Disclaimers: See Part 1
“It was right here, I swear…I'm not lying. I can't believe this!” Constance's voice escalated. “I did not imagine this Jessica; I know what I saw. I know what I..”
“Ms. Blackhawk,…Constance, shut up a minute!” Jessica snapped, and then looked down embarrassed at her reaction. When she looked back the other woman was standing there, slack-jawed, but quiet. “I'm sorry I yelled at you, but I need to concentrate. I can't properly check out this area if you are having a meltdown. Please, let me do my job, ok?”
“You mean you believe me? You don't think I'm a nut?”
“I don't know if you're a nut or not. What I do know is there is a mark here in the grass, a crushed area. Something was laying here. Now whether or not it was a Bigfoot, that remains to be seen, but there was definitely something laying here. And look there are some partial prints heading toward the water's edge. I can't make out anything else too many rocks around the water for prints.” Jessica traced the path through the air with her finger to show Constance. “Whatever was here either got up and walked away, or was carried off in that direction. You said you were sure it was dead so I'm going with carried. Chupa, come here boy! Time to work.”
Chupa and Ruby were down at the edge of the pool trying to catch crawfish and small minnows that darted through the water. Hearing his name he bounded toward his human, ready to help her. What would she do without him?
Jessica reached into her bag and pulled out the short lead and snapped it to his collar. “Ok boy, easy find, find Chupa.” The furry detective began sniffing around the crushed grass searching for any olfactory evidence of humans. He was led around the imprint and then along the partial trail, stopping at the edge of the rocky pool. Chupa sat and looked up at Jessica, having found nothing. A huge smile broke her face and excitement surged through her. “Good boy Chupa, good boy. Go play Fuzzybutt.” Jessica turned to Constance, filled with obvious excitement. “Did you see that? Damn what a dog!”
The other woman stared blankly at Jessica. The doctor was obviously ecstatic about something, but she had no idea what it could be. “Uhhh, yeah I saw that. But, what exactly did I see? It looked like he found nothing.”
“Exactly, he found nothing!” Jessica beamed again, so proud of her canine partner.
“Okaaaay. I don't think I get it doctor.”
“Oh, sorry. You see Chupa is trained to find human scent, remains and artifacts. The majority of my investigations can be written off as soon as Chupa puts his nose to the site. He finds people scent, I know the report is a hoax, or at least suspect. He found nothing here, so I know that whatever you saw, and whatever dragged it away, was not human.”
“So you believe me then?”
“I believed you saw something all along. But I believe Chupa when he tells me what you saw was not human. I'm still not sure what kind of animal it was though, so I have some work to do.”
Jessica got down on her hands and knees and began to examine the crushed area. As her eyes adjusted she began to find hairs in the grass. She picked them up with tweezers, examined them closely, and then placed them in a collection vial. She continued examining the area for another twenty minutes, methodically finding hair samples and bottling them. She examined the trail as well, and collected more hairs. She made notes on the footprints, planning to caste them later. She continued to scan the rocks looking for anything out of the ordinary. “How big was the creature you saw?”
“Not much taller than me, but heavier, thicker.”
“Not much taller than you? It could be a juvenile then. The average height for bipeds in this area is six and a half- seven feet, according to sources. A grown adult could have carried one your size easily. But where? What would they do with the body?”
“You said that rather matter of fact Constance.”
“Legend has it that the Stone Men always bury their dead. They mourn, they rejoice, they are very much like us. Except they have not been jaded by worldly ways like we have. They are stronger spiritually and resisted the ways of man.”
Suddenly, the dogs stopped playing along the water's edge and perked up their ears. The women noted the dogs' actions and listened silently to the surrounding woods. A low moan could be heard somewhere in the distance. The sound increased in volume for the next several seconds until a guttural crying moan could be heard, echoing around them in the grotto.
“What the hell is that?” Constance asked in a whisper.
“If I had to guess, I would say a mourning mother.”
Another mournful scream reverberated around them, causing Chupa to cower and shake, while Ruby's hair stood up along her back and she began to growl deeply.
Jessica listened to the next cry, which sounded closer than the last. “C'mon, let's get the hell out of here. I don't want to be here in the path of an angry mamasquatch.”
The quartet quickly made their way out of the grotto listening to the sorrowful screams coming from the forest. By the time they reached the truck it sounded as if the cries were quite close. Constance jumped in behind the wheel, starting the motor. Jessica jerked the passenger door open and was nearly knocked out of the way as Chupa jumped into the cab of the truck. Ruby bounded into the bed and watched the forest edge growling the entire time. Jessica slid into the cab next to a shivering Chupa and looked at Constance. “I know you're gonna think I'm nuts but can we sit here a minute. I want to record the screams and see if anything immerges from the woods. I feel pretty safe being in the truck, is that ok?” She was digging frantically in her bag looking for the micro-recorder, and her camera.
“Jessica your recorder is in the front pocket of your bag, and if you're looking for your camera it's hanging on your shoulder.”
The harried professor looked up at Constance wide-eyed, “Right, thanks. I'm a little keyed up right now. This is amazing.” Glancing at her cowering canine, “I hope you don't mind him being up here. I think he nearly wet his fur.” She gave Chupa a quick ear scratch then clicked on her recorder and held it out the truck window. The screams got closer and closer causing Ruby to bark and growl in full alert. Jessica continued to record waiting for something to burst through the trees.
Then suddenly, it was quiet, completely quiet. Jessica scanned the tree line looking for any signs of movement. She picked up her camera and zoomed into the trees seeking, looking. “We're being watched. Somewhere in those trees, something is hiding and watching us. C'mon, step out here, let us see you. C'mon, step on out.” She was quietly pleading with the unseen presence. They waited several minutes but nothing appeared.
Then, to Jessica's surprise she heard the driver's door open. Jerking her head around she watched as the other woman crawled out of the truck. “Constance, what the hell are you doing? Constance…”
The farmer eased around the front of the truck and walked slowly toward the tree line. “Constance!” Jessica loudly whispered, but the other woman did not acknowledge it; she just continued a slow easy step toward the trees. Jessica noticed that Constance had a bag in her hand, an old cotton flour sack, which appeared lumpy. The professor watched in amazement as the veterinarian stopped and knelt 25 feet from the edge of the woods. Jessica quickly lifted her camera and began snapping one photo after another; documenting the woman's every move. Constance reached within the bag and pulled out several apples and laid them on the ground, then bowed her head and raised empty palms toward the woods. After several seconds she rose to her feet and backed away from where she had been kneeling. Jessica followed Constance's progress through her viewfinder and finally lowered the camera when she rounded the front of the truck and got back in the cab.
After fifteen minutes of silence Constance said, “Jessica it's getting dusky dark. I don't think we're going to see anything. Let's go ok?”
“Yeah, I think we're done for now. Damn that was wild.”
“Yes it was; I wasn't expecting all that action. I was spooked there for a few minutes to be honest.”
“Yeah? You could have fooled me. What were you doing anyway, may I ask?”
“I was giving honor to the Nun Yunu Wi. I gave the apples as tribute. It wasn't much but they were all I had.”
“So, you were honoring the Bigfoot?”
“No, I was honoring an ancient mountain spirit, one that shared the land with my ancestors. I wanted to demonstrate that I am still willing to share this land with it.”
The two women rode for several minutes in silence, both reflecting on their experience. Jessica found herself wandering back to Constance. This was the most amazing person she had ever met, and she did not want the time to end, she longed for more, and needed more. “Constance, hmmmm, it's kinda late, and I'm a little hungry. Could I interest you in some dinner; my treat?”
Constance glanced over at Jessica who was shyly wearing her heart-winning smile. “Uhhh, I really can't…”
“Oh, well that's ok. I mean, I was just trying to pay you back for the experience this afternoon. I just thought that I could buy you dinner for all you did. So I'm sorry, I…”
“Jessica, let me finish. I would gladly go and have dinner with you tonight, but I can't, I have to fix dinner for my mother. I'm sorry. Uhhhh, you could join us, .. if you like? I put on a lamb roast earlier, if you're interested.”
“That would be nice; if it's not too much trouble.”
“No, no not at all. It will be……interesting with my mother. Is that ok?”
“Absolutely! I just survived a close encounter of the hairy kind, I can survive a mother.”
Constance smiled but thought to herself, “ You had better chances with the Bigfoot doctor .”
Jessica wore a huge smile as well, as she wondered, “ How in the hell am I going to get through dinner. I hate lamb .”
“C'mon in Jessi, would it be ok if Chupa stayed out here in the mud room? Mother hates the idea of dogs in the house, I'm sorry.” She spoke quietly as the monster-hunting group walked into the rear of the Blackhawk home. “She is really strange about animals for a woman who married a farmer.”
“That's fine; Chupa can stay out here and keep Ruby company. Didn't you say you had another dog?”
“Yeah, but he likes to hang around the livestock, sometimes he sleeps out in the barn instead of coming in the house. Just depends on his mood.” Constance kicked off her boots and stepped into the kitchen. “C'mon in, can I get you a drink? We have iced tea, milk, Dr. Pepper, or I could make coffee.”
“Dr. Pepper would be great, is it diet?”
“Ahhh, my exact poison, thank you. Could I help you with dinner?”
“No, I'm good. But I would like company while I cook.”
Jessica smiled brightly, “My pleasure”, dropping into one of the kitchen chairs after she was handed her drink.
The two women fell into an easy discourse, talking about cryptozoology and their individual interests in the subject.
“So Doctor, I have to ask. What got you interested in cryptozoology? Leonard Nimoy's “In Search Of?”
Constance noticed an immediate change in Jessica's demeanor as she answered. “Uh, no. Actually it was because of an experience I had when I was young. My family has always been nature nuts. We went camping all the time, different places, and different seasons, rain, snow we didn't care. “ Built character ” dad always said. Anyway, we were camping near the North Carolina, Tennessee line one weekend; we had set up near this beautiful waterfall, deep in the woods. My twin brother, Jamie, and I were playing at the water's edge when we heard a noise in the bushes. We looked up and there stood a giant of a biped, had to have been eight, nine feet. It was just staring at us, watching. I screamed and took off running, thinking Jamie was right behind me. I ran right into my father running down the trail toward me. He had heard the scream and was rushing to see what was wrong. I was hysterical, trying to tell him about the “monster” in the woods. Then he asked where Jamie was, and I just kept babbling. He shook me and shouted. “ Jessi, where is your brother ?” I told him he was right behind me, but by this time it was obvious he wasn't there. My father sent me on to the campsite to my mother and he went down to the stream to get Jamie.”
Jessi paused and took a deep breath. “Jamie was never found. The only thing that was ever found was some huge footprints near the water. The forestry department and the police conducted a search, but they never found my brother. They assumed he drown, and was washed downstream; or he wandered off and was eaten by a bear. The authorities said the tracks were just human prints that had been enlarged by the rain. But, I know what I saw. My parents wanted to believe me, but they were pretty much convinced that I really saw some rogue homeless person, and that the guy snatched Jamie. I became obsessed reading about Bigfoot, and eventually it blossomed into what I do now. In my heart, I'm still trying to find out what happened to my brother. I need to bring him home, one way or another. I have to. I owe it to my parents to find him.” Jessica took a large drink from her glass and dropped her eyes to the floor.
Constance studied the woman sitting in front of her, and saw such sadness, and defeat. She stepped toward Jessica and stopped herself before placing her hand on her shoulder. Instead she sat down in a chair and faced Jessica. “You know what happened to your brother was not your fault, right? You were a child Jessica; you did not have control of the situation. You know that don't you?”
Jessica shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah I guess. I should have made sure he was with me.” Pain filled eyes lifted and looked at Constance. “It seems like I could have kept him safe, I should have kept him safe. We were bonded, you know? I have an older sister and brother, and it was always them, and then me and Jamie. My parents even bought us puzzle necklaces. My sister and older brother had two pieces that fit together as a puzzle, and Jaime and I had had two pieces that fit together. My mom had the necklaces specially made so they were unique. My piece didn't fit with any other piece except Jamie's, they interlocked. I still wear mine.” She reached into the front of her collar and pulled out a silver chain with a carved silver piece hanging from the bottom. “I will wear this until I bring him home.”
Constance peered into Jessica's eyes and had an overwhelming desire to keep the hurt soul behind them…safe. She was overwhelmed by her strong feelings for this virtual stranger. She felt like she was slipping toward those eyes, being drawn into the clear blue pools. Constance suddenly realized she was holding her breath and cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “Jessica, you know we are not always able to protect everyone in our lives. You can't blame yourself for that; you were a helpless child. It was not your fault.” She smiled at Jessica, and was rewarded with a return grin.
“Connie! Who the hell are you talkin to---YOURSELF? Damn girl what am I gonna do with you. You better not have one of those mangy dogs in here!” Beatrice's voice boomed out from the living room, and got louder as she approached the kitchen door.
“Here we go.” Constance said quietly. “I apologize ahead of time.”
“Don't worry about it.”
“Well girl, who you talkin…” Beatrice lowered her voice as she entered the kitchen and spotted Jessica. “Well, who do we have here? I'm Beatrice Blackhawk, and you are?”
Jessica stood up and extended her hand; “I'm Dr. Jessica Cooper. I've been doing some research in the woods behind your property. Your daughter was kind enough to give me a little bit of a tour.” She smiled her winning smile and shook Beatrice's hand. It was obvious the older woman did not remember their earlier meeting at the front door, and Jessica was pleased. Hopefully there would not be a repeat of their first encounter.
“Well, Dr. Crooper I hope my little girl has been nice to you, she can be a bit stand-offish. She spent too much time in the city I think.”
“Mother, her name is Dr. Cooper, and I'm sure she doesn't want to hear your sermon on the evils of city life.”
Beatrice turned quickly toward her daughter, and Jessica could tell the older woman was about to be explosively abusive. “Uh, actually you can call me Jessica, or Jessi. And I understand, not everyone likes the city. My father would rather be hog-tied and beaten than have to live in a city. Now I like both, so I live out on the lake and can be in the deepest part of the city or the deepest part of the woods within half an hour.”
“Oh, you live on the lake? Those houses are very expensive; your husband must have a very good job.” Beatrice's temper seemed to have been diffused by Jessica's efforts, but Constance once again found herself irritated by her mother's comments.
“Mother, Dr. Cooper does not have to discuss her finances with you.”
“It's ok Constance. I'm not married Mrs. Blackhawk, I bought the house myself. I make a decent living teaching at the University.”
Beatrice shot her daughter a dirty look then turned her attention back to Jessica. “Not married, why not? You are pretty enough.”
Constance dropped her head in defeat. Her mother had mortified her once again. “Mother,..”
“Thank you Mrs. Blackhawk for the compliment. I have never found anyone I thought I could live with for the rest of my life. I decided long ago I wanted forever, not, ok for now. I'll find the right person, someday, hopefully soon.” Jessica couldn't stop herself from glancing at Constance, who was watching her in rapt amazement.
Constance smiled at Jessica and then went back to preparing dinner. Who was this woman? She was dealing with her mother, and doing a good job. Unbelievable. Her ears perked back up as her mother decided it was necessary to defend her old maid daughter.
“Well, at least you're lookin. My Connie just seems to have thrown her chances away. I mean she ain't beautiful, but she sure ain't homely either, you know?”
“On the contrary Mrs. Blackhawk, I think your daughter is quite beautiful.” Constance could feel Jessica's eyes on her, and she was very aware of a blush creeping up her own neck. She glanced in the other woman's direction only to be caught in those incredible eyes again.
“Well you should see her sister, now there's a beauty. Can I get you a drink doctor, a beer maybe?”
Jessica continued to look at Constance as she answered Beatrice who was busying herself in the refrigerator. “No thank you, your daughter already gave me some soda.
Constance turned her back to Jessica to keep from showing her obvious blush. Her face felt like it was on fire. This woman was quite the charmer. Constance suddenly wondered if Jessica was truly a charmer; or if she was just lonely, and in need of a beautiful woman's attentions. Dr. Cooper was probably straight, as-a-board! Constance let out a long sigh; it had been such a long time. When she left Atlanta to return to the farm she had left her career, her new life, and her lover, Shelly. They had been together for almost two years, and were happy. But not happy enough for Shelly to leave her job and move to a farm in Tennessee, sharing a house with her lover and a drunken homophobe. Constance was insistent that she not subject herself to that punishment, and walked out of Shelly's life, lightly kissing her goodbye. Last she heard her lover was seeing someone, and had the one thing Constance could have never given her – stability. She was brought out of her inner hauntings when her mother loudly asked “So, do you think queers are with each other cause they cain't find nobody of the opposite sex that'd have em?”
“MOTHER!!!!” Constance turned from the sink, livid, ready to attack. “How could you ask something so awful? If you have issues with me I would prefer you keep them between us, and not involve a guest in our home! I'm sorry Dr. Cooper for my mother's insensitivity.”
“You don't have to apologize, Constance, it was just a question. No harm comes from questions, just from inaccurate answers. And no Mrs. Blackhawk, I do not believe that. Some of the most beautiful men I have ever seen have been gay, and I know they would have nooo trouble finding a woman.”
Beatrice knew she was beat and chose not to pursue the issue any further. After all, those college professors were a bunch of liberal people lovers, she could get fired if she wasn't niiiiiice to everybody, and understaaaaaandin. The older woman giggled at the sarcastic voice in her head, “Didn't mean to make ya feel uncomfortable professor. Connie you can get that burr out from under yer saddle, and hand me another beer wouldcha.”
Constance let out a slow breath through her nose and walked to the refrigerator. Grabbing a beer from the top shelf she twisted the top off and roughly placed it on the table in front of her mother. Beatrice grabbed up the bottle and waddled out of the kitchen.
“Are you ok?” Jessica asked quietly.
“Yeah, I'm really sorry. My mother doesn't know when to quit some,-most times.”
“Don't apologize, please. By the way is your hand alright?”
“You just twisted off a non-twist cap on that beer bottle.” Jessica smiled cutely at Constance and winked. “Here I thought you were only scary with the gun.” She muffled a laugh as she waited to see the woman's reaction to her kidding.
Constance smiled widely back at Jessica. “Would you like me to rip the top off of another Diet Dr. Pepper for you, or are you good? And by the way the last thing that gave me a hard time is now in the roasting pan in the oven.”
“Oh really? Was that a baaaaaaaaad little lamb?” Jessica bleated.
“Oh God that was awful. Come on “ewe” help me set the table, dinner is almost ready.”
“You got it; just tell me where everything is Tough Stuff.”
“Thank you so much for dinner Constance, it was great.”
“Really, you didn't eat much. But then again you were fielding questions and comments from my mother. I'm sorry again by the way, for the way she acted. I can't believe she actually asked you why you didn't color your hair instead of “ goin all gray like that .” I never know what she might say, I'm really sorry.” Constance averted her eyes from Jessica and then began looking at every detail of the driveway, having just walked out to say goodnight.
“Constance please don't apologize again, I had a lovely time today. And very exciting, I have a ton of analyzing to do. Thank you so much for asking me to come here today. It was an amazing experience. An unbelievable experience, thank you again.” Jessica tilted her head down to regain eye contact with the shorter woman. “Hey, I mean it, I'll never forget today, ever.”
Constance peered into incredible blue eyes. “Me either.”
Seconds passed as the two women searched one another's faces; sealing this moment in their minds, in their hearts, in their souls. Constance spoke first, clearing her throat. “Uh, let me know what you find out from the analysis. And you can come back anytime to do more research, anytime.”
“Yeah, I will need to come back and snoop some more in the woods. I'd like you to come with me,….. if you want to of course.”
“I'd love it. You don't think Chupa would mind sharing you would he?”
“No, he's a pretty good furry dude, he won't mind. Will you Chupa boy?”
Chupa lifted his head from the front seat of the Jeep and huffed at his human.
The women laughed, “I think he's wants to go home and not be stuck here with my nutty bunch any longer. You better get going; there are a lot of deer along the roads at night. Be careful. I'll see you around Dr. Jessica Cooper.”
“It was a pleasure Dr. Constance Beauty Blackhawk. I'll see you later.”
Jessica reluctantly turned to crawl into her Jeep, but turned back. “Uhh, Constance there is a convention for the Southeastern Tennessee Bigfoot Association this weekend in Knoxville. There will a meet and greet, and seminar on Friday night. Would you be interested in going with me? You can see how the obsessed react to a group setting.”
“Uhh, sure that sounds fun, or at least different. What would one wear to such an event?”
“Typically formal, but my evening gown is in the shop. So I'll be going casual, you feel free to wear the formal though.”
“Well, I wouldn't want you to feel awkward, so I'll do the casual thing too.”
“Ok, cool. I'll give you a call. Ummm, ok, well goodnight.”
“Goodnight Jessi.” Constance watched as Jessica turned toward her car nearly tripping over her own feet in the process. She regained her balance, gave a quick wave and jumped into the Jeep next to the sleeping Chupa. Only after the car drove out of the driveway, and the taillights disappeared into the dark, did Constance let out a long sigh and turn and walk back into her little dysfunctional corner of the world. But she smiled because she had something to look forward to, Friday with Jessica Cooper.
Jessica headed down the hall to the Anthropology department humming to herself; and walking with an excited determination.
“Somebody got laid. Surely, not the farm girl?” Kelli was leaning against the doorframe of her graduate office. She edged a dark eyebrow higher in an inquisitive manner. “So was it Shotgun Packin Mama, or did you go out last night and meet someone?”
“You, my fine friend, have a dirty mind, and not much imagination. There are so many things that can put this smile on my face and skip in my step, not just the company of a beautiful, intriguing woman.”
“Ahhh, so she is beautiful and intriguing, what else? Hot, sexy, into leather,..what?”
“Kelli, Kelli, Kelli, you are so limited. Yes, Constance Blackhawk is an intelligent beauty, but she is also deeper, spiritual, almost…. I don't know. She transcends this obtrusive world and sees things so pure, so,….natural.”
The graduate assistant watched, as the professor grew quiet and contemplative. “Wow, you got it bad huh Doc?”
“It's not like that Kelli, I can't explain it exactly. Her presence is powerful.” Jessica glanced at her friend to find her smirking. “Oh stop, I don't want to hear it. Putting aside the woman's persona, she also happened to have taken me to a site where I think there was some pretty significant Bigfoot activity. I collected a variety of things I need to analyze. This could be the “Big One” my friend, I never saw a collection of better evidence. Between this weekend's collecting and yesterday, this could be very big.”
“What could be very big Dr. Cooper? Did you find a leprechaun, or a flying monkey in the hills of Tennessee?” Dr. Grierson had quietly approached the two friends and had overheard the last few words. “Hopefully your unicorn sighting won't hinder your ability to sit on the finance committee this summer.” He grinned snidely and looked down his nose at Jessica.
“Dr. Grierson I really would like to speak to you about this committee. I have a conflict and would like to switch with someone else in the department. I'd be more than happy to sit on a committee in the fall, but this summer is not good for me.”
“Riiiiight.” Grierson glanced at Kelli, dismissing her with his look. Once she had slipped back into her office he turned to Jessica and lowered his voice venomously. “Dr. Cooper there is nothing to discuss. It is your responsibility as a member of the department to sit on committees as needed. You are needed, and unless you are no longer a member of the department you will sit.” Jessica's right eye twitched; an automatic reflex to the command she had just been given. No wonder dog owners get bitten during training. This fleeting thought was interrupted by Grierson's next remark.
“You are a member of this department aren't you Dr. Cooper? Or have you made enough money hunting fairytales that you no longer require employment here? If that is the case, I expect to see your resignation by the end of the day. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal.” Jessica forced the word from between her teeth and turned to walk away.
The last thing she heard before she stepped into her office echoed down the cavernous hall and into her ears. “Good Dr. Cooper, I knew I could count on you.”
“I knew I could count on you. Asshole. One of these days you pompous, self-involved, narrow-minded, swamp-sucking, father of a Skunk-Ape, I'll tell you to kiss my ass and I'll walk out of this place and never look back.” Jessica mumbled to herself as she pounded out an e-mail to her benefactor Sir Edmunds. This was her only option for contacting him. He had never provided his phone number, or address, only the e-mail address email@example.com. He had called her, and sent packages to her via courier, but had never met with her in person. Many people would have considered the situation “shady” but Jessica understood the man was eccentric. Eccentric and rich, and needed a channel for his endeavors since he was no longer physically able to have the adventures. He was living through her work, and paying to do so.
In turn Jessica was conducting investigations that she never dreamed possible, and sharing her findings with the cryptozoological world. She had had three articles published in reputable science magazines, and had helped to compile information for a book of cryptids. Unfortunately, the pay for these services was minimal, and Sir Edmunds' funding paid for trips and amenities for her investigations, nothing more. She was reliant on her position with the university for financial stability. Dr. Jessica Cooper dreamed of someday telling Grierson to go fuck himself; in an academic manner of course, but at the moment she had to eat it.
She finished the e-mail to Sir Edmunds explaining her summer committee requirement, and apologized profusely. She also told him of her recent discoveries on and around the Blackhawk property, and promised to keep him updated to her findings. After apologizing again for missing prime Chupacabra season, she hit send and turned in her chair to see Kelli peeking around the edge of her door.
“Hey Doc, you ok?”
“Just peachy my friend. Please tell me Grierson got that fat head of his stuck in the door frame of his office and can't come out till he loses some ego.”
“Sorry Doc, but he is gone for the rest of the day if that makes you feel any better. He has some all-important meeting to attend. Again, I'm sorry about your trip to Mexico.”
“It's alright. In all actuality I'm really looking forward to doing more research at the Blackhawk property. Honestly, I'd rather do that than go traipsing through Mexico looking for a critter that even I think is bogus. I just hope Sir Edmunds understands and doesn't pull funding for further investigations. I'm really looking forward to a trip to Australia to look for the Bunyip. Of course South America would be good too, or the Congo. Too many cryptids, not enough time. Damn why can't I win the lottery.”
“You never buy a ticket. I know it's frustrating but at least you have the Blackhawk Bigfoot to keep you busy. And a certain Ms. Blackhawk as well.”
“Please, Kelli I found the woman interesting, is that so awful? Speaking of interesting, how are things with Matthew? Still fooling him into thinking you are the woman for him?” Kelli was a hopeless flirt that had dated enough men to populate a small country. She never took any man seriously until she met Matthew Hilton, a fellow graduate student. They had been dating for over six months, a record for Kelli.
“Everything is going so well Jessica, it scares me. I mean he is a great guy; he treats me fantastic, he tells me I'm wonderful. He's so smart, and handsome, I think, no I know I love him, but..”
“But what Kelli?”
“But, I don't know if I'm good enough for him. I mean I have never been serious about a guy, how do I know if I'm treating him right? How do I know he's getting what he deserves?”
“Wow Kelli, I have never seen you so crazy about a guy. If you are this nuts about him, and he's not complaining, you are probably giving him everything he wants. You know you could ask him if he's happy instead of fretting over it.”
“Oh God Doc, I can't do that! I mean people don't do that do they, talk about feelings in a relationship? I mean I know you lesbians do that but not straight people, do they?”
“Kelli believe it not lesbians do not corner the market on discussing feelings and emotions in a relationship. My parents have been together for 45 years and I personally think it is due to their open, honest discussions. They talk about everything and make decisions together. They are a true team, and the taught us through their example. My brother and sister both have fantastic relationships, and they waited to find their perfect partner. Sounds like you were waiting for Matt. I hope I am as lucky someday.”
“Maybe you're right Jess, maybe he is the one I've been waiting for. He sure is special and wonderful. I really do love him Doc, guess I need to get used to the feeling. And as far as your someday, what about Shotgun Blackhawk? You seem to be a little taken with her; your eyes are all sparkly when you talk about her.”
“I don't know Kelli, she fascinates me. She is so … I don't know, blah I can't explain it. She's probably not interested in me anyway. Hell she's probably straight, even though her mother seems to think she likes the ladies.”
“Doc, your Gaydar sucks, and you are usually so caught up in the mystery of the day you don't recognize when someone is interested. In case you hadn't noticed you're pretty irresistible in an academic sort of way.”
“I think that was the nicest way you could have possibly told me that I'm a geek, thanks. I will have you to know she is allowing me to escort her to the Cryptid Hominid Convention this Friday. So she is willing to at least be seen in public with this geek.” Jessica confidently stated.
“Ahhhh, a date. Very good Doc I'm impressed. I might have tried dinner and dancing but not you. A meet and greet among the freaks, I'm sure you'll win her heart for sure.”
“Kiss my ass, and get out of my office. Don't you have some paper to work on, or a test to take?”
“Oooo, I got you flustered, ok I'm outta here. I just have one question. Is it customary to get laid after a night at creepfest, or does that come after the second date, at the Fiji Mermaid Museum?”
Kelli barely dodged the stuffed Loch Ness Monster that whizzed past her head as she darted out of Jessica's office singing “Love is in the Air.”
“I'm walkin on sunshine, whoa ohhh, walkin on sunshine, whoa ohh oh, and don't it feel good! Hey, yeah, don't it feel good.” Jessica danced around in her shower, the smell of raspberry shower gel permeating her senses. It was Friday, the music was blasting, and she had just completed a very busy week. She had suggested having a revolving door installed so not to impede the near constant flow of students in and out of the office. Exam time was crazy, or at least the students and professors were during exams. Paranoia ran high, as did emotions. Jessica had heard at least five students crying, and another ten, or so, stating that they knew Professor, Fill In The Blank, hated them.
Jessica's week had also been filled with examining the evidence she had found on and near the Blackhawk property. She had sent the hairs, and possible saliva covered nutshells, to a colleague for DNA testing. It would be at least two weeks for the results to return, assuming her samples were not put aside for more pressing work. Jessica had analyzed her other findings and was convinced she had the discovery of a lifetime. Unfortunately, in the world of cryptozoology the only way to unequivocally prove the existence of these mystery creatures was to have a body, or the remains of one. Photos and film were always skeptical. The majority of the population did not accept even the captured images that had passed scientific scrutiny and testing.
“…I want to do is make love to you, one night of love was all we knew.” Jessica rinsed herself one last time and turned off the shower. She grabbed a fluffy towel and began drying her muscular frame. “Please, please understand, I'm in love with an impotent man. And what he couldn't give me, was the one little thing that you can!” After a decade Jessica still laughed when she sang her improved lyrics to the Heart song. She continued to dance around the bathroom as she gelled and manipulated her unruly hair. At least the current hair trends allowed for spiked up, wind tunnel, hair caught in a blender, type styles.
Jessica danced into her bedroom and slipped into her underclothes and jeans, an old faithful pair that had that faded “lived in” look. Next came a light blue denim shirt, with embroidery above the left breast pocket that read “Bigfoot: Not Just Another Redneck Fairytale”. After tucking in her shirt, she pulled on her favorite cowboy boots, and stood back from the mirror to look at the end product. “Well, she will at least know I believe in being comfy. Ok, Chupa give mommy a kiss I gotta run; I have a date? I guess, maybe, aww hell I don't know what I have, but I'm looking forward to it.” Chupa turned his head at his human feeling her nervousness. He decided to help and rolled over on his back for a belly rub. “Ok, you big lug one quick belly rub”. She laughed as he made guttural pleasure noises as his belly received star treatment. “Ok, buddy got to go. No wild parties.” Jessica patted Chupa's head one more time and headed out the door.
Constance paced around her room digging through drawers and pulling clothes from her closet. “What to wear, what to wear?” She didn't usually have to worry about her appearance since most time was spent with farm animals and a drunken mother. Her typical jeans, t-shirts and flannel shirts were fine for the farm, but she wanted to look casually nice tonight. After all, she had a date? Maybe, aww hell, who knew. Constance pondered the date- versus- research opportunity, in her mind as she flipped one pair of pants after another along the closet rod. “Hmmm, haven't seen these in a while wonder if they still fit?” The faded black jeans were slid up her legs and across her hips. They not only fit, but also felt really comfortable. “Eureka.” A black tank top and a forest green button down completed the ensemble. After putting on her black Doc Martins, and spritzing on some of her favorite perfume, she bounded down the steps.
After feeding Ruby and Stiles she went into the kitchen to check on the crock-pot stew she had prepared for her mother. “Mama, the stew is ready, and there is a big loaf of homemade bread just begging to be eaten.” Constance heard Beatrice's recliner flump to the floor, and the older woman making her way to the kitchen.
“What the hell you so happy bout? You win the damn lottery or somethin?”
“No mama, just in a good mood, is that so bad?” Constance scooped up a bowl of stew for the older woman and sat the bread and butter on the table. “You need anything else? I want you to eat, ok? There's plenty more stew so have seconds, or thirds.”
“Quit bossin me around, I ain't no child. When the hell ya getting home?”
“I'm not sure, but I'm a big girl, so don't worry.”
“Worry, hell I could care less. I was just wonderin how long I would have some peace tonight.”
“Okay, have fun. No wild parties.” Constance slipped out the mudroom and into the back yard before her mother had a chance to answer. She took a deep cleansing breath and slowly let it out. “Ok Constance, let go of the negative energy and look forward to tonight with Jessi.” She took another deep breath and smiled as she thought about the professor. “Calm down Constance it's a conference not a moonlight walk on a beautiful beach in the Caribbean.” She paced and tried with no success to calm the crow-sized butterflies flopping around in her belly.
At the sound of crunching gravel Constance turned to see an electric blue truck driving down the driveway. Jessica pulled the truck up and hopped out to greet her. “Hi,” the professor said shyly, “your chariot awaits.” Jessica opened the door for her passenger.
“My, how charming. Thank you ma'am.”
Jessica blushed from the comment as she shut the door, and headed around to the driver's side. She settled into the driver's seat and turned to the other woman. “You look really nice. I hope you enjoy yourself tonight.”
“Thank you; and I'm sure we will have a great time. Thank you again for inviting me, I looked forward to it all week.”
“Wow, you must be easily entertained. Actually, I've been looking forward to this all week too.” Jessica smiled at Constance, and the action was returned in kind. They sat silently looking into each other's eyes for several seconds, with Jessica finally breaking the moment by asking. “Where would you like to eat?”
“Oh, I don't care; I'll eat just about anything.”
“There's an Indian restaurant in town that is really good, how would you feel about that?”
“Sounds great, I love Indian. I haven't had Indian since I left Atlanta. There was this little hole in the wall down the street from where I lived; we used to order from there all the time.”
“Well, hopefully this will be as good as what you all had in Atlanta. How long did you live there?”
“Two years. After my father died I came back home to keep the farm going. My sister had finished school and followed her man to upstate New York, and grandmother died a year later. So it's just been me and mama for the past three years.” Constance glanced at Jessica sheepishly. “Sorry, I guess you didn't ask for all that. I don't get to talk to many people. It's nice to be able to have a conversation with someone other than a cow or dog.”
“It's ok; believe me Chupa gets an earful every weekend, and evening after school. I like to think he enjoys my prattling. Probably just humoring me for the Meaty Bones.”
“So that's why Ruby is such a good listener, it's the treats.” Constance smiled and then turned to the professor. “Jessica, I wanted to tell you, … I really enjoy your company. And I'm sorry about our first meeting, and…”
“Constance you don't have to apologize again, it's ok. I enjoy your company too, that's why I asked you to go to the conference. I know it's not exactly a normal date, but I think you will have fun.”
Constance considered her words, then smiled and asked, “Is that what this is Jessica, a date?”
Shit. Jessica wanted to sink into the truck seat and disappear. I can't believe I said date. “Uh, well, would you like for this to be considered a date, I mean, ahh shit. Constance I would really like to consider this a date, but if you aren't cool with that, that's ok too. I mean, I don't even know if you, uh, go out with women. And even if you do, you may not want to go out with me, so we could just hang out, you know.. ”
“Jessica, hush. You're rambling. I am very cool with this being a date. I was hoping that was the case. And yes, I go out with women, not often enough, but enough to know I would love to get to know you better.”
Jessica let out the breath she had been holding and a large smile spread across her face. “Well then, I guess we are officially on a date then. And Constance, I would like to get to know you better too. And might I add, you smell really good.”
Constance dropped her head and blushed, “Thank you. I uh, I'm not used to compliments, it's been a long time.”
“Well, I call things like I smell them so you might have to get used to me.”
“I look forward to getting used to you Jessica.”
“That meal was fantastic, that lamb was sooo yummy. Thank you so much for bringing me here Jessi. I think I ate too much naan, I'm going to explode.”
“I hope not, the last thing I want is grilled lamb stuck all over the inside of my truck, yuck! I can barely stand the smell of the stuff, exploded lamb and your innards can't be good.”
The two women laughed as Jessica pulled the truck back out onto the highway and headed for the convention center. Constance suddenly stopped laughing and knitted her eyebrows together. “Wait a minute, I thought you liked lamb, you ate it with me and my mother.”
“Uhh, yeah, well you see, what you made was good, in the realm of lamb I mean. You were nice enough to invite me, so I had dinner with you.”
“So you hated it, and were too polite to tell me you couldn't stand it. No wonder you didn't eat much, you must have been starving by the time you left.”
“Constance, hate is a very strong word. I didn't want to hurt your feelings, and I really enjoyed dinner, just not the lamb. And don't ever worry about me starving, Chupa and I stopped for a burger on the way home. I'm sure he was happy I had lamb for dinner.”
“If I had known I would have fixed you something else.”
“Nonsense, I'm a grown woman, I knew going into dinner what it was. I wanted to spend more time talking with you regardless if you were serving old boot.”
“Well now I at least have a menu idea for next time.”
Once again the women found themselves laughing together. The light, joking, banter continued for the next 20 minutes, until they reached the conference center.
“Ok, now Constance be prepared you are about to meet some very interesting, as well as unusual, people here tonight. Many of the folks are valid believers and researchers, but you still may get the occasional “ I was kidnapped by a Bigfoot, took up in his flying saucer, impregnated and gave birth to his love child. Wanna see its elementary school photo ?” type.”
Constance's laughter filled the truck. “Oh God tell me you're exaggerating? I won't be able to keep a straight face Jessica. I don't think I will make a very good impression if I laugh in the face of a mentally disturbed person. I'm gonna kill your reputation. You sure you want to take me in there?”
“Yes I'm very sure, and don't worry I embellish just a little.”
“Most of the time they're home schooled.”
Constance once again burst out laughing. “Please, you have to stop. Oh God, you're making me cry. Thank you by the way.”
“For making me laugh and enjoy myself. It's been a very long time.” She continued quite serious. “I think I had almost forgotten how to have a good time.”
“Constance you don't have to thank me. I really enjoy being with you. And if someone tries to show me their little fuzzy hybrid children I'll just direct them to you.”
“Thanks Jessi thanks a whole helluva lot.”
“So then my darling Bruce crept back into the overgrown thicket he had crawled out of when we were kids, and I never saw him again. But I will always have the memories of our love in my heart, and in our child Harry. Would you like to see a picture dear?”
Constance couldn't believe her luck. Of the hundred booths to choose from she went to the one with the “Bigfoot, Lost Love Woman, and her Hybrid Child”, named,… Harry?
“I'm sorry; did you say you named your son Harry?”
The woman, Mona, peered back at Constance. “Yes, Harry. Dear is there something wrong? You look as if you are going to cry.”
It was true. Constance was holding the eminent rush of giggles in so tight that her eyes were beginning to tear. After taking a deep cleansing breath she controlled herself long enough to say, “No, I'm fine. Just touched by your story. If you'll excuse me.” The last words rushed out as Constance turned and dashed away into the crowd hoping to get lost from Mona's view. She shook her head trying to clear the giddiness. Of all people to run into without Jessi.
Jessica had excused herself a little earlier to meet up with a friend that had some items for her. She explained that the guy was a little squirrelly over his products and would be suspicious. Jessica asked Constance to forgive her but she had to step away for about half an hour, and would she be ok on her own? Constance knew she could keep busy browsing the different booths of Crypto Crafts, authors, storytellers, and even a travel agent that could book you to the hottest cryptid locations for economical prices. The two women agreed to meet near the Sasquatch Snack Shack and that was where Constance found Jessi talking to a very attractive, very muscular woman.
“So we started up the ravine and Jessica, I sweartogod, this howl comes booming out of the trees. Loudest call I ever got, sweartogod. The dude that was with me nearly pissed himself. He was like “ I'm fuckin outta here!” and I was like, “Dude I'm your fuckin guide, you want to try and find your way without me? Of course you could always ask Fuzzy for directions .” I sweartogod I told him that. He just stood there staring at me, all white around the gills, ya know. We headed back out of the woods and whatever was out there followed along in the edge of the tree line, vocalizing about every five minutes. It wanted us to know we were on his turf and to get the fuck out. Maybe we tripped into his bedroom during mating season or something, I don't know, but he was mad.”
Jessica was been leaning against the snack shack, with her back to Constance, and didn't see her approach. “Did you get any recordings of the vocalizations?” Constance heard the professor asked.
The robust woman suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Well, I had a recorder, but between the noises of us humpin back out of the woods top speed, and the wind and all, you really can't make out much. It's a shame too, cause sweartogod it would have been awesome to record.” Constance could easily tell that Jessi had taken the wind out of the woman's story leaving her embarrassed it seemed. The woman's eyes darted around and landed on her. “Well, hello. I've never seen you at one of these things. I'm Doe Rivers, and you are absolutely stunning. Could I interest you in an escort through the Sasquatch Circus?” Before she could answer Jessica did.
“Actually Doe, I have the pleasure of being Ms. Blackhawk's escort tonight. But if Constance finds me lacking I'm sure she could take very good care of herself.”
Constance blushed. She had never been so openly flirted with, nor had someone defend her honor from said flirtee. Doe was abrasive at best, and she was ready to politely decline her offer, but Jessi was quick to assist her, without sounding possessive. Constance peered into Jessica's eyes as her smoky voice floated into her ears. “I can't imagine ever finding you lacking Jessica. And the pleasure is all mine.”
For seconds the convention hall disappeared and there was no one except them in the world. Jessica finally realized she was holding her breath, captured by Constance's gaze. “Uh, Doreen would you excuse us please, I'd like to introduce Ms. Blackhawk to some folks. See you around.” The two walked away leaving Doe to scope out her next victim. “Hey, Harv, let me tell you about what happened to me. This is wild, sweartogod.”
“So did you see your sketchy friend with the secret items?” Constance asked as she walked next to Jessica through the conference center.
“Yep, got the goods right here in my knapsack. Hopefully these will be worth the money I just laid out for them.”
“May I ask you what you bought, or is it none of my business?”
“No I can tell you, but if you tell anyone I know where you live.” Constance nodded her head then leaned in conspiratorially. “Ok, here's the deal. My friend Will makes computer cameras. They are night vision devices that link directly with a computer and detect movement and record when something moves.”
“Ok, why all the secrecy?”
“Well, according to Will he has received some heat from the “the man” because items like this are used in terrorism surveillance. So he thinks Homeland Security is watching him. Now I have no idea if they are, or if he is just paranoid; but I can get the cameras from him for a much lower price than anyone else. So…I have my cameras, Will has kept his secrecy and the government is kept out of the loop. Now you're on the inside too. Hope you can take the stress.”
“Yeah, I think I can deal. By the way what are you going to do with the cameras?”
“I would really like to put them around the grotto; that is if you would be in agreement.”
“On one condition. I get to help you.”
“Sure, I'd love the help, and of course the good company.”
“It's a date then. When would you like to do this?”
“Well, I was kinda thinking about weekend after next, if the weather allows of course. I was also thinking about camping out at the grotto and seeing what I might be able to hear and record. You're welcome to camp out with me if you'd like, you could keep me safe.” Jessi flashed a huge smile at Constance.
“You want to camp out in the grotto? The same spot we heard a very pissed off mama Sasquatch? I thought maybe that had scared you a bit.”
“Honestly, it did, but the desire for discovery has always outweighed my sense of fear. So yeah, I'm fearful but I have got an opportunity of a lifetime. Besides, Chupa can protect me.”
“You realize he knocked you out of the truck and tried to drive off during our last encounter?”
Jessica laughed at the memory of her cowering protector. “Maybe you should bring your shotgun.”
“Or my mother. She could frighten anything away. I would love to camp out with you at the grotto. But now can we go over to that booth over there? There is this lady Mona you just gotta meet.”
“I can't remember when I've had more fun Jessi! I'm so glad you invited me to go with you. I had such a good time!” Constance had been excitedly talking non-stop for fifteen minutes as they drove toward the farm.
“You must not get much excitement out on the farm, huh?”
“Truthfully, my life is pretty boring Jessi. I work the farm and try to keep mama under control. I don't have friends here anymore; I don't go anywhere. My life is the farm. Hell, I get excited when I get to go to the feed and seed for cattle food. Sad, I know.” Constance got quiet and peered out the side window, watching the darkness pass by.
“Hey, I didn't mean to upset you. I had an awesome time tonight too. Thank you for the wonderful company.”
Constance turned and smiled at Jessi. “No, thank you. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you. I would like to see you again, socially I mean. Would you be interested in going to dinner and a movie with me next week?”
“I'd love to, how does Tuesday night look for you?”
“I'll have to check my schedule.” Constance looked down for a split second, and then smiled widely at Jessi. “Oh look, I'm free. How about I pick you up around five? Would that be ok?”
“Sure, I'll give you directions to my house.”
They pulled slowly up to the front of the Blackhawk family farmhouse and parked the truck. “Well here we are, safe and sound. Thank you again for joining me tonight Constance, I had so much fun.”
“Thank you for taking me; it was fun, wasn't it?” The women sat in silence for several seconds.
“Well, I guess I should walk you to your door and say goodnight.” Jessi hopped out of her truck, went around and opened the passenger door.
Constance slid out of the truck and they proceeded slowly up the walk and onto the front porch.
Jessica reached out and took the other woman's hand. “Thank you for a lovely evening. And I look forward to seeing you Tuesday Constance. Have a wonderful weekend.”
“You too. I'm very glad you invited me tonight Jessi, it meant more than you know. Thank you.” She leaned into Jessica and lightly kissed her cheek. “Goodnight, I'll see you Tuesday.”
The professor stood mesmerized by the light tingling sensation where the lips had touched her cheek. “Goodnight.” She slowly released Constance's hand and backed away. Finally turning, she walked toward the truck, stopping to wave before settling behind the wheel. Constance waved back, unlocked and opened the front door, and watched from the doorway as Jessica drove off into the night.
“Ok Chupie, best behavior. Constance will be here in a little while and I don't want her thinking you're a wild beast.” Chupa lifted his head up off the couch and huffed in Jessica's direction. Wild beast indeed, he wasn't the one running around like a crazy person, throwing things in drawers and closets. “Ok Chupa, no shedding for at least the next 45 minutes. Now what to do? I guess the house looks decent; I look decent, Chupa looks cute fuzzable, so I guess we're good. Chupa I think I am going to combust. I haven't been this nervous over a date in…, well, ever. Good Lord Jess calm yourself. Maybe some TV would help.” Jessica flopped down on the end of the sofa and grabbed the remote. As she began channel surfing Chupa automatically inched toward her until his head was lying on her thigh. She absently stroked his furry brow as the channels flipped by.
“Now you can have the Wondermop for just 19.95. But wait there's more…” Click. “may cause drowsiness, ringing in the ears, internal bleeding,” Click. “Now Bob has a new swelling of pride..” CLICK! “The whip is mine. The frying pan is yours. Hower is mine!! She's yours.” “Now we're talking, huh Chupie. Nothing like the Warrior Princess to knock the edge off.” Jessica relaxed back into the couch breathing deeply as Xena tried to get her flying parchment in the air. After several minutes Chupa raised his head and looked at his person. “Woof.” He proclaimed lazily. “Thank you guard dog, I guess Constance is here.” She opened the door just as the other woman was stepping up onto the front deck. “Hi, did you have any problems finding the place?”
“No, not at all. You could have just said, “Look for the awesome house on the lake.” This place is beautiful Jessi.”
“Thank you, please come on in.” Jessica ushered her into the house.
“Wow,” Constance looked around the large, open first floor, taking in all the natural wood and stone, “your house in fantastic. I love all the natural materials. Did you have it built?”
“No, I bought it, and made a few tweaks, but nothing too major. I fell in love the moment I saw it. Would you like a tour?”
“Sure, I'd love it.”
Jessica escorted Constance around her home showing her the architectural details and describing any changes that she had made. “And finally here is the most impressive room in the house.” She smiled proudly and opened the door to the master bedroom.
“Sounds like you're bragging now Ms. Cooper. About the room, or the room activities?”
“Huh? No, that's not what I meant, it's just, I mean, ahhh crap. I meant the room itself, I wasn't trying that lame of a come on.” Jessica looked sheepishly at her.
Constance giggled. “I'm sorry; I shouldn't have teased you like that. I expect your come-ons are far more impressive. Just like this room, my God this is unbelievable.”
“I had the wall of glass and sky light added. So you have a beautiful view of the lake and the mountains. And at night I can see the sky and all the stars. It is so peaceful.”
“The view is breathtaking. I love it; it must make you very happy. I do have one question though. Can't everyone on the lake see into your bedroom?”
“Yep, I'm an exhibitionist and this makes it very easy to show the world.”
Constance said nothing, what could she say. Finally, “Oh,” fell from her lips.
“Gotcha!!” Jessica laughed. “You should have seen your face, ha haaa. Believe me I am no streaker. I don't share with just anyone. No, you can only see out, not in. It has some coating that keeps prying eyes out. After they were installed I got up on a ladder to check it out just to make sure. I also took my kayak out on the lake and looked, with binoculars. Couldn't see a thing. So you can get naked without any worries.”
Constance arched an eyebrow and a crooked grin developed on her face. “Maybe later, I don't know you that well yet.”
Jessica looked confused and then mortified-AGAIN. “I just keep sticking my foot in my mouth around you. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I sound like a letch.”
“I know; I just like giving you a hard time. Forgive me?” Constance batted her eyes innocently.
“Of course. Should we get going?” They went back downstairs toward the living room.
“Was that Xena on TV when I got here?”
“Yeah, one of my favorite episodes too. “A Day in the Life”.
“I never saw that one.”
“Really? It is so funny, and suggestive.”
“I only saw a few of the early episodes. I was working all the time and didn't see much television. And now mama refuses to get cable in the house. It's not worth arguing with her over it.”
“Wow, I am a total TV addicted fool. I have it on all the time, including at night in my bedroom. I watch some of the strangest stuff, but I guess that shouldn't surprise you too much? And as far as Xena goes, I'm hopelessly in love with the show. I have all six seasons on DVD, with special features. If you like you could borrow them sometime.”
“I have a better idea. How would you feel about staying here tonight, in your lovely home, ordering some delivery and watching Xena?”
“You would really like that?”
“Yes I would, I think it would be fun, and we can still talk and enjoy each other's company. Is that ok?”
“Sounds great. How about Chinese?”
“Do you happen to like sushi?”
“Love it, and I haven't had it in a while.”
“Well what are we waiting for? There is raw fish to be ordered.”
“I can't believe I missed this show for all those years. Now I'm hooked, I have to see them all, not just the ones you personally selected as some of your favorites. Wow, the show is so sexy, not just the actresses but the acting, the costumes, scenes, thank you so much for watching them with me.” Constance gushed, smiling at Jessica, who was sitting next to her on the sofa. The two women had slowly migrated closer as the evening passed. Finally leaning against one another, completely relaxed.
“I'm glad you enjoyed the episodes, and it was my pleasure. The offer still stands, you can borrow the DVDs anytime you like.”
“Well, I don't know. I would really like to watch them without my mother over my shoulder. Maybe we can watch some more of them together sometime? That is if you would like to spend some more time with me. I would really like to spend more time with you; I have a lot of fun with you. And I feel like I can just be me.” Constance blushed. “Sorry I'm rambling, and pressuring you.”
Jessica turned her body to face Constance, gently cupped her chin and lifted her face. “Constance, look at me, and believe me when I tell you I would love to spend more time with you. You are a beautiful, intelligent woman, and you make me laugh and feel so at ease. Please don't be embarrassed about your feelings; I want you to be open and honest with me.” She looked longingly in the other woman's eyes.
Constance lifted her hand to cup Jessica's face. “You're so sweet.” Her voice dropped to almost a whisper. “Jessi, can I ask you something?”
Jessica swallowed reflexively, “Yes, anything.”
Constance leaned closer. “May I come over every week and watch Xena?”
The professor suddenly found herself very aware of the sexual tension Constance had created, quite easily, and felt herself blushing. Finally, after much searching she found her voice and croaked out, “Of course, anything, I mean anytime.”
Constance patted her cheek. “Cool, how about Friday?” Jessica smiled at her exuberance.
“Sounds good, I guess we should start at the beginning and work our way through all six seasons. That should take several visits, what do you think?”
“We could just have a Friday Xena date from here on out. Except of course next Friday when we are camping in the grotto.”
“It's a perpetual date then.” Jessica stood up from the couch and stretched. “Man, look at the time, you probably should get going. I don't want you driving if you're tired.”
“I should get going; don't you have to work tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but no worries, it's exam week. I only have one exam to administer tomorrow.” Jessica took Constance's hand and led her toward the door. “Thank you for dinner, the sushi was great.”
“You are very welcome. And thank you for the entertainment and the lovely evening.”
Jessica opened the door and Chupa dashed out and began to run around the fenced yard. “Goofy dog must have needed a break from all the estrogen.”
Constance giggled. “I guess so. So I will see you Friday?”
“I'm looking forward to it. Be careful driving home, ok.”
“I will. Thank you again for a wonderful evening.”
“You too.” They stood in silence, looking uncomfortably at each other. “Well..”
“Yeah, well. Goodnight Jessi.” Constance whispered as she leaned forward and gently kissed Jessica on the cheek. She then slid her arms around the other woman and they fell into a close, lingering hug. They slowly parted and looked deeply into one another's eyes.
“Goodnight Constance Beauty.”
“Goodnight.” With that Constance opened the door to her truck and climbed in. She waved as she drove away, and Jessica watched her disappear into the night. She stood for sometime like that, at the end of her walkway, until Chupa stuck his cold nose in the palm of her hand. “Okay boy, let's head in. I need to try and sleep tonight.” But in her heart she knew sleep would elude her, chased away by thoughts of a beautiful woman.
“I can't believe she married him! I mean it soooo obvious that Gabrielle and Xena are meant to be together. Did you see the look on Xena's face? She was devastated. I mean how many times has she saved the woman's life? What was the writer thinking? Tell me she divorces him, or an annulment, yeah. Did they have those back then? And she slept with him! That's just repulsive!”
Jessica bit her tongue to keep from laughing at Constance's outburst. “Why Ms. Blackhawk, if I didn't know better I would think you are a card carrying, man hating, militant bulldyke. Of course she slept with him; it's her husband. Do you always find heterosexual relations repulsive?”
“First of all I am not a man hater, and I don't see myself as militant. I just know when two people are supposed to be together. Secondly, heterosexual relations do not bother me, just not my thing. However, she could be sleeping with XENA! So in comparison, sleeping with Perdicus is---re-pul-sive!!!”
Jessi laughed loudly at her friend's animated explanation. “Ok, ok, you win. Sleeping with Xena is certainly less repulsive than sleeping with Perdicus. Actually in my opinion sleeping with Xena is better than sleeping with any man. Nothing against men, but, like you said it is XENA!!!” The two women giggled together for a few more seconds. “So would you like to un-pause the DVD and watch the rest of the episode, or is it all ruined for you now? I mean we had a great time Friday watching, and this has been the best Sunday Xena marathon ever for me. I personally think you should press on and see the outcome of the whole Perdicus, repulsive marriage thing.”
“No, I want to finish watching, I was just shocked, that's all. Before we get started can I ask you a personal question? If you don't want to answer you don't have to.”
“Have you ever been in a relationship with a guy? I know it's really none of my business but I'm just curious.”
“I, like a lot of lesbians had the “normal” boyfriend, girlfriend, thing in high school. We were friends from the time we were little, so it just seemed natural to “go together” when we were 16. We dated for almost two years, you know, went to the prom, that sort of thing. When it came time to go off to college we both knew we were great friends, and it would never be more than that. It never really felt completely right. So we kissed each other bye, and wished each other luck. Within a year I had my first girlfriend, and he was dating the woman that he would eventually marry. They have five kids! We still keep in touch via e-mail. So, how about you?”
“I went on a couple dates with guys but never entered into a relationship. I knew from an early age I wasn't sexually comfortable with men. I actually had a girlfriend in high school, she was my best friend for three years, and then one September evening, in our senior year, it dawned on us that we were in love. Or so we thought. I think it was more puppy love, first love, teenage hormonal lust, but we were going to leave this backwater and run away to New York, and live happily ever after.” Constance paused in thought.
“So what happened? How long did you all stay together?”
“We went off to Virginia Tech together. Roomed together, and for the first time felt the freedom to sleep together. We just knew back home someone would catch us, and it seemed every time things got, shall we say heated, someone, or something, would interrupt us. But not after we got to Tech. Hell, I still wonder how I was able to concentrate on my classes that first semester. We were like beasts.” Constance smiled and winked at Jessica. “Yes this simple farm girl was a wild child. So anyway we were happily going along our gay way, and then Christmas break came. We drove home together, I dropped her off at her house; and all hell broke loose.”
“Christmas morning my dad got a call from her father. He said Cris would not be going back to Tech, and I was to stay away from his daughter. If he ever caught me near their place, or her, he'd have me arrested. He also told daddy that I was a perversity of nature and an abomination, and I had demented his daughter's mind and soul. My mother wanted to throw me out and told my father to make me leave. But my dad told my mother to calm down, that he had no intentions of throwing me out, and he never wanted to hear another thing about it. A week later he helped me take camping supplies to the grotto. He knew I had planned on camping out New Year's Eve with Cris, and I had hopes she would still get there somehow. After we set up camp and got a fire going my daddy pulled a bottle of whiskey out of his pocket and took a healthy swig. Then he handed it to me.”
“Here, you probably need this more than me.” “I took a drink, my first ever with my dad, and tears welled up in my eyes.” “Don't cry young'un, I can't stand to see you cry. I know this hurts right now, probably worse than anything, but it will all work out for the best. If you and that little gal are meant to be together, it'll happen. If not you'll both move on and find new. Either way, it will work out the way nature intended.”
“I just laughed at him. For the first time in my life I laughed at my daddy and I yelled at him. “If this were natural we wouldn't have this problem. I'm a fuckin freak.” And then my father did something he had never done before. He slapped me. Not real hard, just enough to get my attention, and I realized he was mad as hell . “Don't you ever say anything like that about yourself again. You are who you are and they ain't nothing wrong with you. I love you girl, and I'll not have you downin yourself, you understand? This world would be pretty gray if we were all the same. Now I'm gonna go, in case your little gal shows up. Here.” And he handed me the bottle of whiskey. “Toast the new year on me.” And he walked out of the grotto. I sat there, alone, confused, brokenhearted, but I knew my daddy loved me, no matter what. And in a strange way that helped, a little.”
“It must have been the whiskey, because the next thing I know I was waking up to somebody kissing me. It was Cris; she was there, just like we had planned. I started to speak but she put her fingers to my lips, and then kissed me again. We made love, it was so powerful; I guess we truly knew it would be the last time. I fell asleep in her arms, the last thing I remember was her whispering, “I love you” . The next time I woke up she was gone. She left me a note telling me her sister had found, and read, her journal that was how her parents found out. They were sending her to live with an aunt in Oklahoma and finish school there. She said she loved me, and would write as soon as she could. Somehow I knew she never would. Last I heard she was living in California, with a woman that was her aunt's best friend. I guess it was meant to be, just like dad said.”
“Wow. You must have hurt so much. To be that young and have your emotions dragged around like that. It just proves though that you are a very strong woman. With all the crap you have been through you are so strong. Constance you truly are amazing, and such a beautiful soul. I am so sorry that you have been hurt.” Jessica gently took her hand and lightly ran her fingertips across the skin. “This is the hand of a warrior, a fighter, a lover, and a nurturer. I am honored to know you Constance Beauty.” Then she lightly kissed the top of said hand.
“If I'm the warrior, you must be the bard. I don't know what to say, no one has ever said anything like that to me before. Thank you Jessi, thank you so much.”
Jessica wrapped her arm around the other woman, and was delighted when she snuggled into her. Constance hit the play button on the remote and the two women sat in silence watching the television warrior and bard.
“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around! Love is in the air, every sight and every sound!” Jessica was singing at the top of her lungs driving toward the Blackhawk farm. Chupa, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the Mystery Machine, began howling along with his human. He thought they sounded like a beautiful pack on a full moonlit night. Jessica abruptly stopped singing. “Always a critic. Thanks buddy.” He leaned over and licked the entire side of her face, his way of saying “you're welcome friend.”
“Okay Chupa tonight we camp out with the lovely Ms. Blackhawk. The semester is over, grades are in, my mini-term class was cancelled, and the summer is officially ours. Woohoo!! I just have to sit on that damned budget committee. But you know Chupie ol' buddy, that doesn't even seem so bad. Just between you and me, I would've really hated to pack up right now and go to Mexico. Unless of course Constance could go with us, ahhh that would be nice.” He watched as his human got a glazed, starry-eyed look on her face. Chupacabra didn't really know what it meant, but he knew he looked that way when he had to go out really bad. He'd never completely understand her. “Humphr.” Jessica flinched as dog spit hit the side of her head. “Thanks again Chupa Cooper. I guess I did need a shower, a cold one, not a dog spit one. But thanks anyway.”
Jessica continued to sing and daydream until she reached the Blackhawk farm. She saw Constance out near the barn and drove the Jeep right up to her. Jumping out, she bounded over to her friend and grabbed her up in a hug, and spun her around.
“Whoa stud. Hello to you too. If I didn't know better I'd think someone hit the lottery.”
“Better, I have awesome news. Guess! Go on, guess!”
“Not unless there was another star in the east with a tail as big as a kite. Guess again.”
“You're getting married!”
“Not in this state, wrong idea of what makes a family. Guess again.”
“I have no idea. Why don't you tell me before you bust a gusset?”
Jessica quizzically looked at Constance. “What's a gusset?”
“I haven't a clue. My grandma always said that. So go on tell me the news.”
The professor beamed and took Constance's hand. “I got the lab results back. The DNA tests are not conclusive, but the hair samples do not match anything in the database. It is hair from an “unknown origin.” The closest thing it matches is some other hair of unknown origin gathered during another Bigfoot investigation. The audio we got at the grotto doesn't match anything on file either. This looks so good Constance; I think this is “the find.” And so does Sir Edmunds. He wants me to stay here this summer and continue the research. He said, “ To Hell with the goatsucker, this is far more imperative .” Thank you so much for this.” Jessica grabbed the other woman in a bear hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She slowly released her and looked longingly into her eyes. Constance swallowed slowly and wet her lips with her tongue. Jessica's eyes glanced at the inviting lips and then back up to her eyes. Both women slowly began to lean toward each other, all the while maintaining eye contact. Jessica's eyes began to slowly close as she leaned closer to Constance.
“Connie, where the hell are you!” Both women sprang apart at the sound of Beatrice's voice.
“Ahhh!” Constance exclaimed. “Excuse me. At the barn mother, what do you need!?”
“I damn well need some supper. By God you still live here, get your ass in here and fix somethin to eat.”
“I'm so sorry Jessi.” Jessica stopped Constance from apologizing further. “Shhh. You go do what you have to do. I'll go on up to the grotto, I've got tons of stuff to set up. I'll see you there when you're done.”
“I wanted to help you set up.” Constance pouted.
“It's okay, really. I do this all the time; I have it down to a science, literally. You go on, I'll see you soon, ok?”
“Yeah, soon. Be careful.”
“Connie!!!” Constance dropped her head at the sound of her mother's bellow.
“Go on; see you at the grotto… Beauty.” Jessica turned and jumped in her Jeep without seeing the beaming smile on Constance Beauty's face.
“Hey you. What's all this?” Constance glanced around the clearing in the grotto at the equipment Jessica had spread out on the ground.
“Hey, you get your mom settled?” Constance nodded her head. “Cool. Well let's see. These are scent traps. Supposedly these are the Odour de Cologne of the Sasquatch world. Here we have night vision cameras. You take these little numbers and put them in strategic spots, like near the Bigfoot Chanel #5, and they record in the dark. Now each one of the strategically placed cameras can be linked back to this control panel. See here are the cameras, one through four, which I have already placed. And finally all this is linked back to my laptop. And if I have everything connected correctly, I can turn this on, turn on a switch, and….presto. You can see what camera one is looking at here on the computer.” Constance peered over Jessica's shoulder at the computer monitor.
“Wow, I didn't realize you had all this stuff. Were these the cameras you picked up at the conference?”
“Yep, the very ones. These are great, they're small, easy to hide, and have awesome clarity. I have one more to place if you'd like to help.”
“Sure. Where to?”
“I wanted to place one right here behind us, to pick up the whole grotto. The rest are in the woods around us. I didn't think I'd ever find a way around the laurel but finally crawled through. Once you get through it opens up quite a bit to the north. Do you know what's up that way?”
“It climbs gradually up to some limestone caves and overhangs. Grandmother always said it was a sacred area to the Mountain Spirits.”
“Hmm, could be a living area. Maybe we could make a trip up there sometime, if that's ok?”
“Sure, it will a bit of a hike. We could take the horses, do you ride?”
“I haven't in a while, but I can ride. Sounds like a good plan.” Jessica smiled at Constance. “So you want to get these set out, and then we can finish with the camp?”
“Sounds like a plan Dr. Cooper.”
The two women, Ruby, and Chupa sat around the camp stove. The sun had set and they had just finished a dinner of hotdogs, baked beans and brownies.
“Boy this was a healthy meal.” Constance sat back and stretched her back.
“I don't see the dogs complaining. Besides, we're camping; we're supposed to eat stuff like this. Though I must say the brownies were an unexpected treat. Thanks for making them. All I had to offer for desert were marshmallows.”
“My pleasure. I bet when you are camping by yourself you live off of fried Spam, Vienna Weenies and Jerky.”
Jessica just stared blankly at Constance. “So you were spying on me when I was camped out a few weeks ago? No wonder you were right there to throw down with the shotgun. You were following me weren't you?” She reached out and poked the veterinarian in her outstretched stomach.”
“Ooomph. Hey, no poking. And no, I was not spying on you. It was good timing, don't you think?”
“Yeah, I do. I never thought I would be glad someone drew a gun on me.”
“Sorry about that. Since my papa died we've had trouble with poachers and people sneaking around. I always assumed they were looking for ginseng, but now I think they were looking for evidence of the Bigfoot. Locals know about the tales Jessi, it was just a matter of time before an outsider caught wind of them. Please, tell me you can help me protect these creatures.”
“I promise you Constance; if I can prove what you have here I will go to every preservation agency known and get this area protected. We have already had one killing; I will do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again.”
Constance reached out and took the researcher's hand. “You know you are an incredible woman Jessica. I am very blessed to have met you. You have enriched my life so much in the last few weeks, thank you.” She leaned slowly forward. “Jessica, I want…,”
“Me too.” They closed the gap between them and softly their lips met in their first kiss. Gently at first, seeking, searching, and then more confidently they kissed. Jessica's heart raced, causing explosions of color behind her closed lids. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears, along with a rhythmic ringing.
Actually, more of a beeping tone she noted as Constance breathlessly pulled slightly away. In between light kisses she said, “Ummm, Jessi, hmm, Jessi, do you, uhh, do you hear a ringing sound?”
“Yah, hmm mmm, you mean you can hear it too?”
“Yeah. Wait, wait, Jessi, stop, listen.”
Dejectedly Jessica pulled away and listened. The beeping they both heard was not the brain felt sound of a first kiss, or the rushing of overheated hormones.
“Oh shit! It's one of the camera sensors.” Jessica jumped up and fell toward the tent, where the control panel and laptop had been placed. “Look Constance we have something at camera four.” She hit the appropriate control and watched the computer screen as the image popped up. “Shit whatever it was is out of the camera range now. I don't see anything.” Suddenly camera two jumped into action. “It's moving!” Jessica clicked camera two on. “Shit it's moving fast, we keep missing it.”
“The cameras are recording it though, right?”
“Yeah, we can watch it later.” Another sensor went into action, this time camera one. And suddenly camera three came to life. “What the hell? We've got two sizable things, one on each side of the grotto. Whatever is out there, they're heading right toward each other, fast!” Suddenly the night was ripped apart by the sound of a monstrous bellowing sound, followed by screams, and howling.
“Jessica which camera…”
“None of them. I didn't put any in the area the sound is coming from. The terrain was getting real rugged there, so I came back.” Another scream, this time closer than the last. Ruby suddenly bolted, running barking into the laurel.
“Ruby NO!!” But Constance's calls were only answered by the sound of a high-pitched barking. Chupa, fearing the worse for his little beagle friend, ran headlong after her into the darkness. “Chupa!!” Jessica screamed frantically.
Constance scrambled out of the tent and began desperately rummaging through her pack. Jessica started out after her listening to the screams and growling of dogs coming from outside the grotto. Suddenly a piercing, pain-filled, yelping sounded through the blackness. Jessica opened her mouth to scream for the dogs but her voice was blocked by the sound of a gun blast.
Silence. She heard a slight ringing in her ears from the gun percussion, but nothing else. Silence. Slowly Jessica turned to see Constance holding a pistol. She could still see the smoke haze trickling from the upturned barrel. “Jessica come on, we have to find the dogs. Whatever was out there should have run at the sound of the gun, c'mon let's go.”
“Hold on let me get a spotlight.” She slid into the tent and grabbed a light, and then quickly reached into her bag for her hunting knife. Quickly threading it onto her belt, she bounded out of the tent just in time to see Ruby walking through the break in the laurel.
“Ruby! Jessica hurry!” Constance called as she ran over to her little beagle. She fell to her knees frantically checking the dog for injuries. “You okay girl, huh? What were you thinking? Chupa! Come on boy, please.”
Jessica's heart sank. Ruby was safe. Her baby was still out there. She dropped to her knees next to the veterinarian. “Is she okay? Constance? Constance? I need you to come with me to find Chupa. You're a vet he needs you. Please help me.” Tears flowed over and down her cheeks.
Constance shook herself out of her dazed relief. “He's probably just hiding, let's go.” She stood up quickly and headed for the small break in the laurel. “C'mon this is the shortest route.” Constance stooped in front of the break and started to crawl through when she heard rustling coming through the laurel. “Bring the light, quick.”
Jessica stumbled over toward the hedge shining the light into the gap. There, blinking at the sudden ocular assault was Chupa.
“Chupa! You big lug get out here. You okay boy?” Jessica reached in to get him but he backed away and turned his head back over his shoulder and then looked at his human.
“Chupa, c'mon. What's up, you hurt boy, come here?” But Chupa turned and starting walking back through the laurel, turning to look back at her.
“Chupa! Get out here now!”
“Jessi, wait. I think he wants us to follow him. Let's go, come on he's okay. Let's see what he wants to show us.”
The two women squirmed through laurel, being urged on by Chupa who would turn and softly woof at them. After several minutes all three of them broke through the laurel. Jessica shined the light around the clearing. Chupa looked longingly up at his human and then trotted off knowing she would follow him. The two women followed along until they found themselves in an area of trampled weeds and grasses. Jessica shined the light around resting it on the canine guide. He stood over a dark lump in the grass. “What is that?”
“Oh no. Stiles.” Constance whispered.
Constance dropped to the ground next to her dog. He was covered in blood and breathing shallowly. “Constance is he okay? Constance?”
“He's torn up bad.” The veterinarian's hands began to roam over the broken cattle dog. “Two legs broken, ribs, looks like his jaw too. Blood ran from Stiles' nose, mouth and ears, and an open bloody gash covered his stomach. “He has intestine exposed. Fuck!” Stiles slowly rolled his eye to look up at Constance. He began to cry and pant quickly. “Shhh, it's ok boy. Relax.” She ran her hand over his head, and winced as he yelped.
“Constance what do you need me to do? Can we get him back to the house so you can fix him up? Do you need me to go get anything?”
“There's only one thing I can do to help him now.” She stood up and slipped her long sleeve shirt off and placed it over Stiles' eyes and head. Then she took the pistol from her belt and cocked it.
“Constance! No, you can't do that!” She grabbed for the gun, only to have the other woman grab her by the front of her shirt and shake her.
“Jessica, listen to me. He is injured too extensively. He is not going to make it. I can't let him lay in pain like this. His back is broken, his guts are open on the ground and he is bleeding out. Now you back off and let me do what I need to do.” She roughly shoved Jessica and then bent to talk softly to Stiles. “You have been a blessing to me my friend. You have finished your work here bravely. Now I release you to go and play and run forever. I love you boy.”
Jessica turned away and covered her ears, wishing she could shrink into a little ball and disappear. The gunshot reverberated through the forest, making her jump from the sound. She turned back to see Constance sit back on her heels, lift her head in the air and scream, an agonizing scream, of anger, pain, loss; the scream of death. Jessica rushed to her hurting friend, falling to her knees, and cradling her in her arms. Jessica held the other woman while she cried, rocking her, clinging to her. Promising she would never let her go. After much time had passed Constance wiped her face and asked, “Jessi, can you help me carry him out to my truck?”
“Of course. Are you ready to do that?”
“Yeah, we need to get him back to the house. I am not going to stay at the grotto tonight, and neither are you. Come on, let's get going.”
After an hour of work the two women has placed Stiles in the back of the truck, packed up the campsite, and loaded most of the equipment. Jessica left the cameras; they could be picked up in the morning. She slid into the driver's seat of Constance's truck. “I'll drive.”
“What about your Jeep?”
“I'll get it in the morning. I'm not leaving you tonight.”
“Jessi, you don't have..”
“I didn't say I have to. I said I'm not leaving you tonight, that's not negotiable. C'mon let's get you home.” Constance nodded her head in defeat and slid into the truck next to Jessica. Chupa jumped in next to her and she shut the door. Constance turned and looked into the back of the truck where Ruby lay with her head on Stiles' body, wrapped in her outer shirt.
Jessica wrapped her arm around Constance's shoulders. “Hey, scoot a little closer, you're freezing. Do you want my shirt?”
“No, I'll be okay. You can keep me warm.” She held tightly to Jessica, silently riding back to the farmhouse.
“Would you like something hot to drink, coffee, cocoa?” They were standing in the kitchen after putting Stiles in the barn until morning, and settling Ruby and Chupa in the mudroom. “Are you sure Chupa will be ok in there without you?”
“Yeah, I think he wanted to stay with Ruby anyway. Thanks again for checking him out. And if it doesn't wake your mom, I would love a cup of coffee.”
“Believe me my mother won't be waking up, even if we blew the house up. Once she's out, she's out for a while. Do you like flavored coffee?”
“Love it. Can I help?”
“No, I got it. Why don't you head on into the living room, I'll be there in a few minutes.”
Jessica walked into the living room and plopped down on the sofa. She leaned her head on the back of the couch and closed her eyes, running the day's events over in her mind.
“Are you asleep?” Constance whispered.
Jessica opened her eyes and looked into the most beautiful face she had ever seen. She reached up and rubbed the other woman's cheek. “No Beauty, just thinking. Come sit next to me.” Constance handed her a mug of coffee and sat down. “Hmm this smells great. Thank you again.”
“You're welcome Jessi. About tonight, thank you for all you did. And I'm sorry I treated you the way I did back in the woods. I took my anger out on you.”
“It's ok. I'm sorry I put you in a situation where you had to defend yourself, and your professional actions.”
“That's alright. It's not easy making that decision. And actually doing it is awful. I had never put down one of my own, God I thought I was going to break apart inside. But I knew he was suffering. Oh Stiles, I can't believe he's gone.” Constance began to cry and fell into the professor's arms.
Jessica held the younger woman until her crying subsided, and she was relaxing into her. “Hey.” Jessica whispered. “Why don't you go on up to bed and try and get some rest.”
Constance nodded her head and stood up, offering her hand to Jessica. “Come with me, please. I don't want to be alone.”
“Okay. Let me grab my things.” She picked up her pack and then took the offered hand, and was led upstairs.
Once inside the bedroom Constance shut the door and turned to face Jessica. “Thank you, I really need you tonight.” She fell into the other woman's arms and clung tightly to her.
“Uhh, Constance, I hate to bring this up but what about your mom.”
Constance giggled into Jessica's neck. “I feel like I'm in High School again. Don't worry about my mother, she usually sleeps late and never comes into my room. And honestly, I just don't care. I've lived too long for my mother and not myself. And Lord knows she doesn't appreciate it. In fact, wait right here.” Constance disappeared out of the room and walked quickly down the steps.
Moments later the door opened and in rushed two very excited dogs. Chupa immediately jumped up on his human and licked her frantically. “Hey fella, miss me?” Jessica kneeled down and was scratching the big baby all over when she heard the door click shut. She looked up to find Constance standing in a pair of gray cut off sweats and a white tank; the sexiest woman she had ever laid eyes on. Jessica realized she was staring and dropped her head, pretending to be preoccupied with Chupa.
“I know my lingerie lacks a little to be desired. I typically don't have sleepovers.” Constance said as she walked forward. Jessica slowly stood up and faced her.
“Actually, I think you are very uhhh, sexy, just as you are. I don't think my camo shorts and t-shirt will be real impressive either, so I guess we're evenly matched.”
“Yeah, I think so too. The bathroom is right next-door. I'll keep these two company while you change.”
“Ok, be right back.”
Jessica padded out of the room and disappeared into the bathroom. Constance lifted Chupa's big head to look into his eyes. “Chupa, I really like you're mama. I hope you don't mind sharing.” To answer he licked Constance from her chin to eyebrows. “Thanks boy, I guess that's affirmation enough.” Chupa then rolled over for a belly rub. If she was gonna be a part of his life she better know how to appropriately rub the belly. After several seconds of the rub he realized this human had magic hands. When Jessica returned from the bathroom a couple minutes later Chupa was sound asleep on his back, legs skyward, lips hanging.
“He'll be snoring soon. He'll love you forever now that you rubbed his tummy.”
“It was my pleasure, he's a sweetie. Ready for bed?”
“Yeah, I suppose so. Uh Constance, I don't want you to feel uncomfortable sleeping in the same bed. I can sack out on the floor next to your bed if you want. I mean we haven't known each other that long, and I don't want you to feel weird.”
Constance stood up and approached her. “Jessi, if I were leery of you I wouldn't have asked you to sleep with me in the first place. I feel safe with you, I'm not afraid you're gonna take advantage of me. So if you are comfortable with me, I really would like to have you close to me tonight.” Constance held her hand out and waited for Jessica's answer.
“Okay.” She took her hand and was led to the big four-poster bed.
“Left or right side?”
“I don't care. Your bed your choice.”
Constance walked around the bed and crawled in, followed closely by Ruby. Jessica slid under the flannel sheet and comforter and sank into the mattress. “Wow this feels great, very cozy.”
“I'm glad you approve.” Constance turned out the bedside lamp and rolled onto her side to face her bedmate. “Jessi if you need to get up the lamp on your side works.”
“I can't imagine I will need to, thanks.”
Silence, except for the gentle snores from Chupa.
“He does snore.”
“Yeah, is it going to bother you?”
Silence, except of course the Chupa snoring.
“Would you mind holding me for a little while?”
“I'd love to. Slide on over.” Jessica extended her arm, and Constance slid into place along her side. As she laid her head on the strong shoulder she sighed deeply.
“Thank you Jessi. Goodnight.”
“You're welcome, sleep well.”
And finally silence, sleep and canine snores.
Jessica smiled in her sleep and then giggled. “Mmmm that feels good.”
“What you're doing, feels good.” She groggily answered.
“I'm not doing anything. I think you're talking in your sleep.”
Jessica's eyes shot open to find Constance looking at her. They were still in the same position they had been in when they fell asleep, except Constance's arm was loosely draped across her stomach. She smiled. “You okay Jessi?”
“Uhhh, yeah, I uh, I'm not used to waking up with someone. I was dreaming, sorry. Did I wake you?”
“No, I've been awake for about 20 minutes, but I didn't want to get up and disturb you, and I was really comfortable. What were you dreaming about?”
“Uhh, I don't remember.” Jessica stated, and Constance watched as a blush crept up her face.
“Jessica Cooper I believe you are lying to me.” Then in a sing songy voice, “What were you dreamin?”
“Nothing, I don't remember.” Jessica tried to get up and away from the object of her dream. But the other woman held firm and pushed her back down on the bed. Then in a flash she jumped on top, straddling her hips.
“I have ways of making you talk Dr. Cooper. I specialize in tickle torture. You might as well tell me.”
“I will only give you my name, rank, and serial number, nothing more.”
“So you resist aye? Time to pay the piper.” Before Constance could sink her fingers into her victim's ribs, in one swift move Jessica had powered out and rolled them both over, settling herself firmly on top.
“Now who's in control Ms. Blackhawk? Are you always this spunky in the morning?”
Constance nodded in the affirmative.
“Well then, I'll give you a little something to ponder that may calm you down a bit.” Lowering her voice to a whisper, “I was dreaming about you.” Jessica quickly bent forward and soundly kissed Constance. “Good morning.” And with that she jumped up from bed and headed toward the bathroom.
As she was shutting the door to the bedroom she heard, “That was supposed to calm me?”
Jessica walked back into the bedroom in her blue camouflage pants and tank. Constance was sitting in the window seat looking through a book.
“Whatcha doin?” Jessica asked as she ran her fingers through her wet hair.
“Oh, hey. I was just looking at my photo album. Some pictures of my babies. God, I can't believe what happened to Stiles.”
“Constance I am so sorry about Stiles. I don't know what to say, maybe if I hadn't dragged you out there…”
Constance turned to glare at her, tears flowing from her eyes. “Jessica, don't! This was not your fault, don't you dare blame yourself. Do you have any idea how many times I've spent the night on the farm? With and without my dogs, with other people, and by myself. Nothing like this ever happened before. I don't know what happened out there, but something isn't right. Things are out of balance somehow. My family, including our animals, has shared this land with the Nun Yuni Wi for centuries; there has never been any violence. So quit standing there, trying to figure out a way that this was your fault, and come over here and hold me, because I really need a friend right now.”
Jessica nestled into the window seat behind Constance and wrapped muscular arms around her. Constance leaned back into the older woman's chest and wrapped her own arms over Jessica's. They sat there for some time, in quiet consolation.
Jessica kissed the top of Constance's head. “Hey sweetie. Is there anything I can do?”
Constance sniffed and rubbed her arms. “You're doing it.” Then she rubbed the arms holding her more intently. “Damn, you got some guns on you woman.”
Jessica laughed. “The better to hold you with my dear. Guns huh? That was very masculine sounding Beauty.”
“Why do you call me Beauty?”
“Because it's your name, and I think that is exactly what you are, inside and out. If it bothers you I won't do it.”
She turned to look at Jessica. “It doesn't bother me. Actually you make me feel very special when you use my middle name. No one has ever called me that; it's always been Constance or Connie. My sister used to call me Con, but that was back when she liked me. So this is very different for me to hear you call me Beauty, but I like it. It does make me feel a little conceited though.”
“Well, how about I just call you that when we're alone, and not in front of anyone, that way you don't have to feel conceited. How's that sound?”
“Good. Jessie I have some things I have to do this morning, but I want to go back to the grotto with you. So can you wait to go until I get finished with Stiles?”
“I can help you.”
“No, it's something I want to do by myself. I need to say goodbye in my way. Do you understand?”
“Absolutely. I can go over some of the computer stuff and get the gear together to go back to the grotto. If you change your mind and need help just let me know, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks.” Constance stood up from the bench kissed Jessica on the cheek. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“How about I cook for you while you're getting ready? If you trust me in your kitchen that is.”
“Sure. I'm gonna catch a quick shower, and I'll see you downstairs.”
“Man something smells good.” Constance slipped up behind Jessica and slid her arms around her waist. “Oooo omelets, very nice. What's in them?”
“I put in some ham, mushrooms, and cheese, nothing too special. Hopefully edible though. I popped some toast in, made coffee, and cut up some berries I found. Does that meet with your approval Ms. Blackhawk?”
“Mmmm, sounds wonderful. I'll get the plates. Let's eat. Did you put the dogs out?”
“Yeah, I tied Chupa to the clothesline out back. Was that ok?”
“Oh yeah, that is fine. Were you afraid he would run away?”
“I doubt it, but I didn't want him to get confused and maybe get lost. So ready to eat?”
“Oh yeah. Dang, you made an awful lot of food.”
“Well, I thought I would make enough in case your mom got up.”
Constance walked over to Jessica and took her hand. “You are very thoughtful. Come on sit; let me serve you up this wonderful breakfast.”
After Constance headed outside to bury Stiles Jessica washed the breakfast dishes, poured another cup of coffee, and was just sitting down at the kitchen table with her laptop when Beatrice plodded in. “Well you're here early Doctor Stooper.” She mumbled as she plopped down at the table.
“Good morning Mrs. Blackhawk. Please call me Jessi. How are you this morning?”
“Well I'm still livin. Where's Connie, out with those useless dogs?”
“Actually Constance is out burying Stiles, he was killed by something last night in the woods.” Jessica stated flatly, hoping Beatrice would be a little gentler on her daughter. “Constance put breakfast in the oven to keep it warm, if you're interested. Would you like me to get it for you?”
“No, I'll manage. So that dog went and got himself killed huh?” Beatrice got up and opened the oven door and retrieved the plate of food. “I never much liked that dog, ugly, stared atcha all the time. She plunked back into the kitchen chair, and started eating the omelet. “That's why I let him out of the house last night, before I went to sleep, I didn't want him in here with me. He was out there in the mudroom fussin and scratching, so I let him out.”
“You let Stiles out last night?”
“Yeah, hated that dog. Damn, Connie sure as hell made a shitty breakfast. Were you able to eat this garbage?”
Jessica was still reeling from Beatrice's admission that she had let Stiles out, which led to his death. This bitter old woman had caused the death of an innocent animal, and the heartbreak of her daughter. A daughter that took care of her drunken ass, gave up her life to do so. Jessica's temper flared, causing an image of her choking the old woman to flash through her mind. She quickly stood, causing the kitchen chair to scrape loudly across the floor. She gathered up her equipment, and turned to leave, but then looked back at the pathetic alcoholic sitting in her ragged robe. Shaking her head, Jessica said. “I made breakfast; I guess it doesn't meet your approval. Don't blame Constance; she is in enough pain right now because of Stiles.” With that she stomped out of the kitchen and headed to the picnic table out back.
“Unfuckingbelievable!” Jessica muttered to herself as she unclipped Chupa. “Chupa if I gave you the attack command would you eat Beatrice Blackhawk?” Chupa jumped up and placed his paws on her chest and looked her straight in the eye. “Yeah, you're probably right. It wouldn't impress Beauty very much if we did her mother in huh? God Chupa, that woman is impossible. I wonder if it's the booze, or if she has always been rough?” Chupa licked Jessica on the chin and then stretched his big frame. “I love you too buddy.” She sat down at the picnic table and started going through the video from the night before. She had only caught snippets of the footage on the computer; the rest would have to be downloaded directly from the cameras once she retrieved them.
Jessica weeded through the images for several minutes. “Chupa I didn't catch a thing of interest. Whatever was out there moved quickly, in and out of frame before I could even pull it up in the computer.” She clicked on the next image and sat back to stretch her back. She peered around the yard and out toward the barn. She didn't see Constance anywhere and wondered where she had taken her friend to bury. Absently she reached down and petted Chupa's head. “Are you my baby, huh? You're a sweetie. You scared the crap out of me last night fella. But you were very brave, I'm proud of you for trying to protect Ruby.” Jessica couldn't help but think that it could have been Chupa that was lying dead this morning. Shaking the idea from her head she looked back to the computer screen. Peering closely at the newest image Jessica softly spoke. “What the hell?”
“Ahhh. Oh shit! Constance you scared the bejesus out of me.”
“Jessi I have to tell you something.”
“Yeah me too. You're not going to believe what I found.”
“Stiles wasn't killed by a Nun Yunu Wi, or any animal.”
“How do you know?”
“Look.” Constance bent over Jessica, peering at the computer screen. “Unless the local Sasquatch wears boots, there was somebody, not something, out there with us.” She pointed to the computer screen where the image of a boot-covered foot was just about to step completely out of frame. “What the hell is going on Constance?”
“I don't know, but I'm going to find out. I checked Stiles' body Jessi; he had cuts on him that were caused from a knife, or razor. The edges were too smooth and uniform to be a tear. He also had stab marks.”
“We need to call the police.”
“No, we can't. If we tell them we were out Bigfoot hunting, and try to show them one picture of a boot, they are not going to take us seriously.”
“What about the evidence you found when you examined Stiles?”
“Jessi the county sheriff is not going to listen to me. He doesn't exactly like me.”
“Why? What could he not like about you?”
“I slept with his daughter. It's Christopher Peterson, Cris' dad.”
“Constance once we get the cameras we will have all the evidence we need. If the local sheriff doesn't want to help we'll go to the feds. There is obviously a dangerous person skulking around on your property, we have to tell the authorities.”
“Let's go get the cameras, and we'll go from there ok? I want to have enough info to present. I don't want to look like a kook Jessi.”
“Ok, let's go.”
“Son of a bitch!!” Jessica lashed out and kicked a clump of brush near her feet. “They're all gone Constance! All of em. The bastard stole all my cameras! Who the hell is doing this, what are they up to?”
“I don't know, I just don't know. Do you think the camera is still in the grotto?”
Jessica stomped around through the underbrush and trees trying to clear her mind. “It doesn't really matter. That camera only had about two hours of battery power that's why I didn't put it out here. It would have only recorded us.” She continued to tramp around the forest floor. “Rat bastard. Who the hell are you?” She jammed the toe of her boot into the soft forest floor, kicking up a large lump of ground covering algae. Jessica's attention was drawn to the divot, and in a natural routine began scanning the dirt. She continued walking the area searching the ground, for what she did not know. No footprints, no hairs, no signs of anything. It was time to bring in the big guns. “Chupa, come here boy.” He trotted over to his obviously irritated human and awaited instructions. “Ok Chupa, find boy, find.” He began running his nose along the forest floor.
“What are you doing Jessi?”
“I'm having Chupa look for human traces. We might be able to at least figure out which direction this bastard came from, or where he went.”
Chupa suddenly stopped and sat down and barked at Jessica. “What you got boy?” She walked over and looked down at his discovery, a partial boot print. “Good boy, Chupa, good find. Constance check this out, this boot is huge. Maybe this Bigfoot does wear boots. I'm going to follow this trail, if you don't want to come I understand. But, could I borrow your gun?”
“No. I'm going with you. I want to find this bastard as much as you do.”
“Okay. Chupa come here boy. Ok Chupa, follow boy, follow.”
Chupa put his nose to the ground and began pushing his way through the brush. Slowly the hunting party made their way to the base of the northern ridge. “Well, looks like he started up the mountain. Also looks like it's going to be slow going. Constance did you say you had horses we could use?”
“I got something better for this terrain, it looks rough. You ever been on a mule? They are more sure-footed than a horse. C'mon lets go get them, we can be back here within the hour.”
“Chupa is doing an amazing job.”
Jessica turned to look back at Constance. “Yeah, he is quite the professional. Looks like we're nearing some rock shelters. Have you ever been up here Constance?”
“No, my grandmother always said to leave this area to the Stone People.”
Chupa continued nosing allow the ground following a path straight to the entrance of a small cave. Then he stopped, sat, and woofed for his human. Stiffly, Jessica slid from the back of Butterscotch the mule and approached her dog.
“Well, we have more than one person.”
Constance walked up behind her. “More footprints?”
Jessica bent and carefully picked up something with her fingertips. “No. A fingernail.”
“Not quite as bad as you think. It's an acrylic nail- see. Brightly painted too. So we either have two people, or a VERY, large-footed, woman, who kills animals, and goes to the trouble of having her nails done.”
“And wears lipstick. Look I found some cigarette butts.”
“Here are some small footprints. Looks like whoever attacked Stiles climbed up to this cave and met with a woman. But where did they go from here? What's on the other side of this ridge?”
“National Forest and some privately owned land. Forested just as thickly as this side.”
“Are there any hunting cabins near here?”
“Not that I know of, but there could be. Let's see what Chupa can tell us”
“Yeah let's. Ok Chupa, follow boy.” The canine detective nosed his way right through the entrance to the cave and looked back to see if his human was following. Jessica pulled a flashlight out of her pack and turned to Constance, holding out her hand. “You ready?” She nodded and took the offered hand. Together they entered the cool, damp cave.
The cave was quite small, but had a high arching ceiling. Jessica followed Chupa, who was illuminated by the flashlight. She scanned the darkness for other chamber entrances or holes. Chupa suddenly stopped and sat. “Whatcha got boy?” Jessica looked around carefully on the ground but didn't find anything. “Okay Chupa good boy, follow. Follow Chupa.” But he didn't budge. He just sat looking intently at her. “Follow Chupa.” Still he sat, without moving.
“Jessi maybe he's tired.”
“I guess that's possible. You okay Chupie?” Jessica knelt to pet her companion, trying to ease him after all the work he had just completed.
“Uhh, Jessi, I don't think Chupa got tired. He just can't fly, look.”
Constance was looking up to the high ceiling of the cave. A small ray of light was breaking the darkness, sunlight from outside.
“Good job Chupa, good boy. Take a break big guy.” Jessica took Chupa's chicken from her pack and gave it to him along with a dog treat. He flopped down on the cool cave floor and chomped into his biscuit. “Good eye Constance.”
“Thanks, do I get a biscuit? I'd settle for a rubber chicken.”
“Sorry no extras. So what do we have here, repelling and climbing in from above?”
“If I had to guess I would say yes. Let's scout around and see if we can find anything.”
The two women began looking around the cave, not really sure of what they were searching for, just searching.
“Looks like a wash. We probably should get going, it will be getting dark in a few hours and I'm not in the mood for a repeat of last night.” Constance said scanning the ground one last time.
“I guess. How many more caves are up here, do you know?”
“No clue, I know there are at least three entrances to one large system, but I don't know how many small caves there are.”
“I'd hate to leave without exploring some more. But then again this is all kind of spooky to say the least. Come on, let's go, we can come back another time.”
“Constance are you sure you're going to be ok? I can stay another night if you want me to, I really don't mind.”
“No Jessi, thank you, but no. You haven't been home since yesterday morning. I'll be fine, I promise. How about I come over Monday, or Tuesday, and we can watch some more Xena or something?”
“Okay, I just hate to leave you alone. Please call me if you need me for anything.”
“I will. Thank you so much.” Jessica gathered Constance into her arms and held her tight. She found herself nearly in tears knowing she had to leave Beauty on this farm with that monster of a mother. She couldn't hold her feelings back any longer.
“Constance I worry about you being here with your mom. Please don't get mad, but I don't want any more negative things happening to you. I care a lot about you Beauty, I want you to be happy.”
Constance pushed away and looked into her face. “Jessica,”
“I'm sorry; I guess I shouldn't have said anything. I just..”
“Jessi, hush. It's okay, I'm not mad. Sometimes I just don't know how to react to you, you're so caring. Thank you for worrying, but I'll be fine. I promise you, I'll be okay.” Constance leaned forward and softly kissed the drawn mouth, which loosened and returned the kiss. “Jessi go home, relax, and I'll call you in the morning, okay?”
“Okay.” The two women parted and Jessica walked toward the Jeep. She turned to wave at Constance. “Goodnight Beauty, I'll miss you.”
“Drive careful, I'll miss you too.”
An hour and a half later Jessica was relaxing in her Jacuzzi tub trying to clear her muddled mind. The radio was playing and she was sipping on a glass of Pinot Grigio. All the events of the past two days ran through her mind, and she tried to make plans for what to do next. Between the warm tub, and the wine, Jessica began to slowly relax into the soothing water. She dozed off thinking of Constance.
She woke with a start to the sound of Chupa barking. “Okay I'll come let you out in a second. Jessica slid out of the tub and toweled off. After she slid into some sweats, she went downstairs looking for her companion. She found him lying at the sliding glass doors looking outside growling. “Do you have a bunny in your domain Chupa baby? Or is it another raccoon?” Jessica flipped the outside lights on and looked around the back yard. “I don't see anything buddy, come on, out you go.” She slid the door open and he walked slowly onto the deck growling. “Chupa what's wrong with you?”
Jessica stepped out onto the deck and peered out onto her property. “Chupa I don't see a thing. Hurry go pee boy.” But her dog stood his ground on the deck. “Well come on chicken shit. If you're not going to pee let's go back in.” Turning to reenter her house, she was shocked as a huge, hulking figure dropped off the roof in front of her. She tried to turn and run, but the man was on her before she could make a step. Jessica fought, straining to get loose from his powerful grip, kicking, thrashing, but it was no use. The giant of a man grabbed her hair and pulled her tight to him and she felt the cold steel of a knife press to her throat.
“Now doctor, stay still, or I will stick you like a pig. Unnerstand?” The voice was gravely, with a congested low nasal sound. Jessica froze as the blade bit into her flesh, she was sure he had drawn blood already. Chupa was slowly advancing on the man, growling low, all of his hair standing on end. “Tell the dog to back off or you and him are dead. Unnerstand. Do it!!” The knife pierced Jessica's flesh and she bit back a scream.
“Chupa,” her voice quivered, “down boy. Sit!” He reluctantly obeyed his human, flopping down on the deck awaiting the attack command. “Okay, I'm not moving. What do you want? Whatever it is just take it, and don't hurt us.”
“Oh doctor I will take what I want. Now let's just go in the house, nice an easy.”
Jessica was drug backward into her home and held by the neck while the stranger shut the door, trapping Chupa outside. “Okay doc time to go.”
“Go where? Who are you, what do you want?”
“Too much talk. Time for quiet doc.”
The man roughly jerked Jessica around facing him. The last thing she saw was a large maul of a fist heading toward her.
To be continued
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