with sleep, closing her eyes again.

Laughing at the soft whine hidden beneath the barely comprehensible request, Annabelle gave her a quick kiss before saying: "how about I grab a quick shower and rustle us some breakfast?" Taking Simone's incomprehensible grunt as she pulled the duvet back over her head as a yes, Annabelle just rolled her eyes and grabbed her robe.

The divine aromas wafting in from the kitchen filling her senses and making her mouth water, Simone stretched gingerly, smiling when certain muscles ached pleasantly. Blushing furiously but with a wolfish grin on her face as she thought about last night's antics – they had been insatiable, bouncing each other against all walls in the house before falling on the bed in a tangled heap – she slowly opened her eyes, realising that they were both just working off steam and frustration. A quick glance at the clock telling her she still had some time, she rolled over to Annabelle's side, clutching the pillow tightly. Though it wasn't a worthy substitute for the real thing, frankly it was a pretty lousy alternative, the pillow had helped her through many a lonely morning when Annabelle was brooding downstairs or had already left for university. Inhaling deeply, she let Annabelle's smell overwhelm her senses again.

She knew it probably sounded pretty daft and she couldn't really explain it properly, but Annabelle's smell always calmed her down. It let her know that everything would be all right in the end. It wasn't as perverted as it sounded, it wasn't as if the pillow smelled of sweat or sexual desire, it was simply a combination of Annabelle's perfume, shower gel and something uniquely Annabelle. She'd never divulge her little secret to another living soul, they'd probably declare her mad for sniffing and hugging her lover's pillow. She had even packed one of Annabelle's old T-shirts; though Annabelle would probably roll her eyes at the mushiness of the gesture, she needed something to keep her sane on her little trip. She'd miss Annabelle so much, you'd think she was going away for a year instead of a week. She knew that they'd talk on the phone every day, but it wasn't the same, a slightly metallic voice down the phone could never replace Annabelle's smile, her touch, the twinkling in her eyes when she told her about her day. It could never replace the warmth of her hugs, the softness of her kisses, the reassuring comfort and familiarity of her presence, even if she was totally engrossed in her book or rhythmically tapping her foot to the music blaring from her headphones.

She was going away for a week, she'd be deprived of the little cocoon of love, warmth and familiarity their house formed. She'd be without Annabelle's strength, the reassuring embrace of her arms, her sometimes heartbreaking fragility, her temperamental rants and huffs and the thought scared her. Their lives were so intertwined, they were so focused on each other and sharing everything…. And now she was forced to face this daunting challenge on her own. She hadn't told Annabelle about her fears, about how much she was going to miss her and how she wished they could share this too. She didn't want to burden her or make her feel bad; she knew that Annabelle was already beating herself up at having to stay in Los Angeles. She knew Annabelle felt guilty for missing the gallery opening, but it wasn't to be and though it was easier said than done, they both had to accept that. Sighing deeply, she realised that yesterday's sex marathon had been their unspoken way of dealing with the separation and though it had been fantastically emotional and loving, it left a bitter sweet after taste in her mouth as it reinforced the loneliness she'd have to endure for a week.

Shaken from her thoughts when her stomach grumbled loudly, she slowly got out of bed, searching for her robe before padding down the stairs. Thank god it was Annabelle's week to cook, a goodbye breakfast consisting of mushy cornflakes wasn't really what she had in mind. Truth be told, Annabelle did most of the cooking, even when it wasn't her turn. She probably doesn't fancy dieing of food poisoning, Simone mused. Heading straight for the kitchen, she halted when she spotted Annabelle. Leaning against the door frame with a smile on her face, she watched Annabelle sing along with the radio, sashaying her hips as she seasoned what appeared to be one of Annabelle's special omelettes.

"Seasons come and seasons go
But our love will never die
Let me hold you darling
So you wont cry
Cause people say that our love affair
Will never last
But we know a love like ours
Will never pass
And baby I was wrong
Not knowing how our love should go
But then I wasn't wrong
In knowing how our love would grow
And every time I think of you
Every time
Every time I think of you
Every single time
It always turns out good"

Listening to the heartfelt serenade, though she realised Annabelle didn't know she was standing there, she felt some of her worries melt away. Pushing herself off, she walked over, sliding her arms around a startled Annabelle. Squeezing her tight, she nuzzled her neck before kissing her cheek. "Morning" she husked throatily.

Groaning softly when she felt Simone's hand disappear into her robe, Annabelle froze for a moment before moulding herself to Simone's hugging form. Biting back a strangled moan when the hand slipped lower, she turned into the embrace. Gently slapping the wandering hand away, she kissed Simone languidly, her arms slipping to Simone's shoulders, the wooden spatula still in her hand. Turning back when the pan began to sizzle, she teased: "you know better than to disturb the chef. Oh and good morning to you too sleepy head." Shooing Simone away with her hand, telling her to sit down, she slid a decent sized portion of omelette into Simone's plate before pouring her a coffee. Settling down at the table, spearing a piece of omelette onto her fork, she looked up and with forced cheeryness, she said: "so today's the day, huh? Ready to take San Francisco by storm?"

"No, yes, … I don't know," Simone laughed, looking up again. "I'll miss you, you know?"

"I know," Annabelle replied with tears in her eyes, "I'll miss you too. You know, no matter how many times I tell myself that we've been apart before, that we didn't see each other for nearly a month after I graduated, that at least this time we'll be in the same continent, country and even state, that now we'll be able to call each other, it's still ….."

"Not the same," Simone finished for her. "I know what you mean, we weren't 'together together' then, but … we'll struggle through, we'll have to. The week will be over before you know it. I'll be busy setting up the exposition with Rafe and you'll be studying and working. We'll call each other every single day, really…. We'll be fine." They both smiled at that, though deep down, they didn't really believe it, they just wanted to put up a brave face for the other.

Laying on the couch in peaceful slumber, indulging in a little catnap before her shift began, Annabelle was so startled by the next door neighbour's lawn mower that her first instinct was to roll away from the monstrous rambling noise – Was Joyce's lawn mower jet powered or something? – only to fall on the ground with a big thud. Immensely relieved that she was home alone, Simone would have no doubt laughed her head off at her little 'America's funniest home videos' escapade, she dusted herself off, leaning on the coffee table as she looked around the house. With a deep sigh, she realised that she had let the housework slip a bit in Simone's absence. She had rationalised her lack of initiative with some inventive excuses, but what it all boiled down to was that, though she missed Simone like crazy, she had pretty soon realised that it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in all her annoying habits Simone hated so much.

Not that she'd had wild orgies or drinking binges in Simone's absence, far from it in fact. Her temporary rebellion was far more innocent and tame: smoking in the living room, leaving the towels on the ground instead of hanging them up to dry, her books and notes strewn all over the dining room table … There was no' one to tick her off anyway. The consequences were devastatingly obvious: she hadn't done the dishes in days, the pile almost threatening to topple over, the laundry basket was practically overflowing, balled up socks all around it as she hadn't always made the three point shot and mopping …. Well, let's just say that she hadn't gotten around to it yet. Looking around the living room, Annabelle realised that she'd better get her arse in gear, otherwise Simone might just have a heart attack when she got back.

Not that the house was that cluttered or messy, not even Annabelle could cause that much damage in just a few days, it was just ….. organised chaos. Besides, it wasn't like she'd had so much time to tackle the household chores. She was missing Simone so much that she tried to keep her loneliness at bay by keeping extremely busy, either studying all night for her exam, which she had aced, or working all the hours God sent at the centre. After a particularly long and exhausting shift at the Centre, all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch and wait for Simone's late night call. Though she felt slightly guilty every time she entered the kitchen, the piled up dishes threatening to topple over like the leaning tower of Pisa, she pushed the guilt right out of her mind by closing the kitchen door. Out of sight, out of mind.

But it was so much more than innate laziness, she simply didn't see the point. Housework was something they did together, the tedious and boring normalcy of the chores temporarily forgotten as they spent some quality time together, telling each other about their day as they hung up clothes or goofing around as they mopped the living room floor. It made the chores … well, not exactly fun, but certainly more bearable. Looking at her watch, Annabelle realised that she still had a couple of hours before her shift at the Centre began. Sighing deeply, she got up from her crouched position and went upstairs to fetch the laundry basket. She might as well have the washing machine weave its magic as she tackled the rest of the chores.

Wiping her forehead with her hand, Annabelle was just about to put the mop and bucket back when the doorbell rang. Cursing under hear breath, not really caring about her less than graceful appearance – she was wearing a cut off tank top, faded boxers and her knee cap boots – she stomped to the front door, intent on giving whomever was at the other side a good piece of her mind. She was fed up with middle aged, bald, badly dressed con men trying to smooth talk her into buying double glazing or her next door neighbour calling on her every five minutes to check up on her. A decided frown on her face, her expression thunderous, she yanked the door open, only to squeak out in surprise: "Collins?"

"Hi Annabelle," Collins said. Looking her up and down, she added: "you look …. Odd. I hope I'm not disturbing you?"

"No, no, I was just cleaning up a bit. Come in. What the hell are you doing here? I haven't heard form you since … well, since we graduated from Saint Theresa's. Where have you been hiding all this time? Sit down, sit down, I'll make us some coffee." As she came back into the living room with coffee and cookies, she added: "shoot."

"Well, after graduation I didn't feel ready to go to university yet, so I took a year off," Collins replied. "I wanted to do some travelling, see the world a bit, I don't know…. Grow up a bit I suppose. There's so much to see in the world, so many cultures to explore. After a year of travelling, I didn't feel ready to stop, there was still so much I wanted to see: the sunset in Venice, the changing of the Guards in London, practising my abysmal Spanish with a Mexican girl … A year quickly turned into two,, something my parents weren't too happy about. Another year of gallivanting around the globe, it didn't sit right with them, they wanted me to start uni, become a chemist, start leading a productive life. But I was adamant! In the end, they cut me a deal: I could explore the world for another year if I promised to go to uni right after. I grabbed the chance with both hands, I packed my bags again, booked a flight to Australia and didn't look back. I only landed at LAX a couple of days ago. I crashed at Kristen's, you know… to catch up, sleep off my jet lag, just to chill a while before I go face my parents. Anyway, Kristen told me you were living around here, so I decided to drop in before I make the long drive to San Francisco."

"God, I haven't spoken to Kristen in ages. How is she doing? How's little Emily?" Annabelle asked, but before Collins could reply she added: "San Francisco? That's right, you're from San Francisco. Erm… would you excuse me for just a sec? I need to make a quick phone call." Grabbing her cell phone, she punched in some numbers before saying: "hey John, it's me, Anna …. Yes, yes, I know it's early for you, but you do know that there are two twelve o'clocks in a day, don't you? …. Anyway, I need a favour….. Could you cover my shift over the next two days? Something has come up? …… Oh come on, you know I already did three of your shifts this week alone….. That's what I thought you'd say….. Yeah, thanks man, you're a lifesaver… Yes, talk to you later, bye." Disconnecting the phone, she threw it back on the coffee table before facing Collins again. "Would you mind if I hitched a ride to San Francisco with you? Simone's exposition opens tonight and I was gutted at having to miss it, but now you're here… I don't know, it's like Fate or something… Oh God, I'm rambling… I'm sorry. So can I? Hitch a ride with you, that is?"

"Simone? Your new girlfriend?" Collins asked.

"Kristen didn't tell you then I take it?" Annabelle said, chuckling softly. When Collins just shook her head, she added: "boy, have we got some major catching up to do. Thank god it's a long drive."

A bathrobe tied loosely around her, drying her hair with one of the fluffy white towels the hotel provided, Simone walked out of the bathroom. A quick look at the clock letting her know that she still had some time, she sank down on the bed, staring at the ceiling as she thought about her week. To say it was hectic was an understatement, she'd been working her butt off with Rafe, trying to get the exposition organised. Giving out interviews, drumming up publicity, sending out even more invitations, deciding which photographs went where, deciding what photographs were for sale, …. Rafe drove her up the walls at times, his perfectionism doing her head in, especially when she was feeling tired, cranky and homesick, but at the same time, he was her saviour, calming her down when it all got too much, encouraging her when she was feeling down, even ordering her to call Annabelle when she was just too cranky to work with. At the end of the day, she only had enough energy to have a quick shower, order some room service and crawl into bed, calling Annabelle just to hear her voice, to keep her sane amidst this madness.

Looking at the clock again, realising that Annabelle would be on her break by now, she grabbed the phone and dialled the all too familiar number. She needed to talk to Annabelle right now, she needed her reassurance that tonight would be a success. She needed to hear that Annabelle loved her. Walking over to the chair, she grabbed her dress, a long black cocktail dress Annabelle had insisted on buying just for this occasion. "I want you to be the belle of the ball," she had said, "I want you to dazzle them with your beauty, elegance and creative genius." Running a finger over the soft fabric, she frowned when Annabelle didn't immediately pick up, the frown getting deeper when she heard an unknown woman answer the phone. "What the fuck?" she said, slamming the phone down, a hot surge of jealousy shooting through her. Where was Annabelle? Who in hell was that woman? Why was she answering Annabelle's phone? Feelings of jealousy, anger and hurt warring within her, she began pacing the hotel room, realising that she knew that voice, she just couldn't quite picture who it belonged to. Pacing the room like a woman possessed, her anger still bubbling closely to the surface, she was getting more and more worked up. Halting mid stride when there was a soft rap on the door, she yanked the door open, her expression so scary even a hardened Marine would gulp.

Taking a step back, Rafe said: "what's the matter? Did something happen?"

"A woman answered Annabelle's phone just now," Simone spat out.

"And?" Rafe asked, not really wanting to get into the middle of this, actually rolling his eyes at the drama lesbians always seemed to make over the littlest things, but realising it was something Simone needed to get off her chest.

"What do you mean 'and'?" Simone roared, "isn't it enough?"

"Simone honey," Rafe said, daring to step inside the hotel room and closing the door behind him, "don't you think you're overreacting? You know Annabelle loves you, the two of you are so disgustingly happy together it even melts my frozen heart and you know I'm dubbed the ice queen in gay joints around town. You're just stressed about the exposition. You're not thinking clearly. There's probably a very innocent explanation for all this. I mean …. Perhaps it was your nosy neighbour? Didn't you say that Annabelle complained about her dropping in all of the time? Perhaps it was one of her colleagues? Annabelle could be tied up in one of those sessions?"

Running her fingers through her hair, Simone sighed: "you're right, it's probably nothing. I mean, I know that woman's voice, I just can't… OH god, I'm sorry, I'm just so nervous about tonight and I really needed to hear Annabelle's voice. God, I'm rambling now… Anyway, what are you doing here?"

"Well, I thought I'd take you out for an early dinner," Rafe said.

"God, I don't think I can eat anything," Simone replied, just the thought of food was making her feel queasy.

"I know," Rafe smiled indulgently, "you don't have to eat anything. I just want to get you out of this hotel room before you turn yourself into a nervous wreck. So… chop chop, get dressed. I'll be waiting for you in the bar downstairs."

Budding artists, art aficionados and critics wandering about the gallery, pausing at the photographs adorning the walls, quietly commenting on them amongst each other, the room was alight with soft chattering and murmured approval. Catching Rafe's eye, softly grinning when he winked at her and gave her a big thumbs up, Simone rounded up her conversation with another buyer, trying not to show them her surprise, embarrassment and nervosity at the dazzling figure they had just forked out for one of her black and whites. Thanking them again, Simone looked up, trying to catch the eye of a passing waiter. She was parched! Grabbing an orange juice with trembling hands, she was just about to take a sip when she felt someone touch her arm. Rolling her eyes in exasperation, desperately needing a moment to herself, she plastered a fake smile on her face before turning around. "Aunt Em," she stammered, "what are you doing here?"

Scrunching her eyebrows in confusion, Mother Emaculata flatly stated: "you sent me an invitation, Simone. I thought it was your way of handing me the olive branch." Looking around the room in disgust, she added: "I foolishly thought you had come to your senses."

"I didn't send…" Simone started to say, only to cut herself off when she realised that Annabelle must have sent her the invitation. She was forever going on and on about making up with her aunt, about taking the first step towards reconciliation. That was easier said than done though. As soon as she had found out Simone was living with Annabelle, that Cat had been right all along about the two of them having an affair, she had come over, intent on talking some sense into Simone. She had ranted and raved for over an hour, calling Annabelle the devil's spawn for luring Simone into illicit temptation, threatening to call the police on them though Annabelle was already eighteen years old, even threatening to have her struck off as a teacher. She had begged and pleaded with Simone to see the error of her ways, stating that she was just brainwashed by Annabelle's manipulative charms. Couldn't she see that Annabelle was the devil trying to lead her astray form God's rightful path? Mother Emaculata's accusations, incriminations and insults soon proving too much to bear, Simone had kicked her out of the house in the end. Her aunt's parting threat 'you don't exist for me anymore Simone' hurting her deeply, she had been her only family for so long after all, Simone had stuck to her vow never to speak to her again. And now her aunt was standing right in front of her, intent on causing a scene. She knew Annabelle meant well, but still….

Staring at a blown up photograph of Annabelle and Simone, staring into each other's eyes, the love they shared so palpable, Mother Emaculata turned her head in disgust. "I really thought you would have come to your senses by now," she sneered. "I mean, you're not that stupid. I taught you better than that. You disgust me, you're an abomination in the eyes of God. You'll burn in hell for this. Homosexuality is a sin. It goes against nature, it's just … depraved. Can't you see what that… that girl is doing to you? She's nothing more than a two bit whore leading you astray, a Lolita using her evil charms to lure you into her web." Her eyes spitting fire, Mother Emaculata took a deep breath, intent on continuing her righteous and pious rant, not even noticing Simone was clenching her fists in anger, not even noticing the scene she was causing. "Don't you realise that Annabelle Tillman is the devil's spawn? Evil incarnated? That she's only after ….," she ranted before being cut off.

"I'd watch my tongue if I were you Mother Emaculata," senator Tillman said, "that's my daughter you're talking about. " Turning to Simone, she gave her a reassuring squeeze, whispering: "don't worry about this, I'll take care of her. Oh and congratulations by the way. I was talking to Rafe just now and he says the exposition is a phenomenal success. I told you that you had nothing to worry about." Her soft smile making room for a piercing stare as she turned around again, Marion Tillman told the nun in a soft, but very cold and threatening tone of voice: "I suggest you leave now before I have you thrown out and don't even think about repeating tonight's little stunt or I might just decide to make your life a living hell. A tax audit of Saint Theresa's revenues? A state investigation into the building permit you recently submitted? A departmental investigation into the teachers' credentials? You know as well as I do that mud sticks…. All the negative publicity, even if you turn out to be innocent in the end, could just be the death sentence to a private school like Saint Theresa's. The choice is yours." Mother Emaculata just looked at the two of them, her mind working overtime, before turning around and stomping off in a righteous huff.

"Thanks for coming," Simone said, "and thanks for taking care of Dragon Lady; I don't know how much longer I could have composed myself."

"My pleasure," the senator smiled. "What was she doing here anyway? I thought you weren't on speaking terms?"

"We're not," Simone sighed. "Annabelle must have sent her an invitation, you know what she's like."

"Yeah, that sounds like Annabelle," the senator laughed softly. "Anyway, how about you show me your photographs, huh?"

Changing into a very sexy red cocktail dress – Simone could never keep her hands off her when she wore it – in the back of Collins' little rental car, grumbling under her breath as she kept bumping her knees and elbows into Collins' suitcases, smirking when she caught an appreciative glimpse by Collins in the rear view mirror, Annabelle teasingly said: "the way you're eyeballing me I don't need to ask how I look." Laughing when Collins had the good grace to turn bright red, looking away immediately, Annabelle continued: "come on then, let's go." Grabbing a still embarrassed Collins by the arm as they exited the car, she all but pulled her towards the gallery, flashing her invitation to the usher before dragging a reluctant Collins inside. Standing on tiptoes to locate Simone, she started racing towards her when she spotted her standing at the back, talking to her mother. Noticing her mother elbow Simone when she came into sight, she smiled brightly, her smile mirrored in Simone's. Finally letting go off Collins arm, she jumped into Simone's arms, hugging her tight. "God, I missed you so much," she murmured.

Closing her eyes, Simone whispered: "I missed you too, so much. What are you doing here? I mean, how did you get here?"

"I hitched a ride with Collins, I just had to see you," Annabelle replied.

"Collins! I thought I knew that voice," Simone muttered softly before kissing Annabelle lightly on the lips. "You're completely mad, you know that? Driving all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco."

"Of course I'm mad, I have to be to be in love with you," Annabelle replied teasingly. Breaking out of their embrace, Annabelle continued: "hey mom. I didn't know you'd be here? I thought you were still at the East Coast. It's good to see you. Anyway, this is Collins a mate of mine. Collins, this is my mother and I don't think I have to introduce Simone."

"Very pleased to meet you Senator Tillman," Collins stated shyly, extending her hand, before turning and adding: "hi miss Bradley."

"Simone, please," Simone said to Collins before adding: "would you just excuse us for a moment?" Grabbing Annabelle by the hand, she led her to a storage space next to the gallery. Closing the door behind her, she attacked Annabelle's lips with animal ferocity, murmuring: "god, I'm so glad you're here, I missed you so much." Planting soft kisses on Annabelle's cheek, she whispered huskily: "though I love the way that dress looks on you, I love even more how it looks when it's laying next to my hotel bed. God, I want you now."

Grinning devilishly, Annabelle swatted Simone's grabbing hands away, saying: "all good things come to those who wait. We'd better get back, you still have an audience to dazzle." When Simone pouted, she gave her a quick kiss on the lips, stating: "you can ravish me later, I promise."

1 Every time I think of you – The Babys.

Part 3

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