While Lonnie paid, Ruby carried the baby in her chest carrier onto the nearly empty Castro Street streetcar, quickly scooting to the window side of a nearby double seat. Lonnie followed close behind, taking the aisle seat. Ruby lowered the blanket covering the baby’s head. “There you are, sweetheart,” she smiled straight down, “Peek-a-boo.” The baby’s face lifted, following her voice.
Look how carefree Ruby is here, Lonnie delighted. She squeezed her full backpack to the floor then reached over to straighten the infant’s knit hat. “Gotta keep your ears warm in the fog, little darlin’. Do you like this trolley? We’re going to The Castro where your Momma thought you two might live, if you’d made it here to California. You might even have been born here.” Bethy grabbed Lonnie’s finger, holding with a surprising grip.
“Hey, she’s getting strong,” Lonnie grinned proudly. Ruby laughed and Lonnie thought the sound was like a symphony. The tall woman worked her finger loose and watched the infant sink her cheek against Ruby’s chest, her eyes seeming to follow Lonnie.
Lonnie checked the few other passengers, seeing no sign of threat. Her eyes scanned out the windows. “Look, baby girl, we’re following the dock.” Both women looked out at the bay to their left as the trolley trundled rapidly down a parallel road. The sun was dissolving the fog, dancing light here and there off the choppy water.
Ruby glanced down to her right at the traffic outside her window, noting that it was getting heavier the further they went. Two long trucks outside her window abruptly turned off and a car trying to hold back was forced by cars behind it to make its way beside the streetcar.
Ruby glanced with interest at the driver, then pulled her head back in shock. The car had shot forward, trying to get ahead of the trolley. But in that split second she’d caught a glance of someone....Was it...? Could it be...? Her heart seemed to stop. He was of the same general coloring, same general size. And his behavior--that was more than strange, trying to pull his cap down, his hand covering most of his face. In just a split instant their eyes had met and his disdain seemed so intense it was palpable. Now she couldn’t seem to breathe.
“See there, that’s where we came back on the ferry boat from Sausalito,” Lonnie pointed left across the aisle as they passed another ferry dock. “See how choppy the water is getting, baby girl. It was calm when it was foggy.” Lonnie glanced at Ruby, seeing her gasping for breath. “What’s wrong?” she asked worriedly. Is Ruby having a panic attack? Why? What happened?
“The driver of that car...” A cold flash of fear made Ruby shudder, and she wrapped her arms protectively around the baby. She tried to breath, tried to calm her heart. Breathe, breathe. How many times had she thought she’d seen him before, and each time she’d been wrong? Surely this wasn’t him, was it? “I dunno. It...it was nothing maybe.”
Lonnie glimpsed a grey, nondescript car hurriedly turning off to the right, away from the trolley. “Can’t be nothing, hon,” Lonnie said gently, “It startled you so.” She knew not to touch Ruby, at least not at first, not until the small blonde felt some control over herself. “Tell me about the driver.” What spooked her? Lonnie’d been feeling a little nervous herself after spotting the man at the shopping area. “Did you know him?”
Ruby’s heart was pounding. Did I know him? That look. It was like he knew me...and, and hated me. “I...I don’t know.” Deeply bothered wide green eyes looked Lonnie’s way. Could it have been him? Could he look like that now? It’s been a year or more. Brown scraggly hair, dark eyes, that’s the same. And he was about the same build. But something about his eyes... She sucked in a breath, finally finding it easier to breathe. It probably wasn’t him, was it? Another breath. I didn’t think I’d ever forget his eyes. Yet that man seemed to know me. Who would it be, if it wasn’t him? “I can’t be sure, Lonnie.” She shut her eyes, gently rocking the baby.
“Okay.” Lonnie tentatively put her arm around the blonde, hoping Ruby wasn’t at the point where she’d object to being touched. Was this someone that looked like Ruby’s rapist again? Did something about him remind her of that s.o.b.? That’s happened before. Ruby leaned into Lonnie’s warmth, opened her eyes and stared out the window.
At least she’s not fighting me, Lonnie sighed in relief. “Do you think it was him?” the brunette asked softly.
Oh Lonnie, how many times have I put you through this? Ruby worried, trying to bolster herself against her fears. There was an almost brave element to her voice, “Tell you the truth, Lonnie, ..I don’t know,” she whispered. She was silent a moment before continuing, “It was almost more like he knew me, ya know? And who would that be if it wasn’t him?”
“He knew you?”
“Could it have been someone from college? Someone besides him, I mean.”
Ruby thought a minute. “No one I remember.” She paused, “And whether it could be him or not, well, there was something about his eyes that seemed different.” She blew out a breath. “Oh, I don’t know.” Round green orbs lifted to Lonnie’s, distress manifest. “I do know he didn’t like me, that man in the car. It was like he knew me..and, and...didn’t like me at all.”
“Everyone that knows you, loves you, hon,” Lonnie soothed.
“No. No, that’s not true. Not him.”
“Okay,” Lonnie’s face tensed. Could Ruby’s rapist be here in San Francisco? Is that possible? He shouldn’t be. Let’s find out. Lonnie whipped out her cell phone. “Nyri said he was in Idaho,” she said firmly, “I really think she’d have warned us if he wasn’t.” She gave Ruby a reinforcing smile, “Let’s find out.” She turned the cell phone on and watched it in her hand endlessly searching. Well, crud! Why does it do that, the blasted thing? In some places it works perfectly. There’s no rhyme nor reason to these damn things! “For cripe sakes, there’s no reception here,” she grumbled.
“Honey, the baby,” Ruby reprimanded gently. She didn’t let Lonnie use bad language anywhere around the baby. Ruby looked at the traffic. Everything seemed normal enough. The man was gone. The blonde put a hand on Lonnie’s arm. “You’re right.” Her heartbeat steadied. “It couldn’t have been him, could it? I mean, Nyri would have warned us.”
“She would,” Lonnie acknowledged. The bus made a sharp right hand turn away from the dock and began to move diagonally up a busy street toward the city center, away from the bay. More and more businesses crowded the streets. At each stop, more customers climbed aboard. Lonnie dropped the phone in her pocket. “Worthless piece of junk,” she muttered. Then she added more gently, “Okay, Rube. Can you tell me what this guy looked like?”
“Sure. Sort of like...him.” Ruby nervously stroked the baby’s back. The infant’s eyes began to shut. “Uh, okay, his eyes were dark and his hair was brown and shaggy kind of, and he was about the same build--you know, average. Course, he was sitting down, so I can’t be real sure. He was wearing a baseball cap only it was wide and sort of puffy. He pulled it down to cover his eyes, and he put his hand up to block his face. Oh, and he was wearing an old dark leather jacket.”
CRAP! That sounds like the guy I saw following us. Who is this s.o.b.? Lonnie’d seen the pictures of Ruby’s rapist and while this man was of the same general description, she agreed with Ruby. She didn’t think it was him. However, how could she be a hundred percent sure? She hadn’t seen the driver. She certainly didn’t want Ruby worrying about this man. She’d be extra vigilant herself and confront the jerk, if she saw him again, but Ruby shouldn’t have to worry. After all, the small blonde had just begun to really relax and enjoy herself. She couldn’t have Ruby give that up.
“All right, babe,” Lonnie’s voice was soothing, “Tell you what, since we didn’t hear from Nyri, let’s assume it wasn’t...him. Let’s assume it was just somebody who resembled him. I mean, he’s average everything and it’s been a while since you’ve seen him, so of course that’s going to happen. But I think maybe we can relax a little on this guy.”
Ruby chewed her lip. “All right. Except...he covered his face... like he knew me, Lonnie. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Maybe the sun was in his eyes,” Lonnie suggested. “Or there’s always the off chance he’s just a grumpy tourist unhappy at having to drive in San Francisco traffic.” Course that gray car’s license had a California plate.
“I guess,” Ruby said without conviction. Do tourists hate people they don’t know and have never seen before? Or, has he seen me before?
Lonnie was quiet for a few minutes. When she spoke, her words were iron wrapped in velvet, “I want you to know this for absolutely sure, Ruby. That,” she glanced at the baby, “uh, sorry excuse for a person, is not going to hurt you again. Not ever. I promise.”
Why am I letting these nervous outbreaks happen to me? Ruby pondered as though she had any real control over them. Poor Lonnie doesn’t need any more of this, and neither do I. Ruby placed a brave smile on her face. “I know, honey. You’re right.” She inhaled a deep breath, let it out and glanced out the window, her hand moving to gently cradle the sleepy baby’s head. “He’ll never hurt Bethy,” she declared fervently. “And that’s for sure. Cause I won’t let him.”
“Nor will I,” Lonnie agreed. She could see that Ruby wasn’t letting this go. They rode in silence for a while, watching people climb onto the streetcar. It was beginning to fill up. “Okay,” Lonnie broke the silence, “Let’s look at all sides. Supposing this guy did know you and he didn’t want you to recognize him, or maybe even know that he was following us or something.”
Following us? Ruby blinked in alarm. I was thinking he’d seen me strictly by chance. Why would someone be following us?
“You and I both know,” Lonnie continued, “how good your self-protective moves are now. Look how you handled David, and he’s a big, strong, trained boxer, for heaven’s sake. And don’t forget that I have a black belt. There’s no way we’re going to let anyone do us any harm.”
“But we do have the baby with us,” Ruby reminded, drawing the blanket protectively around the infant.
“Yes. She’s always our number one concern. We will be diligent. On the other hand, we want her to learn about the world. We can’t stay inside and never venture out. That’s not living. We have to evaluate each incident. Did you think beyond a doubt that this was him this time?”
Ruby paused. “No....not beyond a doubt.”
“Okay. We’ll assume it wasn’t then. When we think a serious, beyond-a-doubt threat has formulated, the baby has to be moved as far as possible from it. Just like we did when David was a threat.”
Ruby nodded in agreement.
“But we have to strike a balance. We can’t jump at every shadow nor can we be unmindful of things that could be serious threats.”
That made sense to Ruby. Was this another case of jumping at shadows? Guilt swept over her. She’d already put them through enough of that. “Yes. You’re right.”
“So,” Lonnie continued, she looked around at the new passengers on the streetcar not seeing anyone suspicious, “whoever it was, he’s gone now. We can be pretty sure Nyri would have told us if...you know..he was here. You saw this guy mostly from the back and only for a second.”
Ruby’s chin moved in a simple nod. Lonnie’s voice lowered, “We’re still on vacation. I think we should keep a calm but watchful eye out for this turkey, and if we see him again, I’ll confront him.” Seeing alarm in Ruby’s eyes, she added hastily, “Or we can call the cops on him, if we have to. Whatever. Otherwise, I think we need to go right on enjoying ourselves.”
Could she go back to enjoying herself? Ruby wondered. Especially after being startled like that? She had to, for Lonnie’s sake if nothing else. She nodded and stared out the window. This was their vacation, their honeymoon even, but her mind wouldn’t quit whirling. Why did Lonnie say he could be following us? What made her think that? Ruby considered that for awhile. Seemingly out of the blue she asked, “Did you see Angelina earlier? You remember, when you had us stop after we turned that corner when we were shopping?”
Lonnie observed the small blonde beside her. She knew Ruby had figured it out. She answered softly, “No. I thought I saw a guy of the same description following us. But I didn’t ever think it was..you know..him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ruby asked, hurt in her voice.
“I didn’t want you to worry,” Lonnie replied. She could see injury in Ruby’s eyes.
The blonde’s voice dropped to a whisper, “I thought we were in this together.”
Had she lost Ruby’s faith? Lonnie’s head dropped. “We are. You were having so much fun, I didn’t have the heart to...And, I lost him in the crowd, so I thought maybe I was seeing things, you know, imagining it. I couldn’t be sure. I don’t know. I should have said something then. Can you forgive me? I’m so sorry, Rube.” Blue eyes focused intently on the blonde.
Ruby’s reply was soft, her green eyes yielding. With the seats filling so rapidly, she modulated her voice for as much privacy as they could get under the circumstances, “I know you want to protect me, and I love that about you. You’ll always be my knight in shining armor, Lonnie. But I want to share my life with you, not be some possession to be protected.”
“You’ve never been a possession to me,” Lonnie said tersely. “Not ever.” She looked with surprise at heads that had turned when the volume of her voice increased.
Ruby laughed softly. “Uh, maybe I described that poorly. What I meant was, I want us to share in every way we can. And to trust each other, and have faith...equally. It’s like the working thing. Someday I want to teach. I want to join the work force and help out our finances.”
“I want you to go to school, get a degree and teach, too,” Lonnie agreed, “I just don’t want you giving up taking care of Bethy while she’s so little just to do some menial kind of labor because our salary isn’t all that high. Teaching is something completely different.” Her eyes dropped to her hands. She could feel Ruby’s eyes on her.
They rode in silence for a while. Ruby stroked the baby’s back as she reflected, How can I jump on Lonnie like that? Didn’t I almost turn into a basket case just now when I saw someone who startled me? Why would Lonnie even want to tell me she thought someone was following us? “I’m sor....”
“I’m sorry,” Lonnie said at the same time, sombrous blue eyes lifting meekly to green. It made them both chuckle to say the same thing at the same time.
“Your folks would say, ‘Jinx, you owe me a coke.”
“Yeah,” Lonnie agreed. She studied her hands a minute more. Her voice became serious, “I’ll try harder, hon. I promise I will.”
“So will I,” Ruby acknowledged. She could feel the effects of the terror draining from her body. She nudged Lonnie almost playfully. But who was this fellow since it probably wasn’t...him? Settling back by the window, she pondered aloud, “Why would anyone be following us? I don’t think I understand.”
“Don’t have a clue,” Lonnie replied, her teeth gritting, “Surely he doesn’t think we’re wealthy tourists to be robbed.” But whoever he is, he’d better keep his distance now. Cause I’ll track him down.
Ruby’s face paled. “You don’t think....he....hired someone to find us, do you?”
Lonnie saw Ruby’s terror and immediately wanted to ameliorate it. “No. He’s never done that before. Why would he do it now? What would make him even think we were in San Francisco? No. That can’t be it.” Ruby began chewing her lip. Lonnie’s brows furrowed, “Whoever he is, you can be danged sure I’m going to find out, if I see that jerk again.”
Ruby’s first instinct was to protest, but hadn’t she just said she’d try harder to see Lonnie’s side of things? Lonnie was a person who acted. She had the training, she had the will, and she’d always exercised both. But the thought of Lonnie being hurt terrorized Ruby almost more than anything. The blonde looked out the window at the downtown area swarming with people. Then she looked back with determination, “If I think it’s time to call the police, I want you to agree to let me do that.”
Lonnie grinned. “Yes. If I’m getting the worst of any deal, by all means, call the cops.”
They rode in silence for a while. “Does this mean we can forget this guy and go back to enjoying our vacation?” Lonnie smiled. You’d better believe I’ll be watching for him, though.
“Fine with me,” Ruby concurred, but her arms held the infant strapped to her chest more protectively than ever before.
Their get off stop was the very last one on the route, the place where the trolley turned around. “Here we are,” Lonnie announced, dragging her backpack from the floor. All of the people rose to exit. She and Ruby made their way to the back.
Lonnie got off first, looked around then sheltered Ruby and the baby at her side. It was a good ten degrees warmer here, they decided. The baby’s headwear was adjusted so she wouldn’t overheat. Lonnie slipped on her backpack so that her arms would be free if they ran into that guy, but she hoped Ruby hadn’t recognized the reason for her move.
Ruby looked around nervously. The man was not visible anywhere. She brought her attention to the apartments up and down the street. “I don’t know what I expected,” she said. “I don’t think I could have afforded to rent any of these places.”
“They do look like they’d be pretty pricey.” Lonnie headed them toward the business district up one block, her eyes continually scanning the area for the man with the camera. He was nowhere in sight.
“Do you think he followed us?”
Lonnie heard the quaver in Ruby’s voice. She momentarily put an arm loosely around Ruby’s shoulders. She smiled reassuringly, “I don’t think so, babe. I think that whole thing back there scared him away.”
They uncomfortably perused a small gift store, then walked with the crowd to the corner and turned down a very busy street till they came to a bookstore. There was no sign of the man, and Ruby began to relax. Once inside the store, they browsed the full shelves and tables. “I had no idea,” Ruby said, seeing that the store seemed to be filled to the ceilings with close or distantly related gay and lesbian themed books.
“Yeah,” Lonnie agreed, picking up a research novel on Alexander the Great while Ruby looked at the magazine section. With her back to Ruby, the brunette’s blue eyes continued to dance out the large windows at the front of the store. She heard the baby begin to fuss. With a start she spotted the man half hidden in a deep doorway of a closed store down the street. “Mr. Average” had changed to a grey cotton jacket and smooth baseball cap, his hair swept back, but it was the same man.
A deep doorway--his mistake, she thought ruthlessly. She saw him check his watch. So that’s your cover story, you’re waiting for someone. Gotta admit, you do seem to know what you’re doing. “Do you have a ladies’ restroom?” Lonnie asked the girl behind the counter, trying not to let her eyes wander out the window. “Our baby needs both feeding and changing I’m afraid.”
“Here, go ahead and use our break room..over there, to the side. The restroom’s too small,” she intimated with a flirty wink. The tall, thin, good-looking young girl was wearing torn cigarette jeans tucked in boots with a scooped neck tee shirt emblazoned with the sign for ‘woman’ on it. She had short, florescent green hair, her smile showing a stud in her tongue. Three rings endowed one eyebrow.
“Thanks. Is there a back way out of here?” Lonnie asked the girl, who looked the brunette up and down. Finally the girl pointed to an employee’s locked back door. She studied Lonnie for a minute then reached in her pocket and handed her a key.
“You can get out that way. It winds around a little, but you’ll see where it opens to the street. Unlock it and give the key back.”
“Thanks. I’ll leave the key on the inside of the door, if that’s all right.” The girl nodded in approval and moved to help another customer.
Lonnie glanced down at her own stone-washed jeans and white trainers. Good thing it wasn’t after dark. She would have a hard time tracking him unnoticed since her jeans would glow in carlights or fluorescent lights and her shoes stood out, being so white. She was not dressed for surveillance. Fortunately it was daylight.
“Ruby,” Lonnie walked closer to the blonde. “She says you can use their break room over there to change and feed Bethy.” She pointed, stripping the backpack off. “But you can stay out here with the baby by the window a few minutes first, can’t you?”
“Sure. Why?” Ruby softly jiggled the infant, whose fussing had stopped.
Lonnie spoke softly, “I saw him across the street. Keep calm now,” she warned. “We’ve already discussed this. I’m going to find out who he is, once and for all. Whatever you do, don’t leave the bookstore. You’re both safe here. All right? Uh, diaper bag’s in here.”
“Oh, Lonnie...” Ruby’s face grew tense. She hadn’t expected this to happen so soon.
“It’ll be fine. Trust me, hon. Just stay in the store. I don’t want to have to worry about you and the baby. Don’t look out at him. Not even once. That’s important. I don’t want him spooked before I can trap him. He won’t leave if he sees you in here. Just be aware of where the clerks are. Stay near them for a few minutes, then head to the break room.”
“Please, hon. It’ll be fine. I’ll be right back. Promise.”
Ruby tasted blood and realized she’d bitten her lip that hard. “If you’re not, I’m calling the police!” she whispered furiously, her hands shaking.
“All right. But give me time first.”
Lonnie browsed momentarily by the window then quickly moved back and slid unseen out the door, leaving the key dangling in the lock. Ruby took her place near the window, picking up a book, forcing herself to look at it and not to look outside.
In back Lonnie followed a meandering path to a tree-covered alley. She wound her way around to where it exited on the side of the block where they’d gotten off the trolley. She hastily proceeded with the crowd moving toward the busy corner and crossed anonymously amongst them with the light, walking rapidly once she was out of any possible line of sight he might have of her.
She circled the block where he was hiding, not running since that would draw attention, but hastening in the shadows. From a direction he wouldn’t have expected, she stepped silently into the doorway, trapping him. Why you never hide in a deep doorway, asshole, she thought. Surveillance 101.
Panic flooded the man’s eyes, but he instantly calmed himself.
Her look was more than menacing. “Who the hell are you?” she demanded. “And why are you following us?”
A hand went to his camera.
“I don’t want your camera. I want answers to my questions and I want them NOW. And dude, I’ve got a black belt, in case you think I’m just funnin’ ya.” She moved into a ready, threatening stance.
He curled his shoulders with the intention of breaking past her. “I’m just waitin’ for someone. Get outta my way,” he grumbled, both hands on his camera straps. “I’m not following you.”
In a split second Lonnie’s feet moved, feigning a hit that the man felt brush past one cheek then the other before she automatically fell back into an aggressive stance. “Next time my feet land. Or maybe a broken kneecap will convince you how serious I am,” her voice was a growl, her eyes like ice-blue shards. He backed up to the door of the closed business. She readied herself.
Grave doubts that he could break past without her doing him serious harm overwhelmed him. He hadn’t signed on for this. “Look,” he raised his hands in supplication, pressing his back firmly against the closed door. “It’s not what you think.”
“You don’t have a clue what I’m thinking,” she snarled, rage from what he had put Ruby through this day coming to the fore.
“Truth? I was sent to watch over you,” he injected. His boss was going to kill him. “Really,” he added. His eyes went to the crowd passing by outside the deep doorway. Some puzzled looks were sent his way, but no one stopped.
“Watch over us? You?” She snorted in amusement then narrowed her eyes, sweeping them over his body. “You packing?”
“Yes.” He pointed down. He had a gun strapped to his ankle. She assumed he knew how to use it. Not that he could get to it at this point. He was quite sure she could kick him to death in the time it would take him to make a try for it.
“Who sent you?” the angry brunette snarled, holding him in place with the force of her glaring blue eyes.
He looked at the ground. He’d never live this down. Fuck! “Nyri,” he replied quietly.
“Nyri? What? Why’d she think we needed watching?”
He shrugged and looked up. “Just in case, she said. She didn’t want some guy finding you here in San Francisco. That’s what she told me. I have his picture I can show you. Brown hair, brown eyes. About my size. I was supposed to keep you safe in case he or any of his friends came along.”
Lonnie glowered at the man, “As if.” Then she commanded, “Stay put!” She pulled out her phone. She’d use his, if hers didn’t work in this area, or drag him by the neck to the nearest pay phone, but service popped onto her screen. Go figure, stupid phones. Quickly she dialed. “Why the hell have you got some gum shoe with a camera following us?” she demanded. “What’s going on?”
“No ‘hello?’ No ‘hi my good friend?’” Nyri asked amusedly.
“Damn right. We don’t take kindly to being followed without our knowledge, my...good...friend,” Lonnie emphasized.
Nyri laughed. “You caught him, huh? Poor guy. Did you make him wet himself?”
Lonnie glanced down at the man. “Nearly,” she replied.
Nyri chortled, “Well, give him a break. Exposure risk by a single surveillance operative is always high. You’d never have spotted a team. Not in a hundred years. Let me talk to him.”
“Call him on your own time. I want an explanation!”
“I’d forgotten what a hard ass you can be,” Nyri chuckled. “Okay. We temporarily lost sight of our perp on this end. He’d just seen Ruby on local television walking across the Golden Gate Bridge along with some local high school band. Knew she was in San Francisco. I was afraid he might take off on the hunt. Know what I’m talking about?”
Lonnie stood up taller. Her voice was softer, “Aw, shoot. Yes. So, why didn’t you just warn us?”
“And ruin your vacation? I know how hard it is to party with you on the alert 24/7. You get as friendly as a trained pit bull and as relaxed as a rumba of coiled rattlesnakes. I remember high school. Besides, we were getting indications he was still up here. We just couldn’t pin him down.”
Lonnie also remembered high school. She hid her embarrassment. “Okay, so, is he out here somewhere now?”
“No. You can relax. Fortunately, I just got a call verifying that he’s still up here, and will be for quite a while. So you guys can relax, go back to your honeymoon and enjoy yourselves.”
“Honeymoon?” How does she know about that?
“That’s what the pictures I’ve been sent look like. Want them? I was going to send them to you anyway. I particularly liked the ones of you necking in the car. How’s that for a wedding present? Oh, and I was going to cover Mr. Invisible’s fee there.”
“Whatever he charges, it’s way too much.” Lonnie grumbled, not taking solace in Nyri’s idea of a wedding present.
“He got some great pictures. You make a beautifully striking couple, by the way. I loved the Bouillabaisse shots.”
“Jesus. That was him making me feel so uneasy all this time?”
“Oh yeah. I see you’ve still got those senses of yours screaming warnings at you. You’re something, you know. I’m glad we don’t have to tag you all the time.”
“You’re on my shit list, pal.”
“Come on, Lonnie, you know I’d never leave you unprotected. And if I knew this perp was headed your way, I’d call you in a heartbeat. But he wasn’t and isn’t. We just found out he’s involved in something much bigger back in the northwest right now. A drug thing gone bad. No chance he’ll get away while you’re there. I’ll tell you about it when you get home. So go have a good time. And send my poor guy on his way. I was going to call him off anyway. He won’t bother you again. Tell him to file his report and include the pictures pronto. His gig’s up.”
“Get out of here,” Lonnie said to the man. She stepped aside. “Nyri says send your report to her immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the man squeezed past and headed up the street on the run.
“What a jerk,” Lonnie grumbled.
“He can be. He’s for sure a certified A Number 1 homophobe,” Nyri laughed. “But he’s one guy I’d choose to watch out for me, if I needed watching. And he knows I’m gay. The guy’s a danged good shot with that little gun of his. And he’d have thrown his body in front of any danger meant for you two without giving it a single thought. Ex Secret Service. They train ‘em right. So don’t be too hard on him.”
“Yeah, yeah. Okay, I do have to say I tried to catch him going around a corner earlier today.”
“No individual surveillance man of mine would ever follow a target around a corner. EVER! Only the amateurs do that.”
“Well, I didn’t catch him, so maybe you’re right. About our perp, how’s your work going? Any progress? You know who I mean.”
“Actually, I know exactly who you mean. Finally got his prints. He’s got a sheet ten miles long. I haven’t quit digging yet, but there’s plenty there already. I’ll tell you about it when you get back.”
“He’s been in jail?”
“Oh yeah. Couple times. In Texas. That’s where he met the two friends of his I was checking out. They all served together. I was on the right track there.”
Lonnie took a minute to digest all that.
“You still mad?” Nyri asked. “Cause I didn’t mean to frighten you guys. Honestly, I thought I was doing a good thing, letting you relax and have a good time even though things were a little up in the air here.”
“It’s okay,” Lonnie decided. Her friend was trying to do them a favor.
“Good. So go relax. Don’t spend all your time worrying about him. Have some fun. Let me worry. I’ll let you know the minute I think you’re seriously in danger. Anything less and I’ll send a team next time to watch over you. You won’t spot our team. Guaranteed. How can you lose?”
Lonnie let out a short laugh. “Guess you’re right. Thanks, Nyri. We’ll try.”
“Don’t try. Do it. Call me when you get back home. And give Ruby my best. Get her to unlax if you can. Seems like she’s done yeoman’s duty over all this. Can’t be good to always be dragging it up.”
“Yeah. You’re right in that regard.”
“So, all’s forgiven? Catch you later?”
“You’ve got it. See ya later.”
Lonnie snapped the phone shut and put it in her pocket. She couldn’t help smiling. Hopefully they could unwind again and get back to their vacation. She wondered briefly what drug deal the perp was into now. Aw, what do I care? At present she had a worried blonde and a newly awakened baby to tend to. They were on the top of her list and always would be. Nyri was right. He’d taken up enough of their time.
Lonnie walked into the bookstore to see the small blonde on the other side of the door, the fussing baby out of the holder in her arms. “I was about ready to call the police,” Ruby said, relief showing in her eyes. “Who was he? What did he want?”
“Has she eaten already?” Lonnie asked, motioning to the baby.
“We were waiting for you,” Ruby replied, softly jiggling the infant. “Tell me.”
“I will. Let’s go to the break room and you can feed her there while I tell you all about it. It wasn’t even close to who we thought. It was some gumshoe Nyri sent to watch over us.”
“What?” Ruby stopped, her brows going to her hair line. “Nyri sent him? Why?”
“C’mon. I’ll tell you everything.” Lonnie led Ruby to the break room and sunk into a chair where she could stop anyone at the door as the blonde settled the baby at her breast. Ruby flicked the blanket over the baby and her shoulder and centered her eyes on Lonnie as the infant suckled.
Lonnie explained everything, seeing much of the tension leave Ruby’s body while she talked.
“Well, thank heavens,” Ruby remarked when Lonnie was finished. For most of the ten minutes that a feeding took, they sat in silence, Lonnie watching quietly while Ruby’s mind worked overtime. She could see the blonde’s forehead bunching.
“If he thinks I live here,” Ruby said worriedly, “What would keep him from looking for Tina later? She was walking on the bridge with me.” Ruby chewed her sore lip. What if she’d gotten Lonnie’s sister’s family involved in this?
“Working as much as they do, Tina doesn’t get into San Francisco very often,” Lonnie explained. “And when she does, she’s nearly always with John. The likelihood of that...jerk... being here anytime she is, is very remote. Besides, I’ll tell Nyri to tell me anytime he’s headed this way and I’ll warn Tina to stay close to home. Don’t worry about it. It will be fine.”
Ruby sighed, moving the baby to her shoulder and rubbing the infant’s back till she bubbled up air. Nyri would contact them. Obviously this friend of Lonnie’s was intent on protecting them, even if this guy did scare the wits out of her this time. Imagine getting a homophobe to watch over them. Did she dare relax? She looked at Lonnie’s beguiling smile and felt reassured. “You know what? I could use a good stiff drink,” she announced.
That took Lonnie by surprise. “Alcoholic?”
“Of course not,” she stroked the baby’s forehead. The little one’s eyes were heavy again. She needed more nap time.
“I saw a restaurant down the street.” Lonnie saw Ruby’s eyes light up.
Lonnie thanked the bookstore people profusely and slipped a five dollar bill on the counter as they left. She wanted to leave more, but they still had expenses to cover on the rest of their trip. She was afraid five dollars was really more than they could afford as it was.
They entered the cafe, delighted to see there was no smoking allowed in the dining area. They had already eaten so Lonnie ordered a cola and Ruby ordered a diet 7 Up. The blonde’s eyes tracked the busy room, overwhelmed with the sheer volume of gay people in one place.
“Mostly guys,” she whispered. But there were some women scattered around the room, and Ruby was entranced with them. It was a sight she’d never witnessed before. She could tell from how they conversed together that one female couple was in the early dating stage. They were charming, polite and outwardly trying to impress each other. Their laughter wasn’t forced, exactly, but almost. Ruby felt an excitement at the scene. She wasn’t used to this. She didn’t even know it happened in the world. It made her feel instantly more at ease.
A group of four business women dangled their legs from high stools at a small circular table on the raised deck in the bar area at the end of the room near the windows. This group laughed and joked together like they’d all been friends for a long time. It was refreshing for Ruby to see such jesting after what they’d just been through.
Then two friendly men next to them leaned over from their table and commented about the baby, cooing to the sleepy infant. “Isn’t she precious? Look how cute. How old is she?”
“About three months,” Lonnie replied. A conversation began. They asked if Ruby and Lonnie were visitors. Lonnie asked about apartment rentals in the nearby area and the prices they went for. Ruby was shocked at the answer. No, she probably wouldn’t have found it easy finding a place to live around here.
Finishing their drinks, Lonnie and Ruby paid their tab and headed out.
“She’s going to need changing again before too long,” Ruby decided, adjusting the baby in her carrier.
“Can she wait till we get back to the rental car, do you think?” Lonnie wondered. “Or should we find a place now?”
Ruby sniffed the infant. Finding no telltale odors, she unsnapped the baby’s bunting and stuck a finger in by the diaper. It was dry. “We can wait.” She snapped the bunting back up.
They headed to the turn around and boarded the first bus back. This ride was ever so much more carefree, and even the baby seemed to sense it. They looked out at the scenes around them, the unique buildings and parks of the downtown area, as the bus made its way back toward the docks. The baby gurgled and moved about as they rode before lapsing into her baby grunting mode.
In no time at all the bus made a sharp turn left from the city buildings and passed directly next to the docks right up to their parking area. They were pleased to see their rental car sitting in sunlight ahead. They got off very near to it.
Lonnie got the picnic basket out of the trunk while Ruby crawled in the back seat to change the little one. Though sunny now, the wind off the water had kept the area cool. Their picnic drinks were drinkable without needing ice.
After the baby’s change, Ruby passed out hand wipes, which they both used. Lonnie wore the carrier, put Bethy inside, put on the infant’s knit hat, covered her with the baby blanket and moved to the benches in the park while the baby, half covered by the blanket, waved her arms, kicked her feet and gurgled happily. Sitting where they could see the boats docked below, they pulled their sandwiches out of the picnic basket and began eating.
“Good,” Lonnie chewed, watching the little one suck her fist. Again Bethy was being awfully good. Lonnie took another bite. She couldn’t believe how delicious sandwiches could taste.
“There’s fresh fruit,” Ruby said. “Some power bars and some carrot sticks and celery. I got them at the deli when we were there the other day.”
Lonnie leaned back, the sun on her face. “This is great. Isn’t it beautiful out here?” Now that she was relaxed, Lonnie began to feel a pleasant weariness possess her. Ruby smiled over at the two. “Give me the camera, hon. I’ll get a picture of you two.”
Lonnie fished the camera from her pocket and handed it to Ruby. “My two girls at Fisherman’s Wharf,” Ruby grinned. The blonde snapped their picture, the water sparkling in the background. Ruby looked out across the bay. What a wondrous place. She’d never forget this.
Sitting in the late afternoon rays of sunlight, they finished their dinner, Lonnie humming to the baby gently while both women periodically shifted their attention to boats coming in to dock, many passengers embarking from them, their day’s sightseeing tours on the water ended. All the activity was pleasantly exciting.
“They have those travel folders in that building,” Lonnie remembered. They packed up the basket, put it in the car. Inside the building they happily chose folders for places they might visit next. By the time they were headed back to Tina and John’s, they found themselves suitably spent. What a day!
Lonnie’s mind drifted to Angelina as she drove them home. She just knew they could never have come up with a counter offer that Angelina would have accepted. Not after what the man from Chicago had offered. She sighed. When pigs fly. Sometimes nothing could influence whether rascally pigs could ever be airborne. Like they said about cards, you had to know when to fold. Though she hated losing, in a way she was glad Angelina would be gone. Something about the woman was just too....risky.
Ruby turned around checking on the baby in her car seat in the back. The little one was already sound asleep. Ruby smiled. They’d all sleep well this evening. But first they’d show off their bargains, call her in-laws, write a few postcards, then go over their folder choices for the rest of their vacation while Tina, John and Johnny would marvel at how the baby could push herself up from her tummy on the floor blanket and roll over. Getting some time to play with the baby before bedtime seemed to amuse everyone. And wasn’t it funny how Johnny could always make Bethy smile? How Ruby loved being in this family.
“Are we having chicken for dinner?” John asked hopefully the next morning as he rushed into the kitchen still fastening on his watch. They were running very late. Ruby looked up from where she was frying the chicken.
“No, it’s for the girls’ picnic today,” Tina replied, putting the milk back in the refrigerator and handing him a warm pop tart.
“Oh.” John’s face sunk. He slipped his breakfast bar in his pocket. “Where are you two off to today?” he asked innocently, sidling up to the small blonde as she cooked. Quickly his fingers thrust forward and he snitched a very small chicken nugget left in the frying pan. “Ow, ow, hot,” he chuckled, bouncing it around from hand to hand. His wife gave a quick swat, but he thrust the piece into his mouth and ate with lip smacking verity. “Um, so good,” he turned his boyish grin on Ruby. “I don’t know what you coat it with, but it’s delicious.”
“I can save you some,” Ruby replied, not sure there really was enough to save any. She’d removed the bulk of the fryer and was headed to the sink to wash out the frying pan.
“No. It’s all right,” John swallowed. “But you’ll have to fix us fried chicken before you guys head back to Portland.” He glanced at his son who was finishing the glass of milk his mother had given him to drink.
“Deal,” Ruby smiled, turning on the water.
“Okay, let’s load up,” John called to his family. “We’re already late.” Johnny put the glass in the sink, they all grabbed some last article before rushing to the front of the house. The door shut and the house was suddenly quiet. Ruby finished washing and drying the pan, then did the glass and put them away before she began to clean off the counters.
“Hey, babe,” Lonnie called from the bedroom. “We’re ready, aren’t we baby girl?” The tall brunette stepped out, a jam-packed diaper bag on her shoulder and the baby in her car seat carrier.
“We’ll see how you do riding in the car today,” Lonnie cooed to the little girl. She looked around. The house seemed empty now that Tina’s family had headed out for their day. “We’d better get going, Rube.”
“Almost ready,” Ruby added some sodas to the basket with ice packs on top. “Done.” Mentally she considered what else she might need to include before they left, but came up with nothing. “I’ll bring out the picnic basket if you’ll get her safely strapped into the car. Is the picnic blanket Tina loaned us in the car?”
“And our jackets?”
They both looked forward to today’s sightseeing. The Napa Valley--wineries, spas, antique stores, vineyards, farmland, artwork and fascinating small towns with interesting shops lay ahead of them.
With a flurry of excitement they finished their preparations and settled back in the car for the day’s drive. Bethy fell asleep in her car seat almost instantly once the car started moving. By the time they reached San Francisco and crossed the Golden Gate bridge, the morning fog was dissipating and beautiful sunlight had spread across the area. They couldn’t believe the wonderful spring-like weather they were having. It heated even more as they moved inland.
Alone together in the car, they spoke of passing sights while Ruby peeled oranges and handed Lonnie pieces to eat as well as eating some herself. She handed out hand wipes then gathered the trash into a small paper bag. Then Lonnie started a soft song, followed by another. Ruby joined in while Bethy slept soundly. Something about the moving car seemed to have that effect on the little one.
Leaving the bay, it wasn’t long till they came across some of the first wineries. They didn’t expect to visit many, but did want to see what they looked like. Some had the appearance of castles or fortresses. Once they stopped, Ruby carried the baby in the soft pack leaving Lonnie free to carefully sample a few wine varieties, checking white versus red and dry versus sweet.
Ruby drove once they got back in the car. “I didn’t know the importance of the stem on a wine glass,” the blonde remarked. They’d both listened to the whole tour presentation, though only Lonnie had partaken of the sampling.
“And I didn’t know that color and smell were as important as taste and alcohol content,” Lonnie added.
At the second and last winery they visited a favorite wine was finally picked and a bottle was purchased for themselves and one for Chase and Mattie. Again Ruby drove.
It was amazing how their cares seemed to fall away. Most of the first half of their day was spent wandering, just enjoying the places that popped up around each countryside corner. It was easy dealing with Bethy’s needs since the car was always there giving them a place to pull over, change diapers and do feedings.
When they got hungry they stopped a man on a tractor and asked him if he knew where they might picnic. He pointed out a corner of his own property. “You young ladies clean up after yourselves,” he admonished.
“We will,” they called cheerfully, driving the car over near the tree on the corner of the land where they spread their blanket for a picnic.
The baby was carefully placed in the middle in her carrier and they settled around her, picnic basket in tow. Ruby adjusted the knit cap on the baby’s head and made sure the baby’s blanket covered her sufficiently before they ate. The panoramic view of the winding country road through the area was delightful to watch. And good food in fresh country air had never tasted better. They ate eagerly.
Hunger sated, leaning against the tree, cuddled next to each other, the little one now out of the carrier in Ruby’s arms between them, Lonnie murmured softly, “I’ve never had such a good time, Ruby.”
Soft green eyes looked up. “You know,” Ruby said gently, “I always knew...always...that I wanted children. There was never any doubt in my mind. But what seemed to go with it...traditional marriage and the like, I don’t know, I could never make it feel... right...proper. It wasn’t until I met you that I understood what true happiness meant.”
Lonnie didn’t think she’d ever been told anything so nice.
Ruby got a far-off look. “I tried to make it work with Raleigh, I liked him well enough and my family certainly wanted it, but it never felt, I don’t know, appropriate maybe. I didn’t think it was fair to either of us, so we broke up. I was never ‘in love’ with him. I couldn’t seem to feel that way about guys. It wasn’t that I didn’t like fellas. There just was never any ‘chemistry’, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh yes,” Lonnie replied. “I think that’s a pretty common experience.”
“Is it?” Ruby smiled, “The closest I ever came to those feelings growing up was when I had a crush on one of my teachers. I thought she was wonderful. I guess that’s pretty common, too. But later, when the other girls would go wacky over the boys, I never felt anything...certainly there was no enchantment. I always had to fake it.”
The baby made a noise, raised her tiny fist and pushed it inquisitively against Ruby’s mouth. The blonde pretended to gobble the little fist, then gently planted kisses on tiny fingers. Lonnie stretched out a finger to touch Bethy’s tiny nose. “She’s such a miracle.”
“She is,” Ruby agreed. Green orbs raised, “Despite...other things... I’m thankful for so very much. But like I said, not the least of which is the wonderful day when we met.”
“In the rain,” Lonnie chortled, “dropping my books everywhere.” Without warning, the baby grabbed a draped strand of Lonnie’s hair and gave it a good yank, startling the tall brunette. “Hey!” Lonnie complained. Ruby laughed and the sound was a joy to Lonnie’s ears as she peeled little fingers off her hair. It felt so good to hear Ruby laugh.
Lonnie was careful to make sure to pick up everything when they were done, even leavings that weren’t theirs, while Ruby moved to the car to feed and change the baby. The day was proving to be as relaxing as anything they could have chosen.
The afternoon drive wound up and over winding hills with little traffic, keeping their pace permanently slow. It was beautiful country. Ruby got many craft and decorating ideas from looking through the small village shops, the artwork in small galleries was spectacular, and many people interrupted them to delight over little Bethy, who also seemed to be enjoying her day.
At dinner time they stopped at a small park on the outskirts of a bigger town as they headed back. They found a table and again dug out the picnic basket. Ruby had done a good job of packing it to its brim with tasty items and many things remained. This time there were pickles, sandwiches, boiled eggs, chips, pudding cups, power bars and the remaining cake that Tina had offered, though Ruby made more of an effort to fill up on celery and carrot sticks. She still had weight she wanted to shed.
After packing their few leavings in the car, Lonnie carried the baby and they hiked all around the park. They’d done quite a bit of driving and it felt good to stretch their legs. They watched a family throwing a stick for a big, bouncing, friendly lab to retrieve from a small pond. “One day we might have a dog,” Lonnie said wistfully.
For a few minutes Ruby said nothing. Then she mused, “I don’t know if the apartment’s big enough, hon.”
Lonnie grinned. “I wasn’t thinking of a dog as big as that one. A little dog, maybe. Someday.”
Who would take care of it? “Hmm. Maybe,” Ruby said without much enthusiasm. “One day.”
Lonnie listened to Ruby’s remark carefully. She smiled. Okay. It’s possible. “Oh, you know what? We need to think about sending in our applications to join the mountain climbing society.”
I saw what it costs, Ruby worried. It’s not that inexpensive.
“The training starts next month,” Lonnie continued. “We’ll need to start training hard, if we want to climb Mt. Hood this summer.”
Ruby looked over with surprise. “Next month? Gosh, I guess it is time to think about it.”
“Yes. It’s not just physical training. You have to do a lot of reading and learn all about the equipment and weather and techniques and everything. Then you rent the equipment, go on field trips and practice.”
“When they do the real climb, everybody goes up in a big group?”
Lonnie nodded, “Oh, yes. Starting at about midnight. They’re very careful with the beginning groups. Usually they have well-trained guides for every few people. They take plenty of safety precautions, believe me. You’re roped up in threes with at least one experienced person. Summer’s the safest time. Our job will be to get ourselves into perfect shape and learn everything we can. Then there’s practice--plenty of it.”
Ruby was silent. She stood thoughtfully looking out at the horizon. It caught Lonnie by surprise. “Uh, about the climb,” the blonde brought her attention to Lonnie, “Would you mind terribly if we left climbing for another year? Bethy will be so little this summer...”
Lonnie tilted her head. “You said it was a dream of yours.”
“It is, but...”
“Don’t give up your dreams, Ruby,” Lonnie said softly.
Ruby studied Lonnie’s face, “If it’s something you particularly wanted to do this year, Lonnie...” she said worriedly.
“No. It’s not me. I've climbed Hood. I thought it was your dream.”
“It is. But...I have so many dreams,” Ruby made faces at the baby Lonnie carried. “Don’t I, little one?”
“You do? Like what?” Lonnie asked.
Ruby smiled, “Well, like raising happy, healthy children to understand there isn’t anything they can’t do or be. I want to be able to send every one of my children to college so they can start out with the very best of futures.”
“Not everyone wants to go to college, Ruby,” Lonnie advised.
“No, I know....”
“Sometimes people find things they just love to do and it doesn’t always involve college.”
“I know, Lonnie, but most times that’s not true. That’s the problem. Most times people end up stuck in dead-end jobs doing things they hate.”
“It’s a simple formula, Rube. Somebody once said that if you do what you love in life, you can’t help but succeed.”
“That’s true, honey. I’ve heard that, too, and I believe it. But there’s a big ‘if’ in there. What I want for my, uh, our children is choices. And if we haven’t saved for their education, that would mean no choices. Do you have any idea how thrilled I was to be able to set up a college fund for Bethy? Do you have any idea what it means to me?”
“I guess not completely. I know you want to finish college, too.” She saw green eyes regarding her with just a touch of pain.
“Yes. One day I want to graduate and become a college professor. I’ve wanted that forever, it seems.” She snorted, “Big dream, huh?”
“You’ll do it. And hopefully, it won’t take all that long. So, what else, Ruby?”
Ruby thought a minute. “Well, I want to do everything in my power to help us live as good a life as we possibly can. And then there’s things like visiting California--and here we are! Or walking barefoot on the beach. I’ve never done that. Or I don’t know, there’s a million things. Believe me, I’m not giving up any dreams, Lonnie. I might put them off for a while, but I won’t give them up. I will climb Mt. Hood...one day.”
“Really? Promise?” Lonnie was very afraid Ruby would give up her dreams. She’d put everybody else’s welfare before her own.
“Promise,” Ruby replied with certainty. Her eyes tracked off across the park where the dripping wet lab was trotting out of the water, stick in mouth. “I think...” She turned to get Lonnie’s reaction, “One thing I’d like to do is...I’d like to see the counselor we talked about instead.” We can’t afford to do both. And Bethy will be so little this summer.
Lonnie cocked her head. “You mean, spend the money on that instead of the climbing?”
That’s a good idea. “Great! Call Mattie when we get back and get the counselor's number. I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
“I’m glad you agree.” Ruby reached over to rub the baby’s bottom in the pack on Lonnie’s chest then stroked the infant’s soft cheek. “Your Mommy needs to get in lots better shape, too, doesn’t she baby girl? Lots more hiking like this, even without climbing Mt. Hood.” She looked up at Lonnie’s dazzling blue eyes. “Just this little hike felt good.”
“I know,” Lonnie breathed, her eyes softening to the warmth in Ruby’s emerald green orbs. “Felt really great.”
Ruby stepped away and looked around. “We need a park like this at home.”
“We’ve got ‘em. Bunches of ‘em. Heck we can even do lots of forest hiking once we get home. We have a whole expanse of forest right inside the city limits with tons of trails not far from the condo.”
“Really? There’s trails?”
“Oh, yeah. No more than a mile away. They run through a long rim of forest that goes up into the West Hills. We could take the baby with us. It’s really good training...for everything. Up and down. I definitely need to get back in shape myself.”
Ruby stepped back directly in front of Lonnie. “You want to go hiking with your Mommy and Mumsy?” she asked the infant. Suddenly the little girl waved her arms and gurgled in return, whopping Lonnie on the chest. A big smile appeared on the infant’s face.
“She does!” Ruby beamed. She stepped back, pinning her green eyes on blue. “Well, Mumsy, that settles it, then. It’s a family decision.”
Saturday, their last full day in California, they decided to join Tina, John and Johnny on an all-day excursion to the beach. Ruby had never been to the beach, and was undoubtedly the most excited of all. And John, who had been raised in Santa Cruz, looked forward to taking everyone past his boyhood home.
Ruby was up early, busy frying triple the amount of chicken than the day before. The picnic basket was filled to overflowing, Tina’s newly baked chocolate cake was boxed separately, and both were stored in the back of the van. The written postcards were dropped in the town’s mailbox before the excited family headed toward San Francisco.
The first stop, breakfast at the Cliff House, was to be courtesy of Tina and John. They had made reservations at the more informal, family oriented dining area.
No one got car sick on the winding road there. The breathtaking ocean view had Ruby spellbound. From the restaurant windows they could watch ships miles away that might be only hours from sailing to or fro under the Golden Gate bridge. Built on the cliffs overlooking Front beach, the rocks, pounding surf and seals captured their attention from the large windows. The blonde was so taken with everything that Lonnie had to keep reminding her to eat, an almost unheard of event.
“Now this beach is cold,” Tina remarked when they had hiked down to the beach after breakfast. Then she laughed. “Not like the Oregon beaches, of course. That’s seriously cold water. Only hearty Amazons go in there, even in the heat of summer. But this water’s too cold for me to put my toe in.”
“Why does that not surprise me,” Lonnie laughed. “And I believe I resemble that Amazon comment, by the way.”
“I know you do,” Tina laughed. “I remember as kids seeing you shivering and turned blue, but you wouldn’t come out of the water. I never understood that.” She sniffed then winked at Ruby, “Personally, I’ve never believed in doing ‘cold.’ That’s why I live in California.”
Lonnie looked out at the waves, noting but one or two people close enough to the water to get wet. “Well, we’re going in. That is, if you guys don’t mind. We won’t take long. We both want to just get our feet wet before we go.”
“Me too, me too,” Johnny called, bouncing around them.
“But it’s much warmer further south,” John Sr. proclaimed. He made no move to take his shoes and socks off. “Especially this time of year.”
“We’ll wade further south, too,” Lonnie stated happily. “Ruby’s never been in the ocean before, have you, hon? I want her to be able to wade in every single place she wants to.”
“I’d like to,” Ruby proclaimed quietly.
“If you must.” John smiled. “Have fun, then. Don’t blame me if you find it too cold, though.” He moved to stand near his wife.
“Californians,” Lonnie teased. “Get a spine.” Tina stuck out her tongue.
They removed their shoes and socks. John took pictures and Tina held the baby while Ruby, Lonnie and Johnny cavorted in the closest, tiny waves. A smile as wide as all outdoors covered Ruby’s face when they made their way back to their footwear. She had been in the ocean and walked barefoot in the sand. What would her family think? Then she caught herself. This was her family and the Californian half thought she was nuts. Oh well, she now had accomplished one more dream.
It was dark when they pulled into the family driveway after a perfect day of sightseeing. Half Moon Bay, San Gregario Beach, Pescadero Beach, Pebble Beach, Santa Cruz--they all had their varied charms. They’d waded, hunted rocks, laughed, played, gone through shops, walked beaches, picnicked, viewed fantastic golf courses and driven past John’s boyhood home. Johnny and the baby were both sound asleep. Ruby and Lonnie sat in the back holding hands, their eyes at half mast. It had been a perfect day by anyone’s measure, one they wouldn’t forget in a long, long time.
The next day an afternoon flight would take them home. They’d leave the packing till the morning. Their greatest hope this evening was that Bethy would decide to sleep six hours straight. She had been awake much of the time they’d been outside the van during the day and had to be tired.
They snuggled into bed, both pleasantly exhausted. Lonnie wrapped her arms around the tired blonde, gently kissed her forehead then lowered her head back onto her pillow with a sigh of contentment. They shut their eyes and listened to the soft sounds of the house, minutes later both were sound asleep.
Sunday morning was organized confusion. Everyone seemed to be busy doing different things. Tina made a huge breakfast of waffles for everyone, John took the van to get it washed and gassed up for the week, Ruby and Lonnie organized their things, trying to get everything back into the same amount of luggage that they’d originally brought. Nothing seemed to want to fit.
“This is pretty,” Lonnie pointed to a dress she didn’t recognize on top of their other clothes in the suitcase.
“Yes,” Ruby tried wiggling their toothpaste into the inside pocket of the jammed suitcase. “I got it when I got the black dress and shoes. Carolyn insisted that I buy it. I tried it on, and she said I had to have it.” Ruby blushed, embarrassed that she had spent money they might have needed on it. “It didn’t cost much.”
“Ruby,” Lonnie’s voice was serious, “You’ve broken a promise.”
“What?” Ruby’s head snapped up and shocked green eyes focused on Lonnie. “I shouldn’t have gotten it, should I?”
Lonnie laughed. “No, silly. Look,” The brunette withdrew a small handful of bills from her pocket. “You promised we wouldn’t take any money home. You should have bought more things. If your black dress and this one are any example, I’d say they had gorgeous clothes where you went shopping. I wish you’d bought more.”
“We’re taking money home?” Ruby exulted.
“Looks like it,” Lonnie counted. “About fifty one bucks plus some change.”
“The baby has a doctor’s check up tomorrow morning. I can use some of it to pay the co-fee.”
“I forgot about that,” Lonnie mused. “Can you take me to work in the morning? That way you’ll have the car.”
“Sure. Want me to come by at lunch time? You can take us home and that means you won’t have to ride the bus after work.”
“Good idea. I want to show Bethy off at work anyway.”
Ruby looked around the room. How had they accumulated so many extra things in just a week? “I think we’re going to have to get a box to put some of this stuff in. It won’t fit in our luggage. Will they let you check a box through?”
“Sure,” Lonnie laughed. “If it’s sturdy and well marked. Next time we’ll know to bring extra suitcases.”
“I guess so. I’ll need to do a wash tomorrow afternoon.” Ruby pulled out some dirty clothes to put in a box. That ready, she ran her hand along the bed she’d carefully made earlier. It surprised her to feel a heaviness fill her heart. She’d miss being here. She wouldn’t miss the man who was following them, of course, not that part. But everything else. She didn’t remember feeling this way anytime she left her parents’ home. She sighed. Maybe it was getting close to that time of month. That must be it, though nursing seemed to curtail that event.
“I’ll miss being here,” Lonnie said, dropping onto her hands and knees and looking under the bed.
“Me, too. Did you lose something?” Ruby asked.
The brunette looked up with a toothy grin. “No, just checking to make sure we didn’t leave any underwear. We’d never hear the end of it from Tina.”
“Oh, stars!” Ruby remarked. “Look carefully.”
When they’d packed their rental car and stood on the front lawn saying their goodbyes, Tina grabbed Ruby and the baby she was holding in a loose hold. “Bye, little sis,” she whispered in Ruby’s ear. “I’ll miss you guys something terrible.”
“We’ll miss you, too, Tina,” Ruby said softly, meaning every word.
“And look after Lonnie, please,” Tina continued. “Lord knows, that wild woman needs looking after. And send us picture updates of our darling baby girl, will ya?” She stepped back and ran her hand on the baby’s tummy. “We’re gonna miss you something terrible, little darlin’.” She leaned down to kiss the baby’s nose.
Ruby smiled wanly. “Thank you so much for everything, Tina. We’ve had such a wonderful time. I’ll send pictures, and you send us update pictures of Johnny and you guys, too, please.”
Tina nodded and moved over to grab her sister while Ruby turned to face John.
“You take care of your family, Lonnie,” Tina warned quietly as she hugged the tall woman in a tight hug. “Or I’ll have to come up there and give you what for! And don’t think I can’t!”
Lonnie laughed. “I will, Tina. Don’t worry. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“You got that right,” Tina agreed, letting go and stepping back.
John stood before Ruby smiling and telling her how much they enjoyed having them visit when from her kitchen window next door, Carolyn waved frantically. She opened the kitchen window and yelled, “Ruby, I’m getting close. I’ll email you as soon as I locate anything.” All eyes turned Carolyn’s way.
Ruby returned the wave. “Thanks, Carolyn. Appreciate it.”
“What’s my wonderful wacky neighbor babbling about?” Tina asked good naturedly.
“She’s doing some genealogy research for me,” Ruby admitted.
She is? Lonnie contemplated from where Johnny had now wrapped himself around her waist begging her to stay. Ruby has decided to look for her sister, then. Good!
“Good grief, don’t tell me about any genealogy nonsense.” Tina rolled her eyes. “Following maternal lines, I hope. That’s all I ask.”
“Something like that,” Ruby chuckled. “Definitely a female emphasis this time, anyway.”
With a final goodbye kiss to Johnny, they climbed into the car, getting the baby strapped down in her car carrier in the back. Even their rental car held good memories. It had been a wonderful visit and a fabulous honeymoon.
In no time they were on their way to the airport and the large jet that would take them home. Their return trip would be less exciting, but enjoyable nonetheless. By the time it landed in Portland’s mist, they would be ready to be back home in their own car, their own condo, their own bed. It would feel like they had been gone forever. Now, however, they were having trouble believing that a week had passed by so quickly.
Continued in Chapter 13
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