Part 8 of 11
By Lori L. Lake a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
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 yeahtheres 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 therehmmm, just read the novel to see what I mean, okay?
SUBTEXT: There is no subtext whatsoeverit'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: Couldnt have done this without my trio of true blue beta readers: one scientist, a doctor, and a police officer. To Buff, Joy, and Erinyou 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 ones 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 itthree times, in factand not at all in any reasonable semblance of order. She deserves a medal.
GREAT NEWS!!!!! Youve 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: email@example.com. This is part 8 of 11, and Ill keep posting regularly to the end.
When Dez arrived at the station an hour before roll call, she was surprised to see Jaylynns gray Camry already in the lot. She angled her truck in, a few spaces away, and grabbed her gym bag, then hopped out of the Ford. It was blazing hot, the black pavement oozing heat which she could feel burning against her sandals. She didnt think it would be much fun to patrol this afternoon, and she looked forward to the sun going down.
Dark blue Docker shorts and a tank top revealed her well-muscled legs and arms. Despite the rib injury, she hadnt gained weightor lost any substantial amount of muscle. She strolled across the lot and to the back entrance shifting her shoulders from side to side and feeling the tension around her rib cage. She wasnt entirely healed up, but every day the muscles in her torso felt looser. She just wished she could sleep better.
With a light step she hustled down the stairs to the locker room, but all was silent there. Puzzled, she wondered where the young woman was. She hadnt seen her anywhere on the way down. She found herself wishing she had gathered up the courage to call the rookie the last two days, but she felt she would somehow be intruding. Luella had told her Jaylynn had phoned her with a positive update, so she knew from her landlady that all was well.
Dez opened her locker and sorted and arranged her things. She laid out her uniform and dressed, then sat down on the end of the bench with her back against the wall. She checked the magazine in her Glock and ran a long forefinger down the barrel before holstering it. Pulling her handcuffs out, she checked their mechanism, then put them away. She sat for a few moments, letting her breath come and go, trying to relax. Checking her watch, she saw it was 40 minutes until roll call.
She rose and rooted around on the top shelf of her locker until she found an ankle knife and sheath, then she pulled up her pant leg to affix it over her sock. She rearranged her slacks to conceal it, then fussed with it some more until she got it set just right on her ankle. She sat back on the bench and leaned against the wall, bringing her knee up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her shin.
Every moment that went by made her more and more nervous. She had been looking forward to seeing Jaylynn tonight. After over a week of wondering and worrying, she thought this would be a relief. Instead, she knew she was becoming edgier by the moment. It didnt help that she had gone back on the low carb diet. The doctor had pronounced her healthy, though still bruised, and the minute he had given her the go-ahead, she shifted back into weight training mode. The last two nights shed surprised herself with how well shed lifted.
She heard voices, and the locker room door opened and shut a couple times, but no Jaylynn. The nasally sound of Pilchers voice wafted down the corridor. Dez had never much cared for Pilcher, and she concentrated on ignoring the sound. So she was taken by surprise when the rookie rounded the corner abruptly and said, "Oh. Hi Dez."
Dez hadnt thought at all about what she had expected to feel, but it certainly wasnt this sudden thunderbolt to her heart and the immediate rush of blood to her head. She stammered out, "Jaylynn. Youre back," instantly feeling stupid for stating the obvious.
Considering all she had been through in the last ten days, Jaylynn had never looked better. Her blonde hair had been recently cut and shaped close to her head. Hazel green eyes shone brightly, and she looked rested. She walked right up to the bench, swung a leg over, and put a hand on Dezs ankle as she sat down. "How are you?"
Dez nodded, still feeling dull-witted. "Great."
Jaylynn squeezed the dark haired womans ankle, then frowned and tilted her head to the side. "What is this . . . a gun?"
"Knife." Dez shrugged. "Just felt like wearing it tonight."
"In case we wanted to whittle, or what?" The rookie peered up at her, a smile on her face, her hair shining white-gold under the fluorescent lights. She wore a loose gray T-shirt that said "U of M Track & Field" in maroon lettering on the front and a pair of jeans shorts that revealed suntanned legs. Setting her car keys down on the bench, she reached down to untie the laces of her Adidas.
Dez smiled. A series of words came to mind to explain how she was feeling: foolish, silly, bird-brained, idiotic, giddy. Perhaps giddy described it best. She could almost imagine herself wrapping her arms around the blonde, but of course she restrained herself. In a low, controlled voice, she said, "How was Seattle?"
"It was good." The blonde stood and unlocked her locker, pulling out various items. "Ugh. What a mess Ive got going here."
"You have some fresh uniforms back from the laundry. Want me to go get em for ya?"
Dez was glad to head to the rear of the locker room so that Jaylynn could undress in privacy, but when she came back with two hangers full of clothes, she found the rookie waiting in her bra and briefs. She could honestly say she had never before paid attention to Jaylynn when she dressed, but today she couldnt keep from looking. Her eyes traveled up from the floor taking in the lean runners legs, the flare of hips, the slender waist with tight abs, and the swell of breasts, topped off by well-rounded shoulders and, of course, those eyes. Eyes that were currently looking at her with amusement.
"Earth to Dez. Hey, you wanna give me those?"
Mechanically she handed Jaylynn the two heavy hangers full of uniforms and turned away to her own locker, attempting to swallow but realizing there was no liquid in her mouth. She pulled a water bottle from her top shelf, sat on the bench with her side to the young woman, and drank three big swigs. "Youre here early, Jay," she mumbled.
"Yeah, I came down to see the Lieutenant and then to meet with the department psychologist. Gosh, shes sure nice."
"Whats her name?"
"Goldman! You liked her?"
"Oh yes! Whats not to like?"
Dez remembered the intense, intrusive woman she had been required to seesix timesafter Ryans death. She had hated every moment. The poking and probing and prying of her psyche was more than she could bear. "Isnt she a nosy twit?"
"Nosy? No . . . inquisitive, maybe. I thought she was real nice, and Im going to see her twice a week for a while, at least until things settle down some."
Dez was amazed. Someone would actually want to see the department shrink? She spun around on the bench and gaped at Jaylynn, but the young woman didnt notice. She was pulling on her black oxfords and tying them.
"Dez, hows the bruise coming along? Is it fading any?"
"Oh yeah." She took another pull from her water bottle and then set it on the bench so she could lock up.
"Oh crap!" said Jaylynn. I forgot to tell you that Lt. Malcolm wants you to drop by and see him for a minute." She looked at her watch. "Youve got lots of time . . . Im sorry I forgot." She looked over at Dez with a sheepish look on her face.
"Okay. Ill check with him now. See you up there."
She took the stairs two at a time and appeared in front of Belton. "Evening," she said.
"Go in, Reilly. Hes expecting you."
She ducked her head in the door and found the Lieutenant looking the same as he always did, a bit harried and tired, but in good spirits.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes. I just wanted to make sure everythings on track. Savage and I talked, and she requested to continue riding with you. You okay with that?"
"Internal Affairs ruled it a good shoot. You dont have any problems with that, right?"
"Heck, no. She did everything by the book."
The Lieutenant smiled. "She did, didnt she? She didnt panic, didnt freeze up. You can take some credit for that. Youve taught her well."
"Shes got a good head on her shoulders, Lieutenant. Shes an excellent student."
"Im really glad to hear it." He paused. "One more thing, Dez. Ive been meaning to say this for a couple days. Youve had a lot of stress this year. Id like you to see the department psychologist again."
She scowled. Glaring at him she said, "Thats really not necessary sir. Im not suffering any trauma or anything. Believe me, if I was, Id go."
"Look, youre a valuable member of this team here. I dont want you to be offended, but Id be remiss if I didnt look after you a little. I just want you to check in with Goldman, okay?"
"But sir, with all due respect, Ive been fine for a week and a half. Theres no need"
"Reilly!" he interrupted. "This is not negotiable. Ive meant to say something sooner, but I got hung up on other things. This is important, and I should have mentioned before."
She gave him her best stony gaze, but he didnt pay attention.
He went on. "One session. Answer her questions, let her give me a report, and youre outta there. Okay?"
Reluctantly she said, "Yes, sir." She rose. "Is that it?"
"Yup. Go forth and do good things, hear me?"
"Yes, sir." She turned and strode out of the office, a slow burn starting at her neck and reaching up to the roots of her hair. She felt like hitting someone. She imagined hitting Goldman. Instead she stomped downstairs to the locker room and tossed some water on her face. After drying off with a crinkly brown paper towel, she walked back upstairs, her hands and face now feeling chilled in the stations air-conditioning.
Jaylynn took one look at Dezs face when the tall woman entered the room, and she knew something was wrong. When she asked though, Dez shrugged her off and sat in the next chair, placing her water bottle on the floor. Her face went flat and expressionless, and she wouldnt meet the rookies gaze. Jaylynn watched her from the corner of her eye. Tight-lipped and angry, the dark haired woman seemed to be struggling for control. No one else was in the room, so the blonde reached over and patted the muscular thigh closest to her. She let her hand rest there for a moment and craned her head around, silently asking her partner to look at her. When those blue eyes finally did turn to meet hers, what she read there was stubbornness. And something morean angry pride. She couldnt resist; her lips curled up into a tiny ghost of a smile, and as she studied Dezs face, the shock of recognition and desire welled up in her again. Her stomach kicked into performing gymnastic feats while the ability to remember how to breathe departed from her brain.
The anger in the pallid face before Jaylynn drained away to be replaced with something else she couldnt quite identify. The rookie pulled her hand back as casually as she could, relieved when the tall cop bent to pick up her water bottle. Oh no, thought Jaylynn. These feelings of mine just wont quit! She reminded herself of the commitment she made to focus only on friendship, and she had hoped that with a little perseverance and discipline, it would be easy to carry out. She could see now this wasnt the case, and she found herself disappointed. It was going to be a long shift.
The veteran and the rookie fell into a routine again, and the next two weeks passed quickly. On Wednesday and Friday afternoons Jaylynn came to the station early to meet with Raina Goldman. She was surprised to learn that some of the old-timer cops were appalled that shed go willingly to see the "department shrink," as they called Goldman. At first Braswell tried to sympathize, telling her it was tough luck she had to go "get her head shrunk." When she told him she didnt mind, he looked at her through narrowed eyes as though shed lost her mind. Dwayne Neilsen cornered her and tried to make sport of the counseling angle. She laughed at him and cut into the womens locker room.
Jaylynn was to the point where she didnt care what anyone thought. Very few officers seemed to understand that she relished the chance to talk about what happened and how she felt about it. She certainly didnt get to do that with Dez, much as she wished she could. Every afternoon they got in the patrol car and made small talk, casually avoiding any emotionally loaded conversations. In fact, most of the time lately Dez was distant and cranky. When Jaylynn tried to kid her out of her constant mood, the tall cop just glowered. All in all it was a tiring couple of weeks.
It was actually a relief to ride with Crystal on a Friday night. Dez had been in court all day on an old homicide case, so she was off work for the evening. For two days it had been extraordinarily humid. They had the air-conditioning going full blast in the car, but the late afternoon sun still beat in on them, and heated up the dark seats.
Crystal brought up Dez. "Hasnt tall, dark and handsome been tall, dark and bitchy lately?"
Surprised, Jaylynn turned from her spot in the passengers seat. "You noticed, too?"
"Noticed? Everyone on the East Side has noticed. I think the main headquarters must be in the know by now. If you see her heading your way, everyone knows to split. God, shes been unbearable. How can you ride with her?"
Jaylynn shook her head sorrowfully. "Its been tough. I just cut her a lot of slack and dont talk too much. Its tiring, Ill admit. I thought she was gonna clobber this foul-mouthed drunk last night. You should have seen this guy. I thought he was going to wet his pants by the time she got done with him."
"I pity you, you poor thing."
"Oh Crystal. Its really not that bad. Its just a little too tense. I cant wait til this stupid diet is over. Its that more than anything, I think."
"Yeah, maybe," said Crystal thoughtfully. "I figured maybe she was having trouble with getting shot."
"quot;You noticed, too?"
"Noticed? Everyone on the East Side has noticed. I think the main headquarters must be in the know by now. If you see her heading your way, everyone knows to split. God, shes been unbearable. How can you ride with her?"
Jaylynn shook her head sorrowfully. "Its been tough. I just cut her a lot of slack and dont talk too much. Its tiring, Ill admit. I thought she was gonna clobber this foul-mouthed drunk last night. You should have seen this guy. I thought he was going to wet his pants by the time she got done with him."
"I pity you, you poo
"Not Dez. She would have handled it."
Crystal looked over across the dimly lit car with an incredulous look on her face. "Youre kidding, right?"
Jaylynn shifted to her left a little and laid her left arm across the top of the seat so she could look at Crystal better. "Actually, Im serious."
"Chica, let me clue you in on a little secret. Miss Big Bad Copthe one youve got on a pedestal a thousand feet high?had her own quiet little breakdown after Ryan was shot. You think you were shook up? You shoulda seen her."
"What do you mean?" Jaylynn said, her face puzzled.
"She was on admin leave for two weeks, and when she came back, she retreated into some faraway place, deep inside herself. She only talked when talked to, carried out orders, pretty much didnt look anyone in the eye. She basically started coming out of her shell when she began training you. At least you have the smarts to go to counselingnot her! Well, her body went, but her mind didnt." Crystal sighed. "I was really afraid for her. Didnt you notice how out-of-sorts she was when you first started?"
Feeling guilty Jaylynn said, "No. Maybe I was too preoccupied with training. I didntI never had any idea . . . I probably should have paid closer attention." She thought back to those first days observing with Dez. The big woman had seemed shy, certainly standoffish, but after some initial awkwardness, she remembered Dez being helpful and attentive. As the weeks traveled on, the tall cop had seemed to relax and settle in. She had chalked it up to them getting to know one another.
Crystal said, "Youve been good for her, Jaylynn. She needed a friend, somebody who wouldnt let her sit around and brood. I couldnt get through to her at all. Im really glad you came along when you did."
Impulsively Jaylynn reached across the seat and gave Crystals shoulder a squeeze. "Thats nice of you to say. Ive really enjoyed working with you too. Youre the best."
"Hey, hey! Dont go getting all mushy on me now. I have to deal with enough of that from Shayna."
Jaylynn clicked her tongue and shook her head. "You butchy cops are all the sametough on the outside, marshmallows in the inside."
Crystal smiled across the humid car, her teeth flashing white in the slanting sunlight. "Works for me," she said.
Dez had spent the better part of her day cooling her heels in court, and she hadnt testified until mid-afternoon. Despite the book and magazine she brought along she was bored silly, and now that she was home, she almost wished she were on duty for the night. At least it would give her something to do other than think about all the breads and pastas and potatoes she was missing. Time for some aerobic work. Morning, noon, and night she was walking or biking. If she got her heart rate up to about 115 beats a minute for at least 45 minutes, she knew she was burning the fat off her tall frame. Shed already gone from 172 pounds down to 154 in the last six weeks, and she hoped to be under 150 for the body building competition. She was glad she only had to work at it for another week, and she knew it would be an incredible relief when it was over.
She changed into biking shorts and a hot pink sports bra over her regular bra, then snagged a quart of water on her way through the kitchen. After getting her bike and helmet out of the garage, she mashed the helmet on her head, pushing down the neat French braid. She mounted the bike, and put her feet in the toe clips. Sticking to residential streets she began what she hoped would be a good 90 minutes of riding. It took little time to get good and warm on the back streets as she passed yards of freshly mown grass and young boys playing basketball at driveway hoops. After she figured the rush hour traffic had slowed down, she ventured out to a busier street, Larpenteur Avenue. Hunched over and dripping sweat in the eighty degree heat, she pedaled powerfully up a slope toward Rice Street. Glancing to the side, she saw a white vehicle tracking her and realized it was a St. Paul cop car. Darting a glare at the occupants, she found a pair of warm hazel green eyes peering out the window at her. She almost fell off the bicycle as her stomach did the funny little leaping trick it had been doing lately every time she looked at Jaylynn.
In fact, she had been spending a considerable amount of energy lately trying not to look at Jaylynn and coming to the unavoidable conclusion that she was attracted to the younger woman. Shed been attracted to plenty of people in the past, but shed never had so much trouble controlling her reactions before. She found that worrisome. Of course, she hadnt had to ride around with the other objects of her interest in a hot squad car for hours on end. She remembered when Jaylynn had told her, last winter, about how much trouble it was to ride around lusting after hera thought that embarrassed the big cop to no end. But the rookie didnt appear to be having any trouble with that at all anymore. Jaylynn could look her straight in the eyewith that infectious little smileand she didnt seem to be having a single issue.
Dez didnt know what she was going to do about the unwelcome feelings, but right now she thought shed pull into the strip mall up ahead and talk with Jaylynn and whoever was at the wheel.
She nodded upon seeing that Crystal was driving. She hadnt seen much of her lately. Frowning, she pulled up to the sidewalk surrounding the drugstore and stopped the bike with her foot on the curb. Its August, she thought, and I cant remember the last time I spent any time with Crystal and Shayna. She felt bad about that and decided she should probably have them over to Luellas or do something with them soon. She caught her breath as she pulled her helmet off and hung it on her handlebar.
Her colleagues got out of the car to find a scowling, sweating Dez swigging half a quart of water. Some of the water escaped as she drank and ran along her chin, dripping down her neck. The big woman wiped her face and forehead on a bare arm glistening with sweat. It didnt help, and Jaylynn thought Dez looked overheated and miserable.
"Uh hi," said the rookie as she met a pair of dark blue eyes which bored right through her and traveled through every nerve ending from her head straight to her groin. She crossed her arms uncertainly and tried not to stare at the bare muscular mid-section, the broad shoulders, the beautifully planed face.
With a grimace Dez nodded. "Hows it going?"
"Not bad," said Crystal. While Jaylynn hung back, leaning against the front panel of the car, Crystal strode up to Dez and grabbed hold of her forearm. "So, mi amiga, you ready for the show? Lets see a nice biceps."
Dez stared daggers at her, but pulled her arm away from the laughing cop and made a fist, then flexed her biceps.
"Not bad, chica. Not bad." Crystal flexed her own arm and said, "Not quite as good as mine, but hey, whos counting."
In a dry voice Dez said, "Who could tell with that T-shirt and uniform sleeve covering it up."
"Trust me, its there. A mountain of strength."
"Yeah, right." She took another long pull of her water. "Anything exciting going down tonight?"
Jaylynn and Crystal shook their heads simultaneously, and the rookie said, "Youre not missing a thingthough maybe itll pick up when the sun goes down."
Dez looked around. "I better get going before that happens." She tucked her water bottle away and pushed off the curb and past the police car. "See ya."
Jaylynn gazed after her, watching the incredibly long legs and the lean hips. Shed never seen anyone look so luscious in biking shorts, thighs rippling with muscle and sinew. Nice buns, she thought. Really nice everything. The rookie hoped that if she fainted right now, Crystal wouldnt figure out it was because of excess lust. She let out a soft sigh and gulped in some air as she got back in the stuffy car.
Crystal slammed her own door and started the engine. "See what I mean," she said. "Shes got no sense of humor at all right now. She looked like she wanted to hit me."
"She would never do that."
"Who knows what goes on in that dense head of hers."
Yes, who knows, thought Jaylynn. I sure dont.
Saturday night, Crystal and Dez left the locker room for roll call at the same time. Cautiously Crystal said, "Hey, Dez, whats up?"
"Were going bowling tonight after shift. Wanna come?"
"Nah, Im a terrible bowler."
Crystal snorted out a loud laugh. "Who isnt? Geez, thats the point, Reilly. We have a hilarious time. You really ought to come. I tell ya, my abs usually hurt for three days afterwards from laughing."
"You ought to work em a little harder in the gym. Youd have more fortitude that way."
Crystal stopped, put her hands on her hips, and gave Dez her best dirty look. "Very funny. Too bad yours are in such good shape that a little laughter isnt necessary."
"Aw come on," said Dez. She considered for a moment. What could it hurt? "Whos coming?"
"Me and Shayna, Merilee, Jay, and that other new rookie, MarshallI think her first name is Paula. If you join in, well have six and we can use two lanes. Thats even more fun."
"Shaynas coming? Hmmph. All right," Dez said reluctantly, "but only if I get to keep score."
"Fine by me! I can never keep it all straight anyway."
After shift, they converged on the lanes shortly after midnight. Merilee and Paula, both tall and slender, took to one another right away and were soon discussing vacation hot spots. For the first time, Jaylynn got to meet Shayna, and she was pleased and surprised at the same time. For one thing, Shayna was friendly and gregarious. She gave Dez a hugwhich surprised Jaylynnand patted the rookie on the shoulder. Warm brown eyes shown upon the rookie. Taller than Jaylynn by only a couple inches, Shaynas skin was cocoa-brown, and she was plump. She wore a pair of half dollar-sized dangly gold earrings and six or seven gold bracelets on each wrist. The blonde liked the tie-dyed shirt Shayna was wearing and told her so. With an arm across her shoulders, Shayna walked her over to the shoe counter, talking non-stop about tie dye methods. Before she knew it, Jaylynn had committed to taking a tie dye class with her.
Bos Bowling Center was crowded, but they were lucky enough to get the last two lanes together. True to Crystals description, it was amusing. Once Jaylynn threw a strike on the first ball and followed it up with a gutter ball. Shayna managed to roll one ball across the double gutter and into the next lane, surprising their neighbors with a strike. Dez made up for lack of finesse by rolling powerhouse tosses, fast and furious, which caused the pins to explode noisily, though there was often one or two pins left standing. Everyone teased everybody about everything. After the first game, Dez had won with 120 points.
"Should we do another round?" asked Crystal.
Shayna, who had managed to rack up a mere 56 points, said in a grumpy voice, "No! Now I remember why I hate bowling. The balls heavy, the shoes hurt your feet, and they play crappy music."
"Oh come on," said Crystal, laughing as she circled Shaynas waist with a strong arm. "Weve only been here a half hour!"
"You come on," said Shayna. "Admit it. Do you actually like this music?" Blaring over the tinny loudspeaker was Billy Ray Cyrus doing "Achy Breaky Heart." Suddenly Shaynas face lit up. "I know! Lets go dancing."
"Yeah, good idea," said Merilee. "Lets hit the Metro and dance the night away. Whaddya say?"
"I dont know," said Dez doubtfully.
Jaylynn watched the interactions from her seat next to Paula.
Crystal aimed a karate chop at Dezs mid-section, which the tall woman blocked handily. "Its not even one oclock yet," said Crystal. "Listen, Chica, you need to kick up your heels a little bit."
"Yeah," said Shayna. "Please come. And you too, Paula. Jaylynn?" She looked around at everyone with a hopeful smile on her mahogany brown face. "Girls?"
Jaylynn shrugged and glanced over at Dez.
Crystal feigned another series of jabs at the brunette. "If youre real nice," she said, "you can dance one with me. Ill even let you lead. Maybe." Her eyes twinkled with glee as she stifled a laugh and took hold of Shaynas arm. "Come on," she said as she looked back toward Dez. "Lets get Twinkle Toes out of her uncomfortable shoes and go."
Throughout this discussion Jaylynn felt torn, not sure if she wanted to tag along or not. She was surprised Dez relented so easily, but the dark haired woman was changing her shoes and didnt appear to have a problem with the idea. Jaylynn sat on the molded blue plastic chair and exchanged the two-tone leather monstrosities for her pair of Adidas. Silently she followed the laughing group of women to the shoe return counter, threw in some cash for the line, and then listened as they all argued about who should ride with who, who would drink, who would abstain. Jaylynn rode with Crystal, Shayna, and Paula, while Merilee hopped into Dezs truck to follow Crystals Chevy Impala over to the dance bar.
"Its a hot spot tonight," said Merilee gleefully as she got out of the car. "Looks like fun." The boom of the bass could be heard in the parking lot. "Cool. Must be a live band."
The six women made their way to the door, which Dez grabbed and held open. Jaylynn stepped into a dim room, about sixty feet wide and forty feet deep. The bar, on the far wall from the entrance, was staffed by three busy bartenders surrounded by thirsty patrons. The left half of the room contained tables and chairs while the right section was a dance floor, currently full of writhing bodies moving to the thump of the band. The stage for the band was set in the wall in the far right corner. Jaylynn saw a drummer, guitarist, bass, keyboard player, two horn players, and two backup vocalists. A scary looking man wearing what appeared to be a black fright wigbut wasntwas singing a rousing rendition of Rod Stewarts "Do Ya Think Im Sexy." The crowd danced at a fever pitch.
"Lets go, girls," shouted Shayna. She and Crystal, Paula, and Merilee made a beeline for the floor, leaving Jaylynn standing, uncertain, next to an equally reticent Dez. The four women pressed through the crowd and joined the swirling mass.
The music pounded loud, so Jaylynn jumped when a voice tickled her ear. "Dance? Or sit?" came the low voice.
Jaylynn shrugged. She shouted, "I hate this song."
Dez nodded in agreement and gestured toward the tables. Jaylynn sat at a rickety brown table. Spilled beer dripped off the side, so Dez wended her way through the crowd and got a rag at the bar. She returned and wiped up the table. She leaned down and said, "You want something to drink?"
Jaylynn shook her head.
Dez took one last swipe at the tabletop, then headed back. Jaylynn watched the brunette gracefully negotiate between tables and patrons, her broad shoulders dipping and twisting to pass through the throng. She slipped into the crowd and the waiting woman lost sight of her.
Jaylynn looked around the busy nightclub full of happy, dancing people. Scooting her chair forward she put her elbows on the table and leaned her chin in her hands. Her eyes combed the crowd until they lit upon a dark form, half a head taller than most everyone around, and Jaylynn watched Dez, carrying two glasses, worm her way through the mob surrounding the bar.
As the tall woman made her way back, women seated nearby stared at her appraisingly, some with obvious interest. Dez didnt seem to notice. She set the drinks down and slipped into the seat next to Jaylynn, facing the dance floor, and slung an arm across the back of the rookies chair. With her other hand she picked up the tumbler and drained it, then set it back on the table.
Jaylynn shouted, "What did you get there?" as she nodded toward the glasses on the table.
"Ice water," said Dez.
Dipping her head down near Jaylynns ear, she repeated herself and said, "Want some?"
Jaylynn shook her head. Dez picked up the other glass and took a sip. They sat like that through three more songs. Every once in a while Jaylynn caught sight of one of the other cops out on the floor dancing, laughing, caught up in the music.
Next to her Dez sipped her drink, then bent to say, "You like to dance?"
Jaylynn nodded. Dezs face was inches from her own, and she was glad it was dark enough to disguise the fact that she was blushing. The band was now playing an old Van Morrison song, "Wild Night," and she couldnt resist tapping her feet with the rhythm of the horns and the upbeat tempo.
Dez leaned in again. "Sure you dont want something to drink?"
"What?" Dez leaned down very close, tipping her head to the side to hear.
"Later," Jaylynn enunciated.
Dez nodded as she sat back, but she kept her arm on Jaylynns chair. The band segued into a Madonna song, "Holiday," complete with the horns playing. Jaylynn smiled. She turned to Dez. "I love this song," she said into the dark womans ear.
"Me, too," shouted Dez. "Shall we?" She downed the last of her water, then inclined her head toward the dance floor. Jaylynn swallowed, her heart pounding mercilessly. Suddenly she didnt want to do this at all, but Dez grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her up and toward the floor. She let herself be dragged along behind like a skier on a towline. Once they merged into the throng of dancers, once she let herself feel the beat, once she allowed herself to breathe again, she relaxed. The singer was doing a passably good job with Madonnas vocals, and the bands sound was lush and full. Dez did a little shimmy and then Jaylynn let herself slip into a rhythm complementing the taller woman. She was surprised at how adept Dez was, all sinew and legs. But why wouldnt someone as coordinated and physical as Dez be a good dancer? Jaylynn just didnt expect if for some reason.
A new song began, one that Jaylynn didnt recognize at first, but it had a nice fast beat, and she slipped right into a groove. Then she heard Gloria Estefans voice and broke out in a smile. She moved closer to Dez and shouted, "I love Gloria!" Dez nodded back at her.
She lost herself in the dance, feeling her body purring with the fun of it. She closed her eyes and just let the pounding of the music guide her motion. Opening her eyes, she watched Dez for a moment until the tall woman moved closer and bent down, saying into her ear, "You got moves, woman."
Jaylynn blushed some more and ripped a quick jab to the dark womans shoulder.
"Hey!" said Dez as she stopped and grabbed Jaylynn by the shoulders. "How come everybodys hitting me tonight?"
Jaylynn twisted away and grinned back. Then the song was ending, winding down to a slower beat, and the keyboard cut in, playing the first few strains of a song Jaylynn couldnt quite identify at first, but then recognized as Toni Braxtons love ballad, "I Dont Want To Sing Another Love Song." Half of the dancers fled the floor, leaving the rest to move closer to their partners and gear down into a slower, more sensual dance.
The two womens eyes met. Jaylynn stepped back. I cant do this tonight. Definitely not possible. She tore her eyes away from the shiny blue chips burning into her, but before she could turn to go, she felt hands on her shoulders guiding her into a light embrace. She let her hands drop to Dezs hips, feeling the leather of a belt against her palms. Her cheek would fit so perfectly in the crook of Dezs neck . . . but she resisted the urge to press her face there, holding herself just a little apart. A brush of lips against her ear and the low voice said, "You okay with this?"
"Yes. No. I mean . . . I dont know."
Warm hands against her back pulled her closer, and she sighed as she dropped her forehead into the crook between the tall womans neck and chin, only to hear a heartbeat that matched her own, beating wildly. She couldnt stop herself from moving closer, wrapping arms tight around the slim waist, her body craving more while her mind told her to resist.
She felt a gentle stroke from the top of her head, through her blonde hair, down the back of her neck where the hand stopped, the palm hot and dry against the skin above her collar.
It was too much.
Jaylynn tore herself away and dashed through the crowd, heading blindly toward the door. She passed a startled Merilee and apologized to Crystal as she cut by her. Then she was at the door, pushing against the heavy wood, and she burst into the humid night air, gasping for breath. The door behind her popped back open, and Dez was at her heels, grasping her shoulder, but Jaylynn refused to face her and tried to shrug her off.
In a low, frightened voice, the tall woman said, "Jay, what is it? Whats the matter?"
Jaylynn turned, eyes blazing, and said, "I cant do this anymore. I cant. I wont. I cant take it." She closed her eyes and retreated within, backing away from Dez. When she opened her eyes again, Dez stood before her, hunched over, trying to look in her eyes.
"What do you mean?"
Jaylynn drew a deep breath. "I thought I could do this, be with you, pal around, ride with you every night. I thought I could, but I just cant. Not anymore."
Dez stared back at her as though shed had the wind knocked out of her. "What are you saying? You dont want to ride with me anymore?"
"Look," Jaylynn said, "you made your feelings very clear, and whether you realize it or not, now youre sending an entirely different message to me. I could handle it when it was all business . . ." She leaned back and sat against the front grill of a car, then put her foot up on the bumper. She rested her elbow on her knee and her head in her hand. "I just cant ride around with you anymore, pretending I dont feel the way I do. I cant slow dance. Im not sure I can fast dance with you." In a strangled voice, she said, "I just cant," then turned away to hide the tears threatening to come.
"Then dont pretend," said the low voice. The door to the club slapped open and a crowd of laughing men emerged, casting curious glances their way. "Come on," Dez said impatiently, tapping the blonde on the shoulder. "Lets get outta here."
"What about the rest of the crew?"
"Theyll manage," Dez growled as she ushered Jaylynn toward the red truck.
Jaylynn was appalled at her lack of control. She had been in far more tense situations with Dez and she hadnt cracked. What had come over her? She ran her fingers through her blonde hair and took a deep breath before stepping up into the truck. She had no idea what to expect nowmuch less what to do.
Dez backed out of the spot and gunned the engine out of the lot. She found she had been holding her breath and let it out in an audible rush, then glanced over at Jaylynn who slumped silently against the passenger door. Where should I go, Dez wondered. My place? Hers? A restaurant?
"Where are you taking me?" said a soft voice.
"II guess I dont really know. Any suggestions?"
"I think I need to go home."
Disappointment in the form of a sudden sinking sensation hit Dezs stomach hard, and she decided she had made a monumental mistake. For once she wanted to talk, to attempt to express the conflicting emotions boiling up inside, regardless of the awkwardness. But what would she say? How did she really feel? With unexpected clarity, it occurred to her. She wanted Jaylynnit was as simple as that. She wanted her, and she needed to let her know that, even at the risk of rejection. She turned onto the lane that led around to Jaylynns house. Como Lake, glittery in the moonlight, shone in front of her. She pulled the truck to a stop and cut the engine as Jaylynn popped open the door, which turned on the overhead lamp. Dez blinked in the harsh light, then reached across the truck cab to rest her hand lightly on Jaylynns knee.
"Please . . . dont go," she said in a choked voice. "Not just yet. Please?"
Jaylynn clicked the door closed, extinguishing the light, and Dez pulled her hand back reluctantly. By the dim light of the streetlamp Dez thought the blonde woman looked beautiful, her face all sharp planes and large hazel eyes, eyes that now looked haunted and unhappy. How do I say this? How do I make her understand? She swallowed nervously and said, "Could we walk by the lake for a while?" She held her breath waiting for Jaylynn to say no.
"Okay," was all the smaller woman said, and with a sigh, she opened the passenger door. The overhead light startled Dez again. She hopped out of the truck, slammed the door, and was glad for the dim light of the streetlamps.
Wordlessly they walked across the street, through the grass, across the bike path. They stopped at the lakes edge. Dez put her hands in her pockets and looked out on the shimmery surface of the lake, smooth as glass. Jaylynn headed toward a bench and sat, pulling her feet up and wrapping her arms around her knees. Hesitantly Dez followed and sat a couple of feet away on Jyalynns bench.
In a quiet voice the smaller woman said, "I like to come here with my journal some evenings and watch the sun go down."
Dez angled her body to face Jaylynn and leaned her left shoulder against the back of the bench. "If we sit here long enough, we can watch the sun come up."
Jaylynn sighed. "Not tonight. I am way too tired."
The normally talkative woman sat in silence watching the lake. Dez tried to see her face, but it was shrouded in darkness. Tell her. Its now or never, thought Dez. Say something. She cleared her throat and mentally kicked herself. "Jay," she began.
The smaller woman turned and cocked her head to the side a bit and studied her. Jaylynn waited a moment, then when Dez didnt go on, she said, "Im confused. What do you want?"
With an explosive sigh of relief, Dez said, "I want to talk about us."
The crickets chirped in the background. Far away a car could be heard speeding into the distance, gears grinding. Dez held her breath as seconds passed and Jaylynn did not respond.
"Why now?" whispered Jaylynn.
Dez was at a loss to respond. Was Jaylynn saying it was too late? She knew she had been slow to understand, slow to come to the realization that she loved this woman. Love? She gulped and gripped the back of the bench hard, glad she was seated. Yes. That was it: love. How embarrassing.
The last time shed thought she loved someone she had been betrayed, laughed at and mocked, and since then, she had purposely made sure no one could get too close to her. She liked it that way. No complications. No risks. She always thought she had reconciled herself to spending her life on her own. But this was different. All of the old rules of the game seemed trivial, totally inapplicable. She stood, put her hands in her pockets, and paced, taking four steps with long legs, then twirling on her heel and pacing back.
"Why does this have to be so hard for you?" said Jaylynn.
Dez shrugged. She faced Jaylynn and turned her palms up. "I dont know."
"Dez, I am not Karin."
Dez felt like shed been socked in the stomach. For a moment she couldnt breathe at all, and her legs felt weak. She managed to get her breath and choke out, "Howhow in the hell do you know about Karin?"
Jaylynn said simply, "Crystal told me."
"Im gonna kill her," said Dez. She smacked her fist into her palm. "Why did she tell you? Why?"
"Because she cares about you. Because she wanted me to understand you a little better."
"Thats a goddamn excuse. How did she even knowdammit!" Furiously she paced back and forth in front of the bench.
Jaylynn waited silently until Dez slowed down, then the tall woman abruptly sat on the bench and put her head in her hands. "There was no reason for Crystal to run around spilling her guts about my life."
"She was very worried about you at the time."
"Oh, what the hell for?"
"For Gods sake, Dez youre starving yourself! Do you hear me? Youre starved! Youve deprived yourself in every way. Food. Sleep. Love." Jaylynn paused and stared at Dezs passive demeanor. "Arent you listening?"
Dez looked up defiantly, then looked away. "Yeah, but I dont have to agree."
In a bitter voice Jaylynn said, "Look at you. Youre thin as a rail. You dont sleep more than three or four hours a night. You work yourself to exhaustion, and most of the time you shut out all your friends."
"Whats your point?"
Jaylynn let out an exasperated growling sound. "My point isyou dont have to do that. Stop the punishment. Youre slowly choking the life out of yourself." She scooted down the bench, grabbed Dezs arm and implored, "Dont you want to live? To be happy?"
Dez stared over at the rookies sincere face and shrugged. "Im okay with my life."
"Youre okay with your life?" The sarcasm in Jaylynns voice was unmistakable. She let go of the arm she was grasping tightly. "Youre miserable! How can you not see that? How come everybody else on earth can see that so clearlyexcept you?"
Dez sighed. "What do you want from me, Jay?"
Abruptly Jaylynn started to cry. "Nothing," she said. "And everything." She quickly wiped away a tear and tried to choke back her feelings. "You dont realize what gifts you have, what a gift you are. You dont have to be alone. You dont have to feel this way, Dez. Look at you! You dont even defend yourself. Ive just told you your life is shit and you dont even fight back."
In a detached voice, Dez said, "Why is your life so great in comparison?"
Jaylynn squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath, and composed her thoughts. "I wake up most every morning feeling alive. I feel a pulse of happiness here in my heart that runs through my whole body. I look forward to the new day and wonder what interesting things will happen. Food tastes good. I feel the weather. I have energy. I talk, listen, hug, yell at people. I learn. I follow you around watching, trying new things. I laugh. Sometimes I crywhether you approve or not. At the end of the day, Im tired, and when my head hits the pillow, I sleep and wake up ready to go again. Thats it. Thats my simple little life. It may not be much, but Ive been happy with it."
"Maybe compared to your life, mine isnt as great, but Im content."
"You either need to see a psychologist or raise your expectations!"
Dez sighed again and looked away.
"You asked for it," said Jaylynn, "you got it. Obviously you arent going to change, no matter how much concern anyone shows. So Im not going to bug you anymore. I guess this is another area where well just have to agree to disagree." She stood and turned to leave.
"Hey," said Dez, "where ya going?"
"Im outta here. See you tomorrow."
Jaylynn stomped off leaving Dez sitting on the park bench. The longer she sat thinking, the more upset she became. That upstart rookie thinks my life is shit. How dare she? Who does she think she is judging whether Im happy or not?
Upon reflection though, she wondered if maybe her life was indeed shit. Am I happy, she wondered? Do I enjoy each day? She sat for a few moments, not really thinking any coherent thoughts. Dez stood and faced the lake. The water was silent, no waves, no noise. All she could hear was the chirping of crickets. Streetlights on the other side of the lake winked and blinked as the warm night wind blew tree limbs back and forth in front of them. I envy her. Where does she get all that energy? And why is she so upset with me? A chilling thought rose and with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach she considered it. What if the rookie asked for a transfer again? What if she changed shifts? Last time they had this kind of disagreement, it had resulted in a time of misery. Would that happen again?
Bone-tired and feeling depressed, she turned and made her back to her truck. It occurred to her that Jaylynn was likely (???probably) right about her lifeor lack thereofbut she was too tired to explore it further. Tomorrow. Ill talk to her more tomorrow.
With a heavy heart Dez got ready for her shift. She had had another restless night full of awful nightmares. She had dreamed again of Ryan, and though she couldnt remember most of the dream, she awoke at five a.m. remembering a vision of his face, pale and lifeless, his eyes staring blankly up at her. She couldnt get back to sleep after that, and now here she was before roll call, feeling so tired that she almost wanted to go home sick.
"Hey, girl," said Crystal. Dez looked up in surprise to see Crystal leaning against the bright blue locker at the end of the row. The smiling cop said, "Youre here early today."
"On the contrary," Dez said in an icy voice as she rooted through her locker. "Youre the early one. Whats up?"
Crystal sat down on the bench and unlaced her street shoes. "Shayna had to go in to work early, so I just moseyed down here myself."
Dez picked up an old belt and hung it up on a hook. She glanced back over her shoulder. "Youre always so full of it, Crys. Youve never been early on purpose in your life." She returned to sorting items in the locker.
"All right, so maybe I did have an ulterior motive." She pulled her socks off and wiggled her brown toes as she relaxed on the bench. "What happened to you guys last night? Everything okay?"
Dez glowered at her. "Why?"
"You two tore outta there like you were on fire. Andwell, Jaylynn didnt look any too happy. We were justwe just wanted to make sure"
"What? That I didnt beat her or something?"
"Oooh! Groucheee. Must have been a rip-roarin fight, huh?"
Feeling a sudden surge of energy, Dez got in her face and in a quiet, deadly voice said, "Who the hell do you think you are telling her about Karin? And how the hell did you know?"
Crystal rolled her eyes. "Good God! Ive only been friends with you for what, eight, nine years? And everyone knew what Karin was all about. Come on Dez! I could tell. Why do you think I made a point to get to know you? I could see what shed done to you, and you didnt deserve it."
The dark haired cop backed away. She reached up and gripped the top of her locker door and squeezed it so hard her knuckles turned white. "You never said anything."
"Youre a private kinda gal, mi amiga. I respect that."
Dez turned abruptly and sat down at the other end of the bench. "Why didja have to talk to her about that?"
"Oh chica . . . you cant even see it, can you? Nothing is so amazing as she who will not see."
"Whats that supposed to mean?"
Crystal slid down the bench and began to speak, her face near Dezs ear. She whispered, "Listen to mebecause Im only going to tell you this once, and then if you must, you can go back to your self-imposed isolation." She paused as Dez put her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. The big woman looked down at the floor, but she appeared to be listening, so Crystal went on. "That girl, shes so much in love with youit shows in every smile, every glance, every pore of her body. You two, you got some kinda electricity going. And if you dont feel it, well, youre blind, deaf, and dumb. Shaynashe laughs about thissays she feels well all be electrocuted soon if you dont get your head outta your ass."
Dezs head jerked up and she glared at Crystal. "How do you know this?"
Dark eyes snapping, Crystal stood and put her hands on her hips. "Oh pullease! For once in your pig-headed life could you trust someone else? Im telling you, its the truth. Pay attention! Wake up, girl!"
In a muffled voice, Dez said, "I feel like Im in a soap opera."
Crystal let out a deep belly laugh. "Maybe so. Maybe you are." She picked up her shoes and socks and padded over to the other side of the locker room. She didnt say anything when she heard Dez open the door and leave. She just shook her head and mumbled to herself, "Get a clue, Dez, before its too late."
Dez found Jaylynn digging through her locker twenty minutes before roll call. "Hey," she said. "How are ya?"
Jaylynn turned to face her, misery etched into the worried planes of her face. The rookie stood for a moment studying the taller woman.
"What?" said Dez. She arched an eyebrow and spread her long arms out, her palms upright as though she expected rain. "All I asked is how youre doing."
"I cant believe youre still speaking to me."
"What do you mean?"
Jaylynn shook her head. "You dont remember last nights conversation?"
Dez took a few steps and slid down onto the flat bench, facing Jaylynn on the rickety bench in front of her locker. She put her elbows on her knees and rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. "Yeah, I remember it clearly. Why?"
"How can you not be upset? You should be pissed at me." Jaylynn dropped down on the other bench across from Dez. "Im sorry. Okay? II saidI said some things I didnt mean, okay? I shouldnt have done it." She looked as though she was about to cry.
In a quiet voice, Dez said, "You dont have to apologize. You were right."
"No, Dez. I was pretty harsh. I didnt mean it that way."
"Yes, you did." Dez met Jaylynns gaze and held it. "Arent you the one always telling me to be honest? You were just being honest."
The rookie put her head in her hands and stared down at the floor. She looked so miserable that Dez rose and sat next to her. She nudged the rookies leg with her knee. "Hey. Stop thinking about it. I took it to mean that you cared, Jay, that you were worried about me. You didnt tell me anything I didnt already sort of know anyway." When the rookie didnt respond, Dez said in a soft voice, "Look, Ive been a pain in the ass latelyI know. The competition is this weekend, and Ill be less crabby when I can start eating more carbs. I gotta tell you," she said, as she hung her head, "I havent been much fun these last few weeks. Im sorry."
"That doesnt excuse me for how I acted"
Dez cut her off. "Please . . ." She stood and leaned back against the lockers with her hands behind her. "Just quit talking about it. II dont want to talk about thisnot now." She ran her hand over her head smoothing back already tidy hair. "Can we just make it through tonight? Then Im off til after the show. You wont have to put up with my crankiness, okay?" Abruptly she turned and headed for the locker room door.
Jaylynn hustled to throw her stuff in her locker. Her relief was so great that she actually felt shaky. She had imagined all sorts of terrible things since the night before, and to be honest, she was just exhausted from lack of sleep. She hadnt realized that Dez would be off work for the next several days, but in a way, that was okay with her. She needed a break from her intense partner, and the big cop needed to get away from the stresses of the street. She locked up and raced up the stairs to roll call.
Saturday of the competition dawned clear and beautiful. Jaylynn dressed in lightweight slacks and her favorite green v-necked shirt. She ate a huge breakfast of cereal, toast, juice, and leftover fried potatoes, and she took a few minutes to pack some goodies to eat during the day.
The rookie arrived at Central High School an hour before the competition was scheduled. She figured Dez would be there early, and sure enough, she was. The tall woman, dressed in grey sweats and flips, was seated on the floor next to an oversized black gym bag. She leaned against a brick wall in the hallway, her knees drawn up to her chest, and her arms around her legs. Her face and hands and feet were so brown that for a moment Jaylynn didnt recognize her. Her dark hair was woven together from the top of her head and down the back in a tight French braid that tucked under leaving no hair on her neck. She was gazing out the side window and didnt even notice the blonde until she was sliding down next to her.
"Hey," said Jaylynn. "Howd you sleep?"
The dark head swung around and bright blue eyes in a mahogany-colored face surveyed the younger woman. "Hi Jay. Okay, I guess."
"Which means what? Five? Six hours?"
Dez gave her a slight smile and looked away. In truth, she had probably slept most of the last twelve hours. She actually remembered some pleasant dreams between waking every three hours when her internal clock told her she needed to eat. At this point she was so sick of protein powder, amino acid pills, romaine lettuce, and chicken breasts that she could gag just thinking about them. But she didnt feel tired; she also did not feel very energetic, but she knew she had to get pumped by shortly after eight.
Jaylynn said, "Any competition to watch out for?"
Dez stretched her legs out and let her hands fall into her lap. "Yeah. Looks like at least two heavyweights. They both look pretty good from what I can tell."
Jaylynn reached over and patted the grey-clad forearm. "Ive got a good feeling about this. Youre going to do well."
"Thanks for coming so early. I just hope Cowboy gets here soon."
She pulled her gym bag over closer to her and hunted around in it, coming up with a pint of bottled water. "Want a swig?" she said as she twisted the cap open.
"Nope. I brought my own." She gestured to her own leather bag, which contained plenty of goodies to make it through the day. "So tell me, what happens now?"
Dez closed up the bottle and stuck it back in her bag. "We weigh in at eight and then get pumped up for the 8:30 start. Its all compulsory poses at first, then we do our one minute programs. They start with women teens, then the boys. Im pretty sure they do the Masters competitors, then the rest of us novices, women first, followed by men. Somewhere along the way, the pairs get squeezed in. I havent actually seen the schedule yet, but I know from the one other show I did that theyll give us a timeline to follow."
"Wheres the best place to sit?"
"Oh, anywhere. The closer you are, the better though. You can see symmetry from the distance, but muscles and vascularity are best seen up close."
"So you dont care if I sit in the front row?"
Dez chuckled and shrugged. "Whatever."
"How long does this take?"
Dez thought about that for a moment, then said, "Mmm . . . two, maybe three hours. I like to stay and see the men. When Im done, Ill come out and sit with you to watchthat is, if youre staying that long?"
"Sure I am." Jaylynn grinned. "Id like that. Maybe then you can give me enough information so I understand all of this."
Dez nodded. "You also better buy tonights tickets now or else youll get crummy seats."
"I told Luella Id get a pair for her and Vanita. She tried to tell me her tired old eyes needed to be up close."
"Go get them now then." Dez looked at her watch. "Theyll open up any minute. Go be first in line. Theyve already sold a lot in advance." When the blonde reached for her bag, Dez said, "You can leave that here. Ill keep an eye on it."
Jaylynn rose and hastened to the table where two men were setting up to sell tickets. Dez watched her walk away, smiling approvingly at the cream-colored dockers, white Adidas tennis shoes, and a form fitting forest green v-neck shirt. Her hips were shapely and her white-blonde hair shone under the fluorescent lights. Dez felt a little blush creep into her face as she remembered some of the images of a dream shed had the night before. In it, they were in a sunny glade near a lake. Jaylynn had been wearing considerably less than nowa green top that wasnt much more than a bra and the shortest of skirts. Her legs were lean and sinewy, her stomach muscular and tight. And she had long red-blonde hair. Dez frowned and shook her head. She didnt know where that had come from. But it was definitely Jaylynn, and the part that caused her to blush occurred when the young woman had slipped out of those clothes and stood nude before her. She looked down and realized that she herself wore no clothes either. They waded into the water, and the dream went on, but she couldnt remember any more details, only that she had awakened from it unwillingly, her stomach protesting for food.
She looked at her watch again. 7:55. Time to weigh in. Jaylynn was walking back toward her, tucking tickets into her back pockets. Dez rose and picked up both of their bags.
"Time to go?" said Jaylynn.
"Yup. Ill look for ya in the audience."
The blonde stood awkwardly until Dez handed her the leather bag.
"Good luck," said Jaylynn. "Ill be rooting for you." It seemed so lame, but it was all she could think to say.
Dez flashed her a smile, and her white teeth were such a contrast to the dark skin that Jaylynn was taken aback. That was the face of her Warrior Woman. It was uncanny and gave her the shivers. She watched the grey-clad woman walk away from her, and she was struck by how thin she appeared. In fact, those sweats bagged on the tall woman so much that Jaylynn thought theyd look more shapely on the hanger. As she turned away she heard a clock-clock-clock noise, and in came Cowboy wearing his ever-present leather boots and hauling a bag even bigger than Dezs. He was nearly running as he caught up with the tall, dark haired woman who stood next to her bag, hands on hips, and shaking her head at him.
Jaylynn made her way into the auditorium where the audio techs were making final checks on the sound system. The high schools theater hall was large and seated around two thousand. Right now there were seven judges sitting at a long table right in front of the stage and little knots of early birds scattered throughout the first 15 rows. The blonde picked her way down the stairs toward the front row, passing a huge man eating from a gallon-sized tupperware container full of rice and chicken. Picking a spot to the right in the fourth row where she thought she had the best angle of vision, she sat and proceeded to think about Dez.
The dark haired woman hadnt seemed nervous at all. Then again, she had done this before. If she were Dez, Jaylynn was certain shed be throwing up right about now. She looked around the auditorium. On the stage there were three banners that advertised other sponsors, including the Sports Nutrition Warehouse, a chiropractor, and three fitness clubs. On one side wall, two men were hanging a 30 foot long banner with red, white, and blue lettering that read "1999 Excalibur All Natural Bodybuilding Championship sponsored in part by the St. Paul Police Department." The wall on the other side already contained another gold banner that carried the seal of the police department and the words "To Serve and Protect: In memory of Ryan Michaelson, 1960-1998."
Jaylynn felt the hair on her arms stand on end, and once again she found herself wishing she had met the man who all of her colleagues had respected so much. In photos around the department, he was as blonde as she was. He was dark-eyed, stocky, broad-shouldered, and wearing a mischievous grin in every picture. She thought she probably would have liked him a lot.
A string of peoplemany of them cops who Jaylynn vaguely recognizedwandered in and found seats. And then the chief judge up front spoke into a microphone before him. "Lets get started, ladies and gentleman." Without any fanfare or introductions, he went on, "Lets have the teen womenoh, wait a minute. Weve got no teen female competitors. All right. Bring out the teen males."
Jaylynn watched as the judges took the six boys through a series of mandatory poses. She was impressed at the muscle and sinew the young men displayed, not to mention their poise. They were all clearly nervous, but each held steady throughout the ten minutes of poses. After the compulsories were completed, each of the boys was called individually to the stage to perform his sixty second program, a succession of poses chosen by the competitor to highlight his best features. The first teen emerged and stood waiting motionless at center stage. Suddenly, Jaylynn was startled to hear acid rock music blaring out of the speakers. She covered her ears and winced for the full sixty seconds. The accompanying music for all six boys was variations of painful, screaming guitar, booming bass beat, indistinguishable words. Jaylynn had to grin. I guess Im old now, she thought as she protected her ears. She didnt know how the judges could stand it.
By the time the Masters women and men had done their compulsories and individual programs, Jaylynn was beginning to understand what bodybuilding was all about. She listened to the comments from the crowd, some of whom obviously knew what they were talking about, and she studied the physiques. What she found most appealing were men and women with well-defined muscle, and a lean, symmetrical presentation of it. She thought about how thin Dez had become, and she wondered if that would be detrimental.
In the Novice/Open class, the judges started with the lightweight women and moved on to the middleweights. As each moment passed, Jaylynn found herself becoming more and more nervous until her stomach was a roiling mess. She purposely closed her eyes and made herself breathe twenty deep breaths. Then she re-situated herself in the lumpy auditorium chair and watched the final middleweight finish her routine.
The judges called the heavyweights out. The three women filed out on the stage, their muscles pumped up. Jaylynns eyes found Dez immediately, and her jaw dropped. In an electric blue suit, Dezs skin was super-shiny with a deep, dark tan, though Jaylynn could see that the lights made her look less brown than she had appeared in the hall. What stunned the blonde the most was how impossibly huge the dark haired woman looked. The other two women were shapely and muscular, but they were four and six inches shorter respectively. Dez, standing in the middle, towered over them, a veritable mountain of muscle and sinew. The three women stood, "at rest," which meant they were not striking any poses, but every muscle in their bodies was tight and flexed.
The judges took them through the compulsory quarter turns. She saw the tall cops broad shoulders with the defined delts, the abdominal six-pack, and legs bulging with muscle. Somewhere off in the distance Jaylynn heard cheering, but everything seemed muddied and unintelligible. She only had eyes for Dez. The three contestants turned to face away from the audience to do back lat spreads, and Jaylynn wondered if she could believe her own eyes. The back the tall woman presented was sinewy and so rippled that she looked hard as rock.
Before Jaylynn knew it, the compulsories were over and she realized she hadnt paid the slightest attention to the other two women. She had no idea what their strengths or weaknesses were. She hoped Dez wouldnt ask for any comparisons because she wouldnt be able to give them.
The judges called for the first individual program, and Jaylynn was relieved that Dez was first. The sooner she performed her sixty second routine, the sooner the blonde could relax. The tall woman strode out to the middle of the stage and waited for the music to start. The first notes of "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" came over the speakers bringing a smile to the blonde's lips. Holding her breath, Jaylynn was struck by how much her dream Warrior Woman looked like Dez. Near the end of the incredibly quick minute, Jaylynn felt faint, then realized that she should remember to breathe. She took in great gulps of air and settled back in her seat as the music ended and Dez exited the stage. Now Jaylynn managed to look around, and she heard and saw the enthusiasm of the spectators.
The final two heavyweights performed, but it was all a blur to the young woman. She couldnt get over how Dez had appeared. It wasnt until the judges called the pairs out that she was able to focus again. She watched three different routines before Cowboy and Dez came on the stage. Next to him, the dark haired cop looked diminutive. Both had huge shoulders and biceps, but his musculature was so much larger and even more defined than Dezs. They did their routine to "Simply Irresistible" and with a wave, left the stage.
The judges called for a ten-minute break. It was then that Jaylynn realized she was sweating. Her face was hot, and suddenly the auditorium seemed to close in on her. Jaylynn reached into her bag and pulled out a bottle of water. In addition to drinking it, she considered pouring some of it down her shirt, maybe over her head. With a start, she discovered she was dizzy from hunger, so she rooted through her bag again until she found a Snickers bar. She had just opened it and taken a bite when someone slid over the back of the chair beside her and settled in next to her. She looked over and was amazed that it was Dez, dressed again in her grey sweats.
"So, howd we do?" said Dez.
"Good," the rookie said, her mouth full.
Dez shook her head and laughed. "I should have known youd be out here munching away on something."
Jaylynn chewed furiously and swallowed. "I just got this out this very moment," she said indignantly.
Before Dez could reply the blonde saw someone standing in the aisle to her left. She craned her head back to see a thin, fortyish, red-haired woman with striking blue eyes. She wore tailored jeans and a black blouse with a starched collar. Boots with stiletto heelsand Jaylynns seated positionmade the woman look quite tall and thin.
"So Dez," the woman purred, "you looked pretty good up there." Her eyes raked over the dark haired woman. "Youve certainly changed since I last saw yourah, physique."
Jaylynn looked to her right. The brunettes face was grim, but she didnt seem too upset.
Dez said, "Well, hello Karin. Surprised to see you here. You run outta sweet young things at the BCA?"
Karin looked Jaylynn up and down appreciatively. "No, but the sweet young things around here arent too bad."
Comprehension dawned on Jaylynn and she realized who the red-haired woman was. In a fury, she shot up out of her seat so fast that her bag, which had been on her lap, spilled onto the auditorium floor. Without warning the red-haired woman found herself faced with a 130-pound spitfire.
"Who the hell do you think you are discussing me like a piece of meat?"
Karin stepped back, obviously surprised.
"Get lost," said Jaylynn fiercely. "Ill kick your ass if I see you here again."
Karin looked down at Dez who was still slumped in her seat. "You let your little friend do all the protecting around here, huh?"
"Shes a better cop than you ever were."
Again, Karin looked surprised. She shook her head as though she didnt quite believe what shed heard, and then turned on her heel and disappeared up the aisle.
Jaylynn picked up her bag off the floor and sank down into her seat feeling foolish and embarrassed. She sneaked a glance at Dez expecting the worst. Instead the big woman sat with a goofy grin on her face. She turned to Jaylynn and said, "Now that was rich. Did you see the look on her face?" She started laughing, then stopped abruptly when she caught the look on the Blondeee's face.
Dez said, "What! Whats the matter?"
"How could thatthat woman be so rude? Im still furious!"
"Jay, Jay. Its just the chocolate."
Jaylynn gave her a blank look. "What?"
"The Snickers. What have I been telling you? Too much sugar is bad for you." The tan woman couldnt hold back anymore and laughed uproariously. "That was great when you told her youd kick her ass. Ha ha ha . . ."
"Im glad you find this so amusing."
"I needed a good laugh." Dez started laughing again, but tried to stifle it. "Be quiet now. Its the guys. We gotta root for Cowboy."
For the next hour they sat in the fourth row, heads together, while Dez told Jaylynn everything she could about proper form, posing, muscularity, and all the myriad details that made up the sport of bodybuilding. When Cowboy came out on stage, Jaylynn was surprised at all the hooting and catcalling from Dez, but it only made Cowboy preen and look all the more confident.
Once the heavyweight men finished and the morning judging concluded, Jaylynn turned to Dez and said, "Now what?"
Dez, who had been munching on a rice cake, shrugged her shoulders. "I come back in six hours. Until then, I just meander around avoiding anything remotely related to those Snickers bars youve been snacking on."
Jaylynn felt herself blushing. "One Snicker bar. It was one. Didnt you pay attention to the sandwich or the banana or the orange or the pretzels"
Dez interrupted her. "Yes! I paid attention to all that, and believe me, the endless parades been killing me!" Irritably she said, "I cant wait until I can eat something other than rice cakes and chicken, chicken, chicken." She stood and stretched.
Jaylynn rose, too, and put her hand on Dezs arm. "Hey, I didnt know it would bother youme eating, I mean."
Dez scowled at her. "It didnt bother me. You could have been eating dried squid and I woulda wanted it. Ill just be glad when this is over." She crumpled up the wrapper from the rice cakes and flung it on the floor.
"Uh oh," said Jaylynn, still gripping Dezs forearm. "I think your blood sugar is low. Lets go get you some salad and chicken." She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder and pulled Dez along behind her. "Wheres your bag, Dez?"
"I put it in the truck." She let Jaylynn drag her up the aisle. "I cant go out to a restaurant or anything like that," she protested.
"I know. Youve got the next three meals all set up in your frig, right?"
"Yeah. Howd you know?"
"Desiree Reilly, I know you far too well." She rolled her eyes. "Come on. Ill drive. You can just sit and cogitate, okay?"
Jaylynn and Dez spent a leisurely afternoon hanging around at the tall womans apartment. After Dez had a mealcold chicken breast and romaine lettuceshe sat on the couch to watch TV and promptly fell asleep. Jaylynn went out to the kitchen and opened cupboards until she found Dezs toaster, but despite looking high and low, she found no bread.
She cracked open the kitchen door and crept downstairs to tap on Luellas door. When Luella opened it, she put her finger to her lips, squeezed inside, and pushed the door shut. "Dez is actually sleeping, and I dont want to wake her." she said. "Just one little problemIm starving."
"Well, youve come to the right place." Luella beamed at her, her silver hair swept back and bobby pinned stylishly. Jaylynn took a deep breath. Luellas house always smelled like fresh backed bread and fruitmaybe strawberries.
"Really, all I need is two or three slices of bread and Ill be fine."
In her pink slippers and blue green housedress, Luella shuffled down the hall and into her kitchen. "Ive got some nutty oat bread. That strike your fancy?"
"You want some jam or some roast beast with that?"
"Nah, I was just gonna make an omelette upstairs."
"Bet she has no butter either." When Jaylynn shrugged, the landlady shook her head and said, "What are we gonna do about that girl?"
Luella foraged around in her pantry closet and pulled out a loaf of bread. "She got anything to drink in that godforsaken icebox of hers?"
Jaylynn leaned against the doorway and tried to visualize the contents of the upstairs refrigerator. "I think she has ice tea . . . but that may be it."
"An omelet's no good without a little milk in it and a little in a glass to down it with. You agree?"
Kind brown eyes twinkled at Jaylynn, and it made the younger woman smile. Impulsively, Jaylynn blurted out, "Luella, I wish Id met you years ago. You have to be one of the most wonderful people Ive ever met." Jaylynn could see the flush of happiness suffuse the chestnut colored skin. "Oh, I didnt mean to embarrass you," she said.
Luella set the loaf of bread down and stepped over to Jaylynn, taking the blonde womans chin in both her soft brown hands. "How can she resist you, Jay? Thats what I dont understand." The wise old eyes gazed seriously into the now bashful face of her friend. "Dont give up on that fool. Shes gonna figure this out sooner or later, you know." With a final stroke, she released Jaylynns face and turned to the cupboard to get a plate down. Her back to the blushing woman, Luella said, "Guess you didnt think I knew about that, huh? Well, these eyes may be old, but theyre not blind."
She moved over to the refrigerator and opened the door. Over her shoulder Jaylynn could see it was packed more full than she had ever seen it. Luelled ducked in and pulled out a plastic half-gallon container of milk and a stick of butter. Just before she shut the door, she reached back in and snagged an egg from the indentations in the door.
"Am I so obvious?" Jaylynn choked out.
Luella handed her the milk jug, then arranged the bread and stick of butter on the plate so that the egg wouldnt fall off. "No," Luella said thoughtfully. " I wouldnt say that. But I do know the two of you. That girl is really something else, but shes street savvy and not heart smart. Youll have to be patient with her." She handed Jaylynn the plate. "Careful not to drop the egg. Its no fun cleaning up yolk. Now if you mix it in with one of those little boxes of egg whites she uses, your omelette will have a lot more body. Tastes better too."
"Thank you Luella. Ill bring this milk right back."
"Youre always welcome, Jay. No hurry on the milk either. I dont need it for hours. And hey, hon, Im rooting for you."
Momentarily confused, Jaylynn realized Luella was referring to her love lifenot to Dezs competitionand she felt her face flushing again. She retreated down the hallway, and Luella followed to open the door for her.
"See you in a bit, Luella."
The old woman gave her a brilliant smile, her teeth flashing bright and her brown eyes sparkling. Once again Jaylynn was struck by how beautiful she was. A little gray hair and a few wrinkles didnt mar the effect.
The blonde made her way up the stairs and set everything down on the counter, then peeked around the corner. Dez continued to sleep on the couch, her face frowning slightly even in her sleep. This brought a smile to Jaylynns face. She got out the egg whites, sliced up a tomato and green pepper, added Luellas egg and milk, and put some chunks of Dezs baked chicken breast in a fry pan to make the omelette. With a glass of milk and three pieces of toast slathered with the rich butter, her stomach was satisfied.
She went into the living room and sat on the couch near the slumbering woman. She didnt want to wake Dez, but she got up and put a video in. Truly, Madly, Deeply. Shed wanted to watch it since the first visit to the apartment, and now she had three more hours to kill.
The wind blew in her face and she smelled a musty, verdant odor. As she opened her eyes, Dez thought she was flying in a green tunnel, but as her eyes adjusted, she realized she was traveling at high speed through a forest of trees and bushes. She looked down and her eyes focused on the horn of a saddle. Her hands held taut reins, and, astride a powerful horse, she galloped on a narrow path. Something constricted her waist and she noticed tawny suntanned arms around her middle.
"Yah!" she found herself saying, and the cream-colored horse leapt forward even more quickly than before. An inexpressible joy raced through her. Blood coursed in her veins, pumping with excitement. Her legs gripped the horse tightly, and she knew without a doubt she could outrun the Fates themselves. She felt the warmth at her back and knew who it was without looking back.
The horse galloped through a slim opening in the brush and burst out onto a vast plain covered with wild grass and flowers. She slowed the heaving horse to a canter and angled along the treeline. Hearing a protest from the body fastened to her back, she signaled the animal to a walk.
Her breathing slowed as the feeling of glee rushing through her body slacked off. Without warning, a flurry of movement caught her eye. Looking sideways to the treeline from which they had just ridden, she saw a line of figures on horses erupt shrieking and screaming. Wearing battle armor, they carried banners and spears, swords and bows. With a gasp she dug her heels into the horses side.
"Yah! Come on! Get us out of here!"
Something wasnt right. Dez inhaled as she struggled to consciousness. One blue eye squinted open, and she found herself curled up on the couch next to one silently sobbing blonde. She jolted up, alarmed, and said, "Whats the matter?"
Jaylynn turned to her, tears running down her face. She choked out, "That is the saddest movie Ive ever seen."
"What in the hell are you watching?"
"Truly, Madly, Deeply. It just got over." She picked up the remote and clicked it to rewind.
Dez let out a deep breath and sat back. "I thought I told you it was a three hanky movie."
"But you lied. It was a three boxes of hankies movie."
"Yeah, well, at least it had a happy ending," she said grouchily.
"But its such a sad happy ending." Jaylynn wiped the tears away. She stood and took the video out of the VCR and returned it to its place on the shelf.
Dez said, "What time is it?"
Jaylynn looked at her watch and said, "4:10."
Dez rose to her feet and stretched her arms so high she could touch the ceiling. "Guess wed better get a move on. I need to stop at the store and buy another can of Pam."
"Pam? Cooking oil Pam? Hey, we gonna fry something good after the shows over?"
"No, thats what we use on stage. I have enough, I think, but just in case, I like to be prepared."
"You use Pam on stage?"
"Yeah. Works better than any other oil. Everybody uses it."
"Youre kidding, right?"
"I did wonder how you all got so shiny. Pam, huh?" Jaylynn didnt say it, but she had begun to think bodybuilding was a wee bit odd.
The evening program began at 6:30, and it was a packed house. Jaylynn sat through the first hour, waiting impatiently for Dezs appearances.
There was a short break between the middleweight and heavyweight divisions when something went wrong with the PA system. Jaylynn sat in the audience between Luella and Vanita, and the two older women talked across her to one another. She had already offered to switch seats with one of them so they could talk more conveniently, but they both hushed her and said they each wanted the fun of sitting by her. A soft, warm hand patted her arm, and Luella gazed at her kindly, then went back to giggling with her sister.
Jaylynn was so nervous that she hardly heard what the two sisters were discussing. When Luella finished a statement with, " and dont you think its true?" and then looked at her expectantly, all she could do was shrug and say, "Im sorry Luella. I cant concentrate at all."
"Youre not worrying about Dez now, are you?"
"Oh, stop fretting. Shes done this before. The girls a powerhouse. No need to worry. You said she did good this morning."
Jaylynn fidgeted with her program. "I know, but this feels different." Tonight Julie and the kids were there, and pretty much every cop shed ever met and several dozen she had never seen before. The morning compulsory posing hadnt been nearly as well attended, and she had liked sitting right near the front. Tonight she was stuck 12 rows back, and the place was so full it made her feel claustrophobic. "This is just more nerve-wracking than the morning was."
Vanita said, "You havent seen nerve-wracking until you hear about what happened to me the time I"
The announcer interrupted. "Okay folks, were back and ready for the womens heavyweight routines. Weve got three contestants tonight, all three from the Twin Cities. And heres a little about our first contestant."
Jaylynn didnt pay attention to the rest of it. Dez was scheduled to perform third. The rookie sat through the other two womens programs and tried to evaluate each fairly. In her estimation, neither of them was anywhere near as good as Dez. The first woman was well built with incredible biceps. You could see every muscle in her back, and she had washboard abs. But Jaylynn thought her legs looked weak in comparison. The second contestant had great shoulders, muscular legs with good definition, and actual striations in her pec muscles, but her abs and her upper back didnt have the kind of cut her competitors had. The rookie wasnt a judge, but she knew she favored the symmetry Dez displayednot to mention the fact that she felt weak in the knees every time she saw Dez in the very skimpy electric blue two piece suit. That didnt happen when she looked at the other two contestants.
When the second routine was over, Jaylynns stomach went crazy, and for a moment she thought she might be sick. She was so relieved when that feeling passed, but then it was replaced with a general inability to breathe. She found herself holding her breath until the announcer began to introduce Dez. And then the tall woman emerged onto stage walking gracefully, her body impossibly long and lean and muscular. The cops in the audience went wild.
Dez stood in the stage wings with her eyes closed, concentrating on keeping her body loose and yet tight at the same time. It was a delicate balancing act, staying pumped up and flexed while at the same time not cramping. She was past the bout of nerves shed experienced earlier, and now she only had to get through this sixty seconds, just this short routine. And then, unless she won her weight classwhich she dearly wished would happenshe would be done with the hard part.
The sixty seconds ended for the second competitor, and the music stopped. From the wings Dez could hear the appreciative applause. Unlike the mornings quiet attendees, tonights crowd was a rowdy stomping wild bunch, a lot of them cops. She pushed that out of her mind and focused on breathing and on gathering all her energy inward so that she could direct it outward as needed. Her main competitor was statuesque and a steady poser. The dark haired woman knew she needed to be solid in this routine.
She didnt even hear the brief biographical announcement about herself that preceded her performance. Instead she found herself thinking of Ryan and knowing that he would have been out in the front row watching and cheering for her until it was time for the mens division to start. And suddenly she felt a crack in her legendary control. She looked about in alarm. There was nothing to be done. The stage monitor tapped her on the shoulder and gestured her out to the stage.
The house erupted into applause as she strode uncertainly to the middle of the stage. She knew she did not want to look at Julie or the kids or at Luella or at any of her brothers in blue. Unlike the morning where she concentrated on the judges, tonight she was expected to work the crowd. She didnt know how she could do it.
She stood at ready, every muscle in her body flexed, arms out a few inches from her sides, and one foot in front of her, toe pointed downward. She knew it was cocky, but she had worked up a completely different routine from her morning program using new music. She had chosen Queens old song, "We Are The Champions," because it was Ryans body building theme and she knew that would matter to Julie. The first strains of the song began. And that crack in her control widened.
She didnt have time to think. She knew she had to hit every pose to the best of her ability. But as she moved through the posesfront facing abs, twisting double biceps, side chestshe broke. Not physically, but emotionally. On the outside, she continued through the longest sixty seconds of her life, but on the inside, a tidal wave of raging grief welled up and threatened to spill over. There was a moment of relief as she turned away from the audience and moved into the rear lat spread and rear double biceps, but as she she hit the right side triceps and looked out at the audience, tears sprang up. Her vision blurred, and she blinked, horrified at what was happening.
Dez didnt hear the cheering, the loud clapping, the rising crescendo. In her head everything clanged in an indistinct din. In a panic, she jerked into the next pose, a front lat spread, and through the tears she gazed out into the crowd. She blinked again, and when her vision cleared, what she saw was a shock of short blonde hair and warm, hazel green eyes. Despite the tears running down her cheeks, Dez held eye contact. She saw the younger womans fist go up in an emphatic movement, and over all the crowd noise, she swore she could hear the rookie say, "Its okay, youre doing fine."
The tall woman breathed in and steadied enough to move into the lunging single bicep twist she liked to end with. As she turned away from those green eyes and bowed her head in the final pose, the last strains of music sounded. She held the pose, tightened every muscle until it felt like she would fly apart. Looking down she saw one glistening silver pearl of liquid fall and splat on the floor below her.
The song ended. She exhaled in a huff and stood up straight, and the house went wild. Giving a wave she turned to walk off stage. Once more her eyes sought out the rookie, but she couldnt find her in the confusion.
Once off stage Dez bent over, hands on knees, and tried to get her breath. Someone handed her a towel, and she daubed at her face. She knew she had to return to the stage right away with the other two heavyweights, and she took the brief moment to steel herself. All she really wanted to do was escape. She felt like she had when she was 14, when she used to grab her bike and ride miles and miles just to get away from everyone and everything. And here I am without a bike, she thought sarcastically.
Back at the podium the announcer was saying, "I believe the judges have their final decision. Its time now for the presentation of awards. Lets bring out our three heavyweight competitors, Cindy, Nancy, and Desiree. Here they are, ladies and gentlemen!"
He turned and gave them a hand as the three women filed out to center stage and stood in their "relaxed" poses. For the first time this evening, the three women stood next to one another on stage, and it was clear that Dez, on the far right, was much taller and more powerful looking than either of her rivals.
The announcer went on: "Presenting the trophies is last years champion and three time Ms. Minnesota winner, Sandy Marx!"
The crowd applauded, then grew quiet.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, third place in the heavyweight division goes to Nancy Daniels."
The audience clapped and cheered. Through it all, a stony-faced Dez gazed out into the audience at Jaylynn. She didnt break eye contact and the rookie returned the gaze. Then Jaylynn smiled mischievously and blew her a kiss, and for the first time in hours, Dez broke out in a full smile. She almost didnt hear the announcer call the runner-up, Cindy Schmidt, and was startled when Nancy and Cindy smacked her on the back and gave her admiring hugs.
"Dez Reilly," said the announcer, "step into the center there." She moved into the middle position between the two body builders and accepted the gold statuette from the presenter. She looked at it a bit dazed, then set it down in front of her like the other two women had. The announcer said, "Okay now ladies, for the cameras, go ahead and strike a double bicep pose."
Jaylynn rose. Frantically she said, "Excuse me, Luella. Ill be right back." She crawled over Luella and into the aisle. It was all she could do to keep from running up the section. She made it out the side exit and back to the Pump Up Room before it occurred to her that perhaps she was being too hasty. What if Dez didnt want her there?
Too bad. She couldnt stop herself.
She scooted around pairs of dumbbells left lying throughout the room. As she rounded the corner and headed toward the stage wings, she saw the three heavyweights being interviewed by a man with a video camera, but as she neared, they finished, and Dez turned away. The brunette held a baggy gray sweatshirt in her right hand and was turning it right side out. Jaylynn reached her. She wanted to grab Dez into a hug, but she wasnt sure that was a good idea. Instead she stretched out a hand and gripped the bigger womans glistening forearm.
Surprised, Dez spun around. Her face softened when she saw who it was. "Hey, you."
Jaylynn broke into a grin. "You did good."
"Right." Embarrassed, Dez looked down. "I choked."
Jaylynn squeezed the taller womans arm, which was warm and oily. "Just because it was emotional doesnt mean you choked." She took both of Dezs hands into her own. "Ive got news for you, Dez. Cops do cry. Half of the police in the audience were anyway. It was really beautiful. You were wonderful."
Dez gave her hands a squeeze, then let go, and they looked at one another intently. The rookie started to say something, but then the stage director interrupted. "Hey, all of you women pairs. . . some of you are gonna be called out on the stage now. Theyre awarding the pairs trophy."
"Afterwards, okay?" said Dez as she moved away, her eyes smiling though her mouth didnt.
Jaylynn nodded, her heart full, her eyes brimming. She didnt wait to hear Dez and Cowboys names called as one of the top three pairs of couples. She knew they would be. She made her way back to her seat and sat patiently, relaxed, for the rest of the program. And she wasnt one bit surprised when a totally composed Dez Reilly confidently took the pairs trophy, hugging and kissing Cowboy on the cheek, or when she won the posedown between the three weight classes to take the Overall Champion Award.
Continued in Part 9
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