"So are you going to go?" asked Jo slicing two more pieces of the New York Style Cheesecake for them to devour. To Jo, this is girl talk required comfort food. Teela had called her upset about the argument she had with Pax.
"Part of me wants to be there to support her, Jo. The other part wants to stay far away until it's over. I love her so much," she said while toying with her piece of cake. "I don't know if I can stand by and watch what they'll do to each other."
"Does she want you there?" Jo asked spooning a large piece of cheesecake onto her fork.
"I'm not sure. We haven't spoken for a couple of days." She speared the creamy treat.

Teela stayed sequestered in her room following her fight with Pax. So caught up in the moment Pax had been propelled back in time. She heard the soft voice coming through the door but chose not to answer. She was hurt, emotionally, that Pax had called her Jen. In spite of herself, she let the tantrum continue, her lover's pleas fell unanswered into the childish silence. Not knowing what else to do, Pax walked out of the house. Later that night in the quiet of her living room did she realize why the time warp had happened. 
"Oh Teela. You shouldn't let something like that go on for days. You know better than that."
"I know."
"Damn it!" The fork clanked upon the plate and eyes burned through her friend. Teela shrank low in her chair. "You always say that but I don't think you really do, or you would have called her to fix things by now."
"Is this the psychiatrist or the best friend talking?" Teela flashed Jo the baby eyes hoping to appease the jungle fury bearing down upon her. No wonder Boney keeps this woman happy, thought Teela.  
"It's the 'I'm going to kick your ass' talking."
"Hmmm. I do so love you Jo," she shoved a forkful of strawberry cheesecake around the saucer. You never let up, always so forth right forcing me to face things I would rather avoid for a while. Her favorite desert was not offering her comfort at the moment.
"Don't change the subject." She shoved a bite of cheesecake topped with strawberries into her mouth.
"Where's Boney anyway?" Teela asked Jo.
After she managed to swallow the thick desert Jo replied, "Out with some friends looking at fishing stuff."
"Oh. Is she going to the lake this weekend?"
"Quit evading."
"Right," Teela snorted. Jo always seemed to catch onto that tactic. "Jo, when she called me Jen, I just...I was hurt. After a while I tried to understand why."
"What did you come up with?"
"Nothing really. It didn't bother me that she called me Jen as much as it bothered me that she was not doing what I wanted. I threw a silly temper-tantrum and ignored her all night. She was being pig-headed and selfish for placing herself at risk, not thinking about us."
"But you stupidly retaliated by shutting her out Teela. You're right; you acted completely immature about the whole thing."
"Yeah, well..."
"Yeah well...nothing. You are keeping the immaturity going by not calling her and talking to her about it." She pointed her fork angrily at her friend. "I know there is something incredibly important you have not said Teela and I am waiting for you to say it."
Taking her time to sip her tea and replace the empty cup on the table Teela said. "Her past has circled around to the present. Jen did not want her competing and fighting. She refused to go that night. It probably weighed heavily on Pax's mind while she was in the ring. Her focus was split and maybe that had something to do with her losing the match. It's the same thing all over again for her." She looked at her friend. "If I am not at Briar Park for her, her focus may be broken. Only this time, she would be thinking about the end of 
our relationship. I have to be there for her."
Jo nodded approving Teela's belated insight. "You accepted her ring. You pledged to be her lover. That means supporting her in the things she does that you do not care for. That's Relationships 101."
"Maybe I just need a refresher course."
"Maybe you do. You have been very lucky Teela. I don't know if you realize that or not. Not too many women would put up with the half-truths you have told her since you've met. Not to mention, still want to be your partner."
"I am lucky."
"You need to be telling her these things Teela, not me."
"I will. I wanted to try them out on you first." She tried smiling.
"Not funny Teela. Pax should be the first and only in everyway. Bess was not so considerate..." She threw her hand in the air to stop Teela from interrupting. "Don't deny it; you know that it's true. Because of that you may have been used to her way of dealing with things. Pax is different and deserves to be in a reference category all by herself."
"Point well taken and I will make a new one for her."
"When are you going to tell her?"
"When I leave here. I would feel better if you and Boney would come to Briar Park with me."
Jo smiled and couldn't resist imitating Mom's Mably, "I don't know nutin 'bout bein no medic."
Teela laughed, "You're an ass; you know that?"
"Boney says a pretty darn good one too," Jo snickered behind her coffee cup.
"Eeewww." Scrunching her nose, Teela pretended to choke.
"No she says, 'Aaahhh'."
"I swear you two are perverts."
"Teela girl, someday you will be asking for a membership." Her best friend roared with laughter as her face turned scarlet.



Pax ascended the stairs from the basement sweaty and parched. Generally basements were cooler than the upper level. Still her boxers and sports bra were darkened from the rapid fire punching and kicking drills. Her muscles lean and tight, speed honed with blinding fury. She had been doing bag work for a couple of hours and needed a mental and physical break before performing the higher ranked katas.
Her workout had been far more zealous than she had intended. With fervid tenacity, she pulverized the hundred pound bag bewildered that she found herself in the same predicament again. As her frustration at Teela's easy use of the "silent treatment" mounted, she jabbed and kicked the nylon covered pendulum. She is being unreasonable, childish, and selfish. I thought she loved me and she treats me like this, she thought.
Each punch landed incredibly hard; it was like striking concrete, the bag barely giving. Her eyes glazed as her mind opened that closed door letting her remember how it felt to hit Su Toa, the Muay Thai fighter. The impact from the strikes she managed to deliver to his body and face reverberated through her arms and legs. There was no give in his rock solid structure. With each attack her muscles flexed and congealed into a shapely hardened mass in her arms. Her abdomen constricted revealing the rippled potency of strength that had and could withstand pummeling blows. She heard the cheering of the crowd in her ears and the heated flush of desperation overcome her. She would remain standing until the signal of the last round was over if it killed her. She would not go down again Pax punched through the bag, through Su Toa like Master had told her, from the hip water to ice to ice in a fraction of a second.
A wave of dizziness overcame Pax. The ghost was bludgeoning her ribs and head. Knots wrenched her body threatening the upheaval of her stomachs contents when the bag swung back transformed into Su Toa's bone shattering elbow crashed into her jaw. The sound echoed for hours between her ears.
Drinking heavily from the water bottle Pax wiped the excess with the back of her shaking hand. I can't let this happen tomorrow. I need to be prepared mentally. I will not underestimate Tanesha like I did Su Toa. That was my mistake. It cost me dearly. Not this time. Like Jen, Teela will not be there for me. What does that say about me, about us? 
The pounding on the door brought her willingly out of her musings. Grabbing the kitchen towel she wiped the sweat from her face and torso.
"Hold on already!" she bellowed to the impatient intruder and yanked the door open. Ready to yell again she stopped with her mouth gaping open to the offer of Chinese take-out held up by the social worker.
"I thought that you might be hungry, so I brought us dinner." With the bag held high, Teela glimpsed the sensual abs of her lover. Her body remembered and hummed in reverence. Stop that, remember why you are here, she thought.
Not waiting to be invited in, Teela passed Pax and headed for the kitchen. She started laying out plates and silverware for them to dine. Arms crossed over her chest Pax stood in the doorway and waited. She was amused at the little blonde desperately looking everywhere but at her. Teela emptied the cartons of food onto their plates. Gaze diverted to the counter Teela motioned for Pax to take a stool across from her. Pax's stare remained fixed up the little blonde unmoving.
"Please. I want to talk about tomorrow."
"What about tomorrow?" she asked from the doorway; her pleasant thoughts faded to black.
"Please Pax. Hear me out. Ok?" Teela's pleading green eyes turned upon blue.
"I'm listening."
"Can you listen over here? I won't bite you know." Yes I will. Sweat and all, you look just too yummy right now.
Despite her efforts, Pax's lips curled into a small grin. "Yes you do." It was her own fault. The memory of just how those teeth grazed upon her neck and thighs resulted in a full body shiver. Her southern lips warned her again that it was waiting for the little blonde.
"That's true," she said smirking her acknowledgement. "But I won't bite right this minute. How about that?"
Pax made her way to the stool as instructed and sat watching the blonde. She inhaled deeply calming the nervousness she felt within from the deja vu scene about to play in it's entirety. Again, Pax blinked repeatedly keeping the image of Teela from morphing into Jen.
"Where is Thumper?" It was then she notice the absence of the large canine.
"With Jo and Boney."
Teela waited until Pax seated and she had her full attention, or so she had thought. Why is she looking so funny? "First of all," she began to play with her food. "I want to apologize for the way that I have been acting lately. I didn't mean to come across as controlling by telling you not to fight or pouting and not talking to 

"Why did you Teela? Not talking to me hurt more than anything. I can't take being ignored."
"I'm sorry. I was just too angry. I think this whole thing is stupid. I know it has meaning for you, but I am so afraid of you getting hurt like before. I'm afraid that I will lose you." 
"You figure that she will beat me huh?"
"That's not it Pax. You two are hell bent on proving something, and you are going to destroy each other in the process. I can't help but worry that if you take blows to the head, what that will do to you. Your leg, she will attack you there and do more damage and then what? For what?"
Pax listened to her lover's fears and watched as her she struggled through the shifting emotions while she tried to explain. "I expect Tanesha is a dirty fighter. I have thought about those things myself actually."
"Then why go through with it? Why risk brain damage or paralysis or worst?" Pax shrugged her shoulders.
"Yeah. Fucked up as it is."
"I thought a long time about not asking you to do this. Each time I thought I was ready to say something, I became afraid that you would think I was like Jen putting pressure on you. I guess no matter how I decided to handle it, I became her anyway." Teela lowered her head shifting the sweet-and-sour chicken puffs around her plate. Then just as angrily, "You put me in that position. It was a no win situation."
"Wooh! Me?"
"Yes. You expected me to condone this type of violence. If I am the compassionate person that you believe I am how could you assume that I would idly stand by and let you participate in such a thing? How could you expect that of Jen? It is not fair of you to put us in a position to passively watch you get possibly beaten senseless. Do you have any idea how helpless that makes me feel?"
"For the time I was on the streets, that's how I made a living and until I was able to get more 'acceptable' work. Plus, Jen knew I fought to get the extra money we sometimes needed," Pax threw back.
"So you had no true control over things then? And now?"
"Now, it's...Teela," She's right, what can I say against that? I am repeating the same mistake with her as I did with Jen. She did say something similar to me, didn't she? "I have no defense for what you say. I've always did what I wanted, when I wanted; no matter how strongly Jen objected." She studied her hands a bit longer. "It cost me her, forever." She looked deeply into the wounded green orbs, "I don't want to lose you over this, Teela. I'm sorry for doing that to you. "I have to do this. I...I can't explain this to you, but it's my pride. I can't let it go this time. I promise it won't happen again."
"And I promise not to ignore you like that again."
Bypassing the untouched food Pax went directly to the beacon that guided her heart. Teela automatically wrapped her arms around her lover's waist gripping one another in a fierce hug until neither was able to breathe.
"I was so scared you wouldn't want to talk to me after the way I behaved. I am so sorry. " Teela leaned back hands cupping her lover's cheeks.
"I thought you wouldn't speak to me. I was going out of my mind. I wanted to call, but I thought it best to let you tell me when you were ready. I was afraid that it was not going to happen."
"We both were afraid. Maybe we should start keeping a rule book to remind us of our mistakes. We have two now; to be honest and to always talk about things."
"We can do that." Pax smiled warmly at the social worker.
The kiss was warm and deep, filled of the forgiveness each shared for the other. Teela broke first wanting to say one final thing on the subject before they closed that chapter on their relationship. "I will be there for you tomorrow."
"Teela, you don't have to be. I know how you feel about things now. It's okay."
"No it's not. You need your full concentration on Tanesha. If I'm right there, you'd be able to see me and know that I'm alright."
Teela found herself in another breath taking hug. "Thank you. I'd like that," Pax said.
Pax kissed her longingly and moaning at the taste that she has missed. Teela opened without question giving permission for the Pax to enter. Teela moaned from the fire penetrating her every pore hardening her nipples instantly.
"I have missed you." Teela shuddered; she loved it when Pax's voice became husky and lust riddled.
"God you are making it so good."
"I can make it better if you let me," Pax confidently replied.
"I know you can, but not tonight."
"You have to conserve your strength for tomorrow."
"Teela..." she wined.
"I think dinner, maybe a movie, and early to bed is in order for you."
"Bed I like." She wiggled her eyebrows.
"To sleep. Now go take a shower and I will get things ready."
Pax squeezed her in another hug then bounced out of the kitchen.




By the time that they arrived at Briar Park, Tanesha and her group had moved the picnic tables to the grass. Sitting on one side of the pavilion Teela sat on a picnic table next to Jo, Boney, Felicia and Damian. On the other were Tanesha, two older teenagers, and two of her female friends. The only person missing was Pax. She remained in her truck completing her mental preparation.
Felicia tapped her brother-in-law and pointed at the students milling about their instructor. "They look impressive."
"Not to me," Damian sneered.
The students were dressed in white gi's; their obi's were meticulously tied at the waist. Tanesha was in her black gi; she appeared carefree laughing and joking with them unconcerned as to what lay ahead. Tanesha turned heading towards the other side of the pavilion. The golden scrolled plate on the oversized leather championship belt glimmered hanging loosely around her waist.
She came to a stop in front of Teela, a smug grin etched upon her face. "Hello sweetheart."
"Don't call me that," Teela groused.
"Teela," her voice softened. "Come on. I love you. I told you that and I know you love me."
"What?" Teela replied disbelieving what she heard from the strange creature before her.
"I know you feel the same way. We belong together."
"You're out of your mind."
The pleading expression turned to an angry scowl. "We do belong together. You will be going home with me. Today!"
"You are quite delusional aren't you?" Amazed Jo replied. Then she saw something different about Tanesha, something dangerous.
"I'm quite lucid actually. It's Auntie Maimed that will become delusional," she snarled. If I can't have her. No one will.
"Don't you dare call her that, Teela hissed balling her hands into tight little fists.
"It's the truth," Tanesha goaded.
"I'm warning you Tanesha. Stay away from me and Pax or I will call the police and get that retraining order."
"Yeah sure. I heard you," she replied with boredom. "Where is gimp anyway? I have another demonstration at three."
"You won't be making it. Maybe I should go in your place."
"See Johanna, she's the one that is delirious and I haven't even popped her yet." Tanesha turned to Pax, dressed in her white heavy weighted gi, a similar title belt thrown across her shoulder. "Teela after all this is over, you're going to need a date for tonight. I'll be happy to take you to dinner since cripple won't be able to later."
"Now wait just a damn minute." Jumping to his feet Damain took a step towards Tanesha. He had just about enough of the arrogant bitch.
"You want something little man?" taunted Tanesha.
"Tanesha, why don't you go over to your side and make sure your friends know what hospital you want to go to. Better tell them now while you can," Pax suggested.
"Ooh hoo, big words coming from the quitter." Narrowing her eyes to an evil squint she glared at Pax. "When you're ready, we'll meet in the center." With that she back peddled several steps before turning to her students.
"I want you to kick her ass to hell and back Sis," Felicia growled.
"But I thought you said..." 
"Forget what I said," she snapped. "Just do it!"
Nodding, Pax responded, "Don't worry, I will." Pax placed the belt in Teela's hands and kissed her chastely on the cheek. "Are you sure you want to be here?"
"I want to be here for you, to support you."
Pax kissed her again. "I love you. Know that."
"I do. Just get this over with so that we can go home. Ok?"

"I will." Motioning to Boney, she whispered in her ear. "Protect her."

"Count on it."

Pax checked the tape across her shoes to make sure the laces were secured. The smooth flat tennis shoe-like footwear was designed for hard surfaces like this and for a martial arts usage. They provided stability and flexibility similar to being bare-footed. The laces were secured so that during kicks they wouldn't fly out and cause injury or come untied with the forces exerted. She quickly strapped on the foam padded kickers and her gloves. Pax placed the thick rubber into her mouth to protect her teeth. Teela had watched this morning as Pax dropped the piece of rubber into a boiling pot of water for a minute before removing it and shoving it into her mouth. She held it there for several minutes letting the rubber mold to the contour of her teeth and palate. Pax winked at Teela and approached the center of the pavilion where Tanesha stood with her black belt student. Neither wore their head gear.

"Okay sensei's here are the rules," the lanky pimpled faced kid started.

"Whose rules?" questioned Pax around the mouthpiece.

"Does it matter?" barked Tanesha.


Looking at Tanesha for help, the kid didn't move until his sensei nodded. "No weapons. No timed rounds. Last one standing wins." He whistled through his braces.

"Simple enough," Pax conceded.

"I didn't want to tax you're already scrambled brain."

"Don't do me any favors."

Standing between them just like back in at the school that night, the kid looked from one to another. Then he bellowed "HAJIME" and jumped out of the way just as Pax jumped into the air. Her "kia" was a strong, animalistic sound that reverberated throughout the empty pavilion. Her left leg cocked and snapped on a hair trigger side kick which landed solidly on Tanesha's face. Landing confidently upright, guard down as Tanesha stumbled backward several feet before falling on her ass.

"Hot damn Sis!" Damian yelled pumping his fist in the air.

"Ooohhh, that's gotta hurt," Pax goaded evilly. That felt so good. Was it good for you?

Tanesha jumped to her feet and approached Pax, seething hatred emanating from every pore of her body. Pax sensed the game, the stalking dance as they circled one another. The tingling slithered up Tanesha's spine and ascended through her scalp. The transformation was starting in the depths of her being. Tanesha tasted the acid churning, boiling and bubbling like a witch's cauldron. The coldness coursed through her veins and every muscle coiled. The sensation of foreboding lurked darkening the color of  her iris' draining the blood from them. A contorted smirk emerged on Tanesha as she heralded the metamorphosis into the Rattler. Tanesha turned diabolical intent upon Pax, seeing that she was covered in large round red dots. The chest, the groin, each side of her ribs, shoulder, quads, were clearly marked targets for her to smite.

Pax raised her guard and kept slightly out of Tanesha's strike zone. If Tanesha wanted to hit me she would have to come inside. Being shorter than I. Tanesha could receive some damage, but she would be taking a chance on getting caught. With the advantage of long legs and arms, Pax could keep Teela to the outside, easily strike and then move out of range. Pax didn't feel like playing safe. This was for keeps. This was for my honor. Hell, it was for payback.

Tanesha lunged with a series of punches that were easily blocked by Pax. It seemed as though both women had prepared for strikes and counters as the battle for dominance flowed unhindered between them. Teela couldn't see what was happening or who might have had the upper hand during the exchange. Pax broke through Tanesha's defenses and short kicked her in the stomach. She advanced landing several quick blows to the same area before sweeping Tanesha's legs and sending her to the pavement.

Landing, Tanesha carried her momentum into a backward roll and onto her feet into her fighting stance. As Pax advanced Tanesha stepped back and flung a right front kick directly at Pax's groin. Pax easily caught the foot in her grasp only to have Tanesha launch herself into the air from her left leg and flip backwards with her left foot connecting beneath Pax's chin. Her students cheered while Pax stumbled from the impact of the aerial kick. Quickly, she tried to gain her balance and shake the dizziness. Before she could, Tanesha was upon her driving another vicious kick through her midsection and she doubled over.

Before Pax tumbled forward to the concrete, the psychologist grabbed her by the back of her collar with both hands. Jerking Pax forward with surprising strength, Tanesha drove her right knee into Pax's stomach twice. Pax felt bile rise to her lips but did not allow it to spill over. As she began to fall forward, Tanesha slammed a well placed elbow into her jaw. Pax's head snapped once to the side and she wobbled. Then her head snapped backwards from the heel hand to her chin. Pax slowly crumbled down to on her hands and knees before rolling over onto her back. She blinked staring up into the blurry vision of Su Toa. In the distance came the roar of the crowd erupting in pandemonium.

"RATTLER! RATTLER! RATTLER!" they cheered stomping their feet. Tanesha puffed out her chest and turned to them bouncing lightly upon her toes hands held high in victory.

"Paaaxxx!" Teela screamed launching off the bench. Boney wrapped her quickly in a bear hug and lowered her weight. "Let me go Boney!" 

"Teela. Let Pax do this!" Boney struggled madly with the social worker.

"Let me go Boney. I need to go to her!" She pounded on Boney's hands to break her hold.

Pax ground her teeth against the excruciating pain in her stomach and jaw. Forcing herself to roll over and got to her feet, and flinching when she stood upright, she ignored the ringing in her ears. The Rattler turned and shook her head in disappointment. With confidence, she approached Pax and began circling. She moved her head from one side to the other studying where to sink her fangs next. Pax has already felt the sting from my venomous attack, Tanesha thought. If the crip wants to be a glutton for more, I can provide all that she wants. The only antidote, is a four-day hospital stay. 

Tanesha stopped and waved for Pax to come closer. Pax nodded in agreement shortening the distance between them until she was well within Tanesha's kill zone. Pax waited for her to strike. The second Pax came inside Tanesha threw a combination of punches that were once again blocked. On the third punch, Pax pulled Tanesha's arm down, and came over the top with a counter elbow to Tanesha's jaw.

Tanesha stumbled but righted herself quickly and charged at Pax. Pax tightened her abs letting Tanesha get far inside her range. She felt the speed and strength from the side kick Tanesha drilled into her rippled abs. Absorbing the blow she dropped to one knee. Pax's arms flew into a double high block protecting her head from the ax kick Tanesha attempted to deliver. Pax stretched the leg with which Tanesha tried kicking her with high into the air. Tanesha followed right where Pax had wanted her. In the perfect position, Pax cocked her arm and unleashed a driving uppercut straight into Tanesha's unprotected pelvis. 

"BITCH!" Pax growled through the rubber in her mouth.

"Aarrggh!" Tanesha stumbled screaming and covering her groin with both hands. Pax advanced hurling several kicks to her stomach and ribs. Tanesha teetered on her feet. Pax released a powerful "kia" and stepped into a spinning back kick. She felt the breast bone beneath her foot as it connected. The force from the kick sent Tanesha hurtling backwards and onto the pavement spread eagled.

"PAX!" her cheering section shouted exuberantly, calling her name, and shouting praises.

Pax only heard the blood rushing through her ears and the growl resonating from her throat. Her chest heaved as she took deep breaths to control the adrenaline. Tanesha slowly made her way upright and faced her enemy alternately rubbing her chest and groin.

"Boney you have to stop them!" a frantic Teela cried. "It's over now right? Tanesha was down."

"Honey, it's not over. Pax was down too and got back up."

The brief reprieve from the war continued on for better than fifteen minutes as the upper hand traded back and forth between the two world champions. They were nearly evenly matched. Both were drench in sweat and their gi jackets hung loosely from their shoulders. Disciplined as they were, neither wanted to shed the heavy material.

Teela could tell Pax was tiring as her limp was more pronounced now. Tanesha had already taken advantage of that weakness and had deliberately kicked the thigh several times. Pax's beautiful face was bruised at the jaw and blood wept from the cut above her right brow. The Rattler was breathing roughly through her opened mouth, as her nose was broken. She had bruises across both her chin and throat. She protected her cracked or broken ribs on her right side with a tight guard leaving that side of vulnerable.

Pax studied her opponent and debated. My leg feels like it has a thirty pound weight on it, and it's going numb. As a base leg I don't think it will hold for an attack. The left would be a stronger base. Using the right is risking less speed and less strength. Not sure how much longer she could keep it up Pax thought, I need to end this.

The Rattler read Pax's eyes. Ooh she is good. She hides extremely well making it harder to get a bead on her. Her timing is so fucking offbeat. There is no specific rhythm. Tanesha cocked her head slightly senses picking up something. It was coming. Pax suddenly threw a double kick with her right leg. Tanesha blocked the one to her face and sidestepped catching the one aimed for her ribs. With Pax's leg firmly held against her left side, the Rattler emitted a resounding yell as the point of right elbow came crashing down into Pax's right thigh barely missing her knee cap.

In the empty pavilion, Pax's piercing yell echoed sending eerie chills reverberating though everyone within ear shot. Her pain broadcasted through the gentle swaying of the trees. Tanesha heard Teela's voice somewhere in the distance begging her to stop. Tanesha easily swept Pax's left leg from under her, savoring the sound of Pax's oomph as she slammed into the concrete. Wincing, Pax immediately tried to roll away. She made one rotation. Tanesha timed Pax's roll and stomped into her midsection so forcefully that it doubled Pax upright nearly in two. Pax went with her momentum and flipped over onto her knees just in time to be lifted off the ground by a stiff kick to her ribs. The blinding pain soared through her body from the broken ribs. Coughing, Pax splattered blood upon the cemented.

Felicia buried her face in Damian's chest sobbing for her beloved sister. She had prayed that Pax
would decline the fight. She was afraid for her, afraid that this very thing would happen. Damian looked towards Felicia and felt the helplessness seep into his soul. He pulled Felicia tighter teeth clenched in anger watching the brutality heaped upon his sister. I am supposed to protect her. What kind of a brother am I anyway? He wept silently. I was worthless when she needed me back then. I am not about to fail her again.

Teela lost her strength and sunk to the bench slumping against Boney. She cried powerless to help her lover. The needless carnage that she endured tore at her heart and her stomach threatened to empty it's contents. She watched the hatred pour from Tanesha and take physical form. It was senseless, insane. It had to stopped. 

"Taaneesha!" Teela bellowed to the rafters.

Tanesha's head jerked towards Teela glaring at her. Using her foot, she gave Pax a wisp of a push tumbling her over like a domino. Tears bathed Pax's face while one hand held her ribs and the other her leg. No resistance. No fight left. I win. And now for the prize, Tanesha thought. 

Eyes leveled on Teela, Tanesha started to make her way across to her prize. She had taken only a few steps when a running body came into peripheral vision. Tanesha stopped, set, and waited for the fool to attack her.

"YOU FUCKING BITCH!!" Damian yelled as he charged Tanesha.

With blinding speed Tanesha jumped into the air coiled and released a spinning roundhouse kick snapping Damian's head to the side. She landed squarely after executing the textbook technique hands at her sides. The cement came to meet him as he fell backwards hitting his head. Tanesha laughed and then groaned reaching for her ribs.
"DAMIAN!" screamed Felecia running to her brother in law. She knelt beside him gently pulling him upright. "You didn't have to hit him!"
"He attacked ME!" Tanesha snarled. "I defended myself." She turned back to Teela and waved for her to come to her.
Boney squared her shoulders and moved Teela behind her. She was prepared to take her on if she had to. Fearfully, Jo placed her hand upon her lover's shoulder asking her not to do something foolish.

"I'm over here Tanesha!" Pax growled.

Bristling, Tanesha froze where she stood. She half turned to see a ragged Pax weaving but standing. She held her right side and balanced precariously on her right foot.

"You know I've won," Tanesha waved at her. "Why don't you just quit? It's what you do best isn't it?"

"Last one standing. Isn't that what you said?" Pax coughed and grimaced.

"If you call what you are doing standing."

"You think you can knock me down?" Gritting her teeth, Pax placed her right foot square upon the cement. Muscles screamed from the agonizing pain riddling her thigh straight into her hip, but her full weight was on two legs now. "Come over here and try it." She removed the foam padding gloves from around her hands and throwing them out into the pavilion.

Tanesha chuckled a loud and removed her foam gloves as well, throwing her hands in the air and let them drop with a heavy sigh and painful contortion on her face. "I don't know why you insist on more punishment." Slowly she walked back towards her target.

"Oh I insist alright." From her peripheral vision, Pax noticed her brother was starting to stand with Felicia's help; that was a good sign and quite a relief to Pax. Eyes never leaving the woman approaching her she barked, "Jo in my truck. First Aid Kit."

"Hey Jo, bring an extra one for cripple here."

Pax lunged with all of her strength and jabbed Tanesha in the already bruised jaw. Tanesha took a step backwards wiping her bleeding lip. Pax reopened the wound and the blood ran a line down her chin. The Rattler shook her head from the unexpected blow and turned a vicious glare upon her enemy. Pax curled her right leg slightly placing her weight on her toes and circled to the side away from Tanesha.

"Rattler! Rattler! Rattler!" Her friends and students cheered fueling Tanesha's pride and infusing her with much needed strength. 

Tanesha spun around locating her prey and charged at her with relentless fury. Pax was back on defense as she could do nothing but block the punches coming at her from every direction at once. Her vision was blurry and she lost her sense of space not knowing which direction she was facing in the pavilion, until the wall was against her back. Pax tried to spring forward. She heard the strong force of Tanesha's "kia" It seemed to be endless. Tanesha drew her stamina from some reserve that Pax wished she possessed.

First came the left jab and then the right knocking Pax back into the wall. She was defenseless against the onslaught. Su Tao was relentlessly pummeling her against the ropes. Ethereal images danced deliriously before her; Su Tao, Teela, twirled before her unfocused eyes. Somewhere in the distance she heard Teela shouting her name, calling for her. Through the fog of pain that permeated her being, she heard her Teela. She swore she could feel Teela's arms wrap around her tightly. Then just as quickly, she was being pulled away. Pax's  vision told her that Tanesha was taking her Teela from her.
Pax wailed pitifully. The desolation ripped through her soul. She saw it floating, drifting out of her chest and into the air. The silhouette images stopped, turned, and dove back into her heaving chest. Pax jolted from the infusion of energy. Her raging fury suddenly had returned.
The air filled with the sounds of a tiger pouncing on its prey. Pax's "kia" was followed by a crisp block to the punch headed towards her face. The force of the double block deflected the Rattler just enough to allow a clear path for Pax to send a punch with all her strength to Tanesha's profile. Pax wrapped her fist in Tanesha's gi holding her in place and unleashed four rapid fire blows into Tanesha's ribs, each one lifting her off the ground. Pax let go of the jacket and stood flatly in front of a weaving Tanesha. With all her remaining strength she squeezed her fist feeling the bicep coil and tighten until her arm shook. Pax chambered her arm then released it swinging with all she had into an uppercut beneath Tanesha's chin. The force spun Pax around feeling the satisfying crush of bone. Like a tree toppling in the forest, Tanesha went backwards into the air never knowing her head met the concrete.

Pax teetered waiting for Tanesha to get back up. After a moment she looked over at her lover. There was nothing she wanted to feel more than the arms of the social worker wrapped around her. Slowly weaving and tilting to the side she moved towards Teela. She didn't want to stop the flow of tears. She didn't have the strength.

The rush of adrenaline evaporated and left her body quivering. Pain and fatigue ravaged every inch, but she needed to make it to the arms of her lover. All would be right then. Teela ran to meet her champion. In her excitement she couldn't stop herself from wrapping her arm tightly around Pax. Easing her to ground Teela pressed her head into her bosom gently rocking and stroking the beautiful but battered face.




Pax had refused to go to the emergency room. It was all the five of them could do to convince her to go to  Teela's house. On the way, Jo telephoned a colleague from the clinic and asked the Physician's Assistant, Linda, to bring her emergency bag and supplies to Teela's. She was upstairs now with Pax and Teela.

Damian had a large goose egg on the back of his head along with a cut was not serious. Chances are he would have a headache for awhile, not to mention a very sore jaw. The imprint of Tanesha's shoe was fading slowly.

Jo and Boney carried trays of coffee and snacks into the living room.

"What the hell was that all about?" Felicia turned to the others, arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Can anyone tell me?"

"It was something Pax felt she had to do," explained Damian.

"Why? Why put yourself through something like that?" She still couldn't understand. "God. Do people really do that to each other for sport?"

"Not like that," Boney added. "I have seen the shows on TV and they never get that extreme. Of course, there are rules though."

"But why? I just don't get it." Frustrated, Felicia slapped her knee.

"Because she felt she had to," came Jo's reply with certainty. "Tanesha challenged her and yes she could have walked away, but truly I think maybe Pax had to prove to herself that she could."

"Why take the risks though?" Felicia asked, taking the coffee Boney offered.

"Don't know. When was the last time you did something you knew that you shouldn't have?" Jo watched Felecia face grow pensive. "Why did you do it?"

"Yeah but it was no where near as dangerous as this," Felicia rationalized.

"Whatever the severity, it still placed you at risk. Did it not?" Jo smirked "Pax had a similar reason" 

Slowly nodding in consent. Felicia looked at Boney and asked. "Is she always this good?"

Beaming and kissing her baby's knee Boney replied, "Yeppers. That's why I love her so."

Damian leaned forward in his chair and placed the bag of ice on the back of his head. "I don't know how she was able to withstand getting hit like that. I feel like a mack truck hit me and she only did it once."

"She was AWESOME wasn't she?" Boney couldn't contain her excitement any longer. She was dying to say it.

"That she was honey," Jo smiled down at her lover. She loved how Boney can be so child like. I think that I'll keep her. "But it cost her dearly."

"I know, but that uppercut..." Boney mimicked Pax's strike forgetting about the coffee cup she held in her other hand. The brown liquid sloshed and splattered in her lap. "Was absofuckinlutely devastating!"

"My sister, the champion." He chuckled at the woman who paid no attention to the stains now covering her jeans.

Damian stood and sauntered over to the table where they had placed both Pax's and Tanesha's  
championship belts. After getting Pax into the back seat of minivan, Boney pulled back her shoulders and strutted across the Pavilion. She snarled at the young black belted boy before snatching out of his hands. The belts were identical except for their reigning years were etched in the gold plate. He tentatively strapped Pax's belt on and ran his fingers reverently across the plate.

"I have always loved my sister. I always thought that she had the type of strength and courage I have always wanted to have." He turned tear filled eyes to the others and smiled. I never knew how much she truly possessed until today." He glanced down at the belt blinking his blues clear and then turned back to them chuckling. "I should have known she would become champion after she beat up Timothy in the third grade." They smiled along with him. After witnessing the battle today, it was hard not to marvel such bravery. "Will she be okay?" He asked wiping away the tears upon his cheek.

"I hope so," Jo whispered. "The cut above her eye didn't look too bad. It's her leg that concerns me."

"Yeah. She took a beating on that leg."

"That woman should be thrown out of the league or whatever it is they have. She should not be teaching children!" hissed Felicia.

"I tend to agree with you."

"Well, I don't think she will be doing much of anything," Boney snickered. "I heard that crunch when Pax hit her." They all nodded in agreement. "Plus I imagine she has a few tender ribs herself."

"I hope she can't sit for a week." Everyone turned to Felecia curiously. Rolling her eyes, Felecia patted her private area and then they remembered where Pax had punched Tanesha. Their laughter released the tension they all felt for their friend upstairs.

"God just thinking about it," Boney clamped her legs shut. "That had to hurt."  She shivered spilling more coffee in the process. 

Jo tsked at her lover and removed the coffee cup from hillbilly's hands. "I should make you sit at the table with your drink." Felicia and Damian were giggling again.

"Aww come on Jo."

"Come to think of it, Tanesha won't be much use as a therapist if she cannot talk either."

"That's right. Good thing. Gives her time to think about what she's done."

"Let's hope it's good thoughts. She took a beating as well today. Her ego was seriously damaged and she may have lost face with her students."

 Boney chuckled, "The Rattler got rattled." She carefully reached for her coffee.

The Physician's Assistant entered the room and they all turned to her. Linda looked questioningly at Damian still wearing the trophy around his waist. Stretching to his full height he puffed out his chest.

"How is my sister doc?" asked Damian.

She smiled at him recognizing the same blue eyes that the woman upstairs possessed, and he was just as handsome. "Well she's going to be okay." Shaking her head she explained, "She took a pretty bad beating. She is one big bruise with a couple cracked ribs. I put several butterflies above her eyebrow. Hopefully it won't scar too badly. She has a slight concussion too."

"And her leg?" asked Jo.

"Nothing is broken but I really can't tell more than that. There is a lot of tissue swelling right now. I told her to follow up with her regular physician on Monday. She should go to the emergency room if she needs to before then."

"Anything we should be aware of?"

"I don't think so really. I left some instructions upstairs with Teela."

"We really appreciate you doing this for us Linda."

"No problem Jo. I was just sitting around watching baseball."

"You like baseball huh?" Damian gave her his most charming smile.

"Yeah I do." Linda returned a smile of her own.

"You know Damain," Felicia interrupted," Since she is here, she should take a look at the back of your head, make sure that your bump is okay."

Face riddled with concern, Linda asked. "Bump? You were in on that thing too?"

"Well, not..." He looked into light brown eyes. "Just a little. I wanted to protect my sister, you know."

"That is so sweet. Why don't you let me take a look? Make sure that you are okay."

"If you think it's necessary," Damian hedged. "I think there's brighter light in the kitchen. My hair being so dark and all you would probably be able to see better in there." He said giving her a toothy smile.

"Good idea,"
Damian turned and led her across the room. He let Linda step into the kitchen then turned back looking at the girls and winked.

Propped against the head board of Teela's bed, Pax desperately tried to keep her heavy lids from
closing. She was exhausted, but wanted to stay awake to feel her lover beside her. It's a shame to
waste lying in bed without some extra activity going on, Pax thought chuckling. She immediately
regretted it. Her face contorted in pain as her fists tightened around the pillow pressed against her chest.
"I don't anything funny at this particular moment, Pax," Teela dryly stated.
Pax studied the strange look upon Teela's face and could only fathom why the scowling was there. "Is there something wrong Teela?"
"Are you kidding me?" her voice arched with her hands balled in tight fists on her hips. "What could possibly be wrong?"
"No you listen to me." A lone manicured finger pointed accusingly and Pax's brows lifted high beneath her bangs and cringed as the pain shot through her skull. "Do you have any idea how difficult..." her voice cracked, "it was for me to stand by and what that carnage?"
Pax knew that the flush of her skin did not come from passionate arousal of the sexual kind. Oh shit, I am in big trouble with the girlfriend. She should be happy for me. I won; a bit banged up, but I did teach that bitch a lesson if I say so myself. I just won't say it to Teela. She doesn't look too pleased with me right now.
"Teela, I...honey I..." she carefully sighed. "I am..."
"I was so afraid Pax." The brilliant green meadows glistened with tears waiting to spill. "I watched her hit you and I couldn't do anything about it." She let them fall in flowing streams. "Helpless..." Her shoulders began to shake as the force of the events crashed upon her. "I could have lost you. I was so afraid I had."
"Baby, come here." She raised her arms slightly biting back the scream in her throat from the movement. Teela remained still. "Honey, let me hold you, please."
Without thinking Teela landed on the bed, arms around her lover and head resting upon her chest. Pax's eyes cinched tight; her mouth opened in silent scream before clamping her lips together. Bands of streaking fire shot through her ribs and exploded in rockets coursing through her body. She couldn't contain the whimper that escaped.
"Baby..." she strained, "I am so sorry I put you through that. Believe me..." She breathed pushing Teela's away at arms length. She loved the woman, but she was in too much agony to endure squeezing. "I am so sorry for doing that to you." Her thumbs brushed a path in the stream of tears only to be quickly covered with more.
"When she kicked you..." Then Teela's eyes grew large and her mouth formed an O. "Oh God. Did I hurt you? Oh Pax, I am so sorry. I totally forgot..."
"Sshh, it's okay. I didn't feel a thing."
"Oh god Pax. She almost killed you." The tears continued to soak her skin.
"But she didn't."
"Why?" She searched the sapphire eyes getting more and more dilated. The pain medication was starting to take hold.
Pax read the fear within her lover's eyes and the last muscle within her body that did not ache, joined the rest of her battered form. Just like before, she had to rise to the challenge regardless of the cost, without considering anyone else. She was driven. Never again will I do this. "It was something I had to do. I wanted to regain my honor. I had to finish this."
"And Pride." Pax couldn't hold the watery emerald gems any longer.
"I was waiting for you to say it."
"Yeah well. You know."
"Oh Pax..."
"When she had me down. I thought that was the end actually."
"We all did."
"What gave me the strength to come back was you." Blue locked with green and for the first time, those cerulean beauties began their own rivers. "I heard you call my name. I had nothing left until that moment, Teela, when you came to me."
"Pax..." Teela whispered and gently leaned forward to kiss her love with such tenderness. Pax felt only the slightest of pressure, a sweet tingling sensation that quickly subdued the searing pain to a throbbing affliction. When they broke for air, Teela carefully stroked the multi-colored cheek of her lover and quietly whispered, "If you do anything like this again, I will personally kick your ass. Got it?" Placing a soft peck up her cheek.
"Got it," Pax grinned. "I promise, never again."
Teela lifted herself from the bed and looked down upon the zoologist. "I love you."
"Love you too." Winking, Pax's grin grew wider.
"And what is that for?"
"Well, I was just thinking since I am in bed..."
"You have got to be kidding me?"
Pax tried to wiggle her eyebrows and remember the wound that was there.
"Uh huh, I do not think that you are going to be doing anything for quite some time," Teela waved her off.
"Aaahhh. You don't know me very well, Pax chuckled again and once again was reminded of why she shouldn't.
"Aaahhh. Doesn't matter. The answer will be no. Not until the doctor says that it is alright."
"Teela," she whined, "you expect me to ask a doctor if it is alright if we make love?"
"Hmmm. Yep."
"I won't. I should know when my body can take your loving, warm, enticing..."
"You're just gonna get yourself worked up for nothing." Pax narrowed her eyes and stared at the social worker. "And that is not going to work either."
"Is this part of that training you talked about?"
"It occurs subtly don't you think?" Teela laughed.
"I keep telling you. I am not trainable."
"We'll see," She turned to go.
"I am going to go get you something to eat and check on our guests. Will you be okay until I get back?"
"I'll be fine. Don't worry."
"Back soon." Blowing her a kiss she left the room for downstairs.
The smile dropped from her face when Teela left the room. Pax waited until she heard the soft footsteps hitting the stairs. Taking small puffs of breath her ribs screamed in protest as she slowly and deliberately moved the sheet to inspect her damaged right leg. She couldn't grit her teeth because of the bruising to her jaw. Even her taste buds hurt.
The movement, and all  effort to sustain her through her discussion with Teela caused sweat to bead across her forehead. Pax would not feel the throbbing there for another hour or so. The area above her brow was deadened by what ever topical Linda put on it. Linda was as thorough as she could have been. Pax did not give her straight answers, so Teela had to step in and try to read Pax's expressions.
Pax did not tell either of them about the prickling sensation traveling through the limb, hip to toe, that there were places along her leg that were numb. She surveyed the large blackening bruises on top of the quad muscle where Tanesha's elbow had landed. Fighting against the pain, she turned her leg over to see the matching ones from Tanesha's kicks.
"Oohh, that's gonna be pretty," Pax hissed. "Bitch. I should have kicked you in the crotch too. At least I know you ain't getting any either."
Her ribs would heal. It was her leg that concerned the most. The tiger's attack had done serious damage to the muscles when his paws ripped into her flesh. They were able to reconstruct the muscles well enough so that she would have functional use of her leg. The limping, she did not mind too much. But this re-injury, she was not sure about.
Pax leaned back pulling the sheet over her lower half. Her sides were pulsing and the pain that returned was almost unbearable.
Pax felt the darkness closing around her. The shot Linda gave her was beginning to work at last as she whispered to Tanesha, "If you ever come near her again. I swear. I'll kill you."
Across town in a brightly lit room Tanesha lay in a bed attached to several monitors. Stirring, she clawed her way through the fog to consciousness and to the vague stench of antiseptic. Her eyes traveled around the room not recognizing the white walls or the rhythmic beeping. Then came a voice speaking seemingly through the air. It was a stat call to the E.R. Tanesha realized she was in a hospital.
I'm in a hospital? That fucking cunt put me in the hospital!
Blinding pain stopped her attempt to sit up. White lightening bolts struck behind her eyes and she squeezed them shut. Opening them slowly, she saw the faint outline of the metal tube across her nose. What the fuck? She tried to open her mouth in alarm. It wouldn't move. What the fuck? She couldn't open her mouth.
A woman with a small round face appeared in her vision. Her mother stood at the foot of her bed. Wiping the tears from her eyes, the woman approached her daughter and stroked the fevered forehead lovingly.
"I am so glad you are finally awake, baby. You had us worried to death." She gently kissed the warm forehead. "Your father and I are here." She pointed to the sleeping man in the chair against the far wall. "Your friends called us when they brought you in this morning."
"Mmmh oomng?" Tanesha mumbled through the wires holding her jowls together. "Mmmh oomng?" I am simply asking you how long have I been here!
"I don't understand."
Tanesha shook her head and discovered quickly that it was not wise for her to do so. Shit! Shit! Shit! The severe concussion she sustained when her head collided with the pavement would leave her with a headache and bouts of nausea for days to follow.
"Your friends told us what happened. What on earth possessed you to do such a foolish thing?"
Tanesha glared at her mother and tried speaking through the sore lips. Great! She slammed her fists into the bed releasing a muffled scream from her anger and the jolt to her ribs. Tanesha panted through her nose trying to calm the piercing volcanoes of pain erupting throughout her body.
"Baby!" came her mother's outcry. "I'll get the nurse." And she ran from the room.
God I swear I am going to kill you. You bitch!


Teela was perched on the side of the bed of an angry and ticked off Harriet. The ninety-two year old woman was peeved and she wanted Teela to know it. She had demanded that the CENAs find her social worker so that she could talk to her. For the past fifteen minutes, Teela patiently let Harriet vent her frustration over her feeding tube. It was a familiar conversation.

"I want food. I want to taste the hamburger," Harriet told her.

"I am sure you do Harriet, but we have discussed this many times."

"Well why can't I have ice cream?"

"Because your swallowing reflexes are not good. You could aspirate or choke, and that would not be good thing Harriet."

"I don't care," she said. Defiant, she crossed her arms over her chest.

"I am sure at this very moment that you don't. However, I do not have the authority to say that you can have solid foods Harriet."

"Then who can dammnit?"

"I am not sure. You have been to the specialists and our swallowing therapist does not recommend that you have solids. That is why you have the gastric tube. They feed you through that."

"Hah! Having somebody hang a bottle of baby shit brown liquid attached to a tube is not feeding me."

"Now Harriet." Teela tried to keep from smiling. "I understand how you must feel, but it was your choice in the hospital to have the feeding tube surgically inserted."

"That was a long time ago."

"Yes it was."

"But I may have gotten better since then."

"You could have. I don't know. That is way out of my league."

"Well I want to eat!" She slapped her leg.

"Okay. I tell you the best that I can do. I'll talk to Cassandra, the Unit Manager. You know Cassandra right?"


"Ok. I'll speak with her and ask her to look into it."

"You call that your best?"

"Yeah. " She patted the wrinkled hand. "Anything else on your mind?"

"Chocolate cake."

Teela smiled and said goodbye to the woman. When she was clear of the room Teela began lightly chuckling to herself. She liked Harriet for all her gruff and feisty exterior, but she was right. Things may have changed since her car accident so long ago.

Teela made her way to the desk and found an inter-office memo sheet. Teela asked Cassandra if another swallowing evaluation or study could be considered for Harriet. She placed it on Cassandra's desk in the office next to hers behind the station.

Two elderly visitors approached the desk and patiently waited until Teela noticed them. They were dressed casually, handbags curled over their arms. Each carried a paper plate of home made cookies carefully covered in plastic wrap. 

"Good day ladies. How can I help you?" Teela smiled.

"We are looking for Harriet Donaldson," the first woman stated.

"Oh yes. I just left Harriet. She is in her room. Down the hall second door on the left."

"Oh good. We spoke to her on the phone yesterday and she seemed a little blue. She asked use to come and visit her today."

"That was very sweet of you. I'm sure she'll really enjoy your visit."

"Well we used to play cards every Thursday, but she hasn't been able to make it since she's been here."

"You can bring your card group here and play with her if you like. We can set you up a room."

They looked at one another and grinned. "We will certainly talk about that. Thank you."

"She has been feeling so blue so we brought some cookies like she wanted us to."

"Harriet asked you to bring her cookies?" Teela grinned.

"Yes. She loved Hilda's Shortbread cookies. These should cheer her right up."

Teela looked into the shiny faces of the two women and hated to bear them bad news. "I'm sorry ladies, but Harriet can't eat those."

Astounded they looked at one another and then back to Teela. "Are you sure dear? We brought these for her. They are her favorite."

"I'm sorry but I am positive. She cannot have anything to eat. If I may, I can keep those right here at the desk and when you're through visiting, you can pick them up on your way out."

"If that's absolutely necessary."

"I just think that if she doesn't see them, then she won't know they are here. That means you shouldn't mention that you brought them."

"I see, but she told us she could have them."

"I have no doubt that she did, but she truly cannot, not at this time anyway."

"Ok. I guess."

"Thank you for understanding. They will be right here with Hilda's name on them. Ok?"

The ladies turned slowly and walked down the hall Teela indicated. She shook her head at Harriet. You sneaky little imp you, she thought, and quickly scribbled the name on a piece of paper and taped it around the two plates. In big letter she wrote "DO NOT EAT" knowing how the staff devoured cookies and sweet things family members brought in for them.

Kat stepped up and stood on the other side of the nursing station.  "Hi Teela," she beamed, "you're looking nice today." 

"I don't want to see you Kat." Teela smiled. "You are always bad news."

"Now that is not nice." She grinned. "I brought you some good people lately."

"Uh huh."

"Simpson was a good one."

"Yes he is. I admit that. He does like to tease the staff and they seem to enjoy him, even though he keeps seeing flowers growing on the wall."

"I love how he calls the girls "cupcake." 

"Yeah. The psychiatrist called them warm fuzzy delusions." She shook her head.

"Well I don't have an admission for you. I have a question."

"I'm liking you even more."

"Keep messing with me. I happen to have a referral on my desk of a sixty-five year-old, late onset schizophrenic in the geropsyche unit looking for placement. I do recall something about Risperdal, Ativan, Seroquel, and Desyrel."

"Ooohhh you wouldn't."

"I do have one for a wanderer." Kate grinned evilly. "I haven't showed it to Hazel yet and you do have the open bed."

"Oh I am pleading with you. Please don't."

Laughing she asked, "Are you going to behave and answer my question?"

"Anything for you."

"Sure. Now. Okay. This is the thing." Kat handed Teela two forms.

One is a form by physician's on all the patients entering the ARCC. It attests to whether the patient is competent. The other is a Letter Of Authority from the county Probate Court indicating a full Guardianship is in place. Teela looked at the same name on the Guardianship and on the competency form.

"Now I don't understand how this person could be competent and have a full Guardianship at the same time?" Kat asked.

"You really can't. The Guardianship takes precedence over the Competency Form. She isn't mine is she?"

"She's coming to Nica this afternoon."

Teela looked at both documents closely. "Okay, first the Guardianship has been in place for two years, which says to me something was going on with her at that time to warrant one to be established, but the competency form is recent. What ever happened back then could be resolved and she could be lucid again. Is she carrying the same physician as in 2004 when the Guardianship was initiated?"

"I don't know."

Teela thought for a moment longer. "Okay. I would say that Nica will have to determine if she feels the woman is competent enough to overturn the Guardianship. She would have to petition Probate Court to do so though. The family and the resident will have to agree on doing that. If she is not sure,  she can always ask for a neuropsychological examination to make a determination. That will lend justification to either way."

"Yeah you're right."

"Wait." Teela looked at the name again. "I remember this name. She was a Rehab patient on Medicare   several months ago. This was the same issue I brought up to the family. They admitted her and then took off for Arizona for a month. When they came back they wanted to give her a try at home again. So I didn't follow through on the issue. That's how I know about what to do. Now it's all coming back to me."

"Well she is coming this afternoon."

"You can suggest to Nica that she look into that. With the change in Probate office, whoever does the petition will have to do the whole thing, the notification and serving papers, everything." 


"A position was cut in their offices. The petitioners are doing the work that that other person would have done."

"I'll tell her. Thanks."

Sighing Teela glanced at her watch. A loud growling protest of hunger came from her empty stomach. She hadn't realized that it was past her lunch hour. Going to her office and grabbing her purse, she glanced toward the shadow in her peripheral and silently groaned. She flashed her most courteous and professional smile at the blonde figure entering her office.

"I'm glad that I caught you."

"Hello Celeste. What can I do for you?"

"I received a call from a nurse about grandmother Da."


"Something about a psychiatric evaluation?"

"That's right." Teela had nearly forgotten about the nurse's note to her that Da's physician wanted her evaluated and her psychiatric medications reviewed. Teela sat her purse upon her desk; lunch would have to wait a few more minutes. "Da has been having hallucinations lately and it has us all concerned."

"She has had those visions since I was a child," Celeste dismissed with a wave. "No big deal."

"I'm afraid that it could be Celeste. For several days now, nearly a week and a half, she had been refusing most of her meals and hysterically screaming during the night."

"That doesn't sound like Da." Concern etched her face.

"No it's not, especially of what we come to know about her. We have looked for any medical problems that could account for these changes and everything, the blood work and her urine look okay.

"What could it be?"

"Not sure, but the next step in the plan of care is to check her mental issues. Maybe her psychiatric medications need to be adjusted.

"I'm not so sure Teela. There was a period when her physician was changing those medications and she had a very tough time. She landed in the psyche ward at General. I don't know if I want to put her through that again."

"I can understand your hesitancy, Celeste. I wouldn't want to put her through that either. Right now, she does not have a quality of life if her hallucinations are distressing her to the point of shrieking uncontrollably. That is not good for her system."

"What else can be done before changing her medications or seeing the psychiatrist?"

"We've done just about all that we can possibly think of. Staff report that when she starts screaming they get her attention and try calmly talking to her, comforting her at the same time. That seems to work for a very short period before she starts again. She is not in pain; she's not thirsty or hungry, too hot or too cold, does not have to use the bathroom or anything like that. So they take her to the day room for a little while. When they mention taking her back to her room to sleep, she starts screaming again. Staff even tried putting her in one of the empty rooms we have and she refused to budge from the day room until breakfast the next morning."

"I did not know this."

"Staff have told me the first few times if occurred, they got a night-light out of the store room and plugged it in for her."

"Did that work?"

"Afraid not. I think the shadows that were cast upon the wall may have made that particular episode worse."

"I see; yeah it could have." Her brow wrinkled. "Do you give her a shot of something to calm her down?"

Vigorously shaking her head, Teela firmly stated,  "No. That is a very last resort. It seems that being in the day room by herself on the couch makes her feel better. So if that works, there is no need to poke her with anything, which is what I prefer." 

Celeste lowered her head. Teela noticed that the air of arrogance had been deflated as she listened to the realistic side of her grandmother. "Have there been complaints from the other patients?" Her face reddened with embarrassment.

"A few."

"I'm terribly sorry for the trouble she is causing. I had no idea. Your staff must think she is abominable."

"No, no. Nothing of the sort. We are familiar with this kind of situation. Da is not the only one at the ARCC experiencing changes like this and she will not be the last. This kind of thing is common Celeste. It's harder on the family members to hear and see than it is for us."

Sighing deeply, Celeste said, "Okay, I guess she needs to see the psychiatrist if what you say is true. How does that work?"

Teela walked behind her desk and pulled out the large lower drawer. Rifling quickly through the folders until she found the one labeled "Psychiatric Forms", she pulled it out and extracted two documents placing them in front of Celeste. 

"First, if you could sign the agreement that she can be seen and then the authorization to bill her insurance," she said, pointing to each document where Celeste placed her signature. "Then I will place her on the list with the three other patients I have for the psychiatrist to see. His company is called Forensic Geriatric Services. Fortunately, he or one of his associates is due to arrive in a couple of days."

"Why does that name sound familiar to me?" Celeste asked pausing for a moment as she tried to remember where she had heard the name before. "Well I appreciate your attention to Da." 

"As soon as I have the results of the evaluation, I will call you."

"I'd appreciate that, thank you." Celeste reached the door and decided to turn back to Teela. "How is Pax?"

Stunned, Teela paused from placing her signature upon the documents she had for Da. I knew it was too much to hope for a strictly business interaction with this woman. "Good. She is doing well."

"Word got around the clinic about the brawl between her and Tanesha." Celeste's body purposefully shuddered. "Such brutality."

Why did she have to mention that name. I had almost put her out of my mind until now. Why hadn't I thought about her or how what condition Pax had left her in? She did receive some horrific injuries herself, I'm sure. She had too. We all felt and heard the crushing blows they were delivering upon one another. Yet I have not even given her second thought. 

"Of course, how could it not with Tanesha still out on medical leave." Celeste continued.

"I'm sorry to hear that." It has been two months. 

"She is not a happy camper, so I have heard. I think her mouth is still wired shut."  

Oh my God. "Is there something else about Da Celeste that I can help you with?"  

"No," Celeste smirked. "but I can help you. Just be careful Teela, Pax has a temper. You never know what trouble that can bring about. Someone someday is going to get hurt." with that she turned and left a shocked social worker barely standing behind her desk.

Expression changed rapidly from angry to pensive to furious. You're a lying bitch Celeste. I don't believe a word you say. She loves me. That bitch is lying again. Pax did what she did because she was provoked. That's all.

Teela grabbed her purse again headed for the employee break room in search if sustenance. The pickings were slim, but she had found her appetite lost because of Celeste. She purchased a bottle of lemonade from the vending machine, and headed for the small employee picnic area. She was surprised that she was alone in the area but grateful nonetheless. Too many thoughts parading in her mind and she did not want any more added. It had been a month since returning from her suspension and she was tired of answering to the rumor mill about Erin.

Following her own suspension, Erin returned to tender her resignation to Frank. The news got out to the ARCC employees and no one seemed heartbroken that she was leaving. Teela had overheard several unsavory comments from department heads about how Erin was wise to resign as she was on the verge of getting fired. Only three people, Teela was told,  who had shown up for Erin's going away party at the local pub; Frank, Hazel, and the head of Human Resources. At another pub were fifteen or so employees celebrating Erin's leaving.

Soon after Erin's departure, Frank offered Teela the Department Head position. She was grateful for his trust in her, but gracefully declined. She was a Social Worker and liked working for the people. She told him, that sometimes, her advocacy for the residents sometimes clashed with the bottom-line way of thinking that an administrative position required. He laughed and seemed to understand. There were many times Teela stood in his office battling for one thing or another on a resident's behalf. No, Teela was not the one for the job. Instead, she talked him into hiring another social worker and not a department head. He himself became their immediate supervisor. She and Nica were elated that they were to be included in the interviewing of prospects. There were three more to go before narrowing the choices for the second round of interviews.

Her thoughts easily turned to her life over the past couple of months. In addition to the changes here at the ARCC, her relationship with Pax had grown. They spent every night together sharing their lives between two households. Thumper has two beds and two sets of toys now. Teela chuckled. I can't believe my baby and Pax are still feuding for the Alpha spot. Pax thought that Teela didn't see the little things the two of them did to one another.

At least Pax has learned to keep her clothes off the floor or risk Thumper chewing a hole in the butt or chest. To get back at Thumper for ruining her favored lounge pants, Pax had brought a rawhide bone for Thumper and sprayed it with Applebitter. Teela couldn't stop herself from snickering at the faces that Thumper made as she tried to chew on the bone, unable to get past the sour taste. Thumper rapidly licked her chops and shook her head trying to get the bitter taste out of her mouth. Water didn't seem to help. Pax eventually replaced the bone with one that was not sprayed. Thumper was weary of the thing and for a long time it remained on the floor untouched. Teela hoped the two of them would work things out soon. She was becoming tired of being the mediator between her lover and her dog.




Perched on the flat table, Pax dangled her bare legs back and forth. a shiver traveled through her body, uncertain if it was the chill of the room on her almost naked lower half or a sense of foreboding as to what the orthopedic surgeon has to say about her right leg. After seeing her physician Debra Washington, she had waited three weeks to see the first orthopedic surgeon. He and Pax got along like vinegar and water and she had vowed never to return to "the quack" again. She had demanded to see another orthopedic surgeon. So "the quack" gave her the referral. Unfortunately, it would be three more weeks before getting in to see
Dr. Kourt Harrison. 

Pax tucked the blanket around her middle feeling the draft along her rump through the thin briefs she wore. Come on already! She groaned, thirty minutes in the lobby and another twenty shut up in this damn room. I should be charging you for my time.

The click of the door knob told her her silent shouting had been miraculously heard. The door swings open to admit an older gentleman in a lab coat, coal black hair and burnt skin. Finally! 

"Hello, I am Dr. Kourt Harrison." Came the smooth baritone voice.

"Pax Baldwin." She took the surprisingly smaller hand in hers. No hard work for you with soft paddies like that. 

"Tell me why you are here."

Direct, I like that. "Dr. Washington should have sent my records to you by now. Didn't she?"

"Yes. But I want to hear from you as to why you are here." Round black eyes beneath matching bushy eyebrows studied the woman with patience.

"Right leg gets prickly with pain, sometimes really intense and unbearable. Other times, it's not so bad."

"Any change in strength?"

"Gives out on me without warning." So far so good. You haven't made quack status yet.

"Anything else?"

"I have numbness in various parts from the hip to the toes, mostly the toes and they're cold." 

"And this is from the recent injury that you sustained?"

"Yes, two months ago."

"Lie back please." Doing as instructed, Pax watched as he went over to the small sink and thoroughly scrubbed his hands and fingernails. "Please tell me about the recent injury."

Pax provided a shorten version of first, the tiger attack and continued with an even shorter version of her confrontation with Tanesha. Dr. Harrison listened carefully as he examined her quads muscles, calf and shin of her left leg and then began an intense comparison of the right. He ran his hands over her legs, examined the shading of her skin. He tested the sensitivity in her toes, pinching the nail beds of each several times. Pax struggled not to jerk her foot back initially,  and then tried to stifle her laughter. Not even Teela was allowed to play with her ticklish feet. 

Dr. Harrison continued his hands on examination for another ten minutes. He worked his comparisons over every inch of both legs and thighs. More than once Pax had to remind herself that she had been through similar exams years ago in Berkley. Although she continued to tell herself that it was part of the assessment,  she could not help the feeling of being groped, especially by a man. 




Pax opened the door to her house and inhaled the savory aroma of garlic and peppers. Pax started making point to keep more consistent hours now that Teela was in her life. She cherished coming home now. Teela was most likely waiting for her. Her heart leapt into her chest. I need to find someway to make coming home to her an everyday event. I don't want us each to have to decide whether we'll go to my place or hers, or stay separate for the night.

She wondered if Teela was ready for that. I wonder if I'm ready for that move, she thought as she stood looking down at the cane she needed on occasion. She needed the extra support especially when her leg would lose strength and was barely able to hold her own body weight. Unfortunately, it was happening more often than she would have liked.

It was for this reason she thought maybe she would wait until she no longer needed the obvious sign of disability. Teela should have someone whole, specially after what she has been through with Bess. Pax raked her hands through her hair. She has been through enough already. She was far from that reality. According to the orthopedic surgeon, he was not very encouraging. She would have to endure a morning of testing. It's my own fault to begin with. If I hadn't been so... so now I have to be poked and prodded again.  

"I fear that  you have developed Artherosclerotic Arterial Occlusive Disease." Dr. Harrison finally stated after washing his hands again.

"Say what!" Pax jumped looking from him to her leg and back again.

"Simply put, an occlusion or blockage in the blood flow throughout you leg. That's my first guess." he informed her. "As a result of the limited blood flow, you are feeling numbness, and tingling and eventually the cold toes."

"Okay so how do you fix it?"

His response had been to start with three tests. Pax made him explain each one to her so that she clearly understood what would be done. Essentially he needed to determine how occluded the blood flow was since they already suspected this was the problem. They would perform an exercise test to determine how much she could endure before the symptoms increased. Second, they would perform a Doppler Flow Study to determine the amount of blood flow, and third, they would perform duplex imaging or ultrasound, to look for the occlusions and measure blood flow and pressure. 

"What are my options?" Pax demanded.

"We have many, but first let's see what we are dealing with and go from there." 

Okay, we will see what the results of the tests are before I tell Teela. The rule book, she remembered. I know, I know.

Pax made her way into the living room. Signs of Teela were everywhere. She told Pax that the place was too barren and had set out with Jo to get more color and life into the living space. Pictures were placed decoratively on the walls. Bold colorful curtains hung from the windows. Tall ceramic vases with something tall and spikey standing in them were placed in one corner.

Then she noticed the blankets and pillows upon the floor, the candles placed around the room flickered,  and she smelled the blending scent of roses and lavender in the room. She smiled and her nether lips twitched with glee. The long awaited someday that Teela had promised seemed to have arrived. She noticed the small white chord ending beneath one of the pillows. She shivered thinking of the times they used Teela's "Special Friend"  Pax felt her groin automatically tightened. 

Entering through the door of the kitchen, Pax called to her lover, "Hey." The forest fire spread instantly through her face and her mouth became parched.

At the stove cooking in an all white bikini thong stood Teela. Pax let her gaze caress the smooth curve of her lover's legs and backside. She felt the twitching of the awaking volcano in her southern region licking her lips absently.

"Hey yourself," came Teela's nonchalant greeting. She moved the pan off the stove and turned around. She removed the apron and tossed it upon the counter. Teela gave the zoologist the full view of her flat stomach and overflowing breasts trapped behind the thin material.  

"You always cook in that?" Pax croaked.

"No. I just thought about wearing something casual for dinner."

Smiling greedily, "That is definitely casual."

"I take it you like my outfit."

Pax limped over to the counter and leaned her cane against it and her back for support. She reached out and Teela immediately took her place within her arms. The kiss slow, sensual, a giving exploration of desire and want. Pox let her hands snake down the Teela's side to caress the exposed taut globes of her behind. Pax moved her lips to Teela's succulent shoulders and neck. Her mind was far from dinner at the moment.




Upon the pad of blankets Teela prepared earlier, they lay upon the floor snugly wrapped around one another. Teela rested her head upon Pax's shoulder basking in the gentle strokes to her arms and back. Pax loved the feel of Teela curled around her, the softness of her skin warming her own.

"I love you Teela."

Placing a kiss between Pax's breasts, Teela replied, "I love you too."

From the corner of the room, Thumper groaned and rolled over. Both women giggled.

"It fills my heart so full to be lying next to you like this."

"Oh yeah?"

"Absolutely." I can do this. "I was thinking..." Pax started but was interrupted by the musical tones of a cell phone ringing. Teela got to her feet taking the sheet with her. "Hey, you thief! It's cold," Pax protested hearing Teela giggling. Within an instant she was back in the room and opened her cell phone.

"Hello," she said settling back upon the floor next to Pax. She stifled the giggle as Pax hurriedly spread the sheet across her exposed naked flesh.

"Teela, it's Annie."

"Annie?" Teela sobered, concern etching her face. "Is everything alright?" Pax felt Teela's back stiffen as she pulled away. 

"We hope so. Bess' blood pressure has been elevated and the doctor is trying to lower it." 

"Is she going to be okay Annie?"
Pax reached out to touch Teela's shoulder and her hand was shrugged away. She sat upright and watched Teela with concern.

"I think so." 
Annie went on to explain what they were doing and how they were monitoring Bess's condition. She remained on oxygen but the liter flow was increased to three from two.

"I want to be called about everything. Any small change I want to know about it."

"I fully understand Teela. Try not to worry so much. Okay? We are taking care of her."

"Thank you Annie." Teela closed the phone and tossed it upon the couch. 

Fearing another rejection, Pax toyed with her hands in the blanket. "Honey, is Bess alright?"

"Annie seems to think so," Teela voice was small and introspective. "She said that her blood pressure is elevated. The doctor is trying to get it down."

"I'm sure she will be alright." She needed to touch her, to feel her and let Teela know that she would always be there for her. "What can I do?"

"I should go there."

"Teela. It's the middle of the night. There is nothing that you will be able to do."

"I could be there for her."

"If Annie thought she was in any danger, she would have said so right.?"

"Yeah she would. I trust Annie. She has cared for Bess since the first day she arrived."

"Then let her take care of Bess. Tomorrow we can go and check on her."

Teela turned to her and looked into the calmest concerned blue eyes. She leaned forward and kissed her chastely. "Thank you, but...I can't help feeling awkward having you meet her. As irrational as it may sound, it feels...You know what I mean?"

"I think I do, a little. But I want to be there for you, Teela. You don't have to go through this alone. I wish you would let me in completely."

"I'm trying Pax. I swear to you that I am. Please have patience with me?"

"I love you. What else is there?"


The audible hum of the concentrator buzzed in the otherwise silence of room 5 at Pine Ridge. The machine churned pumping filtered oxygen through six feet of plastic tubing that connected to Bess. Her upper body was slightly elevated lying in the center of the single bed. Sitting beside her talking quietly was Teela.

"Come on honey. Take a sip for me," coaxed Teela. 

She spooned the water thick with sugar and from the cup and placed it upon Bess' dry lips. Eyes closed, Bess felt the spoon touch her lips and parted them allowing the spoon to enter. The liquid was held in her mouth for a few seconds and then Bess swallowed hard.

"That's my girl. I know it probably hurts, sweetheart, but we have to keep you hydrated." She continued to spoon the water several more times until Bess held the last amount in her mouth and then let it run out from between her lips. "I guess you have had enough. Huh?" Teela smirked grabbing the washcloth and wiping her ex-lover's face.

Teela stroked her Bess' hair as she slept restlessly fighting her battle with pneumonia and dangerously high blood pressure. The physicians were unable to determine what is causing it to soar from her usual range of 120 to above 180. In the past week, they had tried four different medications and a diuretic. Nothing seemed to work. Teela declined to let them do any invasive procedures on Bess. She was not strong enough,  and Teela was surprised at the doctors for suggesting them. When the pneumonia was resolved and her pressure lowered, then she would consent to testing.

Teela glanced over at Thumper lying on the other side of Bess on the bed. She gently arranged Thumper to lie beside his mom and tell her that she was there. Unconsciously Bess' hand went to Thumper's back and has remained there.

Teela looked upon the shrinking frame of the once strong, vivacious friend that she had once loved more than anything. Bess carried her 145 pounds upon a 5'7 trim frame. Her body was firm, but a little too much beer started to give her a slight bulge around the middle. "I'm working on it," Bess would tell herself in the mirror. Then she would pledge to do more sit-ups which she never started.

Bess loved sports of all kinds especially softball. Her Bess could zing a ball to home plate from right field and burn the hand of the catcher. She just couldn't bat worth a damn, but when it came to flag football, she and Boney were the one-two punch on any pick up game at the Sports Complex. As receiver or cornerback Bess was deadly in route running and catching as well as Boney. Bess preferred to be quarterback above all. She and Jo would sit in the bleachers and watch their women humiliate the men and women on the field. Even when she was a child, Teela had never been that coordinated and would always get picked last for any team. Not so for Bess and Boney. The two teams would often argue as to who could have the dynamic duo. They always played on the same team.

Teela wiped away the fallen tears as she watched a different Bess, a meager shell of the woman that lived in her memory, struggling to breathe. She was fighting to remain among the living through a chest satiated with fluid and thickening phlegm that she couldn't expel. The rattles were clearly audible above the din of the machine.

Pax turned the water hose on full spray and pointed it at Tonta, the six month old baby elephant. The large creature roared her protest.
"Sorry Tonta, but you stink and need a bath." 
After wetting the animal thoroughly, Pax withdrew the soft bristled brush from the pail of soapy water and began to scrub Tonta's wrinkled skin. Usually, she did not bathe the animals. That was the tech's job. Today, she was restless and could not tolerate being cooped up indoors. She had arrived and tried diligently to complete the paperwork that was rising upon her desk. Her mind would not cooperate and frequently drifted to Teela. 
Pax had barely seen social worker over the past of week. Teela had been burning her candle at both ends.  She would work all day, then spend most of the night at Bess' side. Bess' blood pressure continued to be problematic and didn't seem to want to stabilize. 

Pax was worried about the distance Teela was creating for them. When they were together, she was often preoccupied. Pax had attempted numerous times to get Teela to talk about Bess, but she refused. Teela's favorite trick was to diver the topic to the happenings at the zoo or the ARCC, anything but  Bess. 

"She won't share that part of her life with me Tonta," Pax explained to the packaderm. "I should be upset, I should be pissed that I'm in second place to a ex. Bess does not have anyone else to depend on but Teela. No family friends are non-existent, except Jo and Boney. At least Teela is not completely shutting me out." Tonta lifted her trunk in the air and tapped Pax on the shoulder.

"We see each other, but I want more from her and I don't think as long as Bess is ill that I am going to get it. When we do go together, she is tired and emotionally drained. She is giving me what she can right now. Maybe this is how she reacts to a really stressful situation. I should ask Jo and Boney. What do you think?" She eyed the animal who did not reply. Tonta flicked her ears back and forth. 

I miss her; that's for sure. Let's face it. I haven't exactly been honest about my leg either. "Oh she has asked Tonta, I've just skirted around the facts. She has enough on her plate without my adding to it. " 
Tonta roared her disapproval. "I know, I know. That's the pot calling the kettle black." Tonta made another comment, this one shorter and higher pitched. "You're only here to listen, not give an opinion. What do you know about relationships? You're only six months old."

Pax dipped her brush in to the bucket and turned to start on the hind quarters. Tonta filled her snout full of the soapy water, then sprayed Pax, soaking her completely. "Smart ass!" Pax groused.


A week later in the middle of the night Bess' hemoglobin dropped. Teela left the warmth of Pax's arms, to be with her at the hospital during the transfusion. Shortly after that, Bess's condition stabilized and she was holding her own. She was returned to her room at Pine Ridge. Jo called Teela and Pax everyday, checking on Bess and her friend's state of mind. Brief telephone conversations were the only time that Teela gave to her friends. 

Once Jo heard Bess had been stable for a few days, she thought that it would be a great idea for all of them to have a weekend away. With a few therapeutic white lies Jo, Boney and Pax were able to play hooky and get a Friday off. 

Teela, had spent so much time at the hospital with Bess, her own paperwork had suffered. Because of her inability to focus, Teela did not complete as much as she would normally. She managed to talk her boss, Frank, into letting her work the weekend to catch up.  As planned, she buried herself in her office the weekend before their scheduled trip. As a result, she had accumulated overtime that she knew Frank would rather not pay at her hourly rate. So, Teela managed to get the Friday off as well. 

They arrived at Nettles earlier in the day to have a little peace in the park before it became full. Teela and Jo relaxed on the beach with afternoon drinks while Boney and Pax were out in the boat trying to catch dinner.

"Ha!" Boney exclaimed as she pulled the large orange belly sunfish into the boat.

"And that is supposed to mean what?" Pax teased.

"You know it means I am ahead four to three."

"It just means that you have more guts to clean."

"So. And your point is?"

Smiling playfully Pax declared, "I truly like you Augusta Jean."

Boney hunched her back hissing like an feral cat and clawed at the air. Pax shook giggling at Boney. She watched her shiver and snarl in her direction while spitefully loading her hook with another crawler.

"You should be careful. You're in my boat, and I could make you walk back," she groused.

"Naw you wouldn't do that."

"Pretty sure of yourself aren't you."

"Yep. Otherwise you would have to explain to Teela why you came back without me."

She paused in thought and then shivered again violently. "Ooohhh. Good point."

"Thought so." Pax jerked her pole just as the bobber went under the water. She reeled in quickly and held up the large pan fish. Without a word she looked at Boney and put the fish in Boney's special cooler they had brought along. It served as her live well when she went fishing. Her fourteen foot aluminum did not have the riggings for an actual live well.

"I don't want to hear it."

"I didn't say a word."

"Speaking of Teela..." 

"Were we?"

"We're about to."

"I see."

"Anyway. How's things going for you two?"

"You have seen with your eyes. How do you think they are going?"

"Good point. I was just asking." Do you really want me to say what I think Pax?

Boney watched her bobber dance ever so lightly. She was getting swim-by nibbles so she sat waiting for the bobber to go under. She needed this one to pull ahead of Pax. She never got the chance. The fish beneath the blue green water stole her bait while Pax reeled in another pan fish. Pax decided to switch to bass fishing so she to searched Boney's tackle box,  for the appropriate bait. After a time she decided to break the silence.

"Boney. How did you know Jo was the one?"

"One what?"

"Come one. You know, the one that you wanted to spend your life with."

"Banana Pudding."

Pax turned to look at the hillbilly. "Banana Pudding?"

"Oooh yeah." She licked her lips. "My baby made me banana pudding one night for dinner and that done me in. In order to have the recipe, I had to marry the girl. So I did."

Pax burst out laughing forgetting about the worm in her hand. "You are not right. She caught you with banana pudding. Ooh that's rich Boney." 

"Hmmm, rich and delicious." She smacked her lips.

"Teela was right, you probably did marry her for the free therapy treatments."

"Hey now that is a lie. I don't know what Teela has told you, but I pay for those treatments and pay dearly too," she said laughing with her friend.

"I bet you do." Pax strung the plastic worm blended green and black onto the hook. She checked to make sure the barb was covered as she wanted to cast towards the shore into the lily pads and cover.

"But seriously though..." 

"Yeah. Seriously. How did you know?"

"I didn't until the last minute really." Her brow knitted from thinking of that day with Jo and trying to get the small piece of live bait on the hook. "Stop wiggling. I need you," she scolded. "Jo and I had a silly fight over something stupid. When I left, it took me all of an hour to realize the unbearable gnawing in my heart was from the thought of loosing her forever. I ran back to her, literally as fast as I could. Got a big speeding ticket too, but when she opened the door, I fell to my knees and begged her to marry me." She smirked, "I was a proud one too, Pax. Considered myself a stud, a rebel. You know what I mean? Never wanted to be caught, different women all the time." Boney puffed out her chest.

"Yeah, I was the same."

"I just knew that the fireworks happened whenever she was around. If she were across a crowded room, I could sense her, and I liked the feeling it gave me. I wanted to keep it. So I had to marry the girl."

"Seems easy enough."

"Nothing about love is ever easy." She scrunched her face. "Don't tell my wife I said that. But we had a rocky start alright. To my family not only did I shame them by not marrying a respectable southern gentleman or even a southern belle as far as they were concerned, but I married a Yankee colored woman." She moved her hands in quotation marks. "That was inexcusable, for a debutante."

Pax's mouth gaped looking questioningly at Boney. "You? A deb?"

"And head cheerleader no doubt." Her eyes twinkled.

Pax looked on in amusement. "No way." She took in the bulging biceps and the broad shoulders, the shortened hair. Everything about this woman screamed butch. Pax just could not fathom it.

"I know what you are thinking." She smiled. "I changed in college. Jo has the hidden pictures."

"Wow! This I've got to see."

"So she had to contend with my southern family and I had to contend with her family which is just as bad let me tell you."

"I can imagine, but I am glad that Teela's mother likes me though."

Chuckling, Boney asked, "Isn't Caramella great?" The bobber went down and she jerked her pole. Reeling as fast as she could, she brought it to the boat only to have a fish hanging onto a worm that was bigger than it was.

Pax lost herself in thought as she cast towards the shore again. Letting the worm take its time to float to the bottom, she thought about what Boney said. Pax recognized familiar hard tug on the line and jerked upward. Seething, Boney narrowed her eyes at her playmate.

"It better not be a keeper," she grumbled. 

"Man, you are a spoiled sport aren't you?"

"It's my boat. I can be anyway I want."

Pax finally got the fighter up to the boat and she pulled it out of the water. "You're right, it's a baby." She freed the hook and lowered the fish back into the water. In a splash it returned to the lilies probably in front of them. 

"Yeah. Go tell you momma and daddy and cousins of the trick she is trying to pull on you." Boney yelled into the water.

"They are not going to listen to you."

"You hope."

After several more casts, Pax turned to her friend. "I want to ask Teela to marry me. What do you think?"

"If she doesn't say yes, then I will."

"Then you would be a polygamist." She smiled. 

"And your point would be?"

"I think that Teela will say yes and save you from prison or Jo's wrath which ever is worse."

"Jo's definitely worse. Are you sure she will say yes?"  Boney kept her eyes trained upon the bobber not wanting to see the questions in her friends eyes.


"Are you certain?"

"What are you trying so hard not to tell me Boney?" Pax twirled the handle of the open faced reel with lightening speed.

"It's just that...marriage isn't to  be taken lightly and...I am not sure that you have thought this through."

"Spit it out Boney. What are you trying to say?"

Boney whirled the handle on her reel and then put the pole down upon the seat next to her. She clasped her hands together and looked earnestly into the blue eyes behind the sunglasses. "Pax, you have had a taste of how reclusive and withdrawn Teela can be. She pushes people away rather quickly. She can lock herself in a cocoon and no one can get in. You've seen that."

"I know this."

"And you can deal with that kind of thing? Don't expect her to change. Jo has tried and failed repeatedly. Don't kid yourself that you can make that breakthrough."

"Are you trying to scare me away from her Boney?"

"No. I am making sure you have a complete understanding of what you will inherit with Teela. That includes Bess. You have to share Teela Pax. Can you do that?"

"It seems a little late to ask me that. I have already asked her to be my girlfriend with the ring."

"A girlfriend and wife are two very different things. Hopefully they are the same person," she grinned mischievously, "but two different concepts. You have girlfriend status. I don't think that you are ready for wife. I don't think Teela is either."

"I have been sharing Teela since the beginning Boney."


"And sometimes, I'll admit, that I get upset at being second. I mean who wouldn't. But I want to be with her Boney. That means the whole package. Banana Pudding would be better, but we all can't choose our baggage." She grinned.

"This is true my friend. Bess could be around for years to come you know."

"I'll be there for Teela as well."

They returned to their fishing and mulling over what each of them has stated. Pax had to admit to herself that Boney made some sense. It was some time before Boney decided to break the silence.

"Honestly Pax, I think you should give it some more time before you start talking the marriage thing."


"Yeah, the sharing thing is new for all of you and your love and strength is going to be tested."

"I agree with you on that part."

"This last few weeks you two barely saw one another and let's face it, it was pretty damn rough. What about the next time? And the next and the next?" Pax nodded slowly carefully hearing what her new buddy had to say. "I tell you what. Make it through the next six to nine months and then I'll give you my permission to marry my little girl."

"Oh really?" Pax shook her head.

"Yeah. See that gives you more time for training."

Shooting her a searing glare an indignant Pax shouted. "I AM NOT IN TRAINING!" What is with you people anyway?" 

"Hate to tell you bud, but you've already started."

Eyes narrowed at Boney suddenly grew wide in recognition. It had begun so subtly just as Teela said. She groaned, "Don't tell Teela Boney. Okay?" Pax continued to groan at Boney's laughter until she felt a heavy tug on her line and once again she jerked upward. Boney's laughter died quickly into curses. After a couple of minutes gently fighting and getting tangled in the weeds, Pax pulled the large mouth bass to the boat and lifted it up for Boney to see. "Hmmm. That's a fat legal size one don't you think Booonnneeyyy?" She sang.

"Hmmm, Teela sure would be interested to know that your training is going well." 

"You wouldn't? You promised."

"Then that bass is mine." Boney grinned.

"Why are you always blackmailing me?" 

"Sucks to be you." Boney bursts into hysterical laughter knowing she had Pax caught.

"You are so not right." Pax whined and stuck her tongue out at Boney.

"Oh but this time I am." Boney wiped the tears streaking down her eyes. Pax stuck her tongue out at her friend and Boney burst in to more peels of laughter. 




The four of them sat around the campfire on site sixty-three. There wasn't a need for them to have a radio. There were several playing on the surrounding sites while the renters set up camp for the next forty-eight hours. It was sometime before the enthusiastic new arrivals entering women only space calmed down. Because they had an earlier start, it wasn't long after dark that the foursome called it a day. Boney and Pax promised one another to be up at five a.m. for coffee and on the lake at six. Boney wanted a crack at the bass.

Snuggled into the second bedroom at the other end of the trailer. Teela pulled Pax close and held her in her arms. Pax was content to rest her head on Teela's breasts, a rare positional change which allowed her head to gently bob with Teela's breathing. Pax surrendered to the vulnerable and raw emotions swirling within. Teela felt a sense of security when Pax curled her long frame around her.

Outside the trailer it was cold and dampness was settling in for the night. Within, however, Pax and Teela's bodies spoke to one another igniting a flame to keep them warm throughout the night. Flannel sheets and a heavy comforter made for a very cozy setting. Pax had lain there listening to the rhythm of her lover's  breathing. She was still awake.

"She placed a gently kiss in the space between the firm breast upon which she loved to taste and feast. "Teela?"

"Hmmmm," Teela responded, stroking the dark raven tresses.

Pax lifted herself up on an elbow and looked down into the shadowed face. She brushed the golden hair back from the angelic face and kissed her forehead, her eyes and then lingered to burn upon the lips. "I love you so much Teela. 

Teela pulled Pax down to take press lips upon her own. She opened immediately to welcome the searching tongue in and moaned her gratitude when Pax entered her mouth with her tongue. Pax's body grew wild with want. It had been a long time for them and she needed to devour Teela to make up her fill for the time lost. She crushed her body against Teela's and their hips remembered their special dance .

An unexpected rumble came from Teela when she flipped Pax onto her back. She raised her lover's arms above her head and compelled her keep them there. Teela's lips scoured every inch of Pax neck, collar bone. She was suddenly filled with a voraciousness that came from darkened place she never knew existed. Hands fondled the strong biceps attached to the arms which were self-imprisoned above Pax's head. Her breasts, tanned and nipples anticipated Teela's attention, longing for her to devour them as only she knew how. Pax wanted her to make them apart of her own body by taking them in, praising them for their existence.

Pax's eyes long since closed against the darkness only to be lit by the colors the floated within by her Teela-induced haze. Her little blonde became an aphrodisiac when she forgot her self control and let her animalistic tendencies come to the fore. She thought of the character Daredevil, by day mild mannered attorney, at night a kick ass crime fighter. So too was her social worker, by day caring and compassionate until her libido had been ignited and she transformed into an ravaging tumultuous lover. She was very much her later ego now.

"Teela, let me touch you please," Pax pleaded.

"Why?" Teela asked squeezing her nipple.

Pax groaned and relinquished her will once again to the sensual creature tormenting her so lovingly.

Then her feral carnality dissipated. The reckless abandonment quieted. Teela's touch became light, airy. She placed a chaste across Pax's fevered skin. Tempered reverent kisses paid homage and soothed the tender flesh where her lips touched. She spoke words that Pax could not hear or understand but could feel against her flesh.

Pax quivered at a splash of warm liquid slide across her abdomen. Then another drop, and it too rolled down to the sheet joining the other. Teela was weeping. The exhilaration that filled her heart that also fueled her fervor for the woman beneath her. For so long there was a void within her life within her heart and Pax had filled it. A sense of familiarity passed through her soul, stirring it beyond all rational measure. She felt complete being here with Pax. Never before had there been such serenity in the arms of another as there was with the beautiful woman beneath her.

Now she had the chance to make it for eternity.

Pax gently tugged on Teela's shoulder bringing her into her arms, wiping the tears away with whispery kisses. Even without a shred of light, Pax sense the twinkling emeralds upon her.

"Why are you crying my love?"

"I...because you...I love you so." 

The kiss intensified their passion that followed after the confession of their love for one another. Teela trailed kisses once again down the muscular torso, paying love to each breasts as she moved towards her lover's southern half. She was to taste her future. She craved it more that life itself.

Pax's body moved unconsciously responding to Teela. "I feel the same way baby. Please," she whispered.

Teela's tongue danced in Pax's navel relishing the jerking of her lover's body. Slowly, she rose and adjusted her position so that they were lying opposite of one another. Teela straddled the broad chest her drenched center above Pax's waiting lips. Teela looked down upon the dark curls and moaned at the hidden flavor below. The contraction clenched her muscles and her arousal poured from within.

Pax snaked her tongue out and sampled the swollen flesh before her. Teela spasmed, moaning against the sweet invasion. Pax became unable to contain her excitement. She needed this woman and needed her now. Urgency commanded her actions. In sync, Teela shifted so that she had ample room in which to consume her lover. 

Each set about pleasuring the other with treasure hunting tongues and scooping fingers. Their bodies undulated in waves as muffled sounds of feasting filled the small second bedroom trailer.
On the other side of the trailer, Jo and Boney too were renewing their vows.




The remainder of the weekend Jo and Teela sat on the beach or went into town shopping while Boney and her new playmate stayed on the water fishing most of the day. Most of the time at the campfire was spent discussing whatever came to their mind.

Too soon came the time for them to return to the reality of the real world and responsibilities. On the outside of the city limits, a foreboding arose in Teela. Something was wrong; she was sure of it. Pax noticed her lover fidgeting and the scowl that replaced the brilliant smile.

"What's wrong honey?" Pax questioned wrapping her arms around her shoulder.

"I'm not sure. I just feel that something is wrong, but I don't know what." She couldn't understand from where the discomforting feeling came. It instantly obscured the happiness that surrounded her all weekend.

"Is it Thumper?" 

"No. Mother usually takes really good care of her. I'm just not sure." She looked at the social worker and kissed her gently upon the lips. "Maybe its nothing."

"I hope so. I don't like to see you so worried." Pax kissed her temple.

By the time Boney pulled into Teela's driveway, the sense of unease had lessened, but remained at the edges. Boney helped them unload their three duffle bags and cooler. Promising to get together soon, the friends hugged before sending Jo and Boney home. Pax helped Teela carry the gear into the house.

Teela opened the door to an ecstatic four legged child. Thumper barked her joy to see her mommy then pranced and wiggled her nub furiously nearly bending the dog in two. Large brown eyes shone at her.

"Hi baby. I missed you," Teela cooed. "Let me get this stuff in first okay." She rubbed the dog's head and walked into the living room. Thumper followed her mommy ignoring Pax without so much as a glance her way. They were still feuding.

Hello, I'm here too damn dog, Pax grumbled. "Go on and say hello. I'll bring in the stuff."

"No, I'll help. That cooler is heavy."

"I can get it. Thumper wants to see you."

"But Pax..." 

"I can carry it Teela. Really."

Pax went to get the rest of the gear while Teela sat upon the living room floor and let Thumper tell her how much she had missed her. The eighty-five pound pit bull gave her kisses on both cheeks then rolled over her mommy's lap in excitement. The dog emitted a low grumbling with a wide grin upon her face. Her mommy was home and scratching her senseless.

Pax carried in the final duffle bag and wearily plopped upon the couch. She kicked off her shoes 
stretching her right leg out to rest. I could do that too if you let me dog, she silently pouted, jealously watching the muscular pit bull playing with her lover as if it were a poodle.

Pax clicked on the TV to her favorite cable news show but kept the volume off. "I can run you a bath in a bit. Would you like that?"

"Oohhh. That sounds wonderful. Will you join me?"

"You may have to twist my arm." Her heart thundered at the thought of feeling Teela's skin under the silky bubbles. 

"Or something else."

"That will work." She winked.

"Hey is there anything on the machine beside you?" Teela indicated her answering machine.

Pax looked over her should and then back to Teela with concern. "Yeah. There are twelve messages."

"Twelve?" Confused she asked, "Can you press the machine for me."

Pax reached over and pushed the button. The first message was from her mother, Caramella for Thumper on Friday. "Thumper honey, it's Grandmother. I will be there to pick you up for the weekend around three. I have a day in the park planned for us and someone I want you to meet. Besides, there are some annoying pigeons that I want my favorite granddaughter to terrorize. Bye sweetie."

"Your mother is something else you know that?" Pax laughed rubbing her leg.

"Something else is right." Teela rolled her eyes.

"Teela, it's Annie. I wanted to update you that Bess was getting more lethargic and listless, so we did some vitals and they were skewed. Then we checked her blood sugar. That was really high Teela, near 400. We don't exactly know why. She has never given an indication of anything wrong with her blood sugar before. The doctor has been called and he has us watching things. I tried to reach your cell phone but went to voicemail. I left messages at the other contact numbers just in case."

Teela sat stunned as she listened to the next call.

"Teela it's Annie. I hope that you get this. The doctor wanted Bess to go to the E.R. Her blood sugar jumped to 1100. I've never seen it that high before and her blood pressure was also high, 180 over 110. She will be going to General Hospital. Give me a call as soon as you get this message."

Teela bolted for the telephone. Her chest and head were pounding. I shouldn't have left. I knew it. I shouldn't have left you sweetheart. I'm sorry. Pax rubbed small circles in her back as she dialed and waited for it to connect.

"Hello Annie? It's Teela. What's happening with Bess?" Panic edged her voice.

"Teela I've been trying to get a hold of you since Friday."

"What's wrong with Bess?" 

"Teela, Bess had another stroke."

"Oh God!" she exhaled, sitting hard upon the floor tears streaming down her face. Pax was off the couch instantly and sat behind her lover on the floor. She enfolded her in her arms stroking her hair. "Where is she?" the hollow voice asked.

"She is at General still." Teela sobbed openly. "From what I'm told, she's off the ventilator and holding her own."

"God, she was on a ventilator?"

"Yes. You signed a full code status for her Teela. When they couldn't reach you, they went according to the Advanced Directive we had on file."

"Oh my god. Annie. I am so sorry. I totally forgot to tell you I was going out of town," she sobbed. "I went camping with friends and the cell phones...Oh God."

"We took care of her Teela. I promised you we would from the first day she arrived. Remember? We got her what she needed."

"Okay." Teela quickly sobered. "Okay. I'm on my way to the hospital. Can you call them and tell them for me?"

"Sure Teela, anything."

"Thank you Annie, for everything that you've done for Bess."

"No thanks needed."

Teela clicked the line dead and turned into Pax's comforting embrace. She let herself sink into the warmth and security of those strong arms for only a moment. Then it hit her. If I had not been out of town with Pax, I would have been here for Bess. I wanted to be alone with Pax even though I knew Bess was not completely stable. How selfish I am! 

Teela jumped out of the protective covering and stood brusquely wiping the tears from her cheeks.

"Teela? Let me go with you."

"No. I have to go alone," she replied flatly.

Taking some time to stand, barely putting pressure upon her right leg Pax said, "You don't have to. You have me. Let me be there for you?"

"I said No! Are you so thick that you don't know what that means?" Teela barked fists clenched. "Bess knows I am not with her anymore. I do not need to rub it in her face."

With that she turned and ran up the stairs toward the bathroom. I need to shower fast and get to the hospital. Bess needs me. I have to let her know that I have not abandoned her. She had to be there soon.

Pax remained rooted to the spot where Teela exited, paralyzed and stricken numb at being shunned by her girlfriend. The tears were beginning to blur her baby blues. Teela is upset. She is in shock, Pax reasoned. I need to understand that and not take it personally. The tears fell. She did not know what she was saying. Jo. It came to her. Call Jo and Boney. They will know what to do.

She picked up the telephone and dialed. She dropped upon the couch and rubbed her pulsating thigh. "Jo. It's Pax."

"Pax? Where is Teela?"

"She's in the shower and then she is going to the hospital."

"We got a similar call as well."

"Jo," Pax sniffed. "She won't let me go with her. She is in no shape to be driving or doing this alone, but she won't let me be with her."

"She tends to become even more bullheaded when stressed and frightened."

"What do I do Jo?" Pax cried.

"Boney and I will go to General and meet her there. We'll take care of her okay?" 

"I want to be with her."

"I know you do sweetie."

"She said she doesn't want to rub me in Bess face."

"It is the way that she has to handle and process things Pax. Don't take it to heart. She can have poor impulse control in times like these. Be patient with her."

"Will you call me and let me know what's going on? I'll be here or on my cell."

"Sure thing babe."

"Thank you."

Fifteen minutes later, a wet-haired Teela came barreling down the stairs. She was headed straight for the door before Pax called her name.


"Pax. You're still here?" 

Flabbergasted. "Yes. I'm still here. I'll always be here for you. I hope that you know that."

"Hmmm Yeah. Sure. Listen. I don't know how long I'll be so you can go home if you want. I'll understand."

Pax felt her knees buckle; her heart, was stricken. Forcing herself to remember Jo's words, she prayed that she didn't mean it. "But I want to be with you Teela. Don't you know that?"

"I will not be here Pax." Her patience was worn. "And I am not sure when I will be back. That is all I am saying. You can do what you want." And she was gone.

 Pax felt her chest heave as she let the tears flow freely. How could Teela dismiss her like that? So cold and single minded? She wanted to let her know that she did not have to be alone. Pax fought to keep the  internal bleakness from consuming her.




It was near midnight when the telephone rang jarring her from slumber on the couch. Pax grabbed for the receiver above her head. 


"Pax. It's Jo," she announced weary with fatigue.

"Jo. How's Bess?"

"Not good I'm afraid."

"Oh God. How is Teela taking it?"

"Not well. She is blaming herself for not being here."

"I'm on my way Jo."

"Pax No. Teela doesn't want you here."

"Jo come on." She pleaded, "She can't do this to me. I've been going insane all night. Why is she shutting me out?" She raked her fingers through the tussled hair.

"I wish I knew."

"I don't understand."

"Listen. I doubt that I am going to get her to leave. Boney and I will stay with her. So you try and get some rest."

"I don't like this Jo."

"I know you want to be with her, but Pax, she isn't herself right now. She has already said some hurtful things to Boney and me. We can take it. We've been through it before; we're toughened, but I am not so sure your young love can take it. Does that make sense?"

"I guess so," she acquiesced.

"Get some rest and we'll call later."

Not wanting to truly give in, Pax battled with herself to keep from jumping in her truck and driving to General Hospital to see Teela, if only to sit in the parking lot. At least then she would be nearby. She hated the feeling of powerlessness that pervaded her being, forced inactivity because Teela wants to do things alone. That quickly turned into bitterness and resentment at suddenly being insignificant. Her temper boiled rapidly wanting to lash out at something. Anything.

Then she remembered what Jo had said about her lover. Despite the hurt she elected to listen to someone who knew her lover far better than she. Jo is right. We have a young love, and it's susceptible to things we could say and do in this stressful time. We could hurt each other badly, and we haven't built our relationship strongly enough to pull together instead of apart just yet.

Pax let Thumper into the backyard for one more potty break before turning in. Thumper followed her up the stairs but seemed as unhappy as she. Pax let melancholy claim her as a friend for the night. 




Two days later, Jo stood looking out the window of Bess' hospital room. Bess' condition had not changed. Jo had been there for an hour listening to the steady rhythmic beeping of the monitors. All of them together created a song that was grating in the otherwise silent room.

Jo turned to her worn, haggard friend. Teela hadn't slept for more than a few hours at a time in the chair sitting next to Bess. Teela had only left Bess long enough to go home, shower and change. Among herself, Boney, and Pax they had been making sure Thumper was taken care of. They were all concerned for Teela.

"She's worried about you know."

"Bess knows I'm here," Teela said as she stroked and kissed the limp hand in hers.

"Not Bess, Teela."

"She knows I'm here too."

"But she hasn't talked to you or seen you. She is going out of her mind Teela."

"I can't help that right now. Bess needs me."

"Honey." She approached and knelt by her friend. "Pax wants to be there for you. Don't shut her out Teela. She loves you."

Teela turned incensed eyes upon her dearest friend and whispered harshly. "This is not the time to be talking about this. NOT in front of Bess."

"Fine." Jo stood throwing her hands in the air at her stubborn friend. "Will you call her this evening?"

"Are you deaf or what?" Teela growled.




Three more days crept agonizingly by for Pax while she waited to hear from her lover. Pax tried all the numbers she had for Teela and could not reach her. Pax was beginning to hate voicemail with a passion. She was sure the receptionist at the ARCC is tired of taking messages.

Pax visited her mother frequently and had hoped to see Teela. No matter the time of day, Teela was never in her office when she arrived. She was no where to be found. Pax had even tried to reach her through Nica. Nica assured her that she had given Teela the messages. Her last resort was where she was now, pounding on Jo and Boney's front door.

"Pax, why all the ruckus?" Jo stepped aside so as not to be stepped on by the angry stride the woman possessed entering her living room.

"You would be creating one too if you didn't see Boney for days."

"You may be surprised," she responded snickering. 

"This isn't funny Jo. I haven't spoken to Teela for five days."

"I'm sorry."
Pax limped painfully as she paced the room.
"How is the leg?"

"Hurts like a bitch! Come on Jo. Why won't she talk to me? I know that you've seen her. How is she huh?"

"Have a seat Pax and relax."

"I don't want to relax! You have been telling me that for days. I want to see my girlfriend damn it!"

"Pax. Listen, I understand your frustration. Really I do, but Teela is doing things her way. I have tried talking to her and so has Boney, but she demands that we stay out of it."

"And when have you ever listened before. Huh?"

"Good point, but on this I fear stepping over the line may cost Boney and me dearly. To tell you the truth. I have never seen her this way before. She seems so despondent. She isn't sleeping or eating well."

"Oh that just makes me feel so much better Jo. Thank you."


"Jo how am I supposed to deal with this? I have told her repeatedly that I want to be there for her and she has at every turn pushed me away. Am I some kind of yo-yo or what?"

"I do not understand Teela's rationale myself Pax. I wish to God that I did. I can see that she is hurting you and I am sure that once she realizes what she is doing, she will be devastated."

"When will that be?"

"I hope soon. Right now she is very angry for some reason."

"Is Bess conscious?" Pax stopped her pacing. 

"I don't think so anymore. She looks very pallid."

"What is the opinion of the doctors?"

"Not good. They said she's having TIA's or mini strokes now. They think it's a wait and see situation."

"Does that mean she could...?" 

Jo nodded. 




Teela sat in the uncomfortable hard chair at Bess' side. She had tried to soften it by placing folded blankets on the seat and back rest. This helped for a little while, before it began to deaden her buttocks again. She frequently got up and paced the room, eyes never leaving Bess face, watching her chest and the monitors. She was being as vigilant as possible making sure she was not lax ever again.

The nurse was thoughtful brought a pot of coffee and condiments into the room shortly after she had arrived. Teela prepared a cup of the strong brew and returned to her seat by the bed. She picked up the newspaper and found another interesting article to read to Bess.

Reading was good for someone who was in a coma or near coma state. Teela remembered the researched that said talking was good for people in that condition, so everyday she sat and talked to Bess, telling her about Thumper, reading the newspapers, or from the fishing magazines that she purchased, anything, to help Bess find her way back.

The magazine hit the floor. Teela looked towards Bess and her frustration mounted before she could control it. "You can't do this to me. To us," she whispered taking the limp hand in hers and stroking the clammy forehead. Looking at the pale ashen skin, Teela held the vision of a deep tan and firm forearms. She felt the strong grip of her lover, but knew the hands could be silky and tender. She let a sob escape not caring about the tears splashing upon their clenched hands. She'd hoped that they were healing tears.

"You came to me and offered to fight for me once. Do you remember? And you did. Now," Teela sniffed, "I am asking you." Teela couldn't help the anger welling inside. She squeezed Bess hand. "I am asking you to fight for me, for us: Me and Thumper." She touched the cool cheek and placed her head upon the slowly rising chest. "You hear me?"

Somewhere in her heart, she knew Bess was leaving her, this time for good. She was not ready to have her gone completely from her life. Then her mind hurtled her back towards a similar scene. Teela bolted upright and paced to stare out of the window. 

So many times in her ten years at the ARCC she had acted in this play with others. Her role was the compassionate voice of reason to so many who had faced this same defining moment in their lives. She comforted the hurting spouse, daughter, or son, through the loss they were about to experience. What she never counted on was being in the scene playing the opposite role.

Teela never fathomed how debilitating a divided a being could be at the moment. Overcome with grief, she cried for the woman that was leaving her. She did not want to make the decision. Consumed, she gave in to the rending of her heart as Bess' essence tore itself away.

It was some time before she could turn and gaze upon Bess Harper. A serene placidness touched her spirit. The professional deportment surfaced aiding to protect her from the torrent of emotions churning within. She could now be pragmatic regarding Bess condition.

Shortly after her exchange, Bess' doctor entered the room. He stood in the doorway -- for some time deciding whether or not to enter when he recognized the signs of grief coming from the small blonde. With stoic resolution, Teela listen to the doctor hesitantly inform her of the bleak prognosis.

Their conversation was not lengthy. Teela was a seasoned social worker in Long Term Care. She knew, after all; She dealt with this kind of thing eight hour a day, five days a week. This was different, however.  She was the one that needed to reconcile and accept. Teela willed her hand to place a legible signature on the Do Not Resuscitate Form. No matter what her role, the act of letting go permanently was too unbearable.

The veteran social worker considered everything with a sense of detached logic. Given the poor prognosis, the likelihood of severe damage from the brain attacks or strokes, Bess would have no quality of life. Would she want to live in the state she is in now? At best she would be total care and a tube feed. Who would benefit from such a life? Bess would be alive and that would make me happy. But would Bess be? No signing, was the right thing to do. Teela wanted her comfortable and not in pain.

By the time the Hospice Team Leader arrived, Teela had seen the signs and told them that it would not be necessary. She had watched the nurses giving Bess her sponge bath this morning. Teela recognized the mottling in the feet and up the legs to the knee. Even at four liters of oxygen per minute, Bess' apnea was becoming more prevalent. She would breathe in a little deeply and slowly letting it out in a heavy release. Then there was a pause before she took her next breath to start another cycle. The period between releasing and taking a breath was getting further and further apart.

Nica, Cassandra, and several of the other nurses at the ARCC swore that death radiated a distinctive scent. The nurses had often spoken of the death rattle as well. Whether there was a problem with her olfactory and auditory senses or something else, Teela could never detect it even while standing in the same room with one of them who could. At the moment she was grateful for that lack of ability.

Teela stood by the bed once again and placed her hand gently upon the achromatic face. The lips were parched and dry from breathing in through her mouth. Teela reached for the tube of greasy clear ointment and squirted a little upon her fingers. Ever so lightly she rubbed the gel across Bess cracked lips. Suddenly she started to giggle.

"Yes. I am doing it again. I just had a thought that was funny is all. I know how you used to look at me like I was from another planet when I did that, but I remembered the time we were all up to Nettles. You fell asleep on the beach." She began to laugh uncontrollably. "Technically it's not funny, but you sitting on the couch, buck nekkid, with green aloe gel smeared all across your body...Oh, baby," she guffawed, "Nothing could be touching your skin. Even the sheet across the cushions was sticking to you, spread eagled. I had to be the one to put the gel on your lips. You didn't want to bend your arm because of the sunburn. It was really funny. You were crispy red on one side and blanched white on the other." She laughed. "But god, you were horrible to contend with." 

She paused and stroked the graying hair, the softness between her fingertips. Then she started laughing again.

"You were so angry when Thumper ate your apple pie. God you were livid. We never figured out how she got it down from the back of the stove. Did we? Her snout was covered with pieces of the pie on it and the juices. I thought poor Thumper wouldn't come back inside for a week." Tears fell from her eyes onto the bed. "She and I both thought you would kill her for that one." Teela sobbed. "Or when she dragged your favorite fishing pole out into the yard to play with."

Teela's laughter died and she became solemn and grave. She took off her shoes and with extreme care, she climbed into bed alongside of Bess' still form. Mindful of the oxygen mask and the electrical leads, Teela curled herself around Bess and held her head to her bosom. She pressed her lips into the gray hair and let her tears soak into the unruly mass.

Her soft cries were shed for the lover that she was losing again, for the woman that she would never be able to hold like this. That day eight years ago when Bess entered her life and pierced her heart with such purity that she immediately had fallen in love with her. Bess had taught her so much, had given her even more. In spite of the infidelity she loved her, all of her. Bess had been her first true love. How could she leave her again?

Teela watched Bess take a deep breath and let it out slowly in near hissing fashion. She kissed the silvery head again and gently squeezed her love. Teela clenched her eye shut against the realization of what she had to say. Saying it would make it real. I know this. Bess has to hear it.

"It's okay Bess." She swallowed loudly gathering all the conviction she could. "Go on, honey. You can go." she sobbed. "Thumper and I will be fine. Don't worry. Ok sweetheart? It's okay to let go."



Teela was uncertain how long she had been napping when the resounding shrill of an alarm coming from one of the monitors startled her into instant consciousness. She looked to the machine at the same time Jo and Boney walked into the room. Blinking her eyes for clarity, Teela looked at her friends and then at the monitor again. The straight green line was etched across the small seven inch screen.

Teela looked down upon the gray face of her Bess. She gently lifted Bess chin to closing her mouth and snuggled closer.


________________________________________________ CHAPTER 32
Pax wore a groove in the carpet of Jo and Boney's living room. Her legs jumped with anxiety wanting desperately to go to her lover who was sleeping in a bedroom somewhere in their house. It was four o'clock that afternoon when Boney had called and told her about Bess. Pax had suspected that it was going to happen.

She would have met them when they arrived home, but she was delayed by an emergency at the zoo. That made her furious. It had taken her two hours to straighten out her assistant's mess. Now it was six and she was on the verge of a conniption fit. She had missed her chance to see Teela. When she arrived, Jo had told her she was sleeping due to the sedative she had given her.

"Come on Jo, all I want to do is see her. Let her know I'm here."

"I truly am sorry Pax, but she said she didn't want to see anyone until tomorrow. I had to promise that we would let her be in order to get her to come here."

"Oh that is such bullshit I can't believe you went along with it."

"Calm down Pax," Boney coaxed. "We feel the same way, but in order to love and care for Teela, we have to put up with her quirks. That's what friends, true friends do. I'm sure you can understand that."

Exasperated she finally gave in. "Yeah I do. I'm sorry."  She raked a shaking hand through her hair. "I just feel so useless to her. I am supposed to be doing more. This I know."

"Boney and I feel that way too, Pax. Teela will come to us when she is ready. Not before. We all just have to be patient and tolerant while she mourns."

"I know." Frustrated, she rubbed her face with both hands. "Listen, can I at least stay on your couch tonight? I want to be near in case she does need me."

Standing, Jo approached the tall woman and wrapped her in a compassionate hug, kissing her cheek. "Of course you can. Boney will make it up for you when you are ready."

"Huh?" Her mouth gaped at her wife. "I gotta wait on her?" she asked pointing at Pax. "She has already been here before. She is not a guest anymore. She can do it herself."

"Hillbilly," Jo gave her a warning from Pax's arms.

Pax looked over Jo's shoulder towards Boney, stuck her tongue out and grinned. 

Boney narrowed  her eyes and grumbled beneath her breath. "Takes my couch. Gropes my woman. And I have to make her stupid bed. Something ain't right." She left the room.




Boney and Pax were watching a college football game on the television while Jo sat in her favored recliner reading. Thumper was catching popcorn kernels that Boney and Pax were tossing at her. Jo watched the two children and shook her head smiling.

"I am certainly glad that Thumper will be sleeping in here with you Pax," Jo stated absently unable to keep the grin from spreading across her lips.


"Popcorn gives her atrocious gas."

Pax stopped mid-toss and looked at Jo then at a roaring Boney. "You knew this?"

Smiling she responded, "Yep and they're silent too. Don't know it until it's too late." Pax shoved her cackling friend. "Make me be a bed making slave will ya. Huh."

Pax looked down at the waiting canine. "No more for you." Boney threw a handful on the floor for the dog. "Stop that."

"Damage is already done now," Boney giggled tossing more on the floor.

"Just you wait."

"Or if you hear a hiss." Boney advised. "Cover up." She threw another handful to a delighted Thumper.

"Jo?" Pax turned to her whining. Jo shrugged her shoulders and returned to the book in her lap

A movement caught Pax's peripheral vision and her head snapped to the door to see a withered Teela standing there. Quickly as she could, Pax lifted herself from the couch and had her lover firmly wrapped in her arms before the other two had noticed her standing there. Teela stiffened and shrugged away from Pax's hold, stepped around her and went into the kitchen. Dumbfounded, Pax turned to Jo.

Teela came back into the room carrying a glass of juice. Her shoulders were slumped with fatigue and emotional drain. Her clothes were wrinkled from sleeping in them and darkened circles outlined her lower lids. Pax was sickened for her. She took a step towards Teela.

"What are you doing here?" Teela questioned indifferently. Gaze lacking the warmth that Pax 

"I...aahh...wanted to see you. To make sure you were alright. I...want to be here for you honey."

"Well, you've seen me and I'm alright. You've been here. Now you can go."

"Teela," Jo and Boney sang in unison.

"Honey, you don't mean that. Do you?" Pax asked fear strangling her breath. 

"I can't deal with this and you right now. Just go," she hissed.

"Teela. Please."

"LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE WILL YOU!!" Green hatred bored through Pax and struck her harder than Tanesha ever could.

The bile rose from its depth threatening to spill across the plush carpeting. Pax turned sharply on her heels and limped quickly and painfully out of the room. The only sound echoing in the house was the soft click of the front door. A few minutes later, they heard the truck roar to life and pull away from the house. Jo and  Boney looked at their friend, mouths ajar in disbelief. 

"You are so wrong Teela," Jo growled as her brow knitted and face contorted in anger.

"Not now Jo," she replied wearily and sitting upon the couch.

"Now is the time!" she raised her voice. "You had no right to treat her that way. She loves you for God's sake and you dismiss her like she was nothing. How could you?"

"Jo, Bess died today. I can't deal with this right now."

"So we are back to using Bess as an excuse again are we?"

"DO NOT START!" Teela screamed.

"It is my goddamn house and I will start if I want to!" Jo rose from her chair fist clenched. "Look. I know you are hurting for Bess. We all are, but that is no reason deliberately hurt that woman. She wants to help you through this Teela."

"Help me through it? It was because of her that I was not here when Bess needed me."

"What?" Jo couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Bess was sick. I knew it. I left town anyway to be with her. I shouldn't have."'

"Are you blaming Bess' death on Pax?" Jo stood in front of her friend. "Oh tell me you are not that delusional?"

"Leave me alone Jo," Teela pleaded rubbing her temples.

"God you are?" She threw her hands into the air and turned to her wife. "I'd dump your ass if I was her." Jo growled angrily at her friend. "The nerve trying to place blame on her. No one is to blame for Bess' death."

"Jo," Boney cautioned. 

"You have to be kidding me? Teela, you have been there for Bess. You put your life on hold and for what? A woman who did not love you."

"Shut up Jo," Teela whispered.

"For a person who screwed around on you more times than I can count?"

"I said, shut up Jo."

"Oh come off it Teela. You know this and you know you don't love her as deeply as you are pretend. So what's the real reason for this whole fucked up charade, huh?" 

"Don't play psychiatrist with me. Not now goddamn it!"

"You do need your fucking head EXAMINED!" Jo threw her hands in the air and stepped away from her  friend. 

"Jo," Boney called to her wife. She was afraid of what Jo would do. She has never seen her Jo so furious. 

"No Boney," she whirled on her spouse. "You know I'm right. Do you condone how she's treated Pax? Us? Well I don't."

Jumping to her feet, the social worker stood directly in front of her best friend. "Who are you to judge me?"

"No one," Jo replied and then added with menace. "The verdict is on your behavior." 

Both stood their territory not yielding. Both understood the truth spoken in bitter aggravation and grief. A spilling of the tension born of nearly a week on an emotional roller-coaster neither purchased a ticket to ride. Through the week the three of them were preparing to face the end of life as Bess' slipped away. They were suddenly thrust into contemplating their own mortality, how their end of life would be. 

"Look, I'm sorry that Bess died, but in a way it was a blessing." Jo wiped at the tears blurring her sight. "She was miserable and she didn't suffer." She sobbed. "I know that you are hurting right now; Teela, we all are. But at this very moment...I don't happen to like you very much."

"Honey," Boney touched her wife's shoulder wiping her own wet cheeks.

Jo turned to her wife and kissed her softly on the lips. "You can  come to bed when you are ready. Goodnight." Without speaking any more to Teela, Jo left for her bedroom.

Boney watched her wife leave. She was furious that Teela had made her so angry. She felt how hard it was for Jo to say those awful things to Teela, but they needed to be said. Damn you Teela, Jo is too sensitive for your shit and she'll cry herself to sleep tonight. Boney spread her hands and sat in her wife's recliner.

She leaned forward placing her weight on her elbows and knees. Boney studied her fingernails in the silence of the room to see what Teela would say. She needed to be comforting her wife right now, but she needed to understand their friend to help her do just that.

"Teela," she started quietly. "I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything, Boney," she sighed plopping back upon the couch exhausted. What the fuck are you doing Teela?

"My Jo can be very passionate when she believes that she is right, and she usually is. You know this."


"For you to be" she waved her hands towards the malcontent figure on her couch. "To crush Pax that way without a hint of sorrow or remorse. Teela, I've never known you to be so cruel."

"Let it go Boney." 

"I will. I promise, but I don't understand. You said that you loved her, Teela. You accepted her ring of commitment. How could you have forgotten what that meant so soon?" 

"Yeah, well. Things have changed," Teela quietly replied.
"What are you talking about? Pax loves you still and if you ask, she will forgive you." Boney waited and then understood Teela's silence. "You are thinking of breaking up with her? Oh Teela..."

Snapping upright and pinning Boney with darkened vampire-like green eyes long since red and scratchy from too many tears. "This is about more than you losing another playmate Boney!"

"This has nothing to do with me Teela. Quit PROJECTING and take the blame when YOU cause it!" she screamed. "I can't believe your fucked up logic, Teela. It was okay to let Pax fall in love with you while Bess was alive. Now that she is dead, it's not okay? What kind of hokey shit is that? Huh?"


Boney launched herself to her feet and waved at Teela in dismissal. "Naw, I don't like you very much either right now." And she left for her wife leaving a sobbing Teela upon the couch.

Several moments passed by before Teela resolutely wiped her face and crossed her arms over her chest. They don't understand. Their families are intact. Even both sets of their grandparents are still alive. They have never lost anybody. How would they know? They have never had to put up with doctors and the sneers because their patient is your lesbian lover. Those two have no idea what I've been through in the past three years. Who are they to preach at me? You love Pax so goddamn much, you be her girlfriends!

"Oh Pax." The tears flowed in waves as  she remembered her words to her lover. Her hands covered her face as she wept for her unforgivable actions. Suddenly, she leapt to her feet. "I've got to find her." She bolted for the door quickly followed by Thumper. 

As she reached the door she stopped and so did Thumper. "I can't." She looked at her baby. "I can't."

Heading for the guest room, she stopped outside of Jo and Boney's bedroom door. They were still awake, the light shown underneath in a stream upon the carpet. Hand poised to knock, Teela paused hearing the faint sound coming from the other side. Boney's scratchy voice was singing softly. Boney couldn't really carry a tune, but she sometimes tried to sing their wedding song for her Jo. Teela smiled and went to her bedroom. 




Everything was as Bess had stipulated in her will. There would be no viewing. She wanted to be cremated. Perched on the table, surrounded by funeral sprays, stood a porcelain blue jar. Intricate silver scrolling spread across the vibrantly blue hues of the large sealed jar. Two collage displays of pictures taken throughout Bess' life both with and without Teela. Snapshots that could only give a hint of Bess Harper were on display for the visitors that arrived for the memorial three days after Bess had passed. On a large screen hanging over the sprays and Bess' remains played a musical video of the collage pictures.

Teela stood in front of the pictures mechanically accepting hugs and kisses upon the cheek from those who knew Bess in life and wanted to say goodbye. She had attended so many funerals on behalf of the ARCC, and was continually amazed at the number of people that suddenly appeared to have known the deceased in life. Many she had never seen visit the person at the ARCC, yet they arrived and spoke as if they had been so involved and in touch. Today was no different. Half the people she vaguely recalled from the airline where Bess had worked and old friends that had long since drifted away.

Pax sat at the back of the room beside Damian and Felicia intently watching Teela. She was thankful to Jo and Boney for calling and letting her know Bess arrangements. Boney had even met them when they arrived and led the three of them unbeknownst to Teela to the back of the crowded room. Now they stood beside her estranged lover offering support and love; something she desperately wanted to do for Teela.
Teela stood at the podium speaking about Bess and how she had touched all who were there in the room. Pax noticed the traces of darkness showing through Teela's foundation. Pax could clearly see that Teela was thinner than she appeared. Her complexion held none of the pink cherubic qualities she had looked upon just a little over a week ago. Pax was enveloped her suffering and was powerless to help. Her heart pined for the grief-stricken woman standing before the room. Pax's grip tightened around her sister-in-law's hand.

Her love for Teela was steadfast and true. She had realized that the day after Teela had been so belligerent towards her. No matter how hard she pushed and tried, Pax was not going to walk away and lose her, no matter what. Something is going on that you have not told me. I am not going away. See me. Know that I am here. Removing the dark sunglasses, Pax sat tall in her seat and boldly stared at Teela, willing her to glance to the back of the room. Soon, blue met green once again. Pax heart skipped then plunged. There was no recognition in the green meadows.




The dinner was held at Teela's. People were everywhere on the first floor and into the back yard. Several times, Teela's politeness was strained as she had to tell several of her guests that there was no smoking in the house. For the time being, an 8x10 of Bess rested upon the fireplace mantel. Teela thought was a good idea to remind former friends and colleagues why they were there and to say farewells. 

Teela walked out to the backyard and found that the picnic table was empty. She made her way to it and sat down to deeply contemplate where she would go from here. The hair on the back of her neck rose. She sensed that Pax was nearby. She could feel the intense blue eyes burning into her from somewhere. At this moment, she was apathetic. She couldn't make herself care about Pax. For days, she enveloped herself in the dulling sensation, thickening her skin for what was to come. There was only so much with which she could cope at one time. There was no room for Pax. She would deal with her some other time, on some other day. Just not now.
Footstep came softly behind her and she felt the dip of the bench beside her. Teela looked into the matching green eyes, and fell into the comforting hug that sometimes only a mother can provide. 

"How are you sweetheart?"

"Fine, mother."

Brushing hair back from the sullen face and pale skin, "How are you truly, my daughter?"

"Empty. Confused."

"When you father died," Caramella began after a few moments, "I too had those feelings. I felt so lost and not sure which way to turn really."

"I remember."

"You know what helped me?" she looked into her daughter face. "My friends. I finally let my friends provide me with a level of comfort that I needed. I listened to them, even when I did not want to. They knew what was best for me when I didn't even know."


"She was one." She took the hand in her and stroked the smooth skin. "I had a wonderful life with your father and it hurt me to no end when he died., but I mourned him, Teela and then moved on. Oh I still have moments when I miss him terribly, but it does not consume my every minute." She paused and gathered her thoughts once more.

"I know mom."

"You may not like this Teela, but I love you and I have to tell you whether you want to hear it or not."

"That's a hell of a lead in." 

"I have not interfered very much in your life..."

"Yeah, right."

"Not the way most mothers do. I am very progressive If I say so myself." She chuckled. 

"Why is everyone so damn interested in my personal life? Tell me this?"

"Because we cannot figure out why you are behaving this way. It's time you let go of the martyr act and see what you are truly doing. Everyone in that house knows how you've gone above and beyond caring for that woman when she was alive. They never cared about her. They never once came to see her in that place did they? No, you did. Now she's dead. It's time for you to move on honey."

"Mother, she just died a few days ago. How can you be so insensitive? Please give me time."

"Teela honey, you have had three long years to grief and mourn for Bess. When are you going to stop? I can't help wonder if you truly know why you are behaving like this. It can't only be for the loss of Bess the person or for Bess your significant other. She was neither that nor your soul mate. What is it really? Do you even know?"

"Mother, please."

"You have the opportunity to maybe find that all encompassing love with Pax that you did not find with Bess. But why are you willing to let someone who obviously loves you go so easily when you hang on tighter than a drum to a woman who didn't?"

"Mother, your timing could be better chosen for a discussion comparing the women that I have been with."

"Is that some twisted lesbian love-hate thing you never told me about?"

Chuckling in spite of herself, managed, "No mother. It's not some twisted lesbian love-hate thing."

"Then why sweetheart? You can tell momma."

"I don't know mom...kind of....I have this guilt, I guess."

"Over what? For what?"

"Bess probably. Not clearly defining our relationship before the stroke. I suppose I keep her as a reason to not get deeply involved with anyone else. I'm not sure I trust my...judgment in women...Hell I don't know all of the above and more probably. It's just too confusing right now."

"But it is a start that you are trying to find the why yourself." She studied her daughter. "Do you love her? Pax I mean?"

"Yeah, I think I do."

"Think? Teela, you took her ring. It is too late to think."

"I did, but I am not sure it was for the right reason. You know what I mean?"

"Oh baby, you have put yourself in a fine mess." She hugged her child. "Will you speak to her. She is waiting." 

"I can't mom. I just can't, not today."

"Teela. This is wrong."

"Mom, please. Stand in line with everyone else that is disappointed with me okay. Right now I don't want to think about anything."

"You're evading and running away."

"For now."

She kissed her daughter on the forehead and makes her away back across the lawn and to the balcony. Caramella hugged Pax and led her inside.

Pax experienced her first fall season in over twenty years. She felt the blazing summer heat dwindle through September into the drizzling cold rain of October. She had forgotten about the changing seasons and Michigan weather. After all she didn't have that in California.

California also didn't have the changing of the leaves. The brilliant fall collage of colors in Northern Michigan was breathtaking. Alone in her truck, she had taken a day trip to the North. She followed the tourist trails and came along a stretch of highway lined with a magnificent kaleidoscope of leaves. it was simply awe-inspiring. In her excitement she turned to the empty passenger seat forgetting for a moment that Teela was not there. She smiled thinking how wonderful it would have been if she were. After all these months, she was still haunted by the social worker.

Pax had also forgotten that along with the cold temperatures came the need for winter clothing. For that she wanted Felicia's help. Pax had instantly regretted her mistake. She became a living Barbie Doll for Felicia. The different outfits she had Pax trying on were wearing her patience thin. At least, she was not alone. Luke and Effram suffered along with her.

After three hours of shopping, they had stopped in the food court for a bite and to let the boys play in the arcade. 

"I can't believe shopping makes you this hungry," Pax shook her head.

"That's why they have a food court silly."

"I get it. Catchy concept."

"Hmmmm. Have you seen mom lately?"

"Oh yeah, almost three times this week. I pop in just before she goes to dinner. I know she would be awake then. Makes it better visit."

"And likely that you don't run into Teela." Felicia waited. She and Damian had talked about their sister many times. She had become a recluse, rarely going out except for work and to see mom. She even avoided them.

"Not likely I will do that anyway. She has made it very clear. It's over between us."

"I really don't think that's true and neither do you."

"Yeah I do Felicia." Sadness encompassed her heart quickly. "She pretty much said so before the memorial."  She paused. "I've only seen her once since then."

"Oh. When?"

"Couple days following the memorial. She stopped by the house..."

Pax stood frozen in the open door looking at the social worker. Her hands unconsciously went to smooth the tossed raven mane. She had been doing the exercises as Dr. Harrison had recommended. Sweaty and rumpled was not a way to greet someone after not seeing them for weeks. 

"Teela, hi."

"Pax. I am sorry to interrupt."

"No, no. You're not interrupting." The smile crept to her face without permission. The social worker was looking less fatigued and sullen. Still the essence that defined life was absent. It just felt too fantastic to behold the woman regardless. "Would you like to come in?” Please say yes.

"Ahh, no I don't think so. I have Thumper in the car."

"She can come in too. You know that."

"Pax..." She placed a hand upon the broad forearm and felt the shocks signal their familiarity. Oh God, I can't do this.

"Teela, come inside. We can talk. I'll listen, really."

Teela opened Pax's palm and placed the ring inside. She closed Pax's fingers tightly around them and looked up into closed eyelids shedding tears. She stroked the chiseled cheekbones once more. "Forgive me for hurting you please. I never meant to. But I need time to understand...I need time to fix me. I can't do that if we're together if we...I need time." 

"And then she was gone."

"She sounds as though she had finally recognized something was wrong with the whole situation. I don't like the fact that she had to hurt you to make that discovery."

"Neither do I."

"It does sound as though she needs time Pax. Bess' death was devastating. The gravity of your relationship, of your commitment was new. It could have been a bit too much."

Anger raging, she said, "I know this. It became the mantra that used to drum into my head each time I thought otherwise. Now it doesn't matter anymore because it's not true." Gritting her teeth, "She has had time: three months since the memorial. How much longer. Huh? Should I spend three years of my life pining away for her like she did for Bess?"

"No," came Felicia's soft reply. "Just recognize that you still love her Pax."

"That is beside the point. Obviously she doesn't love me. Not enough anyway."

"I still don't accept that."

"You should. I have." She looked around the square forbidding the tears to come. 

"Oohhh Pax. I am so sorry."

"Yeah, me too." She jabbed the fried rice with her fork absently. "I loved her so much."

"I know you still do." She squeezed her sister's trembling hands. "Go to her. Fight for her."

"I did that. Once is enough. This is the second time that she has run from me Felicia." She caught the sob. "Give me one good reason why I should risk getting hurt again?"

"Because the door was left open. She asked for time. She did not tell you good-bye."

"Why are you defending her?"

"Because I know how much you are still in love her, although it is painful now, and you are too angry to see it. You are in love with her Pax. When she finds the answers that she is seeking, she'll find out that she feels just as deeply for you. Then you two will come back together even stronger than before."

"You a fortune teller now?" Pax wiped the moisture from her eyes with the napkin.

"Maybe." Felicia studied her sister-in-law. "When she is ready Pax, will you be there to listen?"

Pushing the plate away from her, she said, "When she is ready? Don't hold your breath." She wiped her mouth in finality and threw the napkin on her plate. "Come on. Let's go find the boys."




....Are you kidding me? 


Thank you for taking the journey with Pax, Teela, Thumper and friends. I am sure, there will be more to them in the future. As always, I'd love to hear what you thought of Extension 147.

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