See disclaimers in Chapter 1
When We Met
In the morning Lonnie had to awaken the blonde to eat before she had to leave for work. Ruby was more pale than usual and said very little. Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten on the balcony, the brunette worried. Lonnie said she’d be home at lunch time to fix lunch. She took the luggage tags and bus ticket before heading to work.
Lonnie hated leaving the small blonde by herself. She worried about her. Being away an hour or so was one thing, but most of the day was another. She decided she’d have a neighbor check on Ruby. She dialed Mrs. McHenry’s number but there was no answer. Dang! I’ll call her later I guess. Right now there’s nothing to be done. She worked through her worry.
Benny, as she had suspected, was willing to hire Ruby as a part-timer on Lonnie’s word with basically no questions asked. He was willing to let her work at home on Lonnie’s say-so. But he was not willing to allocate health benefits to her. At one time benefits had been more freely given. But times had changed. Things had tightened and companies began to cut down everywhere they could, and benefits often were cut first.
‘Don’t give benefits to part-timers,’ he said gruffly, cutting off the conversation. Then he glimpsed her ardent face and knew she was right, he had packaged them to the last hire. But that was different. ‘Well, there’ve been a few instances, but they’re package deals and they go through the main office in L.A.’ Maybe that’ll back Lonnie off. He turned and stomped back into his office. Lonnie knew that was the end of the conversation as far as he was concerned.
She followed him to his door. ‘That’s a technicality, Benny. They go through with your okay and you know it. And that’s what I want. I want her in that package. Benefits from the minute she starts work. That’s today,’ Lonnie leaned against his door frame. ‘Trust me here. No overtime, benefits instead. You’ll come out way ahead. This way there’ll be no limit on how many hours she can work at a time.’
‘Yeah, yeah. I don’t think we wanna talk about that package right now,’ he warned. He scowled fiercely at her but she merely raised a brow at his look. He knew she wasn’t going to be that easy to put off. Damn. I’ve got everybody else scared half out of their wits when I growl, but she’s never been easy to scare.
‘Take a chance here, Ben. It’ll be worth it. Besides, you owe me.’
Gods, what’s it gonna take to back her off? He did owe her, and he knew it. But there was no need for extras. The last part-timer he’d hired in that package deal was fresh in his memory, and it wasn’t a good thought. Still, it was true, Lonnie’d been doing the work of at least one and half workers for too long. ‘Hire your part-timer, but no benefits.’
Benny started through his large stack of work. He was not in the best of moods. The New Year’s ‘Specials’ catalogue had really thrown him off and he knew there was no chance to rectify the situation till at least after Thanksgiving, if then. He’d already searched all his options in that regard. His palette was full of rush orders as it was.
‘Uh uh. Benefits in lieu of overtime, Ben. Because of your union negotiations, anything over eight hours a day is overtime unless a worker’s a supervisor or in a package. She’ll be happy to stretch her hours over however many days you want so that she doesn’t get any overtime. But she gets benefits in place of the overtime. You’ve done it before, Benny. A package rate. Those are negotiated separately and the package is already there. She just has to be added to it.’
Benny frowned at the Deltin Bros. paperwork order in his hand. That had to be out by the weekend. Shit! How are we gonna be able to get their order done in time? He brought his wrinkled brow and brown eyes up to her. The light from the window danced off his balding head. ‘What? Oh, the part-timer? Tell ya what, we’ll see how she pans out. What you’re talkin’ about has to go through L.A., though.’
‘No, on your okay. Don’t try and snow me, I know how this works. So, if she’s worth it, it will all be retroactive to when she started, right? You can make it retroactive, right?’
‘Huh? Yeah, we can make it retroactive,’ he marked his approval stamp on one of the other sheets in his large stack of projects and handed it to her, ‘but it ain’t likely. That’s the Petrie order. It’s a rush. You’d better get right on it.’
He saw she was ready to continue her barrage. He held up a hand and growled, ‘We’ll see how she pans out. Jeesh, already, I’m busy here! You should be, too.’ Gods! That Lonnie can be downright pushy when she gets some hair-brained idea in her head. He paused. On the other hand, it was her hair-brained ideas that often got them out of the stew. And she was a whole lot better looking than any of the other guys he had to deal with, not to mention more talented.
She looked at the new order form and scowled. She already had two rush orders her group was getting out. She gave him a frown and he winked. Yeah, she was lots better lookin’.
‘I’m not done with my part-timer’s status,’ she warned.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ he replied as she turned and left.
Lonnie called down to Muriel, who was the only other person Lonnie knew that worked anywhere near as many hours as Benny. Muriel headed Payroll.
‘Hey, Muriel. This is Lonnie up here in the penthouse.’
Muriel laughed. ‘More like the cheap seats in the nosebleed section,’ she replied. ‘I’ve been up there.’
Lonnie chuckled. ‘That’s apt. Listen, I’ve hired a part-timer. Name is Ruby Jenningsford. Make out a card, will ya. I’ll take it by and have her sign.’
‘Regular part-timer?’ she asked.
‘No. She’s gonna work a package for benies in lieu of overtime. But Benny isn’t ready to sign off on that yet.’
‘I can imagine,’ she replied wryly.
‘Yeah, but he’ll sign. And it’ll be retroactive to today. He said you could do that. Just as a heads up. So keep your file open on her.’
‘What package were ya thinking she’d be involved with?’
‘I’m hoping to tap her into that one Benny had to fire the guy from.’
‘The New Year’s ‘Specials’?’
‘Yeah, I’m hoping my part-timer can cut some time off it and help him out. But Benny wants proof of ability first. Seems to me anything would be an improvement and worth the sign-off on benefits. But you know how stubborn Benny can be. And, of course, he is a little sensitive about that particular project.’
‘No kidding! We’re all tiptoeing around that little entente. Crimony! I suppose you hit him right in the kisser with it first thing this morning after he was here all weekend on that other rush?’ She laughed. ‘I gotta tell ya, you got brass ones, kid.’
‘Well, I haven’t got him convinced to my way of thinking yet, but he will be.’
‘I like your spirit.’ But I don’t know if my money will be riding on you this time or not. This is a deal he’s not going to be flexible on, I’m quite sure. ‘Well, I’ll let you do all the conferencing with the big fella on that. I’ll set it aside for ya for the time being but don’t ask me to go into the lion’s den on your behalf. I don’t want my head ripped off.’
‘Gotcha. Thanks, Muriel. I’ll pick up her employment card on the way to lunch.’
‘Uh, I need her social security number, address, phone number. Little things like that. She’s not coming in?’
‘No, she’ll work at home. That he did okay. I’ll get the social security number at noon for ya. Address and phone number will be listed the same as mine. Talk to ya later.’
That brought a raised brow from the head of Payroll, who looked at the phone for a moment before replacing it in its cradle.
‘You’re living with your part-timer?’ she wondered. ‘A relative perhaps, or... something other?’
Lonnie was a bit of a mystery at the company. She was well-liked by nearly everyone, easy on the eyes, knew her stuff, usually quiet but wasn’t afraid to be forceful when she had to be and was the only one in the building who showed no fear of Benny. She was known to work long hours, tended to be calm in most situations and was a take-charge type of person, although she could be rattled from time to time.
Still she was the one everyone went to to pull them out of the fire when things went wrong. She could be like one of the guys and teased the fellas in shipping as blatantly as they teased her. Guys were always hitting on her but she didn’t give them the time of day. At twenty-six she held one of the highest supervisory positions ever for someone that young. And she never talked much about her private life. Many had speculated about their favorite young mystery woman.
Lonnie called down to the printing floor. ‘Hey Archer. Got that reprint order done for me?’
‘The New Years’ ‘Specials’ catalogue? Yeah. All done, sittin here in a box to be moved outta my way.’
‘Perfect! Listen, have it loaded into my jeep, will ya? Send one of those big flirts you’ve got running around down there up to get my keys. Oh, and have the other half loaded in too, please. That box was sitting to the side just inside storage the last time I looked. And the box of buyer’s envelopes.’
‘Yeah, I know where they are. You havin’ these done off site?’
‘Uh, no, it’s still an in-house deal. There’s a chance the part-timer can get started right away and I don’t want to pass that up.’
‘No kidding! Benny’s already as surly as rope burns at a hangin’.’
‘Don’t let him know, okay? We’ll see how the part-timer does. Maybe I can surprise him and cut a little time off his expectations.’
‘That’d be nice. I’m gettin’ damn tired of having my asshole reamed by him over every little detail. We’ve got tons of crap going down right now and he ain’t been Mr. Ambassador over nothin’, if you catch my drift.’
Lonnie laughed. ‘Yeah, he’s not getting any smily face stickers slapped on his forehead, that’s for sure. Thanks, Archer. Talk to ya later.’
At twelve fifteen Lonnie ran into the condo to find Ruby asleep on the lounger, envelopes around her. Her face was even more pale and the tall woman was concerned about how she was doing. She quietly made sandwiches and left one and a glass of milk on another dining room chair she’d moved over near the small woman. She left a note asking the blonde to call her at work to give her her social security number. She headed back to work.
As soon as she got there, she called to make an appointment with her doctor to see Ruby the next day, if possible. She told the nurse that Ruby was pregnant, had been mugged, and needed to have the test they do to check on the baby’s health. The nurse said there were several tests they do and recommended one of the other doctors in their clinic that was an obstetrician.
Lonnie thought about what had happened to Ruby then remembered how she had reacted to the doctor on the hill. Now it all made more sense to her. It wasn’t the doctor, it was that he was a man. She very well might be leery of having any man touch her right now. ‘I think it’s gotta be a woman, Jeannie’ she said cautiously. ‘So maybe you’d better try for my doctor anyway.’
‘Lonnie, this doctor is a woman,’ Jeannie replied, so Lonnie agreed with the change. ‘Let me look at the first opening Dr. Ramirez has here,’ the gal said. Lonnie informed her that Ruby had been on the hill to see a doctor on Saturday because of false labor pains, he’d assigned her to bed and she seemed pale today.
‘Oh, well, that makes a difference!’ the nurse receptionist said. ‘I’m gonna switch around some of these appointments to get her in tomorrow. It’s hard before a holiday, but she’s gotta be checked.’
‘Thanks. I really appreciate it.’
‘We’ll call over to see what they did on the hill and what they found. Okay, bring Ruby in at two o’clock tomorrow.’
‘Thanks, Jeannie. You’re a prince..us. A princess. See ya tomorrow.’
Ruby called in the afternoon and gave Lonnie her social security number. She sounded tired and listless. Lonnie told her to do nothing but sleep. Forget the envelopes. She said she’d be home as soon as she could. Ruby insisted she was fine and gave no clue about the upset that had left her so much more pale. Lonnie told her about the appointment the next day and surprisingly Ruby didn’t fuss. She simply agreed and hung up.
Lonnie worried the rest of the afternoon. She hated not having someone there to watch over the small blonde. She wondered if Ruby would be upset if she had Mrs. McHenry come by to check on her. She called the office when the older lady still didn’t answer her phone, but they said today was Mrs. McHenry’s bridge luncheon and she always left early and came home late on those days. Lonnie sighed. Ruby’d have to get by on her own today. She knew Ruby really wanted her luggage or she’d leave that for another day. After work she rushed to the bus depot and ran in to get the suitcases.
There were two, one beat up old cardboard suitcase larger than Ruby’s carry on and one box tied with rope. She checked on the ticket refund and received the cash they allowed. She loaded the luggage into the back seat of the jeep and headed home on the tear.
Ruby was asleep again as she came into the apartment. A mostly eaten sandwich was beside her on the chair. Lonnie walked over quietly to see if she looked any better and decided she might. There was a little more color in her face. She ran down and got the luggage and brought it up to Ruby’s room. Ruby was still asleep on the lounger.
Lonnie sat over by her and watched her for a while. She mechanically began to put labels on the envelopes and just watched over the small woman. The blonde’s breathing was even and rhythmical. Nothing seemed to be amiss. The tall brunette was just getting up to fix dinner when green eyes fluttered open.
‘Hi,’ she said sleepily.
Lonnie couldn’t resist. She reached out and stroked the back of her hand on Ruby’s cheek. ‘Hi. You feel all right?’
Ruby moved toward her hand a little. ‘Um, not one of my better days,’ she said softly.
‘What’s going on? Do you have pains?’
‘No. Just tired.’
‘You stay right there and rest, then. I’ll put some dinner on. Don’t get up.’
‘Do you have macaroni and cheese?’
‘That’s what you want?’
‘Comfort food,’ Lonnie muttered, heading to the kitchen. ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure I have it,’ she added louder. She didn’t remember seeing it on the doctor’s list, however.
Ruby didn’t mention the phone conversation she’d had with her ex-dorm mate, Nicole, in Spokane. When she’d first left school and gone to Seattle to live, she’d written Nicole often. Nicole had written back for a few months but then just stopped writing. Ruby had gotten a card for her fall birthday from her friend, but it had merely been signed. There was no note. That morning, after months of not really communicating, Ruby’d called Nicole collect to ask to borrow some money but she was on her way to class and couldn’t talk.
Nicole had called back later and spent about a half hour catching the blonde up with what had been happening there. She told how Ruby’s parents had contacted her parents and raised Cain. They raged at them, she told Ruby, accusing them and said how they’d suspected for a long time that something was going on between the two girls.
‘The two of us? What were they talking about?’ Ruby asked, confused by the discussion. ‘We didn’t ever do anything.’
‘Well,’ Nicole answered, ‘they said they knew the minute you broke up with Raleigh, it was because of me. They said all you ever talked about was me. They claimed that I was the one that dragged you out to wild, unholy drinking parties and ultimately sent you on your, what did they call it, oh, yes, your wanton path of destruction. But by far the worst was what they suspected we were doing in bed together.’
I guess they knew something that I didn’t know then, Ruby thought morosely as she heard the tale. Because though I was attracted to you, Nicole, and you were attracted to me, we never really did anything but hold each other at night.
‘What were they talking about?’ Ruby asked again.
‘Remember that time when we were sophomores and Raleigh came early in the morning and found you sleeping in bed with me?’
‘Yes, but we didn’t do anything. We just slept. It was warmer. It was snowing, for heaven’s sake. I told him that when he asked.’
‘Yes. I told him it was just warmer sleeping there. I said it was like you were my sister.’
‘I don’t think he believed you.’
‘I broke up with him. I don’t see what difference it should make what he believed.’
‘Apparently he kept in close contact with your folks. And just after the, uh, the incident that happened to us, uh,...after that and you called your parents and they were so awful, then...well, apparently they called Raleigh. He was living back in your hometown by then and your parents sent him here to the campus to check the situation out, I guess. Remember that day, I was holding you, I don’t know...what was I doing?’
‘When I found out I was pregnant? You were comforting me as I recall,’ Ruby said almost tersely.
‘Right. Well, anyway, I guess he came by to see you but one of the other girls here...Leah to be exact, told him we were in hugging and kissing and smooching and shouldn’t be disturbed. She said he walked out in disgust and that he could see what we were doing in our room down the hall cause our door wasn’t shut.’
‘That twit! That’s what she said? Why didn’t my parents just ask me?’ Ruby could feel her temper rising.
‘Well, maybe Raleigh just made up what he told them. Cause it’s my understanding that he also told your parents that he slept with you constantly when you were going together. He said you wanted sex all the time and that he wasn’t surprised at all to hear that you’d been with women and with other men, too.’
‘Raleigh said that?’ Ruby rubbed her eyes. ‘Raleigh did?’ It was very hard to believe. She’d trusted him. He’d been a nice guy all that time that she went with him. Even when they argued, he’d been like a big brother. Suddenly she’d felt very tired. ‘He was the one that wanted sex all the time. Occasionally I gave in. I can see I shouldn’t have.’
She thought about it more but was too tired at that point to really get further upset. Besides, what was the point? But why would my parents believe Raleigh and not me? They didn’t even ask me. Maybe it’s cause they were so mad that I’d broken the engagement. After that they must have just assumed everything Raleigh said was right and everything I did was wrong.
‘Your parents told my parents that once you’d gone away to school, you’d changed and did nothing but lie to them. They said you lied about me and you lied about that night. And now you were going to have some, uh, I don’t know if I should tell you this...they called it a shameless bastard, hon. I’m sorry. They said some horrible things, Ruby.’
‘How did they know about the baby?’ Ruby wondered aloud. ‘You were the only one that knew.’
‘Uh, well,’ Nicole stammered, ‘My parents accused me of being closer with you than was proper and I told them I was comforting you that day because you’d found out you were pregnant. Maybe...maybe they told them.’
‘Oh. Well, I figured they’d find out anyway.’ Although she hadn’t. Ruby didn’t think they’d ever find out. Nor had she wanted them to. They were out of her life and out of her baby’s life, too. ‘I’m sure it just added fuel to their fire. They were so vile to me before they knew anything about the baby! So I guess I’m not surprised.’
‘Well, Ruby, they told my parents that it was an unholy demon spawn and they wouldn’t even object if you aborted it, and that was really saying something for them. I’m so sorry, hon. That’s what they said.’
‘They can just take their heathen and hellfire talk somewhere else, Nicole. I’m sorry they bothered you. Anyway, I don’t see them anymore. They wanted me out of their lives, and they got their wish.’
‘Well, my parents got all upset by it, of course, and demanded that I get married right away. They told me I’d better not be in contact with you any more. And they said they were going to pull me out of school. That’s why I quit writing. I was afraid they’d find out. I pleaded and told them I’d just been comforting you, but they were so upset. So I got engaged to David so they’d let me stay.’
‘The guy with the brown hair and the stubby beard?’
‘He shaved that off. Yes, that David.’
‘I had to do it. It’s the only way they’ll let me stay in school. His father’s holding a place at the top for him when he graduates. A Vice Presidency in his company or something like that. Maybe when I graduate...’
‘Is it possible to borrow some money from you? I told you I was robbed.’
‘I ran into your brother a few months ago.’
‘Danny or Bobby Lee?’
‘How was he? Did he look okay?’
‘He looked fine. He acted like he was mad at me, though, even if he did ask if you were all right. I said as far as I knew you were. Then he refused to talk to me other than to tell me that your parents had sworn to never mention your name again and had made the whole family make the same vow. Nobody was talking about you at all, he said. As far as they were concerned, you didn’t exist. I’m sorry, sweetie. They just went sort of crazy over all this.’
Ruby sighed, ‘That’s nothing my parents didn’t already tell me. And, there’s nothing I can do about it,’ she added sadly. ‘Can you loan me some money? I promise I’ll pay it back.’
‘Sure. Uh, but all I can dig up is maybe fifty dollars. My father’s watching every cent now, but I can get it from David. Will that get you by? You don’t need rent money or anything, do you?’
‘No. I do, but I can get by.’
‘Where are you staying?’
‘Oh, here, I’ll get you the address.’ Ruby got an envelope from Lonnie’s mail and read off the address.
‘Portland? Why are you in Portland? I thought you were in Seattle.’
‘I was on my way to San Francisco and had to get off the bus. I had false labor pains and the doctor said I have to spend the next month in bed until the baby’s born. This really fantastic woman I met took me in. She’s letting me stay here.’
‘Fantastic woman, huh? Sounds interesting.’ There was a pause then Nicole added with a sigh, ‘I guess we should have just done what we were feeling like doing, huh, Rube?’ Nicole sighed again. ‘I mean, we got accused of it anyway.’
‘I guess,’ Ruby replied.
‘Oh, there’s something else. And its really, really creepy. One of the girls you worked with at the restaurant is in my biology class. She said that guy came back in looking for you the week after you left. She said they told him you’d quit. None of them knew where you went. She asked me if I knew where you were, but I said as far as I knew you planned to go home. I didn’t tell anyone, Rube, even my parents. Especially my parents.’
It alarmed Ruby. ‘What did he want?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know. She said he just asked if you were around, smug as you please. Can you believe that? She told me she’d thought of dating him but I told her he wasn’t a nice guy at all, that she’d be better off having nothing to do with him. She said she’d had some second thoughts, herself, and had pretty much decided not to go out with him.’
‘Gods, Nicole, he came back in after what
‘I know, Rube. I was afraid he was going to try and find me when he couldn’t find you. I’ve been watching out for him, you can believe that. I told David he made a pass at me, so he’s watching for him, too. Maybe he’ll settle things with the creep. David’s really good with his fists.’ She rubbed her sore ribs. A little too good with his fists sometimes.
Ruby was alarmed. I can’t believe it! Bold as brass he walks in and asks for me? After what he did? ‘Gods, Nicole, don’t tell anyone where I am. Not even David.’
‘I haven’t, don’t worry...and I won’t. Everybody thinks you went home. And David never asks. He thinks all my friends are silly geese. He couldn’t care less where you are. He doesn’t have a clue why you left. Leah and some of her group asked me, but I told them the same thing, that as far as I knew you were planning to go back home. Sort of the truth, but it’s none of their business anyway, the smarmy bitches.’
‘Thanks, Nicole. I really don’t want anyone to know.’
‘I know, hon. I don’t want that creep to find me, either. At least you’re far away. Oh, here comes my new dormmate.’ Nicole whispered, ‘I think she reports to my folks. I’ll put the money in the mail to you right away.’
‘Thanks, Nicole. I’ll pay you back, I swear. Hide my address. Don’t let anyone see it.’
‘I will. Don’t worry. It’s a matter for Madam WooWoo. Talk to you later. Bye.’ Madam WooWoo was one of Nicole’s many stuffed animals that she’d collected for years. Now they all resided on her chest of drawers. Nicole kept her small confidential items hidden in a secret compartment inside the stuffed dog she called ‘Madam Woo Woo’.
Ruby felt exhausted. The truth was that she hadn’t felt well that day anyway. And the conversation with Nicole had been a big downer and an even bigger worry. In the end she gave in to her exhaustion and fell asleep.
Part of that evening was spent with Lonnie watching over Ruby as she dozed. Lonnie stuck labels on envelopes and it helped to lessen the stress of her concern. Having something to do with her hands was beneficial to the brunette. She made a game of seeing how fast she could go. She did stop to go move some clothes out of her dresser into the spare room so Ruby could put her things away. The small blonde was going to be here at least a month. Maybe longer. That possibility made her smile, and she found herself hoping it would be much longer. She knew she was falling hard for this straight lady, but she’d never let Ruby know it, cause the blonde might decide it was better for her to leave.
When she awoke, Ruby seemed excited to have her luggage returned and went back at one point and carefully emptied the old cases into the drawers Lonnie had cleared for her. She handled her clothes like they were old friends, running her hands over them before setting them neatly in the drawers. Lonnie stuck the piece of beat-up luggage under the bed out of the way with Ruby’s other suitcase.
They went back out to the living room, where Ruby worked hard to put some more labels on envelopes before she fell asleep on the lounger again. Finally Lonnie woke Ruby up at ten thirty to help her into the big bed. She walked with her arms around the small woman, supporting her.
Ruby leaned into Lonnie and enjoyed the comfort and warmth. She felt lost when the tall beauty moved away to pull back the covers from the bed. But she got into bed and let Lonnie fuss with covering her again, falling asleep almost instantly.
The small blonde got up during the night to go to the bathroom and carefully made her way into the living room where she stood observing. Lonnie was sound asleep on the lounger. You gave up your bed for me, Ruby smiled softly. I wish you were in it with me. I could use your arms around me about now. She sighed then frowned. How needy is that?
She felt so hurt and betrayed by her family and frightened to hear about the horrible man returning to look for her. Why did he? That was chilling. Maybe she should have Lonnie’s friend check into that guy. She didn’t want to spend her life being terrified that he’d find her. Better that she know who and where he was. She looked at the brunette’s peaceful face. She felt safe with Lonnie. And she had to admit, she was very attracted to the brunette. And not just as a shoulder to cry on, either.
There was a certain look that Lonnie gave her that actually made Ruby almost weak in the knees, something she’d never felt before with anyone. From the moment the tall brunette with the gorgeous blue eyes had dashed into the coffee shop, drenched and grumbling, Ruby had felt it.
Ruby, like the others in her family, had always expected that she’d marry and raise a family. But she also knew it had to be with the right person. It was only during this last eight months of continued introspection that she’d finally acknowledged her true feelings to herself. That was why she was heading to The Castro. She felt both she and her child had a chance to be accepted and make a life for themselves there.
The small blonde thought about what Lonnie had said. Like her, she’d often found herself pondering what the big fuss was all about when her friends had gotten so excited about their dates . She was drawn to women and always had been. She’d just considered them harmless crushes. Until now.
Ruby got along well with men, but nice as they could be, there was never any ‘enchantment’ there for her. Certainly none with Raleigh or any of the boys she’d gone to school with. Now right here before her was a woman radiating more ‘chemistry’ than she might ever hope or dream about. And she certainly made the blonde’s mouth go dry. If only...
Quit dreaming, she admonished herself. She rubbed her hands back on her tummy, feeling the growing life inside her. Just us against the world, sweetheart, she said to her infant. Don’t worry, Mommy loves you, no matter what. We’ll have a good life, you’ll see. She turned back and went in to bed.
Ruby felt better Tuesday and was awake to eat breakfast with Lonnie before the brunette headed to work. Ruby wanted to shower before her doctor’s appointment, so Lonnie said she’d stop at Mrs. McHenry’s apartment and ask her to come by in case Ruby needed any help. She’d be back about one fifteen and they’d eat and go to the appointment about two. Ruby agreed that was fine.
Lonnie knew Benny wouldn’t be pleased with her taking half the day off in the middle of their rush season. But she’d worked so many overtime hours the three months since Cheryl left, that he didn’t dare complain. When Lonnie got home at one fifteen, Ruby was showered and dressed, and Mrs. McHenry had come and gone. The envelopes were well underway. She thought they might finish them before long. Lonnie made some sandwiches that they ate with a glass of milk. Then they headed for the large clinic.
Lonnie talked to Jeannie, the receptionist, explaining that Ruby would have the same insurance as she had. She showed them Ruby’s employee card. She asked her to hold off on sending the insurance form in if she could for a few days, till Lonnie got the records all straightened out. The nurse knew Lonnie well and said she could do that. They didn’t do insurance work till Friday anyway and because of the holiday it would more likely be Monday or Tuesday. There was still a co-pay of thirty-five dollars.
Ruby paid the copay from her ticket refund, using much of it to do so, and they had her fill out the information. When she was called back, Ruby asked Lonnie if she wanted to come with her. ‘Besides, if you stay here, you’ll harass the nurses,’ the blonde smirked. ‘You did before. I heard you.’
‘You’re not related, are you?’ Jeannie looked quizzically at Lonnie, then at Ruby. ‘This part is usually patients only. They’ll call Lonnie back when it can be shared.’
‘Okay,’ Ruby winked. ‘But if she bugs you, don’t take it out on me.’ The small blonde was definitely feeling better today.
The nurse laughed. ‘Lonnie, bug us? Oh yeah, we know about that!’
Lonnie looked at them indignantly and they both chuckled.
Ruby was in there a long time and finally Lonnie paced around outside for a while. It was nerve-wracking. What were they doing all this time? They could go to the moon and back in the time it was taking them.
Finally the nurse tapped on the window and Lonnie rushed back in. ‘Go back now,’ she smiled.
The specialist running the ultrasound machine was a man. Lonnie noticed Ruby’s wariness of him. She moved close to Ruby with a good view of what looked like a television screen. Lonnie watched as he moved the goo smeared wand and the baby began to show on the screen. She grabbed Ruby’s hand and watched transfixed.
‘There, wait,’ he moved the handle, ‘yes, there, uuuuhhhhh, yep, there SHE is,’ the doctor said, moving the handle just enough to be sure.
‘It’s a girl!’ Lonnie shouted. ‘Ruby! It’s a girl! Isn’t that marvelous? Look! It’s a girl!’ They both looked although it was not that easy to distinguish what was what. The doctor pointed to the screen and noted the important parts for them.
Ruby watched with calm eyes. ‘It is marvelous,’ she whispered, keeping her grip on Lonnie’s hand.
‘Is she all right? Was she hurt by the muggers?’ Lonnie leaned closer and brought her face so close to the screen that the doctor ‘ahemed’ and she backed off a little.
‘No. She appears to be fine. I don’t think the muggers harmed her in any way. But we want her to stay there, and not get anxious to come out,’ he pointed to Ruby’s tummy, ‘In there is better than an incubator.’
Lonnie had not been listening. Her eyes were on the screen as the view changed. ‘Oh, look! Look at those tiny little fists before her face! Oh, Ruby, isn’t that precious?’
The doctor chuckled. ‘She likes pregnancies, I take it.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby smiled. ‘So it would seem.’
‘She’s beautiful!’ Lonnie sighed. She turned a full wattage smile on Ruby, ‘She’s a beautiful tiny baby girl!’
‘Would you like a picture? I can do that,’ the doctor said.
‘Oh, yes!’ Lonnie’s head snapped back and she answered before Ruby could say anything. Then she looked at Ruby and asked, ‘It’s all right, isn’t it?’
Ruby laughed, ‘Yes, sure.’
The picture was taken and they moved on with the exam. Dr. Ramirez came out to join them and had a look at the screen. ‘So that’s the little scamp that kicked my hand during the examination!’
‘She kicked?’ Lonnie asked, amazed.
‘Oh, yes,’ the doctor smiled. ‘A pretty good shot, too.’
The picture was ready and was given to Ruby who took a modest look and handed it on to Lonnie, who was craning her neck to see. The tall beauty didn’t even hear the doctor say, ‘Okay, let me clean you up here and you can go back and get dressed.’
‘Bring me all you’ve found as soon as you’re done here, please,’ Dr. Ramirez said quietly to the specialist.
‘Is there a problem?’ Ruby asked, tensing. Lonnie looked over wide eyed.
‘No, no more than we’ve already discussed. I just want to keep everything up to date. Like I told you, your readings are still a little off, but better than they were Saturday. That’s encouraging but not where I want them yet.’
Lonnie could feel Ruby’s hand relax, ‘Oh, yes, you said that. Okay.’
‘Oh, she’s so perfect, Ruby,’ Lonnie crooned. ‘Her little tiny toes and those tiny little fingers. And he got her with her fists before her face. That is so cute! Uh, sorry, what were you saying doctor?’
‘I was telling Ruby she’s going to have to stay in bed for the rest of her pregnancy. Next time it might not be false labor, and we don’t want that until the baby’s full term.’
Lonnie’s face turned very serious. ‘Are there any special instructions? Is there anything she needs to do that she’s not doing?’
‘Relax. That’s what she needs to do.’ She flashed a wide smile, ‘Everything’s improving, Ruby, but I want to see you again next week. I think I can work you in a week from Friday. I’ll double check while you change.’
Ruby glanced an inquiring look at Lonnie. Another doctor’s appointment to pay for. Lonnie just smiled confidently in return. We’ll get you insurance yet, Ruby, she thought. Don’t worry about the money. Although Lonnie was not all that sure herself that she could convince Benny.
Lonnie held the picture under her arm and helped Ruby into the wheel chair. The nurse wheeled her back into the dressing area and Lonnie followed, studying the picture. The room was too small for three, so Lonnie said she’d go back out to the front desk area to wait.
As Ruby dressed she could hear Lonnie telling everyone in the entry that this was the most beautiful little girl imaginable. ‘Look,’ she heard Lonnie say, ‘she’s got her little fists up. Isn’t that just precious?’ She heard the cooing of all the people in the outer room as Lonnie showed the picture around to everyone. Ruby had to chuckle. How does a great big galloot like her get to be so wacky over babies?
Dr. Ramirez came out to the waiting room with the next appointment card. It was after five by the time they left the clinic. They had to sit in rush hour traffic as they crept along towards home. As they moved up a rise with an open view, Ruby remarked on how beautiful snow-clad Mt. Hood was in the distance.
‘It is,’ Lonnie agreed, ‘It’s only an hour and a half away and you can ski nearly year round. That snow on top is always there.’
‘I’ve never skied,’ Ruby remarked. ‘But it looks like the top of the world, doesn’t it?’
‘Yeah. In the summer there’s lots of camp grounds and tons of hiking trails. There’s even bunches of day trails. You can go up and hike then get back easily in a day. We could even climb it, if we wanted. You have to train for that, though.’
A wide smile was flashed at Lonnie. ‘I like hiking,’ Ruby said. ‘But I don’t know about climbing Mt. Hood.’
‘Well, it is more than just a hike. But we could do day hikes sometime,’ Lonnie returned the smile,’and take the baby.’
Ruby looked questioningly at Lonnie as blue eyes moved to watch the traffic before them. What was Lonnie offering? ‘Uh, yes,’ Ruby replied, ‘when she’s old enough.’ Would that frighten Lonnie off?
‘Yes,’ Lonnie agreed, a thrill running through her. She felt the grin etch itself on her face. Ruby was considering staying, Ruby and her baby girl. Lonnie was almost afraid to breathe for fear Ruby would change her mind. Ruby sat silently mulling it all over. Lonnie seemed pleased. It was almost too good to think about. Lonnie wanted them to stay.
They headed back to the apartment, where Ruby changed and Lonnie got her comfortably settled on the lounge chair. The small blonde wore the long-sleeved cardigan she’d been wearing to keep her arms covered. The bruises were fading slightly, but were still prominent. Ruby put Lonnie’s short robe on over that.
‘What else did Dr. Ramirez say?’ Lonnie asked. ‘If you don’t mind my asking.’
‘I don’t mind. Hand me those envelopes, will you, and I’ll start on them while you put some tv dinners in.’
Lonnie brought the labels and envelopes to Ruby and arranged the two chairs to hold the box of completed mailers.
‘A lot of these are done,’ Lonnie remarked, ‘I’d better bring the catalogue pages up from the car. I had the boxes loaded when I got to work this morning and some staplers. I’ll stack them in the entry closet. So what did the doctor say?’
‘She said to stay in bed, keep taking the supplements, drink lots of fluids, follow the diet and let her know if I experience any pains. She showed me a chart, she ran some other tests and explained what they think had happened with my false labor. She said some days will be better than others and she said no sex and she gave me some suppositories.’
‘Oh.’ That was really more information than Lonnie wanted. She put their dinners in and removed the envelopes from the chairs so they could eat. She sat on the couch and Ruby ate on the lounger, leaving her tray on one of the chairs. When she was done, Ruby shut her eyes for a few minutes and Lonnie cleaned up the dishes and tidied the kitchen.
The doorbell rang and Ruby’s eyes opened while Lonnie got up to open the door. ‘Mom, Dad, you made it!’ the brunette exclaimed. She hugged her mother first then moved toward her father.
‘Yes, dear.’ Lonnie’s mother stepped in the door, looked at Ruby and shrieked, ‘ROBERT! THEY’RE GIVING US GRANDBABIES!!’ She rushed to the small pregnant woman and hugged her as she lay in the lounger. ‘This is wonderful!’ she cried. She thrust out her hand. ‘Lonnie’s mother, Liz, dear.’
‘Uh, Ruby,’ the small blonde answered, trying to still her pounding heart from the shrieking.
The tall woman’s mother hugged Ruby again before they could shake hands. ‘This is Lonnie’s father, Robert.’ She pointed at the tall man following her wearing a large gentle grin. The older woman stood upright searching out her daughter. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
‘Darling!’ she ran to Lonnie and threw her arms around her. ‘I knew you’d finally find the right one and settle down! All my worrying has paid off.’
‘Uh, Mom, uh....’
Large green orbs searched out startled blue. Lonnie’s eyes tracked from Ruby who was shaking her father’s hand to her mother in her arms and back, with the distinct look of being mugged.
Her mother spun out of her arms and moved quickly back, pulling a chair closer to Ruby. ‘When is the baby due, dear?’
‘Isn’t that wonderful, Robert? A Christmas baby.’ Her husband nodded warmly in return, his gentle blue eyes on Ruby. His once black hair was streaked with white around his temples.
‘Shush, dear, I’m talking to your...’ she looked at her husband.
‘Domestic partner,’ he supplied, pulling his chair over closer to Ruby as well.
‘Domestic partner,’ she continued. ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ She took Ruby’s hand in her own and rubbed it gently as she talked.
‘It’s a girl,’ Ruby’s face lit up at the mention of the baby.
Her mother spun her head towards Lonnie with a smile of pure joy ‘A girl!’ she shrieked more softly. Lonnie had never loved her mother more. The thrill her mother was feeling had brought the largest smile imaginable to the small Ruby, who tried to sit up a little more.
Lonnie’s mother spun her head back. ‘It’s so wonderful!’ She added conspiratorially, ‘Our first girl grandbaby. I loved having girl babies! They’re such fun! Do you have a name picked out yet?’
‘Uh, not for sure yet.’ Ruby moved her wide green eyes up to Lonnie. It was clear that she enjoyed having them get excited about her child, but she was also clearly stunned at what they were assuming.
Lonnie shrugged helplessly and Ruby smiled encouragingly.
‘These days they have those wonderful machines where you can see the baby without harming her,’ her mother began.
Lonnie interrupted, ‘Oh, yes, Mom. Wait. Let me show you.’ She ran to get the picture, ‘See, see her tiny little fingers and how she has her little fists up in front of her face!’
‘Ohhhh,’ her mother trilled, taking the picture, ‘Isn’t she just precious?’
This is where she gets it, Ruby thought glancing at Lonnie with a grin.
Her father moved over to take a look. ‘She’s a cute little dickens,’ he agreed. He tilted his head, ‘Amazing how they can take those pictures these days. Didn’t have that when you were born,’ he grinned at his daughter.
‘How has your pregnancy been? Tell me all about it,’ her mother looked Ruby over carefully.
‘She has to stay in bed for this last month,’ Lonnie supplied. ‘Doctor’s orders.’
‘Oh, my,’ deep concern edged across her mother’s face. ‘Bedridden?’
‘I had false labor pains. Lonnie took me up to see the...’ Ruby started.
‘Goodness, child, you do exactly what your doctor orders!’ Lonnie’s mother said. ‘You don’t want to take any chances. He knows what he’s talking about.’ Ruby had every intention of following the doctor’s advice.
‘The doctor on the hill gave her a diet list with portions and stuff,’ Lonnie inserted. ‘I put it inside the cupboard door in the kitchen.’
Her mother hopped up out of her chair. ‘Let me see that list. You just must follow his every word to a ‘t’, dear,’ she moved over and put on the glasses that hung around her neck on a pearly chain. ‘When did you last see him?’
‘Her baby doctor’s a her, Mom. The doctor on the hill was a man, but the one at the clinic is a woman. We went today.’
‘Today, that’s good.’ Her mother continued to open doors till she found the list. ‘Um hum,’ her eyes went down the list. ‘I hope you haven’t been feeding her those tv dinners you eat all the time. They don’t qualify, you know.’ She ran a finger down the list, ‘Do you have all these things?’ She looked accusingly at Lonnie.
‘Yeah. Well, uh, a lot of the things. I got a bunch of stuff at the store. It’s all in the cupboards and fridge.’
‘And have you been feeding her according to this?’ she asked accusingly.
‘Well, uh, yes, uh, some of the portio....’ How was it her mother could make her feel about six years old in a matter of about five minutes?
Her mother started to close the cupboard door then opened it again. ‘Let me look at that list again and see what I can fix for Thanksgiving. Of course, we’ll be eating here. We don’t want to try going out.’ Once again she perused the list. ‘Oh this will work out beautifully! We’ll pick up a turkey and some dressing. It will be perfect!’
‘I could barbecue...’
‘No! I’ll do the cooking and we’ll make sure Ruby gets everything just as ordered!’ She took her daughter’s hand and patted it. ‘No offense, dear, but I’ve had your cooking. Don’t worry, Ruby, I’ll cook for you now.’
‘Are you comfortable, Ruby?’ Lonnie’s father asked her. ‘Liz was always so uncomfortable that last month or two during her pregnancies.’
‘Yes. As comfortable as you can be when you’re my size,’ Ruby smiled.
‘I imagine your back is killing you,’ Lonnie’s mother said returning to sit down, ‘Mine just killed me till the little pumpkins were born.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby agreed. ‘That’s the worst part. My back hurts me all the time now.’
‘Turn to the other side, dear, I’ll rub it for you.’
Lonnie looked over to see her mother running her hands up and down Ruby’s back. Ruby moaned and Lonnie felt a pull that surprised her. She wanted to be the person doing that. She wanted to rub Ruby’s back and make her moan.
She felt definite stirrings when she got around the small woman. Pregnancy made Ruby glow and Lonnie couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to be her protector, her defender and...yes, most definitely, her lover, too.
Her father got up and walked over to her. ‘Congratulations, Pumpkin,’ he smiled warmly. ‘This is the best surprise you’ve ever given us!’ He grabbed her in a bear hug. ‘It’s good to see you again, Sweetpea.’
‘Thanks, Daddy,’ she mumbled back at him.
‘How’s my favorite youngest daughter?’ he asked, releasing her.
‘Just fine,’ she smiled. How could she tell him this wasn’t what they thought it was? They were obviously so completely thrilled. How could she put a stop to that? She looked helplessly over at Ruby and saw her wink in return.
Thank you, Ruby, the tall woman thought to herself. I owe ya for this one! It’ll be easier on them if they find out we’re not involved when they get home. And easier on us, too.
They sat chatting till bedtime, everyone putting labels on envelopes. Lonnie and her father made a race of putting on labels and her father barely won. At one point when her mother was making tea and her father was dishing up ice cream, Ruby motioned Lonnie over to speak to her softly so her parents couldn’t hear.
‘I’m sorry about this, Ruby,’ Lonnie whispered.
‘No problem,’ she whispered back. ‘Listen, you need to sleep in your own room tonight,’ she pulled Lonnie closer. ‘Don’t sleep on the lounger. There’s plenty of room in that great big bed for both of us.’
Lonnie looked back with indecision. ‘I didn’t think you knew I was slee...’
‘I knew. Please?’ Ruby added. ‘It’s your room. I’ll feel bad if you’re uncomfortable. Besides, it will keep your folks from asking questions. I get up a lot but I’ll try and be really quiet.’
‘I don’t care about that,’ Lonnie said. ‘I just don’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way.’
‘I won’t be. You have company. It’s the perfect solution till they leave.’
‘All right,’ Lonnie felt her heart beating faster and wondered if the little pregnant lady would be so quick to offer if she had any idea of how Lonnie felt being near her. Not that she couldn’t control herself, for heaven’s sake. That was never in question. But she could already feel her palms sweat at the thought of them being so close to each other.
They finished their tea and Lonnie rose.
‘I’m sorry about having you sleep on that fold-out bed, Mom,’ Lonnie really did feel badly now that she had tried sleeping on it again and saw how uncomfortable it was. ‘But Ruby has to stay in bed and that’s not a good place for her.’
Her mother looked back at her understanding that they would be sleeping on the pull-out this night.
‘I was gonna look for a different one, but I haven’t had time.’
‘You don’t mind getting a different couch?’ her mother asked with surprise. ‘I thought you loved that sleeper, it looks so modern.’
‘No, I just haven’t had time to do anything about it.’
She hugged her daughter. ‘Don’t worry dear, we’ll be fine. Your parents know a thing or two. We can take care of this for you.’
‘You could use the loungers...’
‘No, it’s all right.’ They said good night and headed into their room.
‘They come off if you take them apart here,’ she heard her father saying as she went past the door. She wondered if they were taking the mattress off to put on the floor. It would certainly be more comfortable if they did that. She wondered why she hadn’t thought of it.
Ruby and Lonnie each climbed in on their own side of the bed. They settled in and Lonnie moved closer. ‘Can I rub your back for you?’ she asked. ‘I know it must still hurt.’
‘If you’d like,’ Ruby replied tensely. She already was turned with her back to Lonnie.
Lonnie had second thoughts. Oh, no! Maybe I’ve blown it! She doesn’t sound too thrilled about this! I really do just want to rub her back. I’m not into getting my face slapped anytime soon. Lonnie began to rub tentatively and Ruby began to moan softly. One moan and it was as if it had set Lonnie on fire. She was startled with her body’s reaction and moved back away from the small blonde a bit without stopping her rubbing.
‘Feel better?’ Lonnie asked, continuing to rub.
‘Yes,’ Ruby sniffed.
Lonnie froze. She was crying. What had she done? ‘Are you all right? Did I hurt you?’
A muffled ‘no’ came from Ruby’s lips.
‘What’s wrong, Ruby?’ Lonnie asked gently. ‘Please turn this way so I can hear you.’
Ruby sighed heavily then turned over. Tears were running down her cheeks. Without thinking Lonnie put her arms around the bulging woman and gently drew the small blonde’s face to her chest. ‘What’s wrong? Did someone hurt your feelings?’ She stroked the blonde’s hair and rubbed her back.
‘No. It’s silly.’
‘What? Nothing’s silly if it makes you cry.’ She paused her hand to listen.
‘Why can’t my folks be this happy about the baby? Your parents are wonderful! They can hardly wait. My parents think she’s...’
Lonnie stroked her hair again. ‘Your parents think she’s what, honey?’ She wasn’t even aware she’d used the endearment, but Ruby heard it. She knew what the small blonde had said about her parents previously.
‘They think she’s a bastard,’ she sobbed. ‘They thought I was evil and immoral and should have aborted her. They don’t want anything to do with her or me.’
‘Well, they don’t deserve you! Or the baby either!’ Lonnie hissed it as emphatically as she could without her mother hearing in the next bedroom. She was glad the bathrooms were between them. ‘You did nothing at all improper! This little child is pure and innocent and I wish I was going to be her parent with you. Cause I think it’s the most exciting miracle to ever happen.’
Ruby sniffed, ‘Do you? Wish you were her parent?’
‘Yes. Very much.’ She stroked Ruby’s back until the small woman closed her eyes peacefully and snuggled more tightly against Lonnie.
‘I do, too,’ she whispered.
Lonnie stayed in one spot a long time thinking about that after the small blonde had fallen asleep. Did she mean...? She dared not hope too much.
Ruby was asleep when Lonnie awoke. The small blonde’d been up a number of times during the night and was now sleeping soundly. Lonnie looked over at the beautiful features of the sleeping woman. She was so strikingly lovely the tall brunette simply stared for a few minutes. I am so gone. Lost. Head over teakettle. She sighed, fixed the exquisite vision in her mind, and eased out of bed.
Lonnie decided to let her sleep. Her mother was here and would fix her breakfast. The brunette showered and dressed then moved quietly out into the living room. Her father was sitting there reading one of her old spy magazines.
‘Interesting,’ he said softly. ‘I remember when all one ever heard about was England’s MI 5...no mention of MI 6 at all. And look at this information on mobile surveillance, following spies. Fascinating.’
‘Um hum. I love those magazines,’ Lonnie talked softly too. ‘Be right back.’ She headed down to the car, got the handtruck from the office and took the main boxes of papers up to the condo. She opened one of the boxes of pages, then got the other and opened it. She opened the third and took out an envelope. She put two long staplers on the dining room table.
‘What’s that?’ her father asked, getting up to look over what she had.
‘It’s the hard part of Ruby’s job,’ she said. ‘See, you have to put one sheet over the other with this one on top because it’s the front cover, then add a buyer’s envelope on the bottom and use this long stapler to staple them together at the fold. The bars of the staples have to go on the inside and only one should hit the envelope. Two hits for each catalogue, one of them through the enclosed buyer’s envelope.’
She stacked them up and hit twice. ‘They’re creased by machine for the middle fold, but then you have to be careful of where you put the buyer’s envelope so you only hit it once.’
‘Let me try,’ her father said. She stood by and watched him put the catalogue together. Then he slipped the finished brochure into the envelope. ‘How’d I do?’
‘Great! Can you show Ruby how to do it? I’ve got to get going. If she doesn’t feel good, she doesn’t need to do anything. There’s no big hurry. We can keep them in the entry closet there or the end of the living room.’
‘Sure, Pumpkin. Happy to. See you tonight. Uh, where can I get a newspaper? Do they still have them at the counter downstairs?’
‘Yeah. Just give the money to whoever’s on duty. Can you take the handtruck down to them? I’ll grab a piece of toast before I go.’
‘You bet. Have a good day, Sweetheart.’
‘Bye, Daddy.’ She watched her father wheeling the handtruck out of the door and towards the elevator. He was a wonderful man. They could be overbearing, but she had to admit she’d been exceedingly blessed when it came to parents, no matter what Cheryl thought.
She grabbed her toast and passed her father again getting off the elevator as she was getting on. She felt his whiskers as he kissed her cheek quickly and she headed to work.
It was a busy day, even more so because the next day was a holiday. Benny was still in a funk over the catalogues, but hadn’t noticed anything that was happening with the project. There were so many other undertakings that needed everyone’s immediate attention that Lonnie thought it was a wonder they could all breathe. This was one of their busiest times of the year and she had been gone yesterday afternoon. She’d have to work through lunch and a little overtime tonight to help make it up.
The tall brunette was tiredly stepping out of her car at home, glad the workday was finally over, when she saw two burley men in a large furniture company truck in the parking lot loading her old couch pullout bed combination inside.
‘What are you doing?’ she inquired.
‘It goes to the thrift store down the road,’ he said. ‘We don’t normally do dropoffs but hey, it’s a holiday.’
The other man laughed. ‘And they gave us a good tip.’
‘Well, yeah, there was that!’ the first guy laughed.
Lonnie hurried up to the condo to see what all had been happening. What would her parents sleep on?
She entered to see her mother stacking groceries into the refrigerator while she could hear her father moving furniture in the small, second bedroom. Ruby was on the lounger wide-eyed, putting stapled catalogues into the labeled envelopes. A large stack of stapled catalogues sat beside her.
‘Hey,’ Lonnie called.
‘Hello, dear,’ her mother smiled. ‘You just missed Mrs. Nelson.’
‘Mrs. Nelson? I don’t know a Mrs. Nelson.’ Lonnie looked over at Ruby who shrugged and smiled wanly in return. She looked again and out on the balcony saw a used baby crib.
‘Uh, I saw my couch being loaded downstairs....’
‘Yes. You said you didn’t care. We got another couch for in there. There won’t be room for a pull out, dear. We got one that just drops the back down. Once you have baby furniture in that room, you aren’t going to have room for much else. Besides, this will be much more comfortable.’
‘Uh, baby furniture?’ She glanced onto the balcony. ‘I see a crib out there.’
‘Oh, it was such a wonderful buy! So inexpensive. Now don’t you two worry. Like I was telling Ruby, I know every baby item that has ever been recalled and why. This crib was not one of those. It’s used, but your father got some lead-free paint and he’s going to repaint it. It will look like new. He’s very good at this.’
‘Uh, that’s good.’ Lonnie moved down the hall and peeked in to see her father moving the computer desk and fitting a new white Naugahyde fold down couch into place.
‘Need some help?’ she asked.
‘Hi, Pumpkin. How was work?’
‘Busy. Super nice couch. Where’d you get it?
‘They had them on sale at one of your furniture stores. Ad was in the paper this morning.’
‘I’ll pay you for it, Daddy.’
‘Nonsense, it’s our pleasure, Pumpkin, believe me.’
‘No, I should pay you.’
‘Consider it an early Christmas gift.’
‘Christmas? All right. Thank you. So, let me help you.’
‘You just missed Mrs. Nelson.’
‘Who’s Mrs. Nelson?’
‘Oh, uh, one of your neighbors. They said in the office that she would be a good person to stay with Ruby while we went to the thrift stores. Ruby seemed to get on well with her. Did you see the crib?’
‘Yes. Looks, uh, like a challenge.’ Lonnie stood back and debated where the desk should go. Her computer had to have an electrical hookup and be near the phone outlet.
‘No,’ her father grinned. ‘I got some sandpaper blocks, too. Once it’s sanded and painted, it will look like new. The trick is to look at the item’s base construction. This one’s in very good shape, considering. There’s some bungs but it’s mostly cosmetic.’ He stood with her for a minute. ‘Better not put the desk in that corner. When you add a changing table and a rocker plus the crib, you might get better use from it....I’ll tell ya what, let’s move the couch to this window wall. That will open up an outlet. You probably won’t be using this balcony anyway.’
They moved the furniture around and Lonnie’s head was spinning. Baby furniture? Well, of course, you had to have that when you had a baby. She hoped Ruby hadn’t been overwhelmed by them.
‘I’m afraid your attic chest there may have to go when you get other things in here. Will it fit in your bedroom?’
‘No. But we have small storage places in the basement. We can move it down there, uh, later, uh, I guess.’
‘I’ll have the boys at the desk do it. Just leave your storage key when you go to work Friday.’
‘Oh, uh, okay. It’s the same number as the condo.’ She looked longingly at her chest. It had her spy magazines in it. ‘Yes, uh, okay.’
Finally they got it arranged and she left her father as he made the bed he and his wife would be sleeping on that night. She moved out by Ruby and sat in the nearby chair.
‘Hi,’ Lonnie said softly, sitting down and looking around.
‘Hi,’ Ruby answered bashfully. She whispered, ‘I’m afraid they’ve gotten into this baby thing....’ She grabbed another stapled catalogue to stuff. ‘I tried to stop them, but I wasn’t sure how without telling them...’
‘It’s all right with me, if it’s all right with you,’ Lonnie said softly.
Large green orbs looked up searching out the truth in Lonnie’s words. ‘Really?’
‘Uh, sure.’ Lonnie smiled one of her most appealing smiles.
Ruby moved her eyes out onto the balcony. Then she looked into the kitchen before continuing her whispering. ‘They found a crib at the thrift store and they’re so pleased with themselves. It is really nice.’
Lonnie twisted to look at it. ‘It looks okay.’
‘They said it was a great buy.’ Ruby looked down and then up again. ‘But I want you to find out how much it was for me. I’m keeping track of every single cent.’
Lonnie chuckled and put up her hands. ‘Uh uh, you can’t include what my folks do. They bought me a couch and won’t let me pay, either. I have no control over them.’
‘They bought baby clothes,’ Ruby whispered almost shocked. ‘They got a bundle full of them at the thrift store. You should see it. It’s huge! But your mother says she’s taking them down to the laundry room to wash them all before we put them away.’
Lonnie began to chuckle. ‘Sounds like my mother all right.’ They heard the woman in question begin to sing as she whipped up some filling in the kitchen. ‘But you need baby clothes, don’t you?’
‘Yes, that’s not the point. They’re spending a fortune.’
‘No, I’m sure they aren’t. You’d be very surprised at how thrifty my folks can be. You don’t mind using used clothes, do you?’
‘Are you kidding? That’s what I was going to have to do. And she showed me some of them, they’re darling. I can’t believe she found such cute things! They’re like brand new.’
‘Mom’s really good at that.’ Lonnie grinned widely and patted Ruby’s hand. ‘May as well grin and bear it. I told you they’d come in like whirlwinds.’
Ruby chuckled and continued stuffing envelopes. ‘You were right about that!’
‘Mrs. Nelson stayed with you today?’
‘Yes, much of the afternoon. She’s a nice older lady from the second floor on the other end. She stuffed envelopes with me, then I slept and she continued stuffing envelopes till your folks came home.’ She glanced down. ‘You’re going to have to bring some other boxes to put the finished ones in. Once these are stuffed, they take up a lot more room.’
‘Yes. This part won’t go as quickly as the labels. This is harder.’
‘Um, more time consuming. None of it is what I’d call hard.’
‘You’re right. But when we hire a team to do it, it still takes them at least three or four days. Sometimes more. Mostly because of the stapling.’
‘Both your parents have been doing that part. They stapled and I did the stuffing. They worked on it all morning and I stuffed, but then they were gone all afternoon.’
‘Well, there’s no hurry, so you just take it easy. You be sure and rest. Doctor’s orders, remember.’
Ruby laid back down and glanced up. ‘Yes, you’re right. I will rest for a bit.’ Her large green eyes rested on Lonnie then bashfully looked away.
I wonder what she was thinking? Lonnie thought, her own thoughts taking her back to the night before and how good it felt sleeping next to the small blonde. Her blue eyes found themselves looking at the small woman wistfully, till she also looked away.
‘Why didn’t they hire a team, if they wanted these on time?’ Ruby wondered aloud.
‘Budget, and the fact that Benny didn’t know I’d found a way to save half the printing.’ Lonnie smiled, happy to have a subject that didn’t include each other or last night. ‘If it had been some other business’ work, we’d have hired and reprinted immediately and it would have been huge... cause we’d eat the loss. It would have cost double. But these were ours. We’ll still eat a loss but not the huge loss if we can free some current help once the rush orders are under control.’
‘Oh. So it was time or budget?’
‘Exactly. It costs so much to have everything redone. You’d be surprised, I’m sure, to know that this whole thing costs over thirty thousand dollars. That includes the printing and this part. But when you have to scrap everything and do it over...that’s another nearly thirty thou, and it eats a colossal hole in your budget.’
‘Thirty thousand?’ Ruby’s green eyes grew round. ‘How could he afford to hire me, then?’
‘He owes me a helper and he already has one spot in the budget. That guy was fired, but his place was still budgeted in. Benny could afford to pay one part-timer and try to grab extra time from all the full time help. Only we’ve been so busy, we haven’t HAD any extra time. There’s a new budget after Christmas, but he’s gonna be ragged big time on this one, poor guy.’
Ruby yawned. ‘I’m sorry for him,’ she said softly, her eyes growing heavy.
‘You nap now,’ Lonnie said, reaching out and stroking Ruby’s face.
‘Okay,’ Ruby leaned toward Lonnie’s hand. ‘Oh, they invited Mrs. Nelson for Thanksgiving dinner.’
‘That’s no surprise.’ Lonnie adjusted the blanket and slipped away to see what her mother was doing. Dinner was almost ready and she was getting some things prepared for Thanksgiving the next day. She was just putting a large batch of pumpkin pies in the oven.
‘See that sack over there?’ her mother said, nodding her head at a paper bag on the floor by the couch.
‘You and Ruby go through and pick out the one you want for the nursery. We’ll take the others back. I’ll have your father put it up. They come off easily, so don’t worry about ruining the walls.’
Lonnie went over and opened the sack. Inside were wallpaper bands including nursery rhymes, ducks, monkeys, clouds, and assorted baby themes.
‘It will just look wonderful in there. Make it look less like an office and more like a nursery.’
‘Oh,’ Lonnie looked at the bands and wondered what in the world was happening. Everything seemed to be slipping away out of her grasp.
She waited till after supper to sit with Ruby and look over the bands. They settled on the nursery rhymes and her parents seemed pleased. Her father asked for the tape measure, a pan of water, a rag and scissors then disappeared and her mother left to go to the laundry room. Ruby and Lonnie sat folding and stapling...Lonnie doing all the stapling. The boxes were filling quickly.
Her mother came back thrilled. She had spoken with some other women in the laundry room and had found where at least three other thrift stores were located. That’s when she presented Ruby with the lovely red maternity robe she had found and washed. It needed to hang to finish drying. It looked nearly new and was surprisingly dressy for a maternity item. Ruby was delighted.
‘I’m sure it’s your size, dear,’ Lonnie’s mother said to Ruby, ‘I’m good at sizes.’
Lonnie glanced at Ruby and noted she was wearing a long sleeved cotton tee shirt under her nightgown so her bruises didn’t show. It would be a good week or more before they were gone. Good choice, Lonnie decided. Better that my parents not know about her being mugged in Seattle. Too hard to explain, all things considered.
Just before bedtime her father emerged and announced it was done. They all went in to look. The strip did make it look like a nursery. A nursery with a computer and a double drop-down bed and an attic trunk. They were all impressed.
They crawled into bed and tried to stay on their own sides. Lonnie didn’t ask what Ruby had meant by her comment of the night before. They lay there for a while then Lonnie asked softly if Ruby wanted her back rubbed.
‘Yes, please,’ Ruby replied.
Lonnie rubbed her back, paying particular attention to the small of her back where she said it hurt the most. Ruby was quite muscular for such a soft feminine figure. She obviously had kept herself in shape. She made soft moaning noises and Lonnie had to wipe the sweat off her hands on the sheets from time to time. She longed to bury her face in Ruby’s hair and taste her neck, nibble her ear. Her body was reacting again and Lonnie wasn’t sure how a pregnant woman could awaken such a need in her.
‘All better?’ Lonnie asked reluctantly moving her hands back.
‘Yes,’ Ruby sighed. ‘Uh, Lonnie. Would you mind sleeping next to me? It’s easier to sleep with a warm body there. Last night was the best sleep I’ve had in ages.’
‘My pleasure,’ Lonnie spooned next to the small woman and put her arm tentatively around the wide tummy, but it was difficult to do because she wasn’t sure where to let the weight of her arm press. Ruby grabbed her hand in her own, pulled it under her arm and brought it to rest just between her full breasts, her full, warm, savory breasts. The ones Lonnie had unsuccessfully tried to avoid looking at on a number of occasions.
The blonde put her own warm hands on top of the brunette’s. Lonnie’s eyes opened wide and like a suddenly connected circuit, her body began its own concert of need and urge.
‘All set?’ Lonnie breathed into Ruby’s ear and felt the small blonde shudder softly. An electric thrill ran through the very pregnant body and landed directly between her thighs.
‘Uh, perfect,’ Ruby replied. She hadn’t felt anything like this in a very long time. She truly didn’t think she’d ever feel it or want to. Not without nightmares. Now she forced herself to relax and found she was much more comfortable than she thought she might be with such feelings. Maybe it was because she was with a woman, or maybe because it was Lonnie and she trusted her completely.
She mulled it over then decided, it doesn’t matter, I am not to feel this. Doctor’s orders. She forced her thoughts to those of being protected by strong and willing arms instead and the small blonde fell asleep soon thereafter. Lonnie, however, had felt the same surge, urge and need and she stayed awake for quite a long while telling her hormones to calm down. They were not going to be having any of THAT kind of thing.
Continued in Chapter 4
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