Scandalized

She wasn't under house arrest but it felt that way. Judith Conway rarely left her mother's home, still not ready to be seen in public more than a year after her court case had been settled. As part of a plea bargain, Judith pled guilty to all charges and she received five years Probation as well as attendance at mandatory therapy sessions. The guilty findings became a permanent part of her criminal record and that effectively ended any chances for meaningful employment with any potential employer that ran a background check.

Judith had wiped out her life savings on court costs and lawyer fees and she was forced to sell her house before she defaulted on her mortgage which is why the thirty-eight year old had no choice but to move back in with her mother.

Judith didn't do much with her time. Slept late. Went to bed early. Watched a lot of television. Did the house work and cooking for her working mother. She probably would have drank herself to death but her mother kept the house dry and Judith was too ashamed to go out in public to buy the booze herself.

Judith spent hours standing in her bedroom window, often in her bathrobe, watching the world go by outside. It was a familiar neighborhood given that she had grown up here but Judith's scandal had also brought shame to those who knew her and most people avoided her.

Sighing heavily, Judith tugged the top of her robe close to her neck as she felt a chill even though it was a warm September day. The field hockey team was in full swing with its new coach but Judith had no urge to see them practice or play (she was banned from all school grounds anyway). She frowned unhappily thinking about her girls and her team, all of which had been taken away from her.

Judith stood in silence for a long time listening to the singing birds outside the window, an occasional car driving by, and a barking dog in the distance. . The front yard hadn't changed much in all the years she lived here nor had the scenic view of the street, although many of the families of her youth on the street had long since moved away. She remembered how she used to stand in this very spot waiting for her best friend Chris Lapan to come from his house three doors down on the other side of the street. She could still see his former house – Chris' family had moved out long ago and the new owners had painted the blue ranch yellow but it was still the same house to her – Chris' house.

Judith closed her eyes for a moment and thought about those good old days, gone and lost forever. She had little to worry about back in her innocent youth and Chris protected her from whatever fears, frights, and paranoia she might have anyway. She had never felt as alone as she did when the scandal broke and she wondered if she'd ever be able to pull herself out of her endless funk. She found herself chewing on her fingernails as she stood in the window wishing she didn't have to think about how miserable she was and how much her life had turned to shit. She often wished she was dead but she didn't have the courage to act on any thoughts of harming herself. Hell, after everything she had gone through it would probably be pretty stupid to kill herself now.

And why do that to her mother who she already had put through hell? Her mother had to transfer from the Greenville Bank to the Springdale branch after the scandal broke and that meant a forty-five minute commute one way everyday instead of the seven minute jaunt she used to enjoy while working in Greenville.

It hurt to think of all the pain Judith had caused but how could she forget? It was the first thought that crossed her mind when she awoke in the morning and the last thoughts she had before drifting off to sleep at night. . If only she erase everything that had happened, Judith could finally be free.

It felt strange to be in the same bedroom she had grown up again. It would be one thing if she felt like she was ten again but Judith knew she couldn't go back or escape the horrors of her adult mistakes. She was an almost-forty-year old woman with no life, no hope, and no future. She would probably die standing here in her bedroom window watching the world go by outside the four panes.

Judith felt a chill run down her spine and she flung herself onto the bed in despair. She had stopped crying about all of this long ago and now she mostly vegetated in a semi-catatonic state, her days ticking by in a semi-fogged cloud, each of them no different than the previous one. Thankfully, her mother never talked about what happened but unfortunately her mother didn't talk to her daughter much about anything. Their relationship had been permanently marred by the incident and Judith knew her mother stuffed her anger, resentment, disgust and hurt underneath her veil of motherly presence, as detached, removed and distant as that now was.

Judith let out a loud moan as she pulled herself off the bed and closed the blinds and yanked closed the curtains to block out the afternoon sun. She liked it dark because that's how she felt most of the time. Stuffing her face into the pillow on the bed, Judith knew she still had time to mope before she had to start that night's dinner. Judith often had to force herself to eat and sometimes she would binge on potato chips and ice cream to try to stuff her emotions while at other times she would pick at whatever was on the plate when she shared a meal with her mother.

Judith dozed for a little while before finally pulling herself off of the bed. She left her dark room and walked silently through the quiet house. Even though this was the house of her youth, Judith still felt like a visitor as an adult even though she had been here a year now. The familiar home lacked the welcomed comforting feeling she enjoyed as a child. Too much had changed. Too much had happened. Too many people were missing.

The house's first profound change happened when Judith was seventeen and her father became ill with a high fever. Three days later he died in the hospital from some strange viral infection and the house felt empty and different without him. But Judith was old enough to adjust and adapt – she had college to look forward to and she was young enough to be resilient, dedicating herself to make her father proud in absentia. She wondered what he would think of her now.

Judith's mother was surprisingly buoyant in the aftermath of her husband's unexpected death. Within in a year she had a job promotion at work and a new man in her life while Judith secretly struggled with the loss of her father. Judith didn't realize it at the time, but she had sunk into a grieving mournful depression but she still managed to overachieve at college and party hard too.

The death of her father left a deep scar on Judith's psyche and she was more traumatized by the loss than she cared to admit, looking for her missing father in the men she dated and took as lovers. She never found him, of course, although Chris probably came the closest but, ironically, Judith never slept with her best although she often wished she had.

Judith stopped halfway down the stairs and glanced at the large photograph of her parents' wedding photo hanging on the wall. The memory of her father's face faded from her mind's eye sometimes and she always enjoyed 'seeing' him again although she often felt sad knowing he was gone. She hovered by the photo, tracing the frame of the photo with her finger.

"I'm so sorry, Daddy," Judith sighed before continuing on to the kitchen to start dinner.

Judith didn't mind the housekeeping responsibilities or the cooking details. It broke up her day and gave her something to do. Sometimes she liked having the house to herself but other times it felt beyond lonely and she was glad when her mother came home even though she often brought stress and tension with her. Mrs. Conway wasn't with anybody presently and she made a crass remark one day that she'd never find a man again after her daughter's scandal.

The small talk between Judith and her mom only lasted so long and then they were left with the void that was their lives. Judith's mom was focused on her job while Judith's days were routine and endless and about the only thing left for the two to talk about was whenever was on the news that day.

Judith's mother was home by six and out of the house by eight the next morning. Both women were usually in bed by ten so that meant there was about four hours of face to face time which was tolerable. Judith was rarely up in the morning when her mom left for work.

Weekends were a little more dicey – Judith's mother ran errands, visited with the few friends she had left who hadn't ostracized her following Judith's downfall, and she went to church on Sundays to pray for her cursed daughter. Judith of course could never show her face in church again – and not that many other places either. On the few occasions she did leave the house, it was under the cover of darkness and Judith always avoided popular public places with lots of people. The movies were the best place to hang out and that was her one last remaining activity she could enjoy.

The ringing doorbell yanked Judith from her sleep. She groaned and looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table – 9:15 a.m. Who in their right mind was stopping by the house this early on a Thursday morning? Judith made it a point to schedule all house repairs and other appointments and she had nothing scheduled so whoever was repeatedly ringing the doorbell now was either some moronic salesman, a religious fanatic hoping to convert her, or some lawyer about to present another summons.

Judith put her robe on and stumbled down the stairs still half asleep. She wasn't in a very pleasant mood (not that she was ever in a great mood anyway) when she opened the door and she started to grumble even before her eyes focused on who was standing on the front porch.

"What in the hell do you want?" She asked angrily.

"Hello, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes."

Judith almost fell over from stunned disbelief when she heard his voice and what he said. She recognized his voice before his beard covered face registered in her mind.

"Chris!?" She squeaked.

"Hey."

"What are you doing here?" She asked with shock.

"My cousin died," he announced.

"What?" She asked with confusion.

"I'm home for my cousin's funeral," he clarified.

"Oh….um….I'm sorry to hear that."

"You remember Tim? From Greenville? The guy who went to Sun Rise Lake School for Boys? He was a couple of years older than us. He got us that Boones Farm Apple Wine that time."

"Yes, I remember him," Judith acknowledged. "But what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see you," he smiled.

"I know you've been gone but you do know about what happened to me, right?"

"Yeah, Laurie told me," Chris replied. "Sorry I didn't come home sooner. I should have been there for you."

"I was humiliated and disgraced enough as it was," Judith groaned. "I'm glad you weren't here to see and hear how horrible I am as a person."

"Well, I'm here now," Chris smiled.

"Come in," she said after a moment's pause, trying to comprehend his presence and figure out what she was supposed to do about it.

Judith stepped back and she allowed Chris to step into the house. She closed the door and she immediately fell into him like a collapsing building. Chris smiled and wrapped his arms around her and held her close. She burst into tears, crying for the first time in a long time and Chris didn't say anything as he embraced her and let her sob.

Everybody had abandoned her when the scandal broke and even those who remotely stood by her thought she was some sort of perverted boarder line pedophile and unethical sex fiend. They didn't say it but Judith knew that was what they were thinking and even those people had stopped calling and visiting her once the judge pronounced his findings.

"Oh God, I'm sorry," Judith said, finally breaking from the embrace and wiping a few tears away.

"Don't be," Chris smiled. "It's completely understandable."

"Come in," Judith invited, leading him into the living room and it felt just like it did twenty years ago when Chris would stop by all the time. Chris looked amused as he scoped her out in her bathrobe.

"You look good," he surmised.

"Don't be ridiculous," she groaned. "I just woke up. I must look awful. Plus I haven't worked out in over a year. I'm a pudgy untoned disgraced sack of shit."

Chris sat on the couch. "You look fine," he assured her.

Judith shrugged and took a seat next to him. "Really?"

"Of course."

"It's been a while since we've seen each other, Chris," Judith realized.

Chris grinned. "Yes, well unlike you, I left town after my scandal."

"I had nowhere to go," she sighed.

"You could have come found me," Chris let her know.

"I wasn't even sure where you are," she confessed.

"Laurie would have told you."

"You wouldn't want a pervert like me living with you anyway," Judith sorrowfully remarked.

"Well, I'd be willing if you wouldn't mind living with a guy found guilty of police brutality," Chris replied.

Judith nodded, remembering how Chris resigned in disgrace from the Hillsboro Police Department ten years earlier after beating the shit out of some local habitual career criminal.

"Would you like something to drink?" Judith asked.

"Water's fine," Chris said.

"Great," Judith said, standing from the couch and heading for the kitchen, realizing that Chris was her first guest she had entertained since moving back in with her mother.

Chris followed her into the kitchen and he watched as she poured two glasses of ice water from the refrigerator dispenser. She handed Chris one of the glasses and she kept the second one for herself as she leaned her backside against the kitchen counter.

"So," Judith said, looking at her unexpected guest with interest. "What's been up with you since you…..moved on?"

Chris glanced at her with a raised brow and he smirked as he stood in the middle of the room. "Moved on?" He asked, rolling his eyes.

"You know what I mean," she groaned.

"You mean after I left town in shame and scandal?"

She shrugged. "Whatever."

"I had always been good with computers so I managed to get involved in computer medical records security," Chris reported. "A guy I knew from the Academy who left his force had his own software company out in Wisconsin and I ended up working for him. A lot of travelling but it's good work."

"All you ever talked about growing up was becoming a cop," Judith recalled. "Any regrets?"

Chris laughed. "Yeah, a couple," he said. "I regret getting fired."

"I thought you quit."

"I quit before I got fired," Chris explained. "And I regret losing it that day and beating the crap out of the guy – even if he deserved it."

"I never saw you get angry in your life," Judith noted.

"I'm not even sure if I was angry that day to tell you the truth," Chris confessed as he slipped into one of the kitchen chairs. "It was more like annoyed. Insulted even. I had just chased the asshole through brush, mud and slime, through a frigin smelly drain pipe near the Blue River. By the time I finally caught the bastard it was like 'Here, let me explain to you how it works. I'm the cop and you're the criminal and when I tell you to do something you do it'. That wasn't my first encounter with the prick. He had been my nemesis from Day One and I guess that day I just had enough of his shit."

"You shouldn't have done it," Judith said.

"Of course I shouldn't have done it!" Chris groaned. "But I did. In front of four witnesses. I didn't see it as brutality or torture. I saw it as re-educating and redirecting a known felon. But I was out of line, over the top and it was totally inappropriate and uncalled for. I broke the guy's nose and ribs. I smashed his head into a tree."

"Too bad he wasn't armed," Judith said.

"He was a white guy too, not that any of that matters," Chris replied. "I was wrong and I paid the price."

"At least you admitted to it," Judith noted.

"I probably would have gotten away with it if those four hunters weren't there," Chris revealed. "It's kind of hard to deny your actions when four guys saw you doing it."

"I'm sorry it happened, Chris," Judith sighed.

"Me too," Chris shrugged. "You're right, I always wanted to be a cop. I even graduated from the academy near the top of my class?"

"Yeah, I remember that."

"It never occurred to me that maybe I didn't have the right temperament to be a good cop," Chris sighed. "I guess the power and the position went to my head and if it wasn't that jerk I lost it on it might have been some other situation so I was better off leaving. There's no point doing something you're not emotionally right for."

"Doesn't make you a bad person," Judith said.

"You either," he reminded her gently.

"Thanks," she said quietly.

"I paid for my mistakes," Chris agreed. "Got my named dragged through the mud. The Greenville News and Dispatch made it a front page story for days. I shamed and embarrassed my family and I let down a lot of people. I didn't help my fellow cops either who are always facing scrutiny and second guessing. I had to leave town to avoid the ridicule and gossip. Strange how I thought I'd live and die here but I've been gone for almost ten years."

"You never even said goodbye," Judith said.

"I was too embarrassed," Chris acknowledged. "I just couldn't face you."

"That really hurt, Chris," Judith protested.

"I'm sorry," he sighed. "I regretted it for a long time."

"It felt like you didn't care about me."

"You were an up and coming successful coach, Judith," Chris reminded her. "You didn't need to be associating with a bad cop like me. Believe me, I wanted to go to you for comfort and support when all the crap hit the fan but it wouldn't have been fair to you. The best thing I could do was get out of town."

"I'm sorry you felt that way," Judith sighed.

"I missed you the entire time I was gone," he said. "Laurie would give me updates. I knew you were dating the basketball coach for a long time."

"We were engaged for a while," she said.

"What happened?" Chris wondered.

Judith shrugged. "It just didn't work out," she said. "I guess we were both too competitive. He wanted me to quit coaching either field hockey or softball to give us more time together but I didn't think that was fair. He got really insulted when I half-jokingly said he could quit coaching basketball. That's when I knew we weren't going to make it together."

"Sorry."

"Do you miss Hillsboro?" Judith asked.

"Yeah, I do," Chris admitted. "Especially having to come home for a funeral."

"Sorry about your cousin."

"Thanks," Chris replied. "He was a great guy and he never held what happened against me even though we had the same last name."

"He became a lawyer, right?" Judith recalled.

"Yeah, a good one too," Chris sighed. Then he looked at her with interest. "So," he said. "What about you?"

"Oh God," Judith groaned. "Don't make me tell the pathetic perverted story again."

"I'm not sure if Laurie got all the details right," Chris said.

Judith sighed, put her water glass in the sink and walked past Chris back into the living room. He followed and re-joined her on the couch where Judith was sitting with her hands folded in her lap.

"I'm sure it's not any worse than beating the shit out of a guy," Chris said softly.

"We won the softball championship," Judith smiled. "I was so proud of the team. We worked hard and they had the talent and they made the effort and it paid off with the title."

"Congratulations, Coach," Chris smiled.

"Former coach," Judith sighed. "Some of the girls had an unofficial after party following the real party," Judith explained. "They invited me to stop by and of course I shouldn't have but these were some of my favorite and best players I'd ever coached and I wanted to show them how much they meant to me so I stopped by in a show of solidarity and support."

"Some kind of orgy?" Chris wondered.

"No, but the girl who's house it was had a pool and there was some skinny dipping going on," Judith admitted. "I didn't see any boys or underage drinking so I didn't say anything which was wrong of me," she sighed. "I was feeling laid back and care free so I foolishly got naked and went for a swim too which of course was unethical and inappropriate to be hanging around naked with a bunch of bare-assed high school girls. After I left some guys showed up with some booze but I didn't know anything about that. The party got busted."

"Somebody narked on you?" Chris asked.

"One of the girls made a scandalous video without my knowledge," Judith revealed. "She showed it to her parents much later when they wouldn't let her play field hockey as punishment because of the party and they turned it over to the cops thinking maybe it was child porn or something," Judith explained. "I was coaching a field hockey practice when the Athletic Director came onto the field and told me I was relieved of all responsibilities. It was the most surreal moment of my life and the longest walk ever when the AD walked me off the field. When I got into the school there was a Police Detective waiting for me informing me I was under arrest for child pornography and child endangerment, as well as lewd and gross conduct."

"Really sorry," Chris sighed.

"I was surprised at how quickly people turned on me," Judith admitted. "I was tried, judged and found guilty in the court of public opinion overnight," she said. "Most of the girls who were there that night defended me but the parents would have none of it and most of my peers took cover and stayed out of it. Social media was brutal. I got racked over the coals."

"Everybody has an opinion these days and they aren't shy about expressing it, especially on Facebook, Twitter and the like," Chris agreed.

My reputation was ruined and now I'm on the Sex Offender list," Judith sighed. "I'll never teach or coach again in my life."

"Hardly seems fair," Chris protested.

"It is what it is," she sighed. "You cross unspoken boundaries and you get burned. You know that – it happened to you."

"Well, how are you doing now?" Chris asked.

"Not so good," Judith confessed. "It's nice to see you again, Chris. I've missed you and thought about you often. You were a good friend growing up. But I'm embarrassed this happened and I'm ashamed about all of it."

"Don't forget who you're talking to, Judith," Chris said knowingly. "Been there, done that."

Judith gave him a curious look. "You don't think I'm a pervert?"

"Of course not."

"You don't fault me my choices?"

"It's always easy to second guess and Monday Morning quarterback," Chris shrugged. "You've already said you shouldn't have gone over there than night. What's done is done. People are so quick to judge and criticize. Everybody has an opinion. You were burned at the stake just as I was and everybody felt better when you were crucified. We live in a very revengeful culture right now."

"I learned that the hard way," Judith said with a grimace. "I would have gotten more sympathy if I had been busted for prostitution instead of child endangerment."

"How's your mom handling it?" Chris asked.

"She's been publically humiliated," Judith sighed. "Had to transfer her job. She's not happy but we don't talk about it."

"Yeah, my parents act as if I was never a cop," Chris revealed. "As if none of that ever happened. But I think they're glad I left town."

The two long time friends became quiet for a moment, each thinking about their own experiencess and each other's situation too.

"Okay, so you were a cop and now you're a software guy and everybody's forgotten what happened?" Judith asked with a frown.

"They never forget, Judith," Chris let her know. "I could walk into Duffy's or The Bullpen right now and I'd hear whispers behind my back."

"That's why I never go anywhere," Judith grumbled.

"Give it time," he suggested. . "You'll get used to it. You're tough. You can't hide for the rest of your life."

She shrugged. "I suppose. But right now I'm just – kind of depressed, really. My whole world fell apart."

Chris reached out and squeezed her hand in his. "You'll get through it," he predicted with encouragement. "I did."

Judith returned his hand squeeze. "I'll try," she said with a brave smile.

"I don't work out anymore either," Chris sighed. "Remember how we used to jog all the time?" He smiled.

They had both been high school student athletes and they continued their physical training in college and then in their adult careers and they'd often run into each other at Panther's Gym in downtown Hillsboro when he was a young cop and she was a young high school coach and they'd run together just like in high school.

"I couldn't run more than a couple of miles now if I tried," Judith moaned.

"Me either," Chris admitted. "I've put on twenty pounds since I took the uniform off."

"You still look good," Judith smiled.

"You too, kid, you too."

Chris was staring at her, his eyes studying her face and she couldn't help but blush, suddenly realizing how lonely she really was.

"You're not with anybody?" She asked.

Chris shook his head no. "You?"

Judith laughed out loud. "They all ran so fast they would have beaten the Road Runner!"

"Well, that was their loss," Chris commented.

"Where you staying?" Judith asked.

"With Laurie over in Greenville," Chris replied. "My parents' new place is really small."

"There's a young family with three kids under the age of five in your old house," Judith informed him.

"Life goes on," Chris sighed sadly.

"When's the funeral?" She wondered.

"Calling hours tonight, service tomorrow, all at the Greenville Donnelly and Nolan," Chris reported.

"I'm sure it will be very crowded,' Judith predicted.

"Yeah," Chris agreed before glancing around. "So, what do you do all day?" He asked.

She glanced down and realized she was still in her robe and that made her feel embarrassed. "Nothing, really," she admitted. "I have to force myself to get out bed in the morning and get dressed otherwise I'd hibernate all day. I do the housework. Cook the meals. Kill time, mostly."

"Do you ever think about leaving?" Chris asked.

She rolled her eyes. "And go where?" she asked. "I can't get work and I'm broke. I even sold my car for god sakes."

Chris gave her a long look. "You could live with me," he said, meeting her eyes.

She looked away, stunned by his suggestion. "I'm on Probation," she said quietly. "Plus I'm a sex offender. I can't leave the state."

"They could transfer your case to Wisconsin," Chris said. "I have a condo. I'm kind of lonely, Judith. I could use the company and you could use the change of scenery. It would be a chance for a whole new start. Nobody would know about what happened."

Judith was flattered by his offer and she liked the idea of a new beginning but for some reason she felt herself resisting his invitation. "I don't want to be that far from my mother," she said softly. "She's going to be retiring in a few more years and I'd hate for her to be alone."

"It wouldn't have to be forever, Judith," Chris reasoned, surprised by her reluctance. "Just to get out of Dodge for a while."

"It would be a perfect solution," Judith agreed but she didn't sound convinced.

"But?" he frowned.

"Jesus, Chris, we haven't seen each other in what, ten years?"

"So?" He asked innocently. "We'd be together again, just like the old days."

"The old days are long gone, Chris," she sighed. "You're a disgraced ex cop and I'm a perverted ex-coach."

"Maybe we belong together," he argued.

"We were never together like that before," she pointed out.

"We were too busy back then," Chris said. "Plus we were friends. You were dating Captain America most of the time anyway."

"We're still just friends," Judith told him. "Friends don't live together."

Chris slumped back on the couch with disappointment and Judith knew he was upset. Hell, she was upset.

"I don't want to live in Wisconsin," she reasoned. "I was born and raised here and I'd like to stay here."

"You're a captive in your own house for God sakes," Chris said angrily, jumping off the couch. "You know, I've been waiting for you since we were fourteen," he complained. "I can't wait any longer. If you don't get it by now, you'll never get it."

Chris headed for the front door in a huff.

"Wait!" Judith pleaded, charging after him. "Don't leave!"

He stopped at the door and turned to her in exasperation. "What?" He demanded angrily.

"You're the only friend I have left," she said through her tears. "I won't be able to handle it if you desert me too."

"I would never leave you again," Chris realized, taking her into a hug.

She hugged him tight and she cried into his chest. "Don't be upset with me," Judith sobbed. "I'm just so confused and miserable. Scared and terrified."

"It's okay," Chris sighed, brushing his hand through her long golden hair that was messy from her sleep.

Judith broke the embrace and looked into his eyes. "You've really been waiting for me since we were fourteen?" She asked with surprise.

Chris blushed, embarrassed to be found out.

"You never said anything," she whispered.

"I thought my actions said it all," he shrugged. "You were always dating a new guy anyway."

"I missed my father," she said lamely.

"I missed him too," Chris sighed.

"I'm sorry I didn't see you for who you were," she said.

His hand slipped down from her shoulders and he gently tugged on the robe tie around her waist. Judith didn't resist and the robe fell open to reveal her silky short nightie. One of Judith's surviving rewards for herself was to wear sexy night attire even though nobody was around to see it.

"I look awful," she said.

"You look beautiful," Chris insisted as he leaned in and did what he had been waiting to do since they were fourteen – he kissed her.

The feel of his lips on hers was like a magic secret potion that awoke Sleeping Beauty. To feel a man close to her again after so much trial and tribulation was a gift Judith couldn't resist. She kissed her friend in return with passion and want and need and suddenly their hands were all over each other as they made out almost in desperation, two friends who had been to hell and back on separate journeys and now were together again. Perhaps no other person knew what they had been through and how they felt than they did themselves.

"Chris…" Judith whimpered.

It didn't take much effort to slide the thin spaghetti straps of the nightie off of Judith's shoulders and she was topless in front of him. Chris smiled happily having fantasized for years about such an opportunity and Judith smiled in warm return when she saw the pleasure in his eyes. She took him by the hand and led him up the stairs to her bedroom. She lay on the bed and waited for him to join her.

Chris gladly stripped out of his clothes and Judith stared at his nakedness with appreciation and complete comfort and relaxation. It suddenly occurred to her that it was always supposed to be like this – she just never let it happen. Chris knelt on the end of the bed, leaned over and gently pulled her nightie panties down her legs and Judith smiled when she saw the way he looked at her in her nudeness.

Later, they lay together in the bed under the covers, their naked bodies pressed together as they both looked into the others eyes.

"It was worth the wait," Chris said with a grin.

Judith laughed and she kissed him, feeling more relaxed than she had in years and for the moment she had forgotten about all her woes.. It was the first time she had sex in more than a year and it was both a welcomed and needed distraction. Making love with Chris had been emotionally intense yet warmly therapeutic as well as liberating and invigorating. Though it happened with desperate impulse Judith suffered no remorse because she felt much better about herself while discovering something absolutely wonderful about Chris – her only remaining friend was a terrific lover.

"Any regrets?" Judith wondered as she snuggled close to him.

"Only that we didn't do this twenty years ago," Chris grinned.

"Maybe it wasn't supposed to happen until now," Judith theorized.

It was late afternoon now. They had taken a break from the lovemaking to eat lunch – Judith scampering naked down to the kitchen to retrieve some cold cuts, cheese, crackers and a couple of beers before they resumed the sex but now it was getting late and their wonderful afternoon tryst was about to end.

"I need to go get ready for Tim's wake," Chris sighed.

"I know," Judith smiled bravely.

"Think about what I mentioned earlier," Chris gently requested.

"I will," she promised.

"Wisconsin is quite nice," he said as he kissed her forehead before slipping out of the bed.

Judith watched him dress and she welcomed his goodbye kiss when he leaned over the bed and laid his lips on hers but she stayed in bed long after he left to let the emotions keep her mellow even though the thoughts of Wisconsin made her anxious. Even in her familiar misery and new found love, she couldn't see herself leaving Blue County and starting over half way across the country, far from her mother, the only one who stood by her through the entire sorry ordeal.

Judith finally pulled herself out of the bed, dressed, cleaned up the room, and began the supper preparations for her mother who – if she was aware of a change in Judith's demeanor – didn't say anything and that was okay with Judith. She went to bed that night thinking of Chris in a whole new perspective, amazed that her longtime friend could be so much more and intrigued by the thought that he had wanted her for so long.

Chris stopped by in the morning (he called her first this time), all dressed up in his funeral suit.

"You sure you don't want to come to the service with me?" He asked hopefully.

"I don't think that would be a good idea," Judith said. "We don't want to take away from Tim with people talking about me."

"I guess, Chris pouted, giving her a kiss. "I'll stop by after the reception."

"I'll be here," Judith smiled, kissing him back.

"I'll miss you," Chris smirked, sounding like a boyfriend instead of a friend.

Judith liked that feeling as she watched Chris leave the house and climb into his car but she knew that one afternoon of sex together really didn't solve any of their problems. He still lived in Wisconsin and she didn't see herself leaving Hillsboro. They both had the baggage of the mistakes of their past and they wouldn't be able to escape that reality.

Judith stuck to her routine and she had dinner almost finished when she heard voices coming through the front door. Oh God – Chris had bumped into her mother coming home.

"Judith, why didn't you tell me Christopher was back in town?" Mrs. Conway asked as they entered the kitchen where Judith was working.

"I guess I forgot," Judith lied, sucking in her breath not sure how her mother was going to react.

"Oh, wait," Mrs. Conway suddenly realized. "You two saw each other yesterday, didn't you?"

Judith blushed but she didn't say anything.

"I thought there was something different about you last night," Mrs. Conway said to her daughter.

"Never mind, Mother," Judith warned.

"Welcome home, Christopher," Mrs. Conway replied knowingly.

Mrs. Conway always liked Christopher – at least until he went Rambo on the felon and destroyed his reputation and image.

"It's been a long time since I've seen the two of you together," Mrs. Conway noted. "Will you join us for dinner, Christopher?

"That would be great," Chris replied.

"Will that be okay with you, Judith?" Her mother asked sardonically.

"Of course," Judith smiled politely. "I made plenty."

Most of the dinner conversation was about Tim's service and the reception that followed Judith's mother also asked Chris about his life in Wisconsin and how his family was doing. There was no discussion of Judith's recent troubles or her present situation although Judith sat in her chair fidgeting anxiously worried that her mother was going to mortify her by saying something stupid, inappropriate or just plain awkward. Judith was also worried that Chris might tell her mother about his invitation to Judith to join him in Wisconsin and she didn't want to deal with that tonight.

Mrs. Conway could tell by the way Christopher was gazing at Judith across the dinner table that something had taken place between the two. She always knew that Christopher was crazy for Judith but Judith was much too headstrong and distracted by other boys and her athletics to pay attention or notice. Christopher had foolishly waited for her all this time and now here was back on the scene after a ten year absence but was it too late for the two of them after all that had happened in their lives? Mrs. Conway wanted to see her daughter smile again and maybe Christopher Lapan was the person who could bring it back.

Christopher helped clean up after the meal was over and when he talked about heading to his sister's house for the evening, Mrs. Conway said she wouldn't protest if Christopher spent the night and that made Judith blush all the more.

"Ah, my sister would worry," Chris replied.

"Call her," Mrs. Conway suggested. "Tell her you're fine."

Chris stole a look at Judith who shrugged indifferently, not up to challenginv her mother so that's how Christopher ended up spending the night – and the next night – before his flight left on Sunday afternoon. There was no talk of Wisconsin during his stay and there was no sex in Judith's room – not wanting to be heard through the wall by Mrs. Conway, but they did cuddle and get frisky together while reminiscing about old times.

Chris even managed to get Judith out of the house for a rare excursion on Saturday. They drove past all their familiar old haunts (but avoided the high school of course) before heading south to the mall and dinner in Springdale. It was a wonderful day just like the old days, two friends together again only now they had made love and Chris was pretty sure he was in love with her – but of course, he knew that all along anyway. He didn't bring Wisconsin up because he didn't want to wreck their perfect time together but he secretly hoped and prayed that Judith would agree to join him out there. For him, this was a dream come be with her like this after so much time had passed.

They returned home late on Saturday after taking in a movie and a drink after dinner and now as time drew short there was no more putting off the large elephant in the room between them: Wisconsin or not?

Chris waited until they were in bed together – him in his briefs and a tee shirt – her in her undies and a sports bra top – both comfortably nestled under the covers. It was dark except for the dull lamp on her bedside table.

"Will you come to Wisconsin?" Chris asked as he cuddled her.

Judith looked away so he wouldn't see the tears forming in her eyes. "I can't," she whispered. "I'm sorry, but I just can't."

"Judith," Chris said slowly and calmly. "We've been close friends forever. And we found out the other day that we're good together. Why can't you accept that?"

"I do accept that," she said, through her quiet sobs. "I've been falling for you for a very long time but I was too preoccupied with my own life and career to pay attention."

"I don't think your career is an issue now," he said delicately.

"I told you I can't leave this place or my mother," Judith sighed heavily. "I'm sorry."

"So what are you going to do?" Chris asked curtly. "Live here like a hermit? You've shut yourself down completely. You're hiding out."

"What will running away solve?" She challenged. "I'll just be miserable there instead of here."

"Nobody will know you there," he reminded her.

"I'm not going anywhere," Judith announced. "That's not who I am, Chris. I can't expect you to rescue me even though I know that's exactly what you want to do. Maybe if we had been bold enough to act on our feelings when we were eighteen things would be different now. But we didn't and they aren't and this is where we're at. Please don't ask me to do something I can't do."

She closed her eyes and turned her back to him so she could cry privately.

"I think you're wrong," Chris told her. "I think you're making the wrong decision."

"Just because you ran doesn't mean I should," she said.

"I didn't run," Chris said defensively. "I started over."

"You left me behind," she pointed out. "You made your choice too."

Chris was momentarily caught off guard by that accusation. "I didn't know you wanted me to stay," he said quietly after a long pause.

"I didn't either," she admitted.

"I guess we both screwed up," Chris sighed.

"Yeah," Judith agreed sorrowfully.

"This is a stupid way to live, Judith," Chris complained. "When we lose our soul we've lost everything."

"Why did you leave?" She asked.

"I guess because I was chicken shit," Chris confessed. "It was easier that way."

"You could come back," Judith said, closing her eye to block more tears from coming. "I'd love to have you here with me again."

"I've thought about that every day," Chris admitted. "Look, I don't have the answers. I just did what feltright at the time even though I knew it was wrong. You were my best friend but I was the first to abandon you."

"I never asked you to stay," she said. "I could have asked you to stay. And if I could go back and do it over, I would have taken you to my bed a long time ago. And when you got in trouble I would have stood by you and I would have asked you to stay."

"You were wrapped up in your coaching," Chris reminded her. "You weren't thinking so much about me. You were thinking about your girls."

"I don't have them anymore," she said miserably. "I lost everything."

"Not everything," Chris told her.

"I convinced myself for so long that coaching was the only thing I could do, the only thing I wanted to do," she said, her voice breaking.

Chris rolled onto his side, wrapped his arms around Judith's waist and he pressed her close, her backside a perfect fit for his groin.

"It's okay to be dedicated and committed, Jude," Chris said, breathing into her hair from behind. "You made a difference in a lot of kids' lives."

Judith loved sharing her bed with a man again and she desperately wanted to be held by one like this every night. She snuggled close and she closed her eyes, her breaths slow and relaxed.

"Thank you, Chris," she whispered.

"I love you," he said.

She let him pull down her undies and make quiet love to her underneath the cover in the bed she had grown up in.

Chris awoke the next morning and found Judith wrapped around his torso, still asleep. He felt sad knowing he would be on a plane in a few hours and the words she had spoken last night stuck in his head - You could come back she had said and he wondered if that was possible. Would he be willing to risk his anonymity and face his past again – with her?

Judith stirred, opening her eyes and smiling when she saw him staring at her.

"You okay?" She asked.

"I'm fine," he smiled in return.

"You've always been there for me, Chris, even when I didn't even know it," Judith said. "I never had to say anything because you always knew what I'm was thinking or feeling or needing."

"My Judith sixth sense," Chris smiled.

"Even now," she marveled.

"I'm sorry I was dumb enough to leave you," Chris sighed. "I just didn't want to face all the drama and ridicule that was going to come from beating the shit out of that guy."

"And I'm sorry I was dumb enough not to see the best thing that ever happened to me was right in front of my face," Judith replied. "God, how many times you must have thought I was a shallow asshole, always looking for a new guy when the only guy I needed was right in front of me."

"We were together for the important times," Chris pointed out.

"But now you're leaving again," she sighed.

"Judith, I want you back in my life," Chris said. "Now more than ever."

"Really?" She said with surprise.

He nodded his head yes.

"Everyone else left me but here you are."

"I'm sorry it took me ten years to finally figure it out."

"I'm just grateful that you're here." she said, crying softly as she hugged him close.

"Let's go have breakfast at Johnny C's," Chris said.

"On Sunday morning? Everybody goes there," Judith worried. "They'll all see us."

"Let them," Chris grinned. "I'm not ashamed and I'm done hiding."

"You don't want to be seen with me," she warned.

"Sure I do," Chris smiled, pulling the covers back. "Let's go!"

Judith was bottomless from last night's quiet lovemaking and she giggled as she sat up on the bed, intrigued by the idea of marching into Johnny C's Diner to proudly announced that she was done hiding too. She jumped out of the bed and wiggled her naked backside at him. "Let's do it!" She said.

"That's my girl!" Chris laughed.

A half hour later, the ex-cop brutalizer and the ex-coach pervert walked hand in hand into the diner and they waited in line with the rest of the Sunday morning crowd for a booth. A few heads turned and there were some quiet rumblings but after a while a couple of familiar faces said hello as they walked past the couple and although Judith was squeezing Chris's hand until it hurt she realized that she was going to be okay.

"That wasn't so bad," Chris remarked when a booth finally opened and it was their turn to take a seat.

"I'm scared shitless," Judith admitted.

"Nobody's going to say or do anything," Chris assured her. "Life goes on."

"What do I say if somebody does say something to me?" Judith asked.

"You don't have to say anything, Jude," Chris told her. "You don't owe anybody an explanation. You politely redirect the conversation and you don't acknowledge anything anybody says if you don't want to. Most people aren't going to bother us. It's going to be okay."

"Easy for you to say," Judith pouted. "You're leaving in a couple of hours."

"Yeah, but I'm coming back," Chris announced.

"You are?" Judith asked with surprise.

"If you can't come to me then I'm coming to you," Chris informed her.

Judith's eyes filled. "I couldn't ask you to do that," she said softly.

"You didn't ask," Chris replied. "But the reasons why I left no longer apply. I'm coming home to be with you."

"What about your job?"

"It's all phone and on line consultation and travelling to sites," Chris explained. "I can live anywhere and still do that. I'll just have to fly to Milwaukee every month or so for the team meetings."

"What about your condo?"

"I'll sell it or rent it out."

"You're crazy."

"I'm crazy for you!" He laughed.

The waitress came to the table to take their order.

"Hi Coach," The twenty-something waitress said, smiling at Judith who glanced up and recognized her former softball team catcher Sally Clarkson from a few years back.

"Hello, Sal," Judith said, trying not to slump in her booth seat from sudden embarrassment and despair.

"I haven't seen you in here for a while," Sally noted.

"Well,,..I…I…." Judith struggled to find the right thing to say.

"It's nice to see you, Coach," Sally said. "Please don't be shy about coming back."

"Thanks, Sally," Judith said with relief.

Sally leaned over and whispered: "Don't let the assholes get to you," she advised her former coach and mentor.

"My sentiments exactly," Chris grinned, having overheard the remark.

"I won't," Judith blushed, appreciating Sally's support.

"See," Chris said when Sally left with their breakfast orders. "Piece of cake."

"For every one Sally there will be ten assholes," Judith worried.

"That's right," Chris agreed. "And they're the assholes – not you."

"So," Judith said, giving him long stare. "Are you going to move in with me and my mother?" She asked sarcastically.

"Maybe for a while," Chris shrugged.

Judith sat back in her booth bench and gave him an amused gaze. "Maybe we can start jogging together again," she suggested.

"That would be productive," Chris agreed. "We can renew our memberships at The Panther's Gym. Who knows, maybe you can even land a job there. The Panther wasn't the most respectable guy around in his day."

"Yeah, but he's dead," Judith pointed out.

"And people still come to the gym," Chris said.

"Wow," Judith realized with amazement.

"What?" Chris asked.

"We're really going to do a do over, aren't we?"

Chris nodded his head yes. "If anybody deserves it, you do, Jude."

"I'm still going to be perverted in many people's eyes."

"We're only as scandalized as we allow ourselves to be," Chris replied. "Today, I'm starting over. What about you?"

"Today I'm starting over too," Judith agreed – With you!"