I can't really believe it myself, but yeah...
Dunno what to say, so I'll just shut up, except for:
My girl crush Uhyesplease, who nursed this baby with me from the get-go, is still on board and made this chapter shine, although she's a beta in retirement by now. How awesome is she?
We're going to wrap this up together.

So anyone remember Annie and Kiddo?

The Duet

Come in through the gaps in my guard
You know the way
Come in through the cracks in my heart
And stay
as long as you can bare it with me

My arms are opened wide
Let me stroke your hair
Rest, my love – I'll hold you tight
I'll care
as long as you need me here with you

"As long"
(Betti Gefecht)



As Ready As I'll Ever Be


"Christ on a cracker! Calm down, Annie! You sound like an obscene phone call or something… I feel like using a police whistle on you!"

Alice looked at me with sincere concern as I tried, and failed, to force something remotely resembling a coherent sentence past my lips while I was panting like a dog in heat. Or, as Alice would have put it, like a horny pervert. But there was nothing hot or horny about it. I was close to hitting the panic button.

"I can't… can't do it," I wheezed, shaking my head frantically. "No… fucking… way…"

Alice squeezed my hand and patted my thigh, offering me what she could for assurance. Even though she was kneeling in front of the chair I was sitting on, she was still head and shoulders above me. In full drag, all silk and sequins, glitter and glam, she made for a really tall, broad-shouldered queenie. Or maybe it was just because I was kind of bent-forward, my own shoulders hunched with the worst case of stage fright ever, as far as I was concerned.

She pouted her cherry-red lips. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, nah… of course you can; you're a pro. You're my brave honeypot, is what you are."

I felt anything but brave, yet breathing became a little easier as I held onto Alice's perfectly manicured, giant paw. I risked another glance through the small gap in the heavy curtain that separated the Blue Banana's public area from the backstage room which I'd chosen for my meltdown. Of course, Alice would pick this place of all places, a gay bar famous for its drag shows, when plotting my surprise birthday party. Well, there hadn't been that much of a surprise at all after I'd learned Kiddo's meaning when he'd tried to talk me into singing with him "in public".

"You could at least have made it a private event, Alice. There are so many strangers out there," I whined.

I couldn't decide what frightened me more, the anonymous crowd of barflies and night crawlers or the familiar faces of practically everyone I knew. No, scratch that; make it literally everyone I knew, if only in passing, plus everyone Alice thought I should know. Way to embarrass myself...

"Pish posh," she snapped. "Where would be the fun of making your comeback in show business without a proper audience waiting for you to win them over? You're just having ordinary stage fright, is all."

"No kidding."

"You've been there, done that, Annie. And you told me how much you loved it. No big deal."

"Yeah... that was twenty years ago, and there was a lot of weed involved, usually."

Alice's painted eyebrows suddenly became desperate to meet her wig. "It was?"

"And backstage sex," I added, nodding my head. "To ease the tension before the opening song."

"I see. Want me to find Edward for you and bring him here? There is a broom closet back in the -"

I punched her padded chest. "Knock it off!"

"Ok, ok…" she laughed, adjusting the laced corsage of her dress. "I was just kidding. A little, I think. But seriously, I could check with the guys of the band. Pretty sure I can dig up something to soothe your nerves. I saw Greg doing a jolly the other day."

"You would do that?"

"Sure. Whatever helps to get your cute ass up on stage."

She squeezed my hand once more, and with a final pat to my knee she got to her feet. But before she could slip through the curtain, I grabbed her arm.

"Wait. I'm not sure if my matured self can deal with stuff like that any more. It might even make things worse. But…"


"A plain cigarette maybe?"

"You don't smoke, Annie."

"Hey, you just were about to provide me with illegal drugs! What has become of 'Whatever gets me out on stage'?"

Alice's shoulders slumped forward, and she sighed dramatically. "Give me a sec," she said. And wiggling her brows, she added, "I'll bring your boyfriend, too. Just in case…"

I rolled my eyes. "Har har dee har!"



"I'm going to kill Alice," I huffed for the fifth time as I glared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I busied myself with brushing my hair, almost angrily, trying to ignore Kiddo who was leaning against the doorframe.


With a boner!

How could he even get a boner by just watching me brush my hair and being mad at him? Well, maybe it didn't exactly help that I was naked, too. Also, I wasn't really mad any more, but I wasn't ready to admit it yet either.

The hell I was!

"The idea wasn't hers alone, you know," Kiddo said. "You'll have to kill us both."

I knew Alice far too well to buy that bullshit, but I didn't mention it. The brush landed on the shelf with a loud clang. Bracing myself with both hands on the sink, I shook my head.

"I might just do that," I grudgingly told my mirror-inverted self.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Kiddo walking over to me. When he stood behind me, he put his hands on my hips. He didn't grab them but just caressed them very gently, and his touch was feather-light. It made me shiver against my will and my eyes wanted to close with bliss.

But since I was still supposed to give the moping girlfriend, I made an effort to keep looking at Kiddo in the mirror. He held my gaze for a few heartbeats, then his eyes glazed over in this all too familiar way.


"Oh, come on…" I sighed. "Don't do that."

But it was too late. Stepping closer, he took a firm hold of my hips, his fingertips digging into them possessively.

"You won't kill us, Annie," he whispered. "You love that we did it… that the people you care about came together and hatched an evil plan to give you a great birthday. You are secretly happy about it."

"Is that so?"

I meant for it to sound sarcastic, but Edward had pulled me flush to his front, and my question came out rather meekly.

"And you can't wait to sing for an audience again. You're excited about it. It's the naked truth," he answered confidently, nuzzling my neck.

His warm breath on my skin gave me goose bumps all over. And speaking of naked… what I really was excited about right now was his hard-on wedging itself between my butt cheeks. Jesus, it should be illegal to be so young and beautiful and so damn hot!

You're not really complaining, Portman, are you?

"You know, I already said yes to that madness you two have plotted, so you can stop trying to dazzle me into submission," I said, collecting the last bits of my willpower.

Kiddo had kept his part of the deal – he'd asked Buttcrack Harry for a raise, successfully so. And even though a full on party at a gay bar wasn't what I had bargained for originally, I'd caved in. Because I wanted to hear that song Kiddo had written for me so badly.

It wasn't fair, but it was worth it. I cried like a baby when he sang it to me. And I cried a bit more and my voice was shaky when he made me sing the verse that was my turn in the duet. And I about fucking died when our voices finally came together at the end in perfect harmony. It was that beautiful.

So yes… I gave Alice and Kiddo free reign, willing to put up with whatever they had up their sleeves. And the reason was that song. Because that song just had to be sung to an audience. On a stage. Where people could hear it. And Kiddo was right, I was kinda excited about performing again.

"I'm not trying to dazzle you," he mumbled into the hollow between my neck and shoulder.

His hands wandered down and to the front of my thighs, caressing a particularly sensitive spot he'd discovered just lately. I let my head fall back onto his shoulder and sighed.

"Yes, you are."

I gasped when he slid two fingers between my legs. He grazed them along my entrance, collecting some of the wetness that was already building, and started slow circles around my clit. I bravely bit back a moan.

"Is it working then?" he asked, and licked a wet path towards my shoulder where he stopped, his lips firmly placed on my skin.

His eyes searched for mine in the mirror, but they still had that unfocused look. I could tell he was still seeing things, reading me in his own special way. It didn't make me uncomfortable any more. Quite the contrary – I could use his unique gift to my advantage, couldn't I?

Make love to me, I thought with vigor, putting my theory to a test. Make love to me. Make love to me.

His lips curled into a lazy smile, leaving only his teeth attached to my skin.

Make love to me!

"Fuck yeah," he breathed. Then he bit down.



A few minutes after Alice had disappeared, the curtain parted again, and in came the… that guy with the faux mohawk I'd seen with her earlier.

"You the birthday gal who's gotta sing tonight?" he asked with a grin.

I realized he was one of the musicians. And that grin of his was cute. What was it about guys and those lop-sided grins? Did they do that on purpose?

"Yeah, that would be me," I said, blushing.

"Alice sent me. I'm Jason, but my friends call me Jazz."

I took his extended hand. "Annie."

He produced a pack of Marlboros from the breast pocket of his – practically unbuttoned – shirt, and held it out to me. With an expert flip of his wrist, he made two cigarettes pop out, and I reached for one with relief. The other one ended up between Jazz's own lips.

"Nervous, huh?" he offered as he held out the lighter for me.

I could only nod my head yes for an answer; the first drag of the cigarette burned my lungs and I had to fight the urge to cough. I tried hard to not give myself away in front of who was apparently one of the cool kids around here, but to no avail. When I exhaled the smoke, my eyes started to water and a single, barking cough escaped me.

"Easy there…" Jazz patted my back. "I see it's been a while," he snickered. "You sure it's a good idea, messin' with your voice like that right before a gig? I heard that's been a while, too."

Why yes, I'm old and out of the loop, thanks for the reminder!

"I've had worse. Plus, I've always been more of a smoky jazz alto, so…" I shrugged. The nicotine was buzzing my brain quite nicely. "Thanks for the cigarette; it really helps."

His grin grew even wider. "It's cool. You'll be doin' great. Alice said you're really good. Can't wait to hear you perform."

"I'll do my best," I said and smiled wrylyat him.

The stage fright was still there, but it had been pushed back into a foggy distance. It felt like someone else's nervousness that wasn't any of my business anymore. Whether it was due to the unaccustomed effect of the smoke, or Jazz's professional musician's calming presence, I couldn't tell. But I started looking forward to step on the stage.

"Your boyfriend's got some crazy talent, you know," Jason mumbled past the cigarette that was still placed between his lips, albeit unlit. "We had a great time practicing your song."

Practicing my song? I was going to sing with the band?

He widened the gap in the curtain with two fingers and tilted his head to take a look. With a nod of his chin toward the crowd, he added, "Not so sure about your friend on the bass though. That is some crazy old chick, man."

My friend on the bass?!

I craned my neck to see who Jazz was talking about, and I almost suffered another coughing fit. There, leaning casually on one elbow on her fucking walking aid, cocktail in the same hand and twirling a little paper umbrella in the other, was lunatic Lucy, a.k.a. The Dragon of Park Road Village!

"No way…" I breathed.

Jazz chuckled quietly. "She's quite the rock star, your friend, isn't she?"

"She's not my friend," I objected weakly, unable to avert my eyes.

Lucy was surrounded by young men in tight shirts and even tighter pants; one of them didn't even wear a shirt at all. They were laughing and flirting back and forth, with Lucy being the center of their attention, occasionally poking the bare-chested one's pecs with the tip of that little umbrella.

I wanted to walk over there and tell her sorry to rain on her parade but those guys were as gay as… as… Liberace, for lack of any other gay celebrity of her era I could think of! But she probably knew that and just didn't give a fuck. She came to the party with her walking aid, for crying out loud.

Admittedly, the woman looked stunning, in her own way. No straw hat or braids tonight. Instead, her white hair was in a tight bun high on the back of her head. A big red flower adorned one side of it, which might have been silly on anyone else, but on her it simply looked classy. She wore black pants, a simple black tunic and Egypt-ish silver jewelry in sizes and amounts only she could pull of. I caught myself thinking I'd like to look that good whenever I'm her age.

However, it didn't mean I embraced the news she was here tonight.

"No way!" I repeated, considerably louder this time. I took one last drag of my cigarette that had lost its comforting quality, then I looked around, quite agitated. "There's no ashtray in here."

Jason let the curtain fall close and stepped towards me. "That's because smoking is not allowed in here," he informed me, deadpan. "Just take the big one."

"The big one?"

Jazz simply gestured to the wooden floor boards around me. They were scattered with tiny, black burn marks. When he took the stub from my fingers, Alice returned to the backstage room, Kiddo in tow. They both watched Jazz as he dropped the end of my cigarette to the floor to grind it under the heel of his cowboy boot. Alice beamed at him as if she was witnessing the most amazing thing ever, while Edward's expression was that of someone who'd just stumbled upon a crime scene.

"What the… are you smoking?"

"Don't 'what-the' me! Why is Lucy here?"



"…and of course, I thought I had to call you first, just to make sure and…well, you know me, to grill you about him and everything. I just didn't know what to make of him at that time because he has this strange mix of bad boy and gentleman going on, which is crazy hot but also a little unsettling at first, and…"

I tuned into the constant babble of Beatrice, after I'd absently let my thoughts run a million miles into a complete different direction. I instantly felt bad about not giving her my full attention, but not for too long. As it was, my boss was crushing too damn hard on Kiddo's handsome uncle to even notice me mentally straying off. Her happiness and eagerness to share was just adorable.

She'd been gushing about Law for minutes, all the while frantically stirring her café latte as if she were trying to drill a hole through the bottom of the mug.

I smiled at her. "I think your beverage is ready to drink now, more or less."

She stopped mid-stir and averted her eyes from her mug to look at me for the first time since she'd started taking. She grinned at me sheepishly for a moment, then she dropped the spoon and hid her face behind her hands.

"Oh my God," she squealed, making a few heads turn in the moderately frequented coffee shop where we'd met up. "I'm worse than a hormonal teenager, am I not?"

I leaned over to rub her upper arm. "Nah, it's not that bad. Except maybe for the hormonal thing…"

Beatrice dropped her hands to glare at me, revealing a nicely flushed face.

"…which I totally understand," I continued matter-of-factly. "Nothing can make a girl's world rattle in its axis like a kiss on the hand, especially when there's…"

She swatted at me, but I was quick to withdraw my hand, and she missed.

"… a nice three days worth of stubble involved. It's just… ouch!"

This time she'd hit me at the shoulder.

"…natural!" I finished, laughing and squirming in my seat to avoid her mock-outraged attacks. We definitely had everyone's attention now.

"We're both acting silly now," I said, still giggling. "Calm down and tell me about your date already."

She put her hand on mine on the table. "Jeez, Annie, I still feel bad about spoiling your birthday surprise, especially since Law didn't even like the idea."

"Nevermind." I waved her off. "So your date… he called, you missed it, and then he texted you?"

"No, no, he left a voice message, bluntly asking me out. Oh my, his voice…" Beatrice closed her eyes and smiled.

"And you called him back."

"Yes, I did. After I had so thoughtlessly asked you about your party." She threw me another embarrassed grin. "But he wasn't too fond about our first date happening in such a crowded place, so he told me about that little Italian restaurant he'd found. He said that he wanted this to be just him and me, so we could get to know each other and such. He said it in that voice, and I swear, I really felt like a hormonal teen in that moment."

I shook my head. "Who are you, and what have you done to my chief editor?"

"I know, right? Then he told me, rather bossily, to dress nicely. For some reason I almost swooned from his tone. He said that he'd pick me up at eight. Which he did, as you already know. And Annie, he wore a suit!"

"No way!"

"Yes way!"

It was hard to imagine Law in anything else but his jeans and worn leather jacket, but I started to feel for Beatrice.

"That's outright mean!"

"No kidding," she agreed. "An impeccably tailored suit is for women what lingerie is for men, right?"

I nodded solemnly. "That man meant business." Translation: He wanted to get laid. But I kept this conclusion to myself.

"Kiss on the hand?"

"Kiss on the hand!" Beatrice confirmed, beaming.

Jesus Christ…

"He picked me up with that old, rusty truck. The cutest thing ever! He'd put blankets on the passenger seat for me and helped me climb in."

The truck is cute? Yeah, she's got it bad.

"So we drove to that Italian place. It looked kind of shabby on the outside, but it was wonderful inside…"

My thoughts started wandering off again, as Beatrice kept gushing about her romantic date. I was happy for her; I really was. I was happy for Law, too. He was an awesome guy, and my boss already seemed head over heels for him.

However, I couldn't help but think about Kiddo and me. I realized we never dated. Instead I had foolishly assaulted him on some dark corner of a park at night, basically acting on a whim. And on a bit too much of red wine. And after that, we just… happened.

There hadn't been candle-light dinners in discreet, little restaurants. No shy and awkward first touches across the table, no whispered talks about favorite movies and music, eager to get to know and impress each other. No first kiss at the front door.

I felt guilty about having taken away such a joyful and important rite as dating from my awfully young boyfriend. As far as I knew, he'd never even dated a girl before we met. This couldn't be good, could it? I wondered if there was a way for me to rectify this. Holding onto the mature part in our relationship, I could ask him on a belated date someday, make it a romantic night out. I could still kiss him at the front door and ask him if he'd like to…

"…come inside for a drink, and guess what!"

I shook my head briefly to get back to reality. "What?"

"He declined!" Beatrice said triumphantly.

"What went wrong?"

She leaned towards me over the table and kind of stage-whispered, "He is a gentleman."

"Nothing happened?" I asked incredulously. The man had worn a fucking suit…

"Nope. He saw me home, said good bye and that he was looking forward to accompany me to your party, and then he drove away. In his cute truck."

"Kiss on the hand?"

"Kiss on the hand."


"Maybe he was… I don't know… shy about, you know, his leg?"

She leaned back in her seat, looking at me thoughtfully.

"That's a possibility there. I haven't even thought about his missing leg once. You wouldn't notice anything, the way he moves. He even mentioned he was looking forward to dance with me…"

"It was just a thought," I said, regretting my comment. "And anyway, not taking advantage of you on the first date is gentlemanly."

"It is." Beatrice smiled a little wistfully, and her eyes lost focus, as if gazing into the distance.



"She's got stage fright really bad, and she was too chicken-shit for a joint, so it was either a smoke or quick sex in the broom closet," Alice rattled down happily, answering in my place.

Kiddo cocked an eyebrow at me. "Quick sex helps with stage fright?"

Alice shrugged, suddenly very interested in the condition of her fake fingernails. "It did back then, apparently, when Annie was a teeny bopper."

"And you chose the smoke?" Kiddo asked incredulously.

I rolled my eyes. Seriously, now?

"I can't believe you invited Lucy," I said, steering the conversation to the more important issue. "We only met once, and she didn't exactly like me."

"She does now."

"Oh, really? How come?"

"Because she likes me happy, and you make me happy, so…" Kiddo kneeled down in front of my chair and put his hands on my knees. It seemed to be the craze of the day, kneeling before anxious Portman and rubbing her legs.

"She offered to play the bass," Edward said, smiling innocently. "As a peace offering of sorts. And she promised to behave."

Yeah, the stage curtain was still opened wide enough for me to see the way Lucy kept that promise. Her own personal Gay Squad of Hotness kept buying her drinks, and her cheeks were quite flushed by now. Maybe if I was lucky, she wouldn't be able to even make it over to the stage in a little while, not to mention mastering an instrument.

"Well, that's the other thing. Why is there a bass? And a band? I thought it would be just you and me, like we'd practiced at home?"

"It was meant to be a surprise," Kiddo admitted with a sheepish grin. "It's so much cooler with a band, and we didn't change much, I promise. Just Lucy on the bass, and a little solo guitar by Jason. You will hardly know the difference when you sing."

I looked up at Alice and Jazz who'd been following our exchange like spectators at a tennis match. They both held up their hands in a defensive "I-have-no-part-in-this" gesture.

"You are totally nuts," I accused, shaking my head. "All of you."

"This bulletin's brought to you by Obvious F.M.," Alice muttered, grinning.

Kiddo, sensing my impending defeat before I could myself, smiled widely at me and pulled my head down for a kiss.

"Okay," I said as soon as I had control over my lips again, "let's get the show on the road, before I change my mind."

"Yay!" Alice jumped and fist pumped the air. "Jazz, darling, kiss me before you claim the stage!"

Jazz darling what?

I turned my head just in time to see Jason pull back and wipe at his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Jesus fucking Christ, Eric, knock it off! I told you I'm not kissing that shit you slather on your mouth when you're in drag! Now move your ass outside and make the announcement."

Wow, did the guy really just call Alice by her baptismal name without getting nut punched? Remarkable! And he and Alice were together? Like, together-together?

Noticing my confusion, Jazz winked at me and said, "I don't normally do queens, but Eric is hot as fuck when he's not wearing a wig. Oh, and… happy birthday."

Then he followed Alice through the curtain to get ready for the gig. My gig. And it was time!

Holy shit…!

"You ready?" Kiddo whispered and took both of my hands.

"As ready as I'll ever be," I said and let him pull me to my feet.

Almost there. One more chapter and the epilogue.

I'd love for you guys to drop me a line or two in a review, just to know if there's still someone reading. But I totally get it if you'd rather flip me the bird, LOL.

If you want to HEAR the song Kiddo wrote, I mean, really listen to Annie and Edward performing it to a cheering crowd and all, it's still up on my

audiofiction. blogspot. com
(remove spaces... duh!)

I never meant to abandon this story the way I did. It was my first, and my ticket to the fandom, and the beginning of a precious friendship and, and, and...
Life got in my way.
But I still feel the love!

See you around?