Family Connections

Part V (Conclusion)

by MJ and Cephalgia

Authors' Notes: See Part I

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Chapter 17

Randa stood in the living room peering out the window at the increasing downpour. A quick flash of lightning coincided with a sudden jolt to her heart.

"Denise!" she wailed knowing for certain that something terrible had happened to her partner. She began to pace, torn between running out into the night to find DJ and knowing she needed to stay in case Maggie or Denise came back. Just when she was sure she was going to lose her mind with worry a police car pulled up in front of the house. Maggie and a police officer stepped out. The redhead ran up the walk but Randa met her at the front door before she could knock.

"Denise...where is Denise?" the blonde yelled, grabbing Maggie's upper arms as if shaking her would get the story out quicker.

"She...Oh, Randa, it's my fault...she was coming after me..."

"Maggie! Stop it!" Randa interrupted. "What's happened to Denise?" Randa's voice was rising, bordering on hysteria. Maggie could only tremble and shake her head.

The police officer came up behind them and said in an official voice, "You are Miss Martin?" Randa nodded. "And Miss Jennings would be your...?"

"Partner," Randa supplied. "What is it? Where is she?"

"I'm afraid she's been taken to hospital, miss. She was struck by a vehicle crossing Dorset Road.

"Is she...?" Randa breathed almost not wanting the answer.

"Alive when I saw her last, miss, but seriously injured." The nurse closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. She opened them at the officer's next question.

"I understand there are no close relatives?" Randa glanced at Maggie who avoided her gaze.

"None," Randa stated flatly. "Except me."

"Well then, if you would accompany me, miss, I'll take you to St. Michael's Hospital. The Emergency Department staff will need information for her treatment and I'll need a statement for my report as well."

Randa quickly gathered up her purse, jacket and Denise's briefcase with her cell phone in it. As she moved to join the police officer, Maggie approached her and reached to touch the nurse's arm.

"Don't touch me!" Randa snapped as she whipped her arm away from the redhead. "If it wasn't for your childish letters and your jealous threats we wouldn't be here and Denise wouldn't be hurt! You badgered her for the unvarnished truth but when you got it, what did you do? You ran. You're a coward, Maggie. Too bad you didn't inherit a little of Sara's courage!" As the nurse's protective nature reared up and asserted itself Maggie moved back unconsciously. In the face of Randa's rage even the police officer seemed stunned.

"Let me tell you something else, Maggie. You better pray Denise doesn't die because if she does there won't be a hole small enough in this country for you to crawl in to hide from me!"

Turning to the police officer she said simply, "Let's go."


Randa was sitting in the Emergency Department waiting room, head in her hands, when Diane appeared. The nurse silently thanked her foresight in bringing Denise's briefcase. In addition to Denise's insurance information she found Diane's number programmed into the cell phone as well as Carl's. Each had assured her they would be there as soon as possible.

Randa had arrived with the police officer an hour earlier. After helping with the paperwork and providing the staff with needed medical information she was relegated to the waiting area, assured she would be informed of any news when the staff had it. Randa was torn between the knowledge that she would be in the way as the team worked on Denise and an insane need to see and be with her lover.

You've got to be all right, Denise. Eternity will not be enough, remember?

Diane moved to Randa's side and slipped into the uncomfortable chair there. She put her arm around the nurse and Randa turned into the comfort of an old friend.

"How is she, Randa?" Diane asked.

The nurse absorbed the support and replied "Not sure yet, they're still working on her."

"How did this happen?"

"We invited Maggie up here to get to know Denise and learn about Sara. It seemed everything was going as well as could be expected, and then we got to the part about how Sara died and what that might mean for Denise and Maggie. Maggie freaked out and ran off into the rainstorm. You know Denise, she would never let Maggie try to absorb that alone. She left to find her and the police said she was in a pedestrian crosswalk when a car hit her. They said the driver never saw her in the heavy downpour." Randa's voice shook after the last sentence. She sat back but held on to Diane's hand.

Through double doors a baby faced young man in scrubs and a long white lab coat emerged. She's being taken care of by a teenager Randa thought. Coming closer she could see now he was at least ten years older than he initially appeared to be and had an aura about him that gave her confidence.

"Miss Martin? I'm Dr. Merritt, I treated Miss Jennings." He reached out and shook her hand.

"This is Diane Barlow, doctor. We're Denise's family. What's happening with her?"

Dr. Merritt pulled a chair up in front of the two women. "It was fortunate Miss Jennings was brought here. We may be a small hospital but we have a first rate trauma team. First let me assure you straight away she is in no danger of dying." Randa felt an unmistakable medical "but" coming up and she cursed herself when her nursing intuition was correct.

"But," the doctor continued, "She does have very significant injuries. Both bones in her right forearm are broken and her right shoulder was dislocated. We've moved the shoulder back into the correct position, casted the lower arm and put the whole arm in an immobilizer. She had a large amount of bruising to the right side of her body where it impacted with the vehicle. Her blood counts and blood pressure were low so we inserted a needle in her abdomen to check for the presence of blood there."

"What did the tap show?" Randa asked.

"You have some medical background?" the doctor inquired.

"She's a Registered Nurse and a damned good one too," Diane said with a reassuring squeeze to Randa's hand.

The doctor nodded. "Well then, it will be easier for me to explain this information. The tap was positive for blood. We sent her for a stat CAT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. What we found was a laceration to her liver which was bleeding into her abdomen."

Randa shook her head with concern. "Damn, you'll need to operate. When will she go in?"

Dr. Merritt smiled. "She went to the operating suite 15 minutes ago. Dr. Patel was finishing up an appendectomy and was already here. She was very confident based on the scans that the laceration could be repaired. As far as Dr. Patel could see on the scans the liver injury was Miss Jennings' only abdominal injury but she will of course do a visual inspection during the procedure."

Diane breathed a sigh of relief. "That doesn't sound so bad." Randa knew in her heart the bad news wasn't finished.

"What we are most worried about though is the fact that Miss Jennings was unresponsive at the scene and has yet to regain consciousness. A scan of the brain showed a small subdural hematoma on the right side. It appears stable and at this point our inclination is not to surgically remove it. We're hoping that her unresponsiveness is related to a severe concussion and therefore temporary but this is something we will monitor closely after surgery. That's it. Do you have any questions for me?"

"When will I be able to see her?" Randa asked.

"Post-operatively we will be monitoring her in the Intensive Care Unit; you can see her then. There's a family room outside the unit where you can wait. I'll have the head sister let you know when Miss Jennings arrives there." Dr. Merritt directed them toward the ICU and then headed back to the Emergency Department.

Randa turned to Diane. "I'm staying until I know Denise is going to be all right but I need you to do me a favor. Can you go back to our house and check on things? I'm pretty certain the lights are on and the door is unlocked and..."

"Randa, it's fine. I'll take care of everything. DJ is going to need you here, I know that." The older woman hugged the blonde close. "Sara said you were the best nurse she had ever met and a true match for DJ. You're going to need both of those qualities to help her recover from this. Promise you'll call me if there are any changes."

The nurse hugged Diane again. "I promise. Thank you, Diane. I can see why Sara loved you."

Diane laughed softly and patted Randa's head before drawing away. "And because you know DJ, you know why I loved Sara. Two peas in a pod, that pair. Well, I'll be on my way now but I'll be back in the morning." She left Randa in the family room, waiting alone for the poet.


Randa sat in the chair by Denise's bed watching other nurses moving around their patient in an efficient and orderly manner. Amazing how little is different in what a nurse does in this country and in the U.S. Randa surprised herself by referring to the States as the "U.S." and not "home".

Guess home is wherever Denise is she thought.

The poet had been moved into the Intensive Care Unit about three hours previously. Randa had been allowed to stay at Denise's side though it was a violation of the posted visiting rules. Randa stayed out of the way of the staff as they cared for the brunette and though she observed what was happening, she didn't want any part of the medical aspect of the poet's care. She just wanted to be there for Denise, to support and love her. When the staff wasn't in the room, Randa talked to Denise, feeling her partner would know she was there.

"Come on, Denise. It'll take more than a speeding car to stop you. The only thing it really did was give you a lovely new haircut." Randa referred to a patch of hair on the right side of Denise's head that had to be shaved to put staples into a scalp laceration.

"Diane was here earlier. She went back to the house so we don't have to worry about that. We're so lucky to have her; she's a good friend." Randa reached out to take Denise's hand, careful to not disturb the IV inserted into the poet's wrist. A squeeze to the hand did not elicit a similar response from the brunette.

Denise hadn't opened her eyes or spoken since her admission to the ICU and for a moment Randa was content to gaze at the poet's face and rub her thumb over her fingers. As she sat there, scenes of their life together played in her mind. She remembered how her heart nearly stopped the first time Denise opened the door of the house in Derbyshire, their first kiss just last New Year's Eve and the wonderful night they first made love.

They had been through some rough times as well. Randa's eyes misted as she thought of the night Sara passed away. Standing with the poet as a piece of their hearts went with Sara had been the most devastating moment of her life. They had only made it through with the help and support of one another.

Randa glanced at the hand making contact with Denise's larger one. The silver band on her ring finger gleamed though the light in the room was muted. The nurse returned her gaze to Denise's face, willing her to open her eyes.

"Denise, I need you to wake up. I need you to show me the doctors are guessing right about this being temporary. I want to start living our lives again. I want you to tease me and make love to me and argue about chocolate with me. I want to lie in our hammock and plan our future. I want to kiss you until you're breathless and let you know how very much I love you because I do, Miss Jennings. You're my life and nothing in my life will be right again until you wake up. I love you, Denise. I guess it's as plain and simple as that. Oh, and one more thing. When you're up and out of here, we're going to see your friend the jewelry maker and get a ring made for you too. You belong to me as much as I belong to you and we're going to spend the rest of our very long lives together. Please, love, please wake up!"

Randa had held her emotions together since the first moment she heard Denise had been hurt but now she felt her tenuous hold on control slipping. She lowered her head as the tears she had held back for so many hours flowed unchecked down her cheeks.

"Juniper," a hoarse and cracked voice said.

Randa's head popped up and she found herself being regarded by two groggy but aware blue eyes.

"What did you say, Denise?" Randa said as she rose to move closer to the poet.

"Juniper..." Denise whispered through dry lips as she gave Randa a weak smile. "My middle's Juniper."

Randa smiled as a fresh flow of tears started. "That's terrible, love," she said as she placed gentle kisses on Denise's cheeks and forehead. "That's just terrible."

The weak smile stayed on the poet's face as Denise closed her eyes again firmly entrenched in healing sleep.

Chapter 18

The feeling of a soft, caressing sensation travelling over her wrist pulled Denise from her sleep. Taking light breaths, the poet attempted to open her eyes for the second time. This time it felt easier. As dark eyelashes slowly parted the single hospital room was revealed to her. Blue eyes slid from left to right in a quest for visual information. DJ knew she was in a hospital; that much was apparent. She also knew why she was there but the poet had no conception of her injuries. All Denise knew was that her entire body ached and her head throbbed. Her newly opened eyes felt sensitive to the light but she managed to accustom them to the glare.

Becoming increasingly conscious of her surroundings, Denise once again became aware of the peculiar tickling sensation caressing her skin. The poet attempted to turn her head but the sheer stiffness her body felt caused her to remain still. Instead hazy blue eyes shifted to the left and gazed down. The sight of a crown of blonde hair beside her arm warmed her heart. Denise realized what she could feel was Randa as the nurse sat with her head resting upon the bed, sleeping. Her gentle somnolent breaths prickled DJ's skin.

Denise attempted to speak but the words got caught in her throat. A chain of dry throaty coughs followed, causing DJ's body to tense with increasing spasms of pain. Grimacing at the agonizing sensations, a sense of relief washed through her as Denise heard a welcome sound.

"Denise love, can you hear me?"

DJ lightly squeezed the hand that had wrapped itself around her own. She swallowed and groaned harshly, her eyes once again tightly closed together.

"Denise, look at me?" Randa asked, accompanied by a soothing caress to her arm.

Feeling tears of frustration sting her eyes, Denise slowly looked towards Randa. The sight of loving green eyes caused further tears to slip down the side of her cheeks. She smiled, feeling tightness in her lower lip and realized the flesh must have split.

"Hi," Randa said and kissed DJ's uninjured hand.

"Need a drink," Denise whispered hoarsely.

The blonde shook her head. "You can't, love. Not yet anyway. Hold on." Randa disappeared momentarily from view only to return holding something cold against DJ's lips. "Here, take this."

Feeling the chilling sensation upon her flesh, Denise took the small chip of ice into her mouth. The cool ice instantly melted in the heat of her mouth causing a trickle of refreshing water to slip down her throat.



"How do you feel?"

Licking her lips Denise said, "Like I was hit by a ton of bricks."

"Try an SUV!"

"Ugh." Releasing Randa's hand DJ lifted her own and gently prodded her lip, feeling the swelling. "What's the damage?"

"Well..." Regret shone in Randa's features as she listed DJ's injuries. "You've got two broken bones in your right arm. You dislocated the shoulder too, which had to be reset. You have major bruising down the right side of your body and your liver was lacerated and bleeding into your abdomen. They had to operate to repair it. You had a small bleed on the right side of your brain... but that was stable. The only major concern was the fact that you were taking so long to regain consciousness. Now that you have, I think you're going to be just fine."

Denise listened to Randa count her injuries feeling a sense of shock. When she finished the poet looked at her in disbelief as she gently fingered her brow. "And I am still in one piece?"

"Thankfully." Randa rose from her chair in which she had been keeping a constant vigil beside DJ's bed. She leaned forward and kissed Denise's brow, lightly running her fingers through her dark fringe. "I was so scared, Denise. When the police came to the door I just knew something terrible had happened, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I was so scared I would never see you again."

Taking Randa's hand, Denise placed it against the uninjured side of her face. She smiled as the last thought that occurred to her before she lost consciousness, entered her mind. "You know... the last thing I remember... before it went black was the fear that I was about to leave this world and I never gave into your quest to discover my middle name. Silly huh?"

"Your name?" Randa asked with a slight, withheld smile.

Denise smiled feeling the tug once again upon her lip. Grimacing, she closed her eyes. "It hurts to smile." Reopening blue orbs she regarded Randa clearly. "And you wonder why I was so reluctant in telling you. Don't think I don't remember you..." Denise took a light breath. "...Laughing. You called it terrible!"

Randa shrugged. "But anyway, I don't think it was silly to think that about your middle name. Maybe it shows you were thinking of me. Does that mean I was your last thought?"

"My first... my last... and all those in-between that are not occupied thinking about chocolate." Denise grimaced, as an intense feeling of pain ran through her.

The smile fell from Randa's lips. "What is it?"

"Starting to hurt more." The pain steadily grew causing DJ to groan out her discomfort.

"Hold on, love, I'll get the nurse." Randa reached out to a button by the side of the bed and pressed it twice. Within moments a West Indian nurse dressed in a light blue uniform came through the door.

"Her pain is coming back," Randa said. She didn't want it to appear like she was encroaching or trying to do the nurse's job but she had to add, "She's going to need another shot of Morphine."

The tall nurse nodded. "I'll get it for her. Doctor Merritt was just about to..." She stopped as the man in question appeared behind her.

"Ah I see the patient is awake again," he said to Denise as he entered the room. "How are you feeling, Miss Jennings?"

"Like crap."

Randa rolled her eyes. "Yes ladies and gentleman it's the famed poet, renowned for her gift of words... D Jennings." Randa shook her head. "She needs another dose of Morphine."

Doctor Merritt nodded as he turned to the nurse. "Give her four milligrams of Morphine IV please. The nurse left to retrieve the strong painkiller. The physician pulled an ophthalmoscope from his pocket and began to examine DJ's eyes. "I'm relieved to see you conscious. We were a little concerned that it had taken longer than expected for you to come around. I presume Randa has filled you in with the state of your injuries?"

Denise nodded.

"Good and how are you feeling?"

"I hurt, I throb and I'm broken. Apart from that I suppose I should be glad I am still alive." Denise felt a responding squeeze from Randa at her words. The nurse returned at that point with a syringe and administered the medication through an access port near the site where the IV entered DJ's skin.

"And how does your head feel?" the doctor continued. "Any headaches... changes in your vision?"

DJ cast her eyes around the room. "I see fine."

"That's good. Well being as though I know you are in capable hands with Randa here, I'll leave you two alone. I will be back later to talk to you again when I get the results from your latest scans."

When Doctor Merritt left the room Denise looked back at Randa. "He's okay." The poet took a shallow breath and sighed. "So, nurse Randa, now that I am in your capable hands... what do you intend doing with me?"

"Feeling a little better?" Randa asked with a wry smile. "I think the Morphine must be taking affect."

Denise closed her eyes as her body sunk into a luxurious feeling of cocooned comfort and security. Her mind drifted, floating on a cloud of sleepiness as she slipped into a light but disturbed sleep.


Denise felt alone. She was cold, wet and afraid, surrounded by semi darkness. Devoid of energy her legs felt weak and numb, yet she was running, feeling she was unable to stop. Ahead of her Denise could just see Randa but however hard she ran, she couldn't seemed to get any closer to her partner. Her legs ached and her chest stung with a need for breath. Suddenly Denise found herself running faster, rapidly getting closer to Randa, but out of nowhere bright lights blinded her eyes. The sound of screeching brakes echoed in her ears as she felt her body collide with a solid force and fly like a rag doll through the air.


Denise opened her eyes in terror to find herself once again in the ICU room. Breathing harshly and her heart pounding rapidly within her chest she searched around the room frantically. Randa was nowhere to be seen. Closing her eyes, Denise tried to take calming breaths. I can't believe this happened, she thought. Why did this happen?

It was a fact of life, DJ acknowledged, that bad things happened when you least expected them to. Unlike in the movies where atmospheric music and cleverly manipulated tension can lead the viewer to suspect something was about to happen, in real life that was not so. The house fire and the death of her parents; the surprise reality of a terminal illness, they were all examples of how fate had played its part in DJ's life. You never know just what is around the next corner in life, Denise thought to herself. She felt angry, and frustrated that this had happened, just as things appeared to be going well for Randa and herself.

Lifting her one good arm, Denise lightly covered her eyes with a slightly bruised and grazed hand.


The poet uncovered her eyes to find Randa re-entering her room. A profound feeling of relief flooded her senses.

"You're awake! Are you okay?"

DJ shook her head. "I had a bad dream. Left me feeling a little rattled." She held out her hand for Randa to take and the nurse accepted it gladly. Randa leaned forward and kissed DJ's fingers gently.

"Sorry I wasn't here when you woke up."

"Randa you don't have to be here all the time. I don't know how long I am going to have to stay here and you look like you haven't slept in days."

Randa smiled. "Is that your way of telling me I look like hell?"

"You always look good to me," Denise replied.

"Well that's good then because I'm not going anywhere. So how are you feeling?"

"I don't know. How am I supposed to feel? I feel okay I suppose." DJ took a short breath. "Could I have another one of those icy things?"

"Sure." Randa reached over to a fresh selection of ice chips. She lifted one from the glass container and held it towards DJ's lips. "I was out with Carl. He turned up about twenty minutes ago. He's out in the waiting room now. I must admit, it would have been nicer to finally meet him under different circumstances but he seems nice. Very worried about you though so naturally that boosted his stock with me a couple of notches!"

DJ readily accepted the refreshing chip of ice. "Is he allowed to come in?"

"For a couple of minutes. Visits to ICU's are usually kept minimal and short. Being as though you seem to be doing okay I'm pretty sure you'll be transferred to a regular room soon."

"Okay... can you bring him in?"

As Randa nodded and turned to leave, Denise called after her. The blonde turned back to DJ in question.

"Not that I want to appear vain," DJ said, "But how exactly do I look? I mean to an outside point of view. I don't want to scare anybody!" Denise watched Randa closely as her eyes swept over her prone form.

"Well most of your body is covered so a lot of your cuts and bruises aren't visible. The only things showing really are your arms and face. Your right arm is in a cast and an immobiliser and your left, like your face, is cut, scraped and bruised. Then you have a couple of staples on your head... your chin... your..."

"I get the point," Denise interrupted. "I look literally as bad as I feel!"

Randa stepped forward and leaned carefully over Denise's bed. She kissed her gently and DJ revelled in the soft lips upon her own. She closed her eyes, basking in the simple contact that was nothing more than a loving caress of reassurance.

"You may look a little more colourful than usual but you still look great."

Denise smiled slightly as she gazed into sea green eyes. "The heart can see what the eyes cannot."

"Pardon?" Randa asked.

"I mean that you look at me with your heart because you love me... there is a difference."

"Does that matter?"

DJ shook her head. "No, I like the way you look at me."

"Then that's okay." Placing one more kiss upon Denise's forehead Randa turned back towards the door. "I'll be back in a minute."

Denise watched Randa leave with a smile. As the door closed she looked around her room. There didn't seem to be much to it. She hoped when she was moved to a regular room she would at least have a television. That thought made Denise remember the interview that was to be broadcast the evening before. Denise made a mental note to try and remember to ask Carl how it turned out. She knew with absolute certainty Carl would have watched it.

Raising her arm, Denise studied her left limb and hand. Flesh that wasn't covered by a hospital gown was littered with abrasions and bruising. The reality of her condition sunk into her mind and a raw feeling of frustration warred within. The notion that she wouldn't be able to do a lot of things for herself became an increasingly exasperating thought. Although she knew Randa would be more than willing to help in anyway she could, the simple fact that she would temporarily lose a certain amount of her independence was highly worrisome. Thank god I'm left handed, Denise mumbled as Randa and Carl entered the room.

Denise watched Carl closely to gage his reaction. The editor looked down at Denise, his eyes wide with shock.

"Jesus, DJ."

"I love you too, man."

"I can't believe it. How do you feel?"

"Why does everybody keep asking me that? How do you think I feel?" There was no resentment in DJ's voice as she responded to Carl. "I feel great! They got me on Morphine!" Denise winked conspiratorially. She was putting on a brave face and she knew it. Even with the Morphine, DJ was extremely uncomfortable.

Carl sat down on a chair on the opposite side of Randa. DJ felt Randa take her hand and a soothing thumb caress her skin.

"Well, you'll never guess what?"

"What's that?" Denise asked Carl.

"The press already know about the accident. Apparently it didn't take long to find out whom it was. I got a telephone call just before I left from your local paper. They wanted direct information about what had happened. It seems your getting hurt on the night of your first screen interview is big news." Carl shook his head. "I won't be surprised if the local press don't then inform the nationals."

Denise rolled her eyes. "So how was the interview?"

"You're not worried about the other stuff?" Carl asked.

"Nothing I can do about it."

"I suppose." Carl shifted back into his chair. "The interview was great. You looked fantastic. I have to say I think you look good on the small screen. There was even a shot of Randa."

"There was?" The nurse asked.

"Uh huh. When DJ mentioned you there was a shot of you standing in the background watching."

"Wow, I might have to send a copy of that to my mom!"

"You taped it?"

Randa nodded as she said, "Yes."

Carl smirked. "So did I." Placing a hand upon the bed the editor turned a serious eye upon Denise. "Listen, I know I can't stay much longer but I want you to know that whatever you want is yours okay? Anything you need me to do, just say."

"Thanks, Carl. If you can just deal with any questions, that would be great."

The editor gave an affirmative nod. "What do you want me to say to the press?"

Denise thought momentarily. "Something honest but concise I think."

"Consider it done." Carl stood slowly. "I better get going then before one of those nurse's comes in here and tried to manhandle me." Carl paused, "Hmm, actually come to think of it..."

Randa chuckled as she rose to her feet. "Careful. I heard the sister doesn't take any crap!"

Carl pouted. "Aw, okay." He turned back to Denise. "Remember... anything you need, DJ, just let me know." With a wink to Denise and a smile and nod towards Randa, Carl exited the room.

Denise yawned.

"Are you tired?" Randa asked concerned.

"A little, that bad dream earlier woke me up with a start."

"What was it about?"

The poet shook her head. "It doesn't matter... it was nothing out of the ordinary... just your run of the mill bad dream." Though the dream had shaken Denise she didn't want to pin any importance on it or make it seem worse than she knew it was.

Thinking back to the accident, Denise remembered the reason she was out in the streets in the first place. "What happened to Maggie?" She noticed Randa's eyes glaze over with anger.

"I don't know where she is and to be honest I don't really care." The nurse folded her arms and looked away from DJ. "It's her fault you're here. You nearly died because of her."

"It wasn't her fault."

"The hell it wasn't." Randa said angrily.

"Hey!" Denise reached out, grabbing hold of Randa's tense hand. "It was an accident, all of it. Me running out into the road, even though I was at a crossing, and that person not seeing me. None of it could be helped. If anything, blame the stupid weather. Let's just be glad it wasn't any more serious and that nobody else got hurt. I know I am."

Randa sat down, still seemingly unconvinced so Denise decided to change the subject.

"Thank you for calling everyone, by the way." She frowned, "how did you get Carl's number?"

Randa shrugged. "I brought your briefcase with me. I knew it had your cell phone inside and that you had all your important numbers programmed into the memory."

"My briefcase?" Denise said surprised. There was a certain writing pad in her briefcase that she hadn't wanted Randa to see. She wondered whether the blonde had found the item in question. Denise had pondered for quite a while about when to show Randa what was written on the pad. It was a poem. She had written it for her but was unsure when, where and how to give it to her. Deciding to find out whether in fact Randa had read the poem - and dreading the answer at the same time - DJ addressed Randa cautiously. "Did you look around the case?"

Randa shrugged. "Well I did... kind of. Just to occupy my mind."

"And you looked in my pad?"

The blonde blushed and hesitated before replying. "Okay I did... but I swear as soon as I read the title and saw my name and the notes around the side I shut it back up." Randa fidgeted in her chair. "I was tempted to read further but I swear I didn't. I knew that if and when you wanted me to see it you would show me then. It was hard though," the nurse smiled.

Blue eyes regarded the ceiling in thought. I could wait... but with all that has happened now might be as good a time as any! That decision made, DJ said, "Where is my case now?"

Randa inclined her head toward the other side of the room. "In the corner, out of the way."

"Do you mind bringing it to me?"

"Of course not." Randa rose from her chair and crossed the room. She picked up DJ's case from the floor and carried it back over to her partner.

"Can you open it and take out the notepad?"

Nodding, Randa did as requested. She pulled the pad from inside the case and placed the carrier upon the floor. Handing the pad to Denise, Randa sat back down. Curiosity shone upon her features.

Lifting her notepad cover, Denise looked at the precise handwritten verses. Her heart hammered anxiously. She had envisioned a different scenario than this but the poet knew that she wanted and needed to do this now. Turning back to Randa, DJ held out the pad. "Will you read it out... please?"

"Um... sure." Licking her lips Randa cast her eyes down toward the notepad. Her voice quivered with anticipation as she began to read:

"If only I had the eloquence
To put in simple words
Just how your presence changed my life
And lightened up my world

If I only had the voice
Then for you I know I'd sing
A ballad of the greatest songs
A lover's harmony

But if you had the eyes
That could see inside my soul
A once and lonely heart you'd find
Because of you is whole

And if you were to touch me
I know you'd surely feel
My body tremble at your sweet caress
With you I'm healed

When we are together
The love I feel inside
Shows you are my destiny
From that I'll never hide

And, my heart, I know I love you
And I hope that you will see
That you and I were meant to be
So, my love, ..."

Randa paused... her glazed eyes turning towards Denise in bewilderment as she continued with the last line, "... please marry me."

Silence filled the room and DJ bit her lip, her breathing tight and shallow. "Randa, I..." The poet stopped talking as Doctor Merritt entered the room.

"Hello, Denise." He sat down in Carl's recently vacated seat. "I have the results from your scans. I am pleased to tell you that your neuro status is okay and you are getting stronger. There is also no evidence of any further internal bleeding."

DJ briefly looked over to a quiet Randa. With regret she realised she would have to put off Randa's response to her poem. Already the anticipation was eating away at her insides. She turned to the doctor. "That's good then. Does it mean I can go to a regular room?" she asked and looked back at Randa. A hesitant expression appeared in the blonde's eyes causing a sudden feeling of nervousness in Denise.

Doctor Merritt continued. "We did however identify a problem. The kidney function tests on your chemistry panel are worrisome."

"How bad are they?" Randa asked instinctively.

"Bad enough that we'll start monitoring her BUN and creatinine twice a day until we see some improvement."

Denise frowned. "What is that?"

"Those are tests that monitor how good a job your kidneys are doing filtering the toxins out of your blood stream," Randa answered. "Her tests were normal before surgery?"

The doctor nodded to Randa's question then addressed DJ. "This means your kidneys have stopped functioning properly since your surgery. This may be due to the IV contrast dye used for your scans. Have you ever had any type of scan before using a contrast dye?"

"No," replied the poet. "I've been pretty healthy up until now."

"Well, it may be nothing to worry about. This could resolve spontaneously."

"And if it doesn't?" The poet asked nervously.

"If not it may mean you could go into kidney failure and need dialysis, either temporary or permanently."

"What's the worst-case scenario?" the poet asked.

Dr. Merritt looked uncomfortable. "You could progress to complete kidney failure and need a transplant."

The breath left DJ's lungs as the news registered in her mind. "A transplant?"

"That's worst case scenario," Doctor Merritt insisted. "Like I said this could resolve spontaneously."

"And it might not." Denise looked worriedly at Randa seeing the same highly distressed expression in her eyes that she was feeling within herself. Alarm filled her senses as the poet's mind naturally pondered the doctor's words.

Chapter 19

Dr. Merritt excused himself and left the room to continue on his rounds of his patients. Neither Randa nor Denise seemed to know what to say. The poet stared straight ahead apparently trying to come to terms with the information the doctor had given them. Randa looked at her lover and experienced a feeling of helplessness. It was a feeling she was having all too often lately.

Looking down, she saw the pad of writing paper she still had in her hand with Denise's eloquent and sweet proposal on it. Slowly she slipped the pad back into the poet's briefcase. I'm not going to hold her to this proposal, not now when she has so many more important things to deal with. I do want to marry you, Denise but I'm not going to put any pressure on you right now. When you're past all this then we'll plan our future together. Until then I just want you to concentrate on getting better.

Randa felt like she was doing the right thing for Denise but another part of her wanted to take Denise into her arms and show her how ecstatic the proposal had made her. Moving to Denise's bedside, the blonde reached out and took her partner's hand.

"Are you okay, love?" Denise appeared anything but okay at the moment, but she squeezed Randa's hand.

"I will be. I'm just trying to understand what's happened. It seems that since I woke up it's been one thing after another trying to keep me off balance. I need a little time to sort out what all this means."

"Anything I can do?" Randa offered. She brought her hand up to move a dark lock of hair off DJ's forehead and she winced involuntarily when she spied the laceration and shaved area on Denise's head.

Denise was about to speak when she saw the direction of Randa's gaze. Reaching her left hand up she touched the area recently stapled closed. Eyes widened as she felt around the injury and she turned a questioning look up at the nurse.

" My hair?"

"I'm afraid so, love, they had to close up a nasty cut on your head," Randa said with sympathy. "It'll grow back in no time though."

Denise surprised her by giving her a wide smile. "I guess if you want to do something for me, you can bring me a pair of scissors. Maybe we can even things up a little bit. I had been thinking about getting it cut anyway. It looks like the decision has been made for me now."

Randa laughed and realized Denise had surprised her once again by her resilience. She leaned over and kissed the poet on the top of her head, moved down to her forehead then continued on to place a soft kiss on Denise's lips.

"I was so worried about you," Randa murmured against Denise's mouth. "If something had happened and you had been taken from me, I'm not sure I would have survived." Denise moved her uninjured arm up and around Randa's head to press the nurse closer but grimaced as the increased pressure caused pain to her split lip.

"Ouch!" she exclaimed and brought her fingers to her lip. "Remind me to kiss you passionately after I heal up a little, okay?"

"You can count on it," Randa agreed as she moved back from Denise. Neither said a word but only looked at the other as unspoken love and reassurances were exchanged.

"What's going to happen to me, Randa?" Denise asked, tension evident in her voice. The nurse looked at her partner and knew she couldn't look into those cerulean eyes and lie.

"We don't know, Denise. Maybe your kidneys will start working right on their own and everything will be fine. If they don't then we'll deal with that situation when it occurs and we'll deal with it together." Denise studied her for a few seconds then nodded.

"How long until we'll know?"

Tell her straight out. Randa. She needs to know you'll always tell her the truth.
"It depends on your lab tests but I don't think it will be more than two or three days before we'll be certain."

Denise nodded and fell silent. Randa wished there was something more she could do for her partner but as she looked down at their rejoined hands, she couldn't think of a damn thing.


It was late in the afternoon by the time Randa stumbled into the house. The dark circles under her eyes were evidence of the emotional stress she was dealing with. A stumbling gait gave away her exhaustion and the persistent rumbling of her stomach reminded her she'd had nothing but tea and coffee in the hospital cafeteria since the previous evening.

Diane emerged from the living room and assessed Randa's condition immediately.

"I saw the taxi arrive. My goodness Randa, you're positively dead on your feet. Come into the kitchen dear and let's get some food into you. I made a nice roast beef as I didn't know when you might be back. Let me heat some up for you and you can fill me in on how DJ is doing."

"She's not much different from when I called you earlier," Randa said as she followed the older woman into the kitchen. "Her lab tests were a little worse this afternoon as compared to this morning but not by much so we just have to wait and see about her kidney function. The physical therapist came in to work with her and then she is being transferred to a private room on a general surgical ward. I thought I would come home to get cleaned up and get a bite to eat. I'll head back to the hospital in a little while."

Diane looked up at the nurse as she removed a pan from the oven and began slicing two thick cuts of roast beef. "You most certainly will not, young woman. First you will eat some supper, then you will march upstairs and take a long hot shower then you are going to lay down and get some sleep."

"Diane, I can't. Denise needs..."

"DJ needs you strong and healthy and to do that you need to eat and rest properly. She told me how you made her do the same thing when the both of you were taking care of Sara. I was told to remind you of that." Diane added roasted potatoes to the plate and a puffy golden brown object that looked like a pastry.

"You were told? You've talked to Denise?" the nurse asked.

"Not quite. Carl just called. Apparently he got back to the hospital just a few minutes after you left to get a taxi. DJ gave him these instructions to pass on to you so these are 'orders from headquarters'. He stepped out to use his mobile phone and call me here. You are threatened with a paddling from her good hand if she sees you anywhere near the hospital before morning." Diane set Randa's plate in front of her as the blonde took a seat at the kitchen table. The older woman turned to the refrigerator to retrieve a glass of milk to accompany the meal.

"That sounds like Denise. Actually, that sounds like me. I guess if the tables were turned. I'd be telling her the same thing."

"Of course you would and even though both of you would instinctively want to be there for each other, I would hope you as a nurse will know what's best."

"Boy, using my own profession against me? That is so not fair, but you are so right. I'm so tired I know I can't be thinking clearly and I don't want to miss anything or do anything wrong when it comes to taking care of that stubborn Jennings woman."

Diane chuckled and her eyes shone behind her small glasses. "Stubborn is exactly the word for the Jennings women. Medical science may work on the physical ills, but they'll never cure that stubborn streak."

Randa smiled and took a bite of the tender beef. "God, that's so nice. I'm sure my stomach thought my throat was cut because it had been so long since I last ate." She savored the flavor then glanced back at Diane. "What's this?" she asked, indicating the golden brown object.

"You've never had a Yorkshire pudding? How can you eat roast beef without some?"

Randa looked at the object. "That's what a Yorkshire pudding looks like? That's nothing like what we would call a pudding in the States." She picked up the light crusty object and took a bite. "Not bad, a little plain but not bad."

"I hope the Prime Minister appreciates my efforts because I'm about to spread a little English culture," Diane teased as she brought forth a gravy bowl and showed Randa the proper way to eat a Yorkshire pudding. The blonde made short work of her supper and leaned back in satisfaction.

"I feel almost human again. Thank you, Diane, that was delicious."

"You're most welcome, my dear. Maybe you can repay me one day by making some of those enchiladas of yours that DJ is always raving about. They sound wonderful"

Randa was surprised. "She likes my enchiladas? She usually is teasing me that we Americans like our cheese way too much for it to be healthy. So she likes them, eh? Well she's going to have some the first thing we get her home and you are most definitely invited."

"I'd like that very much," commented Diane. The expression on her face became serious. "Randa, what will happen to DJ if her kidneys don't start functioning properly? She won't die, will she?"

The nurse was quick to reassure her friend. "No, she won't die. If her kidneys don't recover, she will need dialysis probably three days a week through a device they will implant in her vascular system. That means she would be hooked up to a machine to filter her blood and take fluid off her system for about 3 hours on each of those days. Her blood pressure might be affected and she would need to observe dietary restrictions. She's young and healthy though so if her kidneys do fail, she will probably be placed on the list to wait for a suitable kidney donor for a transplant. A transplant would mean more surgery of course followed by a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs. Anyway you look at it, it won't be fun."

Diane thought about this. "My kidneys aren't all that new but if DJ needed one, she could have one."

The nurse was touched by the offer. "That's so sweet of you to offer but the kidney should be as close a match to Denise's own tissue type as possible to lessen the chance of rejection. Let's hope that none of us need to get typed and that her kidneys start to work on their own.

"Yes," Diane said thoughtfully, "Let's hope they do." She was silent a moment then glanced at Randa. "Now then, girl, be off to the shower and bed. That woman in the hospital is going to need you tomorrow and she is going to need you well rested. I'll come by bright and early and take you to see her."

Randa rose and after placing her dishes in the sink, walked slowly with Diane out of the kitchen. "You're a godsend, Diane. Do you want me to walk you to your car?"

"No, I can manage. You just go on upstairs now. I'll turn off the lights and lock up on my way out."

Randa nodded and gave the older woman a hug. "I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Diane."

"Good night, dear." Diane watched as Randa made her way up the stairs and waited until she heard the bathroom door shut. She stood a minute with a thoughtful look on her face then nodded and walked into the living room. She rummaged through her purse until she came up with a half sheet of paper with a telephone number written on it.

Dialing the number, Diane waited as the line was picked up and the person she wanted to speak to answered.

"This is Diane Barlow, calling from Bakewell. I think we need to talk."


The chatter of multiple voices echoed down the hospital corridor. Denise turned her vision towards her private room's door to see whether Carl had returned. Her friend had left to make a phone call to Diane and had yet to return. She had sent him out with orders for Randa to get some rest. Denise was worried about her; the blonde had looked exhausted and DJ wanted her partner to get some much needed sleep. With both Carl and Diane on her side Denise was sure that between them they could convince Randa to get some sleep.

Sitting in a semi upright position in her bed Denise looked down at the immobiliser holding her right arm. So much of her body hurt. The bruises that covered a large percentage of her frame were painfully making themselves known. Only once had Denise dared to take a look at the multicoloured contusions that adorned her. The sight was shocking and the poet was very glad they were temporary. However, the pain that wracked her battered body felt almost unbearable. DJ had to constantly remind herself that it wouldn't last forever.

Casting her eyes around the room DJ looked at the small combined television and video mounted high upon the wall. Though it was switched on the sound had been muted. Denise stared aimlessly at the evening soap opera having no idea what was happening or for that matter who the characters actually were. Denise's mind couldn't venture much further than the reality of her health. She still felt shocked and uncertain as to what the future held. If she was honest with herself, Denise could admit she was scared. Whether she spent her life on dialysis or was able to get a transplant, even then as Randa stated, there would be a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs for her. Neither prospect filled her with any degree of hope or encouragement. One fact began to dominate her mind - if the worst was to happen she didn't think it would be right to expect to hold Randa to her proposal. The fact that Randa hadn't even mentioned it led the poet to believe that maybe she didn't want to disappoint her with a negative answer after the news of her failing health. As the seconds past, DJ's mood grew increasingly sombre.

"Rallying of the troops accomplished, Captain."

Denise turned to see Carl re-entering her room. He switched off his mobile and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket.

"You spoke to Di?"

The blonde man nodded. "Yes. She said she would make sure Randa got some rest and proper nourishment before she returned... in the morning!"

DJ nodded. "Good."

Carl sat down beside Denise's bed. He picked a grape from the bunch he had brought in earlier. Rolling the small green fruit around his fingers he studied DJ's tense expression. "You're worrying about this kidney problem, aren't you? Try not to dwell on it too much. I know you."

"It's not that," the poet dismissed.

"Then what is it? What's wrong?"

"Carl?" Denise gazed at the editor seriously. "If I tell you something, promise me it will go no further than these four walls."

Carl held up his right hand. "Soul of discretion. What's going on?"

"I um... I asked Randa to um... to marry me."

The editor paused half way in his quest to pick another grape and looked at Denise through wide eyes. "Oh, wow!"


"What did she say?" The poet's expression confused Carl.

"Nothing," Denise said. "Straight after the doctor came in with the news and she didn't get a chance to respond. The trouble is that she still hasn't. Now I'm not sure whether I just made a terrible mistake."

"Hey, don't think like that." Carl took DJ's left hand. "You both had a lot to take in and now have a lot to think about. I'm still shook up myself. Randa probably needs thinking time."

Denise sighed, that was what she was afraid of. With all the thoughts that were bombarding her mind she was scared some of them may in fact be on the nurse's mind as well. "That's what is worrying me."

Carl frowned.

"This may sound a little backward but I'm kind of scared she's having the same thoughts as I."

"You're losing me now, my friend," Carl said in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"I feel... with everything that has recently happened that holding her to that proposal would be wrong. I have no idea what the future holds for me or how things will turn out. I don't want to hold Randa down. I just feel like she is being pulled through the wringer and it's all because of me." Denise stared ahead to the muted television. "She can do without this stress, Carl. I don't want to be the cause of any anguish she may feel."

Carl looked steadily at Denise with astute vision. "Look, DJ, I may not know Randa all that well but I see the way she looks at you... like you are the only person in the room! We all know you have a brooding streak a mile long. You just need to talk to her."

"I'm not sure I can at the moment. Not about this. I don't want to put any pressure on her." Disengaging from Carl's hand, Denise lifted the small glass of water from her unit and took a sip. She was very glad she was able to drink fluids again. "I love Randa," She said seriously. "I love her with a depth I never thought possible but I don't want anything short of the best for her and I don't feel that in me... not like this. I no longer feel like a complete person." Denise turned away from Carl with misty eyes. She had always felt that loving Randa had made her feel complete but now she felt less than what she wanted for her. DJ feared she could no longer be everything she had been and her uncertainty fuelled that inner doubt.

"Listen," Carl looked at Denise seriously. "I don't want you to say anything else like this and I don't want you to think it. What I want is for you to do is to talk to Randa. That is the only thing that will ease all these thoughts." Carl decided to attempt a little pulling of his own rank. "Now as your editor... I demand that you take heed of my words!"

A small smile tugged the corners of Denise's lips. This was typical 'Carl' behaviour. "It's like that, is it?"

The man turned very serious. "I know that woman loves you. Hell I love you, my friend, and I disagree with you totally on this. I know she will too. I understand that you can't help feeling this way at the moment. I can't begin to understand completely what you must be going through but don't doubt Randa." Carl smiled. "I've seen the feistiness in her eyes." He paused... "Do you trust her?"

"With all my body and soul," Denise said with conviction.

"Then have faith in that, my friend." Carl said simply.


Sitting upon the edge of her bed Denise looked down at her feet. That morning the nurse had told her that she should try walking but rather than wait for somebody else to be around, she was already attempting to stand for the first time since the accident. With her right arm held against her body, Denise balanced herself using her left hand as she rose to her feet. Her head slightly spun and her vision darkened momentarily as a bout of dizziness overcame her.

Regaining her bearings Denise opened her eyes and took a breath. She looked down at the hospital issued gown and hoped Randa would remember to bring her something a little more decent to wear! Taking her hand from the side unit DJ stood on steady legs. "Well that's not so bad," she muttered. The poet was eternally thankful that her legs hadn't been injured in the accident. Apart from scattered scrapes and bruising, her lower limbs were fine.

Taking a step, Denise jumped and fell back into a sitting position upon the bed as a voice startled her.

"What are you doing?"

"Ouch... damn it." Denise winced as the sudden pressure jarred her bruises.

Randa stepped into the room. "Oh, Denise, I'm sorry but what were you doing? You really should have somebody with you, just in case you feel a little weakness or dizziness."

"I was fine." Denise gripped the bed sheets as the throbbing receded.

"Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn!" Randa cupped DJ's cheeks and redirected her gaze.

Looking into sea green eyes Denise saw the concerning shining through. She was right though and DJ knew it - she was stubborn. If she was to attempt walking she didn't want her hand held like a child.

"How are you today?"

Taking Randa's hand with hers, Denise held it against her cheek. "It's on my mind constantly. Pain is a good reminder, you know. It's always there... a throbbing reminder that I could be looking at a lifetime of this. Drugs... hospitals..."

"Oh, sweetheart." Randa kissed DJ gently.

Denise smiled. "Hmm, now I feel better. Do that again." She closed her eyes as Randa's lips caressed her own softly. "I dreamed about you last night." The words were muttered quietly against Randa's lips.


DJ grinned crookedly. "Lets just say it gave me a few ideas."

"You're not telling me?" Randa kissed DJ again, running her tongue along her top lip. Her actions proved to sway the brunette.

"Well let's just say it involved you and me. Add a bottle of something chocolaty and take away our clothes!"

"Maybe I should quietly leave and pretend I didn't just hear that!"

Both women turned to see Diane standing in the doorway. Within her arms she held a small bunch of flowers.

"Should I have taken longer getting these?" she asked, indicating the flowers.

"Di!" DJ grinned, pleased to see the older woman. "I forgot Randa told me you were coming in today."

"Evidently." Diane walked further into the room and placed the flowers upon the bottom end of the bed. Randa backed away from DJ as Diane placed one arm carefully around the poet and hugged her cautiously. "How are you feeling, honey?"


Randa walked over to the door and picked up the overnight bag she had placed there. She set it upon the bed and slid open the zip.

Still sitting upon the side of her bed Denise peeped inside the bag. "What have you got there? Any presents?" She wiggled her eyebrows hopefully.

"Maybe." Randa dipped her hands into the holdall. First she pulled out some clothing. "Some sweat pants... so you don't have to wear just that thing anymore!" Randa placed the garment on the bed and dove back into the bag. She took out a long box. "Sara's hair scissors. I didn't think I could trust myself cutting your hair so Diane said she would neaten it for you. She took a professional course!" Randa said impressed.

DJ frowned as she turned back to the older woman. "You used to cut men's hair!"

Diane rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, honey. I'll stay away from crew cuts. I'm not planning anything drastic. I'll just neaten it up. I do know how to style hair. How about a 'shortish' Meg Ryan style?"

"As long as you're not thinking of a Yul Brenner style I think I'll consider it!"

"Right." Randa's hands disappeared inside the bag once again. "Most importantly I thought that because you had your own room with that TV/VCR combo, I would bring in something for us to watch." Randa held up a single black cassette tape. "It's the recording of your interview on 'The Open Book'."

"Great!" Denise smiled at Randa.

Looking between the women, Diane crossed the room, deciding to give them a few extra moments of privacy. She picked up the flowers and headed towards the door. "I'm going to get a vase and put these in some water."

"Thank you, Di," DJ looked at the floral assortment. "They are lovely."

The older woman smiled and left the room.

Alone once again Denise looked silently at Randa. The blonde nurse was looking down at the red and blue sweatpants that she was refolding neatly. DJ's concerns of the day before returned to mind and an air of nervousness fluttered around her.

DJ didn't know whether she wanted Randa to mention her proposal or not. It certainly hadn't turned out the way she had planned. The quiet evening with a picnic under the stars was very different from lying injured in a hospital bed. She was pretty sure that if Sara knew of her plans she would have given Denise her usual speech on the forgotten art of chivalry. Deciding she needed to talk with her lover, Denise rose slowly to her feet.

"Hey are you okay? Randa asked as she stepped around the bed.

"Uh huh. The nurse told me today I should try walking. I'm glad to get out of bed." Denise walked slowly towards Randa, feeling her abused and stiff body protest the movements. "Randa?"


The poet took a breath of courage. "About... I was... well I..." she sighed and realised she was unable to broach the subject. The words refused to come. Whether it was nervousness or outright fear, Denise found she couldn't discuss her proposal. Maybe I just need to concentrate on my health, she thought.

Randa frowned and asked, "What is it?"

DJ decided to change the subject. "I just wanted to tell you that I've missed you. It's not much fun in here... especially at night."

"Tell me about it."

With a small nod Denise looked down at her feet. "I'm scared," she whispered.

"Pardon?" Randa stepped closer.

"I said I'm scared." Denise looked up at Randa. In her partner's eyes she saw only love and understanding. "I feel like parts of myself are rebelling against me and I have no control over my own body. I don't know what is going to happen to me. That feeling of the unknown... it's scaring the hell out of me, Randa." A lump rose in DJ's throat as tears clouded her eyes. She had tried so hard to keep calm and confident but the actuality of her possible future hung before her like an unwanted destiny. "I don't think I can cope."

"You can." Randa wrapped her arm around the uninjured side of Denise. "I'm here. Whatever happens we will face it together, Denise." She wiped a tear from DJ's cheek.

Denise sniffed and sighed. Her eyes shone with tears. "I feel so helpless." She looked down into misty green. Unable to speak, Denise pulled Randa closer and placed her cheek upon Randa's head.

"I love you." She heard Randa whisper.

Touching the blonde, feeling her body against her own made Denise feel calm. The poet closed her eyes with a feeling that her physical contact with Randa was like touching her very own anchor. She realised again how much she not only loved but needed Randa. The thought did scare her. Without the acknowledgement of her proposal from Randa, DJ was uncertain of where she stood. It was not that she doubted Randa's love for that was unquestioned. What bothered her was the simple fact that Randa had made no mention of what she felt was greatly important to her and she was scared of the reason why.

Feeling anther tear escape her eye DJ prayed for the strength she would need to face her uncertainty. She remembered Carl's words and reminded herself to have faith in her love and trust of Randa. That alone would pull her through.

Chapter 20

Randa woke with a start, her heart beating fast and an uneasy feeling in her stomach. She cut her eyes to the illuminated alarm clock and was dismayed to see it was only five thirty in the morning. She peered around in confusion, unable to determine what had woken her up. She didn't think she'd had a nightmare or that there was a problem in the house.

What the hell is going on with me? she thought as she flipped the covers back in disgust. Pushing her hair back from her forehead, she ambled over to the window where the eastern horizon was just starting to add lighter hues to the night sky. Unless I'm up working I don't even want to see this time of morning. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.

This was the third morning following Denise's accident. She'd made a lot of progress and her diet had been advanced to soft foods. Randa had walked with Denise in the hall and convinced the brunette to take a little more pain medicine to make movement more comfortable. Finally the poet's IV had been discontinued leaving only a capped needle in her arm for the still needed antibiotics. Randa talked the staff into letting her give Denise her sponge bath and provided the poet enough attention that she was purring in relaxation when it was finished.

In the afternoon Dr. Merritt had visited and said one way or another they would have some idea what Denise's kidney status would be in twenty-four hours. The previous day's lab tests were progressively worse and the doctor had a specialist on call to implant a temporary dialysis catheter in the poet's chest if the need arose. He had stressed that he was giving Denise's kidneys another day to kick in but after that they wouldn't have any choice but to start the dialysis. Denise had been unusually quiet the rest of the day and it was with reluctance that Randa left the hospital that evening when visiting hours were over.

Thinking about the visit yesterday made Randa realize what it was that had been bothering her this morning. Denise! Denise needs me. It was suddenly crystal clear to her and she hurried to the bathroom to splash water on her face. More awake now she returned to the bedroom and threw on clean Levi's and a light cotton shirt. She went downstairs and phoned for a taxi as she scribbled a note for Diane. She knew she couldn't wait for Diane to give her a ride to the hospital on this morning.

In the few minutes she knew she would have before the taxi's arrival, she made herself a quick cup of tea and reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a little of the leftovers from last night's hastily thrown together supper. Night worker...any food, any time. She silently thanked her durable stomach for putting up with the abuse she had been heaping on it in the last day or so. Finishing her tea she went to the front door and attached the note for Diane. She locked the door and stood on the front steps, willing the taxi to hurry along.


Randa entered the hospital through the main entrance. It was much quieter than the entrance to the Emergency Room that she had entered through just two evenings before. Walking up to the main desk she told the security person she was there to see Denise Jennings and gave her room number.

"It's well before visiting hours, miss," the guard informed her. He looked annoyed at the interruption of his enjoyment of a cup of tea and a newspaper open to coverage of English rugby.

"I understand that but if you could just call the floor she's on, I mean ward," Randa instructed, remembering her British terminology, "I'm sure the nurse will let me see her."

The guard stared at her for a minute then realizing he wouldn't be getting rid of her so easily, picked up the phone and tapped in four numbers. "Ward Sister, please," he requested. Randa felt impatience rising but was determined to stay civil to the man.

"Is that the Ward Sister?" the guard was saying in an official tone. "There is a visitor here for a Denise Jennings. I've told her visiting hours are..." He stopped abruptly and listened. Looking up at the blonde he asked, "Would you be Miranda Martin?"

"Yes, that's me."

The guard spoke in a hushed tone into the telephone then hung up. "You can go right up, miss. Take the elevators over there to the third floor and go left to the nurse's station."

"Thank you," Randa said and moved toward the bank of elevators the guard had indicated. She had been ready to try and find a way to sneak in to see Denise and was surprised at the fact that she was being allowed in without a problem.

The elevator doors opened on the third floor and a sign directed her to the nurse's station where a matronly woman with gray hair met her.

"I'm the Assistant Ward Sister, Miss Martin. Miss Jennings' room is straight down this corridor, the fourth door on the right." Randa thanked the older woman and started down the corridor but stopped after a step. Turning back she approached the nurse.

"Uhm, Sister?" she said attracting the older woman's attention from the chart she had opened. Friendly hazel eyes looked up at her in question. "Can I ask you something? Why did you let me come up here early? I know it's way before visiting hours so why did you make an exception for me?"

"I'm not sure I know what you mean. Miss Jennings told us you were her family and she needs her family right now. She also told us you were a nurse so I'm sure you know what bending the rules means."

Randa nodded thoughtfully remembering the many times she had bent the rules for family, friends and lovers. She had even allowed one man to sneak a beloved pet ferret into his wife's hospital room. She smiled at her British counterpart. "Yeah, I guess I do know about that."

Randa moved back down the hall and toward Denise's room. As she was entering, a phlebotomist who was leaving the room gently tipping a green-topped lab tube back and forth in her hand met her. Randa watched the tube be slipped into a wire cage holder as the blood drawer moved on to the next room. The nurse couldn't help but think that so much information about the future that she and Denise were going to have was held in that seven milliliter container.

Pulling her eyes away from the retreating form of the phlebotomist, Randa entered the room. Her partner was sitting up in a recliner facing the window, a pensive look on her face. Her new haircut beautifully framed her features but the calm façade couldn't hide the fact that Denise was brooding. The face she knew and loved so well didn't hide many secrets from her now. Randa's heart ached for her partner.

You want answers, don't you? The blood they just drew might give us some answers but what if they aren't the ones you want? Randa stopped in her tracks, her jaw dropping. You idiot! Answers! Denise wants answers! Could you have messed this up any more than you have? The blonde smacked her hand to her forehead in irritation at herself. DJ turned at the sound, bringing those intense blue eyes to bear on the nurse.

"Randa, what are you doing here at this time?" Denise asked rising slowly and awkwardly from the chair.

"Don't be coy with me, Denise Jennings. You knew I'd be here. Isn't that why you gave my name to the Ward Sister?"

Denise grinned. "I suppose I hoped you'd get here early. I miss having breakfast with you especially now that I can have breakfast again." She dropped a quick kiss onto the nurse's lips. "We have a little while before the trays are due to arrive. Sit with me?"

"Of course," Randa replied. They moved to the bed and sat together watching the sun slowly start to peep over the hills surrounding the town. Randa reached over and took Denise's hand in hers, lacing their fingers together. They watched the scene unfold through the window for a moment, neither feeling the need to speak. Randa screwed up her courage and turned a little on the bed until she was looking directly at her partner but keeping the poet's hand firmly in her own.

"Denise, I think I owe you an apology. I've been awfully rude to you."

The poet's brows knit together in confusion. "You've been rude?"

"Yep, my mother always taught me that if you're asked a question, it's rude not to answer. The other day you, in your own most beautiful way, asked me a question."

Denise looked down and said, "Randa, you don't have to..."

"Yes, I do," the nurse interrupted. "Look at me, Denise." She waited until the poet raised her eyes. "I thought by not answering your question I was keeping you from having to deal with even more than you already were going through. I thought I was protecting you, but I thought wrong. I want there to be no doubt between us, now or ever, so if you will allow me, I'd like to do it right this time. Will you ask me again, please?"

Denise looked into sincere green eyes and saw the love shining there. Love that would see them through any problems they would have. "Randa Martin," the poet whispered, "will you marry me?"

Randa smiled at her partner. "Denise, before I met you I had no idea how much was missing from my life. From the moment I read your work to the moment we spoke online to the moment we met face to face to the moment we first made love I found out what those missing things were. You have made me feel happy, safe and loved. I love you, Denise Jennings, and it would be the greatest joy in my life to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together."

Denise looked as if she wanted to say something but instead she leaned forward and shared a deep kiss of commitment with the nurse. When the kiss ended Randa moved closer and held the poet in a comforting embrace.


"Hmm?" the poet replied, relishing the feel of the blonde's arms.

"I know you wanted to ask, but you didn't so I'll just tell you. Yes, I'll marry you no matter what we find out today. We're in this together, always."

Denise had no reply to that, only nodding and squeezing her good arm around Randa a little tighter.


Several hours later Randa and Denise were watching "Antiques Roadshow" on the BBC. As the show ended Denise turned to her partner.

"Did you see that little porcelain figurine of a Japanese woman with an umbrella they said was worth two thousand pounds?" At Randa's nod, the poet continued, "Well, there was one just like it in Sara's bits and bobs box."

Randa thought for a second, then said, "You're right! What do you know about that? I guess we'll have to get the box back out of the attic now. Two thousand pounds, that's about thirty five hundred dollars. That's a tidy sum."

"You know, I'm not that fond of little porcelain figurines. What would you think if I sold that piece and maybe match whatever it would get with my money to create a fund for ALS research and treatment in Sara's name?"

Randa nodded. "I think Sara would be very proud to have that done in her name and I'm very proud of you for thinking of it."

"I had been thinking about doing some kind of funding or donation for a while but I'd put it off when all the controversy around Sara cropped up. I didn't want any negative publicity to offset the good it will do, but I think maybe now it's time to get things started. I also thought maybe I could donate my profit from Sara's book to the fund as well."

Randa was set to reply but the door to the room opened and Dr, Merritt walked into the room with Denise's chart in his hand. Both women tensed visibly as he opened the chart and made a brief note before looking up.

"How would you like to go home tomorrow?" he said with a smile. "I think if your lab tests tonight and tomorrow morning continue to show the kind of improvement that they showed this morning, it should be fine for you to be discharged."

Randa let out a whoop and jumped from the chair to hug Denise who didn't say much except a whispered "Thank God." Randa moved to hug the doctor who blushed deeply at the gesture.

"I'm very happy to bring this kind of news to my patients. My congratulations to you both."

Denise did speak then. "Speaking of congratulations doctor, how would you like to come to a wedding?"


It was the early evening. Visiting hours were just about to begin. Denise stood at the entrance to her room peeking out of a gap in the door. Blue eyes scanned the corridor as keen ears listened carefully. With a furrowed brow DJ turned to Randa who was sitting on the bed shaking her head.

"No sign yet," the poet said. She looked back through the gap in the door. "She always comes down at this time to be ready for the evening visitors. I saw her yesterday and I'll be dammed if I'm going to miss her today."

Hearing the bed creak DJ turned to see Randa approach her. The nurse arched her eyebrows, still shaking her head as she chuckled. "You are just too much. I didn't realise I was committing my life to a stalker."

DJ rolled her eyes as she whispered, "I'm not stalking. I'm just waiting with enthusiasm."

Peering over Denise's shoulder Randa looked out towards the corridor. The first couple of visitors were beginning to migrate onto the floor.

"Damn it," DJ cursed. "Now the vultures are beginning to arrive." She turned around to Randa and addressed her seriously. "Okay this is the plan." Denise handed the contents of her left hand to Randa. "You will have to do this as you're more mobile than I am."

"Plus I have two good elbows for nudging!" Randa joked.

Denise grinned. "Exactly... but let's hope it will not come to that."

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Too right I am." Denise heard the tell tale sounds of squeaking wheels and looked once again out into the corridor. "Okay I heard that she only carries one or two of them but they do go quickly so you will have to make haste." Denise pulled the door fully open.

With a salute Randa headed out into the corridor and disappeared around a corner leaving only the sound of retreating chuckles as she embarked upon her mission.

Finding herself alone Denise walked over to the window and looked out across the main entrance of the hospital. She watched with interest as an ambulance pulled rapidly in front of the emergency doors. Its siren died as two paramedics dressed in green overalls jumped out of the vehicle. A doctor dressed in a white overcoat walked out as the paramedics wheeled a patient out of the ambulance. That was probably me, DJ thought, realised she was witnessing a similar scene to how she was probably brought to the hospital. A shiver passed through her at the notion and Denise realised how lucky she and been. So many road accidents ended in death each year and if the driver of the car that hit her was going any faster she was sure she would have been part of that statistic. I could have missed out on so much, she thought. I could have left behind so much. Staring aimlessly out of the window Denise trembled as the shock chilled her.

Minutes later familiar footsteps walked into the room. "Well, guess what?" Randa said. When no response was forthcoming the nurse placed down the contents of the small plastic bag in her right hand and walked towards Denise. "Hey?"

The poet was pulled from her daze by a gentle hand upon her shoulder. Shaking her head from morbid thoughts, Denise turned to Randa. Her expression held startled confusion.


"I did come close, didn't I?"


"To missing out on life with you." DJ took Randa's hand. "It's a terrifying thought, Randa. I don't want to miss out on one second with you."

"You wont," Randa assured her.

"I don't plan to." Looking down at the ring upon Randa's finger, Denise twisted the silver band around her slender digit. "You know, things could have been so much worse. I feel so lucky that I've had this second chance with you. I'm not going to waste a moment of it. That's why I've had an idea."


Nodding her head affirmatively, Denise smiled. "But it's a surprise. I'm not telling you yet."

Randa poked out her bottom lip. She fluttered her eyebrows in hope but DJ shook her head.

"No clues?"

"Not yet."

With a sigh Randa wrapped her free arm around Denise. "Lucky I'm patient and I trust you!" Reaching up onto her toes Randa kissed DJ softly. "So... guess what I got?"

Blue eyes lit up immediately. "Oh don't tease me."

Randa grinned as she disengaged from Denise and walked back over to the poet's bed. She lifted the plastic bag and turned back to DJ. "You were right; she only had one." Randa dipped her hand inside the red bag. "So..." her hand rose slowly out of the carrier. "The only dark chocolate, mint crisp bar of chocolate, ma'am." Randa presented the chocolate bar to Denise.

"Oh Yes!" With a rakish grin Denise said, "I knew if we got there first we would get it." She attempted to take the chocolate from Randa but the blonde pulled her hand away.

"Oh no!" Using her index finger Randa pushed Denise back to sit upon her bed. Sliding the shiny wrapped chocolate from its paper wrapper, Randa began to peel off the green foil wrapping. "Surely you're not going to deny me the enjoyment of this..." Breaking one square off the bar Randa held it against DJ's lips.

"Hmm!" Denise accepted the chocolate blissfully. "Mint chocolate... my favourite." She took Randa's fingers and sucked the melted substance from her warm digits.

Skin flushing, Randa broke a second piece and held it out to Denise. "Want more?"

"Oh yes."

Randa waved the chocolate back and forth before she swept her tongue over the warm candy. "Tell me your surprise."

"Man, that is below the belt," Denise said in shock. Taking the blonde's hand swiftly she pulled the warm chocolate toward her lips. With a hidden smile she bypassed the chocolate and planted her lips upon the inside of Randa's wrist. Kissing the soft skin Denise mumbled, "Besides there's so much more tastier delights to me than chocolate."

Randa whimpered as soft lips travelled up the inside of her arm. "It really isn't a good idea to start this now," she warned.

"I didn't start it... you did." Denise moved her lips to Randa's neck where she planted a trail of moist, soft kisses upon heated skin. The kisses stopped abruptly as a knock sounded upon the door. DJ groaned and pulled away as Randa moved to pull open the door. From behind the blonde DJ was unable to see who it was, but Randa's surprised remark gave her a pretty good idea.

"You've got some nerve!"

Getting up from the bed, Denise looked beyond Randa to see Maggie standing awkwardly by the entrance. Genuine surprise filled her. She had constantly wondered if and when she would see her cousin again but never considered the possibility that Maggie may turn up at the hospital... and she wondered why now. Of course it was possible but she thought there would have been some warning before hand.

DJ hadn't spoken to Randa about the nurse's feeling towards Maggie. Seeing how much Randa blamed Maggie for her accident, the poet hadn't wanted to broach the subject until the situation had calmed somewhat. Being as though Doctor Merritt was very confident in her full recovery, Denise saw this as the perfect time to hopefully strengthen some fragile family ties. She hoped the fact that Maggie showed up was a sign that her cousin wanted the same reunion.

Placing her hand upon Randa's shoulder Denise felt the tense muscles underneath her palm. She squeezed her partner's shoulder gently before addressing her cousin.

"Maggie, this is a surprise." DJ smiled cautiously. "I... we weren't expecting you."

Nervous eyes wandered around the room before Maggie looked back at Denise. The poet noticed her cousin had yet to make real eye contact with fuming green. "May I come in?"

Denise looked down at Randa who portrayed a typical defiant posture. Her arms were folded and she stood directly in front of her lover in a protective manner. Wrapping her arm around Randa, Denise took a gentle hold of Randa's hand and held the blonde against her body as she moved backwards. "Of course you can."

Randa said nothing but her posture remained tense as Maggie stepped into the room. She closed the door behind her and looked back at the two women cautiously.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"Sorry?" Randa repeated.

"Yes... I'm sorry. I never ... would ever want anything like this to happen." Tears filled Maggie's blue eyes. "It's all my fault."

"You've got that right." Randa stared furiously at the redhead.

"Okay... that's it." Denise stood between her partner and her cousin. "It was nobody's fault. It was an accident."

Randa's eyes blazed with anger. "You nearly died, Denise. All because she overreacted."

"I didn't overreact" Maggie stated fiercely. "I was shocked and scared. How was I supposed to feel about the information you had just given me?"

"Like an adult perhaps!"

Denise sat down feeling tired and exasperated. Looking between the two women she said, "Alright, that's enough now." She sighed. "All this anger and hate. It's all down to fear. Fear of what may have happened and of what may happen. Fear of what we may lose and what could be. If we had any real choice over all this then life would be a lot different and easier... but we don't. Things happen... beyond our control... it was an accident." DJ looked towards Randa and held out a hand that was immediately taken by her partner. Denise looked beseechingly into deep green eyes. "Let's not let negativity win. Please?"

Closing her eyes Randa sighed. She cupped DJ's face with both hands and looked back at her saying, "You're right. I was so scared that I might have lost you that I couldn't see past that fear where Maggie was concerned." An emotional battle seemed to war within the blonde's eyes before Randa kissed Denise softly and turned to face Maggie. Still holding DJ's hand, Randa spoke to Maggie. "I'm sorry for the way I spoke to you, Maggie. The thought of losing Denise was just... it was too much for me to deal with."

Maggie nodded. "I do understand. I'm sure I would have reacted the same way if I were in your shoes. But I really do regret the way I behaved. I suppose I just needed time to think."

"And you've had that time now?" DJ asked.

"Sort of." Maggie walked over to one of the comfortable chairs beside DJ's bed and sat down. "Actually I received a telephone call from Diane Barlow."

"You did?" DJ and Randa asked in unison.

The redhead smiled and then nodded. "We had a long talk and she made me see things a lot clearer."

"She did?" they said together again.

Maggie fiddled nervously with the edge of her suit jacket. "She um... she also told me about your kidneys failing and I want you to know that I'm here if you need a donor. No matter the circumstances, we are family and I'd like to help you in any way I can." Maggie paused to study DJ's stunned features before saying, "I had a long talk with Simon. He believes that if I feel it is the right thing to do then I am here to help... if our types match that is. There should be a greater possibility of a match because we're related, right?"

Denise looked up into Randa's smiling eyes briefly before looking back to Maggie. "That is wonderful of you to offer Maggie and I thank you so much but it really isn't necessary anymore." With the redhead's confused expression DJ elaborated further. "We got some good news today; my kidneys are functioning again and I'm going to be fine."

"You are?" Maggie rose from her chair. "Why that's wonderful news."

DJ nodded with a wide smile. "Basically it means I get to leave here tomorrow and go home." The thought of returning to her comfort and privacy with Randa filled Denise with much joy. Ever since Doctor Merritt had informed them both of the news she couldn't wait for the time to arrive. During the short time she had known the doctor both she and Randa had grown to like him immensely. They got on very well together and she was very pleased that he had accepted her invitation but one thought did occur to her, I really should find out his first name!

Coming out of her thoughts Denise watched Randa sit down beside her. Their hands laced together as Denise addressed Maggie. "So is the air cleared?"

"Almost," Maggie replied. "There is something else I would like to discuss first."

Randa squeezed DJ's hand as she said, "The ALS."

Maggie nodded. "I was wrong to feel like I should lay the blame upon Sara... my biological mother. I do realise that now."

Running a hand through her shorter styled hair, the poet looked out beyond the window. She saw a flock of birds fly swiftly by. "It's hard. I understand how you feel because I feel it too. That doubt lingering in the back of your mind. What if? If only. Why? The desire for things to be so much different; yet at the same time, not wanting to change a moment of it."

Looking away Maggie said, "I didn't know how I could ever deal with such a notion and then I realised... with a little help from Diane. I just have to accept this. It's not an inevitable certainty. There is nothing I can do or say that will change what is meant to be. And I am not the only one in this position."

Denise wrapped her one good arm around Randa's shoulders. "The lucky thing for both of us is that we don't have to face this possibility alone. Whether this were to happen or not, Simon will always be there for you... right?"

Maggie nodded.

"And I'll always be here for you," Randa said. She laid her head upon DJ's shoulder.

Turning, Denise kissed blonde locks. "I'd say we were both pretty lucky. I think together... as a family we can deal with anything." The prospect of gaining more family members filled the poet with hope and happiness. She suddenly felt like their lives were falling into place. Although there would always be the possibility that either she or Maggie could one day also develop ALS, DJ knew that was something they couldn't let dominate their lives. If they did there would be no living.

"So," DJ rose slowly and faced Maggie who did the same. "No regrets; no more apologies. A fresh start?"

The request was accepted with a relieved smile. "I suppose there is nothing left to say but welcome to the family!"

Beaming, DJ put her arm around her cousin who mirrored the gesture. "Ditto." She heard Randa rise behind her and moved away from Maggie. Denise watched both women study each other cautiously before a smile broke out on both faces. They moved to shake hands, but thought better of it as both women hugged much to DJ's relief.

Withdrawing first, Randa addressed Maggie happily. "I guess because Denise got the honour the first time I'd like to be the one to invite you and your family to a marriage... a joining ceremony!"

Maggie's eyes switched between the two women. "You mean...?"

Denise grinned.

"Goodness gracious. This is a surprise." Maggie hugged her cousin again. "That would be wonderful. Thank you, and congratulations." Pulling back, Maggie asked, "So who did the proposing?"

"That would be me..."

"In her own unique way," Randa added.

DJ shrugged. "Why be traditional or predictably boring, right?"

Maggie laughed at that. "I say exactly the same thing when my husband makes comments about the fact that I seem to dress after I open the bedroom curtains. Or I'm embarrassed to say when I eat certain foods with my fingers!"

"My god!" Randa exclaimed. "You two really are related. If there was ever any doubt that just confirms it." The nurse inclined her head towards DJ. "She does exactly the same thing."

"Great minds think alike," DJ said to Maggie.


With a faux expression of alarm Randa said, "What have I let myself in for?"

Denise wrapped her arm around Randa's waist. "Too late now, honey, I've got you!"

"Wouldn't have it any other way," the nurse replied.

"Me either."

No matter what the future may hold, Denise knew with Randa she would look forward to it with nothing short of excitement. For a long time the poet never thought her life would be anything to look forward to. That wasn't to say that she was unhappy, she was just content in the life of anonymity that she lived. From the moment she met Randa, DJ felt life blossom within her and she wanted to experience the world. To sample the delights she had only written about and stretch her vitality to its ultimate endurance. To Denise - Randa simply was life.


The next day DJ sat patiently upon her bed. Dressed in her everyday clothes she was perched upon the side of the bed beside her packed overnight bag. Today was the day she would be able to return home and the poet had awoken early in anticipation. She had dressed and packed her bag knowing Randa and Diane would arrive to pick her up by eleven o'clock. It was half past ten but DJ's impatient nature and excitement had taken over.

A knock captured Denise's attention. She turned to see the smiling face of Doctor Merritt peeking through the doorway.

"Somebody looks eager to go! Why is it that all my patients are so quick to want to leave me? Is it my bedside manner?"

"Your bedside manner is fine," Denise replied. "I would just rather be the recipient of a certain other person's bedside manner. No offence."

Doctor Merritt laughed as he entered her room. "None taken." Under his arm he held a dark blue, plastic clipboard and he held it out in front of him. "I have a couple of forms for you to sign before you leave." He handed the clipboard to Denise who placed it upon the bed. "Just sign the bottom of both forms." He gave DJ his pen and watched as she signed the first sheet of paper. Then he lifted the top form so she could sign the bottom. "Good job you are left handed!"

"You're telling me!" Completing her second signature Denise held the pen out to the doctor. "Is that all?"

"Well..." the man hesitated as he moved his hand to his back pocket. "Almost."

Denise watched in amusement as Doctor Merritt pulled a book from his back pocket. She instantly recognised it as one of her own.

"My mother's a fan! I know it was unprofessional of me to ask when you were under my care but now... well I was wondering whether you would sign this for her. It will be a surprise."

"Of course." Denise chuckled as the doctor placed down the book and held it steady with the front page open. With only one arm DJ would be limited in movement for quite some time. "I was wondering anyway... what is your first name?"

"It's Ezekiel."


He smiled. "Most people call me Zeke."

"I think I'll be one of those people as well!" Denise signed the book for Zeke's mother and handed the pen back to the doctor. "You'll have to come around for dinner some time. I'm pretty sure between Randa and myself we can cook up something edible. Failing that we can always order takeout."

"Oh!" Zeke's face brightened. "I'm quite partial to Mexican."

The poet rolled her eyes. "I see you and Randa will get on like a house on fire."

"Ah and speaking of the blonde blushing bride... have you set a date yet?"

"Not yet." DJ frowned in thought. Not only did they have the date to set but she also had to make plans for Randa's surprise. She wanted to take the nurse on surprise holiday for their honeymoon. "I think we are kind of planning something in the autumn. We could do it around my birthday or the day we met. It's something we can discuss when Randa and I get home."

"What are we discussing when we get home?" Randa asked as she entered DJ's room.

The poet's face lit up as she took her partner's hand. "How much you love me."

"Like there's any question." Randa kissed Denise. "So are you ready to go? Diane is waiting in the car."

"I think she went to bed dressed and ready to leave last night," said Zeke.

Denise chuckled as she addressed the doctor. "Is there anything else?"

"Nope." Doctor Merritt tucked the clipboard back under his arm. "Just be careful and take care of yourself. I am sure Randa will do a fine job of that. In the mean time... I suppose I shall see you both soon. Have a safe journey home."

"Oh we will." Denise followed Randa to the door happily. After so much upheaval she was glad to be going home. I wonder how much fooling around one can do with only one good arm, DJ thought lasciviously as she and Randa left the hospital.

Chapter 21

"Don't cry," Randa pleaded. "There's nothing to cry about."

"I'm your mother, it's your wedding and I'll cry if I want to. It's a mother's prerogative," Janice Martin sniffed. "You look beautiful, Miranda."

Randa felt beautiful in her dress of sea foam green that reached to just above her knees. The color complimented her eyes and the style flattered her figure. She looked in the mirror of the upstairs bedroom with a degree of satisfaction. Heh! The cleavage on this thing ought to cause Denise's eyes to pop right out of her head.

Denise. Randa sourly thought about her fiancée and the issue of clothing. In the two months they had been planning the wedding as Denise recuperated from her injuries, it had been the only bone of contention between them. The poet had steadfastly refused to wear a dress, opting instead for either an elegant tuxedo or a simple black pantsuit with a frilly white shirt. No amount of pleading or persuasion had been able to change her mind.

"The last time I wore a dress was exactly that, the last time I wore a dress. Randa, be reasonable, I want to be comfortable when I marry you. I'll be nervous enough with our family and friends here all watching us. At least you can let me wear what I want," Denise had begged. The plaintive look in those blue eyes was enough to make Randa give in but she wasn't happy about it.

That one detail won't spoil this day though, the nurse thought. Nothing can spoil it. The mid-September day was warm and clear and they had been able to stick with their first plan which was to be married by Sara's rose garden. The summer had lengthened and the roses seemingly were giving the pair a last flash of brilliant color as a wedding gift. Chairs were already set up for the guests and a small canopy was set up for the couple and Father Brian, the priest from St, Bartholomew's, the church Sara had attended. Randa liked the vicar and it showed because they were having him hold their rings. She wouldn't trust them to just anyone. The couple had visited the jeweller Denise had used previously and they now had matching silver and Blue John rings. Randa touched the empty ring finger on her left hand. It'll never be off again after today.

"Randa? Randa, it's almost time." Janice Martin's words roused her daughter from her thoughts. The nurse turned to smile at her mother.

"I'm so glad you're here, Mom. It wouldn't be the same without you or Derek with me."

"Like I had a choice. DJ sends two first class tickets to England and has a limo drive us from the airport. She's a hard person to say 'no' to, even if I had wanted to which I didn't. I wouldn't have missed this for all the world." Janice's voice took on a wistful tone. "I only wish your dad could have been here." Randa's father had passed away almost three years earlier.

"Do you think he would have been happy about this? I hadn't been dating women very long before he died to really know what he thought about it."

Janice placed her hands on Randa's shoulders and looked directly into her eyes. "Your father loved you very much and I think he would have admired DJ and respected your choice. I suppose what I'm saying is that if you're happy, he would have been happy. Happy and proud, just like me." Randa's eyes misted as she reached forward and hugged her mother fiercely.

"Hey now, don't get that gorgeous dress all wrinkled. And don't cry. You know a wise young woman once said there's nothing to cry about." Randa gave a small laugh and craned her neck to see the watch on her mother's wrist.

"Go ahead and go downstairs, Mom. We only have a few minutes and I just need one or two alone to get myself together."

"Okay, I guess it won't do for the mother of the...of one of the brides," Janice corrected, "to be late." With a last quick hug, Janice headed for the door. Reaching for the knob, she turned back one last time.

"I love you, Randa. Be happy."

"I am, Mom," the nurse assured her. "See you downstairs."

Janice left the room and Randa turned to the mirror. A calm, happy and confident woman looked back at her but that exterior hid about a million butterflies in her stomach. I wonder how Denise is holding up?


Denise was downstairs in Sara's old room speaking into the telephone. Last minute confirmations for flights and accommodations had to be made. The surprises needed the finishing touches and the poet's concentration was broken only when a special knock was tapped out on the door.

"Michele!" Denise exclaimed as she threw open the door. "You made it!"

"The entire British Navy couldn't keep me away from this little party. It's not everyday you see your best childhood friend get married." Michelle had been Denise's friend since she came with Sara to live in Bakewell. Neither of them had known of the feelings between Michelle's mother, Diane, and Sara until much later.

"I can't believe you still remember our secret knock. How long is your leave?" DJ asked. Michelle had enlisted in the Navy just over six years before and was very happy with her choice of profession.

"Forty-eight hours. Just enough time to get here, watch a miracle occur and get back to the ship."

"A miracle? That's a bit strong don't you think?" the poet said, mock annoyance in her voice.

"DJ, you never had any inclination to settle down with anybody. I always pictured you being the reclusive poet, mysterious and solitary with your work being your one true love."

Denise laughed at that. "Things change I suppose. A year ago I couldn't have predicted this, couldn't have predicted Randa."

"You're sure of this then? You're really in the 'forever and ever' kind of love?"

DJ's eyes were shining with certainty. "Completely and utterly."

Michelle smiled at her friend. "I knew it the moment I saw you, I just wanted to make you say it before I gave up my revered status as best friend."

"Give it up? Michelle, I..."

"Don't need to say another word," Michelle interrupted, raising her hands to her friend. "You love her and she's your best friend now. That's just as it should be. I wouldn't step aside for anything less for you. I hope she knows what a great bargain she's getting in you."

"I tell her all the time," Denise said.

It was Michelle's turn to laugh. "I better get outside. My friend is getting married soon you know. Uhm, DJ, you aren't planning to get married in that are you?" She pointed to the jeans and tee shirt Denise was still dressed in.

The poet looked down. "Bloody hell! I've got to hurry. Get out of here now and I'll talk to you later."

Michelle left the room laughing as Denise realized frantically how little time she was going to have to get ready. Moving to the bed she reached underneath a pulled out a large white box and set it on top. Looking at the box, she seemed to come to a decision, nodded and removed the lid.


Randa watched from the upstairs bedroom window. The gathering of family and close friends was modest as the guests assembled at the entrance to the rose garden. Janice Martin settled into a chair near Diane and the two started chatting quietly. Maggie and Simon arrived with their two children, Roman and Kelsey. Greeting them were Carl and Chris. The nurse saw Michelle walk up to her mother and give her a quick hug over the shoulders before taking a chair behind her.

Derek stood behind the seated guests conversing with Zeke Merritt. The nurse noted how they laughed, smiled and leaned into each other. So that's the way the wind blows? You go, Derek. Randa saw Father Brian move to the canopied area and that was her cue to head downstairs. She would leave the house by way of the front door, go around and meet Denise who would come out of the back door and together they would walk to the rose garden. The blonde thought it was quaint that Denise insisted they not see each other before the wedding.

"Seeing one bride before the wedding is bad enough. Can you imagine the amount of bad luck we would have if we saw two brides?" Denise asked. Randa laughed but humoured her partner. She didn't laugh during the night though when she tossed and turned, missing the warmth and comfort of the poet's body next to her.

Randa pinned a small corsage of joined red and white roses to her dress. Denise would wear one exactly like it. To pin to her suit or tuxedo or whatever she finally decided on the nurse thought as she moved out of the bedroom, across the landing and down the stairs. Well at least she's finally out of that cast. She went to the door of Sara's room and knocked softly.

"Denise? It's time," she said in a soft voice.

"I'll be there in two minutes," came the slightly muffled voice behind the door. Sounds of activity made Randa smile. I'd be willing to bet she got sidetracked and is just now getting dressed. It was her wedding day though and she wouldn't tease the poet about it. Instead she knocked softly again.

"Denise? I just wanted to say in my last moments as a single woman that I love you very much and I'm so glad to be marrying you today."

Activity ceased behind the door and poet replied, "I love you too, Randa, more than I could ever say. I'll meet you outside."

Randa smiled at the words and walked to the front door. Strange she thought, now that I'm actually doing this I'm not nervous anymore. This is my destiny and I'm ready for it. Exiting the house, Randa felt her heart soar a little higher with every step.

Taking enough time to make sure Denise could get to the back door, Randa came around the house to see the guests waiting. Smiles were everywhere and the nurse could almost feel the love and support flowing from them. A movement from the house caught her eye and the back door opened slowly as she approached.

Denise stepped out and down to the ground to meet her partner but Randa had stopped dead in her tracks. The nurse's mouth dropped open a little as she saw the poet emerge in a dress similar in style to her own and in a color the closest to the lovely blue of her eyes as man could devise. As beautiful as Randa had always found her, there was no comparison to today. Denise was radiant, her dark hair now grown to the nape of her neck, was shining in the autumn sunlight. The guests seemed to be as surprised and impressed as she was.

She wore a dress Randa realized. She did it for me. It was only then the nurse noticed Denise's hand extended to her. Shaking herself, she walked to the poet and took the offered hand.

"You are stunning, love," Randa murmured. "Thank you for doing this. Was this the surprise you were hiding from me?"

Denise bestowed a loving smile on the blonde. "I just thought the pictures might look a little better this way. Shall we?" she asked nodding toward the canopy and Father Brian.

"Oh, yeah," Randa replied and together they walked to the front of the small gathering of well-wishers. Father Brian stood facing the guests while Randa and Denise faced each other. He addressed the company.

"This past January, two or three days after the New Year, I was visiting a wonderful woman in her home. She was desperately ill but had maintained a faithful heart and courageous outlook. On this particular day Sara Jennings wore that mischievous smile on her face that I knew meant she was about to tell me something that she thought would interest or possibly shock me. She enjoyed doing it," he smiled. "That day she asked me to preside at this occasion."

Randa and Denise were incredulous. Two or three days after the New Year meant they had only recently shared their first kiss.

"Sara knew even then," Father Brian said, answering their unspoken question, "that these two were destined to be together and would be here pledging themselves to one another one day. Sara was a very clever woman." The gathering chuckled.

"Now if this was my usual service and the usual circumstances, I would begin by saying 'Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today'. Of course that's where the similarity to my usual service ends. What I would like to say is this: these two remarkable young women are here today to be joined in a union every bit as strong, loving and binding as that of your more garden variety marriage. They are joining together and creating a family by both love," he said as he indicated the guests, "as well as by blood. These family connections will serve to support them, encouraged them, occasionally vex them and of course to love them."

"As members of that family, I would like you to listen with love in your hearts to Randa and Denise as they exchange their own vows." Father Brian looked to Randa and said, "Will you now speak your vow and give a symbol of your love?"

Randa smiled shyly at the vicar then turned to Denise. The love on the face of her partner was breathtaking and the nurse felt at that moment that there was no one else but the poet and herself in the whole world. Green eyes locked onto blue as Randa began to speak.

"Denise, I wanted to go first because I know my words aren't going to be able to match yours. Your words are what first captivated me and for a while I wondered if it was the magic of those words that I loved. Now I know that what I love is the heart and the beauty that showed through those words. The world will get to read the novels and poetry of D Jennings, but I will get to hold Denise in my arms, to love and be loved by her. You are my life, Denise, and I give you my promise to love you for the rest of our lives. As a symbol of that promise I give you this ring." Randa took the ring being held for them by Father Brian and slipped it on the ring finger of the poet's left hand.

"No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what hardships come our way, I will be with you and love you, always." Randa saw the misting of Denise's eyes and knew her words had been heard and understood.

Father Brian looked to the brunette. "Denise, will you now speak your vow and give a symbol of your love?"

"Randa, before I met you I didn't know what it was like to see the sunrise in another's eyes. To feel my day was complete simply because I saw your smile. Before I met you I never felt whole. My heart lacked a lover's beat and my spirit existed in shadows. You gave me love; you showed me life. You proved there was a reason to greet each new day with a smile and I want every deed I accomplish to only make you happy. I could never place a price upon the utter joy you have blessed upon me. So I offer you this, my promise and this ring." Denise placed the other silver ring on Randa's finger, kissing the hand briefly as she did so.

"You captured me... mind, body, and soul and I pledge here today that I willingly dedicate my life to loving you alone. You have left your mark upon my heart and forever and to eternity I belong to only you."

Randa wasn't sure she could hear anymore without bursting into tears of joy. She was relieved when Father Brian placed one hand lightly on each of their shoulders and said. "By the grace of a good and loving God, I pronounce these two as joined partners. Let us all wish them every happiness as they seal this union with a kiss."

Denise smiled down at Randa. "Our first as a married couple," she said as she lowered her head.

"There will never be a last." Randa vowed as their lips met. Neither could recall a sweeter kiss shared by them in the entire time they had been together. Denise's arms came around Randa and the nurse willingly melted into them. It was several moments before the cheers and applause of the small gathering invaded their senses and they broke apart reluctantly. The group was descending on them rapidly with tears and smiles showing in equal measure.

Denise looked deeply into Randa's eyes. "Promise me we'll continue this later?"

Randa smiled at the brilliant blue eyes of her spouse. "I suppose one more promise today won't hurt me. I'll be there with bells on."

"And nothing else I hope," the poet whispered then turned to accept the congratulations of their family and friends.

Life with her is never going to be predictable a delightfully shocked Randa thought. She brought her arm around Denise's waist and held on tight as the ride began.


The tranquil sounds of gentle waves lapping upon a shore accompanied an assortment of tropical birds soaring happily in the deep blue sky. Subtle scents of a sun-drenched beach permeated the salty air. Upon the stretch of vacant beach a large hammock hung between tall palm trees. The hum of two muttering voices drifted across the still.

Eyes closed against the gleaming sun, Denise lay with her arm wrapped around her partner. A blonde head rested snugly upon her shoulder. "So you really want to give up working on the Brightwood site?"

Randa nodded. "Yes. Just to explore my options a little more. I mean, I will always be a nurse... it's second nature to me; it's who I am. I just need to take time out for a while."

"You know..." Denise started. "I did speak to Carl about my little proposition. If you still wanted you could consider being my editor. This doesn't have to be a final decision on your part but I know you would be great at it. That is one door open to you if you wish to take it."

"I could give it a try."

DJ smiled. "And if I was to ever write a novel based in a hospital I would have the best adviser one could possibly find!"

"That you would!" Randa said with a laugh and Denise chuckled, wrapping her arms tighter around her lover.

Silence stretched between the women as minds wandered. With a deep sigh of contentment, DJ kissed Randa's forehead and smiled to herself. "Randa?"

"Hmm?" Came the languid response.

"You know all that marriage stuff... the traditions about love, honour and obey, etcetera?"


The poet grinned evilly to herself. "Well go get your woman a drink, wench!" DJ chuckled as she waited for Randa's response. She was surprised when the felt the hammock sway as Randa climbed out of the recliner. Opening her eyes she peeked through heavy lids.

"Back in a moment," Randa said as she trotted off towards their small rented beach house.

Lifting her head, Denise watched Randa in surprise and confusion. Her eyes drifted down to the nurse's bikini clad behind as she disappeared inside the wooden beach house. I was only joking, she thought wryly.

Hearing a peculiar sound Denise turned her head towards what she presumed was another unusual bird. The bright glare of the sun stung her eyes and she closed them again, letting her head fall back into the hammock.

It was their second day on the Caribbean Island. Denise had rented a small stretch of beach for her and Randa to enjoy for two blissful and undisturbed weeks. The exotic atmosphere and intense heat was more than she had ever experienced but the poet was adapting proficiently. Wearing little more than clothing that resembled skimpy underwear, DJ was basking in the dry heat.

Lacing her fingers through her hair, DJ's head lulled to the side sleepily. The ocean's soothing sounds relaxed her tranquil mind. From the distance she heard the crunch of footsteps making their way toward her through warm sand. Turning back to the sound, DJ was about to speak. The words died upon her lips only to be replaced by shocked spluttering.

As cold water dripped down her face, Denise rose to her elbows and looked up at Randa. "Hey!"

A wide grin and twinkling green eyes greeted her. "Wench?" Randa asked simply.

"I was joking," Denise chuckled. She wiped a hand over her face.

"I'll give you joking!" Randa brought the half full glass of water from behind her back and aimed it towards DJ.

The poet rolled out of their hammock on the opposite side of Randa. She faced her partner and held up her hands. "Don't do anything you may regret," she warned.

Randa's eyes sparkled with mirth as she flipped her wrist sending the remaining contents of the glass hurtling towards DJ. Denise gasped as cold water splashed against her body. Shaking wet hair out of her face she glared at Randa. "Oh you are in so much trouble!"

"Come and get me," Randa taunted with a smug grin as she dropped the glass to the sand.

Denise laughed. "Oh, you'll get it alright." Dancing blue eyes watched Randa take off towards the ocean. After giving her enough of a head start, DJ followed behind in hot pursuit. Long legs ate up the gap between them as Denise closed their distance. She watched Randa head into the water and followed her rapidly. "Ready or not," DJ shouted as she swept Randa off her feet and they tumbled into the surf laughing. Denise rolled over, trapping Randa underneath her long body. The lapping waves washed around them as DJ held Randa's arms over her body. "You get me wet... I'll get you wet!"

"I can think of more pleasurable ways you can get me wet!" Bucking her pelvis Randa rolled Denise onto her back. "Or vice versa." Randa reversed their positions as she pulled DJ's hands above her own head. "Who's the wench now, hmm?"

"I'll be anything you want!" Denise wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. The seawater soaked her skin as sand slipped between their bodies.

Holding herself carefully over Denise's body, Randa grinned down into cerulean eyes. "I don't know... I'm kind of happy with you being my 'wife'!" She released DJ's hands and moved back as Denise rose to a sitting position.

"I am too." Running her fingers through the damp tresses at the back of Randa's neck, Denise pulled soft lips towards her own. They kissed passionately under the tropical sun as roaming hands mapped large expanses of naked flesh.

Pulling back, DJ gazed into desire filled eyes. "So... before I get sand into places that I allow only you to venture," she grinned, "Want to go and get in the shower? However much I want to run my tongue over every inch of your body, I don't want any crunchy grains getting in between my teeth!"

"Oh you can be so romantic!"

"I do my best."

Randa rose to her feet, pulling Denise with her. "Okay then... lets get in the shower, Casanova."

DJ smiled secretly as an idea formed within her mind. Earlier that day she had been on an early morning amble around the small island and found a secluded spot in the centre of the isle. The beauty of the area instantly captured her attention and she had wanted Randa to experience that too. Now she had another idea in which she and Randa could take advantage of the sights.

"What's going on in that brain of yours?"

Taking Randa's sand speckled hand DJ pulled her towards the palm trees.

"Where are we going?" the nurse asked.

"You'll see."

Venturing into the shade of the trees Denise guided Randa through the tropical foliage. The sight of fresh fruit growing on a variety of trees amazed the poet. Growing up in England she had only ever seen apples and plums. She remembered during the summer when she was a lot younger how she and Michelle would go scrumping in the neighbour's gardens for their fruit. DJ could recall many a time being chased down the street by an angry property owner.

"Where are you taking me?" Randa inquired. "I thought you wanted to get in the shower?"

"I did... but now I have other plans." Spying a familiar overgrowth of shrubbery DJ swept it to the side and led Randa into a hidden cove. The beautiful sight of ancient rocks housing a crystal clear waterfall greeted them. The echo of tumbling water falling into the pool below accompanied the exotic sounds of nature. A spectacular rainbow arched over the waterfall as the hot sun refracted the mist of moist droplets.

"What do you think?"

Randa turned as she captured the sights around her. Looking back at DJ a wide smile lit up the nurse's face. "It's beautiful!"

"Second only to you," Denise said as she pulled Randa closer, and then with her into the pool. Its rippling surface engulfed their lower bodies as Denise pulled a willing Randa towards the waterfall. Within moments the sound of bubbling water was accompanied by heated moans of pleasure as they began a sensual exploration of one another.

Gathering the blonde within her arms Denise kissed Randa with an increasing hunger. Her hands roamed with purpose down the lithe body as she searched out the material of Randa's bikini. Gathering the white cotton within her hands she slowly and intentionally began lowering them down Randa's legs.

"Have I told you how very much I love you today?" Denise whispered hotly.

"How about you show me?"

"Oh yes..." The poet complied willingly. "Every day for the rest of our lives."

Randa held DJ close against her body. "I love you, Denise Juniper Jennings."

The poet smiled as her lips searched every inched of Randa's flesh. "Are you going to constantly tease me about that?" she mumbled good-naturedly.

"Every day for the rest of our lives," Randa replied as her body surrendered to an overflow of breathtaking pleasure.

The End

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