By Bat Morda
(Please click here if you would like to go to Chapter One.)
"Become a deadly weapon now... along with everything else."I rode those horses all through the night. I had no idea of where I was going or what Iíd become. In fact, at that time I was aware of very little save pushing my body as far as I could in the direction of survival. Less than twenty-four hours after giving birth and destroying the last thing I would ever love I came upon the river just outside of Thessaly. I watered the horses and washed myself in the freezing water; cleaning the gore from my body if not my soul. To be honest I scarcely felt the cold on my skin; inside I was so much colder. I knew a very specific someone was going to pay for what had befallen me, but I also knew that day was a long ways off. Fighting drunken thugs in the night with the aid of set traps was one thing, but going up against sober warriors who had the skills and discipline I lacked would be another. I needed strength, training and most of all a plan. Strength and training were within my grasp so those were the two I focused on. My assumption was that as those two grew the plan would naturally follow.
Alice ñ Stevie Nicks
I washed my bloodstained clothes in the river. It wouldnít do to walk into town looking like the killer I was. My clothes had dried in the summer breeze by mid-morning. My first stop in Thessaly was that of the horse-trader. I had eleven horses with all of their tack to trade and after all Iíd been through I was not going to let them go cheaply. I laughed at his first two offers having heard enough conversations around the campfire to recognize a swindle when I heard it. He finally made the offer I was looking for and I accepted it.
If I had been able to walk away from who I was right then and there I could have lived quite comfortably for some time on the dinars I now possessed. But that was never really an option. I suppose we have to fully explore being who we are at any given time before we can then be anyone else.
Next I upgraded the saddle and tack for the horse Iíd decided to keep. I did this not out of any sentimental concern for the equineís comfort but from a perspective of strict practicality. I would be on the run a lot from now on. I could not afford to stay in one place long enough to form any attachments of my own or let anyone get close enough to remember me. That new saddle would be my home. I also traded my rags for serviceable clothes, a few pieces of armor and a very good sword and dagger. When that was accomplished I found a tavern with rooms and paid for a weeks lodging with food. That was the first night Iíd slept in a bed since Xena destroyed my home.
For the next three days I only left that bed to relieve myself and to eat. For the first time in seven years I was actually able to sleep for more than minutes at a time. I could eat until I was full, although after the number of years Iíd spent being near starved, it didnít take much to fill me up.
I suppose someone else may have focused on how improved this was from my life previously, but I did not. With each passing day I focused more and more on the debt I needed to pay and the justice that needed to be served. When I finally ventured into town it was for information. I could not read or write but I knew that the one thing that would separate me from all other warriors would be knowledge. Half-heartedly, I prayed to Ares and gave money at his temple for training. I learned how to use a sword and dagger beyond the crude skills unknowingly taught to me by my captors as well as how to fight with my bare hands in a more sophisticated fashion. As soon as anyone would begin to take notice of my skill I would move onto another town. I was determined that the name "Callisto" would not register in anyoneís consciousness until I was absolutely ready.
Each new set of instruction in each new town began in the same way. Iíd reach the temple, or training center or weapons master and the men already in training would fail to take me seriously. Theyíd think I was there to service their more worldly needs or a young bride running away from a prearranged marriage. I would take them on individually, or in larger numbers and fight for respect time and time again. With each new arrival I noticed I had to fight less and when I did I left my adversaries more seriously injured. As the scars on my body multiplied fellow students began to leave me alone.
For that first year I was the picture of honesty. I paid for food, board and training and as needed repaired and upgraded my clothing, weapons and armor. By the end of my first year, about the age of fifteen I decided it was time to test my skills against some real opponents. I was studying poison making in the small village of Minoas. People in the tavern were complaining about a half dozen cutthroats attacking travelers not far from the main road. With a new set of poisoned daggers, I decided to set off just before dawn.
As Iíd hoped, the group surrounded me at a very obvious bend in the road. They had barely demanded that I dismount when two fell from their horses with daggers in their throats. Within minutes it was all over. Six men lay dead and I had a new collection of horses and tack to sell. I didnít want the attention I would undoubtedly get if these horses showed up in Minoas so I continued on the road to Delphi to find their horse trader.
I was only pocketing my money when I was stopped by one woman in the company of two others; she stood right in front of me and looked me squarely in the eye. "The blood on your hands will not be washed clean for over a thousand years," she said. "But someday you will find redemption if you forgive yourself for the life you are living now. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do."
It was not my intent but Iím sure I smirked at her. She didnít know me and didnít know Iíd already done the hardest thing Iíd ever do, over and over and over again. "What makes you think Iím not forgiving myself now."
"You canít forgive yourself when you are blaming someone else. This forgiveness will take over a thousand years to earn Callisto, lessen the hate you exercise in this life and you can shorten that time."
I didnít know how clearly she saw into the blackness that was my heart because at the time I didnít know she would become the Oracle of Delphi. All I knew was that I now hated her too and vowed to someday kill her.
For the next eight years I lived to strengthen my skill, cunning and body. I sought out every weapons master, every retired general to buy endless rounds of drink and see how they thought, how they formed their strategies. I tested myself against all comers. I attacked bandits and cutthroats without hesitation. I now see the irony of course of doing the good work Xena would later be known for, but I honestly didnít have any desire to protect mindless villagers from the social refuse they created. Warriors tended to travel in very large, well armed packs. I was in no position to take on an army but still needed the hand-to-hand training and practice. Small raiding parties were usually less organized and rarely as large as ten or twelve partners. They were the perfect size to test and hone my skill.
I had no desire to leave honest townspeople alone and began to exercise my abilities if they stood in the way of something I wanted. I was careful though to not kill people from towns where I was staying. Small villages were easy targets for me as Cirra had been for Xena. I continually upgraded my swords, daggers and armor until the black armor I wore felt like a second skin. I spent time in cities and time alone in the woods. For hours a day Iíd push my body through its paces, always with a very special opponent in mind. I had the chance now to sharpen my hatred as well as my sword.
The exploits of Xena were not unfamiliar to me. Horror stories of Xenaís army were well known from Athens to Lesbos. She was calculating and ruthless; qualities I oddly admired about her. When Iíd reached the age of twenty I decided the time was right to begin taking steps so Xena could indeed meet her creation.
Tracking down the Warrior Princess was not difficult. It was easy to follow streams of refugees running away from a given town or village and simply head towards it. Irony ruled the day once more in that as I caught up with her she had just begun her own journey away from darkness. From a safe distance I watched as the little girl from Poteidaia befriended her. It was under my watchful gaze that I observed the first tentative steps that she and the bard took towards one another. I watched them fall in love and spend long nights by the campfire entangled in each otherís embrace.
The sight, the very sight of watching Xena walk away from her past, a past that created me, did more to fuel the fire of my rage than sacking a thousand Cirras could. The reality that she could move on and find happiness after what she had done was something I could not tolerate. A few bad dreams to be comforted by another is not justice. Not justice by a long shot. As my rage burned hotter a plan began to form and I knew what I would do. Were it to take the rest of my existence, I would have my revenge and it would be sweet.
I knew I would need an army. I left Xena in the arms of her chatty lover and traveled to Sparta. I freed several dozen thugs from prison. In that bunch I found a lieutenant named Theodorus. I fought him and won his respect. I promised him wealth and he ensured that the rest of the men joined me or died. I spent several months working with these three dozen men ensuring that they had absolute respect and fear for me and also making sure that they werenít completely hopeless on the battlefield. Iíd spent many years of study at this point and passed on that knowledge to Theodorus who in turn saw to it that the men practiced and improved.
Next, I knew I needed Xena and her young lover out of the way for a while. I used my knowledge of poisons and from the concealment of a tree I nailed her with a dart. While she was incapacitated I revived her reputation as the killer she was. Only this time I took care to not leave any potential monsters behind. All women and children were killed. Parents first, then the children. I did that out of respect for my mother who sadly had to watch her own child die. This way I could ensure that no child left behind in a village I raided would endure years of torture and have fate twist them into ruthless killing animals. Their deaths were quick and merciful.
My plan was simple; make Xena endure her legacy once more and then one by one take away anything and everything that meant anything to her. Iíd kill her lover, her horse, her family if she had any, and her reputation. I would destroy it all. By the time I was ready to slit her throat she would be so empty and broken that sheíd beg for me to end it. Eventually I would, of course, but very slowly.
I suppose it was overly optimistic on my part to think my first confrontation with Xena would go my way. I was a skilled warrior that was not in doubt but Xena was an entirely different class of warrior. She was cunning, determined, strong, fast and focused. She captured me once and I had my first real opportunity to have a conversation with her. I was honest and upfront; I felt it important to know exactly what type of a monster she was responsible for creating.
"Oh the good Xena," I said "what happened? One day you just decided to fight for justice?"
"Something like that," she replied, continuing her stoic march to town.
"And all the shattered people you left behind are supposed to cheer you, is that it?"
"No," she said. "What happened to you was terrible. It was my fault and Iím sorry."
I was livid. Xenaís ability to trivialize my pain, that a simple apology would do the trick was yet another wound on a very battered soul. "Oh well, that makes all the difference in the world and now we can be the best of friends." I spit on her. "Thatís what I think of your apology."
Her lover, Gabrielle came running up, fear flushing in her features. "Xena," she said, "Melas is organizing a lynch mob."
"Well Iím not afraid to die if thatís what your worried about," I said. That was entirely true. I wanted my vengeance or I wanted death and some days it almost didnít matter which. "What about you Xena?" I asked. "How will you feel to see your creation executed without a fair trial? Humm?"
"Donít listen to her Xena," the brat butted in. "You canít blame yourself for what sheís become."
Oh that did it. That was the comment that really let me see what type of influence the bard was having on the warrior. The ability to shirk responsibility, to walk away from blame, to pretend that it wasnít that bad of a deed was coming from her. Gabrielle wanted a lover who was good, who was noble, who was right and she was willing to twist fate, logic and history if necessary for Xena to fit the picture of the lover she wanted. Revisionist history is a convenient thing when itís used to justify your actions and make it easier to sleep at night. Convenient, ugly and something I totally didnít deserve.
"No, no. Of course not." I shouted at her. "No, itís not her fault at all that I dream every night of my motherís screams coming from my burning home! You tell me Xena, do you sleep well at night?"
"No, I donít," She replied flatly.
I saw the look on the bardís face and she was crest-fallen. Apparently she thought sheíd had been having more of a redemptive effect on the warrior.
"Good," I replied. "Well, I can take whatever it is you think I have coming to me. But tell me this Xena, have you ever been tried for all of the things that you have done? Have you ever been handed over to a mob that wanted your blood?"
Xena stopped walking and looked up at me. There was fear in her face; barely noticeable but I saw it. "What would you do if I let you go?" she asked.
Oh that was hysterical. She really thought I could be bought off with my freedom. That Iíd be so happy to continue my life, to keep waking each day in the prison sheíd left me that Iíd simply go away and disappear. I couldnít believe what I was hearing.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked, apparently not believing what she was hearing either.
"I changed, so can she." Xena explained.
"No, her heart has been eaten away by hatred." Gabrielle countered.
"The sight, just the sight of Xena, Warrior Princess arguing on my behalf amuses me so let me tell you. Let me answer your question of what I would do if you let me go," I began. I couldnít believe that I would need to spell it out for her, to explain exactly what it was she created. I knew enough of Xenaís history to know she was a ruthless killer, a cunning adversary; she wasnít stupid. Yet with Gabrielle at her side her intelligence dropped precipitously. That she actually thought she could kill me and walk away, destroy my life and make amends and even the score was unconscionable. "You let me go and I will dedicate my life to killing everything you love. Your friends, your family, your reputation, even your horse. You see, I am being so honest with you because the idea of your pity is worse than death to me." Xena started moving, a new stiffness to her gait. I think I was getting through to her. "You see," I added. "You created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary isnít it? Now take me to the mob."
I didnít think for a moment that she would let the mob kill me or let me burn in that prison, as fitting as that would have been. Mobs, prison, death-these things did not scare me in the least. Each day I woke was a test of endurance to see it through to the end. Getting more of them, years of them was not a gift. There was not a prison in Greece that was any more demanding than the skin I woke in each and every day. Still, I also realize that my desire to see her anguish as I killed the bard in front of her was my downfall time and again. Any threat to Gabrielle elevated Xena to new heights of heroics. Had revenge not been my motivation maybe I could have left the Bard out of it, but I was certain that killing her was the only way she could even approach the kind of devastation I lived with constantly.
The closest to the abject anguish I sought I only ever saw in her eyes when I killed the Bardís husband, Perdicus. As Gabrielle screamed in pain over his dying body I saw it all reflected in Xenaís eyes. Her heart was torn in two with pain for her loverís loss and the pain that the screaming of love lost and a broken heart wasnít for her. By this point in my life Iíd killed more people than I could count. I knew the difference by feel if my sword pierced muscle or an internal organ. I knew how to strike to kill quickly or only sever an artery so one would have to endure bleeding to death. Iíd seen prison, torture, fire, destruction and all manner of death. Iíd been subjected to the unthinkable and committed the unspeakable and for all that had been done to me, I had only extracted the smallest amount of revenge. There was still plenty of rage and hate to satisfy.
It was not to be at that time, however. Once again my fixation on Gabrielle was my downfall. When I just should have simply killed her, something would not allow me to do it without Xena watching. I would never have been able to articulate it at the time but looking back now I can see Gabrielle as the redeemer she was. Here was a woman who found love in her heart for a monster certainly worse than I. That kind of compassion and conviction has a power all itís own and even I was not immune to itís effects. I hated her not for who she was personally. As a woman I did not care anything about the Bard from Poteidaia, but for the change she made in Xenaís life and the actual ëlivingí Xena was now engaged in, I hated her with a passion that rivaled my hatred for Xena.
Had the fates even an ounce of decency they would have given Gabrielle the strength to shove that sword through my throat when she had the chance, but she did not. Even she could not stand up to the strength of her convictions and again I was distracted and again I lost. This time I paid with my life.
Quicksand is not an ideal way to die, but I suppose itís no worse than burning to death, bleeding to death or drowning. The more you struggle the faster you sink until you feel the mud at your mouth, ears and nose. You can only hold your breath for so long and when you finally lose that battle sandy wetness rushes in your nose and mouth and you choke and drown on dirt. Slowly your brain is starved of oxygen and you die.
I died once. If only that had been the end of it.
/|\^..^/|\"How bad was it?" Sarah asked as Stevie sat bolt upright in bed. The stunt woman was sitting up in bed reading a book and handed her a glass of water.
"I try hard not to look up," she whispered absently. "That girl was me." Without thinking she took the offered glass of water and had a sip.
"If youíre quoting your namesake, this must be serious," Sarah said trying to achieve light tone, concern threading through her voice all the same.
Stevie shook her head trying to focus on the present. She was in bed with Sarah, the sun was shining outside, and she was holding a glass of cool water. "In the nightmare," she said slowly, "I know who the killer is now. Itís me."
Sarah shook her head. "You, a killer. I donít believe it."
"Iím not kidding," Stevie said emphatically. "My name is Callisto. The nightmares have been her history. She looks like me and god, is she tortured."
Sarah put her book down and threw an arm around her friendís shoulders. "The only thing that is even making me entertain this idea is that you say sheís tortured. But honestly, think about it. You belong to the HRC, PETA, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and lord knows how many more do-gooding organizations I donít know about. Your problem is you care too much about the world to be a killer, not too little."
A feeling was beginning to sink into Stevieís consciousness and it made her more uncomfortable than anything sheíd considered up to that point. "What if this is past-life stuff?í she asked quietly.
"Youíre sounding like your mother and I know that makes you crazy." Sarah replied. "But lets say for the sake of argument that you are revisiting a past life. Your past is over. You said this was ancient Greece. Anyone who you killed would be generations dead anyway. There is no reason to punish yourself for something that happened thousands of years ago." Sarah stopped herself and thought a moment. "Okay I realize what I just said flies in the face of what religions do to each other every day, but weíre talking about one individual person, you. You are not responsible for something you may or may not have done back then. Did you learn nothing from watching Dax on Deep Space Nine with me?"
Stevie finished the water and handed the empty glass back to Sarah. "Is there anything you canít solve with a TV show?" She asked with a grin.
"You woke up quoting the song Angel. Is there anything you canít find a Stevie Nicks lyric to explain?" Sarah asked in return.
"Touché," Stevie said with a light chuckle. "Okay, Iíll let this go. Youíre probably right. At least Iím off the hook until tonight anyway and damn if Iím not going to make the most of that."
Sarah laughed warmly. "Truly spoken like someone in a depression: Enjoy each day as if itís your last because you might get lucky."
They dressed in sweats and t-shirts suitable for a day at the beach. When the pair headed downstairs they found that they were the last to rise. The two church-group couples were eating breakfast at the dining table and two men were sitting at the kitchen island enjoying omelets and orange juice. Mel smiled at them.
"Good morning ladies," he said warmly. "Fix you an omelet? I wield the best spatula on the port side of Salem."
"Sounds great," Sarah nodded with a nod to the two men. Both men were in their early to mid thirties, about the same age as she and Stevie. Both were well groomed, handsome and very fit. They sat quite close together and the stuntwoman immediately assumed she had a few things in common with them.
"Jeff York and Phil Sergeant, let me introduce Sarah Moorhead and Stevie Montgomery." Hands were shaken all around as Mel made the introductions.
"Is this the kidís table?" Stevie asked as she pulled up a stool next to Sarah.
"Cool kids only," Phil replied with a grin. Phil was the smaller of the two, with a swimmerís build, light sandy hair and healthy tan. His companion Jeff was black, bald and had the physique of an experienced body builder. Stevie noticed the matching wedding rings.
"We ate with them yesterday," Jeff explained quickly. "And getting proselytized to over breakfast is an unpleasant way to lose oneís appetite."
"Itís not that I donít like holier-than-thou Evangelical Christians," Phil explained seriously, "itís just that they take too long to roast over an open fire."
Sarah and Stevie bust out laughing even as Jeff scolded his partner. "Jesus, Phil," he said, annoyed. "We donít even know these women, you could be totally offending them."
"If itís any consolation Iím a Methodist and Stevie is an agnostic, but we both have a sense of humor." Sarah explained.
Phil winked at Stevie, "Agnostic? Isnít that like an atheist with a ëplan bí?"
Stevie grinned. "Pretty much." She poured a cup of coffee for Sarah and took the liberty of adding cream and sugar before passing her the cup, and then she took a second cup and fixed herself some tea.
"You two together?" Jeff asked.
Sarah shook her head, reaching for the carafe of orange juice and a glass. "Not anymore," she explained. "But I swear, if any of our friends come in here this morning and talk about personal saviors Iím going to kiss Stevie so hard their heads will explode."
"Killer." Phil exclaimed happily, immediately he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills in a money clip. "Hereís twenty bucks to do it."
"Iíll match that action," Jeff agreed and added another twenty from his own pocket to the first.
"Hell yes," Mel said and added an additional twenty. "So what are you kids up to today?" he asked, pouring the beaten eggs into the omelet pan.
Stevie had opened her mouth to answer when Mary and Susan came rushing into the kitchen. "See Susan, I told you I heard female voices," Mary said. "Well, real female voices if you know what I mean," she muttered under her breath. "Would you girls like to eat breakfast with us? Weíve met up with Father Bastion who is telling us the real stories behind the witch killings."
"You mean that they werenít really witches?" Stevie asked noticing that Susan had the decency to look embarrassed at her friendís persistence. She also noticed a familiar smolder in Sarahís eyes. The two women in Polo shirts were not going to come out of breakfast unscathed.
"Some of these women were of very ill repute," Mary replied.
"That isnít any reason to be hanged," Stevie insisted. "If you ask me, ill repute is for the people on the other end of that hanging rope."
Sarah didnít say a word. She leaned over and put a strong hand around the back of Stevieís neck pulling the blonde woman close. Stevie moved willingly, leaning in with her eyes open. Brunette and blonde approached one another; mouths and eyes slightly open. As their lips touched, eyes closed and they moved sensuously together.
"Oh Lord." Mary said, stunned. "I feel faint."
Each woman moved back a little, adjusting their position and it was easy to see their tongues softly dueling together. They crushed back together again, harder, more passionate this time; Sarahís hand on the back of Stevieís hand, Stevieís hands on each side of Sarahís neck and face.
"Mary, lets leave them alone," Susan said quietly. "Mary, Mary!" She was trying to tug at the older womanís arm who stood transfixed. "MARY!" Finally she blinked and rushed from the room with all the grace of Mrs. Kravitz from a Bewitched episode.
"Bob," Mary complained hurrying from the kitchen. "There are queers and lesbian witches here. What kind of place is this?!"
The crisp slam of the backdoor swinging shut broke Sarah and Stevie from their kiss. They looked over to see Lizzy standing inside the door. Her eyes moved from Stevie to Sarah and finally to those of her cousin.
Lizzy Covington was deeply conflicted. Opening the back door to her cousinís house and seeing two hot women deeply kissing was the last thing she expected. What she expected even less was the duality of her response. On the one hand, it was a turn on. While sheíd kissed a few women in college, sheíd never been in a position to watch other women do it. Still, at the exact same moment she felt a sense of arousal, she also felt a deep jolt of jealousy. Sarah had her hand wrapped roughly around the back of Stevieís head, her fingers entwined in tendrils of soft blonde hair. It didnít look nearly gentle enough to her estimation. At the same time, Stevie had a soft warm hand on each side of Sarahís face. Those were fingertips that had touched the side of her face less than twenty-four hours earlier. She had overheard their conversation the previous night when sheíd walked upstairs to return the leather jacket, the leather jacket she was still wearing, and knew that she might have a better chance of experiencing Sarahís kiss for herself, but that wasnít what she really wanted. In that moment, she was profoundly jealous of Sarah and wanted to be in her place instead. As the door slammed shut and they broke apart, Sarahís face had an aura of self-satisfaction to it where Stevie looked a little embarrassed.
"Did I miss something?" she asked, forcing lightness to her voice that she didnít really feel.
"Just torturing the born-agains," Stevie explained deftly picking up the three twenty dollar bills on the kitchen island.
"Hey, thatís mine!" Sarah protested.
"I donít think so," Stevie disagreed, tucking the three bills into her cleavage. "I did all the heavy lifting."
"That was twenty bucks well spent." Mel said, serving each woman a plated omelet. "Breakfast cuz?" he asked looking at the shorter of the two blondes.
Lizzy nodded absently and pulled a stool over to the far side of the kitchen island. "Are you sure youíre ex-girlfriends?" Lizzy asked, trying for a playful tone and fearing she may have failed miserably.
"Positive." Stevie said flatly which caused the self-satisfied smirk to vanish from the stuntwomanís features.
"They were just teaching our friends in the dining room a lesson in assumption making." Phil said, pretending to get choked up. "Brings a wee tear to the eye."
"I think I was asking what you guys were up to today?" Mel repeated, looking at Stevie and Sarah.
"I believe weíre going to the beach," Stevie answered, looking hopefully at Lizzy who nodded.
"Iíve got a picnic lunch ready to go." She affirmed. "I thought Iíd take them to Crane Beach in Essex," she added to her cousin.
"If youíre going out that way why donít you take them to the Russell Orchards and pick up some pumpkins for me." Mel asked "Canít have a Halloween without jack ëo lanterns."
"Not in this town," Jeff agreed.
"I said we were going to Essex, not Ipswich," Lizzy protested.
"Itís close enough," Mel replied, looking down at his cousin sweetly. He fumbled with his crutch, "I canít really make the drive, sweetie."
Lizzy sighed, resigned. "I will be so glad when you get that blasted thing off," she muttered.
"Need any help carving?" Phil asked.
"Thatís a great idea!" Mel exclaimed. "Get enough pumpkins so we can have a carving party. Pumpkins for everyone!"
"You are insane," Lizzy replied with a light laugh. "Fair enough, more pumpkins than you can stand. But Iíve got my big party on Halloween, donít count on me to carve for you."
"All you have to do is retrieve the pumpkins and Iíll have it covered from there." Mel replied handing his cousin a few bills from his wallet.
After finishing breakfast Sarah and Stevie followed Lizzy to her truck. An old green Chevy Blazer was parked out front. It showed obvious signs of off-roading but appeared well cared for. Lizzy opened the front and rear passenger doors and Stevie took the front seat. Sarah rolled her eyes and climbed in the back. When the archaeologist turned the ignition key, the stuntwoman whistled appreciatively.
"Nice sounding engine," she said. "Iíve done a fair amount of stunt driving in trucks like this. Treat ëem well and theyíll last forever."
"Thatís true," Lizzy agreed. She patted the dashboard affectionately. "Sheís been to a few digs, hasnít let me down yet."
They headed the back way out of town, Lizzy taking a number of small streets to avoid the main drag where most of the tourists gathered. "What kind of stunt work do you do?" she asked conversationally.
Sarah shrugged. "Whatever I can get," she answered. "I really enjoy high falls and fights. I do some driving, Iíve been set on fire a couple of times... I try to avoid horse stunts, theyíre not my favorite."
"Our first year dating she broke her pelvis when a horse rolled over on her." Stevie added. "What a baby."
"No worse than the time you had pneumonia." Sarah shot back. Stevie turned around and looked at her. "Okay, I was a little worse," Sarah amended. The stuntwoman turned her attention back to their driver. "I can show you some stunts at the beach, if youíre interested."
Lizzy smiled getting the distinct feeling that someone was trying to impress her. "Thatíd be really nice," she said.
The drive to Russell Orchards didnít take long. Stevie and Sarah marveled at the fall colors in the trees and crisp clear weather. Lizzy mentioned that it was unseasonably warm and to enjoy it while it lasted.
In time they drove up the dirt road to the main barn of the orchard. "This place has the most amazing apple cider donuts," Lizzy explained as they headed inside. "Youíve got to try them, theyíre awesome when theyíre hot."
While enjoying donuts, the trio toured the orchard grounds. Lizzy pointed out a small lake and a corral of horses. Chickens and goats roamed freely, the chickens trying to avoid people, the goats trying to shake people down for food. "This place is adorable," Stevie said, as she knelt down to get a better picture of a goat.
"Youíve got goats in California, right?" Lizzy asked, surprised Stevie was making such a to-do at the animal.
Sarah shrugged. "Back home they all have agents, itís hard to photograph goats without a release form."
With the goat successfully photographed, the three women headed to the pumpkin patch just outside the main barn building. Each woman selected a number of pumpkins and they got some additional hands to help carry them all to Lizzyís Blazer.
"What do people do in Salem if they donít like Halloween? " Stevie asked as they loaded the pumpkins into the truck.
"They leave town or move." Lizzy replied with a shrug. "Halloween starts at the beginning of September," she explained. "Itís not a matter of leaving town for the weekend. Fortunately pretty much everyone has a good attitude about it or theyíre smart enough to keep their displeasure to themselves."
"Cool town," Sarah agreed.
"There was a fuss about the Bewitched statue in town," the archaeologist explained. "This odd alliance formed between the ërealí witches and the people who donít like Salem associated with witchcraft. Statue went up anyway; they were no match for the power of tourist dollars."
"Iíve got to see that statue," Sarah said, excitedly. "I loved that show!í
Stevie laughed. "Few TV shows she doesnít love, sheís an addict."
"We had another episode a few years back," Lizzy added. "A bunch of people were drinking in this bar and this one guy, bombed out of his skull says heís going to go get his gun and shoot the first witch he sees. Sure enough he goes and gets his gun and canít find any witches so he shoots a statue. Only it was the statue of Roger Conant that he shot, who is a pilgrim, not a witch at all. The statue has three bullets in it."
"Is that the cross-dressing pilgrim guy?" Sarah asked, remembering the statue from the night before.
Lizzy laughed, a sound her companions enjoyed very much. "The very one."
The drive to the beach was a pleasant one, the three women chatting comfortably together and enjoying the scenic New England countryside.
Pulling into the beach parking lot at mid-day they were surprised to find very few cars parked there. "Guess weíve got the beach to ourselves." Lizzy commented, opening up the back of the truck.
"Let me get that," Sarah said hurriedly, and picked up the cooler.
"Butch," Stevie muttered under her breath as she accepted the blanket Lizzy handed her while the archaeologist shouldered a backpack.
They walked in companionable silence across a wooden bridge that led to the sand.
"Wow," both Stevie and Sarah breathed together.
As beaches went it certainly wasnít spectacular but that didnít matter to the Californians. It was a beach; a beach to a different coast. The sand was fine and white and contrasted vibrantly with the deep azure of the ocean. Large patches of long grasses grew stubbornly in hills and banks of the surrounding area. Small sand dunes formed and were reformed by the wind. They could see a person or two off in the distance, but for all intents and purposes, they had the beach to themselves.
They walked out a distance onto the sand and found a spot near the water. Lizzy and Stevie unfolded the blanket and Sarah set the ice chest down. "Not as glamorous as what Iím sure youíre used to?" Lizzy asked conversationally.
"Are you kidding?" Stevie replied. "Weíve got an entire beach to ourselves. Thatís amazing."
"Yeah," Sarah agreed. "Itís nice to actually hear the waves and not some ass-hatís radio."
"Donít get me wrong," Stevie amended. "California has got some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere, but where we live, itís pretty crowded. Malibu, Zuma and Point Dume are really nice, but youíll never have it all to yourself."
"The central California coast is gorgeous," Sarah added, "and more secluded, but itís quite the drive to get there."
Lizzy opened the ice chest and offered each of the women a cold Corona. Sarah accepted hers gratefully.
"If you guys donít mind," Stevie said. "Iíd like to take a quick run first." She took a hair tie from the pocket of her sweat pants and pulled her hair into a ponytail. "Just like twenty minutes or so."
"Take your time," Sarah replied with a grin. "Youíre on vacation, remember? Run as long as youíd like. Lizzy and I will enjoy ourselves and the beer." The stuntwoman looked at her friend, understanding etched in her features. "Seriously, take your time."
Stevie took off at a jog and headed for the wet sand where the waves met the beach. She headed up the deserted beach, her retreating figure growing smaller to the two women sitting on the picnic blanket.
"Are you familiar with the band U2?" Sarah asked Lizzy as they watched Stevieís retreating form. "Know the song Running To Stand Still?"
"Sure," Lizzy nodded, handing Sarah a slice of lime for her beer.
Sarah nodded in the direction of her friend. "Thatís her."
Lizzy watched the woman running down the beach. She noted the soft breeze blowing a fine salty mist towards them from the ocean. The air was crisp, the sky a picture perfect cyan that harmonized with the deep indigo of the water. There was no denying that this was a perfect day. "Why did you guys break up?" She asked softly after taking a sip of her beer. "I can tell you still care about her."
Sarah studied the archaeologist for a long moment before answering. She spoke softly, gently as if she had information it would be vital for Lizzy to know. The archaeologist felt included in those words, as if sheíd been invited into a special club called Knowing Stevie.
"Our breakup is important, but almost as important is why we were together in the first place. Stevie has this... thing... about her. Itís hard to explain. Like I want to act like a better person around her. Or if I canít really be a better person, I can at least step up my acting a few notches," the stuntwoman chuckled at her own joke.
"Sheís smart, sheís interesting, sheís funny in that way that only the truly miserable can master and my god, sheís got the softest lips on the planet." Sarah continued. "At first it was really something, but darkness started creeping in. It frustrated both of us equally. She doesnít understand whatís happening to her, she only knows that she feels it. Itís not easy to be in a relationship with someone who is as tortured as she is. Itís really hard to love someone and know that it doesnít really matter. You canít make much of a dent in their pain regardless of how desperately you want to. I guess it was when I realized that were it not for her mom or her dogs there was a fifty-fifty chance sheíd end up killing herself. Her mom and her dogs arenít going to live forever and I couldnít stand the thought of not being enough to keep her going."
Lizzy looked back down the beach. "She hides it well," she said.
"I know," Sarah agreed. "Sheís the life of any party; funny, charming, smart, totally together. And at the same time she is genuinely sad when she hears about people getting killed randomly in accidents, or murdered. Not because sheís sad it happened, per se, but because someone who wanted to live lost their life and she who doesnít care has to wake up every morning." The stuntwoman shrugged sadly. "She told me awhile back that if anything random ever happened to her to not be sad, but to be relieved that she didnít have to expend the effort to do it herself."
"Is it hard to stay close?" Lizzy asked, aware that a cloud of sadness had settled around the stuntwoman.
"Sometimes." Sarah agreed. "I still love her ñ but weíve moved past the realm of romance. I mean, obviously Iím human, I miss the contact, but I manage. We want to stay in each otherís life to whatever degree that works out; but more than anything I want her to be happy. I want someone to be able to give her whatever it is she needs to wake up and see that life is worthwhile."
"I think sheís the only one who can do that," Lizzy replied, quietly.
Sarah turned her head to look at the archaeologist, a surprised expression on her face. "Thatís what she says."
Lizzy took another sip of beer and took a bag of chips from the cooler. She opened the bag and offered some to the stuntwoman. "I donít mean for this to sound the wrong way," she explained, "and I only just met the two of you, but a person has to have their own reasons for living. I can see how responsibilities can keep you from killing yourself, but theyíll never make you live. Isnít it... ah... kind of self absorbed to think that you could be a reason for living."
"Well not the whole reason," Sarah grumbled. "And I fully admit to being self-absorbed, itís part of my charm. Itís kind of scary, you sound just like her."
Lizzy shrugged. "Well, you said she was smart," she said with a small grin.
"Not too smart," Sarah replied with a sly wink. "She did let me get away after all."
The archaeologist laughed, the outright flirtatiousness of the dark haired woman was endearing. Lizzy pulled a small sketchbook from her backpack, absently starting to draw as the two of them continued to chat. The two were so engrossed in their conversation that they were startled by the sound of Stevie jogging up and sitting on the blanket. She immediately noticed the open sketchbook.
"Thatís gorgeous," she said looking at Lizzyís drawing.
"Why thank you," Sarah replied smug.
"Not you, bone head," The blonde shot back. "Sheís really been able to hide your obvious flaws."
"What flaws?" Sarah demanded.
"Well the drawing doesnít talk for one," Stevie said with a wink. "Did you go to art school?" she asked Lizzy.
The archaeologist shook her head. "No, Grandma Janice taught me. She used to sketch on dig- sites all the time. Grandma Mel said it was because she was always breaking her camera and having to improvise. I have notebooks full of sketches, most of them of Grandma Mel and her first dog, but there are a few drawings of archaeological interest as well." Lizzy looked down at her drawing. "Sketching Sarah is really easy because she looks just like Grandma Melinda, when she was younger of course. Itís strange," she added, "it feels like the most natural thing in the world to draw." She shook herself from her thoughts. "Iím sorry, I should have asked first."
"No problem" Sarah said, taking a look at the drawing and nodding in approval. "I do believe I promised you some stunts." She stood and held out her hand for Stevie. "Iíll need an assistant of course,"
"Sarah, I just got finished running, Iím tired." Stevie complained but stood up anyway.
"Itíll be a good cool down for you," Sarah countered. "Donít be a baby and make me look good." The two women stepped a fair distance away from the picnic blanket; far enough away that kicked sand wouldnít get into their open drinks. "Why donít we do that routine with the flip that you helped me work on for the Zorro movie," she suggested.
Stevie nodded and took her place. At Sarahís signal the two women began to fight. At least it looked to Lizzy like they were fighting. Theyíd angled their bodies in such a way that missed punches were hidden from Lizzyís view. Sarah was clearly getting the worst of the fight, getting knocked down and backwards, several times spinning dramatically in the air before landing in the sand. Stevie flipped her and even turned with a dramatic spinning back kick that resulted in Sarah doing a perfect back-flip before landing face first in the sand.
Lizzy applauded enthusiastically when the fight was over. The pair did their best to brush sand from their clothes before sitting down once again and reaching for their drinks.
"Do you have any water?" Stevie asked.
"Of course," Lizzy replied and pulled a chilled bottle from the cooler. She held up the lime and Stevie nodded. In seconds she was handed an open bottle with a slice of lime. "Very impressive," Lizzy observed with a nod to Sarah. "How do you keep from getting hurt?"
"As long as she lands on her head she doesnít have to worry about hurting anything she actually uses." Stevie said with a grin.
Lizzy opened the cooler once again and withdrew several containers. One was filled with deviled eggs, another had sandwiches and a third had a combination of chocolate chip cookies and brownies.
"The sandwiches are tuna, roast beef or turkey." Lizzy explained. "Had we not had dinner together last night I would have assumed, of course, that at least one of you would be vegan, but I was able to leave the tofu alone, and I thank you for it."
"You made all this stuff?" Stevie asked, amazed, noting the slight frown to the brunetteís features.
"I eat all the time, a family thing- so itís good to know how to cook." Lizzy explained offering each of the women a deviled egg.
"This is fantastic," Stevie enthused, reaching for another.
"Awesome," Sarah agreed.
The three women ate lunch, enjoying the continuation of conversations theyíd had the previous night. Sarah impressed her with stories of celebrities and movie shoots and Stevie went into a bit more detail about her work and research. Lizzy was a rapt audience, happy to have someone to talk to who was familiar with her own field, and also enjoying the stories of a make-believe world very different from the one she knew.
Sarah had her camera out and as she had the previous night, took a variety of pictures. Some shots were of Stevie and Lizzy, others were of the picnic basket, a deviled egg, sand on the picnic blanket. Finally Stevie tapped her on her shoulder and pointed at the sand dunes, banks of sea grass, and azure expanse of ocean.
"Why donít you take some pictures that will be self explanatory." She suggested. Stevie glanced at Lizzy. "She keeps threatening to write the worldís most random blog. Clearly she has too much free time on her hands."
"Itís art," Sarah countered with an overdone huff. "You should understand that." All the same she grabbed a couple of cookies and her camera and headed towards the water, snapping pictures as she went.
Stevie laughed as she watched her friend go, and shouted a few more photographic suggestions after her. Still smiling she picked up a chocolate chip cookie, complimenting Lizzy once again on her cooking. "So what did you guys talk about when I was off running?" Stevie asked, taking another sip of water.
Lizzy glanced at her and smiled. "You mostly," she said.
Stevie rolled her eyes. "Iím not surprised." She watched as Sarah crouched down to get a better angle of a crashing wave picture. "She worries a lot."
"I got the impression that there is stuff to worry about." Lizzy said quietly. "Although I agree that the worrying doesnít necessarily do any good."
Stevie smiled at her, appreciating her frankness and honestly.
Lizzy considered that this conversation could go one of two ways. It could get heavy, or she could try and keep it light. The woman was on vacation after all. "I didnít have the heart to tell her she was wrong," Lizzy said conversationally.
"Wrong about what" Stevie asked, wiping a cookie crumb from the corner of her mouth.
"Sarah told me quite pointedly that you have the softest lips on the planet. Unfortunately thatís impossible since Iíve been told that on at least three separate occasions." Lizzy kept her tone light and friendly, and pretended to be focused on brushing some sand from the picnic blanket.
Stevieís eyes widened in surprise, "Oh really," she said, a slight smile and hint of challenge curving her lips.
Lizzy nodded, looking at her once more. "Most recently by Emily Hampton," she added with just a hint of defiance. Lizzy didnít feel the need to add that this happened in college a number of years ago. In fact Lizzy had been quite skilled in college at persuading a number of attractive women to kiss her, it was trying to move things past that point that had proved insurmountably difficult.
"And I suppose youíre going to tell me that Emily Hampton wouldnít just say something like that to flirt with you?" Stevie asked with mock seriousness.
"Emily? Oh god no," Lizzy affirmed. "She was a very serious girl, never lied, not prone to exaggeration." Lizzy watched Stevie intently, wondering what the blonde woman would do.
Stevie looked out at the ocean and down the beach where Sarah was following a flock of seagulls to get a picture. She turned back to Lizzy and studied her eyes for a moment before letting her gaze drop to her lips where it stayed for several long seconds.
Lizzy enjoyed the soft brown eyes looking deeply into her own. They were unguarded, open, and a little vulnerable perhaps but assured. The archaeologist discovered that she really liked the contrast between the Egyptologistís platinum blonde hair and much darker eyebrows. She found it surprisingly sexy. With the slightest of movements, Stevieís eyes drifted down and Lizzy could tell she was looking at her lips, studying them. She knew it wasnít the sun, but felt her skin heating up under the watchful gaze of those soft brown eyes.
"I donít believe you," Stevie finally said quietly. "Prove it."
Lizzy smiled, images of the scene sheíd walked in on at breakfast playing in her head. "Only if youíre sure you wonít be sad to have your ësoft lipí title taken away." She said with feigned seriousness, unable to resist staring at the promising full lips only inches away from her.
"I promise." Stevie whispered, leaning in slightly.
Lizzy met her the rest of the way and with only the minutest amount of hesitation softly pressed her lips against Stevieís. She was immediately surprised by how incredibly soft and warm they were. It hadnít been a joke that she had been told time and again that her lips were unusually soft, but here indeed sheíd met her match. From the point of contact she felt warmth spreading through her, through her lips, cheeks; flushing her face and sending a charge through her body. It felt very much like someone striking a match near the fuse to a very large powder keg.
Lizzy may have expected the kiss to remain soft, tender, not chaste certainly but not raging passion either and she wasnít wrong. Stevie kept her touch light, moving her lips gently against Lizzyís, but not forcing deeper intimacy. She did bring a gentle hand to the side of the archaeologistís face and at the touch once again of soft, warm fingertips on her skin, Lizzy very much wanted more. Lizzy parted her lips slightly in invitation and was rewarded with the sensation of a soft warm tongue lightly sliding across her bottom lip. After that, Stevie slowly pulled away and the kiss ended.
The archaeologist was happy she wasnít audibly panting but her heart was beating to such a tempo youíd think sheíd just run a marathon. She looked into Stevieís eyes and was gratified by the arousal she saw there. She was disappointed however, to see it overcome by a haunted sadness several seconds later.
Stevie Montgomery felt dizzy. Over the years sheíd certainly kissed a fair number of women. Some made her body thrum with passion, some had set off fireworks, some could only be described as ësweetí, and this was unlike any of them. Her most recent comparison would be Sarah. Kissing Sarah was often like cresting the first hill on a mega rollercoaster. The thing that began the remaining twists and surges that left clothes strewn all over the house and the participants sated and exhausted. Sex with Sarah was often a full contact sport not for the timid or out of shape. This was not like that. It was tender, gentle, yet at the same time Stevie could picture the engines to the space shuttle igniting launching the vehicle into the unknown. That scared her, more than a little.
She didnít want to break the kiss. In fact more than anything she wanted to deepen the contact, see where it would lead her, feel that shuttle launch into weightlessness. But with crushing awareness she was brought back to who she was and felt it profoundly unfair to unleash that on an innocent, unsuspecting, and impossibly sweet archaeologist.
"You win," Stevie breathed as she pulled away.
"I dunno ," Lizzy murmured, still a little dazed. "I think you get to keep your crown."
The two were quiet for long moments after. Not an awkward silence mind you, but a comfortable silence where they were each sorting their own feelings and deciding where to go next.
"That was nice," Lizzy finally said breaking the silence.
Stevie looked over at her and smiled. "Yeah, it was."
Before anything else could be said, Sarah bounded back on to the picnic blanket and showed the other two the thirty-seven pictures sheíd just taken.
The sun shifted in the sky allowing a chill in the October air as the trio packed up the picnic basket and blanket. They headed back to the Chevy Blazer and Sarah quickly called "shotgun" as they neared the truck.
Stevie shook her head in dismay but climbed into the back seat. As they drove back to Salem they discussed plans for the evening and next day.
"We wanted to do the Psychic Fair tonight, right?" Sarah asked turning to Stevie.
"That sounds good to me. I know weíre doing a séance at your cousinís the day after tomorrow, but I thought we might try one of the séances in town tonight. Get something to compare it to." Stevie suggested.
"Comparing the good, the bad and the ugly?" Lizzy asked with a laugh. "There are plenty of new-age book stores in town and every one of them will have a séance.
"Want to join us for dinner again?" Sarah asked, looking at Lizzy hopefully. From her position in the back seat Stevie could see bright green eyes meet her own in the rearview mirror before answering. "Iíd love to," she said her gaze never wavering. "But only if you two agree to come over to my place tomorrow night for dinner. If youíre interested in a home-cooked meal."
"Absolutely," Stevie answered, keeping the eye contact.
"Yeah," Sarah agreed, "Weíre heading into Boston tomorrow, if youíd like to come with."
"I donít want to monopolize your vacation..." Lizzy replied.
"Donít worry about it," Sarah protested. "Weíre all having a great time, right?" She looked behind her to Stevie for confirmation.
"Youíd be welcome," Stevie assured the archaeologist.
"Itís a date then." Lizzy agreed.
The drive back to Melís place took less than an hour. They did stop by Farnams Clam Shack on the way home to pick up some clam chowder and lobster bisque for Mel. The low-key restaurant was perched on the bank of a marsh, an expanse of grassy wetlands expanding as far as the eye could see. A number of sea birds milled about enjoying the beginning of sunset and the insects that came with it. Sarah had a field day with her camera.
"Does seven sound good for dinner?" Stevie asked Lizzy as Sarah stealthily snuck up on a seagull sitting on a small table outside the restaurant.
"That sounds great," Lizzy agreed. "I can get some shopping done for dinner tomorrow night."
"And I could use a shower, it wouldnít kill us to get cleaned up." Stevie agreed.
Sarah grumbled as they got back into the car, "Why do I think there is a dress in my future?"
"Shotgun," Stevie said with a wink.
/|\^..^/|\"Wow, you look hot," Mel said when Lizzy arrived at a quarter to seven. Sheíd showered and had dressed in black slacks with a soft green sweater. As before, sheíd worn Stevieís leather jacket so as not to forget to return it. Secretly she just loved the fact that it smelled of the blondeís perfume, but she figured the return angle would work if anyone asked. Sheíd also used a bit of makeup, remembering what Stevie had applied the previous evening. She wanted to leave her options open should it need to be touched up later. "So how are things going with your new friends?" He asked looking pointedly at her.
"Things are fine. Theyíre really nice women," she said.
"Obviously," Mel replied. "You donít dress up for just anyone."
Lizzy rolled her eyes, "spare me, Mel. Iím not that dressed up."
He smirked, running a hand through his sandy blonde hair. "Whatever you say cuz." Both cousins were distracted by the sound of footsteps heading down the stairs. "Wow." Mel whispered. Sarah was wearing black slacks with stylish boots and a crisp white shirt. The shirt tails were out, giving her appearance a classy yet ëdressed downí sort of look. The inside of the collar and reverse of the sleeves was black with white polka dots. She wore a simple jade necklace around her neck and a tailored leather jacket. Stevie was dressed in a short black sleeveless dress with black spiked heels. She wore a delicate silver necklace around her neck that left a small crescent moon dangling just above her cleavage. She wore long sliver earrings that shimmered slightly through the long tresses of blonde hair that framed her face. She carried a small clutch purse and a black shawl. Her makeup was perfect and Lizzy found that her mouth had gone suddenly dry. It was clear to her who her cousin was talking about when he said "wow."
"Are you going to be able to walk in those?" Mel asked looking at Stevieís shoes.
Sarah chuckled, not minding that the stares in the room were not directed at her. "She can run marathons in those," she said dryly.
"Are you going to be warm enough?" Mel asked, the deep concern threading his voice only serving to annoy his cousin for having not thought to ask previously.
"Oh Christ," Sarah muttered in amusement at Melís concern and headed over to the ëfridge to help herself to a diet coke.
Stevie shrugged, "I grew up wearing shawls," she explained. "Mom made me replicas of all of Stevie Nicksí shawls... the Stand Back shawl with gold polka dots, the white one for Edge of Seventeen, black Sisters of the Moon shawl, the Gold Dust Woman shawl. I got mocked senseless; even in an elementary school with classmates named Andromeda, two Mercedes and a Porsche. But Iíve always liked them and find them warm enough. My body temperature runs a little hot anyway."
"You can say that again," Mel muttered softly.
"Are we ready to go?" Lizzy asked with a pointed glare at her cousin.
"You kids have fun," Mel said wistfully as Lizzy ushered the three out the door.
Lizzy suggested they have dinner in an Irish Pub down the street. They passed a liquor store on the corner that nearly had Sarah doubled over with laughter.
"The Bunghole Liquor, how fucking perfect is that!" Sarah exclaimed "Iíve got to take a picture for Jeff and Phil."
Stevie rolled her eyes but took a picture of Sarah proudly standing below the neon sign. "I swear, sometimes youíre fifteen." She said handing the camera back.
"Which one of us insisted on riding Scream at Magic Mountain seven times in a row?" Sarah countered.
Stevie chuckled. "I never said I wasnít fifteen. I just said that you were."
"I take it roller coasters are that much fun?" Lizzy asked.
Their progress down the sidewalk was halted as Stevie and Sarah came to a dead stop. Both women looked down at Lizzy with profound sadness etched in their features. "Youíve never been on a roller coaster?" Stevie asked gently. Lizzy shook her head.
"Have... have you ever been to Disneyland?" Sarah asked, the concern in her voice matching that of Stevieís.
"No," Lizzy answered. The archaeologist was a little surprised that the too looked more horrified at this admission than they had the previous night when sheíd admitted that she hadnít ever had a girlfriend.
"That does it," Sarah said. "Weíre taking her home with us. Youíve got the vacation time, weíll take her around and show her some sights."
Lizzy laughed. "Guys, itís not like I feel like Iím missing out on anything, honest."
"What kind of stuff did you do for fun growing up." Sarah asked, dubiously.
"Grandma Janice taught me how to use dynamite," she explained. "and to shoot guns, use a whip that sort of thing. Iíve gone on safari a couple of times to Africa and have traveled around Europe, mostly for research. I spend part of the year in Greece and do a fair amount of sailing when Iím there. Oh and I spent a year at Oxford when I was in college."
Sarah looked crest fallen, like finding out her gourmet sandwich was really a happy meal. "Are we as lame as I think we are?" she asked Stevie quietly.
"Yes honey, we are." Stevie agreed, patting her comfortingly on the shoulder.
The pub was crowded, as were all restaurants in Salem three days before Halloween. The revelers were out in force again, more people dressing up in costume than had the previous night. A party was getting started that would last the next seventy-two hours.
"Why do you like roller coasters so much?" Lizzy asked Stevie as they dug into sandwiches and fries.
"Theyíre a huge amount of fun," Sarah explained, signaling for another beer.
"Sarah is right," Stevie said, "but beyond the simplistic fun of it, think about a really loud rock concert or... the sound of something getting blown up with dynamite." Lizzy nodded in understanding. "for that moment your brain canít process anything but that sound; be it the thrum of the bass guitar making your sternum vibrate, or vibrations in the air from an explosion. A roller coaster is the same thing. Things are being done to your body, your sense of equilibrium, your own awareness of gravity and for those moments you can do absolutely nothing but process that information."
"Itís a momentary vacation from inside your own head?" Lizzy asked pointedly looking at Stevie. Soft brown eyes looked at her and she smiled.
"Yeah," Stevie said.
"Tell her about X," Sarah demanded. "If you donít, I will."
The blonde began to blush and turned to the stuntwoman, annoyed. "She doesnít need to hear about X." she said flatly.
"No, I really think I do need to hear about X," Lizzy disagreed, her interest piqued.
Stevie sighed. "X is unusual even for a mega-coaster. Fighter pilots have ridden it and say the sensations it evokes are very similar to flying F-15s and that sort of thing. Your seat spins three hundred and sixty degrees so watching the track gives you no idea of where youíre going. It has raven turns, corkscrews, boomerangs, loops, a two hundred foot plus drop face down..." she shrugged, "the first time I rode it I had an orgasm."
"Sadly the coaster hasnít done that for me since, now it feels more like an endurance test because you know what to expect, but that first time was really something,"
"I think I need to look into this roller-coaster thing," Lizzy said appreciatively.
After dinner the trio made their way down the main drag of town. Sarah and Stevie stopped to shop from the various stores and cart-vendors. Stevie picked up several trinkets for her mother and a t-shirt that said ëgot magic?í in a perfect rip-off of the milk add. At the end of the block they found The Goddessí Eye Bookshop & New Age Center. Stevie said it was perfect and led the way inside.
"Stevie has a weakness for New Age cheesiness," Sarah explained to Lizzy as they entered. "I blame her mother of course, although Momma Stevie takes this sort of thing scary seriously."
Stevie walked up to the counter and chatted with the women behind it for a few moments. She made a purchase and several women came up to talk to her excitedly. In moments sheíd rejoined the other two with three tickets to the evenings séance.
"How did you do that?" Sarah asked. "The sign on the door says that the séance tonight is sold out."
"It helps if you speak their language." Stevie explained. "You can thank mother. We discussed chakras, I expressed concern over where the planets are now with respect to my rising sign and I bought something with a credit card so theyíd ask to see my driverís license. They sold me three tickets because they canít not have me at the séance and I couldnít leave my friends out of it."
Sarah grinned "The old driverís license trick, very nice."
Lizzy looked confused and Sarah took Stevieís clutch purse and fished out the driverís license and handed it to the archaeologist. The full name read: Stevie Nicks Montgomery.
Lizzy looked at Stevie who was smiling warmly at her. "Wow, your mom is a hard core fan."
They made their way downstairs from the bookstore to a large room. The walls were white, with small papier-mâché ghosts hanging from the acoustic ceiling tile. There was a circle of white plastic folding chairs and all of the séance participants took their seats. Stevie, Sarah and Lizzy exchanged dubious looks and then the Medium walked in. It was only Stevieís restraining hand on Sarahís knee that kept the stuntwoman from getting up and leaving.
To say the Medium was dressed oddly was an understatement. She had frizzy red hair and reminded Stevie of a much road worn Janice Joplin. She wore black tights, a grey sweatshirt and a long vinyl coat that had some sort of scaly pattern imprinted on it. She spoke with an accent which drifted from region to region sometimes sounding Russian other times sounding more Jersey. "I see many things," she said as she turned in her place in the center of the circle of chairs. "I can promise each of you a message, but I canít guarantee who you will speak with. The spirits come to you and tell you what you need to know not what you want to know." The eighteen people in the circle looked at each other uncertainly. "If the spirit is on your left it is your fatherís side, if the spirit is on your right, it is your motherís side."
She began to spin in the circle of chairs. Stevie was horrified by the inelegance of it all. Sheíd obviously been to enough Stevie Nicks shows to know expert twirling when she saw it and this most definitely wasnít it.
"I see a man on your right," the Medium said to a young girl with red hair and freckles. She looked to be in her mid to late twenties. Her fresh face and bright eyes looked out of place in the Goth outfit that she wore. "He honors you. I think this is a grandfather."
The girl smiled, her eyes immediately misting over.
The Medium turned around again this time stopping at a man sitting next to Sarah. "A woman on your left honors you and says she is very proud of you. She may be a mother figure."
Sarah rolled her eyes unimpressed and Stevie crossed her legs. Two women nearby roughly poked the men they were with for staring. Next the Medium turned to Lizzy and the archaeologist didnít look a bit surprised. "Your grandmotherís are with you of course," she said.
"They always are," Lizzy agreed, "But they usually stay at home."
Stevie got the distinct impression that the Medium and Lizzy knew each other and that they werenít the best of friends.
"They follow you everywhere, but they can only move things in your home." The Medium disagreed.
"Do they have a message?" Lizzy asked, sounding very much like she was trying to be polite.
"Iíll bet they honor you." Sarah muttered under her breath. Stevie desperately tried not to chuckle. The Medium glanced at Stevie, an annoyed expression on her face.
"Janice is telling you to beware of the blonde, that sheís dangerous. Melinda is telling Janice to let you live your own life and to stop trying to protect you." All humor now gone from Stevie and Sarahís faces, the Medium looked smug and satisfied.
Next she turned her attention to Sarah, "You have a spirit on your right, a warrior woman who is trying to tell Lizzyís grandmother Janice that itís time to let go of old hatred and help this other spirit find peace."
Watching the Mediumís eyes dart back and forth between Lizzy and Sarah, Stevie got the distinct impression that a spiritual argument was taking place with long dead ghosts fighting about old scores that no longer needed to be settled. Finally the Mediumís attention was focused solely on Stevie and for long moments she waited quietly. "Is there a message?" she finally asked.
"You are haunted by great evil and she says if you kill yourself youíll only have to come back and do this all again, so youíre better off to just stick it out," the Medium said, backing away from Stevie.
"That was pretty specific," Stevie observed, feeling annoyed that her emotional turmoil was just exposed in front of fifteen strangers.
"Callisto..." the medium whispered. "Her name is Callisto and she is saying a number of very unkind things to me right now. Iím afraid I am going to have to ask the three of you to leave. I canít hear anyone elseís messages with these three spirits arguing."
As the three headed up the stairs they could hear the Medium talking to the other participants. "A male spirit is on your right and he honors you. A kind man, a grandfather perhaps." She was saying to a bald man in his forties. "The spirit of child is on your left honoring you," she said to another.
"I canít believe Stevie Nicks Montgomery got kicked out of a séance," Sarah grumbled as they made their way back to the main drag. "What is your mother going to say?"
"Weíre not going to tell her," Stevie said. "Why was it that we were the only ones with messages that didnít have that ëhonoringí bullshit in it?"
"Blame me," Lizzy said. "I confess, my house is haunted and pretty much everyone in Salem knows it. That was Ruby McTavish, sheís been wanting to write a book about my grandmothers and do research in the house and I wonít let her. Iím not her favorite person, needless to say. I think the other stuff she said was wild guesses, but I know sheís done research on my grandmothers and their research."
"Thatís how she knew Callistoís name?" Stevie asked. "Callisto is connected with your grandmotherís research?"
Lizzy nodded. "Of course. Callisto was Xenaís arch nemesis. Xena sacked her village and Callisto was one of the few survivors, she spent her life trying to get even. I believe she was involved with the death of Xenaís son and eventually with Xena and Gabrielleís death."
Sarah looked from Lizzy to Stevie with a stunned expression on her face. "Callisto is the woman youíve been dreaming about," she said turning her attention to Lizzy. "And you know who she is?"
"Youíve been dreaming about Callisto?" Lizzy asked, the concern in her voice genuine.
Stevie shivered, she felt cold; impossibly cold. "I think I need to sit down," she whispered heading to a nearby bench. She sat and in moments she felt a warm coat around her shoulders. Lizzy had taken off her leather jacket and put it around her. It was warm from the archaeologistís body and Stevie found that comforting. "Iíve been worried that these dreams are past life stuff," she explained. "Now I guess they really are."
"If your past life is that of Callisto," Lizzy said gently, "then I understand why youíve been so rattled. That is not an easy history to be saddled with Iím sure."
"But you didnít do anything." Sarah protested.
Lizzy looked up at the brunette and saw frustration mixed with concern in those crystal blue eyes. "My grandmother, Melinda had dreams about being Xena, the Warrior Princess." She explained. "Grandmother Melinda was probably the sweetest, most gentle Southern woman you could ever meet, and yet she had these dreams about having a very violent childhood and growing up and being this frightful warlord. She also dreamt about the redemption that Xena found with Gabrielle and that gave her a deeper understanding of the connection she found with my other grandmother Janice. Grandma Janice on the other hand had dreams about being Gabrielle, the bard from Poteidaia. This annoyed Janice to no end and saw her as an insignificant footnote in the annals of history for some time. She finally got over it and realized the strength of character it took for Gabrielle to have the redeeming effect that she did have on Xenaís life." Lizzy sat next to Stevie on the bench and put a comforting arm around her waist. "Lets say for a moment that you are reliving Callistoís life. It could mean that you are finally ready to put that burden down and move on, find your own redemption. If thatís so, you do need to stick with it and just accept what you were and know it isnít who you are."
Stevie shook her head sadly. "She is an evil person, sheís done horrendous things."
Lizzy squeezed tighter. "Xena forgave herself and sheís the one who made Callisto. You can do the same."
"Can we consider, maybe, that this is all just random coincidences and that Stevie is just suffering from not drinking enough alcohol before bed time?"
Lizzy grinned up at the stuntwoman, happy for the joke. "If you want to know for sure, lets go to the Psychic Fair at the Hawthorne hotel. I know someone there who may be able to help."
As the trio walked down the sidewalk to the other end of town and the stately Hawthorn Hotel Stevie desperately tried to sort through a number of feelings. She was startled, certainly that the name and experiences she had seen belonged to a real woman, a woman that perhaps she was. She was also surprised, and yet not really surprised that the women on either side of her could have also had pasts that intersected with her own. Sarah walked on her right and was holding her clutch purse and bag of souvenirs theyíd bought. Without saying a word sheíd taken Stevieís right hand in hers. On her left Lizzy had done the same thing; she carried Stevieís black shawl and held her left hand. While the gestures were simple she felt comfort and warmth and at the moment that was more than enough.
As they walked she also considered that if all the reincarnation stories were true than she was indeed with Xena and Gabrielle two figures in history that belonged together. Like King Edward and Wallace Simpson or more contemporarily, John and Yoko. If this were the case, then why were each of them holding her hands and not off together enjoying yet another reunion? Xena and Gabrielle ended up together; Callisto did not end up with Xena and certainly not with Gabrielle. Stevie looked out the corner of her eye at the petite woman walking next to her. Lizzy Covingtonís short blonde hair shifted as she walked, blown a bit by the breeze and by her confident gait. As she moved Stevie could see the profile of vibrant green eyes with long delicate lashes. Her complexion was soft with only the barest hint of freckles from her work out in the sun. Clearly sheíd taken the precautions necessary to protect her skin. Her hand was warm and gripped her own possessively. Absently Stevie wondered if Lizzy was aware of that. Were it up to Stevie, Callisto would certainly end up with Gabrielle, not Xena.
The Hawthorne Hotel was a large stoic looking building and Lizzy led the way inside. There were a variety of parties going on and large posters in the entry way directed guests to the various ballrooms. The Witches Only Party (No Dorothyís Allowed) was in the grand ballroom and a number of women wearing black lace were headed in that direction.
"Your mother so has to come here," Sarah said as she watched them pass. "Sheís got the clothes for it."
A poster advertising the Psychic Fair directed guests to the basement and the three headed down the main staircase. It opened onto a large room with a variety of small tables. There were fifteen tables set up, each with itís own psychic. There was a main check in table with a list of the various psychics and their specialties. Most were tarot card readers; some did that in conjunction with palm reading, astrology or numerology. One women read crystals and divined past lives, another read tea leaves in addition to past life divination. One adjusted auras and another specialized in couples counseling. The sessions were fifteen minutes each for twenty-five dollars all payment made to the main table and then guests were escorted to the psychic of their choosing.
"This feels a lot better than the bookstore," Stevie commented.
Lizzy nodded. "Yeah, this is where a lot of the out of town psychics work. They tend to be pretty good, I think much better caliber than the ones who end up in the bookstores."
"Lizzy!" A woman called getting up from a table in the back and rushing over to the archaeologist. "How fantastic to see you!"
The woman rushing over had curly blonde hair and the body of an aerobics instructor, aside from the fact that she was clearly several months pregnant. She hugged Lizzy warmly and stepped back to get a good look at her. "I like the short hair," she said. "Youíre still the spitting image of your grandmother though."
Lizzy nodded. "Sheís still getting used to it, although she hid my hairbrush for several days after I first got it cut. Sheís stopped that, thankfully." Sarah looked at Stevie suspiciously. "These are my friends," Lizzy added. "Stevie and Sarah this is Epphie Starshine."
"I was raised on an Amazon commune," Epphie explained when Sarahís mouth dropped open.
"Donít feel bad," Stevie replied. "Iím Stevie Nicks Montgomery."
"Iím really sorry, but Iíve got a totally normal name," Sarah muttered.
Epphie chuckled and after warmly shaking hands with Sarah and Stevie, turned her attention back to Lizzy. "Why donít you guys come back to the table and weíll get started." She crossed her name off of the white board and told the ticket-taker that she was taking her lunch hour.
"How do you know why weíre here?" Sarah asked, following the others to the table.
Epphie shrugged. "Youíre at a psychic fair and Iím... well... psychic."
"Weíve got some past life questions." Lizzy explained as the three took their seats around the small table.
Epphie nodded taking out the classic Rider Waite tarot deck. "I really like the Housewives Tarot or Halloween Tarot," she explained shuffling the cards. "But this is what people expect. So how is your cousin?" she asked.
"Heís good," Lizzy replied. "Still single I might add."
Epphie chuckled. "I kind of have baggage now, hon," she said with a glance downward.
"I wasnít going to say anything," Lizzy said a little awkwardly. "I didnít know if you guys had broken up or not."
"Weíll talk about that later," Epphie said asking Sarah to cut the deck. She lowered her head for a moment and was quiet. She touched Sarahís hand briefly and dealt some cards.
"Classic Xena," she said after dealing the first couple of cards. "Your sense of humor is improving over the lifetimes I see," she added. "I see a lot of redemption here. Youíve had your redemption, some time ago and now you see yourself in the redemption business."
Sarah shook her head. "Actually Iím in the movie business." Stevie kicked her under the table.
"Youíve spent a number of lifetimes being the rescuer. The man who runs into the burning building to save the little girl, the woman who wonít leave her husband on the Titanic and dies with him. In the civil war you did a lot of work on the Underground Railroad. You have much to be proud of."
Sarah was quiet for a moment. "So this life is like a vacation?" she asked. "Iíve hardly done anything heroic."
Epphie glanced at Stevie. "Youíve tried, you just havenít succeeded. I wouldnít say this life is a vacation, every life is as important as the next. Youíre just working on a different set of challenges. Itís hard to want something and know it isnít for you, itís even harder to do that twice." She studied the cards for a few more moments. "I see plenty in your future that tells me your challenges are not over. There is plenty in this life to keep you busy, but if you really feel itís a vacation, just think of it as a rest for the challenges ahead. Enjoy it while you can."
She picked up the cards and passed them to Lizzy who was sitting in the middle. She cut them and Epphie repeated the procedure of being quiet a moment and briefly toughing the archaeologistís hand.
She shrugged as she dealt the cards. "This is a challenge because I already know you so well. A lot of this isnít going to be new to you." She stopped a moment and looked just past Lizzyís shoulders. "Hello grandmothers" she said. "So glad you could join us."
Sarah looked behind Lizzy. "Are you serious?"
Epphie chuckled. "Do you believe in ghosts?" she asked.
She dealt the cards and was quiet for a few moments. "Your lifetime as Gabrielle is well documented," she began. "As is Sarahís life as Xena. Iím afraid you have some facts wrong though," Epphie glanced behind Lizzy once more. "As much as I loved your grandmothers we both know neither was perfect. I think some of their story needs correcting."
As she spoke a small delicate hourglass that Epphie used to time her fifteen-minute sessions tipped over.
"Thatís enough ladies," Lizzy said sternly.
"For you this lifetime is about finding your own way as Gabrielleís heir," Epphie continued, unfazed. "You will make choices that are right for you and step away from a path that others might feel youíre more suited to. I see redemption in your cards Lizzy," Epphie added. "Youíre a redemptive force once again, but not as your grandmothers may expect."
"At some point will they finally move on?" Lizzy asked adding quickly "Not that I mind their presence, mind you. I just want them to be happy."
Epphie shrugged. "Melinda has been ready to move on now, she says she knows now youíll be alright. Janice thinks youíre in danger and refuses to budge until sheís certain youíre okay." She shook her head. "We know she was always the stubborn one." Epphie was quiet another moment; "They are both very proud of you."
"I canít believe Iím sitting next to a haunted person," Sarah muttered in awe. "This is really cool."
Once more Epphie picked up the cards and shuffled them. She had Stevie cut the deck and reached out to touch her hand. After the briefest contact she let go, as if sheíd been burned. Stevie looked at her, a sad resignation etched on her features.
"Callisto, yes I know," she said. "A very evil, murderous, psychotic killer."
"That isnít it," Epphie countered. "Some say that our soul chooses where it will go, we decide which life we will have. We might not know the details, but we have a sense of the challenges that will befall us. In you I see lifetime after lifetime of lives cut short. I see a victim of Jack The Ripper, a Native American woman who died protecting her baby from settlers. I see the victim in a concentration camp, a dead prostitute on the side of the road, a falsely convicted killer put down in the electric chair, a child hit and run by a drunk driver." She shook her head as if trying to manage the gristly images. "Lifetime after lifetime of pain and anguish. Plague, cancer, smallpox, tuberculosis, heroin I even see you dying as an ancient Egyptian getting eaten by a crocodile on the bank of the Nile river while you were doing your laundry."
"That last one is kind of cool... in a black comedy sort of way," Sarah muttered.
"What about suicide?" Stevie asked quietly.
Epphie nodded "You name it, youíve done it." She shrugged, "mostly guns, youíve hanged yourself once, fire plays a big part, youíve orchestrated a number of impressive explosions. Twice youíve drowned yourself and at least once youíve frozen to death." She paused. "That was an accident though, you were lost and it snowed."
Epphie looked at Stevie, her face very serious. "You have chosen the lives time and again that most souls donít want. You have endured the most horrific of deaths over and over and over. Young, old, man, woman, child you have died a number of ways as all of them. If there is any message coming through these cards to me is that it is time to stop. Youíve paid your debt. The hardest thing you will ever do is put down that rock and walk away from it, but this is the lifetime for you to do that."
Stevie shook her head. "I am fairly certain that there is no way to pay this debt."
Suddenly the small hourglass shook and shattered, small bits of glass flying out to the edge of the table and fine sand spilling onto the rich black table cloth.
Epphie put her hand on Stevieís once more "I think someone is trying to tell you that debt is paid. That someone wants very much for you to listen to her."
The three women walked back to Melís guesthouse in silence; each consumed with their own thoughts about the evening. Stevie walked in the middle again, each woman holding one of her hands. She was grateful for the contact and knew sheíd been shaking a little. Scared to death of what sheíd dream that night, she did look forward to the next day knowing that both Sarah and Lizzy would be with her.
Lizzy let them inside once again. The house was not as dark as before, they could hear Jeff and Phil in the sitting room watching TV with Mel. All three women were grateful that the people from the church group were nowhere to be seen.
In the Witches Grotto once more Sarah dropped their stuff on the dresser and poured Stevie a glass of water.
Stevie took off her leather jacket and handed it to Lizzy. "Wear it home," she insisted. "Itís cold out, donít argue."
Lizzy took the jacket and put it on without protest. She said her goodbyes to the other two and was surprised and grateful that in addition to a hug, Sarah softly kissed her cheek. Stevie went one better and gently kissed the archaeologists lips, ignoring the arched eyebrow raised by the stuntwoman.
Sarah knew better than to ask, and when Lizzy had gone both women silently dressed for bed and crawled in between the sheets.
"There was another girl, she was much like you,Some people say that each of us makes our own hell, or Tartarus if you will, on Earth. We are prisoners of our deeds and victims of our inaction. To this I would argue, spend a little time in Tartarus and you will indeed see that Hell On Earth is nothing like the real thing. I had been naive of course, thinking that a life being raped daily, being forced to serve as a slave to my attackers, killing my child and living with the memory of my mother and sister dying in an inferno couldnít possibly get any worse. That is the definition of Tartarus of course; it is whatís worse.
She lived in the past and had trouble with the future.
Well, she walked with her head held high and her hands down at the sides.
It was everything I had not wanted, there were reasons to be crazy."
Real Tears ñ Stevie Nicks
My focus naturally shifted temporarily from making Xena pay for her crimes to getting the hell out of the place. I used every ounce of my wit and cunning, first to enlist the help of Ares in securing my freedom by trapping Xena in my stead. He wanted a warrior and I let him believe that was what he was getting. I had no designs on being Aresí perfect warrior to unite his army and rule the world. Such desires could not be further from my mind. Xena had been very thorough in creating a focused adversary. Her destruction was all I craved and I would do anything, including seducing the god of war himself, to see that end.
The plan was simple, escape Tartarus and assume Xenaís body and her identity. Ares wanted me to hole up somewhere until Xena was trapped for good, but I knew better. Xena is not someone you run and hide from. You take your best shot and let the arrows fall where they may. Only by action did I stand even the slightest chance at revenge. Hiding would get me nowhere; it certainly had never helped me up to this point.
This was my first real opportunity to spend time with Xenaís lover, Gabrielle. To say she was insufferable was an understatement. Itís easy for people to think love is the strongest power on Earth until theyíve actually lost something. Take something away, like her precious Perdicus and suddenly the world is not so simple. It took next to no effort to ignite the fire in her eyes when I had her practice offensive strikes with her staff. One mention of Perdicus and she cracked one of my ribs; so much for the power of love and forgiveness. It would really have been something to see her destroy Xena in my body while I wore Xenaís but it was not to be. I was undone by my desire for totality when it came to Xenaís punishment. Had I settled for killing just Argo, or Gabrielle or her mother I would have been successful but that would not have been enough. Not nearly enough.
I may have thought Xena could have done all she could do to me at that point. I was dead, I lived in Tartarus, what else could she take? What else could she do? Bringing forth the memory of my mother for one. Conjuring the spirit of the woman she killed to tell me I was the one at fault here. Xena put aside her guilt at creating me in a matter of months, the pain and suffering Iíd endured for decades and now Iím the evil one for seeking justice. I suppose there was no reason to be surprised; Xena had a gift, with Gabrielleís help, of casting away responsibility.
I had my next opportunity for revenge with the help of a different god, Hera. She wanted a simple favor from me that I was only too happy to accommodate. I destroy Herculesí family and learn the location to the tree of life. That was my ticket from the underworld. Hercules was another of Xenaís sexual conquests who claimed to have had some sort of profound effect on ëol blue eyes to lead her to the path of goodness. In all honesty I think his profound effect was to lead her into the arms of a certain strawberry blonde and ditch men for good.
My time spent in Herculesí company was of little import. We battled; I got my apple and immortality but ended up trapped in the ruins of a temple with only my thoughts and rats for company. While not as excruciating as the real Tartarus, being trapped in oneís head with only oneís own dark thoughts is indeed hell. As luck would have it, Xena needed me. I donít know how long I was trapped, but in time she did come and in exchange for a favor was willing to let me out.
Iím not naive, not anymore at least, and I knew that Xena had no intentions of letting me go and walking away. Still, she needed me to battle Velaska and that Amazon had something I wanted; Ambrosia. The only thing better than being immortal was being a god, and after all Iíd been through, if that is what it would take to finally see some justice in this world, then that is exactly what I was going to do.
I like to think that I understand rage, revenge and all consuming hatred. There is an art to it, an elegance, a craft. Velaska didnít understand any of this. She was focused on Gabrielle and only sought to blow the blonde to bits. While I understand obsession as well as the next goddess, her unwillingness to listen to me to take two godís forsaken moments and hear how we could both see our ends met, was the ultimate undoing of both of us.
There were a couple of highlights of that time for me. Xena stood in the town square and admitted her crimes against Cirra.
"My name is Xena," she began in her usual stoic monotone. "Some call me the Warrior Princess, some call me murderer. Many years ago there was a village called Cirra. It was just like yours; small and prosperous, full of life. Until the day that my army came; until the day I came and destroyed it. Under my orders my men sacked the village, burned the houses and killed every living thing. Everything was destroyed, including the soul of one young, innocent girl who will never be able to reclaim her childhood and will never know what the Fates had planned for her if not for me."
It was about what I expected, still as she spoke I saw it all again; the fire, my mother, my sister. The smell of burning hair and flesh and the screaming, nothing but screaming all around me, haunting me just as vividly all these years later. When she finished she made it clear to me that the whole confession was a means to an end, a way to secure my help, nothing more. It didnít matter; maybe people would remember, maybe they wouldnít but the words were out there and words cannot be taken away.
Not long thereafter I had the opportunity to sit across a campfire from Gabrielle and see that redemptive gaze for myself.
"Can I ask you something?" Gabrielle asked looking at me quite seriously.
I was cleaning my sword and not terribly interested in anything she had to say, but you never knew. "Alright," I said focused on my sword. "We both know how much I love chit chat."
"When we were at the village and Xena was talking about Cirra, did you feel anything?"
"My goodness, are you trying to figure me out?" I replied, "Iím flattered."
"Answer me," she pressed. "Or are you afraid?"
That struck a nerve. Not because of any fear I may have had, which I didnít. Clearly everything in my life, every gods-forsaken facet was more challenging than this conversation with Xenaís child-lover. "Lets play a game, shall we?" I asked, having already decided what kind of payment Iíd extract for her taunt. "Iíll answer your question if you answer mine?"
"Alright," she replied looking intently at me.
"What did I feel when Xena confessed her crimes," I repeated the question to make sure Iíd gotten it right. The bard nodded. "Well the problem is Gabrielle, I never feel anything. I mean, bits and pieces here and there but nothing solid. Think back to when you were a little girl and all you knew was your mother and your sister and all your faith revolved around them." She looked at me intently, really putting herself there. "Now kill them." The look of pain of her face was evident. She had a sister who she loved, she had a family, and she could imagine that kind of pain. Little did she know that was just the beginning of my personal hell. "My turn," She looked up ready for my question. "When I sliced open your husband how long did it take him to die?"
I knew Iíd pierced his stomach, liver and possibly a kidney and while very fatal, it often does take a few minutes to bleed to death. She was horrified, no doubt seeing once again his warm sticky blood on her hands as the color drained from his face. The horror on her face was absolute and I suspected that never again would I be subjected to prying questions from this particular bard. Iíd endured enough blood too, often my own as I had wished for nothing more than life to seep from me and have stillness and quiet. Death can be a gift if you let it, but Gabrielle didnít seem to understand that. At least not then.
Xena wasnít stupid, but what she was doing with this woman was clearly beyond my realm of understanding. Iíd seen enough of their trysts to assume endurance was part of it. Xenaís interest in Gabrielle made more sense to me than Gabrielleís interest in Xena. On the one hand, I was sure that the bard thought she knew what sort of creature her lover created. Yet on the other, she really didnít seem to understand what that meant. I was forged, not in the heat of battle as Xena liked to say she was. No, I was forged over a very long span of time in a series of battles; battles for my sanity, my soul, and my life as each new day ripped more dignity and more hope from me. Xena started crafting me when I was seven years old and I was still honing my edge. But once again Iíd been undone and endured nearly a decade trapped once again.
Xena and Gabrielle kept busy while I was trapped in lava with Velaska; how fitting for Xena to trap me in a fiery tomb; it was almost poetic. The two traveled to Britannia and Gabrielle had a baby. Now we had something in common. Well, not exactly perhaps, my child had been entirely human- hers was half demon spawn half bard; hardly human at all. Never the less, her brat freed me from the lava so I owed her one. It was fine, my aim and Hopeís desires were not in conflict. I wanted Xena, she wanted destruction to rain down on the whole world; same thing, really.
I did as Hope asked and in exchange I was rewarded by a small taste of what I had been hoping for. Hope killed Solan, Xenaís son, while I was busy distracting the warrior and her bard. I heard the warriorís cry of anguish from where I was at the cave. For a moment, the briefest moment my heart sang. Here was the sound of the agony and despair Iíd lived with for years. Here was the sound of anguish, loss and nothing at all left but the pain. Pain and emptiness. In a heartbeat though, it faded.
I did not get the opportunity to begin my life anew. I did not feel a sense of closure, of justice. I heard another mother screaming over her dead child. Nothing changed within me at all. Or rather something did change, everything Iíd fought for, everything Iíd trained for, the very reasons Iíd forgone my sanity and stayed alive seemed pointless. Xena paid, minimally to be sure, but it did nothing for me. I was still me; and now I was angry. The children seemed like the most logical target for my rage. There are worse things than death, Iíd lived most of them. God or not I still feel pain. Arrows still hurt, being crushed under tons of rock still hurts. Every interaction Iíve had with the Warrior Princess left me more wounded and aching. Still, I had to believe that my day of reckoning would come. This could not have all been pointless. I decided to see it through to the end. What other choice did I have?
"This has got to stop," Stevie said to the emptiness of a dimly lit cave. There was movement under a pile of rubble and Callisto emerged, brushing dust from her armor.
"So end it," she said.
"How?" Stevie asked, shocked that her dream was talking to her. She stared at the warrior; they saw nearly eye-to-eye, being the same height, the same being. Stevie was dressed in her tight black dress from the night before and high heels so she stood a little taller.
Callisto shrugged, walking in a slow circle around her twin. "Wish I knew."
"I shouldnít have to feel guilty for the things you have done." Stevie insisted, turning to face the warrior.
"So donít." Callisto sat down on a large rock and looked Stevie up and down. "I shouldnít have had to do them. Do you have any idea how much it hurts to have bad things happen to you and have it not matter?" she demanded. "How many times am I supposed to get hurt and just deal with it? Just get over it, just move past it. Guess what, sometimes me just dealing with it is messy."
Stevie sighed, she didnít entirely disagree with the psychotic warrior and that sort of scared her. "The line is drawn when your dealing with it kills other people. Do what ever you want to yourself, but you donít have the right to turn that rage to anyone else."
Stevie looked down at the warrior and felt an odd mix of feelings. She felt sorry for her, angry for her, angry at her and sorry for herself. "Things would be better had you just died in that fire."
Callisto shrugged. "Wish I had." she cocked her head. "Xena wouldnít have died on the cross then, Iím sure she and the brat would have escaped. You wouldnít even exist."
Walking around the dimly lit cave, Stevie considered the warriorís words. "I donít think Iíd mind that." Stevie replied.
"Your new friends wouldnít exist either, would you mind that?" Callisto asked watching Stevie intently.
"How do you figure?" Stevie replied, surprised at the statement and equally surprised she was having this conversation with her nightmare.
"Redeemers canít function without someone to redeem. Without Xenaís darkness you would not have Gabrielleís light. Without my darkness the bond between them would not have been as strong. Perdicus would not have died, well he probably would have gotten himself killed at some point but it wouldnít have been by my sword, in cold blood. Gabrielle wouldnít have had to confront her darkness." The warrior shrugged. "They wouldnít have been crucified, everything would be different." Callisto took out her dagger and began to polish it with a soft cloth. "How are modern day Xena and Gabrielle?" she asked absently.
"You donít know?" Stevie wondered aloud.
Callisto shook her head. "I only exist here, in this moment. I exist in all of my moments, but canít see very far past them. In another place I exist as a ten year old, still getting raped daily. In another place I relive the moment of killing my baby, in another Iím repeatedly shot through with arrows. Part of the fun of Tartarus is the ability to relive moments, the worst moments, repeatedly."
"When does it stop?" Stevie asked, horrified, yet not horrified given what sheíd already seen the woman endure.
"When you make it stop." Callisto replied, without malice.
"But I donít know how!" She demanded, getting angry. "I donít want to see you like this, in spite of what youíve done. Give me some specifics as to how to really help you and Iíll do it."
Callisto shrugged. "Doesnít work that way. You have to find your own way out for you and for me." Callisto put her dagger back in its sheath. "Seriously, where have Xena and Gabrielleís souls moved to? I could use the distraction."
Stevie looked at the warrior suspiciously. Sheíd seen enough of Callistoís behavior to immediately suspect some sort of trap. The warrior read her expression as easily as if she were reading her own, which she was, and frowned.
"This isnít a trap. I canít exist outside of here. Iím in your dream. You are me now. If you want to kill Xena and Gabrielle thatís your business; for me itís old hat, dear."
Stevie took a deep breath. "Xena is Sarah now, sheís a stuntwoman. She does pretend fighting."
Callisto shrugged. "Sheís probably good at it. And the brat?"
"Gabrielle is an archaeologist named Elizabeth. According to her, sheís haunted by the spirits of another Xena and Gabrielle incarnation"
"Interesting," Callisto murmured. "If youíre about to redeem yourself then that could either help you or hurt you." Callistoís eyes roamed over Stevie. "And what are you? What have I become all these lifetimes later?"
Stevie shrugged. "Just a profoundly depressed woman. At the moment I work in a museum, Iím an Egyptologist. I restore antiquities. I have a very eccentric mother and two beautiful dogs."
Callisto rolled her eyes "All these lifetimes later and Iím still stuck in the past. Antiquities. That is a very fancy way of saying someone elseís junk."
"Maybe so," Stevie allowed. "But all lifetimes have value, even yours. They say that cultures who donít remember their history are condemned to repeat it." Stevie looked downcast. "I suspect they repeat it anyway."
"Or just donít stop paying for it." The warrior observed.
"How the hell am I supposed to redeem myself?" Stevie demanded, frustrated. "I want you out of here, I want me out of here. What is the answer to this life?"
"It isnít supposed to be easy," Callisto explained. "I donít have the answer youíre looking for. Neither have any of the others. This is your forty-second life after me. None of us have figured it out yet, but maybe you will this time." She shrugged and looked at Stevie sadly. "If you donít youíll probably go mad and end up killing yourself like so many of the others."
/|\^..^/|\Stevieís eyes flew open but she kept her body still. Sarah slept soundly on her side facing the window. She didnít want to wake the slumbering woman so she eased herself out of the bed. She found a piece of paper in her purse and jotted down a quick note to Sarah that sheíd gone for an early run and not to worry. She looked at her watch; it was 5:30, which certainly qualified as early.
She dressed in sweats and made her way downstairs carrying her shoes. She paused in Melís kitchen to put them on and take a look at the map of Salem printed in the Haunted Happenings newsletter. Mel had marked his guesthouse with a red "X" and it was easy to see several different loops she could take around town. She could easily run from one end of town to the other and back in an hour but decided she wanted to take the route back to the Witch Trials Memorial. Sheíd felt a sense of comfort in that small park and that was exactly what she wanted to feel again.
She started running slowly at first letting her body adjust to the cold. She wasnít sure if it was just the hour of the day or if in fact the weather had taken a sizable drop in temperature. She could see her breath billowing out in front of her as she jogged down the street. She took the long way through town, letting her body heat up and pulse increase. She slowed down as she neared the memorial. It was quiet in only the way a memorial built adjacent to a cemetery could be. Stevie felt nearly alone. For company she had her thoughts and the memories of night after night of disturbing dreams. All of the bodies, all of the death; she felt surrounded by darkness, and now it was up to her to find a way into the light. She thought of George Harrisonís song Beware of Darkness.
"Watch out now, take care.The words so perfectly fit her mood that she didnít think even her mother would mind that they werenít written by her namesake. A small breeze came up pushing fallen orange leaves against the ground that almost sounded like a wave. She looked around the memorial. Each bench had been inscribed with the name, death date and method of each presumed ëwitchí. On the sidewalk in front of the park were stone slabs with the final words uttered by the victims before they were murdered. The stones overlapped, cutting off the last words as their executioners had cut off the victimís actual last words. It was hard to decide which was worse; being killer or victim, the line between the two had grown impossibly muddy for her.
Beware of the thoughts that linger.
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you in the dead of night.
Beware of sadness
it can hit you
it can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for."
She strolled around the benches noting the names and dates. On several there were flowers and other gifts. One had a card propped up on it, the envelope reading "To Great-Great Grandma". Another had a small pumpkin and several carnations. She turned and looked out to the cemetery next to the memorial, noting a number of small pumpkins and flowers beside many of the graves. In this place Halloween was a time for honoring lives past and spirits who may still roam the earth.
Stevie felt her eyes well with tears. She couldnít remember when she didnít hurt and she found the daily grind of carrying around that kind of pain wearing. She felt too much of things she didnít ask for. She didnít expect life to be fair, but this felt profoundly unfair all the same. Still, in this place it felt petty indeed to worry about her sense of guilt over a debt that could never be repaid. She had her life, one she didnít really want and was surrounded by monuments to men and women who had tragically lost theirs. Lives that they had desperately wanted to keep.
The sound of approaching footfalls brought Stevie out of her reverie. A blonde woman was walking down the street with straight shoulder length hair and bangs. She slowed as she approached Stevie, concern etched in her features.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," Stevie said with a nod. "Just feeling a little... haunted. Hard to be in a place like this and not feel surrounded by spirits." Unbidden images of the multitude of people killed at Callistoís hands or on her orders came to mind. "I guess Iíve got a lot of people haunting me," she added absently.
The petite woman briefly looked past Stevie and reached into her purse and withdrew a handkerchief, handing it over. "I only see one," she said. Stevie looked at her and the woman shrugged. "Iím here visiting some friends who are in town working the Psychic Fair," she explained. "Some free advice from a medium? Youíre not as haunted as you think you are. A blonde warrior is telling you to go jogging to Pickering Warf. You wonít get any answers there but youíll feel a lot better."
"A psychotic warrior is telling me to go jogging?" Stevie asked dubiously.
The other woman cracked a smile. "Obviously Iím not making this up or I would have said something that sounded a lot more convincing." She touched Stevieís arm warmly and added, "Stick with it, follow your gut and youíll be okay," then she closed her purse and continued up the street.
Stevie watched her go and blotted her eyes with the handkerchief. Glancing down she saw the initials "AD" embroidered on the linen. She stared back up the sidewalk but the woman had already turned a corner. Still wondering, Stevie set off at a jog, this time heading to Pickering Warf.
It only took a few minutes to cross Essex Street and head past the House of the Seven Gables before hitting the ocean and heading to Pickering Warf. Minutes more and Stevie stood on the pier overlooking the ocean, a small lighthouse off in the distance, watching seagulls enjoying their morning fish.
"Stevie?" A familiar voice said quietly.
Stevie spun around, still catching her breath and saw Lizzy Covington sitting on a bench, her sketchbook open with some colored pencils scattered in her afghan covered lap.
"Hey," Stevie replied walking over and joining the archaeologist on the bench.
"Bad dream?" Lizzy asked. The Egyptologist nodded. "I had some strange dreams myself. I finally got up and came out here to sketch. Helps me clear my mind sometimes. Coffee?"
She handed the cup from her thermos to Stevie who took a grateful sip. "An odd woman came up to me while I was at the witch memorial and told me that Callisto was saying I needed to jog over here, that I wouldnít get answers but Iíd feel better."
Lizzy nodded, a small smile creasing her face. "This time of year the town is crawling with psychics. Do you feel any better?"
Stevie smiled "Yeah, actually I do."
"Well, thatís what counts then, doesnít it?" Lizzy replied with a grin. She picked up one of her pencils and began to sketch Stevie as she spoke. "The weather is changing," she said conversationally. "Some people are betting we may get an early snow. This is pretty bizarre following the warm weather yesterday." She drew with loose fluid strokes, not so much drawing lines and shapes as sketching in areas of shadows, midtones and leaving the paper for highlights. As she worked a face slowly began to emerge. It was this emerging visage that had the archaeologist captivated. There was a strength and sadness to the face; endlessly strong and weary at the same time. Intelligence shown through the features as well as a sense of humor forged from being at the butt end of lifeís jokes once too often. There was something about Stevie that had Lizzy enthralled and it frustrated the archaeologist a little that she couldnít figure out exactly what that something was. She was beautiful to be sure, but so was her friend, Sarah. She didnít feel drawn to Sarah like a comet pulled from orbit by the sun, but she very much felt caught in Stevieís gravitational pull. "You know what they say," Lizzy continued, afraid that the silence would reveal too much of what she was feeling on her own features, "if you donít like the weather in New England, wait five minutes."
Stevie chuckled. "In California they say if you donít like the weatherówait, everyone loves our weather!"
Lizzy laughed at the joke, finished her sketch and turning the book over, showed the drawing to Stevie. "Very nice," the Egyptologist murmured. She took the book and the pencil from Lizzy, her fingers quite cold as they brushed against the archaeologists. She opened the sketchbook to a new page and looking intently at Lizzy, began to draw.
"You draw too?" Lizzy asked, impressed.
"Not that much," Stevie replied. "Unless itís for work. But I did go to art school and that was part of it." She sketched for maybe a minute or two and handed the book back to Lizzy. The archaeologist looked down and was surprised by what she saw.
The drawing was certainly looser in technique and tone than hers had been. The planes of her face were merely indicated, rather than fully rendered. Only a few whips of hair were loosely sketched in indicating the short blonde hair that framed her face. Most of the emphasis was on her eyes and mouth with a contoured-line giving hint of her nose that connected the two. The thing that surprised her most was how much emotion was conveyed in those loosely drawn lines. There was desire on Lizzyís face, she could see it reflected back in the drawing and knew that Stevie could see it too. Still that awareness didnít seem to bother the other woman in the least, and to Lizzy that was a very positive sign.
"You want some breakfast?" Lizzy asked.
"Sure," Stevie replied. "But I should probably go get Sarah, sheíll be waking up soon."
"Iíll head over to Melís with you," Lizzy said. "We can make breakfast for everyone and give my cousin a break. Iím annoyed as hell he picked now to break his leg, but he does have trouble getting around."
"That sounds great." Stevie replied with a smile. As Lizzy packed up her stuff, Stevie picked up the afghan and folded it neatly. Lizzy put her sketchbook and pencils and thermos into her backpack. As they walked down the street to the guesthouse they chatted comfortably. As she had the previous night, Lizzy took hold of Stevieís hand feeling the chill from the other womanís fingers dissipate in her warm palm. The Egyptologist glanced over and smiled, a faint blush rising at her cheeks that had the archaeologist grinning all the way to Melís.
"What smells so good?" Sarah asked as she descended the stairs.
"Bacon," Stevie replied passing the woman a fresh cup of coffee, already doctored to her liking. "Lizzy is making waffles with bacon and eggs."
"Awesome," the stuntwoman replied enjoying a sip of coffee. "How was your run?"
"Good," Stevie answered taking note that Sarah had already showered and dressed in jeans and a black sweater for their day. "Iím going to go get cleaned up so we can leave after breakfast."
Sarah watched her head up the stairs and was about to turn her attention to Lizzy when Mel hobbled into the kitchen.
"I thought I smelled something magnificent," He said, hugging his cousin warmly and kissing the top of her head.
"Stevie ran into me at the pier when she was out jogging and I decided to come over so you could owe me one." Lizzy replied, pouring some of the waffle batter into the hot waffle iron.
"Jogging in this weather?" Mel asked. "Itís getting cold out there; it may snow today."
"Is that going to make our trip to Boston suck?" Sarah asked, feeling new pangs of hunger as Lizzy cracked an egg into a frying pan.
The archaeologist shook her head. "Whatís a little snow?" she said. "How do you want your eggs?"
"Do I smell bacon and fresh coffee?" A new voice asked heading into the kitchen. Jeff and Phil were dressed in jeans and matching Polo shirts. Sarah laughed inwardly at the small chickens embroidered over the left breast. ëPolloí she thought to herself, doubting that the Christians would get the joke.
Before long the two couples from the church group descended the stairs and commented on the delicious smells of breakfast as well.
By the time Stevie came back down the stairs she was surprised by the scene that had developed. Susan Evans was chatting with Sarah and her husband Dave was talking to Jeff and Phil. The Hendersons didnít seem thrilled about the arrangement but were talking to Mel about sights they shouldnít miss. They watched Stevie approach and looked over at Sarah nervously. Stevie smiled inwardly at the unusual pleasure she felt at walking into a room and making this pair immediately uncomfortable. There was something blissful about that kind of power.
Lizzy had managed to fix breakfast for herself when sheíd fed everyone else and when Stevie approached, immediately put down her knife and fork and poured more batter into the waffle iron. Stevie smiled her thanks and pulled up a stool next to Sarah. At this action, the color drained a little from Mary Hendersonís face.
"Susan was just asking about what museums to check out," Sarah explained after pouring Stevie a glass of orange juice. "I figured youíd have some good suggestions."
Stevie looked over at Lizzy. "Wouldnít you say the Peabody-Essex Museum would be a good place to start?" she asked. "Weíre planning to check it out ourselves at some point."
Lizzy nodded emphatically. "Absolutely. Thatís where I do my research. Itís a fantastic museum. Iíd absolutely check out the Yin Yu Tang house. It was taken apart in China brought over here and reassembled brick by brick. Really interesting tour."
"If you want to take a trip to Boston, you canít miss the Museum of Fine Art," Stevie added.
Sarahís head snapped up. "Weíre going to a museum today?" she asked suspiciously.
"It wouldnít kill you," Stevie replied sweetly with a smile. "Besides you know I promised Sylvia the curator Iíd stop by and say ëhií and I need to chat with some of their restorations people. Oh, and Iíve got to stop at Harvard too, I promised the dean."
The stuntwoman shook her head. "Vacation, does that word mean anything to you?"
Stevie and Phil cleaned up the dishes from breakfast while Mel jotted down names and addresses of the various museums as well as pointing them out on the various tourist maps. Susan and Dave seemed to be growing quite comfortable, if not fond of Phil and Jeff and Mel seemed to be endearing himself to the other church going pair.
Stevie stole a casual glance at the archaeologistís cousin. She had to admit, were she straight, he would have been an ideal man. Handsome, smart, well built, very kind and patient he had the air of a man who didnít sweat the small stuff and realized that most everything was indeed small stuff. He was very playful with his cousin, frequently teasing her when he wasnít giving her a hug or kissing the top of her head. Stevie could only wonder at the closeness of a family that could forge this kind of connection.
"You going to head back here for dinner?" Mel asked Lizzy as Stevie and Sarah packed up their things for the day.
The blonde archaeologist shook her head. She looked at her cousin a little shyly. "No, Iím having Sarah and Stevie over for dinner at my place."
Melís brow furrowed in genuine concern. "Ah... Lizzy, youíre welcome to cook dinner here. You know what happens at your place."
"Something happens at your place?" Sarah asked curiously as she put on her warm coat. "What happens at your place?"
"Do they know?" Mel asked, quietly.
"That my house is haunted?" Lizzy replied, "Yes, Iíve mentioned it."
Mel looked over at Stevie and Sarah, who had just shouldered her small daypack. "But you donít believe her, do you?" He asked, seriously.
The other guests got very quiet, listening intently to the exchange; the Hendersons seemed especially interested.
"Iíve never been in a ëhauntedí house before," Stevie explained honestly. "I donít know exactly what that means. I mean, Iíd suspect every house thatís haunted would manifest somewhat differently, depending on the personalities of the spirits, right?" she shrugged. "Besides, youíve said that itís your grandmotherís haunting you. To be honest, meeting Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas would be nothing short of an honor for me."
Lizzy smiled, happy that her new friends didnít seem afraid.
"How exactly do they haunt the house?" Sarah asked not sounding quite as confident as Lizzy.
"They knock stuff over, make it cold; they can be a nuisance." Lizzy explained. "Well at least Iím pretty sure itís grandma Janice being a nuisance. She was the firecracker when she was alive, I donít see why sheíd change dead."
"Theyíre fine with family, but donít really like Lizzy entertaining female company," Mel added.
"You have grandmother-ghost chaperones?" Sarah asked with the utmost sympathy. "Man, if my grandmotherís spirit lived at my house..."
"No need to elaborate, Sarah." Stevie interjected quickly with a wary glance at the Hendersons.
"There isnít any such thing as ghosts," Mary Henderson said defiantly. "There is heaven, hell and purgatory."
"Canít purgatory mean being stuck on earth as a spirit?" Stevie asked.
"Oh, I never thought of that," Mary said, looking a little frightened.
"I donít think my grandmothers are hanging around because they have to," Lizzy interjected. "I think itís because they want to."
"I always thought purgatory was the Van Nuys Department of Motor Vehicles," Sarah deadpanned and had Lizzy chuckling in spite of herself.
The trio decided to leave before a full-blown debate on religious doctrine erupted once more. Mel was not happy to see them go as Jeff and Phil defended a more liberal biblical interpretation than Bob and Mary ascribed to. The last thing the three heard as they left the kitchen was Mary demanding to know where Mel stood on the issue.
"Heís going to regret opening a guest house," Lizzy said with a chuckle as the three walked down the sidewalk.
"I donít think he bargained for this part," Stevie observed. "Everyone seems very fond of him though."
"Iíd toss the lot of ëem on the sidewalk," Sarah commented.
"Yeah, but thatís confirming everything they hate about us, isnít it?" Stevie replied. "I actually think itís a wonderful idea to have people like them sharing a house with people like us."
"So they can see that gay people are as nutty as anyone else?" Lizzy asked teasingly.
"With better fashion sense, yes." Sarah confirmed.
The three walked for maybe twenty minutes and found themselves outside of a tiny two-story house. To Stevieís eyes it almost looked like a full sized dollís house painted bright yellow with white trim and a purple door.
"Home sweet home," Lizzy said as she opened the door.
"You donít lock your door?" Sarah asked amazed.
"To a haunted house?" Lizzy asked in return. "No, a couple of ghosts are a better deterrent than dogs in this town. Not that Iíve got anything anyone would want to take. You might as well come in and weíll see what happens."
Sarah looked at Stevie apprehensively but followed Lizzy inside. Stevie followed Sarah at once getting the sense she was unwelcome. With determination she pushed that thought aside. "Itís beautiful," Stevie said, focusing not on the unwelcome feeling but the charming décor and very compact design. "Is this seventeenth century?"
"All eight hundred square feet of it." Lizzy replied. "Itís got a kitchen and living room downstairs, with a bedroom, bathroom and office upstairs."
"Kind of cold though," Stevie said after an involuntary shiver. She looked to Sarah for confirmation.
"I donít feel cold," Sarah replied, looking at her friend surprised. Sheíd felt nothing but a warm sense of welcome since stepping over the threshold.
Lizzy sighed a bit sadly. "It isnít the cold." She led the way into the kitchen. Sarah followed and before Stevie could enter a broom propped next to the refrigerator fell down across the doorway to the kitchen. Stevie frowned.
"Itís the ghosts?" Sarah asked, nervous.
Lizzy nodded. "Clearly they like you," she assured the stuntwoman. "You look just like my grandmother Melinda." Lizzy took a framed picture off of the wall and handed it to Sarah. "See."
"Wow." Sarah breathed. The sepia-toned picture showed two women dressed in tuxedos. The one with dark hair was sitting in a wing-backed leather chair holding a drink. The one with lighter hair sat on an arm of the chair with one arm draped casually around her companion and in the other hand held a cigar. Sitting on the ground next to them was a majestic-looking golden retriever.
"Actually," Stevie said as she knelt to pick up the broom. "A falling broom is a sign that company is coming." Carefully she put the broom back and walked into the kitchen, looking around Sarahís shoulder at the picture. "What a gorgeous dog!" she said.
Lizzy grinned from ear to ear looking around her kitchen. "You like dogs?" she asked, as if hoping to be overheard.
"Who doesnít like dogs?" Stevie replied. "Iíve got two at home. Yoko and Dakota, the most adorable sweeties youíre ever going to meet."
"Once you get past the fact that theyíre the size of horses," Sarah muttered.
"If you guys donít mind waiting a minute, Iíd like to change my clothes and grab a couple of things for today." Lizzy said, still smiling at this new information. She put her backpack and afghan on the small kitchen table and put the thermos in the tiny sink then headed back to the entry where a small spiral staircase led to the upstairs rooms of the house.
"Do you think this place is haunted?" Sarah asked, looking suspiciously at the boom that had fallen down. "I mean I get a really positive vibe here. It doesnít feel scary at all."
"Definitely haunted," Stevie replied. "I get a very strong sense that Iím not welcome here which is really starting to piss me off." With determination Stevie walked from the kitchen across the entry and into the small living room on the other side of the house. Unlike most houses of seventeenth century New England that were striving for authenticity, this one was not decorated with furnishings and appointments from China. Rather, the living room spoke very clearly of Ancient Greece. There was a bookshelf that dominated one entire wall, most of the works were archaeological reference material as well as the volumes penned by the archaeologistís grandmothers. The coffee table was the one anomaly, looking like something from the American South. Aside from a small flat-screen TV, a DVD player and small stereo, everything else looked like it could have come from the set of a period movie.
Both Sarah and Stevie looked around the room, Sarah focusing on several pictures next to the leather couch. "Look at this," she said excitedly holding up a picture for Stevie to see.
It was a color photograph of Lizzy, taken several years previously with long strawberry blonde hair sitting in between two very old women. Both had grey hair, but there was no mistaking these women for the two that had been seated with the dog in the kitchen photo.
"Wow," Stevie breathed. "They do look like a couple of firecrackers."
"They look like they had a favorite grand-daughter," Sarah commented. "Thatís probably why they canít let go."
"Keeping her alone isnít doing her any favors and Iíd think these two women would understand that better than anyone." Stevie replied, looking sternly around the room. Stevie felt a chill pass through her from the doorway in the direction of the bookshelf.
"Clearly theyíre waiting for the right woman to show up," Sarah said, smugly, looking pleased with herself.
"It isnít you," Stevie said dismissively. "Besides that choice is Lizzyís anyway."
"You donít know that she doesnít like me," Sarah said stubbornly. "I look like her grandmother."
"Would you want to date someone who reminded you of your grandmother?" Stevie asked pointedly, satisfied by the crestfallen look on Sarahís face.
"Just so you guys know," Lizzy called as she headed down the tiny staircase, "I can hear everything from upstairs; small house, remember?"
Sarah turned bright red, which made Stevie smirk with satisfaction. "Serves you right," she muttered as Sarah headed for the front door.
"What the hell is that?!" Sarah exclaimed as the trio stepped outside onto the stone path leading up to Lizzyís house. The stuntwoman and Egyptologist were looking up at the sky, child-like grins on their faces.
"Donít tell me youíve never seen snow before," Lizzy said, stunned.
"Not actually falling out of the sky," Stevie explained. "Weíve been in snow, sure. Weíre only a couple of hours from the mountains. Snow is something you drive to, ski, then go home; but falling like this... itís gorgeous."
"This is amazing," Sarah agreed. "It looks just like movie snow!"
A young couple approached, walking their dog on the sidewalk in front of Lizzyís house and gave the pair a curious stare. "Theyíve never seen it snow." Lizzy explained with a friendly grin. The couple hurried on more quickly. "Letís get moving to the train station," Lizzy added to her friends. Weíll cover more of Boston if we use the trains. Walking in snow is okay, isnít it?" She asked shutting her front door.
"Are you kidding," Sarah said enthusiastically. "This is amazing."
To her credit, Sarahís enthusiasm did not wane during the day. It snowed on and off which had most locals annoyed by the unseasonable chill following such gorgeous weather. Upon arriving in Boston the three took a trolley tour around the city. Lizzy suggested it so the other two could get an idea of the things theyíd like to take a closer look at. They stopped at the Old North Church, Sarah taking her time to snap a number of pictures.
They ate lunch at Quincy Market, each woman getting something from a different food vendor and sharing the spoils with the other two. More than once Stevie and Sarah caught Lizzy chuckling to herself and finally wanted in on the joke.
"Out with it," Stevie demanded bluntly.
"What do you mean?" Lizzy asked, her cheeks flushing a little pink.
"Weíre amusing you, why?" Sarah pressed, taking a spoonful of Lizzyís ice cream.
"You guys just seem so... worldly to me. And here it is, your first time in snowfall." She finally said with a shrug. "Itís... cute."
Sarah and Stevie looked at each other. "Weíre cute," Sarah finally said with a tone that made it clear ëcuteí wasnít what she was striving for.
"Cute isnít bad," Lizzy explained, puzzled by the reaction.
Stevie chuckled. "It is for Sarah," she said, noting that the stuntwoman gave her a warning glare. "She likes to go for adjectives like sexy, hot, charming, dangerous... did I mention sexy and hot?"
"Shut up Stevie," Sarah warned.
Lizzy smiled warmly and Sarah softened her demeanor a little. "Sarah, if you donít want to be cute, then donít run around trying to catch snowflakes on your tongue. Simple as that."
"She is cute, isnít she," Stevie added with a smirk. "Why donít we take a cab over to the Museum of Fine Art?" She pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through her phone book. "Iíll call Sylvia, if we can get right in; you guys could take a quick tour while I catch up with her."
Stevie talked quietly on her cell phone as the three headed for the street. It didnít take long to flag down a cab and drive to the museum. They were greeted out front by an elderly Rubanesque woman with a warm smile.
"Stevie Montgomery, it has been too long," she said, giving Stevie a quick hug. Sylvia looked a little suspiciously at Sarah but smiled anyway. "Hello Sarah."
Sarah nodded in greeting while Stevie introduced Lizzy. Sylvia shook Lizzyís hand warmly and led the three women past the box office through the main entrance. "Iíve got some papyrus scrolls Iíd love you to see; we might need a consultant for their restoration." she said turning her attention to Stevie once more. Then as an afterthought added to Sarah, "We have an exhibition of rock concert posters from the Summer of Love you may be interested in."
"Thanks," Sarah said flatly, putting her arm through Lizzyís. "Maybe weíll check those out when weíre done with the Japanese Ceramics." At that, the elderly womanís eyebrows raised appreciatively.
Stevie leaned in and quickly kissed Sarahís cheek. "Iím sorry about Sylvia," she whispered. "I wonít be long, Iíll call you when Iím finished, weíll meet back here."
Sarah watched her go and absently put her cell phone on vibrate then stuck it back in the front pocket of her jeans.
"What was that about?" Lizzy asked as she walked arm in arm with Sarah towards the Japanese Gallery.
"A lot of Stevieís work friends didnít think much of me to begin with, and think even less now that I initiated our break up." Sarah grumbled looking absently at a contemporary example of Japanese Ceramic work. "Fucking academics."
Lizzy chuckled. "Iíll try not to take that personally. I take it they had issues with you being in the movie business? Or the breaking up?"
Sarah shrugged. "Not just that, although youíre right on both counts. I didnít spend umpteen years in school getting a degree in something so esoteric that the only thing you can do with it is teach that esoteric shit to someone else. And they think Iím stupid! As for the break up," Sarah added. "I only did it because Stevie wouldnít and we both knew it had to happen."
"The ëivory towerí does tend to make one look down." Lizzy said comfortingly as they walked among the various examples of contemporary ceramics. "My grandmother Janice used to say that storytelling is one of the most powerful skills on earth. Anything that can help people cope with the here and now is a wonderful skill to have, not to mention a noble profession. Thatís what movies do, thatís what you do. Perhaps Academics like Sylvia are so hooked on the past and exclusive about it because they canít tell the stories needed to bring the past into the present where everyone can enjoy it."
Sarah smiled. "Thatís what Stevie can do," she said. "Sheíd talk for hours about this or that pharaoh and how they lived and what things were like back then. I never found it dull; her passion about the past is infectious, not to mention that she makes the information accessible."
"Exactly," Lizzy agreed as they left the Japanese Gallery and headed to the Summer of Love poster exhibit. "My grandmothers did that with their work and itís something I strive towards." She was silent for a moment as they stood before poster advertising The Great Society at the Fillmore. "How do you know when you have to break up?" she asked.
Sarah looked down at the archaeologist and grinned. "It isnít any more an exact science than hooking up in the first place. You make your best guess and hope for the best."
"Do you think breaking up with Stevie was a mistake?" Lizzy pressed.
"I have," Sarah replied. "Weíve reconnected briefly a couple of times. But deep down when weíre both being honest with ourselves, we know weíre not it for each other. Itís hard to be that honest though. Itís an honesty that leaves you empty and wondering what might have been if things were only a little different. Still, itís a comfort I guess that we both feel that way; nothing worse than having a situation where youíre hurt so much worse than the other person. I will probably continue to wonder from time to time, but in my heart of hearts I know it was the best thing. Weíre wonderful friends and are deeply connected, but weíre just not soul mates. Not that a soul mate is necessarily what you have to look for," she added hurriedly. "Nothing wrong with having fun with all of the Ms. Wrongs in your quest for Ms. Right."
"Youíve been told before that youíre a shameless flirt, right?" Lizzy asked with a laugh.
The stuntwoman grinned, turning her attention to the exhibit once more. "Once or twice, yeah."
/|\^..^/|\Stevie looked up from the microscope and double checked the notes sheíd written down for Sylvia. "I think this is going to be the best compound to clean the papyrus," she said. She studied the analysis of the electron microscope photography once more to be sure.
"Are you sure we canít woo you away from the Getty?" Sylvia asked.
Stevie shook her head. "You know Iíd get hypothermia out here," she replied with a shiver. "Snow, blech. Itís nice to look at, but a whole winterís worth, I donít think so."
"At least come over for dinner, David would love to see you." The elderly woman said with a warm smile.
"Iím sorry, Sylvia; not this trip. But next time you and David are in LA weíll have Mexican at my place. Your Mexican food out here is crap," Stevie replied with a smile.
"Too true." The curator agreed. "Thank you for sending me those avocados ñ they were heaven. What are you doing in town with Sarah?" The older woman asked, putting Stevieís notes into her folder. "Are you guys reconciling?"
"No, just vacationing." Stevie replied. "Weíve always stayed friends. Weíre not lovers anymore, but didnít want to cancel the trip." Stevie noticed Sylviaís frown and continued. "Seriously Sylvia," she said, "Sarah has really been there for me since our break up. I know it sounds crazy, but weíve stayed really close. She didnít break up with me because she wanted to, she knew I couldnít do it and we just werenít working out. Sheís really been my rock the last four months."
"And she had to bring a date with her to the museum?" Sylvia asked, annoyance threading her voice. "Thatís tacky."
"Actually," Stevie said, walking with Sylvia back into the museum, "Lizzy isnít with either of us. We met her when we got here. Sheís an archaeologist. Janice Covingtonís granddaughter."
"Really," Sylvia said appreciatively. "Is she your people?" When Stevie blushed the curator had her answer. "I know that look Stevie. You like her?"
They walked through the Japanese Ceramic exhibit, Stevie hoping that sheíd catch up to the other two and realizing that theyíd moved on to another part of the museum. "I shouldnít like anyone right now, Sylvia, not until I get my shit together."
Sylvia stopped walking and turned to Stevie. "Bullshit," she said. "If people waited until they had their shit together to hook up, our species would die out. What we do and what we should do are often two entirely different things. Take advice from an old married woman; if you like her, act on it. I wish Iíd thrown the moves on David five years earlier when Iíd first met him. Weíd have been married thirty-five years now instead of just thirty."
"Greedy," Stevie said, taking the cell phone out of her purse to call Sarah.
/|\^..^/|\"She offered you a job didnít she?" Sarah asked as Stevie joined the stuntwoman and archaeologist by the entrance.
"She always does," Stevie shrugged. "But I always say no. Relax would you? Iím not moving."
Lizzy tried not to let the disappointment show on her face. The thought of the Egyptologist relocating so close was indeed some thing she found smile-worthy. "Where are we off to next?" She asked, keeping her tone cheerful.
"Why donít you guys head somewhere and Iíll catch up with you? Iíve got to make a side trip to Harvard it shouldnít take more than an hour and a half." Sarah rolled her eyes. "Look," Stevie said sternly looking at her ex-girlfriend. "I put up with you signing autographs at comic-con last year for over three hours. Youíve already taken a ton of pictures of Boston, just go enjoy yourself and Iíll catch up with you. Seriously."
"Fine," Sarah said one brow arching over her eye. "Meet us at Club Café when youíre done."
"All this history in Boston and youíre going to a gay-bar?" Stevie said, disappointed.
"See if you can meet up with us before we hook up with someone else." Sarah said challengingly, pushing open the door to the museum and heading towards the street to flag down a cab.
"Whatís with her?" Stevie asked Lizzy.
"Sheís feeling... unintelligent, I think," Lizzy said. "Something about your friend seemed to set her off."
Stevie sighed, "Which is exactly why I didnít want her to endure Harvard. Douglas is even more of an academic prima-donna than Sylvia." She shook her head. "Keep an eye on her, there is a small space in Sarahís head between feeling stupid and doing something stupid. Iíll catch up soon."
Lizzy hurried after Sarah and joined her in the cab. Sarah gave the address of 209 Columbus Street. The two rode in silence for a bit and then the stuntwoman sighed. "Iím sorry," she said quietly. "I donít need to drag you into my shit with Stevie. Sometimes she just brings out the worst in me."
"I guess thatís better than someone just bringing out the mediocre in you," Lizzy observed and was happy to see the brunette grin.
"Why havenít you dated?" Sarah asked. "Youíre charming, funny, attractive. Iíll be honest, I donít get it."
Lizzy felt the heat in her cheeks and knew she was blushing. "I just havenít gotten around to it I guess," she offered lamely. "Iíve spent a lot of time being a fucking academic you know."
"Obviously I didnít mean you," Sarah said as the cab pulled to a stop outside the café. "You ever been here?" she asked. Lizzy shook her head. "Iím not big on meeting people in bars," Sarah explained. "But you never know, sometimes you luck out. It can be tough finding some sort of something where the assumption is that everyoneís gay; bars are probably the easiest. I belong to a ëWomen in Hollywoodí type group at home where Iíve meet some cool people and I know Stevie belongs to some fucking academic group where sheís failed to meet anyone even vaguely interesting."
"I tend to hang out at my cousins guesthouse," Lizzy said with a grin as she followed Sarah inside. "Iíve met very interesting women that way."
Sarah ordered a martini for herself and glanced at Lizzy who requested a Guinness. Sarah paid the bartender as the archaeologist looked around the room. It was mid-afternoon and the crowd was light, still it was clear to see the patrons that were there in small groups or pairs, and those who were there alone. She made eye contact with a couple of women and looked away bashfully. Sarah seemed to be quite in her element and chatted amiably with the bartender. Video clips were playing and even at this early hour Lizzy could see several people dancing in the back room.
Lizzy and Sarah chatted easily although the archaeologist was surprised to see the stuntwoman down four different types of martinis in the time it took her to drink her pint of Guinness. She ordered a second beer and was halfway through it when a tall red headed woman walked up and asked Sarah to dance. Sarah winked at Lizzy and said sheíd just be a moment and headed off with the red head. Suddenly the archaeologist felt very alone. She glanced around and saw several sets of eyes on her and decided to focus on her beer instead. Absently she wondered if this was how dying animals felt when they saw the vultures circling overhead. Ten minutes or more passed and Lizzy wondered if she should go looking for Sarah when she was brought from her thoughts by a soft voice.
"Hi." Lizzy looked up into vibrant green eyes. They belonged to an attractive woman with long black hair dressed smartly in a black business suit with a crisp white shirt. The archaeologistís mouth went dry. "My nameís Gwen, would you like to dance?"
A small part of Lizzy wanted nothing more than to join Gwen on the dance floor but she was overruled however by the much larger part of Lizzy that suspected from Gwenís smooth delivery and apparent confidence that she was looking for a woman well versed in the courtship dance. She doubted very much that this gorgeous, perfectly put together woman would have the inclination or patience to put up with a beginner. "Ah, thank you, Gwen, but no. Iím waiting for someone." Lizzy replied politely, unable to completely override the hint of sadness in her voice.
"You want some company while youíre waiting?" Gwen offered, kindly.
Lizzy swallowed, hard. She felt completely lost and was beginning to panic. "Thatís kind of yóyou." Lizzy said. "But sheíll be here any moment, Iím okay."
Gwen smiled, nearly blinding Lizzy with the reflection off of her perfectly bleached teeth. "As long as youíre not playing hard to get," she said with an adorable chuckle. "Because if you want to buy me a drink, Iíll let you."
"No," a new voice answered. "She is hard to get," Stevie said, sliding into the seat next to Lizzy. The archaeologist turned her head, smiling in thanks and was surprised by the set of soft lips possessively covering her own. Lizzy closed her eyes, enjoying the kiss and the soft touch of Stevieís fingers on her throat and back of her neck. Much too soon it was over and the Egyptologist maintained eye contact with the intruder until Gwen backed away.
Stevie glanced around the room noting with satisfaction that everyone had turned their attention elsewhere. The archaeologist was clearly off limits. "I hope I wasnít interrupting anything," Stevie said quietly.
"Nothing Iím not grateful to have you interrupt," Lizzy replied breathing a sigh of relief. "Buy you a drink?"
Stevie nodded and requested a mojito looking around for Sarah. "I know she was cute but you seem the type to be interested in more than the ëgin or vodka?í conversation. I swear I donít know why Sarah brought you here. How bad is it?" she asked looking around for the stuntwoman and not seeing her anywhere.
Lizzy shrugged. "When she left me sheíd had four different kinds of martinis; gin and vodka I think. Last I saw of her she headed that way with a tall red head."
Stevie looked in the direction Lizzy pointed and saw the signs for the bathroom; the pit of her stomach sank. "This happens from time to time when she feels like crap. I mentioned feeling stupid and acting stupid? Alcohol makes her... ah... moody and were it not for us sheíd be going home with one of these women." Stevie explained looking around and not being happy at the number of young attractive women she saw. She needed to get Sarah out of here now.
"Just go home with someone she doesnít know? Why?" Lizzy asked and then blushed for doing so. She followed Stevieís eyes around the room and noticed Gwen sitting with another blonde woman. Gwen caught her eye for a moment and winked. Clearly, Lizzy had her answer.
Stevie smiled, enjoying the pink tint to the archaeologistís cheeks. She leaned close and whispered in her ear, "Having an attractive womanís lips and hands all over you can indeed be a pick-me-up if youíre feeling crappy about yourself." She pulled back and was satisfied by an even brighter tinge to Lizzyís cheeks. Stevie nodded in the direction of the bathroom, sighing sadly. "At least until she wakes up and the beer goggles have faded or realizes that the girl wonít stop calling. Lets go get her."
Stevie was relieved that Sarah was not in fact in a bathroom stall with someone. She was making out with a woman just outside the door, which was a small improvement, but an improvement, none the less. "Letís go Casanova," Stevie announced walking up on the scene.
Sarah smirked at her. "Another five minutes, mom." She said and went back to kissing the other woman.
Stevie took a sharp intake of breath; the comment had stung. "You think I like watching you kiss other women?" She asked, keeping her tone civil. "Weíre having dinner at Lizzyís, donít be a jerk, Moorhead, lets go."
"Is this the ex-girlfriend you said would be coming to get you?" the red headed woman demanded, before her lips resumed their work on Sarahís neck. "Look hon, she told you sheís busy," she added after coming up for air once more.
"And she told you youíre leaving Sarah," Lizzy chimed in, showing annoyance at the stuntwoman for the first time.
"I donít care if you kiss other women," Sarah replied, looking at Stevie. "Whatís the big deal?"
"You donít care?" Lizzy asked Sarah as she deftly wrapped her hand around the back of Stevieís neck pulling the taller womanís face to hers. Without hesitation she settled her lips on Stevieís enjoying the supreme warm softness once again. Although clearly surprised, Stevie kissed her back all the same, and after a moment parted her lips slightly in invitation. Again there was no hesitation on the archaeologistís part; she relaxed her mouth and reached out with her tongue for the warm wetness of Stevie. Immediately she was rewarded with the sensation of the Egyptologistís tongue sliding against her own. Every cell in Lizzyís body was singing at the contact and she wanted very much to spend the rest of the night kissing this woman in this dark alcove just outside the womenís restroom at Club Café.
Lizzy brought her other hand to the side of Stevieís face, enjoying the sensation of soft skin beneath her fingertips. Tongues dueled gently together and Lizzy was hard pressed to think of a more perfect sensation.
"Alright, alright, I get the point." Sarahís gruff voice grumbled from somewhere off in the distance.
To Lizzyís intense disappointment Stevie slowly pulled back. As she did so however, Lizzyís fingertips brushed against the other womanís throat, revealing a pulse that hammered as hard for the tall blonde as it did in her own body.
"Cute, really cute guys," Sarah grumbled unhappily as she looked unsteadily between her two friends. Red head long forgotten the stuntwoman walked in between Lizzy and Stevie as they left the club. Not much was said on the way to the train station although Sarah did seem to have forgotten her anger by the time the trio settled themselves on the train.
"How did it go at Harvard?" she asked Stevie when theyíd chosen their seats.
Stevie smiled, glad Sarah had gotten over her annoyance and not wanting to set it off again. "It went fine, I can tell you about it later."
Sarah stared at her. "Why donít you tell me now," she pressed.
Stevie felt trapped. She and Sarah knew each other well enough to know when the other was hiding something and both were stubborn and curious enough not to let go of such opportunities. Sarah wasnít drunk enough yet to immediately forget the question. "Douglas wanted to introduce me to the chair of the Architecture department. Heíd like me to do a lecture series on Architectural design and how contemporary design relates historically," Stevie explained, watching the inebriated woman carefully.
"Is this the same lecture series youíve declined to do several times in the past?" Sarah asked. Stevie nodded. "What changed your mind?" Sarah looked pointedly at Lizzy. "Or should I say who?"
"Donít be an ass, Sarah," Stevie warned. "Youíve got no room to talk."
"Whoís going to watch your dogs?" Sarah demanded.
Stevie rolled her eyes. "Mom, or you," she answered simply. "Trust me, when you sober up you wonít think this is any big deal. Besides, you love watching Dakota and Yoko."
"Iím not drunk." Sarah said, defiantly.
"No?" Stevie asked. "How do you feel?"
The stuntwoman was quiet a moment and then shrugged. "Iím feeling annoyed and jealous," she said. "And a little bit guilty for you walking up when I was making out with someone else although Iíd really like to get laid."
Lizzyís eyes widened in surprise and Stevie grinned. "This proves youíre drunk," she said. Then looking at Lizzy she added. "Sarah never talks about her feelings when sheís sober."
"Man, I can really be a jerk sometimes," Sarah said sadly shaking her head. "Do you think itís a good idea that we broke up?" she asked struggling to focus her eyes on Stevie. "Because Lizzy was wondering about it and then it got me wondering..."
"Sometimes she shares too much of her feelings," Stevie explained looking at Lizzy apologetically.
"Because I still, like, love you but I donít think I still love you, love you. I mean, I think I did, but I donít know. I really donít think Iím supposed to be the person youíre supposed to be with." Sarah continued, ignoring Stevieís comment. "Maybe Lizzy is the type of person you need, sheís smart and academic and all and you two could totally have that bi-coastal thing thatís so cool, youíre really good at the phone sex. And with the internet phone crap they have now you wouldnít run up those bills like I did in Romania."
Stevie sighed noting that the pink flush of Lizzyís cheeks was probably matching her own. "Sarah, honey," she said gently, holding the stuntwomanís hand. "This is not about who is smart, or who is impressive to take to parties or the cheapest way to have phone sex. You drink when youíre feeling insecure and if you want to get smashed on vacation, thatís totally up to you, but please donít do it because you feel like youíre not good enough for me or anyone else." She brushed a couple of strands of the brunetteís hair away from her face with gentle fingertips. "Youíre the happy one of us, remember?"
"How can I be happy when youíre haunted night after night by a psychotic killer who is sucking the soul right out of you?" Sarah asked, choking back a sniffle. "It makes me crazy that Iím not strong enough to take that pain away. If I canít do anything about your hurt, then who the hell can?"
"It isnít about doing anything," Lizzy protested. "Stevie has to battle this storm on her own, you need to be a safe harbor, thatís all you can do."
Sarah turned her head and leaned toward the archaeologist until her forehead came to rest on that of the other woman. "You are very insightful," she whispered. "But if you hurt Stevie, Iíll break your legs so help me god."
"Okay Tiger, weíre at our stop," Stevie said pulling Sarah away from the smaller woman.
"Other than that, you have my blessing," Sarah said as she stood up, patting Lizzy on her back affectionately. "You have to figure out what to do with her though," she added with a wink.
"Sarah!" Stevie said, anger threading her voice. "One more crack like that and I swear, so help me god, that I leave you on the street in the snow to die from hypothermia.
"Iím sorry," Sarah muttered as the other two led her from the train. "That was mean. Iím at that stage where I need a couple of more drinks and Iíll be happily intoxicated."
"As opposed to just intoxicated?" Lizzy asked, still stung at the comment.
"Some women are happy drunks, some frisky, some a little on the mean side; Sarah is all three." Stevie explained.
"Lucky you," Lizzy muttered, helping Stevie guide the stuntwoman down the sidewalk.
"Two martinis are not enough, three are too many, but four are not enough. I think I need to switch to Whiskey. I donít drink to excess very often," Sarah explained, draping an arm around each of the blonde womenís shoulders. "Stevie and I used to get smashed from time to time back in the day."
"Sarah," Stevie said warningly.
"Yeah, yeah," Sarah said as the trio approached Lizzyís bright yellow house. "Sheís gotten her shit under control, I still over do it on occasion."
Lizzy pushed her front door open after knocking the snow from her shoes. The other two followed suit and headed inside. The archaeologist took their heavy jackets and hung them up on pegs behind the front door. Immediately Stevie was engulfed by a chill and wished sheíd left her jacket on.
"Iíll light a fire before starting dinner," Lizzy said as if reading her thoughts. "Can I offer you guys a drink first?" she asked, looking a little nervously at Sarah.
"Weíll take whatever youíve got," Stevie said politely.
"Iíll have scotch," Sarah countered, "and Stevie prefers wine although sheís the polite one and wonít ask."
"Well youíre both in luck," Lizzy said as she headed for the kitchen, the other two following behind. As before the broomstick fell as soon as Sarah passed the threshold, but this time Stevie caught it before it fell very far and deftly put it back. "Thatís quite enough, ladies," Lizzy said sternly with an apologetic smile at the Egyptologist.
Lizzy pulled a couple of glasses from one kitchen cabinet and a bottle of scotch from another. "Iím going to pop down to the basement for a bottle of wine, Iíll just be a moment." She announced as she opened what looked like a closet door near the back door.
Making herself at home, Sarah took the short squat glass and opened the freezer to grab some ice cubes, then poured some scotch over the ice.
Stevie walked over and gently took the glass from Sarahís fingers and added some water from the tap, and handed the glass back to Sarah. "Itís for your own good," she said quietly as Lizzy returned from the basement.
"Weíre having lasagna for dinner, so I thought red would be okay." She said handing Stevie the bottle.
"A lovely Greek red," Stevie observed happily. "Isnít the Haniotis vineyard above Mt. Parnassus?" she asked.
Lizzy nodded in confirmation. "My grandmothers left me their wine collection in addition to the family business. The scotch was theirs as well. Wines from Greece, scotch from Scotland."
"Itís fantastic," Sarah agreed with a smile after tasting the drink.
"Iíll open the wine and let it breathe while I make a fire." Lizzy explained getting a bottle opener from a kitchen drawer. Before heading back to the living room she turned on the oven and pulled a Pyrex dish of lasagna from the refrigerator. "I know the dinner is Italian, but I didnít think youíd mind the wine."
"Not at all," Stevie replied, following the other woman from the kitchen. "Iíll drink Greek wine with anything, if itís good."
"Whatís this?" Sarah asked as the trio entered the living room. A book had fallen from the bookshelf and lay open on the floor near the fireplace.
"Let me see," Lizzy said as she stooped to pick up the book. Carefully keeping the page open where the book had fallen, she handed the tome to Stevie. "See what my grandmothers are trying to say while I get the fire going."
"Youíre saying they knocked the book off the shelf?" Sarah asked, looking at the bookshelf suspiciously.
"They do it from time to time. We donít get earthquakes out here, stuff rarely falls off of shelves unassisted." Lizzy explained.
Stevie looked at the front cover of the book; as she suspected it was an early history of Xena penned by Janice Covington. She checked the publication date and saw that it was first printed in 1947 and the volume she held was a first edition. There were markings in the margins. Two distinct types of handwriting dueled in the tiny spaces, noting facts that needed to be revised in future editions as well as additional research that added to or altered the printed narrative. It was no surprise to Stevie that the book had fallen open to a short chapter on Xenaís vicious nemesis, Callisto. The Egyptologist skimmed through the pages, taking note of the comments in the margins.
"Well?" Sarah asked after a quiet moment. Lizzy didnít seem particularly interested in what the Egyptologist was reading; rather she was focused on building the fire and making her guests comfortable.
Emotions began to course through Stevie; some familiar like sadness and despair as well as anger and frustration. The chapter consisted of some of the information Stevie had seen in her dreams from the moment Callisto encountered Xena as an adult. While the picture painted was not completely out of character for the psychotic warrior she had seen night after night, some of the context was missing. The sacking of Cirra was briefly mentioned, but clearly the information gleaned as the basis of this history was taken from the point of view of an unobjective source: the bard, Gabrielle.
"We need to talk," Stevie said to the room in general.
"Just a second," Lizzy said, putting a gentle hand briefly on Stevieís forearm. She could feel the chill of the womanís skin, and urged her to stand near the fire. She quickly headed to the kitchen. The sound of an oven door opening and closing could be heard and Lizzy returned with the two wine glasses as well as bottle of wine and the bottle of scotch. She put the bottles and glasses on the coffee table and urged her guests to sit.
Stevie sat down next to the fireplace and Lizzy handed each of them a throw pillow from the couch to sit on. The archaeologist poured the wine and then took her seat in between the two Californians.
"I know you know who I was," Stevie began, clearly talking more to the spirits in the room than to Lizzy or Sarah. "Iím not any happier about it than either of you are." She took a sip of wine before continuing; the familiar tang of Greek grapes providing some comfort. "What you know about Callisto is true, Iím not saying it isnít. Iím not making excuses, or allowances or saying she didnít deserve every bit of everything that happened to her. But before, the story before... you need to know that too." Her eyes fell on Sarah and then Lizzy, "You both need to know this too."
Staring into her wine glass Stevie felt the distant warmth of the fire, almost like a campfire she remembered from long, long ago. The flames were cheery, dancing, but didnít really warm her. They warmed the surface of her skin perhaps, but where she was cold, desperately cold the flame couldnít touch. As if hearing her own voice from far away she began to describe everything sheíd seen in her dreams. The town of Cirra before it was sacked with rich vineyards and crystal blue expanses of ocean. She mentioned Callistoís father who had died and how the townspeople had cared for her mother and sister, new details came to mind that she didnít even remember dreaming. She talked about the fire and what it was like to watch her mother and sister die so painfully. "Did you know her motherís name was Arleia and her sisterís name was Miranda?" she asked Lizzy who shook her head sadly.
Taking another sip of wine she began to tell the tale of what befell Callisto the day after Xenaís army destroyed Cirra. Sarah finished her drink and reached for the bottle to pour another. She filled the glass and didnít bother to add any water. Blue eyes grew darker and darker still as Stevie dispassionately described the fate of the fourteen year old village girl as well as what happened to a seven year old Callisto. Stevie could hear her own voice distantly describing the years that followed.
Lizzyís eyes welled with tears as Stevie explained the difficulty Callisto had giving birth, how malnourished she was from living with the bandits, how every shred of humanity was beaten and raped from her daily. Finally Stevie looked up from her wine glass and looked each woman in the eyes before telling them what Callisto did to her baby and why.
Sarah turned her face away as if sheíd been slapped and Lizzy closed her eyes painfully, a tear rushing out of each one and spilling down her cheeks. "Why didnít she ever say anything?" Sarah said tightly, her voice thick with emotion.
"To you?" Stevie asked. "She wasnít looking for pity, understanding or forgiveness," Stevie explained. "At least not then. Maybe I am now, I just donít know."
"All we knew about was the hate," Lizzy whispered, and glancing at her grandmotherís book added, "and that is all that was ever passed down."
The fire crackled, the occasional ember floating up the chimney. Absently Sarah added a couple of pieces of wood, since she was sitting next to the bin. Lizzy refilled their wine glasses and waited to see if there was more.
Stevie continued with her story, the parts that Lizzy at least knew a little about. She explained how Callisto had tracked Xena and Gabrielle, knowing much more about the two than they ever suspected. She also related the psychotic warriorsí insights on the relationship Xena had with her bard and how it proved to be Callistoís undoing time and again.
"The last thing on earth Callisto would understand was love," Lizzy murmured and looked at Stevie sadly who could only nod in agreement.
Finally the Egyptologist related her latest dream and the conversation sheíd had with Callisto and the challenge that appeared to be before her. She had to forgive Callisto, forgive herself for everything that had happened in the past if she wanted to move on. If she couldnít then the remaining choice was to relive this life over, and over.
"Absolutely youíre forgiving yourself," Sarah said hotly. "All the blood on Callistoís hands was Xenaís too, something she probably didnít acknowledge enough when she was alive."
"Oh no," Lizzy said looking at Sarah sternly; the fire casting striking shadows on half of the brunetteís face making her eyes sparkle in the firelight. "Youíre not taking the wrap for this... I mean Xena put her demons to bed, including Callisto and I donít think youíre supposed to be resurrecting them."
Sarah downed the rest of her drink and reached for the bottle pouring another. "I have to do something," she said.
"No," Stevie insisted. "This is Callistoís problem, my problem," she whispered.
"No!" Lizzy shot back hotly. "This isnít just your problem; the problem is exactly that you were left alone those millennia ago and look what happened. You may have to be the one who solves this, who puts this to bed, but that doesnít mean you canít have friends by your side supporting you, helping you."
"Exactly what she said," Sarah confirmed with a small hiccup.
Stevie nodded in thanks and was grateful for the sound of a timer going off in the kitchen. Lizzy announced that dinner was ready and helped the Egyptologist stand up. Stevie wasnít sure if she was imagining it or not, but she didnít feel nearly as cold as she had when sheíd sat down by the fire. Both women turned and helped the stuntwoman stand, although she did so with a bit of difficulty.
The Californians sat down at her small kitchen table as the archaeologist finished preparing dinner. Lizzy quickly made some garlic toast and pulled a salad from the ëfridge that sheíd prepared that morning. A few quiet moments passed and Stevie complimented her on the food. The Egyptologist was grateful to see Sarah immediately devour a couple of slices of bread and dig into the lasagna with a hearty appetite. While she felt remorse at having told such a gruesome story Stevie knew that the words needed to be said. She did note that when sheíd walked into the kitchen for dinner, the broom by the ëfridge had not fallen. Still, she wanted to put the heaviness aside and actually try and enjoy what was left of their evening. The devastated looks on the faces of her companions however told her this would be no small task.
"Sarah," she said conversationally, "Where was it that you and I had that amazing lasagna? Was that at the spa up north?"
Sarah shook her head, washing down a mouthful of lasagna with a mouthful of scotch. Lizzy frowned at the contrast but the stuntwoman didnít seem to mind. "You didnít go to the spa up north with me," she explained. "We went to that spa in Big Sur. You went to Northern California with Psycho Number Two and you and I had amazing lasagna in Vegas; god your memory sucks."
"Psycho Number Two?" Lizzy asked dubiously.
"We named all of each otherís ex-girlfriends," Sarah explained. "One of the lesser heralded perks of having a girlfriend; finding fault with everyone who came before you." She chuckled at her double entandrae as Stevie rolled her eyes in feigned disgust. "Lets see," the stuntwoman continued, concentrating on her fingers to count. "There were Psycho numbers One and Two, Vampira, The Iceberg, Hurricane Katherine, The Stockbroker, Vainglorius and me. Am I forgetting anyone, Stevie?" Sarah asked sweetly.
Stevie frowned, "No, but I havenít come up with a name for you yet and at the moment I donít think itís going to be flattering."
Sarah shook her head sadly. "They never are, thatís the way of things."
"And Sarah?" Lizzy asked Stevie, surprised that sheíd actually gotten some sort of picture of all of Stevieís exes through the names although she didnít really want to fathom what the psychos were really like having just listened to Callistoís history.
"There was No Tan Lines," Stevie began, also counting them out on her fingers. "Boob Job, Strippers numbered One to Fifty-Seven, although Iíd just count those as one night stands," Stevie said with a shrug. "Bathing Suit Model, Starfucker, Nipples, Rocker Chick, The Tattooíed Stalker, Starbucks, Porn Star, Famous Actress, The Extra, Handcuff Girl, Vice Squad, Yoga Instructor, Folksinger and let us not forget everyoneís favorite, Belly dancer" Stevie was quiet a moment. "Oh, and me."
Sarah looked at Stevie and then looked into her drink glass a bit sadly. "God Iím a slut," she said dejectedly. "Why did you even date me?" She shook her head, "you spent three years of your life dating a slut." Suddenly Sarahís eyes flashed up in panic, "thatís what your next girlfriend is going to name me, isnít it? Iím going to be The Slut."
"No honey," Stevie soothed, pushing the drink glass away from Sarah. "I wonít let them. Look at the bright side sweetie," she said comfortingly. "You never drove anyone back to men, you can feel good about that."
Sarah shook her head and pointed her fork at Stevie for emphasis. "Hurricane Katherine wasnít your fault. How could you have known she wasnít really a lesbian in the first place, I mean she kept saying she was, right? All that talk about... about... lesbians and stuff and having all that lesbian sex with you. How could you know sheíd leave you for a married man with two kids?"
"If I ever run into Melissa Etheridge in a bar we have something to commiserate about." Stevie offered cheerfully.
"Arrogant, self-absorbed, man-fucker." Sarah said, obviously angry on her friendís behalf.
"See what youíre missing?" Stevie said to Lizzy with a wink.
"Yeah," Lizzy agreed dubiously. "Single is looking better all the time."
"Can I use your bathroom?" Sarah asked.
A little color drained from Lizzyís face. "Sure, itís upstairs."
"Oh fuck," Stevie and Sarah muttered in unison.
"No," Lizzy countered optimistically. "We can do this. Iíll go first and help Sarah up the stairs and you walk behind her to make sure she doesnít fall."
Stevie nodded and helped Sarah stand up. She shuddered to think at the quantity of alcohol presently circling in the stuntwomanís bloodstream. While it took some time, the two women did manage to get Sarah up the very awkward staircase.
"Are all of your ex-girlfriends bad memories?" Lizzy asked Stevie while the two waited outside her bathroom door.
Stevie shrugged, considering the question. "Yes and no. If theyíre an ex something obviously went wrong. Some are more forgettable than others. The tough part I guess is knowing youíre forgettable to someone else; somebody elseís nick-name or horror story." She shrugged again, glancing at the closed bathroom door. "You canít make yourself mean more to someone than you do and you just have to live with it; which is easier said than done. Fortunately you get a Sarah in your life from time to time who stays a gem in spite of everything."
"I donít really think you could be forgettable to anyone," Lizzy said quietly looking up into soft brown eyes and not caring that she probably sounded foolish. "I also canít think of a terrible nick name for you."
Stevie looked down and smiled. "I guess thatís a good thing then," she said and gently brushed an errant strand of Lizzyís hair away from her forehead.
The moment was broken by the sound of a flushing toilet and the sound of running water and then Sarah opened the door, looking a little worse for wear.
"Why are your stairs so fucking lame?" Sarah demanded, as she stood at the top of the stairs, ready to go back down. She started to sway and reached up against the ceiling for balance. She blinked in surprise. "How weird is this, I can touch your ceilings."
"People were much smaller in the seventeenth century," Lizzy explained. "Like my size.
Stevie headed down the stairs first holding Sarah up as Lizzy followed behind.
"Iím really sorry," Sarah said sadly as they neared the bottom of the stairs. "Xena has been wrecking your life for millions of years."
"Not millions Sarah," Stevie disagreed.
"Iím sure it just feels that way." Lizzy added quietly.
The stuntwoman stumbled on the last step although Stevie caught her. Supporting the larger womanís weight Stevie turned to Lizzy. "If we donít get her back to your cousins now, I donít see how weíre going to."
"I donít want to go out in the snow," Sarah complained. "Itís cold." She shivered, making it hard for Stevie to hold onto her. "Itís warm and toasty here, we should stay." She explained seriously. "I think the ghosts like me, they want me to stay."
"You guys are welcome to crash here," Lizzy offered looking at Sarah dubiously. "Frankly I donít know how weíd make it to Melís. We could drive, but the traffic on the streets is insane even for the short distance, and I donít think sheíd survive the walk."
"Here is good," Sarah agreed swaying slightly.
"Letís get her in the living room." Lizzy suggested. The two smaller women maneuvered the stuntwoman back into the living room and Sarah slumped over onto the couch.
"Sleep is good," she muttered.
"Oh no you donít," Stevie protested. "Youíre drinking a big glass of water. I donít even want to deal with your hangover tomorrow if you donít."
"Get her some water and Iíll find some sweats for her to sleep in," Lizzy suggested, heading back upstairs.
When the archaeologist returned Sarah was finishing a large glass of water although she protested frequently. "Um... should you... ah..." Lizzy said awkwardly holding out a pair of sweatpants, sweatshirt, quilt and blanket.
Stevie shook her head with a grin. "Youíre not getting off the hook that easily," she teased. "You start on her shoes and Iíll start at the other end."
Lizzy did as she was asked and undid the stuntwomanís shoes, easing the large Doc Martens off of her feet. She glanced up to see Stevie easily pulling the sweater over the brunetteís head. A spark of jealousy flared as Lizzy watched Stevie move with an ease and fluidity that suggested sheíd performed the task hundreds of times before. Absently the archaeologist wondered just how clumsily sheíd perform given a similar task.
With the sweater off, Stevie quickly undid the buttons of Sarahís denim shirt. In seconds that was removed and in moments more her bra followed. Lizzy looked away bashfully as the Egyptologist eased the sweatshirt over her friendís head.
"Help me with her pants," Stevie said, turning her attention to Lizzy.
"Iíll undo them, you just pull from the bottom." Stevie replied as Sarah mumbled something intelligible.
Stevie chuckled. "Nice try tiger," she told her friend, "but a threesome is out of the question. We broke up, remember?"
Getting the jeans off was easier than getting the sweatpants on but in minutes that task was completed as well. "I hope she can see the humor of this in the morning," Stevie muttered as she and Lizzy unfolded the blanket over the now slumbering stuntwoman.
"Humor in what?" Lizzy asked.
"Those sweats are umpteen sizes too small for her. They barely pass her knees and elbows." Stevie replied with a chuckle.
Lizzy laughed quietly. "I didnít think of that, sheís a lot taller than me."
"Itíll do for tonight." Stevie said looking at the soundly sleeping brunette. "I guess Iíd better get back to your cousinís," she added glancing at Lizzy.
Lizzy looked up at Stevie, surprised. "You donít have to," she said quietly. "You can stay here too." She could feel her cheeks growing hot as Stevie looked dubiously at a very full couch. "Stay upstairs with me. Besides if Sarah wakes up and youíre not here, she might be upset... worried about you."
Stevie looked down at the soft green eyes gazing up at her and mutely nodded. She waited a moment, half expecting a glass to shatter or broom to fall, but there was only silence.
"I think my grandmothers are in agreement." Lizzy said, guessing her thoughts.
Lizzy knocked down what few embers remained of the fire while Stevie unfolded the quilt, adding it to the blanket that already covered Sarah. They both made sure the stuntwoman who was snoring softly was well situated before turning off the lights and heading upstairs. Stevie followed the archaeologist and felt very awkward when theyíd reached the bedroom. "I... I donít want you to think... I mean... Iím not..." Stevie tried to find the words to match what she was feeling and failed miserably.
Lizzy smiled at her, surprised with herself that she wasnít feeling abject panic. "Itís very late, Stevie," She said quietly. "Youíre here to sleep, thatís all. All three of us have had a rough night. I donít expect anything, okay? Especially not with Sarah drunk off her ass downstairs; itís not how Iíd want to start things. Sweats or t-shirt?" she asked, pulling a t-shirt out of a drawer for herself.
Stevie smiled, feeling relief on the one hand yet disappointment on the other. Still, she couldnít argue with the archaeologistís point. She knew how devastated sheíd be if positions were switched and she was sleeping downstairs while Sarah was upstairs with another woman. She considered the temperature and didnít feel the chill that had persisted most of the evening and looked at the down comforter on the bed. "T-shirt, please," she said softly.
Accepting the soft cotton shirt Stevie sat on the edge of the bed to undress. She could feel Lizzy doing likewise on the other side of the bed. While night was often a time for dread; the moments before sleep where she could wonder about what new horrors she was going to endure, there was instead an adolescent rush of adrenalin that surfaced instead. As she slipped out of her sweater and blouse she realized her body temperature was increasing, she wasnít feeling cold. She unhooked her bra and had a flashback to feeling sixteen again. Absently she wondered if Lizzy was watching her and feeling the same level of nervous excitement. The butterflies proved more powerful than the threat of Callisto and as Stevie slid in between the sheets she wasnít dreading the moments before sleep.
"Which side of the bed do you generally sleep on?" Stevie asked, rolling over and propping up her head with her hand. It was only with disciplined determination that the words sounded calm and conversational. Stevie had to remind herself that sheíd been in this position with a number of women in the past and therefore shouldnít be feeling like such a novice.
Lizzy turned to face her, grinning bashfully in spite of her rosy cheeks. "In the middle," she said. "Itís not like Iíve got to negotiate for space with anyone. So... have you ever been the first woman someone slept with before?" the archaeologist asked curiously.
Stevie smiled. She could see the nervousness etched on Lizzyís features and could read the effort she was expending to sound casual. "No," she replied gently happy to see the archaeologist relax. "This is a first for me too. I hope I donít screw it up. Iíve mentioned my ability to drive women back to men, right?"
"I donít think you need to worry about that," Lizzy assured her, immensely relieved that she wasnít the only one feeling the palpable awkwardness that permeated the bedroom. "There is this girl that I do believe Iím quite crazy about," she added with feigned seriousness. "I really donít see men in my future. Besides that, I donít think my grandmothers would stand for it."
"I think theyíd stand for anyone who makes you happy." Stevie replied honestly.
"I certainly hope so," Lizzy confirmed and it was Stevieís turn to blush. "Youíre very beautiful," she said quietly.
"So are you," Stevie replied. "Youíve got the most stunning eyes I think Iíve ever seen."
"Iíve seen Sarah," Lizzy replied. "I find that hard to believe."
Stevie shook her head, "Sheís beautiful, yeah but blue isnít my color. Your eyes remind me of a really gorgeous sea green; that wonderful color when sunlight hits the ocean just right." She leaned in, studying Lizzyís eyes intently. "Youíve also got these stunning flecks of gold in your eyes; rather hypnotic." Lizzy swallowed hard frantically trying to think of something to say. "Surely Emily Hampton must have told you how beautiful your eyes are?" Stevie asked with a tender smile. "How beautiful you are."
"Actually Emily was just hung up on my mouth," Lizzy replied and groaned inwardly. Could lamer words have possibly been spoken.
"Ahhh, your mouth," Stevie murmured understandingly. "I can see why sheíd get sidetracked." Brown eyes gazed into green and then shifted lower, studying a soft pair of lips intently. A crash sounded from down the hall; Stevie wondering at first if Sarah had fallen off of the couch. "What was that?"
Lizzy sighed, disappointment evident on her face. "Nothing. Just stubborn dead women who must be thinking youíre throwing the moves on me or something."
"I never knew my grandmother," Stevie said, looking for a moment over her shoulder in the direction of the noise. "But I do know how sad my mother was when I didnít want to play guitar, become a song writer and join a rock band. You know what else?" Stevie asked and Lizzy shook her head, "I got over her disapproval and one of these days sheís bound to forgive me. I guess the question is how would you feel about me throwing moves at you?"
There was another noise, this time like a stack of papers being shoved off of a desk. "I donít think Iíd mind that one bit," Lizzy replied, refusing to acknowledge the sound. Her heart was beating so loudly anyways she scarcely heard it.
"Would you mind terribly if I kissed you?" Stevie asked. "Because Iím having a really hard time restraining myself at the moment."
This time the sound of breaking glass could be heard from down the hall and even the windows of the bedroom rattled.
"Ignore them," Lizzy whispered leaning into Stevie, happy to feel the warm softness of the mouth upon hers once again. Inwardly she suspected that kissing Stevie was becoming her favorite pastime. Tongues dueled gently together and the last thing on earth the archaeologist wanted to do was stop, but this time she was the one who pulled back gently.
"Weíre supposed to be taking this slow and Iím getting carried away," Stevie admitted, a trifle embarrassed. "Thank you."
Lizzy took a deep breath. "Iíd really like to get more carried away, some other time perhaps?"
"You busy tomorrow?" Stevie asked, and saw the crestfallen look on Lizzyís face.
"A friend is coming into town tomorrow to do the séance at Melís tomorrow night. Sheís staying here." Lizzy said, wishing for a moment she could reach her friend by phone and cancel the visit. "Iím going to a Halloween party the night after. Maybe you and Sarah would like to join me?"
"Are we going to ditch her at the party?" Stevie said hopefully.
"Maybe not let her get plastered so she can make it back to Melís in one piece." Lizzy countered.
Stevie brushed a strand of hair out of Lizzyís eyes, taking a moment to softly touch the other womanís cheek. "Whatís two days?" she asked, giving the archaeologist another soft kiss. She settled down for sleep on her back a respectful distance from Lizzy.
The archaeologist laid back as well sighing quietly, wondering how in the hell she was supposed to sleep with a stunningly beautiful blonde twelve inches from her. "A very long time," Lizzy muttered. Reaching under the covers she found Stevieís hand and held it, the connection providing immediate comfort and security. "Iíll be here when you wake up," Lizzy whispered as Stevie eased into unconsciousness. "Regardless of where you go when youíre asleep."
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