"You're kidding? Right?" my ex-husband Alan asked incredulously.

"Now, why would I kid about that?" I returned the question with annoyance.

Alan was temporarily speechless and I could hear him fumbling for the right words.

"I'm telling you because when you pick up Alana, Valerie might be there and I want you to be cordial," I stated firmly.

Explaining my current situation to my ex husband was proving to be difficult.

"Kate, I...ah...don't know what to say, except...congratulations," he stated with sincerity.

"Thank you, that means a lot to me Alan," I articulated with gratitude and ended the call.

With some trepidation, I reread the email that I had composed for Valerie. We hadn't seen each other for a few days and I wanted to express how I truly felt about her.

My Beautiful Valerie, I am counting the hours until I can see you again. I can't stop thinking about you. I want to hold you in my arms; kiss you and feel your body next to mine.

For the first time in my life, I'm deeply in love with someone and that someone is you. You're my best friend and my lover. Without you, I would be lost.

With love everlasting, Kate

I hit the send icon and sat back with a smile as an image of Valerie drifted through my mind.

To my amazement, I fell in love with a woman; a beautiful, sexy and fiery woman. As inexplicable as it seemed, my soul reassured me it was authentic. My mother, pillar of pretentious manners and icy emotional detachment, was aghast when I told her.

"Katherine, you were not brought up that way," my mother voiced ignorantly.

In spite of the fact that I asked her countless times, she refused to call me Kate.

"I see mother, so its nature not nurture; it's part of my genetics," I argued mockingly.

"I really don't care for your tone of voice and rudeness," My mother stated with anger and a hurt look.

"Do you think I get it from dad's side of the family or yours?" I asked with a bitter tongue.

My mother harrumphed angrily and left the room in a huff. When I told her about Valerie, I wasn't seeking her approval or advice. I just wanted her to know.

I couldn't help but recall how immensely irritated I got with my parents exaggerated airs. Miraculously, my sister, brother and I seemed to be well adjusted in spite of the sterile atmosphere of our childhood home.

I was the youngest and only blonde haired child in a family of dark brunettes. One evening at the dinner table, my brother made an off color comment concerning my parentage and was grounded for a month.

The Wonder Years:

"Deidre, take your sister upstairs and show her how to properly care for herself," my mother commanded like some rich dowager in a Victorian novel when my sister walked through the front door.

I was a month shy of my thirteenth birthday when my first period made its appearance. My panties and pajama bottoms were stained with blood. Normally, I would have gone directly to my sister and circumvented my mother but I couldn't find Deidre anywhere in the house.

"There, there, don't cry," my sister said trying to comfort me and put a sympathetic arm around my shoulders.

I was sniffling and fighting back tears because my mother's words were like a harsh reprimand. I considered my sister Deidre to be a godsend because she gave me the love and compassion that our parents seemed incapable of.

With patience and gentleness, Deidre showed me what to do. Later that day, I saw her sitting in the side yard reading a book. I snuck up from behind and put my arms around her in an embrace.

"Thank you Dee," I said with gratitude and kissed the back of her head.

My formative years through high school were spent under Deidre's protective wing. She was the only person in our house that cared for me and paid attention to me.

My mother and father were advocates of the Victorian proverb, "Children should be seen and not heard" only they went one step further, "Children should not be seen or heard."

Although my parent's pretended they were affluent when I was growing up, we were middle class at best. We had no servants waiting on us, no fancy cars in the driveway, no cotillions or coming out parties, no lavish vacations to faraway destinations.

Dinner was held in the dining room every night except Sunday and attendance was mandatory. It was the only time during the day that we shared any physical space with our parent's.

My father was silent most of time unless my mother engaged him in conversation which was rare. She made comments and commands that she didn't expect an answer for. There was no exchange of ideas or thought.

My mother sat with a regal bearing and imperious attitude at one end of the table while my father occupied the other. Her frosty exterior exuded a coldness that penetrated every square inch of the room.

We were expected to sit up straight with a linen napkin on our lap. Any joking or humorous interplay between my siblings and I was discouraged.

This may seem like a minor thing but instead of granulated sugar in the sugar bowl, it was filled with cubes and a pair of silver plated tongs on the side. Tea or coffee was served only in the good china and sometimes, I felt as though we time warped back to Edwardian England. My friends thought we were goofy. I attended public schools albeit in a district considered one of the top ten in Pennsylvania. My mother claimed I was getting a private school education without the expense. I was considered very bright and got excellent grades.

Each child was required to learn to play a musical instrument. Of course, we weren't allowed to choose and I was given the oboe. Whenever I hear or see the word, it conjures unpleasant memories of my teacher, Mr. Jankowski and his hideously bad breath. I had absolutely zero talent and it drove him crazy.

Except for my required appearance at dinner, I was at my friends' houses the rest of the time. Although I was very studious, I loved the numerous sleepovers and parties that kept me away from home. I was a casual drinker but avoided drugs at all cost.

Like most teenage girls, I was fascinated with the opposite sex. I had a Cate Blanchett type of body; slender and small breasted. My long dark blond hair had a natural wave that was easy to shape into different styles and I garnered a fair amount of interest from boys. Lack of dates was never a problem for me.

Although all my sexual experiences in high school revolved around boys, nothing transpired below my waist. There was the usual kissing and groping in parked cars or dark corners at a party.

By senior year, I was very adept at giving my boyfriend hand jobs. My skill level was such that sometimes he couldn't hold out for more than two or three minutes especially if I used some lotion as a lubricant. When I think back, I was rather proud of my talent at the time.

After graduation, I attended a very well known Pennsylvania public university of considerable size. My bookish nature prevented any outlandish partying but I did my fair share. While I had misgivings about joining a sorority, I pledged and was delighted I now had sixty new sisters.

Suddenly, I discovered that my social life was much busier. Meeting guys was simplified with all the parties and socials that the sorority sponsored. I must have been approachable because I got asked out at least once a week or more by a myriad of different men.

Although I dated regularly, I never met "the one", the one person that would sweep me off my feet. There were a couple of boyfriends that I liked a lot but love was not part of the equation.

The old adage that, "time passes quickly" is no joke. In the blink of an eye eight years had passed since college graduation and I was a divorced single mom awakened in the middle of the night by my daughter's croupy, labored breathing.

In the emergency room of the hospital, I was informed that Alana would be admitted for testing and observation. Alone and close to hysterics, I kept my composure and found the strength to put on a brave front for my daughter.

Unbeknownst to me, my daughter's asthma attack would open the door to a life changing event for both of us.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

Admittedly, it was a strange way to meet someone, in the respiratory wing of the hospital. Both our daughters had been admitted for lung related problems and they were sharing a room.

Valerie sat on the window side near the drawn curtain divider between the two beds. To my surprise, I was curious about her and looked in her direction but tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. She was medium height like me but had a sexy way about her. My interest was interrupted when the nurse appeared and took both our girls to therapy.

"God, I hate this waiting around crap," was the first thing she said to me when we were alone.

I nodded my head in agreement.

"I'm headed to the cafeteria for a coffee. Want to tag along?" she asked very kindly.

"Sure, I could use one," I answered in agreement.

"Hey, I'm Valerie, she stated with a very firm handshake.

"Kate," I informed her.

In the cafeteria line, I got a good look at Valerie with her straight blonde hair, blue eyes and slim figure.

"Jesus, she's not only pretty but a hot body too," I thought to myself.

I was captivated by Valerie but clueless as to why. She had a crisp unaffected way of speaking and her smile, an infectious smile that warmed my heart.

"Do you think these doctors know what their doing?" she asked with sincerity.

"I try to think they do but sometimes..." I answered warily.

Valerie glanced at her wristwatch.

"Damn, I hope they bring Cassidy back before I leave for work," she said anxiously.

"Cassidy; I've always liked that name for a girl," I stated wistfully.

Valerie gazed at me with an intrigued look on her face.

"If it's ok with you, I'd like to bring some candy for your daughter tomorrow?" I asked politely.

"That's really nice, sure. Cassidy loves chocolate," she said.

Valerie looked at her watch again.

"Shit, I've got to go. Please tell Cassidy that I love her for me," she implored.

"You bet, consider it done," I said with conviction.

"Thanks Kate, I'm glad we met," she stated warmly.

When visiting hours ended at eight, I bade both girls good night but on the lonely drive to my home, I kept thing about Valerie and her "girl next door" pretty looks.

Like me, Valerie appeared to be a single mom. She wore no wedding ring and no mention of a father or husband.

For the remainder of our daughters hospital stay, I became more and more infatuated with Valerie. Her blue jeans looked molded to her body and despite the fact she was average height, she looked tall and lanky.

On one occasion, Valerie wore a sleeveless top and I marveled at the definition in her arms. From her wrist to her shoulder, hard muscle clearly showed through her almost translucent skin. She caught me looking several times and just smiled.

Valerie was very friendly towards me but there was toughness about her, a kind of "don't fuck with me" attitude. It carried over to the way she walked with a self assured strut.

"Can't touch this!" It communicated subliminally.

When Valerie spoke to me, she looked directly into my eyes and it had a way of commanding my attention. Her speech was clear, concise with a little smoky character and belied some type of formal education; in other words, she was no dumb blonde, far from it.

Sometimes, it was hard for me to concentrate on her voice because I would be admiring her pretty facial features; deep blue eyes, creamy pale skin, short golden blonde hair that exquisitely framed her face and very sensuous mouth.

For the last eight years, I'd worked in a high profile area of a major east coast bank and met significant amounts of people. But, quite honestly, no one captured my imagination like Valerie.

Alan, my ex, visited in the evenings and stayed until we were practically thrown out. In spite of the divorce, he and Alana had a very close father/daughter relationship. But, it was difficult for me to see him especially since our final divorce papers were imminent.

While Alan and Alana spent time together, I would sit with Cassidy and keep her company. She was an utterly charming little girl with the sweetest nature. When we chatted, she spoke mostly about her mother and it was readily apparent that she adored Valerie.

The day before Cassidy was scheduled for discharge, I received the official documents ending my marriage. It saddened me to think that it was over but I knew with complete certainty that it was the right move.

As I drove to the hospital the following morning, I was feeling depressed about the divorce and the fact it might very well be my last hours with Valerie.

When the nurse took the girls for their final therapy session, Valerie and I went to a small coffee shop across from the hospital.

"Feeling blue?" she asked my sad eyed face.

"My divorce was finalized yesterday and I'm still in a bit of a shock," I said with weariness and tears filled my eyes.

"My condolences," she stated very kindly.

"I don't know why I'm reacting this way because my marriage was a mistake from the beginning," I confessed readily.

"Then, why did you get married?" she asked curiously and it was the type of question I would have asked.

"It's a long story but, I feel comfortable telling you've been very kind to me the past few days," I spoke with veracity.

Valerie smiled at me in such a winning way that it made my heart beat faster.

"I met Alan, my ex husband, in my senior year of college. He was kinda cute and we dated a few times but I had no romantic feelings for him at all.

One afternoon in my dorm room, Alan told me he was in love with me. I said I was flattered but I had a boyfriend back home. For weeks, he pestered me with questions trying to get me to reveal who that person was. Why it was important to him, I'll never know.

One night we went bar hopping and by midnight, I was very drunk and sprawled out on his bed. Alan's persistence in wanting to know who my mystery man was had reached my boiling point. I told him my steady was a college football player with a great body and personality,

'He's every girls dream guy,' I waxed poetically but in a very boozy voice.

Alan turned green with envy. I mean, he was so jealous that his body was shaking." I said with a fair amount of pride.

"Where you in love with the guy back home?" she asked probingly.

"That's just it, there wasn't another guy. I made it up because I didn't want him to get any ideas that he had more than a snowballs chance in hell with me," I stated firmly.

Valerie's eyes lit up with delight.

"Ooh, you little devil!" she exclaimed.

"Alan wanted me to leave but in my condition, I wasn't going anywhere. I teased him and told him I'd pretend he was my studly football player boyfriend but the alcohol made me horny as heck. One thing led to another and I not only lost my virginity at the advanced age of twenty one but got myself knocked up," I articulated sadly.

Valerie gazed at me with sympathy.

"Alan was a decent guy and proposed when he found out that I was with child. Rather than face my parent's, I accepted and we tied the knot at a small civil ceremony. Alana or Alan with an extra 'A', was born and we lived happily ever after.

But, our marriage was no fairy tale; he loved me but I didn't love him. He wanted to have a lot of sex and I didn't want to have any. I refused to go to counseling, threw myself into my job and taking care of Alana. After five very turbulent years, he moved out.

"I blamed myself for the debacle because Alan would have made a fine husband for someone else. We procrastinated for a year before we went to the arbitrator. Cleanly and efficiently the property settlement and child custody were ironed out.

Alan was a good provider and he's an excellent father to Alana. He takes his parental responsibility seriously and visited her every night this week. For that, I'm very grateful to him but between us, it just wasn't meant..." I stated with a depressed air and the tears reappeared preventing me from finishing.

Valerie placed her hand over my wrist and gave a sympathetic squeeze. While I gazed into her face, full of empathy for me, I revealed one of my innermost feelings to her.

"A month ago I celebrated my thirtieth birthday and I realized that I've never been in love, you know, romantic love. The kind that you read about that's supposed to curl your toes, make your heart beat faster, all that," I said despondently.

Valerie's hand was still on my wrist and the sensation of warmth was almost seductive. I wanted to say more but it was late.

We hurried back to the hospital and found our daughters back in their room. Cassidy had changed to her street clothes and was waiting patiently.

"Mommy, can I play at Alana's house sometime; please mommy?" she asked so endearingly that it melted my heart.

"Sure, when she feels better," Valerie answered and looked at me.

"You bet, maybe next Saturday?" I asked hopefully.

Our seven year old daughters had bonded as friends. Valerie and I exchanged cell numbers and email addresses with the understanding that email was the best way to communicate with her.

In a couple of days, I was dying to see Valerie again. I missed her. My daughter Alana wanted Cassidy to spend the next Saturday with us and I waited until Monday to email the invitation.

As an activity, I suggested going to a farm in Lancaster County where "pick your own strawberries" season had begun. I surprised myself by ended the message, "Fondly, Kate."

Valerie replied that it sounded like great fun but she had to be back no later than three because of her work schedule.

Saturday morning both Alana and I impatiently waited for their arrival. When a red Toyota Camry pulled into the driveway, Alana yelled,

"Hooray, she's here," excitedly.

Silently, I echoed the same sentiment.

Everyone piled into my Lexus SUV and off we went. With baskets in hand, we chose a spot among the rows and knelt to retrieve the luscious fruit. Valerie was in front of me and I inwardly sighed when she bent over. She was wearing tight jeans that showcased a very sexy pair of legs and ass.

"What's wrong with me? I mentally chastised myself but another question kept surfacing,

"Why am I attracted to her?"

In about an hour we had enough fruit to feed a small army. The girls had a great time giggling and laughing but they were dirty from scrambling among the rows.

While Valerie helped me wash the strawberries, our daughters were sent to the shower. They emerged talking quietly among themselves conspiratorially.

"Mommy, is it ok if Cassidy stays with me while her mommy's at work?" Alana asked with pleading eyes.

I looked at Valerie, who had a smirk on her face.

"Can I mommy? Please? Cassidy begged in the most adorable fashion.

Valerie rolled her eyes but she was smiling the entire time. Her hour of departure had come and I walked with her to the car.

"Thanks Kate, you're a real friend," she said with fondness and put her hand around my back pulling me forward and touched her cheek to mine.

The sensation was off the charts and I felt a little lightheaded. I was tongue tied and kept smiling until she drove away. Involuntarily, my hand touched that side of my face.

"Wow!" I thought to myself.

With pizza the consensus for dinner, the girls activity lessened until they both were yawning. Finally, they were in bed and I could relax with a book I'd been reading.

After a couple of chapters, I nodded off but was awakened by what sounded like muffled crying. When I opened Alana's bedroom door, Cassidy was sitting up sniffling as Alana snored contentedly next to her.

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