They Took Wives For Themselves
“Then they said, "Look, each year there's a festival in honor of Adonai in Shiloh, north of Beit-El, on the east side of the road that goes up from Beit-El to Sh'khem, and south of Levonah." They ordered the men of Binyamin, "Go, hide in the vineyards, and keep watch. If the girls of Shiloh come out to do their dances, then come out of the vineyards, and each of you catch for himself a wife from the Shiloh girls, and go on to the land of Binyamin. When their fathers or brothers come to complain to us, we will say to them, 'Give them as a personal favor to us, because we didn't take wives for each of them in battle. You didn't give them to them; that would have made you guilty of breaking your oath.'" So the men of Binyamin did this - they took wives for themselves from the girls who were dancing, as many as they needed. They carried them off, went back to the land of their inheritance, rebuilt the cities and lived in them.”
- Rape of Jabessh-Giliad, Judges 21:19-23
It wasn’t a gentle hand, a soft hand to cup the tender flesh just above her elbow. It was a tight band of control squeezing and squeezing tighter. Tighter till the skin pulped between the fingers white, then red, then purple, then numb.
She coughed, choked, rolled and crashed on her knees. She stumbled a few steps, heaved, swallowed, then retched down the front of her t-shirt, felt bile slide along her rug-burned skin, prickling her shins and settling on the tops of her bare feet.
“Ames? Amelia!” Hands. Amelia thrashed away twisting, falling back on her tail bone with a crack and kicked out blindly, scooting back. She sniffed, felt tears leaking out from under shut lids, and brought her forearms up to protect and to hide. Her knuckles scraped the hair over her ears so it rustled loud in the darkness. Over it she could hear herself struggling not to make a sound. It was a harsh silence, in which her breath puffed and skipped wild, explosive then not at all. It was a moment before she centered on the fact that she’d only just returned from the terror of another dream.
“I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” She chanted, struggling for control. She felt a cool, damp spreading across her legs, her feet. She let her arms drop and squinted into the dark. Hands soft and gentle, wiped vomit from her neck. She watched the hands and the cloth tracing a path down her bare arms, her fingers. She felt the continuum of her heart’s steady beat and the rhythm of her breathing even into near calm. The words died from her lips and for a moment she shivered under the cool touch. Fingers wiped hair from her brow, rested lightly on her cheek.
“Shhh. You’re fine. I’m here.” Amelia couldn’t stop the tears that gathered on her lashes, dripped down her cheeks as though they’d sprung, wildly escaping her eyes. She couldn’t bear that look, that compassion. It wasn’t pity but it was flawed, nonetheless, in its limitless depth. She wanted to strain against it, deny it. But moments like these, in the middle of the night waking from a dream out of control, it was all she wanted. All she ever wanted was soft, gentle hands. Her breath hitched on a sob and she shrunk into the embrace that wrapped itself around her shoulders, her waist, pulling her in. She settled limply, encompassed by long arms, long legs, and nuzzled the warm skin and silky hair before her face.
“I’m sorry.” She managed her voice hoarse.
“What for? You warned me. You said and I quote – I still have them Addie and they aren’t just dreams. They can be pretty bad as nightmares go.” Addison gave a light squeeze as Amelia wiggled into a more comfortable spot. “I don’t feel misinformed or ill-prepared. And look at me not freaking out. No apologizing, agreed?”
“It’s not that.” Amelia returned, snuggling closer. Her hands were cold, shaking. She clutched them together and settled them between her thighs.
“I’m pretty sure I got puke in your hair.” Amelia couldn’t resist the smile at the warm chuckle that reverberated under her cheek and shivered all the way through her.
“That’s okay. I’m pretty sure you got puke in your hair too. We’ll call it even.”
“Not sleeping.” She mumbled, petulant. Addison ran the tips of her fingers through curls clustered along Amelia’s brow shushing her.
“Okay. Tell me something.” Addison suggested.
“Mmm. I had a friend in college – Brian.” Amelia stretched, her arms draped across Addison’s lap. She brushed the toes of one foot along the carpet and shifted her shoulders into a more comfortable position. Addison tsked at Amelia’s fidgeting and re-tucked the blanket against an imagined chill despite the liberal control of the thermostat. “We used to go to these parties together, get totally wasted, and pick up girls, guys.”
“Girls and guys?” Addison asked, at last content with the warm cocoon she’d built around Amelia’s trim shoulders.
“Neither of us were gender-specific about preferences. We found the idea of labels applied to sex unnecessarily dictatorial in reference to a construct otherwise marked by its fluid nature.” Amelia added, inconsequentially, “Besides, we liked the challenge of seduction and felt that polarizing the rules based solely on gender was a bit of a cheat.”
“I see.” Addison didn’t, not completely. She’d certainly been witness to how liberally Amelia dated across the spectrum of gender and sexuality but she didn’t always comprehend. Her vision was somewhat clouded by the formal dissolution of her parents’ marriage as it closely followed her mother’s full disclosure of sexual preference seemingly in contradiction to the life she’d led. Yes, the Captain had always known, but certainly Addison hadn’t.
“Brian and I, we’d go some place we’d never been and he’d point at anyone in the crowd, a girl with her boyfriend or some random guy posting up and playing it cool. What’s the capitol of Belarus?” Addison shrugged, caught off guard at the obscure question.
“I don’t know. What is it?”
“Minsk.” Amelia whispered, yawning. “That’s how we decided. If I asked some trivia, and he got it right, then I’d go make my move.” Amelia giggled at the ridiculous characterization based upon the phrase, as if she had moves. “If he was wrong, he went. God, you should have seen us. We were … we were shameless.”
Addison snickered, “Somehow that isn’t surprising. Your brother was the same when we first met.” Amelia shrugged momentarily embarrassed.
“I had this notion that …” Amelia paused, suddenly aware of just how much she was about to reveal of herself.
“Hey Ames?” Addison stilled the movement of her fingers and gave a reassuring squeeze at the base of Amelia’s neck. “There’s no judgment.”
“But …” Amelia recognized a line about to be crossed. There were things she couldn’t rescind, couldn’t erase. Once Addison knew, what could Amelia expect of her friendship?
“I already told you. I’m not going anywhere.” Addison reassured, her fingers traveled a calming path. “I’ve known you most of your life Bits. Nothing changes that. You know.” She could little deny the action to be as much for her benefit as Amelia’s. She felt a ripple of dissipating tension along her limbs and an answering sigh from Amelia.
“I know.” Amelia murmured, remembering. When she was eight Addison would promise with hugs and kisses at night before bed, I love you to bits and pieces. When Amelia had grown into a phase of being too big for I love yous, Addison would drop Amelia off at school and just say – You know Bits. A thousand such you knows over the years, and Amelia was sure that nothing could change the way Addison felt. “Brian used to say it was golden, the moment when you knew you had the mark convinced, that you’d pulled them in. He always knew the right thing – what to do, to say to charm anyone, make things seem better than they were.” Amelia shook her head again stilling Addison’s gentle attentions. “Me, I wasn’t charming. I just let them know in no uncertain terms that they could have me. However they wanted, they could have me.” Amelia swallowed, words failing. “I could tell by a look that I wouldn’t need the practice of a pretty word. Not one, once I could see deep into them, wherever they’d buried their secret sins, no one wanted me to be charming. Unfailingly, they all wanted me, easy and undisputed. Every last girl who might insist she was straight then ditch her date or every guy who paid for a drink, gave me a ride – they all wanted what they saw when I hinted sex just by smiling.” Amelia paused, asked spontaneously. “Did you ever read the Hardy Boys when you were a kid?” Addison blinked, again thrown by Amelia’s sudden change of pace.
“Yeah sure. I mean, I think I can remember reading one or two of those books.”
“I loved them.” Amelia replied.
“I think I remember you having a ton of those.” Addison chuckled, seeing for a moment Amelia at eight, pigtails trailing the pages of a dog-eared paperback.
“I wanted to be Joe.” Amelia confessed. “I wanted that so much.”
“So Derek could be Frank?” Addison ventured somewhat unsurprised by Amelia’s nod of affirmation.
“There’s nothing strong enough to break the bond between brothers.” Amelia’s words were sage. “If life could be just like in those books, Derek could trust me, depend on me as much as I ... I wanted him. Obviously not the way all those girls and guys wanted me.” Amelia made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat at the suggestion. “But I got it, you know – wanting something. Before Brian and college, I didn’t understand that I could ever be something anyone wanted. If I’d been like Joe Hardy, if I’d been a brother instead of another sister, maybe Derek wouldn’t feel like there was so little to make him stay.” Amelia explained eager to convey the depth of this desire to be so categorically different from what she was. “Every day after our father was …” Amelia paused. “After he died, I could see it. Derek was thinking not if but when he’d leave.” Addison remembered how Derek always seemed to hate visits home, yet they had been frequent when Amelia was still a child. He’d acted out of a sense of obligation that warred in him. He wanted to be present as the man of the house while wanting to forget the circumstances that had bestowed that mantle upon him. Addison attempted to massage away the tension radiating up Amelia’s spine.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone at home. When Derek and my sisters were gone, there was no buffer. I bore the brunt of Mom’s sadness and I hated it.”
“He was thirteen when you were born, sweetie. Did you think he could stay forever? Even if you could have been a brother, a buddy, he would have had to leave eventually to become the man he is.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered one way or another.” Amelia muttered. “I was always the typical nuisance of a younger sibling to him. It wasn’t just the age. I couldn’t be there when things were … bad.” Amelia swallowed, acknowledging the implications of the world expressed in that word. “Not like he was always there for me.” Amelia’s mind flashed back to the dream, the confining hands holding her stiffly. “I wanted to be there for him. I did, you know?” Amelia grimaced, offering understatement as explanation, “Life is never ideal.”
“So you became a character in a book or whatever a stranger wants in order to … what?” Addison prodded, “Make things seem better than they are?”
“Yes.” Amelia confirmed then clarified. “Why settle for the alternative?”
“I don’t know if I agree that living in reality is settling.” Addison countered.
“There’s this picture that was taken right before Derek left home. It’s faded now, old. It’s of him and I in front of Mom’s old house you know the brownstone in Brooklyn?” Addison nodded remembering it well. Carolyn Wilson Shepherd had sold the family home in favor of a small beachside cabin in Montauk. “Right before that picture was taken I stole Mom’s kitchen shears and went wild. I’d decided I wanted the ultimate boy haircut.”
“Mohawk.” They intoned. Addison chuckled.
“Of course Mom was pissed. And Derek just laughed, said we had to immortalize the moment.” Amelia grinned at the memory, “Mom’s there, practically in tears over my darling, precious hair gone; and Derek is squatting with his arm around my shoulders like we’re equals. I remember thinking this is what it means to be brothers, this moment. It wasn’t the hand me downs I insisted on wearing even though my mother wildly disapproved, or that tragic haircut.” Amelia smiled. “It was just us - Derek and I against the whole world, or at least the fucked up corner of it that was ours, and that was golden to me.”
“But he did.” Addison stated, in the ensuing silence. “He did leave.”
“Of course, like you said, to become the man he is. A borrowed persona couldn’t fix everything, no matter how I hoped.” Amelia confirmed, gazing into the distance as though into the past. She could see the five year old, missing two front teeth but grinning wide and posing proudly, arms crossed over puffed chest. In that moment, she’d looked almost happy. “The day Derek left he said to me - bro, nothing in this world is as important to me as you are.” Amelia blinked back tears and continued. “So I need you to understand why I have to leave.”
“Was it your Mom?” Addison suggested.
“In every way it was.” Amelia paused. “He told me I was right to believe nothing can keep brothers apart. He was grateful he’d had so many chances to learn how to be a good brother with me. But he only got one chance to be the kind of man he should be and he couldn’t neglect that, even for me.”
“A man like your father?” Addison murmured a soft inquiry.
“Maybe. I don’t know.” Amelia hadn’t figured she’d share quite this much. “Derek says Dad got killed over a watch. A watch, Addison.” Years after the fact, it was still impossible for Amelia to comprehend. “A thing he cherished, a thing that my Mom bought and engraved for him, but a thing nevertheless, was worth abandoning a wife and five kids.” Amelia squinted, reasoning, “If he’d surrendered, given it up, those men would have only succeeded in taking something he easily could have had replaced. Instead, he refused. So they killed him and took it off his dead body while his kids watched. How could he have figured that was worth it?”
“Most parents, even those who don’t have the opportunity to parent or see their children safely to adulthood, reflect on their lives concentrating on the struggles of those experiences.” Addison murmured thoughtful. “They want to spare their kids but don’t realize that they cannot discard the sorrows without eliminating the joys along with them.” Amelia shrugged, nodding though perplexed.
“I think I would have preferred being spared the sorrow of losing my Dad or of Derek leaving. I can’t think of a single joy in my life that adequately justifies either event.”
Amelia was all angles and elbows in Addison’s arms. She marveled at the change, at the difference under so many irreverent layers. She was thin, so small and starved for the cuddling Addison provided. And though she’d protested with a wildness in her eyes and her adamant refusal to relate even the slightest details that disturbed her dreams, Amelia had fallen asleep, inside of Addison’s sturdy embrace.
“I don’t want to … I mean, I can’t go back to sleep now. Okay?” Amelia’s voice had wavered, edged with panic and it had taken all Addison’s resolve not to turn and run. That was the line she’d blithely crossed. Not when she’d first promised to stay, but the second time. “Shhh. Hey,” Addison slipped a persuasive finger under Amelia’s chin and deftly caught her eye. “I told you already. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
Addison sat, feet propped, her long arms and long legs seemed endless, lanky when Amelia curled tight, or draped and dangled beside her. Dwarfed by the cushions of Addison’s living room couch, Amelia had never really had a spurt and outgrown her pixie stage. Unlike her siblings who towered above her, Amelia was the petite outlier of the Shepherd clan. Addison marveled that even at twenty-seven years of age, she could still cuddle Amelia close as though she weren’t a day over eight.
You’re more of a sister to me than my own, a confession Addison cherished above any other gift she’d received in memory. Amelia, wide eyes earnest and disarming, had a natural talent for slipping into hearts and minds. Addison had practically watched her grow up, watched her develop and wield these impressive wiles for years before the capable young woman materialized. “Addie, I missed you so much.” It was difficult to reconcile, this powerful new creature to the child that still populated her memories. That Amelia was an adorable little bookworm that would curl up close, all bony elbows and knobby knees, while Addison tried to catch up on medical journals or study for exam practicum.
“What’s that mean Addie?” Over and over again, explaining a term or a procedure the ever-curious Amy would read while tucked under Addison’s arm. There was no use in attempting to distract with enticements of television or discourage her with not now, go play. Amelia had her sights set on medicine at age six and there was little that could draw her away from peering at a textbook side by side with Addison. To be perfectly honest, Addison had probably learned more effectively explaining things to a young Amelia than she ever did plugging away in a library carrel overnight.
When Derek would scold Amy for being under foot, more often than not it was Addison making excuses for her presence. It was just that, even back then, Amelia was not so oddly Addison’s. As though it were more likely fated that Derek and Addison had temporarily drifted together for Amelia’s proscribed benefit. Thus it made a lot of sense that even frustrated, even incensed, Addison was never truly disappointed by Amelia.
In spite of Amelia’s earlier protestations, her eyes eventually drooped precariously toward slumber as she blearily pointed, commenting on the anticipated summer trends while Addison paged through a recent edition of Vogue. It wasn’t exactly naming constellations but Amelia soon drifted, her voice softening to a whisper. Addison felt her heart catch then trip-hammer as a wrinkle of discomfort found a fleeting home on Amelia’s forehead. “Hush, Bits. Hush.” She wasn’t ready to bear witness to another of Amelia’s nightmares just yet. She pulled the throw tighter around the puzzle of entwined arms and legs and dropped a kiss on fluttering lids. “Don’t dream, Ames. Just sleep.” She whispered, hoping.
“Isn’t bad coffee at an NA meeting a bit cliché.” Amelia smirked at the expression on Charlotte’s face. Replacing the empty paper cup on a card table overloaded with pastries and presspot coffee, she cast her eyes away from Charlotte’s grimace to get a feel for the crowd of addicts gathered in the multi-purpose room of Our Lady of Solace Catholic Church.
“So is making small talk next to the refreshment table.” Charlotte muttered, tossing her full cup of coffee into a nearby trash bin. Her eyes roamed the other patrons of the meeting seated some feet away in rows of folding chairs. There was a mountain of muscle-bound biker-type sobbing at the podium, leather vest, beard and a whole lot of give ‘em hell in spite of the tears. She’d tuned out the moment she heard him sniffling about a television ad that reminded him of his estranged father. What she heard instead was white noise. She’d been surrounded by it for days. And despite every appearance of mottled bruises and bandages stained with blood oozing between the intricate pattern of stitches across her body, it was not pain needling to the surface from the very marrow of her bones. It was more noise, ceaseless, waves of nothing crashing out of her.
Numb would be ever so welcome. Eyes rimmed in crimson, shaking on her heels, she stood with the bitter dregs of instant coffee on her palate and looked for a suitable alternative. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Amelia fiddle with a crumpled pack of cigarettes. “You don’t seriously think you’re going to light up in here?” Amelia looked incredulous.
“And you’re not actually going to lecture me about lung cancer right now are you?” Charlotte rolled her eyes.
“I ain’t your mama. This is California and unless you want all these twelve steppers to jump down your throat you should probably reconsider the impulse to light a cigarette in a public place.”
“How about a real coffee?” Amelia’s brows arched in question. She fumbled, twirling the lighter between deft fingertips and watched expressions play over Charlotte’s pale features like shadows and light. Tilting her head in the direction of the exit, she turned and waited patiently. The awkward click-clack of Charlotte’s adjusted gait drew little attention when they sidled out and the Biker’s amplified weeping continued behind them. Amelia recalled a twenty-four hour Starbucks about a block away. She lit up and inhaled mightily barely half a step beyond the church’s side door. Holding the smoke in her lungs, she rasped, “You know something funny?” Charlotte could say with some certainty that the last thing she could think of at the moment was anything funny. The look in her eyes must have said as much. “I’m twenty-seven years old.”
“And,” Amelia proceeded, ignoring Charlotte’s deadpan. “I’ve always been the youngest. It’s impossible to help when you’re the youngest. Even when people come to you needing to depend on you, at some point they don’t want to relinquish the assumed control of age thus implied intellectual superiority.” Charlotte smirked, okay maybe a touch amused.
“Is this a wholly unsubtle indirect reference to me now?” Amelia, after another lengthy puff, offered the cigarette to Charlotte, patiently observing the bobbing ember at the end of a trembling hand. Bloodless fingers weakly grasped it just beyond pale, pink lips. Charlotte closed her eyes in unchecked appreciation, tensed shoulders dropping for an instant before she exhaled and they slipped back up nearly to her ears. Amelia found it strangely intimate and her eyes wandered to gaze down the sidewalk at their destination.
“No … well not exclusively.” She reached out to reclaim the cigarette just as it seemed Charlotte’s fine motor control was deteriorating. One last drag outside the doors of the coffee shop, and the butt was crushed under her boot heel. “It’s just not uncommon. I’ve always been surrounded by people who are older. I’m expected to be frivolous. I am not often relied upon.”
“You’re not a kid.” The vacuum in the vestibule created by the air conditioning inside the building had sealed the door tight and Charlotte struggled, bandaged arm visibly shaking, to open it for them both. “You’re a fine doctor and your patients rely on you to see them through the most difficult moments of their lives.” Breathless and even paler now, Charlotte managed to open the door under Amelia’s pointedly silent observation.
“No I’m not a kid and yes I’m a fine doctor. But I’m also …”
“If you intend to end that sentence with the words, a good friend, I’m leaving.” Charlotte interrupted, glancing back at Amelia halfway in, halfway out. Here was the precipice. The entire length and breadth of their acquaintanceship did not change in the moment Charlotte stood in the doorway of Amelia’s office. That was its own threshold.
“A screw-up, historically speaking.” Amelia finished unfazed by Charlotte’s defensive posturing. She sidled past and up to the counter to order. She took the liberty of doing so for both of them and paid. By the time they were seated with two palatable coffees, Charlotte was no longer bristling. Though she does stare challenge across the table. Amelia has always risen to challenge with appreciable aplomb. She returned Charlotte’s gaze with a relatively unreadable expression of her own. “I have a lot to prove to most everyone in my life for the very reasons I go to those meetings now.”
“Ah, now you want me to be the measuring stick of that enterprise, your success or failure in turning your life around all determined by your ability to make me open up? You think you can heal me?” The way Charlotte’s lips twisted seemed practiced, as though sneering has been a long-enjoyed refuge of her wit.
“Actually no.” Amelia smiled. Her wide eyes and wide smile patently designed to wheedle comfort out of those around her. This smile, incurably ironic, appeared around the edges of her coffee cup. “I’m not trying to save you Charlotte. I’m not trying to save me for that matter.” Amelia’s phone rang, and she slipped it out of her pocket to examine the caller ID. She murmured absently as she hit a button to accept the call. They posed across from each other in silence, Charlotte listening to the conversation behind Amelia’s blank expression.
“Yeah …” A pause, Amelia looked up pointedly. “No ... coffee ...” She sighed, lips pursed as though hesitant then, “Yeah soon ... I will.” She hung up and without the prompt of curiosity on Charlotte’s face offered, “Addie. Sometimes she still worries.”
“Meddling doesn’t seem her past time. Thought that was more Violet’s preference.” Charlotte huffed.
“When I was abusing prescription pills, my family …” Amelia forced a grin that didn’t reach her eyes. “Addison never judged me. She never picked me apart. She was just there. If I was going to say the words good friend to you; they’d be in relation to Addison.”
Amelia Shepherd, perhaps in direct relation to the turmoil that had long perched in the periphery of her life, could little recall an act of anyone insisting upon her. The question of reliability becomes academic and to be quite honest, Amelia did tend toward self-indulgence even at her healthiest. It was an imposing dilemma that everyone she encountered became a surrogate older sibling. The attention she’d inevitably received for her youth, her brilliance, her tragic vulnerability was far from her preference.
“Hey.” Amelia cleared her throat, startled by the husk in her own murmured greeting. Addison offered a smile in response, before returning to gaze out at the dark just beyond the soft circle of illumination surrounding the deck. Wood fairly hummed with warmth under her bare feet as Amelia crossed to join Addison. She sat, knees drawn to her chest on a chaise and Amelia perched silent and leaned back against Addison’s legs.
“Coffee this late?” Addison murmured, gesturing toward a glass with a generous amount of red wine. Amelia shrugged a non-answer in response. She picked up the glass, condensation quickly dampening her fingertips, and sipped. Her lip gloss left a bare outline to the existing print along the rim.
“Where’s Sam?” Addison leaned forward to reach around and grab the wine glass, her legs slipping to bracket Amelia’s hips.
“Post-op for a critical patient. You smell like smoke.” Addison sniffed then leaned back glass in hand.
“Don’t be a cop Addie.”
“Amelia, if you think for one moment that I’m going to just …”
“Power down the engines on that lecture.” Amelia interrupted. “It was the last one in the pack. I won’t buy another.” She snuggled back against Addison’s chest, entwining their fingers. Addison gave her a squeeze, but said nothing. “Remember when I was little?”
“And you used to cuddle with me like this?” Addison replied in inquiry. “Yes. Derek used to joke that you were going to grow into my side so we could live symbiotically like that horror movie …”
“Freaks.” Addison laughed out loud at Amelia’s shudder of disgust. “I hated that movie.”
“He teased you mercilessly about it. You’d get so embarrassed the tips of your ears would turn bright red.” Addison chuckled, holding onto Amelia with her free arm. She took a sip of her wine and continued. “You were so sensitive to every little thing he said when you were a kid. Even then …”
“I thought he was Atlas. He held my whole world on his shoulders.”
“He had big shoes to fill.” Addison’s voice was tentative, treading carefully around the edges of a painful subject.
“Everything shifts with time.” Amelia murmured. Addison relinquished her glass, watched patiently while Amelia took a healthy swig. “He used to get so mad. You guys had that little apartment and he’d come home from rounds to find me already asleep in your bed.” Amelia snickered. “He hated sleeping on that couch.”
“No he hated not being able to …” Addison chuckled.
“Ick, still my brother Addie.” Amelia took another long pull from the dwindling remnants of the glass and returned it.
“I liked having you around. Having a younger brother was diametrically opposed to the times I got to hang out with you. Little brothers prefer burning down dollhouses and reading diaries to cuddling and playing dress up.”
“Or reading the Journal of Gynecologic Oncology? It’s a wonder I didn’t become an Ob/Gyn instead of a neurosurgeon.” Amelia disentangled her fingers from Addison’s and pulled away to get to her feet. “I’m going to turn in. I’m pretty tired.”
“Amelia ...” Addison caught her hand before she could depart, relentless inquiry in the search that slid along Amelia’s face.
“Am I okay?” Amelia asked. “What’s on my mind? Is there something I need to say?” Eyebrows arched in confirmation, Addison was content to wait for an answer to any one of those questions. Amelia shrugged, distress or confusion at play. “I don’t know.”
Amelia glanced at her mobile phone just long enough to note the sender of the text before unceremoniously turning it off and dropping it in her bag. Not a second later the door opened before her. She returned the mute gaze of greeting. The door opened only slightly wider and she slipped inside, dropping her bag by the door as it was closed behind her.
It was anything but romantic. Jeans and underwear shucked, she was pulled across leather-clad legs. She didn’t bite her lip or squirm in nervous anticipation. She waited, and when the first, stinging blow cracked across the globes of her ass, she obediently counted, “One Mistress.” The leather warmed her skin to a neon glow long before her counting slowed. “Thank you Mistress.” She murmured as the punishment drew to a close.
The tops of her thighs were sweaty as was the hollow between her shoulder blades. As the moisture cooled, she felt a familiar languor settling in her limbs. Her knees trembled then locked stiffly beneath her as she slid back into her clothes. Escorted to the door, she retrieved her bag and slipped out as silently as she’d come. She walked a negligible distance to a relatively busy corner and waved down a cab with little delay. Absently informing the driver of her destination, she gingerly slid into the back seat digging for her phone in the bottom of her bag. She keyed a quick response to the text she received no more than thirty minutes before - On my way home now.
She paid the cab driver, wished him a good night, and walked slowly up to the house. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment to listen to night sounds, to the sea roiling beyond the walls. It was invigorating and calming all at once. Inside, door locked behind her, she discarded her keys, shoes, bag right there in the foyer. Her steps bare, quiet paced a long length of hardwood to glass doors pressed wide, inviting the nighttime. Burnished by the warm glow of the deck lamps, several strands of copper danced in a soft breeze. Her gaze traced freckled shoulders and the movement of a long arm extended, hand capturing a delicate glass painted ruby by its contents. Mouth dry, she swallowed, tentatively breaking the spell she’d fallen under with her own hoarse whisper. “Hey.”
“An addict’s gotta be addicted to something ...” Once she’d run obsessively. Ten miles a day, rain or shine, she’d lace up her trainers and battle concrete. A dozen obsessions later, she’d still be doing just that if New York legislation regarding cell phone use while driving had only been a few years ahead of its time. She admittedly would not have made it through med school and a surgical residency touting such stunning success if she had been distracting herself running marathons rather than burying herself in books.
That is not to suggest she had not found other adaptations, new appetites. Fear carving its numbness through her was sound motivation for a flight from grief to addiction’s doorstep. It was a journey two cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder may have inspired her to repeat were she not quite so fascinated by her own terror. She was encouraged to choose a different approach as an addict makes no friendly gestures with anesthetics.
October 2000 Brooklyn, New York
Amelia navigated the rain-slick stairs out of the subway with excessive care. She hissed as she was jostled slightly from behind, and looked up to watch the woman who’d pushed impatiently past her. Water droplets collected on her lashes and she returned her concentration to placing one foot in front of the other. By the time she traveled the ten blocks to her brother’s brownstone, the rain was an indelicate embrace that had adhered clothing and hair alike to her skin. She imagined its obscene squishes and slurps between her toes as they flexed with each step to the stoop, and refuge behind the heavy door. She discarded coat and boots in the vestibule to dry, and slipped inside hoping …
“Ames?” Waylaid at the front door. Addison must just have arrived home herself. She stood there in socks, wrinkled scrubs under an unbuttoned coat with a stack of mail in hand. The cast of her shoulders said she hadn’t had the chance to draw breath, relax. That meant Addison was exhausted, and maybe she’d miss the fine details that sewn together would tell the tale of Amelia’s most recent whereabouts. Maybe, as was often the case with Derek, she’d only inquire perfunctorily then tune out, eat whatever left over takeout was in the fridge and climb into bed entertaining minimal delay. With any luck, Amelia thought, Addison wouldn’t be the least bit curious about … “Where have you been?” Teeth-chattering, Amelia shrugged and tried to shake her head nonchalantly.
“Nowhere.” Addison arched an unimpressed brow, curiosity peaked. She cast her full attention to regard Amelia.
“Come on. Let’s get you out of those wet clothes.” Addison tossed the mail on the hall console and unceremoniously made short work of the zipper on Amelia’s soaked hoody. She’d shucked it off Amelia’s arms, discarded it and moved on to the button at the fly of Amelia’s jeans before the thought to protest made its way to the forefront of Amelia’s mind.
“Hey! I’m not six. I cannot be naked in the foyer of my brother’s house.” She fidgeted away from Addison’s determined efforts.
“Uh uh,” Addison shook her head, forestalling any attempt at escape. “You know how Derek feels about these floors. I don’t want to hear about watermarks and warping of his precious restored historic hardwood for the next month. Out of these clothes and then into a hot bath, understood?” Addison snagged Amelia’s jeans, letting them bunch at the girl’s feet. Under the muted tones of the foyer light she halted, eyes drawn to the pale goose flesh on Amelia’s thighs. Uneven patterns in purple and blue twisted over the skin, winding up and around her hips, disappearing under the soaked cloth of her underwear.
“Amy.” Addison whispered, tentative as though challenging the reality of what she was seeing. Amelia’s eyes hidden in shadow, under torrents of drenched hair were unreachable. “What happened?” Addison slipped her hands around slim wrists but quickly let go at the harsh inhalation in response. Carefully, moving with the “shh shh” movements one employs around spooked animals and children, she peeled wet clothing in layers. A trendy tee shirt with a quirky graphic and a long-sleeved thermal joined the hoody and jeans. Addison held her breath at the revelation of more bruises in startling relief against semi-translucent skin. Crimson stripes bloomed across bare chest and shoulders, a checkerboard between breasts and layered over ribs. “Who did this, Amelia?”
“I …” Amelia struggled for words as sublime as the calm she felt inside. How to explain that this had been her choice? “I did.” She looked up into Addison’s eyes, uncertain of how this puzzle would be received.
“Amy …” Addison teetered a sharp edge between stricken and calm. Searching the uncertainty in Amelia’s expression she looked but could not read the signs of assault and though waterlogged and bedraggled was a fair imitation of shock, Amelia appeared aware and responsive. This was something else. Given Amelia’s struggles with sobriety, Addison steeled herself for an explanation that she imagined might send a teenager back to rehab. “You did this?” At a loss for how the wounds covering Amelia’s body could be self-inflicted she asked, “How did you do this?”
“I mean … I asked for someone to do this.” Amelia swallowed but didn’t look away, anticipating judgment for the admission. “I begged.” Amelia had never intended to confess this curious new obsession she’d chased for months through internet message boards, books purchased from so-called subversive booksellers, fantasies, and finally a moment some two hours before. This had grown from an idle curiosity to an untamed deprivation. It seduced her anxieties with every tick of the clock until she was caught.
“What are you saying to me? Are you telling me you …” Addison ran her hands through her hair, trying to grasp what she was hearing. “You … let someone hurt you like this? A boy at school … I swear to God Amy they will not find his miserable corpse if you’re seeing that little shit dealer again!” Addison felt her chest constrict as memories surfaced of past scenarios with Amy’s ex-boyfriend. He was a cliché of privilege meets benign neglect. When he’d been caught dealing prescription pills at school, his parents had smoothed things over with a sizable donation. Amelia, on the other hand, caught with a handful of those same pills in her locker had lost a hard-won scholarship and been expelled.
“No it’s not like that. Addie I swear.” Amelia struggled, desperate to be understood. “There’s this club in Saint Marks. I’ve been planning … I’ve wanted to go for a long time.” Amelia wrapped her arms around herself, shivering in the cool air.
Averting her eyes, as though that would be enough to halt the meaning behind this confession, Addison gathered Amelia’s wet clothes under an arm and placed the other around the girl’s thin shoulders. “A club … as in ...” Addison shook her head searching for an appropriate noun.
“S&M.” Amelia was deliberate, in spite of rising turmoil. Would this be the inspiration for rejection from Addison, the only true constant in a world that seemed prone to crumbling around her? “I found it online.” Amelia peered at the soaked clothing Addison clutched against herself, a circle of damp spreading outward into her scrubs. “I just … needed to feel something.”
“So you let some stranger do this to you?” Addison gave a disdainful shake of her head. “I am dizzy with the list of countless what ifs. What if, Amy, just once you did something with your life that didn’t leave the rest of us wondering if you’ll be joining your father in an early grave?” Amelia sucked in a shocked breath.
“Addie …” Addison held up a hand, shaking her head. It was rare that Amelia found herself on the receiving end of Addison’s disappointment. More for Addison than any other member of her family, she’d striven to pull her life together.
“No.” Addison turned expression taut. “Go upstairs. Get in the bath. You need to give me a moment to digest this.”
Amelia sat, cast off droplets of bath water tickling the exposed skin of her shoulders and arms. She looked up when Addison entered, but said nothing. Crouching by the tub, Addison tested the cooling water with the tips of her fingers then reached over to fiddle with the knobs. Amelia blinked unexpected spray out of her eyes, turning from the hot water as it splashed into the bath.
“I think it best not to mention this to your brother.” Relief palpable, echoing off the tile, Amelia took a sobbing breath. She’d waited for Addison’s verdict, terrified of further recriminations. “I’m going to have a look at those welts after your bath, so they don’t get infected. We still …” Addison paused turning off the faucet, “have to talk about this.”
“I know.” Amelia couldn’t imagine a scenario wherein she’d receive such relatively easy acceptance from any other member of her family. Addison managed a tentative smile.
“I see you struggling and I wish I could somehow …” Addison shrugged, leaving it unsaid. “But I can’t. No matter how much I want to, no matter how much I care, I can’t fix what’s wrong in your life for you.”
“Mostly I think everyone would be better off without me.” Amelia murmured. “I’m drowning at the confluence of every chaotic day that I don’t break sobriety no matter how desperately I want to use. You keep telling me to fight and all I want is to give in.” Addison’s steady hand on her shoulder made it impossible to bury the feeling deep where it couldn’t peer out and decide to reveal itself in fractured sobbing. She gritted her teeth, felt it burning through her eyes until they slipped closed, remembering. “Tonight I drifted in such peace. It may have been another hand on my body but it was governed by my whim. I was in control.”
Addison’s hand traced a loving path along Amelia’s temple. Amelia reached up and slipped her fingers over Addison’s. They clung, thin and trembling. “I cannot abide the thought of someone hurting you, even at your request.” At war with what the bruises meant Amelia had endured, Addison arrested her need to protect. She considered the desperation in the act. What more would Amelia choose to suffer?
Amelia leaned back, letting her fingers slip from Addison’s. “Even bound and bloodied, I say when it begins, when it ends. I don’t just ask, Addie. I command.” Amelia had never felt like she had a voice. How could Addison argue against the seductive call of years of broken silence? Amelia felt she’d been granted great power, relished it. Her pain was little in the way of a sacrifice.
“You’ll go back. Won’t you?” There was no dread in the plodding certainty of Addison’s words. She drew away, nearly out the door before Amelia truly considered a response.
“Why would I stay away?”
Present Day Los Angeles
Addison watched Amelia retire inside. She finished the half swallow of wine left in her glass, balancing the stem between her first two fingers thinking back to a night some years ago. Amelia panting like she’d just run up a flight of stairs, flushing under the wounds striped across her buttocks and back. For an instant, she'd turned and gazed back pinning Addison over the jutting bones of her shoulder. Addison froze in a parody of extinguished concentration, the sucking of breath and trembling hands. In the midst of applying salve to the lines of broken skin where upper thighs swelled to the round globes of Amelia’s backside, she’d revealed a sin so deeply hidden she hadn’t known it dwelled there herself.
Addison remembered, seemingly small, seemingly fragile Amelia, womanhood peeking from the cracks of vanishing adolescence. Amelia who seemed voracious in that moment, a sound of hunger buried in the back of her throat, digging itself out to claw deeply at Addison. In a half-breathed instant, what was before unthinkable became too real. Addison watched slim hips rise as though magnetized under her touch, just enough to spy glistening curls, damp with arousal.
Addison had sucked a deep breath, shocked at the scent filling her nostrils. A thought half-formed to slip her fingers lower nearly acted upon, just as soon redacted. She stumbled back as though yanked by her collar, in full flight. Amelia watched her go, hurt wrestling confusion in her eyes. Addison slept on the couch that night. When Derek came home from the hospital early that morning to find her there, she’d fabricated some lie. She spent the intervening years pretending she hadn’t crossed a very treacherous line of awareness. Amelia, sensing Addison’s need, made no mention of it and the pretense had stood as though in mutual agreement, to strike that moment from memory.
Nevertheless, they’d had their share of heady moments since. A lingering touch or look that held ardor absent any argument would prove an unexpected reminder of the heat that had long festered between them. Addison could not abide the thought of the ruin that would inevitably follow were they ever to give in to these lewd impulses. She struggled to remember the child she’d tucked in at night and not the desirous woman into whom Amelia had so ably developed. It was abhorrent she chided herself when her thoughts meandered along the possibilities harbored within supple limbs. Addison leaned forward on the deck chair and refilled her wine glass for the second time that night. The bottle was light, less than a sip circling the bottom, when she replaced it and drank heartily.
“Morning.” Addison smiled, leaning up for a kiss. Sam’s lips were a welcome that spread through her body. He must have been later than anticipated for she had not heard him slip into bed. But she’d awoken to the comfort of his warmth pressed against her back rather than the jarring intrusion of her alarm into her dreams. Handing him a mug of coffee, she watched him sip gingerly and sit to examine morning headlines on the front page of the paper.
How’d you sleep?” He asked, glancing up briefly, the knowing cast of his features belying the true intent of his question.
“Did I keep you up with my tossing and turning?” Amber brows quirked into a finely sketched peak, her repost was easily recognizable as admission. “I’m worried.”
“Amelia.” Sam nodded, sliding the paper aside and giving Addison his undivided attention. “Has she given you any indication that she’s …”
“No.” Addison shook her head vehemently. “No. She’s clean and I don’t doubt for a moment the strength of her conviction to remain that way.”
“Perhaps something else has you so preoccupied.” Sam noted the posturing at his tone, and raised a hand, prepared to placate any argument. “I don’t mean to suggest you and I are both losing sleep over unfounded worry. I only wonder if you’re misplacing your concern for something else you’re feeling.” He dropped his hand back to the counter, gesturing to indicate their surroundings. “Is Amelia showing you anything in her behavior that is cause for concern?”
“I don’t know.” Addison paused, knowing the denial to be half-hearted. She didn’t wish to audibly admit the evidence over which she currently despaired. “When Derek and I first met back in college,” She began, on a change of tack, “I’d go with him to visit his Mom, any reason to spend some time off campus.” Sam settled, listening. Addison continued, feeling his attention as distinctly as she’d felt his embrace waking up earlier that morning. “While we were there, we’d give Carolyn a break and babysit. I think Ames was about eight back then, this tiny little person.” Addison chuckled remembering.
“She was always on a mission to impress Derek. There wasn’t any indulging childhood whims; she didn’t have any. There were no tantrums over bedtime. There were no reminders to take baths. She ate her vegetables without being badgered and checked her own homework. Her life was so rigid, tempered. It was almost as if she didn’t need an adult to step in with guidance or even comfort.” Addison, hip perched against the kitchen counter, reflected for a moment on the past. Sam sat on the other side of the island with a cup of coffee, his fingers tented over the morning paper.
“Even though she was so self-sufficient, I couldn’t help thinking what she should be doing, what any kid would be doing and not be so damn serious.” Addison rolled her eyes with a rueful shake of her head. “Of course, she wasn’t just any kid. It was less than rare that she might make a knock-knock joke or color outside the lines, play dress up or pretend.” Grimacing, Addison confessed, “It felt like a Developmental Psych experiment gone awry at times trying to get her to loosen up a bit. I’d go overboard trying to break her reserve and Derek would say I spoiled her.” Caught in a moment delving into the past, Addison seemed eager to make someone understand, as though she were there again vehemently arguing against Derek’s stance.
“She was seven and a half down to the minute, sitting around with us chatting about world politics and the rising price of gas and I would get so mad.” Addison sighed, “One tragic moment in her life and she’s sentenced to never have a childhood? It wasn’t fair.” It was ironic, though, Addison had to admit thinking that she and Derek had argued over Amelia like she was their own then never actually produced a child bearing the name Montgomery-Shepherd. In the midst of those arguments, Amelia had certainly felt like she belonged to Addison.
“I remember when Nay and I started dating.” Sam interposed, a thoughtful expression smoothing his handsome features. “Amy would visit for a weekend and I can’t think of once she wasn’t this silent little sentinel at your side.” Sam smiled, “She’d get this look in her eye sometimes. There she’d be, surrounded by our lecture notes and textbooks diligently reading her own copy of the Iliad or Walden or something equally cerebral. Anyway, she’d stop. She’d just stop reading to look at you.” Sam tilted his head, fascinated by how surreal such events tended to be when plucked out of their context in the past. “There was this intensity about it, like she was trying to make you more real, more permanent.” He took a prolonged sip of coffee, gazed at Addison. “She still looks at you like that, you know.” Nodding, Addison’s act of agreement made more meaningful by the wistful expression touching her eyes. She couldn’t deny that.
“Carolyn would be working third or coming off a double, exhausted and preoccupied with the financial considerations of Derek’s three sisters in college. So Ame’s was with us more often than not; and for as long as I can remember she’s had these nightmares.” Addison swallowed thinking of the episodes encouraged a chill she could not shake loose of her spine. “She wakes up terrified, screaming, not knowing where she is.” Addison folded her arms, willing herself not tremble as she gave herself over to the memories. “When she was little, I’d go to her room and try to calm her down. I’d tell her, I’m here.” Addison shook her head. “When I wasn’t there, I wondered who came to her when she woke up in the middle of the night. Maybe that’s why. Maybe she felt like I was one more person in her life to leave her behind.”
“You’ve always been there, helped her when she couldn’t help herself.” Sam’s words coalesced into an astute rendering of past events. “Even now, you’re a friend and supporter while she figures out whatever she’s trying to figure out here in LA. Do not doubt that you are her unwavering constant.” Sam’s voice was comfort and reassurance. There was no adequate reconciliation for Addison’s feelings of helplessness when it came to Amelia. Too many unspoken variables had seen to that.
“I don’t know how to help her, Sam.” He slid around the island and reached out to pull Addison into his arms. Addison looked up, searched brown eyes as he brushed the hair from her face. Sam was such a tender man with an unlimited ability to make her feel cherished and safe. She wished she had that ability. She wished she could do that for Amelia.
“She’s not seven anymore. You can’t chase away all the monsters. She knows that.” Sighing, Addison pulled away from his embrace. Even Sam’s considerate words could not rid her of this prevailing disturbance.
“You want to explain this to me?” Charlotte was all arched brows and expectation. There was unchecked irony in her assessment. It almost made Amelia smirk. Charlotte was a persistent contradiction - all southern, no charm.
In the kitchen, Amelia reaching across the island for a piece of fruit, had attracted unforeseen attention as her shirt rode up her back. Amelia had been alone, unthinking, and passing by the doorway Charlotte had spied the proliferation of fresh bandages in glaring white. Wordlessly grabbing Amelia’s arm, Charlotte directed the young woman into her office. Amelia had known, faced with Charlotte’s unbridled concern, not to prevaricate.
“It’s an anniversary present commemorating my continued sobriety.” She shrugged the rest of the way out of her tee shirt, allowing Charlotte an unobstructed view. “The ink represents ...” Amelia turned to gaze at Charlotte over her shoulder hesitating for a second before proceeding. “Lashes.” She straightened her back, lengthening her spine. On it, permanently inked lines intersected, laid out in careful precision, intricate patterns of minute text that appeared as carefully interlaced geometric knots at a distance. From the small of her back, the black print radiated in half a dozen beams of these remembered punishments, elegant stripes, pinned to bend and wind perpendicular to her ribs. Under fresh bandages, the most recent addition to the set caressed the slim expanse of Amelia’s back from shoulder to waist. Charlotte leaned forward eyes squinting. Her lips moved in concert with her finger tracing over a thin line of near microscopic text. Noticing the rising blush on Amelia’s skin, she withdrew, seemingly sinking into herself.
“You let someone beat you, then you immortalize the moment with a tramp stamp?” Charlotte pursed her lips, nodding her own confirmation. “I’m not the crazy one here. Clearly, you’ve got me beat.”
“Explain to me how this qualifies as crazy.” Amelia grinned, realizing her expression didn’t exactly provide the most convincing foundation for an argument in defense of her own sanity.
“Well, for starters, if I got a tattoo symbolizing a broken hand to commemorate my …” Charlotte took a deep breath, pressing forward. The rape couldn’t be skipped over with a clumsy allusion. It seemed impossible nonetheless to acknowledge it with casual temperance errantly expecting to press forward unencumbered by the flashbacks every acknowledgement resurrected. “… attack, those busy bodies out there would put me on a seventy-two hour psych hold in my own damn hospital.” Charlotte snapped. “And put your shirt back on, for god’s sake. This isn’t spring break.”
“Being a submissive isn’t about trauma.” Amelia hadn’t come out to anyone of consequence in some time and she realized now why. Few things managed to trigger her temper so quickly as the suggestion that surrendering to pain for pleasure was not her choice. She refused to be categorized as some addle-minded victim in a cycle of violence. “It’s about control. It’s the only space I have in all the world where I truly feel safe.”
“Safe. You think some psychopath with a whip is a security blanket?”
Amelia, eyes flashing, bit back her instinctive response. “I am very selective as to whom I trust in the position of dominant, only people who are fully dedicated and comprehend that they are participating in an inviolate bond with their submissive.”
“How many of those blows have you taken to the head?” Charlotte turned dismissively yanking the office door open in preparation to leave. “I have far better things to do with my time than stand here and listen to you extol the virtues of violence as though it were high art or morality. It’s abuse, Amelia, whether you’re willing to accept it or not.” Patience expended, Amelia abandoned any hope of her side of the conversation remaining civil.
“What kind of half-assed doctor of sexology ignores the long-accepted connection between pleasure and pain? Is this the shitty advice you give your patients? Tell them what they’re feeling is depraved?” Amelia stepped forward pointing an accusatory finger at Charlotte’s back and hissed her counterargument. “If the diplomas on the wall of your office aren’t fakes, then you should know that BDSM has been practiced for thousands of …”
“The hell?! Amelia!” Timely as ever, Addison looked up as she passed in the hallway outside the door catching the young woman bare-chested and incensed as she faced Charlotte down, mid-retort. Charlotte rolled her eyes and slammed the door succinctly in Addison’s gaping face.
“Fucking. Put. On. Your. Shirt.” Charlotte yanked the limply held article of clothing out of Amelia’s hand with considerable force. It shook in her hand, emphasizing rage barely above a whisper.
“Sit down and hear me out.” Amelia inclined her head in challenge.
“Fine.” Charlotte flung the fabric into Amelia’s waiting hands as she took a seat as far from Amelia as she could muster.
“Thank you.” Amelia murmured, slipping back into her shirt before taking a seat next to Charlotte in the only other chair besides the one behind her desk. She took a deep breath, grasping at a steady mark from which she could begin. Despite Charlotte’s impatience, Amelia sighed, shook her head, grinned and jumped right in. “When I was a kid, I was terrified of hands. If someone touched me, someone I didn’t know or trust, I was immobilized by my own fear and I didn’t understand why.”
“Just hands or the people connected to them?” Charlotte’s inquiry bore a certain familiar vulnerability.
“Just the hands.” Amelia gazed at her own hands in recollection of the unmitigated terror that had ruled her life as a child. “Over time my response to people’s hands became ... violently problematic” Amelia managed a smile around the euphemism allowing Charlotte a moment to consider what it implied. “Years of therapists’ insipid interventions and my own addiction hadn’t succeeded in ridding me of the constant anxiety that I felt. I became more scared of what I’d do if someone touched me than the actual eventuality. It didn’t matter that I had a well-used mantra telling me that helping hands, those that people have extended to comfort or assist rather than to hurt, were nothing to fear. My instincts, the visceral reactions I had, were more and more difficult to control, impossible to rescind. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that anything worked.”
“And that was?” There was this hoping that spilled forth, eager like desire as Charlotte asked this seemingly innocent question. Amelia spared a glance and looking into Charlotte’s eyes could see her own fears, inescapable as a child.
“Frustration - I was tired of being isolated from everyone around me. So I decided I’d try an experiment.” Amelia reached out a hand, letting it hover in the distance between their two chairs. Charlotte eyed it warily, while Amelia waited patiently, allowing Charlotte to enact the inevitable next step. Charlotte’s hand was pale. Moreover, it was thin, marked by the distinct indentations of knuckle and bone beneath near translucent skin. It shook as it ventured into the empty space in an airless moment. Fingertips touched tentative, but that was it. The world did not end. The skies were not lit in flames to fall upon the heads of those deserving retribution. It was blameless of any preconceived notion of harm, this touch. Eyes locked on the trembling appendage, Amelia continued, “I called it aversion therapy. I thought if I didn’t give myself a choice, if I absolutely had to face the hands, maybe I could destroy the fear and compel myself to live a life of closeness with people, strangers even. I needed to find a line to cross into reality. Because, in my dreams, hands were terrible; but, I wanted so much to be touched again.” Charlotte cleared her throat, mouth working to form words. She sniffed, blinking back tears.
“Did it work?”
“It did.” Amelia confided. “It took months, but I found a club on the internet and even corresponded at length with someone I decided could help me. And on my eighteenth birthday, I told my Mom I was going out with a friend.”
“And?” Charlotte’s inquiry suggested she was already aware of the conclusion, hearing in Amelia’s tones a tale of lessons learned and happy endings. Amelia wasn’t sure if her words confirmed anything beyond her inception as a submissive. She had no idea if the fable brooked a lesson or if it ended happily.
“Instead I went to meet my first mistress.”
“A stranger off the internet?” Charlotte shook her head. “Your life sounds unavoidably similar to an episode of Law and Order.
“You’re right, of course. I took a chance but it wasn’t careless and I was very lucky that night.” Amelia admitted chagrinned. She took a deep breath, knowing the exposure was necessary but feeling trepidation prick her nerve. “She stripped me naked, tied me down and ...”
“Stop.” Charlotte jerked her hand away, clutching her own fingers against the thrumming in her chest as though Amelia’s words had burned the tips.
“It wasn’t abuse, Charlotte. I didn’t even ask. I commanded it.” Amelia gentled, placing her hand back in her lap. “It was my choice and it helped. It did.” Charlotte got to her feet and opened the door to the office. Amelia expected the woman to flee, but she didn’t. She stood in the doorway, shoulders tensed, as though on the precipice of a decision.
“Maybe I still think you’re crazy.” Charlotte’s voice was hoarse, muted by unshed tears. “But maybe I … maybe I understand a little bit.”
“Charlotte …” Amelia’s next words, whatever they may have been, went unheeded. Charlotte disappeared, the swift rhythm of her heels bounced along the corridor with resounding finality.
October 2000 Brooklyn, New York
It was important to be present, in the moment. She wouldn’t page through a magazine or trap herself in a chapter of the book she was reading. Even the music that blared throughout the studio had receded into a dull, pulsing, softer than the rhythm of her own breathing. She intended full immersion, every second learned without distraction. She’d seen others drink heavily, getting plastered first as though the pain sullied the moment. The pain, for Amelia, was what the moment was worth. The pain was offered in worship, dedicated to bottling the memory like preserves.
Stripped down to the waist, she’d lain flat on her stomach while the artist did a preliminary drawing. It was simple really, two intersecting columns of varied length, radiating from the small of her back, indelible in black. Not lines in actuality, but infinitesimal block text of her words, promises, a covenant she’d kept under the lash.
She luxuriated in the vibrations dancing outward along her skin as the needles were driven in from the thin blades of her shoulders to the base of her spine. She laid in meditative silence, still but for the relentless sigh of her own quickened breath. Hours later, when the work was finished and carefully covered by gauze, she smiled in reverence, tears coming to her eyes only then.
“What does it say?” Amelia met the gaze of the tattoo artist over her shoulder. Her hands had been steady, careful as they applied the last bit of tape. Now they seemed to tremble under Amelia’s intent observation. She was young, Amelia’s age, an apprentice. She’d done the work for free. Experience, a photo in her portfolio, a favor called upon for a friend, circumstances that had extenuated Amelia’s presence. Ren had been equally quiet and focused from the moment she’d first pressed her fingers against Amelia’s flesh to begin. As she worked, long hair had been pulled up and back, revealing a map of art on her own neck, hinting at the bare skin of her back under her tank top. Her arms, surprisingly, were comparatively bare. She was tall and thin with pale, delicate hands that Amelia found mesmerizing. Her eyes locked on them as she spoke.
“They are the lyrics of a love song from ancient Egypt.” Amelia related softly. She looked up again and when almond eyes sparked in curiosity, Amelia dipped her head, looking away. It was easy now to give in to such simple human desires. She would smile, make coy conversation, and in a heartbeat they would have settled on a bar to share a drink. Amelia wondered how the steps to this dance might have ever seemed complex prior to her understanding of dynamic power exchange.
“You read this stuff … these hieroglyphics or whatever?” Ren asked, smirking. She’d permanently interred enough Chinese characters into the flesh of illiterate westerners to know how rare a capability literacy actually was. Ignorance indelible in ink, getting a tattoo for the sake of trying to appear esoteric still came off unsubtly capricious. Amelia tried not to perceive the scoffing tone as condescension. She reasoned if she did, her sensibilities would take a decidedly unfavorable turn and she would be forced not to seduce this woman. Her tongue curled around the ancient sounds of Amharic, confident in its turning of language Amelia had read though rarely spoken.
“Oh! Were I made her porter,” Amelia translated the words into English inching close, her eyes fixed on lips parted in surprise. “I should cause her to be wrathful with me.” A sustained puff cooled the sweat that had dampened her cheeks and Amelia felt Ren’s expirations pick up with every word she breathed. “Then when I did but hear her voice,” Amelia slid off the cushioned bench to straddle jean clad thighs. “the voice of her anger.” Amelia glanced up, spearing Ren at the eyes. She could feel the accelerating thump and drum under thin cotton, and let her fingers rest over the swell of small responsive breasts. “a child shall I be for fear.” Ren shuddered, arching into the touch.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Ren’s words chased the heat across Amelia’s cheeks as she heaved near breathless.
Amelia brushed her lips against a taut jaw and whispered, “Nope. Not a word.”
Stomach grumbling, Amelia sauntered into the kitchen of Oceanside Wellness making good on the intention to raid the cupboards in spite of an unexpected audience. Naomi looked up from leafing through the mail, half-listening as Addison raged sotto voce. Halting mid-sentence, Addison offered Amelia’s wardrobe squinted assessment. “Going with fully clothed for now?” Amelia looked down at the well-fit cable-knit hooded sweater she wore. The neck line scooped low to show off the fitted thread-bare tee she wore underneath it.
“For now.” Amelia arched a wry brow. “I just made the sickest Tears For Fears playlist.” Amelia sang, camping up a rock star shimmy and point for Addison’s benefit, “Something happens and I’m head over heels.” She broke off suddenly in hysterics, “Remember that time at Mom’s when you and Der’k were rounding second base to Shout in that closet of a guest bedroom and Mom walked in just as you guys were uh, … letting it all out.”
“Oh my, that’s the, I’m serious, voice.” Amelia mimed contrition, drawing a breath deeply into a widening grin. “Please don’t lecture me. We’re both well aware what that was.”
“Well how about clue me in?” Naomi interjected, glancing between the two women. “What was it that possessed you to strip half naked in an office in front of an open door?”
“Mine aren’t the first pair of bare tits any of these offices has seen.” With a pointed look at Addison she added, “Mark Sloan.”
“We’re not talking about me!” Addison shook her head slightly embarrassed and determined not to have her none too recent indiscretions dragged in to offset Amelia’s far more recent altercation.
“Besides, Charlotte took an inopportune moment to open the door while I happened to be topless.” Amelia reported. Apparently that wasn’t going to suffice as an explanation. Pursing her lips at the looks that tidbit of information garnered, Amelia tripped dutifully forward. “Why was I topless?” She offered a shrug in an attempt to minimize this revelation. More and more it was feeling uncomfortably like being caught in high school by her mother mid-coitus. The living room couch had been a poor choice for those multiple ill-timed trysts. “Charlotte caught a glimpse of the bandages from some new work I just had done. I took off my shirt in order to explain.” Addison appeared scandalized, drawing the conclusion that if Amelia had explained the meaning behind those tattoos, Charlotte had gotten more than just a flash of bare chest.
“I don’t think …”
“I hope you aren’t preparing to suggest that Charlotte, a grown woman and a certified sexologist, is unable to process my kink in the wake of her personal tragedy?”
“You know I hate it when you do that.”Addison muttered, feeling all the more contrary for Amelia’s uncanny ability to slip into her head. Hearing Amelia’s disdainful characterization of the very thoughts rousing her alarm only served as aggravation.
“Your kink meaning what exactly?” Naomi pressed ignoring the momentary deviation.
“My …” Amelia gave Addison a pointed look then contemporized, “Tattoos. They are a key aspect of my sobriety.”
“I doubt anything you showed her dispelled much in the way of concern.” Addison replied with the weighty tone of implication.
“Well, any concern she had, perhaps thinking that I may have fallen to some unexpected harm was both misinformed and misplaced.” Amelia’s point was equally blunt.
“You two obviously have some unresolved issue to which you rather make allusions than speak plainly.” Naomi rose, headed for the door. “And I have budgets I rather manage than listen to your ill-disguised innuendo.” She paused, leveling a pointed gaze, “Amelia, try to remain clothed while working in future.”
“With pleasure.” Amelia conceded. Were it not for her jovial expression her eyes might be characterized as blank. Naomi looked away, happy to leave any further discontented finger wagging in Addison’s capable hands.
“You’re being ridiculous.” Amelia murmured, sitting down across the kitchen island. Her indifference withered a bit under the invective of Addison’s long-standing disapproval.
“I am worried, Amelia, as I always am, as I always have been. Why not dispel some of the concern that has occupied my mind for a change.” Addison lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. Few conversations in the kitchen ever remained private for long. Distress wormed itself across Amelia’s features. It was ever the same with them as it had been since she was eighteen. She couldn’t change, not even for Addison.
“You know I can’t do that.”
“You won’t do it. The word can’t, would suggest you are incapable rather than simply unwilling.” Addison ground her teeth, settling in for the often ill-received guilt-trip. “I would do anything …:
“Don’t.” Amelia jumped to her feet, turmoil in her eyes as she made a hasty retreat. “You know perfectly well what I mean when I say I can’t and it’s unfair of you to ask me.” This was the one thing she couldn’t bear in these conversations, like torments in purgatory, recycled over and over again. Pleading, Addison was a minefield of hurt that Amelia could not traverse. Nor could she ignore the spike of need under her skin, in her limbs, no matter how anxious she was to grant Addison comfort.
Amelia huddled next to Charlotte in a recessed doorway. The shifting wind periodically blew heavy sheets of rain into their temporary shelter. They’d braved the downpour to pass a cigarette back and forth, or to escape all the sharing for a moment. Thus far, they’d spent more time smoking than they had participating in any meeting.
Would that life at the practice grew as consistently mundane. For now, Amelia cut as she was called upon, saving lives to pass the proverbial time. There was little comfort in repetition but at least it wasn’t tragic. Attending weekly meetings with Charlotte, dutifully working her sobriety, Amelia did not feel healthy or revived. She felt imprisoned in her own skin. On a whim, she had submitted a paper to the American Academy of Neurology and received a gushing invitation to present a key note address on her recent work. A successful procedure on a comatose patient categorized as high risk due to the complication of a pregnancy, had gained international attention. Neurosurgery is always inherently given to the taking of risks. But this, inserting a stent to relieve fluid build-up, was the kind of procedure that rocketed a surgeon into academic scrutiny. The receptionist at the practice had fielded quite a number of calls requesting her appearance at every obscure medical convention the world over since she’d published that paper.
Amelia had tentatively accepted, but held the news close to her chest. It wasn’t necessarily meant to be a secret but she had little desire to draw attention from Violet’s book or Naomi’s awe-inspiring work with the foundation. The key note address at the annual AAN conference was super star status and she’d have plenty of lime light in which to bask in due course. These conferences had a way of manifesting offers that had precious little to do with her scientific method. She’d have far more intriguing propositions than she could ever realistically manage. In the interim, Amelia found herself hesitating to move forward in any specific direction. She could reliably obtain another competitive fellowship, salvage her career. Yet here she remained, standing still. She contemplated the pouring rain, unexpectedly finding in herself the unpalatable subject of a trite ballad.
“This thing with you and Addison ...” So much for a moment, Amelia took a long drag and turned a wary eye on her companion.
“Is this the part where I say - what thing? And you let loose whatever semi-insulting but on the nose observation of my interaction with my ex-sister-in-law you’ve concocted?”
“Or you could just elaborate without provocation.” Charlotte snagged the cigarette. Amelia enjoyed Charlotte’s gradually returning confidence. Well … mostly.
“She married my older brother when I was fifteen - friends in college, dated in medical school, and the inevitable wedding. She’s as much a fixture in my childhood as any member of my immediate family.” Amelia took a deep breath, then. “She gave me baths and read me bedtime stories, took me to Planned Parenthood to get birth control, did my make-up for prom and she’s the first one who noticed when I started using.” Pausing Amelia glanced at Charlotte, a moment of undisguised turmoil clear in her eyes. “She knew and she stepped in to help when everyone else disappeared, caught up in their own disappointment or shock. She was always there.”
“That’s closer than family.” Charlotte reflected.
“Yeah. She’s …” Amelia’s expression was telling. She huffed at the unexpected tightening in her chest, pursing her lips, and blinked away tears.
“Shit. Kindly, do not start that. Save the boo hoo for confession.” Charlotte nodded towards the church’s side entrance, and dropped the dwindling cigarette butt in a puddle on the sidewalk. It was impossible to hear it sizzle over the drumbeat of the rain, but Amelia watched it die. “Your Daddy died when you were little more than a toddler and your Momma was overbearing, right? She worried about you turning out perfect and she tried to hide her grief? That didn’t work, did it?” Amelia shook her head, swallowing. Charlotte gave her a look of assessment. “I get it. I do. She’s a nurturing figure in your life that represents consistency, more so than any other. Part of you wants that consistency in other areas where you haven’t had the benefit of it. In love, for example, you crave something a bit more constant.”
“You are sounding awfully like Violet and Sheldon these days. Please refrain from eschewing platitudes. That programming is too creepy.” Amelia intoned in fake solemnity. Charlotte smirked. If nothing else, her time in Amelia’s presence these last weeks had dissuaded any fear she’d never experience a moment of levity again. “She’s in love Charlotte and I won’t be selfish. I have to carry this.”
“That’s a load of crap.” Charlotte rolled her eyes, “Addison may be enjoying carnal bliss, but she’s no more in love than when she was with Pete. It’s convenience, if anything. She thrives on the chaos caused by her affairs. Naomi’s adjustment to the new normal only serves as an indicator that the smoke’s cleared. It’s just a matter of time before Addison Montgomery starts fiddlin’ with matches.” Ironically, Charlotte pointed out, “That pretty much makes you an ideal candidate.”
“For chaos?” Amelia shook her head, vehement. “That’s precisely what I won’t introduce into either of our lives. If anyone deserves a bit of happiness and stability it’s Addison. And me,” Amelia allowed herself a moment’s consideration, trite gossip traded like a dwindling cigarette between them was not so staggering as this. “I’ll cope.”
“As much as I’m sure you meant that to sound like prudence I know what you’re hoping for is martyrdom. I guarantee no one will be impressed.” Charlotte gestured towards Amelia’s shoulders, hunched against a hard spattering of cold rain. “With those tattoos, you aren’t commemorating penance. You’re drawing her attention the only way you think you can and deny culpability should she take the hint and run with it.” Charlotte got it, didn’t entirely agree, but she got it. “You’re Eve in the garden Amelia.” A flash of teeth as Amelia bit her lip, looking out, away. “You know, temptation is temporary. Inevitably …”
“Yeah, I know.” Amelia spared Charlotte a glance, starkly honest, riddled with the pain of insight. “the truth is impossible to resist.” Charlotte looked on, her expression softening. She appeared to focus inward, her words coming of their own accord.
“People kill. I understand why. I understand that there is always an excuse and murderers rally with reasons to take lives. Heroes have to pick and choose, sometimes forfeiting their own well-being to save another. Or we make a decision as doctors, refrain from desperate measures, and take a life to ease a patient’s pain.” Charlotte paused, thinking. “People avenge and I can understand. Vengeance is the natural instinct that we intellectualize into the concept of justice. We devour it and reason that it exists to prevent a famine of moral turpitude.” Charlotte is quiet, and Amelia listens, reverent. Even the rain seems unwilling to disturb this testimony as the downpour subsides. “These things, these terrible acts exist and all flourish at the hand of human ingenuity. But no matter how I try, what I just cannot seem to understand is why men rape. It defies reason, yet exists. If I tried,” Charlotte confessed, gaze intent, “really tried to understand, I would be clinging to a lie … like you are now, with Addison.”
Eventually, glimpses of Addison walking the halls of the practice would no longer cause the ache to spike beneath her ribs. Until then stripped to the waist, hands clasped in her lap, Amelia would kneel, obedient. The hours she spent counting lashes, breathless, hoarse, barely able to speak, were respite. She counted, ever hungry for the heavy hand of her mistress, and refused to break. Having developed a unique palette boasting many shades of pain, she welcomed it. Amelia learned to tune the notes of external hurts by the deeply rooted dull twinge that bore a single name – Addison. Still, she never used it. She disavowed its knowledge, savoring the possibility that she could exist in a place of agony unrestrained, come completely undone and reknit the fault line in her chest with the stalwart threads of punishment. Some pain was much easier to take than uttering the one word that had always been her safe.
Each time, each lash she vowed she would really feel something, not just denial scraping dutifully away at her insides. Biting fervently into her own lip, she fought every encouragement to give up, to break. She howled behind gritted teeth and pursed her lips with every strike across her battered limbs. Her mistress had panted, wild with determination and whipped until Amelia’s back was a pulpy, bruised mess in mottled purple, blue and grey. Her buttocks and thighs were livid, cross-hatched in crimson and still Amelia had endured, wanting to be flayed.
Hovering in a world awash with pain, Amelia drifted steadily farther away from consciousness. Cuffs cut deeply into her wrists and a crimson trail trekked down her forearms. There remained a periodic drip of saline from her chin. She bent at the elbows, arms shaking as she tried to rise. Heavy headed, her body pulled forward but not up. Damp strands of hair covered her face, trembled as she huffed though frantically tried to breathe shallow.
Amelia stumbled out of the cab, and flailing dropped her purse. She slammed the rear passenger door on the driver’s inquiry if she was alright. She’d seethed as his persistent concern elevated from periodic looks in the rearview to questions about her evening meant to sound like light conversation. The chorus of complaint rising from her body negated any patience she might have had for a stranger nosing after someone to save. She bent, stiffly snatched her purse, and made slow progress towards the front door. It was yanked open in the midst of fumbling and cursing. She couldn’t seem to find her keys.
“Ames?” Addison gazed at her blearily, pulling her dressing gown tighter around herself. It was late. “Where are your keys?” Amelia shrugged wincing at the movement and slipped awkwardly past Addison into the foyer. She dropped her bag, widely missing the in table on which was already stacked a few spare pieces of mail. Amelia’s fingers brushed Addison’s set, no doubt cast their earlier upon her arrival home from work.
“These mine?” Amelia asked.
“No.” Amelia hummed at the hard denial. Wobbling treacherously, she ignored though could feel the deft assessment as she kicked out of her shoes. How the hell had she made it up the walk in those heels, she pondered momentarily amused.
Amelia shook out the tangled mess of her hair, finally casting a disinterested glance at Addison. “I’m tired. I’m going to take a shower and get some sleep.” Addison reached out wanting to stop her, but withdrew, noting the tensed cast of Amelia’s shoulders. The stiff way she carried herself, agony a grim trial across her face. Addison recognized it, had seen it before and could only imagine what lay in wait beneath Amelia’s stylish sweater and jeans.
“Okay.” Addison murmured, then, “Ames, I’m here if you …” Amelia half turned, eyes downcast, as she hesitated in the hall leading to her room.
Returning to bed, the house quiet but for the sound of Amelia in the downstairs bath, Addison called Sam. He’d been delayed prepping patients for morning surgeries. He sounded exhausted and perhaps relieved as she asked him not to come by whenever he’d concluded his business at the hospital. Unsure exactly why, she did not mention Amelia’s disheveled arrival home. “I’m just tired.” Addison said simply, recycling the bland excuse she’d been offered by Amelia. If he suspected the statement a sham, he didn’t let it deter his support.
“Okay, babe, call if you need me.” Addison laid awake after that, listening to the soft sounds of running water over the relative stillness of the house. It persisted long enough to nearly lull her back to sleep. It was complete silence that startled her awake. Not sure what she was listening for, Addison slipped out of bed, creeping downstairs in the quiet dark. Amelia’s door stood slightly ajar, and poking her head just past the door jam, Addison could discern a shadowy figure huddled on top of the blankets.
“Ames?” Addison pushed the door open, inching slowly forward. She could make out the wet tangle of hair and the porcelain gleam of damp skin. Amelia curled away, shivering as Addison hunted about for a towel. Finding none, she grabbed the spare blanket folded at the foot of the bed and shaking it loose, Addison moved to drape it over Amelia’s naked body. She froze shocked at the carnage someone’s hand had wrought over Amelia’s skin. She’d seen Amelia bruised and even seen the upraised wounds that resulted from what she knew to be a lashing. But this was like nothing she’d yet witnessed.
Gasping, the blanket fell from limp fingers as Addison dropped to her knees. She reached forward, brushing tentatively at the wet strands crisscrossing Amelia’s face. She appeared a gaunt specter, wasting silently away. “Ames, sweetheart, you have to stop this.” Amelia opened her eyes, a muted glimmer in the darkness.
“I can’t.” Addison slid onto the bed, careful not to jostle and placed a gentle hand on the crown of Amelia’s dark head.
“No Bits, I can’t.” She murmured. “I can’t watch you do this anymore.”
“I could leave.” Amelia’s response was soft, burdened. Her tone made it clear how little she truly wanted to be anywhere else but right there.
“Yes you could, but this is your home.” Addison shook her head. “You’re my family, Ames. I’m not going to let you run away that easy.” Amelia raised herself into a sitting position to level accusation in her gaze. There was no anger, just the old familiar. Here they were as they ever were again and again. Amelia was far too exhausted to abide any further in charades.
“Leave it Addison. Or I swear we’ll both regret this conversation.” Amelia wiped at the dampness under her eyes, wanting very much not to cry. Grabbing the discarded blanket from the floor, she wrapped it around her naked body. The effort left her breathless; and shaking, she lay down and closed her eyes, pressing her cheek against the soft fabric.
“Ames, I can help.” Addison insisted, mindless of the warning. “Just help me understand why you do this?”
“You know why, Addie.” Amelia murmured. It may as well have been a shout. Addison watched the shifting dark, thoughtfully quiet. It was as close as they’d ever come, toeing the line of broken silence. With admissions hovering on her lips, there remained no room to pretend. Pretense was impossible whenever she was confronted by Amelia in this state. These visceral urges, protective and loving, crossed into territory that was far from sisterly.
There was no reassurance that with patience and understanding they might see themselves clear of these troubles in the light of morning. Promises of resolutions were fairy tales when impulse is victorious over reason. In all these years of complicity, neither had surrendered to this feeling that threatened. Addison drew close against Amelia’s back, her breath a whisper against shoulder and neck. Amelia shivered, under the blanket, shifted her hips until her backside fit snug against Addison’s stomach. It was a warning or an invitation. Addison could heed her sense of propriety, retreat, sturdily reconstructing the arguments that buffered the ambiguous space between them. Or she could stay, and let the inevitable crumble around them like calamity.
Addison rocked her hips forward, feeling herself swell against the soft fabric of her pajamas. Her hand slipped under the blanket, fingers brushing warm skin. They traced a slim hip, across the soft round of buttock, and danced lower. Amelia moaned, pleading a mumbled litany. Addison cupped the cleft between sporadically clenching cheeks, slid her fingers forward toward damp heat. The short brush of fuzz was replaced by the enveloping slick between the lips of Amelia’s pussy. Addison explored the length with two fingers, rubbing quick short circles over the extruding flesh of Amelia’s engorged clit. Amelia pushed back making an appreciative sound when Addison responded with a prolonged rhythmic humping.
She rolled onto her stomach spreading her legs, feeling Addison’s weight roll with her. Amelia gave a startled “oh” as fingers pressed in, pushed further with every movement from Addison’s hips. “Addie.” Her voice was distorted by the blankets pressed against her lips. She came with the duvet between her teeth, and three of Addison’s fingers held tightly to the knuckles. Her muscles clenched around the digits, not letting go. Addison draped herself along Amelia’s back still rolling her hips lightly. Amelia lifted to meet every thrust and grind of Addison’s hips, delighting in the renewed sting from welts and the cacophony of disturbed bruises.
Pajamas sticking against her own drenched thighs, Addison wanted nothing more than to slip out of her pants and rub herself off against the soft flesh. When Addison slipped her fingers free, Amelia groaned at the absence. She turned on her side and leaning forward, pressed her lips against Addison’s. She didn’t really think of it as a first kiss. She’d thought of running her tongue along Addison’s lips countless times. Now, as she did it, her perception tilted. She embraced what strangely felt far from new, simply unexplored. Twisting free of the blanket, she ran her hands over silk pajamas, pulling until she once again felt Addison’s weight pressing her into the mattress. Her lips parted, in a moment to catch a breath and Addison shook her head anticipating a question. Amelia meant to justify or illuminate this indiscretion. That was a fruitless enterprise.
“Shh,” Addison, caressed hair away from limpid eyes. No amount of explanations could justify this. It was an inexcusable indulgence and there was nothing either of them could now say or do to preserve it beyond the moment. Much like the morning, there would be no dissuading the havoc they reaped as consequence. “Tomorrow is too late.” Addison reasoned, brushing a tender kiss against Amelia’s lips. “Tonight we have this.” Amelia nodded, fingers trembling as she worked open buttons, tested warm flesh, accepting that heartbreak rose on the horizon.
“You’re in Vegas for three days?” Amelia rolled her eyes at the resounding disbelief. Even over the phone she could imagine the stern expression accompanying that tone. She’d awoken to the alarm on her PDA and realized it had been set for days. How her impending trip to Las Vegas had slipped her mind, she couldn’t say. Her reticence in sharing the auspicious invitation to speak at the annual AAN conference was a bit of procrastination she now admittedly regretted given the impeccable timing of her looming departure. Pitted against the events leading to the woman still asleep in her bed, hopping a plane to Vegas at daybreak could only be read as a cowardly demonstration of panic. She’d watched Addison, uncomplicated in sleep, and certainly Amelia had panicked, but escape hadn’t been her first reaction. That had been memory.
She’d watched spun cotton drapes bloat to expel the stuttering breath of evening. It tripped past the darkened fringe of interior shadow to brush milky shoulders and Amelia had suppressed the urge to shudder – not cold, but exhilarated. She’d breathed deep, relishing the pull of the strap across her waist, arched her back. There was no comfort in the weight slung low against her hips, slow and steady. A riptide of blood, the heated flush that suffused chest, breasts and neck, and unmistakable satisfaction in the “oh” that shaped pouting lips.
Her head dropped forward and the damp of dark strands fell in a tangle with lashes, catching about the corners of her mouth, flinging itself into random space. Her fingers trembled a speedy ballet at once delicate and powerful. She hadn’t the least measure of control over the sensation rolling through her. The shift of hips, thrust forward as her chin spiked to the ceiling, an escaping “ah” in this moment as her body swayed, dipped forward, and rocked back, riding an elongated crest, a final cathartic wave.
She’d blinked, both of this world and apart from it. Eyes all at once open, transforming features slack in ecstasy and grinning she’d gripped a slim expanse of neck loose, tender. Silent, there was only the excited drum of her heart beating its contentment. It was a rapid tattoo woven within the frantic rise and fall of her chest. There it was, this moment where she felt the chafe of leather, pink and damp with sweat in spite of the frigid air from the doors to the balcony left open.
There was such pleasure in the discomfort of her frailty, the fragile tissue and flesh of the body. Discomfort wasn’t pain, just an indelicate reminder to the living. In the morning after such symphonic orchestrations of pleasure, Amelia had awoken with time enough to watch Addison open her eyes.
“We should talk.” Frozen, under Addison’s calm regard, Amelia felt sick. In the undisputedly clear light of morning, how could they reconcile this? It was betrayal, what they’d accomplished in a night of impropriety. It was only natural, these feelings of disgust at having destroyed something so inviolate. Amelia had reveled in her own promiscuity so long. She had in fact felt empowered by it, boasting the lengthy roster of women and men with whom she’d pursued a sincerely gratifying though inconsequential moment of connection. But this with Addison, she wished only to bury.
“What’s to talk about?” Amelia shied away. “I love you but last night was a mistake.”
“I don’t believe that Amelia and neither do you.”Addison swallowed. “I can do this, with you.” Fingers innervated with the desire to soothe, Addison reached out, stroked the soft pout of Amelia’s lips sending a tingle of shock from the pad of her thumb to sizzle between her shoulder blades. Feeling arousal spark and wiggled the length of her spine, she leaned forward but was immediately denied.
“You’d hurt Sam?” Amelia shook her head, her face twisting, ashamed. “And Derek? I can’t do that Addie.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. Are you so certain you want to forget?” Addison drew back, puzzled. She’d woken feeling sure. As though the certainty had constructed itself in her dreams, after much internal argument, she’d surrendered and gleaned a modicum of peace.
“Forget?” Amelia looked incredulous. “I’ll never forget Addison. I’ll compare every touch, every kiss and find any but yours insignificant. I love you, will love you as I always have, endlessly.” Amelia, voice hoarse, fought back tears. No more crying, she vowed. “If only I could forget.” Addison faltered. It would be cruel to press. She leaned forward, cupped her hands around Amelia’s face and relented, offering a single chaste kiss.
“Okay.” Addison idled only a moment, savoring it. Amelia was pliant under her hands even so resolved against continued pursuit. She reached up, wrapping her fingers around Addison’s wrists, as though clinging to the moment. But all moments, like this one, are soon to pass. Amelia pushed firmly away, extricating herself from Addison’s grasp and abandoned the bed, virtually fleeing to the bathroom. Gathering her own convictions to respect Amelia’s request, Addison made to leave, hesitant at the foot of the bed, regarding the tangle of sheets as witness to the night they’d spent. Unable to stem one last curious impulse, she raised her voice just enough to be heard and asked, “Why should it be so impossible for me to love you?”
Amelia reappeared, framed in the doorway of the bathroom. The morning light filtering in through the blinds cast her face in a glow and Addison wondered if innocence could ever be completely extinguished. “It’s no more impossible that I should love you.” Amelia replied, smiling despite the tears threatening in the corners of her eyes. “We’re unlikely is all. We’re just not meant to be.” She watched Addison leave, the door closing softly.
Amelia packed a bag with negligible forethought and called a cab, fingers crossed she’d make her flight to Las Vegas. The sound of running water from Addison’s shower upstairs had droned as Amelia pulled the front door closed. A text message probably wouldn’t be Addison’s preference in the way of an explanation. In concession she’d opted to call Naomi from the tarmac.
“I’m presenting a paper at the American Academy of Neurology Conference, Nay. I’ll be back in three days, a week maybe …” Naomi had awoken to a host of hysterical text messages from Addison that sounded as though they should be calling in an amber alert to the state police. Before she could compose a response in the form of a request for a bit of clarity, she’d received a timely call bearing this ground-breaking revelation from the runaway in question. All this preceding a solitary cup of coffee or even setting a single foot out of bed, and Naomi had been thrust well-beyond the bounds of tolerance. She cut impatiently into Amelia’s attempt to make something completely unexpected sound rational.
“Typically a time-off request comes well in advance and is formulated as paperwork.” Naomi muttered. “First things first, you need to call Addison before she has a coronary. She’s left me ten text messages that are twenty different types of alarmed. Then after you make this presentation of yours, you need to get on the first plane back here. ”
“I am not a child to be ordered home in time for dinner. I’d intended to mention this to you. It just slipped my mind.” Amelia felt herself blush. It wasn’t entirely a lie but it didn’t make her any less relieved that Naomi was not standing before her to detect the obvious tell. “My presence at AAN brings further international attention to the practice, a fact you undoubtedly can appreciate given your recent travels.” Perhaps international attention to the practice was a bit of a stretch as it had not exactly topped her list of priorities when she’d first accepted the invitation to speak. Had she heard it, Addison would have abortively challenged the assertion given the manner in which Amelia had woken up that morning. Boarding a plane with little more than an overnight bag and a vague text explaining her sudden absence was inherently suspicious as epilogue to a night spent having sex with one’s brother’s ex-wife.
“Amelia no. Just no. What exactly does picking up showgirls have to do with our visibility?” Naomi countered.
“How did you …” Amelia froze, then recognizing sarcasm for what it was, initiated a strategic retreat. “The only reason Addison is worried is because I won’t return the fifteen calls she’s left in the last five minutes and I have little use for mothering right now, Naomi. I’ll call when I’m not busy. A plane preparing for takeoff qualifies as busy.” Amelia refrained from stomping her foot, pulling herself together. “I’ll be back in a week.”
“Whatever is going on between you two …”
“Nothing. There’s nothing going on between Addison and I that should worry you.” Amelia tried for dismissive but only managed guilty. “Look, I’ll call later. Just tell her not to worry. I’m fine. Really.”
“I’m fine isn’t exactly reassuring, but I’ll pass on the message.” Naomi paused and added, “I am willing to concede that this conference is important to you. However, I also recognize that it’s in Vegas. So try and …”
“Keep my shirt on while I’m working?” Amelia bitterly interjected. “I’ll do that. Bye Nay.” Amelia hung up, uninterested in the response.
Amelia downed a glass of champagne, watched clouds roll past her window and waited for the thump of touch down welcoming her to Vegas. The unanticipated but appreciated luxury of a hired car was waiting to transport her from McCarran International. She sat in the back seat and ran her fingers over an unopened pack of cigarettes while the driver rattled off the block by block best of shows, buffets or gambling one could find on the Strip. When he deposited her at the front lobby of the Olympus, she gave him a generous tip but ignored his grinning offer of a hometown escort over the course of her visit. She pushed through the front doors, crossed a gleaming expanse of marble echoing the sound of tourism, and checked-in. She unceremoniously passed her bag off to the bell hop, in little hurry to marvel over her accommodations for the duration of the conference. Instead, she headed straight for the casino floor.
“Now.” She murmured, eyes roving over flashing lights and elegant furnishings. Past slot machines and black jack tables, the ever-milling crowd of gamblers, Amelia spied a peaceful oasis at the center of controlled chaos, the bar. Among a host of patrons, tourists, businessmen, some no doubt fellow conference attendees, Amelia’s eyes locked on a decidedly feminine silhouette. “Where to begin.”
“Buy you a drink?” Amelia sidled up to the bar. Las Vegas was way better than Disney Land, Amelia mused with a grin. Mid afternoon presented like midnight at the hottest club in LA. Better, she thought drawing her eyes up a pair of shapely legs. She’d spotted the woman from the entrance and could not readily think of when she’d ever seen a dancer in a business suit. There was no way those legs belonged in any other career.
“Have one.” The blonde was gorgeous, but austere. Amelia noted fine lines in the corner of bright blue eyes and welcomed the visual assessment that accompanied the shrewd gaze.
“Okay, buy me a drink?” Amelia’s lips curled in a broad grin, she arched a subtle brow under the assault of icy blue perusal. She expected a dismissal, but received a smirk for her brazen approach. Amelia tracked the delicate grace of a simple movement, the articulation of the elbow, the arm, the fingers combing through golden waves. It was mesmerizing choreography, the toss of hair, straightening of lapel and broad smile in syncopation.
“You even old enough to be on the casino floor?” Amelia chuckled, sliding onto a neighboring stool. Feeling a rush of exhilaration, the one that came when casual intentions were clearly mutual, Amelia shook out her long dark hair and leveled a smoldering glare. The blonde was taut, steely under Amelia’s scrutiny. Lawyer, maybe?
“Plenty.” Dark lashes fluttering, the pale pink tip of Amelia’s tongue traced a full bottom lip. It was amateur hour seduction. If she’d been wearing a low cut blouse rather than the tee shirt and jeans she’d traveled in, she would have leaned forward in a tantalizing display of cleavage. Instead, she placed her elbow on the bar, tucking her fingers into glossy chestnut and tipped her chin downward to gaze expectant, waiting.
“You look like you could be my daughter’s age.” The blonde slung back a half empty tumbler of amber liquid. Amelia stared mesmerized by the movement of sultry mouth and sensuous neck.
“You don’t look old enough to have a kid anywhere approaching my age.” The blonde chuckled, not quite charmed but clearly amused. It wasn’t subtle but not necessarily untrue, and she’d be damned if flattering any woman about her age wasn’t a universally effective tool.
“Hey Bill,” The blonde raised a hand gesturing for the bartender’s attention and looked expectantly to Amelia. “What will you have?”
“For now?” Amelia chewed her lip, peering challenge until the blonde smiled. There it was. Internally, Amelia gloated, visualizing fanfare in that earnest expression.
“For now.” The blonde murmured agreement, then nodded pointedly at Bill waiting patiently for instruction.
“How about a ginger ale?” Amelia requested. Bill lent his quick attention to the task but Amelia’s was drawn to the tumbler twirled in an elegant hand, ice clinking in the glass. “And your name.”
“Catherine.” She humored Amelia with a look then nodded her thanks to Bill as he placed a glass already pebbling with condensation on the bar.
“And dinner.” Amelia turned on the bar stool to face the other woman fully.
“Well …”Sanguine, Catherine raised her brows, holding the moment in suspense.
“…Amelia,” Catherine repeated it slow, the syllables rolling seductively until Amelia virtually beamed. “You certainly aren’t lacking for requests.” She turned on her own stool, granting the younger woman her undivided attention. Amelia watched as Catherine downed the last of her drink and slipped off the stool onto her feet.
“Indecision has never been my wheel house.” She murmured in fascination as Catherine moved with preternatural grace. She was two steps ahead by the time Amelia gained her feet or her senses, asking “How’s the food here?” Catherine barely turned as her body tracked a libidinous curve, casting a lure in the round shift of her hips.
“The room service is phenomenal.”
“As you can see, despite a severe cardiac event after the insertion of the stent, stats returned to normal and we were able to complete the procedure thanks to the quick work of the doctors on my team establishing bypass.” Amelia gestured toward the last slide in her presentation. “The patient is now six months into her recovery. She’s regained full motor capability and only slightly impaired speech and cognition. Long term cognitive effects have been determined to be negligible should progress continue as anticipated.” Amelia felt dwarfed in the auditorium style seating. She stifled the urge to sigh audibly at the sea of hands that bobbed for her attention as she asked, “Are there any questions?” She was hoping she’d be drawing the curtain on this circus by now. She had very specific plans involving a hot blonde, an extra large bathtub and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
Jeans halfway down her thighs and her arms caught over her head by her tee shirt, Amelia had watched in incredulity as Catherine fumbled in her purse for her cell phone only to be “called away” pre-coitus. There’d been little to no time for explanation as Catherine shrugged her blazer back on and smoothed the wrinkles in her skirt. The vague reference of work in a hastily worded apology had only accented the flat, unfulfilled feeling that took up residence as lust spontaneously broke camp.
She’d watched Catherine bend to slip on a hot pair of heels, swallowing disappointment that the fantasy brewed by every hint of movement under snug material would never be revealed. Mustering just enough chivalry to walk Catherine to the door, Amelia had slipped her business card into the woman’s hand.
“Doctor Shepherd, is it?” Catherine looked over the card with interest.
“Yes it is. I’m here the next three days for a conference. So …” Bypassing any further awkwardness, Amelia caught Catherine by the lapels of her deliciously tailored suit bestowing a kiss that left them both panting. She closed the door with a wink. Welcome to Las Vegas, Amelia thought feeling a tinge of disappointment for the anticlimax. She spent the early evening reviewing her presentation notes and rather than spend a night uselessly tossing and turning, Amelia departed the refuge of her hotel suite. She was short on time in the city of sin and she planned to make good use of what little remained at her disposal. Beckoned by Vegas’s countless vagaries, she hadn’t returned until dawn was already peaking over the skyline.
She’d woken early to the buzzing of her phone on the bed-side bureau and an explicit text. It was the naughtiest apology and dinner invitation she had ever received and served as reaffirmation of her prior confidence at the art of seduction. Apparently Ms. Catherine Willows deigned try again. Amelia sent a quick yes and fought the urge to return to sleep. Drawing a blank on the name of the cocktail waitress slumbering under a fiery mess of red hair, the concierge had been far more helpful than she’d ever expected, Amelia had devised to shower and grab a decent breakfast before her speech. Now all that stood between her and the evening plans she’d spent all day anticipating, was a room full of academically curious surgeons. Amelia pointed to a random hand in the crowd, “Yes sir. Your question?”
Topless, Amelia tugged at her jeans with one hand, fumbling for her phone with the other. The device vibrated on the bed under a pile of discarded clothing. She was distracted from her search by a soft knock at the door to the hotel suite. “Really?” She muttered. Ignoring the phone she half-jogged, half stumbled her way to the door. Pulling it open breathlessly, she managed a harried grin. “Hey …” Catherine glanced from Amelia’s face to her bare chest, marveling a bit at the lack of tan lines framing pert breasts.
“It’s casual but you might rethink your wardrobe choice.” Amelia tossed long hair fastening her jeans and stood up straight. She’d never lacked confidence in her appearance but something about Catherine, the untold grace in the length of her legs perhaps, encouraged Amelia to adjust her posture. Catherine’s furrowed brow was a physical manifestation of mental chiding as her focus persisted in drifting downward from Amelia’s smiling face.
“My afternoon ran a bit long. I’ll only be a minute.” She gestured Catherine to come in and shut the door on the thankfully empty corridor. Catherine was a vision in a viciously low cut hot pink cocktail dress. Sleeveless and backless, it lovingly embraced Catherine’s taut length from cleavage to thigh. Amelia paused in open appreciation, her eyes frozen on the hypnotic sway of round hips. She lifted her gaze at a directed cough, blushing at having been caught, and instructed, “Please make yourself comfortable.” Pausing by a well-stocked mini-bar, she relied on polite affectations in a moment spent trying to regain thought and breath, “May I offer you something to drink?”
“Thank you. No, I’m quite alright.” Catherine declined, her inexcusably impish smile acknowledged Amelia’s momentary lapse. Amelia succumbed for a moment to visions of slim ankles uncrossed and hooked behind her waist as she examined Catherine perched demure on the edge of an armchair in the sitting area. Catherine followed Amelia’s progress under a hooded gaze, a fairly accurate guess of the thoughts preceding the flush that painted the girl’s chest and face. As Amelia turned, hurrying away to complete her preparations, Catherine caught a glimpse under the shifting waves of dark hair, just enough to make out the intricate lines of artwork gilding Amelia’s skin. Raising her voice to be heard in the next room, she inquired, “I’d love a closer look.” Amelia’s head popped back out of the doorway.
“Oh?” She hadn’t packed much in her haste. What little she did have at her disposal, she wielded with confidence. She slid into a sheer pullover in black and white stripe that plunged towards her navel, baring the delicate bones of her collar and chest. The shirt hugged her body like a fine sheath and was a perfect accompaniment to a simple pair of skinny jeans. The ensemble seamlessly accentuated curve and line, and would easily hypnotize at the turn of her shoulder or swing of her hip.
Notably, Catherine was lanky in comparison to Amelia’s rather diminutive stature, an obstacle to spontaneous intimacy easily remedied by a pair of stilettos. Ready in moments, her hair fell in an artfully constructed mess past her shoulders as she put the finishing touches on her mascara and lips. She decided fervently that she wouldn’t fuss and allow nervous effort to devolve into frightful excess. She ran her fingers over the wide leather band she belted low on her hips and grinned wolfishly at her reflection in the mirror.
“I’d love to show you.” Reemerging, Amelia wasn’t sure if Catherine’s look was approval or residual lust. Either way, she didn’t intend to be interrupted again. “Just for clarification’s sake, what are we talking about??”
Catherine stood gracefully, all smoky seduction, “You look great.” If her expression was any indication, great was a woeful understatement. Amelia sidled up, sliding her palms over the satiny material of Catherine’s dress in appreciation. She pulled the taller woman tight against her hips, leaning up to place a demanding kiss against lips wide in welcome.
“Thank you.” Amelia murmured, between softer persistent kisses. “You are absolutely gorgeous.”
“Dinner?” Catherine leaned back, russet rinsing her cheeks. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. Amelia was far more interested to see just what that look promised than she was in any dinner reservations.
“Sure. I’m starving.” Amelia agreed, forcing herself to step back. She placed her hand on the soft skin at the small of Catherine’s back and felt herself heating noticeably at the warmth.
“Hmm?” Amelia glanced up at Catherine, reading curiosity as she pulled the door closed behind them. Her fingers traced the curve of Catherine’s waist, her palm coming to rest on that warm stretch of bare skin. Amelia kept pace down the corridor, delighting at the firm touch teasing the nape of her neck and tangling in the thick of dark hair. She felt herself pulled close and trembled under sultry examination.
“I’d love a closer look at your tattoos.” Catherine reiterated, mapping the girlish planes of Amelia’s face. Amelia swallowed short of breath, feeling herself relinquish control, give into something undeniably magnetic.
“It would be my pleasure to give you a personally guided tour.”
Yet again an unforeseen halt had been called on their evening plans. Amelia had clung to her like static, knees locked around Catherine’s hips while they kissed on her living room couch. Carried away in the passion of the moment, feeding on the theme of an indiscreet romp with soft music and wine sitting untouched, Catherine vaulted toward the impropriety of having a stranger in her bed. Empty house on a night off, she intended to have Amelia as often and as vigorously as her will might conscript eager flesh until the ringing of her mobile phone undermined that vow.
“I’m beginning to suspect these interruptions of yours to be the fruit of some well-planned conspiracy.” Amelia arched a brow, heaving slim shoulders. She slid away and sipped decorously at the glass of red Catherine had poured yet subsequently ignored since the moment they’d come to sit. She listened to Catherine’s half of the abrupt telephone conversation with mounting disappointment.
“I’m so sorry about this.” Catherine took in the beckoning cant of Amelia’s hips as she leaned back into the couch cushions.
“That’s too bad.” She hadn’t even managed to divest the young woman of those indecently tight jeans. Shame really, Catherine shook herself.
“I’ll drop you off at the hotel on my way in. Be right back.” Getting dressed for work on the fly was habit. There was no such thing as a night off for a supe. Catherine was always on call, which meant having her gear packed and ready just in case her phone rang in the middle of the night. She was out of her dress and into a pair of slacks and her work boots in no time.
“Is that … what is that?” Catherine turned, looking up at the unnaturally hoarse sound of Amelia’s voice. Double-checking that the safety was on, she buckled her weapon into the detachable holster she typically wore on her belt. Confident the weapon was secure she redirected her full attention to the young woman standing in the doorway of her bedroom.
“My gun.” Catherine dug in the bag she kept packed for work and finding her LVPD issue vest, slipped her badge out of the front pocket. “This is my badge.” Observing the wariness in Amelia’s stance, Catherine straightened slowly, her voice placating. “I always keep the safety on when I’m at home.” Even from the distance of the doorway, the shaking in Amelia’s hands was pronounced.
“I don’t …” She swallowed, crossing her arms tightly over her chest, eyes locked on the weapon at Catherine’s hip. “I don’t …”
“You don’t like guns?” Catherine asked. Amelia nodded jerkily. “Well, I guess I can understand that. A lot of people feel that way. Unfortunately, I have to carry one in my line of work.” Catherine carefully shifted her holster to the small of her back.
“What … what is it you do?” Even with the weapon out of sight, Amelia gulped a breath as Catherine took a steady step closer.
“I work as a crime scene analyst with the Las Vegas Police Department.” Catherine took out her phone, jiggling it in demonstration. “I’m the night shift supervisor. I’m always on call particularly if …”
“… if someone important is killed?” Amelia finished, a note of sorrow entering her voice.
“Well yes certainly, but any kind of emergency that might require my supervisory attention.” Again stepping closer, just enough to reach out and run her hands along the younger woman’s biceps, Catherine noted how cool the skin was under her palms. Amelia virtually vibrated under Catherine’s touch. She’d seen survivors of trauma thrust to similar reactions, an object or a moment triggering symptoms of shock. The vacant daze clouding crystalline blue inspired a sympathetic pang. Catherine felt about for her objectivity, the mask of her professionalism, both painfully absent. Faced with this young woman she did not know beyond two exceedingly innocuous attempts at seduction, Catherine typically empowered in a moment like this, wrestled the confusion of sudden impotence. Amelia was not just a name on a case; further, unlike the victims whose perpetrators Catherine toiled to catch, this was a warm, breathing body, alive under her hands.
“Amelia?” Amelia looked up, blank-eyed, huffed a shallow breath and just barely managed to gag the remnants of their romantic dinner into the waste basket suddenly filling Catherine’s hands. Further demonstrating her unaccountably swift reflexes, Catherine discarded the soiled bin to slip a steadying arm around Amelia’s waist whose knees all rattled together somewhat comically in her now wobbly appearance. Had it not been for the predominantly full glasses standing on the coffee table, ruby contents abandoned, Catherine might make the mistake of discounting the young woman as tipsy. Amelia, in a moment, had gone blank and unsubstantial as a piece of linen terrorized by a magnificent breeze.
“Dr. Shepherd?” Catherine tried with a note of authority, leaning down to examine Amelia’s pupils. “We’re going to take a little ride, alright?” Amelia nodded, her eyes drifting away somewhat perplexed. Catherine grabbed a hooded sweatshirt from her closet, directing Amelia’s arms into the sleeves. She zipped up the front and placed her hands on icy cheeks. Tracking Amelia’s gaze again, Catherine tried a smile of encouragement. “You’re okay. There’s no crisis. You’re safe. You understand?” Amelia nodded, confounding clouds dispersing enough for her to murmur a response.
“I don’t like guns.” Catherine sighed, pulling the young woman in, she pressed a kiss against soft skin.
“It’s cold in here.” Amelia pulled her knees close to her chest. Her hands, fisted inside the sleeves of the hooded sweatshirt Catherine had given her, were trapped between her thighs for warmth. She looked up feeling the light brush of fingers across her forehead. Catherine smiled down at her. She’d pulled a bulky utility vest over a cardigan. Willows, Amelia read the stitching over one of the pockets then looking down at the sweatshirt, its blue law enforcement sigil over the left breast. “You’re a cop.”
“CSI, a criminalist. Remember?” Catherine corrected. Amelia nodded though with little conviction. She ran a hand over bland upholstery, thinking Catherine’s office needed a new couch. It was otherwise pristine, even the desk with its orderly collection of case files stacked at one edge. Framed credentials on the wall all read Catherine Willows but no family photos or newspaper clippings. It was spartan down to the precisely arranged furniture, like one of those extended stay hotel suites. It sang of recent promotion.
“Listen, you’ll be okay here for awhile. I have to … I’m needed at the scene.” Catherine reached past Amelia to pull a half-folded throw off the back of the couch. Draping it around hunched shoulders, she took a second to gauge the look on Amelia’s face. Not so terrified any longer, though blank. Blank enough that Catherine felt an inkling of worry. Once, something significant had been damaged. Amelia wore it there in a vacant place, passive, staring that Catherine read with a queasy feeling too much like caring. “Rest a bit. I’ll be back before you know it. Okay?” Amelia mimed agreement, sliding down to curl under the blanket. Catherine rose from her crouch and was stopped by chilly fingers slipping quickly into hers. She gave them a reassuring squeeze and as quickly they slipped away.
Outside her office, as she pulled the door, Catherine attempted to reestablish some emotional distance. This was not a time for indulging romance with strangers, now was it? She’d just watched her only “something serious” in far too long crack up over what, Sam’s damn inheritance? Certainly Detective Vartann was no prince, but Amelia was little more than a half-formed adult from a broken kid. Tourists, for all intents and purposes, were sex not sentiment. This wasn’t a rule she’d ever been poised to forget. “Hey? What’s the hold up? We’ve had a call out for nearly forty-five minutes.” Sara Sidle was anxious expectation, a kit in each hand. Catherine reached out to take one and fell in step down the empty corridor.
“I had something personal to handle on my way in.” Catherine murmured, she ran a hand through hair, a nervous tick she hoped would divulge little under the intensity of Sara’s focus.
“Is Greg already on the scene?” Catherine interrupted, hurrying her steps to draw a bit ahead.
“And Langston. Nick has a 480 off the strip, pedestrian versus party bus.” Sara acquiesced, willing for now to take the hint. “Multiple 419 in the desert at some kind of campground. David’s en route and Ecklie’s calling in swing.”
“How many?” Catherine blew through the front doors headed for her Tahoe. Sara matched her pace an uncertain hum reverberated in her chest.
“Ten maybe. Still counting.” They slid into the SUV and Sara punched the location into the GPS. Catherine watched patiently, her face taking on a gruesome light in the glow of the electronic device. Catherine pulled out of the parking lot, letting the silence seep in, needing it for what was ahead. “Who is she?” Sara’s voice barely touched her over the din of engine noise, the rough rumble of rubber on concrete and late night traffic.
“Not now, later. When we get back, okay?” Catherine’s grip tightened, but her attention never wavered, as though she could already see their destination. There was a pleading in her tone that Sara, despite the underlying accusation of her inquiry, could not dismiss. “I have to be the job right now.” Sara said nothing, only leaned back under the tight pull of her seatbelt and fiddled with the CB until police chatter jumbled unanswered questions and tension like a discarded jigsaw puzzle.
Amelia felt quite certain she’d been hit by a car. She’d fallen asleep squeezed onto the lumpy couch in Catherine’s office. CSI Supervisor Willows, as said the plaque emblazoned outside her door, was still in the field. She’d called with profuse apologies. The husk in her voice, rather than gravelly seduction, hinted at what lay before her eyes, a crime scene that was, well, horrific.
“Are you okay?” Amelia had asked softly, inexplicably touched in that shared moment over the phone. It was intimate in a way she could not explain and she felt an obligation to shelter it in the piety of her concern.
“I’m fine. I should be asking you.” Catherine’s voice was low. In the background, Amelia could hear police radios and distant sirens.
“I’m okay.” She paused, sure she shouldn’t ask but couldn’t help but say, “It’s bad, isn’t it.” Catherine didn’t answer and in the silence that ensued, Amelia closed her eyes listening to several long breaths brush across the receiver.
“I’ll try and be back soon, but I …”
“I understand.” Amelia looked at her phone, somewhat puzzled at the anxious beating in her chest as she hung up. A tentative invitation to breakfast had been extended earlier as Catherine drove them toward CSI, eyes flashing between the road and Amelia’s pale visage. She’d sketched a succinct illustration of the duties she’d need to attend on the scene, vowing that once those were wrapped up, she’d return even promising to buy Amelia the best midnight breakfast in a city that truly didn’t sleep. Unfortunately, those plans were unhinged confronted by the full weight of the crime Catherine was investigating. She would be unable to return to headquarters for some time. Subsequently, Catherine had offered a rain check on breakfast and hired a car to drive Amelia back to her hotel.
Amelia never had much trouble sleeping in strange places, a characteristic she was demonstrating dreamlessly when her escort arrived. He was a young man in a painfully starched black uniform and dapper hat, every bit the cliché of chauffeur. He’d fidgeted at the door of Catherine’s office offering a steaming hot latte and a sincere message direct from Ms. Willows that Amelia was in good hands. Dawn breaking outside tinted windows, Amelia gazed about her in surprise, trying to fathom her presence in the back of a black sedan. The car service was provided by the Olympus where AAN had booked the conference and her stay. Frank, the driver, had referred to Catherine in such deference that Amelia could only assume some personal confidence lest it be a very odd coincidence. When asked, he’d looked at Amelia askance as though it were common knowledge. “Well, she’s my boss ma’am.”
Sitting back in silence for what remained of the ride, Amelia tried to absorb just what that meant. She’d fiddled with her phone until Google coughed up a few interesting tidbits about Catherine Willows CSI. It was, however, the homepage of the Olympus that provided an unanticipated host of revelatory information. A page dedicated in memoriam to recently deceased owner Sam Braun had offered florid summary of Vegas’s golden age and concluded the biographical sketch of Braun with the dispersal of his estate in its entirety to his wife Lily and his only other surviving heir, their daughter. Amelia blinked tired eyes at the vertiginous view of Catherine Willows poised in front of the seemingly endless heights of the casino and hotel high-rise. Unbelievable, Amelia shook her head. What were the chances she’d make a pass at the only woman sitting in the bar who happened to be a crime-fighting casino heiress?
Amelia, predatory when she fucks, was not what one thinks of scientists so much as carnivores. Famished for a captive subdued under her hands, Amelia was equally caught by Catherine. Beautiful, could they both enchant and dispatch predators poised to snatch unwary prey. Thus Amelia observed her quarry vibrating under fingertips, arching under grinding hips, Catherine was perfect, a specimen Amelia could examine with endless curiosity.
Running her tongue from navel to neck, Amelia traced the pale thin line, cleft through Catherine’s heaving chest. Lengthy raven strands traced a languorous path along ribs and a cheek, soft as sin. She rubbed delicately against a hardening nibble of erect flesh. Catherine puffed a sound somewhere between groaning pleasure and pleading request. Amelia pressed, hips sliding the snug nook of Catherine’s thighs. Her knees were unforgiving against the hotel mattress and she huffed, captured, wild and fighting to get loose. Shoulders round, stomach tight, she hovered, peering over the brink of a massive consequence and seized careless abandon.
“Catherine.” Her whisper was a siren in the hot dark. She could barely make out pupils, dilated jet black as they rolled up then back under Catherine’s furrowed blonde brow. “Catherine.”
“Ungh.” It was as close to an acknowledgement as she’d get. Their foreheads met, slick with sweat, and stuck at the intensity of Amelia’s gaze. In her mind, she saw the ever widening arm of conflagration under which she could disintegrate, be nothing but her constituent atoms spread wide across the universe. More than anything, Amelia wanted to be the ash left in Catherine’s wake.
“Come for me.”
Breathing deep she relished the auditory awareness, the wet sound of fingers sliding free, loose in her ears. “You are terrifying Catherine Willows.” Amelia tilted, head tipping, blinking dissipating remnants of the fugue and the fury of sex and smirked at the play of amusement and desire over sharp features.
“I’m conducting scientific research.” Catherine replied in mischief, rolling her hips and squeezing Amelia close with the tightening of her ankles. There was a muffled groan shared as breast slid against breast in the slick of cooling sweat. Catherine reached up to tangle her fingers in dark locks, lifted her hips and welcomed Amelia inside again.
“Hypothesis?” Amelia closed her eyes and captured a lush kiss, not quite so lust filled as those shared when Catherine had first appeared in the doorway of her hotel suite, but stimulating in a whole new context.
“I’m determining how long I can keep you right here in this bed utterly distracted.”
“I take it your data is conclusive?” Another kiss followed a teasing nip to her chin, her neck, Amelia had begun to rock so thoughtful and slow.
“mmm . . . I’ll have to conduct further study before I can …” Catherine broke off, enthralled by the ardent moan in response to her lips circling a taut nipple. “Amelia.” Catherine smiled, watching reason disintegrate in dark blue. She breathed deep, tugging meaningfully forward until her lips were pressed against the crease traced above Amelia’s tensely drawn brow. Catherine’s movement was precise, choreography she once displayed to much appreciation on stage under the lights. Quick breaths sputtered across her chest and Amelia’s fingers became insistent, grasping at Catherine’s thigh as she rode for leverage or control. She groaned, helpless against the rising tide, but trying mightily to hold. Catherine closed her eyes to revel in the keening cry from Amelia’s parted lips and whispered with a satisfied smirk, “Your turn.”
Amelia pulled gently away. Being this close to someone was not a careful maneuver like so many other aspects of her life. There was a noise like a thousand newspapers rustling, shaken by willful hands in the background, in the foreground, dispersing every moment into incongruous thoughts. It was panic, uncontrolled but allowable. Well, when time permitted. Taking a breath, Amelia waited for it to clear.
“You know I didn’t come here for this.”
“Little late then, isn’t it?” Amelia lay on her stomach above a nest of rumpled sheets. Her hair was a damp, prickly mass stuck to her back. It would be uncomfortable if she felt even a little bit lousy. Luckily, she was shagged senseless enough not to care. She leveled lurid blue on Catherine sitting propped against the headboard and stared pointedly at bare breasts. She reached out and ran her fingers through a carefully landscaped triangle of hair at the juncture of toned thighs. Amelia adored Catherine’s immodesty. She certainly deserved to flaunt a body that looked half her age. She felt her thighs grow slick at the thought of Catherine on stage. It hadn’t been said outright but Amelia had spent enough time pinned under the rhythmic ministrations of dancers to know one when she’d seen one. “Were you unfairly distracted CSI Willows?” Catherine lightly brushed Amelia’s fingers away.
“Are we suddenly so formal we require titles Dr. Shepherd?”
“Depends on what you expect me to say.” Amelia rolled onto her back, eyes on the ceiling. She felt the bed shift and the unmistakable warmth and weight as Catherine straddled her hips. She watched mesmerized at the cascade of blonde locks as Catherine settled, shaking long hair behind her shoulders.
“You don’t strike me as someone afraid of the truth.” Catherine braced herself, hands bracketing along the thin cage of Amelia’s ribs. “I think you know I’ve seen plenty of trauma in my line of work. Why don’t you begin with why you’re terrified at the sight of a gun?” Under her hips and her hands, Catherine could feel the beat of Amelia’s body change. The pace shifted, kicked forward into an anxious skip. “Shhh.” She leaned down, placed a light kiss on Amelia’s lips. She felt the exhalation of breath speed against her cheeks. “You’re safe. Just breathe.” Amelia obeyed, drawing in deep, calmed by the lingering scent of sex, perspiration and underneath whatever the hotel used to clean the sheets. “Good girl.” Catherine whispered genuine praise, filling Amelia with a sudden need to do whatever might further please. She could hear the practice in Catherine’s voice, the familiarity with interviewing the victims, the survivors. “Now, can you try and tell me?” Amelia nodded, closed her eyes, reveling in the comfort of Catherine’s body against her own.
“I was three.” Amelia began. “My Dad owned a pawn shop. It was late. He was closing up and my brother was helping, well trying to help but mostly watching me.” Amelia paused, felt the familiar fog closing in around her. The memory was in it. She could never recall those moments without it commandeering her mind, her limbs. She was powerless against it, like a riptide relentlessly pulling her back to those events.
“There were men.” Catherine’s voice prodded her forward. Isn’t that where the story began? An idyllic moment transfigured into terror by intruders, men who murdered and tragically rent asunder the expectation that life proceeded in serenity.
“Three.” Amelia swallowed. “With masks. They waved their guns and shouted at my Dad.” Amelia felt tears sliding from the corners of her eyes. They pooled in her ears, threading a wet trail along the sides of her face. “I hate shouting. I’d been playing behind the counter and the shouting scared me. I wanted to go to him. I wanted him to tell me everything was okay. But I knew ...” Catherine reached forward, gently brushing at tears. Amelia looked even younger, chin mournfully crumpled like the child in her story. “I tried, but I couldn’t get to him. Derek snuck behind the counter and had his arms around me, holding me back. He covered my mouth with his hand, trying to keep me quiet. And I remember when I heard the gun shots it was so loud like the sky was falling down on our heads.”
“Deep breaths.” Catherine demonstrated the in and out, urging Amelia to remain calm, remain apart from the story.
“It frightened me so much.” Amelia continued, voice shaking. “I bit him. I bit him so hard.” Pursing her lips against a sob, she could almost feel the hand against her lips and the rush of liquid down her chin. “And there was this taste. It was like I was holding a penny on my tongue.”
“You heard the gun go off and then these men,” Catherine encouraged Amelia ever forward in the account even as it was apparent she was slipping deeper into the past where these events lived. “What did they do next?”
“One of them came behind the counter for the money. He saw us hiding there and he pointed his gun.”Amelia could see it so clearly, transported back to that moment. He hadn’t wavered. That hand holding the gun had been so steady. “He laughed. He looked at us and laughed like we were the funniest thing he’d ever seen.” Amelia’s chest constricted, feeling that same old fear. “He took the money out of the register and he said, you don’t want to end up like your old man, you’ll keep fucking quiet.” Amelia opened her eyes, gazing up, Catherine’s hands framed around her face. “My Dad was … lying in the middle of the floor. And the other two were grabbing things out of the display cases and off the shelves. Derek just held onto me, didn’t say a word.” With what typically came next, Catherine was careful in the wording. She was tragically aware of how much worse the story could get, should get when men like these described so chillingly were involved.
“Did they lay a hand on you or your brother?” Amelia shook her head, eyes fierce.
“No. They took everything they could carry and left.” Amelia licked her lips, shrugging. “Just like that, it was over. When the police came, they tried to take me from Derek and I screamed. I wouldn’t stop screaming until they … they sedated me.” Blinking, Amelia remembered the red under the flashing lights of the ambulance. It had been everywhere. “There was blood all over and the paramedics thought I’d been shot. They didn’t realize until later that it was Derek’s blood. I’d bitten right down to the bone and he never let me go.” Catherine stretched her body out on top of Amelia, felt arms form a tight circle around her waist. It would be impossible to be closer than this, she thought. She whispered soft, hushing the tears that lingered. Amelia felt so small, tiny really, pressed underneath Catherine’s hips, her chest, her lips. When she trembled, when she cried, Catherine whispered a dozen chaste kisses across Amelia’s mouth until she lay still as a note pining after a song.
“You know,” Amelia murmured, sniffling against the tender pocket between shoulder and chin, “crying after sex rarely endears anyone to a repeat performance.” Catherine chuckled, her laughter tickling against Amelia’s stomach and chest.
“No I suppose not.” She tilted her head back to flash an impertinent grin, “Then I guess it’s a good thing you lick pussy like a champ.” Amelia felt the damp of fresh tears as she barked sudden laughter.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Naomi swirled the wine, watching the miniature whirlpool in red whip along the sides of her glass and waited for an answer. The stiffening of Addison’s posture was anything but forthcoming.
“Nothing Nay.” Addison gulped, abandoning the pretense of a sip and reached for the bottle.
“You seem spooked and she’s behaving like some teenaged runaway.” Naomi grasped the neck, holding the bottle momentarily out of reach. She waited until Addison gave in and looked directed at her.
“We had a disagreement. That’s all.”
“I know Amelia is … troubled.” Naomi prevaricated, “As a board member of this practice, should I be worried?” Even absent the farce of Amelia’s sudden departure and Addison cracking under the torment of perceived indiscretion, the very idea of questioning Amelia’s competence as a doctor was absurd. Addison’s expression conveyed how exiguous the likelihood of Amelia failing in her devotion to medicine.
“She’s fine.” Addison maintained, divesting the bottle from Naomi’s loose grasp. “We’re both fine.” Glass refilled, she raised it, toasting despite visible consternation in Naomi’s gaze. “She’s at a conference.”
Addison dug through her purse, double checking to confirm she had both her cell phone and her keys. Dodging Naomi’s inquiries about Amelia had served only as a reminder that Amelia had yet to answer Addison’s own questions much less her phone calls.
“Hey, I’ve barely seen you.” Addison looked up, startled.
“Sam!” She exclaimed in relief. At the late hour, the practice was empty, quiet, and he’d managed to sneak up rather soundlessly. She gave him a chastising look for the scare. He smiled an apology. “I know. Things have been …” Addison waved her hands mimicking the disarray into which she felt her life had dissolved.
“This thing with Amelia?” Sam questioned. Addison’s eyes shot up as though caught. “You guys had a disagreement, right? And she’s off stewing in Vegas. We have an expedient little news corridor in the kitchen.”
“Oh yeah.” Addison sighed. “Well, you know Ames. She’s rarely subtle.” Sam leaned in the door frame, outwardly casual with hands in his pockets. Nevertheless, his tone was ill at ease.
“Is that all?” From a distance, he searched Addison for some indication that there was more she might be hiding.
“Of course.” Addison stepped around her desk and placed her palms against his chest. She looked up into rich brown eyes and tried for a reassuring smile. “Why?”
“You’ve been pretty distant. I thought perhaps there might be something else.” Sam had an uncanny knack for reading her. Thankfully that talent had been paired with the instinct never to push when she wasn’t ready. “Is there?”
“I …” Addison hesitated, feeling the confession fight for dominance over the lie as it brushed past her lips. “I’m fine. There’s nothing. I’m just worried about Amelia. That’s it.” Sam nodded, pulled his hands out of his pockets and wrapped her up in warmth. Addison closed her eyes, waiting and relatively certain that even if he knew it was a lie, for now he’d pretend it wasn’t.
“Alright.” He leaned back, placed a light kiss on her lips. “Alright.”
“She looked like a kid.” Sara remarked. Catherine glowered, but showed restraint. She nodded thanks as Sara placed a mug of coffee on her desk. Instead of waiting for an invitation, Sara collapsed in one of Catherine’s office chairs. Her lanky body uncoiled in a stretch. It was late or early, depending on perspective. Work on the desert 419 had slowed while waiting for toxicology on seventeen bodies and trace evidence. It was a fucking nightmare. Most of the vics were UNLV students, partying on designer drugs, dead because one of them hadn’t been paying close enough attention in Chemistry class.
“She’s hardly a child, Sara.” Catherine shuffled papers absently, tempted to back away from the subject.
“But young … very young.” Sara persisted. “What, is she here on Spring Break?” Sara forced a glimmer of humor into her smirk that cooled significantly at her eyes. “Seriously Cath, what the hell are you doing?”
“What does it matter?” Catherine countered, unflinching at the judgment in Sara’s hard stare. “You made a choice, remember? You gave up any remote reason you might have had to question my actions.”
“We’re friends. I have every right to be concerned.”
“And no right to be jealous!” Catherine retorted, palms hitting the top of her desk with a stiff smack. Sara pursed her lips and counted, trying to subdue her own rising temper.
“I’m …” Sara took a deep breath, searching. “I’m trying very hard to be here. I’m trying, okay? Costa Rica was necessary.”
“And that ring, was that necessary.” Catherine stared at the band of gold Sara toyed with absently. It was a stone, heavy in the pit of her stomach every time she laid eyes on Sara’s slim hands. Sara’s hands had always been hypnotic to Catherine. The very first time they’d met, Sara had extended a hand in greeting and Catherine had just stared breathless. The sudden immobilizing wave of arousal that suffused her body had been misinterpreted as a rebuff, pretty much setting the stage for subsequent years of persistent animosity. Sara’s hands twitched in her lap. She’d never admit it was a mistake, even as she pointedly covered the ring in the clasping of those hands across her abdomen.
“Certainly you’ll admit that taking in strays isn’t exactly your modus operandi.” And there it was. Catherine rolled her eyes, the truth under feigned comity. She didn’t want to do this, retrace the same steps with Sara repeatedly. Catherine ignored the self-referential dig, taking a sip of her coffee.
“She’s here for a conference at the Olympus. She’s a doctor.” She volunteered, going so far as to admit, “And no, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“What about Vartann?” Sara’s inquiry was an anxious mix of hope and curiosity. Catherine accurately suspected that Sara’s preference was that Catherine’s current dalliance was indicative that she had again walked away from something somewhat serious.
“What about him?” Catherine shrugged. “He couldn’t cope with the family business.” That ever present sorrow struggled to surface momentarily in Sara’s brown eyes. Her voice was soft though her point far from subtle.
“Not many who can.” Catherine shook her head, in refutation of Sara’s corollary. This dance had grown old over the years and she’d learned to be unforgiving for her own piece of mind or Sara’s demons would swallow Catherine up in turn.
“No Sara, there are plenty of people who can handle the family business if you choose to let them.” Angry, Sara leaned forward in a moment illicit with tension. So often assailed by those flashing eyes, these moments in their history were decadently erotic. Catherine blinked. The flirtation that tripped the border between enemies and friends might never be sorted. There would always be something pushing back against every movement forward, leaving them at an impasse.
“My fault then? I see little use in torturing myself with the past. I choose to live without a cloud of tragedy hanging over my head.” The heat of Sara’s argument flushed brightly across pale cheeks, as the timbre of her words shifted imperceptibly. Catherine could nonetheless anticipate with precision the instant containment was breached and Sara gave in to outrage.
“But it’s still there, Sara. You want someone as damaged as you and equally as unwilling to deal with it. You got exactly what you bargained for with Gil.” Catherine sighed, waving Sara’s argument aside. “I can’t live in the present without acknowledging the past. I won’t. Sam Braun was a criminal and he left me the fruits of that enterprise in his will. As much as I’d like to choose to ignore it, I am forced to reconcile the way he led his life to the fortune he left me. How can I do that without recognizing he was a crook and a murderer just as much as he was my Dad?”
“It doesn’t make him any less of a crook if you spend every day immersing yourself in that fact.” Sara muttered, disgust among the potent interplay of emotion on her face.
“And it doesn’t make you any less of a survivor if you never admit why you get spooked by domestic violence.” Catherine’s statement had exactly the impact she expected. Sara rose without another word and walked out of her office. If nothing else, they’d learned over the years when to retreat. Screaming matches in the halls of CSI had never bestowed upon either of them a meaningful victory, not when there were so many angry words to regret.
Catherine looked upon the source of sudden noise, disturbing the quiet and dissipating tension. Her phone, set to vibrate, danced a jig on her desk. “Desert Palms.” She murmured with a glance at the caller id, and tried to remember which open case might have a vic waiting in the ER. She answered on the second ring. “Willows.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Beg your pardon?” Amelia glanced over at the only other occupant in observation. She’d been mumbling, staring through the glass of the surgical theater. A resident, young eager to learn, sat next to a pile of charts and a half-eaten bag lunch. He was cute, with an unkempt shock of red hair and thick glasses. He reminded her of the boy from that movie about wizards, not the famous one but the other.
“Why would you do that?” Amelia repeated, tipping her head toward the glass. This boy, or doctor really, shrugged, eyes already returning to focus on the diligent scribbling of notes.
“Maybe he lost.” Amelia looked away, swallowing a sudden bout of nausea. It wasn’t often, rarely, she reviled her occupation, stacked end over end full of pretentious climbers emotionally numb and anxious to cut. She shoved her hands in the pockets of the hoody she wore and silently watched a flurry of activity erupt. In sudden interest, the young doctor looked up and tsked bland disappointment. “Looks like he blew a clot. Ah well, he lives, he’s produce.” Amelia walked swiftly over to where he sat, leaning in so close her breath condensed on the surface of his glasses in a thick fog. He recoiled in surprise.
“Shut. The Fuck. Up.” Straightening, Amelia turned back to watch the surgical team dutifully fighting over the final heartbeats of a dead man.
Amelia walked along the strip, reading bright lights and big names. Catherine had left, called in to another shift. The apology, plain on her face, was stale by the time it met her lips. Shrugging, Amelia had quipped about the towering responsibility of a crime fighter in Gotham City. “Gotham is New York, darlin’. This is Vegas.” Catherine had winked, pressing a quick kiss. She disappeared with promises to call and dinner maybe if she could manage to wrangle an hour away.
Sitting now, a lone figure pool-side in the dwindling dusk, she fiddled with an unopened pack of cigarettes. Having made her speech and doled out business cards, tomorrow Amelia would board a plane for LA. Why then, she could not conceive her contemplation of the artificially blue ripples of The Olympus’s outdoor pool. “I should be slipping dollars into the g-strings of failed showgirls and politely declining the passes of creepily intoxicated businessmen.” She shook her head, leaning back on the thickly cushioned chaise. She wasn’t the only late evening reveler. She’d spent a few moments watching a young couple make out in the shallow end. It hadn’t been incredibly erotic though she’d observed with curiosity. “Newlyweds.” She’d muttered when playful splashing and giggling had become frantic necking.
Getting to her feet, Amelia reconciled herself to enjoying a quiet evening with pay per view and room service. The concierge had provided a host of tantalizing options for a night of first rate hedonism, but all she really wanted was a bit of rest. In the morning she had to face the fact that she’d run away from something but she hadn’t escaped it in the end. She’d have to face Addison … Amelia screamed. Falling hard on her backside, she wiped mechanically at the sudden splash of viscous liquid over her cheeks, running into her eyes. Blinking she looked up, measuring the line of the hotel, tier after tier of balconies. Then down, she focused on the body lying at her feet. He’d barely missed her. If he’d waited to jump by a fraction of a second, Amelia reflected, astonished at the luck of his timing. Laughter tripped out beyond a jaw slack with shock and bounced along the path from the swimming pool to the entrance. Behind her, she could hear hurried footsteps and shouting. Amelia rolled to her knees, laughter in thick spurts like blood pooling on concrete.
“Miss, are you okay?” The touch on her shoulder was gentle and Amelia shook her head, doubling over. Putting her hands down, Amelia could not catch her breath, her stomach clenched with wave after wave of uncontrollable mirth. The rough surface beneath her palms was wet. Sitting up, Amelia wiped red against her tee-shirt and bent again, to ha, ha, ha. She felt hands slip under her arms in an attempt at assistance. On her feet she wiggled free. “Are you okay, Miss?” The pool attendant looked pale, the shade of green that precedes thorough emptying of the stomach. Amelia nodded, snickering.
“Oh my God!” Drenched and peering, a young woman, the newlywed in the arms of her fresh-faced husband, urgently pointed a finger. “He’s moving! He’s moving!” Amelia watched and held her breath. Sure enough, a sporadic twitch reverberated down a garishly twisted thigh. Amelia dropped to her knees, swallowing as she felt another round of laughter rise.
“Call 911.” Her fingers slipped as she palpated the neck and felt the thready whisper of a fading pulse. Frozen by confusion or disbelief, the pool attendant gazed at her as if asking - for what? Amelia reached out, leaving a crimson stain on his starched white pants as she gave him a firm shove. “911! Go!” She focused on her training, hands steady, determined. Amelia leaned close as she worked. “You’ll be okay.”
She started CPR, counting compressions and ignored the gathering crowd around her. Tragedy was entertainment. Sirens whined, dulled by distance and the murmured speculations of spectators on what happened and why brushed at Amelia’s awareness. Ignoring everything but the cadence of her own steady counting, Amelia breathed and pushed the rhythms of life into spongy tissue. To her, he wasn’t even a name. He was some guy who had dropped barely a foot from ending her. Frenzied, she knelt in a widening puddle of blood and promised, “You’ll be okay.”
Meredith glanced at her sister-in-law, wondering if Amelia had taken on a somewhat blue tint over the course of their drive. Streams of condensed air trickled from slack lips as she visibly trembled in the passenger seat. God forbid Derek’s sister died of hypothermia on the ride from the airport. Meredith cranked the heat to little avail. Her mother’s old station wagon was an antique. It was a fool’s errand to hope for climate control in extreme temperatures. “I take it you’ve never experienced a winter in the Pacific Northwest.” She commented. Amelia shrugged, oddly circumspect. This half-frostbitten specter was not the coquette who’d sashayed into Seattle Grace to harangue her brother. Meredith had expected luggage-bearing devotees trailing in her wake. Instead she’d found this sage antithesis waiting at arrivals with no luggage and wearing nothing to combat the winter freeze beyond a thin blue hooded sweatshirt bearing the shield of the Las Vegas police.
“Right, so Derek’s on a late rotation. He’ll be home in the morning. You can sleep in Lexie’s.” Meredith navigated the icy streets of the suburban neighborhood that had long been her home. It had been snowing earlier as evidenced by the corridor of snowdrifts created by parked cars she carefully steered her way past. The streets would be treacherous on the way to the hospital and she imagined a hectic shift punctuated by victims of vehicular accidents. Amelia’s flight arrived late that evening, leaving Meredith little time to maneuver as momentary chauffeur. She’d raced to the airport, pushing the old station wagon to its limits in the icy conditions. The trip back had been navigated with equal alacrity, though primarily spent in contemplation of the mystery of Amelia’s uncommon caginess.
“Does he know I’m coming?” Amelia asked, eyes focused out the passenger window. Meredith spared another look to the girl’s shivering profile. Quiet and pale, these had been the first words Amelia had offered since a mumbled greeting.
“Yes, of course he does. I told him right after you called. He would have picked you up himself if he wasn’t scheduled for surgery.” They rode again in silence. Meredith chewed away, progressively de-glossing a smooth lip in her disquiet. How unfortunate was the timing of Amelia’s unscheduled visit? The last thing Meredith wanted to tackle was another family member in crisis. Was it not enough to contend with Derek’s strange lack of sympathy since the shooting? Her relationship with Christina was inching torturously back from cold civility. A successful return to surgery and a few shared drinks at Joe’s had been a temporary patch not so much a repair to gaping damage.
Meanwhile Lexie was still so fragile and anxious for attentive mothering ironically enough from Meredith. What could Lexie possibly expect when Meredith still struggled to accept her role as sister and had no personal reference on how to hover from which to draw thanks to a childhood of emotional neglect. Finally that tragic reality of her very own hostile uterus post miscarriage defied every earnest baby-making endeavor as Meredith daily found herself polarized between the desire to meet so many expectations and the yawing chasm of her own devastation. Neither she nor Derek was exactly primed for a family reunion.
“Is he mad?” Amelia’s voice wavered and Meredith wondered if there would be tears as there had been in profusion over the phone.
“No, Amelia.” She replied. “No he’s not mad. He’s worried. He wants to know …”
“Nothing happened.” Amelia interrupted. She hunched a bit lower, arms folded tightly over her chest. Meredith fiddled with the heat again and kept her eyes on the minimal traffic sharing icy streets. Earlier that afternoon when her cell phone rang, Meredith had been as much caught off guard by the timing as the caller. She had a scant window in which to manage such simple life-prolonging necessities as four hours uninterrupted sleep. Her competitive nature had discouraged any desire to leave the hospital while Chief Resident remained unnamed. Nonetheless, a few hours rest in her own bed was a siren call she could not resist with any indefinite success.
“Amelia?” Meredith had taken the number at the end of Amelia’s last visit. What would it hurt to mediate the strained relationship between her husband and sister-in-law? Amelia seemed harmless enough. In fact, she reminded Meredith unerringly of her own past, reckless and untamed. She knew better than to remark on how uncanny the similarities between herself and Derek’s sister. She anticipated it would be a sore point of vociferous denial as she imagined how unpalatable the reality that he’d married a woman startlingly like his youngest sibling. On the phone, Amelia hadn’t offered greeting or explanation for her call. She’d been distraught, sobbing hysterically in lieu of even a hello.
“Meredith … I … I …” Meredith sat up immediately, thinking the worst.
“What happened? Are you okay?” She listened as Amelia hiccupped struggling to breathe. It was an easy step to assume the girl to be in trouble given the history Derek had disclosed during Amelia’s visit. Drug use, theft, promiscuity were highlights but not the extreme depths to which Amelia had sunk during her teens. Meredith climbed out of bed, debating calling the police on another line. Reminding herself that every second of indecision could be fatal in an emergency, she resolved to wake one of her roommates, either Avery or Kepner would be home . She’d use one of their phones while keeping Amelia on the line. “Amelia, try and calm down. Take a deep breath. You need to tell me what’s happening.” She waited while the sound of deep breathing came across the line.
“I need … I need to come see Derek.” The sound of sniffling continued as Amelia’s voice dropped off, barring further explanation. Meredith wrestled with concern as to how serious the circumstances given Amelia’s level of agitation. “Please?” Amelia sobbed, the minute control she’d wrangled deteriorating at Meredith’s hesitation.
“Yes of course that’s fine.” Meredith willed herself to calm, trying to relay comfort in her words. “I can pick you up at the airport. Just text me your flight information. Alright?” Meredith waited for a response then repeated, “Alright, Amelia?”
“Yes … yes. Thank you.” Meredith sighed, her pulse rate slowing as she hung up. She anticipated that Derek would not be overly excited at this turn of events. Whatever Amelia was wrestling with would not be met with much welcome. Despite the advances in the relationship between brother and sister, Derek remained somewhat jaded in dealing with his family. She scrolled through the contacts on her phone, selecting Derek’s office number and primed herself for what would be a rocky reception.
“Here’s Lexie’s room.” Meredith opened the door, rolling her eyes at its disarray. “Sorry about the mess. She’s been on call the last three days.” Amelia walked in to perch on the edge of the unmade bed. She appeared absolutely exhausted.
“Jesus, Amelia! How the hell did you get through airport security?” Meredith noticed for the first time the truly unkempt state of the young woman’s appearance. Underneath the hoody, Amelia wore a tee shirt, once a vintage rock depiction now liberally splattered in thick rust-colored stains.
“It’s not mine.” Amelia explained her voice flat.
“That’s not as reassuring as you might think.” Meredith countered. “Whose blood is that?” Amelia ran her fingertips over the stiff material as though seeing it for the first time.
“He died.” Meredith blew a breath, grasping at the last of her reserve. She watched Amelia pick at the edge of the shirt with thin fingers.
“Who died, Amelia?”
“Stop saying my name like that.” Amelia snapped, gazing at her hands. Lips turned down in a disturbed frown, she seemed to break loose of whatever internal confusion had eclipsed her attention over the course of their journey from the airport. “Some guy jumped off a balcony and I couldn’t save him.”
“Okay.” Meredith slipped her hands into the pockets of her coat, cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Are you alright?”
“May I use your shower please?” Ignoring the question, Amelia looked directly at Meredith for the first time. She had eyes like Derek’s, dark blue almost navy. She blinked away tears, drawing herself up stiffly.
“End of the hall. Linen closet is on the right.” Caught off guard by Amelia’s sudden laser focus, Meredith faltered. “Do you need anything?”
“Just a change of clothes, I think.” Amelia offered a wan smile. “It’s okay. You don’t need to babysit. Think your sister will mind?” Amelia gestured toward a haphazard pile of clothes at one end of the bed. They could as easily have been dirty as clean. Meredith doubted Lexie would be upset at the charity.
“No, make yourself at home. There’s also plenty to eat in the fridge downstairs if you think you’re hungry.” Meredith nodded, gazing at Amelia then glancing over her shoulder anxiously.
“I’ll be fine. You should go.” Amelia urged.
“Right.” Meredith turned for the door, hesitating for an instant. “If you need anything …” Amelia’s wave was timid meant to be disarming. Meredith wasn’t entirely convinced. She sighed, mumbling a hasty good night. She was already formulating the conversation she’d have with Derek when he inquired after Amelia’s state of mind. Luckily they’d all had plenty of recent experience with temporary bouts of insanity.
“Um … you’re Derek’s sister.” Amelia rolled over, blinking at the sudden disturbance of light and sound. She hadn’t been sleeping, but laying there gazing out the cracked window curtains. She marveled at how the snow shone at night, though the moon was hidden in cloudy seclusion. She tried to focus on the amorphous shadow, backlit from the hallway.
“Yes.” Lexie stepped in, pulling the door closed behind her in deference to the pained squint on Amelia’s face. She shuffled, trying not to disturb the clutter while adjusting to the dim. Amelia watched, inexplicably amused. She’d only met Meredith’s sister in passing on her first trip to Seattle. Quirky and attractive were the descriptors that stood out in her recollection.
“And you’re in my bed.” Lexie stood, indecisive. Her hands fiddled, smoothing down her scrubs then wound behind her neck in a posture somewhere between a stretch and ill-concealed frustration. Amelia couldn’t resist an easy target.
“You’re startlingly observant.”
“Why are you in my bed? Aren’t you supposed to be in Los Angeles?” Lexie prickled, hands splayed. Amelia imagined her foot tapping in agitated expectance.
“Apparently I’m cracking up. There’s room.” Turning on her side, wet hair and bare shoulders momentarily exposed to the chill air, she shifted the blanket to lightly pat the mattress, unmistakably flirtatious. Lexie stepped back, drew nervous hands through her hair then for lack of anything else to do with them, folded her arms across her chest.
“Yes you are if you think I’m getting into bed with an apparently naked stranger.”
“We’re practically family.” Amelia minced the wide-eyed ingénue. Lexie flinched, finding the wholesome lilting tones suddenly lacing Amelia’s voice particularly unsettling.
“Not that kind of family.” Amelia laughed, amusement genuine and contagious. Lexie couldn’t help but grin. She eased a step forward, dropping her hands to her sides. Amelia couldn’t help but tease, seeing Lexie relax.
“You’re right. We could be friends …” Lexie shook her head in response, then perched on the side of the bed.
“Somehow that sounds worse.” She paused, chewing over her words then asked with genuine concern, “Did you stop sleeping and have to spend three days in a psych ward?”
“Uh … no.” Amelia sat up, pulled the blanket tight against the cold and crossed her legs to make more room. She laughed and repeated the disavowal thinking the question extremely odd. “No. That was disturbingly specific.” She shook her head, thinking their game of hot and cold had severely derailed. Even in the dark, Lexie’s expression was momentarily telling. She seemed to shake herself, not wanting whatever brooding images that troubled her thoughts to surface.
“Oh well I …” Lexie flailed, then called back to the true purpose of her inquiries asked, “Why are you here?”
“In your bed? Your sister said you wouldn’t mind.” Amelia wondered from the look that crossed Lexie’s face if that had been an egregious error. She had enough experience with her own sisters to recognize the hints of sibling angst.
“No I meant … never mind. I’m too tired.” Lexie’s shoulders drooped in exhausted surrender. She kicked off her shoes and crawled onto the bed. “No funny business, got it?” Amelia shrugged, laying down nearly shoulder to shoulder.
“Got it.” She stared at the ceiling, listening to Lexie’s slow breathing in the semi-dark. “Hey Lexie …” Amelia grinned at the heavy sigh of exasperation in response, then whispered loudly, “Are you asleep?” Lexie bubbled then broke with unrestrained merriment.
“I banged a cop in Vegas.” Amelia confessed. An impromptu emotional foraging in the absence of alcohol had simply become traded confessions following baited inquiries of, have you ever? “Actually she’s more like a scientist who gathers evidence and investigates crimes.”
“Was she attractive?” Lexie asked, curious.
“Very. She’s a bit older, late forties maybe.”
“Someone has mommy issues.” Lexie murmured then winced at the subsequent elbow digging into her side.
“Well this mommy had an incredible body. She never said it outright but I think before she became a cop she was an exotic dancer.” Lexie snickered.
“Stripper turned cop, sounds like a screenplay.”
“No kidding. Anyway, she was amazing.” Amelia relayed, then softly. “She drove me to the airport.”
She seemed tiny, deflated, when Catherine spied Amelia in the hospital waiting area. In the chaos that typified Desert Palms emergency room, Amelia was serene, a statuette, her expression polished as flat as a marble surface. Catherine sat next to her for sometime without comment, at a loss how to proceed. Amelia’s call from the admitting desk had been short, a simple pleading request, “Please come and get me?” This slight girl, this stranger, evoked a precedent of emotion that Catherine was as yet unwilling to examine.
“You must think I’m pretty troubled.” Amelia held Catherine in stark challenge. Catherine did not attempt to deny it.
“First impressions?” She shrugged, “Troubled but worth it.”
“Think you’ll see her again?” The lightly spoken inquiry catapulted Amelia back into the present. Her time with Catherine had been abbreviated but terrifyingly invasive. The woman had left an impression well inside Amelia’s comfortable boundaries. The depth of that impact was yet revealing itself in Catherine’s absence. Lexie could feel the tell-tale movement of a shrug across the mattress in response to her question. “What is it a two, maybe three hour drive from LA or barely an hour by plane. That’s not horrible for a long distance relationship.”
“I didn’t go to Vegas to get married.” Amelia countered, instantly tired of the subject.
“That’s how you equivocate a second date? Marriage?” Lexie tittered, laughter careening forth in unperturbed humor. “Jesus, you are a slut.”
“Thanks.” Amelia smiled, amused under cover of darkness. “Apparently Seattle is teeming with my brethren.”
“So let me see if I have this right.” The softness of Lexie’s voice belied her concentration. Reminiscent of a slumber party, they’d giggled and gossiped. It was nice. Amelia hadn’t once thought of the disturbing realities that lurked outside, not of LA or of Vegas.
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“You live with Doctor Montgomery who is your brother’s ex-wife. She had an affair with Mark Sloan, leading to the dissolution of her marriage to Derek. Subsequently, you slept with Mark Sloan … yes I know about that.” Lexie’s words are a bit pointed if not venomous. “I also had a …. situation with Mark Sloan.” Lexie tripped over the euphemism, Amelia snorting in response but continued to listen without interruption. “And my sister, half sister, is married to your brother.” Lexie concluded the accounting, somewhat breathless for its length.
Amelia grinned impishly, adding “And now I am in bed with you.”
“Laying ON my bed. On it, not in it as in together like … sexy or anything.” Lexie babbled in a failed attempt at clarification and added dispassionately, “This place is insidious.”
“Isn’t it.” Amelia marveled at the convoluted mess of human relationships the two of them had been puzzling over.
“It would be even worse if you’d slept with Dr. Montgomery …” Lexie joked. Her chuckling halted precipitously at Amelia’s sudden silence. “Holy shit …” Murmured as though anything above a whisper would reveal this unsolicited secret, Lexie pressed a hand to her own mouth.
“I know, right.” Amelia sighed with the weight of this revelation. Lexie could little hide her shock, turning on her side to peer as though searching for evidence painted on Amelia’s face.
“Does Derek know?”
“No. Not yet.” The tone of Amelia’s confession suggested that it would be her preference that he should never find out.
“No wonder.” Lexie nodded her head eloquently.
Amelia pulled a face at the ominous tone and inquired with some heat, “What?” Lexie all but intoned a duh, as though it were more than obvious.
“You’re cracking up.”
“Oh.” Amelia frowned, her face comically grave in the first hint of dawn creeping from the window. “Yeah.”
Derek gazed at the scene before him with a little less charity than he’d promised his wife after her depiction of his sister’s seemingly precarious state of mind. Amelia lay pillowed against Lexie Grey’s chest, eyes intent on the screen of a laptop while the two took turns eating Cap’n Crunch dry out of the box.
“Der’k!” Amelia greeted, spying her brother standing mutely in the doorway. She sat up in the bed disturbing the computer, and smiled widely. “We’re watching the Neverending Story. I was just telling Lexie how we used to watch it over and over again when we were kids.” Derek glanced at his sister-in law, noting the rising blush on her cheeks despite a fair attempt at a smile.
“Uh… hey, Derek.” Lexie sketched a weak wave, pulling blankets higher to cover her bare legs.
“Amy …” Derek, heaved a sigh as though asking for temperance. Amelia, despite the rapidly rising tension in Derek’s features, pretended ignorance.
“Come watch. We can start it over.” She grinned, giving the cereal box an enticing jiggle. “There’s breakfast!”
“God damn it, Amy!” Derek slammed a fist against a nearby wall for emphasis. Lexie jumped startled, eyes snapping between the two siblings. Amelia only seemed to grin wider at this eruption. “Meredith’s sister? Really?”
“Woah, hold on a minute.” Lexie raised her hands not liking where that assumption was headed. She could already imagine the look on Meredith’s face as she made a weak attempt at mustering a lecture, Really Lexie? Seriously?
“What the hell are you doing? More importantly, why are you here?” Derek rubbed at his now smarting hand and then crossed his arms, fighting the urge to shout.
“I came to see you big brother. That’s quite the welcome, by the way.” Amelia nodded at the fresh dent in plaster. “I hear you’re doing great.” She added conversationally. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking. Guy almost fell on my head and killed me at AAN in Vegas. Awesome right?” She glanced over at Lexie nodding, hand up for a high five. “Right?”
“Maybe I should …” Lexie slipped out of the bed, stumbling over the sheets and haphazardly gathered whatever was closest in the way of clothes off the floor of her bedroom. She edged warily past Derek and headed down the hall towards the bathroom. “Jesus.” She shook her head. And here she’d thought she and Meredith had issues.
Derek looked on, brow tented. Amelia dropped her hand with a shrug, expression gradually turning brittle as she stared back. “I just gave the key note speech at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurology and couldn’t save a guy who jumped off his balcony. And I came here … I needed to ask you if those two events are mutually exclusive? Cause I don’t know and I thought maybe you could help me with that.” Derek regarded his sister silently. If he didn’t look too hard, she was five again, wide-eyed, laughing.
“I didn’t have sex with Lexie.” Amelia added. She wiped fiercely at a lone tear sliding down her cheek.
“I’m sorry.” Amelia couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard those words from her brother, at least not as a prefix to a contradictory statement led by the word “but”. I’m sorry Amelia, BUT I don’t have time to deal with your shit anymore. That was the sorry she was always prepared to hear. At present, it was not forthcoming. Stepping into the room, Derek took a seat on the edge of the bed. He regarded Amelia who tried for nonchalance, but only managed sad and hurt.
“Not that I wouldn’t have. She’s definitely hot.” She joked, lamely.
“And now I retract my apology.” A moment, and then mutual laughter, Amelia grabbed Derek’s hand pulling him to sit next to her.
“Tell me about LA. How’s the practice?” Derek inquired. He sat back and listened as Amelia talked life, gently touching upon the people who populated it.
Amelia gazed at herself in the mirror. She was a mess. Her gaunt features belied the last several months of ready access to L.A. beaches. She’d pulled her hair back and could catalogue her wardrobe thus, borrowed tee-shirt, borrowed sweatshirt and borrowed jeans scrunched at the bottom to accommodate several inches difference in height. If nothing else, her appearance was a convincing enough argument that it was time to go home. She’d come empty-handed but had acquired a well-worn messenger bag for the return trip. Her jeans and ruined tee-shirt were an ill-defined and unaccompanied bulge. Nevertheless, she was less likely to raise eyebrows traipsing through airport security if she was carrying something that resembled luggage.
She noted how drawn her face was, as though she’d aged over the course of her abbreviated excursion. If she had, she was the better for it. She hadn’t resolved the imbroglio that had usurped her life, but she’d relished the respite from it for a little while. Amelia dug through her pockets and finding them empty, searched the disorder on top of Lexie’s dresser. She uncovered a solitary tube of lipstick, unsurprisingly bright pink, and uncapped it. Painting her lips in the garish color, she leaned forward and bestowed a kiss against the mirror’s surface. Her night with Lexie Grey had perhaps been one of the better nights of sleep she’d spent in years. Amelia was unsure how to say thanks. Recapping the lipstick, she slipped it in her front pocket and gave her reflection a wink.
“Just say the word and I will make arrangements for a fellowship at Seattle Grace.” Derek was earnest, hopeful and concerned as he gazed. He expected her to say yes. Why wouldn’t she? Regain the momentum lost in her flailing career and be close to family, it was an obvious yes. What could prompt her return to LA? The city was a hurt that beat its way deep into her chest. Seattle could be home.
“I think having your wife as an intern smacks enough of nepotism without adding your kid sister to the mix.” Amelia commented, raising a brow.
“It wouldn’t be nepotism Amy. I’ve read your work on reversing diagnoses of long term coma using stents. It’s brilliant.” Derek remarked, letting an inkling of pride show in his voice. “The most I would do is make a recommendation to Chief Webber. You’d be welcomed at Seattle Grace purely on your own merit. You deserve the chance to take full advantage of your talent in an environment truly suited to fostering it.”
“I’m flattered that you think I’m worth risking the temerity of your own reputation for the sake of endorsing mine.” Amelia shook her head, “But I’m happy where I am.”
“Just take some time and consider it.” Derek glanced up at the rearview mirror to check the traffic behind them. It was only a moment but enough time for Amelia to unbuckle her seat belt, lean over and plant a quick peck on his cheek. He’d barely stopped in the carpool lane before she’d slipped out of the car, waved and turned, walking abruptly into the terminal. Amelia’s goodbyes were rarely sentimental. Nonetheless, Derek watched her depart, feeling the familiar warmth of pride tempered with concern. Somehow, he’d known she’d say no. It would have been nice though, to have her so close, to be a family. Furious honking behind him jolted him in his seat and he pulled the car easily back into traffic away from passenger departures.
Amelia threw the door wide, grinning. “Dr. King. Welcome to my humble little corner of the universe.” Charlotte allowed herself a smile of amusement and accepted Amelia’s invitation into the small studio apartment. It was well lit with honey-colored hard wood and high ceilings. LA street sounds drifted up and in through a pair of double doors, open to the morning breeze off a small balcony. Charlotte eyed the modern kitchen nook and cooking island partitioned just beyond the front door. It was equal to the description of fancy that Amelia had given it. The young neurosurgeon hadn’t stopped talking about the studio and its huge sky lit bathroom since she’d signed the lease. The bay window, tiled flooring and expansive tub had been the deciding factor on the place. Apparently Amelia had a fetish for bathroom fixtures. It was a spectacular find really.
Not a week before, Amelia strode into Charlotte’s office at the hospital, leading with, “I’m moving out of Addison’s.” Charlotte nonplussed, ignored the non sequitor. She hadn’t so much as received word from the young woman since an early morning text that simply read – Vegas for AAN. Back in three days. Three days had actually been over a week and these were Amelia’s first words of greeting?
“Hey, welcome back. How was Vegas?” The lack of expression on Amelia’s face was as effective a confession as walking in on her and Addison mid thrust would have been for all Amelia’s flat affect revealed. No wonder Addison had been walking around exhibiting polar vacillations of spooked and shattered since Amelia’s abrupt departure to this conveniently timed conference in Las Vegas. A week away from those shenanigans could only do both of them good, even if Charlotte had yet to observe any positive effect. Choosing to keep her own counsel on the whole matter, she continued blithely “That’s great. Yep, things have been quiet here. A day without tragedy striking Oceanside Wellness is a bit like finding a two-headed nickel in the swear jar.” Amelia blinked stonily. “Good then, nice to catch up.” Flipping idly through her rolodex, Charlotte handed over the business card of her realtor. “Meeting tonight?” Amelia nodded, appreciation easing her drawn expression.
It hadn’t taken Amelia three days to find a place she could conceivably call home. It was the one true benefit of a renter’s market as it suited Amelia’s spontaneous decision-making perfectly. From what Charlotte gathered, Amelia had spent at least one night on the couch in her office in the interim. While obvious tension brewed in silence between the young woman and Addison Montgomery, Charlotte wasn’t entirely sure if it was because Amelia had yet to venture back to Addison’s condo on the beach. More likely it was because of the buxom brunette that had dropped Amelia off to work on the back of a Harley looking ill-rested but well-fucked two days in succession. Addison had taken to retreating behind the safety of her closed office door though not before Charlotte could read the stark mixture of anger and hurt in her countenance.
“So um,” Charlotte looked around handing Amelia a coffee carrier bearing two tall cups and a bag of goodies. “Exactly what am I helping with today?” The space was vacant with the exception of a single large box in the middle of the floor. She’d stepped forward to peek past the open flaps, noting the motley collection of items dwarfed by the container. “Some paperbacks, a few medical journals, and a to-go coffee mug - you sure the two of us can manage all of this?”
“Sarcasm is the last refuge of the intellectually uninspired.” Amelia’s rejoinder was less than artful in its attempt to provide a smoke screen for the obvious. Handing Charlotte one of the coffees while sipping gratefully on her own, Amelia asked, “Did I say help unpack? I could have sworn I said take a trip with me to Ikea for necessities.” Amelia turned to dig through the pastry bag.
“Oh, hell no!” Charlotte shook her head. “Absolutely not. That place is the seventh circle of hell. Find somebody else.” She was already halfway to the door, tuning out Amelia’s imaginative protests, halting only at the sound of the knocker echoing through the empty space.
“Mmm, company!” Immensely relieved at the timing, Amelia swallowed a sip of coffee and slipped past Charlotte to give the door a yank. Standing in the opened doorway, her greeting died on her lips.
“Hey, Ames.” Addison beamed hands full, she held up two paper to go cups bearing a Peets logo as if to say, surprise. She had a white bag tucked haphazardly under her arm and smiled lopsidedly despite Amelia’s awkward silence. “Thought I’d bring by a housewarming.”
“I … uh, thanks. Come in?” Amelia stepped aside with a weak gesture.
“I brought your favorite. Sugar-free vanilla latte and a pumpkin muffin.” Addison noted Charlotte’s presence with a sedate nod. “Charlotte.”
“Dr. Montgomery.” Charlotte quirked a brow at her colleague’s unannounced visit. As determined as she was not to pass judgment on whatever mess Addison and Amelia were making of their lives, this was downright silly. All this ill-disguised melodrama between the two women surely couldn’t be fooling anybody. Charlotte rolled her eyes, exhausted at the very idea of delving into Amelia and Addison’s collectively poor decision making. “I’m not spending my morning off wandering aimlessly through that house of horrors. Never get the smell of god-awful Swedish sausage out of my clothes. Call me when you actually need help unpackin’ somethin’.” Charlotte gave Amelia a pointed look, and slipped past Addison to exit.
Amelia heaved a sigh. Charlotte was never subtle if she could afford it. Her advice when she’d offered Amelia the card of a reputable realtor a week ago hadn’t extended beyond what she could find sagely hidden inside a fortune cookie – communication is the key to any relationship. Amelia decided, instead to fall back on old habits, sublimating desire and avoiding the difficult topic of her feelings for Addison in their entirety. After all these years, apparently Addison was better at adapting than Amelia. Their mutual code of silence had been broken and Amelia was the only one trying to reengage it. She rolled her shoulders trying to dispel, rising discomfort in the wake of Charlotte’s abrupt departure. “Come on in, Addie. Make yourself at home.” She gestured wryly at the empty space.
“It’s a great place.” Addison remarked setting the pastry bag and coffees down next to the similar goods Charlotte had proffered. “Looks like mine wasn’t the first welcome this morning.”
“Yeah.” Amelia mumbled inarticulately, placing the coffee she’d barely more than sipped back on the counter. Her stomach had noticeably soured to the taste. She dug her hands under folded arms, feeling the telltale shaking of nerves. “Listen Addie.”
“I hear Derek offered you a fellowship in Seattle.” Addison stepped close, confusion in her voice. “But you came back to LA.”
“He sure didn’t waste any time enlisting your help.” Amelia replied, she side-stepped past before Addison could so much as extend a solicitous hand.
Since Amelia’s return from Seattle, she’d had phone calls from every member of her family asking why she insisted on staying in LA. “You’ll ruin your life!” Her mother had exclaimed, repeatedly. Derek did not play fair. Of course, who said no to a surgical fellowship at one of the leading teaching hospitals in the country? Maybe they were all right. Even Lexie, who’s feelings had to be mixed about the possibility of Amelia coming to live in Seattle had voiced her own albeit cautious concern.
“Hey sexy, what’s hot in Seattle?”
“Big deal it’s seventy degrees in LA. Are you really so desperate for anything to do with yourself you call me and gloat.” Lexie whispered into her phone.
“Well, yes actually.” Amelia replied, honestly. “I haven’t had so much as a consult in two days. Why are you whispering?”
“The Shepherd-Grey’s are fighting.” Lexie covered her mouth as though to better direct the sound. Her voice sounded no less muffled and hoarse.
“Shepherd-Grey? Wow, I never thought Der’k would re-hyphenate.” Amelia laughed, “I take it you are discreetly listening.” Lexie tip-toed, sounds of a heated argument emanating from the closed door that had captured her focus. “Apparently they got into it at work, middle of a craniotomy. It was all over the hospital. They beat me home by four hours and they’re still at it.” Across the hall, Kepner peeked disapprovingly out of her bedroom. Lexie paid little attention, offering no more than a dismissive wave and tipped her head to listen. “I feel like I’m spying on my parents.”
“What are they saying?” Amelia asked, rapidly ensnared by the drama.
“Shh, I can’t hear.” Lexie muttered. “I’ll call you back after. I don’t want to get caught.”
“Aw, you scared of big sister, you wuss?” Lexie bristled, somewhat embarrassed at the taunt’s accuracy.
“What are you twelve? And … yes. When angered she can be scary.”
Amelia sighed, pretending to concede, “Okay fine, if you don’t want to collect intel we could always just have phone sex.”
“Meredith is saying that Derek should go visit you in LA.” Lexie rushed over the sudden sound of dramatized heavy breathing. “Something I couldn’t make out … and now she’s saying, she’s your sister, you should act accordingly and then something about the fellowship you turned down. By the way, in case no one else has mentioned it thus far, that ranks pretty high on the scale of idiotic decisions.” Amelia started in on porn music sound effects, heavy with the fake bass licks. With a huff of frustration, Lexie hurried to expound further on the eavesdropped conversation, “Now Derek is criticizing. He says that Meredith isn’t exactly a reliable expert on sibling dynamics.” Lexie pursed her lips in agreement, “He’s got a point there. Oh …” Lexie stepped away from the door as the volume of the argument increased significantly, “And now Meredith is shouting that ovulating or not he’ll sleep on the couch for a week.” Lexie laughed at the extended retching sounds in response to that revelation. She snuck back to her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.
“So who’s Uncle Jim?
“Where’d you hear that name?” The amusement in Amelia’s voice sounded suspiciously like shock. Intrigued, Lexie divulged the information wondering what Amelia might let slip in return.
“Apparently this whole thing started when Meredith gave Derek the business over refusing to return one of your uncle’s multiple phone calls.” Amelia made a knowing sound in the back of her throat.
“That sounds about right. He and Der’k aren’t very keen. He’s my Mom’s baby brother, yet another doctor in the fam trying to convince me to get serious and take a more ambitious approach to my career.”
“You Shepherd’s sure have a hard-on for the Hippocratic oath.”
“He’s a Wilson, not a Shepherd.” Amelia corrected, argumentatively. Lexie puttered around her room preparing for bed. In the wake of Amelia’s recent visit, she’d discovered her favorite shade of lipstick, her niftiest hipster messenger tote and a worn tee shirt from her alma mater had gone missing. Amelia maintained she was innocent the crime of theft and insisted that if Lexie made a minimal effort to clean her room she might uncover these wayward and sundry articles. Lexie preferred to devote her free time to catching up on sleep. Lately, these odd little dialogues she shared with Amelia had also taken an inexplicably profound degree of precedence in her schedule.
“Where’s he work?”
“Princeton-Plainsboro. He’s the head of Oncology.”
Lexie hummed, clearly impressed, and mentioned pointedly, “PPTH, huh? They have an amazing diagnostics unit there.” She was unsurprised to hear the indifference in Amelia’s response.
“I know. It seems Uncle Jim wants me to meet the guy who runs it, um … Church?
“House. Doctor Gregory House. The man is infamous, Ames.” Lexie shook her head, deciding not to give in to frustration. She was sure Amelia had her reasons, whatever they might be, to ignore so many fine opportunities in favor of remaining in LA. What could be appealing about relative obscurity when she could be lauded by the medical community at large? Amelia had yet to illuminate her motivations on Lexie’s behalf.
“Yeah, whatever. Uncle Jim thinks it would be a good fit.” Amelia gave a sigh of practiced disinterest. Lexie knew it would do no good to press but made a token effort nonetheless.
“Maybe you should go check it out.” Amelia laughed, somehow delighted at Lexie’s willingness to interfere in the matter.
“East coast? Could you stand it? I’d be twice as far away.”
“I think I might be able to live with that.” Lexie countered, a touch of amusement entering her tone despite every attempt to keep her response as bland as the ambivalence it suggested. Amelia seemed to interpret every rejection from Lexie’s lips as challenge. However, when Lexie indulged Amelia’s quick wit in a moment of unabashed amusement, she proved impossible at length.
“You just keep pretending you’re hard to get Alexandra Caroline Grey. Eventually one of us might be convinced.”
“Too late.” Lexie smiled, unavoidably tickled. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant to hear Amelia light-hearted and joking. Lexie might even go so far as to admit that it was a bit charming.
“As much fun as this has been precious, I’ve got a thing.”
“What’s her name?” Amelia laughed again, heartily and Lexie couldn’t help but giggle immediately certain she had the woman dead to rights. Spontaneous visits to Seattle aside, Amelia Shepherd was undeniably predictable in accordance with Lexie’s astute observations.
“Never-you-mind nosey.” Amelia efficiently ducked the inquiry. “Just keep me posted. In the unlikely event that my big brother actually takes someone else’s advice and is headed to LA, I want notice well in advance.”
“Yeah, what’s it worth to you?” She could practically hear the arrogant smirk as Amelia chuckled.
“Oh Baby, don’t tease. All you have to do is ask.” Lexie could not suppress her grin as she hung up without comment.
If nothing else, Amelia’s phone calls and text messages to the younger Grey sister served as a reminder that if she was half as eager as she refused to admit, she could have something she’d always wanted. She’d have the career success certainly. In addition, there might also exist a feeling restored that she couldn’t quite recall since she was a small child - family.
“You’re here and we need to talk about this.” Amelia pushed past thoughts of Seattle, faced with Addison’s stubborn persistence.
“We’ve already talked. There is no this. There can’t be.” Amelia fussed over coffees and pastry bags for lack of anything else to do. “I love you Addie, enough to know that we would be a mistake and I can’t afford to spend the rest of my life with that kind of regret.”
“Then why come back, Bits?” Addison demanded, unable to perceive the source of this unanticipated rejection. When had there ever been so much unsaid between them? She couldn’t stand that a single act could bear such cost. Amelia turned with a half smile, a shrug hinting at her old self underneath the sorrow.
“Where else could I go, Addie? This is my home and you’re my family.”