Noemí by Katia N. Ruiz


See Part 1

Story sent: 03-04-03 (revised/rewritten)

Author Comments at the end of this Part


By Katia N. Ruiz

Copyright 2000/2002


Noemí, bent over her fourth drink, was already feeling lightheaded. Melanie, sitting across from her on the other side of the table, stared at her with concerned eyes. "Noemí, tell me what's wrong, please." She pleaded with her for what seemed like the fiftieth time, trying to keep her own tears from her eyes.

Noemí stared at the glass in her hand, her mouth working, but no sound coming forth. Melanie had been pleading off and on with her for the past hour, fortunate because there hadn't been that many customers coming into the restaurant. She looked up as her three o'clock relief came in, and she whispered to Noemí: "Come home with me, Noemí." She sighed as Noemí nodded slowly, her eyes lifting from the glass to Melanie's.

Melanie smiled at her and stood up, going over to her relief; she talked in whispers with him. "Thanks." She said louder, and returned to Noemí's side. Noemí fumbled through her bills and threw money onto the table. "Come on, we can walk to my place from here." She slipped under Noemí’s arm and brought it over her shoulders.

Noemí staggered as she walked with her, her balance precarious as her eyes almost closed. "I should be helping you, Melanie," She slurred close to her ear, her warm breath stroking her ear and making her shiver. "Look how small you are, you can't possibly hold me up should I fall."

Melanie couldn't help but laugh, and she poked her gently with an elbow. "Good things come in small packages," She said, and Noemí laughed against her, tightening her arm and sloppily kissing her temple.

"I hope strength is one of those good things," Noemí bantered drunkenly, her lips still pressed against her temple and unnerving Melanie more than her closeness did.

Melanie laughed, fighting with feelings of desire and many other things she’d rather not think about. She had known Noemí since freshman year in high school, and had been in love with her since. She had tried and tried and tried over and over again to get her to go out at least once. Finally, Noemí conceded, and in her usual charming way had made it her business to get to know Melanie. What she found out, she liked, and they soon began to go out on a regular basis. They had wandered away from each other after high school and more during college, each meeting new people and new lovers. Melanie had never stopped feeling deeply for Noemí, and she made sure they saw each other often, occasionally sharing a bed.

It all stopped when Noemí met Amelia and fell in love. She had no eyes for anyone else, but Melanie tried to remain her good friend, eventually fading away from the couple. When Amelia died in that horrible accident and Melanie found out that Noemí had survived, she had felt guilty when she thought that she and Noemí could be together again. So she never sought her out, and stayed back, hearing through Victoria and then mutual friends that she was physically recovering, but that emotionally she wasn't the same any more.

At her apartment, she guided Noemí to the couch.

Born of wealthy parents, and had a nice trust fund that kept her comfortable. She wanted to work outside her parents' company, but her parents would have none of it. They had indulged her when she wanted to go to college for a business degree, but had balked when she said she wanted to work outside the company, that she didn’t want to follow her father's footsteps. So they had set up a trust fund, and she was now comfortable on her own. She had been working in the business district of Wall Street for a while, but the work became stressful and she quit. She then decided to work at her favorite hangout place for a while, just to take it easy from the pressures of the world.

Sprawled on the couch, Noemí stared at her through glassy eyes, and Melanie stared back at her, wondering what she was thinking in her drunken stupor. She sat next to her slowly, mesmerized by the white-blue of the other woman’s eyes. She smiled when Noemí reached up and touched her cheek with soft fingers. She turned her face to press her lips against the fingers touching her gently. "God, I've missed you, Noemí!" She breathed and leaned forward to kiss her lips softly. She felt Noemí respond to her, her smooth lips pressing against her own and opening to allow her tongue passage.

Melanie's shaking hand moved to caress the flat taut stomach, moving beneath the shirt to caress the smooth skin there. She felt the muscles tighten against her palm, and a soft quiver shook her from deep within. Shifting her body, she sat astride Noemí, leaning down and meeting her lips again. She breathed in the smell that was uniquely Noemí and moaned softly against her mouth. She ran her fingers through Noemí’s hair, devouring her mouth with her own.

Noemí's hands had a life of their own, and she caressed thighs and waist, she kneaded hips with her hands as Melanie shifted her hips down against hers. Melanie shuddered, the continuous light touch of Noemí's pelvis against the seam of her jeans aroused her anew, and she felt her wetness grow. Her hand grasped Noemí's shoulders and she moved her hips to the rhythm of Noemí's surging hips.

Noemí stopped, and sat up, pulling off her T-shirt and throwing it somewhere on the floor. She didn’t bother to try to unbutton Melanie's shirt; she ripped it carelessly and yanked it off her shoulders, aware of the sudden catch in Melanie's throat. She buried her face between Melanie's ample breasts, and the familiar smell of the softly scented skin there aroused her more. She felt the alcohol in her system, but it was a secondary feeling compared to the reality of a live body pressed against her. She hadn't been with anyone since Amelia, only in her memories of Amelia, and she wondered why as she pushed them off the couch onto the floor.

Their sex grew volatile, fast and hard. When Noemí's face moved between Melanie's legs, she remembered again what the feel of a woman blossoming against her tongue felt like, and the taste of a woman's sweet nectar rushing into her mouth as orgasm rocked her. Her arms around Melanie's waist were a vise-like grip that kept her mouth connected to her, her tongue anchored deep inside her. The feel of Melanie's thighs tensing violently against her shoulders rocked her body with an almost orgasmic rush; her screams were like a song in her ears.

Before they knew it, hours had passed. They were sweaty by the time they stopped. Spent, not drunk anymore, she allowed Melanie to hold her, pressing her face against the hollow of her neck. Her arms were wrapped around her waist as Melanie's were around her neck, cradling her head close. Their bodies were pressed together tightly and Noemí found some comfort in that. Melanie kissed the top of her head and she whispered: "Stay the night, please."

Noemí nodded slowly, and she lifted her head to kiss her. They started all over again, still fast, hard, sensuous.

Victoria stood in front of Friday's, fists against her hips. She had just been inside, and she had asked for Melanie. They told her that she had already left, alone. Victoria had been hoping that Noemí had at least left with her, but she had no way of knowing she did just that. By now, extremely nervous and frustrated, she felt tears burn her eyes. "Shit!" She muttered. She closed her eyes tightly, grateful for the feel of Michaela's arms sliding around her neck and pulling her close. "Michaela," She whispered hoarsely. "I've never let her get lost like that; I've never let her out of my sight when she's in that state of mind."

"Its okay, honey, its okay." Michaela said, pulling back and wiping the tears gently from her cheeks. "You never expected her to go at you, either, my love. You were shocked."

Victoria gasped as more tears stained her tanned cheeks, her hair in disarray from her fingers rushing through the silky strands over and over. "Oh, man," She said brokenly, and pulled back, pulling Michaela down the block. "We have to go to her parents' house, maybe she went there."

Michaela allowed herself to be pulled and in minutes, they were walking up the driveway to the Leone's door. Thomas opened the door on the second ring. He seemed to be alone in the house, wearing silk pajama pants and a white BVD shirt. His face pinched with worry at Victoria's expression, and he invited them in. Michaela introduced herself to him and he did the same, noticing the anxious worry torturing Victoria. "Victoria, dear, what is going on? Are you okay?" He asked of her, touching her shoulder.

She paced back and forth in the living room, and then looked at him. "I don’t know where Noemí is, Tommy. Do you?" She said suddenly.

Surprised, he looked at her for a long moment before realizing what she said with her eyes. His daughter was going through another crisis. He crossed his arms over his chest, and turned away from them; if he released his hands, they would shake. Every time this happened, he worried that it would be the last time. That Noemí would finally succeed in destroying herself. "When was the last time you saw her?" He asked quietly, trying to remain calm, knowing well how volatile his daughter's crises could be.

"In my place," Victoria answered him, sitting down on the couch and raking fingers through her hair once again. She brought a fist to her mouth and pounded softly against her lips, regretting having talked to Noemí in that way, no matter how surprised or angry her attack had made her. "She came to see me after dropping Terri off with Natty and Renée, and she was in a state. She wanted to drink, and I didn't let her. It seems Travis said a little something to her that bothered her."

Thomas took a deep breath; he knew his daughter’s godfather could be insensitive with his words sometimes. Almost every single time Noemí had gone to see him, she ended up upset, and Thomas knew it was because Martin tried to get her to do things that reminded her of Amelia. A plausible attempt and Thomas knew that it would someday bring his daughter back to the way she was, when she could remember Amelia without a nervous breakdown. Thomas had also known that she had been working too hard, and that she was pushing herself. When he’d tried to get her to take a vacation, she had outright refused.

"She's so sensitive, Michaela," Thomas said suddenly, turning to the pretty stranger that accompanied Victoria.

Michaela smiled at him and says gently, in a strangely comforting voice: "I haven't met her yet, but I hope to soon."

Thomas smiled at her; he liked her instinctively, and hoped Victoria decided to hang on to this one. He sighed and sat down beside Victoria, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. He knew she felt Noemí’s suffering deep inside. Being there when Amelia died and almost loosing Noemí had left Victoria with a deep fear inside that would never leave her. "Honey, all we can do is actually wait. Natalie should be home soon," He reassured her, though inside he trembled as hard as she did on the outside. "We should call Noemí's house, maybe Terri will pick up." He moved to the cordless phone beside the couch and dialed.

Terri picked up on the third ring; she sounded worried. "Hi, Mr. Leone, how are you?" She greeted him, sounding disappointed; she had been hoping it was Noemí calling. He returned her greeting, and she asked him before he had a chance to ask her: "Have you seen Noemí?"

"No, honey, I was going to ask you the same." Thomas said, and his voice faltered. "She has not been home then?"

"No," Terri replied, and she let out a long breath. "When she left me with Mrs. Leone, she wasn’t in the best shape. She had a little altercation with Doctor Martin. Mr. Leone," She said, sounding embarrassed. "What is going on? Why is she like this? Am I somehow bringing this on?"

"No, no, no," Thomas said with a laugh. "It hardly has anything to do with you, honey. This is something that has been happening to her for a long time. Maybe some day we can sit and talk about it. Can you call us if you hear anything from her, or if she comes home?"

"Yes, you do the same." Terri said, and hung up.

Victoria looked at him with red-rimmed eyes, shaking her head. "She has never gotten away from me like that." She said in a low voice, and stood up. "We're going to her house, to wait for her there. If you hear anything, please, please, don’t forget to call us, I'm worried sick."

Thomas nodded and accompanied them to the door. Natalie and René arrived right as Victoria left with Michaela, hurrying towards Queens Boulevard. They looked at Thomas curiously and Natalie asked, bringing bags out of the trunk: "What exactly is going on, Thomas?"

"Come inside, woman, and I'll explain." He said and walked back into the house.


Terri jumped, frightened, when the bell rang. She stood up from her perch on the couch and looked at the door as if it were an enemy. She couldn't imagine who could be visiting this late. Noemí, of course, would have her own key. "Who is it?" She called out tentatively.

"Victoria," Came the muffled answer.

She recognized Victoria's voice and sighed with relief. She opened the door, and allowed her in, followed by another woman. The woman stared at her as she walked in behind Victoria, seemingly assessing her. "Terri, this is Michaela. Michaela, this is Terri." Victoria introduced distractedly. Terri nodded at her, not knowing if she would even shake her hand, she looked so snobbish. "Terri," Victoria said, not noticing the long look Michaela gave Terri in her worry. "You haven't heard anything?"

Terri shook her head, and moved away from Michaela, for some reason feeling uncomfortable around her. "Can you tell me what is going on, Victoria?" She asked quietly, and gestured them to sit down. "Can you tell me why Noemí is so angry? I feel like I’m walking around blindfolded."

Victoria nodded and looked towards the kitchen. "Why don’t we go into the kitchen, drink something fresh?" She suggested, preparing her mind to tell the story. Terri followed her into the kitchen, and they sat at the table, a glass of cold orange juice in front of each woman. Victoria sighed and began to tell Terri about Noemí and Amelia and the baby, the accident, and lastly the death of Amelia and the baby. "Next week is the anniversary of Amelia’s death…" She trailed off.

By the time she finished, Terri fought tears of sympathy, her lips trembling, and she looked away. She couldn't imagine what Noemí must feel every time she remembered her pregnant lover, especially since she loved her so much. Now she could place the woman in the picture she’d seen when she first got to the house yesterday. "How far along was she, Victoria?" She choked out, lifting the cup to her lips and forcing down a mouthful of juice.

Victoria looked at the glass clutched in her hand and answered in a choked whisper: "Seven months."

Michaela reached over and stroked the hand clenched into a fist with gentle nails.

Terri's eyes filled with tears, and she couldn't hold them back when they came. The more she knew about Noemí's pain, the more she cared about her, and the more she worried. "It was almost a reality." She whispered, and stood up suddenly. She left the kitchen, leaving Michaela and Victoria to stare after her.

They stood and followed her after a couple of minutes, curious and apprehensive. They didn’t find her in the living room and Victoria guided Michaela down the long hallway to Terri's bedroom. Terri, sitting at the head of her bed, legs crossed, had a pad on her lap, a pencil in her thin fingers. Sketching quickly, her hand moved gracefully over the paper, the lead making a slight scratching sound in the silence. "What-" Michaela began, but Victoria gestured her to be quiet. She watched as Victoria walked away from her and around the bed towards Terri. She looked over her shoulder cautiously, and gasped at what she saw.

Terri stopped, and looked up at her. "It comforts me, to draw and paint." She said in a whisper. "Knowing what has happened to Noemí makes me very sad. And I always painted when I was sad," She smiled ruefully and Victoria returned her smile with a squeeze of her shoulder. Terri continued: "Which explains all the paintings in my old place." She pointed at all the unopened canvases and box of paints. "Noemí had her mother buy me all of this, and I don’t even know where to start. She's a very good person."

Victoria smiled. "Noemí's got the heart of an angel." She said, and sat beside her on the bed. She gestured to Michaela, and she sat on the other corner of the bed. "When she loves, she loves for real. She won't say I love you unless she really feels it." She smiled at Michaela. "Can she see it?" She asked Terri.

Terri blushed, and passed the notepad over to Michaela.

Michaela smiled as she saw what the young woman had drawn in a matter of seconds. Michaela had seen a picture of Noemí in Victoria's apartment, and recognized her. Terri's talent went beyond words; her definition of Noemí was perfect. "This is wonderful. How can you remember every single detail of her features?" She asked in wonder, seeing the same deep sadness she'd seen in the photographs.

Terri looked down at the bed. "I've studied her," She answered in a low voice. "She is a very beautiful sight." Victoria agreed with a sound, and Michaela had to agree with her as she stared at the drawing. "I've never painted a person before, and when I told her I wanted to paint her, to see what was inside her, she almost had a heart attack. Now I know why, she doesn't want me to see the pain deep within her. But I saw it anyway, the first time I met her."

Victoria rested her chin against the smaller woman’s shoulder, smiling at Michaela, seeing her self-controlled attitude, however briefly, uncontrolled pleased her. Michaela's eyes were still on the drawing, and when she handed it back to Terri, a grudging respect had replaced the caution in her eyes. "It is wonderful," She said. "If you decide to make that painting, don’t forget to let me see it."

Terri nodded, and closed the notepad. "I worry about where she is at this time of night." She said softly, throwing the pad towards the foot of the bed. She felt comfortable with Victoria's bulk next to her, and now with Michaela.

"She needs rest; she doesn't take a break from that dreadful office." Victoria said. "Ever since she was able to go back to work, she has been in that office all day, and half the night before this whole thing with Anthony and you came along." She hugged Terri to herself and kissed her cheek. "We're going now. You need all your rest, my pregnant friend." She chuckled softly and stood up from the bed. She looked at Terri for a long time, a smile on her face. "Wait until Noemí starts letting you close, you'll see how good she can be. You won't even think about her bad moments, only when they happen. You'll see."

Terri smiled back and nodded. "I've seen her good side already, Victoria, and I know that she doesn't mean what she says when she's angry. People just have to know what boundaries to cross with her." She said and Victoria nodded. "I'm learning them as we go." She paused and looked down at the bed. "Don’t worry; I'll call you as soon as she gets home."

"Thanks." Victoria said, and Terri guided her and Michaela to the door. Victoria leaned down to hug Terri and Michaela shook her hand with a genuine smile.

Terri went to bed and stayed awake for most of the night, drawing in her pad and thinking.

Noemí opened her eyes slowly, lifting her head. She had a huge headache, and her eyes felt gritty. The bed she slept in felt unfamiliar, though she recognized the redheaded nude woman sleeping languidly on her stomach beside her. Noemí looked away, remembering the long hours spent with Melanie, the passion with which they had shared their bodies. Careful not to wake Melanie, Noemí sat up and brought her legs over the side, standing up.

Glancing at Melanie’s bedside clock, she saw that it was close to three in the morning. She padded towards the bathroom, wondering how long she had slept for; she knew she didn’t feel rested or at ease. "I need a drink." She whispered huskily to her hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror. With her hands grasping the sides of the sink, she leaned forward; closing her eyes, she thought of Melanie.

She and Melanie had been lovers during their years in the same private High School and through their first year of college. They’d parted slowly, seeing each other occasionally, then not at all. Noemí had begun to see other women halfway through that first year, and she knew Melanie had been doing the same, so she didn’t really mind their breakup. They would always be friends, even if they didn’t see each other or do friendly things. She never expected to run into Melanie again, or for this to happen.

"What’s wrong, baby?" Melanie’s gentle voice snapped her out of her thoughts and she opened her eyes. Their eyes met through their reflections in the mirror.

Noemí didn’t reply right away, and Melanie waited, her sad expression showing her knowledge of what Noemí’s next words would be.

"We can’t do this again." Noemí said, her voice husky and raw.

Melanie looked away, her eyes filled with pain. She leaned heavily against the doorframe. "Why?" She asked, her voice shaking slightly.

Noemí looked down at her hands. "I can’t love you." She said, her voice full of regret.

Melanie nodded, biting her lower lip and trying not to cry. "I should have never brought you here." She whispered, her eyes watering.

Noemí took that as her cue to leave, and she turned from the sink and walked past Melanie, gathering her clothes and slipping them on. Done, she turned to look at Melanie, who now watched her. "I’m sorry." She said, not knowing how to fix things.

Melanie pointed towards the door and whispered: "Just go." She then began to cry, spun into the bathroom, slamming the door between them.

Noemí held back tears, guilt tearing her inside. She left quietly and made her way out of the building. She remembered she left her car in the parking garage near Friday’s and she walked slowly in the direction of the restaurant. She paused in front of Friday’s, glancing across the street at the corner bar and thinking about how thirsty she felt. She crossed the street and walked into the bar. Still in full swing, the bar's music pounded through her aching head, but she ignored it. The music played and people were either chatting away at the tables or at the bar, drinking. She saw an empty stool at the bar and moved towards it. Sitting down, she motioned to the bartender. "Whiskey, double." She said, and he smiled as he served her drink. She thanked him and told him to keep them coming.

She stayed for a couple of hours and drank until the early hours of the morning, when the sunrise already had passed. She stumbled out of the bar across the street to the parking lot and eventually made it to her car.

She wondered how she made it home, really. She knew she shouldn’t have been driving in her state, but she didn’t really care. She swerved into her drive. Stumbling out of her car and slamming the door closed, she staggered towards the front door. She got it open after some fumbling and cursing, and made a beeline for the liquor cabinet.

When Terri finally allowed sleep to overtake her, the sun already lit the sky. She didn't sleep more than two hours before she heard the sound of keys clinking against the front door's knob, half-asleep. A thudding sound made her jump and the front door slammed shut, and then she heard a low curse. She recognized the voice, and got up from her bed. "Noemí." She called out, and heard the sound of glass clashing on glass.

"Go back to bed, Terri." Noemí's hoarse voice called back, the words slurring together. Terri walked into the living room. Noemí stood in the center of the living room, a glass full of Brandy in her hand; her hair a tousled mess, her clothes wrinkled, swinging back and forth on her feet. Terri could see on her neck dark marks and knew they were hickeys. Her eyes had that haunted look from yesterday as they stared at her, unfocused. "I said go back to bed, Terri." She whispered softly, and drank from her glass.

"Where have you been?" Terri asked her gently.

Noemí made a face and turned away from her. "None of your concern." She responded in a harsh quiet voice.

Terri remained calm, knowing Noemí's state of mind, her drunkenness. She said as calmly as she could: "Your family has been concerned, your best friend too. Everybody has been going crazy wondering where and how you were-"

"Mind your fucking business, Terri." Noemí said coldly, swaying on her feet.

"Noemí," Terri said pleadingly, moving closer to her. "You've been good to me, and I’ve started to care about you. You have to talk-"

"Shut up, shut up!" Noemí roared and spun around, hurled the glass, sending it flying across the room at Terri. It landed with a shatter on the wall next to her head.

Terri’s clenched her eyes closed; she felt the warm liquid prickle her arm and her neck, heard the shattering sound like a bomb in her ears. Her eyes snapping open, wide with fear, she spun and ran down the hall and into her room, ignoring Noemí's pleading voice, slamming the door closed. She leaned against the door, eyes wide, and her body shaking. She panted for breath, feeling her legs shake. She cried out feebly when Noemí pounded on her door, hugging herself and trembling. She could hear her say something, but fear didn't allow her understand.

"Please, Terri, open the door." Noemí pleaded, pounding on the door. "Are you hurt? Please, Terri!"

Terri felt the baby inside her shift nervously, and she gasped when tears ran down her cheeks. The baby kicked again, and she hugged her stomach, trying to calm down for her baby's sake. Again, Noemí pounded on the door, and she felt the vibration against her back. "Terri, oh God, are you okay?" Noemí yelled out frantically, tears in her voice, the words becoming clear to Terri's ears. "Please, answer me! I didn't mean to hurt you!" She sobbed loudly and Terri could hear her body sliding downwards and heavily against the door. Her voice sounded closer to Terri's ear in her pleading. "Oh God, help me, please! I didn't want to hurt her! Oh God!" She banged on the door again.

Terri moved away from the door and reached for the knob. She opened the door, and Noemí fell into the room, looking up at her through glazed, tearful eyes. "Oh, thank God!" She gasped, and her head fell onto the carpet. She pulled her knees up, hugging her legs to her chest, burying her face into her knees. Her body heaved and trembled violently as she cried.

Crawling close to Noemí’s side, Terri tentatively touched her shoulder. Instinctively, Noemí unwound her body and crawled onto her, wrapping her arms around her waist and pressing her face to her stomach. The baby shifted again, and Noemí felt it against her face. "I'm sorry, Terri, I'm so sorry. I don’t know what's come over me." She whispered against her abdomen, sobbing. Somewhere in the house, Terri heard the phone ring. Neither woman moved to answer it and it continued to ring.

Terri looked down at her and the sudden rush of tenderness she felt towards the larger woman surprised her. She smoothed her hair away from her forehead, and smiled softly, the fear suddenly gone. Noemí needed her, and she would try to help her. She knew Noemí would never intentionally hurt her in any way. "I know what's come over you." She whispered, and Noemí turned her face to look at her with her one good eye, the other pressed closed against her stomach. "You have to talk about it, you know, or you'll be like this for the rest of your life." She said.

Noemí turned her face into her stomach again, and said, sounding suddenly sober: "I didn’t want to hurt you; I don’t know what’s come over me." Her arms around Terri's waist tightened and then suddenly loosened. She took a deep breath and she registered Terri's scent; like sweet strawberries in summer. "Are you hurt?" She asked suddenly, sitting up and touching her cheek. She gazed at the smaller woman’s face and down her arms searchingly, her eyes red-rimmed. "Please, tell me the truth. Are you hurt?" She seemed frantic for reassurance.

Terri shook her head and smiled, taking the large hand in hers and pulling it away from her face. "I'm fine, and I'm telling you the truth." She whispered, and then paused, considering. "Well, my feelings are a little hurt. But I don’t lie, never have." She reassured her. "We were all worried about you."

Noemí sighed, and held Terri's hand in hers. "I stayed at a friend's house, I should have called, but I-" She stopped, her cheeks flushing redder.

Terri's eyes wandered briefly to the marks on her neck. "I know what you were doing; you don’t have to tell me." She smiled very softly, and Noemí returned her smile. "Just don’t disappear like that, please. Not again." She whispered, her smile fading. "If you feel out of control, just talk to me. I know we've just met, but you've been the one who's helped me with this, with telling your parents. I feel closer to you. You've trusted me by bringing me to your house and giving me more things in two days than what I've had my whole life before this. Why can't you trust me enough to talk to me?"

Noemí blushed, and moved closer to her, pulling her into an embrace and pressing her face against her shoulder. She felt Terri respond to her embrace. "You know why I'm like this?" She asked softly.

Terri nodded, burying her face into her hair, breathing softly, rewarded with the musk scent of Noemí's skin. She said: "Yes, Victoria was here last night, worried sick about you. She brought her friend Michaela with her." She pulled back, and saw the shame in Noemí's eyes. "You've been rude to everybody." She admonished firmly, touching her cheek softly with her hand. Pulling back, she stood and offered her hands to Noemí.

"Now," She said as Noemí stood up without her help. She pulled her towards the bed, and gestured to a beautiful wooden crib already set up close beside the bed. "Look at what your mother bought me. Isn't it beautiful?" Her smile showed emotion that she was obviously surprised she was feeling.

Noemí couldn't help the instant tenderness she felt for Terri. There were bags beside the bed, close to twelve bags full of clothes and other assorted materials. Terri gestured to them and said: "She's gotten me all these maternity clothing. She also got my baby a lot of clothes, no definitive colors, since we don’t know if it's a girl or a boy. She says that when I give birth she'll buy me more clothes." She looked up at Noemí with question in her eyes. "Don't you think this is too much?"

Noemí shook her head and sat on the bed. "No," She said, eyeing the crib and the bags. "Let her indulge herself, she's always wanted a grandchild, and she's getting her wish, in however an unconventional way." She looked at the crib sadly, and her eyes filled with tears; she sat on the bed slowly. "You know," She croaked after a long moment, fighting against the tears. "Amelia and I didn’t even get to buy a crib for the baby."

Terri moved to her and wrapped her arms around her, holding her close; Noemí bent down and pressed her face against her swelling stomach again, her hands against her lower back pulling her close. "I'm so sorry, Noemí," Terri whispered, running her fingers through her hair. Noemí's shoulders shook as she cried. "I told you that you can talk to me about it, don’t keep it all inside." She pulled her head back and tilted it upwards, a finger beneath her chin. "You haven't mourned, have you? You haven't even cried?"

Noemí shook her head and avoided her eyes. She had been in a coma after the accident; by the time she woke, Amelia had been buried. "By the time I came out of the coma, Amelia and the baby had been buried for a long time." She whispered.

Terri nodded to herself, never ceasing to look at Noemí. "Someone told me that tears can be good for the soul." She said softly, moving her hand up to stroke Noemí's soft hair. Terri found herself staring at her softly sensuous lips, wondering briefly what it would be like to kiss them. What is wrong with me? She thought with a small shudder, feeling Noemí's magnetism.

Noemí smiled dreamily, her hands grasping Terri's T-shirt at the sides, her eyes on Terri's lips. "I didn't think you were so sweet, Terri." She whispered, and let her head drop again, her arms wrapping around her waist and pulling her close as she buried her face against her stomach once more, strangely comforted by the warm feeling of life beneath the taut skin.

Terri hugged her tightly to herself, kneading her shoulders and caressing her hair. After a long time, she said: "Want to talk while you watch me draw? I've developed a sudden urge to draw."

Noemí pulled away and half-turned to look at the boxed canvases and paints. "When will you use those?" She asked, gesturing to them.

Terri looked at them. "When I find my muse, since you don’t want me to paint you." She explained, and smiled when Noemí blushed. She stroked the other woman’s cheek, enjoying the closeness that they had developed in a matter of minutes. She bent down and took the notepad lying at the foot of the bed. She climbed onto the bed and adjusted herself, back against the headboard. She patted the space beside herself. "Come, sit beside me and talk away. Tell me what ails you." She said lightly, knowing that their conversation would be a long one.

Noemí obeyed, but instead she lay down with her head on the painter’s lap. She sighed softly, comfortable. "I think I'm going to enjoy your stay here, Terri. I'm glad I decided that you move here, and that you finally accepted." She said, her arm wrapping around her legs. Suddenly, she sat up. "Shit, but I have to go to work!" She exclaimed and began to get off the bed.

Terri grabbed her arm, and yanked her back down, firmly pushing her head back down onto her lap. "They won't miss you for a day." She said simply, and Noemí relaxed again, wrapping her arm once again around her legs. "I'm going to have to lean my pad against your head when I begin to draw." She said, and Noemí nodded her assent.

"She what?" Anthony yelled into the phone, instantly breaking into a coughing fit. The smoke from his blunt wheezed out of his mouth.

"The girl moved in with Noemí." Caesar Leone, Anthony's cousin, repeated. He and Anthony grew up playing and scheming together, each as bad as the other. While Anthony chose to live off his parents, though, Caesar pursued a career in management. He hoped to some day work a management position at his Uncle Thomas’ lucrative pasta enterprise. He was currently trying to prove his worth working a regular lackey position at the company. "I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for like three days to let you know."

"Son of a bitch," Anthony muttered. Murphy looked up towards him from her perch on the couch in front of the television. "That bitch."

"Tony, are you sure that’s not your kid?" Caesar asked, already suspecting the truth. He knew his cousin was weak when it came to the object between practically any woman’s legs. Hell, if it hadn't been for the fact that he was afraid of Noemí, he would have made a play on Amelia! Condoms were a no-no for the moron, which made things worst.

"I’m sure, man!" Anthony yelled into the phone. "Why do you keep asking me that?"

"I know how you feel about condoms." Caesar reasoned.

"She used the pill." Anthony said, taking a deep drag from his ‘cigar.’

"Before or after the first time?" Caesar asked slowly.

Anthony frowned. "After," he continued before his cousin could say a word. "But I made her take the three-day-pill just in case."

"Is it one hundred percent effective?" Caesar asked, wondering.

"Man, what are you coming at me with this math shit for?" Anthony whined. He took another puff and stared at it. I’ll have to roll another one soon.

"Alright, alright. Go do your thing and I’ll call you tomorrow when you’re in better frame of thought." Caesar said, sighing when his cousin hung up the phone without saying goodbye.

Anthony walked towards the couch, flopping down next to Murphy, offering some of his ‘cigar.’

"No, thanks," Murphy said lazily, pushing his hand away. "I am getting high enough smelling it." She gestured towards the phone, her eyes never leaving the television. "What was that about?"

Anthony scowled. "That little bitch moved into my sister’s house." He grumbled venomously.

"So you used the three day pill on her?" Murphy asked, ignoring his reply.

"Yeah," Anthony said, sounding insincere.

"You lying sack of shit!" Murphy exclaimed, finally looking at him. "You would say anything to not have to take responsibility, wouldn’t you?" She crossed dark arms over her chest and glared at him, shaking her head. "If your cousin believed that lie, he is a bigger idiot than you are!" She snarled at him, and he moved slightly away from her, eyes wide. "You know that baby is yours and you will not even admit it! You ruined that poor girl’s life and you do not give a shit!"

Anthony glared at Murphy through the haze of marijuana smoke that surrounded him. "Obviously her life is not ruined; she’s enjoying to the fullest what my family has to offer." He pouted.

"Which is why I’m surprised you have not gone back to, quote-unquote, take responsibility." She said sarcastically.

Anthony stared at Murphy in bewilderment. "Huh?"

Murphy’s eyes narrowed. "Do not think that I don’t know your money is running out?" She said. "You have been spending like a maniac since we got to Jamaica; gambling, drinking, smoking!"

"Well, what about you?" It was his turn to snarl. "I spent money on you."

"I paid for my own way, thank you!" She said indignantly. "I already paid you back for Aruba."

"How the hell did you do that?" He demanded to know, raking a hand through increasingly long curls.

"By bloody sleeping with you, you sorry excuse for a man!" She exploded, saying what she’d been wanting to say from the first night they spent together. She could see him shrinking under her yells. Jesus, what a bloody wimp! "You do not even know how to please a woman, which makes me wonder how you even got one pregnant!" She calmed down enough to just glare at him, her upper lip curling in disgust. "I’m leaving tomorrow." She said after a long moment.

"What? Why?" He exclaimed, mentally latching to that announcement. He couldn’t handle the fact that she wasn’t the first woman to let him know he couldn’t please a woman.

Murphy uncrossed her arms and lay back on the couch, changing the channel on the television, and gluing her attention to it again. "Unlike you, I work." Was all she said; he chose not to argue that point.


Noemí’s eyes closed and her face was peaceful, her long lithe body relaxed. "Amelia and I were perfect together, I thought so, she thought so, and everybody thought so." She began softly, and Terri looked down at her. "I loved her so much, and she loved me. My parents adored her, and so did Vicki's. Vicki introduced us, and she loved her too." She shifted lightly, but her eyes stayed closed. "When- when she died," Her voice faltered, her arm around Terri's legs jerked. "When she died, and the baby with her," Terri could see her throat bobbing, hear her voice growing thick with tears. "Oh, God, the baby, it would have been so beautiful! I loved them both more than my own life, Terri. You don’t understand how much-" She broke into tears.

Terri stroked her hair and her face, tears of her own burning her eyes. "I understand, trust me." She said softly. "Don't stop, maybe telling me everything will help you."

Noemí talked for a long time, about what their life was like, up until before the accident. About the love, the peace and laughter. She remembered most, the moment when Amelia told her she was pregnant, and the passionate celebration that followed. The phone rang numerous times, but Terri didn't want to ruin the mood and Noemí didn't seem to hear it in her voyage through her memories.

The taller woman took a deep shuddering breath and her arm tightened appreciatively. "When the accident happened, it seemed I was stuck in that wreckage forever." She whispered, turning her face onto Terri's lap, as if trying to cover her eyes from the horrible image of Amelia staring blankly back at her. "She," She continued shakily, her voice muffled by Terri's legs. "She died almost right away, maybe seconds after the car stopped crashing and twisting and turning. She looked at me right afterwards, I mean, the car was crushed and all, but she turned her head to look at me. It probably took the rest of her strength to do that. Her eyes were dying already, her breath cut off by the pressure of the dashboard crushing against my arm- her chest!"

Noemí sobbed loudly into Terri's lap, and Terri's hand caressed the back of her head. She couldn't help it as her own tears ran down her cheeks. "The last thing she said to me-" Noemí choked out, her shoulders heaving. "She said before her eyes went blank: 'Our baby-', and that's it, her eyes lost that beautiful light, and I could do nothing but watch. My arms were caught on something, and I was trapped, and I couldn't even touch her, or say anything!" She sobbed for a long time, while Terri touched her hair and comforted her without words. She sobbed until spent, she couldn't cry any more. Then she asked softly, tiredly: "Do you know that I'm blind from my left eye?"

Terri smiled softly. "Yes," She said softly. She was aware that the sun had risen higher in the sky. She looked at the alarm clock Natalie had set up for her the evening before, and realized it was almost ten thirty. She looked down at Noemí and realized Noemí had fallen asleep, just like that, her face softened and peaceful.

A tender feeling for Noemí overwhelmed Terri again, and she tried to move her legs, wanting to go get the phone and call everyone to reassure them Noemí made it home okay. Noemí made a sound deep in her throat, and her arm tightened. Little by little, slowly and softly, Terri succeeded in removing the arm from around her legs and replaced her lap with one of her thick pillows. She leaned over Noemí as she stood beside the bed, and kissed her temple softly. She moved quickly, avoiding the broken glass on the floor and retrieved the cordless from the kitchen, walking fast back to the bedroom, where Noemí had curled up on the bed like a child.

She dialed the Leone's phone number, already knowing it by memory from the previous night's numerous calls to the house. Thomas picked up on the first ring, and sounded immensely relieved when Terri told him that Noemí slept safely in front of her. "We had a talk, Mr. Leone," She said in a whisper, stroking Noemí's hair and gazing at her sleeping face. "A long talk, I think that’s what she needed. She had too much grief bottled up inside. It was a little hairy at first, but I think I got through to her. I made sure that she knew we were all worried too."

Thomas sighed, very glad to know his daughter was safe, and explained the situation to Natalie. Terri could hear Natalie talking quickly in her relief, and Thomas comforted her with sweet words. He turned his attention back to the Terri. "I am so glad that she has talked to you about it. She never wanted to talk every time I tried." He said with a soft sigh. "She can loose it when she's like this, and it is hard to get through to her."

He could hear Terri's smile. "I've been through a lot of things myself, and I let her understand, in not so many words, that I know where she stands where pain is concerned. I think she took me seriously, I think she trusts me." She said softly.

Thomas, happy, hoped his daughter might become as close to the old Noemí as possible. He loved Terri all the more for trying to help Noemí. "Thank you, Terri, I really mean it. I think you're an excellent addition to our family." He said with genuine sincerity.

Terri blushed and said shyly: "Thank you, Mr. Leone, any time I can help her like she's helped me I will."

"Oh, child, call me Thomas!" He exclaimed with a laugh. "Listen to me, call Victoria, she has been calling here like a maniac, trying to find out anything about Noemí."

"Gladly," Terri said, and looked through her notepad, where she'd written down Victoria's phone number. She said goodbye to Thomas, and clicked over the line, dialing Victoria's number. Victoria picked up on the half ring, Terri said softly: "She's here, Victoria, and she's sleeping."

"Oh, thank God!" Victoria gasped and began to cry quietly. Terri could hear Michaela on the background, and then her soft voice came on the line.

Michaela's voice came very pleasant and calmer now that they knew Noemí's whereabouts. "Thank you, Terri, Victoria has been impossible all night and morning. She's been going crazy, and now she can sleep a little," She said with gratefulness. "After she rains out those tears, I'm going to make her forget about real life and then I'm putting her to sleep. Why don’t I have her give you a call in a couple of hours?"

Terri laughed softly, glad that Michaela had gotten over her initial distrust of Terri. "Sounds good," She said.

"Good," Michaela said, and she paused to listen to something Victoria said. "Is she okay? She didn't get hurt?" She asked Terri.

Terri looked Noemí over closely. "She had gotten a little drunk during the night, but other than some hickeys from unknown person, she's perfectly fine." She said with a little humor.

Michaela relayed the message, and Terri could hear Victoria's muffled voice, but she couldn't understand what she said. Michaela returned to talk to Terri again. "Let's give you a call in a few hours, let her sleep a little, and then we can talk about visiting for dinner. Okay?"

"Okay." Terri said and they hung up with pleasant good-byes. Terri put the phone down on the bed, and walked around to the other side, climbing into bed as carefully as possible. Noemí made a noise deep in her throat, her eyes never opened as her strong arms reached out to pull Terri to herself, burying her face against the base of her neck, sighing contentedly. Teri could do nothing but wrap her arms around her neck, resting her head against a pillow, strangely comfortable. She closed her eyes and fell asleep with ease.


Noemí's head ached a little as she opened her eyes slowly, feeling as if the sunshine burned through her eyes into her brain. "Oh, God!" She murmured as she clenched her eyes closed again. She became aware of a small body, warm and supple, lying in her arms. The top of the dark head, pressed up against her chin, rested against her bicep, the soft hair tickled her skin softly. Aware of the swollen stomach pressing against her own, she looked down at the legs entwined with hers, and at her arm thrown carelessly across Terri's waist. She realized that Terri was lying in her arms, and she remembered the events of that morning.

She opened her eyes again, and noticed the alarm clock on the dresser; it was already four o'clock in the afternoon. They had spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon sleeping in each other's arms. Noemí's eyes closed as she thought about that. A smile crossed her lips as she thought about her sleep, a dreamless sleep that had evaded her for years, and Terri made it possible with her gentle insistence. Noemí had to admit to herself that she never thought that Terri could be so gentle, and she blamed Terri's family for not allowing her to show her warmth instead of her cold side.

The phone rang, startling Noemí out of her surprisingly peaceful musing. The phone was on the bed behind Terri's head. The young woman jumped, startled from her sleep, and looked up at Noemí. Noemí smiled at her as she reached for the phone. "Hi, Vicki." She said, regretting when Terri rolled away from her and stood.

Victoria sounded glad to hear her voice. She said: "Why don’t we come over for dinner, and Michaela and Terri can cook while we talk?" Noemí, listening, watched Terri move around the room at the same time.

She felt the sudden urge to hold her in her arms again. "Come over then. I want to apologize." She said softly, and Victoria laughed her rebuttal of the apology and, all forgotten, they hung up with an agreement to meet at six thirty. Terri had walked out of the room and Noemí could now hear the sounds of clanging bottles and swishing liquids.

Curious, Noemí went out to the living room, looking down as her still booted feet crunched on broken glass. She could hear Terri in the kitchen throwing something into the sink. Her confusion evident in her voice, Noemí asked: "What are you doing?" And realization hit her when she saw the empty bottles of liquor from her liquor cabinet beside the sink, and on the other side, three more left to empty. "What are you doing?" She demanded, moving forward quickly and reaching for the bottle of Gin in Terri's hand. Terri dodged her reach and emptied the bottle.

She reached for another one. "No!" Noemí said through clenched teeth, her hand grabbing Terri's wrist. Stubborn, Terri reached for another of bottles with her other hand, slamming it into pieces inside the sink. "Stop, please, I need that!" Noemí begged, grabbing her other hand.

Terri's eyes were firm though gentle as she spun around to face Noemí. "No, you don’t need that! You need food!" She said firmly, and pulled her hands away from Noemí's grasp. "I want to feel safe around you, when you're sober, and not half drunk like you are most of the time." She saw Noemí's hurt expression and her voice softened as she reached up to touch her face. "I'm not doing this to hurt you, Noemí, please understand me. If you don’t stop, in a few years, you'll be fighting some liver disease from all the drinking. You know that."

Noemí closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against Terri's, her hands holding her balance against the edges of the counter. She shook softly, her eyes closed tight. Terri felt her sweet warm breath, tainted with the sharp scent of alcohol, brush against her lips. It would be so easy to bend my neck and just kiss her...

"It's hard; I want to have a drink now." Noemí whispered and Terri sighed.

"I know you can't stop cold turkey, so how about we work a little system out?" She felt Noemí's nod against her head. "Do you want to go to AA?" She asked softly, and Noemí shook her head almost vehemently. Terri laughed softly, saying: "Okay, we'll do the home remedy. One drink when you get home and before you go to bed." Noemí groaned softly. "Eventually, we'll lower the dosage to one drink when you get home and then half a drink, then less and less. Until you don’t want any more. What do you say?"

"I say it sounds like fucking torture." Noemí said grudgingly. Terri smiled and kissed her nose softly; Noemí felt cared for. "We'll make it, I'm sticking by you. You can't cope if you're drunk all the time." She pointed out, pressing her index into Noemí’s shoulder. She turned back to empty the remaining bottle and Noemí watched with a look full of pain on her face. Over her shoulder, Terri said: "Now, go take a shower, you really need it."

Michaela and Victoria arrived at exactly six thirty, and Noemí knew that it had to do more with Michaela than with Victoria herself. Victoria had never been punctual. To Noemí, Michaela seemed a great influence on Victoria. She said as much as they got formal introductions and smiled at each other warmly. She had just finished showering and changing into comfortable clothes when they arrived, her hair still dripping wet onto her face. Victoria couldn't help it; she reached over and ruffled her hair, making more droplets get onto her clothes. Laughing, Noemí returned the attack, grabbing Victoria by the face and pulling her face to her head, wetting her face and the front of her shirt.

Michaela laughed, and looked around at the living room. In the early evening, with the sun still out, the room felt more inviting and refreshing. "Where is Terri?" She asked.

"In the shower," Noemí answered, wrapping an arm around Victoria's neck and yanking her close, kissing her cheek loudly. After a long moment of hugging her friend, she seemed to remember her manners, and she invited them to sit down, offering them drinks. "Non-alcoholic, though. They're prohibited in this house now."

Victoria's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Really, since when?" She asked in astonishment, and pleasure.

"Since I acted like a fool this morning and almost broke a glass on her head." Noemí said, obviously ashamed of her behavior.

Victoria jumped to her feet. "You what?" She said loudly. "Are you crazy?" She paced the living room, hands on her hips. Michaela's eyes were on Noemí with surprise. "She's a pregnant woman, Noemí!" Victoria said.

Noemí nodded and looked even more ashamed; she stood and ran a hand through her hair. "I know, I know." She said shortly, gazing down at her feet. "I realized what I did when she ran from me, as if I were going to kill her."

"By all means you were going to, Noemí." Victoria said, standing beside her and kissing her cheek. "I hope she keeps you in check and spanks you every time you falter." She said, and she was the old Victoria, the one that laughed and joked all the time.

Michaela smiled at the two friends with a mix of pleasure. She wanted to meet Noemí, just because she was so important to Victoria and she loved her so much. Now they had met, and she was pleased with what she saw. Adding to the fact that both women were very pleasing to the eye, their camaraderie was of people who had known each other their whole lives. Their problem the day before seemed to be forgotten and Victoria seemed happier to have her friend be alright and not hurt somewhere. Michaela liked Noemí Leone. She looked at Victoria, and felt her heartbeat falter. Victoria made her knees go weak already, but she shoved back the feeling.

A few minutes later, Terri came into the living room, all smiles. She smelled good and her hair dripped from the shower, picked up in a ponytail. She and Michaela went to the kitchen, each wanting to slap up a little something to eat. Noemí smiled at Victoria, and the best friends went outside through the front door. They walked around to the back of the house, where the trees are dense, and green and pretty. Their surroundings were beautiful, the air so fresh to Noemí's lungs; she felt some peace, after a long time of suffering. They stood in silence for a long time. "She's talked me into grieving, I guess." She said suddenly, her voice low and thoughtful, and she looked at Victoria for a long moment before looking back out into the trees.

Victoria smiled at her, and then continued to study the trees. "You didn't want to grieve. To admit that Amelia is gone," She said softly after a while.

Noemí crossed her arms over her chest, and stood in thoughtful silence for another while. "I guess I didn't," She said finally, biting her lower lips softly. "Because that meant she was really gone, didn't it? That meant I was admitting I was alone, and all the time I knew I was alone, and that I was dying inside." She smiled softly, her eyes sad but peaceful. "Maybe this new baby, my niece or nephew, will be my salvation."

Victoria slapped her on the back, and pulled her close. "I love you, and believe me when I say that I like Terri, and that she seems like a good friend." She said softly close to her ear.

"I love you too," Noemí said softly, biting her lower lip thoughtfully. "And I like her too, she is good with me. She tells me like it is, you know?"

Victoria chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I know." She whispered, and they listened to the birds sing in the tranquility, and watched as the departing rays of the sun caressed the beautiful trees. Victoria said suddenly: "You remember Natty's birthday is in two weeks, don’t you?"

Noemí smiled and nodded. "Don’t forget, she is my mom." She chuckled.

"What are you getting her?"

"I haven't a clue."

"Want to go shopping for something?" Victoria kicked at a pebble, sending it flying across to a tree bark.

Noemí nodded.

"Do you think you'll have a dinner?" Victoria sounded hopeful; the Leone's dinners were always fun. They sometimes invited more people than the house could hold.

Noemí shrugged and smiled; she knew her family loved to get together, even if it was crowded. She looked at Victoria for a long time and Victoria looked right back at her. "I feel some peace for the first time, Vicki." Noemí whispered. "It was like I needed to shed all those tears, I never did. I cried so much today, I couldn't believe it." The memory seemed more like a dream than a memory.

Victoria wrapped an arm around Noemí's neck and pulled her close. Noemí responded and wrapped her arm around Victoria's waist. Victoria sighed. "I'm happy that Terri is here now, maybe she'll get you a little out of yourself." She said softly.

Noemí chuckled softly, shaking her head no. "She is a great person, and I resent that my brother did what he did to her." She whispered.

"Well, that’s why you took her in, to pay back for what he did." Victoria said and remained quiet for a long time. "I think she likes the house." She then said.

Noemí nodded and smiled. "Yes, she does." She said. They turned to look at the kitchen window, and watched as Michaela and Terri talked, busy with something. "So, Ms. Rich Girl Michaela Cavanaugh cooks, eh?" Noemí laughed softly.

Victoria's eyes gazed at Michaela with something Noemí had never seen. "Yes," She said, and smiled. "And she cooks deliciously."

Noemí pulled back and looked at her then punched her lightly on the shoulder. "Ha, you're in love already!"

Victoria feigned pain. "So?" She responded, punching her back. "There's nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s about time I knew what it was like!" She threw herself upon Noemí, feigning brawling with her, and Noemí happily responded to her.

Michaela looked out the kitchen window at them. "I always knew Victoria was crazy, but Noemí?" She said with a laugh.

Terri peeked out too, and laughed when she saw that Noemí and Victoria were rolling on the grassy ground of the backyard. "Yeah," She said. "I think Noemí has finally lightened up a bit." She paused and watched them, then she turned away to face Michaela. "I didn't know her before, but I know that the one I know now is not the one that belongs. At least she’s started to talk about what happened."

Michaela nodded. "Thanks to your strong hand, though." She said with a flick of her finger. "It seems, from what Victoria has told me, that she has been drinking progressively for about two years, since her full recovery, and that they were never able to get through to her."

Terri smiled absently, going back to chopping the lettuce. "Yes," She said. "When I was with Anthony, from my understanding of what he told me of his parents, they've always spoiled their children, even Victoria, who's not theirs." Michaela nodded agreement. "And when they saw that their daughter was falling apart, they tried to help her with unconditional love. I’m sure tough love works better when you're trying to help a child who is closed and not listening. Both Noemí and Anthony, in their own way are a handful."

Michaela was smiling at her. "And how do you know all of this?" She asked teasingly.

Terri smiled back and patted her growing stomach. "I already feel like a mother, and I'm thinking of what I'd do if my baby were in the situation Noemí is in." She responded.

Michaela grinned at her, and they stopped their conversation when Noemí and Victoria came into the kitchen to join them. Both women were dusting each other off, shedding leaves and dirt freely. Michaela threw them out of the kitchen to clean themselves up, not wanting dirt on the food.

When Victoria and Noemí returned to the kitchen, cleaner now, they sat down to eat, and talked about Natalie's birthday, about what presents to get her, and about names for Terri's baby. Terri said she hadn't thought of any yet, and reminded Noemí to eat her food.

When Victoria and Michaela left, Noemí sent Terri to bed, deciding to do the dishes herself. Sleepy, Terri trudged down the hall and into her bedroom, not bothering to close the door. As soon as her head touched the pillow, she fell asleep. What seemed like minutes later, she felt a heavy shift on her bed. About to scream, she sat up frantically, to find someone sitting beside her on the bed. "It's me, Noemí." A soft whisper and Terri relaxed with a sigh, able to tell apart the shadow of Noemí's body in the darkness.

"What's wrong?" She asked softly, feeling the bed tremble. Noemí didn’t answer. "Noemí?"

"I can't sleep." It was another soft whisper.

Terri looked at her alarm clock, and saw that it was already three o'clock in the morning. She reached out and touched Noemí's cheek softly; it felt cold to her warm fingers. "What have you been doing all this time?" She asked gently. She'd been asleep since about ten thirty. "Did you sleep at all?"

"Trying." Noemí's voice came low and strained. "I can't close my eyes." She trembled, and made a move to get off the bed. "I'm sorry, I'll let you-"

Terri reached out again and pulled her by the shirt back onto the bed. "Stay here." She said softly and lay back down, pulling Noemí down too. She felt Noemí shift on the bed with a contended sigh, resting her head on Terri's welcoming arm, throwing her arm over her waist and pressing herself close. Her body trembled and Terri felt strange, being so small and taking care of such a big and strong woman. "What's wrong?" She asked softly, running her fingers through Noemí's hair.

Noemí pressed her face against her shoulder, and she trembled. "I can't close my eyes," She said again. "I can't stop remembering."

Terri felt a tender pity for Noemí, and touched her face with her other hand. "It's okay, you can close them now. I'm right here." She whispered, and turned her face to kiss her forehead gently. She felt Noemí relaxing against her, and soon, heard her soft breathing, indicating she had fallen asleep.

When she woke the next morning, Noemí had already left.

Continued in Part 5

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