I want everyone to know that I will not abandon this story. I really enjoy writing for it despite the length it takes me between chapters to get it updated. There will, unfortunately, be another long wait for the next chapter, but with a purpose this time. I am currently trying to make 100 necklaces and bracelets out of hemp by the end of the month. I'm currently working on #34 so I still have a fair bit of a way to go. These are all for a fundraiser event for breast cancer being held at the university my sister attends.
I never get tired of saying this, but I must offer my thanks to my wonderful beta, WandaXmaximoff (ID: 747588). I always love having her look over my chapters and seeing what she has to say after. You should really check out her stories, I'm certain you'll find reading them a great way to spend some time.
When supper was about ready to be served, C.J. elected to go out to the tree house to collect Riley and Shannon. They'd been gone for a while and she couldn't help but wonder what they'd been doing to fill the time.
As she drew closer to Riley's tree house, the sound of masculine laughter reached her ears – both Riley's and Shannon's. It made her happy to know that they were getting on well together as both of them were important to her. She couldn't imagine her life without either of them in it and hoped she'd never have to find out what it would be like.
"Hello up there!" C.J. called out, standing near the bottom of the ladder. She tilted her head back, using one hand to shield her eyes from the sun's rays.
Above her, the laughter stopped. Then there was a scuffling sound which C.J. could barely make out, followed by the door opening and Riley's head appearing over the top of the ladder.
"Hi, Aunt C.J.! What's up?"
"You are," she replied, smiling when he started laughing at her poor joke.
Shannon appeared next to Riley. "Uh oh, are we in trouble?" He smiled as he asked the question.
"No, I came out because its almost time for supper. So you need to get back to the house and get washed up." She looked at both of them as she said it, though her words had been directed more to Riley than Shannon.
Riley came down the ladder and threw his arms around C.J.'s waist while Shannon took his turn to make his descent.
"I like this guy," Riley whispered for C.J.'s ears alone. "You should keep him." He quickly kissed C.J.'s cheek then smiled at her as he pulled back, before darting off in the direction of the house.
Shannon reached the bottom of the ladder and glanced in Riley's direction before closing the distance between himself and C.J. She turned to him, smiling as she raised her arms and slid them around his neck.
Shannon put his hands on her hips. "Can I get a little dessert before supper?" He asked, smirking.
C.J. giggled. "That is so corny!" She giggled again but still obligingly raised her head.
They took this chance to indulge their desires, knowing there would be few opportunities in the days to come. To set a good example for Riley, they would be sleeping in separate rooms while the stayed here.
"Mmm," C.J. moaned softly, easing back slightly. She looked up at Shannon, an eyebrow arched as she regarded him. "Ok, now why do you taste like chocolate?"
"Uhh... I'm just naturally sweet, I guess," Shannon replied, flashing a wide, innocent grin.
C.J. laughed at the obvious lie. "At least tell me that Riley left enough room in his belly for supper because I know you weren't eating junk food by yourself."
"Yeah, he'll be fine. He only had one," Shannon admitted.
"You're lucky." C.J. rose up to place a chaste kiss on Shannon's lips.
As they parted, his left hand sought her right one and their fingers interlaced. They walked back to the house together, moving at a slower pace than that of Riley's – the boy had already disappeared into the house.
"He's a great kid, you know," Shannon commented after a few moments' silence. "You did really good with him."
"My Aunt and Uncle had more to do with how he turned out than I did," C.J. protested, glancing briefly at Shannon as they continued walking.
"It started with you, though," Shannon insisted. "With your choice to let Riley go. It took a lot of courage to do what you did, the choices you made."
C.J. blushed at Shannon's praise. She didn't see it the way he did, like it had been some noble sacrifice. She'd hated being pregnant, hated the baby inside her. Many times she'd wished the baby would just cease to be. Up until she'd given birth, she'd been determined to sign her rights away and leave the baby to an unknown fate.
But then he'd come out, slid into the doctor's hands, then was flipped over and laid on her chest. The doctor hadn't known she was giving the baby up for adoption, or else he might not have made that move. But the moment that baby boy had looked into her eyes, so much of her anger towards him had just melted away. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she'd sobbed as she'd help him. She'd finally understood that he was truly an innocent and she couldn't expect to lay blame upon him for the sins of his father; her stepfather.
It was also at that point that she'd known she could never give him up completely, but neither was she ready to tackle the difficulties of being a teenage mother. So Pam and Don had become Riley's parents. That choice hadn't been without its problems, but with time it had proven to be the best choice for all involved.
Shannon stopped C.J. in her tracks and tugged her around to face him. He'd seen the thoughtful frown marring her brow and knew she was dwelling negatively on the past.
C.J. looked up at Shannon curiously, wondering why he'd stopped her.
Shannon raised his right hand and stroked his fingertips across her brow. "Stop that right now," he ordered firmly.
"What?" C.J. asked, clearly confused.
"Those thoughts in your head that are telling you that you didn't do good enough or say the right things in the past."
C.J. looked up at Shannon in surprise. "How did you..." she started to ask, then trailed off.
"Because I know you, Princess. You don't get upset or mad often but when you do, its either because one of your girls was mistreated or because you are being too hard on yourself."
C.J. knew Shannon was right. It didn't stop her from being harsh on herself, but she knew he was right. She sighed and leaned toward him, resting her forehead against his chest. But Shannon wouldn't let her hide like that. He tucked his right hand beneath her chin and gently but firmly tilted her head up to meet his gaze.
"Love you," Shannon said with a goofy smile, right before he leaned down to kiss her.
C.J. couldn't help the smile that blossomed on her face just before Shannon's lips pressed against her own. He knew her so well that at times it seemed like he was inside her head. At one point she might have thought this would scare her, but right now it didn't. Instead, it was comforting in a strange way that Shannon knew her so well that he could often guess what she was thinking.
Little did either of them know that they were being watched by the older couple of Pam and Don, who were both smiling at the sight that Shannon and C.J. presented; that of a passionate couple obviously in love.
Meredith ran a brush through her long, dark hair as she gazed at her reflection in the mirror above the bathroom sink. It had been a rough day today – driving two girls to separate appointments several hours apart with the same doctor, a new girl had arrived at the home acting unpleasant as hell and like she was doing the group home a favor just by being there – dealing with her had nearly caused Meredith to be late getting to the second appointment, and her car had broken down on the way back to the group home the second time.
Two hours and several hundred dollars later, Meredith and her young charge were finally on their way.
After the day Meredith had less than enthusiastically experienced, she felt she was due for a little relaxation. So she'd arranged for one of the other three women who worked and lived at the group home to keep an eye on the girls tonight while she went out to a bar. She would take her cellphone just in case – aside from C.J. who wasn't here, she was the only one with power to sign documents regarding the girls, especially in the event of a medical emergency – but she hoped her night wouldn't e interrupted.
And not just because she planned to do more than just a little drinking tonight, either.
This job – this place, even – was what she'd dreamed of doing for years. But even living a dream, there were times when you just needed a break from it all. Tonight was one of those times.
She wore black hip hugger jeans, a dark blue camisole top with silver sequins in the pattern of a large butterfly on the front, and a black silk short waist jacket left open at the front. On her feet were low-heeled slingback sandals in a silver color, showing off her perfectly-shaped toes and manicured nails – painted a coral pink with silver flecks to match the color of her fingernails.
While it wasn't exactly sandal weather with the brisk wind blowing outside, Meredith reasoned that she would only be outside long enough to walk to and from her car. The rest of the time she would be indoors.
After attaching a silver chain with a butterfly pendant around her neck and applying some make up – not much, just some eyeshadow, mascara and lip gloss – she was ready to go.
The club Meredith drove to – Indigo – had been open less than a year but it was extremely popular, seeing a steady stream of customers come through its doors each night since its opening. The interior was decorated in dark blues and black, but was well lit.
There was a well-stocked bar, a kitchen where various foods could be made – hamburgers, nachos, fries and the like – an area for tables and chairs, as well as space for people to play pool and dance if they chose. Located by the dance floor was a stage. Most nights a DJ was set up there to play music for the crowd, but tonight – which Meredith hadn't realized until she'd gotten there – was karaoke night.
It wasn't karaoke as most people would first think of it – someone up on stage singing along with the vocal artist in whatever song they'd chosen. Karaoke at Indigo meant that only your voice would be heard with the instrumental accompaniment. It also meant that there was often more pressure on the performer to do well, since the person on stage would be the only voice the people heard.
Indigo also had two VIP lounges upstairs, which were like smaller versions of the downstairs area. People renting these rooms out for a party had their own bar and bartender to cater to them. Music could either be played by a DJ for an additional fee, or else they could have the same music from downstairs played on speakers set up throughout the room.
As Meredith walked into the club, the music was already blaring – earlier in the evening when people were just starting to come in, the volume was lower. As the crowd grew in size, so did the size of the sound.
Some poor, deluded person was trying to sing to Rammstein's Ich Will. Meredith didn't care how many people tried, an English-speaking person just wasn't meant to sing a song written in German.
Trying not to laugh, Meredith made her way over to the bar to order a Rum and Coke. After paying for her drink, she picked it up and turned around, leaning against the bar as she surveyed the crowd.
The man trying to sing in German – a pasty-faced short man with read hair and a Hawaiian shirt – finished his song and walked off the stage to both applause and laughter. It was generally a good-natured crowd that came here – not many people went out of their way to make fun of a person who performed poorly.
The man that went up on stage next instantly caught Meredith's attention.
"Hello, big hunk of dark chocolate," she said in quiet appreciation.
Meredith pushed away from the bar and began to slowly wander over to the dance floor. She sipped her drink as she went, though never took her eyes off of the man on the stage. He was tall – definitely over the six foot mark – with dark brown skin that reminded her roughly of the shade of brownie batter. He wore black cargo pants and a black button-up shirt, with half of the buttons left undone. His black hair was arranged into short dreadlocks.
Too busy admiring the man's looks, she didn't catch what he was saying. The man was warming up the crows before his performance, getting them fired up to hear him. Even as one of Eminem's songs began – which Meredith wouldn't have been able to name for the life of her – and he started making up his own lyrics to the song, all she could take in was the man's incredible beauty. Parts of her body began to ache in longing. She skirted the dance floor, heading for the wall. Something about this man drew her to him like the proverbial moth to an open flame.
She edged along the wall as she moved closer to the stage, her eyes never leaving his body.
And what a body it is, she thought.
It was obvious the man took good care of himself. He looked healthy and strong, energetic as well if his performance was anything to go by.
Suddenly he looked her way.
Meredith stopped moving as her heart quickened.
The man missed a beat, then two, as he stared at her before remembering where he was. He got caught up in the beat again a moment later and continued rapping.
Meredith began to blush as the man threw several more glances at her as he continued with the song in his own fashion.
When the music came to an end and as the man was handing the microphone off to the next person amidst applause, Meredith turned around and began to walk away. Some people might question what Meredith was doing and she would have replied that she didn't really know. The man – whoever he was – was interested in her, she was almost certain of it. And she surely found him attractive. So what was her deal?
She was a goddess.
The thought continually ran through Ron's mind from the moment he'd spotted her. Who she was and how she'd come to be here were secondary in his mind. He'd found it incredibly difficult to concentrate on free-styling through the rest of the song when all he wanted to do right in that moment was to jump off the stage and approach her.
It was a strange sensation to be so drawn to another human he'd never met before. It was like a magnet drawing him to her.
So while Ron normally loved music and performing for people, it was actually a relief when the song finally came to an end and he could hand the mic off to someone else. When he turned away to look for the woman again, he knew a moment of panic when she was no longer standing where he'd last seen her.
Ron walked to the edge of the stage and jumped off, his eyes already hunting for his goddess. He soon spotted her heading toward the bar. At least he was sure it was her – there was a hint of dark blue shirt beneath her long mane of flowing hair.
He began to move through the crowd, wading through the sea of people while never taking his eyes off of the woman he was stalking like a predator tracking its prey.
Distracted by considering her strange behavior, Meredith failed to take note of the way the small hairs along the back of her neck rose in response to Ron's nearness. She returned the glass to the bar and ordered another drink. While she stood there waiting, an unexpected voice spoke from directly behind her.
"Hello there, beautiful lady."
It was him, she just knew it.
Trying to stop her knees from buckling proved to be a great strain on Meredith, yet somehow she found the strength to not only mange that but what she did next – all without batting an eyelash.
As if it were timed, Meredith's drink was set on the bar in front of her. She dropped the change next to the glass before picking it up and turning around.
"Does that line work on many women?" Meredith asked calmly, raising an eyebrow while lifting her glass to take a sip.
Ron smiled, big and brightly. He found himself hoping that this was a true indication of the woman's personality, because even though only a few words had been exchanged between them so far, he found himself further drawn to this woman for her feisty attitude.
"That wouldn't be very smart of me to tell you," Ron said. "If I was some sort of ladykiller, it wouldn't exactly do me any good to admit to something like that."
Meredith found herself nodding in agreement. Were she at the other end of this conversation, she knew she'd be thinking along similar lines.
"You have a point," she admitted, giving him a hint of a smile. She wasn't exactly a slouch in the height department but she still had to tilt her head back a bit to be able to look him in the eye.
Ron returned the smile, flashing his bright white teeth at her.
Meredith raised her left hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, aware of the way Ron's eyes followed the movement.
"So..." Ron said, his mind casting about for something to say. "You, uh, from around here?"
"Not originally, no. I've been in the area for less than a year." Meredith might have gone on to elaborate about the group home but she couldn't picture this man really being interested in all that. There was always a chance she was wrong, of course, but she didn't want to sound like the kind of woman who talked too much about herself given the least amount of provocation to do so.
"My name's Ron," he said, extending a hand to her.
Meredith automatically placed her hand in Ron's, feeling a frisson of awareness shoot through her system when his fingers curled around her hand and simply held it rather than shook it.
"Are you going to tell me your name?" Ron asked with a smirk on his face when he figured she'd been silent a moment too long.
"I might," Meredith said with a playful tone, not speaking further than those two words.
Ron smiled as he ducked his head, then looked at Meredith again.
"If you're not gonna tell me your name, I'll just have to give you one until you do."
Meredith eyed Ron curiously and without comment as he slid his had from hers and moved it higher. He slipped two fingers beneath the pendant resting in the hollow of her throat and she had to fight with herself to keep her heart beat from racing out of control.
"Butterfly," Ron said simply, enjoying the way that the woman's eyes seemed to be glued to him, gazing intently at his face.
Good. He was interested in her, too. Hopefully he'd end up with her name and number before the night was over.
Ron released Meredith's pendant as the bartender came up to them from behind the bar and ordered a beer.
As Ron made his order, Meredith used the moment of his distraction to take a deep breath through her nose – the sound of her inhalation covered by the surrounding din of the club – and felt herself melt further as the scent of spicy aftershave and something she could only define as pure masculinity invaded her nose and imprinted itself on her brain. If they'd been alone right now, she felt certain that she'd be trying to relieve Ron of his clothing.
Meredith wasn't the type of person who slept around – it just wasn't in her nature – but there was something about Ron that flicked a switch inside her brain, which just made her panties want to come off.
As Ron turned away from the bar, he spotted by chance Shane Helms, Jeff and Matt Hardy coming in through the front door. The guys were here to help him celebrate closing the deal on his new home. He turned back to Meredith who was looking up at him curiously.
"Some of my friends just walked in. Are you going to be here for a while?" he asked hopefully.
"That's the plan," she said, raising her glass to him.
Ron smiled. "Good. I'll see you in a few minutes then, Butterfly." He reached for one of her hands and raised it to his lips, placing a single, slow kiss upon the skin. Then, with another dazzling smile, he turned away and headed into the crowd to meet the guys.
Meredith watched Ron walk away, utterly enchanted with his appearance, his smell, and what she'd seen of his personality so far. She was so distracted by her thoughts of Ron that she didn't realize her cellphone was vibrating against her hip.
When the vibrations finally registered to Meredith's pleasure-distracted brain, she looked down to her belt with a sense of foreboding striking her square in the chest.
Holding in the sigh that threatened to escape, she pulled the phone off her belt with one hand while setting her drink down on the bar with the other. She flipped the phone open and held it up to her right ear, covering her left ear with her free hand to block out as much noise as possible to be able to hear the person on the other end of the call.
Meredith listened to the woman she'd left in charge of the group home explaining how Kelly had gone into labor and needed to go to the hospital.
Meredith knew she had no choice but to leave – and told the woman on the other end of the phone call that she was on her way – but couldn't help the sinking feeling in her heart.
As she flipped the phone shut, Meredith looked around for Ron. It proved to be a futile effort, though. Like playing Where's Waldo? with a six foot tall sexy black man.
Unfortunately, Meredith had never been very good at finding Waldo.
Reluctantly, and with disappointment weighing heavily on her, Meredith began to make her way toward the front door. She tried to convince herself that what happened – the timing was for the best, but somehow it didn't quite manage to sink in.
"Wait until you guys see this woman," Ron said with a hint of excitement in is voice. "She's gorgeous! Got this skin like warm caramel and these eyes..." He went on about her attributes for a few more moments until Matt stopped him.
"So what's her name?" Matt asked.
The question made Ron pause.
"She didn't tell me yet," he said, looking slightly embarrassed over the admittance. "But she was flirting with me and she certainly looked interested." Something he could say honestly and without conceit.
As they arrived at the bar, Ron was disappointed when he didn't immediately see the woman he'd dubbed 'Butterfly'.
"She was right here when I left her," he explained to the other three men as he turned to search the crowd he'd just come through. It was a futile effort, though he didn't realize it yet, because by this point Meredith had already left the building and was currently driving away.
"Why don't you ask the bartender, man?" Jeff suggested, indicating the man standing behind the bar further down. "Maybe he can tell you which way this girl went."
Ron nodded and made a beeline for the other man, leaving Jeff, Matt and Shane to watch. What they saw was Ron getting the guy's attention and then making a description of the woman he'd been talking to earlier while gesturing with his hands, then Ron's expression turning from hopeful to disappointed.
Ron came back to the guys after a minute, regarding them in silence for a brief moment before letting out a disappointed sigh.
"He said she got a phone call like right after I left her standing here, then she took off after that."
"Damn, that sucks, dude," Shane said sympathetically.
"Do you know anything about her?" Matt asked, wondering if the woman might have revealed some minor clue as to her identity.
"Nah, man. Just that she's been in the area less than a year."
All of them knew 'in the area' was too general a term to provide Ron with any real use towards finding his mystery woman.
"She wore a butterfly pendant around her neck," Ron added, slipping into his brief memory of the woman. "And she had a picture of a silver butterfly on her shirt."
None of the guys had seen a woman wearing either of these things – obviously, or else they'd have been able to connect the proverbial dots and tell Ron he'd just met a friend of Shannon's woman. Each of them had met Meredith at some point previously, though hadn't ended up spending much time around her, admittedly. She was usually at the group home when C.J. wasn't, and when C.J. was at the group home, the guys more often than not were scattered, traveling for their jobs with the wrestling company each worked for.
Though a little disappointed about his Butterfly's disappearance, Ron resolved himself to forgetting about her for now and remembering what he'd come her for – celebrating the purchase of his new home.
Shane – who hadn't yet seen his new place – asked him to describe it over beers while the four of them sat around one of the circular tables.
"It's great," Ron said, easily warming to the topic. "It's got a curved driveway with a bunch of trees lining both sides so you can't even see the house from the road."
Privacy had been an important point for Ron in considering what home to buy, so this feature had really stood out to him about the place he'd ended up choosing.
"The outside of the house is this old red brick, its still in good condition."
Ron liked that old-fashioned style look. The appearance of vinyl siding, though easy to care for, was just so fake to him that he'd turned down a few acceptable houses because of it.
"There's a nice size basement with windows and a bathroom – just a toilet and a sink. I'm gonna put in a rec room down there. Pool table, big flat screen TV, couch and chairs. Maybe even a small bar to serve drinks from..."
Ron was also considering the possibility of putting in a pinball machine but didn't mention it because he wasn't totally sure he wanted to do that at this point.
"There's two floors. Four bedrooms, plus one room off the master bedroom that could be used as storage space or a really big walk-in closet."
Or maybe a nursery...
"There's a big kitchen with an island, living room and dining room on the main floor. There's also a bathroom and a room for an office with shelf space for books."
Ron didn't have much use for an office, but he figured he might as well set one up in there.
He spent a few more minutes talking about the house and his possible plans for setting it up before he was done.
"Here you go, man," Jeff said to Ron later that evening. He set a beer in front of Ron before seating himself directly across from the other man.
"Thanks," Ron said with a small nod of acknowledgment before raising the bottle to his lips to take a drink.
"So," Jeff began, pausing to take a drink. "There's something I've been meaning to tell you."
"What? That you're gay?" Ron asked with a slightly drunken laugh.
Jeff made a half-hearted attempt at laughter before his expression turned serious.
"No, not exactly. I asked the company for some time off." He watched as Ron's expression slowly sobered and he gave Jeff a strange look.
"You ain't shittin' me?"
Jeff shook his head. "No, man, I'm not. I just... need a break. I want to be home for a while, to visit parts of myself that I haven't seen lately. And to remember why I love wrestling so much. The joy of going out to the ring and getting pops from the crowd, it just hasn't been there lately."
"Are you sure its not just the added pressure of getting your push for the title?" Ron asked, somewhere between concern and wanting to support Jeff's decision.
"No," Jeff replied. "That is part of it, but only a small part. I just had a hard time realizing it for a while."
Ron gave Jeff a thoughtful glance before he spoke. "So what changed?"
"Well, I had a long talk with C.J. and she- What?" Jeff asked, noting the frown that had suddenly appeared on Ron's face.
Ron hesitated a moment to collect his thoughts before he spoke.
"Is there anything going on between you and Shannon's woman?"
Jeff immediately tensed at the question, feeling that Ron should have known that he'd never sleep with a woman who was seeing someone – or married, for that matter – especially not the girlfriend of one of his best friends.
"If you weren't my friend, I would've already punched you in the mouth for that," Jeff said, anger tinting his words. He leaned forward in his seat and rested his arms on the table, looking deadly serious.
"Hey, man, no offense meant," Ron said, holding his hands up with his palms facing Jeff. "It's just, you and her seem really close-"
"We are," Jeff interrupted. "As friends. Nothing more."
"I just thought you might have been drawn to her because she's a lot like Beth."
"What?!" Jeff asked, the surprise evident on his face.
"Not in looks, obviously. Well, their eyes are similar, for one thing. But have you seen the way she gestures with her hands when she talks? Or the way her nose wrinkles at a dirty joke before she ends up laughing about it? Or even how she sighs and rolls her eyes when someone's acting like a jackass, but then she can't help but smile about it in the next moment?"
From the surprised expression on Jeff's face, Ron guessed that the other man had been unaware of the similarities between the two women.
Jeff had been stopped cold by Ron's revelation. He'd never seen the similarities before but now – comparing memories of both women – he was amazed that he'd gone on this long without noticing any of the things Ron had just mentioned. He flopped back in his chair, muttering a swear word.
Ron chuckled, drawing Jeff's attention back to him and off of his thoughts.
"What?" Jeff asked, wondering what Ron found so amusing.
"You should see the look on your face," Ron said. He imitated Jeff's dumbfounded expression, then started laughing again.
Jeff was silent for a moment, but Ron's laughter proved infectious and soon he was laughing right along with him.