**Part Five**
Word Count: 3,960

"So, how was it?" Claire asked before they had even gotten to the road that led to town.


"What she asks? Um, I don't know. How about, oh, you know, everything. Dinner, the dance, after the dance."

"We didn't, he didn't…"

"Start with dinner."

"It was a little odd. He didn't know anyone, but he tried and everyone was decent to him."

"Just didn't go out of their way to make him feel accepted?"

She shrugged, trying to see it from Xander's point of view. "I think they were okay, I get the feeling he didn't want to say anything that would make them think badly of me. I don't think he really minded being around a bunch of people younger than him."

"Reasonable. And good so far. You didn't spill anything on the dress?"

Kylie laughed. "No! I was nervous enough I'm lucky I didn't."

"And the dance? Did you stay the whole time?"

"Yes. I thought for sure he'd want to bail as soon as he could."

"And did you dance?"


"A lot?"

"Enough," Kylie said, smiling a little.

"I take it he was a decent dance partner?"

"Yeah. Then we went out to the lake for a while with the others."

"What made you come to your place?"

"I just wanted him to myself for a while. He came here before and had work to do. He came here this time and we were around a bunch of people that he didn't know. I'm sort of a freak to some of them."

Claire placed her hand over hers. "You're not a freak, Kylie. People may not understand what you went through or how you survived, but you're not a freak."

"I just…" Kylie shrugged, not knowing how to respond to that. She knew, deep down, that she wasn't a freak, but there were times she felt like one. How do explain to people how you were one of only a few that survived something? She guessed it was no different than people surviving a hurricane or tornado, but it felt different to her.

"So, you were alone with him."



"I told you…"

"I know what you told me, but I saw the room, Kylie. You didn't just go back there and crash."

"Well, no. We talked and stuff."


Kylie felt herself blushing. "You're not really going to make me tell you?"

"No, just asking and I think I'd rather you talk to me about what happened - or didn't - than anyone else."

"Yeah," she said. Her friends knew what she'd planned, but they didn't have to know she'd actually gone through with it. And if she told them nothing happened, they'd never believe her. She had a reputation for being a little wild.


"It was nice. I mean, he was nice and didn't do anything really. We kissed and stuff, but clothes stayed on."

"All of them?"


"Just asking."

"Bill doesn't know?"

"No. He was called out," Claire paused and glanced at her watch. "I don't know, it was about three o'clock."


"He didn't say, but I suspect probably so."

"Was he worried about me?"

"He didn't say anything. He trusts you, Kylie. And he also realizes there's not much he can really do or say to stop you from doing whatever you want to do."

"I know."

"He just hopes you know he cares."

"He does. He's cared more than anybody. I mean, he didn't have to take me in."

"No, he didn't, but knowing him - even not knowing him as well as I do now. He'd never have let you go to a stranger's house."

"No one's really a stranger around here."

"No, but he knew what you'd seen that night. Not many do. I sure don't."

"Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask me anything, don't know if I'll have an answer."

"Had you … Before Bill?"


"You had the opportunity before him, though, right?"


"And you knew he had a thing for Starla?"

"Mm, yes."

"So, how did you know he was the one?"

Claire gave a soft laugh. "I don't know that there are words to describe it. I was hesitant because of Starla, probably would have been more hesitant if she still lived in town. And I won't deny I wonder what would happen if she came back."

"He wouldn't…"

"It's not like we're married, Kylie."

"But he loves you."

"Yeah, but a past as they have can be hard to get out from under the spell of."

"She won't be back," Kylie said.

"How do you know?"

She shrugged. "She didn't fit in here. The only reason she stayed was because of Grant and the life he could provide for her here. She could live high on the hog and show everyone who knew her growing up that she'd come so far."

"Wow, you don't really like her much do you?"

Kylie shrugged. "I don't dislike her. I just hated the way all the guys at school fawned all over her as if she was the next Elizabeth Taylor or something. She wasn't that pretty. I think you're prettier."

"Ah and thank you," Claire said. "So, does that mean you're thinking about it with Xander?"

She shrugged. "I don't know."

"You're still young, Kylie. There's no reason you should hurry. If he likes you, he's going to like you a couple of years from now, too."

Kylie shook her head. "As if he'll remember me."

"Well, if that's how you think he is, you don't want to do anything you'll regret."

"No, I'm just saying. It's not as though he has any reason to come back here again."

"So, you give him one."

"He did mention my going to see him…"

"Really?" Claire said, sounding kind of glad about that.

"I think it was more offhand than a real invitation."

"But he's open to the idea?"

"I guess."

They'd arrived at home now. Bill was obviously there, too. There was no way Kylie was going to continue this conversation with Bill anywhere nearby to overhear them.

"What are you going to tell him?"

Claire reached to the backseat and pulled a bag of groceries toward her. There were two others, Kylie hadn't noticed them until now.

"That we wanted some girl talk without worrying about him listening in."

"Thank you," Kylie said, relieved.

Claire kept the car running, though she put it into park and shifted a little to look at Kylie.

"I can't tell you what to do. I didn't wait until I was married, I didn't even wait until there was an indication of marriage. I wasn't seventeen and Bill wasn't leaving in two days either. And I did love him."

"I know," Kylie mumbled, knowing she sounded like a child.

"On the other hand, you've been through things not many others have. There's something to be said for those type of experiences making people grow up fast. You like him. He likes you." Claire shrugged. "All I can say, sweetie, is don't expect him to stay or for anything to change. He doesn't strike me as the type who came here just to get laid, but he is a guy who had to catch on you were into him."

"You think he's using me?"

Claire laughed then, resting her head against the back of her seat. "No, Kylie, I don't. I think there are easier, more obtainable women than someone who lives across an ocean with the local chief of police. Just be careful whatever you decide. If that's what you want to do and you want me to go and get condoms or something…"

"Oh God, they'd think you were…"

"For me and Bill?"

"You'd be okay with that?"

Claire laughed again. "Kylie, worrying about whether people are thinking about my sex life isn't top priority for me. I mean, I stay here most every night they're going to assume anyway."

"Well, yeah, but if you buy them that's proof."

"I really don't care. Actually, let me look in our bathroom, he may have some left over in the cabinet in there."

"You don't need them?"

"Not anymore," Claire said softly. "Until I knew we were it for one another, at least for now, we used them. I wasn't sure if the pill or those shots would work on me. I mean, I can't get drunk so it stands to reason prescriptions wouldn't stay in my system."

"So you're not using anything?"

Claire laughed a little. "If I left it up to Bill, I don't think we would be, but no I use a diaphragm. We still use one every once in a while when I don't have it with me," she said, blushing profusely at that statement. It took Kylie a minute to realize she meant for times they weren't, like, in the bedroom or even at home. "They have IUDs but I'm not sure my body wouldn't just reject it."

"Oh," Kylie said, mulling that over. "You have way more things to worry about than I do when it comes to that."

"Well, I honestly don't know if I can get pregnant. I mean, I know someone who had my ability and he had children, but he was a guy and I'm just not sure. So, it may be for nothing. I can't get sick or diseases or anything," she shrugged.

"I guess, I hadn't thought about that," Kylie said, mulling that over. And the worst thing for Claire was she had nobody to talk to about this stuff to. She couldn't very well tell the local doctor or anything.

"You heard what I said, though, right. We used them all of the time at first," Claire said. "I mean, even my not being able to get sick or anything, there's no guarantee. I mean, I don't know I can't get something like AIDS. There may be things my immune system can't fight off. And you don't have my ability."

"Yes, I get it. I know there are some things worse than getting pregnant."

"Just making sure." Claire turned off the car then, but didn't open her door. "I'll help you in any way I can, whatever you decide. Just know going into it you might get your heart broken. I don't see him moving to Wheelsy."

Kylie laughed. "God, I hope not. And I know. I don't even know that I want to have sex with him."

"But you want to do something?"

"Well, more than kissing. He's the first boy I ever really liked. Wouldn't you?"

Claire shrugged. "I was content with lots of kissing with the first boy I ever really liked, but you're not me. So, don't think I'm saying you shouldn't."

"You don't think I should though?"

"I just want you to be careful. That's all. He seems nice, but you still don't really know all there is to know about him. And I'm saying this as your friend, not as Bill's girlfriend or anything else. I like you, Kylie."

"Thanks," she said, smiling. She liked Claire, too. She'd been worried at first Bill would still be so focused on Starla to really notice her. Kylie was very glad she'd been wrong on that. She hoped that Starla did come back one day, too, and saw that Bill had moved on because Kylie thought Starla Grant liked knowing Bill was in love with her.

Maybe it was guilt, knowing she'd hidden the truth from Bill, but the last thing Kylie expected when stepping through the front door was to be grabbed by long, strong arms and hugged to the chest of Bill Pardy. They weren't much on emotion. It wasn't as if she was his daughter and she knew he wasn't entirely used to having her as a permanent fixture in his house. It wasn't as if they loved one another like a parent and child would or anything. She liked him and he her but it was different.

So, being hugged by him was not something she could recall ever having happened before in her life. A couple of her friends thought he was cute and had made a couple of comments about him when she started living here. A few had asked questions that Kylie had no answers to. Even if she did she wouldn't have provided the answers.

"I'm so glad you're okay," he said, kissing the top of her head much the way her father used to when she'd worried him.

"We just went to the store to get some things for breakfast, Bill," Claire said.

"I know, I saw your note, but I came home saw your car was gone and I panicked. The accident was a ways out of town so radio reception isn't great. I thought I'd missed a call about you."

"I'm fine," she said, not sure what to say beyond that.

"I see that. And I'm glad. Did you have a good time?"

"Yes," she said, glad for the change of subjects.

"Good. You two got your girl talking out of the way?"

Kylie smiled a little at that. "Uh huh."

"All right," he said, apparently not willing to let go of her. Instead, he slid his free arm around Claire and started leading them both to the kitchen.

He started unpacking the grocery sacks.

"So, I take it we're having French toast for breakfast?" he said, dropping back as if he was going to throw the loaf of bread like a football.

"Yes," Claire said. "Unless you squeeze it and I can't salvage it."

"Spoil sport," he said, setting the bread down.

"Yeah, yeah."

"So, it's just the three of us then?"

"Who else would there be?" Claire asked.

"Well, Xander, didn't you invite him back here for breakfast? Or did you get sick of him after spending the night with him?"

"Lunch," Kylie said, her heart pounding. Did he know somehow? He couldn't, but then of course he could. Claire didn't react to what Bill had said beyond a brief pause in putting away the groceries. "He's coming for lunch."

"All right," he said with a nod. He stepped behind Claire, wrapping his arms around her. Claire gave a soft laugh when he kissed her neck. Kylie suspected he whispered something in her ear because she could see Claire blush when she turned to look over her shoulder at him.

"Um, I'm going to go take a shower before breakfast," Kylie said, sensing somehow neither one of them really knew she was in the room anymore. They got that way sometimes. It was kind of sweet. Kylie's parents had never been like that. Maybe before she'd been born. She liked to think so. She thought they were happy like this before the worry of a household bore down on them. They hadn't been expecting twins the second time around, but they made do.

"All right, Kylie, we won't start without you," Bill said before whispering what to Kylie sounded as though he'd told Claire he liked the idea of a shower, too.

She took extra time getting ready, blow drying her hair and styling it more than she would on a normal day she planned to be around the house. Mostly because she knew Xander was coming over and she wanted to look nice for him. Also, though she wanted to give Bill and Claire all the time she could. She wondered if she'd ever have that type of relationship, joking and flirting in the kitchen, so intent on one another the world seemed to disappear around them.

They weren't always like that, they paid attention to her and she certainly didn't feel jealous or neglected. She was happy for both of them, but especially Bill whom she'd known all of her life. And had heard the gossip about through the years of how he spent his life pining away for Mrs. Grant. She didn't know Bill well until the night they were forced to work together to save their lives. She knew, though, that he deserved better than Starla Grant because she was nothing but an opportunist. At least that was how Kylie saw it.

Would people think she was an opportunist if she slept with Xander? No one would have to know, of course.

After she was dressed, she walked to the head of the stairs. They were still in the kitchen and if her ears weren't deceiving her they'd stopped putting groceries away. Probably as soon as she'd gone up to the shower.

Convinced they were still busy and not paying her any mind, she went into Bill's room. She knew where he kept his stash of condoms. She'd found them once looking for a pair of nail clippers when hers broke. Sure enough, there was a whole box in there. And the box was already open. What was one or two missing? He probably wouldn't notice, especially if as Claire said they didn't use them real often anymore. And if he noticed? She suspected Claire would cover for her.

Could he get mad at her for being safe and prepared? What was he going to do anyway? Yell at her for having sex when she wasn't married? He wasn't either so he couldn't do that. She was young, but like Claire said she'd come close to dying that night. Certainly, that had to count for something?

She could have slept with any number of guys, before and after that night, but she hadn't. So, it wasn't like she was just out to have sex. She wasn't sure she was in love with Xander, but she liked him and knew that he wouldn't be a jerk to her afterward.

"And what about his fiancé?" she murmured, pocketing two of the condoms after glancing out the door to ensure no one was there.

He told her the truth about that. She was dead so he didn't have to mention it at all. She would never have known. And it wasn't as if she was asking him to marry her.

She stayed at the top of the stairs until she was sure that Bill and Claire were presentable.

"What was that for?" she heard Claire ask, though she didn't sound at all upset or put out.

"You see the life of someone you've watched grow up since they were in diapers get snuffed out it tends to make you want to do whatever you can to feel alive."

Kylie's eyes closed, tears threatened to spill. Someone she knew, a classmate, had died last night. Their little town could hardly do with any more casualties.

She heard Claire's voice but she was talking too softly for Kylie to pick up on what she said.

"She stayed the night with him, didn't she?" she heard him ask. She knew then for sure they were done having sex.


"Don't lie to me, Claire. First of all it ain't right and second of all you're terrible at it. I saw it all over both of your faces when you walked through that door. She wasn't at no store with you this early in the morning the day after prom. Besides, I spoke to a couple of people who were at the lake and they said Kylie and her date left well before sunrise."

"Don't get mad at her," Kylie said, making her way down the stairs. "She was just telling you what I wanted her to tell you."

"Let me guess, and you girls always have to stick together."

Kylie smiled a little. "Well, yeah."

"Kylie, honey, you're almost eighteen I can't much stop you from doing what you feel the need to do. Just don't lie to me. Lying brings mistrust and things start to fester. I like having you here and hope even after you go to college you'll still come home to Wheelsy and this house."

"I know," she said. "It's just you don't like him."

"I don't dislike him. I'm just not sure I trust him or you."


"Oh come on, Kylie, weren't that long ago you couldn't wait to get out of Wheelsy. I knew that. So, I worry that you see him as a way out."

"I don't!"

"I know that. Now. I saw how you were with him. And everyone I talked to last night seemed to go out of their way to assure me that your date behaved himself."


"Yeah, all but one guy. Scott something or other. You know the guy I'm talking about?"

"Yes," Kylie said.

"I didn't believe him, though, because it was fairly clear he was lying through his teeth and had an agenda. Like possibly getting you to go with him."

"Yeah," Kylie said.

"But you didn't want to go with anyone but Xander?"


"Well, then, there it is. I accept that. I reckon someone who handles a gun and was able to stop one of those worm thingys from getting full-on into you deserves to make a decision like who they date on their own."

"Thank you."


"By the way," Kylie said with a wry smile.


She pointed at his shirt. "You buttoned it wrong."

"Funny, I hadn't noticed that before," Bill said, fixing the shirt.

"Yeah, funny," Kylie said, walking to the fridge.

"I'm sorry, Bill," Claire said.

"Yeah, well, you owe me," Bill said as Kylie set the eggs for the French toast on the counter next to the bread.

Claire smiled at that. And it was that smile. The one Claire only gave Bill at times when she was thinking about him in ways she probably had no business thinking in front of her or anyone else.

"You just tell me how to pay off my debt, Chief. Do you want that here and now? Or is my credit okay?"

He stammered a little, glancing at Kylie who ducked her head before peaking into the fridge again. Milk, she needed milk.

"I think your credit will do just fine."

She gave a soft giggle then and Kylie wondered how she did that. Did it come natural? Was it because she loved Bill? Or was she just that comfortable with herself? Kylie knew she was pretty. Not the prettiest girl in town by any means, but she was attractive, but there were times she looked in the mirror and saw a frumpy girl.

"As long as you're sure," Claire said.

"I'll take an IOU. Just need to see some ID."

"Oh God, please just go on upstairs and I'll make the French toast while you two get it out of your system." They'd just had sex and were acting as if it'd been hours or days since. Maybe that's how it was, Kylie certainly wouldn't know and none of her friends were in the position to have frequent sex.

"What?" Bill stammered.

"Like I don't know what you two are talking about. I'm not clueless. Go collect your debt," she said. "Or whatever you need to do."

"Kylie, honey, we're just playing," Bill said. His eyes widened then, realizing Kylie had known that all along. "I assure you I can resist at least until after breakfast."

"At least til then, huh?" Kylie said with a shake of her head. "Hopefully when you come down for lunch you'll have buttoned your shirt right."

"Maybe I'll come down not wearing one at all."

Kylie couldn't deny that idea didn't bother her in the least. She'd seen him more than once around the house without a shirt and he was nice to look at.

"At least it wouldn't be obvious you'd just had sex in our kitchen!"

"Kylie Strutemyer!"

Claire laughed, distracting Bill with a kiss. "Now who's lying?"

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