Note: I posted this at LiveJournal on July 10, 2014, and I've now transferred it here. This is a one-shot, meaning no new entries to it will be coming. The beginning of this story reminds me of the Beauty and the Goth Cara and Kahlan story I wrote in 2011, but it soon takes on its own very distinct dynamic. One way it resembled the Beauty and the Goth is the "get to know you in two-weeks aspect"; this is because I have an obsessive-compulsive quality regarding even numbers (among some other things, but it's not too bad of an obsessive compulsive disorder; it used to be somewhat worse). And so, for example, instead of stating "three weeks" in a story, I am more likely to state "two weeks." The same can be seen with Memories Guarded in Blue Paradise (the two years-factor, granted "two years later" also made more sense to me than any other time frame for that story). I changed the even-number thing just a bit for Getting Over Mason. Three curse word instances (use of the F-word) have been censored, and the sex scene is partly censored. The uncensored version of this story is at my LiveJournal account at the same username (Greatshow).

IIII

Brentwood High is a typical high school, located in Washington, D.C. and full of all the typical social corners one would expect — the jocks, the pretty and popular, the geeks, the outcasts, and the oddballs.

Or at least that's what Kahlan Amnell thought before one student in particular transferred to the school; ignorant of any other student here belonging to the pretty and popular cliques, Kahlan can't take her eyes off of the blond, beautiful and enigmatic Cara Mason. School has ended for the day, and she watches Cara from the stands, as Cara plays volleyball with such effortless talent that it leaves her in awe. She grins as Cara sends a girl, an opponent, to the dirt with a jump-hit combo to the ball. Cara's team offers high-fives in response.

"Watching Mason again?" a voice pulls Kahlan out of her thoughts.

"Oh hi, Elaine," Kahlan says, smiling as her best friend sits beside her on the otherwise empty bleachers.

"You do know that she hasn't a clue that you're alive, right?"

Kahlan sees Cara look at her, then back to her friends with the roll of the eyes before the volleyball game ends.

"Oh, no. She knows," Kahlan assures with a grin.

"Kahlan, you're not even Mason's type. Look there," Elaine points as they both watch Cara be pulled into strong arms by a muscular blond boy, "that's her type. Male, well-toned. Popular. She's so far from gay. And you..." Elaine looks her friend over — the long, dark, frizzy curls, the dreary black and brown dress, shoes to seemingly match, and the glasses she keeps pushing back up on her face every minute or so. "...You're so not."

"Oh hush, you." Kahlan refocuses on Cara, the way she tongue-kisses the boy...her boyfriend, Alan Manners. "She's not into that kiss at all. I can tell. It's all an act." Kahlan nods vehemently. "And his last name is Manners? You'd think he'd show a bit of manners by not indulging in such explicit displays of affection outside of closed doors."

"Mason's not even a good person, Kahlan. She's a bully, and she's a user. You should know that by now."

"No," Kahlan protests, wagging a finger, "there's something different about her. I feel it when our eyes meet."

"If your eyes meet, it's only so she can send daggers your way. Why don't you take the time to truly open your eyes about her?"

Kahlan takes a moment to consider her friend, taking in the way her red hair seems to glow under the sun and how her nice-looking, pale face contrasts well with the odd, hippy clothing she's wearing. "You know, you're quite pretty, Elaine. Especially when you're all fired up like that. Too bad you're not my type." Kahlan turns back to watch Cara.

"Well, you don't exactly get my motor running either, missy." Elaine points to herself. "Straight, remember? Just like Mason."

"No."

"'No' I'm not straight?"

"No, Cara isn't."

Elaine sighs. "Jeez, Kahlan. You need to get over Mason."

Kahlan knows that Elaine is speaking logically. But logic, the kind normally expected anyway, seems to go right out the window when Kahlan considers Cara. She's always felt it, that there is more than meets the eye with regard to Cara. She's seen the blonde treat people horribly, in one case snatching a shirt from around a girl's waist to reveal that the girl was on her period and was trying to hide an accidental bleed-through, and yet Kahlan could never stop herself from looking for something deeper in Cara. Always from afar, but looking nevertheless.

"And why do you have to call her Mason?" Kahlan asks frustratedly.

"Oh, I don't know... Because she so often refers to others by their last names?" Elaine replies with as much disdain as possible. "It's like she's a robot. Like she doesn't allow herself to truly get close to people. Calling them by their last names, so formal and distant; it's an extension of that."

"Exactly," Kahlan says, her eyes sparkling with intrigue as she watches Cara and others on the field laugh and cling to each other. "And I want to know the reason behind it."

IIII

Cara looks up to see Kahlan still looking at her. The others in her group follow her line of vision.

"That weirdo is staring at Cara again," one of the girls remarks. "Every day for the past week she's been coming here to watch from those stands."

"Yeah, why is that? It's like she's hot for you," one of the boys offers with a grin.

Cara narrows her eyes, then looks away. "Let's get out of here." She snuggles up to Alan.

A jock boy playfully slaps Alan in the back of the head as they head off campus. "Yeah, Alan, you heard the girl."

IIII

"Kahlan, what are you doing?" Elaine asks, nearly panicking as she watches Kahlan grab backpack and purse and practically race down the bleachers.

"This may be my only chance, Elaine," Kahlan says. "To tell Cara how I feel about her. You saw just now how she gave me an opening with the way she looked at me. That's given me enough courage to at least introduce myself to her. We're seniors, Elaine, and there won't be much more time for me to act. I may never get up the courage again."

"But, Kahlan!" Elaine yells.

Kahlan barely hears her. All she sees is Cara heading for the parking lot, and it irks her that she's not catching up to the blonde as fast as she would like. There's something between them — Cara and her. Whether making eye contact, like she told Elaine, or whether it's Cara seemingly badmouthing her among friends. And she has no intention of throwing away her chance at a definitive answer to it all.

Kahlan almost doesn't notice when she reaches the senior parking lot, she's so wrapped up in her thoughts. She stops, nearly out of breath, and shouts louder than needed: "Cara!"

Cara's friends are already loading up into an expensive jeep when Cara, still in Alan's arms, stops and turns to view Kahlan.

Alan smirks. "Oh this should be good." He moves back, and gets into the jeep with the others, snickering along with them.

"Is she for real right now?" one of the girls screeches, directing a hand toward Kahlan, rolling her eyes soon afterward. "Go home, you gay bitch!"

Kahlan remains focused on Cara, and she feels her already ragged breath hitch when Cara takes a step forward, eyebrow arched. "Something I can do for you?" Cara queries.

"I... Well, I..." Kahlan feels like her brain has short-circuited. Cara looks amazing — hair damp, well-fitted volleyball uniform clinging to her sweat-stained body, toned muscles, amused expression on an all-too-alluring face. Whatever she was going to say, if she even had anything well formulated to begin with, it's shot to hell now.

One of the girls behind them says something about how Kahlan has such a major hard-on for Cara that Kahlan might as well be a dude.

Kahlan pushes the glasses back up on her face, fidgeting.

Cara moves toward her...slowly. "Kahlan, is it?" she asks, stopping in front of the brunette to stare her in the eyes.

Kahlan feels herself buckling under the pressure. What should I do? She's staring. Why is she staring like that?

Cara reaches for Kahlan's glasses, and Kahlan's heart nearly pops out of her chest as Cara holds them in her hand and assesses her more closely.

And then, just like that, Cara backs up, dropping Kahlan's glasses on the ground before stumping on them. A collective "ooh" from the group behind them carries through the air as Kahlan's eyes widen in disbelief.

"You look better without those," Cara says. She moves to get into the jeep with the others. "That way, you look less like a dog."

The group laughs, laughter that somehow reverberates throughout Kahlan's core, tunneling within her from the inside out and making her feel no more important than a bag of waste. She doesn't hear the jeep drive off and she barely notices when Elaine places a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Oh, Kahlan."

Kahlan turns to her, eyes filled to the brim with tears.

"Don't you listen to her, Kahlan. You are more beautiful than any of the girls here, inside and out."

Kahlan's shoulders start to bob with heavy sobs that follow.

"Kahlan, you hear me?"

Kahlan doesn't hear her. Not truly.

Elaine pulls the weeping brunette into her arms.

IIII

It is night by the time Cara arrives at her house, throwing her books to the ground as she enters. "I'm home!" she yells to empty surroundings, mechanically moving to her bedroom in the next moment. She stops by the dresser, looking at the emancipation papers on the desk. "Free?" she sighs, dropping her duffle bag to the ground. "Then why the hell don't I feel like it?"

She moves to the duffle bag and pulls out a yearbook. She'd borrowed it from one of her friends a few hours earlier. Said she needed to research something.

Biting on her bottom lip, and in deep thought, Cara moves to her bed to flop down on it. She quickly flips through the pages until she comes to the ones she seeks — pages documenting the brunette she encountered in the parking lot earlier today. One portion of the text, commenting on how the girl is believed to be the smartest student in school, is accompanied by three black-and-white photos. "Kahlan, huh?" Cara flips back to the main yearbook image, a color one, of the brunette. Her eyes sparkle with something resembling excitement as she drags a finger along the image. "You really do look better without your glasses."

IIII

Four years pass, and Kahlan prospers in her education; less so in her social life. Now twenty-one years of age, she stands in front of the long mirror of her bedroom, looking herself over. "This is good. It's good, right? Doesn't make me look like a dog or anything?"

Elaine, on the bed reading a magazine, sighs as she looks over at Kahlan; the brunette has on a black pants suit, hair perfectly coiffed, and looks as stunning as ever. "Of course you don't look like a dog, Kahlan. I wish you'd get over that fear."

"Sorry," Kahlan replies begrudgingly, using her hands to straighten out her pants suit. "It's not like people are lining up to date me."

"People are not lining up to date you because you reject them before they can even get in the line. How long has it been since you last had sex?"

"Six months." Kahlan checks out her backside in the mirror. "And there's more to dating than sex."

"Of course there is, but you always seem to rule out physical intimacy. You've had one long-term girlfriend, the same one you broke up with last year, approximately six months ago, and even with her you had sex sparingly?" Elaine sits up, shaking her head disapprovingly. "It's no wonder you two broke up."

"She was my first sexual partner."

"And your only," Elaine says, throwing the magazine to the side and getting up to walk to her friend. In so many ways, Cara Mason destroyed, utterly broke, the Kahlan Amnell who stood in that parking lot four years ago, so much so that Kahlan hadn't been able to bring herself to ever visit the bleachers again, even for entirely unrelated matters, or seek out a glimpse of Cara in the halls. And it never ceases to pain or anger Elaine any time she sees aspects of those broken pieces. Pieces she's been attempting to make whole again ever since then. "Today is your first day as a telemarketer. Off to start your first major job. Don't blow it."

"Temporarily. It's temporary," Kahlan counters.

"Yes, I know. You have big plans for your life, and telemarketing is just a blimp on that radar." Elaine takes Kahlan's face into her hands. "So let's focus on those plans, step by step, okay? Forget these silly insecurities. You're going to go out there, be the best telemarketer there is, and everyone is going to adore you."

Kahlan cracks a smile. "Everyone?"

"Well, maybe not everyone. But a decent-sized portion."

Kahlan laughs; Elaine's grin widens.

"Thanks, Elaine."

"Any time."

IIII

Kahlan looks around HigherEffect Telecommunications in awe as she walks with a group of newcomers led by one of the more experienced members. The place is gigantic, with people busy at work attempting various sales in expensive-looking cubicles. The man leading them is going over the basics — what to expect of the company, the customers, how best to interact with them, lunch hours. He says something about their telemarketing company being different than others.

Kahlan overhears one of the working members on the phone discussing condoms and sex toys. Unlike other telemarketing companies indeed, she muses. She notices that there are far more women in the building than men, which doesn't surprise her since she learned while training for the job that women are often preferred for the position because of the supposed "calming effect" of women's voices. "I'm ready," she says under her breath, in contemplation for the future ahead of her.

Two hours later, and Kahlan feels right at home in her cubicle discussing matters with a client of sorts, or what telemarketers call "a prospect." She'd thoroughly researched the person before calling him, as her training prepped her to do, and they are now discussing television brands.

Kahlan makes the conversation exciting, informing the prospect of the best new deals and cheapest prices for the optimal products. She adds charm by insisting that she had the prospect in mind regarding this specific deal. She has to seem as natural as possible, she knows. Any suspicion from the prospect that she only cares about making the sale, getting the money, and that could be the end of the call.

She closes the deal with a self-satisfactory smile, thinking to herself that this job will be a breeze.

She's blind-sided by what follows.

"Ms.! But, Ms., you're awfully late," she hears the voice of the man who took them on a brief tour of the place earlier.

"Yes, I'm late, and I'll still be the best damn telemarketer this place has," another voices she recognizes, this one female, sends chills down her spine.

"It can't be," Kahlan whispers, her eyes widening in shock, an onslaught of different emotions running through her with each passing second.

"Kahlan?" the female voice, Cara's voice, calls out to her.

Kahlan slowly turns to see Cara Mason, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, and still looking as beautiful as the day she last saw her, quickening her pace. She quickly turns away from the blonde. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.

"It is you," Cara says, stopping to lean against Kahlan's cubicle with a grin. "What are the odds?"

"Hey, Ms. Did you hear me? I need to go over some things with you, get this late matter straightened out," the man from before says, catching up with Cara.

Cara holds up a hand as if to silence him, focusing on Kahlan and Kahlan alone. Others in the room pay mild attention to the incident, some a bit more frequently than the next.

"How long has it been? Three years?" Cara props her arms over the cubicle.

"Four," Kahlan says quickly and sternly, a prominent scowl on her face as she focuses on the computer before her. Suddenly everything feels a little too claustrophobic for her tastes, including her headphones which she quickly readjusts.

The man walks off, muttering, clearly displeased with having been ignored.

"What's with that face?" Cara queries, eyes still focused on Kahlan. "Oh, c'omn, you're not still angry about that time in the parking lot, are you? We were kids, no older than eighteen. You don't expect me to apologize for such triviality, do you?"

"I was seventeen," Kahlan retorts, typing aggressively on the keyboard.

"So was I. I mean, I always was jealous of other seniors being a year older than I was."

Silence seems to engulf them in the seconds that follow, only the sounds of fingers hitting keyboards and negotiations being made over phones intermittently coming through. Kahlan can feel Cara's eyes on her. She fidgets with the keyboard. To say that she is actually doing any work at the moment would be a stretch, and she's thankful that Cara is not facing the screen to notice the discrepancy.

"So...how's that friend of yours? Ritter," Cara queries.

"Elaine is fine."

"Ah, Elaine Ritter. She working?"

"Yes."

"Married?"

"None of your business. And don't you have a job to do?" Kahlan's frustration is apparent to everyone, except apparently to Cara.

"What about you?" Cara smirks. "I see you have a job. What about your personal life? You got a boyfriend? Married?"

Kahlan continues typing, trying her best to ignore the blonde. What is with this woman? Cara treated her like crap before. Refuses to apologize for it now. And yet tries to make small talk with her? Sure, there are many things best left forgotten about high school. Many things that one should move on from. But a person treating you like the mud on their shoe, and in front of a group of others no less, is not one of them.

"Aren't you going to look at me?" Cara asks; it's a different tone, somewhat softer, and the vulnerability there causes Kahlan to look up into the blue-green eyes before her. As soon as she does, however, she regrets it. Regrets it because that spark, whatever one can call it, is still there between them, and she knows then that she is as intrigued by Cara now as she was years ago.

"No," Kahlan says. "I don't have a boyfriend or a husband."

"Girlfriend?" Cara winks. "You know, there were those gay rumors circulating about yo-"

"- Shh," Kahlan urges, looking around, somewhat panicked. She slams her hands down on the desk and rises to eye level with Cara. "What about you, Cara Mason? Boyfriend? Husband?"

"Nope." Cara backs up and abruptly walks away. "Wife," she calls over her shoulder with a grin.

Kahlan's mouth hangs open, briefly opening and closing as if to state something, but no words manage to escape. If Elaine could see her now, jaw lowered and eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, she'd chastise her. How is it that Cara, the man-chasing Cara from Brentwood High, can be married to a woman?

Is she gay? Bi?

Kahlan's head hurts too much for words. Perhaps she shouldn't be surprised by Cara's revelation. After all, she had expressed an inkling as to Cara's true sexual orientation years ago. She has a seat, massaging her temples to relieve herself of what has possibly been the most stressful day of her life. When Cara is seated a few rows diagonal from her, briefly peering at her with a smile, her headache certainly does not get any better.

IIII

"I'm home," Cara calls out to her surroundings as she enters her house, throwing her work papers to the floor. Sighing, she heads for the room across from the entrance. "Hey."

Melody Ryan, Cara's wife of three years, lies on the bed belly flat, painting her fingernails. She sits up and shoots Cara an indifferent look, her long brown hair partially obscuring her attractive face. "Got my stuff?"

"Yeah." Cara moves to her, placing a bag of fast food and a pack of gum on the bed. "Supreme Taco Combo, just as you ordered."

"Good. "

"You had a nice day today?" Cara asks, moving to the mirror to check one side of her face as though searching for a mark.

"Same old, same old. Some idiot old man wouldn't eat his jello. I had to stay with him to make sure he did. By far, the most annoying part of my day."

Cara turns to her, leaning against the dresser. "That's what being a nurse sometimes entails, Melody."

Melody takes a bite out of her taco, then goes back to painting her nails, bobbing her head as she does. An awkward silence engulfs them, one that Cara is all too familiar with.

Cara folds her arms across her chest. "Aren't you going to ask me how my day was?"

Melody sighs. "Okay, okay, Cara. How was your day?"

Cara frowns. "Forget it." She moves to reach into Melody's fast food bag, and pulls out a taco to bite into, earning a death glare from Melody. "You want to screw tonight?"

Melody shrugs. "Sure." She sets the nail polish aside and picks up her phone beside her pillow. Careful not to mess up her still-drying nails, she scrolls through the machine. "How about 8:00 PM, two hours from now?" She marks the date down in the phone, then throws it back to the side.

"Yeah," Cara says, heading out the bedroom door and to her bedroom at the far other side of Melody's.

IIII

Kahlan stands in her shower, letting the water wash over her as though it can wash away her frustrating and conflicting emotions. Cara is still here in Washington. Cara is now working where I work. Cara is married. Cara is...upsetting and wrong...and all the things that I hate...I've hated her for so long... Cara is...amazing.

Kahlan can't count the number of times she's thought about Cara, and has therefore been in despair or rage regarding those thoughts. The first person she ever crushed out enough on, first person she ever thought she might actually be in love with, enough to actually tell that person, had been Cara. A person who had treated her so devastatingly horribly that she had lost any and all confidence in herself... At least when it came to pursuing friendships and especially romantic relationships.

She'd never lacked confidence in her skill to ace a test for whatever school assignment, but relationships were another matter entirely. Any time she felt attracted to someone, in a platonic manner or otherwise, she felt that there was no chance they'd be attracted to her. Except for Elaine, of course. As she aged, got rid of the glasses for eye contacts in their place, and dressed in ways that Elaine called "more desirable," she was told time and time again by various strangers what a beauty she is. Even people who had been her school peers, those she'd come across in one way or another since high school, commented on how they never noticed before how pretty she was and certainly is now. Almost as though she'd been some ugly shell, as if all it took was glasses to obscure her looks. Kahlan ponders if maybe this is what a real-life Clark Kent would feel like — completely unappreciated and subpar to his superhuman self.

But even with all of the compliments, Kahlan never felt superhuman. Cara was always there in the back of her mind, taunting her, telling her that she'll never be good enough.

"That way, you look less like a dog," Cara's words echo in Kahlan's mind.

With as hung up on Cara as she was, and as broken as she felt after their initial encounter, she never had any hope of moving on properly. Of not being insecure in more than one way when the opportunity for a lover presented itself. And now, with Cara back in her life, in some form anyway, and with a clear interest in women, Kahlan feels that spark of hope she had before, that hope that maybe she can be something more to Cara than an unimportant annoyance.

"I'm so pathetic," she whispers to herself.

Earlier, Elaine had called to ask about her day; Kahlan had recounted the reappearance of Cara. Elaine committed to hurrying over as soon as finishing up with some business, saying that Kahlan couldn't be alone at a time like this, but Kahlan had smiled. She used her best telemarketing skills to sell Elaine the idea that she is okay and that the best medicine right now is space to herself. She knew that Elaine wouldn't buy it, but at least she had temporarily put it to the side and had hopefully focused on getting a good night's sleep for her elementary school children, as Kahlan had advised. Elaine is one of the best teachers around, with more devotion to her job than many people show toward their loved ones. And Kahlan knew that it was best that Elaine, the same Elaine who helped her with these feelings for years, focused on those kids and not on her romance woes.

Besides, Kahlan sighs into the shower, I can't talk about Cara with anyone right now. I'll break all over again. If I haven't already.

IIII

At 10:00 AM, Kahlan watches with humor as Cara interacts with prospects across the room from her; the blonde is chastising and mocking in her approach, quite loudly in fact, and Kahlan can't fathom how she even qualified for this job. "No...no... What did you not understand by 'discount price,' huh?" Cara asks. "Hearing is not that hard, mam... Unless you're deaf, in which case I can offer you this spectacularly brilliant hearing aid... What?... I'm rude?... Well, you aren't Miss Sunshine yourself!" Cara yanks off her headphones and stews in her seat, arms folded like a stubborn child.

Kahlan shakes her head. It's only their second day with this company, and yet she's certain that not enough telemarketing experience in the world will make Cara any more suited for this line of business.

Their eyes meet, but Cara doesn't smile like yesterday. She gives Kahlan the same angry and distant expression she used to give her back in high school and Kahan's heart feels like it has momentarily sprang from her chest. That is, before Cara is focusing her attention elsewhere.

Two hours later, lunch time, she approaches Cara's cubicle just as others are leaving to eat. Cara has apparently decided to keep to herself, stone-faced and seated at her desk staring at her computer as though she intends to murder it.

"You won't hold on to this job for long if you keep treating prospects like that," Kahlan says, leaning over Cara's cubicle.

Cara doesn't look at her.

"Quite a different demeanor you have today. Yesterday, all smiles and teases. Today, grumpy and grumpier. Is that something we here at the company should be worried about - the irrational mood swings of Cara Mason?"

Cara still doesn't look at her.

"You know...yesterday was the first real conversation we've ever had. And still...it wasn't all that pleasant. What is with us and being unpleasant to each other, huh?"

"Us?" Cara queries, raising an eyebrow. Her line of vision remains on the computer screen, glare more agitated than the last.

Kahlan anxiously taps fingers on the cubicle. "I...I'd like to think there's an 'us'...in a way."

That earns her an immediate look from Cara, and Kahlan feels her pulse race; she stumbles for words. "I mean...mean we're from the same school and class. And you come off all tough, but -"

"- You don't know a damn thing about me." Cara sits up straight, challenging Kahlan with the rise of her chin and the intensity of her gaze.

"I'd like to change that," Kahlan offers, doing her best not to feel intimidated. She looks to her fingers and forces them to stop tapping.

More moments pass.

Kahlan again meets Cara's gaze. "Do you like pizza?"

"Who doesn't like pizza?" Cara asks, clearly annoyed.

"Follow me?"

IIII

After getting two plates of pizza, chips and soda from an outside lunch area of the company, Kahlan meets Cara at a fairly secluded section a little farther off; there, a bench-like cement ridge, half emerged from the dirt and partially sheltered by a tree, is at their disposal. Kahlan had wanted to be out of earshot of other employees for her conversation with Cara, and this part of the building seemed as good as, if not better than, any other option. "Here," she says, handing the blonde her plate.

"Wow, meatlovers pizza?" Cara asks, her face lighting up like a kid's. "How'd you know?"

"I..." Kahlan moves to sit beside her. I didn't know.

"Thanks. "Cara kisses her on the cheek before digging into the food as if she hasn't eaten in days. When she notices from her peripheral vision that Kahlan is not digging into the food just as greedily, she looks up at the brunette with a questioning expression. "What?" She sees Kahlan looking positively stunned, a hand to her cheek. Cara figures Kahlan must think her table manners are horrid. She wipes at her mouth. "Oh, sorry. It's just that I haven't eaten all day, and pizza is..." It suddenly dawns on Cara that Kahlan must be referring to the kiss she planted on her cheek moments ago. "Oh right...the kiss. Sorry about that. Bad habit. Ever since I was a child, I always gave my babysitters a kiss on the cheek when they brought me food."

Kahlan doesn't know if she should feel flattered that Cara was pleased enough to kiss her (surely Cara doesn't kiss anyone who brings her food?), or insulted that she may have reminded Cara of some childhood babysitter. Granted, Cara does resemble a child in this moment, but that's beside the point.

Kahlan rubs lightly at the spot where Cara kissed her, watching Cara eye her almost predatorily while wolfing down food. A sly grin stretches across the blonde's lips. No, this person before me is no child, Kahlan nearly thinks aloud. She watches as Cara diverts her eyes to the meal. Watches as Cara's full lips move, the way that tongue darts out against them. She thinks of how soft those lips felt against her cheek. Incredibly soft.

"It's...um... It's no problem," Kahlan finally manages to say. What can she say? That she hated it? That Cara should not do it again? She'd only be attempting to fool herself to deny that these two things are exactly opposite of how she feels. "Let's just not make a habit out of it with me," she says.

Cara looks up at her, a piece of sauce present at the corner of her lips. "Right. Must of repulsed you." She grins. "Should have seen your face."

Kahlan wonders if Cara lacks perception in matters such as these, where attraction is blindingly obvious to at least one of the people involved, or if Cara's mind is simply miles away from what her own thinking is.

"No," Kahlan answers, voice temporarily horse. She reaches into the bag beside her and hands Cara a napkin. "There."

Cara takes it happily, moving on to her chips and gulping down a good portion of her soda intermittently.

"So..." Kahlan says, finally biting into her own food. "Meatlovers is your favorite pizza?"

Cara shrugs; her openness and lighter attitude seems to be diminishing with every moment her plate comes closer to being empty.

"Are you looking to be a telemarketer long-term? As a permanent career choice?" Kahlan asks.

Again Cara shrugs.

Yep, Kahlan reasons, definitely starting to feel like I'm pulling teeth just to get an answer out of her.

"No," Cara finally says.

"Me neither. I'm looking to be an archaeologist or some other anthropologist. Haven't decided which type yet, but I find the study of human pasts fascinating."

Cara nods half-heartedly.

Kahlan puts her food to the side, taking one long sip of soda before putting that away as well. "Listen, Cara...I gotta ask -"

"- Why do you gotta ask me anything?" Cara looks up at her, dusting off her hands and putting her food away also.

"Because I'm confused. Yesterday you said you're married...to a woman. Does that mean... Does that mean you're gay?"

Cara leans back on her hands, watching Kahlan with curiosity. "It does."

"But in high school, there wasn't a hint that you had such a predilection."

"Predilection?" Cara chuckles. "Well, no hint of the 'predilection,' as you call it, is often how being closeted goes."

"So you knew you were gay?"

Cara tilts her head to the side, eyes dragging over Kahlan's body; Kahlan doesn't seem to notice. "Yes," she answers. "I'd wager that most of us know well before we make it to high school."

Kahlan looks to the ground, brow furrowed.

"Are you interested in my sex life because you're confused about your own?" Cara inquires.

"Huh?" Kahlan looks up at her.

Cara sits up straight, bending over slightly so that she's closer to Kahlan. "I mentioned that there was a gay rumor going on about you. So...are you?"

"Am I what?"

"Gay. Les-bi-an."

"No," Kahlan lies. She's not exactly sure why she lied, and so quickly.

Actually, she does know. There was general sentiment among Cara's friends that she desires Cara. And now that she's finally interacting with her, and it turns out that they share the same sexual orientation, the last thing Kahlan wants is to seem desperate. As though she's been completely hung up on Cara after all these years and has invited her to lunch to that end — with the goal of making the blonde hers. Even if somewhat true.

"Then the part about you having a crush on me was also false," Cara adds, eyeing Kahlan for any hint of deception; she finds none. "I see." There is the briefest indication of disappointment in Cara's expression, and seeing it prompts Kahlan to speak. But as soon as she opens her mouth, Cara is on to the next subject. "Mind telling me why you sought me out that day in the parking lot?"

Kahlan smiles awkwardly, looking to the side as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "I wanted to make friends." It's not the complete truth, but it'll do; what more does Cara need to know at this point about that day anyhow?

Cara shifts to the right to catch Kahlan's eyes, staring at the woman until she has those wondrously blue eyes focused back on her. "And you sought me out this time because?"

"I wanted to make friends," Kahlan says softly.

Cara sits back. "Even after how I treated you?"

Kahlan smiles. "Yes, I guess I'm a dummy."

"You said it," Cara replies, hands raising into the air as if to absolve herself of any wrongdoing.

"Hey!" Kahlan mock-objects. "You sure know how to charm a woman, don't you?"

"My wife, Ryan, thinks so." Cara grins. "I mean Melody. Her name's Melody Ryan."

Kahlan's smile fades. She sheepishly diverts her attention to the ground. "Do you...love her?"

"Yes." Cara folds her arms across her chest, almost in a stubborn gesture.

Kahlan tries to fight back the uneasiness, hopelessness, she feels at that revelation.

"Actually," Cara adds, "she's the girl who said to you 'Go home, you gay bitch!.' So that adds to the oddness of this all, doesn't it?"

Kahlan's eyes widen, finding Cara's. "You remember that?"

Cara's eyes sparkle. "I remember everything about that day."

Kahlan blushes, and — trying to find somewhere else to look, anywhere but at Cara's alluring face — she notices the other company members heading back inside. "Ah, lunch time's over." She points for emphasis.

Cara considers Kahlan for a bit longer, then looks over her shoulder. "So it is." She turns back to Kahlan and rises, and, in a calculated move, pulls Kahlan to her feet with her.

Kahlan's breath hitches. She marvels at how Cara, who is at least two inches shorter than her, seems to be towering over her now. Their gazes meet and hold.

"Isn't there something else you want to ask me about that day?" Cara eagerly searches Kahlan's face, her hands moving to rest on Kahlan's hips.

Kahlan jerks at the contact.

"You know...you really do look better without your glasses. Whatever happened to them?"

"Contacts," Kahlan says softly. "I wear contacts now."

"Hmm." Cara looks her over, appraisingly and seemingly oblivious to Kahlan's discomfort. "So nothing else you want to ask me?"

"Nothing else," Kahlan whispers.

"Oh well," Cara says nonchalantly, letting her go just as easily as she'd grabbed her. "See ya back inside. Oh, and I don't know what I want to do for a living." She walks away, briefly waving to Kahlan without looking back.

Kahlan looks dumbfounded, her heart racing a mile a minute.

IIII

In the three weeks that pass, Kahlan flourishes at her job, with many admiring her skill and watching her as she works. Cara, however, still has not gotten the handle of telemarketing. The blonde comes close to getting fired five times. Initially at a loss as to how she evades such an outcome each time, Kahlan quickly surmises that it's because Cara's remarkable charm is not lost on others. One male co-worker, for example, even suggests that Cara insult him on a daily basis if it will help her vent her frustration and interact with the prospects better.

Cara and Kahlan make it a routine of coming outside to converse in their own little private area during lunch. It is still like pulling teeth to get any bit of information out of Cara, but Kahlan at least learns that Cara is an only child, like she is, that Cara's favorite color is red, Cara likes a lot of violent films and fast food, and that Cara's mind is unusually preoccupied with sex; Kahlan blushes at every sordid detail the woman relays to her. There are apparently a great many ways to have sex, with men or with women, pleasurably and/or painfully. But all of these things are only a few aspects of Cara's life that Kahlan knows, while Cara has heard her entire life story — Kahlan's childhood years, teenage years and adult years. Cara is even informed of the fact that Kahlan has only had one romantic/sexual partner and that she lost her parents to a car crash two years ago. The parent aspect seems to be one of the few things that deeply affects Cara, Kahlan notices, and she ponders if there is more behind that exchange than a natural extension of sympathy.

Despite her interaction with Cara, Kahlan only seems be touching the surface when it comes to knowing her as a person. She feels that she's giving far more of herself than the blonde seems to appreciate, than is fair. And so on one workday in particular outside in their usual area, Kahlan has had enough of this distance.

"So for fun you have sex and what else?" she asks the blonde as they eat in their spot outside.

Cara takes a bite out of her noodles. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"I'm serious, Cara," Kahlan essentially whines, leaning back on her arms. "Okay. How about this: I show you what I do for fun? Invite you along? And then you show me your idea of fun?"

Cara shrugs. "And what does this 'fun' of yours entail?"

Cara gives Kahlan a look of questionable desire, and Kahlan's pulse speeds up. "Get your mind out of the gutter," she says. "You'll see soon enough. My house tonight, 7:00-ish, if you can make it." She hands Cara a piece of paper with her phone number and address written on it, then quickly makes her escape.

"Already got your contact details on it and everything," Cara quips.

Kahlan offers her a scolding look before turning back around and essentially fleeing.

IIII

Several hours later, Kahlan stands in her kitchen trying to hush Elaine's ramblings about Cara being here in her home.

"Seriously, Kahlan, you brought her to your home after what she did to you? After just three weeks of getting to know her?" Elaine asks in a whisper, looking through the kitchen window to see Cara, a glass of wine in her hand, examining pictures on the wall in the living room.

"Oh, like you've never invited an acquaintance to your home after three weeks of knowing him or her," Kahlan retorts in a low voice, following Elaine's line of vision.

"Not the same thing at all," Elaine counters.

"You're the one always saying to move on, aren't you?" Kahlan shrugs.

Elaine points emphatically at their blond guest. "Yes, but that...," her voice rises a notch.

Kahlan shushes her again.

"That's not moving on, Kahlan," Elaine whispers. "That's you being stuck in the past. I mean, what are you expecting here? You know she's married. You've told her you're straight. And if she's the same bitch from high school, you have no business being with her anyway."

"I..." Kahlan frustratedly blows hair out of her mouth, turning to Elaine. "I'm looking to make a friend -"

"- Don't. Don't you dare lie to me. You want her. And you're not going to move on until you have her, or at least until you confess to her that you want her. So I say do what you have to do. But I'm not staying here to witness this train wreck."

Elaine grabs her purse from the counter and begins to leave, but Kahlan grabs her by the arm, halting her in place. "Elaine..."

"You were wrong to invite me here. You did it because you don't trust yourself alone with her, correct?"

Kahlan's guilty expression is all Elaine needs as confirmation.

"Well, you're on your own on with this, Kahlan. This is too much to handle, and I have a hot date myself."

"You do?" Kahlan arches an eyebrow.

"Don't act so surprised."

"I'm not. It's just... I'm happy that one of us is advancing in the love department."

Elaine smiles. "Well, I don't know if it's an advancement yet. But...," Elaine looks back to Cara, who is still looking the place over. "I mean it, Kahlan. I'll come running if you truly need help. But telling her the truth...it's the only way you're going to move on."

Elaine gives Kahlan a kiss on the cheek, then exits the kitchen, Kahlan following quickly behind her.

Cara turns around to see Elaine moving from the kitchen to the front door, taking the time to get a better handle on her purse. Cara moves toward her, stopping to extend a hand by way of introduction. Elaine looks at Cara's hand with distaste, then swiftly exits the building.

Kahlan stares at the closed front door awkwardly before turning back to Cara sheepishly.

Cara smirks. "I take it your friend doesn't like me." Her eyes divert to her extended hand. "Funny...I used to do that - just stare at people's hands when they offered it to me. Always assessing if I could trust them or not."

"You did?" Kahlan asks, nervously arching her eyebrows and biting on her bottom lip.

"I still do," Cara says. "But I decided to make an exception for you." She moves to lean against the wall, taking in the sight of Kahlan — her face, everyday clothes, awkward body language.

Kahlan blushes furiously. "How's the wine?" she asks, gesturing toward the glass in Cara's hand.

"Good," Cara replies. "Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, 1998?"

Kahlan nods, briefly engulfed by silence and the intensity of Cara's gaze. "You know your wines," she adds, watching as Cara puts her glass on the living room table. "It's nothing special, but -"

"- 120 dollars a pop?" Cara asks. "Oh, that's plenty special." She begins to move toward Kahlan. "For tonight anyway."

Kahlan's heart does that flippy thing it always does when Cara is near, and she feels caught in a trance by intense green eyes that pin her as they steadily advance. Kahlan considers that Cara may have the wrong idea about why she's been invited here tonight. But then again, Kahlan's not even entirely sure why she's invited Cara here tonight. "I, um... Time to see what I do for fun." She swiftly moves from Cara's line of path, watching the woman halt with something that looks like confusion and disappointment.

Kahlan hurries to a closet a few feet away.

Cara's eyebrows furrow when she sees Kahlan lift a box from the closet and walk back to her to present it. "What's that?"

"Hungry Hungry Hippos," Kahlan says, smiling wide and much too enthusiastically for Cara to believe.

"You're kidding, right?" Cara asks.

"Why would I be?" Kahlan shrugs, going to set the box on the couch before moving the living room table for space.

Cara sighs incredulously. "Hippo game. Right." She watches Kahlan set the game up on the floor, and soon joins her, sitting at the opposite end.

"You played this game before?"

"Yeah. When I was six," Cara stresses for emphasis. If Kahlan hears any annoyance in her voice, she doesn't acknowledge it.

"Do you still remember how to play?"

"Not really."

"It's simple. Catch as many as the marbles as you can. The one with the most marbles wins," Kahlan replies. "But what do you say we liven things up a bit?"

"Liven up?"

"We play as many times as possible, and, whenever you lose, you tell me something about yourself. Something concrete. Not the trivial business."

"And why are you so sure that you're going to win? Why do I have to be the one to divulge my life?" Cara asks.

"Because I play this game often, am naturally better at it than you, and the probability that you will lose at some point is high." Kahlan stops organizing the game pieces to look up at Cara. "And I've already divulged just about all of my life to you."

Cara rolls her eyes. "I'm gonna need some alcohol for this."

They begin the game, Cara faltering here and there, as they control the board with colorful, plastic, mechanical hippos by repeatedly slapping the backs to ensure that the necks extend and that all marbles are gobbled up.

Three hours in, Kahlan has defeated Cara in numerous games, all except two, and Cara has seemingly resigned to studying Kahlan more than anything else. "Then I chased him all the way down the street, but the damn brat escaped into his nerd cave. Well, it was his home. But a nerd cave to me," Cara says, tossing back the fourth bottle of wine as she leans back against the front end of the sofa.

Kahlan leans back as well, letting go of her hippo with a smirk. Each time Cara has divulged some little tidbit of her life, albeit mostly her childhood, she has dropped everything to listen. This woman enamors her so. "You're telling me you tried to strangle the boy because he kissed you?"

"Hell yeah." Cara takes another swig of the wine. "And if I'd known martial arts back then, he'd have suffered more than a bruised neck."

"So you know martial arts? I guess you don't have to worry about locking your doors at night like the rest of us."

"Well, I barely sleep." Cara smiles. "So I don't have to worry about locking the doors anyway. And I don't lock them. Robber or killer wants to come in, let him."

Cara's smile widens; Kahlan arches an eyebrow.

"With the boy, I was thirteen," Cara says, "and I knew that I didn't like being kissed by guys. Or at least that I didn't prefer it."

"So if it had been a girl who kissed you?"

"She'd have been on her back, legs spread, two seconds flat."

"Vulgar!" Kahlan says in mock-disgust, throwing a pillow in Cara's direction. It is indeed mock-disgust, because, considering the way Cara uttered the words and the way Cara's staring at her now, having caught the pillow in one swift movement, it is all Kahlan can do to keep from blushing even more furiously than she is. "So...let's continue the game?" she queries, diverting her gaze to the gaming board.

"We've played enough games with the hippopotamuses," Cara says, still staring Kahlan down.

"Hippopotami."

"What?"

"Hippopotami," Kahlan repeats. "That's how you pronounce it."

"You can pronounce it either way."

"Not true."

Cara pulls out her phone and tosses it to Kahlan. "So true. Look it up."

Kahlan hesitates at first, watching Cara watch her, then she sighs and does as suggested. Or told.

Cara smirks as she reads the confirmation on Kahlan's face. "Told you so." She takes slow sips of the wine. "How can someone who plays with mechanical hippos so often not know that little tidbit?"

Kahlan shrugs. Why does Cara keep staring at her like that? Like she knows her better than anyone ever has or ever will, like she is all that matters? "I...um. This is about you answering my questions. You've lost all night, remember?"

"Go ahead." Cara puts down the bottle of wine. "Ask me what you want."

"You've told me quite a bit about yourself tonight, but they were only childhood stories - how you got in trouble here or there, got someone else in trouble here or there - but never with any mention of your parents. Why is that?"

Cara's expression becomes sullen, and her swift movement causes Kahlan to yelp.

How had Cara moved so fast?

Cara is only a breath away from her, on all fours and staring her in the eyes. And all Kahlan can do is blink and try to steady the pitter-patter of her heart. "You know...," Cara says, "I thought you invited me here because you were one of those bi-curious women and that maybe you wanted something in particular from me," she draws out the words. "Good to know I was wrong." She stands abruptly, leaving Kahlan in an almost trance-like state. "Not that I would have screwed you. I mean, wife and all. But I do like to tease." She wobbles a bit, looking around slightly disoriented. "Where's my jacket? Oh that's right, I didn't bring a jacket." She turns toward Kahlan and points. "I'm drunk."

Kahlan watches Cara stumble toward the door and exit it. Her heart pounds hectically at the sight; she can't get over the feeling that Cara is running from something, but she can't entirely grasp what that something may be. Is she running from her? Parents? Any form of intimacy? All of it?

Kahlan dashes toward the door, seeing Cara moving toward a cab. When had Cara called a cab? Had she anticipated that she'd be drunk, that she'd leave at about this time, and called ahead of time?

Now that Kahlan looks at her driveway, she realizes that Cara must have also arrived in a cab.

"Cara!" Kahlan yells. She doesn't expect what she sees when Cara turns to her. Tear-stained eyes shimmering under a porch light stare back at her, accompanied by a pained expression Kahlan isn't sure she'll ever forget. She wants to speak, but doesn't know what to say. And, in fact, what should she say? That she wants her to stay? That she's dying to know more about her, cares for her? That she's not really straight, and planned this whole night partly with ulterior motives?

She watches Cara smirk before getting into the cab.

In the end, Kahlan says nothing.

IIII

A week passes without Kahlan seeing nor hearing from Cara. There's talk of firing Cara, but for some unknown yet remarkable reason she remains employed. Must be the charm, Kahlan reasons. It's a charm that plagues her as she thinks she may never see it again. That she may never see Cara again. She immerses herself in her work and in Elaine's tales of the guy she's been dating; turns out that he and Elaine have really hit it off and are already considering children. But even work and such talk with Elaine are not enough for Kahlan to go a minute without thinking of Cara.

Kahlan spends her nights playing Hungry Hungry Hippos by herself, wondering where she went wrong with Cara and hoping that the blonde knocks on her door. She warns Elaine that Elaine may be moving too fast with the guy she's dating. Tom is his name. But who is she kidding? Warning someone of moving fast with a love interest? Isn't that the same thing she was doing with Cara? Isn't that why Cara up and left? At least Elaine hasn't obsessed over the guy in the way she's obsessed over Cara. Elaine is grounded, whereas she is frantic...unstable.

"I'm a mess," Kahlan says to herself, throwing a hippo across the room.

IIII

"Hey, baby?! How would I look in this?"

Cara moves from examining the baseball cap rack to turn to Melody, who is holding a jersey to her chest as if modeling it. They're in an athletic market of the mall, trying to do something, anything, as a couple, and going shopping is all they could come up with. Cara hates shopping, and suggested attending a professional baseball game. Melody hates baseball games, and suggested a movie. Since nothing good is playing in theaters, at least nothing satisfactory to their tastes, Melody suggested shopping that involves sports gear. A compromise.

"I mean...how would I look in nothing but this," Melody emphasizes.

Cara nearly rolls her eyes. Yeah, I know what you meant, she muses to herself. She saunters to Melody with a sardonic grin, stopping in front of her to stroke long brown hair. "Don't make promises you can't keep."

Melody slaps Cara's hand away, sneering as she moves to look at other items in the store.

Cara smirks. In all honesty, she'd rather be at home thinking about Kahlan, like she was doing for the past week before Melody dragged her out of her stupor. Being with Kahlan that hippo night, or any day, has completely changed her outlook on things. Has made her consider that pairing up with Melody perhaps wasn't the wisest decision she's ever made. That there's another person out there more compatible with her without having many things in common with her.

Kahlan is an extraordinary woman, Cara knows. Where Cara sulks, waiting for the day to be over because it bores her so, she imagines that Kahlan faces the day with a blinding smile, optimistic about life at every turn. Where she is wild and impulsive, Kahlan is demure and cautious. She's seen it.

I've only seen very little of her, actually.

"Hey, baby?" Let's go check out the nail section, 'kay?"

Cara is brought out her thoughts by Melody, who has apparently already paid for a few sports items and is now standing in the doorway, urging them to leave.

"'Kay," Cara says, exiting the store with her overly enthusiastic wife.

IIII

Kahlan doesn't remember how she wound up at Astare Mall, a three mile drive from home; all she remembers is that she needed to get away. Away from her self-pity and despair. She needed to do something that makes her feel like less of the loser she thinks she has become.

But when she sees an all-too-familiar blond woman across the walk area, hand-in-hand with a stunning brunette, she never imagined that she could feel like more of a loser than she already does. Many feet across the hall from her is Cara with her wife, Melody. Kahlan's heart feels as though it has stopped as she locks eyes with Cara and the couple come to a halt to observe her.

"Babe, who's that?" Melody asks, nodding in Kahlan's direction among the swarm of shoppers passing by.

Even as Melody asks innocently, Cara can already hear the venom in her voice. She learned years ago of Melody's jealous, possessive nature. And Cara knows that neither she nor Kahlan will get out of this situation unscathed. "Nobody," Cara replies. "Let's go," she adds, pulling Melody along in an attempt to head in the opposite direction.

"A nobody that required you to stop and stare at her, and divert a path leading to her?" Melody arches an eyebrow, staring at Cara sternly as she halts their movement. She looks back to Kahlan, who she notices appears displeased by the sight of them. "Pretty thing... Wait, is that the one that kept staring at you during your volleyball practices back in high school?" She turns to Cara, who remains stone-faced, eyes downcast. "Oh, wow," she says, looking back to Kahlan, as if Cara's response was all the confirmation she needed. "Well, then."

Before Cara knows it, Melody has spun her around and planted a kiss on her, full-liped, Melody facing Kahlan so that she can monitor what reaction she may receive. When she gets the reaction she was looking for — a gasp mixed with a contorted face of pain — she grins, pulling away from Cara.

Cara's eyes lock with Kahlan's as if to explain away the kiss but not knowing why they should. Instead, her eyes reflect bewilderment at seeing Kahlan staring back with such a shattered expression.

In the next instance, Kahlan flees from the mall, her heels clashing against the polished floor and taking her farther and farther away from the blonde.

Melody shrugs. "I guess we have our confirmation that she's always had a thing for you." She kisses Cara on the cheek. "Now we can leave."

Cara stands there for a few minutes after Melody has departed, staring at the area in which Kahlan stood, her mind replaying the image of a distraught Kahlan.

IIII

It feels like only minutes have passed since yesterday, when Kahlan saw Cara and Melody in the mall. And just like then, her feet walk her as fast as they can as she flees from the source of her pain.

"Kahlan!... Eh, Kahlan!" she hears Cara's voice call after her. She hurries to their lunch area under the tree at HigherEffect Telecommunications. The nerve of that woman. Cara hasn't been to work for a week. And yet suddenly shows up during lunch? To, what, ambush her?

And Kahlan somehow never realized it before, but Cara calls her by her first name, unlike the way Cara refers to everyone else. And that further annoys Kahlan in this moment, the closeness it can imply.

Kahlan feels a strong hand grip her by the shoulder, spinning her around to face an impossibly gorgeous face and impossibly captivating sea-green eyes.

"Kahlan, what was that back there, at the mall yesterday?" Cara asks, her breathing somewhat labored as though she's been running instead of merely walking fast.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Kahlan replies, yanking her body from Cara's grip.

"I think you do. We saw each other at the mall. You saw Melody kiss me. And then you looked dejected. Not only dejected, but you ran off. Why is that?"

Kahlan folds her arms across her chest, looking around to make sure they aren't overheard by their colleagues. She gives Cara a stern, incredulous expression before averting her gaze to the ground.

"Listen, Kahlan," Cara begins, frustratedly running a hand through her blond locks. "Melody and I... We were all each other ever had. Melody's parents were dope-heads and were too out of their minds to properly take care of her. And my parents made it clear to me nearly every day of my life that they would rather not be parents. I was expected to do just about everything for myself. Even as young as five years old, if I was hungry, I was expected to open the fridge and essentially come up with a gourmet meal. Some might say that this gave me character, and made me independent. But independent at age five? I had to have one of my teachers teach me how to tie my shoes because my dad said that teaching me would make me a weakling and that tripping over my shoe strings and busting my face would be good life lessons for how not to fail. Every Christmas, while other kids got toys, I was given a stern lecture about how I should feel privileged that I will never be one of the spoiled brats who don't appreciate the poverty-ridden circumstances that many are experiencing. Contradictory enough, my parents gave me all the money I needed. So if I was in want for say, a Christmas gift, I could buy it myself. I didn't. What's the fun in that? What's the fun in never getting a single birthday present or even a happy birthday wish from your parents and being asked to buy such a gift yourself, to wish yourself a happy birthday?"

Kahlan's mouth is ajar, stunned by the display of emotions pouring from Cara's mouth, exuding from her entire being. She's never heard Cara speak as much as four sentences in one go. And now this beautiful woman is opening herself up more than she seemingly has ever opened up to anyone.

"I didn't get any hugs, kisses, comforting talks, or nighttime tuck-ins as a child. And, yes, I'm bitter for it!" Cara continues, teeth gritting temporarily. "I got a whole lot of my parents bickering with each other, though. Finally, at age sixteen, I'd had enough and sought to get emancipated. I figured that since they didn't want to be parents, I'd finally free them of that responsibility. Sure, I only had two years left with them. But it was two years too many. I got my emancipation at seventeen, especially since they admitted to the court that they were never cut out to be parents and partly resented me for intruding on their carefree lifestyle. And, Melody, who was going through similar neglect from her parents, saw something in me that others didn't see. I saw something in her as well - a fire, a passion to be something more than what fate had seemingly dealt her. And we clicked. I knew that she wasn't gay. She knew it too. Hell, she wasn't even bi. Still isn't. But we essentially said, 'Screw the world!' Decided to be each other's everything and marry at age eighteen. Nobody wanted us. Nobody wanted me. But she did. In fact, she's one of the only four people I've had sex with; the others were guys. Guys who didn't want me; just sex." Cara laughs sadly, looking to the ground. "She didn't want me sexually. Not truly. But we thought we could work through that. And in the beginning, her bi-curiosity was enough to make the sex...hot." Cara's eyes shoot to Kahlan's with such an intensity that Kahlan takes a step back. "But not hot enough," she adds with emphasis. "Don't get me wrong; she was better in bed than that Alan Manners ever was or could be. But the novelty soon wore off for her, and we now have what is essentially a sexless marriage, scheduling ways to screw each other in between business meetings. Lesbian bed death, if you will. We've also discovered that there isn't much we like about each other at all."

"Why are you telling me this?" Kahlan asks, eyes filled with tears, lips quivering. She sees similar wetness forming in Cara's eyes.

Cara moves to Kahlan slowly. "Because I think you care," she replies, wiping at Kahlan's tear-stained cheek. "And because I'm sorry. I'm sorry for how I treated you that day in high school. You were never a dog to me, Kahlan. You were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen." Cara smiles softly. "You still are... I just... I thought that putting down others, impressing my friends or keeping them entertained at all costs, was a great way to make me feel better. But I instantly felt worse the moment I spoke shit about you. I didn't speak shit about another person in the same way again after that day."

Kahlan looks away, as though trusting Cara's words will sink her, trap her in the dark and desolate space of her mind that has chained her for years.

Cara notices. She steps back to give Kahlan space, reaches into her pocket to pull out a small piece of paper. "If you ever need to find me, here is my address." She tucks the paper into Kahlan's hand, then backs away, examining the tightening of Kahlan's fist and the way the brunette is refusing to look at her.

Kahlan doesn't look back up. Not once.

IIII

A week later, and Kahlan sits at her desk, selling to a prospect. It's another week without Cara, but, unlike the previous week, Kahlan doesn't sulk or get down on herself. She feels quite uplifted, like she should be putting everything into her work without a second's thought and living life to the fullest. She knows she's feeling this way because of what Cara stated to her after the mall incident. And she knows that it can be considered quite sad to seemingly base one's self-worth on what another person thinks. But the way she is feeling is beyond that; she feels like many weights have been lifted off of her simply because she can now see what was hidden. She knows that Cara is not simply, never has been, just another person to her.

Cara didn't take away her ability to be herself, to believe in herself at all costs, to open herself up to vulnerability when meeting new people.

No, I did that, Kahlan reasons. She was the one who let a simple-minded bully named Cara Mason distort the fabric of who she is, perhaps partly because of her immaturity at the time. She's always had feelings for Cara, but she'd also built up this unrealistic fantasy of Cara being everything a rogue in a romance novel might be, and that all the rogue needed was the love of a good woman to be cured of any wickedness and then the two would live happily ever after. Or something like that. And that fantasy is what had set her up for such a hard fall when Cara did not return her feelings. Kahlan can see all of that now, and she's a new person for it.

"Hello, may I speak to Mr. Williams?" she clicks over to a new prospect.

"Right here," Williams replies.

"Hi, Mr. Williams. I'm Kahlan Amnell and I'm calling to see if you wouldn't mind taking a short survey with me."

"Sure."

"Lasix Cable is an upcoming cable company looking to build their reputation as a high-quality imagery resource, maintenance service resource, and dependable resource regarding assistance in an orderly fashion. Mr. Williams, it is my hope, that after we are through with the survey, you will be willing to give Lasix Cable a try."

"Well, my current cable company sucks. So I suppose what you're offering couldn't hurt."

Kahlan laughs. "Good! I mean, not about your company sucking. But about your being open to the offer."

"Lady, you are too sweet."

Kahlan smiles.

Three hours later, she sees Elaine rushing to her. Elaine stops at her desk, apparently out of breath, as the occasional colleague looks their way. "Elaine," Kahlan says. "What are you doing here?"

Elaine puts her purse down on Kahlan's desk. "You have a lunch break in a few minutes, correct?"

"Yeah, but -"

"- I need your help, Kahlan. I think Tom is going to propose to me tonight. And I don't know what to say. If today weren't a half-a-day, I'd be in class with my students, engrossed in their concerns. But since I'm not, and since everything with Tom is moving so fast -"

"- Okay, okay. Calm down." Kahlan takes Elaine's hands into hers. "We'll figure this out tog-"

Kahlan is stopped mid-speech by the sight of Cara entering the building; the blonde is dressed in leather tight pants, a red V-plunging shirt and red boots to match. Her hair is perfectly flat-ironed and she has on just the right touch of makeup to offset her blood-red lips. As she saunters toward her desk, Kahlan cannot take her eyes off of her, and it seems others can't as well. Kahlan even hears a "wow" of a whisper from Elaine at her side.

The whole sight with Cara plays to Kahlan as if it were slow-motion. And, as she watches Cara apparently packing up, she finds herself wishing that Cara would look at her just once.

"Hey, you!" the employee who gave them a tour their first time here calls out to Cara. The same employee Cara disrespected. Kahlan heard his name is Phil. She wonders why he hardly shows himself.

Cara looks his way, near finished packing up her work space materials in a small cardboard box at her side.

"Just so you know...you're fired," Phil says. "We thought it'd sound better in person." He grins bitterly.

Cara shrugs her shoulders, lifting up her box and turning to him fully in the next instant. "It's fine. I'm already out of here. Quit some time back, isn't that clear?" She heads back the way she came in.

Kahlan panics. That's it? She just leaves? Just like that? Cara, you're not even going to give me the courtesy of looking at me?

"Oh, and Philly boy," Cara says, approaching him. "Why don't you show yourself sometime instead of screwing the boss during work hours?" She passes by him and heads out of the building, leaving a commotion of scandalized murmurs and a stunned Kahlan in her wake.

"Aren't you going to go after her?" Elaine asks, disregarding the scandal, her voice slowly but surely filtering into Kahlan's awareness.

"Elaine..." Kahlan simply stares at the door through which Cara exited.

"Look, aren't you the one who told me that Cara apologized to you for how nasty she treated you that day back in high school, that she told you some pretty personal things that you won't even divulge to me?" Elaine asks.

Kahlan looks up at her.

"And," Elaine continues, "isn't it you who hasn't been able to get over that woman since high school? You, who has yet to admit to her how you feel about her, and may never be able to truly move on until you tell her?"

Kahlan stares, her successive blinks apparently acting as all the answer Elaine needs.

"Well, then, I say you either go after that woman or miss out on the resolution you know you're dying for. Goodness knows I may never like her, but seeing you happy, seeking happiness, is a hell of a lot better option than watching you emotionally stifled for another few years."

Kahlan smiles, wiping at the tears she didn't know were staining her cheeks. "You're right, Elaine. Of course, you're right."

"Go on. Get out of here." Elaine pulls her purse over her shoulder. "I can handle my own love life for now. You take care of yours."

Kahlan gets up, immediately pulling Elaine into a bear hug. "I love you, Elaine."

"Yeah, not as much as you love Cara."

Kahlan giggles.

"Now go."

Kahlan doesn't waste any time jetting ahead, but stops midway. She turns back to Elaine with a smile. "Hey, Elaine. Take your time with Tom. Sometimes waiting isn't so bad." She moves ahead then, on course for whatever awaits her.

Elaine grins. "Clearly."

IIII

Kahlan dashes into the parking lot. She at first isn't sure where to go or where to look. It then dawns on her that she has Cara's address in her back pocket. Every day since Cara gave her that little piece of paper, she's carried that address in her back pocket, not her purse or anywhere else; it had somehow felt more personal closer to her, but she had never been certain she'd have any use for it...until now.

She pulls the address out of her pocket and stares at it. She doesn't need to look at the paper; she already has it memorized. But looking at it gives her a courage of sorts to press on. And so she does, hurrying to her car and pulling out of the driveway.

IIII

Kahlan's hand shakes as she stands at Cara's front door, ready to knock like the surprise visitor she is. It'd only taken her fifteen minutes to reach the apartment building, located past several fast food chains and to the left of a particularly dreary road; the location fits Cara in a way, she thinks. After all, Cara loves junk food and certainly has a dreary side to her.

The apartment building looks nice and cozy, and Kahlan contemplates what to say, as well as simply leaving and never saying anything to the woman again. But she's here now, and she's wanted this moment for long enough — a moment to tell Cara of the feelings she has for her.

Except now these feelings are changed by what she knows of Cara in the present.

Kahlan furrows her brow in concentration, takes a deep breath, and is about to knock when she notices the door slightly ajar. Huh?

She twists the knob slowly and pushes at the door, opening it to reveal a boxed apartment, rays of sunshine filtering in through blinds at her right. There are still some unpacked things left around: furniture, a few DVDs, books, pieces of clothing. But things are boxed up, for the most part. So she's moving. And she enjoys reading. Kahlan picks up one of the books, a crime novel, and smiles with intrigue.

"Cara?" Kahlan places the book back down, looking straight ahead, and then to her left down a hall. As she moves along, she hears the sound of water hitting a bathtub, and her insides begin to jumble in that overly excited way she cannot help. She contemplates calling out to Cara again, but her voice feels constricted, absent. And by the time she makes it to the door at the end of the hall, the one harboring shower sounds and releasing steam from its bottom slit, her throat feels just as dry as her hands.

Kahlan opens the already-parted door to find a naked Cara, back turned, showering in all her wondrous glory. She doesn't think she's seen a back as beautiful as the one she's looking at now. Nor a buttocks so perfectly curved that it looks sculpted. She's never seen legs so strong and yet so slender.

Cara turns to her abruptly and Kahlan is startled, momentarily jerking upward. What she sees from Cara's front is just as breathtaking, if not more so. She watches as water cascades through slick, blond locks, down firm, supple breasts, along a tight, well-toned abdomen and across a small patch of golden hair meeting at shapely hips. And then there are those legs again.

Kahlan gulps, blushing a crimson red before looking back up at Cara to find the woman's stone-faced stare. There's no softness in the look, only intensity, and Kahlan suddenly feels silly. "You should really lock your door," she says, hands momentarily flailing lightly.

Cara remains stone-faced, full lips seemingly pulled tight, water steadily streaming, steam steadily building.

Kahlan looks away as if embarrassed and as though she is about to leave. Abruptly, she turns back to face Cara. "Okay, just hear me out," she says, bracing herself, her voice rising to compete with the running shower. "I don't know all of what you've been through, I don't! But I want to know. Since I first saw you in high school, on that volleyball field, weeks before I made visiting that field a daily routine, I have wanted to know everything about you. Your favorite color, television show...everything. And I so badly wanted to tell you as much back then. And I would have, but... " Kahlan trails off; this isn't the time to fault Cara for her failure in following through with her feelings. "Last week, you were saying how Melody is all you had and that no one wanted you. Well, I want you, Cara. I always have. I want you in ways that Melody never can... You hurt me back in high school. You did. For four years, I had insecurity issues, the kind you wouldn't believe, and mostly because of that day. And yet...I still want you. God knows why, but I do. Maybe it has something to do with the way you live life in the moment, as though on a dare. The way you smile. The way you always look at me as though you see everything about me and I can't lie to you even if I tried. Or maybe it's the way you wolf down food, I don't know." Kahlan grins nervously. "I just know that I want you." She looks to the floor, bashfully tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I kind of imagined this speech going better than this. But that's all I have." She doesn't dare say I love you, recognizing that it must be difficult to fathom how she could love Cara without knowing significantly more about her. She's not yet willing to chance rejection in that regard. But she is willing to chance a look at Cara; she sees that the blonde is still staring at her with the same hardened expression. Her optimism fades, and she quickly looks back down.

As quick as Kahlan sees a flash of flesh, she feels more than visually witnesses Cara pressing her into the wall, their bodies colliding — a wet, strong body contrasting her clothed one. Kahlan shudders; Cara's bare breasts soak against her own, Cara's fingers intertwine with hers, and Cara's mouth caresses her lips.

Their lips graze each other's at first, exploring and familiarizing. And just the feeling of Cara's full, sensual lips moving against her own are enough to make Kahlan weak in the knees. She sinks hers hands into Cara's hair, urging their kiss to deepen and is rewarded by Cara's tongue meeting her own. Cara doesn't seem to be simply kissing her, but claiming her, their tongues dancing as one, lips smacking and altering direction for more of what the other has to offer.

Kahlan's arousal threatens to overpower her senses, the moisture between her legs increasing in flow. She can actually feel Cara's heart beating against her own, and she can't help but think how beautiful that feeling is. Beyond the passion. Beyond the moment. But the moment is inescapable, consuming her with Cara's nearness, Cara's need. And she reasons that if kissing Cara is making her feel all of this, she can't imagine what awaits as they progress.

Kahlan feels herself being lifted into the shower, back against the wall, Cara's kisses blazing a trail from her lips to her collarbone and then back again. Abruptly, she breaks the kiss, placing a hand over Cara's heart as she watches the woman's eyes slowly open and bore into hers with tempered emotions. The only thing she can think to say as she catches her breath is: "I'm not straight."

Cara smiles, a smile so charming that Kahlan's heart flutters. "No duh," she replies, reclaiming Kahlan's lips with a fervor that Kahlan has only experienced in daydreams.

Cara trails kisses from Kahlan's neck to her midsection, stopping to unbuckle Kahlan's pants. As she kneels, she stares up at Kahlan, and all Kahlan can do to keep from buckling in excitement is to run her hands through the wet blond hair beneath her. A moment later, and Cara is pulling Kahlan's pants and panties away, tossing them aside as if distractions better left forgotten.

The moment Kahlan feels Cara's lips on her nether regions, an odd and yet thrilling contrast to the water also finding its way there, her head falls back in sheer pleasure. Cara's tongue working well, roaming every crevice, and finding assistance in pillowy lips, is nothing short of ecstasy. She allows herself a look down, watching the blond head bob and weave, feeling a plump tongue enter her, before the maddening desire to press her body fully against Cara's overtakes her and she pulls at blond hair for acquiescence.

Cara rises in an instant — firm, hardened nipples rubbing against Kahlan's soaked shirt in a way that makes them both moan. Cara kisses harder than before, ensuring that Kahlan tastes what she has tasted. She rips at Kahlan's buttoned blouse, tearing it and the bra beneath it away with haste. Their bare chests meet, and it's a sensation Kahlan notes to never take for granted, eliciting groans from Cara she desires to hear for years to come.

All at once, Kahlan can't decide what to do with her hands. She roams them through Cara's hair, enjoying the way it feels like silk on her fingers. She caresses Cara's breasts, reveling in the awe and raw delight she receives from the simple gesture. She moves her hands lower, grasping Cara's buttocks and lifting so that her thigh rests against Cara's womanhood.

Cara gasps, stopping to look Kahlan in the eyes. And at first Kahlan thinks Cara will protest. Instead, Cara grinds slowly, sinking her fingers into Kahlan's hair as she pulls their faces close together. It's possibly the most intimate thing Kahlan has ever felt — the way Cara is watching her, the way they are watching each other, the way she feels Cara's womanhood pulsate against her skin.

Cara shifts and Kahlan suddenly feels Cara's thigh against her own nether regions; Kahlan briefly closes her eyes as a wave of pleasure passes over her. When she opens them, she stares at Cara's lips, tempted beyond sanity to kiss her, to topple her to the tub's floor. She settles for biting down on her own lips, and meeting Cara's eyes, the rolling of her hips matching Cara's pound for pound. They caress, and stare and breathe in each other's air, and they are soon lost in their own world as they ride out climaxes together.

IIII

When Kahlan opens her eyes the following morning, two thoughts cross her mind: Where is Cara? And is this real?

She turns to her side, her questions answered as she finds a pair of green eyes staring back at her; Cara's eyes are truly stunning, and her heart swells as she watches Cara observe her.

One hand propped to support her head, Cara looks upon Kahlan with a grin. They are in Cara's bedroom, tucked snugly in the bed by spring-scented sheets. Apparently, they had spent the majority of yesterday making love and an exhausted Kahlan had gone to sleep after one of their "sessions."

"Morning," Cara says.

Kahlan moves swiftly, kissing Cara softly, sensually, on the lips. "Morning," she replies with a blindingly white smile, suddenly becoming self-conscious in the next moment. She ducks her head a bit. "My breath doesn't smell bad, does it?"

Cara chuckles. "No."

Kahlan pops back up just as brightly as before. "Good because there's so much I want to ask you right this minute." She runs a gentle hand along Cara's face.

"Like what?" Cara says hoarsely, as if Kahlan simply touching her is too much for her breathing patterns.

"Like... What's your favorite television show?"

"Don't have one."

"Are you a breakfast person?"

"Sometimes."

"Is it true that Phil was screwing the boss?"

Cara laughs. "That's one of the important questions you just had to ask me right now?"

Kahlan shrugs. "Well, I also wonder if you always knew that I was into you."

"Yes, for your first question," Cara answers slowly. "One day I thought to venture into one of the back rooms right before joining you for lunch and caught them. And as for your second question, I certainly suspected. It was the way you looked at me in high school, and even at some points during your whole 'I'm straight' ruse at work. The way your," Cara's eyes falter to Kahlan's neck, then chest, causing Kahlan to blush, "body reacted... Sort of like now." She looks her in the eyes. "If I had been single -"

"- Oh no," Kahlan says with a pained looked, jerking away from Cara to sit up.

"What?" Cara's brows furrow into confusion, and she sits up in turn.

"I'm a mistress now. That's what I am." Kahlan runs a hand through her hair, holding the bed sheet to her chest with the other, her eyes darting every which way. "I mean, you're not single. You're married. And now I'm just the homewrecking slut who -"

"- You are so not a slut, and you know it."

"But -"

"- And everything was already wrecked, I told you that."

"But -"

"- Melody and I are legally separated," Cara finally says, running a hand through Kahlan's hair to soothe her. "A little after the mall incident with you, we came to the conclusion that our marriage is dead. Well, she came to the conclusion; I'd already reached it. The legal separation procedure had been in process for close to four months already; I pulled some strings to hurry up that process last week. My parents, you see, had freaked out years ago when they heard I married a woman, and at the 'tender age of eighteen,' they'd said. They left me the appropriate business avenues should I ever decide that I want out of it - the marriage; it's one of the few things they truly helped me with." Cara smiles weakly. "Melody and I...we were trying to work things out, thinking that we might call off the separation process, but..."

"Really?" Kahlan queries, a part of her still fearing she's an outsider who has stepped into Cara's world.

"That's why," Cara gestures around, "I'm here at this apartment. This isn't the place I've shared with Melody for all these years. It's a temporary place I've stayed in from time to time and especially latched onto a few days ago before deciding that it's best that I leave this state." She looks to the mattress. "Too many painful memories." Her eyes slowly reconnect with Kahlan's. "Too many fresh ones as well."

Kahlan grabs her hand then, kissing it softly, her eyes never straying from Cara's. "I'm so glad that I caught you before you left."

Cara smiles. "Me too." She moves to kiss Kahlan on the lips.

"Don't leave me," Kahlan pleads. "I know we haven't been together long, but... Don't leave me."

"I won't," Cara says, kissing Kahlan again.

"I'm still your mistress."

"Your'e...?" Cara pulls back.

"I mean," Kahlan stutters, "the legal separation thing, you explained and all, but you're still married. And so," Kahlan shrugs, "I'm still your mistress."

Cara studies Kahlan for a long moment, tucking a strand of dark brown hair behind a pale, impossibly soft earlobe. "No...Kahlan Amnell, I think I'm yours."

"Huh?"

"I'm your mistress."

Kahlan picks up a pillow and throws it at Cara. "Stop kidding."

"I'm not." Cara pulls Kahlan into her, kissing her senseless, kissing her until she can no longer protest.

If they are to be judged on the sin of seeking out each other's flesh, then they might as well admit that Cara is as much of a culprit, a female companion, in her desire for Kahlan as Kahlan is for her.

Cara will make sure of that admittance.