Chapter Twenty Six

    The two friends had sat in silence most of the ride home. What a night, Jess thought, going over the eveningís events in her mind as she drove. The ice cream had done the trick. Jess was fully sober, and consequently feeling every flip-flop her stomach was doing. Glancing next to her, Jessie noticed that Phoebe was apparently experiencing the same queasiness since she had the passenger seat reclined and her eyes were shut. Was she green? Jessie thought, or was that just the unflattering highway lights streaming across her face? Booze and sugar was a bad enough combination, but adding arguing to the mix only made matters worse. Donít just sit there, Jessie thought, say something.

    "Hanginí in there Phoebs?"

    Phoebe groaned. "Are we there yet?"

    "Just about.."

    "Good. Wouldnít wanna spew all over your new car.."

    "Eouww, too much info," Jessie grimaced, pushing down on the accelerator.

    "Donít speed, okay? I was kidding.."

    Jessie sighed. This definitely wasnít what she had wanted out of their evening out. Rolling down the window, she took a couple of deep breaths. At this point sheíd try just about anything to feel better. Next she turned on the radio, surfing the channels for some good tunes, Blah, blah, blah.. just idle deejay chatter, commercials and overplayed Nineties babble. Just perfect. Thankfully, her attempts at distraction had paid off and soon they were at the entrance gate to the covered parking of her high rise. Sliding the key card into the slot, she breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled into her parking spot. They were home. Finally. 

    Jess practically jumped out of her car when she remembered she had thrown her stuff in the back seat. Slamming the driverís door, she opening the rear door and gathered her leather jacket, purse and the rest of her junk haphazardly into her arms. Poor Phoebs. She looked like hell.

    "Almost home free," mustered Jessie, "home and my fluffy soft king size cloud of a bed."

    "Sounds like heaven," Phoebe replied, a hint of pleasure tingeing her voice.

Phoebe made a beeline for Jessís bedroom, doing a low swan dive onto the bed.

    "Make yourself at home. I got some oversized t shirts in the second drawer of my dresser that you can use as a pj. Iíll be right back with provisions.."

    "As long as it doesnít involve food or alcohol.."

    Knowing theyíd be thirsty later, Jess grabbed a couple of cans of Coke, some glasses of ice and a bottle of aspirin, and headed back to the bedroom. By this point Phoebs was sprawled out on the bed, her long hair gathered roughly into a ponytail, staring blankly at the TV through semi-closed eyelids.

    "Oy," Jessie announced, reaching under her pillow for her t-shirt, "be right back AGAIN. I gotta pee big time."

    "Yeah, yeah.." Phoebe moaned. She was just about to get under the covers when she realized she had accidentally settled on Zachís side of the bed. "I donít think so," she announced to the empty room, and slid over to Jessís side. There was no way she was risking dreaming Mr. Wonderfulís dreams by sleeping on his pillow. Jess would have to switch sides for tonight.

In the few minutes Jess was gone, Phoebe had already started to drift off. Even back in high school, Jessieís bed had been their haven Ė a soft, pillow laden oasis where they had watched TV, talked about guys, and done their homework. This bed was a bigger softer version of her old bed, made even more appealing by the 300-thread count sheets. Phoebe snuggled deeper into the bed, tucking the fat comforter under her chin.

    Just spotting Phoebe drifting off made her own eyelids seem all the heavier. One more task and she would be joining her for some much-needed shut eye. Jessie depressed the button on the answering machine as she sat down on the bed.

    Beeeep. "Babe? Itís me. You there? Hello.."

    Hearing Zachís voice, Phoebe groaned, pressing the extra pillow she was holding onto her head.

"Jess if youíre there pick up.. guess youíre either still mad at me and screening your calls, or youíre out. I hope itís the latter. Just donít have too much fun without me, okay? I guess Iíll talk to you tomorrow. I love you.. goodnight." Click.

    Not in the best of moods herself, the last thing Jess needed at this point was her friendís dramatics.

    "Guess weíll talk tomorrow," stated Jessie, just loud enough so she knew Phoebe would hear her. Turning off the table lamp, she slipped into bed and turned away from her friend, grabbing hold of her pillow. She wouldnít get a friendly goodnight out of her. Not tonight.


   
"Donít be an idiot.."

    A fitful nightís sleep was brought to an abrupt end by Phoebeís outburst. Not a morning person, Jess flipped over to face her friend.

    "Whatís your problem? If thereís anyone thatís hogging the bed itís you," Jessie groaned, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she looked at Phoebe. "Phoebs.." Jessie said, waiting for a snappy response, but none came. "Fine, be that way," she stated, rolling back over and trying to get back to sleep.

    When was she going to learn? Young or not, Jenna was a tough young woman who usually took care of herself just fine. Thatís what mad Felicia so angry. When it came to Zeb, Jenna seemed to lose all common sense. How many times would he have to rough her up before she got it through her hard head that he was bad news? The hard living, hard drinking bastard son of a wealthy cattleman, Zeb believed the fact that his father had money entitled him to do whatever he wanted. A bad night at the card tables in the noisy saloon did nothing to improve his temperament. Looking for someone to take out his frustrations on, Zeb went to his usual target, Jenna, the popular and feisty saloon girl.

    Felicia had witnessed the entire interchange between the two from her position at the far end of the saloon where she had been reading an older gentlemanís fortune. The people of Stillwater, Colorado were a superstitious bunch, relying on luck and hard work to help them prosper in running the many homesteads and ranches that surrounded town. Most of the women looked down their noses at Felicia, labeling her a gypsy heathen, but their men were a different story. As word of her talents spread, more and more men made their way to her table where they paid her for predictions on how their crops would do, where they could find water, things like that. It was a lonely life, but it was a relatively safe way to make a living for herself, especially when you compared her daily existence to that of the bargirls. At best the girls could walk away with a pretty bauble or new dress, at worst a night of rough sex and broken bones and bruises.

    Not one to back down, Jenna went toe to toe with Zeb, letting him know that he was nothing more than a customer, not her boss or husband. Pete, the saloonís owner, often complained about what a wild cat Jenna was, wondering if it was worth having the young girl as part of his stable of whores. Sure, she brought in her share of money from the johns who came back again and again for a wild night of trying their hand at taming the spirited Jenna. But her strong spirit had caused quite a few nights of yelling and broken chairs and glasses, especially when Zeb came calling, and tonight was one of those nights.

    "Why canít she just give him what he came for and get it over with?" Pete said, wiping a shot glass clean.

    Mike, the saloonís piano player and part time bar keep, shook his head sadly and continued to bang out a tune on the piano.

    Zeb had Jenna backed up against the far wall, his ominous tone reverberating across the room clearly heard even over the piano and the loud talking of the patrons.

    "Someone outta put you in your place missie," stated Zeb loudly, getting right into Jennaís face, his alcohol-laden breath causing her to turn her face.

    "Oh? And who pray tell is gonna do that? YOU?" Jenna barked back, pushing him back roughly.

    The more the whore fought him, the more he liked it. "You know I had a horse like you once," he smiled, wickedly, "beautiful creature, with jet black hair, just like yours.." Zeb threaded his fingers through the young womanís hair, pulling it free from its upswept style.

    "You donít know how to handle an animal, much less a woman you cad," Jenna spat, swatting his hand away.

But the drunken man was not to be deterred. "Oh, but thatís where youíre wrong darliní.. a few good licks with a whip and some well placed spurs and soon that horse was docile and cooperative beneath me," he said, pulling Jennaís head back and kissing her roughly.

    Jennaís blood boiled. No man would control her. Never. "Iím not your animal to man handle you oaf!" she announced, ducking in an attempt to get past him. But it was no use. Zeb grabbed hold of her long hair and yanked her back causing Jenna to cry out in pain.

    "Youíre mine," he bellowed, "to do with as I please," Zeb continued, throwing a handful of crumpled bills at Pete below them. "Bought you for the night, lock stock and barrel.."

    Jenna struggled to free herself, clenching her teeth as she climbed the first few stairs, Zebís hand still firmly gripping her hair. "Iím warning you.. let go of me if you know whatís good for you.."

    Zeb closed the gap between them in one quick step, joining her on the staircase. "Fight me, thatís it," he laughed, "I love a good fight.." Grabbing Jenna by the waist with his free hand, he pulled her back against him, his hands mauling her breasts through the low cut bodice of her dress. Anything to get his hands on that body..

    Jenna struggled blindly backward, her anger building, fending Zeb off. "Keep it up and itís a fight youíre gonna get," she said, swinging at him.

    "Itís no use," he laughed, her fists missing their mark. Waiting for her to swing again, he grabbed her wrist, hard. "Youíre wearing on my patience woman," he announced, "now get over here..NOW" he yelled, grabbing her now by the neck.

    "Quite a wild cat that one is," the man said, turning his chair in front of Feliciaís table to watch the show above.

    Oh Lord, Felicia thought, watching her friend struggling perilously on the staircase.

    Not wanting to lose his job, much less be the recipient of Zebís wrath, Mike stayed on his stool, fighting hard to concentrate on his playing. He could see Felicia glaring at him from across the room, and he shrugged at her. What did she expect him to do? Get between a horny man and the object of his desire? Sure he hated Zeb and the way he manhandled the girls, but crossing him would be suicide..

    Jenna fought to breath, lashing out at the angry man, raking her nails across his cheek. "No.." she gasped.

    "DIRTY WHORE!" Zeb bellowed, the stinging of his cheek only magnifying the sting caused by the woman humiliating him in front of the whole saloon. He backhanded Jenna hard across the face, sending her sprawling back onto the stairs, knocking her head against the stairs. "Iíll teach you to sass me.."

    The hair on the back of Feliciaís neck was standing up on end, a big sign that things were spiraling out of control. "Excuse me just a moment," Felicia said, "Iíll be right back."

    "Are you crazy? Where you goiní? I paid you already.."

    "Keep your shirt on Mister, Iíll be right back.."

    Her clientís jaw dropped open when he realized where she was headed. "You are crazy if you mean to get into the middle of that.."

    Yeah, she thought, making her way towards the stairs. Good money or not, this job would end up being the end of her. "Zeb!" she called up, from the foot of the stairs. "Leave her be!"

    "Stay out of this Gypsy, this ainít none of your concern," Zeb growled, through clenched teeth, his grip increasing on Jennaís neck.

    Jenna fought to free herself, gasping for air. Trying in vain to wrench Zebís hands off her neck, her hands reach blindly for something to use as a weapon, anything to get him to release his grip on her throat. "Felic..ia.." Jenna croaked, starting to lose consciousness.

    "STOP IT!" Felicia screamed, grabbing a bottle from off a table by the stairs and smashing it into an impromptu weapon.

    "Phoebe?!"

    "Felicia!"

    "PHOEBE!" Jessie said, shacking her friend awake. Her friend she realized had been talking in her sleep, and doing so again now, actually yelling this time. "Phoebs, wake up," Jess urged, "youíre dreaming.."

    Phoebe bolted upright in bed, face ashen, as if she had been having a nightmare. "Oh my god," she gasped.

    "You okay?" Jessie asked, laying a comforting hand on her friendís arm. "Musta been some dream.."

    Phoebeís hand instinctively to Jessieís neck. "It was no dream.." Phoebe whispered, catching her breath, heart still pounding. "It was real."

Phoebeís hands were shaking, the dream had clearly rattled her. Realizing that it would be impossible for either of them to get back to sleep, Jess decided to make the best of things. "You stay put and relax. Iíll go put the kettle on so we can have some tea. Youíll feel better in no time.."

    I hope so, Phoebe thought. But it was doubtful. Phoebe knew all too well that it had been no dream she had just experienced. She had managed to tap back into the past life she had glimpsed only the night before. What she saw was unsettling to say the least. What was worse was knowing Jess would be asking about it when she got back. What in the world was she going to do now? Tell her friend that Zach had abused her in more than one lifetime? Should she tell her what she saw? Could she? It would be hard but how could she lie? Wasnít omission a lie?

    Before she could make up her mind, Jess was back with a tray of tea and toast. "Breakfast is served," Jess smiled, setting the tray on the bed, and taking a seat.

Phoebe wrapped her hands around the oversized, European style teacup, letting its warmth sink into her cold palms. Her eyes settled on the amber liquid, watching the steam swirl and rise off the surface of the beverage hypnotically, making her almost wish she could get lost in its hot, soothing depths.

    "Drink up Phoebs. Itíll make you feel better," suggested Jessie, taking a sip from her own cup.

    Phoebe sighed, hands still trembling from the effects of the vision, and slowly raised the cup to her lips, taking a small sip. Jess was right. Feeling the hot tea slide down her throat had already started to calm her down. Another big gulp of tea to force down the trepidation inside her, and Phoebe was ready to talk. Well, almost.. but it would have to do.

    "Sorry about jolting you awake like that Jess," Phoebe apologized.

    "Hey, no biggie. You said something earlier this morning. I kinda figured that you were scooting me over to my own side of the bed. Easy mistake since I do tend to hog the bed," Jess grinned.

    "That wasnít it. Trust me I wish it was.."

    "So what has you so rattled Phoebs? Bad dream?"

    "No, it definitely wasnít a dream.."

    Jess munched on a piece of toast, tucking her legs under her settling in for their talk. "Talk to me. What was it then?"

    The truth, Phoebe kept repeating to herself. The truth is always best. "This is really hard," Phoebe said. Okay, that wasnít so hard. "The last thing I want to do is upset you.."

    "I canít see how anything you might say could upset me more than what you were a few minutes ago. Youíve told me about visions before. No problem.."

    But that was just it there was a problem this time. A big one. "Thereís a big difference between then and now," Phoebe said, hardly able to even make eye contact with her friend. "Iíve never seen you in one of my visions. Not like this anyway.."

    "Me?" Jessie asked, eyes widening in surprise. "Do tell!"

    "Yes you, well not you.."

    "Come on Phoebs, make up your mind! Youíre driving me crazy with anticipation. What exactly did you see?!"

    Phoebe set down the teacup on the tray and started to explain.

    This whole thing was confusing enough, and Phoebe realized that Jess would have a hard enough time handling the second part of the vision she had seen in her dream. So she decided to totally leave out the first part Ė the part she saw back at the bar when she had snuck up on Jess and Mitch in the back office. It would be tough enough to digest the thought that Zach had an abusive part of her past. One thing at a time. Jess knew what her friendís feelings were on her relationship with Mitch. The topic had come up several times over the years. But Jess had shrugged it off. She was happy in her role as Mitchís friend, and in the way she could hang out with a member of the opposite sex and be herself, without having to worry about looking good or making the right feminine impression.

    Sure, Jess liked guys and indulged in her share of girlish crushes. But at the same time she was never the one to obsess whether she did or didnít have a boyfriend. Maybe that was why she had a lot of guy friends. What you see is what you get, or so she often said. Take it or leave it. A Midwestern girl at heart, Jess didnít buy into the hype of being pretty. Her looks were inconsequential, and those men her came after her to have some Ďarm jewelryí soon found themselves in her wake.

    Poor Mitch just hung in there, lacking the gumption to come out with his feelings once and for all. Phoebe couldnít help but wonder just how long this adoration from afar had gone on. Could Jessieís power over Mitch be the compilation of several lifetimes of longing, pent up to the point of boiling over? Phoebe hoped so. Maybe if the truth came out, if fate decided to finally smile on the two soul mates, Mitch could help break Jess out of Zachís overpowering influence.

    Phoebe decided to do what she could to help Jess towards what she felt in her gut was her destiny. But she would have to be very careful. Best friend or not, by bad mouthing her fiancť, could very easily cause an irreparable rift between them. Okay, back to Zach. How was she gonna say this?

    "Iíve never had such a vivid vision like this before," Phoebe stated, matter-of-factly. "I was back in time, as if I had walked through one of those time-space portals science fiction writers loves to fantasize about."

    "Where were you? Wait, donít tell me ancient Egypt or something like that. My hair frizzles bad enough in South Florida," Jess teased.

    "Will you be serious?" scolded Phoebe.

    "I was joking. Geez.."

    "Well Iím not. You asked me to tell you what I saw, remember?" she continued, waiting to see if Jess would take the easy out.

    "No, really, Iím sorry. I didnít mean to make you mad. Go on.."

    "Okay. We were back in what I judge to be the mid eighteen hundreds, in Colorado I think. I could definitely sense a change in altitude.."

    "We? Were you a part of that time or just a spectator?"

    "I saw myself there too. We knew each other back then too."

    "What were we doing?"

    Phoebe sighed. "I was watching you.."

    "Cool. Was I an actress?"

    Phoebe shook her head.

    "A singer?"

    "No.."

    "Ooh, was I one of the Wild West show riders? Me on horseback.. what a concept!"

    Okay, Phoebe thought, here goes. "We were in a saloon.."

    "A saloon?" Jess asked, her keen reporterís mind going to work. "Wait, what were to women doing in a saloon? The only women allowed in saloons back then were.. oh no.."

    Phoebe nodded, keeping her expression and tone as emotionless as possible. "You got the right idea."

    "We were saloon girls? You and me?" Jess asked, incredulously. She waited for Phoebe to reply, but no answer came. "I was a saloon girl? Great. So what was I doing when you gained a front row seat to my past life? Or do I even wanna know?"

    "From the looks of it, I was a fortune teller. I was in the middle of telling someoneís fortune when I heard a commotion. Thatís when I spotted you. You were having an argument with someone, and it got really heated.."

    "Great, so Iím an old time whore having a fight with what.. one of my joes? Frigginí great.."

    "Jess, Iím sorry that what I saw is upsetting you. I told you from the get go that this was hard for me to say. I donít exactly relish telling you what I saw. But you asked so I am.."

    "You canít expect me to be thrilled when my best friend is tells me that I was a prostitute in a previous life."

    "I only got a brief glimpse into the past. Maybe if I try to regress you weíll get a better picture of things.."

    "And why would I want to do that? To find out if I screwed anyone famous?" Jess said, crossing her arms defensively.

    It was Phoebeís turn to get annoyed. All she was trying to do was help her and all Jess was doing was giving her grief. "You get as pissed as you want. Iím your best friend and I need to let you know what else I saw."

    "Hell yeah Iím pissed. And from the sound of it Iím gonna get more so. So say it Phoebs. Go ahead, say it!"

    "Zach was there too.. he was the one you were fighting with.."

    "Zach? Are you sure?"

"Like I said, I knew you back then too, and when I saw what he was doing to you, I ran up the stairs to help you. I got a good look at him. It was Zach, only with longer, blondish hair and a beard, yet with the same nasty temper." Jess glared at Phoebe, her jaw muscle tensing in anger, as she bit back the fountain of words threatening to burst forth. "He was strangling you Jess," stated Phoebe, taking the window of opportunity to finish her tale. "Thatís when I grabbed a bottle of a table and smashed it. I had to do something to get him to stop.."

    "You were dreaming," Jess said, quickly, "this is a fucked up dream resulting from a night of one too many drinks."

    "No, it wasnít," Phoebe sighed, "donít you think I know the difference?"

    "Maybe, maybe not," Jessie shrugged, "and maybe itís your backhanded attempt to get in a shot at Zach."

    A stunned, angry silence hung between the two friends. Phoebeís worst fear was eerily close to becoming a reality and if she didnít say something soon to help smooth the ruffled feathers between them they both might say something that they wouldnít be able to apologize away. "Iíve never made any bones about it Jess. At times Zach has been a real asshole to you, and itís amazed me that you have stuck around and taken it." Hot tears started to pool in the back of Phoebeís eyes, but she swallowed hard and finished what she had to say. "I love you like a sister Jessie, and Iíd never lie to you, or say something to purposely hurt you. But I had to tell you the truth. I donít know why I got this particular glimpse into our past, but like it or not I did.."

    "I donít like it much either Phoebe. What am I supposed to do now? Call off my engagement in this lifetime over what did or didnít happen in a past life? Thatís crazy.."

    "If you want me to Iíll regress you and see if you can get back to that past life too and see for yourself. I donít know what else to say other than Iím sorry that this has upset you. Sometimes I wish I didnít have these abilities, that I could turn them off. But I canít. Itís great when what I see helps people I care about. But sometimes it has the totally opposite effect.."

    Jessie felt drained, the bickering with Phoebe had cut her to the bone. The last thing she wanted was to fight with her best friend. But the prospect of having shared a tumultuous relationship with Zach in more than once lifetime was devastating. She hated herself for resenting Phoebe, but at that moment she couldnít help it. She had dusted off some uncomfortable feelings that Jess had suppressed. The night Zach had proposed was the day Jess had made the decision to erase the past and start her relationship with Zach over with a clean slate. A twinge of fear at hearing a womanís voice when Jess had called Zach the previous evening had already threaten to unravel her brave veneer, and Phoebeís vision had only made matters worse.

    Jess was dumbstruck, and struggled to find the words to let her friend know she understood. "Iím sorry too, Phoebs. I really am. But I donít have the strength to delve into the past. I have too much to handle right now in the present."

    "I understand," Phoebe nodded. Shaken up herself, Phoebe decided to make an opportune exit, allowing herself as well as Jess to gather their wits about them once again. "I think Iím gonna head out. I have some errands I need to run.."


Lynn was off running some errands of her own. She had just gotten her monthly check from her father and had decided it was time to go out and buy some new clothes to match her hot new car. She dropped Kelly off for some quality time with Mitch and was headed for the mall when she noticed a familiar looking car in her rear view mirror honking at her. Oh no. Out of all the black Camaros in the world she had to run into Nickís. Pretending she hadnít noticed him, Lynn pulled away from the stop sign and started to take the back way to the mall in the hopes of losing him. But it was no good. Nick just waved at her through the t-top and started to swerve into the oncoming lane.

    "Hey Lynn babe!" he yelled, "whatís the hurry?"

    "Nick? What are you doing? Are you CRAZY?"

    Nick laughed at the shocked expression on Lynnís face. "Crazy about YOU baby!" he grinned, waving her over. "Pull over. I need to speak to you."

    Last thing she needed was to wreck her new car, so against her better judgement, Lynn complied. She pulled her car to a stop at the side of the road. Before she had a chance to react, Nick had hopped into the passenger seat. "Nice wheels babe," he said, pawing the leather seats appreciatively. "Youíve been busy.."

    "What are babbling about now?"

    "The new Beemer. Whoíd you screw to get this?"

    Lynn gasped. "Fuck you asshole."

    "That can be arranged," he answered, smugly, tracing her breasts with his finger. "Thatís right. Youíre a rich girl, arenít you? So Daddy got you this car.."

    "Thatís none of your business," Lynn said, looking around to see if there was anyone around that might get her out of this mess. Thankfully, Kelly was safely out of harmís way back at the bar with Mitch. But what was she going to do to get herself out of the compromising situation?

    "Lighten up," Nick said, excitedly, "things are looking up for both of us. Soon Iíll be able to afford one of these myself, thanks to the great pictures you took. You made Jessie look like a porn star. Maybe we should put the pictures up on the Net and make even more money.."

    Lynn pulled away in revulsion, pressing her eyes closed, trying to wish the nightmare away. Luckily the sunglasses she wore kept her true feelings from Nick. Keep cool, she kept telling herself, and maybe you can get out of this mess. "I donít think thatís a good idea," Lynn stammered.

     "Yeah, youíre right. Too many chances of having someone track us down that way. Beautiful, rich AND smart too. Youíre quite a package Lynn," Nick said, leaning over and kissing her on the lips. "Why donít you follow me back to the motel so I can really show you my appreciation?"

    Miraculously, Lynn managed to stay clearheaded enough to remember the advice of an expert she had seen on a talk show once. When in trouble, never allow yourself to be taken to a second location. She still had a chance to make a break for it. She knew the BMW could outrun the old Camaro, if she could just get him out of her car. "Great," she lied, forcing a smile, "Iíll follow you.."

    Nickís smile broadened, as he eyed Lynn up and down hungrily, images of what he believed was to come playing in his head. "Donít keep me waiting," Nick said, "seeing those pictures has me horny as hell."

    Lynn turned the key in the ignition as soon as Nick slammed the passenger seat door. Letís put you to the test, she thought, gripping the steering wheel tightly. Sheíd make her move at the stop sign, making a right towards the highway on ramp instead of the left back towards the strip as Nick was expecting. No taunting wave or flipping him the bird, just haul ass towards the highway where she could lose him.

    Lynn waited til Nick had turned left and pulled completely into the lane when she burned rubber, without even as much as a glance back. Hearing the squealing of tires, Nick turned out. "What the HELL?!" Nick yelled. The bitch had tricked him. Nick pulled over, slamming his fists against the wheel, and considered racing after her, but it was no use. Lynnís new Beemer was already a faint red smudge awash in a cloud of dust. No worries, he mused. Lynn had made her getaway but it was no use. He knew where she lived and where she hung out. Sheíd get hers soon.


   
Back at the apartment, Jessie was busy doing some housework, trying to take her mind off things. Doing something constructive and mindless like tidying up was just what the doctor ordered. First she attacked the fridge, tossing a few weeks of leftovers. Then came the laundry and her least favorite chores ironing and vacuuming. She was on her way back to the bedroom when she caught sight of the table in the foyer. How do I manage to let all this clutter gather? Jess thought, grabbing her leather jacket first and hanging it up in the closet. Next, she centered her attention on going through the stack of mail. Junk mail, bill, bill, more junk mail, she thought, sifting through the envelopes on the table. Whatís this? Jess thought, picking up a large manila envelope. I donít remember seeing this. Maybe it was some papers Zach had forgotten.

Undoing the clasp, she reached inside and pulled out the envelopeís contents. Jessieís eyes widened in horror when she saw the pictures of herself. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed, as she shuffled blindly through the pictures. Each shot got progressively worse, and Jessie blinked incredulously, staring at the photographs of herself in bed with some guy, his breasts exposed, skirt hiked way up. "Whatís happening to me?" she asked aloud. When had this happened and why didnít she remember?

    Tears of panic filled her eyes and she choked back a sob of anguish, her hands shaking. A sheet of paper slipped out of her grasp and onto the floor. For a moment she hesitated. Did she really want to read what was on the paper? Leaning down, she picked it up, grasping it by the corner as if it was dirty. Taking the other side in her left hand, she swallowed hard, and started to read.

    ĎA body like yours should be shared, and it will be if you
     donít give me what I want. One night with you makes
    me hungry for more. If you know whatís good for you
    youíll do exactly what I say. Go to the cops and your
    fiancť will get his own set of these beauties. You have
    one week to get the $50,000 down payment on keeping
    me quiet and these photographs to myself. I will come
    to you soon, my sexy little vixen, so we can find our
    own special payment plan. Iíll be watching you so no
    cops and donít tell anyone or youíll be sorry.í

    Jessie screamed, and reached out to steady herself against the table, the weight of her body causing it to rock, knocking over a crystal vase, that shattered into a million pieces as it hit the hardwood floor. What do I do? her mind screamed as she fell to her knees and wept. Sheer panic swept over her as she struggled to think. She couldnít go to the police. He would find out and make the lurid pictures of her public, and that would be the end of her relationship with Zach. He would never understand.

Fear unlike anything she had ever known shook her body. How had this happened and when? Forcing herself to look at the pictures again, she fought to remember. The bed was in no way familiar, and neither was the little of the manís body that was visible, not his shoulders no his hands which were all over her in the shots. Jessieís skin crawled at the thought of having a stranger touching her that way. Then something clicked. Looking more closely at what she had on, she realized that she was wearing her gypsy costume. Oh my God, she thought. It happened that night..

    Jessie threw down the pictures, enraged. Where was Zach when she had really needed him? She surely couldnít go to him for help with this. Anger and resentment started to build inside her. Once again sheíd have to face something alone. For the first time that weekend, Jessie was happy that Zach was away on business. It would be way too easy to take out her fear and frustration on him, and that would only make matters worse.


   
"Daddy, can I have some ice cream?" Kelly asked, making big puppy dog eyes at Mitch.

    Mitch smiled. No one in the world could make him happier than his little girl. The littlest things he did for her were met with delight, be it taking her out to play on the jungle gym or letting her pick a song on the jukebox. Looking down at her big blue eyes as she sat at one of the barís tables, napkin tucked under her chin to keep her little overalls clean as she ate her spaghetti, Mitch realized he was in trouble. The little girl who had come into his life so unexpectedly had won his heart, wrapping him around her little finger in the process.

"Sure, but you have to finish your spaghetti first," he replied, trying to be a good dad.

    "Aw, do I have to," Kelly pouted, glancing over at Angel for support.

    "Eat up, Darliní," Angel quipped, "you wanna grow big and strong donít you?"

    "Big and strong like you?" Kelly asked.

    "Yup, just like me. I made sure to eat all the spaghetti my mom made for me."

    "Mommy doesnít like to cook," Kelly stated, matter-of-factly.

    "Thatís okay sweetie, Daddyíll teach you how to cook. Then you can teach Mommy."

    "Mommy likes to make Ďreservaaaations,í" Kelly giggled, imitating her mother.

    Mitch couldnít help laughing. "Youíre so silly," he said, ruffling Kellyís hair playfully. "Plate looks clean enough to me. What do you think Angel?"

    "Good girl.."

    "What kind of ice cream would you like sweetie?" Mitch asked, taking his daughterís plate.

    "Chocolate!"

    "Chocolate ice cream coming right up!"

    "Chocolateís my favorite too Kell," Angel said, grabbing the jar of M & Mís from behind the bar.

    "Donít give the kid chocolate," Gina said, putting in her two cents, "or sheíll be bouncing off the walls.."

    "Oh hush," Angel said, popping some candy into his mouth, "a little chocolate wonít do any harm."

    Kelly stuck her tongue out at Gina, and played with her spoon as she waited for Mitch to get back with her ice cream.

"Here you go Kelly," Mitch said, setting the bowl of ice cream down before her.

    "Daddy, the ice cream is mushy.."

    "I know honey. Here, have some M & Mís. Just like soft serve, right?"

    "Yummy!" the little girl smiled, satisfied.

    "We really need to fix the walk in freezer. The ice cream is hardly holding shape anymore."

    "Iíll look into it," Gina said, jotting down some notes in her notebook.

    "SHEíLL look into it?" Mitch asked, amazed.

    "A new fridge is expensive. Maybe we can have an repairman come in and check it out," stated Angel.

    "Okay," Mitch shrugged, "YOUíRE the boss. I just donít want anyone getting sick from because of it."

* * * * *

Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle  All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

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