by Carrie Ryan
Copyright 2000

"…You came along... You pulled me up when I was down
The way you made me feel just took me by surprise...
Let your spirit move me…" 

Chapter Five

Jake went to the Foreman's trailer on her lunch break. Jason had sent word that he needed to talk to her. She knocked on the door and waited for the reply to enter.

Jason was sitting behind his desk, going over the plans for a new site.

"Hey Jake. Come on in. Have a seat. Can I get you some coffee?"

"No thanks. I'm good." she replied as she sat down across from her boss. "What's up?"

"Well. I needed to talk to you about a couple of things." He folded up the prints he had been reviewing a moment earlier and leaned forward in his chair.

"I have to leave to go out of town on tomorrow morning. I know it's short notice but, we just got the confirmation on a new contract in Richmond. I'm going to be taking a crew with me. They want us ready to start on Monday and there's a lot I need to get done there before hand."

"And... you need me to go?" She asked, hesitantly.

"Actually, I need you to stay here and take care of this site. I'm sticking Tony on the Richmond crew with me because I want things to go as smoothly as possible here. Once this site is done, we start on that new bank branch office in Virginia Beach. I need somebody I can trust to take care of this." Jake sat in her chair stunned at the amount of trust her boss had just placed in her along with the responsibility he had laid at her feet.

"Wow... Thanks, Jason. I feel honored that you have that much faith in me. I won't let you down."

"I know you won't, Jake. That's why I chose you. I think hiring you was the smartest thing I've ever done for this company. Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Now... on a personal level. Could you keep an eye on Mandy and Gellar for me? I'm not sure how long I'll have to stay in Richmond. Hours there are going to be kinda crazy and I'm not sure how often I'll be able to drive back and forth two hours each way." Jason did not miss the smile that crossed Jake's face at the mention of his daughter and ex-wife.

"No problem. I spoke to your mother and she's going to watch Raven for me on Saturday. Mandy asked me to go to the Wine Festival with her and the rest of the Four Stooges." Jason laughed at the description he had placed on Mandy's four best friends, years earlier.

"Ohh... are you in for it now. Good luck. You guys aren't driving are you?"

"No. We're meeting at Pony's and Eph's and taking a cab."

"Cool. Hey, I'm gonna take a stab here and assume by the Detroit hat you were wearing last weekend, that you're a hockey fan." Jason got up and poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Yeah. I am. Why?"

"Well, I had two tickets to go see the Admirals game tomorrow night. You know we have our own ECHL team. Steve was going to go with me but, he ended up having to work tomorrow night. Since I have to leave, I figured you might want to take Raven."

"That would be great. How much do I owe you?" He waved her off as he pulled the tickets out of his desk drawer and handed them to her.

"Not a thing. Here you go. Have fun. Their behind the goal line. I think they're the best seats. Really cool view of the ice."

"Thanks Jason."

"You're welcome and... you can call me Jase if you want. There will be a memo in everyone's paychecks tomorrow that you're in charge from here on out. Here. You can have yours now."

"Thanks. Well, have a safe trip."

"I will and thanks for everything, Jake."

"No problem."

She got up and started out the door. On her way across the lot she opened her paycheck.

"Son of a bitch!" Jason had indeed taken care of her. She saw that along with her new responsibilities, came a ten percent pay raise. She shoved the envelope in her back pocket and got back to work.




Mandy was making sure she had everything before walking out the door with Gellar. She was a little bummed out that Jason had to go out of town. To make matters worse, Steve had to work that night and couldn't go to the game, either. For a while, she considered not going until Gellar mentioned Salty, the team mascot. One look at the child's face, as she held her Salty doll, and she knew she'd still have to go.

She tried to call Jake and ask if she and Raven would like to go but, got no answer. She grabbed Gellar's bag, grabbed Gellar, locked the door and was on her way.




Jake and Raven were making their way to their seats. The puck had just been dropped and they had to wait until a stop in play before continuing to their seats. Raven held her drink to her chest and watched the ice. She took a sip from her cup as Jake kneeled down and tied the child's shoe.

A penalty was called and as soon as the usher said it was o.k., they began to climb the stairs to their seats.

"AJ!"

"What, kiddo?"

"Ms. Peters!" Raven pointed out her teacher. Jake looked up and spotted Mandy and felt her breath leave her body. Mandy was wearing a pair of white jeans and a white Admirals jersey, the bottom of the logo cut off. The shirt was cut into short sleeves and only came down to the bottom of Mandy's ribcage. Jake made her way to her seat. Right next to Mandy. Mandy hadn't really been paying attention. She was busy picking pieces of cookie off of Gellar's new shirt.

"Aven! Aven!" Gellar squealed as she spotted her new playmate. Mandy looked up into crystal blue.

"Hi!"

"Hey there."

"Oh my God, Jake. what are you doing here?" She moved her jacket to allow the other woman to sit down. Jake sat down and waited for Raven to do the same. Raven noticed the seat next to Gellar was empty and tugged on Jake's sleeve to get her attention.

"AJ, Can I go sit next to Gellar?" Jake looked to Mandy and saw her nod.

"O.K., Squirt. Watch your step." Raven made her way over next to Gellar and the two immediately began to play with each other.

"So, tell me Stretch... Whatcha doin here?"

"Jason gave me his tickets yesterday. I... didn't know you would be here. Kind of a nice surprise." Both women were thinking the same thing. "Jason, you sly little shit!"  

"You think I'm a nice surprise?" Mandy asked in a teasing tone. Jake looked her straight in the eye and replied "Yes. I do." Mandy was struck speechless by the honesty in Jake's words and eyes. Both women sat there just enjoying the company of the other. Before long, Gellar had managed to climb over her mother's lap and into Jake's.

"Gellar, come back here, Sweetie." Mandy said as she reached for her daughter. Jake stopped her.

"She's O.K., Mandy."  "God! I LOVE when she says my name!"

"AJ, AJ!" Gellar said as she threw her arms around Jake's neck and hugged her. She sat back, straddling Jake's lap and placed one tiny hand on either side of Jake's face.

"Gellar, Gellar!" Jake replied in her best child-like voice. She began to pretend to eat Gellar's fingers, causing the child and her mother to giggle. Gellar sat in Jake's lap and turned around towards the ice. She extended her hand toward Raven.

"Aven. Sit." Raven looked, questioningly, at her aunt. Jake offered her hand to the older child. She shifted Gellar onto her right knee and sat Raven on her left, next to Mandy. The two began playing again. Jake turned to Mandy and shrugged her shoulders.

"You know, I always wanted to be a Jungle Gym when I grew up." Mandy laughed at her. "Don't you laugh at me Ms. Peters. You're next." Mandy arched an eyebrow of her own at this statement.

"Next? For what? To climb "Jungle Gym Stevens"?"

"Hey, that's Jungle Jake Stevens. My name's not Jim. And, no... next to get these two rug rats piled on you." She said this teasingly as she kissed each child on the head. Gellar squirmed off of Jake's lap and sat in the next seat. She turned around to look at her mother.

"Mommy! Salty, Salty!" Gellar had spotted the team's mascot, Salty. As usual, Salty was making his way up each isle to play with the kids. Salty was a large "dog" wearing a Admirals hockey jersey and ice skates. 

He spotted Gellar and began to work his way over. Gellar got real quiet, real fast. She loved Salty from a distance but, up close she was terrified of him. Salty stopped at the row of empty seats below them. He reached up and waved to Raven who waved back and shook his hand. He reached toward Gellar and the child screamed and jumped back into Jake's lap. Jake looked to Mandy and both women were trying not to bust out laughing at the frightened little girl. She was holding onto Jake's shirt for all she was worth. Raven placed her hand on Gellar's back, waiting for the child to look at her.

"Gellar, It's O.K. See? Look." Gellar watched as Raven shook Salty's hand. He waved at her again and she buried her face into Jake's shoulder. 

"It's O.K. Raven, she's scared of him up close. But, thanks for trying." Mandy said to the girl. Before long, the horn blew signaling the end of the period. The Admirals were ahead of the Richmond Renegades, 2-1.

"Are you hungry? They've got incredible nachos here!" Mandy asked Jake as she got up from her seat. Mandy raised her hands over head to stretch, exposing her stomach to Jake's gaze. "That's it. She is definitely the most incredible creature I have ever seen!"   She couldn't resist poking the woman in her exposed belly. Mandy giggled. Jake's eyes lit up.

"OOOhh. Somebody's ticklish!" She wiggled her fingers at Mandy as Mandy backed up.

"Jake, don't you start." Mandy warned her. Jake's response was to poke her lip out in a pout. Mandy covered her eyes with her hand.

"Don't do that." She peeked between her fingers. 

"Oh God, I didn't know puppy eyes were possible with blue eyes!" Jake wiggled her eyebrows at her. 

"I have many skills."

"Uh huh. Come on, Stretch. Let's get some food. I'm starving!"

"Sure. Show me around this place." They left their seats in search of the nearest concession stand. They stood in line and looked at the menu on the wall. Jake was standing holding Gellar with Raven wrapped around her leg. Mandy was trying to look over Jake's shoulder at the menu but, Jake kept moving in front of her. Jake knew exactly what she was doing and laughed as Mandy kept trying to look over her shoulder.

Raven looked back at Mandy and Mandy winked at her mouthing the words, "Watch out." Raven smiled knowingly at her teacher and backed out of the way a bit.

The next thing Jake knew, Mandy had jumped on her back, locking her knees against Jake's sides and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.

"There. That's better. Hi, Gellar." She said to her daughter who was now only an inch or so from her face. she reached forward a bit and kissed the child on her nose. 

"Mommy!"

Jake moved forward in the line. As they got closer, and Mandy made no attempt what-so-ever to move, she looked over her shoulder at the woman who was now so close, they could breathe the same air. Jake closed her eyes, briefly, at the onslaught of emotions she felt.

"What would you like, Brat?" Jake asked, trying to hide her feelings behind teasing the other woman. Mandy hopped off her back and ducked under her arm to stand right behind Raven. She placed one hand on either of the child's shoulders as they stepped up to the counter.

"I want nachos. With extra everything! Chili, cheese, tomatoes, salsa, olives, jalapenos and sour cream. And a Diet Coke." Jake laughed at the irony of having a Diet Coke with the rest of the order. 

"O.K. Raven, what do you want, Baby? Can you see?" Jake asked her niece.

"Yes. Can I have a big pretzel, please? And a Sprite?"

"Sure thing, Honey. How about you Ms. Gellar. Would you like something?"

"Cookie!" Gellar noticed the large chocolate chip cookies. Jake looked to Mandy to see if it was all right to get it for her.

"Give her the animal crackers, instead."

"Cookies!" Jake grinned at the child in her arms and placed her order for two hotdogs and a Coke. Mandy went to grab money out of her pocket when Jake stopped her.

"I've got it."

"Come on, Jake. That's a lot of junk food here." Mandy protested.

"No. I said I've got it. Besides, you wouldn't tell me how much the ticket for the wine festival tomorrow is so, there." Jake paid for their food and they walked back to their seats. They still had ten minutes before the next period started. Gellar sat in the chair with Raven so the two adults could eat. Mandy couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Jake's food.

"How can you eat that with all that junk on there?" Jake looked down at her hotdog and all of it's condiments.

"What? What's wrong with it?" Mandy took a closer look and began to call out the toppings.

"Chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos. Disgusting!" Jake nearly choked on the bite she had in her mouth.

"Excuse me? Darlin, you have the same stuff on your nachos. Well, except for the ketchup and mustard." Jake took a sip from her soda.

 "Yeah but Jake, that stuff belongs on nachos! You're not pregnant are you?"

Soda came flying from Jake's mouth. Thankfully, no one was in front of them. Mandy laughed at the expression on Jake's face.

"Heheheh... not hardly. I've never slept with someone who could get me pregnant." She replied, honestly. "Oh yeah? All infertile?" Mandy asked. She had to know. Jake paused for a moment before looking Mandy in the eye.

"Actually, none ever had the correct equipment to get me pregnant." She waited for the rejection she knew would be coming. She never got it.

"Oh. OK. Well, if you ever wanted anyone to think otherwise, just eat that damn hotdog in front of them." Mandy began to eat her nachos again. Jake's heart jumped in adoration for the woman sitting next to her. She had a thought and decided to go with it. She shifted in her seat a little bit and placed the hotdog to Mandy's lips. Mandy tried to move her head.

"Come on. Just take one tiny little bite."

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

"With sugar on top?"

"No."

"With cherries on top?"

"No" 

"With ME on top?" Jake asked after a slight pause with a mischievous glint in her eyes. This time, it was Mandy's turn to spit her drink out. It was all Jake could do not to laugh at the blush on Mandy's face. Mandy turned towards Jake noticing the humor in her blue eyes. Not to be outdone, Mandy wordlessly looked deep into Jake's eyes, licking her lips as she covered Jake's hand with her own and pulled the hotdog to her open mouth. She tentatively chewed and then with much more vigor. Jake's eyes lit up watching the younger woman.

"Mmmm. Share!" Mandy said as she grabbed another bite. Jake rolled her eyes, to disguise her flustered state, as the whistle sounded for the start of the second period and the puck was dropped.




They walked out of Norfolk Scope into the cool October air. The majority of the crowd had left about an hour earlier after the game but, Jake and Mandy had stayed afterwards. They waited outside the Admirals locker room to get autographs for the kids. One player, team captain, # 18 Rod Taylor, autographed his stick for Raven.

It was now almost 11:00 PM, as they made their way across the street to where they had parked, four or five blocks down. Gellar was sound asleep against Jake's shoulder, having passed out as they waited for the team members to come out. Since Jake's arms were full of a snoozing two-year-old, Mandy held on to Raven's hand as they crossed St. Paul's Blvd.

"So, did you have fun, Raven? Nice stick, huh?" Mandy asked the young 0;             

"Yes Ma'am. Thank you! That's so cool how they knew you! Thanks for taking me to meet them." Raven replied.

"You, my dear, are very welcome." Mandy said as she ran the tip of her finger down Raven's nose. "Rod's an old friend of Jason's. We usually go talk to the team after every game. I'm glad you had a good time, Honey." 

Jake looked to the sleeping child on her shoulder, drooling on her leather jacket. She absent-mindedly kissed the baby on her forehead and smiled as Gellar curled up tighter against her.

The wind picked up a bit and Mandy rubbed her arms against the chill in reflex. She grabbed Raven's hand once again as they continued down the sidewalk.

"Where's your jacket?" Jake asked, noticing the other woman shiver.

"Ahhh,... I forgot to grab it out of the car earlier after getting Gellar and her bag." Mandy patted the diaper bag on her shoulder.

Jake argued with herself, briefly. "Should I or shouldn't I? I mean,... it's not like it would be a big deal. She's cold. Go on, Chicken Shit!"

As if reading her mind, she caught Raven's eye and noticed the child nod her head in the direction of her teacher and wink. "Hell, even Raven knows. Oh well, at least she approves. Damn!"

"Hey?" She said to Mandy, nervously. Mandy looked up. "Hmmm?" After a moment's pause, Jake held out her arm in invitation. "Come here." Mandy stopped walking and looked up at Jake , to make sure she had heard her correctly. When she saw no more hesitation on the other woman's face, she stepped into the circle of Jake's arm, slipping her own arm underneath Jake's jacket and around her waist.

Jake couldn't remember the last time she felt so at peace. She looked down to see Raven look up and smile at her.

To any average passerby, they looked like the perfect family. Well,... almost perfect. There were still some narrow-minded people in this town. But, at the time, they couldn't have been farther from the minds of these three as they walked into the parking lot.

Once they reached Mandy's car, they, reluctantly, separated. Mandy reached into her pocket and pulled out her keys, unlocking the doors so her daughter could be strapped in. She turned around to reach for Gellar to see that Jake had walked over to the other side of the car and was in the process of putting the child in her car seat.

Gellar, even in sleep, did not want to let go of her tall pillow. Jake kissed the child's fingers as she pulled the lap bar down over the child and made sure everything was fastened, securely. She placed her stuffed Salty doll next to her head and shut the door, quietly. She looked over to the other side of the car and saw Raven telling her teacher a new joke.

Mandy was standing there, paying very close attention to Raven, listening to every word. The teacher smiled warmly and brushed a stray lock of hair behind a perfect ear. Jake thought she was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen, standing there talking to her niece in her cut-off hockey jersey and white jeans.

Mandy laughed at the punch line and looked up to catch Jake staring at her, smiling. For once, Jake didn't look away. Her smile got bigger as Mandy returned the gesture. Raven began telling another joke and Jake motioned that she was going to pull the truck around. She jogged off to get her truck, a few rows away.

A few moments later, she pulled up next to the Mustang and left the engine running. She unlocked the passenger side door and got out.

"O.K., Squirt. In you go." She walked around to the other side and opened Raven's door as she took the autographed stick and placed it in the back of the truck.

Mandy helped Raven climb into the truck and fastened her seatbelt.

"O.K., Kiddo. I'll see you for a bit tomorrow, o.k.? You be good and think of a new joke to tell me." Mandy told her student as Raven smiled.

"O.K., I will." She reached over and hugged her favorite teacher. "Good night, Ms. Peters. Thank-you." Mandy smiled and hugged the child back, enthusiastically.

"Good night, Sweetheart." She shut Raven's door and walked around to the back of the truck to say "goodbye" to her friend.

Jake closed the back end and shoved her hands in the front pockets of her Levi's. She turned to face Mandy.

"If you want, I'll pick you up in the morning. We can drop the kids off and then go to Pony's."

"That would be great. But, Claudia said she'd pick them up. She's taking them shopping along the boardwalk and to Chuck E. Cheese's for pizza. Either way, she has their whole day planned. So just come by in the morning." Mandy answered as she pushed that same stubborn lock of hair back into place. She reached out and ran her hand down Jake's arm.

"Thanks, Jake. I had a really good time with you tonight." Jake pulled her hand out of her pocket as Mandy's hand came down past her wrist. She squeezed the younger woman's hand and looked in her eyes.

"I did, too. Look,... I know all of us are going tomorrow but, I was wondering if maybe you'd... uh...." She looked down at her boots, kicking the rocks at her feet, lightly. "I dunno. I just thought maybe you'd like to uhmm,..." "Damn! Why is this so hard?!?!?"  "I don't know, go out,... just the two of us sometime?" She finished quietly. "I mean, the kids too if you like, or just... I mean, I just had a great time tonight with you and wanted to maybe... do it again."

Mandy thought that Jake standing in front of her, head bowed in embarrassment, waiting for rejection, trying to ask her out, was the most charming thing she had ever seen.

She reached her hand up and ran her fingers, lightly, down Jake's jaw to her chin, tilting her head up so their eyes would meet.

"Jake Stevens, are you asking me out on a date?" She asked, gently, without teasing. Jake's eyes looked away briefly.

"Yeah, I guess I am." Mandy wrapped her arms around Jake's neck and pulled her down into a hug.

"I would love to. With the kids and with just you and I." Mandy whispered into Jake's ear. She felt Jake shiver in response. 

No sweeter words, had Jake ever heard as she wrapped her arms around Mandy and pulled her tight against her body. Mandy brushed her lips, lightly, against Jake's cheek.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Blue Eyes." After a final squeeze, Mandy ran her hand down Jake's  cheek, got in her car and headed home.




She felt something against her cheek. Something... fuzzy. Jake rolled over and pulled the covers over her head. 

"Shit! There it is again! What in the Hell is that?" Jake opened one perfect blue eye to see Raven lying under the covers with her, letting her teddy bear "kiss" Jake.

Raven laughed at the one blue eye peeking out at her.

"Come on, AJ! You have a big date today. With my teacher and we have cartoons to watch first."

"I do not have a date with your teacher." Jake mumbled as she pulled her pillow over her head. Raven straddled her aunt's hips and tried to pull the pillow off her face.

"Oh yeah? Are you going to her house to pick her up?"

"Mpfes."

"I'm sorry what was that, AJ? There's this satin covered pillow over your face."

"Yes." Jake answered.

"And.... am I not going to be at Mrs. Peter's house until tomorrow morning because you two don't know how long you'll be?" Jake's answer was a growl.

"Heheheh... It's a date." Raven giggled. Next thing she knew, she was on her back with her aunt tickling her. Jake leaned over and kissed her nose as Raven held onto her aunt's face.

"Good morning, Squirt."

"Good morning, Brat." Jake rolled her eyes, teasingly, at her niece. "So whatcha gonna wear?"

"I dunno, Raven. I thought clothes would be appropriate. They seem to go with everything." It was now Raven's turn to roll her eyes.

"I'm surprised you have a date."

"Raven, honey, it's not a date. We're going out with some of her friends."

"Who happen to be coupled up, nicely. I'm not dumb, AJ. And I'm not a blabber-mouth either. I think you two look cute together." Raven told her aunt as she climbed off the bed and began looking through the closet at clothing options for the day.

"Raven... I have never been cute!" Jake said as she sat up in the bed and wiped the sleep from her eyes.

"Yeah right. You just keep telling yourself that. How about this one?" Raven asked as she held up a nice black button-down shirt.

"Nah... supposed to be warm today. Too dark." Jake got up out of bed and went into the bathroom. She began brushing her teeth.

"How `bout this one?" Raven asked from the bedroom. Jake started the water in the shower and gave it a moment to adjust. She walked out into the bedroom, toothbrush sticking out of her mouth.

Raven was holding up a collarless, white button-down shirt. Jake walked over and picked it up for inspection.

"I like it!" She mumbled around her toothbrush as she handed it back to Raven. She continued brushing. "See if you can find me a pair of jeans, Squirt. Please?"

"O.K." Raven hung up the shirt and began searching for a pair of jeans.

"Blue or black?" Raven called out.

"Black." Jake called from the shower.

"Loose or tight?"

"Tight."

"Heheheh... and you say it's not a date." Raven snickered to herself.

"I heard that!" Jake called out from the shower again.

"How do you do that? Never mind, don't tell me. I don't want to know." Raven continued to look for the jeans in question.

"Faded or new?"

"Comfortable." Raven heard the water shut off. A few moments later, Jake walked back into her bedroom, clad in a thick blue robe. She looked at the jeans Raven had picked out and nodded her head in approval. She walked over to her dresser and grabbed clean boxers and a sports bra. She walked back into the bathroom to change. Raven noticed her aunt's boots in the closet. They were the boots she wore whenever they took the Harley out.

Jake walked, barefoot, out of the bathroom. She sat on the foot of her bed and put on her socks and boots.

"AJ, you said it's supposed to be warm today, right?" Raven asked, an idea forming in her head.

"Yep. I think Mrs. Peters is taking you guys down to the beach to go shopping. It's not going to be nice out much longer."

Raven walked over to her aunt.

"Exactly. So why don't you take the bike today?" Raven asked as she began to take off her aunt's boots and replace them with the ones she normally rode in.

"No."

"What, AJ?" She looked up at Jake who stopped her from changing her boots.

"I said No, Raven. I'm not taking her on the bike." The tone of her voice leaving it known that there was no room for argument.

"But why not, AJ? It's nice out and, like you said, it won't be like that much longer." Raven started to think this wasn't such a good idea. Jake looked pretty mad right now. 

When Jake saw the questioning look on Raven's face and realized how she must look to the young girl, she softened her features and her voice.

"Raven. Honey, you know why I won't take her. I can't. Only you and your Dad have ever been on that bike with me."

"Yeah and Dad would want you to share. She's different, AJ. I know she is. She likes bikes. We were talking about them the other day after school. She said she always wanted to ride one but, never had the chance." Jake could feel her resolve slipping. She didn't want it too but, then again, who ever does? She didn't want to feel like she was betraying Ryan.

"AJ, I know you like her. I like her too and it would mean a lot to her if you did this."

"I thought this kind of bothered you last weekend?" Raven threw herself down onto the bed next to her aunt.

"Not really. I thought you would want to play with her and Gellar and not me anymore. But, last night was fun. You spent time with all of us. And... I thought you two looked nice together. Please, AJ? She'd really like it."

Jake let out a long breath and looked at her niece. "Raven, honey, what's going on, up in that head of yours, huh?"

"She's your teacher, Raven." Jake pointed out, all though, she had no idea why she did so.

"Exactly! She's my teacher. Not yours." Jake blew out a breath. "Will I ever win a debate with this child?"

"O.K., Kiddo. Hand me the other boots."




Mandy and Jake were standing in the kitchen drinking coffee when the doorbell rang. Mandy walked to the door and opened it as her former mother-in-law walked in. She hugged Claudia as Gellar came running into the room.

"Gamma!" Claudia leaned over and picked her up.

"How's Grandma's little angel this morning?" She kissed Gellar on her forehead and put the child back on the floor.

"Amanda, who has that dreadful motorcycle, outside?" Claudia asked.

"Bike?" Mandy couldn't think of who would have a bike in front of her house. She looked out the door and, sure enough, there was a midnight blue FXSTS Springer Softail parked next to her Mustang. She hadn't even noticed it when Jake and Raven got there earlier. She had been in the kitchen, cleaning up after Gellar's breakfast. She heard the knock on the door and yelled for them to come in.

Jake walked out of the kitchen with her coffee cup. 

"Hello, Mrs. Peters. Ahhh,... the bike is mine. I thought... Mandy would like to go for a ride later." Jake said rather sheepishly. She did not miss the motherly scowl on Claudia's face at her transportation choice.

"Hello, Jake. Nice to see you again. And don't you think for one minute that I forgot about that money you left last week." This said as she poked Jake in her stomach.

"Where is your truck, young lady? I hope you're not planning on taking that to that wine festival you two are going to." She said as she pointed at the bike through the door. Mandy figured she'd come to Jake's rescue. Knowing that Jake's mother had died when she was little, she figured she wouldn't know how to react to someone else's mother scolding her. She walked up next to Jake and slid one arm around her back and rested her other hand on the flat expanse of Jake's stomach.

"No, Mom. We're not taking it to the wine festival. Maybe just to Pony's and Eph's. None of us are driving to the wine festival. We're taking a cab." Jake slid her arm around Mandy's shoulder. Both women were trying to figure out why the scowl was gone off of Claudia's face, replaced with a huge smile. Jake looked down as Mandy looked up and they realized how they must look together. They broke away from each other, quickly, as Claudia laughed. 

"You two are something else. There's no two ways about it." Claudia commented as she was pulled into the living room by her granddaughter. Jake wiped her hand across her forehead once the older woman left the room.

"AJ, come here!" Raven called from the other room. Jake walked into the living room to see what Raven wanted. She had no sooner sat on the floor next to her niece in front of the television, when Gellar jumped into her lap.

"Look, AJ. It's that episode of Space Ghost that you like!"

"Cool!" Jake settled herself in front of the television with her niece and Gellar. Claudia shook her head in amusement and walked into the other room to find her son's ex. Mandy was in the kitchen, cleaning out the coffee pot.

"Hi, Mom. There's one cup left, would you like it?"

"No thanks, Sweetpea. I've had plenty already this morning. Looks like you have two more children."

"Excuse me?" Mandy asked, confused.

"Jake and Raven. They're in there with Gellar watching Space Ghost." Mandy smiled at the thought. 

"She is such a goofball. Mom, you should have seen her last weekend when she fixed my roof. She was actually dancing on my roof. She threatened to throw me in the pool and she walked around the yard with me thrown over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She is such a nut." Claudia walked over to Mandy and placed one hand on each shoulder.

"Honey, do you realize that you smiled through that entire bit talking about her?"

"No I wasn't!"

"Amanda, you and I need to have a talk. Have a seat." Mandy did as she was asked and sat at her kitchen table. Claudia sat down next to her and grabbed her hand.

"Honey, you know, I may be getting to be an old woman but, I'm not blind. I think you have a little thing for the overgrown child in your living room." Mandy started to protest but Claudia stopped her.

"Amanda, don't even try to tell me you don't. I've known you since you were four years old, child. And over the last couple of years, I've realized that you and my son got married because we wanted you to. Jason told me about Jake the first week she came to work for him. He told me he thought Jake would be good for you and to be honest, I agree with him. Just from what I've seen in the last week and from what he's told me, I already know she adores Gellar. And, Honey, it looks like she adores you, too." Mandy looked at her for a moment and cleared her throat and scratched her cheek.

"Ahem... that's quite a bit to swallow there, Mom. I love you and I love Jase. He's my best friend but, I think I need to decide what's good for me. You guys are talking about Jake, do you have any idea what that means?" Claudia tightened her hold on Mandy's hand.

"Yes, I do. I'm not some narrow-minded old hag, Amanda, who doesn't know her ass from a hole in the ground. I could care less what sex a person is, or what's between their legs as long as they're a good person. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you don't feel something, no matter how small it is right now, for that young woman sitting in the other room, with your daughter sprawled all over her, I'll never bring it up again." Mandy looked down at her hand, held within the hand of the woman she had come to know as "Mom".

"I can't tell you that. I do feel something for her. And, it's scaring the hell out of me." She admitted, quietly. "I can't seem to stop thinking about her. I close my eyes and see her. There has to be something wrong with me. I just met her."

"Honey, there's nothing wrong with you. Maybe you have only just met her but, your heart and your soul have known her a long time. You can tell when two people are meant to be together. Just take things nice and slow. You'll figure it all out. Frank and I knew each other for all of two weeks when we got married. Sometimes, Amanda, your heart knows what your mind doesn't." Mandy looked into the eyes of the woman sitting next to her.

"So you're saying..."

"I'm saying that if I were twenty years younger, I'd be chasing her. Now, lets go get those kids so you two can be on your way. And please, be careful on that damn bike!" Mandy laughed as she got up from the table and hugged Claudia.

"I will. I'll be sure and hold on real tight!" This last bit said with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

"Now, you're talking like you have some sense!" They walked out of the kitchen and into the living room. Jake was lying on the floor with Raven's head on her shoulder and Gellar straddling her stomach. Gellar was playing with Jake's face.

"Eyes!" Gellar said as she rubbed Jake's eyes.

"That's right, Munchkin. Where's my... nose?" Gellar pinched the body part in question.

"Nose!"

"Where's my... mouth?" Gellar went to touch Jake's mouth and Jake caught her hand between her lips. Gellar squealed in delight and Jake smiled at the little girl.

"Where's Gellar's mouth?" Jake asked as the child pointed at her own mouth.

"Gelwer's mouf!"

"Good girl! Where's Gellar's... tummy?" Gellar went to poke her own stomach and Jake grabbed a hold of her, lying the child on her back against her powerful legs and began to tickle her.

"Tickle Tummy! Tickle Tummy!" Jake laughed as the little girl squealed and squirmed her way out of Jake's grasp. She launched her little body at Jake's and hugged her around her neck, laying her head on the shoulder of her large toy.

"AJ." Gellar said, softly. Jake hugged the child to her and kissed her small head.

"Gellar." Mandy stood in the doorway watching with Claudia. She couldn't deny an attraction to this woman, right now, even if she wanted to, which... she didn't.

Claudia walked over and stood behind Jake.

"Hi, Gamma!" Gellar looked up as Jake tilted her head back to see the woman behind her. Normally, she'd have flipped out if someone walked up behind her like that but, she didn't think tossing her boss's mother into the next room would be a good thing. Besides, she kind of liked the older woman.

"Hi, Punkin. You ready to come with Grandma?" Claudia asked as she picked up her granddaughter.

"Aven, Mommy and AJ come, too?" Gellar asked, hopefully.

"Well, Raven's coming but Mommy and Jake are going somewhere else so, we'll have to see them later." Gellar's bottom lip started to tremble and within a heartbeat she was crying.

"Want Mommy and AJ!" It broke Mandy's heart to see her daughter cry. Gellar didn't cry very often. She walked over and ran her hand through her daughter's hair.

"Honey, I'm right here. We'll see you later, Baby. You're just going with Grandma for a bit."

"AJ, Mommy, AJ!" Mandy reached for Jake's hand. Jake stood up and took her hand as she kissed Gellar on her forehead.

"Hey, Shorty. What's all that fussin' for? Come here." Jake picked the child up and bounced her around for a bit. "Let's have a talk, Munchkin." Jake said as she walked over near the window.

"Now, we don't cry. O.K.? Not unless it's for a really good reason! Mommy and I are going to go someplace while you go with Grandma. Raven will be right there with you and maybe she'll tell you a story, o.k.?" 

"Story?" Gellar sniffled a bit. Jake grabbed a Kleenex out of the box on the table and wiped her nose.

"Yeah, a story. I'm sure she'll tell you a good one. Now, Mommy and I will see you later, o.k.?"

"Kay." She began to sniffle a bit more. Jake decided to try a new tactic so she sat down on the couch with Gellar in her lap.

"Gellar, don't cry. Now I'm gonna have to cry." Jake put her head in her hands and began making noises like she was crying. Gellar stopped and ran her hand through Jake's hair and pat her on her shoulder.

"No cry, AJ. I see you soon. You go wif Mommy. It be o.k. No cry, AJ. I uv you." Gellar hugged Jake. Jake pretended to stop crying and lifted her head. Gellar leaned forward till her forehead was touching Jake's. She pushed her lips forward till she kissed the tip of Jake's nose.

"Is ok. I uv you, AJ." Gellar hopped off of Jake's lap and pulled on her hand to get her to stand. Jake stood up and followed Gellar as she led her to Mandy. She placed Jake's hand in Mandy's.

"You go wif Mommy, AJ. I go wif Aven and Gamma. I sorry but I gotta go. I see you wader. It be o.k. Mommy take care of you." She left Jake standing with her mother and walked over to her grandmother and Raven. She grabbed each of their hands and began pulling them towards the door.

"Come on, Aven. Tell me story!" Raven and Gellar made their way outside, onto the front porch to wait for Claudia. Claudia looked towards the two younger women, still holding hands. She mouthed the words, "See you later." Then left, quickly, out the door before Gellar changed her mind.

Mandy put her arms around Jake's waist and hugged her. Jake tightened her hold around Mandy.

"What was the hug for?" Jake asked. Mandy removed her arms from around Jake's waist and slid them up, loosely, around her neck instead.

"That, my friend, was priceless! Boy, do you have my daughter snowed!" Jake could not tear her eyes away from Mandy's. There were only two things present in her mind. Mandy's eyes and... her lips. Jake wanted nothing more than to lean over and claim them as her own. "It would be so easy. Just lean forward, like I'm doing now and... Oh my God! I'm actually going to kiss her!" She was extremely aware of the fact that Mandy's grip was tightening around her neck, so she decided to move with it.

"Oh my God! She's going to kiss me!"  Two sets of eyes began to close as they got closer.

"RIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"   Both women jumped away from each other as the phone rang. Jake wanted to growl. Mandy wanted to groan.

"RIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"   Mandy reached for the phone.

"Ahem. Hello?"

"Girl, are you coming over or not? Sometime today would be nice?" Mandy rolled her eyes. For once, she actually did not want to talk to her friend.

"Hey, Eph. Claudia just left with the kids so we'll be there in a bit." Mandy said as she rubbed the back of her neck. Boy, it was hot in that room.

"O.K. well, hurry if you can. Jay found Pony's stash of wine from last year." Mandy laughed as she imagined all of them leaving the wine festival the year before. Jay had insisted that she was sober enough to carry out the wine everyone had bought. When she dropped two bottles after tripping in the parking garage, Pony swore she would hide the rest of the wine and not let Jay around it.

"Done deal, Eph. We'll be there in a few." She hung up the phone and turned back to look at Jake who seemed to be looking anywhere but at Mandy. Mandy walked over and ran her hand down Jake's cheek. "You ready to go? That was Eph." Jake nodded her head. She was afraid to speak. She didn't want her mouth to betray her. "Am I imagining things now? Were we actually going to kiss?" Mandy grabbed her keys and they started out the front door. Mandy locked the door and put on her sunglasses as Jake started the bike. She reached a hand out to Mandy, who took it and climbed on behind her. Jake grabbed a helmet and handed it to Mandy.

"Put this on and hold on tight." Mandy did as she was told. She wrapped her arms around Jake's waist.

"Like this?" She asked.

"Tighter." Jake responded. Mandy leaned forward as far as she could without actually climbing Jake's back and wrapped her arms securely around Jake.

"Like this?" A smile formed on Jake's face even though Mandy couldn't see it.

"Yeah. That's it."




They pulled into the driveway at Pony's and Eph's. Sure enough, everyone was sitting on the porch, drinking wine from the year before. As Jake and Mandy approached the porch, Pony met them on the walkway. 

"Hey, Jake. Good to see you. Nice ride!" 

"Good to see you, too, Pony. Thanks! It's a great bike."

Pony looked over to Mandy and put an arm around her shoulder. "Damn, Mandy. Did you ever think you'd have that much power between your legs?" Mandy's eyes grew large and her face turned beet red at the remark that poured forth from her friend's lips. She didn't expect something like that from Pony. At least, not sober.

"Yeah, Mandy. How was it getting a ride on Jake's "crotch-rocket"?" Jay asked, loving the blush on her friend's face. Terry decided to come to the rescue.

"Hey, hey, hey... we're not drunk enough yet to be discussing power and between the legs stuff and crotch-rockets. The cab will be here in five minutes so behave, Bimbo."

"Who you callin' a Bimbo?" Jay asked.

"You. You see,... I can call you a Bimbo `cause I sleep with you. Those are the rules. I can call you whatever I want and the word for the day is Bimbo."

"Whatever." Jay answered as everyone shared a laugh. Unfortunately, Jay was everyone's verbal punching bag. Everyone loved to tease her. Jay would often get annoyed with everybody but, she never let them know it. Pony, Eph and the rest of their friends absolutely adored her. There was never a dull moment when Jay was around and she could keep you laughing for hours, if you'd let her. She was a good sport about all the teasing and often came right back with some hits of her own.

The taxi pulled up and Pony put everything back in the house. Everyone piled in and told the driver where they were going. Jay and Terry sat up front with the driver. Pony climbed into the back seat next to Eph after putting their basket in the trunk. Jake was sitting next to the window waiting on Mandy to get in.

"There's no room." Mandy stated as she looked in the back seat. Jake patted her lap.

"Sure there is. Have a seat."

"Jake? You want to ride all the way to the wine festival with me in your lap?"

"Well, either you sit in mine or I sit in yours and... I'd probably break your legs, Darlin'." Jake answered. Mandy, realizing Jake had a point, climbed in and sat on Jake's lap. She did not miss the identical smirks that crossed the faces of her two friends in the back seat with her. After they passed the first couple of blocks, Jake whispered into Mandy's ear.

"You ok?" Mandy turned her head away from her friend's to look at Jake and answer her.

"Just fine. Do I hurt you?"

"No-no. Loving every moment of it." Jake answered with a smile. Mandy leaned over and whispered in Jake's ear, "Has anyone ever told you, you're a smart-ass?" Jake looked into her eyes and replied, "Only you."

Mandy turned, slightly, in Jake's lap so she could see her better. She barely stopped herself from pushing a stray lock of hair out of Jake's eyes.

"Goofball."

"Only around you."

"Really? I feel special!" Mandy replied as the cab came to a stop across the street from Towne Pointe Park.

"You are."  

Everyone got out of the cab. Pony paid the driver as he popped the trunk and Eph grabbed the basket with their food for the day. Jake reached over and opened the door so Mandy could exit the taxi. She stepped out of the cab next and stretched. 

Everyone gathered together to cross the street as the cab pulled away.

"Come on, everyone. Let's get drunk!"




Everyone was scattered across two blankets. Containers of various foods lay open in the middle. Boxes of crackers, a bowl of spinach dip, pepperoni and different kinds of cheese. There were a few empty bottles along the outside edge of the blankets. Jay had come up with the idea of emptying enough bottles to outline the area they had claimed as their own. 

There was a local band set up to play on the stage, set up near the water. There were speakers set up around the park with quite a variety of music playing. Pony and Eph were sprawled on a blanket feeding each other cheese and sharing their glass of wine. Jay and Terry had gone off in search of the vendor selling a sweet popcorn made with peanut oil and sugar.

Jake was lounging on her side, her elbow propped up to hold her head, under a tree. Mandy had claimed a spot sitting in front of her, backed up to Jake's stomach. She idly played with a blade of grass she had pulled up.

Everyone was feeling quite happy from the wine that had been consumed. Mandy forgot, briefly, that Jake was behind her and leaned back. She jumped a bit when she realized that she was lying on the other woman. She turned around to face Jake, who didn't seem to mind a bit.

"I'm sorry." Jake smiled to ease Mandy's mind.

"You're O.K. Go ahead and lean back if you want." Mandy squinted her eyes at the sun a bit and tilted her head to the side.

"Really?"

"I'm all yours." Both women thought, "I wish." at the same time. Mandy leaned back and used Jake's hip as a head rest. Pony and Eph smiled, knowingly, at each other. Even if Mandy and Jake couldn't see what was happening between them, everyone else could. Terry and Jay walked back over and sat down as the band started to play. Jay had a massive bag of popcorn.

"What in the hell is that?" Jake asked as she noticed everyone reach for Jay's bag.

"This is a big reason why we come to the wine festival. It's this really good popcorn they sell here for this and Harborfest. They make it in this wok looking thingy with peanut oil. As it's popping, they add sugar to it. It's so good." Mandy explained as she grabbed a couple of kernels and held them up to Jake's lips.

"No, thank-you." Jake said as she pulled her head back away from Mandy's fingers a bit.

"Oh, come on, Jake. Don't be a puss. I tried that damn hotdog of yours last night."

"Yeah, and you liked it."

"Exactly, so just taste the damn popcorn." Mandy held the popcorn in front of Jake's lips once again. Jake thought back to the night before and just how Mandy tried said hotdog. 

She grinned as she grabbed Mandy's hand and ate the popcorn offered. She made it a point to capture Mandy's fingers between her lips and lick them clean from the sugar, which had begun to stick. Little did either of them know, but they had caught the attention of their friends. Everyone stopped what they were doing or saying to watch the exchange between these two women, who seemed to be making a game out of frustrating each other. 

It was all Mandy could do not to throw herself on the brunette who still had purchase of her fingers. She let out an audible groan as Jake held her fingers between her lips. Jake finally released them and chewed the popcorn. Mandy refused to offer any more insight into what she was feeling and lose this little game they had begun. 

Her eyes never left Jake's as she asked, "Good, isn't it?"

"Succulent. Mouth watering, even." They both knew they weren't talking about the popcorn now. Both women could feel what was happening and neither cared to stop it. 

Mandy leaned back, once again, against Jake's hip. She pretended not to notice the stares from her friends.

"So where's Karen today? I can't believe she'd miss this." Mandy asked while continuing to feed Jake the popcorn she stole from Jay's bag.

"Ahh,... she had to work. Someone called in sick and she had to cover their shift. She said if she could get out of there early, she'd stop by the house afterwards. Vinnie said he'd stop by but, he can't stay long. He has to cover the door at the bar tonight. Oh yeah.... Karen did tell me to remind everyone about the Halloween party this year." Pony answered.

"So, Pony..." 

"Yes, Jake?"

"Tell me something... how did you get the name "Pony"?" Everyone began laughing as Pony began to blush, slightly.

"Heheheh... well, it started the night I met Eph and Mandy. We were all at a party for a mutual friend. They had just begun working at the school and I'd seen them in the halls a couple of times. So anyway, we're all at this party and someone started calling me Pony." Eph slapped her partner in the stomach as Mandy through a Triscuit at her.

"Pony, you know damn well that's not how it happened. Tell her the rest of the story." Mandy scolded her friend for leaving out such important information. Eph decided she would finish the story as Pony hid her face.

"This is what really happened, Jake. We were at our friend's party and we hadn't met yet. I had been looking at her all night and Mandy had been trying to talk me into just going over and talking to her. Well, knowing us, you can guess how much we had been drinking. I still think it's the only time I've ever really truly seen her drunk. Anyway, I walk up behind her to talk to her and (giggle) I completely miss what the person talking to her had said but, her response was, "Ride me"." By now, everyone but Pony was giggling.

"I said, "Bite me"!"

 "Honey, you know damn well, your speech was so slurred it came out "Ride me". Anyway, I tapped her on her shoulder and said, "OK, Pony." and she's been "Pony" ever since." Everyone laughed as they imagined that night, four years earlier.

Mandy continued to feed Jake. She added a spoonful of spinach dip onto a cracker and fed it to her friend.

"You ready to go sample some more wine, Blue Eyes?" Jake chewed the cracker then smiled at the younger woman.

"Sure thing, Green Eyes." Mandy rolled her eyes, grinned and stood up, offering a hand to the woman lying at her feet.

"Heheheh... I could get used to this you know..." Mandy stated. Jake looked up at her, confused.

"What?"

"You lying at my feet" Mandy answered with a twinkle in her eye. Jake reached up and grabbed her hand. As Mandy went to help her up, she pulled so the younger woman would fall right on top of her. Jake caught her easily and rolled her over onto her back. Jake began to tickle her friend.

"That is it! You have been asking for it for a week now." Mandy laughed and tried to squirm away from the woman pinning her to the blanket, but to no avail.

"Actually, Jake... we've known Mandy for quite a long time and,... she's been asking for it for a hell of a lot longer than a week." Jay offered as she received a round of laughs from everyone but Mandy who offered a glare. Well, at least what started out as one but couldn't last due to the tickle torture she was receiving. 

She finally squirmed her way out from underneath Jake and took off at a full run. Jake didn't miss a beat as she got up and ran after her. 

"She wants you, Jake... She wants you bad!" Jay yelled even though she was sure she couldn't be heard by the woman chasing her friend.

"Damn Jay,.... that was funny as shit. Here, have another drink!" Pony offered as she clasped her friend on the shoulder.

Jake continued to chase Mandy and managed to catch her towards the edge of the area reserved for the festival. She caught Mandy, who could not stop laughing, as they both tried to control their breathing. Once she noticed nobody around, Jake pinned Mandy, lightly, against the tree. 

"You know, if I didn't know any better, Ms. Peters, I'd think you were flirting with me." Jake placed her hands, nervously, on Mandy's hips as  Mandy placed her hands on the front of Jake's shirt, just below her shoulders and slid her hands around her neck. She began to pull, slightly, as she replied, "Well then, it's a good thing you don't know any better, because... I am."

"Are you really?" Jake asked as she wrapped her arms completely around Mandy and pulled her against her.

"That depends..."

"On what?" Jake asked, a little nervous to hear the response.

"On whether or not you like it and want me to." Mandy stated, simply, as she glanced down towards her feet. Jake placed a hand, gently, against the back of Mandy's head and pulled her against her shoulder. She kissed the smaller woman on the top of her head.

"I do. Very much." Mandy's response was to hold Jake tighter. Both women could feel something happening between them. In the back of her mind, Mandy could hear Claudia's words from that morning.

"He told me he thought Jake would be good for you and to be honest, I agree with him. Just from what I've seen in the last week and from what he's told me, I already know she adores Gellar. And, Honey, it looks like she adores you, too."

"You OK?" Jake asked. Mandy smiled into Jake's shoulder. "Never better! Come on, Blue Eyes, all that running made me thirsty!" They broke away from each other. They had plenty of time to figure out what was going on between them. Mandy turned around and reached for Jake's hand. She linked her fingers with Jake's and pulled her back towards the wine vendors.




Everyone stood in line trying to make sure they got everything they wanted before the vendors started packing up to leave in twenty minutes. The wine festival only lasted from about Noon to Five and some vendors had begun packing to leave ten minutes earlier.

Jake and Mandy stood in line for Chateau Morrisette. Mandy wanted to get a couple more bottles of Sweet Mountain Laurel- red and white. They were waiting in line patiently. Mandy was rocking back and forth on her feet: heel to toe. Her rear end would push out slightly as she balanced on her heels. This was not a problem until Festival Security tried to escort someone, who had obviously had enough to sample, out of the park. They accidentally bumped Jake who, lightly, collided with Mandy's backside as she came back on her heels... right against Jake's crotch. Both women ceased all movement.

Jake struggled to regain control of her breathing before the young woman in front of her noticed her flustered state.

Too late.

Mandy heard the sharp intake of breath as their bodies touched. Mandy, realizing the effect she was having, continued rocking... heel to toe. being sure to stand just a bit closer to Jake each time. As bad as Jake knew she should move, she couldn't.

Just when Jake didn't think she could take anymore, Jay and Terry walked up causing the younger woman to behave. Jake didn't know whether to be thankful or angry.

"Hey, as soon as you get this bottle, we're out of here. Eph's got a cab waiting. Pony's already in it." Jay stated. Mandy pulled Jake's arms around her waist, loving the contact and enjoying the fact that Jake wasn't complaining just as much.

"Pony, why?" Terry cut her eyes towards her girlfriend then rolled them when she began to speak.

"Pony stumbled and dropped three bottles of wine." Everyone looked guiltily at Jay.

"Hey,... don't look at me. It's not my fault that rock ended up in her path and she didn't see it." Jay replied defensively.

"It is when you kicked it in front of her!" Terry scolded.

Jay grinned.


Everyone had been back at Pony's and Eph's house for about an hour. Everyone was hanging out around the pool in the back. Jay and Terry were chasing each other in the pool. 

Pony, since she was pretty sober, had the grill going. Jake was kicked back in a lounge chair, wine glass in hand. She had been watching Mandy since they got back to the house. She just couldn't tear her eyes away. Mandy was sitting next to Eph, talking to her. Every once in a while, she would look over and smile at Jake.

Pony looked over at Jake out of the corner of her sunglasses and whispered to Mandy, "Ms. Sexy is checking you out again. Damn girl, you definitely managed to catch a hot one!" Mandy slapped her friend on her arm

" I haven't caught anything, yet!" Mandy said carefully, trying not to slur her speech. Eph rolled her eyes.

"The Hell you haven't! She keeps looking over here, checking you out!"

"Well then good..." Mandy began as she took a sip from her glass. "Cause I've been checking her out pretty hard myself!" She smiled and winked at her friend then stood up to walk back over by Jake.  

Jake lowered her sunglasses onto the bridge of her nose as she looked up at the blonde woman. She moved over a bit on the lounger so Mandy could sit down.

"Have a seat, Green Eyes." Mandy smiled and sat down so she was facing her friend. She reached over and laced their fingers together.

"How're you doing? Having fun?"

"I am now." Jake answered as she stroked the back of Mandy's hand with her thumb and replaced her sunglasses.

"You're sweet. Are you feeling as lightheaded as I am?" Jake laughed a little and Mandy thought it was the most melodic sound to ever grace her ears.

"If you're asking me if I feel any pain, the answer is "No". I'm feeling pretty good right about now. Not sure if it's the alcohol or the company but, I'm not complaining about either."

Just then Mandy noticed one of her favorite songs playing on the radio.

"Eph, turn this up!" She turned around and yelled to her friend.

"I really like this song!" Jake watched as Mandy closed her eyes and sang along. She sat up in the lounger to be closer to the singing woman and placed her wine glass and sunglasses on the table next to her chair.

"Come stand a little bit closer, Breathe in and get a bit higher. You'll never know what hit you when I get to you"  Jake placed her lips next to Mandy's ear and whispered, "Who says you're going to get to me first?" 

Mandy opened her eyes and looked deep into Jake's as she sang the next line: "Ooh, I want you I don't know if I need you but, ooh, I'd die to find out..."

Both women stared and smiled at each other. Apparently, the "game" they had begun at the Wine Festival was still on. Mandy gave her friend a hug and tackled Jake back onto the lounger. The wine was definitely curing her shyness around this woman. 

She straddled Jake's hips and placed her hands on strong shoulders. She had noticed that Jake was wearing a sports bra, barely visible through her white shirt. She gave Jake an extremely mischievous grin as she ran her fingers straight down Jake's chest to grab each side of the white shirt and rip it open. Buttons went flying, exposing rock hard abs to her touch and gaze.

Jake looked down at her shirt, then back up to Mandy with one eyebrow arched. She couldn't believe Mandy had actually ripped her shirt open, let alone what she did next.

Mandy scratched lightly up and down her stomach, from the bottom of her sports bra to the waist of her jeans, feeling the muscles contract underneath her touch. 

Jay and Terry had quit chasing each other when Jay noticed Mandy throw Jake back in the chair. Pony and Eph watched on in shock at their friend's antics.

Mandy leaned in closer to sing the next few lines to Jake and closed her eyes again as she smelled Jake's cologne.

"I'm the kind of person who endorses a deep commitment, Getting comfy getting perfect is what I live for but a look, then a smell of perfume... It's like I'm down on the floor and I don't know what I'm in for..." 

She leaned in closer, still as she whispered to Jake, "You'll never know what hit you when I get to you... I think I got you first." She broke away, reluctantly, and stopped herself just before she actually had the nerve to kiss Jake on her ear.

Jake stood up, lifting Mandy along with her as the younger woman locked her legs around Jake's waist.

"It looks that way doesn't it? And I thought it was hot out here before!" Mandy grinned at Jake as they placed their foreheads together. Everyone could see what Jake was doing but Mandy. 

Jay and Terry moved out of the way as Jake walked them closer to the edge of the pool. She pulled back just far enough to be able to focus on Mandy's face and look into her eyes.

"I think I need to cool off."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah... and.... I think... you ... are... coming with me!" Jake finished in a rush as she ran the last few feet to the pool and jumped in

Jake smiled at the smaller woman and watched as she leaned her head back and pushed the hair out of her face.

"Who's got who?" Jake asked as she moved the two of them around in the water.

"You know, it's a good thing I have an extra set of clothes here or I'd kick your butt." Mandy replied as she slid Jake's shirt off of her shoulders. Jake reached down and helped Mandy out of her t-shirt, leaving her clad in her bra. Terry and Jay got out of the pool. Pony turned the grill off as she handed the plate of burgers and chicken to Eph to take into the house.

"Hey guys, we're going to go eat in the house to avoid bugs and shit. Dry off and come inside when you get hungry." Pony called from the door as everyone went into the house to enjoy their dinner and give the new friends what little bit of privacy they could.

Everyone really liked Jake and especially liked the way their friend opened up when she was around her. They had all known Mandy for a long time and wanted her to be happy. They were ecstatic that she was finally starting to realize what they had known all along and were more than willing to help her "out" any way they could. 

Jake watched everyone leave and turned back to the woman in her arms. She wasn't kidding when she said, earlier, that she wasn't sure about the cause of her lightheadedness. She was just as uncertain now but had a feeling it had more to do with the woman holding on to her than the alcohol they had been drinking all afternoon.

Both women were content to just float around the pool together, enjoying the closeness of the other. 

They chased one another around the pool for a bit, tackling  and dunking each other under the water. The sun had set and the moon was starting to rise into the October night sky. The air got a bit cooler but neither woman noticed due to the heat radiating off their bodies when in close proximity to the other.

Jake had just dunked Mandy under the water again and as she came back up, sliding her body against Jake's, Mandy noticed another of her favorite songs playing on the radio.

S

"I dunno, Blue Eyes. I think I ripped your shirt off to the wrong song."

"Yeah? You ruined my shirt, ya know." Jake replied as she wrapped her arms tighter around the small body.

"Don't worry... I can sew the buttons back on, ya big baby."

"O.K., I'll remember that. Why do you think that was the wrong song?" Mandy rolled her eyes, playfully.

"Jake, listen to this song! It's much more sensual." "That's it... no more drinking for me tonight. I'm getting way too bold here."

"Sensual. Is that what you were going for?" Jake asked as she maneuvered them over to a corner of the pool.

"Oh yeah... this is much more appropriate."

"How so?" Jake had managed to pin Mandy against the corner of the pool, leaning into her body and closing her eyes briefly as Mandy ran her hands through the dark mane of hair. Mandy began to sing again and Jake opened her eyes to stare into the emerald green awaiting her.

"...My body aches to breathe your breath, your words keep me alive. And I would be the one to hold you down..."  Jake pressed her body impossibly closer to Mandy's and held their bodies tight against each other. She lightly brushed Mandy's cheek with her lips, then pulled back a bit, brushing her cheek along Mandy's as she did so.

"Kiss you so hard... I'll take your breath away..." Once again, they were close enough to breathe the same air. Mandy looked from Jake's eyes to her lips and back. She tilted her head and leaned in closer. Their lips hadn't even touched yet but Mandy could swear she could all ready taste the tang of the chlorine in the pool water against them...

"Mandy!?!?! Gellar's on the phone!" Pony called from inside the house. Mandy slammed her head against Jake's shoulder and groaned.

"Are we ever going to get to do this without being interrupted?" Jake laughed a little to hide her own disappointment at the interruption. She ran her hand gently up and down Mandy's back.

"Soon,... I hope" Mandy lifted her head. They giggled like a couple of teenagers when their eyes met.

"Go on, go talk to your daughter." Mandy untangled herself from Jake's embrace and climbed out of the pool to go get the phone.

"Give her my love." Mandy stopped at the door and turned around to look at Jake.

"Yeah?"

Jake looked back as she, herself, climbed out of the pool and went looking for her battered shirt.

"Yeah!" Mandy smiled one last time as she disappeared into the house. Jake could hear her through the window and smiled to herself as Mandy began talking to her daughter.

"Hi, Sweetpea! AJ says hi and she loves you."

************

Jake walked with Mandy to the front door, both of them giggling as she tried to slip the key in the lock. Jake knew she had drank too much to drive them back to Mandy's on the bike so, she left it locked up in Eph and Pony's garage and they took a cab back to Mandy's.

Mandy finally got the door open and they walked in and shut the door. Mandy locked it as Jake waited, patiently, in the doorway to the living room.

"I just don't see why I can't go home. I could just as easily take a cab home, you know." Jake said as she placed a bag with her change of clothes in the chair. She was pretty smart. When she heard that they'd be back at Pony's after the Wine Festival, she packed a change of clothes in her back pack she carried with her on the bike.

"I know... but, Claudia said she knew we had been drinking and she better see you here when she drops the kids off in the morning. You don't know the woman like I do. Believe me, you don't want to piss her off. So, if she says you're staying... you're staying." Mandy replied as she went into the kitchen to start a kettle of tea. She grabbed two bottles of water out of the refrigerator and handed one to Jake.

"Here,... drink this."

"Why?" Jake asked as she took the offered water.

"Do you know why people get hangovers? It's because the alcohol dehydrates their bodies. That's why you should always drink some water before going to bed after you've been drinking."

"OK, if you say so."

"It's true, I've had one hangover. Steve told me about that little trick and I've never had another one. Come on. Why don't you go take a shower while we wait on the tea. You know where everything's at."

"O.K." Jake smiled at the blonde woman as she grabbed her bag and headed off for the shower.

Not long afterwards, Jake walked out of the bathroom, clad in a clean black t-shirt and jeans. She walked into the kitchen and walked up behind Mandy. She wrapped her arms around Mandy's waist and lifted her up from behind, causing the smaller woman to squeal.

"What are you doing, Goofball?" Mandy asked as Jake placed her back on her feet and hugged her, placing her chin on Mandy's shoulder. Mandy rubbed Jake's forearms.

"Not much. Just noticed the pool out the window, that's all." She teased. She noticed that Mandy was freshly showered as well, dressed in a t-shirt and flannel pajama pants. "How'd you get clean so fast when I was in the shower?"

"I have two bathrooms, Silly. Two showers." Mandy answered as she handed Jake her tea. She reached down and grabbed Jake's hand then headed out of the kitchen. 

"Ready for bed there, Stretch?" Mandy asked over her shoulder.

"Yeah, I'm pretty wiped, actually. Thanks for the tea, by the way." Jake started into the living room, towards the couch when Mandy pulled on her hand. Jake turned around and looked at the woman holding her hand.

"Whatcha doing?"

"Where you going?"

"I was going into the living room to sleep on the couch."

"Believe me, Jake... you don't want to sleep on that thing. It's fine just to sit on but it's absolute Hell on your back. Come on... my bed is plenty big enough for both of us." Mandy continued on into her bedroom with Jake following, hesitantly, behind her.

Mandy turned on the lamp on the other side of her bed and placed her tea on the nightstand. Jake just stood in the doorway watching as Mandy pulled back the covers on the bed. She turned around and looked at Jake, standing in her doorway.

"What's wrong, Jake?" She asked as she walked over and turned off the overhead light. Jake looked down at her feet and played with her tea cup as she answered.

"Maybe this isn't such a good idea, Mandy. I think I should sleep on the couch if I'm going to stay here." Mandy took the cup out of Jake's hands and held them in her own.

"Why?" Jake looked up almost guiltily into Mandy's eyes.

"Because, Mandy,.... I... uhm,.... I really like you and.... I just don't think that I could... uhm,..." 

"Jake, it's o.k. I'm not hitting on you. Well,... honestly, I have been... that couch is just really uncomfortable and I... wait a minute... did you just say that you like me?" 

"No. Actually, I said that I really like you." Mandy placed her hand against Jake's cheek.

"Good. Because I really like you, too. Jake, I don't know what I'm doing here but, I know what I feel and I like you. I'd really like the chance to see where this could lead. You can sleep on the couch if you want but, you won't be comfortable. My bed is plenty big enough for both of us." Jake looked into Mandy's eyes and saw nothing but honesty and trust looking back at her. She hugged the smaller woman to her and heard the sigh of relief that escaped Mandy's lips. She kissed her on the top of her head.

"I don't really know what I'm doing here, either. Let's just take our time and see what happens, ok?" Mandy looked up and kissed Jake on her chin, causing the taller woman to smile.

"That sounds great. But, I can all ready tell you what's going to happen."

"What's that?"

"You're going to drink your tea, carry that sexy ass of yours over to my bed, lose the jeans, because believe me, Honey... you ain't getting in my bed with that much denim on, get in bed and go to sleep."

"Aren't."

"Excuse me?"

"Aren't. You said "Ain't". I'm surprised at you considering you're a teacher." Jake teased. Mandy swatted her on her rear end towards the bed.

"Go, Goofball!" Mandy walked over to the opposite side of the bed and crawled in, waiting for Jake to do the same so they could turn out the light and get some sleep. Jake took off her jeans, leaving her in her t-shirt and boxers. She pulled back the covers and got in bed next to Mandy. She reached over and turned off the lamp next to her, darkness bathing the room.

She lay there with her eyes open for a few moments as Mandy lay, with her back turned, next to her. After a few more minutes, Mandy turned over facing Jake.

"Jake?" She asked, quietly.

"Yeah?" Jake answered as she faced the other woman. The only thing Mandy could see in the darkness, was the crystal blue of Jake's eyes looking back at her.

"Did you mean it when you said you liked me?" Jake ran the back of her fingers down Mandy's cheek.

"Yes, I did. Very much so." 

"Is it ok if... I mean,... Can I...?" Jake opened up her arms to her and smiled.

"Come here." Mandy slid over closer to Jake and tentatively placed her head on Jake's shoulder. She wrapped one arm around Jake's waist as Jake closed her arms around her. She reached up and kissed Jake on the cheek as Jake kissed her back on top of her forehead.

"Good night, Blue Eyes."

"Good night, Mandy."


A key slid into the front door lock, after no one came to answer the door. Claudia walked into the quiet house carrying her sleeping grand-daughter, followed by a still sleepy Raven. She placed Gellar's things on the floor by the door after she shut it. She looked down at the dark haired child, barely able to keep her eyes open. She hated having to wake the two children that early but, she needed to bring them back before she left to go to church that morning. 

She noticed Mandy was not in the kitchen and no one was sleeping on the couch. 

"Come on, Raven." She whispered to the child practically leaning against her leg, falling asleep.

She continued on into the back of the house towards Mandy's bedroom. She quietly cracked the door open and found both women sound asleep, curled up together as they had the night before. Claudia smiled as she took in the sight before her. She watched, quietly, from the doorway as Mandy rolled over off of Jake's shoulder and onto her other side. Jake rolled over and pulled her tight against her stomach. Mandy's arms circled Jake's, lying against her stomach as she placed her head back underneath of Jake's chin. Jake nestled her head against Mandy's. All of this took place without either woman waking up.

Claudia walked over to Mandy's side of the bed and shook her lightly so as not to disturb the other woman sleeping in the bed behind her.

"Mandy? Honey?" Claudia whispered as two sleepy green eyes cracked open to look, unfocused, at her.

"Hmmmm?"

"Sorry to wake you, Honey but, I have to get to church. Where would you like for me to place the kids? Gellar's asleep and Raven's about ready to fall asleep."

"Here." Mandy answered as she closed her eyes once again.

"You want them in the bed with you?"

"Mmmhmm." Claudia smiled as Mandy rolled over, once again, and wrapped her arms around Jake. Jake rolled back over onto her back, opened one blue eye and held her arms out towards Claudia. Claudia grinned, took off Gellar's shoes and walked over to the other side of the bed. She placed Gellar on Jake's chest as, she figured, the sleepy woman requested. Jake lifted her head a bit and whispered to Raven.

"Raven? Come here, Baby." Raven took off her shoes and climbed up on the bed next to her aunt. She placed her head on Jake's unoccupied shoulder and wrapped her arm around Gellar as Jake held her against her. Mandy had her arm thrown over Jake and Gellar also, her hand resting lightly on Raven's back. 

Jake mouthed a quiet "Thank-you" to Claudia as she kissed each of, what she realized to be, her three favorite girls on top of their heads. She closed her eyes and was instantly back asleep.

Claudia watched for a moment and, quietly, turned around and walked out of the room. As she shut the bedroom door and walked out of the house, locking the door behind her, she said out loud to herself, "Yep. Definitely need to have a new family portrait taken."




Part 5


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  Revised: September 1, 2000