UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
firstname.lastname@example.org -- www.LoriLLake.com
TODAY'S COMMENT: Well, there's good news and bad news. First the good. I got 2nd Place in the Master's Division and 3rd Place in the Open Division at the National Bench Press Meet last weekend. It was really a blast. I benched 203.75#. Unfortunately, the bad news is that I got a subluxation of my L-4 vertebrae deadlifting earlier this week, so I am now out of commission while I enrich the chiropractor's coffers until I am healed up. Woe is me. The only good thing about it is that I will have more time to write because I sure can't lift any weights for a while. I hope to be lifting again in another 2-3 weeks.
NOTE ABOUT PART TEN: Some of you have never read the published version of GUN SHY. There are a few small differences between the online version and the published version. In the online version, I make passing mention of Dez shooting-but not killing-the man who was responsible for Ryan's death. As I have worked on UTG, the events of the night Ryan died have become clear to me so that when I readied GUN SHY for publication, I said nothing about her shooting the guy. I guess what I am saying is that if you were a very close reader of the online GUN SHY, you will note the discrepancy here in UTG, and I wanted to clear that up before you read this section.
BOOKPLATES: It's been fun to get requests for autographs and bookplates. Thanks for the honor of doing that! Don't forget that if you send me an SASE, I will send you a bookplate for your book(s). See "Bookplates" on my website at www.LoriLLake.com.
REMINDER: This is a sequel. If you haven't read the first book, GUN SHY, you might want to go to: GUNSHY.
You can purchase a copy of GUN SHY, published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing (Quest Division), at any bookstore or online bookseller. Also, I have another book just published, RICOCHET IN TIME (Yellow Rose Books), which has never been posted online. I just discovered that the best prices on both books are at: Booksamillion.com Another good source for both books is at The Open Book.
REITERATED DISCLAIMERS: The characters and the plot are original and mine. Please give me advice, feedback, and criticism. If something doesn't square up for you, go ahead and let me know. I won't bite. At least not very hard. This sequel is still about cops. It contains scenes of violence and/or their aftermath as well as one or two swear words here and there. The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between 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, either be very sneaky about reading this or else don't. I'm not your mother. Do what you want. J
The ride home from the airport was subdued, and yet Dez felt light-hearted. Jaylynn huddled right next to her, buckled into the middle of the truck seat. She had continued to cry periodically all the time they were waiting for the luggage, but she hadn't let loose of the dark-haired woman, not even when her two suitcases finally came down the chute. She was composed now, but quiet.
"I'm real sorry it's so cold, Jay."
"Ha. Like you could do anything about it. At least you came out and warmed up the truck for a while."
"For all the good it did."
Dez reached behind her seat and rooted around until she found the old blue blanket she liked to keep in the truck in case of emergencies. She pulled it out from under the suitcases that sat on it, dragged it over the seat, and folded it open. "Maybe this will help a little." Her gloved hand tucked it over the blonde's legs.
The smaller woman shivered next to her. "I don't know how my body could become completely de-acclimated to the cold in a mere six days."
Dez reached over and clicked the heat control up to the last notch. The air that blasted out was tepid. "It's not that. It's unusually cold. Hell, it's so damn cold it can't even figure out how to snow right now." She looked at Jaylynn out of the corner of her eye. "Don't worry. If you want, I'll get out the hot water bottle and the heating pad and crank the thermostat up to eighty-whatever you want."
"Where are we going?"
"Where do you want to go?"
Dez chuckled. "I've got a better idea. We can be at a nice warm house in-oh, say, ten or twelve more minutes. Or we can turn around, go back to the airport, and wait for a Florida flight in that nice drafty place with all those hacking, wheezing, cranky people. You pick."
"Hmmph. Hard choice. You paint such a nice picture of my options. Okay, I'll stay. My place, or yours?"
Dez shrugged. "Guess that's up to you."
"Me? Why me?"
Dez wasn't sure how to explain. She felt she had made a terrible mistake by staying away so long. There were so many things she realized now that she hadn't understood. To top it off, she felt stupid for being dense and fearful. Instead of opening that Pandora's box, she took another tack. "You're the weary traveler. I'm well rested and flexible right now. You choose, and I'll do whatever you want."
Hearing the playful tone, she shot a glance at the blonde, then back to the road, then down at her companion again. "Yeah. Anything."
"Okay, stop at the house so I can just run in and get a few things. Then let's stop at the mini-mart for a frozen pizza and go to your place."
"Actually, I have frozen pizzas in my freezer. And tater tots and some lasagna Luella made recently. Oh, and ice cream."
"You're kidding! Miss Health Food Nut has gone insane."
Dez turned off the freeway and headed down Lexington toward Jaylynn's house. "In case you haven't noticed, I've tanked up considerably."
"No," the blonde said in mock horror. "It can't be! Oh my God, I'm in love with a great, big, giant fat woman."
Dez gave a snort of laughter at the delivery, but then her breath caught when she realized what Jaylynn had just said. Feeling a solid lump in her throat, she turned off Lexington and headed to Como Boulevard, then pulled up in front of the house.
"I'll only be a minute." Jaylynn wrenched open the door, leapt out and slammed the truck door, then took off at a run for the house. Dez glanced over her shoulder at the suitcases behind her, then sighed. Leaving the truck running, she got out, grabbed the suitcases, and hauled them up to the door. Just as she got to the bottom step, the front door burst open again, and Tim and an apologetic Jaylynn took them from her. The rookie disappeared inside the house.
"You want to come in?" the red haired man asked as he paused, half in the house and half out. He sounded lots friendlier than he had the previous three times she had seen or spoken to him.
"Nah. I left the truck running." She gestured with her thumb. "I'll just go make sure it stays warm in there."
He smiled, showing straight white teeth. "Okay, you do that. Wouldn't want the Little Princess to get a cold tush from here to your house."
She grinned. "That's right. See ya, Tim." She headed to the truck where she waited another ten minutes. By the time Jaylynn finally emerged, it was almost warm in the truck. The smaller woman held the handles of two duffel bags in her good hand and a large-sized grocery bag cradled in her bad arm. Dez was out of the truck in an instant, took the bags from Jaylynn, and helped her into the truck.
In short order, the big Ford covered the distance from the Como house to Luella's duplex. The stucco house was dark. Dez parked in the back and grabbed up the two duffel bags. The blonde again held the paper bag with her casted arm, and used her good arm for balance on the icy path. They both moved swiftly in the cold night air to the back of the house. Dez fumbled with the keys, so Jaylynn pulled them out of her loaded down hands and found the right key, inserted it, and pushed the door open. She stepped in and stood looking around. "Gosh," she said, sniffing. "Sure can tell Luella isn't here. This place even smells unoccupied."
The porch was chilly and the stairs dark. Dez leaned toward the wall and with an elbow, flipped the light switch on, illuminating the creamy yellow walls and casting warm light on the wooden steps. Jaylynn shut the door and turned the deadbolt, then followed Dez up the stairs to negotiate the apartment door. When they got into the tiny kitchen, the blonde set her paper bag down on a chair as Dez walked through the room to the larger living room/bedroom area and set the duffels on the bed.
Jaylynn followed her and stood shivering in the middle of the room with her hands in her coat pockets. "What happened to all the aforementioned heat?"
Dez grinned. She moved back past the blonde and turned the thermostat up to 78, then wheeled around to face the shorter woman. "It'll be warm in a jiffy. These baseboard heaters really crank it out." She shrugged off her jacket and hung it over the desk chair. "You can keep your coat on for a couple minutes if you like. Are you hungry?"
At least some things never change. "Like starved?"
"I'm more starved for you than for food."
Dez felt a lump rise in her throat again, and she stood awkwardly. Before she had a chance to respond, Jaylynn's head was against her chest and her arms around the dark-haired woman. She put her arms as far around the rookie as the coat would allow. It was hard to swallow, but she forced herself to choke out a few words. "This coat of yours is huge, isn't it?"
Jaylynn sighed. "How can you not be totally frozen?"
Shrugging, the tall woman said, "Just lucky I guess." She bent her face close to the short blonde hair and inhaled. Jaylynn almost always smelled so good, and now was no exception. In a quiet voice, she said, "You want pizza?"
Hazel eyes rose to meet hers. "Is this what it's come to? Romance through food?" She laughed, the sound of it light and musical. "No, I do not want pizza-not right this moment." She stepped back and grabbed the long arm, letting her hand slide down to the tall woman's wrist, then pulled her toward the bed. She dumped the two duffels off the spread and to the carpet below. "I want to crawl right in here, right now, and get completely warmed up. If you know what I mean."
"That big ol' coat is sure gonna be fun."
"You can wear it then. I'm ditching it." She shed the coat and tossed it toward the couch, then slipped her tennis shoes off, pulled back the covers, and hopped up on the bed. Dez bent and untied her shoes, then kicked them off and under the bed. She unbuttoned her jeans and stepped out of them, tossing them toward the couch. Jaylynn lay under the sheet and blankets shaking with the cold. "I'm telling you, Dez, you need flannel sheets."
The tall woman slipped under the covers and the two women moved toward one another. "I'm the closest thing to flannel that you're ever going to get on any bed I sleep in. Way too hot."
Jaylynn snuggled up close. She worked her casted arm under the pillow beneath the bigger woman and moved her other hand down to stroke the warm leg next to her. "Oh! Your skin is better than flannel any day!"
In a husky voice, Dez replied, "At your service, Miss Ice Cube."
The blonde smoothed a dark curl off the pale forehead before her. "Oh, you think you're pretty cute, don't you?" Dez blushed and shook her head. "Believe me, you are-especially when you blush."
"I am not blushing," she said in a low, indignant voice.
"That's what they all say."
"All you big tough macho cops."
It occurred to Dez that if Jaylynn had been around any of the last few weeks, she wouldn't be able to say such a thing. I know for a fact that I'm in no way tough. Not anymore anyway. "We need to talk, Jay."
"No more fluffy, mushy topics, huh? Time to jump right into the heavy duty stuff?" Jaylynn moved back a bit and busied herself rearranging the pillow her head rested on. "About what?"
"About us." The smaller woman shifted over on to her back, looking up at the ceiling. Dez frowned. She studied the blonde's face and suddenly she realized that the rookie was scared of something. "What's the matter?" She came up on her elbow, on her side, and put her head in her right hand. She took a deep breath and waited for Jaylynn to answer.
"Nothing. I'm just-well, I'm-I'm waiting."
Fearful eyes turned toward her. "To find out what you have intended for us."
"I think that's a decision for both of us to make."
Jaylynn sat up. She leaned forward to sit Indian-style and put her elbows on her thighs. "You mean like the decision you made to leave without telling me?" She didn't look toward Dez, instead pulling the covers up over her lap and shivering. "Do you remember you made me a promise earlier this year? You said you would never turn away from me. You promised, Dez."
Dez remembered that earlier, at the airport, she had thought the hard part was over, but it occurred to her now that perhaps she had been wrong. She wasn't sure what to say. All she really wanted to do was take this woman into her arms, tell her that she loved her, and hold her so tight neither of them would ever want to let go. Why couldn't she make herself do that? But she couldn't-not quite yet.
The dark-haired woman chose her words carefully. "I had to go-to pull myself together, Jay. I was-it was like . . ." She struggled to find the right words. "I was self-destructing. I-I-couldn't go on like that." She paused and thought for a moment. "I had to go away and figure out how to deal with my fears, how to allow you to be yourself-to accept your choices-without me interfering."
Jaylynn squirmed a little, making a quarter-turn in the bed until she was facing Dez and still sitting cross-legged. She rearranged the blankets over her and hunkered down. "You never interfered."
Dez let out a big gust of air. "I did more than interfere-I was ready to run your life."
"What in the world are you talking about?"
"This is why we need to talk. I have some things to tell you." She sighed. "That morning in the hospital-the day after the Bucky beat-down-I delivered a sort of ultimatum. And you did, too."
Jaylynn looked puzzled. "I remember our argument. I remember your ultimatum-but not mine?"
Dez took a deep breath. "You told me to get lost if I couldn't live with your choices."
"That wasn't an ultimatum. I was just mad. Geez!" She sputtered for a moment. "That's not what I meant, Dez. Where in the world did you ever get that cracked idea?"
"I never said that!"
Dez smiled and looked at the blonde. She was so openly emotional. A person could read almost every thought on her face. "Jay, I think you said I could get the hell out until I could learn to live with your choices. Something like that anyway . . . so I did."
"I didn't mean it that way-not as an ultimatum."
"Sure sounded like it."
"I was angry." For emphasis the blonde reached out and poked the blankets over the taller woman's hip with her index finger.
"You were also right. At the time, all I could think of was that you were in danger. Every day, you could have been killed. Every time you went on patrol without me, I lived in fear. I imagined every horrible thing that could occur-and I knew I wouldn't be there, wouldn't be able to protect you. I couldn't take it. I needed help, but I couldn't admit it."
"So you just disappeared?"
The dark-haired woman gazed up at the worried hazel eyes. "Yeah. I wasn't going to beg. And you're more stubborn than me-you weren't going to quit. I could see that." She reached into the layers of blankets and sheets and found Jaylynn's good hand, enclosing it into her own. "I contemplated what it would be like to go away forever. I don't think I would have come back . . . I-I don't think I could have." She looked away, feeling a tightness in her chest.
The blonde gripped her fingers hard, as though she expected the big warm hand to be pulled away at any moment. "What's changed then?"
"Nothing. And everything." She felt the rookie's eyes upon her, and she was glad that it was night so that the dim light in the room didn't illuminate her face much. She knew she was turning red, tearing up, and it was all she could do to stay there and not get up and move around to dispel her unease. "The department made me see a shrink. After the beat-down, that is. You weren't the only one delivering ultimatums. My job was toast if I didn't go." Jaylynn waited, and though Dez felt her gaze, she couldn't meet her eyes. In a matter-of-fact voice, she said, "So I went. Luckily, they didn't send me to Raisa Goldman." She gave a little smile. "Never liked her a bit."
The blonde shook her head. "Dr. G is a-okay. You two just clash, that's all."
Dez nodded. "I have new respect for Lt. Malcolm. He sent me to somebody else-not the regular department headshrinker-a psychiatrist named Marie Montague."
The heaters in the room were working overtime. Dez was suddenly warm and sweating. She slid the blankets and sheet down until only her legs were covered. "She's a specialist in post-traumatic stress disorder."
Jaylynn gripped her hand more tightly, so the dark-haired woman raised her eyes and looked up at her. Jaylynn had a funny look on her face. "You're diagnosed with PTSD?"
Jaylynn's mouth dropped open. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"What the hell did I know? I didn't know what was wrong. And I was-I was . . ." She had no moisture in her mouth, but she choked it out, "I was afraid."
The blonde shook her head, closed her eyes for a second. Then she took the flat of her hand and smacked her palm against her forehead. "Am I dumb or what? I've got a major in psych, and did I notice? No!"
"It's not like you're a shrink, Jay."
"No, but I've spent hours and hours-days and days on end-with you. Why didn't I figure this out?"
"It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that I hide things well?"
"No. Yeah . . . well, you do hide things-but still, now that you say that, it makes sense. Your sleeplessness, the crankiness, your overprotectiveness. Oh, brother! I feel like a total dummy."
Now it was Dez's turn to shake her head. She smiled and let go of the shivering blonde's hand. She shifted over onto her back, sliding up towards the headboard and adjusting the pillows behind her. She reached out a hand to the huddling woman. "Jay, please. Come here."
The blonde launched herself forward, clonking Dez on the kneecap with her cast.
"Whoa!" Dez let out a startled laugh, then got the smaller woman settled against her. "I hope you get that damn thing off pretty soon."
"Tomorrow. And I can't wait."
Jaylynn's right shoulder nestled between the tall woman's legs with the white-blonde head resting on her abdomen. Dez pulled the covers up and stroked the back of Jaylynn's neck, which caused the smaller woman to shiver. She reached around her to pull the covers up higher and tuck them in until the blonde was totally swathed in blankets, only her head showing.
Jaylynn sighed. "You're not the only one who's been afraid, Dez. After a while, I started wondering if you were ever coming back."
Dez nodded. "I didn't realize that's how you'd feel. I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time." She thought about all the nights alone when she had considered not returning. But that was a temporary fantasy, a way to avoid the reality of her pain and grief. Once she got to the point where she learned how to unlock and release some of the trauma, she realized where she belonged-and with whom. Then the idea of leaving for good left her mind as easily as a tiny leaf falling from a tree and being carried away on the breeze. She cleared her throat, and in a soft voice said, "Jay, I can't promise you that I won't run away again." Closing her eyes and leaning back against the headboard, she took a deep breath. "I should have never made a promise like that 'cause I couldn't keep it. I can make you a different promise . . . that I'll always come back . . . eventually."
She felt the smaller woman's hand tighten on her knee, and she thought that Jaylynn was crying again. She stroked the soft blonde hair. "Hey, I know I've got some more work to do, and I know for sure that I can't promise I'm always going to be reasonable when it comes to your safety, but I'm willing to try."
They lay quietly for a while, and Dez actually began to feel sleepy. And relieved. It was as though the world had been tilted off its axis ever since the beat-down-no, actually, ever since Ryan had died the year before. But now the world was righting itself, spinning in balance, and things were making sense again. She took a deep breath and felt her body relax even more. She closed her eyes.
"I passed probation."
Dez's eyes popped open. "You did?"
"Lt. Malcolm and the sergeants signed off on it just before I left for vacation. I'm off work until New Year's Day, so they told me there was no use in holding off."
Jaylynn's head came up off the bigger woman's abdomen, and in an indignant voice, she said, "You don't have to sound so shocked! I'm a perfectly acceptable cop."
Dez began to laugh. "I meant about the time off-not about passing probation. Hell, I knew within a few weeks that you'd be a good cop. I just didn't count on you turning into Calamity Jay and getting hurt all the time."
Jaylynn was now on her knees between the V of the dark-haired woman's legs. She grabbed a fistful of the front of flannel shirt. "You take that back! I don't get hurt all the time . . . just some of the time."
Dez smiled as she reached over and caught hold of the blonde at the waist and squeezed. Jaylynn let out a shriek, but she couldn't prevent the stronger woman from tickling her. Instead, she collapsed on the broad chest, heaving with laughter. Dez wrapped her arms around her and pulled her tight. "One more thing," she whispered into one pink ear, and the rookie slowed her thrashing around and waited, her breath coming fast. "I love you. I want to be with you for the rest of our very long lives."
Jaylynn pulled back until they could look into one another's eyes. Grinning, she said, "Oh Dez! I have always felt the same way, from the moment I first met you-I just knew."
Dez nodded. "I want us to live together, in sickness and in health. I want to hold you every night and love you, just you alone. I want to have your babies-"
"What!" Jaylynn tipped her head back and squinted toward the steely blue eyes. "You? Pregnant? I don't think so!"
"You know what I mean. If we decide to have kids, then we could adopt. Or I would carry the bambino, for you-for us." She gave her partner a wide smile. "But I'd be more than happy to bow to you if you should decide you'd rather."
Jaylynn leaned into the dark-haired woman and kissed her. The kiss was long and sweet, and gradually it became more passionate. The blonde broke it off and met Dez's eyes. "Hold that thought. We have one problem."
"Yes. You're not going to believe this." She shook her head. "I'll tell you I'm plenty warm now, but if I don't eat something soon, I truly will faint from hunger."
Dez let out a snort of laughter. "So much for romance. God help me if your blood sugar should drop." She sat up, and slid out from under Jaylynn. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she said, "Do you want me to bring you a spoon and the container so that you can immediately mainline ice cream? Or would you find it possible to wait until a pizza heats up?"
Dez arched one eyebrow. "To which?"
"Figures." She stood, dressed only in her socks, briefs, and flannel shirt, and moved across the room.
The blonde let out a whistle, and the tall woman cast a glance behind just before she disappeared around the corner into the kitchen.
Jaylynn smiled. She settled back into the bed, pulled the covers up, and reveled in the warmth. She felt drunk. Drunk with happiness. Perhaps it was her blood sugar, but her whole body was buzzing. And growling. The tight rumbling in her stomach almost hurt, and she grimaced a little, feeling the pain.
The dark-haired woman returned to the room. Crossing over the shaft of light from the kitchen, for a moment she was illuminated and backlit with golden light. Jaylynn admired the long, muscular legs, the broad shoulders, the milky white skin, and then she was being handed a small neopolitan ice cream cup with a wooden spoon attached to the top. "Oooh. Ick!"
"What! You don't like this kind?"
"No, not that. I'm not eating it with a wooden spoon. Gross."
"It's wrapped in plastic."
"So what. It's porous. Who knows where that wooden spoon has been!"
Dez rolled her eyes and went back to the kitchen, returning with a teaspoon. "Here ya go, you whiner."
"Thank you," Jaylynn said with dignity, as she exchanged the wood spoon for the metal one.
"At least with that spoon," Dez called back over her shoulder, "you know where it's been-sitting in my dusty silverware drawer for years."
"Still probably lots cleaner than that porous wood stick." Holding the frozen plastic container, Jaylynn shivered. She pulled back the cardboard top and plunged in, making short work of the few ounces of pink, white, and brown ice cream. "Hey!"
"Hey, what?" Dez poked her head around the doorway.
She held out the empty plastic cup.
"What am I-maid for the day?"
Jaylynn grinned and nodded. "I would put it on your bedside table . . . but you don't have one. I didn't think you'd appreciate it if I tossed it over on the couch."
"Right." Dez took it from her and started back toward the kitchen.
"It's very cute of you to make pizza for me in your underwear."
As she turned the corner the big woman said, "It's so damn hot in here now that I oughta be doing it in the nude."
Jaylynn smiled and started to laugh. "I'd like that," she choked out.
Jaylynn was warm and secure. She lay on her side, her body swathed in soft blankets and tucked up against a torso radiating heat. She opened her eyes and shifted onto her back. A dim beam of light poured in through the small, porthole-like window above Dez's bed. Turning her head to the left, she looked at her partner's slumbering face. The bigger woman lay on her side, facing her, with dark hair starting to come out of its raggedy French braid. The blonde wondered what time it was. She couldn't see the VCR clock, and there was no clock near the bed. When Dez awakened by an alarm, she used her wristwatch. Jaylynn thought her own watch was in her coat pocket, and Dez's was now hung around the curlecue of wood on the headboard, which Jaylynn couldn't reach without waking her.
Her stomach didn't feel empty and it was still fully dark out, so the blonde didn't think more than a couple hours had passed since she had fallen asleep. She didn't usually waken in the night, except if she had a nightmare, but right now, she definitely felt she had no nightmares in store for the near future. Content, she turned onto her other side, facing Dez, and let herself just laze in the warmth.
It had been a wonderful evening, full of joy for the small woman. Eating, talking, holding Dez tightly-it was like a dream. She didn't actually remember falling to sleep, and she was a little embarrassed about that. She had wanted to make love, but somewhere along the way, her fatigue caught up with her. I think I can make up for that tomorrow. She smiled to herself and let herself feel contentment for the first time in-well, she couldn't figure out exactly how long. She realized that she had been tremendously edgy during the past weeks without Dez. She hadn't thought that another person could have that kind of effect on her. I'm self- assured . . . independent . . . happy-go-lucky . . . right? Ha. That's what I thought anyway. So much for that noise. Who am I trying to fool? She simply did not want to imagine her life without this wonderful woman beside her. And it wasn't like she could even begin to explain why. She could only say that with Dez, she felt at home.
She studied the pale face beside her. Even in sleep, Dez had a tendency to frown. The big woman shifted and emitted a soft groan, the scowl on her face deepening. Jaylynn watched as the sleeping woman brought her fists up to her chest. From the relaxed, slumbering state of a moment ago, Dez went tense. Jaylynn opened her eyes wide, watching the scowl change to a grimace. She thought she could almost hear the grinding of teeth, and she shifted back a few inches when the tall cop's knees came up and she curled into a fetal position on her side, her fists partly blocking the blonde's view of her face.
Jaylynn pulled a hand out of the blankets and started to reach out. Something stopped her. Fascinated, she watched the full transformation from placid face to savage contortions. The body next to her began to tremble, and Dez's breath came fast. She head shook back and forth. "No, no...stop! Not you. No," she wailed. "No!"
The blonde couldn't take it anymore. She could almost feel the pain radiating from Dez. As she reached out, though, blue eyes snapped open. One single tear rolled from the corner of Dez's eye and dropped onto the pillow. She stared, and Jaylynn didn't think she was seeing anything.
"Dez? Dez, it's just a dream . . . just a bad dream, sweetie." She scooted closer and pulled the stiff body to her. She could feel the big fists pressed into her chest. "It's okay. You're safe."
A hoarse whisper replied, "No, it's not okay. He's dead. He's dead . . . and it's my fault."
Jaylynn wrapped her arms tightly around her. "No, it's not. It's not your fault. Shh, it's okay."
"No, it's not," was the strangled reply. "It'll never be okay."
"Oh, Dez. Shh . . ." She reached up and smoothed the dark hair out of the colorless face and was surprised when her hand came away damp with tears. She had never seen Dez cry-get choked up, maybe-but never had the big woman wept in front of her. "Oh, sweetie . . ."
Dez's hands came up in front of her head, the big palms and fingers completely covering her face. She shook. But she didn't turn away. Jaylynn's heart went out to her, but she knew there wasn't anything she could do but hold the tall woman and let her cry. Making soothing noises, she held her shaking partner, patting and stroking her until she stilled. Through it all, the dark-haired woman kept her hands in front of her face, and when her tears abated, she turned away toward the pillow and started to roll over.
"Ah-ah-ah-no, you don't." Jaylynn touched her hand to Dez's face. "Don't turn away from me. Please. You've seen me cry a million times, and I bet this won't be the last time I'll see you cry."
"It's not the same."
Jaylynn smiled and shook her head slightly. "Pain is pain. Comfort is comfort. It's all the same."
"It's more embarrassing for me."
"Oh yeah? And why is that?" She tucked her head into the hollow under Dez's chin and wriggled her way into her embrace, one knee between the long legs and the other pressed up against the warmer woman's thigh.
"I don't know. It's just that way."
"You don't have to be embarrassed with me, Miss Macho Cop. And I don't want to be embarrassed with you either. You're the one person I want to share all my feelings with, no holds barred."
Dez didn't say anything for a moment. "It's still embarrassing."
"Like you think I'll laugh at you or something?" When Dez didn't answer, she went on, "Why would I laugh at you when I go around emoting all the time? If anyone should be embarrassed, wouldn't it be me?" Dez made a "hmph" sound and tightened her grip on the blonde. "What was the dream about?"
The tall cop took a deep, ragged breath. She definitely did not want to revisit that dreamscape, but it was the same thing repeatedly-and Marie had said that she should talk about it. She cleared her throat and took another shallow breath. "It's the same thing, over and over. I see the scene, the restaurant where Ryan was-was shot. It was out on the terrace-this little lanai to the side of the place . . .
She remembered it all in a herky-jerky series of action frames, almost like a flawed amateur movie. One minute they were strolling up to the dilapidated steakhouse in living technicolor, ready to bounce a drunk about whom the owner had called in a complaint. No sooner had they entered the restaurant than a shot rang out. There was a scream, the din of shouting, glass breaking. Dez felt the cold metal of the gun in her hand. Looking back, she didn't even remember unholstering it. She and Ryan entered the main dining area, he low, and she high. A white-shirted man dove across a table from a booth along the side wall, landed on the floor, and was up on his feet running toward a door near the back of the restaurant.
"Stop! Police!" Ryan's voice was loud and authoritative.
The man smacked through the emergency exit and fell into the night. All around, the patrons were pointing, shouting, "Get him!"
Both officers hastily threaded their way across the room past a dozen tables, most of which displayed half-eaten meals. Click. The feel of crunching glass under her feet. Click. The smell of burnt powder from the gunshot. Click. The white face of a male in a bloody business suit clutching his bleeding upper arm.
Ryan hit the door first and blasted through. Loud reports . . . bang . . . then a pause . . . bang-bang-bang . . . pain in her knee . . . shooting stars . . . gasping for breath . . . Ryan down.
She rolled and came to a squat a few feet from her seated partner, her gun in hand.
"Oh shit!" he said.
"Yeah, but I'm fine," he panted. "Just a leg wound. Get the sonuvabitch! Get him!"
She looked down at the rip in the knee of her pants, but knew she wasn't shot. One last look at his blue eyes and she was on her feet. Encouraging her, he pointed. "Get that asshole! I'll call in." He reached for his shoulder mike and turned his face to talk into it. She heard him call the code, then, in slow motion, she rose.
She saw the man's back as he ran away. Dressed in tan slacks and a white shirt, he'd be easy to see in the night. He must have been quite drunk because he ran with difficulty. She could have shot him then. Later, she wished she had. Instead, she sprinted after him as he staggered around the side of the restaurant, and out of sight. She overtook him easily. Tackled him from behind. Bashed his head against the sidewalk. With effort, she cuffed the panting man and flipped him over. He stared up at her, a dazed look on his face. He was an ordinary white man with thinning brown hair and crooked front teeth. She pushed the button on her shoulder mike and, gasping for air, called in. She could hear sirens and see the flashing lights already behind her.
She jerked him to his feet, saying nothing further. He didn't speak either as he wheezed, staggering in front of her. It seemed to take forever. She pushed him down an uneven walkway, squinting toward the flashing lights. He fell. She helped him up. Coughing, he slipped and fell again. She dragged him to his feet, and around the corner they went, to the vacant lanai. Earlier, it would have held a crowd of happy diners, but it was late, and the gnats were so thick that the restaurant had closed the section, moved the tables off to the side, and turned off all the lights. Now the area was lined with people standing silently.
Two police cars, an ambulance. Lights flashing everywhere. Dez could see something dark, maybe wine, pooled in the middle of the lanai's smooth cement. They must have done a poor job sweeping and tidying up. Two figures were on their knees, probably cleaning.
Flashing lights-neon red and blue and white-swirled all around her. She heard shouting, the sound of the dispatcher on the radio. The dark-clad figures in front of her came into focus, their navy blue uniforms looking black in the night.
Ryan? Cold fear ran through her veins.
She pushed past the gunman and dragged him forward, the metal of the handcuffs cold against her hands.
"DRT," said a deep voice.
"I know," the other paramedic responded.
Dez let go of the suspect and fell to her knees above the figure lying so still on the ground. In a low, menacing voice, she said, "He's not Dead Right There, you sonovabitch! He's not DRT. Help him." She touched his face. It was cool-cool with sweat, she thought. She met the eyes of the medic, then grabbed his shirt front. "He's not dead-he's not! He can't be! He needs to get to the hospital!"
"He bled out . . . there's nothing we could do, Officer-"
She struck him a weak, glancing slap to the side of the jaw. Click. The paramedic's shocked face. Click. Dead blue eyes looking up and past her. Click. Flashing lights and noise. Click. A swirl of stars and lights in the dark night. She heard her name called out . . .
Next thing she knew, the gunman was on the ground and she was kicking him as hard as she could with her steel-toed service boots. Her chest hurt and her breath came in short gasps. She felt only blind rage, ready to kill this man who had shot her partner.
Many strong arms grabbed her, pulled her away, away from the lanai and around the corner of the restaurant.
She looked up but there was no moon, no light from street lamps. Only the neon lights cast any illumination, but they made her sick to her stomach. She smelled something dank and sour, like poison gas, and it stung her eyes. Scalding hot tears ran down her face. She reached up to wipe them away and was shocked to see, in the flashing lights, that there was blood all over her hands. She bent forward, held upright by several hands, and screamed out the sound of a wounded animal . . .
Her body shook with sobs, but she was safe, safe in Jaylynn's arms. "It was my fault . . . I-dammit-I shouldn't have left him."
"How could you know, Dez? And even if you had, what could you have done?"
She choked the words out. "I could have-slowed the blood flow-helped him-helped somehow until-'til the medics arrived."
Jaylynn shook her head. In a quiet voice she said, "I read the report one day when I was working downtown, Dez. His femoral artery was severed. Nobody-except maybe a doctor with the right equipment-could have done anything, and only if they were on the spot in the first minute or so."
A fresh wave of tears hit the dark-haired woman, and it was all she could do not to leap up out of the bed and run out into the street. She was conscious of Jaylynn's cast against her shoulder and of a soft hand stroking her back. She tried to concentrate on that while breathing deeply. After a moment, she said, "I should have been there, Jay. He died alone. All alone. And I wasn't there."
Another tear traveled down her face. She felt it on her cheek, and then Jaylynn reached up and wiped it away. Dez was abashed about the weakness she was displaying, but another part of her didn't care, instead feeling intense relief.
"And that's why you went nuts at the Bucky beat-down, huh?"
Dez nodded. "I guess. I hardly remember what happened, to tell you the truth."
"You and me both." Jaylynn let out a sigh. "Crystal still thinks you hate her."
"Whoa-total switch in topics."
"Well, that just popped into my head. I've talked to her a lot these past few weeks, and ever since my injury, she's been awful hard on herself. She wouldn't tell me what happened between the two of you, said it was something she had to settle with you."
The big woman nodded, realizing that there were more people than just Jaylynn to make peace with. "I should have called her before now. I was really ticked at her that night-but I got over it."
"Why were you so mad at her?"
Dez wiped her eyes on the hem of the sheet and let it drop. "I sorta put her in charge of keeping you safe. I trusted her. And then you got clobbered by some dumb asshole. I was furious with her." She paused when Jaylynn lifted her head and shifted over to sit, legs out, next to her. "I know-I know-I'm about to get a lecture about this, right?" In the moonlight she could see Jaylynn sporting a crooked smile.
"Damn right. Nothing that happened was Crystal's responsibility. It was that idiot's fault. She did everything by the book. The only thing she could have done differently was to shoot the guy-but that wasn't a good idea either. Dez, you should call Crystal."
"Oh, I will."
"No, I mean now."
"Jay! It's the middle of the night. And on Christmas to boot."
Jaylynn frowned. "Oh yeah. Well then, tomorrow. Tomorrow you should call. And by the way, speaking of the phone, why in the hell don't you have an answering machine?"
"Waste of money. Nobody ever calls." She turned over on her side, and Jaylynn snuggled in next to her.
"I have a hunch that I have called-oh, maybe three hundred times in the last few weeks. So don't give me crap about nobody ever calling."
Dez didn't answer. She found herself marveling about what had just happened. Ryan had died a year ago last June-eighteen months back-and until lately, she had never told the story in full, emotions included, not even to the homicide investigators. And in the last two weeks she had told it twice. For a year and a half she had kept it at bay, and now, well, now she could hardly keep it out of her waking thoughts or her dreams. She felt awful, like her eyes were swollen shut and her throat and breathing passages burned to a crisp, but at the same time, a sense of relief flowed through her. What had Marie said? "Trauma is too heavy a load to carry alone." She said it out loud, and Jaylynn responded. "What?"
"Marie keeps saying stuff like that-you know, that trauma shouldn't be kept inside."
"Marie, the psychiatrist?"
Dez nodded. "Yeah. She's pretty smart."
"What? What's so funny?" The tall cop's tone was no nonsense.
"You are. I never ever thought I'd hear you admit that some shrink was okay, that's all."
"She might be the only one."
Jaylynn laughed, the sound warm and rich and delighted. Dez loved to hear her laugh. Just the thought of Jaylynn's laughter, of her energy and sense of humor, made her smile. She was glad the blonde wasn't looking at her face in the cool moonlight. She didn't feel quite ready to express every feeling she had, especially the ones that felt so totally mushy and melodramatic. She let out a sigh, and instead said, "I hope you know what you've gotten yourself into?"
"With you? Or with therapy?"
"With me, of course. I'm not quite sure, but I think I have nightmares more than once a night."
"How come you never told me before?"
"Lucky for me, you usually sleep like the dead."
"Oh, no, I don't! I have my own bad dreams, you know."
"Yeah, yeah. You don't usually wake up though. All I gotta do is nudge you, maybe wrap an arm around you, and you settle right down."
"You must be exaggerating."
"If you were shaking and crying out like you did tonight, I would for sure have known something was wrong. I know I would have woke up!"
"Yeah, maybe. Listen here, wild thing." That comment, made in a mocking tone, warranted her a poke in the ribs. "Hey! Cut it out. You never woke up because until the last month, I've had insomnia so bad I just about went crazy. I've spent more hours lying here watching you sleep than I care to count."
"Why didn't you wake me up, you fool?"
Now it was Dez's turn to laugh out loud. "And do what? Play cribbage? Go out for a two a.m. run? You have no concept of how crabby you get when deprived of sleep."
"I do not!"
Dez kept laughing. "Hunger, lack of sleep, and mean people-not necessarily in that order-are the three things that irk you the most. And don't try to deny it. I've known you long enough to be able to put forth three or four hundred examples. Don't even get me started."
"No ėmaybe'. It's true." She reached an arm back and behind her to snag her wristwatch from the headboard. "Unbelievable. It's only three a.m. What time did we fall asleep?"
In a grouchy voice, Jaylynn said, "I don't know...maybe one-thirty or so."
"Whew, pretty early for us."
Jaylynn yawned and nodded slowly, her face pressed next to Dez's bare collarbone. "Feels like I haven't slept for days."
"Tell me about it."
As the rookie's breath evened out, the dark-haired woman lay holding the sleeping woman for quite some time. Marie was right. Companionship was a good thing. And love was even better.
More to come next weekend!
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