Disclaimers: See part 1 of The Awakening for that is where these characters were born.
My special thanks to Bookie, my Beta reader extraordinaire, for being Bookie.
Dedication: To all those who have loved and lost.
6 of The Awakening
A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
Rachel let herself and Meg into the gym with her key. "Hey Tory!" Rachel called out.
"You don't think something's happened to her, do you?"
"Tory! Where are you!?!" Rachel called again, but got no response. "Meg, you stay here by the phone. If I'm not down in five minutes, call 911 and then get outta here." Rachel instructed and picked up an empty bar from the weight bench.
"No. Rachel, let's call the police. I'm scared." Meg urged.
"I don't want to freak her out if she's just overslept. Don't worry, I'm in no hurry to meet my maker..... Just, please do what I asked."
"Ok...... But, be careful." Meg said as she picked up the portable phone and walked to stand by the exit.
Rachel scampered up the steps to Tory's apartment. She approached the one door and listened intently. She thought she heard the sound of running water, but wasn't sure, so she quietly opened the door and stepped inside. The large room was dark except for scented candles, which burned in strategic locations. It smelled of apple-cinnamon and pine. There was a small ceramic Christmas tree, white with green lights, sitting upon the coffee table with pictures lying about it. Rachel could hear the shower running and realized Tory hadn't heard them call. A glance at the pictures before her clarified the situation. Tory had been remembering past Christmases with Claire and was probably in pretty bad shape. Rachel looked at the bathroom door and quickly went back the way she came.
"Is she alright?" Meg asked.
"She's in the shower. I don't think she heard us come in."
"Oh.....I guess she did just over sleep." Meg stated a bit perplexed at the uncharacteristic behavior.
"No. I think it's more complicated than that." Rachel said as she returned the bar to the weight bench. "There were pictures of Claire all over the place. I think she's really bummed right now with Christmas coming..... Look, I'm gonna go talk to her. Do you mind opening up down here?"
"No. Not at all. Go...See if you can help."
Rachel nodded and went back up the stairs.
She could still hear the water running in the shower behind the closed bathroom door. Becoming concerned she decided to knock. "Tory? Tory, it's me, Rachel. You alright in there?"
Tory groaned, not wanting to face her best friend. She just wanted to be alone in her misery.
"Tory? Come on girl, answer me." Rachel held her ear against the door but heard no response.
"Dammit, Tor! You answer me or I swear I'll break this door down." Rachel banged her fists against the solid wood structure.
"No..... Tory, I know you're hurting. Please, let me help..... Please, Tor." Rachel begged. She heard nothing, then decided to get the door open. She went into the kitchenette and retrieved an ice pick. She plunged the tip into the round hole in the door knob, popping open the lock, and opened the door. What she witnessed broke her heart. Her best friend sat in the corner of the shower stall nude, hugging her knees to her chest, hot tears mixing with the now cold spray.
Rachel hurriedly shut off the shower, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around the shivering body. "Come on, Tory, help me get you out of here." Rachel beseeched her friend, who turned away from her, but allowed herself to be helped to her feet. Leaning heavily on the taller woman, Tory shuffled numbly to the sofa and let herself be covered in a blanket. "Here, you're freezing." Rachel said as she pulled Tory into her strong arms and rubbed her body through the thick material.
Tory turned her head into her friend's chest and sobbed out her grief. "Why'd she have to die, Rachel? She was a good person. She never hurt anyone in her whole life."
"I know, Tory. I know. If I could bring Claire back to you, I would..... I know she wouldn't want you to suffer like this. She'd want you to find someone to share your life with."
"I don't want anyone else but Claire. I'd feel like I was cheating on her."
"All your wife ever wanted was for you to be happy, Tory. I'm sure she still does. I don't believe the essence of Claire is gone. She's still here watching over you. And if you'd just give her the chance, she'd send you someone to love, someone to make you happy again."
Tory nodded and dried her eyes on the blanket. "Maybe some day. I guess it's just gonna take time..... Look, why don't you go downstairs and help Meg. I'm gonna try to compose myself. I'll be down later."
"Yeah. I'll be Ok. I promise."
"Alright. But I'll be back up to check on you later."
Lunchtime rolled around and the couple closed the doors so they could chow down on the pizza they'd ordered. "I had no idea what went into running this place. I'm starved." Meg stated before biting off a large peace of their spinach, garlic and cheese pizza.
"I'd better go up and check on her after we eat. She's so depressed. I'm really worried about her state of mind."
"You don't think she's capable of hurting herself, do you?"
"Normally, I'd say 'No', but things have changed. Since I have you, maybe she thinks I don't need her to be here for me as much as I did." Rachel said.
"Now, you're scaring me. I think I'll go have a talk with Tory myself."
"That would make me feel better."
Meg knocked on the door. "Hey, Tory. It's Meg. May I come in?"
Meg entered and was relieved to find her friend fully clothed in her oversized white sweats, standing at the window, drinking coffee and admiring a framed photograph. The petite blonde walked up to take a look at the photo of another petite blonde, but this one with short hair. She was dressed in blue jeans and a brown leather bomber jacket with candy striped mittens. Her head was soaked and she was covered in snow and a huge smile.
"Where was this taken?" Meg inquired.
"City Park at the Celebration in the Oaks three years ago. You would never have known she was sick that night. Christmas was always her favorite time of the year, especially when the snow machine was turned on and she could frolic with all the kids. She'd be wet from head to toe, then we'd go home and crawl into the hot tub with our hot punch and sing Christmas Carols 'til we were hoarse..... God, I miss that." Tory smiled and lovingly ran her fingers over her wife's image.
"It sounds magical." Meg placed her hand upon Tory's shoulder.
"It was.... She was.... Every Christmas morning, I'd find a single, long stem, white rose on my pillow. She said it symbolized the purity of our love and the promise of the new year." A tear escaped and trickled down her cheek.
Meg found her own cheeks wet with emotion. "I'm so sorry, Tory. I wish I had known her."
"Me too. She always prayed that one day Rachel would find her soul mate. She'd be so pleased." Tory smiled and hugged her friend. "I guess I'd better get down there and relieve Rachel before she hurts that shoulder again."
"Thinking about Tory?" Rachel asked across the dinner table to her uncharacteristically quiet partner.
"Yes. It's so sad. I've never known loss like that. I..... I don't know how I'd survive if I lost you.....or if I'd even want to." Meg frowned.
"You would. I know you. You're strong, Meggie."
"What about you?"
"Aww, geesum petes, Meg, can we talk about something else?" Rachel huffed.
"OK. Why don't we take Tory to Celebration in the Oaks tonight? That seemed to be a very important tradition in her marriage and I think she'd appreciate it."
"Now, that's a great idea. I'll give her a call. You know what?" Rachel stood up to collect their dinner dishes.
"You're pretty special." Rachel leaned down and kissed her partner.
"You're not so bad yourself." Meg grinned. "You go call Tory and I'll wash the dishes."
"Good grief! That's a hard headed woman." Rachel exclaimed.
"What? Did she turn us down?" Meg asked.
"She tried to but I out whined her." Rachel said, causing Meg to nearly drop the pot she was scrubbing.
"I can hear it now. You two are a pair. So, what's the plan?"
"I told her we'd pick her up in an hour."
"Why so long? She's only five minutes from here." Meg asked, drying the last of the dinner dishes.
Rachel walked up behind her partner and wrapped her in loving arms. "So I'd have time to do this." She spun Meg around and kissed her ever so gently. Then, taking the face she loved in both hands, kissed her again, entering the warm recesses of her mouth. Meg moaned out her pleasure as she sucked in her lover's tongue. Small hands reached up and tangled themselves in silky dark tresses. Rachel's hands softly slid down Meg's neck and shoulders, then around to cup firm buttocks and pull her closer to her need. Meg pulled away, panting for breath. "Take off your pants for me, love."
Rachel removed her pants, her heart galloping, as Meg ran for a towel and set it down on the sofa. "Sit on this." Rachel gladly obeyed as she watched her lover remove her own pants and straddle Rachel's lap, spreading her legs wide and breathing deeply of the mingling scents of their arousal.
Rachel was intrigued by this new position that allowed her mouth easy access to Meg's soft breasts. She hurriedly removed the barriers to their charms. Taking a plump breast in her hand she licked it all over and suckled upon the nipple, sending jolts of pleasure directly to her partner's sex. "Oh God..... Rach..... Let me touch you, baby. I need to feel you." Meg pleaded. She knew her partner liked to have control, but tonight she needed to express herself and her own desires.
Rachel released the breast she'd been enjoying and looked deeply into her partner's dilating pupils. Seeing the need there, the decision was easy. She took Meg's small hand in her much larger one and brought it to her mons, her eyes never leaving her lover's. Tilting her pelvis and spreading her legs wider she offered herself to her soul mate, who was so deeply touched that she felt the sting of tears behind her eyes. Gently, Meg pet her partner's mons, enjoying the softness of her graying hair, then she ran her fingers through it and down into the nectar that flowed below. "I love you, Rachel." Meg grabbed Rachel's hand and pressed it against her own hot center. "I need you... inside." The little woman panted. She was now on sensory overload. Her only conscious thought to pleasure her lover. She entered Rachel's vagina and pumped her hand in rhythm with her own hips. "Oh, Rachel, you're so soft, so warm and wet..... Kiss me,.... please." Rachel took her free hand and wrapped it behind Meg's neck and pulled her into a deep, searing kiss. Tongues slid together and probed and tasted, sending their ardor higher. Meg knew she wouldn't last much longer and desperately wanted to be inside Rachel when she climaxed, so she increased the pressure on her clit and the speed of her pumping as she used her free hand to slide beneath Rachel's blouse and squeeze her already erect nipples as she sucked upon her probing tongue. She sensed the familiar shudder of her lover's body, signaling her impending climax and her heart soared with joy. She released Rachel's tongue to avoid injury as she allowed her own release to flood her senses.
Both women burst into happy tears as their orgasms receded. Meg held her lover close and let her cry, knowing what it must have cost her emotionally to allow Meg control over their lovemaking. "Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, my love."
When Rachel was able to speak, she said, "Thank you, Meggie. I've never felt anything like that before. You are so good for me, baby.... I love you." She stroked her lover's tear streaked face and leaned in to tenderly kiss bruised lips. "Oh, how are we on time?"
Meg looked at her watch. "Fifteen minutes to spare. I suggest we both hop in the shower and get a move on. That's if either of us can still stand." Meg giggled as she gingerly lifted herself from her lover's hand.
"What's up with you two, tonight? You've been cooing at each other like a couple of teenagers." Tory quipped.
Her friends just grinned and hugged each other again.
"Oh brother. You two had a roll in the hay after you talked to me on the phone, didn't you?" Tory shook her head and threw her arms up in exasperation.
Rachel nodded and blushed. "And, it was incredible."
"I'm happy for you. Now, can we change the subject? You're making my blood sugar go up."
Rachel chuckled. "Sure. Do you want to take the train through the park to see the decorations?"
"No. I don't think so. It's too chilly tonight. Why don't you and Meg take the train and I'll walk through the Meditation Gardens. Then, we can eat junk food and challenge each other on the bumper cars. Sound like a plan?"
"Sounds good to me. How about you, Meg?"
"Fine with me."
"Great. I'll meet you two at the concession stand in thirty minutes."
The gardens were covered in green, red and white lights. The soft sweet scent of the flowers tickled Tory's nose and pulled at her heartstrings. 'God, Claire would have loved this. How can all these roses be blooming in the cold? They are so gorgeous, so many colors.' She looked at a large bed of white roses, all in full bloom, covered in sparkling lights, when her attention was distracted by the form of a petite woman in a brown leather bomber jacket, jeans, a red Santa hat with a gold bell on the end and candy striped mittens. Her heart raced and a warmth spread through her chest then she felt her world spin out of control.
"Hey, lady, you alright?" She heard a young voice ask, but it was far away. "Mom, I think this lady's sick." The young boy called out to his mother as he looked worriedly at the woman holding on to the garden gate, taking deep breaths and shaking like a leaf in the cold wind.
"Miss.....Miss, do you need some help..... Etienne, run over to the reception table and get the security guard." The child's mother commanded as she wrapped strong arms around Tory's slim waist, offering the support of her own body.
"No..... No, wait. I'm alright. I just haven't eaten and got a bit lightheaded. I'm sorry if I frightened you. I'm alright now." Tory composed herself and smiled sweetly for her rescuers. She pet the young boys head, who could not have been more than 10 years old. "You're a fine young man Etienne. Thank you for trying to help me."
"You're welcome..... Merry Christmas, lady."
"Merry Christmas, Etienne.... You should be very proud of him." Tory said to the mother of her young hero.
"I am. Are you sure you're alright?"
Tory looked around for the figure who'd upset her so. "Yes, yes. I'm fine."
"Are you here alone?"
"My friends are riding the train through the park."
"Would you like to walk through the gardens with us? It's just the two of us and we'd enjoy the company." The mother sincerely invited.
Tory thought for a moment as she looked deeply into the sparkling blue eyes of this very kind woman, then held out her hand. "I'm Tory Boyce and I'd be honored to join you and you too, Etienne." She noticed the strength and warmth of the hand that returned her greeting.
The woman looked deeply into hazel eyes and stuttered a bit. "Jenny. Um.....That's my name, Jenny."
Tory smiled at her new friend's discomfort and spoke softly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jenny."
"Hey, Mom, there's Terry from school. Can I go play with her?" Etienne asked, excitedly.
"Ok, but listen to Mrs. Jackson." Jenny waved at Terry's mother and motioned that she was sending her son over to her for a while. Mrs. Jackson waved back and nodded.
"Thanks, Mom." Etienne said and ran to greet his friend.
"He's beautiful, Jenny."
"Thanks. Do you have any rugrats at home?" Jenny inquired as she began walking along the garden path.
"No. My partner and I talked about it for years, but we were so into each other and starting our own business that time got away from us."
Jenny felt her hopes sink. She'd felt very attracted to the auburn haired woman. "Is your partner riding the train?"
Tory sighed and closed her eyes tightly, holding back her tears. "No. Claire died of cancer over two years ago."
Jenny felt awful. "I'm so sorry, Tory. I didn't know. This time of year must be so hard for you."
Tory could only nod her head and continue walking.
"Since I divorced Etienne's father, I've been too busy with raising him to devote my energies to anything or anyone else."
"Did you love him?" Tory asked impulsively.
Jenny stopped in mid step, taken aback by this question from a veritable stranger.
"I'm sorry. That was out of line."
Jenny didn't know why but she was compelled to answer the question. "No..... No, I didn't love him. I didn't know what love was. I did what my family and friends expected. I was born and raised in a small Cajun town, Big Mamou."
Tory broke into laughter. "You've gotta be kidding."
Jenny laughed along with her. "No, it's true. It's not far from New Iberia. I know, every one thinks the name is a scream.... But, anyway, Big Mamou is a small, mostly Catholic, French town, where you were expected to get married and raise a bunch of kids. You didn't have sex before marriage and you certainly didn't consider alternative lifestyles. So, I married my high school sweetheart, got pregnant on my wedding night and shortly thereafter realized that I was different, or nuts or something because sex with my husband was a bore. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what all the fuss was about. But, I had my son to make me happy and he did for a long time, until he started school and I had time to devote to me and my marriage. Long story short, I became miserable, began reading a lot trying to educate myself and decided to do it right, signed up for classes during the day, while Etienne was at school, and eventually got a degree in education. That was considered acceptable if a woman just HAD to go to college. It also gave me an excuse not to have sex with my husband. I was just too tired from classes and studying, cleaning and cooking. I got a teaching job nearby and saved all the money I could to start over somewhere far away from the life I had there."
"That was very brave of you." Tory said. She was fascinated by this woman's story of self- discovery.
"Not really. It was a case of self-preservation. I don't want you to think that Lucien beat me or was cruel in any way. He just couldn't give me what I needed. He was perfectly happy with our life. It really hurt him when I left. I got a good attorney from the big city and with my education and job security, was able to get custody of Etienne. His dad gets him every other weekend and we work out the summers to everyone's schedule. I'd say we've done a good job of putting our son's needs first. We're as close to being friends as we can be."
"I'm impressed. That's not easy to accomplish. I've seen a lot of couples break up and become bitter enemies."
"That would have hurt our son and neither of us want to do that. So, enough about me. Tell me about you. What's this business you and Claire started?"
"It's Tory's Gym on Rue Esplanade. It's a woman's gym. No men allowed. The ladies feel free to let it all hang out, so to speak. I was a nurse and got heavily into women's health issues, and was always into body sculpting as was Claire, so we decided to start our own gym and offer classes in both areas. Rachel, my best friend, teaches the health classes. She has a master's in nursing, and I do most of the personal trainer stuff. We also have kick boxing and some martial arts classes."
"Wow. That sounds great. I'd love to come by and check it out."
Tory really perked up. "You would?"
"Sure, I would. I am interested in all the above. Sounds like a terrific place for me. Do you think you'd have time tomorrow to show me around? Etienne's going to spend the weekend with his dad and I'll have a lot of free time with school being out next week for the holidays." She said with real excitement in her voice.
She's really interested. She's not just being polite. "I'd like that very much, Jenny. I have some clients early in the morning, but then I'll be free. How about you come by at 10:00 a.m. and I'll give you the grande tour and then we could, maybe, go have coffee at True Brew. Does that sound good to you?" She asked shyly.
"It's a date." Jenny quipped.
'A date? Wow! A date.' Tory smiled and nodded her head.
"Umm, I have to meet my friends in a couple of minutes by the concession stand. The line to take your picture with Santa is just across the path from it. Would you and Etienne like to come with me to meet up with them and get your picture taken?" The auburn haired woman asked, anxiously.
"Sure. I think Etienne just might have a list to give Santa in his pocket. He comes prepared." They both laughed and went to collect him.
"Geesum petes! It's freezing! Who's bright idea was it to take the train around the Park, anyway!?!" Rachel exclaimed as she shivered and blew on her bare hands.
"I believe that was a mutual decision, my love. But, the lights sure are beautiful." Meg said, sticking her hands further in the pockets of her suede football jacket and pushing as close to her partner as she could. "I can't wait to get a cup of hot chocolate."
"Sounds good to me. I wonder how Tory is doing? I hope she's not too lonely by herself."
"I know. I was thinking the same thing. I wish she'd at least consider dating someone. Lord knows she has a bevy of beauties to choose from at the gym, but she won't give them the least bit of encouragement. I think they're all scared of her. She can pull that intimidation act off a little too well." Meg remarked.
"Maybe we should sit down with her tonight and have a little talk."
"Ok. Let's invite her over for coffee and some of that pumpkin pie my Mom sent me." Meg suggested.
"Oooooh, I forgot about that. Sounds yummy for my tummy." Rachel rubbed her belly.
Meg chuckled. "You are so easy."
Tory and Jenny sat as close to the space heater in their little corner of the covered concession stand as they could get to drink their hot chocolate and eat their steaming hot pizza. Etienne was wearing most of his slice on his face, but that didn't phase him a bit. He was enjoying it.
"There they are." Tory said, standing to wave her friends over.
Rachel and Meg noticed their friend and pointed to the line they were eager to join.
Tory signaled her understanding and sat back down to enjoy the company of her newfound friends.
"So tell me about your friends." Jenny said, wiping a bit of sauce from the side of her mouth.
"That's my best friend, Rachel, the nurse, and her partner, Meg, who's a therapist. I've known Rachel since she was nothing but arms and legs. You've never seen a gawkier teenager."
"Well, she's filled out nicely, I'd say." Jenny grinned.
"Yes, I guess she has."
"What kind of therapist is Meg?"
"Psychologist. Or as Rachel likes to call her "the shrink". Those two were made for each other. I've never seen Rachel so happy as she is with Meg. That little woman's really worked miracles."
"Why do you say that?"
"It's a long story. But, suffice it to say that Rachel has been one of the "walking wounded" for most of her life. Meg came along and has been helping her heal."
"Rachel is a very lucky woman. Not everyone is so blessed."
"She knows it too. She treasures their relationship."
Rachel and Meg walked up, placed their food and drinks on the table, then walked right up to the space heater.
"You two found the train a bit chilly, did you?" Tory laughed.
"It's not funny. I almost put my hands....." Rachel noticed the little boy at the table and stopped before placing her foot firmly in her mouth. "Inside my pants to keep them warm."
"Good save." Meg whispered.
"Rachel, Meg I'd like you to meet my new friends. This is Jenny and her son Etienne, my hero."
"Your hero? How's that?" Rachel asked, concerned.
"Your friend here had a weak spell and my son came to rescue the damsel in distress." Jenny explained.
"You had a weak spell? Tory, are you ill? Do you need us to take you home?" Rachel stood up and went to her best friend's side, tipping her head up to assess her pallor and pupils, with an index finger on her carotid artery, feeling for any irregularity.
"Cut it out, Rach. I'm fine. I just needed to eat something." Tory complained.
"Tory, you've never had a weak spell in your life. You've always been strong as a bull." Rachel stated.
"I don't know if I like being compared to a bull, thank you." Tory quipped.
"Oh, you have more in common with a bull than just brute strength. Such as, you're bullheaded."
"Rachel, go sit down and behave yourself." Tory demanded.
Her tall friend reclaimed her seat next to Meg and pouted.
"So, Jenny, tell us all about yourself. Where do you live, what do you do, are you married...." Meg piped in.
Tory rolled her eyes and sighed but Jenny just laughed out loud. "I like your friends, Tory."
"Momma, can I go see Santa Claus now?" Etienne asked.
"Soon as I wipe some of that pizza off of your face and hands. Excuse us ladies. I'm gonna bring him over to the little boys room to wash up. We'll be right back." Jenny took her son's wrist to keep him from touching his clothes with his dirty hand and went to clean him up.
After she left, the friends had a talk. "Ok, now what really happened, Tory?" Rachel demanded.
"I don't know. It was the strangest thing."
"What was the strangest thing?" Meg asked, becoming concerned herself.
"I was walking through the gardens and admiring this huge bed of white roses when I saw her."
"Saw who?" Meg asked.
Tory looked from one concerned face to the other. "Claire."
"Wait a minute. You think you saw Claire?" Rachel was shocked..
"No. I don't think I saw her. I saw her standing there smelling the flowers. White roses were always her favorite."
"But, Tory, that's not possible. Claire's dead." Rachel stated.
"I think I know my wife when I see her. It was Claire. She had on the same clothes she wore the last time we came here together." Tory was getting irritated that her friends didn't believe her.
"Ok, Ok, let's say you did see Claire. Why would she appear to you now?" Meg posed.
"I don't know."
"Did she say anything to you?" Rachel asked.
"No. She didn't even look at me. She just smelled the roses and then I felt real dizzy and started to black out. I grabbed on to the wrought iron railing of the gate and the next thing I remember is hearing Etienne calling to me. I looked up and she was gone." Tory began to cry and Rachel felt like a heel at not supporting her friend.
"Don't cry Tory. I believe you. Maybe Claire just wanted you to know that she's with you at her favorite time of the year. Maybe she knew how much you miss her at Christmas and didn't want you to be sad." Rachel offered.
"Yeah, maybe that's it." Tory agreed as she wiped her tears away with her napkin. She looked up and saw Jenny returning with a much cleaner little boy. "How would you ladies like your picture taken with Santa Claus?"
"Are you kidding? Rachel can't wait to pull Santa onto her lap." Meg giggled.
"Why's everybody always picking on me?" Rachel complained.
"Come on, Charlie Brown." Meg teased.
"Right behind ya, Daddy-O." Rachel quipped.
"Oh, brother." Tory chimed in.
After everyone had their picture taken with Santa and phone numbers were exchanged, the new friends bid each other a good night and hurried home to their warm beds and sweet dreams.
Tory sat on the futon sofa bed, listening to her favorite Christmas music and placing photographs in an album she and Claire had bought for just that purpose, but never got around to. Each picture brought back a sweet memory and more tears. But, these were tears of joy and gratitude for having had her partner and lover in her life.
She finished the album and set it upon the coffee table where her little ceramic Christmas tree was lit. Smiling, she lovingly touched it. 'I remember when you surprised me with this tree. I was so touched that you made it yourself. It's like having a piece of you with me.' Tory got up and walked to the window, looking out at all the Christmas decorations on the historic homes. "It's beautiful out tonight with all the lights and garlands. You'd enjoy this..... It was you tonight. I know it was. Why'd you come back, my heart? What do you want to tell me? I know you are watching over me..... Claire, I miss you so much. Please, I don't want to be alone anymore." Tory said to the picture of Claire she held so dear. The picture of her at Celebration in the Oaks in her brown leather jacket, covered in snow.
Tory's morning dragged by as she anticipated Jenny's visit while working with her usual Saturday morning clients. Finally, 10:00 a.m. rolled around and Jenny's slim form appeared in the doorway. Tory hurried to greet her and take her coat and hat. She stood there admiring her. It had been too dark to really get a good look at her the night before. 'Wow! She's beautiful.' Tory thought. She perused the short blonde hair, pale porcelain skin and baby blue eyes. She let her eyes wonder down the slim, swimmer-like physique, the small breasts, flat tummy and long legs. It was almost adolescent. She wandered back up to the knowing smile on the lovely face. 'Dazzling. What a great smile. It makes her eyes crinkle up on the sides.' Tory blushed at getting caught admiring her new friend. "Come in and I'll give you the nickel tour." She hung up Jenny's things and then proceeded to show her around.
After the tour and detailed instructions on the use and benefits of each piece of equipment, including the hot tubs, with whirlpools, Tory asked Rachel and Meg to mind the store so she could take Jenny out for coffee and a light lunch.
"You have a great place there, Tory. You should be very proud of what you've been able to accomplish."
"I am. So, would you like to join?" Tory asked.
"Is that your sales pitch?" Jenny chuckled.
"No. I'm just so nervous I don't know what I'm saying." Her cheeks blushed nearly the shade of her auburn hair.
Jenny reached across the small table for two and pat Tory's hand. "You don't have to be nervous with me, Tory. I already like you."
Tory's head popped up. "You do?"
Jenny chuckled again and smiled warmly. "Yeah, I do. In fact, Etienne is going to be in our church's nativity play this week and I wondered if you'd like to go with me to see his theatrical debut. He plays a shepherd. He's really excited."
Tory's heart felt all warm and fuzzy. "I'd love to." She responded before she had time to think and change her mind.
"Good. And, I'd love to, also." Jenny said as she pat her friend's hand one more time, then sat back and sipped her cappuccino.
Tory smiled, then her expression changed to one of puzzlement. "You'd love to what?"
"Join your gym."
"Oh. Great. When do you want to start?"
"How's today? But I'll need a personal trainer. I wouldn't want to hurt myself. Do you have any suggestions?" Jenny asked coyly.
"Well, um....I have the 10:00 a.m. spot available. That's if you don't mind taking instruction from me."
"I wouldn't mind that at all. Why don't we go back to the gym and get started?" Jenny suggested.
"Great!" Tory exclaimed with just a touch too much enthusiasm, causing both women to burst into laughter.
"How'd it go at the gym today?" Meg asked while perusing the last of her client files.
"Ok, I guess." Rachel responded as she emptied her gym bag directly into the washing machine.
"Why just Ok? Did something happen?" Meg wondered at the dejected sound in her partner's voice.
"No. Not really. It's just that.....I don't know, Jenny was there again today monopolizing all of Tory's time and tonight she's going to see Jenny's little boy in some church play."
'Whoops. Time for damage control.' Meg took a deep breath and asked her sulking lover to join her in the kitchen, where all serious discussions took place.
"What'd I do wrong?" Rachel asked.
"You didn't do anything wrong, love. I just want to talk about Tory and Jenny. Has Jenny done anything to make you dislike her?"
Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "No....."
"This is the first woman Tory has shown any romantic interest in since Claire died. She seems to be a nice, educated, family oriented type of person. I think it's great that she's come into Tory's life and that she seems to be interested in our friend. That's what we've been praying for, isn't it?"
"Yeah.... I guess I'm just being selfish. It's like she doesn't even know I'm alive anymore." Rachel pouted.
"That's not true, Rachel. She loves you more than anyone else in this whole wide world. She's just enjoying herself and her new feelings for Jenny. She still loves you."
"I know." The dark haired woman picked at her fingernails and tried not to cry.
"Rachel, love. I know your relationship with Tory is a very special one. You see her as a parent and she adopted the role of your guardian many, many years ago. And, just like when a child with a single parent feels jealous when that parent finds a partner, you are feeling jealous of Jenny. It's totally normal, Rachel, and it will pass as you get to know Jenny better. I promise." Meg encouraged.
"I feel like a shmuck. I hate being so emotionally dependent. I just don't know how not to be." Rachel started to cry, breaking Meg's heart. She knew her partner was totally confident in her professional life but still fragile when it came to her personal relationships. Despite the great strides she'd made through therapy, she was still a frightened little girl inside.
"Oh, my love, don't cry." Meg jumped up and pulled Rachel's head to her breast and rubbed her back, offering comfort. "You're doing so well in therapy. I see you grow day by day. I know it's hard for you to see it, but I certainly do and so does Tory. We are both so very proud of you. It takes real courage to face your fears, especially ones like you've had to face, and to overcome them." Meg continued rubbing the distraught woman's back, then she kissed her head, resting her cheek upon the silky dark tresses. "You're my hero, Rachel. You are my hero."
Jenny and Tory applauded wildly when little Etienne walked out on the stage in the school gymnasium. He didn't have any lines, but he found his mark and looked quite handsome in his robes. 'At least he didn't have to come out in that stupid sheep's costume.' Tory thought to herself. After the play, they all went to Café' du Monde for hot chocolate and beignets.
"You were awesome, Etienne. Aren't you glad you didn't have to wear the sheep costume?" Tory said.
"Yes, ma'am. Robbie said it itched him something fierce." Etienne giggled.
"Poor Robbie." Jenny piped in.
The threesome enjoyed their treats and talked at length about the play and what was on the Christmas list Etienne gave to Santa.
Soon Etienne's eyes began to droop, exhausted from all the excitement and his Mom decided it was time for all good shepherds to go to sleep. Tory lifted the little bundle into her arms and walked beside her companion toward the car.
"Oh, darn, would you put Etienne into the car and turn on the heater? I forgot to do something. I'll be just a minute. Here are the keys." With that Jenny trotted back the way they came.
Tory was a bit confused but did as she was bade. The car was nice and crispy when Jenny returned with a Cheshire cat grin on her face. "What was that about?" Tory inquired.
"It's a secret." She leaned over and kissed Tory's lips, tenderly. "You'll find out soon enough."
Tory was pleasantly surprised at this show of affection and didn't know what to say, so she just smiled. Her smile was still in place when they pulled up in front of the Gym and Jenny hopped out of the car to open the door for her.
"Thank you. But, it's not necessary to open doors for me."
"Let me. I like doing little things for you. It makes me happy. OK?"
Tory thought for a moment. "Ok."
Jenny took Tory's hand and walked her to the door. Taped to the door was some brightly colored paper. "What in the....." Tory couldn't imagine what it was. Before she could reach it, Jenny had carefully removed the tape and held the paper in her hand.
"It's from me. I wanted someway of expressing to you how much our friendship, how much you mean to me. I realize we haven't known each other very long, but I want to get to know you better and maybe you could grow to care for me too."
"I do care for you, Jenny. I really do want to get to know you better. It's just that I..... well I've never dated anyone at all since I lost Claire. It would have felt like I was cheating on her."
"Tory, I have the utmost respect for what you shared with your wife and would never presume to impose upon your memories of her. I just want the chance for us to make memories of our own." Jenny ran her left hand up Tory's arm and around her neck, pulling her into a tender kiss, then gently teasing her lips with her tongue, begging entrance there. Tory felt a shiver of arousal and opened to her. Their kiss deepened and both women moaned in unison. All too quickly, Jenny pulled back, then gave Tory a chaste kiss on her hot cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Tory, and may all your New Year's dreams come true." Jenny handed the paper to the slightly flushed woman, then hurried back to her car and sleeping child. Both women waved as she drove out of sight.
"Wow. That was incredible." Tory said, then looked down at the papers in her hand and gently opened them to find a single, long stem, white rose.
To be continued in part 7 of The Awakening.
Tell me what you think. JonyakaLena@webtv.net
December 23, 2000