Authors' Notes: This completed story is the sequel to our previous work "Connecting Hearts" and we very much recommend you read that one first. There is some strong sexual content here as with the last one. The only thank you we have this time is to those of you who asked for a sequel and were patient with us in its production. Once again the authors won't get all sappy with each other but rest assured the Mutual Admiration Society remains intact.
Mid-June in northern California was spectacular this year. The days were hot but hadn't yet reached into the blistering 100's that were known to show up frequently in the town of Silver Valley. Later than normal spring storms had kept the snowpack intact longer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the great valley of California had not yet changed from green to summer brown. The golden poppies had bloomed exactly as Randa Martin had hoped when she scattered the seeds on the hill in back of her farmhouse a little over two months earlier. Now the landscape was a riot of color showing off the California state flower in all its beauty.
The petite blonde wandered out the back door and stood on the porch, looking around with satisfaction. The camellia bushes were rife with blossoms and the newly planted pines were thriving. The small vegetable and herb garden was already providing fresh produce for the table and the yard was neatly manicured. The crowning glory to the scene though was a single perfect English rose.
An English rose by the name of Denise Jennings Randa thought. As if on cue a tanned arm showed itself from the depths of the large freestanding hammock situated under the shade of one of the large oak trees in the backyard. An equally tanned hand curled palm upward and the index finger moved rhythmically in a beckoning manner.
Randa laughed and walked to the hammock where a very contented Denise Jennings swayed in the light summer breeze. Randa was struck yet again at the sheer loveliness of her lover and partner. The tall firm body, black hair and magnificent blue eyes were a combination that would always cause the blonde's heart to beat just a little faster.
"Nurse Martin! Nurse Martin!" Denise's voice cut through Randa's assessment and she locked gazes with the woman who had come to be her whole world in the space of less than a year. Denise made her voice faint and pitiful. "Nurse Martin, I believe I have become frightfully dehydrated in your absence. I thought you were just going inside to get some water."
Randa rolled her eyes and chuckled, "Oh, brother! That's laying it on a bit thick don't you think?" She held up one of the bottles of water she had been carrying and announced to an imaginary crowd, "And the award for best performance by a poet in a hammock goes to...Denise Jennings!" She reached out to award the bottle to Denise and shrieked as she found her arm grabbed and her body hauled into the hammock where she ended up nose to nose with the dark haired beauty.
Denise smiled into Randa's eyes and said, "I'd like to thank all the little people who made this award possible." Tilting her head slightly she was able to bring her lips to the waiting ones of the nurse. Both women sighed as the soft exchange ended. "Thank you, little person," Denise murmured.
Randa smiled. "You'll pay for that 'little' remark later; remind me in case I forget." Now it was Denise's turn to laugh as she wrapped her arm around the blonde and drew her closer.
"Do I still have to pay if I tell you I wasn't thirsty for water but for your company? There is nothing lonelier than a two-person hammock with only one person in it. What kept you anyway?"
"I got the water and put on a little extra sun block because some of us don't tan up to the color of an English walnut," she grinned, "but on the way back I had to stop and look around here for a minute. This place is gorgeous and most of it's because of you. You really have a green thumb you know."
"Yeah, it was one of the things I got from Sara." Both women were silent for a moment as they were caught up in individual memories of Denise's wonderful aunt who had passed away in March from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Her illness had brought Randa and Denise together and her death had nearly split them apart. Their love had survived the storm though and they had ended up together just as Sara had hoped.
"I still miss her," Randa said quietly.
"Me, too," returned the poet. "It gets easier all the time though to think of her and only remember the good and happy times. You've helped me do that, helped me to keep her memory alive without all the pain I had after she died." Denise deposited a warm kiss on Randa's forehead and looked lovingly into her bright green eyes.
"It's my distinct pleasure, Ms. Jennings"
"Not yet but definitely later, Ms. Martin." A small gust blew up and rocked the hammock gently and the women relished the feeling of gentle movement and holding on to one another. They had only been living together a little over two months and things had gone relatively smoothly. There were the usual adjustments to be made when any two people started sharing the same living space. Denise was a roll the tube of toothpaste up from the bottom kind of person and Randa was a squeeze it in the middle kind.
Randa wasn't sure what made living with Denise the relatively easy thing it had been. That they were deeply and totally in love wasn't even a question. The nurse thought it was more likely the fact that they were friends before the romance happened and nothing that had happened since then had changed that fact. We have so much more between us than just sex the nurse thought. Not that the sex isn't great, mind you.
Randa snuggled deeper into the poet's embrace as the flower scented breeze moved the hammock gently again. The contentment that welled up in her soul was spoiled only by a thought that had been plaguing the nurse for weeks. Her brows scrunched together in irritation.
"Stop it," Denise said. The voice caused a pleasant burr in the chest Randa had her head on.
"Stop what?" Randa returned.
"You know what. You're thinking about it again."
"Yes, you were. I can always tell. First your eyebrows scrunch up, then your whole body becomes tense and finally you get a death grip on me if I'm anywhere in your general vicinity," Denise explained. She looked down meaningfully at the nurse's arm that had been casually draped across her middle and was now doing a pretty good imitation of a vise-grip.
"Sorry," Randa squeaked and loosened her hold on the taller woman. "I'm not sure why this is bugging me so much. It didn't bug you, did it?"
"Nope. It was just another day. Maybe you should stop thinking of it as June 29th, another day that will live in infamy."
"Maybe," Randa said but sounded doubtful.
"Maybe you should think about something else entirely," the poet purred.
"Plenty," Denise mumbled as she moved her head to begin a delicious nibbling of the nurse's earlobe. Randa gave herself over to the wonderful sensations created by her partner and resolved to not think about it for the rest of the afternoon. Not going to think about it at all, not a single thought.
"You're doing it again," Denise laughed and soon had the nurse laughing with her. Then the poet returned her attention to the neglected earlobe and Randa was able to forget for a little while that she was about to turn thirty.
It was a little later that afternoon that Denise found herself once again alone in the comfortable hammock. Lying with legs crossed at the ankles and hands behind her head she looked up into the low branches of the large oak tree. The blinding rays of the sun shone down through the littered gaps in the trees branches. She moved her head from side to side, watching as the sun would disappear from one breach only to appear from behind the thick wooden stem of another. The sheer brightness of the glowing orb made her wish she had remembered to bring her sunglasses out with her. Closing her eyes, DJ settled herself further into the gentle swing of the hammock.
Thinking back over the past couple of months DJ couldn't believe the changes that had occurred. Everything that once held a great importance in remaining constant in her life had changed. Sara was gone, she was presently living in the United States and what was more she was soon to lose the anonymity she had held sacred for most of her life. Denise thought that she should feel a certain amount of apprehension at the notion but surprisingly enough there was none. For the first time the possibilities of the future didn't seem so daunting and the poet thought she knew the reasons why. Maybe it was Sara's words that she still kept in her wallet or maybe it was Randa but the fact remained that for the first time she actually looked forward to her future to their future.
At the beginning of July her new anthology of poetry was to finally be released. That meant she would have to go back to England. The date had been pushed back so it would coincide with the announcement of the pending release of DJ's first novel under her full name. Carl had planned it so she could make the announcement at the first publicity gathering. Denise planned to leave for England the day after Randa's birthday. She couldn't help but be slightly amused by Randa's reactions to the fast approaching day. She seemed to regard her thirtieth as her own inevitable apocalypse. Still the poet thought, lets hope the day I have planned for her will make her wonder what all the fuss was about. Denise smiled because she knew Randa had no idea about her plans; she wanted them to be a surprise.
Opening cerulean eyes DJ squinted as the sun's light assaulted her senses. A tickling built within her nose before she sneezed violently, causing the hammock to sway perilously side to side. When the movement eased Denise held one hand in front of her eyes as she swung her body around and placed her bare feet upon the grassy earth. Pushing to her feet the poet adjusted her shorts and tee shirt before moving back toward the house. Randa had disappeared some time ago and she was beginning to wonder where her lover was.
Living with Randa had proved to be an experience in itself. She soon discovered that the blonde had actually been on her best behaviour while staying with the Jennings women. It wasn't until she arrived in the US that Randa's little idiosyncrasies and bad habits began to show through. Denise thought she should be annoyed by Randa's continuous ability to squeeze toothpaste from the middle of the tube. She thought she would be horrified by Randa's consistency in disposing of her day's clothing upon the floor and not to do the laundry until the basket was literally begging for reprieve. In any other case she would have been shaking her head in disapproval at Randa's bulk buying of 'Dr Pepper' and trying to load the shopping trolley with convenience foods. But with Randa she found all these traits endearing. They made up the woman she was happy to spend the rest of her life with and she loved it. She loved following the blonde through their bedroom picking up her clothing and thought it was fun to remove and put back the convenience foods Randa often attempted to hide in their shopping trolley.
Stepping up onto the back porch, Denise walked into the kitchen. The cool linoleum floor was a welcome relief from the sun-heated ground. With furrowed brows Denise padded through the kitchen, dining room and on into the living room looking for Randa. Nothing. Then from the corner of her eye the poet spotted a single tennis shoe lying upon the floor. Searching further she noticed a second shoe by the entrance to their bedroom. With a smirk DJ bent down and picked up the navy shoe as she headed towards the bedroom. Her smirk turned into a full-fledged grin as she detected a trail of clothing heading towards the en-suite bathroom. The sound of the shower reverberated around the room and her grin turned into a chuckle as she heard Randa's happy singing voice suddenly echo over the noise of the shower. Picking up the rest of the clothing and depositing them in the laundry basket, Denise trotted over to the bathroom and peeked around the door. She saw Randa through the clear glass of the cubical, her head thrown back under the spray of hot water and singing a non-descript tune that DJ was sure she was making up as she went along.
Amused as each flat, out of tune lyric passed the nurse's lips, DJ felt her evil streak come into play again! She had caught Randa in the shower only last week and had played another trick on the unsuspecting blonde. Thanks to her height and long reach she had stood next to the wall by the shower with an extra bottle of shampoo in her grasp. She had reached over the cubical door and poured a steady stream of the bright blue liquid upon the nurse's head. DJ remembered how long it had taken before Randa realised she was having difficulty washing the suds from her hair and then the delight she took in pretending to get caught just so the miffed nurse would pull her into the shower!
With a snigger, Denise slid through the door deciding to this time go for the oldest trick in the book. Reaching out towards the white porcelain sink she wrapped her hand around the hot tap before swiftly turning it on. Bracing herself, Denise didn't have to wait long before Randa shrieked and backed away from the spray of now freezing water, staring accusingly at Denise.
"Jeez... oh my god!" Randa exclaimed.
DJ smiled innocently as she said, "I think your shrieking is more in tune than your singing! That may have been soprano."
Randa narrowed her eyes as she turned off the water. Denise picked up a large white towel and handed it to the nurse as she stepped out of the shower. Randa remained quiet and the poet began to get a little nervous. So much for me thinking we would get a repeat performance of last week's shower scene!
The nurse blinked.
"Umm..." Denise recognised her lover's look and instantly got the feeling Randa was planning her vengeance. "Sorry?" she said weakly knowing she had just backed herself into a corner with 'she of infinite patience'.
"Please just get it over with now. I don't think I can stand the waiting."
Securing the bath towel around her body, Randa arched her eyebrows. "But that's the best part. Don't worry... when you least expect it... you'll get what's coming to you."
"Oh! Well... can I get what's coming to me now?" Denise asked lasciviously.
"Now?" Randa repeated as she loosened the towel and let it drop to the floor. Stepping forward she sidled her body towards DJ and took the poet's hands, placing them upon her hips.
"Hmm," the dark haired woman purred, "this is more like it."
"Oh yeah!" Randa hummed as she brought her lips to DJ's neck placing teasing kisses along the poet's flesh. All the while her left hand discreetly reached out until she located the cold-water tap. With practised skill and precision she turned on the water then placed her hand directly under the stream causing the cold water to spurt through the air and drench the poet's head and shoulders.
With a shocked splutter DJ backed away surprised. "Hey!"
Randa shrugged. "I thought you needed to cool down a little," she laughed.
"Oh funny!" DJ whined, shaking out her wet tresses. "So..." Denise frowned, "why are you having a shower at this time of the day anyway?"
"Derek called and asked me to cover a shift on the site in about half an hour so I thought I would freshen up a little." Randa ran a hand through her saturated locks and shivered as droplets of cool water ran down her neck.
"Cold? Want some warming up?"
"I don't think we have time for the kind of warming up you have in mind!"
The poet pouted as she said, "I can do quick!"
Randa's expression changed to a look of disbelief. "Says she who takes her time to even unwrap a chocolate!"
"That is only because I have to savour every single moment of it. My supply is running low again and if I ring Carl to send me some more he'll start whingeing about wanting me to go back to England sooner. He can wait until the beginning of July like everybody else. I am taking a long overdue holiday. Besides it's not like I haven't been working while I've been here."
That fact was certainly true. For the poet what had started out as a simple jot down of ideas for her new novel had turned into the desire to bring that tale to life. She had spent between five and six hours a day writing and because she didn't have her own computer, nor did she remember to bring her lap-top she had to find time to write when Randa wasn't herself working on the Brightwood information site.
"Well I can't stand around here all day. I now only have twenty minutes until I need to log on." Passing Denise, Randa slapped the poet's behind. "Are you making dinner tonight?"
"Whatever you desire," DJ paused a beat, "as long as I don't have to pull it out of the freezer."
Randa rolled her eyes as she stepped into the bedroom. Looking around she held out her arms in confusion. "Where are my clothes?"
"How about some good old traditional home cooking?"
Heading towards the laundry basket Randa looked back at her lover briefly, "Sounds okay by me." She lifted its lid and found her discarded clothes in the bottom of the basket. With a shake of her head Randa replaced the lid and crossed over to the chest of drawers. She pulled out a clean pair of white shorts and a green crop top.
"How about stew and dumplings?" Denise headed for the bedroom door, her eyes fixed upon Randa's naked form. "Yummy!"
"Well it seems as though you like the idea," replied the nurse as she slipped into her shorts.
"Oh I don't know," DJ leered, "Who said I was referring to the dinner?" Meeting Randa's gaze she winked before darting out of the bedroom.
The air changed as a cool, gentle breeze caressed her flesh and DJ heard more than saw the rustle of the oak of peach trees. She acknowledged that this was her favourite time of the evening. When the shroud of darkness enveloped the land and its calming influence seeped into her soul, clearing her mind of all doubt and worry.
Behind her DJ heard the recognisable sound of soft approaching footsteps. She smiled in the semi darkness of the porch and waited for her lover to approach. Randa always knew where to find her at this time of the night.
The footsteps drew closer.
Denise instinctively opened her legs as Randa stepped around her and took a seat on the lower step between the poet's limbs.
"How was it?" she asked.
"Ugh..." Randa let her head fall back against Denise's chest. "Busy. Lots of genuine people plus one guy who decided to make a pain of himself. Seems he thought it would be funny to log on just to ask what colour 'scrubs' I was wearing."
DJ chucked, forcing the blonde to lightly slap her thigh. "It's not funny, Miss Jennings. God I need a drink."
As if on cue Denise brought the can of Dr Pepper into Randa's line of sight. "Here you go."
"You're drinking this now?"
"No." Denise smiled. "I brought it out for you. I knew you would want one when you finished your shift."
Randa twisted her body and looked up at DJ. "More like you swiped if from the fridge so you could roll it over your forehead and cool your heated brow."
DJ stared down at her lover's dimly lit features trying to maintain an expression of annoyance. "Damn it, will you stop reading my mind?"
The nurse smirked as she turned back and settled into Denise's embrace. Placing her finger under the tab Randa opened the can. She jumped unexpectedly as a spurt of the fizzy soft drink speckled her neck, chin and shoulders. "What the...!"
Wiping a single droplet of Dr Pepper from her cheek, Denise blinked and tried valiantly to keep her composure but her body shook with silent laughter.
"You did that!"
"I would never," she chuckled
"Why don't I believe you?" Randa questioned as she took a leisurely drink, trying to maintain her dignity. She began wiping the stray droplets from her cheek.
Denise smiled. "Actually I didn't... but I wish I did because that was funny. Of course there is also a plus side to this."
"And that would be?"
"This." DJ bent her head and moved her lips over Randa's shoulders. They parted as her tongue reached out and swept across the sweet droplets, removing them from her lover's flesh."
"Oh yeah," Randa hummed, "works every time."
"What does?" Denise mumbled as her soft licks travelled up the nurse's neck.
"Well if you didn't shake the can then who did?"
"Just a little discreet shake... a little squirt ... and hmmm heaven!"
The poet reached forward placing her fingertips upon the side of Randa's chin and re-directing her gaze. "Why you sneaky little bugger!"
The nurse waggled her brows and laughed as she turned back and once again settled herself into DJ's embrace.
A comfortable silence flowed over them and Denise tightened her arms around Randa. She closed her eyes and buried her nose into the blonde's fragrant locks. DJ realised she was wrong before and this was her favourite time. Dwelling in the ebony veil of tranquillity with Randa securely wrapped within her embrace.
Randa's voice broke the calm. "How are you feeling about the book launch when you go back to England? Was Carl kidding when he said the press was going to be there?"
"No, he wasn't kidding," Denise sighed. "As for how I feel... I'm not sure. I feel a little ambivalent."
"Hmm. I'm a little nervous as to what will happen, how it will be received and the reaction to my... dedication. But at the same time, I can't wait."
Placing her can down upon the wooden steps Randa wrapped her arms across DJ's, hooking their fingers together. "I know what you mean. I get these flutters of nervousness in my stomach every time I think about it and about people's reactions to you and me. I'm scared for you, Denise. In this world I am one of the nobodies; the nameless face in the crowd. But you... you're the face they've all been waiting to see. You're the one behind the words, the thoughts and the emotions. I don't want them to judge you for anything other than the soul I fell in love with."
DJ frowned as she placed a kiss upon Randa's head. "First of all you are not one of the nameless faces in the crowd, Randa. You are everything. You are my everything and you make all of this possible. You make me possible." Denise looked up into the star specked sky. "Look up there. Look at all the stars and pick just one."
Randa did as bade. "Okay?"
"That single star that you have chosen... that is me... but all of those other stars in the sky Randa are you. You are my world, my existence. You give everything around me the beauty, grandeur and completeness of unity that makes up the universe. Do you understand?" At Randa's silent nod Denise continued. "As for everything else... we will just have to wait and see. I'm not afraid of what people think of me any more, Randa. All that matters to me is you."
The body in front of her shuffled and then Randa turned around, balancing on her knees as she stared at the poet with a smile. "How do you always know what to say to make me feel better?"
DJ shrugged shyly. "I just tell you how I feel."
"Well please don't ever stop!"
"Never." Denise replied as she bent forwards, sealing her lips with Randa's. Pushing to her feet, the blonde nurse still within her grasp, DJ moved from the back porch carrying Randa into the house.
As the back door clicked shut and the kitchen light was extinguished they rendered the night to its comforting darkness and nocturnal predators.
Just another half an hour and Randa had a date with an English poet, a cold Corona and a hammock. The nurse sat back from the computer and contemplated exactly what form of reward her cooperation with Derek should take. The Webmaster of the Brightwood Information Network had called early in the morning begging Randa to take the eight-hour day shift scheduled to begin in less than an hour. The nurse had just finished her own shift at eleven o'clock the previous night and doubling back was something she hadn't had to do since she quit working in the hospital, but she knew how Derek had juggled schedules when she needed time off so she acquiesced. She acquiesced, but not without the promise of a reward. I'm thinking San Francisco Ballet tickets here she mused during a lull on an otherwise fairly busy Friday afternoon.
Derek wouldn't mind the request for ballet tickets and in reality he would probably get them for her for nothing if she asked. He had always been Randa's best friend though now he and Denise had become thick as thieves also. Randa smiled at the memory of the day she told him about Denise, who she was and who she would be in her life. Derek had arrived unannounced as usual at Randa's house only three days after Denise's arrival in the States. The two women had been in the living room enjoying each other's company- a lot. Derek had breezed right in through the front door, went wide eyed and breezed right back out. After hastily re-arranging her clothing Randa found him on the front porch grinning like an idiot.
"Wow, Randa, I didn't know there was local talent like that. Maybe I should move out of the big city and start checking out the small towns. And here I was thinking you were going to save yourself for that poet you had the hots for."
Randa opened her mouth to speak as Denise pushed open the screen door and joined her. "I wouldn't exactly say I'm local talent," said Denise, her English accent flowing over the words like honey. "More like a souvenir she picked up in her travels."
Randa laughed as the poet stood beside her and wrapped a loving arm around her shoulder. "Derek, this is Denise Jennings. You know, D Jennings, the poet?" Derek's jaw dropped and he was unable to summon a sensible word to his lips. "Denise, this rather mute person is Derek, my best friend and sometime boss. Enjoy the silence, it won't last long."
Derek recovered enough then to demand the whole story from Randa. By the end of his visit he had extracted the tale from them and they had extracted the promise of a warning phone call on future visits from him. As Randa walked Derek to his car he turned to her and a serious look crossed his face.
"So you're sure about this? You're really happy?"
"Derek, do you remember last year when I told you that when I found the right person for me it would be happily ever after?" At his nod she continued, "This is happily ever after."
"If that's how you feel then I suppose I could learn to love tall, dark and literate too. I guess there's only one question left to ask."
"And that would be?"
He sighed dreamily and asked, "Does she have a brother?"
Randa was roused from the memory as the object of her thoughts wandered through the living room just then and stopped behind the nurse. The poet leaned over, placed a soft kiss to the blonde's neck and said "Mail," before heading out the front door. The old gray mailbox stood at the end of the dirt driveway to Randa's property and the two women split the chore of picking up the day's offerings from the post office. The nurse's attention was drawn back to the computer screen and away from the front window where she had been admiring the way Denise's long legs looked as she sauntered to the mailbox in denim cutoffs. The computer voice announced "one in from the waiting room," which was the way a nurse knew she had a consultation pending.
Randa saw the username Megan appear on the chat room screen. Welcome to the Brightwood Information Network. I'm Miranda Martin, RN. How can I help you Megan?
Hello, Megan, what can I do for you? Randa was accustomed to new users of the network needing some assistance in getting their questions asked as well as answered.
My name isn't really Megan but my Mom said I should never tell anyone my real name on the computer. Megan is my sister's name. Is that okay?
Randa had to smile. That's very okay. How old are you Megan?
10 and a half. How old are you?
Randa laughed softly. Boy, kids sure are direct. For a moment she considered shaving a few years off her age but decided she could be truthful with a ten year old. Almost thirty she typed.
Are you really a nurse?
I sure am, Megan. Did you want to ask me a question? Randa's curiosity was getting the best of her now.
What happened was the other day my Mom and Dad were fighting and I was listening to them but they didn't know it and I heard them talking about Uncle Danny and they said he was sick.
Randa read the sentence and pieced together the scenario. Your Uncle Danny is sick? Did they say what the problem is?
They said he had HIV. Is that bad sick? My Dad said he doesn't want Uncle Danny to come over anymore. I want Uncle Danny to come over. He takes me and Megan to get ice cream and he lets us pick which kind. He knows magic and could pull a quarter out of your ear. He does that all the time and he lets us play with his Nintendo and Roscoe who is his dog. I don't want Uncle Danny to be sick.
Randa's heart broke a little as she thought that the world could be awfully cruel to have a 10 year old have to deal with problems as big as this. She thought about it for a moment and decided to continue being honest with the child.
Do you know what HIV is?
Megan, your Uncle Danny has a pretty tough problem. He has a disease that makes it hard for him not to get sick. Have you ever had an earache or a sore throat?
Well those kinds of things are called infections and your Uncle Danny would have a difficult time fighting them because of this disease, but there are medicines that can help him not be so sick. He can feel good and be around for a long time so he can keep taking you and your sister out for ice cream.
What about what my Dad said? I told my sister what Dad said last night and she cried. Why can't Uncle Danny come over?
Fear? Prejudice? Ignorance? Randa thought one of those was the answer but also knew she couldn't hurt this young girl or confuse her anymore by saying so. I don't know, honey. Sometimes even older people have a hard time when someone is sick. Maybe your Dad will change his mind.
I hope so. Okay I have to go now because I have to set the table for supper. That's my job.
All right Megan, you take care now and if you have any more questions you just ask me or any of the other nurses here, okay?
Okay. Thank you. You're nice was typed on the screen and a moment later, my real name is Amy.
Randa smiled at the simple trust of a child. Nice to meet you Amy and I'll keep your real name our secret. Bye.
Randa closed the chat room and logged off the network. She couldn't get Amy out of her mind and wondered if she had said too much or too little or the wrong thing. She needed to talk it over with Denise the way she always did when there had been a particularly frustrating or emotional shift on the network. Speaking of Denise, where is she? She went to the mailbox over 20 minutes ago.
Randa went to the picture window and saw Denise still down at the mailbox. She wasn't alone there, however, two middle-aged women had joined her. Randa squinted, thinking she knew the women from somewhere. Then it hit her and she was moving quickly out the front door. By now she knew the women from the Church of the Righteous Gospel would have taxed Denise's patience. They had come to the door of the farmhouse once or twice in the past, irritating Randa with their ultra-conservative viewpoints. The nurse had tried to politely tell them she wasn't interested, but this had only seemed to spur them on rather than discourage them. Finally after the women had condemned just about everything the nurse believed in, Randa had asked them to leave and not return to her property.
Now they're down there talking to Denise. She's probably crazy by now. Randa hurried down the driveway intending to make her feelings clear in a very forceful way, but as she reached the mailbox she was surprised to find the churchwomen smiling up at the poet.
"I certainly do agree with you that a woman's place is in the home living in a monogamous, loving marriage for as long as you both shall live," Denise was saying. "There's nothing more fulfilling than that." As Randa approached she opened her arms and drew the nurse in close for a warm hug. "And here is the woman I intend on doing that very thing with." The smiles dropped like rocks from the faces of the two women as Denise gave a little wave and said, "Well, we must be going now. We have a few pentangles to draw before the full moon. Have a nice day!"
Randa and the poet walked slowly back up the driveway but not before Randa looked back at the still gaping women and stuck her tongue out while pointedly putting her hand on Denise's butt.
Denise snorted, "Oh, very mature, Randa."
The nurse gave her back a brilliant smile and said "Dignity, always dignity." They both broke out into laughter as they climbed the porch stairs together.
"Those people are everywhere, Randa. Usually I ignore them but today I just felt in the mood to tease them a little."
"Oh yeah, and you did an excellent job, too! That bit about 'marriage for as long as we both shall live' was priceless!"
Bright blue eyes held green ones in a look of complete devotion. Denise leaned in and gave the nurse a quick kiss on the lips.
"Why, Ms. Martin, you should have known that's the one thing I said that wasn't a tease."
Denise broke the gaze and moved through the doorway, starting to open the mail. Randa could only stand there as stunned as the two women who were only just now walking away from the mailbox.
The day after found Denise lying out upon a large tartan picnic blanket, writing in the garden. The hot sun shone down upon her meagrely dressed form causing beads of sweat to tickle her flesh. She had spent the early morning watering the blooming flowers before the sun had risen. Then she had pruned the bushes, cut the grass and removed some of the low hanging branches from the oak trees. Through all of this Randa had slept on unaware. DJ knew she needed time to recuperate after working two long shifts mere hours apart.
Pushing back the silver framed glasses that had slipped slowly down her nose Denise tapped the end of her pencil upon a white writing pad. She had been writing for the past three hours accompanied by a steady flow of small bottles of cider. Four empty, clear glass bottles stood in a row by the edge of the red and green blanket. She was beginning to feel the effects of the fifth bottle. Maybe I started drinking too early, the poet thought, realizing that a quarter past one in the afternoon may indeed be a little early.
Suddenly a dark shadow passed over her causing Denise to look up and find Randa's smiling face staring back.
"You're awake," the poet said as she noticed Randa was still dressed in the blue and white gingham shorts and tee shirt had adorned for bed. "Just!" she added.
With a yawn Randa collapsed into a cross-legged sitting position. She nodded groggily. "Uh huh."
"Not really... just immensely relaxed!" The nurse looked around Denise as she said, "As it seems are you!" She picked up DJ's arm and studied the time on her wristwatch. "It's a bit early in the day for drinking isn't it?"
Denise pushed herself to sit beside Randa, facing her. "Yes I suppose so but I was in a mood. I felt this ostentatiousness take over me, and suddenly the guise of a tortured, alcoholic bard took possession of my soul. I was powerless to resist."
Randa rolled her eyes as she lay upon her side and picked up Denise's pad. "So, have you been writing some poetry?"
"Yes!" The taller woman pulled the pad from Randa's hand, "and you are not allowed to read until I have finished."
Randa poked out her lower lip and fluttered her eyelashes.
"And that wont work either!" DJ placed the pad back down on the blanket and took a drink from her fifth bottle. She offered the cider to Randa who refused it with an expression of revulsion.
"Ugh, no thanks, it's a bit too early for me. I had a glass of milk and a cookie before I came out here." Randa looked down at DJ's pad, suddenly changing the subject as she said, "I've always wondered how you managed to write with such beautiful handwriting. Mine is so scruffy that when I worked at the hospital my co-workers voted me 'Nurse most likely to have been a doctor in a previous life'."
Denise laughed as she moved down onto her back and looked up at the sky. "I love your handwriting... it's... unique!"
"As for me, I suppose I take after my mother. She always took pride in presentation." Denise put her hands behind her head as Randa rolled onto her back and shuffled towards the poet, placing her head upon DJ's shoulder. The feel of the sun-bleached tresses tickled the side of Denise's chin.
"You never really talk about your parents. Can you tell me something about them?"
Denise felt Randa shift and she cast her gaze down to be greeted by clear green eyes close to her own. "Sure." She ducked down and kissed Randa softly before turning back and looking into the deep blue sky.
"Well... for as long as I can remember both my mother and father worked. We didn't have a great deal of money. We lived on the ground floor of a high-rise block of flats on the outskirts of the city. It wasn't one of the most desirable places to live but there were worse, believe me! My mum worked three jobs, five days a week and one on a Saturday afternoon. In the mornings she would clean offices at a large law firm in the city centre. Then at lunchtime she worked as a dinner lady at my school. She would serve the food and or supervise the children on the playground. I used to get free school dinners for the low-income families. In the afternoon she worked three hours at a florist making those baskets arrangements of flowers for special occasions."
"So you got your green thumb from Sara and your mother!" Randa said.
Denise shrugged. "I suppose so. Anyway... my dad was an architect. He worked for a small company where he really didn't get much appreciation for his obvious talent. Apparently he was good; mum often said so. Then when I was nine, dad got a new job working for a bigger firm, earning a lot more money. Mum was able to quit two of her jobs and we were finally able to move out of the flat. My dad bought a nice house. It was an old Tudor dwelling but needed a lot of work doing to it. Dad called it a 'fixer upper' and said he would be able to do the work himself. So we moved into our new home and I got a nice big bedroom complete with light pink walls and a 'Muppets' frieze."
Denise smiled but it quickly faded. "We were in the house for no less than two months before the fire." Her voice lowered, "before they died." Denise shifted her body indicating that she wanted to move. Randa rose to sit and DJ followed suit facing her lover.
The air seemed to cool around her as Denise took a deep breath.
Randa frowned, noticing the distant look in DJ's eyes. "Denise?"
"I've never told anybody this before. Not even Sara."
"Afterwards, I heard the fire chief say the fire was caused by faulty wiring. He said the house was old and needed re-wiring and it was more than likely a dodgy connection at one of the plug sockets in the living room that started the fire. It originated in that specific location."
"I guess that sounds logical," Randa said with a frown.
"Yes." Denise looked down and traced her finger over the blanket following a long red line. "Randa... the socket didn't work when we first moved into the house and for the following few weeks after. Then my dad got his hands on one of those Betamax players, which meant we needed another socket. He thought those things were really great and I suppose at the time they were. So that Saturday Dad decided to fix the socket... and that night..." DJ looked meaningfully into Randa's eyes.
The nurse's expression fell as a look of horror overtook her features. "That night the fire started." It wasn't a question.
Denise nodded. "I mean... I was never completely sure but at the same time... I was. I still didn't say anything. How could I? What was I supposed to say? I certainly couldn't tell Sara that I was sure Dad caused the fire. Randa, my dad was a brilliant architect, a great carpenter and passable plumber but he was no electrician. He just wanted the pride of being able to say that he fixed the house up himself."
"Oh, Denise!" Randa whispered.
The poet took a shuddering breath. "I've never told anybody that before."
Randa reached out and took DJ's hand. "I'm glad you told me."
"Me too." DJ pulled Randa towards her and took the nurse into a strong embrace. Randa climbed into her lap and wrapped her legs around Denise's waist, laying her head upon the taller woman's shoulder.
"I hate that you had to carry that around with you for so long. Did you ever have to go through any form of therapy for what happened?"
Denise nodded as she moved her hands over Randa's back. "I did for a while but I didn't like it. I started to rebel because I disliked going. Sara helped me more. You know us Jennings like to keep things to ourselves!"
A peaceful quiet settled between the women, broken only by the distant sound of a highflying aircraft. Denise looked up into the sky and watched the airplane's white vapour trail expand and disperse in the flawless blue sky. She bit her trembling lip as salty tears clouded her vision.
"For so long I wanted to hate him, Randa. I really tried. I wanted to hate him for taking himself and my mum away from me but I couldn't." Denise turned her glazed eyes back to Randa and tears rolled lazily down her cheeks. "He was my dad you know."
Randa cupped Denise's face as she leaned forwards and kissed away her tears. "What was his name? You've never told me that."
The poet smiled. "Daniel. Another DJ!"
"And your mother's name was Lina?"
"Short for Angelina, yes."
The women relaxed into each other's embrace once again as Denise took comfort in the woman within her arms. After a while Randa asked, "Do you have any pictures of them?"
DJ thought for a moment. "Yes I do actually, back at home. When I go to England for the launch I'll bring some back with me, okay?"
"That would be great." Randa ran her hands over Denise's shoulders. "Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me, Denise."
"Trust isn't an issue, Randa. I love you." DJ grinned. "You get to know all of my deep, dark and dirty little secrets!"
Randa extricated herself from DJ's lap and rose to her feet. "Really? All of your deep, dark and dirty secrets huh?" She folded her arms and looked down at the poet. "Like for instance you'll tell me what your middle name is?"
"What makes you think I have one?"
"You said you did!"
Did I? Denise thought for a moment. "Oh yes... so I did!" Damn her and what she can wheedle out of me with those talented fingers of hers! She smiled inside.
"So?" Randa unfolded her arms and placed them upon her hips, she quirked an eyebrow in expectation.
DJ fell silent as she pondered her answer. As what she hoped was a charming smile graced her lips, Denise stood beside Randa. "Have I told you how much I love you today?"
"Oh... um," She lowered her voice, "have I showed you?"
The nurse seemed to momentarily waver. "I um... um... well... well no but don't go changing the subject."
"I wasn't, I..." Denise paused as the distant sound of a ringing telephone drifted to her ears. Saved by the bell. "Oh hey that's the phone!" Planting a brief kiss upon Randa's lips DJ ran off back towards the house. Jogging into the living room she picked up the shrilling handset. "Hello?"
"Well if it isn't the silky tones of the tall, dark and literate one."
"Hi, Derek, what can I do for you?" DJ sat down upon the edge of Randa's desk.
"This is my warning call to say I'm on my way over for some lunch. Is the coast clear? You know I still haven't been able to wipe from my mind the image of you and my best friend 'in-flagrant-e'!"
The poet laughed. "The coast is very clear, Derek. Well Randa has yet to get dressed but that is only because you have been working her ragged the past day or two. How long will you be?"
"I'm sitting outside the house right now."
Slipping off the desk Denise approached the window and looked out onto the driveway. She spotted Derek's little red car as the man waved from inside the vehicle. She waved back.
"Who are you waving to?" Randa asked as she entered the house.
"Derek is in the driveway."
DJ sniggered. "I was talking to Randa, Derek!"
"Don't just sit there then. Get your butt inside the house!" And save me from the 'Randa Inquisition', she added in thought.
"Oh I do love it when you get all macho on me!" Derek hung up and exited his car.
"Okay," DJ started as she trotted towards Randa. "I'm going to start some lunch. Are you going to get dressed?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Randa headed towards the bedroom and DJ watched her disappear with an affectionate smile. She needed this time alone with Derek so they could finalise the plans she had been making for Randa's birthday and knew this would be her perfect opportunity.
The curtains were closed in the large master bedroom leaving the bright new day unable to penetrate the darkened room. From the tousled double bed in the centre of the room light snores sounded from underneath the jumbled covers as its single occupant slept on unaware of the dawning day.
Denise entered the room already showered and dressed in her khaki cropped trousers and navy tank top. With a happy smile she walked bare foot through the bedroom carrying an assortment of objects on a wide wooden tray. A single red rose, a sheet of paper, a small pot of jam with several slices of toast. A pile of cards and small presents, a camera, one glass of orange juice and a bottle of her favourite mineral water.
Placing the heavily loaded tray upon the bedside cabinet DJ looked down at the slumbering form hidden under the covers. The night before Randa had retired to bed as late as possible stating that she wanted to delay the inevitable for as long as she could. She had disappeared into the shower only to emerge fifteen minutes later looking like, as Denise had called her, 'a miserable drowned rat' and had fallen into bed asking not to be woken until DJ flew back to the States in July. Denise humoured her and agreed knowing she would not be keeping her word. She did understand how the blonde felt, as she too was not looking forward to their time apart.
Climbing upon the bed on her knees, the poet straddled the huddled form and slowly shuffled up the cocooned body. When she was sure she reached the edge of the covers she bent down and slowly pulled at the thin quilt.
"Randa?" Denise sang, spying a crown of blonde hair.
The nurse groaned unintelligibly as she tried to burrow herself further into the covers.
"Randa... come on it's time to get up."
"What time is it?" Came the muffled response.
"Half nine." Denise paused as she smiled and said, "On the twenty-ninth of June."
It seemed to take a moment for DJ's words to compute in her sleep-muddled brain. "Ugh... noooooo... go away. This is a bad dream!"
Denise laughed and placed light kisses upon Randa's barely revealed shoulder. "No it isn't," Kiss, "come on," Kiss, "Wakey wakey, birthday girl."
With a dramatic sigh Randa rolled onto her back and sleepy green eyes greeted the new day. "Good Morning world; Hello oblivion. Are the vultures circling around the back yard yet?"
DJ rolled her eyes as she straightened her posture, sitting upon Randa's stomach but holding most of her weight on the backs of her legs. "Come on, Randa. It is a beautiful day." The poet gesticulated as she spoke, "The sun is shining; there is not a cloud in the sky. The garden's sweet floral scent is seeping into the house and the birds in the trees are chirping Happy Birthday tunes just for you."
Randa looked at Denise skeptically.
"Well okay, maybe not the last one but it is a beautiful day. I refuse to let you lie here and mope in bed when I have such a wonderful day planned for you!"
"What? What do you mean 'planned'? What plans?" This seemed to spark Randa's interest and she pushed herself into a sitting position looking at Denise inquisitively. "Denise, I don't want anything today. I just want to lie in bed and hide until you get back from England." She fell back down into the covers and draped one arm over her eyes.
"Oh come on, please remember that it is only for a week and I will hate it as much as you while I'm away." DJ leaned forward and placed a soft kiss upon Randa's lips. She removed the arm and looked deep into glazed green eyes. "I refuse to let you lie here and wallow all day. Turning thirty is not the end of the world and as soon as you realise that the better. Now I have breakfast for you."
"A pile of cards and gifts?"
Randa's eyes shifted to the right and looked towards the tray upon the cabinet.
"You know I never felt any different when I reached my thirtieth." Denise knew that statement was almost true. She had initially felt a slight feeling of doom as the day approached but when it finally arrived DJ realised she had no idea what all of her brooding had been about.
"So... how about we start this beautiful day hmm?"
"Ugh, okay I suppose if I have no choice." Randa moved once again to a sitting position and picked up a slice of toast. She eyed the assortment of items with a frown and reached out, picking up the folded sheet of paper.
"Ah ah ah," Denise snatched the paper from Randa's hands. "This is mine."
Randa narrowed her eyes as she asked, "What is it?"
With a smirk, Denise climbed off the bed and stood tall. "This is my um... it's a little something I wrote for you."
"Nope." DJ opened the sheet of paper and looked briefly at the precise handwriting. "Being as though you seem to envision being thirty as the beginning of the end I plan on showing you that 'thirty' is not that bad. So anyway, last night while you tried to drown yourself in the shower I wrote you a little something. Would you like to hear it?"
Randa nodded eagerly, the slice of toast all but forgotten in her hand.
Clearing her throat, Denise straightened her back and looked down at the 'essay'. "Okay... Thirty Reasons Why I love Randa Martin, by Denise Jennings." DJ looked quickly to see Randa smile at the title.
Taking a deep breath she began. "Number one, I love your smile that brings sunshine to each new day. Two, I love your cute button nose. Three, I love your hands; so skilled and yet so gentle. Four, I love your voice, especially its passionate timbres." She looked up quickly and winked. "Five, I love the way you always seem to know what to say. Number six, I love your cute little toes and seven I love your caring heart. Eight, I love that you can make people feel so comfortable around you and you draw them in so easily. Nine, I love the pink tints of your blushes and number ten; I love your ticklish feet. Eleven, I love the way the sun shines golden in your hair, and twelve how you can make even the scruffiest of clothes look damn sexy on you. Thirteen, I love the way you make me laugh so easily and fourteen I love the way you make up songs in the shower. Fifteen, I love your taste, sixteen your scent and seventeen, your talented tongue." Again Denise looked up and waggled her eyebrows; she noticed Randa had discarded her breakfast and seemed to be hanging intently on every word.
"Eighteen, I love that sleepy look on your face when you wake up and nineteen, I love how you watch me while I work. Twenty, I loved how you kissed away my tears when I was sad, and twenty-one..." DJ smiled, "I love it when you pretend to pick your nose when you think little children are looking at you in the street. Twenty-two, I love the feel of your hands on the back of my head," again DJ smiled, "And twenty-three, I love your sea green eyes. Twenty-four, I love the way you kiss and twenty-five, the way we can sit talking for hours. Twenty-six, I love the way you dance with the broom when you sweep the porch and twenty-seven the way you suck strawberry jam off my fingers. Twenty-eight, I love the way you turn eating Mexican food into a religious experience. Twenty-nine, I love the way you hold me when you sleep and thirty... I love you because you are you..." DJ looked back up to find Randa sitting on the edge of the bed. She stepped forward and bent down onto her knees, "...and you make it so damn easy to feel this way." Placing the sheet of paper upon the floor DJ reached out and cupped Randa's cheek. She tried to gage the unreadable expression upon Randa's face.
"Hey it wasn't that bad was it?"
"I loved it," Randa said as she pulled DJ towards her and took possession of her lips. Denise let her hands fall to Randa's bare thighs and moved them up to cup her behind and pull her to the edge of the bed. Their lips parted as the kiss deepened and DJ groaned as she felt Randa's fingers sink into her hair and her lower body grind against her.
With effort Denise pulled away. "We have to stop. We don't have time for this."
Randa pouted. "What? But it's my birthday. I thought I get whatever I want on my birthday. If I recall correctly, somebody no more than an inch away said to me that she likes the feel of my hands on the back of her head." she grinned sexily as she slowly spread her thighs.
Oh God help me..."I... I know but we have to eat breakfast and you have to open them," Denise nodded towards the pile of presents by her bed. "You have to get showered and um... dressed because we will be going out at about half eleven."
"Going out? Where are we going?"
DJ prodded Randa's nose. "It's a secret." Climbing to her feet, she grabbed the camera and sat beside Randa. "Right, family photo." Putting her arm around the bewildered blonde, Denise brought their heads together and held the camera in front of them as she placed her finger on its button. "Say... 'It's great to be thirty'!"
The camera flashed and DJ turned to Randa "You didn't smile."
"You didn't give me much of a warning."
"Want to go again?" Denise held up the small camera but Randa dived from the bed, pulling the sheet with her.
"No! Let me at least get myself looking a bit more presentable first." Holding the sheet against her naked form, Randa disappeared into the bathroom leaving a smiling Denise looking at the en-suite's closed door. Shaking her head DJ looked at the tray and grinned.
"Oh hey, Randa." She grabbed another of its items and approached the bathroom door, knocking lightly on the white barrier.
The door slid open and Randa peeked out of its narrow gap. "Can't I even have one minute of time to brood over this day?"
"Nope." DJ stuck two fingers into the pot of strawberry jam she was holding and held the mixture to Randa's lips. "Taste this."
Randa did as asked and wrapped her lips around the poet's fingers; her eyes grew wide in surprise. "That's Sara's jam."
"Yep." Denise dug her fingers back into the pot and pulled out another scoop of the soft red mixture. "I gave your mum the recipe the other day and she made this for us." She sucked the jam from her fingers, closing her eyes in delight. "Hmmm."
Randa pulled the fingers from DJ's mouth and placed them in her own. Denise could feel her insides melt as she felt the blonde's tongue wrap around her digits. Oh god... we don't have time... we don't have time... we don't have time she chanted. The poet felt her skin flush with heat as arousal flowed throughout her veins. She looked down at the half revealed form of her naked lover.
Pulling Denise's fingers from her mouth Randa said, "I really did love your 'essay'."
"Yeah? Um..." Denise cleared her throat, "Well wait until you reach sixty!" Keeping her eyes focused on any area of Randa's body above her shoulders, DJ backed away from the door. "Okay, I better go and... and... get some," she poked her thumb over her shoulder, "get some thing done." With an affirmed nod Denise turned and headed swiftly out of the bedroom door.
Pulling a set of keys from her pocket DJ twirled the rings around her index finger. When she had realised Randa drove a truck she was adamant that she was to never get inside the 'contraption' and had leased a new Lexus a few days later! Denise was very particular about her cars and always opted for the luxury business or sporty models, preferably either a Lexus or an Alfa Romeo.
Oh come on Randa, she thought. There were two stops Denise had to make before they reached her planned destination. Denise had booked them all into an exclusive resort that Randa had often stated she wanted to visit but thought it would be too expensive. The poet had a schedule and she intended on keeping it.
Looking down at her watch, DJ shook her head. Moving towards the front door she poked her head into the house. "Come on, Birthday Girl. I want to get there while it's still daylight out here."
"All right, all right I'm coming." Randa emerged from their bedroom dressed and ready to go. She picked up her bag from the corner of the sofa and headed towards Denise. "Come on then, Miss Impatient, let's get going to this clandestine destination."
"Well it's about time."
Randa rolled her eyes as she closed and locked the front door. "Do I look okay? I have no idea where we're going so I don't know how to dress." She looked down at her simple white top and light blue jeans.
"You look beautiful." Denise leaned forward and kissed Randa briefly before taking her hand and leading her away from the house. "And you still had two and a half minutes to spare... congratulations!"
"Thanks... I do try."
The women climbed into the Lexus and DJ pushed the key into the ignition. Instantly the blare of the radio invaded the small space as the engine roared into life. "Are we ready?" she asked, turning down the music.
"Then lets go." DJ eased the car onto the road and headed off down the street.
They had been driving in a comfortable silence for no more than five minutes and during that time Denise had been aware of Randa's continual stare. She had learned that it was the patent 'Martin stare' as she had seen Janice Martin use the very same one while talking with her daughter on several occasions.
With an amused sigh Denise turned briefly towards Randa. "Okay... what?"
"Aren't you even going to give me even a little hint about where we're going?"
Denise was certain she detected a slight whine in her partner's voice. "No and you know I wont either so you will just have to be patient. We will be there soon enough." Denise took a left at the next junction and just ahead she spotted a familiar figure standing on the corner. She smiled as she approached Randa's best friend.
"Hey, there's Derek!" Randa said surprised.
"Yep." Denise slowed down the car and pulled in by the roadside. Derek's smiling face greeted them as he opened the back passenger side door and climbed into the vehicle.
Randa turned in her seat to address her friend as DJ commenced their journey. "Derek... not that I'm in the least bit unhappy to see you, but what are you doing here?"
"I'm part of the afternoon birthday entourage." He leaned forward and kissed Randa's cheek. "Happy Birthday, sweet thing. How does it feel to reach the big three zero?"
Randa groaned as Denise chuckled. "I wouldn't push it Derek. It took me a while to even convince her to get out of bed this morning."
"So that's why I've been waiting on that street corner for the past ten minutes. You know I was beginning to get a little worried. A good-looking guy like me standing on a street corner... I don't need to tell you about the looks I got. If I had been there any longer I'm sure I would have gotten a few monetary offers for this body of mine!"
Randa grinned as she said, "Yeah maybe to get you to go away!"
Derek's jaw dropped as he glared at his best friend. "Oh... I'm hurt! And here was me breaking all my plans today just so I could spend the afternoon with my friend on her birthday. I had to beat the admirers down with a stick just so I could leave my front door this morning and that's all the thanks I get?"
"Derek you really do have a flair for the dramatic!"
"Just making my point, babe. Now..." Derek looked out of the window, "are we nearly there yet?"
Randa switched her gaze from Denise back to Derek. "You know where we are going?"
"Of course I do!"
Randa looked back at DJ. "How come he knows?"
"Because it's not his birthday..."
"...Yet!" Derek added hopefully.
"So he is allowed to know," the poet finished.
A few minutes later Denise took another left onto a familiar street and Randa looked in surprise at her.
"I know this area. A friend of my mom lives here."
"Uh huh." Denise stopped her car by the driveway and sounded the horn. A moment passed before Janice Martin emerged from her friend's house and made her way toward the car. She got into the back seat and sat beside Derek.
"Mom? Okay now I really am confused."
"Happy birthday, honey." Janice smiled brightly.
Denise looked over at the older woman and winked. She had discussed this afternoon with Janice and Derek and they were both more than willing to participate. Derek because DJ had stated that she was 'footing the bill' and Janice because she had always wanted to visit the place Denise was proposing. The four of them would spend the day together but Denise had planned the evening for just Randa and herself. If she was to leave for England the very next day she intended on making the best of the time they had before she left.
Denise took the long narrow road that led towards the complex and looked over at Randa. The blonde's eyes widened as she realised where they were heading.
"Forest Springs? We're going to Forest Springs?" Randa asked incredulously. She wound down the window and stuck her head out into the sizzling air. The heat was a stark contrast to the air-conditioned interior of Denise's leased Lexus.
"Hey Randa, get your head back in babe. You look like one of those inquisitive shaggy dogs!"
Janice laughed at Derek's statement and the nurse pulled her head back inside the car. She looked towards a grinning Denise and said, "This is your surprise?"
"Half of it." DJ replied, "Tonight I have a little something extra planed for just you and me." Denise followed the signs that led to the front entrance of the complex. She pulled up beside a young man dressed in a matching green shorts and tee shirt. "I hate valet parking," the poet groused, "if this were my car nobody would drive it but me. It's a good job this one is leased I suppose."
"If you don't mind me saying, DJ, I think you have an unhealthy obsession with cars," Janice said teasingly as she stepped out into the rising midday heat. "Have you noticed this, Randa?"
"She's just particular about her cars," Randa defended as she followed her mother around to the building's entrance. "I can't believe we're here. I've always wanted to come here for a little 'R and R'. Did you know they have hotel rooms where you can spend up to a week here? Make a vacation out of it and everything!"
"Oh that sounds good to me," Derek said joining Randa and Janice, "A week of lying on my back while all my whims are catered to."
Janice smiled. "I'm sure they encourage some forms of exercise also, Derek."
"Well as long as it's not mandatory."
Denise approached the waiting man with vigilance. "Okay..." she held out the keys but didn't hand them over. "I would appreciate it if you took extra special care of this car, mate. No speeding, no going over speed bumps at more than 5 miles per hour. You handle this car like it is your pride and joy. Like your very life may very well depend on the way you treat it, okay?"
Randa shook her head as she approached Denise. "I'm sure he gets the message," she smiled at the nervous young man.
"Just making sure." DJ narrowed her eyes as she handed over her keys.
As they were accepted, Randa pulled DJ away. "I think you scared him!"
"Hey I have to be sure. That isn't my car." She watched as the Lexus pulled away from the curb. "Though I am thinking about upgrading. This new model is just such a superb drive."
The four entered the complex through the electronic front doors and stepped into the wide-open space of the foyer. The floor was covered in black marble and along the white walls were tall plants in terracotta pots. Denise spotted a middle-aged woman standing behind the wide front desk wearing much the same clothes as the parking attendant. The woman was currently assisting a couple wearing matching purple and green sweat suits. DJ grimaced at the colour co-ordination.
Derek looked around their surroundings. "Oh you know... I'm going to get me one of those exfoliation scrubs for my face. Do they do those things for the whole body?"
The three women turned towards Derek with amused expressions.
"Oh and do they have those Swedish, blonde, overly muscular masseuses? I sure as hell have to get me one of those too. And what do those mud baths do? Also... I have to try the seaweed wraps and... and oh I know what I really, really want to try..."
"Colonic irrigation?" Denise asked stone-faced.
Randa snorted but held her tongue.
Derek's features dropped as he shuddered visibly. "Not on your life. Damn, that makes me want to clench just thinking about it!"
Mother and daughter laughed at Derek's expression as Denise approached the front desk.
"Where's your mum?"
Randa looked around briefly and re-hooked the edge of her towel around her body. "I think she went to ask about the times for lunch. We're all supposed to fit in a massage before we eat. Then after that it's facial time!"
"Yep." Denise sat beside Randa on the low wooden bench and looked around the shower room. Along the edges were rows of private cubical showers with a square bench in the centre of the room. She realised they were it's only occupants.
"So how on earth did you manage to talk Derek into physical activity?"
"I told him I had a long lost brother who was dying to meet him!"
"Really?" Randa asked with amusement.
"No." Denise laughed. "I actually insulted his macho pride by telling him there was no way he would be able to beat me as I was a racquet sports champion at school. That sure brought out his competitive nature."
"Were you a racquet sports champion?"
"No," Denise replied.
Randa smiled as she asked, "Who won?"
"He did. He then proceeded to do a victory lap around the court singing 'We Are The Champions'. He only stopped after I threatened 'GBH' on his arse!"
"That's what he said." She chuckled as she continued, "it means Grievous Bodily Harm; it's a police terminology in the UK. He soon quieted down."
"That sounds about right." The nurse shook her head and looked up at DJ. "Did I tell you that I'm having a wonderful time? I've always wanted to come here."
"Well just remember that this is only the beginning. Tonight I have a more private celebration planned for just you and me." DJ wiggled her eyebrows for effect.
"And you're not going to give me any clue?"
"Not a one."
Randa arched a single eyebrow as she rose to her feet and turned to look down at Denise, their knees touching. "Oh?" Looking around briefly to reaffirm that they were indeed still the only two occupants in the shower room, Randa leaned forward and braced her hands upon the poet's knees. "Ever made out in a health club?"
Denise gulped visibly. "Pardon?"
A slow smile spread across Randa's lips as she took DJ's hands and pulled her to her feet. Without saying a word she began pulling Denise towards the nearest corner shower cubical, making sure it was away from prying eyes.
"Randa, what are you up to?"
"This." Randa pulled Denise into the cubical and closed the thick frosted glass door. Pushing DJ up against the moist, white tiled wall she pressed her own body into the poet. "Just thanking you in the most appealing way I can at this moment in time." Randa lowered her lips to DJ's chest.
"Um... Randa?" Denise felt the nurses hands glide along her sides. "Should we be doing this here? We might get chucked out!" Inquisitive hands tugged at the edge of her towel. Oh god.
"Hell yeah!" Randa whispered as Denise's body was revealed.
Capturing the searing gaze in her lover's eyes, Denise felt her resistance slipping fast. "Oh what the bloody hell." Spinning around she changed their positions and thrust Randa against the wall. Gathering the nurse's hands and holding them above her head, DJ wasted no time in claiming the nurse's lips in a deep passionate kiss. Denise took control as she caressed Randa's tongue with her own, feeling a deep groan rumble within the blonde's chest.
Pulling back Denise looked into heavy lidded green eyes. "We'll get our memberships revoked!"
"What memberships?" Randa breathed.
"That was half of your birthday present."
"Oh wow, Denise, that's... OH!" Randa gasped as DJ thrust against her and re-claimed her lips. Their kiss continued until an unexpected sound broke through their passionate haze.
Both women froze.
"Mom!" Randa whispered, wide eyed.
"Oh bugger!" Denise quickly reclaimed her towel from the floor and hastily wrapped it around her rapidly cooling body. "Well get back out there then!"
"No... you first." Randa replied.
"Girls?" Janice enquired.
"GO!" DJ whispered harshly.
"You go." Randa countered.
"It's 'your' mother, Randa."
Both women grabbed their partner, insisting that the other should go first and as DJ pushed open the cubical door they jumbled out of the shower together. Denise felt her cheeks flush as she came face to face with Randa's curious mother.
"Hi mom," Randa squeaked, "I was just showing Denise the..."
"Tiles/shower head," the women said in unison. They looked at each other accusingly.
"I was just showing Denise the tiles in the shower because we were thinking about getting the guest bathroom done," Randa said timidly.
"Yes and I was showing Randa the shower head. I was thinking of getting a shower massage..." DJ's eyes widened, "for um... therapeutic reasons of course..."
"Of course." Janice echoed.
Denise nodded. "So..." she looked down at a cringing Randa. "We should go and get ready for the next... thing... we are booked in for!" Receiving a nod from the blushing blonde both women headed back towards the changing rooms leaving one very amused older woman watching them leave with a restrained smirk.
Seated in a row, the four sat side by side. Their heads were relaxed back with colourful skin treatments covering their faces and white robes adorning their bodies. A light music played in the background breaking the silence of the large room. Denise sat in the first chair, next to her was Janice next to her was Derek and on the far end of the row sat Randa. This was their last therapy session of the day.
"What colour's your face gloop, Denise?" Randa asked.
DJ reached up and swiped the edge of her chin with her middle finger. She then lifted the corner piece of cucumber covering her eye and studied her digit. "Ugh... it's pink!"
Randa laughed. "Mine's blue."
"Why couldn't I get blue too?" the poet whined.
"Because you have combination skin like me and this was the appropriate mask for our skin types." Janice replied.
"Mines green." Derek piped in and then proceeded to lick his finger. "Hmm, it tasted pretty good too. Kind of like apples and pears."
"You're not supposed to eat it, Derek." Randa pulled the cucumbers from her eyes and glared at her friend.
"Well it tastes nice!" Derek swiped another portion of the green mask from his face and offered his finger to Randa. "Trust me... try some."
With caution Randa leaned over her chair and tasted the mixture from Derek's finger. "Wow, you're right!"
Pulling both pieces of cucumber from her eyes Denise turned to the pair and said, "If they intended on us eating this stuff they would have put face mask on the menu at lunch today, you know!"
Randa and Derek twisted in their seats to look at the poet and they both broke out in a fit of giggles.
"What?" DJ asked
Derek took a deep breath. "Awe... you just look funny with your wet hair slicked back and that pink stuff all over your face." Derek chucked again as he continued, "Hey try yours it might taste like strawberries!"
Shaking her head DJ leaned back in her chair and placed the cucumber slices back over her eyes. "No thanks... I had enough to eat at lunch."
"So..." Janice started, "Did you enjoy your time with the seaweed, Derek?"
"Sure did, Mrs. M."
"And you didn't go getting yourself into any trouble?"
"I would never!" the Webmaster stated seriously and Randa rolled her eyes.
Janice smiled. Though she herself was unable to see due to the cucumber slices covering her own eyes she could read their expressions just by the inflections in their voices. "That's good to know. At least you weren't getting yourself into any mischief!"
"What does that mean?" Derek then asked, as DJ felt herself shrink into her black leather seat.
"Oh just that these two were up to no good when I found them earlier today."
"Mom! We were not!" Randa protested.
Janice lifted the slices from her eyes and gazed at her daughter. "Oh, Miranda please. I've known you for thirty years now. I know that guilty expression like the back of my hand and don't you think I don't. It's the same look I remember right back to the time I told you that you couldn't leave the table until you had finished all of your vegetables. Then I caught you scraping them off your plate behind the dining room curtains half an hour later!"
Denise burst into laughter.
"Mother!" Randa whined, "I was seven years old!"
"And your point is? Remember honey... every look!"
Randa turned her glare to the laughing poet. "And you can shut up too! She was talking about both of us you know."
Denise tried to lessen her mirth as she said, "I know but that is funny. Even now you try to sneak your broccoli on my plate when you think I'm not looking!" She started to laugh again.
"Denise, if you don't stop laughing I might very well have to tell mom and Derek about the times you used to put on shows in the back yard of your apartment block for your parents and Sara!" Denise quieted considerably. "Remember... Sara and I spent many hours alone together and she had an awful lot of stories she used to tell me while you were locked away in your study... working!" A mischievous grin spread across Randa's features.
The poet sobered as she said, "Deal!" Her eyes met Randa's in a silent duel until both women grinned and chuckled at their behaviour. Shaking her head, DJ sat back into her chair and replaced the cucumber slices upon her eyes. She knew that even if Randa had have told them about the little 'plays' she used to stage, it wouldn't have made any difference to her. DJ wondered if there was anything Randa could ever say or do that would cause a true anger inside of her. Probably not, she realised.
Peeking at the clock on the wall the poet realised it was almost half past five in the afternoon. They still had enough time to drop Derek back at his car and Janice back at her friend's house. They had decided that DJ would pick them up on the way to the spa, as she wanted to add to the mystery of where they were going. Denise knew that for Randa having her mother and best friend there would add to her enjoyment of the day and hopefully help her to realise that as the cliché states 'age is just a number'. Still, the poet smiled, the day isn't over yet.
Denise swung open her door and jumped out of the car, jogging around to the other side where she commenced in opening Randa's door. "Ma'am!"
"Thank you, Jeeves." Randa joked as she stepped out of the car and DJ shut the door with a soft 'click'.
"My pleasure." Together they made their way to the front porch arm in arm.
"So how did you like dinner?" Denise took Randa's hand and led her up the steps.
"It was wonderful," replied Randa as she pushed her key into the lock, opening the front door. Both women stepped into the house and Denise turned on the lights. She looked around the open plan room lost in thought. Sighing DJ turned back towards Randa.
"God I wish you were able to come with me tomorrow. I've got to go through that whole caboodle with the press in a couple of days and I have no idea what will happen. Then I have all of those interviews and book signings and that could very well be swayed by the response of the press. Carl said he would be there to hold my hand but... well I could think of somebody else I would rather do that with." She smiled lasciviously.
"I can do more than just hold your hand." Moving closer to DJ, Randa placed her hands upon the poet's and slowly slid them up her arms. "A week just feels like a long time to be apart from you. Remember what happened last time we parted? I don't want anything like that to happen again."
"It won't." DJ assured her as she wrapped her arms around Randa. "The launch is in Manchester and you have my number for the hotel I'll be staying at. Then I'll go back to Derbyshire for the first book signing so I'll be at my house. I promise I'll fill you in every step of the way." Leaning closer DJ planted a kiss upon Randa's nose. "I also promise there will be no more uncertainties, doubts and silences while I am away from you."
Randa pursed her lips before saying. "You never know what might happen."
"I'm sure a lot will happen but as long as I have you beside me, physically or spiritually I know I can handle whatever will eventuate." Denise combed her fingers through Randa's soft tresses and cupped the back of her head. "So how about we make the most of this night?"
"You know... you've been full of good ideas today."
Lips slowly inching closer both women paused just short of touching. Denise let her hands fall to cup the shorter woman's behind and pulled their bodies tighter together. "You still have the other half of your birthday present to open." DJ by-passed Randa's lips and lowered her head to the nurse's neck. Moving her lips teasingly over Randa's warm skin she caressed the soft flesh with her tongue.
"Uh huh... I did say that the membership was only half of the present." Denise mumbled.
"No," Randa grinned as she clasped the back of DJ's head. "I mean 'more'. If I remember right we still have an encounter in a shower to finish!"
"Hmm." DJ followed the graceful curve of Randa's neck and returned to waiting lips. Her tongue snaked out slowly and traced over Randa's bottom lip before she sucked the succulent flesh into her mouth. The feel of the nurse's body pressed tight against her own and her unique scent was rapidly fuelling her desire. "So you don't want the other half of your present?"
"Sure I do," Randa replied with a smirk. "Where is it?"
DJ's eyes slid across the layout of the open plan house. "It's in the bedroom."
"Oh sounds like my kind of present."
"I definitely think you will like this," the poet said, a confident glint shining in her eyes. Her voice lowered as she said, "Do you want it?"
"You know I do."
"Ah well then follow me." Denise released Randa and slowly led her into the bedroom.
Hand in hand, Denise pulled Randa along to the bedroom. Once there, Randa took over and feverishly began removing clothes from the poet.
Under the assault of passionate kisses and seeking touches, Denise panted, "What are you doing?"
"If you don't know I must be doing it wrong," chuckled Randa. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm opening the other half of my birthday present. Oh, and just look at the wonderful wrapping!" Randa murmured as she pulled DJ's shirt over her head.
"No, Randa!" the poet said removing herself from the nurse's reach. "Well, not no but just not yet. Don't you want the rest of your present?"
Randa was confused now. "You mean there actually is a present? You're not the present?" She stood with brows scrunched, hands on hips.
Denise smiled and with a tip of her chin to indicate the dresser said, "Over there."
Randa allowed a slightly sinister grin to pass over her face. Bending over and giving a good imitation of a woman carrying a rifle, Randa skulked toward the dresser. "Here is Randa 'Bring 'em back Alive' Martin hunting for the last..." she looked over at Denise who nodded. "Last of the birthday presents," she continued. "After this hunt, Ms. Martin has indicated she will be going after bigger game in the form of the rarely sighted species Derbyshire Poet. The Poet is a crafty animal hunted mainly for its delectable flesh. It's said the Crocodile Hunter coined the phrase 'Isn't she a beauty?' after a brief sighting!"
DJ laughed as she shook her head and said, "Life is never dull with you, oh Great Blonde Hunter."
Randa extended an index finger toward the top drawer and raised two eyebrows in question.
"You're ice cold, nurse," the poet responded. Randa dropped the index finger to the second drawer.
"Warmer, but only slightly," was the next reply. The third drawer yielded "Now you're getting hot." The fourth and final drawer was greeted with a "Blazing hot!"
Randa laughed as she opened the drawer. On top of Denise's cable knit sweaters and winter turtlenecks was a tiny box wrapped in gold foil paper. She sobered immediately as she removed the tiny box from its hiding place. Making eye contact with the poet she felt a shiver pass down her spine. "Denise..."she began but felt unable to complete the sentence.
Denise quickly moved to Randa's side and guided her to the bed. Sitting down side by side, the poet urged "Open it, love."
Randa's hands shook a little as she peeled the gold paper away to reveal the white leather ring box underneath. Swallowing an audible gulp, Randa tipped open the lid and drew in a sharp breath. Shining brightly in the box was a silver band with inlaid Blue John; the same stone as in the necklace Denise had given her for Christmas. The stone was flanked with engravings of the Celtic symbol for eternity also matching the necklace that rarely left Randa's neck.
Randa was quiet for so long that Denise dipped her head to look into the blonde's eyes. "Don't you like it?" DJ asked nervously. Green eyes raised to hers were awash in tears.
"Oh God, Denise, I love it. I just...I guess I didn't expect it." The poet smiled at the reassurances and said, "Well go on; try it on." Randa removed the ring from the cushion holding it in the box. As she did she noticed engraving on the inside as well as the outside. Tilting the ring she was able to read the words placed there. Eternity will not be enough.
This time the tears overflowed Randa's eyes and spilled unashamedly down her cheeks. Knowing what had prompted the fresh tears, Denise pulled the nurse into her arms and quietly said, "It won't be, you know. It won't be nearly long enough for us. As long as there will be a you or a me, there will be a we." Denise kissed the golden hair gently as she felt Randa's tears on her skin.
Taking the ring from Randa's hand, Denise asked, "Allow me?" Randa nodded consent, not yet trusting her voice. Denise slid from the bed and kneeled in front of the nurse.
"I love you, Miranda Martin. Nothing and no one will ever be able to change that. You hold my heart, my soul and my future. This ring is the symbol of all that. Will you continue to make me the happiest woman alive by wearing it?"
Randa looked into earnest blue eyes and smiled through her tears. Taking a steadying breath, she found the heart to smile and say clearly, "I would be proud and honored." Denise smiled back and slipped the ring on the third finger of Randa's left hand. Raising up she met the lean of her partner and the sweet kiss they shared sealed the moment in their hearts and their memories.
Randa broke the kiss and seemed more composed. "I do love you, Denise Jennings. It seems like I always have and I know I always will. You've changed my whole outlook on turning thirty."
"I did?" questioned the poet giving Randa a surprised look.
"Yep, if I had to live to be thirty to be as happy as I am right now, I only wish the years would have passed quicker. Numbers like that aren't going to mean anything to me anymore except to mark the years we're together." She brought Denise back into her embrace and kissed her with the all the love present in her very full heart. They held each other tightly for a while, reveling in the closeness.
Denise moved back slightly but stayed within the nurse's arms. "Well, it seems you've successfully captured the Derbyshire Poet. What do you intend on doing with her, Bwana?"
"The same thing I'd do if I caught a tiger by the tail. I'm going to hang on and enjoy the ride!" With that Randa pulled the poet up onto the bed and her body. Wrapping her legs around DJ, Randa did as promised and held on. The ride lasted far into the night.
Randa woke up with the first faint rays of dawn subtly peeking through the window. She was snuggled up against Denise with a feeling of warmth and security that lasted all of the thirty seconds it took her to realize that the poet would be leaving for England late that afternoon.
It's not going to be the same this time. This wont be like when I left England to come home. This is different; we've come so far past that. Still the nagging thoughts of the painful silence and separation of two months earlier persisted. I couldn't go through that again, it hurt too damn much. I'm not sure I could survive it again.
At that moment Denise shifted in her sleep and mumbled something unintelligible. The nurse studied the face now bathed in the pink hues of early daylight. Randa reached up to move a stray lock of brunette hair from Denise's face and the ring on her left hand caught the light.
Randa studied the ring for a moment then returned her gaze to her partner's face. This wasn't just for my birthday, was it? You knew I'd need this reassurance while you were gone. Randa smiled at the utter thoughtfulness of the poet. The nurse leaned over to brush her lips softly over those of the brunette and grazed her fingertips over her tanned flesh. With a quick glance at the clock, Randa knew she had more than enough time to show her appreciation to her lover. The nurse trailed her fingers down Denise's arm to her hand where she drew lazy circles in the upturned palm. Tracing the route back up she reached the shoulder before gently dropping her hand to cup a firm breast.
Randa used her thumb to circle the nipple gently before replacing her hand with her mouth. Denise groaned under the onslaught of pleasurable sensations. Vivid blue eyes opened to lock with heated green orbs.
"Oh, God, Randa! Not that I'm complaining but what brought this on?"
The nurse ceased her ministrations for a moment as she lifted her head from Denise's breast to grin at her partner. "Let's just call it one for the road." The women smiled and Randa reached over to pull Denise's mouth to her own. Tongues met and the kiss deepened as Randa's hands searched lower for the moist center of her lover. A groan and sharp jerk of the poet's hips told the nurse she had reached her goal as much as the velvet wetness that now coated her fingers.
"You feel so good, love," Randa murmured as she nuzzled the brunette's neck. Reaching even further she swiftly entered the source of the heat and wetness. Denise's passion rose quickly and with the familiar rhythm set up by the nurse she soon walked on the edge of her climax. Randa brought her thumb into play and shortly Denise was gasping out her name in sweet release.
After a few minutes, Denise relaxed as Randa slowly removed her fingers and settled back onto her pillow. The poet rolled onto her side and the two exchanged tender kisses and loving caresses.
"Do you know what's so wonderful about one for the road, my dear Ms. Martin?" Denise whispered between increasingly passionate kisses.
"That road is almost always a two way street," the poet replied and reached for her partner.
The security checkpoint for the British Airway gates was crowded. Randa stood in the embrace of the poet, knowing new regulations would permit her to go no further with Denise. As the mass of humanity in San Francisco International Airport moved forward through the scanners, Randa felt the uncertainty in her heart again. She clung tightly to Denise who had her arms wrapped just as tightly around the nurse.
"I suppose I should get on to my gate," she whispered into golden hair. "You've got the number for the hotel and if there are any changes in plans, I'll call you straight away." Randa nodded and continued to hold tight. This parting at the airport in San Francisco felt achingly familiar to the painful one in London earlier in the year.
"Except this time I will be staying in touch, I won't be afraid to say 'I love you' and I will be coming back." Denise smiled at the shocked look on the nurse's face. "You must have known it would be on my mind as well." Eyes held as Denise reached up to softly cup the blonde's cheek. "I love you, Randa Martin."
Randa's eyes misted as she replied, "I love you too, Denise Jennings. Finish up this book business and hurry back to me. I'm going to miss you every second you're gone."
The kiss was long and slow then Denise reluctantly pulled away and moved through the security checkpoint. Randa watched as she picked up her carry-on bag from the x-ray scanner. For a second it seemed the poet would continue her walk to her gate but instead she turned to look back at the nurse. Randa's heart ached at the look of hesitation on Denise's face. Randa knew only she could give the poet the freedom she needed to make this trip and endure the separation. The nurse raised her left hand and pointed to the ring situated there. Gazes locked as Randa mouthed, "I love you" and nodded. Denise seemed to receive her message of support and love because she smiled and with a small wave, moved toward the gate and out of Randa's line of sight.
The nurse turned to leave the departure area, wiping away a small tear that had slipped down her cheek. It's only a week she thought. Only a week, then she'll be back. What could possibly happen in a week?
End of Part I