When We Met
by b soiree
Chapter 16 Conclusion
see all disclaimers in Chapter 1
It was a curious day! Had been since they’d first been awakened before dawn with Bethy’s cries. She hadn’t awakened that early in months.
Fed and changed, the little one reverted to a schedule from a much earlier time. Lonnie handed her the teething ring hoping she’d chew a while then go back to sleep, but she threw it on the floor along with her soft rabbit, squealing with delight each time. Raising her arms to be lifted out of the crib, she seemed entirely too perky for the early morning hour. It was still dark out, and their little one wanted to play.
Ruby, in her robe and slippers, took the baby’s temperature, but it was normal. She put her on a blanket on the rug and put down a number of toys. Bethy happily played with her noisy treasures as Lonnie sat bleary eyed on the couch watching. Ruby went to the kitchen to put on the hot water and coffee. She glanced at the clock and yawned. ‘Gods, it’s the middle of the night practically. You can go back to bed, hon. I’ll do this.’
‘Okay,’ Lonnie rose from the couch. Ruby came and sat where Lonnie had been. The tall brunette stumbled back to the bedroom and climbed in bed. ‘It’s Saturday, for crying out loud. Why this on a day when I can sleep in?’ She shut her sleepy eyes in anticipation. Nothing. She shifted position. Still nothing. She punched her pillow, pulled the covers up higher and waited. Nothing. Sleep was being elusive.
When the kettle began whistling, Ruby gathered up the baby and moved to the kitchen. ‘Why are you up so early, sweetheart,’ she yawned, balancing the baby with one arm while pouring hot water into a cup with the other. ‘Your Mommas are both tired.’ Bethy wiggled and laughed.
‘Right. Play time.’ Ruby put the decaffeinated special mix she called her ‘coffee’ into her cup and moved back to the couch. She settled Bethy amongst her toys again. But settling down was no longer in the baby’s plans. Bethy began to crawl and pull herself up by the couch, using one hand to cruise along with so much abandon that Ruby had to continually jump up and catch her to place her safely back on the blanket.
The sun rose, glaring in through the wall of windows. Lonnie stumbled back out. ‘Can’t sleep. Heck, it’s daylight now anyway.’
‘I’m sorry. Watch her a minute, and I’ll fix your coffee.’
‘Okay,’ Lonnie plopped on the couch. Now Bethy was ready to settle with her toys again. Ruby came out with both cups, one of her ‘coffee’ and the other the real thing. The two women sat like robots, drinking their hot brew and watching their daughter happily play on the blanket.
Lonnie finished her coffee then scooped up their daughter. ‘I think she’s finally sleepy.’ She moved to the rocker and softly hummed a lullaby as she rocked the baby until little eyelids finally became heavy. Carefully Lonnie rose, placing Bethy on her back in her crib. She covered her then tiptoed out of the room, leaving the monitor on and the door partially open. ‘She’s asleep,’ she whispered.
‘Finally,’ Ruby yawned and looked at the calendar sleepily as she entered the kitchen to refill their cups. ‘It’s not long till Thanksgiving. Seems like we just celebrated your birthday and Halloween.’
Lonnie followed. ‘We did.’
‘Well, after Thanksgiving it’s only a few weeks before Bethy celebrates her very first birthday. Can you believe that? Where does the time go?’
‘I’m going to get dressed.’ Lonnie was cranky. ‘There’s no point trying to get back to sleep. It’s nearly our get up time now anyway.’
‘Me, too.’ Ruby followed Lonnie to the bedroom and picked clothes to wear. ‘I’ll use the main bathroom.’ She headed down the hall as Lonnie moved into the master bath.
The ringing of the phone found them both diving in separate rooms to stop the noise. ‘Girls,’ Lonnie’s mother cheerfully called as they each answered with a soft ‘Hello,’ in chorus. ‘Stereo. Very impressive. I’m calling because I have exciting news for you. Why are you whispering?’
‘The baby woke up real early but she finally went back to sleep,’ Lonnie looked at herself in the bedroom mirror. Gods, she looked awful.
‘What news, Mom?’ Ruby asked from the living room.
‘I called downstairs where you live, and guess what?’
‘I have no idea,’ Lonnie replied stintingly, ‘Why would you call downstairs in our building?’
‘To see if we could get that wonderful large room they rent for special occasions, of course. The one with the kitchen and the fireplace.’
She needs a room for a special event? Instantly Lonnie knew why. She clenched her teeth. Why can’t she call and ask for once instead of calling to tell us what she’s planned for us to do on the holidays?
‘Oh, Mom,’ Ruby said delightedly. ‘Which occasion?’
‘Thanksgiving,’ Mrs. Shaeker replied eagerly, very pleased with herself. ‘Just like last year, dear. And we got it!’
‘Oh, honey, that’s wonderful, isn’t it?’ Ruby’s soft voice was truly ardent as it came bounding through the phone line. ‘We’re so glad you and Dad are coming here for Thanksgiving. It’s just great! Isn’t it great, honey?’
‘Yeah, great,’ Lonnie said less than enthusiastically.
‘Thank you, dear. I told Daddy you’d be excited. Now, Lonnie dear, the last thing we want is to put you two out in any way.’ Lonnie’s mother’s voice peaked, ‘That new couch in the nursery was very comfortable last year. And while Daddy snores a little, I don’t think it will keep little Bethy up at all.’
‘Oh, no, don’t worry about that,’ Ruby inserted. ‘We’ll put her bassinet in our bedroom. She still fits in it. Although she is getting so big. You wouldn’t believe how much she’s grown just in the last couple months.’
‘Goodness, how are you doing for clothes? Children grow so quickly. I’ve told everyone here how my little namesake could already pull herself up and walk holding on. She’s such a darling.’
‘Thanks, Mom. We think she’s pretty special. And we seem to have enough in her current size. I go to the thrift stores pretty regularly.’
‘Why do we need the party room downstairs?’ Lonnie groused, ‘Last year we had Thanksgiving in our apartment. It was plenty big enough.’
‘I told Daddy and Tina we wouldn’t be able to keep a surprise from you. Sometimes you’re just too smart for your own good, Lonnie dear.’
‘Uh huh. So, why the party room?’ Lonnie wouldn’t be drawn off topic.
‘Well, here’s the rest of the surprise. Are you sitting down?’
‘No, but I think I will,’ the brunette muttered peevishly.
‘You’ll love this, Ruby,’ Mrs. Shaeker encouraged.
‘Okay, Mom, tell us the surprise.’ Ruby had matching enthusiasm.
‘We’ve talked Buddy and his family into flying out. Isn’t that exciting? They haven’t met you and little Bethy yet, Ruby. And Daddy and I are traveling with them.’
‘Uh, how many are in their family? I’m not sure where they can sleep,’ Ruby chewed her lip. ‘Maybe we could put sleeping bags in the living room, and bring in the patio lounge chairs....’
‘Oh, your partner is a prize, Lonnie. I love that girl. You be very good to her or you’ll have me to answer to. No, Ruby dear, Daddy and I have made motel arrangements for them while they’re there.’
Ruby let out a held breath. ‘Oh, good. I mean, I guess we could find a place for them to sleep if we had to.’
‘No, no, it’s taken care of. I told you, we aren’t about to put you two out..not one little bit,’ Mrs. Shaeker beamed.
knows about this?’ Lonnie demanded.
‘What, dear?’ Mrs. Shaeker asked.
‘You said you told Tina and Daddy that you couldn’t surprise us. So Tina knows about this?’
‘Of course Tina knows about this. Why would we hide it from her? In fact, are you ready for the next surprise, Ruby?’ Her elation rose.
‘I guess so,’ Ruby answered uncertainly.
‘They’re coming, too,’ Lonnie mumbled, knowing her mother all too well. She flopped back on the bed, throwing her arm over her eyes. A feeling of overwhelming inevitability began to weigh on the sleepy brunette.
‘Tina and her family are driving up from California!’ Her mother’s soft squeal resounded, startling them both. ‘Ohhhhh, the whole family’s going to be together for Thanksgiving this year. Imagine! It’s going to be such a wonderful time!’
The older woman’s ebullience was contagious, at least to Ruby. ‘Oh, Mom, this sounds like a once in a lifetime event with everyone getting together like this. We can hardly wait.’
Lonnie sat up and sighed. Ruby really was looking forward to it? She sighed again. Guess we’ve gotta deep clean.
‘When we lived there in Portland we used to have huge family gatherings all the time, Ruby. They were so much fun. Remember that, Lonnie? Then when we transferred to the east coast and the family scattered all over creation it’s been much more difficult. I can hardly wait for everyone to meet you, dear. They’re going to love you just like we do.’
‘I hope so. Family’s important,’ Ruby said softly.
Somehow Mrs. Shaeker heard that perfectly. ‘Yes, it is, dear. But don’t get me wrong, this won’t be strictly family.’
Lonnie rolled her eyes. I knew it. Here it comes. You’re inviting the world. Come on over everybody, we’re having a party at my daughter’s place.
‘I thought we could invite Mrs. Nelson and her granddaughter and Mrs. O’Neil and her family from your building. And anyone else you girls want to invite. The room holds seventy-five.’ Her mother was on a roll. ‘Do you remember Buddy’s old friend Jasper Rennigan, Lonnie? He was a great big strapping boy. He married a little redhead. Had stair step kids. His parents still live in the old neighborhood. Buddy wants to see them all, so I thought we’d invite them. We haven’t seen them in forever.’
‘Hold on, Mom.’ Lonnie cautioned, ‘You’re expecting the kids to go swimming, aren’t you? Well, it’s not that easy you know. We have to make sure it’s okay. They don’t just let crowds in to take over their pool.’
‘Oh, don’t worry, dear. I already checked with Roger and Donny at the front desk. They’ve okayed it as long as we have enough adults for life guards. I invited them to drop by and fill a plate just like we did last year. They were all excited.’
‘I’ll bet,’ Lonnie mumbled, knowing how much trouble a large group in the pool could be. Especially little kids. She was sure it was going to be heavy with chlorine for weeks after that event.
‘What dear?’ her mother asked. ‘Oh, and remember Tina’s friend Emily from there? She’s married and has a bunch of kids, too, and they’re coming. Emily’s folks are in a retirement village in Gresham but she said she can fetch them in. It’ll be just like old times. We’ll serve buffet style on those heavy paper plates with plastic silverware and let people do what they want. Some insisted on bringing salads. We’ll have a garbage can or two for clean up. What do you think?’
‘Uh, do you know how many people will be here?’ Ruby asked.
‘No. I’ll have to do a head count. At this point I’d guess between thirty-five and fifty maybe. But they said they had lots of chairs and tables we could put up. So it shouldn’t matter a great deal.’
‘Well, I was thinking we’d want some idea so we’d know how much food to prepare,’ Ruby suggested.
‘Yes, you’re right of course,’ Mrs. Shaeker was delighted that Ruby was interested. Her enthusiasm level rose. ‘But I haven’t found Thanksgiving fare to be high-tone cooking, have you? Goodness, if more people come, we’ll just get another turkey. After all, one turkey goes a long way.’
‘How long is everyone staying?’ Lonnie interrupted churlishly.
Ruby wanted to kick her grumpy partner. She was being so rude.
‘What do you mean? Most of the day, I’d guess,’ her mother snapped back. ‘We’ll set a starting time, Ruby, and a time when dinner will be served. Then people can do as they please the rest of the afternoon.’
‘That sounds like a plan,’ Ruby replied, surprised by Lonnie’s behavior. ‘You’ll have to forgive us, Mom. We’re both tired. It’s hard to think. The baby got us up before dawn this morning.’
‘Is she all right? Is she running a temperature?’
‘No, I took her temperature. It was normal.’
‘Does she have the sniffles? Little ones are prone to that.’
‘She doesn’t seem to. In fact she wanted to play. Can you believe that? So, we took her in the living room and let her play a while, till she finally got sleepy. We put her down for a snooze, but it was too late then for us to go back to bed.’
‘Little ones do that. I understand. Apology accepted.’
Apology accepted? I’m not apologizing. ‘No,’ Lonnie grumped, ‘How long is the family staying?’ Cause sure as shootin’ they’re all going to spend their time upstairs in our apartment. She didn’t know why she felt so incredibly crabby about this. She hadn’t seen her brother’s family for a couple years, and she always liked being around Tina’s crew. Just--they had so little time to prepare and so little say about it happening to start with. She sat on the bed scowling, the phone to her ear.
‘Oh, I get it,’ her mother replied, ‘well, everyone’s coming in Wednesday night. Then Tina and John will head back very early Sunday morning. And Buddy and his family will fly back Sunday night. They all have to be at work or school on Monday. Everybody’s so excited. They can hardly wait. And Daddy and I are going on to Tina’s for Christmas. Now that he’s semiretired, that leaves us free to stay with you two clear up until little Bethy’s birthday. After all, we don’t want to miss our sweet little granddaughter’s very first birthday.’
‘You’ll be amazed at what all she can do now, Mom,’ Ruby said with delight. ‘She’s going to take her first step any day, I just know it. I’ll be sure and get a picture. And she pulls herself up and cruises around the couch and coffee table. And she waves bye bye. And she even points to pictures in the books Lonnie reads her. I swear she knows the doggy and the kitty cat. And she calls Lonnie Mummum and me Momma. We think she’s quite remarkable. Don’t we, honey?’
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie muttered before yawning.
‘We just adored the last pictures you emailed us, Ruby. She is so precious. Goodness, maybe we’ll be there for her first step.’ Her mother gave a short shriek. That woke Lonnie up, ‘Oooh, wouldn’t that be exciting? Wait till I tell Robert.’
Gosh, Ruby thought, Bethy’s got one set of grandparents who love her unquestioningly. I have no doubt they’ll always be there for her. While my folks wouldn’t cross the street to spit on her. She paused. That’s my anger speaking. I own it and it’s mine. And it’s well deserved. She noticed Lonnie’s mother still talking and tuned back in.
‘And just think, we’ll have time to do some thrift store shopping after Thanksgiving. Tina said you found some fabulous bargains when you girls were visiting them in California. She said you got a dress that was a real knockout.’
‘I did. Remind me to show you, Mom, when you get here. Tina’s neighbor was very kind and took me shopping,’ Ruby looked down at her clothes. Crimony, there was laundry to do, and ironing, and cleaning and grocery shopping. She pressed down a growing panic. Gods!
‘Carolyn? She’s a darling. She contacts me regularly. Listen, I’ll do a preliminary nose count and call you later in the week. We can discuss the menu. We’re ordering bakery pies, so dessert is taken care of. I’m not sure how many turkeys we’ll need. They said we could get two fairly large birds in their ovens downstairs, and we can put one in your oven. We don’t want anyone going hungry. Now, Daddy says you are not to worry about expenses. We are paying for it all. We absolutely insist.’
‘We can chip in,’ Ruby suggested.
‘Next time, dear,’ her mother-in-law smiled. ‘Now, tell me when to call you later in the week. I have to call Tina and find out what she thinks we should serve, then you and I will have final say. After all, we’ll be the ones doing most of the planning and cooking.’
‘Uh, we will?’ Ruby thought back to her family dinners on the small ranch. They were pretty large affairs, but nothing like this. She shrugged. She was comfortable cooking. How hard could it be? ‘Okay Mom, how about Monday at one? Bethy’s down for her nap then.’
‘Wonderful! Wonderful! I’ll call you then and we’ll talk all about it. Bye. Oh, Daddy sends his love.’ Her voice climbed a few octaves, ‘This is soooo exciting. Wait till I tell him how excited you two are.’
‘Bye, Mom,’ Ruby quietly hung up the receiver and peeked in the nursery.
‘They’re coming here,’ Lonnie called from the bedroom.
‘Shh, don’t wake Bethy, hon. She’s sleeping soundly now.’
Lonnie rose and walked to the hall door. ‘But Ruby,’ her voice was softer, ‘they’re all coming here. We didn’t even get to ask them to come.’
‘I know, honey. And we’ll have to do a lot of cleaning before they get here.’ Ruby looked around in bewilderment. ‘I’ll need to arrange the nursery so they can stay in there. Let’s see, the bassinet will fit in our room. And I can empty a couple drawers for your folks to use.’
‘No, I mean she invited them all here,’ Lonnie moved to the kitchen doorway. She groaned softly for effect.
Ruby leaned against the kitchen counter. ‘Yes,’ she looked with puzzlement at Lonnie.
‘Well, don’t you think that’s......gutsy or something?’
‘They’re your family, hon. Don’t you want to see them?’
‘Sure, but why can’t we go to one of their houses?’ Lonnie felt unusually at odds with everything. She didn’t want her holidays planned out for her, especially if she had to be a host to a horde of people. She was a parent now. She wanted to do her own planning.
Ruby moved over and leaned into Lonnie. ‘Know what I think?’
‘No,’ Lonnie pouted. ‘Cause you’re going to agree with Mom. You always do.’
Ruby planted a soft kiss on Lonnie’s chin. ‘No, I’m not. Actually, it was gutsy of her. I agree. Exceedingly gutsy.’ She stood on her tip toes and kissed Lonnie’s nose. ‘And it would annoy any number of people.’
‘But not you.’
Ruby came off her toes and placed a gentle kiss on Lonnie’s lips. ‘No, honey, not me.’ Lonnie missed the warmth of Ruby’s spectacular body pressed against hers the minute the blonde stepped away.
‘Imagine what your life would be like without your family. With all her quirks and oddities, with all the complaining everyone does about her, it’s still your Mom who does all the things that keep this family together.’ Ruby sipped her cool ‘coffee.’ ‘Sure, she’s bossy sometimes. But she’s also part of why you feel accepted and confident and special and like you’re a part of something. If you need her, she’s there for you.’ She finished and put the cup in the sink. ‘Some people join churches or Elk Lodges or groups like that just to get the feeling of family. If your Mom were gone, you’d miss her terribly.’
‘Yeah, but it still was gutsy.’
Ruby chuckled. ‘Yes, babe, it was. Are you ready to talk about what we have to do to get ready for this big bash?’
Lonnie scanned the rooms. It was an impossible task. They’d be working night and day till Thanksgiving. ‘Maybe,’ she pouted.
‘I think...’ Ruby moved to Lonnie and ran a finger down the button band of her shirt, ‘you should do something to relax first. Maybe you could go jogging or go down to the storage room and read some of your spy magazines. That might help you relax. Or,’ she quirked an eyebrow, turned and headed for the bedroom, ‘we could do something else.’
Lonnie watched her walk away, her hips gently swaying. She glanced into the nursery where Bethy was sound asleep. ‘Hey,’ she called softly, following Ruby, ‘I can think of something else to do.’
Ruby pulled the blinds on the night’s cold and darkness. It was time to take a break from the constant cleaning she’d been doing all week. Bethy was napping and Lonnie was reading the paper. The blonde sat at the computer. She’d take a minute to get caught up. She opened the email and froze. It was her sister’s reply.
Lonnie looked up from the newspaper she was reading. Something was wrong. ‘What is it, hon?’ she asked. ‘What’s wrong?’
Ruby turned stoney features her way. ‘My sister can’t understand our relationship. She says it’s sinful and she doesn’t know why I chose to live this way. She says she can’t in all good conscience keep writing to me.’
The hurt was so apparent it all but broke Lonnie’s heart. She came over and knelt beside the small blonde. ‘Like Maddy’s family,’ she said softly.
Ruby thought about that a minute. ‘Yes. I guess I know how Maddy feels.’ She sighed heavily and looked forlornly at the screen with tear filled eyes. ‘I don’t know what to answer.’
Lonnie nodded. ‘May I answer for you?’
Ruby looked at her with surprise. ‘You want to answer her?’
‘Yes. I don’t think we should just let it stand unanswered, uh, unless you want to. It’s your choice. And don’t worry, I won’t be angry or anything. You can delete anything or everything I write. It’s up to you.’
Ruby slid out of the chair brushing tears from her eyes. ‘All right. I don’t know what to say.’
Lonnie sat in the chair and watched Ruby walk toward the nursery. She was not surprised when her partner returned carrying the napping baby. Ruby sat in the rocking chair, pulling their joining ceremony throw around both of them, rocking and singing a soft lullaby to the youngster.
Lonnie faced the screen, hit the command to reply, and slowly typed in:
My name is Lonnie and I am Ruby’s partner. I see what you have written and feel very badly for both you and your sister. Ruby’s the same kind, generous, wonderfully admirable woman you knew growing up.
I hope you’ll bear with me. I have no desire to offend you. But I would like to give you just a couple of my personal understandings about being gay. First, from my standpoint, being gay is not something one ever ‘chooses.’ It’s something one is born with. One cannot be turned gay nor ‘cured’ of being gay, regardless of the smoke and mirrors of those who claim otherwise. I’ve lived it. That’s the truth I know.
Secondly, I’m aware of what it says in Leviticus. But are you aware of other statements in the bible, like in Exodus for example, where it sanctions selling a person into slavery? In another chapter it commands that different crops must never be put side by side. Have our understandings changed since those things were written? What about the parts that say a person who works on the Sabbath should be put to death? Or that parents shall bring a stubborn and disobedient son to be stoned to death by the men of the city? Surely our understandings today have changed. It’s tempting to pick and choose, isn’t it?
Now I’d like to invite you and your family to a Thanksgiving Dinner that will be held here at our home on Thanksgiving Day. At present there will be between thirty-five and fifty family members and friends attending. Please be aware that you are very welcome. Should you decide you might be able to attend, please email us, and we will try to arrange housing for you while you are in town. If you are unable to attend or choose not to for whatever reason, we wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings.
your sister Ruby
and your niece Bethy
The Shaeker Family
Lonnie stood and turned toward Ruby. ‘I’m done. If you want to send it, just hit ‘Send’.
‘I’ve been going over all the things Charlotte helped me with in counseling,’ Ruby intimated, ‘you know, concerning the rest of my family and how I felt about them and how they seemed to feel about me.’
‘Does it help?’
‘Yes. I think it does. It hurts, of course, but the pain isn’t fatal.’
‘If you think you’d like to talk this over with Charlotte, honey, you can call her, you know.’ Lonnie pushed in the chair, ‘I’m sure she’d be happy to have you come in a couple more times. That is, if you want to.’
‘I know, love,’ Ruby replied. She rocked a few more times. ‘You know, we meet one morning every week but Maddy doesn’t talk about her family. Ever. Not since what happened with them. She doesn’t seem to miss them. In fact, I think Chase and all those of us who are their friends are more family to her than her relatives ever were.’
Lonnie shrugged, ‘Sure. Why not? We are family. We know we can count on our friends, and they can count on us. Lots of people end up with what you could call ‘hand-picked family.’ You and I actually have both. We have our friends and my family has totally adopted you. In fact, I think if the Shaeker clan had to choose between the two of us, I could be in big trouble.’
‘It’s true. My Mom particularly thinks you’re everything a daughter should be. Even Tina is a little jealous of that.’
‘Tina? Oh no, I don’t want Tina...’
‘Chill out, Babe. It has its good and bad sides.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, Tina is dancing for joy that you’re taking the part of the dutiful daughter with this Thanksgiving feast Mom’s planning. It’s not Tina’s forte and you know how Mom is. She always drives Tina crazy expecting her to make this fancy dish or that. Tina doesn’t even like to cook.’
‘I do,’ Ruby said quietly.
‘I know. Tina told me when she phoned last night that she couldn’t think of anyone better to work with Mom. She was tickled to death. She said you’ve made Mom’s whole year.’
‘But she’s jealous?’
‘Only a little. A very little. She loves you, too. In fact, she’d be one of the ones who’d toss me overboard for you. She thinks you’re very special and I’d better do you right or she’ll come up and trash me. That’s what she said. So, there you are.’
‘She didn’t,’ Ruby tentatively smiled.
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie lifted the baby from Ruby’s arms. ‘She did. And she said John would help her, too. So I’d better watch out. Go check the email reply I wrote and do what you want with it, okay?’
The smile flew from Ruby’s face. She quietly walked over to the computer, sat down and began to read. ‘This is good.’ Lonnie watched as she maneuvered the mouse and clicked. The message was sent. Ruby shut down the computer. ‘If she’s gone, she’s gone,’ she said with finality.
Lonnie wrapped the joining celebration blanket about herself and Bethy.
‘I think I’ll call Mom,’ Ruby said, getting up. ‘I need to know how many pounds of potatoes we have to peel.’
Potatoes? ‘Okay.’ Lonnie rocked the sleeping baby as she heard Ruby talking in the back room. ‘Could have used the phone in here,’ Lonnie frowned, ‘then I could have heard.’ She strained to listen. Ruby was saying something about a special recipe for dressing that used orange juice. Then there was a silence. She heard Ruby laugh and relaxed. Her Mom seemed to be able to get Ruby centered somehow.
Go, Mom, Lonnie mused. Ruby needs a Mom as much as you need a certain kind of daughter. You two are made for each other. ‘Your Grandma and your Momma hit it off really well, Pumpkin.’ she said to the sleeping infant, ‘I hope you’ll have that, too, when you grow up.’ Tina’s right. People gravitate to those who, like ice cream, fill in all their empty spaces. She shut her eyes to implore the powers that be--Please let my Ruby survive her sister’s rejection unscathed. She’s a good, kind, generous person...
‘Don’t fall asleep, honey,’ Ruby said, causing Lonnie’s eyes to snap open. Lonnie wasn’t aware that Ruby was off the phone already. ‘We have a lot of cleaning to do around here, especially when Bethy’s napping.’
‘Yes, you want your family to think we keep a clean house, don’t you?’
‘Then put the baby to bed and get out the long handled duster. We need to get all the webs off the ceiling.’
Lonnie glanced up. ‘It’s not like we have a spider gallery up there or anything. Once in a while there’s a strand. That’s all.’
‘Well, yes. Mostly they’re dust strands, not webs. C’mon. We can’t sit around here all night.’
‘You sound just like Mom,’ Lonnie grumbled.
Ruby’s laugh warmed the room, ‘Do I? Thank you. I needed that.’
Ruby watched Maddy’s face glow with excitement and happiness. ‘And for our anniversary Chase is taking me someplace exotic,’ she bubbled. ‘She won’t tell me where. She says it’s going to be a big surprise. But I’m thinking it’s probably someplace in the Caribbean or maybe the Mexican Riviera. What do you think?’
‘Gosh, I have no idea. How long will you two be gone?’
‘Oh, uh, we’re only taking a week’s vacation this time. We want to save some time for our motorhome in the summer. Do you think Chase is getting us tickets back to Hawaii? We had such a wonderful time there on our honeymoon.’
‘Maybe,’ Ruby bounced the baby in her lap. ‘It all sounds romantic, no matter where it is.’
‘Yes,’ Maddy replied, ‘It does, doesn’t it?’
Ruby chewed her lip in indecision, ‘Can I ask you something?’ Bethy squirmed to get down, so Ruby jiggled her to keep her occupied.
Do you contact your family? ‘Uh, you always send us postcards. Do you send anyone in your family postcards, too?’
Maddy tilted her head, ‘That’s a strange question. But,’ she glanced at Bethy, ‘No. I don’t contact my family. Do I, little one? Here, let me hold my little baby girl. Come to Aunt Maddy, darlin’.’ She reached her arms out and Bethy hesitated then stretched her arms out. ‘Auntie Maddy just thinks you’re getting so big. Do you want to ride the horsey?’ She held the baby with both hands while balancing her on one knee and bounced her gently. ‘Giddayup, horsie,’ Maddy grinned.
Bethy gave a yell of delight that turned to baby laughter. Both women joined in, Ruby’s sunny laugh warming the room.
Maddy looked over at Ruby, who had risen to get the coffee pot. ‘Your anniversary is close to ours, what are you guys planning?’
‘Oh, goodness, we have the whole family coming into town. And with the big gathering on Thanksgiving, I don’t think we’re going to have time to do anything.’ And certainly we won’t have the money. ‘After the holidays, maybe we’ll work something in. It’s all we can do to get the apartment and us ready for everyone as it is.’
‘Uh huh, the apartment looks spotless to me.’ Maddy’s features became secretive, at least as secretive as she was ever able to get. ‘You have nothing planned, huh?’
Ruby wondered how this delightful friend was able to be so successful as a nurse since she was so awful at keeping a secret. But she’s so bubbly. Everyone loves her. So, what’s she hiding? ‘What?’ Ruby asked, refilling Maddy’s cup. ‘Come on, Maddy. You know something. What is it?’
‘I’m not supposed to tell. But you’d tell me if you knew where Chase was taking me, wouldn’t you?’
Ruby stood upright. ‘Uh, yes, probably,’ she replied. She saw Maddy examining her and turned away for fear her friend would read her expression. Lonnie didn’t say a bathing suit was a secret. ‘I guess.’
Maddy settled the little one in her lap. ‘Okay. What do you know, Ruby? Fess up. Do you know where we’re going?’ Maddy took a sip of her coffee around the little girl.
‘No. I don’t.’
Maddy put her cup down. ‘Ew, ew, hot. Okay, then what do you know about Chase’ plans?’ she demanded. ‘You know something. Give.’
‘I don’t know much,’ Ruby hesitated then moved back to her chair and sat down. She leaned toward Maddy and said confidentially, ‘But I do know she told Lonnie....now don’t you breathe a word of this!’
‘Okay, she said that she’s sent away for brand new swimming wear for both of you.’ She said bikinis, but I won’t give that away.
‘Ohhhhh,’ Maddy wiggled with delight, hugging Bethy to her. ‘I wonder if it’s those fantastic bikinis I told her about. They are soooo cool, Ruby. And sexy. I’ve worked hard to get down to a size that can show them off well. They come with a sarong and everything. They are just the best.’
‘Sounds great. So..,’ Ruby sat back and crossed her arms, ‘I’ve told you what I know. What do you know? What has Lonnie said?’
‘Okay,’ The baby pointed to Maddy’s keys on the table. Maddy kissed the little one’s hand and handed her the keys. She leaned forward. ‘I only know that Lonnie asked me to try hard to arrange my schedule so that I can babysit around lunch time on, now this is the part I don’t get, its about a week or so before Thanksgiving. You guys were joined after Thanksgiving closer to our joining, so I don’t know why then. Maybe she knew we couldn’t babysit that close to our own joining. Anyway, she was very explicit. It had to be the exact day she picked.’
The baby shook the keys with delight. Ruby thought a moment then grinned. ‘It’s the day we met. I’ll betcha.’
‘Oh, well, that makes sense. I’ll tell Chase. Anyway Chase and I thought maybe she’s going to take you to that fancy restaurant on the top of the bank building. It has a view to die for. Or maybe she’s picked one of those places right on the Columbia River. Oh, they are expensive and really divine. A single red rose, a little wine, the river traffic flowing by, a gourmet meal. I mean, I know you have a lot coming up and it’s hard to work something in, but that sounds pretty romantic to me.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby chewed her lip. But how in the world could they afford anything like that? Especially with the whole family about to arrive. But, if she had planned it ahead, Lonnie could have saved for it.
The baby dropped the keys then lifted her hands as if to say, ‘Uh oh.’
‘Isn’t that cute?’ Maddy leaned down and picked them up. The baby dropped them again and leaned down to look expectantly at them. Maddy picked them up again. Once more the baby dropped them. ‘Hey, not so cute the third time, honey bunch,’ Maddy leaned down to retrieve them again. This time she put them on the table. Bethy reached for Maddy’s coffee cup. The nurse pushed it out of her reach and Bethy made complaining noises, ignored by both adults.
‘Lonnie’d probably prefer taking you to a romantic dinner, but I can’t get off then to babysit and neither can Chase until late. And I know parents with almost one year olds have trouble doing ‘late’.’
There was a ‘plunk.’ Maddy turned to the baby. ‘Look at you, you little scamp. You dropped those keys again, didn’t you?’ She picked them up and stuffed them in her pocket.
‘No...lunch time is about when we met.’ Ruby held her cup of milk in both hands, thinking. ‘That’s why Lonnie chose that time.’ She looked at her daughter who was beginning to squirm again. ‘Cup, Bethy? Cup?’ her mother asked.
The baby stopped and tilted her head. ‘Cup,’ she repeated carefully.
Maddy gasped. ‘She said ‘cup.’ Did you hear that, Ruby?’
‘Yes. She’s been doing that for the last few days. Lonnie got her to say it first. Oh, here’s her juice cup. Do you want to give her a little?’ She handed Maddy the cup and watched Bethy settle instantly and try to take a sip from the special spout.
She pondered what Maddy had said about Lonnie’s request then looked quizzically at her friend. These weekly morning get-togethers had become an anchor in her life. ‘So are you going to be able to babysit?’
‘Yep. I’ve got it all arranged.’ Maddy put Bethy’s cup down and wiped the little girl’s mouth with a nearby dishtowel. ‘Can you believe how sneaky those women of ours are?’
‘You know we can’t mention this to either one of them?’ Ruby warned. ‘They want it to be a surprise. We don’t want to ruin that.’ Ruby examined her friend. She was a dear person but she did have trouble not bubbling information out to those around her.
‘Absolutely,’ Maddy’s face turned ultra serious, ‘Mum’s the word.’ She ran her fingers before her lips as though she were zipping her mouth closed. Then she turned to the baby in her lap. ‘Give Auntie Maddy a kiss, baby girl, before I go down and go swimming.’ The baby looked up. Maddy planted a quick peck on Bethy’s lips, ‘Yuck, you taste like juice.’
Ruby’s laugh filled the room. I love that laugh of hers, Maddy noted. I’ve never noticed before how much she laughs these days. She adjusted the child, ‘I’ll do extra laps today. Have to keep in shape.’ She grunted as she lifted Bethy from her lap to hand her back to her mother, ‘After all, I might be getting into a brand new bikini. I want it to be ultra-sexy on me. Electric blue. Oooh, I can hardly wait.’
‘You’ve got the perfect figure for it, Maddy,’ Ruby beamed. ‘You look really great.’
‘Thanks. So do you. Chase was saying how no one would ever be able to tell that you’d had a baby. You look sexy as heck.’
‘Uh, thanks. I’ve tried to lose the weight slowly since I’ve been breast feeding her at the same time.’ She grinned sheepishly, ‘Lonnie seems to have noticed.’
‘That’s what counts, my friend. Okay, I’ll see you later.’
‘Say bye bye to Aunt Maddy,’ Ruby coaxed the baby. ‘She’s going down to swim laps so she can continue turning heads in a certain secret new bathing suit that we shall not talk about.’ Ruby grinned. ‘Say bye bye.’ Bethy put the fingers of one hand in her mouth, raised the other small chubby hand and tentatively waved.
‘Oh my heavens, isn’t that darling!’ Maddy exclaimed. ‘Look what you’ve taught her. Wait till I tell Chase. Ruby, she’s grown so much!’ The nurse grabbed her athletic bag. ‘Bye, bye, girls. Have a great day.’
She stepped forward for their customary brief goodbye hug then headed for the door. ‘Say ‘Bye bye Aunt Maddy,’’ Ruby coaxed from where she held her daughter in the kitchen. Both were waving while Ruby’s infectious laugh surrounded the nurse on her way out.
Laconically Lonnie stroked Ruby’s hair. The blonde was cuddled against her sound asleep. They’d made love. Lonnie could still feel the way Ruby had arched against her in urgent response, her body quivering with need. The desire to merge, to become one, to cement their love for all time had once more been overpowering for both. They repeated urgent, loving names to each other as they heatedly moved toward a climax until Ruby’s muffled cry signaled her release. Lonnie had still been consumed by the breathless ache when Ruby’s hand slipped between Lonnie’s legs to skillfully dispense with the brunette’s agonizing need. She had wanted to cry joyful tears, her surrender had been so great. But she kept control.
Lonnie gently put her arm over the sleeping woman. ‘I love you so much, Rube,’ she whispered in the darkness. ‘You’re my everything.’ The soothing cadence of Ruby’s breathing came back on the night’s still air to fill her heart with calm and peace.
Sleepily Lonnie listened for any sound coming from the baby’s monitor, but Bethy was asleep in her nursery. Lonnie’s eyes shut and she was soon lost to Morpheus’ realm.
They were both deep in slumber at half past two a.m. when the jarring ring of the telephone disrupted the night’s calm. Ruby’s arm shot out to the phone, ‘Hello?’ she said softly, drawing the receiver to her pillow.
‘Oh Ruby,’ a sobbing voice said, ‘I can’t do this. I’m so frightened.’
‘Nicole?’ Ruby sat up. She felt a tightness in her breathing, ‘Is that you? She watched Lonnie sit up next to her, her brow wrinkled with worry. Lonnie flicked on the light.
‘He’ll kill me if he catches me,’ the voice replied.
‘Oh, honey, are you talking about David?’
‘Yes.’ There was a long pause with the sounds of sobbing.
‘Tell me what happened, Nicole. Where are you?’
‘Nicole began to ramble, ‘I’m in town, down the street from our apartment in the phone booth in the parking lot of an all night store. I...I think he broke my wrist. It’s throbbing. I can’t use that hand. I don’t know who to call. All our friends have graduated and left town.’ She broke into sobs, ‘He came home drunk again. He was so angry.’
‘Okay, keep calm. Stay on the phone. Do you want us to call the police?’
‘No!’ The reply was rapid, ‘His father’s best buddy is one of the higher ups on the police force. No. He’ll kill me if he finds out. David will kill me.’
Nyri put her hand over the receiver and said to Lonnie, ‘Call Nyri on your cell. Nicole needs help now.’
‘Okay,’ Lonnie sprang out of bed to get their cell phone.
Ruby could hear her partner talking in the background. ‘Okay, I need to know the street you’re on, Nicole. We’ll get you some help. Do you know the street name and the cross street.’
‘Yes,’ she told Ruby the names and Ruby called them out to Lonnie.
‘But I don’t know who could help. His family knows everyone important in town. Everyone. Oh Ruby, there’s no one to help.’
‘Sure there is. We’re here. We’ll help. Try to calm down. How did you get away?’ Ruby asked.
‘He passed out. If he comes to, he’ll start looking for me. Hurry, Ruby. He’ll kill me if he finds I’ve left the apartment.’
Lonnie sat next to Ruby. ‘Nyri says a young couple in a dark blue Ford will be right there to pick her up. They’ll take her to a local women’s shelter and make sure she gets medical care. She’ll be safe.’
‘Did you hear that Nicole?’
‘Yes,’ she sobbed. ‘But his father has donated to the shelters. He knows all those people.’
Ruby passed that information on to Lonnie who told Nyri. Lonnie listened a minute then said, ‘Tell Nicole, we’ll make sure David and his family are not informed. She doesn’t need to worry. Tell her.’
‘Nyri says you are not to worry. His family won’t know where you’re taken or where you are. You will be safe. Do you understand?’
‘I hope you’re right,’ Nicole cried some more, ‘Because he’ll kill me otherwise. I’m so sorry, Ruby. I didn’t know who to call.’
Lonnie listened on the cell. ‘The girl coming to get her is called Shorty.’
‘Don’t be sorry, Nicole,’ Ruby said to her friend, ‘We’re here and we know someone who can help. Did you hear that the girl in the blue Ford is nicknamed Shorty? David doesn’t have a clue who they are. So be sure to check that it’s them.’
Nicole wept for a few more minutes. ‘I just can’t do this any more.’
‘I know, sweetie,’ Ruby replied. ‘You shouldn’t have to. Did he hurt you anywhere else?’
‘Yes. I’m sure I have another black eye and a lump on my head. And I’ve got bruises,’ she pulled up her shirt to view the multitude of bruises on her body. ‘Omigod! Omigod! Ruby!’ She spoke in alarm, ‘There’s a car coming. It’s him! I know it’s him!’
‘Stay on the phone, Nicole. If it’s him, we WILL call the police. Maybe it’s the Ford. Can you see the make of car? Is it a dark blue car?’
‘No,’ she was panicking now, ‘I don’t know. All I can see are headlights. Omigod!’
‘Nicole?’ a young woman’s voice called out the car window. ‘My name is Shorty. Is that you?’
Ruby could hear that over the phone. ‘It’s them, Nicole. Calm down, okay? Try to calm down. You need to go with them, all right? They’ll take care of you. They won’t let David hurt you. All right?’
A very tired ‘Yes,’ came on the line. ‘Thank you, Ruby.’
‘You can hang up now and go with them. Better hurry in case David does wake up. I’ll talk to you later. Get well, my friend.’
‘Bye, Ruby. I’m so sorry. I never meant...Bye.’ The line went dead and Ruby looked quizzically at Lonnie.
‘She was just picked up,’ Lonnie said into the cell phone.
‘The girl identified herself as Shorty,’ Ruby stated.
‘Did you hear that?’ Lonnie asked.
‘Yes. That’s good,’ Nyri replied, ‘They’ll take her to the McMurdock Women’s Shelter. I know the Director there. I’ll hang up now and make sure the shelter people know Nicole’s coming and know that David’s high-powered in-laws will pull out all the stops to find her. Shelters are very good about keeping their people safe. It’s what they do. And I’ll send extra help, just in case. What shape is she in, other than the wrist?’
‘I’ll let Ruby answer. She talked to her. Here, honey,’ she handed the cell phone to Ruby. ‘Nyri asked what shape she’s in.’
‘She has a black eye, bump on her head and lots of bruises, and she thinks her wrist is broken. She can’t use her hand. Other than that, I don’t know,’
‘Okay, Ruby, I’ll get back to you.’ Gods, I’ve gotta call the shelter then switch out that car so it can’t be traced back to Shorty, get Grover going, then make sure everybody’s where they’re supposed to be, safe and sound.
‘Tonight?’ the blonde asked.
‘You’ll get back to us tonight?’
‘No, not unless there’s another problem.’ Nyri ruffled her hair and looked at the clock. ‘And I don’t expect one. Get some sleep. Don’t worry, she’ll be safe. I’ve gotta go. I’ll update you in the next few days. G’night.’
‘Bye.’ Both women looked silently at each other. There was nothing to be said. It was frightening, horrifying. ‘She’s safe now,’ Ruby uttered. ‘I’ll check on the baby.’ She left then quickly came back. ‘She’s asleep.’
After she crawled into bed, Lonnie turned out the light. Neither were able to fall back asleep. Lonnie pulled Ruby to her. It felt good to be enclosed in each other’s loving arms. But the unrealized feeling of safety that always seemed to surround their slumber was proving elusive. Both shivered at the situation Nicole found herself in. ‘She’ll be okay,’ Lonnie encouraged. ‘She’ll be all right.’ Ruby nodded and held Lonnie tighter.
The next day Temple called to tell them that Nicole had her wrist set and was safely ensconced in the women’s shelter where a first class attorney Nyri had recommended would be working with her to escape her nightmare marriage. Both were relieved to hear she was safe and would be in the process of leaving David for good.
Lonnie stood with glass sprayer and a roll of paper towels. The holidays were approaching rapidly. She’d set this evening aside to wash the inside of the condo windows. She knew Ruby had been cleaning every free minute she could.
Ruby. Lonnie paused to observe her partner on her hands and knees cleaning woodwork. What a difference she and Bethy had made in Lonnie’s life. Though the brunette had always enjoyed her apartment, now that Ruby and the baby were here the place rang out with warmth, happiness, love and joy. When she’d lived alone, Lonnie didn’t remember ever feeling particularly lonely. But now, if Ruby had the baby out shopping when Lonnie got home from work, she felt profoundly lonesome till they returned. ‘Everything changes when you meet the right person,’ she observed.
‘I agree, hon,’ Ruby flashed a wide smile before returning to her task.
Did I say that out loud? Well, Ruby agrees. Lonnie sprayed the upper part of a glass panel and began to rub, ‘At least we’ll be ready for all the holidays--our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Bethy’s birthday, Christmas..’
‘Yes. Our anniversary is almost here, isn’t it?’ Ruby sneaked a glance at Lonnie, hoping she’d elaborate more regarding her plans for the upcoming event.
‘Yep. Not long now.’ Lonnie looked over at Ruby. ‘Can you believe it’s almost been a year? Remember how pregnant you were?’
‘How could I forget?’ Guess she’s not going to say anything.
Lonnie went back to cleaning the floor-to-ceiling panel. ‘Jeez, I love these windows but they sure get dirty quickly. Tomorrow night I’ll do the outside. Seems like I just did all this.’
‘It’s been a while, hon. And you know, we’ll have to redo most of it before Christmas,’ Ruby scrubbed away at the entry way baseboards. She dipped her cloth rag into the nearby pail of water and wrung it out, ‘There’s a lot of time between the first and last event. Plenty of dirt can accumulate between. I’ve even found a couple of tiny hidden blood drops clear over here. They must be from when David...you know.’
‘I know. You can’t see them unless you’re down here. But I’m getting them all out.’ Ruby scrubbed hard.
‘I’m glad Nicole is all right. When Nyri called she said Nicole had been treated, and they were hoping for a full recovery. She’d found her one of the best attorneys, and they’d taken photos of all her injuries.’
‘It’s worrisome, though,’ Ruby paused to chew her lip. ‘Guys like that can be single-minded. They think they own the life of the woman they’ve married.’
‘I know. Nyri said Nicole was wise to get away sooner rather than later.’
‘I just hope she HAS gotten away. There’s so many nice guys, why pick someone like David? I don’t get it.’
‘Me either. Oomph.’ Lonnie reached to the bottom of the window. ‘I don’t look forward to doing this again before Christmas. After all, my folks are going to be here right up to a couple weeks before then. We won’t have any time to do much but pick up.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby agreed, ‘Just a touch up. She looked around at their home. Their home...contentment, happiness, delight, refuge, safety, love...with Lonnie and Bethy firmly in her heart, it encompassed everything she cherished. How wonderful things had become in one short year.
‘Hey, sweetheart,’ she called to the little girl scooting around on the spotless floor nearby. ‘Come over by Mommy, honey.’
The crawler looked her way. ‘Maw ma,’ she said.
‘Yes, darling. Come over by Momma. See, here’s your teddy bear. Come play with your teddy bear while Momma cleans these dirty baseboards.’
The sharp ring of the telephone grabbed everyone’s attention.
‘I’ve got it,’ Lonnie took giant steps over the coffee table and grabbed the receiver. ‘Hello.’
‘Lonnie,’ Nyri said, ‘I don’t know if I have good or bad news for you.’ She glanced at the paper in her hand then at the calendar on her desk.
‘No, about Dink. But I can update you further on Nicole, if you’d like. Let’s see, her wrist has been a problem. They’ve had to do more surgery. They’re not sure she’s going to regain full use, but they’re expecting at least 80 per cent, which, all things considered, is pretty good.’
‘Oh, poor Nicole.’
‘Yes, and while she was in the hospital it appears David was able to get in to see her. Her attorney had served him with divorce papers. They’re quite sure someone from the hospital staff tipped him off.’
‘Did he harm her?’
‘No, we had a private guard with her, a big bulky exSeal, and that took David aback. The man reported that David was on his best behavior. Apparently he pleaded and begged forgiveness then got her to agree to what turns out to be a fair to middling financial settlement, although her attorney was completely outraged. He felt they could have gotten a great deal more under the circumstances. Nicole had to agree not to press charges of any kind and to keep all the terms of their agreement secret. In other words, no one will learn about David’s battering.’
‘What does Nicole say about it?’
‘Very little. She did intimate privately that she’s sure this was the only way she could have gotten away from him without meeting up with some kind of horrible ‘accident’. This lets him walk away with his notoriety and ego essentially unscathed. She won’t say that publicly, however. In any case, she’s safe and will soon be in a far-off location.’
‘Alone? Is she going to some strange place where she’ll be alone?’
‘Not really. She was very impressed with the people at the shelter. Add to that her college degree that includes business and social services, and you have Nicole’s new placement. She’s asked to volunteer in a shelter, and believe me, many can use her help. She could end up serving in several in different states by the time she’s done. Anyway, to start out one was picked that’s a long way from David. Since she needs to recuperate anyway, it seemed like a perfect solution for her.’
‘Do you know where she’ll be?’
‘Uh, I do, but I’m not at liberty to say, okay? She’ll be in friendly hands.’
‘Thank goodness for that.’
‘Yes, well, she’s smart and talented, though battered women tend not to think of themselves that way. When she’s ready, she won’t have trouble getting a job anywhere. Her settlement financially gives her time, which is an asset. She can volunteer and get her confidence back. I’m sure she’ll contact Ruby once she’s settled. Right now she’s quite embarrassed about this whole thing.’
‘Ruby would love hearing from her.’
‘I’ll pass that along. Now, about Dink. I can tell you this, they got the testing done on his parents’ DNA in record time. Unfortunately, it shows no relationship with your baby. Dink was NOT the father.’
‘He wasn’t?’ Lonnie felt inflated. This was their last probable chance. Ruby looked over with interest. Bethy sat on the floor nearby chewing on her teddy bear’s ear. Lonnie said softly, ‘Dink wasn’t the donor.’ Ruby nodded and went back to scrubbing.
Lonnie sighed. ‘All right. At least we know.’ All that money for nothing. And we really need every dime now that my family’s on its way.
‘I’ll keep track of the other drivers’ DNA results, if any, but frankly, I don’t hold out much hope of running into Bethy’s father with that part of the group. You’ve already checked the ones who were pals of Slick’s. The rest weren’t. You never know, though.’
‘Yes. It’s beginning to look like we’ll never know.’
‘Afraid so. You didn’t want those at that shop not getting DNA tested by the state to be done at your expense, did you? Since they’re in jail, you’d need permission and it wouldn’t be that easy to get. Real long shots.’
‘No. We’ve already done all we can afford.’ More than we can afford. Lonnie sighed heavily, ‘If we don’t know by now, I guess we never will. Ruby says it’s kismet.’
‘I don’t know about that.’
‘What about Slick?’ Lonnie could feel her teeth gritting, ‘We got your message about him being gone. Heard anything else about him?’
‘Not a word. But then I didn’t expect we would. He stirred up quite a hornet’s nest then was whisked away into hiding, never to be heard from again, hopefully. And that’s where it stands.’
‘What if he rapes again?’ Lonnie asked.
‘You know, successful as the Witness Protection program is, guys who won’t listen are ultra high risks. There have to be well-placed watchers out there anxious to track him down, and thankfully they don’t need my program to do it either. If Slick resorts to that kind of activity again, it could end in a sudden death experience for him. After all, not all of the Big Foot hierarchy went down in this raid. He’d be well advised to stop.’
‘One can hope,’ Lonnie replied bitterly. ‘I’m just glad he’s gone.’
‘Yes, however, don’t be surprised if I call someday to say I’ve heard that he’s been found in the trunk of his car with a bullet in the back of his head or some such gruesome thing.’ [And in fact, that was to be the case a few months later.] There’s very few people who aren’t concerned enough to take advice, and they end up being their own worst enemies.’
‘Can’t say I’d feel bad,’ Lonnie said icily.
‘Me either. We’ve had to settle for his being gone. It’s good riddance of course but I’d rather have him in jail for his rape charges. Well, I’ve got to go. I wanted to bring you up to date. Give Ruby my best. See ya.’
‘Listen,’ Lonnie said, ‘My folks, Tina, Buddy and their families are all going to be in town for Thanksgiving. We’re having a buffet downstairs in the party room. We’d be pleased to have you and Simone and Temple and his roommate come by. Grab a plate. Do a little eating, a little talking. There’s going to be lots of folks from the old neighborhood here.’
‘Crimony, that’s a house full! But, I’m not sure we’ll be in town. If we are, we’d like to swing by. I’d love to see your folks again. It’s been such a long time. I’ll pass the invite on to Temple. Did you need an RSVP?’
‘No. Just know you’re welcome and my folks would love to see you again. My brother and sister, too. Hey, if you can’t make it then, maybe you can all come by for Bethy’s birthday in December on the 13th. My folks are staying with us till then.’
‘They are? Great. Thanks, pal, I’ll check my schedule and get back to you. We should be able to make one of those times. Take care.’ Lonnie put down the phone and looked over at Ruby. ‘It looks like we won’t have to worry about what to tell Bethy, uh, about the male donor. We won’t be lying when we say the donor is anonymous.’
‘Okay.’ Ruby felt relieved that she wouldn’t have to lie to her daughter. And I, for one, am glad. She noticed Lonnie didn’t look that happy, but Ruby felt content. The donor truly is anonymous. It gave her peace although a small part of her still wanted to know who else had raped her and left her pregnant. She pushed the thought away. Why bother thinking about it? If we don’t know after searching this long, we probably won’t ever know. She glanced at her baby girl. I think destiny has had its say. And maybe that’s best all around.
Ruby was waiting by the downstairs entrance doors of the condo as Lonnie drove up. The petite blonde looked captivating. Black heels highlighted her neatly pressed black dress slacks, white blouse and red jacket nattily edged in white. She carried a small red purse. Her blonde pixie hair style gave her freckled features a fresh, youthful perkiness.
The jeep approached, Lonnie grinning widely at the welcome showing on Ruby’s face. Gods, Ruby’s the most breathtakingly beautiful woman. Lonnie’s heart warmed at the feelings the small blonde inspired. She nodded at the passenger side, waiting for the slight return nod from Ruby as though they had spoken in wordless communication forever.
‘Maddy’s babysitting here at our apartment instead of taking Bethy to theirs,’ Ruby grinned, climbing in and fastening her seat belt. It had taken her most of the morning to decide what to wear since she had no idea where Lonnie was taking her for their anniversary. New thrift store clothing purchases the last month had been necessary to fit her freshly streamlined figure. This was the first time she’d had an opportunity to wear these finds. They were practically brand new. ‘Maddy was about to feed her the rest of her lunch.’
‘Maddy’d better wear a big towel. You look stunning, by the way.’
‘Thanks.’ Her eyes took in the beauty of her tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed partner outfitted in her dressy work clothes. ‘So do you.’
Lonnie didn’t move the jeep. ‘Uh, look that way, out the window, will you please, hon?’ She held a scarf in her hands.
‘Why?’ Ruby’s puzzled gaze fell on the scarf.
Lonnie grinned. ‘It’s a surprise. I want to blindfold you. Do you mind?’
Ruby slowly turned her head toward the window as Lonnie tied the scarf securely around her eyes. The blonde’s heart pounded a little more rapidly. ‘The guys at the desk inside are going to wonder what in the world we’re doing.’
Lonnie laughed. ‘Yeah. We’ll keep ‘em guessing.’ She released the brake and started them out toward the main street. ‘You okay? I don’t want you to get carsick.’
‘I’m fine.’ Ruby’s left hand edged out to softly grip Lonnie’s thigh. ‘I’d follow you anywhere, blindfolded or not, honey.’ This was a friendly rather than intimate touch. Intimate touches were saved for when they were alone in the privacy of their own room. Lonnie’s warm hand spread over Ruby’s with a gentle squeeze. Ruby just knew Lonnie was casting a sweet glance from the corner of her eyes.
Ruby slid her hand back to her lap. She didn’t want Lonnie getting into an accident driving one handed. She tried to determine where they were, but by the fourth or fifth turn, she had lost her bearings. ‘Is it far?’
‘Not too. We’ll be there soon.’
Ruby could feel when Lonnie was trying to park, not an easy job anywhere near the downtown area. She could hear the sounds of nearby vehicles going around them. Are we going to the restaurant at the top of the bank building after all? ‘We’re downtown?’ she asked.
‘Maybe,’ Lonnie teased. Finally the car was parked. Lonnie turned off the motor and hopped outside. She went around to Ruby’s side and opened the door. ‘You can take the scarf off now.’
Ruby pulled off the scarf and looked around. A small block of park-like surroundings were at her feet--trees, walks, grass, benches, bushes but no ultra-tall bank building. Semi-busy traffic moved in one direction in the street beside their car. Across the block one more road of semi-busy traffic going the opposite direction passed before a familiar building on the opposite side of the street. ‘Oh, Lonnie, how perfect, honey.’
Lonnie grinned nervously. She wiped her sweaty palms on her slacks. ‘You know I’d give you the world if we could afford it, Rube.’ Her words were apologetic. Does Ruby actually hate this? she worried.
‘No, honey. This is perfect.’ Luminous emerald eyes rose appreciatively to her partner’s unsure blue. ‘I love it,’ she said softly. ‘Thank you.’
‘Yes. Let’s go in.’
Lonnie took her arm and led Ruby across the park block to the buildings on the adjoining street. Carefully they crossed the traffic.
‘It’s not pouring rain this time,’ Lonnie said.
‘And your shirt isn’t plastered to your bust line either,’ Ruby laughed. ‘Although, I admit, I kind of liked that.’ She winked.
‘Honey,’ Lonnie said with a touch of embarrassment. She held the door open for Ruby. They were greeted with the delightful scent of fragrant, freshly brewed coffee. It was kind of busy, all the booths and a number of the round tables taken. But the ordering line did not stretch from the counter to the door this time. There were only a few people standing before the display case where orders were taken.
‘I hope they still have the lemon squares. Yum, and a vanilla latte. With any luck they’ll have the vanilla to put in it this time,’ Lonnie tried but couldn’t quite make out what was in the display case.
‘I hope they still have those wonderful homemade cinnamon rolls,’ Ruby rubbed her flat stomach. She glanced down at the black and white linoleum tiles on the floor. ‘Same floor,’ she said with delight. ‘Not as wet or as dirty.’
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘Remember all my brand new magazines and books spread out all over it?’
‘How could I forget?’ Ruby’s sunny laugh warmed Lonnie’s spirit. ‘You were quite a reluctant spectacle.’
‘That I was,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘And you were nearly bursting with Bethy.’
They walked laughing, arm in arm to the counter. It surprised Lonnie that Ruby would allow that much physical contact in public. A pleasant man of retirement age stood behind the counter. ‘Help you, ladies?’ he asked. They both looked over the offerings.
‘You have burritos now?’ Lonnie asked bemused, reading the large overhead menu. ‘Since when?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ the older man replied. ‘They added them when folks from the bus depot over there wanted something more substantial than just treats. We have corndogs, too. We microwave them and serve them hot. They aren’t bad.’
‘Time marches on,’ Lonnie decided.
‘Pardon?’ the man asked.
Did I say that out loud? ‘Uh, nothing.’
‘Let’s each get a burrito. Then we can share a treat for dessert. What do you think?’ Ruby asked.
They agreed to share a cinnamon roll with their burritos. Lonnie got a vanilla latte and Ruby got milk to go with their order. They carried their items to the same round table they’d shared one year to the day before.
‘Let’s do this every year,’ Ruby beamed. The delight she felt in finding what it meant to Lonnie to return to this very place was enchanting her. This is why we get along so well, the blonde decided. We both appreciate the same kind of things.
‘I’d like that,’ Lonnie replied. ‘I know it isn’t much, but...’
‘Honey,’ Ruby scolded, ‘How can you say this isn’t much? I love it. After all, could anyplace mean more to either of us? We could spend a million dollars someplace and I wouldn’t be as happy as being here.’
‘I’m glad,’ Lonnie blushed with relief. Then she rustled around in one of her stuffed jacket pockets. ‘I thought about getting you flowers, but I didn’t think you’d want me to spend our money on them. So I got you this instead.’ She brought a flat, wrapped package to the table top.
‘What is it?’ Ruby asked, looking over the item.
‘Open it,’ Lonnie said. ‘And find out.’
Ruby tore the wrapping off. Inside was a beautiful wood picture frame with hinges that closed like a door. It had a place for a picture on each side. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘Our Anniversary pictures. I thought we’d get the guy behind the counter to take our picture right here at this table.’ Lonnie scrambled into her other pocket. ‘I brought the camera. Then we can get Maddy to take our picture with us holding Bethy when we get home. We’ll have two Anniversary pictures,’ she beamed, ‘Exactly one year later, to the day.’
‘Not anniversary exactly,’ Ruby corrected. ‘People usually think of their joining day as the anniversary day.
‘Oh, yes. But, no,’ Lonnie conceded. ‘I meant to say that this is something even more important than that. These will be the pictures celebrating that glorious, amazing, fantastic day when we met.’
‘A wonderful day,’ Ruby agreed then chuckled, ‘I’d been robbed, was wet, hungry and homeless, off the bus with false labor pains. But I met you. It was absolutely the very best day of my whole life.’
‘Mine, too,’ Lonnie granted. ‘My parents announced they were coming to visit, Cheryl called to vent, I got soaked in the rain, dropped my brand new books all over the muddy floor, then met you. It changed my life.’
‘And the rest, like they say, is history,’ Ruby’s eyes gathered fun.
‘A toast, ...happy Day When We Met, honey.’ Lonnie lifted her latte cup and Ruby her glass of milk. They clicked receptacles then each took a sip.
‘Forever,’ they both said softly, their eyes holding each other.
‘And ever,’ Ruby now added in ardent seriousness.
‘The Shaekers,’ Lonnie sighed. ‘Our Family.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby picked up the frame. ‘I’ll label these pictures, ‘Celebrating -- When We Met.’’ She turned the frame in her hands imagining it with photos intact. ‘The Powers That Be were certainly smiling down on us that day.’
‘Considering everything that happened to us then, hon,’ Lonnie grinned, ‘I think maybe they were out and out laughing down at us.’ They looked at each other and broke into mutual regalement.
‘Yes, love, I think you’re right.’
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