by Cephalgia and MJ
Disclaimers: See Part I
Feedback to: Cephalgia@hotmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Chapter 11As the wheels touched down at Heathrow Airport, Randa reflected back on what had surely been the busiest three days of her life. After she managed to get a ticket to London she had wrangled two weeks leave from Brightwood. They hadn't been too pleased but another nurse had just completed her training so a temporary replacement wasn't hard to find. Then Randa had to arrange for someone to watch the house, get travelers checks and change some dollars to pounds. She packed one large duffel bag and a small carry on for her purse, tickets and important papers. It wasn't until the night before she departed that the blonde remembered to call her mother. Randa recalled the conversation and how her mom had played Devil's Advocate.
-But what if she already hired a nurse?"
-Then I'll have a good visit and come on home in two weeks."
-What if she really is an axe murderer or one of those Internet psychopaths?"
-Mom, I've been talking to her for months. I think I would have picked up on something by now. She's my friend and she needs me."
-What if she doesn't want you there?" For that question the nurse had no answer.
Maybe I should have e-mailed Denise and told her what I was planning. Maybe following my heart wasn't the smartest thing to do. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer sometimes, I guess. Any further speculation was cut short by the flight attendant welcoming the passengers to London.
The nurse deplaned and headed with the other passengers to bag claim and Customs. As she stood in line, Randa silently thanked her mother for the previous year's three-day cruise to Ensenada, Mexico. Her mother had been under the mistaken impression that a passport was needed instead of the driver's license that actually was. If that error hadn't been made, Randa would never had been able to make the trip on such short notice or be standing here in line with a pristine passport. After she was beckoned forward to the Custom's clerk she was asked several questions and received her first passport stamp ever.
Given leave to enter the United Kingdom, Randa couldn't quite keep the grin off her face. Finding a traveler's information kiosk, the nurse found out which of the many train stations would take her north to Derbyshire as well as the timetable for the trains themselves. Exiting the airport she found the line, a queue as she learned, for a taxi. She shivered as she met the chilly, humid day. Good thing I paid attention to Denise when she said how cold and wet the weather was. She wasn't kidding.
Climbing in the back of a black sedan, Randa gave the driver her destination and sat back to stare outside at the first European country she had ever been in. I can't believe I'm really here. The land of kings, queens and amazing history, but all I can think about is seeing a poet and her aunt. She felt the jet lag and fatigue start to catch up with her and her eyes drooped closed. The voice of the cab driver, a curious mixture of English and East Indian, woke her as the cab pulled up to St. Pancras station. The blonde paid the fare, thanked the driver and walked into the train station. Purchasing her ticket, Randa used the forty-five minute wait until departure to freshen up in the station restroom. Reflected in the mirror was a slightly haggard young woman with the beginning of dark circles under her eyes. Looking good, Randa. Who wouldn't welcome you with open arms looking like this? she thought sarcastically.
Making her way to the correct platform, Randa boarded the train and settled in a seat by the window. Leaving London and heading out into the green countryside, she began to relax with the rhythm of the train. The conductor came by and inspected her ticket then left her to her thoughts. Okay, I know the town is Bakewell and I suppose I can get a taxi there to Denise's house, but then what? Will she ask me to stay? Would she have room? Can I find a bed and breakfast? Guess I didn't quite think this whole thing through. This is just great; I'm going to be on pins and needles the whole way there. Mentally kicking herself, Randa leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The moment of darkness was enough though and she slipped easily into a dreamless sleep.
-Miss? Miss?" Randa opened her eyes in temporary bewilderment. Seeing the face of the conductor looming over her, she put together the pieces of her whereabouts.
-Didn't want you to miss your station. Bakewell is next, about 10 minutes." The nurse thanked the conductor and checking her watch was surprised to see two hours had gone by. She felt somewhat refreshed, but thought she probably didn't look it. She gathered her belongings together and in a few minutes the train glided smoothly to a stop. Following the few passengers out of the station, Randa found a lone cab waiting at the curb. She gave the driver Denise's address, an action that met with two raised bushy eyebrows.
-That would be Haversham Road, you said? Not many fares to that address." The driver looked at her expectantly in the rear view mirror as he pulled out into the sparse afternoon traffic.
-Really." Randa made no other comment, knowing how private a person Denise was. The journey was not long and the taxi soon pulled up in front of a house slightly larger than the others in the area, but similar in design. The yard was well planned, but seemed somewhat neglected. Hefting her duffel bag to her shoulder, she made her way up the steps and stopped at the door.
The coward dies a thousand times, the brave man dies but once. With those words running through her head, Randa rapped sharply on the door four times. She waited a moment and was about to knock a second time when the door swung open sharply. Standing in the doorway was unquestionably the most attractive woman Randa had ever laid eyes on. The nurse's breath stilled as she was held transfixed by impossibly blue eyes. Randa swallowed hard and worked to find the words to form a coherent sentence. Finally she held up her right hand revealing the charm bracelet dangling from her wrist.
-Denise?" she managed to croak. -Thank you for the Christmas present."
There was also the point that Carl had been badgering her over the past week, reminding her she had a deadline for a new book to meet. Writing had taken a back seat while Denise was looking after Sara and although she desperately needed to fulfil that desire to write, Sara would always come first. She had explained the situation to Carl and he was in the process of trying to push back her deadline to allow more time.
Denise winced as she felt again the knot in her back, the result of sleeping in Sara's vanity chair all night. The constant need to be there for Sara just in case she needed anything throughout the night had forced Denise to spend the last three nights sleeping in Sara's room. Sara wasn't aware of this of course as Denise wouldn't go to sleep until Sara was herself asleep and she would always wake up well before her aunt.
Dropping the white potato back into the bowl of warm water, Denise swirled her hands around the container until she located another large potato. She commenced peeling.
With a particular frown that had frequently graced her features over the last three days, Denise thought again of Randa. She had received no word from the woman since she had sent her last message after Sara's choking incident. If she was to admit it, Denise was feeling a little anxious. The fear that she may have scared the woman off with her seemingly desperate plea for help or advice wouldn't leave her mind. Maybe she has just been really busy with work, thought Denise, or isn't bothered? The poet shook her head, doubting that somehow. She thought back to the parcel that had arrived only yesterday. She had recognized the return address immediately and knew it was a package from Randa. Denise would usually have placed it under her tree but she hadn't even had time to purchase one, so she had placed it in her study.
Suddenly an unexpected knocking from the front door caused her to jump. The sharp knife that she held tightly in her left hand slipped across the potato and into her thumb.
-Oh for crying out loud... damn it!" she muttered and dropped the knife into the sink as she grabbed a tea towel and wrapped it around her hand to stop herself from getting any blood upon her blue denim shirt. She moved through the house to answer the door.
Denise pulled the door open swiftly and paused as a seemingly familiar face confronted her. She frowned again as she looked down at the blonde haired woman who portrayed an expression to that of a deer caught in the headlights.
Moving her right hand slightly behind her back to hide the blood that she could feel seeping into the material she waited for the woman to speak. Why do I know that face?
-Denise?" The blonde woman said in a nervous voice. -Thank you for the Christmas present."
Cerulean eyes travelled down to the wrist that was held out in front of her. Denise noticed and recognised her mother's charm bracelet and she quickly looked back up to her visitor. The blonde hair and green eyes suddenly looked very familiar and her heart hammered anxiously in her chest. -Randa?"
The nervous nod followed by a shy smile helped to pull the poet from her shock. Oh my god! She blinked once and came to her senses. -Um... I err..." Looking past the woman she noticed the heavy bag swung over her shoulder. A slight pulling her to the side gave away the weight of the hefty carrier. She moved forward. -Here let me take that." Denise held out her free hand.
The poet noticed Randa pause as she debated her request.
-Okay, thanks." Randa relented and Denise smiled as she accepted the bag from Randa then moved to the side to allow the smaller woman into the house.
Both women remained silent as Denise closed the front door and motioned for Randa to move into the front room. They walked quietly into the living room and Denise shut the door, blocking the chill of the hallway from entering the warm room. The open coal fire was blazing in the hearth.
Denise placed the large duffle bag down beside the nearest chair and looked nervously up at her most unexpected visitor. She watched as the blonde took in her surroundings, hardly able to believe this was happening. If this is a dream then let me sleep a while longer. Moving from one foot to another Denise kept her hand slightly behind her back. She looked intently at Randa as their eyes met and held.
Randa was the first to break the silence. -I know this is really unexpected."
Denise shook her head quickly. -No... well yes but... I mean... it's okay." She smiled self-consciously as she noticed the peculiar way in which Randa was looking at her. -I can't believe you came all the way from America. Is this... um... a passing visit? Are you on holiday or on your way to somewhere in particular?"
The nurse paused momentarily before speaking. -I got your e-mail. You sounded pretty upset and you said you needed my help." She held out her arms. -And well... here I am." She smiled. -It's wonderful to meet you."
She came all the way over here for me, because I needed her? -It's wonderful to meet you too. I can't believe you flew over here." Suddenly remembering her manners, Denise motioned towards the couch. -Please, sit."
Randa backed up slightly but didn't sit down. -I debated all the way here whether I was doing the right thing. I assure you I don't normally act so impulsively, it's just that... well..." She shrugged, seemingly not knowing what else to say.
-Thank you." Denise said with a smile.
There was a moment of silence as both women studied each other.
-Sleeping," Denise replied, -at the moment. I thought while I had the time I would make the dinner." She held up her covered right hand. The blood was visible as it soaked into the towel. -I had a bit of an accident while I was peeling the potatoes."
Eyes wide with shock, Randa stepped forward. -Why didn't you say something? Are you all right? Let me take a look." Awkwardness all but forgotten, Randa took a hold of Denise's hand and gently peeled away the blue and white checked cloth. -Where is your nearest sink?"
Feeling slightly bewildered, Denise looked toward the door that led into the kitchen. -Um... through there, in the kitchen. It is okay you know."
They walked into the kitchen. Denise internally cursed the fact that she had made such a mess while preparing the dinner. The bowl full of water and half peeled potatoes were out upon the draining board. The work surfaces were covered with raw vegetables, pots, pans, mince and a selection of herbs.
-Hey, I'm a nurse, it's what I do. You should have said you were hurt sooner."
Denise smirked as Randa turned on the tap and held her still bleeding thumb under the slow stream of water. -Well I was going to tell whoever it was at the door to sod off." She smiled. -That was until I realised it was you. I didn't want you to then be confronted by a crazy woman with blood all over her hands." Denise chuckled. -I swear there is no horses head in the freezer!" She paused. -Well there may be a trout complete with head but I swear that is all." Realising she was babbling, Denise closed her mouth. She looked down into Randa's smiling eyes.
-If I thought you were the kind of person to keep heads in your freezer then I don't think I would have even considered coming here."
-I can't believe you came at all."
To Denise it felt almost surreal to be standing in the same room as the woman who she had been thinking about no more than ten minutes before.
Randa inspected the wound closely. -It's a little deep, but I think you'll live." She smiled up at Denise. -Do you have a band-aid?"
Denise froze as she looked into dark green eyes. -Um... if you mean plasters then yes, in here." She moved over to a small drawer in the corner of the kitchen and pulled it open. Denise rummaged around the clutter of lint, cotton buds and empty paracetamol boxes. -Here's one." She pulled a plaster from the drawer and handed it to Randa then observed as the blonde opened the packaging and wrapped the flesh coloured tape around her thumb.
A sudden thought occurred to her. -Randa, do you have a place to stay?"
Denise noticed the hesitation in Randa's eyes.
-Not yet. I thought I could get a room in a local bed and breakfast or something like that."
The poet shook her head. -Oh believe me you don't want to get a hotel or B and B room in this part of the country. It's around the peak district; people come here for holidays and weekend breaks. I don't know what you consider reasonable but I can't have you paying when there is a bed here you are more than welcome to use."
Neither woman realised that Randa was still holding Denise's hand.
-I don't exactly have a spare room so to speak but I do have a spring action fold away bed chair in my study. It is comfortable; I know that as I have used it myself. If you would like you are welcome to stay here with us."
-If it's okay with Sara too then that would be great."
-She wouldn't mind in the slightest." Denise paused and nervously bit the corner of her lip. -So... what do you say?" She asked hopefully and waited, as green eyes looked up at her in what she thought was consideration to her offer.
Randa nodded. -Absolutely... yes."
They smiled at each other until both became aware that they were still holding hands. Simultaneously the women pulled away.
Denise studied the cold floor. -Um..." What's wrong with me? Looking back up the poet caught Randa's eye. -Do you want to get settled in? I have some wardrobe space you can use for your clothes. I'll show you around this humble abode," She smirked, -and if you want you could actually take your coat off. It maybe cold outside but it's bloody warm in here."
-I was beginning to feel it." Randa stated as she started to unzip her jacket. -It must be your open fire... it's nice."
As Denise led the way back into the front room she looked down at the smouldering hearth. -It's a different story when it comes to sweeping the chimney though. Then it is a big pain in the arse."
-But worth it?" Randa asked.
Denise smiled warmly. -To feel its heat while sitting in the darkness with only the flames as a point of illumination and feel the solitude and tranquillity it instils as your mind wanders. Burning in the darkest night... a time for lovers. Emitting heat like a passionate embrace." Denise shrugged. -Yeah, it's worth it." She bent down and picked up Randa's large bag. -Are you ready for the grand tour?"
The blonde nurse nodded mutely.
-Okay then." Denise opened the door to the hallway. -Let's go."
Randa blinked rapidly a few times as she followed Denise through the house. My God, did she just make up a poem on the spot? That woman has more romance in her little finger than most people have in their whole bodies. The nurse shook herself mentally and struggled to regain the equilibrium that had been lost the moment the door was opened. Get it together for Pete's sake! You've been staring at her like an idiot! Do you want her to think you're some sort of slack jawed fool?
She brought her attention back to Denise who was taking them upstairs and entering a comfortable looking room with antique furniture and an overly large bed. Denise flipped the duffel bag onto the bed and Randa noticed the ease with which her friend handled the heavy object. Actually Randa had been noticing Denise all the way up the stairs having an excellent view as she trailed behind the older woman.
-This is it except for Sara's room downstairs," Denise was saying. -There should be enough extra space in the wardrobe there for your things. Let me know if you need more hangers or anything." The tall woman seemed to hesitate a moment then said -Would you like to meet Sara now or would you like to freshen up a bit first? You've had a long trip."
-Is that your way of telling me I'm a bit over ripe?" Seeing the other woman's look of discomfort she immediately said -I'm just teasing, honestly. When I'm tired my sense of humor gets a little odd. Truthfully, I could use a quick shower before I meet Sara. If she gets as shocked as you did by my arrival, the least I can do is look presentable when it happens."
Denise mumbled something the nurse couldn't quite hear. -What was that, Denise?"
The poet straightened and cleared her throat. -I said it was a nice kind of shock." The women smiled at one another as the friendship that had started out electronically became cemented a little more in the physical world. Denise broke the silence by pointing out the small upstairs bathroom and shower then fetching Randa a large bath towel and washcloth.
-If there's nothing else you need I'll just go downstairs and finish dinner preparations. Just come down whenever you're finished and we'll go in to see Sara. I know she'll enjoy meeting you." She turned to leave but was halted by the sound of Randa's voice.
The brunette turned and lifted her eyebrows in question.
-Be careful down there, okay?" She gave a thumbs up sign to Denise and was rewarded with a blush and a small smile from the woman. The door closed and Randa was left alone for the first time since meeting DJ. A happy smile made its way across her face as she realized she was in England and in the company of someone who was rapidly becoming one of the most important people in her life. Her subconscious rebelled at that thought, challenging her to come up with somebody who was more significant to her, but the nurse stomped down on that idea.
Don't get carried away, Miranda. Remember why you're here. You came because Denise needed a friend and possibly a nurse. If there were anyone she would want to get carried away with though, it would be Denise. With a sigh, Randa started putting her clothes away in the wardrobe. It was so strange to feel this way especially in light of her checkered social history. She had dated a few men, experimented with sex and yet found herself oddly unmoved. She wondered if she might be gay and gave in to the desire to be with a woman in a physical way. She admitted to herself that the sex was far more pleasurable, but no one had come close to capturing her heart. From that point, Randa just figured she would wait for the right person rather than wasting time with the wrong ones.
Finishing her task, Randa made her way to the bathroom and stood under the warm stream of water in the shower. As the water cascaded down her frame, the nurse felt the tension in her body release. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to see once again the incredibly blue eyes of her friend. They're just the color of Lake Tahoe in the summer. So very blue and inviting.
Randa stepped from the shower, dried off and dressed quickly in black jeans and an emerald green turtleneck sweater. Finding her way back to the kitchen, Randa was able to watch Denise unobserved from the doorway for a few moments. She noticed things about the poet she had missed earlier. The woman looked positively exhausted. There were small dark lines under the blue eyes and she unconsciously stretched her back as she worked, as if trying to work out a kink. Denise stilled suddenly and looked up as though she had felt Randa's eyes on her.
Neither woman spoke for a moment until Randa entered the kitchen and said, -You look tired."
Denise's shoulders seemed to drop a little. -I suppose I am...a bit. Sara's been increasingly ill lately. She doesn't rest well and I don't feel as if I can leave her at those times." The poet dropped her eyes.
Randa's heart went out to the brunette and she laid her hand on Denise's arm. -You've done everything you could by yourself, but I can see you're getting worn out." When the poet would have protested, Randa stopped her saying -Don't bother to deny it, I know what too many shifts look like. I've seen it on myself often enough to know."
Denise said nothing so Randa asked -Do you think we could go see Sara now?"
The taller woman nodded and said -She's up in the wheelchair now and I've told her of your arrival. She's anxious to meet you." The pair made their way to Sara's room and found the woman sitting quietly looking out the window. Denise went immediately to her aunt's side.
-Sara? This is Randa Martin, my friend from America I told you about. Randa, this is my aunt Sara Jennings." The older woman in the chair turned striking blue eyes on the nurse, eyes so very similar to those of her niece. The nurse tried to suppress the need to look at DJ's aunt from a professional viewpoint as she greeted the woman, but found her training taking over in spite of her best intentions. Several things immediately brought themselves to Randa's attention but she ignored them for a moment to take Sara's offered hand. The grip was weak but Randa had an impression of strength from this woman that had little to do with her physical being.
-Welcome to England, Miss Martin. I hope you'll enjoy your stay here. I was very happy when DJ told me you would be spending time with us. Between you and I, she doesn't see nearly enough of her friends these days, not that she's ever been much for socializing a great deal anyway." She gave the blonde a conspiratorial wink. Randa could feel herself warming to this woman who had obviously not lost her sense of humor along with her muscle strength.
-It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Jennings and please call me Randa. I'll see what I can do about Denise's lack of socializing while I'm here." She returned Sara's wink and the two women laughed.
Denise pretended affront and said -I see my life is being planned well enough without me so I shall remove myself to the kitchen to sulk and check on the progress of dinner." She left to the continued chuckles of the other two women.
-She's a lot of fun to tease, isn't she?" said Randa. Sara laid a frankly speculative gaze upon the blonde.
-You know, Randa, that's just what I said not too long ago. That very same thing."
A little later, Randa found Denise in the kitchen placing a large cottage pie into the oven. -I like your aunt a lot. It's obvious why you love her like you do, she's pretty remarkable."
-She likes you too, I can tell. Why do I have the feeling things are going to be interesting around here for a while?"
Randa chuckled at her friend's pretended discomfort but then sobered. -Denise, I'd like to speak to you seriously a minute. I'd like you to call Sara's doctor today and arrange to get her an oxygen tank and nasal prongs. I noticed her nail beds were a little dusky when I shook her hand and she has slight difficulty finishing her sentences with a single breath. Her respiratory muscles may have weakened and I think she isn't getting enough oxygen to her system. It may be why she's restless at night too. Some low flow oxygen should help."
DJ looked devastated. -I can't believe I didn't see those things! I'm supposed to be her caregiver, how could I have missed those signs? How am I going to tell Sara?"
-You aren't trained to look for them in the first place and it's probably come on so gradually you wouldn't have noticed yet. Didn't you tell me she's only not been sleeping well for the past few days?" At Denise's nod the nurse continued. -Well, there you go then, there's no reason to be upset. By the way, Sara took the news well when I explained it to her a few minutes ago."
-You told her she would need oxygen?"
-Well I figured if I could explain the reason for it to her she wouldn't be as frightened by the prospect of needing the oxygen. It didn't seem right to make the observation and then just dump it in your lap. Sara's an intelligent woman, she understood completely." Randa paused, noticing Denise staring at her. -Um, Denise...I'm afraid my jet lag is catching up with me again. Do you think I have enough time before dinner to get a nap? My eyelids feel like they're made of lead."
-Oh, of course. I haven't made up the fold away bed yet but you could sleep on my bed for now. You'll find an extra blanket in the chest near the window. I'll wake you when dinner is ready."
-That sounds great, Denise, I really appreciate it." Randa turned and exited the kitchen looking over her shoulder briefly to see Denise watching her as she went. Randa gave her a brief smile then continued on upstairs. Finding a soft quilt in the cedar chest, Randa settled herself on Denise's bed. The faint scent of an herbal shampoo and something that must have been unique to Denise lay lightly on the pillow. Randa clutched the fragrant object to her and slipped into a weary slumber.
Denise replaced the receiver onto the phone's base and frowned. She felt terrible. No matter what Randa had said, she had still missed a vital need of her aunt's welfare and general comfort and ease. If it weren't for my own selfish procrastination she would have had a nurse by now who would have known and recognised Sara's needs. -Damn it."
Walking back into the kitchen Denise once again checked on her dinner. It was cooking slowly. She had turned down the heat in order to slow its baking and give Randa some extra rest. Denise had noticed Randa's fatigued look and thought the blonde nurse would appreciate a little extra time to relax. They were in no rush to eat. Sara had stated that she could wait a while longer and Denise ate whenever she remembered or had the time.
It was almost a surreal feeling, knowing that Randa was actually in their home. That morning the poet had woken wondering whether she would hear anything from the American nurse. She never would have entertained the possibility that the blonde would actually appear most unexpectedly on her doorstep. And now she is sleeping in my bed! Denise was unsure what to make of that little fact. For the past twenty-two years she had been the only person to sleep there and always considered the bed her own private island of relaxation. The bed was large, incredibly comfortable and had belonged to her parents. She had never wanted to share that privacy with anybody. Why now? She wondered.
Opening a wall cupboard, Denise pulled out a large, half empty jar of strawberry jam. She unscrewed the lid and dipped her index finger inside, scooping out a small amount of the fruity preserve before sucking it off her finger. She exited the kitchen and wandered back into the living room where Sara was watching television. The older woman looked up as her niece entered the room. She shook her head as she watched Denise suck more jam from her finger. -I hope you put that away before that nice young lady comes back..." she took a breath, -...down stairs. You don't want her to be privy to all of your bad habits... so soon, do you?"
-What you see is what you get, Sara."
Sara rolled her eyes with a smile. She knew her niece well enough to see that something was different. She was seeing something she had never seen before. -She's nice isn't she? I bet it was a... surprise for you to find her upon the doorstep. Why do you think she came all the way... over here?"
The poet shrugged. -She said she was responding to my last mail. I feel a little uncomfortable about that, Sara. I mean not that she is here because I am very happy to meet her, but the fact that she more or less pulled herself from her own life because I needed help. I'm not doing my best in looking after you. To have somebody come all the way over here to point out where I am failing... it's just..."
-Hey!" Sara interrupted; she took a shallow breath. -Do you think she thinks that way?"
Denise looked down into the jam jar. -Honestly... no... but you needed oxygen and I didn't realise that."
-And you are trained to know these things?" Sara asked.
-Well no, but..."
-But nothing, DJ, you have been wonderful. We have both done... things that in hindsight could have been done better or different." Sara smiled as she breathed slowly. -Are you sorry that she... came?"
Denise looked up suddenly. -No, not at all."
-So you did want to meet her?"
-Well that is good because I have a feeling... that woman had more than one reason for... traveling all the way over to England, DJ." Sara was sure that deep down inside the blonde nurse knew this too.
The poet looked at her aunt confused.
Sara decided a change of topic was in order. -So what time... is Doctor Macarthur arriving in the morning?"
Screwing the top back onto the sticky jar, Denise shrugged. -Between nine and half past he said." She looked down at the black leather watch on her right wrist. -Do you think Randa will be awake yet? Dinner will be ready soon and if she sleeps too long she won't rest well during the night."
The older woman looked up as her niece disappeared swiftly into the kitchen to deposit the jam jar before returning empty handed. The poet seemed to be massaging her side with one hand.
-I think maybe you should go and see whether she is awake yet."
-You think?" Denise asked feeling slightly unsure. She didn't want to encroach on the other woman's privacy. Being a woman who treasured such isolation she knew how it felt to have one's seclusion threatened and intruded upon.
Denise nodded hesitantly. -Okay."
Denise approached the barrier and stood quietly by the wide wooden door. After a small inner debate she gently tapped on the light wood. There was no answer. She tried again and rapped her knuckles a little harder but still there was no answer. -Randa?" She whispered lightly.
Hell! Denise stood at the door as she debated what to do and realising she had no other alternative; she crept slowly into the room.
The curtains had only been half drawn but it was already dark outside and only the light from the landing provided illumination in the darkened room. The poet walked tentatively toward the bed and looked down upon the sleeping form resting peacefully on her side. Randa had her head on one of the pillows and was clutching another closely to her chest. The sound of deep even breaths filled the air. The hall light shone directly onto her slumbering features.
Denise reached the side of her bed and bit the inside of her mouth nervously as she wondered how best to wake the sleeping blonde. She leant forward resting one hand upon the surface of the bed and whispered again. -Randa?"
There was still no response.
From down the stairs Denise heard the sound of the cooker's timer buzz twice, indicating that the dinner was ready. She looked briefly out into the hallway before looking back at the sleeping woman. She decided to try again.
-Randa." She placed a hand on her arm and shook her softly as she whispered, -Randa. You shouldn't sleep too long, you...?"
She froze as two sparkling green eyes shining in the landing light regarded her unexpectedly. Denise smiled nervously. -Um... I thought that maybe you shouldn't sleep too long otherwise you would disrupt your sleep pattern for tonight. I'm sorry if I startled you but the dinner is ready if you would like some?"
Randa blinked several times before pushing herself to a sitting position and rubbing her eyes sleepily. Denise couldn't help but find the sight strangely endearing.
-Are you okay?"
The blonde nodded with a smile. -Yeah, I'm fine." She looked down at the pillow resting in her lap and nervously placed it back at the head of the bed. -And no you didn't startle me; thank you for waking me up. You're right, I wouldn't want to sleep for too long now and then be awake all night."
The women stared at each other in the semi darkness. Denise suddenly looked down at the bed self-consciously. -I want you to know that I really am happy that you are here." She looked back up into smiling green eyes. -You know, I do feel like I know you well enough that I don't feel that need to distance myself from you like I do with people I meet for the first time. You are very easy to talk with." She paused. -I... I'm just happy to finally meet you." She stammered awkwardly.
Randa placed her hand upon the larger one resting upon the surface of the bed. -Me too, Denise. Listen... if it's okay with you I'd like to help out with Sara while I'm here. You know... do the nurse thing? Would that be alright?"
Denise looked down at the hand resting upon her own before moving back and standing tall. The connection just felt a little to disconcerting for her to deal with at that moment. -Sara and myself are both honoured that you came all the way over here, Randa. Any help that you can give us would be very much appreciated, though I really want you to know that it is not expected."
Randa chuckled almost awkwardly. -I want to help you, Denise. I was more than a little nervous you'd think the only reason I came here was because I've always been a fan of your work. That truly isn't the case, though you do know what I think of your writing."
Denise was sure she noticed a blush and was almost tempted to mention Randa's 'juices flowing' comment, but she remained quiet.
-I came here because you were in need and I wanted to help you. I still do and I hope you'll consider me qualified for the position while I'm here."
Holding out her hand, Denise watched an expression of confusion cross Randa's features. The poet raised her eyebrows and indicated for the blonde to imitate her. When she did, Denise took her hand in a firm shake. -For as long as you desire, you are hired."
Randa smiled. -It's a deal."
They released hands and Denise took a step backwards. -I better go and get the dinner finished. You did say you were hungry right?"
-After eating the airline's poor excuse for food I am more than ready for some good old fashioned home cooking." Randa replied.
Denise backed her way towards the door. -Let's go and eat then. I can't promise you proper home cooking, but it is food, it's cooked and I did prepare it at home. The resemblances end there I'm afraid."
Randa chuckled as she followed Denise back down the stairs. -Let me be the judge of that."
Denise loaded the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and closed the door. She leaned forward and selected a washing cycle before turning the machine on. There was a gentle hum as the device activated and whirled into life.
Dinner had been a pleasant affair. Sara had insisted that because they had company they had to use the dining room and not sit in the living room like they had a tendency to do while eating. The older woman would be the first to admit that she and DJ were a little lax when it came to etiquette. They had nobody to impress after all. So while Denise dished up the food, Randa took Sara into the dining room where the old woman instructed the nurse on where to find the cutlery and condiments for setting the table.
It had been decided and agreed upon by all that while Randa was visiting she would take an active part in taking care of Sara and would be present during Doctor Macarthur's visit the next morning. Sara seemed happy with this, as she knew her niece had been wearing herself out. Sara had decided on first meeting that she liked the American nurse. She also knew the moment she saw the way in which the young blonde looked at Denise that Randa felt for her more than friendship even if Denise was yet to recognise that fact. Over dinner Sara had reminded Denise about her new book's deadline for the publishers and Randa stated that she was more than happy to sit with Sara while Denise worked. She winked at the older woman and remarked on how she would enjoy their 'chats'. Denise noticed the looks the women were passing each other and stared at them both suspiciously. Two innocent faces smiled back.
Denise switched off the kitchen light before picking up the glass of Diet Dr Pepper and bottle of water and walking into the living room. She found Randa sitting peacefully on the couch after settling Sara into bed.
-How's Sara?" Denise asked as she sat down on the opposites side of the chair and handed Randa her drink.
Randa accepted the glass with a smile. -She's fine. Fell asleep more or less as soon as her head hit the pillow. She was tired." Randa took a large drink of her Doctor Pepper and sighed. -Oh, I love this stuff."
Denise scrunched her nose. -Each to their own I guess," she replied as she unscrewed her bottle cap. -It's a good job Sara likes that drink too. I always thought she was insane though."
-Hey!" Randa feigned hurt. -I don't suffer from insanity... I revel in every moment of it."
The poet laughed as she looked into sparkling green eyes shining in an orange glow from the roaring fire. -So I see!" She smiled and turned darkened blue eyes back to the fire. -I still can't believe we are sitting here like this. That you came."
-I was a little scared that you wouldn't want me here; that you may already have help for Sara. I had my mom playing devil's advocate but something told me I just had to do it. Besides, Christmas in England... aren't you guys supposed to get snow or something?"
The poet shrugged. -If we are lucky. It depends on where you live but we can get it here. In fact Sara and I have a tradition on Christmas Eve. In the evening we go to this small place where we stand on the hill and look over the land at all the colourful lights. It started when I first moved here and we have continued the tradition every year since then. Maybe you would like to come with us?" She turned back to look at Randa and found the woman staring at her.
Randa blinked and looked away briefly before turning back. -I'd love to."
Denise nodded. -Good."
-Speaking of Christmas," Randa started, -I noticed you don't have a tree up yet!"
-We usually would have bought one by now but... you know. Maybe we could all go out tomorrow afternoon and purchase one?"
Randa smiled. -Sounds like fun."
Looking down at her untouched bottle of water the poet said, -I am too tired to even drink this. We should go and get your bed set up."
The nurse nodded her agreement with a yawn. -I am still tired."
-Okay." Denise held out her hand and accepted Randa's empty glass. -Lets go to bed." She felt the sudden need to correct herself. -I mean, lets go and get your bed set up." Lowering her head, Denise blushed and disappeared into the kitchen to discard the glass and bottle of water. She re-emerged empty handed to find a smirking Randa waiting for her by the door.
Randa nodded and headed out of the living room and towards the stairs. Denise followed, turning off the lights as she went and rendering the lower part of the house into total darkness. I know I was blushing then. Jesus what is wrong with me? Shaking her head Denise followed Randa up the stairs.
Morning brought clear skies, colder temperatures and Dr. Macarthur. The visit went smoothly with the physician agreeing that Sara would benefit from wearing oxygen. After a brief examination of the patient, he returned to his surgery to arrange for the necessary supplies to be delivered. Randa closed the door behind the doctor and leaned against it for a moment thinking how perfectly at ease Denise and Sara had been in allowing her to participate in the older woman's care. In fact, it seemed they were at ease with her in the house and in their lives as well.
Randa thought back to the wonderful breakfast the women had shared. They had traded stories about themselves and their homes. More than once Sara had made DJ uncomfortable by revealing some of the poet's teenage escapades. While Denise thought the stories were embarrassing, the nurse found them endearing. It amazed her to realize the rebellious teen of years ago was the sensitive, warm woman of today. There was one moment of awkwardness though that puzzled the nurse. Randa had been complimenting Sara on her homemade strawberry jam.
-This is so delicious! I hope you don't think this is crude, but if I were at home I would probably eat the stuff right out of the jar. Knowing me I wouldn't use a spoon either." There was a weird moment of silence then as Denise and Sara exchanged glances. Denise blushed and Sara smiled then said, -Do whatever makes you comfortable, dear, we don't stand on ceremony here." They all laughed but Randa still felt something had been odd.
Shaking off the feeling, she went into the living room and rejoined Denise and her aunt. As she entered the room the conversation revolved around the upcoming holiday.
-We surely need a bit of the Christmas spirit around here, DJ. Why we haven't a single decoration up anywhere, not even a tree. It doesn't feel like Christmas somehow without our usual trimmings."
-I'd like to do all those things Sara, but with the deadline for my book coming up I just don't seem to have enough hours in the day."
Randa overheard the words and decide to take a chance. -You know, Sara, if you would like it, I could take you out this afternoon and we could look for a tree. We could come back here and decorate afterward and give Denise time to work on her book. I think we should wait for the oxygen to be delivered but then I would be willing to go if you want."
DJ looked surprised. -You'd want to do that? It wouldn't be too much of an imposition?"
-Imposition? How can it be an imposition? Look, this is a win-win situation for me. I get to spend the afternoon with your aunt hearing more adorable stories about your misspent youth and I get a little closer to a new book by D Jennings. What's not to love about that?"
Sara chuckled and said, -This is the best offer I've had all day. I think it works out perfectly for everyone so let's do it."
Denise smiled and raised her hands in surrender. -I can see you two are going to do this no matter what I say anyway so I'll just go along with the plan and say I think it's a lovely idea. Thank you, Randa."
-Anything for you, Denise...and you too of course, Sara." Randa and Denise matched blushes as Sara watched them both with a knowing look.
The afternoon had been fun for both Sara and Randa. The older woman had blossomed with the trip outside and her breathing was much improved with the oxygen coming from the small tank attached to the back of her wheelchair. The pair had visited two lots full of Christmas trees with Sara inspecting each tree carefully and pronouncing them unsuitable. Finally, reaching the very back of the second lot, Sara spied a tree. She gave it little more than a cursory glance before turning to Randa.
-That's the one."
-You're sure? You've given every other one the tree version of the Spanish Inquisition and this one you barely look at and pronounce worthy? How can you be so sure?"
-It's a gift, young woman. Take me to tea and I'll tell you all my secrets. No sense letting all this knowledge die with me." The two women sobered for a brief time. Randa leaned over and hugged the older woman close. Eventually, Sara pulled back and blinked away the moisture that had accumulated in her eyes.
-Let's go now before I make a fool of myself. Maybe we'll get a small something for Denise as well; she has a weakness for chocolate you know."
-Yeah, I know, it's a weakness I share."
-Oh, I think you'll end up sharing much more than that," Sara said under her breath then smiled at Randa as they found the salesman and paid for their purchase.
It was close to midnight and Randa and Denise were sitting in the living room admiring their work. The Christmas tree had been delivered in the early evening and set up according to Sara's instructions. The three women had started the decorating but Sara had soon succumbed to happy exhaustion and had let herself be put to bed. The nurse and the poet worked in an easy harmony stringing lights, hanging ornaments and putting out Sara's collection of porcelain Christmas angels. Finally they were seated with steaming cups of tea in the room illuminated only by the fireplace and twinkling lights of the tree. Denise gazed at the tree apparently lost in her thoughts. Randa studied the poet wondering what was on her mind and marveling yet again at how attractive the brunette was.
Stop it, Randa. You've got to keep remembering that Denise is just your friend and stop thinking that she's so...
Randa snapped out of her reverie and realized Denise was speaking to her. -What did you say, Denise?"
-The tree, the tree is lovely. It's always been a point of pride for Sara to have a lovely tree at Christmas. Even though it's almost always been just the two of us she always took the time to make our Christmas celebrations special." Denise turned her head to face the nurse. -I was just thinking about how many Christmases I've had here with her. It's almost more than I can bear to know this will be last one. She won't have another, will she?" A single tear freed itself from Denise's eye and traced a silent pattern down her cheek.
-I'm afraid not, Denise. I wish the answer could be different, but..."
-I know," said the poet. -It was just wishful thinking on my part. If this is to be her last Christmas though I am determined to make it the very best I can. While you were gone, I made a few phone calls as well as worked on the book. I've arranged to have all of Sara's favorite holiday things delivered. Food, friends and treats. Anything Sara might want she is going to have."
Randa nodded, thought a moment, and then spoke. -We talked at tea today. She said the same thing as you did. She wants this to be the best Christmas for you as well. She loves you very much, Denise. I've known her only two days and can see what a truly terrific woman she is. You've been a very lucky woman to have had her in your life. She's a wonderful role model and a loving guardian and anything I can do to help you make this holiday special, you only have to ask."
Randa left her seat and moved to kneel by Denise's chair. She reached out her hand and gently wiped away the rogue tear, letting her hand linger momentarily on the poet's cheek. Denise brought her hand up to cover Randa's briefly then moved to rise from the chair.
-I suppose we should turn in now if we are going to get more preparations done for the holiday. Randa, what little task was Sara talking about you doing for her tomorrow?" The pair moved toward the doorway.
-None of your business there, Miss Jennings. Your aunt and I have a few plans of our own." Earlier in the day Sara had asked Randa to pick up Denise's Christmas present for her. Shortly after her diagnosis, Sara had commissioned an oil painting by a local artist. It showed a much younger Sara with Denise at the age she was when she first came to live with the older woman. Photographs and talent were bringing to life a portrait of the two Jennings women that they had never thought to have done before.
Denise paused at the light switch and gazed back once again at the tree. -I think I'll leave the lights on tonight. For some reason I don't want to turn them off." Giving a little sigh, she looked at the pine. -Lovely," was all she said then turned and left the room.
You certainly are Randa thought and followed her friend from the room.
The women would spend time together in the morning before Denise would disappear to her study to work on entries for her fourth anthology of poems. It felt good to get back into the routine of spending a few hours a day just devoted to writing. She was beginning to miss the feeling of allowing her mind to wander as she constructed a multitude of verses from lyrical tales to structured sonnets. And thanks to Randa, Denise was regaining her much needed flow.
What was more, since Randa's arrival the spirit of Christmas had finally made an appearance in the Jennings household, from the beautifully decorated tree to the excitement of the impending day.
However, there was one problem that had Denise puzzling in deep thought. Since Randa had already opened her present she now needed and wanted to get her something else. Through the days leading up to the big day itself Denise had searched her mind for the perfect gift. It wasn't until the day before Christmas Eve that she finally had her epiphany.
Waking up early Christmas Eve morning, Denise realised it was the sound of the shower door closing that had jolted her from a dreamless sleep. Rolling onto her back she gazed at the clock on the wall, waiting for her blurry eyes to ease into focus.
Realising it was still rather early but knowing she would gain no more sleep, Denise decided she might as well go and start their breakfast. Though she knew Sara would not yet be awake, the prospect of spending any time alone with Randa just to talk was an opportunity she was finding hard to pass upon.
Slipping from the warmth of her bed and into the chilled air, Denise approached her door and pulled it open. As she stepped out into the hallway she came face to face with Randa who was making her way from the steam filled bathroom to the poet's study where she slept.
Denise gulped as she gazed down at the woman who was wearing nothing but a thick navy towel wrapped around her torso.
-Hi." Denise said, trying desperately to keep eye contact.
-Morning." Randa replied, watching blue eyes move nervously around the landing before returning to her own green orbs. Randa looked down at Denise's short tee shirt and smirked as she read the quote on the front of the red garment. -So is that true?"
With a creased brow Denise cocked her head to the side. -Is what true?"
Randa motioned towards Denise's chest. -That."
Looking down, the poet realised what Randa was referring to. Written across her tee shirt in bright white letters was the phrase: 'Poets do it in their heads.'
Denise thought she should have the blushed but instead she felt a mischievous streak spark inside of her. -Well you know I do spend a lot of time up there!" As she noticed a pink tint grace the smaller woman's cheeks, Denise was quick to amend her words. -No I'm joking. Sara bought me this as a joke. She has a tendency to give me tops with odd quotes upon them. Like... 'Out of my mind; back in five minutes.' ... 'Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies.' And my favourite... 'Monday. A shitty way to spend one seventh of your life.'
-She has a great sense of humour," Randa laughed.
Denise nodded for she knew it was true. Sara would often buy her quirky tops to see whether her niece would wear them in public.
Looking down at her barely covered form, Randa remembered her state of dress. -Umm... well I better go and get some clothes on."
-Oh... yeah... sorry." Denise moved towards the bathroom as Randa passed her and continued her journey toward her makeshift bedroom. Her eyes never left the nurse until she had disappeared from view.
Entering the bathroom, Denise closed the door and leaned against the white barrier. Her eyes fluttered shut. -Oh god!" She muttered as the image of Randa's scantily clad form remained in her mind's eye. What's wrong with me?
The poet looked up from her task of slicing bread to find Randa standing in the doorway. -Hmm?"
-Sara is ready to go into her chair."
-Right." Wiping her hands over her black jeans, Denise followed the nurse into Sara's bedroom. Together they helped the older woman into her chair. Then the three women headed out into the dining room for breakfast.
-Sara?" Denise whispered.
-Yes?" Sara asked, almost amused by her niece's cloak and dagger attitude.
-I want to talk to you about Randa. I was thinking about what to get her for Christmas and I had this idea. I want your opinion."
Sara took a sneak peak towards the door before turning back to look inquisitively at Denise. -Oh, do tell?"
-I had this idea about getting something made with Blue John. Something unique you know. I know a guy who could make something from the mine, maybe in the form of a necklace?" She looked at Sara in question; knowing her aunt had a flair for choosing appropriate gifts. -What do you think?"
The older woman looked impressed. -I like it."
-Really?" Denise asked hopefully, her eyes wide with excitement. -You think she will like it?"
-Absolutely I do, I know I would." Sara affirmed. -Denise, you do realise that Christmas day is tomorrow. If you want to give her this you better be quick."
-Yeah..." Denise paused as she twisted her head to the side listening. -I thought I heard her coming back." She said, -Anyway... I made a phone call to a contact that I know could help. It's already under way, I just need to go down there and make my choice of stone and wait for it to be completed." Denise shrugged. -I'm glad you think it was a good idea. I was beginning to feel a little nervous about it."
Both women jumped suspiciously as Randa walked into the room. The blonde looked between the two women. -Am I interrupting? I can leave if..."
-No!" Denise rose to her feet. -No we were just talking. I have to go out soon. I was just making sure I could trust you both alone together." She winked at the blonde.
Randa arched her brows as she said, -Oh I'm sure you can trust us."
Denise narrowed her eyes. -Uh huh!" Approaching the door she looked back at the women. -Why do I feel the need to leave supervision?"
Both Randa and Sara shrugged with innocent expressions.
Denise stood in a large well-used garage, hands pushed tightly in her pockets as she tried in vain to ward off the chill of the frigid winter air. A strong aroma of oils and the precise cutting machinery's heated smell of warm metal friction assaulted her senses. She looked over the shelves at the mass of tools and intricate looking equipment before turning her vision toward the young man who was bent over a well-used wooden workbench. Unruly strands of dark blonde hair fell over his face as he diligently buffed a small shiny object.
She had heard of this man by reputation. He worked at the Blue John Caverns as a guide but in his spare time made unique pieces of jewellery out of the distinctive purple blue stone. His work was of outstanding quality, highly sought after by those who could afford it, and very exclusive.
The young man looked up from his work. -If you look in that unit over there you can find a chain for the pendent. I have many different varieties, all in solid silver of course."
-Sure." Denise wandered over to the large wooden unit and opened the glass doors. She began to look through the selection for the appropriate chain. It had to be delicate looking yet at the same time strong and hardwearing.
-It's always a last minute rush at Christmas isn't it? Especially when you forget a loved one's present." He started fiddling around a small translucent box seemingly searching for something.
-Huh?" Denise frowned in question.
-I was just saying that... when you forget a loved one's present?"
Denise didn't answer but she looked at the man in confusion.
-Well I thought... you know... this must be for somebody special. Not many people can afford to pay the price of getting me to work on Christmas Eve so I presumed that this must be for a loved one. Boyfriend? No maybe not, this design is a little too feminine for a guy. Mother, maybe? It really is a lovely creation by the way. It was a good job you faxed me a sketch of what you wanted this to look like."
-Somebody special?" Denise looked back at the selection of silver chains. A frown of confusion creased her forehead as she tried to understand what 'Jamie the Jeweller' had just said. What does Randa mean to me?
It was a question she had fervently avoided from the moment Randa had appeared on her doorstep. She didn't want to acknowledge thoughts that she felt were futile, but with the unexpected question, Denise was forced to confront her situation.
Denise had never given much thought to her sexual preferences, but she had also never entertained the prospect that she may indeed be attracted to women. It wasn't an uncomfortable thought to her, just one she had never considered. Her one sexual encounter with a male friend had left her wondering what all the fuss was actually about. She had even expressed her feelings on this subject to Sara and her aunt had just said that when the right person came along it would be different. Denise had hoped that it was true but felt no desire to search for that so called right person. Instead she built up a world of passionate romance in her head. Creating a whole new dimension to what she perceived as the ultimate magnetism of the passionate encounter and expressing that world through her poetry.
Do I have feelings for her?
-Have you found a chain?"
Denise looked up at Jamie. -Oh... um yes I have." Picking up her choice she carried it over to the blonde man who was once again polishing the stone.
-So what do think?" Jamie asked hopefully.
Intrigued, Denise picked up the unique pendent and held it up to the light. The purple translucent stone was alive with white and light blue coloured veins and was cut into a small crystal held by a sturdy silver fob, shaped into the Celtic symbol of eternity. -It's beautiful, just how I hoped it would look."
-It was your design."
-You did a good job, Jamie." She handed the pendent back to the young man and he threaded the chain through the loop.
-Well there you go." He placed the necklace in a velvet box. -Definitely worth the money wouldn't you say?" Jamie smirked.
-You would say that," Denise retorted, -but yes it is definitely worth all nine hundred pounds of it." She pulled a large amount of notes from her back pocket. -Thanks for accepting cash by the way."
Jamie's eyes shone. -At this time of the year the more cash you have the better!"
-I guess." Denise looked down at her watch. It was half past one. It would take her a good forty minutes to return home and then they were to go out tonight for their annual pilgrimage to the lookout. -Well I better go. Thanks again, Jamie."
They shook hands.
-Any time, DJ. It was nice to meet you. And next time you see Carl, tell him he still owes me a Christmas drink from last year!"
The poet smirked. -I will." She approached the small side door of the garage, black velvet box in hand and walked back out into the cold afternoon atmosphere.
Knowing from personal experience just how uncomfortable that chair could be for one's back; Denise strode forward and knelt by the sleeping blonde. She didn't want Randa to suffer the same discomfort that still bothered her.
-Randa." She whispered, not wanting to wake Sara.
There was no response as Denise looked upon relaxed slumbering features. What do I feel for you? She thought.
Unexpectedly, green eyes fluttered open and regarded her with interest.
Denise smiled self-consciously wondering with slight paranoia whether Randa may have actually heard her thoughts, as unlikely as it was. -That chair really isn't the most comfortable piece of furniture to sleep upon. Trust me," she whispered.
Moving from her slumped position, Randa followed Denise's lead and slowly rose to her feet. -Sorry. I didn't hear you come in. How long have you been back?"
Denise looked down at her watch. -Oh about..." she poked her lip out as she pretended to work the time out in her head, -two minutes." She smiled. -Come on."
It wasn't until she felt Randa's skin within her own that she realised she had absentmindedly taken the nurse's hand. Not wanting to appear fazed by the act she didn't let go until they entered the living room. Both women sat down on the large sofa.
-So, did you get your shopping done?" Randa asked.
-How did you know I went shopping?"
The nurse shrugged. -Sara said that was where you went."
Denise arched her brows. -Oh yeah? And what else did she say?"
-Just that you were out shopping, but I wasn't allowed to know what for!"
Shaking her head the poet chuckled. -I swear when that woman gets excited she has about as much discretion as a parrot with too many secrets!"
Randa looked at Denise uncomfortably. -Denise she did lead me to believe that... well... that you went shopping for a present for..."
-You." Denise said.
Randa nodded. -Yes. I guess I feel I shouldn't have opened this now." She held up her wrist showing the charm bracelet.
-It suits you."
-It's beautiful, Denise."
-It was my mother's."
Shocked green eyes looked at Denise in surprise. -I didn't know that. I mean I knew the sonnet was a favourite of yours and you did say that it was your mother who introduced you to the poem, but I had no idea this was her bracelet. Denise I can't..."
-Yes, you can," Denise stated firmly and took Randa's wrist in her hands, holding the bracelet. -I loved this, but all it has done for the past ten years is sit in an old shoe box under my bed. As you may have noticed, I am not the kind of person to wear excessive amounts of jewellery and never around my wrist. I only wear this watch because it's tight and I hardly know it's there. I gave it to you because I knew you would appreciate how much it means to me. I wanted you to have it, Randa."
They stared at each other silently until the taller woman smiled; she felt the need to lighten the mood. -Are you ready for our little excursion tonight?"
-Yes, Sara has been looking forward to it all day."
-I hope we can get Sara into the car alright, but I see you managed to get her onto the bed without my help earlier."
Randa nodded. -I bet we'll mange fine. How far away is this clandestine place?" She asked moving her eyes from side to side in a show of mock paranoia.
-Twenty minutes by car," the poet replied amused by the nurse's antics. -I would suggest you wrap up warm tonight as well, it's cold out there and it's only going to get colder."
Denise released Randa's hand, realising she was still slightly holding the bracelet around her wrist. She looked away from curious green eyes to the pine tree twinkling softly in the corner. The jeweller's words echoed again in her head and with clarity she realised that she did feel an attraction to the blonde nurse. Looking back at Randa, Denise observed the woman starting intently at the tree; its colourful lights shone in the silky sheen of her hair. Now what do I do?
Denise followed the barely distinguishable route guided only by memory. The darkness that surrounded them was nothing new but never failed to give her the same unsettled feeling she got whenever she traversed this well used dirt track. The Lexus juddered and bumped over the rocky ground as the poet carefully steered her way to the top of the tor.
Inside the vehicle an intense heat blasted from its internal system and warmed the passengers. All three women were dressed in their warmest clothes and jackets, knowing just how cold the night indeed was. Sara sat in the front of the car with Denise while Randa sat in the back.
As Denise reached the top of the tor she steered near to the edge of the rocky ledge and shut off the engine.
Sara smiled as she looked out onto the scenery ahead. -Beautiful."
Randa tried to look from her position but found she was unable to distinguish much of the view.
-DJ, why don't you take Randa out for a better look. I will stay here."
Denise looked over to her aunt concerned. -Are you sure? Are you alright?"
-I'm fine, DJ. I am quite happy here, but Randa needs to get out to fully appreciate the view so you take her. I'll stay here in the warmth."
Turning towards the back seat, Denise looked at Randa in question. -Do you want to?"
The blonde nodded. -I would love to."
-Okay." Denise turned back to her aunt. -We will only be a couple of minutes, besides you will be able to see us from where you are sitting."
-Don't worry about me, I will be fine."
Randa rolled her eyes with a smile as she opened the back door and climbed out into the freezing night air. Denise followed, wrapping her parker jacket around herself as she firmly shut the driver's door, keeping the car's heat in and the cold temperatures out.
They walked to the ledge of the tor adequately illuminated by the car's lights. Randa looked out over the land.
-My God!" She exclaimed, her breath releasing in thick clouds of vapour as she spoke.
DJ nodded mutely as she followed Randa's sight.
Stretching out as far as their eyes could see and well into the horizon was a wide expanse of coloured and patterned lights. There were long rows of orange lights that gave away the position of many roads travelling across the land but all seemingly connected in some structured way. Then there were the Christmas lights. Hundreds of houses, most of them decorated with a multitude of colourful fairy lights. Some blinking and some were not, some large and powerful, and some small and hardly visible. It was almost like looking at a colourful version of the night sky upon the land below.
-It looks magnificent." Randa said as she shivered in the intense cold.
Denise looked at the blonde concerned. -You're cold. Do you want to go back inside the car?"
Shaking her head, Randa's vision never strayed from the view. -Not yet." She shivered again.
It was a swift debate and one Denise was not conscious of making, but without much reasoning she stepped closely behind the woman and placed her hands upon her arms. -I don't want you to get a chill now!" she reasoned as she rubbed her hands over Randa's arms and created a soothing friction of heat underneath her jacket. -Feel any better?"
Randa was silent.
-Randa?" she asked again, feeling the soft strands of blonde hair tickle her nose.
-Hmm." The blonde replied. -Wonderful."
Denise smiled as she remained behind the woman. Her hands had stopped moving as they both looked out upon the magnificent view below.
-Sara..." Randa began, -she said that the first time she took you up here you saw a shooting start in the sky and was adamant that you had just spotted Santa Claus." She chuckled lightly.
The poet laughed quietly, a deep rumble in her chest. -I am not surprised she told you that! Did she also tell you that I demanded we go home quickly to make sure I was in bed before he arrived?"
The nurse nodded. -Yep. And that you insisted on putting out a whole packet of chocolate cookies to make sure you were in his good books!"
Denise shook her head. -I see nothing is safe around you two. It's a good job I have no reputation to protect otherwise I should be mortified."
-Don't worry." Randa assured as she turned around and looked into eyes so close to her own. -Your secrets are safe with me."
From inside the car Sara was more interested in the display directly in front of her. She smiled brightly hoping the women were beginning to see or acknowledge what she had sensed from the first moment they had met. DJ, I think you may just have found that one special person.
The cold wind lashed Randa as she stared into blue eyes more magnificent than the view from the crag on which they stood. Denise didn't remove her hands when Randa turned and now the taller woman's arms draped comfortably over the blonde's shoulders. The nurse reached up and pushed a wind blown strand of hair from Denise's face and let her gloved hand linger on the cheek beneath.
-Randa," Denise interrupted, -Let me say something to you. I've been alone for a long time now. That was by my choice but now I see I have other options in my life. I wasn't sure how I felt when you first arrived but now I am sure of one thing. I'm sure I'm falling in love with you." Randa was speechless with happiness, only able to give Denise a brilliant smile in return for those heartfelt words.
Then Denise's head was lowering, bringing her mouth so close to Randa's that the vapor of their breaths mixed, making them seem to breathe as one. Randa looked quickly to the car that held Denise's aunt.
-...a grown woman." Denise finished and closed the last gap between their lips. Randa felt the incredible power of Denise's warmth and love in that single kiss. The only thing to mar the sensation at all was daylight.
Randa opened her eyes and groaned at the intrusion of light into her wonderful dream, for that's all it had been. She was holding tight to her pillow and her body still hummed with the sensual feelings evoked by the sleep-generated fantasy. Just fantasy, not the reality of the evening before when nothing like that had happened.
No. No way. I'm not getting up, I'm going to close my eyes and get right back to my dream. Same spot, same kiss, same everything. Randa closed her eyes and waited for her mind to catch up with her libido. After a few moments she knew it wasn't going to work and she let out another groan, this one in frustration.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it..."
The nurse's eyes popped open. That velvet voice could belong to no one but Denise. Randa cut her eyes slowly to the right and sure enough the poet's head was peeking around the door of the study, blue eyes regarding her with curiosity.
-I was going to let you sleep but then I heard your voice in here so I thought you must be awake." She looked at the pillow still clutched tightly in the nurse's arms.
Randa blushed deeply and fumbled with an explanation. -I was having a dream and I, uhm...I was..."
-You were having a confrontation with someone?" asked Denise, eyeing the pillow still crushed in Randa's arms.
The blush deepened and Randa said -Sort of."
-I see. Well, it appears you were really letting them have it," Denise observed.
You have no idea thought the blonde.
-Well, I just wanted to come by because I think there's something you should see." Denise gave a small jerk with her head indicating the window and reached down to help Randa out of the foldaway bed. Together they walked to the window where Denise drew back the curtains. -England says 'Happy Christmas', Randa."
Randa stared out the window as giddy as a child. -Snow! Oh, Denise, it's snow!"
-Sure is. It started about 4 a.m. I was up getting the turkey ready for the oven and it just started coming down. Its been going strong since then." An accumulation of almost 6 inches was on the ground and the town looked like a Currier and Ives picture.
-Can we go out there for awhile, Denise? I know there's a lot to do but at home we had to drive up into the mountains to see snow at Christmas. This is just so wonderful!"
Pure joy settled in the nurse's eyes and Denise didn't seem to want to do anything to extinguish it. -I think we could go out for a short time. Sara isn't awake yet and everything is under control in the kitchen. Get some warm things on and I'll meet you downstairs in ten minutes." The nurse let out a quiet whoop of happiness and DJ turned to leave the room. At the door she stopped briefly and looked back into the room as Randa was already fishing around for her heavy socks. The nurse's movement stilled as she looked up at the poet and smiled.
-I almost forgot. Merry Christmas, Denise."
The smile was returned full force. -Happy Christmas, Randa."
Randa and Denise played in the snow for about half an hour, making snow angels and building what had to be the world's ugliest two-foot tall snowman. As DJ cleared the walk with a shovel, Randa fought, but couldn't resist, the impulse to lob a snowball at the broad back of the poet. Denise dropped the shovel, turned toward Randa and the battle was on. There might have been a winner in the battle if the women weren't laughing so hard as to make most of the throws go astray. Finally the pair called a truce and went inside to warm themselves. Randa suggested Denise shower first while she assisted Sara with her morning routine and got her dressed. Denise agreed and turned for the stairs.
-While you're in the shower, you might want to wash this off," said Randa as she deftly removed snow from her pocket, slipped it down the back of DJ's sweater and took off for the safety of Sara's room. Denise was hot on her heels as the nurse burst into Sara's room and shrieked -Save me!"
Sara took in the sight of the two happy and playful women and exploded in laughter. Soon all three women were laughing and Christmas day in the Jennings household was underway.
True to her word, Denise had arranged the day to provide Sara with the best Christmas she could. No expense had been spared, no detail overlooked. There were fresh imported fruits and flowers. There were treats of every variety imaginable, both traditional and exotic. If Denise could remember Sara saying she had ever liked something at Christmas, it made an appearance in the house during the day. Then there were the friends. Randa and DJ had arranged a schedule for the visits of Sara's dear friends from the town and surrounding area. The pair made sure Sara had enough time between guests to rest and preserve her fragile strength. Finally the door closed on the last visitor and it was just the three of them again.
Sara and Denise sat at the table waiting for Randa before starting on the mouth-watering turkey dinner DJ had prepared.
-DJ, I want you to know I appreciate all the work you and Randa did to make this Christmas so special for me. I'll remember it for as long...well, let's say I'll never forget it." She raised her hand toward her niece who grasped it in her own. Sara's grip was weak but full of the love she had for the younger woman. Denise knew from the look on her aunt's face that it had been worth every ounce of the work.
Randa came into the room in time to observe the tender moment between Denise and Sara. She felt privileged to have been able to see it. She blinked back tears and smiled brightly at the women.
-How is your mum, dear?" asked Sara. Her voice was a little thick with emotion yet.
-She's fine and on her way to spend the day with my father's sister in the San Francisco Bay area. They're both widowed now and try to spend holidays together. It was good to talk to her. She said to thank you for the hospitality to me and wish you a Merry Christmas from her."
-It's no chore to provide hospitality to you, Randa." She took Randa's hand with her free one. -We love having you here, don't we, DJ?"
Denise looked deeply at the shining green eyes across from her and simply said -Definitely."
Sara cleared her throat and said, -Shall we?" She indicated the two younger women should join hands as well. In a weak but clear voice Sara gave the blessing.
-Lord, we thank you for your bounty which has placed food on this table and for your blessing which has placed friendship and love in this house. Amen."
Randa and Denise looked up at the same time and echoed the -Amen." Randa gave Denise's hand a squeeze and released it to assist Sara with her meal. She missed the look on DJ's face, but Sara didn't. She looked at her niece, gave a little wink then turned to her dinner
The women were settled in the living room around the tree. Christmas music played softly in the background from the system Denise had installed there. The three had agreed to wait until the end of the day to exchange their gifts. Sara had received a new television with a built-in DVD player and extensive collection of her favorite movies from Denise. No one acknowledged the fact that this gift was in anticipation of the time when Sara's disease would progress to the point that mobility would be very difficult.
Denise opened the box from Randa for herself and Sara. Sara was delighted with the shawl and Denise laughed at the bear. When the poet opened the small box containing the locket and read the accompanying card she was touched at the thoughtfulness of the nurse.
-I found it in an estate sale. An Englishwoman who had emigrated with her husband brought it to California in the 1800's. It just seemed right that it should come full circle back to England. Now for a picture for the inside. You told me you were both a little camera shy but for now I'm telling you to get over it." Saying that, Randa produced a disposable camera and took several pictures of Sara and then Denise and Sara together. At Randa's request, Sara agreed to a picture with the nurse as well.
Sara gave Randa a nod and the blonde left the room and brought back a large flat package.
-This one is for you from Sara, Denise." The brunette removed the bright wrapping paper and looked at the portrait in astonishment. There in the picture were the two Jennings women as they had been twenty-two years before. Denise even remembered the dress she had on in the portrait as one given to her by Sara on their first Christmas as a family. For Denise, who had maintained bright spirits during this holiday for her aunt's sake, it was the final straw. She went to Sara and held her as the tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Sara tried to comfort Denise but was losing the battle on maintaining her composure as well. Finally, identical sets of blue eyes looked into one another and gave each other the strength to get through the emotional moment. Sara gave a weak smile to the younger women.
-This day has been a little overwhelming for me. I really feel the need to rest now. Randa, would you help me to bed?"
Randa nodded and took Sara from the room as Denise's red-rimmed eyes followed. The nurse knew Sara was giving DJ time to regain the control she usually held with such ease. As she helped the older woman dress for bed she took extra time in brushing the silver laced hair. Finally covering Sara with the quilt, Randa leaned over and kissed the other woman's forehead.
-Goodnight, Sara. It was a wonderful thing you did for Denise."
-I won't have her remember me this way, Randa. I want her to think of me the way we were for the past twenty-two years, not what I will be in the next few months. You'll help me in that, won't you?" Randa could only nod, not trusting her voice as she could only marvel at the courage of the woman before her.
-Good girl, then. Now you've helped me enough tonight. Maybe you could help my niece a little?" The women smiled at one another and Randa left Sara to rejoin DJ in the living room.
Denise was sitting on the sofa, looking at the tree. She had pulled herself together and even gave Randa a smile as she settled next to the poet.
-It was a lovely Christmas, wasn't it, Randa?"
-The best, Denise. You made Sara so very happy."
-She deserved it. She's very special."
On impulse, Randa leaned over and kissed Denise on the cheek. -So is her niece."
Denise blushed and reached behind her to pull out a small wrapped package. -I guess Santa left one more thing and I'm pretty sure it's for you."
Randa opened the package carefully and, with a small gasp, brought out the striking necklace. -Oh Denise, it's stunning. I don't think I've ever seen a stone like this before. The color is just beautiful and the design is so unusual. It seems familiar somehow, though, like I've seen it before."
-It's Celtic. The gem is Blue John. It comes from mines not very far from here but the stones are pretty rare."
-Will you help me with it? I'd love to see it on."
The women went to the small mirror at one end of the living room. Randa gave the necklace to Denise and turned to face the mirror. The poet placed the necklace around the nurse's neck, closed the clasp and rested her hands on the other woman's shoulders. Randa stared at the radiant gift and Denise stared at Randa. Finally their eyes met in the mirror.
-I don't know if I can find the words to thank you properly for this, Denise. It's just exquisite."
-It doesn't compare," whispered the brunette softly.
Blue eyes held green for a long moment. Suddenly Randa turned and wrapped her arms around Denise's waist. Denise slowly brought her arms up and drew the nurse in closer. No words were exchanged, none were needed.
Finally, Randa drew back and looked up at the poet. -I have to agree with Sara, this day has been a little overwhelming. I think I'm going to turn in too. Thank you so much for this gift, Denise. I'll treasure it, and you, for an eternity."
Eternity. Randa realized it as soon as she said it. That's what the symbol is, eternity.
That realization was too much for the blonde and she turned with a hasty -Goodnight" and fled up the stairs.
It was five a.m. and the poet had been awake for an hour already. Her sleep that night had been sporadic at best and by four o'clock Denise had finally given up the hope of dozing back off and had decided to make herself a warm drink. She remembered Sara stating how a mug of hot milk could relax your mind and help a person to sleep. Unfortunately for Denise, it didn't work.
Randa's sudden change in behaviour had bothered her from the moment she watched the blonde's retreating form disappear up the stairs. She thought they had been getting along just well, and then unexpectedly Randa's demeanour had changed. The poet was at a loss to understand why and she thought that maybe she had offended her in some way. Maybe she just wanted some time alone. The call to her mother could have made her homesick. With a sigh she looked into her third mug of cooling milk and then froze. A chill of terror slithered through her spine. Did I seem to come on too strong? Did she sense my attraction toward her? Rubbing a suddenly aching forehead Denise groaned in distress. -Damn it!" What if she hates me? What if she feels uncomfortable around me now?
Getting up swiftly Denise walked into the kitchen and deposited her mug in the large sink. She then moved through the back of the house and on towards the extension. She stopped when she reached Sara's bedroom. Placing her ear upon the door's shiny surface she listened carefully hoping there was a slim chance Sara was actually awake. When she heard nothing she opened the door and walked into the dim room anyway.
The sound of deep somnolent breathing filtered to her ears as she walked quietly over to Sara and sat down beside the large bed. She sat quietly for a moment, placing her elbow upon the arm of the chair and the left side of her face in her palm.
Eventually she spoke.
-I wish you were awake."
-Like I could sleep through your constant sighs of woe." Sara said in a sleep filled voice.
The poet looked up surprised. -Sara! Did I wake you?"
Sara refrained from rolling her eyes and instead looked at Denise in suspicion. -Okay, what is wrong?"
-What makes you think something is wrong?"
-Oh I don't know." Sara began. -It's what?" She checked her digital clock, -half past five in the morning and you are up mooching and sighing with a face liked a smacked arse!"
Denise smiled slightly.
-So I ask again, what's wrong, honey?"
The poet's shoulders fell in defeat. -It's Randa."
Sara quirked an eyebrow in suspicion. -What is it? You know there is nothing you could tell me that would change my opinion of either of you, DJ." The old woman prodded hopefully.
Denise gazed at her aunt in confusion. -Huh?" She shook her head. -I think I may have offended or upset her last night."
-Last night I gave her the gift. At first I thought she liked it, she seemed to. Then all of a sudden she more or less fled out of the room."
Sara pursed her lips in thought. -How can you be sure she seemed upset?"
Denise shrugged. -The way she just up and left the room so suddenly, like she wanted to get away from me. There was a look in her eyes that seemed... uncomfortable maybe?" Sliding slightly down the chair, Denise placed her bare feet upon the bed. -What if she wants to leave?"
Shaking her head, the old woman gazed at her niece. -You are being a little melodramatic, DJ. What happened before she left for bed?"
-Well," Denise started, -I gave her the necklace and she asked me to help her put it on. I did. She said she liked it and hugged me. Then unexpectedly her demeanour changed and she high tailed it out of the room. I haven't seen her since."
Sara smiled and decided it was time to take a leap. She hoped she was about to make the right choice. -DJ, if I ask you something, will you answer me honestly?"
-DJ, how do you feel about Randa?"
Denise looked away.
The poet sighed and turned her vision back towards her aunt with a serious statement. She pulled her feet from the bed and sat up straight. -I um... I like her. I more than like her, Sara. I feel an attraction towards her." She lowered her eyes. -Do you... are you uncomfortable by that?"
Sara shook her head. -No, honey, I did kind of think that."
-You did?" DJ asked surprised.
-Sara, what if Randa some how sensed it and got spooked? What if she felt uncomfortable?" The poet rose from her chair and moved to sit on the bed facing Sara. It felt good to be able to talk about her feelings.
-DJ, I very much doubt that was the case. Randa doesn't seem like the kind of person to judge somebody like that. She is a lovely young woman." Sara insisted.
-But then what..."
-Talk to her." Sara interrupted. -Thinking destructive thoughts like this will do no good. I bet you've hardly slept all night have you?"
Denise's vision moved to down to a close inspection of the floral bedspread.
-That is what I thought!"
-What shall I do?" The poet asked.
Sara reached out and placed her right hand over her niece's. -Just wait and see how she is today. You may be surprised to find she is fine."
-No... I mean what about what I told you... about how I am feeling?"
The older woman smiled tenderly; she was happy to hear that DJ was acknowledging the way she felt about the American nurse. For a long time she had worried that her niece may never find that somebody special. Now she hoped that Denise's insecurities wouldn't hamper her opportunity to express herself. Sara was well aware that Randa did appear to harbour her own feelings for Denise but she didn't feel it was her place to point that out.
-Your feelings aren't wrong, DJ. Maybe you and Randa just need to sit and talk?"
The poet shook her head. -No I don't think so. Not about this."
-DJ, you may be surprised."
-So may she! No, I cant." Denise rose from the bed, needing to change the subject. Even the thought that she may have scared Randa away was enough to make sure she never acted upon those feelings. -I think I might as well go and get ready. It is Boxing Day after all! Can I get you anything before I go and shower?"
-Oh no." Sara declined, -I think I'll try and get a few more hours of sleep!"
Denise gazed at her aunt sheepishly. -Um... okay." With a shy smirk she exited Sara's room and closed the door softly behind her.
Taking a deep breath Denise ascended the stairs slowly.
Standing in the semi-dark landing, Denise could see a sliver of light beaming underneath her study's door. Knowing with certainty that Randa was awake and feeling there was no point in delaying the inevitable, Denise slowly approached the door. Tentatively she knocked lightly. There was a slight moment of silence before she heard Randa's voice allowing entrance to her make shift bedroom.
Looking down at her red and black checked pyjamas and deciding she was presentably attired, Denise cautiously pushed open the door. The brightness of the room caused her to squint slightly but the poet's eyes soon adjusted to the increase of light. She looked down with a measured amount of surprise to see Randa's smiling face greeting her.
Randa sat upon the opposite end of the fold away bed with her legs crossed. She held a small leather bound book in one hand that she placed down upon the surface of the bed, open on a particular page. The poet noticed how the blonde nurse had changed nightwear and now wore a pair of red pyjamas similar to her own.
Denise smiled, still filled with trepidation. -Hi."
-I see neither of us were able to sleep much last night." Randa chuckled and patted a space on the bed in front of her. -Sit down... it is your room after all! I was just looking through your book collection. I hope you don't mind. You have some impressive first editions here! I feel almost clumsy touching them." Randa paused as she watched Denise lower herself to the bed. -Denise, are you alright?"
DJ looked down at her fingers that were busy tracing the patterned surface of the thick quilt. Am I all right? I don't know anymore. With a frown she looked up at Randa and asked self consciously, -Are you okay?"
Perplexed, Randa leaned forward and Denise noticed the necklace fall out from over her fleecy bedtime top. -What do you mean?"
-Last night, you left in a kind of a rush. I thought that maybe I had offended or upset you in some way." Denise bit the corner of her lip as she waited for Randa to speak. The look of confusion then horror in the blonde's eyes left her with mixed feelings.
-No!" Randa exclaimed. -No you didn't upset me in the slightest. Denise, I'm really sorry if you thought that but I think I was just overwhelmed by it all. The day, the people I met, the special gifts, this." She pulled at the pendent around her neck.
-You really did like it then." Denise said, more as an affirmation of relief to herself.
-Denise, it's the most unique thing I have ever seen!" Randa said with conviction.
-I should hope so!" The poet replied with a smile. -Designed it myself!"
Smile falling from her lips, Randa looked down at the stone still within her grasp. -You did? Denise it's..." She stopped seemingly at a loss for words.
A profound sense of relief flowed through DJ; she didn't think she had ever felt so reassured in her life. Still there was one more fear that coursed her mind and one she knew she wouldn't be able to reveal. She wondered if Randa had any idea just how beautiful she thought she was and how she was only just able to resist the impulse to lean over and continue the contact from the night before. Feeling Randa's arms wrapped around her waist with her head resting upon her shoulder was to Denise, the most wonderful feeling she had ever experienced. It felt entirely too good to hold the woman within her arms and feel the body so close against her own. It produced sensations she had never felt before but knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she wanted to feel again.
Randa rose from the bed and walked to the window and looked out upon the snow-covered land. -I guess I see no need in sitting around here doing nothing. Why don't you introduce me to the British custom of Boxing Day and all the wonderful traditions I'm sure it entails?"
Denise couldn't help but smile as she headed toward the study's exit. -Of course. Though if you call eating day old turkey in sandwiches, or sitting in front of the television watching the same old Christmas movies while eating chocolate a tradition, then I suppose it is!"
-Bring on the Brit chocolate!" Randa exclaimed with a laugh and Denise followed suit.
The poet enjoyed the unreserved expressions of excitement Randa had portrayed as she led the nurse around her favourite places. A shop dedicated to exotic foods from around the world, craft shops, second hand book shops and her favourite sports shops! The poet did have a weakness for buying training shoes and had enough pairs to wear a different style, per day, for a whole month. Randa had declared her insane, but Denise laughed if off stating that she herself had seen Randa's personal collection of novelty socks sprawled all over the fold away bed! Then as a joke she bought her a pair of Christmas socks that played the tune 'Jingle Bells' as you walked!
Unfortunately Denise had one nagging thought in the back of her mind, that of Randa's departure. She knew the nurse had arrived on a fortnight visit but as the days slowly came to an end she wondered how she would cope without her. Not only due to her growing feelings of affection but because of the assistance the nurse provided for Sara. Randa's help had been invaluable and although she had never mentioned returning to the States she was sure it must have been on her mind. It was on Denise's constantly.
The morning of New Year's Eve came much quicker than Randa wanted. She was scheduled to return to the States in two days, her vacation time being used up. Standing in the shower she ran over all the possibilities in her mind again. Sleep had been elusive the last few nights as the problem and potential solutions drifted across her mind time and time again.
The problem was simple; she didn't want to leave Denise and Sara but she was out of time and options. The potential solutions were not as easy. She felt she had two ways to go. First, she could stay. She could quit her job and help Denise with Sara for whatever amount of time the older woman had left. Randa wasn't sure what poets got paid these days but she thought it couldn't be much. Except for the Lexus, Denise didn't lead an extravagant lifestyle. The nurse had some savings and she figured if she stretched it carefully, she might be able to contribute her fair share to the household. The second option was to help Denise find a nurse quickly to take her place and go back home. She could continue to correspond with Denise and give her any help she could from a distance.
But distance isn't what you want with Denise, is it? In the few days after Christmas she had found a peace and an ease with the poet she had never had with another living soul. Randa wasn't a fool; she knew she was deeply and totally in love with Denise. This wasn't the adoration of a fan and it wasn't the casual warmth of friendship. This was the true, deep love and grand passion she had waited her entire life for. She could have kicked herself for not recognizing it sooner. Denise wasn't given to the open expression of her innermost feelings except through her poetry. Randa could respect that, but it made knowing what to do very difficult.
The water was cooling rapidly so Randa finished rinsing and quickly left the shower. She toweled herself dry and pulled on a clean pair of sweats. She had made sure to bring clothes into the bathroom since the morning she met Denise in the hall wrapped in only a towel. A warm sensation rushed through her as she remembered the way Denise had blushed and had not quite been able to keep her eyes from Randa's body. Wonder what would have happened that day if the towel had 'accidentally' slipped?
Randa pushed her those thoughts aside and resolved to make a decision about her plans. She finished dressing and went downstairs to the kitchen where she met Denise pulling the ingredients together for French toast.
-Morning, Randa," the poet said. -There's juice and tea ready. I checked and Sara isn't awake yet but it shouldn't be much longer so I decided to start breakfast."
-Tea sounds great, I could use a little caffeine boost this morning. Denise, I wanted to talk to you about something." The brunette's eyebrows rose as she waited for the nurse to continue.
-You know my plane is scheduled to leave in two days and I think some arrangements have to be made."
Denise dropped her eyes and turned to the breakfast preparations. -Yeah, I know. It's been on my mind recently as well. Look, Randa, I want you to know how much I appreciate you taking time out of your life to come here." The poet's eyes returned to the blonde. -I'm not sure how this could have been one of the happiest times of my life what with Sara ailing and all, but it has been. I want you to know how much I'll...we'll miss you, but I guess it couldn't last forever."
The women looked at one another and Randa's fingers found their way to the necklace Denise had given her on Christmas. Forever? Well, why not? I'm never going to know unless I give it a chance.
-Actually, Denise, what I was going to say was it seems to me I just got to know the Jennings women and it would take a while to train somebody in Sara's care and I've really come to care for her and...Oh hell, if you'll have me I'd like to stay. I have some money put aside so you wouldn't need to worry about paying anyone a salary and I could contribute to the running of the household and..." She hesitated a moment as the poet remained silent. Did I make a mistake here? Did I misread the situation?
Finally Denise spoke. -Well, Nurse Martin, if that's how you feel about the situation I believe I have no choice but to accede to your wishes. I think I might just manage the finances though." A bright smile broke across her features then and she let out a whoop of joy. She reached forward to hug the nurse and swung her around the kitchen. Setting Randa back down, the poet leaned forward and whispered -Thank you." The blonde shivered at the words and the look in Denise's eyes. Oh yeah, right decision.
-Okay. Well, that was...yeah, uhm...I'm glad you're happy about it." Looking at her watch, Randa figured the time to be about midnight at home. -I've got to make some arrangements so could I use your computer to.." The nurse stopped mid-sentence. -Your computer to.."
-Randa?" asked Denise, starting to worry about the nurse. Randa merely broke into a huge grin.
-Denise, I'm scathingly brilliant! Can I use your computer?"
-Of course, but what's going on?"
-I'll tell you after I check a few things out. By the way, do we have some champagne?" Thrown by the sudden change in conversation, the poet could only nod.
-Good, if things work out we may have reason to celebrate."
At supper that night, Randa told the Jennings women what she had been working on for the better part of the day.
-So Mom is going to move into my house until I come home. She'll look after things for me and go home on the weekends to check out her place. That was the easy part. Derek was a tougher nut to crack but we worked out that I'll work from here 3 nights a week. The company will send me up a database computer from their London offices in three days. By cutting down to part-time, I keep my benefits and still have a salary coming in so you won't have to worry about supporting the three of us by yourself, Denise. That was a worry to me, that I would be putting a burden on you."
Denise and Sara exchanged glances, but Sara only said -That's so wonderful, Randa. I'm happy you'll be staying with Denise and I. Perhaps we could have a little of that champagne now? I'm afraid I haven't stayed up to see in the New Year for a few years now. Denise could use the company I would expect though. I know the last few years she just went to her study to write on New Year's Eve."
Randa wrinkled her nose in distaste. -Working on New Year's Eve when you didn't have to? Nope, not this year young lady. You can just teach me about English tradition and not worry about writing anything tonight."
It was nearing midnight at the house in Derbyshire. Sara had stayed up later than usual but had eventually requested to be assisted to bed. She kissed each of the young women and wished them a Happy New Year. Now the poet and the nurse sat in the living room talking quietly. The fire warmed the room and the television was turned down showing soundless celebrants from various areas around London.
-So what would you be doing tonight if you were at home?" asked the poet.
-If this was a year ago I probably would have been working. Ringing in the New Year with sparkling non-alcoholic cider. I didn't mind working New Year's Eve, no matter what I said earlier. I guess I always figured that day belonged to couples and I haven't been involved with anyone for a while."
-If it isn't too personal, can I ask why? Randa, you are an attractive woman. You're funny and smart so why aren't you involved with someone?"
Randa shrugged. -Guess I haven't found that right person yet. What about you?"
-Oh I suppose the same. Besides, who would want to spend time with a reclusive old poet?"
-You mean, who would want to spend time with a beautiful, intelligent woman whose poetry could melt a glacier? No, I can't think of a single person." Randa waited the space of a heartbeat before she added in a soft voice, -Except me."
Denise blushed. -Well, thank you, Randa. You're a good friend." She reached over and squeezed the nurse's hand.
Randa looked intensely into Denise's deep blue eyes and felt herself becoming lost in their depths. Taking a steadying breath she asked, -Is that all I am to you, Denise? A friend?" She held perfectly still, waiting for the answer that would mean everything.
Denise gazed back into Randa's green eyes and whispered, -You're much more than that. So much more."
Randa closed her eyes briefly in utter happiness. She opened them again to find Denise still watching her.
-It's almost midnight," the poet said. She turned the sound up on the television as a shot of Big Ben came on the screen. Helping Randa up, both women stood to greet the New Year.
-Uhm, Denise... in the States we have a tradition at midnight..."
-We have the same one here," Denise replied. Randa reached out to the poet and drew her near as the chimes of Big Ben began to sound. Sweet anticipation began to hum in Randa's veins as she melted into Denise's embrace. The feeling of completeness was near over-whelming as they stood together. As Big Ben began to toll the hour, Randa tipped her head back to look directly at the poet.
-I'm in love with you, Denise. For the first time in my life I'm truly in love." Randa felt Denise take in a small sharp breath then release it as she gave the nurse a small smile. Without comment, she lowered her mouth to Randa's. The first sweet contact of lips left Randa shaken. The kiss had transmitted all the love unspoken between them and surpassed any fantasy or dream they may have had about this moment. When the brief encounter ended they clung together, hearts beating rapidly and breathing quickened.
-Happy New Year, Randa."
-It is now," was the reply.
Randa reached up and settled her hand in the dark tresses of the brunette. Standing on tiptoes she brought the other woman's head down again for a searing kiss. If the first kiss was a warm fireplace, this one was a volcano. Randa's tongue reached out and lightly licked across Denise's lower lip. With a moan, Denise opened her lips and allowed Randa's tongue entrance. A loving exploration followed which ended only with the need for breath.
By unspoken agreement the women returned to the couch, never losing contact with one another. Randa moved to nestle herself in Denise's embrace. Small kisses and caresses were exchanged and in those tender moments Randa knew nothing in her life would ever be the same again.
Sitting in the corner of the large three-seated couch, Denise looked down at the woman almost sitting in her lap. Hands joined and their fingers laced together, Randa's blonde head rested peacefully upon her shoulder. Although the nurse wasn't asleep her eyes were closed in peaceful relaxation.
Just over an hour had passed since the beginning of the New Year and neither woman had moved from their original positions. Lifting her hand, Denise studied the fingers wrapped around her own. She noticed a small scar running across the middle finger and wondered how it had happened.
Internally, Denise's body still hummed with the sensual feelings invoked from the moment Randa's lips had touched her own. She would never have imagined them to feel so soft, so addictive that even now she still felt the strong desire to continue kissing the woman in her arms.
She loves me, the poet thought; she said she is in love with me! Although Denise had hoped Randa did indeed mirror some of her affections, never did she expect the nurse to declare her heart so openly. That wasn't to say Denise wasn't thrilled by the nurse's declaration for she was. Even now she could still recall the very words and look upon Randa's face as she spoke. The poet in her knew that image would be etched into her mind forever.
Blue eyes moved to the carriage clock on the mantle as she studied the time. DJ was surprised to discover that it had just gone half past one.
She looked back down at Randa and whispered, -Hey?"
Jade eyes opened and regarded her with a content smile.
-It's getting late and although most people will still be up and partying the night away, I think for Sara's sake we should probably turn in." Denise lifted Randa's hand and kissed her fingers softly with a smile. -What do you think?"
Randa lifted her head from the comfortable shoulder. -However much I would be happy in just staying right here, I know you're right."
Decision made, the women rose together and set about securing the house for the night, turning off the television and all the lights before heading up the stairs.
Once both Randa and Denise were standing on the landing they gazed at each other awkwardly. As if feeling the magnetic pull, Denise stepped forward. She looked down into welcoming green eyes and smiled before Randa closed the distance and sealed their lips together. Denise closed her eyes. The acknowledgement that this was a feeling she would be happy to revel in forever didn't disturb her in the slightest.
Moments later she pulled away and looked back into questioning eyes. She pushed her right hand through Randa's light blonde locks in an adoring nature. -I'm so happy you are staying longer, Randa." She bent forward and placed a single kiss on her lips.
-Me too." Randa relied thickly.
They gazed at each other a while longer before simultaneously moving away.
-Well," Denise began, -I guess I will see you in the morning."
-Yes." Randa stepped back towards her door. -Goodnight, Denise, sweet dreams."
I'm sure I will. -You too, Randa. Night."
The women parted and went to their separate bedrooms. Once behind the door of the own room, Denise fell to her bed on her back. A smile graced her lips as she whispered, -She loves me!" My god, I think I know what an infatuated teenager feels like! With a chuckle, Denise laced her fingers behind her head and started at the ceiling, how am I ever going to sleep tonight now? She wondered.
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