Part 9 of 11
By 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. 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 9 of 11.
The 1999 Excalibur All Natural Bodybuilding Championship ended, and a large share of the audience departed for a raucous, earsplitting party at Luellas house. Carloads started appearing almost as soon as Dez dropped off Luella and Vanita. Cops and kids and friends and neighbors spilled out of the house and into the yard. They all showed up and waited impatiently for Dez to come downstairs after cleaning up. There was pop and beer, hamburgers and potato salad, cookies and bars, and every kind of snack imaginable. Luella and Vanita worked the crowd like veteran caterers stuffing everyone full of the tasty food.
Luella had insisted on clearing off the mantel for the trophies, which were constantly admired and fingered. The 3-foot tall Overall Champ award was a shiny obsidian black nude, and with its sculpted broad shoulders and graceful muscles, the woman on the trophy actually resembled Dez. The two smaller gold trophies were half the height and bookended the larger one. Scores of people crowded around to look at them.
Jaylynn circulated the house wiping up spills, clearing away discarded plates, and occasionally chatting with folks. She wanted very much to join Dez upstairs, but she restrained herself, waiting patiently like everyone else.
When Dez finally came clattering down the back stairs and burst into Luellas living room, a great cheer went up. She skidded to a halt, obviously surprised, as happy people circled around her, patting her on the shoulder, shaking her hand, giving her hugs. She ran a hand through long dark hair, which was loose and still damp from her shower. She wore a pair of cutoff denim shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt. She had not been able to wash away much of the tan, and her skin was still unusually dark. It would be a week or so before the skin dye washed completely away. Even under the tan, it was clear she was blushing. Her eyes raked through the crowd until they came to rest on Jaylynn. The blonde felt a crackle of electricity which made her stomach flip-flop, and then the bigger woman looked away and accepted more congratulations from the horde of well-wishers.
A grumpy voice from the crowd called out and a big, white-haired man pushed his way through. "I just want you to know you cost me five hundred bucks, Reilly."
"Lieutenant Andres," said Dez with a wry smile on her face. "Youve been called many things, but cheap has never been one of them." She slapped him on the arm. "By now you should know better than to bet against me, but hey, look at the bright side: its all going to a good cause."
Just then the "good causes" squeezed through the crowd. "Dez, Dez!" said Jeremy. "That was cool. Me and Jill were so happy when you won."
Jill stepped shyly forward and took Dezs hand. The big woman looked down at her and said, "What did you think?"
"Well, parts were awful boring, but when you were up there, it was great. And those are neat prizes."
"Yeah? And which one do you like best, the black or the gold?"
Jill thought a moment, but Jeremy burst right in. "The black one is so bigand you can see her chest!"
Everyone laughed hilariously. Julie caught Dezs eye and shook her head. "Just like his dad," she said. "Always looking at the chest." This drew more laughter.
"What do you think, Jill?" said Dez.
"I like the gold ones a lot. The black one is awfully big."
Dez headed across the room, and the crowd parted to let her through. She took the two gold statues from the mantel and headed back to stand before the two kids. She handed one trophy to each. "Theyre yours," she said.
Julie said, "Wait a minute, Dez . . ."
Dez said, "I won those for Jeremy and Jill. I want them to have them. I dont need em."
"Yeah," said Luella. "If you all went up and looked at that bare apartment of hers, youd see why shes giving them away. Shes totally into minimalist artas in the art is so minimal it isnt even there."
Again the group laughed, and Luella went on, "Theres a ton more burgers and salad. I dont want a bit of leftovers, so eat up."
Julie made her way over to Dez and pulled her off to a corner to argue. Dez listened for a moment, then just stepped up and enfolded Julie in a hug. Into her friends ear she said, "I cant give them back their daddy, Julie. The least you could do is let me give them a couple of dumb trophies." She pulled away a bit, still holding Julies shoulders. "Look at them strutting around showing them off. It makes em happy. So let it be, okay?"
Wordlessly Julie nodded. She wrapped Dez in a tight hug. "Thank you. Thisall of itmeans a lot."
"Im glad," said Dez gruffly.
All through the evening Jaylynn watched and listened as the partygoers cheered Dez and laughed and sang and generally acted like teenagers rather than the rode-hard cops most of them were. Crystal and Shayna spent part of the evening going over the "take," and after checking their figures, they reported that over six thousand dollars had been collected. Even Dez was surprised.
Periodically Jaylynn looked up from whatever she was doing and caught sight of those bright blue eyes watching her from over the heads of the many guests. Each time her heartbeat took off and she got butterflies in her stomach. They each smiled a tight little smile, just for each other, and then turned back to what they had been doing.
Jaylynn reached down to pick up some stray paper plates, and she felt a touch on her arm. She straightened up. "Oh hi," she said.
"Hi, Jaylynn. Im Julie, and I havent gotten a chance to introduce myself to you yet." The statuesque brunette reached out and shook the shorter womans hand.
"Im glad to meet you," Jaylynn said as she smiled and squeezed the womans hand and let it drop.
"Luella has told me a lot about you and about how much Dez cares about you."
Julie leaned in conspiratorially. "Yeah, I get most of my good info about Dez from her. Isnt she great?"
Jaylynn wasnt sure whether she was talking about Dez or Luella, but she opted for Luella. "Ive met few people in my life quite as wonderful as Luella. Shes a sweetie."
"Yes she is." The slender brunette beamed at Jaylynn. "And so is Dez." In a quiet voice she said, "And I see the way you look at her." She nodded and smiled. "Its not like Dez would fill me in on anything, so Im glad Luella rats her out to me. Shes told me all about you."
Jaylynn wondered what exactly Luella had said. And what did Julie mean about the way Jaylynn looked at Dez? She looked around the room, and again, Dez caught her eye. The tall woman arched an eyebrow and raised her bottle of sparkling water, then turned back to Cowboy. Jaylynn blushed.
"See what I mean?" said Julie.
"Whawhat?" Jaylynn started to feel sick to her stomach.
"You, young woman, are very nearly transparent. Come here." Julie grabbed the rookie by the wrist and pulled her down the hallway to the spare bedroom, then sat on the edge of the double bed as Jaylynn hovered in the doorway. "Sit down," she said and patted the bed beside her. The rookie shuffled over in a daze and sat next to her. "Look," Julie said, "Dez was very dear to Ryan. Hed want her to be happy. But she hasnt been for a very long timenot since he died."
Jaylynns head was spinning. She didnt feel prepared to take in this information at all, but she tried to focus on what Julie was saying.
"Ryan and I always hoped shed find someone special, but he didnt live to see it." Her face clouded over and she got a faraway, wistful look in her eyes. Then she sighed and refocused on Jaylynn. "Do you know theres something between you twokind of an electricity?" She smiled and gazed quizzically into Jaylynns face. The younger woman gulped, and Julie went on. "I feel like I know you because of Luella, and this probably feels too weird to you, but I just wanted to say thank you for looking after Dez. Shes a tough to read, but Luella was right. I can see how much she cares about you. Dont give up on her no matter what, okay?"
"Okay," Jaylynn replied, her face red and her heart pounding. Julie rose and Jaylynn popped up too.
The older woman said, "Im glad we had this talk. And Im very glad to finally meet you. I hope you two will come over often, maybe take Jill and Jeremy on an outing."
"Id like that."
Julie smiled and reached over to squeeze the rookies hand, then said brightly, "Guess wed better get back to the party, huh?"
They went out to the living room, and Jaylynn looked over into the next room to find Jeremy and Jill sitting at the dining room looking tired and bored. She moved toward them and saw Luella opening a drawer in the built-in buffet. Over the sound of laughter from the living room the silver haired woman said to the two kids, "You want to play a game? Ive got about ten decks of cards here."
Jeremy nodded, though Jill looked skeptical. The rookie advanced to the table, saying, "Do you two know how to play Hand and Foot? Its a really good card game."
She sat down at the table with the two kids and began to patiently explain the rules of the rummy game. As she dealt the cards, she glanced out into the living room to find blue eyes observing her in amusement. The tall woman winked at her and turned back to Crystal, leaving Jaylynns heart skipping beats.
The party went on until past midnight. If there were any neighbors upset it was too bad because every cop on duty managed to swing by at one time or another. At one point there were five police cars double-parked in a row outside the house.
But finally, when the last of the partygoers bid goodnight, Luella, Vanita, Jaylynn, and Dez plopped down on the couch and chairs and surveyed the wreckage.
"Thats the most fun Ive had in ages," declared Luella.
From the rocking chair Dez said, "I had no idea . . . you must have spent a fortune!"
"Whew," said Jaylynn. "The evening just blew by. I cant believe how late it is."
Luella said, "Time flies when youre having fun." Her eyes came to rest on the lanky brunette rocking slowly across from her. "Well, sweet pea, was it worth it? All those days and nights of rabbit foodare you glad you did it?"
Dez looked at her seriously as she continued rocking. "Yeah, I think it was. It was hard. . . ." She paused and thought for a moment. "But I could do it again if I had to."
Vanita said, "You mean if you were nuts enough to!"
Dez smiled. "Are you referring the food constraints, Van, or do you mean the actual competition process?"
"The food, of course!" said Vanita. "I am surprised to say this, but I actually liked the show. It was kind of a shock at first to see all those nearly naked people running around, but once I got used to it, I did start to understand all that business youve been talking aboutyou know, about muscle definition and leanness and such. I enjoyed it, specially when you won."
Jaylynn sat in the recliner and watched the two older women sitting side by side on the sofa, both so alike and yet so different, as they rehashed the pomp and pageantry of the evening. She studied Dez from her spot across the room. The dark haired woman looked tired, but content, her face relaxed and open. Still listening, Jaylynn rose and gathered up a few stray paper plates and three cups left on the table and windowsills. She carried it all into the kitchen, pulled the garbage container out from under the sink, and began tossing in the trash and tidying up the counters. She went back to the dining room table to clear away the leftover food, and saw Dez nod toward her. The taller woman stood and said, "Let me give you a hand, Jay."
Luella sighed and started to rise. Dez said, "No, no, not you. Youve done enough work for the night, ladies. Just relax."
"We can help," said Vanita, but she didnt budge from her comfy spot on the sofa.
Luella continued to struggle up off the couch. Dez shook her finger at her. "You just sit that sorry carcass back down Luella. Your legs are sore, I can tell."
"No, not at all. Im ready for a foot race."
"Yeah right." Dez rolled her eyes. "Youve done enough for me for the day. Please! Let us clean up. Jay and I wont break a thing."
"Kinda hard to break paper plates, young lady," said Luella in a mock serious voice as she settled back on the couch near her sister.
"Thats right," said Dez. "So just let us put things in order for you."
Dez joined Jaylynn in the dining area and started carting dishes and platters into the kitchen. The blonde said, "How about you put the leftovers in containers, and Ill wash stuff up?"
Dez whistled softly as they worked wordlessly for several minutes. She went back out to the dining room table with a wet rag to wipe it down, then returned to the kitchen. She tossed the rag in the dishwater and took Jaylynns arm. With a finger to her lips she said, "Shh." She beckoned with her other arm as she pulled Jaylynn along. They peeked around the corner into the living room.
Luella and Vanita sat on the sofa asleep, their feet up on the coffee table and their heads leaning back against the couch cushions. "Ready for a footrace," whispered Dez. "Ha."
They retreated back to the kitchen and Dez finished wiping down the stove, then stood awkwardly with her hands in her pockets. Jaylynn crossed her arms and leaned back against the counter searching out blue eyes. "Guess Id better head home."
Dez smiled at her warmly. "You were great today, Jay. Thanksthanks for everything, for coming to the show, for being here today and tonight." Suddenly shy, she looked down. "It really mattered to me that you were there." She pulled her hands out of her shorts pockets and stepped closer spreading her arms wide. "Can I hug you?"
Jaylynn uncrossed her arms and welcomed Dez into an embrace, first tentative, and then secure and tight. Wrapping her arms around the thin waist, she could feel the taller womans palms flat on her back, a belt buckle at her stomach, hips pressed close. Flustered she released her hold and stepped back, saying, "Dez, you really are just skin and bones! How in the world did you manage to look so gargantuan on stage?"
"Ah, smoke and mirrors. You know, a little grease, a lot of skin tan dye." The dark haired woman winked and then shrugged.
Jaylynn said, "What happens now?" As the words came out of her mouth, the blonde hoped Dez would take the question in the way she meant it. She hastened to add, "I mean, do you stay on that severe diet or what?"
Dez stepped back, leaning against the counter again. "Nah. Some guys start packing away tons of food and ice cream and crap, but I wont do that. Ill increase my carbs, eat a bit more of the so-called forbidden foods, and try not to gain more than 15 pounds. I think I feel best weighing in about 165." She looked out the darkened kitchen window. "I guess Ill be glad to get back to a normal routine. It was hard to do that."
She looked so tired that Jaylynn was reminded of the hour. "Id better go now."
Dez nodded. "Sneak out the back, okay? Lets not wake up the oldsters if we dont have to."
Jaylynn pulled her car keys out of her pocket as she moved toward the back door. "See you Wednesday?" she asked over her shoulder as she reached the door and turned the knob.
Dez looked startled for a minute. "Yeah, sure. Call me if you want to do anything before then though."
Now it was Jaylynns turn to look surprised. "Like what? What do you mean?"
"You know, like go see a movie or something."
Jaylynn moved lightning quick across the hall and put her hand to Dezs forehead. Then she grinned and said, "No fever, but who are you and where is the real Dez?"
Dez blushed and stuttered out, "I I I just thought . . ."
Jaylynn laughed at her and retreated to grab the doorknob again. "Listen, you goofball, sounds like a good idea to me. Dont take me too seriously. Im just teasing. Go ahead and give me a call if you like. Im around all day tomorrow. That is, after I get about 12 hours of sleep." She opened the door and looked back smiling.
In an offhand manner, Dez said. "Ill watch to see that you get to your car safely."
"Hey! Im a cop. Nobody messes with us, right?" Jaylynn pulled the door shut and walked around the side of the house to the front in the warm August night. She could hear a mosquito buzzing nearby and smell Luellas overgrown lilac bush. As she turned onto the front walk, she glanced back at the house to see the outline of a dark head in the window. She raised one hand in a quick wave, then reached her car, got in and headed home.
On the way to her house the evenings events went round and round in her head. She thought about Dez, about her performance, about her physique. And she thought of the years and years of dreams and nightmares shed always had. There was no longer any doubt in her mind that her Warrior Woman and Desire Reilly were, somehow, by some strange destiny or coincidence, one and the same. It was amazing how different the black-haired, alabaster-skinned woman looked with a tan and most of her clothes off. Jaylynn felt a lecherous grin tweak her lips. The tall woman looked positively delicious, fit to eat. A shiver ran down her neck, and she smiled sheepishly and told herself to stop being so naughty.
Back at the house she saw that Sara was still up. As usual, nearly every light in the house was on. Suddenly she couldnt wait to talk to her best friend. She parked next to Tims old beater, and skipped up the walk. She found Tim and Sara huddled on the couch watching a Mary Tyler Moore rerun. When she burst around the corner, they both looked up and said simultaneously, "Did she win?"
"Yup. She won everythingher weight class, the pairs trophy, and all-around. And she really was the best. You guys shoulda been there. It was just incredible. Wish Id had a camera." She plopped down on the end of the couch and tucked her legs under her, then turned to face them.
Tim clicked the TV off with the remote as he said, "It sure ran late. Its like almost two now."
"I went back to Dez and Luellas place and there was a great party with about a million people at it." Jaylynn grinned as she hugged her knees to her chest. "It was just a blast."
Sara said, "Hmmm. Do tell. You look way too happy to be real."
"I am happy. Ive never seen Dez quite like this, so open, so relaxed. I mean, she even cried on stage."
"What?" said Tim and Sara at the same time.
"You guys sound like a Greek Chorus," said the blonde and she went on to tell them about all of the events of the evening. As she finished her recitation, she stretched her legs out over Tims lap and pressed her feet against Saras, sole to sole.
Tim said, "Girls, girls! Youre squishing me." He shifted and pushed their legs aside, and both women ended up putting their legs on the coffee table. He said, "So, she gave you a great goodbye hug. She should have given you money for how patient you were all day!"
"Oh Tim," said Sara. She turned to Jaylynn and rolled her eyes. "Dont mind him. He and Kevin had a lovers quarrel."
"We did not," Tim protested.
"What do you call screaming at him on the front porch and then slamming the door in his face?"
Disgruntled, he said, "Whatever. Hell probably apologize tomorrow." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared forlornly at the wall.
Jaylynn poked him in the arm. "Quit being so stubborn. Go call him now. You know hell be over here in minutes. Why does he have to be the one to apologize?"
"Geez, Jay," said Tim, "you dont even know what the argument was about!"
She smiled at him. "Im telling you, lifes too short to be sitting here stewing over some dumb disagreement. You love the guy. Go call him."
"Ill call him when Im good and ready." He continued to sit there seething.
"Back to you Jay," said the brown-haired woman. "What else happened? Tell me more about this hug."
Tim stood and stepped over the blondes outstretched legs.
Jaylynn pinched him on the thigh. "Gonna go call lover boy? I tell ya, youll be thanking me for the encouragement."
In a grumpy voice, he said, "Like your love life is going so well."
"Im hopeful," she said, and she slapped him on the butt as he passed her by.
Sara stretched her legs out on the couch. "Okay, tell me all the nitty gritty details. What about this hug?"
"It was a great hug! You know how there are three types of hugs?"
Sara tipped her head to the side and gave Jaylynn a quizzical look. "Go on. What do you mean?"
"Well, think about it . . . theres the quick shoulders-only kind of hug between people who are sort of doing the obligatory thing. Sometimes one person is even turned a bit to the side. Know what I mean?"
"Then theres that upper body one where maybe the front of you presses a bit, but its brief, friendly, respectful?"
"And then theres the last kind." Jaylynn smiled.
"And that would be?"
"The one where youre enfolded in an embrace that goes from shoulders to chest to hips to thighs. Whew! Its intense."
With a twinkle in her eye, Sara said, "Am I to assume that the latter was the variation you experienced?"
Jaylynn was nodding before the question even ended. "But maybe Im giving it too much credence. I really dont know. But I am going to call her to go to a movie tomorrow."
"Why dont you have her over for dinner? In fact, why dont I make you guys dinner one day next week? Do you realize that in just nine days its the one year anniversary of you meeting her for the first time?"
Jaylynn stopped and thought for a moment. "Thats just amazing. I can hardly believe a whole year has passed." From the kitchen she could hear the murmur of Tims voice as he spoke on the phone. She lowered her voice and said, "I dont know how much longer Tim is going to live here, Sara. Either hes gonna move out, or else Kevin is going to have to move in. He practically lives here now. What do you think of that?"
"Ive thought about that lately too. Kevin can move in. I dont mind. The more the merrier." With a wicked smile on her face she said, "You can have Dez move in too for all I care."
"I think youre jumping the gun a bit."
"Maybe. Will you ask her over for a thank you dinner from me? Ill make you those barbecue chicken wings you like so much."
"Okay. Ill ask."
Just then, Tim returned to the room. He ran his hands through his red hair and did a cannonball jump over the back of the couch and slid down between them.
Sara said, "Guess whos on the way over?"
He smiled. "Yup."
With menace in her voice the blonde said, "And who gets thanks for the suggestion?" He stared at her with a blank look on his face.
Jaylynn rose up to kneel on the couch and looked at Sara, raising her eyebrows. Both women attacked at once, tickling him mercilessly until he begged for mercy and forgiveness.
On Sunday, they went to see the new "Star Wars" movie, and then the two women walked around Como Lake in the bright sunshine. Though humid, the temperature was surprisingly mild.
"I didnt like that one as well as the other three," said Jaylynn.
"Me neither. I figured out too fast about the queen."
"Yeah, I kept wondering why theyd have all these short little brown-haired attendants who looked just like the queen. I thought maybe it was bad casting at first. But the kid was cute."
Dez said, "Too bad hes gonna grow up to be the evil Darth Vader."
They kept the conversation light as they made two loops around the lake. Jaylynn could tell Dez was tired. She said, "Did you sleep well after yesterdays hoopla?"
Dez shook her head. "Nah. Maybe tonight."
"You should go see Dr. Goldman. She does great visualization exercises. Helps me with my nightmares."
Dez glanced down at the rookie affectionately. "It was bad enough that the lieutenant made me go see her after I got shot. Id prefer not having to go again."
Jaylynn stopped on the path and put her hands on her hips. "What is it with all you tough-ass cops? How come none of you ever want to talk about your feelings?" She tapped her foot on the ground. "And I want a serious answer!"
With an amused expression on her face, Dez said, "I dunno. Shes a stranger." She bent over and picked up a round rock from beside the path, then pitched it into the lake. She turned back to Jaylynn who was still waiting, patiently. "If I wanted to talk about stuff, Id tell Luella. Or maybe you. Not some nosy shrink."
Jaylynn sighed and shook her head. "You are incorrigible." She dropped her hands from her sides and started walking again.
In three long strides Dez caught up with her again. "Hey, not everyone can process things the way you can."
"Sure they can. Just takes practice."
"Geez, Jay, there are a lot of other much more pleasant things to practice than that sorta junk!"
"Now, why do you say that?"
Dez shrugged, though Jaylynn didnt see it.
I an irritated voice, the rookie said, "Theres processingand then theres not processing. How come everyone thinks Im crazy for wanting to avoid the latter?"
Dez frowned. "Maybe theyre just jealous."
"Why! That makes no sense to me."
"Theres a lot of shit in this job, Jay. Not everyone can deal with it head-on like you do. Sometimes its easier to just not think about things."
"But its self-preservation for me. If I dont deal with this stuff, I have terrible dreams. Why is that so weird?"
"Hmm . . . never thought of it that way." She smacked at a mosquito that came to rest on her forearm. "Well, the damn bugs are coming out. I better head home before Im eaten alive." They stopped on the path near the stone arch. "See you at work Wednesday?"
Jaylynn nodded. "Sure. Hope you sleep better tonight."
"Yeah, me too. See ya, Jay."
They parted. Dez crossed the street without looking back and set out toward home. Jaylynn headed on around the lake. She decided to put in a few running laps and started off at a slow jog. She was puzzled as to why she seemed to be one of the only cops she knew who was willing to discuss how the joband other thingsmade her feel. At least Oster talked to her a bit. But no one else did. Didnt the rest of them feel like they would explode otherwise? She picked up her pace and fell into a good rhythm. She decided that she wasnt going to change for the rest of them, not even for Dez. If she wanted to see Goldman every single day, she would.
It wasnt until she was on her third lap that she recalled Saras dinner invitation. Oh well. Shed ask Dez at work.
On patrol Wednesday night, Jaylynn told Dez about Saras dinner request and asked her if she wanted to come over. For some reason she did not understand, she expected Dez to beg off. So she was taken aback when the dark haired woman said, "Sure. When?"
Surprised, she said, "Gosh, I dont know exactly when, but she said one day next week. Ill check with Sara. What works for you?"
Dez shrugged. "Whenever. I guess Monday or Tuesday since thats when were off."
Jaylynn nodded. "I told her youre a picky eater . . ."
"No, Im not!" Dez said with a little more vehemence than she expected. In a softer voice, she said, "Not so much anymore."
"Give me a break! So youre eating a few carbs nowbig woo! You still dont eat things normal people eat." She paused and pointed out through the windshield. "Hey! Check out that Volvo. Is that the one on the hot sheet?" She grabbed the sheaf of pages they kept on the seat between them and turned on the center light.
Dez hit the gas and pulled closer to an orange station wagon. "Nah, the other one had 024 in the license number and I think it was blue."
Jaylynn, by then, was perusing the hot sheet. "How do you do that?" she said, exasperated.
"Remember the details like that?"
"I dont know. It doesnt change that much from night to night. You drop a couple cars from your memory and add a couple." She passed the Volvo and turned right onto University. "And Ill have you know Ive gained eight pounds already, so dont be telling me I eat weird."
Jaylynn had indeed noticed that her partners face had taken on a less gaunt appearance since the weekend of the body building competition. She reached across the seat and gripped the tall cops upper arm. Dez gave her a startled sideways glance.
Jaylynn said, "Yes, I did notice. You look much healthier now. You had started to look haunted before." She let go of the short-sleeved arm, but not before she squeezed the tight muscle there. "Youre still solid as a rock."
Dez made a squinty face at her and flexed her right arm. "Damn right."
Tuesday night found Dez parking in front of the stucco house and making her way up a cracked front walk bordered with freshly mown lawn. The day had again been humid, and the evening promised more of the same, with the unfortunate addition of mosquitos. She slapped at one and juggled the items she carried, a bottle of chablis and six pack of Twinkies. She was glad she had worn shorts, a tank top, and sandals because, if she remembered correctly, the old house didnt have air conditioning.
Before she could reach the top of the cement stairs, the screen door was thrown open and a familiar blonde head poked out into the late afternoon light. "Whatcha got there?"
She stepped up to the top stair. "I didnt know what we were having, but I brought some wine, and then I thought a special dessert was in order." She waved the package in Jaylynns face.
"Twinkies! You wouldnt . . ."
Dez silenced her by running a big hand through the rookies hair and messing it up, smirking as she sidled past. Out of the corner of her eye she took in the golden tan displayed quite nicely by cut-off jeans and a sleeveless white shirt. The shirt tightened against Jaylynns body as she ducked and shifted away with a smile on her face. Dez said, "I may surprise you yet."
Jaylynn took hold of Dezs arm. "Believe me when I say, you already keep me in constant amazement." She led the tall women into the living room where Tim was lounging bare chested in crazy-colored boxer shorts. He sat in front of the oscillating fan looking miserably hot.
Jaylynn said, "He just finished mowing the lawn."
Tim said, "Yeah, and I dont think Ill ever recover. Hi Dez." She nodded and smiled as he fanned himself with a Cosmopolitan magazine. Dez resisted the urge to ask if it was his or Saras. She was pretty sure it wouldnt be Jaylynns.
"You are full of surprises," said Jaylynn. "Im surprised enough for one night that you showed up with alcohol. I didnt think you ever drank."
"Oh, Ive been known to tip a few upon occasion." She handed the bottle to Jaylynn who accepted it and then pointed the bottle at her red-haired friend. "Tim, go take a cool shower. Go on. Youll feel much better." He grumbled, but rose with a groan and padded off to the staircase.
Jaylynn said, "Saras in the kitchen. Come on. Lets put this in glasses and drink it with dinner."
A short time later the four of them sat down at the picnic table in the backyard near the grill, which was emitting considerable heat. The sun no longer burned so hot and was rapidly falling behind the stand of evergreens across the alley, though rays of bright light still streamed through. Sara placed four citronella candles at the corners of the picnic table and lit them to ward off the bugs. On the menu were terriyaki chicken wings, brown and white rice, corn on the cob, and a green salad laced with chunks of cucumber, tomato, and broccoli flowerettes.
Sara and Jaylynn settled in on one side of the table. Dez sat across from the blonde with Tim beside her. As she dug into a generous helping of salad, Tim popped up from the table and stepped over the picnic bench. "Forgot the salad dressing," he said. "Anyone want thousand island?"
"Sure," said Sara and Jaylynn in unison. He ambled off toward the back door.
Dez said, "He works at a restaurant, right?"
Both women nodded and looked at one another. Jaylynns mouth was full, so Sara said, "He wants to be a chef someday. Right now hes in charge of salad prep and is trying to get into a culinary school."
The kitchen screen banged open and Tim emerged juggling several bottles of dressing. He stood at the head of the picnic table and set seven bottles out.
With a smile on her face, Jaylynn said, "Thats a lot of thousand island."
He replied, "Its not just thousand island. Weve got bottles and bottles of this stuff. What do you girls dobuy another jar every time you make a salad?"
Jaylynn picked up the tongs and rose as she said, "Yup. And every time we make a steak we buy another bottle of steak sauce."
Sara said, "And every time we get a hair cut we buy a new brush. Its a girl thing."
Jaylynn laughed out loud, then moved over toward the grill. As she passed Tim she poked him in the butt with the tongs and giggled some more. She lifted the lid off the grill and busied herself turning the chicken wings.
Tim moved around the side of the table and startled Dez by putting his hands on her shoulders. He leaned his face down close to her ear and quickly whispered, "Jays birthday is next week. Will you help us with the surprise party?" When she nodded, he glanced up to ensure Jaylynns back was still to them, then squeezed Dezs shoulders and stepped back over the bench to settle in next to her. He cast a conspiratorial glance at Sara and back at Dez and waited until she choked down the bite she was chewing.
"Details?" Dez asked.
He whispered back, "Later."
Sara jumped right in then and said, "Tim, we were just telling Dez about your salad work at the restaurant. I think shed be interested to hear about your new job."
"Yeah," said Dez. "Which restaurant do you work at?" She spoke to Tim but her eyes followed Jaylynn as the blonde bent to pick up the grill cover, replaced it, and then came back over to the table. Her eyes flicked to the brunette and caught her looking. The rookie smiled and blushed ever so slightly, regarding Dez with amusement and then giving her the tiniest little wink.
Tim was saying, "The new one that just opened in downtown St. Paul called Pazzaluna. Its a really nice Italian place."
Dez turned her attention to him. "I havent been there yet."
"We should all go," said Sara. "I havent tried it yet either."
"Excellent food and good service," said Tim. "Of course how could they go wrong with Kevin as the maitre de?"
Dez said, "Ill have to meet this Kevin sometime. You and he met at the restaurant?"
Tim nodded, his mouth full of chicken wing.
Dez pushed her plate away, put her elbows on the plastic tablecloth and said, "How did the three of you meet?"
Jaylynn and Sara smiled at one another, and the blonde said, "My sophomore year Sara moved to my dorm. I didnt have a roommate at the time"
"And I had a real jerk for a roommate," said Sara. "I was only a freshman, but Jaylynn let me move into her room, and weve been roommates ever since"
Jaylynn finished, "In two more dorms and then this house."
Tim said, "I advertised in the school paper for housemates, and these two applied. I liked em right away."
"And the rent was reasonable," said Sara. "So weve been living here for almost two years. Im still working my way through classes part-time."
Tim said, "And I quit halfway through so I could get restaurant experience and get accepted into the Culinary School instead."
Dez nodded as she listened to the information. She thought about the fact that this was pretty much the same way shed met Luella: by answering an ad for an apartment. Sometimes people got lucky and turned strangers into better family than family was.
Later in the evening when the paper plates were tossed and the glasses and utensils cleared away, they all agreed to watch a video. Sara had brought a stack home from the video store, and they had their choice of adventure, thriller, drama, or two comedies. The Wedding Singer won by a vote of three to one, Jaylynn holding out for a drama. She accepted the loss with grace.
Dez sat in an overstuffed chair in the warm living room and regarded the three roommates who sat across from her on the couch. Huggiest damn group of people shed ever been around. If they werent poking or tickling or hugging or pinching each other, they were patting her or reaching out to touch her lightly. It was a bit disconcerting. She couldnt recall when the last time was that anyone invaded her personal space so repeatedly, well, unless you counted Jaylynn. Come to think of it, the rookie had always been in her personal space, practically from day one. She glanced at Jaylynn, a frown on her face, and wondered why she hadnt noticed that. Instead, she realized she somehow been comfortable with the younger woman, and perhaps that was one reason it was so painful to have been separated from her those many awful weeks during the winter.
She thought about the fact that with the exception of Luella, people usually didnt come near her. She didnt want people to touch her, to get inside her bubble. Not friends, not relatives, not other cops, not suspects. There was safety in distance. Her eyes came to rest on the three laughing roommates across from her, and she watched as Sara made a smart retort to something Jaylynn said, then launched herself practically into the blonde womans lap to tickle her. Tim rolled his eyes and looked over at Dez who smiled politely and shrugged.
Tim said, "If you two are done mauling one another, I think Dez and I would like a little dessert before we start the video."
Dez eyed Jaylynn, silently daring her to put out the Twinkies. Somehow she knew that the hazel-eyed woman understood. Jaylynn popped up off the couch and took Saras hand. "Come on," she said. "Its ice cream time." She dragged Sara off toward the kitchen.
Tim watched them go, then gestured to Dez. "Spsss . . . come over." He patted the couch next to him. Reluctantly she rose and moved around the coffee table to sit in the middle of the sofa.
He said, "The nice thing about our house is you can put your feet up on anything." He slipped out of his Birkenstocks and stretched freckled, tan legs out on the coffee table, nodding an invitation to her to join him, which she did. Once they got settled, she looked over her shoulder at him and he said, "As soon as the kitchen door opens, launch into a description of a bad meal youve had, okay?"
She frowned, then assented.
"Okay," he said, "its a surprise party next Saturday at noon before she goes to work. Can you help me fix it so her Lieutenant secretly gives her Saturday off?" When Dez nodded, he went on, "If you can do that, then shell never expect this, especially since her birthday isnt until next Tuesday. Her mom, dad, and the girls are flying in Saturday morning. Will you pick them up at the airport at 10?"
She nodded and he glanced nervously over his shoulder at the kitchen door. They could hear the two women talking and laughing so he went on. "Ive got to figure out a way to get her out of the house."
Dez whispered, "Call Luella. Shes very inventive."
"Sara already asked Luella to come to the party, and shes coming over to make somethingI dont know what. She and Sara are doing the food. My job is to get the surprise part worked out."
"How bout I keep Jay busy until just before noon and we have someone else pick up her folks?"
"Yeah! That could work. Lets do that. If you can get her out of the house for the morning, then Sara and Luella can set up, and I can run out to the airport. Works for me."
Just then the kitchen door whacked open, and Dez stammered, "It was the worst meal I ever had."
Tim looked at her blankly, then started to laugh. Dez gazed shyly over Tims shoulder at the two women and found Jaylynns eyes upon her. The smaller woman gave a surprised look to see Dez cozied up to the red-haired man, but she didnt say anything. She waved at them to move their feet, and Sara set a tray down on the coffee table bearing four stacked bowls, four spoons, a dish of peanuts, a brown plastic container of chocolate sauce, and a pile of Twinkies on a Melmac Cookie Monster plate. Jaylynn carried a tub of vanilla ice cream and a scoop.
"Everybody help yourself," said Sara. She sat down next to Dez.
"Ill scoop the ice cream," said Jaylynn. "It gets so messy." She proceeded to dole out generous globs for everyone, then went back in the kitchen to put the ice cream away.
Sara took the brief opportunity to whisper, "Are we all set?"
Tim nodded. "Details later, but yes. Dez is in."
Sara smiled at Dez, her brown eyes full of warmth and caring. "Thank you. Itll mean a lot to her if you come." She reached a hand over and patted the bigger womans thigh. "By the way," she said, "nice quads you got there."
The dark haired woman was still blushing when Jaylynn came back into living room and squeezed between Sara and Dez to settled in for the video, totally oblivious to the clandestine planning that had gone on. The rookie grabbed up the TV remote and pressed the button. As she set the remote down, the dark haired woman juggled her bowl of ice cream, leaned forward, and snagged a Twinkie with her free hand. With a smirk directed at the blonde, she took a generous bite and offered the remainder to Jaylynn who accepted it with a roll of her eyes. "Dont blame me if you get fat overnight," said the rookie, as she bit down on the remaining half.
All week Dez racked her brain to think of something she could do with Jaylynn from nine a.m. til noon on Saturday. Nothing seemed compelling enough to warrant a nine oclock start. Finally she talked to Crystal, learning that she and her partner had also been invited to the party.
Crystal said, "Why dont you bring her to our house for brunch?"
Dez thought about it. "That could work . . . but then youd miss the surprise."
Crystal considered that for a moment. "What if we got totally ready so that the minute you pulled away around noon, Shayna and I would jump in our car and race over there. Then all youd have to do is stop to fill up with gas or pick up a coke at the drive-thru or something. Then we could be there on time."
"Okay. What do you want me to bring on Saturday morning?"
"Let Shayna worry about that. You just bring Jay over about nine and well keep you both occupied. At roll call tomorrow night, Ill invite you guys over. For once, Ill actually show up early."
The next night, true to her word, Crystal was there ahead of time and corraled the two of them. She said, "Dez, Jay, I got a favor to ask. Would you be willing to come over on Saturday morning for brunch? Shayna has a couple new recipes she wants to tryand Dez, dont worry. Theyre not too high cal."
Dez said, "Sure. What time?"
"Oh, about nine, hows that?" She looked from one woman to the other.
Skeptically, Jaylynn said, "I wont be very awake, but okay. Whats your address?"
Dez interjected smoothly, "I know how to get there. How about I pick you up at 8:45?"
"Okay," said Jaylynn, "but Im not promising to be a very entertaining brunch companion."
Crystal squeezed the blondes arm and said, "Nonsense. Youre always entertaining, right, Dez?"
Gruffly Dez said, "Yeah right. Cmon. The sarge is on the way." They all found seats as the sergeant entered the room and began his announcements.
The day of the party dawned clear and bright, only a few fuzzy clouds blowing around in the bright blue sky. A shaft of rich gold light glowed through the small window above Dezs double bed. On her back, she lay with the sheet over her warm body and watched dust motes floating in the beam of light. She only remembered waking once during the night after another bad dream. She vaguely recalled struggling, like she was drowning, and she woke up with a pain in her chest as though she had been shot again. Reaching her arms out to either side of her, she stretched, twisting her torso, tensing her chest muscles. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, and her eyes fell to the two presents on the coffee table. They were wrapped in plain red paper, no bows, and the tape more than apparent. Pathetic wrapping job . . . she figured she should have had them professionally wrapped. Oh well, its the thought that counts, right? She had a hunch Jaylynn would like both gifts.
She ate her regular breakfast of oatmeal and a protein shake, then got ready for the day. By the time she left the apartment, she was actually feeling perky.
True to the young womans word, Jaylynn wasnt very lively when she picked her up, but as they drew closer to Crystal and Shaynas house in south Minneapolis, Jaylynn seemed to wake up.
"Nice t-shirt," said the rookie.
Dez looked down at her WNBA shirt for the new Minnesota team, the Lynx. "Didnt you know? I tried out for the team, but they dont allow cops. So they gave me this free t-shirt."
Jaylynn rolled her eyes. "Youre certainly full of it today," she said.
Dez raised her eyebrows and gave an innocent look, then slowed the truck in front of a cyclone-fenced yard. "Were here," she said.
The couple lived in a side-by-side duplex. Their dog had been put in the back yard, and all the windows were open so that the early morning breeze could blow through. Since there was so much air blowing through the duplex, Dez didnt think her allergies would act up at all. She hadnt been to her friends house for a long time, and she commented on the new couch, a giant tan L-shaped monstrosity of a thing piled up with various sized pillows. Six or eight people could easily sit thereif some of the pillows were removed. Otherwise the room looked the same: wild-colored African paintings on the living room walls; a six-foot long tapestry of green, gold, black, and red hanging next to the doorway to the dining room; knick-knacks and figurines all around the room on shelves and tables. Dez always found their place to be very "busy" and she liked to tease Shayna about how much dusting she must have to do.
The four women sat around the living room for a while, chatting, until Shayna got up to work in the kitchen. They all followed her in and kept talking. The three cops stood around, mostly in the way, until Shayna shooed them into the dining room where she could still hear, but not have them underfoot.
Jaylynn sat in one of four majestic wooden chairs at the table and watched Dez out of the corner of her eye. The big woman was in good spirits this morning. In fact, she had been in good spiritsalmost happyfor days now. Give that girl a carbohydrate, she thought, then smiled to herself. She decided she herself would be horribly mean if she wasnt able to eat the variety of goodies she liked so well. No wonder the big cop had been so grumpy. She was just glad the weird diet was finally over.
Crystal said something and the rookie turned her attention to her. The smiling Latina said, "Did you read that article this morning about Dolly the Sheep?"
Jaylynn raised her eyebrows and looked at Crystal skeptically. She realized she hadnt been following the thread of the conversation, so she said, "What? Some kind of interview with her?"
Dez barked out a laugh, surprising Jaylynn. "I think it was about the sheep, not with her."
Jaylynn purposely ignored her. "What are you talking about, Crystal?"
"You know . . . that sheep they clonedDolly they named her."
"What about her?"
"I read something about how when they clone the clones, it shortens their lifespan, and I was just going to comment that the department now has to end their experiment."
Jaylynn looked at Crystal, confused. She could see the smirking woman was about to say something humorous, but she wasnt able to track with it. "All right," she said. "Ill bite. What experiment?"
Crystal grinned and said, "The one where they clone Reilly here. Theyre not gonna do it now that theyd end up with a bunch of mutant lesbians with tiny little lifespans."
From the kitchen Shayna laughed. Dez gave her friend a level stare which caused Jaylynn to laugh out loud. The blonde said, "She can dish it out, Crystal, but she cant take it."
Dez said, "I dont get mad. I get even."
With a smirk on her face, Crystal nodded toward Jaylynn with a knowing look. "Truer words were never said. You should have been around the time she and Ryan put flour in Lieutenant Andres coffee sweetener."
Jaylynn watched the flash of emotions move across Dezs face, first uncertainty, then a slight wince of pain, settling into a tiny smile. It occurred to her that Dez very rarely talked about Ryan, and she hoped she would right now.
In a low voice, the big woman said, "It was Ryans idea."
"But you got blamed." Crystal sat forward in her seat and put her elbows on the table. Her face was lit up with pleasure, her brown eyes twinkling.
"He paid for that later. I made him buy me supper," said Dez, an eyebrow arched. "Andres would never believe that his darling protégé would pull any tricks on him, but Ryan thought up more sneaky stuff . . . you wouldnt believe it. Guess I didnt mind being blamed. It was worth it to hear that Andres spit his coffee halfway across the room in Commander Paars office."
Dez grinned, and Jaylynn saw the tip of a pink tongue run between the tall womans teeth. The rookie found herself staring. She didnt often see Dez smile like that, her face totally relaxed and her eyes glinting with humor.
The women spent the next hour talking and laughing, with Shayna contributing occasional comments from the kitchen. It was well after ten when brunch was finally served. Jaylynn munched on scrambled eggs and blueberry pancakes. She said to Shayna, "So, whats new about this pancake recipe?"
Shayna looked at her blankly.
Comprehension dawned on Crystal and Dezs faces about the same time. They both started to speak at once, but Dez shut up right away as Crystal said, "Shayna was going to make a new thing, but it didnt work out. Hope you dont mind."
Shaynas brow was furled and she looked back and forth between her partner and Dez, but she was wise enough not to say anything.
"Hey," said Dez. "How bout the Lynx? You guys go to any of their games?"
Another 45 minutes passed, and finally near noon, Dez rose. "Guess wed better get going. Weve got roll call at three, and I have errands I gotta run."
They said their goodbyes, and Dez led the rookie out to the truck. Jaylynn was quiet as they drove out of Minneapolis. "Looks like its gonna be hot again tonight," the blonde said.
Dez sighed. "Yeah, but were sure to get a nice thunderstorm. You can feel it building, cant you?"
"Maybe. Im looking forward to cooler weathernot snow, mind you! But I like fall a lot."
"Me too. You mind if I stop for gas?"
"No, Im not in any big hurry."
Dez got off the freeway and pulled in to an Amoco gas station on Lexington Parkway. She took her time filling the truck. Jaylynn got out to try to wash the windows, and Dez thought it was lucky the blondes back was to the street when the smoking Pontiac Sunbird containing Crystal and Shayna went peeling by. Dez bit back a smile and turned her attention to the rookie who was doing a fine job washing the side windows, but when it came to the windshield, it was a lost cause.
"Need a step stool?" said Dez.
"Very funny." The rookie obstinately opened the passenger door and levered herself up to stand on the edge of the doorframe so she could reach the windshield with the squeegee scrubber. She finished the drivers side at the same time that Dez topped off the tank and removed the nozzle from the gas tank.
"Be right back," said Dez. She ambled into the store, wondering how much time it would take Crystal to park the car around the block and hustle up to Jaylynns house. She waited in line while the harried clerk counted change for the customer ahead of her. Picking up a pack of Big Red cinnamon gum, she tossed it on the counter to be rung up too.
When she got back to the truck and pulled out of the lot, she offered Jaylynn a stick of gum.
"Uh, no thanks. That kind always burns my tongue."
"You can eat salsa straight from the jar and spicy barbecue stuff, but you cant chew gum?"
"Not that gum," she said. She frowned and cast a puzzled look Dezs way. "I just have to say youre certainly feisty today."
Dez smiled at her and wouldnt meet her eyes. She couldnt believe it, but she thought shed actually pulled off this little diversion. She parked in front of the stucco house, busily congratulating herself, before it suddenly occurred to her that she was dropping Jaylynn off. But how was she herself going to get in there without arousing suspicion? She wanted to clonk herself on the head for not even thinking of that until now.
Hands on top of the steering wheel she sunk down a bit and said, "Uh, Jay?" The younger woman glanced over at her with a questioning look on her face, her eyebrows raised as she waited. Dez said, "Do you think I could come in, ah, to ah, use your bathroom?"
The rookie shrugged. "Sure. Come on." For a moment Dez thought Jaylynn was going to ask why she couldnt make it one measly mile and use the facilities at her own house, but she didnt. Instead, the blonde opened the door and peeled out, smacking the door shut. Dez followed with what she was sure was the reddest face on the planet, partly from having to make the embarrassing request and partly because there were a dozen or more people waiting behind the shuttered windows of the stucco house, all of whom would be looking at her and Jaylynn as they entered. She didnt want to face the crowd, but at the same time she didnt want to miss the expression on the rookies face.
Jaylynn made her way up the front walk, inserted her key in the door and stepped inside with Dez hot on her heels. There was a split second pause as the young woman obviously realized something was amiss, and then a resounding "SURPRISE!" rang through the front hall. Jaylynn jerked back so fast that, without thinking, Dez automatically brought her hands up and grasped the rookies shoulders to steady her.
"Oh my God," said Jaylynn. She turned and looked at Dez over her shoulder with her mouth open and the most stunned look on her face that Dez had ever seen. "Youyouyou sneak!"
She turned back to the group standing in front of her: her mom and step-dad, Amanda and Erin, Crystal, Shayna, Tim and Kevin, Sara, Luella and Vanita, and Mitch Oster and his fiancee, Donna. Jaylynn rushed forward and began hugging people right and left while Dez hovered in the foyer, her hands in her shorts pockets.
A big banner hung over the entertainment center, obviously penned by her little sisters. It read Happy Birthday Jaylynn! Pink and purple, green and blue crepe paper was strung from one corner of the room to the other and tacked indiscriminately all over the furniture in the living room, again appearing to be the work of either the girls or an adult with no sense of balance or design whatsoever. A large sheet cake sat on the coffee table. Happy Big 25 it said in multi-colored frosting. On one half a running woman was drawn in blue shorts and top. On the other half was a picture of a lake and trees.
After being hugged by her big sister, Erin sidled over and looked up at the big cop. "Hi, Desiree," she said shyly.
"Hi Erin. How ya been?"
"Fine." Dez didnt know what in the world possessed her, but she opened her arms wide, and the little girl wriggled with delight. The tall woman bent and picked Erin up under the arms, lifted her high in the air, and twirled the giggling girl around. Like a shot, Amanda was at her side.
"Me too! Me too."
Dez put Erin down and lifted Amanda up in the air and spun her energetically. As she set her down, she peeked up to find everyone in the room looking her way.
The room had felt warm before, but now she suddenly found it stifling. She knew she was blushing and cleared her throat. Before she could get more embarrassed, a sandy-haired man with broad shoulders stepped forward. His twinkling brown eyes met hers and he stuck out his hand. "Hi," he said. "You havent met me yet. Im Dave Lindstrom, LynnieJaylynnsstep-dad."
She shook his warm hand and sized him up. He was handsome, about six feet tall, with a dark blonde mustache. "Glad to meet you," she said.
"Thanks for keeping the birthday girl occupied," he said. "Gave us time to get here and settled."
Sara chose that moment to hasten over to the piano and open the lid covering the keys. She sat down and played a familiar intro and then, in a clear, true voice, launched into the happy birthday song. Everyone else joined in and clapped at the end as Sara added some final piano grandstanding
"A quarter century, Jaylynnhows it feel?" teased Mitch.
"Hey, watch it, buddy," the rookie retorted. "Youre next, you know."
"Ah, but youll always be older than me," he said as she advanced upon him and grabbed his arm to give him a mock slug.
Jaylynn said, "How do you put up with his teasing, Donna?"
The shy woman said, "I just threaten not to feed him."
Everyone laughed, and then both of Jaylynns sisters were standing in front of her. "Presents first," begged Erin. "Please?"
"Yeah," Amanda said. "We got you something real good, Lynnie." She scurried over to the coffee table and hauled out a square package. With a goofy smile on her face, she waved it in the air.
"Oh no," said her mother. "Vanita and Luella went to a lot of trouble with the lunch so we should eat first."
Jaylynn turned accusingly to Shayna and Crystal. "How could you two let me eat so much brunch?"
"We had to keep you busy some way," said Shayna.
"Yeah," said Crystal, "and everyone who knows you is aware that foodll always do that!"
Luella said, "What all did you have?"
Jaylynn squinched up her nose and said, "About a hundred blueberry pancakesand Im still stuffed," she wailed.
Luella said, "Well, lets open presents first then," a statement that was met by cheers from the two little girls.
Dez took that moment to duck outside to the truck so she could retrieve her gifts from where they were hidden behind her seat. She was glad to have a few moments to compose herself and took her time walking back to the house. When she came back in, she found the whole crew crowded in the living room around the cake and presents, Luella and Vanita and Jaylynns parents on the couch, and everyone else on the chairs or sitting cross-legged on the floor. Erin and Amanda knelt next to the table near their big sister and jabbered at her excitedly.
From the doorway Dez looked at the kneeling woman and her sisters. The rookie was laughing, her face alight with pleasure and her hazel eyes sparkling. She reached over and encircled Amandas waist with one hand and pulled the girl close for a hug. Her mother said something to her daughters, which Dez didnt catch, and Jaylynn nodded, then reached over and patted her mothers knee. The tall cop stood uncertainly as a feeling of bittersweet regret washed over her. She knew what her life had been like before Jaylynn had come into it, and she could imagine the emptiness shed feel once the young woman moved on. She realized she didnt feel complete without the rookie, but that Jaylynn was already whole without her.
The thought hit like a hammer blow to her heart, and she was filled with an odd wistfulness she couldnt explain. Before she could slip further into remorse, a pair of shiny hazel eyes met hers and beckoned her forward. Shyly she handed the two packages over the top of the couch to Erin and slipped around to the side to sit on the floor between Mitch and Crystal. She knew that Jaylynns friends had all gone in together to buy her a simple 35 mm camera starter kit, and Luella and Vanita bought film to go with it.
"This is great!" said Jaylynn. "Ive been wanting to learn more about photography for ages." She opened the camera bag and pulled out the various boxes. "Lets put it together now so I can take pictures this very moment."
"Dontcha need film?" said Amanda.
Jaylynn said, "Oh yeah."
Luella leaned forward from her perch on the couch. She said, "I think youll want to open that one next." She pointed at a classy package wrapped in gold paper and expertly wound with ribbon and topped with a tangle of curled ribbon. Dez decided she should have had Luella wrap her gifts. Jaylynn gave the silver-haired woman a mischievous look, then tore into the gift, revealing four rolls of 24-exposure film.
"Thank you Vanita and Luella!"
Mitch said, "Hey rookie, you want me to assemble that thing for you?"
Dez said, "You actually know anything about cameras, Oster?"
"Ill have you know I was the lead audio-visual aide for my high school," he said in a huffy voice. "Youre not the only one with many skills." He gave her a devilish grin, then snagged the camera bag that Jaylynn slid over to him and started to open boxes.
The rookie picked up the bigger package from Dez, and the big cop felt herself start to blush. She watched as Jaylynn opened it and pulled the cardboard flap open on the plain box. Out slid a leather duty belt, and Jaylynn looked over, surprise etched on her face. "Dez! Is this that kind you were telling me aboutmade especially for women?" When the dark haired woman nodded, Jaylynn said, "But these things are expensive!"
Dez shrugged. "Itll help your lower back a lot."
Jaylynn turned to her parents and said, "My regular work belt doesnt fit exactly right and hurts my back."
Dez said, "I got the size I thought would fit ya, but if it doesnt feel right, you can exchange it."
Jaylynn wrapped it around her middle. "I think its just right." She set it down on the floor next to her, and picked up the smaller present, obviously a CD. "Is this from you too?"
Oster chose that opportunity to say, "You can tell it is by the incredibly masterful wrap job."
Dez, embarrassed that the eyes of everyone in the room were on her, gave him the evil eye and said, "Watch it, Oster, youre still on probation." But she couldnt help but smile at the young mans enthusiasm. She looked over at Luella to find the silver-haired woman gazing at her with love in her eyes. Then she made a face at Dez. The dark haired woman made a mental note to give the landlady a really big hug laterand a pinch for sticking her tongue out at her.
Jaylynn unwrapped the CD. "Gloria Estefan! I love Gloria!" She beamed over at Dez, and the big cop decided it was worth all the soul-searching and worry shed been through trying to decide what to give the rookie for a birthday present. Now that the two presents were open, she could sit back and relax.
Jaylynn moved on to the present Erin had been patiently holding on her lap. She removed the gold bow and tore off blue and green paper to uncover a journal. It had a gold spine and gold trim with trees and forest scenes all over the back and front. "Wow!" said the blonde. "This is really beautiful."
"We bought it at the museum," said Erin. "Look! See we got your initials put in." Turning it over, she practically wrenched it out of Jaylynns hands to flip the front cover open. Sure enough, Jaylynns initials, J M S, were on the first page in two-inch tall gold lettering.
"This is really neat," said Jaylynn. "Ill have fun writing in it." She picked up the gold bow and stuck it to Erins head. "You should have just put bows on your heads cause you guys are all the present I would ever need."
Her mother said, "Thats sweet, Jaylynn. Were glad you feel that way since we are your major present."
"Mom, how long are you here?" she said with excitement in her voice.
"We fly out Tuesday. Gotta get the girls ready for school to start the next week."
Jaylynn looked at her watch, then looked up in disappointment. "Darn, its already after one, and I have to be at work at three."
Dez cleared her throat. "Actually, you dont. I hope you dont mind, but I cleared today and tomorrow off for you with Lt. Malcolm. You dont have to go back until Wednesday."
If she didnt know better, Dez would swear that the rookie would have liked to launch herself across the room and hug her. Shed never seen Jaylynn look so thrilled. "Thank you! Oh, thanks so much for doing that!"
Crystal said, "I, on the other hand, have to show up."
"Me too," said Mitch. He snapped the back of the camera shut, and handed it to Jaylynn. "Here you go. Its all set."
Jaylynn put the camera strap around her neck and stood up. "Everybody," she said. "This has been the bestand most surprisingbirthday party Ive ever had. Thanks! You all get on the couch and let me take a picture."
After Jaylynn took the picture of the group piled on and around the sofa, Mitch insisted on taking several other pictures so Jaylynn could be in them. Once theyd shot nearly a whole roll, Luella hoisted herself up. "Come on Vanita," she said. "Time for the goodies. We better get eatin so these working fools can have cake before they go." She and her sister, plus Tim and Kevin, made a beeline for the kitchen.
One by one the pile of people on the couch extricated themselves and headed out to the kitchen. Jaylynn peered down at Dez who was sitting cross-legged on the floor jammed between the coffee table and the front of the couch. She said, "Do you go in at three?"
Solemnly Dez shook her head. "Day off."
A wisp of a smile planted itself on the blondes lips, and she turned away to take a picture of Crystal and Shayna as they stood by the kitchen door and Shayna complained about how warm it was getting to be in the house.
Jaylynns sisters came each took one of her hands and led her out to the backyard were there were streamers and balloons decorating the trees and fence and table. Luella and Vanita supervised the laying out of the food which Dez was amused to see was mostly done by Kevin and Tim. In quick order, barbecued chicken, three kinds of salad, bowls of fruit, corn chips and potato chips, and a platter of cheese and crackers, pickles and olives were set out. Dez loaded up on the chicken and green salad, then took her plate over to sit under the canopy of the black walnut in the middle of the yard. She watched Jaylynn talking and laughing as the blonde helped dish up a paper plate Amanda was holding. A plump strawberry slid from one side of the plate to the other, and Dez observed its descent over the side almost as though it were in slow motion. In a smooth motion, Jaylynn swept her hand under Amandas arm and plucked the berry out of mid-air. She looked at the red fruit, then bit into it as Amanda watched.
Dezs view was obstructed as Sara walked the few steps over to where the big cop sat. She lowered herself next to her.
"You dont mind if I sit here, do you?" Sara said.
"Nope. Make yourself comfy."
They sat eating in companionable silence, both watching the antics of the rest of the party. Tim and Kevin were telling some complicated story complete with exaggerated gestures, while Dave and Janet, Luella and Vanita listened intently. The little girls sat at the picnic table near Shayna, Crystal, Mitch and Donna. And Jaylynn flitted around, always laughing, hugging, teasing.
Sara said, "Were surrounded by flaming extroverts."
"You can say that again."
"Theyll all run out of energy in the hot sun."
"Meanwhile were keeping so cool in the 85 degree shade," said Dez, in a dry voice.
Sara gave her a sidelong glance. "It is a bit too warm, isnt it? Im glad we kept the cake in the house."
"Hey, Sara," said Dez. "I didnt realize you played piano."
"Actually, Im a music major. I play piano, violin, clarinet, even a little guitar. I hear youre a guitarist. What do you like to play?"
Dez set her empty paper plate in front of her and cleared her throat. "Pop, folk, some bluesy stuff, a little country. Nothing too complicated."
Sara finished chewing a bite of chicken and said, "I like to hear stuff on the radio and then see if I can duplicate it on the piano."
"Me too," said Dez.
"Have you heard that new one, "Baby Dont you Break My Heart Slow" by Vonda Shepard and Emily from the Indigo Girls?"
"I think so. You figure it out already?"
Sara looked down at her near-empty plate. With a toss of her head she gestured toward the back stairs. "Come on, Ill show you."
They went into the house, leaving the rest of the crew out in the yard, and both settled in on the piano bench, backs to the living room. "You play?" asked the brown eyed woman.
"No, not really."
"What do you meannot really?"
"I can pick some things out, you know, play chords and such, but I dont sight read well or anything."
Sara nodded. She put her hands on the keys and began an introduction, and in an instant, Dez recognized it. "Oh yeah, I like this song a lot."
"Know the words to it?"
Dez winced and shook her head. "Some, but not well enough to sing."
Sara stopped playing and fished around in the papers and books stacked on top of the console piano until she found what she was looking for. "Here it is. I wrote the words down. I think you can read my writingyeah, for once its pretty legible. Lets run through it. Which part do you want?"
Dez was taken aback, but Sara was already playing the intro again. "You lead off," the tall cop said, "and Ill try that second verse and sing choruses with ya." She glanced around, but no one was in the house, so she relaxed and closed her eyes. Sara started to sing and immediately her voice soothed Dez. It was clear and rich, a strong voice well-suited to a variety of musical styles. She had a hunch Sara could sing jazz or blues or rock. Her touch on the piano was deft and true, the rhythm reliable. After the first verse, Dez hummed a background harmony to the chorus. She let her voice curl around Saras. In her mind, she could feel the tones she sang surrounding and supporting Saras, helping to keep the song aloft. When she lost track of the words, she opened her eyes and checked the lyrics, then closed them again to let the reverberation of the piano thrum through her.
She started the second verse: I like the way youd hold me, every night, for so long baby, and I like the way youd say my name in the middle of the night while you were sleeping, I was believing in you, was I mistaken? Do you mean, do you mean what you say? When you say our love could last forever . . .
Saras strong voice joined in, and Dez felt the elation flow through her. She loved music. It had such power over her, the power to relax, excite, or sootheor to make her cry. It was a refuge, a home, a path to her soul. When she sang or played guitar, she felt whole in a way she didnt usually in the rest of her day-to-day life. And then when a song ended, she felt bereft, as though shed lost something she desperately needed. They finished the verses, and then sang the final repeated chorus three times. Dez reveled in the fact that they were hitting all the harmonies together with no planning, without a word or a glance.
When the song came to an end and the piano faded to silence, Dez opened her eyes. "Nice piano work," she said.
"Thanks. Ive been working on that. You sounded good, Dez. Its nice to sing with someone who stays on key and on their line. Lots of people cant do that." Sara picked up a book. "Here Ive got one for you . . . see if you can sing this oneif you remember itbut I bet you will."
"Oh, old Christopher Cross, huh. I know this." The piano intro began and Dez let it wash over her. She marveled at how much tone Sara could coax out of the old piano. And then they sang together: Once in your life you find her, someone who turns your heart around, next thing you know youre closing down the town, wake up and its still with you, even though you left her way across town, wondering to yourself, hey, what have I found?
Jaylynn stood in the kitchen and listened as the two women finished that song and moved into another and another. She was so thrilled she hardly breathed. Right now they were singing Mary Chapin Carpenters raucous romp, "Down at the Twist and Shout." Jaylynn felt like a voyeur, but she knew if she went in the living room, theyd stop. She didnt want that. Sara had sung so little all year, and when she did, she tended toward mournful tunes. It was good to hear her belting out a song like she was thoroughly enjoying it.
The screen door creaked open, and Luella entered carrying an empty chicken platter. Jaylynn smiled at her and put her finger to her lips, and the silver haired woman set the plate down carefully and moved to stand next to the blonde. Propped up against the counter, side by side, Jaylynn leaned into the older woman and let her head drop to rest on her friends shoulder.
Luella whispered, "I love it when she sings. She doesnt do it enough."
"Same with Sara. And listen to how great they sound together." They finished "Down at the Twist and Shout" and without stopping, Sara segued into "Fast Car." Dez was singing now by herself, her voice deep and expressive. Jaylynn felt the hairs on her arms stand on end, and even in the heat of the kitchen, she shivered. Oh my, she thought. Oh my. What she wouldnt give to hear that voice singing quietly in her ear, even just whispering a song. Soon, she knew, she was going to have to have a heart-to-heart talk with Dez. She couldnt go on like this much longer, her feelings constantly boiling to the surface. Any time soon she could lose her head and say or do something to really freak out the big cop. She couldnt afford for that to happen, but it scared her to think of all the risks involved in revealing her feelings. Still, she knew something had to change.
She felt an odd sense of hope though. The entire atmosphere between the two women had changed since the bodybuilding show. Though not a single word had been exchanged, her intuition was running on high, and what it was telling her was that something profound was going on with Dezand between the two of them. She didnt know what had prompted it, but she wasnt going to argue.
The screen door clattered opened, and in came Erin. As soon as the girl heard the piano, she was out of the kitchen like a shot. Jaylynn peeked around the corner and watched the bundle of squirmy energy insinuate herself between the piano and Dez. The big woman shifted back on the bench so that Erin could sit on the edge of the bench between her legs and lean into her. Long arms circled around the little body. Jaylynn couldnt hear the conversation that went on for a minute as Sara hunted through the various books and papers on the piano. The blonde looked over at Luella. The silver-haired woman whispered, "Just go in there. They wont stop now without disappointing the little pipsqueak."
Jaylynn rounded the corner just as the piano started up again. It took a moment of puzzling before she recognized the old Beatles song. She heard her little sisters quavery voice, displaying the family penchant for singing slightly off key: . . . I wanna hold your hand, I wanna hold your hand . . . and when I touch you I feel happy inside, its such a feeling that my love, I cant hide . . . " Dez sang quietly behind Erin, keeping her on track, and turning the pages of the music for Sara.
They were so into the song, that neither of the women nor Erin seemed to notice as one by one, all the guests made their way into the hot living room and camped out behind them. At the end of the song Vanita clapped and said, "Lets hear it for the latest new star, Erin Lindstrom." Erin peeked back, her little face squeezed between Sara and Dez.
Sara leaned over and whispered something into Dezs ear, and Jaylynn saw the two women nod at one another and break into conspiratorial grins before they turned away again. Sara got her hands set on the piano and started a bass rhythm that Jaylynn immediately recognized. The two women hollered out, Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure in whatever comes our way . . .
Jaylynn looked around the room. Everybody, even Luella, was singing the chorus, bellowing it out so loud that the neighbors must be able to hear it. The rookie couldnt seem to get the silly grin off her face, and she hoped no one was paying attention to her. She felt this bubble of joy gurgle up from deep inside her, and she wanted to run through the room screaming with delight. Instead, she lowered herself onto the arm of the couch near Vanita and joined in, shrieking at the top of her lungs with the rest of them . . . Yeah, darling gonna make it happen, take the world in a love embrace, fire all of the guns at once and explode into space. Like a true natures child, we were born, born to be wild, we can climb so high, I never wanna die, born to be wild, born to be wild . . . .
Sara ended the song by playing the same rock chords she had started with, to the cheers of everyone assembled. She hit the final crashing chord and let up, then spun around on the bench a sheepish grin on her face.
"You got talent, girl," said Vanita.
Sara smiled. "Its an inspiring group, thats all."
Jaylynn saw that Dez still had her arms around Erin, with her back to the room. She was whispering something in the nine-year-olds ear. The two of them nodded, and Erin rose. She took Dezs hand and the two of them moved away from the piano.
Luella said, "Weve gotta cut that cake now or these two," she pointed at Mitch and Crystal, "arent going to get any. Come on Jaylynn." She picked up a large kitchen knife and handed it to the blonde.
"Im terrible at cutting cake," Jaylynn confessed. "Really, I am."
In a droll voice, her mother said, "Shes not lying. If you want a mangled piece of cake mashed up in a pile on your plate, then go ahead and let her cut."
Tim, in his best prissy voice, said, "Cmon Kevin." He reached over and took the knife from Luella. "What would you people do without us?"
Jaylynn was laughing so hard that she didnt notice the big cop and Erin heading out the front door.
"Youre sure you know which room is Jaylynns?" Dez had squatted down next to her truck, and was looking up at Erin who held an envelope in her hand.
The little girl nodded emphatically. "Oh yeah. Me and Amanda put our stuff in there on her couch. Were hoping she lets us sleep over with her."
Youre not the only one, thought Dez, then caught herself. What am I thinking? She shook her head from side to side as though that would cause the idea to fall out of her head and stop plaguing her. She said, "Will you sneak upstairs and hide this on her pillow so she wont find it til tonight?"
Erin nodded, a serious look on her face. "What is it?"
"Just a birthday card."
The little girls forehead wrinkled as Dez stood. "Why dont you give it to her now?"
"I want it to be a surprise. Now hide it under your shirt, okay?"
Erin tucked it in the pink shorts waistband and pulled her shirt over it, then reached up for Dezs hand. "Okay, Im ready."
They strolled back in the house, and when they got inside, Dez gave the girl a look and nodded toward the stairs. Erin took off like a firecracker, making such a racket on the way up the steps that Jaylynn looked up from the cake plate she was holding for Tim. "Whats got into her?" the blonde asked Dez.
Dez shrugged and gave the blonde a bashful smile. The inquisitive hazel eyes rested upon Dez for a moment longer before turning back to the cake serving, and the dark haired woman breathed a sigh of relief. She had debated long and hard about whether she would actually give the card to Jaylynn, and now it was too late to take it back. Wellshe could ask Erin to retrieve it, but she wasnt going to. She heard the pounding of little feet and Erin was back, breathless and triumphant. She tipped her head up and put her hands around her mouth. Dez bent over so the child could whisper in her ear.
"Yup. Under the covers on top of the pillow." She looked up with a very proud smile.
Dez bent to her ear and said, "Good job. I owe you one."
Erin wrinkled up her nose. "Okay, you can take me to the zoo or something."
This caused Dez to laugh out loud, and again, Jaylynn looked over at her quizzically. "What are you two in cahoots about?"
Erin straightened up, put her hands behind her back, and assumed an innocent look. "Nothing," she said.
"Yeah, Ill just bet," said her big sister. "You having any cake?"
Dez said, "I think Erin should get a piece with lots of frosting, dont you, Erin?" The girl leaned back into the tall cops legs and hooked her right arm around a strong thigh.
"Oh yeah," said the little girl as she gazed up at Dez, a look of glee plastered across her face.
Jaylynns mother watched her youngest daughter with amusement then caught Dezs eye. The tall woman smiled at her and winked.
Continued in Part 10
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