Come on let it rain, let it rain down on me

Let the rain touch my hands, let the rain set me free

Let it rain down on me

Melissa Etheridge

Late September Dogs


Chapter Eight: Tidal

A handicap parking sign. She was not sure at first what she stared at upon opening her eyes. Its reflective finish glowed even in the dark of the cloudy night, the stick man in the wheelchair. She was lying on her side on wet concrete. Tisha sat up, and looked around her, there was no rain but she could not water near by. Her life jacket dropped off. She picked it up and returned it to her shoulders reaching for the straps, finding the buckle missing. She ran her fingers over the plastic-like fabric, found it torn in several places.

She stood abandoning the jacket, looked around wondering where she was and how she got there. Tisha turned to see the dark shape of water on the edge of the parking lot, a familiar beyond.

The high school. She was looking at the back of, which meant her location was the library's parking lot. She stood slowly, felt water stinging her sinus. She had nearly drowned, been dragged underwater by the pull of a sewer drain.

She remembered the panicky flutter of her heart, how she could hear it pounding in her ears. There were fears far worse than drowning, she had seen them face to face, and she survived them all. Tisha tried to peer through the darkness at the high school for signs of life, it was to be a shelter that night, Vonne informed her earlier.

She ached for her wife, those strong arms of comfort, her voice that always held confidence, even in the face of danger. There were only two occasions she remembered Vonne sounding unsure of herself, and that was after the rape and before that when Tisha threatened to leave her after the affair.

She had wanted to bad to run into those arms that night, just forgive Vonne everything and call her home so they could love all the pain away. Instead, she had gone into the park, into the woods where they waited like wolves to take her down.

She remembered her last thought as they seized her, thrashed her to the ground, and pressed her with all their weight.

"This is just what Vonne gets; this proves that she isn't as strong as she acts, if she was so strong they would not be on me right now."

She pushed those memories away, and tried to listen for any signs of a potential rescuer. Save the black water, the night was silent.

She turned to the library walked towards its entrance. She peeked through the glass door, saw that the place was deserted. During the day when the library was open, the doors slid open automatically. They did not move out here in the flood.

Tisha walked around the side, noticed that her ankle, the one sucked into the sewer felt raw and was most likely bruised her sprain. She would have to do her best to ignore it and that mean not stopping to inspecting it in the darkness tenderly touching the swollen skin and sucking air between her teeth.

The creak of a door made her forget the ankle and peer through the gloom at the open emergency exit on the side of the library. She frowned and eased into the doorway. If her memory served her correctly, it was the research section, between an aisle of books, and a slot shelf for magazines.

She stepped through, whispered her wife's name so low she was not sure if she heard it or not.

Tisha was frightened of looters. There were computers in the library, printers, and other things that could be pawned or sold hot.

She did not want to become part of the plunder.

She came to the main area flanked by a bank of computers for searching the database for books, and a media center with headphones and printers. Beyond was the circulation desk, to the right was the children's section, the left adult fiction.

A sky light hovered over like the eye of a storm. Tisha kept her own pair open for movement in the darkness. The carpet successfully muffled the noise of wet rubber from her boots.

Then a silhouette materialized just six feet away from her, she squinted, tensing her entire body not sure if the person that seemed to form from the shadows was behind or in front of the counter.

It was a trick, her eyes still not used to the darkness. The broad figure was too still to be real, not reacting to her presence, unless he thought she was a figment of his imagination.

She ran anyway, for the children's section, she immediately got low, trying to make herself small. The carpet ran out and her boots made obscene squeaks marking her flight. She crawled under a low wooden table.

She stilled her breathing, listened, half chiding her self at running from shadows. She allowed herself to breath once again, took in a sharp raged breath.


She gasped, covered her mouth with both of her hands, and once again listened to the stillness that suddenly was not so still. Each step echoed through the empty library like some scary movie prop-sound.

Under the table, Tisha scrambled backwards until the back of her head bumped a window sill. The man she had seen at the circulation counter was closer now, probably signaling to his looter friends at what they had found.

She bolted. Before she could give herself time to think of where she was going, she crawled from beneath the table and in a crouch, ran for the young adult section, which connected the children books with the adult fiction. The shelves barely covered the top of her head and there was carpet. She forced herself to slow down so she could listen and creep at once.

Tisha made her way to adult fiction, towards that exit, though she was not sure what or who waited beyond that door.

A small, cold hand touched her hip as she hurried past. She scurried a few feet before her burning before her burning brain registered the contact, the urgency behind it. Tisha stopped in her tracks looked back the way she came, did not see the menacing figure, she looked back at her escape route, and then retraced her steps.

She found the little girl standing in one of the narrow aisles; she was stocky for her age with eyes that shone in the dark, wet with tears. Two identical plaits lay against the sides of her face ending just past her ears.

"Hello," Tisha whispered.

"Hey," the little girl said.

"Where's your momma and daddy?" she asked.

The child stuck her thumb in her mouth and shrugged her shoulders; Tisha knew the gesture well, even in the dark.

"Come with me," she said extending her hand, and the girl took it.

Tisha hurried out of the library pulling the little girl with her. Dark rain drizzled from the sky invisible, camouflaged by the night. She ducked into a little nook on the side of the building and crouched down still clutching the girl's hand.

"Are you ok?" Tisha asked.

"Uhh huh," the girl said.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Shay," she answered.

"I'm Tisha," she told her going into pre-k teacher mode, she never admitted to anyone how much she missed her students, not even to Dr. Greene and certainly not Vonne. It hurt to think of the life she exchanged for fear.

"We got to keep going," Shay said, "They comin'"

"Who?" she asked, "That man?"

"Him and them," the girl said, "They come from the water and they won't go back until they catch someone to take back with them."

"We should stay put," Tisha told her, "Hide. My friend Vonne, she'll come get us."

"She comin' soon?" Shay asked with a doubtful tone, her thumb went back to her mouth.

She sighed, she knew this type of child, independent, resilient, reluctant to trust. She was most likely the result of a semi-negligent home, a working mother, an occasional father.

"We can't stay here," Shay said, "They're coming."

Then she was gone bolting from Tisha's hands, running into the night. She called to her, followed. She forgot how fast little ones could go, because she lost sight of the child's silhouette in the darkness.

"Shay," she shouted frantically her feet pounding the soggy field behind the library.

She did not see him until he stepped in front of her, she made a sound like the whinny of a startled horse, but he grabbed hold of her wrists, his skin cold and wet, soggy as if lethally water logged.

"Remember me, Bitch?" he asked.

She did, the rotten stench of him, fishy and moldy like tainted water, how she imagined dead, wet things to smell. She heard the death cry of her dog, and began to cry herself when she saw the vision she had tried to hard to repress of Shug, gutted, lying on her side howling from the pain.

"No," she shouted, just as she had that day in the park before they descended.

She wrenched away from the hard chilly grip and ran blindly into the night, crossing the field eyes darting around for any sign of the little girl, hoping that she would follow if she was there.

She almost remembered the canal too late. Tisha found herself confronted by more black water about six feet across, probably as deep if her memory allowed her to estimate properly.

She turned to see him standing about twenty yards away, almost expectantly as if he knew she would not swim across the canal. She was trapped.

The overflowed canal covered her feet, she waded forward splashing as she went. She slipped a bit as the concrete bank sloped beneath her. She negotiated it carefully, felt the water climb her thighs. It was cold and smelled like her rapist who had somehow found her in the flood. He had come back as he promised, for her and Vonne.

He probably already had her.

"No. Not Vonne," she whimpered, the chill of the water taking her breath away, "Oh, God," she gasped sinking down until the water covered her breasts.

She pushed off the bank into the middle of the canal. With her feet she groped for solid ground beneath the water, instantly went into a panic when she did not find any. Her first thought was to scramble for the bank, but he could be there waiting for her to come crawling out of the water like something primeval.

Her second thought like a flash was an admonishment, because who ever drowned in six feet of water. She heard Vonne then, about ten summers ago trying to teach her to swim before they resorted to treading water with the lifejacket on.

Tisha quickly propelled herself forward kicking her legs for power, wind-milled her arms to drag herself along until her fingers grazed concrete. She clung to the second bank of the canal, pulled herself out of the water, climbed-crawled to the other side.

She stood upright looking for her pursuant and saw no one.

Perhaps he had just jumped across, she had seen young boys dare each other to try and succeed, it was nothing for a person with long legs she supposed.

She wondered if Shay had swum across. Little kids could learn to swim easier than adults, they did not have that fear of being submerged not too long out of the womb. The new neighborhood waited under the glow of a single street light.

Before she could give herself time to catch her breath, Tisha turned and ran.

Chapter Nine: Undertow

The flood pushed her into the library, pressed her there, roaring all around her like a beast until the wave broke, ran thin, and lost its strength. Vonne stood on shaky legs, gripping the wet brick of the library for aid.

Holding on to the side of the building, she made her way around calling for Tisha. If she was not here. God. She did not know where else to look for her.

The rain began to fall again, more furious than it had been all night, and the darkness was harder to negotiate. The spotlight was lost, that was the least of her problems.

The library was barred shut, Vonne banged on an emergency door shouting above the rain, just in case Tisha was holed up in there waiting.


She made a complete tour around the building, back to the front and the parking lot. Vonne stood facing the front entrance in the driving rain, her chest heaving. She would have cried but she knew the Posse was probably watching, that they were in the water that fell and had gathered in the streets of Coolwood, Legacy Bayou soaked up into the skies until the skies could take no more and burst.

Vonne was reminded of that precipitation cycle diagram in her High School Earth Science book, everything that fell when it rained evaporated from the earth, water recycled itself that way, and the Posse reentered their old stomping grounds.

It was Twilight Zone shit, but she had seen her 16 foot boat hoisted into the air like a toy, the names of delinquents eighteen years dead scrawled all over it in filth.

Tisha's life jacket, it was tangled around her ankle suddenly and she picked it up, saw the punctures across the back, the strap torn, half of the sturdy plastic buckle, missing. She wondered what, or who could have done such damage to the jacket, but quickly forced herself not to. There was no blood, none of Tisha's clothes strewn nearby.

She held it close hoping to feel her wife's lingering warmth. The jacket was cold, and smelled of the flood. Vonne dropped it, and stumbled away from the scene. There was a neighborhood past the library, a newly developed subdivision of cement and brick, each home with a tiny baby sapling out front that withered in the extreme South Texas summers.

Once, it had been a great empty meadow up higher than the rest of the town, leaving the new neighborhood soggy, but un-flooded. There was even a fucking streetlight on, highlighting the roofs of the houses, its dim orange glow like the sun in the gloom of the flood. Perhaps Tisha had wandered over there and found some residents who had stuck around.

Vonne trod across the field behind the library. It was hard to imagine Tisha alone in this shit, terrified by the Coolwood Posse. They would not have killed her yet, they wanted Vonne to come after her.

"Just hold on, Baby," Vonne said, "I'm coming."

Tisha was sharp, even if she was scared of her own shadow. Before the rape, she was getting so strong. She had always been smart, she just came off too demure, and people wrote her off instantly when she told them she taught pre-school. They mistook her for a glorified baby-sitter. Vonne recalled a faculty get-together and somebody dragging out a Jeopardy board game. As usual, it took some convincing to get Tisha to play, Vonne fed her a second flute of wine and sent her to slaughter two Political Science professors and then key members of the English department.

Vonne came to a concrete canal that separated the field from the neighborhood, she sloshed through it weakly, and sat in the mud on the other side to rest, for just a minute there was not much left energy in her. Weepy and weak she thought of her wife.

Even with the affair Tisha was shrewd enough to not put up with Vonne's bullshit, though whenever they spoke, she could hear the longing in her voice, that over protected girl who rather forgive than be reminded that someone had broken her heart, trying to emerge. She even had the guts to take another lover.

She had always thought of Tisha as her own for life. When she was younger, Tisha was too shy to let anyone close enough to be physically intimate, her only lover besides Vonne was a college crush, another timid girl who married a man shortly after graduation.

She even trembled the first night Vonne took her in her arms. Impatient she had teased her.

"You're twenty-four, stop shaking like a virgin," she had told her embarrassing them both a bit.

"Just slow down for me," Tisha told her, no apologies for her inexperience, just a simple request.

Vonne slowed down grudgingly. She mistook her for prudish, too plagued by guilt and other social mores to let go. Truly disappointed Vonne found that she could no longer enjoy the soft supple skin presented to her it seemed too fragile to relish truly.

Her fingers longingly brushed her favorite part of a woman; where the hip and waist met, the curve of abdomen there. Tisha's was the most perfect her fingers had ever come upon. She sighed with desire.

Tisha snorted and giggled.

"What?" Vonne asked, truly insulted, she was not against laughing during sex, but that had come out of nowhere.

"I'm ticklish there," she said.

"Here?" Vonne asked ever-so-gently brushing her fingers eliciting more giggles. Tisha pushed her hand away.

"No, not there," she said.

"Then where?" Vonne asked laughing now.

"No. Don't touch me like that there," Tisha laughed, "You're so silly."

"I'm not usually like this in bed," Vonne said.

"Me either," Tisha said.

"You mean ticklish?" Vonne asked, going for the spot in question.

"I just don't want to harp about my inexperience, I'm not a virgin," she said.

"Of course you are," Vonne said.

"I'm not," Tisha insisted, "Please don't treat me like one."

"Ok," Vonne said, looking down at her, and she just had to say: "You're very lovely, Tisha Pembry, I want to go wild on you."

Tisha smiled shyly in the dimness. "I have something to tell you."

"What?" Vonne asked, feigning alarm, "You're a man?"

"No," she laughed, and lowered her voice to a whisper, "When you were touching me earlier, I felt like I was melting, and I wasn't afraid."

"So why did you tell me to slow down?" she asked bringing her hand up high laying her hand on Tisha's abdomen careful not to tickle her.

"I wanted to know exactly what this is," she said, "I think I had too much to drink."

"You didn't," Vonne assured her.

Her hand traveled down, hovered close over the warmth of hair and skin, lower, landing to find a trace of escaped wetness, a promise of riches. Tisha's relaxed grip at Vonne's shoulder and neck strengthened suddenly, and she was pulling her closer burying her face in her neck.

Vonne kissed her ear, then whispered into it, such a haze had fallen, a fine mist of passion like magic. To this day Vonne could not remember what she said to Tisha, perhaps nothing, just a loaded sigh that caused her lover's legs to part, her hips to lift from the bed.

Vonne's fingers slipped past Tisha's folds, dipped into the shallows of her arousal-

She began to cry there on the bank, buried her head in her hands, and sobbed, she was no stranger to tears thanks to the events that led to the flood, but they disturbed her.

"Along came mister crocodile, quiet as can be-"

Vonne gasped and straightened, looking around for the source of the singing of a small child. It was a familiar song, picked up from some television program.

"Five little monkeys," she chanted under her breath, "Sitting in the tree, teasing Mister Crocodile-"

The canal reflected dimly the light coming from the new subdivision, it caught Vonne's eye in that instant, the triangular reflection rippled then darkened, broken in half by a passing shadow.

She slowly scrambled back, reaching into her vest for the gun, hoped it would shoot, not sure if wet guns could.

The head slipped out of the water, glided up the slick concrete bank, coming right at her. She fired at the dark shape, the blast broke the sound of the falling rain, the second flash revealed open jaws, a red mouth jagged with pointy yellow teeth, burning the image into her mind. She fired again, as she got to her feet, heard the bullet splash into the water.

She stopped six feet from the canal, waited for the gator to emerge, but there was only laughter. It was the five of them, she could recognize their distinct ultra cool snickers, just as she did eighteen years ago after Al would crack a joke at her expense.

"I'm too old for this shit," she shouted, "Is that why you came for me now? Cause I'm not as quick and tough…motherfuckers."

The laughter stopped and she turned, quickly stumbled away looking over her shoulder at the black canal.

Chapter Ten: flood plain

The crack of gunshots caused her to freeze in the middle of the street. She looked all around her trying to discern the origin of the blast. Could not. Even if she did figure it out she was not sure if she should run towards gun fire.

Vonne could be in trouble, someone could be shooting at her.

"Oh shit," Tisha murmured, decided to continue up the street, out of breath because she had jogged through the entrance of the new neighborhood and several other streets, all silent save the slap-squeak of her rubber boots.

Another street light winked on, they had been doing that since she entered the neighborhood.

She walked quickly cautious of looters, eyes peeled for her rapist, for Shay the little girl lost somewhere out here in the flood. She had forgotten how good it felt to be around children, they made feel brave, like she could do anything to protect them, to teach them, to make sure they felt loved and wanted.

She was sure she could face him again, scratch out his eyes if it meant saving Shay, no matter how tough the little girl thought she was.

She thought of Vonne, just as lost. Her wife had been one of those neglected children who raised themselves, she was the adult product, not a drug addict or a welfare case, just so hurt deep down inside she had herself convinced there was nothing wrong.

Tisha knew better, she had known ten years ago when she and Vonne got close enough and she could feel the desperation, the wanting in each embrace. She never had to admit her need; Tisha could just feel it, the sadness.

So she allowed her self to love Vonne, it was not so hard, she was sweet and gentle, not at all like the rumors that circulated around. Tisha felt guilt creep upon her, she had allowed her fears to manipulate her, and she in turn manipulated her wife. It was her fault they were still here in Coolwood.

The fear was a haze that veiled her, caged her, kept her from being a teacher and a wife, a functioning human being. It simply would not do any longer.

Another streetlight blinked on, a dim orange glow that pleased her.

A decidedly female form stepped into the center like an actor on to a stage. Tisha froze not sure if she should trust anyone out there.

"Hey," came the voice of an older girl, "Hey."

Tisha approached cautiously, squinting at the girl in a faded red tank top, her hair shoulder length, lank and dripping wet. She wore skintight blue jean shorts, and low top sneakers.

"Hey, are you ok?" she answered.

The girl did not answer, only smiled. There was something wrong with her mouth, her lips were once full, but now looked grotesquely swollen as if she had a bad collagen injection. Her skin was an ashen washed out gray.

Tisha stopped, backed away.

"Where you goin', Puta?" the girl asked.

She turned and ran, at the end of the street, another figure waited, shorter, dressed in soggy wet clothes. Tisha ran to the nearest house, banged on the door, tried to push it open. Nothing.

"Nobody's home."

She turned to see her rapist crowding the tiny concrete porch, trapping her. She knew them, all five of them, assaulting her with that smell of moldy death just as they had nearly a year ago when they caught her in Legacy Park, grabbed her with their soggy skin, stripped her-

"We ain't done with you bitch, we'll be back for you and Vonne, tell her we coming to fuck her up."

"No," she mewled at them, and they laughed.

Their eyes shone black as they had shortly before dusk nearly a year ago. When she woke up in the hospital and the doctor and Vonne told her she had been raped, she did not want to believe them, sure it was all a horrible nightmare, because all she could remember were those eyes as she was pressed against the ground by their cold decay.

They were not human, they had gone to the other side and learned all the secrets, then come back to rape and pillage among the living.

She bolted, pushed past them. They would not do that to her again, she had lifted the veil of fear and she did not want to go back beneath it. She would fight them she would run until they knocked her legs out from under her.

She cut across a lawn, ran to the shadows between two houses, separated by a wooden fence. She heard the jangle of a gate bolt when she pushed at one side, she snaked her hand through the loose slats of rough wood, groped for the cool iron of the bolt.

Icy hands seized her, probing fingers tangled into the fabric of her jacket. She screamed, kicked her legs, and grabbed the fence. They tugged at her, the rip of fabric sent her into a furious panic, she whipped her body captured by so many hands.

Tisha screamed again as she lost her grip on the wooden slats, and she was not aware of much as they carried her away.

Chapter Eleven: backwater

The beat of her own heart was so loud in her ears she almost did not hear the scream. She paused from running the suburban labyrinth, tried to still her heart so she could listen.

It came again long with a mournful dread of someone with no hope of escape. Vonne knew it was Tisha because she hollered back towards the night and ran. At first, she was not sure if she ran in the right direction, but as the sounds of the cries grew stronger she knew that her instincts were carrying her, the same primal shit that had her roaring like a cavewoman, something beyond self-preservation.

She came to a neighborhood pool, gated all around by a brown tinted iron fence. She walked through the front entrance, a door-less breezeway with a changing area on one side, a soda machine, and an office on the other. The pool waited straight ahead.

"Tisha," Vonne whispered, "Tish."

She fished her gun out of her jacket, flipped the chamber out to restock it with bullets, startled at the click as she snapped it back. She was not sure what good the .38 would do against the dead Posse, but it was all she had. She squinted ahead into the darkness not able to see a thing thanks to a fine mist like a cloud.

She rushed an expectant breath from her lungs, crossed the breezeway, listening for any sign of her wife above the sound of the mist like static. She could hear water as well, like giant hands sloshing around the contents of the pool.

It was just as she suspected her departed school chums could only do their damage through the flood that explained the gator, why she was there at the pool. The Posse underestimated how much water could rain out of the sky, and the land beyond their al ma mater was too high.

She stepped out onto the cement deck, the mist hissed around her, chilly, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to raise.

Not able to see a thing she cautiously raised her arm and extended her hand through the haze. She gasped and drew back when she felt water, cool and flowing horizontally as through she had stooped to touch a river.

Vonne lifted her arm higher felt that the wall of water stretched further than her fingers could reach.

"Shiit," she said.

Whispers through the mist startled her, she turned looking for their owners, realized that she was inside of the source.

A black shadow flew at her out of the gloom, she grunted ready to fight, was knocked forward into the wall of water. She gave a discouraged grunt as she fell through tripping over her own feet, and falling on her knees on the edge of the empty pool.

She looked up to see that she bowed in the middle of a wide, swirling, black funnel that encircled the pool and stretched high into the air.


She looked down into the pool to see Tisha running towards her arms outstretched. Vonne shouted and practically rolled over the ledge into the arms of her wife. They held on to each other in a desperate embrace.

Even the feel of Tisha shivering, wet and frightened was a comfort. They stepped away from to inspect each other for damage, only found that they were marked by fear.

"You're ok?" Vonne asked, quickly tucking the gun inside her jacket, but her wife had already seen it.

"Yes," Tisha nodded, "The ones who raped me, they're here, Babe, they're in the flood…they are the flood."

"I know," Vonne whispered holding her close, "I know, Tish, it's all my fault, I brought them."

"How?" she asked.

"Eighteen years ago, a gang of punks terrorized Coolwood," she said, "I couldn't let them bully me, they decided to play chicken with me one night on Legacy Bridge, I ran them off, and they drowned. I never told anyone, until now."

"Shavonne," Tisha reached up, touched her face, felt the tears that fell, "That doesn't make this your fault."

"They used you to get revenge," Vonne said, "They hurt you, put fear in you."

Tisha shook her head. "But I'm not scared anymore. We'll get through this."

Vonne looked up at the water around them, the funnel was narrowing, about to close in on them. She down into the eyes of her wife, her best friend and love for a decade, her soul mate who would be at her side until one or both of them took their last breath, either that night or some day in the future.

"I'll love you forever," Tisha said.

"I love you," Vonne told her, "Beyond forever."

There was a great trembling rush; she felt the first of it falling as icy drops like stinging rain.

"Hold on to me," she whispered, her heart fluttering as Tisha clasped her tighter.

The funnel collapsed the sides caving in sinking in on the two women in the center of the pool. The water forced itself between them, Vonne clutched Tisha's jacket, but her wife was ripped from her grasp. She struggled with the torrents not sure which way was up, which was down, the water rushed around her tossing her as though she were a fish speck.

She could not breathe; she could not think only fight to get to the surface wherever it was. Her knuckles banged something metallic; she grabbed it to steady her self.

Vonne pulled her body up, her feet touched a rung and she nearly shouted, she climbed until the ladder ran out then she swam kicking her legs to propel herself up. She swallowed air when she reached the surface, she gasped then fell into a fit of coughing, that burned her chest.

She tried to call for Tisha but could only get out a pitiful wheeze that made her sob from the inside out. She continued to fight for her breath. There was nothing above her now but the night sky, she could make out the silhouette of the iron fence that surrounded the pool, the roiling water around her.

"Tisha," she squeaked.


"Tisha," she called again, then screamed out, her entire body stiffened as shock traveled through her body.

It felt as if two sets of razors were suddenly clamped around her left leg just above and inches below her knee. She groaned and flailed her arms splashing. It was the gator gnawing on her leg like a goddamned bear trap. Vonne went for the gun in her jacket.

The demon rolled.

She squeezed the trigger, felt the explosion reverberate throughout the swollen pool, the water amplified the sound deafening her, dumbing her.

The gator's grip weakened but it held on. Vonne folded her body, grabbed its snout, pressed the muzzle of the .38 to the creature's head and hoping she did not shoot her own leg, fired.

The gator's grip weakened even more, it did not let go, and Vonne nearly squeezed the trigger again if she had not felt the gator sinking.

She dropped the gun and pried her bloody leg from the jagged jaws, she could taste the coppery taint of her blood all around her.

Vonne swam to the surface, her attempts at air not as fervent, she moaned as the pain of her wound made itself known.

Hands seized her from behind, she moaned again flailed to fight.

"No, Babe, it's me," Tisha said softly wrapping her arms around her shoulders, whispering in her ear that everything was fine now.

Vonne slowly turned.

"I'm hurt, Tisha, I'm hurt real bad, the alligator."

"Baby? What alligator?" she asked.

"The one that chomped down on my leg like it was a stick of Wrigley's Doublemint," Vonne said.

Tisha gasped.

"I smell blood."

Chapter Twelve: Staying Afloat

She surprised herself that night. Learning to swim, towing her injured wife to safety, using a short length of thick white cord to tie her leg above the wound, breaking into the vending machine, and forcing two cans of Hawaiian Punch into her.

The blood flowed steadily, Tisha watched it run damned near across the pavilion in vein-like rivulets.

She had never been so damned scared in her entire life.

"Just get yourself to safety," Vonne said weakly.

"You're talking like you're not going to make it," Tisha said cradling her wife's head in her lap.

What if I don't?" Vonne asked.

"You will," she insisted.

"Listen," Vonne said, "I don't want you to live in fear anymore, get out of Coolwood, make a life for yourself."

"I won't go anywhere," Tisha whispered, "Not without you."

Beyond the pavilion the rain began to fall heavy, but it was not the worst they had seen that night.

"They're still out there," Vonne said.

"Exhausting what they have left," Tisha said, "Whatever power they've gathered its dying."

"They're waiting for me," Vonne sniffed as tears began to flow from her eyes, "I think they're celebrating, a victory lap."

She leaned in close put her lips to her feverish face, began to cry.

"I'm sorry, Babe," Vonne said, "I only wanted a life for the two of us."

Tisha shook her head. "That poor little girl, she's out there somewhere all alone."

"What girl?" Vonne asked perking up a bit in her arms.

"Her name is Shay," Tisha said, "Someone just left her out here, she couldn't be no older than four or five."

Her wife said nothing in reply; she only shook turning her face and burying it in Tisha's stomach. She was sobbing soundlessly.

"I should have held on to her," Tisha said, "Maybe the Posse didn't get her."

"They can't," Vonne said, "She's too smart for them."

Tisha frowned through her tears. "What do you mean?"

Vonne was silent.

"Babe?" she asked, "Tell me."

"Her name was Shayla," Vonne said, "Shayla and Shavonne, that was us, we were sisters. Twins. She drowned in Legacy over thirty years ago."

"You never told me-" Tisha began.

"Cause it hurt," Vonne interrupted, "And I made myself forget about her. I saw her that night when I killed the Posse, she was standing in the headlights of my truck, before that I was thinking of running to get help. She put a finger to her lips. That meant it was secret. We were so young but we had out little secrets."

"How?" Tisha asked, "How'd she drown?"

"Daddy took us fishing," Vonne said, "He taught us how to swim that summer, but we weren't supposed to swim in the bayou, he told us. He loved the two of us. Of all the women he slept with my momma gave him two identical baby girls."

Vonne lowered her head and seemed to drift off.

"I'm tired Tisha," she said closing her eyes, "I wanna sleep."

"You can't," she told her, "Tell me the story, finish, tell me what happened to Shay."

"Daddy's buddies came by, he started talking to them and me and Shay, we walked away a bit, we waded down that crooked, muddy bank just to get our feet wet. We would say we fell in, that we did not mean to get so wet, and it would be a secret."

Tisha felt anger course throughout her body.

"He should have kept his eye on the two of you," she said, "He should have known to watch his babies around the water."

"That's what momma said," Vonne sighed, "We began to play, dunking our heads under, one, two, three, then we'd come up and laugh, but Shay didn't come up, the current carried her off, Daddy couldn't even find her when he jumped in. They found her under the bridge before the sunset, down with the trash."

"Shit," Tisha said, "Baby, that's so sad."

Vonne gave a half-hearted shrug.

"I didn't exist without Shay. He left us with Momma and that was it."

"No that was not it," Tisha said, "She abandoned you too, she was there but she abandoned you too."

"I wanna sleep," Vonne insisted drowsily like a willful child, "I wanna sleep."

"No," Tisha said, "Don't sleep, Baby."

Outside the pavilion the rain stopped, beyond the clouds she could see the darkness of the eastern sky began to fade.

She grabbed Vonne's jacket, forced her to roll over and face her.

"Damn you," she shouted, "You stay awake, if you sleep you won't wake up."

Vonne did not stir, Tisha put a hand to her nose, barely felt her exhale.

"You're beautiful," she said to her, not opening her eyes, "I was always so proud that you were by my side, it was like having a sister again."

Tisha shook her. "So why'd you leave me?" she asked, "Why?"

"Cause it was too good," Vonne slurred, "Our life, it didn't seem I was me anymore."

"You should have asked me," she shouted, "I would have told you. Babe, I didn't know you when your father left and your sister died, or when you were nineteen and played chicken on Legacy Bridge, but I've known you since you came over and talked to me at that party ten years ago…"

A sob threatened her.

"You…you were so gentle and tender, and sweet and patient. You wanted to know me, and all my life I just blended in the background, I was beginning to feel invisible everywhere I went, and I wanted a life with you because you made me feel like somebody. Our life, it suits you just fine you asshole."

Vonne did not answer or otherwise stir; Tisha pressed their faces close to check her breathing, felt that weak puff of air against her cheek.

"I love you," she said finally.

She could hear a chopper far in the distance, coming with the light of morning, but that did not seem to matter there under the pavilion


                                    .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .


Epilogue: Loving Neveda yearly average rainfall 6-12 inches

"Come on girls," Vonne shouted from the sideline, clapping her one palm against her clipboard, intent on the game in front of her. The Loving-High Mustangs were tied with the Dell Knights with two games each. At the end of the fourth the ‘Stangs were plugging away at the visiting team's leading score and it was 6 to 7.

Spectators packed the gym as well as two other waiting teams as the school hosted its first volleyball tournament.

"Allright, Sara," she hollered as the next server game up, a willowy girl who's gold and white jersey and black tights fit baggily.

Sara had a serve that was out of this world though; Vonne quieted and watched the girl sent the volleyball blazing across the net, a white-gray blur it arced fast and deep. The lady Knights could not pick it up

"Whoa," Coach Nash cheered, "Tell ‘em whose house this is."

Sara's face burned bright red, back when she joined the team her serve was mediocre, under Vonne's tutelage it became awesome.

The knights handled the second serve they returned a spike. Little Natalie Thompson hit the floor for it, Dakota set up Brittney a hefty girl who could get off the ground and deliver raging spikes.

When the Knights could not return the ball, their coach called a time-out.

"Ok, Mustangs," Vonne said as her girls gathered around, "I know ya'll want this, and it's yours, keep your eyes on the ball, communicate out there, if we win this one and the next we can place at the top of this tournament. Sara, girl, I think your serve should be considered a deadly weapon."

The girls laughed, they weren't so bad for high school kids, she would put them against some Texas college girls in a heart beat.

"Let me get stampede on three," Vonne said and counted.

The girls stuck their hands into the huddle and shouted: "Stampede."

As they scattered back to their positions, she looked up into the stands and Tisha sitting with several of her students who held banners painted and gilded with gold glitter. The little ones cheered, the weekly volleyball games was one of their favorite fieldtrips.

Tisha led them in a cheer that ended in a long hoot; she was having as much fun as the children without so much as a trace of fear.

They all began to sing "We will rock you," and the whole group of spectators joined in. Everyone at Loving-High liked Coach Nash, she was funny, and gracious, she talked to the kids like they were actual human beings who could make choices and think for themselves. They all especially loved the woman she called her wife who sent fresh baked cookies for staff meetings, and volunteered at the amateur theater.

The game pulled Vonne back in and she barely noticed Tisha lining up her little students and filing out of the gym. It was nearly three o'clock and their parents would be at their house to pick them up.

After that last morning in Coolwood and the daring helicopter rescue prompted by Hink, Vonne spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from her wounds. The bites were tricky to heal, and no one could explain where the malformed alligator had come from except a human owner who kept the thing in cramped area all of its life, stunting its growth.

She and Tisha discussed what they could do, stay in town and rebuild or leave.

A month later they packed what they salvaged from their flooded home into a U-haul trailer and drove West neither of them sure where they would end up.

Their travel budget ran dry outside of Clark Nevada at sunset in a little town called Loving. Tisha cried when Vonne asked if she would ever consider the place home.

"Any place where you are," she said.

Vonne found the job at Loving High while her wife floundered a bit. She worked as a nanny for a few months then set to work converting the two-bedroom house they were renting into a pre-school, and applied for a childcare facility license.

Currently the Loving Heart pre-school had eight attendants on its roster and a waiting list four times as long. Word got out fast about the spirited black woman who spoke spotty Spanish and loved all children as if they were her own.

After the tournament, there was dinner at the local pizza joint, when she left she picked up a bottle of chilled champagne, just because, and drove home. It was not as nice as the one in Coolwood currently being rented by another, younger lesbian couple. There were always toys in the drive, scattered around the Loving Heart sign staked into the tiny lawn, but Tisha waited for her inside.

She crept into the house, through their living room, lined with low shelves stacked with paper and art supplies, and containers of blocks, and books. Several easels and three low tables with tiny chairs stood in a row.

She went to the kitchen, retrieved two glasses, and tiptoed through the hallway, their bedroom at the end. She kicked something and it rolled forward, flashing and wailing. A little toy police car.

Tisha opened the bedroom door grinning, she grabbed the front of Vonne's shirt, pulled her inside.

"Shhh, Daniel's mother is working an extra shift," she said, "He's sleeping in the spare room."

Vonne rolled her eyes. "Again?" she whispered.

"Stop it," Tisha said and kissed her, she spotted the bottle, "Did you win the tournament?"

"Yeah," Vonne said, "But the champagne is not to celebrate that."

"No?" she asked, "What's the occasion?"

"Us," Vonne said, "Our life."

She walked to their bed, set the bottle and the glasses on the nightstand, Tisha came from behind, hugged her.

"Did you find out who sticks cookies between the couch cushions?" Vonne asked.

"No," she said, "Is that what we're celebrating?"

"Ha-Ha," Vonne deadpanned, then smiled, gathering Tisha in her arms, "You're beautiful."

Tisha beamed in the lamplight. "Even if our days are fraught with kids, and cookies between the couch cushions?"

"Yeah," Vonne said.

At least their nights were their own, most of the time.

The End

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