Chapter Three

"So, the trip is all set. Everyone I told you about is going to come. We'll meet at my uncle's house. We need to go shopping," Nicole said to Dane, as she flopped down onto the sofa.

Dane bounced a little when Nicole landed next to her. Dane had the end of a rope toy Haydn liked, pulling it slightly as he clamped down with a strong jaw, growling while trying to yank it from her. She felt it was a good way to keep him busy while Nicole had been on the phone for the better part of the afternoon, setting up the trip.

"Shopping? What for?" She gave Haydn a good yank, picking him up in the air. He growled a bit, but kept on fighting with her.

"For camping equipment, love. What, did you think; we would just show up in the woods and sleep on the ground?" Nicole smiled.

Dane chuckled. "No, because that means I wouldn't be able to share a sleeping bag with you, which would be a crime against nature, in my opinion. Do we really need more than that?"

"I would like a tent suitable to protect us from the elements while we try to get some sleep," Nicole answered. The green of her eyes shined like the emeralds they were colored after. She was highly amused by this exchange for some reason.

"Guess a tent would be nice. Didn't think about that." Dane scratched her forehead a bit with her free hand. "You know, I have no idea what we need for camping." She gave the dog another yank. Haydn growled some more and tugged harder.

Nicole leaned over and kissed the side of her head. "I know you don't, which is why you're going to come with me. You should learn, in case you like camping and we start making a thing out of this. You'll know what to get and how to prepare."

Dane nodded. It was good logic. She suspected she'd enjoy camping. She had no problem with sleeping and living outdoors, having done it a few times in her life with relatively no supplies at all. She'd like to continue going on trips with Nicole. Their trips had partially saved their relationship after a rough spot involving Dane's family…if they could be called that.

It was through their trips she had learned to finally allow Nicole to just be there for her. It used to annoy her when Nicole tried to do things for her, things she knew shouldn't bother her, but this was her first real relationship. Nicole had warned her there'd be bumps and mistakes, but now she was sure they'd survive those things. They had more to learn about each other, but they'd make it.

"Danny, baby, you listening to me?" Nicole asked, waving a hand in front of Dane's face.

Blinking, Dane shook her head. "No, sorry. What did you say?"

"I asked to know if you want to go today or some other time?"

Dane thought about it before giving a firm yank to the rope in Haydn's mouth. "Can you get Mina to watch Haydn on such short notice?"

Nicole made a face and reached for her phone. She called Mina, and Dane turned her attention completely back to Haydn. He was growling and shook his head, giving it his all to take the rope from her. She chuckled and pulled a bit again, lifting his front paws off of the floor. More growls escaped, as he tried to back up and gain some traction. She gave him a little slack, letting him think he was winning. She pulled again and scooped him up in her arms, petting him and praising him as if he had done something worthwhile. He barked, letting go of the rope, and then nuzzled her, rubbing his wet nose against her neck.

"We'll have to go tomorrow. Mina wasn't free today," Nicole said, putting her phone down again.

Dane smiled. "No problem. We get to chill today, and we'll go shopping tomorrow. We can watch a movie or something right now."

There was a nod, and Nicole retrieved the remote for the television. She found something to watch and curled up against Dane. Haydn settled down at the bottom of the couch, wanting to share in the movie with them. Sometimes, Dane wondered if he could actually tell what was going on in a movie. He often sat quietly through them when he settled in and whimpered at sad parts or barked at certain scenes, depending on what was going on.

Dane really didn't pay much attention to what was going on in the movie, especially after she noticed Nicole had fallen asleep against her. Leaning down, she kissed Nicole's forehead and adjusted the redhead to make sure Nicole was comfortable. Nicole didn't stir as Dane moved her across her lap.

She caressed Nicole's shoulder and lost herself within the touch. Nicole's skin was always so soft and relaxing. Her mind wandered, camping at the forefront. What's it like to camp? She tried to imagine it as something different than being homeless, but only the setting changed, just barely. She'd slept in parks on many different occasions.

Thinking about the trip they'd soon take and the trips that they had already taken, Dane's mind drifted to their relationship once more. She was certain they were stronger than ever, moving to some level she had never known existed until they reached it. She thought on this and considered what she'd have to do to 'be better.'

She had promised Nicole that she would propose when she was better, but now she believed she had no idea what that meant. She believed she had no idea what any of this meant. It did cause a nervous flutter in her belly.

I have no freaking clue what I'm doing. Dread bubbled in her belly, weighing her down like hot iron. It felt like her stomach fell into her feet. But, then again, I haven't had a clue as to what I was doing since I showed up on her doorstep, not that I knew it was her doorstep.

Taking several deep breaths, Dane kept herself from panicking, but she was now very aware she needed to figure out how she'd be better. She believed their relationship would keep progressing and she needed to keep up or she'd be left behind, then she'd be left by Nicole. She needed to figure out what she'd need to do to get herself in a position where she felt comfortable asking Nicole to spend the rest of her life with her. She supposed she'd have to do some soul searching.

Maybe if I talk to Crow, she can help me figure it out. Of course, as far as she knew, Crow hadn't had a relationship that lasted longer than a year. Dane had definitely passed Crow in the lasting relationship department. But, that doesn't mean she doesn't know what I should do to be good enough to ask Nicole to marry me. If nothing else, she could recommend a book or something. Crow working at a bookstore could come in handy.

Beyond that, Dane considered some of the things she was already aware of. Well, she knew eventually she'd have to get comfortable with the idea of having kids. She was already sure Nicole wanted at least one, even if she tried to act like she didn't or she could do without. So, if nothing else, Dane had to work past her issues with her own childhood. She frowned at that.

I wonder if that means I'll have to talk to my mother. Just saying the words left a bad taste in her mouth.

The very thought of talking to Christine Wolfe made Dane want to forget everything. Her mother continued to push to try to better their relationship, and calling it a relationship was exaggerating. The woman had gone as far as giving Dane a small trust fund, more than likely trying to bribe forgiveness out of Dane or buy affection from her. To hell with that bullshit.

Dane still couldn't bring herself to forgive the woman who silently stood by as she was beaten and abused by her father and two siblings. Even when her mother suggested they start over, she found she couldn't pretend her mother hadn't ignored her for most of her life. Even when her mother showed her something no one else in their family had seen – Christine's father's grave – Dane found she couldn't bond with the woman. She wasn't sure she wanted to.

Did I ever bond with her? Dane scratched her chin in thought.

She'd called Christine her mother, but only because she'd felt like it upset her. When Christine seemed interested in accepting the title, if not the job, Dane stopped using it. Her mother was Christine to her and what she felt for Christine was on the same level she felt for her siblings, including Adam. There was no familial bond, nothing that made her feel connected to them beyond pain and suffering, which wasn't something she wanted to dwell on.

But, the idea of family brought her back to the notion of children with Nicole. A child would connect them, make them a 'real' family. Am I ready for that? Will I ever be ready for that? If not, I might as well say goodbye to my angel now, and I'm damn sure I'm not ready for that.

She really did not want to engage in such heavy thinking, especially when she'd already figured out that she was probably going to have to give in to the kid thing. Nicole wanted and deserved a child, and Dane would do anything for her beloved. Of course, to get there, she still had to figure out how she could 'be better,' to get to the point of proposing to Nicole.

I do want to propose to you, angel. Want to spend the rest of my life worshiping you, being worthy of you, but how do I get to that point? Dane asked herself, as she ran her fingers through Nicole's wavy auburn mane.

Right now, she knew she was the best she had ever been in her life, and she still felt unworthy of Nicole. Nicole's father and Nicole's mother's side of the family had accepted her, and she was about to meet Raymond's side. No one had ever given her so much, shared so much with her, and she felt like she never had anything to give back. The most she could share with Nicole was music, which was her whole world, but didn't feel like enough.

Music could reach inside of a person and draw out emotions, but it couldn't offer physical comfort. Music couldn't hold, hug, or respond. While music had carried her throughout life, it couldn't compare to the amount of family and care Nicole had bestowed upon her.

Dane really wished she at least had a tradition to share with Nicole. She had no traditions, no family, and barely had any real friends, except for Crow. She had nothing to offer. Sighing, she glanced down at Nicole and smiled.

"Well, she knew I didn't have any of that when she got involved with me. Maybe my music was enough, is enough. Maybe I'm worrying about nothing," Dane muttered.

"You're talking to yourself, love?" Nicole mumbled, yawning a bit as she stretched out in Dane's lap.

"Just thinking aloud."

"About what?" She shifted her body a bit, making herself comfortable against Dane, who enjoyed the press. She didn't bother to open her eyes for the conversation, but she smiled a bit, as if she was quite happy where she was.

Everything. "The trip."

"It'll be fine. You'll have a good time." Nicole patted her thigh to soothe her.

A small smile settled on Dane's face. "I'm sure I will. Think your family will like me?"

There was another soft pat to her thigh. "They'll adore you, like I do. My uncle will like you just like my dad does."

"Your dad doesn't like me that much." Dane was fairly certain that if the right young man came along, Raymond would do his best to get Nicole to go out with him without any thought to Dane. Hmm…maybe that's what I mean when I say 'be better.' Need to be like what Raymond and Kathleen would approve of as far as Nicole dating. That's definitely a step up from where I used to be, anyway. But, don't want to change into something that Nicole doesn't want.

Nicole chuckled, moving to cuddle into Dane's stomach. "My dad does like you. He can't show it or it might make Mommy show that she likes you, too."

Dane couldn't help the scoff that escaped her mouth. "Now you're just being crazy. Your mom doesn't like me."

Emerald eyes opened, and Nicole shot her a delightful little smirk. "You're growing on her. I'm sure she views it as a fungus, but you're growing on her."

Dane laughed, even though she didn't think that was true. Kathleen never expressed anything beyond contempt and irritation, as far as Dane noticed. Kathleen's family, on the other hand, was very friendly with her. She didn't even get a thank you out of Kathleen when she'd sent the woman and Raymond flowers thanking them for being wonderful parents to Nicole. But, the gesture had earned her brownie points with Raymond.

"Still sleepy, or do you want to get dressed and we can take Haydn for a walk?" Dane suggested.

"Your nephews aren't coming over today?" Nicole asked, rubbing one eye with the lower part of her thumb.

"No. Adam called at the last minute, saying they had something, or whatever, to go to today." Dane shrugged. She hadn't paid much attention once she realized why he called.

"Something or whatever? What kind of details are those?" Nicole laughed, focusing on her girlfriend.

"I was half-listening after he said the boys wouldn't be coming over. Honestly, I almost hung up on him after that. Don't really care to know why they're not coming over. No matter what, I'm going to suspect their mom doesn't want them around us and somehow talked him into the idea because he's a fucking sheep."

"Baby!" Nicole scolded her for her language, like she didn't curse worse than Dane most of the time. "He's the reason we get to see the boys as it is."

Dane snorted. "You can give him credit for his one good deed while I'm going to keep track of his mess-ups."

Frowning slightly, Nicole shook her head. "You know you'll never be on friendly terms with him if you do that."

Dane drew her eyebrows in a little. "What makes you think I want to be on friendly terms with Adam? Tolerate him, but that's about it, and only because he brings the boys over."

"Oh, I thought you liked Adam. Or at least you wanted to like Adam," Nicole said.

Dane opened her mouth, but closed as she realized she was probably about to lie or say something that made no sense at all. She thought on that, running her hand through her hair. Once upon a time, she'd believed she did want to like Adam. The idea of having a big brother had always appealed to her. When she was on the street, the first person to care for her was Animal, the drummer in a band she played with. He was older than she was and treated her how she imagined an older brother would treat a little sister that he cared about. He died from a drug overdose while she was right next to him, too high to figure out what happened. The loss had opened a hole in her, and she now realized that she subconsciously wanted to fill that hole with some other big brother figure. Adam would never be the one to fill that void.

For a moment, her heart hurt. Animal's not replaceable, and I understand that now. He's gone and I should just properly mourn him as best I can. No one will ever be him.

"I did, but not anymore. If we end up friends, cool, but it has to be through his effort. Not putting anything out there for him. I don't ever want him to think I forgive him for what he did, unless I actually do get to the point that I forgive him."

"And you're not at that point yet, huh?" Nicole asked.

Grinding her teeth for a second, Dane shook her head. "Definitely not."

"Do you think you might be able to fake it?" Nicole gave her a hopeful, but awkward looking smile. Her face was tense, and her top teeth showed as her upper lip spread across her face. "I mean, if you end up liking camping, I'd like for us to go with the boys, at least once. I think they'd have fun, but Adam might not let it happen."

Dane grinned. "That's a great idea. Could fake it, if I need to."

Nicole giggled, looking much better. "You're something else, Big Dog. Do you think Adam would let us take the boys camping?"

Blowing out a heavy breath moved Dane's hair a bit. "Probably not. His wife would accuse us of molesting them. Hell, she might even call the cops on us and say we kidnapped the boys or some shit. He might have no problem with them spending eight hours with us, but anything more than that is too much for him because she'll flip."

Nicole nodded, but she frowned slightly again. Of course, this troubled Dane because it bothered Nicole, who wasn't used to being disliked and viewed with suspicion. Dane had dealt with it most of her life, so it wasn't much of a bother for her.

"Why don't we take your little cousins if we can't take the boys? We should hang out with them more. They're cool kids," Dane pointed out. Plus, their mother didn't mind them being around her or Nicole, didn't suspect them of anything horrible.

"Yeah, they're cool kids with busy schedules. Their parents have them signed up for all sorts of things. They let them try out everything that comes to mind, too. But, we could try. I'm sure they'd love it," Nicole said.

"Cool." It seems like Nick just wants to hang out with some kids. God, I am so screwed on this. Gotta get my fucking act together.

"Let's get up and walk Haydn before he goes on one of the plants and I have to scold him."

A chuckle escaped Dane. "Twice in two days? The poor, spoiled guy will get a complex."

Nicole laughed, as well, as they tore themselves from the sofa. They put on proper clothes and grabbed Haydn's leash. He was up in a flash when he saw the leash and stood stock-still to allow Dane to attach it to his collar. They took him for a walk together, which was rare for them. Dane tended to do most of the walking, because she was the one home almost all day. Whenever Nicole was home during the times for Haydn to get walked, Dane insisted she stay home and relax.

"I like this." Nicole took Dane's hand in her own. Her thumb caressed the back of Dane's hand. "It's nice. I want to do this more often."

"Walk Haydn together?" Dane guessed, as their pup dashed ahead of them, sniffing everything. The sun set above them, bathing the world in orange and red, and giving Nicole's hair extra pop. Dane was tempted to release Haydn's leash, so she could run her free hand through the auburn locks.

"Yes."

"But, you have class," Dane said, as if Nicole didn't know that. Usually, Nicole was too tired or too busy working on homework to do the evening walk with her.

"I know, but I won't always have class. I know you're trying to look out for me, baby, but I want to spend time with you and with Haydn. Simple things like this and like lying on the couch with Haydn watching more of the movie than either of us. These are the things that make life wonderful."

"We'll be here. You take care of that degree first, okay? We'll be here."

Nicole smiled and kissed Dane on the cheek. Dane smiled, as if she had just received high praise. Nicole squeezed Dane's hand. Dane squeezed back and silently vowed to figure out what she needed to do.

-8-8-8-8-

Nicole had to fight off a laugh, as she and Danny walked into the sporting goods store. Those lovely grey eyes went wide, as if Danny had never seen anything like it before. It was possible she hadn't. Danny always made it known that she was horrible at sports and, even though she occasionally dressed in basketball shorts, she purchased them at a thrift store. Nicole did most of the clothes shopping, because Danny didn't seem to think she needed new clothes. Unless maybe Haydn ate her shirt, and even then Danny might try to salvage the thing.

"Do you want to look around, or are you going to stick with me?" Nicole asked, as she grabbed a shopping cart.

Danny's brow wrinkled, as she seriously thought on the answer. "Uh…stick with you. Wanna see what you need, and I might be able to help."

Nicole smiled and took Danny's hand to help guide her for the moment. "My father taught me to always make a list of items I need. 'No matter how many times you go camping and you think you'll remember everything you need. There's nothing worse than getting to a site and finding you don't have batteries.'" She wagged her finger and drew her mouth down, mocking a stern face her father made when he gave her this lecture.

Danny chuckled, but probably only because Nicole did the same. She had her checklist on her phone. Danny peered over, wanting to see. Smiling, Nicole tilted the screen in her lover's direction. Danny read it over, face moving slightly every time she got to something she probably didn't think would be on the list.

"This is a lot of stuff for a three or four day trip," Danny said.

Nicole nodded. "You need a lot of supplies if you want to do camping properly, and you don't want to get caught in the woods missing something you suddenly need."

"Yeah, I guess it'd suck to be in the middle of nowhere…" Danny trailed off.

"Yes, trust me, it does. One year, my father and uncle both forgot flashlights. Another year, I forgot to pack socks. It was horrible. We'll buy what we need. I'll explain it to you, and we'll mess around with the stuff in the backyard for you to be familiar with it, okay?" Nicole smirked to show Danny what she meant by 'mess around.'

The burning intensity that showed up in those smoky eyes let Nicole know her message was heard, loud and clear. She gathered the small items first because they were nearest. She explained the things that weren't obvious, but most of them were self-explanatory, especially since Danny knew what it was like to live outside. Nicole frowned as soon as the thought entered her head.

"Hey, what's up, Angel? They don't have the type of biodegradable toilet paper you like?" Danny asked with a laugh.

Nicole shook her head. "I was just thinking about…well, you. I was thinking about you and your time on the street." She should talk about this. They should talk about this. She didn't want to be uncomfortable over it forever. It was a part of Danny. It happened. It was over. It didn't need to be ignored.

Danny shrugged. "It wasn't that bad, Chem, and I wish you'd stop thinking about it. Or worrying about it. I made it out stronger than ever."

"Tell me about it," Nicole said in a breath before she realized what she was saying. Now wasn't the time or the place for it, but it was out there.

Danny was silent for what seemed like eternity, and Nicole was about to take it back, but then Danny opened her mouth. "I really should tell you about it, huh? That way you don't keep wondering about it and thinking the worst. The worst I did to myself, except my leg, you know?"

"The story you told your mother…when she said she was keeping an eye on you and you wanted to prove her wrong…" Nicole hated even thinking about that moment. She wished she hadn't heard Danny, but she'd practically been screaming at Christine at the time. It would've been impossible not to hear her unless she went down the street.

Danny swallowed a little. "Oh, with Animal. Yeah, that was pretty bad." Taking a breath, she ran her hand through her hair. "But, again, I did that to myself. I was getting high with him. I was the one who was too messed up to do anything."

"That wasn't your fault, Danny," she stated, dropping the items that she was holding, so she could take both of her lover's hands. "Baby, that wasn't your fault. Yes, you were high, but he was using, too. How could you know his limit if he didn't and he was the older one? He was supposed to be taking care of you."

Danny frowned. "No, he wasn't. I wasn't his responsibility."

Nicole looked Danny straight in the eye. "Okay, and he wasn't yours. You didn't cause his death. You weren't responsible for him. He should've taken care of himself, just like you needed to take care of yourself. So, it wasn't your fault." She made her tone deliberate. This was something Danny needed to hear.

She could feel Danny's hands trembling, and Danny sniffed. As tears welled up in Danny's eyes, Nicole realized no one had probably ever said that to Danny. Slowly, she pulled Danny to her and hugged her, even though they were in the middle of a relatively busy store. She cradled Danny's head against her shoulder.

"Baby, it wasn't your fault," she whispered.

She felt and heard Danny sob. Her shoulder muffled the sound, but they still earned a few stares. She ignored them, holding Danny close. For a few seconds, Danny shook, obviously crying. Then, she felt and heard Danny take a deep breath, trying to compose herself. It took a few seconds, but Danny stepped away and Nicole knew it was the end of their discussion for the moment. They continued on with the shopping as if everything was normal, but Danny didn't let go of her hand.

"We definitely need sleeping bags," Nicole muttered as they wandered into an aisle that held just those things. She looked through several of them before picking up one. "Should I choose one for you, too, love?"

"Uh…yeah, I don't know a damn thing about picking a sleeping bag," Danny replied with a lopsided smile. It was forced, unlike her usual expression, not quite reaching her eyes.

Nicole smiled. "Well, you're right about that." She grabbed another sleeping bag and inspected it, causing Danny to raise an eyebrow. "I have to be sure they can zip together." She wiggled her eyebrows.

For a moment, Danny's eyebrows knitted together and then realization dawned on her. Grey eyes opened wide, and Danny pointed at her. "Ohhhh! Yeah, that's definitely a good thing."

Nicole chuckled and then marched off to continue shopping. "Flashlights…flashlights…flashlights," she said to herself, under her breath, wondering where she'd find the flashlights. They were doing well on supplies, and then they walked by the shoe section. "Baby, do you own a pair of boots?" She was fairly certain she knew the answer to that, considering the fact that Danny only owned a pair of beat-up sneakers before Nicole had purchased a new pair for her.

"Boots? Don't think I've ever owned a pair of boots," Danny replied.

"Of course. Well, baby, we've got to get you a pair. You can't go camping without some boots."

"Why? My sneakers lasted through time in the park."

Nicole just shook her head and dragged Danny over to the boot section. Her girlfriend had big feet, for a woman. Danny blamed it on her height, but Nicole was sure that Danny just had big feet. She wore a size ten in men's, so, yes, just big feet.

"Any particular color you want?" Nicole asked, as she began looking through the shelves.

Danny shrugged. "Don't know boots."

"All right. After this, remind me to get you a multi-tool. I have one, but you should have one of your own, just in case."

Danny nodded. She then had to sit through trying on and walking around in several pairs of boots. It was a little funny to see. Danny walked like the boots might crumble on her feet. Nicole knew she would need to buy some gel soles to give Danny real comfort in the boots. Once the boots were chosen, they had to pick up a few more items. Most importantly, the tent. After getting the tent, Nicole made sure to pick up individual items, including Danny's multi-tool.

She paid for everything using a debit card from their joint account. They both deposited the same amount of money in every month and, whenever they did something together, they paid for it from that account. It saved on arguments about money.

"So, now what?" Danny asked, once they were in the car and headed back home.

"Well, we have a few hours before we have to go get our little man, so I'll show you how some of the equipment works, like how to set up the tent," Nicole answered with a grin. Danny grinned in reply.

-8-8-8-8-

Dane had no clue how to put up a tent. The reason for that had nothing to do with the fact that she hadn't paid attention when Nicole put it up, took it down, and put it up again in the backyard. It had to do with the fact that Nicole was straddling her lap and kissing her senseless, on the air mattress, in the tent, in the backyard! How in the world was she supposed to know or remember how to do anything beyond return the affection? So, she held onto Nicole and did her best to give as good as she got, despite how shocked she was. This was a woman who was embarrassed they had been overheard in a hotel room on their first vacation, and now they were possibly going to do the deed in the backyard. Oh, how far they had come.

Focusing on Nicole's lips and tongue, Dane moved her hands from Nicole's hips to pull her shirt out of her pants. Nicole moaned, as Dane's hands slid up her bare belly. Dane purred at the feel of her lover's smooth skin, and thoughts of playing with Nicole's breasts danced through her head. Nicole must've realized where things were going, because she pulled away. She gave Dane a chastising look, and Dane countered with an innocent grin.

"Can you blame me for trying?" Dane asked.

"No, but we're not going to third base in the backyard, even if we are in a tent." Nicole rolled off of Dane and settled against her side.

Dane whined at the loss. "Even if I do that thing you like with my tongue?" She gave Nicole some pretty big puppy eyes. Well, so much for sex in the backyard. But, they'd still come a long way.

"Especially if you do that! The whole neighborhood would hear us." Nicole chuckled, tucking herself against Dane. "We have to leave to get Haydn soon."

Dane nodded and they were silent for a while before Dane remembered their moment in the sporting goods store. No one had ever told her that what happened to Animal wasn't her fault and it had never occurred to her it wasn't. She had walked around with the blame—and shame—for years. She doubted she'd ever totally believe it wasn't her fault. After all, he was dead and she'd been there, doing nothing, but Nicole at least made sense and tried to help her. Maybe she needed to tell Nicole about that time, not just to ease Nicole's mind, but to help herself. I am trying to be better. Just hope it doesn't lower her opinion of me.

"My time with Animal…it was weird. I don't remember a lot of it. Between the drinking and the drugs, I'm not even sure how I made it to school every day."

Nicole's eyebrows shot up her forehead, and she stared at Dane with wide eyes. "You went to school every day? Despite all of that, you actually went to school every day?"

"Yeah, it was somewhere to go. There was food."

Nicole nodded and emerald eyes glanced away briefly. "So, you went to school for meals?"

Dane ran her hand through her hair and shook her head a bit. "I didn't qualify for free lunches or anything, but I had a teacher who took care of me as much as I'd allow. Brought me food, asked about me, tried to keep me in a good headspace. Mr. Preston. I didn't let him do too much for me, but he tried. The scorch marks from Lynn and Henry Briarmoor remained years after they burned me. He tried to get me help, a lot, always talking about programs and junk. I didn't want that, though. The drinking and drugs helped me deal. I felt like they kept me sane or balanced or alive. Something like that." She wasn't sure how to explain it and hoped that made some semblance of sense. How the hell do I write lyrics if this is how I talk?

"That's not really dealing," Nicole whispered. She put her hand on her lover's hip and pulled them closer.

Turning her mouth down a bit, Dane shook her head. "Didn't know that at the time. I thought I was dealing. I took showers and stuff at school, in the locker room if I didn't have a girl I could stay with. I joined a music program in the summer, just so I could keep going to school when it was over. Mr. Preston made me wanna graduate, so I tried to keep it up when I could. Don't get me wrong. I didn't have all the answers. How could I? Was only fifteen. Sometimes, I starved, was cold, sick. I fucked up a bunch in that year. Got into fights. Woke up in strange places. Didn't know if I was coming or going sometimes. It just all runs together sometimes. As bad as it was, I never once thought to go home, though. Never."

Nicole played with Dane's fingers briefly before kissing her cheek. "Because it wasn't home."

Dane turned to look in her emerald green eyes. There was no pity, but that level of compassion and sorrow that she had grown used to from Nicole. She leaned down and offered her lover a sweet kiss.

"No, it wasn't home." But, this is.

-8-8-8-8-

Well, people, that's the preview. If you want to see the rest of First Degree Burns you can find a link my profile or on my Facebook page.

Thank you all for the love and support. I hope you enjoy the book.