See Disclaimers in Chapter I
When We Met
At six thirty the next morning Lonnie gave up her restless repose and got up, placing the bedding back in the guest bedroom. She got into her running gear kept in the spare room's closet and quietly headed out. The day was lovely, a crisp autumn day with some of the early morning fog still in pockets near the small woods but none of the rain from the day before except what glittered on the surface of the leaves and grass.
She breathed deeply of the rain freshened air, concentrating on the beat of her steps as she started off up the curving street. She had her cell phone so at the top of the short rise she paused to call the local pancake house that made the most delicious veggie omelets served with hazelnut flapjacks and ordered two orders to go. It wasn't the first time she'd done that. In fact, she had the number on her speed dial.
She jogged to the halfway point then back to pick up the order. She jogged with the containers and the Sunday paper back to the condo, transferred breakfast to plates and left them warming in the regular oven while she showered. After getting dressed, she put the orders on two trays, added a container of maple syrup and a jar of chunky peach jam and carried them to the bedroom. No one was there.
Lonnie stood holding the trays, looking around when the bathroom door opened and the small blonde appeared, her hair tousled and one hand covering a deep yawn. Is there any way she's not downright gorgeous? Lonnie wondered.
Ruby's nightgown was flannel and clung to her full breasts and round tummy. Lonnie tried not to look, but she found the whole vision extraordinarily beautiful. The woman seemed to almost glow with a magical warmth that drew Lonnie to her. For a minute the brunette couldn't breathe then she shyly averted her gaze to the tray.
"Breakfast? Wonderful!" Ruby crawled back in bed and modestly pulled the blanket up. Lonnie placed the tray beside her. "An omelet with pancakes?" Round green eyes rose to meet the tall woman and again Lonnie was all but struck mute. "When did you have time to make this?" A glance at the clock, "How long have you been up?"
"Uh, I, uh, went jogging and I got it at the pancake house on the way back," the tall woman blushed. "I'm not the best cook in the west."
"You've been gone?" Full green eyes drifted momentarily to Lonnie's tall, lithe shape. The small blonde's eyes moved quickly up to the brunette's face and a touch of blush filled her cheeks.
"Uh, yes, but it's very safe staying here. You don't have to worry. Everybody coming in has to be cleared at the desk and none of the outside doors open without keys. And if there's ever any kind of problem you just buzz the desk and someone's always there to help you."
Ruby smiled. "I wasn't thinking of that. I was thinking how I didn't hear you leave or anything. I must have been sleeping really soundly."
"I tried to be ultra quiet." The brunette knew a goofy grin was plastered on her face, but she couldn't seem to do anything about it.
"Well, pull up a chair and let's eat." There was such an endearing look on the blonde's face as she smiled softly.
Lonnie did and sat beside the bed enjoying the meal. It'd been a good idea. "I put your pills out there, too. I'll buy some juice today. Sorry, I didn't have any."
"Tell me how much this was. I'm keeping track," Ruby commented. "I'll pay you back every penny as soon as I can." Lonnie glanced at the bedside stand where Ruby's eyes had momentarily skipped and saw some figures the small blonde had scrawled on a scrap of paper. She really was keeping track.
Lonnie asked about the mugging and Ruby went on to explain that she'd had one of her housemates drop her and her luggage off on the street outside the bus depot. Then he drove off.
He?She lived with a man? Was that the father? "How many housemates did you have?" Lonnie inquired.
"Oh, uh, two. Well, not at first. At first I lived alone. And that was pretty scary cause it was in a really bad area. But then one of the girls I worked with asked me to move in with her and her boyfriend in their small rental house to help share expenses. It seemed like such a good idea 'cause it was a better part of town, I could save a lot more and I'd get a ride to work and back with Kathy everyday. But it got pretty... uncomfortable and by the time I left, I was more than ready to move on."
"Uncomfortable?" Lonnie asked, putting another bite in her mouth.
"Yes, well, uh, they had friends over every night and they'd sit around drinking beer and...smoking pot. I didn't do either so I stayed in my small room most of the time. It made the situation pretty stressful."
"It sounds like it. That's not good for the baby."
"I know and I'm sure they thought I was extremely, well, prissy. I tried not to ever complain. I pretty much stayed in my room wrapped in a blanket with my window open reading and trying to breathe fresh air. I didn't know they did that or I probably wouldn't have moved in with them. D.J. was still high from the night before when he took me to the bus depot, so I just had him let me out on the street."
"And that's when you were assaulted?"
"Yes. The security guard was busy at the other end of the station and two hoodlums came by, grabbed me by the arms really rough-like, spun me around then ripped the purse off my shoulder before running off. By the time the guard could get to me, all the funds I'd had in the world had been taken. They were in my purse except for the loose change in my pockets. That's all I had left.
"You should have worn a fanny pack," Lonnie said, scowling.
"Uh, I don't think so," Ruby glanced down at her round tummy, "How big do they make them?" She chuckled.
"No, I guess not," Lonnie laughed. She was surprised, however, at how much the small woman'd said she'd been carrying before she was robbed. Saving was a topic Lonnie enjoyed. None of her other friends had ever been even slightly interested but Ruby did have a penchant for it and an interest as well. The tall brunette could only imagine how hard it must have been to have all your savings absconded by thieves.
"Gosh," Lonnie frowned, "You did have a far worse day than I did."
"It got better," the small blonde said with a twinkle in her green eyes. Her hand brushed Lonnie's as they both reached for the syrup. "'Scuse me."
"Uh, yes, uh," Lonnie felt like an idiot. Every coherent thought seemed to leave her mind with the small blonde's touch. She forced herself to concentrate, "Uh, I've been wondering something and I don't know if it's possible but, uh, let me run it by you and see what you think."
"All right," The blonde sat back in the bed against the light wood headboard. Sunlight off the balcony danced across her face. She did look a little pale and Lonnie wondered if this was a good idea after all. "Shoot," Ruby smiled encouragingly.
"Okay. Uh, we have an upcoming New Year 'Specials' catalogue due out the first Monday after Thanksgiving. It goes to tons of companies and has our printing specials for the new year listed. Well, it was royally goofed up by a part-timer that the boss hired. The guy was fired and it was thought that everything had to be reprinted. That's more expensive than most people know. Anyway, I was able to save one of the pages, front and back...which is really four of the pages... which was half the project... and the boss doesn't know it yet. So the project could be worked on earlier than he expects. But we're so busy with rush orders, we don't have time to even breathe right now. And I was wondering if you'd be interested in being a part-timer to work on it?"
"Go in to work, you mean?" she asked. How could she do that if she had to stay in bed?
"No. No, I was thinking you could work from your bed if I could get the boss to go along with it. I'm taking care of all the printing, so at this point the job would only be putting labels on envelopes, stapling the small brochure-like catalogue and stuffing them. There wouldn't be any rush because everybody knows we're going to miss the deadline because of that guys' goof-up."
"I could earn some money? Is that what you're saying?" Ruby flashed her a look of appreciation. She took in the tall woman's earnest face, her deep blue eyes rimmed with warmth.
"Yes. Minimum wage, I'm afraid. But the thing I really want to try for is to get you some insurance. That's the most important thing. The problem is that they don't often give benefits to part-timers. I'd have to convince the boss it was a good package."
"Are you my guardian angel?" Ruby asked gently, overwhelmed with both the kindness and the opportunities this woman was offering her. The comment caught Lonnie by surprise and she blushed. She felt her ears turn red with heat.
"I don't think so. I can't remember being called an angel before...well, maybe by my Dad." Lonnie could feel the warmth rising into her cheeks. "Usually I'm called...the opposite."
Ruby chuckled softly at the tall woman. "You're a guardian angel to me." She's adorable, the blonde thought, and gorgeous. "I'd be very much interested in the job. Even without the insurance." Her warm green eyes caught Lonnie's when she looked up and for a moment held the tall beauty in her gaze. The familiarity was intense, though both would have been hard pressed to explain exactly why.
Lonnie cleared her throat. "I'll see what Benny says tomorrow. You need to go see a regular doctor like the doctor on the hill told you."
Now Ruby's expression changed. Her brows furrowed. Obviously this idea was troubling to her. "I don't know. They ran tests and everything. He...he did examine me." She unconsciously ran a protective hand across the wide expanse of her tummy.
"Yes," crystal blue eyes focused on the small woman, "but he said you needed to have a physician monitor you and he said something about getting one of those echo things...uh, ultrasound tests or whatever you call them. He said you should see someone right away."
"He didn't think the baby was harmed." The small blonde kept a hand on her tummy and chewed her lip as worry brewed in her mind. "I just have to be careful." Lonnie could see how torn Ruby was about how she would pay for everything.
"He said you needed a regular doctor to keep track of you."
"I know, but..." Ruby's expression steadied, "I asked them to check to see if there's a "Victims' Fund" or something like that set up in Seattle since I was robbed there. I think I read somewhere that some cities have them. If not, I'm going to have to pay for that visit yesterday."
Her tone was almost pleading. She was caught in the altogether too common "no insurance" dilemma. The small blonde glanced at the gold band she wore and decided she could pawn that. But what else did she have of any value? Just her clothes and they were probably in San Francisco by now. And they wouldn't bring much.
"I could help you with the costs..." Lonnie suggested.
She was going to mention more about getting her insurance but Ruby quickly replied, "Oh, Lonnie, I couldn't have you do that." Ruby nervously ran a hand through her hair. "Thank you so very much for offering, though."
Lonnie scowled. Who would think that in America getting needed health care could be so difficult, particularly for one who wanted to pay her own way? But not following through with the doctor's advice was too risky in Ruby's case. She put forth what she knew was the decision maker. "It's important for the baby's safety," she said softly. She gathered a breath, "I was going to say that if I can get insurance for you, it wouldn't cost all that much."
"Do you think you can?" Green saucer-shaped eyes looked up in question.
"I'll try real hard." Never had Lonnie meant her words more than now. If there was a way she could do this for Ruby, she was going to find it.
With a resigned sigh, the blonde nodded then leaned back harder against the headboard. Worry lines formed around her eyes and she continued to chew her lip. Lonnie didn't think it was healthy for the small pregnant lady to dwell on it, so she attempted to lighten the subject.
"So tell me, why San Francisco?" Lonnie popped a bite of her breakfast into her mouth. Ruby'd said she'd been heading for San Francisco. "Do you have friends or family there?"
"Oh, well," Ruby picked up her fork. "No, I don't know anyone there. The weather was a factor, I guess, and the fact that it's so big a city. I thought with that many people, there must be a job that I could get. And it might be easier to meet people, you know?" She took a bite of her omelet and pointed with her fork, "This is really good."
"Yes, they're the best at omelets." Lonnie thought about what Ruby'd said. But you could meet people anywhere and the weather in San Francisco didn't seem to her to be all that different. More foggy than here maybe. The valley, yes, it was hot. But not San Francisco proper. "Where were you going to look for a place?"
"I thought I'd try The Castro area."
Lonnie's head shot up at that. The Castro? The notedly gay area? What was she trying to say? She peered at Ruby but the smaller woman had taken great interest in a piece of pancake and didn't meet her eyes.
They ate in silence for a minute. "Is it expensive, you know, living in San Francisco?" Lonnie asked. Blue eyes flicked to the soft features of the small blonde then back to her food. She cut another bite of pancake, smeared it with jam and speared it with her fork.
"Gosh, I don't know. Do you think it is?" Susceptible emerald eyes looked up again with a quick glance catching the other woman as she looked her way. For a minute their eyes held again until Lonnie cleared her throat.
"I can't say as I know." Lonny took a bite and chewed. "They have sales tax and we don't. And they have to pump their own gas and we don't. Oh, and, uh, nearly all their beaches are private and all ours, every last one of them, are public." She glanced up to see the blonde cutting another bite. "But I've never lived in California. My sister lives there but she never talks about prices one way or the other."
"Where does she live?" The small blonde shut her eyes in pleasure at the taste of the pancakes. My, they were good, too.
"She and her husband and their little boy live in San Carlos in the northern part of the silicon valley. They both work for the same dot com company." She smiled, "They're nerds." Ruby nodded. Lonnie hated to admit the next part. She wanted Ruby to consider staying here in town instead of heading south. She sighed, "I suppose they like it there well enough."
"Oh. Uh, would you mind terribly if I used your phone today? I want to see if the bus company can locate my luggage and send it back. And I was hoping I could get a refund on the unused portion of my bus ticket. Then I can pay for a little bit of all this."
"Please don't worry about paying for things. And certainly you can use the phone. Use anything you want. I want you to feel comfortable."
"Just remember to stay in bed. Doctor's orders." Lonnie smiled a nervous smile. She finished what she could of her breakfast and stood, taking her own tray in hand. She reached to get the small woman's tray. The blonde had eaten every last bite. Lonnie wondered how well the small woman had been eating up to this point.
"Right. Doctor's orders." Ruby handed her tray to Lonnie then laid back and pulled the covers around her shoulders. "Maybe I'll snooze a little first. It's been kind of a hard few days." She chastely fluttered long blonde lashes shut.
"Yes, it sounds like it. I'm going to go grocery shopping. I should be back in an hour or so. If the phone rings, let it go. The machine will pick up. There's a phone right there on the bedside stand whenever you want to use it." Ruby opened her eyes to look. Lonnie pointed to the phone by the bed and the small woman nodded before shutting her eyes again.
"Don't forget to drink your fluids."
"Yes, doctor," the small woman grinned with her eyes still shut and Lonnie chuckled as she moved into the other room.
The dishes were quickly put in the dishwasher and the tall brunette headed for the store. She took the list with her so she'd be sure to get the major things on it. Also, she wanted to fix Ruby the one meal she knew how to prepare, the one she always prepared when she was courting a romantic guest.
She grabbed a cart at the store and scowled. She never liked grocery shopping. In fact, she hated it. Usually she just bought tv dinners, sandwich makings, yoghurt and diet coke plus a few bottles of water and some apples. She hurried through as quickly as she could.
She could hear the small woman rustling around in the bedroom when she got back. She made enough noise so the blonde had to know she was back. Surely she'd call out if she needed help.
She was putting the last things into the cupboards when she looked up to see the pregnant woman standing at the end of the hall holding a blanket and a pillow. Her long-sleeved cardigan was buttoned with a few buttons at the top, over her nightgown. It covered her bosom and her bruised arms but did not reach around her bulging middle.
"Hi." Lonnie closed the cupboard door where she'd rehung the list and looked at her.
"Could I stay in the living room? It's so quiet in the bedroom."
Lonnie looked over at the couch. "Sure, uh, let's set you up over here."
The small woman smiled then walked into the living room with the blanket and pillow. "I was thinking I could stay on your lounger there on the balcony. It goes down in notches until it's flat, doesn't it?"
"Good idea. Yes. But let me drag it inside. It's pretty nippy outside." Lonnie had taken a woodworking night class at one of the high schools a few years prior and had made the loungers herself.
"Oh, well, I didn't mean to inconvenience you."
Lonnie flashed her a full wattage smile. "It's no problem." She pulled the couch and end tables down toward the bookcase, further away from the fireplace wall before Ruby sat down there. Then she opened the sliding glass doors and pulled in the heavy lounge chair bringing it near the fireplace where the end table by the couch had been. She took a towel and wiped it off while Ruby waited patiently.
Then the brunette dug out the long cushion from the storage bin on the balcony and put it on, wiping it off first to make sure there were no spider webs or other unwelcome visitors. I should have thought of this to sleep on. It looks a lot more comfortable than the couch in the small bedroom.
She moved the lounger just enough that Ruby could see the tv and also see out the wall of windows, even lying flat.
"You have a beautiful view," Ruby said softly, her gaze sweeping out over the grounds and the woods below them.
Lonnie glanced up and looked out. "Yeah," she replied. "It's nice."
Ruby smiled a warm smile and moved over, lifting the lounger one notch from flat then laying out the blanket. She folded the other half over herself once she climbed on and turned onto her left side. Lonnie lit the fireplace and that added a little extra heat and atmosphere. With the pillow Ruby was very comfortable and could still talk to Lonnie as the tall woman sat on the nearby couch.
Lonnie brought out the Sunday paper and they shared the different parts, both reading while relaxing in companionable silence. Soon the blonde was dozing and Lonnie read while watching over her. It wasn't a lot unlike the way her family sometimes spent quiet Sunday afternoons after church and after Sunday dinner when she was growing up.
She gazed at the blonde's face in sleep. How young she looked! But, of course, she was young. Without the lines of worry, she looked incredibly innocent and vulnerable. Lonnie felt drawn to sit beside her and gently stroke her face and hair but shook that thought off and wondered about the child's father instead and why he didn't stick around. There was no way she would ever have abandoned this wonderful young woman. Not ever.
She went to the spare room and brought out a blanket from her bed. She put it gently over the sleeping woman. After all, the half of the blanket the small woman was using to cover herself was having trouble staying over her full tummy.
Because Ruby was willing to try working at home, Lonnie decided she should drive to work and get the address labels and envelopes to get started. They might as well both do it while she had the chance to help. She knew they'd hire the blonde as a part-timer on Lonnie's word. They'd even let her work at home without complaint but the brunette didn't know about the benefits. That was a much harder proposition. She'd have to work Benny just right and it still wouldn't be a sure thing.
She left a note and slipped quietly out of the condo. The watchmen would be at the shop today if Benny didn't come in, which he often did when they had rush orders. Often Benny was there all weekend and she had been, too, most of the weekends after she and Cheryl broke up.
A few cars were in the parking area this Sunday but not Benny's so she parked her jeep close and rang the bell for the watchman. She bet Benny'd just gone out for lunch. She could hear the machinery going and knew a skeleton work crew was in getting out the rush order.
The friendly old uniformed watchman confirmed Benny had gone for lunch. Then the older man trailed her up to her floor where she got the labels she knew had been run off for this order. He chatted away until she had him get a handtruck to haul the large box of blank envelopes down for her. She told him not to say anything to Benny about her being there. She wanted to discuss this order Monday with the big guy. No sense bothering him while his mind was on getting out a different order.
The watchman readily agreed. The less he had to deal with Benny, the better, he told her. "By jingles, that man's actin' like a grizzly with a sore paw lately, and that's the steadfast truth. Yumpf." The grandfatherly man frowned as he nodded his head in agreement with what he was saying. "My wife, Bessie, she says I should steer clear of that man, if I know what's good for me. Yumpf. That's what she told me."
"She might be right for the time being," Lonnie agreed. "Benny's under a lot of stress right now. Keep smilin', though, Walter."
The man flashed a hearty smile and helped her load the box in the back of her jeep. "You betcha, Miss Shaeker. I've always got smiles a'plenty for you. Yumpf. You betcha." He waved once the box was loaded and she climbed into her car and waved back. Turning the key, she set off for home. Benny would have no idea she'd already started on this.
Lonnie loved her job. She'd quit college because of it, even though all of her family and friends thought her foolish to do so. She found the printing process fascinating, but she was more than a printer now since her promotion had made her job more supervisory. And she was expert at working pages on the computer, even though the learning curve for computers, hardware and software, increased almost daily.
Her thoughts came back to the problem they'd had on this order. It was ironic that the project goofed up turned out to be their own catalogue. She was glad the mistake wasn't from her section. They printed these catalogs for the business customers of every one of their facilities across the nation. It was a huge order.
When the hired dolt had run across what was the first computer draft without the important insert that had to appear on the front cover, he'd ignored standard procedures and had it all run off without supervisory approval. Then every page in the full color, eight page brochure had to be redone in order to include the necessary information.
Bennie had hired the guy specifically to handle this report. He was given a sweet hiring package because he had a resume that included printing experience in this field. It was the benefits in his hiring package that Lonnie wanted to try and get for Ruby.
Usually in a case like this you could salvage at least half the work. Not this time. Nothing they'd tried at first had worked. The insert bumped items on every page thereafter. There simply was no way to rescue it, or so Benny thought. Everyone knew heads would roll, maybe even Benny's, though it was unlikely to go that far. It would more likely be a bad mark on the man's very good record.
Benny had tentatively sent feelers out to get approval from the main office to attach an insert. It would add paper, cutting and printing, but it wouldn't cost anywhere near what a do-over would. But the main office emphatically nixed any idea of that. Printing was their business and this was supposed to be designed to sell that printing. Unfortunately, Benny had a budget to uphold and he was going to be far, far over in costs with nothing to show for it once they could find the time to tackle it.
Lonnie'd had her staff use every free second to work on capsulating the items to see if they could salvage something. They were able to save one middle page that way but since they printed front and back, that wasn't enough. Besides, they had so much other work, they didn't have any more time to spend on it. They were looking at more than a thirty thousand dollar mistake that couldn't be corrected right away. Of course, the guy from Bennie's section was canned. But his benefits were still there in the budget, already figured to the end of the year.
Lonnie had actually dreamed about the solution to the problem first. Then she'd quietly pulled up the pages and maneuvered them after hours to see if the daring change could possibly work. It required editing precision, photographing finesse, and tricking their computer software to get what she wanted. The tricking had actually been the hardest part. She'd even called her sister and sister's husband to get some ideas on how to go about it. And she'd even considered calling Nyri, the one person she knew with enough skill to be a hacker, if she'd wanted to be. But she hadn't had to go to that length.
She'd stayed several nights and worked into the wee hours of the morning. A couple nights before her trip to the bookstore, she was finally able to salvage half the job. She'd managed to get the printing set up but hadn't told Benny yet. And because she was a supervisor now, she hadn't been able to claim any overtime. Supervisors weren't paid overtime. But she had the correction already being reprinted. She hoped she could use this to Ruby's favor.
Lonnie drove through the fast food drive through and ordered two large salads. It would save her from having to cook. After all, she was planning to use her finest culinary skills, limited as they were--and they certainly were--on the evening meal.
At the condo, Lonnie got the handtruck from the office on the main floor and carted her things on up to the apartment. She opened the door and saw an empty lounge chair. Probably in the bathroom. Then she heard the small woman talking and knew she must be on the phone.
"I thought I heard you come back," the blonde remarked, coming back to the lounger from the bedroom. Her eyes seemed to caress Lonnie. "Did you get in at work?" She carefully lowered herself onto the heavy lounge chair, laying a little on her side and flicked the blanket over herself. It was hard to get comfortable, but on her left side seemed to be best. She adjusted the pillow.
"Yeah. I brought some stuff. I'll show you how to do this after lunch."
"Oh, lunch. I'll sit up then," Ruby got up, adjusted the lounge chair and sat to eat. Lonnie was amazed at the amount of food this small woman could put away. Probably because she's eating for two, she decided. She walked over and draped the other blanket over Ruby, bringing a shy smile of thanks from the blonde that sent the tall brunette's pulse racing.
Stars! Get a grip woman, Lonnie admonished herself. But Ruby was special, more special than anyone she'd ever met before. And she'd thought that very early on after meeting her. Certainly she'd come to think of other women as exceptional in one way or another but never in quite this fully exclusive way. Ruby was wonderful overall and even the fact that she was pregnant was particularly appealing. That surprised Lonnie a little.
They tackled their large plastic tubs of lunch. "Mmm," Ruby grinned, "I like the slivered almonds and the mandarin orange slices. They're really good. I didn't know anyone made a salad this good."
"Yes. There's little pieces of chicken and those crunchy noodle things in among the lettuce, too. They're huge salads, actually, but I always manage to finish mine," Lonnie smiled.
She caught Ruby chewing. "Me, too." The small blonde swallowed then shook her fork, "Tell me what this cost. I'm keeping track of what I owe."
"All right," Lonnie chuckled, but casually neglected to give the amount.
Ruby looked to the side. "It's wonderful having a fireplace, isn't it?" she added delightedly.
Lonnie looked at the gas flames lapping around the faux logs. It looked real enough. "Yeah," she agreed, "I like it."
Collecting the empty plastic salad bowls when they were done, Lonnie opened the box of envelopes and took a handful of label pages as Ruby adjusted the lounger, sank back down and pulled the blanket over herself. Lonnie showed the blonde how to peel off the labels and put them on the envelopes then toss the addressed envelopes into a box she dug out of the closet to separate them from the others. All she had to do was to make sure the envelope was right side up.
The pregnant woman tried working lying on her side. Lonnie brought over a dining room chair to serve as a table for her, and it worked perfectly. They both got comfortable and began to put address stickers on the blank envelopes. It was mindless work.
"You don't have to do my job," Ruby grinned at Lonnie.
"I don't mind helping. It's kind of pleasant sitting here doing this."
"They're going to send my luggage back up. They said it should be here in the Portland station tomorrow. I explained everything and they said under the circumstances, they could give a partial refund."
"Hey, great. I'll swing by and pick up your luggage on my way home from work tomorrow. You'll have to give me your claim stubs."
"Yes. Thank you. That'll be wonderful. I put them out on the dresser. My ticket, too."
They worked for a while in pleasant companionship, each busily peeling labels. "I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't come along." Blonde hair spilled onto the pillow as serious green eyes glanced over and settled on the tall brunette.
Lonnie felt her insides start to melt. "I'm glad I could help. It's really my pleasure. I was lonely living here all by myself. It's nice to have someone around." And such beautiful company at that. Lonnie tried not to stare at the woman but the blush begin to rise in her face when green eyes caught her admiring look. Gods, I've blushed more in the last day than in the last ten years.
The blush warranted a full, warm smile from the small woman. Emerald eyes danced with curiosity. "I can't imagine that you'd have to live alone unless you wanted to. There must be lots of, uh, potential roommates out there willing to share expenses with you. It's probably expensive making rent payments on all this. This is a very nice apartment."
"Uh, actually I don't make rent or mortgage or lease payments. I'd saved enough to bid on it outright. This unit was a repo so I got a really, really good price. It cost less than half of today's market price, believe it or not...a once in a lifetime deal for me."
"You bought it? How did you know about it?"
"A friend heard about it before it became public and she wanted it really badly, but she couldn't scrape up the cash to work the deal. It had to be cash and it had to be snapped up instantly. She knew I was looking and she called me. I'd saved enough and she gave me her blessing, so I got it for a song. Now I just pay monthly maintenance fees and utilities, and they're not bad... upkeep, utilities, oh, and taxes that is. It's easily the right size for me. The balconies make it seem a lot bigger."
"Wow, that's amazing. Yes, the balconies are really nice. I went out on the bedroom balcony for a minute and sat in one of the chairs you have out there. You bought it, huh? At your age? You saved the money, you didn't inherit or something? You're not very old to be able to afford this."
"I'm twenty-six," Lonnie sighed. "I've been saving since I was very young. It's something I like to do. It lets you be your own woman... independent, you know. Actually I've worked every summer and after school since before I was in high school. Usually at some kind of guys' grunt job, although I did pick berries one summer when I was real young. You make lots more money with grunt jobs, though. Sometimes tons more. I'd planned to use most of my savings for college, along with what my folks contributed. But then I quit college when I got my current job, so I just happened to have the right savings at the right time."
"That's phenomenal. So you used your folks' college funding, too. That makes more sense."
"No, I gave them that back," Lonnie stuck some more labels. "I used my own funds. I'd invested what I'd saved while I was working, I caught the market at the right time and I had just enough. But I could have borrowed from my folks if I'd needed to, I guess."
Ruby shook her head. What an amazing woman! To own your own condo at twenty-six seemed almost impossible to her. Especially one this nice. She thought on that for a minute then went back to her original thought. "But still, I can imagine you'd have your pick of any roommate you wanted." The brunette could feel the heat of the pregnant woman's gaze. "You've always lived alone?"
Lonnie laughed a little nervously. "No. I've had some roommates. It's a touch more complicated than you might think."
There it was again. Those wide green eyes. Lonnie blinked and felt her breathing hitch. She took a breath. "Yes. I guess I've, um, what does the song say...looked for love in all the wrong places."
"Sorry to hear that. What are you looking for exactly?"
Lonnie's hand came up and she ran it through her shoulder-length ebony hair. Her face turned serious and she thought for a few minutes while she worked. "At this point...I'm looking to settle down. I'm tired of the bar scene and all that. I've met my share of exciting, one-night women who wanted to party. And it was fun, but I, uh, I'm ready for something substantial, someone who wants more, someone who wants to share things...a partner. I want someone.... permanent... someone to plan a future with."
"Oh. Like a marriage?"
"Yes. Like a good marriage." They worked again in silence for a bit. The dark haired woman looked over at the blonde.
"May I ask about the father?" Lonnie saw an instant flash of trepidation cross the blonde's face and the small woman began to fidget. "Gosh, you don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to," the brunette added quickly. "I was just wondering. No big deal."
Ruby let her gaze move outside the window to the grounds and seemed to lose herself there for a minute. No big deal? Oh, it was a very big deal. Sorrow planted itself in her features. What did I expect? Of course this tall beauty was going to wonder. Everyone does. She tried to swallow down the heavy-heartedness that had all too often held her captive these days. A wave of melancholia swept over her.
"No, really. Don't go into it," Lonnie added nervously, reading the blonde's expressions. "Why don't you tell me about your family instead?" That seemed like a safe enough topic.
"I have no family," Ruby replied sharply. Her eyes that were normally so warm and inviting turned dark and almost mysterious and an unmistakable tinge of anger tinted her words.
"Really?" Lonnie inquired, her eyes widening. She stopped and gazed at the small woman. How horrible!
"Yes. No." Ruby sputtered under the tall beauty's gaze. "Oh, heck, it's complicated." She ran a hand nervously through her hair. She'd never felt as attracted and connected to anyone before as she did to Lonnie. So, what should she tell this beauty who'd opened her home to her? The idea of disappointing her sat heavily on the blonde's mind. She ran her hand softly across her tummy. Lonnie's opinion was more important to her than she wanted to admit. Ruby sighed. But in her heart she felt that nothing short of the full truth would suffice.
"Uh, well... okay, let me start from the beginning. Course, I could tell you what I told the people where I used to work...that we went our separate ways. But that wasn't the truth, really, uh, exactly. The truth is that it was a very....traumatic situation for me." Traumatic? the blonde considered, it turned my world upside down!
"He didn't beat you up or anything like that, did he?" Lonnie sat upright, a frown on her face. I'll hunt him down and beat the crap out of him if he did, she thought to herself with all the vehemence her youth allowed.
"No. Like you said earlier, it's more complicated than that." Ruby's attention shifted to her own hands that held a handful of finished envelopes and she could see they were trembling. She forced herself to lean over and place the envelopes in the 'finished' box.
Ruby chewed her lip then suddenly stopped. Resolve seemed to cross her face. I've spent eight months going over this and over this. I even saw a counselor once.There are things I can do to change my life, she reminded herself. And I will do them. I will get by. The counselor said talking about it would help and I haven't. So, maybe this is the time.
She glanced at the tall brunette who had her head down placing labels. Her long black hair hung down from her lowered head, blocking her face. I can trust Lonnie. But what will she think, my sweet guardian angel? I can only hope she doesn't react like my parents did.
"If I tell you about this, Lonnie, will you promise to never say a word about it to anyone else?"
Lonnie looked up, "Oh, uh, sure. I won't breathe a word. But you don't have to tell me anything that makes you uncomfortable, Ruby. I don't want that. We don't have to talk about anything you don't want to."
"No, I...I'll get it out. A counselor once told me I should." She tried a smile but it was a weak attempt at best. "But then I want to leave it in the past if I can." Although she knew that was not really a possibility, either.
Saucer shaped green eyes looked up into earnest blue. Ruby swallowed. Her shoulders slumped, she brought her eyes to her hands and fixed a few labels to envelopes. Where should she start? Maybe with her family, but in truth it was all connected. Finally she spoke softly, "I was engaged when I was sixteen but...I've never been married."
She glanced at Lonnie, judging her reaction to that. Many people today chose not to sit in judgment of a woman having a child without benefit of marriage. Was Lonnie one of them? She was pretty sure she was. She hadn't said anything in the car on the way to the hospital when Ruby told her there was no husband.
"Sixteen is really young..high school, right?" Lonnie tried to smile casually. She had actually graduated from high school herself at sixteen, but most people didn't. She could sense the tension rolling off Ruby and hoped to ease her anxiety by getting her to talk of less stressful side issues.
"Yes, we got engaged the very beginning of my junior year. We started dating the year before when I was fifteen. I wasn't allowed to date till I met Raleigh, then everyone was thrilled when he asked me to marry him." A faint softening came to her features, "More thrilled than I was, I know."
"So, you didn't want to marry him? Is it his baby?"
"No. It wasn't Raleigh's. And I'm not sure that I didn't want to marry him. I thought I did at first. It just didn't work out. We broke up." She got a far away look. "We'd been engaged about four years." She caught Lonnie's startled look. "A long time, I know. And my family didn't take the break up well." She sighed, "He was from our church. That's where we met. My folks loved him from the start."
She'd said she had no family and Lonnie puzzled over it. The thought that maybe they'd been killed in an accident came to Lonnie's mind and she apologized immediately. "I'm so sorry for the loss of your family."
"Yes," Ruby nodded. "Me, too." It was hard to miss the edge of anger in her voice when she mentioned them.
Maybe they were killed by a drunk driver. That could leave a person angry. Obviously, she doesn't want to talk about it. "So, uh, why did you and your fiancé break up after so long, if you don't mind my asking?"
"No, it's all right. I won a college scholarship and I wanted to go. Raleigh didn't want me to but when he saw I was going anyway, he quit his job and came with me. He rented a small room and got a job pumping gas in Spokane so he could be nearby. I was at the dorm. We didn't consider living together 'cuzz that wouldn't have been proper. We weren't married and I'd told him I didn't want to marry till after I graduated. I was afraid I'd get pregnant and not be able to finish."
"That's, uh, kind of unusual, isn't it, for him to uproot
and all, especially since you'd decided not to live together?"
Ruby looked surprised. "Is it? Nicole thought so. She thought he was too possessive. But she never liked him that much. It seemed natural enough to me at the time. My parents sure thought I should quit and marry him. And right off Raleigh and I began to have problems. He was used to spending lots of time with me back home. But at college it was different. I was in class or I had to study or I was at work. I worked a waitress job after classes to help pay my expenses. Raleigh'd get upset and we'd argue about it...a lot."
"Your parents didn't help you out financially? Or, uh, weren't they, uh, available to help?"
"No. My parents were available. But they really didn't want me to go to college. They thought it was a waste of time for girls. They offered no help. In fact, my family tried everything to discourage me. Well, everybody except my brother Bobby Lee. He said I should go ahead and do what I believed was right. The rest all thought I should marry Raleigh and start a family and forget college. Why did I need an education, my father kept asking me and my mother would add that being a wife and mother was career enough. Why did I need to teach? But I had my dream and I was determined."
"You wanted to teach?"
"At a college." She laughed gently, "As a professor. I know, start at the top, right?"
"You'd probably be a phenomenal professor."
"Well, my folks didn't think so." Ruby studied her hands again before putting labels on envelopes.
Lonnie didn't think such old fashioned ideas still existed. "I guess most parents have preconceived ideas of what they want for their children," she supplied. Then she thought of her own family's ideas, "Like my folks, for instance. They were pretty upset that I QUIT college. Opposites, huh?"
"Yes. It sure sounds like it." Ruby got a faraway look. "I remember my mother got so angry and told me I had a wicked stubborn streak and it would be my downfall one day." Ruby added more softly, "Maybe she was right."
"I seriously doubt that. So you broke up with Raleigh?"
"Right. We broke up and my parents went ballistic. The funny thing is, Raleigh took it much better than they did. I guess cause we'd already fought about it so much and we were both tired of it. But my folks saw Raleigh as the perfect son-in-law. He was older, very active in their church and seemed like a secure, stable guy." She sighed heavily, "I always saw him more as a big brother sort of...a nice enough guy but, I don't know, it didn't work out."
"Your parents sound like they were very involved with their church."
"Oh, yes. They were. And they still are."
They still are? I thought they'd been killed. Lonnie cast a puzzled look at Ruby. What did she mean that she had no family, then?
Ruby glanced up, "Then when Raleigh moved back home and got a new girlfriend who didn't want to go to college, one of the town girls I'd gone to school with, my parents were devastated and horribly angry with me. They were sure I'd thrown my life away. Their perfect son-in-law candidate was with someone else, a family they considered far less worthy of him. I heard about it over and over."
"Oookay," Lonnie said. She was still confused about Ruby's parents.
Turbulence swam in the large emerald eyes that looked up. "So about the baby's father, I was just plain stupid, I guess." Her lip curled tremblingly between her teeth. "I had this grand idea that I needed to meet the perfect guy. I had visions that he'd be a college student, we'd fall madly in love and get engaged and we'd both finish college before we married. We'd both get jobs at a university and then my parents and family would be proud and happy with me again."
Well, she's definitely straight, Lonnie concluded morosely. The brunette sighed softly. She'd thought about the small blonde all day. And she'd hoped with The Castro comment that..oh well, even if she was straight, Ruby needed Lonnie's help, care and friendship right now. And maybe for quite a while to come. She wanted to be a part of the blonde's life, if that was at all possible. Being near her would be enough. It would have to be. Both sat wordlessly putting labels on envelopes and the silence stretched around them.
"I didn't even like the guy all that much who asked me out," Ruby stated without looking up. "If only I'd never gone to that party."
"Someone from school?"
"No. This fellow was from out of town. A salesman, he said. Automotive parts. He was about college age, younger than Raleigh, but he wasn't a student. He worked." She shivered and her eyes moved to the address on the label in her hand although she couldn't have said whose company name was there or what state it was from.
"Where did you meet him?"
"He came into the cafe where I was working. He'd been in before flirting with the waitresses, but this time he asked me out. I didn't know him, so I told him no. The other two girls thought I was foolish, that he was cute, and I should go out with him. So I relented. I'd agreed to go with Nicole to a party, a dance party on the weekend...my first one. It was off campus, and she said it would be a safe place to meet guys and get to know them while we danced. Maybe I'd meet Mr. Wonderful there. So I told this fellow that if he was in town, he might stop by. I figured there'd be plenty of people around and I'd ride there and back with Nicole, so there shouldn't be any problem. If I really didn't like him, I didn't need to see him again."
Lonnie was still confused about Ruby's parents and now wondered how she could end up pregnant with this fellow's child if she didn't like him that much. Unless she was forced. The hair on the back of her neck rose at that thought. A scowl came to her face and her mood darkened. "It's his baby, then?"
Ruby tiredly rubbed a trembling hand across her face. She looked at the tall beauty before her and a look of abject depression settled over her. This was the hardest, most devastating part of all. She glanced at Lonnie. I invited him. She may as well decide right now what she's going to think of me, my beautiful, blue-eyed guardian angel. She sighed again, thinking of her parents' reaction. I hope...I pray she doesn't feel like they did.
"That's the worst part," she said softly with a hitch in her voice that betrayed the tightness she felt in her heart, "I don't know."
Lonnie blinked. "I don't think I understand," she said softly.
Ruby shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Then she opened her eyes, "Okay, well," she took in a deep breath and let it out, "we went to the party. I didn't know how to dance. Raleigh and I had never gone to a dance before and I hadn't dated before him. So Nicole said to just do the fast ones, wiggle and move my feet a little, keep the guys talking and no one would know the difference. So I did and it seemed to work."
A look of guilt crossed the blonde's face. "I'd never had a drink before, either." She raked her fingers through her tousled hair. "No one in my family drank and Raleigh didn't either. And I never should have."
Oh, she got drunk, Lonnie thought. Well, that happens certainly. Especially in college. It has to me in the past, and I'm not that much of a drinker.
Ruby rubbed her brow and continued, "Nicole got us each cokes and poured some rum she'd brought into them. She only poured a little in mine. She was drinking pretty heavily, but I was gonna drive her and myself home so I only had that one drink. It was really crowded. Some of the dorm girls were there and saw us dancing and drinking with a bunch of guys including this fellow, who did come back."
He came back. Lonnie's eyes narrowed, "What was his name?"
Ruby looked at Lonnie a while debating. "He said it was Norman Faradeen Smith."
"So he was older and you were a senior?"
"He wasn't as old as Raleigh, and I was a junior. I'd be a senior now if..." She rubbed her belly softly. "Anyway, suddenly both Nicole and I got dizzy and this fellow and another guy helped us out through the crowd. The people who saw us thought we were drunk. We were slurring our words. Nicole got violently ill outside by the cars. While she was throwing up, this Norman fellow kept this arm around me and asked me if I was all right. He sounded so concerned." Ruby sighed heavily and her eyes fluttered shut, "That's the last thing I remember till the next morning when I woke up in a...a shoddy motel room by myself with a pounding headache. I didn't know where Nicole was, and I knew for sure that I'd been...violated."
"I hope you called the police!" Lonnie sat upright.
Ruby opened her eyes then cast them down. "No," she admitted. She reached for more labels as she once again sighed heavily. "I...I couldn't. I was so horrified and embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. If I had to do it again, I think maybe I would. But at the time I just wanted the whole thing to go away. I knew I shouldn't have gone to the party and I certainly shouldn't have been drinking."
Lonnie's voice became very soft, "You were raped, Ruby," she stated. "That's a violent crime. Going to the party and having one drink didn't make you wrong or at fault. No one expects to be assaulted going to a party. I wish you'd told the police."
"At the time, I couldn't. I was sorry I'd gone and sorry I'd invited him. And I thought, what could I prove? I didn't remember anything, nothing at all. Maybe it wasn't even him. Although....I thought he was involved."
"What about tests?" Lonnie suggested. "Paternity, DNA, that kind of thing. Wouldn't they be proof?"
"What if he'd said we'd had consensual sex? How could I prove we didn't? I wasn't exactly a," she paused and looked with embarrassment at Lonnie before looking away, "I couldn't claim to have been celibate. Raleigh and I'd had occasional protected sex when we were engaged."
"That doesn't matter. It has no bearing whatsoever. Besides, you passed out." Lonnie could feel herself bristling but she kept her voice soft. "How could anyone say you gave consent if you passed out?"
"What if he said I didn't pass out? How could I prove I had? I don't think anyone saw us once we were outside. It was dark. It would be my word against his. The others would say they saw me slurring my words and acting drunk. But I swear, I wasn't drunk. I'd only had part of that one drink."
"I'm very sure you were NOT drunk. You were drugged. And you did NOT set yourself up to be raped, don't even think that. Guys who do that kind of thing used to be able to get away with some kind of crappy defense like that, but not any more. They can't make the victim responsible any more."
"If I hadn't invited him. If I hadn't gone to the party and...."
"No and no. None of that puts you at fault. HE was responsible. You were slipped drugs, without your permission or knowledge. That's what they're calling "date rape". Victims can't let themselves be held at fault. Women do that too much. They AREN'T at fault. That fellow committed a vicious crime against you, and he should be rotting in jail for a long time."
"Nicole thought we were drugged, too. But she'd had a lot to drink and wasn't sure that didn't make her sick. It didn't matter. We didn't have any proof--none at all."
Lonnie struggled to be objective, but it was very hard. "That's part of the problem with this kind of crime. Police-wise you have to be tested immediately for the drug 'cause they don't stay in your system long-a day maybe. But they do exactly what you've described-- knock you out so you don't remember anything. Or they can make you violently ill first, if they don't kill you. That happens too. But what happened to you two was classic.
"You know about drugs like that?"
"Oh, yeah. I've heard of them. They're called 'roofies' or 'ecstasy' or "Special K"... and other names. There's more than one kind. They're colorless, tasteless, odorless and, unfortunately, easy to buy on the street. They're being used more and more on unsuspecting women by real scumballs like that creep who asked you out. He slipped one in each of yours and Nicole's drinks when you weren't looking. You wouldn't have known."
Ruby looked sadly back. I wish my folks believed that, she thought. Then she felt anger bubble up thinking of her parents' response and their hateful words after it happened, when what she'd needed most was their comfort and support. She could hear her father's voice sanctimoniously yelling, accusing her of going away to school against his good advice, discarding the most worthy, decent betrothed she would ever find, turning into a "modern" woman and willfully committing horrible sins. He called her a harlot and worse names, saying her godless behavior was to blame for everything. He claimed he didn't know her any more.
Ruby was used to her father's narrow beliefs. He'd always tended toward that kind of dogmatic condemnation. But most chilling to Ruby was her mother's agreement that Ruby had abandoned everything she'd been taught so she could go whoring around, drinking and carousing at some lewd dance. They'd washed their hands of her, they told her.
She was shocked, hurt, devastated. Ultimately she came to the conclusion that they no longer needed to exist for her either.
"So, what did you do after you found yourself in the motel?" Lonnie asked. Compassionate blue eyes lifted to hers.
"I was mortified and humiliated. But mostly I was terrified because Nicole wasn't there. I was afraid of what they might have done to her. I used the pay phone on the corner and called the dorm. I was so relieved when she answered. She was groggy and said she had a splitting headache, too. She was worried and was about to call the police to find me. She said she woke up in her car and had just managed to drive back to the dorm. I knew she was still too sick to come get me so I called a cab. Everyone at the dorm saw me come back. I swore Nicole to secrecy about what I thought had happened to me, then I spent hours scrubbing myself off in the shower."
Lonnie put down her envelopes and moved to the edge of the chair near the small woman. She'd heard the tremor in Ruby's voice. She pushed the box away and sat, reaching out to take the small woman's hand in her own larger one. She rubbed the small hand gently, "You wouldn't want to shower if you were going to the police, of course."
"I wasn't going to the police. I didn't want anyone to know." Ruby's words were just above a whisper. She kept her gaze down but didn't pull her hand back even though she wasn't used to receiving comfort, nor did she search it out. She took care of herself, but she had to admit she'd not been doing the best job of that lately.
"Had Nicole been attacked, too?" Lonnie asked. Ruby felt the steadiness of the tall brunette's fingers as they stroked her hand. She gave a small squeeze of appreciation. Everything about Lonnie seemed secure and safe.
"No. She'd been put in her car, where she'd thrown up again, and she stayed there all night, passed out."
Lonnie nodded as she stared at her hand holding the blonde's. Then she looked up, "Her throwing up probably saved her from the attack. Did she ever report it to the school or the police?"
"No. We didn't tell anyone else. Either of us. I tried to go on like nothing had happened, except that I was, uh, uncomfortable. So I stayed in bed in the dorm for a few days. When I did go to classes, the talk started."
Now Ruby pulled her hand away. She reached around Lonnie and grabbed some envelopes. Her jaw clenched and she fixed a hard look at the envelopes. "Some of the girls began teasing me, calling me "Party Hearty Girl". They said how the righteous always turned out to be the worst sinners. They said they'd seen me drunk at the party and knew I'd been out all night." Her voice became flat and reft of emotion as she looked away, "My reputation was ruined almost overnight. It was very important to me." She snorted, "It didn't take long for word to get around that I was "easy" and bunches of not very nice guys would snicker and ask me out."
Ruby angrily began to stick a label on an envelope. "I wasn't easy. Not ever!" She gave a whimpering sigh and ran a hand nervously through her hair and her lip quivered. Lonnie wanted to embrace her, pull her into her arms, hold her, but decided against it. She furrowed her brow and listened.
"That's when I decided I'd quit school and go home. I called my parents to tell them what had happened and to let them know I was coming home. And I still didn't know I was pregnant. It's funny, I guess, but I hadn't even considered that possibility. I was too caught up in what had happened to me to think about other consequences."
"I can't imagine how horrible it all must have been for you," Lonnie said softly.
Ruby nodded silently without looking up. "It was much worse after I talked to them. They were...cruel. I knew they were still angry about my breaking up with Raleigh. But they said such ugly, ugly things to me. They said I brought everything on myself. And at the end they said they washed their hands of me and my "sinful ways"."
"Well, they were wrong, Ruby." Lonnie leaned close. "This latest breed of criminal didn't exist in your parents' day, so they don't know. But it's happening now." Ruby kept her gaze down.
Lonnie jumped to her feet and ran a hand through her hair. "Gods! They should be locked up and the key thrown away! A woman can't even leave a drink unattended anywhere cause of the creeps that are out there! And just drinking near the wrong guy makes every one of us vulnerable! I've heard stories about fellows you work with or you've known a while, or you're dating doing this. It just makes you wanna...!"
She glanced down and saw the shocked look on Ruby's face from her outburst. Ruby did not need anger. Lonnie took a deep breath, sighed heavily and sat back on the edge of the chair. She took Ruby's hand and gently rubbed it. "Sorry," she muttered. "It just...to think he hurt you so. I'm so sorry you were attacked."
The small woman raised her sad saucer-shaped green eyes and spoke so softly Lonnie could barely hear her. "I wish I could say I thought it was just him. Then I'd know for sure, at least. But..." She quickly added, "I can't prove it. I just felt like with, how, how roughly I'd been....uh, it had to be more than one."
If I ever run across this Smith creep or anyone involved, I'll kill them, I swear to God! Lonnie worked to keep her thoughts to herself. She momentarily closed her eyes to the painful thought of everything this small woman'd had to deal with. She opened them and spoke softly, "Are you all right, Ruby? Can I get you anything? More water, juice, anything? I know how hard this must be for you to dredge this all up again. I wish I could make it all disappear for you."
"I'm fine, thanks," Ruby replied quietly. She softly released a breath, letting the tenseness in her shoulders relax a little. The reaction from Lonnie was unexpected but deeply valued. All the more so because it had been so uncommon in her case.
I'd love to step into a room alone with those scum, the tall brunette thought to herself, just ten minutes even! Such action would never be condoned, of course, from someone with her training, but those men would end up being the ones hurting and she'd feel no remorse for any injuries she inflicted on them, she told herself. But she reminded herself that her anger was not helpful to Ruby, so she made a supreme effort to set it aside. "You were a victim and I wish they were all rotting in jail because of it."
Ruby watched the tall beauty in silence. Few people, only the counselor and Nicole, had expressed their belief in Ruby's innocence, not that it really changed anything. But here was Lonnie being completely supportive. Ruby had gotten her story out and it was enough to handle for the moment. "Yes, but there's a future to consider." She gently pulled her hand back. "Could you hand me some more envelopes, please?"
Lonnie blinked. "Uh, sure." She got up and reached into the box and got another handful. She handed them to the blonde who busily began to peel labels.
What a nightmare Ruby'd lived through! More than anyone should ever have to. Lonnie sighed and moved back to the couch. Slowly she picked up a sheet of labels and began to place them on her line of envelopes.
But Ruby's mind continued to broil. She adjusted herself on the chaise. How could she explain to Lonnie how she felt now, where she wanted things to head? It was important. Green eyes stared bleakly at the tall brunette. "I have to think of..." Lonnie looked up at her. Ruby paused. No, that wasn't it exactly. Her trembling hands betrayed her eagerness to explain correctly. "I want this baby," she said earnestly, running her hand across her tummy. "I've always wanted children. I don't want you to think I don't want this one, because I most certainly do."
"I know you do," Lonnie replied softly, "I would never doubt that."
"What I don't want is notoriety. Do you understand what I mean, Lonnie? Someone fathered my child. I have no idea who. But my little child is innocent of all that. He or she will never know what happened. I don't expect my baby to ever feel any pain or shame because of what took place. That can't be my focus."
"Yeeesss," Lonnie supplied. "But neither you nor the baby are in any way responsible for what happened in this situation. You are both innocent victims here."
"No, I don't want even the tiniest possibility that my child will misconstrue things and consider himself or herself somehow less of a person because of it. I don't want it known."
Lonnie nodded. For herself she would think that honesty, while brutal, was still the best overall policy. It wasn't the child's fault and if she were a parent she'd want to do everything in her power to convince them of that. She'd never been raised around secrets herself. And that was part of why she'd been able to come out to her folks when she finally did. But this was Ruby's choice to make and she decided she'd best keep her opinions to herself. "I understand. The, uh, male....uh,..." Now this word stuck in her craw because there were far more accurate, despicable descriptions, "donor," she grimaced, "...is unknown, period."
"Yes. That works." Green eyes searched the brunette's features. She did understand. Ruby collected herself, "I guess I count myself lucky that they didn't give me any diseases including aids."
"You did go in to get tested, then?" Lonnie inquired.
"Uh, when I got to Seattle and got a job and had some insurance I had tests run. I didn't like not telling the exact truth, but I...I couldn't. I hope you understand. I told them...I said I discovered the father had been running around on me. They ran a bunch of tests for diseases."
"That was good." Lonnie's face was sober, "I'm glad you got tested, Ruby."
Ruby felt very tired but also felt better now that she saw Lonnie's reaction was not at all like her parents'. My guardian angel. Maybe the counselor was right after all. She heard Lonnie say something and glanced over tiredly, "What? Sorry."
"So why Seattle?" Lonnie asked.
Ruby nodded, "It was big and I could afford to go there. And, well, after my parents were so awful, I couldn't go back towards Utah. When I discovered I was pregnant, I knew I absolutely couldn't stay in Spokane, I'd have to transfer to another school, the one in Seattle or Pullman maybe... anywhere. Just to get away." Green eyes looked up. "You won't tell anyone? You understand how I feel?"
"I won't say a word. You have my promise." Lonnie got up, picked up the sheets of labels from the chair by Ruby and sat down on the chair's edge again. Her voice was very gentle, "I wish it weren't true, but they'll probably do it again. Would you ever consider giving information in private to help stop them...if you could be assured it didn't harm you or the baby's future in any way?"
"I'd love to stop them. But I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"I'm not sure, either, really. It's just a thought. I have a friend that's a kind of private investigator for corporations. She's a computer geek and very good with searching for information and people. She's licensed and decided to put a company together, but she hasn't completed it yet. She lost her Uncle recently and she's sortta recovering from that right now. He raised her. But she might just want the diversion of doing this kind of private search, if you were at all interested. She's very, very discreet. Would you consider letting her do some private checking on these guys? Maybe she'd find something to stop them that could save someone else from what you've gone through."
"Gee, I don't know, Lonnie." Ruby chewed her lip again, "I don't know what she could find. I mean, even if they'd caught them at the time, how could they have convicted them?" She looked up into deep blue eyes. "I didn't remember anything so I couldn't have testified to anything. They could even say they left the party when we did and didn't have any idea what party we went on to. I couldn't prove it or disprove it."
"I don't know the answer to that. I wish I did. I know there've been convictions in this kind of crime, but maybe not enough. The ones caught that I've heard about were given long sentences. But I don't know what proof it takes. Just consider it, will you?"
Without thinking Lonnie reached down and brushed the hair off the blonde's face. "What I do know for absolutely, positively sure is that you were not at fault in any way." Large green eyes fluttered. Lonnie felt her heart twinge. "And you're right, your baby is completely innocent in all this."
"Thank you," Ruby whispered. "I'll keep it in mind."
"Our system makes it so hard for victims...." Lonnie pulled back from the touch and ran her hand nervously through her own hair instead. She smiled wanly and moved quickly back to the couch. Neither spoke as they went back to their tasks. Finally Lonnie spoke again, "So, did you transfer to the University in Seattle then?"
The blonde watched Lonnie, feeling the loss of closeness when she moved away. "No. I was at school on a full scholarship. I discovered it wasn't transferrable. Instead I quit my job, took my restaurant paycheck and caught the bus to Seattle to live on my own."
She licked her lips, "I got a pretty good job cashiering. I had insurance when I was working and I used it early in my pregnancy. I got a tiny one-room dumpy apartment for a couple months till I moved in with my housemates. And I saved 'specially so I could take a couple months off when the baby was born. I even sold most of my school stuff for funds, including the laptop Raleigh got me. I worked until I couldn't stand on my feet any more. That was almost a month ago. When I quit, my insurance disappeared."
A doleful smile drifted across the blonde's face, "I waited longer than I wanted to in Seattle so I could vote in the Presidential election. I was registered in Washington and wasn't sure if I changed states, if I'd be able to vote. It was my first time to vote for a President. I wanted it to count, uh, not that it necessarily did, I guess." She smiled wanly.
A threshold event, Lonnie thought glumly. Ruby's first Presidential election ever and no family member with whom to share the event. Only the druggies she was living with who probably didn't even remember there was voting going on and probably didn't give a rip about the country anyway.
"Then I packed up to go to San Francisco," Ruby added.
Lonnie leaned forward with a sincere and earnest look. "You're such a good, kind, decent person, Ruby. Your child is going to be so fortunate to have you as its mother. I hope you're not torturing yourself thinking anything else."
Ruby had told herself that over and over as the child grew within her but had been loath to really believe it considering how her family and other students had reacted. Guilt seemed to be her constant companion. If only she hadn't.... She shook her head as though to shake it all off. She knew how trite it was to think you could just start over or pretend it never happened. I'm getting by. That's what I have to do--get by.
Lonnie watched the full spectrum of the small blonde's emotions flit across her face. She couldn't begin to understand what it would be like to have gone through what Ruby had. She decided of the unheralded bravery in the world, Ruby's kind was right up there with the best of them.
"So, here I am," Ruby said deprecatingly. Then she added almost lightly, "That's my story." She forced a smile and let out a sigh of relief. She had gotten her experience told, and Lonnie had not been put off by it. Quite the opposite. She was entirely supportive.
Ruby put some more labels on envelopes and settled back more. Then she got pensive, "Come to think of it, I've been a victim twice now, the last when those boys stole my purse." She raised up on her elbow, "Once the baby's born, I'm going to take a class. I don't intend to be a victim again!"
"Like self defense class, you mean?" Lonnie asked, noting the small blonde's water glass was still full.
"Yes, like that."
"I'll get you some cold water." She talked through the breakfast bar opening in the kitchen as she opened the fridge, "I can help you find a good class. I know of some. And, uh, I have been trained in karate."
Lonnie's velvety, rich voice drifted the blonde's way, wrapping the small woman in a cloak of warmth and acceptance she wasn't used to. A protector, she sighed. She felt the words enclose around her and a small delight trickled through her. My sweet, blue-eyed guardian angel. She stretched her sore feet out as best she could and wiggled her swollen toes a little. Ruby fully intended to be her own protector, but it was more than nice to have the prospect, especially from Lonnie.
"Here's some water." Startled, Ruby looked up into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. "You've been trained in karate?" she asked. She took a sip from her new glass and watched Lonnie move back to the couch.
"Umhmm. I started classes when I was in high school. I've kind of let them slip lately, but I do need to get back to them pretty soon."
"Don't you get belts or something in that? I noticed you looked
like you worked out. How high did you get?"
"Oh, uh, a black belt." Lonnie began to put labels back on envelopes again. They both began to work quietly. The box began to fill with labeled envelopes. For a while no one spoke, then Lonnie said, "It seems to me like the most important thing right now, is that both you and your baby are healthy."
"Yes." The baby kicked and Ruby gently rubbed the area with her hand. She wondered about the men being caught and going to jail. She would love to keep other women from being attacked by them, even though it wouldn't change much in her life at this point. What was done was done.
She frowned. Unfortunately it wasn't likely to ever happen that those men, whoever they were, would get caught or convicted. She didn't know who they were except her date, and she harbored some doubts as to whether his name had been authentic. But it was nice having Lonnie standing up for her. Do you have any idea how wonderful you are? she wondered silently, letting her gaze drift to the tall, kind brunette.
"I'm sorry your parents acted so badly," Lonnie said.
"What parents?" Ruby asked. "I no longer have any parents."
Lonnie nodded mutely, thinking of nothing she could reply to such a cruel happening. She'd seen that kind of thing often enough. Enough of her gay friends were estranged from their parents, some thrown out every bit as vehemently. Then a thought occurred to her, "I hope you won't be too unhappy at putting up with mine. They're flying in on Tuesday to spend Thanksgiving. Is that all right?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
Lonnie chuckled, "Well, they come in like whirlwinds but they mean well. They're really harmless. I'll try and keep them from wearing you out in any way. Okay?"
Ruby's green eyes leveled at the tall brunette, "It's your place, Lonnie."
"It's your place as long as you want it to be, Ruby. I just wanted to warn you about my folks." She snickered and a tiny glimmer of mischievousness popped into her expression. She looked at her hands. "Cheryl hated them."
There was no mistaking the mirth on the brunette's face and the hint of amusement in her voice. "She did?" Ruby couldn't help smiling in return. She put another handful of envelopes in the finished box. "Do your parents meet all your...uh, lady friends?"
"No." Lonnie continued putting labels on. "The only one they've ever met knowing we were in a relationship is Cheryl."
"Cheryl?" Ruby forced up the sleeves of the cardigan she'd been wearing. Her bruises had become dark and prominent.
"Yes. We went together about a year and a half. We broke up a little more than three months ago. She'd been unfaithful, apparently, with a number of people, the last of whom made her a better offer and she walked out." There was little emotion in Lonnie's voice.
"Ouch! That had to hurt," Ruby smoothed the covers near her. She stole a glance at the tall beauty and wondered why anyone would walk out on her. She was a fabulous catch.
Lonnie shrugged. "Yeah. When I found out, I was pretty upset. Then when I found out how many people she'd, uh, cheated with, I marched right in to be tested to make sure she hadn't given me anything worse than her supposed love. She was one of the people who'd called me yesterday morning before we met. She's why I said my day was going so poorly."
"Water under the bridge," Lonnie said offhandedly. "Yesterday I sat and listened to her tell me that I needed to be more 'out' about my lifestyle. She claimed that's why she couldn't be faithful."
"That's why she couldn't be faithful?" Ruby questioned, her eyes fluttering. She thought for a minute. "Well, it's an original excuse. It doesn't make much sense, though, does it?"
"Right. Well, making sense was never her strong suit."
They both mindlessly worked at Ruby's task, a soft silence growing between them again. Ruby swept a flagrant wisp of blonde hair behind her ear before she raised to reach for another batch of envelopes. Lonnie handed some of hers to her and she put them on the lounger. She laid back down, took the label sheet and began to peel off a label.
She took a minute to study the tall woman who worked across from her. Who are you, Lonnie Shaeker? You know my basic story and you've stood up for me. What else are you about? You're the most strikingly beautiful woman I've ever seen and nice as the day is long. I am unquestionably drawn to you. Is everyone?
"I need more envelopes," the tall woman announced suddenly.
She rose and moved by Ruby to grab a huge handful from the box. The blonde smiled softly up at her and Lonnie had to pause. Ruby was a vision with her blonde flyaway curly hair normally reaching her shoulders, now spread on the pillow.
Her gentle sea-green eyes could almost become the size of saucers when she spoke, eyes so soft they easily wrapped themselves around Lonnie's heart. Ruby's lips, framed by smooth slightly flushed alabaster skin, were soft and pink. Lonnie could almost feel what they'd be like pressed against hers. "So soft," she muttered.
"Excuse me?" Ruby inquired.
Did I say that aloud? Lonnie thought with dismay. Gods! I have to quit doing that! "Uh, nothing." She licked her lips and sat down on the couch.
"Have you gone with a lot of, uh, women?" The blonde didn't know why she felt nervous asking this question. Hadn't she just told every secret of importance about her own life? Most of them anyway. She glanced quickly at Lonnie. The black-haired woman was drop dead gorgeous. Of course she'd been out a lot. Ever gone with a pregnant woman? she wondered. You've been kind to me, but would a very swollen-stomached pregnant woman with my kind of background ever have a chance with you? She kept her face down so the tall woman couldn't glean the meaning of the inquisitiveness in her eyes.
Lonnie took her large handful of envelopes and spread an overlapping row out on the coffee table. She started affixing labels, rapid-fire, one after the other, as quickly as she could peel them.
"I've dated a number of women, yes. When I first started out, I developed kind of a reputation," she paused, "I did sleep around some. But in the last, I don't know, few years I haven't, if that's what you mean." She missed the shy smile that came at her in return as she returned to peeling labels.
For some reason it was important to Lonnie that the small woman know her next admission, "Nowadays I only sleep with those I'm in a committed relationship with. I'm long past believing in casual sex. I know that's maybe unusual in this age and times being what they are. Okay, Cheryl said it was uptight and unnatural. So, shoot me, I'm old fashioned."
"But what did Cheryl know, right?" Ruby supplied.
"Exactly," Lonnie looked over again. Did that mean she approved?
Ruby pressed on, "Have you had a lot of those committed relationships?"
"Two." Lonnie shrugged. "The first girl I ever seriously went with... Janmarie ...well, we roomed together at college for a little over a year. It was my second year there, actually. We were so earnest. But when that didn't work out, I kind of went wild. And I still have the reputation, it's just not warranted any more. I guess because Cheryl was playing around, everyone assumed I was, too. I wasn't."
"What happened if you and, uh, Janmarie, were so earnest? Why didn't it work?"
"I don't know, really. We were both young and settling in at college. I guess we grew up and grew apart. We wanted different things. She wanted to spend every minute traveling and exploring the world and I liked some traveling but mostly I liked being here. Our parting was congenial. Now she's a stewardess. She loves it. We're still good friends. She stops by or calls sometimes when she's in town. She and her partner, Bergetta live near D.C. She's a stewardess, too."
Two relationships? That's not so bad. "Oh. Didn't you ever like boys?"
"Sure. I still do. But I know I'm pretty much incapable of loving guys other than like friends. Never like lovers. They make great pals. They just don't turn me on. My heart never beats faster because I'm around a guy." Certainly not like it does when I'm around you.
The tall brunette glanced away and began to rapidly put stickers on the next row of envelopes she'd laid out. She had a system going now.
"Have you ever been to bed with a man?"
"Yes. I've experimented, uh, when I was younger." She glanced up then quickly brought her attention back to what she was doing.
Lonnie paused, holding an envelope. "And...ho hum. They don't turn me on." She continued putting the labels on. "I always wondered what all the fuss was about."
"Maybe you didn't have the right guy."
"No. I've been to bed with enough guys to know it isn't going to happen. Not so with women. The difference was worlds apart for me." She thought for a minute. "Every woman I went to bed with was a turn on. Every man wasn't particularly. Sorry. Guys just don't ring my bell."
"But women do? Always?"
"Oh, no. Not at all. I have to be attracted to them."
"Oh," Ruby felt a sudden rush of disappointment. I guess a huge pregnant woman is not on a likely attraction list. She sighed, feeling much more let down than she could have anticipated. She asked softly, "Have you ever considered having children?"
Lonnie became thoughtful. "I love children." She chuckled, "When I was growing up I told my family I was going to have eight kids. They used to laugh." She paused, "But I didn't consider it with Cheryl because she said it was out of the question. She wasn't at all interested."
"What was she interested in?" Ruby asked as she completed some more envelopes.
"Sex," Lonnie answered blithely just before the phone rang and Lonnie picked it up. She didn't see the small blonde's head snap up at her answer. It was Lonnie's mother on the phone.
"Mom, hi. What's up? I got the message that you're flying in on Tuesday. Is that still on?"
"Yes, we're coming in Tuesday, dear. I just wanted to make sure that Cheryl wouldn't be offended if we..."
"She won't be here, Mom. I don't live with Cheryl anymore."
"You don't? Since when? Lonnie, I'm your mother and you never tell me anything!"
"Sorry, Mom. Well, we haven't been together for a while now."
"I see. So it'll just be the three of us? That'll make it easier to get res..."
"No, there'll be four of us. Let's just say, it's a surprise." She looked at Ruby and smiled. Ruby returned the smile.
"A surprise? All right, dear. We'll see you Tuesday night then."
"Do you need me to pick you up? Or are you taking the airporter?"
"No, we're renting a car this time."
"Oh, well, that sounds good. See you here then. Tell Daddy 'hi.'"
"Yes, at the condo. Your father says he knows where to park."
"All right. Till then. Bye, Mom."
Her mother hung up the phone and cast a quizzical look at Lonnie's father. "She said she doesn't go with that horrible Cheryl creature any more, thank heavens. They've been apart a long time. I told you it wouldn't work out. But honestly Robert, she never tells us anything! You'd think she was a spy for some subversive organization or something. Here I've wasted all this time worrying about that horrible woman's influence on our daughter. Now she says she's going with someone else and they have a surprise for us." She sighed heavily. "I hope this new one's not like Cheryl. I just wish Lonnie'd find a decent person and settle down."
"Yes, dear," Lonnie's father said, picking up his newspaper again. Lonnie had told her parents about her lifestyle several years back, and though they loved and accepted her completely, they were trying their best to understand their youngest daughter and her choices.
Lonnie put down the phone and looked around. She saw Ruby's glass of water was still mostly full. "Don't forget to drink your fluids," Lonnie reminded gently.
"Yes, bosslady," the small woman beamed affectionately giving the tall woman's heart a little tug.
"Getting hungry?" Lonnie asked. "Maybe you should rest some. There's no rush on these envelopes."
"Uh, I could eat whenever. And, maybe I will just rest for a bit."
Lonnie walked into the kitchen and found the potatoes she'd bought. She scrubbed two then wrapped them in foil. She walked into the living room. "I thought, uh, that I'd cook dinner for us tonight."
Ruby who was an excellent cook looked at the wrapped potatoes. "From scratch?" It surprised her. Lonnie had acted like she couldn't cook at all.
Ruby watched the tall brunette move onto the balcony, wipe off and fire up the grill and put the potatoes inside. Then she came inside and moved back to the kitchen where the can opener could be heard working.
Occasionally Lonnie would sit and put some labels on envelopes. Then she'd disappear into the kitchen or go out to the balcony and turn the potatoes. She was walking out with two steaks on a plate when Ruby remarked, "They let you cook on the balconies?"
"Has to be the right kind of grill," she smiled. "The owner's meeting agreed. So, how do you like yours?"
"Medium, thanks. Uh, it looks so nice. Do you think we could eat out there?"
Lonnie thought for a minute. "It's kind of chilly. Uh, but yes. However, I think we should eat on the bedroom's balcony. It's a little more protected from the wind. I'll set up the t.v. trays out there."
"Thank you," Ruby smiled. She snoozed until it was time for supper.
Lonnie insisted on wrapping Ruby in both blankets before she was allowed to shuffle out to the plastic chair on the balcony. Lonnie had a candle in a glass holder lit on each t.v. tray. Paper napkins were placed under the silverware. She made sure the blonde was tucked in the corner away from any wind. Lonnie hustled around and soon before them was a thick steak, potato with sour cream, chives and butter, and a generous helping of heated canned corn.
Lonnie smiled proudly. It looked delicious. "Oh, wait, the tea." The brunette rushed inside and brought out handmade pottery cups filled with steaming mint tea. "Usually I serve wine, but I didn't think it would be good for the baby," she said nervously.
"Interesting cups," Ruby remarked. "They're really neat."
"Got them at the Saturday market downtown. "Lots of crafts people sell their things there. These were seconds, so they cost very little."
"Oh," Ruby looked her cup over and saw nothing wrong with it. "Everything looks wonderful," she complimented, her lashes fluttering slightly. This felt oddly like a date and they both seemed a little nervous because of it. They ate in silence. The potatoes were a little underdone and crunchy but the steaks were perfect. The sun had gone down and even with the lights on the lawn, a large number of twinkling stars could be seen overhead. "I'm impressed, Lonnie," Ruby swallowed a bite of steak. "This is a scrumptious meal."
"Thank you," Lonnie's proud grin could be seen in the flickering light of the candle on her tray. "I'm glad you like it." She eased her chair closer to Ruby's.
"The stars are beautiful tonight," Ruby sighed, green eyes staring out over the rim of her cup.
They both looked up. "I love it here," Lonnie sighed, meaning the region.
"It's very pleasant, and having these balconies is wonderful," Ruby agreed. The condo did seem very high-class to the small blonde.
Lonnie didn't try to correct her misinterpretation. "The stars always make me wonder how many planets with intelligent beings might be out there. They must exist. Hundreds of them, maybe. I don't know. I find the universe totally fascinating."
"Are you a science fiction fan then?" Ruby asked. She enjoyed the genre.
"Actually, I'm not. I prefer nonfiction books. Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan's nonfiction. Uh, would you like some dessert? Do you have room?"
"Absolutely." The brunette was graced with a wide smile.
Lonnie saw the small blonde pull the blankets closer around herself. On a normal date, Lonnie would have wrapped her arm around her date. She'd have covered them both with the blanket and they'd have sipped wine or champagne as they star gazed and mused the secrets of the Universe before engaging in entertainment of a more lip-locked variety.
But this was not a normal date. "What do you say we have dessert inside?" she asked. "I don't want you to get cold. And besides, you should be lying down."
"Uh, yes, all right." Ruby would not have objected to having the tall brunette wrap her arms around her. "We'll have to do this again, it's so pleasant."
"We will," Lonnie agreed. She helped Ruby get set up back in the living room and dimmed the lights, leaving the fireplace ablaze in the dim lighting. "Atmosphere," she grinned. "So you can't see dessert." She laughed. "Afterward, I'll turn the lights back up and we can do more envelopes."
Disappointment rushed past Ruby's eyes. She would have preferred finding out more about this tall beauty instead but she uttered, "As you wish, my guardian angel."
Lonnie chuckled and brought out refills on their tea and large chocolate drizzled, creme-filled doughnuts for each. "The bakery in the grocery store isn't half bad," she admitted. "These're sortta like creme puffs. Only they have lemon stuff inside."
Ruby laughed and made a mental note. From everything she'd seen so far, this lady liked lemon. They ate their high-calorie treat and sipped their tea, warming up quite nicely.
The phone rang and Lonnie turned up the lights before she answered. The mood was broken. Ruby mouthed, "Thanks for dinner." Lonnie nodded.
"Hi, is this Lonnie?"
"Yes it is, who's speaking please?"
"This is Shelby."
"Shelby? From the tavern?" Blue eyes looked over at Ruby, who was trying to appear not to be listening. In fact the blonde was very aware of what was happening. "Hello there."
Of course she's going to date. What did you expect, Ruby?
"Hi. Listen, I, uh, heard you and Cheryl broke up and I was wondering if you'd be interested in catching a movie or something next weekend."
"A movie?" Lonnie's brain was spinning. Shelby was a really nice person and she liked her. But she thought she was going with someone else. Obviously not. They'd played pool a few times in the past when she and Cheryl had gone to the tavern. Normally she would quizz the situation a little more and scope it out. But she felt very reluctant. More than reluctant. She glanced at Ruby then away.
Ruby got up and tidied up her place, putting the envelopes in better order. Then she walked into the other room.
"Uh, my family's coming into town over the holidays, Shel. You know how that can be," she rolled her eyes, "So I don't think that's going to work."
Ruby heard that part and perked up. She wasn't going to go out.
Lonnie continued, "But why don't you give me your number and I'll try and get back to you afterward, if you're still interested?" There! She hoped that didn't sound like a complete brush off. She sighed. She had to remember that Ruby was straight and looking for the perfect guy. Maybe she should go out with Shelby later. They could play pool or do something in a group. She didn't want to do anything alone. Not yet.
Oh, she IS going to go out with her. Ruby kept walking to the bathroom.
Shelby gave her the number then added, "I can't imagine that I wouldn't still be interested. I work during the day, but I have a machine if I'm not here."
"Great. Thanks for calling. Happy Thanksgiving, by the way."
"Yeah, same to you. You've got the number? Maybe I'll hear from you later, then?"
"Practice your shots, Shel. I might have to challenge you at pool." Lonnie chuckled, "Seriously, I'll check once the smoke's cleared here."
"You might be surprised how hard I am to beat." There was a good deal of tease in her voice, "Night, Lonnie."
Lonnie chuckled. "G'night, Shel. Again, thanks for calling."
Lonnie looked around. Ruby was gone. The room was so quiet and empty without her. Was it only yesterday that they'd met? She felt like she wanted to explain the call to the blonde. Then she caught herself. There was nothing to explain and no one she needed to explain anything to. Then why do I feel this way? she wondered.
After a bit Ruby came back to lie down. Lonnie immediately felt better. "You're going out?" the blonde casually asked, adjusting her covers.
"Uh, no," Lonnie spread out her envelopes and began her system.
"I hope that's not because of me," Ruby said seriously. "I can take care of myself, Lonnie. You don't have to worry about me or put your life on hold because I'm here. I can stay in the back, if you want to entertain..."
"No," Lonnie answered immediately. "I'm happy with the way things are."
Ruby frowned, "I don't want your life to change because you've met me."
Funny you should mention that. I feel like my life has changed completely. And all for the better! Lonnie looked at her for a minute. "Any change that's happened has all been for the better."
Their eyes met and held for a few minutes, then Ruby said softly, "Okay."
The blonde dozed periodically after that but Lonnie didn't mind sitting and observing as she put labels on envelopes. There was something fitting about watching over her. She sighed. How hard she was falling for this small blonde but she didn't know how to stop it. She smiled wistfully at her. Then she worked to perfect her labeling speed while she sat guard.
When Ruby went to bed, Lonnie brought her own pillow out and slept on the lounge chair. It was much more comfortable than the pullout couch. And it was long enough for her feet. Besides, it had the tantalizing scent of Ruby which the brunette found strangely comforting. She inhaled deeply. "Goodnight, my precious little Ruby."
In her room, Ruby tossed and turned, thinking of Lonnie. She glanced at the balcony. Dinner. If only more could have happened. She sighed. No, it wasn't likely to ever happen. "Goodnight, sweet angel," she finally muttered and shut her jade-green eyes, determined to get some sleep. But the baby was restless and she was uncomfortable. She rubbed her lower back. Sleep would not come. Finally she sat up and turned on the bedside light. She slipped out of bed, got the new book from the shelf and got into bed again before she began to peel apart the chocolate-glued pages. "Let's see what the excitement's all about," she decided.
Continued in Chapter 3
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