For general disclaimers, see Chapter 1.
When We Met
Early morning had never been the small blonde’s favorite time of day. This morning, however, she was up, showered, basically dressed and Mrs. Shaeker was helping her with her hair.
Lonnie’s parents had insisted that Lonnie sleep alone the night before. Tradition, they told the two women. So Lonnie slept on the chaise then arose, showered, dressed and sat on the balcony with her father watching the winter dawn claim the skies.
‘You’re going to be a parent now, Pumpkin,’ her father smiled. Steam from his coffee rose around his handsome features.
‘I know. Isn’t it wonderful?’ They spoke softly in the silence of the early
‘It is. But there are things you’re going to have to think about.’
‘Well, being a parent is one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever be given. And one of the biggest mysteries.’
‘Mysteries?’ Lonnie asked.
Her father chuckled. ‘Yes, well, make no mistake, you’ll find raising children can be one of life’s greater mysteries. You’ll know what I mean once you start on it. Just remember, you can never give your children too much love...that’s quite the opposite of spoiling them, you understand. Finding the balance. It’s all part of the mystery. It’s not easy, but its well worth every effort.’
He sipped his coffee. ‘On the practical side, now, you’ll want to start a college fund for the baby as soon as possible. Then you’ll need to be very careful not to borrow from it. And if Ruby works, you’ll have child care to plan for. Just something to think about.’
‘I’d like for her to stay home with the baby, if we can afford it,’ Lonnie considered. They really hadn’t talked about it, though.
‘That’ll take its own financial wizardry, I’m afraid. Your mother stayed home when all you children were born, but those were different times. One person’s salary could afford a family back then. That isn’t true so much any more. Even your mother had to work when you were older to help ends meet.’
‘I got a promotion,’ Lonnie worried. She knew she didn’t earn what her father earned, after his college degree and all his years experience. Yet she earned more than most twenty-six year olds and closer to his salary than she wanted to let him know. Although, she had some outstanding indebtedness at this point...but she didn’t want him to know about that.
‘It’s good you own this condo outright,’ he smiled. ‘That was a very smart move on your part. So with your promotion and no mortgage, you’ll probably be able to swing it all right. But expect it to be tight. Uh, by the way, uh, your mother and I want to give you two a little something in the way of a wedding, er, uh, joining gift. We don’t want you turning it down. We gave the same to both your brother and sister when they married. It’s not that much. Just enough for a small nest egg to get you started.’ He took a check from his pocket and handed it to her.
‘Oh, Daddy,’ brilliant blue eyes rose to meet his. ‘It’s so much.’
‘No, it isn’t. I wish it could be more. It won’t go all that far, I’m afraid, once you start paying for three.’
‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Congratulations, kiddo. You’ve picked a wonderful woman to share your life with, you have a sweet little child on the way, and we wish you the very best of everything.’
‘Thank you, Daddy,’ she reached forward and hugged him. ‘From both of us.’ Unexpectedly tears sprung to her eyes. She reveled in the solid security of his embrace. He chuckled and she wiped her tears off quickly. Surprised by the gift, they sat for a minute in silence, sipping their coffee.
Her father’s warm blue eyes stayed on her. ‘We were torn about whether to give it to you last year when we were here...uh, you and Cheryl. But your mother felt that might not be a permanent, uh, situ....’
‘Yes,’ Lonnie admitted. ‘I don’t think what Cheryl and I had was ever meant to be a permanent venture. I didn’t even consider having a joining ceremony. I mean, I certainly never asked her and vice versa.’
And that was all true enough. In Lonnie’s mind before she met Ruby, if you were interested in someone, one person just moved in with the other. The fewer ties, the fewer problems you had if you decided it wasn’t going to work. You shared a bed, but one person usually owned the condo or house or apartment. You each had your own vehicles, you had your own financial accounts and you had your own budgets. They only overlapped where they absolutely had to. You went places as a couple, but it was a case of yours and mine with very little ‘ours’.
Then she met Ruby and her thought process changed radically without her giving it any conscious thought. She just knew she wanted their lives to be joined as thoroughly as possible. More, maybe, than Ruby did.
‘I think I understand,’ her father smiled, although he didn’t really. ‘We want only the best for you, Lonnie, but joining with Ruby is a very serious step, especially with a child involved. You have considered it carefully? Both of you? Neither of you would want to be hurt. And particularly the baby.’
‘I know,’ Lonnie nodded. ‘I love her, Daddy. I feel like I’ve known that from the minute I first saw her. And I want our life to be wonderful.’
Again he chuckled. ‘It takes planning, you know, to do that. The honeymoon will wear off and then the down-to-earth dealing with life will happen. Don’t give up. It won’t always seem very romantic, but it can be every bit as wonderful, if you’re prepared and you both work together to solve your problems. Just some practical advice from your old Dad, if you don’t mind.’
‘I don’t mind. Not at all.’
‘Okay. From what I’ve seen on our college campus, money problems seem to be the biggest cause of split ups, Pumpkin. I suspect that’s always been true. So don’t let yourself get into debt, if you can help it. That’s the best advice I can give you. No matter how good the times seem, save for what you want. And always put a little money aside for a rainy day out of every check first. It doesn’t have to be much. Just don’t spend it. It’ll go a long way toward making you both feel secure. And that secure feeling is important.’
He shrugged his shoulders, ‘Course, sometimes you don’t have a choice, life happens. But young folks today that I’ve seen tend to use credit cards to dig a huge hole they don’t know they’re digging, and then they can’t get out of it. It spoils their life. Don’t let that happen to you. The stress on a relationship can be incredibly problematic.’
‘Okay,’ Lonnie looked aside, not wanting to reveal that although she knew a lot about saving, she was still trying to pay off considerable credit card debt she’d accumulated when she was with Cheryl. That was the part she didn’t want her folks to know about. They’d never understand and would think much less of her, she was sure of that.
‘Always consider the stress on your relationship before you make any kind of decisions. Your relationship is what’s important. That can’t be bought with things. It involves trust. You can build that by working together to solve your problems.’
‘That makes sense,’ Lonnie sipped her coffee and let her hands warm by wrapping them both around her cup. She’d already learned that relationships couldn’t be bought with things.
‘They should teach more basic finances in schools, but all too often they don’t. Young folks like you two should know that lots of time, it’s far less stressful to get by with less. It’s like buying cars three years old instead of brand new. The tremendous savings and sleeping well at night because you’re not so deeply in debt are worth giving up a new car smell. That kind of thing.’
‘I always do that.’
‘I thought you did. Well, that’s all the advice from me, financial and otherwise,’ her father smiled. ‘Except to say to love her and the baby with all your heart, and keep your vows. Remember, the rest of the world can change, but the word of a Shaeker is solid gold. And we don’t ever give up on our loved ones.’
‘I plan to do my very best, Daddy.’
‘That’s my girl. You’re the greatest, Sweetheart. You’ll do a phenomenal job!’
‘I hope so.’ Lonnie glanced inside the glass wall, but neither Ruby nor her mother were out of the bedroom yet. ‘Did you have to wait to see Mom on your wedding day, too?’ she put her hand on the check in her pocket and held it there for a few minutes. A joining gift. Five thousand dollars. That would sure help.
‘Actually,’ her father grinned sheepishly, ‘no.’ He sipped and she saw the twinkle in his eyes over the rim of his cup. ‘We....eloped,’ he admitted softly.
‘What?’ Lonnie sat bolt upright. All her life with her parents and she never knew they’d eloped. ‘You eloped? You’ve never said so before.’
‘We haven’t talked about it much, that’s true. In fact, your brother’s never asked so I doubt that he knows to this day. I guess we should make a point of telling him. Your sister asked when she got married, so your mother told her.’
‘Tina knows? She’s never said anything about it to me. Why didn’t you talk about it? There’s nothing wrong with eloping.’
‘Well, we didn’t want you children thinking we defied your grandparents, which, of course, we did, so we just didn’t talk about it. We didn’t really try to hide it. It wasn’t meant to be a secret. It just didn’t come up.’
Lonnie wasn’t sure how she felt about her sister having known when she hadn’t. It didn’t seem right somehow. Family secrets. She hadn’t thought they’d had any. ‘Why elope?’
‘Ah, well, your mother was eighteen and I was twenty when we ran off to San Francisco and got married. I was a college student but it was summer and I was working as a typesetter. You see, your Grandpa Briedman was pretty set in his ways. Your mother was his youngest, his little girl. He liked me well enough but your mother had a suitor that was a wealthy man. He could offer her the best of everything, whereas I was merely a typesetter going to school.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with being a typesetter,’ Lonnie bristled at the suggestion that there was.
‘Now, that’s exactly what your mother said, bless her heart. So we ran off and got married before her family knew anything had happened. Once we were wed, her family took it well enough. But your Mother never got a fancy wedding, I’m afraid. That’s why we had such an elaborate celebration on our silver anniversary.’
Lonnie had been sixteen at the time. ‘The dance,’ Lonnie remembered, ‘and Mom wore a beautiful formal.’
‘She was gorgeous,’ her father said wistfully. ‘The Belle of the Ball.’ A large warm grin spread across his face. ‘And that was the day Grandpa Briedman told me his daughter made far better choices than he ever did. You see, her wealthy suitor had been married and divorced two or three times by then. And we were still happily married with three children.’
‘And you were still a typesetter,’ Lonnie supplied.
‘Yes. It wasn’t long afterward that it all changed. But I was a typesetter then. I had always planned to go back to school after the summer we married, but your mother became pregnant with your sister, and we wanted a family.’
He sipped his coffee, letting the sentence end there. She remembered her father always taking night classes as she was growing up. ‘A college education is a good thing,’ he added, then looked out over the grounds, ‘but I’m not saying it’s for everyone.’ He looked back, ‘Just that everyone wants their child to have that option.’
All his children did well academically and had won at least partial scholarships, supplemented by what they had saved for each child’s college education. But Lonnie had been the brightest, most talented of the three. She had her pick of several scholarships. Yet after two years, she had chosen not to continue with her schooling. He shook his head a little. She was not always an easy person to figure out, but he had full faith in her nonetheless.
‘No, it wasn’t for me.’ Lonnie swept her gaze over the fingers of fog that had settled in the hollow of the woods, ‘I like what I do.’ She liked action and loved the printing business. Besides, studying had left a bad taste in her mouth. But she knew Ruby might one day want to finish up and get her degree.
Then the tall brunette’s thoughts returned to her grandparents, now deceased. ‘I miss Grandma and Grandpa Briedman,’ Lonnie sighed, although she was quite sure they would never have understood her joining with a woman. ‘I bet they’d have liked Ruby.’ They wouldn’t have understood, but they’d have liked Ruby.
‘I’m sure they would,’ her father assured her. ‘I miss them, too.’
‘If we take some pictures, would you show them to Grandma Shaeker? I’d like her to know who Ruby is.’ Lonnie’s blue eyes moved up to her father’s. When her parents moved from the west coast to the east with her father’s new job as Registrar all those years before, they took his widowed mother with them. Now she lived in a retirement home not that far from them. The old lady was very alert mentally, loved the home’s activites-especially bingo, and seemed completely happy.
‘She might not understand, but I’d still like her to know about our joining.’ She had been told of Lonnie’s preferences, but had made no comments one way or the other.
‘Yes, I’ll take them out to her,’ he said. ‘She loves you, Lonnie. She’ll understand. Write her.’ The elderly lady was so deaf, it was impossible for her to use a telephone.
‘I will. Thanks, Daddy,’ Lonnie turned her head and gasped. ‘Oh, my,’ she rose slowly from her chair.
Her father looked in the same direction and stood to his full 6’ 3’ height. He was tall but not overpowering. He was far too gentle a man for that. ‘Gracious,’ he said, ‘She’s beautiful.’
Inside Ruby and Lonnie’s mother had emerged from the bedroom, ready for the celebration. Ruby’s hair was swept up on her head in the most enticing style that let some wisps fall while still giving it a touch of elegance. A hint of make-up made her deep green eyes and shy girlish smile stand out with a look worthy of the girl next door at a classy ball.
Lonnie’s mother had insisted, however, that if the doctor had said ‘bed rest’, Ruby was not to spend much time on her feet. So the small blonde was wearing her new red robe, freshly laundered and pressed the night before by Lonnie’s mother and adorned with a sprig of colorful autumn leaves. Everything had the effect of enhancing the reddish tones in Ruby’s hair and cheeks.
Underneath Lonnie could see that the blonde was wearing a long sleeved, frilly cuffed white blouse covering her bruises. Lonnie guessed it was not buttoned over her protruding tummy. At her neck she wore a tidy red and navy scarf fixed in a more tailored manner while on her swollen feet were a soft new pair of embroidered slippers.
‘Ruby, you look fabulous,’ Lonnie breathed as they entered the living room. Her eyes soaked in the sight of the small blonde and she felt her stomach tingle with anticipation. This gorgeous, delightful woman was going to pledge her life to Lonnie. It still amazed the tall brunette. How had she ever gotten so lucky?
The blonde looked down slightly and grinned with pleasure. ‘Thanks, honey,’ she said softly. Long lashes rose, ‘So do you.’
Lonnie had picked navy blue dress pants and a white knit polo shirt with red and navy trim. Over that she wore her navy blue suede dress jacket with a white and red trimmed handkerchief similar in shade to Ruby’s robe protruding from her breast pocket. Her long hair hung loosely down her back. Her Mother pinned a small wisp of autumn leaves to her lapel as well. Together they evoked an almost nautical aire in their patriotic colors.
‘Your mother let me open one of my Christmas gifts,’ she pointed to the slippers on her feet. ‘Aren’t they wonderful?’
‘They are,’ Lonnie gave them a quick glance then brought her eyes back to sparkling green. ‘You’re gorgeous,’ Lonnie whispered. She longed to lean forward and capture the soft, warm lips of the woman before her, but knew it would embarrass the blonde in front of her parents. Ruby blushed.
‘Get the camera, Robert,’ Lonnie’s mother said. ‘We need a picture.’ Her parents exchanged a quick look and her father disappeared into their room. He came out and had the happy couple pose before the fireplace.
‘Neat camera, Dad,’ Lonnie grinned. Her arm snaked around Ruby’s waist from the back. ‘It’s digital, isn’t it?’
‘Sure is,’ he smiled. Several pictures were taken then it was insisted that Ruby relax on the chaise. Lonnie’s mother was going to make sure she didn’t stay on her feet too long.
‘Maybe we can try downloading the pictures to my computer before you head back.’ Lonnie had used a digital camera at work and was familiar with the new technology. She received a nod from her father in reply. ‘That way we’ll have a copy, too.’
‘Good idea,’ her father replied.
Within minutes the buzzer from downstairs rang and the person at the desk said they had guests. The three visitors walked into the condo minutes later, greeted by a grinning Lonnie.
Chase’s brown hair was worn short on the sides but both curly and wavy at the top. Her large glasses accented her face and added a business-like aura to her red blazer, black pants and white blouse. She stood about as tall as Lonnie’s mother and her smile was wide and friendly, her voice assured and just a touch clipped.
Maddy was shorter, also wore her brown hair in a short cut that emphasized the diamond studs in her ears. She was outfitted in a dark pantsuit with a colorful striped shell. She had a twinkle in her eye and an animated manner. Her teeth were faintly uneven and her eyes soft brown.
The two friends were introduced to Ruby and Lonnie’s parents. They in turn introduced the serious, soft-spoken young woman minister with them. She was clad in a dark, simple, practical winter dress. On a hanger covered with a plastic covering she carried her pastoral robe. The coats were put in their bedroom and the minister was left to slip her robe over her street clothes.
Everyone was aware that the joining ceremony held no legal significance. It was, however, of an emotional import to all those participating.
Once the young minister was in her robe, they all moved to the balcony and formed a small circle with the minister inside. Lonnie’s father got a quick picture. Then at the nod from Lonnie, the minister began her agreed upon ceremony. She spoke briefly about love and the responsibilities of being partners. At one point she asked Lonnie if she wanted to contribute anything and all eyes moved to the tall brunette. She had not expected that. She looked terrified, but looked at Ruby and said, ‘I love you.’ There was a long pause and she added, ‘Forever.’ Another pause and she added, ‘And the baby, too.’
When nothing further followed, the minister asked Ruby. She smiled warmly at Lonnie and said, ‘From the moment you walked into that coffee shop, you walked into my heart. I knew then that I loved you, I know it now and I will love you forever.’ She put her hand on her tummy and added, ‘We both will,’ bringing a wide smile from not only Lonnie but her parents as well.
Lonnie slipped the jeweler’s box from her pocket. It was covered with soft blue velvet. She popped it open to display two shiny gold bands, one the ring Ruby had been wearing, freshly polished, the other a very similar new band.
Ruby’s eyes caught Lonnie’s sweet gaze as the tall brunette reached for the new ring. As old as time, a symbol of love and commitment. Lonnie placed the open case on the nearby table and reached for Ruby’s smaller hand. A hush fell over the group. This part Lonnie had expected. This part she had committed to memory.
‘With this ring I freely bind myself to you forever in undying love and full devotion. I promise...’
Ruby’s eyes never left Lonnie’s as the tall woman recited the rest of the vow they had written together. It was elegant in its simplicity, just like their rings.
Ruby’s green eyes grew round as Lonnie gently slipped the gold band on the blonde’s ring finger and slowly pushed it to the end. It fit. Joined. Forever after.
The hush that had fallen remained as Ruby took the ring she’d been wearing from the box and breathlessly recited the same vows. She slid the band on Lonnie’s little finger and finished with a soft, ‘My partner, my heart.’
‘Yes,’ Lonnie whispered back, running her thumb across the band, ‘Forever.’
Time seemed to stand still. The tall brunette saw only Ruby’s beautiful lips and large, saucer shaped green eyes gazing lovingly at her. She lowered her face. Suddenly there was some nervous shuffling in the group that brought her back to the moment. Lonnie shortened the kiss to a very short peck. They were joined. She and Ruby. Dedicating their souls to each other for life.
She kept hold of Ruby’s hand without even thinking about it. How perfectly their hands fit together. They interlaced their fingers. They hadn’t expected it, either of them, but they both felt differently. Happy. Content. A part of a pair. They truly felt joined. And it pleased them immensely.
‘Hey,’ Lonnie’s friend Chase whispered with a nudge. She smirked then added just under her breath, ‘I know you can do better than that puny kiss.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Lonnie was casual now and replied barely out loud, ‘The doctor said no sex.’ It was amazing how loud that sounded in the early morning air. Her mother looked startled, Lonnie’s face reddened a little and it tickled Ruby so that she began to chuckle softly.
Maddy nudged her partner. She glanced at Ruby. ‘Did she say Ôno sex’?’ she whispered. Her eyes raked Ruby’s belly. ‘Too late,’ she mouthed. At that moment the solemn, young minister cleared her throat and gave them all a sharp glance. Like recalcitrant school children they became instantly serious, and the minister finished the ceremony proclaiming love, bountiful wishes and joy for their future together.
‘Uh,’ Lonnie looked at her Mother, ‘I, uh, think congratulations are in order!’ Her mother instantly hugged Ruby then her. Chase insisted on borrowing the camera to get a picture of the happy couple with Lonnie’s parents and the minister. Then the minister took one of everyone except herself.
Lonnie’s father uncorked the champagne Lonnie had picked up when she bought the ring the night before. The loud ‘pop’ was festive and they all had a quick toast to the happy couple. They moved inside where Ruby immediately went to lie down on the chaise lounge with Lonnie beside her on the chair, holding her hand.
Lonnie did get up to thank the young minister who had to leave right away. She handed her an envelope with payment before she left. She shook the woman’s hand excitedly. A knowing smile spread across the solemn young lady’s face. ‘Congratulations to you both,’ she said before she parted.
‘We have cola, uh, diet, if anyone would prefer,’ Lonnie’s mother snickered and Ruby and Lonnie’s father broke into soft chuckles.
‘Yeah, but it’s kinda early for cokes,’ Lonnie remarked moving back to her chair. That brought a fresh round of chuckling from Ruby and her parents. Lonnie looked puzzled but let it pass.
‘I thought I’d add orange juice to the champagne since it’s so early,’ her mother continued, ‘That’s a pretty typical brunch drink and will go with the brunch I’ll have ready very soon.’
Everyone thought that was a good idea, so her mother added orange juice to their drinks. Ruby, of course, didn’t have more than the congratulatory sip, and it was mostly juice. Lonnie’s father got a picture of them clinking glasses.
‘Can we help?’ Maddy asked.
‘Sure. The more the merrier,’ Lonnie’s mother trilled. The older woman got both guests to help as they put together a hearty breakfast of roasted vegetable and swiss cheese quiche served with fried, chopped baby red potatoes, fresh fruit, sausage bacon and including some of the finest chewy pecan rosemary panini rolls purchased at a world famous bakery not that far away. Lonnie’s father had been sent for several items after Lonnie went to buy a ring. They ate, laughed and chatted till the joining cake was brought out.
It was a masterpiece. It turned out to be the most delicious old world cake with a whipped cream filling and topping, also from the same bakery. Both Ruby and Lonnie loved it. Pictures were taken of them slicing the cake, then pieces were served with the fragrantly brewed fresh coffee their area was noted for.
It was amazing to Ruby how Lonnie’s mother could keep Lonnie’s two friends cheerfully chatting about their upcoming trip to Hawaii. Before they knew it, it was time for her father to head to the airport.
They hated to see him go. ‘Download the pictures when you get a chance,’ he whispered in Lonnie’s ear. ‘Take your time. Your Mother’s still here.’ The inference was that Lonnie’s mother would take their camera home but the truth was that they had gotten it for Lonnie and Ruby for Christmas.
Lonnie hugged and kissed her father. ‘I love you, Daddy,’ she mumbled. When it was Ruby’s turn she hugged the tall man and said softly, ‘Have a nice trip home, Dad.’ He grinned widely in approval. Then her mother left to take him to the airport.
They sat talking with Lonnie’s friends for a little longer. They showed them some of the baby things her parents had gotten them. Her friends were surprisingly interested. They said they’d given a little thought to the idea of having children but had made no decisions and didn’t intend to for several years. They had their fast-track careers to consider right now. Their own ceremony was coming up the next weekend and they understood now why Lonnie and Ruby would have trouble attending.
‘You can go,’ Ruby whispered to Lonnie as their guests were examining the new nursery with its nursery rhyme border. ‘It’ll be long before the baby’s due, and I know how much this means to you.’
‘We’ll see,’ Lonnie replied, turning toward the windows. The light fell across her face, accenting her high cheekbones and lush, perfectly-formed lips. She swept a hand across her bangs, letting them fall loosely again on her forehead.
‘I hate to break up the celebration,’ Chase said, walking out of the nursery, ‘but you said you had some legal matters you wanted worked on immediately. Now, like I told you, I’m really pressed for time this week before we leave on our vacation, but I’ll do my best on whatever it is you need done.’
‘Well,’ Lonnie replied, looking at Ruby, ‘the most important thing is that Ruby wants to change her last name to Shaeker so the baby will be a Shaeker. You said you could keep us notified, even if you’re not in town. And I want Ruby’s name added to everything...the condo and, uh, the car and bank accounts. But like I told you, I can do the bank accounts myself.’
‘What?’ Ruby looked over in surprise. ‘You don’t have to do that, Lonnie.’
‘Yes,’ Lonnie smiled. ‘We’re a family now, hon. Don’t you think both our names should be on our family things?’
‘But I’m not...’ she glanced up at Chase and Maddy, who were standing quietly watching.
‘Uh, let me get my briefcase,’ Chase inserted.
‘I’m going to go down and look over the pool and exercise room for a little bit,’ Maddy told them. She flashed a salient smile at her girlfriend, ‘They...have...a...pool...here.’ She raised a brow and paused at the door.
‘Well, we can’t afford to look for a place with a pool yet,’ Chase grumbled as she moved to the bedroom to get her briefcase.
‘Just buzz for me when you’re done,’ Maddy called cheerily, then left.
‘Lonnie, I’m not contributing anything to this. It isn’t fair for you,’ Ruby whispered quickly.
Lonnie cupped Ruby’s face gently with one hand and put the other on Ruby’s tummy. ‘You’re contributing yourself and having a baby, that’s the greatest part as far as I’m concerned.’ She leaned forward to plant a quick kiss on the blonde’s lips, but Ruby leaned back and shot a glance toward the bedroom. Lonnie dropped her hands. ‘Don’t you want to share our life? Didn’t you say you wanted the baby to be our daughter?’ Blue eyes searched Ruby’s face. Lonnie sucked in a breath.
‘Well, of course I do. But...’
Lonnie continued whispering, ‘If you’d married your fiancŽ, you’d have automatically gotten a wife’s share of all property. The law doesn’t help us out that way. We have to do it ourselves. That’s all I want to do. All right?’
‘I don’t know, honey...’
‘Please?’ Lonnie couldn’t help thinking that this should have been easier. But Ruby’s brows were furrowed and she looked back at the tall brunette with an undecided expression. Lonnie licked her lips, ‘We said we’d share our lives. Let’s make that legal in every way we can. I’m planning on spending a lifetime with you, aren’t you planning on the same?’
‘Of course I am, but...’
‘Then let’s do it as a family. That’s all I’m asking.’
Lonnie’s look was so sincere that it gave Ruby pause. If she’d married Raleigh, would she have gotten some kind of legal consideration regarding personal property? Yes, she decided, she probably would. In some degree at least. And she wasn’t promising any less commitment to Lonnie. She just didn’t have anything in the way of possessions to share, and she hated that. But for some reason it seemed to be very important to her tall beauty.
‘Oh, fizz. All right,’ she said with a bit of a pout. ‘But I want to contribute my fair share later after the baby’s born.’
Lonnie grinned, ‘We’ll talk about that later, then. Okay?’ She realized that very soon they were going to have to discuss having Ruby stay home with the baby. And convincing Ruby to do that wasn’t necessarily going to be a slam dunk. She might be shy and modest, but there was also an inner strength, or was it stubbornness perhaps, that belied her appearance? Lonnie was charmed by it and was quite sure she hadn’t yet seen the nip of that knot’s hold.
‘Here we are,’ Chase said as she walked back to the living room. They both looked up with smiles as she pulled another chair by Ruby’s chaise to discuss their legal matters. She glanced at her watch. ‘I know what you’ve said you want done, but since there’s undoubtedly going to be a hospital visit before all that long, there are other legal forms you might want to consider beforehand.’
‘Like what?’ Lonnie asked.
‘Medical directives, power of attorney, that kind of thing.’ Chase sighed. ‘Being married gives a couple certain legal rights, but getting joined gives you none of the above. You’ve got to try and provide those yourself. I’ll take a minute to explain some of them before I go today, if you’d like.’
‘If there’s time, but first and foremost we want the name change done. That’s our most pressing issue. Then we can consider the other things.’
Ruby didn’t know if Chase needed the information, but volunteered that the only places she’d ever drawn a salary were the restaurant in Spokane and the store where she’d cashiered in Seattle. And she’d quit that job a month earlier. Those would appear on her income tax for this year, but she didn’t owe anything on old taxes and she had no checking or savings accounts any more.
They talked about income tax for a minute, then Chase quickly explained about the other items she’d mentioned. They listened, considered them then came back to the name change. Lonnie explained about Ruby being robbed and having her purse and all her funds stolen.
‘Was a police report filed?’ Chase asked. ‘Sometimes these things can come back to haunt you.’
‘Yes, under Jenningsford, uh, of course,’ Ruby noted. ‘Oh, and I have an employee card now with Lonnie’s company. I, um, work part-time.’ She had Lonnie get the card and handed it to Chase. ‘It goes to the end of the year.’
Chase took it and looked it over with interest. ‘Why is the address on this from L.A. and not Portland?’ she asked Lonnie.
‘I told Miriam in payroll to put it with the package deals and those are all out of L.A.,’ Lonnie replied. ‘Our company’s a conglomerate and the main office has a lot of different companies under one roof. Special package deals for all of them go through the main office. See, the code’s there in the corner. Why? Is it important?’
‘Not particularly. Seemed odd, is all.’ Chase grinned, handing the card back, ‘Hazard of the profession. Always questioning things. Drive’s Maddy crazy.’
‘And don’t forget I want her name put on the title to this condo and the car,’ Lonnie told Chase. ‘when you have time. I figure I can change all my credit and bank accounts myself. Oh, and I’ll list her and the baby as my beneficiaries at work. But I’ll take care of that, too.’
Ruby looked away as Lonnie talked about that. She certainly had reservations. Then she brought her eyes back to the two, ‘Maybe we should wait to make the other changes till the name change goes through,’ Ruby’s large eyes looked into Lonnie’s. ‘Do you think? It seems simpler that way.’
‘Yes,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘Oh, you don’t owe anything on college classes, do you?’
‘No, it was all paid by my scholarship and what I earned working.’
‘Good,’ Lonnie then turned to Chase, ‘Oh, Ruby owes for the hospital visit on the hill under the name Jenningsford, but I’ll pay that off tomorrow so her debt record is completely clear. She’ll start with a totally clean slate.’ She didn’t mention that her own personal debt record was not clear. But then, she wasn’t trying to get her name changed.
‘Get a receipt for taxes,’ Chase reminded.
Ruby scowled but Lonnie softly reminded her with a sweet, crooked grin that they were joined now. ‘You don’t need to keep track of what you owe any more,’ she leaned forward with a quick kiss that startled Ruby. It embarrassed her to kiss in front of Chase, who was a virtual stranger to her. A blush began to rise in her face.
‘Well, I have enough here to start on,’ Chase grinned, finding Ruby’s modesty refreshing, ‘Think about the other things and give me a call. But do it right away. Remember, we’re heading to Hawaii after the ceremony on Saturday and won’t be back for three weeks. I’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening.’ Chase went over and buzzed down for Maddy.
‘Oh, I nearly forgot,’ Lonnie looked over from where her hand was once more intertwined with Ruby’s, ‘Nyri said to tell you to call her. She knows some people, she said, and thinks she can get Ruby’s name change pushed through quickly.’
‘Nyri? Gosh, I haven’t talked to her in a long time. She said she knows some people?’ Chase snorted, ‘that’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. Lordy, that woman has contacts most business women would kill for, I swear! Aaaaand, she and Simone fly to Paris every spring to buy their clothes for that season. Right off the runways. Did you know that?’
‘Yeah, I knew it,’ Lonnie rubbed Ruby’s hand. ‘They’ve done that for a while. Well, since she started going with Simone anyway. It’s Simone’s idea. Nyri doesn’t care that much about fashion. She’d much rather wear her old cowboy boots, jeans and a denim jacket, I’m very sure.’
‘That’s right, you and Nyri were buddies at school. Well, most of the folks in town haven’t seen her in her ‘casuals.’ She’s in the society column nearly every week it seems like.’ Chase thought a minute, ‘She was older than you, if I recall.’
‘Yeah. A little.’ Lonnie didn’t move her gaze from Ruby. Joined. They were joined. She glanced at her ring.
‘All right. I’ll give her a call,’ Chase added. She looked at Ruby with a tilted head, ‘You look a little like Nyri, Ruby,’ she said. ‘Don’t you think so, Lon?’
Lonnie smiled at Ruby, ‘Don’t tell Nyri I said this, but Ruby’s the prettiest girl in the world. So there’s no contest.’ She kept her gaze on the small blonde, ‘but they are about the same size and they’re both blondes. So, yeah, I guess they kinda look alike.’
‘There you are,’ Chase grinned. She had always thought Nyri was a good looking woman but so was Ruby. But where their good looks ran to the ‘cute’ side of the scale, Lonnie’s were definitely on the ‘beautiful’ side. Chase just knew her tall friend could easily win any beauty contest around, if she were at all interested, which she didn’t ever seem to be.
Chase opened the door and let Maddy in before the buzzer even rang. ‘Hearts are going to start breaking all over the Northwest when they find out about today,’ Chase chuckled. She went to the bedroom to get their coats then moved back beside Maddy who had walked over to the seated couple and was extolling the virtues of the pool downstairs. She explained how their apartment had no pool. Chase helped Maddy on with her coat, ‘Thanks. We feel honored that you invited us.’
‘I can’t tell you how many girls asked me about you when we were at the tavern last time,’ Maddy added as she leaned against Chase, who wrapped her arm around her shoulder.
‘Honey, you’d better call that girl you made a tentative date with and make sure she knows, don’t you think?’ Ruby asked. She glanced at her new ring. She was joined...joined with Lonnie. Lonnie wouldn’t be going out with anyone else. She didn’t have to worry about that. They were joined.
‘You made a date with somebody?’ Maddy asked, surprised. How long had she known Ruby? Hadn’t she just vowed her whole life away to this very pregnant woman then followed it up to make it as legal as possible?
‘Well, it was sort of an ÔI’ll get back to you’ kind of thing. She’s a nice person, but Ruby’s my now and forever,’ Lonnie smiled. ‘And ever and ever.’
‘Who was it?’ Maddy asked, catching a warning look from Chase. ‘If that’s not too personal,’ she added, gently thrusting her elbow in Chase’s ribs. Chase grinned.
‘Oh, uh, Shelby. She’s nice.’
‘Yes, she is.’ Chase agreed. ‘I think she and Lauren broke up about the same time you and Cheryl did. Say, we’re going to see her for a pool tournament later tonight. Want us to tell her?’
‘Hey...’ Lonnie’s face lit up. The perfect solution! She’d have them tell her and she wouldn’t have to.
Ruby scowled and chewed her lip. ‘Honey?’ she said softly as she gently squeezed Lonnie’s hand. ‘Won’t that hurt her feelings, if you don’t do it yourself? I mean, since you said you’d get back to her and everything.’
‘Uh,’ Lonnie’s gaze fell on Ruby. Would it hurt Shelby’s feelings? She wasn’t sure. She could see the other two were watching them closely. ‘You’re right, babe. I’ll do it myself.’
Ruby smiled shyly. ‘It’s better that way, don’t you think?’ she asked softly. ‘Before she finds out from someone else.’
‘Uh, yes, you’re right.’ Joined life was beginning already. Lonnie looked at her friends as they stood readying to leave, and they both smirked at her in return.
‘A joining ceremony!’ Chase shook her head. ‘I’m not sure I thought I’d ever see you at one, much less as a participant, Lon, girl.’ She certainly hadn’t seen it in the cards with Lonnie and Cheryl. That had been more like a torrid tryst. ‘Like I said, hearts will be a’breaking...’ She grinned but knew this was not something Lonnie was going into lightly. Signing over half her ownership to everything and the fact that she had her parents here for the ceremony made it completely serious. No, this was an earnest event in Lonnie’s eyes. Yet...
‘Well, it’s about time I settled down.’ Lonnie rose to escort them to the door, ‘I’m heading towards thirty, after all.’
‘You are?’ Maddy paused, ‘Somehow I thought you were twenty five.’ She remembered Cheryl always complaining that Lonnie was twenty-five going on eighty.
‘Nope. Birthday last month. Twenty six,’ Lonnie corrected. ‘And now that I’ve taken the plunge, I’m so happy I could burst.’ She threw a loving gaze back at Ruby. ‘No offense to either of you, but I think I got the prettiest girl in the nation.’
‘Yes, you did very well for yourself. And keep an eye on this big goof, will ya, Ruby?’ Chase motioned to Lonnie. ‘She’s a pretty special lady.’
‘I know,’ Ruby smiled. ‘I think so, too.’
‘Old blue eyes did VERY well for herself,’ Maddy addressed Ruby. ‘Call me sometime, Ruby, when you can get out and about. Maybe we can do lunch.’
Ruby rubbed her tummy. ‘It will be a while, I’m afraid.’
‘Whenever,’ Maddy replied, hugging Lonnie and waving to Ruby. ‘After our ceremony, we won’t be back from Hawaii till after Christmas. But after that I have Tuesday’s free.’ Lonnie opened the door for them and gave each another quick hug. They could tell the tall beauty was excited and very pleased. They both waved at Ruby and left Lonnie smiling at the door to their backward waves over their shoulders.
The door shut and Ruby asked, ‘What does Maddy do?’
‘She’s a nurse,’ Lonnie replied.
‘They’re a cute couple,’ Ruby smiled. ‘How long have they known each other?’
‘Yeah, they look good together. Let’s see, they’ve lived in their apartment about three years now I think.’
As they moved to the elevator Maddy remarked, ‘I like Ruby and she brings out the best in Lonnie. That big lug seemed so much happier and more settled, more, I don’t know, genuine maybe. Did you notice that? I think this is good.’
‘Yeah, it’s a whirlwind thing, though,’ Chase remarked cautiously. Considering the serious nature of the legal work they were having done, she had some doubts. ‘I hope it lasts. And particularly since there’ll be a child involved.’
‘How long have they been going together?’ Maddy asked as they waited for the elevator to arrive. The bell rang and the elevator doors opened. ‘They must have met right after she and Cheryl broke up. What’s that been...a little more than three months? That isn’t a long time, that’s true. Maybe they met before that.’
‘No, I think Lonnie said she met her on Saturday, a week ago,’ Chase answered. Chase stepped into the elevator, holding the door for Maddy who stood stunned.
‘A...WEEK...AGO?’ Maddy glanced back at the condo door then turned full-faced to look at her partner and froze. ‘A week ago? Hello..’ Chase pulled her inside then Maddy became thoughtful. ‘Now it takes on all the earmarks of a shotgun wedding, only....’
‘Yeah. We’ve all heard Lonnie has many talents. But that’s in the realm of Macho the Magnificent and Believe it or Not.’
‘Not,’ Maddy laughed. ‘Crimony.’ Then she sobered, ‘A week ago. Talk about lesbians and Uhauls. Hey, I wonder if Cheryl knows.’
‘Last I heard, they’re in Palm Springs,’ Chase stated, as the elevator headed to the ground floor.
‘Good. I hope they stay there.’
‘Me, too. Talk about bad news. Cheryl is that and then some!’
‘A week ago and suddenly a joining ceremony,’ Maddy muttered. ‘Holy cow!’
‘Apparently Lonnie knows what she wants when she sees it,’ Chase mused, ‘and spends no time getting it.’
‘No kidding. A week. Holy cow!’
Lonnie walked over, leaned down and kissed Ruby soundly. ‘Hello, gorgeous lady,’ she whispered as she slowly pulled away. Ruby sighed with disappointment as the kiss ended. Wow! Her mind and body both perked up but she worked to hold them back. Lonnie took Ruby’s left hand, gazed at her ring and stated, ‘I see you’re taken, ma’am.’
Ruby smiled sweetly, ‘That’s right.’ She slid her feet over and Lonnie eased her behind onto the chaise facing the small blonde. Ruby nervously reached out to brush a lock of hair off Lonnie’s face. Here was the tall woman with whom she’d joined for life. Lonnie was young, gorgeous and started a wildfire in her heart with so very little effort. ‘I should warn you, my better half won’t like you taking such advantage of me,’ Ruby teased. Large green eyes twinkled. ‘She’s no one to be messed with, if you know what I mean.’
‘Messed with like this?’ Lonnie leaned forward and stole another kiss, this one more chaste, less steamy, less intense. The last thing Lonnie wanted was to disturb the baby in any way.
Ruby let herself fall into the feelings. She felt cherished but a touch reckless as well. And that made her wonder if she was liking this romancing entirely too much. It would be so easy to be consumed by it. She looked at the full, soft lips before her. She could imagine them moving against her ear, her neck, her skin. She blinked, cleared her throat and softly tapped Lonnie’s wedding band instead. ‘Uh, I see you’re spoken for, too, my tall, dark and dangerous one.’
‘Tall, dark and dangerous, huh?’ Lonnie grinned, amused by the description.
‘Oh, yes,’ Ruby replied. You’re my dream come true so you have no idea how dangerous that makes you. She was so incredibly attracted to this funny, smart, delightful woman. She forced herself to look away from Lonnie’s face, settling her gaze instead on their rings. ‘On my first paycheck, I’d like you to get yours sized and fitted just for you.’
‘Okay,’ Lonnie agreed. ‘It fits this little finger perfectly till then.’ As she looked up, Ruby was unprepared for the wealth of emotion she felt as she gazed into the intense blue orbs in front of her. Gods, nobody in the world has blue eyes like this! What this woman does to me! She is so unbelievably sexy without even trying to be.
Ruby looked away and cleared her throat again, ‘Uh, maybe you should call Shelby while you’re thinking about it, honey,’ she reminded the tall woman.
That broke the spell. ‘Oh, yeah, okay.’ Lonnie got up and found the phone, checked where she’d written the number and dialed. She got Shelby’s machine. She let out a little sigh of relief and explained to the machine that she wouldn’t be able to call Shelby back about going out because she’d just entered a committed relationship with Ruby. She thanked her for thinking of her, though, wished her the best in life and hung up.
‘See, that wasn’t so bad, huh? That way she doesn’t have to feel rejected when Chase and Maddy talk about it tonight like she would have if she’d had no idea. She’d feel like a fool. I would have.’
Lonnie couldn’t stay away. Ruby’s sweet face, soft freckles, saucer-shaped green eyes looking up at her was pure temptation. The brunette sat and stole another warm, soft, welcoming kiss, feeling her heart lurch with the action. ‘Mmm. You’re right, babe.’
Ruby steadied herself with a deep breath and put a hand on Lonnie’s chest, pushing her gently away. The pounding of her heart told her she needed to keep a little distance. ‘Are you sorry you’re not going to Hawaii for a honeymoon?’
‘Aho, no. We’ve got something a whole lot better than Hawaii,’ Lonnie placed both her warm hands on Ruby’s tummy. ‘Hey, Pumpkin,’ she said softly to the baby, ‘Your Mom and I are getting things ready for you here. You wait till it’s time, though, please.’
Ruby nodded with a serious look on her face. ‘Yeah, that’s for sure.’ And she knew she had to keep her thoughts on the straight and narrow to make sure she wasn’t overcome with such explosive attraction that it affected the baby’s condition.
Lonnie leaned down and planted a gentle kiss on Ruby’s tummy. ‘Let me tell you how your Mom and I met, baby girl,’ she said to the belly. She kept her face near. ‘See, it was pouring down rain and I’d left my coat in the car.’
Ruby wore a bemused expression. Lonnie leaned a touch closer, placed another quick kiss then continued, ‘Your Mom was just passing through town. She was standing in line in the coffee shop, cute as could be, when I came rushing in drenched to the bone, dripping water and carrying a wet paper bag crammed full of books and magazines.’
The small blonde tilted her head, an amused smile dancing in her green eyes. Lonnie continued, ‘Your Mom says I walked into her heart that day. Well, she must have great affection for drowned rats, cause that’s what I had to have looked like. Mumsie’s bag burst and the books went all over the wet floor and that got the attention of everybody in the whole place. But mostly it got your Mom’s attention, which was very good for me because your Momma and you have brought sunshine into Mumsy’s heart forever after. And that, baby girl, is the beginning of when we met.’
Ruby smiled at her partner. ‘Do you want to be called Mumsy?’
Lonnie’s face lit up, ‘Yeah, I think so. Do you like it?’
‘I do,’ Ruby felt a warmth fill her heart. A loving look settled over her face. How had she gotten so lucky as to get such a warm, wonderful woman in her life?
‘Can I tell her that you were already pregnant when we met? Can I tell her about your pains and us rushing to the hospital?’
‘Uh,’ Ruby thought about it a minute then gently found blue eyes, ‘Let me think about it, okay?’
‘Okay. You know, we should arrange the nursery now that only Mom is staying in there,’ Blue eyes looked toward the hallway, ‘We could move the crib out of our room into there. I was thinking we might want to bring the computer stuff out here by the bookcase to get a little more room. What do you think?’
‘Yes. Okay. Uh, Chase and Maddy brought us a gift, honey,’ Ruby shifted on the chaise, ‘Your Mother put it in the bedroom with their coats. I bet she forgot about it.’
‘Oh, that was nice of them. I’ll get it.’ Lonnie walked back and got the wrapped package. She gave it to Ruby to open while she sat watching. Inside was a white marriage throw. It was embroidered with ‘Lonnie and Ruby’ and had the day’s date all inside a heart shape. Lonnie’s face lit up, ‘Hey, that’s neat. We can keep it on the couch out here.’
‘It is very nice,’ Ruby said, obviously pleased. ‘Our names and our joining date. That’s so thoughtful. Could they have embroidered this themselves just last night? They had to have.’ They looked at it a little more carefully.
‘No,’ Lonnie decided. ‘I think they had it done in the mall. Oh, and we got a joining gift from Mom and Dad, too. Wait till you see this.’ She pulled the check out of her pocket and handed it to Ruby.
Ruby opened the folded check and her jaw dropped. ‘Five thousand dollars? Honey, this is for five thousand dollars.’ They both were aware that in the greater scheme of things five thousand dollars was not a large amount. But as a gift, it was tremendous in their eyes.
‘I know. Pop said we need to start a college fund for the baby and I was thinking part of it could be for that.’
Tears came unbidden to Ruby’s eyes. ‘A college fund,’ she whispered. ‘For the baby. Oh, Lonnie.’
Instantly Lonnie hugged her and let her blot the tears from her eyes against her knit shirt. ‘Or if you think we need something, Ruby, we can use this money to get it. Otherwise, maybe we should save it for just in case. I do have some bills, too, we’ll need to deal with. What do you think?’
‘I love your family and I love you. They are so thoughtful. Oh, Lonnie,’ she pulled back, took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. ‘I think we should save as much as we can. Let’s don’t squander it on anything silly, okay? Let’s save it for when we need it and maybe put half in the college fund.’
‘I agree,’ Lonnie nodded. She reached out to wipe away one of Ruby’s tears. ‘Mom and Pop didn’t mean to make you cry.’
‘I’ve never been happier in my life,’ Ruby sniffed. ‘It’s all so wonderful.’ She sat silently for a minute, drying her tears. ‘Pinch me,’ she whispered, ‘I think I’m dreaming. I meet you and a week later we’re joined. You are quite the sweet talker, did you know that?’
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie grinned proudly, stood and put out her hand, ‘C’mon, honey.’ Ruby took it. They moved into the bedroom and lay on the bed together, gently kissing and stroking each other. They were careful to keep it friendly and not let it get erotic. And Ruby tried fruitlessly to keep her hair from being mussed.
‘I like your hair like that,’ Lonnie kissed a lock of her hair.
‘I had to hurry and put my blouse on before your Mother saw my bruises,’ Ruby admitted. ‘I’ll have to be careful around her. She’s always so helpful. They’re fading quickly, but they still show some.’
‘You’re the daughter for Mom that I never was, you know,’ Lonnie gently put a strand of hair back up on Ruby’s head.
‘Oh, honey, she loves you a lot.’
‘I know she does. And she accepts me for who I am. And that’s priceless. I hope I can be as good a mother to my children. But I’ve never been the kind of daughter she could dress up or do hair styles with or frilly girlie things. That kind of thing. My sister was more like that, but I think Mom missed that when she had me.’
‘I think you’re very feminine,’ Ruby’s eyes admired Lonnie’s facial features. She ran a hand down Lonnie’s long hair. ‘You’re beautiful.’
‘Thanks, but I’m more of a roughneck. I’m not a girlie kinda girl.’
‘And you think I’m that type?’
‘Welllllll, not really, I guess. I think she thinks you are, though. Sortta. Maybe not so much frilly. But you like a lot of the same things she does. Reading novels and cooking and fashion. Things like that.’
‘I do, that’s true. And I’m so comfortable with her. She always makes me laugh and feel...accepted.’
‘I’m glad you get along. She really likes you, like I said. That’s all I meant. So, do your bruises hurt?’
‘No. Not any more.’
‘I love you, Ruby.’ Lonnie pressed her lips on Ruby’s ear but went slowly and gently. They had a lifetime to love each other. They gently necked and nuzzled and did as much as they could under the circumstances until they heard the key in the lock and knew Lonnie’s Mother was back.
‘She’s going to need some cheering up,’ Ruby said, rising.
‘Yeah,’ Lonnie agreed. They’d been so busy arranging the joining before her father left, that they’d made no particular plans for the rest of their Joining Day. Of course, with Ruby bed bound, it left few choices. And it felt odd without her father there. He was certainly missed.
Even after thirty-five years of marriage it was hard for Lonnie’s Mom having her husband leave. They all chatted as cheerfully as they could while Lonnie’s mother busied herself fixing supper. They ate, then the older woman fussed about cleaning the kitchen until it shone while they continued their chatter, watching the clock till the call finally came in that he’d arrived safely at home.
Lonnie and Ruby shared the chaise, giggling and smooching, covered by their new wedding wrap as Lonnie’s mother moved into the other room to speak to her husband. He still had to unpack, he told her. It was three hours later there, of course. The dog was fine. The neighbor had done a good job of coming in and watching after him.
Lonnie’s mother came out afterward to bid them ‘goodnight’ then moved back into the room she had shared with her husband. She moved his pillow over and exchanged it with her own. She would be as close to him as she could be. Then she drew out the latest presidential tell-all novel she’d picked up used at Powell’s and turned to the page where she’d left off. She and her husband had been apart many times over the years, and it was no longer agonizing, but they still felt the loss each time. Losing herself in a good novel helped.
‘Love,’ Ruby whispered. They were still sharing the lounge chair only Lonnie was behind her, snoozing. The blonde was very aware that their wedding night would not be all that Lonnie might like it to be.
‘Hmm,’ blue eyes opened before they closed again and their owner leaned forward and began to nuzzle the blonde’s neck.
‘Take me to bed,’ Ruby whispered. ‘Your daughter and I want to cuddle as close as we can to you and still follow doctor’s orders.’
‘You and my daughter,’ Lonnie sighed. Gods, how the sound of that thrilled her.
They crawled into bed and snuggled as close to each other as possible. They both breathed a sigh of utter contentment. Lonnie wrapped her arms as much as she could reach and placed a soft kiss on Ruby’s forehead. Ruby shut her eyes, muttered ‘my love’ and put her cheek on Lonnie’s chest. The steady beating of the tall beauty’s heart wrapped her in security. With a lifetime ahead of them, they felt entirely at home together in each other’s arms.
They were joined and they both expected forever. Ruby thought about the birth of the baby and how excited Lonnie was to have the event to look forward to. She couldn’t help smiling when she thought how the tall beauty wanted a family. Ruby was sure Lonnie’d be the world’s most loving parent to her tiny girl. And the fact that Ruby loved the tall brunette, too, made it all seem like make-believe. Lonnie had said she loved her. Ruby prayed that was true but in her mind the overwhelming consideration was how accepting Lonnie was of the baby. Ruby vowed to do everything in her power to make sure their relationship worked.
Lonnie felt completely happy and secure. She was in love with Ruby and she loved the prospect of having a baby and starting a family. ‘Gods! Me a nester?’ she mumbled very softly, ‘Cheryl’d be stunned....’
‘What, honey?’ Ruby asked, brought from her own musings.
‘Mmm. Goodnight. Happy Joining Day, my love. I’ll remember this day forever.’
‘Me, too,’ Ruby turned over and shut her eyes as they spooned together. She pulled Lonnie’s hands under her bosom and overlapped them with her own. Her thumb brushed against her new band. ‘Me, too.’
The very next day the tall brunette ran by the hospital on the hill at noon and paid Ruby’s bill. It was quite a bit and took a big chunk of what she’d had in savings. She got a receipt and put it with the others in her desk drawer at home. They couldn’t file jointly, of course, but it would help with Ruby’s taxes. She meant to sit down with Ruby and go over their financial situation, but there hadn’t been a convenient time. And it seemed that Lonnie was constantly either too busy or too tired.
Over the next couple of days, they fell into a routine.
Her mother called or emailed her Dad in the evening and they got to talk to him, too, so his being gone was easier. Ruby thought he would only talk to the two of them, but Lonnie insisted that she get on the line, and he expressly talked to her as much as to the others. Sometimes more.
He was a very easy man to talk with and Ruby found herself looking forward to speaking to him and continuing to feel like she really was a part of the family. She called him ‘Dad’ as he requested, and began to think of him as the kind of father she’d never really had.
Lonnie ran off two sets of pictures of their joining for Ruby as requested on photo paper. Ruby put one set into a scrapbook and put the other in the sock drawer. The brunette ran off a picture of the wedding party for herself that she could put on her desk at work. Ruby asked her to buy a small amount of calico, ribbon and stuffing to bring home.
At the office Benny was in a much better mood even though they were buried in work. They even caught him humming to himself from time to time. He said pleasant things to people. Everyone pulled Lonnie aside to give her at least one quiet thank you or pat on the back. Life on the job was much more pleasant for everyone throughout the whole building, even though they were horrendously busy. Lonnie was seen as the hero of the day.
Nights now became somewhat more personal. They cuddled and casually necked before falling asleep spooned together. Lonnie found the heated, smooth skin of the small blonde, the fresh smell of her hair, the warmth of her lips and the gently lingering, indescribably nice scent of the small woman comforting and appealing. She felt at home with Ruby in her arms. And Ruby didn’t find nearly the problem she feared being just that much more intimate with Lonnie. Their biggest problem was following doctor’s orders and the fact that Ruby and the baby were increasingly uncomfortable.
The tall brunette got up early so they made a point of going to bed early as well. It was just a few nights into their first week , however, when Ruby awoke to find Lonnie’s hands wrapping around her bosom from the back. Ruby glanced at the clock. It was just after one in the morning. They snuggled every night but were guardedly aware of how far they could go, particularly since the doctor’s cautions had been so strong regarding these last weeks.
Besides her fears from the attack, Ruby was nervous in another way. She’d never been to bed with a woman in that way before. Even though she’d been reading the book, she wasn’t entirely sure what to do. With as quickly as things were happening, she was almost glad that that aspect of their relationship needed to wait until after the baby was born.
Suddenly she felt Lonnie’s hands move to her breasts and gently tease her nipples. She sucked in a breath as they immediately became erect and shot jolts of feeling to her loins. It took her by surprise. This was something they had not done before. She felt her body responding and knew the doctor would not approve. ‘Uh, honey,’ Ruby whispered over her shoulder.
‘Mmm, baby,’ Lonnie murmured sexily in Ruby’s ear, sending a shiver down her spine. Both the tall woman’s hands were moving in very seductive ways as the brunette’s mouth advanced to nibble Ruby’s neck.
‘Love?’ Ruby whispered, putting her hands over Lonnie’s to stop the stimulating onslaught.
‘Tell me what you want, baby,’ Lonnie said in a sultry voice, pulling one hand loose to roam down the very pregnant body. Ruby caught the hand instantly and held it in her own, bringing it back up and tucking it with the other just under her bustline. The tone of Lonnie’s voice was enough to make Ruby actually feel her body responding. She couldn’t do this! There was already enough fear that the baby would make an early appearance.
‘Lonnie, honey, please, no. The baby shouldn’t...’ Lonnie’s hands stopped moving. The blonde listened to the even breathing of her partner. She twisted enough to look over her shoulder at the tall woman. She was sound asleep.
‘Probably thinks she’s in bed with Cheryl,’ Ruby muttered to herself, heaving a heavy sigh. She found that thought deeply painful and tears flooded her eyes. Why is it that all I do is cry? Ruby’s lip trembled. It didn’t matter. She couldn’t stop the pain. She would never be a Cheryl. They were worlds apart. Even if she had no hang-ups whatsoever, she was completely sure she could never compete with someone like that. From what Lonnie had said, Cheryl was worldly, suave, sophisticated and extremely experienced. And here Ruby was just an ignorant, inexperienced, backward college student raised in the middle of a hick ranch and traumatized by a vicious happening. She let the tears fall.
How could she possibly make this tall beauty happy? Especially in bed? She felt the fear begin to tighten in her chest and take over her body and a sob escaped.
Suddenly Lonnie pulled her more towards herself before yawning deeply. ‘What’sa’ matter, hon? Can’t sleep?’ the brunette asked tiredly, putting her cheek back on Ruby’s hair and shutting her eyes. She pulled one hand loose and gently rubbed Ruby’s lower back. ‘Love you, Ruby,’ she muttered before her hand stilled and she was once again fast asleep.
Ruby dried her eyes. I have time, she decided. I have time to learn to be a good partner for her. She had to concentrate on having the baby first. And she would go to counseling if any problems overlapped. She leaned her head back against Lonnie’s chest and heard the constant beat of the tall woman’s heart. ‘I love you, too. More than you’ll ever know, Lonnie.’ The soothing rhythm of Lonnie’s heart was enough to calm Ruby so that she finally drifted back to sleep.
In the morning neither mentioned what had happened. Ruby was quite sure that Lonnie had no idea she had done anything unusual during the night. Her behavior was the same as always. She exercised, bathed, dressed, ate breakfast and headed off to work.
Cheryl climbed out of the Cadillac and flicked the door closed. The better cars always made such a satisfyingly solid ‘thunk’ when the door shut. She looked up at the condo. It wasn’t first class by any means, but it looked enough like it to pass. She’d made a mistake, she realized that now. Lonnie was much better in many ways. She was easier to get along with, she was a better lover and she was considerably better looking. She didn’t have more money, but Prentiss had to constantly toe her parents’ imaginary line to get hers from them. It was demeaning.
Besides, Prentiss was moody and drank too much. Their month long trip to Palm Springs to her parents’ winter home had been a colossal mistake. Golf everyday, cocktail parties every night sounded wonderful. Just the kind of social soiree she looked forward to. But who knew politicians could be so boring or that Prentiss could get drunk so often?
She glanced in the direction of the pool. It was still early enough in the afternoon, maybe there’d be time before.... She paused. No. Some other time maybe. She dug through her purse and finally found the condo key as she reached the door to the elevator. The guy behind the desk looked at her strangely but she sneered at him as she always had before and climbed into the elevator. He shrugged. Jerk! she thought. They all were!
She knew what she had to do. Lonnie was so predictable. She would put on some sexy mood music, light a few vanilla candles, put on her bikini and lie on the bed waiting for her to get home. Simple. Lonnie could never resist the bikini, particularly since Cheryl knew how to sensually moan and writhe and touch herself in it to drive the brunette crazy. After they made love, she’d let her talk her into leaving Prentiss and come back to live here. Then she’d return Prentiss’ Cadillac. Maybe she’d get Lonnie to rent a new one for her. Yes, Lonnie should be able to afford that.
She got off on the third floor and walked to the condo. She pulled out her bikini from her purse, put her key in the lock and turned it.
Ruby was lying on the lounge chair and heard the key in the lock. She glanced at the clock. It must be Mom returning. Her mother-in-law was out getting groceries. She never left Ruby alone for long. She sat up a little and smiled.
‘Hey! Who are you?’ the voluptuous, tall bleached blonde asked as she stepped into the room. She wasn’t as tall as Lonnie, but she was taller than Ruby by quite a bit.
That caught Ruby off guard. ‘I could ask the same. Who are you?’
‘Doesn’t Lonnie live here anymore?’ the tall, bosomy woman looked confused now. She looked at her key. It had worked in the lock. Ruby looked her over. She was exceptionally good looking with a fantastic tan that Ruby was sure had no lines anywhere. Her bleach job was also good although her roots were dark, not blonde. Her hands were well manicured and her clothes were exclusive name brands obviously tailored to her figure.
‘Yes,’ Ruby answered, ‘We live here. What can I do for you?’
‘Don’t tell me,’ Cheryl grimaced. ‘You’re part of her family, right? The holidays, of course! Gods, the world is full of boring family!’
‘Yes, IÔm part of the family,’ Ruby replied. ‘And I’m going to assume that you are Cheryl.’
‘Oh, she told you about me?’ Cheryl raised a knowing brow, put her purse on the stand and dropped her keys in the key holder. ‘Good! So how long are you going to be here? Maybe I could come back later when you’re gone.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Ruby said. ‘I’m not leaving.’
‘Well,’ Cheryl kept her bikini in her hand, ‘Fine. Just don’t listen to the noises that come out of this room when she gets home. We’ll be...’ she smirked, ‘busy.’ She squinched her nose in a manner meant to denote cuteness. ‘Just ignore the passionate hollering.’ She headed to the bedroom, opened the door and saw the crib inside the room. ‘What the hell? Is this your crib in here?’
‘It’s our crib, yes,’ Ruby called.
‘Our?’ Cheryl walked out from the bedroom back into the living room and put a hand on her hip. ‘Meaning what? Your husband and you using that room while you’re here?’ How long is this blimp planning to stay at Lonnie’s anyway?
‘No. Meaning that is the crib that will hold our baby--Lonnie’s and mine.’ She held up her ring finger.
Cheryl stared at her for a few minutes then laughed. ‘I don’t think so. We’ve only been apart three months. Not time for what you have going there, sweet cheeks. And Lonnie wasn’t cheating before that. She’s not the type so she had nothing to do with that decision. Besides, she’s not into this joining crap and she doesn’t have the ammo, if you know what I mean, for your little project. Not that she doesn’t practice frequently and take pleasure in her shots, you understand.’ She rolled her eyes over Ruby’s bulbous figure. ‘I’ve always particularly enjoyed practice sessions myself,’ she added smugly.
‘So I’ve heard. With a number of people, I understand,’ Ruby said, looking her straight in the eye. ‘You no longer live here and I think it’s time for you to leave now.’
‘We’ll see,’ Cheryl smirked. ‘I can convince her. You don’t look like much competition to me, balloon belly. That ring’s just a little rebound reaction. I hurt her, but once I get going, she’ll get over that right away, believe me.’
Lonnie’s mother put her key in the lock and turned, a bag of groceries balanced in one arm. She entered to find the two women staring at one another. ‘Cheryl, what are you doing here?’ she asked, putting the bag on the table.
‘She’s just leaving,’ Ruby said curtly.
‘Well, if it isn’t Momma Shaeker. You bring her with you?’ she pointed to Ruby. ‘She looks like something you’d choose for your little girl. Matilda of Sunnybrooke Ranch or whatever in the hell that story is.’
‘No,’ Lonnie’s mother said, ‘She and Lonnie....’
‘We’ll see,’ Cheryl interrupted, waving her bikini. ‘She never could resist.’ She snickered.
‘It’s time to go, Cheryl,’ Lonnie’s mother said. She held the door open for the woman. ‘Good bye.’
The tall bleached blonde grabbed her purse and keys and waved with her bikini. ‘Ta ta. Don’t get too comfy here,’ she called back to Ruby before the door closed behind her.
Lonnie’s mother looked at Ruby with concern. ‘Are you all right, Ruby?’ she noticed how pale Ruby had become. She glanced at the door. ‘That horrible woman! I don’t know why Lonnie ever bothered with her!’
‘Yes, I’m fine,’ Ruby looked down. She did know why Lonnie had bothered with her. And how could she compete with that? The woman was svelte and sexy and Ruby knew Lonnie had been very attracted to her physically. Ruby sighed heavily. Here she was like a two ton tank and that woman was going to try and steal back the woman Ruby hadn’t even had sex with yet.
‘I’m calling Lonnie,’ her mother said, picking up the phone. Ruby just nodded mutely. ‘She needs to get these locks changed.’ Her mother talked softly on the phone to Lonnie.
‘Oh, gods!’ Lonnie scowled. ‘What did she want?’
‘I don’t know. She spoke with Ruby. I was at the grocery store. She was leaving when I got back, but you’d better talk to Ruby.’ She handed the phone to Ruby.
‘Hi,’ Ruby said.
‘Hey, love. I hear you had a visit from my ex.’
‘I’m sorry. What did she want? Why was she there?’
‘I, uh, I think she was planning to seduce you. She had her bikini with her.’
Lonnie laughed. ‘I’m taken.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby said, none too convincingly.
‘I love you, Ruby. Please don’t let her get to you. I’m wearing your ring and you’re wearing mine. I’m yours, honey. No one else’s.’
‘Okay,’ Ruby replied.
‘I’m calling a locksmith right now to come over and change the locks. Will you tell Mom?’
‘Yes, I’ll tell her.’
‘Say you love me.’
‘I love you.’
‘Do you mean it?’
‘Then please have some faith in me. I’ve made my choice, and believe me, it’s not her. It’s you completely and totally. You’re all the woman I can handle from now to the end of time. I hope you feel the same way.’
‘Okay, sweetheart. I should be home on time. I’ll talk to you later.’
‘Bye,’ Ruby said.
‘I love you,’ Lonnie replied. ‘Bye.’
Lonnie set the phone down and angrily shuffled around trying to find the phone book in her desk drawer. That’s all she needed, busy as she was anyway. She noticed the strange looks those around her were giving her, but her mind was totally on Ruby’s reaction.
She felt her temper rising as she thought of Cheryl while she searched. She found the L’s in the yellow pages and ran her finger down the list, checking the addresses, trying to find one close to the condo. Her mind grumbled, Damn you, Cheryl! All I need is some horny sex kitten trying to get into my pants while my real love is eight months pregnant and sensitive as chapped skin!
Lonnie swiveled in her chair to see Benny standing directly behind her with another project. His mouth was now wide open and he looked at her very quizzically.
‘Did I say that out loud?’ Lonnie asked, fearing the answer. He nodded. Oh, shit! ‘Well, it’s true!’ she muttered.
‘Oookay.’ He stared at her with a mixture of disbelief and a tinge of envy. Horny sex kitten? Pregnant love? Jeez, you have to keep your eye on the creative ones, he decided. Damn!
She shrugged, found a nearby company, picked up the phone and called the locksmith.
Benny walked back to his office. Lonnie glanced around and noticed that several nearby people still seemed interested in her conversations. Oh well, she thought, they’ll all know I’ve got a domestic partner when I add Ruby to my policy. Wonder how many will be surprised. Cheryl always said I should be more Ôout’ at work. Then she considered, Funny I never considered adding Cheryl to my insurance. She looked around the room. Let Ôem guess what’s going on for now.
Cheryl parked her Cadillac in the parking lot and looked up at the building. ‘Top floor, huh? Like that’s some big fucking deal. Big fish, little pond.’
She bypassed walking to the front and came in the back way instead, strolling past the workers in the shipping room, noting their eager attention. She asked and one pointed to the elevators. She added a little pizzaz to her wiggle as she moved, letting the wolf whistles trail her the whole way. She smirked as she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the top floor. ‘She’s MY big fish,’ she said to the empty car. ‘And no squatty blonde blimp is gonna keep her from me.’
She exited the elevator and looked around. Even for a floor that welcomed customers, it was not furnished in a plush style. It was obviously a working environment. So this is where Lonnie works. It’s not exactly a Fortune 500, is it? Yuck! How can she stand to work here? It wasn’t long until she spotted her prey.
The blonde bombshell came up behind Lonnie, quickly scooted her hand up the back of the tall woman’s shirt and into her hair. ‘Hey, baby,’ she said sexily. She grabbed a handful of hair, pulled Lonnie’s head back and leaned down to plant a kiss on the brunette’s lips, but Lonnie pushed away and jumped out of her chair, wrenching her hair away from the woman’s grip.
‘Jesus, Cheryl! What are you doing? I work here, you know!’ Not only did she work at this office, she now had every eye on the top floor that could see her following their every move, including Benny who stood frozen in his own doorway raptly watching.
‘Oh, sweetheart,’ Cheryl purred in her little girl pout. She took a couple steps towards Lonnie, who started backing up. ‘I came to apologize. I know I treated you poorly. It was all my fault. Naughty, naughty me. Let’s go back to square one and start over, baby, what do you say?’
Lonnie’s blue eyes were so cold when she glared back that it momentarily stopped Cheryl. Lonnie knew all too well what this sexy loose-cannon was capable of, and she was not going to give her any foothold if she could help it. ‘This is an office, Cheryl. We’re trying to get work done here. If you want to talk to me, call me at home. This is neither the time nor the place...’
Cheryl shrugged, stepped back to Lonnie’s desk, and casually dropped her purse in the chair. Then she slipped the formfitting jacket of her stylish outfit off her shoulders, dropping it on top. A revealing, very eye-opening, scoop-necked, white lace shell that emphasized her sterling figure and her tan got everyone’s attention. It was obvious she was wearing no underwear under it and there were no tan lines on her succulent body. Her perky, darkened nipples peeking demurely through her lace-covered top drew many an appraising eye from the men watching and raised eyebrows from the women.
‘For cripe sakes, what are you wearing? Put your jacket back on,’ Lonnie said in a loud whisper. ‘What is wrong with you?’
Cheryl chuckled and shook her head. Lonnie had such a Puritanical streak. ‘Oh, Lonnie, Lonnie. Don’t you like? It’s all the rage in Palm Springs this season.’ Cheryl’s eyes moved to the desk Lonnie was near and settled on Stan, who was all but drooling towards her. ‘Just EVERYONE is wearing this style. Aren’t they?’ she asked him.
Stan moronically bobbed his head up and down. He certainly wished they were and that they all had figures like this gorgeous blonde’s.
Lonnie scowled at Stan. ‘It’s not office wear. You’re in an office. Go home, Cheryl!’ she demanded. ‘Get out of here. I have work to do.’
‘C’mon, baby, loosen up!’ Cheryl waved off the other people. She spotted Benny and spoke directly to him, ‘Hey, handsome, little Lonnie here can take a few minutes to get a bite to eat, can’t she?’ She fluttered her eyelashes at him. ‘Or something?’
Benny’s jaw dropped and he stammered, ‘Uh, yeah, I guess.’
She turned back to Lonnie. ‘Sooo. Boss’s approval. Let’s go.’
Lonnie desperately wanted this conversation out of the view of the office. She looked at Benny, ‘I’ll be back shortly, Ben,’ she stated in a business-like fashion.
‘Yeah, fine,’ he grumbled. They were up to their eyeballs in work, but Lonnie was a supervisor and pretty much set her own break times. She didn’t really have to ask him for approval at all.
Lonnie breathed with disgust through her nose, grit her teeth, marched to the blonde, grabbed her elbow and whipped the woman past her chair to get her purse and top. ‘Put that on,’ she demanded, slamming the top into the blonde’s hands with one hand and keeping a tight grip on her elbow with the other. She was all but dragging the smiling, leggy blonde along with her.
‘Sure, sweetheart,’ Cheryl grinned, slipping the top on her free arm as Lonnie headed her toward the door to the stairwell. Lonnie let go and helped Cheryl finish putting her jacket on. Lonnie gripped Cheryl's arm again and forcefully pulled her through the heavy metal doorway. The door of the stairwell was shutting behind them when Cheryl pressed herself against the tall brunette, backed her into the wall and whispered in her ear, ‘You’re so butch when you get like this. It turns me on, baby. You make me so hot!’ She breathed a warm breath in Lonnie’s ear, and started her hands wandering from Lonnie’s waist.
Lonnie had fire in her eyes. ‘Get your hands off me!’ She pushed Cheryl away and stepped back, ‘How dare you come to my place of employment and act like this?’
Cheryl shrugged. ‘Your boss said you could go. How is that acting like anything? Let’s go for a drive and no one here will know a thing.’
Lonnie knew that once she got in the car, Cheryl would be all over her again. She had no intention of doing that. She crossed her arms. ‘You don’t get it, Cheryl. Let me make this real clear. I’m not available,’ Lonnie felt the frayed edge in her own temper. She looked directly into Cheryl’s eyes, ‘for lunch or anything else. Ever. I’m NOT going anywhere with you. So just head on back to...’ she paused then finished quickly, ‘wherever you came from.’
There was a metallic echo in the utilitarian stairway and Lonnie was glad there were no other voices. They were alone in the area.
‘Where I came from is the condo.’ Cheryl put a hand on the handrail but stayed on the top step. ‘And I know you’re angry even though it was as much your fault as mine that we broke up. But I’m willing to let bygones be bygones. And, believe me, I can make you forget everything. Ten minutes and you’ll forget your own name. Baby, I can make you happier than you’ve been in three long, lonely months.’
Lonnie dismissed that thought with a small snort of disgust.
Now Cheryl brought on the pout, ‘Let’s forgive and forget. Whaddya say? I’ve missed you so much.’ She took a step toward Lonnie but again the tall brunette backed up a step in what little room was there on the painted metal landing.
‘No. Back off,’ There was a low, no nonsense warning in Lonnie’s voice. She couldn’t believe the nerve of this woman doing something like this, yet they had shared two years of their lives together, and this wasn’t all that much out of character for her. Lonnie decided it was her own fault for getting involved with Cheryl in the first place.
‘Go away, Cheryl,’ Lonnie said tiredly. She held up her hand showing her ring, ‘I’m not available. In case you weren’t aware, I’m permanently off the market. You’ll have to find your playmates elsewhere. Ruby and I had a Joining Ceremony and we’re very happy.’
‘Oh, you and balloon lady? Really, Lon, honey,’ Cheryl put a hand on her hip. ‘Surely you don’t expect me to believe you’re happy climbing into the sack with that two ton blimp! Not when you can have me...keeping you...’ she dropped her voice two octaves, ‘hot and sweaty and active... all... night... long. Baby, I’ll shout your name so many times you’ll be a household word all over this city.’
Lonnie crossed her arms again, ‘She’s pregnant, Cheryl,’ Lonnie said as patiently as she could. ‘Not that it’s any of your business.’
‘Not that it’s any of yours either, sweetheart,’ Cheryl retorted going down a couple steps and turning around. ‘In case you didn’t notice, you don’t have the right equipment. That kid’s not yours.’
‘Yes, she will be,’ Lonnie replied.
‘Oh, c’mon, stud. We can talk about this in the car.’ Cheryl started down then stopped. ‘Or did you want to hash this out right here in your office building?’
Lonnie realized the threat for what it was. She clenched her jaw and reluctantly followed Cheryl down in silence to the next floor, debating. Cheryl had already pretty much outed her. What difference did it make what else she said? Lonnie stopped. ‘No, I have work to do. I have no desire to go for a ride with you. Not now, not ever. If it’s necessary, I’ll get Security to escort you out. Your choice. You can just take your Salome routine back to what’s her name.’
Cheryl spun and smirked, ‘Ewwww, that’s the real problem, isn’t it? What if I said she’s past history? What if I said this was all for you now?’ She ran her hands from her breasts down to her hips, ‘and nobody else? Think of it: Hot! Wet! Ready! Somebody screaming somebody’s name all night long! And it won’t be just your name screamed. You’d be shouting my name, too.’ She pushed the tip of her tongue out of her mouth and ran it slowly around her lips in a circle. ‘You know how talented my tongue is.’
Lonnie shut her eyes. Just what she wanted to talk about at work. She opened her eyes, ‘I’d say, forget it. I’m taken. Get over it. Goodbye, Cheryl. Have a nice life. Go, now, or I’ll get you an escort. Last chance.’
Cheryl gazed at her intently. It was clear the blonde wasn’t through with her crusade. This would end when she wanted it to. She had made her own threat, and her threats were rarely idle ones. Her features carried a full dose of steely determination.
Lonnie pulled open the heavy stairway door and grabbed the receiver of the nearby phone on the wall. The clattering sound of running machines on that floor filled the stairway. Lonnie pulled the receiver into the stairwell as far as the cord would allow and let the door close against the cord, muffling the sounds of the machines.
The bleached blonde opened her purse and pulled out her bikini. ‘Remember this?’ Her trump. She held it up, jiggling it slightly and waggling her brows. She was going to ignore Lonnie’s threat. ‘Lots of hot times, huh, baby? Remember? Still think you want to go back to that fat cow? She can’t show you a tenth of the good time I can.’
Lonnie looked at the handset, punched in a number then leaned back against the landing wall. ‘Security please,’ she said into the phone.
‘What’s with you, Lonnie? Gods, you haven’t changed a bit. You’re just as uptight as you ever were. No wonder we couldn’t make it. You have some damn corncob stuck up...’
‘I need security in the stairwell please. Yes, to escort someone out,’ Lonnie kept the phone to her ear.
‘Forget it!’ Cheryl clenched her purse and started at a stomp down the stairs. ‘I don’t have time for you! YOU AREN’T WORTH SQUAT IN BED ANYWAY!’ She shouted the last part as loud as she could. It echoed in the stairwell.
Lonnie wondered if the racket from the printing machines had kept anyone else from hearing their dispute but decided she couldn’t do anything about it now. Besides, it didn’t matter. She was who she was. She just hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of it at work. She heard the stairwell door open below and hoped it was Security.
‘YOU’RE A PISS POOR FUCK!’ Cheryl shouted back over her shoulder.
Okay. Well, Security had heard that.
‘Cheryl?’ Lonnie said.
‘Don’t ever come back! This is an office. We’ll have you arrested for solicitation.’
‘FUCK YOU!’ she called.
‘YOU won’t,’ Lonnie muttered under her breath. She reached inside the door and hung up the phone, relieved that no one else had entered the stairwell during their conversation other than Security. Then she came back over to the stairs and looked over the railing. Cheryl was continuing down. She saw her pass the daytime security guard who leaned out and looked up. Lonnie caught his eye, nodded toward Cheryl, and he looked back at the departing blonde. He turned and followed her.
Lonnie hurried up the stairs to the top floor. She dreaded facing Benny and the others. She saw him as she opened the door. He was just inside his office door, glancing out his window to the street below. She quickly moved to her desk and got right back to work. She had so much to do. She could feel the others’ eyes following her. Damn! How could Cheryl have done that? What was wrong with that woman?
‘Sex kitten?’ Benny asked softly as he moved up behind her. He had always suspected her preferences ran that way, but he’d never imagined she had babes like that waiting in the wings. Mercy!
‘Oh, yeah. One and the same,’ she replied with a heavy sigh. ‘I’m so sorry, Benny.’
‘Damn! I’m impressed. I thought Ôsex kitten’ was just an expression, but she was the real thing. You’re a wild woman, Shaeker. Who’d have guessed?’
‘Not as wild as all that,’ she said weakly.
‘Probably a good thing,’ he called back as he headed to his office. ‘Back to work, folks. Show’s over.’
‘Yeah.’ She hoped she’d seen the last of Cheryl and the show was truly over. With Cheryl you could never be sure. She could be like the proverbial bad penny. She glanced at the new project he’d left on her desk and was startled when Stan grabbed her arm as she read.
‘Do you have her number?’ he asked softly, shifting from foot to foot as he stood by her desk.
‘More than she knows,’ Lonnie growled keeping her eyes on her monitor.
‘No, for me,’ he explained.
Now she looked at him. ‘Cripes, Stan, she doesn’t bat on your team,’ Lonnie’s face was filled with wonder. What is it about guys? Don’t they notice these things?
‘I could convince her,’ he grinned confidently.
She debated. Right at the moment she wouldn’t mind scrawling Cheryl’s number all over men’s restroom walls throughout the city. ÔFor a good time, call Cheryl’ then her number. That kind of thing. ‘Sorry,’ she said casting that daydream aside, ‘I threw it away.’
She hoped Benny wasn’t going to raise any more of a foofaraw about this. He had every right to. In fact, she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t have grounds to fire her, if he had any desire to. And for the first time she realized that she couldn’t afford that. Not now. She had a family to support. She had to have a job that allowed them to be added to her insurance. Not all that many companies offered domestic partnership insurance. She’d never thought about it before, but she couldn’t just go somewhere else that easily. Nor did she want to.
She went back to the work on her screen. She had never feared losing her job before. It had never even occurred to her. It wasn’t a good feeling. She decided she’d better stay and put in some extra time tonight, even though she and Benny put in far more time than any business had any right to expect.
At break she picked up the phone. She dialed and waited. ‘Hey, Beautiful,’ she said softly. ‘Guess who came by and raised a fuss throughout the whole top floor?’ There was a pause. ‘Yeah, sent her packing.’ Another pause. ‘Yes, really. Called Security to escort her out.’ Pause. ‘I love you, too. The locksmith is there? Make sure he makes a key for Mom. Good. Listen, I think I’d better stay and get some work done on this project tonight to make up for the horrible impression she left. After all, Benny might have been able to fire me over this. I dunno. I’m glad he’s happy with me at the moment. Yeah, so I’ll be a little late. Hopefully, it won’t take too long. I’ll call when I leave. Tell Mom not to wait dinner for me, okay? Love you.’
Another noticeable fact of joined life, Lonnie pondered. Though nothing appeared to have changed, when you couldn’t afford to lose your job, regardless of how much you loved the work, it left you feeling far less free than you felt before. But then, those kinds of things were part of growing up, weren’t they?
The next day Ruby got her first check and insisted that Lonnie resize her ring. Ruby’d had no way to cash her check. She couldn’t get out and she had no id if she could have. So Lonnie had her sign the check over to her. She put it in her account and withdrew the cash. She had her ring sized and gave Ruby the leftover amount in cash. She wanted their finances to be joined, and was glad both names would be put on the accounts once the name change went through. But she also knew how important it was to Ruby to pay for what she could.
Lonnie found herself rubbing her thumb over the newly sized ring all the time in wonder. It gave her an incredible sense of comfort and even surprise. She’d never guessed that she’d meet someone like Ruby and want to settle down. It felt incredible. That was one of the wonderful, noticeable facts of joined life.
A bassinet had been located in one of the downtown department stores and Lonnie was told by her mother to go by and purchase it. She used her own check for that. She had to put it together once she brought the box home.
Ruby asked Lonnie’s mother for help in arranging the nursery. The two made suggestions and Lonnie dragged furniture here and there. Her attic chest had long since been moved into storage. The computer and desk did end up going into the living room by the bookshelf and Ruby and Lonnie’s mother huddled together to work on some kind of cover they could make to hide the computer’s presence. The nursery now held the crib, the naughahyde couch, her mother’s suitcases and the changing table. The rocker stayed in the living room while the smaller bassinet was fitted into their bedroom.
On Friday, Mrs. Shaeker took Ruby to see the doctor. Ruby gave her insurance card to the receptionist like Lonnie had told her to do, and her last appointment and this one were both covered. That morning Ruby had refused cash from Lonnie and had paid the copay with what she’d had left of her payroll cash and the money she’d borrowed from Nicole. Lonnie reminded herself that she and Ruby needed to sit down and go over their finances sometime very soon.
Lonnie’s mother, in her typical fashion, introduced herself to everyone at the clinic and made reference to Ruby as her daughter. Ruby didn’t mind at all nor did she correct her.
The doctor was concerned with Ruby’s paleness and continual discomfort but was pleased that she had kept her other test numbers down. She advised Ruby to be very cautious these last weeks. Stay off her feet. Do NO household tasks. Take it very, very easy. She wanted to see her again the next week.
By the time Ruby got back out to the waiting room, Lonnie’s mother was on a first name basis with everyone and was happily discussing the Bossa Nova with a young couple waiting. Ruby wondered if either her mother-in-law or the young couple were dancers. The woman in the couple was quite pregnant.
The small blonde’d had another ultrasound ‘photo’ of the baby and had been checked to see that she wasn’t retaining unusual amounts of water. Mrs. Shaeker raised every bit as much a fuss over this photo as Lonnie had over the last. When they got home, Lonnie was thrilled with the new picture. A copy was scanned through the lines to her father and the original went on the fridge next to the first after Lonnie had studied it thoroughly and made a copy to take to work with her.
Saturday morning Lonnie left work, ran by the bookstore and bought a new sex book, put some tissue paper around it, put it in a decorated bag and hurried off to Maddy and Chase’s joining. She didn’t like going without Ruby, and she didn’t stay long. She called Ruby while she was there and had the small blonde give her congratulations to the happy couple over the phone.
Lonnie saw a number of other friends who were surprised to see she was wearing a wedding band. She showed pictures of Ruby and their joining and took pictures of the happy couple with her father’s camera, but then had to hurry back to work. She had that rush order to get out.
That evening Ruby insisted that Lonnie print off copies of her friends’ joining once she’d sent a set online to Chance and Maddy. The small blonde carefully entered the photos into their growing album, labeling each one. They spent their last free minutes before bed together on the chaise lounge. Lonnie tiredly asked questions of Ruby who had spent her free time studying the Oregon driver’s manual that Lonnie’s mother had picked up for her. The blonde would need to get her license in this state in her new name once that became a reality.
Since the day after Thanksgiving all the stores had proclaimed that Christmas approached. Festive lights had appeared everywhere, holiday music was piped through every store and the area became a winter wonderland minus the snow. And some of the people at the condo had even strung lights on their patios. It was an exciting, if not a bit worrisome, time for them. Ruby was becoming more and more restless, was sleeping less and less and seemed uncomfortable most of the time.
While Lonnie had been with Cheryl, the brunette had gone along with putting up a white metal tree decorated with twinkle lights, red balls and small silk floral corsages liberally placed on the branches. It looked beautiful but evoked much more of a commercial feel than a homey one. Now the brunette wanted to go back to having a real green tree as she’d always had growing up. After all, they lived in one of the greatest tree growing regions in the world. Ruby agreed.
They decided to put up their tree earlier than either had done before because of Ruby’s condition. So Sunday night on her way back from finally getting her rush order out at work, Lonnie picked up a tree from one of the many lots popping up around the city. It was a narrow noble fir and stood about six feet high. She wished Ruby could be with her to help pick the tree, but, of course, she couldn’t.
‘It’s beautiful,’ Ruby’s wide smile warmed her heart when Lonnie dragged it into the apartment and stuck it out on the patio. Her mother put on Christmas music while Lonnie went down, rustled around in the storage area, and brought up the Christmas items she’d used before she met Cheryl. She got the tree in the stand and with her mother’s help, moved it inside. They placed it in the window corner in front of the bookcase. It stood out from the corner and the branches overlapped shelves in the case, but it was still easy enough to reach the items on the shelves.
She strung the tiny white twinkle lights then dug out an extension cord and put the extra string across the rails on their patio. With Ruby’s direction, she and her Mother carefully placed the few small figurines on the branches plus the smaller red and gold balls that she had accumulated. It was a sparse showing but they were delighted with it.
Her mother made them hot egg nog without the alcohol to sip as they decorated. On the top Lonnie climbed on a chair and carefully placed an angel her parents had had on their tree year after year when she and her siblings were growing up. One of its silver wings was torn and was now lovingly held in place with silver duct tape. But it was taped on the back, so it didn’t show.
‘You’re the one that got that old angel,’ her Mother remarked. ‘My, we must have gotten that old thing when you were still in grade school.’ She and her husband had put their old decorations out for their children to make their selections when Lonnie, their last, graduated from high school. Her parents had consolidated and decided to only have small trees after that. They had far too many decorations accumulated over the years.
Lonnie thought about her parents and her trees. She’d had one every year since leaving home. But last year with Cheryl was the only time they had come to her place for Christmas, and she’d had the fake tree then. They didn’t know what she normally used. Always before that she had flown out to be with them in Pennsylvania or gone to California to meet them there at her sister’s home.
‘Yes,’ Lonnie grinned proudly, ‘I beat Buddy to it. He even had Josey trying to grab it away from me.’ She laughed, ‘But I let him get the balls with the little train that runs around inside and the one with the twirling tops in it.’
Her Mother grinned in pleasure. ‘We got a lot of joy out of those old ornaments. I’m glad you children could use them.’
‘They’re filled with good memories,’ Lonnie said reverently, staring at the angel.
‘Yes,’ her Mother said, looking afresh at her daughter. She never realized how important those memories were to Lonnie. The tall brunette tended to be stoic and never let on. How had they missed out on that communication? Her secretive, non-communicative daughter was turning out to be quite a pleasant surprise to her Mother.
‘We’ll make good family memories now,’ Lonnie said softly to Ruby as she pulled a chair beside the small blonde. Ruby smiled but shifted uncomfortably on the chaise. Lonnie moved her chair closer and rubbed Ruby’s lower back until she settled a little more. Then she moved behind the small blonde and pulled into her arms the woman who had stolen her heart. For a while they snuggled, admiring the tree before them. Though it was still early in December, it smelled like the forest and looked magical in the room with the lights dimmed and only the fireplace and the twinkling lights lit.
Lonnie’s Mother called her father and spoke in muffled tones to him while Lonnie and Ruby sat delighting in their first pleasant holiday memories. On the tree was a decoration from her mother...’Baby’s First Christmas, 1996,’ it said. It was both worrisome and exciting at the same time. They didn’t want to give any time to the thoughts that anything bad could happen, but such worries were still hidden in the back of their minds. At the same time it was exciting to think that a small baby girl would soon be around this, her first Christmas tree, if the fates allowed.
Monday morning Lonnie hurried to get ready for work. She needed to tackle another rush order due before Christmas. She had other orders she was working on as well as that one, of course, since Christmas was still just short of three weeks out. But those wouldn’t be rush orders.
‘Crumb! These’re late,’ she grabbed the handful of bills from the desk drawer and went into the bedroom. With the joining and all the other happenings, she’d forgotten about the bills. Ruby was finally asleep. Lonnie moved very quietly. She’d like to take the time and go over them with Ruby, but they were already a little overdue. They didn’t need late charges added on to any of them.
The tall brunette wrote a note: Ruby, If you can, please write out checks for the minimums. I’ll sign tonight. They’re late. Sorry. Love, Lonnie. She put a string of hearts after it and chuckled silently at her sappiness.
She left the bills and her checkbook with the note on the top of the chest of drawers and hurried off to work. That evening she came home to find her mother in the chair by Ruby’s chaise, a bill in her hands, her glasses sitting on her nose and a frown on her face. Ruby was partially sitting up in the chaise lounge. In her lap was the stack of bills and Ruby was trying to write a check as Lonnie’s mother gave her the amount.
‘I can’t believe you have these credit card debts,’ her mother scolded. ‘You know better than that.’ Ruby looked up at Lonnie worriedly with a halfway startled look. Lonnie sighed heavily and put her keys in the bowl and hung her jacket in the closet.
‘Yeah, I know,’ she replied. She tried not to look accusingly at Ruby. Why did her mother know anything about their finances? She’d just meant for Ruby to write the checks. She’d said nothing about her mother seeing them.
Lonnie knew full well about her debts. She knew it was not a good thing to do at the time when she’d been with Cheryl. But she’d still let the woman use her credit cards, hoping to salvage their relationship. Of course, it had done nothing but put her thousands of dollars into debt. She didn’t need it rubbed in.
‘Credit card debt is the very worst kind you can ever get! The rates are outrageous and using the cards is far too easy. You know that, Lonnie. Companies use them to suck money from their customers, and customers like you let them do it.’
‘Yeah, I know.’ Lonnie headed for the bedroom. She’d change clothes and maybe sit on the bedroom balcony for a bit to unwind. She’d worked hard at the office, clear through lunch, and she’d had little time to relax. She didn’t need her mother harping at her.
When she thought about it, she’d been pretty dumb. Of course her mother would find out. She was working very closely with Ruby every day. And Lonnie’d left the bills for Ruby to pay without any explanation. She’d just been so rushed. And she couldn’t have waited much more. They were overdue as it was.
It’s your own fault. For the most part the fact that her mother stayed so close to Ruby was a very good thing. They couldn’t have asked for anything better. But this she hadn’t thought about and hadn’t expected.
Take the good with the bad, she told herself. But it made her feel small and stupid, particularly in front of Ruby. And it hurt to think that she had let Cheryl use her future earnings to buy frivolous items, new totally unnecessary clothes, and now they couldn’t afford things they needed. And the small blonde desperately needed some new clothes, though Lonnie doubted that she’d ever mention it.
Lonnie moved into the bedroom and slipped out of her work clothes. She was pulling on her jeans when the door quietly opened and shut.
‘I’m sorry,’ Ruby said softly as she watched the tall woman dress. ‘I asked your mother to explain the IRA to me. I didn’t understand everything. It just went from there. I didn’t think she’d....do that.’
Lonnie grunted and kept her back to the small blonde. She went to the closet and pulled out a long-sleeved flannel shirt that she slipped on. She kept her back to Ruby as she buttoned it up. She was annoyed. Her day had been bad enough. She didn’t need her mother’s tongue lashings. When she turned around she saw Ruby standing, her hands before her face and tears streaming down her cheeks.
‘I’m sorry, Lonnie,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Oh, honey,’ all Lonnie’s annoyance disappeared. She flew to the small blonde and wrapped her arms around her. ‘It’s all right. Please don’t cry, honey. Mom was right. I just didn’t expect it, that’s all. It’s all right. Please.’ She edged her to the bed and they both sat. She stroked Ruby’s hair gently and pulled her into a sitting embrace that was awkward because of how big Ruby was. ‘Please don’t cry.’
‘I wanted to do it right,’ Ruby sobbed.
‘You did, honey. You were exactly right. You asked questions about something you didn’t understand. And Mom is very knowledgeable about financing. I was the one who was wrong. I made stupid mistakes...’
‘No, I shouldn’t have let your mother see....’
‘Shhh, shhh, shhh,’ Lonnie comforted. She rocked Ruby, gently swaying to and fro, hugging her, suspended in their mutual distress, barely breathing. Suddenly Lonnie stopped and chuckled, ‘Is this our first fight?’
‘What?’ Ruby looked up with a forlorn look.
‘Here we are arguing about who was wrong,’ Lonnie continued, ‘I’m saying I’m wrong and you’re saying you’re wrong. I don’t wanna argue, sweetheart, do you?’ She brushed some tears from Ruby’s face. ‘Besides, none of it matters. We’ll get by. I promise.’
‘I know we will,’ Ruby sniffed, ‘But I didn’t mean for your mother...’
‘Shhh. I make good money, hon. We’ll be just fine in the end.’
Ruby sighed heavily but quit crying. What was she doing to help in this relationship? Lonnie worked extremely hard and made good money. What did she do? Nothing. She’d wanted so badly to make their relationship work. And now she’d created a dispute between Lonnie and her mother. She felt terrible. Lonnie read the despair in her face.
Pulling herself from the embrace, Lonnie slipped to the floor on her knees before the small woman, surprising her. Lonnie put a hand on each of Ruby’s knees, grounding herself in this petite blonde. It was a remarkably personal and intimate move and left Ruby confused. Lonnie wasn’t exactly prostrating herself before Ruby, but she definitely was putting herself on a non-intimidating, personal level with the small blonde.
Lonnie was used to standing eye to eye, toe to toe with men by height and by confidence. It was worse with women since she towered above most of them. But, like her father, she did not normally exert unusual force trying to be overpowering or intimidating. She was a karate expert, and most people had no idea. She had never been known to take any of her moves public.
‘Honey?’ blue eyes searched Ruby’s face. ‘That’s not to say we don’t have a problem.’ The brunette leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on each of Ruby’s robe covered knees.
Here it comes, Ruby thought trying to keep her lip from quivering. She shut her eyes and steeled herself for what was to come. She’s going to try and give it to me gently. After all, I’m the one that betrayed the financial situation to Lonnie’s Mom. I’m the one not contributing.
Lonnie lifted her face, ‘I...okay, here’s the thing. I was stupid when I was with Cheryl and it’s gonna set us back for quite a while. We’re in this together and I’m horribly sorry about it. I hope you’ll forgive me. I guess I thought it’d be paid back instantly and no one would ever be the wiser. But when I met you, my whole life... changed... uh, improved so quickly, but.... Can you ever forgive me for being so idiotic?’
Ruby’s eye lashes fluttered as her eyes opened. What was happening? Lonnie was still apologizing? She put a hand over each of Lonnie’s. Lonnie instantly captured the smaller hands and brought them to her lips to kiss each one. ‘No, honey,’ Ruby swallowed, ‘I’m the one who....’
‘No, you weren’t in the wrong. I was. It’s true, I would rather my mother didn’t know, but only because I know what I did was so lame brained. So please let me ask your forgiveness...’
‘Oh, Lonnie, honey. I know how hard you work. And I’m not contributing anyth...’
Lonnie’s head shot up, ‘Don’t you ever say that, Rube.’ Her voice was so solemn and firm that it startled Ruby a little. ‘Tell me something, if you’d lived with Raleigh, would you expect the money he made to go for your family’s benefit, if you’d married I mean? Would you have expected him to bring in money for the family? Wouldn’t everyone have expected that?’
‘It’s no different with us, honey. Right now you’ve got the huge and difficult job of bearing a baby girl. She’s our daughter and the greatest gift you could ever give mankind and me in particular.’ Lonnie moved one hand to Ruby’s round tummy, ‘Aren’t you, tiny baby girl?’
Ruby stilled, ‘I don’t want to be a kept woman, Lonnie.’
Blue eyes lifted to green, ‘I understand how you feel about paying your own way. I do. But what in the world does being a ‘kept woman’ mean? I don’t get it. Does it mean that everything you contribute has to be in financial terms only? Does that mean that you have to work at an outside job so we can try to earn enough money between us to pay for child care? Then would my share ever be equal if I chose not to bear any of the children? I mean, what if we want more children and I don’t want to bear them? Would you?’
‘Yes. I want several children.’
‘So do I, but I’m not wild about the idea of giving birth myself, to tell you the truth.’
‘I don’t mind bearing them.’
‘Do I get to share in raising them? Could I adopt them?’
‘Of course. I want you to adopt them...to share custody.’
‘Then I don’t see where either of us is being Ôkept’, do you? You contribute more than your fair share. More. You risk your life to have children. You shouldn’t even be doing bills. You’re supposed to be resting. Please don’t worry about this.’
Ruby slumped back, ‘I’m sorry your mother spoke to you like she did. I should have stopped her.’
Lonnie forced a grin, ‘Well, that’s easier said than done, honey. Mom’s inclined to speak her mind to me, if you hadn’t noticed. Daddy always used to say about things, ‘Take the bad with the good,’ so I always think about that when she gets in her huffs. Cause Mom has a lot of good to her. I try and remind myself of that.’
Ruby grabbed a tissue from the bedside stand and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. ‘Yes, she does. I don’t know why I’m so weepy these days. I’m really not like this normally.’
‘You’re pregnant, honey. I expect it comes with the territory, don’t you think? Part of the price you pay...’
‘I dunno. I am sorry, Lonnie. I should have realized...’
‘Shhh. I should have gone over the bills with you, instead of just leaving you a note as if you knew everything. Please. I want to explain about the credit card bills.’
‘You don’t need to explain to me...’ Ruby again put her hands over Lonnie’s and looked down at the intense blue eyes before her.
‘You’re the only one I DO need to explain to, Ruby. We’re partners, we’re in this together and it’s gonna affect our life.’ Ruby gently stroked Lonnie’s arms.
The tall brunette eased back a little to sit on her heels. ‘See, when I was with Cheryl and things weren’t going so well for us, she always wanted to go to some affair or another and that required new clothes. Course she didn’t seem to think she could wear the same thing twice.’ Lonnie stopped here and regrouped. ‘No. I, uh, don’t want to put this on Cheryl, cause that’s just the way she was. She never pretended to be anything else. No, this was my doing more than hers.’
Ruby watched the tall beauty with interest. Lonnie had sent Cheryl away when she’d tried to come back. But how much did Lonnie still care about Cheryl? Was she still in love with her?
Lonnie sighed, ‘Anyway, new clothes meant shopping. A lot of the time I couldn’t go shopping or to the function either cause I was working, and....well, it was just another part of what didn’t work with our relationship. So many times I didn’t really want to go, frankly. We weren’t on the same wave length. So instead I’d give her my cards to buy new clothes, thinking that would keep her happy. It was a lame-brained idea. Just plain stupid!’
‘She spent a lot,’ Ruby’s large green eyes looked at Lonnie. ‘More than four thousand dollars worth.’
‘Yeah, I know. And, well, it was worse than that. I put nearly every free cent of my salary into paying the amounts down the last three months after we split. I paid off more than three thousand dollars of debt already. It was well over seven thousand in the beginning. And she’d only used the cards two or three times before I took them back.’
‘Oh,’ Ruby looked wide-eyed at the tall brunette. ‘Did...did you love her?’ She wanted to add Ôthat much’, but didn’t.
Lonnie answered immediately, ‘I don’t think I ever loved her, really. And I don’t think she ever loved me. In so many ways that wasn’t what our relationship was about. I don’t know, I was attracted to her, I guess.’ She ran a hand through her hair. ‘After she left the office the other day Benny said I was a wild woman. Maybe that’s what it was. Maybe it was just something wild I had to get out of my system. And I’m glad it’s out. Cause it is, believe me.’
‘Mmm,’ Ruby smiled wanly, wanting to understand where Lonnie had been in that situation.
Lonnie pulled Ruby’s hands to herself and placed them on her shoulders, overlapping her own on top. Then she leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Ruby’s protruding tummy and sat back up on her heels, letting her hands drop. Ruby slowly withdrew her hands.
‘Actually, I guess I’m not all that much of a wild woman, cause I do have some regrets and the song says wild women aren’t supposed to have any. My regrets aren’t about going into the affair, but about not realizing long before I did that it wasn’t...I don’t know, that it just wasn’t anything more than it was, not just on her part but on my part, too.’
‘How do you feel about her now?’ Unconsciously Ruby chewed her lip. She felt her heart pounding. She sucked in a breath.
Lonnie moved her hands back to Ruby’s knees. Ruby’s hands slowly covered Lonnie’s.
‘That’s easy,’ Lonnie smiled widely, ‘I’m glad she’s no longer in my life. But I have to give her credit. See, I’m not sure I’d have been as ready for a permanent relationship, if I hadn’t gotten all that other out of my system beforehand. When I met you, I knew you were my forever. And I was so ready to commit to you for a lifetime. I never, ever felt anything like that about anyone else and particularly about Cheryl. She was my ‘wild oats’ I guess you’d say. But you’re everything I’ve ever wanted, honey. And I was ready for you. So, in some ways I don’t regret Cheryl, or maybe it’s the experience of Cheryl. She did me a favor because I know what I want, my heart is yours completely and without any doubt. Does that make sense?’
Am I a rebound for her? Ruby wondered. Gods, I hope it’s more than that. She looked at Lonnie’s inquisitive eyes. A stranger might say the same about her, but Lonnie was no rebound in her life. She was the woman of her dreams. Of that she had no doubt.
‘What about Janmarie? Didn’t you think that relationship would be forever?’
‘I think that relationship might be better compared with yours and Raleigh’s. Sort of. I mean, we were so young and so inexperienced. And just at the point of growing up. Once we did, we realized we weren’t really made for each other. We liked each other but we wanted different things from life. I don’t feel that way about you. Not at all, or I would never have made vows to you.’
Ruby glanced at her ring. ‘Are you sorry you did?’
‘Not on your life. Not in the least. Are you?’
‘No.’ They were joined. Promised forever. Ruby just prayed it was the real thing and not a rebound. Large green eyes gazed into blue.
Lonnie laughed gently. ‘The question I have for you is, do you have any idea how much I love you? And can you ever forgive me for starting us off in this debt?’
‘You’ve got a beautiful home to live in, there’s no worrying about where to live. You’ve got a good car to get around in, and even with the debt there’s no worry about where the next meal is coming from,’ Ruby replied with a soft smile.
‘We have those things,’ Lonnie corrected. Of course the small blonde did have to worry about those kinds of things when she left Spokane. But together they didn’t have that kind of worry now and if Lonnie had any say, they never would. ‘WE have those things, honey. We’re in this together, Ruby.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby agreed, ‘All right.’ Lonnie put her head in what little lap Ruby had and the blonde’s hands began to gently stroke her hair. One of Lonnie’s hands settled on Ruby’s tummy, the other arm went around her hips and her eyes closed. Ruby. Her beloved Ruby.
They stayed in that position for a few minutes enjoying the comfort and intimacy of each other until the baby made herself known. ‘Hey,’ Lonnie grinned. ‘This little squirt is putting her two cents worth in this.’ She gently rubbed the spot on Ruby’s tummy. ‘Settle down, little one.’
‘Yes,’ Ruby replied, ‘She does like to do that.’
They both chuckled. Lonnie pressed her cheek to Ruby’s knees, ‘So now you know how I got those huge credit card bills. And even with regular small payments I’m afraid the balance will just seem to get bigger instead of going down, even without charging anything more. So the question we’ll have is, just how do we get rid of this albatross.’
‘Maybe we should use our wedding gift...’
Lonnie’s head shot up. ‘No! That’s not going to go for Cheryl’s clothes. No. We’ll find a way without that. I think we should put some of that in the baby’s college fund and some in a rainy day fund. That’s what I think.’ She lowered her head back into Ruby’s lap.
‘All right. Maybe it would be a good idea to pay the bills off with a credit union loan or something like that. It would be much lower interest, don’t you think? I saw some kind of balance sheet from a credit union among the bills.’
‘Yes. I, uh, we...have both a savings and a checking account at the credit union. You’re right, it might be good to get a loan as long as we quit using the credit cards completely. Otherwise you just end up with bills from both. We could use the car as collateral. It’s paid off.’ She sighed. ‘Mom’s right. It was stupid and I knew better. I guess I just don’t like being told so.’
‘I’m sorry she found out.’ Ruby stroked a long strand of dark hair from Lonnie’s face. ‘That was my fault.’
‘No. It’s all right. I will be getting a bonus at Christmas, kind of a profit sharing kind of thing. Usually I put that into the IRA. Maybe we can use some of that. It’ll help. Then we’ll just have to keep chipping away at it. I’m sorry, honey. Like I say, I hate to admit it, but Mom’s right.’
‘Your Mom wants to help, Lonnie, but I think she’s just used to thinking of you as a kid,’ Ruby stroked her hands through Lonnie’s hair. ‘It must be hard for mothers to realize their children are all grown up. I don’t think she means to interfere or cause any problems.’
‘Yeah. I know.’
‘What about all those envelopes you had with a rubber band around them. Were they charities?’
‘Yeah. I have this idea that if you expect to get, you should expect to give, even if you can’t really afford it. So I try to send a check somewhere every month regardless. Even if it’s only five or ten dollars.’ Blue eyes lifted. ‘Besides, we live in the wealthiest nation in the world. If we don’t contribute, who will?’
‘There were a lot of places.’
‘I know. There are plenty of worthy causes, but I only pick one a month,’ Lonnie nuzzled her head in Ruby’s lap. ‘I do have a couple rules I follow. I never donate to anyone that discriminates. That’s important to me and doesn’t mean just the charity’s recipients but their office staff as well. If they’re exclusive about who they hire or don’t hire, I don’t donate to them. And I don’t donate to anyone who requires the recipients to listen to their proselytizing. Oh, and the bulk of the money’s got to actually go to the cause, not the executives. I check Ôem out on the internet before I give. There’s a lot of frauds out there.’
‘You have such a large batch.’
Lonnie chuckled. ‘Yeah. Once you give, you get put on every charity mailing list in the world, I swear. I’ve already thrown away the larger batch of ones that don’t meet my criteria.’
‘Yeah.’ She thought about their bills. There weren’t that many really, but there were some exceptionally large ones and more potentially large ones waiting in the wings. ‘I want to consider adopting, but it’s real expensive I’ve heard,’ she sighed, ‘if it’s allowed at all. That’s something else we’ll need to think about.’
‘Well, we’ll just have to figure a way to make it work.’
Lonnie flashed a large smile up at Ruby, ‘Yeah. Here, move your feet up onto the bed, will you? You should be lying down.’ She hopped up, grabbed the blanket off the end of the bed and spread it out over Ruby then got back on the floor, leaning against the bed with her head touching Ruby.
Ruby stretched out, turned on her side then ran her hand gently through Lonnie’s hair, enjoying the luxurious feel of the dark strands against her fingertips. There was a deep intimacy being there together like this. There were doubts, of course, but they were working on them. And now they’d weathered their first storm.
‘Honey?’ Lonnie asked finally.
‘Hmm?’ Ruby stroked the dark hair beside her.
‘Will you think about staying home and taking care of the baby and not working?’ She added hurriedly, ‘Just think about it, okay?’
Ruby considered. Her child’s welfare was foremost in her mind, but it was important to her to pay her own way as well. ‘I’ll think about it,’ she replied hesitantly. No promises. They both heard that unspoken thought. ‘Should I brush your hair for you, honey?’ Ruby asked.
‘Oh, yeah,’ Lonnie grinned. She loved having Ruby stroke her hair. She hopped up, got the brush for Ruby and sat back on the floor with her head beside the small blonde. Ruby began stroking the brush through the long, dark locks, spreading them along the edge of the bedding.
Lonnie’s thoughts went to her mother. Yeah, she did seem to think of Lonnie as being five years old. She just wished she’d stay out of their financial affairs. She knew the bills were big but they could get rid of them. She was confident of that. She’d already brought them down a lot. Still, her mother was being more helpful with Ruby than they could ever repay her for. Take the good with the bad, she thought again. Not a bad idea.
‘You have beautiful hair, Lonnie,’ Ruby said. ‘I’d like to braid it.’
‘M’kay,’ Lonnie shut her eyes and hummed, letting the soothing strokes calm her nerves from the day. It was wonderful having Ruby to come home to. How had she ever gotten by without her?
When her mother called and they left the room hand in hand to go to dinner, Lonnie’s hair freshly braided in the back, Lonnie’s mother gave her daughter a stern glance. The older woman walked to the freezer section and opened the door. ‘This is where you should put your cards, if you hope to get out of the hole you’ve gotten your family into.’
‘I know.’ Lonnie replied woodenly.
‘It’s an idea to consider, isn’t it, honey?’ Ruby interceded. ‘Thanks, Mom. We’ll keep it in mind. But we do have a plan,’ she smiled sweetly at the older woman then turned to Lonnie, ‘Did you get your rush order done at work today?’ She changed the subject as they moved to the living room and the chaise.
‘Uh, I’ve got most of it into the computer,’ Lonnie held the blanket and waited for the small blonde to get seated before covering her.
‘You work so hard, honey. I’m glad it’s coming along. Your Mom fixed a great meal. I can smell it.’
‘Roasted chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and green beans,’ the older woman called proudly from the kitchen as Ruby settled on the chaise. ‘And banana custard for dessert.’
‘Oh, yum,’ Ruby called back. ‘Delicious as always, I’m sure. How will we get by when you go back home? We’re so spoiled.’
Lonnie’s first reaction had been to ruffle at her mother’s demand. This was her home and her life. But her mother was here to help and she was doing that, obviously. She watched Ruby charm her mother and knew it wasn’t something she could ever do, nor would she ever try to. But she was very glad Ruby did. She got her purse, withdrew her wallet and rustled through it.
The tall brunette gave a short wink to the small blonde, unseen by her mother, then walked into the kitchen. ‘You’re right, Mom.’ She handed her credit cards to her mother. ‘Keep Ôem on ice till we’re out of debt.’ She moved to collect their dinner plates.
Her mother opened her mouth then closed it again. How had Ruby gotten her to do that? Her non-responsive daughter rarely acted on her suggestions.
The older woman slipped the cards into an empty ice cube tray and filled it with water, placing the tray in the freezer. Of course, Lonnie shouldn’t have run up those horrible debts in the first place. She’d been taught much better than that. She opened her mouth but Lonnie let her serious blue eyes settle over her mother’s. Unlike her husband’s blue eyes, these were more stern and their gaze spoke firmly...stop while you’re ahead.
Her mother stood observing her daughter. She wasn’t a child any longer. It was hard to realize that. She had a life partner and they were expecting a child. Robert always said they had to let the children make their own mistakes. But it would be so much easier for them if they’d only listen to their parents’ advice. ‘Yes, all right. I just know you can do better.’
‘I know.’ Lonnie left with the two plates and cutlery. They had taken to eating in the living room instead of the dining room so Ruby could stay as prone as possible.
‘Thanks, Mom,’ Ruby called from the chaise as Lonnie handed her her plate. ‘Mmmm, this looks delicious.’
Lonnie’s mother came out of the kitchen with a smile carrying her own plate. ‘Thank you, dear,’ she smiled back at Ruby. Ruby was a wonderful person. Her daughter had done that much correctly, at least. She rolled her eyes when she thought of Cheryl. Oh heavens, how she’d worried about that horrible young woman’s influence. She cast a glance at her youngest. Well, she was a hard worker, there was no denying that.
The lights to the tree were turned on and the others dimmed. It smelled so wonderful. Soft Christmas music was turned on in the background. They sat enjoying their meal in the holiday atmosphere.
After supper Lonnie scraped the plates and put them in the dishwasher. She gathered all the bills and took them into their bedroom. Her mother always went to her room and read her novel in the evenings once the kitchen was clean. Ruby followed Lonnie. The brunette had the small blonde lie down while she finished going over the unpaid bills with her.
They talked about each bill and what it had been for while Ruby tried to write out checks from a prone position, leaving them for Lonnie to sign. It was awkward, but she insisted on doing her part. Lonnie had not let her see Nyri’s bill. It was in another drawer. It would have been too upsetting. Then there’d be Chase’s bill. Well, they’d discuss those later.
There really weren’t all that many left to do. Car insurance wasn’t due till the end of the month, so that was a blessing. That bill she paid once every six months and it was a big chunk. She made a note to call them and put Ruby’s name on the policy. They got them all up to date and she put the receipts and papers in a manilla envelope. It would go in the desk drawer. She could mail the checks from work the next day.
Lonnie changed into her bed clothes and climbed into bed to watch a little television with Ruby, who seemed restless again. The small blonde got up to use the bathroom and Lonnie’s gaze followed her. She was worried about Ruby. She was constantly uncomfortable and tonight she seemed a little flushed. When she came back, she rubbed Ruby’s back until the blonde seemed to calm a little.
Ruby did seem more relaxed once the bills were put aside. She even fell asleep in Lonnie’s arms before the last show was over. Lonnie flicked off the set and the room went dark.
She undoubtedly would have to go into work this upcoming weekend, to get out another rush order. If she worked diligently, she should be done with her Ôbefore Christmas’ flood of work just in time for the baby’s arrival near Christmas day.
Ruby did not have a particularly good night, so Tuesday morning Lonnie hung around the house till what turned out to be a late time for her. When Ruby awoke but looked pallid and clammy instead of flushed, Lonnie debated.
‘Go to work, honey. I’m fine. Nothing should be happening for several weeks yet.’
‘You feel all right? We can call the doctor.’
‘No, I’m fine, really. Go.’
Lonnie’s brow wrinkled in worry and she debated.
‘Your mother’s here if there’s any problem. Don’t worry.’
A sigh left the tall brunette’s lips. ‘All right. Be sure to stay on the chaise. Don’t help with the laundry. Okay? I’m going to ask Mom not to let you do anything.’
Ruby had taken to folding the laundry when Lonnie’s mother brought it back. But, in fact, she did feel less than stellar this day. ‘Yes, fine. I’ll sleep all day.’
‘Well, all right. But if you don’t feel good, we can call the doctor.’
‘No, I’m fine. I have another appointment with her on Friday anyway. That’s not all that far off. Go.’
Lonnie gave the small blonde a quick peck, talked to her mother and headed to work. She kept her cell phone on in case they couldn’t get through to her. It was nerve wracking to say the least. She worked as quickly as she dared at work but still didn’t get home till just before seven that night.
After supper Lonnie again rubbed the blonde’s back and tried to relax her. Ruby finally relaxed enough to fall asleep, but Lonnie was awake much of the night worrying about Ruby. The small blonde was pale, got up a lot and seemed so restless. Lonnie got only a few hours solid sleep then had to head into work Wednesday morning. She drove her staff and herself mercilessly to get as much done as possible. But there was only so much that could be done in a day.
That night, Lonnie was back home, they’d had supper, the kitchen was clean and her mother was in her room reading.
The young couple sat in the living room sharing the chaise to watch a holiday comedy and Lonnie was pleased to see Ruby’s color was better, and she seemed more relaxed than she had the day before. The small blonde laughed and appeared to be in much better spirits than she had been most of the week. Ruby sat between Lonnie’s legs, laying back against the tall brunette.
As the program drew to a close and they both were laughing, Ruby put her head back and looked up at Lonnie. ‘If anything happens to me,’ she said, ‘I want you to raise our daughter. I’ve written it all out and left the paper in the middle drawer in the desk. I’ve given all rights to you.’
‘What?’ now Lonnie’s face paled. ‘Ruby, nothing’s going to happen to you. It can’t.’
‘Well, it can,’ she smiled sweetly. ‘but I’m just saying ‘if’. I don’t expect anything to happen. I just like to be ready in case. So please don’t notify my parents. It’s not spiteful so much as I don’t want them trying to take her away from you. When she’s twenty-one, you can tell them. I want the best life possible for her, and that’s with you. Do you understand?’
‘Sweetheart....’ Lonnie felt herself tense. She’d been worried enough about the small blonde. Now to have her concerned about not making it. Did she know something Lonnie didn’t? Was this foretelling something? Could her worst fears possibly happen? The thought gripped her in the stomach and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to breathe. She couldn’t lose Ruby. Not her precious Ruby. No. She didn’t want to think like that.
Ruby felt the tall brunette tense up. ‘It’s all right, Lonnie. Just say you’ll do it.’
‘Of course I’ll do it. But honey, nothing’s going to happen.’
‘I don’t think so either, but I want to know everything’s in place just in case. And you promise me you’ll find someone else. Someone to take good care of you. Not like Cheryl, though. Her type’s not good for you, honey. Your mother’s right about that.’
‘Shhh. Promise me.’
‘Ruby, you’re frightening me.’
‘Don’t be frightened, my sweet protector. Just promise me, please. I’ll feel so much better if you do.’
‘Okay, I promise, but...’
‘Good. I love you. Lean back a little more, okay?’
‘Uh, okay.’ Lonnie adjusted the lounge, sat back and wrapped her arm around Ruby’s wide middle. Since the comedy was over, the small blonde used the remote to find a mystery she had wanted to watch. She let her body lean solidly into Lonnie. ‘And send her to college, if you can afford it at all. That would please me more than anything. Any girl that wants to go to college, should be able to.’
That caught Lonnie by surprise. She didn’t know that Ruby put so much store in college. Their joining gift could all go into the baby’s college fund, if that’s what Ruby wanted. She looked at the very pregnant small woman. Just please don’t let anything happen to Ruby. Please. I’ve just found her, please don’t take her away from me.
Ruby fell asleep then, but Lonnie chewed her lip and worried the whole evening.
Continued in Chapter Six
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