WithOut End  

garru4er123 52M
17 posts
1/4/2006 10:06 pm

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

WithOut End

He stared out the window, watching the forked tongues of lightning slash out of the angry sky. Thunder sounded ominously, grumbling and building until the windows shook in their frames. The drumming of the rain against the house, and the howling of the wind, drowned out the sounds of the machines beeping and hissing behind him.

It seemed fitting, in a way, that it was storming today. A storm had brought them together, and it was right that it should storm on the day that they would be parted. A silent tear tracked across his cheek as he stared at the reflection in the glass.

A hospital bed, rails up, was behind him. He could see the metallic sheen of the IV pole that held an array of transparent pouches that carried necessary medications and fluid to her slowly dying body. The rhythmic hissing noise that blended so well with the rain came from the oxygen machine that forced air into her lungs, keeping her alive as his hopes refused to die. But today, a day that should have been a happy occasion, he couldn't put her through this torment any longer.

He glanced behind him at the frail body that barely raised a bump under the blankets. The body that had been so beautiful, so startling lovely, even as she had aged, was now little more than skin and bones.

As he stared out the window again, he remembered the first day they met.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The storm had been raging, and had moved in fast. He'd been driving on the interstate, running late coming from a friend's. Before long, he couldn't see to drive, and even at their top speed, the wipers hadn't been able to clear the rain from the windshield. He'd pulled over, running from his car into the shelter of the overpass. At least, under here, he'd be more protected if a tornado came along then sitting in his car.

Not two minutes after he'd run under the bridge, he saw a figure in the rain, hurrying with the same idea he'd had. As she emerged from the storm, reaching up to push long tendrils of wet hair from off her face, he'd gotten his first good look at her.

She was beautiful, and was about medium height with a body that was stunningly sculpted. He felt a stirring in his groin as she moved closer and he could see the shirt she wore. A white shirt that was soaked through, clearly revealing the fact that she wasn't wearing a bra. He could even see the dusky hint of color of the taut nipples that were pushing so firmly against the wet material.

She turned and sat, crossing her arms and shivering. He stepped out of the shadows and quietly said "Hi.," to make his presence known and not frighten her.

When she whirled around, he decided he was already committed to conversation. "Nice day, huh?" gesturing towards the storm that raged outside.

She jumped at the sound of the thunder directly overhead. Then smiled a thousand watt smile that he felt down to his knees.

"Yeah, just gorgeous. I'm headed for the beach. What about you?"

"The park, picnic lunch."

He laughed at the silliness, and smiled wider at the sound of her laughter. But his eyes kept straying down to the gorgeous breasts that were so fantastically displayed under the thin wet veil of her shirt.

He knew the instant that she noticed because she turned, her arms raising to shield herself from his gaze.

"Oh God," she said, her face turning bright red in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," he said, not quite sounding that way. "I couldn't help it. You are really beautiful."

"I look like a drowned duck, but thanks anyway." He watched as she pulled the fabric away from her breasts, which momentarily helped a little. But as soon as she let go of it, it once again cupped the smooth rounded globes, and faithfully followed every curve and line of her slender body.

He looked, who could blame him, then he shrugged out of his jacket, carefully sliding it over her shoulders. He couldn't help but let his hands linger for just a moment against her. He'd never felt so attracted to a woman before.

Maybe it was her eyes, hazel but with such wonderful tones of green and gold mixed that they seemed ethereal. Or her hair, wet and heavy now, dark with rain, that he couldn't wait to find out what color it was. Her smile could turn anyone's day brighter and her laugh seemed to nestle next to his heart. The blush on her cheeks, her embarrassment, was sweetly innocent, calling a protective side of his nature he didn't realize he had.

He moved away from her, a little confused by his reactions to a woman whose name he didn't even know. Sitting, he glanced over at her and saw her shiver, drawing the coat even closer around her slim frame. He held out his hand. "Come here, you're cold. If I promise to behave myself, we could share some body heat."

She'd moved towards him, a little wary. Thunder roared out from above them, making her jump and slide under his arm, scooting closer. Lightning streaked down striking not a hundred feet from where they sat, the smell of ozone coming towards them in the wind.

"Damn," he hissed, feeling her move even closer. "That was really close."

"I don't know what's wrong with me," she said, staring up at the handsome faced stranger. "I usually love storms." His eyes were blue, she noted, Dark haired, slashing brows, chiseled face. He looked like a pirate you'd see on a romance novel cover, wearing a white billowy shirt with an arm around a buxom maid, and a cutlass in his fist.

"But how many times are you stuck in one with a stranger?"

The look in her eyes as she studied him was doing nothing to calm down the racing of his heart. Whether it was the danger of the storm, or her beauty, he could feel the blood rushing to his groin, making his cock ache and stiffen against the metal of his zipper.

"I'm very happy you're here."

And then she surprised him, reaching up to gently touch his face with her hand while staring into his eyes. She blinked and her eyes fell to his mouth, seeming fixated there. It sent his pulses racing and he had an overpowering urge to kiss her. A groan escaped his lips. "I have to," he whispered just as his mouth captured hers.

It was tentative, at first. A tasting, as his lips brushed gently against hers, only changing when he felt the hesitant flicker of her tongue against the seam of his lips. He opened his mouth above hers, sipping of the dark passion of her mouth with his tongue. Pulling back, his hand cupped her cheek, staring down at the beautiful eyes that had turned a burnished gold with pleasure.

"You are so beautiful," he said as he rubbed his nose against hers before kissing her gently again. "Your breasts are perfect." A groan escaped him and he pulled her closer, his mouth capturing hers.

Her kiss was sweet, wild and innocent at the same time. She moved against him like liquid fire, sending flickers of flame through his body as his blood started to thicken and pulse heavily in his veins. Her hand raked through his thick strands of damp hair.

Soft hands stroked over his skin, opening his shirt and sliding down the hot skin of his chest. Her mouth left his, nipping against his jaw as she pushed him gently down on the ground. She straddled him, a wicked grin blossoming across her beautiful face. She bent over and took his lips in a quick kiss, then bit softly into his bottom lip, before laving it with her tongue.

The cold dampness of her shirt against his chest was a startling difference to the heat of her mouth as she trailed it over him, nibbling and kissing.

His head tipped back against the cement, his eyes closing as he groaned. "I'm in trouble here, aren't I?"

Her laughter against his skin was his answer. Her hands skimmed across his belt, undoing it quickly and then the fastening of his pants. Her fingers pulled at his zipper, slipped under the material and found his cock hard and throbbing, seemingly with a life of its own as it reacted to her touch. She pushed his clothing down his legs, slid closer and stroked its soft-skinned length.

He gasped as he felt the heat of her breath against the tip of his cock, so different from the storm-cooled air around them, and stared down to watch this gorgeous stranger make love to his body.

Barely an inch away, she pursed her lips, blowing across the swelling head of his cock, a stream of air that moved up and down on his shaft.

He arched into her hand, desperate to feel the luscious softness of her lips around his cock. Goose flesh trickled up his stomach, making the muscles flex in reaction, and a small drop of moisture beaded, proof of his growing need.

One more long breath and she licked her lips, ripping another groan from him. Her mouth opened just above his flesh, a small trickle of saliva dripping down from her tongue. Then the heat of her mouth engulfed him, as, suckling deeply, her tongue stroked the rigid vein that ran along the bottom of his cock.

"Oh, God."

His hand tangled in her hair as she moved above him, her mouth a hot, damp haven of pleasure. She shifted on him as if she could read his mind, knowing what he wanted almost before he did, creating a firestorm of pleasure that burnt low and hot in his belly.

"Stop," his voice was a mere rumble, all but drowned out by the hell that was all around them. "You've got to stop, baby." He pulled her away, drawing her up and over himself. "I've got to have you."

His hand pulled at her clothing, hearing a seam rip. She laughed. staring at him, and he realized that she didn't care. Naked, he pushed her down onto the soft fabric of his jacket and coat, finding her mouth with his own in a kiss that was frenzied with need. Tongues twisted in hurried heat, hands searched for and found sensitive skin. He pressed his palm to the damp heat between her legs and groaned, his eyes staring down the sleek curves of her body and between her thighs. His hands danced across her smooth and hairless bare flesh.

"Oh, God, angel. That has to be the most erotic thing I've ever seen."

His finger slipped between swollen lips and found a wet heat. He pressed further, sliding one finger into her, then two, pushing into moist giving flesh. He felt the hard pearl of her clit and nudged it gently with his thumb, listening to the sobbing sighs coming from her lips.

"Please," she whimpered. "Please..."

He slid between her thighs, her hands guiding him into her with an insistence that was impossible for him to resist. Her flesh stretched delicately around him, welcoming him eagerly as he slid deeply into her. Her hips arched, granting him deep access until she sheathed him fully.

He moved inside of her, stroking hard, feeling her body convulsing around his cock as she pushed against him. Her orgasm trapped him as he was deep within her, her muscles milking his shaft as he resisted the urge to join her. Before she could relax, he growled in her ear, "More.".

He pulled away, sitting on his legs, lifting her so that he held her weight. She shifted, taking him back inside. A grimace of pain crossed her face and then pleasure followed. His hands were on her thighs, lifting her, moving her over him.

"Go over again, angel. I want to feel it. Once more."

"It's too much," she moaned.

Her back arched and he gently lowered her down so that her head was against the ground, her hips still held firmly in his hands, still elevated in the air. He thrust into her, holding her with one hand so that he could slip his fingers between her thighs, finding the smooth flesh of her clit. A shrill cry escaped her lips and once more, her body trapped his in its heaving grasp.

The pleasure was indescribable, and his body shivered as he came in her in long swelling waves. His hand slipped down, flattened against the cement next to her, holding himself up weakly.

"My God," he breathed out, feeling as if she'd turned him inside out.

Her lips found his, gentle and tender. His hand touched her face. They stared at each other, breathless. Then as one, they noticed the lack of noise.

The storm was over, dark clouds were rapidly disappearing and traffic was starting to pick up. He grinned as she grabbed her clothing and pulled away to dress, blushing. Someone honked and he stopped buttoning his shirt to wave, making her laugh, a sweet sound that he would love to hear more of.

He couldn't believe the turmoil he felt as he walked her to her car, holding her hand. He wanted to see her again. "Can we..." he stopped and laughed. "I was going to say, do this again, but that's not what I mean." He pushed a strand of still wet hair behind her ears. "I'd love to see you again, angel." She laughed, her face flushed. "Next storm, meet me here."

He took his wallet out of his pants, removed a piece of paper, and handed it to her after writing his phone number on it A gentle kiss on her soft lips and he stepped back, watching as she got into her car. He waited until she started it and pulled out into traffic.

~~~~~~~~~

A noise behind him pulled him away from his musing at the window. and back towards the love of his life. He sat in the chair next to the bed, his wrinkled hand still steady as he reached out and pushed the gray hair out of her face.

"You were a hellion, Danielle," he said softly. "I think you made me wait so long after that first time on purpose." He couldn't help the soft smile that crossed his face as he stroked her sunken cheek. "I think I waited for you a lifetime anyway, my love. And I know I'd wait another."

He laid his cheek against her hand and closed his eyes as his memory pulled him back into the past..

~~~~~~~~~

"Damn it. I'd like just once to get a shower without that damn phone ringing." Ken Stone wrapped the towel around his waist, tucking in the loose end and picking up the receiver in his bedroom.

"Hello," he said, coldly, into the phone.

"Uh, hi."

It was a feminine voice, soft and sounding a little uncertain. And he knew instantly who it was.

"Angel? Is that you?" He sank down on the side of the bed, his stomach in his throat as unfamiliar nerves started fluttering in his gut.

"How are you?" she said after a slight pause.

"Fine, I'm fine. I was hoping you'd call but I kind of gave up after all this time." It had been two weeks since the day of the storm.

"I guess I was a little nervous. I don't usually act that way. I mean," she paused and took a deep breath. "I don't even know your name."

Ken laughed. "I was hoping you weren't going to tell me you had a boyfriend or a husband. My name's Ken, angel."

She laughed and he felt a hopeful burst of pleasure.

"My name is Danielle, Ken. It was a pleasure to meet you."

He burst out laughing at the double meaning behind her words. "That it was, Danielle. And you have a beautiful name, it fits you. But," his voice got a little husky as thought of her wrapped around him under that bridge went through his mind, "I still think you'll always be Angel to me."

He heard her sigh and held the phone next to his ear, content for the moment with the tenuous connection they had. But it wasn't enough. "I want to see you again, Danielle."

"I...I'd really like that," her voice was a little hesitant, a trifle shy, and he found it adorable.

"What are you doing tonight?" He couldn't remember the last time in his 47 years that he had felt so eager to see someone again.

"I have to work," she said. "But I get off work at 10:30 if that isn't too late."

Excitement flowed through him as he hurried and found out her information, including her phone number. He wasn't going to go through another two weeks of wondering again.

Time seemed to stand still until he finally left to pick her up from where she worked, a retail store just off the expressway where they had met. He pulled into the huge parking lot and found a spot off to the side, locking his car and then going inside.

She smiled when she saw him, her face lighting up, her eyes sparkling. A becoming blush rose in her cheeks and he smiled back, enjoying just the sight of her. She said something to one of the girls she was working with, tossed a set of keys to another one, and came out to greet him.

Danielle took his hand, looking around furtively, then rose on tip toe to brush soft lips against his cheek. She gave another quick look around and squeezed his hand before letting go. "I have to go and clock out and then I'm all yours." She blushed as she realized what she said. "Well, you know what I mean."

She hurried away before Ken could say anything and he stood and waited, watching her walk back toward him. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered, maybe more so with her chestnut colored hair flowing down her back.

She met him again, and slipped her hand around his arm as if it were the most natural place in the world for it. Her stepped bounced as she walked along with him, heading out of the store and to his car. They stopped and got something to eat, Danielle willing to try any kind of food, as long as it wasn't snails, which made Ken laugh.

Conversation flowed and they touched on many topics, laughing over many things. He found, to his delight, that Danielle liked to touch and she kept him within reach all evening, finally ending their first date back at the parking lot of the store where she worked. They sat in his car, neither wanting to leave.

Ken reached over and cupped Danielle's cheek, his thumb lightly brushing back and forth as he enjoyed looking at her. He leaned forward and touched his lips to hers, lightly, gently, never deepening the pressure. Finally, he sat back. "I'm so glad you called, Danielle. I was just thinking of setting up a sign under that bridge advertising for an angel."

She laughed like he wanted her too, reaching up to touch his hand with her own. "I wanted to call, Ken. I picked up the phone a hundred times in the past two weeks. I've carried your card with me everywhere since you gave it to me." She clapped her hand over her mouth, her face turning red. "I can't believe I just told you that."

"So why didn't you?" He played with a strand of her thick hair.

"Well, truthfully," she said.

"Always."

She smiled. "Truthfully, I was scared that everything I had felt, everything that I thought about you was just the storm and wasn't real. I was scared that we'd end up going out and neither of us would be what the other thought that day."

"And now?"

"Now," her smile widened. "Now, I know you aren't what I thought that day."

His hand dropped from her hair and he turned surprised eyes to hers.

"You're so much more."

~~~~~~~~~

Ken sat back in the chair, his eyes distant and turned upon those far away memories as if they were yesterday. She'd been such a handful, moody and temperamental, sweet and giving. She'd charmed and delighted him in such countless ways that he'd been able to forgive her so many things.

He stared at the shell that was now his wife and thought how much he still loved her, even after all their years together. Something caught his eye, and he turned, getting up slowly to go over to the small Christmas tree that he'd brought up to her room. He flipped the switch for the lights and watched as they blinked and twinkled at him. The hiss of the ventilator faded as he remembered their first Christmas together.

"You're here," Danielle exclaimed, excitedly. She pulled him into the tiny apartment that she managed to rent over the top of one of the older stores downtown. He'd argued about helping her with finding someplace bigger, someplace safer, someplace without all those damn stairs. But she'd been adamant that she was capable of taking care of herself. She'd always answered with a sweet smile and a wave of her hand. An airy, "We'll see," or "Maybe someday," would have to suffice him. Well after tonight, things would change.
She'd decorated with Danielle charm, second hand furniture refurbished to look almost like new, covered with expertly knitted handmade afghans. Plants graced stands and gave the room a homey look, as well as the candles that she'd lit and the small Christmas tree that stood in the corner of the room.

She'd cooked, and he felt a twinge of pity for his stomach. But, it was Christmas Eve and he would smile his way through one of her burnt offering dinners without a complaint. Before he'd even had the chance to set down the bag of things he carried, she'd stopped him in the entryway to the kitchen and pointed above her head.

"Know what that is?" she asked coyly.

Ken squinted up, knowing what it was but wanting to tease. "Parsley?"

"Funny boy," she said and turned to walk away from him, only stopping when he scooped her up in his arms and carried her back to the entryway.

He let her legs slide down his body until she was standing pressed against him. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she smiled up into his eyes.

"Danielle," his mouth touched hers lightly, "I love you, angel."

"Mmmm," she lifted up and kissed him, letting her lips linger. "You're supposed to."

He swatted her on her butt, making her squeak. "Fine, I'll go find some other woman who appreciates me and give these gifts to her." He pulled away from her and grabbed the bag he'd brought with him.

"No," Danielle said quickly, her greedy eyes lighting up at all the gaily wrapped packages. "You went to all the trouble of wrapping them so prettily and I've already made dinner. It would be a shame to waste all that food."

His eyebrow cocked over blue eyes that she couldn't imagine spending the rest of her life without looking into. The look in them now said she'd better do better than that or else.

"Aww, geesh. Okay," she sighed. "It's Christmas. I love you, too, Kenneth."

He growled, dropping the bag onto the couch and grabbing her, burying his face in her neck and making her squeal with laughter.

"I give!" she shrieked.

He held her close, kissing her slowly but thoroughly. When he finally lifted his head, her eyes were half closed in passion, her lips slightly swollen from his kisses. "Want to flip for who gets top?"

He gathered her up in his arms again and carried her out of the room and into her bedroom.

"You're just trying to get out of eating my dinner," she accused, wrapping her arms happily around his neck.

"Sex is good for all kinds of things," he answered with a big grin, kicking the door closed behind him.

Dinner was ruined. She handled it well, saving what she could of the turkey for leftovers and dumping the rest. Ken went out and picked up Chinese and they sat and talked about the things lovers do as he fed her a bite of his egg roll or she tempted him with a water chestnut.

He helped her clean up and then grabbed her hand, taking her into the living room and collapsing with her on the sofa. He pulled her next to him, letting her lean against his chest as they stared at the Christmas tree they'd both so happily decorated earlier in the week. He had placed the gifts he'd brought under the tree, smacking her fingers lightly when she'd tried to pick them up and shake them.

"You're worse than a kid," he'd said in mock disgust, but secretly delighted by her unabashed pleasure in his gifts.

Now, he cuddled her close, content and happy with her. He could see them in the future, their lives full with love and laughter. She just had to say yes.

"Come on," he said suddenly. "Let's go see what's on TV."

He stood and held out his hand to her, helping her up as she looked at him suspiciously. "You want to watch TV now?"

"Yeah," he said, pulling on her arms. "All the good Christmas specials are on tonight. Rudolph? Frosty?" he coaxed, half pulling, half leading her out of the room and into her bedroom. "I brought Cracker Jacks."

She laughed at him, still suspicious but enjoying his good mood. "All right, but I got dibs on the prize." She shrugged out of the tattered robe she'd put on after he'd finally let her out of bed, and instead stole his shirt as he slipped out of it, pulling it on and buttoning a couple of the buttons. It fell over the tops of her thighs and the sleeves reached below her fingers.

The sight of her in nothing but his shirt had an arousing effect upon him, but he stubbornly lassoed in his libido. Later, he told his unruly erection, and slipped off his pants, climbing into the bed and reaching for the box of caramel popcorn and peanuts he'd brought with him. He held it up, waving it in front of him.

"You coming?"

Danielle had to laugh. "Yes, I'm coming, give me a second to turn on the TV." She found the station and slipped in next to him, stealing the box out of his hands. "Did you take the prize?" she asked, turning it and pushing in the sides of the box to look for the plastic covered toy.

She wriggled it out of the box, managing to not dump any of the other contents on the sheets. She didn't notice the way his eyes watched her face, or the way he tensed up next to her as he waited for her reaction.

She pulled the plastic off of it and stared at the ring that sat winking in the palm of her hand. It was gorgeous, a two carat marquise diamond that shot sparks of colored light off its faceted surface, with a band of white gold. She looked up at Ken, uncertainly.

"What's this?" She held out the hand that held the ring, amazed that it was shaking slightly.

"What does it look like, angel?"

"I know what it is, Ken. What I don't know is what you mean by this?" Her voice caught.

"It means, angel, that I want you to marry me. I want you to be my wife and move in with me. Carry and bear my children, burn my meals, shrink my clothes and love me for the rest of our lives and beyond." He took the ring from her hand and held it out. "Will you?"

She looked into his beautiful blue eyes and a tear slipped from her lashes. His heart fell for a second until a slow but beaming smile bloomed upon her lovely face. She held out her hand for him to slide the ring on her finger. "Yes, baby. I'll be your wife, move into our home, have our children. I'll love you forever and then one day after that."

He pulled her into his arms, holding her tight. His lips at her ears. "If you ever want to know how much I love you, Danielle, it's endless just like the waves on the ocean."

~~~~~~~~

The waves on the ocean. He sighed and paced the floor of the room, his joints aching a little from sitting in the hard chair next to her for so long. But this was the only place he could be. If she had to stay in that bed, then he would be by her side. He heard the door open and watched as Danielle's sister, Stephanie, came in, quietly closing the door behind her.

"She's the same," he said softly.

Stephanie jumped, putting her hand up to her throat. "Oh, goodness, Ken. I thought maybe you'd finally gone to lay down. You're going to make yourself sick staying in here with her like you are."

"She's my life, Steph. You, of all people, should know that."

Stephanie smiled, he was right. Her sister had been caught good and proper by the older man, and even her mother hadn't been able to talk her out of the relationship. There was seventeen years difference in the couple's ages but it hadn't seemed like a gap when you saw them together.

They fed off of each other's love, plain and simple. A line from a famous movie flowed through her head and she knew that it spoke of the way they felt. "You complete me," she said softly, the line from the movie "Jerry Maguire" slipping off her tongue.

"What's that?"

"The line, from that movie. It always seemed like whoever wrote that actually wrote it for you and Danielle. You two never seemed right when you were away from each other."

Ken walked to the bed, his hand automatically seeking Danielle's skin to stroke and caress even as he thought of what Stephanie had said. He remembered their wedding day. What a wonderful day...

~~~~~~~~~~

Danielle had dressed in a long sheath of white satin that clung to every curve and line of her body. It was simple, no fancy trains or heavy skirts to drag. She'd seemed to float down the white paper covering the green grass in the park they had managed to rent for this day. He'd met her at the foot of the steps of a rose covered gazebo and taken her hand, raising it to his lips before helping her up the three stairs to stand in front of the Minister.

The ceremony had been brief but he'd felt the love in that tiny gazebo. When they had turned for the Minister to give them their very first introduction as husband and wife, he'd thought his heart would burst, so full was it with the love he had for her, for his angel, his wife.

The hours of the reception seemed to both fly and stand still as they danced and talked to friends and relatives who had come to watch their joyous union. Ken couldn't wait to get his Danielle alone, a feeling of tender love filling him every time he saw the sweet smile upon her face, or caught her staring at him with the same expression in her eyes. He'd planned tonight and their honeymoon carefully, wanting to make it everything she'd ever hoped to have.

Instead of leaving tonight, as everyone thought, as well as Danielle, they were staying at his home. Their flight out was tomorrow morning, a trip he had planned as he had listened to her talk about how much she wanted to see the East coast. They'd fly out, rent a car and then spend the next two weeks exploring to their hearts' content, starting in Maine and going wherever they wanted to go. For two weeks, there would be no meetings, no auctions. Work would not interrupt.

Danielle's surprise when he pulled into the driveway of the house was almost funny.

"Did you forget something, baby?" she said, staring at the lights that shone from the big front windows.

"Nope, angel. We're going to stay here tonight and fly out tomorrow instead." He lifted the hand he'd been holding and pressed it against his lips. "Do you mind?"

Danielle stretched and kicked off the shoes she'd been wearing as they pulled into the garage.

"Would it matter now if I said yes?" But there was a smile on her face. "No, baby. I don't mind. Since our wedding night is here, in our home, then we can reenact it every year."

She got out of the car and started up the stairs to the back door, carrying her shoes. Danielle shrieked as he swooped her up from behind, growling into her neck. "Just once a year?"

"Well, anything more might be rough on an old guy like you," she quipped, biting back the laughter that seemed just below the surface since she'd met him that stormy day..

"Old guy?!" He opened the door with one hand and carried his laughing bride over the threshold. "I'll show you who's old."

"I sure hope so, honey," she giggled.

Setting her down inside the house, he tossed his keys on the kitchen counter and then picked her up in his arms, twirling her around. "How's it feel to be Mrs. Stone?"

"Well, somehow, I was under the impression that it's not a legal and binding contract until it's been consummated. I mean," she laughed up at him, quite content in his arms no matter where they were, "I could be wrong."

"Is that a blatant attempt to seduce your husband?"

She snuggled against him, nestling her slim hips against his groin. "No, that was a blatant attempt to make sure my husband can't weasel out of taking me to bed. Now if I wanted to seduce you, I'd go and put on this present I got at my bridal shower." She pulled his head down and whispered in his ear.

"Collar too?" He grinned at her nod and let her go, slapping her on her butt. "Well, get to it, woman. You got a husband to seduce."

While she changed, Ken set about creating the atmosphere. He lit the fireplace, even though the outside temperature ran into the high seventies, depending on the air conditioning to keep the room cool. Candles were lit, sending up a spicy scent that added to the ambiance he was trying to create. When the door to the bathroom opened and she stepped out, he was in his shirt and pants, just pouring a glass of wine for each of them..

He turned and the glass almost fell from his hand. His wife, and his heart stuttered at the thought that that was what she was now, was framed by the doorway, her body sleek and slender in a creation of shimmering white silk. But it wasn't what the gown displayed that drew his eyes but the look of happiness and joy in her eyes. She seemed to glow.

He set down the glass and moved towards her, all thoughts of a slow seduction with wine and music forgotten. He took her gently in his arms, not even noticing the fur covered cuffs that slipped from her finger and fell to the floor. His hand smoothed back her hair from her face, his eyes taking in every aspect of her loveliness. "I can't believe you're mine," he said with awe in his voice.

Her hands stroked up his chest and over his shoulders. "And you're mine now," she whispered pulling his head down to find his mouth.

In the eight months they'd been together since that fateful day under the bridge, they'd had sex, they'd made love, they had even fucked. But tonight was somehow different. Whether it was the knowledge that they were now responsible for the other, not only to care for and to protect but to love, or the relief of knowing that the wedding was behind them and now they had the rest of their lives ahead together, he didn't know.

All he did know is that she'd never seemed so beautiful, so sensuous and soft as she did tonight. He picked her up, carrying her to their bed, laying her gently on the smooth sheets. Her mouth drew his and he feasted on her lush lips, the blood heating in his veins. She was uncontrolled passion in his arms, seductive magic as she twisted and turned under his body in delight.

They rolled over the bed, the hindering material of their clothing melting away. Her skin was perfect, her scent was breathtaking. And when he finally raised up over her, feeling the silken texture of her thighs opening around his hips, he thought he'd been bewitched.

"Danielle," he breathed, staring down at the picture she made, her hair tossed and mussed from his hands, her eyes half closed in pleasure as he thrust against her. Her lips were parted, her tongue sweeping out to stroke a gleaming trail of moisture over the bottom one. He saw her body tense as well as felt it, her head falling back as she arched under him. Her cries of pleasure were sweeter than a siren's song to his ears as hot moisture flooded over his plundering cock.

He rode out her storm, wanting to see it again and again until he was too weak to move. He'd bound her to him that day with words and vows spoken before God, he'd bound her to him with emotions and wants, and now he wanted her bound to him by need.

~~~~~~~~~

He needed her. Ken stroked the gray haired head softly, wishing that she could speak to him one more time. The stroke had happened so suddenly, one moment she'd been smiling and laughing with him, the next, she was on the floor, her body convulsing. Maybe if they'd been able to get help to her sooner, or if he'd been more insistent that she have her yearly physical...

He shook his head sadly, it didn't matter now. It was too late. It had happened and there wasn't anything they could do now. He felt Stephanie's hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently, before she turned and left the room.

Their honeymoon had been glorious, full of laughter and love, stopping in the middle of the afternoon just to make love in some obscure Bed and Breakfast. Staying for three days in a tiny seaside town because Danielle wanted to play in the ocean. They had made that time specifically about them. And it had been beautiful.

"You made it good, Danielle. Hell, you made it wonderful." He took her hand again, sitting forward in the chair. "I don't know what my life would have been like if it hadn't been for that day under the bridge. Your love changed it forever."

"Dad?"

Adam, their son and oldest of the two children they'd been blessed with, walked into the room. He stood next to the bed, then bent and kissed his mother on her pale cheek. He reached over with one strong hand and laid it gently on his father's shoulder. "How are you, dad?"

"I'm good, Adam. You look great. Are Katherine and the kids here with you?" He did look great, a younger version of Ken himself, with the same thick brown hair and vivid blue eyes.

"Katherine's here, she's downstairs. We left the kids with her mother." He pulled up the other chair and sat down on the opposite side of the bed, picking up his mother's hand, being careful of the tube taped to the back of it. "We were afraid they'd be too much."

"It's almost Christmas, Adam. You should be with your family, son."

"You and mom are family, dad. Besides, the kids are getting spoiled rotten and Katherine was the one who suggested this visit." He smiled at his dad.

"You picked a good one. I have to give you that. She's a very fine woman, Adam."

"I took the best of what was left, Dad. You got the best." He touched his mother's cheek with a gentle hand, a tear in his eye. "Why don't you go rest, dad? I'm here, and I'll stay with her until you get back."

Ken laughed and stood up. "Your Aunt Stephanie's been tattling on me hasn't she?" He sighed. "I'll go down and see Katherine and then be back in a few minutes. Give you some private time with your mom." He walked by his son, stopping to drop his hand down on his shoulder. "You were always a good boy, Adam. You made her proud." He turned and went to the door, glancing behind him to see his strong son wiping tears from his eyes as he sat and whispered to his mother.

He closed the door, leaning against it, his mind going back.

~~~~~~~~

Danielle came bouncing down the stairs yelling his name at the top of her lungs.

"Ken!" She came skidding into his office on stocking clad feet startling him. "Guess what?"

"You've finally done it and gone completely around the bend?" He laughed as she scowled and then her face brightened again.

"No silly, but you'll be made to pay for that comment later." She ignored his muttered, "promises, promises," and continued, running around the desk to plop down on his lap. The chair groaned almost as loudly as he did at the sudden weight.

"Hmph...you're trying to kill me for my money, right?" he grunted, moving her so she no longer threatened his masculinity with her boney butt. "I took your name out of the will, Danielle, just so you know."

She laughed and kissed him, lingering over the kiss and surprising him. His arms came around her and his lips opened over hers.

She pulled back, laughing as he followed her mouth with his own. "No, now baby, this is serious. I got something to tell you."

He sighed, biting back the grin he always felt so close to the surface when she was with him.

"Okay, angel, what's up?"

"Well, daddy," she said slowly, emphasizing the word. "I was wondering what you were doing in about seven months?"

He stared down at her, his eyes narrowing. "Daddy?"

"Yeah," she grinned.

"As in, I'm going to be a...?"

Her grin blossomed and lit her face. "Well, I ain't calling you daddy."

"You're sure about this?" His face was serious, but inside, his heart was leaping in his chest.

"Yes," her smiled dimmed as she saw his look. "You are happy about this, aren't you? I mean, we talked about me getting..." she stopped talking when she saw the moisture gathering in his eyes and then she was hugged tightly against him.

He felt her arms wrap tightly around him and he buried his face in her neck. How could he ever have found someone like her? He picked her up, walking around the desk to drop her down gently to the sofa then followed right after her.
Of course the months to follow weren't all roses. Danielle's hormones flared and some days were like ticking time bombs.

"Dammit! Dammit!"

He heard her voice only seconds before the wallpaper sample book was heaved out the door, flying by just inches from his knees. He ducked back and then peeked around the door frame, watching his very pregnant wife stew and storm up and down the room they were redecorating for the baby

"Uh, hi angel," he said, wishing he had a white handkerchief to wave. "Problems?"

She sank down in the rocking chair he had bought her for her baby shower and crossed her arms above the firm mound of her stomach. "I'm fat and ugly. I look like a pregnant hippo. I haven't seen my feet in months. I have to pee all the time. And those wallpaper companies couldn't make a decent wallpaper for a baby's room if the Queen of England demanded it." She huffed and her beautiful lips pursed into a pout.

"Honey, I don't think the Queen of England is going to be having any babies anytime soon."

"Ken..." the warning in her voice as well as the narrowed-eyed gaze she directed his way should have shut him up.

"Baby, I thought we had decided on a wallpaper, the ducks you thought were so adorable." He took two steps into the room.

"Those ducks look like they're constipated. Besides, who's ever heard of green ducks."

"Okay, well, I'm sure we'll find something else." One more step and he sank to his knees beside her. "Besides, we have another month." His hand rested on the tight ball of her belly.

She pushed him away and stood up awkwardly, waving away his helping hand. "So I am ugly and you don't want me anymore. Fine, I'll just get out of your sight then." She stomped out of the room and he heard the slam of their bedroom door.

Later that night, she'd come and found him in his study, once more walking around the desk and pushing him back to sink down on his lap. "I'm sorry," she mumbled against his neck.

He wrapped his arms around her, sighing into her hair. "If I didn't love you so much, angel, you'd be the death of me."

She peeped up at him from under her lashes. "I love you, baby. I'm just so tired."

Ken lifted her chin with his hand and stared down into her unhappy face. "Angel, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. Pregnant or not doesn't change that."

The baby had come but three weeks later, during the very early hours of the morning. After nine hours of labor, Danielle had delivered a beautiful baby boy. She'd been ecstatic, learning to nurse her son, her natural energy making her almost giddy as she looked down at the little mouth suckling so hungrily at her breast.

"He looks like you, Ken. He's going to have your eyes, and your hair." She traced gentle fingers through the baby dark locks. "And your nose," she smiled happily up at her husband who sat holding her in his arms. "Does he look anything like Paul did when he was a baby?"

Paul was his son from his first marriage, a marriage that had ended up in divorce even though he and his ex-wife were still friends. "No, Paul looked like his mother."

"Adam Robert," she sighed, letting some of the exhaustion she was feeling show. "He's going to make us proud, Ken." She rubbed her cheek against Ken's. "I love you, baby."

~~~~~~~~~

Adam had made them proud, Ken thought as he pushed away from the door. He'd gotten fantastic grades, gotten involved in sports and earned a scholarship to a good college through his swimming. He'd dated but had never been serious about any girl until he'd met Katherine. And Ken could understand why.

Like father, like son. Katherine had a lot of the same characteristics that Ken had always found so fascinating about Danielle. The same joyful smile that lit up her face, the same humor that was sometimes a little raunchy, the same loving attitude when it came to those she cared for.

Ken liked Katherine and was glad for her being there right now. She came up to him as soon as she saw him and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a big hug.

"Are you okay, dad?"

He tried to smile and gave her an extra squeeze before letting her go. "As good as can be expected, Kat darling. I'm sorry that you have to miss Christmas with your kids."

"Don't you even think of it. As long as those rotten brats get their toys, they won't even notice we're gone." He couldn't help but notice that her smile grew softer even as she spoke of the "brats". "And we'll do the family Christmas when we get home, dad." She drew him down and got him a glass of tea. They talked for a while, by mutual agreement skirting the subject of Danielle.

"Is Wendy coming?" Kat asked him just as Stephanie came into the room, bringing a thick sandwich to press upon her brother-in-law. He took it and sat it on his knee, staring at it and knowing that it would get caught in his throat if he tried to eat. "What? Oh, yes, she said she'd be here. I just don't know when."

"Dad," Kat put her hand on his knee. "Mom wouldn't want you to be like this. She'd want you to take care of yourself. You've got to eat, dad. Please."

He picked up the sandwich with a sigh and took a bite. Ham and cheese, mustard and tomato, and it all tasted like sawdust in his mouth. But he swallowed and continued eating, realizing she was right. How many times had Danielle yelled at him about taking care of himself.

~~~~~~~~~

"Dammit, Ken!"

He jumped, startled and guilty as he stared at the work laid out on his desk. Caught!

"What did the doctor tell you?" Danielle stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, her belly gently rounded, pregnant with their second child. "What did he say could happen if you got up too early or had too much stress?"

"Well, I don't think he'd have wanted the shit scared out of me either, Danielle," he grumbled. "I'm not doing that much, just looking over this contract and okaying the final draft."

She walked into the room and around his desk, standing over him. Her eyes changed from mad to worried as she noted the gray pallor of his face and the light sheen of sweat that covered his upper lip. "Baby, you're still sick. If you wanted to do this, I could have brought them to you in bed. If it's that important," she added quickly.

He had caught a cold a few weeks before, nothing serious, he thought. A few days later, he'd barely been able to pick up his head, the pain in his chest and around his lungs sapping most of his strength. Coughing had been agony, moving had made him gray out. Breathing had become a struggle before Danielle had finally ignored his demands to be left alone and forced him to see a doctor. By that time, he'd been so weak, she'd taken him to the hospital.

A few days of antibiotics and intense rest and he felt better, but the doctor had discouraged work for another week, stating he needed more rest so that he didn't relapse.

"I'm capable of getting out of that bed and coming downstairs for a little while, Danielle," he said, disgusted at himself, and annoyed at her for mothering him.

The brief expression of hurt at his tone changed quickly to one of ire. "Fine, if you think you can take care of yourself, that's just fine. But who's going to take care of me and Adam and this little one if you kill yourself?" she asked, her hand caressing the bulge of her belly. "Did you ever think about that? You sit up there, sicker than a dog and refuse to see anyone. You made me worry and fret and that's not good for the baby. And now, after you're finally getting better, you do something that could make you sick again?"

She turned, ignoring his sputters. "I'm going back to bed, Ken. I know that you can take care of yourself." She moved away but not before he saw the sparkle of tears in her eyes.

"Oh, shit, Danielle. Angel, that's not what I meant. You know I love your taking care of me. I just hate this." He held his hands out in front of him watching them shake.

She reached out and took his hands with her own. "That's why I'm here, baby. To steady you, to help you, to love you. It's in the vows we took, remember? For sickness and in health?" She wrapped her arms around him and let him lean on her a little as they made their way back to bed.

~~~~~~~~~~

She'd done all those things and more for him. She'd supported and steadied, stood up for and fought for him for all their years together. Thirty-three years together. It just didn't seem like enough. She was so young, still so vital to be losing her life now.

The sandwich he'd eaten sat like a lump in his stomach, making him slightly nauseous. He'd resumed his place in her room, moving from the window to the bed to the Christmas tree as the mood suited him. All the time, his ears and eyes strained for some indication that the woman he loved was still in that frail body laying so quietly on the bed. He'd given himself a deadline.

He sighed, that word was all too appropriate with what he'd planned. Danielle was too vibrant, too energetic to live life having her lungs filled for her, not being able to move or speak. She didn't even know when they were with her. If she didn't give any indication of life, he had no choice.

A sob caught him unaware and he tried desperately to stifle it. He wouldn't cry in this room, not in front of her. He jumped when a hand settled gently on his shoulder and a soft voice whispered in his ear.

"Daddy?"

He turned and caught her in his arms, his little girl, all grown up now with a little girl of her own.

She burrowed into his arms and held close to him, sharing the grief she knew he wouldn't let anyone see. Her small hand touched his cheek, pulling back to look into the lined, weathered face of the man who'd always been there for her.

"Are you okay, Dad?" Her thumb brushed away the tear he hadn't been able to stop.

He looked down at the waifish girl who looked so much like her mother, except she had his hair and his chin. Her eyes, though, that hazel gaze filled with green and gold specks, were all Danielle.

~~~~~~~~

Danielle grunted and strained with another pain as it forced her body to push down, to expel the little invader that had grown so lustily in her body these nine months. Ken's hands were holding her's, his body supporting her own as she groaned through each contraction.

"This is it," she growled at him after a particularly bad pain. "If this is a girl, we aren't doing this again, right?"

Ken tried not to grin, even though he knew she wouldn't see it through his mask. He hated to see her in pain, and her hurts were also a torment for him. But he knew her, ten minutes after the baby was born, she'd be wanting to know when they'd have their next.

The next pain came quickly, and he winced when she got a good hold on his fingers. Before long, the doctor was cleaning out a tiny mouth and a little cry greeted their ears, growing louder and into a wail at the indignity of being treated that way.

"It's a girl." The doctor laid her on her mother's tummy and the nurse wrapped her in a towel. Danielle glanced down at the beautiful, red, wrinkled face and held her breath for a moment.

"Something wrong, angel?" Ken asked, concerned as he too stared at his daughter. All he saw was baby.

"She's perfect," she said, gently touching the waving fists and counting tiny fingers.

The nurse took her, swaddling her warmly in snugly blankets while the doctor took care of Danielle. Ken kissed his wife and then turned to where the nurse was measuring and weighing his daughter.

"Seven pounds, five ounces. She's a keeper," the nurse joked. She picked her up, rewrapping her in a blanket and handed her to Ken.

Her dark blue eyes stared up at him, almost as if she knew him. She studied him, no longer crying. Her head was covered with wispy dark hair that was as soft as feathers under his fingers. Her skin was smooth and fine, red tinged from crying. He caught the little hand in his, feeling her wrap tiny fingers around one of his, and he felt the tug at his heart.

She was his little girl, a little piece of Danielle. And with any luck, she would grow to be just like her mother. A groan escaped his chest as he rethought that statement. Could he handle two of them?

He turned and took her to her mother just as the doctor finished with her. Danielle was allowed to sit up a little and took her daughter in her arms. "Wendy Lee," she said, giving her daughter the name that the two of them had agreed upon for a girl.

Ken stood back and looked at his life, she was sitting there, smiling, her hair matted to her face with sweat, her eyes tired and shadowed. But that smile never dimmed. His heart seemed too full, almost painful with happiness and love.

~~~~~~~~~

It seemed painful now, too, as he stared down at his daughter and back at the hospital bed behind them. "I'm okay, honey. About as good as can be expected."

"Have you made the decision yet, daddy?" she asked softly, coming straight to the point.

That was his Wendy, named for a period in his life where he'd wanted to be Peter Pan. He'd made the mistake of telling Danielle about it one night when they had stayed awake until 3 am talking about everything and nothing. She'd like to tease him about those things, little nudges that delighted him, though he never let her see that. But he liked to think that she knew.

His heart had almost broken as he had made his decision, and he stared down into his daughter's lovely face. "Yes," he breathed, his eyes closing in pain. "Yes, I have. She told me many years ago that she never wanted to live like this, like a vegetable in a bed. She wouldn't have wanted to be a burden to me or to you kids." He swallowed, feeling the knot that was still stuck in his throat, unmoving. "I have to respect those wishes, kiddo."

"I know, dad." She held on and he felt tears on his chest and her body shaking ever so slightly as she cried. He wished he could give himself the opportunity to do the same, feeling the pain welling so deep inside he wanted to scream and howl with his grief. But he couldn't, not yet. Not while things still needed doing and his children needed him.

Paul would be here, and Margaret, his first wife would come too, to try to help out. He knew people had been calling and stopping by all day, and he'd gratefully left those calls to Stephanie or whomever else was in the house.

Christmas was a few days away and he had prayed and prayed for a miracle. He'd begged and pleaded, and had even resorted to deals and bribery with God to give him his angel back. But there had been nothing, no sign, no stirring of a finger nor flicker of an eyelid to give him hope that she would find her way back to him.

He knew the stroke had been massive and had done immense damage. If she ever did wake up, she would be at best, only a false shadow of a person His thoughts turned back to the conversation from years before that had lead him to his current decision.

~~~~~~~~~

"Ken..." Danielle's voice was breathless and a little disoriented from the drugs flowing into her body.

"Yes, angel. I'm here." His voice was steady as he came over to the bed, taking her hand as they finished getting her ready to move.

"I'm scared, Ken." She sighed, her head lolling on the pillow. "If anything goes wrong, don't let them hook me up to all those machines, okay? I don't want to live on machines."

He smiled and leaned down, kissing her on her forehead. "I won't, angel, but nothing is going to go wrong. And I'll be waiting for you when you get out of recovery." He let her hand slip out of his and watched as the nurse tucked it under the blankets covering her. "I love you, angel."

He heard her soft, breathless "too.." and followed the gurney down to the end of the corridor where she was pushed into an elevator. Then he went into the waiting room to sit down and wait.

The surgery was to fix problems with her back, problems that she'd been fighting for years despite his insistence she have the surgery. It scared her, giving her bad dreams of doctors chasing after her with knives. He'd stayed up with her most of the night before as she tried so desperately to be brave and to deal with what was going to happen today, only to almost break down when they got to the hospital. He'd talked her into the surgery, just barely, and had to stand guard over the door for fear she'd make a run for it.

~~~~~~~~~~

He'd waited for her that day, staying with her through recovery until she was in her room. He'd sat with her, watching her sleep until the nurse kicked him out, telling him to go home and get some sleep. Just like now, that bed seemed so empty, so lonely without her warmth and soft cuddling body next to his all night, so he'd grabbed a pillow and blanket and slept on the couch in his study.

Now he just leaned against her bed. The good thing about being old, a nap and you were fine for a while. He took a lot of small naps.

He stood in the window again, the storm now blowing itself out. He could see the Christmas lights going on in the yards around the block and see the small tree that he had left lit in the corner reflected in the window. He could hear Wendy's voice as she talked to her mother, not the words, but the tones of her voice and knew she was crying.

He'd already called the doctor, and the man was coming over later tonight to take care of what had to be done. He'd told Adam and Katherine, glad that his son could come and be there.

Stephanie had cried. She'd always been the closest to Danielle, closer than any of the other family who hadn't been able to make the long trip from Michigan to be here. He'd hugged Steph and thanked her. She'd given up a big piece of her life in the past three weeks to be here to help him. He'd never forget what she'd done.

He stood there, his eyes staring out the window, seeing nothing but the pictures that flew through his mind.

Pictures of love and laughter, of chasing her around trees, catching her and the unabashed joy she had felt in his possession. Of arguments, of tears of both joy and sorrow. Of watching her eyes when he'd walked Wendy down the aisle and the smile she'd had for the both of them that day.

He remembered coming home to her, finding her in bed, her body sleep-softened and warm, naked and waiting for him, always waiting for him. She never turned away his advances, usually rolling over and making a few of her own as well. A sad smile touched his lips as he remembered the many nights spent in passion, in tenderness, in good old fashioned fucking. She'd met him in everything, giving as well as taking.

There were so many sides of her, pieces of her that he'd discovered and savored. And just when he'd thought she couldn't surprise him any further, she'd find a way. She made him smile, she made him laugh. She'd made him want to pull his hair out in frustration and anger.

She'd been blown into his life on the winds of a storm. It had been quite a ride since then. He smiled and in the reflection of the window he thought he could see her standing there, her smile lighting her face. He turned quickly, but there was nothing there, nothing but the hissing of the machines and the quiet tones of his daughter as she held her mother's hand and talked.

Wendy left, going downstairs with the rest of the family for dinner though none of them were hungry. Ken stayed with his Danielle.

"I was supposed to go first, Angel. Remember that you promised that I could die before you." He dropped his head next to hers in defeat, and his mind again escaped into the past.
"I love you, angel."

A smile lit her face, her hand touched his cheek, softly. "You're supposed to, Ken, it was in the marriage contract, remember?"

He swatted her gently on her ass, always aware of the surgery she'd had to suffer through. "You can do better than that, Danielle," he said, remembering that night that he'd proposed. Christmas Eve, a night that they celebrated now for two reasons.

"Oh, Ken, I do love you, and the life that we've had together has been so perfect. All of it, even the bad stuff." She sighed. "If I died tomorrow, the only thing I would regret would be leaving you."

"You aren't allowed to die," he growled, nuzzling her neck. "Not until I do."

"Talk to the big man, baby. I don't have any control over that." She moved closer to him and snuggled in, slipping her hand under his shirt.

He sat up suddenly, his face serious. "Danielle, you have to promise me. I don't want to be on this earth without you. Promise me that you'll take care of yourself, okay? That you'll be around long after I'm gone. Promise me."

She stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. "I promise, Ken, if it means so much to you. I promise that I will do whatever I can to stay healthy for you. Baby, we're both still relatively young. I think we can go a few more years." She laughed up at him, that smile just as sweet as it was the first day they'd met.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Ken's head lay on the bed next to hers, the railing down, his arms around her. He held her as the doctor removed the airway and disconnected all the tubes and wires from her body. When he was done, he stood back and let the family gather around the bed.

Adam's face was covered in tears, his wife held his hand tightly wiping away tears of her own. He bent and kissed his mom, whispering a quiet good-bye and then left the room.

Katherine kissed her pale cheek, and moved away, following her husband. When the door opened, she could hear his sobs in the hall and went to him.

Stephanie had said her goodbyes earlier, but s


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