The Spirit Lives On
Chapter 1

Colin Blackthorn stomped his feet on the woodshed's threshold in an attempt to kick off the accumulated mud on the soles of his boots, and the sticky clay soil fell off in a large clump.

"Gawd, what a mess! Frontenac's going to be pissed at me for this", he muttered to himself.

As if on cue, the little ferret's head popped out from between two large pieces of firewood in the dwindling pile, chattering angrily at the perceived intrusion. As soon as he recognized the scent of his neighbour, though, the little creature moved out to greet Colin, standing on his hind legs, tucking his forepaws against his belly, and waiting for the possibility of a free meal.

"Good morning", Colin happily greeted the resident Mustelid. "Sorry about the mess, but I needed some of your firewood. If I promise to clean up before I go, will you forgive me?"

The ferret continued to study the familiar two-legged creature whose presence usually meant he'd get a chunk of fresh meat. Those obsidian black eyes staring at him had Colin wondering if the little animal was attempting some sort of telepathic communication that he was unable to receive or understand. In a show of appreciation for the animal's attempt, he took his knife out of the sheath and cut off a very small piece of the remaining beef side that BethAnn Walls had brought him. As he relived that memorable visit in his mind, some two months earlier, and the many subsequent ones, they came back to lift his spirits.

The meat landed on the floor where Colin had thrown it for his four-legged friend, and the ferret quickly scampered over to retrieve it. But after giving it a good sniff, the Mustelid stood on his hind paws again and searched for something else before going any further.

"You miss her too, huh?", Colin interpreted the actions he'd seen. "Sorry, Buddy, but she didn't tell me when she's coming back again. Pretty special lady, isn't she?"

The ferret continued to sniff the air, now on all four feet and ready to scamper to the woman that had invaded their lives, should she magically appear. Finally turning his attention to his claim on the free meal, Frontenac focused his energies on dragging the bribe to somewhere safe. But there was a feeling of disappointment in his attitude that Colin couldn't help but feel creep over him, too.

Crouching down to pick up a large armload of firewood, Colin expected the ferret to quickly head for his nest, yet the Mustelid seemed to be in no hurry to leave. He'd already laid claim to the meat, but was still searching for something – or someone. His two-legged companion stopped what he was doing, watched the little animal fondly, and found himself engaging in a one-sided conversation.

"Buddy, if I took off for a week, would you be okay?", his rhetorical question echoed in the little outbuilding.

There was no answer, although Colin hadn't expected one. Even if there had been, though, he'd already made up his mind. It was the logic behind the decision that escaped him, yet he really didn't need it. He knew why, deep in his heart, and that little bit of knowledge was all he required.

Returning to the little cabin, he put a few pieces of the wood on the embers in the fireplace, then added some more to the firebox of the woodstove. Almost absent-mindedly, his hand picked up the coffee pot, poured a cup of the strong liquid, then joined him at the table as plans slowly took shape in his head.

BethAnn had returned to the homestead that previous Christmas, and almost every other weekend afterwards, too. This happened to be one of the weeks when she'd be staying in the city, leaving him feeling impatient for the passage of time until she appeared in his driveway again. But if he took the initiative and went down to the city, maybe he'd be able to fill in that void in his life that her absence created. The thought of being with her again sent a thrill of excitement through his system, and the more he contemplated it, the easier his heart found it to accept the idea. As his plan began to develop, his enthusiasm soared.

There were peelings and vegetable cutting that had to go out to the compost, and Colin decided that while he was out there, letting Rocky in on his plans might be a good idea. Gathering up the scraps, his feet found their way into boots, and he started the trek out to the raccoon's habitat.

"Hey, Bud!" he greeted the masked marauder. "Can you do me a favour? I think I'm going to go down to the city to see BethAnn, so I'll be gone for a few days. Can you keep an eye on things for me while I'm gone? Especially Pepé. I think she's going to surprise us with a litter soon, because her belly's really starting to swell. Think she'll wait until I get home again before she drops them? I let Frontenac know, but didn't mention our little stinker. The last thing you need is for those two to get into a scrap. He'll reek for a week if they do."

The raccoon looked at him blankly, not seeming to understand a single word despite all his efforts, but not really needing to, either. All Rocky knew was that his neighbour had just brought more food, and the sooner Colin left again, the sooner he could investigate.

It took a short while to pack enough to see him through a four day visit, but required all of his concentration to ensure the little cabin was locked and secure. A quick stop at McMullen's to let them know that he'd be gone, and where he was off to, was all that was left. They'd keep an eye on the place for him, which would help him feel better about deserting his furry pals.

"I must be either out of my mind, or that girl's got her hooks in me pretty deep", he muttered to himself as the old Ford pickup's engine slowly warmed up, but there was a happy grin of anticipation on his lips at the thought of being with BethAnn again. "I'll bet that Betty's going to give me hard time, too. She seems to think that I'm head over heels for that girl. And she might be right. I think I am."

At the end of the mud track that served as his driveway, Colin turned south on his way to his neighbours, just as he perceived something moving in the trees. His instincts had a foot pushing hard on the brake pedal, and the old pickup slid to a halt. Visually scanning the area revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Still, his mind said that there'd been something in those woods, something familiar but illogical.

"Nah, couldn't be", he tried to dismiss what he thought he'd seen, then continued on his way to McMullen's.

"You're going where?", Betty McMullen squealed when she heard the news. "Going to see that girl, aren't you?" Her eyes danced mischievously as she teased Colin. "If you're that crazy about her, you'd better marry the girl, before she gets away on you."

"Aw, come on, Betty!" he exclaimed in mock exasperation. "You know I don't believe in that mumbo-jumbo stuff!"

"Maybe you don't, young man, but she might. Look at Don and me. Married fifty-six years now, and still going strong. Sometimes I wonder if he did it just so's I'd stick around. Don't tell him this, but I'd have stayed right here with him no matter if he stood at that alter or not. And something else, too. I think that girl you're going to go see is of a like mind. But why take a chance? Marry her, already!"

"Give me a break, Betty!" he protested as they shared his happiness. "I've only known her for a couple of months. Don't you think it's a little soon to be making lifelong plans?"

"Maybe for some, but you two? I've seen the way you look at each other whenever you bring her around here. She's no better than you for having her head in the clouds, and you're hopeless! Look at yourself! Going all the way down to the city? Colin, you've got it bad, and don't try to tell me otherwise!"

He chuckled at her assessment, then leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Betty stretched up to receive his affection, a knowing smile still plastered on her face. That BethAnn girl had her neighbour on the hook, she figured. The thing was, she'd be as good for him as he seemed to be for her. After all the decades she and her husband had been together, Betty McMullen could still see the signs, and they were evident in Colin, too.

Heading down the gravel road towards the highway, Colin caught himself smiling and chuckling like a schoolkid over Betty's verdict. Maybe she was right, and he had become hopeless. More and more, his thoughts had strayed from what he was doing, and off to memories of the times spent together whenever BethAnn had come up to visit.

He fondly remembered the times that they'd made love, too, and those memories caused a stirring in his groin. The times she'd taken him in her mouth, and the sensuous delight of her lips on his manhood. He'd fully expected her to release him when he let her know that he was about to cum – but she hadn't. She'd taken his seed down her throat as happily as she had into her womb. He remembered the soft curves of her body, the smooth texture of her skin, and the wonderful swell of her breasts in his hands. There was the taste of her juices, too, and the lustful reactions he had from both their flavour and the pheromones that had assailed his nostrils. And then there was the silky heated moisture of her canal that captured and caressed him so fantastically, the euphoric convulsions he received whenever she climaxed, and that wonderful afterglow they shared, especially when they'd orgasmed together.

"Damn, I think Betty's right", he conceded to himself. "I do have it bad", then allowed another burst of happiness to course through him. "I mean, why else would a guy like me drive all that way, just to be stuck in a crowded city, if there wasn't someone like BethAnn waiting? Lord help me!"

The eighteen miles to the highway went by at their usual pace, with Colin exercising his usual restraint as the old truck manoeuvred down the gravel road. It was once he was on the highway's pavement that his foot betrayed his impatience. He had to consciously lift it whenever the speedometer read too high for the speed limit – and there were more of those instances than Colin wanted to count, or even admit to. But what he didn't need was to be delayed by a policeman, or worse, by being in an accident. He had a destination to attain, and a destiny to follow, both of which now became the centre of his consciousness.

The trip into the city consumed the better part of two hours, and with each mile he covered, keeping his anticipation in check became harder. Once in the city, though, finding the girls' apartment building became a totally confusing task. With the myriad of streets and roads to figure out, he wasted a good half hour struggling to understand the city's grid, a further fifteen minutes to get a grasp of the building numbering sequence, and what felt like a lifetime locating the apartment complex itself. As if all that wasn't frustrating enough, finding somewhere to park his truck became an exercise in logistics that was almost beyond him. But eventually, Colin overcame all the hurdles that had been thrown his way. All that was left to accomplish would be finding the apartment that BethAnn shared with her best friend, Brianna Halton.

Brianna sat in the old wingback chair that resided by the bay window of the little apartment that she shared with BethAnn Walls, her college roommate. Surrounded by books that lay all over an old TV table, she was busy going through the textbooks, making notes on a legal notepad as she did.

"I'm never going to get through all this", she muttered to herself. "Who'd have thought there was this much about the psychology of urban dwelling?"

Absent-mindedly reaching across the little table in front of her, she picked up one of the remaining chocolates that called insistently from the small cardboard box, gave it a delicious lick, then bit into the creme centre. For a few seconds, her concentration broke, and she savoured the hazelnut flavour as though it were a decadent nibble of something exotic. Well, her version of exotic, for Brianna had never been fortunate enough to taste anything that would qualify. On the limited budget of a college student, it would be a long, long time before she did, too.

"This isn't going to get that report done, Brianna", she reminded herself aloud, before forcing her mind to return to what she'd been doing.

Now engrossed in a particularly interesting series of paragraphs, Brianna completely missed the sounds of light tapping on the apartment door. When it came again, a little louder this time, she almost jumped in reaction to the intrusion.

"Dammit, BethAnn!" she mumbled to herself again. "You're going to have to start remembering your key!"

Slowly unfolding her legs, which threatened to fall asleep, she swung them down to the floor, only to find that her muscles had gone soggy, and her feet tingled with the sensation of pins and needles as the feeling in them began to return.

There was another knock on the door, louder and more insistent this time, accompanied by a burst of her upset at being interrupted.

"I'm coming! I'm coming!" she hollered, inwardly composing a suitable tirade for her forgetful roommate's ears.

"It's not my fault that you can't remember your... ", she yelled at the door, while turning the deadbolt's thumb latch, then grabbing the doorknob to open the door.

But when she looked out into the hall, it wasn't BethAnn at all. Instead, her eyes took in the form of a muscular man in his late twenties. He stood over six feet, was dressed in denim jeans and a red checkered flannel shirt, a light, tan-coloured leather jacket over it, and a pair of leather hiking boots that looked all shiny and new. But it was the expression on his face that immediately grabbed her attention, with its goofy grin and warm, sparkling eyes.

"Colin Blackthorn", she identified the stranger, her tone like an insult. "What the hell are you doing in town?", she demanded.

"Umm, is BethAnn home?", he quietly enquired.

"She's supposed to be over at the library, but I'm expecting her back any moment now. Does she know you're here?"

"Obviously not, if she isn't home", he answered her in as warm a voice as he could muster. "I thought I'd surprise her."

"You'll do that to her, that's for sure! Come on in, take your coat off, and make yourself homely", she reached out to pull him inside, closing the door behind her.

Colin stood in the entranceway, not quite sure how to take his hostess' ambivalent attitudes. After all, there'd been no exchanges between the two since she'd left the homestead, back in November, and it had been over four months since they'd been in the same room together. His worry must have been obvious, because Brianna picked up on it right away.

"I thought we'd patched things up before I left your place", she spoke softly to him, while gazing up to look in his eyes.

"Things happened between BethAnn and me", he gave his excuse.

"So I heard. She's still ten feet off the ground, you know. What the hell did you do to ... never mind. I don't want to know."

"It looks like I interrupted something", he consciously changed the subject. "I can come back later, if you want."

"I'm overdue for a break anyway", she left her earlier question alone. "Can I get you something? There's beer in the fridge, I think, or I could make coffee."

"Coffee sounds great", he accepted, then remembered the difference in flavour between what was usually brewed in one of those electric machines and the stuff he normally drank. "I don't suppose you have a real percolator, do you? All those machines do is make coloured water."

"This is the big city. We're used to going to Starbuck's or Tim Horton's, not boiling half a gallon of water for one lousy cup of coffee", she reminded him, but the memory of the strong brew he'd served came back, and she realized that she'd missed his concoction. "But you're right about the machines. Maybe I should invest in a coffee pot?"

"How about a small saucepan, and I'll boil some real coffee for you," he offered.

"Here, let me dig one out, then I'll get the hell out of your way. I could use a real coffee, as you put it", Brianna offered, and rattled around in the drawer under the stove, retrieving something she thought he could use.

"You do know how to use an electric stove, don't you?" she teased him. "We don't use wood around here", returning her thoughts to the last days they'd spent on the homestead.

"I'm not a complete hick, Brie", he lightly reprimanded her. "I've lived in a city before. Spent almost a year in Allendale, before I moved back in with Dad."

"Allendale? That's not a city, it's a crossroads", she hinted at his being naive, yet didn't want to alienate him completely.

"It was big enough for a country boy like me", he let her know, doing his best to keep the atmosphere between them light and amiable.

"And now you're going to tell me that you're ready for a place like Callaway? Somehow, I have a hard time believing that", her voice seemed to offer him no place of refuge in a city of over a million people.

"I'll never get used to a town this size", he confessed. "Too many people for this guy. How the heck do you stand it?"

"We manage", she made her excuse, including BethAnn in that population. "Coffee's in that cupboard above your head", she avoided any further discussion about the differences between what he was used to and what she took for granted.

Leaving Colin to his own devices, Brianna returned to the little sitting room that served as the centre of their living quarters, doing what she could to squelch her growing curiosity over why he was there. As she took up her seat again, there was the sound of a key being inserted into the lock of the front door, followed immediately by a keychain falling onto the hall floor.

"Brie!" an upset female voice called out in frustration. "Give me a hand, would you? My arms are about ready to fall off!"

Slowly standing again, then making her way to the door, Brianna wondered whether her roommate was expecting their company, or if she even knew that he was in town.

"Keep your panties on!" she called out to her roommate. "I'm coming!"

Brianna opened the door, greeted by a look of frustrated upset from her roommate, and what looked like half the college's library.

"Did you leave any behind?", she facetiously asked of the mass of literature that BethAnn had brought home.

"Not now, Brie", BethAnn gave her a friendly warning. "I've got underpants creeping up my butt, and all I want to do is get them off. I think I really need to go shopping for clothes soon."

BethAnn hurried into the room, put the books down on the coffee table, then started to undo her pants in preparation of repositioning the offending garment.

"Might want to go into your room to do that", Brianna strongly suggested. "We have company."

"We do?" BethAnn couldn't believe her ears, for the number of visitors they'd had over the school year could be counted on one hand, with fingers left over. "Who? Where are they?"

"In the kitchen", she was informed. "Why don't you go in and say, 'Hi'?"

BethAnn hurried into the little space that served as their kitchen, her curiosity screaming for satiation, then froze in stunned recognition of their visitor.

"Colin!" she squealed in elated happiness, and a thrill coursed through her entire being from his presence. "Gawd, it's good to see you! But what brought you to town? You should have called me!"

"Can I go through all those one at a time?", he grinned from ear to ear as she rushed to his waiting arms, hugging him tightly. Unlike the reception between him and Brianna, though, his hug was just as strong and possessive as hers.

"I missed you", he started to explain, "and as it's Spring break-up at the moment, it was a good excuse to come down and see you until the ground dries out. With all that mud, it's almost impossible to go out into the meadows without making one hell of a mess. As for why I didn't call? I found the tin cans, but I'm a little short on string. I don't have a phone. Remember? There's no service by my place anyway, so there's no sense getting one. Besides, who the heck would I call?"

"Me?", she suggested hopefully.

"True, he conceded, "but until they put up a tower, I guess we'll just have to rely on surprise visits to each other. Except that it's always been you that has to drive up. I figured that this time, it should be me that drove down instead."

"So how long can you stay?", her pleading voice asked, and the tone suggested that something in the order of months wouldn't be long enough.

"It'll be a good week or more before the ground dries out enough to walk on. Think you can stand me that long?", he asked, hoping for an affirmative reply.

"Piece of cake!" her enthusiasm bubbled out. "Where are you staying? Have you got a room or something?", she pried into his plans.

"Haven't got that far yet. It took me half the day just to find this place. Is there somewhere close by where I could rent a room?", he admitted his poor planning.

"There's a perfectly good sofa right here in our living room", Brianna answered him without a hint that he wouldn't be welcome.

"I can't impose on you like that, Brie", he offered her as an escape.

"Why not? I did, when we were at your place last Fall. You took us in, put us up, and saved my stupid ass in the process. Now it's our turn." Her insistence that he stay with them closed the subject.

"Are you saying, now that I'm in the city, that it's my ass that needs saving?", he chuckled for both their benefit.

"If you don't stay here", Brie tried to generate a warm tone of voice, "I won't see my roommate for the next week or so. Might just as well make sure I can keep an eye on you. Colin, I don't think you're going to have much of a choice in this. If I don't convince you, BethAnn just might rope and hog-tie you herself. Do you want a mere city girl to get the drop on you like that?"

"You're sure? I don't want to impose", he questioned her quick decision.

"If you don't stay here, BethAnn will spend all her time going in and out that damned door, and that would be an imposition – on any peace and quiet we might have around here. Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that she'll be sleeping on that sofa herself, just as much as you will. Maybe you two should take her bed, so I don't have to listen to the sounds of footsteps running up and down the hall as well."

"Brianna!" BethAnn snapped back at her roommate. "I do have a modicum of restraint in me, you know!"

"Where's he's concerned?", she was set straight. "I've lived with you for three years, girl, so I seriously doubt it! I remember how it went, up at his place. The first night you spent on the floor with me, but the rest of the time, you were in his bed. Since then, though, you've been a hell of a lot easier to live with. So if you think I'm naive enough to believe you won't be out here as much as you can, or finding some other way to keep me awake all night, I've got some bad news for you, Missy. It'll happen, just as sure as God made little green apples. There's no sense I me fighting this thing, because it's for sure that I'll lose."

"She's right, you know", BethAnn turned to address her lover. "Whenever I get back from your place, I feel like there's nothing the world can do to burst my little bubble. You seem to have that effect on me, Colin Blackthorn. Besides, we managed on that single bed you have, so why not use mine? Managed quite well, too, if I remember correctly. Go put your stuff in my room. It's the one on the right, down the hall", she almost begged him.

"You're sure?", he couldn't believe how warm the reception had become.

"So", Brianna reserved her feelings. "When is it coffee time?", she changed the subject again as a familiar aroma drifted to her nostrils, effectively cutting off any further possibilities that he might still refuse.

"About five minutes?", he offered, then returned his attention to the pot boiling on their stove. But before he could move to check on it, two arms snaked around his neck, followed seconds later by a pair of lips that sought his.

"I love you, Colin", BethAnn softly whispered in his ear.

"Love you, too, Beth", he acceded.

"You'd better", Brianna injected into their intimacy. "She's ass over tea kettle about you. You two deserve each other."

"Brie, if you tell me once more that we make a cute couple, I'll ... I'll... ", BethAnn sputtered in mock anger.

"Well, you do", her roommate closed that discussion, too, with the warmest tone she'd uttered since Colin had arrived. "By the way? Cream, no sugar in mine." Brianna headed back to the living room and her academics, leaving the two reunited lovers to their own devices.

Brianna woke to the discomfort of a full bladder. It was too intense to ignore, and she flipped back the covers, swung her legs off the bed, then stood up in answer to her body's demands. Grabbing a terrycloth robe almost instinctively, she made her way out of the bedroom, down the hall, and into the bathroom. The glare of the electric light when she flipped the switch jolted her out of that realm of semi-consciousness and into the harshness of reality.

Flushing the toilet after herself, she started to make her way back to bed, but the sounds of someone in the living room snoring lightly had her wondering who was sleeping there. She was about to peek, when the light leaking out from under BethAnn's door caused her to freeze in her tracks.

After their happy reunion the previous afternoon, there must be a good reason that the two lovers were in separate rooms, and separate beds, she thought to herself. A feeling of foreboding slipped into her mind, and the years of friendship that she and BethAnn had cultivated made it mandatory to find out what was going on between them.

Knocking lightly, Brianna called out to her best friend, worried for BethAnn's happiness, and the state of her relationship with this man that had left his own little world to be with her – and wasn't.

"Beth?", she called out in a soft, quiet, but worried tone. "You okay?"

"Go to sleep, Brie", she was ordered, and promptly ignored the demand.

"Beth? Can I come in?"

Without waiting for an answer, Brianna eased the door open, then poked her head into a room lit by a small bedside lamp. Her friend lay on top of the bed, blankets undisturbed, and with legs crossed at the ankles, while her fingers were interlaced behind her head as she stared at the ceiling with a blank expression of indifference.

"Want to talk about it?", Brianna invited, and was answered by a total lack of acknowledgement. "Why are you in here all alone, and he's sleeping on the sofa?"

Taking the initiative, she stepped into the room, closed the door as quietly as she could so as not to disturb their guest, then moved over to sit on the edge of the occupied bed.

"Spill it, Walls", she demanded of her roommate. "The man that you love, or profess to love, more than anything in the world is sleeping on our sofa, and you're laying here, staring at the ceiling, and looking like you've lost your last friend. Something's eating your guts out, girl, and I want to know what it is."

"Nothing!" BethAnn was adamant in her dismissal.

"Piss off! Nothing?", Brianna growled a curse. "Listen, girl. We've lived under the same roof for over three years, and I have a pretty good idea when something's not right for you. I can sit here all damned night if I have to, but I'm not leaving until you tell me what's wrong."

BethAnn continued to stare silently at the ceiling, almost trying to outwait her friend's patience, yet wanting desperately to relieve some of the burden inside that threatened to crush the life out of her. When that insistence of Brianna's said that she was fighting a battle she couldn't win, BethAnn relented, then shared a part of what had taken over her serenity.

"I guess I was tossing and turning, and it kept him awake, if you really must know. He suggested moving into the living room so I'd have the bed to myself."

"Insomnia? That only happens when you have something on your mind. Whatever it is, you may as well tell me about it, before you stay awake all night."

"I'm late, Brie", was her total explanation.

"Late? For what? The Mad Hatter's tea party, maybe? What the hell are you... ?"

Brianna's memory raced over the last few months, and recollections of her best friend's unexplained mood swings came back. Suddenly, irrational behaviour that she'd attributed to BethAnn being in love all made sense. Without another word necessary, she had her answer.

"How late?", she asked.

"I've missed two", BethAnn supplied, aware that her friend was as knowledgeable of the subject as she was.

"Have you told him?", she was asked.

"No", was the one-word answer, set in a tone of voice that implied that there wasn't any room for outside considerations.

"So when do you plan on telling him?", Brianna pushed on the subject's core.

"Brie, I'm scared", BethAnn stated the obvious. "I'm not sure I'm going to", that dejected voice answered her.

"Not too fair, is it? I mean, he's got to be told about what he's done. Ever consider that you just might have to take legal action to get support for you and the baby?"

"If he wants to walk away, I can't stop him. His experience with motherhood hasn't been what I'd call overly stellar either. Shit, she deserted him! Just up and walked away! What if he thinks that it'll happen again? That'll destroy him, Brie, and we both know it. I can't do that to him. Not to Colin."

"Yeah, well, that's the thing, isn't it?", Brianna's pessimistic remarks started out. "Guys are right there when it's time for the fun and games, but as soon as something goes wrong, they tend to run like the wind. At least his mother waited a few years before she took off. My father was out the door within two minutes of finding out that my mother was pregnant. That bastard broke my mother's heart, and mine too, before I was even born! I'd say that your boyfriend got what most men deserve."

"Oh, come on, Brie! No one deserves that kind of shit, and you know it!" BethAnn disagreed with her roommate.

"All the ones I know, or have ever met, sure do", she was caustically informed. "Do you know what it's like to spend your whole life wondering what you did that was so bad when someone you thought you might be able to count on just up and leaves you out in the cold? And I'm not thinking of just my father. All the boys I knew in high school were like that, and college hasn't been any better, either. How about those two guys that you were dating? They were pieces of work."

"So we've been unlucky in love. Is that why you came to college in the first place? To find a boyfriend, a lover, or a husband?", BethAnn questioned her roommate's educational motives. "I don't know about you, Brie, but I came here to learn. Not just academics, but about me, about other people, about life. No one said that the lessons were going to be easy, as I'm finding out."

"No kidding?", her roommate snarled. "About all I've learned about people is that the male of the species is usually about as dependable as a snake. For me, they serve one purpose, and one purpose only. If I ever decide to have kids, they're the ones that supply that missing biological component. Once I have that, there's no reason to have them hanging around."

"Maybe you're right, but that doesn't explain Colin to me. I want him, Brie. Not just his body, but who and what he is. Now that I'm carrying his kid, I need him, too. But what do I do if he doesn't want the baby? Raise it on my own? I was never cut out to be a single mother, and I'll be the first to admit it. So what do I do now?"

"You've got a couple of options, Beth", Brianna started to list off. "You can get rid of it, give it up for adoption, or keep it. Whichever one you choose, though, it'll be you, all by yourself, that makes that decision. As far as your boyfriend goes, chances are pretty good that he'll be out of the picture as soon as he finds out that you're pregnant. Might as well get used to it, because that's the way men are."

"There's got to be a better way than this", BethAnn sniffled in her frustration. "Maybe, if I tell him, he won't run away?"

"Yeah, right!" Brie snapped. "You've got a better chance of seeing the sun come up in the west than getting a man to stick around!"

"So what do I do, Brie? I can't hide the fact that I'm pregnant for too many more months. Gawd, the more I think about it, the more scared I get!"

"My suggestion? Cut him loose, before he does the same thing to you. If you're going to get hurt, you may as well do it on your own terms, not his", Brianna's cynicism came out.

"Maybe you're right," BethAnn looked for a way out, a blank look about her still, "but I think what I'd like to do is wait to see how things turn out. Maybe we're wrong about Colin. Maybe things might work out? It's a possibility."

"Whatever", Brie signalled that the conversation was over, as far as she was concerned.

"Fuck off, Halton!" BethAnn exploded in a rage borne of fear, anger, and frustration. "He's here, and while he is, I'm going to enjoy him! If you've got a problem with that, go deal with it somewhere else!"

"Like I said", her roommate's own upset answered the idea, "whatever. It's your life, Beth. I can barely run my own, let alone yours too."

Colin woke to the sensation of being somewhere he didn't know, didn't understand, and maybe didn't belong. But there was something – or someone – soft and warm laying against his back. Whoever it was, they had him in a tenacious grip that said he wasn't about to escape.

Rolling over slowly and gently onto his back, the sight of the sleeping form of BethAnn Walls filled his view, a warm and happy grin on her face, even as she still slept. A silent rush of want, need, and love shot through him, and was immediately followed by a burning desire to taste the soft smoothness of her skin. Without a lot of conscious effort, he lightly kissed her forehead, the bridge and tip of her nose, then softly dusted her lips.

"Mmm", she happily hummed in reaction, his affection stirring her from sleep. "Didn't mean to wake you, Sweetie", she murmured.

"Didn't mean to crowd you", he apologized. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Who knows?", she snuggled closer to him, even as his weight pressed against her. "Who cares, anyway? I'm too comfortable to move, and you feel so good. Can I snore in your ear for a while?"

"Hmmph", he teased her with a mock grunt. "City girls! You're all a bunch of pampered pansies."

"Can I take that as a yes?", she teased right back at him, then wiggled her body until the warmth of his permeated in just the right way.

"Hate to break this to you, but I've got to use the outhouse", he advised, almost forgetting where he was.

"Sorry, Buster, but we don't have one", she giggled, still half asleep. "Us pampered city pansies have to suffer with indoor plumbing. Think you can figure out how that works?"

"She's pampered, she's a pansy, and she's a pain", he labelled her before kissing her forehead once more. "I suggest you move, before I have an accident."

Reluctantly, BethAnn swung her legs off the sofa, planted her feet on the braided rug beside it, then stood to let her lover up. As soon as he was on his two feet, though, Colin took the time to wrap arms around her, then give her a loving squeeze.

"Go, before you pee on my carpet", she admonished, but made no move to let him leave her own arms, instead adding her strength to his.

By the time Colin left the bathroom, there was a familiar aroma of coffee grounds and the splash of a pot being filled with water. Looking in on BethAnn, who now bustled around in the kitchen, he watched as she tried to duplicate his method of making boiled coffee, remaining silent as she struggled to remember the steps and quantities he'd used.

"Too much water, and not enough coffee", he finally advised, causing the young woman to jump.

"Smart ass", she snarled to him. "Why didn't you say something before?"

"How are you going to learn if you don't try on your own?", he questioned her.

"So I'm supposed to shoot blanks in the dark, get it all wrong, and that'll each me what?", she enquired.

"If you get it wrong, you'll know what doesn't work. Isn't that how mankind learns new things?", he philosophized.

"It's also why we learned to communicate. So we wouldn't have to watch someone make the same mistakes we did. You could have said something, you know", she chastised.

"I could have, but then you wouldn't have learned", he snickered quietly to her.

"So how do I fix it, Mr. Know-it-all?", she demanded, then listened carefully to his solution.

Ten minutes later, the smell of fresh coffee pervaded the small apartment, and the two were joined by Brianna, who had omitted to put on her robe in the rush to enjoy a cup of whatever gave off that delicious aroma.

"You made the coffee?", she asked Colin, still not used to a man doing domestic chores.

"Nope. That's BethAnn's handiwork. Smells like it's about to burn, too. Might want to take it off the heat, and let it stand for a few minutes", he passed on some advice to the girl that ruled the kitchen.

"And you might want to put something on", BethAnn suggested to her roommate.

"Why? He's seen me naked before. What's wrong with wearing my bra and panties?", Brie's defiant tone filled the room.

"Because I'm sure he doesn't want to see your body flashing all over the place", BethAnn tried to introduce an element of modesty to their morning.

"You're just afraid of competition", Brianna commented, referring to BethAnn's own scanty covering of bra and panties, then headed for her bedroom.

"Put your eyes back in their sockets", BethAnn admonished her lover. "You'd think you'd never seen a woman in just her underwear before."

"It's what's underneath that gets our interest", he informed his girlfriend. But if he'd known what was bothering BethAnn so much, he would have said something entirely different.

"Men!" she growled. "Is that all you ever think about? Naked women?"

"No, it's not all we think about. It just happens to be somewhere around the top of the list, that's all", and he emphasized his point by opening his arms to her. BethAnn found she couldn't refuse the offer, and folded in his embrace, pressing her cheek to his chest as she did so. Colin's hands luxuriated in the softness of the skin on her back, and the firm curves of her body.

"Get a room, you two", Brianna groaned on her return, then intentionally dragged her breasts over Colin's back as she squeezed past the two on her way into the kitchen. "Is it ready yet?", she referred to the pan sitting on the counter.

"Pour a little cold water into it, then wait for the grounds to settle", he told her, not wanting to release BethAnn just yet.

Brianna did as had been suggested, careful not to swirl the pan lest she stir up the grounds in the process.

"Coffee's on, if you two can tear yourselves away from each other long enough", her acidic tone mentioned, and taking a cup from the cupboard, scooped out three mugs worth before heading to the little table that served as their dining area. Reluctantly, Colin and BethAnn relinquished their purchase on each other in order to join Brie.

"Mmm, that's good!" Brianna uttered her verdict, savouring the strong brew. "I'd forgotten how good coffee can taste. We've got to get a real coffee pot, Kiddo. He says the electric one makes coloured water – and he's right!"

BethAnn savoured her own coffee, smiling as the heady aroma and strong flavour woke her up. Memories of her times on Colin's homestead drifted through her mind from the reminder under her nose and on her lips.

"You tell him yet?", Brianna broke into her reverie.

"Tell me what?", Colin's curiosity popped up.

"Not yet. Maybe later, when I don't have a certain roommate around as an audience", BethAnn stalled.

Colin could tell that something was bothering his girlfriend, and whatever it was, it had something to do with him. Hopefully, she'd open up and tell him before distrust came between them.

"Sweetie, I have to go to the library today", BethAnn changed the subject before it went further. "Will you be alright if I leave you to amuse yourself? I should be home by three or so, or maybe we could meet for lunch?"

"Beth, I'm a big boy. I can look after myself, you know. Even in a city", he answered in a tone that was tinged with either sarcasm or anger, but she couldn't figure out which.

"It's just that I have work to do that I can't put off, that's all", she attempted to calm him. "After all, you're the one that wants me to finish my degree."

"I'll be fine", he assured her. "Umm, is there a park nearby? I think I need a reprieve from all these city folk. Somewhere with trees and open space?"

"Princess Park?", Brianna suggested, and BethAnn had to agree that it might be the perfect place for the escape that her lover had in mind. The two women gave him explicit directions to the large green space that served as an oasis of peace and quiet for the local community.

"Maybe, after supper tonight, you'll tell me whatever it was that Brie mentioned?", he tried to open the subject again.

"Maybe", BethAnn hedged, now no longer as sure of herself as when her roommate had learned her secret. "We'll see."

"Can I walk you to the library, at least?", he fought for the chance for some extra time with the woman that had a mysterious ability to draw him out of his world of security and into one of total confusion.

"I'd like that", she smiled as she accepted. "Let me finish this coffee first, then I'll get ready. I'd almost forgotten what coffee is supposed to taste like. Maybe that's one of the reasons you came down? To remind me?"

"Not exactly what I was thinking, but it's as good an excuse as any, I guess."

"Colin," she addressed him once more, with a forced look of optimism, "I'm really glad you came. I wanted to go up this weekend, and I would have, too, except that I've got to get this report finished. You do understand, don't you? My boyfriend's pretty insistent that I graduate and finish my degree. I need a good mark in this course to make that happen."

"I understand. Just for the record, I'm glad I came down. I wanted to see how you live between trips up to my place, and besides, I missed you. Never thought I'd be saying that, but it's true."

"Gawd, if I didn't know better, I'd almost think he was in love with you", Brianna mentioned quietly to her friend.

"Funny, because I get the same feeling", she murmured, as much for her roommate as for Colin.

"Sharing secrets?", he teased both of them. "Is that a city girl thing?

Even as he spoke, Colin reached across the table and covered one of BethAnn's hands with his own in a small show of closeness and intimacy, and got a warm smile of love and happiness for his trouble.

"Right now, I'd love to be able to throw that window open, and shout it out to the whole world", she confessed to him. "I do love you, Colin Blackthorn."

"I know", he accepted her declaration at face value, unaware of her internal conflict. "I love you too, BethAnn Walls", and he backed up his statement with a kiss to the back of that hand he held, keeping his lips there for several moments as the magic she created seeped a little deeper into his soul.

"I hate to break up this little love-fest", Brianna interrupted, "but some of us have classes, and others have reports to go work on. You two going my way?"

"Beardmore Hall?", BethAnn sought confirmation of her roommate's destination.

"Yeah. Philosophy four-ten, I'm afraid. Want to walk with me that far?"

"Sure", her love-struck roomie agreed. "It's on the way, and maybe I can get this country hick aimed in the right direction for Princess Park, while I'm at it. Have you got a watch, Sweetie?"

"Watch. Watch", he repeated. "I've heard of those things. What are they, anyway?", he teased her as he pressed against her forehead.

"They're those funny round things that you wear on your wrist, so you know when it's lunch time. Meet me by the library at noon, and I'll take you out for something to eat. Think you can handle a city-made hamburger?"

"Gawd! She's trying to poison me!" Colin screeched in mock fear. "City food? I thought you said you loved me, too!"

"She's a terrible liar", Brianna put forth. "I think she does that just to get guys in her web before she strikes."

"Brie, why do I find that so easy to believe?", he snickered at her.

"Because that's the naive side of a country bumpkin coming out", she ended her bantering. "Let's get out of here, before I'm late."

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual / Slow /