Getting to know you ...
Disclaimer: See title page.
| Sometime in the night, once the
second storm had passed, Mephisto found it too warm, nestled as he was against
the shorter person's skin. He liked her. She made nice noises at him, didn't
scratch too hard when she touched him and she looked after his person when
she was hurt. But right now she was just too warm to snuggle up against.
He stood, arching his back then stretching out and flexing his claws before padding nonchalantly across the two sleeping women. When he reached the corner of the bed he coiled himself up and leapt high, landing on top of the tall bookcase with practised ease. One circle to make his nest and the big black cat settled down, front paws tucked under his chest, like a sphynx. He gazed down at the two humans with sleepy, half-lidded golden eyes, waiting for the day to begin.
The first suggestion of sunrise touched the two sleeping figures in the bed and seemed to stir them, though neither woke. He watched as his person stretched and rolled over, turning in the embrace of the shorter one until they faced each other. The blonde responded by pressing closer, murmuring incoherently as she continued to slumber. Mephisto uncurled and rolled over onto his back, matching the lazy comfort of the humans.
Jo felt herself swimming up through a deep, sound sleep towards the pale light of dawn. She protested quietly and tightened her arms around the warm body cuddled up against her left side. Contentedly, she buried her nose in the sweet-smelling hair against her face and settled back down into a drowsy half-alert state.
That's when it hit her. Eyelids flew open, revealing startled blue eyes. She stiffened slightly when she realised it was Cadie she was hugging tightly. Jo glanced down and confirmed what her tingling skin told her.
"Whooooooo boy," she muttered, her brain scrambling to remember how exactly they'd ended up in this position when she was sure they'd gone to bed in separate rooms. Flashes of her nightmare came back to her and a light went on in her head.
I woke Cadie up with my dream, she thought. She caught the eye of the big black cat on top of the bookcase. Or someone else did, she chuckled inwardly. She looked down again at the blonde woman tucked under her chin, blissfully unaware. Dangerous, Jo thought. She's so beautiful and I want to keep holding her so badly. Wistfully she planted a tender kiss on the top of Cadie's head before she gently tried to extract herself from the blonde's determined grip.
"Noooooo," mumbled Cadie sleepily, tightening her hold around Jo's waist and casually flinging her left leg over Jo's, effectively pinning her in place. The taller woman couldn't help smiling and it only took about half a second to give in to the impulse to stay just as she was.
"Okay sweetheart," she muttered. "I'm not going anywhere." She kissed Cadie's forehead once more and let herself slide back down into the drowsy warmth. I guess it can't hurt, she thought just before she drifted off again. We're only sleeping.
Cadie burrowed deeper into the nest of sensual safety in which she was wrapped. Part of her brain knew it was Jo's arms that held her close, but mostly she was an unthinking ball of sleepiness, content to feel the warmth of another human at her fingertips and against her face.
Happily she snuggled closer, burying her face against the soft smoothness of Jo's neck. Unconsciously she kissed the warm skin, murmuring incoherently as her lips made their gentle way up the line of the taller woman's neck until the blonde was nibbling at the soft spot below her ear.
Mephisto watched, amused, as the two sleeping women began tender, insensible explorations of each other. He cocked his head at the barely audible mewling sounds coming from the bed.
Lips and tongues merged and tangled as Jo and Cadie's bodies did what their minds hesitated to permit in wakefulness, sleep undoing inhibitions. Their movements slowly became more and more passionate as desire overtook tenderness, even in sleep. Legs wound around each other, Cadie's left hooking over Jo's right hip as the skipper's long fingers stroked down the outside of her thigh. Sunlight crept across the bed, shedding light and warmth on the two languorously moving figures.
Finally, consciousness, like the sunshine, snuck up on the pair and the deep kiss they shared was enough to pull them both awake. Breathlessly they gazed at each other, blinking sleepily despite the waves of tingles coursing through them both.
"Wow," breathed Jo, mesmerised by the brilliant green eyes just inches from her own. She suddenly became very aware of her hands, one possessively cupping Cadie's buttock, the other wrapped around the smaller woman's waist.
"Very wow," agreed the blonde quietly, wondering just how her leg came to be wound around the dark woman's hips. "That's one heck of a way to wake a woman up, skipper."
"Mhmmmmmmm ..." Jo murmured, savouring the feel of the compact American's body against hers. "I don't know about you, Miss Jones," she whispered as she leaned in to claim Cadie's lips again. "But I could stand to wake up this way every morning." They kissed again, slowly, both riding a gradual rising tide of desire. Only the thump of an impatient feline landing on the foot of the bed interrupted them.
Cadie giggled as she watched Mephisto stalk up the foothills of the lumpy mountain the two women made under the sheet.
"Ow, ow, ow ... claws, Mephisto, mind your claws," Jo protested as the big cat made his way up her long thigh. She and Cadie parted enough to allow him a place to sit between them and he promptly curled into a contented ball with a sound that was half miaow and half purr.
"I'm guessing that's his 'stop kissing and feed me' noise," grinned Cadie at the cat's owner who was gazing affectionately at the black feline.
Jo laughed quietly.
"Something like that." She turned back to look at Cadie with frank blue eyes. "And it's probably a good thing he interrupted us if you want to stick to that decision you made last night," she said, somewhat wistfully, fighting the urge to nudge the cat out of the way and throw caution to the wind.
Cadie sighed, desire for the tall skipper warring with the complications of her life that were bouncing insistently off the inside of her skull.
"Probably," she agreed sadly. "But I don't have to pretend I like it, do I?" She pouted slightly, a look that drew a charmed smile from Jo, who ran a gentle finger down the line of Cadie's jaw.
"No, sweetheart, you don't have to like it," she replied softly. "Here's an idea. It's early and we've got some time. Why don't I get up and feed the monster here." She ruffled the fur on top of the cat's head playfully. "I'll put together some breakfast for us and then we can spend the next few hours in bed getting to know each other."
"In the biblical sense?" Cadie quipped hopefully, grinning at the belly laugh that erupted from the tall skipper. Jo leaned forward and kissed her soundly before sliding out of bed.
"Don't go away, I'll be right back," she said, padding around the bed.
Cadie couldn't keep her eyes off the lanky Australian whose t-shirt barely covered the tops of her long legs.
"Mmmmmmmm," she murmured. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."
Jo lifted one elegant eyebrow in response to the lascivious look on the blonde's face and chuckled as she headed out the door to the living room.
"C'mon Mephy, tucker time," she called out.
The feline sprang up, used Cadie's stomach as a stepping-stone and bounded out after his mistress.
"Oooof ... claws!!" yelped the blonde, giggling quietly to herself when she heard Jo laughing at her distress.
Jo was still laughing as she crossed the living room into the kitchen, retrieving the cat's bowl from the corner where it had been kicked in all the commotion of the day before. Remembering just what a bizarre day it had been brought her up short for a moment and she glanced over to the front door where the crudely-fashioned makeshift replacement paid testament to the day's events.
Was that really me? Jo pondered. Do I really have that violent animal inside me? She poured a handful of kibble into the bowl and placed it on the floor for Mephisto, crouching next to him and absentmindedly running her fingers through his fur as he tucked into the food. So much has happened in the last 24 hours. So much that was awful. She glanced toward the bedroom where she could hear Cadie pottering about, humming tunelessly to herself. But she made it wonderful, Jo thought with a smile. All that horror and she wiped it away with one touch and one word.
She shook her head in wonder and opened the fridge, searching the contents for suitable breakfast-in-bed material.
I can't get over the connection I feel with her, she thought, pulling out mangoes, strawberries and a couple of bananas. It feels ... old ... and deep.
A wave of melancholy washed through her as she began slicing the various fruits into bite-sized pieces and placing them on a platter.
Bottom line is it doesn't matter how connected we feel, she thought grimly. In a few hours we'll be back to reality. Naomi will be breathing down Cadie's neck, and in two weeks that gorgeous blonde in my bedroom will disappear from my life like she was never here. She tossed the knife into the sink with a satisfying clatter. That kiss may have been a huge mistake, Jo-Jo, she pondered. You're about to get your heart broken.
Cadie emerged from the bathroom and took the opportunity to explore the surroundings of Jo's bedroom while the tall skipper was otherwise occupied in the kitchen.
She wandered around the large room, taking in the cool blue and green tones of the largely unadorned walls, and the few knick-knacks sitting on the crowded bookshelves. There was one picture of an older couple she assumed were Jo's parents, arm-in-arm outside a comfortable-looking white bungalow-style house. Apart from that there was nothing to indicate Jo had had a childhood of any sort. Cadie carefully picked up a foot-long clear bottle which held an exquisite model ship, the rigging and sails a mass of delicately executed ropes and spars.
This took hours and hours to make, Cadie thought admiringly as she gingerly replaced the bottle on its stand. It's gorgeous. She ran a finger across a row of books, taking in the titles and learning what she could about her tall companion. Hmmmmmm, science-fiction mainly, she noted. Biographies, Buddhism ... That raised her eyebrows a little. And what's this? Smiling broadly, Cadie pulled out a lesbian romance novel whose author was one of her own stable of talent. Well, whaddaya know. Tall, dark and dangerous is a sucker for romance. She grinned as she slid the book back into its place.
The room was neat and well-organised and reminded Cadie of the inside of Seawolf.
Not surprising, I guess, she thought. Everything's tucked away and in its place. She smiled as she crawled back into the bed, sliding between the sheets and curling up in a patch of sunlight. I know so little about her, but I feel like I've known her forever, she thought, her body shivering slightly at the memory of Jo's touch. Yesterday was so ... bizarre ... that darkness that's in her - can I live with that?
She snorted to herself, rolling back up into a sitting position and hugging her knees to her chest.
Goddess, listen to me. Live with what?? she chastised herself. I'm thinking like I don't have another life. Damn ... what am I going to do? Jo's become the most precious thing in the world to me, but it's all so complicated. And I'm not sure I want more complications in my life.
A small tear escaped and rolled down Cadie's cheek as she rested her chin on her forearms. She sniffed mournfully and gazed out at the spectacular view of Whitsunday Passage.
She felt, rather than heard, the quiet presence behind her and turned to see Jo holding a huge platter of fruit as she leant against the doorjamb. The tall skipper looked worried.
"Hi," the blonde said quietly, brushing away the tears with a quick swipe of her hand.
"Hey," Jo replied. "You look like you could use a hug."
Cadie nodded, disconcerted to find her chin wobbling at the concern in Jo's eyes. The skipper sat down on the edge of the bed and reached over Cadie's legs to slide the platter onto the flat part of the mattress, out of the way.
"C'mere, sweetie," the dark-haired woman said, wrapping the blonde up in long, willing arms. She rested her cheek on the top of Cadie's head and rocked her gently for a while. "What's up?"
Cadie laughed tearfully into Jo's neck.
"Oh, nothing much. Just a few small little things. Like I'm not married to the person I'm in love with. And I am married to someone I don't think I even like much anymore." There was a pause as she gathered herself. "And ... and ... and in two weeks I have to go back to the States." The words rushed out.
Jo closed her eyes and grimaced, recognising the pain behind Cadie's words and its mirror image in her own heart. But at the same time a soft, happy little chime sounded in her head. She pulled away from Cadie and ducked her head to catch the smaller woman's eye.
"You're in love with me?" she asked, a lop-sided grin giving her a rakish air.
Moist green eyes managed a smile back at her.
"Well, um, yes, I think I might be ... yes," replied Cadie, feeling the blush rise across her face and neck. "I ... um ... sorry, that's probably the last thing you wanted to hear right now, what with everything else that I said last night ..."
Jo lifted her chin with a gentle fingertip and deliberately locked gazes with the blonde.
"Do I look like I'm complaining?" she asked softly. "I'm glad you said it. I was hoping I wasn't the only one feeling that way." She smiled gently as Cadie looked up at her wonderingly.
"Wow," Cadie whispered. "That's nice to know."
"Mhmmmmm," answered Jo as she leaned down to capture the American's lips in a soul-deep, intense kiss.
"Goddess that feels good." Cadie took a few seconds to savour the feeling but soon Jo could again see the fear in those beautiful green eyes.
"Honey ..." she started, but Cadie's hands flew up to cover her face as panic overtook the blonde.
"Jesus, Jo-Jo, what are we going to do? This is a nightmare."
Jo sighed and pulled Cadie back into an all-enveloping hug.
"I'll tell you what we're going to do," she said fiercely. "For a start, we're going to live in the minute as much as we can. We have the next few hours to ourselves. Let's take the opportunity to ask and answer the million and one questions I know we have." She felt Cadie nodding against her shoulder, and acknowledged the perceptible relaxation of the American's body. "Then we're going to go back to the Seawolf and deal with reality as best we can."
Cadie whimpered softly and Jo chuckled.
"I know, baby. But then we're going to do exactly what you said you needed to do last night."
"What's that?" came the muffled response.
"We're going to take it one step at a time, Arcadia. You're going to work through all the loose ends with Naomi till you get to a conclusion you can live with." Cadie nodded again. "And then you're going to spend whatever time you need deciding what you want to do next." Jo softly kissed the top of the blonde's disheveled head. "And the bottom line is, darling, I'm not going anywhere. You'll always know where to find me, if and when you're ready to."
Jo knew she sounded brave and strong, but she felt a large part of her heart crumbling under the reality of her own words.
There's a chance I may never see her again once she goes home, she thought grimly.
"I love you," said Cadie quietly.
Jo smiled into the golden hair against her face.
"I love you too," she replied.
Cadie patted the bed on her right-hand side where she could still feel remnants of Jo's body heat.
"Come back to bed?"
A few minutes later they were side by side again, the platter of fruit between them. They each propped themselves up on an elbow to eat their breakfast and occasionally they fed each other a tasty morsel.
"You must have a lot of questions for me," said Jo after a while, keeping her eyes studiously on the fruit. "Yesterday wasn't exactly run of the mill."
"No it wasn't," Cadie agreed. She's not comfortable with this, she thought. She's ashamed of what she was. Let's see if I can make it any easier. "Tell me about the nightmare?"
Jo lifted faintly surprised blue eyes to Cadie's.
"I wasn't expecting you to start there," she admitted with a small smile. "But it's as good a place as any. It harks back to the day I started in the business and the day I decided to get out for good."
"Okay," Cadie said, reaching for a stray piece of pineapple that was calling her name.
"I used to work for a man called Tony Martin. He was the biggest drug dealer in Sydney at the time. I was what they used to call his 'minder'. In exchange for rather large amounts of money I would ... eliminate ... his competition, or people who had done the wrong thing by him."
"You would kill them?" Cadie asked quietly.
"Sometimes yes," Jo replied, her face flushed and her eyes downcast. "Sometimes it was enough just to hurt them a bit, or scare them badly. But yes, sometimes I had to kill them."
"As time went on he had me take people out for less and less reason." Jo dropped onto her back and threw her right arm across her eyes. Cadie kept still and just let the dark-haired woman talk. "That last one ... " She swallowed hard. "She was just a kid who made the mistake of giving him some cheek and re-selling some of the dope he'd given her for nothing." Cadie watched as a tear slipped from the corner of Jo's eye as she lay there. "She was like I had been 10 years earlier - scared and young and hungry."
Jo dropped her arm down by her side and stared at the ceiling. She sighed deeply.
"I chased her into an alley and held a gun to her head." She glanced over at Cadie who was watching her somberly. "She had green eyes too," Jo said, rolling onto her side and gazing up into the blonde's eyes frankly. "Something clicked in my head - finally." She shook her head in wonder. "And I couldn't do it. But before I could let her go, our friend Marco came along and took care of us both."
Cadie swallowed the rising lump in her throat.
"So she died anyway?"
Jo nodded mutely, playing with the piece of mango in her fingers.
"He king-hit me then took her out with my own gun. When I came to, I lost it completely and called Harding. That was the beginning of the end."
Cadie leaned forward and gently took the mango sliver from Jo's fingers, reaching up and placing it against her bottom lip.
"Eat, darling," she urged with a smile. Jo accepted the fruit, taking the opportunity to place a few delicate kisses on the blonde's fingertips as she did so. Cadie tried to ignore the run of tingles the action sent up her arm and all positions south. "You said the dream also connected to your first day in the business. Tell me more about that?"
Jo took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Where do I start that story? she wondered.
Cadie chuckled at the perplexed look on her friend's face.
"Honey, just start at the beginning," she smiled. "How did you end up in Sydney in the first place? I remember you said your parents own a sheep farm out in the country."
"Mhmmmm," confirmed Jo, relieved to have a specific question to answer. "It's pretty isolated out there. Our nearest neighbours are about an hour's drive away, and the nearest town is a couple more hours beyond that."
"Really?" Cadie blinked hard, trying to imagine those kind of distances. "So the farm must be pretty big I guess?"
Jo smiled and nodded.
"About a hundred and thirty thousand hectares," she said, laughing at Cadie's wide-eyed reaction. "Anyway, there was just me, Mum and Dad and a few jackaroos most of the year. And the shearers for a couple of months in early summer. So it was pretty quiet." She paused. "Really, really quiet."
"Where did you go to school?" the blonde asked.
"School of the Air," Jo replied. "That's where you do all your work by correspondence and then once a week you catch up with the teacher by radio."
"Wow, that's amazing. You didn't ever get to go to parties or dances, or stuff like that?"
"Oh, mum and dad did their best to get me to and from places when they could," Jo replied. "But they were working so hard just to keep the station afloat, you know? There was the occasional B and S but that was about it."
"B and S?"
Jo chuckled at the puzzled look on the American's face.
"Bachelor and Spinster's Ball. All the single men and women from around the district drive for miles to have a dance in an old shed. Lots of bush dancing, lots of drinking and a lot of sore heads in the morning," she explained. "Happens a couple of times a year."
"I was driving by the time I was 12, so that helped a bit, but then the more I mixed with kids my own age, the more I realized I was different from them," Jo said. She picked up a humungous strawberry and grinned wickedly at the American. "Remind you of anything?" she asked, twirling the fruit by its stalk and quirking an eyebrow at Cadie.
The blonde grinned back.
"Tell me do," she teased.
"Lean forward and close your eyes," said Jo in her lowest, sexiest register.
"Ooooooo, god you should patent that voice, woman," muttered Cadie, doing as she was told.
Jo pressed the narrow end of the strawberry against the blonde's lips.
"Open just a little and kiss this," Jo whispered, mesmerized by the tantalizing way Cadie's lips surrounded the tip of the fruit. "Mmmmm that's it. Now touch your tongue to it and just stroke it slowly."
She watched Cadie obey and then laughed as the blonde's eyes flew open.
"I told you it would remind you of something," she teased.
Cadie responded by grabbing Jo's hand and slowly, sensually devouring the strawberry like it was a part of the taller woman's anatomy that she had coveted for a very long time. Jo felt her temperature rising as she watched the blonde making love to the fruit with her mouth. She swallowed, wondering if the desire she was feeling was as obvious to Cadie as it felt to her.
Clearly it was.
"That'll teach you to tease me," Cadie said smugly around the last remnants of the fruit. Jo leaned forward suddenly and kissed off the dribble of juice that slid down the American's chin.
"That'll teach you to tease me," Jo replied, smiling softly as she resumed her reclining position, licking her lips.
Cadie cleared her throat.
"Where were we?" she asked huskily.
"Damned if I know," laughed Jo.
They both took a moment just to be together in companiable silence before Cadie refocused the conversation.
"You can drive at age 12 here?"
"No, not legally," she said. "But out in the bush kids learn early so they can help out on the farm. Tractors, trucks, utes, you name it, I was driving it."
"Was that part of feeling different?" Cadie asked.
"Nah, all my friends did the same," Jo replied. "No, it was like ... I felt much more self-aware than everyone else seemed to be. What free time I had away from my chores and my schoolwork, I spent reading. My folks were pretty good at making sure I got as wide an education as they could give me. So I wasn't a na€ve kid at all. And from what contact I did have with other kids my age, it didn't take me very long to figure out that it was the girls who intrigued me and not the guys."
She and the blonde exchanged grins as they each remembered their own moments of revelation.
"Oh I can relate to that," said Cadie. "I was at my junior prom in Madison, and I was dancing with a boy called Jimmy Hofsteder. He was shorter than me ..."
"Hard to believe," teased Jo, ducking as Cadie flicked a wet slice of mango in her direction. "Hey, no fruit in the bedsheets."
"Brat." The blonde smiled. "Anyway, Jimmy was shorter than me, covered in zits and hair oil and I found myself looking over his shoulder at Sally Doogan all night. That's when a clue ran in and bit me on the fanny."
Jo spluttered, almost choking on the mango slice.
"Fanny?" she managed at last, coughing as she tried to catch her breath. Cadie was perplexed.
"Yeh. Fanny. As in, bit me on the butt," she said, wondering why her companion looked like she'd swallowed a whole chili. She was even more confused seconds later when Jo started giggling hysterically.
"Whaaaaaaaaaat?" she asked, poking the skipper in belly.
Jo recovered her composure enough to speak coherent English.
"So," she said, wiping the tears away. "Fanny means butt in America, huh?"
"Well, yeh," Cadie replied, a light beginning to dawn in her brain. "Why, what does it mean here?"
"Not that, that's for damn sure," said Jo, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"Tell meeeeeeeeeee," the blonde pleaded. "Or I'm going to be forced to tickle you."
"You'd have to catch me first," she replied, eyes widening as Cadie threatened to leap over the fruit platter and make good on her promise. "Okay, okay," Jo laughed. She beckoned with a finger and Cadie leaned across so Jo could whisper in her ear.
"You're kidding?" she said when she pulled back. Jo shook her head, her smile wide. Cadie soon had a matching grin.
"Well, what the hell do you call a fanny pack, then?" she asked, delighted when Jo dissolved into gales of laughter.
"A ... a ... bum bag," Jo gasped between convulsions.
That prompted a mini-explosion from the blonde and they both spent the next couple of minutes giggling helplessly.
"So," Jo said as they recovered, side-by-side, leaning back against the headboard. "Was she cute?"
"Not particularly, but she smelled way better than Jimmy Hofsteder, that's for darn sure."
Jo chuckled and leaned in to kiss the blonde again.
"I for one, am glad you figured it out," she said softly when they pulled back from each other. "Anyway, to cut a long story very short, I muddled my way through puberty, bored out of my mind. Sydney was like this great emerald city by the sea, you know?" Cadie nodded. "All roads seemed to lead there, most of my friends were trying to get there one way or another. It was like the pot of gold at the end of a very dry and dusty rainbow. We all had this romantic idea that if we could just get to Sydney then our lives would suddenly became glamorous and exciting."
She glanced at Cadie who was engrossed in the story.
"But I was the only child of a third-generation farming family," Jo continued. "Mum and Dad wanted me to stay close to learn the business and for a while there I just didn't know how to tell them it wasn't for me."
"Something must have happened to change that," Cadie said softly. "What was it?"
Jo took another deep breath.
"My best mate killed himself," she said simply, hearing the American's sharp intake of breath. "Phil ... we were both 15 and he'd figured out he was gay too, so that kind of pulled us together, y'know?" Cadie nodded mutely. "He lived about 75 miles south of us so we didn't see each other too often, but we talked pretty much every day on the radio. Did our homework together, that sort of thing." She accepted another strawberry from the blonde and chewed on it thoughtfully.
"He was a tough kid, light of his Dad's life. But one summer his father caught him with one of the shearers and it was all over. Up until then Phil was heading for university - he wanted to be a doctor - but after that his parents told him he wasn't going anywhere. His dad said he'd rather have him on the property where he could keep an eye on him than risk him living a life of deviation." She saw Cadie's jaw drop. "Those were his exact words.
"Phil lasted about a week after that. I talked myself blue trying to buck him up. But one night he just went out to the big shed, took down his father's shotgun and ... " The words stuck in Jo's throat and she fell silent, swallowing down sudden tears that surprised her so long after the event. She felt a soft hand on hers and looked up to meet kind sea-green eyes gazing back at her with sympathy.
"That's when I decided I had to get out. Phil and I had a lot in common and I guess I saw my future in what he did, if I didn't do something pretty drastic to change things. So one night while Mum and Dad were sleeping I snuck out, threw my things in the back of the old ute and just ... disappeared." She dropped her eyes, ashamed all over again of what she had done to her parents.
"It was as easy as that?" Cadie asked quietly.
"Sure," Jo shrugged. "I drove straight through the night, dumped the ute the next morning once I hit a decent-sized town and hitched the rest of the way to Sydney. From there it was just a matter of blending in. There are thousands of street kids in that city, always have been. I was just one more face in the crowd."
"You lived on the streets?"
"Mhmmm, for a while."
"Did you tell your parents where you were?"
"Not straight away," Jo murmured. "It was about a year before I felt established and that's when I called them." She paused. "I really regret waiting so long."
Cadie looked at her quizzically.
"Dad had a heart attack after I left because of the stress of not knowing what had happened to me," Jo continued. "They nearly lost the farm because they had to pay for extra hands to do what he couldn't anymore. But by then I was earning money so I was able to send some back to help them out.
"But it will never make up for the pain I caused them."
Cadie squeezed Jo's hand, then kissed the palm softly.
"So how did you get off the streets and into a job?" she asked.
"Tony found me."
"This is the bit that relates to the nightmare, right?"
"I have taken a while to get back to that haven't I?" She paused for a moment to gather her memories together. "When you live on the streets of Sydney, you're never too far away from the drug scene. I managed to avoid using the stuff - that kind of thing had never appealed to me much - but guys like Tony made good use of street kids. He and his kind paid money to kids like me to make deliveries and run errands. If there's one thing a street kid needs more than food and shelter it's a few extra dollars in the pocket. So I played the game.
"Trouble is Marco had other things in mind for me. One night he cornered me - just like I cornered that girl five years ago - only he wasn't out to kill me."
"Oh god, Jo, he didn't ...?"
Jo smiled wanly.
"He certainly tried," she answered quietly. "Tony intervened, luckily for me, and gave Marco a beating for his trouble."
"No wonder he came after you," Cadie said.
"I'm surprised he waited as long as he did, frankly," Jo replied, wincing as she shifted, catching the bandage around her arm on the bedsheet.
"Where's the first aid kit, Jo?" she asked. "I'm going to change the dressing on your arm."
"It's okay," Jo demurred.
"Don't argue with me, okay? Where is it?"
Jo smiled, relenting.
A little pampering wouldn't do me any harm, she thought. It's been a long time since anybody wanted to.
"I put it back in the main bathroom," she replied.
"Stay right where you are," Cadie ordered, swinging her legs out of the bed and bounding out the room.
Jo lay back on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling. Dredging up all the old memories was giving her the strangest sensations.
I haven't thought of Phil in the longest time, she realized. I wonder how his folks are doing. She struggled to pull their faces out of her memory banks.
Shortly, Cadie was back, clambering up onto the bed again, first aid kit in hand.
"Come on, turn over, so I can get at it," she said. Jo sat up and turned around, lifting the right arm of her t-shirt so the blonde could remove the old bandage. Carefully Cadie started peeling the fabric free, wincing a little in sympathy as the dried blood caught and pulled. "Ouch, sorry," she muttered.
"No worries," Jo replied, gritting her teeth.
"So what happened after Tony rescued you from Marco?" Cadie asked.
Jo sighed, another flood of memories sweeping over her.
"He took me off the streets and handed me over to the kung fu school," she said.
"Kung fu school?"
"Yeh. Tony ran a martial arts academy in the middle of King's Cross. By day, the instructors took classes, and by night they patrolled the streets in pairs."
"Why'd they do that?"
"Well, ostensibly they were doing the community a service. You know, keeping the streets safe and all that." Cadie nodded. "But in reality it was a protection racket. Restaurant and store owners paid Tony a fee and in exchange he didn't torch their buildings, or let anyone else torch them. Damn, that smarts."
Cadie stopped cleaning the wound for a second.
"Sorry, there's a bit of infection in here, Jo-Jo. Are you sure we shouldn't have a doctor look at this?" She carefully prodded again at the angry-looking graze with a cotton bud.
Jo pulled a face as she tried to get a good view of the wound.
"No," she said. "It'll just mean a needle for me and a ton of paperwork for the doctor."
"Don't tell me a big, strong girl like you is a wimp about needles," Cadie teased, resuming her careful exploration of the swollen edges of the cut.
Jo raised an eyebrow and shrugged her shoulders slightly.
"Actually, yeh. Can't help it. Lays me out flat every time." She watched as the American started to repack the wound. "Anyway ... Tony installed me at the kung fu school, gave me a roof over my head and kept me well away from Marco. I showed a bit of talent for martial arts and he began grooming me to be his personal bodyguard. He was getting to the age where he didn't think he could protect himself enough. And he didn't quite trust Marco."
Cadie started wrapping a fresh bandage around Jo's arm.
"I take it by 'a bit of talent' that you were actually kicking everyone else's butt?" she asked.
"Yeh, I guess so," Jo muttered. "If I'd known where it would lead ... I don't know, maybe it would have been different ..." For a few moments she seemed lost in a haze of memories. Cadie fixed the end of the bandage with a clip and gently patted the Australian's arm.
"All done." She watched as Jo glumly swung back around and lay down on her back again. Cadie picked up the now-empty platter and carefully placed it on the bedside table before resuming her spot next to the dark-haired woman. She propped herself on an elbow and looked down at Jo.
"Thanks," said Jo looking up into Cadie's smiling face. "Why isn't any of this bothering you?"
Cadie thought carefully about her answer for a few seconds.
"Because I don't think that's who you are anymore," she answered. "Because I'm not sure it's who you really were then either. Because something ... god, I'm not even sure what ... tells me that you're a good person, no matter what you've done in the past." She paused again as a small piece of truth floated up through her consciousness. "And because I just feel safe with you." She shrugged her shoulders and grinned down at her companion. "Don't ask me to explain it all beyond that, darling, because I don't think I can."
Jo suddenly found herself fighting tears.
"You're an amazing woman, Arcadia Jones," she whispered.
"I'm in love with an amazing woman, Jo-Jo," came the soft reply, as Cadie leaned down and claimed the taller woman's lips for a deep kiss.
Jo melted at the touch, retaining just enough sense to wrap her arms around the blonde and pull her down on top of her. She felt Cadie relax against her and together they deepened the contact into something that lasted minutes rather than seconds.
She groaned softly, reveling in the feeling of giving herself over to another person. Cadie's hands roamed her body, sliding slowly up under her t-shirt and Jo arched against her as sensuality radiated out from the blonde's teasing touch.
Cadie couldn't believe the silky softness of Jo's skin, hard muscles rippling just under the surface, speaking of power and control that she found sexily intriguing. She felt Jo press her thigh between her own and they both moaned as bare skin came up against warm wetness.
The blonde teetered on the brink of just throwing away all rational thought, every care she had for the sake of the passion that threatened to overtake them both. For a moment she hesitated, and then she went limp, whimpering in the dark, warm nest formed by Jo's neck and her hair.
Cadie felt the vibration of a deep, rumbling chuckle from the woman beneath her and found herself smiling at the skipper's good-natured response. Long arms wrapped her up in a tight hug and Jo kissed her temple softly.
"I'm driving you nuts, aren't I?" the blonde asked wistfully, willing her body's reactions to settle.
"Yes," laughed Jo. "But I understand." She squeezed the smaller woman gently. "God help us the day we get to take this through to its natural conclusion." She grinned.
Cadie looked up at her quizzically.
"What do you mean?"
Jo laughed again.
"I may just spontaneously combust," she joked.
That brought a belly laugh from the woman in her arms and soon they were giggling hysterically again.
"Oh dear," gulped Cadie, wiping tears from her eyes. "Oh, that felt good. That's one of the things I love about being with you Jo." She smiled fondly at the dark-haired woman. "You have this knack of making me laugh."
Jo said nothing but took the opportunity to roll them both over, till she was sprawled half on the bed and half over the blonde. She rested her cheek on Cadie's breast, her arm wrapped firmly around the smaller woman. She felt Cadie enfold her in a hug, one hand stroking slowly through her hair. Jo felt a surge of well-being that connected her to the American in a way she hadn't experienced before.
"I've never felt this good," she half-whispered, making Cadie wonder if she'd heard correctly. "Whatever happens Arcadia, I'll be forever grateful for the time we've had."
Cadie bit her lip, trying not to succumb to the tears she could hear just under the surface of Jo's words.
"I will be back Jo," she whispered back. "I don't know when, but I will be back. I promise."
"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh," Jo said, turning and placing a gentle finger on Cadie's lips. "Don't, darling. Don't make promises. Too much has to happen. Let's just take each day as it comes."
"Scary thought," muttered Cadie. "I don't do real well without a plan." She caught Jo's eye as the tall woman raised an amused eyebrow. "I know, I know, loosen up Arcadia."
Jo shook her head.
"No, that wasn't what I was going to say. I was thinking just how well you are doing given the complete chaos of the last 24 hours," she said.
"Well," said Cadie, changing the subject. "You must have a bazillion questions for me. Though I have to warn you, my life is nowhere near as eventful as yours has been."
Jo rolled off the smaller woman and propped herself up on an elbow.
"From what I've seen, I like your life just fine," she said, gazing down at the American.
"Ask away," Cadie smiled back up at her.
"I guess the immediate question that springs to mind is how you and Naomi managed to get together in the first place," Jo asked. "You're so different from each other, it's hard for me to picture what drew you together."
Cadie sighed and let her eyes drift to the ceiling, even as she felt Jo's soothing hand drawing gentle circles on her stomach.
"We've both changed," she said simply. "Naomi probably more than me, but I've grown up a lot as well." She settled into the story and regained Jo's eyes, finding them interested and sympathetic. "Have I told you lately that you have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, Ms Madison?"
She was intrigued by the fetching blush that colored Jo's face, highlighting her high-planed cheekbones and angular jaw.
"Back at you, Miss Jones," Jo replied huskily. "Now get on with the story." She grinned.
"I can't help it if I'm distracted by your gorgeousness, can I?" Cadie giggled at the renewed color in Jo's cheeks, but soon squealed as the Australian's gentle touch turned into tickling. She wondered at the barely-suppressed strength in the way Jo contained her squirming body, inflicting delicious torture. "Okay, okay, uncle!" Cadie yelped.
Jo relented, a wickedly cheeky grin splitting her face from ear to ear. Cadie caught her breath and relaxed back against the pillows.
"Okay," she said, regaining her composure. "Absolutely nothing interesting happened to me at high school. Jimmy Hofsteder didn't last long." She grinned at Jo who chuckled in reply. "But I didn't do anything about my feelings about girls until I was at college." She paused, wondering just how much Jo knew about the college system in the US. "I moved out of Madison for that," she explained. "I got into Northwestern University in Chicago."
"What were you studying?"
"English literature and art history," Cadie replied. "Which guaranteed I graduated with the world's most useless degree."
"What were you planning to do with it?"
"All I really knew was that I didn't want to teach. Through high school my English teachers kept telling me that I should write, but I could never come up with anything original to write about."
She was distracted by Jo's finger which lazily traced her lips, triggering a delicious wave of sensation. Cadie took the opportunity to softly suck the fingertip into her mouth, watching as Jo's eyes widened, riveted on the blonde's mouth.
"You are so wicked," Jo rumbled. "Maybe you should write lesbian erotica. You certainly seem to have a knack for it." Gently she withdrew her finger, with a sigh. "Goddess ... I'm sorry ... I didn't mean to interrupt you."
Cadie cleared her throat.
"I don't mind, trust me," she replied huskily. "Anyway, I met Naomi in my freshman year at NWU. That's the first year," she explained at Jo's quizzical look. "She was a senior."
"That's the fourth year, yeh?"
"Mhmmm. She was doing a government and economics degree."
"Makes sense," said Jo.
"She was a lot different from the person you see now," Cadie said wistfully. "Any cause that was going, Naomi was up for it. Student politics, homeless kids, gay rights, national and foreign policy .. you name it, Naomi was campaigning for it. It was kind of mesmerizing to watch her in action. Inspiring, in many ways."
"She's the one who got me interested in politics. There used to be weekly debates and forums around the campus and Naomi was always one of the best speakers. I got involved as a volunteer and one Friday afternoon she noticed me." Cadie shrugged her shoulders. "That's more or less where it started."
"When did you decide to become a literary agent?" Jo asked.
"Oh, not for quite a while. We both come from pretty privileged backgrounds, so money wasn't really an issue for us, even early on. By the time I graduated, Naomi was done with law school and was practising with one of the big firms in Chicago. It wasn't too long after that when she decided to make a career out of politics."
Jo noted the look of quiet sadness on the blonde's face.
"Is that something you regret?" she wondered.
Cadie thought for a while before answering.
"She was a good politician in those days," she said. "She went into it for the right reasons - I mean she really wanted to change things for people, you know?" Jo nodded her understanding. "And I was very happy to do my bit."
"So you worked for her?"
"Mhmmmm. For the first few years I worked full-time for whatever campaign she was running. I was the secretary, publicist, speech writer and gopher all wrapped into one. It was fun," she smiled at the memories of rallies and victory speeches.
"So when did it stop being fun?" Jo asked.
"Good question," Cadie replied. She rolled onto her stomach and flung an arm over Jo's chest, snuggling into the crook of the taller woman's arm. Mephisto appeared out of nowhere and curled up in a ball on Jo's stomach. Both women reached out to stroke him, their fingers tangling together as they met.
"I guess I started to grow up," Cadie reflected. "I started wanting something for myself. By then Naomi was running for Governor." She sighed deeply. "She always blamed me for losing that one, even though she was by far the youngest candidate to try."
Jo looked down at the blonde sharply.
"Why on earth would she blame you?" she asked.
"Because that was the first campaign I didn't work on full-time. I'd set up the agency by then and was working pretty hard to establish myself. Naomi felt like I wasn't doing what I promised to do back when we first got together."
"Shit happens," she muttered. "Life happens. People change and grow."
"I know," Cadie said. "But losing that campaign was the start of the big changes I started to see in Naomi. It suddenly became much more serious. Early on, when she was winning - and winning easily - politics was about helping people. She could afford to have fun with it. But later it became about making Naomi feel good. Her self-esteem became invested in winning, I suppose. I guess I kind of still feel guilty about that."
Jo squeezed the blonde gently.
"Don't do that Cadie," she urged. "You're not responsible for her happiness, I don't care how married you are."
She felt the smaller woman go very still in her arms.
"My head knows that," Cadie whispered. "But part of me feels like if I'd just stayed involved full-time then maybe the whole drugs thing wouldn't have happened."
Jo couldn't bear hearing the self-blame in the American's voice any longer and she pulled her up so they could look in each other's eyes.
"Cadie answer me a question?" She waited for the blonde's tentative nod. "Why did you feel the need to start your own business?"
Cadie blinked a few times as she searched for an answer, her eyes glassy as she cast her mind back, trying to recapture her feelings at the time.
"It was like I was disappearing," she said softly. "I was the quiet, behind-the-scenes half of this thing called Naomi-and-Cadie. Everyone saw the politician, but nobody ever saw me. I can remember waking up one morning and knowing that if I didn't find something I wanted to do, I would just fade away to nothing."
Jo smiled at her.
"So don't beat yourself up for doing something that was essential to your survival as a happy individual," she said, leaning forward to emphasise her point with a soft kiss on Cadie's willing lips. "And one thing's for certain, Naomi sure as hell thinks of your happiness a lot less than you worry about hers."
Cadie nodded silently.
"Tell me about the drugs thing?" Jo asked.
"I don't really know if it's been going on for a long time and I just haven't noticed, or if it's a relatively new thing in her life," Cadie said sadly. "About halfway through her first term in the senate - about two and a half years ago, I guess - she started coming home much later, taking more trips, having meetings at weird times of night ... that kind of thing." She caught Jo's eye. "Don't get me wrong, US senators lead busy lives, at least while the Senate is in session, so I never really expected to see much of her. But this was a bit different. When she was home she was foul-tempered and on a hair trigger most of the time."
"Does she use at home?"
Cadie shook her head.
"Not that I've ever been able to find," she replied. "To be honest, for a long time I thought she was having an affair. And then New Year's Eve happened and I realised that if she wasn't using drugs, she was at least condoning her friends' use of them, if not supplying them."
Jo's eyes widened.
"What happened on New Year's Eve?"
"We were hosting a cocktail party. Kelli was as high as a kite and told me that Naomi had made a never-ending supply of cocaine available to anyone who wanted it."
"Holy shit," Jo muttered.
"Yeh, that's pretty much what I said," Cadie answered. "She denied it, of course, and somehow managed to make it my bad for even suspecting it. And things have been pretty awful between us ever since."
"I'm surprised she didn't offer to cut you in," muttered Jo, increasingly irritated with the senator.
"I'm not," said Cadie. "She may have long since stopped knowing me, Jo, but on this subject she knew damn well I would be immovable. Ever since ... "
She stopped, silenced by the familiar lump in her throat whenever she thought of that time.
"Ever since what, sweetheart?" asked Jo softly, seeing that Cadie was lost in some distant, and none too happy memory.
The blonde swallowed and lifted her eyes to the gentle blue ones of her companion.
"I had a brother, Jo-Jo," she almost whispered. The skipper caught the break in her voice and gathered the smaller woman up into the softest, safest hug she could muster. "His name was Michael and he was 10 years older than me," Cadie continued. "He was my best buddy." She smiled into Jo's neck and the dark-haired woman felt it and smiled with her.
"When I was eight and he was 18 he went away to college, but that last summer we spent almost every day together." Cadie sat up and faced Jo, beaming with the happy memories. "He was the sweetest guy, Jo. He would take me camping, and sailing on the lake. And he bought me an ice-cream every single afternoon on his way home from his summer job."
Jo grinned, captivated by the blonde's descriptions, and the childlike glow as she recalled her sibling.
"He sounds like a sweetheart."
"The last day before he went away to college, he gave me his high school letterman jacket, and told me that I would always be his best girl, no matter what. He wrote me a letter every week."
She fell silent, drifting away again on the memories.
"We don't really know for sure. He was at a fraternity party. One minute he was playing pool with some friends and the next ... well, they said he sat down for a minute, and when they turned around to tell him it was his turn to play, he was dead where he sat."
Jo reached for Cadie again, pulling her close and wrapping her up tightly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"The coroner said there were high levels of LSD and other drugs in his bloodstream, though his friends always denied there were any drugs at the party. But apparently, that combined with the alcohol ... he choked to death on his own vomit, Jo." Her voice caught again and she buried her face in Jo's t-shirt. "And ... and ... nobody knew what was happening to him. He never made a sound."
The tears came freely now, and Jo stayed quiet, rocking the smaller woman until the sobs subsided.
"Oh boy," Cadie sighed. "I haven't done that in a long time. I'm sorry Jo."
"Sshhhhhhhhhhhhh, don't be," Jo replied. "Thank you for telling me about him."
"He's a big part of me. And I want you to know everything there is to know," she said, sniffling and dabbing at the damp patch she left on Jo's t-shirt.
Jo reached up and cupped Cadie's cheek with a gentle palm, picking up a tear on the tip of her thumb.
"And I want to know everything," she murmured.
Cadie smiled wanly and leaned forward into Jo's touch until their lips were almost in contact.
"I love you, Jo," she breathed.
To the Australian it felt like she was inhaling pure love, an intoxicating sensation. The kiss laid them both bare like never before. Jo felt herself opening emotionally as the contact between them deepened and intensified in a way that left her breathless and teary. When they broke off she hugged the blonde fiercely.
"Ohhhh Cadie, I love you too," she said. "A week ago ..." They pulled apart and looked at each other, both sporting disbelieving grins. "... I didn't even know you. Now I'm struggling to know how it's going to be once you've gone again."
"Let's not go there," said Cadie quickly, silencing Jo with a finger across her lips. "We've got two weeks. I don't want to think beyond that. At least not yet. Please?"
Jo nodded and Cadie moved to straddle the tall woman's hips, easing forward to be cradled in Jo's arms against her chest.
"I don't even want to get out of this bed," the blonde mumbled. "It's like our own little bubble of safety." Jo smiled at the analogy, and squeezed Cadie closer. "It's chaos out there and I don't want to move."
"Mmmm, neither do I," Jo replied, scratching under Mephisto's chin with her big toe. Absentmindedly she wondered where the feline had sprung from. He's got that appearing from thin air thing down pat, she thought. For a few more minutes the couple just lay in each other's arms, watching the sun climb higher in the sky over the islands.
This is bliss, thought Jo, closing her eyes against the heat. I want time to slow down so each second lasts a minute. I don't ever want to forget any of this. She lightly scratched Cadie's back in slow circles, feeling the blonde almost purring under her touch.
"That feels so good it ought to be illegal," Cadie murmured, kissing the hollow at the base of Jo's neck softly. Please god, don't let this be the last time I feel her arms around me, she thought. She felt Jo sigh deeply. "We have to get moving don't we?"
"'Fraid so," Jo replied. "My bet is that Bill will show up any minute, and then there's Josh and Harding to visit before we head back to the Seawolf."
A few hours later they were skidding across the waters of the Whitsunday Passage in a water taxi, part of a fleet which ran people and cargo to and from the islands several times a day. Jo had chartered one especially to get her and Cadie back to the Seawolf, which was still anchored off the southern tip of Whitsunday Island. The couple sat in the spartan cabin, looking out salt-smeared windows at the pristine day.
The morning had been in steady decline since they'd left the house up on Shute Harbour hill. The hour they'd spent with Josh and his parents had been awkward, but they'd all survived, Cadie reflected. It was the meeting with Harding that had put Jo's mood into a spiral.
"So, Harding said you wouldn't have to testify for a while?" Cadie asked, turning to Jo, who had been very quiet behind her sunglasses.
"Yeh, at least six weeks or so, he thinks," the tall skipper replied shortly. "Apparently Marco was still in surgery well after midnight and it's going to be quite a while before he's fit to sit up, let alone go through a trial." Her tone was grim and she kept looking out to sea, unwilling to look at Cadie.
"Stop it Jo," the blonde said quietly.
"Stop what?" she replied absently, steadfastly watching a yacht away to their starboard side.
"Whatever it is that you're doing to yourself inside your head," Cadie said, reaching for Jo's arm and pulling her around to face her. "Stop it. You did what you had to do."
"Right. And that included neutering the guy just for the sheer hell of it? I don't think so." Jo jerked away from Cadie, stalking to the stern of the boat and leaning on the rail.
The blonde sighed and walked after her. She came up alongside the taller woman and leaned back against the rail, focusing her eyes on the boat's only crewman who was up in the cockpit above the cabin.
"Jo, you told me this morning that Marco once tried to rape you. You couldn't have been much more than ... what? 16 or 17?" She turned to see Jo nodding. "Do you really think you're the only young girl he's ever tried that with? Or that every other one he tried it with was as lucky as you were that day?"
Jo looked down into the water being churned by the boat's propellers, her thoughts swirling along with the wash.
"So you're saying that he deserved what I did to him?" she asked quietly. "That's kind of Old Testament don't you think?"
Cadie turned, looping her arm around Jo's and sliding her fingers into the dark-haired woman's hand.
"Maybe so. But think about this. Even if he wants to ever try that again he's not going to be able to do much about it."
Jo looked down at Cadie. There's so much about that world she'll never understand, she thought. And I'm glad for that. I don't want her to know any more than she has to.
"Rape isn't about sex, Cadie," she said out loud. "It's about power. What he can't do with his penis, he'll do with his fists, or his gun, or ... or whatever he wants to use to beat up the next young girl he wants to break."
Cadie shook her head.
"Not for the forseeable future Jo-Jo. You're about to put him in jail for a very long time." She leaned in and kissed the skipper softly. "Let it go, honey. It's over with, at least until you have to testify. Marco's an asshole. And yes, I think he got what he deserved." She planted another resounding kiss on Jo's lips. "So there."
Jo couldn't help but smile at the blonde's efforts to cheer her up.
"That was nice of Bill to offer to stay at the house," Cadie continued, determined to get Jo's mind away from self-recriminations.
Jo accepted the change of subject graciously, pulling Cadie down on to the bench across the stern next to her and draping an arm across the blonde's shoulders.
"Mhmmmm. Can't really blame Josh's parents for not wanting him to go back there," she replied. "At least they seemed to accept the burglary thing."
"Well it helped that Josh didn't go into too many details about just who rescued him," she said.
"I think Harding might have had something to do with that. I'll have a good long talk with Josh when this trip is over," said Jo. That thought sobered them both and they fell silent. The only sounds were the rushing wind, the muffled roar of the engine and the slapping of the boat's hull against the chop.
Jo looked around to get her bearings, realising they were only a few minutes from rendezvousing with the Seawolf.
"We don't have much time left, sweetheart," she said, turning to face Cadie and taking the blonde's hands in hers. "You ready?"
"No," Cadie said honestly. She sighed. "But I guess I will be if you kiss me one more time before reality hits."
Jo smiled and leaned closer.
"I think I can manage that," she whispered, capturing the blonde's lips with her own and surrendering all her concentration to the kiss.
Cadie melted into the contact, trying to forget that it could be the last she shared with this remarkable woman, instead focusing on the intense sensations.
They began tenderly, almost tentatively exploring each other, but soon they were lost in passion, using their lips and tongues instead of words to convey the depth of their emotions. To Cadie it felt as if the world contracted around them, nothing else existing but the woman who held her close. Jo's lips were soft but insistent, her tongue gentle but sexy, and her arms safe and strong.
Several minutes passed as the kiss waxed and waned, moist and warm and filled with aching tenderness. When they finally broke it was to find themselves both breathless and with tears in their eyes.
Cadie looked up into eyes so blue they rivaled the cloudless sky above them. She caught her breath raggedly.
"I don't know how I'm going to survive the next two weeks, Jossandra," she said softly, trying to control the wobble she felt in her chin. "I don't know how ... "
"Ssshhhhhh ..." Jo took the blonde's face in her hands, sea-green eyes blinking at her wetly. "We can do this, darling. We can." She felt a tear sliding down her own cheek, but didn't want to let go of Cadie to wipe it away. Instead the blonde reached up and brushed at it with a gentle fingertip. "Stay strong, my love. Things will work out."
Cadie couldn't speak, so she just nodded, holding Jo's gaze for as long as she could.
"Jo-Jo, we're coming up on the Seawolf," yelled the water taxi's skipper from the control deck.
The look continued between the two women despite the interruption, but slowly they moved apart on the bench until their fingers were barely touching, invisible to anyone on the fast-approaching yacht.
"I love you Cadie, never forget that," Jo said as the water taxi maneuvered to come alongside the Seawolf.
Finally their eyes unlocked and their fingertips brushed each other one last time as they turned to face the passengers waving at them from the deck of the yacht.
"I'll never forget it, Jo," Cadie murmured under her breath to the skipper, even as she waved back and smiled at the others.