by Carrie Ryan
Copyright 2000
Chapter One

…"Caught in your eyes… lost in your name
I will never be the same"…


Blue eyes opened and scanned across the room, squinting at the light. Boxes of various sizes lay open and discarded haphazardly around the room. A glance to the right showed the time flashing on the VCR clock. 4:27AM

“Damn” Jake sat up, grimacing at the kinks that were now ever so present in her neck and back. She hated when she fell asleep on the couch. She always woke up cranky and her muscles stayed tight for hours. She vaguely remembered sitting down sometime around 1:00 to take a break from unpacking. She had meant to go upstairs to bed shortly but, obviously, she crashed right where she was and now was going to have to go to work irritable.

“Great. What a way to start my first day on the job. 'Yes, it's nice to be working with you, Sir. Now, go screw yourself and stay the hell out of my way'”

She had just moved into a new house... in a new town... in a new state about a week earlier. Maybe she wasn't ready to start over yet but she needed to. She HAD to. Then again, she did have enough cash in her savings to go a few more months but…

“Oh Hell...” She reluctantly pulled herself off the couch and made her way up the stairs into her bedroom. She glanced at the bed, which looked SO inviting, and then to the clock on her night stand.

“Too late to get some real sleep now.” But, she had more than enough time to get a good run and shower in before work. Her mind made up, she changed into a pair of running shorts and a dark gray sleeveless sweatshirt.

She started back down the stairs when she stopped. She poked her head through the door of the bedroom across the hall from hers. She stood there quietly watching the child sleep. She looked so peaceful as long midnight black hair fanned across the pillow. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that these two were related. You could definitely see the family resemblance but, Jake realized, and not for the first time while watching the child sleep, that she was the spitting image of...

“Ryan...” She whispered his name softly; almost forcing a smile to touch her lips even though it never reached her eyes or her heart. She closed her eyes to the all too familiar ache before closing the door and heading down the stairs to start her day.




“Raven! Come On..You're gonna be late!” Jake had finished her run around the neighborhood, came back, showered and was getting breakfast together long before the child had even woke up.

“How come I have to go? I'd rather stay here with you” the child whined, emphatically dragging her feet as she made her way to the kitchen. Jake smiled, watching the child as she placed her breakfast of cereal and toast on the table before her. Jake took a sip of her coffee as pale blue eyes, the same shade as her own, looked up at her hopefully until she saw “The Look”. Jake couldn't help but grin at the pout that soon followed. If she didn't know any better...

She recalled her own protests to getting up and going to school as a child...

“Jacqueline Marie, you get your butt in here right this instant, young lady” her father would yell while trying to get them all out the door on time.

“Oh Dad...” She had a whine that could rival Raven's. As she did today, her father would cast her “The Look”. At least, she knew that she heired it honestly. He didn't yell very often but when he did, he meant business and you had BETTER listen!

Her mother had died when she was only four years old due to complications during childbirth. It was a sad day in the Stevens household, not only loosing a wife and mother but, also the child she carried. A little boy. After that, there had only been the three of them: Jake, her father and...

“So do I really have to go? Why?” The eight-year-old's question had snapped her out of her reverie. Jake placed her now empty coffee mug in the sink and rinsed it out before putting it in the drainer and nodding at Raven to do the same with her breakfast dishes.

“Yes, you HAVE to go. I'm starting my new job today and don't need to be late worrying about your unmotivated little butt” She suddenly tackled the child, laughing the whole time while tickling her relentlessly.

“STOP, STOP! I'M GONNA PEE MY PANTS!”

“I don't care. They're not MY pants and I'm not wearing them.” She resumed her assault on Raven trying to will the child's laughter to mend the break in her heart from earlier.

“O.K., O.K., I give! Uncle, Uncle!” Jake stopped long enough to consider the child's plea for mercy. Then, remembering the “Uncle” comment, made her decision...

“Hmmmmmm... ...Nope!” She tickled her one last time and sent her to get her things.

“Come on, Squirt. Let's get going. I'll drop you off and pick you up this week.”

“On the Harley?” Raven asked, her eyes pleading with Jake to give in. She loved riding the bike with Jake. It had belonged to Raven's father. He had bought it before Raven was born when he was a police officer in Chicago. It meant so much that she was allowed to ride with Jake. Only her and her Dad were lucky enough to share that special thrill with the tall woman. Raven couldn't really remember her father. He had been killed while on duty when she was only two years old.

“Not this morning, Squirt. We'll have to take the truck. I need my tools. Tonight. After dinner. I promise. We'll go get ice cream or something.”

“Really? COOL! Love you!” Raven threw her arms around Jake's neck. Jake hugged her back while playfully slapping her on the rear end.

“Love you, too. Now Scoot!”

They loaded up the 4Runner with Jake's tools and Raven's backpack. Within ten minutes, they pulled up in front of the school.

“O.K., you have your lunch money, right?” Jake was now nervous about being separated from the young girl in a new town.

“Yes...” Raven replied, rolling her eyes at Jake's sudden state of unease.

“Do you want me to come in with you?”

“No. I should be O.K. I think I can handle it”

“All right, then. I'll be here to pick you up at about 4:00. STAY HERE in the school until I get here, O.K.?”

“O.K.” Raven hopped down out of the truck and headed into her new school.




Raven nervously walked down the school hall to her classroom. She glanced down at the piece of paper in her hand and then to the numbers on the door. Room 142. This was only the 2nd week of the new school year and she had already missed the first one because of the move from Chicago.

She was a bit nervous and not quite sure what to expect when she stood in the doorway and lightly knocked on the door to get the teacher's attention.

Warm, green eyes looked up from the roll call book lying open on the desk while a slim hand gently pushed a stray lock of golden hair behind her ear.

“Yes? Can I help you?” the teacher, Amanda Peters asked; her eyes smiling brightly at the child in the doorway.

“Yes, Ma'am. I think this is where I'm supposed to be.” The teacher's eyes got incredibly brighter.

“Oh! Of course! You must be our new student. From Chicago, right?”

“Yes, Ma'am. My name is Raven Stevens.”

The teacher got up from her desk and walked over to the child who, at the moment, looked a little like a deer caught in headlights. Amanda smiled at her which, immediately, put Raven at ease.

“Well, Hello, Raven. It's very nice to meet you. Let me help you to your seat. I'll be your teacher this year. My name is Ms. Peters.”




Jake had gotten home with Raven around 4:30 after picking her up from school. She unlocked the door and Raven ran in before her, up to her room. Jake tossed her keys onto the table by the door and bent over to take off her boots. She walked over to the couch and sat down, laying her head back and closing her eyes. She opened her eyes and looked around the room, groaning at the disorder in front of her.

“I am SO not in the mood for this shit…” she said to no one in particular.

It had been a long, exhausting day. The first day on a new job always was. She had put up with the appreciative glances from all the guys on the crew. Since she was the only woman employed by the company, a few thought they could get away with their lewd comments about her body, surprised and not at all happy when she came back with some very crude remarks of her own.

Standing at just over six feet, Jake had an air of confidence and grace when she walked. The fact that her body was better toned and stronger than at least half of the men on the crew, left more than one of them unnerved. Their condescending tones and pompous attitudes, as they offered to help, were dropped quickly once they realized that she could carry, on her own, what usually took 2 of them. It was definitely an interesting start.

Later after dinner, she took Raven out on the Harley for ice cream. She loved riding. It was her greatest passion and one she only shared with Raven, in memory of the child's father, Ryan.

Ryan was seven years older than Jake but age did not matter between the two. They were the best of friends and always together. Always, that is, until Ryan decided to move to Chicago. Chicago was a LONG way from Mayport, Florida but he was able to transfer to the Chicago Police Department. He claimed he just wanted a change of scenery but, Jake was completely heart-broken. That is, until she had saved enough money to follow after him, much to her father's dismay. Jake couldn't stand to be separated from Ryan any longer so she joined the police academy to follow in his footsteps. She excelled under Ryan's proud, watchful eye.

She had lived in Chicago for all of a year when Raven was born. Ryan had been there for four years by this time and Jake could still remember the look of complete love and adoration on his face as he held his daughter for the first time.

“Ryan, you're not seriously considering naming that child, Raven,
are you?”

“Hell Yeah…” he said as he proudly looked down into tiny blue
eyes that mirrored his own. “Look at that head of hair! Look at how dark it is!”

“What're you going to do if it lightens?”

“Please... You're kidding, right? Look at mine...Look at yours!
That is NOT likely to happen”

Ryan, himself, was a virtual tower at the height of 6'4” with neatly cut “raven” black hair and piercing blue eyes. A strong angular face with a mustache and goatee that Jake LOVED to tease him about. He was without a doubt the most handsome man she knew and she dared anybody to debate that fact. She was so proud of him. Absolutely adored him.

Then, two years later, it seemed like her near perfect world came to a screeching halt when Ryan had been shot during a routine domestic violence call. She was on patrol at the time when the call came through for an officer down, with assistance and backup needed. She was about two miles away and responded when she heard the address.

A chill ran down her spine as she recognized the neighborhood on Ryan's beat. Her worst fear was confirmed when she pulled up at the scene and saw Ryan being put into the back of the ambulance, his shirt crimson with the blood from the gunshot wound.

She screamed his name and ran to his side. Once inside the back of the ambulance, he weakly grabbed her hand and looked at her with eyes that couldn't quite focus on her. Those blue eyes... Raven's eyes.

He closed his eyes and then re-opened them, trying to focus on her face. He pulled at the oxygen mask covering his powerful face, which looked so pale and childlike now. He began to cough once he had removed it enough to talk to her.

“Ryan, leave that on! You need that until we can get you to the hospital. Dammit!!! What in the hell were you thinking? Why weren't you wearing your vest?” Bulletproof vests were a requirement and she couldn't figure out why he wouldn't be wearing his.

“Tracy… safe?” He attempted to ask.

“Tracy? What does Tracy have to do with anything?” Ryan seemed to be so frustrated as he tried to explain.

“Had… to give it to her… Wanted,… her safe. He's…. after her.” Jake couldn't make much sense of what he was trying to tell her.

“Who, Baby…? Ryan, who's after Tracy?”

“Anto…..” A cough stopped the rest of his reply. It was getting harder for him to concentrate. 'Gotta stay focused…' He had to make sure he said everything he needed to before…

“Just hang on, Ryan! PLEASE!!! Just hang on.” Jake had pleaded with him as he coughed uncontrollably, seeming to lose more of his life's blood with each spasm that rocked his body. After the coughs subsided a bit, he managed a weak smile.

“I knew you would come (cough) knew I had to wait…” he managed to get out as tears streamed down Jake's face.

“Shhhh... Lay still and be quiet. You're going to be fine, Ryan” she tried to convince and reassure him with a belief, she herself, did not possess.

“Raven... (cough) you have to take care of my Raven.” He had begun struggling for every pained breath he took into his body. Then, quietly...

“Love...you, Jake...” before he closed his eyes for the last time.

She didn't try to call his name. She didn't try to revive him. There was no point in it.

He was gone.

The one person she loved more than anybody in the world.

A wonderful, loving father.

Her best friend.

HER Ryan...

Her brother.

And for what she swore would be the last time... she cried as the shrill scream of the ambulance sirens cut through the night.




"Well, well, well... lookie what we have here…" a strange voice shook her from her musings and she looked behind her for it's owner. She wasn't happy when she found him. She recognized him immediately as one of the guys from the construction crew, Tony. Two other men accompanied him but Jake did not recognize either one. Tony was a little taller than Jake with long brown hair, almost black in the light, cascading down his back. His eyes were a shade of brown that was anything but warm. He had a strong, muscular build and Jake thought he might actually have been somewhat attractive if he wasn't such an asshole. He seemed… familiar to her somehow.

"Heh, heh... Dyke on a bike." She tightened up hearing this in front of her niece as Raven's arms tightened instinctively around her waist. She patted the child's hand to reassure her that everything would be all right.

"Didn't your mama ever teach you that it was rude to use such language in front of women and children?" Jake answered just as even as possible, showing no signs of fear.

The three laughed at her, steadily moving closer until they were only a few feet away. Close enough for Jake to smell the alcohol they had obviously been drinking.

"Women?..." Tony laughed as if he was completely surprised that the term even came from Jake's lips. He looked to his right and spoke to his friend.

"Hey Mike... you see any women here? Funny, you didn't resemble one too much today! You don't look too tough when you're not dressed like a man, though." He looked at her suggestively.

Jake had an uneasy feeling that she wouldn't be able to just walk away from this. She reached in her pocket for some cash to give to Raven.

"Hey Squirt... you know I really liked that ice cream. What was it... cookie dough? Why don't you go back in and see if they have some that we can take home for later, O.K.?" This said without her eyes ever leaving Tony's.

Raven looked back and forth between her aunt and the man standing now directly in front of her before taking the money, climbing off the bike and heading towards Carvel.

As soon as Raven was gone, they began to closing in like wolves, surrounding their prey. Jake paid special attention to the guy coming up on her left. The one she heard Tony address as “Mike”. She could tell that he had definitely had his share of spirits tonight, if for no other reason than the glazed look in his eyes. He walked with a drunken stagger and was carrying something, which looked like a pipe or a rod of some sort but, with the poor lighting on that side, Jake couldn't tell for sure.

The guy coming up on her right was a hell of a lot more sober than "twinkle-toes" on the left and looked to be about twice her size.

"Easy!" she thought to herself with a cocky air that she had picked up from Ryan. She figured that handling these guys would not be a problem for her.

"O.K. boys, you want to play with me? Let's play..." Jake drawled as she climbed off the bike.

Tony stepped back away from the bike where he had come to stand. He looked back and forth between his two buddies who were now excited by the fact that this woman would put up a fight. He looked at her, taking in her strong, well formed jaw, down her neck where he could see her pulse point, the hollow of her throat and then ...leather. He had noticed the leather jacket on her earlier and now wondered what treasures lay just beneath its surface. She took off the jacket and set it on the bike revealing strong, muscular shoulders. A well defined back and abs to die for. All barely visible through the white of the tank top she was wearing.

"Hell guys...this ain't no woman. She's more like a freak of nature. I dunno, Jim...she could probably even kick YOUR ass.” He now spoke to the guy on his left.

“Well...don't just stand there! GET HER!!!" Tony shouted.

Mike swung the pipe at her head, which she immediately grabbed and stopped. Still holding on, she forced it back towards him, the pipe colliding with his head and rendering him unconscious as her booted foot came up and caught Jim in his chest, effectively knocking the wind out of him. He stumbled back and once he caught his breath, lunged at her again.

"You BITCH!..." she caught him with a perfect roundhouse kick to his face, flinching as she heard the snap.

"Dambit...you bwoke by dose..."

"I'll break more than your nose if you don't stay down!"

He looked up at her as he dropped his hand away from what was left of his nose. He grinned at her and spit directly into her face, blood and a few teeth included.

She released a laugh of her own as she wiped her face.

"Wrong move..." She sweeped his feet out from under him and as he hit the pavement she jabbed two strong, slender fingers into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Jake stood, towering above him and wiping her face once again"

"Don't bother struggling... I just cut off the blood to that gray matter you like to call a brain. Hurts don't it?" She was having fun now.

She walked over to Tony and wiped her blood-stained hand on the front of his white shirt.

"You know he'll die if I don't release that pressure point." She saw the look of disbelief cross over his face before she turned to walk back into Carvel to get Raven.

"O.K. suit yourself..." she called from over her shoulder.

"Wait!" Tony screamed after her. She stopped and turned around to look at him.

"Yes?..."

He practically growled at her. God, how he just wanted to show this bitch that she wasn't as tough as she liked to think she was. But that would have to wait for some other time because of whatever shit she did to Jim. Not to mention that Mike was snoring his ass off right where she dropped him with that pipe. Ferkin' unnatural bitch...

"Well, I'm waiting. I don't have all night and from the look on your friend's face, he doesn't either."

"Let him go from what ever shit you put on him."

Jake smoothly walked over and knelt down next to Jim. She released the pressure point and he immediately gasped for air, crawling over to practically hide behind Tony's legs.

Just then, Raven came walking out of the ice cream store with a police officer and another man following behind her. Jake knew the one guy. It was her boss, Jason.

"Get up, you worthless sack of shit... there's a cop coming" Tony scowled down at Jim. He reached down and grabbed him by the back of his shirt and forcefully hauled him to his feet. He then stalked over to Jake and looked her straight in the eye.

"Don't EVEN think this is over, Bitch. It ain't. Not by a long shot."

"Oh Goody..." she answered growing tired of this petty game now that Raven was coming closer. She could care less about the cop or her boss but, Raven was a different story.

"I'm counting on it!" She said with a most sinister smile on her face.

Raven ran up and threw her arms around her aunt's legs as Jake stood
there with her arms on the child's shoulders, never breaking her stare with Tony.

"Is there a problem here?" Tony immediately recognized the officer as Jason's brother, Steve. Half-brother actually.

"Not a thing Officer Jameson... Just having a nice little chat with a new fellow employee. Nothing out of the ordinary"

Steve knew Tony Galdini and didn't like him one bit. He didn't trust him any further than he could throw him. He turned towards Jake with a questioning look in his eyes.

"Ma'am is this true?"

Jake stared at Tony blankly as she answered.

"Yes Sir... just a nice friendly little chat. We were discussing the unfortunate circumstances of Jim's broken nose. You know, Tony, maybe you should take him to get that looked at. It looks like it's kinda painful"

Raven giggled at this comment. Tony glared down at the young girl. Jake caught his gaze once again and, with her eyes, dared him to so much as even think about saying something to the child.

"I think you're right. It's so unfortunate how these things can happen." He let the threat hang between them for a moment before he couldn't stand it any longer and broke her gaze.

"Oh and Tony..." Steve called behind him causing him to stop and turn around to face the officer.

"Don't forget to pick up your trash on the way out. You know how I hate litter." He motioned towards Mike, still snoring away where he landed near the bike. Not a care in the world. Tony and Jim picked Mike up and carried him away to Tony's car.

As he pulled away, he spared one last long, hard look at her before driving off. The three adults and the one child watched until all they saw of his car were the tail lights.

Steve walked over to stand in front of Jake.

"Hi. Sorry about that Ma'am. He's kind of an as--(noticing Raven looking at him) ah... an idiot."

"I agree...and...it's Jake. I'm not a ma'am. This is Raven. How are you Mr. Peters?" Jake addressed her boss.

"I'm good, Jake but, PLEASE... Mr. Peters was my father. It's nice to meet you Raven." He melodramatically shook the child's hand causing her to laugh and Jake to relax.

"This is my brother Officer Steven B. Jameson..."

"HALF-brother, Thank-you. I'm not claiming relation to you anymore than absolutely necessary."

Raven giggled at the mock arguing between the two and soon Jake found it contagious as she too began to laugh as Steve extended his hand to her.

"It's nice to meet you Jake. And you too, Raven. I must agree with your laugh at my HALF-brother here. I laugh at him too. But, honestly, can you blame me? I mean look at him! Wouldn't you?"

"Hey...! Whadaya mean?" Raven was practically in tears by this point just watching the two.

"Just what do you mean...`look at him'? Are you trying to insinuate that I'm as hideous looking as YOU?" This being said with a grin that reached from one side of Jason's face to the other. Actually, if truth be known, neither of them were lacking in the looks department, by any means.

Officer Steven B. Jameson. Five foot ten. Short dark brown hair and brown eyes. DARK brown eyes but, unlike Tony's, his were warm. Sun-tanned skin. He looked fairly young. Maybe... late twenties, early thirties. He had a northern accent... New Jersey, maybe.

Jason stood at around five foot nine with short light brown hair with the top highlighted blonde. Most likely from the sun. Brown eyes as well but not quite as dark as his brother's. He also differed from his brother in the fact that no accent was present. He had quite a muscular body for his compact frame and a very gentle and charming way about him that automatically made anyone around him feel comfortable. At work, Jake noticed, as long as you did your job... you were all right. At first, however she wasn't quite sure what to make of him.

She recalled their first meeting a week earlier. She had found him in the Foreman's trailer on this new site downtown. She had already spoken to him on the phone before she moved herself and Raven here from Chicago. He had sounded o.k. on the phone but as she neared the trailer door, she could hear his voice raised but no one else's. Obviously someone was getting a MAJOR ass chewing over the phone. As soon as she heard the slam of the phone, she knocked on the door.

"Yeah... what is it?" was the reply. She opened the door and
stepped inside.

"Mr. Peters?"

"Yes. And you are...?"

"I'm Jake Stevens. I spoke to you on the phone. From Chicago."

His eyes lit in recognition as he recalled their conversation on the phone.

"Of course! Please, sit down. Can I get you some coffee?"

"No thanks. I'm fine" Jake answered politely.

"Yes you are"
Jason thought to himself as he got up to fix himself
a cup of coffee. He turned around to address her and found himself staring at her back as she took off her jacket and placed it on the back of the chair.

He had had his doubts after speaking to her on the phone about hiring a woman to work on his construction crew. Not because he didn't think a woman could do the work but more because he wondered how well a woman could handle herself with HIS crew. From the looks of the clearly visible muscles in this woman's back and shoulders through her t-shirt, she could take care of herself.

Jake looked around the trailer while her soon to be boss fixed his coffee. She noticed the blueprints and CAD drawings for the site they were building strewn across the room, tacked up on the walls.

Everything was a virtual mess in the room. There were only two things in order in this office. One being a NY Knicks team poster, autographed and neatly framed, hanging on the wall. Not a spot of dust on it unlike some other items in here. She could make out the scribbled signatures of Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, Allan Houston, Charlie Ward and Patrick Ewing. Obviously a prized possession. The other: another picture frame with several pictures neatly organized underneath the glass. As she looked closer she could see a small, smiling child with light brown hair and sparkling green eyes grinning at the camera. She didn't look to be more than about two years old. She noticed several other photos as well. One of what she assumed to be the same child being held by an extremely happy young man with long blonde hair past his shoulders. The closer she looked the more she realized that it was Mr. Peters.

"Cute kid." She said to him as he sat back down behind his desk.

"Thanks! That's my daughter. She's two. The frame was a present
from my ex-wife for my birthday a few months ago. Do you have any kids, Ms. Stevens?"

"My niece moved here with me from Chicago." she answered as she
cringed inwardly at the formal way he addressed her. He nodded and then took a sip of his coffee before he sat back in his chair. As he locked his fingers together, Jake noticed two tattoos. One on his right bicep, which appeared to be a music note and one around his right wrist, that she couldn't identify.

"Look Ms. Stevens..." he began but was cut off.

"Please call me Jake."

"...Jake. You see, Jake, I've only hired one woman to work for me
before. She lasted all of three days and she wasn't even on the crew. She worked in the office here. Things get said around here that sound pretty harsh and aren't always very polite."

Jake didn't need long to come up with her reply.

"O.K. now YOU listen here, Mr. Peters, I worked for a construction company for the last five and a half years in Chicago. I've heard every snide remark that could possibly be made and I guarantee you that some of the things I heard there are FAR worse than anything your crew could say here in Norfolk. I'm still here so, obviously, I handled it just fine."

"Can you dish it out as well as you can take it?" he asked after
a moment's pause to consider what she had just said.

Jake stood up and placed her hands on his desk before leaning over and looking him straight in the eyes.

"Lets just say that I know when to be quiet but, I also know when to bite back" They both remained right where they were. Neither willing to break the eye contact and give up first. Jason paused for a moment before replying.

"Can you start on Monday?" Jake backed off and they both visibly relaxed.

"Yes, sir"

"Bring your own tools and I'll see you Monday morning at 8AM. I'm sure you'll want to take care of things with your niece. The following week, though, be here by 7AM. Welcome aboard." He held out his hand to her which she grasped in a firm handshake.

"Thank-you" she replied before putting on her jacket and walking out the door.

Raven's coughing brought her away from her memories. She looked down at the child in concern until she noticed that she was only coughing from laughing too hard at Jason and Steve who were still bickering like a couple of teenagers. The more she watched the more she realized that they were doing this because Raven was laughing at them. Jake was curious and decided to break up this little party.

"Ahem... Excuse me for interrupting but why were you two with my niece?" They both turned to look at her when Raven answered.

"I saw the policeman in the ice-cream store when you told me to go and get some more cookie dough. So I told him that there were some bad men out here looking at you funny. He was worried and wanted to get out here but, I told him that you could beat `em all up without even breathing hard. And by the time we got out here, I guess you had `cause
one was breathing funny and one was snoring and umph..." Jake covered Raven's mouth with her hand which caused Jason and Steve to chuckle.

"O.K. Squirt, I think I've got the picture now and I'm sure the nice policeman does too." This caused Steve to grin at her.

"Don't worry. I didn't hear or see a thing. I'm just glad you obviously know how to take care of yourself. I've known that guy for a couple of years now and he's NOT good news." Jake met his eyes with a look that told him she meant what she was saying.

"Neither am I. At least for him if he gets in my way."

Jason looked at her and shook his head before saying anything. As soon as she noticed him, he spoke.

"I guess you proved your point." Jake shifted from one foot to the other and placed one hand on her hip.

"Oh yeah? What's that?" Jason let her wonder for a moment before he walked past her and clamped a hand down on her shoulder. The only reason Jake didn't deck him on the spot, was because she saw it coming. And there was a cop standing there watching her who just so happened to be his brother. And he was her boss...o.k. so there were a few reasons.

"When you told me you knew when to bite back." His eyes sparkled as he smiled at her. She grinned back.

"Goodnight, Jake. I'll see you at work in the morning." Jason then grabbed Raven's hand and kissed the back of it causing the child to giggle at him.

"And a goodnight to you Ms. Raven. Fair thee well" Jason then grabbed Steve by the front of his uniform shirt and started to pull him back towards the ice-cream shop.

"Come on flat-foot...there's some chocolate chip calling my name." Jake started the bike and handed Raven her helmet. She started to ride away when a question popped into her head and she pulled around in front of the two before they made it all the way to the door.

"Officer Jameson, I just have one question..." Steve looked at Jason and then at her.

"Yes?"

"Since when is the norm ice-cream? I thought cops did donuts!?" Steve dropped his jaw as Jason practically doubled over laughing before Jake grinned at them both and drove off into the night.





Chapter Two
…"Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin"…

Amanda went back to her classroom to pack up her briefcase after she had made sure all of her students made it onto their bus or into their parent's car. It was not something she had to do but it made her feel better to do it and she was sure most of the parents appreciated it as well. She had her own concerns as a mother. Even though it would be quite sometime before Gellar was even ready to go to school.

Gellar. Mandy's two-year-old daughter. The joy of her life and the apple of her father's eye. Everyone was so disappointed when their marriage didn't work out. Everyone, that is, except for Mandy and Jason. She was happy that they remained close after the divorce. After, all, they were best friends. They had known each other since Mandy was four and they had grown up together. That was one of the only reasons they even decided to get married in the first place. Everyone expected them to. They were “the happy little couple”. When they finally grew tired of listening to everyone else and decided to live their own lives, they talked about divorce. Little did either of them know, the day they filed for divorce would change their lives forever. And, for the better. Strangely enough, the day they filed for divorce was the day Mandy found out she was pregnant with Gellar.

Amanda made sure everything was in order and locked up her classroom. On her way out to her car, she ran into Stephanie, a fellow teacher and one of her closest friends.

“Hey girl! How's your class going?” Stephanie asked as she easily fell into stride with her friend.

“It's going o.k. God, I can't believe it's already been a month since school started. How are things going with you?”

“ Same shit, different year. No actually it's been going pretty well. A few problem children that I'd like to hang from the shoestrings of their Reeboks but, other than that...”

Mandy laughed at her friend. They had gone to college together and were ecstatic when they realized they would be teaching at the same school.

“So tell me Red... how's that little angel of yours?”

“She's fine. She's with Jason's mom and DON'T call me "Red"! I do NOT have red hair!”

Now it was Stephanie's turn to laugh at her friend. She loved to get her riled up. Mandy could be quite the little spit-fire when she wanted to.

“Yeah, yeah... I know, 'strawberry-blonde'... same difference.”
She turned to look at Mandy before a huge grin lit up her face. She winked at Mandy causing her to blush and playfully slap her on the arm.

“Eph...I swear, I don't know how in the hell Pat puts up with you. You are so bad!!!”

They had reached the parking lot by this time and “Eph” had walked Mandy to her car. Mandy was actually the first person to call her “Eph”. They had roomed together in college and Mandy immediately began calling her “Eph”, stating that “Steph” was over-rated and too often used.

“Pony puts up with me just fine and you know she'd have your butt in a sling if she heard you call her that” Mandy simply grinned at her friend.

“Oh Eph... that's why I do it!” She unlocked the door to her Mustang and got in.

“I swear girl... sometimes I wonder `bout you. I still say you're not the straight arrow you try to make everyone think you are. Wow! I LOVE the new wheels!” Eph ran her hands appreciatively over the new car.

“I know. Isn't it great? I still wanted to get the convertible but Jason had a fit. I can see his point though. A convertible wouldn't be a very wise choice for transportation when you have a two-year-old. I really like this one though. Granted, I'll be in debt `till I'm 50 but other than that...”

“You are too much, girl. Hey, Pony and I were gonna stop by and grab a beer. You wanna join us?”

“Yeah. That sounds good. I don't have to pick Gellar up from Claudia's. Jason's going by there for dinner after work and said he'd bring her home.” Mandy started the engine of the car.

“O.K. Let me drive around back and pick up Pony and you can follow us out”

Eph and Pony had been together for the last four years. They met the first year Eph and Mandy began teaching. Pony was the physical education teacher at the elementary school. She stood at about five feet, nine inches with straight dark brown hair that hung past her shoulders. She had light brown eyes with just a hint of gray. Her real name, Patricia, was a name that was never used unless you were looking to start a fight. Everyone called her “Pony” instead. No one knows where it came from exactly and no one dared to ask.

She had been instantly attracted to Eph. Eph was just a couple of inches shorter than Pony with long curly blonde hair and hazel eyes. The two complimented each other well and Mandy was surprised that they were successful at keeping their relationship away from work.

Once Pony was in the car they were on their way.




Laughter could be heard as soon as the door to the bar was opened. The guilty party was sitting around a table near the back wall behind the pool tables. Two pitchers of beer had disappeared. Most of it consumed but a great deal of it from spilling off the side of the table as one very happy and very inebriated Eph hit the table. She had been laughing at the antics of her friend and her partner for well over an hour.

“So THAT'S how you got the name? I... (giggle) I mean...(laugh) That's just so...” Mandy couldn't even form her response, let alone finish it. They had loosened up enough after the first pitcher of beer to discuss how Pony got her name. This is part of the reason why the majority of the second pitcher was now on the table and floor. Either from being knocked over from hitting the table or spit from the mouths of the two listening in.

“Yeah, yeah, you two. Go on. Laugh it up.” Eph and Mandy looked at each other for a brief moment and then busted out laughing. Pony just shook her head and drank down the last of her beer. She glanced up at the two women looking back at her, trying to hide their laughter before winking at each one.

“...Ride me.” Pony winked at them both once again. Mandy laughed so hard that she inhaled most of her beer through her nose causing Eph to spit her beer across the table. Mandy laughed at Eph and slapped the table several times causing the death of the beer as the pitcher hit the floor.

All three women sitting around the table became very quiet.

“You two are CUT OFF!! Sheesh, I can't take you two anywhere can I? You can dress `em up but you can't take `em out” Pony said with a twinkle in her eye that belied the fact that she was just as amused with this as Eph and Mandy.

“So, Mandy,... when's Jason supposed to drop off Gellar?” Eph asked after she dried her eyes and drank what was left of the beer in her glass after signaling to the waitress for another pitcher.

Mandy cleared her throat and checked her pager to make sure she had no messages.

“He's going to page me before he leaves his mother's house. He'll bring her home then.”

“Well... be sure to tell “Mr. Thing” I said 'Hello and Kiss-Kiss'. You already know to kiss that little angel for me.”

Eph thought about the time she had spent with Mandy and Jason in college. The three of them had lived together after Mandy and Jason got married. Money had been tight on all three of them and since Mandy and Eph had been sharing a small apartment anyway, it just seemed logical for Jason to move in with them, which would cut the cost of living for all three of them. Jason was trying to get his construction business going so it had helped out a lot. She wasn't the least bit surprised when Mandy told her they were getting a divorce. She had been close to both of them, and although she was positive that they loved each other, she was also just as positive that they weren't IN love with each other. She knew that they had just gone along with what everyone expected of the two of them. She honestly thought the world of Jason and was pleased that the feeling was mutual.

“So tell me Mandy, how are your classes going this year?” Pony broke the brief moment of silence between the three of them. She looked apologetically at the waitress who brought the pitcher of beer over and wiped the table down. Pony decided that whether they finished this pitcher by drinking it, spitting it or spilling it, it was their last.

“Pretty good actually, not bad at all. I really like some of my students. I swear, there's this one little girl - a virtual scholastic sponge! She's actually caught a couple of MY mistakes. She's a very delightful child though...”

Pony considered this information for a moment, as she poured herself another beer.

“Yeah? Which one?” Pony asked, pretty sure she knew the answer to her own question all ready. She watched as Mandy emptied her glass before answering, and declined another refill from Eph, who was more than happy to finish the new pitcher herself.

“Her name is Raven... Raven Stevens. God, she's such a bright child”

“Yeah... I know which kid you're talking about... dark hair, blue eyes, she does seem like a smart kid,” Pony added, knowing instantly who Mandy was referring to.

Just then, Mandy's pager went off. She glanced down and noticed that the number was from Jason's mother.

“Well, sorry to cut this short but, motherhood calls. That's Jason. Thanks for the company and I'll see you guys later.” Mandy hugged her friends good-bye and threw some money down on the table to cover her portion of the bar tab and tip.




She waited till she was in her car and on the way home before calling Jason back. A very pleasant voice answered two rings later.

“Hello?”

“Hi Mom...it's Mandy.” Mandy was glad to hear her former mother-in-law's voice. She was relieved after the divorce was final between her and Jason that her relationship didn't seem to change with her in-laws.

“Amanda!!! Honey, how are you? I thought you were going to come by and see us? We've missed you, Dear”

“I know...I'm sorry. I've just been so busy with the new school year. I'll try and make it by this weekend. Is Jason around?”

“Of course... just a minute...” Mandy could hear Mrs. Peters calling her son to the phone. She could hear his heavy footsteps as he walked into the kitchen to answer the phone.

“Mandy?”

“Hi Jase... I'm on my way to the apartment. How was your dinner?”

“Dinner was GREAT! Mom made lasagna. She's sending me home with a plate for you. Gellar's asleep on the couch so, I'll get her and bring her on home. Mom and Rob took her shopping so don't be surprised when I walk in with a cranky child and an armload of bags”

Mandy had to laugh at this as she turned onto her street and soon after, pulled into her driveway.

“Awww... your mom is sweet. Be sure to give her a hug and kiss for me. I just pulled up so I'll see you soon. I'll leave the door unlocked for you.” She could hear the protests from her daughter as Jason picked her up.

“You mean you're not gonna help me with all this stuff?” He was answered with a laugh.

“Hell NO!!! You're the man so YOU can do it all by yourself!”

An idea popped into his head.

“Well, you know...I could always just leave this plate of lasagna in the truck and take it home with me. I'm sure it would be great re-heated tomorrow for lunch.”

Mandy growled her reply. Deep down, she knew he would do no such thing. She walked up onto her front porch and unlocked the front door. She placed her briefcase and purse next to the door. She sighed into her cell phone as she agreed to help once he got there. She knew she would anyway but she just loved to give her ex a hard time whenever the opportunity arose.

“O.K. Jason... I'll see you soon, o.k.? I'm gonna put some coffee on so just come on in and then we'll wrestle those bags o.k.?”

“O.K. I'll see you in a bit. Bye”

“Bye. Be Careful” The click of the phone being hung up was her answer. But, she knew she didn't need to worry. Jason absolutely ADORED his daughter. She knew, without a doubt, that Jason would be more than careful.

Mandy turned off her cell phone and walked into the kitchen and started a fresh pot of coffee. She sat down at her kitchen table and just relaxed a bit while she waited on Jason to get there with Gellar. She had custody of the two-year old but Jason knew that all he had to do was call and he could spend as much time with his daughter as he liked. Jason was an excellent father who spent as much time as he could with Gellar. Before Mandy even realized it, she had nodded off at the table. The sound of the front door opening and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee woke her. She got up and met Jason and Gellar in the living room. She walked over to the two of them and placed a kiss on his cheek before she took Gellar, who had fallen back asleep during the drive home.

“Awww... poor thing must be completely wiped after shopping with Grandma all day.”

“Hey,... I'm completely wiped and all I did was carry all the stuff they bought her. Why don't you take Shorty to bed and I'll bring everything in.”

“No Way!!! You are NOT getting MY plate of lasagna... you've already had your share.” She stated with a grin as she headed towards the back of the house to Gellar's room.

Jason laughed at this. If there was one thing that he knew not to argue with his ex-wife about, it was her appetite.

“I won't try to take it from you. I know better so give me a little bit of credit, 'kay? Go on... I'll be right back in.”

Mandy walked into her daughter's room carrying her precious cargo. She very gently removed her jacket. She changed her diaper and put her favorite Pooh pajamas on her. She kissed her daughter, softly on her forehead and then placed her into her crib. Mandy took one last glance at Gellar before turning on her baby monitor and heading back into the kitchen.

The wonderful aroma of what she knew to be her mother-in-law's lasagna greeted her. Jason had warmed up her dinner and had it set on the table waiting for her. She sat down with the biggest grin she could manage plastered to her face.

“YOU, Jason, are a doll!” Everything else was soon forgotten as she devoured the food in front of her.




After enjoying her dinner and washing her dishes, Mandy and Jason sat down in her living room to enjoy their coffee while she graded the quiz she had given to her class that day.

“Well, I'm glad Pony and Eph are doing well. So THAT'S how she got the name “Pony”? That is TOO damn funny. It seems to fit her. It makes sense to me now” Jason couldn't help but giggle after hearing about the explanation and the antics of the evening.

“Yeah, it does, doesn't it? I felt so bad for that poor waitress who came over and cleaned up that beer.”

“Well, I hope you guys left her a good tip at least...” Jason commented while taking a sip of his coffee.

“Don't worry, we did. So, how's work going? And how's Steve?”

“Steve is great. Looking forward to becoming a Daddy. He's so hyper. I hope, at least for the kid's sake, that it looks like Kristen." Jason laughed, thinking about the constant ribbing between he and his oldest sibling. Mandy playfully slapped him on his arm in defense of her beloved brother-in-law. Even though her and Jason were no longer married, she still considered his brothers and mother as her family.

"You behave, Jason. You know damn well that your brother is good-looking."

"Well, not to ME, he's not. Work is coming along o.k. You know we picked up the contract for some of the new additions to the mall downtown, right?”

“Really? That's great! You're definitely moving up. I'm so happy for you,
Jason. If anybody deserves it, it's you. So, are you still dating what's her name?” Mandy didn't really like Jason's girlfriend. She seemed a little too phony for her tastes.

Jason almost choked on his coffee at the question. If truth be known, he wasn't too fond of Christie either.

“Christie? No way... we broke up weeks ago. So, I'm single again, Thank
God!!! I should have listened to you when you told me what a moron she was... She definitely gave new definition to the term, 'dumb-blond'. How 'bout you? Anyone special?” Mandy looked at him like he had two heads.

“Me?!?! No way... Besides, I'm to busy with school. However, as soon as Tall, Dark and Amazing shows up on my door step, you'll be the second to know!” She grinned at him with a mischievous gleam in her green eyes. At Mandy's description, one person came to Jason's mind.

“You know, Mandy... you just amaze me... it seems to me that you only date people with blonde hair and brown eyes,...like me for example, but you worship people with dark hair and blue eyes... And you know, I know JUST the perfect one for you...Jake!”

“For your information, my dear ex, first of all, I didn't date you...I married you... BIG difference. Second, you know I hate it when you try to set me up.”

Jason just knew his instincts were right this time though. He knew a little more about Mandy than she would ever admit. He knew things about her that she had not yet admitted to herself. He just looked at her, knowing if he just sat there and stared at her, she would actually ask to know more, for curiosity's sake. After a heartbeat's hesitation, she did just that.

“So who is Jake? Some new guy on your crew?” Jason barely stifled a giggle and thanked any god who cared to listen that Mandy didn't notice.

“You could say that... been working for me for about a month. DAMN fine worker. Does the normal work of at least two other guys. Hmmm...what else,... about six feet tall, long black hair, bright blue eyes...” Mandy was beginning to get interested as Jason told her about this “Jake” person so he decided not to mention the fact that Jake was a woman right away. He had hung out with Jake a couple of times since she began working for him. The occasional beer after work. It didn't take him long to figure out that she was actually a lesbian. Jake wasn't quite sure what to think at first until Jason assured her that he had no problem with this fact and would keep it to himself. “Well... KIND OF to myself” he thought as he looked over at his ex-wife.

“O.K. Jason, you've got me interested. Maybe you can invite Jake out the next time the band plays.” Mandy, Jason and Steve had played in the same band together since Steve moved to Virginia from New Jersey several years earlier. Steve played guitar, Jason played bass and Mandy sang lead vocals. They also had their drummer, Annie. They played at some of the local bars. Mostly covers of what you would hear everyday on the radio but, they had a few of their own songs as well, written by Steve and Jason.

“Yeah, maybe... "

Mandy finished grading her quizzes and began looking at the outfits bought for her daughter.

"Oh, Jason, These are just TOO cute! I can't believe your mother bought her little Doc Martins." Jason smiled at his ex. From the way she was acting, anyone would have thought that everything had been bought for her.

"Yep. Just like Daddy's!" He stated proudly. Mandy looked at him wide-eyed as if waiting on him to complete a thought.

"AND Mommy's! So, who's this Rob guy? You've mentioned him before, I think. What's the scoop?" She carefully folded everything for the baby and placed it in a neat little pile at the end of the couch.

"He's Mom's new boyfriend. It's so weird, you know? I'm just so used to seeing her with Dad." Mandy grabbed Jason's hand and waited for him to look at her. She knew this was a touchy subject for him. Jason and his father were very close.

"Jason, It's been two years. I know it's hard and I know you miss your Dad. I miss him, too. But, you have to realize that he would want your mom to be happy." Jason took a deep breath as he looked over into bright green.

"I know. It's just gonna take some getting used to, I guess. He's actually not a bad guy. He seems to be real good to Mom and he simply adores Gellar. As a matter of fact, I think he picked out the Docs." Jason informed her with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Well see? There you go! He can't be too bad if he likes Doc Martins. He's obviously got good taste; he's dating your mom."

"Yeah, you're right. I think he's retired Navy."

"Well, I'd like to meet him if you think it's ok. Maybe all of us could get together for dinner or something!"

"Yeah, maybe. But, right now, I need to head on home. Kiss my little princess for me.” Jason stood up and headed into the kitchen where he deposited his coffee cup into the sink. He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and put it on as Mandy walked him to the door. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks for the coffee and... thanks for the talk. I think I really needed it." Mandy reached up and hugged him.

"You're very welcome. You can talk to me anytime. About anything. You know that. We'll always be best friends, right?" Jason smiled at her. She's right... we always will be...

"Right. Take care and I'll see you soon. And...I'll talk to Jake about coming to hear us play in a couple of weeks.”

“You do that. See ya, Jase...” Mandy laughed and shook her head as she shut the door and locked it behind him.




Amanda stood up in front of her class finishing up the day's lesson before the bell rang to signal the end of the school day. She passed out a note to all of her students for them to take home to their parents. The bell rang just as she finished handing out the notice to the last row.

“O.K. guys... This is a note I need you to take home to your parents. Please have them sign it, and return it to me tomorrow. As you all have heard by now, there will be no school for you next Friday. It's a parent-teachers conference day. I need these returned so I can schedule a time to speak to each of your parents on your progress so far this year.” A collective groan could be heard throughout the classroom as well as the sound of all the students in the halls, going home. Mandy grinned at her class.

“Hey... no groaning. You guys aren't doing that bad. O.K., Go on, get out of here. I'll see you tomorrow.” The students wasted no time getting out of their seats and heading toward their school buses. All except for one... Raven.

Mandy looked up from her seat at her desk.

“Is something wrong, Raven? Do you need to speak with me?”

“No ma'am... Everything's fine. My aunt had to work late today and so I was wondering if I could wait in here until she gets here.”

Mandy smiled at the child.

“Of course you may, Honey. I'll tell you what, let me go make sure everyone gets out of here safely, and I'll be right back. Maybe you can help me go over tomorrow's lessons.” Raven's eyes actually brightened at the thought.

She really liked Ms. Peters. She had a way of explaining things so she and the rest of the students could easily understand and remember. Raven actually found herself doing much better in school, not that she was ever a bad student but she actually looked forward to going to school now.

“Will you be all right in here by yourself for a few minutes?”

“Yes ma'am. I'll just start on my homework” Mandy smiled again before
walking out the door to check on the rest of her students.

Raven brought out her notebook and her math book and began on her least favorite subject. She always chose to do her math homework first so she could get it over and done with. As she was trying to get the hang of this fraction thing, Mandy walked back in the room. She noticed the confused and determined look on her pupil's face immediately.

“How's it coming along? Any trouble?”

“Ms. Peters, I don't think I'll ever get the hang of how fractions work. I just don't understand them.” Mandy brought a can of Pepsi over to the young girl that she had gotten when she stopped in the teacher's lounge to get some coffee. Raven looked up and smiled at her teacher before taking the offered soda from her hands. Mandy went to the back of the classroom and grabbed a few items out of the cabinet in the corner before returning to Raven's desk. She sat down next to the child with an empty egg carton and a bag of jellybeans.

“Thank you for the soda. What's that stuff for?” Raven asked as she eyed the bag of jellybeans.

“You're welcome. Your parents won't mind will they?” Mandy wished she could have taken back the question when she noticed the sad look in Raven's blue eyes.

“No Ma'am. They're dead. My mom died before I was a year old and my dad died when I was two. I never really had a chance to know them and don't remember them but, sometimes when I see pictures of my dad, I think I remember him. I live with my aunt. She's kind of my mom and my dad. She's cool. I've lived with her for as long as I can remember.” Mandy smiled as she listened to the child talk about her beloved aunt.

“I think my grandpa lives around here somewhere. That's one of the reasons we moved here. He used to be in the Navy and the last we heard, he decided to stay here after he retired. That would be kinda cool. To see my grandpa. So to answer your question, no. I don't think my parents would mind the soda and I know my aunt won't. I'm allowed one soda a day.” She smiled at her teacher as she waited for a reaction. The only one she received was a warm, genuine smile to answer her own.

“So, what are the eggs and jellybeans for?” Mandy laughed.

“There's no eggs in here. It's empty. See? I'm going to teach you how to do fractions the same way I learned how o.k.? First of all, open the bag of jellybeans and take out... oh, say...twenty.” Raven did as she was told. She opened up the bag and took out the requested amount of jellybeans, still not sure of where this was leading.

“O.K., Raven. How many eggs were in this carton?”

“Uhmm,...six”

“Right, now we're only going to use four of theses spaces though, o.k.? Now you can use this little exercise to help with multiplication and division too. How many jelly beans do you have?”

Raven counted them again just to make sure she had twenty of them.

“Twenty”

“O.k. now remember we're only going to use four spaces in the egg carton. Now, place one jellybean in each of the four spaces. Once you do that, add another jellybean in each until your hand is empty.” Raven did as Mandy instructed until her hand was empty.

“O.K. Raven, good. Now, we have four spaces with jellybeans in each one. How many jellybeans are in each space?” Raven counted them and finally began to see where this was heading. She answered with a gleam in her eyes as she started to understand.

“Five.”

“O.K. and how many did you have to start with?”

“Twenty!”

“O.K. so, answer this for me, what is one fourth of twenty?”

“Five?”

“Right!! One fourth of twenty is five. One fifth of twenty is four...” Raven then cut in with a realization of her own.

“And if you said that this works with multiplication and division too, that means twenty divided by four is five and five times four is twenty! Right?” Mandy smiled at her student and how quickly she caught on.

“Exactly! So, next time you have trouble, you can imagine this little trick to help you out and it helps with your homework believe me. I drove my parents crazy buying me jellybeans for about three weeks. I used to take the eggs out of the carton and just put them back in the refrigerator. When my mom would open the door, they'd all fall on the floor and break. And you know what the best part about using this little exercise to help you?” Raven arched an eyebrow at her teacher as she waited for her to answer.

“You get to eat the jellybeans when you're done!” They both giggled as they shared the jellybeans in the egg carton. Just then a nasal sounding voice came over the classroom intercom.

“Ms. Peters?”

“Yes?”

“Please inform Raven Stevens that her aunt is here in the office to pick her up.”

“O.K. Thank-you. So, you all set now? Think you can figure out the rest of your homework from here?” She helped Raven with her coat and walked her to the door.

“Yes ma'am. Thank you. For the soda and jellybeans. And thanks for
helping me. It makes a lot more sense now.”

“You're welcome, Raven. I'll see you tomorrow.” Then she watched
until she saw Raven enter the main office at the end of the hall.




“So, how was school today, squirt?” Jake asked her niece as she drove the short distance from the school to their house.

“It was o.k. I started on my homework while I waited for you and my teacher helped me figure out how to do fractions.”

“Good. Where'd you get the soda?”

“Ms. Peters. She brought it back for me when she came back from watching the school buses.”

“Watching the school buses? Why does she do that?”

“Oh, at the end of each day, she stands outside and watches to make sure everyone gets on their buses or in their parent's cars o.k. She's really nice.”

“Hmmm, she sounds like it. Do you like her?”

“Yeah.” Jake turned down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the house.

“Oh! Can we stop at the store and get some jellybeans before we go home?” Raven asked as Jake arched an eyebrow.

“Jellybeans?”




Jake and Raven cleared the kitchen table together and started on the dishes after they had finished with dinner. Jake washed and put them into the dish drainer as Raven dried them and put them away with a little help from a stepping stool Jake had built for her to reach the cabinets and shelves that were too high for her.

“So that's what the jellybeans were for? That's a pretty good idea. She sounds like a pretty nice teacher. I'm glad you like her.”

“Yeah. She's really nice. Can you get off work for a bit next Friday?” Jake looked down at her niece.

“I don't know. Why? You get in trouble at school or something?” She jokingly asked as she grabbed the towel from Raven and snapped her lightly with it.

“Oww... NO, silly, there's a parent-teacher conference day or something and all the parents go talk to the teachers. There's no school that day so, I get a day off! AND a three-day weekend. I have a note about it in my book bag that you need to sign so I can take it back tomorrow.”

Jake thought about it for a moment. She supposed it would be a good idea for her to meet Raven's teacher but the problem wasn't getting off work for an hour or so but what she could do with Raven during the day since she didn't have to go to school. Oh boy, she thought. I can't just leave her by herself.

“I'll see what I can do, kiddo.”




Jake made her way to Jason's office. It was lunchtime so she knew that would be the best place to look to find her boss. She knocked on his door.

“Come in” Jake walked into the office, shut the door and sat down across from Jason.

“Hiya, Jake. What's up? Still having any trouble with Tony?” Jake all but growled at the mention of the asshole she, unfortunately, worked with, who had confronted her a few weeks earlier outside of the ice cream shop.

“Other than the occasional crude comment and evil stare that make me want to rip his eyes out, he hasn't said too much. Otherwise, I'm fine. I didn't mean to disturb your lunch but I was wondering if I could possibly have next Friday off.” Jason put down his sandwich.

“It's o.k. I don't think it'll be a problem. Do you mind if I ask why?” Jake smiled a lopsided smile at him.

“Nothing major but, there's a parent-teacher conference day at my niece's school. Not only should I attend it but, there's no school for the students that day and Raven's only eight so I can't leave her by herself all day.” Jason seemed to consider this for a moment.

“Well, of course you can have the time off but what if I could recommend someone to watch her for you? If you'd like, you can still work that day and have the time off to go to your niece's school.”

“That's nice of you to offer, Jason. But, I don't know anyone here well enough to leave Raven with them.” She answered him honestly.

“Well, she's a very nice woman. Loves kids and watches my baby daughter everyday. My mother.” Jake shook her head, not quite sure what she thought of the offer.

“Well, Jason, that's a very nice offer and I'm sure your mother is a wonderful woman but I wouldn't want to impose on her.”

“Well, how about I give her a call and see what she says. Will that make it easier on you?” Jake shrugged her shoulders.

“Uhhh,... yeah I suppose. If you don't mind” Jason was all ready dialing the phone to speak with his mother. Jake could obviously only hear one side of the conversation.

“Hi Mom... I'm fine how are you?... Good... She's sleeping?... Well, I was wondering if you could help me out with something. I have an employee here who needs someone to watch her kid for her next Friday?... Yeah, no school and she can't leave her all day... She's eight... Uh-huh... Her name is Jake… Yeah… Oh, her name's Raven... Yep, I've told you about Jake... Really? You will?...Cool... Well, during the day, mostly and into the evening if that's o.k...” Jason noticed the questioning look he was receiving from Jake.

“Yes, we are playing next Friday...That's right...That's why I was asking about the evening...Great...I'll see you tonight when I come by to get the munchkin... O.K. Bye, Mom.” He hung up the phone before turning to Jake who still had the same questioning glare on her face.”

“All set. She said she'd be happy to do it.”

“That's great but, what's this about 'into the evening'?”

“Well, my band is playing next Friday and I was wondering if you would be interested in coming to hear us play? Steve will be there as well as my ex-wife.” Both of Jake's eyebrows found their way rather quickly into her hairline.

“Your ex-wife?”

“Oh yeah... she's great. She's the singer, Steve plays guitar and I play bass. We'll be done by midnight and Mom said she'd be more than happy to watch Raven for you if you'd like to go. So, How about it?”

Jake took a moment to consider before answering.

“Where at?” Jason couldn't wait to hear the reply to this one.

“Hershe's Corral.” He said with more than a hint of amusement in his tone.

“Your band is playing in the area's most popular lesbian bar? I might not have lived in town long but I have heard of that bar” Jason couldn't help but laugh at her.

“Yeah... It pays good and between my ex and our drummer, Annie, the women don't seem to mind a couple of guys playing as long as Mandy and Annie are around. So will you go?”

Jake considered it for only a moment before deciding that maybe she did need to get out a bit more.

“O.k. Jason, I'm there.”




Part 2


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  Revised: September 1, 2000