Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
All of the guards were sitting at the table having breakfast when Bebo stepped into the room. They all dropped their forks in unison when they took in the outfit the princess had decided to wear for their first day with the Cobra Unit. It wasnt like anything they had seen her in before.
"Problem?" asked Bebo when she heard the clatter.
Steph was the first one to question if Bebo had lost her mind. "Not a problem, but Ive just never seen you in pink before, and so tight. Have you gone insane or something?"
"Insanity isnt something that runs in my family, no." The plate in her hand made one of the servants run over and offer to take over. "Its all right, Denise, I dont mind getting it myself." When Bebo was done, the china service was full and she took her place at the head of the table.
"Then are you trying to pick up someone at the training today? Its the only explanation for the outfit," said Max.
"One of the luckiest things about being born an Amazon princess is the things you learn from the best teachers along the way. In my training, two of the best warriors my mother Audrey has serving her told me the same thing on two different occasions. When your opponent expects something, sometimes its best to give it to them."
"You lost me," added Beth.
"When I spoke to the general yesterday he said his men could more than handle any slaps we were lucky enough to land. To me, that tells me that hes expecting to be wasting his time humoring some girlie woman whos afraid of breaking a nail. I dressed this morning to give him what he expects."
"Slaps? What the hell?" Steph looked like she was ready to skin someone alive with her butter knife.
"Were going in there today and give him what he wants. That means all our training will be done without clenching our fists. Not once. Do you all understand me?"
Beth looked miserable. "Not even if theyre aggravating as hell?"
"I didnt say we couldnt bruise them up a little, just do it with an open hand. In fact, if anyone walks out of there today without a fresh set of fingerprints on some part of their anatomy Ill see it as a personal failure." She bit into a strawberry with an evil glint in her eye that made the others laugh. A challenge to Bebo was like waving red meat in front of a hungry bear.
"How bruised?" asked Max.
"Enough so that it makes an impression. The second lesson will come when we take to the field, but a good ass kicking will do for now."
"That should be easy enough," said Beth.
"Dont take them too lightly. They are after all good enough to make it to this level, and for the most part, they seem to be people I could see myself fighting beside. Its just the couple of bad apples we need to pick apart. But as in all things in life, the good must suffer for the bad."
The facility they would be using for the weeks to come was just outside the capital and the contingent from Amazonia had to go through three check points before they were led to the buildings the Cobra Unit utilized as their command post.
When they stepped into the gym, the whispering among the Americans had gotten to a level that Bebo and her companions could hear the comments without straining too much. To add to the hot pink tight t-shirt and white shorts Bebo had chosen, the girls had put her hair up in a ponytail and clipped a feather to it. If the team had been smart they would have looked past the clothes and concentrated more on the body they highlighted. Most of the men were, but their study had nothing to do with wanting Bebo to teach them any fighting moves.
"General Paddio, how are you this morning?" Bebo held her hand out and smiled.
The older man ran his eyes from her head down to her feet before shaking her hand. Philip Moines would pay for this if it was the last thing he did while serving in the military. "Lets get this over with so we can go back to the business of defending our nation." He was so annoyed that he skipped any type of salutation.
"How about we just go a few rounds without any type of set format and just feel each other out? That way you can see what we have to offer and we can see where you and your men are in different levels of hand to hand combat."
"In that outfit, highness, its more than easy to see what you have to offer," Patrick added without any type of humor. "How do you want to do this?"
"Pick anyone and lets get to it," offered Bebo. She pulled her arms back then over her head to stretch getting Patricks soldiers to line up to get a go at her when he motioned them to the mats.
Why am I not surprised? Bebo kicked off her shoes before stepping on the thick blue surface and never lost eye contact with Titus. He was wearing an Army t-shirt and matching gray shorts and the color washed out his features in the most unattractive way. A cruel smile was on his face, and if she didnt know better, shed have to guess hed found out about Annies little adventure the night before. Being left at a party so that your date could seek someone else out didnt exactly do things for your manhood she imagined. It was time for the big man to teach her a lesson.
"Capt. Walker." There was really nothing else she wanted to say to the man whom she could see from his demeanor hated her.
"Bebo, is it?" He curled his fists and started bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Come and get some."
"I addressed you by your title, Captain, and I expect and demand the same respect in return."
There was no need for posturing. Bebo moved forward, ducked under the blow he sent toward her head and jumped over the kick he sent out to follow up. Not hitting anything sent him off balance and that was her first opportunity to land a blow. The open handed slap to the forehead made his eyes sting long enough for her to follow up with the other hand to just below his ear. It made his head ring, but the placement of the slap saved him a busted eardrum.
"Give up?" she taunted. He pulled back long enough to reorient himself, and then he moved forward again. "Didnt think so."
Titus pulled from his training and waited for an opening to return the favor of his burning skin. The big bitch had only slapped him but the blows had left him feeling like his skin was red-hot. With quickness he didnt think possible she flipped back and away from his next few attempts and just as quickly retaliated with a flurry of slaps to his face. The last one she landed split his lip. Stopping to put his fingers up to his mouth, Titus never saw the last hit. Bebo put her weight behind it and the slap, leaving a perfect set of fingers across his face in the form of a bruise just as shed planned.
She turned to the other soldiers before putting up her hand and giving out a birdcall to the women with whom shed arrived. The three guards fanned out, already having chosen their targets. Not one hit they landed was made with a closed fist. It took thirty minutes, but when they were done the blue mats were full of gray clothed figures.
For the duration of the demonstration, Arthur stood next to his commanding officer and Junis and watched Bebo in action. In the movies, special forces units always kicked ass and took no prisoners, but in reality their specialty was stealth and covert operations behind enemy lines. It was rare they were sent into situations where they needed to fight hand to hand without weapons. They were in peak physical condition, but that was just part of the equation as far as covering great distances carrying nearly a hundred pounds of equipment. Without intelligence and guts, there would be no special ops, but that didnt mean they couldnt learn to become better fighters in Arthurs opinion.
"Good day, general," said Bebo as she made her way to the door. "I hate to waste time, but I figure well start fresh again in the morning." She turned and looked at the older man wondering what was going through his mind.
"That sounds good." He looked from the mats to the unscathed woman highlighted in the sunlight streaming in from the high windows and answered slowly.
"Perhaps tomorrow, we can all start with a fresh mindset. What do you say?"
"That maybe there is something you can teach us after all." He held out his hand first and walked to where she was standing.
"We may come from different countries, sir, but we are fighting on the same side. My mother and your leaders are after the same thing. A world free of what she likes to call bad guys doing bad things. If we didnt think we could help you, I would have been the first one to say so and let you go about your business."
"Fair enough, highness. Ill see you in the morning." He frowned when he turned to watch Titus rise first, his lip swollen and still bleeding. The quick trip to the infirmary to put in stitches would give Moines bragging rights for months to come. "Get cleaned up and spend the rest of the day studying the maps they sent from Louisiana. One humiliation in this exercise is enough," barked Patrick.
"I did try to warn you," said Arthur as they started back toward the offices. "I was Titus once upon a time and I came away with just a broken arm, so it couldve been worse. These are the types of people they send in when you want nothing left alive down to the cockroaches, and you never see them coming."
"Sometimes it takes a live demonstration, I guess. Im sure youll keep me informed of any other surprises our visitors might have."
"Actually, this morning kind of surprised me as well. Ive never seen someone beat the shit out of so many people by just slapping them around. What we need to start praying for is that she and her pals dont show up carrying chobos or fighting staffs. Theyll put all of us in intensive care."
Patrick opened the door of the administration building and waved Art in before him. "Why do I think you could keep up with these women?"
"I learned, general, and I never wanted to stop learning, and thats all Im going to tell you. What we both know though, is thats something I dont have to tell you." The blond just headed for his office and didnt say anything else. With a quick wave over his shoulder, he closed the door and picked up the phone. When the person he called answered, it didnt take him long before he was laughing so hard tears were streaming down his face.
The general stood in the hall lost in thought before heading up a floor to his offices. "This is just the first day, the rest favor me youll see. I dont need any lectures on my life and how I live it, Captain."
When they made it back into the city, the skies had clouded over and there was a light freezing mist falling as they got out of the Hummer the Army had loaned them. A hot shower was already running in Bebos room and she was more than grateful to strip out of the revealing outfit shed worn for her little lesson.
Dressed in a pair of jeans and a leather jacket, she stopped in the den where her three friends were watching a movie after finishing their own showers. "Im going out for a little walk," said Bebo. They all started to get up and find their shoes until she put up her hand. "I think I can survive on my own on a walk. Sit tight and Ill be back in a couple of hours."
"Our duty " started Max.
"Is to stay and finish your movie. I promise I wont tell if you all dont. Its just a walk, and Id venture to say, at the risk of my ego, that no one is going to recognize me."
Armed with a large umbrella, Bebo walked toward the capital buildings. She was interested in visiting all of the structures erected to embody American government, but today she was more interested in a building that had become Audreys favorite from the first time shed visited the city. As a small child, the princess remembered spending time in the great halls holding her mothers hand and listening to the queens soft voice tell her about what they were seeing.
Her jeans felt damp by the time she reached her destination and Bebo stood across the street to admire the massive building. The weather diminished the beauty of the fountain in front. Seeing the water jets under a brilliant sun was something else to add to her list of things to see. The sculptures crafted by Roland Hinton Perry depicted Poseidon and his court in his watery realm. A similar scene carved in marble decorated a fountain at the waters edge in Leon, only the one done by Amazon artisans was a lot older. The princess thought this one was just as beautiful though, and for a moment the mental comparison brought on the melancholic sadness of homesickness.
The stoic figure sighing made Annie wonder what made her look so sad. Coming out of the train station after dropping off Mr. Baxter for a business trip, the blonde thought she was seeing things when she looked toward the far side of the street.
"Terry?" juggling her purse, umbrella and phone, Annie started walking toward her target.
"Yes?" The red head answered, dragging out the word and leaning back in her chair to hear the favor that was forthcoming.
"Could you fill in for me at one? Something came up and I wont be back I think."
"You think? If somethings come up, shouldnt you know?"
The light indicated she could walk across the first street she needed to get over, but Annie still wouldnt beat Bebo into the building. "If you cut me some slack here, I promise to tell you all about it when I see you."
"Take your time, and Ill hold you to that, dont worry."
The traffic was horrible and Annie had a time trying to get across the second street separating her from her quarry without the security of the pedestrian light. Tempting death by traffic wasnt something she often did, but she didnt want to lose Bebo in the maze of corridors if she got too far ahead of her. As she ran across the second street, she slid on the slippery sidewalk and began to fall. Annie thought shed miss the princess because shed have to take a cab home to change horribly wet clothing once she hit the ground. At the last second, a solid arm shot out and held her still against an equally solid feeling body making her forget the umbrella flying down the sidewalk.
"Careful, Miss Paddio, I wouldnt want you to hurt yourself."
There had been few times in Annies life she could remember thinking that just the sound of someones voice could make her shiver. The few times shed been in Bebos company though, shed done nothing but. Her voice was low and mellifluous, the kind of sound that wrapped around your brain and addicted you to wanting to hear more. With the combination of that and the smell of leather that surrounded her, Annie felt faint.
"Im sorry," the blonde stammered, not really knowing what to say.
"Whatever for? I should give you a hard time for taking the chance of running across the street in the middle of all that traffic, but Im sure you had your reasons. Are you all right now?"
A blush ran up her face so fast Annie could feel herself getting red at the teasing tone whispering in her ear. After her behavior the night before when Bebo kissed her hand, she was acting like a damsel in distress staying in the warm embrace. As slowly as she could, she righted herself and turned around to face her savior. Perhaps, after looking into the blue eyes, all the storybooks with that theme werent all fantasy, and being rescued every so often was something she could grow to like.
"I just saw you and didnt want you to get away from me." The blush got so hot with the choice of words that Annie thought she could have dried her clothes without too much trouble.
"There was no reason to run and no chance of that happening, I was standing here waiting for you." Bebo arched a brow and her lips turned up in a smile ever so slowly. "Not that I was expecting you, but the gods do bless us with pleasant surprises when we least expect them. And I noticed you too when you stepped out."
"You did?" the question sounded unsure. "I mean, are you going in?" Annie pointed toward the building in an effort to fight the urge to scrub her face with the same hand.
"I thought it might be a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon."
They stood facing each other under Bebos umbrella, neither of them moving, comfortable in their silence until Annie snapped first. "I know you probably cant talk about it, but arent you supposed to be working with my father and his special unit today?"
"We did a little slap and tickle this morning then decided to call it a day. Its me who should apologize now for the condition youll find Titus in when you get home. Kissing might be a problem for a couple of days."
Both of Annies brows climbed into her hairline as her imagination took off at what Bebo meant. Their fight over the phone the night before came back to her and she hoped he hadnt done anything stupid to try and get back at the Amazon. When she never returned he was furious, and when she explained where shed gone, he had just hung up.
"Titus is a big boy, Im sure hell be fine. If youd like Ill go in and show you around. Im not as knowledgeable about the building as the people who work here but I try and visit whenever Im in the area and have time."
"My mother has tried to duplicate some of the facets of the National Library of Congress in Amazonia during her years on the throne. Weve always had a national archive of scrolls and other written works and collections, but mom loved the grandeur of some of what she saw here. Some of her additions have made a beautiful place all that more spectacular."
They left their raingear with the guard and accepted visitors passes that would allow them to walk around without a guide. For several minutes they walked side by side, with Bebo leaving a comfortable amount of space between them, and looked at the current exhibits and the items for which the Library was known. In the Great Hall, Bebo stood in the center on the large brass inlay of the sun and looked up at the stained glass.
Annie almost felt as if she were intruding on Bebos thoughts when she spoke. Her need for words had been a constant line of teasing from her father who thanked the heavens she hadnt wanted to pursue a military career. In his opinion the enemy would have captured her in the first five minutes of her arriving on assignment because of her inability to stay quiet.
"I dont know if you noticed in the Vestibule, but there are eight statues dedicated to the goddess Minerva," her voice had taken on the hushed tones of a librarian.
"When this building was constructed, your people did a wonderful job of incorporating many aspects of learning. The compass," Bebo pointed to the floor where she was standing, with the four cardinal points of the compass inlaid in the floor along with the sun. She pointed to another set of inlays. "The signs of the zodiac. "Its as if they understood you must incorporate both the heavens and the works of man to make a place like this truly a place dedicated to knowledge. And to answer your question, yes I noticed. My mother pointed them out to me the first time I was here. Though, since Im more Greek than Roman, Miss Paddio, I prefer to say the statues are of Athena."
"This is fun," said Annie, laughing a little like a schoolgirl with a crush. She looked from side to side. Other than the tour that had already gone through, they were alone. "Last night you said it was just you and me, so it could be Bebo and Annie. Do you think we are alone enough again?"
"Last night you also almost jumped into old Abes lap when I made a move you werent expecting, so you tell me. I dont often try to make the same mistake twice. If youd feel more comfortable we can try and catch up with one of the tours."
"No, I meant what I just said. This is fun because youre interested in this stuff enough to learn about it and want to discuss it with me. Last night was my mistake not yours. I really do like your company so Im hoping one mistake doesnt mean I wont get to spend time with you."
"Two," said Bebo with a straight face.
"Two mistakes. Youre forgetting Larissa," said Bebo when she saw the look of confusion on Annies brow. "But then we decided that neither of those things were intentional mistakes, so we could just move on."
They continued on down the corridors and under the vaulted ceilings where the names of great scholars, men of law and writers were embossed on medallions. When they arrived at the stairs that led to the viewing room for visitors to look into the library, they stopped and admired the mosaic of Athena that took up a huge portion of the wall. In white robes, the goddess was shown in a pose of serenity with her owl. Included in the colorful work were a globe, a sword and a scroll.
"Back when this building was just a dream, my people very seldom left the island if it wasnt necessary. But for this," Bebo waved her arm to encompass their surroundings, "Queen Eris sent a contingent of artists to create this gift for your new nation." The princess and citizen of Amazonia had bowed before the goddess before deciding to share her story.
"That isnt in any of the literature Ive read."
"It wasnt given to garner gratitude from your people, it was given to add something to a place dedicated to learning. Athena is the goddess of war, but she is also the goddess of education and science. It is because of her and her sister Artemis, the whole of Amazonia has prospered for so long, or so the priestesses tell us."
Annie heard a bit of something added to Bebos tone, but they didnt know each other well enough to know what it was. "You dont believe in the gods?"
"I believe were here and must rely on ourselves to make the right choices, but then I also believe there are greater forces who guide our fates. Ive never seen a god, but if they do exist, how humorous must they find our mundane lives?"
"Now whos the cynic?"
The rich deep laugh echoed through the space and Bebos eyes came to life. "I never said I wasnt, but I find Im more of an observer than a cynic. There are certain things I find amusing that prove to me there are gods and they find humor in the strangest of places."
"What do you mean?"
"The halls we walked down, the ones with all the names," said Bebo pointing toward the ceiling. Annie nodded then looked back in that direction. "When they were placed on the ceilings to show the best in every field, your founding fathers only thought to add men; poets, authors, scientists, etcetera all brilliant in their time, but still all men. Did you know there is but one womans name stamped up there?"
Annie looked puzzle and tried to recall if shed ever read anything that mentioned that fact. "There is? Huh, you learn something new everyday. Who is it?"
"Youre kidding me? Why in the world would they have done that?" Annie looked up warily as though the name would fall on her head. "Not that theres anything wrong with her writing."
Bebo smirked. "Of course not, Im just sure you have no reservations with the most famous lesbian writer of her time and for generations after her death being placed in a place you hold so dear." Annie recognized the tone this time for what it was, sarcasm.
"Im not homophobic."
"I didnt say you were."
"Im not," insisted Annie.
"I refuse to get into a circular argument with you. So back to what I was saying. When the names were picked, the men responsible for their choice saw it on the list and thought it was a famous writer, which she was, only they thought she came with the most crucial element to get you on the ceiling a penis. If you think hard on that one though, I would be willing to bet you giving Titus a free shot at my head with a big stick that she had more than one and in a variety of colors."
Annie couldnt help herself and started laughing. She laughed until her sides hurt and she was leaning on Bebo to hold her up. Picturing men in powdered wigs pouring over a list of names and placing a check mark next to the famous poets name was the funniest thing she could have imagined.
"So, Annie, her name up there as the only woman representative of her time makes me believe the gods do exist and they have one Hades of a sense of humor."
"In all the time Ive been in here thats the best story Ive ever heard. Have you had lunch?" Not moving away from Bebo, Annie laid both her hands on the tall womans chest and looked up at her as she asked the question. Being so close to her made Annie feel warm, but it had nothing to do with temperature. It was like her skin wanted to feel Bebo as if it had a last found what it missed.
"That would mean youd have to sit at a table with me," Bebo leaned in and got closer to the little blonde to gauge her reaction. "We might even end up in close quarters."
"Im sure youre more than capable of protecting yourself if I decide to get fresh with you," joked Annie. "Do you have a preference? What I mean is, would you like to join me? I should start with that."
"Id love nothing better." Bebo paused. "Id like to try a little place my driver told me about." They walked out and hailed a cab to a small Japanese restaurant in Georgetown. "You do like sushi, dont you?"
"Bait? Im just wild about it," answered Annie, trying hard not to turn green.
"Well have yours rolled in tempura and deep fried. Trust me, youll love this."
It was the most intimate, nonsexual afternoon Annie had ever spent in her life. Bebo was persuasive enough to get her to try a couple of the different items on the menu and she found she really did like the bits of stuff wrapped in sticky rice and seaweed once she gave it a chance. She had no qualms whenever she leaned in and allowed the tall reclining princess to feed her with the black lacquered chopsticks. She relaxed on the cushions she was sitting on and wiggled her toes glad to see there werent any runs in her stockings.
Two hours later Annie still wasnt tired of looking at the princess when they sat during moments of silence, or when listening to Bebo tell amusing stories of her childhood. During her life as an Army brat, Annie had come to love the privilege of exploring new places when her father was transferred, but felt she had missed out on having lots of friends because they did move so much. Listening to Bebo talk about her home and her friends was nice and it gave her a different perspective. She was also basking in the attention Bebo seemed to lavish without thought or effort, as if it was something she was comfortable doing with Annie. In her experience it was she whod had to give the attention feeling that she owed it to Titus.
"Youre really different from my father," said Annie. Her head was resting on her open palm as she ignored etiquette and leaned her elbow on the table.
"If I werent, different I mean, they wouldnt let me be princess." The joke caused the blonde to snort and it pleased Bebo to no end. Shed found Annie beautiful from the moment shed first seen her, but this relaxed happy woman before her was stunning.
The sake theyd consumed made Annie feel warm under the gaze of the blue eyes. "I suppose not, but thats not what I meant."
"And what did you mean, my dear Annie?"
"My mom has always loved art and the theater stuff like that you know, but my father just always thought it was a waste of time. His job and his responsibilities were always more important than looking at anything in a museum or gallery. For the longest time I tried to understand both sides of their arguments, but I just finally felt like she was losing out on so much not being able to enjoy what she loved with him. Since he wasnt interested, she just went alone so she never shared that part of herself with him, even though she tried to show enthusiasm for his job and duties."
If you never chance anything, then how do you know youll be good at anything? Bodens words rang in her daughters head and Bebo decided to take a chance. She reached across the small table and took the hand that rested on Annies thigh. "And what does that have to do with me?"
"You seem to have been able to balance both worlds quite nicely. I dont know all the details, I know youre considered a warrior but you also enjoy the more boring arena of books. Or at least all the soldiers in my life think theyre boring." She didnt flinch and didnt pull away, but Annies heart did race as she noticed the texture of Bebos hand.
Slowly Annie placed their hands on the table and rubbed hers along Bebos palm to get the larger one to open. A clear polished nail ran down the length of the long fingers before Annie got back to the palm and used all of her fingertips.
Bebos hands werent hard looking, but they werent soft either. On certain sections there were well-defined calluses that the blonde guessed came from some sort of repetitive motion while holding something. When she finished with the first, green eyes looked up at the woman studying her and Annie held out her hand so Bebo would take it. When the princess gave her other hand over willingly, Annie treated it to the same unhurried study.
"Where did these come from?" She pressed down gently on one of the rough spots causing the fingers to close a bit. For the briefest of moments she had an overwhelming need to kiss the palm under her fingers.
"Years of training with different pieces of equipment." It was Bebos turn to take Annies hand in hers and lay the palm bare for study. "The chobos cause you to blister here after hours of holding them." She pointed to the right spot on the soft hands and ran her finger along the length of Annies palm just under the base of her fingers. Bebo was watching the journey of her finger so closely that she missed the goose bumps popping up on Annies arm caused by her actions. "The sword along here," she ran her finger just a little lower and closer to the thumb than she had before. "They of course are weapons that arent as useful in the art of war today, but they make you respect the warriors of old. Every young recruit who picks a life of military service, learns from the simplest of weapons to the most complicated of todays society. That is our way."
"And your knowledge of other things, where did that come from?"
"Ill one day, the gods willing, rule my people for the next generation. To do so effectively I have to know when to pick up my sword, but more importantly, when not to." Bebo squeezed Annies fingers once before letting the delicate hand go and retreating back to her side of the table only to have Annie chase it with her own not wanting to let go. "If you need something more specific, it was my mother Audrey. Listening to her tell stories all my life, made me want to read and see the world the way she sees it."
"Will you tell me about her?" Though she wasnt conscious of her actions, Annies thumb rubbed across Bebos knuckles in a small circle.
"If I were to do an adequate job, wed be here all night, and Im sure there are people in your life who wouldnt appreciate that." Bebo poured them some more wine and handed Annie her cup to try and put some distance between them. The petite blonde may not have been aware of her thumbs movements, but she was driving Bebo mad with her gentle caresses. "The short version is my mother is a bard, a storyteller who has a doctorate in history, and a degree in education. When she and my second mother Boden first joined, she worked as a kindergarten teacher during the school year and a volunteer in the archives when the session was over. She likes to get back in the classroom when she has the opportunity, but now her life is fairly consumed with her responsibilities as queen. She and my mom are another two reasons I believe in the gods."
"That sounds like a statement youre expected to say," teased Annie.
"Youd think, but I say it because in my heart I believe it. I learned two different ways to live from two different women who complete what the other is missing in their lives."
"And what are you missing in your life?"
Bebo fished her wallet out of the pocket of her jacket and extracted some bills. "At this moment in time, not a thing."
"Whats going on with you?" Reggie stopped in front of a selection of staves. The museum had been closed for over an hour and Annie had promised her a private tour. "Annie, Im talking to you."
Her fingers felt like Bebo had left her mark on them. The memory of having the warm digits capturing hers was fresh and her hand was still tingling even thought theyd separated hours before. She was standing there looking at her palms in a daze until Reggie bumped shoulders with her startling Annie into jumping.
"Whats wrong with you?"
"Nothing, Im just tired." Annie put her hands behind her back and took a deep breath. "What do you think so far?"
The younger, taller blonde knew her sister enough to recognize a change of subject when she heard one. "I think theyre a fascinating people, and after looking at all this it just raises that many more questions in my head. Its like they raised a society of women who excel in so many different fields when you think about it. The arts, economics and even the military, all without the influence of men."
"I wouldnt go that far, Gloria Steinem. Theyve survived sure, but I dont think its fair to say its without the influence of men. The world influences all things as a whole, and the Amazons are no different. Im sure your professors have warned you about adding your own sentiments or prejudices to history. The more interesting study would be what lasting emotional problems their children suffer by not being able to have contact with their fathers or any other male figures."
The staff Reggie was looking at had small palm looking trees carved into the ends and it made her wonder why someone would have taken the time to decorate a weapon. She laughed thinking what her father would do if she stenciled roses on the butt of his rifle when he wasnt looking.
"Youve spent time with Princess Bebo, so you tell me. Does she seem lacking in anything emotional or otherwise?"
"It was just a couple of minutes of small talk and a lunch, Reg. That hardly qualifies as a case study on social behavior."
Ding, ding, ding we have a winner, folks. "When did you have lunch with her?"
"It wasnt anything special." She could feel her ears getting hot at the lie. It was special and you know it! The voice in her head screamed making Annie all that more uneasy. "I just happened to run into her today and we ended up having lunch."
"Youre right, it doesnt sound like anything special," Reggie never took her eyes off the case of weapons shed been taking notes on. "I was thinking of calling her and asking her out."
"I dont know about that, sis. You know how daddy is about appearances. If someone sees you, he isnt going to like it, especially knowing why Bebo is here."
"You had lunch with her today, Annie," Reggie faced her and closed her notebook. "Didnt that concern you?"
"I know you though. Asking her out wouldnt be about lunch, would it?"
This was an old argument between them and no number of rounds was going to declare a clear winner. "Im not you, Annie, and I think Im old enough for you and daddy to stop trying to make me into something Im not. You may not want to live your own life, but dont expect me to give up mine to make the general happy." Her hands shook with anger as she stuffed her things back into her bag.
Reggie looked up at her with fire in her green eyes. "Save it, okay. If you were sorry we wouldnt be having this discussion .again." She started for the exit and stopped when she heard Annie right behind her, the heels of her pumps echoing in the vast room. "I know the way so dont bother."
"Please, Reggie, I didnt mean it. You know I hate it when we fight, and you have to know I love you just the way you are."
Reggies shoulders slumped making her book bag slide down her arm. "I know you love me, but not just like I am. Its not something I hold against you because I know you think youre helping me, but its frustrating as hell sometimes." Reggie took the time to put her coat on and center herself before she left. She was still angry but the extra time would put Annies mind at ease thinking things were calm.
"Ill see you at home later?" Annie ventured.
"Sure. Be careful, the weathers getting horrible out there." Reggie went and kissed her sisters cheek before leaving.
The wrecked mustang was parked in the driveway when Reggie got home so she left the jeep on the street. If he was in some state of undress when she walked in, it was going to put his back bumper in jeopardy. The fact he had a key at all to let himself in whenever he pleased had been a major point of disagreement between the two sisters as well.
"Annie?" Titus called out from the den when the door closed.
"Shes still at work, G.I. Joe, you should know that by now. So why are you here?" He moved the bag of ice away from his mouth to give her some flip answer then thought it wasnt worth it. "What in the hell happened to you?" Reggie finally looked up at him after going through the mail shed found on the table. It was all for her so she suspected Annies was already opened and examined somewhere in the house. That practice had resulted in a lengthy discussion as well, but if her sister didnt want to speak up about it, Reggie didnt feel it was her business anymore.
"Nothing." The bag had to come away for him to answer and glare at his tormentor. He wanted to throw the television remote at her when a large smile spread across her face after getting a good look at his.
"Sure. Im guessing you just tripped and fell on your own hand." The outline of four fingers was vividly visible and his lip was swollen on the side the stitches were placed. From where she stood, Reggie could tell there were more than a couple. "Do you need anything?"
"Just leave me alone."
"Ill be happy to. What I meant was, do you want something to drink or an aspirin or something? That looks like it hurts." She pointed to her own lip.
"Just go away and leave me alone," he mumbled from behind the bag of ice. The shot to deaden the area had started to wear off and it hurt to talk. He was glad Reggie gave up and just walked away.
He was just as happy when Annie came home and didnt ask any questions. She only kissed his forehead and offered to make him some soup so he wouldnt have to chew anything. A show on Nazi tank commanders had just started on the History Channel when the doorbell rang.
"Stay put, sweetheart, Ill get it," said Annie. She was wiping her hands on a towel as she came out of the kitchen.
Seeing Titus face when shed arrived had made her curious, but knowing his pride and his temper, Annie had left it alone. Having one person she loved mad at her was enough for one day, so shed changed into a pair of sweatpants, an old t-shirt and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Not thinking, she opened the door and came face to face with Bebo.
The urge to slam the door shut was making Annie grip the knob so hard her fingers were white. She could see the stylish navy blue suit under the long coat and it made her feel like a shrew because of her state of dress. "Highness, what a surprise. How did you know I lived here? Why are you here? Did you need something?" The rambling went on and she was powerless to stop it, but nothing Annie said resembled a greeting.
The lack of manners wasnt lost on Bebo but she just smiled and hesitated not sure if another question was coming. If it were she figured Annie had a good set of lungs not to come up for air for such a long stretch. "Good evening, Miss Paddio, Im so sorry to have disturbed you, I didnt realize you resided here."
"What the fuck do you want?" Titus pressed himself to Annies back and yelled as best he could with the cut on his lip.
"I was invited, but perhaps I got the directions wrong." Bebo stepped a foot back and made a show of looking at the house numbers. The real reason was in case Titus made a move. Preparing for the possibility the tall woman moved the flowers shed brought with her to her non-dominate hand.
"Youre in the right place, highness. Try to ignore the two clueless ones at the door and come in." Reggie was standing on the bottom step with her hands on her hips. The black dress she wore drew three sets of eyes to her, but she was only interested in one persons opinion. From Bebos face, she guessed her choice was more than acceptable.
"For you, Miss Paddio," Bebo walked to her and handed Reggie the flowers shed brought.
"Thank you, and please call me Reggie." She accepted the bouquet of white roses and held them up to her nose. "Let me take care of these and get my coat."
"Take your time, were not in a hurry. Im sure your sister and future brother-in-law will be happy to keep me company." A blue eye closed in a wink making Reggie laugh. Any nervousness over calling Bebo dissipated with the tease.
"Do you want to stay and have dinner with us?" offered Annie when Reggie disappeared into the kitchen for a vase. The action of doing so was something shed always wanted to do, but had yet to experience since no one had ever given her flowers. "I made plenty."
"As much as Id love to stay, as would your sister Im sure, I promised to take her out for the evening. Id hate to disappoint." Bebo moved back to the foyer feeling like she didnt belong. Their lunch had been wonderful but now Annie looked like she was about to jump out of her skin she was so tense. "Its nice of you to ask, but Im sure youd like to spend the evening enjoying Titus company. I really didnt mean to intrude on your privacy. Reggie didnt tell me you lived here as well when she called."
"And thats supposed to make a difference, asshole? Neither of these women are available to you so why dont you just go." Titus ignored the pain in his face and tried to intimidate her by moving closer to her. He had seen how Bebo had retreated and figured she wasnt so tough when she didnt have her little troupe of backups.
"Titus, stand at ease and shut the hell up," ordered Reggie from the door of the kitchen. "One more outburst like that and Ill have daddy on the phone," she threatened.
"Im sure that wont be necessary, Reggie. The Captain just had a bad day is all." Bebo smiled at him and held her hand out to Reggie. "A good slap to the face will do that to anyone."
The reference told the sisters how Titus had received his injuries, making Annie grimace after she remembered the princess earlier comment about any future kissing on her and Titus part. If Bebos clue wasnt enough, his turning red when she spoke confirmed it. "Im ready to go again if you want, bitch."
"Titus, stop it," it was Annie who spoke up this time. "I know youre in pain, but its no reason to be rude."
"As fun as this has been, we have an eight oclock reservation at Bis. If youre ready, Reggie." Bebo opened the door and waited for the blonde to step out before following her. "Good night," she said to the two just as she closed the door.
"That fucking slut," said Titus as he stared at the door.
"Drop it." Annie didnt add anything as she went to check on dinner.
He followed her into the kitchen and folded his arms over his chest. "What in the hell is that supposed to mean, drop it?"
"I mean you are going to have to accept Regina is my sister." She held up one finger and tried to hold her temper in check. Another finger went up as she went on. "She lives here with me and is free to see and go out with anyone she damn well pleases. She isnt your responsibility, so you had no right to talk to Princess Bebo that way." Annie hadnt noticed but she was screaming as she finished. There was a headache forming over her left eye and she couldnt figure out who she was madder at Titus for acting like an ass or Reggie for calling Bebo and asking her out.
"Why are you yelling at me?"
He was right. Why was she yelling at him? How Annie felt was inappropriate considering what she had just said. Reggie was free to call whomever she chose, the most important reason being, she was free. "I said drop it, Titus, and I meant it. Go back and watch television and let me finish in here."
Not listening, Titus moved closer to her and tried to pull her into a kiss, ignoring his injury. She pulled away from him and put her hands up. "Youve got to be fucking kidding me! Look what she did to me today, Annie. Im just supposed to ignore that and act like Im as enthralled with her as you and your idiot sister?"
"This isnt getting us anywhere. I want you to go." She turned off the burner and moved the pot of chicken noodle soup shed made.
"I dont want to go."
"I didnt ask what you wanted, I asked you to go. Im tired from the other night and I dont want to spend the night fighting with you about someone who isnt important in the scheme of things. Just go home and well get together tomorrow." She walked out and ran up the stairs, slamming the door to her room behind her.
"What in the fuck just happened here?" Titus asked the refrigerator like it was going to answer him.
"Would you like to come in?" asked Reggie when they got back.
"I would love to, but perhaps another time. Theres a unit of soldiers who would like nothing better than to kick my butt in the morning so Im afraid I have to go and get some sleep." Bebo walked Reggie to her door and stepped back. "Thank you for the company, Reggie. Its nice to make a friend when Im so far away from most of mine."
"Id love to do it again if youd be willing."
"Now that I know where you live and how delightful it will be to come over " Bebo started in a teasing voice. "Im sorry, I couldnt resist. It was fun, so Ill call you and we can repeat the experience real soon." She bowed over the small hand shed picked up from Reggies side and kissed it. "Good night."
From her upstairs window, Annie watched the tender scene and her tears started all over again. It was insane for her to be jealous but she couldnt help herself. The lunch and all their conversations now felt tainted somehow because Bebo had taken her sister to dinner. She didnt begrudge Reggie her happiness but Annie just wished shed picked someone else to be happy with. There was a soft tap at her door a moment later and Annie chose to ignore it. She didnt have the strength to have one more emotion charged conversation that night.
On the street, Bebo waved off the driver and started off on foot. If she was going back to Embassy Row it was going to be a long walk from Arlington where she and Reggie lived. Quietly she put her shoes and coat on, and slipped out of the house. She followed Bebo to a Metro stop a couple of blocks away and wondered where she was going as she disappeared down the escalator.
A few stops later, Bebo got off and started off on another leisurely walk in the direction of the Jefferson Memorial. Once again Annie found her standing in the rotunda of the building staring up at the well-lit statue. This time though, she wanted to be the first who spoke.
"What do you see when you look at him?" She didnt have to speak loudly. They were the only two people in the space.
Bebo stood there in silence as if lost in thought. She had known Annie was behind her from the time shed heard the front door click softly closed as she walked down the quiet street. What she didnt know was why Annie was out at all. After shed left with Reggie, shed figured Titus would have tried to reclaim what he thought belonged to him in the most physical of ways.
There was only one way to find out, Bebo thought so she began talking. "A remarkable individual and leader. From what Ive read of him, President Jefferson was a man well ahead of his time. His writing helped form your nation and his words ring just as true now as they did when he penned them. That kind of foresight is rare in any era of history. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Eloquent words from an eloquent man."
"You memorized that? Why?"
Bebo turned and faced her questioner. "Why not?" She closed her hands into fists at her side to try and stem the flow of her anger but this woman was starting to get under her skin and not in a good way. "All in all, I dont consider myself a complicated person, but youre a completely different story arent you? Im trying my best to try and figure you out, Miss Paddio, but Im afraid Im still not any closer to an answer than when we first met." She put her hand up to stop the request to use her first name. "I realize now its Miss Paddio. For me it will always be no matter where we are and how many people are around us. You have a perception of who I am and what Im supposed to be, and nothing Im ever going to do or say to you will change that, will it? Is it such a shock that I would admire a great leader because he was a man? Is that why you asked that?"
"Bebo, please " Annie held both her hands in front of her and moved closer.
"Please what? Talk to you and try to prove to you how smart I am, or how good a trained monkey my mothers brought me up to be? Or is it that I should try and make you smile when its just the two of us, but when theres another person within twenty feet of us watching, pretend that I dont know you? I dont have that much time here, and even if I did, I wouldnt lower myself to those types of games. You mistake me for someone who wants something from you, and all I wanted was to be is your friend. Your sister understands that, why cant you?"
Wanted to be your friend, the statement made Annie think the door was closed on that possibility. "Why did you take her out to dinner tonight?" The question sounded as petty as it was but the blonde couldnt help herself.
"I dont owe you an explanation, but if you really want to know, it was because she thought I might enjoy a night out and someone to talk with. Its a simple explanation but its the truth. Why, did Capt. Walker convince you that all us Amazon lesbian freaks are after one thing? That is after you convinced him that you agree with his outlook on the world? Because, believe me, mentioning we had seen each other earlier would have sent you into a panic, am I right?"
"No, Im not like that and no, I sent him home after the two of you left. I just thought after this afternoon that you would " there was no real way to finish the statement and Annies voice died away.
"Stay away from all the Paddio women except you?" Bebo finished for her. "I take my earlier assessment of you back, Miss Paddio. You arent a cynic youre an egotist." She moved fast and took Annie by the elbow and started walking. At the first street, Bebo waved down a taxi and opened the back door for Annie. She barked the address at the driver and motioned for the blonde to get in. "You wont ever have cause to look so stricken when you find yourself in my company and Titus is standing behind you. If the time we shared this afternoon was wrong and you felt you were just doing a bit of charity work, then Im sorry I misunderstood. I thought you wanted to be there. My mistake and as I said before, I try seldom to make the same one twice. Goodnight."
The car door closing didnt give Annie a chance to answer and she turned around to see Bebo standing on the street corner watching her go. From the front seat the driver looked at her in the rearview mirror. "Are you all right, maam?"
"Three days ago that was an easy question to answer, now Im not so sure."
Dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts with no insignia or markings on them, Bebo and the girls arrived back at the gym the next morning for training. The soldiers standing at ease in a single file across from them were all sporting bruises but none of them looked as bad as Titus and all of them looked wary every time Bebo took a step toward them.
After a few hours they had learned the moves the Amazons had concentrated on and were ready for some sparring matches. Bebo and her guards broke them into small groups and gave suggestions as the Americans tried the techniques on each other. They had all decided on dropping titles while they worked together so they wouldnt have to waste effort worrying about protocol.
"Stop trying to use brute force over your opponent, Brian." The lieutenant was a big man from Georgia and Bebo had purposely pitted him against Lt. Carey Sanders, the smallest of the three women who served on Patricks squad. The smallish brunette had understood the concept they were trying to teach them better than most of the others.
"Im holding back since I dont want to hurt her."
"Then try it your way on me and lets see if it works," challenged Bebo. "I top her by a foot at least so give it your best shot."
Four lunges resulted in four trips to the mat in short order, but instead of getting mad the big man started laughing. "Ill be goddamned. My daddy would kick my ass if he saw me now," he said from his back looking up at her. "You win, Bebo, Ill pay better attention from here on out."
She held her hand out in an offer to help him up and it was taken without hesitation. The exchange only ratcheted Titus anger up another notch. "I know you all have another meeting you have to get to so well pick up again in the morning," said Bebo. "Thank you all for your attention."
Bebo changed when she got home but not to go out. Her choice of outfit was the usual attire she wore in Amazonia to workout with Bo. She descended the stairs and headed to the back of the house. When the Amazons had built it, the architects had designed a space to help the residents feel at home. Under the glass structure that stood three stories high was a garden as lush as the forests of Argase. From the trees to the grass on the ground, they had imported and planted everything to make it look as homelike as possible. In the clearing at the center her opponent stood waiting for her arrival.
She bowed to show her respect then moved her staff to a defensive position. A shot of adrenaline mixed with a bit of fear shot up the mans spine but he returned her smile. It reminded him of Bodens right before she used your head for target practice.
"Try and remember Im a little rusty," said Arthur as he moved in a circle around her trying to find an opening. "You kill me and itll upset your mama."
"True, but then she loves me even if Im not perfect."
"Are you telling me you dont believe my sister doesnt think youre perfect?" He moved in and the sound of wood hitting wood filled the space. Fighting with the weapon was hard enough, but against someone like Bebo it was almost impossible to keep the staff in his hands.
"And disagree with the smartest woman I know? Never." Their hits increased in speed but she took it easy on him so the session wouldnt end too soon.
He laughed at her comeback and it was enough of a distraction for Bebo to knock the staff out of his hand. His bare chest was slick with sweat but Art wasnt ready to quit. "Chobos?"
"I wonder if he knows shes unbeaten on the island with those?" asked Steph from her lounge chair by the pool. She and the others were far enough away so as not to be able to hear what Bebo and Art were saying, but close enough to observe the action.
"I think Art just wants to take a run around the trees. Its a shame he was born a man, he wouldve made a good Amazon," said Max. Her mom had told her both she and Boden had taught him to climb trees and walk the branches when they were children.
At the front of the house Denise opened the door to a depressed looking Annie. "May I be of service, Miss?"
"Id like to see Princess Bebo if I could."
The housekeepers first instinct was to say no, but the sadness the young woman wore like a cloak made her step back to allow her to come in. She was going against Bebos wishes not to be disturbed, but Denise had a feeling this lapse would be forgiven.
"Right this way," Denise headed for the atrium praying Arthur had knocked most of the fight out of her ruler. "Shes just getting in a little exercise so you might have to wait."
Nothing in Annies experience could have prepared her for the first sight of Bebo in the surroundings where she felt the most at home. Like an adventure novel come to life, she watched the strong body dressed in what looked to be a loincloth of leather with a matching short top. Bebo was barefoot and balanced on a tree branch as a man in a similar outfit at the bottom came after her with two short sticks. How they were able to stay on the tree limb was amazing to Annie.
As Arthur advanced, Bebo tucked a little and jumped up to the next branch shoving her weapons into a long thin sheath at her side. Once she was out of his reach the chase was on and their observers were treated to a show of acrobatics as the two moved with speed and agility around the enclosed space. Twin sets of laughter eased Annies anxiety a little, but she feared one misstep and the results could be tragic. She watched with her fingers pressed to her lips, scared that a scream would slip out and make one of them fall.
The three guards kept their eye on Arthur to make sure he didnt kill himself trying to catch Bebo. It was Beth who first noticed the two women near the back entrance to the house. She nudged Steph who in turn nudged Max.
"Id trade my best rifle for Titus to show up now and see the look on that girls face. Bebo would have an excuse to pop him again from his reaction Im sure." Max made the other two laugh and sat up to see what was going to happen when Bebo saw the woman who was waiting for her.
"Max, Bear will never forgive you if all her years of training drop like a rock out of those trees, and you know thats going to happen if she looks down. You remember what happened in the museum that first day. And I wont even get into what Boden would do to you," warned Steph.
"You know how to get her down just as well as I do," said Max with a smile. "All right already." She cupped her hands around her mouth and sent a shrill birdcall in Bebos direction.
Not slowing down the princess looked back toward the pool. The faces were so smug she bled off some speed wondering what was amusing them so much. All together her friends pointed to the back of the house. In hindsight the luckiest thing that could have happened was Bebo was as high up as she was. One look at Annie and it threw her balance off enough to knock her off the branch.
Annie screamed as she watched Bebo fall, stopping when two big hands grabbed a branch half way down. She forgot about the guy whod been on the princess heels but just as quickly he landed with his feet on either side of Bebos hands.
"You okay, sprout?"
"Im fine but you wont be if you tell my mother I fell out of a tree," she told him with a laugh as she looked up at him. She swung gently to get a better grip so she could plan her next move.
"Was it the girl or me that made you lose concentration? When he smiled it reminded Bebo of Audrey. Their eyes and the way the skin crinkled around them were identical. "Must be serous if it was the girl."
"Just surprised me is all. The last time we talked it didnt end well so I didnt plan on seeing her again." The people on the ground were starting to get amused. The two were obviously having a heart to heart; it just looked funny to see one of them hanging by her fingers.
"Is that Paddios kid?"
"Want me to go down and keep her entertained while you get yourself together?" He reached down with one hand and offered her an easy way up. "I think youve scared her enough for one day."
She accepted and tried to help so he wouldnt lose his balance. "It isnt like that." Their eyes met when she was back beside him and he arched a fair brow over one of his. "It isnt," she repeated when he added a smile.
"Im not laughing at you, sprout. I just now figured out why Titus looks the way he does. You do whats best for you and dont let anyone stand in your way. Thats all your mothers and I have ever wanted for you." He patted her shoulder and was surprised when she pulled him into a hug.
"Thanks, dad." It was her hand that kept him suspended this time from falling to the ground. "Sorry, I shouldve asked first."
"You dont need to ask, I just never thought you would see me in that way."
"Arthur, Im not an idiot, I do realize how it is I came into being and the part you played in that. I came here because my mother asked it of me, but I also came to spend time with you. Mom was the one who had me assigned to the Cobra Unit for this exercise."
"Yes," she pulled him as easily as he had when she was in need of help. "The Consort Boden is as smart a woman as her wife, and I think it had a little to do with owing you one for everything you did. I know shed never tell you that to your face, but thats what I think."
"She doesnt owe me a thing. I was glad to do it. And has the person who can tell Audrey no to anything been born yet?"
"Come on, they probably think weve gone insane or something."
They moved down opposite sides of the tree trunk until they felt the grass under their feet. When they were safely down, Arthur bowed to Bebo and thanked her for the session. Annie kept looking at him like she recognized him but couldnt place him.
Not to make her feel any more uncomfortable by having to explain her presence, he chose not to introduce himself. "Ms. Paddio, it was nice seeing you again." He followed the rest of the group back into the house to grab a shower and change. For the rare afternoon off to spend with Bebo, Arthur had promised to fill in that evening and finish some paperwork at the base.
Now alone, Annie and Bebo just stared at each other and felt at a loss for words. Denise tried her best to help by bringing out a platter of finger foods and a bottle of wine. "Highness, I thought you and your guest might enjoy a snack out here."
"Thank you, Denise, but I dont know if Miss Paddio can stay."
"I can stay, thank you." Annie looked up at her and tried to convey with her eyes the sincerity of her statement. The night before had been hell after Bebo had put her in a cab and sent her away. "Unless you dont want me to."
Another girl came out and laid a blanket down in the clearing. Bebo mentally shook her head at the staffs more than obvious attempt to create a certain mood. "Denise, thank you. Ill take it from here." She motioned to the blonde to take a seat as best she could in the skirt she wore, having to help when Annie couldnt manage without losing a bit of dignity.
"I think gratitude can be as overworked as apologies." A hurt look at her words further saddened Annies demeanor. "What I mean is, theres no need to thank me for just talking to you. Miss Paddio, if were going to be friends then we need to sweep the eggshells out of the room. If I have to be so formal all the time think of all the great arguments well miss."
"An apology was going to be my next item of discussion," said Annie trying her best to smile. "Last night well Im not sure what last night was but I was wrong to question you about Reggie. Youre free to have dinner with whomever you please just like my sister is." She closed the distance between them by reaching over and putting her hand over Bebos. "What I couldnt stand is having you believe I think ill of you, or worse having you not want to see me."
"Why are you here?" Bebo didnt look at her; instead she kept her eyes on their hands.
"I wanted to see you to tell you that I dont want to lose out on being your friend. If you give me a second chance, I promise to do better."
The slow sweep of Bebos eyes from Annies legs up to her face felt like a caress to the young woman, but she didnt look away even though it felt like the blue eyes would burn her. "What do you want from me?"
"Can I be honest?"
Bebo laughed as her own question came back to haunt her. "Id love nothing better."
"I really dont know, but I do know Ill regret it for the rest of my life if I dont hang around and find out. The best answer I can give you is to say I want to start with spending time with you and talking about whatever interests you." She pulled on the warm fingers and felt immensely better since Bebo hadnt sent her away. "The rest well figure out together with time."
"Thats a good answer," Bebo left the statement hanging for a moment before adding the name. What was meant to be a joke made the blonde start to question if the answer had not been good enough and Bebo was just trying to let her down easy. The possibility made her start crying again at having messed up so badly. "Whats wrong, Annie?"
"You dont want to at least try?"
"I do want you to stay, but only if you stop crying. Unless I stink so much from all that running around that its making your eyes water," joked Bebo. She turned their hands so that she was holding both of Annies. "Time is the best thing for us I think. Enough of it and Im sure well eventually get this right. How about you eat some of this stuff and have a glass of my moms good wine while I run up and take a shower?"
"Youre fine. Dont go on my account."
"Ill be right back, I promise, and Ill even send in one of the gardeners to keep you company."
"Why?" The blonde didnt remember mentioning she liked to garden.
"I just thought youd be interested in the room." Bebo laughed when Annie looked past her and seemed to notice their surroundings for the first time.
"Oh my God, I walked in and just noticed you," she said without thinking. "Howd I miss all this?"
"Its the leather, or so my mother tells me," joked Bebo. The delightful blush returned to Annies cheeks making her look like an innocent girl. "Im sorry, I cant seem to resist sometimes. If you dont want me to leave, or mind how I look then Ill stick around and keep you company. I like you. You make me think about things in a new and different light so spending time with you is something Id really enjoy."
"If youre offering, Im willing to take as much of your time as youre willing to give."
"Then its my guess well be spending more than enough time together for you to get sick of my company." Bebo let go of her hands and turned to the tray Denise had brought out. "How about a glass of wine?"
"Id love one."
It was interesting for Annie to watch Bebo work the opener into the bottle. The muscles in her forearms flexing attractively then the muscles in her abdomen as she pulled the cork out. There had been a few times in high school and college when she was in various locker rooms after class that she tried covertly to study the beauty of the female form when certain women caught her eye. Bebo wasnt built like anyone shed ever seen. In the leather outfit she looked as if shed stepped out of the pages of one of Annies history books ready to answer questions about living in a distant past.
In silence, they sipped the wine and enjoyed some of the tidbits Denise had provided. Now that she knew they would be all right, Annie took the opportunity to study the room. The layout of the garden with full-grown trees was like a surreal sight considering where they were. Even the parks in Washington D.C. werent this nice, and she found that by keeping her eyes on the surrounding scenery, she could keep from staring at Bebo.
"It was added a few years after the house was completed," said Bebo, her voice as soothing as the birds flying free around the space.
"Im sorry, what?"
"The gardens, they were added a few years after the house was finished. As beautiful as this place is, there is no comparison to the forest this place was modeled after. Argase is where I believe the soul of the Amazons lie. You can feel the spirit of our ancestors in the branches as you move through them."
"I was watching you earlier, the way you move up there is amazing."
"Its not hard when youve been doing it since you have memory of being alive." Bebo paused, gathering her thoughts so they could clear something important between them. Something that if not rectified would keep them from ever becoming good friends much less anything else. "Annie, the biggest disappointed I have about you is that you preformed notions of who we are, didnt you? I mean, I have no proof, but Im right arent I?"
Annie tapped her nail on the crystal glass in her hand and thought briefly about lying. How Bebo would know that she couldnt begin to guess, but her perception was right. The talk shed had with Mr. Baxter right before the opening came to mind. "People have a tendency to do that when they dont understand things and theres no way to learn the truth. They make their own truths. Its human nature and Im no different. Its just to me theres no way for me to comprehend how so many women would feel fulfilled living just with women. That isnt the natural order of things, I mean youve obviously needed men to keep the population growing. Arent there some women who dont want to live life as a true Amazon? What if you hadnt been born liking women in a sexual way? Youd still have to join and have children with someone you dont feel comfortable having a normal relationship with just to fulfill your duty as the next queen."
"I am here because I want to be. I serve my mother not because its my duty to do so, but because Im honored to do her bidding. The thing about normal societies," Bebo made air quotes with her fingers, "Is that theyre quick to judge that which they dont understand. Its human nature to question, but dont act shocked when you discover the story you made up is wrong."
The answer was given in an even tone so Annie wasnt scared of being tossed out. "What is the answer then?"
Bebo set her glass down and reclined onto the blanket. The pose put her body on display for Annie and the blonde suddenly felt hot. "The answer is simple. To live on the island of Amazonia you have to want to be there. Every year there are some women who want to live the life they are destined to live. A life that includes a husband and children and everything else that will bring them happiness. For those who stay, some choose a life of service to the queen or perhaps the goddess. They do not need anyone to make them feel complete, their vocations fill that void. And for the rest, theyre like my mothers. They want a life where they are free to meet, court and join with the woman who is the other half of their soul. Someone who fulfills in them the fundamentals of being happy, whole, and gives them a place to belong."
"That sounds beautiful."
The blue eyes closed and a smile relaxed Bebos features as she lay on her back and rested her head on her hands. "It is. Loving someone shouldnt come with the condemnation of society, Annie. Love in any form should be celebrated for the wonderful thing it is. I attend joining ceremonies quite regularly at home, but Ive been to more than enough weddings as well. When I see someone look at another person like they hold the secrets to the sun rising in the morning, it makes me long for it in my own life. I just happen to know that when that day comes it will be a woman Ill be looking at." She turned her head a little and looked up at Annie. "Does that make me a bad person, or you uncomfortable?"
"I dont think you could do anything to make me feel that youre a bad person."
"Then just ask me from now on instead of coming to your own conclusions. In the end, my friend, we both want the same things. I would one day like to find someone like you found Titus. There are many things written and sung about love, but my definition of it comes from a balcony and soft music."
"I dont understand the analogy."
"Back home in the palace, theres a balcony that overlooks the water. Some nights from my room I sit in the window of my room and watch my mothers dance together on that same balcony and you can see it in every twirl and every look. They are so in love even after years of being together and they celebrate that feeling whenever they can. Thats how I was raised and thats what I hope to emulate one day." She sat up and looked to the flowers behind Annies head. "My mother Boden once told me that she sees the whole of her world trapped in the green of my mothers eyes. In her smile lie the answers to happiness, and in her arms the hope of what the afterlife will be its such a wondrous thing. As for my mother Audrey, she isnt much different whenever theyre in a room together."
"How can you talk like an angel and then be able to fight like the demon I just saw?"
"Does it help that I never raise a weapon to conquer only to defend?"
It was like a need that Annie had and she just went with it. She reached across and put her hand on Bebos arm just to have some contact with her. "At this point I dont think Id care one way or the other."
"Careful, Annie, you might change my mind on who you really are, then where will that leave us, huh?"
"In the most interesting place I might ever find myself." The laugh Bebo let out made Annie want to think of something else to hear it again. The sound made her feel more alive than she ever had.
That night, Annie arrived to a dark and quiet house. The solitude helped her remember the details of her time with Bebo. What must it be like to feel what she described so vividly in her parents? It sounded like the queen and her wife had found eternal happiness in each other, and their positions and wealth had nothing to do with why that was. The blonde wished for just one dance on a balcony far away with someone who made her feel just half that good.
"Hey, Annie, what are you doing sitting in the dark?" Reggie stood in the foyer taking off her coat and gloves, surprised to find her sister home so early. "Are you not feeling well?"
"No, I just took the afternoon off to get some stuff done." She looked at the shining eyes looking at her and the big smile and thought perhaps her sister had already found what Bebo was talking about. "Howd last night go?"
"I know you said you spent some time with her, but have you figured out how great Bebo is? Last night was one of the best dates Ive ever been on." Reggie plopped down on the sofa next to Annie and grabbed her hand.
"I thought it was just dinner," she said as causally as possible.
"The flowers, the place she picked, the way she didnt mind me looking at those baby blues all night it was a date all right." The linked hands were pulled up to Reggies chest in an old habit Annie recognized as wanting reassurance. "Do you think shell call?"
"Im sure she will." Annie understood the fascination of what her sister had said about looking into the blue eyes since she had given in to the lure herself the whole time she and Bebo were together that afternoon. Before she could continue, the front door opened again and Titus walked in.
"This was fun while it lasted." With a big pull, Reggie got Annie to lean closer so she could kiss her forehead. "Ill be up in my room doing some work if you need me." She walked passed Titus without saying a word and picked up her bag. The bruise on his face had gotten darker over night making it easier to see the outline of Bebos fingers.
He was in uniform and his hands were behind his back. "Hi, baby, I got you something."
Annie thought flowers and it brightened her up to think he was trying to make up for the night before. He brought his hands forward with a flourish and gave her an alarm clock. "Uh, thank you." She wanted to laugh but her gut and the look on his face told her this wasnt a joke.
"It lets you personalize a message for you to wake up to instead of the beeping yours does." A bugle call filled the living room followed by Titus booming voice. "Wake up, soldier, and give me some."
As quickly as she could, Annie snatched it out of his hand and shut it off. As if to prove something to herself she stood up and moved into his arms. Just as slowly she slid her hands up his chest until she was cupping his face. She held his head in place and looked into his eyes.
"What?" In all their time together, Annie had never studied him so closely.
"Nothing." And it was an honest answer. She saw nothing of what Bebo had described and it scared her. After all their time together there shouldve been something.
Titus pushed passed the weak resistance and kissed her. If she wasnt totally there he never noticed, and she wasnt totally there. A part of Annies spirit had flown off to somewhere with soft music and where two strong arms were holding her close. She tried to shut out the images fearing shed never get there and the broken heart it would cause would leave her empty.
Her numbness was interpreted as compliance and Titus swept her off her feet and started for her bedroom. He never moved away from her lips as he walked to the stairs. Neither of them had seen Reggie come down after getting off the phone. When the knock on the door came, the happy looking couple was half way up and Titus stopped to see who it was. If it was the general he was wondering what the penalty would be for dropping Annie.
Not thinking anything of it, Reggie opened the door and welcomed Bebo in. "Im glad you called but I dont think Annie can make it." The last part she said with a roll of her eyes.
Annie had no other way to describe Bebos look but intense. Their position left nothing to the imagination as to where she and Titus were going and what they were going to do when they got there. Like the night before, it felt to the blonde that a door of possibilities between them had closed just as quickly as it took Bebo to shake her head and turn her attention to Reggie.
"Then itll just be the two of us if youre up for it."
"You bet, just let me go up and get my stuff. Come in, I wont be long."
Saying no like she wanted to would require having to come up with an explanation Bebo wasnt ready to give so she just stepped in and tried to ignore the seemingly frozen couple on the steps. No matter what promises theyd made or implied that afternoon, the princess knew she never wanted to set foot in this house again. Nothing could have made clearer the harder path Emelda had spoken of than looking at Annie in his arms.
"Please dont let me keep you." With effort, Bebo looked at Annie and smiled. "Goodbye, Annie, could you let Reggie know Ill be waiting outside?" She didnt see Annie bury her face in Titus neck at the word goodbye. Bebo had always been upfront with her and always said what she meant.
Annies mistake was not going after her.
Continued in Chapter 3
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