For complete disclaimers see part 1.
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Like a goddamn tennis match! Blue eyes followed back and forth, back and forth. Finally Byron Timmons had enough. “What else can I do for you, Mr. Ash?”
“What do you mean, what else? You haven’t done a damn thing for me yet.”
“Do something!” Will planted his hands on the police sergeant’s desk, leaning on his arms as he stared the officer down. “What are you going to do?”
“Mr. Ash, we’ve done everything that we can. It’s not in our hands. You need to speak with the coast guard, the airline-“
“I’ve done those things!” Will pushed off the desk, running his hands through his hair, frustration making him nearly burst out of his skin and throttle the officer before him.
Timmons sighed heavily. “Look, Mr. Ash, I feel for you, I really do-“
“Do you?” Will turned on him, noting the gold band on the officer’s left ring finger. He turned back to the desk the sergeant sat behind. “If your wife went down in a plane crash, Sergeant Timmons, and you were left behind, would you not want to do everything you possibly could to find her?”
Byron sighed, understanding fully what the distraught man was saying. “Look, Will, I understand what you’re going through-“
“No you don’t! How dare you say you have the first damn clue what I’m going through? My partner is out there somewhere, all alone.”
Sergeant just didn’t know what to say anymore, other than Will Ash needed to realize that his partner was dead, lying at the bottom of the ocean somewhere, and no matter how badly he wanted it, the man wasn’t coming back.
Will felt like screaming in his frustration, knowing there wasn’t a damn thing the cop behind the desk was going to do for him. Snatching his suit jacket from where he’d laid it in the second chair in front of the desk, he turned to leave.
Will turned, seeing Byron Timmons scribbling something on a piece of paper. He stood, extending his hand to the architect. Eyes narrowed in suspicious curiosity, Will snatched the paper from Byron’s hand, glancing down at a name and phone number. He looked at the officer with a raised brow.
“We grew up together. She’ll give you a deal.” Byron looked the tall man in the eye, giving him the best smile he could under the circumstances. The officer was truly touched by the level of grief and desperation he saw in Will’s eyes. Byron never thought about fags before, or gave them a whole lot of credit, but seeing this man before him try to keep it together, he had to admit he was touched, and really hoped the guy found what he was looking for.
“Thank you,” Will said, unsure what this Garrison person did, exactly. As if his mind was read, Timmons explained.
“Garrison owns Davies’ Hangar. She flies mostly cargo trips, but can help you out. Tell her I sent you.”
“I’m very grateful. Thank you, Sergeant.” Will extended a hand, the cop taking it in his warm one. They shared a brief bonded moment in time, one human being trying to help another, then it was gone. Will gathered his jacket and tucked the paper into his pocket, walking out of the police station with as much dignity as he could muster.
It had been two weeks since the crash, two weeks since he’d spoken with Dean, two weeks since he’d seen or kissed him, or told him he loved him. At least to his face. Every morning and every night before sleep, Will hugged Dean’s pillow against his chest, the Egyptian cotton, 400 count, still smelling slightly like the smaller man- his shampoo, scent of his skin and cologne.
Will’s boss had tried to make him take time off, but he couldn’t do it. He needed to work, needed to keep busy. Naomi was helping him to put together a memorial for Dean, something for their friends and scattered bits of family. Naomi didn’t share Will’s insistence that Dean was alive, but she supported him nonetheless. She had been wonderful, and more than a rock for him, which was amazing considering she’d lost her only brother. Hell, he was her only sibling. The service would be Saturday afternoon, followed by a small get-together at Will and Dean’s loft, catered.
Stepping out into the hot day, Will takes in the sounds and smells of the city his man loved so much. Dean would step out onto their balcony, hands crossed at the wrist as they dangled from the wrought iron rail, looking down over the streets and people. The softest smile would grace his full lips as he watched.
Will was filled with a lot of guilt, knowing that he had put Dean on that plane, a trip the attorney never would have taken of his own volition. If Will hadn’t been so damned pushy about getting out of the city for awhile, and seeing something new, something different.
Taking a deep breath, the architect hailed a taxi and pushed those thoughts from his mind. He knew they’d do him no good, and would only serve to hurt him. He hurt enough and didn’t need any more.
He was glad, however, that Jane and Peter Ratliff were actually involving themselves somewhat in the goings on of cleaning up Dean’s life. The attorney’s parents had been to the loft the previous weekend, helping Will go through Dean’s things. Jane had insisted on having something of her little boy’s, and Will had agreed, allowing her to take any one things she wanted. It had nearly broken his heart when she’d chosen Dean’s college class ring. Dean had been very old fashioned when they were dating, and had given that large, chunky ring to the young architect to wear, a symbol of how serious he was about their relationship. It wasn’t until the two men had exchanged rings four years ago that Will had stopped wearing it. There was no way he could deny Dean’s mother that.
“Has he said anything yet?”
Jenny Dupree shook her head, strawberry blonde bangs falling into her eyes and tickling her freckled nose. She still sat on the folding metal chair, knees together, skirt covering her legs just so, just like her Mamma taught her. Meredith Adams sighed heavily, glancing over at her youngest grandchild, who stood by the tree, away from everyone else. His suit-clad shoulders were slumped, light-colored brows drawn. She’d always fancied that Conrad Dupree looked kind of like Prince Harry of England, just much less rich.
“We’ve got to do something,” Meredith said absently, turning her attention back to the two matching white coffins before her, empty of course, though the kids had all picked one thing each to put inside to symbolize their parents. The grandmother had no idea what had been chosen, and it wasn’t her business to know; that was private between children and their mother and father.
Meredith worried about the children. She knew how angry Conrad was, though at twelve years old, he had no idea where to put that anger, just knew that he felt it, and that it was because his Mamma and Daddy were dead. They were all angry, angry at the good Lord, at the pilot, and the grass at their feet. None of it made any more sense than the other, but was there all the same. Walter almost hadn’t made it through the ordeal of the past two and a half weeks. Meredith shivered at the memory of that night, when Walter had fallen down nearly dead on their kitchen floor, his heart unable to take the grief that had stricken him in the moment he realized his little girl was dead. Trying to keep the family together was the only thing that was keeping Meredith sane. What Walter and the kids didn’t know was during her nightly baths, the grandmother of six, cried herself nearly silly, the tears splashing in the hot water. If she didn’t have to run after those kids all day, school being out for summer and all, she would have fallen apart long ago. A mother shouldn’t have to arrange her own daughter’s funeral. It just wasn’t right.
The preacher began to speak, Jenny resting her head against her grandmother’s shoulder. Meredith could hear her oldest grandson, Alan, crying softly from behind her, Walter sitting next to the boy, the two men holding each other up. Meredith wouldn’t allow the tears- she had to remain the glue, if only for a few hours more, until she could go take her nightly bath.
Reenie felt her eyes begin to well up as one of the most dearest friends she’d ever had, other than Rachel, walked over to her, bright, beautiful blue eyes so kind and filled with compassion.
“Hey,” Beth said softly, taking the smaller woman in her warm embrace. “I’m so sorry, Reenie. So terribly sorry.” She held the editor for a long time, letting her cry. Though the stage actress didn’t know Rachel Holt personally, only meeting her briefly a couple years ago. She’d heard Reenie talk about her time and time again, about her doomed marriage, about Rachel’s immense talent, and how the editor had been after the blonde author to move to New York for years. Beth was in town for a stint on Broadway, and made Reenie’s place her first stop once she’d hit the city.
“I just can’t believe she’s gone,” Reenie said, her tears finally slowing. She truly had no idea she could produce so many. It seemed that’s all she’d done for the thirteen days since she’d heard about Rachel’s plane going down. Pulling slightly away from Beth, the editor led them over to the couch, where Beth sat close to her, their knees touching. Blue eyes gave her their full attention as the dusky-skinned woman spoke of her friend. “She had such an amazing future, Beth.” Reenie shook her head in wonder. “I’ve never seen someone with so much inside of them, just waiting to get out and make the world a better place.”
“You really cared a lot about her,” Beth said softly, seeing her friend nod.
“Yes. She was my best friend.” A new watershed began, Beth easily taking her friend in her arms.
“Loss is not easy, Reenie,” she whispered, “no matter what form it takes. But I promise it gets easier. Soon you’ll be thinking about all the good times you had together, smiling to yourself as you drive down the street, thinking about something crazy Rachel said or did.” Reenie didn’t see the faraway look, or gentle smile in Beth’s eyes. “Your heart will mend, my friend. I promise. Even so, Rachel will always occupy a special place inside you.”
“It’s such a waste, Beth. God, such a waste.” Reenie’s tears dried up once more, for now, her head resting against Beth’s strong shoulder. “I never saw this coming.”
“We never do. People don’t realize that in the blink of an eye,” Beth snapped her fingers, “it can all be gone. Rachel knew how much you cared for her, Reen. She stayed here before she left, right?” Beth felt the editor nod. “No doubt you two had the time of your lives.”
Reenie chuckled, remembering the craziness that was Rachel and her the night before the blonde’s flight. They’d decided to buy a few bottles of wine, getting completely snockered as they bashed every man they’d ever known. More than once Reenie had wondered what if. What if things had been different? What if she could have turned her deep affection towards Rachel into something physical? Maybe then the author wouldn’t of had to jump on a plane to run from her husband.
“Yeah. We always have so much fun together. Had.” Reenie’s face crumbled again, Beth holding her tighter, rocking her and cooing softly.
Beth glanced up from where she was curled up on Reenie’s couch, flipping through the channels of late night television. Due to her late nights on stage, Beth had become quiet the night owl. The editor had finally fallen asleep three hours ago.
The tall brunette uncurled her body as the knocking sounded again. Walking across the dimly lit loft, she peeked through the fisheye, noting the warped version of a man standing in the hallway.
“Who is it?” she called out, having no intentions of letting some strange man into her friend’s apartment at one-thirty in the morning.
“Matt Frazier,” he said, running a hand through his hair, strands wet from the pouring rain outside. He clarified, as he didn’t recognize the voice on the other side of the door. “Rachel’s husband.”
Beth quickly unlocked the multitude of locks on Reenie’s door, finally pulling it open to reveal the man before her. His brown hair was plastered to his head, hanging in his eyes. The suit he wore was wrinkled, and he looked like he’d slept in it for two days.
Matt looked at the gorgeous woman before him, stunned into silence for a moment before remembering why he was there. “Uh, hi. I don’t think we’ve met.” He extended his hand, feeling the tall woman take it in her warm one.
“Hi, Matt. I’m Beth Sayers, a friend of Reenie’s.”
Matt nodded, looking over the brunette’s shoulder. “Is she here?”
“Yes, though she’s asleep. She’s had a rough night.” From the dark circles under Matt Frazier’s eyes and day’s beard growth, Beth surmised Matt hadn’t had a red letter day, either.
“She knew I was coming, right? We talked on the phone.”
“She didn’t mention it, but come on in. Get dry and war up. Want some coffee?” the actress asked as she walked further into the apartment, flicking the light on in the kitchen as she entered. She heard Matt’s affirmative response behind her, and set about to get the coffee maker perking to life. Refolding the bag of fresh coffee, Beth placed it into the cabinet, turning to lean back against the counter. “I’m so sorry about Rachel, Matt. I only met her once, but I know how much she meant to Reenie. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
The detective smiled, though it was very sad. “Thank you. I appreciate that. I have to say,” he said, running a hand once again through his already disheveled hair. “This has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with. Reenie and I are going to be meeting with Rachel’s publisher tomorrow to finalize a few things.”
Beth nodded in understanding. “You’re not from the city, are you?”
“No. We live in Oregon.” Matt cringed inside, knowing he had to stop saying ‘we’. There was no longer a ‘we’, only a very sad, lonely cop who hated himself every time he had to face his own reflection. Guilt ate at him anew each and every morning, his new constant companion.
“Beautiful state. I lived there for a year or so in my early twenties.” Beth crossed her arms over her chest, head slightly tilted as she studied her welcome company.
“Do you live in New York, then?” Matt peeled his wet jacket from his shoulders, folding it lightly over the back of a kitchen chair.
“Nope. Right now I’m in Arizona. Reenie lets me stay here when I have a show in the city,” the brunette explained, reaching behind her to grab two coffee mugs, setting them lightly on the counter.
“Broadway or off-Broadway, depending. Sometimes I do summer stock.” Beth shrugged, easy going. “Just depends on what I feel like doing.”
“Wow. An actress, or singer, or dancer…?” Matt questioned with a raised brow. Beth chuckled.
“I’m certainly not a singer, though don’t exactly have two left feet. I’m an actress.”
Matt nodded approvingly. “That’s great. How do you know Reenie? Are you a writer, too?”
“Oh, god no! I can barely write a decent letter let alone a masterpiece like I hear Rachel can write.” Beth tried to keep her smile, seeing Matt’s eyes darken with pain. “During the days when Reenie was a talent scout for a local agency, she and I met. Been good friends ever since.”
They both turned to see Reenie enter through the dining room. Without a word, Rachel’s husband walked over to the shorter woman, taking her in a warm embrace, Reenie losing herself in the breadth of his chest and arms, feeling warm and safe. Though there was a part of her that was still angry with him for what he’d done to Rachel, he was her last link to the blonde, and felt somehow comforted by him.
Beth felt like she was encroaching upon a very private moment and decided it was her cue to leave stage left.
Dark blonde brows drew, green eyes studying the ring before her. She smelled smoke, but saw nothing. Leaning down, Rachel tucked a stand of hair behind her ears, squinting at the small stack of twigs she’d carefully arranged. Come on, you bastard. It was her eighth try, trying every configuration she could think of. Never in her life had she felt so stupid or inept.
“Shit,” she muttered, wracking her brain for the ninth try when she saw something fluttering. “Fire! I have fire!” Hopping up to her knees, the blonde leaned over, moving a stick aside to see the tiny flame trying to lick its way over another twig. “Yesssss!” The author sat up, watching in utter fascination. It was almost like she’d never seen flame before, so exciting it was.
“What happened?” Dean asked, out of breath as he ran from the jungle, where he’d been gathering food, at Rachel’s cry.
“I got it started.” She grinned at him, turning her full attention back to the budding flame. The attorney fell to his knees beside her.
”If only I could add a little of my flame to give it a boost,” he joked. The blonde chuckled beside him. “I never thought I’d be so thrilled to hear someone yell fire before.”
“Yeah, me, either.” Together they watched in silence as the flame grew, chewing up the kindling it was given, Rachel slowly adding more as the flame’s hunger grew.
“It’s beautiful, Rachel.”
“Here- have some nuts for your troubles.”
The blonde accepted the small handful, freshly picked, chewing contentedly. Dean leaned back on his elbows, stretching long legs out in front of him and crossing his ankles. He looked up into the seamless blue sky, eyes closing at the radiant light that shone down on him.
“I wonder what Will is doing right now,” he said, voice soft. Rachel glanced over at him, tossing another nut into her mouth.
“My partner.” Dean sighed, though it was heavy and sad. “It kills me, thinking what he must be going through right now, thinking I’m dead.”
“I’m really sorry, Dean. I bet you miss him.”
“Like my own breath.”
Rachel studied Dean’s profile, the growth on his chin and upper lip giving him a more rugged, handsome look to the baby-faced man who had crawled up onto shore. “How long have you been together?” As the blonde listened to Dean’s story of him and Will, she felt herself grow wistful. She couldn’t imagine being with someone for more than ten years and yet still talk so highly about that person. Hell, she and Matt had only been together for four years all told, and she had little to no respect left for the detective. What was that kind of love like?
“What does he do?”
Dean smiled up at the sky, eyes still closed. “He’s the best damn architect in Manhattan.”
Rachel also smiled, then she snorted. “I hope you don’t mind the questions. I love to ask them.”
Dean cracked an eye open, glancing over at his beach-mate. He looked at her profile, the delicate features, soft, full lips. Rachel truly was a beautiful woman. No, not quite. Yes, she was beautiful, but it was more than that. She was… cute? Dean wasn’t sure that was the word, either. She had a gentleness about her, yet was aloof. He hadn’t quite been able to get a handle on her over the past week they’d been on the island. Usually he was good at reading people, nailing down what made them tick. Not this one; the petit blonde was an enigma. It was easy to see the intelligence behind her green eyes, and her mind was always turning, but she never revealed what she was thinking about. She’d be a great poker player.
“Are you a reporter or a shrink?” he asked warily. The blonde chuckled, shaking her head.
“Neither. Just a curious person.”
“Okay. But turn about….” He raised a brow, Rachel nodding in acknowledgement.
As they sat in companionable silence, Rachel thought about the man sitting next to her- opinionated, selfish and somewhat childish at times, as well as flamboyant. She knew Pam wasn’t fond of him, and Mia just didn’t quite know what to make of him. Michael, who was finally recovering from his ordeal as well as the loss of his wife, Melissa, avoided him. No doubt Michael sensed something different in the gay man, considering the tall Texan was a man’s man, deep voice, gruff and crude, everything Dean wasn’t. Even so, the author had noticed Dean checking out Michael’s ass, in his tight Wranglers, on more than one occasion. If Michael ever caught him, no doubt there’d be hell for Dean to pay. They were a motley crew, everyone trying to find their place among the dysfunctional family, including the blonde.
Rachel, a natural loner, was finding it difficult to find the inner peace she so craved. Every hour of the day something that lent to their survival, had to be accomplished. The blonde author certainly had a new appreciation for her life back home. She was hungry, she opened the fridge or kitchen cabinets. Nothing there, fine, she jumped into her car and headed to the nearest Burger King. She had to go to the bathroom, great, tug her pants down, do her thing and clean up. Simple one, two, three. She was tired or cold, she simply curled up in her soft bed, covered by an even softer comforter.
Last night Rachel had lain on the hard ground, a layer of palm fronds her mattress, the cold air coming off the ocean to caress and chill flesh. She had curled up onto her side, bringing her knees as close to her chest as she could, feeling like she was about to be born again. The other sleeping bodies around her had all been so temping, their body heat a beacon to the blonde, who just couldn’t bring herself to give in to her desire for warmth. By nature Rachel wasn’t a touchy, feely kind of girl. She accepted hugs from friends, and in fact loved physical affection, but something inside her- irrational fear of rejection perhaps- wouldn’t allow her to initiate physical contact, unless the other person was under duress, or the person had managed to enter into Rachel’s tiny inner circle of trust. It was childish and crazy, both of which she knew, but true all the same. So, instead she had tried to curl up even tighter and sleep.
Rachel felt herself becoming suffused with guilt. Over the past week, she’d watched her fellow islanders go through a myriad of emotions: anger, grief, profound sadness and frustration, just to name a few. She’d watched them fight with each other and go off by themselves, crying when they thought no one was looking.
The blonde found herself looking forward to each day, wondering what new adventures and circumstances it would bring. She was actively filing away every sight, every sound and scent, which would later be taken out and dusted off for future story fodder and reference. Did that make her a horrible person? She didn’t regret their situation, other than those who had lost their lives, and those were being torn apart back home. This brought her meandering thoughts to her husband. What was Matt thinking of all this? Was he relieved? Now he could have his mistress, a woman Rachel had no idea of the identity. All she knew was that the woman had rather large breasts, and apparently thought a lightning bolt shaved into her pubic hair was fun for the whole family. Was Matt sad? Rachel couldn’t even allow herself to think about Reenie, who she knew would be devastated. The dark-haired editor was the one person in the world, next to Daisy, who the blonde trusted with her every emotion.
Sighing, the author looked into the growing flames.
Whipping her head back, Denny felt the long, wet strands slap against her mostly naked back. After that first day, her shirt had been ruined and torn as they’d used it for a food container. She wasn’t keen on walking around in her jeans and bra, but it did keep her cooler, in all truth. She just pretended that the slight belly she had didn’t exist.
Reaching behind her, the brunette grabbed the thick rope of her wet hair, squeezing out the excess water, gasping as the cold stream slid down her back and into the waistband of her panties. Looking around, she realized she was still alone, and slid the panties down her legs and allowing them to dry on a rock next to the small, fresh water pond set at the back of the island, surrounded by high rock walls and moss covered ledges. An incredible waterfall served nicely for a shower, even if they had no soap. They’d had another drenching rain the night before, so the waterfall was running strong. As the day continued on, it was peeter out until the next rain.
Denny had spent the past couple days exploring as much of the island as she could. She figured it was anywhere from three to five miles across, most dense foliage, three separate beaches, though two were smaller, one, where Rachel, Mia and Pam had landed, very rocky. She had found her bathing spot the day before- secluded, beautiful and the only fresh water waterfall on the island. It wasn’t long before guilt made her show Pam and Mia, who had been taking their own tour of the island.
The water was cold, reaching to just below Denny’s naked breasts, which had become one giant roadmap of goosebumps ending in painfully erect nipples. A shiver passed through her body as she dunked her entire body, spitting water out as she rubbed it out of her eyes. She used some torn material from her shirt, trying her best to wash off the sweat from her pits, under her breasts and between her legs. Denny had a huge phobia of being responsible for body odor, so this was all a great big test in patience and tolerance for her. She was doing her best, washing the best she could daily, in the pond, and in the ocean before that, but she still felt sticky and gross. Denny wasn’t a particularly vein person physically, but she was vein about her hair- thick and glorious- and clean! It was near killing her to not be able to wash or brush it. It was almost an obsession for her. Hannah always teased her about it.
Denny continued the mindless work of rinsing off, her chilled skin quickly getting used to the chill. Though she was in almost perfect shade from the surrounding trees, the air was still hot. Her mind veered to her partner and the woman who had been haunting her dreams. If she closed her eyes for even a moment, Hannah’s dark eyes came back to her, twinkling mischievously as they did, even if the brunette were being good as gold. That had been one of the things that had made Denny fall in love with her in the first place.
At twenty-five, Denny had been the manager of Mile, a popular coffee hot spot in downtown Buffalo, learning the tricks of the trade from her boss and friend, as well as Mile owner, Joni Sanchez. Joni was twenty years older than Denny, but she was feisty and knew every trick there was to run a successful business, and she taught them all to her protégé. Joni instinctively knew that someday Denny would have her own place. Lo and behold, she was right.
On Denny’s twenty-sixth birthday, she went to the bank and began talks about taking out a business loan. She’d always had a good head for business, yet had no experience and no formal education. Nor did she have any collateral. This made things tough, and near impossible. Eventually she’d managed to get someone to believe in her dream, and financing began. She got hold of a local realtor that specialized in commercial properties, and suddenly she was in business.
The old shoe store began to take shape, it’s bare, brick walls cleaned and twenty-foot ceilings painted. Used equipment was bought and put into place, and a mixed bag of tables and chairs arranged. She had already started hiring, the would-be baristas mopping, cleaning, lifting, grunting and sweating along with their boss to get DiRisio’s ready on time.
It was the day before opening, and Denny had done all of her hiring, but had forgotten to take down the Help Wanted sign. The bells above the door jingled as a woman stepped through, looking around.
”We open tomorrow,” Denny said, glancing up from where she was trying to fix the bean grinder.
“I want to apply,” the woman said, stepping up to the counter and leaning over it slightly so she could watch the brunette. Denny looked at her briefly before realizing her hand was stuck in the motor.
“Shit,” she whispered, trying to be cool as she yanked her hand. “I’m fully staffed,” she grunted, cursing once more.
“Do you need help?” the woman asked, slightly amused.
“Nope. Got everything perfectly under control.”
“So I see,” the woman snickered. Denny glared at her over her shoulder.
“You must not want a job very bad, laughing at who would be your boss.” Though Denny was joking with the attractive woman with the dark hair and teasing eyes, the look of remorse on the woman’s face was just too good to resist teasing her.
“Look, I just got out of a really bad marriage, and I need a job desperately. I’m available for any shift, any day, doing whatever you want done. Just please give me a chance. Okay?”
Denny stopped what she was doing, standing up straight, hand still caught in the machine, and looked into the woman’s dark eyes, seeing the desperation there, mixed with her natural fire.
“What’s your name?”
“You help me get unstuck and I’ll think about it.”
Older than the rest of the crew at twenty-eight, Hannah was a wonderful employee, helpful and smart. She and Denny hit it off immediately, and began to spend a lot of time together. Hannah was one of the only full-time people at DiRisio’s because she wasn’t in school, and was available for any shift. Denny began to count on her, and eventually promoted her to manager. It only took six months before Denny realized she’d fallen in love with her employee, and had no clue that Hannah was in love with her. One night as they were cleaning up after a busy night, a local band playing in the corner, things had broken wide open, the backroom seeing more flesh than it ever imagined. The next day Hannah told Denny she wanted more, but couldn’t date the boss, and was giving her two weeks notice.
Denny, who had climbed onto a rock in a rare sunny spot in the canopy of trees, allowed herself to dry and warm as she starred up into the cloudless sky. What was Hannah doing? Was she okay? Was her Aunt Moira there for her?
The brunette brought her hand up, wiping at her eye, which she rubbed as it was tickled by an escaping tear. The amusing thing was, Hannah would love the island. The dark-eyed woman loved the ocean, and relished any time in the sun and surf. They’d vacationed on the island of Kauai in Hawaii on their sixth anniversary, and Denny nearly had to drag Hannah to the airport, dark eyes filled with tears at leaving paradise. And now, ironically, the coffee shop owner was stranded in paradise. Fate sure had a sick sense of humor.
Denny heard something, and quickly grabbed her jeans, holding them to her naked body when blonde hair emerged from the dense foliage.
“Oh! Sorry.” Rachel was about to scurry away when she heard her name softly called.
“It’s okay. Come on in- the water’s great.” Denny grinned, lying back down, though she kept herself covered. The blonde entered the small area.
“Are you sure? I can come back later,”
“Not mine to horde. Help yourself.” Denny closed her eyes as she rested her head back onto her arm, trying to give the author her privacy. “Do you want me to go?” she added.
“No. I’m not going to run you out, Denny. You were here first.”
The brunette grinned, unable to help it. “That reminds me of my older brother and me when we were kids. I called it first!” Denny heard Rachel chuckle, as well as the tell tale rustling of clothing being removed. “Man, we used to fight over the front seat.”
“I call shotgun!” they both exclaimed in unison, Denny’s eyes opening to see the blonde grinning at her from the pool.
“Exactly!” Denny sat up, drawing her legs up to cover her breasts, but making sure her jeans were placed just so over other parts further south. “Do you have any siblings?”
Rachel nodded, dipping her head and smoothing her hair back out of her face. “Sisters. I grew up the youngest of four.”
“All girls?” Denny rolled her eyes at the blonde’s nod. “Oh man. Your poor parents.”
“Nah. We weren’t all that bad. Hell, I was like every parent’s wet dream.” Rachel chuckled, an evil twinkle in her green eyes. “I did nothing wrong- no smoking, no drinking, no sex, in fact I was a complete prude. It was pretty sad.”
“Really? Quite the good girl, huh?”
“Yeah. Too good. I was extremely self-righteous.” Rachel laughed, lowering herself until the water was to her shoulders, enjoying the coolness on her skin. “It was pretty bad.”
Denny smiled, lying back on her rock. “I was evil. My father has a head full of gray hair, and I think I gave him every one. Finally I got a clue in my early twenties. Or most likely, I was of age and on my own, so it wasn’t as fun anymore.” They both laughed at that, then a companionable silence took over. Denny put voice to a question that had been rolling around in her head for over a week. “What do you think happened?”
Rachel didn’t have to ask the brunette to clarify. She thought about her response as she climbed out of the cool water, allowing it to fall from her flesh in sprinkled waves. Tugging on her underwear and bra, the blonde climbed onto a rock similar to Denny’s. Finally she answered. “I’ve wondered that, too. I think it must have been engine failure or something. But then again, we should have been over the northern Atlantic, and this obviously isn’t the northern Atlantic.”
“I’ve thought about that, too. Were they off course? That badly?” She glanced over at the author, trying not to notice the woman’s beautiful body, basically naked as her underwear was all but completely see-through.
“I don’t know.” Rachel shook her head slightly, staring up into the sky, imaging a huge commercial liner flying overhead, and imagining herself on it. Then images of the crash came before her mind’s eye, snippets, mostly the emotions that went along with the events. She didn’t want to think of those things, hearing the screams and feeling the bile in her own throat. Rachel’s nights had been dotted with nightmares and memories. She’d wake up, chest heaving, heart feeling like it would pound out of her body, and that the others could hear it. As if reading her mind, Denny spoke.
“I hate the nightmares I have now. It’s like they chase me, you know?” She glanced over to meet Rachel’s gaze, and saw the blonde’s nod.
“Yeah.” Rachel’s voice was soft, filled with compassionate understanding. She looked into Denny’s eyes, thinking the brunette would make a wonderful character.
“So does anyone else realize who you are yet?” Denny’s cracked a grin, which the blonde returned, though it was incredibly shy. She looked back to the sky, presenting her profile to the brunette.
“I don’t think so. I haven’t said anything, and don’t intend to.” She glanced quickly at Denny, conveying all she needed to with a flash of her green eyes. Denny chuckled again, nodding her understanding. “Oh, by the way,” the blonde said absently, closing her eyes as she soaked in the day. “I got a fire started finally.”
Goddamn, what I wouldn’t do for my Stetson… Michael stood on the rock, feet wide spread as he studied the shallow pool of sea water below. He clenched his hands, feeling the slight edge of his fingernails biting into the rough palms of his large hands, then his fingers were stretched again. The sun beat down on his head, his scalp burning, and the rays almost blinding on the glittering water he had been staring into for the past hour. He let out a war cry as he pounced on a long, silver fish that swam into the pool as the tide came back in, filling the small water pit.
“Shit!” he exclaimed as the squirming fish got away from him. Again. With a heavy sigh, he took his place again, stance wide and ready.
“Do you realize just how much easier that would be if you had a spear?” Dean asked from where he lounged on the beach.
“When you can do better you let me know,” the Texan said between clenched teeth, never taking his eyes off the pool as he waited for the tide to come in again.
“Jesus, Michael!” Dean exclaimed. “You’ve been at this for an hour, like some sort of brute Neanderthal or something. You’re never going to catch anything that way.”
Michael had heard just enough out the little faggot’s mouth. He whirled on the man, hands clenched into fists. He was pissed enough, not being able to catch anything, and the little fruit sitting on his flaming ass doing absolutely nothing!
“Listen here, you little queer, keep your fuckin’ mouth shut or I’ll shut it for ya!”
“What did you call me?” Dean got to his feet, trying to not shake in the shadow of the big man that he knew could lay him out flat with one well-placed fist. Hell, even a crappily placed fist, the attorney would be out for the count.
“I ain’t got no use for fairies, so stay clear, boy.” Michael’s growl made his intent clear. He out-sized Dean by a good four inches, and used that advantage as much as possible, squaring his wide shoulders. The pasty pale little man was nothing compared to the line-backer sized mechanic.
“Give it your best shot, Bobby Joe.”
“You little bastard!”
“Hey! Stop it!” Pam ran down the beach, throwing herself in between the two men, a hand on either of their chests. Michael fought the urge to throw the doctor aside and go after his target. The veterinarian looked from one to the other. “What the hell is the matter with you guys? Jesus! The redneck and the queer.” She laughed at her own joke. “It sounds like a bad sitcom.”
Michael took a step back, Pam’s hand dropping away from him. He took several deep breaths, muscles in his jaw bulging with the effort of restraint. Dean brushed himself off, also taking a slight step back from the older woman, eyes never leaving the Texan.
“Now, either you boys kiss and make up or stay on opposite sides of the island. I’m sick of pulling you two apart.” Once again she looked from one to the other, noting Michael’s glare at her words. “It’s a form of speech, Michael! For crying out loud!”
He said nothing, just turned and walked back to his fishing hole, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, muttering about fairies and fruit flies. Dean held his chin higher, his pride in tatters around his feet, but he wasn’t to let that son of a bitch know that.
“Thank you, Pam,” he said softly, then turned and disappeared into the foliage, too many memories of locker room encounters and beatings flowing through his mind.
Hannah Donnelly sighed as she opened the strong box that had been hidden on the top shelf of the master bedroom closet. With shaking hands, she inserted the key into the tiny lock, turning it with a small pop. The lid was heavy as she lifted it, squeaking slightly on its hinges. Inside she saw some bank papers, the velvet box Hannah kept her grandmother’s ring in, and the very edge of some bills. Slowly pushing the bank papers aside, Hannah saw the money coming into view. Her hand went to her mouth as she remembered so well what it was for.
“Here, we’ll put the big bills in here,” Denny had explained, taking the four hundred dollar bills from Hannah and tossing them inside the strong box. She grinned at her partner. “That way we won’t be tempted, and can save.”
Hannah slowly lowered herself to the bed, eyes never leaving the money. She reached inside the strong box, taking the bills out and tucking them into her palm. They had just counted those three weeks ago- $750.
“See? There’s our souvenir money!”
Hannah remembered how the baby blues had twinkled at Denny’s declaration. Their annual trip to Disney World, a place they were both addicted to. They had both started taking at least fifty dollars from each paycheck so they wouldn’t have to pay for the trip on their credit card, as they had just about gotten them paid off.
Crumpling the money in her fist, Hannah brought her fists to her face, the tears coming once more. She had been looking for Denny’s insurance papers, and instead found yet another piece of her partner, something else to remind her of just what she’d lost. She was haunted by the all too brief phone call, grateful for it, yet hearing Denny’s panicked voice in her head again and again.
“Han..a! …annah, …d, thank god. Hon…y, … ove ou! Something… wrong.”
“What? I can’t understand you.” Hannah felt her stomach twist as it was gripped in fear. “What?”
Then strangely, clear as day, “I love you! Always know that.”
The line went dead.
Sniffling and wiping her eyes with her sleeve, Hannah set the money aside and turned back to the strong box, looking for what she’d started. Grabbing a handful of papers, she thumbed through them, having to read the forms sometimes two or three times as her concentration was shot. Finally finding what she was after, Hannah tugged the folded forms out of their envelope and shook them open, smoothing out the creases. As she read the legal talk and terms, Hannah felt her stomach roil. No amount of money meant anything. All she wanted was Denny back.
“Damn you, Denny,” she cried, throwing the forms off the bed with a vicious cry, then sending the strong box to follow in their fate. Anger filled her, creating a rage within that she felt radiating in every cell, making her tremble. She was angry at Denny, angry at her cousins in Milan who asked her to visit, angry at the pilot and angry at God.
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