Strawberry wine
Seventeen
The hot July moon
Saw everything
My first taste of love
Oh, bittersweet
And green on the vine
Like strawberry wine
-"Strawberry Wine," Deanna Carter

····

The mud was cool between her toes, not the red clay of Georgia but a darker, loamier kind of earth that spoke of life and growth and hope for another day. She remembered this feeling, and experiencing it for the first time in so many years had her nearly giddy with relief and something very close to joy. She squished her bare feet in the mud and turned her face into the sun and soaked in the moment, grateful for the peace being alone afforded her.

The house behind her was empty, as it had been for years. Darlene was living in a nursing home in the city; she'd been there for years, ever since she'd started to forget things. Now Darlene couldn't even remember how to talk, but she was fed and cared for and she got to sit in a chair by the afternoon sun and look out onto the bright greenness beyond her window. Brenda had stopped in to visit her; the woman might have been a frigid bitch in her younger days, but now she was old and she had no one, and Brenda took the time to sit beside her, to make sure she was all right.

Now, however, Brenda had left the city behind and rolled down a dirt road that was at once as familiar to her as her own hand, and completely foreign. The county still hadn't paved the road out to Darlene's home, and most of the old, gnarled trees still grew alongside it. The land hadn't changed, really, just the people in it.

Brenda was relieved to discover the house in a relatively decent state. After all, Darlene had been gone for years, but from the looks of things, someone had been checking in on the house from time to time, making sure that the shutters weren't broken and the weeds weren't trying to shoot up through the foundation. Brenda had an inkling that whoever was responsible for this probably came from Darlene's church; they sent food to widows and they whispered behind closed doors, as contradictory as humans can be, but with good intentions.

Brenda's little rental car looked out of place in the mud of Darlene's driveway, and she briefly fretted about the state of the vehicle when she stepped out and discovered how messy it was. There was mud on the windshield, even. Will they charge me for that? She wondered, but the thought was quickly lost in the enchantment of the afternoon, the reason Brenda had come.

This felt more like coming home than arriving at her parents' house ever did; this was coming back to who she was, facing herself in the light of a summer sun, under the green leaves. This was Brenda Leigh, not an investigator or an interrogator or a bitch or a wife or a daughter, this was Brenda Leigh, a woman who stood in the sunlight with mud between her toes and remembered the very first time she ever fell in love.

After a time she grabbed her bag from the car, and headed for the front door. The outside of the house might have been in decent shape, but Brenda did not hold the same hope for the inside. She found a key under the front mat, a good sign she hoped, and let herself inside. She hadn't told anyone she was coming here, not her parents and certainly not anyone in this podunk little town, and she did briefly consider the fact that if someone came to take care of the house and found her there, she could very well end up getting shot before she had a chance to explain herself.

Those things happened to strangers here, and whether she'd like to admit it or not, Brenda was a stranger. She was not a seventeen-year-old girl anymore. People trusted her less now, and she honestly couldn't blame them.

The inside of the house was dusty, but not unbearably so, and Brenda thought idly as she passed through the rooms that if she had the time she'd like to go through and clean it thoroughly. Deputy Chief Johnson never voluntarily cleaned a damn thing, her husband could attest to that, but Brenda Leigh wandered through the house thinking it might be a nice thing to do, even if Darlene never got to see the results. She had never properly thanked the woman for that summer; as a teenager she had been sullen and had practically hated her aunt, but as a grown woman she saw that it was Darlene who had allowed her to come to this place in the beginning. It was Darlene who had sent her down to Tobacco Road with a basket full of food. If only she had known what she was starting, Brenda thought to herself with a sad smile as she entered the kitchen.

She'd brought a little bit of food, just some candy and the makings of sandwiches; she held her breath as she opened the refrigerator, fearing what she might discover inside, but found it mercifully empty and clean. Small blessings, she thought.

Brenda glanced out the window. The sun was still high in the sky, though it was slipping gradually off to the west.

Now or never, she thought, watching the light dancing off the leaves. The weather was perfect for walking (and she fully intended to walk) and Brenda knew that the longer she waited, the harder the three-mile trek was going to be. She reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of socks and the shoes she'd brought just for this occasion, pulling them both on over mud-caked feet. She made her way back out of the house, putting the key back where she'd found it.

She hesitated a moment on the porch, staring off into the world beyond, Darlene's words from so very long ago echoing in her ears, walk out of the house and go left. Follow the signs to Tobacco Road. Once you get to the gate you'll see the house. Although, knowing that woman she'll probably be in the barn…

What she would give to find Anna Grace in the barn, sweat shining on her face and her hair a tangled mess from the heat and humidity. Anna would only be sixty-six- maybe sixty-seven- by now, and she'd always been a healthy, energetic woman. Surely she'd still be there. And yet somehow, it seemed too much to hope, as though when Brenda started down off the porch and towards the farm she knew she would not find Anna Grace when she arrived.

The thought didn't frighten her, but she also didn't dwell on it, nor did she think long on how the last thirty years might have changed Anna's face. How the last thirty years had changed her own. For one terrifying second the thought occurred to her that even if she were there, Anna might not remember her at all, and the force of the notion hit her like a blow to the chest, briefly stopping her in her tracks.

She kept walking, though, down the gravel track, the dirt and rocks packed more closely together from three more decades of use, but the woods on either side just as close, as all-knowing as they had been the summer Brenda Leigh was seventeen and just starting down this road for the first time. Her mind wandered as she walked, from faded memories and unanswered questions about where Anna Grace might be to a single face, kind and true, lined with the wrinkles time had given her. It had been months since Brenda's confession, and Sharon had never mentioned it. She'd been cold in the beginning, putting as much distance between herself and the blonde as possible; and then she'd been so supportive during the Goldman case that Brenda honestly didn't know what to think any more. If Sharon just hated her, that would be one thing, but this back and forth, this aloofness followed by kindness was not something she knew how to handle. Sharon Raydor remained in the forefront of Brenda's musings, and on this particular road at this particular time of year, Brenda found she could not even feel embarrassed for what she had done.

I have never in my life wanted anyone as badly as I wanted her, until I met you.

The statement had been foolish, however heartfelt it might have been. What had she expected from Sharon, some sort of declaration of undying love? Brenda had been petulant and disdainful and at times almost cruel to the other woman during the course of the investigation and the months that followed; she had given Raydor no reason to be fond of her, let alone to think of her in a romantic sense. Sharon must have been blindsided by her confession, and yet Brenda was glad she made it. She didn't take the time to speak her feelings aloud often enough these days. Raydor could do with that information whatever she wished; it made no difference to Brenda at this point. The words had been more for her own sake, anyway. She'd needed to face them, to face her own desires head on, to face her past and the truth of her spirit. The truth was she felt trapped, not by the city or even by the job but by the notion of who she was trying to be. A dutiful daughter, a loving wife; she was not good at playing those roles, anymore. She wasn't sure she'd ever been. In the months since she'd held Sharon's hand while speaking Anna Grace's name out loud for the first time in years, Brenda had struggled to keep herself together, but one fight too many with Fritz and it all came tumbling down. She'd packed a bag and flown out here, just like that.

Her thoughts continued to wander, to Will Pope and what he'd do when she didn't turn up for work the next time he called her in; she'd left Andy Flynn in charge and she hoped to God that would be enough to deter Pope's wrath. She thought about Fritz, fuming alone in their little house, and all the things she'd denied him. She'd dragged her feet when they first started dating, put up a fight when he wanted to move in together, stretched out their engagement so long that he had begun to question if their marriage was ever going to happen at all, had used subterfuge to keep them from moving out of a house she felt comfortable in, refused point blank to consider having children; when she really looked at their relationship, there were so many signs, big and small, that she didn't want to be involved with him. So many signs, and yet she had persevered, because he was a good man, probably the best man who had ever wanted her, and whether she wanted to admit it or not there had always been that little voice in the back of her head reminding her that if she didn't find someone, she'd end up utterly alone, wasting away into old age with no one to take care of her.

She shook her head, brushing a stray blonde curl out of her face, and continued to put one foot in front of the other until the sound of the birds in the trees and the feel of the sweat dripping down her back overcame all her other senses, and she was simply a woman walking down a road, not worrying about a thing, just walking.

The red gate appeared faster than she would have liked, slightly rusted and the paint flaking off but still the same red gate, still swung open. Brenda could hear sounds coming from the yard beyond, could see a trail of smoke rising above the barn, and her heart leapt into her throat. She noticed as she walked through the gate that there were long wooden poles on the leaning side of the barn, propping it up. The sight brought a smile to her lips.

As she walked she half-expected to see Jimmy coming towards her, wiping the sweat from his weathered brow with that same old blue bandana. He didn't appear, however, no matter how badly she wished he might.

Brenda stopped in the middle of the yard, weighing her options. She could head to the barn, although she didn't know who to look for, and if people asked her she wouldn't know who to say she'd come to see. She could head for the house, but there was no telling if anyone was even inside on a Saturday afternoon when there was work to be done.

Fate made up her mind for her, however, because as she stood there pondering and gnawing on her bottom lip, a man emerged from the house, stopping dead on the porch when he caught sight of her.

"Help you?" he called, brow clearly furrowed in confusion, and Brenda steeled herself for the conversation. She put on her best smile and headed towards him at brisk pace, suddenly hating the sweat that trailed down her back and threatened to drip into her eyes.

"Hey there!" she called with a friendly wave, drawing nearer to the porch. The man continued to stare at her as if she were an alien. She waited until she was closer before she explained herself, not wanting to shout Anna's name across the yard until she knew for sure whether the woman was there at all.

"I'm an old friend of Anna's. Is she here?" Brenda asked when she finally reached the shade of the porch. She remained at the bottom of the short flight of stairs, staring up at the tall man standing above her. He was broad-shouldered and grey-haired, and might have been handsome if he weren't so ornery looking.

"An old friend of Anna's?" the man repeated, saying the name as though there were something wrong with it. He took a step towards her. "Must not have been a very good friend, then, or else you would have known that Anna Grace died six years ago."

Brenda felt as though the earth was shifting under her feet. She reached out for one of the posts holding up the porch, propping herself up as she struggled to keep the tears at bay. She thought she was prepared for this, thought she could handle the loss, but facing the reality of it she found herself lost. Anna Grace died…

"Was there something specific you wanted?" he asked, continuing to stare at her in that way that made her feel like an interloper in this place that had once felt more like home to her than any other. She wanted to scream at him, to tell him that she'd gotten drunk on that porch and eaten breakfast in the kitchen and fucked Anna Grace in the bedroom upstairs, but she found that the words would not come.

The man crossed his arms over his chest, his facing softening somewhat as he saw the sorrow in Brenda's eyes. "Who are you?" he asked, the words coming out less like an accusation than his earlier statements.

"Brenda Leigh Johnson," she answered, surprised that she'd managed to get the words out without stammering.

The man blinked at her slowly, running a hand through his thick grey hair.

"I think you should come inside," he said finally, turning and heading back into the house without another word. Brenda followed him.

Like the rest of the farm, the house had barely changed. The same knickknacks, the same furniture, the same thin layer of dust and the same sort of smell, of lemons and drying tobacco and the faintest hint of coffee. He led her into the kitchen and she followed along on autopilot, her mind assaulted by the memories, half expecting to see Anna right around the corner, hot cup of coffee in her hand and a smile on her face.

The man was pretty much ignoring her at this point, rummaging around in his freezer until he came out with a bottle of bourbon. He pulled a glass out of a cabinet and poured three fingers worth of the amber liquid into the glass. He swirled it around for a moment before taking a long fortifying sip and turning back around to face Brenda Leigh.

"My name is Ray Robinson Junior. Anna Grace was my mother," he told her.

Ray Junior. Brenda took a good look at him, searching for pieces of the woman she'd loved in his face. His eyes were dark and his features were square, his hair colorless and his build stocky. There wasn't a bit of Anna there, not a single thing Brenda could cling to, could look at and say, that's her, that's the girl I remember. Ray's father had taken that, too, along with Anna's freedom and all her hope. Brenda had learned that too late.

"It's nice to finally meet you, Ray," Brenda said, because she knew that was what she was supposed to say. It was actually awful to meet him, to look into a face that she imagined was very much like his father's. To see this man who knew more of Anna Grace than Brenda ever could and yet who had never truly understood her, a man who had hurt her so deeply. Things had been better when Brenda had been able to pretend that Ray Junior didn't exist, but it was hard to do that when she was staring into his eyes.

"It's nice to meet you too, Brenda Leigh," he answered, and her breath caught in her throat. Did he know who she was? Did he know what she and Anna had meant to each other? Did he have any idea? What did he expect from her now?

"You know who I am?" Brenda asked, hearing the trepidation in her own voice.

Ray Junior shook his head. "I don't. I do know that my mama left several things to you in her will."

Anna had left her things? What sorts of things? The confusion swirled through Brenda's brain, thoughts of Anna and the time they'd spent together and the realization that Anna had remembered her, after all. Brenda didn't know why she'd ever doubted, but the sure and certain knowledge that Anna had remembered was enough. It filled her with a sort of peace, calming all the other noise, bringing her back to the moment. She was standing in Anna's kitchen and Anna might be gone but she had remembered.

"I'm sorry for not getting them to you; I didn't know who you were and to be perfectly honest I was so angry when she died that I didn't feel like taking the time to do something for her."

"Why were you angry?" Brenda asked, the interrogator in her rearing its head. She honestly couldn't stop herself; it's a wonder anyone puts up with me, she thought.

"Because my mother died," he said, "because she smoked too many damn cigarettes. Ironic, isn't it? The only thing in the whole world she loved was this damn farm and in the end it was smoking that killed her. God, I hate this place." Ray stared out the window above the sink, out into the farm beyond, the vehemence of his words ringing in Brenda's ears. How could anyone hate Tobacco Road? The beauty of the land, the kindness of the people, the truth in a hard day's work; Brenda had longed for those things when she was thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, and from Ray's tone it was obvious that he would be happier in a world where there was no Tobacco Road at all.

"Anyway," he pushed himself up off the counter, finishing the bourbon in a single swig, "if you'll stay right here for a minute I'll go and get those things."

He left the kitchen without another word, and Brenda sat down at the table, running her finger in a circle across the smooth cherry wood she remembered from all those years ago. Her time here had been brief, and Brenda knew that she couldn't judge Ray for his feelings; his mother had gone years without speaking to him, had hidden parts of her life from him, but she couldn't help but wonder at how ungrateful the man was.

Ray reappeared moments later with a large box in his hands, sitting it down on the table with a grunt. He opened the box and pulled out several heavy photo albums, and a small white envelope.

"Years ago, mama got a wild hair," he told her, "started traveling all over the place. Argentina, Israel, France, Bermuda; she went everywhere she could, and she took all these pictures. Kept 'em in scrapbooks. Evidently, she wanted you to have them."

Brenda ran her fingers over the nearest book reverently, opening it to see the pictures of Anna smiling in places Brenda had never heard of, her familiar chicken scratch scrawled under each dictating the time and place each photo had been taken. Brenda felt a tear threaten to thaw even as she grinned, happy to see Anna the way she always ought to have been, wild and free.

"She looks so happy," Brenda said softly, catching her lower lip between her teeth.

Ray Junior just scoffed, pouring himself another glass of bourbon. "Happy," he said, his voice dripping with disdain. "What would she know about happy? Anna Grace was one of the most miserable people I've ever known. She's only smiling because she's pretending to be someone else, running away like she always did."

Brenda shook her head, dismayed by how little this man understood of the woman she'd loved. "Don't you see? This is Anna Grace. This is who she was, who she always wanted to be. This is the Anna I remember."

Ray just shrugged. "There's a letter, too, if you want to read it," he said, gesturing towards the small envelope with his glass. "I'd appreciate it if you read the letter and then took those books and got the hell out of here."

"You should keep them," Brenda said as she reached for the letter. "You should remember her this way."

"She was my mother, I remember her just fine," Ray said, and Brenda could recognize the possessiveness in his voice. She'd felt a possessiveness like that before, when she held Anna's naked body next to hers and all she could think was mine. Ray thought he knew better than Brenda, but the blonde couldn't shake the notion that neither of them had known the dark-haired beauty who smiled up at them from those pictures at all.

The letter was short, Brenda could see before she ever began to read it.

My Brenda Leigh, it read, I have tried to write this letter to you so many times, and I am certain that I won't be able to say things the way I want to, but I figure I better try. I think about that night all the time, about the look on your face when I sent you away. I hope you know that I didn't want to, that I wanted you to stay more than anything. But I just couldn't, Brenda Leigh, I couldn't make you stay. I couldn't hold you back. I have been afraid my whole life, afraid to do the right thing, afraid to do the wrong thing. I was weak, and I ran, and when I couldn't run, I did what I thought other people expected me to. I was afraid to keep you with me, afraid of what people would say, afraid of what it might mean, and I was afraid that I would ruin your life. You were so beautiful, with your whole life ahead of you and so many possibilities. I wanted all of that for myself, but in the end I knew better. I hope that I have done right by you, even if it wasn't for purely selfless reasons. I loved you then and I love you now, and I hope that you have forgiven me. When you think of your time at Tobacco Road, I hope it is with joy in your heart.

Forever yours,

Anna Grace.

···

The walk back to Darlene's house seemed longer now than it ever had before. She hadn't left for Tobacco Road until late in the afternoon, and with every step she took the sun sank a little lower behind the trees. The gathering dark suited her mood; Ray Junior had almost succeeded in taking away the joy she'd felt earlier in the day, but the photos of Anna had buoyed her spirits. Anna had found a way to be herself, to be free, to go where she wanted and do as she pleased. She'd always come back to Tobacco Road; Anna could no more escape that place than she could make herself grow six inches. The farm was Anna and Anna was the farm and though she could not make a life without it, she had managed to make the life she'd always wanted with it. And though Ray Junior was a bit of an ass, at least Anna had found a way to connect with him, to give him the biggest piece of herself. Brenda only hoped that one day the man might realize the gift he'd been given.

The house came into view, and an unexpected sight distracted Brenda from her musings. There was a car in the driveway parked next to her own rental. Her fingers itched for the gun she had left in her purse inside the house.

She continued up the driveway as quietly as she could, across the porch and through the door. She had barely closed it behind her when an achingly familiar voice called out from the kitchen, "Brenda Leigh?"

Beyond confused at this point Brenda rushed towards that honey rich voice, stunned when she found Sharon Raydor sitting comfortably at Darlene's table with a glass of ice water in her hand.

"What the hell?" Brenda asked, finding that she had no other words in this moment. How had Sharon found her? Why had Sharon found her? Could she possibly take a shower before they had this conversation?

"Oh, don't look at me that way," Sharon said, the slightest hint of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "Finding you was relatively easy."

"Really?" Brenda asked, sitting down across from the remarkably composed Captain. Sharon managed to look sheepish for the briefest moments before she spoke again.

"I needed to speak with you, and Chief Pope had told me you had disappeared. I found out you'd bought a plane ticket to North Carolina, and that you have an aunt here. I asked the nice young man at the gas station for directions here, and I've been waiting for you ever since."

"How did you know you were at the right house?" Brenda asked.

Sharon shrugged. "I got the plates on your car from the rental agency."

Brenda began to laugh, a great big booming laugh that made Sharon jump. She kept right on laughing, burying her face in her hands until the laughter turned to tears. Tears for Anna, for the son who didn't truly know her, for the things Brenda had said to Sharon, for the things she had done to Fritz. She cried and cried, and Sharon let her.

When the tears finally subsided, Brenda looked up through red-rimmed eyes to find Sharon watching her with a remarkable sort of calmness.

"Where did you go, Brenda Leigh?" Sharon asked softly. It was only the second time Sharon had ever called Brenda by her name, and the Chief found she liked the sound if it on Sharon's lips.

"I went to find Anna Grace," Brenda said, wondering for a moment if Sharon remembered her confession from all that time ago, before Brenda had been a royal bitch, before the race for Chief of Police, before Goldman. One look in Sharon's eyes, and Brenda knew she did.

"And did you find her?" Sharon asked.

Brenda considered the question for a moment. Anna was gone, that much was certain, but Brenda had found the pictures of Anna in all the places she'd always wanted to go, the words she'd written to Brenda, the last pieces of Anna Grace Robinson that existed now.

"I did," she said finally, and Sharon nodded.

An uneasy silence fell between them.

I have never in my life wanted anyone as badly as I wanted her, until I met you.

"Sharon," Brenda began haltingly, avoiding the brunette's eyes, "why are you here?"

Sharon picked at a corner of the table, seeming just as reluctant as Brenda was to make eye contact. "I was worried about you," she said finally. "I have come to…look forward to your presence in my life, as irritating as it can be at times, and when you were gone, I was worried. I just wanted to know that you were okay," she looked up as she finished, and this time Brenda did not look away.

Brenda reached out across the table and Sharon met her halfway, twining their fingers together as she had done on her back patio that night what seemed like a lifetime ago. Brenda felt as though a fire had filled her, as if she were standing beneath the sun she remembered from that summer all those years ago. This was Sharon sitting across from her, the woman who had helped her through these last few months, not the Captain who had seemed so cold when they first met. This was a woman who knew what she wanted and pursued it, who faced the consequences of her actions, who was not afraid to be what she needed herself to be. She had a courage Brenda couldn't help but admire.

The realization that she was sitting in her aunt's kitchen holding Sharon Raydor's hand did eventually land on Brenda, and with a certain amount of regret, she began to pull away. She expected Sharon to shut her down the way she had the first time, to send her away again, and yet Sharon did not allow her to go. Sharon rose slowly, still holding tightly to Brenda's hand, and pulled the blonde to her feet.

"You really are ok?" Sharon asked, reaching out with her free hand to brush a stray curl back from Brenda's face with an affection that left the blonde breathless.

Brenda leaned in and dropped a kiss on Sharon's cheek, to thank her for her efforts, for her concern, for her very presence. Sharon had found her without the slightest trouble; Fritz hadn't even called her.

"I really am," Brenda told her as she leaned back, smiling more brightly than she had in longer than she cared to remember. "I really am."

Sharon smiled awkwardly, still clutching Brenda's hand. "Good," she said.

The silence dragged on between them until Brenda simply couldn't bear it anymore. Sharon was lovely, Sharon was honest, Sharon was here. She used the hand still holding Sharon's to pull the other woman towards her, crashing their lips together before either of them could stop it.

Sharon made a sound in the back of her throat that was almost a whimper and Brenda used the opportunity to brush her tongue across Sharon's lips. Sharon was sweet and soft and everything Brenda had always thought she might be, but the blonde pulled away when she didn't feel Sharon kiss her back, suddenly terrified.

"Sharon, I'm so sorry," she said quickly, trying to pull herself away, but Sharon just laughed and wrapped her arms around the little blonde.

"Oh Brenda," she said, "Don't you see?"

Brenda had no idea what she was talking about but when the brunette pulled her closer and kissed her right back, she realized exactly what Sharon meant. The emotion in her touch, the fierceness in her kiss said more than words ever could. Sharon was braver than Brenda had ever given her credit for.

Brenda sank into the kiss, wrapping herself up in the warmth of Sharon Raydor. Her troubles and memoires faded away until all she knew was Sharon, the brush of her lips, the way their tongues danced together, the strength of the slender arms wrapped around her. This was freedom, this was life. This was everything Brenda wanted.

She smoothed her hands down Sharon's back, coming to rest on the firm swell of the other woman's ass, earning herself a moan of approval. Sharon's hands began to wander, too, over Brenda's shoulders and down her chest until Sharon's fingers caught the hem of Brenda's shirt. She ground her hips against the other woman's to signal her permission, moaning when she felt the warmth of Sharon's fingers against her skin, pulling the shirt up and off. Sharon didn't seem to mind the thin sheen of sweat that covered Brenda's body; she leaned forward and dragged her tongue across Brenda's collarbone, causing the blonde to shudder beneath her. Brenda longed to feel the rush of Sharon's skin under her hands and reached for the buttons of Sharon's blouse, the brunette shifting her position to give just enough room for Brenda's hands between them. Sharon was panting against Brenda's neck, laying suckling kisses across her skin. Brenda's fingers trembled with her need, fumbling as she brushed the swell of Sharon's breasts beneath the fabric.

She slipped her hands under the shirt, fingers finding purchase on the smooth skin of Sharon's shoulders before she eased the shirt down and off. They stood still for a moment, both shirtless and out of breath, stunned by the force of their passion for each other, how quickly this had happened, how easily they had fallen into each other. Brenda knew that her initial attraction to Sharon had been based on no more than her resemblance to Anna Grace and the promise of reliving her past. Things had changed, however. Brenda wanted Sharon, her indefatigable Captain, the only person who seemed to see Brenda for who she was. Brenda wanted Sharon, wanted to feel every part of her, to watch her come undone underneath Brenda's hands, to give her the same rush of joy Brenda felt when Sharon's fingers brushed her skin.

Those same slender fingers were toying with the straps of Brenda's bra, green eyes watching her with lust but also with a hint of concern.

"Are you sure, Brenda Leigh?" Sharon asked, her voice low and warm, wrapping around Brenda like the familiar embrace of an old friend.

Brenda didn't answer with words; instead she leaned forward, brushing her lips against Sharon's softly. Sharon's hands slid over her shoulders to find the clasp of her bra, her hips nudging the blonde backwards until her back collided with the wall. Sharon peeled the bra from her skin and sighed happily, her lips returning to the safe haven of Brenda's neck as her hands came back to cradle the firm weight of Brenda's breasts.

"You are so lovely," Sharon murmured against her skin between kisses. "So lovely."

Brenda's breath caught in her throat and she found she could make no reply. It was almost too much too fast, the warmth of Sharon against her, the promise in her damp kisses. What could she say? She'd wanted Sharon for months, had dreamt of how this might feel, but the reality of it made her dreams seem bland and uninspired. She never imagined that Sharon would follow her here, that Sharon would take the time to find her, that she might feel as strongly as the blonde herself did. And there could be no doubt of the depth of feelings, not when she was touching Brenda so tenderly, almost reverently. Brenda longed to return the favor, to see all of her Captain laid bare before her, but she sensed that Sharon had a different plan and for the moment she consented to allow Sharon to set the pace.

The Captain was sliding down Brenda's body, hands nearing the blue jeans slung low on Brenda's hips, mouth heading for the aching heaviness that had settled in Brenda's breasts.

The Chief moaned wantonly when she felt her Captain's lips wrap around one dusky nipple even as her hands popped open the button of Brenda's jeans. She arched her back, pushing more of her flesh against Sharon's mouth, dropping her hands to tangle in silky dark hair. Sharon slipped one hand inside Brenda's jeans, passing through damp curls until she found the warmth of Brenda's center. Brenda cried out when she felt the brush of those slender fingers against her where she wanted them most, and Sharon simply hummed, nipping gently at the tender nub of her nipple before releasing it to gaze into Brenda's eyes, her expression clouded by a sort of hunger mixed with affection that made Brenda feel as if her heart would burst out of her chest.

"Please," Brenda gasped, but Sharon just smiled, dragging her damp fingers away so she could pull Brenda's jeans and panties both down Brenda's legs, gentle hands lifting her feet as she pulled the last of Brenda's clothes off. Sharon remained crouched below her, a hand behind each of her knees, staring up at the expanse of bare skin before her with a look of wonder on her face.

"Why me?" she asked in a low voice, leaning forward to place a kiss on Brenda's thigh, and the blonde felt the tug of tears at the honesty of the question. She returned her hands to Sharon's hair, lifting the heavy curls out of the way so she could see her Captain's face.

"Oh, Sharon," she said, "Don't you know how beautiful you are? How kind and good and strong you are? You make want to be a better person. You make me want to see you smile."

Sharon did smile then, a dazzling flash of joy that warmed Brenda's heart. Brenda thought she could spend all the rest of her days telling her Captain everything she admired about her, just to see her smile that way.

Sharon rose to her feet slowly, dragging her hands up the back of the blonde's legs until they came to rest on Brenda's ass, gently squeezing the flesh and eliciting a mewling sound from the Deputy Chief who stood captivated by her beauty.

Brenda could take the slow pace no longer and pulled the Captain to her, fingers searching for the zipper of her skirt as her tongue attacked the other woman's mouth, fighting to taste every inch of her. She felt Sharon tremble beneath the weight of their combined desire.

The skirt slithered down the length of Sharon's legs, revealing the pale skin stretched taut over firm muscle and Brenda was overcome by the desire to drag her tongue over the contours of Sharon's skin, to feel the rush of the other woman's blood under her mouth. She settled for tugging at the lacy panties that hugged Sharon's hips. The Captain grinned impishly at her, removing the garment herself. She reached around to unclasp her bra, but Brenda stopped her; she wanted to do this herself, to see the dark-haired beauty revealed to her hungry eyes slowly. Sharon seemed almost shy as she dropped her hands, allowing Brenda to finish undressing her. The last barrier removed and they stood bare to one another in the kitchen of the empty house, cicadas outside the window creating a symphony in the gathering dark.

Brenda longed to explore her Captain but Sharon had had enough of waiting. She grasped one of Brenda's legs, encouraging the blonde to wrap it around her waist as she leaned forward, nibbling gently on her earlobe and whispering, "Hold on to me."

Brenda followed the order, using her leg to pull Sharon closer, their centers almost touching, her hands clutching Sharon's shoulders as though the dark haired woman was a life raft and Brenda was drowning.

Neither hesitated as their lips crashed together again, and Sharon's free hand drifted back over the toned muscles of Brenda's stomach, finally reaching its destination. Sharon swallowed Brenda's moan through their kiss, the fingers of one hand clutching her hip bruisingly while the others searched through dripping folds, playing in the moisture gathering there. She brushed Brenda's clit with the lightest of touches and the Deputy Chief felt as though she would fly apart on the spot. Sharon released her mouth, leaning back to watch her face as she pushed two fingers inside her lover without preamble. Brenda cried out, bucking her hips into the touch, the delicious pressure of Sharon inside her. She fought to keep her eyes open, wanting to remember every moment of this experience. She caught her Captain's darkened gaze and fell into the depths of those clear green eyes. Sharon had forgone her glasses today and Brenda was grateful that nothing stood between her and the obvious ferocity of the Captain's desire for her.

"Fuck, Sharon," she gasped as the Captain thrust within her, using her hips to increase the force behind each motion, her palm grinding against Brenda's clit with every stroke.

"Do you feel that, Brenda?" Sharon husked, leaning forward to drop nibbling kisses across the mounds of Brenda's breasts. "Do you feel me inside you?"

Sharon's voice ran like liquid fire through Brenda's veins, making her dizzy with want. Her fingers dug into the woman's shoulders and for the briefest moment Brenda worried her nails might be drawing blood. But then Sharon latched onto her pulse point, sucking hard as she added a third finger and Brenda's world exploded in a burst of color. All she knew was Sharon, the warmth of her mouth, the forceful possessiveness of her fingers, the silky brush of her hair against Brenda's hands. The blonde was dimly aware that she was screaming, and for the first time in her life she wasn't embarrassed about the sounds she made or worried about who might hear them.

The bruising force of the dark-haired woman's thrusts continued unabated as she dragged her lips back up to Brenda's ear, sucking the lobe gently between her teeth as Brenda shook beneath her.

"I can feel you," Sharon moaned against her ear. "So hot, so wet… come for me, Brenda. Come with my fingers inside you. Let me hold you up."

One final thrust and Brenda did as she was told, flying apart with a wail, her inner walls clamped down tight on Sharon's hand, holding the other woman deep inside her as if to never let her go.

Sharon eased them down to the floor, pulling Brenda into her lap and holding the blonde's still-spasming sex protectively in her hand. As Brenda came back to herself she realized that she was crying, salty tears dripping onto Sharon's skin where she had buried her face in the other woman's neck.

"Jesus, Sharon," she choked out, and Sharon chuckled softly, running her free hand over Brenda's tangled hair.

"You're gorgeous when you come," Sharon said, her words sending a shiver down Brenda's spine.

"You're just gorgeous," Brenda replied, her voice still shaking. Sharon laughed again, slowly easing her hand out from between Brenda's legs. The blonde voiced her disappointment at the loss, trying to follow Sharon's fingers with her hips. Sharon lifted three glistening fingers up to her mouth, lips and tongue cleaning each in an erotic display that seemed to flip a switch inside the little blonde. Brenda made a sound that was almost a growl and lunged forward, pushing Sharon to the floor, her tongue invading the other woman's mouth, moaning at the taste of herself on Sharon's tongue.

Sharon fought to regain control but Brenda wouldn't let her, straddling her hips and holding her in place with her body. She ground down shamelessly against the brunette beneath her and grinned when Sharon moaned into her mouth.

Brenda dragged her lips away, hell-bent on making the Captain come apart now. She ran her tongue down Sharon's neck, over the valley between her breasts, making a mental note to spend more time there in the future. Sharon shuddered as Brenda's mouth moved across her stomach, as Brenda's hands caught hold of her legs Brenda rearranged the limbs so that Sharon's feet were planted on the floor, her knees bent and legs spread open, Brenda resting in the cradle of her hips. Sharon looked utterly wanton, her hair a tangled mess from Brenda's fingers, her breasts heavy and heaving with her uneven breaths, her folds glistening with her need for Brenda.

"So wet," Brenda breathed against scratchy curls, running a finger through the gathering dampness there. "So beautiful," she added, dragging her mouth downward to lick through the length of Sharon's slit. The older woman just hummed, her hips rising up to follow the path of Brenda's tongue, chasing her own release. Brenda laughed at her eagerness, drawing her mouth back up to latch onto Sharon's clit. Brenda suckled it gently, listening to the soft sounds Sharon made, before she brought her hands into play. She slipped a single finger inside her lover even as she stretched to palm a breast, and Sharon writhed beneath her.

"God, Brenda so good," she panted, "You feel so good."

Brenda had never been one for talking during sex, but she'd never fucked someone with a voice like Sharon's, and she loved hearing her now.

One of Sharon's hands tangled in Brenda's hair, and the other covered Brenda's hand on her own breast, encouraging her as she molded the firm flesh under her fingers. Brenda added a second finger and thrust harder and harder, teeth just barely scraping the edge of Sharon's clit and then the woman was coming, her sex almost breathing around Brenda's fingers, her voice ragged as she cried out her release. Brenda kept her mouth on her lover, gently easing her through the tremors of her orgasm until Sharon quieted and gently tugged on her hair, drawing her up to rest against the softness of Sharon's chest. Sharon dropped a kiss on Brenda's hair, sighing contentedly.

Brenda would gladly have stayed there forever, listening to the steady thrum of Sharon's heartbeat, but the truth was they were lying on the cold, hard tiles of the kitchen floor and neither could stay there comfortably for long. Sharon nudged Brenda and they rose together, each reaching for the other's hands as they studied the mess of clothes. Brenda smiled sheepishly and Sharon drew her close, kissing her temple. The intimacy of the action made Brenda's knees weak, and she smiled as she pulled Sharon down the hall towards the bedroom that had been hers one summer all those years before. They burrowed beneath the covers together, legs and arms and hair and fingers tangling up until neither could tell where one stopped and the other began.

"Thank you for finding me," Brenda whispered against Sharon's skin, and the other woman held her a little closer.

"You found me," she said with a smile Brenda could feel more than she could see.

They had found each other, the destination neither had realized they were rushing towards all along. They had come home.