Authors' Notes: Please see Part I
"So it's true then," Denise mumbled. It wasn't a question; it was a statement of fact. Her eyes moved around the living room in desolation until they landed on the portrait of herself and Sara that Sara had commissioned the previous Christmas, their last Christmas together. Denise saw herself again as the gangly 10 year old she had been with the woman who had become her role model, her friend and her surrogate mother. A woman probably closer to her than her own mother, a woman who had kept the most important fact in her life from DJ.
"Yes, it's true, DJ," Diane continued. "Sara told me everything after you and she moved here. After the fire and you lost your parents, Sara wrote to me. We had been writing since the time of my father's death when I could finally be sure he could never hurt her. She wrote and told me that she was moving here with you."
"Did she also say that history had repeated itself and she was being shackled with another unwanted child?" Denise asked with bitterness thick in her voice. Randa reached over and laid a comforting hand on the poet's arm. The nurse saw pain filled blue eyes turn to hers. "She never told me, Randa. She never told me and that is as good as lying about it."
"No, love, it's not," Randa replied, slowly shaking her head. "Don't you see? She didn't tell you because she loved you. She loved you the same way she loved that other little girl. She was strong enough in her love to let Maggie go and she was strong enough in her love for you to let you stay." The nurse glanced over to Diane for the assurance that she was right in her assumption.
Diane nodded. "Sara told me about Maggie. How she survived giving that little baby to the Spicers I'll never know. As part of the agreement the Social Services demanded at the time, the birth mother could have no contact with the adopting family. Sara's case was slightly different because she knew Geoff and Alice but the outcome had to be the same. She could know what was happening to Maggie because Sara knew whom she was with, maybe even occasionally see her, but she could never tell her who she was. Can you imagine the torment? Sara endured it though because she felt she deserved nothing better. After giving her child away she felt as if she deserved no happiness at all. Then your parents died."
Denise had been staring down at her hands during Diane's explanation but now her eyes had a puzzled expression in them as she raised them to soft brown ones.
Diane smiled gently. "She wrote to me because she was certain at first she couldn't possibly give you the home and love you needed. She met with the Social Service worker who was caring for you before she arrived back in Manchester. She was working at a very posh school in London at the time and they had practically talked her into staying there permanently with talk of her becoming the next headmistress. She told the Social Worker there wasn't any way she could care for a ten year old girl in her present situation but the truth was she was afraid of letting another child down."
It was Randa's turn to be puzzled. "Sara was afraid? She always seemed so sure and so strong, it's hard to imagine."
Diane gave a rueful soft laugh. "You didn't know Sara before she was tempered by the pain of giving her daughter away. I'm afraid it's a rare one of us that starts out wise, it's only in the living of our lives that we see the mistakes we made and learn from them." There was silence in the room as the women absorbed that truth.
"If she was so afraid, why did she take me? Did they make her take me?" Denise asked, almost seeming to dread the answer.
"Heavens no, child, she took you because she loved you. The Social Worker brought Sara to the house where you were staying, do you remember that?"
"Vaguely. I remember I didn't recognize her at first, I hadn't seen much of her. She sent birthday and Christmas presents but rarely visited."
"Well, DJ, she took one look at you and saw blue eyes that so reminded her of her brother and she was lost. She told me later that if it hadn't been for the terrible deaths of your parents it almost might have seemed God was giving her a second chance, a second chance to love and cherish a child. She quit the job in London and bought this house with the insurance money from your parents. She wanted you to have all the love and stability in a home that she could provide. She knew my daughter was near in age to you and by then we had accepted our role as loving friends. From that point on you were the only thing that mattered in her life. Sara Jennings loved you, DJ, and nothing that happened before or after you came along will ever change that."
The poet did not respond to that statement. Instead she asked, "If Maggie had no contact with Sara, how did she find out Sara was her mother?"
"That was one of the things I found out over the last two days. I called Geoff and Alice after Sara died. The small bequest of jewelry she made me in her will was to go to Maggie. I kept that from you, DJ, but I did it at Sara's request. She never wanted you to doubt you were the only one in her life but those few items of jewelry belonged to your grandmother and Sara felt that even if Maggie were never to know where they came from, she should have something of her heritage also. I gave the jewelry to Geoff and Alice and they decided it was time to tell Maggie about the adoption."
Denise rose then, made her way to the door and opened it. "I'm sorry, Diane, I just need a little time to absorb all this. It's been a very difficult day." She stepped outside leaving Randa and Diane behind in the house.
"She's shaken," Diane observed.
"Who wouldn't be?" answered the blonde. "She's had a lot of information to take in within the space of a single morning. She found out that maybe the person she thought she knew best, she really didn't know at all."
"I disagree," Diane said firmly. "DJ knew everything that was important about Sara. She knew she was a woman of uncommon wisdom, a great sense of personal honor and a deep and abiding love for her. What could be more important than those things?"
Randa chewed her bottom lip slightly. "I suppose you're right. You know, I wonder if Sara hadn't had to give up her child if she would have been the very special person she was in Denise's life?"
"I don't know that and none of us ever could. Maybe DJ needs to think about that."
Randa furrowed her brow. "There's one thing in all this that I don't understand. Why didn't Sara go to her family for help? Surely her mother would have understood. Maybe her brother would have adopted the baby. I would have gone to my family first. Why didn't she?"
Diane was thoughtful. "I never asked her about that because I didn't feel she needed to second guess her actions but I think it was probably a combination of reasons. I think she was somewhat ashamed. I know she never forgave herself for sleeping with Johnny and the subsequent pregnancy. Her mother was already having problems. In fact, she would be dead within two years of Maggie's birth. Why she never told her brother I don't know."
The nurse nodded. "I think I need to talk to Denise about all this. She asked me to come over here and I'll be damned if I'll let her go through this alone even if I have to scour this town for her," Randa vowed then hesitated. "I'm not really surprised at how much this is bothering her. She's got such a sensitive soul that even small matters affect her deeply. You'd be amazed at how she can start brooding over the tiniest thing."
"Oh, no I wouldn't," laughed Diane. "She's done it all her life. Now, let me tell you where she does that brooding..."
Lost in thought, Denise had left the house entirely confounded. In doing so she left behind her jacket, phone and even keys, her mind too busy trying to come to terms with what Diane had told her. Pushing her hands into shallow pockets, DJ walked aimlessly down the streets. The rubber souls of her training shoes scraped along the gravelled pavement and her eyes remained fixed upon the ground. Small stones that she found along the path were kicked further down the street in abandon. Passing a small newsagents Denise checked her pockets for loose change before disappearing inside the small paper shop. She emerged with two small boxes that she pushed into opposite back pockets of her jeans and continued on her directionless amble.
No matter what both Diane and Randa said, Denise couldn't see past the fact that Sara had still kept this from her. She couldn't exactly call it a lie but was it deceit? She thought. The poet couldn't understand why Sara would refrain from telling her 'because' she loved her. Surely that wouldn't be enough of a reason to do so? Didn't she trust me? Shaking her head Denise kicked another pebble across the ground and looked up. Taking in her surroundings Denise naturally found herself standing by the edge of the main road facing the park. She looked beyond the black railings bordering the expanse of greenery and spied the path leading to the far end of the large tree clustered field. Checking both sides of the road DJ waited until a single decked green bus passed her before jogging across the wide road. The shrill of children's voices drifted towards Denise's ears and she spotted a small group of boys playing with a football to her left. Entering the wrought iron gates the black and white ball rolled towards her and DJ kicked it back - her intentions solely focused on retreating to her hidden place of contemplation. The one place she felt she was truly able to withdraw within herself and dwell on her thoughts.
Strolling aimlessly past rows of strategically planted flowers Denise didn't even acknowledge the variety of lavish colours as she made her way towards the sheltered area of the park. The warm summertime sun heated the earth creating soothing natural scents that seeped into her senses. The air was still, generating what was turning out to be the warmest day so far that year.
Taking a shortcut through a crop of trees Denise continued to think about Sara. The tranquil sounds of birds singing in the branches above her didn't seem to register in her ears. Why wouldn't she have told me? Denise pondered. Even if I might not have understood when I was younger, I would have now. Spying a fallen branch upon the ground Denise picked it up and resumed her journey. She tapped the large stick into the soiled ground as she walked. She didn't trust me. Maybe she didn't want to destroy my illusions that I was the only child she had ever wanted?
Feeling even more confused, Denise stepped from the edge of the woods and frowned as she spotted an elderly couple seated upon 'her' bench. The man and woman sat together with a small brown paper bag between them. By their feet two squirrels lurked timidly, waiting as the couple occasionally scattered pieces of stale bread onto the ground. Sighing, Denise threw her stick back into the woods and turned instead towards the main area of the park. After a short walk she began to see a selection of multicoloured apparatus. Swings, a roundabout, a slide and climbing bars were among the wide variety of entertainment available. Although there were children in the play area, Denise noted that the roundabout wasn't in use. In a spark of childlike desire the poet made a beeline for the neglected ride. The roundabout was old. Orange paint on the metal bars had chipped away in certain places revealing an older green colour underneath. The wooden platform, painted deep blue, had worn away in patches where children's feet had constantly landed upon its base. Stepping onto the platform Denise moved to the middle of the roundabout and sat upon the large, circular, metal rod in the centre of the ride. Crossing her legs at the ankle she supported her precarious sitting position and folded her arms.
The sky was a wispy light blue and Denise looked up into its stillness watching a single white cloud hang limply in the atmosphere. Suddenly remembering her detour to the local newsagents, DJ pulled the two small boxes out of her back pockets. Removing the cellophane wrapper from the larger gold box she pulled out a single white stick from inside and placed it between her lips. Taking a match from the smaller box Denise struck the stick across the rough side of the box and lit her cigarette. Taking a deep breath she grimaced as the smoke filled her lungs. Why do I feel like I am fifteen all over again?
Hearing the rustle of footsteps, Denise looked to her side to see a familiar figure approaching. Suddenly feeling like a guilty teen caught in a rebellious act, DJ held her breath and hid the cigarette behind her back.
Randa smiled as she neared Denise. "You weren't on the bench."
Still holding her breath Denise nodded causing Randa to narrow her eyes.
"What are you up to?"
Feeling lungs burn through a lack of oxygen DJ exhaled. A cloud of grey smoke billowed passed her lips. She took another deep breath before saying, "Nothing much."
Eyes as wide as saucers, Randa stepped up onto the ride. "You are not smoking?" She pulled DJ's hand from behind her back and saw the fuming cigarette in her fingers. The blonde looked up at Denise in question.
"I um..." DJ shrugged. "I just felt like it." She moved to place the cigarette back between her lips when Randa pulled it from her fingers. Stubbing it out upon the handrail Randa threw it to the ground.
"Denise, this is not you. You don't smoke!"
Looking down at her empty hands Denise said, "I used to. It was all part of my teen rebel period. Then one day Sara caught me and practically pulled it from my lips. She said if she ever caught me smoking again or even smelled it on me she would make me eat it!" The poet snorted as Randa grimaced. "I just laughed and that made her all the more angry. I realised she wasn't joking."
"So why now?" Randa asked and pulled the packet from DJ's back pocket. "Apart from making sure I never want to kiss you again!"
Denise looked down guiltily. "I was angry."
"I suppose." DJ slipped from the centre mechanism of the roundabout and leaned against the handrail facing Randa. She looked down at her lover, the hurt shining in misty blue eyes. "Why didn't she tell me, Randa? I don't understand. How could she not have told me something like that?"
Randa faced DJ. "I'm sure she had her reasons, Denise, but I doubt she kept this from you because she wanted to hurt you." The nurse reached out and took DJ's hand. Their arms hung between them. "Imagine how hard it must have been for her. At first you would have been too young to understand then I guess as time moved on it became harder to say anything. If I were in her position I wouldn't want you to feel anything less than how I felt about you by making you think that maybe I didn't love you as much as I did." Lifting DJ's hand Randa kissed her fingers and asked, "If I ask you something will you answer me honestly?"
"First of all... do you think Sara's love for you was in any way false? Secondly... looking at if from Sara's point of view and taking everything into account... what would you have done in her situation... really? Not what you would have liked her to have done but what you would have done."
Surprised by Randa's questions, Denise couldn't help but see the credibility in what she was asking. Sara had never made her feel anything less than special throughout their time together; even when she had slipped into a rather recalcitrant phase in her teens. As for seeing the issue from Sara's point of view, Denise again thought of the facts surrounding her parent's death. She had hidden them from Sara. She had done what she thought she had to in order to keep her aunt from hurting any more than she already had with the death of her brother. That was a hard decision to make for one so young. Suddenly DJ wondered whether the decision she made had been the right one.
Looking back at Randa Denise said, "Maybe we all make decisions in our lives and can only hope we are doing what is right. We do what we think is best at the time."
"But it still hurts."
"I know, love." Randa stepped forwards and pulled DJ into her arms. "But look at this from a different angle. You do have family after all."
Denise kissed the top of Randa's head. "You are my family, Randa. The only difference is that now I have a relative who seems to despise my very existence. I don't know what I should do."
Randa gazed up at DJ intently. "What we should do. We're in this together." She clasped the poet's hand. "Always!"
Grinning, DJ leaned down to kiss Randa but the blonde suddenly pulled away. Frowning, Denise looked at Randa in question.
The blonde shrugged and motioned over DJ's shoulder. "We have an audience."
Gazing over her shoulder Denise spotted a group of children watching them from a colourful and intricately constructed climbing frame. "Oh them. They are just waiting for their turn on this thing." Denise patted the roundabout. "But they'll just have to wait." She stepped off the platform and took a firm hold of the orange bar with both hands. "It's the rules of the play ground... wait your god damn turn." Denise proceeded to push the roundabout. Once it was turning at an efficient pace, DJ jumped back onto the ride.
"Man, I can just tell you were the play ground bully when you were younger! Look at this... thirty two years old and hogging the toys."
"What?" Denise asked, keeping Randa in view as the background spun past her. "Is there an age limit on this thing? Anyway... when was the last time you were on one of these?"
Randa sat down upon the wooden platform. "We didn't come here to play on the swings, Denise."
"I know but I needed some respite." Denise stepped off the slowing ride and increased the speed once again. She jumped back on the section beside Randa. "Here, copy me." Stretching out upon the platform Denise lay back and looked up at the sky. "I used to love staring at the clouds while spinning around. We used to see how long it would take before we would feel nauseous!"
"Nice!" said Randa as she copied DJ's actions and re-positioned herself upon her back. The blonde looked up into the sky. "You realise you're going to have to talk to Maggie."
Denise let her head fall to the side, looking at Randa. "I know. I'm just trying to avoid thinking about it for a while."
Randa smiled. "Okay." Moving her arm through the bar Randa took DJ's hand once again. "So what did you do after you made yourself sick on the roundabout?"
The poet grinned. "When this finishes... I'll let you know. Meanwhile lets just see whether Miranda Leigh Martin can keep up with the big kids!"
"Speaking of that," Randa said, a sudden persistence ringing in her voice. "Is your middle name Julia?"
Denise rolled her eyes. "You are supposed to be looking up at the sky."
"Fine." Randa looked away. "But I am not giving up on this," she mumbled.
DJ sniggered. "Uh huh."
Sitting upon a narrow plastic seat, Denise wrapped her hands tighter around long metal chains. Her feet remained planted upon the ground as she moved herself slowly back and forth. Beside her sat Randa. Her legs hung limply as she manoeuvred her swing a little more vigorously.
"I cant' believe we're playing on the swings," the blonde said.
DJ chuckled. "Oh come on. Sometimes us adults spend so much time trying to be 'grown up' that we forget the little things in life. We are never too old to appreciate the simple things... after a certain age I think most of us forget what uncomplicated pleasure we can derive from the most mundane activities. It's an escape... a release." Denise slipped off her seat and stood behind Randa. Placing her hands on the blonde's shoulder she pushed her gently. "You can't tell me you have not been having any fun."
Randa planted her feet upon the ground, effectively stopping Denise's actions. "Of course I had fun. I always have fun with you, Denise but you can't escape from what is going on. Where's the kick ass D Jennings who turned up on my doorstep all those months ago? She would never have let this bother her."
"She's on vacation."
"You're not going to hide... escape... or go reclusive again, Denise. One of Sara's last requests to me was that I make sure you didn't revert back to how you used to be. I'll be damned if you do!"
"She asked that?"
Randa nodded and rose from her swing. She turned around and placed one knee upon the seat, looking at DJ in the semi darkness. An ornamental park light illuminated the side of Denise's face and Randa caressed her shadowed features. "Remember you are not alone in this, Denise."
The poet smiled, about to respond when an insistent chirping rung out from Randa's sweatshirt. Randa looked down surprised, then pulled DJ's mobile phone from her pocket.
"You left the house empty handed so I brought your phone and keys with me." She handed the ringing telephone over to Denise who answered it begrudgingly.
"DJ... I've been trying to get in touch with you at the house all afternoon," Carl said. "Been gallivanting?"
"Something like that; what's up?"
"Well the producer of 'The Open Book' has been in touch with me. Their guest had to pull out so they were hoping you would go down to record your interview. I thought that since you were presently in the country you would be willing to do this now instead of further down the line."
Denise pursed her lips in thought. She looked at Randa who had wandered over to the climbing frame. "When is it?"
"This Friday. They record on the Friday and edit over the weekend then air on the Monday. They have also requested footage from the launch and your book sighing." Carl paused, "So what do you think?"
"I'll have to talk it over with Randa. There's a lot going on here at the moment, Carl. Can I get back to you?"
"Okay, DJ, just don't take too long."
"Tomorrow," Denise said and disconnected the line. She looked back over at Randa and her eyebrows drew together in confusion. With an amused smirk she began to make her way over to her lover, unable to withhold her chuckles as she took in the blonde's position. Letting her head fall to the side Denise asked, "What are you doing?"
Randa was hanging from the climbing frame - upside down. Her knees were bent over a metal bar and her ankles were crossed trying to keep her suspended form aloft. Randa's arms were folded over her chest keeping her sweatshirt from falling and revealing her upper torso.
"I'm re-living my youth... It was your suggestion!"
"Anyway who was that?" Randa continued.
"Carl. The producers from that programme want me to go down and record my interview this Friday. I told him I would talk to you about it first. Right now though I think we have something more important to discuss."
"And that is?" Randa unfolded her arms and DJ's keys fell from her pocket.
Denise bent down to retrieve them. "Maggie. We have to talk to her."
Lifting her body, Randa grabbed the metal bar of the climbing frame and unhooked her legs. She dropped gracefully back down to the ground. "That's a good idea." The blonde suddenly paused in thought and a shadow of concern crossed her features. "There are a lot of things to discuss."
Not noticing the air of disquiet that rung through Randa's voice, DJ nodded. "Sure. So... do you want to get back home? It's getting late... we have yet to eat... and I am bloody cold!"
Randa wrapped her arms around Denise's waist as the women started towards the path. "You feel cold! Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"I was having too much fun."
"How about a nice hot bath when we get back?"
"Only if you join me."
"Like I would be stupid enough to refuse an offer like that."
Light chuckles rang out over the empty park as the women swiftly made their way back home.
"Warming up now?" the poet asked, the words a hot breath at her ear.
"Mmm, very nicely, thanks," Randa murmured. "I'm not squishing you too much am I?"
"Nope, we've got plenty of room in here," Denise replied and feeling the nurse comfortably settled between her thighs, brought her legs up and wrapped them over the blonde's. "This large tub makes it just perfect for two."
"I was going to ask you about that when I first got here last year. It seemed unusual for the tub to be this big. Did you have it put in because of your height?"
"Actually, Sara is the one who had it installed. She wasn't a short person but she realized that I was going to be even taller than her and so she had the thing put in just for my comfort when she bought the house. I wouldn't need it for another few years but she thought about it far in advance. That was just the kind of thing she would do."
They relaxed together quietly a while when Randa remembered something from their time in the park earlier. "Denise? What did Carl want earlier on the phone that you needed to talk to me about?"
"Oh, he just wants me to go down to London this Friday and be interviewed for that television program 'The Open Book'. I'm not sure it's a good idea at the moment with the Maggie situation."
"Maybe not, but I tell you though, my inclination would be for you to do the interview. We don't know how this whole thing will shake out so why change what you would have done normally? It might actually be a good forum for clearing the air about the new book and putting some misconceptions to rest."
Denise considered this. "You may be right. I'll think about it." Denise wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and gathered fragrant bubbles on her fingertips that she deposited on the chin of her lover.
Randa tilted her head back and gazed into the unbelievably blue eyes of the brunette. "How do I look in a goatee?"
Denise studied her seriously. "I don't know, I kind of like it. See what you can do about growing a real one, will you?" Their combined chuckles caused the water to slightly slosh over the edge.
"Now see what you did," Randa observed. "You're going to have a mess to clean up when we're done."
"Me? I see two in this tub, my dear. That should be two to clean up the water."
"Well, normally you would be correct," the blonde smirked, "But as I distinctly remember, you were the one who suggested going 'double in the bubbles' so the consequences are yours too."
"Hmm, if I'm to be the upstairs maid then I warn you, I will expect payment for my services," Denise whispered.
Randa reached a slick arm up and gently pulled Denise's head forward bringing their mouths together in a sweet kiss. After a few moments she broke the kiss. "Take that as a down payment and remind me to settle this account with you later, under the sheets." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively at her partner.
DJ quirked an eyebrow at the nurse. "My, you're awfully nice to the help. Maybe upstairs maid isn't as bad a job as I thought."
The smile slipped from Randa's face as she as she turned to face the front again, leaning her head back against the poet. "Speaking of jobs, Denise, I need to talk to you about mine. When I came over this time Derek let me know it was without pay. I just don't have any more time off coming to me. I couldn't suggest working out of the house here like I did before because I didn't know how long we would be here or even if we would be in one place. There's enough in my bank account to hold me for a month or so but after that things are going to be a little tight for me."
"Randa, why are you worrying? I have enough money for us live on even if you never worked. I don't see the problem."
"That's your money and besides I don't want you to have to support me. We're supposed to be partners here and I feel like I'm not holding up my end of the partnership."
The poet was silent a moment. Her hands moved gently up and down the arms of the woman seated between her legs. "I know you're used to being independent and taking care of yourself so I suppose I understand why the financial thing would be important to you. Maybe it's time we consider taking the next logical step and pool our resources. I don't want there to be a 'yours' or 'mine' when it comes to income or bills or property. Everything I have is yours and I know you feel that way as well. Let's just put it all together and stop worrying about where it comes from."
Randa felt incredibly loved at that minute, knowing this was a big step for the two of them. "I guess there's a lot more to this living together thing than I thought at first. It isn't going to bother you that you will always be the bigger wage earner?"
"Money isn't what counts with us and never will be. As for the partnership thing, when you got on that plane in San Francisco to fly across the ocean to be with me simply because I asked, you held up more than your end of the partnership, you held me up as well. I needed you here, love, and without question you came. What is ever going to be payment enough for that?"
Randa blinked back tears as she took one of Denise's hands and brought it to her lips. "I love you, Denise. How do you always know exactly what to say to me?"
'Turn around here and maybe I'll tell you." Randa slowly turned around as Denise slid her body down and underneath the blonde's.
"You sure you want to try this in here? The floor is going to get awfully wet," Randa said as she gently peppered Denise's face and neck with soft kisses.
"No worries, love. The maid can always clean up later," the poet chuckled. Her laughter was brief as an exploring hand made her forget about anything other than the blonde in the tub with her.
Denise and Randa sat at the kitchen table the next morning sharing an omelet and toast. The silence as they ate and read the morning newspaper was comfortable.
"I've thought about what you said. I'm going to do it," Denise said as she lowered the front page.
"The interview? Good. I think you should," replied the nurse as she folded her part of the paper. She picked up the dirty dishes and took them to the sink to rinse and place in the dishwasher. "How long will you be gone?"
"We will be gone for a few days. You don't seriously think I'm going to London for an interview on television and not have you with me? Besides, we might find another large tub."
Randa blushed as she recalled the previous evening. "Maybe we wont make such a mess of the bathroom floor next time."
Denise rose and joined Randa at the sink. "I don't care if we do, it was worth it." She dropped a quick kiss on the blonde's lips, paused and went back for another.
"Mmm, first you make breakfast and now dessert, too," the nurse murmured. "I'm a lucky woman."
"You'll be luckier when we get to London. I plan to spend some time with you just letting you see the city."
"Oh, man, I've always wanted to see the Tower and Big Ben and Parliament! Then I want to see Buckingham palace and have high tea at the Ritz. God, I love everything English!"
Denise laughed as she brought the nurse closer. "As long as you love this one English person, Miss Randa, the rest can sod off."
"You know, I haven't seen the inside of a real English bedroom for a good hour or so. Maybe we should start our tour there?" Randa whispered suggestively as DJ began nibbling her earlobe.
"What have you got against an English kitchen?" the poet returned, now kissing her way down the blonde's neck.
"Not a thing," Randa said. "As long as you're cooking."
"Oh I am," Denise chuckled. "I definitely am."
Denise's shiny black Lexus cruised down the motorway at a steady rate of eighty miles per hour. It was Thursday afternoon and the women were travelling down the M1 on their way to London. The sky was grey and all morning a gentle rainfall had soaked the land. Through sporadic gaps in the clouds DJ could see the sun trying to break through. She had watched the television weather report that morning and was pleased to see the following days in the south of England were to be cool but sunny. The poet planned on taking Randa around the city to show her some of the sights.
Beside Denise sat Randa, nursing a bottle of mineral water. This was to be their first overnight trip away together and DJ couldn't believe how much Randa had tried to pack for the two-night visit. The blonde was adamant that she take a change of clothing to cover every occasion - just in case. Denise had to convince Randa that they would not need formal evening wear while they were in London. Everything she had planned would take place during the day, including a surprise DJ had devised with the help of Carl. Ever since Randa had read "Les Miserables" to Sara, the nurse had expressed a wish to be able to see the stage production. So when DJ had contacted Carl to tell him she was going to do the interview for 'The Open Book' she had asked him to see whether he could obtain tickets for the musical. She knew Carl had many contacts in that area. He had called back no less than half an hour later informing her that he was able to get her two tickets for the Saturday matinee performance. He also reminded her that he had pulled a lot of strings to get them and she 'owed him big'! Denise didn't mind; she was thrilled and only just able to keep from telling Randa the news. It was supposed to be a surprise after all. She couldn't however remove the smirk from her lips and Randa had spent the remainder of the day looking at her with a suspicious eye.
It would not be the first time Denise had seen the musical. Sara had taken her to see it when she was twenty-four. She had remembered crying most of the way through it, even back then. Knowing Randa as she did, Denise knew she would be as emotionally affected by the musical as she was.
Feeling a gentle tap on her arm Denise blinked from her musings and turned to Randa. The blonde was holding out the bottle of half consumed mineral water. She accepted it with a smile of thanks and took a quick drink before handing it back. They had sat in an almost comfortable silence for the past half an hour; the quiet was only broken by the low melody of the radio. Randa would occasionally switch channels every time a song came on that she disliked but the music remained constant.
With an internal smile Denise thought back to her conversation with Randa while they had been packing their bag. The nurse had been talking excitedly about all the places she had wanted to visit and DJ hoped Randa wouldn't mind possibly forfeiting some of those plans for her surprise Saturday afternoon. She planned on leaving London after the show and travelling back to Derbyshire by Saturday night. The day after Denise intended on ringing Diane to ask her for a contact number to get in touch with Maggie. Although Denise was putting off facing the woman who seemed so full of hatred towards her, DJ knew she needed to talk to her. She had to at least try to clear the air.
Recalling her banter with Randa as they packed, Denise recalled how Randa had searched the poet's wardrobe trying to find the appropriate outfit for DJ's television interview. Randa decided it was a choice between casual, smart, power, something that screamed intelligence or total femininity. She then set herself the impossible task of locating a dress in the poet's wardrobe. Denise chuckled as she remembered Randa asking:
"Don't you own a single skirt or dress? What do you say to us going out shopping for one?"
To which Denise had replied, "I'll pretend I didn't hear that!"
Randa laughed. "Don't tell me your legs have an aversion to sunlight."
"No," Denise said. "I have an aversion to crotch-less garments."
The nurse flipped down the suitcase lid with a faux pout. "Well there goes the underwear idea I had for your birthday."
Denise laughed to herself causing Randa to further lower the volume of the music and look at her in question.
"You know... you've been smirking and chuckling to yourself since yesterday. What's going on in that devious mind of yours?"
Randa tapped her fingers upon the side of her bottle. "Why don't I believe you?"
The poet shrugged.
"Did I ever..." Randa started, and then paused as the first notes of a familiar tune began to play on the radio. With an excited hoot that took DJ by surprise Randa increased the radio volume once again as her foot started tapping to the beat. DJ instantly recognised the familiar 'Blondie' hit. Keeping her eyes fixed upon DJ's curious blue, Randa brought the bottle to her lips and began to sing:
"Denise, Denise, Oh with your eyes so blue.
Denise, Denise, I have a crush on you,
Denise, Denise, I'm so in love with you ohh."
A slow smile spread across DJ's lips as Randa fluttered her eyelashes.
"Oh when we walk it always feels so nice.
And when we talk, it seems like paradise.
Denise, Denise, I'm so in love with your ohh."
The poet laughed as Randa started a semi jig upon her seat. She found it hard to concentrate on the road with the suddenly exuberant blonde beside her and had to turn down the radio.
"You are bloody insane. Remind me not to take you out in public too often!"
"Embarrassed?" Randa asked with a glint in her green eyes.
Keeping her gaze upon the motorway Denise shook her head with complete sincerity. "No I'm just worried about us sensitive Brit folk. I don't want them to be exposed to a crazy Yank."
Randa's mouth dropped. "I could make you pay for a remark like that."
"Oh, honey, you know I relish any punishment you are generous enough to dish!" Denise winked.
Green eyes narrowed with a playful menace. "I'll remember that."
"I'm counting on it," replied the brunette.
A muted groan pulled Denise's attention from her scrutiny. She looked over her shoulder at the rumpled double bed to find sleepy green eyes watching her.
"Denise," Randa groaned. "It's five o'clock in the morning. What are you doing?"
"I can't sleep."
Her blonde head falling back down to the luxurious pillows, Randa sighed. "You don't have to be there until nine o'clock."
"We." DJ amended.
"We don't have to be there," Randa said. "Anyway why can't you sleep? Either you're nervous about today or you're just out to see how many people you can wake up this morning."
Denise hung her clothes upon the handle of the wardrobe and looked back at Randa guiltily. "Sorry. I would have left the room but that en-suite bathroom isn't really big enough to commence a decent pacing."
Randa sighed again. "Denise, come back to bed. We still have two more hours before we have to be getting up."
"Too late... I'm wide awake." Denise stepped towards the window and looked out over the hotel complex. Her fingertips drummed upon the windowsill in thought. "You know for an early, mid July morning it is quite nice out there."
Randa peeked out from beneath the covers. "I'll take your word for it."
"The sun is just beginning to rise."
Denise looked down over the hotel grounds. "And their outdoor swimming pool is heated."
"You are not serious...?" Randa studied DJ closely. "You are! You want to go swimming? Now?"
"Why not? It's exclusive to all guests... twenty-four hours, day and night. There is nobody else down there."
"Gee, I wonder why!"
"So... what do you say?"
"We don't have suits."
The poet thought quickly. "Well I have a tank top and some boxers. You have your shorts too and that sports bra. We can improvise. Come on what do you say?" Denise jiggled her eyebrows. "Just you and me."
Randa sighed as she looked at DJ's hopeful expression. "Damn it... How can I refuse?"
"Is that a yes?"
The blonde fell back to the bed. "Yes!" She rolled out from beneath the sheets and rose slowly to her feet. "Okay... lets go."
Denise kissed Randa with thanks, then the women picked out their makeshift swimming clothes before heading down to the hotel's outdoor pool.
It was still relatively dark outside but with the slow arrival of the gradually rising sun the eastern sky was a blend of shaded orange tints. That, added to the pool's water lights, created an almost striking contrast of light and darkness. There was a soothing stillness to the air. It seemed to settle over the dawning land like a blanket of serenity. In the distance the sound of early morning traffic just managed to penetrate the atmosphere.
Dressed in their impromptu swimwear and with the hotel's large bath towels wrapped tightly around them, Denise and Randa stepped out into the cool morning air. DJ noted the lingering scent of baked goods that hung in the air. She realised their hotel was situated close to a biscuit factory. The aroma of its tempting wares drifted out over the morning stillness.
Reaching the edge of the pool, Randa's eyes widened as a soft wind blew around them. "Jeez, that's cold." She groaned, pulling the luxuriously thick towel tight around her exposed body.
Denise let her towel fall to the edge of the pool. It landed upon the edging of aqua coloured tiles. "Well, the sooner we get in, the sooner we get warm." She too was feeling the frigidity of the cool morning air. Dressed in gingham boxers and a black tank top, DJ dived head first into the water. She touched the bottom before rising to the surface in the middle of the pool. The poet looked on amused as Randa, still wrapped within the embrace of her towel, tested the temperature of the water with her toes. "See, I told you it was warm."
Without saying a word, Randa shed her towel beside DJ's and jumped into the pool. A wave of water sprung out around her. She resurfaced beside Denise. "Hmm... this is heavenly."
"Yep." Denise's face took on a wry expression. "Just be careful how you dive!"
"Well... because if you happen to be wearing loose fitting boxers like mine... you could find them half way around your ankles due to the force!"
"No!" Randa's mouth dropped as her hands delved under the water to check the positioning of DJ's clothing.
"They are adjusted now," Denise said, batting away Randa's questing hands. "Anyway they only managed to slip to mid thigh before I caught them."
Green eyes narrowed with faux suspicion. "You didn't have a fleeting desire for skinny dipping but changed your mind, did you?"
"I would never," said Denise sounding almost insulted. "Besides this is far too much of a public place for such acts. Now if we were in a more secluded area..." DJ winked before disappearing under the water's surface. The poet chuckled to herself as she circled Randa's legs, allowing one hand to slip up her thigh. She felt as much as saw Randa jump and bounce away from her wandering fingers. Unable to laugh underwater Denise emerged from its depths. She took a deep breath before delivering a rakish grin.
The blonde pointed at Denise. "Hey... no funny business. Public place remember?"
"What? They can't really see anything under the water but a flesh coloured blur."
"True," Randa conceded. "But that's not the point."
"Yes it is!" DJ swam closer to Randa. "So... want to wrestle under the water?"
The blonde looked at Denise with an absurd expression. "Denise, not only have I never wrestled... but I have never even considered it."
DJ loomed ever closer until she was almost breast to nose with Randa. She lowered her voice considerably "I never said what part of the body I was actually referring to."
"Ohh... you are an evil woman, Denise... 'Whatever your name is'... Jennings." Randa prodded DJ's chest. "But just remember, that makes two counts against you now that I intend on paying back!"
Really? DJ leaned forwards and kissed Randa softly. "I could make you forget," she said confidently.
"Umm... No you couldn't." Unexpectedly, Randa slipped beneath the water's surface and took a firm hold of DJ's shorts. A surprised shriek echoed around the complex as the poet's boxers were yanked from her body.
Seated in front of a large mirror, DJ was silent as an extremely camp young man, called David, applied her make up. To her left sat Randa, her nose buried in a magazine that she had lifted from the reception. From the corner of her eye Denise could see Randa flick through the pages of the colourful booklet and every so often look up at her with a smile.
Denise grinned internally as she recalled how Randa had managed to gain possession of her shorts earlier that morning. She then swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out onto the water's edge, still holding DJ's boxers. Randa had refused to hand them over until Denise promised her breakfast in bed 'and' sexual favours for the next decade. The poet had agreed but afterwards declared Randa's actions too cruel and she had to devise her retribution. She however did admit she was considering accepting the decade of sexual favours and just retaliating against the breakfast in bed! Then again one could consider them as one and the same.
Denise's thoughts on retribution were interrupted by David, the make up artist, who was carefully lining the poet's lips, "I like to make a point of finding out about the people I am to work with. Although I am not an extremely literary person I did read about the dedication in your book and the press conference at your latest book launch." David turned to address the blonde. "Are you Randa?"
Randa rose with a smile. "Yes I am." She approached the desk where Denise was seated and leaned against the white, makeup cluttered, counter.
David looked back at Denise. "I kind of got that impression. I think what you said in your book, and at the conference were great... especially to all those reporters. My partner is in the unfortunate position where he feels he cannot tell people about himself."
"He works on the television?" Denise asked.
"Yes," David replied.
"But that doesn't make any difference anymore."
David shrugged and placed down his lip liner. He then chose the appropriate lipstick and returned to DJ's lips. "He seems to think it does... Anyway I just wanted to warn you about the presenter of the show, Andrew Miller. I have seen a slight bigoted side to him. I don't know how he is with guests but just watch out." David smiled. "He can be a little devious with his questions at times."
"Oh really?" An indignant tone sounded in Randa's voice.
Smiling Denise reached out taking the blonde's hand. "Don't worry... I can handle that guy."
Just then the door opened and a young brunette with large black headphones around her neck poked her head into the dressing room. "Are you all set?"
"We certainly are," David responded. He twisted DJ's chair around and the poet rose to her feet. She looked down at Randa to gage her reaction.
The nurse hummed her appreciation. "Subtle but still more than I have ever seen you wear. I like it. Plus you wont need a chisel to remove it afterwards!"
"Funny!" Denise rolled her eyes as she followed the floor manager out onto the set.
Seeing the layout of the studio from an inside perspective DJ was surprised by how small the set actually was. It was comprised of two extremely comfortable looking, black leather sofas placed diagonally in a 'V' shape. Between them stood a low coffee table upon which Denise could see a selection of her books. Around the outskirts stood three cameras and a row of black cables that lay upon the floor.
To her side Denise spotted the presenter of 'The Open Book' arriving on the set. She then spotted Randa, who was standing in the background, eying him warily. The poet felt the urge to go back over to her lover and reassure her that all would be okay but at that moment Andrew Miller approached. He was a small, robustly built man who was very obviously wearing a hairpiece upon his head. Before he presented 'The Open Book' he had been a book critic for several national newspapers. Denise remembered him from that time, as he had been the first reviewer of her debut anthology of poems. He had been very positive in his acclaim. Denise hoped other matters would not sway him from the issue at hand. I would hate to have to get contentious on TV!
"Miss Jennings," Andrew Miller said, holding out his hand.
DJ shook it firmly. "Hello."
"It is a pleasure to meet you. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear you would be a guest on my programme. Personally I have been a fan of your writings for many years."
"Ah... well thank you." Denise said politely as Andrew Miller turned to answer, a cameraman's question. She looked over at Randa once again. The nurse was talking with David. Denise caught her eyes and smiled before turning back to the presenter.
"So are you ready to get seated?"
"I am," Denise replied and followed Andrew Miller onto the set.
"Well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be," Denise said with an astonished look on her face. "I expected something a little more like a cross examination."
Randa hooked her arm through Denise's as they walked out of the television studios. "You did just great in there. It seemed Andrew Miller was under your spell. I know the feeling."
This caused the poet to chuckle. "He might not have been such a big fan if he could have read my mind. It was that hairpiece! I kept looking at it trying to figure what animal it had come off. First I thought maybe it was a squirrel but then I discarded that and thought maybe it was some sort of dog hair. The debate raged through me the entire interview!"
"And what conclusion did you come to?"
Denise lowered her voice and whispered conspiratorially, "I decided that the hairpiece, combined with his atrocious cologne left no room for doubt. It was a musk-ox!"
Randa giggled but quelled her reaction when the subject of their conversation emerged from the double doors of the studio and headed for a car parked at the curb.
"Miss Jennings, Miss Martin, can I give you a lift somewhere?" Andrew Miller asked pleasantly.
"No thank you, Mr. Miller," Denise replied. "Randa and I are just going to have a pub lunch then take in some of the sights of London."
"Ah, well then if it's a pub lunch you're after you should try my favorite. It's just ahead and around the corner. You can't miss it. It's called the Dog and Ox." Giving the women a short wave, he slid behind the wheel of the car and smoothly made his way into traffic.
Randa looked at Denise. "He did not just say the Dog and Ox. Tell me he did not say Dog and Ox."
"He did, but at least he left out the squirrel!" Laughing, the women walked away from the studio and headed out for a day of sightseeing.
Denise opened the hotel room door and she, Randa and a mountain of bags and packages spilled into the room.
"Okay," Randa said as the last of their purchases was set on the table near the window, "Maybe you were right, that trip to Harrod's was possibly one stop too many on my tour."
"Hmm, let's see," the brunette said as she dropped onto the bed and began ticking off their stops on her fingers. "The Tower, the Crown Jewels, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. Not a bad day's work."
"Don't forget high tea at the Ritz. That was such a surprise. Thank you for arranging it." The nurse moved to the bed, put her knee on the mattress and leaned over to give Denise a slow, warm kiss. She then moved to the side of the poet and snuggled in against her. "As soon as I recover a bit I'll really show you some gratitude."
"I'm counting on it," Denise murmured as she placed a soft kiss on Randa's head. "So what would you like to do for supper?"
"Oh God!" Randa moaned. "I couldn't eat another bite! First steak and kidney pie at the pub, then all those wonderful things at tea. The pastry, the crustless cucumber sandwiches and those fabulous scones with the sweet clotted cream and jam. If I eat anything else tonight I'm going to explode!"
'That's good, then you won't be tempted by any of the chocolates I bought at Harrod's"
A blonde head snapped up. "Chocolate? You know there might just be a tiny bit of room left for a chocolate."
Denise laughed and moved from the bed. "I thought there might be so I had them wrap a few pieces separately from the rest for us to enjoy tonight." She rummaged through the packages until she found the one she was looking for. Holding the small green bag up in triumph she headed back to the bed, stopping only long enough to kick off her shoes and pull Randa's from her feet as well.
The poet settled against the headboard and Randa moved up to join her. They unwrapped the individual chocolates and sampled them with a sigh of contentment.
Randa reflected, "You know something? I really am a lucky person. I've got a bed, chocolates and a beautiful and wonderful woman to share them with." She tilted her head up to meet Denise in a lingering kiss.
"Guess that makes me lucky too because I've got the same thing," Denise noted as the kiss broke. "Mmm, raspberry cream, I like it."
Tell her now Randa thought she deserves to know.
The nurse turned to her partner. "I'm counting on you to stay lucky, love. We're going to need a little of that, I'm afraid." Denise's eyebrows moved together in a look of confusion. She tilted her head in a gesture indicating Randa should clarify what she meant.
"Denise, I know how your parents died and I know your grandfather was killed during the war. How did your grandmother die?"
"Sara said she had heart problems. Why? What's bothering you?"
"I was doing some reading and came across some disturbing information." Randa picked up the poet's hand and kissed across the knuckles. "You know ALS can strike anyone and anywhere. It's a pretty indiscriminate killer except in one incidence. It seems that in families where there is more than one case of ALS, there is a fifty percent chance of inheriting the disease."
Denise digested the information, realizing what Randa was saying to her. "My grandfather didn't live that long and neither did my parents. We can't know if they would have ever developed the disease. The only relatives I had that lived any length of time were my grandmother and Sara. One had it and one didn't." Denise rose from the bed and moved to look out the window.
Randa moved to join Denise. She wrapped her arms around the poet and laid her head on the strong back. "I've tried to find out more about your family, Denise, and I'll keep digging. Maybe we can find out about generations further back than your grandparents."
Denise turned slowly and gathered the nurse into her arms. "A fifty percent chance. One out of two, the same odds as the toss of a coin. Is that what my future will be? A coin toss?" Randa felt a fine tremor pass through Denise and she increased her hold on the brunette, yearning to provide her comfort and a safe haven.
"Randa, I don't want to end up as Sara did. I saw how she progressively lost everything that mattered to her until that damn disease took everything she had. It robbed her of her freedom, her dignity and her life. I'm not sure I could be as strong as Sara was, love. I know I couldn't deal with it with the grace she had and I couldn't bear to have you watch me go through it."
Denise moved back slightly from the embrace. "I just found you, Randa. I don't want to think about anything less than a long and full life with you." The poet's brilliant blue eyes brimmed with tears and a lone trickle made its way down one cheek.
"God, Denise, don't you know that every moment of my life is full just because you're in it? Listen, I almost didn't tell you about this but then a thought struck me and I knew I could tell you. All I had to do was think about us, about how we came to where we are now. In your wildest imagination you couldn't have come up with something less likely to happen than us ending up together. What are the odds that someone living a continent away and loving your poetry would meet you online, go to another country and fall in love with you? A million to one? A billion to one? As a matter of fact that story isn't even plausible unless you believe in one thing and that thing is fate. We were fated to be together. Now I don't think that whatever power there is in the universe that worked so hard to get us together is going to tear us apart so easily. I love you Denise Jennings. No matter what happens in the future, that won't change. Whatever happens, we will deal with it."
Randa looked deeply into Denise's eyes and willed her to see the truth and conviction of her words. The sword of Damocles might be hanging over her head but she would never have to face it alone. Denise hesitated a moment then crushed the nurse to her in a fierce embrace.
"I love you too, Miranda Martin and I will deal with whatever my future holds as long as it holds you."
Denise and Randa rested on the bed wrapped in one another. No words were spoken, none was necessary. Randa broke the silence first.
"Denise, where is your cell phone?"
"In my jacket pocket. Who are you calling?"
"I just realized we need to call Diane and have her get some information for us."
"Randa, we can hire someone to dig into my family background. We don't need to ask Diane to do it. There are people trained to investigate families and previous generations."
"I wasn't thinking about previous generations of your family. I was thinking about this one."
Denise frowned a moment then understanding dawned on her. "Maggie...Sara's daughter...oh my God. She doesn't have a clue to the risk she faces." She brought up an arm and laid it across her eyes. "Welcome to the family, Maggie. I'm so sorry."
DJ awoke Saturday morning to find herself hanging precariously off the side of the hotel's double bed. Blinking unfocused eyes she saw as much as felt her right arm and leg hanging just above the carpeted floor. The cool room air touched her flesh causing an expanse of pimples to break out across her skin. Lifting her head the poet attempted to turn onto her back but found she was unable to move. Looking to her left she discovered the reason why. In her sleep Randa had managed to slowly push Denise further across the bed. The blonde was lying upon her back, right up against Denise. The rest of the bed was untouched.
Feeling the cool air send a shiver through her body, Denise retracted her limbs, pulling them back under the feeble amount of quilt she had. Gingerly turning she stretched one arm and leg over Randa. Her intention was to venture over to a more spacious part of the bed but as she crossed over Randa, two forest-green eyes captured her. Randa blinked and lifted one hand to rub her eyes. She looked back up at DJ who was frozen in place.
"Hi," Denise said sheepishly.
Randa delivered a sleepy smile. "Starting without me?"
Randa made a point of looking the poet, who was still holding herself above her, up and down. The frown of confusion fell from Denise's features as realisation of what Randa was implying sunk into her mind.
"Hey! I would never! I was just climbing over the bed hog to more spacious parts." Denise inclined her head towards the three-inch gap she had been sleeping on. "Besides... you can talk." Denise rolled onto her side and placed her head in her hand.
"And what does that mean?"
The poet grinned. "Well not that I am complaining but I seem to be the one who is usually woken up by wandering hands and lips... I think I should start calling you 'Randy Randa'!"
Randa's jaw dropped as she pushed DJ backwards and rolled on top of her. "Excuse me!" With an impish tone she said, "I'm going to tell my mom you said that. It took her enough time to accept my request to call me Randa instead of Miranda."
Denise chuckled. "Oh please accept my deepest apologies." Looking up into Randa's eyes the brunette smiled. "Thank you for yesterday." She ran her fingers through light blonde hair. "I had been aware of the hereditary possibilities of ALS but I suppose I just tried to blank them from my mind. It wasn't just the fact that I too could one day have this disease, as it was the point that if I did... I would be alone. That was an immensely unnerving notion. Up to a point though I am not nearly as worried about it as I used to be. That is all because of you." She pulled Randa down and hugged her.
During one of her and Sara's visits to the hospital, Doctor Macarthur had explained to them about the innate possibilities of the disease. Though that had initially been shocking to both woman Sara had helped to ease Denise's mind. It was only after Sara died and seeing how she had reached the final stages in her life that DJ again feared the disease. Though it had always been a bothersome feeling in the back of her mind, Denise tried to ignore it. She didn't want to broach the subject with Randa either, not knowing how the blonde would feel about it. Sometimes it was as though she almost forgot Randa was a nurse! Thankfully the blonde bringing it up in the reassuring way that she had, did help to ease the burden from her mind. Besides, she kept telling herself, it's not a given certainty. Denise clung to that one fact and knew that whatever happened, Randa would stand by her.
With the blonde head still tucked between her shoulder and neck, Denise reached out, pulling her watch from the nightstand. She studied its analogue face in surprise. "It's almost half nine!"
Randa raised her head and looked down at Denise. "So what do you want to do today? More sight seeing before we leave or stay in bed until we leave? Both options sound okay by me!"
Denise pondered Randa's suggestions for a short moment before saying, "There could be a third option."
"And that is?"
"I'm not telling."
A slow smile spread across DJ's lips. "Because it is a surprise."
"A good surprise?"
"I hope so."
Randa sighed. "Then can you tell me?"
"Nope... how can it be a surprise if I tell you before hand? It kind of takes away that whole element of suspense doesn't it?" Denise forced a steadfast expression upon her face. She arched her eyebrows and pursed her lips.
A far away look seeped into Randa's expression before she gazed back at DJ. With an almost nefarious smirk she asked, "What if I make you a deal?"
"And that would be?"
"I'll take back my decade of breakfast in bed and sexual favours if you tell me."
"Oh please!" Denise rolled over trapping Randa underneath herself. "That is so not a punishment for me. I am rather looking forward to a lifetime of servitude... under you... no pun intended!" Denise winked lasciviously.
The nurse's lips formed a pronounced pout. "Well when do I find out what my surprise is?"
"Just be ready to leave the hotel today at one. Dress in the smartest clothes you brought down with you." Denise stopped to think. "In fact... wear what we bought while shopping yesterday. Just be ready to leave here at one o'clock and all will be revealed."
"You promise to tell me then?"
The poet shook her head. "Nope. I promise to take you there at that time and then all will be revealed."
"Okay." Randa gazed intently into DJ's eyes. "Are we going to the theatre?" She thought slowly, her logical mind working overtime. "A musical maybe? 'Les Miserables'?"
What? Denise starred at the nurse blankly. She ran her tongue over her front teeth before saying, "No."
Randa smirked as she looked up at Denise. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"Didn't I just say no?"
"Yes but I don't think I believe you." Randa suddenly wriggled excitedly underneath DJ. "I am right, aren't I? We're going to the West End?"
"You can't lie, Denise."
Damn it. Denise climbed off Randa and rose from the bed. Folding her arms she glared down at the blonde nurse who looked up at her with a smile. "You know it's a little disconcerting when you do that. How am I suppose to keep secrets when you seem so proficient at reading my mind?"
"You mean it really is true?" Randa asked surprised.
With a dumfounded expression Denise dumbly said, "Huh?"
"Well I was grasping at straws with a little bit of hope thrown in. I had no idea it really was that."
Rolling her eyes Denise scowled and attempted her most intimidating glare.
"You don't scare me, Denise Jennings."
"Oh? And why is that?"
"Well because it's hard to feel intimidated by somebody who is standing there as naked as the day she was born!" Randa laughed as Denise muttered unintelligibly and slid back under the bedcovers.
"So what do you think of my surprise?" Denise inquired, her hand idly tracing patterns upon Randa's stomach.
Randa smiled. "Come here and I'll show you exactly what I think of your surprise."
Denise edged closer until Randa captured her lips with her own. They kissed softly for several long moments until Randa stiffened and pulled away.
"Denise, ... are you going to call Diane? We didn't do it yesterday and we need to get..." Two fingers placed upon her lips silenced Randa.
"Later," Denise replied. "I don't want to think about anything but right now." She moved again to kiss Randa, letting her lips roam across the blonde's jaw. With a light snort she mumbled, "Oh and by the way..."
"I'm not as naked as the day I was born. I do have a little more covering upon my body since then, you know!" Denise smirked as Randa pulled back to look into her eyes. Suddenly understanding dawned her and she slapped DJ's behind playfully.
"Right... I don't know about you but I'm going to have a shower. We're going out soon, aren't we?"
"In about three hours!" Denise said incredulously as Randa dived out of bed and disappeared into the bathroom. You've got to be kidding me!
"I know." Randa poked her head back behind the doorframe. "That's why I better get ready." She jumped back into the bathroom and Denise heard the rapid spray of the shower.
Before they had left for the theatre Denise had contacted Diane while Randa took her shower. The older woman had given DJ Maggie's parent's number and then DJ had rung them for her cousin's. The Spicer's had been more than willing to give her Maggie's number. It became apparent that Maggie had become increasingly distant from her family. Geoff and Alice hoped that Denise could get through to her. It was a hope the poet also held. Not only did DJ feel the need to close the chasm between Maggie and herself but she also knew there were other factors that needed to be discussed.
Turning from the motorway, Denise took dark, secluded, country roads until she reached home. Pulling into the driveway Denise switched off the car's engine and turned to Randa. The orange glow of the street lamps highlighted Randa's slumbering features. DJ regretted having to wake her.
Reaching over, Denise ran the pads of her fingertips over Randa's cheek. The smooth skin tickled her senses. "Hey," she whispered. Randa groaned and leaned into her gentle touch. "Time to wake up."
Green eyes fluttered open and stared at Denise in the semi darkness. "Are we home?" Randa yawned and rubbed her eyes. "I fell asleep!"
"Apparently!" Denise smirked wryly. "Come on sleepy head, time to get to bed. It's been one hell of a long day."
Opening her door DJ stepped out into the driveway. She looked over the roof of the Lexus as Randa emerged from the passenger side of the car. "You go into the house and I'll get the case and bags from the boot."
"The what?" Randa asked in a mischievous voice.
DJ grinned. "The boot."
"The what?" Randa slipped her key into the lock.
"Don't you mean the trunk?"
Denise pulled their cases and selection of colourful shopping bags from the car. She placed them on the ground to close the boot and lock the car before retrieving their bags and following Randa into the house. "Don't start that again."
Randa placed DJ's jacket upon the banister and then slipped off her own. "Well it's not my fault if you guys don't know how to speak properly."
"Oh you cheeky sod! I can't believe you just said that." Still holding their suitcase, Denise allowed Randa to take some of the shopping bags from her arms before following her up the stairs. "Of course I will assume that it was your sleep addled mind that has caused you to say such a thing."
Light chuckles filtered through the darkened house as Randa replied, "Of course."
"Good answer." Denise stated and entered the bedroom shutting the door behind them.
Randa leaned down and kissed the poet's head, careful of the delicate glasses that sat upon her nose. "Morning... how long have you been up?"
"Hours." Denise shrugged and looked back at the screen.
"I see you haven't called Maggie yet." Randa tapped the slip of paper holding Sara's daughter's telephone number.
"I will." Still holding her flow, Denise continued typing. She felt Randa's arms rest upon her shoulders and her chin upon her head.
"You missed a semicolon."
"Huh?" Denise looked up at Randa.
"There." Randa placed her finger upon the screen indicating the sentence in question. "You missed the semicolon... just there."
DJ studied her sentence again. She read the words through twice. Well I never! "That's rather astute of you, Miss Martin."
"What? You think I just fell into my love of literature. I did get my minor in English at college, you know. That started off the chain reaction that eventually led to reading you!"
"And I never looked back!"
DJ chuckled as she inserted the semicolon.
"Okay. Well while you 'make a phone call' I'm going to get some breakfast. Would you like something brought up?"
"No... I'll be down in a moment."
"Okay." Leaving one last kiss upon the poet's neck, Randa headed back out of the study. Denise watched her leave before turning back around. Her eyes slid back to the telephone and a strained sigh passed her lips. Come on, DJ, what's the worst that could happen? Denise pursed her lips. Famous last words... I can just imagine!
Taking a deep breath Denise lifted the telephone receiver and carefully dialled her cousin's number. Her fingers fidgeted nervously upon the desk as the line started to ring. Only briefly seconds passed before the call was answered.
DJ frowned at the male voice. Must be her husband. "Hi," Denise paused. "Um... could I speak to Maggie please?"
"Sure... who's calling please?"
"It's Denise Jennings."
"Oh!" The expression of surprise was evident in the mans voice. "Well... yes... that would be good. Okay... um... hold on a moment please."
Denise waited as she heard the sound of muffled voices.
DJ recognised Maggie's hollow voice. "Hi, Maggie. I'm ringing because I think we need to talk. Um... if you are willing I would like us to meet and talk face to face."
There was a pregnant pause, as it seemed Maggie considered her request. "So 'now' you believe me."
"Lets just say I discovered a few truths from a certain person who was extremely close to Sara. There are things we need to discuss."
"Like what?" Maggie asked almost bitterly.
DJ pulled off her glasses and rubbed her temples with one hand. "Like the truth. Everything. You need to know what I have been told." When Maggie didn't reply, DJ continued. "I was wondering whether you would consider coming down here. We can talk. You can see the place Sara lived. I presume you don't even know what she looked like."
Maggie hesitated briefly. "No I don't."
Hoping she had piqued her cousin's curiosity Denise asked "Well? What do you say?"
"Fine." The begrudged response seemed a little forced. "How does tomorrow evening sound?"
"Great." Denise beamed. She felt a certain amount of relief as Maggie agreed to their conversation. After giving Maggie their address, Denise hung up and headed down to Randa. The blonde was rooting inside a cupboard and didn't hear DJ enter the kitchen.
Sneaking behind Randa, DJ placed her hands over the blonde's eyes. "Guess who has a visitor coming around tomorrow evening?"
Randa grinned. "You?"
DJ shook her head. "We!" She turned Randa around to face her. "Maggie agreed to talk and she will be here about six tomorrow."
"That's great. How do you feel?"
"Okay... at the moment." The poet's smile faded as a shadow of thought crossed Randa's brow. "What is it?"
"Well your interview on 'The Open Book' is being aired tomorrow evening."
Denise shrugged. "We'll have to tape it I suppose. As for right now..." Denise opened the fridge and scanned the empty shelves. "I think we need to get some food in. Fancy a trip to the supermarket?"
"Hey... yeah! I've been craving some chocolate chip cookies. Can we go to that place where you can use those devices and scan your own goods? I love those things!"
Shaking her head the poet chuckled, "Sure." She remembered how much fun Randa had playing with the hand held scanner the last time they shopped and how they ended up buying twice as much because of this.
"Great!" Randa winked. "Meet you in the shower?"
Lowering her voice, Denise enquired, "Why wait?" Taking Randa's hand she quickly led her back up the stairs and towards the bathroom.
Monday morning was as beautiful as the postcards in the shops of Bakewell showed England to be. The sky was a deep blue with only a few puffy clouds floating across the wide expanse. The sun was shining brightly with the promise of another perfect day but in one house in Derbyshire there was a palpable aura of tension.
Randa predicted Denise would deal with that tension in one of three ways. She would make love, work in the garden or write. Denise surprised her by doing all three. Up far earlier than the nurse, Denise had worked in the garden from first light weeding the roses, pruning back the hedges and bringing fresh cut flowers into the house. Randa found her staring at the roses that had been placed in a porcelain vase and set on the kitchen table. The nurse stood next to Denise and wrapped an arm around her waist.
"That rose garden is a beautiful legacy from Sara," she said to the poet. Denise smiled and draped her arm over Randa's shoulders.
"It isn't the most beautiful part of her legacy, love. Our life is the best part of it. Every day that we are together, loving each other and living the life that she wanted for us, we honor that legacy."
Randa leaned her head on Denise and sighed. "You have such a way with words, my friend. You should really think about doing some writing professionally." Denise gave a soft laugh at that.
"You think I could be successful?"
"Well, I don't know," Randa teased, "But I would buy your book, if you autographed it of course."
"Mmm, an interesting demand," Denise murmured as she moved to nuzzle the neck of her partner. "Do you have any other requirements we should discuss?"
"Several," Randa returned as she moved her hands under the poet's shirt. "I have a whole list of them upstairs in the bedroom if you'd care to take a look."
Denise moved back and looked into the nurse's sparkling green eyes. "Let the negotiations begin." Breaking apart at the same time, they raced for the stairs.
It was later in the afternoon and Randa, fresh from the shower, caught up with Denise in the study. She was seated at the computer studying the monitor through her silver framed glasses. Randa recognized the look of concentration on Denise's face as the one she used when deeply involved in her writing. Not wanting to disturb the poet at work, the nurse kissed her on the cheek and turned to leave the room.
"Hey, English minor, come over here a second and take a look at this." Randa moved back to the poet's side and glanced at the screen then back at Denise.
"It's a poem."
"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock. Of course it's a poem. At least it will be when I get this problem fixed. I thought maybe you could take a look at it." Randa turned to the poem again and began reading.
"Well? What do you think?" Denise asked.
Randa studied her with uncertainty. "I'm not sure I understand what you think is wrong with it. From my perspective, it's perfect both from a grammatical and a literary standpoint."
A smile of triumph graced Denise's features. "I knew it! I knew it and I was right." The poet grabbed Randa and pulled her into her lap where she planted kisses across the nurse's face.
Randa reached her arms up and around Denise's neck and returned her kisses with enthusiasm. "I don't know what brought this on but you have one month to stop kissing me and explain yourself."
Denise laughed and hugged the blonde to her. "Ever since I started writing and had my first works published I have only ever hated one thing about the process. Once I've finished the writing it goes into the hands of an editor. From that point on it becomes frustration and agony for me. Carl has been wonderful as a publisher but he knows I hate having someone else second guess and correct my work when they might not have the faintest idea of what I want to say or how I want to say it. So yesterday when you noticed the mistake in what I was working on, it gave me an idea."
"So...you tested me by having me read this poem?" Randa asked as she indicated the screen.
"But I didn't find anything wrong so how could I have passed the test?"
"That's just it, there wasn't anything wrong with it. You knew when to leave well enough alone and that's all I ask. I know you'll find any spelling or grammar mistakes I might make."
"Are you talking about me working for you?" the blonde asked.
"Well, I would never want you working 'for' me. How about if we say you are working 'with' me? There might be some nice financial rewards in being my editor."
"It's not the salary, it's the fringe benefits I think I'd really enjoy," Randa said as she deposited a brief peck to Denise's lips. "Let me think about it okay?"
"Fair enough. Now, how about a little late lunch before Maggie gets here?"
"Good idea. I'd make it but I'd never want to cook 'for' you. Of course I'm perfectly willing to cook 'with' you."
Denise laughed at her partner. "How about neither of us cooks and we both pop round to the chip shop instead?"
"Why are we still sitting here? Lets go get those chips!"
At precisely six o'clock a small white car pulled up in front of the Jennings house. Maggie got out slowly and stared at the front door. From inside Denise and Randa watched the redhead look at the house.
"This is where she might have grown up if things had been different," Randa said in a hushed tone to the poet. "It's hard to imagine. She's the natural daughter of one of the finest women I ever had the honor to meet and love and she will never know her. That's got to be going through her head right about now. She had parents who loved her, a home and security but she never had this house or Sara or you."
Denise watched Maggie a moment longer then took Randa's hand. "Let's go try to give her some of those things." The couple went to the door where Denise paused to give Randa a quick kiss.
"For luck," she said and pulled open the door. Maggie watched somewhat warily as Randa and Denise came down the steps. Randa moved slightly ahead of Denise and reached a hand out to Maggie.
"Maggie, welcome to Derbyshire. I'm Randa Martin, Denise's partner and it's a pleasure to meet you." Maggie seemed a little hesitant but shook Randa's hand nonetheless. Denise moved behind Randa and placed her hands on the blonde's shoulders.
"Maggie, how are you?" the brunette asked.
"Surprised to be here, to be honest." Two sets of very similar blue eyes appraised each other with neither woman making any further comment.
Stubborn Jennings blood Randa thought. She turned to look up at the poet. "Denise, why don't you show Maggie the rose garden while I get us some tea?" She turned to the redhead. "It was Sara's pride and joy."
Maggie seemed to thaw at that news. "It was? I have a rose garden at home too. I love spending time there." She appeared to be touched by the connection with her biological mother.
Denise moved to show Maggie the way to the rose garden. "Sara loved her roses. She could spend hours out in that garden and I swear sometimes I think she even named those plants."
Maggie gave Denise a shy smile and the two of them moved around the side of the house.
Randa watched them go. Thank you for that, Simon, and I hope our little conversation of this morning stays just between the two of us. I know you want what's left of this family to heal too. The nurse went into the house continuing to think good thoughts of Maggie's husband.
Walking side by side with Maggie, Denise led her cousin around to the back of the house. Strolling hesitantly down the darkened entry they reached a high wooden gate and Denise reached over the barrier to release the lock. Once done she pushed the gate open and stood back with a nervous smile and let Maggie enter the garden. Following the redhead, DJ passed through the gate, closing and locking it behind them. She turned back and looked at a quiet Maggie. The woman stood at the edge of the grass looking around the spacious garden. DJ allowed a moment of silence to pass between them as they both gathered their thoughts. She was very glad she had taken the time to neaten the garden and bring it back to some semblance of the elegance it once held. It had taken a fair amount of work but Denise had grafted since the early hours of the morning. She cut the grass, neatened the edges. The poet was happy though she knew her green fingers could never rival her aunts.
Sensing eyes upon her, Denise turned from her perusal of the garden. She looked at Maggie through hesitant eyes and smiled cautiously. "I'm um... glad you came."
"I think I am too." Maggie turned back to the garden and stepped onto the grass. "So this was her favourite place?"
"Yes. I'll admit that it's nothing compared to the beauty it held under Sara but I'm trying. Sara had a knack... she knew the name of every plant, tree and flower there was. Sometimes I used to quiz her to test her knowledge." Realising she was rambling nervously, Denise quieted.
A gentle wind rustled through the garden and green stems swayed in the breeze. Denise turned her blue eyes from the daffodils to look at Maggie. The redhead had her back to Denise but she could feel a physical tension rise between them. Not knowing what to say, DJ waited for Maggie to speak. She looked down and moved her shoes through the short blades of the grass.
Maggie looked towards the far end of the garden, spotting the rose bushes. Denise watched as Maggie headed toward them and she followed silently behind.
"They are quite beautiful, aren't they?"
Maggie nodded silently as she held one of the half blossomed buds.
"I have no idea how she managed to grow them like that. How they wound themselves around the trellis in such a way. They are a unique flower." Denise hesitated before saying, "If you like you could take cuttings and grow some yourself."
"I would like that," Maggie answered quietly. She turned back to look at DJ. "I almost didn't come this evening."
Denise kept her gaze even. "What changed your mind?"
"I wanted to know."
Maggie's vision drifted. "The full story. I wanted to know why she gave me up. All I do know is that she gave me away to travel the country teaching. I was kind of hoping there was more to it than that. That is why I am here this evening."
"Yes... so much more." Denise turned to look back at the house. She saw Randa through the kitchen window. The blonde occasionally looked out, watching the scene with some degree of tension as she made their drinks. With a smile, DJ winked at Randa.
"How long have you been together?" Maggie asked.
Denise shrugged. "It seems like forever and not nearly long enough." DJ cast a level gaze upon Maggie. "Have you ever met somebody and known from that single moment alone that this person is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with? Just like that?" Denise looked back at Randa, watching her actions through the window. "Like you have found that missing piece in your life and suddenly you feel complete."
Maggie nodded. "I felt that the moment I met Simon."
Both women watched Randa working in the kitchen. DJ could see her pulling cups from the wall cupboard and she smiled.
"I used to watch her when she wasn't aware. Watch the way she would care for Sara. I couldn't have asked for anybody better. The warmth, compassion and love she showed Sara were such a comfort to her. To me it seemed like I fell in love with her again each new day. She made Sara's final days as comfortable as possible. I could never thank her enough for what she did but I plan to spend the rest of my life trying." Shaking her mind from wandering thoughts, Denise blinked and smiled shyly. "Sorry!"
"That's okay." Maggie placed an uneasy hand upon DJ's arm. "I understand what you mean. Simon was a counsellor at the school where I used to work. That is where I met him."
"You're a teacher?" Denise asked surprised.
"Yes for eight years now."
"Gosh!" DJ chuckled and shook her head.
"Anyway I met Simon at the school. He helped a student of mine who was going through a rough patch. Because of him many students got through tough times and the pressure of exams."
Denise studied her cousin's soft expression, realising she really did love this man. "He sounds like a good person."
"He is... and a good father."
"That's good. I think... no, I know, Sara would have been happy to know that."
Maggie's expression cooled. "Would she?"
Denise realised Maggie's internal feelings. Understanding her cousin needed answers; DJ placed her hand on Maggie's shoulder and inclined her head towards the house. Both women made their way down the long garden to the back door. Denise placed her hand upon the handle then froze. Taking a deep breath she turned to Maggie.
"What I'm going to tell you will be as hard for me as it was for the person who relayed it to me. Everything I tell you I assure you is true. I found it hard to understand why Sara never told me about you either... but now I think I do. All she ever did was what she thought was right. For you... for me... and I realised she didn't love me any less... and she loved you just as much."
Denise didn't wait for Maggie's answer. Pushing the door open she stepped into the kitchen, closely followed by Maggie. The redhead seemed hesitant to enter at first. Randa noticed this and did her best to welcome Maggie. Taking her grey suit jacket, the blonde led Maggie further into the kitchen. They had decided to stay there and talk at the table so DJ pulled out a chair for her cousin.
"So how was the traffic coming down, Maggie?" Randa inquired as she carried the teapot to the table. She placed a cup in front of Maggie.
"Busy. I knew I might get caught in the traffic returning from work so I left home earlier to make sure I had enough time." Maggie placed a single spoonful of sugar in her tea. "Do you have any...?"
"Cream," Randa said.
"Umm yes... how did you...?"
"A good guess," Denise answered, looking momentarily at Randa. She didn't want to tell Maggie that was another trait she shared with her mother. DJ didn't know how Maggie would welcome that information until she was sure she was more comfortable with them and the memory of Sara. They had much to discuss first.
Randa brought a pot of cream from the fridge and placed it by Maggie. "We did consider sitting out on the patio this evening but the wind picked up too much." Randa sat down at the kitchen table with DJ and Maggie on either side of her, facing each other.
An uncomfortable silence floated over the room only broken by the tinkling of a metal spoon against porcelain. Denise looked up from her cup, her eyes moving between Maggie and Randa. God I have no idea how to start this. Drumming her fingertips upon the polished wood of the table DJ gazed anxiously at Randa. The tension in the room hung over the three women seated around the table. Denise suddenly found her drumming fingers captured by a warm hand. She smiled at Randa and threaded their fingers together.
Taking a deep breath, Denise turned back to Maggie. "If you have any questions I'll do my best to answer them. Otherwise I'll just try to tell you everything that I know."
Maggie removed a small silver spoon from her cup and placed it upon the saucer. She gazed at DJ cautiously. "I want to know everything. I think I am entitled to that. The complete and unvarnished truth though."
Brushing her tongue over her front teeth Denise nodded. "Okay." Squeezing Randa's hand a little tighter, Denise began Sara's story.
DJ gazed steadily into Maggie's watery eyes. "Giving you away was one of the hardest decisions Sara had ever made. She did it because she thought you deserved so much more than she could provide for you."
Maggie nodded silently. She looked down at her teacup and fingered the delicate pattern around its edge. The depictions of old English roses were finely hand painted on each cup. It was a matching set that had belonged to Sara. "Could I see a picture of her?"
Surprised by the question and the fact that she had forgotten to pull out the scarce amount of photographs they did own, DJ rose to her feet. "Sure... of course. Why don't we go into the sitting room?"
"Excellent idea," Randa echoed as the three women exited the kitchen and headed for the front room.
Earlier that day the poet had debated on whether to take down the painting of Sara and herself when they were younger. She hadn't been sure whether Maggie seeing such a thing at this delicate stage of their meeting would produce any form of resentment. After careful consideration Denise decided to leave it hanging. Not only was it a good likeness of Sara during her younger years but also the painting wasn't large or overbearing.
Taking the lead, followed by Maggie and then Randa, DJ led her cousin into the sitting room. The curtains were still open but dark storm clouds gathering overhead cast the room in an eerie gloom. DJ switched on the main light and walked directly towards the side, freestanding unit. Opening the middle drawer she rummaged around the piles of letters and documents. Though they never possessed a great amount of photographs, Denise was aware of shots that had been taken during Sara's early years, plus the ones they had taken at Christmas. As DJ searched the drawer she heard Maggie and Randa take their seat. Where the bloody hell are they?
"If you're looking for the photographs they're in the cupboard below that drawer."
"Oh!" Denise grinned, wondering how it was possible that Randa knew the location of things better than she did herself. Pushing the drawer closed and bending down, DJ opened the lower cupboard. She spotted the small pile of prints and removed them from the top shelf. Turning back to Maggie and Randa, Denise said, "We don't have many pictures but everything we do have is right here."
Taking a seat beside Maggie, Denise sorted through the small stack of shots. She found a picture of Sara as a young woman. The shot was taken at the first primary school she had worked in. She was surrounded by several of her pupils.
"This was taken in Sara's first place of employment." DJ handed the photograph to Maggie. "I think that would have been around a year before you were born."
Maggie stared down at the picture. She smoothed her fingertips over the silky finished black and white print. "I see I didn't inherit the dark hair. I suppose that would have been my father's genes." Maggie smiled then as she said, "She was beautiful."
"Yes she was," DJ agreed. "You may not have her hair colour but you certainly have her eyes." The poet looked back at the photographs in her hands and sorted through them again. "This was taken at Christmas." She handed Maggie a picture of Sara and Randa. "She was quite ill at that point but she never lost her spirits. She was so brave... right up until the end."
Maggie turned from the photo to Denise. "I was wondering. How did Sara die? I've just realised I was never actually told that. Or maybe I was but at that point I was just too shocked to have taken anything else in."
"That's understandable," Randa said softly. "It was quite a surprise all round. We can understand how it must have been doubly so for you."
"Yes." Maggie turned away guiltily. "There are, however, certain parts of my behaviour that I am not so proud of. The way I contacted and verbally attacked you for one. I am so sorry for that. I suppose at the time there was just a lot I didn't understand."
Denise smiled reassuringly. "That's okay. Whatever may have happened in the past has brought us to this point. Right now is all that matters."
Nodding, Maggie looked back at the photograph of Sara and Randa. "Yes... I suppose so." She studied the frail woman sitting beside a crouching Randa. "How did she die?"
Denise suddenly found herself at a loss for words. Turning to Randa DJ looked to her for assistance. The nurse seemed to have a greater capability for understanding and communication with others. Much better than DJ believe her own skills to be. Talking about the disease that had killed Sara would possibly lead to explaining the hereditary aspects of ALS. Denise knew Randa would be much better able and qualified to explain the details to Maggie.
"Maybe you'd like to take this one."
Randa pursed her lips as she moved to sit closer to Maggie. "Sara died of a disease called ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis." Noticing Maggie's confused expression Randa knew she needed to elaborate further. "In this country it is more commonly known as Motor Neuron Disease."
Clarity shone in Maggie's eyes. "Oh of course. There was a case on the news not long ago about a woman with the same disease. I am aware how severe it is."
"It is," Randa continued. "And Sara had a more aggressive form of the disease. From the time of diagnosis to her death... only about six months had passed."
When a silence overtook the room, DJ turned to Maggie in question. The woman's face portrayed an expression of confusion. "Are you all right?"
Shaking her head Maggie shrugged. "I don't know. I just don't know how I feel about all of this." Maggie sighed. "She was my mother... I feel like I should be saddened or hurt after hearing of the way she died but I don't know how I feel. This is still so bewildering to me."
Denise rose and stood beside the fireplace as Randa took Maggie's hand. "You don't have to understand your feelings now, Maggie. That will come in time. What you need now is to know all the facts."
"All the facts?" Maggie asked Randa.
Standing at her place by the mantle, Denise pushed her hands into her pockets. She didn't know whether telling Maggie all the facts about Sara's disease was such a good idea at that moment but she also didn't want her cousin to feel that they were keeping important information from her.
"There are other facts about the disease that people are not always so well aware of," DJ said carefully. She looked again to Randa for guidance.
A deep frown creased Maggie's brow. "Like?"
"Like," Randa began cautiously. "Like the fact that if it is a particular variation of the disease that seems to be familial, there is a higher percentage chance of it passing genetically."
"And if it is this form of the disease, how high a percentage chance are we talking about here?"
"Half," Randa confessed.
Confused blue eyes moved around the room as Maggie tried to digest what she had just been told. "This Motor Neurons Disease," she began. "This is the one that slowly paralyses the body? Am I right in my understanding here?"
"That's right." Randa released Maggie's hand and folded her own together in thought. "It's a neuromuscular disease characterized by a progressive deterioration of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When that happens and the motor neurons can no longer send impulses to the muscles, they become paralysed and begin to waste away. This leads to a complete paralysis of the body though the mind remains unaffected."
"And I may have this?"
Denise could clearly see the alarm growing in Maggie. "We just have to be aware of the possibility. A lot of the family died quite young so we don't know all our health history, but I am not ruling out the chance that I may also one day have this. I just think it is fair that you should be aware of that."
The expression of fear in Maggie's face heightened and Denise began to feel a little concerned. Damn, I have to right this. "Look, Maggie, this isn't..."
"Isn't what?" Maggie interrupted. "Isn't something to be concerned about? Isn't something serious?" The redheads voice grew higher. "Because if that is what you were about to say then you are wrong. You have just told me that there may be a chance that I might one day have this disease."
"A slight chance," Randa pushed.
"What does it matter?" Maggie rose to her feet and took a step closer to DJ. "This may not concern you so much but it does me." Denise attempted to speak but Maggie cut her off. "I am a mother... I have two children to think about... and a husband. How am I supposed to take this? How am I supposed to tell my husband?"
Denise felt her frustration level rise as she pulled her hands from her pockets and attempted to calm her cousin. "Maggie, listen. I do understand how you feel... honestly I do."
"How could you?" Maggie retorted. "You don't have a husband... children. You don't have family to consider like I do."
"I have Randa."
"That is not the same. You're... well you are both..." Maggie shook her head. "My god I can't deal with this." Her eyes drifted around the room as her thoughts pondered on what she had been told. An irrational tone tinged her voice. "This is not what I came around to hear. I wanted to know about Sara and what do I find? That her legacy to me is a great possibility of a terrible disease... and if I do have it then what is the chance my children might as well?"
Randa placed a calming hand upon Maggie's arm. "Why don't we all sit down?"
"Sit down?" Maggie snorted, her expression loaded with anger induced by her fear. "I need to get out of here... I need to think"
Spinning around, the redhead fled from the room. DJ looked to Randa shocked as she heard the front door open and slam shut. Turning towards the fireplace she kicked the side of the mantle as she shouted, "Shagging hell!" A sharp pain shot through her toes but she ignored it. "This is not good."
"We have to go after her, Denise."
Randa turned to face the door but DJ stopped her. "Let me go... I want to talk to her."
Receiving a nod of agreement Denise squeezed Randa's arm gently before heading towards the front door. She pulled it open and saw a heavy downpour of rain. When did this start? Grabbing her jacket from the side coat hook Denise stepped outside relieved to see Maggie's car was still parked in front of the house. Her cousin had left her keys in the coat, which was still hanging beside Randa's on the coat hook.
With the car still being there, DJ knew Maggie had to have taken off on foot. Squinting through the downpour of rain and darkened evening, DJ ran out into the street. The road was blocked at one end so Denise knew Maggie could have only run one way.
Setting off down the street the dull pain in her toes didn't hinder her progress as she searched for her cousin. The rapid fall of rain pounded down upon her head and shoulders, quickly soaking her hair and clothes. The droplets blurred her vision as DJ reached the corner of her street and turned to the left. In the distance she could just identify Maggie's red hair as she ran further down the street.
"Hey! Maggie! Wait!" DJ shouted but her cousin didn't appear to hear. Cursing once again the poet followed her down the street. She was heading toward the town centre and in the distance DJ could see an increase of people milling around the remaining open shops and public houses.
"Why do I feel like I have just made a terrible mistake?" Pushing rain soaked strands of hair from her face Denise ran faster. The rain began falling harder, pounding upon the tarmac path and forming small puddles by the roadside. DJ reached the end of the road and found herself entering the town centre. A green Double-Decker bus passed her forcing a jet of cold rainwater to shoot up from the curbside. The sound of passing vehicles echoed around her. Further ahead Denise noticed Maggie stop by a pelican crossing.
"Maggie, please wait," Denise shouted. "This is silly. Come on, we need to talk." The poet almost growled as Maggie crossed the road. "I'm getting frigging soaked here!"
From the other side of the road Denise watched as Maggie stopped. She leaned against the supermarket's grey brick wall, her head falling into trembling hands. Seeing a chance to reach her, Denise stopped by the pelican crossing. Intent on speaking with her cousin and desperate to calm the upset woman she ran out into the road. The last thing DJ felt was the impact of a heavy vehicle as it collided with her body at high speed.
End of Part IV