Author's Note: Thank you to all of you who have been taking time to give me feedback about the story so far. Your thoughts have proved very helpful and I've learned more than a couple things from your comments so please keep them coming. This story will eventually contain a "loving" relationship between two women. The characters, town and storyline are all products of my imagination. Although Tennessee is "really" a state!
January 2007 © J.A. Breeze
By J.A. Breeze
Only the top of a dark head was visible when a groan sounded from the woman in the bed. She burrowed her face even more deeply into a pillow as she called out in distress fighting the demons that too often visited her dreams. But no one was there to witness her agony because she slept alone, only released from the misery when the alarm clock began to loudly buzz.
"Good God, it can't be time to get up already," she grumbled as she reached out one hand to hit the snooze button and end the irritating noise.
Lying quietly she ran through her plans for the day, not remembering the ghosts who had plagued her dreams just moments before.
First a meeting with Winston and then a surprise visit to Ms. Jennifer Gibson. Then off to Nashville for a late afternoon meeting with the assistant commissioner. Damn it's going to be a long day, especially being stuck in a car with the boys!
She couldn't help but grin as she thought about Agent England and Investigator Hardin whom she had privately dubbed Opie and Columbo. They were definitely a mismatched pair but she was confident that they would get the job done.
Letting her thoughts return to the newspaper publisher, she once again considered calling for an appointment but decided that she would get a more honest reaction by just showing up.
There's a lot to be said for the element of surprise! And I do so look forward to meeting Ms. Jennifer Gibson face to face. Wonder if she will still insist she didn't call me?
She rolled over just as the alarm began to buzz, again. You need to get your butt out of this bed and get going.
This time she hit the off button and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment looking at the photograph that greeted her every morning.
Kissing two fingers she placed them to the lips of the woman pictured there.
"Good morning. Miss you."
With those words she stood and headed to the dresser across the room. She pulled out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and grabbed her running shoes from the closet floor.
Once she was dressed, she took her keys and cell phone and headed out the door for her morning run.
She lived in a townhouse inside a gated community in north Wilmington. She appreciated the extra security it offered since members of the DA's office were often the targets of threats, and she lived with the reality that a threat could be carried out against her at anytime.
"You just have to piss off the wrong psycho," Winston had warned her more than once.
She waved to the gatekeeper as she left the housing development and headed east on Wilmington Avenue toward the city park.
Dozens watched the solitaire woman make the run day after day. She was an impressive sight and more than one had appreciated her natural good looks, muscular thighs and strong shoulders. But it was rare for anyone to attempt to get her attention, much less engage her in conversation. There was something about her that said she needed the time and wanted to be left alone.
A lot of runners wore headphones and listened to music but she preferred the rhythm of her shoes pounding the pavement. The beat of her heart as it responded to the added exertion. The laughter of children playing at the homes she passed. The everyday sounds of the city she had grown to love.
There was a time when she had companion for the early morning run from the townhouse to the park and back but that was a long time ago when her heart and her life were in a better place. If she had taken time to count, she would have been surprised to learn that almost three years had gone by since she last made the run with someone at her side.
"I still miss you, honey." With those softly spoken words, echoes of conversations long gone came back to her.
Bet I can beat you to the park bench.
Oh, no, you won't.
Last one there has to do dishes for a week.
Dishes for a week? What does that matter? I do them anyway, you nut!
Come on slowpoke. Keep up.
Who you calling slowpoke?
"Why do I feel you so close to me today?"
First one in the house gets the shower.
Why don't we share and I'll wash your back.
I love you, Casey.
Not as much as I love you.
Lost in the embrace of her memories, she made it to the park bench and automatically began the return run without even realizing she had reached the halfway mark.
Turning into her housing complex a few minutes later, she once again waved to the gatekeeper and then raced up the steps to her townhouse. She pulled a key from her pocket, opened the door and entered the house that no longer felt like home. As usual she was greeted by the emptiness that came with living alone.
Jennifer spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning. She was awakened by the sound of her bedroom door opening.
"Mom, are you awake? We have less than an hour until time to leave for school, and I don't think Dad can take us.
"I'll drive you. Just give me a few minutes to shower and dress." She knew her husband was probably feeling the effects of the alcohol he consumed the night before.
"I'll get our breakfast together if you want."
"That would be wonderful, sweetheart," she said as she gave her daughter a quick kiss on the forehead. "I'll be down soon."
Twenty minutes later, she entered the kitchen to find her children eating scrambled eggs and toast.
"Mom, there's more eggs on the stove if you want them."
"Thanks, but I believe I'll just have a quick cup of coffee and then we can be on our way. I certainly don't want you to be late for school."
"We still have lots of time."
Looking at the watch fastened around her wrist, she confirmed that they had at least fifteen minutes before they had to leave. Fortunately the schools her children attended were located side by side and were only five minutes away.
Pouring a mug of coffee she sat down with her children and took a careful sip. "Mm this is good, Court."
"You know that all I did was push the button. The coffee was already in the filter."
"It's still a good cup of coffee," she said with a smile for her daughter. "Thanks for taking care of breakfast."
As the trio was preparing to leave the kitchen, Michael stumbled through the door. His eyes were bloodshot, and it was obvious he had slept in his clothes.
"I could really use a cup of coffee."
"Here, let me get it for you," Jennifer offered.
"Kids go on and get your things. I need to talk to your father for a minute."
They looked at her in concern so she attempted to give them a reassuring smile. "Go on. I'll just be a minute."
When the door closed behind their children, she turned to her husband.
"Michael, are you going to be alright? You look terrible."
"Don't worry Jen. I'll be fine. Just had a few too many last night."
"Do you want me to get you anything before I go?"
"No. I'll be fine. Go ahead and get the kids to school."
"If you're sure—"
She turned and walked toward the door. As she was about to leave, he spoke.
"I spent a lot of time thinking last night. Well, thinking and drinking," he said with a self-disgusted laugh.
"And, I've decided to go ahead and pack a few things today and move out. I don't see any reason to drag things out, do you?"
"No, Michael. I don't want to drag things out either. Do what you feel like you should and I'll explain things to Courtney and Brandon tonight. Unless you want to talk to them yourself."
"If you don't mind, I'd prefer you handle it, but I'll call tonight to talk to them."
Walking back to her husband, she knelt in front of him. Taking his hands in hers, she looked into his eyes.
"Michael, I'm sorry that you're hurting. I wish this could have been resolved without anyone getting hurt. I truly want you to find happiness," she rose to her feet as her eyes began to fill with tears.
"Jen, you're not the only one at fault here. I certainly have earned my share of the blame. And I want you to be happy, too."
She gave his hands one last squeeze before she turned and walked out the door. This time he didn't call her back.
When she arrived at the newspaper, she made her way straight to her office automatically saying "good morning" to anyone she met.
Maria greeted her as she reached her office suite.
"Good morning, Jennifer. Are you ready for a busy day?"
"And good morning to you. I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I suppose. Anything I should know about?"
"Nothing other than Melinda said to call when you have time to talk to her and she'll come straight up."
"Thanks, Maria. I'll give her a call a little later. In the meantime would you send my calls to voicemail? I have a couple things I need to tend to and don't want to be interrupted. Unless of course there's a real emergency."
"Just let me know when you're ready to take calls. Until then I'll try to give you the quiet time you need."
"You're a gem, Maria. I don't know what I'd do without you," she responded prompting a warm smile from the older woman.
Maria was already in place as secretary to the publisher when she came to The Gazette. It didn't take long for them to build a strong bond of mutual affection and respect. Of all the people who worked at the paper, Maria was the one she counted on the most.
She placed her bag at her desk. Removed her suit jacket and carefully hung it on the coat wrack and then headed straight for the coffee service.
"Maria, you're worth your weight in gold," she said as she found the carafe filled with her favorite coffee blend and a plate holding two homemade cinnamon rolls. The secretary knew she had a weakness for the sweet and brought them to tempt her at least once a month.
She carried her mug of coffee and one of the rolls back to her desk and sat down to get started on the workday. As she bit into the roll, she released a hum of approval. Leaning over she pushed the intercom button on her phone.
"You are wonderful."
"You're welcome," the secretary responded as she released a delighted chuckle.
If you only knew how much I needed this little bit of pampering today, she thought as she opened her briefcase and removed the files she needed.
"Winston, I'm sorry I don't have more to report."
"Relax, Casey, it's still early and you have just gotten started."
"Maybe we'll know more after we meet with the assistant commissioner this afternoon."
"Do you plan to interview him alone or are you taking Matt or Sam with you?"
"Well, I had planned to have them both tag along. Thought it would give me a chance to get to know them a little better."
"That's an excellent idea. How are you and Sam getting along so far?"
"Let's see he's called me ‘kid' at least a dozen times. And I've noticed him gawking at my legs more than once."
"Sam is definitely from the old boys' club. Try not to let him get to you."
"Oh, he's not getting to me. In fact I threatened to kick his ass off the task force if he calls me kid one more time."
"I bet he loved that," the DA said with a shake of his head and a chuckle.
"Actually, I think Columbo and I reached a bit of an understanding after that."
"Columbo? You mean the television detective?
"Yes," the assistant DA replied with a sheepish grin.
"I must say it's an apt description of our investigator. And as long as we're on the subject of your team, how is young Matt doing?"
"Opie is actually quite thorough but you'd never know it by his written reports. We're working on it."
"Opie, huh? Dare I ask?"
"Red hair, freckles, little boy face."
The DA couldn't resist and broke into a full-bellied laugh.
The assistant DA soon joined him.
Once they had regained control of themselves. The DA gave her a serious look.
"Casey you know I try not to nose into your personal life, but I want you to know how good it is to hear you laugh again. I've been noticing the return of your playful side over the last few weeks. And … well … I'm glad to see the old Casey coming back to us."
Attempting not to show how affected she was by his words, she offered a simple, "Thanks, Winston" in reply. "I guess I should get out of your way. I plan to pay a visit to someone I think may be our fifth blackmail victim this morning."
"Be sure to let me know how it goes."
"I will, Winston. And thanks."
Jennifer looked up as a knock sounded at her door. "Come in."
"Hi, Jennifer. Are you ready for me?"
"Thanks for coming up. Would you like a cup of coffee while we talk?"
"That'd be great. Thanks."
Jennifer filled a mug with coffee for the executive editor and freshened her own. But she didn't return to her desk. Instead she stopped at a sitting area that contained a couch and two chairs.
"Why don't we sit over here? It'll be more comfortable."
Used to Jennifer's preference for casual meetings with her department heads, Melinda wasn't surprised by the request. She took a seat on one end of the couch while Jennifer settled on the other after handing off a mug of coffee.
"Mm this is good. Much better than the brew we have in the newsroom."
"We have Maria to thank for that. She sneaks in here every morning and starts the coffee although I constantly tell her it isn't necessary."
"Well, she certainly has a knack for making coffee. This is great."
The publisher decided not to share that her secretary kept a special blend on hand just for her.
"We haven't had a chance to talk in awhile. How are things in the news department? Is the new night editor working out as well as you had hoped?"
"Devon is young but he's learning quickly. I feel certain he will prove to be an excellent hire."
"That's good to know. Is Marvin still giving you trouble?"
Melinda couldn't help but laugh when she thought about the news editor who enjoyed testing her authority. He resented having "an outsider" brought in to run the news department. And after three years, Melinda still hadn't won him over, but he did seem to have accepted that she wasn't going anywhere.
"We still have little run-ins from time to time but nothing I can't handle."
"Good. You're doing an excellent job and our circulation numbers prove it. I wish all our departments ran as smoothly."
"Thank you, boss. That's always good to hear."
"It's just a statement of fact and due in no small part to your leadership. And drop the boss. You know I don't think of myself that way. Well not most days anyway," she added with a short laugh.
"I know it's not really my place to ask, but are you worried about something? You look tired."
"You know this job. There's always something to keep you up at night," she said evasively.
"If there's anything I can do to help, just ask."
"I appreciate that. I really do. But why don't we talk about this investigative piece you're working on. Give me the basics. Will you?"
Knowing not to delve any further, she moved directly into the details.
"First, we got a tip out of Nashville that the assistant commissioner of the state building commission had gone to the governor to confess being involved in fixing bids. Then we found out that someone had dug up some dirt on the Mayor and was using it as leverage against him."
"What kind of dirt? Do we know?"
"Not confirmed, but it looks like he has been frequenting some illegal gaming rooms and losing huge amounts of money. We're working on verification."
"And how do these fit together?"
"From what we've been able to determine, it all relates to who will build the new convention center. And the assistant commissioner has admitted that he was involved in fixing bids in Memphis and Nashville."
"How's that possible? Looks like one of the major newspapers in Memphis or Nashville would have been all over this."
"That's what I thought. But it seems there were no red flags. The bid documents all looked legitimate."
Is it possible that my problem has nothing to do with this conspiracy? Damn, I'm so confused. "So how long before you're ready with the first story?"
"Another week at least. We're trying to be careful that we have all the facts because some very big heads are about to roll."
Maybe I should just play it cool and see where this goes. "This is very interesting. Be sure to keep me informed so I'll be prepared to deal with whatever fallout comes this way."
"Once we're ready to go to print, you'll be the first person, I call. How's that?"
"Thanks, Melinda. You know I try not to interfere with what you do in news. I know you don't need my input. I just want to stay on top of things. I've grown to hate surprises since I became a publisher."
"Hey, you're one of the best news editors I've ever known, and I value your input and I can certainly understand why you would want to be informed."
"I appreciate you saying that. Not everyone reacts so well when I insert myself into their departments. Some people are very territorial."
"I can just imagine," the executive editor said. "I don't think I could ever do your job."
"And sometimes I wonder why I bother," she said with a laugh. "Now, I should let you get back to work. But thanks for taking time to fill me in. I do appreciate it."
She was interrupted when the intercom buzzed.
Jennifer reached for the extension on the table beside her. "Yes, Maria?"
"I'm sorry to interrupt but there's a Ms. Jarnigan here from the DA's office and she said it's important that she talk with you."
"Melinda and I were just finishing up. Tell Ms. Jarnigan I'll be with her in a few minutes."
"You're obviously busy so I'll get out of your way. Let me know if you need anything," the executive editor said as she prepared to leave.
When she reached the door she met a tall, dark-haired woman. She couldn't help but take a second look and wonder why an assistant DA needed to see Jennifer.
"Excuse me," she said as they met in the doorway.
"Certainly," the newcomer said as she stepped aside allowing the woman to exit the office.
Jennifer had watched the exchange from the safety of her desk, which gave her a moment to size up the assistant DA.
My God, what a stunning woman! She is absolutely gorgeous.
Casey pasted a smile on her face and moved toward the blonde sitting at the desk. So this is Jennifer Gibson. She certainly is beautiful, she thought as she extended her right hand.
"Ms. Gibson, I'm Casey Jarnigan with the DA's office. I believe we spoke on the phone a couple days ago."
"Yes, I remember. But I must say I'm surprised by your visit. I thought we had agreed that I am not the woman you're looking for," she replied as she leaned forward to accept the proffered hand.
As the smaller woman's hand settled inside her own, Casey felt a spark of attraction unlike anything she had experienced in a long, long time, if ever. She just stood there holding the publisher's hand, her brown eyes locked with those of the other woman.
Jennifer was having an equally strong reaction. She has the warmest brown eyes I've ever seen. I could just drown in them. As soon as the thought registered she shrugged it off and quickly regained her composure.
"So Ms. Jarnigan, what can I do for you?" she asked as she withdrew her hand from the warm grasp and leaned back in her chair.
"May I?" Casey asked as she indicated a chair beside her.
"Forgive my manners. Please have a seat."
"As I told you on the phone, I received a message from a woman who sounded desperate and was practically begging for help."
"And I told you that I know nothing about the phone call or the message."
"Then why was the call placed from a cell phone listed in your name?"
"I can assure you, Ms. Jarnigan that I did not call you asking for help. There must be some mistake," she said without looking at the other woman.
"Let me shoot straight with you, Ms. Gibson. If someone is blackmailing you or threatening you, I want to help. But, I can't help you or offer the protection of the DA's office if you don't tell me what's going on."
"Once again, I assure you I have no idea what you're talking about," the publisher said still unable to meet the other woman's eyes, her hands locked in front of her on the desk.
Leaning forward Casey covered Jennifer's hands with one of her own causing the blonde woman to look up, straight into her warm brown eyes.
"My heart and every bit of intuition I have tell me that you are the woman who left the message and that you do need my help. Please let me help you." For just a second she saw a flicker of uncertainty and then in the blink of an eye the moment was gone.
"Thank you for your concern, Ms. Jarnigan. But if there is nothing else, I really need to get back to work."
Knowing when to back off, the assistant DA rose to her feet and pulled a card from her jacket pocket. She placed it in front of the other woman and tapped it with her finger.
"This card has all my numbers on it, home and cell."
She turned to walk to the door but stopped to add one more thought on her way out.
"Jennifer?" she said purposely using the other woman's first name.
"Should you decide you need someone to talk to, I have a very good ear and I promise to do everything I can to help. Call me anytime, day or night. "
Not waiting for an answer she turned and walked out the door.
The publisher felt tears, she didn't know she was holding back, fall onto her cheeks. Not bothering to wipe them away, she wheeled her chair around and faced the window.
I was so tempted to tell her everything. From the second she took my hand, I felt like I could trust her, that somehow she could make things better.
Her private line began to ring and she turned to answer it. Taking a deep breath, she picked up the handset and said, "Hello," for once forgetting her standard greeting.
"Hi, baby. Did you think I wasn't going to call today?"
Oh God, not now. I can't handle more of this now.
"I don't feel like playing your games today. Just say what you have to say."
"Now is that anyway to talk to your lover? I'm crushed."
"You are not my lover. Now what do you want?"
"You need to learn to be more appreciative when I call. I don't like the way you speak to me. Do you understand?"
"Will you just tell me what you want?"
"What I want hasn't changed, my love. I want you. Remember you are mine and don't get any ideas about talking to that nosey woman from the DA's office. She can't help you."
"How did you know someone from the DA's office was here?"
"I told you, baby, I'm never far away. I always know what you're doing. Don't forget our date for Monday night. See you then."
She sat in stunned silence until the dial tone from the disconnected line began to hum in her ear.
I can't take anymore of this. I've got to talk to someone and soon. This is driving me crazy.
She didn't hesitate as she dialed her friend Janie's number.
"Hi, Janie. It's me."
"Hi, Jennifer. Are you okay? You sound upset."
"I could really use a friend," she said as she swallowed her pride. "Could we please get together and the sooner the better?"
"Why don't you come over? I'm not doing anything special and Alex is out of town until Monday."
"You're sure it isn't a bad time?"
"Honey, there's never a bad time if you need a friend. Come on over."
"Okay, I'll see you soon."
"I'll be waiting. Drive careful."
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