Authors' notes: See Part I...
We would also like to add a special thank you to D. S. Bauden who provided some very valuable insight for this sequel.
Manchester's Belmont Hotel stood out as the most prestigious and exclusive hotel in the city. Primary consideration for all international visitors, those of high social standing and even premier league soccer teams, the five star establishment was not only a first class lodging but also a venue for conference and social gatherings. It was the largest building in the city and its rectangular structure stood on forty-five levels, not including the vast underground parking facility. On the roof a large helipad was situated in its centre, which was used by many well-known figures in both the financial and entertainment business.
Denise stood by the side of the curb, black carryon upon one shoulder and matching suitcase situated by her feet. She looked up at the tall, dark brick, ominous structure with disdain. Never having been a fan of multi story buildings she hoped Carl had been able to book her into one of its lower floors. The slightly nauseous feeling DJ got whenever she rode the elevators of a tall building she presumed stemmed from her childhood and the fear she experienced as she tried to escape her burning home. It was the feeling of being trapped on any floor above the ground, which still managed to unsettle her somewhat. The closer to the ground, and the least amount of stairs to get there, the better.
Narrowing her eyes Denise moved them over the large bold lettering on the front of the building. Its name stood out on the charcoal brick background with eye catching gold letters. Taking a deep breath as she prepared to enter the hotel and face the oncoming events, DJ picked up her suitcase and made her way towards the double doors. An elegantly dressed gentleman wearing a maroon and black three-piece suit opened the brass door and DJ nodded her thanks as she stepped into the lobby. Its size surprised her, having expected something much larger due to the visual grandeur of the building. Denise approached the wood panelled front desk listening to her footsteps echo upon the pristine white floor.
Standing behind the desk was a young man wearing a navy suit. He smiled politely as DJ approached. "Welcome to the Belmont Hotel, Madam, how can I help you?"
Denise smiled politely. "Hi, I have a reservation under I presume the name of Denise Jennings. It would have been booked by either a Carl or Christine Lloyd."
The sandy-haired man looked down at the computer's screen as his fingers flew efficiently over a black keyboard. His brows furrowed together as she said, "I have a booking for a D Jennings but it wasn't booked under either name you mentioned."
Hmm, DJ thought for a moment. "Okay then I presume it was booked under 'Lloyd and Windsor Publishers'."
The clerk. "That's right." His eyes scanned over the visual display unit. "A double room, non smoking, full facilities for three nights?"
"Excellent. If you would just sign here," He handed DJ a computerized log, "and provide one form of identification which is just standard procedure; preferably something with both a picture and signature upon it."
Denise signed into the hotel and handed over her driver's license. Once all procedures were completed she was given her key for the sixth floor and turned to follow an elderly porter who had appeared out of nowhere and had picked up her case, ready to escort her to her destined floor. She followed him through a small archway and entered a much larger foyer that was literally buzzing with life. Ahead of her stood a double set of brass elevators with a uniformed man standing beside them. They have somebody to press a button? She thought with a wry grin. Around her were a wide variety of shops, a well-known eating establishment, and dotted throughout the area were small groups of people or solitary individuals going about their everyday business. Denise ran her tongue over her front teeth as her eyes moved back to the restaurant. She was hungry and hadn't eaten anything on the plane. Although food in First Class was superior to economy she hadn't had much of an appetite and had spent her time either trying to sleep or watching the in-flight movie. Her journey had taken eleven hours straight from San Francisco to Manchester and she had been more than a little relieved to finally alight from the aircraft. Denise looked down at her watch and decided to get settled into her room first. She looked back towards the porter and found him waiting for her by the elevators. With a sheepish smile she jogged towards the waiting man and together they entered the lift. As the doors mechanically glided shut and the small compartment started its short journey to the sixth floor DJ counted each numbered light as it indicated the passing of another floor. She barely acknowledged the man standing beside her holding her suitcase, her mind being otherwise engaged on how long it would take before she could exit the enclosed space. Then with a jolt the compartment ground to a halt and the door slid open.
"Sixth floor," the porter said with a smile as he led Denise out into the hallway. She looked down at the plush pale cream carpeting upon the floor, feeling its deep pile beneath her feet and wondered how much the hotel charged for a single night. It seemed no expense was spared in creating a luxurious environment for its guests. Hell, they have a guy to press the button on the lift; I wonder whether they have somebody to turn the shower on for you? DJ chuckled to herself and received an amused look from her porter.
"Room six fourteen," he said, stopping by a large white door.
Denise slid the key into the lock and easily opened the door. Stepping into her room she took a moment to inspect her surroundings. By the middle of the far wall stood a large king-size bed and she gazed longingly at its comfortable appearance. To the left of the bed stood a double wardrobe and a door leading into an en-suite bathroom and to the right a dressing table and supposedly well stocked fridge. Opposite the bed was a large satellite television.
Hearing a thud DJ turned around to see the porter place her suitcase by the wall. "Is there anything else I can get you, Madam?"
Denise shook her hand as she pushed her hand into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small pile of notes. Extracting a five-pound note from the fold she handed it to the older man with a smile. "No thanks, mate, that will be all."
With a nod the porter left her room.
Taking a deep breath Denise turned back into the room. Pulling her arms out of her light black jacket she let it drop onto the corner of the bed as she herself fell into the soft fragrant sheets. The time difference was beginning to catch up with her and all thoughts of food left her mind as she instead decided sleep would be a welcome relief. As she closed her eyes her last thoughts were of Randa and the last morning they had shared together before she slipped into a dreamless sleep.
"Hey, DJ, I see you made it back safely."
"Carl..." looking down at her watch DJ regarded the time with confusion. "God it feels like midnight... I can't believe it's only five o'clock in the evening." She yawned quietly, covering her mouth with her free hand.
"Well make sure you judge your sleep right for tomorrow. The launch begins at three o'clock in the afternoon and we have a lot to get through before then."
"Listen DJ, we have to talk... can you meet me tonight? We can catch up and talk about the itinerary for tomorrow, etcetera. There are some things I need to discuss with you."
Swinging her legs over the edge, DJ sat upon the corner of the bed. "Sure, where are you?"
"In the hotel; room fifteen seven. How about you meet me for dinner in the tenth floor restaurant in one hour? I really do need to talk to you. I don't want to concern you but this is important stuff."
"Oh no, nothing to fret about. So can we meet?"
"Okay." Denise looked back at her watch. "How about half six?" She realized she needed to call Randa and let her know she had arrived back in England safely.
"Fine by me."
"Right, see you then Carl."
Falling back upon the bed's surface Denise stared at the rotating ceiling fan. She knew Randa would still be sleeping after having pulled an all night shift on the Brightwood site last night so decided to leave a message on the answer phone. Looking at the telephone handset still within her hand she followed the guidelines for making an outside call. Randa always turned the telephone off when she was sleeping during the day so DJ knew she wouldn't have to risk the chance of waking her lover. After the recorded message finished Denise waited for the beep.
"Hi, it's me. Just want you to know that I got here okay. God...I think I miss you already. I have this great king-size bed and you are not here to share it with me. Anyway I am in room six fourteen; call me reversed charges to this room whenever you can okay. I love you. Bye."
Disconnecting the call, Denise forced a weary sigh through pursed lips. She decided a shower might help to clear her mind and lying doing nothing just reminded her of how much she was beginning to miss Randa. Decision made, the poet headed towards the shower.
Denise Jennings walked into the large tenth floor restaurant, scanning the wide semi circled room. In the centre stood a grey stone waterfall in the shape of an open oyster shell. A gentle trickle of water flowed out from the top of the stone shell and cascaded in rivulets down into the circular pool underneath. The rest of the floor space was covered in tables and as DJ's eyes searched out her friend a smartly dressed man in a black tuxedo and strong oriental features suddenly appeared by her side.
"Ma'am, do you have a reservation?"
Denise looked down at the slight man and then once again out over the patrons in the restaurant. She wondered whether she had dressed smartly enough in her simple black trousers and tight red sleeveless top. "Yes I'm here to meet a Mr Lloyd. I don't seem to be able to spot him."
"Ah yes... follow me please."
With a shrug Denise followed the small man to the far side of the room. She weaved her way around the maze of neatly dressed tables making a mental note of some of the dishes available. Ahead of her she soon recognised a familiar crop of dark blonde hair.
"Table seventeen," said the waiter.
Denise nodded her appreciation. "Thanks, could you bring a jug of water to the table please?"
"Certainly, madam, I'll just be one moment."
The waiter headed towards the kitchen as Denise approached her friend. She sidled up behind Carl stealthily and placed her lips beside his ear. In as husky a voice as she could muster Denise said, "Been waiting long, honey?"
The editor's frame literally jumped as he spun around in his chair. His eyes relaxed as he spotted Denise, then lit up as he studied the poet. "DJ! Wow what the hell happened to you?" he sprung from his chair and regarded Denise closely casting an appreciative eye from head to toe. "Is this what a couple of months in the States does to you?" He stepped closer. "Nice tan!"
Denise smirked, "If you study me any closer, Carl, you might just discover the absence of tan lines!" She rolled her eyes and hugged her friend. "So how are you?"
"Excited DJ, very excited!" Carl retook his seat and Denise sat opposite him. "Tomorrow's the big day!"
"Yes." Denise looked down at her empty wine glass and circled her finger over the rim.
Carl frowned as he asked, "Nervous?"
"Just a little."
"Hmm." Carl nodded his head and decided to momentarily change the subject. "So... how is Randa?"
Denise smiled immediately. "She's great."
"I wish I'd had time to talk to her at the funeral," Carl paused hoping he hadn't just brought to surface any painful memories for the poet but at her simple nod he continued. "I only know her as the nurse who looked after Sara and the woman who remained by your side that entire day."
"She would like to have spoken to you too." The poet chuckled as she said, "She doesn't understand how I always seem to answer the telephone whenever you call and she never gets to say hello."
The waiter interrupted their conversations as he brought a jug of iced water to the table. He handed them both a menu before disappearing to another table.
"So," Carl opened his maroon, leather-bound menu as he continued. "No tan lines you say? Please tell me you haven't turned into one of those beach babes who spends her entire time catching rays and drinking cocktails down by the surf?"
"The beach?" Denise stated, "I haven't set one foot on a beach since I have been there. This is just from the garden. Believe me... I did have a few tan lines to begin with but decided I didn't like them! Fortunately Randa's property provided plenty of seclusion for that not to be a problem!"
Denise thought back to the first time she had decided to lay out under the hot June sun, "'o' natural" as she had called it. Randa had been sleeping after working all night and had wandered into the garden mid-afternoon to find one very naked poet lying peacefully under the sweltering heat of the sun. DJ vividly remembered being pulled out of her state of relaxation by soft lips slowly working their way up her calves and inner thighs. She had soon abandoned her pursuit of the perfect tan for much more pleasurable activities.
Maybe it was her self imposed sheltered upbringing or maybe it was simply her reserved British nature but the poet did remember having slightly reservations about such an intimate act in a rather an open place - however brief it had been. It was Randa who had brought out Denise's exhibitionist side in the first place, giving her the confidence, for instance, to sun bathe sans clothes. However her feelings for Randa and the desire to express them whenever or wherever was never something she felt she needed to hide.
Carl began fanning his face with the leather bound menu. "Gosh, DJ, no more talking about naked tanning sessions, I'm only human for crying out loud! Lets move the subject away from bare bodies okay?" Studying Denise his features suddenly sobered. "There is something I need to discuss with you. Now this may be nothing and I may well be jumping in the deep end here but I need to tell you this."
Denise sat forward in her chair as she said, "You're not exactly calming my already edgy nerves here, Carl. You better elaborate before I start expecting the worst."
Nodding, the editor pushed his glass of wine to the corner of the table and placed down his menu. "Okay. Well as you know we've sent copies of the new anthology out to a selected group of media representatives who will be present at the launch tomorrow. We sent advance copies to two broadsheet newspapers, a couple of literary magazines and the book review programme 'The Open Book'." Carl frowned and placed his folded hands upon the table. "It seems to have sparked a lot of rumours and while none pertain to surmising your actual identity, probably because they will discover this, a lot has still been said. The trouble is that I think somebody from our firm might have actually leaked a few extra details that we were leaving for the launch."
"What details?" DJ asked confused and feeling slightly alarmed.
"Pertaining to the fact that you will be announcing the forthcoming release of a novel dedicated and based upon the life of your aunt, Sara Jennings."
Denise frowned. "But it isn't. It's just a fictionalised light hearted story based on aspects of her life with a parody of Sara as the main character."
"I know, but you know how rumours are, DJ."
"Okay." Licking her index finger Denise placed it back upon the rim of the empty glass and started moving it around the fine edge. "So what's the problem? I mean all of this will be sorted out tomorrow. What is concerning you so?" The poet was beginning to think that maybe Carl was overreacting.
"The trouble is this." Carl pulled two sheets of cream paper out of his black suit jacket's inside pocket. "These are two anonymous letters both I believe written by the same person who seems to think that you shouldn't release a book based upon the life of Sara Jennings when you don't know the full story. And if you do then you will omit it from this book to make her appear better!"
Denise expression twisted to one of confusion. "What?"
Carl handed DJ the letters. "We haven't taken any action yet but whoever this person is seems to think you are under a misconception about Sara and you wouldn't dare release the truth in this book." As Denise started to protest Carl continued, "Yes I know it isn't a true story of her life but that is what the rumours have stated. Look, I don't really understand what is going on here, DJ. I was hoping you might have some clue as to what this person is talking about and know how to handle it."
Denise looked away, her eyes scanning the assortment of customers sitting in groups around a multitude of tables. In her own mind DJ was very positive she knew everything there was to know about Sara's life. She thought maybe this unknown person might have known about Sara's romantic history but that in no way led her to believe she was making the wrong choice in releasing her novel. After all this was just a fictionalised account of her life.
"As far as I am concerned or am aware, there is absolutely nothing I don't know of Sara's life. I think maybe this is just a case of somebody with nothing better to do. Maybe an ex-pupil who never got over Sara giving him or her a bad grade." She smiled as she opened up her menu and looked down at the first page.
Carl leaned forward in his chair and asked, "DJ, are you sure about this?"
The poet shrugged. "Yes. What else can we do? Believe me this is nothing." Denise looked back at the listings and ran her finger down the list. "How about a good old traditional curry?"
The editor's eyes lit up. "A vinderloo?"
Denise grimaced. "Well not for me. I'm afraid my stomach isn't quite made of cast iron like I assume yours is."
"Well I vote we order a wide variety of different dishes and just dig into them all. You know they do a famous appetizer selection. Maybe we can start with that?"
DJ nodded. "Sounds okay to me... go for it." Leaning back in her chair the poet looked down at the letters still laying upon the table. She picked up the top sheet of expensive looking paper and glanced over the bold script. Her brows wrinkled together as she wondered how the rumours had started and progressed the way they had. Well this certainly isn't what I was expecting. I suppose there had to be a little excitement this week otherwise I would have nothing interesting to tell Randa!
Not fully understanding the impact of the letters, Denise dropped them back down upon the table and resumed her perusal of the menu.
Randa opened her eyes to the afternoon sun and reached for the warmth of Denise's body. It wasn't until her hand had fumbled around the other side of the bed for a moment or two that she recalled it had been almost twenty-four hours since she had taken Denise to the airport. Even a busy night on the Brightwood Network hadn't helped her fall asleep that morning. She had missed the poet and the comfort she felt in the mornings when she would climb into the queen sized bed and snuggle up to the brunette. It didn't matter what kind of night she had, in Denise's arms she was safe and loved.
The nurse crawled reluctantly from the bed and headed off to the bathroom. The house seemed so empty. It hadn't seemed that way for the year she had lived there before meeting DJ, but it sure did now. Everything reminded her of the poet, the dresser with the neatly folded clothing and a bottle of the poet's favorite perfume on top. The shower where they had some of their most interesting encounters, especially when Denise was in one of her playful moods. The mug in the kitchen with the picture of the man in a dress with the logo "God save the Queen." The last had been a present from Randa to DJ on their first foray into the City by the Bay together.
Randa wandered aimlessly around the house having no plans other than missing Denise when she noticed the red light blinking on the answering machine. Two rapid blinks followed by a pause indicated two messages waited to be heard. One of these better be Denise; I really need to hear her voice. The nurse depressed the Play button and listened as the first message started.
"Hey Randa, it's Tyler. Long time no hear, huh? Listen, Danielle and I broke up so I've moved back here. I'm staying with Rod and Sue until I find a nice condo or something. How about lunch for old time's sake? Give me a call; you have their number. I'm free tomorrow but the day after I start back in the ER."
Randa hit the Stop button a little surprised by the first message. Tyler was a nurse she had dated for a while when she was still working in the hospital. His intense love of the Emergency Room and his gregarious sense of humor initially attracted Randa, but she soon found him to be a self-absorbed adrenaline junkie. He continually belittled her choice of the busy but less critical Cardiology floor. She could still see him, dark blue scrubs showing off his blond good looks as he regaled the small crowd of nurses with his exploits at the local omelet place after work.
"I mean this guy was a total mess! What can I say, when it's car versus 18 wheeler, the guy in the car loses every time!" Tyler was practically holding court. Randa found the whole thing obnoxious and from that point declined any further dates. Still, Danielle was a friend of hers, a co-worker on the Cardiology floor. Everyone, including Randa, had been surprised when Danielle had announced she and Tyler were going to San Diego to live together and work at a Level I Trauma Center. Though he was an annoying ass, Randa was curious about what had happened with Danielle. After consulting the personal phone book in her desk drawer, the nurse picked up the cordless phone and dialed the number.
"Tyler? Hi, it's Randa."
"Randa! Hey babe, glad you called me back. How the heck are you?"
Randa cringed, remembering Tyler's frequent use of "babe", "honey", and "sweetie".
"I'm good Tyler, very happy. When did you get back?"
"Just got back yesterday," he said. "Couldn't wait to get in touch with all my old friends again."
You always were a fast worker Randa thought. She shuddered when she thought of how Tyler had pushed her for sex, starting with their very first date. She had managed to avoid his advances, but he hadn't made it easy.
"Well, speaking of keeping in touch, we really didn't hear from you or Danielle after you left."
"Yeah, I know. We were kind of busy down in San Diego."
Randa was curious now. "So, did Danielle move back to Silver Valley, too?"
There was a pause on the line, then Tyler said, "Uh, no. Actually she got hired as the Cardiology Unit supervisor."
There it is! Thought Randa. The truth is your big old ego balloon burst.
Tyler's voice resumed its usual cocky tone. "So, I thought that maybe now that I'm a free agent again, we could pick up where we sort of left off."
Randa laughed. "Tyler, we didn't leave off anywhere. We stopped dating months before you and Danielle left. Besides, I'm involved with someone and that's involved with a capital I."
"Oh come on, babe. I heard about you and that English woman. You can't be serious about that. I know you and I know you're no dyke."
The nurse quashed an initial impulse to call the man an ignorant bonehead and hang up the phone. Instead she settled for a stony tone of voice.
"I really try to avoid labels, Tyler, so why don't we just say I'm a person who happens to be very much in love with a warm, caring, sensitive and incredibly gorgeous other person. The fact that she's a woman is just a bonus." Suddenly the second message on the answering machine popped into her mind.
"Speaking of her, I have to go because if it's a competition between talking to you and talking to her, you're not even in the running. Bye, Tyler." She hung up to spluttering on the other end of the line.
Moving back to the answering machine, Randa pushed the Play button and Denise's voice came on giving the nurse her room number in the hotel she was staying at. Glancing at the clock and adding eight hours to the time, the blonde figured the poet would definitely be in bed then.
Randa stopped by the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. Need to keep my fluids up she thought. Still carrying the phone with her, she returned to the bedroom and settled back under the covers. She picked up the slip of paper Denise had written the name and number of the hotel on. She dialed the international number then the city code and phone number.
"Belmont Hotel. How may I direct your call?"
"Room six fourteen, please," the nurse requested.
"One moment please," the voice replied and shortly the phone was ringing again.
"Hello?" a somewhat sleepy Denise answered. Randa smiled as she heard the voice of her partner.
"What are you wearing?" the nurse breathed.
"Randa! God, I've missed you." Denise's voice had brightened considerably. "I'm still knackered but I don't seem to sleep as well here as I do in our bed."
Our bed. The thought that the poet felt so much at home with her was enough to cause the nurse to let slip a small sigh. "Denise, I miss you so much. How is it going? Have you seen Carl?"
"Yes, we had dinner tonight. Everything is set up for tomorrow as we planned. I don't mind confessing I'm a little nervous to be facing the press and then there's this other business."
"What other business?" the nurse asked. "What's happened, Denise?"
"Oh, it's probably nothing. Carl said the premise of the novel was leaked which wouldn't be a problem except he received two letters that in essence said if we knew the whole truth about Sara we wouldn't be publishing a book in her honor."
Randa sat up in the bed. "What do they mean 'the whole truth'?"
"I don't have the foggiest notion, but it's more than likely just some crackpot. This is the first time I've had to deal with this part of the business and this kind of thing probably happens all the time. I was just never exposed to it before. I wish you were here to hold on to as I go through this; we make quite the team you know."
"That we do, my friend. Tell you what, how about if we talk for a while until you feel like you can rest?" Randa said as she settled back down.
"Mmm, that sounds nice. What do you want to talk about?" Denise asked.
Randa gave a soft laugh as she snuggled deeper into the comfortable bed. "Well, you can answer my original question. What are you wearing?"
A rustling of bedclothes was heard on the line and the poet replied, "My tartan boxers and that comfortable red tee shirt I love. Very sexy, eh? You tell me now, what are you wearing?"
"A sheet," Randa said, her voice dropping a little as her hand slid over her breasts on its way south.
A short silence came from the hotel room followed by more rustling of bedclothes. Denise's voice came slow and sexy over the line. "I have a feeling I'm going to sleep very well after this conversation."
It seemed the sun had risen way too early for the day of the book launch. Its blinding rays woke Denise as they beamed directly onto her face. Instantly she cursed the fact that she'd forgotten to close the curtains the night before. She also cursed the room's eastern facing window and the fact that the day had even arrived. It had taken her much longer to get to sleep the night before as the couple in the room beside hers had decided to keep her awake with their heated arguing. Yawning, Denise rolled onto her side and pulled her watch from the nightstand.
"Half six!" she exclaimed with a feeling of shock. She hadn't wanted to greet the land of the living until at least nine o'clock.
With a groan of annoyance she fell back down onto the pillow, once again cursing the occupants of the room next door whom she was sure were still sleeping away, blissfully unaware a new day had even begun. Letting her mind wander, Denise thought back to the night before and the conversation she and Randa had shared. A smile spread across her lips as she recalled Randa's words, the sound of her voice and the way she breathed down the phone. That certainly was a new experience, she thought and sighed as she recalled the sensations the blonde had managed to instil within her from so far away. She doesn't even have to touch me anymore; I feel so stimulated just thinking about her!
Realising her line of thought was leading towards dangerous territory DJ decided a change of mood was in order. Looking back at the nightstand, her left arm ventured out from under the warmth of her covers and reached for the television remote control lying beside her watch. Denise retrieved the black plastic gadget and snuggled back into the covers while turning on the television. Placing one hand behind her head she commenced flicking though the varied offering of channels.
After monotonous minutes of aimless switching DJ dropped her remote control with a sigh of boredom. She looked at the TV with a frown as an overgrown brown bear pranced around a colourful studio set. God if this doesn't lull me back to a state of comatose I don't know what will! As the bear started singing an inane song about the importance of brushing ones teeth, Denise rolled over and buried her head under her pillow and thought about the coming day.
Today she had the launch, which started early afternoon. It was being held on the second floor of the Belmont in a stylish function room. Carl had taken her down to look over the room the night before and she had been surprised by its elegance. They had even ordered a buffet style lunch to be served after the initial conference and general socialising. Unfortunately the thought of food did nothing to ease DJ's nerves and she seriously hoped she would be able to make it through the event without tripping or spilling her wine!
Standing at her hotel window, dressed in simple black trousers and a blue silk blouse, Denise looked out across the city. Below her window an assortment of cars and buses passed by, constantly disturbing the shallow puddles upon the well-driven roads. They sporadically launched great splashes of rainwater onto the pathways, occasionally hitting unfortunate pedestrians.
Resting her head upon the windowpane Denise looked down and watched the metropolis of life below. It was a far cry from the peace and tranquillity of the rural surroundings of Randa's property. DJ remembered one day in particular in which the distant rumble of a highflying airplane had been the only sound she had heard all day. Bliss.
Drumming her fingers upon the windowsill Denise took one more look at the rainbow in the sky before turning towards her room. Sitting upon the edge of her bed with elbows resting upon his knees Carl Lloyd closely inspected a document detailing Denise's schedule for the following days. He frowned, rubbing his cleanly shaven chin as he placed the document beside him on the bed.
"You have one interview tonight, one tomorrow morning and then two in the afternoon all before you leave to go back to Derbyshire. Then you have three book signings one near your home town, one in Birmingham and one in London."
DJ grimaced as she pushed herself away from the window. "Can we not talk about that now? I would like to get today over with first if you don't mind."
Carl held up his hands as he said, "Point taken. Okay let's just deal with today." He leaned back, bracing his weight upon his hands and slightly bounced upon the bed's surface. "I think yours is more comfortable than mine. They gave Chris and I a water bed and those things make me sea sick."
"Chris?" Denise questioned, "When did Chris get here? I thought she wasn't able to make the launch."
"She arrived late last night after my mum and dad agreed to look after the kids... god help them! She really didn't want to miss this and besides... you know how good she is at mingling. She is down there right now keeping all the guests and press happy until you arrive." Carl arched his eyebrows and looked at Denise expectantly.
"I know, I know." DJ hesitated as her eyes flitted around the hotel room. "I'll just be one moment." Heading towards the far end of the room she disappeared inside the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
The steady drip of a leaking tap broke the otherwise silence of the smaller room. Facing the sink Denise placed both hands upon its rim and looked into the mirror. Uncertain eyes stared back and she closed them, taking a deep breath.
"This is it... there's no turning back now, DJ." Looking back at her reflection she combed long fingers through her hair wishing she hadn't decided against putting it up in a smarter style.
"It's almost half past two, DJ," shouted Carl from the bedroom.
"Okay, okay." Taking one final breath of courage Denise turned from the mirror and walked back out into the bedroom.
Carl smiled. "All ready?"
"I wish Randa could have been here too... god I feel like I'm going to throw up!"
"Once you get down there you will be fine... I know you, DJ."
Quickly swiping an abandoned bottle of mineral water from the wooden dresser, Denise took a drink of the warm liquid. "Right... let's go."
Standing around the room, various sized groups of people stood in conversation. Some of them held small note pads and Dictaphones while others held the advanced copies of her new book. DJ even spotted two men holding rather expensive looking cameras.
From behind the poet Carl peered over her shoulder. "Ready?"
"I suppose it's too late to change my mind?"
"You started the ball rolling, DJ. You have a room full of people all waiting to see whether D Jennings really is a travelling gypsy with a tormented mind!"
Denise laughed. "Well for that purpose alone I might just want to get out there and quash all of those blasted rumours."
"That's my DJ." Carl tapped on the small, square window and Denise watched as Christine Lloyd turned at the sound and approached the door. She slipped outside leaving one foot against the frame to keep the door ajar.
"Ready?" she asked sweeping her long red hair over her shoulders. "The buzz in this room is alive with speculation and expectation. It is quite exciting."
Denise felt her heart rate increase with anticipation. Rubbing sweaty palms upon the cotton material of her trousers she looked once again through the window. "Okay... lets get this started."
With a nod Christine looked back into the room. "I will do a short introduction. I'm sure you will know when it is your cue to enter." Placing one hand briefly upon Denise's arm for reassurance the auburn haired woman nodded quickly - then she was gone.
The poet watched her leave with a wry expression. Between Carl and his wife he was definitely the warmer natured of the pair. DJ had always found she was able to relate better with the editor than his wife even though Christine was the co-owner of the publishing firm and had offered Denise her original contract.
"Here we go," the editor said as his wife stood at the head of the large room and called for silence.
As a hush floated over the room Carl and Denise were able to hear Christine as she began her introduction.
"Well ladies and gentlemen... as you know we are here today for the launch of the fourth anthology of poetry by D Jennings. Being as though this is the first of such promotions, as Miss Jennings has previously preferred to remain away from the public eye, I am sure you can imagine what an exclusive event this is. Now before the general socialising, one on one conversations and dinner... we will be holding a press conference in which Miss Jennings will be answering a selection of your questions."
Denise took a deep breath of warm air and placed her hand upon the gold door handle. Her sweaty palm slipped over the smooth, cold surface. God I hope I don't have to shake any hands.
"And so ladies and gentlemen it is my great pleasure to introduce to you the country's most respected and read author and most successful poet... still living," Christine stated pointedly causing murmurs of humoured acknowledgement to ripple through the gathering. "Miss Denise Jennings..."
An eruption of rapturous applause rose from the crowd and Denise swallowed back a feeling of nausea as she pushed open the door and walked into the room.
The loud echo of rapid clapping suddenly slowed as the gathering received their first glimpse of D Jennings. Feeling a wave of self consciousness wash over her Denise smiled shyly as she made her way through the function room to the once again rising applause. With a nod of acknowledgement Denise took her place behind the table and stood in front of the centre seat. She looked out among the crowd of smiling faces and began to feel a little more at ease. Denise wasn't prepared for the looks of appreciation and respect she saw shining back at her but that in itself helped to calm her nerves and give her the self-assurance she needed. From several positions the flash of cameras sparkled around the room.
As the applause gradually ended, Denise realised she would now have to speak. Keeping her standing position she fought the urge to fold her arms as she began.
"Well as I am sure you can imagine this is all rather overwhelming for me," she smiled, "However I would like to thank everybody for attending this afternoon. I hope we all have a pleasant time... enjoy the meal... but for now I believe you have some questions so why don't we start with them?" As another light applause rose from the gathering Denise took her seat in between Christine and Carl. The editor had discreetly made his way to the front of the room while DJ was talking. Pulling her chair into position, Denise turned to Carl and received a wink of support. She smiled and turned back ready to face the questions.
Hands started to rise and Denise nodded to a middle aged man with a receding hairline.
"Miss Jennings," he began, "Rupert Green, The Times Literary review. I would first like to ask what I am sure we are all most eager to know. Why did you keep your identity so closely guarded and why do you now feel the need to come out into the open?"
Denise entwined her fingers together and placed her hands upon the table. "Well... basically I suppose I was and still am to a point... a little shy. At the time I was comfortable remaining out of the public eye. I was young and had no idea my work would be so positively acknowledged. I've always been a relatively private person."
"So why now?"
"Lots of changes occurred in my life," Denise blinked as another camera flashed in her face. "I realised I could no longer continue to live my life in the rut it was becoming. I had to move on and accept the changes... so I did. Besides I felt it was about time I quashed those rumours about me... and I assure you that I do not possess the tackle of a man!"
Amused chuckles rose from the crowd before hands lifted once again and DJ nodded for another person to speak.
"Miss Jennings, your poetry has recently been included in the high school syllabus. How do you feel about having your work put under the microscope in such a way?"
Denise grinned. "I am very flattered. It was certainly something I never expected but I was pleased nonetheless. I always hoped in some way I would be able to touch somebody with my words. I in no way claim to possess a greater knowledge or desire to hold a status of high regard. They are just my thoughts and feelings. If I am able to touch somebody... in some way and make a positive difference in his or her life then I feel that I have achieved my goal. It is all I have ever wanted."
"Miss Jennings?" A female voice said. "Is one of the changes in your life that you mentioned the death of your aunt, Sara Jennings?"
"Yes it was." Denise answered simply.
"And why did you live with your aunt and not your own parents?"
DJ shuffled uncomfortably in her chair. "My parents died in a house fire when I was ten years old. I lived with Sara... my father's sister from then on."
A chorus of hands rose once again and Denise pointed towards a smartly dressed woman in a navy suit.
"Hello, Miss Jennings. Julia Ford, assistant editor for Passions of Prose Magazine. Is it true you are planning to release your first novel based upon your aunt's life?"
Denise internally rolled her eyes as she answered the woman's question. She had hoped this question would arise though so she could put a stop to the rumours that were travelling around.
A young man quickly raised his hand and asked his question. "After writing just poetry what makes you think you can successfully make the transition into fiction, Miss Jennings?"
"Well... all I can say is that this certainly isn't the first work of fiction I have written. The only difference is that this book will be published under my own name."
"Are you saying you have written under a pen name?" He pushed.
"I'm afraid I am not allowed to answer that question under the restraints of the contract it was written under."
"You've written for somebody else?"
"I'm sorry I am unable to answer that."
Another question arose. "Miss Jennings, in your dedication you included a very personal message to a Miranda Martin."
"Yes?" Denise said simply.
"Are we to believe this was a declaration of your sexual preference?"
Here we go, the poet thought. She had wondered how long it would take before this line of questioning commenced. "It wasn't so much a declaration of that as it was quite simply a affirmation of my feelings for Randa."
"So you are in a relationship with this woman?"
Denise felt her hackles rise at the way the reporter described Randa. "Yes, I am in a relationship with Randa. Very happily so."
From beneath the table Denise felt Carl squeeze her knee in a show of support. "There has to be at least one!" He muttered, lowering his head. The brunette refrained from smirking as another body rose from the crowd.
"Miss Jennings, what would you say to those who state that revealing your sexuality along with your identity was nothing more than a publicity stunt?"
Fighting the urge to pound her head upon the table, Denise leaned forward. "I would say they are wrong. My reasons were purely personal and simply part of a transition within my life."
"And you are not afraid this will alienate your fans... the people who admire you and your work... and who gave you this success?"
DJ looked around the room before answering. "I suppose that if they really are fans then it shouldn't make any difference. My writing is all they knew of me. I will never claim to be anything I am not. The fact that I fell in love with a woman was due to the wonderful person that she is... it had little to do with her gender."
"Is she here today?" A voice called out.
"No, Randa had to work," Denise said.
A young woman sitting in the front row raised her hand. "Miss Jennings, I work for the Daily Edition." Denise instantly recognised the name of her local Derbyshire newspaper. "We recently received an anonymous letter stating your rumoured forthcoming book based upon your aunt's life..."
"Though it is not," Denise interrupted feeling suddenly concerned.
"Well yes... but the letter stated that some facts you include in this book will be fabricated or will only tell half of the truth about Sara Jennings. The letter leads us to believe that either you are hiding certain facts or you are ignorant of them."
With a frown Denise turned towards Carl who looked back with an expression of concerned confusion. Biting the corner of her lower lip DJ looked back to the assembly of expectant faces. "I don't see any relevance this will hold to the book as it is just fiction. As for my aunt... well apart from the fact that I assure you that I do know all aspects of her life... I don't necessarily think they are other people's concern. My aunt passed away after falling victim to a terrible disease and I would like to pay her the respect she is due by not bringing her personal life under scrutiny." Denise paused as she felt a tight ball of emotion swell within her. She took a deep steadying breath before continuing. "I hope you will understand how tough this was for us all and show Sara the respect she deserves by letting her rest in peace."
As a quiet applause ascended from the crowd of guests, Denise let a small smile of thanks past her lips. Please change the subject, she thought as the sound died.
"Miss Jennings?" A young man with ash blonde hair emerged from the gathering. "First of all I would just like to say that I am a fan of your work and I would very much like to know where do you gain your inspiration?"
DJ sighed internally as she delivered a winning smile and answered the man's question.
The conference progressed smoothly from then on but from within the crowd cold, blue eyes stared penetratingly into Denise disguising the hurt and animosity that was bubbling so heatedly within.
Five thousand miles away, Randa was finding it difficult to concentrate on the myriad of tasks she had assigned herself for the day. The tasks were designed to keep her mind anyplace but on Denise in her first public appearance and press conference. The herb garden was weeded, the cracked mopboard in the living room was replaced and small cucumbers were soaking in brine well on their way to becoming pickles. During all the tasks though, the nurse's mind returned time and time again to Denise.
Randa knew why Denise had emerged from the shadows. The poet's dedication in Connecting Hearts showed the nurse the depth of DJ's love and the strength of her commitment. The decision to continue into the light was part and parcel of that action. Now Randa felt a huge responsibility to make Denise's transition to being a public figure as painless as possible. To that end she tried to give the poet all the love and support she would need in the changes about to happen to her.
Randa looked at her watch for the thousandth time, realizing Denise was still in the middle of the publicity activities in Manchester. She knew it would be some time before she would be able to call the poet and find out how the day had gone. I feel so damn helpless sitting on the porch steps in Silver Valley when I know Denise is putting herself and her work out on the line.
Randa thought about the conversation she had with Denise yesterday. At least she thought about the part of the conversation they had before Randa's libido had sat up and clambered for attention. God, I've never done that before. I'm glad Denise just went with me on it. Phone sex, one more thing off life's little to-do list! The nurse smiled to herself at the memory.
Randa was a little bothered by something that Denise had mentioned. Why would someone write to say if they knew the whole truth about Sara they wouldn't want to publish the book? The blonde knew Denise had fictionalised Sara's life, the story was to be light-hearted and inspirational, not a biography. If you discarded the way the book was written you still had the glaring fact that someone was trying to blacken Sara's name. Randa felt her protective nature rise; Sara had been a good friend to her as well as Denise's aunt and mentor.
Standing from the back porch steps and brushing off her denim shorts, Randa moved through the screen door into the house lost in thought. It wasn't until she stopped at her desk and spied the phone that Randa had an idea. Maybe there's someone who can shed a little light on this whole thing. Finding the number, the nurse dialed then listened as the connection was made.
"Diane, hi. It's Randa."
"Randa! It's always lovely to hear from you. How are you, dear?"
"Fine, Diane. Denise and I are both fine. I know she'll tell you herself when she comes up to Derbyshire for the book signing. She said she definitely wanted to have a good visit with you."
"I'll be looking forward to that, it's been a while since we've had the chance to just sit and chat. We did quite a bit of that when Sara was still alive."
Diane had been Sara's best friend and, as Randa had learned after the older Jennings' death, much more important to Sara than that. Sara had been in love with Diane though circumstances that Randa wasn't sure of had kept them apart.
"I envy you those times, Diane. It seemed like I just got to know Sara when she lost her ability to speak and then died. I wish I'd known her better." Randa wasn't sure what she was fishing for but if anyone knew something about Sara that Denise didn't, it would be Diane.
"What was Sara like when she was younger? You two met in college didn't you?"
"Oh, yes!" Diane chuckled. "I haven't thought about those days in such a long time. I had just moved to London which in the late 1950's was a very exciting place..."
Sara Jennings folded the piece of paper yet again after scratching through another entry on it. This would be the seventh flat for let she'd seen that day. The list of possible rentals was dwindling rapidly. It never fails; either the flat is nice and the flatmate is strange or the person is fine but the flat is a disaster she thought.
Sara's patience was wearing thin. It was Wednesday and she needed to get her living arrangements settled before classes started on the next Monday. Staying with Geoff and Alice Spicer, friends of her brother, was only a temporary solution. The Spicers were a lovely couple but spending the next few terms with them in their tiny extra bedroom wasn't the university experience she had been hoping for.
The young woman looked around as she walked down the street toward the next address on the list gleaned from the bulletin boards around the campus. The neighborhood was older but seemed well cared for. There were pensioners as well as young mothers pushing apple-cheeked infants in their prams. The brilliant blue of Sara's eyes observed all this as she stopped briefly to straighten her scarf around her dark brunette hair. Checking her look in the reflection of the chemist's shop window, she was satisfied with her appearance. Her coat was clean though slightly worn, a testament to her working class background.
Her father had been a tailor before being killed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 when Sara had been just eight years old. Her mother used the training from her wartime job as a military camp cook to earn a job as a cook at the university in Birmingham. Sara and her brother Daniel who was four years her elder, grew up on the campus. It was there she discovered a love of books and learning, eventually deciding to pursue the dream of becoming a teacher. Daniel had decided on a career in architecture and had just returned to Birmingham after completing his final term at college in Manchester. He had recently become engaged to a lovely young woman by the name of Angelina and they planned to marry in a few months after he became established with the local company that had hired him.
Sara was glad her brother was so happy with his life but in her heart she knew that his kind of life was not for her. She wanted to see more of England and the world than the city she grew up in. After long discussions with her mother it was decided Sara would attend the university in London to work toward her teaching degree. Daniel had contacted a school friend and Sara was given a part-time job in the law office Geoff Spicer worked in.
That brought her to this day and the thus far futile hunt for a suitable flat. Drawing herself up to her full five foot nine height, she moved along the sidewalk when a small sign in a downstairs window caught her eye. Flatmate wanted, third floor it said simply.
Deciding she had nothing lose, Sara went up three steps into the building and from there up the stairs to the only flat on the third floor. Taking a deep breath and sending a little prayer skyward, the brunette knocked on the door. There was a short interval and the door swung open allowing the sound of Doris Day's "Secret Love" to filter out into the hallway. Friendly brown eyes peered up at Sara from behind small wire framed glasses. A bob of light brown hair topped a five foot four frame.
"Good afternoon. I've come about the sign in the window downstairs."
"Right. Well, I'm Diane Chamberlain and I'm the one looking for a flatmate. Sorry the sign downstairs didn't say any more but with Mrs. O'Neal as the resident on that floor I was lucky to get anything posted at all. Actually, I was going to post a notice at the university this afternoon. Are you attending there?"
"I start on Monday," Sara nodded. "I'm Sara Jennings, by the way. Can I take a look at the place? If it's convenient of course."
"Oh, certainly. Please come in. It's a little small but there are two bedrooms. The bathroom is shared. The place isn't new but everything seems to work just fine. I've only been here two weeks myself."
"Really?" asked Sara. "Where are you from?"
"Derbyshire, a little town you wouldn't have heard of. How about you?"
"Birmingham." Sara noted a little record player with a stack of 45's next to it. On a large chair next to the record player a book was propped open, obviously in the process of being read.
"Peyton Place? I wonder if the required reading list will include that book?"
Diane blushed prettily. "If it doesn't, it should!"
Sara laughed with Diane. She glanced around the flat and was charmed by it and the cute woman who would be her flatmate. "Listen, Diane, I suppose I should do this the correct way. I should go home and think it over, haggle on the rent a little and get back to you in a day or two, but I have a good feeling about this. If you don't have any objection, I'd like to move in and share this place with you."
Diane cocked her head a little to the side, looked up at the taller woman then broke into a small grin. "It might be nice to have someone around who could reach the top shelves at that." She extended her hand to Sara who took the warm appendage in hers and shook it.
"Welcome home, Sara."
Randa hung up after talking with Diane. Glancing at her watch, the nurse thought it was probably late enough that Denise would be finished with the press conference and other publicity obligations. She reached for the phone again to call the poet and find out how her day had gone. Though she hadn't learned anything dark or scandalous about Sara Randa felt she was right. If there was something in Sara's past that Denise didn't know about, Diane did.
Moving her gaze back inside the carriage, Denise looked around the sparsely populated compartment. Apart from a harried looking elderly gentlemen with three children, a woman surrounded by shopping bags and a smartly dressed businessman reading the daily broadsheets, the carriage was otherwise empty. Many of its yellow, green and red patterned seats were left unused. The poet thought that it must have been the slowest part of the day - transportation wise. She grimaced as she studied the appalling pattern upon the seats, glad that in her black jacket she didn't clash with the mix of colours.
Taking a drink of the overly strong coffee, Denise reflected back over the last two days. The initial book launch had progressed incredibly well. She had spoken to many people who had seemed genuinely interested in wanting to talk to her and ask about her writing. Denise had decided that being the centre of attention wasn't nearly as ominous as she had considered it to be. So much so that Denise had agreed with the producer of a famous literary program on channel-two television to appear as a guest. The Open Book was a Monday evening programme that discussed forthcoming publications, reviewed new books and interviewed guest authors. DJ had been aware that they had discussed her on several editions of the show and the producer was thrilled that she agreed to an interview. The only trouble was the scheduling and date of her appearance and Denise acknowledged that she might have to return back to England at a later date. She hoped Randa would be able to accompany her for that as she was positive Randa would have a wonderful time; plus there was the fact that Randa's presence always increased the poet's own confidence.
Staring down at the black sludge the rail company called 'coffee' DJ sighed and pushed the white container away. However much she had enjoyed the interviews and mixing with a variety of people she was happy to be returning home to Derbyshire. A part of her had missed the place she had lived all of her life and spent so many happy years. Of course the house did, towards the end, hold much less happy memories but Denise experienced a feeling of closure the nearer home she travelled.
The train arrived at Matlock station just before two o'clock in the afternoon, one hour behind schedule. Lugging her suitcase and carryon DJ strolled through the station's terminal and out into the main street. Approaching the curb she spotted a row of waiting taxicabs and headed in their direction. Reaching the nearest one Denise climbed into the back and soon found herself on the long car journey home.
An hour later the car's brakes screeched to a halt outside the ex-miners cottage. The building looked very much the same as how she had left it over two months before except for an overgrowth of untamed weeds. However, the rose bush in the centre of the small lawn was in full bloom and deep red flowers stood out boldly against the dark brick house.
Paying the driver, DJ lugged her cases out of the car and headed towards the front door. Taking keys from her jacket pocket she unlatched the lock and walked into the house. DJ had expected the alarm to chime out its warning but only silence greeted her. With a curious frown DJ placed her luggage by the far wall and walked into the living room. The curtains were wide open and a fresh yet artificial scent clung to the surprisingly warm air. Instantly having an inkling as to the reason behind this, Denise listened carefully. The sound of a door closing closely followed by the tinkering of metal against porcelain drew her further into the house.
Not wanting to scare the person she now knew was in the kitchen, Denise called out softly, "Hello?"
"DJ?" A recognisable voice called back.
With a smile of acknowledgement Denise stepped into the kitchen to find Diane in the middle of preliminary preparations for a dinner. "This is a surprise," she said.
Diane smiled as she dropped her knife and moved to engulf Denise in a welcoming hug. "I thought I would just come over here... air out the house and prepare you something to eat ready for your return home." Diane pulled back and looked up at the poet, holding her at arms length. "Well look at you! I think the American climate agrees with you. You are looking well."
"Thank you." DJ studied the older woman closer wishing she could say the same but Diane was looking undoubtedly frail. "How are you feeling?" The poet asked, concerned as she took notice of the smaller woman's pale skin and withered features. It was obvious the slight woman had lost weight.
"Oh you know... I can't complain."
DJ nodded as she asked, "And how is Shell?"
"Stationed in Germany at the moment. I get regular calls from her. When I told her you were coming back from the U.S. for a while she told me to give you her best." Diane moved back over to the work surface and continued preparing her vegetables.
Shrugging out of her jacket, Denise hung it upon the back of one of the kitchen's pine chairs. "You don't have to do this, Di. I very much appreciate you preparing the house for me and looking after it while I was away but you really don't have to make any food. I was just going to call one of the local takeaway restaurants."
"And you wonder why I do this!" Diane shook her head with a smile. "Humour an old woman, DJ." She handed the poet a large knife and said, "How about you help slice those potatoes?"
"No problem." Accepting the black handled knife, Denise commenced her slicing.
"So how was the press conference? I haven't had time to read about it yet but I presume there will be a feature in the Daily Edition."
DJ sighed as she placed her sliced potatoes into a large saucepan of cold water. "It was mad! I don't mind admitting that I was terrified. My palms had sprung a leak and my stomach was doing the tango." Denise chucked to herself as she continued. "But it was alright. I had a couple of difficult questions but I think everything went very well. Even the one on one interviews were okay. Anyway it was a hectic couple of days but I am glad to be back in Derbyshire. I now have three book signings over the next three days. I'll stay here but travel down to London for the signing tomorrow. Then come back in the evening for the second signing in Derby the day after."
"And you have time to eat... when?"
DJ rolled here eyes. "I'll fit it in. Maybe we should make extra, put it in containers and store them in the freezer!"
With a smirk Diane lifted a small collection of Tupperware lunch boxes. "I spoke to Randa on the telephone yesterday. She gold me you had a busy schedule so I thought I would make sure you were taking care of yourself... besides, Randa asked whether I would mind doing so."
Placing her hands upon slim hips Denise pretended affront saying, "Is there a conspiracy going on behind my back? She never told me that when we spoke yesterday."
"Must have slipped her mind."
The poet narrowed her eyes. "Hmm!" Looking back down at the selection of vegetables upon the work surface Denise opened a bag of runner beans. "Okay... let's carry on preparing the food. You will join me for dinner wont you?"
"I would love to. You can tell me all about the press conference while we eat."
"Deal." DJ replied as she began preparing the beans.
In a moment of companionable silence, DJ's mind wandered back to the book launch. The questions asked by the reporter who worked for the Daily Edition had remained in the forefront of her mind. It wasn't so much the fact that she believed Sara did have a shady past, as it was that somebody had taken time to write the letters. If there was a feeling that unsettled her it was the notion some unknown person seemed to have grievances against Sara and herself - and she had no idea why.
Lifting a large saucepan Denise placed it upon the gas stove. She looked back at Diane and wondered whether she should tell the older woman about the letters. Shaking her head DJ picked up a box of matches from a side shelf and pulled one of the small sticks from the box. Lighting the match she turned on the appropriate knob and lit the ring, blowing out the matchstick's flame once done. Denise knew she couldn't tell Diane about the letters. Not wanting to worry or upset her aunt's friend she considered it the best move to make
"So," Diane said, interrupting DJ's chain of thoughts. "Tell me all about America. Randa tells me you turned into a bit of a sun worshiper." Diane looked the poet up and down. "I see she wasn't kidding," Diane teased causing DJ to laugh and temporarily pull her mind from the concerns that were plaguing her consciousness.
Today was the nationwide release of her new anthology and she was in London to mark the occasion by signing copies in the country's capital. Pushing her hands into the dark blue denim of her jeans DJ observed the waiting line of people, unseen. She could identify copies of her previous two books held by certain people in the queue.
From behind, Denise heard a door open and she turned to see Carl strolling into the staff office. A wide smile lit up his sparkling eyes and Denise groaned, wondering what had excited the editor this time. Folding her arms, DJ sucked her front tooth as she arched her eyebrows - waiting.
"Do you have any idea how far that queue reaches?" Carl exclaimed.
"Around the corner?"
"Around the corner! Are you kidding? Around the corner, across the road, down the jetty and all the way to Timbuktu!" Carl sat down upon a large brown leather couch against the wall. He placed one arm over the back of the couch as he said, "I went out and wandered among the waiting people. I tell you, DJ that article about you in the Times was one hell of a write up. I think the fact that they included a picture of D Jennings may have slightly increased your popularity!"
"Ugh," Denise groaned and let her body fall onto the couch beside Carl. "I didn't know they were including a picture although I suppose they would."
Carl wiggled his eyebrows. "It was a great article, DJ. I'm not surprised there are so many people out there. I would be if I didn't have your signature on a million and one documents back at the office."
"So how are you feeling? You don't seem as nervous as you did a couple of days ago."
With a shrug the poet rose from the couch and walked back to the window. "Taking it all in my stride. It's all I can do. You were right, Carl. I did start the ball rolling so I suppose I have to go with the flow."
"Hmm." Carl followed Denise to the window as he adjusted his navy tie. "Did you sign all the advanced ordered copies?"
"Yes... it warmed up my wrist for the scribbling marathon I am about to partake in. Randa would have loved this. I wish she could have seen the crowd! Plus I bet she would have loved shopping in the capital. We could have visited Harrods!"
"Oh I'm not too sure about that," Carl replied.
The editor sniggered. "Well it's just that I overheard a group of women out there who were not only commenting on your literary mind but also your physical attributes. Randa doesn't suffer from a bout of the green-eyed monster does she?"
"Umm... well not that I am aware." Denise looked at Carl dubiously. "Really? They were saying that?"
"Yep," Carl answered, simply deciding not to tell DJ that he had also overheard the women daring each other as to who would have the courage to ask the poet for a kiss. He had to move away from the group after that, finding himself unable to hold back his amusement.
An expected knock drew both editor and author away from their personal musings. Carl nodded as a tall thin woman entered the staff room. Her head of short brown hair was peppered with grey and she wore a pair of spectacles around her neck suspended by a silver chain. She smiled warmly as she said, "Everything is ready... if you are, Miss Jennings?"
Carl looked at Denise expectantly. "DJ?"
"As I'll ever be," the poet replied before following Carl and the bookstore manager to the staff's elevator.
Stepping inside the wide compartment Carl looked at Denise with an amused smile. "Did I tell you that since the article in the Times we've had orders for your books from certain..." he held up his hands and made little quotation marks with his fingers, as he said, "...Women's book shops." DJ frowned causing Carl to sigh exasperatedly. "You know...'women's books shops'. Don't make me have to spell it out for you, DJ." At the poets still confused look Carl shook his head. "Ugh god! You know... women... shops just for women... aimed at your specific gender. Umm... for women who like um... women."
Unable to hold her stoic confusion Denise grinned inanely.
"You are an evil woman, Denise Jennings," Carl growled but chuckled at the poet's behaviour. "You just love to make me squirm," he said as the bookstore manager laughed at the pair's behaviour.
"Not really, you are just too easy to tease sometimes," DJ replied. The elevator doors opened to the bookstore's ground floor and they walked out into the main shop.
Casting a swift glance to the corner of the store, DJ briefly observed Carl. The editor had kept his position out of the lime light but had eagerly watched the events with an enthusiastic smile. Her brows furrowed together as she noticed an almost evil smirk etch its way onto Carl's features. Wrinkling her brow further DJ followed Carl's line of sight to where the next group of people were approaching her table. She looked back at Carl to see the editors smile widen. When he noticed Denise watching him he looked away quickly - the picture of innocence. Okay... what is he up to?
Turning back to a group of women approaching the table Denise delivered a friendly smile. "Hi," she said as four women reached her.
They seemed to smile nervously before the first woman; a tall brunette with large brown eyes placed her copy of her book onto the table. "I adore your writing," she said, "I wrote a paper in College on your poem 'Untitled too'. I received an A for it."
Denise chuckled as she pulled the book towards her and opened the cover. "That was quite a long one."
"Yes and fascinating... very fantastical. I always wanted to know what you were thinking when you wrote that."
Restraining laughter as she signed her name DJ said, "Probably not a lot... alcohol can do that to you!"
"Ah," the brunette smiled, "Well that explains it." Leaning forward she placed a small slip of paper upon the table.
Denise looked down at the note curiously and just suppressed an exclamation of surprise as the young woman kissed her cheek. As soft lips drew away from her DJ looked back at the brunette to see her wink before picking up her book and strolling away. She noticed the woman give her friends a 'thumbs up' and felt a blush tint her cheeks. Looking back at Carl she noticed the man laughing in the corner.
With an indignant glare she mouthed, "You wait."
Carl grinned as he beckoned the poet with wiggling fingers and burst into laughter once again.
Rubbing the side of her nose to hide her embarrassed smile Denise looked back at the waiting line. She ignored the slip of paper that held the brunettes name and telephone number. Okay... Now I wonder what Randa will say to that.
"Put your lips on Denise again and somebody is going to get slapped!" Randa yelled at the television set.
The nurse was no longer sure that the satellite system she'd had installed earlier that morning was quite the good thing she expected it was going to be. Instead of being a surprise way of letting Denise keep up with what was happening in England, it had been Randa on the end of the news.
In checking out the British television channels to see which ones would be accessible to the poet, Randa had been interrupted in her channel surfing by the sudden appearance of the startling blue eyes of Denise herself. The news program that was on apparently had a report on the world of the arts. The announcer was talking about the successful book signing earlier in the day that the poet D Jennings had done in London. A line of people waiting to meet Denise was shown then came the infamous shot of a fan kissing Denise on the cheek. The sharp eyes of the nurse did not miss the slip of paper placed in front of DJ before the kiss occurred.
As the report ended, Randa used the remote to shut the system down. A quick glance at the clock showed the nurse she had just enough time to set up the other surprise she had for Denise. No rush. What is it that they say? Revenge is a dish best served cold.
The nurse flipped her computer on and when it had booted, she ran the disk for the new hardware. Once the hardware was installed she restarted her computer, connected to the Internet and waited. She didn't have to wait long.
Within five minutes, a rapping noise let Randa know that Denise was online also. As prearranged, they had both downloaded the same Instant Messenger program to use while the poet was in Derbyshire. To chat in real time on the computer would save them money as well as allowing Randa to chat while on the job if she wasn't busy.
The IM box popped up.
Hi love, how was your day? came the message from Denise.
Very enlightening. Randa typed. How was yours? How did the book signing go?
It was very busy. Lots of interesting people out there buying the book. Nothing special though.
Must have been boring for you. Wasn't there anything to break up the monotony?
No, not really. You know me, nothing but work, work, work.
Randa had to laugh. She wasn't really upset at the events at the book signing. She knew that loving someone who looked like Denise Jennings was going to have its tough moments, but the hell they'd walked through together made her confident of their love. It was adorable that the poet would try and shield her from the actions of that one fan but it wasn't necessary. I'm a big girl, Denise. It's time to show you how adult I am.
Denise, do you have your computers speakers on? The nurse typed
After a moment, DJ replied "Yes, why?
Click on the button above the chat screen marked webcam. Randa booted the webcam and put the image of herself up into one corner of the computer screen.
Wow! Typed DJ. Randa noted there was one viewer of her webcam. When did you get this?
"This morning, do you like it?" Randa said into the webcam's microphone.
That's amazing! I've got to get one for here so we can chat face to face!
"Now, Denise, as I assume I have your complete attention I'd like to ask you about a little incident that happened at the book signing. Did you honestly think I wouldn't find out about that woman kissing you? I'm assuming her phone number was on that piece of paper she slipped you," Randa teased.
Randa, I didn't encourage her or anything! was the swift reply.
"I know that, love," Randa stated smoothly. "Why would you want her when this is waiting at home for you?" Randa checked the camera angle with a quick glance to the screen and slowly began unbuttoning the cotton shirt she had on.
Randa, don't! flashed on the IM screen.
"Why not? If British womanhood is giving all for their poets the least this American can do is give my all as well." Randa slipped the shirt from her shoulder revealing a black lacy bra that enhanced her attributes nicely.
Randa, stop! How do you turn this thing off?
"Why would I want you to turn it off when I'm just getting started turning you on?" Randa opened the top hook on the front closing bra and smiled saucily into the camera.
Randa, Diane is here. She says to say hello and she loves the IM feature I brought her up to the study to see.
The smile froze on Randa's face as she quickly shut down the webcam. Dropping her head to the keyboard she flushed a fire engine red in embarrassment. Why does nothing like this ever work out for me? First it was Sara, now its Diane. Why don't I just see if I can get on British TV and humiliate myself in front of the whole nation instead of one person at a time?
Randa? Randa, are you still there? The nurse read the line as she lifted her head.
Nope, I'm not here. I've expired from mortification! She typed back.
Randa, Diane's not here. I was just teasing you because you were teasing me. I like it when you do that. Will you tease me a little more? With the camera on of course. I rather like it!
For an instant Randa was poised to fire off an irritated response to Denise's last note, but then a small smile crept over her features. She remembered how hard it had been for DJ to loosen up in the first place and how she loved it when the poet showed her sense of humor. She wasn't going to have her change now. Randa reached for the mouse and reactivated the webcam. So, Ms. Jennings, you want teasing? I can most definitely do that!
For a short while after Denise had logged off her computer, Randa remained online. Might as well check the e-mail before I get some rest before my shift on the Network tonight.
Opening the Inbox revealed several forwarded jokes from her mother, a little spam and a newsletter dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Since the time Sara had been afflicted and died from the dreaded disease, Randa had tried to learn as much about it as possible. Keeping up with newsletters and information sites helped her understand a little better what Sara had faced.
This particular newsletter talked about grants being given and the research being done in the field. At the very end of the e-mail though was a small section entitled "Incidence". The nurse read on and discovered some very disturbing facts that sent a chill through to her bones. The information was about the incidence of ALS in America, but Randa thought the incidence of MND, as it was known in Europe, would probably be the same. It seemed each year over five thousand new cases of ALS were diagnosed in the U.S. Of those, approximately ninety to ninety-five percent were "sporadic", but five to ten percent were "familial". That was the word that chilled the nurse. In cases where the disease was familial, where one or more family members had the disease, there was a fifty percent chance that children would inherit the mutated gene and develop the disease.
Randa knew Denise's parents had been killed in the house fire and her grandfather had been killed in action in World War Two. She desperately needed more information on the poet's family.
God, please don't let me have to tell Denise she faces the risk of going through the same thing that Sara did. After all she went through, that would be too cruel. The nurse closed her e-mail and sat numbly before the computer, trembling a little at the possibility.
Being away from the country's capital Denise never expected there to be as many people at her second book signing. She was half right. Although there weren't as many as in London the poet realised that it would still take her several hours to get through the sitting. The signing in London had taken a total of just over five hours. By the time she had finished, Denise joked that she was positive she would soon develop a case of 'repetitive strain injury' in her left wrist.
Being a Saturday morning, the city of Derby was alive with activity. Every store was open and the streets were bursting with shoppers and groups of children passing the time. People whisked through the city centre immersed in their own worlds and offered no form of apology if they should collide with others. The smell of numerous fast food restaurants and the familiar sound of voices and transportation engines filled the atmosphere. The only sight that strayed from the norm was the large queue forming out of the city's major bookstore.
Hidden in an enclosed corner of the department and looking through a tinted glass window, Denise watched the line of waiting people. Standing with an arm resting upon Carl's shoulder she shook her head.
"I had no idea."
"What?" Carl asked as he re-buttoned his suit jacket. "That you would make this kind of impact? That so many people would want to meet you?"
Denise moved her arm as the editor adjusted his clothing. "Hmm." She looked her friend up and down. "I don't think I have ever seen you without a suit or at least a tie. Do you even own a pair of jeans, Carl?"
"Of course I do," Carl defended. "What about you? Do you own a dress at all?"
The poet frowned in thought. "You know... I have absolutely no idea. I can't even remember". She laughed and looked out of the window. "It's a Saturday morning, Carl. You really don't have to be here today. Not that I don't appreciate your support but I am aware you have a wife and brood of offspring at home. I don't want to dominate your time now do I?"
"I want to be here," Carl insisted. "I have been waiting on this day for years. Besides, who else is going to keep an eye on you for Randa? What if in a moment of weakness and due to the fact that you miss her you might..."
"Never..." DJ interrupted, "it will never happen, Carl."
"Yes, well... it was worth it just to see you blush. I have never seen that before. You should have seen your face when that brunette kissed you. I wish I had a camera."
Covering her eyes, Denise groaned. "Ugh, give it a rest, Carl. At least I didn't pocket her phone number." She cast a suspicious glare towards the editor.
"Oh go on will you... I was just removing the note so nobody else would take advantage of it. Anyway what possible use would I have for those digits? I got the distinct impression that I was not her... flavour... if you know what I mean!"
"Flavour?" Denise asked confused.
Carl sighed. "Oh come on, DJ. I am a bloke you know. I don't have an aversion to watching those late night porn..."
"Hold it... okay I get you, Carl." Denise smiled with a touch of malice. "If I were you I would quit before others feel the need to change their opinions of you."
"Like you don't..."
"Carl!" Denise lowered her head and stared at the editor through long lashes. She poked his chest with her index finger and said, "Your arse is this close to receiving a personal visitation from my foot."
The blonde man held up his hands. "Okay, okay... point taken." Grinning, he looked down at his watch. "It's almost half nine. Are you ready to get out there?"
"Bring it on," Denise exclaimed and together with Carl she walked out onto the main shop floor.
The store was not yet open. It had been agreed with the manager that the shop would open half an hour later in preparation for DJ's signing and the amount of people believed to be turning up. In that point they were not disappointed. Denise looked around at her surroundings. The store held many alcoves, each dedicated to a specific genre of literature. The ground floor held the majority of the fiction titles. In the centre of the wide area a large staircase and elevator were situated that led to the second and third floor. The poet had been captured by their design when she first entered the building. The staircase spiralled up and around the elevator casing and in itself stood as a feature of the bookstore.
Moving her gaze along the numerous rows of books Denise looked to the far end of the shop floor. Reminiscent of the day before, a large table had been set up for her signing. To the right was a display area holding many copies of her latest anthology. She looked back at Carl who was busy searching through large table entitled 'Bargain Books.'
"By the way," Denise said as she peered over his shoulder, "Randa knew about that woman anyway."
"Really?" Carl looked up surprised. "You told her?"
Shaking her head Denise pulled Carl away from the table and continued her approach to the signing area. "Nope, she's only gone and installed satellite television so I can get Brit shows in the US. She saw it on a news item."
"Unlucky!" Carl laughed. "Was she pissed?"
"She was actually okay about it." Smiling in memory, DJ thought back to the conversation she'd had with Randa the night before. It had been the nurse's idea to communicate through their computers even though Denise had assured her that she would pay any long distance telephone costs. She even tried to encourage Randa to call her reversed charges but Randa still insisted on other less expensive means. Besides, using Randa's new toy had turned out to be an amusing event and she had never been able to resist teasing the blonde.
Positioning herself upon the corner of the table DJ glanced at Carl. The editor had taken a detour from the signing area. He was now heading back towards her accompanied by a smartly dressed woman in a pinstriped suit with long blonde hair.
"DJ, this is Kay Blackwood; the store manager."
Oops! Rising from the table sheepishly Denise held out her hand. "Hi."
"Miss Jennings, it's an honour to have you here today."
"No problem." Denise smiled politely. "So I take it we are ready to get under way?" The poet made a show of flexing her hand, causing the other two to smile. "I'm ready and raring to go."
The manager looked around the store. "I presume I shouldn't leave the queue waiting any longer... so yes, I do believe we are ready." With a polite nod Kay Blackwood walked off in the direction of the main doors.
Carl watched her leave with a grin. Letting his head fall to the side his eyes rested upon the woman's retreating behind. Denise caught his line of sight and rolled her eyes. Reaching out she grabbed the blonde man's ear and pulled him around to the back of the desk.
"Ouch, Ouch, Ouch! Bloody hell! DJ, are you trying to pull it off?" He rubbed his ear with a low hanging lip.
"No, I was just going to remind you about that gold band around your finger!" DJ lifted his left hand and tapped his wedding ring.
"Nothing wrong with looking." Carl straightened his blue, two-toned checked tie. "I would never be unfaithful to Chris. 'I' wouldn't even allow another woman to kiss me."
DJ sat down behind the desk and let her feet rest upon the wooden surface. "Jealous?"
"Yes!" Carl smiled as he said, "Anyway... no matter what I say I know that woman would still of had more chance with me than you!"
Understanding his meaning Denise nodded. "You are bloody right there, Carl. There is only one person for me!"
Denise frowned. "Who?"
"Randa... you... the both of you. You know that I..." Carl paused as he caught movement in the corner of his eye. He looked across the shop floor. "Looks like you are in business!"
Eyes wide, Denise pulled her feet from the table and sat up straight. A flood of people began to filter into the shop. "Let the madness begin!"
Draining the remaining water from her bottle Denise looked over to the queue. Two of the remaining three walked over and she smiled wondering how they would act. Denise had found she was able to put them into a number of categories. There were the shy people who blushed more than spoke. The stunned people who seemed more surprised to see her than anything. The exuberant people who talked non-stop and felt the need to ask her as many questions as they could, and of course the small group of opportunists who flirted with Denise and even propositioned her for a night out. Though the poet did admit that they were mostly women she wondered whether any of them had actually taken her dedication to Randa seriously!
A mother and young daughter stopped by DJ's table and the poet looked up expectantly.
"Umm." The woman placed her copy of the book down and froze.
Denise opened the front cover as she looked back and forth between the mother and daughter. "What would you like me to write?"
Seeing no response from her mother the young girl said, "You can write 'to mum and your name'."
Denise smiled as she leaned forward in her chair. "I don't think I can call your mum... 'Mum'!" She smiled at the mother politely, noticing she was still rather quiet. DJ looked back at the girl, "You will have to tell me her name."
The young girl giggled. "It's Clair."
"Okay." Denise said as she signed her book. "Nice pigtails, by the way."
"My mum did them." The little girl smiled and looked up at her mother.
DJ nodded as she handed her book back to the woman with a smile.
"Thank you," she said. "Sorry."
"No problem." Denise winked at the young girl. "Have a good day."
The girl waved as her mother led her away and Denise chuckled as another book was placed in front of her. Still smiling she looked up into light blue eyes framed by red wavy hair. "Hi."
"Maggie." The woman said simply.
"Umm... okay." Furrowing her brow, Denise opened the book and signed her name. She looked back at the redhead and pushed her anthology over the surface of the table. A silence stretched out between them as Denise waited for her to either speak or take the book and leave. When the woman did neither the poet's expression changed to one of confusion. She didn't want to appear impolite but the way in which the woman was looking at her was beginning to feel disconcerting.
"Is there something...?"
"You think you know everything about her?" Maggie interrupted, "But do you know who I am?"
"I um..." as what the woman was saying sunk into her mind, clarity hit DJ and she realised she was facing the writer of the anonymous letters. Denise rose to her feet. "You," she said, "You wrote the letters?"
"You don't know who I am... why would you?" Maggie continued.
Denise studied the redhead carefully. She didn't understand what Maggie was saying. "Look, I think you may have your wires crossed here. I have no idea what you are trying to imply and for that matter what you are even talking about. I really don't appreciate..."
"Oh, you don't appreciate?" Maggie interrupted again, "I bet it has always been about you and what you want, hasn't it?"
Confused, Denise asked, "What?"
"Why would she want you and not me?" Maggie leaned closer to the poet. "What is so special about you?"
Confusion clouding her mind, Denise sighed in frustration. "Look, why don't you just explain yourself or leave? I really don't have time to stand here and play mind games with you. What do you want?" DJ thought back to the words in the letters. "What do you mean about Sara? What truth?"
Maggie looked at the poet in surprise. "You really don't have any idea, do you?"
"What?" DJ growled in frustration.
Looking at the poet evenly the redhead said, "I'm Sara's daughter."
DJ blinked as Maggie's words filtered into her mind. She snorted and shook her head. "I was told to expect this kind of thing but that was low."
"You think I am lying?"
"You really don't want to know what I think." Turning away sharply Denise picked up her pen and pulled her black jacket from the back of the chair. Folding the garment over her arm she turned to walk away but found her elbow caught in a strong grip. The poet's angry blue eyes turned to look back at Maggie. "Let go of my arm."
"No, not until you listen to what I have to say. Believe me this was just as much a surprise to me as it is to you. How do you think I feel knowing that that woman abandoned me? Now I see she lied to you too."
With a growl Denise pulled her arm out of Maggie's grasp. "Don't ever refer to Sara as 'that woman'. In fact don't refer to her at all. I can't believe this." Denise attempted to walk away but the taller woman blocked her path.
"You can't walk away from this, Denise. I'm not going to fade away."
"You can do whatever the hell you want," Denise seethed. "Just as long as you get the hell away from me."
From the other side of the store, Carl was watching the scene unfold. At first he believed Maggie to be nothing more than a talkative fan but by the expression on DJ's face he knew that was not he case. Placing the remains of his lunch in his side pocket Carl approached his friend.
"You're crazy," Denise said as she took another step away from the pushy redhead.
"I just think you need to know the truth about her."
DJ glared at Maggie as Carl appeared by her side. "And what is that truth? What is it exactly that you want from me?"
Maggie paused then said, "Well... I want..." She frowned, shaking her head.
Carl placed his hand upon Denise's tense shoulder. "Is everything okay, DJ?"
"Yes... everything is fine." Issuing one final glare at the redhead Denise turned and walked away. She heard heavy footsteps approach as Carl fell into stride beside her.
"What the hell was all that about?"
Denise looked at Carl briefly before gazing back at the signing table. Maggie was gone. She turned back to Carl. "I believe that was our anonymous letter writer."
"Yeah?" Carl looked back surprised. "What did she want?"
The poet scowled. "To tell me she was Sara's daughter."
"Bollocks!" Carl stopped and held Denise's arm, forcing her to do the same. "Are you kidding me?"
DJ shook her head.
"What did you say to that?" Carl asked incredulously.
"I told her she was crazy," Denise replied and looked once again to the empty signing area. The whole encounter had left her feeling angry and disoriented. The conviction shining in Maggie's eyes had confused her. The woman clearly did believe what she was saying and that in turn concerned Denise. A niggling feeling in the back of her mind refused to quiet and although her heart told her not to believe Maggie's words she found herself questioning her resolve. It was the eyes, Denise thought, they were so familiar.
Suddenly realising she was being spoken to, Denise turned back to Carl. "Pardon?"
Carl's brow creased in concern. "I was just asking whether you are alright. You look a little peaky."
"Umm," rubbing her forehead as if to clear her confused mind, DJ nodded. "Sure." Taking a deep breath she scanned the shop floor. "Are we ready to go?"
"Yes... I just need to talk a moment with Mrs Blackwood," Carl paused, "Will you be okay?"
Denise nodded reassuringly and watched Carl head off. She then looked back around the shop floor knowing who she was looking for but saw no sign of Maggie. Leaning back against a row of shelves Denise closed her eyes. She felt angry and confused. How could that woman say such hurtful words? She didn't understand and for the first time since DJ came out into the public eye, she firmly wished she had not.
End of Part II