London, April 1961.
The whimpering sound from the other bedroom was what caused Sara to wake. This was not the first time Sara had heard this particular tone of whimper and she knew what it meant. The whimper was Diane and it happened after every visit to her home. The petite brunette had returned two days prior from spending Easter with her parents in Derbyshire and like clockwork the restless nights had returned.
Between work and her studies Sara never had the time or money to return home on the short breaks at school and managed to go home for Christmas and a short time in the summer only. Diane's family was moderately well off and she was therefore expected to return to the bosom of her family at every opportunity. The whimpering had started sometime during their second year at the University.
Sara had questioned Diane about the restless nights she experienced after returning to London, but each time she had been assured it was the strain of travel and homesickness after coming back. Initially those explanations had seemed reasonable, but as time had gone by and the students were in their third year at college, those reasons now appeared less plausible. Sara wished she could get Diane to confide in her as she confided in her about everything else, but in this matter she remained silent.
Now Sara lay in her bed staring through her bedroom window at the crescent moon on its downward path in the night sky. The moon and Sara were old friends and on the many nights she could not sleep she would listen to the radio playing softly and weave stories in her mind about the moon and its magic. It was during one of those times she had first heard Diane's distress and this was such a night as well. From the other bedroom in the small flat Sara could hear Diane turn over restlessly.
Maybe she'll soon quiet thought Sara, but knew in her heart that it would not be so. The demons in Diane's sleep would remain for several days yet and both flatmates would suffer because one did. Soon the thrashing in the other room became more pronounced and Diane no longer whimpered, but cried out. Sara could take it no longer and rose from her bed and pausing only to slip in quickly to a pair of house slippers, made her way to Diane's bedroom. The sight of her best friend in such agony tore at her heart.
Moving to Diane's bed, Sara decided this night she would press for the truth. She couldn't let Diane suffer like this anymore, not if there was anything she could do about it. They had been through so much and trusted each other so deeply that this needed to come out between them. Sara sat on the edge of the bed and gently touched the other woman's arm.
"Diane? Diane, wake up. You're having a bad dream, dear. Come on now, wake up. That's a good girl." Diane slowly came to full consciousness and fixed watery brown eyes on Sara. With a small cry, Diane reached for Sara and held on tight as she sobbed.
"I'm not stupid, Sara, I'm not! He's so wrong about me, they all are. I am smart and I can be a teacher if I want to!" Sara placed one arm around Diane's shoulders as she stroked her friend's bobbed hair and murmured words of comfort until Diane's tears subsided and the sobs were reduced to the occasional hiccoughed breath. Feeling Diane was at last calm enough to talk, Sara reached over to the small lamp on the bedside stand and turned the light on. Her friend's eyes remained red rimmed and she protested the brightness.
"Turn it back off, Sara! I don't want you to see me like this." Sara complied and the two sat together on the bed quietly. Sara pressed for the truth.
"Diane, you're my best friend. You know I've never had a sister and even if I had one I couldn't love her anymore than you. Please, you have to tell me what the matter is. I can't stand to see you suffer like this." Diane sniffed a little then reached for her friend's hand and held on tight. Sara returned the grip, hoping to give strength to her friend to reveal what had been troubling her.
"Oh, Sara, it's such a mess. It's my father of course. I told you he disapproved of women attending University and he only let me come because Mum thought some education would make me a more desirable catch, marriage wise. Marriage and babies! You would think Victoria was still on the throne!" Sara gave a small smile as Diane used this phrase frequently when observing some part of society that had not advanced as quickly as others. Previously it had been used to describe social progress, Parliament and London public transportation. Sara's smile disappeared with Diane's next statement though.
"Dad is going to make me leave University at the end of the term, Sara. He says it is time for me to get married, settle down and start producing grandchildren. I know he's said that in the past, but now Mum agrees with him and Roger as well." Roger Barlow was a young man that Diane had been seeing since they were children practically and there was always supposed to have been "an understanding" between them. Diane had never said she was in love with Roger and Sara thought Diane secretly felt it was more of a friendship than anything else.
"They all want me to leave school. They want a summer wedding and an end to all this 'nonsense' about me wanting to get my 'B-Ed'. It's not nonsense, Sara! I love attending the University and I so very much want to teach. I love our little flat; it's almost more of a home than Derbyshire is to me. I'm not ready to lose all this but what can I do? Dad controls the money and he'll cut it off if I don't do as he wishes. It's hopeless!"
Sara felt a sharp stab of pain near the area of her heart as she realized what this would mean. Diane would leave school, leave London and leave her. Sara was not one to be bothered with self-delusions. She knew she had harbored more than friendly feelings toward Diane for some time. She also felt by looks and intuition that Diane had those feelings for her also, but an unspoken agreement left those publicly unacceptable feelings buried. Now faced with the loss of Diane those feelings yearned for acknowledgement.
"Do you need their money, Diane?" Sara asked. We could find you a job; maybe the Spicers could help you as they've helped me. You don't need to give up your dream if you don't want to. I could help a little and we could economize more. You don't have to go." Diane moved a little back from Sara and looked up into blue eyes that looked a dark shade of gray in the muted light of the bedroom.
"You're the strong one here, Sara. You work and attend classes. You more than do your share around the flat and help me when I'm in danger of falling behind in my coursework. I admire you so much and I can admit I'm not that strong. I love the thought of teaching, but it doesn't come as quickly or as naturally to me as it does you. I've never met anyone who was meant to teach and work with children as much as you. I'm afraid I couldn't carry all you do and hope to be a success."
The friends looked at each other silently. It was on the tip of Sara's tongue to admit her feelings for Diane, to hold her and give her comfort and let her love have expression. As much as she wanted to, she knew she would never give voice to those emotions. The silence grew somewhat uncomfortable and Sara lowered her gaze to their still entwined hands. There's nothing to admire about me, Diane. I'll never be able to say how much I love you. I'm such a coward. Cowardice was overcome, however, by a petite brunette who claimed to have no strength at all.
"Sara?" The taller woman's eyes returned to those of her friend. "Sara, I don't want to leave here but more importantly I don't want to leave you." Diane blushed furiously but continued. "I know you're too honorable to ever speak on this subject so I must. Sara, I'm in love with you. I have been for some time now but I think it may have been from the moment I opened the door on the day you came to look at the flat. I think you feel the same way as I do, at least I hope you do because if you don't I'm going to feel very embarrassed for doing this." Diane leaned forward and quickly and gently brushed her lips against Sara's.
Sara was stunned for a moment before a radiant smile broke across her features. "Of course I love you, who else could I love? You're the dearest person to me; you're my best friend and confidante. Don't worry about this problem with your family. We have the rest of the term to figure something out and we'll do it together." Diane returned Sara's smile and for the first time that evening appeared to have a modicum of hope about the future.
"And Diane? Please don't ever feel embarrassed about doing this." Sara leaned forward and returned the sweet kiss she had been given moments earlier. Diane moved over a little in the bed and Sara turned to sit with her back against the headboard. Diane snuggled close and the two women sat quietly in each other's arms until sometime near sunrise when they fell into an exhausted but quite happy sleep.
Randa closed the e-mail from Diane. She was learning so much about Sara's past and was glad Diane had reached the point in her life where she could talk about what had happened so long ago. Diane had said with her message, "There's no one to hurt now. Sara is gone and I'm tired of living a half-truth. It will be nice for someone else to know what happened back then, especially someone like you and Denise who can understand the feelings we had."
The nurse was very honored by those words and knew she would share the story with Denise as soon as she knew the rest of it. Right now she didn't know enough to shed light on Denise's family history or the problem with the anonymous letter writer. I'll find out, Denise. I'll find out for us then nothing will get in the way of our happy ending. As she closed down her computer, Randa wished for the millionth time for the strong arms of the poet and the reassurance of her presence. Be patient, Randa, you'll be with her soon. The blonde made her way to the bedroom and slipped into bed. Holding Denise's pillow to her, she finally fell asleep with thoughts, then dreams, of her love.
Steering her Lexus into the driveway, Denise turned off the engine and climbed out of the vehicle. Looking up into the flawless blue sky, DJ closed her eyes. She could hear a light wind rustle around the blossoming hedges and an excited dog barking in the distance. The warmth of the early July day had surprised her. Although it didn't compare to the luxurious American heat, it was comfortable. So much so that DJ had discarded her jacket for the short sleeved black tee shirt and blue jeans she was wearing.
Denise re-opened her eyes and looked down at her keys. Singling out the appropriate key for the front door she headed across the driveway and let herself into the house. A light aroma of potpourri clung to the air and DJ smiled. The fragrance was Sara's favourite and even after all this time she could still detect its scent. Dropping her jacket upon the stairs, DJ headed to the upper level of the house. Her flight back to America was early the next morning and she was more than a little anxious to return to Randa. Although she still had many publicity duties to uphold and a photo shoot as well because Carl had persuaded her to agree to a picture of herself on the back cover of her new novel, she still wanted to return home. The poet didn't realise how much she would miss Randa. Denise had to admit she did find that acknowledgement slightly perplexing. Not so much the fact that she missed Randa as the realisation that the blonde created a balance of harmony within herself that she believed calmed her soul. In the presence of the nurse, Denise felt complete. It was something that had never concerned her before, but suddenly she knew Randa was the most important person in her life.
Reaching the top of the stairs, DJ headed towards her bedroom. Kicking off her black and white training shoes she picked up her suitcase from the corner of the room and placed it upon her bed. She flipped open the lid and stared down into the empty container. Denise realised it wouldn't take her long to re-pack her assortment of clothing. Prodding her bottom lip, DJ's mind wandered in thought as she tried to remember what she had to take back with her to the States. Chocolate, Denise thought with a grin, of course! Let's see, what else? Denise frowned in thought. "Pictures!" she said suddenly and headed back out of her bedroom. She had promised Randa she would bring back some pictures of her parents and they were all stored in the attic. Standing on the tips of her toes Denise reached up to the loft hatch and pulled it away from the ceiling. Taking a secure hold of the cord to the aluminium-framed ladder Denise pulled the steps from the loft. As she readied herself to enter the attic the ringing of the telephone sounded through the otherwise quiet house. Mumbling about the irony of timing the poet jogged back down the stairs and answered the phone.
"Hello," she said, internally hoping she would hear Randa's voice.
"Hello... Denise Jennings?"
The poet frowned at the unrecognisable voice. "That's me."
"Ah, hello again, this is Maggie. I am sure you remember me from your book signing yesterday."
"What?" Denise felt a sudden mix of anger and confusion. "What do you want? And more importantly, how did you get this number?"
"I understand you may be slightly alarmed," Maggie started, "But you know why I am calling. As to how I obtained your number... well my parents gave it to me. A little overdue as I am sure you can imagine but..."
"Hold it," Denise commanded. Rubbing her brow in disbelief, DJ looked down at the cream coloured base of the telephone. "Your parents gave you this number?"
"Yes... well like I have recently discovered, not my biological parents," The tone in Maggie's voice held a clear hint of resentment. "But yes it was them all the same."
A swift cramp of anxiety twisted Denise's insides. "Look I don't know who you are or what you think you will achieve from this stunt, but if you think for one moment that I believe you... you're wrong." The poet started pacing through the house. "Don't you think I would be aware of a rather large fact like that? Now if you don't stop hassling me I will..."
"Hassling you?" Maggie laughed abruptly. "I just want you to know the truth. I see it was kept from the both of us. What I don't understand is what the hell is so special about you? Why would she choose you over me?"
Feeling anger rise within her Denise stopped her pacing in the centre of the living room. "You know, I have never heard anybody speak such a load of bollocks!"
"Oh, and this coming from the supposedly highly regarded literary mind!" Maggie said sarcastically.
Taking a deep breath DJ said calmly, "I'm going to hang up now and I never want to hear from you again."
"I can prove it," Maggie said swiftly.
DJ looked out of the living room window and stared at the overgrown blades of grass shining under the warm sun. They swayed gently, manipulated by a soft southerly breeze. "How?" she asked cautiously.
The poet was surprised as Maggie launched into a concise explanation without seemingly pausing for breath. "Sara gave birth to me at the beginning of her teaching career. During that time it was obviously unacceptable for a single woman to conceive and so she gave me up for adoption. My adoptive parents were the couple that had taken Sara in when she first arrived in London... Geoff and Alice Spicer. Though she apparently kept in touch, once I was born Sara left London to travel, temping in schools around the country. That is all I know."
When Maggie finally ceased talking Denise moved the phone away from her ear and looked down at the plastic device. Her turbulent flurry of feelings since their conversation began had all turned to one of complete uncertainty. DJ knew that Sara had resided with a couple in London that she called 'the Spicers'. She did leave London to start temping at schools around the county.
Blinking from her thoughts, Denise heard the distant sound of Maggie's voice calling for her. Feeling utterly disoriented, the poet hurriedly disconnected the line. The phone switched off with a light beeping tone. Scratching the back of her neck, DJ turned away from the window and leaned against its ledge, the phone hanging limply by her side. She didn't understand. It appeared that Maggie did seem to know an awful lot about Sara's past and she wondered how that was possible. Of course it was probable that somebody who did know of Sara's past was assisting Maggie, but whom? And why would anybody want to cause this kind of trouble? Finding herself unable to surmise any logical explanations, DJ thought of the one person whom she hoped would be able to shed some light on her dilemma. Crossing the room, Denise sat down upon the sofa and dialled a familiar number. She waited patiently for the line to answer, but after a minute of ringing Denise disconnected it. Unperturbed she dialled a second, longer number. After a short moment the mobile telephone was answered...
"Hi, Di, it's me. I tried to call your house but you were out."
"Yes, I am visiting a friend. I'm in Bournemouth at the moment, DJ. Just for a couple of days... I arrived early this morning."
"Oh... I'm sorry to disturb you..."
Diane interrupted quickly saying, "No disruption, honey... you know that. What can I do for you?"
"Well..." Denise paused and took a deep breath. "I've been approached by a woman claiming to be Sara's daughter." When she heard no reply Denise asked, "Diane? Did you hear me?"
"Umm... yes I did... and?"
"And? And what?" DJ brushed her fingers roughly over the puckered material of her jeans, flattening the fabric around her knee. "She is just some crack pot right? I mean she seemed to know some details but..." Denise waited for Diane to speak.
"What did she say?" the older woman asked. "Did she give you her name?"
The poet frowned at this. "She said her name was Maggie and she really seems quite hostile towards me. At first I thought she was just a loon, but she knows things, Di. I don't know what's going on."
An audible sigh echoed down the line. "DJ, this is something I think we should discuss in person and not over the phone. My coach leaves here tomorrow afternoon. Can we meet and talk then?"
"But I'm..." Denise paused, wondering why Diane thought it was best that they spoke in person. Surely Diane knew she was to leave for the States the next morning. "This is something we need to discuss in person, isn't it?"
"Yes," Diane answered. "It seems we have a great deal to talk about."
Denise nodded and rose to her feet. "Okay... I'll see you soon." Walking through the house the poet made her way into the kitchen. "Diane... is there an element of truth in her claims?"
The older woman hesitated. "We'll discuss this when I get back... it is for the best, DJ."
"Okay, see you then, Di."
Disconnecting the line once again, Denise pushed the phone into the back pocket of her jeans. Suddenly, trepidation as to what Diane wanted to discuss with her plagued DJ's mind. Sara couldn't have a child... She just couldn't. Turning towards the kettle Denise picked it up and filled the electric container with water before returning it to its base. Switching the device on she then opened a wall cupboard and pulled out a large mug. Looking down at the multicoloured porcelain cup she ran her fingers over the design. Denise had painted it herself, the mug and colours being an arts and crafts Christmas gift when she was eleven. Denise had designed the mug for Sara, writing her aunts name in large blue letters encased in a wobbly pink heart. That had been so long ago. Her childlike writing and the faded paint a testament to the age of the mug.
Ignoring the boiling kettle and with the container still within her grasp, DJ wandered out into the back hallway and on into Sara's room. A cold chill of memories passed down her spine. It was the first time she had allowed herself to venture into the room. The hospital bed and medical equipment had all long since been returned leaving the room feeling quite empty. The bed was bare and apart from a wooden chair, dressing table and wardrobe there was not much else to fill the bedroom. Unused floral curtains hung half open at the window and a box containing Sara's personal possessions stood in the corner. Hair accessories, a shawl, an assortment of ornaments and a multicoloured scarf filled the box. Upon its closed surface and keeping the flaps of its lid down, lay the last novel she and Randa had read to Sara, Les Miserables.
Pushing her free hand into her pocket dejectedly, DJ stepped into the room. Her socked feet almost shuffled upon the thick pile of the carpet. Confusion clouded her mind and the notion that Maggie may indeed be speaking some ounce of truth scared her. Leaning against a bare wall, Denise slid down to the floor and sat with her legs crossed upon the beige carpet. Placing Sara's mug between her thighs she pulled the cordless phone out of her pocket.
DJ sighed as she let her head fall back against the wall. I suppose whatever it is, I will find out soon enough. Not knowing what Diane was going to say caused her heart to hammer with apprehension. Looking back at the phone resting in her right hand DJ hit the speed dial to connect with a certain long distance number.
After long moments a sleep filled voice answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey... Did I wake you?"
"Hmm... I wasn't working last night so yeah, I guess."
DJ smiled as she said, "Sorry." She could just imagine what her lover looked like at that precise moment. There was no doubt about it; the adorable expressions Randa pulled while waking up managed to warm more than just her heart!
"S'okay," Randa mumbled. "I've just got to get in enough rest before you get back!" she chucked evilly before adding, "God I've missed you."
DJ bit her lip nervously. "Me too, but..."
"But?" Randa asked.
"But I can't come back."
"What?" The blonde asked clearly alarmed. "Ever?"
"Of course not ever!" The poet chuckled despite the situation. "The thing is that I've discovered the identity of the mysterious letter writer."
"You have? Who is it?"
DJ wrinkled her forehead. "I'm not sure. Supposedly she is claiming to be Sara's daughter."
Randa was momentarily silent before saying, "Daughter? Sara doesn't have a daughter... does she?"
"No, not that I am aware of!"
"Oh! Denise... what the hell is going on?"
"I'll find out tomorrow when I meet with Diane. That is why I can't come back... she is in Bournemouth for the night. Gosh Randa, I am so confused I don't know what to think." Denise sighed as she said, "I'm not sure when I will be able to return at the moment."
"Oh!" Randa said dejectedly.
"The thing is..." DJ ran her fingers over the rim of the coffee mug. "Randa, I can't cope with all of this on my own. I need you here. I really want you to come over. I know Derek said that the company wouldn't allow you another paid leave so soon, but that isn't a problem is it? I mean... I am being paid the equivalent of a ten-year wage just for appearing as a guest on that bloody book programme and doing my first screen interview with them. We will always be more than comfortable in that department." A desperate tone edged its way into DJ's voice. "Please... I need you, Randa."
"Okay." Randa said simply.
"Of course," Randa replied softly. "If you need me nothing is more important than that, Denise. I want to be with you."
Chin falling to her chest with relief, DJ closed her eyes. "Thank you... I want you with me too." Feeling a measure of confidence flow through her Denise rose to her feet. "Okay, so how about you make the necessary calls on your end and sort things out? Then get back to me and I'll find the appropriate available flight for you and book you a seat"
"Sounds good to me. As soon as possible, right?"
"Yes... thank you Randa."
"Nothing to thank... I love you, Denise."
The poet smiled. "I love you too. Talk to you in a while. Bye."
Denise closed the line happily. Though she was still greatly concerned with what Diane wanted to talk to her about she knew that with Randa's presence she could face what lay ahead. Suddenly that notion didn't seem so disconcerting. Acknowledging the sheer desire to be with Randa was all part of the many aspects to being in love. What on earth could be wrong with that? Happy with the knowledge that Randa would soon be with her, Denise headed off in search of the Yellow Pages.
For the second time in the span of a year, Randa found herself on a plane in its final approach to England. There were differences between this time and the last to be sure. Last time Randa was heading to England unsure of what she would find and the greeting she would receive. Last time she hadn't yet seen the face of the person who would become her life. Last time Sara had been alive.
This time Randa was going to Britain secure in the knowledge she was heading to the person who was the greatest blessing in her life, a person who was the sweetest part of it. There was so much I didn't know a year ago the nurse thought. I didn't know what it felt like to be in love, to put someone higher in importance than myself. I didn't know how truly loving someone could make you feel so worthwhile and how being truly loved in return could make you feel so cherished. I didn't know Denise Jennings.
The nurse had heard the old tales of how soul mates were one half of a whole that had been split by some ancient god and how you weren't complete until you found that person. That story never rang true for Randa. She always felt saying another person completed you was tantamount to saying you were less of a person without them and she just didn't feel that way. Randa more felt that Denise was a special blessing in her life and the icing on an already very good cake.
She fingered the silver ring on her left hand. She knew for certain she would never want her cake without the icing again. Denise had not only become part of her heart, she was her heart. That was why when Denise called and said she needed her, Randa hadn't questioned the why, just the when. It was Derek who had questioned everything else.
"Randa, you are my best friend and one of the best nurses I've had the pleasure to work with on the Brightwood Network but you only just got back to working full-time two months ago. Brightwood is generous with their time off but you barely have anything accrued to use. If you go this time, you have to go on a leave without pay," he had said. "You're sure you want to do that? I know you love DJ, but I also know you've got a lot of pride. You're going to be dependent on her if you don't have an income. Is that going to sit all right with you?"
Randa had thought about it for a minute. She had enough money back in the bank to cover a month or two of mortgage payments on the house, but after that she would be dependent on Denise totally if they had to stay in England longer. The nurse's pride was stung a little but overriding that sting was her love for Denise. There had been no choice.
"She needs me, Derek. It's as simple as that. If she needs me then I'm there. I don't have an option anymore; she'll always be the first choice for me. I know I'll be more vulnerable than I've ever been, but I trust and love Denise. We can take care of any problem as long as we do it together." She heard Derek sniff over the phone.
"Derek, what is it? What's wrong?"
"Not a damn thing, girlfriend, not a damn thing. I only hope to one day be a tiny percent as happy as you are. Look, I can't give you paid time, but I can hold your spot for you. The person taking your shifts will always be temporary until you say differently. Now, do you need a ride to the airport?"
So Randa had once again made arrangements for the care of her property as Denise made arrangements for her journey. Note to self she thought. Give Denise an extra thank you for making those arragements first class. She returned her crystal juice glass to the flight attendant as she straightened the very comfortable seatback in preparation for landing at East Midlands airport. Denise felt flying directly into Derbyshire would eliminate a lot of the driving time and hassle of getting in and out of London.
After the plane landed and taxied to the gate, Randa thought she could make out Denise's tall form in the windows facing the plane. Gathering her single carry-on bag she left the plane quickly, thanking the flight attendant for the excellent service. Making her way up the ramp the nurse felt her pulse pick up in anticipation. It was all she could do not to break into a run at the sight of her dark haired lover inside the terminal. She knew the wide smile on Denise's face was reflected on her own and she walked into waiting arms.
"God, Randa, I've missed you," Denise husked. "Let's get your baggage quickly because I want to kiss you senseless and I don't want to do it in front of all these people."
The nurse smiled against Denise's denim jacket. She knew it would tax her last bit of restraint, but East Midlands probably wasn't San Francisco in its tolerance so she stepped back and took the poet's hand.
"Yeah, baggage first, kiss senseless after," she agreed. Denise shouldered the nurse's carry-on and they moved toward the baggage claim area.
Randa looked over briefly at Denise as they walked and said, "Jennifer? Justine?"
"Sorry?" her partner said as a look of bewilderment crossed her features.
"Your middle name. Is it Jennifer or Justine? You have a great technique for changing the subject but don't think I've forgotten I asked you about it. You never did answer me either, you just changed the subject."
"I did? I don't recall that at all. No, it's not Jennifer or Justine. It's...baggage claim."
Now it was Randa's turn to be confused. "What did you say?"
"I said baggage claim. We're here; so let me have the claim checks so I can get yours. Did you bring the duffel again?" Denise inquired as she held her hand out.
"Two of them actually. I thought you might like a few more things from home if we needed to stay much longer and... Hey! You're doing it again. You're changing the subject." She handed the two small tickets to the poet.
"I'm not changing the subject, love," Denise whispered as she leaned in close. "I just don't want us to be late for that business appointment. I believe there is a bit of kissing we are scheduled for followed by a fast drive home and then I intend to be 'in conference' with you for the rest of the day and well into the evening."
The nurse shivered a little with anticipation as she spied her two duffel bags on the carousel. Grabbing one as Denise hefted the other, she let herself be led toward the parking facilities and Denise's sleek black car. Placing the bags in the trunk they hurried to climb inside where they clung together in a series of heated kisses.
Finally pulling back for some much needed air, Randa sighed in happiness. "Home, James, and don't spare the horses." Hesitating a moment, she said, "It isn't James, is it? You didn't get saddled with a man's name as your middle name, did you?"
Denise let out a short laugh and she managed a "No, love" as her mouth met Randa's once again and the play of tongues commenced. Both women were a little breathless as they broke apart again. Randa felt the flames of desire licking at her intensely.
"Just drive, Denise whatever-the-heck-your-middle-name-is, and make it fast."
"Yes, madam, whatever the madam desires," Denise teased as she turned the key and brought the engine to life.
"You're going to find out what the madam desires right here and now if you don't start driving immediately," the nurse returned.
Denise saw the hunger in the nurse's eyes and new her hunger was a match for it.
"So, do you believe her story?" Randa asked as they drove into Bakewell.
"A big part of me wants to say no, that Sara never could have kept a thing like that from me, but there's something about the woman and the way she talks that makes another part of me believe she's telling the truth."
"Did you ask Diane?"
"I did. She wouldn't tell me the story on the phone; she said she wanted to do it in person. That scared me a little, Randa. If Diane was going to deny it she could have done that over the telephone easily enough. Suddenly I knew whatever the truth was I didn't want to hear it without you at my side."
The nurse reached out and laid a comforting hand on Denise's arm. "I'm here and I'm going to stay with you as long as you need me."
Denise guided the car to a smooth stop in front of the Jennings home. Turning off the engine she glanced over at Randa. "Plan on staying with me forever then."
The blonde smiled at her partner. "When is Diane going to tell us the story?"
"I've asked her to come round in the morning. I wanted to give you enough time to recover from your jet lag and anything else that might cause you undue exhaustion." The poet punctuated the last statement with a wink.
"Tomorrow will be soon enough for me," Randa said as she left the car. She helped Denise with the bags and walked to the front door. "It's strange. I know I just left my home yet I feel like I've come home again too. I guess it could be the company."
The poet took Randa's hand and brought it to her lips. "It's the company most definitely for me. Shall we go in? I believe we spoke of a conference earlier."
"After you, love," the blonde said with a small curtsy as Denise unlocked the door and stepped into the house that held so many memories for them both.
"Jacqueline? Jane?" the blonde asked as Denise gave an exasperated groan and closed the door behind them. Further conversation would wait until much later.
Standing in front of the large oak framed mirror in the bathroom Denise diligently brushed her teeth. As diligently as one can brush them when one is using an electric toothbrush, she thought. Letting the oscillating bristles glide over her teeth her free hand fingered a stray lock of hair that had fallen free from her loosely styled French roll. Feeling the exposed back of her neck DJ wondered what Randa would say if she were to consider cutting her hair. The poet had worn it long for many years now and wondered whether it was time for a change.
As the toothbrush signalled the end of her two minutes, Denise rinsed out her mouth then splashed her face with icy cold water; once done she dried her face with a green and white stripped towel. It was still rather early but DJ had showered and dressed over an hour ago. Looking down at her appearance, Denise brushed her hands over the red crop top and faded jeans that hung low on her hips. She realised she was showing a fair amount of midriff but thought, what the hell. You are never too old to follow fashion. Besides, it's going to be another warm day today.
Just then a familiar knot of tension twisted her stomach. DJ looked down at her watch for the eighth time that morning. It had just passed seven o'clock and she still had another three and a half hours before Diane was to arrive. Randa had done a superb job the night before of taking her mind off today's events, but as time crept ever closer DJ grew more and more anxious. She didn't want to believe what Maggie had said was true. Denise presumed she and Sara had always told each other everything. She then thought back to the confession she had made to Randa concerning her father. But there was an honest reason why I couldn't tell Sara that. It would have hurt and upset her too much and I didn't want to add to the pain she was already feeling. The poet's brow wrinkled in thought. What would Sara ever feel she needed to protect me from? Shaking her head as if to clear her mind, Denise opened the bathroom door and walked onto the landing. She headed back towards their bedroom.
Though the curtains were closed the brightness of the room proved the sun was already shining high in the early morning sky. A ray of light filtered through a slight gap between the drapes and rested upon the turbulent looking bed. Denise cast a speculative gaze over the wooden framed bed, knowing Randa had to be in there somewhere. Why is it she seems to hide so efficiently in one of these things? Suddenly a slight movement from under the quilt gave away Randa's deep somnolent breaths. DJ crept further into the room, expertly avoiding the creaky floorboards as she approached the foot of the bed. Denise pulled the cover from Randa's body gingerly and frowned at the sight. The blonde was on her stomach, both hands by her side, lying diagonally across the bed. The shaft of light that stretched through the curtains shone across Randa's behind. Suddenly all thoughts of conversation flew from the poet's mind. Denise's lips curled into a lascivious grin as she whispered, "An open invitation?"
Climbing onto the bed, Denise lowered her lips, trailing them over Randa's calves, the back of her thighs and over her back. Randa twitched and sighed but otherwise remained very much asleep.
Grinning mischievously, DJ kissed across Randa's shoulder blades where she slowed her progression and brought her hands into play. Straddling Randa's firm behind Denise gently massaged her shoulders. It wasn't too long before Randa stirred and groaned, luxuriating in the soothing caress.
"Morning," Denise whispered, her lips close to Randa's left ear.
"Hmm." Randa responded. "What time is it?"
Denise trailed her lips across Randa's neck. "Early. I couldn't sleep so I decided to get dressed." DJ moved her hands down Randa's sides. The pads of her fingertips teased Randa's breasts. She felt the body beneath her tremble as Randa's breathing increased. Denise smiled.
"What are you doing?" Randa asked in a breathless whisper. Her head rose off the bed as she tried to catch a glimpse of Denise who was working her lips and tongue across her neck. Randa shivered and moved up her hands to clutch the bed sheets tightly.
Allowing one of her hands to move further, Denise pushed it down and over Randa's hips. "What does if feel like I'm doing?" she husked. "Randa, you're the only person who can keep my mind off the more anxious issues. What could possibly be more distracting 'and' rewarding than making love to the woman I adore?" Denise didn't give Randa a chance to respond as she leaned forward, capturing Randa's lips in an awkward yet deeply arousing kiss. Their tongues wrapped around each other in a worshiping caress as they both started an agonisingly slow grind. DJ could feel her flesh infuse with heat and lower parts of her anatomy throbbed for a more direct touch. Her nipples tightened and strained against the material of her bra and in one swift movement Denise pulled her both her top and bra off together, disconnecting briefly from Randa's lips. The clothing fell discarded down the side of the bed. Once freed from the restriction DJ pressed her flesh against the smooth plain of Randa's back.
When their lips parted again, harsh breathing filled the air. Randa whimpered in frustration and Denise knew the reason why, understanding the blonde's dilemma. Randa was torn between wanting to push up against the brunette's centre and push her own down against the firm mattress of the bed.
"Denise..." Randa groaned, her forehead falling back down to the surface of the bed.
"Yes?" DJ answered with a husky voice. She pushed her hands against the mattress enabling her access under Randa's body. Swiftly she encased Randa's right nipple within her finger and thumb, squeezing rhythmically. Randa cried out helplessly under the onslaught as Denise's other hand slipped under her hips and against her centre. DJ groaned, feeling the abundance of moisture that seeped around her fingers. She swirled them around Randa's swollen desire.
"God, Denise," Randa groaned. She pushed herself harder against DJ's long fingers.
"Hmm?" Denise asked. Her lips latched upon Randa's shoulder, taking the smooth, succulent flesh into her mouth where she sucked hard. Her entire body ached with swelling desire.
Randa whimpered harshly. "I need..."
Denise released Randa's flesh. "What do you need?"
"More," Randa responded in a coarse tone. "I need more. I want you inside me."
At Randa's desperate plea, DJ's body flooded with arousal. Her insides liquefied and flowed freely from within causing her body to throb uncontrollably with a need for release. She ached through a lack of much desired contact. Moving so that she was straddling Randa's left leg Denise rose to a sitting position, encouraging Randa to do the same. She sat on her knees; thighs spread wide apart as Randa sat in between them.
"Is this what you need?" DJ asked as the fingers of her left hand hovered around the entrance to the nurse's centre. She moved around in slow teasing circles but refused to enter.
Randa groaned, trying to push herself forward as her head fell back against Denise's shoulder. "God yes... please... do it... I need you, Denise."
Needing no further encouragement, Denise plunged two fingers inside her lover. The inferno of tight, wet heat that greeted her digits caused her own centre to contract with need.
Freeing her hand from Randa's breast, she moved it around to her jeans and quickly unsnapped the row of metal buttons. Denise wasted no time in plunging her hand down into her own aching need. She groaned in relief as she matched the rhythm of her right hand to that of her left.
Obviously feeling the movement behind her, Randa said breathlessly, "What are you doing?"
Denise sucked in Randa's lobe briefly before saying, "It isn't obvious?" She made a point of pulling Randa back against herself harder so the blonde was left little doubt as to what DJ was doing.
"God!" Randa gasped. One hand reached up to grasp her neglected breast as the other fought to hold the back of DJ's head. Randa pulled Denise closer and joined their lips together for a short breathless kiss before saying, "I wish I could see."
"Yeah? You like watching... hmm?" Denise looked over Randa's shoulder, seeing the blonde caress her own breast. She smiled then closed her eyes as the musky scent of Randa's desire embraced her senses.
Randa gasped as DJ's thumb teased the source of her desire in circular movements. "I like watching you," she said, moving herself against DJ.
"Next time," Denise replied. She bit her bottom lip roughly as she felt herself rapidly approaching the edge. Quickly she sped up her movements inside Randa, wanting them to cross over together. The nurse groaned, one hand clutching DJ's arm. Her movements increased frantically and Denise felt Randa tighten around her fingers.
Feeling her desire reach its pinnacle, Denise whimpered in release. Randa's thighs tightened around her wrist, her own orgasm crashing through her body. The blonde called out her lover's name, their bodies trembling violently against one another.
As their feelings gradually subsided, Denise opened her eyes and looked down over Randa's sweat glistened chest. Randa's thighs were still holding her hand in a tight grip. Her breasts rose and fell with laboured breath. Wanting to gain her lover's attention, Denise gently moved the fingers still deep within the blonde. Randa groaned and her body twitched as she loosened her thigh's hold and Denise gently pulled her hand away from Randa's body.
"Wake me like that every morning from now on!" Randa chuckled and fell onto her side, pulling Denise with her. She then rolled onto her back and looked up at DJ who was lying beside her. "Feel better?"
Denise nodded. "Yep... you?"
Randa looked down to see Denise's hand still tucked within her jeans. She pulled at the hand, guiding it out of her clothing and up towards her lips. "Couldn't be better," she replied, slipping DJ's fingers into her mouth.
Denise sighed and rolled on top of Randa. "God, you know what that does to me!"
Randa wiggled her eyebrows and slipped the fingers from her mouth. "I know. I'm hoping it's already 'next time' and I'll get that show you promised."
"Well you know what I mean."
"Sure!" Denise moved to a sitting position. "Unfortunately we've got to get moving. I have a list of chores to get done. I have to ring Carl and let him know I will be staying in England longer. He is going on at me about getting an agent now that I have revealed myself. I suppose he has a point. I can't rely on him to deal with all business matters now. Anyway we have to get all of this done before Di arrives and you still have to get dressed."
Randa looked to her left at the radio alarm clock. "Denise we have plenty of time... almost two hours."
"Exactly!" DJ leaned forward and kissed Randa quickly before sliding to the bottom and off the bed - pulling Randa with her. The blonde slid towards DJ. "Ugh... not only am I still tired but you're going to give me friction burns at this rate." Her feet landed upon the floor, her body still reclined over the surface of the bed.
"Friction burns!!" Denise grinned. "Anyway, are you complaining that you're still tired? I thought you liked my method of waking you up?" Denise looked down at the unclasped buttons of her jeans and realised she needed to take another shower.
"Oh I do... believe me. So... got to get back in the shower?" Randa's hopeful tone was not lost on DJ.
Denise grimaced. "Hmm, damn it. There I was running ahead of schedule." DJ pulled Randa to her feet, letting her eyes linger over the blonde's exposed form. "Why do I have to find you so bloody irresistible anyway?"
Randa grinned widely. "Innate charm." Taking Denise's hand, the blonde pulled her towards the bathroom.
From the kitchen Denise heard Randa as the nurse put away cleaned dishes. While Randa had offered to unload the dishwasher, Denise had telephoned Carl knowing he always arrived in his office the same time every day. The editor was thrilled to hear DJ was staying longer in England and doubly so that Randa had arrived. He made the poet promise they would finally get to meet before heading back to the United States.
Fighting against the urge to look at her watch once again Denise slipped her hands into her pocket and headed back towards the kitchen.
"I don't know how much longer I can stand this waiting." The brunette leaned against the doorframe and watched Randa stack a row of tall frosted glasses in a cupboard. "Why do I feel life as I knew it and facts I thought to be true are all about to change?"
"Because your overactive imagination... which in any other case is a good thing... is now running ahead of you."
"But you've got to admit..."
"Nothing," Randa insisted. "Lets wait and hear what Diane has to say first." Randa closed the cupboard door and approached DJ. She wrapped her arms around the brooding woman's waist. "I'd offer to take your mind off things again but I don't think we have the time."
Denise pouted. "Shame." Leaning forwards she kissed Randa and jumped as the sound of a chain of slow knocks tapped against the front door. "That'll be her," DJ said as she quickly headed towards the front of the house.
Stopping suddenly, Denise turned and poked her head back into the kitchen. "Hey?"
Randa turned. "Hmm?"
"I just wanted to say thank you... for coming all the way here. I've been feeling rather confused the past couple of days but you made me feel a hell of a lot better."
This time the doorbell chimed repeatedly.
Randa smiled as she kissed DJ. "Anything I can do to help you... I'm more than willing." She winked before slapping the poets behind. "No go answer the door before Diane leaves."
With a nod DJ jogged away from the kitchen swiftly.
The door slowly creaked open and DJ watched Randa enter the room, carrying two mugs. She smiled brightly at Diane and placed her cup upon a small side table.
"Diane, it's great to see you again. How are you?"
"Oh I'm fine, Randa. How are you, dear?"
Randa nodded. "Good." The blonde handed DJ her coffee and pulled a bottle of her favourite soda from her pocket. "How was your trip away?"
The older woman smiled brightly. "It was nice to see old friends again. We aren't able to get together that often."
Noticing that DJ was yet to speak, Randa continued their conversation asking, "How was the weather?"
"Cold!" Diane answered. "It was by the coast. The sea winds really did whip up a draft." Diane continued to chat away nervously. "The sky was lovely and blue yet the air was awfully chilly. I was so glad I had taken my warmest overcoat. These cold winds are no good for my arthritis."
Denise looked up at Randa who had perched herself upon the arm of her chair before turning towards Diane. "Look! ... " DJ cast her gaze once more between her lover and Diane. "Not that I want to interrupt your tête-à-tête on the state of British weather but I do believe we have things to discuss!"
Diane sobered rapidly and her sombre expression returned. "Yes... that is right."
"Well I don't want to push but I think I have a right in knowing what all of this is about." DJ paused, feeling Randa's hand move soothingly over her back. She took a breath, lowering the curt tone in her voice. "I'm sorry... I don't mean to sound angry, Di, but it is just that... well... I need to know. I have some crazy woman following me who seems to hate my very existence and now I realise there were parts of Sara's life that I was never aware of. And to top it all off, this Maggie claims to be a part of that."
Taking her cup from the small wooden table Diane took a drink of her sweet tea. "I know. I'm sorry, DJ. It's just that this brings back a lot of bad memories for myself as well." Diane sighed lightly, composing her emotions as she began to recount one of the most heart breaking periods of her and Sara's life.
London, June 1961
The last of the boxes were being packed. Sara sat numbly in the slightly battered wingback chair and watched as Diane wrapped the few remaining items of hers left in the living area of the third floor flat. Soon the only thing left of Diane's would be the small record player that had been a shared source of joy for the young women. The record player belonged to Diane but they had jointly saved their coins and always went together to select additions to their collection from the music shop on the next block.
The term at the university would be finished in a week and Diane's father had made good on his pledge to her. She had been allowed to finish her education but her absence from Derbyshire would no longer be tolerated or subsidized. After the commencement exercises in ten days, Diane would be accompanying her parents and Roger back north where their engagement would be announced and the wedding date would be set.
Sara sighed in exasperation as she recalled the last few weeks with Diane. When the barriers had come down between them that night in Diane's bedroom, Sara had become one of the happiest women in Britain. She had known from that moment that she had found the one great love of her life. Their physical and spiritual intimacy blossomed and that, added to the devotion between them as best friends, was a strong and beautiful thing. But it's not strong enough Sara thought bitterly. Diane was going home.
Diane looked over at her best friend at the sound of the sigh and knew instinctively what the other woman had been thinking. She knew Sara was trying again to think of another way for their situation to have a different ending. Diane knew that was impossibility. She looked at the face of the most important person in her life and saw a grim expression clouding the brilliant blue eyes. Sara, you are the most wonderful person in the world. You've kept your marks high and you're going to graduate with honors all the while working and helping me with my schoolwork. You're my best friend and my love and it's killing me to cause you this pain.
When Diane announced she was returning to Derbyshire with her parents after graduation she thought all hell would break loose but Sara had surprised her yet again. She made tea and brought it into the living room where she soothed Diane and calmly set about to find a solution to the problem. Hour after hour had yielded little results. No matter how logical Sara's reasoning, no matter how persuasive her arguments and no matter how passionate her declarations of love, Diane remained firm in her decision to leave.
Diane placed the last newspaper wrapped item into the box and glanced around the flat in assessment. The small flat had become more of a home to her than the large house belonging to her parents and she knew no matter what happened in her life that she would consider the years she had spent here with Sara to be the happiest of her life. Diane's gaze fell to the picture hanging on the wall that separated the doors of their bedrooms. Diane's cousin Rodney was an amateur photographer who had been visiting London and dropped in to see his cousin briefly in between her classes at the university. He had been experimenting with trying to capture the stately architectural composition of the buildings when on a whim he had decided to highlight Diane in front of one of the ivy covered structures. She was a camera shy subject who fidgeted nervously until she called out to a strikingly good-looking young woman.
Diane introduced Rodney to Sara and he was immediately taken with the tall, dark haired woman. He abandoned plans to capture the image of his rather ordinary cousin in order to concentrate on getting her friend on film. As he focused his camera and made adjustments to the settings he wondered how he could get Diane to move away from her beautiful flat mate. As he peered through the lens at the two women who appeared to be idly chatting he saw something that both amused and astonished him.
Suddenly his ordinary cousin was changed. Instead of the girl he had known all his life there was a woman of confidence and serene beauty. He wondered what had effected the change only for as long as it took him to realize the same look was on her friend's face as well. I'll be damned he thought and snapped the picture before either woman realized it had been taken. Two weeks after Rodney's visit, a sturdy envelope was delivered to the third floor London flat. Inside the envelope was a note from Rodney.
Sometimes a photographer needs to use all his skill to bring out the emotion and beauty of his subject. Sometimes, though, the subject doesn't need his help at all. Love, Rodney
The accompanying photograph showed Diane and Sara on a sunny afternoon gazing at one another, lost in conversation. That they were deeply in love was very apparent. Both women were stunned but it was Diane who spoke first.
"Do I...do I really look like that?"
"That's how I've seen you from almost the first time I met you. I'm glad Rodney captured it so you could see for yourself," Sara vowed and leaned over to place a light peck on Diane's lips. They had gone out then to a nearby second hand store and purchased a small oak frame for the picture. Now Sara followed Diane's line of sight and gazed at the photograph too. She decided then to try one last time.
"Diane, please reconsider. I love you and I know you love me and if that's true then everything else will work itself out. I'll go with you to talk to your family. We'll tell them you don't need their money or their approval and that you're not going to go through with a sham of a marriage to Roger. We can teach just as we always planned to do. Anything as long as we can be together, Diane. Please don't go, I beg you." Sara's voice broke and tears formed in the brilliant blue eyes.
Diane turned away, unable to meet the pleading gaze any longer. With her back turned, Diane found the strength to say the words she knew she had to.
"Sara, I know we've said some things to each other and I know at the time we both thought we meant them. I think, though, that we need to face facts and grow up now. We are about to graduate from the university and begin our adult lives. The fanciful notions we had while in college need to be put away. I won't say it wasn't pleasurable, but do you really think anyone would accept two women together? Especially two women together in the social circles I will be expected to be in when I return home?" She turned back to Sara, knowing she had to look the taller woman in the eye as she said what she must.
"I'm sorry if I led you to believe we could have a future, that was very wrong of me. My future lies in Derbyshire with Roger. I admit I was infatuated with you, Sara. It was all very exciting but I regret so much of what has happened between us. It wasn't fair for you and it wasn't right of me to let it go on. I don't want to hurt you, but this is the way it must be."
Sara was stunned and the tears spilled over, gliding silently down her cheeks. Diane chewed her bottom lip for a moment before continuing.
"My father will be here shortly. I think it's best if I stay with my parents at their hotel for the rest of the week. We will be leaving London immediately after the commencement exercises. The removers will be here tomorrow to collect my things. From this point on, I don't think we should see each other anymore."
Sara rose from her chair and moved to Diane's side and spoke with a voice choked with emotion. "Diane, I don't understand what's made you change. Please don't do this. You love me, I know you do."
"You're wrong Sara, I never did. Let's just put this down as...an interesting experiment. An experiment that's over now. Do you understand me? It's over."
Unable to take the torment any longer, Sara turned away and grabbed almost blindly for her coat and pocketbook. Stumbling to the door with the pain all but crushing her, she paused with her hand on the doorknob. She did not turn back to Diane but straightened up and spoke quietly.
"I love you, Diane Chamberlain and I always will. There will never be another for me in this life." With those words she opened the door and walked out, never looking back.
If she had looked back she would have seen a copy of her agony written on Diane's face. A heartbeat after the door closed, Diane slid to the floor, her body wracked with heart wrenching sobs. This was where her father found her fifteen minutes later.
"Diane! Diane, get up at once! I knocked twice and yet here you sit. Get up, girl!" Diane complied meekly, wiping the tears from her face with the back of her hands. Standing, she faced Miles Chamberlain, a large man with a commanding presence and tyrannical nature.
"Did you do as I instructed? You've told that woman you're finished with her?"
"Yes, Father," Diane replied meekly.
"It had better be so, Diane. I meant every word of what I said in Derbyshire. I think you know me well enough to know I never issue idle threats. Now, get your things and let us leave. It sickens me to be in this place of perversion."
Diane did as she was told. Two weeks earlier her father had intercepted a letter from Sara while Diane had been home for a final visit before graduation. Diane had protested the opening of her mail but her father had shouted down her objections saying he had every right to know what was going on under his own roof. The letter he held was damning proof of the very loving relationship between the two women. Diane recalled the first words with great clarity.
My darling Diane,
You've been gone for only a few days but already I miss holding you in my arms, watching you sleep and the taste of your lips on mine...
Her father didn't need to read anymore to her. He demanded an explanation and Diane gave the only one she had. She had told him that she and Sara were deeply in love. She said she would not be coming back to Derbyshire and no marriage to Roger would take place. Her father said nothing for a moment but his countenance darkened with barely suppressed rage. When he spoke it was in a quietly dangerous tone.
"Listen to me, Diane. You will break this abomination off immediately! You will never see that whore again! If you defy me in this I will see that woman broken. She will never teach and I will see her hounded out of every position she does obtain. I will have her up on charges. The laws may not be enforced so well these days but I assure you they are still on the books and I will not rest until I see her disgraced and ruined. Do I make myself entirely clear?"
Where Diane would have risked everything for Sara, she would not let Sara risk everything for her. Sara never wanted anything but to be a teacher and now all her hard work was in jeopardy. Diane knew her father perfectly capable of ruining the life of the woman she loved. She knew what she had to do; to save Sara, she would do as her father demanded.
Thus the most difficult two weeks of her life had begun and now it felt as if that life was over. She didn't understand how her heart could continue to beat or how she could continue to draw breath. All her senses were numb, but that at least was preferable to the unbearable hurt she knew was still to come.
Her father moved to the door and held it open for her, silently commanding her departure. Putting her coat on, she moved to the door slowly. She passed by the picture on the wall and her gaze was drawn to it once again.
I'll love you forever, Sara Jennings. Please find it in your heart to forgive me.
As she moved by her father and headed for the stairs a final thought passed through her mind.
I'll never see her again.
Diane stopped here, fresh tears flowing down her cheeks. She turned to Randa and Denise.
"When my father died many years later, my mother gave me the letter back. She didn't have the courage to defy him either until after he was gone, but by that time our lives had been decided for us. I was married and a mother and Sara was teaching and taking care of DJ. Our chance had passed."
Randa stood silently, tears gracing her cheeks. She gripped Denise's hand tightly, feeling an answering pressure from her partner.
"The bastard," Denise muttered.
"He was that," Diane agreed. "We were, however, a product of our times. It wasn't acceptable then and though I know Sara would have fought him, I couldn't let her. I loved her too much for that."
Diane removed a handkerchief from her pocketbook and stood up. "Let me have a moment and I'll finish the story. I'm afraid the rest is no happier." As she moved off, Denise called to her.
"Diane, can you wait just a moment?" At Diane's nod, the poet made her way up the stairs and into her study. Within a minute she returned carrying an old leather briefcase. She handed the case to Diane.
"I know Sara would want you to have these. I didn't know how important they were until now."
Opening the case, Diane removed several old vinyl records and recognized them by their titles as being ones that she and Sara had purchased together. Reaching in again she pulled out a small oak framed photograph. There in the picture were Sara and Diane as they had been so many years ago, standing in front of the ivy covered building in the sunshine.
Through fresh tears Diane gave a smile of profound gratitude to the two younger women who were living the dream she and Sara never could. "She kept it, all that time she kept it. I never knew." She left the room then, unable to speak further.
Diane continued on her way as Denise turned to Randa. The dark haired woman moved into the safety of her lover's arms and wept quietly. Randa felt her cheeks wet with tears as well.
"I love you, Denise Jennings. I love you so very much."
Randa sat with DJ upon the single sofa. Wedged between the arms of the chair and Denise's thigh she laid her legs bent over Denise's lower body. Within her hands she held the photograph DJ had given Diane. Intently she gazed down at the beautifully captured image.
"You look so much like Sara when she was young!"
Denise took the corner of the picture frame, twisting the print to her line of sight. "Runs in the family," she answered numbly. "You should see my father. It's part of our Irish heritage... that part of the family all seemed to have the dark hair and blue eyes."
"Irish?" Randa asked.
"I never told you?" As Randa shook her head DJ said, "Yes, apparently Sara said it was always obvious in me. The way I brush my teeth before breakfast. The way I brush my hair before I take a shower and open the bedroom curtains before I get dressed." She smiled at Sara's long running joke. "It's those silly Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes!"
Randa took DJ's hand and kissed her fingers. "I just thought those acts were all part of your quirky personality!" Looking back at the photograph she said, "They look so happy together. It's heart breaking to think that two people who were really in love would never be able to have the happiness they wanted together. It seems that a domino effect of obstacles always prevented them from being together. It's just so sad."
"Hmm... but all of this still has yet to explain who this Maggie is and what part she seems to play in Sara's past."
"I will be getting to that," Diane said as she re-entered the living room.
Denise watched the older woman make her way back toward the sofa. She seemed more composed after taking the time to freshen a little. Randa climbed out of the chair and approached Diane. She sat down beside the frail looking woman, placing one hand upon her shoulder.
"Are you feeling okay? Would you like another drink?"
Diane shook her head. "No thank you and yes I am feeling slightly better now." She looked down at the leather case, her eyes moving over the collection of long playing albums. "I need to tell you the rest of the story. What I tell you now is what Sara related to me herself when we finally met again and made our peace."
Denise leaned forward in her chair. "About this Maggie?"
"Yes." Diane nodded and began the second part of Sara's story.
London, September 1961
For a Saturday afternoon the pub was sparsely populated. It was an old building, situated on the outskirts of the city and more frequented by elderly gentlemen and ex-servicemen who still wore their medals with pride upon old navy blazers. In the far corner of the room sat an elderly man wearing an oversized tweed jacket and tattered flat cap. Between his teeth he held a well used pipe and its acrid smoke flowed over the room like a light mist. By the entrance to the pub sat a similar looking man nursing a pint of Guinness. By his feet sat a loyal Jack Russell terrier. The shabby canine looked up at his master hoping the man would drop another 'pork scratching' his way.
Situated by the far end of the bar, Sara Jennings looked at her surroundings. Once again she wondered why she had agreed to meet her friend in this run down, back street drinking hole. Sandy had also studied with Sara and they both received teaching positions in the same primary school. She and Sandra had been relatively close and had recently arranged to meet for shopping excursions. Mainly it was for the simple act of being seen around the well-known retail outlets and occasionally buying the latest fashions. Though she didn't earn an awful lot of money, periodically Sara was able to treat herself and today was one of those days. She was hoping to buy a new necklace. It seemed bells worn around the neck had become all the rage and far be it from her not to follow the latest trends.
It was during one of their trips around town that Sara had disclosed to Sandra the nature of her relationship with Diane. Of course that was now over, it had been for over three months and although Sara managed to continue on with her life, inside she still felt empty. Sandra had told her it would take time but she would get over the petite brunette. Sara, however, knew that even though that may be true, she would never love another the way she did Diane. She didn't think she was able. The tall woman missed her flat mate terribly. When Diane had left, Sara felt unable to remain in the flat, which had been such a place of happiness for the both of them. The young teacher had sought other living situations. She discovered a male friend from university was leasing out a room in his recently emigrated parent's home. Although the rent would stretch her to the limit, Sara was more than willing to pay if she was able to get out of her present dwellings and away from what had become hurtful memories. So she had left the little flat, leaving nothing but a lone forwarding telephone number with the landlady. Sara moved into a nice midtown house shared by Ron her landlord, his sister Dotty and a medical student who was hardly ever there, Kenny.
Sliding her finger over the rim of her pint glass Sara looked again towards the door, as it swung open. She sighed in disappointment to see a young man with strawberry blonde hair enter, and not her friend Sandy. Their eyes connected briefly before the man headed off towards the far wall. He stopped by a jukebox that seemed so out of place in the dingy pub. It was obviously the landlord's pride and joy. Sara watched him slip a silver coin into the machine and make his selection. A moment later the quiet of the room was broken by the popular Beatles tune, "Love me do". The brunette rolled her eyes. That particular band was very popular but she seemed to be one of the fair few who didn't see the attraction.
Draining her glass once again, Sara signalled toward the heavyset bartender. She wasn't a heavy drinker in the least but brooding over the events of the past months had given her the need to drown her sorrows. One drink had turned into two and then three and by her fourth Sara felt the need for something a lot stronger.
When the balding landlord approached she said, "A double vodka with ice."
"Make that two," said a voice from behind her.
Sara turned to see the young man with strawberry blonde hair. He smiled and slid into the stool beside her as their drinks were placed upon the dented, scratched wood of the counter. "My treat," he said and placed a five pound note by their glasses.
"Thanks." Sara picked up her glass and drained it in one go. She placed the empty container back down upon the bar and looked at the landlord. "Same again; he's paying." She jerked her head to the side, indicating her new drinking friend.
The man nodded towards the barman then turned back to Sara. "A woman after my own heart." He held out his hand. "Johnny."
Sara shook it firmly. "Sara. So what's a smart looking guy like you doing in a place like this?"
Johnny laughed. "I was about to ask you the same question. It seems I am not the only person looking to drink away my troubles today."
"So you got dumped too?"
"More like I found her in bed with my ex-best friend." Johnny shot back his glass and signalled towards the landlord who was now drying glasses with a tatty white cloth. "Keep them coming," he said then addressed Sara once again.
Sara gazed down into her glass, swirling the ice around her vodka. "She dumped me for marriage and money."
Turning towards Johnny, Sara delivered a steely gaze. "You have a problem with that?"
Johnny held up his hands, unnerved by the icy glare. "No, man!"
Sara nodded and drained her glass. She was in no mood to defend her feelings but she was loathed to lie about them either. Widening her eyes Sara blinked repeatedly as she began to feel the effects of the alcohol take over her body. Rubbing her forehead she waited until the bartender refilled both glasses before turning back to Johnny.
The young man held up his glass. "To women... and the way they mess with our heads."
Sara tapped Johnny's glass with her own. "To women... god forbid I ever become one," she slurred.
Laughing, Johnny nodded. "I second that."
Once again draining their glasses they slammed them back down upon the bar together and simultaneously shouted, "Fill us up!" The laughed stupidly as their bodies began to surrender to the oncoming onslaught of alcohol.
Sitting up, Sara groaned as her head spun and her stomach lurched. Taking a short breath she opened her eyes and came face to face with nervous green orbs and rumpled strawberry blonde hair. As shock registered in her system Sara realised she was naked. The sheets that pooled limply around her body exposed her uncomfortably. Swiftly she pulled them up to cover her bare chest.
"That's what I said."
Sara stared at Johnny. "Did we...?"
Johnny pulled on his paisley shirt and started connecting the buttons. "The evidence seems to state that we did." He tucked his shirt into his trousers. "Look..."
Sara held up her hand, stopping the man from continuing. The expression upon his face and the tone in his voice told the young teacher all she needed to hear and for that she was glad. "No need to say anything. We drank way too much yesterday. This shouldn't have happened but it did... it's..."
"One of those things," Johnny finished for her, rolling his eyes. "Yes... I'm glad you agree. I didn't want to be the bastard here but I haven't gotten over my last girl yet. However if things ever change..."
Sara shook her head, an emptiness filling her senses.
Johnny nodded. "Yes... you're right." He pushed his feet into large shoes, bolstering his height by another three inches, and then looked around Sara's room awkwardly. "Well... I better be going... and find out where on earth I am."
"Right." Gathering the deep green covers around herself Sara climbed out of her bed. Opening the bedroom door she allowed Johnny to exit first and followed him down the stairs to the directly facing front door. As she pulled it open she was shocked to see Sandy standing on the doorstep - hand held up ready to knock on the door. The blonde's surprised eyes took in Sara's scantily clad form and the young man who was stepping past her.
Sara looked at Johnny nervously. He nodded, forcing a tense grimace past his lips before he disappeared down the side of the house.
Sara turned back to Sandy. "Bit late," she said hollowly.
Sandra stepped into the house. "I came around to apologise, Sara. I had a bit of a family emergency... I'll tell you later." She closed the door behind her. "Who was that?"
Wrapping one arm around her stomach Sara frowned. "I can't remember. I met him at that pub I was supposed to be meeting you in. We were drinking... a lot."
Sandy studied Sara closely. "You didn't, did you?"
Sara stared at her friend blankly.
"Man, I thought you weren't into all this free love!"
Realising the impact of what Sandy was saying Sara choked back a wretched sob. "How could I have been so stupid?" Her eyes glazed with unshed tears. "I just started drinking... thinking and drinking. That's more or less all I can remember apart from gaining a drinking partner someway through the afternoon." Sara thought for a moment. "Johnny... that was his name." As dizziness overtook her, Sara turned towards the stairs and sat down heavily. "What have I done?"
Sandra sat down beside her friend, squeezing her body into the remaining space on the narrow step. She tucked a lock of light blonde hair behind her ear as her other arm wrapped around Sara's shoulder. "How do you feel?"
"Like I have just cheated on the woman I love."
"I know," Sara sighed despondently. "I can't help it. I still love her... I know I always will, Sandy." The brunette groaned as her stomach turned heavily. "Oh... God!"
Jumping from the step Sara clamped one hand over her mouth as she dashed back up the stairs and towards the communal bathroom.
From the kitchen Kenny emerged curiously.
Sandra looked up at the sporadically seen medical student who was wearing head to toe black apart from a large target design printed boldly upon the front of his tee shirt. "Hello, stranger."
Kenny looked at Sandra in question. "What's wrong with Sara?"
"Bit too much to drink last night," she lied.
"Say no more." Kenny disappeared back into the kitchen. "One thirst quenching sugary drink coming up!"
When that decision had been made Sara then told Sandra and the people with whom she was sharing the house. It would be obvious to them, but she needed to keep her pregnancy hidden from everyone else. Luckily fashion during this time consisted of garments such as tank dresses. The brunette knew that clothes such as these would disguise her growing condition and so she brought herself a selection of these dresses in bright colours such as orange and lime green with polka dots. An added bonus for the tall teacher was that due to her firm physique, her progressively showing pregnancy never became overly apparent. She was easily able to cover up her stomach with the hideous sixties fashions. Sara was able to keep her teaching position right up until she was seven months pregnant, eventually leaving when she stated she was taking a break before starting a new position.
Once the added concern of her teaching duties lessened, Sara's thoughts began to reel. Though inside the notion of giving up her child was becoming increasingly hard to bear, her major concern became who would take the infant. Sara was overjoyed when she discovered that Geoff and Alice Spicer, the couple that had taken her in on first arriving in London, had wanted to adopt for a long time. The couple had been trying for a child for a while but were medically unable to conceive. Sara instinctively knew these two people would make an excellent choice for her child's parents. They were both only five years older than Sara. She also hoped it meant that she would be able to keep a certain amount of contact with them. Sara accepted the fact that if Geoff and Alice became her child's parents she hoped they would allow her to keep in touch and informed of its development. Eventually the adoption papers went through, Geoff and Alice were the lucky parents and they agreed to keep Sara up to date with the child's growth.
Through all of this Sara hadn't once tried to make contact with Diane. Leaving only a forwarding telephone number with her ex-landlady, she hadn't heard from the petite brunette either. Thinking that Diane didn't want to make contact with her, Sara tried to accept the fact that they would probably never see each other again. Diane had made her choice and had chosen the life her family had wanted for her. It never stopped hurting, drawing Sara to the brink of tears on several occasions, as she acknowledged how her life had changed and how different it would have been with Diane. It would be some years later before they saw each other again. All the hurt and long buried love would resurface then as confessions were made and truths were finally brought into the open.
Though the day had begun, the cloudy late spring morning had remained oppressively dark. So much so that the hospital's maternity ward was lit with artificial lighting. The cries of babies echoed along the wide corridors of the hospital. There were several wards on the third floor maternity unit of the Royal Infirmary. Each one was filled with twelve mothers accompanied by their newborn children in little translucent cots by the sides of their beds. Sara was situated in the back corner of maternity ward three. She almost felt like the outcast, the dirty secret... the unmarried mother. Although several women had attempted polite conversation she had remained distant.
Looking down into the cot beside her bed, Sara knew why. Ever since her child had been born almost seven days ago she wondered whether giving the little girl away was indeed the right option. Sara tried to remain detached, clinical even, only giving her little baby attention when it needed feeding or changing. Other mothers in the ward had looked down on her, disgusted at her seeming lack of care. The truth of the matter was that from the moment her little girl was born, Sara's maternal instincts had fully asserted themselves. It broke her heart a little more each day as the time approached when Geoff and Alice Spicer would come to take her home.
The couple had already visited Sara several times since the baby had been born. Together the three had chosen the child's name - Margaret Elizabeth. Sara agreed to this name because she simply liked the name Maggie and Geoff and Alice because they were both proud Royalists.
It was Friday, mid-morning and although Sara had only been awake for two hours the young woman felt as though those few hours had never existed. Sitting on the edge of her hospital bed Sara looked down at Maggie sleeping peacefully in her bed. From behind her she could hear voices of other mothers and the odd gurgle of newborn children. For the first time that morning there was a gentle tranquillity to the air.
Keeping her hands upon her lap Sara looked over her shoulder, her eyes trained upon the wide double doors of the ward. Through the window she could see the back of Sandra's head as she stood in the corridor. Her friend was conversing with the Spicers and a representative of the Social Services. Today was the day Geoff and Alice would take Maggie home and Sara had requested one final moment alone with her child.
Turning back to the translucent cot, Sara leaned forwards and pulled back the white crochet blanket from Maggie's body. Sleepy blue eyes opened and Maggie whimpered in protest as Sara lifted her from the warm cocoon of her little bed. She pulled the child into her arms. Cerulean blue eyes, very similar to her own, looked up at her and Sara smiled in absolute affection. She closed her eyes, bringing Maggie's head to her nose as she breathed in her scent.
"I have to say goodbye," she whispered against Maggie's head and reopened her eyes. Sara raised the pads of her fingers and smoothed them over the silky soft skin of Maggie's cheek then ran them through the light reddish fuzz upon her head. The soft texture caressed her fingertips and tickled her senses.
"I hope one day you will understand why I have to do this." Sara ran her index finger over the infant's lips and Maggie lightly sucked upon her fingertip. "But it doesn't mean that I don't love you. I tried not to, really I did, but you are my little miracle, the most precious thing in the world and I do love you." Feeling her emotions begin to surface, Sara pulled her finger from Maggie's lips and held the tiny child close. Squeezing her eyes shut she rested her chin lightly upon the baby's head and swallowed down a tight ball of despair that was rapidly working its way to the surface. "I wish I could give you the life you deserve. I want you to have the best of everything you can possibly have. Geoff and Alice are a nice couple."
Sara kissed Maggie's cherub-like nose. From the moment the infant was born she had counted the days until they would both leave the hospital. She knew it wouldn't be with the newborn child within her arms. Sara had closed herself off from that thought. Instead she concentrated on recovering from a stressful delivery and providing Maggie with the vital sustenance she needed from her mother before the Spicer's took her away.
Cuddling the bundle within her arms, Sara laid her cheek upon Maggie's soft, fuzzy head. From behind her she heard the ward doors swing open and turned to see Sandra and the Social Services representative, Mrs Barker, heading towards her.
Looking back at Maggie, Sara kissed her forehead softly. "I'm sorry," she muttered against the infant's fragrant skin. "God... don't ever hate me for this. I just want to do what is right for you... that's all."
The echoing footsteps that slowly approached Sara eventually stopped by the side of her bed. Casting her vision to the right Sara gazed briefly at her friend and the Social Worker. There was a cold air of detachment in Mrs Barker's eyes that told Sara this woman could not afford to be swayed by maternal sentiment. Sandra stepped forward, placing her hand upon Sara's shoulder but refusing to acknowledge the moment was about to end; Sara ignored her. Turning back to the now sleeping child lying serenely in her arms Sara held her impossibly closer, careful not to hurt the small bundle within her embrace.
"I have to do this," she said, trying to convince herself as much as the oblivious child. "It's the right thing to do... it has to be."
Feeling an emptiness encompass her heart, Sara looked back at Mrs Barker. The Social Worker took a step forward portraying a sincere smile and Sandra squeezed her shoulder a little tighter.
Leaning down the brunette placed her last loving kiss upon Maggie's head and then held out the child. She kept her eyes trained upon her lap, unable to watch as the weight was lifted from her arms. Sara held back a distraught sob. She closed her eyes, biting hard upon her bottom lip as the echoing sound of retreating footsteps increased in distance.
A lonely void of chilling despair filled Sara's heart. She felt the distance between Maggie and herself grow as each footstep took her child further from her life. It was like her very soul was fading and her spirit dying. When the ward doors swung open and shut a titanic sense of panic overtook Sara's being.
"No!" she cried. Heavy tears that she had tried so valiantly to hold back could no longer be contained. "I can't." Jumping from the bed Sara turned and started towards the double doors. "I can't," she sobbed. "She's my baby."
Sara changed her pace from a speedy walk to a frantic dash as she desperately tried to find Maggie. Pulling the doors open she ran out into the corridor and looked in both directions, anxious to find Mrs Barker. As she turned to run down the corridor a firm hand captured her arm, pulling her backwards.
"Sara," Sandra pleaded desperately. "You can't do this. You know this is the best thing you can do for her."
"But she is my baby," Sara cried openly, no longer caring as she stared at her friend through blurry eyes. Salty tears ran down her cheeks, streaking her distraught features.
Sandra took her friend by the shoulders. "You know this is for the best. You have to let her go. You will see her again I am sure. Think of Maggie."
Sara clasped her friend's hands that were tight around her shoulders. "But she's mine, Sandy. She grew inside of me." The brunette continued to cry, speaking through weighty tears. "She is a part of me... I gave her life," she sobbed. "I thought I had nothing to offer her but I was wrong... I have love. What else could there be?"
Feeling her knees buckle the young woman fell lifelessly to the floor. Sitting awkwardly upon her legs she sobbed helplessly. Sandra knelt down beside her, holding Sara close. She ignored the passing mothers who gave curious looks and the medical staff who hovered around as they wondered how to help. It was hurtful enough for Sara that she had already been shunned by those mothers who did know and didn't agree with her actions. Now Sara understood why.
As her tears gradually lessened Sara looked up at Sandra. "She will hate me. If she ever finds out the truth she will hate me. I mean... the only thing I know about her father is his name." Sara took a ragged breath. "He has no idea of her existence, as I know nothing of him. What kind of person can do something so stupid? What kind of mother would give up her own child, Sandy?" Sara rubbed her moist cheeks, her breathing harsh and broken.
"The kind of mother who loves her child enough to want her to have the best, even if that means giving her up." Sandra's own eyes filled with tears, her heart breaking for her friend. "It doesn't mean you love her any less. Maybe more so."
Sandra nodded. "Yes, more because you love her enough that you can let her go. Let her be cared for by people who can look after and provide for her. Give her a stable home life with two loving parents who are desperate to share that love with another." Sandra kissed Sara's lowered head. "I can't even begin to understand how you feel, Sara, but you knew before hand that this was what you needed to do... for little Maggie."
Sara let her chin fall to her chest and placed her forehead in the palm of her hand. "I feel like my heart has been ripped from my chest," she whispered and trembled as though she physically felt the pain.
Not knowing what else she could say, Sandra held her friend in silence. The echoes of footsteps and hushed murmur of voices faded to a dull quiet all around them. She held Sara until her tears were spent and then escorted her lifeless friend back to bed. Although Sara accepted her actions and knew they were right for her child, it would take her a long time to come to terms with her loss.
End of Part III