Trick and Treat

bypheacock©

When the girls stopped at Connie's house, they both went in and found that she looked much better. "Mom, you look so much better than the last time I saw you! Are the treatments hard on you?"

"Thank you, baby. I do feel better but, yes, the chemo and radiation are bad. You look lovely, both of you!" Connie removed the wrap from around her head, revealing her bald head, to gasps from both girls. "When the treatments are over, it will grow back, ladies." She said in a mirth-filled tone.

"I don't care, Mrs. Aston. I think all women need to change their appearance once in a while." Ash replied, laughing. The other two both chuckled. Pauli punched her arm but was laughing also.

Connie had shopped and had Christmas dinner planned in addition to gifts for the girls. She was looking forward to being with Paulette for a week or so. On Christmas Day Pauli and Ash sprang their surprise. Connie was almost overcome with emotion. She hugged and kissed both her daughter and her "daughter." Both were so happy at the reaction! Connie placed the photo on her fireplace mantel. She had a personal shrine to Paulette and Ashlyn there, and this would be her centerpiece. Connie gave the two the presents she had gotten them -- two brand new backpacks. They had been using their old ones from high school. Inside, each girl found a personal gift. Ash pulled out a very pretty sweater, perfect for winter wear, as well as some very trendy underwear. Pauli found a long black skirt that was slit up the side, as well as a matching top. She also found matching underwear.

The roommates then went to Ash's home and repeated the gift-giving. They watched both parents get misty-eyed. The two girls were so happy at the success of the simple gifts. Scott was taking his to work to put on his desk. He would show it off to anyone and everyone. Karen repeated Connie's placement, much to her "daughters'" joy. The girls were each given presents, including earrings and necklaces. Ash showed the gifts Connie had given her. Karen handed Pauli a gift for her mother. Ash gave her mother the gift that Connie had for both her parents. It turned out to be a free dinner at the best Italian restaurant in town. Pauli was asked to thank her mother. Ash drove Pauli back home so she could help with cooking. Ash went home and did the same.

After the lunch with all the fixings, the two cleaned up. They sat watching TV. There was a movie Connie liked on TCM, and Pauli sat and watched with her. Connie remembered that there was a card for her daughter so she gave it to her. Pauli looked at the envelope. It was from her father and stepmother. She opened the card to read it. A piece of paper floated out onto the floor. The card had a note wishing a happy holiday from them both. She picked up the paper -- it was a check for the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. "Fuck me." Connie started to reprimand her daughter's language, but Paulette was holding out the check. Connie's eyes grew wider as she shook her head. Why did he just remember his child for the first time?

"You have to put that in your bank, honey. Don't let it sit around. OK?"

"I'm sorry I cursed. Mom, this is a little unexpected. I guess he wants to normalize our relationship. I don't know that money would be my choice of ways to do that."

"Put it towards your education. Don't think badly about it. It is the way he shows affection."

"I'll deposit it tomorrow. It will make my books and fees easier next semester." They finished the movie and started a new one. The two had a quiet holiday.

That was not true for Ash -- she came out to her parents. They asked her to go to Pauli's for the night so they could talk in peace. Connie welcomed the girl into her home. She tried to console Ash, telling her that they just needed a little time.

That night the two friends talked. "What do you do if they cut you off, Ash?"

"I will have to borrow a crapload of money. It's all I can do. I don't think they will do that but I have to plan for it." They talked deep into the night. Both were worried but felt that Ash had done the right thing. It was wrong to lie to her parents no matter the repercussions. The next day Ash got dressed and prepared to face the inevitable. Pauli demanded to go with her. They held hands as Ash opened the front door.

Karen saw Pauli and smiled. "It's good to see you two are still close. Does Paulette know about you, Ashlyn?"

Pauli answered quickly. "Ash and I know all about each other, Mrs. Martin. We don't keep secrets. I know Ash is a lesbian, and I don't care. She is still my best friend."

"I'm glad to hear that. She will need a good friend. As we all do. Ash, can we talk with you alone for a minute?"

"Yes, Mother. Pauli can go up to my room and wait, if that's OK."

"Fine. I am happy she wants to stand by you." Pauli went to her friend's room and waited.

It seemed a long time until Ash came up to get her. "They are not angry with me, but they said I should tell my grandmothers. I hope that causes no problems. Grannie Martine Martin is old fashioned. Mom's mother is usually cool. My parents want to talk to you."

Pauli went down to converse with Mr. and Mrs. Martin. "Ash said you wanted to talk with me."

Scott Martin replied, "I want you to know that we understand that this is a hard time for you and Connie. I would like to handle your legal work pro bono when and if Connie passes." The thought of her mother's death tore into Pauli, who could not hold back tears.

"Thank you, Mr. Martin. I'm sorry for the crying but it's hard for me to think about." Paulette's head was bowed. She felt ashamed at her loss of control.

Karen grabbed her up in a motherly embrace. "We know, child. And it's horrid to think of. You have to be prepared to be strong for your mom. We will stand by you. You already know our daughter will." Karen spoke in a loud voice. "Ashlyn, come down, baby."

Ash almost tumbled down the stairs in her rush after hearing her friend's sobs. "Pauli, are you alright?"

Her mother said, "I'm afraid we brought up her mother, and I don't think she is prepared to talk right now." Ash relieved her mother and took over comforting her old friend.

Pauli spoke in a small voice. "I don't want to think about the things I have to. I will be so lonely without my mom." Her tears started anew. She hated being afraid of her future, as she was now.

Ash was hugging her friend tightly. "As long as I live, you will not be alone. So put that out of your mind." Karen smiled at her daughter's forthright expression of love for her friend. Pauli wrapped her arms around Ash. She held her with an almost death grip.

"I'm happy that everyone here is fine. Maybe Ash could run me home. I want to spend time with Mom." Pauli had calmed herself and needed to get back home.

Connie was waiting for her girl. She had breakfast ready if Paulette was hungry. Pauli came in and swept her mother up in her arms, holding on to her with a tight grip. "My goodness, baby! What did I do to earn that?"

"I love you, Mom."

"I know, Pauli. Are you hungry? I've got waffles ready to cook."

"That's my favorite! I am hungry. I can cook them -- you just sit."

"Daughter, let me be your mother a little longer, please." Paulette nodded, understanding her need. Pauli had to let her mother feel normal for as long as she could. She had tried to take that from her.

Their holiday was filled with mother-daughter activities until December 29th when Paulette and Connie went to her oncologist.

They were informed that the metastatic cells were not responding as well as the primary tumor. Connie stayed stoic. She had been warned of this possibility, so she was mentally prepared. Pauli buried her response under her concern for her mother, and kept to herself.

That night, she did call Ash and cried her eyes out, joined by her friend. They both knew this would be Connie's last year at best. The coeds had a very somber trip back to school.

January was difficult for Pauli. She had to study extra hard because of her distractions. Brian Waterman made everything worse. He just refused to leave her alone. Brian was a jock and thought he was owed whoever he wanted without question. Paulette went to her advisor and asked what she could do without hurting him in his sports. The advisor set up a meeting with the football coach, athletic director, and associate vice president for student affairs.

Paulette presented her request to the group. She used all the skills she had learned in Mr. Martin's law office. Her tone was respectful and not a bit indignant. All she wanted was to be left alone. She told them of her mother's illness and imminent demise. And of her drive to get into law school.

The athletic director looked at the head coach. "Jim, can you handle this or should I?"

"Yes, ma'am. This will stop. I'm sure Brian will leave this young lady in peace. Paulette, if there is anything I or the university can do to help with your mom, just ask us."

Paulette smiled. "It is out of my hands. But thank you all for the thoughts." Then she stood and shook each person's offered hand and left.

The AVP summed up the meeting. "That girl's going to make one hell of a lawyer. I'm going to talk with her advisor about keeping an eye on her. She's in for a rocky road."

Paulette was on her way from one class to another when Brian ambushed her. "Why did you go after my scholarship, you bitch? I never touched you!" Brian had not noticed the campus police officer who was striding towards them.

"Brian, I'm on my way to class. I don't have time for this now." She tried to walk around him, but he grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face him.

"I'm not done, bitch. Why did you do that to me?" Brian let out a grunt, and Paulette turned to see the hand on his shoulder.

"I think we need to talk, young man. Do you want to press charges, Miss?"

"All I want is for him to leave me alone. I spoke to his coach and the athletic director. I asked them not to threaten his football scholarship. I don't know what they said to him."

"I'm sorry, Brian. I did not want this to happen. Just leave me alone." She handed her student ID to the officer, who wrote down some info. "I'm already late. I have to go, please."

The cop replied, "I'll find your dorm later and ask you for what I need then." Pauli rushed off. This professor was a no-nonsense kind of woman. She just got in before the doors were locked.

"Ms. Aston, I would prefer you to be on time from now on, please."

"Yes, Professor. I was detained by the police for a minute."

"I want to hear all about this after class. Now let's get started." At the end of class, Pauli went to speak to Dr. Black, as she locked the door, about the events that had occurred.

She was explaining the entirety of the situation, including her meeting with the administrators, when in walked the AVP, who looked pissed off. "Donna, it is against university policy to lock students into or out of classrooms. Miss Aston, I heard about Mr. Waterman's assault on you. Are you injured?"

"No, sir. The policeman stopped him. Did someone threaten him with expulsion?"

"Not yet. But we might have to if the message does not get through this time." He turned to the professor. "I'm sorry to interrupt your discussion, Donna. Carry on."

"Paulette, go home and be safe on your journey. I did not believe you, but I was wrong." When Pauli got back to her dorm, the football coach and policeman were waiting. Ash had let them in and all three were talking about the football team.

Coach James Franklin spoke first. "I must not have made myself clear with Brian. Sandy Barbour is trying to get through to him right now."

"Coach, I ask you all not to let my request reflect on his scholarship. He's just immature." The policeman asked his questions and the two were leaving when the coach's phone rang. "Yes, Sandy. She's right here." He handed the phone to Paulette.

"This is Paulette." She listened for a few moments and nodded her head in a futile effort to agree. "Yes, Ms. Barbour. That's correct. I just want to be left alone right now. I need to check on my mom soon...Yes, I will. She is a State supporter." They said their good-byes. Paulette handed the phone back the two men left. Ash sat down to hold her friend. She could tell she was on the edge of breaking down. Paulette told her what had happened that day. "Ash, I can't take this much more. Mom is all I think about. Classes are getting so hard to focus on."

"I wish I could help somehow. Pauli, do you think I can call Connie also?"

"Ash, you know she loves you! Of course, you can call her anytime. Please don't discuss my silly problems." Ash went down to the common room to call her mother and get a report on Connie. Karen was taking her to her treatments and knew almost everything. Ash then called Connie, as she did often now. They talked about school but there was no mention of Pauli's problems. She sounds weak and tired. Ash feared for both Connie and Pauli.

Later, Pauli called her mother to get the day's update. When she was done, she ended the call. Ash saw how pale her roommate looked. She had perceived the same thing. "I talked to your mom this afternoon. She sounded tired, Pauli."

"She told me that the therapy they've been using was not working very well anymore. She said they were investigating alternatives. I'm afraid, Ash."

Pauli did as she usually did in times of worry -- she buried herself in work. She studied every waking hour, even while eating. That is, until she was confronted by Brian again. Luckily, Ash was with her. "Brian, I have asked you so many times to leave me alone. Please just go away."

"I can't help myself. I'm so attracted to you. Can't you at least kiss me?"

Ash had to do something -- she was exploding in rage. "Listen, you bag of testosterone. She's asked you nicely but you're too dense to get it. Go the fuck away and don't come back. She is having severe personal problems and doesn't need you piling on any more."

Two huge guys came up and grabbed Brian by each arm. One spun him around. "Have you lost your mind, fuck head, after what the coach and AD said? Let's go. We need to get you the hell out of here before criminal charges are filed. Sorry, lady. He needs his dad to come and take him out behind the woodshed." They hauled him off, with Brian struggling to pull free. Pauli learned, much to her consternation, that Brian was in danger of being expelled for his last approach. She tried to intercede on his behalf but the current climate about harassment won the day. It was one more worry to pile onto her grief-filled mind.

When Valentine's Day came, there was a card from her mother professing her love for her daughter. That in and of itself made Pauli cry, but the card was signed "Wanting to see you once more, Mom.' Connie was just trying to survive until her daughter could come home. Pauli cried for an hour. So did Ash after Pauli showed her the card. The last two weeks were hell for Paulette. She kept her grades up but did not sleep well. When the day finally came, Ash drove her directly to the hospital as Karen had told her to.

Ash was not allowed in to the room. Connie was so fragile two visitors would be deleterious. Connie held her daughter's hand and cried at the sight of her. "I want you to be strong, daughter, when my time comes. You have such good plans. Scott has all my legal things under control. I have arranged my funeral so you need not worry. Did Ashlyn bring you?" Pauli just nodded yes. "Can you ask her to come in, baby girl?" Pauli went out and found Ash just sitting on her heels leaning against the wall. She looked so forlorn and small in her own grief.

"Ash, Mom would like to talk to you." Ash gathered her strength for what she knew was coming. Connie again asked her to watch out for her girl and then asked her to help Pauli find true love. Ash walked out of the room almost in hysterics. She didn't want to lose Connie either. Pauli sent Ash home. She was going to sit with her mom that night.

Pauli once again could not sleep. She sat watching the monitors hooked to her mother. They did not mean much to her, but what she understood was showing her mother failing. The nurse came in to check on Connie about once an hour. She always smiled at Pauli. She did ask if she needed anything and Pauli always shook her head no. At a little before four a.m. one of the monitors started to beep and alarms were going off. Nurses and doctors came in and tended to Connie's last moments, accompanied by sobs from her daughter. Pauli sat helpless and just cried. She was now alone and realistically an orphan.

Pauli got herself calmed a little and started making calls. "Hello, may I speak to Aunt Jillian, please?" She heard her uncle wake her aunt and hand her the phone.

"Hello."

"Aunt Jill, this is Paulette. My mom just passed I wanted you to know...Yes, I'll be OK. She made all the arrangements...I'll let you know when the date is set. Sorry to wake you. Bye." She then called her father, who happened to pick up. "...Yes, Dad, I know the time. I'm sorry to awaken you. Mom just passed on...No, the date will be set later...Yes, I will call you. Bye."

It was time to make the worst call. "Hello?" Ash's voice was groggy.

Sorry, Ash. I know it's late. Mommy just passed away and I need some information. When your dad gets up, can you have him call me?"

Ash could just make words come out coherently. "I'm so sorry, Pauli. I hate this for you." In the background Karen's voice asked what was wrong. Ash managed to tell her. Karen's reply was profane. Then she asked for the phone.

"Pauli, I will come and be with you. I'll bring Scott and Ashlyn as soon as they can dress. I don't know what we can do but we will try and help. Then you will come back here and try to sleep."

"Thank you, Mrs. Martin. I do need some information if any of you know it." Karen's voice was clear when she told Ash to dress and then she left.

"Pauli, we'll be there soon. Try to keep yourself together, sweetheart," Ash implored and they disconnected. Pauli sat out in the hall in a chair that a nurse had provided in case there were more questions that she could not answer. When the Martins charged in, Karen promptly wrapped up Pauli, who was going into shock. Ash stared at the look on her best friend. It made her want to cry. Scott went into the room and answered all the questions that he knew the answers to.

Karen stopped a nurse and asked her, "What can we do for her? She looks as though she is oblivious to what is happening here." The nurse went into the room and returned with a doctor who examined the unresponsive teenager.

"I think she is in emotional shock. Does she have somewhere safe to go and sleep?"

"Yes, she's coming home with me, my husband, and daughter, who is also very upset at Connie's passing

I'll give you a prescription if she needs help sleeping. Until she calms down, keep the pill bottle away from her. She might be so distraught she will try to harm herself."

"Yes, Doctor. Does she need to stay or can she leave with us?"

"Please put her in bed. Maybe someone can stay with her for when she wakes up."

"Thank you, Doctor." He wrote the prescription and gave it to Karen, who then organized the trip home. Scott had settled things for the moment so he and Karen each held one of Pauli's arms. Ash went ahead to get the car and pull it around front. When Pauli made it down, in a slow shuffle, she was loaded into the back seat with Ash snuggling her. Both girls wept at times -- the sound was tearing at Karen's and Scott's heart strings. When they got her up to the guest room, Karen and Ashlyn undressed her and gave her an oversized T-shirt. Ash found a clean pair of panties in her duffel bag. Ash dressed herself for bed and slid into bed with the grieving girl. Karen kissed both 'children' goodnight and went back to bed. She could not prevent tears and wept silently.

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