DISCLAIMERS: See part 1 for all pertinent disclaimers.


Part 7

By Lena

"Hello?" Andre' Broussard was busy preparing for work. She'd have to leave in about 30 minutes to make it to the hospital in time for her 11p-7a shift.

"Momma.....?" Sandra could barely speak passed the huge knot in her throat.

"Sandra? Is that you, cheri?" Andre' clearly heard the distress in her child's voice.

"Momma, I messed up." Sandra couldn't hold back the sob in her throat.

"How'd you mess up, cheri?" She asked, sitting at the kitchen table, her heart filled with dread.

"I don't know what to do. I don't know how to make things right again." The dark haired beauty sobbed so hard that her mother could no longer understand her words, but heard her heart breaking.

"Sandra, have you been drinking?" Andre' held her breath and prayed to St. Anthony.

"No." Sandra sniffled and tried to catch her breath so she could talk.

"Then what is it, ma cheri? What has you so upset.....? Tell me."

"It's Josie. I don't know what to do. I was awful to her. She offered to commit her life to me, momma. She asked me for the same commitment and I freaked out and ran away." There was a lull as the distraught woman blew her nose and wiped her eyes. "She gave me a beautiful garnet ring. I left it on her kitchen table as I ran out of the house. What she must think of me. She must hate me. After all she's done for me, I just threw it all away." The sobbing renewed.

"C'est domage, cheri. You ran because you were overwhelmed or you ran because you do not love her enough to commit to her?"

"I love her so much it hurts. She's my life, momma. And I've hurt her. How could she forgive me treating her like that. I just panicked. I know I don't deserve her and I'm sure now she realizes that too."

"That is just not true, Sandra Camille. Whatever wrong you may have done in your life, you have more than paid for. You must stop punishing yourself. This is your second chance. Don't let it pass you by."

"But, how can someone like her love someone like me. I'm a drunk that put her addiction before the safety of her own child." Sandra sobbed.

"Stop punishing yourself. It won't bring Antoine back to us. It will only take you away from me too. Please, ma cheri, you are my child. I don't want to lose you. You need to get involved in AA up there. This is a MUST for you. Have you gotten a sponsor yet?"

Sandra was surprised at first by the question. "Yes, actually, Josie took me to an AA meeting the other night and I asked a woman there to be my sponsor."

"Have you called her tonight?" Her mother asked.

"No, I hadn't even thought of that. I guess I should, huh? I have a couple more quarters. " Sandra reached into her pocket.

"Yes, I think you should. Where are you calling from?" Andre' was concerned.

"I drove over to the Big K and used their pay phone. I just had to talk to you." Sandra sniffled and wiped at her red eyes again.

"I am always here for you, ma petite fille. But, as much as I love you, Sandra, and want to take your pain away, it is up to you to learn and to grow. You know what they teach in AA, "there is no growth without pain" and pain hurts. But, you can survive it and become stronger and wiser. Let it work for you, not against you. I want you to call your sponsor as soon as I hang up and be careful. It is getting late. You shouldn't be out alone, especially when you are so upset. Ok?"

"Ok, mom. I will. I love you."

"I love you, too, more than all the stars in the skies. A' bientot, cheri."

"Bon soir, momma."


Josie cried her heart break and disappointment out at the kitchen table until she heard the familiar start of Sandra's VW and ran to the door just in time to watch her drive away. Sadness turned to anger and she made the conscious decision to fight for what she knew they both wanted. She went to wash her face and put on her jeans, a t-shirt and her Reeboks. After she felt more human and had her emotions under control, she grabbed her wallet and keys and went in pursuit of her lover.

It didn't take long for Josie to find the bug parked at the Big K. Just as she was getting out of her car, she noticed Tammy from the AA meeting walk through the doors. Not sure what she should do, now, she sat in her car and waited. She could see the two women seated opposite each other in a booth talking. Sandra wiped at her face with a napkin as she ran her fingers through her long, dark, hair. Tammy nodded and patted her hand, offering understanding and solace. Josie realized that her friend was where she needed to be and went home to await her return.

It was over an hour later when Josie heard the bug drive up into the garage and she ran to the kitchen door to greet her.

"Hey....., you Ok?" Josie stood in the doorway wanting to run to the tall beauty, but not sure she wanted close contact right now.

"Tired." The emotionally exhausted and embarrassed woman crossed her arms under her breasts and scuffed the ground with the tip of her sneaker.

"Yeah, you look like hell." Josie teased.

"Gee, thanks. I love you, too." Sandra shyly chuckled as she looked into her friends shining eyes then quickly back at her feet.

"God, I hope so, cause I love you something fierce." Josie smiled as the tears escaped down her fevered cheeks.

Sandra looked up. "You do?"

"Yeah, I do..... Sandy, I know you're scared. I'm a little scared now, too." Josie looked down as if studying her shoes. "I don't know what all the demons are that haunt you." She looked up into blood shot blue eyes. "But, you can trust me and my love for you. Just, don't run away..... Please, Sandy. It hurt so much to see my ring just..... discarded like that." Josie returned to her appraisal of her shoe laces.

When Josie finished, Sandra slowly walked up to her, still standing in the doorway, wrapped her long arms around her waist and lay her head upon her lover's bosom and cried.

Josie stroked her long dark hair. "You know what that ring represents to me.....? The garnet is my heart and the silver band holding it is you. You hold my heart, Sandy. Please don't forget that."

The dark head nodded. "I'm so sorry, Josie. There is a lot I need to tell you. I want to explain as best I can why I flew off like I did. It's not that I don't love you or don't want to spend my life with you. I do. More than anything."

Josie pushed the dark hair from her friend's face.

"Can we talk after I get home from school tomorrow. I am whipped. I need to get some sleep and just be still for the rest of the night. You Ok with that?" Sandra looked into moist green orbs afraid she may have hurt her lover some more.

"I'm fine with that. I think it's just what we both need right now. Why don't you go on upstairs and I'll see you tomorrow. And, Sandy, everything is going to be alright. There is nothing you and I can't work out together. I need you to believe that, deal?" Josie searched her lover's eyes.

"Deal." Sandra smiled, warmly.

Josie tenderly kissed her friends forehead and said good night. She watched in sympathy as Sandra winced with pain as she climbed up the stairs to her apartment.


Both women fell into an exhausted sleep and woke with less than vim vigor and vitality. Josie dragged herself out of bed and struggled into her clothes and shoes as she set out for her morning walk.

Sandra awoke feeling hung over from the emotional strain of the night before. She looked out the window to see her boss walking Scooby and Doo and, the very strange looking, Rover. 'What kind of dog is that? He looks like a patch work quilt.' Sandra chuckled to herself.

She thought about the talk she was to have with Josie when she returned from school. It was clear that there were some things that she had to clarify for her, which meant she had to face them herself. Her stomach did flip flops just thinking about it. 'As they say, today is the first day of the rest of your life. God, I hope that's true.' The dark haired beauty got ready for school as she prayed for courage and guidance.

'Jesus, I'm pooped. I'm gonna have to crawl back into bed for a few hours if I'm going to have that talk with Sandra this afternoon. And, I think an extra B12 shot is in order.' "Come on kids, back to the corral." Josie cut her morning walk short in favor of her beauty sleep.

Josie slept with her little companions curled under the blanket at her side. She awoke at 2 p.m. feeling tired and achy. 'This doesn't bode well for the home team, guys. I guess I had a little too much stress last night. Gonna have to take it easy the next few days.'

She got up to shower feeling the all too familiar lethargy of the CFS pulling on her limbs, causing her to make the decision to take 10 mg of prednisone. She knew it would hike up her blood sugar, but this talk with Sandra was way too important to put off due to a little over exertion.


Sandra arrived home and ran upstairs to shower and change into jeans and a tight red t-shirt. She wanted to look good for Josie. She felt better about things today and didn't dread this afternoon nearly as much as expected.

She walked through the kitchen and spied the adorable little blond out on the porch, with her dogs, sipping coffee. She looked fresh and sporty in khaki shorts and white lace halter top. Josie was wearing 'the ring' and a pair of small garnet dangle ear rings. Sandra just stood there and admired her lover until she was caught.

"Hey there, gorgeous. Won't you grab a cup of decaf and join me?"

Sandra grinned and blushed. "Yeah, thanks." She quickly retrieved her brew and curled up in the love seat facing Josie "You look great." Sandra let her eyes peruse the figure before her.

"You don't look too bad yourself." Josie returned the admiring gaze.

Sandra blushed again and grinned. "Um... Thanks."

"Welcome." Josie loved it when her lover blushed. 'She looks like a teenager.'

"We need to talk." Josie said seriously.

"I know." The dark head nodded, letting her hair shadow her face.

Josie took a deep breath and sat up straight in her rocker. "Sandy, why did you tell me your parents were divorced."

Sandra's head popped up in shock. She'd forgotten telling that particular lie to her boss. "I'm sorry, Josie. I didn't mean to lie. I just didn't know you then and I don't like to talk about my dad. It usually shuts people up if I tell them that. I'm really sorry." Sandra looked at her inquisitor with apprehension.

"Have you lied to me about anything else?" Josie looked into her coffee cup, fearful of what she might hear.

"I guess I deserve that....." Sandra took a shaky breath. "No...... I swear it."

Josie looked up into moist blue eyes and smiled gently. "I believe you."

"What is it about your Dad you don't want people to know.....? You can trust me, Sandy. You know that, don't you? I want to understand where your demons come from so I can help you disarm them. So they can't hurt you, or us, anymore..... Please, sweetheart," Josie leaned toward her lover. "tell me."

"I've never talked about it to anyone, ever. Not even my mother." It was Sandra's turn to look into her coffee cup for strength. "I don't know if I can..... But....., I'll try"

"Just start at the beginning. We have all the time you need." Josie encouraged.

Sandra took a big gulp of her coffee and began. "I was crazy about my dad. I was definitely 'daddy's little girl'. I had him all to myself the first eight years of my life, til Tony was born. Boy, did I resent that little bugger. He took my daddy's attention away from me. I found myself trying to excel at everything to get his approval and I got really involved in school sports so he'd come to see me play. I don't think he ever missed a game." Sandra sighed. "God, I loved him. He was my whole world."

Sandra took a few sips of her coffee as she allowed her mind to search through the dark shadows of her repressed memories where the pain resided. "When I was fourteen. I was invited to the Junior/Senior prom by one of the boys in the Senior class. I thought it was so cool to have an older boy interested in me. My parents said I couldn't go, that a boy that age only wanted one thing from a young girl. Boy did we have a fight. My Mom left for work, but my dad and I kept at it. I packed an overnight case and went to stay at my friend Kelly's house. What my dad didn't know was that Kelly was going to the prom, with a Junior. I borrowed one of her dresses. Her parents had a lot more money than mine. We had a ball, drinking, dancing and flirting. Then, suddenly, my date had me in a dark corner with his hands all over me. He stuck his tongue in my mouth. I'd never even kissed a boy before. I was so scared and the beer was making me sick to my stomach. I pulled away from him and ran to the bathroom to throw up. I was so miserable. My parents had been right all along. God, I felt like an inexperienced little fool. Kelly came to my defense and insisted that the guys bring us home."

"I woke up the next morning with a world class hang over. I remember praying to God that, if he let me live, I'd tell my dad everything and take my punishment with a smile..... I never got the chance. My mom called Kelly's Mom and asked her if she could drive me home. She needed me to watch Tony while she was at the hospital with my dad. He'd had a heart attack the night before while I was out partying. I never saw him again, Josie. He died that afternoon. I always felt that if I hadn't upset him so much, he'd still be alive." Sandra swiped at the tears slowly winding down her face. "I couldn't take the guilt. I thought I killed him." Sandra's face crumpled as she allowed her pain to wash out of her for the first time in nineteen years.

Josie rushed to comfort her friend. She held her tight, gently rubbing her back. Sandra let herself be comforted til she was able to compose herself. Then sat back and resumed her story.

"I was so angry at myself and at God for taking him, I started drinking and running around with a rough crowd. My mom couldn't control me. She had to work a lot of double shifts to support the three of us, so I was left unsupervised at night. I made that poor woman's life a living hell. How I graduated from high school is a miracle to me."

The girls agreed to take a break and shared a can of soup and toast. Josie felt her energy waning and her throat getting scratchy, but she wasn't willing to give up this unique opportunity to look into the psyche of her enigmatic lover. They cleaned up the kitchen and took their coffee, and a box of tissues, out to the porch.

"So what happened after you graduated from high school? Where does Frank Abbott come into the picture?" Scooby climbed into her mistress' lap as Doo jumped up to snuggle with Sandra, Rover snoring on the floor at their feet.

"I started calming down after I graduated. I knew that Tony needed me. Unfortunately, I was hooked on the alcohol by then and just couldn't stay away from it for more than a few days at a time. In college I remember going to church and praying that God would help me to change, then buying a half pint of Jack Daniel's and sticking it in my purse. I'd pick up a Coke on my way to school and mix myself a little toddy to enjoy during class." Sandra laughed, derisively.

"I'd always wanted to be a nurse like my mom but she insisted I get an RN. So, she sent me to Delgado Community College to take all the prerequisites I needed to get into Charity Hospital's RN program. My grades from high school weren't so great, so I tried to do well on my prereq's. That's where I met Frank. He was studying some kind of mechanics. His hobby was rebuilding classic T-Birds. I was impressed with his vehicles and his James Dean- like good looks. All the girls were just gaga over him. For some reason he took an interest in me and we started dating. Boy, could he dance. His family was Catholic and his mom was Cajun. Needless to say, my mom was overjoyed with him."

"Frank was very family oriented and took a shine to Tony. He didn't mind taking him with us to the movies or staying home with him to watch tv or helping him with his homework. I didn't want to screw things up with this great guy, so I learned I could drink wine cut with soda and not get falling down drunk."

"Frank was very respectful, in spite of his reputation. But, after I'd gotten a good buzz on, I'd lose my inhibitions and allow him to have his way with me. He always had a couple of condoms. Sex was nothing like in the movies. I never had an orgasm with him but I did enjoy the petting and cuddling."

"I was nineteen and almost finished my last semester when we went out drinking and dancing with his friends. I was really drunk and he was feeling no pain either. I went into a black out. I don't to this day remember when the condom got tossed, but, long story short, I got knocked up. God, I'll never forget my mother's face when I told her. She must have evoked all the angels and Saints to save my evil soul. I got railroaded into marrying Frank with the understanding that I would finish off the semester and then after the baby was old enough for Frank's folks to take care of it during the day, I'd go back to nursing school."

"Once Frank made me his wife, his property, my wants and needs were disregarded. He didn't even want me to work. I was suppose to stay at home, be a good wife and mother, house keeper and cook. Our intimacy consisted of one deep kiss, two or three rough squeezes of my breasts, his ejaculating inside of me, rolling over and falling asleep. What a romantic!" Sandra sighed. "I never new what making love meant..... til you." She looked up, shyly.

"Giving birth to my son was the most miraculous experience of my life. It's funny how I forgot all about the 27 hours of hard labor when I looked onto that angelic little face. I think that was the first time I fell in love. The second time..... was with you." Tear filled blue eyes looked into moist green. Both women smiled, warmly.

"I breast fed my son for as long as I could stay off the booze. I heard you couldn't get pregnant as long as you were nursing. I've never known the kind of pleasure and fulfillment that nursing my son gave me. Unfortunately, my sobriety only lasted a few months. I switched Antoine to formula and went on birth control pills that I kept hidden. I still had my dream of going to nursing school and making a life for myself and my son. I didn't want any more children with Frank."

"Anyway, Antoine died just before his 4th birthday and I became quite intimate with Jack Daniels. He's the only man I was interested in sleeping with. Without him there was no sleep, just nightmares."

"Frank and I shared the same house but I refused to share his bed. We fought constantly. My poor mother prayed for me, daily, and begged me to go back into the treatment center or to AA, but I didn't care about stopping. I wanted to stop feeling and old Jack took care of that rather well."

"The rest you know. Frank sought his pleasure elsewhere and I became the poor wronged wife. Thanks to his well known indiscretions he was no longer able to object to a divorce and I moved in with my mom. I was finally free. My mother was able to talk me back into treatment and this time it took. I wanted this second chance at life and, with the love and support of my mother and the AA program, I made it, one day at a time."

"Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it." Sandra looked into her lover's tired eyes and grinned. "Josie, I've never loved anyone like I love you. It scares the shit out of me. I panicked last night. I am so sorry for running like I did. I'm not a good risk. I haven't experienced a lot of the normal relationship type stuff that most sober people have. I don't know that I can handle this commitment and this passion I feel for you. All I know is that, if you still want to "go steady" with me, I'd be honored to wear your beautiful ring." Sandra looked into shining green eyes that glowed with love and happiness.

Josie slipped off the ring and handed it to her lover. "Read the inscription."

Sandra wiped the tears from her eyes and squinted to read the small print, "Forever and Always". A sob racked the tall beauty's throat and she knelt at her lover's feet, placing her dark head onto her bosom and held on tight. "I love you so much, Josie, thank you for loving me back."

Josie ran her hands through thick dark locks. "The pleasure is all mine. No more running, deal?"


Josie tilted the dark head up and wiped away her tears. "Let's go to bed. I'm exhausted and you have school tomorrow."

"Good Lord, Josie, It's nearly nine o'clock. We've been talking for hours. Look, I'll go upstairs so you can get some sleep and I can get my homework done."

"No! I mean, I'd rather you worked down here tonight and slept with me. I can't explain it, I just don't want to sleep alone tonight. Not that I have the energy to pursue anything." Josie felt foolish. She knew she was getting sick and wanted the comfort of her companion's nearness.

"Ok. I'll work at the kitchen table. I'll try not to wake you when I turn in. Now, go get some sleep." Sandra stood up and helped Josie to her feet and kissed her forehead.

"You're a little warm, love. Why don't you take a couple of tylenol before turning in."

"I think I'll do that. Thanks. Good night, my eyes." Josie gently kissed her lover's lips and then raised Sandra's left hand, kissing the ring that represented so much to her.


It was almost midnight by time Sandra crawled into bed, clothed only in an oversized t-shirt from a Wynonna concert she'd attended two years before. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.

It was several hours later when the groggy brunette was roused from her slumber by an awful sound. 'What the hell was that?' Sandra listened until she heard it again. When she was able to identify it's source she realized her lover was in trouble. She rolled over to face the little blond who was coughing violently. Sandra reached for her to find her covered in sweat, heat radiating off her skin. "Oh shit!" Sandra reached over to turn on the lite and examine her ailing partner.

"Josie? Josie, honey, wake up. Can you hear me?" Sandra tried to control the panic she felt in her heart.

Josie tried to pull away and go back to sleep. Her fevered brain not registering her surroundings. Sandra ran to the medicine cabinet and got the ear thermometer, a glass of cold water and some tylenol.

"Oh, shit! Baby, your temperature's 103. I need you to take these, Josie." Sandra firmly shook her lover to rouse her enough to take the medicine. She retrieved the tin where the diabetic supplies were kept.

"Awe, Fuck! Your blood sugar is 480 mg/dl." Josie continued to sleep as Sandra picked up the phone and pressed 7 on the speed dial."

"Hello, Dr. Akras here." Came the sleepy voice.

"Hello, Dr. Akras, this is Sandra, Josie Ladner's companion. She's very sick. Her fever is 103 and her blood sugar is 480. I gave her two tylenol but she is incoherent and I don't know how much insulin to give her."

"Listen carefully, Sandra. I want you to give her 20 units of regular insulin SC. Can you do that?"

"Yes sir. I'm drawing it up now." Sandra had put Dr. Akras on the speaker phone and drew up the insulin.

"Good girl."

"Ok, now what?" Sandra tried to control her fear. She had to be strong to help her friend.

"Get her to the emergency room. I'll meet you there in 20 minutes."

"We'll be there. Thank you so much, Doctor." He'd already hung up.

Sandra removed Josie's drenched t-shirt and wiped her down with a cold wet rag before dressing her in a t-shirt and shorts with her slippers on. She pulled on her jeans and got their wallets. Then, lifting her lover like a child, she carefully carried her to the car. She made it to the hospital in exactly 20 minutes as Dr. Akras was driving up.

The waiting room felt very cold as the tall beauty paced and worried. It seemed to be taking way too long for them to assess and treat her friend. It was 45 minutes later when Dr. Akras joined her.

"Josie has a pneumonia, my suspicion is strep. There's a lot of it going around and she is particularly susceptible. Her diabetes is out of control due to the infection. I've put her on an hourly monitor, which should take care of it. I'm afraid her fever is the problem right now. She is not responding to Tylenol or advil, so I've put her on a cooling blanket with ice packs at her pulse points. Hopefully that will bring it down and keep it down. Until we get the cultures back, I've hung cefazolin and zithromax through a saline drip. I've got her on 2 liters of humidified oxygen and respiratory treatments. We are monitoring her very carefully. If you want to stay with her, there is a sleeper in the room."

"Thank you, I will. May I see her now?" Sandra asked, anxiously.

"Yes. But, she may not know you are there. She's not altogether coherent." The Doctor warned, compassionately.

"She'll know."

Dr. Akras looked sympathetically at his patient's companion.

"Perhaps, she will at that. I'll be back to see her in a few hours." He patted her slumped shoulder as he rose to leave.


Sandra opened the door of her lover's room as quietly as she could. She stood by the bed taking in all of the tubes going to and coming from her beloved. Their was a pulse oximeter attached to the middle finger of her left hand, monitoring her blood oxygen level. An alarm would go off whenever it went below 97%.

She looked so tiny and frail. Her soft curls plastered to her head with sweat. She shivered periodically and her body was racked with powerful coughs.

Sandra looked at the time and realized she had to be at school in less than two hours. Loathed to leave her lover in the hands of the hospital staff, she decided to call Beth for help.

"Hello?" Beth's voice was thick with sleep.

"Beth, this is Sandra. Josie's friend." Sandra tried not to let her voice belie her calm.

Fear struck the older woman's heart. "Sandra? What's happened!?! Where is she?" Beth knew immediately her best friend was in deep trouble.

"She's at the County hospital. She has pneumonia."

"Oh, no..... Why can't she ever get a break? Tell me how I can help."

Sandra took a deep breath and tried to maintain her composure.

"Look, Beth, I have clinicals today and I was wondering if you could come stay with her until I get off. Til about 4 p.m. If I miss school, Josie's gonna be really pissed at me and I don't want to upset her." Sandra's voice broke as she lost the last vestiges of control over her emotions.

"Hey, Sandra? I'm here for you both. You're not alone. Ok? Now, what time?"

Sandra sniffled and took a deep breath to compose herself. "Well I'm going to go home to change and pack a bag for me and one for Josie. I'll meet you back here in an hour and a half. If that's Ok."

"I'll be there. And, Sandra....., she's gonna be alright. I know it. She's a tough little thing." Beth tried to convince them both.

"Thanks, Beth. I'll see you later, then."

Sandra leaned over her lover and whispered in her ear. "I love you, boss. Just hold on to that, deal?" Then, kissed her fevered cheek.

Sandra was on automatic pilot as she packed their bags. She fed and walked the dogs, explaining to the attentive canines that their mistress was sick and would be away for a while. She kissed each one of them before she left to meet Beth.


"How's she doing?" Sandra asked Beth as she entered the room.

"She seems to be having a hard time breathing clearly and she has a god-awful cough." Beth responded from her friend's bedside. Beth indicated the IV bags, monitors and cooling blanket. "What's all this for?"

After explaining, in detail, all the equipment surrounding the frail looking little woman, Sandra kissed her lover's cheek and left for school.


Working the intense pace of her clinical rotation was almost therapeutic for Sandra. Whereas she felt useless to help her friend, she could provide excellent care for her patients.

As soon as her lunch break rolled around, she called Beth. "Hey, Beth. Any change?" Sandra asked hopefully.

"Sandra, I'm so glad you called. She's having a real hard time breathing. I keep telling the nurse, but all she does is tell me that the doctor already has respiratory therapy ordered for her. But...," Beth couldn't help the emotion filling her voice. "I don't know how much longer she can struggle like this. We have to do something."

"Ok, don't panic. I'll call Dr. Akras myself. It sounds like she needs an aminophylline drip. I'll call you back as soon as I reach him." Sandra hung up and dialed the doctor's office.

"Good morning, Dr. Akras' office. Linda speaking."

"Linda, this is Josie Ladner's companion. She's in County Hospital in respiratory distress. I need to speak to Dr. Akras immediately. This is an emergency." Sandra prayed he'd be there.

"The doctor is with a patient right now. Can I have him call you back?"

"NO! Please, interrupt him. This is a medical emergency, Mrs. Ladner is in respiratory distress. I am a nurse. I must speak with Dr. Akras right now." Sandra demand.

"I'll inform him. Please hold." The receptionist new how her boss felt about being interrupted when in with a patient. She took a deep breath and crossed her fingers as she gently knocked for access.

"Excuse me, Dr. Akras, I have an emergency call for you concerning a Josie Ladner."

The Doctor excused himself and joined his receptionist in the hall. "This had better be an emergency." He turned on his heel and stomped off to his office to pick up the extension.

"This is Dr. Akras. What is Mrs. Ladner's condition?"

"Dr. Akras? This is Sandra, Josie Ladner's companion. I am a nurse. She is in respiratory distress. Her breathing is much more labored than when you last examined her. I believe she is in need of an aminophylline drip. Please, doctor..... Help her." Sandra's throat tightened, painfully, with emotion.

"Why didn't her nurse call me?"

"She was told several times, sir. But did nothing." Sandra spit the words out.

"I'll take care of it. Thank you for calling me, Sandra."

Relief rushed over her as she called Beth. Having reassured her new friend that proper measures would be taken, she returned to her nursing duties, visibly shaken. 'God, if I make it through this day, it will be a minor miracle.'


Sandra ran down the hall to her Josie's room, not having bothered to stop at the house to bathe and change out of her uniform. She walked through the door and paused, taking in her still, small form. "Did they hang the aminophylline?" Sandra couldn't take her eyes off of her lover.

"Yes. About two hours ago. She's breathing much easier now..... Thank you, Sandra. I've never felt anything like that before. I was sitting here watching my best friend suffocate. I couldn't get the nurse to help her." The strain was evident on the older woman's face.

"Thank you for being here. This is a small rural hospital. They are unaccustomed to dealing with much more than geriatrics. Complacency is bound to set in when you never deal with new challenges. Our friend was nearly the victim of that complacency. I intend to make certain it doesn't happen again, at least not to Josie. Sandra and Beth hugged each other, words insufficient to show how they felt.

"I guess I'll be going. I'll be back in the morning so you can go to school without worrying too much. But, would you mind taking Jo's cell phone with you this time, just in case? Today was a little too exciting for me." Beth chuckled.

Sandra smiled wanly at her new friend. "Now, that sounds like a plan. I'll see you about 0700 then. Oh, could you stop by the house and feed the dogs for me?"


"Drive carefully going home, Ok?"

"I will. If....." Beth couldn't bring herself to finish the thought.

Sandra just nodded.

Josie was soundly sleeping so Sandra took the opportunity to shower and order pizza delivered.

The tall, tired, woman curled up in the chair she'd pushed against the bed and held her lover's hand as she told her all about her day. It felt good to do something normal. She accented her story with tender kisses on the small fevered fingers.

A knock on the door announced the arrival of a medium pizza with jalopeno peppers and a one liter bottle of Barq's. 'Just what the doctor ordered.' She paid and tipped the delivery man and curled back into the chair to enjoy her feast.

Josie was vaguely aware of the fog lifting from her mind and pain wrapping around her chest. She felt as if the weight of the world was laying upon her body. 'Oh, I've really done it this time. God, I feel awful. I want Sandy. I must be in the hospital. I can feel the IV's and the rough sheets and the smells. Mmmmm, what's that? Pizza? Sandra ordered Pizza? Come on Josie, get those eyes open, girl. At least move your hand. Get her attention. I want some PIZZA!!!'

Sandra was enjoying her pie and watching the slightly ragged rise and fall of her lover's chest, when she noticed the hand she'd just been holding moving up and down slightly, but purposefully.

"Josie? Honey? You awake, sweetheart?" Sandra put her pizza aside and stood up so she could see down onto the face she loved. Eyelids fluttered and bleary sea green orbs came into semi-focus. The lovers smiled at each other as Sandra took the small hand into her much larger one and kissed it. The very weak woman motioned to her companion with her left hand to lean her ear down to her lips. She struggled a moment to breathe passed her raw throat and bravely whispered in her lover's ear..... "Pizza?"

Sandra broke into gales of laughter, which caused her patient to laugh also, at her great regret. The pain in her throat and chest was excruciating, causing her to grimace and tears to burst from her eyes.

"Sweetheart, what's wrong?" Sandra was distressed at the sudden turn of events.

Josie raised a trembling hand to her throat then slid it down her chest. She couldn't stop the tears of agony she knew were frightening her friend.

"Pain in your throat and chest?"

Josie nodded as she tried to compose herself.

Sandra retrieved her pen lite from the uniform, hanging in the closet.

"Boss, I need you to open your mouth as wide as you can so I can see what's going on back there, Ok?"

Josie cooperated as best she could and allowed her lover to examine her throat.

"Wow, your throat's all inflamed and your glands are swollen. That's gotta hurt. Let me go to the nurses station and see if I can get you some relief."

Sandra returned with the night nurse, some throat spray and two darvocet-N-100. "Mrs. Ladner, my name is Norma and I'm going to be your nurse tonight. I have brought something to make you more comfortable. I'm going to spray your throat to dull the pain, then I'm going to give you these pain pills. Do you think you can swallow?"

Josie looked from the nurse to her lover, anxiously. She really didn't know that she could swallow without choking.

"Can I try?" Sandra lifted her lover so she was lying against the taller woman's chest. The nurse sprayed her throat thoroughly until Josie was able to swallow, then gave her the pain pills. It hurt a bunch going passed the swollen tissues. But she didn't choke.

The nurse excused herself, feeling there was something strangely intimate about the relationship between these two women. But deciding it was none of her business. If her patient found comfort being held in the tall woman's arms. She was glad for her.

Sandra enjoyed the feeling of holding her lover's, slightly too warm, body to her breast. She'd needed this closeness all day and it was soothing her frazzled nerves. She could feel the rumbling of the fluid in her lungs and the constant trembling caused by the aminophylline.

"I'm afraid there'll be no pizza for you. At lease not for the next few days." Sandra kissed a hot cheek.

Josie relished the sound of her lover's voice and stroked the arm wrapped snugly around her then gently pulled Sandra's hand to her lips and kissed it before sleep took her again, safe and secure in her lover's arms.

Let me know what you think, Lena.


April 7, 2000

part 8
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