by Leslaureate


" Well, you'll be proud of me," Jessica commented to Jean, wiping her face with her napkin. Since Jean had visited her the week before, the two had spoken frequently via email and telephone. Deciding she needed a break from routine, Jessica drove north up to visit Jean for a night of dinner and dancing. Knowing that she would soon see her new friend, she waited until she saw her in person to tell Jean about her phone conversation with Cynthia.

They sat in a gay owned restaurant in Laguna Beach. From where Jessica sat, she could look out of the window behind the bar seeing a picturesque view of the ocean. Windows surrounded the restaurant; open on all sides, including those on the street, throwing natural light into the interior, where dim lighting and candlelight prevailed. The restaurant exuded intimacy, but the windows also gave it a sense of openness. The restaurant was busy with an early dinner crowd; people wanting to dine before a wild night out dancing or a quiet night at home snuggling while watching tv.

" And why, pray tell, may that be?" Jean asked curiously, before taking a bite of her salad.

" Well, not only do I have Ms. D.C.'s phone number and have been talking to her on the phone, but she's flying out next week on business and we're having dinner together," Jessica smugly answered.

" You Ho! You've been holding out on me! Congrats!"

" No, was just waiting until I saw you. Thanks. You're at least a bit more supportive than some of my friends in San Diego."

" What do you mean?" Jean asked, tearing apart and buttering her roll.

"My friends, mostly my best friend Shawn, want to be there with me at dinner. She's afraid that something bad will happen to me. Like Cynthia's an ax murderer or something."

" Well, you never can be too careful. Why didn't she come when we met?"

" Cuz I didn't tell her," Jessica answered with a devilish grin.

Jean laughed, pausing before she took a bite of her bread. "That'll do it!

So, are you excited?"

" Yeh, and a little scared too, I guess. No offense, but when we met we pretty much already knew that we would only be friends, so there really wasn't a lot of pressure. But this meeting ...I'm very drawn to her so far and I'm scared that she'll either be a complete troll or won't be attracted to me."

" I see. Still no picture huh?"

" Nope. She claims she doesn't have a decent one."

" That is plausible. Not all of us like to have our photo taken. I once had an ex that would run away at the mere mention of a camera ...But seriously Jess, I know that it's scary. The one thing I learned from my one limited experience and what others have told me as well, is that you can't have any expectations. Just go into it on a friendship level and don't have any expectations that it's romantic. That way you can't be disappointed."

" Very true, but maybe easier said than done. I'll try."

The two finished their salads and were awaiting arrival of their entrees, discussing a recent proposed referendum on the state ballot when their waiter approached their table and placed a glass of white wine in front of Jessica.

" The woman sitting behind you at the table in the corner bought this for you," the waiter quickly explained, seeing her confusion. As he began to pick up their salad plates, Jessica turned around to see her benefactor. Looking over at the table the waiter had identified, she quickly turned back around, her face pale.

" Oh fuck!" She growled under her breath. "Please take it back to her. I don't care for it," she instructed. With a puzzled look on his face, the waiter picked up the glass of wine with his free hand and walked away.

" Jess? What is it? You look like you just saw a ghost," Jean asked concerned with her friend's reaction.

" More like a nightmare. Remember that ex I told you about?" Jean nodded. "Well, that's her."

" The one with the blond?" Jessica, in turn, nodded affirmatively. "Ah you want to leave?"

" I don't know. Part of me wants to run, but the other part doesn't want to let her control me like that." The waiter returned with their main course and placed the plates of food in front of them on the table; the sweet aroma of the food making Jessica's mind up for her. "Hey, my back's away from her so I don't have to see her. The food smells and looks delicious. Let's just enjoy our dinner and conversation."

" You sure?"

" Positive. Mange!" Jessica assured her friend, picking up her fork and digging into the vegetables on the plate. Jean hesitantly followed her example, concerned about Jessica, but finding it difficult to resist the scrumptious looking food in front of her. The two ate their meals, ignoring Erin and enjoying their time together.

" Hey!" Jean announced unexpectantly, wanting to add some levity to the tense situation.

" Hey what?" Jessica asked puzzled by her companion's sudden outburst.

" See that couple over there, to your left? Now don't be obvious," she instructed as Jessica looked. "It's their first date."

" C'mon now. How do you know that?" Jessica laughed.

Jean took a bite of her chicken and swallowed before answering. "Look at the one on the right. She's sitting with her hands folded on the table, gazing intently at her companion, not wanting to miss a word. She's concentrating hard because she's nervous. That, and she wants to be sure that it looks like she's paying attention to nothing else other than the words spoken, so she can get brownie points for being a good listener."

Jessica giggled, wiping her mouth with her napkin. "You're full of it. They could just be good friends talking about something important or serious."

" Nope," Jean said adamantly, "The two women at the table next to them are good friends. But the way those two are looking at each other, it's a look of being too engrossed with a hint of nervousness."

Jessica was intrigued and amused by Jean's theory and her adamancy behind it. "All righty Ms. Psychic, what about those two over there?" she asked challenging, motioning to a table to her right where a younger man in his twenties sat dining with an older man in his fifties.

" Too easy. Sugar Daddy. No other explanation."

" Good point. But I still disagree about those two women."

" Look, one went to the restroom. Look at the other one. She's nervous as all hell and doesn't know what to do with herself ...Don't you remember having first date jitters when you had a crush? The butterflies ...hungry, but can't and are too afraid to eat; usually thirsty and drink a lot, whether it be water or wine, although you try not to drink too much wine for fear of getting drunk and making a complete fool out of yourself. Look at her. She has all of the symptoms. No doubt about it in my mind!" she said emphatically. Seeing that Jessica was still not accepting her observation she added, "OK, look at them in relation to the women sitting next to them. Those two women are relaxed and are smiling. It's evident that they've known each other for a while by the ease by which they're talking and the fact that they're actually eating. Now, the two men behind them, they're long term lovers, bored with each other. They're only eating and not saying a word to one another."

" I see," Jessica said thoughtfully, entertained by her friend's observations. "So, is this a newly found skill or one that you've had for a while?" she teased.

Jean looked at her with mocked indignation, taking a bite of her meal. "For a while. Although my job is to watch the market, it's also sales. I've learned that I have to observe my clients carefully to get a feel for them and the types of investment strategies in which they would want to invest. Like those last two guys, the bored couple, my recommendation is that liquidity is the key," she laughed.

" Got me there!" Jessica conceded.

After finishing their meals. the waiter cleared their plates and they ordered coffee, which he promptly delivered. Jean excused herself to use the restroom. Jessica sat staring out of the window behind the bar, watching the magical colors of the sunset. She jumped suddenly, feeling someone touch her shoulder.

" Jess, it's not nice to refuse a drink made as a peace offering," she heard the purr and then looked up to see Erin standing next to her. She could feel her blood pressure rise just hearing Erin's voice. Throughout dinner she could feel Erin's stare bore through her back, and was surprised there had been no confrontation, yet.

" Get away from me Erin. You're violating the restraining order," she responded tersely.

" C'mon Jess. You know that's bull. I wouldn't hurt you."

" Oh, but you did Erin, in more ways than you'll ever comprehend! Just get the fuck away from me! Just sign the damn settlement papers so we can finally end things once and for all!"

" Jess, I've just wanted what's right," Erin said innocently.

" Bull shit! With you there is no right. You just want something to continue to have a hold over me. No more Erin! I won't tolerate it! I will do whatever is in my power to get that agreement as fair to both of us as possible and finalized and get you the hell out of my life!" Jessica spewed the words with such venom that she surprised herself as well as Erin. She sat in her chair, shaking with anger and fear, not seeing Jean walk up behind Erin until she heard Jean's calm voice.

" Excuse me, but I think it's time you left. It's obvious that she doesn't want to talk to you, so just go and leave her alone," Jean stated calmly, standing next to Erin. Although she only stood to the height of Erin's shoulder, it was apparent she was in no manner intimidated by the woman.

Initially speechless, Erin looked from Jean to Jessica with a look of unadulterated anger and hatred on her face. "If that's the way you want to play it Jess, fuck you!" she hissed, quickly turning around and walking out of the restaurant.

Jean sat in her chair, running her hands through her hair. "Whew! Isn't she a charmer? Are you ok?" She asked, concerned about her friend.

" Yeh, I guess so. She just makes me so damn angry!"

The waiter, having seen the confrontation, again approached the table to see if they were all right and to drop off the bill. Jean grabbed the bill and placed money down on the table. "This one's on me kiddo."

The two grabbed their coats and stood and walked outside. Jessica was still in shock C not believing what had just transpired and extremely surprised that she ran into Erin so far away from home. That is what she thought really bothered her the most. What were the odds of that happening? She felt as if she’d been followed, making her feel more anxious and angry. She excused herself from going out dancing and declined Jean’s invitation to go to her house to give Jessica time to settle down before driving the long distance home. She hugged Jean good night and thanked her for dinner, quickly walking to her car to get as far away from Erin as possible.

* * *

The ringing phone startled Jessica out of her deep sleep. She had made good time driving home the night before, but had stayed up late talking to Shawn and writing in her journal. Glancing at the clock before picking up the cordless phone, she was surprised when she saw it was 9:00 a.m.

" Hello?" she answered groggily, rubbing her sleep laden eyes.

" Good morning to you! Am I calling too early?" she heard Cynthia's voice ask in embarrassment.

" No, it's ok. I needed to get up. Guess I overslept."

" Out late last night partying huh?" Cynthia asked playfully.

" No, I wish ...I went and had dinner with a friend up in Laguna Beach then came home and talked to another friend for a while on the phone."How about you?" Jessica added, standing up to walk into the kitchen to make coffee.

Cynthia could somehow sense that Jessica was being evasive and felt a twinge of jealousy course through her. "About the same, had a nice Thai dinner with a friend and then came home to work on some proposals for my meetings next week. Nothing exciting. Making coffee?" She smiled to herself, hearing activity over the phone line.

" Yep, don't function too well in the morning without it. Like a cup?"

" Sure. So how was your dinner?"

" Ummm ...ok," Jessica answered hesitantly, clicking the on switch of the coffee maker.

" Hmmm ...sounds interesting. Anything you'd like to talk about or would you rather not?" , she asked curiously, knowing she was engaging in a fishing expedition.

She knew she had absolutely no claim over Jessica and couldn’t believe she even felt jealous. "Geez," she thought to herself, "I haven’t even met the woman yet and have no real idea what she looks like," she silently chastised herself. But despite that fact, her mind kept coming back to the connection she felt with Jessica and the feelings that were growing towards the Californian.

Jessica paused, sitting on the couch, not fully awake and feeling like the fog was just starting to lift. "Hello?" Cynthia asked, not having received a response.

" I'm still here. Still waking up. Hold on a sec while I get our coffee." Jessica stumbled back into the kitchen, wondering if she should tell Cynthia about her confrontation with Erin. Pouring a cup of coffee and blowing on it to cool it down, she returned to the couch and picked up the phone. "Thanks. I'm back."

" Feeling better with the java in your system?"

" Much, just need an iv. About last night ...I was up in Laguna Beach having dinner with a friend and accidentally ran into my ex at the restaurant." Jessica proceeded to tell Cynthia what had happened and the legal actions she was taking.

" I'm so sorry Jess. You don't deserve this crap."

" Hey. There's nothing for you to be sorry about. I just hope you still want to meet me despite all of the melodrama." Jessica was worried that her situation would scare Cynthia away, even from a friendship.

" Nope, not yet," Cynthia laughed, "I'm just glad that you're being honest and up front with me. I appreciate and respect that."

" Thanks," she said relieved, "Honesty is very important to me, especially after the bs I went through with Erin. I also learned differences in semantics, which is also important to me."

" Really? Such as?"

" I'm embarrassed now ...Well, like the difference between making love and having sex. To me, if I'm with someone whom I care about, we make love. It's an expression of our feelings for each another. Calling it sex loses the intimacy and the emotions, bringing it down to an animalistic level in some respects. I hope that doesn't sound too silly."

" No, not at all. I can see the difference and feel the same way. Any two people can have sex, but making love is special."

" Exactly!" Jessica exclaimed, pleased that someone else shared her belief. It seemed that most women she had spoken to couldn't seem to grasp the subtle differences.

The two slipped into easy conversation, not realizing that three hours had passed.

" My God! Where has the time gone?" Jessica exclaimed, seeing it was far past 11:00 am.

" Guess it's true ...time sure does fly when you're having fun. That seems to happen a lot to us when we talk. "

" Yeh, it sure does. So, are you excited about your trip?"

" Sort of ...but not the business side. I am excited to meet you though. "

" The feeling is mutual ...You busy up until the time you leave?" Throughout the conversation, Jessica caught Cynthia’s subtle flirting and double entendres. She tried to ignore them, trying not to create any expectations before meeting Cynthia face to face. But she couldn’t deny the mystery woman had captivated her and couldn’t resist returning the flirtations.

" A little, but I'll try to call you before I leave ...especially to make sure that you haven't changed your mind about meeting face to face," she tried to tease, but knew she was somewhat serious as well.

" Hardly! I'm very much looking forward to it."

After hanging up the phone, Jessica was still nervous from the conversation with Cynthia and from the events the prior evening, which still bore heavy on her mind. It was inconceivable to her that anyone could be so manipulative like Erin. She knew she wasn’t being a Pollyanna, but truly believed she could never have fallen in love with someone who had even the propensity to be so evil. She tried to empty her mind of the thoughts of being hard on herself and proceeded on with her day knowing the steps she had to take to finally be able to move forward with her life.

After speaking with Shawn about the confrontation with Erin, she was convinced she should speak to her attorney as soon as possible. As soon as she arrived at her office on Monday morning, she called Bridget. After again reiterating Saturday night’s events, Jessica instructed Bridget to immediately file suit and push for violation of the restraining order. She knew the risks, but she was going to be damned if she wasn’t going to take risks to protect her sanity.

* * *

She walked up the stairs to the main dining area of the restaurant, butterflies tumbling in her stomach harder and harder with each step she took. She forced herself to keep thinking > no expectations, no expectations'running it through her mind like a mantra. As she approached the hostess station, thoughts of turning around and running away jolted through her head. She knew it would be easy to run, but knew she had to follow through with her word. Taking a deep breath, she followed the hostess through the restaurant to the row of tables by the window. She looked forward to where she was being led, and saw a woman sitting by herself. She stopped dead in her tracks. "No, it can't be!" she whispered aloud to herself. She realized her worst fears were confirmed when the hostess stopped at the table where the woman sat apparently waiting for someone. Gathering what little courage she had left, she moved to catch up with the hostess at the table.

She saw the woman watch her as she got closer to the table; a smile growing across the woman's face as she watched Jessica approach the table. "She doesn't remember me," Jessica was shocked to think. She thanked the hostess and, still standing, turned to Cynthia.

" Jessica I presume," Cynthia greeted warmly, standing and inviting Jessica to sit in the empty seat across the table from her.

" Hello Jazz," Jessica responded coolly, sitting in the empty chair across the table from Cynthia. As she said the words, she watched the color drain from Cynthia's face and a look of disbelief and confusion replace the smile. The excitement that was evident in Cynthia’s eyes was replaced by fear. She could feel daggers being thrown at her from the still bluish-green eyes.

Cynthia felt a wave of fear and anxiety quickly pass through her. No one had called her by that name in almost two decades. "Excuse me?" Cynthia finally asked regaining her composure from the shock of the greeting. "You are Jessica, correct?"

" I am. And I had no idea who you were," the frostiness of Jessica’s words chilled the warm weather.

" I'm sorry, but I'm very confused. No one has called me that for a very long time. Part of the past that I told you I was trying to forget. How did you know to call me that? Have we met before?" she asked, growing both paranoid and angry at the game she felt this woman was trying to play with her.

Jessica stared at her, trying to gauge whether or not Cynthia’s reaction was genuine confusion. Seeing the fear and pain deep in Cynthia’s eyes, she was surprised when she felt the sincerity in Cynthia’s response. "You have no idea who I am do you? Jessica asked in utter disbelief, leaning toward Cynthia with her elbows on the table.

" Other than that you're the woman I've recently been talking to on the phone and the Internet, sorry, but no, I don't recall that we've met before."

" Figures," Jessica muttered angrily under her breath, sitting back into the chair, disgusted.

" Listen Jessica, I don't know what type of game is being played here, but I don't care for it one bit! Please explain to me what is going on here, I have no clue!"

Jessica stared at her, flabbergasted by the entire situation. She was numb. Never in a million years did she expect this to happen- to see Jazz again, yet alone under these circumstances. She looked away, confused with what was happening. She didn't know what to do or say, desperately struggling to resist the overwhelming urge to stand up and run away.

" Listen Jessica, I'm really sorry, but I have absolutely no idea of what's happening right now," Cynthia spoke, dumbfounded as to Jessica's reaction to her. She knew instinctively that it had to do with the past she so long ago buried and struck from her memory. Trying to stay calm, she still felt her anxiety rising, terrified her past had finally caught up with her.

Jessica exhaled deeply, skeptically looking at her companion. "Cynthia, or Jazz, or whomever you are, are you saying you have absolutely no recollection of me from seventeen years ago? Or that we were once lovers?"

The words slapped Cynthia across her face. She looked down at her water glass, desperately trying to search her memory for even a slight clue to help her try to remember, but the door had been shut for so long it was not opening easily. She looked at Jessica with wounded eyes. Any pride she may have had completely disappeared once she heard the questions asked.

" Let me explain something Jess ...I told you that particular time in my life when I was in San Diego was a nightmare was. A lot happened and I ran as fast as I could, burying and forgetting the memories. I am truly sorry, but I honestly don't remember ..."

Jessica's anger began to erupt as her self-esteem began to plummet. > How dare she?!'she thought to herself. > Not only does she dump me, but she has absolutely no recollection of who I am!'A Let me see if I can refresh your memory! You were stationed here in the Navy. We met at a bar. We started dating and became lovers. Then you disappeared into thin air. No calls. No notes. Nothing! Poof! You were gone! I was devastated. I had fallen in love with you and by your words and actions I thought you felt the same!" Jessica angrily spat the words, tears from the long ago pain trickling down her face.

Cynthia sat listening to Jessica, feeling remorse for causing this lovely creature sitting in front of her such pain, but ...she still couldn't remember. Not one flicker of a memory popped into her mind. "I know it may not sound sincere, but I am so sorry if I caused you pain Jessica. I was so wrapped up in my own misery I was oblivious to everything else," she finally answered softly.

To Jessica, the meager attempt at an apology rang hollow. She felt the full extent of the pain and anger that she thought she had left behind her rise up from a hiding place deep down within her. She couldn't take it anymore. "Enjoy your stay in San Diego. I can't do this," she stood, turned, and quickly walked away.

Stunned, Cynthia stood and reached into her pocket, pulled out some money, threw it on the table, and chased after Jessica. "Jessica! Wait!" she yelled as she ran outside of the building in pursuit. Reaching her, she touched Jessica's shoulder causing Jessica to suddenly stop and turn around, Cynthia almost running into her.

" Please Jess! Let me try to explain!" Cynthia pleaded, knowing that despite the horror of her past and her lack of memory, she still owed this woman an explanation, and that, perhaps, it was time to face her demons once and for all.

" Explain what? That you so thoroughly fucked me over and abandoned me? Why didn't you give me an explanation 17 years ago Jazz?" she snarled, tears flowing more heavily down her face.

" I am so very sorry Jess. All I know is that I was so confused and scared back then. Please ...let me try to explain ..."

" I don't owe you anything Jazz!" she looked away, staring at a boat cruising around the harbor. Her emotions conflicted between walking away and finally receiving the explanation that she at one time wanted so desperately.

"No, you don't. But I do owe you something. Please, come sit with me and let me try to explain," she implored. Since she stood to chase after Jessica, the memories began to trickle in small pieces through her mind, gaining momentum until her brain was deluged with various snapshots. A snapshot here, another one there. One of very young versions of herself and Jessica entwined, holding each other lovingly. A bittersweet smile passed over her face as the memories of the good times and feelings of love they had shared for a short period of time flashed through her mind. She didn’t know how or even why she had blocked out such sweet memories. Although it wasn’t entirely clear to her, it amazed her how such apparent happiness could so quickly turn into pain. She looked at Jessica; the guilt of what she probably had done suddenly consuming her. She used all of her energy and will power to keep her thoughts in the present and not break down.

" Fine, you do owe me," Jessica finally spoke breaking the oppressive silence that fell between them.

Jessica followed Cynthia to a bench overlooking the harbor, both sitting facing the water. Cynthia gazed out trying to collect her thoughts, the memories still slowly trickling into her mind. Gathering what courage and strength she had left, she began to offer the only thing she had to even begin to heal the wounds for both of them, the truth.

"Yes, I do remember some of it now Jess. And I know it may not mean anything now, but I did love you, very much. And I can’t believe it myself what I did to you.... Please understand that back in that time period it was a hard time to be a lesbian in the Navy. But we were all so young, we didn't think anything could touch or hurt us. Do you remember all the witch-hunts by NIS back then?" she asked looking at Jessica, who silently nodded her head. "Unfortunately even the lame ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell’ policy wasn’t around then. Well, after the major sting in Long Beach, no one was immune, including us down here. NIS was pulling people in like crazy, trying to intimidate people into telling on others. Most were strong, knowing that NIS had nothing on them, but many weren't and one or two ended up giving my name. Suddenly I was under investigation. I was constantly being harassed and questioned. I felt like I was under a microscope. When it first came up I didn't know what to do other than disassociate myself completely from everyone and everything remotely related to being a lesbian. I was so paranoid of everything and everybody. I felt I was being followed and I lost trust in everyone ...including you ...

" You see Jess, I wanted the Navy to be my career. I wasn't just in it for the short tour; I wanted it to be my life. I didn't think I'd ever get the opportunities for a life that the Navy offered me. NIS usually never had any hard evidence and relied on fear and intimidation to break people into making admissions. So I completely withdrew hoping to salvage my career. I got a small studio apartment and only went to work and back, disassociating myself from you and all my friends, thinking I could somehow weather the storm and it would quickly blow over. But I was wrong ...," she paused, wiping away the tears that began to flow down her face.

" What happened?" Jessica asked softly.

" One of the women who turned me in was an ex-lover who was a Photo Mate. She had taken some pictures of us that could be interpreted as compromising. When we had parted, it wasn't on the best of terms and I guess she saw her career in danger and also saw the opportunity to hurt me and take me down with her. No matter how hard I denied it, they had me and they knew it. They finally played their hand and I was not only defeated, but completely devastated, my resolve to fight broken. That was at a time when they were giving administrative rather than dishonorable discharges. Because I had an exemplary service record, I didn’t think I had any other option but to accept the administrative discharge.

" I was a wreck, both physically and emotionally. Because I so completely dissociated myself from everyone here, I felt I had no one to turn to. So I just packed a few things up, sold the rest, and left, vowing to myself never to look back. I moved back east and worked for a while, and decided that I may as well take the training I had in computers and money from the military for college and put it to use, so I went back to school. I think I've told you most the rest that’s happened since then," she paused, letting the words settle over both of them.

" Jess, I know I can't even begin to make up for the pain I've caused you. But in the past couple of months, since we began corresponding, I haven't felt so alive as I have in a very, very long time. I've cherished and have very much looked forward to our correspondence and the opportunity to get to know you better. I'm not the same person I was seventeen years ago. Hopefully I've matured and grown better with age," she paused smiling, trying to bring a touch of levity to the intense situation. "I know you don't owe me squat, but I'd welcome another chance. I guess I'm extremely selfish and hard headed, because it’s only now that I’ve remembered what happened and have realized what a terrible mistake I made cutting you off the way I did. It was very selfish and I have no other excuse other than I was young and scared. I truly can't express how very sorry I am ...I just hope that you can forgive me and allow me a fresh start ..." Jessica started to speak, but Cynthia raised her hand to stop her, "I need to say one more thing and then you can tell me whatever you need to say ...Jess, when we first began communicating, even though we didn't know each other, I felt such a sense of connection and familiarity with you I know why. I know it may sound trite and self-serving, but I can't change the past Jess. I do know I regret some of the choices I've made, and again, I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am for the way I reacted and the pain I've caused you," she again apologized, still crying and wiping the tears off of her face. Finishing, she felt spent, almost every ounce of energy in her drained.

As Cynthia spoke, Jessica had sat quietly, wiping her own tears away. She felt overwhelmed and on sensory overload. She had waited so long to hear the words and had built up so much anger, that the compassion she now felt confused her.

" I never expected that," she finally uttered, again becoming quiet, trying to process everything. "I. . .I thought we had something so special Jazz. I may have been young and naïve, but I thought we had something magical between us. I am just having a hard time understanding why you couldn't tell me then instead of just disappearing," she finally added, continuing to call Cynthia by the name she once knew her. "I tried calling you, only to find that you had moved. No one knew where you went to and I never had your work number to call you there. I thought about calling your command, but as hurt and angry as I was, I was afraid I would get you into trouble.

" I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I had done so wrong to cause you to withdraw so completely, and I couldn't think of a damn thing. I was devastated. It was all so sudden and I couldn't figure out why ..." The tears started to flow so rapidly, she could no longer contain them. Reaching into her purse she pulled out a package of tissues, offering some to Cynthia, who gladly took some.

" It took me so long to be able to let go and move on," Jessica continued after wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. "And I guess since then, as evidenced by my recent fiasco of a relationship, my picker hasn't done too well, " she again paused, thinking carefully of what to say next. "Jazz ...Cynthia ...whomever the hell you are, I was so hurt that right now the words feel very empty to me. I do appreciate you finally telling me what happened, but I don't know if I could ever trust you again."

" I honestly don't blame you Jess. I was a complete asshole. But please, give me the chance to prove myself. Let me show you that I've changed and would never do anything so heinous again. I agree, talk is cheap, but allow me the opportunity to earn your trust with actions rather than words." She saw the confusion and turmoil on Jessica's face, which she thought mirrored her own. "I know it sounds crazy, but I've never wanted anything more in my life than the opportunity to get to know you again. I know it couldn't be anything like before, neither of us are the same and too much has happened between us and to each of us since then, and who knows, maybe all we could be are friends. I would just like the opportunity." She knew she was begging and repeating herself, but didn't know what else to say or do.

A long silence fell between them as Jessica tried to digest everything. It was so overwhelming, and she was in shock by the entire situation. She didn't know what to say or do. Her head was pounding, reverberating with thoughts of > run, run for the hills'. But her heart was crying with confusion and an inkling of forgiveness.

" I don't know Jazz. This is all so much at once."

" I understand. I wouldn’t blame you if you told me to go fuck myself, but please, at least think about it?" Cynthia asked hopefully.

" I will. I just need some time."

" No problem. Can I call you?"

" I don't think that'll be wise. Let me process. I'll contact you."

" Sure, I understand," Cynthia responded downheartedly. "But Jess, could you do me a favor?" Jessica looked at her questioningly. "Could you please not call me Jazz? That person died a very long time ago."

* * *

Jessica tossed and turned all night, not being able to fall to sleep, at least any type of restful sleep. She had left Cynthia sitting on the bench, saying she had to leave and process what had happened. Despite being out in open space, she left trying to escape the sense of claustrophobia that was enveloping her. When she got home and finally settled down a bit, she called Shawn only to receive her answering machine. She tried to watch mindless television, but the thoughts in her brain were turning in a whirlwind, continually returning to earlier in the evening. What were the odds of her cyber date being Jazz? A million to one? A trillion to one? As far as her ex-lovers were concerned, her life seemed to be one freak coincidence after another as of late.

Although she tried to go to sleep early in the evening, her mind continued to spin. Tasha could sense something was wrong and tried to comfort her with cat snuggles and kisses to no avail. Tasha moved to the edge of the bed to avoid her mother's continued thrashing about.

Jessica got out of bed at 5:00 a.m., wide awake, but exhausted. She went into the kitchen and prepared a strong pot of coffee and fed Tasha, giving her extra kitty treats as a reward for tolerating her restlessness through the night. Pouring herself a cup of coffee when it finally finished brewing, she carried it into her office and logged onto the Internet.

As she checked her mail, she saw Jean's screen name pop up, knowing that Jean was probably working, trying to catch the opening of the stock market.

CNTRYLVR: Hey! What are you doing up so early? Or is it late? You did have dinner with DC last night, didn't you?

SDLVR2: Couldn't sleep. Just got up.

CNTRYLVR: Well? How did it go?

Jessica summarily related the events of the night before and the

background leading to what happened



The phone rang as Jessica read the response.

" You're not kidding, are you?" She heard Jean's voice as soon as she answered the phone.

" I only wish I was. It's all very true," she answered sadly.

Jean was silent, trying to comprehend what her friend had shared. "Wow!" was all she could say, until she gathered her senses. "How are you doing? Are you ok?" she asked with great concern. A part of her had difficulty believing the events Jessica had related; it was too much like fiction to be true.

" I think I'm still in shock. I feel blind sided and drained. Who could have expected that?"

" No idea huh? Even in hindsight no clues?"

" No, I don't think so. It was so long ago. I only remember her as Jazz, not her real name. Any other particulars had long since faded from memory. The subject of her time in San Diego was off limits, so I couldn't gather anything there. But as soon as I saw her ...Oh my God Jean, memories and thoughts came rushing back like it was yesterday."

" Including the pain?"

" Especially the pain," she answered somberly.

" So what now? Are you going to consider further contact?"

Jessica was silent for a moment contemplating the question. "I don't know. If she had given me any other bs story, probably not. But I remember what it was like back then and a lot of women were freaking and were scared. It was paranoia run rampant. I knew women that would run out of the bars if they even remotely thought NIS had come in undercover. Women were ostracized if even the slightest rumor was being spread that they were connected to the NIS. So I guess I can understand how she could have freaked ..."

" But?"

" But it doesn’t excuse how she handled it and what she did to me. I don't know if I can forgive the way she just disappeared on me. I don't know if I could ever trust her."

" For good reason."

" Yeh, I think so. I just need to kick back and look at this closely. But I need this like a hole in the head with everything that's going on with Erin."

" True. Anything new happen on that front?"

" I got a call from my attorney yesterday. Apparently Erin's attorney has proposed mediation or arbitration. She thinks that Erin won't agree to anything definitive unless she's ordered to do so by a third party."

" Well, that's a step!"

"It can only be effective if it's binding and Erin's not too keen on that."

"So what’s the use?"

"Exactly. I’ve only agreed to it if it’s binding and held within the next 30 days."

"Good! So there may be an end in sight."

"I sure as hell hope so," she exhaled, exasperated. She looked at the clock and realized she was running late for work. "Hey Jean, I’ve got to get going and get to work. Can I call you later?"

"Sure. And Jess? If you need to talk about any of this stuff, please feel free to give me a call any time," she offered sincerely.

"Thanks, I appreciate the offer. You’ve been a very good friend Jean. I really do value and appreciate it and hope I can reciprocate."

"Vice versa. Hey get going, have a great day and I’ll talk to you later."

Jessica hung up the phone very grateful to have people like Jean and Shawn in her life. That was one positive she saw. She rose to get ready for work and drag herself through the rest of the day.

Continued in Chapter Five

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