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You Could Be Happy

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The Valley Inn had a strict no service policy when it came to the Kane/Montgomery family. One too many disastrous Thanksgivings had traumatized the staff and harassed the manager to the point where their money wasn't good anymore. But in life there's always an exception to every rule and when it came to the Valley Inn ban Bianca was that exception. Maybe it was her sweet nature or her understanding smile or the fact she had helped one or two of their staff at the Miranda Center but the Valley Inn welcomed Bianca Montgomery with open arms when everyone else in her family was turned away.

Which was precisely why she ended up there with Leslie. The girls were at Kendall's having a sleepover with their cousins and Bianca took advantage of this to unwind. Attempting to get over the urge to wallow in her lack of love life and the pathetic reality of being stuck with feelings for her closest friend yet again. Despite Kendall's insistence, she didn't think Marissa would turn out like Maggie, and would magically realize after much internalizing and debate that she could be attracted to another woman. Marissa was one of the most decisive people that Bianca had ever known and she was certain if Marissa ever had any romantic feelings for women she would've told Bianca. Particularly if she was interested.

Nothing of that sort had happened. Instead, Marissa fixated on JR and the rekindling of their romance. Something Bianca found herself helping JR with and hating herself in the process. Honestly, the entire thing was wearing on her and as a result Bianca began to distance herself from Marissa even more. It was just too hard to be around her and hear her speak about JR and all the wonderful things he was doing for her. Things that Bianca had planned, things that she wanted to do for Marissa herself but never could because she knew they wouldn't be welcome. It was messing with her mind and Bianca wanted to forget about it, at least for one night. So after dropping the girls off at Kendall's her first stop was Blue, the abbreviated name for the formerly Blue Angel. Bianca didn't have any plans beyond drinks and the relaxing company of other lesbians.

Then she ran into Leslie and they began talking. Bianca about her divorce from Reese and her feelings for Marissa and Leslie about her break up with Tracy because of Tracy's cheating. She and Leslie always had an understanding between them. They were friends that just happened to share a mutual attraction. Nothing romantic, purely physical, and like the times before, they landed in each other's arms, seeking comfort. Soon kissing at the club wasn't enough and Bianca breathlessly suggested the Valley Inn, the one place she was sure her family wouldn't see her. She knew she wasn't doing anything wrong but she didn't want to have a heart to heart with Kendall or, God forbid, her mother about Leslie should they be seen. All she wanted was one night where she didn't think about Marissa and her hopeless feelings for her. One night where she lost herself in the touch of someone she knew desired her in a way that she'd been wanting for months from Marissa.

Sometimes she hated herself for falling into this trap again and she wished she could just make her feelings disappear. It wasn't like they were doing her any good. For now, though, Bianca focused on Leslie, her svelte frame and elegant curves and the way she could kiss oh so perfectly. Not too soft and not too hard, just right in how she pressed her tongue and like always, Bianca invited her in, sighing contentedly as they walked into the hotel suite. Tonight wasn't about thinking, it was about feeling and the white wine delivered by room service helped to ensure that.

Three glasses of wine later, Bianca pushed a laughing Leslie onto the bed, stripping her naked and hiking her legs up as she moved down to taste her. Leslie gasped her name, tangling her fingers in Bianca's hair and Bianca focused on the smell, the taste of her, salty and sweet at the same time. Sliding one then two fingers inside of Leslie, sucking on her clit as she did so, establishing a steady rhythm and bringing her to a climax. Only she wasn't done, when Leslie orgasmed, Bianca moved back up her body, kissing her deeply, grinning at the groan Leslie released and she fucked her again, hard and fast and when they were done, Leslie chuckled. Murmuring that she always forgot she needed to watch out for the quiet ones. Bianca knew she had to be blushing from the fond remark Leslie made before she kissed Bianca, her hands moving with expertise until every last stitch of clothing was gone and Bianca was shivering from her touch.

Bianca woke the next morning to Leslie emerging from the bathroom, clad only in a towel, drying off her blonde hair. "Bianca," Leslie said her name in an affectionate drawl, leaning over the bed and cupping her cheek. "Last night was wonderful."

"As always, huh?" Bianca joked, raising an eyebrow and chuckling as she kissed Leslie lightly.

"Exactly," said Leslie with a smile, sitting down on the bed. "Seriously though," she murmured, looking at Bianca with a soft gaze. "Thank you. I didn't know how much I needed that... to feel like someone wanted me again."

"Leslie," said Bianca quietly, concern lighting her dark eyes. She shook her head, scowling before she said firmly, "Tracy's an ass for cheating on you. Don't give her a second thought because she's not worth your time. She never was."

Nodding her head, Leslie formed a wry expression and said, "I wish I could snap my fingers and fall for you. You're really the closest thing to perfection in person. You know that, right?"

"I'm so far from perfect it's not even funny," Bianca laughed, pushing back the covers and walking into the bathroom for a shower. Not in the least concerned about modesty around Leslie. They knew each other far too well for that. Intimately and otherwise. "If I was I wouldn't have made so many glaring mistakes in my love life."

"You just need to stay away from the straight women," said Leslie knowingly.

"Easier said than done," said Bianca with a sigh, turning on the water and checking the heat. She looked to one side, seeing Leslie leaning on the door frame and a slow smile curved on Bianca's lips. "Join me?"

"I just got out of there," Leslie replied, laughing and offering a half-hearted protest. "You'll make me dirty again."

"What if I promise to clean you off?" said Bianca, holding out her hand and grinning when Leslie dropped her towel as a sign of her acceptance. Pushing open the shower door and stepping inside, Bianca was still grinning when Leslie moved forward to put her hands on Bianca's hips and pulled her closer. "It's been too long since I've done this."

"Me too," said Leslie, kissing Bianca, and laughing as Bianca pressed her up against the shower wall. Showing Leslie with expert kisses and skilled hands everything that they had both been missing.

An hour later, they exited the elevator and Leslie leant against the front desk as Bianca settled the bill. Tilting her head to one side when Bianca turned to her, a smile played on Leslie's lips. "My treat next time?" she suggested.

"Definitely," said Bianca, smiling fondly, looking up at Leslie as she bent down to kiss her.

The kiss went on a little too long, was a little too passionate, for being in public but Bianca was relaxed. Feeling safe in the confines of the Valley Inn where anyone remotely related to the Kane/Montgomery family was strictly forbidden. Of course, she should have known better. This was Pine Valley, the smallest of small towns, even though it housed the large personality that was Erica Kane, and in reality there was nowhere Bianca could go where someone wouldn't know her.

"Bianca?"

A voice that was all too familiar in its lilting quality, sweet and charming, so much so that at times it tormented her. Bianca breathed heavily as she parted from Leslie, looking over her shoulder to see a wide eyed Marissa. She didn't have time to respond when Marissa walked up to them, a frown furrowing her brow, looking very much like she was trying to understand what she just saw. Something Bianca just didn't want to deal with and, apparently, neither did Leslie.

"I'll call you," Leslie murmured, her hand lingering on Bianca's cheek, flashing her a dazzling smile.

"Bye," said Bianca faintly, a blush clinging to her features as she watched Leslie walk away. She focused on Marissa who continued to stare at her like she was a complete stranger. "Are you here for your meeting with Caleb? I thought it was going to be at the Yacht Club."

"Things changed," said Marissa slowly and Bianca shifted as Marissa's eyes moved over her body. After a moment, they narrowed slightly and Marissa stated, "You're wearing the same dress you had on yesterday."

Why was this happening? Bianca wasn't ashamed of what she did with Leslie. It wasn't a crime, they were both consenting adults, and it had been wonderful. Everything Bianca wanted and needed in that moment but now, with Marissa here, asking her about it suddenly it was turning into something else. Besides, it was her life, she could be with whoever she wanted. Just as she tried to find the, hopefully, polite words to explain herself, her phone rang and she sighed in relief.

"Hello?" said Bianca quickly.

"I said I'd call," Leslie's dulcet tones echoed in her ears, humor in her voice. "I figured you'd need a save."

"You weren't wrong about that," said Bianca wryly. "Hold on, all right?"

"I have all day to save a pretty lady," said Leslie with a chuckle, causing Bianca to laugh in return.

Lowering the phone, Bianca put on her best apologetic expression and said, "It's Susan. She needs to ask me about some business for the Miranda Center. I'll talk to you later, okay?" Bianca started to walk away but a hand holding her wrist stopped her. Marissa's touch was the same as always, insistent in its warmth and caring, and it was pure torture.

"You slept with her," said Marissa and there was a severity to her words that Bianca never heard before. "Didn't you?"

"Leslie's a very good friend and we have an understanding," said Bianca primly, her voice cool as she pulled her hand away. Marissa looked like she was going to question her further and Bianca allowed her mask to drop, just for a moment, somehow knowing it was the only way Marissa would let this go. "I needed someone last night and she was there for me." A dim look on her face, Marissa nodded her head and Bianca held up her phone. "I really need to go now."

"You could've found me," Marissa called out almost anxiously, as if trying to convince herself, and Bianca paused in her walk.

"No," said Bianca sadly, looking over her shoulder at the other woman. "I couldn't."

She turned around and walked out of the Valley Inn, shaken, and trying not to be as she raised her phone to her ear. Sighing quietly, Bianca asked, "How much did you hear?"

"Enough," said Leslie apologetically. "I don't think your feelings are as one sided as you assume, Bianca."

"No," said Bianca firmly, shaking her head, a frown settling on her lips. "Marissa is always like that. She's just overly affectionate at times and she tends to worry too much. She's protective, like Kendall. That's all."

"Bianca," said Leslie, clearly concerned. "I really think it's more than that."

"I don't want to talk about this," Bianca said and there was a harsh quality to her voice, one that was rarely exhibited. "Look," she said quietly, after a moment, "I don't want to fight with you, Leslie. You're a good friend and I had a fantastic time with you last night but I really don't want to talk about Marissa, okay?"

"Just let me say one thing and that's the end of this," replied Leslie.

"One thing, that's it," said Bianca decisively.

"Sometimes we convince ourselves things we want and choices we have aren't possible just because we're afraid of what might happen if we get them. Or maybe we're afraid of trying to get them but the point is, we ignore the possibilities and in the process we miss what's right in front of us. I just think maybe you've done that with Marissa," said Leslie. She gave a wry and almost sad laugh and said, "And I really shouldn't be giving anyone love advice so that's the end of that." Another pause then she continued, "You'll call me if you need anything?"

"Of course," said Bianca, a smile in her voice, "but only if you promise to do the same."

"You know it," said Leslie with a soft laugh, saying goodbye before she ended the phone call. Leaving Bianca staring into the distance and wondering about what Leslie said and how accurate it just might be when it came to Marissa.

----

When the meeting was over, Marissa realized she barely heard what anyone said. She must have done a decent job of faking it, or Caleb was too occupied with the ramifications of Erica's erratic behavior to notice, because he never said a word. Bianca was her focus, just like she had been for the past few months, ever since her friend had begun to avoid her. Or was Bianca even her friend anymore? At times it didn't feel like it, which made Marissa sadder than she would care to admit.

Her phone buzzed in her purse and she saw JR's name and she closed her purse again, letting it go to voicemail. Walking into the bar of the Valley Inn, Marissa sat down and ordered a drink. How had things gotten this way? She and Bianca had been so close during the divorce and after their ordeal with Ricky but lately it seemed like Bianca wanted nothing to do with her. It was practically routine by now. Marissa would call Bianca and it would go to voicemail or Bianca would answer and the conversation would be quick and almost impersonal. Marissa would seek Bianca out, either at home or work, or they happened upon each other and it would be fine for a few minutes but inevitably something would happen and Bianca would pull away. She'd tried to talk to Bianca about it but she denied anything was wrong and would ask about JR.

Marissa could hear her phone buzzing again and she knew it was him. She should answer because it wasn't exactly polite and she knew how badly it felt to be ignored. How much that hurt because Bianca had been doing it to her for months. What bothered her more than anything was that she didn't know how to could fix it. Bianca was someone who, before all this, consistently made Marissa feel better about herself than anyone else. She understood her and it was always so easy to be with her, Bianca made her laugh, made her feel good about herself and Marissa just wanted that back.

And she wanted to know what Bianca was doing with that woman. Leslie was her name. Scoffing as she took a drink of her scotch, Marissa stared at the glass, a sardonic smile tugging at her lips. What she was doing. Marissa already knew the answer to that and there was nothing wrong with it. Certainly, Marissa wouldn't begrudge Bianca a night of sex in the arms of a beautiful woman but... she sighed, staring at her drink and looking at the bartender, ordering another, it bothered her. She knew she encouraged Bianca to have fun with Karen after the divorce so why was it any different now? Smiling at the bartender as he refilled her drink, Marissa lifted it up and muttered, "She deserves better."

It was the truth, Bianca did deserve better than a solitary night of pleasure. She deserved someone who knew how special she was. How she had survived countless horrible things in life and instead of becoming bitter and angry with the world, she used those experiences to help women and children. Marissa knew all of that and, truth be told, she wanted to be that person. Honestly, the entire situation was ridiculous, and she didn't know how things ended up this way. As soon as Bianca disappeared from her life, Marissa realized how much she needed her in it, and now nothing she did could change things back, no matter how hard she tried. Part of Marissa was convinced that Bianca had somehow realized from all those little unconscious things she did, like the constant need to touch and be near, caused her to realize how Marissa felt. Even though it wasn't until recently that Marissa figured that out herself. And it was those feelings, Marissa's feelings, that was making Bianca avoid her like the plague.

Certainly, Marissa didn't blame Bianca. After everything she had gone through with Maggie and Reese, she understood Bianca's reluctance to take a chance with another seemingly straight woman. It was probably exhausting, continuously being the first lesbian experience for her partners and having to take on all the complications that came from that. And it wasn't like Marissa could offer her much reassurance. She never felt this way for another woman. It was just Bianca. Lately, it was like everything was Bianca for her. All of her thoughts, all her feelings, all her focus. Sighing, she drank the last of her scotch and stared at the empty glass. This wasn't like her. Marissa swore to herself after her marriage to JR blew up she'd return to who she was when she was younger. Someone who tried to live their life like every day was their last and who wouldn't second guess or look back on the past, someone who took chances, but when it came to Bianca...

For whatever reason she just couldn't.

The fear was what it all came down to, she was afraid of being rejected, of losing what small piece of Bianca she still had with her and it was pathetic. Marissa knew that. Especially since she didn't have much of a relationship with Bianca at all these days. In fact, the most she saw her was when she appeared at JR's side. Moving her gaze to her purse, she opened it up and saw he had texted her and left a voicemail. He had been so sweet to her lately. It was like when they first met but more. All of the personal gifts he gave her and the perfect dates. They weren't his usual extravagant and often empty gestures, they were thoughtful and it made Marissa feel like he really knew who she was. Like he actually cared.

Tapping her fingers on the glass of scotch and turning down the bartender's offer of another, she pulled out her payment, gazing at her phone as she did so. Everything came down to timing, didn't it? Placing the money down on the bar, Marissa blinked as she stopped to actually think about it. The timing of it all. When Bianca had started to pull away from her, when JR had become so sweet. It happened at the exact same time and suddenly it all made sense.

Despite how good everything had been with JR, how apparently perfect he had been, Marissa just couldn't let herself completely trust him again. Let him in like she once had and it always seemed off somehow. There were those moments when he knew things she was sure she had never told him, things she knew she told Bianca, and now it was all too clear. Those gifts, those dates, those loving words, they didn't come from him. They weren't his and they never had been. It was Bianca. It was always Bianca and Marissa cursed her own stupidity. Forming a face of determination and not a small bit of fury, she stood up and left the bar, vowing that she would get the truth out of both of them before the day was over.

----

In the end, JR wasn't home and she resigned herself to waiting. Sitting in her room and staring at the music box, wondering when Bianca had gotten it for her, and how JR had ended up with it. Trying to deduce if her hunch was correct and all of the wonderful things that JR had been doing for her were actually about Bianca and not him. Thinking that, perhaps, she was just being suspicious and wishful, wanting this to be about Bianca, to have some reason to believe Bianca cared for her. That Bianca's avoidance wasn't simply a silent rejection of the feelings she recognized Marissa having for her.

There was a knock on her door and she looked up to see JR there, offering her a lopsided smile. Nodding at the music box Marissa held in her hands, he remarked, "You really love it, don't you? It must be the best present I've ever gotten you."

"But is it really from you?" asked Marissa shrewdly, setting it down on her nightstand and rising to her feet.

"Marissa?" JR questioned with a frown.

"The music box," Marissa continued, folding her arms across her chest and studying him closely. "Where did you get it?"

"Why does it matter?" asked JR, blinking and wearing a charming smile.

"It matters because I want to know," said Marissa in no nonsense tones. "Well?"

"Just a little shop online," said JR casually. He frowned again and said, "What is all of this about, Marissa?"

"This is about the fact that I don't think this music box was really from you," said Marissa, suddenly all too confident that her intuition was correct. "Just like I don't think the dates you've been taking me on were your ideas. Or that everything you've said, things I always thought were just a little too perfect, that showed you know me better than anyone else, came from you."

"I think you're being paranoid, Marissa," said JR smoothly. "I know I've given you reason to mistrust me but where is this coming from? Is this because you're scared of how well everything has been going between us?"

"That's only because none of this was really you, JR," said Marissa sharply. "Look," she heaved a sigh, running her hands through her hair. "If you want to salvage anything with me, just tell me the truth right now. I know you didn't mean to hurt me or betray me with this. You were just trying to win me over and I get it but... I really need to know the truth." She looked up at him with analytical eyes and said, "And don't think you can charm your way out of this or lie to me. I'll know."

Clenching his jaw and shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants, JR muttered, "Fine." He waved his hands in the air, and despite herself, Marissa was amused at the display. He was exactly like AJ when caught in a fib. "I had help!" Turning quickly to Marissa, he advanced on her, reaching for her hands, pleading as he continued, "But it was all for you. I wanted to make you happy again, happy with me, and nothing I did worked so I asked for some advice. Is that so wrong?"

"If circumstances were different, no," said Marissa quietly. When JR blinked at her, looking utterly confused, she realized he really had no idea about her feelings for Bianca, feelings that she was starting to believe Bianca might share for her. "I need to know, JR. Who was helping you? Who picked out that music box for me?"

"Bianca," JR muttered again, frowning as he looked at it. "I don't know where she got it. I didn't ask her to give it to me though!" he suddenly exclaimed. Small lines of confusion appeared on his forehead as he revealed, "It was out of nowhere. First she said that she didn't want anything to do with helping me win you back then she gave me that at Krystal's. She said it would make you happy and I should give it to you." He sighed deeply. "And it did make you happy and I was so glad..."

"JR," said Marissa quietly. "Has it always been Bianca? The dates, the gifts?"

"I asked for her help," admitted JR, sitting down on Marissa's bed and peering up at her with a plaintive expression. "It isn't like I planned it though. After the music box, I just ended up going to her, asking for her opinion on ideas I had for dates and other things and she'd tell me what she thought. I really didn't see anything bad about it, Bianca was always telling me how she wanted you to be happy and how you were happy with me. Was what we did really so wrong?"

"Not if things were different," said Marissa, sitting next to him.

"You keep saying that," said JR with a frown. "What do you mean?"

"Do you think we were ever in love?" asked Marissa, not ready to reveal the extent of her feelings for Bianca. A hurt expression formed on his features and she reached for his hand, squeezing it as she said, "Sometimes I think we love each other, we love our family, but loving someone isn't the same as being in love with them. I know you love me, JR, and I love you but I don't think we were ever really in love with each other. I think you were in love with Babe and Annie. I know that Annie had to be in love with you because of how far she went to be with you. Although, I wish it didn't happen the way it did."

"Annie was my fault," said JR apologetically. "I told you that and I'm sorry for what she--"

"Maybe it was your fault for not paying enough attention to her, for hiding her away, for letting her get to the point that she lashed out at me," interrupted Marissa. "But how can it be your fault for falling in love with her? Or her fault for falling in love with you? It's not like that's something you can control, JR, no matter how much you might want to. I mean, that's what you're trying to do with me now and it isn't working."

"I thought you were happy these past months with me," said JR softly, rejection tinging his voice.

"I have been but if everything you've done and said has come from Bianca, it's not really you," said Marissa. He started to protest and she cut off him off and said gently, "I don't blame you. I know you just wanted our family back and I would be lying if I said I didn't want the same thing but... do we really have to be together to have that? Just because we're not a couple doesn't mean we're not still a family. I do love you, JR, and I care about you, but not in the way you want me to. I think, if you'd just take a long hard look at yourself, maybe consider your past and how you felt about Babe and Annie, you'd realize that you feel the same way." Looking away from him, focusing on the music box, and caught in the memory of the soft look in Bianca's eyes as she said it was from someone who really cared about her, Marissa murmured, "Even with how good everything has been, I wasn't thinking about you. My mind was always on someone else." Turning to him, she gave a sad, almost ironic smile as she said, "That's what happens when you're in love. You can't stop thinking about them. Wasn't it that way for you when it came to Babe and Annie?"

"Babe and Annie made me crazy," said JR, chuckling and looking at Marissa with a glint of humor in his gaze. "And not in a good way. I don't think being in love is the healthiest thing for me. I tend to self-destruct and do bad things when it happens." He reached for her hands again and said enthusiastically, "But it's not like that with you! You're steady, you keep me calm, help me want to be a better person. Why can't I want that instead?"

"You can but it's not what I want," said Marissa quietly. "I want the person I've been thinking about all this time. The one I'm pretty sure I've been in love with for longer than I want to admit."

"Scott," said JR, almost snarling as he said his name, clenching his hands into fists.

"No," said Marissa ruefully, shaking her head. "It was never Scott, so you should really start being nicer to him."

Blinking at Marissa and looking utterly confused, JR tilted his head to one side. "Then who?" he asked. Marissa bit her lip and debated the pros and cons of telling him. Not particularly wanting Bianca to have to deal with the aftermath should he prove to be less than willing to give up on her. "Marissa," JR laughed, putting his hand on her knee and shaking it a bit. "I won't lie, I am disappointed that you won't give us a shot but it's easier knowing it's not Scott. I promise I won't do anything to them."

"Pinkie swear?" asked Marissa, holding up her pinkie and JR chuckled, hooking his finger in hers and leaning closer.

"Now tell me who I lost out to," JR drawled, an amused expression on his features.

"Technically you were never competing," said Marissa, laughing at the exaggerated expression JR made in reaction to her comment, holding his heart as if he was shot. "You promise you won't freak? And you won't go after them?"

"I promise, cross my heart," said JR, looking at her with the same openly curious face AJ often got. Marissa was still looking at him, determining if this was the truth, or he was just telling her what she wanted to hear just like these past months. A sigh escaped his lips and JR said, "I might not like anything you told me, Marissa, but I'll admit it's been the truth. Maybe I never loved you the way you deserved because it's just not something we can have together. I do want our family though and I think the only way I can have that is if we start trusting each other. So why not start with you telling me who you're in love with?"

"Bianca," said Marissa in a whisper, her voice so soft that JR had to strain to hear her, but hear her he did.

"Bianca?" JR echoed, his eyes going wide, and when Marissa nodded, biting her lip again, he laughed. Slapping his hands on his knees, he remarked, "I guess I really do need to apologize to Scott."

"You're okay with this?" asked Marissa skeptically, studying him for any signs of anger or jealousy.

"Losing, or not being in the running, to Bianca is a different experience," said JR wryly, standing up and shoving his hands into his pockets. Tilting his head, he wore a thoughtful expression on his face. "It's better than if it had been Scott though. I mean, it's Bianca," he elaborated, holding his hands out, and Marissa wore a blank expression obviously not understanding what he meant by this. Laughing at her reaction, JR explained, "We've been through a lot together. With Babe, then AJ and Miranda, and I don't think there's anyone in this town who doesn't love her. My ex-wife included," he said sardonically. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, you probably picked the perfect person for me to have no argument against."

"Color me shocked," said Marissa dryly.

"Is that purple or pink?" JR questioned with a grin. Marissa rolled her eyes and he studied her for a moment, frowning a bit as he said, "Don't get mad, and you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but... have you been with a woman before?"

"JR!" Marissa cried and she stood up, scowling at him and reaching for her nearby purse. "I'm not talking with you about this."

"What? Why? Come on," said JR, blocking her path and looking into her eyes. "I wasn't trying to be nosy or being all... creepy fantasy. I just, I mean, Bianca's been out for a long time and she hasn't had the best luck so..."

"You don't think she'll give me a chance, do you?" said Marissa, looking resigned to her possible rejection.

"Well," said JR thoughtfully, rubbing the back of his head. "Bianca's not easy to figure out. Her mother and sister, they're pretty obvious with their feelings but Bianca's always been kind of quiet about that sort of thing. Until you make her mad, at least," he said wryly, having had more than his share of angry encounters with her. "She did help me though and I get the idea, looking back at it anyway, that she only did it to make you happy. Which means she does care about you."

"Caring about a friend isn't the same as being in love with them," Marissa reminded him and once again, her eyes drifted back to the music box, thinking about what a thoughtful and special gift it was. The fact that she now knew it came from Bianca made her hope that perhaps her feelings weren't as one sided as she thought and Bianca's distance was caused by something other than a gentle rejection of Marissa's feelings. "Did she ever say anything to you about me?"

"Just that you deserved to be happy and that's all she wanted for you," said JR with a shrug. "Look," he said, wearing an altogether adamant expression. "Just go to her, okay? Tell her how you feel. At least then it'll be out there and you'll know how she feels about you. And if it ends in rejection, I'll be here to console you," JR added, offering a sexy smile that was somehow goofy at the same time as he opened his arms wide.

Shaking her head and laughing, Marissa said, "You're twisted, you know that, right?"

"Comes from being a Chandler," said JR plainly. "Adam forces it into all his kids. Just ask Colby or my older sisters, Skye and Hayley, if you ever get the chance to meet them. They'll tell you that for sure."

"Okay," said Marissa firmly, breathing deeply and straightening her shoulders. "I'm going now."

"Good luck," said JR and as she walked out of the room, he called her name. When she turned to face him, he offered her a soft smile and said, "Just remember what Bianca is like, Marissa. She can be just as stubborn as me but nowhere as selfish. You're going to have to work to convince her before you get anything out of her."

"I will," Marissa murmured, smiling sweetly at him. She paused for a moment, then rushed across the room, hugging him tight and whispering in his ear, "Thank you listening and understanding." Pulling away, she held his face in her hands and smiled tenderly at him. "This is why I want a family with you even if we're not together. You can be really sweet when you want to be and it's even better when it's all coming from you. Keep being the best part of yourself, JR, that's all your family needs."

"Thanks," said JR quietly. "Marissa," he muttered, looking down at the ground, before staring at her through lidded eyes, an apology and a small gleam of hope resting there. "Would you hate me if I started visiting Annie at Oak Haven?"

"Just the opposite," said Marissa truthfully, hugging him again, and kissing him on the cheek. She felt him shudder and relax against her and she smiled. Knowing that, somehow, they would be all right and their family would survive to be stronger than ever. It was hard not to believe that as she left, his words of encouragement echoing in her ears, giving her hope.

----

In some ways, Kendall's house had become Bianca's. Ever since Zach's death, she had been staying there with increasing frequency and there was an ease, a comfort, to it. Something that Bianca desperately needed these days. It was all too easy at first, helping JR with Marissa, finding joy in Marissa's happiness, but lately it just wasn't working and Bianca hated herself for becoming bitter. She didn't want to be this way, she wanted to be happy because Marissa was happy and she didn't want to resent JR because he was the one who did that for her. Bianca wanted to be better than that.

The ring of the doorbell distracted her from these thoughts and Bianca wondered who it might be. Not Griffin, he was out with Kendall, and Bianca hoped it was as more than friends. Kendall deserved it and Griffin was a good man who genuinely cared for her sister. She answered the door and Marissa greeted her, a determined expression on her face as she pushed past Bianca before she could speak.

"Marissa," said Bianca, immediately worried by Marissa's behavior. "What's wrong?"

"I know you've been helping JR. I made him tell me everything," said Marissa, frowning and folding her arms over her chest.

While she was surprised that Marissa discovered this, Bianca was perplexed by her anger. Maybe helping JR the way she had been wasn't the most honest thing she could do but was it really worthy of this kind of display? Especially since being with JR was what Marissa wanted and Bianca's help had made that happen. In fact, to Bianca, it seemed like she helped to make Marissa happier than she had been in quite a long time.

"And?" Bianca questioned, confusion and a bit of expectation lacing her tones.

"I want to know why Bianca," said Marissa, unfolding her arms, a pleading look on her features.

"Why," Bianca repeated, looking at her with wry humor. "You wanted JR and JR wanted you. He asked for my advice on how to make you happy and so I helped him because I'm your friend. That's why. Now," Bianca sighed, sitting down on the couch. "Will you tell me the reason you're angry?"

"This is why you've been avoiding me, isn't it?" questioned Marissa, inspecting Bianca carefully.

"I told you," said Bianca, sighing deeply and rubbing her forehead, trying to fight the oncoming migraine. "I'm not avoiding you. I've just been busy with work and the girls. Then there's everything with my mom--"

"I've heard this all before and I didn't believe it then," said Marissa, sitting next to Bianca on the couch and taking note as Bianca subtly moved away from her. Frowning, Marissa reached for Bianca's hand, stilling her exit from going any further. "I know everything has been you these past few months. JR told me."

"What has been me?" prodded Bianca and Marissa was thoroughly irritated with how well she played dumb. Bianca, in the meanwhile, was desperately searching for some way out of this discussion. Thinking nothing good could come of it.

"The gifts, the dates, the words even!" Marissa exclaimed. "Bianca," she said her name in a whisper, squeezing her hands and ducking her head to look into Bianca's eyes. "Please, tell me the truth. That's all I want."

"JR needed help," said Bianca quietly, swallowing hard, looking away from Marissa. At least, she did until Marissa gently cupped her chin, drawing Bianca's attention back to her. "You told me you wanted to give him another chance and he just wanted to make you happy. So I helped him, I gave him some advice. Is that really so wrong?"

"Did you two rehearse?" asked Marissa, laughing and shaking her head. "JR said practically the same thing."

"We just want you to be happy, Marissa," Bianca explained and she wanted this conversation to be over. She had kept this secret for too long, hidden her feelings away, and talking about all of this, it was just going to bring it all to the surface. Bianca couldn't afford that, not if she wanted to keep their friendship in tact.

"I was happy," Marissa said in a whisper and she was touching Bianca's face again, tracing the elegant lines of her features, a sad smile curving on her lips. "But it was never because of JR. It was always because of you."

"I don't understand," murmured Bianca and she looked completely baffled on hearing this.

"No," Marissa laughed again, her eyes shining, and a sardonic drawl echoing in her words. "I don't suppose you do." Biting her lip and gathering her courage, Marissa turned to Bianca and said, "I need you to be honest with me, Bianca. Were you the one who bought me that music box?" Yet again, Bianca looked away from Marissa, her eyes nervous and darting about the room and to Marissa it seemed like she was seconds away from fleeing. "Bianca," Marissa said her name in imploring tones, holding Bianca's face in her hands. "Please tell me. I need to know."

Why was Marissa pushing about this? She said she already knew the truth so what did it matter what she said? What good would it really do anyway? This was what Bianca reasoned but then she made the mistake of looking into Marissa's brown eyes, open and full of affection for her, and whatever excuses she was going to say died on her lips. Then Marissa murmured please and she was undone. It was just too hard, maintaining this farce, and Marissa kept pushing her...

"Yes," said Bianca in a hush. "I had it made for you."

"Bianca," said Marissa and to Bianca it seemed like Marissa was looking at her as if she had never seen her before. It was precisely the same expression she had when she saw Bianca with Leslie at the Valley Inn. Frowning and giving into her urge to run from all this, Bianca rose to her feet and put a significant distance between them. Marissa soon stood up and followed her though and she asked, "Why did you give it to JR?"

"What does it matter?" Bianca burst out, entirely frustrated, and not understanding the point of this. "You wanted to give JR a chance, you wanted to feel special, to feel loved, and the music box did that, didn't it? Why does it matter why I gave it to him? I just did and it made you happy and let that be the end of this!"

"It matters to me because you gave JR credit for it," said Marissa softly, though there was a hard tone to her voice. "That was the first gift I ever got from him where I felt like he actually cared for me and it wasn't even from him. In fact, every single thing he's done that has made me feel good about myself has really come from you."

"I'm sorry," said Bianca, still exasperated, rubbing her forehead again and walking away from Marissa. "Is that what you want to hear? I'm sorry for helping him, for giving him the music box. Now can we be done with this?"

"No," said Marissa emphatically, standing in front of Bianca and holding her gaze. "I told you once how I knew that music box was a gift from someone who really cares about me and it was, Bianca." Reaching for Bianca's hands, trying to soothe her in her words and her expression, hating the worry and the fear she saw reflected there. "Because it was a gift from you."

"Marissa," said Bianca, her voice throaty, and her dark eyes teary. She couldn't do this. It was too hard. Why was she saying these things? Marissa was always too kind, too caring, too sweet, but this was too much. Anxiously pulling her hands away from the other woman, Bianca put on her best mask, offering a shaken but wide smile. Overly bright and exaggerated. "We're friends, aren't we? Of course I care about you. That's why I gave it to JR, because I thought it would make you happy."

"It wasn't just a gift from a friend," Marissa murmured, soft and serious. "I think we both know that."

Bianca had been denying her feelings for so long, what seemed like forever, and here Marissa was, pushing them to the surface. Intent on making her reveal what she worked so hard to keep hidden. She wasn't stupid and she didn't like fighting useless battles. Bianca had learned from her days as a teenager how hard that could be and it was enough, just being friends with Marissa, so why bring this up? Why torture her this way? That's all Bianca could focus on.

"Why are you doing this?" asked Bianca and she was obviously shaken, disturbed almost, and there was a hint of anger resting beneath the surface. "What's the point?"

"The point?" echoed Marissa, a sputtering laugh falling from her lips, a look of disbelief in her eyes as she cautiously neared Bianca. "The point is the truth, Bianca. The point is about you and me, and how we really feel about each other."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Bianca insisted and she would've moved away but Marissa was too fast and she was too close, standing right in front of Bianca, her face only a breath away as she held onto Bianca's hands.

"Yes, you do," said Marissa with a quiet and unwavering strength. "And that's why you keep running." Bianca started to protest and Marissa shook her head, interrupting gently, "I get it though. I'm scared too. To be honest, this whole thing is scary, but I think it's worth it. I think we're worth it."

This wasn't happening. Marissa wasn't saying what Bianca thought she was saying. It just wasn't possible. In fact, it was the furthest thing from it. Thousands of scenarios had gone through Bianca's head when it came to Marissa and her feelings but this had never been one of them and it was too much for her to grasp.

"What are you saying?" Bianca whispered, swallowing hard. She wanted, no, she needed Marissa to say the words. That was the only way she'd accept any of this. No hinting and no implying. It had to be said, plain and simple, then she would believe.

"I'm saying that I'm in love with you," confessed Marissa and though there was confidence behind her words Bianca heard the anxiety too. The fear and the worry of rejection that could be around the corner. It was something that she could relate to. Marissa visibly swallowed then she continued, caressing the side of Bianca's face as she said, "I have been for a long time now, even if I only realized it recently." A droll smile tugged at her lips and Marissa chuckled. "It took you avoiding me to realize it. I mean, it's totally cliche, isn't it? Not knowing what you have until it's gone?" Bianca smiled, sweet and unguarded, and it made Marissa's heart jump at the sight. "Bianca," she almost begged. "Please say something."

"I thought the music box told you everything you needed to know," said Bianca, trying her best to tease, ignoring the rough tone of her voice, thick with emotions as she smiled at Marissa. Why was this still so hard? Marissa had said everything she wanted to hear. Was it memories of the past? Fear of things going wrong yet again? But they hadn't even started yet.

Huffing at this, Marissa exclaimed, "It would be nice to hear it!" Bianca laughed and she looked away, a shy look clinging to her features, and Marissa wore a knowing expression. "It's you," she murmured, touching Bianca's cheek, drawing her attention back. "It's always been you, Bianca. You were always there, constantly in my thoughts." She paused, placing both their hands over her heart and Marissa went on, "And in my heart. I just want a chance. A real chance for the both of us. I think we could be happy together, don't you?"

"Yes," Bianca replied, laughing through her tears, a bright smile forming. "I do."

"Good," said Marissa, clearly relieved, laughing along with Bianca, resting their foreheads together. She lifted an eyebrow, a sardonic look emerging as she drawled, "You still haven't said it, you know."

"I love you," said Bianca, smiling at the way Marissa lit up at these words. "I'm in love with you," Bianca added almost breathlessly, moving closer, somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if this was a fantasy or a crazy mistake but giving into temptation anyway. Kissing Marissa soft and sweet and when Marissa responded eagerly, rising up and into Bianca, she knew it was nothing of the sort. This was all too real and it was almost too much for Bianca to fully comprehend and when they parted, she laughed, taking in Marissa's smug smile. "Is this real?" Bianca asked, halfway serious, still trying to process everything that happened in the past half an hour. "Because it feels like a dream."

"Hmm," Marissa considered thoughtfully, a mischievous glint in brown eyes. "Let's see." And with that, she pinched Bianca's ass, causing Bianca to yelp and jump further into Marissa's arms, a development the redhead seemed thoroughly pleased about. "Nope," said Marissa happily, her lips popping on the p as she grinned. "Definitely not a dream."

"Did you seriously just pinch me on the ass?" asked Bianca with an incredulous laugh.

"It proves this isn't a dream, doesn't it?" said Marissa brazenly.

"If you say so," said Bianca wryly. She studied Marissa for a long moment, taking in her easy smile, and the warmth of her eyes and wondering how this had all happened. "It still doesn't feel real," she confessed.

"Maybe we're both so used to the bad things that something good seems unrealistic," said Marissa with droll humor. Bianca chuckled and she hid her face in the crook of Marissa's neck, sighing as Marissa held her close. "I do love you," she said softly as she lowered her lips near Bianca's ear. "And I'll keep saying it until you believe me."

Bianca didn't want to be this way. She didn't want to be stymied by doubt and insecurities. Especially not with Marissa who had never done anything to deserve it but she had been burned too many times before. Then again, she reminded herself, they weren't Marissa. They weren't someone who had experienced the same hurt and betrayal, they weren't the someone who had proven themselves time and time again, to care about her more than anyone else. What was it her mother said? Life was about taking chances and you had to live it to your fullest because you never knew what was on the horizon.

That in mind, Bianca lifted her head and there was a playful twinkle in her eyes along with something darker, more passionate, and it caused Marissa to swallow hard on seeing it. "Prove it?" Bianca seemed to dare.

And Marissa was all too happy to oblige, lowering her lips to Bianca's and kissing her soft and gentle in the start, but quickly surrendering to the passion she felt for Bianca. Losing herself to the feelings for the other woman, letting them wash over her, and for the first time in countless years Marissa was consumed with desire. All she could think, see, and feel was Bianca. She was all that mattered in this moment and Marissa groaned as Bianca's tongue pressed for entrance and she welcomed her, wanting to deepen their connection. They moved together, fumbling backwards and onto the couch, Bianca landing on top of Marissa who laughed and grinned crookedly, taking in the disheveled state of Bianca's hair, finding it completely sexy.

Part of Marissa wanted to tell Bianca how different this was for her. How she wasn't used to this utterly right feeling accompanied by an overwhelming need and if she wasn't so turned on, she'd almost find it embarrassing, how much she wanted Bianca. Only it was hard to feel that way when Bianca was kissing her, slow and sweet, and oh so perfectly, with just the right amount of pressure and Marissa wondered how Bianca knew to do this. How she knew just the right places to touch her and to make her shiver. It wasn't because she was a woman, Marissa didn't think that. Maybe it was because she was Bianca and Marissa loved her more than she had ever loved anyone and everything she did seemed perfect simply due to who she was. She didn't want to think too hard on it though, not with Bianca pulling back to look at her with those dark eyes full of desire and love, her hair falling around them like a curtain.

"Are you okay?" asked Bianca softly, her expression holding a muted passion and a quiet concern.

"Yes," Marissa breathed, nodding her head, taking in Bianca's frown lines and the way her nose scrunched up in the most adorable fashion with a grin. "I just never felt like this before," she revealed, feeling bashful and ridiculous. "It's so much."

"Yeah," Bianca agreed, smoothing back a lock of Marissa's hair, and smiling along with her. "It is." She tilted her head to one side, shifting her weight so she rested to the side of Marissa, rather than on top of her. "We can always stop--"

"No!" said Marissa forcefully and Bianca blinked in response, causing Marissa to laugh. "I'm sorry," she murmured, touching Bianca's cheek with the back of her fingers, delighting in the smooth texture. "But I really don't want to stop. I mean, it's really sad, I feel like a teenager I'm so turned on, but I so don't want to stop."

"All right," said Bianca with a grin, a humorous lilt to her voice. "How about we go slow then?"

"Slow is good," Marissa replied, returning the grin and rising up to capture Bianca's lips in another kiss. Murmuring against them, "Slow is very good."

Only very soon slow wasn't enough for Marissa. She wanted more of Bianca, she wanted to taste, to touch, to see more and she grabbed Bianca's hand, placing it over her breast. Moaning at Bianca's touch as her fingers swept over her hard nipple, straining through the thin material of her bra, and it was only with the distant sound of the front door shutting that reality set in. That and Kendall's droll observation of, "It's about time."

They separated with shy blushes and boisterous laughs, peering up at Kendall who looked at them with amusement, though she was clearly pleased and Marissa was glad for that. Wanting nothing more than for Bianca's family to approve of their newfound relationship. As they sat up on the couch, facing Kendall who perched on her coffee table, demanding details from Bianca who laced their fingers together while explaining everything to her sister, Marissa took it all in.

The contentment, the relaxation, the rightness of this moment. Most of all, there was the sheer amount of happiness. Over and over, that was what Bianca said she wanted for Marissa. For her to be happy and she finally was, thanks to Bianca and her love. For once, everything was absolutely perfect in Pine Valley for Marissa Tasker and she wouldn't have it any other way.

 

End