Not wanting to take any chances with Desi, Harry arranged for an ambulance to take them home. She had assigned her morning rounds to her resident team, wanting to be there when her friend came home.
Pulling through the gates of one of the larger homes on the block, Harry heard the driver let out a long slow whistle as they made the turn into the drive. I have to give that boy credit; Tony knows how to pick a house, thought Harry. As soon as they made it through the side doors into the house, Harry's pager went off with the number from the OR at Charity.
"What you got for me, Sam?" Harry listened as her surgical nurse went through the list of accident victims expected in emergency any minute as she watched the two men wheel Desi further in.
It would take three operating rooms and most of the day to get through the list of patients in need of surgery she realized, as she listened to the list of injured Sam was ticking off. "So much for my day off. Call in Smith and Butler then page and separate my babies in between all three rooms, I'm on my way. Tell Tyler to cue up something hopping to keep me awake."
"You got it, doc."
"Sorry, Desi, I have to go. Sounds like some drunk caused a forty-car pileup on the interstate coming into town, and he's the only one who walked away unscathed. Kenneth and Tony are here if you need anything, and Rachel called to say she'd be a few hours. She had some regulars she couldn't cancel, but I think you'll be all right until then. If not, Mona will be back tonight to pitch in." Harry sounded apologetic as she knelt next to the gurney Desi was laying on, taking a hold of her hand.
"She's my housekeeper slash right hand. She has Sunday through Tuesday off so she can visit her kids. After two days she's ready to come home, and then I don't seem that bad."
"Be careful and I'll be here waiting for you." She gave Harry a warm smile and squeezed her fingers.
"You take it easy and try and get some rest. If you need me for anything though, pick up the phone and call. Just remember you're not ever bothering me so don't be shy."
"I'm sure I'll be fine."
Harry's blue eyes held Desi in warm affection, and she didn't hide any of her feelings. "I'm sure sometimes you may not really believe that, but I promise you will be."
Desi watched Harry walk away for as long as she could from her reclining position, then she turned her attention to her friend's house. Tony had indeed done a great job in decorating, including both his and Harry's taste into one livable space. She thought the idea of a decorator was to blend in the owner's taste but she remembered Tony from school, compromise wasn't a word high on his priority list.
"Desi, darling, you look positively horrible," called Tony from the sunroom doorway as he clutched his chest.
"Thank you, Tony, it's nice to know some things in life never change. You always did have a way of making everyone feel good about themselves." Her tone was highly facetious but Desi warmed it some by smiling.
"Blame it on my mother. She always insisted honesty was the best policy," Tony shot back. "Not to worry though, we'll nurse you back to health in no time. It'll just take good care, good food and a beautiful setting."
"I see Harry didn't exaggerate about the job you've done here. From what little I've seen, the house is beautiful. Doesn't scream Harry though does it?" asked Desi rolling her eyes at him.
"Girl, that woman would live with a box to sit on in the middle of every room given the opportunity. Harry should fall on her knees and thank God for me everyday for giving her a little class. Let's get you up to your room and then we'll get caught up on old times. This way James," Tony told the two ambulance workers.
"My name's Henry, sir," said the man in front.
"Of course it is, how good of you to remember," Tony snapped back.
"Tony, cool it would you, these guys have to carry me up those stairs. I don't want them dropping me."
"No one has a sense of humor anymore I swear." He dramatically threw his hands in the air as he trotted up the stairs.
Tony led them into a large room in the corner of the second floor of the house. The hardwood floors were covered with muted Persian silk rugs and there was a balcony that overlooked the back gardens of the house. The most beautiful antique four-poster bed Desi had ever seen gracefully filled up the middle of the room. The dark wood in the room was accentuated with dark blue paint on the walls, giving it a comfortable but rich look. The two men moved her onto the bed then took their leave. Tony put a little metal tent looking piece down by her feet so he could pull up the goose down comforter without putting pressure on her injured leg.
The room was full of interesting architectural details and furnishings but one picture on the mantle grabbed her attention, and it brought tears to her eyes that Harry had kept it. The image had to be a harsh reminder of a time the doctor should've long ago forgotten.
"It doesn't really go in here but I thought I'd allow her one little indulgence for sentimental reasons. Does it bring back memories for you?" asked Tony in a sarcastic tone. He was trying to be nice, but seeing the person who had brought Harry so much pain was making it difficult.
In the old gilded frame was a picture of Desi and Harry with their caps and gowns from graduation, capturing one of the last happy memories the injured woman cherished. Both smiles lit up the room, and Harry's arm was draped over her shoulders. It was supposed to be the beginning of their life together, not the end.
"Yes it does. I want to thank you for being Harry's friend all these years. It's good to know she wasn't alone after everything that happened." Desi's eyes never left the picture sitting on the mantle.
"I may be way out of line here, but I think as Harry's friend I've earned the right to speak my mind."
She sighed and nodded her head. "Go on, I'm not stopping you."
"You hurt her, Desiree, so deep it took everything in our power to help her get past it. And here you are right back in her life like all those years never happened. The fact you are makes me see she still hasn't gotten over the hump, not really anyway. You learn to read her eyes after awhile. There's so little that brings life into them, but you do, and I'll be the first to admit, I don't understand it. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're back and I'm glad you're okay, but if you plan on walking out once that leg is healed, tell her now. I'm not eighteen anymore and she isn't either. It won't be so easy to get over it this time and Kenneth and I don't have enough magic left to put all those pieces back together again."
She ran her hand over the soft duvet and tried to stem the tide of tears threatening again. There was no fight left in her especially since everything he'd said was true. "I don't want to hurt her. You have to believe that. I didn't mean to back then."
"I know you may not have meant to, but that's what ended up happening, darlin'. She's carved out a life for herself, Desi. Don't take that away from her, that's all I'm asking. It's what'll happen if you just walk out without so much as a goodbye again. Harry has her parents, her work and us. It's not enough for what I'd define as a full life, but for her it is. No one's ever come close to that picture she has in her head about you, so I'm here to tell you, hurt her and I'll make you regret it. The first one was free, but this one's going to cost you." Tony finished his speech and sat next to the bed regarding Desi's reaction to it.
"Fair enough, thank you for being honest with me. Was it really that bad when I left? I figured Harry would move on after a few weeks and find someone more her caliber. You and I both know I wasn't in her league. It was like second hand Rose meets the Vanderbilt's, she was better off," said Desi, still afraid to face him.
"Bullshit, she was the one who had the right to know why you walked away from her. While you were busy cozying up to the ape Byron, Harry was going through hell. She'll never tell you that because she's not the kind of person who would want to make you feel bad. Tell me, when did Harry ever make you feel less than what you were because of your clothes or your house?" He wasn't screaming, but there was more than a trace of anger in his tone.
Her eyes were shiny with tears when she finally looked up and pinned him with a glare. "You're right, she didn't do that. Would it help to know that it wasn't my choice to leave? That I've been just as miserable for all this time too, because I have…I have. It came as a big shock to me too that she offered to do this. I'd have thought she would have handed me off to the first doctor that walked by when she saw me lying there, but she didn't."
He threw his hands up again in exasperation as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said. "Wake up. Of course Harry wouldn't have done that. She loves you, stupid. There've been plenty of women who wanted to be in your shoes, but Harry has turned them all down gracefully. I asked her why once. Even considering my sexual choices in life I can still spot beauty when I see it. Some of these girls were real lookers. I asked, why not just pick one and get on with living her life? I know she loved you, but she should've gotten over you years ago. She deserves to have someone in her life who loves her. You want to know what her answer was as to why she couldn't move on?" asked Tony softening his tone.
"Yes I do." Desi's answer was so low Tony wouldn't have heard it if he hadn't been sitting so close. She was nervously running her fingertips over the pattern on the comforter Tony had pulled over her legs.
"She said she couldn't in all good faith enter into a relationship, no matter how wonderful the girl, because she was damaged goods. 'You can't give away a broken heart,' is what she told me. I stopped asking after that because I felt like crying from the pain in her voice from having to admit that out loud. I care about her too much to keep reminding her of what she lost.
"Kenneth and I have finally gotten her to go out with us and cut up like we use to, but only starting about five years ago, and as much as we'd like to pretend, it's not really the same. Harry's changed, and while for some people change is a welcomed thing, in her it's been like a slow withering of her heart. And now like I said, here you are." Tony put his hand down on hers, making her look up again and stop fiddling with the comforter.
"Love, have you been rude to Harry's guest? I have to keep reminding him that our pal is bigger than the both of us, and I'm fairly sure she can beat me up, so I apologize on his behalf if he was," said Kenneth as he stepped into the room.
He had been standing out in the hall listening to the conversation, quietly cheering his lover on. Someone had to explain to Desi what she'd done and how wrong it had been. Leave it to Tony to rise to the occasion the first opportunity he got.
She wiped her face and tried her best to smile. "No, he was just explaining the choices he made in the house and why. It's nice to see you again. I know what Harry and Tony have been up to, now tell me what you've been doing with yourself since we last saw each other."
"I'm a pediatrician here in town. I actually do what Harry does in that I work and teach at the medical school. It's been nice and it reminds me on a daily basis why I don't want kids, but I love all the ones I see in the clinics. I leave all the blood and glory to our girl and I just deal with rashes and runny noses."
"Sounds like you enjoy what you do." Desi continued to smile for him, but Kenneth and Tony both could see it didn't go her eyes.
"I do, but we'll have plenty of time to talk about that later. Right now it's time for you to get some sleep, after you take your pills. Get some rest, then Rachel, Tony and I'll bring you up some late lunch when you wake up." Kenneth sat at the edge of the bed and handed her three pills and a glass of water.
"Is Harry coming home soon?" asked Desi trying to sound casual.
"Don't miss out on getting some rest trying to sit up waiting on her. I heard about the accident on the way over here. My guess is her fingers will be cramped by the time they're done. It's days like this one that make Harry wish for a simple country practice I'm sure, but then she is addicted to the thrill of the operating room, so it's for the best we live in a fast town." He smiled as he put the glass back on the nightstand within reach in case she had need of it later. "Try and get some sleep. It's the only way you'll start the healing process."
"Thank you both for everything."
The two left Desi alone with her thoughts and her memories for the afternoon. She wondered what it would be like to live here with Harry without the fear. Wondering if after a long day at work, Harry would come home in the mood to beat the one she supposedly loved, or was she the same sweet soul she had known once upon a time?
The answer really didn't matter, since any life with Harry was just a fantasy that would never play out. If life had taught her anything up to now, it was that fantasies were just dreams little girls had that were crushed under life's boots time and time again.
"I'll talk to you later, daddy, Byron should be home soon. It's our fifth anniversary and I still have plenty to do. His favorite dinner is in the oven but I just have a couple of other things I have to finish up before he gets here."
Desi was trying to get excited about the evening, but so far her efforts hadn't gotten her any closer to that feeling. Her life had become somewhat mechanical, moving from one chore to the next only because it needed to be done and not because she had a burning desire to do so.
"Desiree, you done good for yourself, girl. You got yourself a good man with a good job to take care of you, now you just need to make me a grandfather. Aren't you glad I introduced you to Byron and made you forget all those foolish notions you had?" The bar wasn't busy so Clyde had taken the time to call his oldest child in case she needed reminding of what her duties were. Now that Desi was settled it was time to start working on Rachel.
"Thanks, daddy, for everything and we're trying. Byron's just been so busy lately down at the garage we barely see each other. His dad's business is picking up since their main competitor, old man George, retired. Talk to you soon." She rushed through the string of lies, the same ones she uttered whenever he wanted gratitude for trading away her happiness.
Desi hung up the phone and sighed. The call came like clock work every year, even now when her father didn't have the same hold over her as before. There were days when she felt like she was just an actor playing out a role that was supposed to be her life, but that's all it was, an act.
"Five years of my life gone. Harry, do you still think about me? Would you think my life was as much of a joke as I do? I miss you, baby, and I love you," whispered Desi out the kitchen window. She spun around at the sound of his voice but it was too late.
"I didn't realize you thought of our life here as a joke, Desiree. I was the best you were going to get, you stupid bitch, so stop complaining about it or I'll give you something to complain about," screamed Byron from behind her.
When she'd turned to face him, he saw the tears on her face, which sent him over the edge. Having his father call him stupid all day, then coming home to a woman crying over someone she should've forgotten a million years ago, was more than a man should have to put up with. All the beer he had at the corner bar couldn't drown out those feelings.
"I work all day to give you a good life and this is the thanks I get?" he roared. "You fucking useless piece of ungrateful shit." The rage in his voice made her start running in fear but he was too fast for her.
Byron didn't remember too clearly when he balled up his fists and sent them into Desi's face repeatedly, but there was no denying it the next morning. He apologized and promised it would never happen again, but there was always his father and there were always those tears in Desi's eyes. How was he supposed to ignore that?
The house was dark when the blue Land Rover pulled in. It had been a long day that had culminated with Harry having to amputate a young girl's leg because the dash of the car she was riding in had crushed it beyond repair. Even with all Harry's skill she hadn't had a choice.
Why the very young had to sometimes to deal with such tragic circumstances so early in their lives was a question she never had an adequate answer to. Especially when it was asked by a distraught parent.
Grabbing a Yoo Hoo out of the refrigerator, Harry headed up to bed. The hospital staff promised they would cover rounds tomorrow for her, since the surgeon had been on her feet for sixteen hours straight.
Heading up the stairs, Harry forgot about her houseguests and started stripping, as was her habit, while climbing the stairs. Living alone did have some perks, or at least living alone on Sundays and Mondays. She was naked by the time she reached her bedroom, and headed into the bathroom.
"A hot shower so I won't feel so grimy then I can go to bed, and then I can dream about Mona's waffles," mumbled Harry as she stretched and moaned.
When the light from the bathroom illuminated Harry's sleek form Desi thought she would swallow her tongue. Oh my God, what is she doing in here? The answer came in its own form of illumination as Desi realized what room Tony had put her in. It was the only room she saw on her way up here that was the sole reflection of its occupant. This was Harry's room. Tony you idiot, I'm going to remove some body part when I see you again, thought Desi as she tried to figure out what to do.
When the light in the bathroom went out, a tired and sleepy body rolled into bed not noticing the woman already lying there. Please God, let her be wearing pajamas wished Desi. The breathing coming from Harry's side of the bed was already deep and even indicating sleep, giving Desi the freedom to look. Seeing the stark white t-shirt and boxers was disappointing in a way to Desi, but the light coming in from outside gave her a good view of Harry's profile.
At thirty-four, Harry still looked like the girl Desi remembered. Taller than everyone else all through their lives, Harry stood at six one now. The only difference was the visible muscles that went up her arms and into the sleeves of the t-shirt. Lifting the blanket a little so she wouldn't wake her, Desi could see the continuation of muscle down the long tan legs.
The black curly hair was shorter than it was when they were together, and at the temples there was a sprinkle of white. Desi could remember Harry telling her that her mother's side of the family turned gray prematurely and her hope was that Desi would still love her when she looked a little older. Harry's eyes were closed but Desi didn't need them to be open to know what shade of blue they were, that color had been seared into her brain.
"I love you," Desi whispered as she moved one unruly curl off Harry's forehead.
In Harry's dreamscape she visited the girl who held her heart. There, Desi would always be waiting with open arms and a soft kiss. The sides of her face around the green eyes would crinkle when she smiled, and her hair was always soft to the touch. It was the one place that everyday of Harry's life she could hear Desi say, "I love you," just like now. The only sadness of the dream was when she turned and walked away just before it was time for Harry to wake up.
When Desi opened her eyes she noticed Harry was still sleeping, making her think the she must've been exhausted from the day before, and she noticed too that they were holding hands under the blanket. Harry hadn't moved all night and was snoring softly next to her, so she decided to close her eyes again and just lie there enjoying the warmth she'd missed for so long. Another noise coming from the door of the room forced Desi to look, almost crying out when she saw an elderly African American woman picking up articles of clothing from all over the floor.
"If you think I'm going to be around to pick up after you for the rest of my life, you got another thing coming. I wonder if you're this messy when you're sewing people up? God only knows what you're leaving in there once you're done," Mona kept up her monologue as she picked clothes up off the floor. It was well rehearsed since she had been using the same one since she came to work for Harry six years prior. "Then she lets that fruitcake buy this big old house like I got nothing better to do than to pick up after her in thirty rooms instead of ten."
"Good morning, you must be Mona?" asked a clearly amused Desi from the bed.
"Sorry, miss, I didn't see you there. It's a wonder I can see anything in here through all the mess that one leaves around. I didn't mean to disturb you. Do you need anything?" Mona cocked her head to one side, sizing the girl up and knowing in a second who she was. The pretty face hadn't changed much from the picture on the mantle.
"I really need to go to the bathroom. Could you see if my sister is up? Maybe she could help me." If her leg hadn't hurt so much, Desi would've been squirming by now.
"Nonsense, girl, you got that big moose sleeping beside you. She can help you." Before Desi could protest Mona came over and slapped Harry in the head.
"Goddammit, Mona, what did you do that for?" cried Harry lifting her head up and squinting her eyes together to block out the bright light coming from the French doors at the side of the room.
"What have I told you about taking the Lord's name in vain in my house? Don't make me go get a switch from the bushes outside. Now get your lazy butt out of bed and help your lady friend go to the bathroom," ordered Mona with her hands on her hips.
"Lady friend? What lady friend? Have you finally gone off the deep end?" asked Harry as her eyes closed and her head hit the pillow again.
"For someone who has as many degrees as you do, you sure aren't too bright are you? No wonder you don't have anyone in your life if you can't even remember spending the night with a lovely girl like this. Get moving, Harry, the girl's got to go," ordered Mona making shooing motions from the foot of the bed.
The fog of sleep lifted enough for Harry to realize that she wasn't alone in the bed. The fact that the whole left side of her body was warm and there was a small hand pressed inside her own were her first two clues. "I'm sorry, Desi. What are you doing here?" asked Harry turning her head and facing Desi.
"Don't be sorry, that should actually be my line for intruding on you. Tony had them put me in here by what I'm sure was a mistake. I'm sorry I didn't realize this was your room before they left last night. After I go to the bathroom you can move me into one of the guestrooms. Could I bother you for a lift before I mess up your lovely bed?" asked a now frantic Desi.
"Get up, slow britches, and you aren't moving out of this room, Miss Desi. Tony put you in here because it's the only room in the house with the type of bathing facilities you'll eventually need. Doc, the girl's eyes are turning yellow," Mona reminded her.
"You know I could just call a maid service and be done with it."
"Yeah right, like anyone in their right mind would put up with all your shit."
Harry rolled out of bed and walked over to Desi's side and pulled back the comforter. Desi's leg was starting to look better, or so Harry told her. To her eyes it didn't look that pretty. There was the large incision running up the side and the angry looking bruise that covered her knee in black.
"Hold on to my neck and try not to move around too much, let me do all the work," Harry instructed. Getting into the bathroom was a cinch, how to get her ready to use the toilet was not.
"It's okay, Dr. Basantes, I'm sure it isn't anything you haven't seen before," Desi told her trying to make them both feel better. Setting Desi down on her good leg, Harry had the injured woman keep her arms around her neck so she could pull the nightgown up so Desi could sit. Lowering her down slowly, Harry gave Desi some privacy by stepping back into the bedroom, after extracting a promise not to move until she got back.
Desi answered nature's call while looking around the big bathroom. There was a double sink set up with a glassed in shower in one corner. The one thing that got her attention though was the large claw-foot tub with the brass fixtures across from where she was sitting. The thought of sharing that with Harry flew into her brain causing a blush to crawl up her neck. After all she'd been through, having thoughts of that nature about her friend was the last thing she needed.
"All done?" Harry's voice floated through the closed door.
"All done," answered Desi. The ride back to the bed was as enjoyable as the first.
Settled, Desi watched Harry collect some clothes before heading back into the bathroom for a shower. "Once I'm done I'll have Mona come in and give you a sponge bath. I don't want you on your feet for at least another week, so get use to the idea of a little pampering." Desi smiled as an answer, not remembering the last time someone wanted to pamper her. "And as distasteful as it was in the hospital, if I'm not home there's no getting up to go to the bathroom, you'll have to use the bedpan."
"Aw, Harry." The whine made Harry remember all the afternoons trying to teach her complicated math.
"Aw Harry nothing, I mean it. You need time to heal, so lie back, relax, and we'll take care of everything."
"Harry, when you're done, Serena's here to see you, and she has Albert with her," said Mona from the French doors leading out to the balcony. She was opening them to let some fresh air into the room since it wasn't too cold out that morning. "What in the world was that girl thinking when she named that sweet child Albert? Might as well tape a note to his forehead the first day of school that says, 'Hi I'm Albert, please feel free to beat the crap out of me and steal my lunch money.' With all the names in the world why pick that one?" asked Mona shaking her head the whole time.
"Because it is her father's name, and he became a Federal Judge, so it can't be all bad. Besides you know we all call him Butch behind Serena's back. Somehow I don't believe she'd think Federal Judge Butch would have the same ring to it."
"Thank goodness for you and the two fruitcakes being in that boy's life. Without you, he wouldn't have any friends," commented Mona, grumbling again as the sleepwear Harry had been wearing came flying into the room.
"Mona, you do realize that I'm a fruitcake too, don't you?" Both women heard Harry over the sound of running water.
"Yeah I know that, bonehead, and I call you that too when you aren't around," Mona yelled back, offering Desi a wink before she left the room.
Coming out of the bathroom in perfectly pressed chinos and a button down shirt; Harry looked like all the other yuppies Desi had seen going into the better restaurants and stores in town. The only difference between them and the woman standing in the bedroom was that all of those others had been wearing shoes.
"I'll be right back. Want some coffee? Mona's a pain in the ass but makes the best coffee I've ever had the pleasure of tasting," said Harry smiling down at her.
"I heard that," yelled Mona from the stairwell.
"As I was saying, Mona is a pain in the ass but makes good coffee. Would you like some?"
"Yes I'd love a cup. Could I bother you for some toast too, I can't drink coffee on an empty stomach," requested Desi smiling back. "Only if it's not too much trouble." At the last minute the smile faded as she remembered her place was not to ask for too much. Byron had engrained that into her head one slap at a time.
"One toast and breakfast coming up, and since you asked so nicely, I'll bring Butch up and introduce you."
Leaving Desi to wonder who Serena and Butch were, Harry headed down the stairs. After a few moments Desi heard the delighted squealing of a child. "That must be Butch." Her eyes drifted back to the picture on the mantle, trying to remember what it was like to be that happy.
Daydreaming, Desi didn't hear her visitors come in and only looked up when she heard a sweet voice ask, "Uncle Harry, who's that lady in your bed?"
"That is an old friend of your Uncle Harry's, baby boy. Can you go and tell her hello? She has a big owie and I bet it would make her feel better." Harry pointed one of her fingers out from under the tray she was carrying as a way of letting him know it was all right to move closer.
Walking over with an outfit surprisingly like Harry's, only with shoes, the three-year-old Albert stuck out his hand and introduced himself to Desi. "Hi, my name's Albert Hubert Ladding the third, it's nice to meet you."
"Hello, Albert, my name's Desiree Simoneaux, and it's nice to meet you too."
"Miss Desiree, my friends call me Butch, would you like to call me that too? Just don't do it in front of mommy, it makes her upset then she yells at my Uncle Harry."
"Okay, Butch, but my friends call me Desi so how about you call me that instead of Desiree."
"Deal," Butch agreed then spit in his hand to seal the pact.
"Did your Uncle Harry teach you that too?" asked Desi smiling up at the uncle in question.
"Yep, my Uncle Harry teaches me all kinds a neat stuff." He turned in Harry's direction with a clear case of adoration on his small sweet face.
"I thought so," said Desi as she put less spit into her palm and shook his hand.
Harry laughed as she placed the large plantation tray across Desi's lap with her breakfast. Butch was trying diligently to climb up on the bed from the other side, failing until Harry came over and gave him a boost. "Now you promised, sweet boy, no jumping around. Desi has a hurt leg and it wouldn't be good for her to have you do that."
"I promise, Uncle Harry, I'll sit here and drink my coffee with Desi until you get back. Granny Mona made me some cinnamonny toast to go with it," said Butch as he picked up a glass of milk Mona had stirred a tablespoon of coffee into.
"Okay enjoy your cinnamonny toast while I go and get your mother to talk with Desi." Turning to Desi and offering her a smile, Harry told her, "I'll be right back so if my buddy here gets rowdy, you have my permission to whack him one."
"I'm sure we'll be fine, Uncle Harry. Go on so the two of us can enjoy our breakfast," said Desi with a smile.
"Serena, baby, how is it that you always manage to look like you stepped out of a glamour magazine every time I see you?" asked Harry when she stepped into the sunroom.
If there had ever been anyone who could have come close to being a permanent fixture in Harry's life, it was Serena. The blond hair and blue eyes had turned her head the minute she had laid eyes on the successful attorney at a political fundraiser four years prior.
Serena was getting out of a bad marriage when they had met, and only after her ex-husband skipped town leaving them in major debt, did she find out she was pregnant with Albert. Harry had seen her through her crisis, and together with Kenneth and Tony, got Serena's life back on track. Her adopted nephew loved her with abandon, and had from the minute he started talking called her Uncle Harry. He explained in his own way that Aunt Harry just didn't sound right to him so he persisted with uncle.
"It's my way of reminding you of what you're missing out on, honey. You could have this," Serena ran her hand down her body, "And Albert comes as part of the package."
"You never did fight fair did you, baby?" asked Harry bending down to place a kiss on Serena's lips.
"No, doc, with you it's all or nothing. That does tend to raise the stakes of the game."
"That is my one downfall, I was never a gambler."
"Cut the bull and tell me why you had me drop everything on a Wednesday morning, good doctor. I'll have you know I had a date last night and didn't get in until two, so this had better be good," said Serena with a playful scowl on her face. She was trying to ignore the tingle Harry's kiss had left on her lips.
"Thrown me over already have you? You are such the slut, Serena, but I love you anyway. I have to keep telling you that or you won't let me see my boy Butch." Harry tried to sound dejected as she plopped down on the sofa next to her friend.
"Stop calling him that, daddy has a perfectly wonderful name. I don't know why I'm the only one who sees it?"
"Of course, baby, that's why everyone calls your father Hubbie. Now stop complaining and listen."
Harry spent some time explaining the circumstances her houseguest found herself in, and what she was facing if something wasn't done about the idiot husband who had attacked her. Serena had heard the story countless times before from every shape and type of woman the city had to offer.
It was encouraging to her that Desi was willing to press charges, since it would make her life that much easier as a prosecutor if the victim wasn't spending all her time defending the perpetrator. Juries had no patience for women who didn't want to help themselves, much less the district attorney's office. People often saw this, not as a crime against society, but as something that happened behind closed doors that didn't effect them directly. The woman in that situation couldn't be seen as having any sympathy for her attacker or she would lose the sympathy of the jury chosen to pass judgment on her attacker.
"Stay here, Harry, I can handle this," said Serena. She leaned over and kissed Harry one last time before moving to stand up.
"Why don't I come with you?" she asked hopefully.
Serena shook her head and placed her hand on Harry's knee. With the intensity of Harry's protectiveness when it came to this woman it was the death knell of any relationship she ever hoped to have with her. "Harry, if this woman is a friend of yours, she might not feel comfortable talking to me with you in the room. You have to trust me on this one."
"But I don't want her to think I'm just deserting her."
"Honey, no woman wants to admit to herself she let some asshole beat her and treat her like the dirt on his shoes, much less to someone else she cares about. You wait here and I'll send Albert down to entertain you until I'm done. You can pull out that insipid video game you think I don't know about and play something with him." Serena pressed her hand to Harry's cheek and smiled. "If she wants you there and asks me to come and get you, I will, I promise."
Watching from the hallway outside Harry's bedroom, Serena knew why Harry had left her son upstairs with this woman. Butch had a way of drawing a smile out of anyone. The foundation she had provided her son, with the help of Harry and her family, was one the boy drew strength from. No matter what came to pass in his life, he would always know he was loved.
"Have you been a good boy?" asked Serena. She stood leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed over her chest.
Taking one look at Desi, she realized who this woman was. She was the winner, and Serena tried to bite back the bile rising in her throat because of that fact. As she had mounted the stairs the hope of this being just an acquaintance Harry wanted to help out for altruistic reasons was still alive, but the blonde was the woman Tony had described to her on more than one occasion.
"Yes, mommy, Desi was telling me a story. I ate all my cinnamonny toast Granny Mona made me, so we had to find something else to do," Butch informed her, turning his attention in his mother's direction.
"That's my big boy, how would you like to go downstairs and play with your Uncle Harry? She said to tell you that she wants to play your secret game. You want to tell me what that is?" She combed his hair back in place with her fingers when he jumped off the bed and ran to her.
"No, mommy, I promised Uncle Harry, and if I tell, we won't be able to save the world together. You wouldn't want that would you?"
"No, Albert, I wouldn't want that, now scat."
"Remember it's Butch when she isn't here," he whispered to Desi. She gave him a thumbs up before he tore down the hall heading for the stairs.
"Don't run down the stairs, Albert, you're going to hurt yourself," yelled Serena after him. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure when it happened, but I seemed to have turned into my mother ever since Butch came along. I'm Serena Ladding, it's a pleasure to meet you, even under these trying circumstances," said Serena holding out her hand.
"I'm Desi Simoneaux, it's nice to meet you too. You have a beautiful son, but I thought it upset you to have him called Butch."
"Well there are a lot of things about me Harry doesn't know, and I like to keep her guessing," said Serena shrugging her shoulders. "We can't have her getting too smug on us, can we?"
"How do you know Harry, Mrs. Ladding?"
"It's Ms. Ladding, but please call me Serena, and we aren't here to talk about me, Desi. We're here to talk about you."
"I'm not exactly a fascinating topic of discussion, just ask Harry."
Serena laughed at Desi's blindness when it came to Harry. "I have actually so I guess the answer depends on who you ask, so don't sell yourself so short."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to come across as ungrateful."
"I didn't take it that way." Serena took a seat on the bed and smoothed out her skirt. "She didn't betray any of your confidences, but Harry told me a little of what's happened and I think this talk with you is a good idea."
"Why is that?"
"If I understand correctly, Harry informed you I work for the District Attorney's office. I'm here to help you get out of a bad situation, and make the process as pleasant as possible for you. I won't lie or try to sugar coat it; it's not going to be easy. Your husband doesn't want to go to jail. Your husband's family doesn't want him to go to jail. Face it, they're not idiots.
"No one wantsto go to jail, especially in this state. His attorney will put you on trial, and if he's good, or if he were up against anyone else, the jury will want to break your other leg when he's done. But there isn't anyone that good in this city practicing law, Desi. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm the best at what I do, and what I want to do is send Byron Simoneaux to jail for what he did to you. What I need from you is a bit of information." Serena finished, sitting back to gauge Desi's reaction to what she had just said.
"That was quite the opening argument, counselor. What do you need to know?"
"First, are you still in love with this man? Because if you are this will be a waste of my time, Harry's time, and yours. Don't take this as my not wanting to help you, or me being rude, but if you are planning to go back and want to renege on the charges then it won't matter how good I am, we won't win. If that happens, then we repeat this process in six months tops, if we are lucky you'll still be here to testify against him."
"You're a very blunt person, Ms. Ladding, but in this case I'm thinking that's a good thing. I don't love Byron, I never did. Maybe that's why he beats me, who knows? I know you most likely don't like or understand women like me, and you probably think of us as weak and stupid." She looked down to the where the blanket came off her injured leg and sighed.
"You can't know what it's like to sit and wait for someone to come home and wonder who'll walk through the door. Will it be the guy who tried to romance you, whether you wanted him to or not on your daddy's front porch, or will it be the guy who likes to find new places to put bruises that no one will ever see? I'll do whatever it takes to get out of this, so don't worry about that," said Desi with conviction. She looked back at Serena and raised her jaw in a defiant pose.
"I can imagine and understand, Desi. I was married to that guy, and now I'm not. You're far from stupid and I wouldn't think to ever look down on you. I stand up everyday in court and defend women like us against men like the ones we married. I commend you for having the courage to at least try. Just don't squander this opportunity. Use it to get back on your feet. I want to be your friend here, please don't look at me as the enemy," said Serena softening her tone.
Desi studied the perfectly manicured nails when Serena laid her hand over hers. "I'm glad you think I have all these opportunities to look forward to. From where I'm sitting the picture doesn't look all that great."
"From where I'm sitting, it looks like you're in a place where you're wanted. Doesn't that count for anything?"
"Yeah right. Who's going to want me now? I don't have any skills, and my body looks like a roadmap of injuries. I used to have dreams, but even those have faded away. Byron saw to that didn't he?"
"Desi, you're only thirty-four years old. You've lost a few years to the hell you've been living, but you have so much to look forward to. Let me help you start your journey," offered Serena.
"You don't understand, you have a family, you have Butch and you have Harry. I made my choices, and now I'm just going to have to live with them." Desi gazed at the picture on the mantle again. It represented to her all the things she could have had if she had stayed with Harry. "The only good thing I have left in my life is my sister."
"Darlin', I don't know what gave you that impression. Harry doesn't belong to me. I wish she did, but she doesn't. Hell every woman who comes into contact with Harry wants her, if only for the night, if that's all she's offering. There's only one woman in her bed though, and since I'm sitting here talking to her, that would make it you. I don't know how you did it, cause I've tried for four long years, but you have snagged our Dr. Basantes but good. It's up to you to reel her in now." Serena patted her hand and laughed.
"I've done no such thing, I see you and know I don't have a chance."
"Desi, it would take me about one afternoon of shopping and I could have you looking just like me, if not better. It's not the clothes; it's that you were her first love, and I know Harry. She's loyal to the bone, so you have a better chance than anyone else to see a future with her standing by your side. You're the girl from high school aren't you?" The question was asked without Serena ever looking anywhere else in the room.
"Come on, you've seen the picture haven't you?"
"To tell you the truth, this is the first time I've been able to breach the inner sanctum so no I haven't," said Serena turning around to look at the picture Desi was referring to.
"You've never slept with Harry?"
"I didn't say that, I just said I've never been in her bedroom." She looked at the mantle, and any shred of hope of a future with Harry was lost. No matter how many times they'd been out together and how much fun they'd shared, Serena had never seen a smile that big and genuine on Harry's face.
She turned around to an expression of defeat on Desi's face. "Don't be jealous, we just met at a time in our lives that required the kind of relationship we had. When I decided I wanted more, Harry decided we should be friends for the sake of my son. You'd swear she was allergic to long term commitment. Mention it and she breaks into hives, but I've always known she was holding out for someone special. Took you long enough to get here. I love Harry though, so please promise me that you'll be good to her. Give her the chance she probably won't ask you for, and get to know her again. She's turned out to be the most extraordinary person."
"I'm glad she had such good people taking care of her all this time." Desi sighed and felt like she'd just finished a marathon. "It's not like I did such a great job."
"We were just stand ins until the headliner showed up. I'm going to do my best to get you through the legal part, but the rest – when it comes to your heart, leave that to Harry. Don't shut her out."
They heard the sound of running feet down the long hallway, bringing their talk to a close, but there was really nothing left to be said between them. "If you break something I'm taking it out of your hide," the two women heard Mona screaming from one of the guestrooms.
"I'm sorry, Granny," said Butch.
"I'm not fussing at you, baby, I was talking to that overgrown piece of trouble that's chasing you."
"Ha, Uncle Harry, she called you a piece of trouble," laughed Butch.
"I know, that's why she's going to go and live with you and your mother."
Serena and Desi laughed at the maid, and the fact she was able to get away with talking to Harry like that. Their short talk had opened doors for one, and dashed forever the hopes of the other forever. Serena knew now, with the dream Harry had held onto for so long living in her house, she could hang up the notion of her and the doctor sharing a happily ever after scenario.
"Thank you for talking with me." Desi smiled at Serena for taking the time to come and offer a solution for the future.
"It was nice meeting you and there's no need to thank me. Just remember everything I said, especially when it comes to Harry."
Serena smiled back knowing, and believing in her heart, what she had told Desi was true, Harry was loyal to a fault, and that was a good thing if you were the subject of that loyalty. Sure Harry was Serena's friend and they had been lovers, but the good doctor's heart would always belong to another and Serena wasn't willing to live with anything less than all of Harry. It was the one thing Harry had taught her after the breakup of her marriage – Serena was a special woman and should hold out for the person who would treat her as such. Life is such a fucking bitch sometimes, thought Serena as Harry's tall form crossed the threshold of the room.
"Need more time, or could I interest you in some more coffee out on the balcony? It's a beautiful day so we should enjoy it while it lasts," Harry offered along with the smile both of them found irresistible.
"Mommy, could we?" asked Butch.
"We've got to go, baby. Did you forget we're having lunch with Grandma and Papa?" Serena stood up and straightened her skirt after squeezing Desi's fingers one last time.
"No, Uncle Harry, we're going to eat at the place that has the pudding with the sauce we like so much. You're not coming though, so mommy won't let me lick the plate."
"Serena, life is too short to not let the boy lick the plate. Tell Papa, and he'll let you do it I bet," Harry said as she watched his face light up.
"Harry, by the time the child is twenty he won't be allowed in any of the restaurants in this town because of you. I swear between you teaching him to spit on his hand, and licking plates I'm going to have to stop coming over here."
"No way, mommy, Uncle Harry's the coolest person I know." Butch cocked his head back to look up at Harry.
"I'll be right back," Harry told Desi.
She walked Serena and Butch to the door, letting Serena take the lead on whether or not she wanted to tell her about her talk with Desi. Serena quietly walked the distance of the house to the door, keeping Harry in suspense, but did bring it up before they left.
"Harry, that's a very special woman you have up there. The next few months are going to be hard on her, so I want you to make sure she understands you'll be there for her. I want to get us into court before she gets her leg out of all that stuff you attached to it. This asshole did it, so we might as well use it in our favor."
"Whatever it takes, I'll be there to help her through it. You're a good friend, Serena, thanks for everything. I'm sure whatever you told her made Desi feel better about what has to happen."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as a way of organizing her thoughts. "I can't believe I'm going to say this but here goes. I'm happy for you, Harry. You've waited a lifetime and I think you're finally going to get the girl. You do understand though, that a part of me is throwing a major tantrum, but I'm happy for you both. Tell Desi I'll call her later on in the week with the details of the case and where we are in the process."
It was Serena's glassy eyes that made Harry put her arms around the woman who was being so generous. "I love you, you know that right?"
"Yes, baby, I know you do, and Albert and I love you too."
"Yeah, Uncle Harry, I love you," piped in Butch.
"Me too, big guy. Cut your mother some slack and don't lick the plate this time. I promise I'll take you back next week just the two of us, and we can indulge in a little plate licking."
"Deal," he screamed as he hugged Harry's leg. Harry let his mother go for a minute to give him a hug.
"Butch, how about you let me strap you into the car so your mama can finish up in here with your Uncle Harry?" Mona offered the boy her hand wanting to give the two friends the time they needed.
"Thanks, Mona," said Serena.
"You take your time, baby. I'll sit out there with him."
When the door closed and they were alone, Harry took Serena back into her arms and kissed her. It was an intimate kiss between two people who'd shared a relationship, but both were aware it was over for good. It was time for both of them to move on.
"If you ever need me, you know where to find me," said Harry, her lips moving against Serena's.
"What I need and what I want belong to someone else, darling, but don't worry about me. It's going to take some time, but I'll be fine. I love you." She put her hands on Harry's cheeks and tried to keep her voice from cracking. "And a little piece of me always will. Do you think you can live with that?"
"Only if you carry the same thought with you." With nothing else to add, Serena walked out, knowing Harry's eyes were still on her as she waved her thanks to Mona when she reached the car.
"Harry, you must have been burned at the stake or something in your past life," said Mona as she got back in the house and pulled her into a hug.
"Why do you say that?" Harry asked as she stared out the front window to watch Serena drive away.
"Because I've never in my life seen one person who was so blessed to be loved by so many special women. Serena was right in saying Desi's a good catch. I want you to promise me you won't go running scared, girl. Your mamma and I didn't raise you that way. It's time for you to settle down and start filling this house up with some kids. I'm tired of picking up after just you." Mona tried to sound menacing but when she lovingly patted Harry's chest over her heart she couldn't help but smile.
"Thanks, Mona, I love you too."
Desi and Harry spent the rest of the day relaxing out on the balcony off Harry's bedroom, each getting comfortable in the other's company again after so many years apart. She listened as Harry told her stories of her time in medical school and her residency, and how Kenneth and Tony had been there with her every step of the way.
Since she had told Harry that Serena had divulged the relationship they'd shared, Harry told her about that time in her life too. In all her time as a doctor Harry hadn't gotten as much satisfaction as she did the day Butch had been born, and she had been there to see it.
"He helped me see the good there is in the world from the first time I held him. I never really gave any thought to having kids of my own, but if I could have one like Albert I'd enjoy the chance. It's just with my lifestyle it would be hard on the child," Harry explained.
"Why because you're gay?"
"More because my work is so unpredictable. I wouldn't want to make a commitment that big then have a paid staff person raise the kid. It wouldn't be fair to either of us. The gay part is getting better, even a city like New Orleans that's proud of its religious roots would be tolerant to the idea of a gay person raising a child, I'd like to think. I mean it's not like being gay is contagious or anything. How about you, no thought to having children?" Harry asked turning her head to look at Desi again.
"No, I never told Byron, but I took my birth control pills faithfully. Ours wasn't the type of relationship to bring children into. I don't think I could've stood by and let him beat my child. Besides, it's too late for me."
"Nonsense, Desi, you're under thirty-five, more than capable of having children if you want them. I don't think I know a better person to be a mother."
"If you keep telling me stuff like that, I might just start believing it."
"That's an easy assignment."
Harry excused herself in the late afternoon. Changing into some running apparel she left to run her normal circuit around the neighborhood. Mona, who was finished with her dinner preparations, came up and kept Desi company while Harry was gone. She watched Harry run steadily down the street, in the smooth form she remembered from the track in high school.
"Penny for your thoughts," said Mona, sitting in the location Harry had just vacated. What Desi was thinking was written all over her face, but Mona was in the mood to play.
"I was just admiring Harry's running form, nothing you should have to pay money for." The explanation sounded reasonable but the heat of the blush she could feel on her face told another story.
"Uh huh, got a nice ass on her, don't she?"
"Hey, I'm old, I ain't dead."
"Mona, how did you meet Harry?" She had taken a real liking to this outspoken woman who seemed, for all her bluster, to love Harry like a daughter.
"I've worked for the Basantes family since I was a young woman. Had all the weekends off though, and that's when I understand you and Rachel would come to stay at the house. Once Dr. Raul retired, and he and Maria moved to Florida, I came to work for Harry. She bought a house a couple of blocks from the one she grew up in, and then for some fool reason she decided to buy this place. I think it was a favor to Kenny to give that boy of his, Tony, something to do. I'll never admit it in front of him, but I love him because he takes such good care of my Harry. We're forever and a day going round and round about some of the things he picks to put in here, but he grows on you after awhile. It's my job to make sure he don't go over the top."
"I've known him forever, so I'm guessing that has to be a full time job," joked Desi.
"That would explain some of why I'm here then I guess, because frankly, I don't know why Harry keeps me around except to bother her into taking better care of herself, and to make sure the hired services do their jobs. I have Harry, my kids and grandkids, and that's what makes me happy," said Mona, shaking her head at the thought of Harry.
"You have a maid?"
"A maid service and a pack of gardeners too. The only thing I do now really is cook and wash Harry's clothes. The first time the new people did that, they ruined all of Harry's underwear. Ooh lord, she was fit to be tied because you couldn't drag that girl into a store if her life depended on it. Still can't, so that would be my other job. I shop for her. Stuff like socks and underwear, the rest I have to pull her by the ear to go and try on."
"I've known Harry for a long time too, and it's nice to hear some stuff about her didn't change."
Mona nodded and smiled. "All in all, it's a good life I got here. This is my home, and that's how Harry treats me. My family is here all the time visiting me, and catching up on Harry's latest antics. She thinks I don't know, but she helps both my daughters send their kids to private schools around here. Tells them it's not safe to send kids to the public schools no more. Funny how life is, she went to public school, but my grandkids are going to class in those spiffy uniforms.
"Harry was a good kid, and that hasn't changed a bit either. She has a good heart." She clapped her hands together and stood up. "Enough about me, I got to go and finish dinner before the road warrior returns. After the run, she goes in that gym downstairs and lifts weights, so by the time she's finished, she could eat the whole pot of whatever I've cooked. Do you want me to have her come up and move you back before she starts pumping?"
"Yeah, that would be great." After Mona left, Desi wrapped herself in the blanket Mona had brought out, and then her thoughts turned to Harry. "Harry, how do I even begin to think of having a relationship with you while I'm still married, and then there are all these other issues? If only I could turn back the clock and make better choices than I did."
Desi fell asleep thinking about the future and the possibility of sharing it with Harry. It was so peaceful here under the ancient oaks that it was easy to drift off on a cloud of daydreams. The garden below her offered up some delightful aromas from the large trees of sweet olive planted throughout the property. They were Desi's favorites, and unbeknownst to her, it was one of the reasons Harry had decided on the house.
"Hey, sleepyhead, you ready to head inside?" asked Harry softly.
"Hey, yeah it's getting a little cold out here," answered Desi blinking her eyes open.
"Let me run in and put on a clean shirt first, I don't want to get you all sweaty." Harry tugged on her shirt starting to make her way inside.
"It's all right." The soft voice stopped Harry from taking another step. "You don't have to go through any extra trouble for me."
"Nope, Mona would never let me live that one down. Besides, you deserve to be fussed over more than anyone. Hang tight for a minute."
Returning a short time later with a t-shirt that said 'Orthopedic Surgeons Do It With Backbone,' Harry picked Desi up with little effort. The only tremor Desi felt was when she put her arms around Harry's neck. The reaction sparked the hope Serena had told her about. Maybe Harry did want her in her life.
After putting Desi down and getting her situated on the bed again, Harry disappeared into the gym, but not before sending Mona in to give Desi a sponge bath. She promised to help Mona change the sheets after her workout.
For dinner Rachel, Mona and Harry joined Desi in the bedroom, eating off TV trays so she wouldn't have to eat alone. For the first time Mona heard some of the stories of their childhood she was certain Maria Basantes, Harry's mother, had never heard. With each moment Harry and Desi spent in each other's company, Rachel and Mona witnessed the spark return that had been there when their love had first blossomed return. Both women hoped Harry and Desi didn't blow this opportunity at their second chance. Rachel offered to help Mona carry down all the dirty dishes leaving Harry and Desi alone.
"It's getting late, so how about we give you your medicine and you hit the sack. Need a bathroom run before you turn in?" asked Harry.
Desi would force her kidneys to function if it meant getting another ride in Harry's arms. Sometime during dinner she decided it was the one place in the world she longed to be, Byron and the rest of the world be damned.
After carrying her to and from the bathroom, Harry put her back on the bed and fluffed the pillows so Desi would be comfortable. She put the small tent back in place and pulled the comforter up slowly since it was the last reason for her to be in the room. Done, Harry bid Desi a good night, much to her disappointment, because it appeared like Harry wasn't staying with her like she had the night before.
"Night, Harry, and thanks for all this. You may never get Rachel to leave at the rate we're going."
"You and your sister are welcome here for as long as you like. Mona loves having someone else to spoil besides me, and I'm taking a liking to having you here too. Don't think about that anymore and start concentrating on healing that leg. We'll take it a day at time, and before you know it you might not want to leave."
When Harry left the room Desi whispered, "I don't want to leave, and I don't want to lose you."
In the early morning, long before dawn, Harry woke up in the guestroom next to her bedroom thinking her pager was going off. It was a low soft sound, but it wasn't coming from the small black square sitting on the nightstand next to the bed. Getting up to investigate, she came to the doorway of the bedroom that was usually hers.
It was Desi, and she was having a nightmare. Not wanting the woman to cause further injury to her leg, Harry stepped in and sat on the unoccupied side of the bed and reached over to wake her friend. When her hand touched the sleeping woman's shoulder, Desi visibly shrunk away from her.
"No, please get away from me, don't hurt me anymore," pleaded Desi.
Harry let go immediately thinking she had frightened Desi, causing her to think Desi was afraid of her. "Desi, it's me Harry. You're safe here. I'm not going to hurt you. I just wanted to wake you up before you hurt yourself."
"Harry?" said Desi in a confused voice. She slowly blinked her eyes open
"Yes, sweetheart, it's me. Are you okay now?"
"I'm sorry I woke you up, I was dreaming of Byron and I couldn't get away from him."
"That's okay, he's not here. No one here wants to hurt you, but you have to be careful with your leg. I know you're probably wild about hospital food, but I don't want to have to take you back to surgery. Do you think you could go back to sleep now?" Harry adjusted her blankets again and smoothed the hair away from Desi's face as a way to further sooth her.
The last thing Desi wanted was for Harry to leave her alone. It was one of her recurring dreams that all too often became her reality. The feeling of having her feet stuck in molasses while he moved closer, fists clenched tight, that crazed look in his eyes wouldn't release her. He won every night in that dream. She couldn't get away, and he was free to hit her as many times as he wanted, with no one to stop him.
"Could you sit with me for a little while? You can lie down if you want, I mean you don't have to if you don't want to, but I would appreciate it if you did," babbled Desi.
"I'll be happy to sit with you."
Harry lay down and reached under the blanket for Desi's hand. After wrapping it up in hers she felt Desi relax. They didn't need words between them, and soon Harry heard Desi's breathing even out. In her sleep, Desi pulled Harry's hand up onto her chest so she could hold it in both of her own. Harry was touched by the sentiment, but it made her worry Desi wouldn't be there when she woke up, and that this was all a dream.
"How can I get you back in my life? I think that it's time for us to have a long talk, Ms. Desi, the sooner the better." The wish was spoken softly and Harry felt Desi tighten her hold on her hand.
The next morning found them back out on the balcony, sipping coffee and eating pastries that Harry had gone out for as soon as she'd gotten dressed. "Do you treat all your houseguests this well?" asked Desi as she bit into her second croissant of the morning.
"No, no, I don't. Once you're well enough to walk, you'll be expected to pressure wash the house. Have to get a jump on that summer mildew build up, and now I won't have to call the usual guys I hire," said Harry with a straight face.
"Uh huh, I tell you what, I'll do it if you stand outside in a white t-shirt, Dr. Harry," Desi's face turned crimson the moment the words left her mouth. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that." The heat radiating from her ears made Desi want to cover them with her hands to hide the red.
"Don't look so spooked, sweetheart. Contrary to what my residents think, I still know how to take a joke." She put her coffee cup down and tried to sound as reassuring as possible.
"I'm still sorry. After everything I've done and put you through I don't have a right to tease you like that."
"Desi, if I ask you something, would you promise to be honest with me even if you think it'll hurt my feelings?" Harry swung her legs off the chaise lounge so she could face her while they talked.
"Yes, I can do that," answered Desi nervously. "At least I'll try."
"Was stepping out of my life your idea? It's okay if you tell me you fell head over heels for Byron, well it won't be okay but….well hell, you know what I mean." The usually confident Harry sat waiting for the answer as she ran her hand through her hair, afraid of what the truth might be.
Desi decided to just come out with the truth and not make Harry wait anymore than she had to. "It wasn't my idea, it was my father's. He threatened me with not being able to see Rachel again ever. He said he would take her and move somewhere I wouldn't ever find them. Somewhere he could shape her into the kind of person he wouldn't be ashamed of, even if he had to beat her to do it. Somewhere he'd be free to teach her what it was like to be with a man, even if it was him giving the lessons." The feeling of despair returned along with the tears that always fell when she thought of that time.
"It's all right, I'm right here, and I won't let anything happen to either of you ever again." Harry's voice gave her the strength to go on.
"I love you, Harry, but after mamma died, Rachel was my only family. The only family I cared about, besides you. She needed me. You know as well as I do that Clyde wasn't the best father in the world, and God only knows what would've happened to her if he'd made good on his threats."
"No one is blaming you for doing the right thing." It sounded inane to her own ears but Harry meant it.
"I don't expect you to forgive me," continued Desi, as if Harry hadn't spoken. "How can I, when I can't even forgive myself? But I know this; not one day has gone by in all these years I haven't thought about you. Not one single day when I didn't talk to you and tell you I missed you. I loved you with all my heart back then and I still do. It was like waking up from a nightmare when I saw you in that emergency room. I don't deserve it, but I want to be a part of your life again, even if it's just as your friend." When she finished speaking, Desi tensed up as if expecting a blow to her body, waiting for Harry's reaction.
Harry just looked at her from the chaise lounge she was sitting on, not saying anything. Great you've scared her off now, was the thought that was playing over and over again in Desi's head. Stuck there because of her injury, she had no choice but to wait and see what Harry would do next.
In typical Harry style it wasn't what Desi expected at all, but the soft lips on hers were familiar. Giving in to what they had wanted to do from that moment in the hospital, they deepened the kiss. It felt glorious to Desi to sink her hands into those thick black curls and to feel that talented tongue ignite her passion like only Harry could.
"Like I said, no one will blame you for doing the right thing by Rachel, least of all me. You don't need my forgiveness, Desi, because there's nothing to forgive."
Desi clung to her and buried her face in Harry's neck getting her collar all wet. "But I've brought you so much pain. How can you still be so giving?"
"Because anything worth having is worth any pain you have to endure to get it. Having you back here is what matters to me, but no walking out on me this time. You do and I'll be lost," whispered Harry in her ear.
"I missed you and I'm not going anywhere." Desi told her as she leaned in to kiss Harry again. "I may never want to stop doing this now."
"I don't want you to stop." Harry leaned back to look into Desi's eyes.
They were the one feature of Desi's that had haunted Harry for years. Those soft green orbs that reminded Harry of summer grass, that spoke volumes as to what was in Desi's head and heart. They had little flecks of gold sprinkled in them that Harry always thought held a sort of magic Desi had used to snare her love.
Expanding her line of sight out a little, Harry took in Desi's face. There were little lines around her eyes, but that was just from all the smiles that had creased Desi's face over the years. Desi's creamy skin hadn't changed much since the last time Harry had run her fingers over the surface. But every so often, she found small scars that were testament of Byron's brutality. For Harry, they didn't ruin or mar the image, only proved to her how brave Desi had been to survive the ordeal.
"What are you looking at?" asked Desi leaning into Harry's touch.
"I'm looking at you. Do you realize how beautiful you are to me? I've seen this face in my dreams for so long now, I think I have it memorized. But I find myself looking at you now, and falling in love all over again."
"Thank you for the sentiment, honey, but I think my time of beauty has past. I'm not eighteen anymore. I'm reminded of that every time I look in the mirror. It seems like every day something sags a little lower than it did the day before, and I'm so tired."
"Desi, honey, you're thirty-four years old, not exactly grandmother material. I love looking at you, so don't argue with me. And if you want my official diagnosis as to why you are so tired, it's because you were unhappy, sweetheart. Not to worry though, I have a prescription for that, guaranteed to perk you up permanently."
"Oh yeah, doctor, what might that be?" asked Desi. Her answer came in the form of a kiss and two strong arms that held her tight.
By making Desi happy it was a case of physician heal thyself for Harry. They would try and start over from the foundation they had built on a porch swing so many nights before. But after all that time, would it be enough?
Continued in Chapter 3
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