This is for Serenity, who told me to go update this, lol...and for Angela - get well asap lady!

Enjoy, let me know what you think. And happy New Year's! Everyone be safe, whatever you decide to get into!


Stephanie's POV

A light shake of my shoulders startles me momentarily.

"Wake up, Steph," a deep, yet gentle voice instructs me softly. My eyelids feel heavy, but eventually I force them open. I lift my head from the blanket and for a moment I squint, not quite understanding what is taking place. Endless blue ocean is in front of me…but it's what's on the horizon that most surprises me.

"Holy shit," I whisper before rolling onto my other side so that I can look at Paul. "Did we fall asleep out here?" I ask although the answer is damn obvious. I run a hand through my hair and peer towards the sun again, making sure it isn't a mirage. At the small shiver my body involuntarily gives, Paul's massive arm tightens around my waist. Even though we've both got things to do today, no doubt, I can't help but find the embrace comforting. I scoot closer to him, rather than making any attempt to get up.

A small laugh passes his lips. "In my defense, you fell asleep first. What was I to do with myself when my form of entertainment was snoozing?"

I return the laugh because that's my instinct. But on the inside, I feel a stab of…something I can't identify. Fatigue is a common symptom of people with my diagnosis. I'd been waiting for more physical signs of the cancer, to kind of validate the fact that I truly have it. Now that another has come, I'm regretting the mental request I'd been making. Another symptom means I'm getting worse. Getting worse means dying sooner. Dying sooner means less time with Paul. Even though we've only hung out once, the thought of losing him fills my heart with sadness so deep I don't have words for it.

Although, it won't really be me that loses him; he'll be the one losing me. We seem to be mostly on the same page so I have to assume that he can also feel the potential for something amazing developing between us.

Quite honestly, I'm terrified to admit how much I care about him already.

"I'm sorry I fell asleep on you." I'm also sorry for what that undoubtedly means in terms of my health, or lack thereof. But I don't verbalize that. I can't. He wouldn't understand and even if he did, he'd bolt on me. I mean, what man in his right mind would begin something intense with a woman whose time was as limited as mine? If I didn't like him so much already, I'd let him go now for his own good. That's what I should do but I won't. "I promise you weren't boring me or anything," I assure him, rubbing his stubbly cheek for a moment.

God, I wish I could wake up like this every day. To him, his brown-green eyes and beautiful smile.

"No worries," he says casually. Paul loosens his hold and I struggle not to pout at the slight loss of warmth. He's moving around a bit and when he stops, he's got his cell phone in his hand. "Hmm," he mutters. "It's six."

"We should probably get going then huh?"

Paul lets out a little groan before releasing me and pushing himself up to his knees. He stretches his arms above his head, while I'm transfixed by his slightly exposed, chiseled, tan stomach. Finally he stands up and extends his hand down to help me up. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car," he says politely.

Once I'm on my feet, with my purse slung over my shoulder, he grabs the blanket and shakes the sand out of it. I grab one end of the blanket and help him fold it up. He more or less holds it with one hand. A childish part of me sulks because the hand I was closest to is now occupied. Since I'm going through life head-on now, I decide not to wait for him to realize I want him to hold my hand. Instead, I go to his unoccupied side and slowly link my fingers through his.

He glances down and flashes me a smile before he begins to walk back in the direction we'd originally come from. "What is the dumbest thing you've ever done?"

Marry Alex, without a doubt. That's my automatic, mental answer. Clearly I can't say that, though. "Like, something dumb that had serious consequences?"

Paul shrugs. "Not necessarily. Could be some funny, but stupid thing you did as a kid."

I poke my lip out while I do a quick scan of such memories. "Oh, I got one!" I exclaim finally. "When I was sixteen, my friends and I entered the talent contest at school. All the rehearsals went off without a hitch and everything was set. During our performance, the crowd was really excited and we all got pretty into it. On the last "hit me baby one more time" I plead temporary insanity…I jumped off stage…expecting to land on my feet as the big, unrehearsed finale. Well…I overshot and ended up crashing into the judges' stand."

The corners of Paul's mouth twitch and I can tell he doesn't want to laugh because it was such an embarrassing moment for me. But even I have to admit that after the humiliation wore off it was pretty damn funny. I watch Paul, with my eyes playfully narrowed, before I finally roll them with a sigh. "Go ahead," I tell him.

He bursts out laughing and I can't help but chuckle as well. "Oh my…hah! Oh my God. When the song says "hit me baby one more time" I don't think they want you to take it so literally," he gets out between fits of laughing.

"Your turn, man!" I say, poking him in the side.

"Hey!" He says defensively, jumping the slightest bit.

Ah, so the big man is ticklish. I'm ridiculously ticklish and it's always been to my disadvantage when it comes to dating. Paul's not as ticklish as I am, obviously…but knowing that he can't just torture me for ten straight minutes, without me retaliating, is cool.

"Okay, okay," he relents. "I was maybe seven or eight at the time. And I loved anything related to comic book superheroes. Superman was my favorite, so my parents got me a pretty extensive set. The outfit, in particular, was so realistic that I basically thought I had Superman's powers. My Dad was doing some roof repair, so he'd left the ladder on the side of the house. I climbed it one afternoon, walked to the edge of the roof…I yelled "Up, up, and away" and pretty much jumped off the roof, convinced I was going to fly because I was dressed like Superman, right down to the cape."

"Oh shit!" I say while trying to hold my laughter in enough to hear the rest of the story. "Did you break anything?"

"I broke my arm, but everyone thought my cast was really cool so it worked out."

We continue walking on the street in amused, comfortable silence. I start fishing around in my purse for my keys as we turn on to the street I'm parked on. "That's me down there," I say, pointing vaguely.

"The Camaro? Pretty sweet ride."

"Thanks," I say with a grin as we stop in front of my car. "What have you got?"

"An Escalade, though it was hard trading in my Mustang."

"Nice," I comment, pressing the button to unlock my car. I open the door just enough to toss my purse inside, before I let it close again. Nervously, I tuck a piece of brown hair behind my ear and lean my back against the car door.

I tug on Paul's hand until he steps in front of me. "I had a great time with you tonight…slash this morning," he says with a chuckle.

I feel myself blushing, but smiling hugely. "Likewise. I'm really glad I didn't reject your coffee this time," I tell him sincerely.

He looks contemplative for a moment before he lets go of my hand, to cup my cheek instead. "So am I."

Without another word, I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him down to my level. His lips meet mine halfway. This kiss is more passionate than our first. I don't see a point in holding back and Paul doesn't feel a need to since I started this one. I run my tongue along his bottom lip and smile slightly when he deepens our kiss and presses me somewhat up against my car.

This is…exhilarating. It feels as if there's waves of electricity radiating from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. It's a rush and yet it also feels so very safe. It's a paradox and yet it makes perfect sense. It's the first time I've felt anything like it. My tongue brushes against his before I break the kiss, pecking his lips one last time.

"You better get out of here while we both still have some semblance of restraint," he says with a smirk.

"Call me later?"

One of Paul's arms wraps around me, pulling me tight against him for a hug. His lips press against my cheek for a few seconds. "Count on it," he promises before opening my car door for me.

I settle in the driver's seat and watch as he closes the door for me. Paul begins to walk away once I start my engine. I plunge my hand into my purse and pull out my cell phone.

"Shit," I whisper. Ten missed calls. Four from Stacy, two from Torrie and Maria and two from Alex. One voicemail from each person with an extra from both Alex and Stacy. I won't call each of the girls back; they were probably on a search mission along with Stacy.

I click on Alex's message first. "Stephanie, where the hell are you? It's ten at night and I haven't heard from you. Call me back when you get this. Bye."

Gee, husband…a little more emotion and I may start to think you actually care about me.

Next I click on Stacy's first message. "Steph, I know you're out with Paul. I just wanted to give you a heads up that Alex is snooping around looking for you. I told him we were working late on a really huge deal. But just call me when you get a chance…I don't want to lie if you've really been kidnapped, decided to run away or something," she says with a laugh.

I shift my car into drive and take off down the street towards the freeway. At the red light, I click on the next message from Alex. "Stephanie, this is fucking ridiculous. It's after one in the morning and you haven't called back. Stacy said you were working late but I know you've got to be done by now. I'm not amused by this latest stunt of yours at all. What the hell has gotten into you, huh? What the hell kind of example are you setting for Jam-"

I delete the message before he can even finish that name. It was never my intention to be a stepmother, anyway. He sprung this on me out of the blue and with ulterior motives so I don't feel the need to be her role model. Up until the last few days I've been playing it very safe and conservative. And the kid hated me then just as she hates me now, so what's the point?

I go to Stacy's second message. "Steph, it's me again. Alex keeps calling so I told him you were sleeping at my place because you were exhausted, it's closer to our office and blah, blah, blah," she explains. "He bought it but he just called a few minutes ago to say that he's going to drop by while he's taking Jamie to school, to see for himself whether or not you're here. It's six right now…so I suggest you either get your ass home or get your ass here as soon as possible."

Damn. Waking up to Paul was an absolutely perfect start to my morning. Now I'm going to have to deal with the asshole and possibly his daughter within the next couple of hours? Well at least Stacy will be there for moral support, I guess. This shouldn't be hard to pull off since I do have a key to her condo as well as clothes there for the times that I really do end up staying over.

It's not a huge deal, it's just annoying. I'm more concerned with how long I can pretend to be working late and sleeping at Stacy's when I'm really out with Paul. God, this is just like high school. A little ironic smile crosses my lips at the thought, as I make a u-turn and head towards Stacy's house instead.

Not seeing Paul isn't an option. He's my Superman, my beacon of hope who's finally come to rescue me from my life before I lose it.