GUN SHY

Part 7 of 11

By Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
lorelei-bard@juno.com

 

DISCLAIMERS: All the characters in GUN SHY (except the gods) were dreamed up out of my bizarre little noggin and are mine, mine, mine, with the exception of any characteristics Dez and Jaylynn possess that belong to my partner, who is also mine, mine, mine. So the bottom line is: please don't steal my characters without permission. I wrote this for fun and fame, not profit, so please be kind when you critique me.

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This novel does contain scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. The protagonists are cops, and they live in a sometimes dangerous, sometimes gritty, always frustrating world. This story contains scenes where there are assaults, shootings, car accidents, arrests, domestic disturbances, and the aftermath of one rape. If you get queasy watching "Law and Order" or "Xena: Warrior Princess," you might not want to read this. However, I would put the level of explicit violence at about PG-13. Oh yeah—there’s also a little swearing here and there.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state/country where you live, you should move to Minnesota where we have human rights protections and a new governor, Jesse Ventura, to beat up anyone who's mean to us.

HURT/COMFORT WARNING: I've never totally understood what this means, but yes, indeed, each of the main characters (and some of the minor characters) do get hurt in more ways than one, and there is comfort afforded to each here and there—hmmm, just read the novel to see what I mean, okay?

SUBTEXT: There is no subtext whatsoever—it's all maintext. While there are no overly graphic scenes (apologies to those of you who were hoping for that and are now sadly disappointed), there are love scenes, and the theme of two women falling in love runs throughout the story. If this bothers you, click BACK PAGE and go immediately to the Jerry Falwell v. Tinky-Winky claymation slugfest scheduled for tonight.

SPECIAL THANKS: Couldn’t have done this without my trio of true blue beta readers: one scientist, a doctor, and a police officer. To Buff, Joy, and Erin—you are the BEST! Thanks to Tragedy88 and Dreambard for advice and inspiration. And many blessings to MaryD, Web Goddess Extraordinaire, for encouraging me and keeping me on track. Lastly, to MaryAnn, Linda D, and Susan who listened ad nauseum about this and read parts in the early stages and never stopped cheering me on.

DEDICATION: This one’s for Diane, because she had to live with an obsessed madwoman while it was being written. Not only that, she had to read and make sense of it—three times, in fact—and not at all in any reasonable semblance of order. She deserves a medal.

GREAT NEWS!!!!! You’ve probably already all heard, but Justice House Press is going to publish this puppy as a paperback. My head is still spinning with delight. I plan to finish posting this on the wonderful Bards’ Corner though so as not to leave all of you faithful in the lurch. J

Comments are welcome, and I have greatly enjoyed what people have e-mailed so far. J You can e-mail me at: lorelei-bard@juno.com. This is part 7 of 11, and I’ll keep posting regularly to the end.

 

 

 

 

PART 7

Dez hovered in the roll call room, sipping from her ever-present water bottle and awaiting Jaylynn’s entrance. The rookie had arrived extra early, at the Lieutenant’s request, and was currently talking to him behind closed doors. It had been six months since the young woman had joined the force, so today she was getting her second quarterly progress report. Dez had already put in her two cents about Savage, Oster, and Mahoney, the three recruits she’d had experience with. She’d also made a few informal comments about Dwayne Neilsen.

She was proud of Jaylynn’s development, but secretly, she was just as pleased with how Oster had advanced. The young man had gone from bumbling, underconfident, and pudgy to smooth and thoughtful, with an evolving competence that earmarked him as the kind of officer who would be steady and effective. He’d been lifting weights, watching his diet, and studying like crazy. She knew that things did not come to him easily as they did for Mahoney or even for Jaylynn, but his hard work and concentration was paying off. She had gone out of her way to encourage him and offer advice whenever possible. It gave her a good feeling to take on a mentoring project some of the other FTOs had deemed a lost cause. There was a side of her that greatly enjoyed being able to say, "I told ya so." When Oster passed probation at the end of the year, she looked forward to saying that to a couple people, especially Lieutenant Andres.

She grinned when she heard a clatter on the stairs. No mistaking those footsteps. The rookie exploded into the room full of energy and excitement.

"Hey, guess what! I’m doing better than I thought." Jaylynn slid into the chair next to Dez. "The Lieutenant says I’m exceeding standards in some areas and making excellent progress. Wow! Isn’t that great?" She fixed her hazel green eyes on Dez, smiling at her warmly.

Dez couldn’t help but grin back. She nodded at the rookie. "Congratulations. Six months down, six more to go."

Jaylynn chattered on about the details of the performance review, all of which Dez already knew since she had written most of the data the Lieutenant had used to score her. As she half-listened, Dez thought about the training she had gotten when she became an officer nine years earlier. Everything was hit and miss back then, and not nearly as organized as it had become. She was lucky to have ridden along periodically with her father when she was small, and then regularly with her father’s best friend, Mac MacArthur, when she was in her teens. She had attended every Police Officers’ Father/Daughter Banquet with her father, and then, after his death, with Mac until she was age 22.

The dark haired woman had always had the good fortune of being in the company of cops who told her stories and cautionary tales. Before she ever donned the uniform she already had a wealth of anecdotes and information to draw upon. By the time she joined the force, she’d seen the results of people’s poor choices: dead bodies, homeless children, bleeding victims, vandalized schools, a bombed business, and the aftermath of so many brawls that she couldn’t have possibly counted them. Most new recruits were not so lucky as she, and they didn’t know what they were getting into.

She turned her full attention to Jaylynn who was now saying, "So are you ready for this shadow phase?"

Dez nodded.

"It’s going to be hard for you though, isn’t it?" said the rookie with a smirk on her face. "Hanging back, mostly watching, not taking the lead . . . ."

"I’ll manage," Dez said in a low voice. For the next three months they no longer worked so much as a team. Instead, she was to focus on Jaylynn’s handling of everything while the blond went through the motions as though she were out entirely on her own. The veteran cop’s role was to take notes, evaluate performance, give the rookie feedback, and discuss, discuss, discuss. After every shift she’d have to give a verbal summary of the evening’s events to the sergeant and then a weekly written report to Lt. Malcolm. As far as she could tell, it would be maddening. But she wasn’t going to admit that to Jaylynn.

Once roll call began, it seemed to go on forever and ever, with a great many more reports and updates than usual. Here it was, the second of July, and everybody and their brother was reporting their car stolen. There had also been a rash of break-ins and street thefts. Despite the improving economy, they still had the same drug dealers and burglars and con artists to deal with. The only good thing was that homicides were down. In fact, now that she thought about it, she didn’t think Jaylynn had even been to a homicide crime scene yet. That rosy situation wouldn’t go on forever, she was sure of that.

 

*****

The Fourth of July dawned cloudy and cool. Dez awoke later than usual feeling cranky and hungry. It was only six weeks until the body building competition, and she had to admit that even she was tired of herself. Trying to sluice off all possible fat cells and get down to lean muscle entailed eating lots of protein and scarcely any carbohydrates other than romaine lettuce, a few fibrous vegetables, and small amounts of brown rice or sweet potatoes. The lack of carbs made her irritable, and she wasn’t sure how she could make it through the next few weeks.

She was glad she no longer had to lift so heavy, but her weight routine still included a full array of exercises—only with lighter weights and higher repetitions. No challenge and very boring. Forty-one days, she thought. I can make it forty-one more days, and then I never have to do this again if I don’t want to.

By the time she reported for duty in mid-afternoon, it was drizzling out. On account of the weather, the first part of their shift was quiet, but as the evening went on, it stopped raining and the loonies came out in full force. Firecracker complaints, loud parties, drunk drivers, and the never-ending domestic assaults kept them occupied non-stop. It wasn’t until nearly ten p.m. that the veteran and the rookie decided to sign out for a meal break. Dez had already eaten two cold chicken breasts and a protein bar in the car, and now all she needed was a fresh quart of water. Jaylynn, as usual, had her sights set on something Dez could not eat.

"Even though you’re eating healthier stuff," groused Dez, "I still can’t believe how much you can pack away." She got out of the passenger’s side and headed toward the 7-11.

Over the top of the car Jaylynn replied, "Hey! It’s a hard job doing all the work out here with you just tagging along to take notes. I’ve gotta keep up my strength, don’t I?" She slammed her door shut, straightened her collar, and stepped up on the sidewalk. "I don’t think an ice cream snack will kill me."

"Yeah, but I gotta sit and watch you eat it and hear all those happy noises you make."

Jaylynn grinned. "You could join me, you know."

The tall cop pushed open the 7-11 door as she glanced back, exasperated. "Jay! You know I can’t. Don’t torture me."

Dez took two steps into the convenience store, her eyes scanning for the dairy case, before she noticed the clerk and saw his frightened face. Standing with him at the checkout counter, profile to them, was a perilously thin black man clad in a pink t-shirt and baggy black shorts. The big cop stopped abruptly and Jaylynn bumped into her as the man turned. Dez saw the gun swing her way and she reached for her Glock. Her ears filled with a roar as her chest absorbed a blow like nothing she’d ever felt before. She stumbled back. Sliding sideways against Jaylynn, she desperately tried to stay on her feet. Before she even hit the ground, she heard another roar, and the man in pink clutched his chest, then crumpled to the ground. She felt a blow to the back of her head, and then everything went white.

Dez couldn’t breathe. Her lungs ached. A buzzing in her ears wouldn’t stop, and a light-headed floating feeling came over her causing the world to tilt sideways and out of focus. She tried to keep her eyes open, but the tears streaming from them burned and blurred her vision. She pinched her eyes shut.

Dez opened her eyes. Lying flat on her back in a musty smelling place, she was as cold and bone-weary as she had ever felt. Against the back of her head, shoulders, and legs she felt a chilly surface. Hesitantly she placed her hands, palms down, near her sides and ran them over a smooth stone, perhaps marble? As fuzzy clouds cleared from her vision and her eyes adjusted to the faintly lit room, she focused on the ceiling fifteen feet above. What is that above me? They look like stalactites. Stalactites?

She tried to sit up, but a stab of pain shot through her rib cage. She raised her hands, crossed them over her chest and closed her eyes. Barely breathing, she lay still until the wave of pain passed.

Once she could choke in air again, she began to relax and realized her hands were clutching something strange attached to her chest. What happened to my vest? Puzzled, she trailed her fingers over metal swirls until she reached buckles and clips. Hmm, this is an odd thing, an odd pattern. What is it? She knocked against the metal with a knuckle and heard a solid thunk. Running her fingers over her shoulders, sides, and stomach, she felt leather and metal clasps. Definitely not my police uniform. And my legs—are they bare?

I have no idea where I am, what I’m wearing, why I’m here. She turned her head to the side and moved as if to sit up, and once again, the explosion of pain blasted through her, leaving her weak and with tears in her eyes.

Through the mist of tears, she let her eyes explore around her and concluded that she was in a cave, but she could see very little other than the projectiles hanging from the ceiling and the faint outline of rocks imbedded in the walls. Gradually she became aware of the far-off sound of voices, one deep and rumbling, the other higher toned. Dez held her breath to listen, and as she lay quietly, breathlessly, the voices grew nearer until she could hear them crystal clear behind her.

"She’s mine," said a firm, elegant woman’s voice.

"No she’s not. This one is my Chosen, always has been," rumbled the deep reply.

"But the Fair One is mine, and as my Chosen, you can’t interfere with her destiny."

"I’ve waited eons, Artemis. I don’t give a damn if you are my sister. I’ll fight you to the bitter end. I’ve got too much invested."

"Just because it’s the 20th century now, it doesn’t mean you have to flaunt your high tech, business oriented, war nonsense to me. You don’t need this one miserable warrior any more. You’ve got your computers and TV stations and the Pentagon. What more could you need, Ares?"

In a petulant voice, he said, "Cut the crap, Artemis. You can’t have this one. She belongs to me."

"So that’s what this is all about. You never did get over being spurned, did you?" Artemis said, her voice full of derision.

Dez thought she heard faint laughter. She tried to turn her head to see the two people talking, but the pain was too intense. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a rasping cough.

"Little brother, you can’t have her. You’ve never possessed her. She may be your Chosen One, but ultimately, she has failed to choose you in every single lifetime she has lived. She doesn’t belong to you, she belongs to herself."

A flash of light filled the cave for the briefest second. Dez crinkled up her nose, then recognized a smell rather like burnt raspberries, something fruity, yet smoky too. A warm hand rested for a moment on her forehead, and then a mocking woman’s voice said, "I beg to differ with you two lame-brains. She doesn’t belong to herself at all."

"Oh geez," said Ares in an irritated voice. "First her, now you. Can’t a guy take care of business without all the women in the family horning in? Artemis, release your claim. This is none of your business. And Aphrodite, don’t you have some warrior or president or king to titillate?"

Artemis’s soft voice spoke up. "This is most assuredly my business. I have first claim to the Fair One. And her fate is wrapped up inexplicably with the Dark One here. You can’t have this one, as the other will be affected. The Fair One belongs to me, and by extension, so does this one."

"Wrong," said Aphrodite in a bored voice. "The Fair One belongs to her."

Dez felt the warm hand stroking her forehead again, and a minty-smelling breath of air wafted into her face.

Aphrodite went on, "And I hate to tell you two squabbling idiots, but the Dark One here belongs to the Fair One, though even the gods don’t know why she doesn’t seem to recognize it at all."

Ares shouted, "She doesn’t recognize it because this time things are different!"

"A little frustrated, are we, Ares?" said Aphrodite. "Tsk-tsk-tsk." In a baby voice she said, "Been a while since you’ve had a little lovin’?" She sighed and removed her hand from Dez’s forehead. "As usual, I hate to break bad news, but under these circumstances, they both belong to me." As Ares and Artemis started to protest, she interrupted and said in an irritated voice, "Yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s not like I planned it this way. Like I have time for these two star-crossed fools?"

A low-pitched growl emerged, and Ares spat out, "You are so wrong!" As he spoke, a cool wind flowed through the cave, and Dez began to shiver. Feeling light headed, she closed her eyes and tried to suck in more air.

"No," said Artemis thoughtfully. "Aphrodite may be right. Let us wait and see."

"Noooooooo," roared Ares. "You two will not gang up on me again!"

The cold in the cave intensified and Dez choked, gasping for air, the pain returning to her chest. She rolled her head from side to side and tried to speak, but no words came out.

"Oh quit being a spoiled little brat, Ares," said Aphrodite. "Why do you think I dumped you, Mr. Poor Sport? Artemis and I agree. Two against one. You lose. You wanna take your chances that you may be right? Well, then give it your best shot."

Artemis said, "And Ares, quit visiting the nightmares upon her. That’s unfair and uncalled for."

"By the gods," said Ares, "that’s how she knows who she is."

Aphrodite said, "Bad news for ya, Big Boy. This one doesn’t get it. The Fair One, now she remembers her dreams, but her? What a putz. She’s in la-la land. But not for long."

"Yes, Ares," said Artemis. "We can send dreams of our own."

"We’ll see about that," he said as he crossed his arms over his broad chest.

Dez felt warm hands placed on either side of her head, steadying her, and very close to her right ear the Artemis voice whispered, "Think of the Fair One. She is your responsibility and your salvation. From her, great help will come. Watch over her . . ."

The warmth around her head dissipated quickly, and Dez’s body shook violently. Both hands opened, and she felt something hard and heavy and freezing cold in her right hand. She forced open her eyes to find herself holding a broad sword which glinted silver and blue despite the darkness. She shook so hard she could barely keep hold of the hilt, but new hands at her head helped to steady her. A deep and richly seductive voice said, "Use the sword, my Chosen. Kill anything in your way--anything. Remember, remember! Just call my name. You only need call me. I’ll be watching and waiting . . ."

And then something warm touched her chest, radiating heat. The shaking slowly abated. Her sword hand dropped until the blade lay across her thighs, and her left hand clenched over her abdomen. The third and final voice said, "You can choose responsibility . . . or destruction . . . or love. Use your heart, Warrior. You have another chance. Prove me right and choose love. Use your heart . . . your heart . . . ."

 

*****

 

Ears ringing from the report of her gun, Jaylynn scrambled out from under the deadened weight that had fallen partly against her. Her heart screamed out to Dez, but she forced herself not to look, to focus instead on what had been drilled into her over and over: halt the imminent risk, then render first aid.

Crouching, her gun held level, she moved quickly to stand over the shooter. He lay on the floor panting and twitching, the .45 near his hand. She put her foot on the barrel of the gun and eased it away from him, kicking it behind her and under the candy bar display case.

"Oh my God," the clerk was yelling repeatedly. He continued to stand behind the cash register, clutching the counter with shaky hands. Jaylynn nodded toward him in a daze, then bent over to fasten a handcuff to the shooter’s hand. She rolled him to his side. He cried out in pain, but she clicked the cuff on his other hand anyway. Touching her shoulder mike, she put out the call for help, "Officer down," she said. In a mechanical voice she answered the questions dispatch asked and listened to their assurances that help was on the way.

Only then did she holster her gun. She paused, for the briefest second, afraid to turn, her heart pounding so hard she thought she was having a heart attack. She spun shakily, and in two steps landed on her knees next to the wheezing woman.

"Dez," she shouted. Frantically she ripped open the pierced blue shirt, popping buttons every which way. She saw the exploded hole in the vest and felt the flat lump of hot metal imbedded there. Struggling to loosen the gray vest was awkward, but with a grim look of determination, she undid the velcro and tugged up the white t-shirt underneath to reveal the smooth alabaster skin and the terrible mark on the right rib just below the pale breast.

She smoothed the t-shirt down. "You’re going to be okay, Dez. It’s okay." Jaylynn swung her legs around in front of her, sat back and leaned against the checkout counter. She splayed her legs out and leaned forward to drag Dez’s upper body, face up, into her lap. The big cop stared at her, eyes glazed. "Dez, can you hear me? Your vest caught it. The bullet didn’t penetrate."

"Unnnhh—it hurts."

The rookie leaned over and made soothing noises. "Don’t worry. Help is on the way."

"Take the sword. It’s too heavy, too cold. I can’t…."

"What?" said Jaylynn. "Shh. Lie still. You’ll be okay." She brushed the hair out of Dez’s face and held her tighter.

Dez’s eyes popped open and without blinking, she focused in on her partner’s face. "Jay, the shooter . . .what about. . . ."

"He’s down."

Dez groaned and squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again. "Are…you…sure?"

"Yeah. I shot him. He’s down and cuffed. Stop worrying. You’re safe now. You’re safe."

A flash of light exploded in Jaylynn’s face. She blinked and squinted. The clerk stood over her ready to take another photo with an orange disposable camera.

"Stop!" she shouted. Click-flash. Click-flash. "You are dead meat, mister," she said in her sternest voice. He paid no attention, instead moving down the aisle to capture another angle. When it was clear he wasn’t listening, she turned her face away from him and held her partner closer to her. He then moved over to take shots of the man in the pink shirt who lay bleeding on the floor. Jaylynn was grateful for the sound of the sirens approaching.

A low moan escaped, and in a strangled voice Dez said, "Ow. Shit, this hurts."

"It’s all right," soothed Jaylynn. "You’re gonna be okay. I gotcha."

Dez looked up into the worried face, so close to hers, and the words tumbled out in a choked whisper, "I . . . love you . . . Jay."

"I know. Shhh—don’t talk now. Just save your strength." Jay cradled her gently, oblivious to the clerk’s continued photographic antics. She pressed her face in the dark hair, feeling tears rising and not being able to control them.

"Hey." Dez’s voice was raspy as she reached an unsteady hand up. "Cops . . . don’t . . . cry. Remember?" She tried to wipe away the tears, but Jay turned her head aside and swept her face clean with her own sleeve. Dez’s large hand slid down the front of her partner’s uniform shirt, and the rookie grasped it, pulling it close to her heart, watching as her partner’s eyes squeezed shut in pain.

"I’m so sorry, Dez."

Through gritted teeth, she said, "Thought you said I’m okay."

"Yeah, you are—"

Cop cars screeched into the parking lot. One. Two. Three. Jay could now see four through the front glass door. Her brothers in blue, armed and dangerous, descended upon her and calmly took charge. She was mildly amused to see Cooper and Braswell in the door first. Pudgy Braswell went down on one knee before them.

Jaylynn said, "Her vest caught it."

He nodded. "Good. Reilly honey, you’re gonna be all right. We’ll get you outta here."

"Don’t . . . call me . . . honey . . . Braswell," Dez choked out, "or I’ll . . .rip your . . . testicles off."

"Atta girl, Reilly." He reached down and patted Jaylynn’s knee. "She’s gonna be fine, Savage. The EMTs will be here any second. Just hang on." He grunted as he struggled to his feet, then pulled his belt up over his prodigious gut. By then a string of eight more cops had come into the store, stopping to check on Dez. Braswell stood over the two women and in his gravelly voice kept saying, "Vest took it. She’s okay." The clerk was off to one side gesturing and talking loudly, trying to explain what had happened.

Jaylynn closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the counter. She continued to hold Dez, the taller woman’s head cradled in her left arm and her body lying face up in the V of her legs. She opened her eyes and watched her fellow officers as they secured the scene and then escorted two sets of paramedics in the door, one set for each injured party. It was with reluctance that she relinquished her hold on her partner, and then, embarrassed, she stood and joined her fellow officers. She jumped when she unexpectedly felt a warm hand grab hold of her fingers, and she looked to the side to find Oster, his eyes brimming with held-back tears. He wouldn’t look at her, but he didn’t let go of her hand as they watched the EMTs prepare to load Dez on the stretcher.

After the big cop was wheeled through the 7-11 door, she took a deep breath. "Who’s the responding officer?" she said, "You, Braswell?"

"Yeah, me and Cooper. Let’s get your statement now while it’s fresh in your mind, and then you can take the squad car over to the hospital to check on her." He cleared his throat. "One more thing: department policy. You need to give me your weapon."

She nodded in understanding and unholstered the .38 to hand it to him. Cooper opened a plastic bag and Braswell placed it inside. They waited while Cooper labeled the bag.

None of the cops noticed the young clerk tucking an orange box into his shirt pocket.

 

*****

 

Dez spent the better part of the night in the ER, which meant Jaylynn spent it in the waiting room. Cops came and went as the night went on. The Police Chief appeared, stomping through the waiting area in jeans and a lightweight t-shirt, her face a pale mask. Jaylynn met her eyes, but the grim-faced woman merely nodded and swept by. Four medical personnel in blue scrubs appeared, took the Chief off into a side room and shut the door.

Cowboy came tumbling in, sleep in his eyes and without his customary off-duty cowboy boots. "I came as quick as I could. Oster called me. Is she okay?" He stood awkwardly until Jaylynn rose, nodding, and then he engulfed her in a hug. "Thank God," he said. "I just couldn’t go through that again." Wordlessly she let him hold her, feeling the solidness of his back and torso, and then she led him to the too-soft waiting room chairs and told him what had happened. She never even noticed when the Chief departed through the automatic glass doors.

When they were finally allowed to see Dez, she’d been moved to a regular room. She lay at an incline in the bed, her ribs and torso taped and a blanket covering her up to her mid-section. Even in the semi-darkened room, her face was unnaturally white and she looked like she had two half-moon bruises under her eyes.

"They gave me something for the pain, so I’m feeling pretty fine now," said Dez.

"I’ll bet," said Jaylynn. She went shyly to one side of the bed while Cowboy went to the other. Each of them took a hand.

Cowboy said, "Cracked rib, huh, little lady?"

Dez’s pale face relaxed into a crooked half-smile. "I’m not little."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Next to me you’ll always be little, you know. Now you just sit back and take it easy, okay? When they letting you out?"

"Probably tomorrow. Wanna to keep an eye on my head. Got a big bump on the back."

"Well, I’ll come back if they keep you longer. Otherwise, you take good care of yourself, okay?"

"Sure, Cowboy." He leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, and a slight blush washed over her face.

"Good night," he said as he sashayed out of the room, leaving the two women alone.

Dez shifted and winced in pain. "Gosh, that stuff they gave me sure made me tired.’

"Have you considered that it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’ve been shot? I’d be tired too!"

Dez looked at her seriously and said, "Only good thing about getting shot was you holding me."

Jaylynn caught her breath and nearly let go of Dez’s hand, but the injured woman held tight.

Dez said, "Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s okay." She twisted her hand around and entwined her fingers with the rookie’s.

Jaylynn said quietly, "We’re going to have to talk about what happened."

"I know . . . but it’s part of the job." She looked away, across the room, then back at Jaylynn.

"That’s not what I mean."

"Look at the bright side—odds of me ever getting shot again . . . are slim." She gave a little laugh, then groaned in pain.

"That’s not what I mean," Jaylynn repeated, then decided it was the wrong time to broach the subject. "We’ll talk tomorrow," she said. "You should try to get some sleep."

Dez looked alarmed. "You’ll stay a few more minutes, won’t you?"

"Sure." Jaylynn reached behind her and pulled a chair up close to the bed and sat, never letting go of the warm hand. I’ll do one better than that, she thought. I’ve got nowhere to go. I’ll be here when you wake up in the morning. Dez closed her eyes and slipped off to sleep. Jaylynn sat in the darkened room, her fingers threaded with the sleeping woman’s, and puzzled over things. She had a lot to think about.

After a few minutes, waves of fatigue washed over her and she let her head rest against the edge of the hospital bed. Before she knew it, she was asleep.

 

*****

 

Jay woke abruptly when she heard a gasp. Through bleary eyes she saw a tall silver-haired man in the doorway. He was dressed in tan slacks and a brown bomber jacket, and his arm was around a regal looking brunette woman in her late fifties. She wore navy blue slacks and a beautiful powder blue top. Over one arm she had a purse and a raincoat. The gasp had come from her and she now stood with a hand over her mouth and tears welling up in her eyes.

"Oh Desiree," she whispered, and she crossed the room to stand on the opposite side of the bed. The man followed her and put a protective arm around her waist, his hand caressing the side of her stomach. He leaned down and whispered something soothing in her ear, which Jaylynn could not hear. The woman nodded and took a deep breath, composing herself in an instant.

The rookie stood awkwardly, not knowing what to say, and was relieved when a nurse bustled into the room.

"Dr. Reilly," said the nurse brightly. "She’ll probably sleep for several more hours."

Jaylynn’s head snapped up and she squinted to get a good clear look at the woman. She didn’t think she looked at all like Dez until her eyes rose and met the rookie’s, and then she saw the same piercing blue eyes. The blue-eyed woman turned back to the nurse and said, "Prognosis?"

"Excellent. She’s going to be sore for a week or so, but she’ll be fine. We’re keeping her now to make sure there’s no internal injuries, but that’s unlikely."

"Thank you," said the woman and dismissed the nurse. She turned back toward Jaylynn. "Who are you?" she said. "Her partner?"

Jaylynn nodded.

"Who did this?"

"A guy in a 7-11. He was robbing the place."

Dez’s mother looked her up and down and then the man spoke up. "What happened to the suspect?"

"I shot him. He’s either dead or in intensive care." Unexpectedly Jay’s knees went weak, and she suddenly found herself sitting in the chair, her hands shaking. I shot a man, she thought. I may have killed someone. She looked up at the two people standing over Dez and tried to get control of herself. The piercing blue eyes had softened, and the woman said, "I’m very sorry. I’m sure you did what you had to do. What’s your name?"

"Savage," Jay choked out.

The woman grimaced and looked up at the silver-haired man. She said to him, "You cops are all the same." Shaking her head, she took hold of his hand and turned back to Jaylynn. "Don’t you have a first name?"

Embarrassed, Jaylynn told her.

"I’m Colette Reilly, and this is Mac MacArthur. I’m Dez’s mother, and Mac has known Dez since she was a little girl."

"It’s nice to meet you," Jaylynn said. She stopped there, leaving off the next clich, ‘Dez has told me so much about you,’ because she’d never heard word one about either of these people. She wished Dez had prepared her even a little.

A hoarse whisper sounded from the figure lying on the bed. "Mac. Whaddya doin’ here?" Dez squinted open her eyes, but didn’t seem to be able to focus.

"Hello Dez. Just came by to check on you. Sounds like you’ll get to go home in the morning."

"Ummm . . . Mom . . ." She swallowed and tried to keep her eyes open. "Why are you here?"

"Luella called me." She reached a hand out and nervously smoothed the covers over her daughter’s abdomen. Suddenly her hand darted out, and Jaylynn watched as Dez’s mother grabbed Dez’s arm, sliding down the forearm to grip the long fingers.

Dez closed her eyes and in a slurred voice said, "Thought you didn’t like me anymore."

Her mother’s face went visibly pale and she bit her upper lip. She glanced up at the silver-haired man uncertainly. Just when it seemed she was going to answer her daughter, she looked down to see that she was fast asleep.

Tear-filled blue chips lifted and met the rookie’s hazel green eyes. They were filled with such pain and anguish that Jaylynn looked away, feeling she was intruding. Mac, standing slightly behind Dez’s mother, slipped his hand from Colette Reilly’s shoulder and let it run down her side until it came to rest protectively against the silver-haired woman’s abdomen. Jaylynn thought she should leave, but when she rose and cleared her throat, Colette Reilly seemed to come out of her sorrowful state. Suddenly she was all business. She peered intently at Jaylynn, then gave her head a little shake. With a half smile lighting her features, she said, "Are you staying here, or did you need to go home?"

"No ma’am. I didn’t intend to go home, but if you want—"

"Stop. I was just going to say that if you would keep an eye on her, I’d appreciate it." She fished in the purse hanging over her arm and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. She scribbled for a moment and then handed the piece of paper to Jaylynn. "Please call me if I’m needed."

Once again she smoothed the covers, then stepped back reluctantly. With one last look over her shoulder, she headed for the door. Mac slipped an arm around Dez’s mother’s waist and held open the door, then glanced back in the room and winked at Jaylynn before they left.

Jaylynn continued to sit in the chair, feeling the fatigue wash over her. She supposed she should go home, and she stood up and moved to collect her jacket, but then Dez whimpered. She leaned over her and saw that in her sleep, Dez was crying. Jaylynn didn’t have the heart to leave. Before she could turn around and sit, the hospital room door opened and Luella shuffled in.

"How’s she doing?" the silver haired woman said. She shucked off her windbreaker and tossed it over the visitor’s chair by the door, then came to stand by Jaylynn. "You poor child. You look done in." She wrapped her arms around the blond woman and held her while she cried. "Sorry it took so long to get here. Had to wait for a cab, and they don’t send ’em fast in the middle of the night!"

"I’m just glad you’re here," Jaylynn snuffled. "It’s been an awful night."

"Sounds like it, hon."

Jaylynn pulled back a little, leaning her face to her shoulder to blot her eyes with her sleeve. "I’m probably messing up your nice dress."

Luella sputtered, "Who cares! You’re more important than a dress." The older woman glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of the chair Jaylynn had been sitting in. She took the young woman’s hand and led her over, then sat herself down and pulled the rookie toward her lap.

Jaylynn resisted. "I’ll squash you, Luella."

"No, you won’t. Just relax. I’ve had bigger kids than you on my lap before." She gestured with a toss of her head toward the bed where Dez lay sleeping. "Her, for instance." She pulled the young woman into her lap and enfolded her in a tight hug. "Tell me everything that happened, beginning to end."

And Jaylynn did that, feeling that she was confessing terrible sins. The silver haired woman listened and comforted her, and after a while, Luella talked her into going home and coming back in the morning.

Jaylynn stood, feeling numb, as the landlady picked up her lightweight jacket and kissed Dez on the forehead.

Even though she was still a little shaky, Jaylynn led Luella out to the parking lot and dropped the older woman off at her house, then drove herself home where she changed clothes and got back in the squad car to return to the hospital.

 

*****

 

When Dez awoke at dawn, she was in a foul mood. Half her torso ached and throbbed, and she had a headache that wouldn’t quit. When she forced her eyes open and examined the room, she realized there was a blond head lying on the bed to her left. She carefully lifted her hand and flicked her wrist that direction. When she connected with the crown of the head, she heard a groan, and then the head raised. Dull, sleepy hazel green eyes met hers, in a face full of worry and fatigue.

Dez sighed and softened her cranky attitude. "How you feeling?"

Jaylynn said, "Isn’t that supposed to be my line to you?"

"I feel like shit. Get me outta here, okay? I’m sure Luella can take better care of me than these yahoos."

Jaylynn stood and stretched, looking like she was in pain. "I can see that you’re going to be fine."

"Yeah," she snapped. "What was your first clue?"

Just then a heavy-set nurse hustled into the room. "Good morning," she said brightly. "And how’s our hero today?"

Before Dez could snarl a response, Jaylynn squeezed her arm and said, "She’s fine, just fine."

The nurse looked the rumpled blond up and down. "Actually," she said, "you’re the one we should be calling the hero."

"What?" said Jaylynn.

The nurse spun on her heel and headed for the door. "Be right back," she called over her shoulder. When she returned a minute later, she was toting a section of the newspaper, which she folded open and spread out on the hospital bed facing Dez.

Both women gasped.

The Metro section of the Twin Cities Courier carried the bold headline Saint Paul Cop Shot, and splashed below it was a one foot square color photo. Under the photo the caption read: "Nine year veteran officer Desiree Reilly, shot on duty in an east side 7-11, is comforted by rookie partner, Jaylynn Savage."

The color photograph was clear. Jaylynn sat on the floor, a red counter at her back, with her legs splayed out in a V. Dez lay in the V, her eyes squeezed shut and a look of obvious pain on her face. Her legs were sprawled over Jaylynn’s right thigh and her upper body was cradled in the rookie’s arms. But what made the picture most remarkable was the proud, defiant look on the blond’s face as she faced the camera, one solitary tear etching a distinct line down her cheek.

The nurse said, "They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and this one definitely is. We need to get the guns off the streets, that’s for sure." She looked at the shocked faces of the two women. "Ah—well, ah, why don’t you two go ahead and keep this?"

Jaylynn looked up at her, worry evident on her pale face. "What happened to the man I shot last night?"

The nurse hesitated, then with a sigh said, "You’ll see it in the article, so I may as well tell you. He died on the way to the hospital."

"Oh God," said the rookie. She sat down hard in the visitor’s chair and burst into tears.

Dez tried to sit up. A jolt of pain shot through her ribs, and she lay back on the bed sweating. Feeling totally helpless, she grimaced and said, "Jaylynn. Hey. Come on. It wasn’t your fault."

Jaylynn stared at her blankly through the tears. In a quiet voice, almost a whisper, she said, "I’ve killed a man. Someone’s dead because of me."

The nurse came around the side of the bed and patted the young woman awkwardly. "There, there," she said. "Go on and get it all out. It’s awful, isn’t it."

Dez wanted to leap from the bed and throttle the nurse. She gritted her teeth to keep from screaming at the woman. She took a deep breath to speak, but just then there was a tap on the door, and it opened. A gray-haired man in a business suit entered. He carried a clipboard and introduced himself as the hospital administrator. "Good morning, ladies, nurse," he said. "Ms. Reilly, we have a number of reporters asking for interviews. Do you wish to grant anyone an audience?"

"Hell, no," she snarled.

With a trace of a smile, he said, "Well, that was perfectly clear. Now then, we also have several officers here. Do you wish to see any of them?"

"Who?"

He consulted the clipboard. "Lopez, Culpepper, Oster, Coombs, Mahoney, Milton, Swenson, and last but not least, a Lieutenant Malcolm."

Grudgingly she said, "Yeah, they can all come in." He turned and exited the room.

She cast a worried glance over at Jaylynn who was now sitting silently. She was no longer crying but looked as though she was in another world. Dez was relieved when the horde of cops, led by Lt. Malcolm, filed in respectfully, one after another. She caught the Lieutenant’s eye immediately and tossed her head toward Jaylynn, but before he could make a move, Crystal was already at the rookie’s side.

The Latina went down on one knee before the rookie. "Hey, Jay. It’s me—Crystal. Time to head home. Come with me." She pulled the teary-eyed young woman up out of the chair, pausing long enough to grab Dez’s hand for a split second and say, "Sorry it’s a short visit, but you look fine. Catch ya later, okay?"

In a low voice the dark haired cop responded, "Just take good care of her," and then Crystal led a very tired Jaylynn out the door.

The Lieutenant said, "I’ll get someone from Departmental Assistance for her, Reilly. Don’t worry. She’ll be okay. We’ll take care of her."

Dez cast one last look toward the two cops as they disappeared out into the hall. She took a deep breath, then winced when the pain in her rib coursed through her again.

 

*****

 

The hospital released Dez late in the afternoon, and Cowboy came down to pick her up and take her back to her place. He also agreed to go by the station and get someone to help him deliver her truck. She knew she wouldn’t be driving for a little while, and she didn’t want her pickup sitting in the lot for days on end.

It was a struggle, but she changed out of her uniform and into jeans and a sweatshirt, no bra. Then she turned her attention to her biggest worry: Jaylynn. She hadn’t seen or heard from the rookie since Crystal dragged her off earlier in the day. She’d tried to call her house from the hospital, but no one, not even Tim or Sara, had answered the phone. She tried now to reach Shayna and Crystal, but their answering machine was the only response she got. She didn’t leave a message.

She limped into the kitchen and got a glass of water so that she could take a pain pill, then walked slowly down the stairs and knocked on Luella’s door. It took a minute, but when the old woman finally opened the door, she looked like she had just awakened.

"Thank goodness you’re home! Come in. Come in." She held the door open wide and Dez hobbled along behind her into the living room, then sank down on the couch.

The old woman said, "Can I get you something?"

"No, no. I’m fine. Have you by any chance talked to Jaylynn this morning?"

Luella came to sit right next to her and laid a soft hand on her thigh to pat the denim there. "Yes, she called a little bit ago. She wanted me to let you know she’s okay, but she’s off work for a while."

Dez nodded. "I figured that."

"She flew home to Seattle at the crack of dawn. I don’t know when she’ll be back."

"What!"

"Dez, honey, that poor kid needs her mom right now, that’s what. I don’t blame her. She was a wreck last night, and I can only imagine how she felt when she found out she killed that fellow."

Tears rose and spilled over, and Dez couldn’t stop them. Luella put her hand over Dez’s left arm and squeezed it gently as the dark haired woman hung her head in shame. The landlady chuckled. "You know you don’t have to be that way around here. I don’t expect you to be Miss Big Shot Cop in this house. I’d rather have you human and hurting than tough and hard. You could learn a lesson from Jaylynn, you know."

"Yeah," the tall woman choked out. "I know."

 

*****

 

Jaylynn knew plenty enough about post traumatic stress disorder to realize she could have a full-blown case of it if she didn’t deal with the events of the last few hours. It was all she could think of on the plane and in the taxi on the way to her parents’ house as she fidgeted and fought back tears. Late Monday afternoon she arrived at long last on her parents’ doorstep, unannounced, and Erin and Amanda nearly flipped with excitement. The girls had just been home from summer school daycare for a short while, and Dave and Janet Lindstrom were in the kitchen getting ready to prepare dinner.

It took Jaylynn’s mother only seconds to discern that something was wrong, and after the girls finished jumping all over their big sister, Janet led her daughter upstairs to the master bedroom.

As soon as the door was shut, Jaylynn collapsed on her parents’ unmade bed and burst into tears.

"What’s the matter?" her mother asked in a voice tinged with desperation.

"I can’t believe this. I—I—Mom, oh my god . . . I killed a man."

"What!" Janet sat next to her daughter and wrapped her in her arms. There was a tap on the door, and Dave stepped inside, shutting the door behind him.

"Janet?" he said, glancing between the two women. They looked at one another helplessly as Jaylynn, doubled over with grief, sobbed.

Dave sat down on the other side of his step-daughter. "Jaylynn—Lynnie honey . . . Jay! Stop! Stop right now. Look at me."

In response Jaylynn slowly sat up and turned tear-filled eyes toward him.

"What happened?" he said. "Start at the beginning and tell your mother and me."

And so she did. They sat on either side of her, shocked, and listened and held her as she cried. And so began the process of grieving.

 

*****

 

Dez sat at Luella’s dining room table and watched the older woman putter around, watering the plants on the window sills. The three large windows facing the front yard contained a total of ten plants, five of which were violets. Dez wasn’t sure what the other leafy ones were. She leaned back in the squeaky chair cautiously. Her ribs still hurt when she moved, but it was a dull ache and nothing like the sharp pain she had gotten for the first 48 hours.

"You’re gloomy today, Dez." Luella took a tiny trowel, no bigger than a fork, and tilled up a bit of the dirt around the African violet in one pot, then filled in some potting soil from a green beans can.

Dez started to cross her arms, as she had a hundred times since the shooting, and was reminded most painfully that it hurt too much to do that. She let her hands drop into her lap.

Luella paused and the injured woman felt the gaze upon her. She met the brown eyes and listened as Luella said, "You ever notice how plants like to sit right next to each other? They don’t like to be alone any more than most people do." She waved a wrinkled hand toward two potted violets next to one another. One was a deep, rich purple, the color of royalty. The other was pale lavendar with dark purple trim. Despite the gray weather outdoors, it was clear that both plants were thriving inside. "Look at how these two are all over each other."

Dez craned her neck. "Whaddya mean?"

"Just look. They’re reaching out to touch each other."

"Looks to me like they’re growing toward the light the window lets in."

"They are. But they’re also inclining toward each other. See?"

Dez heaved herself up out of the chair and moved to stand over the plants and next to her landlady. She felt old today, old and defeated. The late afternoon sun tried to fight through the clouds, but was failing miserably, so the day was dark and dreary with little chance of change before nightfall. Dez examined the two plants as a tentative hand reached around her middle and a silver head leaned against her upper arm.

"What’s the matter, Squirt?"

"Don’t know. I just feel like shit."

"Want me to make you something to eat?"

"No, thanks Luella." She sighed. "You really shouldn’t have to take care of me. I’m a grown woman."

"I like taking care of you."

"You’re a generous person, but you shouldn’t always have to give, give, give. Makes me feel selfish."

"You do a lot for this old woman, Dez."

"Not half what you do for me," she said in a cranky tone. "It’s not really fair to you."

Luella bubbled with laughter. "Oh, girl, you may be a grown woman, but you’re still a babe in the woods."

"No, I’m not," she said in an icy tone.

"Yes, you are. You don’t fool me." Luella looked up at her, kind eyes appraising the pale face. "And you still don’t get it. Sometimes accepting help from others is actually a gift to them—not to you. I don’t do one thing for you that I don’t want to. What I do makes me feel good." Shifting around to face the tall woman she put one hand on each of the brunette’s hips. Looking up and into Dez’s eyes, she said, "I love you like you were my own kid. I don’t want you in pain. I want you to be happy. That’s all. It makes me feel good any time I can contribute to that."

Tears sprang to Dez’s eyes, and she started to pull away. Luella’s eyes narrowed and she tightened her grip on the tall woman’s hips. "Don’t you go shutting me out. We’ve come through too much now for that." She reached around Dez, pulled out a chair, and pressed her into it, then slid another chair over and lowered herself until she was knee to knee with the younger woman. She took Dez’s hands into her own. "I’m not going anywhere until you ’fess up and tell me what’s troubling you."

Dez looked out the window, her teeth clamped together so hard that her jaw began to hurt. She felt the soft hands squeezing her fingers and turned stubborn eyes toward her landlady. "I’m worried about Jaylynn."

Luella leaned forward, put her elbows on her knees, and kept hold of Dez’s hands. "She’s a resourceful girl. She knows how to take care of herself. She’ll be okay."

"What if she’s not?"

"Why wouldn’t she be?" Luella said softly.

"I don’t know," said Dez, her voice bitter and ragged. She turned away to stare out the window.

"I’ve got a hunch here. Let me tell you what I think." Luella paused a moment, then reached up to turn Dez’s face toward her. "Look at me, Desiree Reilly. It’s not your fault some loony-tune decided to rob and shoot up the 7-11. There’s nothing you could have done. It’s not your fault."

"But it shouldn’t have happened that way!" Dez said emphatically which caused her side to rip with pain.

"Why? What could you have done?"

"I should have seen it coming faster. I wasn’t—I didn’t pay close enough attention." The words came out in a rush. "He should never have got a shot off. I should have reacted quicker, taken control . . ."

"And then you wouldn’t have been wounded, huh?" The old woman had a sly look on her face. She peered intently into Dez’s eyes, and suddenly the big cop wanted to get up and run.

"It wasn’t that so much . . . I don’t care about that . . ."

"Ah, I see then. You think you should have shot that idiot. The fact that Jaylynn did it, that she’s upset, that she’s gone—it’s all your fault, right? You’re afraid she’s blaming you. Is that it?"

Dez refused to answer and just stared daggers at Luella. She felt a swell of anger rise in her and said the first thing that came to her mind. "Why in the hell did you call my mother?"

Luella let go of Dez’s hands and pursed her lips into a tiny smile. "She’s your mother, Dez. She needed to know her child was hurt."

"I have you on the call list because I don’t want her to know things about me. And then you go and call her and don’t even come to the hospital yourself."

"What?" Luella looked startled for a moment, then she shook her head. "You must’ve been out of your mind on the drugs, girl, because I was there. I got there fast as I could."

Now it was Dez’s turn to be surprised. "I don’t remember that," she said indignantly.

"Well, I’m telling you the truth. I was there and I know exactly how Jaylynn was feeling. She wasn’t a bit concerned about herself. She was worried half to death about you!"

"If she was so worried about me, why didn’t she say goodbye?" Dez struggled unsuccessfully to keep the bitter tone out of her voice.

Luella shook her head slowly, then patted Dez’s knee with one hand. With a groan she rose. Picking up the tiny trowel she moved back over to the window sill. "You two are both exactly like these plants here. Both of you pretend to be straining toward the sun while you’re really leaning toward each other and spying out of the corners of your eyes. But you just watch—those plants sit there long enough, they’ll be entwined, just like you two. I know you can’t see it right now, but wait and see. You mark my words."

Dez sat silently for a moment, fighting with herself. She thought about her source of strength, which she had always thought was her ability to stay cool and keep down any troublesome emotions. But now every single thing she did, everything that happened, served to unblock carefully constructed walls and fences. Her feelings ran amok, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. It occurred to her that perhaps she shouldn’t have dammed things off so effectively—perhaps she had denied herself the opportunity to learn to control the maelstrom of emotions that threatened to completely unnerve her now.

She listened to a tuneless humming Luella was making under her breath as she pinched an old leaf off one of the non-flowering plants. Without any consideration, Dez rose and wrapped her arms around the silver haired woman from behind, surprising her. Luella twisted in her arms and returned the hug, causing Dez to groan.

"Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to squeeze."

"That’s okay. I deserved it for being rotten."

"Oh yeah, you’re rotten. Rotten through and through." She chuckled. "That’s why I keep you around, ’cause you’re such a rotten kid."

 

*****

 

Jaylynn borrowed her mother’s Bonneville and took the short drive around Green Lake to the apartments where her aunt lived. After 48 hours with two inquisitive girls and a pair of sympathetic parents, she was feeling less out-of-control. But she recognized that she still slipped in and out of periods of numbness.

At least she was better rested now. When she had first arrived, she was so exhausted she hadn’t been able to think clearly, and it wasn’t like anyone in that household ever went to bed very early. Besides, her body was on Minnesota time which was two hours later than west coast time. It took her a whole day to get reacquainted with the noises in the old house and with the racket her sisters put up. A night in her old double bed with two little girls, warm as twin toaster ovens, had done a lot to revive her. Last night the girls had each snuck into bed with her again, but once they went to sleep, she crept away and slept in the twin bed in Erin’s room. She hadn’t slept well, but she’d stayed in bed from ten p.m. until nearly nine a.m., so she figured that in between waking from the bad dreams, she probably slept six or seven hours, and she didn’t feel too terribly tired. She hoped tonight would be better.

In the five years that she had been living in Minnesota, it seemed the traffic in Seattle had gone from terrible to disastrous. The six-mile trip from the Ballard area to the far side of Green Lake used to take fifteen minutes at most. Today it took so long that her bare legs were stuck to the seat with sweat by the time she drove up to the complex. She knew her Aunt Lynn didn’t care when she got there though. The young woman arrived, a few minutes after noon, and waited while her aunt buzzed her in to the security apartments. Walking down the long hallway to unit 108, she felt the same thick carpet underfoot, smelled the same air-conditioned eucalyptus scent that she’d always noticed. Some things might change, but Auntie Lynn wasn’t one of them, of that she was sure. It gave her a feeling of security knowing her aunt was always there.

Jaylynn’s father’s younger sister, Lynn Savage, opened the apartment door and engulfed her niece in a bone-crushing hug. Though very nearly Jaylynn’s height, she seemed shorter, and she was totally the opposite in looks. Long curly dark hair framed a mischievous face often lit up with a smile. While Jaylynn was shapely, her aunt was rail thin. Her gray eyes didn’t miss much, and when she asked a person how she was doing, Jaylynn knew she really wanted to know the answer. So did her students. She was an extremely popular psychology professor and counselor at the University of Washington.

Auntie Lynn had come over to see her niece the day after Jaylynn’s tumultuous arrival, but this was their first time to talk privately without the distractions of Erin and Amanda.

"Are you hungry for lunch yet?" said Lynn. She led the blond over to the sofa and each curled up on one end facing the other.

"I haven’t been hungry since I got here," confessed Jaylynn.

"That’s unusual for you, Ye Old Bottomless Pit."

Jaylynn nodded. "I know—it’s not good, but nothing tastes appetizing at all."

"I’ll get hungry pretty soon and I’ll make some lunch, but in the meantime, you want something to drink? Juice? Pop? Tea? Lemonade?"

"Orange juice?"

"Sure. Back in a flash."

The petite brunette disappeared down the hall into the kitchen, and Jaylynn looked around the apartment living room and dining area. She had always liked this apartment because it was old-fashioned and roomy. The wide moulding was dark mahogany wood and gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the windows. The walls were pale yellow—pretty much the same color Luella had selected for her back hall. She thought for a moment about that day with Dez, how playful the big cop had been, how much fun the three of them had had at the movies. Though it was only a few weeks earlier, it seemed like forever.

She gazed up at a painting hanging over the wing chairs across the room. It hadn’t been in the apartment when she’d last been to visit. The only way to describe it would be to say that it was a four-by-five foot explosion of colors. At first glance the colorful brush and palette marks gave the impression of great chaotic energy, but upon further inspection, the blond began to notice something strange. The whirls and dips of the paint on the canvas contained intricate outlines of faces. After studying the painting for another minute, she was sure that she could pick out at least twelve faces, all overlapping and shading into one another.

When her aunt returned to the room with the juice for her and Pepsi for herself, Jaylynn pointed at the artwork. "Where did that come from?"

"A very talented psychology student painted that for me."

"What’s it called?"

"Psych 5000, believe it or not. Notice anything interesting about it?"

"The faces?"

"Good, Lynnie! Almost no one ever picks them out. Everybody gets stuck on the color and overlooks the details. How many faces do you see?"

Jaylynn tilted her head to the side and counted. "I for sure see twelve, but somehow I bet there are more."

"Not bad. The young man, Michael is his name, painted it, to represent the liveliness of the 14 students in the class. There are actually 15 faces there, including mine. Michael’s very talented, very troubled—and brilliant to make it more complicated."

"It must be nice to teach somebody like that—someone so fascinating."

"He can be very difficult at times, but I have a soft place in my heart for him." She set her glass of soda on a blue coaster on the coffee table. "But that’s enough about me. I want to hear about you. I want to know about your partner."

Startled, Jaylynn looked at her aunt. "Dez?"

"Yes."

"She’ll recover just fine, Auntie."

"I know that. But you and she are not fine."

Jaylynn smiled at her aunt, a bemused expression on her face. If she didn’t know better, she would have to say her aunt and Sara went to the same mind reader’s school. "We’re better now, thank you." She hesitated a moment, then went ahead and asked the question that came to mind. With a quizzical look, she said, "Why would you ask me that particular question first?"

"Because I sensed it was the most important—because of the arc of your letters."

Jaylynn blushed and looked down. "I wrote about her a lot, didn’t I?"

"Yes. And then she disappeared from the narrative a while back, and I’ve wanted to know what happened to her ever since."

Jaylynn sat quietly for a moment, her eyes resting on the vivid painting across the room. She hadn’t come out to her family, hadn’t ever even mentioned a single person she’d dated. It occurred to her that it didn’t really matter who knew anything anymore . . . she didn’t care one iota. She lifted her eyes to meet the level gray ones across from her, eyes looking at her with a love and affection she could never doubt.

Her aunt said, "Tell me about her."

Jaylynn held her breath. She had never been able to resist her aunt’s openness and honesty. Since she had been a little girl, she could tell her anything. When her father died, it was Auntie Lynn she confessed to, saying with inimitable 11-year-old logic that his death had been her fault because she hadn’t kissed him goodbye that morning, preferring instead to sleep in. In short order her aunt had set her thinking straight and helped her to mourn. For every step of the young woman’s life, her father’s sister had been there, like a guardian angel, hovering in the background just in case. And here she was again, ready to listen and understand.

Jaylynn exhaled and burst into tears.

Scooting down the couch Auntie Lynn moved over next to the blond woman and put her arm around her. "It’s okay, Lynnie." She grabbed up the box of tissues from the shelf under the coffee table and set them next to her niece.

"It’s really not okay," said Jaylynn. "I love her."

"There’s nothing wrong with that."

"No, I mean I really love her." She reached for a tissue and wiped her eyes, then let her hands drop into her lap.

Lynn squeezed her shoulder. "Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with that."

"She doesn’t return the feelings."

"Oh, I see. Well, that’s a tough one." They sat for a moment, Jaylynn letting silent tears run down her face and Lynn rubbing circles on her upper back.

"Jaylynn, there’s something else . . . what is it?"

Through the tears, the blond let out a chortle. "What is it about me—do I have something written on my forehead? Some sort of display that says ‘Keep Probing’?"

Lynn laughed. "No. I just know you, that’s all. Nothing is ever simple with you, punkin." She reached up and smoothed a lock of hair out of Jaylynn’s eyes. "There’s always been way more than one layer. So I just thought I’d ask."

"Well, as usual, you’re right." She pulled out another tissue and blew her nose. Once she felt more composed she said, "I keep having the same kind of recurring dreams, and they’re scaring the hell out of me."

"You used to have bad dreams when you were little, after your dad died."

"I still have those dreams."

"What? I thought they went away."

"Oh no. You just taught me a way to control the fear. Remember the Warrior Woman?"

"Who could forget! I’ve never had a kid get so excited about an imaginary friend."

"She’s not imaginary anymore. It’s Dez." She shifted uncomfortably on the couch. She met her aunt’s eyes, then looked away.

"You mean you dream about Dez now."

"No. I mean the Warrior Woman was—is—Dez, always has been Dez." Again, she held her aunt’s eyes, nodding, hoping Auntie Lynn would be able to understand.

"She resembles her?"

Jaylynn placed her hands palms down on her knees and squeezed, the cords of her hands standing out. "I know it sounds crazy, but she is her."

"Okay. So go on."

"The first time I saw her, something clicked." She turned to face her aunt, and in an excited voice, she said, "I can’t explain it, Auntie Lynn, but I knew—I just knew Desiree Reilly was somehow the one. I feel it here." She patted her breastbone with her fist then returned her hands to her knees. "It’s like a—like a connection, a strange linking of souls. Every time I look her in the eye, it’s like looking at the other half of my heart. I get this jolt of familiarity—of dj vu—that doesn’t quit. And even though she tries to pretend otherwise, the same thing happens to her too—I can tell.

"You’re saying she’s your soulmate."

"Yes! That’s exactly it!"

"So what’s the problem between you then?"

Jaylynn sat back, doubt clouding her face. "I don’t know. I—I just don’t understand at all."

"Have you tried talking to her about this?"

The younger woman’s face reddened. Avoiding her aunt’s eyes she said, "Let’s just say I messed that up real good and haven’t been able to broach the subject since."

"Hmmm . . . okay. I’ll say it again. What else is there, Lynnie? I can tell there’s more."

Jaylynn didn’t want to recall any of the dreams, but she forced herself to explain anyway. "Remember how the Warrior Woman used to come to me in my nightmares and help me escape or rescue me?"

"Um hmm."

"That’s not happening anymore. Now the monsters—or pirates or whoever they are—they get her and they hang her up on a cross to die. They beat her, break her legs, shoot her with arrows. It’s terrifying. In my dream I can’t do anything to save her. I run all around, frantically, and there’s nothing I can do. I wake up sweating, screaming—Mom had to come in last night to wake me up and tell me everything was all right."

Lynn reached over and patted on of the blond’s hands. "Hey, you’re gonna bruise your knees doing that."

Jaylynn stopped clenching her kneecaps and relaxed her hands.

"So," said Lynn. "When did this new development in your dreams occur?"

"Since I’ve been here."

"Jaylynn," she said in her kindest voice, "Dez just got shot. Your dreams are reflecting reality."

"But I can’t help it, Auntie Lynn. I have the most unbearable feeling of foreboding, of anxiety. Every damn time I dream it, it’s like it’s actually happening, like she’s really dying, and there’s nothing I can do."

Lynn turned to face the shaken woman and peered into her face until the hazel green eyes met understanding gray eyes. "Listen to me, Jaylynn. What you’re feeling is normal. This happens a lot when people go through a critical incident like you’ve just experienced. It’s normal. You need to talk about it, deal with it. Promise me you won’t bury it."

"Ha. Fat chance of that. It’s all I think about."

"I see. And you’re scared you’re going to lose her for good."

"That about sums it up." Tears came to her eyes again.

"Will you promise me that when you get back to St. Paul you’ll go see a counselor and talk about these feelings?"

"Yes. The department provides a psychologist."

"Good. Take advantage of it, okay? I’ll be checking on you, you know."

Jaylynn nodded. She put her arms around her aunt and squeezed her tight. In a choked voice, she said, "Thanks for listening to me, Auntie Lynn."

"My pleasure dear. I love you."

"Love you, too."

 

*****

 

After three days rest, Dez went back to desk duty where she found she was bored half to death. The days dragged by while Jaylynn was gone. She cleaned up paperwork she had totally forgotten she’d ever neglected and then was more than happy to get the doctor’s clearance to go on patrol again. But it felt empty to be out on the mean streets of St. Paul without the rookie along. She had to face it—she missed her.

She wanted to call, but she didn’t know the number in Seattle. Finally she got up the courage to call over at the house and someone named Kevin answered, but no one else was there and he didn’t know Jaylynn’s parents’ phone number. Exasperated, Dez gave up and resolved to wait more patiently, but it wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t until Friday, the fifth day after the shooting, that Dez came home from work and found a note on her door from Luella.

Dez,

Jaylynn would like a call at 206-555-3579.

She doesn’t have your phone # with her. Don’t

forget it’s two hours earlier on the west coast.

Love,

The Chief Cook and Uniform Washer

What time had Jaylynn called? She hurried to open her door and, without pausing to turn on the lights, rushed into the living room area to the phone. She checked the red LED time indicator on the VCR: 12:20. That made it 10:20 in Seattle. Was it too late to call?

She didn’t care. She grabbed up the phone, still dressed in the uniform she hadn’t bothered to change out of when shift ended, and when the touch tone numbers lit up, she dialed, hoping she wouldn’t wake anyone up.

A faraway voice said, "Hello?"

"Jaylynn?"

"Hey you. How are ya?"

"Ahhhh . . . ." Suddenly Dez was tongue-tied. She shuffled over to the couch and sat down, cleared her throat and said, "Did I wake you up?"

"Not in a million years. Seems no one ever goes to bed around here. The girls are like rats scurrying around half the night." Jaylynn laughed, a throaty purr in the phone. "My hours have been so weird—I’ll be totally screwed up for time when I get home."

Dez let out a breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding. She is coming back, she thought, and a feeling of relief washed over her which caused an involuntary shiver.

"Dez? You still there?"

"Yeah."

"How about your ribs? Are they healing?"

"Oh yeah. Still have the bruise, but I’m back on patrol. It’s going fine."

"Good. I was hoping you’d mend quickly. You do seem to heal fast, you know."

Dez didn’t want to talk about her own healing. All she really wanted to know was when Jaylynn would be returning. She wasn’t sure how to put it so she said, "The Lieutenant asked me tonight how you’re doing."

"Oh? That was nice. Tell him I’m fine and I’ll be back to work on Wednesday. I’ll fly home Sunday."

"Sunday, huh? You need a ride from the airport?"

"No, don’t worry. Sara’s coming. But thanks."

"Okay," said Dez, trying to keep all hint of disappointment out of her voice. "So I’ll see you in a few more days?"

"Uh huh. Well . . . hmm . . . anything exciting to tell me?"

"Nope, guess not." Her mind felt like it was stuck in neutral and she scrambled around trying to think of something, anything, to stay on the line. "Oster stepped on a nail on the street outside the civic center construction site."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, it went right through his boot and into his arch. Had to get a tetanus shot. At least he isn’t complaining."

"That’s good. But he’s really not much of a complainer. He’s a good guy."

"He is."

"Oh hey! Something good did happen. Some cop in a little town in Michigan—Grand Ledge, I think—caught that guy who raped Kristy South."

"You’re kidding? How’d they catch him?"

"I don’t know, but Lt. Malcolm told me today they’re gonna extradite him. So that was good to hear."

"Yeah. I’ll have to check on her when I get back."

Dez cleared her throat, suddenly tongue-tied again.

Jaylynn said, "Hey, this is costing you money."

"That’s okay," Dez said in a grumpy voice. "I don’t mind."

For some reason, Jaylynn found this funny. Giggling in the phone she said, "Some things never change."

Dez was puzzled. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

"I’ll see you soon, Dez."

"Do you want my phone number—you know, just in case you need to call or you need a ride or something?"

"Sure."

Dez gave her the number and they said goodbye and hung up. She sat in her darkened apartment, sweating with nervousness, and held the cradled phone in her lap. Get a grip, she told herself. It’s gonna be okay. After a few moments her heartbeat returned to normal and she became drowsy. She rose and set the phone back on the top of the entertainment center and got undressed in the dark, tossing her uniform on the valet chair. Wearing only a sleeping shirt, she crawled into bed, exhausted, and fell into an immediate sleep.

The dream began as it often did. She was crazy with pain and grief, kneeling in what seemed to be a cave. A dim ray of light illuminated the area just enough to allow her to see a hand in front of her face. Her knees stung and ached, and when she rose and looked down, they were a mass of rawness, warm blood running freely down her shins. She brought her hand up, her fingers brushing her abdomen until they were stopped by something thin and hard protruding from her breast bone. Her fingers groped at a shaft so firmly embedded that she could not pull it out. Her hands dropped to her sides.

She wore no clothes, but she didn’t care. She moved toward the light, stumbling whenever her half-dead feet encountered bumps or rocks on the cave floor. The outline of the cave opening gaped ahead of her. She wondered why there was an exit from the cave. She had been here many times before, and she did not remember an opening. Ducking her head, she stepped out onto a dirt path that led away from the opening. The full moon shone down upon the hillside, casting enough light to clearly outline evergreen trees and rocks and brambly bushes. The narrow path was emblazoned with silver, and she shuffled along it hesitantly as it angled off to the side and led down to a lake.

Each step was painful and her breath came in short sharp wheezes. Something burned in her eyes, and when she wiped her brow with her forearm, it came away from her head covered in dark, sticky liquid. She was beyond caring and sought only oblivion. Lurching down the path she tripped once on a root and nearly fell, but she recovered her balance and continued down, faltering only once more before she came to stand at the water’s edge.

The moonlight shone on the lake revealing gentle ripples near the shore. She stepped one foot forward and felt the cool water lap at her foot. So close, I am so close. Closing her eyes, she took one last breath, as deep as her wounded lungs would allow, and then she fell face forward into the salty tasting water.

Sinking . . . sinking . . . light receding . . . darkness all around. The water grew colder until she shivered with the shock of its continual plunge in temperature. Instead of oblivion, instead of peace, the pressure intensified. She fought it, twisting and struggling. When she opened her mouth to scream, nothing came out. The brackish taste of bile rose up in her throat and choked her. She opened her eyes in alarm, sinking more, feeling the water crushing her. Suddenly she stopped fighting it. Letting her arms open and fall to either side of her body, she closed her eyes and gave herself to the descent.

It was then that she felt it. She opened her eyes and through the murk watched as capable white hands grasped the shaft bulging from her chest. Gradually, inch by inch, the arrow was removed until she wept with the cessation of the pain. Strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her upward. She felt the silken pressure of bare skin against her shoulders, legs, breasts. Each time she made a move or struggled, the ascent ceased, but when she went limp again, the arms tightened around her and they advanced upward until she was aware of moonlight shining bright in her eyes and cool wind brushing her tear-stained face.

She lay in the water, floating face up, all of the ache washed away, her body cleansed of the blood and grime and wounds. Resting, trusting, suspended in warmth, she became aware of that other presence, those other arms which felt so hauntingly familiar. She turned her head, searching for confirmation and fell into iridescent depths, a smiling presence of love.

 

*****

 

The phone woke Dez, and she had trouble shaking the sleep out of her eyes. She decided to let it ring and tried to turn over on her side. Her body was still stiff and sore, mostly from holding herself so erect and with such caution. She cursed the day she had ever walked into that 7-11. Suddenly it occurred to her that it could be Jaylynn calling. She swung her legs over the side of the bed to grab up the phone. Leaning to pull the handset toward her sent a sharp pain through her side. She winced and answered the phone with a hoarse "Hello."

"Desiree?"

"Yes?"

"This is your mother."

Dez’s heart sank. In just those few seconds before picking up her hopes had raised considerably. "Good morning," she said.

"I’m calling to check on you. How are you feeling?"

The tall woman dragged her legs up on the bed and leaned back against the pillows. "I’m all right."

"How are your ribs?"

"I’m healing okay, Mom."

"You back to work?"

"Yeah. Finally done with boring desk duty."

Dez heard a faint chuckle. "Just like your father. He never liked being cooped up inside either."

"I’ve had enough of it this year. I was glad to go back on patrol—couldn’t wait."

"How’s your partner holding up?"

"Savage?"

"I believe her name is Jaylynn," her mother said dryly.

"Yeah, it is. I think she’s doing all right . . . she’s off work for a couple more days."

"Don’t count on her doing all that great, dear. She was thoroughly shook up the other night at the hospital. She was frightened very badly."

"Nah, she’s tough."

There was a pause for a moment. "Not everyone can shut out bad things like you can, Desiree. Don’t expect it to be all that easy for her."

Dez felt herself starting to get mad. Who was her mother to lecture her about the rookie? She’d spent—what?—five or ten minutes in her presence? "I gotta go, Mom. I need to take a pain pill again."

"All right. Call me if you need anything, okay? You’ve got my number at the clinic, right?"

"Sure."

Dez hung up, feeling quite irritated, and got out of bed to stomp toward the bathroom. Every step made her more aware of how out-of-sync her body was. She pulled aside the shower curtain and lowered herself carefully to sit on the edge of the big whirlpool tub so that she could turn on the faucets. After testing the water temperature with her right hand, she plugged the tub and stood up. She moved over to the sink while she waited for the whirlpool to fill. She grabbed up her toothbrush. Looking in the mirror, she thought she looked old. There were bags under her eyes, and her face looked drawn and more pale than usual.

A wisp of a dream rose to the surface of her memory. Arrows. Water. Thrashing and drowning. Pain. She shivered. She couldn’t exactly remember what happened, but she knew it was unpleasant. But it turned out all right, hadn’t it? She had this odd sense that something good happened . . . but it wouldn’t rise up to consciousness. Oh well. She brushed her teeth, then turned on the whirlpool jets. She slipped out of her sleeping shirt to step into the steaming, boiling water. Once she lowered herself carefully into the tub, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and let her mind float off.

The jets soothed her aching muscles and relaxed her. She sank lower in the over-sized tub until only her face poked up out of the water. Deeper she went, relaxing, drifting. She imagined a forest full of blooming deciduous trees, the branches so thick that the tiny path she followed was almost indiscernible. She put one leather booted foot in front of the other, making no noise, and moved along the dirt path. The air was still, not even the sound of birds. She could feel her own heart beat, and a thrill of elation ran through her body. She let her left arm reach back, and it was promptly grasped by a warm hand that sent shivers of delight up her arm. She stopped in her tracks and slowly turned. Bright green eyes met her own, a pair of laughing emerald eyes dancing with joy. You, she thought. I know you . . .

The whirlpool stopped and Dez jerked awake. She felt dizzy and overheated, her breath coming quicker than usual. Jaylynn in long blond hair, her eyes gem-stone green . . . she looked so familiar . . . and yet . . . .

Dez sat up abruptly and shook the water off her neck and shoulders. She put her hands on either side of her temples and pressed, shaking her head slightly. Her head ached. Her ribs hurt. In fact, it felt like she’d been trampled by an elephant. Maybe she shouldn’t have used such hot water in the whirlpool. She definitely felt overheated and faint.

With effort, she rose and stood as the water trickled off her pink skin. She felt shaky and took hold of the grab bar on the side of the tub, then stepped out onto the rug and leaned on the sink for balance. Once the room stopped spinning, she wrapped up in a towel and made her way into the kitchen. She didn’t feel a bit hungry, but she made a fortified protein shake and forced it down.

She had no idea whether this interruption in her training and lifting would ruin the possibility of competing in July’s bodybuilding competition, but she knew she had to eat or her body would devour the muscle on her large frame. She took the shaker glass into the other room and sat on the couch. Switching on the TV remote, she flipped through the channels until she came to reruns of "Star Trek: Voyager," which she knew was one of Jaylynn’s favorite shows. She watched as a strange woman called the Borg Queen attempted to assimilate the captain of the ship and a striking blond with a numerical name. When she finished her shake, she set the glass on the coffee table, then scooted down on the couch and promptly fell asleep.

 

Continued in Part 8

 


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