Seeing You Again for the First Time

By Colleen

 

 

Feedback can be sent to coleen30@webtv.net

 

I have also created a group for discussions of this, past and future stories. Maybe some sneak previews as well.

Join us at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/colleens_corner

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

The Lakes of Killarney. The three bodies of calm, glassy waters reflected the peace of the surrounding emerald landscape. The shores were dotted with ruined castles and abbeys, but the lakes were the focus of the attention. The moody, watery scenery is subject to subtle shifts of light and color, bringing a new, enchanted vision to each traveler throughout the long day’s visit.

Erin and Jane had arrived at the dawn of the new day to join the small tour group. The area could be a little confusing and that was the best way to see the major viewing spots.

The group consisted of an older husband and wife couple, three women in their forties and fifties who, they found out, were sisters (siblings not nuns). The tour guide was a gentleman in his early fifties, his dark hair just beginning to gray. His voice reverberated with the local brogue as he welcomed each tourist with a handshake and a smile. He promptly made sure everyone had sufficient water and good walking shoes before heading off on the morning hike around the lakes.

Rounding out the group of visitors was a young man that had quickly set Jane’s temper flaring. He was a thirty something, grinning idiot in her estimation. The second he had seen Erin, he puffed out his chest and stroked his moustache, clearly planning his evening activities. The blonde seemed oblivious to his lustful brown eyes that planted themselves on her backside as the group trudged up the hill and to his obvious throat clearing whenever he stepped up next to her. Jane had thrown him several daggered glares, but it was his turn to be oblivious.

From the Torc Waterfall down to Dinis Island, where they saw the meeting of the waters from the three different lakes, they spent the morning in wide-eyed wonder.

About three hours into their journey, the group stopped for a rest. Most of them chose a seat on a nice, soft spot of grass shaded by a towering old tree. The stalker, as Jane had dubbed him, stood against the bark covered tree trunk, sipping his water, lost in his fantasies.

"How’s your back holding up?" asked Erin as she rubbed the body part in question.

"Not too bad," she said just before she popped a pain pill into her mouth. "But not too good either." She smiled to let her friend know that she was okay.

"We didn’t have to come here today," said the author. "I mean we have been pushing the sightseeing."

"That’s what you came to Ireland for." Jane turned to face the green eyes that she loved. "I’m fine really. I’m not going to let anything keep us from enjoying ourselves. You are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?"

"Of course." Erin took in the panorama. "It’s beautiful out here."

"It certainly is," said Jane without shifting her gaze. Her appreciation was interrupted as from the corner of her eye she saw him still staring. He was too far away to have heard their conversation or maybe he might have understood that he had no chance. "Stay here," she said. "I’ll be right back."

Scottie, as he had introduced himself, pulled a trail bar from his pack. He fumbled to rip open the tough, plastic wrapping when he heard the grass beside him rustle with footsteps.

"Ya know," said Jane.

The growling voice still startled him and he nearly dropped his snack. He looked up to meet the intense blues as she continued.

"…my friend is not the center attraction on this little trip. She doesn’t like being gawked at, so keep your eyes on the foliage and off of her."

He gave a short snort and a smarmy grin. "What are you, her body guard?" he asked, biting of a chunk of the granola bar. Before she could reply, he continued. "If not, I’d like to apply for the job."

Jane waited until he turned to look at her. She flashed him her own evil grin. "Just leave her alone or you might need a body cast."

He still seemed unfazed at the threat from the overprotective friend as he finished his food and took a long swig of water.

Jane returned to Erin’s side as the guide moved to get them started again.

"Is everything okay?" asked the blonde when she saw the uneasy expression on her friend’s face.

Jane slipped into an easy smile, the one she always felt when looking into those green eyes. "Just fine. Let’s go."

The tall woman’s attention was always equally divided between the beauty of the land and the beauty at her side. She offered water, snacks and smiles that bathed the Irish author’s heart in glowing affections.

Although her grandmother’s words from the night before rang in her head, Erin was determined to spend the day in uncomplicated joy. And she was achieving her task quite nicely.

She had finally gone to bed, the night before, after several hours of contemplation. The answers she sought were just within reach, but she finally decided that only time would bring them to her.

Erin had showered and changed before walking into the room that she shared with the dark haired woman. She stopped just inside the doorway to watch the long form languishing in the oak colored bed. The warmth of the evening allowed the absence of blankets across the endless legs that shot out from the red sleep shorts. One of those legs was bent and the knee stuck out over the far side of the mattress. A long, thin foot capped by five perfectly shaped toes involuntarily twitched in the night.

A small, dimly lit lamp was left on the bedside table to illuminate the way in the darkness. Erin’s eyes traveled up the sleeping body in earnest appraisal as she crossed the short distance to the bed. While there was a deep physical desire simmering in Erin’s belly, the true emotions that were sparked, etched the loving smile onto her face. As she stood at the side of the bed, the upper body, also clad in red, caught her rapt attention. The flat stomach, hidden under the thin material, rose and fell to the gentle rhythm of life. One breath leading to the next, coinciding with a beating heart. A loving heart that had bared its unconditional truth to a hurting counterpart. A lonely heart that reached out in the darkness for companionship. A brave heart willing to risk being broken at the chance of forever.

Erin doused the light with the flick of her wrist, eased herself onto the mattress and settled onto her side, also forgoing the blanket. The dark head unconsciously turned in her direction, but slept on soundly. Lips grazed the smooth forehead before joining her in slumber.

 

The stalker still managed to do a fair amount of leering at Erin as they continued on. Jane didn’t want to make a scene and ruin everyone else’s peace, so she devised another plan to whip him up side of the head with a major clue. He always managed to stay in back of them, for obvious reasons, so as they neared a rocky slope, she lagged behind the rest of the group. And of course Erin stayed by her side. Jane took Erin’s hand to help her up the large stone covered hill. Once they reached the top, she never let go. She waited just a moment then pulled the back of the smaller hand to her lips.

Scottie pulled himself over the top edge just in time to see the show. Erin reached up to caress the smiling face and his eyes nearly popped from their sockets. Some indiscernible noises escaped his throat and he scrambled passed them, stumbling on a half buried tree root. He fell flat on his ass, stirring up a cloud of dust.

Erin realized the reason for his reaction and a slightly disappointed look drew over her face.

Jane just looked down at the fool and asked him, very calmly, "Having a problem Scottie?"

Without a word, he disgustedly got to his feet and ran off to the rest of the group.

Jane was quite satisfied with the outcome of her plan until she looked down to see a frown. "Hey," she lifted the face to meet her gaze. "Ignore him. He’s just an ignorant idiot."

The blonde head nodded. "I know. I know. It’s just…when I was blind I didn’t have to see that." She started off down the trail, the hand still firmly in her grasp. "Although that was definitely the only good thing about being blind."

Jane gave a comforting squeeze. "Did someone hurt you…because you’re gay?"

"No," she answered immediately. But upon a slow review of the previous summer, Erin amended her answer. "Well…yeah I guess he did."

A shiver ran down Jane’s back. "What happened…if you want to tell me?"

"It’s long story, but…" She proceeded to tell an abbreviated version of the sorted and disgusting tale of Ethan Tyler.

"Sounds like you were able to take good care of yourself," Jane said when the story was over.

Erin smiled. "Yeah, I was proud of that."

"You should be. And I know you always will be able to. But I would really like to be around to make sure you never have to."

Erin tried to hide a knowing grin. "Like today."

"You knew?"

"Yeah. I just try to ignore his type, but…it feels really nice to have someone care enough to want to protect me."

"Well you know how much I do care. And I always will." Jane kicked away a small pebble with the tip of her shoe and looked away sheepishly. "Um...it…actually this isn’t the first time I…ahh…was being over protective. The night at the pub, back in Dublin, I…almost slugged your cousin." Jane gave a mortified blush at her confession. "I’m sorry."

Erin lifted their joined hands and played with the long fingers. "Don’t be sorry. But please don’t ever slug anybody because of me. This hand wouldn’t look very good in purple."

They looked at each other with matching grins. Jane turned over the smaller hand and noticed a small mark at the base of Erin’s right thumb. Her smile changed to a curious frown. "How did you get that?" she asked.

The blonde looked down to see what her friend was talking about. Her hand trembled just a bit and she eased it out of Jane’s grasp. "Oh, it’s, nothing," she said without meeting the questioning eyes. "Shouldn’t we catch up to the others?"

* * * *

After lunch they departed from the tour group to do some exploring on their own. They traversed several short, but interesting trails before arriving at an overlook that spanned across one of the smaller lakes. They stood there side by side soaking in the view and breathing the clean air.

Jane tapped Erin on the arm. "I’ll be right back," she said and slipped away to a point they had passed a few yards back.

About ten minutes later, Erin heard her name called. She turned around and her jaw dropped open. Her green eyes laughed and her body soon joined in. "Are you serious?" she asked approaching her friend. "Where did you get that?"

Jane stood off to the side of the trail with a huge grin on her face. "From a place back there," she said. "They were renting them. So I figured why not." She looked down at the red item she supported in her hands. "But they only had one like this. Are you game?"

Erin smiled at her impetuous friend and gave her several short headshakes. "Why not," she finally said.

Jane handed Erin the black helmet, then reached up under her own chin to fasten the strap of the blue one she had been wearing all along. They carefully mounted the bicycle built for two and after a slightly shaky start they finally found a rhythm and off they went back down the trail for more sightseeing.

They peddled for an hour down the well-worn path that had seen many a shoe, tire and hoof in its lifetime. A dozen varieties of trees and plants lined the way and they had fun trying to identify them from their lesson earlier in the morning.

They slowly made their way across the Gap of Dunloe, appreciating that ancient glaciers had carved out the dramatic mountain pass. The boulder-strewn gorge was a perfect example of Mother Nature’s impeccable artistry.

Several times during the long ride, Erin found herself staring at the long back in front of her. Only the need to keep a firm grip on the handlebars, kept her from her ever-increasing desire to touch that expanse of bone and muscle and any other part of that body that happened to be within reach. Erin’s heart was falling hard and fast and her brain, although still several paces behind, was closing the distance. Her life was slowly slipping back into the place she had been just over a year ago, only this time she was the reluctant one, allowing fear and guilt to command her moves. One more step was all she needed and she was determined to take it before she left Ireland.

 

* * * *

Darkness had well set in by the time they got back home. They tiptoed in the front door to find Kathleen snoozing on the couch, in front of the television.

"Grandma," whispered Erin, rubbing a hand down the elderly woman’s arm.

A tiny squeal and some mumbling escaped from between her slightly parted lips.

Jane covered her grinning mouth, not wanting to embarrass the woman she had come to care a great deal about.

Erin bit back her own smile as she tried to wake the sleeping woman again. "Grandma, its me, Erin. Wake up so you can go to sleep." The absurd sentence brought more silent chuckles to the younger ones.

Finally the white head sprang forward. "What? What?" The knitting needles and half completed garment fell to the couch beside her as she shuffled to straighten up.

"You can go to bed now Grandma," said Erin with a kiss to the older woman’s cheek. "We’re home safe and sound."

"And what makes ya think I was waitin up fer you?" she asked with as much of a false indignant tone that she could muster at such a late hour. "There was a very interestin movie on the tele. The time just got away from me." She looked up through the glasses perched on the end of her nose at the two youngsters standing before her sporting affectionate grins. "All right, all right." She smiled herself. "Now off ta bed with ya. Tomorrow is another long day."

Since Erin and Jane both were in the same dust covered state and dead tired, they decided showers could wait until the morning.

Jane returned from changing in the bathroom to find her friend already in bed, but not asleep. She let out an audible yelp of pain when she sat down on the bed.

Erin shot up from her pillow. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," said Jane through clenched teeth. "It’s my lower back, it’s just a little stiff. It’ll go away once I can lay down and relax my body."

Erin took the dark haired woman by the shoulder and guided her face down on the bed. "Let me help you massage those knots out."

The deer in the headlights look went unnoticed as Jane moved her face away from the low light to the darkest side of the bed. She felt the slight body settle onto the backs of her thighs and those small hands go to work on her sore muscles. Her physical desire soon faded into overwhelming relief from the pain as Erin gently, but firmly kneaded the tight flesh. God, those hands are talented. Jane’s eyes popped open. Did I say that out loud? After a pause she thought, I guess not. But I sure hope that someday I can.

Erin continued with her healing touch, fulfilling the desire she had lived with all day. The muscles began to relax under her fingers and subconsciously the medicinal touches became sensual caresses. Her body swayed sending faint shadows moving across the far wall.

They were both lost in the moment and only when Jane felt the thighs grind against her, did she snap back to reality. "I…I think you should stop now, Erin," she suggested nervously.

Erin pulled away as if burned. "God, I’m sorry," she said, falling to the bed beside her friend.

"You took away my pain. Thank you."

Erin couldn’t look at the blue eyes. She sighed heavily. "I hate myself for teasing you like this."

Two long fingers pulled the blonde head around. "Hey, don’t ever say that. You didn’t do it on purpose. You’re not that kind of person. Your body was just reacting." Jane wiggled her eyebrows wildly. "So was mine." She received the desired effect when they shared a giggle. "Please don’t let this make you pull away from me."

Erin reached up to clasp the hand that was still on her face. "I won’t. I promise."

 

* * * *

 

The next morning, once showered and dressed, Jane and Erin retrieved the wrapped gifts they had hidden in their luggage. They held the brightly colored boxes behind their backs as they snuck down the hall where they heard Kathleen singing in the kitchen.

Erin stepped up to her grandmother and kissed her cheek. "Good morning Grandma."

"Mornin Dear. Sit down, breakfast will be up shortly." She turned to place the white, china teapot on the table. The youngsters sat on opposites sides of the table, staring at her with conspiratorial grins. Her eyes bounced from green to blue. "All right," she said. "what are ya up to?"

They pulled the presents out from under the table. "Happy Birthday," they said in unison.

She put a surprised hand to her bosom. "Oh my," she sighed. "I haven’t celebrated a birthday in six years."

"Then it’s about time you do," said Erin. "Sit down and open your presents."

Kathleen stepped back and turned off the oven then returned to her seat. "This is so special, but ya know ya shouldn’t have." The trembling hands pulled the white ribbon off of the big, rectangular box then ripped away the multicolored paper. She discarded the lid, pulled back the tissue and let out a gasp at the sight of the blue and green, woolen cape. She fingered the heavy material. "Is this…?"

"Yes," said Erin. "Made from the fine wool you work so hard for." She knew that the older woman didn’t own any clothing that had come from her flock and when she and Jane had visited the village up the road, after their trip to Blarney, she knew just what to purchase. "I know it’s too hot to wear now, but that time will be here soon enough."

Kathleen leaned over and hugged the blonde. "Thank ya Dear, but that wasn’t a hint ya know. I wanted ya ta get somthin fer yerself."

"I did," Erin confirmed. "I also got ones for Mom and Bridgett, for Christmas presents."

Jane held out her much smaller gift box. "This one is from both of us." Erin had insisted, knowing that Jane had wanted to get something, but had no idea what. "Happy Birthday Kathleen. I won’t ask how old you are, but what ever your age you don’t look it."

"Thank ya Jane, but I am proud ta have been born in the year 1920. I could write a history book all on my own, but I’ll leave the writin to my talented granddaughter." She opened the flat, square box and lifted out the picture frame made from Irish blackthorn wood. Inlaid in each corner were coins minted in the birth years of her husband and each of her three children. She ran her fingertips over the copper and silver colored currency as her eyes misted over.

"I noticed that you like to display a lot of photos, so we thought this would be useful," said Jane.

"That I do Dear, that I do."

Erin squeezed the elderly arm. "I thought you might enjoy this too," she said handing her a big yellow envelope.

Kathleen opened it in silence, still a little emotional at the previous gift. She slowly pulled out the contents and smiled brightly. "Aye this is perfect. Tis goin right in here," she said inserting the photo into her newest picture frame.

"What is it?" asked Jane.

Kathleen winked at her granddaughter as she turned the picture to toward the dark haired woman.

Erin saw the apprehension quickly fill the blue eyes, but that slowly faded. It was an eight by ten color photo of Erin and Jane standing together by the Derrynane bay. They were looking at each other, not the camera. Unbeknownst to Jane, Erin had asked a kindly old man to snap the photo of them.

Jane looked up to her smiling friend, knowing full well that it was a very important statement. It was a gift to her as much as to Kathleen, because the photo would soon reside amongst the other family photos. Erin was declaring Jane as a part of her family.

* * * *

As a part of the birthday celebration, Erin and Jane took Kathleen on their boat trip around the Skelligs, a group of inhospitable pinnacles of rock rising out of the

Atlantic, located about eight miles off the coast of Ireland.

Setting sail from Valentia Island, the small cruiser navigated the slightly choppy waves out to its first destination. From a distance, the Skelligs looked like floating pyramids of sandstone, but as they came into closer view, they became rugged and uninviting, but definitely picturesque.

With its steep cliffs and sheer ledges providing homes for thousands of seabirds, such as puffins, gulls and gannets, Little Skellig covered seventeen acres in the middle of the ocean waters.

The vessel stopped for several minutes allowing for photographic opportunities before skirting around the smaller island and heading off to the main attraction.

Erin pulled her red slicker closed to protect her shirt, as the wind sent a spray of ocean mist up over the rail where she and Jane were standing. The taller woman used a gentle touch to flick away some droplets that had landed near her favorite green eyes. After holding each others gaze for just a moment, they turned their attention back to the bluish, green water and its small white caps. A flock of gulls flew over the port side, heading back to their nest sight. Their united song of freedom filled the air in an instant and then faded off as they made land once again.

"Look there!" shouted Erin excitedly, pointing a finger straight ahead and down.

Jane followed her direction and a smile came to her face as she and several other passengers watched the pod of dolphins playing along side of the ship.

"They’re beautiful and so graceful," said the blonde author.

The group laughed as one of the ocean mammals breached the water and flipped in mid air, before torpedoing back into the deep blue.

Before boarding the boat, they had learned from the guide that the cliffs descended underwater for 165 feet, providing a habitat for not only the dolphins, but for giant basking sharks and sea turtles as well.

As Erin and Jane watched the playful creatures, Kathleen sat at a nearby table, watching them. She could tell that her granddaughter’s sorrow was being washed away with each passing day and that Erin’s heart was opening up to the charms of the dark haired woman. She wanted nothing more in the world than to witness Erin’s happiness. The Leprechaun’s whisper had told Kathleen to guide her granddaughter back to Dublin to meet her destiny. And as she smiled, eyes twinkling at the sight of the happy couple, she thanked the Lord that the whisper had come around for a wonderful purpose on this occasion.

As they got closer to the big island, they could see that just off shore, the puffins, with there colorful, orange beaks and wild, yellow, head feathers were riding the waves like little surfers.

The boat soon docked at the small pier on Skellig Michael, the larger of the islands, and two-dozen passengers disembarked. In comparison, Michael covered an area of forty-four acres, twice the size of Little Skellig. Several people immediately started the long climb to the ancient monastery high in the cliffs, but most, including Erin, Jane and her grandmother milled around the mossy areas on the lower ground hearing more of its history from the tour guide.

Mentions of the two majestic outposts were scattered throughout ancient folklore and early Christian history. The earliest reference found, dated back to around 1400 BC. The monks of St. Fionan’s monastery spent their simple lives fishing, praying, tending their gardens and studying.

After answering a few questions, the guide sent them off, informing them of the departure time. Kathleen declined to make the seven hundred step climb, but urged the younger ones to go exploring. They only relented when another elderly woman came over and introduced herself. Kathleen assured them that she and her new acquaintance would keep themselves occupied exchanging stories.

They shucked off their thin, nylon jackets and with a deep breath, Erin and Jane started the climb up the steep, one thousand year old stone stairway. Communication was kept to a minimum as they trudged farther up the hillside.

Reaching the halfway point, they stopped for a much needed breather.

Erin settled herself on top of a rocky perch and guzzled from the bottled water they had brought. Passing it off to Jane, she remarked, "Those monks must have been in really good shape." She looked back down at how far they had come and then up at the distance they still had to go. "I can’t believe they did this twice a day."

The dark head nodded in agreement. "Especially carrying baskets of fish and supplies."

Erin scooted to one side and patted the empty space beside her. Jane took the seat, leaving them touching from shoulder to thigh.

"Did you ever wish you could travel back in time?" Erin asked absently.

"I’m sure I have. If you believe in reincarnation, you might have just been one of those super monks or a Celtic warrior, or…"

"I traveled."

"What do you mean traveled? Where?" Jane asked, genuinely interested.

The conversation paused as two other visitors trekked up the stairs beside them.

Erin continued. "I’m not sure really. I just know I traveled around the world…on foot…sometimes horseback. And I wrote…a lot."

Jane smiled and nudged the shoulder next to her. "Just like now. I bet you were a famous…what did they call authors back then, whenever then was?"

"Bard," Erin answered quickly. "Of course that was just one lifetime. Hard telling how many different people I’ve been. But that’s the only other life that I’ve had…feelings from."

Jane just wanted to feel things from the life she had before she was injured. But she was also thankful for that in some way because it brought her to the point she was at now. And it was leading her to a promising future with the woman beside her. Jane stood up and reached out a hand. "Let’s go bard. Or by the time we reach the top, we’ll have to turn right around and come right back down."

Erin let herself be pulled to her feet and into the taller body for a quick hug. With a rejuvenated spring in her step, she hopped onto the next big, flat stone.

They covered about twenty steps more when Jane commented, "You know I might just need another massage tonight." Somehow she knew it would be okay to play around with Erin in this way. It just seemed so natural.

With pursed lips, Erin looked up at the sparkling eyes. "Well, I think you’d better ask my grandmother this time," she said teasingly and ran up a few more stairs and around a corner.

"Aw come on," whined Jane, loudly enough for here friend to hear. She gave a crooked smile and followed.

They finally reached the top of mountain and began searching around the monastery. To be honest, if you didn’t know what it was, you’d never have guessed. A lot of it was worn away by ages and ages of wind and weather, but the most interesting structures were the individual cells that the monks lived in. Jane and Erin reverently entered one of the smaller, stone, beehive shaped huts. The interior was rectangular in shape, built in such a way as to not let any rain enter between the stones.

The dark haired woman lay down a stone slab, what she assumed was used as a bed. "Those guys must have been really short or else they liked sleeping with their knees in their chin," she said, demonstrating such a position.

Erin turned around and laughed at her contorted friend. "Well, not even every man is a six foot Amazon."

"I hope not." Jane wiggled her raised feet. "Talk about your back problems."

The blonde giggled some more. "Come on shorty."

Together they explored what had been the main church area. They sat on a rocky pew facing the ocean and just watched as the waves rolled and the whitecaps danced. After several moments of peaceful solitude, Jane felt a hand on her arm. She turned to find a solemn face.

"Would you mind if I wanted to be alone for just a little while?" Erin asked quietly.

Jane brought her hand up to cover the one on her arm. "No, of course not. Take as long as you need. I’ll be right here."

Erin gave her a slight kiss on the cheek as she stood to walk away.

She only went about twenty-five feet and stopped at the waist high wall, still overlooking the water.

Jane tried to find interest in something else, but her eyes kept being drawn back to the petite figure standing so close, yet so far. She wanted to give her friend her privacy, but human curiosity went on overtime. What happened? We were having such a good time. She tried to think back over everything that had happened that day, every word she had said, every expression she had given, but nothing out of the ordinary came to mind. She stared at the ground by her feet, deep in contemplation. After a few more minutes she closed her eyes and snorted in disgust at herself. Well, don’t we have a big head. It doesn’t always have to be about you, does it? She opened her eyes again and watched as a small bug of some kind scurried around the tip of her shoe and disappeared beneath the dirt. If she wants to tell me about it she will. Maybe she’s just sad to be leaving tomorrow. Or maybe…

"Are you ready to go?"

The voice startled her from her thoughts and her dark head popped up. "Yeah." She took the offered hand and rose to her feet to face the woman whose wind blown hair lay across her eyes. "Are you okay?" she asked as she pushed back the unruly, blonde wisps.

She was very relieved at the smile that slowly appeared a few inches beneath the emerald orbs.

"Finally, I think I am." Erin hugged the tall woman, putting her head on the strong shoulder. "Come on, let’s go home."

 

* * * *

 

The mid-morning flight was crossing the Atlantic, on its way back to the states. The jumbo jet was nearly full to capacity and the flight attendants were kept very busy fulfilling the requests of some demanding passengers. Two tall glasses of orange juice had been delivered about fifteen minutes into the flight and were slowly sipped. Jane read the newspaper she had picked up at the airport before take off and Erin jotted down a few notes for her novel on the scratch pad she always carried with her. At one point Jane tried to sneak a peak at the scribblings, but they were snatched away and she received a soft swat on the arm in playful admonishment.

It had been a tearful departure from the little cottage in the valley. Many rounds of hugs had been exchanged among the trio before the rental car pulled away.

"Jane, please keep in touch. I want ta know how ya are gettin along."

"I will Kathleen, I will. I have your granddaughter’s friendship; I’ll be just fine. Take care of yourself." Jane carried the luggage out to the car, giving Erin a private moment to say good-bye.

The author turned misty eyes to her beloved grandparent. They embraced long and hard. "I’m gonna miss you Grandma. I wish we didn’t live so far away."

"I know Dear, but I belong here. However, I could be talked into visitin sometime soon. Maybe there’ll be a special occasion on the near horizon."

"I don’t know about that Grandma, but…" Erin turned to look at the raven-haired woman standing by the car. "I’m gonna be okay now. Coming here has worked wonders for my soul."

 

Aside from her writing, Erin was kept quite busy for the first hour, playing peek-a —boo with a two year old, who was a few seats ahead of them. After she had smiled and waved at the little brown haired girl the first time, the game was a foot. Two big brown eyes would slowly peak over the back of the tall seat and Erin would give her a silent boo. The giggles were heard as the head ducked backed out of sight, only to return a few seconds later.

Jane watched and laughed as the antics continued on.

The child had finally slipped off to a nap giving Erin a break from playtime.

"You’re really good with kids," said Jane as she stretched in her first class seat.

"Yeah," Erin said wistfully, but with a smile. "They are pure innocence and joy, really needing only one thing in the world…love. Love is the provider, the teacher, the playmate, and the confidant. Children are incredible."

Jane didn’t want to dash the happiness on her friend’s face. She hoped what she was about to say would be accepted in the best way and would not be a reminder of things past. "You will be an incredible mother. And any child of yours will have the best life that money could never buy."

Jane reveled in the grin she received and matched it when the small hand slipped into hers and interlaced their fingers.

The hands remained clasped as Erin napped, the minutes turning into hours, and until the in-flight movie had started.

As most of the other passengers were occupied with the slightly entertaining piece of film making, Erin and Jane concentrated their attention on each other while Erin gave her friend an in depth, verbal tour of the ranch and her plans for its future.

Just after the attendant had made the latest rounds, offering the amenities, Jane finally got up the courage to bring up the subject that had been on her mind since they had boarded the plane. She cleared her throat softly. "Erin, I noticed that you took off your ring."

The blonde looked down at their joined hands and to the faint tan line around her finger. She nodded solemnly and swallowed. "Yes. I did it yesterday when we were at the monastery. That’s what I was doing when I went off by myself, making peace with that part of my life."

"I hope you didn’t feel like I was pressuring you to do that."

Erin looked up with a tiny smile. "No, it wasn’t you. It was just time. I was finally able to put Jamie where she belongs now, in a corner of my heart and in my fondest memories, but not in my future."

 

* * * *

 

Bridgett entered the bustling LA airport and made her way to gate seven, where her sister’s plane was about to land. After a fifteen-minute wait, she finally spotted Erin through the heavy crowd. The smile on the author’s face was a welcomed sight.

Erin ran up and hugged her sister. "I missed you, Brig."

"I missed you too, but it certainly looks like you had a very good time."

The sisters moved off to the side of the over crowded area, near some huge windows.

"I did. I really did," said Erin. "I met a new friend. She’s come back with me to work at the ranch."

Bridgett smiled widely. "I’m really glad to see you happy again, Sis." The smile flickered as Bridgett looked down at the purse slung over her shoulder. "I…ah…"

"What is it Brig? Is something wrong with the kids or Brad?"

"No! No everyone is fine. It’s just…I found something that I thought you’d want to see. But maybe I shouldn’t show you now. I don’t want to make you sad again.

The blonde brows wrinkled. "Why would it make me sad?"

The red head fidgeted with her hands for several seconds before she reached just inside her tan purse. "Do you remember the picture I snuck of Jamie?" she asked nervously. "The one I gave to that artist to carve the sea shell that I gave you for Christmas."

Erin nodded.

"I…I tracked him down and he still had it in his file." She eased the small photo from under the flap.

Erin tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. Her heart beat against her chest double time and she licked her dry lips. "That’s a picture of Jamie?" she asked in a whisper, looking at the white backing of the photo.

"Yeah. Are you okay to look at it?"

The blonde head nodded imperceptibly. "I think so." I know what I said Jane. But I just have to do this. Please forgive me.

Bridgett slowly handed her the picture.

Erin closed her eyes and clutched it to her chest as the noise in the room faded to a dim murmur. She took one deep breath before turning it over.

Her eyes were glued to it for merely two seconds before…"Oh my God," she whispered. The world spun in her head and she dropped to the ground at Bridgett’s feet.

More to come soon.


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