A Winter Tale Chapter Six RELAPSE How could things go so wrong? Once again it was chance.

And other people. And my own inability to deal with a situation that was hard. I didn't even see it coming, of course. I was good at that, as we have seen. But once the wheels were in motion it was impossible to stop. It was late August, things were going great. Tyler's business was flourishing, my book about Victoria was almost complete; we were rich, famous (Or infamous) and surrounded by good friends. It would have been ideal if I hadn't had a secret ( a hideous, shameful, disgusting secret. ) or at least acceptable if it hadn't gotten out. But it did get out, through no fault of my own. The first I knew about it was from BB Winter. He found me home alone--Becca had an OBGYN appointment and Alan was taking a vacation day. I was rearranging a closet upstairs when I heard the doorbell so I raced down to get it, drawing back in surprise when I peeped out and saw BB. I wasn't aware that he had clearance at the gate to get in to the neighborhood. "Hi, BB, Ty's not home yet-" "Hi, Joanie, I know--I'm supposed to meet him here. I have some business to discuss with him," he followed me in and I led him to the library, saying, "Well make yourself at home, you know where everything's at." "Can I use that computer?" he asked.' "Of course." "And you might stick around, Joanie," he said in the friendliest tone. Curious, I watched him sit down at the computer, fit, tan, handsome as any Winter man. He had a briefcase that he opened to remove a disc which he loaded into the computer. "This will look familiar to you,. I'm sure." he was watching me, not the computer. "Oh my God!" I gasped, clutching my heart against its clumsy lurch. I started to turn

and flee, because I did recognize the room, the woman, the man and the long, low shot, and it made me want to run and hide. BB seized my hand to stay me, saying, "I see it is familiar." "Oh God, turn it off, turn it off!" I cried, covering my face with one hand. "Alright, alright-- you really are upset by this," he sounded a little surprised. "Where did you get that filth?" hissed furiously. "From Richard. He told me a little about what happened. He palmed one of the disks when Roland went to talk to him about his deviance." I felt sick to my stomach. "Why do you have it?" "Not the same reason as Richard. He likes to watch that footage and remember what it was like and masturbate a lot--or so he told me when I got him really drunk the other night. He is very sorry about it- knows he's lucky to not be in prison- and his Christian upbringing's given him a healthy dose of guilt about it. I think he says a prayer before dinner and lapdances. And of course he can't hold his liquor like a gentleman. He was passed out when I copied this little gem and doesn't remember making his confession to me at all- and what a confession it was." BB smiled. "So your secret's safe with me." "Is it?" I asked warily, my knees giving out on me so that I sank into the big overstuffed chair. "Of course. I presume it is a secret from Ty- at the very least. I can't imagine him looking too friendly at Rich if he'd seen him going down on you- conscious or not. No matter that you were calling Ty's name the whole time." "BB--that was the worst thing to ever happen. Christian asked if I wanted to press charges but I could only imagine that--that footage- being played over and over, in court, on tv with black bars everywhere, on the internet like that bunch of stuff they got from Corp-Temp of me and the man I love. I couldn't take it and-and Ty didn't deserve it." I took a deep breath. "Why do you have that disk?" He removed it from the computer and put it back in his briefcase. "Joan, there are injustices in the world, among them poverty, crime, unpunished rapists walking the streets, and me." "You?" "Yes, me. I was in love with you from the time I was old enough to toddle down to grampa's den to look at the picture of the pretty lady. I never thought I'd know you--even with time travel I never thought they'd bring you back." he got up, pacing as he talked. "My first wet dream when I was eleven was about you. When I was fourteen I jacked off to Rotation and internet pictures of you- the red bikini got me

every time. I dated girls who looked like you, my ex-wife was you all over, except for not having a brain and a personality. Just a veneer of you. Shit- when the news broke that you'd been retrieved, by those fucking mad scientists at Corp-Temp I just knew you were for me- I'm the spitting image of Ben the first, it was destiny that Joan Winter lived again, with Ben Winter--and yet-that fucker Tyler already had his hooks in you." "BB--I love him. I love him more than I ever loved Ben--more than I could have ever loved you." He folded his arms across his chest, looking skeptical. "Do you think so, Joan? Why didn't you give me a chance? I saw it in your eyes the first time we met, you were interested. What do you see in him?" "BB- how can you ask that? He's brilliant and beautiful and he loves me." I frowned. "you're his friend- can't you see why I love him?" "I love him--he's about the best friend I ever had. If it wasn't for you he'd be perfect. But goddamn it! He loves you--I was planning on telling you about the strippers but you found out and...persuaded him to give up that dubious pleasure. So I didn't have any leverage. And it made me crazy thinking about you torturing him on a straightback chair. And then that day you gave him that little half naked surprise I nearly--well, I was powerfully affected, Joanie, Powerfully affected. The whole night, both hands wrapped around a hard on that just kept coming back. " "BB--" "It's no use. Hookers don't work, dancers don't work, nothing works. I just keep seeing you with that milk white skin, smooth, tight and creamy under black lace, the rose nipples I've wanted to lick since I realized what nipples are for. Now you ask me why I have the disk," his blue eyes were so frank, open and honest, "I want you to cooperate wih me, Joan. I want you for a night- or maybe an afternoon. As long as it involves you naked I'm not going to be picky." It sounded absurd. I scowled at him and said, "BB please! I'm married to Tyler. I love him- what possible good could come of me and you? What could you get out of it, sleeping with me when I don't want you?" "Only a woman could ask a question like that. " he shook his blond head. "I've wanted you my whole life. I'd do anything to have you. I want you under any circumstances, whether you want me or not. I think I deserve you once in my life and I don't flatter myself when I say I think I can make it pleasant for you." Disbelieving, amazed, I stared at him silently. "Well, I see this might require some thought on your part. I'll give you some time, beautiful girl, to make up your mind." "BB--please, this is crazy."

"Not so crazy. No--my one night would surely be a small price to pay for this disk," he tapped his briefcase. "I can't--" "Of course you can. It's not a bad deal. I'm told I'm a fabulous fuck. I'm certainly much better endowed than your first husband." I flushed, sick of this nonsense, angry at him, confused, bewildered and now at my wits' end. "I can't believe you'd try this- you're my friend, too!" "Ah, Joanie, what a race is man," He nodded. "But we'll discuss this later, pretty ladyI hear the garage door opening so I imagine Ty is home. You might as well run along, you've got quite a stricken look on your face. " he reached out to cup my cheek almost tenderly as I turned to flee. "You have a good life here with Tyler. There's no reason you should lose it. I'll talk to you later." I did flee. I ran upstairs to my room, hearing Tyler calling, "Hey, baby, I'm home!"and BB called back, "Hey baby, I'm home too, in the library!" I shut myself into my bedroom, huddling on the bed, seething with rage and fear and helplessness. That bastard is trying to blackmail me for sex. Sex! Jesus, it's absurd when there's so many ways to get it nowadays. I can't do it. Can't, won't, don't want to. Why on earth would he want me? Because Tyler had me? Weeping tears of bitter fury, I wrung my hands and tried to think of a way out of it--begging him to see reason wouldn't work. I could tell Tyler everything-oh God I should have done it at once, no matter how hideous it was, told him the gloomy day we found out about Richard Andreas..Should have. Oh, shit, honesty is the best policy. Too late now! Now I was being blackmailed- me! A practically middle aged woman! Infamy! I ought to go right down there with BB and Tyler in the same room and bring this out into the open-I could picture the look on Tyler's face as his pure perfect ideal met with revolting

reality. I could imagine how he would try not to let it change how he felt and fail because it's like a new car, once it has a dent, it's just done--or if not done then changed, changed for the worse, forever. I have the perfect marriage, I thought grimly. I don't want to lose it. I don't know what to do. I will probably go crazy. Tyler came to check on me after a bit, finding me visibly upset. "Joanie, what's wrong?" he asked, alarmed at my state of near hysteria. I couldn't speak. I couldn't say anything, so he grabbed his bag, soothing me in a way that made me feel worse, stroking my hair, my cheek, his eyes concerned and sharp. He shot me with something, making me relaxed and calm. I shuddered to a stop, closing my eyes. "Better?" he asked, kissing my forehead. "Yes," I whispered. "What's wrong?" he asked, picking my hand up, turning it over to stroke my palm. I loved him so much I couldn't say anything. "Baby I'm getting worried," he said gravely. I opened my eyes, smiling a little- thanks to the shot. "I don't know what happened." "BB said you seemed upset when you took him to the library." "I don't know what it is. Hormones?" I suggested. "Mm. Atypical if it is. Better now?" "Yes. Thank you," I threw my arms around his neck, kissing his cheek, then his chin, then his warm, sweet lips. Mine were extending an open invitation which he could never refuse and I let his clean, decent, honest passion help me forget what went before.

Tyler was worried. I'd gone from great to gruesome in a blink of an eye. I couldn't explain to him why I was having trouble sleeping and eating. I would find him staring at me with deep concentration. "I'm going to test you," he would announce periodically, his hands busy with the slides and buttons just like old times. "There are some stress levels up," he was murmuring. "But what's causing it? What could it be?" and he'd look at me some more.

I wasn't saying. Not even Jack, premier keeper of my secrets knew. A couple weeks went by, during which my husband was solicitous, gentle, grinding salt into the wounds of my heart. I was taking two or more shots a day, locking myself away from my friends for fear that I'd blurt something out that would destroy all of our lives. I couldn't work-Victoria was hopelessly stalled. I became conscious of my friends' mounting concern that was making them all miserable too- even Selena knew there was something direly wrong. One beautiful September day I broke. I went to Tyler's desk and found his organizer, locating BB Winter's number and I called it, shaking all over, catching a glimpse of myself in a beveled mirror (which had reflected my husband and me making love on top of this desk last spring) and noting that i looked paler and more listless than ever. "Hello?" Ben's voice- recognizing the number, curious. "Hello, BB." I said. "Joan! Hi. Everything alright?" how concerned he sounded. "No. It's not alright. And I think you know why." "Ah," he said. "I was wondering if I should call you. Tyler said you weren't doing well. I was afraid it would have something to do with this. So you want to get it over with? Get that disc melted into a blob of polymer so we can get on with our lives?" "Okay," my voice trembled. "Good. Tyler's going to be busy most of the day tomorrow with a group of investors and pharmaceutical brokers. Can you get rid of your big blond watchdog?" "I don't know." I said. "It's Alan's day off but Jack and Becca--" "I'll take care of them. Your house, I presume, since my car there wont raise any suspicion?" I felt sick, dispirited. "Let's get this over with." I mumbled. "Oh, Joanie that's a terrible attitude. I'll be over between 10:30 and 11:00." his voice dropped. "I like you in black, Joan, lace and satin." "Goodbye." I said shortly, hanging up. Oh, God, what am I doing? I don't know--and I had no idea what BB had planned to occupy Jack and Becca. Turned out he was as sly as his great great grandpa. He had Lola call to tell them she'd reserved a spa treatment for them which specialized in pregnant couples. It must have cost him an arm and a leg but in the end he rendered my house empty of everyone but myself.

The night before I'd been a nervous wreck. Tyler shot me before bed with a powerful sedative and I barely woke up to see him off to work. I watched Jack and Becca take off for their pampering day feeling like a lost soul, waving at them as they flew off. I sighed when I saw it was already 10am. Oh, lord, what will I do? Whatever he wants. Today. The bastard. I didn't have enough time to hate him. Besides he's just as screwed up as any of us. Oh, let's just get this over with. The doorbell rang. I paused to gather myself up then went to let him in. And he came in acting as if there was nothing unusual going on. Maybe he blackmailed his friend's wives for sex all the time? "Hi, Joanie," I could tell that he was disappointed in my jeans and sweater- his sky blue eyes went over me with obvious regret that I wasn't decked out in dominatrix gear. "Hey BB." I locked the door. "Drink?" "No, thanks. You ready?" he was walking behind me as I headed up the stairs to one of the guest rooms. "I guess so. You have the disk?" "Yep. Nice room," he looked around, noting the black teddy I'd lain out on the bed. "Ah! Great! Did Jack and Becca like mom's surprise?" he was locking the bedroom door--I probably wouldn't have though of it- undressing quickly, folding his clothes neatly on the dresser, hanging his jacket on the doorknob. And his body was very like Ben's- fit, tanned, the merest sprinkling of light brown chest hair. His broad shoulders were lovely, just like a Winter man. "Well?" he turned a circle. "not repulsive?" "Not from any angle - you're very like Ben." except for penis size, I thought unwillingly. "Your turn."He flopped onto the bed on his back. I was blushing with shame, trembling as I stripped down to my drawers, hesitating under his almost--does he look bored? Damned if he doesn't. But when I unclipped my bra he grunted softly in his throat. I stepped out of the white cotton panties and reached for the teddy, which made him shake his head and reach out his hand toward me, saying, "Forget that, Joan. Come here." It's awkward, climbing into bed naked next to a family friend, you dont know what to do with arms and legs and breasts.

Well he knew, apparently, framing my breasts with his hands, staring at them with that bored look- though I couldn't help but note he was not bored. "BB--" "Oh, Joan I've wanted to do this my whole life.." he was touching my breasts reverently, shaking his head. "these are so beautiful, Joanie. And not fake. God bless our forefathers." "I think--" he didn't give me a chance to say anything, kissing me. I had a flashback to that night in the attic- my wedding dress pale in the light bulb¶s glare, soon to be destroyed by a passionate Tyler. It wasn't like I expected-in truth I had forgotten many of my old Ben's characteristics since I died. BB was, despite his bored exterior, a boiling volcano of lust. And I've noted once before it's a turn-on being someone's turn-on. My breath caught at his mouth plundering mine, his hands on me, stroking and caressing, and I decided, well, if it gets me that disk I have my life back. Bring it on, Ben IV. He was so different from Tyler- and, now that he was sliding between my thighs--damned if he didn't remind me in some bone-deep way of Ben I'd forgotten about- something I'd done so many times so long ago;. If I closed my eyes it was as if time turned back a century. Almost reluctantly my hands were slipping up his strong back to those shouldersconstruction worker shoulders, sculpted, bronzed. My Ben had been so proud of his sun-kissed, graceful, nearly hairless body-"Oh--Ben--" I let out a crumbling cry, because he was breaking into me as if he wanted to hurt me, saying my name, making me remember my Ben and the way sex was such a full-body experience you didn't notice or care how small his dick was. I was surprised, I guess, at how good he was. If I'd been married to him I would no doubt have been singing. I didn't want to give him that satisfaction. But at last, jolted by his thrusts I was moaning, pressing his lower back closer to me and scratching his tanned flesh with sharp nails, not much caring what he thought. I opened my eyes wide at the force of the climax that shook me and saw that he, like Tyler, was watching me, not bored, no, narrow and greedy and intent. "Oh, stop, stop, Ben please," I whispered, putting my hand on his chest between us, trembling and panting. "Alright, alright," he was quivering, too, breathing hard for someone in such good shape. He smiled down at me- a twisted, joyless little smile. "Good, huh?" "Yes," I couldn't meet his eyes, blushing at myself- my cries were embarrassing. I felt my eyes fill with tears of guilt and shame. "It's okay," he wasn't smiling, instead kissing me with great tenderness, his hips beginning again- almost a rotational movement that so reminded me of Ben, gentle,

controlled but soon losing the deliberateness, his splendid spine genetically hardwired to be so strong, the sounds he made hearkening back to another life, another man whose very blood ran through his veins and I was doing it again, sensitive and easily moved, the throbbing taking over my whole body, his hardness squeezed in waves between my legs. This time he joined me, shuddering with his head down, collapsing on top of me limply, groaning out prayers and my name. Too tired to move, I held him there, my mind blank. His cheek was pillowed on my chest, his bright golden hair tickling my chin.

That wasn't so bad I thought, just there in my head where it couldn't hurt anyone. He's like Ben, who was always an incredibleWhat's that? I felt him shaking, making a choking sound and my first purely selfish thought was, oh FUCK he'd better not be having a stroke, how the hell will I--but it's not a stroke. When I looked down in alarm I could see tears sparkling on the bridge of his nose and on one tan cheek. He was crying! ³BB," I said in soft wonder, struggling to sit up, "what is it?" He turned away from me burying his face against his arm. He was shaking with suppressed sobs, mystifying me utterly. "Oh, dear," I said in a troubled voice, carressing his shoulders, rubbing his neck, in the obscene position of needing to comfort him. I kept stroking his arms, the broad tanned back with it's light pink scratches from my nails. "I came harder than I ever did in my whole life," he gasped out when he could speak, still turned away from me. "Well--you're very good," I started but he made a spitting sound that stopped me. "Joan, it had nothing to do with me. You were thinking of my great great grandpa the whole time. And I don't think I could change it if I tried every day. Do you know you called me Ben four times? " Oh, dear. He turned on his back, he looked so melancholy. I felt so bad. "You could say I got what I had coming to me," he pointed out bitterly. "Why would I do that? I don't want to hurt your feelings." I said, puzzled. "I know- you're nice that way." he sat up in sudden decision. " I was crazy doing this, insane to take advantage of you this way and it serves me right that it's going to be a fire in my gut the rest of my life."

Oh, this wasn't working out at all. I sat there naked, watching him at the edge of the bed, his back bent, his face in his hands. "Can't we just forget this ever happened?" I begged. "I doubt it. Don't worry," he leapt up to his jacket slung on the doorknob, fishing in an inner pocket for the disk. He tossed it on the dresser and reached for his pants. "A deal's a deal. You got Rich's porn disk and I got--" he made a frustrated hissing sound. I was wide eyed as he pulled on his boxers and sat down next to me on the bed. "But-but you said you--" "Oh, yeah, I came so hard I think I knocked something loose. And what's it got me? Now I know exactly why Tyler Morgan has that fucking smug look on his face all the time, that son of a bitch." "BB, please, don't feel so bad- it was just a mistake in the first place-" "I know it, and I'm sorry." he looked me over, sitting there naked and pathetic. There's nothing worse than bad sex. But it was good! "I'm sorry," I said quietly, "I didn't mean to hurt you. I just wanted a normal life and to spare Tyler all the stuff with Andreas." "That wasn't your fault. I'm a despicable cad for using it." His bitterness was so poignant that I felt unbearably sorry for him. I leaned to him and kissed his cheek, which made him grumble. Then I shut his mouth with mine. Why am I doing this? Because he cried? Because he's sad? Because he does remind me so much of Ben. My Ben who was more sensitive than anyone but me knew, my Ben who looked six when he pouted with his lower lip rolled out. Like his namesake he was responding instantly to my tentative lips, cupping my face in both hands, lifting my hair and letting it shower around us. I began to push him onto his back and he said, "Joanie, I can't come this way--" "So you say," I slanted him a smile as his pants went one way and boxers the other. I had developed some skill in this area- Tyler loved it- and I proved to BB that he could be coaxed to climax this way- not his way, much more subtly teasing, and much more likely to cause shouts and whimpers. "Man I was wrong about that," he lay twitching, nodding at me respectfully.

"Told ya," I got up, heading for the shower, where BB joined me- he nearly drowned himself and me but we made it out unscathed and I remembered not to call him anything the whole time. "Why did you do this for me?" he wondered later as we began to dress. "I asked myself the same thing," I admitted. "You felt sorry for me, didn't you? Normally the proverbial pity fuck would turn me off- but not from you, I guess. Thank you, then." he kissed my forehead as he shrugged into his jacket, very handsome, little pink in his cheek, a hickey on his neck almost hidden by his shirt collar. "I know it's a one time deal. I fucking hate that. Butat least I got one time," he seemed more content with the situation. "You know I love Ty." "Yes. And how." he unlocked the door and headed down the stairs while I grabbed my hard-earned disk and stuffed it in my pocket. "Joanie-" he was standing at the door looking down at me. "It all just feels inevitable to me. I'm really sorry- and sort of glad." "Me too." I craned up to kiss his cheek. "Seeya." I was so relieved when he walked out I did a happy little dance. First thing I made sure it was the disk in question-it was and it only took me a glance to figure it out. Second thing I melted it in the kitchen with a torch Alan used for making creme brulee. I shattered the twisted lump with a hammer out on the patio and swept the pieces into the trash, doing the happy dance again. Third thing I flew upstairs to restore order to the guest room. The shower stall was wet, the bed a shambles of tangled sheets and BB had ejaculated all over the bedspread- ewww! So by evening time when my dear people came home-- Jack and Becca pampered, Tyler triumphant in his new contract- I was serving up a big dinner of steak and potatoes, feeling pretty triumphant myself, in a mood so good Ty didn't have to give me a shot. After all, I felt in my soul BB would never tell, neither would Richard. I had gotten away with it! I had no idea I would be betrayed by the person most involved in this: me.

"Ow!" I cried as Tyler's lips closed on my nipple, which seemed so tender there must

be something wrong. He mumbled an apology and went easier, which still almost hurt but in a very good way and I sighed my approval. "Oh, Joanie, that's so good," he mused later, holding me like I was precious, smiling at the ceiling. " I love Sundays, no work, just you, all day in bed if I want." "Me too." I ruffled his thatch of black chest hair. "Hungry?" "Oh yes!" Becca and Jack weren't up and around yet; Alan was, though, and starting preparation for a huge Sunday breakfast. "Waffles," Alan decided, heating up the old-fashion irons(i.e. something I would have had back when I was alive) and melting butter for the batter. There was bacon cooking- the heady scent usually delighted me but this morning-- I put a hand out to steady myself, feeling a great gray wave of nausea swamp me. I felt suddenly cold, but sweaty and before I knew it I threw up on the kitchen floor. "Holy shit!" Alan cried- revolted, of course. Becca, who was up by now, got me to a chair, sitting me down, peering at me anxiously. She was nearly 8 months along on this beauteous October day. I was probably around four weeks pregnant myself. I was dizzy, sick, the bacon smell making my gut roll. Tyler and Jack rushed in and my husband's alarm was complete. I knew at once that I was carrying BB's child- with that first puddle of puke that confirmed my late period inspired suspicions, I knew in my soul that it was a baby making me feel so horrid and it was BB Winter's fault. "Alright?" Ty asked cupping my clammy cheek. "I better lie down," I said softly, starting to get up. My husband swept me in his arms, carried me to the living room and placed me on the couch. He went to get his kit, starting the tests which would be inconclusive because he wasn't testing me for what was really wrong. I'm pregnant, I thought, holding my flat stomach. There's a live little parasite in here feeding from me, developing, making its own life. My own baby. I'm going to keep it. "Baby I'm worried sick about you," Ty sighed, his eyes dark and troubled. "I feel better, " I assured him. I did, too. "We're going to the doctor tomorrow." Oh, the worry I felt. I was wondering how much shit was going to hit the fan- how my husband, who had vasectomy plugs, was going to like the news that he was going to be a father.

But I was in a daze- whether pregnancy or guilt or what, I went to visit a doctor friend of his who listened to my symptoms, tested me for several things and nodded at the cause. "You're pregnant," Dr. Hughes said. "But Tyler has plugs--" I began, not nearly as horrified as I acted. "They're only about 99% effective. The reversible ones anyway. There are cases where a particularly powerful ejaculation can cause them to dislodge." I could see Ty trying to narrow down which ejaculation had been powerful enough to dislodge the plug and myself thinking about BB, who had plugs too, sobbing, saying he came so hard it felt like he knocked something loose. I met my husband's eyes and was stunned at the joy I saw in them. "That's the last thing I expected," he hugged me, making me feel thrilled. And an evil, sly part of me- the part that knew what my happiness with this man was worth and would do anything to protect it, decided I would be able to pass another man's child off as his. I was going to have this baby, name him or her Tyler Morgan and have the family I always wanted. The steely determination I felt surprised me a bit. More than a bit. There wasn't a doubt in my mind. Tyler wanted a baby, so did I. That was it. This baby was going to have a grand life- wealth, security. Two parents in love with each other. Of course a paternity test would blow my happy plans. Fuck it, we wont have one. This Winter baby is going to be a Morgan I don't care who says what. What a celebation at home that evening. Jack and Becca and Alan were so happy for us that I was almost convince myself that this wasn't a bastard got on me by a blackmailer. I didn't care. I really didn't. I was riding high on hope even as Tyler took me to see a new OBGYN who specialized in high risk pregnancies and I submitted to an examination to determine how I was doing. "Looks good," Dr. Leeds observed. "Right now. Tricky with this uterine condition. We'll keep a close eye. I'll want to see you in three weeks." "Can we still have sex?" Tyler hoped. "For now. If you're careful and she's in the mood." She was. All the time. As if the more I made love with my husband the more I could convince myself this baby was his. Plus he was just that good! When BB found out from proud daddy Ty that the Morgans were expecting he was over for dinner- he and Richard working on some business with the dad in question. I made a ham for the meal, all country style with biscuits and yams and pecan pie for

dessert. I could barely eat, the morning sickness robbing me of appetite. The conversation came up thusly, "You look pale, Joanie," BB observed. "She's pregnant." Ty grinned. BB's face went nearly white as mine. "But you have plugs." "Doctor Hughes said they're only 99% effective. Sometimes they can be knocked loose." "Yeah- it happens," BB was picking at his food. "Did you have to go in and get them repositioned?" "Had 'em checked. He said mine were good-they can sometimes settle back in place." Ty was placid, not seeing that his best friend was suddenly distracted and distressed. I knew he knew. I was determined, though. This baby was mine and Tyler's. I don't care if its blond and blue eyed. It's mine. BB had the decency to keep his knowledge to himself until Halloween when we were all at a big masquerade party in Tulsa at the Winter house. Ty and I went as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara(I was Scarlett ) and BB came as Zorro. Jon and Mary were there as Anthony and Cleopatra. Ro was a cat. Min was a playboy bunny. Jack and Becca were Mary and Joseph- all Becca could fit into at the costume shop. There were belly dancers, pirates, queens, kings, punks...Lola was a Greek Goddess and Ben III was Zeus. News got out of my gravid condition- though I was too early to show and I accepted the congratulations as my due, with great joy. I was hugging Grandma Min when Zorro sauntered up in his mask and hat, saying, "Come look at this, Joan." he took my white southern belle hand and allowed no refusal. I saw Tyler with Richard Andreas(Freud) and a group of others, hoping he wouldn't notice me following BB out. He led me out by the pool, silent, his boots thunking with each step. I had no idea what I was going to tell him. He sat me down on a pool chair, my voluminous hoop and skirt puffing around me and sat in a chair next to me. In his costume he could have been anyone, but his voice was his own. "You're pregnant." "Wish me happy, BB." I said quietly. "It's not Tyler's." he barely whispered, pulling the round brimmed hat off, removing the mask. He raked both hands through his hair.

"Why do you say that?" I asked, trying to sound calm when my heart was sinking. ''Because I had to have my plugs repositioned the day after I was with you. I came so hard something did get knocked loose. You're carrying my baby." his eyes in the dim light were clearly accusing. ³You don't know that." I said in a chilly tone. "Oh I know it. I felt it. Damn it Joan- why didn't you tell me?" he demanded. "It's between my husband and me. You have nothing to do with it." He was angry, keeping his voice low, taking my hand. "It's got everything to do with me. Are you going to tell him?" "No. And neither are you." I gritted. "The hell I wont. You should've been mine and this proves it." "It proves nothing! I love Tyler--"' "You never gave me a chance. Admit it- it was incredible, I know you felt it too-" he was wheedling. "I don't love you. I love Tyler. If it was good it was because you reminded me of my old Ben. I'm sorry-" he was squeezing my hand- I jumped up from the chair setting my skirts into motion. "No!" he jumped up, too, still retaining my hand. "You are not going to raise my child as Tyler's!" "Yes I am- I didn't ask to be blackmailed by you! And as far as you're concerned it's Tyler's!" I jerked my hand but he hung into it and used my own momentum to crush me against him, grabbing the back of my head beneath my ringlets and snarling, "I'm telling you Joan, I wont let him have my child. He's got to know- they'll do a paternity test and he'll know it's not his. It'll kill him- but I wont have it be someone else's baby." "Please, BB- please--" I quivered in anguish, "I've never loved anyone the way I love Tyler." "I can make you love me, Joan," his voice was soft and gruff. He kissed me- tasting of whiskey, forcing my lips apart, his arms unyielding around me, trapping me, working my mouth with passion I refused to return. I wrenched away, palms shoving against his chest. I was gasping for breath, suddenly weak. I sank into one of the pool chairs on wobbly legs.

"Tell him Joan- or I will. Hopefully when he blows a gasket and moves out you'll be grateful for some help from me. Because I wont give up a child of mine. Especially with you--I mean, really," his voice became reasonable,´ don¶t you think it speaks of involvement from a higher power? The very day I persuade you to have sex with me, you're at you're ovulating best and I dislodge a vasectomy plug with an orgasm the likes of which I've never known? '' he shook his head, "Joanie- you're Joan Winter, inside and out. Think how happy the greats and gramps would me? I bet in time Tyler would accept it- especially if you threw him the kind of pity fuck you threw me- I haven't a single complaint about it, darling, it moved me deeply. I don't mind sharing you with him- he is my best friend; but goddamnit I want what's mine- and that's you. I want you to realize we belong together- " "No. I'm happy. I wont tell him a thing." I said simply. "You'll have to. If you don't I will." "He does think of you as his best friend." I reminded. "I think of him as mine. If I didn't this whole mess would've never happened. I would've just taken you away instead of resigning myself to a morning I had to engineer with blackmail. I'll give you a week to tell him or I will." he walked away, sweeping up the hat and mask. It was pleasantly cool there by the pool- Tulsa in October was warm as spring. The leaves hadn't changed yet, though you could feel autumn closing in. I sat there in the chair looking at the moonlight on the pool, lost, numb. I felt the first cramp sitting on that chair- down low- like a period cramp. I almost didn't notice it, I was so horrifically, emotionally twisted. I got up and smoothed my face and hair, sighing, quavery. I felt the second cramp- more of a pang- as I rejoined the party from which I had not been missed. Everyone was drunk, laughing. I couldn't even hold my stomach because of the apple green and white Scarlett dress when the pain hit. It made me gasp aloud. I knew I didn't feel right. Even with my rage at BB and concern for utter secrecy I knew something in my body was wrong. "You alright, Joan?" Becca was one of the few sober ones. "I don't know- I'm ok I guess." I didn't want to make a spectacle of myself at a party. "Maybe I'll just go up to bed- got a little overheated in this dress. Tell Tyler I went up." "I'll go with you," she offered. Her company was about all I could stand. We went up to my room, not talking at all- she was so big and cute. She helped me out of the dress, finding my nightgown, frowning as she observed I was pale. Did I want a snack? "No- no. Thanks-" I gasped at another, stronger pain. "Oh, no- Becca- something's

wrong. "I could feel a sudden rush of warmth down the insides of my thighs. I looked down at myself, lifting the black nightie without shame to do it. Dark red streaks all down my legs. "I'll get Tyler." Becca said calmly. I was too scared to panic. I didn't know what to do- blood was oozing from me and I was afraid I'd get it everywhere. I found towels and put them on the bed, suddenly so dizzy- cramping again so I stumbled and sat down on the wood floor. I felt clammy and nauseous as the door slammed open, Tyler and Jack bursting in. "Oh, shit." Jack was already dialing his phone, looking very Biblical indeed. I was hemorrhaging, dizzy, wracked with pain by the time the ambulance got thereloading me in the sexy black nightie onto a stretcher. It became blurry, thank a benevolent God I don't remember much about the trip to St. John's. I didn't remember much of anything as I miscarried the only baby I ever had. Next I knew I was waking up to find Rhett Butler leaning on the rail of the hospital bed. "Hey Joanie," He stroked my cheek with his fingertips, his sapphire blue eyes solemn behind his glasses. "How ya feel?" "I lost the baby." I guessed. "Yeah. It's going to be okay, though. You're going to be fine and that's really all I care about." His heart was broken, I could plainly see- he wanted a baby. He was worried about me. He took my hand and kissed the back of it- so disappointed. I felt worse for him than I did myself. I shut my eyes against the sorrow I saw in his, part of me just wishing I could die too. "I love you Joan," he said. "more than any baby. I'm just glad you're going to be alright." his voice in the blackness of my head was sweet and soothing. I felt some tears ooze out like the blood last night- much more bitter, though.

Being a freak in this second life of mine- when I'd been so very normal in the previous one-I resigned myself to the lengths my people went to assuring themselves I did not go off some deep end. And I tried very hard to hide it when I did. It's natural for a woman who's miscarried to feel guilty- and I, who felt secret, niggling relief that BB's child was no longer riding in my sub-standard uterus felt more honestly earned guilt than most.

I had two crushed fathers-to-be, I saw when BB came to visit in the hospital right before I was released. He spouted off some platitudes- his face as pale as Tyler'swhile I thought, "There, you blackmailing son of a bitch!" I wont let myself be manipulated into something like this again. I'll kill myself first. Back at home I had to watch Becca approach her due date- and had to watch my first anniversary come and go with the obligatory party. Thanksgiving we spent at the hospital because the baby made his entrance into the world that day. I felt like a failure. My husband was running tests on me and shooting me twice a day again. Jack and Becca were involved in Jack Jr's upkeep. Alan had a life outside of work. I was ready to cry at the drop of a hat. "Why don't you write down how you feel?" Christian suggested one December day as I moped around feeling that I'd let everyone- including myself- down. "I haven't kept a journal since I died." I said gloomily. "You might feel better." he soothed. Fuck it, man, everyone is handing me with kid gloves. So- Why not? Victoria is hopelessly mired in my apathy. I hadn't been able to write a word. Not that I needed to. Marie and Joan of Arc were still bringing in royalty checks. There was talk of a movie. So I sat down at my computer one sunny morning and really thought about it- where it all began- with my old time, back when I was alive- those damn shoes, that single forgotten puddle on the quarry tile. Finding Ben-- the last time I ever saw him he had been pleasuring a woman I barely knew. I wrote everything. I wrote this. I wrote about the Cadillac, the whiskey, every black thought I could remember. I spent every spare moment as Christmas approached, remembering my death, my resurrection- thought about my first kiss with Tyler even though I hadn't known it was him- a kiss which made an impression on a half dead woman. I wrote about my weary shouldering of the burden of life. I kept the file encrypted, password protected- the password being suicidenote, all one word, lowercase. How I managed to fake being alive for my friends and family I will never know. It's a testament to my sickness. But I don't think I really ever fooled Tyler, who knew me too well and had access to my brain chemistry. He voiced his concern one night as we lay in bed- after he had made me shudder and moan beneath his big furred body. "What is it, Joanie? What's wrong?" he sounded so young and worried that my heart

constricted in sharp pain. "Nothing's wrong- how can anything be wrong when we're lying here together?" I kissed his cheek. "Sometimes you feel so far away. I worry about you," he rubbed my flat belly- I'd have a bump there by now, if I'd been woman enough to carry a bastard child. "I love you more than I ever loved Ben. You know that, don't you?" I whispered with tears in my eyes. "I know. " So we spent Christmas at the Winter place- I could almost trick myself into being happy. For a few days I felt normal- even with BB there. He had maintained a careful distance since the night I had lost his baby. If I'd been stronger, or sneakier I could have gotten my life back on track. But it was too late. I already decided I had to die. So many good reasons for it- I was damaged, obviously. As I wrote my secrets I could see it so clearly. Even when I thought I was just like anyone else I wasn't. I should never have been brought here- that poor clone who took my place should never have been created in a lab. Tyler would never be the same- a man who gets to have his first adolescent fantasy had to be ruined for real life. No one had escaped my poisonous influence. Richard Andreas probably never really considered drugging and raping a woman before he met me. Even the Winter clan- poor BB had not asked to be obsessed with a dead deity who was suddenly brought back in their midst. No, it was wrong from the beginning. I wrote about everything that happened to me, everything I did, what I brought on myself and others through just being me. It would have been better if I strangled myself in the sheets like Kurt Cobain. Oh but I loved Tyler Morgan. I doubt it will be much solace to him. I loved making him good, loved that part of him that helps people and strives to overcome baser nature. I know he's better off finding a really good woman of his own time who can give him a child he so desperately needs. I came to him so wrecked and wrong it's a wonder how he could have kept me alive as long as he did-he really is a genius. I hope my love and respect and vast mountain of gratitude ease him after awhile, when he has a houseful of kids and a good wife. Yeah, it's a shame. As I wrote my life and hope and love I wished it could be different. But you can't change who or what you are. If I'd been honest with my new life it might have been different but my inability to confront unpleasantness- the same inability that made me walk out with my arm in a cast and Lortabs in my purse the day I found Ben and Penny in my bed- kept me from blowing the roof off this motherfucker with Andreas and what he did to me, giving BB such a handy weapon to use . I never fought hard enough- not to live and judging from last time's miserable failure not to die either. Yeah I pretty much suck at this.

I know what I promised Trisha when she was so bravely struggling to keep her own life. But I'm sure if she could feel what's in my head and heart she would understand that an ending of any kind- a cessation of suffering- a final true ending is always happy. Heaven or Hell? At this point I don't care. The New Year is passed- I'm unutterably weary of Tyler's worry, everyone's concern. I just want to be gone so they can move ahead to happiness. Anyway, they shouldn't make it so easy to buy narcotics on the internet. There are 60 in my purse right now. Jack and Becca are taking the baby to his 2 month checkup and I'm taking a flying car I barely know how to drive to Tulsa. I'll park at Red Duck like the last time and maybe with more 'Tabs I wont fail. I'm sitting here looking at that big chest I never have been able to open, thinking about my failures, my hideous inability to act right, and I imagine I feel like Jon when the MS got so bad he offed himself. I am so sorry- to turn my back on everything, to let everyone down. Tyler, Tyler- if I could change it I would but I just can't. Even if I let you read this and tried to live I don't think I can stand the fall from that pedestal I so happily occupied! I can't endure doubt from you, or suspicion- even if it's just in your beautiful nearsighted blue eyes. I hate myself more than ever for what I'm going to do to you. I want you to understand that I never meant to lie and deceive you- I respect you more than anyone I've ever known. I just want you to understand it's not your fault- you made me happier than I ever had the right to be. Please forgive me my weakness. I'll leave this disc where you can find it. No password. Let it be comfort or torture in the future I hope you fill with trust, happiness, forgetfulness of me and love of someone good enough for you. I give you every worldly possession I have, and I love you. More than I ever loved Ben Winter. More than I've loved myself. Take care of my people if you can, go on and forget about all this mess if you can. I love you.

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