Saved By A Goddess: Part 2 - Gifts

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Saved By A Goddess:
Part 2 - Gifts

 
By StefB

With a funeral to attend, gifts to embrace and a new body/life to adjust to, Cali continues her journey and learns life is never boring after she was was saved by a goddess. This story takes place immediately following the events of my previous story. It is highly recommended you read Saved By A Goddess before starting this one.

 


Edited by Sylvan Goddess and LorasPa6 (Thank you both so very much)
 
 
My mind was racing as I walked outside to enjoy the peace and quiet offered by the massive front porch of the rural cabin my wife I were temporarily sharing. I looked over the quiet lodge while sipping a cup of gourmet coffee I made from the supplies available in the deluxe kitchen.

Inhaling the crisp mountain air caused me to begrudgingly admit to myself how much I missed this aspect of the area in which I grew up.

It had been an eventful couple of weeks to say the least and as I looked down at the pink striped modal slip and matching kimono robe that did little to hide the ample curves underneath, I had many doubts I would ever learn to deal with the repercussions.

In some ways if felt like a lifetime ago I was a man named Tyler Dawson but in others it seemed like only yesterday I became Callista Zoyra.

Tyler had it rough growing up in a house where his father killed his mother and treated Ty as his own personal slave/punching bag. His father also tried to emasculate Ty at every turn since he was so small and androgynous. His father achieved it by making Ty wear his mother’s old clothes while doing what his father deemed woman’s work.

As I search the memories for Cali, which my mother guarantees are real, my father was still an evil man who molested me late at night. In my new past, my half brothers tried to keep him from having as many opportunities to abuse me.

Cali does not carry quite the anger Ty did but she does have her share. Best as I can tell, Cali is a spunky little woman. Only five foot one and maybe one hundred or so pounds with prisms for eyes and fiery red hair who can fight with the best of them and did so often when she was young.

I was still in the process of discovering who Cali is, I mean, who I am.

Instinct still carries me to Tyler's part of the mind…

With his best friend Ryan Crews' help, Tyler was able to escape the small town nightmare he grew up in and together they built a new life as two of the most respected stuntmen in Hollywood. Granted most of Tyler’s work was as a woman but Ty was determined to better himself and did whatever it took.

Which was how he met his wife Danica Zoyra. She was a makeup artist hired to work on a movie Ty and Ryan were working with on a small island close to Greece.

Danica Zoyra possessed a beauty unlike any Ty had ever seen. Extremely tall for a woman, at six foot one with long dark hair and piercing violet eyes unlike any Ty had ever seen before. Like his friend Ryan used to say, Dani had curves that made a Ferrari weep with joy.

To everyone’s amazement Ty and Dani became a couple on that small island and were married less than three months later and are still together, at least at the moment, after some seven years of wedded bliss.

I say at the moment because things have changed recently…

By accident I literally fell into a member of an immortal race of men who was attacking a woman that looked so much like my wife that I placed myself between him and the woman to save her.

A fight ensued where I managed to kill him but not before I sustained injuries that ,without the woman's help, I would have never survived.

She informed me she was the goddess Zaria and I later found out she was also my mother in law.

Zaria offered me a chance to live, she said I only had to say yes and I could go back to my wife who I love dearly. She explained there would be changes and I would lose some things but at the same time gain others.

A life lesson learned there… Always read the fine print. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

My life will never be the same. Ty no longer exists, in fact to everyone but Dani and I he never existed. He was replaced by Cali, a very short and most might say, very attractive woman who looked far younger than her twenty-eight years.

In the brief time since I became a woman, my best friend Ryan died in my arms, my wife was almost killed, a man I once considered a friend attempted to rape me and any respect I had ever gained from my coworkers was gone.

My boss and mentor, Aaron Brachman, no longer trusted my knowledge. Every other person I worked with totally dismissed the fact I knew anything at all.

Try as I might, nobody would listen to my concerns prior to the accident on set that claimed Ryan and injured my wife along with many others.

With the exception of Ryan’s passing, Dani’s easy dismissal of my changes led to more mental and emotional turmoil than everything else combined. She was like a roller coaster. One minute she would be so loving and supportive but the next, she treated me as an indentured servant and totally rejected my feelings without a thought. Granted she has been doing better since I tried to kill myself but I still had my doubts that she was a changed woman.

I started to tear up again at the thought and sighed as I poured myself another cup of coffee.

Because I knew she had to be sore from the accident and it was still very early AND I wanted to be alone, I decided to let Dani sleep as long as she needed.

Aaron paid for the luxury cabin as an apology for not believing me when I tried to prevent the accident that killed my best friend. Dani told me he felt terrible about everything. I desperately wanted to believe her and I knew deep down I could possibly forgive him for his role leading up to Ryan's death but I was not sure if I could ever forget.

I was still reeling from everything that happened but meeting my niece Kaley was refreshing and life affirming. The little girl taught me life could still be fun. She also taught me that love could be unconditional because I loved that little girl, who looked just like a young version of Cali, so much it hurt.

I also learned I could still be strong by watching my sister in law Trish struggle for the sake of her daughter and husband. Without knowing she was doing it, she helped me see life from a different perspective. There are worst things in life than being turned into a woman. In fact, being a woman was starting to be better than I expected.

My mind went immediately to my mother. The woman who twice devoted her life to me and how she spent her second chance at life making sure I knew love. I felt ashamed I had given up so easily when I realized it would be selfish to waste her sacrifice.

Knowing she was in my heart, I projected a mental hug while I said, "I'm sorry Mama, I love you."

I delved deeper into my female memories and realized that Cali is far more confident and self-assured than Ty ever was. I had no doubt that was due to Mama's influence on my brothers who always worked hard to build up my self-esteem instead of tearing it down at every turn.

I thought about my father and how he was finally going to receive justice for killing my mother. I was told too much time had passed for him to be charged for his abuse of me growing up. I might have been upset about that information but if what Mama said were true, he would face something much worse than a jury very soon.

Since she was never far from my thoughts, Dani entered my mind. Yesterday I had already forgiven her for her initial disregard of my feelings concerning my transformation. I also forgave her for dismissing my concerns prior to the accident that led to the death of my best friend but this morning my anger and hurt over the incident was returning stronger than before.

I could not really explain it but I felt new sense of betrayal regarding her and had no idea why.

I immediately felt guilty over the fun I had the day before and could not believe I allowed myself to even momentarily forget what happened to my dearest friend.

I knew I would never truly get over Ryan's senseless passing. The rational side of my mind tried to convince me I had done all I could do to prevent it but the irrational side; the part of me who loved and missed my friend more than anything, tried to tell me I could have done more. I could not help but wonder if his death was more my fault than I even realized before.

Before I agreed to allow Dani’s mother, the Goddess Zaria, to save me, she said I would have to make sacrifices. Did I sacrifice my best friend to save myself?

Just the thought of that had me shaking uncontrollably as my tears overflowed in buckets.

Ryan had been the one constant in my turbulent life. No matter what, I always knew Ryan had my back.

I thought I had lost him right after I changed but in true Ryan form, he fought the new memories implanted in his mind. He came to me only three days ago to tell me he remembered both of my lives and he would help me through my changes. It’s hard to explain the joy of having him completely back in my life as he always had been.

Sadly, that would no longer be the case because of my selfishness to see Dani again.

The sight of a Sheriff's SUV brought me from my thoughts. It seemed way too early for a social call.

I wiped my eyes and tightened the sash on my robe as I stepped off the porch to see Ryan's father park next to the charcoal gray Mini Cooper Aaron had rented for me as an apology for being attacked by the studio approved doctor.

"Hi Mr. Crews, what brings you out here at this hour?" I asked as the large older gentleman stepped out of the beefed up SUV.

He walked over and gave me a hug. "Sorry for bothering you so early Cali but I needed to talk to you."

I led him up the steps. "No problem, would you like some coffee?"

He nodded and I flipped over the extra cup I had brought out in case Dani woke up sooner than I expected.

"How are you and Mrs. Crews holding up?" I asked as I filled his cup.

He added some cream and sugar to his coffee. I smiled when it occurred to me that he liked his Java the same way his son did.

Mr. Crews looked at me sadly and wiped a stray tear from my cheek with his thumb. "About as well as you are if I had to venture a guess."

I started to cry all over again. "I'm so sorry it happened. It’s all my fault. I've been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what else I could have done to prevent it."

Mr. Crews took my hand in his. "Stop it Cali. Mr. Brachman showed me a tape from the meeting. I know you did everything possible. It could have been much worse if not for your recommendations."

I stared at him dumbfounded. "What do you mean? Why is there a tape? What recommendations? They completely ignored everything I said."

He shook his head. "Apparently he records all conference calls to cover his butt. Aaron didn't ignore you. After you left the meeting, he tried to kill the stunt but everyone else refused. He did insist that as many of your safety precautions be placed on the site as possible. The injuries could have been much worse if not for that. The only fault Aaron Brachman made in this is doubting you in the first place, but as soon as he realized his mistake he fought hard to correct it."

I sat silently for a moment as I realized Aaron really did go to bat for me. His actions might not have saved my friend but it did save others.

"Wow, I had no idea but if I had done more..." I said quietly.

Mr. Crews moved his chair closer and pulled me into a hug. "You did everything within your power. I don’t know of anyone else that could have done more. They had six different cameras recording the area so I saw the raw footage of the accident; it was amazing how you saved your partner and her coworker as well as the injured stuntman. I’m sure at least two, possibly three more would have died that day if not for you."

He then sighed sadly, as he tightened his embrace. "They recorded Ryan's last moments on film. I could not hear what was said but I saw it all and want to thank you for being with him. I know how much you two meant to each other and I also know you tried absolutely everything to save him. You can’t blame yourself for any of this."

I did not believe a word he said but nodded to help him feel better as I wiped away the fresh tears that were starting to fall.

He made no attempt to release me as he continued. "I hate to add to your misery but I thought you needed to know that your father bonded out about an hour ago. You need to be careful while you are in town. There are some members of his church that are not entirely stable and they have it in for you. I have filed a protective order on your behalf but you know how he is."

I sighed. "When it rains it pours."

He nodded as he started to stand. "We decided to hold his visitation Friday night at six and the service will be Saturday at noon so that his friends from California can attend. I sent a mass email from his phone with all the information, but if you can think of anybody else out there that needs to know; please feel free to invite them. If you need anything do not hesitate to call, day or night."

I could almost feel Ryan standing behind me pushing to ask his father an important question. I finally gave in as I turned to him but I was not sure how to phrase my question so as not to offend him. "Have you called Evan? I know she and Ryan were still close."

Mr. Crews' eyes started to dampen as a look of shame crossed his already sorrowful face. "No, I don't know how to find him or what to say if I did. I said some terrible things to him; I mean her, a long time ago. She's the only child my wife and I have left. If I could go back in time to change things I would, but I am afraid it's too late. I was a terrible father to him. Shit, I mean her."

My heart broke for the man who was the only positive adult male role model from Ty’s youth.

I stood to hug him. "As long as you both have a breath left in your bodies, it's never too late. If you have Ryan's phone, look for Evie in the contacts. She just got a message from her brother's phone that he is dead. She needs to talk to somebody. If you don't want to call I'll be happy to do it, but she deserves to know."

He nodded knowingly. "I saw that number and wondered if that was him, I mean her. I'll call her when I get back to the office. It's what a father should do, she has to be hurting and in shock right now."

He then tightened his embrace so hard I was having a hard time breathing. "Thank you Cali. I hope you know my wife and I have always considered you part of the family. When I talk of my son I also talk of my daughter, I talk of you. We are just as proud of your accomplishments as we were Ryan’s."

My damn tears started up again as I leaned up to kiss his cheek. "I love you too."

He seemed pleased but embarrassed by my show of affection and shuffled his feet gruffly. "Yeah, so I think I said all I came out here to say so I need to go. Thanks for the coffee."

I tried to not to laugh and thankfully succeeded. "Thank you for coming out here. If I can do anything for either of you please let me know."

While watching Ryan's father drive away I grabbed my phone to call my brother Thomas and let him know Daddy was out on bond. He agreed to stay at Trish's apartment for the time being in order to keep his family safe.

After ending my call, I needed my wife's comfort but my residual anger kept me from stepping foot inside.

I moved over to the porch swing and pulled my knees to my chest as I released all the sorrow I felt inside.

Chapter Two

"Are you okay?" Dani asked as she walked outside and wrapped her arms around me.

I shook my head and hugged her tightly.

She tried to turn me to face her but I held my place. "What's wrong?"

I buried my head in her chest. "We can talk later. Just hold me now."

Dani leaned down to kiss me on the top of my head as she held me quietly and allowed my tears to flow.

As had been the case the last few days, a few minutes of crying in Dani’s arms did wonders for my mood. I was no longer as mad at her as I was earlier and the pain of losing Ryan had eased greatly.

"You want to talk about it?" Dani asked after I calmed down.

She listened intently as I told her everything Ryan's father told me. While I was talking, I also shared with her my thoughts from before. She did not interrupt me at any point, she allowed me to put everything from my mind into words. I could not believe how much lighter my load felt after I finished.

"Thank you." Dani said earnestly after a few moments.

I turned to her puzzled. "Why are you thanking me? It should be the other way around."

Dani shook her head before resting her forehead on mine. "For loving and trusting me enough to share about everything you are feeling. This is a heavy load to bear and too much to carry alone. I am happy to share it with you. Together we can get through anything."

I stared at her a moment before I asked the question that was bothering me so much I kept it closely guarded. "I did not share everything. The sacrifice your mother talked about me making, was Ryan that sacrifice? If it is then I want to give this back right now."

Dani’s mouth dropped in astonishment. "No baby, Mother does not work like that. Is that what you have been thinking?"

I pulled my knees to my chest again and buried my head in them. "She said I would lose some things and gain others. I still believe that had I not changed Ryan would be alive."

Dani did not respond and I looked up to see why and realized we were no longer on the porch of the cabin. We were sitting on a marble floor before a grand throne in an exquisite white marble room.

Zaria rose from her throne. "Callista dear, I understand you have concerns?"

I nodded. "Yes Mother I do."

She glided across the floor to take my hands in hers to lift me up. "I already know what is bothering you and I assure you that your friend was never part of our deal. Nobody was supposed to perish in the accident. I have my people trying find out what happened and why. You must not shoulder this blame."

I immediately sensed she was not telling me everything but do I dare confront her about it?

It was my best friend’s life that was taken so I decided yes. "What are you leaving out Mother?"

Zaria’s violet eyes widened in surprise. "How did you know that?"

I shrugged. "I believe it to be one of your gifts. I can sense when someone is being less that truthful."

She nodded and appeared deep in thought. "Very interesting and very powerful to sense that in me." Her focus then returned. "I have reason to believe an otherworldly force played a hand in this."

I stared at her dumbfounded for a moment before it occurred to me. "A Thetan did this in retaliation?"

Zaria sighed. "That is my thought yes, but we think they want to harm me, not you. We believe they were aiming for Danica as a way to lure me out but you arrived before their plan succeeded."

"So it was my fault. Had I not killed Adorious they would have not done anything." I said matter of factly.

The goddess shook her head. "No child. That horrible race is solely to blame. If Adorious had not attacked me and then you, he would still be alive today. You gave him a chance to leave but he refused. I give you my word I will find the one responsible and make him regret his actions."

I filled with rage at the thought the Thetans had tried to kill my wife and were successful with Ryan. "Thank you Mother. If I can be of assistance in your search please let me know. I would love nothing more than to take vengeance on those responsible for this."

Her smile was glorious as she looked down at me. "Not yet Callista, you still have much to learn about yourself but when the time is right I will call on you."

Her words did little to ease the pain of losing my friend but I no longer felt the unbearable weight of responsibility.

"What can I do to speed up the process?" I asked, eager to face those who turned my life upside down.

Zaria frowned slightly. "Calm down young one. A little anger is good motivation but too much will eat your soul. Learn to accept your new fate. Embrace the woman you are and everything else will follow."

She lifted my chin so I could look into her eyes. "Burn the grasp your past holds because you can never move forward while looking back. Learn forgiveness, because when you hold a grudge you are only harming yourself. Yearn to be better, because you have never been one who was content with remaining stagnant. Earn the gifts you have received, because once you have gained full understanding of who you are now, you will be capable of great thing. All those pale in importance to my last piece of wisdom, discern your new place in this life. When you chose the path you feel this life will take you, so much good will come of it."

Her look took on an even more serious edge. "This journey will not be easy at times but it will be rewarding on many levels. You must remember that in addition to all I have told you that you must also take time to enjoy the second chance you have been given. Stop and smell the flowers as your kind likes to say. If you can do those things you will go far."

I smiled as I took in her advice. "Thank you Mother."

She smiled as she released me. "You are most welcome child. I will help when I can. Now I must send you back alone. It is imperative that I speak to my daughter privately. I will send her back when I am done."

As soon as Callista disappeared, Zaria turned toward her daughter. "Tread lightly Danica."

Dani was taken aback by her mother’s words. "What have I done?"

Zaria sighed as she relaxed in her seat on the massive marble throne. She was far less formal when not in the presence of her subjects. "You are manipulating Callista’s feelings. You are suppressing her emotions and not allowing her the chance to properly mourn. Because of that you are holding back her ability to move forward."

Dani became defensive. "You have not seen her Mother. She is in such pain that I cannot bear it. It breaks my heart to watch the person I love hurt like this knowing I can help. I ache for her and if I can ease that pain why should I not? Are our gifts not supposed to be used for good?"

Zaria leaned forward. "That is not how humans work. There is a process of grieving they must go through and you are prolonging her pain. I know you are trying to help but you are hurting her more in the end. Part of the reason she was so upset when you found her this morning is because all the emotions you held back released at once and overwhelmed her."

"Callista is strong yet you continue to underestimate her. Allow her to grieve unless she asks you otherwise. I believe she is already starting to sense something is wrong. If you do not stop interfering, and she discovers what you have done, she will never forgive you."

Dani dropped her head in shame. "I had not thought of it like that Mother. Thank you for your wisdom. May I ask why you did not allow her to see Ryan while she was here? I know his words would do more to ease her guilt than anything you or I could ever say."

Zaria sat solemnly silent for a moment and Dani turned to leave thinking she had overstepped her bounds but Zaria stopped her. "Wait, there is more but Callista must not know. I see no choice but to tell you that Ryan’s soul did not cross over and we have reason to believe they are either trying to recruit him as a common or are holding him in the hopes that you will come to save your friend. If Callista were to even suspect this she would foolishly rush into a trap to save him."

Stunned by what she was hearing she slowly turned around. "Recruit Ryan? Why? He’s one of the most open minded and loving men I know. He would never agree to be their Common. Commons are hideous and disgusting mindless beings made for servitude and mayhem, we must save him before he becomes the next Grendel."

Zaria frowned. "We are searching for him as we speak. Your friend is strong and he is close to you. I do not believe they know of Callista yet but if they are able to break him, they soon will. Be ever vigilant daughter and I will be watching to ensure your safety."

In a very uncharacteristic move on Dani’s part, she rushed to her mother and gave her a hug. "Thank you Mother. I love you."

Startled but not displeased by her daughter’s actions, Zaria returned her embrace awkwardly. "And I you Danica."

---------

While waiting for my wife to return I busied myself in the kitchen making breakfast. While I readied the dough for biscuits, I decided that if I were going to be able to avenge Ryan I would have to embrace the life I now had. The quicker I adapted, the sooner I could join the fight. I may not be happy with my wife but I still loved her more than anything and I would be damned if I would let anyone harm her.

Dani appeared just as I removed the biscuits from the oven.

"Nice visit?" I asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

She sat her coffee down before reaching for the cup in my hand and sitting it on the granite countertop next to hers.

I could tell Dani was severely troubled as she wrapped her arms around my waist from behind.

She held me tighter than usual while resting her head on mine. "I wouldn’t go that far but it ended much better than my usual trips home."

I spun in her arms and saw the sadness in her eyes. "What’s wrong? Worried about the Thetans?"

Dani sighed sadly. "A little, but that is not what is bothering me. I have a confession to make and I am afraid it will upset you further."

I led her to a stool in front of the breakfast bar and sat beside her. "What is it?"

She hesitantly looked at me with tremendous fear in her beautiful lavender eyes before she took a deep breath. "One of my gifts is the ability to suppress emotions."

My brows pushed together as I tried to understand why telling me this was so important. "There must be a reason you are telling me this."

She nodded. "I can take someone's pain or grief away."

I stared at her emotionless as it slowly became clear why I was able to forget about everything while we went out. "And you used that gift on me."

Tears started streaming down her cheeks. "Yes. You were hurting so much and I couldn’t stand to see you in pain. I did not realize it only delayed the ache instead of eliminating it. The reason you were crying so hard this morning was because of what I did and I am so sorry. I’ll never do it again."

I should have been angry but I was not.

I was hurt.

I was betrayed.

I needed time to process this.

I jumped off the stool and headed toward the door. "Breakfast is on the stove, help yourself. I’m going for a walk."

"Please talk to me. I was only trying to help. I love you." Dani cried as she reached for my arm.

The anger I was not feeling only a moment ago suddenly engulfed my entire body. For the first time ever, her touch was not desired. The disgust I felt from her contact caused me to spin away so fast it shocked both of us.

"Don’t touch me." I snarled. "Don’t talk to me, don’t help me like that again, and for damn sure don’t try to use our love as an excuse for your actions. I'm sick of every time you do something I don't like it's because you claim to love me so damn much. I can’t believe you tried to manipulate me after everything I told you. You still think I am nothing more than a weak little girl who you can mold to your will instead of the grown man that would have never tolerated being treated this way."

I stood just inside the back door. "You need to learn to either stand by my side or stay the hell out of the way. This pushing your will on me bullshit is never going to happen again."

I rushed out the back door and up the hill behind the cabin. I continued walking through a wooded area until I came upon a clearing beneath tall cliff. Something about the area struck me as familiar. I was standing on a very large slab of flat rock and noticed it had recently been disturbed. The scratches across the rock from something being drug on it helped me realize this was where I fell the night my life changed forever.

I surveyed the area before searching for an entrance to the area I knew was beneath my feet.

I desired to see that cavern. I had to know it really existed. I have lost so much because of my changes that I coveted a reminder of what happened that fateful night. I needed to assure myself that I had done the right thing.

If I relived the circumstances, knowing the costs, would I still have reacted the same way?

I noticed a small stream and remembered the cavern possessed a stone bath fed from somewhere. On a hunch I started following the path of flowing water. Before long in disappeared into the side of the same bluff I had jumped off of, only about five hundred yards from where I had originally been supposed to land.

There was a small crack in the side large enough for either version of me to fit through, but I was not entirely sure a man of any significant size could.

I followed the water deeper and deeper as the path continued downward with many crooks and curves.

After about thirty minutes I entered the large open cavern. It surprised me I could see but there was a soft phosphorescent glow emanating from what appeared to be thousands of cracks running along the stone walls and ceiling. Everything else was as I remembered, minus any effects of the life changing battle that took place.

I cupped my hands and bent over to get a drink from the stream before I sat on the edge of the bath. My mind was reeling. How could my own wife do that to me? Did she think I was so weak that I could not handle everything?

Of course, she thought that. She carried me in from the woods after I tried to kill myself.

Maybe I need her to take control. Maybe I am as weak as she believes me to be? I barely held it together carrying the burdens of one life, how can I handle it now that my mind has two sets of horrific memories?

Still… She should not control me like I am some pet she needs to properly train.

Why did I actually take the time to have fun yesterday? There are far more pressing issues and it was a slap to Ryan’s memory for her to make me forget my hurt for him over such a simple thing.

"Burn the grasp your past holds. Learn forgiveness. Yearn to be better. Earn the gifts you have been given and most importantly, take time to enjoy the little things so you can discern your new place in this life."

I looked around as I heard Zaria’s voice echo in my ears.

"Mother? Where are you?" I asked aloud.

The statuesque goddess appeared before me. "Danica loves you and was only trying to help. She did not, nor does she now think you weak. It was never her desire to control you when she used her gift. She was worried and only sought to ease your pain the best way she knew, even if only for a brief time. If the situation were reversed would you not have done the same for her?"

I started to cry as her words ripped through my heart. "I had not considered that."

Zaria nodded knowingly. "Give her the benefit of the doubt. She is trying her best to understand and help you cope with your new emotions. She cannot treat you the same as before because honestly, you are not the same as before. She is also experiencing new emotions herself and needs you as much as you need her."

She placed both hands on either side of my face. "Her gift can be beneficial as it is not healthy to carry so much pain all the time. Allow her to give you a break occasionally so you may recharge."

I leaned on my toes to kiss my mother in law’s cheek. "Thank you Mother. I believe I owe my wife an apology."

Stunned, Zaria gently caressed where I showed my affection. "You are quite welcome you loving child. If you were not bound to my daughter, I might try to keep you for myself. I can finally see why she feels so strongly for you."

My head was filled with questions but, as before, I did not feel worthy of asking them.

Once again Zaria recognized my reticence. "You may ask me anything."

I turned to look up into her eyes. "Why were you here? It seems odd to me that my mother in law just happens to be right below my feet."

She laughed lightly. "That's a name I never expected to be called. Danica is your wife in the eyes of more than human law so maybe I should be you mother in the highest order."

She managed to make me giggle . "Yes Mother in the Highest Order."

She shook her head while still laughing. "Allow us to continue with you calling me Mother."

I nodded. "Yes Mother but you are evading my question."

She sighed sadly. "I was in this place due to the proximity to my youngest child. I may not have been the best Mother but I do love my daughter. I was wondering who you were and why she would abandon the life I had given her. Tyler Dawson was but a small human male who looked more like a woman and my daughter had her choice of many strapping men waiting to do as she requested. I had been watching the two of you and came to this place so I could calm the tide of emotion rising within me before returning to my realm. I must say, prior to our meeting, I could not understand her reasoning."

I really thought Zaria had done everything possible to emasculate me before I stepped foot in this cave but I could not have been more wrong. In a few words she managed to find the last vestiges of masculinity and crush them into a fine powder.

Now I knew where Dani got it from. Both women could lift me then slap me down verbally unlike anyone I had ever met.

"I arrived to see a wisp of a man who acted more like a servant to my daughter than a husband. I could not fathom why he dressed as a woman to do a job. I could not see the honor in that."

I looked up at the woman who so resembled the woman I loved. "Was it really necessary I become a woman? Or was it a punishment for taking your daughter? Is there a way I can become Tyler again now that I have proved myself worthy?"

She led us back to the edge of the stone bath and sat beside me. "I never would have changed you into the person you are now without good cause. You can never be male again. It was necessary for you to change because your blood became infected as you crawled through where he bled out."

She took my hands in hers. "What you would have become is considered an abomination. When human and Thetan blood intermingle it is never a pretty sight. For whatever reason, the worst of both species emerges in one being and that being is always male. Thetans are a sterile immortal male race who cannot replenish their numbers so they make Commons by introducing their blood to humans."

"I could not bear to think that would be the fate of the one human brave enough and strong enough to save me. I was able to slow the process enough to make you female because it is common knowledge among our kind that Thetan blood refuses to bond with that of a female because they believe it would weaken their race."

"It was never my intention to make you feel less than what you were. What you have been given has always been intended to be a wondrous gift. I am here now in the hopes of helping you accept what has happened. None of the events of recent have been deliberate to punish you in any way and they most certainly have not been your fault."

Zaria leaned down to lightly kiss my forehead. "As a mother, I never imagined anyone could be worthy of my Danica. I misjudged you based on appearances. I should have looked at you as she does every day. Had I looked at your heart I would have known immediately why she fell in love. Many things about you have changed but your heart remains unscathed. That is what Danica loves. That is what she needs. That is what she never wants to change."

She pulled back to look me in the eyes again. "That is what makes you so strong."

I nodded. "Thank You Mother. I need to go to her. She must be a mess right now."

She smiled and urged me to stand. "She is very distraught. Allow me to save you some time."

In the blink of an eye I found myself at the back door. I rushed back to the cabin and found Dani in the exact spot I left her. I walked to her side and lifted her gorgeous head from her trembling hands. "I’m so sorry baby. I know you were only trying to take care of me. I was so wrapped up in self pity that I didn’t give you enough credit for trying."

She wrapped her arms around me tightly. "I am sorry too. I will never use any gift on you without your permission again. Please do not leave me, I could not take it if you did. I am feeling new things and do not know what to do. I love you so much it hurts."

I leaned close to her perfectly full lips that had become even softer than usual from all her tears running across. "I have felt that every day since we met. Now kiss me so we can start making up."

Chapter Three

After a wondrous make up session in the bedroom and a reheated breakfast, Dani and I went hiking into the mountains. It was refreshing to be alone with her in nature. Our hands never parted the entire time as we laughed about the fun times I shared with my best friend and cried more about his loss.

She also shared stories of her time growing up on an island inhabited by an ancient race similar to the Amazons of which her goddess mother was their queen. She explained that her family and others similar to her were not actually Gods and Goddesses just a different evolutionary version of humans who had been around much longer.

Dani explained that in most ways they were the same as us but they had learned long ago to use more areas of their brain. She said it was why so many of our legends are filled with people with different gifts.

I understood it better when she compared it to the difference between an artist and a construction worker. According to her an artist uses their hands to make magnificent works of art but could not even put together a table from IKEA, even with all the tools available. Whereas a construction worker uses his hands to build spectacular buildings but at best he could only draw a stick figure.

She said it was the same with her people. Some could do small things very well whereas others were more versatile and were able to master amazing things. She also said that as humans became more advanced many of her kind, such as herself, abandoned the old ways to enjoy what the human race had become. As a result, her people were slowly dwindling in numbers.

Even after I asked, Dani refused to tell or show me her gifts as she said it was not the proper time and could influence the gifts I received. She did promise that as I came into my own I would know everything there is to know.

As we walked back toward the cabin, I asked her to suppress my emotion so we could go for a swim without me completely breaking down.

We had a minor disagreement after we returned to the cabin. On the way back, I was all for the idea of taking a dip since it was so hot outside but I quickly changed my mind when she handed me a tiny string bikini to wear.

"Are you crazy?" I asked as I held up the tiny yellow scraps of cloth.

Dani laughed. "Some might say I am, but not about this. You have a great body, might as well show it off."

I stared at her dumbfounded. "You’re joking right? I’m not wearing it."

Dani quickly put on a matching string bikini except hers was purple and I groaned because I knew she picked it out because it was my favorite color for her to wear since it matched her exquisite eyes.

I was getting hot and bothered looking at her six foot one inch golden skinned body that was mostly left unexposed. I still was not used to getting excited in places I did not have that long ago. The kicker was when she pulled the hair tie from her long dark hair and shook her head to allow her dark brown hair to flow free.

I was caught in a puddle of desire at that moment with no idea how to react.

"That’s not playing fair." I pouted as I crossed my arms under my breasts.

She quickly gathered me in her arms and playfully bit my extended bottom lip. "What have I told you about pouting? I am playing fair. I wear this because I know you like it. The least you can do is wear that because you know I like it."

I sighed in defeat. "Fine but you have to tie all the strings."

My wife’s eyes were hungry as she stared at me while I undressed. "So long as I get to UNtie them when we get back."

I giggled as she helped me into the skimpy swimsuit. "I thought that was already a given."

The large pool was full of people taking advantage of the respite from the heat the water gave them when we arrived.

The men stared as Dani and I made our way to two open loungers together near the deep end.

I laughed as every eye around the pool watched as she removed her wrap before she sat down.

"Your turn." Dani said to me after I made no attempt to take off my cover.

I knew I had to do this. In order to have the courage, I momentarily zoned out everyone else and focused on my wife. I slowly lifted my beach dress over my head as if I were doing a striptease before I removed my hair clip and shook my head to allow my hair to fall free in the same manner as she did earlier.

Dani’s eyes were wide and filled with desire as she focused on me. Her expression quickly changed to anger then amusement when I heard a splash behind me.

"What did I miss?" I asked as I sat down in the second lounger.

Dani shook her head with a frown. "Maybe your wearing that wasn’t such a great idea."

I raised my brows and rolled my eyes simultaneously as I started to apply sunscreen. Unlike my wife, who had otherworldly skin and never needed lotion, I would turn into a crispy, freckled mess without it. "I tried to tell you that but nooo, you insisted. This was entirely your idea. I knew I’d look silly but I let you talk me into it."

She shook her head. "Believe me Baby you look anything but silly. That man who fell in the pool did so because he was so focused on you that he did not pay attention to where he was going."

My mouth dropped open in amazement as I started applying lotion to my legs. "He did not."

Dani nodded as she scanned the area growing more agitated by the second. "I do not know what I was thinking. They are staring at you like you are a piece of meat."

I giggled as I handed her the bottle and rolled on my stomach. "Get my back please. I don’t see why you are so upset. I've been dealing with this for years. At least the guys aren’t looking at you like ‘How the heck did that little guy get her?’"

"Nobody thought that. I do not want to hear you say such things again.” She replied as she ran her hands over my lower back.

I said nothing because I knew how guys thought about me being with Dani because they told me often when she was not around.

“How did you handle people staring at me? I do not like it when they look at you that way." She asked as she started on my back.

I moaned softly as she started rubbing my shoulders. "I remembered our vows and I trusted you completely." I turned and dropped my sunglasses enough that she could see my eyes. "I still trust you completely."

Her smile was glorious and her mesmerizing eyes glistened as leaned forward to kiss me. I pulled myself up to meet her lips before she stopped herself, realizing others were staring.

She resumed her seat with a pout. "I’ll be glad when we can go home so we can be ourselves."

I felt her pain as I dropped my head across my folded arms. "Me too Baby, me too."

We did not last long at the pool because as soon as we returned to our loungers after taking a quick dip there were four men waiting with towels for us.

It did not surprise me to see Dani turn on her charm to accept, she always had a flirtatious personality. I was not bothered since she was a mistress at harmless flirtations. She continued until she saw me duplicate her actions with the two guys who were talking to me.

I did not enjoy what I was doing but felt it was necessary to fit in since she was doing the same.

I started to worry as she shrugged the towels off to grab the ones we brought from the cabin before she handed my wrap to me explaining we needed to go.

I had to run to keep up which was hard to do since my legs were so much shorter than hers and she marched with a quick, determined gait.

I almost laughed at the irony of her getting upset by me copying how she acts around men. "I was just following your lead Baby. Why are you so upset? Did I do something wrong?"

Dani started crying as soon as we reached the porch. "Is that what it is like for you when I talk to men?"

Her outburst caught me by surprise and I no longer found an ounce of amusement in our situation. I led her to a chair and sat her down before climbing in her lap. "What do you mean?"

"The times I’m friendly with men. Does it bother you?"

I shook my head. "Not really, it bothered me when Jesse did it because I felt disrespected, not because I thought you would leave me. It bothered me more when you acted that way with women because I knew that was your preference before we met."

She appeared confused. "Why didn’t men make you jealous? It’s driving me crazy to think, with the changes to your body that your preference will follow."

I hugged her tightly. "Sweetheart let’s be honest. With your beauty, if you wanted a man you never would have gone out on that first date with me. The only reason you agreed to go out with me was that I was small and androgynous. The only reason you fell for me was that I took care of you." I started to giggle. "The fact I had a built in dildo was only icing on the cake."

My attempt to cheer her up failed miserably as she started to sob into my shoulder. "Did you really think I was that shallow? I fell for you because you are smart, caring, compassionate and never content with your place in life. You possess more heart than anyone I ever met. You were always striving to improve and in turn pushed me to be a better person. The fact that I thought you were perfect physically and possessed the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen was my icing on the cake."

She lifted her head so we were eye to eye. "I have lived many years and you are the first and only person to ever hold my heart. You are the first real relationship I ever had and I gave up living in my mother’s realm for you. I had no idea I was making so many mistakes but please do not give up on me. I’ll do better by you I swear."

I leaned in to kiss her. "I’m not going anywhere and to set your mind at ease. Neither Ty nor I have ever been attracted to men. The fact nobody in my hometown was surprised by you should help set your mind at ease about that."

Dani finally smiled. "Yes, that is a very strong clue is it not? I love the way your friends have described you. It is quite colorful."

I laughed as I stood and grabbed her hand. "You gotta love the South. We have a way with words unlike anybody else. Let’s go take a shower to wash off the chlorine then make dinner. You can help me make lasagna."

Dani hugged me again after she reached my side. "I love you so much. Thank you."

"I love you too."

Chapter Four

Dani and I spent most of the next day alone in the cabin reconnecting. I refused to let her suppress my emotions and in spite of my crying spells or maybe because of them, we were slowly becoming closer than ever. She was so much more loving and attentive than I had ever known her to be.

Once again, we shared many stories of Ryan but we also talked about the danger we were facing because of the Thetans. We decided it would be best to be prepared so we made a quick trip to the town’s only hardware store to buy what was needed so that I could reinforce our stilettos so they could be used as a weapon in case of a possible attack. We also each placed a small spike in each of our purses just to be sure.

The day of Ryan's visitation, I was quietly nervous. Dani helped me with my black hose. Showing me how to properly gather them at the feet before sliding them up my legs. She gave my shoulders a reassuring squeeze after she zipped up the back of the black sheath dress she had picked out for me. She kissed the back of my neck after fastening the pearls I had received in the box of mementos left to me by my mother.

My four-inch spike heels did little to help me gain any height next to my wife since she was wearing her three-inch versions with her matching black dress.

By the time we arrived outside the funeral home her silent strength gave me the power to walk inside. She promised she was not suppressing anything.

I was glad I had her hand to hold because I seriously doubt I could have walked in without it.

I hated this place. I had only been here once before and it was when we had to bury my mother after my father had murdered her and gotten away with it. The memory of him keeping me by his side and digging his fingers into my arm anytime it appeared I might cry became fresh in my mind.

I leaned into Dani's side for support and rubbed the same spot my father dug into my arm as we approached the casket.

I found some small relief in knowing that it was open. Ryan always took pride in his appearance and I pictured him smiling from above with the knowledge that the ladies would get to look at him one last time.

I could not believe the person who had been my best friend throughout most of my life was actually gone. He looked like he was sleeping. I kept praying he would open up his playful eyes while wearing his mischievous grin and tell me I just fell for the best practical joke ever.

I placed my hand on Ryan's cheek and my tears fell furiously when I felt the coldness of his lifeless shell. I leaned in to give a last kiss to his chilled cheek. It did not seem real, my heart could not accept this was my best friend but my head overrode all doubts I held.

"At least the accident didn't damage your pretty face, it should give the ladies something to look at while they are here. I love you brother. Thank you for always being there. I'd have never made it without you." I whispered before I returned to Dani's arms.

We approached Ryan's parents and both hugged me warmly. It was strangely soothing to be with the two others that would miss him as much as me. I tried to walk away to an inconspicuous corner of the room but Ryan's mother was having none of it.

She held my hand tightly. "You are just as much his family as his father and I. You knew him better than anyone and it makes me feels closer to my son to have you near."

I leaned to Ryan's father. "Did you get a hold of Evie?"

He nodded sadly. "Yes but I don't know if she's coming. I told her she was more than welcome."

I sat silently as a steady stream of people flowed through the building. Many that Ryan and I went to school with, as well as mutual friends from California stopped to offer their condolences but try as I might; I was not feeling very sociable. Any mention of my best friend's name caused more tears to fall.

I could spot the members of my father's church immediately from the heated whispers and disapproving stares they gave me. I chose to ignore them since it was not the time or place for confrontations.

After the visitation was over and we were in the car, I looked over at Dani. "I don't know how I'm going to make it tomorrow."

She gripped my hand tightly. "We'll make it together."

---

The following day was painful emotionally and it was made even worse by the fact my father and his 'girlfriend' Daphne arrived shortly after the family started receiving visitors. I excused myself as soon as I saw them getting close to the front.

Mr. Crews gave me a questioning look, wondering why I was walking away but nodded knowingly when he saw my reason approaching.

Dani was by my side as we turned the corner and were almost run over by Dave and Ivan rushing in the door. I glared at the pair before I stepped to the side and kept walking.

Dave reached for my arm. "Please Cali wait. I need to apologize."

I spun around quickly. "No you don't Dave. The person you need to apologize to is lying in the other room. You might also want to explain to his parents why it was worth their only son's life for you to prove to everyone that you knew so much more than me."

I turned to the director. "I hope you got that massive final shot you so desperately wanted because I’d hate to think all this happened for nothing." I paused, "Oh wait, it did happen for nothing more than the fact that your bloated ego thought bigger was better."

Dave started to speak again until I moved inches from him in an offensive posture. When I did his mouth closed into a grim line.

I shifted my foot, ready to plant my spiked heel into his flesh. “You were going to speak Dave? Please, by all means do. I want to hear you give me an explanation as to why Daniel and Gregorio are still in the hospital, why my wife almost died and most importantly why my best friend is DEAD. Yes Dave, please enlighten me.”

Dani lifted me from behind and started carrying me away before I caused more of a scene. She tried to lead me to a small room away from everyone but I escaped her grasp and stormed back to the Ryan’s parents to make sure I was with the Crews when those two paid their respects.

I noticed Aaron walking toward the back of the room when we walked in but I was in no shape to deal with him at the moment.

As Dave and Ivan started to approach, I leaned to his father's side while still glaring at them. "Those are the two mostly responsible for the accident."

He nodded. "I know; I've seen the tape. They have a surprise waiting for them as soon as they get to the front of the line."

I looked up questionably.

His smile scared me as he nodded his head for two uniformed deputies to be ready. "Their pride and carelessness killed my boy in my county. They don't call it small town politics for nothing. I have warrants in my pocket for their arrests and the judge was Ryan’s little league coach. I'm also going for the others in that meeting as well. If I can't charge them with anything, I'll sue them for every dime they have. Everyone who didn't listen to you will pay in one way or another."

I frowned thinking of Aaron.

Mr. Crews patted my hand as if he could read my mind. "Don't worry. You and Mr. Brachman are safe. We have solid proof both of you tried to prevent it."

I hugged him tightly as my former coworkers approached.

He released me and turned to Dave. "I understand it was your reckless disregard that killed my son." He then looked at Ivan. "And your desire for the perfect ending as well as not heeding the advice of a recognized expert that contributed to the conditions I found on the set."

Both stammered for words as Mr. Crews motioned for his deputies to come over.

First, he turned to Dave as the deputy cuffed him. "David Elliot Echols, you are under arrest for the reckless manslaughter of Darrel Ryan Crews and the reckless endangerment of three others."

Next, he turned to Ivan who was being placed in restraints by the second deputy. "Jeffrey Ivan Taylor, you are also under arrest for the reckless manslaughter of Darrel Ryan Crews and the reckless endangerment of three others."

"I'm sure I'll come up with a list of other charges before it comes time to go to trial." Mr. Crews said as he looked at both men.

After the men were led away, Mr. Crews turned back to me. "I haven't forgotten about your father. He will get his as soon as this is over. I would do it now but there are too many fellow members of his cult or church or whatever it is. They would cause such a disruption that we’d never be able to properly pay our respects to my son.”

He paused contemplatively before adding. "I have nothing against God. I pray to him every day but I seriously have issues with some members of his fan club."

Mr. Crews then glanced back at my father with disgust. “He has a lot of nerve to show his face after all the things he has done. Not to mention everything he said about Ryan after the two of you left town. I have already arranged for a couple of deputies to be waiting at the gravesite after my son is laid to rest. We are going to place all three in general population and let it leak what their crimes are. You and my boy are; I mean were, the pride of this town. You may work behind the scenes but around here, you are a celebrity. Every time a kid talks about making it big, they use you and my son as an example that it can be done. Everyone is proud of what ya’ll accomplished even the most hardened of my criminals asks for updates. Those bastards are going to pay for their actions."

I wiped away a tear as I watched him turn his attention back to his wife. It felt good to know that Dave and Ivan would have to face justice in a town where their big city lawyers would have little effect. It was also bittersweet to know that the town was proud of what Ryan and I had accomplished knowing that he would have no more accomplishments to be proud of.

I leaned close so only Dani could hear. "Lord love a redneck and heaven help anybody who crosses one."

She tried her best not to laugh but failed miserably.

I looked around the room and was shocked by the number of people in attendance. I am sure many of the older people were there out of respect for Ryan's parents but I was touched by how many of our friends from the west coast had shown up.

What really caught my attention was an extremely tall, thin, auburn haired woman in the back of the room who appeared to be taking my friend's death especially hard. She looked very attractive and vaguely familiar but I could not place her for anything. I wanted to go to her because I truly understood the pain she was feeling.

The minister stepping to front to start the service kept me from acting on my thoughts. Hopefully I could find her at the gravesite to talk.

The funeral itself was horrible. I had personally witnessed every significant moment in my best friend's life that was highlighted and I was by my best friend's side in almost every picture they showed of him from the time he was nine.

Ryan's parents asked me if I wanted to say a few words beforehand but I knew there was no possible way I could do it without breaking down so I politely declined their offer but Dani graciously accepted in my stead.

She had the entire room laughing, myself included, when she started off by sharing a couple of very amusing tales that more than adequately summed up the wonderful man who was always quick to offer a helping hand or be the first to crack an inappropriate joke or have all the women falling at his feet.

She talked about the man we trusted enough to give a key to our place and kept a room solely for him in case he inevitably broke up with whatever gorgeous woman he was living with at the time and needed to crash til he found a new place.

She told of a friend who was always there whenever he was needed and even when he was just wanted. She talked of how we always kept at least a twelve pack of his favorite beer waiting for him in our refrigerator for whenever he inevitably stopped by just to hang out.

She spoke of her initially being jealous of him and how I informed her from the beginning that if she wanted to be in my life she would have to accept Ryan. She told of how he worked his way into her heart and that she loved him as the brother she never had.

Ryan's mother and father moved me between them as my wife became serious and discussed how much his friendship meant to both of us. The first story she told had me crying uncontrollably as she told of witnessing firsthand the bond Ryan and I shared. She told how listening to a conversation between us was an acquired skill since neither of us ever finished a sentence before the other started in on the next one.

She then told of the strength Ryan and I gained from the other and how either of us dropped everything for the other. She eloquently stated how that each of us was an extension of the other and how both us became better people because of the bond we shared.

She closed by saying our life would not be as bright now that he was no longer in it.

I felt a tremendous amount of pride and love for my wife and how she totally got Ryan and me.

Chapter Five

If I thought the funeral was horrible, it was a cakewalk compared to what I felt when they lowered my friend into the ground. I wept uncontrollably and Dani had to hold me tightly as they started to cover his coffin with dirt.

After everything was said and done, I still was not ready to go. I asked Dani to give me a moment as I walked over to where Ryan’s body had been buried. I knelt next to the head and ran my fingers through the fresh soil.

"I’m going to miss you brother. I need you now more than ever. As you already know, your father took care of Dave and Ivan and he is going after the rest but I swear to you that I will find those others who are responsible and make them regret what they have done."

I kissed my dirty hand and laid it on the dirt. "I love you."

I stood and started to wipe off my hands when a large man with graying red hair stepped in front of me. "Hello Callista, we need to talk." He reached for my neck. "Nice necklace. I wondered what happened to it."

I slapped his hand away to block his attempt to grab the jewelry that meant so much to me and glared up at him as I clutched the pearls protectively. "I'm sure you were looking for them along with the countless millions of other things Mama left me." I made sure to emphasize millions when I said it to let him know she left me her money.

I stepped forward to show the man of my nightmares that he could no longer intimidate me. " Father, I don't believe you want to hear what I have to say to a man such as yourself."

He moved even closer towards me showing his rage. I doubt you could have slipped a sheet of paper between us. "I need to know what sort of voodoo you have done to me. You need to take it off. You should understand a man my age can’t go to jail."

I stepped away from Ryan’s grave, although I'm sure he was whooping and hollering for me from wherever he was. "You go girl, it's about damn time. Kick his ass!"

I had the feeling he would love to see my father's face planted into the fresh dirt but I was not sure everyone else would feel the same way.

I walked toward an open path before turning back to the evil man whose blood ran through my veins. I had often dreamed of this moment but sadly the timing was not right. I looked up at him again with a voice that was amazingly calm. "You will pay for what you have done, one way or another, but right now is neither the time nor the place. I know the concept is difficult for a man such as yourself to understand, but can you show an ounce of respect and leave me alone. Can’t you see today is not about you?"

"How dare you disrespect the man who raised you like that?" His girlfriend Daphne sneered.

I do not know why I found her words so funny but I started laughing. "Shut the hell up bitch. What do you know about respect or how I was raised? Stay out of this if you know what's good for you."

I felt a tingle of warning flow through my body and I leaned back, easily avoiding her hand as it flew toward my face. I grabbed her wrist tightly then kicked her legs out from underneath her. At the same time, I thrust my free hand, palm side up, into her chest and sent her crashing to the ground.

I grabbed a handful of her hair to guide her to her feet before I shoved her towards my father whose face was beat red. "You need to put a leash on your pet before I have no choice but to put it down."

He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. "You will listen to me Callista Dawn Dawson."

I shook my head. "No I won't and for the record my name is Callista Dawn Zoyra now." I pointed to Dani. "You remember my wife don't you?"

He tugged at the collar of his shirt as his face became even redder. "You are a sorry excuse for a woman. Your actions and attitude are better suited for a man."

I started laughing again as I remembered how he said something similar to me when I was Ty. "I just can't win with you old man. First I was not man enough and now I'm not enough woman enough. There is no pleasing you father, you are just a sorry excuse for a human. I don't think your sex would matter."

He glared at me and his face was so red I thought he was going to explode as he attempted to stagger toward me with a raised fist. "I should have killed you when I took care of your mother. I would have been doing the world a favor."

Before I had the chance to explode on him as I planned; two deputies approached quickly and placed handcuffs on my father then Daphne.

Mr. Crews casually walked up to my side and glared at my father. "I told you to stay away from her Dawson. Now you can add violation of a protective order to your charges."

My father said nothing as he collapsed to the ground.

It did not seem real as the deputies quickly removed the cuffs and started performing CPR as someone called for an ambulance. Daphne was screaming at the top of her lungs, which caught the attention of a doctor who was attending the funeral, and he rushed over to offer assistance. Ten minutes later my father was loaded into the ambulance but it was already too late.

The doctor told everyone he was dead.

"Your father is an evil man who will pay for his crimes eternally starting very soon." My mother's statement about him echoed in my mind.

In those ten minutes while I watched the scene unfold, I relived every single time he abused me in both lives. I searched for a good memory of him but found none out of two lifetimes as his child. I also thought of my brothers and how they would react to the news. I was sad for them but at the same time, I was relieved for Kaley, Trish and myself.

I was standing in the same spot when Dani brought my attention back to the now. "Cali, snap out of it."

I looked at her. "Snap out of what?"

She wiped the tears from my eyes before she embraced me tightly. "You had some serious stuff going on in that head of yours. I could see it. Are you okay?"

I shook my head. "Not even close. I have to call Jeb and Thomas."

Mr. Crews walked back over as I dug in my purse for my phone. "You are a magnet for bad luck Cali. Do you want to press charges against Daphne?"

I looked over at my former classmate and saw a basket case. She was sobbing uncontrollably over the loss of my father. She obviously did not know him as well as she thought. If she did, her reaction would be different. I had my doubts that anyone who really knew him would shed a tear of grief.

"I'm sorry about all this. If she promises to leave me alone I'll drop the charges. I know a lot of it was Daddy's influence."

Mr. Crews' mouth set in a firm line. "I wouldn't be too sure. That girl is a bad apple but if you say so, I'll let her go with a firm warning."

I sighed. "I just want to forget today ever happened."

He hugged me. "Me too baby girl, me too."

I called both my brothers. Jeb was more shocked than Thomas but neither of them seemed exactly distraught. If anything, they sounded relieved. I left the arrangements to them and requested they let me know when they decided what they would do.

"You want to grab something to eat before we go back to the cabin?" Dani asked once we were finally in the car headed back to the cabin.

I nodded. "Something light if you don't mind. I'm not sure my nerves can handle a complete meal."

Dani smiled as she pulled onto the main road. "I think I saw a sandwich shop on the way here."

---

My new internal warning system started going off as soon as we pulled into the lot that was shared by a convenience store and the sub shop. I looked around anxiously for trouble and spotted three men at one of the gas pumps surrounding a woman trying to get to her vehicle.

I pointed in their direction. "Pull over there. I think she's in trouble."

Dani nodded as she turned the wheel and brought us next to the group.

I quickly jumped out before Dani had a chance to stop the car. "What's going on guys?"

The men turned to me and I immediately recognized two of them. Ziggy and Zeke Henley were brothers. Neither were exactly bad guys in school, just mischievous partiers who did not shy away from a fight. Both stood almost six foot tall with average builds and dark hair.

I did not recognize the older, short, dirty blonde with a chubby build but he did not look like someone I wanted to know.

"Dynamite Dawson? Dang girl you ain't aged a day." Ziggy said after he turned to see who was speaking.

Dani gave me an amused expression at the nickname I had in high school. My new memories told me I earned it because I did not shy away from a fight and people said I was small but carried a huge punch; just like dynamite.

"It's Cali Zoyra now. What's happening Zigs?" I nodded toward his brother. "Hey Zeke."

The other Henley brother smiled. "Good to see ya Cali. I heard you were in town."

"Am I interrupting something?" I asked.

The blonde nodded his head. "Yes. You might want to get your pretty little butt back in your car. You're too young to be interrupting grown folk."

I pursed my lips. "I don't think so. You're quite rude, did you know that?" I walked toward the woman and offered my hand. "Is everything okay?"

I immediately recognized the tall auburn haired woman as the same person from the funeral. She appeared scared to death and her eyes refused to meet mine as she started to speak. "I was just leaving."

She started to open her door and the guy I did not know slammed it shut. "I'm not done with you freak."

I instinctively jumped between the two as I glared at the man. "Oh yes you are! Back off fat boy!"

The man laughed. "Or what? What are you going to do little girl?"

Ziggy spoke up. "I gonna give you fair warning Chunk. You don't want trouble with Cali."

Chunk rolled his eyes and laughed harder. "What's that supposed to mean? She's like five foot nothing and probably doesn't even weigh a hundred pounds. Are you afraid she'll break a heel or just get her pretty dress dirty?"

Zeke stepped forward. "Seriously Chunk, they don't call her dynamite for nothing. Just cut your losses before there's serious trouble. If you don't leave then you can't say we didn't warn you when she kicks your ass."

I stepped closer to the flabby redneck. "Chunk is it? That's an appropriate name since you could stand to lose a few pounds. You need to listen to your friends before you get hurt."

His eyes flared with anger. "Are you threatening me?"

I firmly set my feet as I watched his posture take on an offensive appearance. "Um… Yes, I think I am. I’ve had the worst day of my life and am itching to vent my frustrations so if you believe, for even a second that I'm going to let you harass this woman then you have another thing coming."

He pointed toward the lady who I knew had already had a bad day. "That’s not a woman. He is a freak who has no business in my town. I don't care if his brother just died. I told him in high school that if I ever saw him again I was going to hurt him."

My eyes widened in surprise as an old conversation with Ryan ran through my mind. I turned toward the woman. "Evie?"

Her face flushed bright red and her eyes filled with tears as she nodded.

Knowing she was Ryan's sister made me feel even more protective of her than before. My lips set in a hard line as I returned my focus to Chunk.

I reached up and slapped him across the mouth. "I've heard about enough of your ignorance. Apologize to the lady and get out of here."

Chunk threw a clumsy punch that I dodged easily. I decided to end the confrontation quickly and proceeded to kick Chunk's legs out from under him. Once he was one the ground, I released my built up anger with a flurry of punches to his face and body that left him begging for mercy.

He tried to hurt the sister of my best friend. I might not have been able to save Ryan but I would be damned if I let anything happen to her.

Even after his tears started flowing I did not stop. My anger kept building with every punch or kick I threw. His begs for mercy only fueled me to hit harder and kick faster.

Dani yelled my name to get me to stop.

I snapped out of my rage immediately and started to stand over him as I straightened out the wrinkles in my dress. "I'm going to say this again. Apologize to the lady and get the fuck out of here."

He started to stand before I kicked his chest, sending him back to the ground. I looked at my hands casually to emphasize that he was no match for me. What I saw angered me further. "You made me break a nail you bastard. I said APOLOGIZE!"

Chunk gasped for breath as he looked at Evie. "I'm sorry."

I placed my reinforced heel at his neck, applying just enough pressure to make him nervous. "And you will never bother her again."

His eyes filled with fear. "And I will never bother you again."

I looked over at Ziggy and Zeke with disappointment as I kept my heel digging in Chunk's neck. "I thought better of you guys. We are almost thirty years old. Don't you think it's time to grow up?"

They looked at me with alarm.

"We're not like that Cali. We were trying to help her." Ziggy replied before he pointed to Evie. "You can ask her. We were trying to get him to leave her alone, I swear."

I looked over at Evie who nodded. "He's telling the truth."

I pointed to the man crying on the ground. "I'm sorry guys, can ya'll get him out of here for me please?"

I removed my foot and they lifted him into their arms before loading him into a nearby car as I walked over to the woman. "Are you okay?"

She smiled shyly. "Yes, thanks to you. That was incredible. Ryan always said seeing you in action was a sight to behold."

I grinned thinking about how he always raved about me. I motioned Dani over for introductions.

"Evie this is my wife Dani, Dani this is Ryan's sister Evie."

Evie smiled. "My name is actually Renee but Ryan never let go of the nickname he gave me after I first told him I wanted to be a woman."

I laughed. "Sounds like him. We were about to grab a bite to eat, it would mean alot if you could join us."

She smiled again. "I'd like that. I could use some company right now. Let me finish getting my gas and I'll meet you there."

I pulled her into a hug and realized she rivaled Dani in height. "I completely understand, we'll wait for you."

Once we were seated with our sandwiches, I looked over to Renee. "Why didn't you join the family during the service?"

Renee started to cry again. "Today was about Ryan and I would have been a distraction. Instead of celebrating his life, everyone would have been pointing at me. I couldn’t have that, I love him too much to distract from his memory. Plus before today, I had not seen my parents since they kicked me out. There is so much to say and my brother's funeral is not the place to say it. I wouldn't be able to handle burying him and their rejection on the same day."

Dani frowned as she reached across to take Renee's hand. "I've been there. I only recently reconnected with my mother after arguing about how I should live my own life. She was not happy with me at all when I chose to marry Cali but now she adores her so maybe they deserve a chance. If MY mother can change then ANYONE can."

I stared at my wife and suddenly understood more about her conversations with her mother.

Renee shrugged and looked at her watch. "I don’t know. It’s been so long."

I felt that she was starting to shut down on us. The topic of her parents was delicate and would need to be brought back up later. I did not want to scare her away before I got to know her.

"How did you survive? You were so young when you left." I asked.

Renee smiled. "Your grandmother made arrangements with her sister to home school me while I transitioned in New York. Later she paid for me to attend college. She said she couldn't be there for you but if she helped a member of the family that helped you then it was the next best thing. She saved my life."

My heart swelled with the love I felt for the woman I only recently reconnected with. It made me proud to know her blood was coursing through me.

I laughed. "I guess it was a good trade because Ryan saved me more times than I could ever count."

The feeling of loss suddenly overwhelmed me as I realized he would never be there for me again. Tears I did not even know I had left started to flow again. "I'm going to miss him so much."

Dani wrapped her arm around me as Renee jumped up to embrace me from my other side.

"I am too." Renee cried gently in my ear.

"We all will miss him." Dani said.

Once we calmed down and Renee returned to her seat, I looked at her. "Are you going to see Grandma while you are in town?"

She nodded as she dabbed her tears away with a napkin. "That's where I am staying while I'm here. You have no idea how happy she is that you found her on the square."

I smiled. "Yes I do because I feel the same way."

"Why don't we go see her while we are so close?" Dani asked me.

"That's a great idea." I replied as I almost started to kiss her cheek but stopped myself at the last second.

Renee laughed when she realized what I did. "It sucks being back home and having to restrain yourself isn't it?"

I nodded. "You have no idea."

We reminisced while we ate, telling funny stories about Ryan the entire time. It helped all of us because we were the ones, other than his parents, who would miss him the most.

Chapter Six

After an hour, we walked out together feeling much better than we did when we walk in. We froze when we saw Chunk was back with three friends who looked larger and meaner than him.

I will admit now that I did get a feeling of satisfaction that Chunk appeared to be in serious pain.

"Oh shit, this is going to get ugly fast." Renee said with fear.

Dani nodded. "Four against one. It almost doesn't seem fair."

Renee turned to Dani in shock. "We're not going to help her?"

Dani laughed. "I would if she needed it. I meant four against one isn't fair for them, it only allows Cali to fight without restraint."

I thought my wife had lost her mind. There was no way I could beat all four of them at once in this body.

Dani sensed my trepidation and leaned into my ear. "Do you really think all those men will attack a woman in broad daylight? Much less one your size? I bet Chunk told them a lie to get them here. Go see how it plays out and remember you have power now. I have seen you in action a few times and have faith in you. They don't stand a chance as long as you trust your abilities."

I nodded and started moving forward when Dani pulled me back. "Watch your temper though. You almost lost yourself earlier. I'm afraid if you do that again you will kill someone."

I smiled with a confidence I did not really feel as I approached the group of men. "Dang Chunk, it's kinda sad you had to bring backup. Especially that one." I pointed to the largest of the group.

The monster of a man started laughing. I had heard that laugh before and my head snapped to look at him closely. He appeared familiar and I tried to imagine what he looked like without the shaggy beard. I heard a distinctive snort as he tried to catch his breath from laughing so hard.

Everyone looked at me as if I were crazy as I joined him in laughter when it clicked with my new memories who he was.

Chunk had no idea he brought one of Thomas's best friends who was always around the house when I was growing up. This six foot four inch, monster of a man was almost like a member of the family at one time.

I stormed in front of him jumping up and wrapping my legs around his waist. Once we were finally face to face I balled my small hand into a fist and pointed it at his nose. "You want some too? I'll mess you up Sasquatch."

He had a hard time catching his breath he was laughing so hard. "Oh hell naw. I ain't messing with her. You best leave her be."

Chunk turned to his friend with a mixture of confusion and anger. "What are you talking about?"

The man wrapped his massive arms around me in a hug as he turned to Chunk. "You have got to be kidding me? You never said it was Cali who hurt you. Even I know better than to mess with her. She's so good she started her own type of kung fu or some shit like that. I've known her since she was a baby and even if you did get the best of her, you'd have to deal with her brothers and those are two mean sumbeeches. You better walk away now and count your lucky stars you weren't hurt worse."

The large man looked at me. "Sorry about this Cali. We'll make sure he doesn't bother you again."

I grinned and hugged him again. "No problem Henry. It's good to see ya. Make sure he leaves my friend Renee alone too."

"Which one is Renee?" He asked.

I waved them over and introduced them to Henry. "This is my wife Dani and my friend Renee."

Henry's brows rose. "Did you say wife?"

I nodded.

He smiled. "I always figured you put your boat in on that side of the creek."

I slapped his shoulder. "Was I that bad?"

He cocked his head as he sat me back on the ground. "Come on now, you were the toughest girl in town. This is the most ladylike I've ever seen you and…" He pointed over towards Chunk. "It's after you did that to him. How in the hell did you hurt a man that bad and not even get a run in your pantyhose?"

Dani laughed. "Baby you were a little rough around the edges when we met." She really emphasized when she said were.

"You mean you guys are going to defend a couple of lesbians and a freak?" Chunk screamed and pointed toward Renee. "That used to be Evan Crews."

One of the other men looked at her with concern. "I'm real sorry to hear about your brother. I always liked him; he was one of the good ones."

Henry sat me down before he walked over to give her a hug. "I'm sorry too. The last thing you need while going through something like that is dealing with an asshole. It is good to see you girl but I wish it was not like this."

He pulled away just enough to get a full view of my new pretty friend. "Look at you; I never imagined you would turn out like this. No wonder our boy still carries a torch for you."

Renee smiled embarrassingly and thanked him as Henry turned toward Chunk. "I've heard about enough of your stupid bullshit. You need to leave before we tag team on your sorry butt. I’ll give you a pass on your ass kicking for bringing me out here since I get to catch up with old friends but if I hear you harassed them in any way whatsoever all three of us will whoop you any time we set our eyes on you, no matter how bad Cali hurts you. Am I clear?"

Chunk nodded but apparently, that was not good enough for Henry as he stormed over and grabbed him by the collar. "I said am I clear boy?"

Chunk nodded again as he cried out. "Yes, very clear."

Henry released him. "You better consider yourself lucky this little stick of dynamite didn’t fuck you up worse than she did. Next time I don't think she'll take it easy on you."

Everyone laughed as Chunk ran away as fast as his chubby feet could carry him.

With the others distracted Dani leaned down so only I could hear. "You are doing better Baby but be careful when you are wearing a dress. You flashed all of us when you jumped on Henry."

I was blushing profusely when Henry walked back to my side. "How are your brothers doing?"

I sighed as I tugged on the bottom of my dress. "Not too well. Daddy died of a heart attack an hour or so ago."

"I didn't know the bastard had a heart." Henry muttered before he realized what he said.

He appeared embarrassed. "I'm sorry about that Cali."

I laughed sadly. "It's okay. I thought the same thing but he and the boys were closer than I was."

Henry shrugged. "I doubt it after the things that man did to them but I'll go check to be sure."

"Thomas is in Pigeon Forge but Jeb is around somewhere. Thanks for doing this."

---

When we arrived at my grandmother's house, she was ecstatic.

"All my girls are here at once." She proudly exclaimed as he gave each of us a hug.

She led us into the living room. "How are you holding up Renee?"

Renee sighed sadly. "He was the only person in my family who cared about me. I know I have you but he was special. He'd come to visit and we'd walk around town, he'd proudly put his arm over my shoulder and let everyone know I was his sister. His acceptance made me feel invincible."

I nodded knowingly. Ryan's friendship was the only thing that kept me going through some rough times growing up.

Renee turned to me. "How about you? I know how close you two were. It has to be devastating."

I wiped away a tear. "I'm good."

Dani leaned forward. "Liar. You've been a wreck since it happened." She took my hand in hers. "It's okay to be a mess right now."

My grandmother pulled me into her thin but deceptively strong arms. "That's what happens when you are raised by men, you are told to bury your feelings. There is nothing wrong with crying. I curse your father for ever telling you otherwise."

I leaned into her shoulder. "I'm not burying anything Grandma. I've been crying nonstop since it happened. I miss him so much. When will it stop hurting?"

She gently rubbed my back. "It never completely stops sweetheart but it will get easier with time. I promise."

I wiped my eyes. "I hope so. I can't take much more of this. I wish my eyes had a shut-off valve or something."

I suddenly remembered I needed to let her know about my father. "Oh I almost forgot to tell you Daddy died today."

She pulled away from me. "What?"

Dani proceeded to tell her everything that happened at the gravesite, starting with my father attempting to take Mama's necklace from me to how I reacted as he died. She also included me taking his girlfriend down when tried to attack me.

Grandma was not the least bit upset. "Good, I hope the bastard rots in hell."

I chuckled lightly. "That seems to be the general sentiment I've heard so far."

Renee sighed sadly and glanced at me.

Grandma sensed that she and I needed to share in our grief. "Dani can you help me with something in the kitchen?"

My wife looked at me earnestly. "Are you okay?"

I smiled as I kissed her hand. "No but I will be eventually. Go ahead; I can survive with you only a room away."

As Dani and my grandmother went to the kitchen, Renee and I had the chance to talk.

"I guess we are sisters now. We shared a brother and still share a grandmother so it only seems right." I said.

Renee smiled. "I'd like that a lot. It would mean so much to me. My brother loved you and I feel like I know you from all the stories he told me."

I blushed slightly, ashamed to admit Ryan did not confide in me about her the same way he did to her about me. "I loved him too, I still do. I wish I could say I know all about you but he was very guarded and protective when it came to you. All he ever said was that he was proud of you and he was happy that you were happy. I do know he carried a grudge toward your parents over how they treated you. He was never as close with them after you left."

Renee frowned regretfully. "I hate to think I came between them but I’m not surprised. He was protective of me from the minute I told him of my feelings. As for him not telling you, that was my doing. I made him promise not to tell anyone. To be honest I’m amazed he told you as much as he did. That man could hold a secret like no one else."

I nodded absent mindedly because I could feel Ryan pushing me to ask her about her changes in the hopes of helping me deal with mine and after a moments hesitation, I gave in to his wishes. "That’s so true. Can I ask you some things about your mindset before and after your transition?"

She smiled. "We are sisters now, you can ask me anything."

"How did you cope? I mean how did you survive being in the wrong body growing up?"

Renee shook her head. "Not very well. I was either angry and anxious all the time or I was severely depressed. The only thing that kept me going was my boyfriend at the time. We would talk on the phone til all hours of the night. He kept me sane."

I nodded knowingly. "I can see that. Are you still with him?"

Renee sighed sadly. "No, after I told my parents and they kicked me out, I asked him to come with me but he couldn’t leave his family. He had obligations to his siblings that were even more important than our love plus his father would never approve of us. I was heartbroken but your grandmother gave me hope."

She started to wipe away a tear that was trying to form. "We talked for many years and he would come see me on his vacations but I wanted more than he was willing to give. It ended a few years ago after I foolishly gave him an ultimatum. I still love him and I believe he loves me. I'm willing to wait until he tells me not to."

My heart ached for her. "I couldn’t imagine a man sacrificing everything for a family member. I can’t see my brothers doing that for me."

She laughed as if I were missing an obvious joke. "Don’t be so sure, everyone who has ever met you is protective of you. Back to your original question… The hormones and surgery helped tremendously but even now, years later I’m still not happy with the woman I see in the mirror."

I stared at her dumbfounded. "You are beautiful, how can you not be happy when you look in the mirror? I had no idea you weren’t born as a woman when I first saw you. If I weren't married and still a guy I would totally hit on you"

She sighed again. "Don’t get me wrong. I have a good life in Nashville with a good job and great friends but I still can see traces of Evan and everyday I’m worried others see it too."

I sighed along with her trying to remember what Ty looked like. "I can barely remember what he looked like anymore."

Her expression became puzzled. "Why do you say it like that? Not remembering what Evan looked like is a good thing."

I shook my head and waved my hand dismissively. "I wasn't talking about you, just thinking out loud. Sorry."

Renee smiled a smile that only someone who truly understood could. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

I nodded figuring I had nothing to hide that she would know about. "Of course, we're sisters right?"

She leaned forward in her seat. "How long have you wished you were a guy?"

I started laughing hysterically. I never imagined she would be able to figure me out so quickly. "Seems like forever sometimes. Is it that obvious?"

She nodded as she smiled. "You forget, I grew up around you. I used to resent you so much."

I stared at her, confused by her train of thought. "Of me? Why on earth would you resent the plain little scrap of nothing tomboy that I was back then?"

"Because you WERE such a tomboy. I could see the beauty in you that you have finally set free. I mean I wanted so badly to have your long hair and pretty lashes. I wanted to be petite like you and wear the dresses you refused to wear. I'd see you acting more like a boy than a girl and rough-housing with my brother or beating up anyone who crossed you and think how I would gladly let you have my body to do all those things if I could have yours."

She frowned. "It got worse after puberty hit you. I used to sit in my bedroom window and watch as you and Ryan would swim in the pool, all the while wishing for the body you hated. When I noticed your breasts starting to grow and your hips and butt take shape, the jealousy ate me alive. It only got worse when I would hear you complain about having them. It didn't seem fair."

I grimaced at what she said because I hurt for her having to grow up with those feelings. It had been hard enough for me and I had not had to endure them very long at all.

She obviously misunderstood the reason for my expression. "Don't get me wrong, I never hated you. In a way I felt a kinship with you because our desires were the same. I hate to admit that I kept you at arm's length because I was afraid you would see what I was in the same way I saw the true you."

I laughed sadly. "I know I'd never make a decent guy again. I mean I'm only five foot one and barely weigh a hundred pounds plus how could I ever hide these curves? So I've given up. Thankfully Dani is helping me see the joys of womanhood."

Renee's brows furrowed as she stared at me. "What do you mean again?"

Realizing I said too much I reached for her hand knowing she was going to need support for the changing topic. "Nothing, thinking out loud again. It's a bad habit. Are you going to talk to your parents while you're back?"

She shook her head. "Dad and I talked when he told me about Ryan. It was awkward to say the least. I thought it would be best to leave them be for the time being."

I tightened my grip on her hand. "I don't think that's a good idea. I talked to your Dad about you and I know he wants to reconnect. You're the only child they have left and they do love you."

She shrugged. "I'd love to see them but I'm scared of how they will react."

I smiled and reached for my phone. "There's only one way to find out."

Before Renee had a chance to protest I dialed the number Ryan's mother gave me for when I needed to talk.

"Hi Mrs. Crews this is Cali." I said as soon as she answered.

"Hello dear, how are you holding up? Robert received a report you may have been involved in an incident outside the Gas n Go."

I laughed. "Nothing gets by your husband. I'm glad you mentioned it though. I was defending your daughter and I was wondering if you would like to see her?"

I heard her gasp slightly. "You've seen Renee? Where is she?"

"She's sitting beside me would you like to talk to her?" I asked.

I could hear her voice start to break. "Oh Cali I have wanted to talk to her for years. She thinks I don't care but I've always loved her and kept up with her through your grandmother. Can you please put her on the phone for me?"

I was touched at hearing a mother's love for her child. "Yes Ma'am, here she is."

I handed the phone to Renee and stood to join the others in the kitchen so she could have some privacy.

I heard Renee say, "Hello Mama, I've missed you." Before I left the room.

"You did a good thing." My grandmother said after I told her what I had done. "I know they love each other but Renee's mother was so ashamed of the things she had said that she was afraid of her child's rejection."

Renee entered the room a couple of minutes later with red eyes but she was smiling brightly. "My parents invited me to come over."

My grandmother squealed with delight and was the first to embrace her. "That's the best news I've heard in ages. I'll leave the side door unlocked so take your time and come home whenever you're ready."

She nodded. "Thank you Granny."

Renee turned to Dani next. "It was great to meet you. I can't wait for you to teach me some new tricks with my makeup."

Dani laughed. "I don’t think you need it but I'm looking forward to it."

Renee's arms found me next as she hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe. "I can see why my brother always loved you. Thank you for everything."

I returned her embrace with equal force. "Anytime sis. You have my number so use it anytime at all. You’ll have to come out for a visit after we go home."

After she left I turned to my grandmother. "Thank you for looking after her. Renee told me your reasons for doing it."

Grandma wiped a tear from her eye. "It seemed like the right thing to do. I can't explain it but helping her become the woman she was meant to be felt like something I needed to do. As much to help you as her."

Dani smiled. "You must be very intuitive because I believe Renee and Cali are going to become as close as sisters."

Grandma grinned at me. "Well Cali, you couldn't ask for a more loyal friend than her."

I nodded. "It must be a family trait. Maybe I should change my maiden name to Crews."

"I bet they would be proud to consider you one of theirs." Grandma said as she walked into the dining area to retrieve a folder and handed it to me. "Before I forget, I stopped by the financial adviser your mother hired and he gave me an updated portfolio of your investments. You, little girl, are set for a couple of lifetimes."

I opened up the folder and gasped at the astronomical figure that was printed on the paper. I knew from the initial paperwork that I had a couple of million but I never imagined someone could expand the investment by over two-hundred percent. "How... how... how can it be this much?"

I handed the paper to Dani as Grandma replied. "I asked him the same thing and he said your mother came in with specific requests on what and when to buy and when to sell. He admitted he has acquired great personal wealth for himself using her advice but the weird thing is that her recommendations ran out almost three weeks ago. He no longer has any secret tips to help it grow other than regular old experience."

Dani grinned as she handed the paper back to me. "I'd say our mothers were working together on this one."

I laughed as I nodded. "I'd say you are right."

Grandma looked to us for an explanation but we chose to laugh it off as a joke and luckily, she did not press us on the subject.

After spending another hour with my grandmother, Dani and I readied ourselves to go back to the cabin. I laughed when Dani called my grandmother Mrs. Davenport.

Grandma scolded her quickly. “Mrs. Davenport was an ornery woman who gave birth to my husband. I’m either Elise, Granny or Grandma to you little missy.”

Chapter Seven

When we passed through town I noticed we were running low on gas so I turned into the Gas n Go.

Given that the pump would not accept credit cards, I looked over to my wife. "You need anything since I have to go inside?"

She smiled. "Anything chocolate would be nice."

I laughed and leaned over to kiss her. "Sounds good. Be right back."

After picking out a wide variety of candy bars and walking to the counter to pay, My internal warning system started going off full blast as something outside caught my attention. I looked closer and saw Chunk, along with a few other men trying to harass Dani.

"Call the police." I said to the cashier as I flew into a controlled rage. I was going to get that ignorant bastard to understand what 'leave us alone' meant if it killed him.

I paused as I reached the door. “Tell them to also send an ambulance or two.”

A couple of men were waiting just outside the door to capture me as I ran out. One grabbed me from behind and the other attempted to strike me from the front. I disabled them quickly as I kicked the guy in front of me in the nose and head butted the guy behind me before turning to punch him in the throat.

Another man ran toward me with a tire iron that he dropped when I grabbed a pressure point on his arm and tripped him causing his face to plant into the asphalt.

I picked up the tool and charged towards Chunk. "When are you going to learn you stupid bastard?"

His friend charged me but I swung the tire iron with both hands like baseball bat across his cheek. He dropped faster than a crack whore needing money for her next fix.

Chunk briefly surveyed the scene and when he realized I had taken out his friends, he took off running toward his car.

The friend of his that I had kicked in the nose attacked me again before I swung the tire iron into the side of his ribs. He dropped to the ground gasping for breath.

I took off toward Chunk again and reached him just as he dove in his door as I dragged him back out.

He turned to face me holding a shotgun.

"Now what are you going to do freak? Your lesbian ninja skills are no match for a gun." He sneered as I heard the unmistakable sound of a round chambering. "I'm going to kill you then I'm going to have some fun with your tall bitch over there before I kill her too."

Instead of feeling fear for myself, I felt real terror for the woman I loved if I failed. My focus was at an all-time high as I sent the tire iron I was holding flying toward him with all the force I could muster. Before Chunk could realize what was happening, the tool impaled his groin area.

I heard sirens approaching quickly as he cried out. I watched as he dropped the gun causing it to discharge in my direction. Luckily, the blast ended up going just barely past my waist.

I almost laughed when I ran to kick the gun away and saw him crying while holding his injured area with both hands.

I leaned down into his pain-filled face while I pushed down and twisted the tire iron. "You just couldn't leave me alone could you? You're lucky I didn't kill you but ever threaten my wife again and those will be the last words you ever speak. Do you understand?"

I noticed out of the corner of my eye those of Chunk's friends that were conscious tried to run away as the lot suddenly filled with three city police cars and two county sheriff cars and two ambulances.

Luckily, the officers were able to round them up quickly.

Chunk nodded vigorously as a deputy rushed to my side.

I twisted the tire iron again. "Say it. I want to hear you say it."

He screamed out again in pain before he managed to say. "I'll never bother you or your wife again. I promise just don't hurt me anymore."

"I think he has learned his lesson Ms Zoyra. Are you okay?" the deputy asked as his partner called for another ambulance.

"I'm fine. I need to check on my… friend." I said, not sure how he would react to knowing the truth of our relationship.

He smiled knowingly. "Your wife is fine. One of the other officers is speaking with her right now."

I studied his face to figure out if I knew him but nothing about him struck me as familiar.

"We all know who you are Cali, I was at the funeral today plus Sheriff Crews has raved about you for years. You need to be checked out. I'm not sure if you realize it but you've been shot."

I looked down to see blood seeping from the small holes in my dress and along my leg left by the scattering buckshot from the shotgun.

I started toward Chunk again. "You ruined my dress you bastard!"

Chunk started crying and crawled backwards to get away as the officer grinned and stepped in front of me.

I could tell he wanted to laugh at the sight of this tiny woman causing a grown man to scamper away in fear, but he maintained his composure as he placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Another ambulance is on the way. Please go have a seat until it arrives."

"I feel fine." I said truthfully.

"That may be but you have some lead still in there." The deputy insisted.

I sighed. "Fine but I'll drive myself to the emergency room. Do you need my statement?"

He shook his head. "Not right now, go get checked out and someone will meet you up there."

Dani paid for and pumped the gas while she insisted I sit in the passenger's seat before we left for the hospital with a police escort.

While helping me undress, my wife gasped after as she saw my bare form. "The entire right side of your body has been shot."

I frowned as I looked down and with my adrenaline subsiding I started to feel each individual hole starting to sting. "I guess it is. I thought he missed at first. It doesn't hurt that badly."

She leaned closer trying to get a better look at the damage but it was difficult under the pale fluorescent light. "Can we finally go home now? I'm ready to join civilization again."

I nodded, as I could not wait to get back to our condominium in Hermosa Beach. No wait, I don't think we live in the condo anymore. "Honey, where do we live?"

Dani smiled as she described our home. "We have a house, less than a half mile from the beach. It has three large bedrooms and two full baths. A light and bright living room with cozy fireplace, vaulted ceilings and access to a spacious deck. A formal dining area connected to the gorgeous remodeled kitchen with Staron counters, stainless appliances and custom lighting. It even has newer insulated windows and hardwood floors. Your favorite is the two car garage for your Ghia and my purple convertible bug."

I smiled at the thought of our beautiful home and the car I had customized as a gift for our fifth wedding anniversary. "As soon as I know Jeb and Thomas are okay we will go home. Plus I want to see Kaley again before we leave."

I may not have felt being shot or anything immediately afterwards but the process of removing the small pellets was beyond painful. It was probably because I refused to let the doctor put me under since I had trust issues with doctors from the time when Gabe attacked me and I did not want to be unconscious around one. I made him use local anesthetic and he told me I was lucky because the shotgun shell had a light load meaning it did not pack the punch it could have.

It took almost three hours for him and a nurse to remove all the pellets. He wanted me to stay overnight but that would mean sleeping alone and I was having none of that. I insisted on him releasing me, which he did so begrudgingly.

We walked out to a lobby full of people. Jeb, Thomas, Trish, Kaley, Mr. Crews, and my grandmother were all waiting for me. All of them surround us and I lifted Kaley into my arms.

"Are you okay Aunt Cali? They said you were shot." Kaley asked as she wrapped her little arms around my neck.

I kissed her cheek. "I'm fine Princess."

Thomas walked over and dropped his large arm across Dani's shoulder while looking at me. "I'm glad you denutted the son of a bitch so I didn't have to do it myself."

Jeb laughed. "Me too. We still owe his cohorts a visit though."

Mr. Crews coughed to remind my brothers of his presence.

Jeb straightened his posture. "To tell them to please leave you alone otherwise we would be forced to call the proper authorities of course."

Mr. Crews laughed and slapped Jeb across the shoulders. “I don’t care what you do to them so long as you carry them outside of the county lines.”

I laughed at their friendly banter before I asked, "What do you mean denutted?"

Mr. Crews went into Sheriff mode. "Cali, when you threw that tire iron at him it severed the blood vessels to his testicles, when you twisted it you made them irreparable. The doctors couldn't save them."

The male side of me felt sick at the thought of that happening but my female side quickly derided me for feeling any sympathy for the bastard. "Serves him right for what he threatened to do."

"What did he threaten?" Mr. Crews asked.

I cut my eyes toward my niece who was still in my arms. "I can't say right now."

Kaley did not mean to do it but she accidentally kicked my hip in the area the doctor had removed the most pellets.

Trish noticed me wince. "Kaley get down. Your aunt is hurt and she doesn't need to be holding you."

"I don't mind." I said and made no attempt to let my niece down.

Dani grabbed Kaley from me. "I do because I haven't gotten my kiss yet." She looked at the adorable girl. "I am thirsty. Do you want to go with me to get something to drink from the vending machines?"

Kaley nodded before they walked away so I could talk to others without little ears hearing things she did not need to hear.

"What did he say to you?" Thomas asked after they were out of earshot.

I sighed and told them the entire conversation. I made sure I also informed every one of the previous encounters earlier in the day. I was shocked to see Jeb getting so upset. I swear if Chunk had walked in at that moment Jeb might have killed him even with the Sheriff present.

Granted Mr. Crews was not much better as he said. “That bastard tried to hurt both my girls and succeeded on one. I know just the person who is going to be his cellmate.”

We all looked up when the doors opened with Mrs. Crews and Renee walking in arm in arm.

Jeb smiled brightly and walked in their direction.

Thomas gently wrapped his arms around me. "Seriously sis, how are you holding up?"

I took a deep breath. "I'm fine but I'm starting to remember why I never came home though. It's been crazy almost since I stepped foot in the state."

He nodded. "I'm glad you came home but I can see why you say that. When are heading back?"

"As soon as Daddy's funeral is over. I want to be there for you and Jeb." I replied.

Jeb overheard what I said and walked b to take my hand. "That's not a good idea sis. Daphne has the members of his church all worked up. They blame you for everything that happened to him. Just go on home now, we'll be fine. I don’t think the Sheriff wants to deal with you beating up an entire congregation."

Mr. Crews laughed. "As much as I’d love to see it happen to some of those nuts, I have to agree with Jeb."

I noticed Dani and my niece walk back into the lobby. "Thomas are you going to make Kaley go to Daddy’s services?"

He frowned. "I don't have a choice. We are going to be there most of two days and none of Trish's family lives in the area."

I knew Dani would not mind as I made an offer to save the little girl the experience of spending two days in a place she did not want to be. "What if we take her with us? We have an extra bedroom at our cabin and we'd love to have her until after everything is over. It would give me more time to get to know my favorite niece before I go home."

Thomas smiled. "I think that's a great idea but let me go ask Trish to be sure. I know Kaley wouldn't mind, you and Dani have been all she talks about. You had better take her to Wonderworks while you have her though. We tried to take her but she said no, she said it wouldn’t be fun without you."

I laughed. "That was going to be one of our first stops."

After my brother walked away, Renee and her mother approached still arm in arm.

I smiled at the love I could feel radiating from them. "I take it things are going well?"

Renee hugged me. "Yes, thank you for calling her."

Her mother leaned in so she could join the embrace. "Yes, thank you for that. I let my fear and pride deprive me of eleven years I could have spent with a wonderful daughter."

Mrs. Crews then turned to my grandmother. "Thank you for taking care of her Elise. I'm blessed to have friends like you who acted as her guardian angel."

Grandma hugged the woman tightly. "It was my extreme pleasure Betty. She’s a wonderful part of the family. You looked after mine so I looked after yours. I call it a fair trade."

I almost laughed at the fact that I never knew that Ryan's mother name was Betty as she smiled and placed her hand lovingly on my cheek while staring into my eyes. "I think you're right."

Next, it was Grandma's turn to take me into her arms. "Don't worry me like that. I was scared to death I was about to lose you right after I found you."

I smiled as I returned her embrace. "You're not getting rid of me that easy. Now that I remember you, you're stuck with me."

Dani and Kaley started walking towards us after stopping to talk to Jeb. Grandma leaned in so I could only hear. "Who is that little girl? She looks so much like you did at that age."

I smiled as I watched them approach. "That's Thomas's daughter Kaley and I was never that cute."

I laughed as Dani handed me a Diet Mountain Dew and Kaley handed me a Kit Kat bar. "Guess neither of you plan on me going to sleep anytime soon."

Kaley giggled as she looked at my grandmother with a shy glance.

I noticed and lifted my niece into my arms. "Kaley this is my Grandma. Elise Davenport."

The little girl extended her small hand. "Nice to meet you ma’am."

My grandmother smiled as she leaned into me so she could hug the girl who had completely stolen my heart. "Nice to meet you too Kaley. You look so much like your aunt did when she was your age. How old are you?" She pursed her lips as she studied her closely with a sly grin on her gracefully aged face. "I'd say you are about ten."

Kaley beamed that someone guessed her as older. "No ma'am. I just turned nine three weeks ago."

Grandma feigned surprise. "Oh my goodness. You are going to be taller than your aunt when you grow up."

Kaley’s precious grin became even larger. "Really? But I will still look like her won’t I? I want to be as pretty as she is when I grow up."

I laughed and kissed her perfect cheek, ignoring the pain holding her was causing. "Darling you are already prettier than I ever hoped to be and don’t let anybody tell you different."

Grandma nodded. "You're aunt is right, you are beautiful. So are your eyes, what color are they?"

Kaley shrugged lightly. "I don't know. They change depending on what I wear. One day they'll be blue, the next green and then the next they will be brown."

I was stunned, I had no idea my eye color came from my father's side of the family. Most all of them had green eyes.

We were interrupted when Trish and Thomas walked up.

"Kaley, it’s a good thing we haven’t unloaded yet because if you are going to spend a couple of days with your aunts then we need to get your clothes from the truck." Trish said as Thomas lifted my niece from my arms.

Kaley’s eyes filled with pure joy. "Really?"

I nodded as I looked at her. "I figured you would rather spend the next two days with us than at the funeral home."

She nodded. "You got that right Aunt Cali. The people at Granddaddy’s church are weird."

I started laughing so hard it actually hurt as Thomas shook his head. "You know sis, I think you’re already rubbing off on her."

I turned to Dani as they walked away. "I hope you don’t mind me volunteering us to watch her a couple of days but I couldn’t stand the thought of her having to go through the funeral."

She smiled nervously as pulled me away from everyone. "You know I will never willingly turn down a chance to spend time with her. I love her as much as you do."

I could tell she was not saying everything that was on her mind. "But?"

Dani sighed and leaned closer so only I could hear. "But do you think it is safe? You know what I mean."

I frowned and kicked myself mentally. The possibility of danger from the Thetans never crossed my mind, but I instinctively knew that in order to grow as the woman I now was I needed to spend real quality time with Kaley. I needed a happy child’s perspective to life since that was an aspect of growing up I never had.

If I wanted to be the Callista from my memories, I needed to find a way to connect to the child within me who everyone built up and had given confidence.

I could feel my anger build at the thought of someone trying to harm my precious niece to the point that the room felt warm. I glared at my wife, "I will wipe out their entire race if they so much as threaten a hair on that little girl’s head. No place would be a safe haven from my fury."

Dani’s eyes widened in alarm and sweat beaded on her forehead. "Calm down Baby, you are scaring me. You are right; she will be safe with us."

I suddenly felt a wave of calm engulf me and squelch the rising tide of rage. I looked up at my wife, "Did you just suppress me?"

She nodded with fear. "I had no choice, you were about to expose a new gift."

I stared at her with furrowed brows. "What do you mean?"

She shook her head. "Not now, we will talk later. Let us say our goodbyes so we can leave as soon as Kaley gets back."

My grandmother rushed over with a look of concern. "Are you okay Cali? I swear it looked like your hair was on fire."

Dani rubbed my back as she answered for me. "It’s just her fiery temper. You know how redheads are. She will be fine Granny, she just needs to get some rest it has been a long, trying day. The weight of everything is starting to take a toll."

Grandma nodded as she hugged me. "It has been a terrible day for you. Get some rest. I’ll call to check on you tomorrow."

We next walked over to the Crews and said our goodbyes. After we parted ways with them, I started looking for Renee or Jeb but did not see them anywhere.

Dani and I stepped outside and saw them in a dark corner holding hands talking. An old memory shared by both lives clicked.

"It can’t be."

I stopped short and almost hated interrupting such an intimate moment when Jeb leaned in to kiss her tenderly.

Dani looked at me questionably. "It can’t be what?"

I smiled as I started to turn us around to allow the star struck lovers a chance to reconnect. "Baby you are looking at a truer love than even ours."

Jeb noticed us and asked us to wait up as they walked over hand in hand.

My brother’s strange behavior all these years made sense now…

The extra attention he paid to me when nobody else was around growing up was not because he was creepy, it was because he was trying to over compensate as a favor to the sister of my best friend whom he loved.

The reason he never had a girlfriend all these years was that he could never love another.

His standoffishness was not because he was shy or thought himself better than anyone. It was because he knew what our father would do to him if he found out the truth.

No longer bound by the mental chains of an evil man, he was free to live the life he so richly deserved.

I leapt into my always-distant brother’s arms with tears of gratitude pouring from my eyes. "I will never be able to repay you for everything you have done for me. I love you so much."

This man really did set his life aside for my sake. He could have left with Renee but stayed in that God forsaken house to protect me.

I continued after he released me. "It all makes sense now. How could I be so blind? Now I know who you were always on the phone with at all hours. You sacrificed everything for me."

Jeb smiled lovingly. "I’d do anything for you baby sister. I love you too."

I turned to Renee. "Hmm… I guess you really will end up being my sister."

Her smile was glorious. "One can only hope."

I hugged her tightly. "I don’t see why not. I know he was waited for you all these years."

Tears started to trickle from her joyous eyes. "And I have waited for him."

I saw Thomas and his family approaching. His gaze became one of surprise as he noticed Jeb and Renee holding hands.

I pulled him aside when I saw a sly grin cross his face. "I swear to the Goddess above that if you say one negative thing to them I will do you the same way as I did Chunk except I will use my bare hands."

Thomas laughed as he suddenly covered his privates. "Slow down sis. I’ve known about them for years. I’m tickled to death to see them finally together. If anyone deserves happiness, it is Jeb. He suffered the most from Dad’s wrath for years in order to protect both of us."

He walked away from me and engulfed the happy couple with both arms. "It’s about damn time you two went public."

I laughed as Dani walked up to my side with a confused expression. "Maybe you can explain to me what’s going on because I am completely lost."

I took her hand in mine as we watched everyone interact. "I’ll give you the long version later but the short one is Jeb sacrificed everything for me and she waited."

Dani nodded. "Your family really loves you."

I smiled as I looked at them. "I know. As much as it surprises me to say… I love them too, so very much."

I thought about leaving in two days and the thought was not as happy as believed it would be. In my old life, I hated everything about this area but now… with the exception of Dani, everyone I held dear was here.

"We don’t have to leave you know. We have enough money now that we can live wherever we want." Dani said quietly.

I smiled. "I didn’t know you had the gift of mind reading."

She laughed lightly. "I do not need that gift to know what you were thinking. I can feel how much you care about everyone. I am willing to live here if we can get a place like your grandmother’s and it is near a lake. So long as I am with you I’ll be happy."

Not caring if anyone disapproved I leaned up on my toes to kiss my wife. "I don’t think so, maybe we can buy a place and visit a few times a year but it’s still too small minded to live here permanently."

I heard a small giggle behind us. "I saw that."

I turned and smiled as I bent down to tickle Kaley. "I know you did. I wasn’t trying to hide anything this time. I don’t think anybody would dare say anything with your daddy and Uncle Jeb around."

Thomas laughed loudly. "I think you and Dani could get busy on the town square and nobody will say a thing to you after word gets out about what you did to Chunk."

Trish gasped loudly as slapped her husband’s shoulder. "Thomas Matthew!"

He laughed again. "What? It’s true!" He turned to his brother. "Back me up Jeb."

Jeb was laughing so hard he was holding his side as nodded. "It’s the truth Trish. I bet you by lunchtime tomorrow most men will turn and run as soon as they see Cali approach. She’s gonna go from Dynamite Dawson to Dismembering Dawson."

Thomas bent over to catch his breath as he shook his head. "No no, she will be Castrating Cali."

Jeb walked over and fist bumped his brother. "Hell yeah. Castrating Cali it is."

I rushed behind Thomas to jump on his back wrap my legs around his waist. I ignored my pain as I started rubbing my knuckles over his hairline. "Don't you dare tell anyone to call me that."

Trish gave up looking offended and started laughing as she walked to Renee. "Are you sure you’re ready to join this crazy family?"

Renee nodded as she wiped a tear from her eye while laughing at our antics. "I’ve been ready for this for years."

Chapter Eight

Poor Kaley was sound asleep before we left the city limits heading back to the cabin. I reached back and moved some hair away from her peaceful face so I could gaze upon her innocent tranquility.

"She’s so beautiful. I want one someday." I said to Dani as she drove.

Dani nodded as she adjusted her review mirror so she could see what I was seeing. "Yes she is. She is what I always imagined our child would look like."

I sighed sadly at the thought of us never being able to have the child we often talked about having in a few years. "I guess that’s not going to happen now is it?"

My wife reached across to take my hand and lift it to her lips. "Never say never. I’m sure Mother still has a few tricks that will allow us to have a family when we are ready."

I leaned across the seat to rest my head against her shoulder. "I hope so."

A few miles later, I looked at Dani. "Honey, why did you suppress me?"

She frowned slightly. "I’ve noticed your temper has been getting progressively worse since you changed. Tonight you hair lit up as if you were on fire when you got mad."

"Did it happen at the gas station?" I asked. I was not sure it did because I think Chunk and his friends would have never attacked if it had.

Dani shook her head. "No, but you never got really mad there. Annoyed maybe, but never mad. What you have been given is a powerful but dangerous gift. When you are like that, no living being can touch you without burning themselves but without control, it can ruin entire cities. I remember when a cousin lost control years ago in Chicago. It almost destroyed the entire city before they could put it out."

I could not help but to giggle. "I thought Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern?"

Dani smiled and shook her head. "No, poor Mrs. O’Leary was sweet woman who ended up taking the blame because her stable happened to be right next to the space where my cousin was fighting."

I leaned back in my seat. "That’s amazing. Now that I know, I think I can control my anger. If not, hopefully you will be close enough to calm me."

"I think, as you become accustomed to your new emotions you will be able to control them. Ty was always levelheaded so I see no reason why you would not be. The only problem I foresee is if someone threatens someone you love, especially me or Kaley."

I nodded. "I'd move heaven and earth to protect either of you."

Dani smiled and placed her hand over mine. "I know Baby. I would do the same for you. Now tell me about Jeb and Renee."

We were pulling into the lodge and I knew I would never be able to finish before we had to get out. "I'll tell you after we get Princess back there settled into bed."

If you have never carried a sleeping child from a car to the bed you are truly missing out. Having this little girl reach out to me and instinctively wrap her trusting arms around my neck, knowing she is safe warmed my heart beyond words. The fact she did not want to let go after Dani pulled back the covers and I laid her in the bed made me feel like the luckiest person on the planet, maybe the universe.

I gently kissed her cheek after I finally managed to get her to let go. "Sweet dreams Princess, I love you."

"I love you too Aunt Cali." Kaley mumbled as she turned to her side and settled in for long nights rest.

Dani waited for me by the door. "You are so good with her." She said as she started to close the door.

I stopped her. "Leave it open in case she wakes up and gets confused about where she is. That way she has a little light to see and we can hear her if she yells out in the night."

Dani suddenly developed a frown. "Why didn't I think of that?"

I reached up to caress her cheek. "Baby, you were raised by an immortal queen. I seriously doubt you felt fear growing up whereas I was always scared of the dark. Things you couldn't even imagine happened to me in the middle of the night. I know she says my father never did anything to her but she did live in that house and she does look like me. I want to believe he never touched her but I can't be sure and I want her to feel as safe as possible."

Dani pulled me into her arms and led me to the bathroom so we could take a bath before going to bed. "Are you still afraid at night?"

I shook my head as she turned on the water. "I feel safe in your arms. I had nightmares during my change but that was mainly from the melding of memories. Otherwise the only time I had one was when I slept on the couch when you were so angry with me."

A small tear escaped as Dani helped me undress. "Why did you sleep on the couch that night? You have never done that before."

I waited as she undressed. "I did try but you had taken over the entire bed and cursed me before pushing me away. It broke my heart."

Dani's eyes widened with fear. "Did I really?"

I nodded. "Yes, you were downright mean to me for a few days. I honestly wondered what happened to you. It was like you were two different people. One minute you'd be the sweet woman I fell in love with and the next you would act like I lived to serve you."

My frantic wife leaned away from me and grabbed my arms so tightly I wanted to scream out in pain. "What did you just say? Say that last part again."

I tried escaping her grasp. "Baby, you're hurting me."

She released me but I saw no sign of her panic waning. "Please say that again so I can be sure what you just said."

"It was like you were two different people. One minute you'd be the sweet woman I fell in love with and the next you would act like I lived to serve you."

Dani suddenly looked upward. "Mother we need to see you."

The room erupted with bright light and Zaria appeared with a disconcerting look upon her face.

Dani rushed to her side. I didn't seem to bother either of them that my wife and I were nude. "Did you hear what Cali said?"

Zaria nodded. "Yes, I do not understand how such a compulsion could escape our notice."

Dani addressed my confused expression. "I might have been compelled. Someone may have placed an idea in my mind then manipulated my feelings so I felt the dire need to act on said idea. It would explain so much of my behavior recently."

Zaria looked on thoughtfully. "I am not so sure the compulsion is recent. Your shift in personality happened long before Callista's transformation."

Dani turned to her mother in a panic. "How can we find out for sure?"

Zaria sighed. "We need to find a Delver. One who can probe your feelings to discover when the change occurred. They are the rarest of our kind and none exist within my realm. There are a few, such as yourself, who can suppress feelings and others who can manipulate them but there are very few who can discover the cause."

Their conversation has be beyond confused so I decided to ask the question that apparently I was the only one who did not know the answer. "What is a compulsion?"

Zaria looked at me with amazing patience. "If someone has a thought, someone with the power of compulsion can make them act on it. Many people have thoughts enter their mind that they would never act on but with a little effort a Thetan can make them act on that thought. The stronger the thought, the stronger the compulsion."

She continued. "If it is only a fleeting thought then the person could be talked out of whatever act they were compelled to do, but if it is a strongly held conviction then there is almost nothing that can break the compulsion."

Dani started crying and I wrapped my arms around her to comfort her. I wished nothing more than the ability to help the woman I loved. She was my everything and it pained me to see her so scared.

Suddenly a series of events flashed in my mind that caused me to collapse to the floor sobbing uncontrollably.

"Tedeschi came to you when you started working on the movie where we met. He compelled you to love me in the hopes that you would give up your birthright. He did the same with Polina before she met the man she married. He wanted to create chaos without being obvious. It was the easiest way to eliminate the heirs for the throne so that when the Thetans killed your mother, the kingdom would be without a ruler."

I ached at the thought she was only with me because somebody compelled her to fall in love. Tedeschi probably considered it funny to have a powerful goddess princess fall for a small androgynous man who wore dresses for work half the time.

No wonder I always felt so undeserving of her and no wonder she treated me with such contempt after my change. The compulsion was starting to break and she resented having wasted so many years with someone so far beneath her.

I stared at my wife as she dropped beside me. "The compulsion became weak after I changed since in many ways, I was no longer the person you were compelled to love. You gave to me of your life force and in return you accepted part of mine. When our essences became one, his spell was broken. You gave up so much for me. You never should have done that, I'm not worthy of such a gesture."

Dani gasped as she looked up to her mother. "She is an Omnibus. She calmed my fears while also seeing my past as well as Polly's. I thought they were only a legend."

Zaria shook her head. "They are real. I have only ever met one before now."

My gaze shifted between my wife and her mother. "What is an Omnibus?"

Zaria smiled down at me. "That, my child, is one who holds all emotional gifts. It explains why your heart is so kind and why you are so loving. It is one of our most precious and rarest powers."

She offered her hand to help me from the floor, which I accepted.

"Allow me to mend your injuries." She said right before I felt a small electrical charge throughout my body.

I felt refreshed and looked down to notice my body no longer showed the effects of my earlier incident. "Thank you Mother."

"I need you to look inside me and tell me if others have been affected in the same way as my daughters." Zaria implored while still holding my hand.

"I don't know how."

She smiled knowingly. "Yes you do. You have to trust your abilities. What were you thinking as you held Danica?"

"That I wanted nothing more than to help her and ease her pain." I replied.

"Then that is what you need to think for me. You do wish to help me don't you?"

I nodded. "Very much so Mother."

I concentrated on helping Zaria and all the feelings that flashed were so much greater than what experienced with Dani. I felt her fear for the subjects within her realm, the love for her daughters, the rage that someone would use her love for them against her, the relief in knowing their decisions were not because of her actions in raising them, the constant demands of her time, and most of all the inner strength of this woman to carry on no matter what.

I released her hand to regroup as all the information was overwhelming.

She looked concerned before I took a deep breath and grabbed her hands again. This time I dug deeper for anything she considered unusual but readily dismissed then delved into those people's psyches. It was similar to following a flow chart. I had to follow the line from box to box until I came to what I was looking for.

The search was difficult because she touched so many lives but it was not impossible.

I collapsed to the floor exhausted by my final revelation. "There are three more. They all sit on your high council but I was able to dig and remove the compulsions."

Zaria closed her eyes and nodded. "I see them."

I leaned into the side of the tub to keep from collapsing. "Mother there is something else. Tedeschi gained access through a traitor. Someone named Abrielyia wants to rule and is hiding behind Tedeschi. He does not know she is bending his will to match her desires."

The anger I saw flash in Zaria's eyes was apocalyptic and she disappeared without saying goodbye.

"Oh shit." Dani said as soon as her mother was gone. "My Mother's most trusted advisor is dead and she doesn't even realize it yet. No wonder they knew where to find me."

I felt as if I were about to faint, whatever it was that I did for Zaria exhausted me. I looked up at Dani. "Baby can you get me a glass of orange juice or something?"

Next thing I remembered, I was in the bed with Dani cradling my head while try to get me to drink. Reached up with both hands and quickly downed the large glass.

"Welcome back Baby. No more doing that unless you are well rested and properly fed." She said with relief.

I nodded. "I agree. That was exhausting."

"Would you like for me to fix you a sandwich?" She asked.

She was worried about how I was adapting to my new gifts and concerned that my love for her was because of the compulsion.

She felt tremendous guilt over how she treated me in the days following my change. Her mistreatment was not because of the loss of compulsion. It was her unknowingly mourning the loss of her husband. She subconsciously blamed Callista for Ty no longer being around but when she read the note I left her she was devastated.

Her love for me was as real as what I felt for her. It was honest and it was strong but most of all, it was overwhelming.

It was weird but I immediately knew she wanted to do anything to please me. Not in a submissive sense but in the same way I always desired to make sure she was happy and taken care of. I no longer felt beneath her or undeserving of her affection.

While she did feel guilt, it was not the impetus for her actions. Her only motivation was love and the desire to protect me from anything we faced.

I launched myself into her arms. "I love you too. I was never compelled to love you, your personality did that all by itself. I love you so much that you should never have any doubt about it again."

She held me silently for a moment before she pulled back enough to look me in the eyes. “You know this changes nothing between us don’t you? I might have been compelled to give you a chance but once I did, you worked your way into my heart all on your own.”

I smiled and kissed her passionately. “I already knew that but it’s nice to hear you say it.”

She stared at me stunned. "How did you know?"

I shrugged as I held onto her as if I needed her to breathe, which in some ways was true. "Now that my gift is on, I don't know how to turn it off."

She smiled with understanding. "I see. I want you to focus within yourself and imagine a row of light switches that are labeled."

I nodded and closed my eyes. Instead of imagining a row of light switches, I pictured an electrical box with many breakers. "I got it."

"Okay, now look for one that has my name on it and turn it off."

I smiled as I saw one of the switches was the same light violet color as her eyes and flipped it. Suddenly everything felt normal again.

I opened my eyes. "That was really cool."

Dani leaned in to kiss me. "Yes it is. Let's get you something to eat."

On the way to the kitchen, I poked my head in the spare bedroom to check on Kaley. Thankfully, we did not disturb her and she was still sleeping peacefully.

After a late snack, we finally settled in bed just before the sun started to rise. Neither us initiated any type of sexual contact. We simply held each other and basked in our feeling for the other.

It was our most intimate night ever.

Chapter Nine

What seemed like only moments after I closed my eyes I was awaked by a small body crawling into bed next to me.

I rolled over with a smile. "Good morning Princess. Are you hungry?"

Kaley nodded. "Uh huh."

I patted her bottom as I whispered. "Let me use the restroom. Meet me in the kitchen to see what we have to fix. We need to let Aunt Dani sleep, she's very tired."

I lazily followed the little bundle of energy to the kitchen and set about making coffee before I did anything else.

"Anything you are hungry for?" I asked while I waited for the coffee to percolate.

Kaley smiled with bright eyes ready to take in anything the day had to offer her. "Pancakes!"

I almost laughed as I looked to make sure I had all the ingredients. Thankfully, whoever stocked the cabin had everything I needed.

I started mixing the batter and finished the same time as the coffee.

Kaley watched me pour myself a cup. "Can I have some?"

I looked at her warily, "Have you ever had this before?"

She shook her head. "Mama doesn't drink it and Daddy always says I wouldn't like it without letting me try a taste."

I know it was slightly mean of me but I slid my cup over before adding cream or sugar. "Careful now, it's hot."

Kaley grinned like she was about to try something monumental as she blew the hot liquid and took a sip. I burst out laughing as she made a face and spit it out.

"That's nasty." She said as she reached for the orange juice I had poured for her.

I quickly added a lot of milk and sugar to her cup and handed it back to her. "I'm sorry Princess. Here, try it like this."

She eyed me suspiciously as she warily picked up the cup for a second taste.

He eyes widened in surprise. "This is pretty good."

I nodded as I prepared myself another cup. "I think it is."

Kaley helped as much as she could while I cooked breakfast. She watched everything I did and sometimes asked why I did certain things. I made sure to explain everything to her satisfaction.

Before I joined her at the table I walked back to the kitchen to fix myself another cup of coffee.

"Can I have one too?" Kaley asked.

I nodded. "You must really like it then."

She nodded. "Uh huh. It's good."

By the time we finished eating I was seriously regretting letting the little girl have two cups along with a breakfast where part of it was almost pure sugar.

She was practically bouncing off the walls as she looked at me. "What are we going to do today Aunt Cali? When is Aunt Dani waking up? Can we go to Wonderworks? I had fun there with you. Can we go shopping? I want to go swimming but I don't have a suit. Can we go get a suit so we can go swimming?"

I laughed as I gathered the plates from the table. "Whoa Princess, one thing at a time."

She bounded up behind me and helped me load the dishwasher. "I'm sorry Aunt Cali. I didn't mean to ask so many questions. When do you think Aunt Dani will wake up? This cabin is really nice. I slept good last night. Did you sleep good too? I like to get up early. Do you like to get up early too? I guess not since I had to wake you up. When is Aunt Dani going to wake up?"

I laughed again. "I don't know. Why don't you go ask her?"

I watched as she practically sprinted to the bedroom. A minute or two later she bounced back out. "Aunt Dani demands coffee. I don't think she's a morning person."

I grinned and had a cup ready.

I handed Kaley a dishrag. "Can you wipe off the counter and table while I take this to her?"

She nodded as I walked into the bedroom.

I smirked at the sight of my love looking so bewildered. "Someone doesn't think you are a morning person."

Dani glared at me. "What have you done to that poor child? I think she will explode if she slows down."

I nodded. "I messed up. I let her have two cups of coffee and pancakes. We have breakfast ready for you"

Dani laughed. "You should know better than that. I guess I better get moving then."

Since Dani was slow to get going and we knew Wonderworks closed early on Sundays, we decided to wait a day to visit. Instead we headed to town to find Kaley a swimsuit so we could go swimming.

It had been my hope that by the time we arrived at the small mall, Kaley would calm down considerably and be back to her normal, sweet self.

We could not get out of the car fast enough for the little girl and she grabbed my hand before practically running for the entrance.

"Slow down Princess. The swimsuits aren't going anywhere." I said with a laugh.

She shook her adorable head. "I have to go to the bathroom really bad so please hurry Aunt Cali."

I turned to Dani in a panic. I had managed to avoid public restrooms thus far and the last thing I wanted was for some woman to see through me as I waited on my niece and call security.

I know my loving wife saw the fear in my eyes but instead of offering to take my place, she smiled as she said, "You two go ahead. I will meet you at the store."

Kaley tugged at my arm again. "Let's go Aunt Cali. I can't hold it much longer."

I let her lead the way and she ran as fast as her little legs would carry her across the parking lot then walked very swiftly once we were inside.

I laughed after she made her way into an open stall and said. "Ahh, I made it.".

A moment later the main door to the restroom open and an elderly lady walked in. She eyed me for a moment, making me nervous, before she smiled and asked, "Was it a close call?"

I looked at her, puzzled by her question. "Excuse me?"

She laughed. "I saw the little girl dragging you through the mall. I wondered what her rush was. I guess now I know."

Before I had a chance to respond, a little voice called out. "It was too close. I'm not drinking that much coffee again."

The woman nodded knowingly as she walked in an empty stall. "Were you taking advantage of your big sister while your mom is at work?"

I had a hard wrapping my mind around the fact her and Kaley were carrying on a conversation. That was just not done. Restrooms are made for one purpose only and socializing was not that purpose.

I heard Kaley finish what she we ran in here for and flush before she walked out to wash her hands as she replied. "She's not my sister, she's my aunt. I'm staying with her for a few days. We are going to Wonderworks tomorrow."

I could hear the old woman laughing. "That sounds like fun. My grandchildren love it there."

Kaley grinned at me in the mirror. "I wanted to go today but Aunt Cali said we would have more time tomorrow so we are going swimming instead."

The woman soon walked out and looked at me suspiciously. It felt like she saw right through me and was about to scream at me to get out.

"Sounds like you have your time all planned out. You must be very mature for your age if your family trusts you enough to watch you niece for all these activities."

My expression became puzzled yet again. "Pardon me? I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"Please don't be upset." The woman said in response to my tone. "I just mean, not many teenagers these days are responsible enough to care for a five year old for so long doing such excitable activities."

Both Kaley and I bristled at her words. I placed my hand on Kaley's back to keep her from saying anything so I could. "You know, not many people have called me mature for my age in a long time. It could be because I have not been a teenager for years. If you must know, I'm twenty-eight and my niece is nine. She is mature for her age while me… not so much."

I looked down at Kaley. "You ready to get a swimsuit Princess?"

She nodded. "Yeah but can we get one that looks more grown up? Mama always picks mine out and it either has cartoon characters or flowers on it."

I smiled as I opened the door. "I'll let you pick it out. My only rule is that it has to be a one piece. Your Daddy would string me up if I bought you a bikini." I looked up at the woman who had not made eye contact with us since I told her our age. "Have a nice day."

Dani waited just outside the store. "I wondered if you two had gotten lost."

I pursed my lips and shook my head. "No, there was a chatty old woman in there. Do women always talk like that in there?"

Dani laughed. "Not always no but you do run into them on occasion. Was it another new experience for you?"

I nodded as the three of us walked in the store. "You could say that."

After Kaley found a swimsuit that she liked I led us to the adult variety so I could find a nice one piece because I knew I would never get used to wearing a bikini in public and I doubted Dani wanted me to wear one again.

I found a suit that closely resembled the style pinup girls wore back in the fifties. It was black with small cherries covering it. It also featured a sexy, skirted bottom, a gathered bodice, and contrasting red halter straps. I knew I had to have it as soon as I saw it.

It amazed me because it was the first feminine piece of clothing that I was excited to buy and could not wait to get back so I could wear it. I laughed at the thought.

"What's so funny?" Dani asked.

I shook my head. "Nothing really, it's just that this is the first thing I really wanted since… well… You know."

She smiled brightly. "That's a good thing. It means you are finally starting to accept yourself."

Kaley looked me strangely. "You know Aunt Cali, you act too much like a guy most of the time. It's too much fun being a girl to act that way so much."

Dani laughed. "You are absolutely right Kaley. I hope you can help me convince her that girls rock."

I cocked my head as I thought about what they said and realized they were right. Being a woman was starting to feel more natural and I was finding I did not mind near as much. In fact, I was starting to enjoy it a little bit more every day.

"I guess so." I said as we starting walking from the store.

"Can we stop by the game place?" Kaley asked as we stepped from the store into the small mall.

Dani smiled. "Of course."

As we walked toward the arcade, I noticed people were giving us a wide berth. I started getting nervous at all the stares and whispers surrounding us.

"Why is everybody staring?" I asked aloud to no one in particular.

Dani shrugged. "I have no idea, maybe you should feel them out to make sure we aren't about to get into trouble."

She recognized my confusion. "Go back to your light switch and flip on the one marked crowd detection."

I giggled. "Really? Crowd detection?"

Dani smiled. "Hey I am winging it here. So long as you know what it is you want to accomplish, you could call it the bigot detection network and it would still work the same."

I started to laugh. "Okay I get the idea but for future reference I have a big circuit breaker. Not a light switch."

I went into my mind and flipped on the bigot detection network since I liked her second name for it better. Suddenly my mind flooding with feelings ranging from amazement that someone as small as me was able to cause such injuries to my attackers and fear from the men that I was capable of doing such damage, to disapproval of our lifestyle but afraid to say anything.

Overall, we were safe so I went back to the box in my mind and flipped that switch off while switching on another to alert me of anyone wanting to act on their feelings towards us.

"We are good." I said as we walked in the arcade.

I went to the counter to get twenty dollars worth of tokens. I was surprised to see Daphne's younger brother Travis working. Actually, I don't know why it surprised me since he was always a stoner and a job such as this would be perfect for him. He was still tall, still stick thin and still grungy.

He was almost as bad as his sister but in a completely different way. In my male youth he and his friends loved to torment me until one day I finally snapped and gave him an exhibition in my martial arts skills.

In my female youth he thought he could convert me and hit on me when he was near, using crude innuendos every chance he had.

I felt out to him mentally and did not pick up any resentment aimed in my direction. The only feelings I picked up from him made my skin crawl.

"Double D, good to see you. Looks like you finally grew into your nickname." He said as he stared at my chest.

I extended my middle finger and placed it between my cleavage so he could see. "Eyes front Travis and my name is Cali, not Dynamite, not Double D."

He laughed and looked me in the eyes. "Still spunky, I like it."

I shoved my money across the counter. "Just give me some tokens."

He took the money and turned to retrieve the tokens already separated into a plastic cup behind him. "Alright, sheesh. You ain't gotta be that way." He then turned his attention to Dani after handing over what I requested. "Who is this walking sex kitten?"

I tried to remain calm as I handed Kaley the cup. "Go ahead and play whatever you want Princess, I'll find you in a second. I need to take care of something."

Kaley smiled at me. "Are you going to denut him like you did that man who shot you?"

Dani spun to face us laughing. "Kaley! That is not very nice. Appropriate. But still not nice."

Travis's eyes widened in fear. "That was you?"

Kaley stepped in front of me. "Do it Aunt Cali. He deserves it for talking that way in front of me."

I lifted her in my arms. "Kaley hush. Violence is not always the answer."

She appeared confused. "Then why do you fight so much?"

I sighed and rested my forehead on hers. I wanted to be a positive role model for her but apparently I was teaching her that aggression was the answer to any problem.

"You need to understand that you only fight as a last resort. I have never wanted to fight but there were times when I had no choice because they attacked me and they left me no other option but to defend myself. Even then, I always tried to give them the option of walking away."

I put her down and dropped to my knees beside her. "Then there are times when you don't have to fight, like right now for instance. Sure I could jump over the counter and beat an apology out of Travis for insulting Aunt Dani and me but that would not be helpful. I believe if I ask nicely, he will do it on his own."

I cut my eyes toward the man. "Isn't that right Travis?"

He nodded nervously and placed both of his hands over his genital area. "Yes it is. I apologize for what I said to both of you and also to the little girl for having to hear my rudeness. Please don't hurt me."

I turned my attention back to Kaley. "See, he's sorry and nobody got hurt. Isn't that much easier?"

She smiled vibrantly. "Yes it is."

The little girl cut her eyes toward him again and I watched her scan the area he was covering. "But it would have been really cool to see the other though."

I swatted her bottom while laughing. "Go play."

As she ran off to play Dani joined my side. "She is just like you, you know."

I smirked and nodded. "I feel sorry for Thomas and Trish when puberty kicks in."

An hour later we started walking toward the exit when a dress in the window of one of the trendier shops caught my attention.

It was a green peplum dress with allover yellow polka dot and red dice print. I can't really explain but I knew that dress would look fabulous on my new body and complexion. I doubted it would work on Dani's statuesque frame and tan skin but it would be perfect on mine.

I stopped in my tracks and headed toward the door. "I want that."

Kaley let out a small huff. "But Aunt Cali I need to pee again and I want to go swimming."

I sighed because she was right, today and tomorrow were about her. I turned back toward the door. "You're right Princess. I'm sorry, let's go."

Dani quickly looked at the dress then back at me. "Hold on. I need to freshen up myself, so Kaley can go with me while you try it on. I like it and if you want it then you should get it." She dropped next to our niece. "Princess we want Aunt Cali to be more girly and what is more girly than that dress in the window?"

Kaley looked at the window with mild disgust. "But Aunt Dani, that dress is…" Dani gave her a firm look before she finished. "nice. You should definitely try it on Aunt Cali."

My enthusiasm over the clothing and shopping in general was gone. I dropped my head and shrugged. "No, it's okay. Let's go home."

Realizing she had hurt my feelings, Kaley reached for my hand. "I'm sorry, please try on the dress for me."

I shook my head. "No, you go with Dani to the restroom and I'll go start the car so it can be cooling off."

I gathered the bags from their arms before I turned from them and walked away before they had a chance to respond.

Kaley was right, that dress was ugly. I had not been a woman long enough to develop a sense of style. Even the swimsuit I bought was a joke, what was I thinking buying something so old fashioned?

Tears started to fall as I loaded the bags into the back of the car. I made a terrible woman and anyone who said otherwise was lying. I knew I was better off letting Dani make the decisions when it came to anything related to my new womanhood.

Thankfully Dani and Kaley took their time, allowing me to regain my composure before they returned. I tried to hide my mood but given their over-attentiveness I do not believe I did a very good job.

Chapter Ten

I was no longer excited about my new swimsuit and did not want Dani to see me til I was sure I wanted to wear it.

I reluctantly locked myself in the bathroom to get ready while she changed in our bedroom. I caught myself by surprise by giggling after I pulled the suit up my new body.

I looked at myself in the mirror wearing the retro one-piece and for the first time ever, I felt sexy. Real, honest to goodness sexy. I was covered in the areas that mattered but my new curves were more noticeable than ever before.

Because wearing something this nice called for more, in another first I added makeup because I wanted to, not because Dani was telling me it was expected.

I added a dash of green eye shadow to match the leaves of the small fruit along with bright red lipstick which was a perfect complement for the cherries as well as the halter straps.

I became aware as I added a thin strip of eyeliner and light mascara, that the colors made my eyes sparkle more than I had noticed before.

I also spent a few minutes extra on my hair and realized how much I had learned when I managed to style it in a manner similar to what women wore back when this suit was in fashion.

For no practical reason other than I thought they looked cuter than my flip flops I retrieved my red stiletto sandals.

I took one final look in the mirror and was beyond pleased with what greeted me in the reflection. I thought I looked classier in this than I ever did in the next to nothing bikini I had on the day before.

I hoped Dani liked it because it would crush my spirit again if she did not.

My wife did not crush anything other than my ribs after she wrapped her arms around me as I walked out. "Wow, you better be glad our niece is in the other room, otherwise there is no way we would get out of here. You look just like my favorite dessert topped with cherries."

I giggled as I kissed her. "No dessert til after you finish dinner."

"Are we ready to go yet?" A little voice said from the living room.

Dani, already wearing a cover, laughed and handed me what I thought was a thin red sheet. "Put this on, I picked it out after you picked out your swimsuit."

I stared at it wondering what I was supposed to do with it before I placed it over my shoulders like you would a shawl.

Dani laughed again as she removed it. "No Baby, it is a pareo wrap. You wear like Ty would a wear towel after he got out of the tub. I know you know how to do that."

I nodded embarrassingly as I wrapped it around my body and tied it in a knot at my waist. "Like this?"

She smiled and leaned down to kiss me. "Perfect."

Dani gathered our bag full of towels, phones and sunscreen before we headed to the living room.

An anxious nine year old pacing by the door in a cute green tie dyed one piece looked up. "Are we finally ready?"

I laughed because I could so picture myself acting like that when I was her age."Yes Princess, we are ready."

We walked out of the cabin and started to head toward the pool when I saw a group of large rough looking bikers between us and our destination. I feared there might be trouble that could cause my newfound powers to be exposed.

My anxiety level turned up a notch as we got closer so I looked over at Dani. "Suppress me please. I don't want to get that level of angry in front of Kaley."

Suddenly I felt much better and continued walking toward the pool.

I could not have been more wrong about the older men. Everyone one of them were very respectful and joyfully indulged all of Kaley's questions about their motorcycles in the same manner as a grandfather explaining things to his granddaughter.

While it was obvious they enjoyed looking at Dani and I, none of them made us feel uncomfortable in the least while making small talk.

At the pool we managed to find three empty loungers together and I smiled as Dani removed her cover to reveal a black, white and purple color-blocked one-piece swimsuit.

"You did that for me didn't you?"

She nodded. "I know how much yesterday bothered me and I never want you to feel even a fraction of that."

I walked in front of her and looked up. "Baby you can wear whatever you want. I know you are coming home with me so the fact other men, I mean men, look at you doesn't bother me. I refuse to shift even an ounce of my love for you to make room for an emotion such as jealousy anymore."

"Can we get in the pool yet?" Kaley asked.

I shook my head. "Not until you put some sunscreen on."

Kaley crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip. "You're as bad as Mama."

I laughed as I grabbed the lotion and squirted some in my hand before I started rubbing her back. "I'll take that as a compliment. Why are you such a Grumpy Gussie today? I don't think you got enough sleep last night."

She started to frown. "I'm sorry Aunt Cali. Don't make me go home yet."

I turned her around. "I'm not mad Princess and I'm not taking you home until I have to. I'm glad you feel comfortable enough not to be on your best behavior. I want you to be yourself around me." I paused when I thought about how I was at her age. "No cussing though. Young ladies don't curse."

She nodded. "But it will be okay when I get older right?"

I laughed as I put a dab of lotion on her nose. "No, it's never okay unless you are really really mad." I gave her a kiss on the cheek and turned her toward the pool. "Now you can go swimming."

She stood still for a moment staring at me. "Are you coming?"

I shook my head. "I did not realize I needed to hold your hand. If you want to wait until I'm ready that's fine, just give me a few minutes"

Kaley shook her head and pointed toward the shallow end which luckily, was right in front of us. "I won't leave that area."

I removed my wrap as I nodded. "Sounds good."

Kaley looked over her shoulder before she jumped in the water. "You look pretty Aunt Cali. I really like that swimsuit."

Dani laughed as she took the lotion from my hand and started applying it to me. "She is something else. I love her."

I nodded. "Me too."

Dani had me lie down on the lounger while she continued to apply the sunscreen. "I thought you were offering some type of rebellion to your changes when you picked out this suit but I was not going to say anything because you were buying it without any prodding on my part but then I saw the hurt in your eyes when Kaley did not like the dress in the window and I was glad I chose to keep my opinion to myself. You look phenomenal, retro chic is a perfect look for you."

I smiled and cocked my head to see her face. "Thank you, I like yours too. I like it even more because of why you chose it."

After she finished with me, Dani and I relaxed and enjoyed the sun while watching Kaley enjoy herself in the water.

"Why could it not be like this yesterday? Not a single person has bothered us." Dani asked as she took a drink of her water.

I shook my head. "Shh, you'll jinx us."

She started to get up. "I'm sorry, I won't mention it again. I need to find a restroom. Stay here so you can watch Kaley, I'll be right back."

I was still watching my niece play with some new friends she had made when I noticed three large shadows to my right.

"Hello, How are you doing this fine day?"

I tilted my head to find the source and lowered my wayfarer sunglasses slightly.

Three college aged guys stood over me. None of them were bad looking but I obviously wasn't interested.

"Good thanks." I replied politely and lifted my glasses back in place.

One of them helped himself to Kaley's lounger next to mine while another sat in Dani's. "What's your name?"

I didn't bother looking in his direction, I only held up my ring hand. "Those seats are taken. I'm not interested, I'm married."

They did not allow obvious things such as a rebuff and confirmation of marriage deter them. The one sitting in Dani's seat leaned forward. "I didn't ask about that now did I? I really did not think someone as pretty as you would be single. My name is Adam."

"That's good to know. Now Adam, why don't you and your friends leave me alone."

The guy in Kaley's spot ran his hand along my leg which my skin crawl. "You don't have to be that way gorgeous. I love your tattoo. You obviously wanted our attention or you wouldn't have dressed like that."

I grabbed his wrist and dug my thumb into a pressure point meant to cause extreme pain. "Don't ever touch me again."

When the man backed away while cradling the injured area, the man who was still standing started laughing. "Oh look, kitty has claws."

I started to stand in order to better defend myself when Kaley came running over. "Mommy, are you okay?"

I smiled at what she was doing and pulled her into my arms. "Yes Princess, these men were just leaving."

She looked at all three. "Do you need me to go get Daddy? He and his friends are in the parking lot working on their bikes."

Adam spoke up. "That won't be necessary little girl, my friends and I were just leaving."

They turned to walk away when Kaley yelled out. "You are going to apologize for bothering us aren't you? Daddy always says a man should have good manners around a lady."

All three stopped quickly and turned.

"I'm sorry to have bothered you." They said in unison.

I laughed after they left the area and looked at my clever niece who was smiling proudly. "How did you know to do that? That was brilliant."

"You told me to avoid a fight if possible and I knew your words weren't working as soon as that man touched you. I also knew we would have to leave the pool if you beat them up and I'm still having fun."

I looked at this clever girl standing in front of me and my heart overflowed with love. She reminded me so much of what my new memories told me I was like at her age when I tried to diffuse whatever fight my brothers were about to get into. My newer past seemed that much more real to me.

I hugged her tightly. "I'm so proud of you right now I could burst. Go ahead and go back to playing. I love you."

She returned my embrace. "I love you too Aunt Cali."

Dani approached as Kaley cannonballed in the pool. She laughed when the little girl barely caused a ripple.

"Did I miss something while I was gone?" She asked while she resumed her place beside me.

"Why would you ask that?" I replied with a sly smile.

She shook her head and was laughing again. "I cannot leave you alone for five minutes. I saw three guys walking past me with one holding his wrist and another was saying that redhead didn't look old enough to be a mother but the little girl looked too much like her for it not to be true."

I joined her in laughter. "I told you that you jinxed us." I then went on to tell her everything that happened.

Dani wiped away the tears caused by her amusement. "At least we know she was listening to what you told her."

I nodded. "That little girl is going to be able to do anything she sets her mind on."

Chapter Eleven

An hour and a half later we were back in the cabin. Kaley was exhausted but happy and I could tell she was about to fall asleep as she watched television while still wearing her swimsuit. I didn't bother changing before I started to cook dinner so I wouldn't have to wake her to eat.

"No sleeping until after supper." I called out to her from the kitchen.

She nodded as she yawned. "I'm not sleepy yet Aunt Cali, just a little tired."

I laughed. "If you say so. Why don't you go ahead and take your bath while we cook."

I watched as she almost started to protest but she just rolled her adorable eyes and smiled. "Yes mother."

I stared at her. "Mother?"

She nodded and smiled. "You can be as bad as she is sometimes. I just spent three hours in the water why do I need a bath?"

I bent over and started to tickle her. "Alright Gussie, you need to stop with the mother stuff. I'm supposed to be the cool aunt. You hear me? The pool has you covered in chlorine plus you need to wash off the sunscreen, there's still a lot on your nose."

She giggled as she nodded. "You are the cool Aunt and I'm not grumpy."

I swatted her behind playfully. "Just get in the tub."

There was knock on the door as soon as she disappeared into the bathroom.

I was stunned to see Aaron Brachman and surprised both of us when I wrapped my arms around his neck.

I had already let go of the anger I had previously held for him, my talk with Mr. Crews had taken care of that. With Ryan gone, Aaron was now my oldest friend and the only person other than Dani and Ryan who saw the potential in Tyler Dawson.

"Good to see you my friend."

He tentatively placed his arms around me in return and held on far longer than I expected and dropped his face into the top of my head. After a moment he sniffled slightly as he stepped back. "I am sorry for my reaction. I never thought I would get another one of those from you."

I smiled as I led him to the kitchen. "I didn't either at first but others shown me how you've always had my back. Thank you."

Dani smiled and rushed across the room as soon as she saw the man. "Aaron! So good to see you."

I went back to preparing supper. "We are about to eat, would you care to join us?"

He nodded. "I'd like that very much."

He stared at me for a moment and it felt as if he were studying me. It was quickly becoming awkward until he spoke.

"I heard you had been attacked by a group of men and shot by a local. I wanted to check on you but I guess I was told wrong since obviously you have been out enjoying the sun. Nice suit by the way, you look like one of those pinup models I used to see hanging in my father's garage. It's sexy but very classy at the same time. Very few women can truly pull off that look anymore."

Compliments about someone's appearance was very commonplace from Aaron but normally his comments were vague and generic. Something like 'you look nice' or 'that color suits you'. To hear him be so specific told me he was being sincere.

A part of me wanted to be upset at his words but it was swiftly overridden by the side of me that was starting to take pride in her appearance.

I giggled as I battered the pork chops before placing them into the pan. "Why thank you sir."

He blushed slightly when he realized what he said. "I'm sorry, that was out of line."

Dani laughed. "No it is not. I thought the same thing when I saw her this afternoon."

Aaron smiled as he looked at me again. "So you did you or did you not get shot?"

"Oh I did but it wasn't that bad, plus I'm a quick healer." I replied.

The older gentleman gasped. "How can you be so nonchalant about it?"

I shrugged as I turned to flip the meat and check the potatoes that were boiling as well as the green beans I had simmering. "Compared to everything else that has happened recently, a graze from a shotgun blast is minor."

Dani told him about all that had been happening since we last saw each other. I swear Aaron started to turn green when Dani went into detail about the damage I had done to Chunk.

Aaron wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. "I'm starting to see why you almost turned me down for this job. I wish I never talked you into it."

I smiled as I thought about my niece in the other room. "It hasn't been all bad Aaron. I'm glad I came back."

As if she knew she was on my mind, Kaley walked into the kitchen smirking with her arms spread wide as if offering herself up for inspection. "As you can see, I'm all clean now mother."

Dani and I grinned at the amusement she held in her voice as she teased me.

Aaron's gaze kept shifting between the little girl and myself. He was speechless.

Dani laughed. "You did not know about Cali's daughter Kaley?"

Kaley glanced at Aaron and then back at me with a look as if to say 'who is this?'

"Kaley this is my boss and good friend Aaron Brachman. He is the man who is paying for the car and cabin."

Kaley walked up to him and offered her small hand. "Nice to meet you Mr. Brachman. Thank you for such a nice place, I have really enjoyed staying here."

Still stunned, Aaron studied her as he replied. "You are quite welcome and it's nice to meet you too Kaley, please call me Aaron."

She nodded. "Yes sir."

I had to give my brother and sister in law credit, Kaley had immaculate manners.

I looked at my niece. "Dinner still has about fifteen minutes to go if you want to watch TV until I call for you."

"Yes ma'am." She replied.

I laughed as she left the room since I knew she was only being polite because there was a stranger present.

"I had no idea you had a daughter Cali. Why didn't you tell me?" Aaron asked once Kaley was out of earshot.

I laughed again. "She's not my daughter Aaron…" I paused for a second. "Although I couldn't imagine loving my own more."

Aaron looked back at the little girl as she watched television then back at me. "Are you sure? She looks so much like you."

Dani laughed louder. "I believe that is something a woman would remember. She's actually Cali's niece."

I was returning a pot to the sink after draining the potatoes when a long suppressed memory hit. I gasped as I inadvertently released the vessel from my hand causing a large crash that made everyone jump.

Dani jumped up from her seat and rushed to my side. "Are you okay Baby?"

I nodded and wiped away a tear as I whispered. "Another piece of the past smacked me hard, we'll talk later."

She nodded. "Why don't you go change. I laid out an outfit for you to wear tonight. That will give you a moment to yourself while I finish cooking for you."

I quickly went to the bedroom under the pretense of needing to change but actually I needed to reign in my emotions so my brain could process a long suppressed memory. I was shocked to see the dress from the window lying across the bed.

I used the time it took to change into the dress to place my shame into my memory vault until I could share it with my wife. Hopefully she would not judge me too harshly and could help me come to terms with it.

I found myself thankful for my increased flexibility as I was able to zip up the dress without any help.

With a heavy heart I walked back into the restroom to freshen my makeup and get a good look at myself. I was pleased with what greeted me in the mirror.

The woman standing in front of me in the yellow figure hugging dress had an all-american quality about her. I pulled my hair into a high ponytail and added slightly more eyeliner to give her a slight edge.

I realized as I sat the eyeliner pencil down that when I actually wanted to apply makeup for me, it came easy but if I forced myself to do it, I had trouble.

I winked at the woman in the mirror as I applied fresh lipstick. "Callista Zoyra, you can be beautiful when you want to be."

I walked back into the kitchen a few minutes later with a new swish to my hips. "I can be such a clutz sometimes, sorry about that."

Dani stopped mid conversation when she saw me. "Damn."

Aaron nodded his head as he stared at me. "I concur. Damn."

I giggled as Dani rushed to gather me into her arms. "Holy shit honey. I can't describe how sexy look right now. Not that you don't always look sexy to me but tonight…"

I shut her up by placing my lips over hers. "I understand and thank you."

My phone rang and I saw it was Thomas calling. We talked for a few minutes and I was able to talk him and Trish into letting us keep Kaley an extra day. I explained that we were going to Pigeon Forge the next morning and didn't want to have to rush to get back. As an added incentive, I also used the excuse that they needed some time to reconnect as a couple. I pointed out that after Dani and I left they would not be alone very often. Thankfully that did the trick and they agreed.

I carried the phone to Kaley so she could talk to her parents while Dani placed the finishing touches on our dinner. She said she didn't want to take the chance of me ruining my dress.

Before I had a chance to hand my niece the phone she looked up with her mouth wide open. "Never ask my opinion on a dress again Aunt Cali. I was wrong about that one. I was told to tell you I liked it no matter what but I promise it really does look good. Can I get one like it?"

I giggled and handed her the phone. "Thank you, talk to your Daddy."

A few minutes later we sat down to eat and I looked over at Aaron. "How is the movie coming along?"

He sighed. "It's dead in the water right now. My director and new stunt coordinator are in jail. Stewart and Dean are worried they may be next. Dean's so scared he left for LA as soon as he heard about the others. Luckily, all the principal photography is done other than the final stunt. We got some wonderful shots but I can't bring myself to use them."

I turned to make sure I had his unyielding attention. I amazed myself with what I said.

"You have to finish the movie and use that footage if you can. Ryan died for that shot. Being a stuntman was who he was to his core and it would disrespect his memory not to let others see his final scene."

I knew my best friend better than anyone and I could almost hear him bitching. "I died for that shot, they damned well better use it."

I thought about what happened that fateful night after I fell through the hole. "There have been more sacrifices than you will ever know while this film was being made. Don't make it all be in vain. If for no other reason, finish it for me."

He nodded and placed his hand over mine. "Of course. I promise you that if we can use any of the footage, we will."

I noticed Kaley practically falling asleep in her mashed potatoes. "Are you too tired to eat Princess?"

She shook her head as she yawned. "No Aunt Cali, this is my favorite. How did you know?"

I smiled. "It was a lucky guess. It's my favorite too."

We made small talk for the rest of the meal and I made sure to include Kaley. I remembered what it was like to sit around a table where nobody was allowed to speak to me unless it was my father complaining that the dinner I prepared was not good enough. I never want anyone, much less a child, to experience that.

Kaley loved it when Aaron told her stories about her favorite movie stars. He promised to send her many autographs.

When we finished eating a dessert of chocolate ice cream, I knelt beside Kaley. "Why don't you go on to bed so you are well rested when we go to Wonderworks tomorrow. You want me to tuck you in or are you too big for that?"

Her smile was breathtaking. "You can if you want Aunt Cali. I don't mind." She looked over my shoulder. "You can too Aunt Dani."

I laughed as I lifted her in my arms and turned to Aaron. "I'll be back in a minute, help yourself to the bar since you're paying for it."

Kaley looked at him. "Goodnight Mr. Brachman, it was nice to meet you."

Aaron smiled as he stood to take Kaley's small hand in his. "You too young lady. Have fun tomorrow."

Dani and I took turns kissing Kaley goodnight and letting her know she was loved.

I lingered at the door watching her get comfortable in bed with a tear in my eye. My love for the little girl was as strong if not stronger than it was for my wife but in a totally different way.

"What are you not telling me?" Dani said as she gently rubbed my back.

I shook my head. "Later Baby, we have company right now."

Dani poured us both a glass of wine before we joined Aaron on the front porch to enjoy the stars.

"Cali I want to apologize for everything. Your words that day haunt my dreams and you are right, if I had believed in you this would have never happened. "Aaron said with deep regret in his voice.

I leaned forward and placed my hands over his. "Stop. I don't fault your initial reservations. Given how I was acting, I probably would have done the same. In the end, you did believe in me and things would have been worse if you had not placed the restrictions I recommended. Ryan's father told me everything; I know how you went to bat for me after I left. I didn't know when I said what I did in the immediate aftermath and for that I'm the one who is sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for. Are we still good?" He asked.

I smiled. "Yes, we are good."

"And you will work with me on my next film?" His voice was hopeful.

I frowned, as the thought was not as appealing as it used to be. "I'm not sure. Between my accident, Ryan's death and Dani being so close to joining him on the other side, my priorities have changed. All this has caused a seismic shift in what I want from life and I'm not so sure spending half my life in a rundown studio trailer in the middle of nowhere doing stunts for directors who only care about the shot and not what the shot might cost other than money is what I want anymore."

Dani's eyes widened in shock, more so than Aaron's as she looked at me. "When did you decide this Baby?"

I shrugged. "Right this minute. I'm not saying no but I'm not saying yes either. I'm still figuring out where I am in my life."

Aaron nodded as he stood. "I understand but it changes nothing between us if you say no. I still love you like you were my own. Thank you for a delicious dinner and I'll need Kaley's address so I can send her those autographs."

I joined his side to embrace him. "I love you too. You're welcome and I'll email you her address soon."

As we watched Aaron climb into his jeep Dani looked down at me. "So what is your real reason for not wanting to go back to work? You love doing that."

I led her to the porch swing. "Do I? Ty loved it, he saw it as new chance everyday to prove how much of a man he was. I'm not him any longer and if I am to grow into the woman I have become then the only person I need to prove anything to now is you. I could care less what people think anymore. Besides your mother told me I needed to discern my new place in life."

Dani smiled as she embraced me. "You don't have to prove anything to me. I'll love you regardless."

I held onto her tightly as I readied myself to share with her what I had remembered. It had been struggle to hold it in as long as I had. "I hope that is true. Baby, I have to tell you something. I think Kaley is my daughter."

She laughed heartily at what she perceived as a joke until she pulled back and saw the seriousness in my eyes. "How can that be?"

I sighed as I voiced the lowest moment of my life. The moment that scared me so bad that I was becoming my father's son that I locked it in the darkest recesses of my mind to never be thought of again.

"You have to remember that Ty hated his brothers. It was not a mild dislike, he loathed them with ever fiber of his being. After I moved away I only came home once, it was almost ten years ago. It was right after Ryan's father was shot while trying to serve an arrest warrant and almost died. His injuries were so severe that they called the family in to say their last good-byes. I came because he was like a father to me and I wanted to offer Ryan support."

"I stopped by the Jiffy Dip to see the Metcalf's and Trish was working for them. We had always gotten along so I flirted with her harmlessly at first but she became more serious with as time went on. It had always been a running joke around here about how endowed I was. She started teasing me about it. The thought never crossed my mind she was serious until she told me she wanted to see for herself if the rumors were true. One thing led to another and I told her there was only one way she could see it and she agreed."

"This was before you and I met, correct?" Dani asked protectively.

I rolled my eyes. "Yes Miss Jealous it was. Anyways, I started thinking. What better way to get even with a brother I hated than to sleep with his wife? She became very nervous when things started going too far but I persuaded her to keep going. It was awkward, it was clumsy and it was over quickly because she was worried about getting caught. I hate to admit it but there was a small part of me that kind of hoped he walk in and see me with her. Once I started she insisted I did not use protection and it was obvious she just wanted it to end. I didn't enjoy it and tried to stop but she would not allow me to quit until I came inside her."

I sighed deeply. "It wasn't rape but I'm not sure it was completely consensual either. I think she did it because she had backed herself into a corner I was not willing to let her out."

I started to tear up as I remembered why I buried the memory so deep. "After we finished Trish started crying saying how much she loved Thomas and how dirty she felt. She was crying so hard that it made me feel such extreme guilt over what I had done. I immediately regretted our actions as much as she did. For the first time in my life I felt like I truly was a Dawson because I had actually stooped to their level and poor Trish was caught in the middle. I had never been lower in my life until last week."

I started to sob as I buried myself into Dani's chest. "I have become great at locking away memories I don't want so I can function. I talked to Ryan about what I did then placed the events of that night in my vault to never be released but it managed to escape tonight. I've wracked my brain and the timing is right and everyone can see how much we look alike but her looks are not just from my father's side. She has my eyes Baby, nobody else has eyes like Ty had. I have my mother's face and Kaley has mine."

"But it's not just her looks. She is a mini me. She walks, talks and acts just like me. We even love the same foods. I know in my heart that she is my daughter."

Dani nodded as she stroked my hair. "You cannot beat yourself up over this. That happened in another life when you were a different person. I have to admit I always wondered if there was something you had not told me about her. We need to figure out how to move forward because obviously, we cannot tell her. Besides not being able to explain how you could be a father, it would also devastate her to think she didn't belong to your brother."

I sighed. "I know, Trish and Thomas love her so much. She has good life and I already know Trish will do anything to protect her, as will Thomas."

I started to sob and buried my head in Dani's shoulder. "It sucks. I have a beautifully wonderful daughter and I can't share my pride about her with anyone. I love her so much and have to watch from the sidelines as she grows up."

Dani held me as I released my grief. "Yes you can. You tell everybody about your wonderful niece. At least we are able to be on the sidelines. We can have these small moments with her and we will make sure we are always available anytime she needs us. Before we leave we need to find a house locally to buy so that we can come visit whenever we want. Trust me, sometimes being the cool aunt is just as helpful as being the parent. My aunt knows more about what happened in my youth than Mother ever did. In many ways I'm closer to her than I am my mother."

I nodded as I wiped my eyes. "Thank you." I leaned up to give her a kiss. "I love you so much."

She stood and guided me toward the door. "Let us go to bed. We need our rest if we hope to keep up with her tomorrow."

I laughed. "I won't have any trouble keeping up. I'd almost bet I'm more excited about going than she is."

Dani's brows raised seductively. "Does that mean you have energy to spare tonight?"

I laughed and jumped into her arms. "Baby I always have energy for that."

Chapter Twelve

At six in the morning Kaley crawled in our bed and began shoving my shoulder. "Get up Aunt Cali, we need to get ready."

I smiled. "You do know Wonderworks doesn't open for another three hours don't you?"

She nodded. "I know but it's a long drive so we need to get ready because it takes Aunt Dani a long time. I thought the sooner she wakes up the sooner she won’t be so grumpy."

"I heard that." Said my wife as she rolled over to look at us.

I widened my eyes and looked at Kaley. "Uh oh, you woke up the grouch. You better run."

My wonderful daughter started laughing as she tried to hop off the bed but Dani grabbed her and started tickling her.

"Help me Aunt Cali." Kaley squealed between fits of laughter.

I was laughing too hard to offer much help other than to tell her. "She's ticklish too."

Kaley's little fingers searched for Dani's ribs which made Dani jump. I soon joined Kaley in tickling my wife.

"I need to pee. Please stop." Dani pled as she backed away from us.

I stopped and soon Kaley followed as Dani jumped out of bed and ran toward the bathroom.

I laughed and looked at the most beautiful girl in the world. "I need coffee."

Kaley followed me into the kitchen where I started making my morning kick start beverage.

"Can I have some too?" She asked with the most adorable puppy dog eyes.

I smiled as I retrieved a third cup. "Of course Princess."

An hour later we were in the car headed toward Pigeon Forge. We decided to stop and eat somewhere along the way because we knew Kaley would be bouncing off the walls until we were making some sort of progress toward our destination.

Kaley talked nonstop the entire way there about everything she wanted to do after we arrived.

“Did you let her have coffee again this morning?” Dani asked with slight amusement.

I smiled. “How could I say no?”

Kaley leaned forward between the seats. “Actually she let me have three cups. I like coffee. Do you like coffee as much as I do Aunt Dani? I don't understand why Mama and Daddy won't let me have coffee. I'm going to start drinking it every morning.”

Dani laughed and shook her head. “You are ruining the poor girl. I feel sorry for Trish when we give her back to them.”

I joined her in laughter. “That’s the plan.”

We were the first in line when the doors opened and we did absolutely everything we wanted to do by the time the doors closed for the day.

Not surprisingly they remembered us from our last visit and since it wasn’t very busy because it was Monday, they allowed us the same amount of freedom to skirt the rules as last time.

Kaley did much better on the rock climbing wall and made it all the way to the top with a little help. I think she did it so she could try the back flips while still harnessed, much the same way as I had done last time.

She was trying so hard to emulate every move I made. I never felt so important in my life.

Kaley had the most difficulty trying to play Mindball. We each had to wear a headband with electrodes and relax our minds in order to use our brain waves and move the ball across the table to the opposing side.

Mindball is a game that goes against the conventional competitive concept. Instead of activity and adrenaline, it relied on calmness to measure participants’ success. The most relaxed player won and it was difficult for a nine year old who had consumed three cups of coffee to slow down.

Kaley became frustrated when I was able to make the ball dance back and forth. Relaxation was one of the first things I learned when I started to doing yoga as well as with martial arts.

She was entirely too excitable for me to help her.

The attendant walked over. "How are you doing that?"

I looked up at him through the wires attached to my head. "Like you said, I just relaxed."

He shook his head. "No, not forward, I mean how did it move backward?"

"What would make you jump backwards?" I asked the young man.

He shrugged. "I don't know."

I suddenly moved toward him causing him to stumble to get away.

I smiled. "Fear, I relax to move it forward and get scared to move it back."

He stared at me a moment. "I never thought of that. I'll have to try it."

"You know he will never be able to accomplish that on his own." Dani said as he walked away.

I studied her closely. "Why can't he?"

"He does not have the enhanced focus you possess."

I nodded as her meaning finally sunk in. "Dang, I thought I had been able to do that without any gifting mojo."

Dani laughed. "I am sorry to disappoint you love but you can probably move that object without the help of the harness."

Since Kaley was bored with the game and Dani had taken the fun out of it for me, we moved on to the rope course. My daughter and I broke almost every rule they had as she jumped on my back and squealed with glee as I easily maneuvered the rope bridge without even touching the sides.

She eyed my every move carefully and tried to do everything in the exact same manner I did. She was not successful most of the time but I had to admit the little girl had definite talent, even if I was biased when it came to her.

From there we tried laser tag. I managed to make everyone else playing upset as my focus sharpened immensely and after I became bored playing by the rules, I started taking everyone out, it did not matter what team they were on.

That was the only part of the attraction that the attendants asked me to tone things down. Granted they did it with huge smiles on their faces.

Kaley really enjoyed the magic show. Dani and I, not so much. After being exposed to a small taste of the world Dani lived in before we married, a few sleight of hand tricks did not impress me.

Poor Kaley was so tired by the time someone announced Wonderworks was about to close that she almost appeared relieved.

Once we were out of traffic and on the open road headed home I glanced back at a very happy and very tired young girl in the back sleeping peacefully.

I adjusted the rearview mirror to look at her a little longer. "I hate having to leave her. Be ready to suppress me tomorrow until she leaves. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep myself together."

Dani nodded. "I will be almost as bad myself but we have been lucky that nothing has happened while she has been here. I am sure Mother has addressed what you told her with her court. It is for the best that Kaley is with Thomas and Trish. We have to be happy from the sidelines until we have a family of our own."

I nodded as I pulled in front of the cabin. "You are correct. As always."

I was about to cry as Kaley wrapped her arms around my neck. Thankfully I felt my sadness disappear which allowed me to bask in the feelings holding my daughter provided.

I mouthed a silent thank you to my wife as I headed toward the front door.

Chapter Thirteen

After we settled in to go to sleep, I was about the step into the area between consciousness and dreams when I felt something enter my mind. It was something strong trying to gain access to my memories. More specifically it was trying to wipe away all my memories of Ryan.

Those were among my most precious recollections and vital to person I was. It was bad enough to no longer have him in my life physically, but it terrified me to think of who I would be with him gone completely from my mind.

I struggled mightily to gather them up and lock them away in the secure vault I created mainly to hide the abuse of my father. I knew it was impenetrable for anyone other than myself because so many people in my life had tried to get me to talk about what he had done to me but until I was ready, I never let that information out.

I attempted to find out who was doing this to me by following their trail. I finally found the source and could see the silhouette of a man with a strong chin and distinctive nose. I moved closer to get a clear view of his face but hit a painful roadblock as soon as I neared.

I cried out in pain and awoke with my hands holding my head tightly.

I sat up and tried to spit out the taste of rotten eggs in my mouth.

Dani had me in her arms. "Cali wake up! What's wrong?"

I looked over at my wife. "Please tell me it was you who tried to take Ryan from my mind."

It was a futile question to which I already knew the answer but it would make life so much easier for it to be her doing it.

Her eyes widened. "What? No. I am not that powerful. Only Mother or another of her standing can do that."

A desperate sigh escaped my lips. "I already knew your answer but I had to ask. Someone just tried to erase Ryan from my memory I caught a silhouette but not a good look at the man who was doing it."

Before Dani even had a chance to call for her mother, the room flooded with light and Zaria stood before us. "Give me your hands child. Allow me to see for myself."

I places my palms on hers as she smiled. "Relax and allow me entrance."

Her brilliant violet eyes flashed, "I see him and know who this man is. He is a Thetan named Tedeschi."

I remembered his name from an earlier conversation. "He is the one who aided Abrielyia, am I correct?"

She nodded. "Very well remembered but she is no longer an issue as she is no longer."

I waited for her to finish her sentence before it dawned on me that Abrielyia was dead. "Oh."

"Mother can you show me what this Tedeschi looks like so I can keep watch for him?" I asked.

Suddenly an image flashed of the man I killed in the cavern with much shorter hair.

"Do you see him child?" Zaria asked.

I shook my head. "No Mother, the man I see is Adorious Dunamas."

She shook her head. "That is not Adorious, the man you see is Tedeschi Dunamas. The brother of the man who attacked me and essentially killed Tyler Dawson."

I suddenly filled with fear at the man who inflicted such pain on me. "I'll never forget that face."

Sensing my fear, Zaria closed her hands around mine. "Be ever vigilant child. If he gained access to your mind then he is aware of your existence."

My mind jumped to the child in the next room.

"Kaley. We have to protect Kaley." I said as I ran to grab the small spike I kept in my purse.

Dani walked to my side and placed a me into a reassuring hug. "Calm down, she is protected."

I looked up at her. "Can you promise me right now she will be safe? Because that is not what you were saying earlier."

My wife did not have a response for me other than an unnerving expression.

Zaria stepped forward. "I can promise. You have my word that no harm will come to the child."

I nodded, knowing her word was law in many aspects. "Thank you Mother."

Zaria smiled as she stepped forward to place light kisses on both Dani and myself. "I must depart. You must rest as I believe some restless nights will follow."

I do not remember anything else because I fell asleep as soon as she finished her sentence.

---

"Thank you Mother. She would not have slept had you not done that." Dani said as she gently placed Cali back in their bed.

"She will need her rest. I fear the days ahead will drain her spirit."

Dani turned toward her mother. "Why do you say that?"

Zaria shook her head. "I would rather not say until I know for certain. How are you fairing with all that has happened?"

Dani smiled. "Better than I expected. I feel Cali and I are closer than ever. She is starting to come to terms with her changes. Each step she takes forward to acceptance brings her closer to me. Her transition has helped me become a better spouse because I now see where I made mistakes in the past. I honestly do not know she put up with me. Tedeschi must have placed a strong compulsion on her."

Zaria pulled her daughter into her arms. "Neither Tyler nor Callista were compelled to love you by an outside force. She saw you for the goodness you carry within. She understood you loved the only way you knew how. You must remember that other than his lifelong friend, you were the first to believe in Tyler. You gave him strength and focus when he needed it most."

"You are so busy concentrating on where you made mistakes that you fail to see how much you did correctly. You give her strength. If you remember, Tyler would bend for you but he would not break. If you were as bad as a wife as you believe, he would have left long ago. Instead that man was, and now this woman is, totally devoted to you."

Dani smiled. "And I her. I would die for her."

Zaria kissed her cheek. "Let us hope it never comes to that."

"Mother, how could you guarantee the safety of Kaley?" Dani asked.

"Callista's daughter is an innocent. Even a Thetan knows the repercussions of harming a child. No being, on either side of goodness, wants to spend an eternity stoking the fires in the pit of Acheron."

Dani appeared ashamed. "I should have known that. I do not know why I panicked when she asked."

Zaria smiled with a reassurance only a mother can give. "Because you also care for the child. You have to stop questioning your every move. It is hurting yourself and those around you. In time you would have realized the answer on your own. Callista believes in you, as do I. That alone should be enough to cast aside any doubts. Your wife needs you. She needs you to be the intelligent, strong woman I raised you to be."

She kissed her youngest daughter. "You will be fine. I must depart as I have much to do. As always, I will keep you in my thoughts."

Dani smiled at her mother. "I love you too."

Chapter Fourteen

The next morning I awoke refreshed but forlorn at the thought of Kaley having to return home. By some miracle, I had actually woke up before she did. I double checked her room to make she was there and breathed a sigh of relief to see her sleeping soundly.

I went to the bathroom to take care of morning business, thankful a certain monthly visitor did not stay long. Dani had explained that hers never lasted more than a couple of days either and next time I felt like complaining I needed to keep in mind it could be worse.

Afterwards, I set about making pancakes and sausage since I knew they were Kaley's favorite. The coffee had just finished and I made my first cup when an adorable girl walked into the kitchen yawning.

"Good morning Sunshine." I said as soon as I saw her.

Without even asking she grabbed my mug before taking a sip and smiling. "Good morning."

I laughed at her. "Sure Princess, you can have a cup of coffee if you wish."

She looked at me sheepishly. "I'm sorry Aunt Cali. Thank you for the coffee."

"You're welcome. Are you packed? Your parents will be by soon to take you home." I asked as I turned back to the stove so she couldn't see the tear that was starting to form at the mere thought of her leaving.

I heard her sigh. "Yes, I'm ready but do you and Aunt Dani really have to go back to California?"

I nodded without turning around. "I'm afraid so. That's where we live."

"I don't want you to go Aunt Cali. You are the only one who gets me and doesn't treat me like a baby." Kaley said as her little voice started to break.

With breakfast finished I had no excuse not to turn around. I walked around and sat next to her at the breakfast bar before pulling her into a hug. "I'm not sure I want to go Princess but I have to. I'll be back to visit and you can call whenever you want."

Smalls droplets fell down my daughter's cheek. "It won't be the same as having you here. I'm really going to miss you."

I hugged her even tighter. "I'll miss you more than you'll ever know but Aunt Dani and I have talked about buying a house here so we can visit more. What do you think about that?"

Kaley finally managed a smile. "You would move here?"

I shook my head. "No Princess, we can't live here but we would come visit alot and every time we do we will always have an extra bedroom just for you. We love you too much to stay away too long."

She paused thoughtfully before nodding with a wide smile starting to form on her adorable face. "I'd like that."

I allowed Dani to sleep a little longer than usual. It was out of pure selfishness that I did because I wanted more one on one time with my daughter.

Eventually she walked into the kitchen where Kaley and I were laughing over a story I was telling.

Kaley looked up. "Good morning sleepyhead."

I rushed to make her a cup of coffee. I kissed her before handing her the warm beverage. "Sleep well?"

She nodded as she rubbed Kaley's head. "Good morning Princess."

Moments later my heart dropped when I heard someone knocking on the front door. I cut my eyes toward Dani and she nodded slightly before my sense of dread diminished greatly.

Kaley jumped up and headed to gather her things as I walked to the door.

To my surprise, not only did I see Thomas and Trish but also Jeb and Renee. I greeted everyone with a hug and decided we would fit better on the back deck than in the living room.

Kaley excitedly hugged her parents as soon as she saw then. I felt better about my role in her life as I saw the love that the three of them shared.

Once we were all settled, I smiled brightly. "This is a surprise. I wasn't expecting everyone."

Jeb grinned. "I know but we wanted to see you again before you left and figured it would be our best chance before you skipped out of town for who knows how long. Eleven years between visits is a bit much."

I laughed as I grabbed Dani's hand. "It won't be that long before I come back. I forgot home much I missed home."

Thomas and Jeb both got up to give us each hugs and letting us know how happy there were to hear our plans.

"We also need to talk to you about Dad's estate." Jeb said as he resumed his seat. "Is there anything you want?"

I shook my head. "Not unless he still has anything that belonged to my mother. That's all I want."

He nodded thoughtfully. "I don't know of anything but if we find something we'll put it aside for you. How about your third of the lumber mill? You have as much right to a share as we do."

I shook my head again. "I don't want it. Anything you feel I deserve monetarily put it in a trust for Kaley, everything else split between the two of you. I don't need the money and damn sure don't need anything Daddy left behind."

Thomas and Trish appeared shocked. "You can't do that Cali. It's going to be a lot of money when all is said and done."

I waved them off and let them know we had money without directly letting them know how much or how I acquired it. "Money is not an issue for us. Dani's mother as well as my own helped make arrangements so that we never have to worry about paying the bills."

Everyone nodded skeptically but did not press the issue further.

I looked over toward Renee. "How are you and you parents getting along?"

She looked at me politely. "Fine, why do you ask? I didn't even know you knew them."

I stared at her like she had lost her mind. "What do you mean? They practically raised me. Your brother was my best friend after all."

Suddenly everyone gazed at me as if I were the crazy one.

"What brother?" Renee replied. "I'm an only child."

I stared at her intently. "No you're not. Darryl Ryan Crews is your younger brother. We just buried him the day Daddy died. He died at his gravesite."

Jeb reached out to grab my hand. "Are you okay Cali? Daddy died when you went to visit your mother's gravesite. You beat up his girlfriend and Daddy had a heart attack while arguing with you."

My voice became panicked. "Then how did I get shot?"

Thomas stepped closer to me. "A member of Dad's church attacked you at the Gas n Go after you kicked his ass earlier in the day for threatening you and Dani when you stopped by the sub shop for lunch."

I pointed toward Renee. "I was protecting her from Chunk. He was threatening her."

Renee shook her head worriedly. "No Cali, I was still in Nashville then."

I shook my head violently and turned to Dani for back up. "Tell them I'm not crazy. Why can't they remember him?"

Dani suppressed my confusion and fear before she leaned so only I could hear. "Tedeschi."

My anger rose as I realized I was not the only person he attempted to erase Ryan from, but apparently I was the only one with whom he was unsuccessful.

I walked over to Renee and grabbed her hand so I could undo what had been done. After being in Zaria's mind, Renee's was a piece of cake. While there I also followed the path to her parents and undid what had been done to them.

Her eyes widened before tears filled her eyes. "Oh my God. How could I forget I have a brother?"

Jeb rushed over to take his girlfriend in his arms. "What have you done to her?"

I grabbed his hand and did the same.

"Holy shit. What has been done to me?" Jeb gasped.

Before Thomas and Trish had a chance to say anything I turned and grasped both their hands at once and repeated the process. They said nothing as they leaned back in their chairs with a look of bewilderment.

Kaley looked on with wild fascination before grabbing my hand. "My turn Aunt Cali, my turn."

I went into Kaley's mind and found it had not been touched. My guess was she had been protected by Dani's mother.

I smiled at looked down at her. "Sorry Princess but nobody has messed with your mind."

Kaley pouted as Trish looked at her daughter and then at me prior to looking at her daughter again before shaking her head with bewilderment.

"Are you okay honey?" Thomas asked as he caught his wife's expression.

She nodded gently. "I'm fine."

Dani pulled me close. "You shouldn't have done that. How are we going to explain this?"

I stared at her. "I don't know but Ryan DESERVES to be remembered. I'm gonna kill that bastard for making them forget."

With vengeance still on my mind I walked back over to Renee since she was the closest person to Ryan's parents and grabbed her hand again. I followed the path once more back to her father who had the most contact with everyone who had been connected to Ryan. From there I restored memories of Ryan on everyone I could find.

I released a proud sigh of relief when I finished. "Fixed that."

Dani jerked me away from everyone quickly and pulled me into the kitchen with a worried expression. "What did you just do?"

I smiled proudly at my accomplishment. "I gave everyone their memory of Ryan back."

She grabbed both my arms tightly. "You just gave Tedeschi a beacon on how to find you. We have to get your family out of here."

Fear immediately engulfed me as I rushed back outside. "Ya'll have to go!"

Chapter Fifteen

Everyone was still in a slight daze from what I had done. Thomas looked at me questionably. "Why?"

I turned so he could see the seriousness of the situation in my eyes. "I can't tell you but I swear on everything that has ever meant anything to me that everyone needs to leave right now."

Thomas nodded and started to gather his wife and daughter to leave when there was a lightning strike in the woods behind us immediately followed by Renee screaming.

Kaley started pointing in the direction of the strike. "What was that? It looked like a large man just jumped out of a tree."

"Leave now!" I screamed as I rushed in the house to change into a pair of reinforced stilettos and retrieve my steel rods which I slipped into the back of my shorts.

My idiotic brothers started toward the woods toward investigate what Kaley had seen.

I knew I had to convince them it was a bad idea but had no idea how. I ran in front of them and placed a palm on each men's chest to get them to stop.

"You need to protect the others and the best way to do that is to get them as far away as you can. If you start looking for whatever is in these woods who will guard the girls?"

I felt the all too familiar shiver run through my body and out my hands before both men ran back to gather their loved ones and rushed to their vehicles.

As soon as I knew they were going to be safe I ran in the direction of the lightning to find Tedeschi and end him.

Dani called out after me but I was on a mission. I was going to make him pay for everything he had done and the only form of recompense I was willing to accept was his life.

I stopped at the edge of a clearing when I noticed a large man standing on the opposite side. It was not the man I was seeking.

This man before me was perfection personified. He had to stand at least six foot five or so with a muscular build wearing tight black jeans and an equally tight black tee shirt. He had beautiful long jet black hair with a dark tan and eyes that were so close to black it was hard to call them anything else.

There was not a single bone in my body that was attracted to men but this amazing specimen before my eyes caused me to stir in places reserved for my wife.

His voice carried a deep baritone richness across the open field as he said. "Who do we have here? If you aren't a sight for sore eyes. It's been too long old friend."

I paused. "Do I know you?"

The man smiled showcasing perfectly white teeth. "Come on Cal, you don't recognize me? That's a shame, I thought if anyone would, it was you."

I studied him closely as he laughed lightly while shaking his magnificent head. "Come on Dudette, I know you know who I am, or at least who I used to be."

My mouth dropped as my heart leapt with joy and I took off running across the field. If anyone could bring out the best of both races it was my best friend. "Ryan, you're alive! How are you here?"

He opened his arms wide to embrace me. "I'm not the only one who can cheat death. I don't have a mother in law that is a goddess so I had to make other arrangements."

Dani emerged from the woods right where I had been standing.

"Let her go!" She screamed.

I turned to let her know it was alright but Ryan's embrace tightened around me. He slipped one of his massive arms around my neck as he yelled to my wife. "Stay there Dani. This is just two old friends catching up. If you behave I might let you have your husband back when we are done with her."

"Ryan, what are you doing?" I gasped while trying to also catch my breath.

He looked down on me with a small amount of shame before it disappeared quickly. "I'm not Ryan anymore and like I said, I had to accept other arrangements to save my life. I must take you to meet someone. I want to help you Ty."

Suddenly Ryan raised his free arm above his head and I heard my wife screaming as lightning struck my best friend's fingertip.

---

"Mother I need you!" Dani wailed as she dropped to her knees after watching her wife disappear with the large man.

Zaria appeared at Dani's side. "What is wrong daughter?"

A storm suddenly erupted with torrential downpours as Dani was crying so hard she could hardly speak. "Someone… Someone… took… took Cali. We have to get her back, I have to save her."

Zaria dropped in front of her daughter. "Who took her Danica? Was it Tedeschi?"

Dani shook her head wildly. "I do not know who he was. His features resembled a Thetan but whoever he was, he was not one."

Zaria's expression became puzzled. "Was it a Common?"

Dani shook her head again. "No, whoever he was possessed no resemblance to a Common. This being appeared to be perfect in every way. It seemed like he compelled Cali because she looked happy to see him and ran to him freely."

Zaria grabbed her daughter's hands. "Allow me to see what you witnessed."

"This is not good. Not good in the slightest. I fear we now know where your friend is and as such we know where he has taken Callista." Zaria said with a frown after she released Dani's hands.

"What do you mean Mother?" Dani asked nervously.

"The person you saw is your friend Ryan. Come with me to the palace so we can form a plan to save your love." Zaria replied and before Dani could protest, the field was empty.

---

I looked around at the stone ruins wherever Ryan brought me. "Why are you doing this Ry? You are better than this."

Ryan laughed. "Better than what Ty? Better than an old woman who likes to meddle in everyone's business and tries to rule with an iron fist? Better than her daughter who only pretended to love you because someone planted the idea in her head? Better than an entire race of women who think they are all high and mighty and treat the rest of us like we are their pets?"

I angrily glared at the man pretending to be my best friend. "Who are you and what have you done with my Ryan?"

He laughed again. "Trust me Tyborg, I was once Ryan baby. I'm the new and improved version who has been shown the truth. You joined the losing side my friend and because we go way back I am going to give you a chance to rectify that."

An unnaturally tall man with short black hair started walking across a crumbled wall towards me.

Ryan grinned as he said. "Allow me to introduce you to…"

I snarled at the man who shared the face that has haunted my nightmares the last few weeks. "Tedeschi Dunamas."

The arrogant man walked in my direction. "Ah, you have heard of me."

I slipped off my heels and gripped them in each hand as I rushed toward him. "Yes, and I'm going to kill you."

Before I had a chance to react Ryan tackled me to the ground. He punched me forcefully in the ribs causing me to scream out in pain. "Tsk Tsk Cali, always so hot-headed. You need to behave so you can hear what Mr. Dunamas has to say."

Tedeschi looked at me and laughed. "Calm down little one. I do not know what you hope to accomplish. I am immortal. You cannot harm me."

I smiled evilly as I glared at the humongous man as Ryan lifted me to my feet while holding me from behind. "Wanna bet? Just give me a chance. Don't tell me the big bad Thetan is afraid to fight a woman half your size."

Tedeschi's face started to become red as his eyes gave me more attention than before. "Why would I fear a tiny whore that is no larger than my excrement?"

I rolled my eyes while struggling to escape Ryan's grasp. "Oh okay. I get it now. You think you are some kind of big shit."

Ryan had a fleeting look of pride and amusement before it turned into a scowl and he swiftly punched me in the opposite side of my body as last time. "Still have to run that mouth of yours don't you? It's going to get you into trouble one day."

I winced in pain as I nodded my head. "It probably will but not today. Let me go Ryan, you don't have to do this you know. You are better than this. Please don't make me hurt you."

Before Ryan could respond, Tedeschi stormed over and slapped me across the face. "You will hold your tongue in my presence or I will rip it out. I have brought you to this place to offer you what that horrid woman has taken away and allow you the opportunity to join my quest to seek vengeance."

My head snapped back and I glared up at this large exaggeration of everything male. I angrily spit out the blood that had started to form from my mouth. "You must have read my mind because at this moment vengeance is the only thing I seek."

Tedeschi smiled triumphantly and relaxed slightly, as did Ryan's grip. "Good, how is it your people say it? We are on the same page. I have it in me to give you back your manhood if you agree to join my fight. I am in need of strong warriors and from what your friend has told me, in spite of your size, you are among the strongest."

While I still could not escape from my friend, I had a feeling that if I could get just a moment of trust built up, it might allow me the window I needed to get away.

I stopped struggling so hard against Ryan but kept the grip on my heels firm and looked at Tedeschi as if he caught my interest. "Go on."

"What Zaria has done to you is beyond pale. To turn you into such a weak being for no reason other than her daughter found you desirable is reprehensible. Join me and I have it in me to give you a new form with great physical power as I did for your friend here."

I never gave his words even a second of serious consideration. Not that long ago I desired nothing more than to become a man again but not at this cost. Being a woman was not near as bad as I initially thought and I'd much rather be a petite woman any day than become his version of a man.

I paused as if I were sincerely taking his words into consideration spitting out more blood. "Your offer is tempting. What do I get out of it besides being a man again?"

Tedeschi appeared surprised at my question. He must have believed that becoming a man was enough. "What more could you ask for? I am willing to grant you the greatest gift, reinstatement to the brotherhood as an esteemed member."

I thought hard, trying to think of something I could say that would make him trust me enough that he would make Ryan release me. I smiled as an idea came to mind that would play on his feelings of superiority.

I shook my head. "That is not enough. I also wish to have Zaria's daughter. I want to make Danica wait on me in the same manner she made me take care of her for all these years. I will make her regret everything her mother did to me."

I had to hide my disgust when Tedeschi's slightly elongated canine teeth made an appearance as a sinister smile formed. "Have your wife become your concubine? Yes I believe that can be arranged. So do we have an accord?"

I nodded again and glanced down at Ryan's large hands. "We have a custom where I am from that two people shake hands when they come to an agreement."

Tedeschi glanced at Ryan. "Release your newest brother."

I braced to attack when unexpectedly, Ryan's grip tightened. "I can't do that Boss. She is playing you. She would never put Dani in that position, she loves her too much. If I let her go she will attack. She is strong willed and nothing you say will convince her to join us. It is best to kill her now and bring my friend back before he reaches the other side."

My eyes filled with tears as I peered over my shoulder at Ryan. I searched his dark eyes, looking for my lifelong friend somewhere in that new body. I could not believe he actually used his knowledge of me to betray my plan and then suggest I die.

For the first time since we arrived I felt real fear. Prior to this very moment I had been convinced I could defeat Tedeschi and save my best friend but now I started to have my doubts.

Oddly it was not Tedeschi I feared. He still underestimated me and that was always an advantage.

It was my best friend that had me quivering with panic. The new enhanced Ryan was the only person alive who could understand how my crazy mind worked. He was also the only person I knew that could beat me in a fight. We had trained together for fifteen years and if anyone could anticipate my moves, it was him. The old Ryan I could have taken down without hurting him but this one had me in serious trouble.

Tedeschi sighed and turned to walk away. "Very well, if you feel it is necessary then kill the whore. We will gather his spirit before it reaches the greater plane."

Ryan released me and I dove straight for Tedeschi with my heels aimed at his temples.

I smiled at the look of shock he started to wear but I'm sure the expression soon migrated from his face to mine as Ryan grabbed the back of my loose fitting tank and yanked me backwards before I made contact.

Yet again he punched me fiercely in the ribs and I felt bones breaking as I dropped the shoes and clutched my side protectively.

My former best friend stood over me laughing. "Damn Dudette, you totally forgot I knew about your super shoes as you liked to call them. Boss is right. You ain't been a woman a month and you are already getting stupid. "

His expression suddenly became more serious. "Can't you see I'm trying to help you Ty. You spent both lives trying to prove yourself a man and I am finally giving you the opportunity to have the life you always wanted."

I clutched my ribs tightly trying to suppress the pain as I spat at Ryan. "You aren't trying to help me. You are trying to kill me."

He sighed as he looked down at my small, probably broken body. His voice became more like the Ryan I knew. "Can't you see Tyborg, he can rebuild you. He has the technology. He can make you better than you were. Better...stronger...faster."

I stared at him as he used the line from one of our favorite shows we watched from his father's VHS collection growing up.

My Ryan, the great guy who cared and would do anything for me was still in there somewhere.

Another idea came to mind so I shrugged in defeat. "You're right Ryborg."

I raised my hand, asking for help to my feet. As soon as our hands met I searched to remove his compulsion. This time removing a compulsion was much harder than at any point prior.

Ryan was absolutely convinced he was trying to save me and that was why he had been able to maintain the best attributes of both races. His compulsion had become resolute in his mind and try as I might, I could not figure out a way to remove it.

I released his hand and fell back to the floor exhausted as I glared at Tedeschi.

He had used Ryan's fear that his best friend was in emotional pain and becoming a weaker person to fuel his servitude. He showed him my suicide attempt as concrete proof I was not happy with what I had become.

In order words, he was using Ryan's love for me against everyone I cared about.

I laid there gasping for breath, wishing my pain would go away so I could finish Tedeschi when I felt a warm electrical charge beginning to flow through my body.

I felt a certain relief the accompanied no longer being in pain and it was soon followed by a surge of energy.

I continued to pretend I was hurt as Ryan glared at me again. "What did you just try to do to me? You are going to release my friend, even if I have to break that small body to do it."

With my Ryan still in there somewhere I knew I could not hurt that body. There is no possible way I would harm a hair on his head.

I acted like I was scared and started to move away from him. "Don't do this Ry. I know you are in there. I've already been rebuilt. I'm better, stronger and faster than Tedeschi could ever make me. I'm happy now. You saw me in a moment of weakness when I was mourning you and felt at fault over what happened to you. I was trying to give this gift back because I thought it caused your death."

Ryan stopped his stalking of me. "How can you even say that Ty? Have you seen yourself? Besides, you tried your best to warn me."

I nodded and smiled. "As far as women go I could have been turned into worse. Tedeschi was the one who killed you Ry. This body allowed me to save Dani, Gregorio and Daniel after your boss made the accident worse in an attempt to kill my wife."

Ryan looked to Tedeschi to tell him what I said was a lie but oddly he remained silent.

I started to stand. "This body allowed me to save your sister Renee when she was about to be attacked by a bigot. Because I was given this body I was able to reunite your sister with your parents."

A small tear started to form in Ryan's eye. "Evie!"

I continued as I saw I was getting through to him. "The gifts I received with this body allowed me to restore the memory of you to everyone who cares about you when your boss tried to erase them. He wanted it to be like you never existed but my gifts, the gifts that only came with this body, allowed me to stop him. I love you Ryan, you are my brother and I could never allow him to remove even a single thought of you."

Tedeschi glared at me. "That was you?" Next thing I knew his massive hand was around my throat threatening to snap my neck. "You are the one who killed my brother. You will pay for the rest of eternity."

The area filled with blinding light and I heard my wife scream.

I glanced around and noticed what appeared to be three versions of my wife. I immediately recognized Dani and Zaria, the third had to be her twin sister Polina. Standing next to her was a tall woman with flowing red hair and gray eyes wearing some sort of gold armor.

"Release her immediately!" Dani screamed as she charged in toward us.

Tedeschi reached up and backhanded her with his free hand, sending her flying into the remains of the wall he crossed when he first approached.

"No!" I yelled as rage suddenly filled my entire being.

Warmth engulfed me as I stared at the man who dared raise his hand to my wife. "You will soon join your brother for doing that."

Tedeschi released a roar that made the ground shake as he grabbed his hand in pain. He stormed over to where Dani was lying and lifted her in front of him. "If I cannot touch you then I will touch your wife while you watch."

He grabbed her breast forcefully to taunt me further. " Come try to stop me. Your touch will be as painful for her as it is for me and marks my words, you will have to go through her to get to me."

I reached behind me for the extra stakes I had brought but they melted down my back as soon as my fiery hands made contact.

Zaria, Polina and the red haired woman all circled Tedeschi.

"You are not leaving here alive." Dani's sister snarled.

The red haired woman nodded. "You are not living past the next five minutes."

Zaria remained curiously quiet as she glared at the man holding her daughter.

Tedeschi laughed. "You can't touch me without me killing one of your own, but I welcome you to try."

I attempted to calm myself so I could offer assistance. As soon as I did Ryan walked to my side and discreetly handed one my heels over. His eyes once again matched what I always remembered; kind, loving and brown.

"I'm sorry Cal. I don't know what he did to me but I'm back thanks to you. He's trying to stall everyone while he waits for reinforcements. This is a trap."

He cut his eyes toward the remains of a statue. "Remember that movie we did in Greece?"

I nodded as it became clear what it was he wanted to do.

He grabbed me around the neck and marched up beside him. "I have this one Boss."

Tedeschi smiled. "Good work Common." He shoved Dani toward Zaria with such force that the mother staggered backwards to catch her daughter. "Bring her to me."

As soon as we were within arm's reach, I felt Ryan's grip on me release. As a team, Ryan aimed for one temple as I aimed for the other. Luckily we both made contact almost simultaneously and Tedeschi dropped to the ground with stilettos sticking out of both sides of his head.

Once I knew the man had joined his brother, I rushed to my wife.

I looked up at Zaria. "Is she going to be okay?"

Zaria nodded. "Yes child, she is tougher than she appears."

I leaned over her and placed my hands on either side of her beautiful head as I kissed her passionately and willed her to wake up.

I felt a tingling warmth flow through me and Dani wrapped her fingers in my hair and returned my kiss with equal passion.

She started to stand but I stopped her. "We don't know how bad you are hurt."

She looked to her mother then back to me. "Thanks to you, I have no injuries at all. You have the healing gift."

Ryan joined my side. "Others are coming. They will be here in a matter of moments."

Zaria looked at me intently. "Go remove your shoes from Tedeschi's head and be waiting next to his body. Hopefully we will not have to fight but be prepared in case we do."

I could tell from her stern expression that I needed to do as she said, no matter much I wanted to hug my best friend, welcome him back and thank him for his help.

She turned to Ryan and smiled briefly. "Welcome back from the dead. Stand out of sight, seeing you might prompt them to undertake a foolish attempt to rescue you."

Ryan barely made it behind the ruined statue when three men similar in stature to Tedeschi and seven foul creatures that looked like variations of what my mind pictured trolls, ogres and goblins being. One of the particularly nasty looking creatures stared at me with utter contempt and started drooling as he growled in my direction.

I could have sworn I heard him call my name.

The four women made a united front as Zaria held up her hand. "Halt. Return to whist you came and I shall allow you to live. Continue you foolish endeavor against my kingdom and those of my sisters and you too will suffer the same fate as your brother in arms."

"What is this fate you speak of?" One of the large men asked angrily.

Zaria waved her hand in my direction. "As you can see, Tedeschi is dead. As is his brother Adorious and as you all will be if you do not depart. "

The man laughed. "Do you mean to tell me that tiny girl defeated our greatest warrior? She is but a child, larger things emerge from the pimples on this trolls buttocks. "

I suddenly felt a voice in my head as the red haired woman glanced back at me. "Drop the shoes and get angry. Show him what you are capable of."

I stared at the man and tried to get mad but I was too tired.

I once again heard the voice. "That is their leader. His name is Theos and has been a bane to our existence since his birth. Do you have any idea what that man will do to your love if he has the chance? The troll by his side was once your father and that man saved him from his eternal punishment on the hopes of killing you. Zaria wishes this to end peacefully but if we do not end this now, you and Danica will never have a moment of peace."

As I listened to what the woman told me I started to fill my anger rise. There was no possible way I was going to let my father escape his justice for killing my mother. I refuse to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder worrying when these men would attack.

I looked at my hands which were glowing from the fire and wished there was some way I could still hold my weapons.

Slowly the flames receded to just above my wrists. I tentatively picked up one of the heels. When it did not melt I grabbed the other before I used my intense speed to attack the man talking to Zaria.

He was still trying to figure out the source of the fire when I stabbed his temples.

Four of the creatures roared with rage as soon as he fell to the ground and attacked me but their attempt was a futile effort because they all caught fire as soon as they made contact with me.

The two remaining Thetans and their Commons raised their hands in defeat as they started to back away.

I felt Dani suppressing my anger as I looked for my father. I was not surprised to see him turning to make his attack now that touching me caused him no danger.

I dodged him easily and kicked him in the back. "Come on now Daddy, you can do better than that."

He roared a crude attempt to say my name as he clumsily moved toward me again.

I realized in that moment that I could easily kill him if I desired but even as evil as I considered him, even though I never suffered a feeling of loss when he left his mortal body, I could not kill the man who was my father.

I grabbed his hand as I tripped him. While still holding his hand I looked deep inside him for something good and found nothing but darkness and hate. I searched deeper hoping to find something he loved but found he only loved three things; power, lust, and money.

I sighed deeply before whispering to him. "Father, those men and their kind walking away have power. The type of power you crave. It is not fair for them to be walking around misusing what you feel you so deeply deserve. Don't you feel that it is your duty to rid the world of men like that?"

The creature that was once my father roared as he nodded his hideous excuse for a head before I released him.

I knew I had sent him to slaughter as he ran in the direction of the two Thetans with immense anger in his eyes. He was no match for them and moments later my father was dead.

With the threat over and my adrenaline waning, I fell to my knees in exhaustion, Dani barely reached my side when darkness overtook me.

---

Zaria looked down at Callista before she cut her eyes to Aphrodite. "Now who could have possibly convinced that wonderful girl to attack Theos when he was not expecting it?"

Aphrodite smiled triumphantly. "It was not me cousin. I simply pointed out what would happen if he were allowed to walk away. Everything after that was completely of her own mind. I can't help it if our ideas of justice are similar, it must be coincidence."

"I do not believe in such things. I have wondered your reasons for taking an interest in her." Zaria replied while raising a questioning eyebrow.

Aphrodite smirked. "She is powerful. I sense she is stronger than either you or I."

Zaria shook her head. "Not yet, but as you know, in time she will be."

Polina joined her twin sister's side as she looked at Cali. "You did good sis. I bet it's never a dull moment with her in your life, plus she has an amazing body." She then frowned slightly. "I wish I were so lucky. I still have no idea why I stay with Christopher but every time I think about leaving, something about him coerces me to stay."

Dani nodded knowingly as she searched for something to cover up her wife's naked form since Cali's clothes burned off when her anger spiked. "After Cali is rested we can take care of that for you."

Dani noticed Ryan gawking at Cali from a distance. "Avert your eyes perve, this is still your best friend."

Ryan looked away as he timidly approached Zaria. "Excuse me but what happens to me now?"

Zaria smiled. "That is entirely up to you. You can either stay on this plane, as you are now, minus your past identity and any gifts you may have received or you may join your ancestors in the greater plane where you will be welcomed with open arms."

Ryan pondered her offer for moment. "Will I still know Cali if I choose to stay here?"

Zaria nodded. "I could not erase her from your memory even if that was my desire. The two of you are too close. I could no more remove your memory of Callista than I could remove Polina from Danica's mind."

Ryan smiled. "Then I chose to stay here. Can I be someone cool? Like a professional musician or something? I want to give fame a shot since they always get the hottest women. Something tells me women will worship me like I was a God."

Dani laughed as she noticed her mother's disapproving glare. "He is joking Mother. Please give him the life he chooses except with a beautiful wife and adoring fans."

Ryan turned toward Dani. "I don't want to be married."

Zaria nodded. "It will be done before the dawn. Let us all depart from this place into more comfortable accommodations so Callista can rest properly."

Polina stopped her mother before she sent her home and gripped her sister's hand. "Can you send me with Danica? I would like to spend a few days with my sister before I return to my husband. It has been too long since we have spent time together."

Zaria smiled. "Of course dear."

Chapter Sixteen

The sound of laughter woke me from a deep sleep where I was having a rather strange dream about my best friend.

I looked around and realized I was back in the cabin but had no idea how long I had been out.

After a quick trip to the restroom I put on my robe before I went in search of the laughing.

I saw my beautiful wife and her equally beautiful sister sitting around the table on the back deck talking to Ryan. I smiled at the sight of everyone being so relaxed and happy.

I realized I was being messed with because the identical twins were dressed just alike.

They both looked up in unison and said. "Good morning Baby. Do you want some coffee?"

Ryan laughed. "Looks like you are in trouble sis. I think Dani wants to test you."

I smirked as I walked right up to my wife without hesitation and crawled in her lap before giving her an earth shattering kiss.

Dani grinned. "How did you know it was me?"

I rubbed her cheek gently. "I followed my heart and it led me straight to you."

Polina wiped a tear away. "Why can't my husband say something like that? That bastard would probably be like. ' Double the pleasure, double the fun.'"

Ryan laughed as he nudged her. "I gotta say, that thought has crossed my mind a couple of times since yesterday."

Polina's mouth dropped as she looked to me as if I were about to get mad.

I started laughing hard because I knew he didn't mean it as anything but a joke.

Dani poured me a cup of coffee from the insulated pitcher she had brought outside and fixed it just the way I liked. "Let me up and I will make you some breakfast."

Polina started to stand. "I'll help you."

As they walked back into the cabin Ryan looked at me. "How ya doing sis?"

I smiled and changed chairs so I could sit closer to him. I was so happy to have my best friend back that I had to hold his hand to make sure he was real. "I'm great. How are you?"

He smiled timidly. "I think I'm okay. This whole two sets of memories thing takes some getting used to. Apparently my name is now Adam Michael Carson. I'm the lead guitarist in a very popular band that I recently quit and am in the midst of going through a divorce."

He leaned back and sighed. "I made a joke in front of your mother in law and apparently she didn't think it was funny."

I giggled slightly. "Well, at least you're famous so that should help with the ladies."

Ryan shook his head. "Get this, the band all wore masks. The only way a fan could know it's me is if they recognize all these tattoos. The weird thing is, each tattoo has a specific memory attached. I know why I got each and every one of these."

He pointed to a crude bell on his chest. "This is from a teenage crush." He then moved his finger to an angel on his massive chest, "This is apparently for a sister who passed away when I was a teenager." He then pointed to a cross. "This is for my parents who died in a different crash a few years ago. I have one sister that is still living and we are very close but no other family."

I had no idea what to say so I hugged him tightly. "Maybe you can also use those as reminders for your family here."

He nodded. "I've thought of that. I'd love to see them but I'm not sure how I would react."

I sighed. "Ry, you are dead. I was there and cried all through your service. It was absolutely, without a doubt, the worst thing I've ever had to experience. Your father saw your body on the set. He watched the tape of you dying in my arms. We can't tell your family, they would never believe us."

He wiped a few tears away from his eyes. "I know. It sucks so bad to know something like this and can't tell them."

My eyes started to water as I thought of my daughter. "I feel your pain brother. Trust me."

He looked at me questionably. "What do you mean? Everyone's memory just flipped to Cali when you changed."

I ran in the house quickly to retrieve my phone before I rejoined Ryan's side. I pulled up a picture of Kaley before handing him the phone. "Does she look like anyone you know?"

Ryan's mouth dropped. "My God Cali, she looks just like you. Who is she?"

I nodded. "You remember when we came back after your father was shot?"

He nodded again. "Yeah, I also remember you hooking up with… Nooo."

My tears started to flow freely. "My niece turned nine a month ago. You do the math."

He pulled me into his large lap and let me cry myself out. "She can never know either. You really do understand how I feel. At least the Three Amigos still know everything."

I laughed and wiped my eyes. "Thank goodness for that."

I leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'm glad to have you back."

He smiled brightly. "It's good to be back." He kissed my cheek in return. "Thanks to you."

An angry cough from the door brought us out of our moment.

Dani rolled her eyes as she sat our plates down in front of us. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this part of the change."

Ryan laughed. "Can't a brother show his sister he loves her. I was just telling Cali thank you for saving me."

Dani pulled me from Ryan's lap and led me to my seat. "A handshake would suffice."

She sat down next to me with her eye still mildly twitching.

Polina walked up with her and Ryan's plates. She paused when she looked at her sister. "Okay, who pissed her off?"

Ryan laughed. "She can't get used to how Cali and I interact now. I think she's jealous thinking her wife is going to decide she wants a taste of the new and improved Ry Man."

That actually got Dani to laugh. "As if." She stopped laughing and stared at Ryan again. "When did your attitude change anyway? Used to be you were all Cal this and dudette that. Now it's always Cali and you going on about her being your sister."

Ryan laughed even harder. "After she burned all her clothes off, seeing Cali totally nekkid made it so there was no way I could ever think of her as a guy again."

Polina spit out the orange juice she had taken a drink of before she looked at her sister. "He has a point you know. I mean, I know she's your wife and all but dang sis. I always told you Mom liked you best. I wish she'd make me a woman that looked like that."

Dani finally started laughing too as she pulled me to her side. She looked at Ryan and Polina and said, "You two can look all you want but I'm the only one allowed to do this."

She then bent down and gave me a very passionate kiss.

Polina laughed. "Unless I catch her when she's tired and convince her I'm you. It wouldn't be the first time we did that."

Dani casually flipped her sister off as she continued kissing me.

Ryan started to stand and dropped his napkin over our heads. "Get a room. Remember I'm a heartbroken man on a vacation after my wife left me. The last thing I need to see is you two being all lovey dovey. I'll be right back."

Polina laughed after Ryan disappeared inside. "I had no idea Mother had a sense of humor. That was almost as mean as when I swapped out the bodies of a squabbling couple back in the nineties."

Dani glared at her sister. "I hope Ryan doesn't end up like that poor girl you changed. The one who became a guy was an ass. I felt so bad for that girl. You owe her big time."

Polina frowned. "I need to think of a way to make it up to her."

Dani nodded. "I hate to admit this but Ryan brought it on himself. Mother did give him everything he asked for. I guess he'll never joke about all his conquests again."

We were interrupted when Jeb and Renee walked around back.

"No wonder you didn't answer your door. The party is back here." Jeb said as he walked up the steps.

He paused when he reached the top. "Holy shit I'm seeing double." He then grinned as he looked straight at me. "Please God don't let there be another Cali running around somewhere. The world couldn't handle it."

Renee nudged her boyfriend. "There already is another one running around. Have you seen your niece lately?"

Jeb laughed. "That's so true. I feel sorry for my brother."

I jumped up to hug him. "Good to see you. What brings you out here?"

"Just wanted to see my baby sister before she leaves. You had us worried yesterday."

I smiled as I led the couple to the table. "I'm good, I told you not to worry."

I was about the introduce them to Polina when Ryan walked back out. "Sorry about that. I takes a lot longer the drain this snake. Good Lord, it's so big now I don't have to hold it. I can just aim and shoot."

I coughed to shut Ryan up before he said too much.

He looked up at me and then saw his sister over my shoulder. He stopped dead in his tracks and his voice became no more than a whisper. "Evie."

He almost sounded like his old self when he said it.

Renee bounded across the deck and wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck. "I knew you weren't dead. I just knew it!"

Jeb glared at Ryan ready to fight. "What the hell is going on?"

Renee spun around with tears in her eyes. "I don't know how but Ryan is alive. This is my brother."

Ryan stared at me a dumbfounded but I knew what it was. It was the same reason Ryan knew I was Ty. You can fool the mind but you can't fool the heart.

Ryan finally gave in and returned her embrace. "Please don't ask me how this happened and you can't tell anyone else but yes Evie, it's me."

We sat around the large table and Renee was excited to learn that Adam now had a condo in Nashville but was very upset to learn about another sister. Ryan calmly explained that she would always be his sister but she would have to share him with his other sister Jane. Renee finally agreed to withhold judgment until she met her.

Jeb sighed bewilderedly. "This is too much. I'd just as soon forget about all this."

Polina reached over and grabbed Jeb's hand. His head hit the table hard as he leaned forward and was asleep instantly.

She looked at all of us. "After he wakes we cannot mention anything about what we know."

I laughed at my sister in law's gift. "That is really cool."

She smiled. "I know but I hear you have some cool ones yourself."

Dani jumped up like she had forgotten something. She walked up to me and leaned into my ear. "Break her compulsion. She's miserable."

Before I did what Dani asked, I wanted to make sure she wasn't being overly protective. I looked to Polina. "Do you enjoy being married?"

"Hell no." she scoffed. "But I can't seem to find the courage to leave."

I reached for her hand and searched her feelings. I had never met her husband and did not like him from the things I saw. I broke her compulsion while giving him one that he needed to walk away from everything they owned except for the clothes on his back.

I smiled. "Your husband just left on a journey to find himself. You will return home to him having left you everything so he can start fresh."

Polina's violet eyes opened wide as Dani hugged her. "You have your life back sis."

Polina reached out and pulled me into their embrace. "Thank you both so much."

I were still holding each other when a voice behind us said. "Hot damn, it's not fair when my baby sister gets to live every man's fantasy. How'd the hell did you manage to get twins Caligirl?"

I laughed and ran over to Thomas. "What are you doing here?"

He smiled and pointed to Kaley. "She was worried and would not shut up til we came to check on you."

I reached down and lifted my daughter in my arms. "I'm fine Princess."

She hugged my neck tightly. "I was so worried when you ran off into the woods. Are you okay?"

I nodded. "It was just my friend Adam playing a joke on me."

I pointed at Ryan, "Was that the man you and Renee saw?"

Kaley nodded. "He's good looking. Can I meet him."

I laughed loudly. "Of course."

I looked back at Thomas. "You are so going to have your hands full."

He nodded wildly. "Don't I know it. Luckily I learned a lot raising you and you didn't turn out so bad."

I looked around for his wife. "Where's Trish?"

He shrugged. "She stayed home. She has not felt well since we left yesterday."

Kaley lightly kicked my side. "Can we go meet him now Aunt Cali?"

I was trying to delay her so Ryan and Renee could talk more before Jeb woke up so I turned toward Dani who was standing next to her sister with her back turned to Kaley. "Don't you want to say hi to Aunt Dani first?"

I sat Kaley down and she ran straight to Polina. "Hi Aunt Dani."

Polina looked down. "You must be the infamous Kaley I have heard so much about."

Kaley screamed in surprise as my wife picked her up. "Where's my kiss Princess?"

"What the hell!" The little girl yelled as her gaze kept shifting back and forth between the two.

"Katelyn Dawn, what have I told you about cussing?" I yelled out.

Ryan looked up and started laughing like crazy as he witnessed everything.

Thomas laughed as well as he watched Ryan walk toward us. "Who is he?"

I smiled. "He's an old friend of Ryan and me. His name is Adam, he's a really great guy."

I then decided I needed to explain why he was talking to Renee in the corner because Thomas was eying them suspiciously. "He lives in Nashville and is an old friend of Renee's too so wipe that look off your face. He's going through a rough divorce and lost a friend on top of it. The last thing he needs is you harassing him."

Thomas nodded. "Sorry."

Ryan walked over and introduced himself to Thomas. "Nice to meet you, I'm Adam Carson."

Apparently the name sparked some recognition with Thomas. He suddenly stood a little taller and stared at the tattoos running down Ryan's arm. "I know you. I love your music. Can I get a picture with you?"

Thomas turned to me with a small amount of awe. "Why didn't you tell me you were good friends with Adam Carson? That is so cool little sis!"

I wanted so bad to laugh at Ryan's expression. He was absolutely loving the fact my brother was fawning over him as if he were someone special.

Thomas waved Kaley over. "Come here baby girl. You know that CD we were listening to in the truck? This is the guy that played guitar on those songs."

Kaley offered her small hand to Ryan. "Nice to meet you sir."

Ryan lifted my daughter in his arms. "Nice to meet you too Kaley. Your aunt has told me all about you. She loves you very much." He then winked at me as he looked at her again. "You are a pretty one. I bet you are going to be prettier than your aunt before too long."

Kaley beamed as she looked at me. "He knows my name and thinks I'm pretty!"

I nodded. "It's because you are beautiful Princess. He knows your name because I am proud of you and I told him all about you."

Thomas handed me his phone before he joined Ryan's side. The sight of them all so happy warmed my heart.

After we finished I handed Thomas my phone and made him take our picture as I pulled my wife into the group shot. Ryan thought it was funny when he pulled me to the opposite hip as Kaley and made Thomas snap another picture.

The day was probably one of the greatest of my life except for my wedding day and it continued until late in the night.

Chapter Seventeen

Almost everyone I cared about were still on the back porch as I walked back into cabin to use the restroom when I heard a knock on the front door.

I was concerned when I opened it and saw Trish looking like she had been crying for hours.

"Are you okay?" I asked

She shook her head. "Can we talk privately please?"

I stepped outside and closed the door. "Everyone is around back so here would probably be best."

I led Trish to the small table. "What's the matter?"

She shuffled nervously for a moment before looking at me. "Please tell me I am not going crazy."

I frowned, confused by her words. "I'd love to but why do you need me to tell me you that?"

Trish sighed. "Please be honest with me, were you ever a man named Tyler Dawson?"

I stared at her for what seemed like an eternity. "How did you know? I thought only people who loved me could remember that."

She intently stared at me like I was crazy. "I know you well enough to know that you know who Kaley's father is. You gave me the most precious little girl in the world. How could I not love you for that?"

I shook my head. "My memory might be fuzzy but I thought you hated what we did. I distinctly remember how you cried afterward. It made me feel lower than low."

She paused for a moment. "I was not proud of what happened. I love my husband. I always have and I did feel guilty afterwards, but I was desperate because we could not have children of our own. The doctor said one of the chemicals used at the lumber mill caused both Thomas and Jeb to be sterile. Your father obviously hushed the whole thing up with his money and connections but the damage was done."

She took my hand. "The only way to have a child that shared our blood was for you to be the father. Given how Thomas had treated you in the past, we both knew you would never help willingly so when I saw you at work that day I seduced you. I did not want to cheat but we wanted a baby so badly that I was frantic. I would say that I am sorry but I'm not. Had I not done we would not have Kaley."

I searched for something to say but I was speechless. All these years I had buried the event because of my guilt but it turns out I had nothing to feel guilty about. A small part of me wanted to be mad but the much larger part could understand why she did it. I thought about the daughter I loved more than anything and was happy Trish did what she did.

I smiled and squeezed Trish's hand. "We made a pretty fantastic little girl."

Trish laughed lightly. "Yes we did. She's just like you and worships the ground you walk on. I know you want to be a part of her life. I want you to be a part of her life too. Please don't disappear again, she loves you and Dani too much."

I smiled as I stood. "Dani and I are going to buy a house locally so we will be around a lot more often. Come on, if I'm not back soon everyone will be out front."

She hugged me tightly before she started toward the door. "Thank you for my daughter. You need to know that Thomas now thinks Kaley came from a sperm donor. It blows his mind how much Kaley looks like you, it tickles him to death when people comment about it. You do know we named her after you don't you? We used to call her Katey but she didn't like it and wanted to be called Kaley instead. I can't help but laugh at Thomas because half the time when she gets in trouble he yells Callista Dawn instead of Katelyn Dawn."

I laughed because I could easily remember the times he called out my name like that. "I wondered about her name."

The door opened wide and our daughter stared at us with her hands on her hips. " Hi Mama, are you feeling better? Everybody sent me looking for Aunt Cali."

Trish lifted our daughter in her arms. "I'm doing much better Kaleygirl. Let's go find your Daddy."

I sat down next to Dani and apologized for taking so long and gave her a cliff notes version of what happened since nobody was paying attention to us.

Dani smiled. "We will go talk to a realtor tomorrow. You know Mother wants us to spend time in her realm to help you understand your gifts. She believes that with time your powers will exceed hers."

I nodded. "Can we take some time to relax first? I want to revel in our new life without having to mourn anyone or worry that someone wants to kill me."

Dani smiled. "I think that is a great idea."

I was contently looking at all my family when Kaley walked over and climbed in my lap. "When are you leaving Aunt Cali?"

I kissed the top of her head. "Not for a couple more weeks but don't worry we will come to see you as much as we can."

She smiled as she leaned into me. "I hope so. I like having you both around."

Dani smiled as she wrapped her arm around me. "Could life be more perfect than this?"

I thought of my grandmother and Dani's mother, wishing they were also here. "Yes, but not by much."

I could not help but to laugh when I saw Grandma being helped around the back of the house by an older looking version of Dani and Polina. Zaria must have read my mind again.

I nudged my wife. "Look at your mother. I cannot believe how she looks."

Dani smiled. "She does that from time to time. It easier to tell people we are her daughters that way."

I stood with Kaley still in my arms as I walked over to see them. "What a pleasant surprise. I'm happy to see both of you."

Grandma smiled. "I have not heard from you for a few days so I decided to come check on you myself and I ran into Dani's mother in the parking lot."

Zaria smiled as she looked at my daughter. "You must be Kaley. What a beautiful girl you are."

Kaley grinned. "Thank you."

I guided the women back to the table and Kaley offered to get them drinks.

Grandma studied Kaley closely as she walked back in the cabin before she took my hand. "It is amazing how much she looks like you. Are you sure there isn't something you're not telling me? That little girl has Davenport blood in her as sure as I am breathing. I'd bet my life on it."

I laughed nervously. Dani was so right when she called my grandmother intuitive. "Grandma, I would love nothing more than to say I had a part in her creation but it would be impossible for me to father a child."

She raised her eyebrow and grinned like the cat that ate the canary. "That may be true for Callista Dawn, but Tyler Drew could have easily done that. If memory serves me correctly, which it does often, you came home almost ten years ago after Ryan's father was shot. I saw so little of you after my Rosy passed that I hold close anytime I have seen you in either life and I distinctly remember seeing you walk into the hospital as I was walking out. I was going to stop you but Ryan was so upset I knew you needed to be there for him."

My mouth dropped as I stared at her without knowing what to say. I looked to my wife for support but she was equally dumbfounded.

Zaria spoke up in our stead. "Yes Elise, she is Tyler's daughter but she believes she belongs to Thomas and Patricia. I do not believe I have to tell you how important it is not to share this information with anyone."

My grandmother nodded as she wiped her eyes. "Why do I have the feeling that you are more than you appear? I might be old but I'm not dumb, I pay attention when people talk. I know you are someone powerful from the small things Cali and Dani have said when they slip up or think I'm not listening."

Zaria smiled. "You intuitions are correct."

She went on to tell my grandmother who she was while Grandma listened intently without showing any signs of doubt.

After Zaria finished, Grandma released my hand so she could hug Zaria. "Thank you for the extra time you gave me with my daughter and granddaughter, I will eternally be grateful."

Zaria appeared startled momentarily before she smiled and returned her embrace. She gazed lovingly at my wife and I before she replied."It has been my pleasure."

Our moment was broken when Kaley returned with drinks for the ladies. Both of them fawned over my daughter, making her feel like the princess I truly believed her to be.

Dani told my grandmother of our plan to find a place locally. She told her how we had decided to split our time between staying on her mother's island and here.

To my surprise she talked of how we might sell our house in California because she could not see us needing it very much. I had no problem with the idea because I had never been to the place we lived in now so had not formed any type of attachment to it.

With movie work no longer a driving force in my life and Ryan living in Nashville, I could not think of a reason to go back if Dani did not want to.

Grandma stopped Dani from talking. "Don't buy a place here. Move into mine, I'm leaving it to Cali anyway. Other than the small things I'm leaving Renee, Cali is going to inherit everything I own since she is my only legal heir." She subtly cut her eyes to Kaley as she said that.

Dani started to protest but Grandma waved her off. "I already know how much you love my home. It's a big house so our bedrooms will be on opposite ends so you don't have to worry about me hearing when you do what married folks do late at night."

Kaley looked up at me. "What do married folks do Aunt Cali? "

Everyone at the table, even Zaria, laughed.

I smiled at her, loving her innocence. "Married folks talk a lot Baby."

She nodded skeptically. "Oh okay, I thought she meant sex. You and Aunt Dani aren't near as loud as Mama and Daddy are. You should have heard them the night I met you when Daddy came to the apartment. I think they forgot I was in the house."

Everyone laughed hysterically as Trish yelled out, "Katelyn Dawn Dawson!"

Ryan walked over and hugged me from behind. "Oh yeah, Trish and Thomas have their hands full."

I hugged my daughter tightly and kissed her cheek before looking up at him. "Yeah but they have backup when things get too bad."

Utter contentment flowed through my body as I watched Ryan and Polina flirting with each other while also swapping stories with Jeb and Thomas as Trish and Renee listened intently. Kaley decided the other group looked like more fun so she jumped from my lap to join the others.

I leaned over to give Dani a kiss. I no longer missed being Tyler Dawson. He never had the chance at a life like this with so many people who loved him.

I knew life was going to be a challenge because I still had a lot to learn about being a woman as well as learning about my gifts but I was willing to become an eager student. I was looking forward to spending time where Dani grew up, I figured it could only make us closer, if that was possible.

My new life would never be boring but I was okay with that.

I noticed Kaley getting angry that the adults were ignoring her so she started walking back to where she knew she always had undivided attention.

"Now tonight is perfect." I said as I leaned into my wife's side after Kaley crawled back into my lap.
 
 


 

The end for now. Thank you for reading.


Author's Note: I will revisit Cali and Dani at a later date but there are other stories that I feel need to be told before I do.

 



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