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


March 2009.

The students quickly made their way out of the auditorium, relieved to be let off the hook a few minutes early. Simone had been in a weird state - one student even muttered under his breath he hoped she'd get laid before next class or they'd be in for one hell of a ride - and everyone's nervous chattering and suppressed snickering echoed through the space as they all tried to squeeze through the door at the same time, desperate to get away.

Sighing, realising deep down it wasn't fair to take her foul mood and frustration out on these first year students, Simone pressed a few keys, then drummed her fingers on the desk until the annoying Windows jingle could be heard as the laptop shut down. She couldn't help it, though. She'd been feeling weird all day, couldn't really explain …. Something bad was going to happen, and the feeling only increased as the hours passed, and made her extremely anxious and irritable. No wonder the students ran like the devil was on their heels, she certainly had pulled a Jekyll and Hyde on them today.

She tucked the laptop into the hideously expensive leather satchel Annabelle had insisted on buying her after her academic promotion to fulltime lecturer, then gathered her books, papers and course notes, stuffing them into her huge handbag while mentally reminding herself to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home. Staring at the desk, she realised she wanted nothing more than to be home. She needed Annabelle to tell her everything was going to be alright in the end, that she was worrying for nothing. She needed to cuddle on the sofa as they watched a silly tv show. She wanted to stretch out and just hear Annabelle's calming heartbeat as Annabelle read a book, the radio a soft background murmur. She wanted to lose herself in Annabelle's embrace, feel her loving arms as she told her about her day, what a bitch she'd been to her frightened students. The thought of Annabelle was the only thing keeping her going.

Looking up and hearing soft whispers in the now-deserted auditorium, she had to stifle a groan of frustration as she spotted Jessie and Brad lurking at the back. It had completely slipped her mind that she'd scheduled an extra tutoring session with them today. A glance at her watch told her she could still beat rush hour if she left now. She bit her lip and seriously contemplated cancelling the session, knowing the terrible twosome would aggravate her even more. Sighing as she realised her staunch puritan work ethic would never let her actually do it – though Annabelle's easygoing attitude had rubbed off on her over the years and mellowed her considerably, playing hooky was still a bridge too far – she plastered a smile on her face as she leant against the desk, crossing her arms as she waited on Jessie and Brad to make their way down. She'd just have to grin and bear it for a bit longer.

Suppressing a sadistic smirk at Jessie's stammered apology for having kept her waiting, the light tremor in the girl's voice doing nothing to appease her foul mood, Simone grabbed her things and spat out gruffly "let's go to my office, shall we? I do hope you're better prepared than last time" before stomping out, not even noticing how both students blanched, gulping audibly before scrambling after her. As Simone was about to push through the door, Elizabeth Perkins, one of the English Department secretaries, came storming in. Panting, her ample bosom heaving with exertion, Perkie, as she was affectionately known, leaned against the doorframe, trying to catch her breath. "I just need a minute," she mumbled, putting her hand over her heart in a futile attempt to slow it down. "I never realised I was so out of shape," babbling, "I guess I'd better take up jogging or something." Not even noticing how the other three shuddered at the thought of voluptuous Perkie in fluorescent body-hugging lycra, she took a deep breath before turning to Simone and saying: "you have a phone call, it sounds rather urgent."

"Who is it?" Simone asked, fear clutching her heart, perhaps her premonition had come true.

"I don't know," Perkie replied, "they wouldn't say. They just insisted they needed to talk to you urgently, they practically ordered me to come and get you straight away …. Something about a medical emergency…." Something awful had happened to Annabelle. Simone sprinted towards her office, not even noticing how Perkie rolled her eyes in desperation, groaning "oh God, not again" before sprinting after her. Laptop against her chest, handbag banging against her hip every second step, Simone ran through the deserted hallway, her mind playing out scenarios of what could have happened to Annabelle, one worse than the next. What if Annabelle was hurt? What if Annabelle was dead? What if ……? Tears brimming in her eyes, a hollow sinking in the pit of her stomach, she pushed through the heavy door and rushed to the phone. Heart hammering in her chest, she squeaked out: "Simone Bradley speaking …. Oh hi, I didn't expect …. What? …… When did this happen? ….. Are you sure? ….. No, I don't know, I'll have to think about it ….. Yes, no….. Yes, I'll call later tonight ….. Yes, bye."

As she hung up, Perkie came in. Simone still staring at the phone. "Everything alright?"

Perkie's voice shaking her from her near-catatonic state, Simone turned to her and mumbled: "erm…. I need to go home, I need to….".

Suddenly worried, never having seen Simone so strange and upset, Perkie said: "do you want me to take you home? You're not fit to drive, the way your hands are trembling and …".

Looking up, mind still elsewhere, Simone offered the elderly secretary a small smile before replying: "no, that's okay, I'll manage …. It's not that far … Erm Perkie, I won't be in for a couple of days … a family emergency … Could… could you take care of everything?"

"Of course," the secretary said, putting a comforting hand on Simone's arm. "Are you sure you're alright? Do you want me to call Annabelle?"

"No … no, that's okay, no need to worry her just yet," Simone said distractedly, shaking her head to clear her thoughts. "I'll see her when I get home, she didn't have class this afternoon," she added as an afterthought, biting her nail as she tried to come up with the best course of action. Suddenly trembling as cold, harsh reality hit her, she searched her pocket for her keys. "Erm … I guess I'd better go."

Rush hour traffic filling the freeway, soccer moms picking up kids clogging the suburban streets as they double parked seemingly at random, horns honking out drivers' frustrations at the delays, all only aggravating Simone's frazzled nerves as she sped down the street, flirting with the wrong side of the speed limit, hands gripping the wheel so hard her knuckles were white. Not even hearing a man's abusive rant as she cut suddenly in front of him, she weaved through the evening traffic, mind still on the phone call and its implications. Skidding to a stop in front of the house with tyres screeching, sending a startled cat into hiding underneath a hedge, not even noticing her neighbour's flabbergasted face pop up from behind a rosebush at the uncharacteristic behaviour, she got out of the car, her face pensive. Oblivious to the world, to anything but her inner turmoil, she slowly made her way to the house.

She couldn't think straight, nothing made any sense, her thoughts were a jumbled mess. She felt hollow and empty inside - anger, sadness, confusion and helplessness all raging for primacy - and fragile, as if she could break down any minute, anger the only thing keeping her together. She didn't even understand why she was angry or at whom. She just knew she desperately needed to talk to Annabelle, perhaps Annabelle could make sense of it, yet she was also afraid that even her lover's concern might be too much to handle in her present state. She wanted to scream from the frustration of her conflicted feelings, she wanted to lash out, vent her pent-up anger, but at the same time she wanted to cry. She wanted to run away and hide in a little corner, but she wanted Annabelle to be there for her. She needed to talk, but she craved solitude and silence.

Taking a deep breath, fingers trembling as she slid the key into the lock, she pushed the door open, then shrugged off and hung up her coat. Closing the door with a thud, the ominous silence of the house both scaring and comforting her, she set her laptop and purse on the little side table before calling out Annabelle's name. Immense relief at hearing  "I'm in the bath" from upstairs, she hesitantly took the first step, desperately trying to keep her feelings under control. Picking up stray items of clothing every third step, her anger suddenly started to boil again. Though she realised she was being irrational, none of it was Annabelle's fault and she shouldn't take her anger out on her, Simone couldn't help herself. Since the phone call she'd been a volcano waiting to erupt, and Annabelle's messiness was just the final straw. She needed to lash out at someone, get rid of her pent up emotion, and Annabelle was the perfect target. Holding the clothes as she pushed the bathroom door open with her foot, she simply glared at Annabelle, who smiled amidst a mountain of foam, the rest of her clothes strewn all over the bathroom floor. The pang of tenderness at Annabelle's smile gave way to a fresh surge of annoyance at the puddle of water and foam on the floor. Something just snapped. The sultry "hello lover, why don't you join me" too much to bear, she just threw the clothes to the floor, bursting out: "goddammit Annabelle, is it really too much to ask that you pick up after yourself? I'm not the f*cking maid, you know! I just cleaned this bathroom and now look at it!"

Rattled by Simone's irrational outburst and thunderous tone, Annabelle sat up. Immediately realising Simone was spoiling for a fight, she kept her voice calm and neutral as she asked: "what happened, baby? Do you want to talk about it?"

Annabelle's calm and concern somehow riling her even more, Simone spat out: "don't baby me, I'm sick and tired of always cleaning up after you and spare me your psychobabble, I'm not one of your goddamn patients." Regretting the words as soon as she uttered them, feeling even worse at Annabelle's almost imperceptible flinch, she suppressed a sob as she turned on her heels and fled. When the front door again closed with a thud, Annabelle let out a deep sigh, sinking further into the foam, knowing she was in for a long night. As far as insults go, it was pretty tame; she had heard and said far worse. Something big must have happened. Knowing she could do nothing until Simone came back and talked, she sighed again wistfully before submerging herself completely under the water.

Shivering in the evening chill, hugging herself close as she had forgotten her coat in storming out of the house, Simone was startled out of her thoughts by a twig snapping nearby. She heard footsteps approaching and looked up, surprised that night had already fallen over the park, then nodded politely as an old man walked past her bench, puffing on his pipe as he tugged on a long leash. She smiled as the dog sniffed her leg, lifting his paw to beg for a scratch behind the ear, then bent down and patted him on the head, laughing softly as he licked her hand before trotting after the old man, his little tail wagging contentedly. Watching them disappear into the darkness of nightfall, she sighed deeply, taking a final look around the now-deserted park before finally rising to make her way home. She must have sat on that wooden bench for hours, just watching and thinking. Her anger had gradually dissipated amidst the giddy laughter of children, the whispered confessions of couples strolling arm in arm, even the boisterous barking of the neighbourhood dogs, all calming her. Now only the confusion and sadness remained.

She realised she had some major apologising to do; it wasn't fair to take the anger out on Annabelle, and though she knew Annabelle would understand, especially with the phone call, it still didn't make it right. With a deep breath and mustering all her courage, she went through the door, surprised to find the house dark and deserted. Knowing she couldn't really blame Annabelle for fleeing the house before World War III started, she threw the keys in the little tray on the table before venturing further, not even bothering to put the lights on. Picking up a sweater Annabelle had tossed on the couch, she brought it to her face, sniffing it, again suppressing a sob as Annabelle's scent bombarded her. Needing immediate closeness to her lover, even if just by wearing her sweater, she quickly shrugged it on before walking to the cabinet.

Though knowing it was her own fault Annabelle wasn't there, that she had chased her away, Simone still felt sorry for herself. She wanted Annabelle there for her. Picking up the scotch bottle and deftly unscrewing the lid, she poured herself a stiff one, fingers trembling lightly as silent tears ran down her cheek at her own stupidity. Her nose crinkled in distaste as the liquor burnt her throat without chasing away the cold emptiness. Walking to the kitchen, bottle in hand, she rummaged through the crap drawer in search of Annabelle's not so secret stash of smokes, then grabbed the bottle again and stepped outside. Lighting a smoke and inhaling deeply, she settled against the wall, bottle strategically placed between her legs. Though she knew drinking herself into a stupor wouldn't help matters, in fact would probably make her feel even worse, she needed anything to numb the pain right now. Feeling utterly alone and abandoned, she stared into the dark, occasionally taking a gulp, silent sobs racking her body. She stubbed out her smoke in a broken flowerpot and was about to take another swig when Annabelle's voice startled her.

"Are you ready to talk now or do you need to find courage in the bottom of that bottle first?"

Peering toward the garden, only now spotting Annabelle in the hammock, she set the bottle on the windowsill, then gingerly made her way over, apprehension slowing her. "I'm sorry," she whispered, embarrassed, standing beside the hammock, "I didn't mean it."

Looking up at her lover, at the bashful expression in her eyes, red rimmed from crying, the sight breaking her heart, Annabelle felt her anger melt away. She wasn't really angry with Simone anyway, perhaps a bit disappointed that she'd rather drink herself senseless over whatever was bugging her than talk, but not really angry. Annabelle understood the need to brood and think things over by yourself all too well. "I know," she simply said. "Come here." Taking Simone in her arms, the hammock swaying dangerously under the added weight, she rubbed soothing circles on Simone's back when she felt her cry on her shoulder.

"What is it? What happened?" she asked, worried, when the sobs finally dissipated.

Voice wavering, Simone replied: "I …. I'd been feeling weird all day, can't really explain it, it was like something looming over me. I was about to start my tutoring session with Brad and Jessie when Perkie stormed in, saying I had an urgent phone call …. I immediately assumed the worst, I thought something terrible had happened to you, that you'd had an accident or something, but it was sister Claire. It seems Aunt Emaculata had a severe heart attack early this morning. It doesn't look good. She wanted to know if I could go up, it seems that Aunt Em is asking for me."

"What did you tell her?" Annabelle asked when Simone didn't say any more, knowing the two hadn't talked since the scene at the gallery a year before. She knew Simone's estrangement from her aunt, her only real family, had devastated Simone, and though she had tried to convince Simone to let bygones be bygones, urging her to take the first step before the rift was too big, her lover had stubbornly refused. Annabelle loved Simone dearly, but much to her annoyance, she could be a bit pigheaded at times.

"That I had to think about it," Simone stated flatly, "I don't know …. All of a sudden, I just felt so angry."

"Angry, why?"

"Lots of reasons I suppose," Simone said. "Angry at aunt Em mostly, for asking for me after she's been ignoring us for so long, steadfastly refusing to accept you as my partner. Angry for having a heart attack and perhaps even dying on me before we have a chance to make our peace. Angry that I even have to think about whether or not I'll go up to see her. Angry at myself that I didn't take your advice and contact her before this happened. I don't know, I wasn't thinking straight."

"Why do you need to think about it?" Annabelle asked, "about going up to see her, I mean."

"I'm afraid, I suppose," Simone admitted. "Afraid she'll leave me behind. I know we're not particularly close, but she's all I've got. I haven't spoken to my parents in years and aunt Em …. I guess in her own way, she's always been there for me. If she were to die …. I'm scared to see her, just laying there, perhaps hooked up to hissing machines, I'm scared I won't know what to say when I see her, that I won't know what to do …. I guess deep down I'm also afraid that even on her deathbed she'll refuse to accept you, that she's only asking for me to give me a final rant about the sinful life I'm leading. I don't know, it's like I have to choose between not going and perhaps regretting it for the rest of my life or going to listen to her rant and regret it for the rest of my life. I guess it also made me think about our own mortality too, that one day you won't be here anymore. I mean… rationally, statistically I know I'll probably die before you, but still … I wouldn't know what I'd do without you and the thought just filled me with fear. I don't know… I was just so consumed with anger and fear, I wasn't thinking straight, my emotions were all over the place, that's why I blew up …. I …. I just needed some time to think things through, but …. I still don't know…. What do you think I should I do?"

"I think you should go see her," Annabelle said. "Yes, there's a chance she'll rant and rave again, refuse to accept me, call me the devil's spawn again, but … that's just the chance you've got to take. Like you said, she's your aunt, she's been there for you, she's been your only family for most of your life. You need to say goodbye to her, you need to make your peace with her, otherwise you will regret it for the rest of your life. Deep down you know it's the right thing to do. I think it's only natural to be angry and scared, Emaculata part of your life for so long …. To suddenly be faced with the possibility of losing her, … that's a harsh blow. … It's as if you're losing a part of yourself. There's an undeniable bond between you and Emaculata; it's not until you actually have to break that bond that you realise how hard and difficult it is. It takes courage to say goodbye to someone as it's a conscious decision to actively cut existing ties. Don't worry about what you need to say, the words will come. You'll find a way to let your heart and emotions speak. .... I'll come with you if you want, to Saint Theresa's I mean."

 "You will?" Simone asked.

"Of course I will," Annabelle replied, squeezing Simone's hand. "perhaps not to see Emaculata, she'd only have another heart attack if she saw me, but … I want to be there for you. Of course I'll come with you."

By the time Annabelle walked into the bedroom, Simone was already beneath the covers. Smiling softly when she noticed Simone was hugging her pillow close, she sank down on the bed, kicking off her slippers. Suppressing a tired yawn, it had been a long and hard day, she put her wrist watch on the bedside table before reaching over to switch the alarm clock on. Sighing deeply at the thought of getting up at the crack of dawn, the drive over to Saint Theresa's would be no doubt draining and exhausting, both physically and psychologically, she rubbed her eyes in defeated acceptance. Shrugging off her bathrobe as she threw it on a nearby chair, she put the lights out, bathing the bedroom in pale moonlight before crawling underneath the covers herself. Sliding over to Simone, gently taking the pillow out of her hands and sliding it behind her, she pulled her near and whispered: "I called sister Claire while you were in the bathroom. There's no change in your aunt's condition, though it seems that she perked up a bit when she heard you were coming, so I guess that's good news. Anyway, I told sister Claire we'd be going up first thing in the morning, she'll be expecting us."

Mumbling something incomprehensible in reply, Simone moved further into Annabelle's embrace, putting her head on Annabelle's shoulder. As she knew Simone was still wide awake, Annabelle scrunched her eyebrows in worry and confusion at the lack of reply; they always talked things over in bed. Simone had hardly said a word all night after her emotional break down in the hammock and Annabelle had begrudgingly accepted her silence then. She didn't want to push her, Simone was already in a very fragile state, so she'd left her to her own devices, silently letting her know she was there for her. But …. Simone's continued silence was worrying her, she didn't want her to go to sleep feeling emotionally raw, she just knew that would only lead to more anguish and pain and Simone needed all the sleep she could get for tomorrow. Trying to look her in the eye, she asked: "I'm here for you, you know that…. Do you want to talk about it? Are you okay?"

Realising that her continued silence was worrying Annabelle, Simone lifted her head to look her in the eye. The emotional anguish clearly visible on her face, she whispered: "yes … no…. I don't know, I can't really explain, I…. I just feel so numb right now… I need, … I need to feel something. Could you…? Would you …?" Unable to articulate her request, she just looked at Annabelle for a moment before attacking her lips with animal ferocity. Taken aback by the force of Simone's kiss, by the sheer desperation behind it, Annabelle just laid there for a couple of seconds, completely passive, before returning the kiss with equal passion, understanding Simone needed this right now. Breaking away from the kiss, breathing hard, she whispered: are you sure?"

Simone just nodded, leaning in for another ferocious, scorching kiss. Pulling back, her lips hovering over Annabelle's, she looked her straight in the eye as she pleaded: "please, I need this, I need to feel … I need to know I'm still alive." Nodding in understanding, Annabelle quickly turned them over. Feeling one of Simone's hands slide underneath the nightshirt she was wearing, kneading the muscles of her back, pulling her even closer, Annabelle backed up for a moment. Seeing untamed list and desire reflected in Simone's eyes, interspersed with a kind of desperation, she shivered involuntarily before targeting Simone's lips, kissing her passionately, trying to pour all her love, affection and devotion into the kiss. Feeling Simone's nails scratch along her spine, Annabelle ended with an almost chaste peck on the lips before placing wet, open mouthed kisses along Simone's neck and jaw, infinitely pleased when she heard Simone's breath hitch.

Sucking at her pulse point, feeling it hammer wildly beneath her lips, Annabelle slowly trailed her fingers towards the buttons on Simone's pyjama top, teasingly raking her nail over an already rock hard nipple. Popping the first button open, she kissed her way down before popping the next button. Eagerly kissing and nipping at the newly exposed skin, she looked up to Simone for a split second, grinning at the closed eyes, before popping the last button. Almost tearing it open, exposing Simone before her wild and hungry roaming eyes, she whispered huskily "you're so beautiful" before placing a tender kiss on Simone's belly. Eliciting a small moan, her fingers roamed all over Simone's stomach before venturing upwards, quickly followed by her mouth and tongue. Feeling Simone's fingers claw into her hair, her breathing irregular and slightly laboured, Annabelle scraped her nail over Simone's nipple again, making it even more erect before sucking it into her mouth, her tongue darting all around it before scraping it lightly with her teeth. As Simone's back arched, her name hissed in approval, she started sucking harder.

Capturing the hardened nipple between her teeth again, Simone scratching her scalp almost painfully, she scraped it just hard enough to elicit a yelp of surprise and a gasp of pleasure before licking it soothingly with the flat of her tongue. Returning her attention to Simone's lips, teasingly running her tongue over them before kissing her passionately, Annabelle's fingers meandered their way down achingly slow, making Simone's stomach flutter and quiver in anticipation. Trailing a finger through copious amounts of wetness, making Simone whimper at the feather light touch, she pulled back for a moment, looking Simone in the eye. When Simone started rocking against her hand, breathlessly begging her to continue, she pushed a finger inside, quickly followed by a second one. Kissing her again, ever so softly, almost reverently, she slowly ventured in and out, matching the rhythm set by Simone's rocking hips. "I love you", she whispered as she continued to thrust her fingers in and out, pumping harder and faster each time, keeping a constant pressure on Simone's throbbing clit with her thumb. Sliding in and out at a frantic pace, she felt the first signs of Simone's impending orgasm and curled her fingers, finding that special spot.

Breathlessly Simone called out her name over and over again, her vaginal walls clamping down tightly around Annabelle's fingers, trapping them inside. Riding out the last of the waves, she kissed her passionately before slumping back down onto the bed. Her breathing still erratic, she watched Annabelle through hooded eyes and had to moan when she saw Annabelle licking her fingers clean.

The exquisite taste of Simone's juices coating her fingers not nearly enough to satisfy her senses, Annabelle whispered with a wolfish grin "I need to taste you too", making Simone shudder. Kissing her way down achingly slow, nibbling on a nipple for a while, making Simone quiver again, she kissed and licked her way southwards. With her hands on Simone's hips, she placed her tongue flat and broad against the base of her slit and slowly pulled her tongue upwards. She lapped softly, flicking her tongue over Simone's clit. With tender strokes she got Simone to moan her name again, gyrating her hips at Annabelle's incessant tongue.

Moaning and groaning loudly Simone felt her orgasm come closer and closer until Annabelle stopped all ministrations just torturous seconds away from release. When she growled in protest, her eyes flashing dangerously, Annabelle just laughed and really got down to business, increasing the pace with every stroke, revelling in the sweet nectar offered. Swirling her tongue through the moisture, she snaked her tongue upwards, licking Simone's clit again before sucking it into her mouth, making Simone cry out on delight. Feeling the end was near, she replaced her tongue with her thumb, licking her way down again. Pushing her tongue inside, she immediately felt the spasms of Simone's release under her open mouth. Gently coaxing her down from her high, her tongue darting out to taste the oozing honey, she crawled her way up again, kissing and nipping, delighting in Simone's moans. As she neared her lips, Simone grabbed her and kissed her passionately, enjoying the taste of her own juices mixed with something uniquely Annabelle. "I feel alive again," she panted.

Gasping for breath as the images of a ghastly nightmare slowly disappeared, Annabelle bolted to an upright position, her heart thumping wildly. Knowing there was no way she'd be able to sleep again now, she turned the alarm clock off before slumping back down to the bed. Her jerking movements causing Simone to mumble, she looked to her left and had to smile. Simone was almost completely covered by the blankets; only her hair, strewn out all over the pillow like a golden halo, was visible. She just watched her lover for a while, finding Simone's soft and rhythmic breathing the most soothing and oddly erotic sound she'd ever heard. Rubbing her eyes, she stretched out with feline grace before snuggling closer. Though Simone had only allowed her a couple of hours of sleep, for some reason she felt completely invigorated. If Simone wanted to chase away her inner demons with wild and passionate sex, who was she to complain? It was definitely worth losing a couple of hours of sleep over. The clock was ticking however and with regret she moved to leave the warm cocoon of Simone's embrace. "Don't go," Simone murmured, her voice thick with sleep.

"I have to baby," Annabelle whispered, "we need to leave soon. I'll grab a quick shower and make a start on breakfast. Don't be too long."

As they drove the long and windy roads to Saint Theresa's, Annabelle shot a quick look to the passenger's side. Simone hadn't moved in over an hour, staring out the window, not really taking anything in, a pain stricken expression on her face. Annabelle knew this was hard on her lover; right before they left, Sister Claire had called, saying Mother Emaculata had taken a turn for the worse. Though the nun hadn't exactly said it, Annabelle knew they'd better hurry, it was only a question of hours now. So there they were, racing towards Saint Theresa's in the pouring rain, the ominously black clouds in the distance reflecting the dark and gloomy mood in the car. Taking her eyes off the road for a split second, she reached over and grabbed Simone's hand, lacing their fingers together before giving a reassuring squeeze Smiling encouragingly when Simone looked over and whispered "thanks" before staring out the window again, keeping their hands firmly clasped together, she turned her attention back to the road.

Parking near Saint Theresa's entrance door (of course right next to a huge puddle so when she got out, her sneakers got soaking wet), she quickly opened the umbrella before jogging over to the passenger's side. Offering a still shell shocked Simone a hand as she got out of the car, she wrapped her arm tightly around her as they slowly made their way over to the oak double door, where Sister Claire already stood waiting on them. Making their way to Emaculata's apartment in total silence, she gave a reassuring squeeze when she felt Simone grasp her hand tightly. As the entered the apartment, Sister Claire turned around and whispered: "Father Harris is with Emaculata now. I'll just let him now that you're both here." When she came back, Sister Cliare walked over to Simone and said: "I'm so glad that you came Simone, Emaculata has been asking for you throughout the night. Erm … I know this is probably very hard to hear, but … Emaculata has been deteriorating steadfastly the past hour. Father Harris gave her the last sacrament fifteen minutes ago."

When Simone let out a strangled sob, Annabelle turned to look at her and asked: "do you want me to come with you?"

Closing her eyes as she took a deep breath, taking strength from their still clasped hands, Simone looked at her and whispered: "no… this is something I need to do by myself. Just …. Just be there for me when I get back. Please?"

Hugging her tightly, Annabelle replied: "you know I will. I'll wait for you right here." Breaking away from the comforting embrace when she felt Sister Claire's hand on her back, Simone offered Annabelle a sad smile before following the nun into her aunt's bedroom. Nodding politely at Father Harris when he made room for her, squeezing her shoulder reassuringly, she sank down onto the chair next to Emaculata's bed. Looking over to her aunt for the first time since entering the bedroom, she had to suppress a gasp of surprise and sadness. Emaculata just looked so incredible old and frail, a mere shell of her former self. Reaching over a trembling hand, she let out a strangled sob when the fingers felt cold to the touch. Opening her eyes, Emaculata gasped for breath as she croaked: "Si …. Simone… I'm so glad that you came … There's so much I need to tell you."

Not noticing the worried glances Father Harris and Sister Claire exchanged with each other, Simone took her aunt's hand into her own as she whispered: "shhh… It's alright. I know, you don't need to say anything."

"No, you don't know," Emaculata stated vehemently before having a violent coughing fit," there's something I need to …… tell you" Closing her eyes for a moment as she struggled for breath, she opened them again. Looking straight at Simone, her eyes suddenly very lucid, she said: "don't cry for me when I'm gone Simone, I've had a good life …. There's not many things I regret…. I do regret pushing you away though …… I've always loved you, ever since you were born. You were such a cute little baby …. You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

"I love you too," Simone said when she noticed Emaculata was struggling for breath again.

"You don't understand," Emaculata stubbornly said. "All I ever wanted for you was for you to be happy ……. And if… and if Annabelle makes you happy, then.. then I'm okay with that. I'm proud of you, you know…. I always have been. I love you as a daughter. You are…."

Restlessly pacing Emaculata's living room, not really knowing what to do, Annabelle sighed deeply. She hoped Simone was doing okay, that Emaculata wasn't giving her another rant on the sin of homosexuality. Knowing she could hardly eavesdrop at the door, she plopped down on the surprisingly comfortable couch. Noticing the big scrapbook on the coffee table, she started leafing through it, amazed to find pictures and articles of Simone in it. It seemed that Emaculata had followed Simone's career, despite their estrangement. There were newspaper articles on her recent promotion to Professor, her photo exhibition in San Francisco and even a newspaper photograph showing her and Simone at one of her mother's parties. Turning another page, Annabelle had to smile at the cute picture of Simone as a toddler, hugging a teddy bear tightly.

Looking over to the next picture, she scrunched her eyebrow in confusion. There was something odd about the picture, she just couldn't put her finger on it. Before she could turn the picture around and read the inscription, the door opened again. Walking over and taking a sobbing Simone into her arms, the picture instantly forgotten, she hugged her tightly. Rubbing soothing circles on Simone's back, she asked: what happened?"

"She told me that she was okay with us, that she loved me and that she was proud of me. Then… Then she died," Simone sobbed, holding onto Annabelle for dear life.

"Oh baby, I'm so sorry," Annabelle whispered, hugging her even tighter.

Leafing through the scrapbook, Sister Claire took out the picture Annabelle had so intently stared at only hours before. "That's the last one," she said, handing the picture to Father Harris who simply threw it into the fire. "Are you sure we're doing the right thing?" she asked.

"Yes, I do," the priest replied calmly. "Emaculata and Simone made peace with each other in the end. Simone's been through enough already, there's no need to cause her anymore pain. She knows Emaculata loved her, that should be enough. She doesn't need to know that Emaculata was really her mother."

To Be Continued

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