Just One Week, Bailey
by: Highlander II
Started: March 2001
Finished: July/August 2001
Rating/Warning: R - language, adult situations (no sex)
Short summary: Bailey is asked to "Chloe-sit" for a week. This
story does take place a few years after the end of the series.
Disclaimer: Bailey, Chloe, Sam, Rachel, Angel, John, George, and the rest
of the VCTF clan belong to Sander/Moses et. al. productions. They've been
borrowed for the duration of this little adventure and shall be returned upon
Feedback to: Highlander II
"Bailey, I need a favor," she had asked.
"Sam, what are you doing in Atlanta?" was his response.
"Well, I'm actually not in Atlanta at the moment."
"What do you need, Sam?"
There was a pause. He could picture her tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
Nervous. Wanting to ask her question, but not sure exactly how to do so.
He laughed. "Come on, Sam."
"Okay. I was wondering if you could keep Chloe company for about a week.
Angel and I have a trip we've been planning…"
"Chloe doesn't want to go?"
"No. This is a gift from Chloe to Angel and I. She says we need to get out
"So Bailey, you gonna do it?"
"Why me?" Keeping watch of a seventeen-year-old girl was not what he
had had in mind.
"It was Chloe's idea. She hasn't seen you in a while and she thought it
might be fun. It's just one week, Bailey."
Fifteen more minutes of arm-twisting and several pleas from Chloe Waters
herself, and Bailey Bailey had agreed to Chloe-sit. Samantha Waters had stopped
by , said 'hello' and 'good-bye' almost in the same breath, dropped off Chloe,
given him a quick kiss on the cheek, and dashed out the door. She said she would
call when she and Angel had gotten settled into their vacation.
What was he going to do with a teenager for a week? He was not much of a father
to his own daughters when they were this age; hard to do when they live six
states away. He had tried though; he had brought Frances to live with him,
though that had not turned out as well as he had planned, but that was the past.
Now, Frances was studying English and psychology in a graduate school almost as
far away from the East Coast as she could get -- California. He had not tried to
talk her out of it. It was what she wanted to do, and he had let her go. Her
mother was furious, but there was nothing he could have done. Frances was old
enough to take care of herself and old enough to tell her parents to fuck off if
she did not agree with them. She had not exactly said that, but he heard what
she had told her mother, and it was not pretty.
A soft voice was calling to him from the doorway. He listened this time.
"I'm sorry, Chloe. Let me get that." He lifted her bag from the floor
and carried it up the stairs. It was heavier than he thought it would be, but
not too heavy for him to carry. "What in the world do you have in here? Did
you leave anything at home?"
She smiled at him. "Yeah, a couple things. It's all the stuff I'm gonna
"Okay." He shook his head as he placed the bag on the bed in the spare
The house had seemed so empty since Frances had left. He missed her; had not
seen her in over six months, but had gotten a quick phone call a couple days ago
that let him know she was all right and was busy studying for her first semester
That voice returned again. "Bailey, are you okay?"
"Yeah. Fine. You hungry?" It was nearing seven o'clock and he had not
eaten since lunch at the office, work-a-holic Bailey - frequently spent weekends
at the VCTF.
"Starved. Mom was in a big hurry when we left."
"What would you like?"
"You cook?" She tilted her head to one side, eyeing him curiously.
"Sometimes. But we can go out if you'd like."
"Either is fine with me."
"Get your coat."
Chloe grabbed her winter coat from the bed where she had tossed it a moment
earlier and followed him toward the front door. He put on his coat and hat.
"I don't suppose we could take the Harley?" she asked expectantly.
"It's a little cold. And, we're not dressed for it." He could not
believe she had asked. She had not asked to ride his motorcycle since her ninth
birthday when her mother had vehemently refused to even let him answer.
"We can change."
"I'm hungry." He watched her face melt. "I'll tell you what; I'll
take you for a ride tomorrow, but you have to promise not to tell you
Her face brightened immediately. "You got it!"
"Can we go?" he asked playfully, motioning toward the door. She nodded
and stepped through the door two steps ahead of him.
Dinner was lovely. Bailey had chosen a restaurant where they would not look out
of place, he still in his suit, sans tie and vest, and she in a comfortable pair
of black cotton pants and a white button-down shirt. They had a wonderful talk
about nothing in particular. The usual chitchat. He asked her about school and
her mother and Denzel, the dog; she asked about his Harley.
"One track mind." He sipped some water.
"I like the bike. Mom hates them. Says they're not safe."
"She may be right. I've known some guys who've gotten pretty beat up
crashing those things."
"You ever crash?"
"No. The last bike I crashed was a Schwinn. I was eight."
She laughed and nearly dropped her glass. Slightly embarrassed at almost making
a mess, she asked if they could leave. Bailey paid the bill and escorted her to
"A video store? Why?"
"Come on, Bailey. We can veg-out on the couch, munch popcorn, and watch a
movie. It'll be fun."
"All right," he conceded and drove to the local video store.
Chloe spent twenty minutes deciding on three videos. "All set," she
said, waving the boxes in the air and watching him shake his head. She smiled as
they paid the rental fee and exited the store. "Bailey, don't you ever do
anything but work?"
He only smiled, and opened the car door for her. "Get in."
"So, what did you get?" Bailey asked, tossing his keys onto the table
by the door and putting his coat and hat in the closet.
"Good stuff. Come on." She bounded through the house, tossed the
videos on the coffee table, and walked to the kitchen to make popcorn.
Bailey followed her to the living room. Sighing, he sat on the couch and picked
up the video boxes. He was not exactly surprised by the selection, just,
perhaps, a little confused. His own video collection, sparse as it was,
contained nothing like any of these movies -- horror, drama (it looked like what
they call a 'chic-flick' to him), and some action-adventure thing with a big
burly man holding a large weapon. He could only shake his head.
"What? You don't like my movies?" Chloe asked from just over his left
"Don't know. Never heard of any of them." He placed the boxes back on
the table and accepted the bowl of steaming popcorn she handed him.
"Too bad. These are the really good ones." She popped open one of the
boxes and slid the tape into the VCR, turned on the TV and settled into the
couch beside him, digging her hand into the popcorn bowl.
He balanced the bowl on his lap and tossed a few kernels into his mouth as the
movie trailers rolled, depicting the newest releases and coming attractions. The
'feature presentation' began and Chloe jumped up to switch off the lights.
"What are you doing?" he asked as she returned to the couch.
"You always watch horror movies in the dark. They're more fun that
way." She munched more popcorn.
Bailey was not quite sure what to make of this little evening. Was he going to
have to do this every night this week? Watch a movie -- a teenager movie -- with
Chloe? Sure, he liked Chloe, always had, but he was by no means a teenager
anymore, and some of their 'habits' annoyed him.
"Something wrong, Bailey?" she asked, interrupting his silent musings.
"No. Just thinking."
"You're gonna miss the movie."
"So, I am," he agreed and settled in to watch the movie with Chloe.
Maybe this was not going to be as bad as he had initially thought.
The movie was not completely terrible. There was no plot and the special effects
were as corny as they could get, but he was amused that such things would
frighten people. He was ready to laugh when Chloe jumped and wrapped her arms
tightly around his neck, knocking the half-empty bowl of popcorn to the floor.
He put his arms around her for a moment, until she slid back to the couch,
nestled just a little closer than before, then he asked, "You okay?"
Her small head nodded against his shoulder, her gaze fixed on the screen.
He draped his arm around her shoulder protectively. If she was scared, he would
make sure nothing would harm her and that she was okay before she went to bed,
even though it was just a movie.
He toed the popcorn bowl under the table and turned back to the TV. There was no
rush to clean it up and it would still be there when the movie ended.
Chloe seemed to inch closer and closer as the movie progressed. By the time the
final credits were rolling, she was nearly in his lap, her arms clasped around
his chest, her head on his shoulder, half shielding her eyes from the screen. He
leaned close to her ear. "Chloe, it's over."
She lifted her head and looked into his face.
He smiled. "Why did you rent that?"
"Horror movies are fun. This one just got to me a little. Maybe it was the
wind outside." She stretched her arms over her head, releasing some of the
The wind had been a bit restless this evening. And watching a movie made to
scare you will turn up the adrenaline just a little.
He bent over and picked up the bowl of popcorn, placing it on the table before
reaching to retrieve the few kernels that had made a run for it.
"I'll get that. I made the mess." She knelt on the floor to help.
"It's all right, Chloe." He brushed the crumbs from his hands into the
bowl and leaned back on the couch as Chloe stepped over his feet and returned
the bowl to the kitchen.
He looked at his watch. It was getting late; he needed a cigar and a shower.
Chloe was standing in the doorway watching him when he looked up, brushing a
hand through his hair.
"Am I keeping you from something?" She grinned, her eyes lighting up
"No." The phone rang and he reached to answer it. "Hello."
"Hi, Bailey!" an excited voice met his ears.
Smiling: "Hi, Sam. How's your vacation going?"
"It's great. Just wanted to call and let you know everything's wonderful
and give you the number where we're staying. Only if there's an emergency,
He laughed. "I wasn't going to say a word, Sam. Glad to hear you're having
Chloe sank into the couch beside him, eagerly waiting her turn to talk with her
"Here's Chloe." He handed the phone to the teenager and pushed from
the couch. Walking to the kitchen, he glanced over his shoulder to see Chloe in
an animated conversation with her mother, and smiled. He poured a glass of
juice, avoiding the alcohol while Chloe was visiting.
"Bailey," Chloe called, approaching the kitchen.
"What?" He sipped his juice.
"Mom said to tell you 'thank you' and to relax and have fun." The girl
crossed the kitchen and dragged a solitary finger across his chest, stepping to
Was Chloe flirting with him? He shook that thought from his head. He was three
times her age and one of her mother's best friends. The thought returned, but
only briefly; Chloe snapped her fingers in his face.
"Hey, Bailey, everything okay? You looked spaced-out there for a sec."
"Yeah, I'm fine." He rubbed a hand over his hair. "Look, I'm
going to take a shower and go to bed. You need anything?"
"Nope." She held up the soda she had retrieved from the refrigerator.
"I'm good. Is it okay if I watch TV for a while?"
"Sure. Good night, Chloe." He kissed the top of her head and turned to
climb the stairs.
She was leaning across the counter and as he reached the first step, she called
"Yes, Chloe?" He stopped.
"Can I use the phone?" There was a silence. "It's local."
"Sure." He continued up the stairs, unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it
off, dropping it into the hamper in the bathroom. He toed off his shoes and slid
his pants off, tossing them over the side of the hamper to hang up later.
Undershirt, underwear, and socks were next, all thrown in the hamper. He turned
on the shower, waited for the water temperature to regulate, and stepped in,
closing the door behind him.
The hot water rained on him, clear and soothing. He pushed the water through his
hair, then cleared it from his face. He washed his hair and himself, then stood
in the stream of water, letting it relax his tired muscles. Slowly, he opened
his eyes, remembering his houseguest, turned off the shower and stepped out,
wrapping himself in his dark blue robe.
He padded to the bedroom, grabbing his pants on the way and hanging them in the
Deciding on a pair of sweats with the letters "FBI" emblazoned on the
left leg as pajamas; he slid into them and returned to the bathroom to pass a
brush over his hair. Shaving could wait until morning. He brushed his teeth and
straightened the bathroom. On the way back to the bedroom, he stopped on the
landing, listening; the TV was on, but he was not sure if Chloe was asleep or
He did not want her to think he was checking on her, but also did not want to
leave her downstairs with no blanket. Decision made, he quietly descended the
stairs, checked the locks on all the doors, pulled a blanket from the closet,
and stepped into the living room. Chloe was asleep on the couch, her hands
tucked under her head. He covered her with the blanket, turned off the TV, and
replaced the phone in its cradle. Returning once more to the couch, he kissed
her lightly on the forehead and turned off the light, then returned to his
bedroom upstairs. He switched off the light and crawled into bed.
"Hmm. I didn't know you used a straight razor. That's kinda cool,
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, still watching the stroke of his
razor in the mirror. He had not heard her enter the bathroom. Carefully, he
rinsed the razor and smiled. "Thanks." The last person who had ever
shown any interest in his shaving habits was his daughter, Frances. She loved to
sit in the bathroom and watch him shave. Then she grew up and had no time for
Wrinkling his brow, he lowered his razor and turned to her. "Chloe, what
are you doing up so early?"
She shrugged. "Habit. I have to get up early for school, so, I'm used to
it." She sat on the closed toilet seat and crossed her legs. "Mind if
I watch?" she asked, her face tilted upward.
"Not at all." He glanced at her again, then continued with his
shaving, very aware that a pair of blue eyes was focused on his every move. He
made the final pass, rinsed his razor and his face, and patted his skin with a
"Yeah." Her eyes were bright and shining. "I've never seen anyone
shave with a straight razor. Why do you?"
"I get a better shave."
"I thought it was because you were old-fashioned." She playfully
slapped his bicep, laughing as she exited the bathroom.
Bailey laughed too, but only a moment. Was he *old-fashioned*? Perhaps, but
maybe he liked it. He preferred the straight razor because it was a closer
shave, but it was also good for practicing precision movements with a delicate
hand; a good way to make oneself feel better about being over fifty.
"Chloe, what do you want for breakfast?" he called to her, stepping
from the bathroom and his thoughts.
"What do you have?" She poked her head out the bedroom door.
"I think I can whip something up."
"Whatever you fix will be fine. I'll be down in a minute. Gotta do the
shower and dress thing."
Smiling, he nodded and descended the stairs. In the kitchen, he prepared eggs,
toast, bacon, and juice. He set the table, placed the food in the center, and
returned to the kitchen to stack the cooking implements in the sink. As he
returned to the table, Chloe reached the bottom of the stairs
He pulled a chair out for her, allowing her to sit. He took the chair across
from her. Breakfast was fairly quiet, but nice. Once finished, Chloe offered to
wash the dishes while Bailey went back upstairs to dress.
"Don't forget, you're taking me for a ride today."
A smile crossed his lips. "I didn't forget." He walked to his room,
pulled on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, a thermal shirt to ward off the chilly
December air, heavy socks, and boots. He grabbed his leather jacket as he passed
the hall closet on his way back to the living room.
He leaned against the doorframe watching Chloe wash dishes at the sink. In many
ways, she reminded him of his own daughters, well, as much as he could remember
about them before he left.
She rinsed the last dish and placed it in the drain, drying her hands on a
towel, she turned and tilted her head to one side, looking back at him.
"Almost." She darted up the stairs and returned a moment later
sporting her own leather jacket. "Now, I'm ready."
Bailey wrinkled his brow. "Your mother know you have that?" he asked,
swinging his jacket around his shoulders and pushing his arms through the
sleeves, shrugging it into place.
"Yeah. She doesn't know that I bought it on the off chance you would give
me a ride though." She smiled and walked to the door.
Shaking his head, Bailey grabbed his keys and followed her out.
The ride was uneventful. Just smooth driving around Atlanta. Chloe learned
quickly all the nuances of being a passenger on a motorcycle and seemed to be
enjoying herself, until they stopped in front of the VCTF building.
Pulling her helmet from her head, shaking her hair free, she asked,
"Bailey, what are we doing here?"
Removing his own helmet, he responded, "I have to pick up some things. You
want to wait out here, or are you coming in with me?"
"It's too cold out here. I'm coming with you." She followed him
inside, through the security checkpoints and into the command center.
He watched her. She looked uncomfortable. It had been quite some time since she
had last been here. He put a hand on her shoulder. "Chloe, you
"Yeah. I'm fine. Are we going to be here long?"
"No. I just have to get something from my office." On the way to his
office, Bailey stopped to chat with Grace for a minute, then while he was
sifting through papers on his desk someone knocked at the open door.
He turned around to face the visitor. "Morning, Rachel."
"What are you doing here? I thought you were on vacation?"
"Such that it is. Had a change of plans."
"Really? Forced or choice?"
"A little of both. I was forced to choose to not take my initial vacation
because Frances has finals this week."
"Too bad. I know you were really looking forward to going. Planning to go
"Maybe. I still have to take this week, or I'll lose it."
"Yeah. I know the feeling. What's Chloe doing here?" Rachel indicated
the young lady patiently waiting outside Bailey's office.
"Sam didn't have the same problem. Chloe gave her mother and Angel a
vacation for Christmas, and they are off on a beach somewhere, enjoying the
Bailey quirked his eyebrows and returned to the search of his desk.
"What are you looking for, Bailey?" Rachel crossed the office, leaning
over the desk to help if she could.
"This." He plucked a set of papers, stapled neatly at the top, right-
hand corner and turned to leave the office, stopped by a hand on his forearm.
"Bailey." He turned back to face her. "Merry Christmas." She
gave him a light kiss on the mouth, then left the office.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Rachel," he returned as he watched her
Rachel stopped to wish Chloe the joys of the season as she passed and Bailey
noticed Chloe's less than appreciative response.
Confused, he exited the office, put an arm around Chloe, and escorted her back
to his bike. He leaned carefully against the seat and turned Chloe to face him.
"Hey, what was that all about?"
"What was *what* all about, Bailey?" She crossed her arms over her
"Nothing." She narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
"It just looked a little hostile to me."
"No. Did it look that way? Bailey," she put her hands on his face,
"I just get a little nervous around this place."
He pulled her into a hug. "I know sweetie." He knew she had mixed
feelings about the VCTF HQ. The strength of the team that was hunting killers
and rapists and other criminals was there, but she had also known it as the
place where they were forced to hide from Jack.
"I'm okay, Bailey." She patted his shoulders, moving away. "Can
we finish our ride?"
"You bet." He tucked the papers from his desk into his jacket,
replaced his helmet and mounted the bike. Chloe climbed on behind him, clasping
her arms around his waist.
"That was amazing, Bailey!" Chloe said as she freed her hair from the
helmet and handed it to him.
"So, you had fun?" He secured the helmets.
"Yeah. Thanks." She hugged him tightly, a smile on her face.
"You're welcome." He hugged back, equally contented. Happy that she
had enjoyed her ride.
Taking a couple steps away, she chided, "And, I won't tell on you."
She wriggled her eyebrows and ran back to the house.
He followed her. "You'd better not!" he joked and caught up with her
in the yard. She stopped, turned suddenly, and Bailey found himself hitting the
ground, rolling, taking Chloe with him. The hard, December-frozen ground pushed
the air from his lungs. He took several deep breaths, then started laughing.
Chloe joined his laughter once she realized he was all right.
He stopped laughing and saw that her face was very close to his. Closing his
eyes long enough to take a deep breath, he felt lips on his mouth, not crushing,
but light and tender. Mentally, he shook his head. The seventeen-year-old
daughter of his best friend was kissing him. Gently, he pushed on her shoulders.
She turned away from him, her face flushed, and whispered, "I'm sorry,
Bailey." Then, she bolted into the house, leaving him sprawled in the yard.
Confused, Bailey pushed himself from the ground and walked into the house.
"Chloe!" he called when he did not see her in the front room.
"Chloe!" He climbed the stairs and walked to the guestroom where he
found her, laying on the bed, on her stomach, face pointed away from the door.
"Chloe," he spoke softly as he entered the room and sat on the edge of
He gently placed a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged away from him. "Leave
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
"You probably hate me. I know you do."
"No. I don't hate you."
"I don't hate you, Chloe." How was he supposed to handle this?
"You're just going through a rough spot." He stroked her hair.
She rolled over to face him, shaking her head, tears welling in her eyes.
"No, Bailey, you don't understand."
His brow wrinkled in confusion.
Chloe pushed herself to sit against the headboard and brushed a hand through her
"Bailey… aw man, this is hard." She looked away from him, then back.
He watched her eyes; they were soft and sad. "It's all right, Chloe.
"I love you, Bailey."
He smiled. "I love you too, sweetheart."
Shaking her head again. "No. Not like that."
"Oh." His eyes widened. "Well, Chloe…."
"See, I told you you'd hate me."
It was his turn to shake his head. "No. I don't hate you. I just don't
think you truly understand…." He stopped. He had heard people give that
speech before and while the speech, itself was essentially correct, the only
result it would gain is an upset young lady.
"What don’t I understand, Bailey? What love is? How people love?"
"No. I know you understand that. But try to see this from my point of
view." He saw her head tilt slightly to the left. "Do you know how old
She shook her head.
"Fifty-five, Chloe. I’m fifty-five years old. You're seventeen…."
"That doesn't mean that I don't know how I feel!"
"I know. I wasn't saying that." This was turning out to be harder than
he thought. "You realize I'm old enough to be your father?"
"But you're *not* my father."
He closed his eyes a moment, thinking. When he reopened them, her slender hand
was pressed to his cheek. He took her hand in his. "Chloe, I'm thirty-eight
years older than you. While I am very flattered that you feel this way, I can't
reciprocate the way you want me to."
She retracted her hand. "It's because my kiss sucked. You hated it."
He sighed, his whole body falling with the effort. Telling her he liked her kiss
would only fan the flames; he could not do that. But, he had no idea what he
should tell her. If he told her he did not like it, she would be crushed and,
shut him out for good. Damn it. He took a deep breath, decision made, and he
spoke, "Chloe, I don't hate you, and your kiss didn't 'suck'…."
"You liked it?" Her face lit up as she asked.
"Chloe, we can't have this conversation." He put a hand in the air to
prevent her objection. "Think of how your mother would react. She would
kill me if I were to even *think* of doing anything to you."
"Even if I want you to?"
"That doesn't matter."
"What I want doesn't matter?"
"I didn't say that. Your mother is my best friend. I would never do
anything to hurt her. Or you. But, Chloe, I'm not the right guy for you."
"How do you know? You haven't even tried."
Bailey rose from the bed, crossing to the door, not trying to leave, just
needing to physically put space between Chloe and himself. "Are you
listening to me?" His voice was much harsher than he had intended, but she
needed to understand. "I can't try and I won't try. Chloe, you're beautiful
and intelligent, but far too young to be in a relationship with me."
"The law says I'm not." Her lips were beginning to tremble.
Legality. Was she planning to use the argument that she had reached the age of
consent? "That's not the issue. I could not, in good conscience, engage in
any relationship with you beyond the friendship we already have. I just can't do
it." He was exhausted; this speech was taking more out of him than any of
his arguments with Frances ever had. He leaned heavily against the doorjamb to
Chloe's tears flowed freely as she responded, "Bailey, you've never spoken
to me like this before. Why?"
He blinked hard. "I'm not trying to hurt you, Chloe."
She lowered her head. Twisting her hair with her fingers, refusing to make eye
contact, staring at the comforter, extending the silence between them.
Bailey crossed his arms over his chest, still leaning in the doorway. What was
he supposed to say to her now? Sure, he was a father and knew how to talk to
children, but they never had a crush on him.
"Sweetheart, I know this is hard, but it's not the right thing to do."
He heard her sniffle. "Chloe," he waited, "Chloe?" She
looked at him, this time with a question in her face. He tried to answer it.
"Chloe, I know you probably feel that I've abandoned you. I haven't. I'm
still your friend and you can talk to me about anything."
He walked to the bed and sat on the edge again. She sighed and wiped the tears
>from her eyes.
"Hey, we still friends?" he asked. Tilting her head up, his hand
resting under her chin.
Chloe sniffled again and nodded. "Yeah, Bailey, we're still friends."
"Good." He attempted a weak smile, drawing one from her also.
"Hey, I have some ice cream in the freezer. What do you say?" Someone
had once told him, ice cream healed all wounds.
Her smile grew wider. "Sure. Let's go." She slid from the bed and
walked around it to him, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He hugged back, still a little uncomfortable about the whole situation, but
satisfied with the results of their conversation. For now, things were all
right, awkward, but all right. They would have ice cream and watch another
"Come on, Bailey," she said, tugging on his sleeve.
"Sorry." He had not realized she was waiting on him. "Should we
watch one of the other movies while we eat?"
Smiling she nodded and took a deep breath.
"No. I’m okay." She took his hand and walked with him downstairs.
Ice cream bowls in hand, they sat on the couch, prepared to spend the rest of
the afternoon watching the action movie Chloe had chosen. She was not quite on
the opposite side of the couch, but as mentally distant as she was, she could
Bailey sighed and spooned more ice cream to his mouth, watching the movie. This
one was a little better than the horror from the night before, but was still not
his preferred genre.
He watched one side of her mouth curl. "I'm really sorry about
"It's all right, Chloe." He squeezed her shoulder and placed his empty
bowl on the table. He glanced at his watch out of habit, not really paying
attention to the time. Lazily, he leaned into the couch, folding his arms behind
his head, closing his eyes.
He opened his eyes. "No. I’m fine."
She shrugged at him and crossed the living room to the kitchen. He closed his
eyes again. He was never going to understand teenagers.
Something tugged at his sleeve and he opened his eyes, wishing he had unfolded
his arms, because now they were stiff and tingling from lack of circulation. He
stretched and rubbed his arms as he searched for the source of the tugging.
"What do you need sweetheart?" he asked, trying not to yawn.
"Nothing. I fixed dinner." She motioned toward the kitchen.
His eyebrows arched. "Oh. Thanks." He pushed himself from the couch,
combed his fingers through his hair, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
"I thought you weren't tired," she chided as he passed.
He shrugged, yawning. "Just needed a quick cat nap." He stopped short
when he saw the dining table set with a pair of lit tapered candles, the food
arranged just right. A voice in the back of his head told him this was a bad
idea, but the rumbling in his stomach quieted the voice, though only for a
moment. He walked to the table, ready to sit and eat, but that little voice
returned. Turning, he faced Chloe. "I thought we had cleared this up?"
He tried to keep his voice even and controlled.
Watching the gleam in her eyes disappear nearly broke his heart.
"Bailey, I was only trying to be nice. If you don't…."
"I'm sorry, Chloe. It's lovely. The food looks wonderful." He slid a
chair out for her, motioned for her to sit.
"Thank you." She sat and waited for him to do the same before lifting
"So, Chloe, what have you prepared?" He studied the table and his
guest, kicking himself, mentally, for over-reacting.
She smiled and blushed. "Honestly? I ordered Chinese take-out. I'm not a
very good cook."
He could not help smiling at her. "I think we can rectify that."
"What?" she asked confused.
"I'll teach you to cook."
"Really? Cool! You can do that in a week?"
"Well, I can't teach you everything, but I can give you some basics."
Conversation continued throughout dinner, consisting of things she wanted to
learn how to prepare and, of course, back to the Harley. Avoidance of their talk
from earlier was mutual, making dinner slightly awkward, but less so than had
they broached the subject.
"I have an idea, Chloe," Bailey began, attempting to drag the
conversation away from his Harley, "Why don't we invite the team over and
share what I've taught you with them?"
"Huh? You mean you want them to eat what I cook?"
He chuckled. "Yes. It's very difficult to see their reactions
"I don't know, Bailey. What if I ruin the food?"
His smile remained. "Don't worry. We won't have them over tomorrow. How
about the end of the week? Friday?"
She nodded. "Sure."
"Good." He finished his dinner. He could not tell if she was really
okay, or if she was just agreeing because he had made the suggestion.
Dinner completed, dishes washed, Bailey and Chloe sat in the living room with
"Mom misses you a lot, Bailey," Chloe stated, sipping her drink, her
legs tucked comfortably beneath her.
"Really? Hmph. Would never know it; that she misses me that much. We only
talk about once a month." Bailey nervously brushed a hand over his hair,
then rested his arm along the back of the couch.
"Yeah. She says she'd call more, but she'd feel foolish for leaning on you
He laughed. Sam and he had done a great deal of mutual leaning while she was at
the VCTF. "Tell her, she wouldn't be leaning."
"You could call her, you know?"
"I know. I’m really bad at remembering stuff like that."
Giggles; she was giggling at him.
*Great, she's giggling; she thinks I'm an old man.* Bailey shook his head,
sipped his drink.
"I don't think you're an old man, Bailey."
"What?" Oh no, she reads minds too?
"The look on your face when I laughed. I knew what you were thinking."
The only thing he could do was smile. She was quite insightful, smart girl. A
thought entered his mind. "You graduate this year, don't you?"
"Yeah. You gonna come?"
"Of course. Wouldn't miss it." He tweaked her nose, playfully.
"What about Frances?"
"Um," he thought a moment, "she's still got a semester or two
before she's finished."
"No. I meant, is she gonna come?"
"Hmm. I don't know, but I can ask her the next time I speak with her."
"Thanks." She yawned, covering her mouth, and excusing herself. Then,
she rose from the couch. "I’m going to bed. See you in the morning."
She kissed him on the forehead and climbed the stairs.
He smiled. Mother hen. Her mother was the same way. Sam was always telling him
to get more sleep, take a vacation, eat better. It drove him nuts, but he loved
her for it. It is always nice to have someone looking out for you.
He stretched and punched the power button on the remote control, turning on the
television. Rolling through the channels, he failed to focus on anything and
decided to go up to bed.
Lights off, soft classical music playing on the stereo in the corner, he stared
toward the ceiling. A few hours ago he had been unable to stay awake, now he was
unable to sleep. He sighed heavily.
"Bailey," a voice called to him from the hallway.
"Yes?" he returned.
"You can't sleep can you?"
"No." He sighed again.
"Me neither." She stepped into the room, the faint light from the
hallway turning her to a silhouette.
"Come on. We can lie awake together."
"Okay." She sounded surprised at his suggestion.
He heard her feet as they padded across the soft carpet. The bed dipped slightly
as she sat on the edge, then situated herself beside him. She took a breath,
held it a moment, then released it.
"You all right?" he asked.
"Yeah. Just wish I could sleep."
"Me too." He blinked a couple times, listening to the music.
"This happen to you often?"
"What? Insomnia? No. Unless I have a huge test the next day. You?"
"Frequently, unfortunately. I have trouble sleeping about three out of
every six days."
"Wow. Like clockwork?"
He felt the bed shift as she rolled to her side, her head coming in contact with
"You okay?" He almost laughed.
"Yeah. Didn't know your arm was there."
"Sorry." They were quiet a moment. "Oh, about my insomnia; nah,
it's not quite like clockwork. I've had some weeks when I fell asleep quickly
every night, and others when I couldn't sleep a wink."
"For a whole week?"
"Pretty much. Ten or fifteen minute cat naps here and there."
"Can't say I'm that much of an insomniac."
"Nope. Yours is nerves."
"You see anyone about it?"
"Nope. I just deal with it."
"No wonder Mom was always worried about you."
"Something like that."
She moved closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. He lowered his arm,
curling it around her back.
"Good night, Chloe." He kissed the top of her head and returned his
gaze to the ceiling.
He pushed the water from his eyes, turning his head; he thought he had seen a
figure by the bathroom door. With his left hand, he wiped some of the
condensation from the shower door and peered through toward the door. He saw
Showers were an excellent way to start the day, but when there is a nagging
feeling in the back of your mind, the fact that you are naked becomes incredibly
evident. He finished his shower and turned off the water. A towel wrapped around
his waist, he dried his hair with a second towel.
"Nice legs, Bailey," Chloe giggled from the hallway.
He blinked once, slowly, at her, a scowl on his face. He was not amused.
"Sorry." She backed away from the bathroom door.
This was too hard. Keeping Chloe far enough away to be comfortable without
hurting her was draining his energy. She was a beautiful young woman, but only
seventeen. He harbored no romantic feelings for her, only those of a very close
friend. Why could he not make her see that?
"Bailey, do you plan to teach me to cook wearing nothing but a towel?"
"No. Sorry. Give me a minute." He walked past her to his room to
dress. He emerged a moment later, clad in jeans and a black T-shirt, no shoes.
"Let's go." He motioned toward the stairs, scratching the stubble on
his face. Because of his lengthy internal ramblings, he had not had the time to
shave before Chloe was ready to get started.
She was leaning against the counter, an apron tied around her waist. He shook
his head. "You're wearing it wrong." He crossed to her and adjusted
the apron so she was wearing it properly. "Now you're ready."
"What are we preparing today?"
He smiled. "For now? Breakfast. What do you want?"
"Wow. Um, omelets?"
"Sure. Let's see." Opening the refrigerator, he peered inside, looking
for the proper ingredients. He retrieved several items and placed them on the
"I need a knife." Chloe turned, looking.
"On the magnet over the stove." He pointed and returned to the
refrigerator, retrieving juice and a few other items, placing them on the
Chloe was already slicing the tomatoes. He watched her work, her elegant fingers
moving deftly. She was doing very well for a beginner.
"You're a natural. Well, with dicing tomatoes." He smiled. "Next
will be peppers and onions."
"Ooh. The hard stuff." She wriggled her eyebrows at him playfully.
He felt the edges of his eyes wrinkle as he smiled at her and chuckled.
She shook her head and continued slicing. Once finished, she started on the
peppers, then the onions. "Okay, here we go."
"Don't wipe your eyes." He placed a skillet on the stove, preparing it
for the egg mixture.
He cracked the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a whisk. "There's ham
there," he pointed, "and, of course, cheese."
When the ingredients were ready, they were added to the egg mixture, combined,
and half poured into the skillet.
"You're up." He handed the spatula to her and stepped aside.
"What do I do?"
"Make sure it doesn't stick to the pan." He leaned across the counter,
a glass of juice in his hands. She looked at him, questioningly, then back to
the stove. "You're doing fine."
Bailey watched as she continued, then prepared the second omelet. Both meals
ready, she placed them on the table, and they sat down to eat.
Breakfast completed, dishes washed, Chloe was prepared for the next lesson.
Bailey taught her the proper way to prepare a roasted chicken with a variety of
vegetables and a small fruit salad. She also prepared some muffins, not from a
box, but >from scratch, thoroughly enjoying every minute.
"Wow. I did this?"
He smiled watching her admire her work. "Yes, you did this. You prepared
the food and now you get to eat it."
"What time is it?"
"1900. You've been busy."
"Really? Wondered why I was so hungry."
He laughed at her. "Ready?" He removed plates from the cabinet and
placed them on the table, then silverware and glasses.
"Yes. I'm ready. What beverage are we serving with dinner tonight, Mr.
"We shall have sparkling grape juice this evening ma'am," he replied,
returning her playful tone.
"Grape juice?" Her face fell with disappointment.
"It's as close to wine as you'll get for the next few years."
She only smiled and sat at the table, watching him pour the juice.
"Okay, we have one more movie to watch." She slid the tape into the
"What's this one?" he asked, settling into the couch.
"Just something I've wanted to see." Chloe sat on the couch next to
him, nestling her head against his shoulder.
Bailey cocked his head at the trailers and gently put his arm around Chloe's
She tipped her head back to look at him. "Are you going to watch this
A hurt expression on his face, he replied, "I watched the others."
She giggled and returned her attention to the movie. "Bailey, you're so
Again, he thought, 'I will never understand teenagers,' and focused on the
Chloe did not speak during the film, nor did she move. When the movie was over,
he realized she had fallen asleep. He turned off the TV, gently lifted her from
the couch, carried her up to the bedroom. Placing her carefully on the bed, he
then pulled the sheets over her, kissed her forehead, then retired to his own
0300: his eyes snapped open, very alert. He remained still, looking around the
room, searching for anything out of the ordinary. The other half of the bed was
empty, Chloe had not crept in to sleep here again. The rest of the room appeared
normal. The cabinet holding the gun safe was secured, no one had been there.
Quietly, he slid open the drawer of the bedside table, retrieving the Ka-bar he
kept there. He crept to the door of the room and peered around the corner. The
hallway light he had left on was off, darkening the entire floor. It could be as
simple as a blown light bulb, but something made the hairs on the back of his
neck stand up, and *that* made him uncomfortable.
He crept down the hall toward the guestroom. Focusing his eyes, he made out the
outline of Chloe sleeping beneath the blankets. A shiver ran down his spine and
he decided to take the few steps into the room to place a hand on her side,
verify that she was breathing. Satisfied she was all right, he moved back toward
the stairway. Stealth, blackops/special forces mode settling in further, he
descended the stairs. Halfway down, he stopped, listening. Nothing. He peered
through the slats of the railing, watching for any form of movement. Again,
nothing. He continued to the bottom of the stairs; saw a shadow pass by the
front window. Someone was outside. Had whoever cut the power to the house and
disabled the security system?
The clock on the microwave was illuminated, proclaiming it was 0310. Power was
still on, but he could not be sure of the security system without manually
checking the box by the door. A shadow crossed the front window again. He
studied the shadow and crossed to the door. The security system had not been
breached. He deactivated the alarm on the front door, unlocked it, pulled it
The air outside was bitterly cold, the fresh snow melting beneath his warm feet.
He drew the Ka-bar from its sheath, tossed the sheath toward the door. Ready for
whatever or whomever he should find, he glanced to the ground. A set of
footprints led away from the door; he followed it. He eased around the corner
and saw a figure peering through a window. Silently he crept toward the figure,
then, in an instant, had the perpetrator pinned to the wall, the Ka-bar against
the human's neck.
"Bailey! Jesus, let me go!"
Hands firmly pressing against his chest accompanied the familiar voice.
He relaxed only slightly, withdrew the Ka-bar. "Rachel, what the hell are
you doing here at three am?"
"I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep and stepped outside to take a walk. Guess I
lost track of time."
He sighed heavily, motioning toward the front door. "Why didn't you just
ring the doorbell?"
"I did. No one answered." She stopped at the open front door and
retrieved the sheath to his knife.
"Thank you." He snatched it from her. "You ring the doorbell, I
completely miss it. You walk through my front yard and I bolt awake like someone
threw cold water in my face." He sheathed the knife, closed the door and
reset the alarm as he spoke.
"Really? You woke up because I was walking through the yard?"
He scowled at her. "No. I think the lightbulb in the hallway burnt out and
*that* woke me. I just had a feeling there was something else."
"Damn. You're good."
"I'm tired, Rachel. You're welcome to stay here if you'd like. As a matter
of fact, come with me," he pulled her with him up the stairs, "I
insist on it."
"Rachel, come on. I can't have you sleep downstairs, you'll scare the shit
out of me if you roll over, and Chloe's in the guest room." He thought
about something. "Wait here," he told Rachel and walked to the
guestroom, seeing all was well, he returned to where Rachel was waiting in the
"Everything okay?" she seemed concerned.
"Yeah. Fatherly instinct I guess. Make sure everyone's where they should
"So, you were saying?" she prompted.
"Right. You can stay in here with me. That way I'll know where you are and
will know if you move." He directed her toward the bedroom.
"All right." She turned to face him. "Bailey, this is the
He stilled her voice with an index finger. "Rachel, I'm tired. Can we just
go to sleep?"
"It's okay," He sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed, returning the
Ka-bar to its drawer before laying back into the pillows.
Rachel slid onto the other side of the bed, silently. He listened for a moment
to her breathing. She shifted slightly and settled again.
"Is something bothering you, Rachel?" he asked without turning his
"It's Christmas and none of my family is here to share it with me."
"We're here. The team is your family too."
"Yeah. I know, but it's not the same."
He took a deep breath. "Come here." He pulled her close and put his
arms around her. "Frannie's in California, Ariana's still in Baltimore.
Sam's on vacation, but Chloe's here, so are you. It's not everything, but it's
"Thanks, Bailey." She kissed his cheek and settled her head against
his shoulder, drifting to sleep.
"You're welcome, Rachel." He shifted himself to a comfortable position
and fell asleep, again.
The sun peered through the small slits between the curtains, falling gently
across him and the bed. Bailey rolled over, pulling the pillow around his head
as he glanced toward the clock. 0800. He sighed and closed his eyes, only to
open them again at the realization something was not quite right.
Rachel. Where did she go? He groaned out of bed and padded to the top of the
stairs. Yawning and stretching, he remembered the light in the hall. He flipped
the switch on the wall, no change. Retrieving a bulb from the closet, he yawned
again, then removed the old bulb and replaced it with the new one. He flipped
the switch again and the bulb came to life.
The burnt bulb was placed in a trashcan on his way toward the guestroom. Chloe
was still asleep. Back to the stairs, then down, the living room and kitchen
were quiet. He rubbed his eyes and lumbered to the refrigerator. Stuck to the
door with a Harley Davidson magnet Chloe had given him several years ago, was a
note >from Rachel:
Thanks. I owe you one. Didn't want to wake you; left quietly.
Enjoy the rest of your vacation.
He crumpled the note and tossed it into the trash. She owed him nothing; he had
only insisted she stay so he could rest easier. That was not entirely true. She
had walked all the way from her apartment with no coat. He was surprised she was
not frostbitten. He was wondering how Rachel had gotten home when he heard Chloe
descending the stairs.
"Hey, Bailey," she called.
"Yes, Chloe?" he returned.
"Can we go out for breakfast?" She ruffled her hair, scratching her
"Sure. You don't want to cook?"
She gave him a look that could have been a growl had it been vocalized.
He snickered. "Okay. We'll ride."
"Really?" Her eyes widened.
"Just let me take a shower." He strolled past her to the stairs.
"Sure, but only if you get there before I do." She giggled and
pretended to dart toward the stairs. "Kidding."
"No. Go ahead. I can wait."
"Chloe, go!" He pushed her toward the stairs.
"I'm going. I’m going." She glanced over her shoulder at him as she
mounted the stairs.
He sat at the desk on the far wall of the living room and sifted through two
days worth of mail. Most of it was junk -- unwanted solicitations and 'you're
preapproved' messages -- but there was a letter from his daughter, Ariana. She
stated that she was well and enjoying her studies at the university and that she
would be studying abroad in Italy the next year. A photograph accompanied the
letter; he studied the photograph for several minutes. Ariana had grown up and
he felt like he had been the smallest part of her life. Not because he had
chosen that role, but because her mother had decided to shelter Ariana. He had
made it back to Baltimore for her high school graduation, but she had been more
distant than he had hoped.
"Bailey," a small voice entered his ear.
"Yes?" he responded, still looking at the photograph.
She reached over his shoulder and pointed to the photograph. "Who is this?
"Thank you. She's my daughter, Ariana. She's attending the University of
Baltimore. But she'll be in Italy next year."
"Italy? Really? I'd love that!"
He smiled. "Perhaps you'll go there too. It's a beautiful country." He
placed the photograph on the desk and rose from his chair. "Give me ten
"You can shower and shave in ten minutes?"
"Who said anything about shaving?" He clipped a finger under her chin
and crossed to, then climbed, the stairs.
True to his word, he was showered and dressed in ten minutes. He trotted down
the stairs to meet Chloe, who was standing by the door, holding his jacket.
"Thank you." He took the jacket and swung it around his shoulders.
"Ready?" he asked unnecessarily.
"Damn, you're good. Ten minutes." She giggled and shrugged, nodding
toward the door. "Let's go."
His head dipped in concession and he followed her.
Breakfast was, again, lovely. Then they stopped by the video store to return the
"What now?" Chloe asked him.
"At least one more stop to make. Then you have more cooking to learn."
He mounted the bike, securing his helmet, waiting for her to settle behind him.
Assured she was ready to ride by her arms clasping around his waist, he pulled
away from the curb.
He heard her sigh when he stopped the bike. He then felt her slap his bicep.
"What was that for?"
"Why are we here again?" She indicated the building behind her.
"We have an invitation to extend," he responded as he secured the
"Oh, God, Bailey. I'm so nervous."
"Chloe, you'll do fine. Trust me." He patted her on the shoulder.
"Hey, Bailey. Twice during your vacation? We're gonna have to send you
farther away next time."
"I suppose you will, Grace-y. But I'm not here to work."
Rachel stepped into the Command Center from her office. "Then why are you
here, Bailey?" she asked, also nodding a greeting to Chloe, who was a bit
more receptive this time.
"Chloe and I would like to invite all of you to dinner on Friday night. My
"That sounds wonderful. Of course we'll be there. Thank you," Rachel
accepted for everyone.
George peeked over his laptop. "Bailey, I don't know if I can make
it," he squeaked in a playfull tone.
"George, you'll be there if I have to drag you myself." Bailey smiled,
waving a finger at the resident computer genius.
George raised his hands in mock defeat. "All right, all right. I'm
"Bailey," Rachel tapped his arm, "can I talk to you for a
"Sure." He turned to Chloe. "I'll be right back."
"Okay. I’m gonna go pick on George."
Bailey laughed. "Okay."
"She's grown up fast," Rachel commented, preceding Bailey to his
"Nothing." He leaned against the edge of his desk.
"No. Bailey, what's going on?" She rubbed his arm and squeezed his
He lowered his head, then raised it, looking into her eyes. "It seems Chloe
has a crush on me."
Rachel laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. "I'm sorry, Bailey."
He scowled at her. "Why is that so funny?"
"I said, I'm sorry." She tried to contain her giggles. "It's not
funny, Bailey." Regaining her composure, she continued, "What are you
going to do about it?"
"What can I do? I talked to her and I think she understands, but I'm not
sure." He lowered his head again.
Both were silent for a moment. Then Bailey spoke again, "What was it you
needed to speak to me about?"
"About last night. I'm sorry if I scared you. And, I'm sorry I left before
"Don't worry about it, Rachel. Though I'd like a warning the next time you
decided to sneak around my house."
"You got it." She smiled and placed a gentle hand against his cheek.
He closed his eyes and leaned into her hand, needing to feel the comfort of a
strong friend. She put her arms around him in a warm embrace, holding him close.
"There something else, isn't there, Bailey?" she asked, her voice
How does she do that? "Ariana."
Rachel pulled away, looked into his eyes.
"She's going to Italy next year to study."
"Bailey, that's wonderful. It's a great opportunity for her." She
brushed a hand through his hair.
"I know, but she's still my little girl. And I was kind of surprised she
sent me the letter to let me know."
"Hey, she's probably just as lonely as you are. She's all alone in that
dorm. Sure, Mom's not that far away, but college is a big transition, Bailey.
She'll need all the support she can get."
He nodded, unable to come up with anything to say.
"Why don't you go see her this weekend. She'd love that."
"I have Chloe until Saturday, but I can go after Sam picks her up."
"Or, I can stay with her until Sam comes."
He smiled. "I'm not sure that's the best idea."
Rachel's face fell. "Why?"
"You're the competition." His eyebrows rose as he spoke.
"Very funny, Bailey."
"I'm serious. When we were here the other day, you kissed me," he
pointed to the mistletoe that always seemed to get placed over the door to his
office every year, "then walked past Chloe and said 'Hi'. She shot daggers
"You're kidding? Chloe thinks I'm interested in you?"
He scowled again. "Thanks, Rachel."
She hugged him again, laughing. "No. I didn't mean that." She kissed
his temple as she pulled back, placing her hands on either side of his head.
"It's all right, Rachel." His smiling eyes met hers.
"Well, I'd better get back to work. Wouldn't want the boss to think we'd
been slacking while he's on vacation."
She stroked her fingers over the stubble on his chin. "Forget to shave this
He shook his head. "No. Just decided to be lazy."
"I kind of like it." She gave him a light kiss on the mouth and left
Bailey turned around and flipped through the calendar on his desk. The weekend
looked pretty free. Perhaps he would go see Ariana this weekend. He lifted the
telephone receiver and dialed the number he had for Ariana's dorm room.
"Hello?" a quiet voice answered.
"Ariana? It's Daddy." His voice was unsteady; he had not spoken to her
in quite some time.
The other end of the line was quiet for a moment. "Daddy? What's
He smiled. "Nothing, sweetheart. I got your letter. You could have called
"It's hard to send a photo through the phone."
He laughed. "So it is." A pause. "So, you're going to
"Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it. It's gonna be a lot of fun."
"That's great!" He smiled again. "Have a question for you,
"Are you busy this weekend?"
"Just packing up to go home. Why?"
"Mind if I come help?"
"Really? You want to come here?"
"Sure. Come on. I can use all the help I can get."
"Oh, and don't worry, I'll talk to Mom for you. Maybe I can even convince
her to have dinner with us."
"That would be nice."
They spoke a few minutes more, until Chloe knocked at the door. They said
'good-bye' and Bailey placed the receiver in the cradle.
"You okay, Bailey?" Chloe cocked her head to one side.
"Fine. All set?" he asked.
"Yep." She hooked her arm through his and dragged him through the
"Bye, guys. See you Friday!" several people called as he and Chloe
reached the elevator. He waved to them as the doors closed and the car began its
"Are you in a hurry?" Bailey asked while he signed out and bid good
afternoon to the security guard.
"A little. I'm hungry."
"All right. Let's go. What do you want?"
"Really?" He wrinkled his nose.
"Oh come on, Bailey. Just once? Please?" Her face was ready to
completely melt if he said 'no'.
He thought a moment, making her squirm, then smiled and said, "Okay. I know
someplace we can go."
"Great! As long as I don't have to cook."
"Not a problem."
Both riders set on the Harley, he pulled from the curb and headed for their next
destination -- a lovely, Italian restaurant famous for homemade, brick oven
pizza. They enjoyed lunch. Chloe said very little, apparently much more
interested in the pizza than in conversation.
"Okay, this is way too good to leave behind." She indicated the
"Don't worry. We'll take it with us. You can have it for breakfast."
"Eww. I don't eat pizza for breakfast. Maybe an after breakfast
Bailey laughed. "Whatever you want, but you have to carry it."
"I think I can handle that."
The waiter brought a small box and placed the remaining pizza in it. Bailey paid
the bill, then he and Chloe returned to the house, after a stop by the market
for some of the items they would need for Friday's dinner, and a few for
tonight's. Chloe seemed surprised that there was room to carry the things they
had purchased on the bike, but she fared well, and they made it back to the
house with no unfortunate incidents.
"What are we doing?" Chloe asked as they entered the house.
"Tonight, you will learn how to grill." He tapped an index finger on
the end of her nose.
"We're gonna grill fish? It'll fall apart."
"Not with one of these," he held up an unusual metal object.
"What is that?"
"A grill basket. You place the fish in here," he indicated the basket
of the object, "and close it, then place it on the grill. It keeps the fish
together. Works well too."
She shrugged. "Okay." Then continued putting the grocery items away.
She straightened, closed the refrigerator, and faced him with a confused look in
"What?" he asked of her expression.
"It's December. How are we going to grill?"
Smiling, he walked to the stove and flipped a cover open, revealing an indoor
"Cool!" She studied the stove closer, finding the little intricacies
she had not noticed earlier. "Bailey, you have the coolest house."
"Thank you." He tipped his head to one side. "Don't you like your
"Yeah, but, I don't know. I guess it just isn't what *I* would want in a
"True. This is just closer to what I like." She slid onto the counter,
much to Bailey's dismay, but she smiled and crossed her legs, continuing:
"A house should be functional. With pieces that serve a purpose, not pieces
that just 'look good'. You know?"
Bailey nodded, leaning against the refrigerator, arms crossed over his chest. He
was trying hard not to seethe at the fact that she was sitting on his kitchen
counter. He allowed her to stay because she was in the middle of expressing
herself, and he did not want to interrupt.
"Some of my friends, their houses are not much larger than this, but
they're crammed full of useless furniture. I found myself walking through my
friend, Teddy's, house and in her room there is a bed, a dresser, then two
chairs, and a number of tables that seem to do nothing but take up space. I
asked her why they were there. She told me 'because they look nice.' I wanted to
scream." She stopped and looked at him. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing. But I think I know what you would be good at."
"You're kidding, right?"
He shook his head. "No. Did you hear what you just said to me? You could do
very well with interior design. Try it. Start with your mother's house. Or
"Yours? Bailey, this place is wonderful. Who decorated it?"
"Me." He gave her a confused look.
"You? You did this? Wow. How?"
He furrowed his brow.
"No. I mean, why did you do it the way you did? I mean, the kitchen I
understand, you like to cook, but the rest of the house…." She made a
motion with her hands, sweeping them around, indicating the entire expanse of
"Function. And I'm lazy. Don't feel like moving anything."
"You're not lazy, Bailey. You're just stable. You don't like change."
He had to laugh. "I suppose you're right." Taking the few steps to
her, he put his hands on her waist and lifted her from the counter, placing her
on the floor, and sighing with relief that she was no longer on his countertop.
"Okay, enough about the house. Time to cook." He wiped the counter
down with a soapy, wet rag.
"What are we preparing?"
"Halibut with lime and cilantro."
"First, you have to make the marinade, then the fish has to marinade for
She nodded and began to work. While the fish was resting in the marinade, they
prepared a pasta salad and sliced the French baguette.
"You really enjoy this don't you?" she asked, setting the grill.
"What?" The plates in his hands were placed on the table before he
turned back to her.
"Cooking. I've never seen you so relaxed."
"Not going to work every morning this week probably has a lot to do with
"I guess." She retrieved the fish from the refrigerator.
"But you're right, I do enjoy cooking."
She smiled at him, placing the fish into the grill basket and setting it on the
grill. "How long again?"
"Ten to twenty minutes. About five minutes in, turn the basket over,
gently, and check to see if it flakes."
"Thanks." Turning back to the grill, she followed his instructions.
Dinner served, they sat down to eat. Each took a bite of the fish, which was
served with salsa.
"Oh my God, Bailey. This is wonderful," Chloe stated.
He smiled at her. "You made it."
"I know, but I just never thought about grilling fish."
"You can grill just about anything." He sipped his red wine.
He nodded. "Even vegetables."
"That's so cool! Maybe I should go to school to be a chef." She lifted
her own glass and examined the deep burgundy liquid.
"Don't tell your mother I gave you wine."
"No problem, Bailey."
"Even though it is watered down."
"Oh? Is yours?"
"No. I just thought it would be nice for you to have a taste of the
"Thank you." She raised her glass to him. He matched her motion and
gave a slight nod.
Bailey settled into the couch with a contented sigh. Chloe approached and sat
next to him, then leaned in and gave him a hug. "Bailey, what are you doing
"I don't know," he replied, hugging back. "Why?"
"Well, I was thinking, if you don't have any solid plans, that you could
come visit us. Mom would love it."
"That's an idea. We'll see."
"Let me know, but don't tell Mom. If you're coming, I want it to be a
"Okay." He smiled and ruffled her hair.
"This has been one of the best weeks. Thank you."
"You're welcome," He replied as the phone rang.
"I'll get it!" Chloe chirped, scrambling to retrieve the phone.
Bailey poured more wine into his glass.
"Hi, Mom. How's your vacation?… Really? That's great!… Bailey? Yeah,
he's right here. Hold on." She handed him the phone and bounced toward the
"Hi, Sam. Enjoying yourself?" he asked, sipping his wine.
"Yeah. I see Chloe's having fun," Sam responded.
"She's a handful sometimes."
"She's not being a pain is she?" Sam sounded concerned.
"Oh no. She's fine. Don't even think of cutting your vacation short.
"All right. Well, on a different note, what are you doing for Christmas,
"Uh uh, Sam. You are not making plans while you're on vacation. You and
Angel go enjoy yourselves."
"Yes, sir! Well, tell Chloe I love her and I'll see you both in a couple
"I love you too, Mommy!" Chloe's voice came through the receiver.
"All right. Bye, Sam."
"Good night, Bailey."
Chloe returned from the kitchen with a glass of juice as Bailey pressed the
power button on the phone. "Sorry, didn't mean to eavesdrop."
With a snort, he responded. "It's all right, Chloe. I knew you were
A sheepish grin crossed her features. "Oh." She shrugged and sat on
He hugged her and kissed her temple. Pushing a button on the remote control by
his hand, he turned on the stereo and soft Chopin emanated from the speakers.
Quietly they sat, listening to the music.
Bailey woke with the sun creeping over his face. He opened his eyes, realized he
was in his bed. How did I get here? He did not remember walking up the stairs or
getting into bed. Lazily, he rolled off the bed and realized he was still in his
clothes from yesterday. The shower was running; Chloe was awake. He rubbed his
He made his way down the stairs and to the kitchen to make coffee, only to find
Chloe already had and left him a note:
Good morning. Made coffee. I'll make breakfast when I get out of the shower.
Perfect, she is drawing little hearts on her notes. He scratched his chin and
poured a cup of coffee, doctored it to his liking and took a cautious sip. He
looked at the note again, his brain a little more focused after a touch of
caffeine. The note still seemed flirtatious to him, or maybe he was reading too
much into it. He squeezed the bridge of his nose. Maybe after a shower he would
feel better and stop reading into things.
Coffee cup in hand, he climbed the stairs, more than ready for his shower.
"Thanks for the coffee," he said as he passed Chloe, who was clad only
in a pair of towels. He did a double take, but only enough to make sure he had
seen a fully covered daughter of his best friend.
"You're welcome. Sorry about the towel. Forgot my robe," she returned,
pushing the bedroom door closed as she finished.
"It's all right." He stepped into the bathroom; it was neat and clean,
free of water. He blinked several times. Amazing. A teenager who leaves the
bathroom spotless. "I will never understand teenagers."
He placed his cup on the counter, then turned on the shower. The water rained
over his tired body. Had he had more than those two glasses of wine at dinner
last night? Okay, there was one more in the living room, but were there others?
He could not be sure. He remembered talking with Sam, and turning on the stereo,
but after that, nothing.
He finished his shower and returned to his room to dress -- quickly -- whatever
Chloe was cooking, smelled wonderful and he was getting hungry.
"Morning, sleepy head," Chloe beamed from the table.
"Morning." He waved his, now empty, coffee cup at the refrigerator.
"What's with the note?"
"What? It's a note." She wrinkled her brow. "I thought it was
He leaned across one of the chairs at the dining table. "No. I meant the
"Oh, that." She waved a hand at him. "I sign all of my notes like
He quirked his eyebrows.
"What? You thought…? Bailey… man… I thought…."
"It's okay. Nevermind. Forget I said anything." He sighed; this was
still too hard.
"No, Bailey! I try to do something nice and you turn all anal on me!"
For a moment he did not realize the coffee cup he had been holding had fallen
from his hands and clambered to the floor without breaking. "Excuse
"Bailey, I got up early this morning. Just woke up. So, I came down, made
coffee, took a shower, then made breakfast, and you come down here and the first
thing you say is 'what's with the note'? What the hell is going through your
He blinked twice, pulled out a chair and sank heavily into it. Way too hard. His
intention was not malicious; honestly, he had no idea why he had even mentioned
it. Slowly, he raised his eyes, searching her face. He had to ask, "What
happened last night?"
"What?" The surprise in her face did not shock him; he was ready for
"Last night. After dinner. After we talked to Sam."
"You don't remember?" She was trying very hard to appear angry with
him; he tried very hard to show nothing.
He could only shake his head. "All I know is I woke up this morning,
upstairs, still in my clothes."
Chloe stared at her shoes for a long moment. When she looked up, her face was
still stern, but there was a worried look in her eyes. "Nothing. We were
listening to the stereo and talking about wine and about two hours later, you
said you were tired and we went upstairs."
"Mmhm." She nodded.
"How much did I drink?" It bothered him to not know what had happened.
"Um." She seemed to be ticking off a count mentally. "I'm not
sure, but," she crossed to the counter and picked up something, "does
this help explain anything?" She held the empty wine bottle out to him.
Elbows resting on his knees, he propped his head in his hands. A heavy sigh
escaped his lips. "That was such a bad idea. What was I thinking?"
He could tell she could think of nothing to say. She had no way to help him.
This was his fault. All the 'If's' began to roll around his brain -- If I hadn't
had so much to drink; If I hadn't taken the bottle into the living room; If I
hadn't got the damned thing out to begin with….
"I'm sorry, Chloe. You shouldn't have had to deal with that. I don't know
what came over me."
"What?" He looked up, seeking her eyes.
"It was stress. You've been under a different form of stress than usual.
You haven't had a cigar all week, though I can't even begin to figure out why.
You're going crazy because you're missing a staple in your day." She
crossed her arms over her chest. "But, you didn't do anything stupid, if
that's what you're wondering," she snapped.
A short laugh proceeded his response, "Thanks."
"Bailey, all I want you to do is to treat me as an equal. Nobody does that.
Everyone still treats me like a child."
"Don't get angry when I say this, but you *are* still a child." He
watched her face scowl. "Chloe, you're seventeen. You have a long way to
go. But, I know how you feel. You don't fit in with the kids and you don't fit
in with the adults, and no one wants to let you into either circle. I know. And
this week, I've tried very hard to not fall into that latter category, but it's
difficult for me too."
The blond daughter of his best friend crossed to him and put her arms around his
neck. She hugged him so tight he was sure she would cut off the circulation to
his head, but he did not care. He hugged back, just as tight.
"Bailey, I'm sorry I snapped at you. I love you. You're my best
"Can we eat now? It's probably cold." She pushed away and brushed a
hand over his hair.
A lone tear began to creep down her face; he swept it away with an index finger.
"Sure. What did you fix?"
She smiled. "Scrambled eggs and toast. You want me to warm it up?"
"No. This is fine." He leaned over and picked up the coffee cup he had
"You sure?" She made a face.
"Yeah." He began eating his breakfast.
"What, Bailey? There's something else you wanted to ask?"
"We're okay, right?"
"Yeah. We're okay."
"I mean, you're not going to go back and tell your mother I kept you locked
in a room all week, are you?"
"No. She wouldn't believe me anyway."
"She would never believe that you would do anything to hurt me."
"Guess you're right."
"Bailey, we're fine. Honest."
He nodded and sipped his juice.
The rest of breakfast was rather quiet. Chloe shoved him out of the kitchen,
saying she was going to do the dishes. He refilled his coffee cup, then ambled
to the couch and sat, clutching his still aching head.
He was not sure how much time had passed, but when the pair of feet stopped just
within his range of vision, he was sure it was not nearly enough to clear his
head. A sigh was all he could manage.
"Here." She had her arms stretched out to him when he looked up from
"Thank you." He took the offered aspirin and glass of water,
swallowing the pills with a large gulp of the water.
"Drink the rest of the water," she commanded, pushing the glass back
toward him when he tried to hand it to her.
He complied, then handed her the empty glass. "Thank you." He rubbed
his face. "I'm sorry, Chloe."
She sat beside him, her arm across his shoulders. "It's all right, Bailey.
You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yes, I did. I should have paid better attention to what I was doing."
"You mean you shouldn't have gotten drunk in front of me? Don’t sweat it,
Bailey. I have friends who have gotten much more shit-faced that that."
His eyes widened at her choice of phrase.
"What? Did you think that all my friends were perfect and that all my
language was clean? Ha! Bailey, step into the real world."
He only shook his head, which he immediately regretted.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Eventually." He squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and
"We cooking today?"
"If you want." Several thoughts rambled through his brain. "We do
have to get some things ready for tomorrow."
"Make the marinade for the meat, then put the meat in the marinade and put
it in the refrigerator overnight." He blinked, squeezing his eyes closed.
God, why was this hangover so much worse than any he could remember.
"Recipe's on the fridge, right? I think I can handle that without
He nodded slowly.
"Lay down and rest. You'll be fine." She pushed him to lay on the
couch. For a moment, she disappeared, then reappeared with an ice pack wrapped
in a towel. She placed it on his forehead, kissed his temple, and disappeared
He woke with a cold chill running down his spine, and a pounding in his temples.
He pressed his palms into the sides of his head and closed his eyes.
"Wow. You look like shit, Bailey," Chloe's soft voice spoke from just
above his head.
"Chloe, watch your language," he moaned, trying to push the pain from
She laughed and helped him sit up on the couch. "I brought you some more
aspirin, and some juice. Lots of juice."
"Thanks." He swallowed the tablets and finished the glass of juice.
Chloe was pouring more almost before he got the glass to the table. He placed
his feet on the floor, shaking them because they had begun to go numb.
"Give me a minute." He sneered and picked up the glass again.
"How long is this gonna last, Bailey?"
"What?" He peered over the glass.
"This massive hangover."
"Oh, that. It's mostly gone. Now I just have a headache." He placed
the empty glass on the table again; hoping Chloe would not refill it and demand
he drink more. Orange juice was going to be off his grocery list for a very long
"Drink more. Come on, Bailey."
"All right. What time is it anyway?"
"A little after one."
He stretched his back and patted the couch beside him. Chloe sat, looking at
"How are you doing?"
"I meant with prepping for tomorrow."
"Oh. Well, I have done some things. All the stuff we'll need is organized
and separated. Ready to go for tomorrow."
"Good. Hopefully I'll be doing better…" he paused and lifted his
head. His headache had dissipated greatly, and though his muscles were still a
little sore, he felt pretty good.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine. Do we have any more coffee?"
Chloe smiled. "Yeah. Want me to get it?"
"No. I'll get it." He pushed from the couch and made his way to the
The aroma from the coffee was wonderful in his nose. He took a cautious sip,
then another. Leaning against the counter, he continued drinking his coffee,
watching Chloe move about the kitchen.
"Are you hungry? I'll make you something."
"No. The coffee's fine for now."
She tilted her head, giving him a motherly look. "You should eat
He raised a hand in surrender. "All right. I'll eat."
"Toast and jelly or saltine crackers?"
"I don't feel *that* bad." He smirked at her. "I think I can fix
Shaking her head and guiding him to the table, she said, "Nope. I'm making
it. You sit here and drink your coffee."
He glanced toward the kitchen and noticed the indicator light for the oven was
lit; she was definitely prepared. She removed several items from the
refrigerator and some cabinets and began working.
"Chloe, what are you making?"
"Don't worry about it." She approached with various items -- jelly,
utensils, napkins, plates -- and placed them all on the table. "You look a
"What? Than fifteen minutes ago? Well, I feel better. Thanks."
She smiled at him and disappeared into the kitchen, returning a moment later to
refill his coffee cup.
"You need any help?"
"No." And she disappeared again, returning, this time, with a plate
full of toast, one of bacon, and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Once more into the
kitchen, and she arrived with her own cup of coffee. She sat and offered him the
"Chloe," he called as he climbed the stairs. "Chloe?" He
walked to the guestroom. He peered into the room, found her curled in a chair
with her nose in a book.
"What's up, Bailey?" she asked from behind the tome.
"Just wanted to know if you'd like to come down to dinner?"
She lowered the book. "You cooked?"
"Yes. I figured it was my turn. So, you coming or not?"
"Yeah." She placed her book on a nearby table and walked down the
stairs with him.
After dinner, they sat in the living room watching TV. Chloe decided to watch a
program on the History Channel, commenting that she had been learning about the
subject in school. Both fell asleep before the program was finished; Bailey woke
to an infomercial around midnight, and Chloe a few minutes later.
"What time is it?" she mumbled, squinting at the light.
"After midnight. Go on up to bed."
Half asleep, she shuffled to the stairs and made her way up and to her bed.
Bailey was not far behind, only taking enough time to turn off the TV and lights
and double check the alarm.
Showered, dressed, and shaved -- the stubble was beginning to annoy him --
Bailey descended the stairs. He found Chloe in the kitchen with breakfast near
completion. He kissed the top of her head as he crossed to the coffee maker.
"To cook for tonight? I guess."
"What are you making?" he asked as he peered over her shoulder.
"French toast. Cooking light this morning."
He sipped his coffee. "It's fine. Need help?"
"Um, whatever you want to put on your toast. And, can you pour some
"Sure. He located the maple syrup and the strawberry syrup and various jams
and jellies, not sure what Chloe would like, and placed them all on the table.
Then he poured apple juice into two glasses; no more orange juice this week; and
placed those on the table as well. He set out plates and flatware and napkins.
"Think that's it." She handed him a plate of bacon and turned back to
the French toast.
Breakfast was taken leisurely, then they began preparing for the dinner party.
Chloe worked on the food while Bailey decorated and set the table with a light
Christmas/holiday feel. Dishes were prepared according to a flexible schedule
that would have the main course ready within minutes of its necessity.
"Wow, the table looks great!" Chloe commented, leaning over the back
of a chair.
"Thank you. Dinner's looking good. Let me know if you need any help."
"Got it covered, Bailey. But, I will ask if I need something."
He finished tacking the mistletoe to the doorframe and stepped off the ladder.
"Why did you put that up?" Chloe sighed.
"Tradition. I always put it up. It doesn't always serve its purpose, but
She shrugged. "Never noticed before."
"You will now," a smirk crossed his face as he passed her with the
ladder on his way to the garage.
Chloe was back in the kitchen when he returned from the garage.
"Bailey, we're going to need more coffee."
"As in *go to the store*? Or in the percolator?"
"Percolator," she pointed with one hand while stirring something on
the stove with the other.
"No problem." He poured the last of the coffee from the carafe into
his mug, rinsed the carafe, and started a new pot of coffee. "What more do
you need to do? Our guests will be arriving soon."
"Um, to change, for one." She removed the pot from the stove and
poured the contents into a dish, then handed the dish to Bailey. "That's
all but the main course. I'm going upstairs to dress."
"Okay." He placed the bowl of fresh green beans onto the table, then
crossed to the door when the bell sounded.
"Merry Christmas, Bailey. You heard the bell this time," Rachel
greeted him with a smile.
He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the mouth. "Wasn't asleep this
time." He motioned her into the house.
"You look great," she said, admiring his suit.
"Thanks. You look beautiful," he commented, taking her coat.
"Thank you. Where's Chloe?"
"Upstairs. She'll be down in a minute. Can I get you a drink?"
"No. I'm fine. Thank you."
The bell sounded again.
Rachel nodded as he crossed to the door and opened it. "Welcome,
"Happy Holidays, Bail."
He gave her a kiss also and motioned her inside.
"Hey, can I get one of those too?" a voice called from the sidewalk.
"Sure, John. Come on." Bailey chuckled, shaking the man's hand and
slapping him on the back.
"Right." John Grant stepped into the house and greeted Rachel and
"Where's George?" Bailey asked, pushing the door closed.
"He just pulled up," a soft, feminine voice spoke from the stairs.
"You look wonderful, Chloe," Bailey told her, taking her hand and
escorting her to the living room. "Ladies, and…" he waited for John
to let George in, "gentlemen, your hostess for the evening, Chloe
A round of soft applause rose from the guests.
"Thank you." Chloe welcomed each of her guests, then directed everyone
to the table.
Bailey aided in serving the various dinner courses, each of which was well
received with positive comments from everyone. Chloe seemed pleased with the
reception and was enjoying the conversation.
Once dinner was complete, the group moved to the living room.
"Chloe, I understand you prepared all of this yourself?" Rachel asked,
sipping coffee from her cup.
"Everything but the coffee. I told Bailey to make that."
"Yes, she practically threw me out of the kitchen." Bailey stroked
Chloe's blond hair.
"It was excellent," Grace complimented.
"Absolutely," George agreed; John nodding beside him.
"Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it," she responded with a smile and
a slight blush in her face.
Conversation continued for a while, discussion of various topics and events.
Eventually, the guests mutually agreed the hour was growing late and it was time
to leave. Each bid Chloe and Bailey the joys of the season and good-bye and
Chloe pushed the front door closed, then turned and leaned against it with a
"Are you all right?" Bailey asked as he re-entered the front room and
crossed to where she was standing.
"Fine." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Thank you,
He hugged back. "For what?"
"Giving me this opportunity. It was so much fun. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"Now, if it's not a problem, I'm going to take a long, hot bath and go to
"Sure. I'll take care of this," he replied indicating the table and
kitchen, then kissed her on the end of her nose.
One hand on the back of his neck, the other on his cheek, she leaned forward and
placed a soft kiss on his lips. To the near scowl in his eyes, she responded,
"Mistletoe," then ascended the stairs to have her bath.
Stunned, Bailey stood there, at the door, for a moment, then tipped his head
back to glare at the sprig of leaves and berries hanging above the door. Shaking
his head, a smile on his face, he returned to the kitchen to clean, thinking
this had been a productive day and a fascinating week.
The last dish washed and all the food items stored properly, Bailey dried his
hands and turned off the light as he exited the kitchen. Sleep was the only
thing on his mind, except that he had one quick stop to make first. He walked to
the guestroom and stood in the doorway, watching the young lady, who had spent
the last week with him, sleep peacefully.
Satisfied all was well, he walked to his room, changed into a pair of sweat
pants and crawled into bed.
"How did you sleep?" Bailey asked Chloe when she entered the kitchen.
"Very well. I feel great this morning."
"Good." He handed her a bowl containing half a grapefruit.
"Thanks." She sat at the table and began eating. "So, Bailey, we
going to do this again?"
"What? Hold a dinner party for the VCTF? Or share a grapefruit?"
Smiling she responded, "No. Spend a week with you as my guardian."
"We'll have to see." He sat at the table with his own grapefruit half.
"It's just one week, Bailey."
He smiled and continued to eat his grapefruit. Her mother had told him the same
thing when she had asked him to watch Chloe while she and Angel took their trip.
"So, when's Mom coming?"
"Early afternoon. I think the flight gets in around 1130."
"Well, I'd better get all of my things in order." She placed her bowl
and spoon in the dishwasher then climbed the stairs to the guestroom.
Bailey unfolded the newspaper to read while he finished his grapefruit and drank
his coffee. By the time he was finished with the paper, Chloe had her things
waiting by the door.
"Bailey, this has been one of the best weeks." She gave him another
"We still have some time. Wanna take a walk?" He rose from his chair.
"Sure." She pulled on her coat and waited for him by the door.
They spent the next hour walking and talking until they returned to the house.
Lunch was the remainder of last night's dinner. Then, the doorbell sounded.
"Welcome back, Sam. How was your trip?" Bailey asked, kissing Sam on
"We had a wonderful time. Thank you so much for keeping Chloe
"No problem. She was an impeccable houseguest."
"Chlo, you all set?" Sam called.
"Yes." Chloe placed her bag on the floor and hugged her mother, then
turned to Bailey, hugging him. "Thank you for letting me stay here."
"You're welcome. And come back anytime."
"We will." Chloe retrieved her bags and exited the house with her
Bailey waved as the Waters ladies got into the car and drove away.
'Just one week, Bailey' -- those four little words would be etched in his mind
forever and the next time he heard them, he would seriously consider doing the
whole thing again.