UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
email@example.com -- www.LoriLake.com
THANKS: You all exhibited great patience last weekend.
GOOD NEWS: I just got word that books from some of the online booksellers are FINALLY being shipped, so that was good to hear. Those of you who have been waiting patiently ought to get them in the coming days. Don't forget that if you send me an SASE, I will send you a bookplate for your book. 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. Right now, 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.
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 curly haired psychiatrist pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. She hummed an old John Denver tune as she moved around her office watering plants. She'd already had her morning cup of coffee-multiple cups, in fact-and seen an eight a.m. client. Now she was ready for her ten o'clock challenge, but she had a twenty minute break until then.
She opened a door near the kitchen area and leaned in to set the watering pitcher on the back of the toilet tank in the small bathroom, then pulled that door closed and opened the one next to it to enter her office. Her sanctuary from her patients was a pleasant haven. One wall of the large, square room contained six 4-drawer file cabinets next to a tall table with a fax machine on it. The west wall was floor to ceiling bookcases spilling over with many volumes: medical books, novels, self-help/how-to books, and diagnostic manuals. The remaining two adjoining walls had a built-in corner desk with work surfaces that stretched twelve feet along the walls each way. Built-in drawers underneath and cabinets overhead gave her plenty of space for storage. Her computer fit nicely at the point where the two desk surfaces met in the corner. She had paid a pretty penny to outfit the office, but it was worth it to her. She had plenty of room to organize, to sort, to research, and to work.
In the middle of the room was one long table, three feet wide and about six feet long. On it were papers and research cards for the topic of her current investigation about a new therapy, EMDR, which was short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. She hoped the treatment would be a useful tool to help patients who were dealing with the after-effects of trauma and extreme stress.
She sat at her desk and went over the notes she'd made after Monday's session with Desiree Reilly, then looked over the reports from the police department and from her colleague, Dr. Raina Goldman. In a sidenote on a Post-it attached to her official report, Raina had written, "Uncooperative, headstrong, unresponsive, and damn hard to deal with. You'll be lucky to pry any information at all out of this client."
Making a tsk-tsk noise, the therapist muttered, "Raina, Raina, what you don't know...." Marie liked Raina, but the younger psychologist wasn't always very patient, and some clients-particularly cops and firemen-needed a certain amount of coaxing. Reilly was probably no exception.
Marie had attempted to mentor the younger doctor, but Goldman was just as headstrong as she claimed Officer Reilly to be. Marie smiled. Ah, youth, she thought. To be that young again....
She wondered how old Reilly was. The tall woman seemed weary and worldly wise-and yet, her face was unlined. By her demeanor, she would seem to be in her early 40's, but her appearance put her in late 20's. Marie flipped through her reports until she found Goldman's biographical notes.
Desiree Reilly, born 12-16-71
Father, deceased police officer, died, heart attack 1988, at age 42
Mother, ophthalmologist, age 54
One sibling, Patrick, two years younger
Numerous aunts and uncles
Estranged from the aunts and uncles? Or from the whole family? And why the question mark next to "Single"? Goldman's notes were less than clear. She would have to touch base with her colleague and verify this information. The one thing that seemed clear was that the dark-haired woman would soon celebrate her thirtieth birthday. Twenty-nine years old now ... hmmm.
She reorganized the loose paperwork, evened up the edges, and inserted the top under a two-hole punch, then tacked the reports in a folder which she labeled with the officer's name. She grabbed a sheaf of blank paper on which to write notes and tacked it to the other side of the file. She had no doubt that before she and Dez Reilly completed their appointments, she would have written a great many pages of notes.
She checked her watch and discovered she still had ten minutes before her patient was due. Setting the case file aside, she rose and left her office. In the kitchen area, she rinsed out her latest favorite coffee conveyor, the Minnie Mouse mug, which was a gift following her granddaughter's recent visit to Disneyland. The creak of the front door signaled her client's arrival, so she poured herself a mug of hot black coffee and took it to the coffee table. Next to that low table was a basket full of Barbie dolls in various stages of undress. Little shoes and jackets and dresses were piled underneath a jumbled assortment of long, multi-colored limbs and impossibly ratty hair. She sighed. Why children liked Barbie dolls was beyond her. Just about every morning she attempted to bring some semblance of order to the collection.
It was early, but she opened the door to the waiting room to find her patient seated stiffly in a blue chair. Once again she noted the fatigue and misery that enveloped the tall, dark-haired woman. "Hey, Dez. You're early."
"Want to come in and help me with something?"
The lanky policewoman rose, cradling something in her left hand. "Depends on what it is."
Marie smiled. "It's nothing too terribly onerous. Come on in."
As Dez reached the doorway, she held her hand out with the wooden carving resting in it. "I-uh-well, I accidentally made off with this on Tuesday. Sorry about that."
Marie smiled again. "Not to worry. I knew you'd bring it in today."
Dez stopped and took an almost imperceptible step back. "How'd you know I'd come back?"
Marie had to fight to hold back a chuckle. "Dez, every report I read said you are an honest person. I knew you'd bring back the carving."
"I could have mailed it."
"Too much trouble. You're here before it'd ever have come in the mail." She ushered her patient in. "Have a seat, and let's see if we can get this stuff organized."
Dez looked at her blankly, but folded herself down into the same chair she'd sat in two days earlier. Marie set the bear carving on the coffee table and slid it and all the knick-knacks to the far left. She picked up the basket of Barbie paraphernalia and dumped it onto the right side of the table. The woman across from her cocked her head to the side and frowned. Marie picked up the Rainbow Princess Barbie and rooted around until she found a pink tulle dress and a pair of matching slippers. She glanced up at Dez. "Well? You going to help or just watch me?"
"I know you must do some child psychiatry, but-" Dez shook her head slowly from side to side, "-you're not going to make me play with dolls...are you?"
Marie let out a peal of laughter. "No, no, no, no. Just help me get these damn things dressed. I have little girls to see all afternoon, and I feel it's best if the dolls at least start out clothed. In matters of sexual and physical abuse, when the kids play with the dolls they usually undress them, and it tells me a lot about what they're coping with. But most of them don't ever get the clothes back on them. There are plenty of fancy getups here. Just grab anything that sort of matches and put it on."
Despite her splinted finger, Dez proved adept at threading the stiff plastic limbs into their little outfits and getting them snapped up, something that Marie had trouble with. She was starting to worry that she might need reading glasses. The snaps never seemed to line up for her. Dez, however, was easily dressing two dolls to every one Marie worked on.
"How many of these things do you have?" Dez said, gesturing at the heap of dolls.
"Oh, maybe twenty. But sometimes I let a child take one, and they do break occasionally. I have a whole drawer full of new ones that replace these as I dump 'em or give 'em away."
Dez nodded. They worked quietly for a couple more minutes until Marie picked up the last doll. The black haired woman tossed a Skipper doll on the table, after dressing her in pink and white striped pants, a hot pink blouse, and pink shoes. "Doctor, you can talk me into dressing these ridiculous creatures, but I will not brush that rats' nest of hair."
Marie looked up in a surprise, expecting a sly smirk on the other woman's face, but instead, Dez looked dour and serious. The tall woman leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and said, "I never liked Barbie dolls. I pretty much hated them. My mother was so disappointed." She paused. "Pretty much everybody is disappointed in me."
Marie tried once more to snap the top of a tiny fur coat, then gave up. She set the final doll on the table, along with the stack of others, and looked at the woman across from her. "Is there a list of everyone who is disappointed in you?"
Dez shrugged. "I could make one."
"Are you disappointed in yourself?"
Looking down at the floor, Dez nodded.
"Tell me why."
With vehemence, the younger woman said, "Because I have to be here. Because I'm not able to work. Because my whole life has fallen into shit."
Marie nodded. "Tell me more." She wondered what had happened in the intervening 48 hours since she had last seen Dez. Something had changed.
But the well had run dry, and though the tall woman did talk some more, she didn't say anything of great consequence. For just a moment, Marie had seen a little crack in the façade, but just as quickly, it closed up. Still, it was a start. Maybe today would not be a break-through day, but soon. Patience, that's what I need. All will be revealed if I just wait.
The dark-haired woman rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. She had a splitting headache, and everything was bleary. Now I know why I so rarely drink. She sat up slowly, on the edge of the bed, and waited until the pounded lessened, then rose and crept toward the bathroom.
One look at herself in the mirror was enough to make her happy she wasn't going anywhere for the day.
She didn't think she was ready for a pelting shower, and she didn't have any aspirin, so she ran some cool water, scooped it up in her hands, and immersed her face in the clear water over and over. It didn't help. Leaning over the sink, she let the water drip from her face as she reached for a towel to dry herself off with. She looked in the mirror. If anything, she looked worse, paler than before. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her skin looked transparent. She could see blue veins under the surface.
For cripesake, why did I go and do that? Sometimes, I'm a total idiot. She stumbled out of the bathroom and back to the king-sized bed. She lowered herself cautiously, then thought that perhaps she should go get some water to flush her system out, but she was suddenly woozy and fatigued.
She had stopped the night before at the tavern half a mile up the highway, and after eating a hamburger and drinking a beer, she'd ordered another Michelob. And another. She stayed and watched basketball and boxing on the sports channel. She sat in the back of the bar by herself, her feet up on the bench on the other side of the booth. Nobody bothered her. The waitress stopped by every twenty minutes or so to refresh her drink, and almost three hours later, when the dark-haired cop rose to go, she had wobbly legs and a $27.95 bill to pay.
She made her way out to the truck, but realized she was too drunk to drive. She wasn't too drunk to walk, though. She took her gun and holster, locked up the Ford, and set off down the road to Dewey's cabins. The cold cleared her head a little, but all that beer made her feel mournful. She thought of Jaylynn, of Luella, of Ryan. She thought of her family, remembering the handsome face of her father, and found herself crying. When a car came around the bend toward her on the road, she could hardly see through the blur of tears. As the car passed, she wiped them away with the sleeve of her Levi jacket and kept walking.
By the time she reached the cabin, her face was freezing cold from tears and falling snow. Though it was only nine p.m., she struggled out of her clothes and got into bed, wearing only a t-shirt, and spent the night dreaming troubling nightmares that she could not banish by sheer dint of will or by any other means.
Now, in the light of day, she realized that when she slept-or any time her conscious thought wandered-she had a little movie going in her mind, some sort of timeless, tireless projector that was running soundless, wordless movies. Images, clear scenes, flashed on her mind's screen, with a sequence of events that ran in slow motion. She could hear her own breath, but nothing else. She couldn't taste or smell, only see. And what she saw terrified her.
She didn't think any amount of alcohol would obliterate the visions, and actually, last night they had seemed worse-bloodier, more confusing, with strange scenes eddying totally out of control around her. Nope, no more beer for me.
After a while, she fell back to sleep again, and when she woke up three hours later, her head wasn't pounding nearly as badly. She took a warm shower and made some tea. Sitting at the breakfast table, she looked out the window toward the trees behind Dewey's spread. A chattering chipmunk ran up the trunk of a giant oak, then along a branch. Isn't he a lively fellow? How come he's not hibernating? He made a little hop from one branch to another and disappeared on the other side of the tree. In the night, about four inches of snow had fallen, and the blanket of white stretched as far as she could see out the window. She rose and looked around the corner into the living room. She had quite a bit of wood, but it wouldn't hurt to split some more. She looked at her watch. Eleven a.m. She'd give herself a little more time, time for her head to stop beating like a snare drum. In a few hours, before dark, she would go out to Dewey's woodshed and chop up a storm.
It had been five days since Jaylynn had last seen Dez, and she was sick with worry about the dark-haired woman. It was all she could do to keep from crying every time she thought of her. She felt entirely out of sorts, both physically and emotionally. Tonight she tried to take her mind off it by cleaning and organizing her room. She had her stereo cranked up and was humming along to Melissa Etheridge's new song. Despite the fact that it was peppy, it wasn't helping much.
The heap of clothes on the couch belonged mostly to Dez. She pulled her own sweats and two t-shirts out of the pile, leaving a pair of jeans, two long-sleeved shirts, three t-shirts, and a sweatshirt, all of which she began folding and stacking at the far end of the couch. She picked up the St. Patrick's sweatshirt last and pressed her face to it. It smelled like Dez, sort of woodsy and sweet.
Tears sprang to her eyes. Why don't you call and tell me where you are? Why? You can't think I meant what I said at the hospital? A sick feeling rolled over her. She sat on the couch, still holding the sweatshirt, and let the tears come. She had tried paging the tall cop to no avail. Every time she dialed the cell phone number, the carrier's recording came on to say that the phone was out of service. Dez didn't ever answer the phone at the apartment either.
The Melissa song ended, and she heard some strings, then a rhythmic bass beat began.
You're beautiful, that's for sure, you'll never ever fade.
You're lovely but it's not for sure, that I won't ever change ...
It was like a message from Dez directly to her, and she didn't like the sound of it. The song went on until the chorus:
I'm like a bird, I'll only fly away,
I don't know where my soul is,
I don't know where my home is ...
Jaylynn wadded up the sweatshirt in her lap and threw it across the room. It hit the wall and slid down. "Damn you, Dez! Why are you doing this? To punish me?" She reached over and turned the radio off, and as she did, a figure appeared in her doorway, startling her. "Sara! Geez! You snuck up on me."
The brown-haired woman gave her a funny look. "Your music was loud. It's not like I meant to scare you. Jay?"
The blonde looked away. "What?"
"What's the matter?" This brought on a fresh spate of tears. Sara came into the room and sat on the couch next to her friend. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"You don't seem fine."
In an angry voice, Jaylynn said, "It's like every sappy song that comes on the radio makes me cry. I can't stop wondering and worrying about Dez, and I don't know what to do."
Sara scooted over until she was sitting thigh to thigh with Jaylynn. She patted the smaller woman's leg. "There isn't anything you can do until she chooses to resurface."
"But why! Why is she doing this?"
Sara shrugged. "Who can tell? I think you have to wait until she is ready to talk to you." She looked at Jaylynn out of the corner of her eye. "Little Miss Patience-waiting is no fun, is it?"
"No! I want to smack her. The minute I see her, I'm going to walk right up and sock her in the stomach."
Sara giggled. "I'm sure that will incapacitate her immediately, and then she will spill her guts right away to tell you what's been happening."
"You know what I mean!"
"Not really, but I'll take your word for it."
Jaylynn leaned into her friend and put her head on Sara's shoulder. They sat there for a few moments until they heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Tim appeared in the doorway, followed by Kevin whose hand he held.
"Hi, guys," Sara said.
"Well, you girlie girls ... Jaylynn?" Tim said in a worried voice. "What's wrong?" He let go of Kevin's hand and strode right up to the couch, squatted down, and looked at her with concern. Kevin crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe.
"It's nothing ... I'm just missing Dez."
"Where the hell is she?" the red-haired man spat out. "Do you mean to tell me she still hasn't called you?"
Jaylynn shook her head, her eyes red-rimmed and face a mask of misery.
Tim stood up. He pounded his right fist into the palm of his left hand. "I'll take care of her. Kevin and I will track her down-teach her a lesson. We oughta go beat the crap out of her for this."
Sara burst out laughing. "Oh, please ... you and what gay army? She'd beat the hell out of both of you. One-handed. Blindfolded. Lying down."
Tim said, "She seemed so devoted to you, Jay. Where has she gone?"
"I don't know," the blonde said. "No one seems to know at the station either. I mean, I know she's in trouble for everything that happened at the beat-down, but the brass don't seem that concerned. I don't understand why she's on leave or why she doesn't call me."
Sara said, "Well, you did sort of tell her off at the hospital, didn't you?"
A fresh wave of tears came over her, and she fought for control. She didn't quite remember exactly what she had said to the tall cop-she didn't want to think of it.
Tim shook his head. "I still think we oughta go have a word with her."
Sara said, "We wish you could, but no one knows where she is, Tim."
Jaylynn listened to her friends discussing possible ways of locating the tall cop. She knew they were just concerned for her, but really, there was nothing anyone could do to help her. She just had to wait. It didn't seem fair-and it wasn't, as far as she was concerned-but that's the way it was. "Thanks for the generous offer of murder and mayhem, guys-"
"Hey," Kevin said from the doorway, "I never offered any violence."
"I stand corrected," the blonde said. "Tim, thanks for your offer, and thanks to you, Kevin, and Sara, for the moral support, but I just have to deal with this on my own."
Tim put his hands out, palms up. "I still think someone ought to teach her a lesson ..."
Sara giggled again. "Tim, you remind me of the Lion in The Wizard of Oz."
Everyone but Tim laughed.
"You know, I am pretty sure that was a slam," he said.
"Oh, no," Sara said with mock seriousness, "I would never slam either you or the Lion, since you both have such pretty hair." He narrowed his eyes and advanced toward her. "Officer Savage, help! A homicidal maniac is after me!" Shrieking with laughter, the two women rose and grabbed at Tim, dragging him down to the floor in front of the couch.
Tim twisted and struggled, but Jaylynn held up her casted arm. "Careful, Little Big Man, you don't want to hurt my wrist, do you?"
In a strangled voice, Tim said, "Kevin, help."
"Not a chance," came the voice from the doorway. "You got yourself into this mess, and you can get yourself out."
Pinned to the floor, the red-haired man gasped, "You two are evil! You're-you're she-demons from hell ..." This only provoked Jaylynn and Sara, and they tickled him mercilessly. "This is what I get for-ugh-sticking up for my friends ..."
"No," Sara said. "This is what you get for being bossy and uppity."
They wrestled with him for a few more moments, and then finally let him up. With his dignity badly bruised, he left the room, swearing revenge, which everyone knew would probably come in the form of some sort of fattening cake or pie.
The two women sat on the floor, catching their breath while leaning back against the couch. Sara poked Jaylynn in the leg. "You want to go out for something to eat and to a late movie?"
"What about Bill?"
"He's beat. He wants to watch a little TV and hit the hay early, so it's just you 'n' me, kid. What do ya say?"
Jaylynn nodded. "I'd like that. Thanks." She sprang to her feet and reached down with her good hand to pull Sara to hers. "Give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready."
Sara left the room and Jaylynn lowered herself to the edge of the couch. I'm really lucky to have such good friends. I don't know what I would do without them. She got up and went to the other side of the room, picked up the St. Patrick's sweatshirt and folded it carefully, set it on the stack at the end of the sofa, and went into the walk-in closet to find a pair of warm, high-top boots.
The dark-haired woman sat on a weight bench and alternately lifted dumbbells, first with her left hand, then right, until she had done eight heavy repititions on each arm. She set the weights on the floor and stood up to move around, stretching her biceps and triceps as she paced. Her t-shirt felt bunched up, so she retucked it into her shorts, glad that she didn't feel as blocky and heavy as she had a couple weeks earlier.
She looked around the workout center. At nine a.m. there were only two women walking on treadmills and a retired gentleman doing lat pulldowns on the other side of the gym. Quiet. Just how she liked it.
She looked at the clock. Today her counseling appointment was scheduled for two p.m., and keeping to the speed limit, it took her about three hours and some odd minutes to get down to the Cities, so she had plenty of time to do a few more exercises, shower, and then pick up something to eat on the way. She did another set of bicep curls, then put those dumbbells away and moved down the rack to heavier weights for doing shrugs. She picked up two sixty-pound weights, held them at her sides, and drew her shoulders up, until her neck and traps screamed. She imagined that they screamed anyway-that was how it felt. After four sets of shrugs and four rear delt lifts to finish off her shoulders, she called it quits for the day, her body feeling pleasantly fatigued. In just a couple hours, she would feel more energetic, even though some muscles might be a little sore later.
It had been eight days since she had gotten drunk, and she felt like it had taken half that time for the alcohol to get out of her system. After that little fiasco, she vowed to be more active, take better care of her body. For the last week she had driven into Duluth in the early morning and come to this gym to lift weights, then driven down to her counseling appointments, or, if it wasn't a counseling day, she'd gone hiking or chopped wood in the afternoon. She still didn't feel she was getting enough sleep, but at least today she felt somewhat rested.
Gathering up her towel and nearly empty bottle of water, she headed to the locker room. In thirty minutes, she was ready to head out. She stopped at a café just outside Duluth and got pancakes and mixed fruit. As she sat eating, she examined the display of wooden boards painted with country scenes in Grandma Moses style. What did they remind her of? She thought for a moment as she poured some maple syrup on a pancake. She remembered seeing something like this up north in Grand Marais over Labor Day when she and Jaylynn had been together. She remembered the odd little café and how upset she had been that day about the relationship her mother and her mentor, Mac, appeared to be having. It seemed like so long ago, and yet, it was a mere three and a half months back.
She pushed the plate away, crossed her arms, and waited to catch the waitress's eye to get her bill. It was going on four months. So in a little over three months, so much had changed. She had no idea what to expect of the future-or if Jaylynn would even want to work things out with her. That filled her with fear and anxiety. She had gone over and over all that had happened in the last couple of months, and despite turning the scenes every which way, she could not figure out a way to change what had occurred.
The waitress left her the ticket, and she checked it, then threw a ten on the table and left. In the truck, she plugged Shawn Colvin music into the CD player and settled back for an easy drive to St. Paul. One thing she liked about driving was that she was able to think of positive, happy things most of the time. Maybe it was because she was partly occupied with having to attend to the road and partly focused on the CD's she played. She was just glad that bizarre movie projector went on hiatus, and she didn't have to deal with its terrors.
The closer she drew to St. Paul, the more tense she got, though. It was always like this, every time she went to see Marie. This would be her fifth appointment, and by the time she was in the waiting room, she felt the same dread. She knew that once she was settled in the low brown chair for a few minutes, it would ease, but for now, she was on edge.
And for this session, being on edge was where she stayed. In the previous four sessions, Marie had been warm and supportive. Today, however, the therapist was just a little bit different, and Dez felt like she was being scrutinized much more closely than before. After a series of pointed questions, the dark-haired woman finally lost her patience. "What the hell do you want from me, huh?"
"I want you to talk to me, Dez. I want you to tell me what happened on that night in June last year. I want details."
With exasperation, she said, "What more do you need to know? We went on a call. This nut case had shot someone in the restaurant. We gave chase, and as we exited the building, Ryan was shot. He went down, but said he was okay. I went after the suspect, collared him, and brought him back. Ryan was dead." She paused, giving Marie a scowl. "That's it. What else can I say that you don't already know from the reports?"
Marie gave a half-smile. "Once more with feeling, Dez. The reports don't tell me your feelings."
"What's the point? None of my feelings will change the fact that Ryan is dead."
"But you are haunted by it."
Dez glared at her. "Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's not a pleasant memory."
"How often do you see it in your head-in your waking life and in nightmares?"
The tall cop looked away.
"Listen to me, Dez. When a person is exposed to trauma like this-especially when it touched on someone for whom you cared very much-you tend to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."
"What? I don't have that. That's crazy-it's like a-a mental disease."
"Do you think you're crazy?"
"But you have all the symptoms-the dreams, sleep difficulties, anxiety, hypervigilance. I'm trying to get you to understand that you do have PTSD. Many cops and firefighters and paramedics experience it in response to catastrophes."
Dez's eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward in the chair, ready to flee the room. "You're saying I'm crazy? Mentally ill?"
"What do you mean, 'Not exactly'? You think I'm crazy?"
"Do you think I'm crazy? After all, I have PTSD."
"What?" Dez was totally confused. Her legs suddenly felt weak, and she let herself lean back in the chair. "What are you talking about?"
Marie got up from her chair and walked over to a shelf. "I've been meaning to give this to you." She picked up a book and brought it with her back to her seat. She held it in her lap and met Dez's eyes. "You need to read a little bit about PTSD and deadly force encounters to take in some of the concepts. I'll be doing some workshops for your department throughout the year, too, so you'll be a step ahead of some of the others." She handed the book to the tall cop.
Dez didn't look at the book. She just set it on top of her coat next to the chair. "Now just wait a minute. Let's get back to the PTSD business. You're saying I have that?"
She crossed her arms. "How the hell can you know that?"
Marie looked at her, pursed her lips, and then looked up at the ceiling. She cleared her throat. "Okay, I'll make you a deal. Answer me one question, as honestly and fully as you can, Dez, and then I will tell you how I know that."
"Fine. What's the question?"
Marie met her gaze, and in a slow, measured voice said, "How did it feel to come back to that restaurant and find your best friend lying dead in the dark in a puddle of blood?"
The shock of the question, phrased so cruelly, hit Dez in the chest, sucking all the wind out of her. She couldn't have gotten up to leave if she had wanted to. She choked in some air, closed her eyes. And that little projector began to run inside her head. She saw the still figure, felt her dizziness and nausea, compounded by the aura of fuzzy darkness all around her. Lights flashed. She heard muffled sounds.
She opened her eyes and realized she wanted to go across the table and choke the life out of Marie. She couldn't move. She could hardly breathe. Instead, she spoke in a soft voice. "It felt unreal."
"Unreal in what way?"
"Like it wasn't really happening. Like it was a bad dream. I didn't believe it-didn't believe them."
"The other cops and paramedics."
"Close your eyes, Dez, and talk me through what's happening in your head. How do you feel-what do you see and hear? What pictures are you seeing?"
Dez choked back tears. "Please don't make me do that."
"I can't make you do anything ... but if you can, please, will you try?"
The dark-haired woman closed her eyes. The projector was still running, and over the pounding of her heart, she tried to explain what she saw and felt. It was all a jumble and didn't seem to make any sense to her, but she tried to recount it as best she could. After a while, she became too distraught to go on and just kept her eyes closed while she cried.
She sat for several minutes with her face in her hands until she felt something touch her thighs. Looking down, she saw that Marie had put a box of tissues in her lap, and then the curly-haired woman went over to the kitchen area. Dez heard the microwave running and a minute later a ding. She pulled some Kleenex out of the box and wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. Keeping a couple tissues in her hand, she set the box back on the table.
Marie moved around in the galley kitchen, shutting a drawer and rustling paper, and then came over carrying two mugs, one of Minnie Mouse, and the other a plain white mug. She set both mugs down on the coffee table.
"I made you some peppermint tea."
As soon as the therapist said that, the mint aroma reached the tall cop. "Thank you." She picked up the white mug and blew on the surface of the warm liquid. She took a sip and felt a pang because the tea was sweet which made her think of Jaylynn.
Marie settled in across from her with one foot tucked behind one knee. "Have you shared any of this with anyone?" When the dark-haired woman gave her a quizzical look, the therapist said, "A friend? You mother? A work buddy?"
Dez shook her head and sighed. "No. Raina Goldman knows a little about it. But no one else."
In a voice full of disbelief, the tall cop said, "Geez, I'm not gonna go around talking about this to anybody."
"Why?" Marie said. "You deserve support and understanding just as much as the next person."
The dark-haired woman shook her head slowly and narrowed her eyes. She set the tea mug on the table and sat back. "It's crazy, Marie. I'm not telling people. I-I-just can't!" She looked down at her hands in her lap, then shrugged.
"What about your partner, Jaylynn Savage?"
Dez started again, then looked away toward the gloomy skies out the window. "What about her?"
"Why don't you get together with her, talk to her about what you are going through?"
The tall cop's voice was quiet and weary. "She won't want to know."
"How do you know that? Why couldn't you share your feelings with someone who has been your work partner for the better part of a year?"
Dez took a deep breath. "She's been more than my work partner." Marie didn't seem too surprised, and she thought that the therapist must know what everyone else did. "Look, she got involved with me because she thought I was a strong person. That's what she liked best about me, I think. I can't go breaking down and whining, acting like some sort of weakling."
Dez rose and went to the window, letting the feeling of bleakness roll over her. It had been nearly two weeks since she had last seen Jaylynn, far too long since they had talked. She missed her terribly, felt a lonely ache for her that nothing-not sleep, not alcohol, not sheer willpower-could assuage. Yet she knew that to spend any significant time with the blonde would result in her breaking down, totally losing it. Jaylynn brought out everything weak in her, made her feel vulnerable in ways she couldn't explain, much less understand.
Leaning with one hand on the molding around the window frame, she said, "I just can't ... . I need to work this out, get my shit together. Gotta do it by myself."
Marie sat in her chair, switching to tuck the other leg under the opposite thigh. She smiled a little smile and shook her head. "Desiree Reilly, you haven't got a clue!" When the tall woman turned and faced her, a frown on her face, Marie broke into a wide grin. "You, girl, need one great big giant lesson in intimacy. I think I've been too easy on you lately. Get over here and sit down."
With a flat, impassive look on her face, Dez slowly moved over to the chair in which she had been sitting, and folded herself down into it.
Marie squinted up her eyes, and grinned again. "Hmm ... where should I begin here? Let's see ... ." She looked up to the ceiling as Dez watched. "Intimacy and trust-those are two key elements here. It's interesting to see that over these few appointments, you have opened up enough to me to show me important and intimate details of your life. From these sessions I already know you very well-probably better than your mother does at the moment."
Dez nodded. "That's definitely a no-brainer."
"You hide behind those steely blue eyes. You think no one knows or understands. You feel far too alone-more alone than any human being should feel. And yet, affection and compassion and friendship are yours for the asking. And I think you know that. So tell me, why would you deny yourself the good things you deserve?"
"I-I don't know." She felt her face begin to flush, and then, with dread, it seemed that she might start crying again.
"How old do you feel-how old are you, right now, this very moment, Dez?"
The dark-haired woman closed her eyes, and what came to mind was a pair of brand spanking new tan and white saddle shoes, with brilliant white laces. She could see them from above, as though she were looking down at the legs of a ten-year-old. "Ten," she said, opening her eyes. She continued to look down into her lap, not daring to meet the therapist's eyes.
"If you are ten right now, how do you feel?" In almost a whisper, Marie said, "Your father is still alive, right?"
Tears welled up in confused blue eyes, and the t-shirt clad chest constricted so tightly that Dez couldn't breathe. A sharp gasp emerged from her, and the only thing that kept her in the chair was the certain knowledge that if she rose, she might fall over into a faint. She raised her eyes to meet Marie's, then looked away as she felt the first of a stream of hot tears running down her face. Crossing her arms over her chest, she fought to gain control, knowing that it was a losing battle. Still, she thought she ought to fight it.
Marie did not speak, and Dez would not look at her. She closed her eyes and thought of her father, the dark-haired, laughing dynamo who used to grab her by her wrists and swing her around the room until she was dizzy and shrieking with happiness. She could almost see his face clearly, drink in his love, imagine the smell of his aftershave.
It hurt too much. Really, she thought, this is just too much to bear. She closed her eyes and the first thing that came to her mind was a bar: a solid metal bar at eye level, parallel to the ground, with large weights on either end. In her mind's eye, she ducked her head underneath with her knees bent beneath her, grasped the metal rod on either side of her upper arms, and settled the bar across her shoulders. She imagined straightening up, stepping back out of the rack, and doing a deep squat, then rising swiftly. Air rushed out of her mouth, and she felt a surge of power throughout her body, even though she knew, simultaneously, that she sat in a deep brown chair, low to the ground, in a multi-colored room overflowing with toys and papers and other stuff.
She opened her eyes and met the dark brown eyes across from her.
"Where did you go? Tell me about what just happened."
She didn't want to go back there, back to the saddle shoes, to the wool jumper and knee socks, back to the time before her father died when she still felt him, knew him, loved him. She shook her head, not trusting her voice.
Marie nodded. "Okay. I want you to think about this-maybe even write things down, too. The feelings you just had, the memories you just experienced, they are one of the keys to your pain. The unhappiness, the fear, the worry, the sadness-all of that-has to do with very old grief. You need to get it out, examine it, feel it ...
"I can't!" The two words exploded from the tall woman like a gunshot.
"Because it hurts too much?"
Dez nodded mutely.
"I will help you."
Dez finished off a bowl of canned peaches. She had rinsed the heavy syrup from them, but they still tasted overly sweet. She'd eaten a bowl of oatmeal and her vitamins, and after she got the cabin straightened around, she decided she would go on a very long hike.
Twenty minutes later the dishes were done, the kitchen floor was swept, and she had changed into hiking boots with gaiters, heavy jeans, a t-shirt, and a thick, long-sleeved wool sweater. In a dark green daypack she also carried a Gore-Tex coat rolled around a pair of heavy-duty mittens. When she hiked, she was usually more than warm enough so long as the temperature was above twenty degrees, but if something happened and she had to slow down, she might get chilled and need the coat. So far, even with all the walking she had done in the past two weeks, she'd never needed to take the coat or gloves out.
The daypack also contained a flashlight, matches in a waterproof container, her fully charged cell phone, a turkey and mayo sandwich, a bag of shelled peanuts, one Hershey's chocolate bar, and two peeled oranges in a small plastic bag. A quart of water was tucked into the mesh pocket on the left, and her gun and some spare bullets were in the right pocket. She was ready for anything.
She tossed the pack into her truck and gave Dewey a wave as she drove past his place. He waved back. If she wasn't back by dark, he knew well enough to come looking for her. She figured on returning to the cabin by mid-afternoon.
Up the road she went. Patches of snow that had been there only a few days ago had melted, and the ground was dry and frozen. With the leaves off the deciduous trees, the woods had dried up considerably. She might run into some muddy stretches, but for the most part, she expected the trail to be accessible.
It was only a few miles to an entrance for the Superior Hiking Trails. She parked the Ford in one of the many gravel lots hollowed out next to Highway 61. There were no other cars in the small lot, so she thought she would have a quiet and uneventful trek through the woods by herself-just how she liked it. She got out her daypack, locked up the truck, zipped the keys into the small pocket in the front of the backpack, then strapped it on. She breathed out, and it was so cold, she could see her breath. Better get moving. It's damn chilly out here! She walked along the side of the road for about a hundred yards, then when she came upon the wide path, turned uphill and strode off into the trees.
The incline was steep and would be for almost a mile, so she set a steady pace. She hadn't gone far before she was toasty warm. Her heavy hiking boots didn't dig much into the partially frozen trail, but she still had good traction.
December 16th...her thirtieth birthday. It had been several years since she had been alone-totally alone-on her birthday. She hadn't had a party for a while either. Most of the time she worked, and usually her work buddies gave her a bad time. Crystal and Cowboy could be counted on to give her gag gifts, and Luella usually cooked her something special, whatever her heart desired. When she got back to the cabin, she thought she had better call Luella or she knew her landlady would be upset with her. It had been two weeks since she'd left the note for Luella, and it was time to touch base.
She thought about calling Jaylynn, too. She didn't think she was ready. I am not going to call her and blubber on the phone. And blubber was what she was afraid she would do. She had grown more accustomed to the constant ache behind her breastbone, and there was no way she wanted that to blossom into something more painful than it already was. No, I'm not ready yet. And besides, it would be kind of tacky to call her on my birthday anyway-like I was expecting some response from her just because of that.
She reached the top of the long hill, and ahead of her was an enormous expanse of woods, sloping upwards in a gradual ascent. She stood and surveyed the beauty ahead of her, half of it dead and half still alive. The birch and poplar had lost their leaves. Their light colored trunks and branches stood in stark contrast to the leafless gray-brown oaks and the dark evergreens which dropped their needles steadily throughout the year. The wind whistled through the trees, and she heard the far-off cry of a hawk swooping low. She was totally alone, with only nature around her. Her throat constricted, and the tears welled up in her eyes.
She took another step forward and went on, tears streaming down her face.
Jaylynn awoke from a nightmare, her heart racing. She was wrapped up in the blankets and sheets, and for once she wasn't cold at all. She sat up, tossed the covers off and waited for her heart to return to its regular pace. She recalled quite clearly the giant monsters that had been chasing her, and she wondered, for maybe the millionth time, how she was ever going to get rid of the alien dreams. When she slept with someone-when she slept with Dez, that is-they weren't so bad.
But it had been exactly sixteen days since she had even seen Dez. She continued to try to get some sort of information out of people at work, but so far, no one knew anything except that the tall cop was on admin leave and she'd been sent to the shrink. There was a great deal of speculation, but no facts to back anything up. The sergeants and the lieutenant were close-mouthed, too, so nobody who had the actual facts would tell her anything.
It was driving her crazy.
Every day she called the cell phone and the apartment, hoping that she might catch the tall woman. She cursed the fact that Dez had no answering machine. She had finally mailed a card. That had been four days ago, and still, no word.
The chilly morning air cooled her skin, and she shivered. Her hand ached, and the cast on her wrist felt itchy. She hated the damn thing, wanted to saw it off and throw it out the window. She counted down the number of days until the doctor would cut it off permanently and she could get back to normal.
Pulling the covers up, she curled into a fetal position, and for the first time, she began to consider what would happen if she had driven the dark-haired woman away for good. Lately she had not been able to stop thinking about it, instead berating herself over and over. Now that she was less angry herself, she let herself think about the scene at the hospital. The look that Dez had had on her face when she turned and left-she couldn't get it out of her head. Pain. That was what Jaylynn had seen. Stark, unmitigated pain. Now that she let herself realize the way they had affected the tall woman, she wished she could call back the harsh words, but it was too late. Dez had sped out of the room before she could gather her thoughts. Who am I trying to kid? I was too indignant to even realize it at the time.
She looked at her bedside clock. 10:20 a.m. Time to get up and move around. In less than two hours, at 12:15, she was due at the doctor's to have her wrist checked and a new cast applied. The thought of another cast made her want to throw something. Then before she went in to work at the main station, she had a final follow-up session with the seventh graders at Como High School to quiz them on holds and releases. It wasn't as much fun to teach self-defense without a partner. For one thing, she had to work extra hard to explain things since she didn't have an experienced person to illustrate it, and with her bad hand, there were many things she couldn't do herself. Each time she showed up at the school, the pack of twelve and thirteen-year-olds were disappointed that she was not accompanied by the taciturn cop with the abs of steel. She had told them over two weeks ago that Dez had taken a vacation. Since this was the last day teaching self-defense, she knew they would all be dissatisfied that they never got to say goodbye to the dark-haired woman.
She rolled out of bed and gathered clothes to wear for the day. She needed to go down to the kitchen and get a plastic bag to put around the cast so she could shower. God, what a pain! I am just sick of this.
Her clean uniforms were at work, so all she needed to do was find something suitable to wear to and from the station. It took her several minutes to find a clean t-shirt. She hadn't done any laundry since-well, since when? How long had it been? She couldn't remember when. Dez had taken to doing loads of wash down in the basement quite some time back, and Jaylynn had relinquished the task without a second thought.
Her eyes filled with tears, and wearing only her sleeping shorts and a flannel pajama shirt, she settled back against the edge of the bed. She was tired. She was sick and tired of waiting, of not knowing. She was tired of being alone, and she was tired of her heart hurting like this. She was also mad that she had had to buy her plane ticket to Seattle to go be with her family for the Christmas holiday. She had wanted the tall woman to accompany her, but she and Dez had never talked about that, and now it was too late. She'd had to book the flight 14 days in advance-or she would have ended up paying an exorbitant amount.
After a minute, she rose and blotted her tears on her sleeve, then gathered up her clothes and hauled them with her to the bathroom where she got ready to take a shower and try to wash away her sadness.
Dez and Dewey picked up a piece of 4x8 foot drywall and set it on an inch tall board that ran along the base of the wall in Cabin H. Water damage had ruined the wall outside the bathroom, and she had taken great enjoyment in using a sledgehammer and pry bar to pull down the old wall. Now they were hanging the new piece of sheetrock and getting ready to mud and sand the entire wall. She liked how Dewey had named the cabins alphabetically. No hokey names for him. The Dreamwater Special. Kingfisher's Haven. Sweet Hibiscus. Nothing like that would do. They were labeled A, B, C, D, and so on. Easy to remember, and all in their order of appearance in relation to his cabin.
She had been working with Dewey on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the weekends, and the other three days per week she ventured down to St. Paul for her therapy appointments. She wasn't missing any of her possessions, and she usually didn't even bother to go by her apartment. So far, the only thing she missed was Jaylynn. Well, she missed Luella a little, too, but she was used to going a couple weeks at a time and not seeing her landlady. Jaylynn was another story. The day before she had finally broken down and sent a postcard from the tiny little post office in Lutsen. On it, she scrawled, "Thinking of you-truly. People always say that on postcards, but I really mean it. Love, Dez."
Dez thought about the blonde a lot and was sorry about how things had ended. She wanted to contact her, but she didn't yet feel ready. Besides, she was still afraid Jaylynn would turn away from her and send her off like that terrible day in the hospital. She broke out in a light sweat just thinking of it.
In the quiet of Cabin H, Dewey and Dez screwed the sheetrock into the wall studs, then stood back to admire their handiwork.
"Works for me," he said, brushing the dust off his hands. She nodded. "You know, kiddo, you could practically do this for a living. You're good at it."
She hated it when people complimented her, mostly because it made her blush, which she was doing right now.
"I know you don't like praise, Dez, but I just gotta say that it's been great having your help. We've gotten more done than I expected to do in two or three seasons. It gives me a real jump on things for next year. Once you go back to work, why don't you just keep that key to G until next spring. Then you can come up here all winter whenever you damn well please."
"Really? You sure?"
"Absolutely. You can come and go as you please. Anyway, I'll always know it's you with that big red truck. And when you're gone for a while, just turn the heat down to about 55, and nothing will freeze."
"Thanks, Dewey. You've been great."
He looked at his watch. "It's nine already. You gotta run?"
"In a bit. I can help you mud this."
"Nah...forget about it. You've done a shitload of work here, Dez. I should probably be paying you."
She smiled. "I've enjoyed keeping busy, Dewey. It's been fun to work with you."
"You got a sickness, girl."
She reached over and took a swipe at his chin whiskers. "And you have an awful lot of dust in your beard, Mr. Bunyan."
"It'll all come out," he growled. "Go on now and get where you're going." He turned back to the wall, then picked up a mudding knife. She hustled out into the cold, and as soon as she left his company, she felt the sinking sensation of grief hit her again. Despite the fact that she was starting to think she was getting good at letting her psychological bones be picked, she did not look forward to it.
She unlocked the door to Cabin G and hastened into the warmth. Even with her long sleeved shirt on, just the short walk from H to G had given her goosebumps. It was cozy in her cottage though, and she marveled at how lucky she was that Dewey was so generous. This was the best cottage of the ten. It had a huge living room with a fireplace, a 15x20 foot bedroom with a deck outside it, a fully appointed kitchen, and a modern bathroom with a full tub and shower. He had done a nice job insulating and decorating it, and the rugs on the floor were thick and warm. She liked the golds and reds and dark blues of the furniture and the paintings of Lake Superior scenes on the walls.
She had made herself comfortable in Cabin G. The fridge was stocked, she had a stack of paperbacks to read, and her clothes were all unpacked in the dresser drawers. She could even see herself living here comfortably on a permanent basis-after all, her St. Paul apartment was much smaller.
She undressed, got in the shower, and spent time thinking about what she would do next. Yes, she was cleared regarding the incident with Bucky Reginald, but there was still an "informal memorandum" in her file about the rest of the event, and that memorandum would never be removed. If she had it to go back and do all over again, she would do the same thing under the same circumstances. That giant behemoth of a man might have killed Jaylynn-and it was all worth it to make sure that didn't happen. She reasoned that the price she paid was not too high. She didn't care if they gave her five reprimands or threw her off the force. The world would be a much worse place without Jaylynn.
She turned off the water and stepped out of the tub, hastening to get dressed. She spent a few minutes reading another chapter of the book Marie had given her. She was starting to understand the terrible effects of PTSD, and she found a curious comfort in reading the harrowing stories about other officers who had developed the same response she had. She finished a chapter and put the book, face down, on the end table next to the couch, then got up to ready herself for departure.
After a quick meal of cold chicken breast and toast, she packed a few things into the truck and selected a CD to listen to on the long drive down to St. Paul for her appointment with Marie. She stepped up to get in the truck, then stopped and went back to the cabin to grab a water bottle from the refrigerator, and off she went.
Whenever Dez sat in Marie's waiting room, she was always relieved that no one else was ever there. People emerged from the office, sometimes teary-eyed, sometimes laughing, but she didn't have to wait with anyone else staring at her. It gave her time to do the breathing exercises Marie had taught her-and to talk to herself about not stressing out over everything. Marie had made it clear that it would take some time before she could work her way out of the "Disaster Prevention Syndrome" that she seemed to have going on in her head much of the time. She thought about how odd it was that the disasters she worried about were never about her, but always about someone else, most specifically Jaylynn.
She thought about Jaylynn again for what she thought might be the hundredth time this day. She was glad in many ways that the blonde hadn't figured out how to track her down, but some days she wished she had. She missed her terribly, so much so that she found herself again marveling that she was used to that aching pain behind her breastbone.
Dez jumped when the door to Marie's office popped open. She'd made it a habit not to look up at the departing client, but when no one came out, she looked out of the corner of her eye, and there stood Marie, a smile on her face.
"C'mon in, Dez. How are you feeling today?"
"Not bad." She rose and followed Marie in.
"I suppose you still haven't taken up coffee?"
Dez shook her head. "Nope." She shrugged off her coat, and sat in a chair as she set her jacket on the floor next to her.
"I'm hooked on it and can't seem to quit. I get headaches if I don't have a couple cups a day."
"Tastes like battery acid."
Marie laughed. "You've drunk battery acid and lived to tell the tale, then?"
"Seems like it. Lately, anyway."
"How are you sleeping?"
Dez looked away, over toward the window. "Okay, I guess."
Pausing, Dez pursed her lips, then met the therapist's eyes. "I think I liked it better when I didn't remember them."
"If you remember them, then you can deal with them."
"Has anything changed in the two days since I last saw you?"
Dez took a moment to consider. She didn't seem to be waking up crying quite so much. But she was struck more often lately with an aching longing, a deep yearning. "I'm lonely."
Marie nodded. "I see." She took a slurp of her coffee, then set the mug on the table. She tucked a leg under her. "What have you decided to do about that?"
Dez looked at her, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"Companionship, Dez. What are you going to do to seek some?"
"Ah ... well ... nothing."
Dez frowned. She hated it when Marie laughed that way. After this many sessions she now knew it meant that she had totally missed the boat about something so patently obvious that when they'd talked more, she would end up feeling like an idiot. In a cross voice, she said, "Why don't you just save us both half an hour and tell me why that's so funny."
Marie's face became serious. "Somewhere along the way somebody taught you-or you just decided-to do everything on your own, all alone. It doesn't have to be that way. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to others for support, sharing your feelings with friends, and just spending time with people you enjoy. Companionship is a good thing."
"I'm doing fine right now."
"I'm not calling you a liar, but hey, you're not doing just fine." She set her coffee cup on the table and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. "Look, Dez, part of the process of healing from post-traumatic stress is telling the story, but another big part is reconnecting with community. You have friends on the force, right?"
She thought of Crystal and Cowboy-and Jaylynn. "Yes."
"And you have friends outside the department, too."
"And you have a lover."
It was a statement, not a question. Dez felt her face flame red. "What-what do you mean by that?" She rose from the chair, stepped over her coat, and headed for the window, her heart beating furiously.
"I have the report from your police superiors, remember?"
Dez turned around and stalked back over to her chair. "Shows what they know. We've not had any contact since-well, not for a while."
"Not since she was injured, right?"
Dez nodded, feeling miserable through and through. She had thought this conversation was going to lead toward her feeling a little bit dense, and instead it had taken a turn right into something more painful than she wanted to consider. And across from her sat Marie, the world's greatest pyschological archeologist, armed today with a shovel and pickaxe that obviously weren't going to go away. It was a losing battle. She caved and spilled her guts.
She lowered herself into the soft brown chair and told the other woman about how she had met Jaylynn and hadn't wanted to get involved with her because she'd been burned by another cop before. But little by little, she had grown to depend on the younger woman, to need her. "It's a terrible thing, too."
"What is? I don't know what you mean."
"Need. It's a terrible thing. I don't want to have it. I am trying not to."
Exasperated, Marie said, "Wait a minute. We all need others. It's perfectly normal."
"Not like this." Dez spoke in a solemn tone. "It's-it's like ... well, shit! It's like terrifying."
Marie nodded slowly and looked up at the ceiling for a minute, a pose Dez was used to. She had come to know Marie well enough to know that what was to come next would be a useful observation. A few seconds went by before Marie met her eyes again. "This is going to sound crazy to you, I think. I'm telling it to you anyway, even if you can't believe it yet. Maybe we ought to write it down." She smiled. "Dez, you deserve love. You deserve to be loved. And I hope you will believe that you can survive the terror of it. You have survived the deaths of others who were vital and important to you. There is no reason why you can't survive the love of a real living person."
In a gruff voice, Dez said, "How do you know she loves me? That's not in the report!"
Marie smiled. "No, that's not. But how do you know if she loves you-or not?" Dez was at a loss for words. She looked down at her hands, both of which were gripped in fists. "It's time to take some chances, check things out. You need to find out who your real friends are. Meet with Officer Savage. Meet with your landlady. Meet with family members. Start talking about what you've been going through. And I would like to see you decide to join a PTSD group-all law enforcement type attendees, of course." Dez drew in a deep breath, and she must have looked alarmed because Marie said, "You don't have to do it all today. Take one baby step, then come back and talk about it. Then take another step on another day. But a lot of baby steps will add up over time. Even if you have some failures, you are sure to have some successes, too."
Dez narrowed her eyes and scowled. How could Marie know that for sure? With her luck, she'd go talk to any one of those people, share her real, true feelings, then find herself rejected. She crossed her arms and blurted out, "What if I refuse?"
Marie bit back a smile. "You can do anything you want. You should know that by now, Dez. But whether you choose to seek out connections or not, I do have one piece of news for you. After another couple of sessions, I am certifying you ready for duty again."
Dez knew her mouth dropped open in shock, so she shut it quickly and looked down. "But it's been less than four weeks. I thought I was considered nuts and dangerous?"
Marie laughed out loud at that, and to her chagrin, Dez found herself smiling.
The therapist set her sloshing coffee cup on the table in front of her. "You've never been nuts. You needed to understand what was happening to you-that was all. Remember: PTSD is a normal neurological response to an abnormal event. Once you fully understood that your brain was looping through the unresolved losses of Ryan and your dad, you have been able to begin to examine those losses and start dealing with the grief. You're doing very well, Dez, and you're nearly ready to go back to work."
"I can't believe they'd let me back on patrol."
"Well," Marie hesitated. "Actually, you'll need to transition back to that. I think you'll be on desk duty for a little while at first."
Dez sighed and rolled her eyes, but she uncrossed her arms. She realized that she would be happy to go back to work-even on light duty-and that surprised her. "When?"
"I'd like to see you at least a couple more times, talk about some of the workplace issues, but then you'll be ready, so how about after New Year's?"
Dez gulped and nodded. "Okay."
"In the meantime, how about trying the other thing I suggested?" When Dez didn't answer, she went on. "Making connections, I mean. Sharing just a little with people you know and care about. Trying to-"
"Yeah, yeah, I get your meaning, Marie." She knew she sounded cranky and abrupt, but she didn't care.
"I'll see you again the day after Christmas. Try one connection, why don't you?"
Dez slowly shook her head in disbelief. This woman was as bad as Jaylynn-absolutely unrelenting. She couldn't even believe it, but she found herself assenting.
Fifteen minutes later, she was sitting three houses down from the house on Como Boulevard. Off to her left, patches of ice on Como Lake sparkled despite the newfallen snow clumped up here and there. It wouldn't be long before the entire lake was iced over. A movement caught her eye and she saw a woman down the slope. She was bundled up in windpants, a heavy coat, and an Elmer Fudd-type earflap cap, and she pushed a bright yellow stroller along the walking path. As Dez watched their progress, a five-foot long icicle fell from the tree right across the street from her and broke into a multitude of pieces on the hard ground.
She sat in the truck for several more minutes gazing out at the brightness of the winter wonderland glistening around her before she gathered up her courage and pulled the truck forward to come to rest in front of Jaylynn's house. She put it in park, but left it running, the heater on low. She got out and moved swiftly up the walk to ring the bell. She waited for what felt like an eternity, then decided no one was home. She turned to leave and had taken only one step when the door flew open. Startled, she spun around to see Tim through the screen. His red hair was tousled as though he had just awakened. He stood shivering in baggy gray sweat bottoms and a white t-shirt. With arms crossed, she could see the goosebumps on his forearms.
"What do you want?"
"I was looking for-for Jaylynn," she stammered.
"She's not home," he said in an angry voice.
"Can you tell me when she'll be back?"
An uneasy feeling began to flood through Dez. "What do you mean, 'No'? Will she be back after work or what?"
"She's not at work. She's gone."
Dez felt a stab of alarm. "Gone? What do you mean?"
"I mean she's out of town."
Dez didn't understand his anger. In a polite voice she said, "Did I wake you up? I'm sorry if I did."
"You've got more than that to be sorry about."
He glared out at her, and she found her own anger and pride rising to the surface. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Running a hand through his shiny red hair, he spat out his answer. "Why should I tell you a damn thing? First you break her heart, then what? You showing up now to rub it in?"
She felt like she'd been hit upside the head and wasn't seeing or hearing clearly. "What? What do you mean?"
"Right. Go ahead and play dumb. You've been using her all along, haven't you?" More emphatically he said, "I told her I'd like to kick your ass-and I would-but I'm not a violent man."
Dez was shook up, but she had the presence of mind to stand in there and ask more questions. "What in the hell are you talking about, Tim? Really...tell me. I don't understand."
"Love 'em and leave 'em-is that how you operate?"
"Tim, you know me. That's not-I don't-Tim, this doesn't make any sense!"
"Well, why don't you explain how you could walk out on her-just disappear off the face of the earth? You've broken her heart-that's what you've done. And dammit! That's more than you deserve to know." He started to close the inner door.
"NO! Tim, wait!" She rushed the stairs, grabbed the screen handle, and wrenched the flimsy door open. His face looked out at her, alarmed. "Please. Just tell me. Did she go to her parents' in Seattle or what?"
He leaned back, his eyes wide. After a moment's pause, he nodded, then looked away, his knuckles white on the edge of the interior door. When he looked back, he studied her face for a moment. "She's a good person, Dez, one of the best and brightest I'll ever know. You better not hurt her any more."
With a growing lump in her throat, Dez nodded, then choked out a reply. "I know."
"She flies in on Christmas night. You can see her then."
"You'll tell her I came by?"
His eyes narrowed, and he took five full seconds to study her. "What I should do is take all your shit from her room and throw it out on the lawn-and don't think that hasn't occurred to me!" Then he sighed. "I'll tell her though. She's a big girl. She can decide what she wants for herself."
"What time does she get in?'
He rolled his eyes and gave a big sigh. "Couple minutes after ten. I still can't believe I'm telling you all this." He crossed his arms, shivering in his thin t-shirt, then shut the door with a soft click, and she let the screen door close. Back down the stairs she went to her truck, shaken and trembling. She was glad she had left the heat on. It soothed her frazzled nerves as she sat there for a few moments until she calmed down. So much for her first attempt at making "connections". Next time she'd pick someone more benign-maybe someone at a fast food window or the drugstore counter ... or the psych ward.
She smiled grimly. I made it through my first negative connection and lived to tell the tale. It's a baby step all right. I am sure Marie will be quite entertained. She pulled away from the curb and headed down the road toward her apartment, trying to avoid the rising panic. Did Jaylynn want to see her or not? I broke her heart? What about mine? She's the one who sent me away!
Pulling into the garage behind the house, she locked up and made her way into her apartment. It smelled funny-stale and musty. She hadn't spent the night there for so long, and since the heat was down to 60, it was chilly. She went to the thermostat and cranked the heat to 70, then went in to run a bath. Some time spent in a hot, steamy Jacuzzi would do her good.
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