|30 Kisses: Shinichi and Ran
Author: Candyland PM
For the 30 Kisses LJ Community. Thirty themes, thirty stories, thirty kisses for Shinichi and Ran.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Shinichi K./Conan E. & Ran M. - Chapters: 30 - Words: 68,429 - Reviews: 517 - Favs: 304 - Follows: 64 - Updated: 05-21-06 - Published: 11-02-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2644536
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Pairing: Kudo Shinichi/Mouri Ran
Fandom: Detective Conan
Rating: PG-13 (make-out-tastic!)
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Gosho Aoyama. I claim none, I merely borrow them and dress them up in frilly smocks and make them dance to my ever-changing will like the puppets they are.
Summary: The storm's raging, the power's out, they're trapped, and Ran's angry...
Mouri Ran was considering it.
She looked forlornly out the window and swallowed hard. She could barely see beyond the glass, the rain was coming down so hard and the clouds were so dark. Which was worse—staying here, or running off into the tempest?
Her weary eyes drifted around her. She was standing just beyond the front door in the darkened foyer, the entryway of the Kudo home. Shinichi's home.
Coming here was definitely not the smartest thing she had ever done. She shouldn't have been so impulsive. And now she was trapped, unable to leave. She didn't want to talk to him. She didn't want to see him. She hated him—he had lied to her.
She shouldn't have come.
So why was she here?
It was only a matter of time before her presence was discovered. Kudo Shinichi was not one who did not notice things amiss, as his record and prowess as a detective had repeatedly proven. Sooner or later, he'd hear something, and come to see what was up. For all she knew, he could hear her breathing from wherever he was in the house.
Maybe she should go find him, if only to do him the simple courtesy of letting him know that he had a temporary house-guest. Then she could go sit somewhere and wait for the storm to clear so she could leave. Preferably, sit somewhere on the other side of the house. Yes, that was it…
She knew enough of her longtime best friend to be able to pinpoint the most likely places he would be within the enormous house. Humans were creatures of habit, after all, and though he was brilliant, Shinichi was no exception to that rule. So she followed her instincts, and headed for the library.
Feeling more than a little embarrassed, she tapped lightly on the door with the back of one hand, and nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a soft Come in. So he was in there, and he had invited her in. Taking a deep breath and gathering the shreds of her already-shot nerves, she opened the door and went in, praying to every deity she had ever heard of that she didn't start to cry again.
He watched her enter fairly impassively, with only the tiniest raise of one eyebrow to betray his surprise. He was curled up in a chair near the unlit fireplace that Ran knew from experience was extremely comfortable; there was a book in his hands, most likely one of those mystery novels he so favored.
"Ran…" he said her name, and she willed her heart not to skip beats. "Why are you here?"
It wasn't a challenge, and it wasn't an insult. His tone was simple, asking what she was doing in his home. And for one heartbeat, she almost blurted out a truth that she herself wasn't sure of. But her tongue froze, and she quickly made up a story. "I—I got caught in the storm," she improvised. "This was the closest place. I figured you wouldn't mind if I waited it out."
Cerulean eyes scanned over her, and she had the sudden, disconcerting feeling that he was reading her mind. Was that what it felt like to a suspect in one of his cases? She could almost pity those people. That thoughtful stare was just piercing, like nothing could hide from it.
The feeling was compounded when he smiled—almost sadly—and shook his head, turning back to his book. "The storm started fifteen minutes ago, and you're completely dry. You haven't been outside since it started raining. And I know I'm…not exactly your favorite person right now. Agasa lives next door—you could have gone there."
Her heart plummeted, and she felt it crash somewhere down by her shoes.
"You're welcome to stay here as long as you need," he went on, flipping a page. "I won't chase you out. Make yourself comfortable." He turned another page a few seconds later, and she vaguely wondered if he was actually looking at the words; his eyes didn't seem to be focused on much of anything that she could see.
"I—thank you," she finished lamely. But she didn't move from the doorway, and her eyes did not move from the form in the chair. Her trained eye saw the tension in his shoulders grow beneath her watchful gaze, and she didn't miss the tiny flush that made its way to his face.
"You can sit down," he said after a tense moment.
She moved slowly into the room, and took another, equally comfortable chair, which she perched on as though afraid it would break. Hands stayed clasped in her lap, eyes downcast. She was thinking.
Lightning flared, illuminating the sky beyond the windows.
He flipped another page, convincing her that he wasn't really reading anything.
Finally, it was just too much.
"Say something," she snapped suddenly. He jolted, and looked at her with surprise clearly printed on his face, so she raced on, "Please, just say something. Anything."
His expression shifted from surprise to something that was strangely akin to sadness. "You said you didn't want to talk to me right now. I'll respect that."
The next few harsh words that had been poised on her tongue froze and died; her anger flooded away, puddling around her feet, leaving only a very real exhaustion. She was angry, and tired of it, but her pride wouldn't let her do anything about it right now.
"No, I don't want to hear it!"
"Just leave me alone, okay? I need to think! Just—don't talk to me! Just stay away from me!"
The minute the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could snatch them back and hide them away forever, but she refused to back down. She heard him make a small noise, the emotion behind which she couldn't place, then footsteps as he walked away without another word.
As he retreated, she could have sworn she heard something shatter.
She might as well have just ripped him open with her fingernails and watched him bleed to death on the floor. It probably would have hurt less, and the pain would have been over a lot faster. For him, anyway. For her…she didn't know if even time could heal these wounds.
She hated him. He had lied to her.
"If you want to talk…" he added quietly, his voice trailing off.
She remained motionless, then nodded once. "You lied to me," she began curtly. "You lied to me for all that time." She felt her face burn, though whether it was from anger, shame, or something else entirely, she wasn't sure. "I told Conan a lot of secrets. And you just—" The sentence clipped off as her hands tightened into white-knuckled fists in her lap.
"I know…Ran, I'm sorry. I just couldn't tell you…" Shinichi whispered. He had been unusually somber since that day; there was none of the jocular tone, none of the teasing. He was almost a shell, and she couldn't help but wonder how much of that was her fault, however indirectly. "I told you all of the reasons. I didn't want to…"
"But you did." She stood up suddenly, making him jump again. The words were overly harsh, even to her own ears. They'd had this talk once already, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized that he had done the best he truly could in his situation.
Damn her pride…why was she so angry all of a sudden?
She was a bit surprised when he closed the book and set it on the arm of the chair before standing up. He turned to face her, and she was amazed when he met her gaze squarely. She took a very deep breath and reminded herself not to get lost in those eyes.
"If I make you so angry, maybe I should just back out of your life gracefully," Shinichi said, his expression unreadable, "while we both still have some pride left. Before this gets ugly." One short sentence, with all the shattering effects of a brick thrown through a window.
Ran started to shake—fury, frustration, heartbreak, sadness, and a whole myriad of other emotions. He would dare even suggest such a thing? How dare he! He was the reason behind this, and he was trying to—to…she couldn't even finish the thought coherently. She was about to raise a fist and show him exactly what he could do with that little notion when there was a loud crack outside—
—and the house went dark.
For a moment, it was silent.
"Well, this isn't good," Shinichi's voice commented softly through the darkness.
"No shit, Sherlock," Ran shot back without thinking.
A moment of silence. Then he wryly replied, "I'll take that as a compliment, I think." But even the teasing and sarcasm that were almost his trademarks sounded forced and unnatural
Another long minute of quiet, save for the storm.
Then there was a creak on the landing outside the door.
Ran shrieked and dove forward, grappling through the darkness. And through some miracle, her arms managed to close around Shinichi's torso. She felt the rough fabric of his sweatshirt against her cheek, felt his warmth right through the thick material. And she clung to him for dear life, eyes squeezed shut against the dark room.
"Uh, Ran?" he sounded confused. Uncertain hands found their way to her shoulders.
"Shinichi," she said flatly, "remember all those times when we were kids and you used to tease me all the time and try to scare me half to death by telling me that your house was haunted and that the ghosts liked to eat little girls and all that fun stuff?"
"I hate you."Another short period of silence, tempered only by the sound of the storm. Then he chuckled lightly, "I'm sorry." He paused. "You're still afraid of ghosts?" He sounded vaguely amused, in spite of how tense the situation between them really was.
It was at that point that both seemed to realize their position—pressed together, her face buried in his shoulder, one of his hands on her shoulder and the other on her back. So very close…
"Umm…I think I should go light a fire, or some candles or something…" he actually stammered. Kudo Shinichi, the ever-calm, consistently level-headed detective, never stuttered. The hands removed themselves, and there was a soft rustle as he moved away. The warm comfort against the darkness was gone, and Ran suddenly felt very cold.
She waited patiently, not moving; she could hear him moving around. His attempts to give them light were marked by a few thuds, a couple of clangs, an exclamation of pain or two, and one very loud, very rude, very creative curse. But finally, after innumerable moments in the darkness, there was a spark, and a lighted match moved through the air, seemingly aided by invisible hands, before finally, a tiny flame blossomed. It grew, and before too long, the fireplace was blazing, effectively chasing the darkness away.
The room was bathed in a soft, yellow light; it fell in shadows across Shinichi's features, and for a split second, Ran was certain she saw Conan there. But it was a mere flicker, the barest recollection of something that had only recently come to light, and it vanished in the time it took for her to blink, leaving only Shinichi, kneeling beside the hearth.
Then he rose, and the shadows shifted. This time, Ran clearly saw something else: she saw a young man, all of eighteen years old, who was far too worn-down for his age. She saw someone who had been dragged through the lowest levels of hell face-down, but was still standing upright. But she also saw exhaustion, sadness, sorrow, and pain. All of it and more, screaming from blue eyes, twin sapphires caught in the fleeting shadows of the firelight.
Ran's breath hitched.
She hated him. He had lied to her.
"Ran…why did you come here?" he asked.
He was so subdued, it was like he was a different person. Two young men of the same appearance and intelligence, both responding to the name Kudo Shinichi. But one was the calm, cool private eye who never missed his mark in a case and whose greatest pleasure (outside of soccer and solving a difficult case) was mercilessly teasing his best friend, while this one was shy, uncertain, no confidence at all. There was nothing left; the calm he had displayed when she had come into the room was a mask that had slipped away from his precious control, sliding from his features to reveal the very-real pain that lay underneath.
He had brought down the Black Organization, at the cost of her trust. He had lied to her…
…but she had broken him.
Something compelled her to be honest this time. "I don't know…"
She was walking, alone. If she had stayed inside, she would have gone royally insane. Best to get out now and just try and calm herself down. And so she had wandered, not paying attention to where she was going until she noticed that it was getting late, and there were clouds rolling.
It was then that she had noticed where her feet had taken her. She was beyond the gates, looking up at a house she knew all-too-well. How many times had she chased her friend back to that house after school? She knew the enormous home like it was her own.
And somewhere within it was the man she loved.
Her body seemed to have acquired a mind of its own; her hands were pushing the gates open even as her thoughts continued to run rampant, and she was halfway down the long driveway before her mind caught up with her actions.
But she didn't stop, she didn't want to stop. Her hands fumbled at the doorknob and she let herself in. That was purely force of habit—she was such a frequent visitor to the Kudo home that she rarely even bothered knocking anymore. Shinichi had always teased that someday she would walk in and see something she wasn't supposed to.
Surprisingly, it was the sound of her feet against the hard floor that snapped her out of her trance-like state. She was in Shinichi's house. She had run here, and was panting slightly from exertion. But she had opened the door and walked in, just like old times.
She had to leave.
Unfortunately, this whole situation seemed to be one big joke, some god playing a cruel trick on her. The clouds that had been gathering all day finally gave way, and the storm was let loose. It gathered steam quickly, and within moments, the 'storm of the century' was sweeping through town. She stared out the window at the storm, realizing slowly that she was trapped in a house with a man she despised and loved more than life itself.
She hated him…no, not really. Was that it at all?
He turned away from her, hiding his expression and moving away from the firelight, further into the cover of the shadows. He was walking away, turning his back; she realized belatedly that maybe it was because he just didn't know what to do anymore.
Before Ran even realized she was moving, she had crossed the distance between them and slid her arms around his waist. Her head slumped forward to rest against the back of his shoulder. She felt him tense beneath her touch, but didn't back away.
"I'm leaving," he said quietly.
At first, she didn't understand. "What do you mean?"
"I'm going to America," he elaborated. "With my parents."
"When will you come back?" Ran asked shakily. "How long will you be gone?"
A moment of dead silence reigned before he answered, "I'm moving there permanently, Ran."
There was a very unpleasant noise then—Ran didn't know if Shinichi heard it, but it was loud and clear to her. The tragic sound of what was left of her broken heart imploding into even more miniscule pieces. "But—but why?" She was mortified when her voice cracked and the tears came anew.
A pause. "I don't want to stay here, Ran," Shinichi sighed; one of his hands moved to cover one of hers on his stomach, but the tension remained. He seemed deflated, the ego and confidence that had been the trademarks of the Holmes of the Heisai era all but vanished. "Everyone's miserable because of me…I need to get away."
"But—but…" Her mind went completely void of words. She couldn't speak; there was just that raw, overwhelming horror at the prospect of losing him again—this time for real. He wouldn't even be at her side in disguise this time.
Once upon a time, it had been her and Shinichi, inseparable friends. Then Shinichi had vanished, and Conan had fallen into her life; she'd had them both in a sense at that point. Shinichi called at random intervals, and Conan, her adoptive little brother, followed her around like a small shadow, always watching over her shoulder with a gaze that was far too knowing for his supposed age. And she had lost Conan when the truth had come out.
But Shinichi had come back. She hadn't wanted to admit it, but she already knew that she would eventually forgive him, and maybe they could grasp at some of what had been stolen from them by the Black Organization's poison. Things could never go back to what they had been before, but maybe…
But if he left now…she would never see him again.
She didn't hate him…
Her thoughts were interrupted when he moved away, so suddenly that he stepped right out of her grip; he turned to look at her, his features half-shrouded in shadow. "It's for the best," he said, sounding almost as though trying to convince himself as much as her.
"Shinichi—" Still, no words would come to her.
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then he apparently decided something and took a deep breath. "I have something I need to tell you before I leave, though…" His expression shifted from sorrowful to something akin to shame. "I—I know I probably shouldn't tell you…and I know this isn't special or romantic or anything…" He was starting to babble, hands waving as he spoke. "And I don't have flowers or anything to give you, and you'll probably hate me for doing this now, but…"
He paused, and she thought he was going to stop. But instead, he startled her by stepping forward and wrapping both his arms around her, burying his face in her shoulder; she was too surprised to react. "I love you, Ran. I'm in love with you…I have been since before I even knew what it was." His words were almost a sob. "I should've told you that day at Tropical Land, but…" He trailed off, and after a moment, he released her, stepping back the tiniest bit. The firelight fluttered across his terrified expression.
Ran was stunned, trying to process his declaration. But rather than feeling like the floor had been dropped out from under her again, she felt…calm. Almost…relieved. Had she been thinking clearly, she probably would have grabbed on and not let go. Ever. But wait—if he felt that strongly about her, then why would he…she had to ask. "If you love me," she whispered, snaking her arms around his waist, "then why are you leaving me?"
"After what happened? Ran, I don't…" he murmured. "Could you…" Was he that broken, after all that had happened? There was no confidence left in him at all. If they could survive this, Ran honestly believed that they could survive anything. But would they survive this? What could she do?
Her words would never be enough to convince him. He was too far gone now. She could tell him the entire truth—that it would kill her more to lose him then it would for him to stay—and it wouldn't change his mind; he wouldn't believe her. The man was far too pigheaded for his own good, and even if her words could somehow convince him to stay, it could be eons before she got him straightened out again, convinced that it was true.
So she would have to convince him another way. She wished desperately that there was some magic that would allow him to see into her mind, her heart, and him into hers, so that he would know, beyond any shadow of doubt, how she felt. Her fluttering heart slammed itself against her ribs, a bird beating itself senseless in a vain attempt to escape from its cage.
"Shinichi…Shinichi, you baka…" One of her hands moved of its own volition, sliding up his arm to touch the side of his neck. "Do you really think it would make me happier if you left?" He looked surprised; she felt his muscles tense in surprise and apprehension, but otherwise he didn't move an inch. "Shinichi…I love you. If you leave me now, it would break my heart. I already lost you once—do you think I could go through it again?"
"But—" he started to protest, looking more than a little lost. "You said—"
She didn't think anymore. Thoughts were a hindrance, an obstacle merely slowing her down. She just moved. His name was the last breath whispered across her lips as she closed the small gap between them…and kissed him, just like she had so many times in her dreams.Time froze, and yet hours sped by in a heartbeat. Fireworks exploded in her ears, and chills raced down her spine. Her senses were alight, on fire, picking up every single nuance of scent, taste, and touch.
It doubled when she felt Shinichi's unsteady hands move, one to the small of her back, the other up to circle her shoulders possessively. Whether he was actually thinking or just moving on instinct, she hadn't a clue. His fingers traced tiny patterns on her back, and even through her jacket and shirt, the touch left her skin tingling. He had tensed as stiff as iron at the first contact, but slowly, she could feel him relax as he responded to unspoken questions.
Perhaps his confidence was growing, or perhaps he didn't even know what he was going, but the hand on her shoulder moved up to her face; one thumb slid over her chin, gently parting her lips to let him in. She moaned slightly in surprise, but made no arguments. That accomplished, his hand moved to the back of her head, fingers tangling themselves in long hair. He allowed not even an iota of space between them, using the hand on her lower back to press her tightly against him, as though they could meld together and become one instead of two.
She vaguely remembered that she had been angry a very short time ago. But now she couldn't think of anything except Shinichi, her Shinichi. Since when was he so aggressive? The calm, collected detective who could lay out any crime with flawless eloquence, but who could barely speak his own heart out loud, and who five minutes ago had been prepared to walk out of her life forever because he felt lower than dirt for making her cry…those were his lips caressing hers with that gentle desperation, and his hands resting against her back and sides, hesitant caresses that left her wanting, needing more.
It frightened her, not only the depth of emotion reflected in kisses and touches, but the response it elicited in her. It unearthed something buried within her, something warm and passionate that she hadn't known existed—a need, a desperate wanting. She was drowning in a well of fire, of purest want.
Ran just let go, giving in and letting her instincts dictate her actions and movements. One arm snaked around his neck, fingers tangling in short brown hair; the other grabbed the front of his sweatshirt in a tight fist, pulling him closer. A moan escaped her without her permission, but it only seemed to further encourage him, and his fingers splayed out across her back, crushing her against him.
Reality at that moment, she realized decisively, was far, far superior to anything her subconscious could have come up with, in even her wildest dreams. And outside, thunder and lightning continued to rumble across the charcoal-colored sky.
It wasn't until her jacket slowly slid from her shoulders to a heap on the floor at her feet that Ran took a quick inventory of herself. Her hair was mussed, probably beyond immediate repair, her clothing was skewed on her slender frame, and she could barely breathe. She should stop…they needed to stop…
His lips slid from hers, tracing a path up her jaw line. She thought she groaned his name again, but she honestly wasn't sure. Her vision had clouded, and she was walking through a haze, moving through water. There was just Shinichi and his seemingly-endless love, filling her senses.
What did he feel? Did he feel the same desperation she did, the same fears of what would come from this? Was he even thinking anymore? This was Shinichi, her best friend since childhood, yet she was hard-pressed to say exactly when she had realized that he was male, and so much more to her than the simple title of 'friend.' But if he had felt this way for this long…being trapped as Conan had left him completely unable to act, were he ever to get up the actual nerve to do it.
And…hadn't Shinichi been wearing a sweatshirt a minute ago? But it was gone; now he was just wearing a T-shirt, and if she thought about it for a hundred years, she was certain she would never know where it had gone. Not that it matter—there were other things more important at the moment.
He was teasing her neck now. And, in a move she had never realized he was bold enough to make, one of his hands slid under her shirt, his fingers sliding over the smooth, bare skin of her back. Did he even know what he was doing anymore? Maybe, maybe not, but she didn't want to stop him. She clung to him, wondering if it was all some bizarre dream, and if she let go, she would be in her own bed, and Shinichi would meet her for the walk to school…
Or would Conan be buzzing around, asking about breakfast?
Ran's few remaining thoughts finally disintegrated into that oh-so-pleasant fog as he found a particularly sensitive spot on her neck, and without meaning to or thinking about it, she moved her head forward and gently bit at the spot where his jaw line met his throat.
He froze, and for a moment she wondered fearfully if she had done something wrong.
But all remaining thoughts were derailed as Shinichi pressed against her again, his lips reclaiming hers while he leaned into her. Ran surrendered to him and herself as he used the hand on her back to gently lower her to the fire-warmed rug on the floor.
Beyond the window, the thunder and lightning subsided, but the rain continued to fall in sheets.
Shinichi didn't move—he was afraid to. But it had been several minutes, and neither of them had really moved or spoken, and he was worried. Gathering his courage and praying she wouldn't hate him or deck him too hard, he lifted his head slightly from its pillow on her shoulder and whispered, "Ran?"
"Hmm?" the mumble was drowsy, and he wondered vaguely if she had been falling asleep.
"Are you okay?"
Ran sighed, though it wasn't so much upset as contented; he was always so concerned. Her fingers traced tiny patterns on his shoulder, teasing the muscles there into relaxation. "I'm fine…" And it was true. She was warm and comfortable, relaxing in the arms of her beloved; she felt safe. "You know, you really don't have to worry so much." Sensing he was about to protest, she went on. "I'm not a child, Shinichi. I can decide things for myself."
He made a little noise at her declaration, but otherwise relaxed a little bit, and for the moment, it seemed his protests had died. She let out another sigh and let her eyelids droop over tired eyes. It was silent, save for the rain against the roof, the fire crackling noisily, and their slow, steady breathing. They were both a royal mess—more or less clothed (they hadn't quite gone that far), but disheveled beyond immediate repair—not that anyone was around to see their state.
Finally, he shifted, rolling over onto his side next to her; one of his arms stayed comfortably around her waist, though. "So…umm…" he spoke hesitantly, "…what happens now?"
His question sparked a horrible thought, and Ran propped herself up on one elbow to look at him with wide eyes. "…are you still going to leave?" she asked, trying valiantly not to start trembling. He would feel it, and he could always see right through her anyway.
Shinichi stared at her. "Ran…"
All the warmth, the happiness that had accumulated vanished as tears sprang to her eyes again and she started to shake, against her will. Her own body continued to betray her though its insubordination.
But his arm tightened around her, pulling her closer once more, and he kissed her again. "There's no way I could just leave you after that. I mean…umm…" he blushed and swallowed hard, "…if you'll have me…I'll stay."
Silence for a moment. Then, she dove at him throwing her arms around his neck in the tightest hug she could muster, rolling him over in the process. "Don't you dare leave me again, you understand?"
"…choking…not breathing…" he gasped, and she blushed sheepishly as she loosened her grasp on him; she did not, however, let go entirely. "Ran…I told you. I love you. I just thought…after everything…" He was grappling now to explain something that had made perfect sense to him only a short time before. Finally he gave up and just looked at her sheepishly.
"Baka!" she admonished without putting much force behind the word. "Shinichi…yes, I was angry, but I'm not anymore." The blush already touching her face deepened as she thought of what had just happened between them. They really had grown up, hadn't they? "I don't want you to leave. I already lost you once—I don't think I could do it again."
Gentle fingers touched her cheek. "Ran…"
"Just—don't hide from me again," she half-begged, reaching up and touching his hand as it caressed the side of her face. "Please."
He nodded silently. Then he seemed to think something over for a minute before he spoke again. "Sooooo…whatcha doing Friday night?" The attempt at the joke was potentially dangerous, he knew, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of any other damn thing to say.
And he was inordinately relieved when she laughed and gave him a playful push on the shoulder. He caught her wrist and pulled her to him again to seal the deal with a kiss.Outside, the storm of the century finally broke as the rain died away and stopped. The first few rays of warm, golden sunlight began to peek through the thick blanket of clouds. And the world, a world that only moments before had been beaten by rain and threatened by thunder and lightning, began to heal itself anew in a process as old as time itself.
I dabbled with the idea of trying to cram all thirty themes into one extra story, but…well, I've got other projects that I want to go work on, like the Hugs for Heiji and Kazuha, the Nights for Kaito and Aoko, and just various other things. So with this, the challenge concludes. Thank you all for reading and sticking with me through them all. I hope you enjoyed the thirty kisses of Shinichi and Ran.
BTW, I hereby give this chapter dual dedicatation: first, to the lovely miss sapphirestars.
It was officially the cutest thing ever when she asked me (in a small
voice) when I was going to post this. Secondly, to the fabulous MichelleTherese, who is an amazing writer and the mistress of constructive criticism--I do listen, and I appreciate it! (hugs to both)
And now...I leave you with
this while I go to Europe for a week. See you all when I get back. Much
love, everyone! Ciao! (Candy-chan toodles off into the sunset, counting