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: After eight days of sometimes excruciating pain, the chiropractor finally got my lumbar vertebra to pop into place---hallelujah! Thank goodness for that. I was so stooped over and kinked up, I thought I was going to grow a dowager's hump.
I have not been able to sit long all week, but now this weekend, I hope to write a bit so I can post next weekend. Luckily, I do have quite a chunk here that I think you will all like. I was tempted to just do only about 15 pages, but that would have left you all hanging, so I decided to go through to resolution and not do a cliff hanger, even though it took all my strength. J Off to bed for me!
DEDICATION: I dedicate this section to Hydraulic Woman, also known as Kristen Schuldt. She is one of my best buddies and a terrific singer and musician who has been, in the last decade, always generous, kind, and caring. She's a gifted performer, and one of the hardest working woman in the local music business as she is in three different bands. The lyrics in this section, the song Dez writes, and in the tunes in the early scene at the Tivoli murder are lyrics she wrote. She's cutting a solo acoustic CD and a second CD with her band. I will let you all know about this in a couple more weeks. In the meantime, if anyone is curious, her website is at: www.hydraulicwoman.com.
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. Also, let me know your email addy if you have written me before. It's fun to know if I have corresponded with you in the past.
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 Books-A-Million. Go "Books" on my website to order from them.
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 tall cop awakened shortly before ten a.m. and grinned when she found Jaylynn sleeping like a log next to her. Despite Dez turning over and rearranging covers, her slumbering partner didn't move. She extricated herself from the blonde's grip, eased out of bed, and went in to the bathroom to take a shower. When she came out some time later, the rookie hadn't stirred and was still curled up on her side, facing the wall, holding her left arm protectively to her chest. The dark-haired woman slipped on jeans, a long sleeved red t-shirt, and tennis shoes, and went into the kitchen to brew some tea and make breakfast. The smell of food would wake the rookie up in a good mood if nothing else would.
Dez mixed up pancake batter from scratch, plugged in a griddle, and switched on the oven to its warm setting. She waited for the griddle to heat up, and stood with her back to the counter, her arms crossed over her chest. With everything that happened the night before, she hadn't had the chance to give Jaylynn the strange Christmas present she had to offer her. She peeked around the corner. The blonde slept on. She stepped into the room, to the entertainment center, and hunted through her CD's until she found the one she was looking for. She opened the plastic case and popped out the disk, leaving the case on the shelf. In the kitchen she put the disk in a small CD player and turned the volume to low.
The griddle was good and hot now, so she smeared some butter on it and dripped four circles of batter from a handled mug. They sizzled and spread. Within seconds, bubbles formed in the batter. Dez could smell the cinnamon and her stomach rumbled.
She sat down at the kitchen table to wait. In the background, an acoustic guitar played softly, and then the husky voice sang. She hummed along to the medium beat.
I've been waiting so long . . . longing for you
Getting harder and harder to hold on
Come and give me your love
Come and take mine . . . come and take mine
Late at night, early in the morning
Late at night, early in the morning
She got up to turn the pancakes over. They had cooked to a deep, rich golden brown. She took a plate down from a cupboard, and when the other side had cooked, she flipped them onto the plate and stuck it in the oven. After buttering the griddle again, she poured four more circles of batter, then got out some eggs. She decided that if she was going to eat a high sugar and high fat meal, she may as well have some protein-scrambled eggs-to go with it.
A movement in the doorway caught her eye, and she turned to see Jaylynn barefoot and wrapped in a comforter. In the background, the music played.
Parallel line . . . I'm waiting for you
Take me higher and higher and I just hold on
The look in your eyes
It's all right . . . It's all right . . .
"Do you know how many times I played this CD, Dez?" The dark-haired woman shook her head. Jaylynn stood barefoot, and they both listened for a moment. "I grew to love and hate Hydraulic Woman."
"Why?" Dez frowned as she listened to the song fade out.
Late at night, early in the morning
Late at night, early in the morning . . .
Jaylynn moved into the kitchen and pulled a chair out, then sat down wearily. "Her voice is a little like yours, and some of the songs made me think of you."
Dez checked the pancakes to find they weren't quite ready to turn over, then leaned against the counter by the sink. "I know what you mean-the songs reminded me of you, too." She stepped over to the table, punched the button and turned off the CD player, then looked over at the blonde, sitting swathed in the thick quilt. She couldn't help it-she found herself grinning.
"What?" the blonde said, a scowl on her face.
"You just look so damn cute."
Jaylynn blushed. "I don't feel so damn cute. I feel like I need a shower and about 45 pancakes."
"Not in that order, though, right?"
The rookie shrugged. "Doesn't matter." She looked over miserably. "All I know is that if you don't have a bread bag that I can put this blasted cast in to shower, then I don't know what to do. I can't wait to get it off."
Dez rooted around in one of her kitchen drawers, then looked in a cupboard. "Nope, sorry. Don't have one. I've got zip-lock bags and plastic wrap, but no bread bags." She picked up the spatula and flipped the pancakes over. They sizzled and popped when the wet side hit the hot grill. Still holding the spatula, the dark-haired woman shifted until her hip leaned against the counter. She noted that Jaylynn had a sour look on her face, so Dez took two steps over close to her. "Didn't you sleep well?"
"Yes. No. Hell, I don't know. What time is it anyway?"
Looking at her watch, the tall woman ran her fingers of her other hand through the short-cropped blonde hair below her. "It's ten-forty."
"Well, then, I guess I slept fine."
"You gauge it by the clock?"
"I got enough hours, so I must be okay."
"But aren't you still on West coast time?"
A look of comprehension passed over the rookie's face. "Yeah, that's it. I feel like it's two hours earlier-or at least my body thinks that. No wonder I'm so tired."
"You could go back to bed if you like."
She yawned. "No, I better not. It'll probably take me two hours to get ready, and I have a one o'clock doctor's appointment to get this thing sawed off."
With a grin, Dez said, "Too bad we don't have the Aikuchi All-Purpose Kitchen Knife here. I'm sure we could take care of it and save money on doctor's fees all at once."
"Don't think I haven't already thought of that." She turned in her chair and put her elbows on the table, chin in hand. Yawning again, she looked around the kitchen. "The pancakes smell good. What else have you got that's good for me to munch on?"
Dez didn't answer. Instead, she bent and placed a soft kiss on the back of the smaller woman's neck, which caused them both to shiver. She set the spatula on the table and wrapped her arms around Jaylynn from behind, her hands coming to rest on the smaller woman's chest. Jaylynn sighed and stroked the dark-haired woman's forearms. "Dez?"
"Yeah," she said softly into the pink ear.
"I love you."
"Right back atcha, pardner." Dez straightened and picked up the spatula. "You ready for the first round of vittles?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
The tall woman dished up all four pancakes and delivered them to the table along with a container of maple syrup. "Eggs coming up." She cracked four into a bowl and used a fork to whip them up with a little milk, salt, and pepper, then poured them onto the griddle and chased them around with the fork. When they were cooked nice and dry, just how she liked them, she swiped Jaylynn's plate out from under her and spooned half the scrambled eggs onto the plate, then returned it to the table. "Viol·. Instant eggs."
"Thank you. I was hungry." The blonde yawned once again.
"Cut that out! You're making me feel tired." She returned to the griddle and turned it off, then picked up a hot pad. She flicked the oven switch to off and opened the door to remove the plate from inside. Once she had scooped the last of the eggs onto the hot plate, she sat across from Jaylynn to eat, remembering just as she was seated that she didn't have anything to drink. "Want some milk? Or juice or something?"
"Milk would be good."
Dez rose and poured them two glasses. "You know what you need?"
"Besides a shower, a healed arm, and some energy?"
The tall woman grabbed a napkin out of the holder on the table and wiped some syrup off her chin. "You need a good Christmas present."
Jaylynn set her fork down with an alarmed look on her face. "I have a birthday present for you, Miss Disappearing Act, but I don't actually have a Christmas present. Not yet anyway."
"Don't worry about it. You can call the birthday gift a combination present, okay? I don't mind. I didn't expect any present at all."
Jaylynn pushed her plate away, leaving half a pancake and a couple bites of eggs.
Dez reached across the table and cupped the smaller woman's forehead in a big hand.
Jaylynn scowled. "What?"
"Just wondered if you had a fever. You usually scarf up all your food and half of mine."
"Oh, I just got full, that's all." Actually, it had suddenly occurred to her that when she'd purchased Dez's birthday present a few days before Thanksgiving, she had been full of hopes and expectations. But later, she hadn't ended up buying a Christmas present for the her, because-she now realized-she had lost faith to a certain degree. She hated to admit it, but she had plunged into so much doubt that she got to the point where she didn't believe Dez would come back. That bothered her. Dez believed in her enough to get her a Christmas gift, but she herself hadn't felt the same way. In fact, she realized she had been so angry at the dark-haired woman that at one point, she had thought about taking the birthday gift back, though she knew she couldn't because it was personalized. The entire train of thought made her feel small and petty.
She looked up into bright blue eyes, eyes full of concern, and she couldn't help it. The tears came. She closed her eyes and looked down at the awkward cast in her lap as the tears leaked out. A warm hand grasped her cool fingers, and she opened her eyes to find Dez squatting next to her chair, a concerned look on her face. "What's the matter, Jay?"
The smaller woman couldn't speak, but she allowed Dez to pull her up out of the chair and lead her into the other room to the couch. The big woman sat and tugged Jaylynn down into her lap, enfolding her in a warm embrace.
"I must just be tired still, that's all."
"Umm hmm, right. I'm sure that's all."
The sardonic tone of Dez's voice caused the blonde to turn her head and lean back so that she could get a good view of the dark-haired woman's face. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You never cry for no reason. Something's hurting you, and you're not telling me what it is. And that's okay. You can tell me if and when you want to."
Jaylynn reached a hand up and stroked along the side of the pale face above her, letting her hand trail from face to neck to the middle of the wide chest where she brought her hand to a rest. "When did you get so smart?"
"Must be all the therapy."
This brought a smile from the smaller woman. "If that's it, then I guess I need to meet this shrink."
"You will." Dez touched three fingers to Jaylynn's cheek and wiped away the tears, then kissed cool lips. "You taste like syrup." She tightened her hold on the figure swaddled in the comforter.
"Guess that's better than the dragon breath I had when I first woke up."
"Let's see. I believe we were talking about Christmas and holiday presents when you launched into the tears. I take it that some infidel has informed you that there is no Santa."
Jaylynn laughed out loud, having not expected the joke from Dez. The tall cop was like that-usually so serious, and then just when the blonde least expected, making some sort of deadpan comment that cracked her up. She got up and tossed the quilt on the couch beside Dez. Wearing only a t-shirt and underwear, she hurried across the room and went to the grocery bag by the doorway. She rooted around in it until she found and pulled out a small box wrapped in shiny blue and silver paper. She spun and started back toward Dez, but the dark-haired woman pointed. "Will you get that envelope over there on my desk.?"
The blonde reversed course, picked up a thick envelope, and came back to the couch. She handed both items to the tall woman, shivered, and grabbed the quilt. After she wrapped herself in the comforter, she let herself be pulled down again into Dez's lap. She shivered.
"Good grief, Jay! It's ninety degrees in here. How can you be cold?"
The blonde shook her head. "I hope you don't mind having this conversation for the next, oh, say, eighty years. I don't think we are ever going to have complementary thermostats."
Dez smiled. "No kidding. I think your comfort range is all of about five degrees one way or another. Maybe you should put on some weight. That would keep you warm. Sure works for me."
Jaylynn rolled her eyes. Before Dez could say anything more, the blonde pointed to the package in her hand. "Open that."
The dark-haired woman shifted her arm so that she could unwrap the shiny paper. She took the lid off a small white box and found a velvet covered gray box inside of that. She turned the white box over and let the one inside fall out into her hand. Stroking the soft velvet with the side of her thumb, she wondered if this was what she thought it was. Sure enough, she found a silvery-colored ring made of white gold nestled inside. The ring, partly buried in satin, glinted in the light and took her breath away. It looked like a simple wedding band, except that there was a pattern circling the band. She pulled the ring from its satin bed and squinted at it closely to see that the pattern was actually made up of the letters JDJDJD . . . all the way around the ring. The script blended together, and it wasn't until she examined it closely that she recognized the two letters.
She raised her eyes to meet Jaylynn's and could see that the younger woman was uncertain-fearful again. Holding the ring between her thumb and forefinger, the Dez said one simple word. "Wow." She looked back at the shiny silver and noticed the inside was also engraved. Peering closer, she read the script there: You are the Love of my Dreams-Forever-Jaylynn.
The dark-haired woman was speechless. She raised her left hand and slipped the band onto the ring finger. It was snug over her knuckle, but fit just fine once she slid it down. She looked into the anxious hazel eyes, and once again wondered why Jaylynn was so nervous. "This is perfect. I love it, Jay. It's-it's beautiful. Thank you."
The blonde relaxed against her. "That's a relief. I was afraid it was-well, I don't know. You don't wear any jewelry that I've ever seen. I wasn't sure you would like it."
"I more than like it. But I have to admit, it's so much more personal than what I have for you." She hesitated, as though she had more to say, then shrugged and picked up the envelope from the couch beside her and handed it to the blonde. "Here, open this."
Jaylynn got a finger under the flap and tore the back open. She slid a sheaf of papers out and something fell onto the quilt. She looked up at the bright blue eyes above her, then picked up a gold key. "What is this to?"
Dez gave her a crooked half-smile but didn't respond.
The rookie folded the papers open and looked at them. "But this is Vanita's address . . . oh my! They talked to you, too. Dez! You bought Vanita's house?"
"Not yet. If we do it, you have to fill out that sheaf of paperwork."
"We? You mean us-together?"
"That's what I was hoping."
"But I don't have any down payment money. Well, I have a little, but not much, and then I'd be broke . . ."
"That's no problem. I have enough to pay for about a third of the house, and then we'd finance the rest."
Jaylynn stared down at the shiny key in her hand. "Dez . . . that's not fair. I wouldn't be doing my part."
"Sure you would. You could do all the yard work, massage my aching muscles morning, noon, and night, and-you know-wait on me hand and foot."
When Jaylynn realized her partner was kidding, she poked her in the ribs. "Very funny."
"Jay, I want it to be share and share alike.' I want you to have everything of mine and vice versa."
"You just want to get a hold of my Aikuchi kitchen knife."
Dez laughed out loud, and pulled the smaller woman tight against her. "I've been waiting all my life for you, and now I want us to share everything."
"I think I have more debts than you do."
Dez shrugged. "So what. Little by little, we can pay them off together. Please say yes. Vanita's house is a good one, and if, after a few years, you decide you don't like it, we can trade up."
"Oh, I love her house. The woodwork is great, and it's a nice, cozy solid place. It's a wonderful house."
"We'll have to tear down that horrendous garage, though, and build a new one this summer. But that won't be too hard. I can get someone to pour the concrete, and I can easily frame it and roof it. Crystal and I built Luella's garage a few years back. It's easy."
Jaylynn laid her head against the dark-haired woman and let the feeling of contentment roll through her like a wave. "I shouldn't have doubted you."
"What? You don't think I can build a simple garage?"
"No, that's not what I meant. I mean that by Christmas Eve, I just sort of lost faith in you." She felt terrible to admit it, but she forged on. "When I hadn't heard from you for so long, I felt awful, and then I got mad, and then I didn't think I could ever forgive you, and by the time I flew home, I felt so godforsaken because I was starting to try to figure out how I could live without you." She looked down at her lap. "But you never gave up on me."
"Jay, look at me." With one big hand, she turned the smaller woman's face so that their eyes met. "I not only gave up on you, I gave up on me, too. I walked out of the hospital a wreck that day, shattered into pieces that I still haven't gotten all put back together. We've both had our crises of faith, and I'm sure we'll have more in the future. I didn't know how you'd react last night, either. Do you realize that? I was afraid, too. But that's past. Let's not waste another minute of time feeling bad about what has happened. Let's just move on, okay?"
Jaylynn nodded. She took a deep breath. "All right. I'd like that. More than that, I'd like to move on to a shower, and I bet you'd like to finish your breakfast. After that maybe you'd better take me back to the house. I have a stash of bread bags there."
"Luella probably has one, but hey, I have another idea. How about I run you a bath? You can keep your arm out, and you could relax in the Jacuzzi. I'll even wash this rat's nest for you."
"Wh-wh-what?" The blonde was so taken aback she sputtered. She reached up and ran her good hand through her short-cropped hair. "What's wrong with my hair?"
"Not a thing . . . if you don't count the 22 different varieties of cowlicks."
"Very funny." Despite the mock glare she was giving Dez, Jaylynn was relieved. "Okay. I have no desire to go outside anyway. A bath would be fine-if you'll help me, that is."
"Nothing I'd like more than helping you undress." She gave the smaller woman a wicked smile and was rewarded with a kiss.
Jaylynn sat in the center of the bench seat in Dez's truck waiting for her partner to hurry up and fill the gas tank so that they could turn the engine back on and get the heat going. The winter weather had warmed up considerably since the day before, but it was still only ten degrees out, and the dark clouds above promised more snow soon. As far as the rookie was concerned, it was positively bone chilling when the wind blew. She stretched her sore arm out in front of her and flexed her hand, then shivered. The protective splint she now wore was lightweight with Velcro straps and gave her some extra needed support-and sort of a reminder not to do anything too sudden. Getting the cast off had been such a relief, but her sore arm was colder than the other one. I hope I never ever get hurt again. It's been awful.
She was still full from the eggs and pancakes Dez had made earlier. If she were slightly warmer she could say she felt just fine. As it was, she thought that she still felt pretty decent-in fact, emotionally she had never been better.
The door to the mini-mart opened and one tall, long-legged woman ambled out. In the hiking boots she wore, Dez stood close to 6'2". Jaylynn watched her partner stride toward her, the bright blues eyes looking all around and taking in everything. When they came to rest on Jaylynn, neither of them could help but smile. Dez quickened her pace. Reaching the truck, she opened the door and swung up into the cab, bringing in a gust of cold air. Jaylynn gazed up at her, smiling and happy, waiting for her to shut the door.
"What?" The dark-haired woman turned the key in the ignition, and the heater kicked on.
The smaller woman sighed. "Nothing. I'm just happy."
Dez's right hand dropped to the rookie's thigh, and she gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm glad. I'm happy, too." She pulled forward and out of the lot.
"I don't know how you can go without gloves. Brrrr. I'm freezing even with 'em on."
"It's just easier to drive. I like being able to get a good grip on the wheel." She raised her left wrist and checked her watch. "It's easier to get to my watch, too."
"You going to be late?"
"Nope. My appointment is at 2:30, and we should be right on time."
"You positive you want me to come with you?"
"Yeah, sure-that is, if you don't get too bored sitting in the waiting room for an hour." She changed lanes to steer around a line of cars trying to make right hand turns.
"No, I don't mind at all. I've got a book to read. And besides, I would really like to meet this miracle worker who has you all excited about counseling."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's not go that far." Dez chuckled as she turned onto the interstate and headed downtown. "I still don't enjoy it-not one bit."
Jaylynn made a fist around the splint with her left hand and opened her fingers again. Her whole arm felt weak, and she couldn't hold a fist for more than a second before the muscles in her forearm screamed in pain. The doctor had said it would take several weeks of exercises to get it back to anywhere near its former strength and coordination. She wasn't looking forward to that.
"What's the matter?" Dez asked as she exited the freeway. "Your hand isn't hurting, is it?"
"Not really. It just feels weak."
"I've got a gripper thing-a hand exerciser-that you should borrow. It helped a lot when my arm was healing. One day I could hardly grip a thing, and it seemed like just a while after, it felt back to normal." She pulled up next to a brick building and turned off the truck, then put her hands on the steering wheel and took a deep breath. "Well, here we are."
Jaylynn picked up her book from the seat next to her and tucked it under her right arm. She examined the profile of the woman sitting next to her who was gripping the wheel so hard that the veins in her hands stood out. The blonde leaned into the solid frame. She stroked the thigh nearest to her. "Dez?"
The dark-haired woman took another deep breath. "I hate this."
Jaylynn smiled, but bit back the grin. "It won't be too bad. Come on. Let's go before I freeze to death."
Dez groaned. "I don't want to. You don't know what it's like."
The blonde reached across the bigger woman and grabbed the door handle. "Oh, yes, I do." She leaned into her companion playfully. "Are you going to make me eject you? Or are you going willingly?"
"Like a good prisoner, of course." Dez sighed and shifted over. Jaylynn prodded her in the butt as the dark-haired woman slid off the seat. "Hey! Enough of the pushy stuff."
Giggling, the blonde scooted under the steering wheel, swung her legs around to the side of the seat, and prepared to hop down from the tall truck. Dez stepped forward and grabbed her on either side of her hipbones and set her down on the icy street. Jaylynn ended up standing inches from the tall woman, a wide grin on her face, so Dez took the opportunity to lean down and plant a kiss on the smiling lips. She raised her hands up to cradle Jaylynn's face, then broke off the kiss, glancing to either side of the deserted street.
"Don't worry, Dez. Nobody's looking." Jaylynn gazed up at her with an amused look on her face. "Ooh, don't take your hands away. They're so nice and warm." She took a deep breath, and the air that came out when she exhaled formed a small puff of smoke.
Dez gave her a gloomy look. "Nice job trying to distract me." She dropped her hands to Jaylynn's shoulders and pulled her to the side, then shut the truck door. Gazing back at the shorter woman, she said, "Guess we better go in, huh?"
"Look at the bright side-when we're done here, we get to go eat goodies at Luella's." Jaylynn hooked her gloved hand around Dez's arm, and walked next to the taller woman, off the street, and onto an even icier sidewalk. They walked carefully toward the front door of the building and into the warmth of the foyer. "I never even knew this place was here. It's kind of nice what they can do with old warehouses these days."
Dez didn't answer. She took off toward a door near the elevator and held it open so that the blonde could pass through and start up the stairs. By the time they reached the top, Jaylynn was peeling gloves and jacket and talking about being overly warm. Dez laughed to herself, which calmed her nerves. She couldn't help but think, Some things never change. She's right, too-I hope I don't mind having this same conversation about the temperature for about the next 80 years.
Once they reached the blue door of Marie Montague's office, though, she was nervous again. She put her coat on the hook inside the door and sat in a soft chair in the waiting room. Jaylynn hung up her down coat and sank into the chair next to her, steadying her book in her lap with her good hand. Taking a deep breath, Dez leaned forward and put her elbows on her knees, letting her hands relax, palms down. She closed her eyes and let air in and out just as Marie had taught her, concentrating on relaxing all the muscles in her chest. After a moment, she felt a warm hand on her back and peeped at the blonde sitting close to her. "What I wouldn't give for a backrub right now."
"Lie down on the floor," Jaylynn said, amusement in her voice. "I'd be happy to oblige."
Dez let out a snort. "Yeah, right." She looked at her watch. "She'll be opening the door any-" The wooden door popped open, and Dez was on her feet before the figure appeared before them.
"Well hello, Dez!"
The tall woman cleared her throat. "Hi, Marie. I have someone here I'd like you to meet." The rookie rose, extending her hand as Dez went on. "This is my, uh, partner, Jaylynn Savage."
The two women shook hands, both smiling broadly. "So nice to meet you, Jaylynn."
"Me, too. I've heard good things about you."
Marie released the blonde's hand and looked up at Dez with a mischievous smile on her face. "You've heard good things, huh? Why, Dez, I'm surprised at you!"
In a gruff voice, the tall cop answered, "What was I supposed to tell her? That you're really a merciless psychic digger who's excavated all my secrets?"
Marie nodded. "Yup. Something like that." She stepped backward into the doorway. "Come on then. I've got to get my pickaxe out, so we can get started. Make yourself comfortable, Jaylynn, and I'll have her back to you in short order."
Dez followed the therapist into the office feeling rather pleased with herself. That went well. I didn't fall over into a dead faint or anything. She settled herself into one of the low chairs and held back a smile that was threatening to erupt.
Marie sat down in a chair facing her and tucked her right foot under her left thigh. "Looks like you took a baby step after all, huh?"
Dez nodded, and now she couldn't hold back the grin. "I took way more than one."
"I see. Tell me about them."
They spent the next hour discussing and analyzing what had happened with Jaylynn, as well as the visit with her mother and Mac, seeing her brother for the first time in years, and her feelings about her work. The hour flew by. When Marie announced that time was up, the dark-haired woman was surprised. For once she hadn't watched the clock at all.
She rose and stood waiting uncertainly. "Marie, we're scheduled for a session on Thursday. What would you think if we skipped it?"
Marie got up, too, and looked at her thoughtfully. "I can't release you quite yet, Dez."
"Oh, I know that. I don't mean skipping out forever. It's just that I want to drive up north with Jay, and I'd like to go tomorrow and stay through the New Year's weekend. I don't want to leave tomorrow and have to get up the next day and drive here for the appointment and then back-"
Marie interrupted. "Oh, well, then why don't we just stay with the day after New Year's and call it good?"
"Yes. That's exactly what I had in mind. Thanks. I really appreciate it." On impulse she stretched her right hand out over the narrow coffee table, and the therapist accepted it with a warm smile on her face. "I also appreciate all you've done for me, Marie. I know I-I-well, I haven't been an easy person to work with."
Marie released her hand and turned toward the door. "Nonsense," she called out over her shoulder, "you've been a peach." Dez let out a laugh as the therapist opened the door. She stood aside as Dez passed through into the waiting room, still smiling. "I'll see you next week, kiddo."
The tall woman grinned again. "Okay, thanks." The door shut and she turned to see Jaylynn gazing up at her with an odd look on her face. "What?"
The rookie closed her book and stood, reaching for her coat. "Considering how much you were fighting coming here, I guess I'm surprised to see you so jolly."
Dez slipped on her coat and helped Jaylynn wrestle hers on over her splint. They went off down the hallway, passing multi-colored office doors as they made their way to the stairwell. For the first time since she had been seeing Marie, Dez felt like she had made real progress, that perhaps she was emerging from the sadness and depression that had gripped her like a vise for so long. "I don't know exactly why, Jay. The session just went well." They entered the stairwell and started down. On the landing at the very bottom, the tall woman stopped and turned. Jaylynn was still two steps up, holding the book against her unzipped coat with her splinted hand and the banister railing in the other hand. Dez reached inside the open down coat and encircled the blonde at the hips, pulling her up into the air against her.
"Whoa! Dez, put me down! Be careful. My cell phone's in my coat pocket!" She whacked the bigger woman on the back, but was careful not to use her sore left arm. The dark-haired woman gave her a wicked grin and spun around causing the blonde to let out a laughing shriek.
In a low voice next to Jaylynn's ear, Dez said, "I think the session went well because you were there. That's what I think."
"So you're rewarding me by-oooh-making me lose my lunch?"
Dez set her back on the steps, but she didn't let go. She looked up at the shorter woman who was now about six inches taller standing on the second stair. "You haven't even had lunch yet. I can't believe you aren't hungry. We ate quite a while ago."
"Truth told, I am hungry now."
"I figured as much." Dez put one foot up on the first stair and pressed her hands to Jaylynn's sides under the fluffy coat. Her hands weren't big enough to span all the way around the smaller woman's waist, but she could get a solid grip. She looked at the hazel eyes in front of her, conscious of the smell of shampoo and cinnamon and something else that was just Jaylynn. A lump rose in her throat, and in the eyes before her, she saw only love and acceptance. Like a galvanized jolt, the realization hit her that this one small person loomed larger in her life than anyone had in a very long time-perhaps ever. In wonder, she said, "I love you, Jaylynn. I can't help but keep saying it." She shook her head slowly. "How embarrassing."
Jaylynn let out a throaty laugh, a laugh of pleasure. "It's not embarrassing, you fool. I love you, too, and I want to tell the world." Dez felt the shift as the blonde leaned off-balance to relax forward into an embrace, trusting that her sturdy partner wouldn't let her fall. Soft lips pressed down against Dez's mouth, and she closed her eyes to let the kiss flow through her like an electrical current she could feel from her fingers to her toes. When Jaylynn broke off the kiss, they were both breathless.
The hazel eyes, so close to her, shone with flecks of gold and green and brown. She loved how the blonde's eyes seemed to change color depending upon the lighting. Before she could tell her that, Jaylynn whispered, "You are so beautiful, Dez-so incredibly beautiful." The dark-haired woman looked away to the side and brought her other foot up onto the first stair to steady her partner into a more upright position. Jaylynn reached up with her right hand and touched the averted chin. "You hear me? You're beautiful. Don't even try to argue with me."
Dez blushed. She felt the flush rise up her face, to her ears, up into the roots of her hair. She imagined her face was as crimson as blood. Very slowly, she stepped back off the stair, allowing Jaylynn to get her balance, then watched as the hazel-eyed woman went down the last two steps. Reaching for the doorknob, she said, "My grandmother used to say-when I was a teenager-that I would grow into a handsome woman. That's the word she used-handsome. I was about five-nine at the time. She was appalled at how tall I was." She hesitated. "No one has ever thought of me as beautiful."
A hand on her arm stopped her from stepping through the doorway. "Ever since the first moment I laid eyes on you, I've thought you were, Dez. And I'll never stop thinking of you as anything less than beautiful through and through."
Dez smiled. "Guess you need glasses more than I thought you did." She quickly exited the stairwell, followed by one indignant blonde wielding a paperback as a battering weapon.
Once again, Dez was driving the dark highway from St. Paul toward Duluth, only this time, she wasn't alone. A sleeping figure with hair shining silver-white in the moonlight lay next to her on the bench seat of the truck. A mushy pillow pressed against the tall woman's right thigh, and Jaylynn lay on her side, tucked up next to the dark-haired woman with a blanket over her. Every so often, Dez liked to reach out and put her forearm and arm across the blonde's shoulder and feel the solidness of the young woman. She let her hand brush lightly over the cap of short hair as she let out a sigh of comfort. It was just after nine p.m., and the sun had set long ago. If not for her headlights, it would be pitch black on the highway. Streetlamps were few and far between, so she kept a vigilant lookout for deer.
The radio played 70's tunes softly in the background, and she thought about how well the day had gone. First, waking up next to Jaylynn had been a joy, and then their breakfast and gift exchange had gone fine, even with the one bout of tears. She figured they were even, after the crying jag she had had in the middle of the night.
It was also a relief that Jaylynn had gotten her cast off. Dez knew it had been making her miserable, and she was glad to see the blonde practicing her grip and getting accustomed to having full use of the hand again, even if it wasn't strong yet. The counseling session had gone well, something for which she was quite thankful, and she had enjoyed eating lunch with Luella and Vanita and exchanging gifts. She'd added Jaylynn's name to both her gifts to the sisters-a chair heating pad for Vanita, and for Luella, a low-fat cookbook filled with funny sayings and jokes as well as recipes. Vanita had knitted both of them scarves, royal blue and black for Dez, and gold and bright orange for Jaylynn. Luella gave them each a certificate for the Dinner of Their Dreams. She'd made a little menu that each of them could fill in with all their favorite dishes, and she said she was ready to start preparing sumptuous banquets whenever either of them said the word.
After spending the afternoon at Vanita's house, they went to Jaylynn's so she could pack. That took so long that Dez used the phone to call over to Crystal and Shayna's place. She apologized for her neglect of them and ended up having a good conversation with both Shayna and Crystal on the line. They agreed that after the first of the year, they would all meet up and have a dinner and a night on the town.
When Jaylynn finally appeared with a suitcase and duffel bag packed, Dez carried them out to the truck. They stopped by the apartment to pick up her guitar and a few other things, which took only ten minutes, but then they had to stop for a snack. Dez shook her head. It was a major undertaking just to get out of town. They didn't get on the road until almost seven p.m. She rolled her eyes a little and smiled to herself. Obviously, traveling alone was much quicker-but then again, traveling with someone else was a lot more fun. She watched the mile signs go by and knew that it wouldn't be much longer before they reached Duluth.
So much had happened in the last two days. It hadn't even been quite 24 hours since she had picked up Jaylynn at the airport. Realizing that caused her to shake her head in amazement and glance down at the tousled head resting against her leg. Since the blonde had arrived home, they had held each other, cried on one another's shoulders, and been in almost constant physical contact every chance they got, but they hadn't made love yet. They also hadn't explored all the topics that needed discussion. Even though she harbored a few misgivings, the dark-haired woman was praying that everything would work out fine.
A glow ahead caused the sky in the distance to look brighter, and she knew they were nearing the city. They would pass through Duluth and continue north to Dewey's cabin, but at this rate, it would be at least another hour and a half before they arrived. The truck made its way up the long, gradual hill and burst over the rise. She took the slow curve of the road cautiously and looked out upon the dark expanse off to her right, which was Lake Superior. In the darkness, she only knew the lake was there. She could not actually see it at all, sort of like the worry about the unknown that lurked in the back of her mind. She made her way through a series of tunnels and underpasses, and in a few minutes, they were outside the city limits again and steering north.
She wished she could trust the comfort and happiness she was feeling, but she could not-would not. Every time she slipped into the kind of reverie she had just been experiencing, frightening thoughts interfered. She put a hand protectively on Jaylynn's shoulder, and the younger woman stirred, then settled back into sleep. Luella had been right. There was no reason not to plunge in, but then again, the risks were great. It would be a lot easier not to take the road she and Jaylynn were on. I'm not going to think that way. I won't . . . I can't. I will not go back to that terrible loneliness. But she couldn't stop worrying. What if something happened to Jaylynn? What if she, herself, blew it and ruined things between them? So many things could go wrong, and a long string of awful possibilities began to parade through her head. She didn't know how to make the fears stop, and try as hard as she might, a part of her wanted to curl up inside and block out all the love and affection Jaylynn so cheerfully bestowed upon her. She didn't know exactly how to get around that obstacle, and she feared it would rise up and follow her, needle her, and worry her when she least expected it. God, if you really are there, please help me out here. Give me a sign . . . and before the thought was even complete, a deer ran out in front of the truck.
The buck paused for a split second, scared eyes seeming to meet Dez's, and then he leapt out of the way, even as Dez swerved and hit the brakes.
She skidded out of the lane and onto the shoulder of the road, her heart beating like a bass drum. The violent braking and abrupt stop tossed Jaylynn forward, though the seatbelt around her middle held her. She awoke and cried out, then struggled up and looked around, bleary-eyed. "What-what's happening?"
"Almost hit a deer." Dez steered the truck further off the roadway and idled on the side of the road. She had gripped the wheel so tightly that the ring on her left hand had dug into the soft flesh on the underside of her finger. It took a moment for the pain from that to abate. Jaylynn stared out the window, her eyes searching the highway and for a few seconds, neither of them spoke.
Dez swallowed with difficulty. "Damn, that was close. Keep an eye out. Where there's one, there's usually more." She took her foot off the brake and pressed lightly on the accelerator, but before she could go more than a few feet, she saw movement in the rear view mirror and ahead of her.
"Look, Dez. It's a mother deer and two babies." The blonde pointed out the window with excitement.
The dark-haired woman nodded. Once the three deer crossed the road, she navigated the truck forward, half on the shoulder of the road. Looking to the right, she could see the reflection of more eyes among the trees. "Geez, it's a whole herd."
Jaylynn nestled closer and tightened up her seatbelt. She leaned into the bigger woman. "Good driving, partner. If I was at the wheel, I bet I might've hit one of them."
A snort of laughter came out of Dez. "I bet you would, too. How many car accidents have you had now anyway?"
Jaylynn looked up at her, and what she said next came out sharply. "I'll have you know I've never had an accident, not one! Not even a ticket!"
"Hey, hey! Okay. I stand corrected."
"I have perfectly good reflexes, Miss Mario Andretti. I got rated higher than 95% of the officers at Pursuit Training."
Dez had been gradually accelerating, and now she was up to 50 miles per hour. She took her eyes off the road for a split second to look Jaylynn in the eye, then returned to scanning the highway. "Yeah, what about that little accident you had at the speedway?"
"You can't count that! We were supposed to learn how to crack up the cars."
Jaylynn's voice was filled with so much indignation that Dez was having a hard time holding back laughter. "I think you're supposed to learn how to avoid cracking up the cars."
The rookie crossed her arms in front of her and stared forward. After a moment, she said in a quiet voice, "You need to understand that I've never done one damn risky thing in my life, Dez. I was never a foolhardy child. I have always been responsible and organized and-and-well, downright boring."
"You've never been boring."
"Don't patronize me."
The words had come out sharply again, so Dez chose her next words with care. "I have known you less than a year and a half, Jay, but I can honestly say I have never found you boring. Responsible, yes. Organized, mostly. But never boring." Jaylynn didn't respond right away. Dez reach a series of curves in the road and slowed down to 40. Ahead of her, she saw two bright pinpricks of light that grew larger as they neared. The other driver turned down his bright lights at the same time Dez did, and when the sedan passed them, she flipped the brights back on. She took that moment to glance at her traveling companion and saw that the blonde was fuming. She reached down and placed her hand lightly on the rookie's taut thigh muscle and gave a little pat.
"Don't try to butter me up, Dez."
The big woman didn't move her hand. "I'm not trying to butter you up."
"Yeah, you're trying to humor me."
"No, I'm not. I'm reaching out to you because I want to understand why you're upset."
It all came out in a torrent. "You don't think I'm good enough to be a cop, to take care of myself on the job. You think I'm weak. You do, don't you?" The rookie looked up, accusingly, but she didn't wait for an answer. "Just because I don't have the experience you have doesn't mean I'm a mediocre officer."
It occurred to Dez that this was a continuation of the ultimatum conversation in the hospital, and she wasn't quite sure how to resolve it. "Jay, I think what we need to do is separate out your skills and abilities from my fears-and from your fears, too." She didn't go on, though the blonde seemed to be waiting for more.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You have excellent skills. You're great with people. You make good judgments-most of the time anyway. We all make mistakes here and there. You adapt well and you work hard to follow the rules and do the right thing. You were an excellent recruit, and with few exceptions, your rookie year has been exemplary. The captain and all three lieutenants in our precinct have been very impressed with you."
"But you, what about your opinion?"
The tone of misery in the blonde's voice clued Dez in. This wasn't about what the brass thought or what her partner's test scores were. This was something else entirely. She took a deep breath. "I love you, Jay. I don't want you to get hurt again. Ever. I don't want to lose you. I never want to come in from the field to learn that you have been harmed in any way. I don't want to be awakened in the middle of the night the way Julie was, with the lieutenant and the chaplain on our doorstep." Her voice broke and she took a moment to recover. "I want to trust your actions and judgments, and believe me, when I was there on patrol with you, I almost always did. The mistakes you made were normal rookie mistakes, all minor. But then, well, when we were separated, things started happening, and I was-I was plain scared. My fear has little to do with you or your abilities. Don't you see? It's my fear, my pain."
Jaylynn uncrossed her arms and rested her splinted left hand on top of Dez's. In a soft voice, she said, "What makes you think I'm not afraid? It could just as easily be you killed in the line of duty."
"Nah. Think about it. I've already been shot once-and by the way, don't ever forget that you're the one who saved my ass." Jaylynn didn't say anything, so she went on. "I know you have very good instincts. I have them, too. The odds of me being shot again are slim. I've got the odds in my favor."
"Maybe." Jaylynn's voice was skeptical.
"Look, I was wrong at the hospital for telling you to quit the force. That was fear talking. And I was so afraid that I used a really unfair argument-that you are small and not as strong as me. You are smaller, and I am stronger, but hell, you can outrun and outlift pretty much every other woman in the department, not counting Crystal. You make Pilcher look like a toad."
Jaylynn let out a laugh at that. "She couldn't run more than a block if you paid her extra."
"And we won't even talk about Cal Braswell."
"Look, my love, Luella told me the other day that I needed to work at letting go of all this worry and fear and enjoy what I have, even if it doesn't last forever. That's a novel concept for me, but I'm trying. You've gotta help me, though. You're way better at it than I am."
Jaylynn nodded thoughtfully. "I'll try, but I'm really not all that great at it either-
obviously-since I'm haranguing you here like some sort of bitchy shrew. I'm really sorry, Dez."
"I'd rather have you tell me your feelings. I guess I'd rather get it out on the table and talk about it."
"Ah, I see. Well, you'd better be prepared to reciprocate, Miss Reticent. The road has to go both ways."
"Yeah, yeah. I think Marie has dug around enough that I'm actually getting used to it."
"And a fine, fine woman she turned out to be." Jaylynn grinned and squeezed the big hand in her lap. "By the way, when the heck are we going to get there? We must be in Canada by now."
"Maybe another forty-five minutes."
"Seems like we've been on the road for hours."
"We have been on the road for hours."
"Oh, okay." She grinned mischievously. "Forty-five minutes, you think? That's just enough time for another nap."
"Oh, yeah, go ahead and desert me in my hour of need."
The blonde was already nestling down next to her. "I know you'll be fine, Sweetie. Look at what a good job you did with that herd of deer."
"Yeah, sure. You want the blanket?"
"Heck no. I don't really need it. You're better than a blanket any day."
Dez put her hand on the rookie's shoulder and Jaylynn shifted a bit so she could pull the warm hand to her chest. Dez cradled her protectively, her fingers laced with the smaller woman's. It wasn't very long before her companion fell asleep, and the tall cop was left to her own musings again. She decided that the next time she wanted a message from God, she ought to make sure she wasn't in a moving vehicle.
They arrived at Dewey's place shortly after midnight. Dez drove slowly past her friend's cabin and down the long gravel drive to the parking spot in front of Cabin G. "We're here, sleepy-head." She shook Jaylynn's shoulder only to hear the smaller woman groan.
"I was just having a really good dream," Jaylynn said in a sleepy voice.
Dez pulled into the slot and put the truck in park. She opened the door as she said, "Just get out, stagger in, and get in bed."
Jaylynn sat up, shivering, and rubbed her eyes. She yawned. "Geez, it's freezing." The dark-haired woman slid out her side of the truck and opened the door to the rear of the cab. She grabbed some of the bags while Jaylynn scooted over and followed her out the driver's side. "Brrr." She reached over the back of the seat, fumbled around until she found her gold and orange scarf, and wrapped it around her neck. "I swear to God, it's colder here than down in the Cities."
"Could be." Dez shifted the bags around and fumbled with the keys, finally saying, "Jay, will you take the keys out of my hand and open the door?"
Yawning again, the younger woman grabbed the keys. She pointed at the cabin. "Right here? We go in here?"
"Yup." Dez followed her up to the wooden door and waited while Jaylynn inserted the key and got the door open. "Light switch just inside the door to the left."
Jaylynn wasn't prepared for what she saw when she flipped the light switch. Several lights in the huge living room were connected to that switch, and when they popped on, they cast light into the kitchen as well as the living room. Her eyes took in a stone fireplace, thick colorful rugs on wooden floors, paintings of Lake Superior scenes on every wall, and a couch and three easy chairs all upholstered in golds and reds and dark blues. Dez bumped her from behind, and she stepped out of the foyer and into the doorway of the half-lit kitchen. The dark-haired woman carted the bags into the living room and through a doorway off to the side.
The blonde reached out to the kitchen wall and felt along it until she found the lights to turn on. Wow. This is really nice. The stove and fridge were both off-white, the cupboards made of shiny pine, and the walls painted a high-gloss shade of ivory. On the little bit of wall space not covered by cupboards or blocked by appliances, colorful forest scenes were hung in wooden frames. The vinyl floor was a shiny green and white with gold speckled highlights throughout. She stepped over to the counter next to the oven and touched the dark green Formica. It was smooth and cool, and everything was clean.
She heard Dez open the front door and go out for the last load, so she went to the foyer to look through the small window and wait for her to reappear. When the tall cop came back, loaded down with a duffel, her guitar case, and two grocery bags, Jaylynn opened the door for her, then closed it tight and turned the deadbolt. "This place is really something, Dez."
"Dewey has done a really nice job with this little resort of his." She put the two grocery bags down on the kitchen counter.
"I'll say. Must cost you a fortune to stay here."
"Nope. I've done a lot of work for him, so it doesn't cost a thing. C'mon. I'll show you the rest of the place." As the dark-haired woman passed through the living room and into the doorway to the left, she paused and turned the thermostat up. "The heat here works pretty fast. Should be nice and warm in short order." As Jaylynn followed her, she looked over by the wall on the other side of the kitchen wall, which she hadn't been able to see from the foyer. There stood Dez's acoustic guitar stand. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't noticed it at the apartment. Next to it was an easy chair and a small bookshelf piled full of paperbacks. A stack of newspapers nearly a foot high was heaped to the side of the chair.
Dez disappeared into the dark room and turned on the bedroom light. She tossed the duffel bag on the king-sized bed. Jaylynn followed her in, feeling the thick wall-to-wall carpeting under her feet. She looked around in wonder. The room was wallpapered in a forest green and off-white swirl pattern. She had thought the living room was large, but she saw that the bedroom was, too. In the center of the 15 x 20 foot space sat a huge king-size bed with a massive wooden headboard and a multicolored quilt on it. On either side were bedside tables, and each had a clock/radio on it. Directly across from the foot of the bed, on the opposite wall, was an entertainment center on which a large TV and VCR sat. Through the glass doors in the lower half of the stand, Jaylynn saw a row of videos. On the other wall to the right of the bed, a glass door was covered with mint green colored floor-length drapes. She strode over, slid the curtain to the side, and peeked out.
"It's a really nice deck, Jay. There's a gas barbecue grill out there and lots of lawn chairs, but they're in the storage shed right now for the winter. There are still two Adirondack chairs though, since they're made of wood and weather the storms."
Jaylynn couldn't see any of this very well. The moon was behind the clouds, and all she could make out were lines and shadows. She let the drapes drop and turned around. On the wall opposite from where she stood were two doors. She could tell one led to the bathroom because she could see the sink in there. The rookie moved over toward the other open door.
Dez said, "That's a really cool storage closet." She angled past Jaylynn and stepped inside to pull the string for the overhead light. "You can hang clothes and keep shoes on this side." She gestured to the maple cubbyholes and the long rod half-filled with hangers and hanging clothing. "On the other side here, we can keep staples-you know, canned goods, the vacuum cleaner, detergent, TP, cleaning supplies."
Jaylynn nodded as she looked around the 6 x 10 foot closet. She leaned into Dez, happy to suddenly be able to feel some heated air circulating her way. Her good hand found its way into Dez's, and she smiled when she felt the warm palm against her cooler fingers. The dark-haired woman reached up and pulled the light switch off, but not before the rookie noticed that there were a lot of familiar-looking clothes hanging up, along with a backpack, one of Dez's weapons, and two boxes of ammunition. She followed the tall woman out of the closet and poked her head into the bathroom. The light switch was right where she thought it would be-just inside the door. Letting go of Dez's hand, she stepped onto a plush mint green area rug and looked around. This room was painted a glossy tan and trimmed with a white and green tree border around the top of the walls. The full-size tub and shower took up the majority of the cozy little room, and suddenly, a hot bath sounded inviting. Some of the towels sitting on a white wicker shelf to the left of the sink were maroon and some were blue, and neither quite matched the color scheme. On the counter sat cologne, lotions, and various toiletry items.
As she turned to leave the room, Jaylynn frowned. Everywhere she looked, Dez's stuff was hanging up or set carefully or organized and ready to use. When she thought of the condition of the apartment at Luella's, it occurred to her that the place had looked pretty bare. "Dez, it looks like you've totally moved in here."
The tall woman shrugged. "I guess I practically have, little by little."
Jaylynn unzipped her coat and removed her orange and gold scarf. "Well, we had better get some things squared around. Once we get a little bit unpacked, I think I want to crash. How 'bout you?"
Dez nodded. "You hungry at all?"
The blonde shook her head. "Just tired." She didn't understand why she felt so deflated, but she had lost energy as she had looked around the cabin. Something was bothering her, but she wasn't sure what. She slipped her coat off and tucked her scarf into the sleeve.
"There's a front closet, Jay. Here let me take that." Dez took the brown coat and left the room. Jaylynn wandered along behind her. Next to the front door there was, indeed a wide closet with bi-fold doors. On the floor sat a jumble of cross-country skis, bags, and boxes. Several coats-some Dez's, some not-hung already in the closet. "Every time someone leaves something here, Dewey just co-opts it for the cabin. There's about 10 extra coats here and a bucket of mittens up there."
"What's in there?" Jaylynn pointed to a door next to the closet.
Dez turned the knob and swung the door open so she could see the sink and toilet. "It's a guest bathroom." She shut the door and turned around, then leaned back against it.
Jaylynn tipped her head back and looked up at the tall woman. "Dez?" The tall woman bit her lip and looked her in the eye. "What's wrong?"
An emotion passed across the dark-haired woman's features, but Jaylynn couldn't identify it before Dez squelched it and assumed a more passive look. She arched an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I don't know. It's just . . .hmmm." She took a step forward and leaned into her companion. Long arms encircled her and pulled her close, and her arms found their way around the small of the bigger woman's back. She could feel Dez's chin resting on the top of her head, and with her right ear pressed against the flannel of the dark-haired woman's shirt, she heard a slow, steady heartbeat. In contrast, her own heart beat a rapid thump-thump, and without warning, her legs went weak. No longer tired, she pulled Dez to an upright position, turned her around, and guided her toward the bedroom.
"What about the unpacking?"
She laughed. "I don't give a damn about the unpacking." As she passed into the room, she gave the light switch a swipe with her good hand, and the room went dim, only the light from the living room shining in.
Dez stopped at the foot of the bed, her back to the younger woman, and kicked her shoes off, which Jaylynn also did. Then the rookie pushed her onto the bed, face away from her. Dez put a jean-covered knee on the quilt and crawled toward the top of the bed, but before she could get turned around, Jaylynn was beside her, pressing against her until she shifted onto her side, then to her back. The smaller woman hovered above her, her fingers tangled in the dark-haired woman's French braid. She smoothed a tendril of dark hair to one side to expose the smooth creamy skin of the pale neck below, then kissed her there, behind her ear. The effect upon Dez was electric. Her body went taut and the blonde could feel the response. Jaylynn's lips sought out the big woman's mouth, and an urgent hunger overtook her kisses. She unbuttoned the flannel shirt, reached inside the material to find warm skin, then sighed. She closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation of the toasty smooth skin under her fingers. Reaching down to fumble with the button on Dez's jeans, she became aware that something had changed. One minute Dez was awash with passion, and now the long body had stiffened.
"Wait. Wait, Jay."
"Isn't it terrible? I just want to devour you-touch every part of you. I feel absolutely greedy." Dez didn't reply, so the rookie took a deep breath and scooted up. She let her body slide to the side, her left elbow digging into the quilt next to the dark-haired woman, and her right leg still across the jean-clad legs. "What's the matter?" She tried to look into her partner's eyes. In the dim light, she saw that Dez's eyes were shut tight. With alarm, she asked again, "Dez, what's the matter-what's wrong?"
The tall woman put her left arm over her face, and her voice, when it came, was husky. "I don't know. I'm just . . ." She took a deep breath. "I'm afraid."
Jaylynn felt the energy that had been building, the excitement that she had been feeling, rush out of her. In its place, a whirlwind of doubts came into her mind. She pushed those fears aside and as calmly as possible, asked, "Why? Why are you afraid?"
There was a break of time before Dez's next words came out, this time in a whisper. "I-I don't know how to explain it."
Jaylynn waited, but Dez didn't move and she didn't say any more. Another wave of fear, this one coupled with fatigue, washed over the blonde. She rolled away from the dark-haired woman and swung her feet off the bed and onto the floor. For a few moments, with all that blood pumping through her body, she had been quite warm, but now she shivered. She unbuttoned her shirt, unhooked the clasps of her bra, and shed both. We were fine on the way up here. We've been communicating well until now. What is this all about? She racked her brain to try to understand, but no bright ideas floated up. Unbuttoning her pants, she thought about all that had happened to them. It hadn't even been two full days yet since she'd flown home. Of course they had things to talk about, things to consider, but she had hoped they could get to them leisurely over the next few days.
She stepped out of her pants and slipped her socks off, then pulled the covers back on the edge of the bed. "Shove over, you big galoot," she said in a falsely hearty voice. "Better yet, why don't you get out of those clothes and get in here and warm me up."
As Jaylynn squirmed in, Dez rolled the other direction, across the expanse of the king-sized bed. When her feet hit the floor, she sat on the edge of the bed, her back to the rookie. Jaylynn didn't know what to do. Do I go to her? Talk to her? Yell? Cry? What is the right response here? Because she didn't know the answers to the questions running through her head, she decided to just wait.
After a moment, the tall cop stood and slipped out of her clothes, leaving only her briefs on. She stood a moment, as if uncertain, and then Jaylynn watched as she went toward the living room and disappeared around the corner. For a moment, the blonde was alarmed. Before she could consider the reasons why Dez would leave the room, the lights went out, plunging the whole place into complete darkness, except for the red displays on the clock/radios on either side of the bed. The faint red glow gave only just enough light for her to see the tall form that ambled back into the room and around the other side of the bed. Dez pulled the covers back and joined her under the cool covers. As the dark-haired woman scooted over, Jaylynn moved toward her until they were both in the middle of the bed, right next to one another. The smaller woman turned onto her side and pressed the front of her thighs against the side of Dez's legs, which, she was surprised to feel, were chilled. She snuggled up against the bigger woman, both of them shivering, until gradually, they warmed to one another.
I don't know what's wrong, and I don't know what to do. She let herself agonize for a few moments, worrying that she had said or done something to upset or offend Dez . . . but then she pushed those thoughts out of her mind. Whatever was wrong with her taciturn partner probably didn't have as much to do with her as it did with all that had happened in the last few weeks. Something was definitely bothering her, but until the tall cop chose to share that with her, she would just have to wait. She bit her tongue and forced herself not to ask any more questions. Weariness overtook her, and she fell asleep.
Dez lay in the darkened room, wide awake. She had noted the exact moment when Jaylynn's breath had gone from its regular waking tempo to slow and measured. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it had been almost an hour ago.
What a disaster I made of this evening. Everything was going perfectly. If she could have smacked herself without waking Jaylynn, she would have. Instead, she lay very still, listening to the younger woman's soft breathing as she upbraided herself for what she thought of as stupidity. Afraid? I'm afraid? What the hell am I so damn scared of? That's ridiculous.
But she could not escape it. She was afraid. She felt shaky inside, short of breath. It had been coming over her in waves since shortly after she and the blonde had tumbled into bed. And what must Jaylynn think of her? Does she think I'm nuts, or what? If I were her, I would. She threaded her fingers together, feeling the solidity of the metal band around her ring finger. For several minutes she toyed with the ring, twisting it first one way, then the other, feeling the engraved pattern all around it.
She turned over on her side facing Jaylynn's back, and the warm figure next to her squirmed and adjusted until her back and legs were tucked against the front of the dark-haired woman. Dez put her arm across the smaller woman's hip, and Jaylynn settled down again.
I need her so much . . . I love her so much that it's scaring me to death. What if I lose her? What if she leaves me? What if she gets hurt or dies on duty? Oh God, how can I deal with this? She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to get up, pack her things, and run away.
She didn't move. She lay next to the slumbering blonde, her heart beating fast, while a rampage of horrible visions of death and dismemberment played in her mind. Not only could she feel her heart pounding, she could hear it, too, the thud beating in her ears, a steady drumbeat that she couldn't make stop. She no longer needed to sleep and dream to be confronted with these fears; she could lie there wide awake and visualize all the scenes of everything she was afraid of in vivid technicolor. Her skin went cold, her flesh crawled, and despite feeling chilled, she was sweating. She thought she now understood what a waking nightmare was, and if she had had any idea whatsoever that she would feel this way, she would perhaps have brought it up with Marie earlier in the day.
Despite the fears coursing through her mind, she was so fatigued that after more time passed, she felt herself drift off to sleep. With a start, she jerked awake, afraid of what she might experience if she did allow herself to lose consciousness. She was about ready to rise and creep out to the living room when Jaylynn turned over. In a sleepy voice, she said, "Okay. We're to the point now where you have two choices-either you lie still and sleep peacefully, or else you tell me what the hell is wrong."
Dez's breath came out in a rush, and her heart was beating so violently that she couldn't speak.
Jaylynn went on, her voice grumpy. "I'm happy I got a good fifteen minutes of sleep, but since then, you've been twitching and flipping around like a beached fish. Just tell me, Dez. Whatever it is won't kill you."
Dez gulped and for a moment wasn't able to breathe. When she finally opened her mouth to speak, her words came out in a quiet whisper. "What will I do if you leave me?"
Jaylynn answered promptly. "I'm not leaving you."
"But how do you know that? How can you be sure?"
Jaylynn shifted up toward the head of the bed, punched at the pillow, and wriggled until she got comfortable. "I don't know how I know, but I do." She reached out and put her hand on the dark-haired woman's shoulder to pull her closer, and Dez let herself be reeled in.
"It's embarrassing to admit, but I'm still afraid, Jay."
She let out a sigh. "Look, I'll sign anything you want-in blood, too. I'm not going anywhere, Dez. I love you."
Dez wrapped the blonde in her arms and pressed her face into the short hair, which smelled faintly of strawberries. In a muffled voice she said, "How do you know your feelings won't change?"
The warmth Dez was feeling went away suddenly, replaced with a cold chill. She was so afraid she was going to start trembling that she could not utter a word.
"Look, Miss Worrywart, both of us are going to grow and change and feel more and more deeply about each other. I'm looking forward to that, to finding out all the rest of your quirks and oddities." She stroked the bigger woman's back, letting her palm run down to the slim hip and along Dez's thigh, then back up. In a soft voice, with her mouth near the tall cop's ear, she said, "I don't know how to make you understand how I feel-except by making love with you."
Dez shivered, but this time it wasn't from cold. Her heart beat a little faster, and she swallowed. "So that's what you're telling me at those times, huh?"
"Yes." She giggled. "I'm not just getting my jollies. It means so much more." She pressed her lips into the soft neck in front of her. Her next words came out in a whisper. "Can I kiss you?"
The dark-haired woman didn't answer, but her lips found Jaylynn's and made contact. The kiss was sweet, and Dez could tell the smaller woman was holding back the insistence she had shown earlier. She rolled the rookie over onto her back and deepened the kiss. When she pulled away, they were both breathless. She wished she could see Jaylynn's face better, but there was only the faintest of light in the room. She considered getting up and switching on a light, but before she could even move, Jaylynn spoke up.
"I'm afraid . . ."
Now it was Dez's turn to be confused. "What?"
"I'm afraid you're squishing me!" She let out a shriek and jabbed her fingers into Dez's sides, tickling her as furiously as she could and knowing that she'd be overcome by her stronger partner in seconds. Laughing, Dez used her strong arms to push up and scramble away from the blonde, until she was kneeling halfway down the bed and fending her off.
With mock seriousness, she said, "I tell you the secrets of my heart and soul, and you tickle me?"
"You got that right." The rookie shifted up onto her knees and used her hands and body to push against the bigger woman, but Dez held her off until she steadied the two of them by putting her arms around the blonde. Knee to knee, balancing on the soft mattress, they both breathed deeply, still laughing. Tentatively, Jaylynn reached up with her good hand and touched the tall woman's breast. "Is this okay-can I touch you?"
But the nervousness arose again, and Dez felt her heart beating painfully. She couldn't control the wave of panic. Now she was glad that it was dark so that the blonde couldn't see the flush of embarrassment that she felt spread from her breastbone, up her face, all the way up to the roots of her hair. Closing her eyes, she stopped breathing, and tried to force all thought out of her mind.
Taking hold of one of the tall woman's hands, Jaylynn sat back from her kneeling position onto her heels, leaving Dez towering over her on her knees. "Why don't you lie down, and I'll just rub your back?"
Without a word, the dark-haired woman leaned forward, sliding around Jaylynn, and sank down onto the bed face-first. She took a pillow and wadded it up inside the circle of her arms and pressed her forehead into it.
Jaylynn pulled the covers up over her shoulders, and settled herself along the left side of Dez's long form, her right leg over the back of the big woman's left thigh. Supporting her upper body with her left elbow, she stroked Dez's bare back with her right hand. "I still remember way back at the end of last winter when I came over to your apartment and made the moves on you. I didn't understand then what I know now-and what I learned over Labor Day weekend. You close up like a hermit crab, Dez, anytime you are worried or afraid." She scooted up closer to work the muscles in the tense neck below her, using her fingers to dig in a little bit every so often. "You don't have to be that way with me. I'll tell you how I feel, and you tell me what your feelings are. It's pretty simple. I guess I don't expect you to trust me one hundred percent immediately, but maybe over time?"
Dez turned her head to the side and her voice came out in a raspy whisper. "It's not that I don't trust you." Jaylynn waited for something further. "I don't trust the world. It's a pretty damn awful place."
The smaller woman stopped rubbing the muscles in her upper back and nestled in with her arm around Dez's ribcage. "That's why we're supposed to be a refuge for one another."
The dark-haired woman let out a big sigh and shifted so that she was facing her partner. "That's how it's supposed to work, huh?"
"What if I'm no good at it?"
Jaylynn let out a giggle and pressed firmly against the side of the warm waist that was snug against her. "Then I'll just do the tickle torture on you every chance I get until you learn."
"I see. Well, all I have to say is that I'm glad Marie's my shrink and not you. She practices a hands off policy when I get like this."
A deep throaty hum came from Jaylynn, and she said, "I could never keep my hands off you, Desiree Reilly."
The dark-haired woman shook her head. "I keep wondering if you're nuts or what." She started to go on, then paused a moment. "And I keep wondering when all of this is going to end because believe me when I say, nobody feels this way about me. It's never happened."
Jaylynn's right hand came up and found the tall cop's face. She cupped the overly warm cheek in her hand, and said, "You were due." Dez smiled. "And maybe I was due, too. Did you ever consider that?" She snuggled closer to the smooth body next to her, and let her hand stroke down the neck, along her companion's shoulder, and down her arm, but made no move to do anything more than stroke the satiny hip and thigh near her. She lay quietly, waiting.
"Would you stay with me, Jay, if we could never make love again."
Without hesitation, the blonde said, "Yes."
"Because I love you-not just your body, but all of you. I like being with you. I like your sense of humor. I love the way you think, the things you know, the stuff you tell me. I need to talk to you, to have you listen to me. I crave that. I need it like, well, like-air. I almost went crazy these last few weeks without you."
Dez gathered her tighter into her arms and pulled her close. "You would've gotten over it. Really. You're very resilient." She brushed the blonde hair out of Jaylynn's eyes, stroking her cheek and the side of her neck softly.
"I wouldn't ever have gotten over it. Don't ever say that again. Maybe the hole in my heart would have healed, but the scar would be there always, a little ache that would never totally go away."
Dez nodded. She knew-with a sudden poignance-what Jaylynn was saying. There were people in her life whom she had loved so deeply that when they left or died, they, too, left a terrible scar. And maybe it was the fear of further scarring that was making her so afraid tonight. At the same time, as they lay there, some little part of her heart was also filling up, expanding, as though to say, Yeah, I'm battered and scarred, but I'm a long ways from stopping. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she felt a sense of gratefulness wash over her that just a few minutes earlier, she would never have guessed she would feel. She tipped her face against the smaller woman's shoulder and choked out, "I just love you so much, Jay. I can't help but worry."
"It's okay. I understand. I worry about you, too." They lay there for several moments, wrapped in a tight embrace and then the blonde sighed. "Shall we try to get some sleep?"
Dez responded by leaning closer to her partner and seeking out her lips. She willed herself to relax, to let any bad thoughts out of her mind. "No," she murmured into the small ear below her. "Not quite yet. I'd like to-to make love with you." Her legs shivered with weakness, and very quickly all thoughts, good and bad, fled from her mind and were replaced by the pleasure of communicating the love she felt through touch.
Later, well after three in the morning, Dez was leaning against the headboard, pillows behind her. Jaylynn sprawled on her side between the V of the big woman's legs with her head on the reclining woman's abdomen. Dez had pulled the covers up around the blonde's neck, but she herself was, as usual, overly warm. In a while she planned to get up and turn the heater down.
As she stroked the white-blonde head resting below her rib cage, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her body was finally relaxed enough to sleep, but her mind wasn't quite there yet. She was still puzzling over too many things.
"Hmm?" She had thought Jaylynn had fallen asleep.
"How come you were never afraid when we made love before?"
"Who said I wasn't afraid?"
"You never seemed afraid-well, except for our very first night, I mean. But that was different."
Dez looked across the dark room and out into the living room. A shaft of light from the moon must have been shining in because there was an odd silver tone out there. "Maybe back then I was better at denial. I didn't let myself think about things that I'm worrying about now."
"Why is it that I'm not the one worrying that you will leave me?"
"Because I'm more reliable?" She let out a hearty laugh that she squelched when she felt a sharp pinch on her hipbone. "Hey, just kidding."
"Yeah, I know-but I was serious. How does either of us know that the other won't leave?"
"I guess we don't."
Jaylynn started to push up off her elbow, but it was her left arm, and her weak wrist was at an odd angle that made it hurt. She turned her forearm over, palm up, and pressed, while scooting upward. She hefted herself up and over one of Dez's thighs and arranged herself along the bigger woman's right side. Pulling the covers up over herself, she snuggled in close. "I won't leave you, Dez. I can't promise anything more than that, but I want to be with you. I love being with you. I'm yours as long as you want me."
"Oh, Jay, I'll always want you." She snaked a long arm around the rookie's neck and turned slightly so that they settled into a comfortable embrace with the tousled blonde head under her chin.
They were still lying that way four hours later when Dez awakened again. She looked out into the living room where shafts of sunlight slanted into the room, then glanced over at the clock on her side of the bed. She closed her eyes and slipped back to sleep.
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