UNDER THE GUN

By Lori L. Lake

a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes

lorelei-bard@juno.com -- www.LoriLake.com

 

Part Eight

 

TODAY'S COMMENT: It's been tough to pull this together this week. Everyone is so filled with grief and anger and disbelief over the events that occurred Sept. 11th in NYC and DC. I can hardly get my mind around it all. I will continue to work on this novel when I have energy and time, but it may go a little more slowly now than I had hoped. Thanks for your patience.

 

BOOKPLATES: It's been fun to get requests for autographs and bookplates. Thanks for the honor of doing that! Don't forget that if you send me an SASE, I will send you a bookplate for your book(s). See "Bookplates" on my website at www.LoriLLake.com.

 

REMINDER: This is a sequel. If you haven't read the first book, GUN SHY, you might want to go to: GUNSHY.

You can purchase a copy of GUN SHY, published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing (Quest Division), at any bookstore or online bookseller. Also, I have another book just published, RICOCHET IN TIME (Yellow Rose Books), which has never been posted online. 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.

 

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


Part Eight

The Sunday before Christmas, at a quarter after nine, Dez was on the way over to the other side of the lake. She looked through the windshield at a dull and wintry day, the sky a gun-metal gray. Heavy, ominous clouds crouched overhead, threatening to disgorge tons of snow at any moment. Despite the weather, she was happy to be heading over to see her two favorite 70-something-year-olds. When the phone rang at nine at her apartment the night before, she almost hadn't answered it. But she'd been glad she picked up when she heard Luella's voice in the receiver.

"Dez! I am so glad to reach you. Where have you been?"

She didn't say anything right away. "Well, I've kind of been around, Luella."

"Jaylynn keeps telling me to get an answering machine, and I guess you should, too. I've called and called, hoping to catch you."

"Things are starting to settle down now."

"That's good. I've missed you."

"How's Van?"

"Oh, much better. Cranky some days, but improving."

"I am very glad to hear that. I'd like to come visit-soon, okay?"

"Yes, but Dez honey, I'm calling to ask a favor. It's just fine if it doesn't work out. This is late notice, I know."

Luella wanted Dez to drive her and Vanita to church the next day at ten a.m. Dez had heard her say something about ducks, but she figured she had misunderstood. She learned that, except for doctor appointments, Vanita hadn't been out of the house since her heart attack, and Luella said her sister was very much missing attending worship services. Dez agreed to drive them, though she hadn't much felt like going to church when they talked. She hadn't been to a Baptist service with Luella for quite some time, though, and today she found, to her surprise, that she didn't think she would mind going after all.

She pulled into the driveway at Vanita's house. The curtains in the front window slid open, and then Luella's smiling figure stood looking out the window and waving. Dez couldn't help but smile back. It had been far too long since she had seen Luella.

She got out of the truck, yawning as her landlady disappeared from the window. The tall cop hadn't slept well the night before, which was nothing new. Strolling around the side of the house, she went toward the back door where Luella was waiting, leaning out as she held onto the door handle. Dez took the stairs two at a time and stood looking down at Luella, who, even though she stood one step higher than Dez, was still half a head shorter than the dark-haired woman.

"Hey honey, I am so glad to see you." Luella grabbed an arm and pulled the tall woman into the house. They stood in the alcove right outside the kitchen and hugged. "I've missed you."

Why does Luella seem shorter? And smaller? Dez stepped back, a frown on her face. "You've lost weight," she said in an accusing voice.

The older woman grinned and nodded, then took the big woman's hand and pulled her into the kitchen. "Thought you'd be pleased about that, Miss Granola Queen. I went on the same daily diet that the doctor put Vanita on. Didn't seem fair that I was still eating pastries and fried chicken and pie when she was on a low-fat, low-cal sort of deal."

She shut the kitchen door behind them. Dez took a deep breath and filled her lungs with the smell of cinnamon and coffee and something else, something indefinable that spoke of comfort and peace and Luella. She looked down into the dark brown eyes, saw a question on her landlady's face, and looked away, instead gesturing toward the living room. "Where's Vanita?"

"She fell asleep in the living room. We don't have to leave for another few minutes, so I thought I'd let her sleep."

Just then they heard a spirited, "Hey!" As they moved toward the living room, Vanita called out, "Y'all better not be in there talking about me. I may be old, but I've got good ears."

Vanita, too, had dropped weight, especially in her face, but otherwise she looked like the same feisty old cuss she'd always been, only smaller. She sat burrowed in the easy chair, a multi-colored afghan draped over her lap and legs.

"Hey, Van, how's tricks?" Dez leaned down and placed a kiss on the old woman's forehead.

"Still alive and kickin', even though I'm bionic now with this pacemaker."

Dez smiled. "This is unusual. You're both in slacks." Dez rarely remembered seeing either of them wear slacks, and certainly not both of them at once. Luella wore pale purple knit pants, large tan Hush Puppy shoes, and a pink and purple flowered sweater over an off-white blouse with a huge collar. What she could see of Vanita sticking out from under the afghan showed black slacks and the same kind of shoes.

"Today we're dressed for warmth, not with our usual elegance and beauty." Luella grinned, her white teeth sparkling in the early morning light.

"What's the plan, then?" Dez said.

Luella reached down and peeled the afghan off Vanita's lap and tossed it on the nearby couch. "We'd like to take Vanita's car because it'd be easier to get her in and out of. You want to go pull it out of the garage? I'll get my big sister ready to go. Keys are on the table in the front hall."

Dez nodded with relief. The thought of trying to pack either of them into her Ford truck had already crossed her mind, and it hadn't been a pleasant prospect. She went out, moved the truck to one side of the driveway, and opened up the little one car garage. She wondered how Vanita had ever parked the huge sea green Chrysler. The opening to the garage was, at most, six inches wider than the car, and the garage itself was so short that the front bumper touched the back wall, leaving perhaps a foot of room at the front of the garage. Inside, she calculated that there was-maybe-two feet of room on either side of the oversized automobile.

She squeezed around to the driver's side and opened the heavy door, then paused. There was no way she could squeeze in. To top it off, Vanita the Midget had obviously been the last person to drive the Chrysler because the seat was up as close to the dash as it would go. Too bad it's not a convertible, she thought. At least I could have gotten in by leaping.

She pushed the door open until it was pressed against the garage wall, then leaned in and rolled down the window using the old-fashioned metal crank. With the window down, she was able to get a leg in, jackknife over the door, and worm her way backwards into the car. On hands and knees, with her right side wedged up against the steering wheel, she felt under the seat until she found the lever to slide the seat back. Bracing her right foot on the floor, she pulled the lever and the entire front seat jerked back a good foot. She exhaled, got her legs out in front of her, and shut the door, relieved of the claustrophobia she had felt. Taking the keys from her coat pocket, she settled in behind the wheel and started up the car. In the rearview mirror, a giant cloud of exhaust puffed from the back of the car. It smelled pungent, like road construction, and she had a hunch it was time for some maintenance on the clunky tank. As she rolled up the window, she wondered how old it was-certainly late Sixties. It didn't have fins though, so that was one thing in its favor.

Keeping an eye in the side mirror, she backed out, three inches to spare on the sides, and rolled into the street and all the way out to the sidewalk leading up to the front door. She let the big green monstrosity idle and went into the house to help the two women.

Despite being two years older, Vanita had always been a couple inches shorter than Luella. Now she seemed to be half a foot shorter. She moved with effort, as though she didn't quite trust her legs to hold her up. Luella, solid and sturdy, helped her sister into a gigantic, puffy tan coat. Dez stood to the side, waiting and wondering how Vanita would ever make it up all the stairs into the church. She didn't recall ever seeing a side door-though there was a back door-but if they entered through the back, that just meant they'd have to go up the stairs on the inside of the church. If worse came to worst, she thought she might be able to carry Vanita. The old woman looked like she weighed all of about 100 pounds now.

With an arm firmly gripped by Luella and Dez, Vanita descended the six front stairs, and got settled into the front seat of the car. The dark-haired woman jogged back to the house. At the top of the stairs sat Vanita's purse with two fluffy blankets folded next to it. She tucked the blankets under one arm and grabbed the handle to the large purse. Her finger-now splintless-gave a little twinge of stiffness, but it didn't hurt despite the fact that the purse was heavy. She returned to the smoking green car as Luella climbed into the back seat and accepted the blankets Dez handed her.

Vanita exhaled and smiled, looking around the car. "Lots of leg room up here, Lu. Hope you fit in the back okay."

"I'm not prone to grumble," her sister responded.

"Oh yeah, right. You haven't stopped grumbling since you moved in. Not enough spices. Furniture in the way. Storage not convenient. The sheets not percale . . ."

Dez hoped that Vanita's purse would fit in the back. It was the size of a small suitcase and she was sure it weighed more than a fifteen pound dumbbell. She started to hand it to Luella, but Vanita shook her head. "Oh no. Gimme that. I got my box of tissues and Bible in there."

That explains some of the weight, thought Dez as she handed it over. "Watch your fingers," she said, then closed both of the heavy-duty doors. Good God, they made these cars solid. The four doors probably weigh as much as the entire bed of my pickup.

She got in, saw that the two ladies had buckled up, and put on the driver's old-fashioned lap belt. She backed out of the driveway, got to the corner and started to turn right.

"No-no-no, Desiree. Left." From the back seat, a wizened old hand pointed to the left, touching Dez's right shoulder.

"But Christ's Cornerstone is that way . . ."

Simultaneously, Vanita and Luella said, "We're not going there today."

Luella leaned forward in the back seat and poked Dez in the right shoulder. "Go left. It's the duck service. At the Lutheran church north of here."

The tall woman didn't understand, but she did as she was told. It occurred to her that perhaps they'd selected a different church with no stairs that was more easily accessible. She drove the route and listened to them dispute whose house was more conveniently outfitted for cooking, storage, entertaining. She fiddled with the heater controls, pointed the vents toward Vanita, and the old car heated up to a toasty warmth which both the other occupants commented felt good. She herself was roasting in the heat, but she knew both of them needed to keep warm. As she drove, a wave of fatigue washed over her, and she suddenly wished she didn't have to sit on a hard wooden pew for an hour surrounded by people she didn't know.

She continued along the snowy street which was bordered by occasional piles of shoveled snow that had melted considerably. She slowed the car to a halt at a stop sign as another car-a gray Camry-slowed across the intersection. Her heart skipped a beat and she held her breath, but when the other car proceeded through the intersection, she saw an elderly, gray-haired man was driving. She set her jaw grimly. Every little gray car she saw caused her to jump like that, but it was never Jaylynn's car. She wanted to kick herself for even looking, but she couldn't help herself.

She drove the rest of the way in silence. They arrived at the church and pulled into the back parking lot as Luella exclaimed, "This is great! We're here good and early and can get one of the best parking places. Toward the back of the lot is where the church secretary said the reception isn't as good."

Vanita nodded and pointed. "Over there, Dez, next to the building."

The tall woman slowed the car. "Why don't I let you out right here by the door? Less distance to walk then."

"Oh no. We're not getting out. This is the duck service."

Luella pounded on the back of the seat, pointing frantically, her hand stabbing just past Dez's ear. "Quick! Over there before that other car gets the spot!"

Dez hit the gas and steered over into the parking place they were both pointing at. God save me from wacky old ladies. That'll be my prayer for the day.

The dark-haired woman threw the car into park and shut off the ignition. "There. You two happy now?" She reached for the door handle. As she opened it, a gust of cold air entered the car and both women hollered at the same time for her to shut the door.

Vanita said, "Lulu. Our chauffeur doesn't seem to have a clue. Did you explain what in tarnation is going on here?"

"Guess not. I thought she understood. Dez, it's the duck service, a great new invention. Turn the car back on. You'll see what I mean."

Dez didn't ask questions, just did what they asked.

From the back seat, Luella went on. "Vanita heard about it on the radio and called to find out more, and it sounds like a good deal. We sit here in the comfort of our car and listen on the radio to the service going on inside. They come out and give us communion and everything."

Dez cleared her throat. In a low, tired voice she said, "And where exactly do the ducks fit in?"

There was a moment of silence, then the two sisters burst into cackles. Every time one of them tried to speak, they dissolved into more laughter. Dez turned to the small woman sitting next to her and waited as Vanita fished a tissue out of her purse and blew her nose. A compact car pulled up beside them, and through the passenger window the dark-haired woman could see a harried looking woman in the driver's seat, two toddlers in car seats in the back, and a kid about five years old, still in Batman pajamas, in the front seat. He unbuckled his seatbelt and picked something up from the floor that Dez couldn't see until he put the bucket in his lap. Legos. He fiddled with a cross-piece of the red, white and yellow creation, then held it in one hand and moved it around as though it were a little plane soaring in the air.

Luella let out a last chuckle. "There's no ducks, Dez. It's Drive Up Church...D. U. C. I am sorry I didn't explain it better. It's already 9:35. You can turn on the radio to 88.8 AM. The organist should have begun at half past nine."

Sure enough, 88.8 came in loud and clear with the screeching tones of the organ wheezing out "Angels We Have Heard on High".

Vanita was giggling. "What will they think of next? Isn't this wonderful? Wish they'd had this when my little demons were small. Would've saved on a lot of threats and spankings."

Dez watched through Vanita's side window as a mini-van pulled up on her side of the car. She couldn't see into the back seats because the windows were dark, but the man and woman in the front seat seemed to get situated, then started drinking coffee from black and silver insulated mugs and reading the newspaper. The van's side door slid open and two children dressed in snowsuits tumbled out, slammed the door shut, and ran over to the swing set inside the fenced-in area next to the church's side door. She watched as they climbed onto the hard black plastic seats and started to swing. Puffs of frozen breath emerged from their mouths into the wintry air.

On the other side of the Chrysler, Batman Boy with the Lego airship pointed and said something to his mother, then listened and nodded. Dez couldn't hear a word that was exchanged but she imagined that his mother was reminding him that if he had gotten ready when she told him to, he could have dressed warmly so that he, too, might be out swinging and playing with those other kids. Looking like he might cry, the boy shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the Lego bucket in his lap.

They sat in the car for several minutes while the two women read from their bibles and occasionally made some comment to one another.

Movement behind the swing set caught Dez's eye. She saw the church door open, and a white robed acolyte came out, pushing a cart full of books. He stopped at each car and handed out hymnals and programs for the day's service. By the time he made it to their car, he was shivering in the cold. Dez accepted three hymnals and programs and thanked him, then rolled the window up quickly. "Are you two warm enough?" she said. She passed them programs and books.

"Toasty," Vanita said as she buried her nose in the program.

Luella, said, "We have these extra blankets if we need them."

Vanita took off her glasses and squinted at them. "My, my, these bifocals of mine may need a tune up."

From the back seat Luella said, "Could be that those old eyes of yours are what needs a tune-up."

Just then, the organ music coming through the radio faded to a quiet whine, and Dez heard someone clear his throat. A pleasant, bass voice spoke over the soft tones of the organ. "Good morning to all of you on the Sunday before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We welcome all of you here for our fourth monthly drive up church service. God's blessings to each of you, and may the grace of our Lord God rain down upon you all. We have plenty of room inside the church should any of you drive up participants decide to join us. The day is cool, but the church is warm. The rest rooms are available, too. Just come in the rear of the church behind the kids' play area. Otherwise, today's worship will consist of a standard service without any unusual bells and whistles. The first hymn will be number 176 in the red hymnal. A couple of housekeeping items...first, we have two assistant pastors today to come out with communion, but due to a lack of acolytes, we will not bring any wine or grape juice. Secondly, at the sharing of the peace, please feel free to honk, but if you could limit your sharing to one brief honking of the horn, it would be appreciated by our neighbors around us. Thank you for attending today, and we'll get started in about sixty seconds."

Dez turned and looked over her shoulder at Luella to find her friend laughing silently. In a dry voice, the dark-haired woman said, "This is the craziest set-up I've ever seen. You two been here before?"

Through giggles Luella said, "Nope. But so far, it's great." She went off into a peal of laughter, joined by Vanita.

The service began, and the three women followed along. Dez sang the hymns quietly, amused to hear Vanita's warbly old lady voice in contrast to her landlady's strong bellow. She thought that the noise coming from their car must sound pretty bad, but when she looked surreptitiously around at the occupants of other cars, everyone else was singing without reserve.

In a little while, when it was time for the sharing of the peace, she waited for the minister's cue, then honked her horn, one short blast, with the rest of the D.U.C. attendees. The people in the mini van next to them smiled and waved out their window, and she waved back. The honking had awakened the two children in the back seat of the car on the other side of them, and she could hear their wails over the organ music. Vanita reached over and turned up the radio.

When the time for communion drew near, she told her friends that she was skipping communion. "This is too odd, ladies. I feel like we're at the A&W Drive-In."

"Your choice, hon," Luella said. She reached up and patted Dez on the shoulder. "Rest assured that they won't be bringing us any ketchup and mustard to go with the wafers." Luella laughed, a hearty bleat which her sister joined.

Vanita said, "And they don't rollerskate out, either."

Dez shook her head and listened to them laugh some more. She wished she could find as much humor in this as they were, but she was tired and glum, and the world around them was cloudy and cold. The communion song began.

O God, the Rock of Ages,

Who evermore hast been,

What time the tempest rages,

Our dwelling place serene . . .

She listened to the clear soprano voice, joined by a huskier alto and a quiet piano. The church door opened, and two ministers bustled out and began to make their rounds as the duet sang on.

Our years are like the shadows on sunny hills that lie,

Or grasses in the meadows that blossom but to die,

A sleep, a dream, a story, by strangers quickly told,

An unremaining glory of things that soon are old.

Suddenly, she was filled with longing and an ache that pressed down on her chest so hard that she wasn't sure she could breathe. She squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself not to cry. Too late.

"I'll be back," she mumbled. "I need some fresh air . . . ."

She bolted from the car, slamming shut the big heavy door in time to see two pairs of surprised eyes peering up at her, then she took the shortest route past the rest of the parking lot attendees. She wasn't sure what it was about music that tapped the depths of her despair, but if anything made her feel vulnerable, it was a melancholy song. She strode quickly along the sidewalk to the front of the gigantic brick church, taking in deep breaths of the frozen air. Talk to myself, that's what Marie says. Talk myself down off this ledge. She paced the length of the block to the corner, then turned and stalked back toward the other corner. I'm lonely. I miss her. I miss my old life. I miss Ryan. I miss feeling like a normal human being. I feel...that's it...I feel. And I don't want to feel. It's easier to stay in control if I don't have to feel, dammit!

Tears sprang to her eyes again. Marie had told her that because she had stuffed her emotions for so long, it would take some time to get used to how strong those feelings could be. And now that she had begun to actually feel them again, it was just as Marie had said. How embarrassing.

She heard Marie's voice in her head: "You wouldn't say 'how embarrassing' to someone else who came to you for comfort, Dez. Why wouldn't you comfort yourself the way you'd comfort a friend or one of Ryan's children?"

She reached the corner and turned again. The light breeze cut through her jacket, and she dug her hands into her slacks pockets. She slowed to a stroll, her head down, as she shivered, then stopped. I can't live like this anymore.

It was too hard to hide her feelings and too late to be embarrassed for one minute more that she had them. Marie had told her that was what made people human-all those intense feelings.

She thought about what she liked about Jaylynn, and it occurred to her that one major thing was how alive the blonde was, how she took on life with zest, whether she was investigating a crime, talking on the phone, eating something tasty, making love, or crying at a sad movie. She wondered why Jay didn't ever seem embarrassed by her emotions? How had she learned to let it all hang out like that?

Dez didn't know the answers to those questions. She thought she would like to ask, but she didn't know how to go about it. Yeah, right, just call up and say, Hey! Merry Christmas. I know I've been MIA for weeks now, but how 'bout we get together and chat?

She hunched down further into her jacket collar and turned back before she reached the corner. Now she strode quickly toward the parking lot and the warmth of the Chrysler. The heater was on full blast, and for once she was glad it felt like a sauna.

"Good timing," Vanita said. "He just finished the benediction, and now we can process out the lot and directly to Perkins."

Surprised, Dez said, "Perkins?"

"My treat," the older woman said.

"But what about your diet . . ."

Luella spoke up from the back seat. "We'll both eat sensibly, Miss Worry Wart. Do you want to go or not? You in a big hurry to get somewhere?"

"No," stammered Dez. "In fact, I'm pretty hungry myself." She backed out of her space and fell in line behind the mini van.

From the back seat a quiet voice spoke up. "What do you think of giving Jaylynn a buzz-see if she could join us?"

Dez was glad she was driving so she didn't have to look at her landlady. Her stomach dropped to somewhere, she figured, in the vicinity of the car's undercarriage. "I don't think she's back from Seattle yet," she said calmly.

She heard a high-pitched beep and glanced over her shoulder to see Luella grinning and holding a compact cell phone to her ear.

"Luella! You've gone modern."

"Come on, squirt. I worked for the phone company for 39 years. It's not like I'm unaware of the latest technology."

"But she bought it for me," Vanita said. "Always good to have a cell phone at your fingertips when you're in the tub or on the pot or rooting around in the basement."

"Like you do a lot of rooting around in the basement," retorted Luella.

In a prim voice, Vanita said, "Well, whenever you do, I've got the phone for if you fall over in a dead faint and don't answer my calls."

"Hush, it's ringing . . ."

Dez wanted to tell her that she wouldn't reach the blonde, but she figured her landlady would figure it out soon enough. She continued down the street driving toward the Perkins. From the back seat she heard Luella say, "Yes, hello. This is Luella. Jaylynn, give me a call at Vanita's when you get time. Bye." The phone made a beep noise, then Dez heard a snap as Luella closed the phone up and put it back in her purse. "You sure she's in Seattle?"

Dez thought for a moment. Would Tim lie to her? She didn't think so. He had been reluctant to talk to her, but she did think he had been telling the truth. "She's due back on Christmas Day, I think."

"So you've talked to her?"

"No. Not for a while."

Both women made little tsk-ing noises but stayed silent.

*****

Dez helped Vanita out of the car, walking slowly toward the restaurant as she held on to the arms of both of the older women.

Vanita pointed up with her free hand. "Ever notice how Perkins has the biggest flag on the planet?"

"No joke," her sister said. "That thing'd cover a football field, don't you think?"

Dez looked up at the red, white, and blue cloth whipping overhead. It made a snapping noise in the wind, and it occurred to her they were right. She didn't think she had ever seen such a big flag.

"It looks ridiculous," Vanita said. "I'm going to tell the manager that."

Dez squeezed her eyes shut and hoped that Vanita would forget all about that lame-brained idea. They made if safely to the door, and she held it open for both of them. The after-church rush had begun, but they arrived in time to get a table in the back. Dez took charge of hanging up the coats and jackets, and when she returned to the table, the two sisters sat on one side of the booth, viewing the giant menus and licking their lips. The dark-haired woman slid in across from them and folded her menu out onto the table.

Her landlady lowered the big plastic menu. "Long as we got you as a captive audience, we need to chat, Desiree. About little Miss Jaylynn and you."

Before Dez could recoil in shock, a harried looking waitress in a cotton candy colored uniform appeared at the tall woman's left. "Mornin'. What'll you have to drink?"

In unison from behind their menus, the sisters said, "Coffee. Black. And lots of it."

"And for you?" the waitress said to Dez. "Something hot? Something cold?"

Her mind went blank. She looked up and tried to focus on the pink-clad brunette who stood on her left with pencil and pad ready, but her mind was still on Luella's proclamation.

Luella lowered her menu. "Hey there, Miss Water Buffalo. Surely you're going to get something to wet your whistle?"

Water buffalo. Water. That would do. "Yes. Water," she croaked out. "A tall glass of ice water."

The waitress nodded and whirled off, and Dez turned back to her two friends.

"What are you two getting?" Vanita said from behind her plastic menu. "I suppose you'll get eggs and bacon and sausage and taties and the works, huh?"

She said it with such longing in her voice that Dez almost felt bad. "You know what, Van? I think I'll get whatever you get. How's that for camaraderie?"

"Hmph," the old lady said. "Might maybe just get dry toast." Her eyes twinkled and she held back a smile.

Dez shrugged. "Guess I could get seven or eight pieces then. And I'm sure we can have jelly, right?"

"That's right," Luella said as she folded her menu shut and put it on the table. "Jelly's fine. But she's jerking your chain, Dez." She elbowed Vanita gently. "You're going for something more substantial than that, big sister. I know you far too well."

"Plain waffles, then. That's what I'll have. With jam. Sound okay to you, Desiree?"

Dez nodded and gave that order when the waitress came back. They all handed in their absurdly enormous menus, and she took a big drink of her ice water. When she looked up, she found two observant pairs of eyes across the table waiting patiently.

Her landlady smiled sweetly, and the younger woman knew she was in for it. There was some sort of plot going on here, and she felt like a fool for not picking up on it sooner. Luella started out. "Ordinarily, Dez, you know I don't like to nose into your business."

Vanita gestured toward her sister with her thumb. "Maybe she doesn't like to get in your business, but ever since my brush with death, it doesn't bother me so much." Irritated, Luella elbowed her. "You keep your elbows to yourself, young lady!"

"I want to go about this my own way."

"I got some say in it, too, you know."

"At least let me give her some background, Vanita!"

"All right. Go ahead and hog the stage."

Dez settled back in her seat on her side of the booth and crossed her arms over her chest. She didn't know why it was so funny when the two of them got indignant with one another, but it never failed to crack her up. She was pretty sure they didn't have a very good plan for whatever they were going to discuss, so if she could just relax, it would likely turn out to be amusing.

"Vanita and I are trying to make a decision. We have two houses, but we don't need two houses anymore. Since she's so old and decrepit, now, we need to consolidate." She jerked in her seat. "Ouch! You with the sharp elbows! Cut it out." She scooted over in the booth a little and directed a fake angry look at her sister.

Vanita returned a smug look. "Stick to the facts. I may be old, but I am not decrepit. I'll be up and running before too long."

Luella rolled her eyes and turned back to the cross-armed woman in front of her. "One day we'll decide we want to live in her place. The next day we think we should take mine. But after all the arguing and discussing and weighing and planning, it all comes down to what you and Jaylynn decide."

Dez looked from one to the other. "What do you mean?" She sat forward and put her elbows on the table, a puzzled look on her face.

Luella cleared her throat. "Well, if the two of you want to live together, then I think you should take Vanita's house and my big sister will move in with me. Otherwise, if you two are history, then you can stay right where you are, and Jaylynn could have the main floor of my place. I'll move over to Van's then. So start thinking about whether you're interested and which choice it'd be if you are."

Dez's gaze ping-ponged back and forth between the two women. They both sported happy, innocent faces, but beneath she could see there was something more. Maybe their plan was better thought out than she realized. "Let me get this straight-no matter what, you two clowns are moving in together?"

They nodded, their brown faces shining in the midday light slanting into the window.

"And you want to sell one of the houses-to me or Jaylynn?"

Vanita said, "Or rent-or lease-just let you live there if you don't buy. We haven't really thought that out."

Well, I'll be damned. These two are playing matchmaker. That's what this is all about. She was surprised to come to that conclusion. "Have you talked to Jaylynn?"

At the same time, both women piped up with the answer. Luella said, "Sort of," while Vanita said, "Not exactly."

"Well, which is it?"

The sisters' heads swiveled toward one other. Up to this point they had done a cedible job of looking casual and innocuous, but now they appeared positively mischievous.

The pink-clad waitress chose that moment to appear with their plates. She smacked them down in front of them and asked what else she could get for them. By the time she had left, both of the sisters were focused fully on their meals.

"Doesn't this look great?" Vanita said. "How delicious-my first meal out after all these weeks."

"Oh, yes," Luella said. "Scrumptious."

Dez picked up her fork and speared her waffle, then stabbed at it with her knife. She reached one long arm across the table to the rack holding three kinds of syrup and snagged the maple syrup, which she systematically poured all over the waffles on her plate.

"Hey," Vanita said. "Thought you were having jam with me."

"Yeah, well, that was before the two of you decided to gang up on me. Now I need all the fortification I can get." She took a big bite of the hot waffle. Not as good as the ones Luella made, but still, it felt good to eat.

*****

Dez perched on a stepstool near the back door in Vanita's kitchen watching as Luella seared a beef roast. Vanita had run out of energy and was crashed in the living room on the couch, covered with a couple afghan quilts. She had fallen asleep within minutes of arriving back home.

Luella poked an enormous two-pronged fork into the roast and turned it over. The oil in the pan popped and spattered, so the older woman turned the burner down. Over her shoulder she said, "You'll have to give me some low-fat cooking ideas, Dez. I think there are a lot of my standard dishes that my big sister can't eat anymore."

"I have a couple cookbooks you should look at." Dez pulled her feet up on the bottom step of the stool, put her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. "Can she eat that kind of beef? Seems it would be sort of high fat."

Luella leaned the fork on the spoon rest and wiped her hands on the hot pink apron she wore. "She can have a small portion-about three or four bites. That's it."

"It's not like she's burning mongo calories."

"True. I'm not giving her much meat, other than fish and chicken. It's not that good for her, but it's not a problem for you and me. You're staying for early dinner, aren't you?"

She looked so hopeful that Dez nodded. She had nowhere else to go anyway. Besides, brunch had been good, but a couple of waffles and ice water weren't going to hold her through the afternoon.

"Good. And if I don't miss my guess, you're going to want a snack here before too long."

Dez grinned. The older woman sure had her number.

"I've got some tuna salad and Christmas cookies-plus a variety of veggies and fruit, if you like that instead. When you get hungry, let me know. Meantime, what have you got to say about the Jaylynn proposition?"

Dez's hands went a little cold, and she found herself swallowing. She watched as Luella pulled open a cupboard door and bent down to pick baking potatoes out of a brown paper sack. She smacked the cupboard shut and moved to the sink to run water and scrub the spuds.

The dark-haired woman looked around the kitchen, then out the large window above the sink where Luella was silhouetted. The silver-haired woman methodically scrubbed the potatoes, humming quietly under her breath. One thing Dez had always liked about her landlady was that Luella knew how to pose a question, then wait for an answer. Sometimes she might have to wait for hours-or days-but she never pressured her young tenant. She also listened closely without seeming to form judgments or jump to conclusions.

Dez figured it was time to take another baby step, and who better to do it with than someone who had been a trustworthy friend for almost a decade? She didn't know how to begin though. She sat, chin in hands, and watched as Luella speared all sides of the potatoes and the ends, then shuffled across the linoleum floor to put them in the oven. When she opened the stove door, a wave of warmth wafted over, and Dez's hands didn't feel quite so cold.

"I'm afraid." Her voice was soft, almost reluctant. Again, she felt embarrassed, but with her heart beating fast, she went on. "I'm too afraid to lose her."

Luella glanced over her shoulder, nodding, then flipped the sizzling roast on end. "What's that all about?"

Dez let out a long sigh. "Oh, Lu, you're going to think I'm such a big chickenshit." She heard a deep chuckle and watched as her friend opened another cupboard and pulled out a roasting pan.

"Some days you are a little shit, but I wouldn't ever describe you as a chickenshit."

"I'm going to counseling."

Luella put the roasting pan on the counter and turned to give her a level gaze. "So? I think it takes a braver person to do that than to sit around ignoring problems."

"And I've got some doozies." Dez let out a snort and rolled her eyes.

Luella smiled, her brown eyes twinkling and warm. "You've got nothing worse than most, honey, and a little better than some. You just think it's all bad because you're not used to dealing with this sort of thing, and besides, it sure seems a lot of stuff snuck up on all you at once."

"That's one way of looking at it."

The silver-haired woman set the roasting pan on a cold stove burner and used the silver fork and a knife to spear the roast and get it into the pan. She smacked the lid on and put the covered pan into the oven next to the baking potatoes. When she stood up and turned around, she had a thoughtful look on her face. "Are you afraid that Jaylynn is going to leave you? Because I don't see that happening. I don't think you understand how she feels about you."

"I'm a little afraid of that, but, well-I'm more concerned about something happening to her."

Luella leaned back against the counter, her hands up on the edge. "Like what?"

"Fire . . . gunshots . . . abduction and torture . . . beatings . . . car crashes . . . you know, something horrible. Geez, she's like-like a disaster waiting to happen all the time. She jumps into stuff-no, actually, it's like she's jumping off cliffs all the time."

"Ah, I see," Luella nodded deeply, "unlike you, yourself, who has also gotten into all sorts of potentially violent and dangerous situations."

"That's different."

"You girls are both smart, both resourceful, both good cops. Don't underestimate her. Sure, something could happen, Dez, but you can't plan your life around what might happen. You have to enjoy each day, enjoy the good things all around you. And I know it sounds odd, but you have to put what might or could or will happen right on out of your head. It flies in the face of logic because you and I both know that all of us are going to die." She gave a toss of her head toward the door to the living room. "Case in point. Van could go any time, and I know it."

When she didn't say anything more, Dez cocked her head to the side, feeling perplexed. "How do you deal with that?"

Luella didn't answer at first. She took a deep breath and gazed out the window. It had grown dimmer outside so that less light was cast into the kitchen. When Dez focused on the tree in the yard, she could see flakes of white floating past the dark trunk of the big oak. She glanced back at Luella.

Luella shifted from one foot to another, then put both hands into her apron pockets. "Worry is a funny thing, kiddo. It can just about take over your life. But really, you can't control anybody or anything. Sure, you can cut your odds by being careful, using good sense, all that sort of thing. But you can't plan for everything that could possibly go wrong, and if you try to, well, what kind of life would that be? You'd have to sit at home, doing nothing, going nowhere, and even then things could go wrong. Look at my husband and boys, supposedly safe at home, asleep in their beds. Just some bad wiring, and poof!" She threw her hands up in the air. "They're gone."

"How-how . . ." The words stuck in Dez throat, and she closed her mouth and looked away.

"How did I live to tell the tale?"

Dez nodded.

"You have to believe in something bigger than you. Some people would say God. Or a Higher Power. You know, something or somebody or some spirit that rules the Universe. People often say that God works in mysterious ways. He or She-or Whatever-does do that. And you have to believe that when something awful happens to take away someone you love, someone else will come along to help you with the hurt. People will show you love and caring, sometimes in ways you don't recognize. You're never really all alone. God will send someone for you to share with." She shifted against the counter, then took her hands out of her pockets and put them on the surface behind her. "I tell you, that's how I got through that awful time when my family died. Back then, we didn't truck much with psychiatrists or folks like that, but I spent a goodly amount of time with my pastor, crying and talking and praying. And you won't believe how many people came out of the woodwork-people I never knew or never paid much attention to."

Dez still didn't understand how Luella ever got through the death of her entire family, so she put forth the question she had always wanted to ask. "How come you never remarried?"

"I focused on my career. Even with the little bit of insurance I was left with, it wasn't enough to get by on forever. I used it to buy the house over on Como, then I got me a job. It took me a few years to regain my balance, you know. That kind of loss knocks the pins out from under a gal. I dated some very nice men in my thirties and early forties, and then it didn't seem so important. I didn't mind being alone. And finally I met George, and he stayed with me here for a few years."

Dez looked startled. She'd never heard of any such person. "George? What happened to him?"

"He died. He was a lot older than me. If he were still alive, he'd be damn near ninety. He just passed on in his sleep at the nursing home. He lived here for about seven years until he had a stroke. Then he stayed at a nursing home for-let's see, must have been about two-and-a-half years. He was recovering, starting to get his speech back and trying to relearn to walk when he had another massive stroke. He died before I could get there from work, so it was quite a blow. He was a quiet man. Very caring. He kept me company in ways that just made me feel loved and good. I still miss him."

"But God didn't send you someone new to replace him."

"Oh, but He did!"

Dez frowned and waited.

"George died, and three months later you showed up."

"Me?" The word tumbled out of her mouth like an explosive.

"Sure. Kind of like Jaylynn appeared out of nowhere for you a while after Ryan died. Or like Ryan came into your path after that rotten woman jilted you."

Dez stared at her open-mouthed. She had never ever thought of it that way, and she wasn't sure she believed it, even though her mind raced to make connections. Her father died; Mac came into her life. Her mother deserted her emotionally; various coaches came into view. She even thought of her favorite bike, stolen when she was eleven; she learned to skateboard that summer. Maybe it wasn't so much that something or someone was sent to a person, but that one adapted and learned to live with the changed circumstances. In a quiet voice, the tall woman said, "I don't think I could live through losing Jaylynn."

"So you're willing to run away from her and never have her at all, never enjoy the years and years that you may have in front of you?" Luella pushed away from the counter and moved toward her, her slippers scuffing across the floor. She reached out long, soft fingers and tipped Dez's chin up.

The dark-haired woman felt hot tears well up. "It's not that easy, Luella."

"I know. You can't hold onto someone so tight that you choke the life out of them. She has to find her own way, do her own thing." She smiled a little bit. "You have to be willing to let go. Let go at any given time. And know that you will be fine. Alone or paired with someone else-either way, you're still all together and all there. Sure, it'll hurt to lose her-or your mother or brother. Or me. You'll cry. Your heart will hurt. But you'll go on. You're a strong person, Desiree Reilly, and you deserve to love and be loved. But you have to make a choice to take the chance." She leaned into the bigger woman, and Dez wrapped her arms around the solid middle, pressing her face into soft cloth that smelled of oil and pepper. Over her head, she heard Luella's voice go on. "I could lose Van any day, any night. I know that. She knows that. But I push it out of my mind. Concentrate on enjoying her . . . whenever she isn't irking me, that is."

Dez felt the torso she was hugging contract as the older woman giggled. There was nothing the younger woman could say. Her throat constricted, and the tears flowed freely, though she tried to turn off the waterworks.

Luella leaned away and reached a hand up to stroke the braided dark hair. With a smile on her face, she said, "I'll tell you one thing though. You white people need to learn how to grieve! I never been to such somber funerals in all my born days as when my white friends and neighbors have died. Black folk, they know how to kick up a fuss when a loved one dies." She arched an eyebrow. "You went to Mrs. Sutter's funeral-I believe you know what I mean."

She looked at Dez knowingly as the tall woman nodded. A smile broke through the tears. What a wild funeral that had been. Mrs. Sutter, a retired teacher, had lived next door and had been ill for many months before she finally died. Dez went to Christ's Cornerstone Baptist Church with Luella to pay her respects to the old lady who had traded rose and peony-growing tips with her over the back fence for several years. What she found was a church full of former students and members of the local community-mostly black, but a few white and Asian. There was a full choir, four ministers, an honor guard, and pallbearers dressed in matching suits. Mrs. Sutter's fifty-something-year old daughter had completely lost herself in her grief. Before the service, when it came time to close the casket, the daughter had thrown herself half over the shiny wooden coffin and let out a keening sound Dez associated with a wounded animal. As if on cue, the music director had struck a chord on the piano, and the choir launched into a rollicking spiritual while the Sutter family surrounded the grieving daughter and drew her away to a seat in the pews where they all wept and wailed together through the song. As the service went on, there was singing and testifying, wailing and crying, the likes of which Dez had never seen or heard before or since.

Luella was right: black people knew how to grieve out loud.

But that wasn't Dez's way.

She felt Luella studying her face as the older woman stroked her hair. Dez hated being looked at when she cried. She felt so-words failed her for a moment-so defenseless. And weak. Yet at the same time, she trusted Luella, trusted her like no one from her past . . . other than perhaps her mother before her father had died. A remembrance of falling off her bike in the driveway washed into her memory. Fighting back tears, she had limped up the walk and into the house, her scraped and bleeding leg burning as though on fire. Her mother came out of the kitchen and squatted down, and she stepped in between the V of her mother's legs and leaned into comforting arms. Upon contact, the hurt abated. Even though she burst into tears then, it had less to do with the pain and more to do with the relief she felt at not bearing her suffering alone.

It occurred to her that the same thing had just happened with Luella. Maybe Marie was right. Maybe she was expending too much energy keeping her feelings in check. Maybe she ought to share her feelings more with others . . . . but the thought of it made her feel terribly vulnerable. Practice, Marie had said. All you need is practice.

Her stomach growled. Luella cupped her face in her two soft hands. "You, my dear, are in serious need of a snack. I could hear that from here."

Dez nodded.

Luella pulled a tissue out of her apron pocket and handed it to her, then turned and went to the refrigerator. "Tuna salad okay?"

The dark-haired woman finished wiping her eyes. "Onions?"

"Nope. Made it like you like it, with celery."

 

*****

Jaylynn let out a tired sigh. She wished she had slept better, but she was still running on a dearth of sleep even though she had flown into Sea-Tac three days earlier. The two hour time change seemed to have thrown her off more than usual. And now she was trying to gut out the long afternoon of shopping with her mother and two little sisters, squirrelly Erin and indecisive Amanda. She and her mother had decided to drive to Target and each take one child for a while, then trade off. Jaylynn and each of her sisters always went in together on a present for the other sister. That way, the blonde could pay the lion's share of the cost, while the girls contributed the few dollars they had. Her two little sisters were blabbermouths, but this year they were both intent on keeping secrets, something that, in past Christmases, had not worked out at all. The tired blonde thought that this might be the first year her younger sisters actually kept mum.

Right now she stood holding items they had picked out for their parents. She shifted from one foot to the other in the middle of what she called "The Pink Aisle" while Amanda rooted through Barbie dolls and accessories. Everything around them was hot pink and rose-colored, peachy or pepto-bismol pink. And the row was absurdly long and packed full of gaudy boxes and packages. At eleven, Amanda was nearing the age where the impossibly endowed dolls would soon lose their appeal, but she was still just young enough to want clothes and shoes and bikes and little cars and houses for her doll horde at home. She had spent the better part of ten minutes fingering everything, despite the fact that Jaylynn had reminded her twice that Erin despised Barbie dolls.

"Look at this, Lynnie!" Amanda said with a sparkle in her eye. She pointed to a package containing a pair of hot pink Barbie walkie-talkies. "Erin would love these! That's it! That's the perfect present."

Her face was so full of glee that Jaylynn almost didn't have the heart to discourage her, but she reminded her once again that Erin didn't like Barbie gear, much less the color pink. "We have to buy her something she would want, hon." Amanda's face fell and she frowned. "Look, kiddo, I think you're on to something. How about we go to the walkie-talkie department and look there?"

Amanda paused a moment, thinking. Reluctantly, she said, "Okay, where is it?"

"C'mon. We'll check electronics."

In short time, they found a kit that held walkie-talkies as well as a compass and a spy-glass. Amanda's eyes brightened. "She'll like this gray color, I think, don't you?"

Jaylynn nodded. She had already been through this same kind of scene with Erin, who had wanted to buy her sister a karaoke machine because she wanted one. Erin could carry a tune-somewhat-but Amanda couldn't. The blonde steered her nine-year-old sister to the art supply department. The passion of Amanda's life-besides Barbie dolls-was drawing. She was quite good at sketching little outfits for paper dolls, and sometimes Jaylynn wondered if Amanda might grow up to be a clothes designer or graphic artist.

So she had talked Erin into getting their sister some high quality colored pencils and paper and a lap easel. They smuggled it out to the trunk of the car before coming back to the store to shop more.

Now that Amanda had made her selection for her younger sister, she and Jaylynn went to the checkout area, with the younger girl's head swiveling all around to keep an eye out for Erin. They made it safely through without being seen, and the walkie-talkies were small enough for Jaylynn to carry in a shopping bag.

Amanda looked up at her. "You're sure she won't be able to tell, right?"

Jaylynn smiled and shook her head. "No, punkin, she'll never know what we've got here. And we'll wrap it right up when we get home. How 'bout we disguise it when we wrap it so when we put it under the tree, she'll never have a clue?"

"Yeah! Good idea."

They stood near the front, waiting, until Erin and Jaylynn's mother, Janet Lindstrom, headed their way. From the distance, her mother gave a toss of her head, so the blonde leaned down and said, "Amanda, let's go check out the purses."

"Oh, okay."

She steered the younger girl over through the watch department and to the bags, and they spent a few minutes looking at handbags and purses until Janet and Erin appeared, each carrying a shopping bag.

"My turn," her mother said. "Why don't you go hang out in the snack bar, and I'll take these two off to look for one final present." She met her daughter's eyes over the top of the littler girls' heads and winked.

"I can take this stuff out to the car."

"Good idea."

Next thing she knew, she was loaded down with three bags, which she hauled out to the parking lot and stowed in the trunk. Shivering, she hustled back into the store, avoiding a frozen puddle of water in front of the curb. She went to the snack area and bought a Coke, then sat down at the blood-red colored table to wait.

This was not how she had imagined spending her Christmas. After the great time she had had in St. Paul at Thanksgiving with Dez and Luella's clan, she hadn't even been sure if she would return to Seattle to spend the holiday with her family. All along she had assumed that Dez would come with her. And now she had to face the fact that here it was, two days before Christmas, and she was alone. She had already spent time working out elaborate plans in her mind which entailed the tall woman flying in, unexpectedly, just in time, but she hadn't heard a peep from her. She was unwilling to admit that she was going to spend Christmas alone, without Dez, but a part of her was practical. It had already hurt her heart enough not to be able to reach the dark-haired woman on her birthday, and now she didn't even want to consider how awful she would feel-alone with only her family-on Christmas morning. She sat in the snack bar as a wave of sadness and fatigue washed over her, threatening to overwhelm her right in public. She looked around, glad that she didn't recognize a single soul, then leaned on the table, head in hands, and closed her eyes to wait for the gleeful shoppers to join her.

*****

Later that day, after the girls left for a Christmas party with their neighborhood Brownie friends, Jaylynn sought her mother out. Janet had already wrested most of the details-a few at a time-out of her daughter, but now the blonde was ready to confide her feelings. And confide she did, mostly focusing on how angry she was at the tall cop. Her step-dad wisely gave the family room a wide berth while she stormed and raged, venting her feelings. Her mom listened sympathetically. Once she got the angry words out, Jaylynn sat on the sofa and burst into tears.

In the rocking chair across the room, next to the warm fireplace, Janet Lindstrom took a sip from her cup of tea and smiled to herself. She set the teacup down on the side table, remembering being 25 and in love. Her daughter had been appropriately named: "Jay" after her mercurial father and "Lynn" after her father's sister, who was a wise and loving woman with much patience. Most of the time they called her Lynnie, a holdover to the time when her father, Jay, had been alive, and everyone got their names mixed up. Jaylynn had many of her Aunt Lynn's good qualities, and she was also a great deal like her father had been: optimistic, lively, energetic-and with passionate emotions. Being with him had been like living through periodic lightning and thunderstorms punctuated by long periods of pleasant weather.

"Why are you laughing at me, Mom?"

She looked over at her daughter's miserable face and bit back her smile. "I'm not laughing at you-just thinking how very much you've turned out like your father."

"Hmph. He spent a lot of time crying?"

"No, but when he loved someone, he loved with all his heart. He fought for what he loved-he was a lover and a fighter. You're like that, too." She didn't know how to comfort her daughter, so she chose to ask a question. "What do you think is going to happen, Lynnie?"

Jaylynn kicked her tennis shoes off and angled herself into the back corner of the sofa, crossing her arms in front of her. Janet watched as her daughter flexed her casted hand, then crossed her arms over her sweatshirted chest. "If I could just talk to her-well, I think we could straighten things out. But she doesn't answer the damn phone, and her cell phone and pager are offline. I don't know where the hell she is!"

Janet nodded as she rocked and watched the torrent of emotions on her daughter's face. "What happens if, for some reason, she withdraws from you permanently?"

She felt bad to see the fresh spate of tears well up in her daughter's eyes. Rising, Janet grabbed a box of tissues from the coffee table and held it out to Jaylynn, then sat down next to her, one hand patting and rubbing her daughter's leg.

Jaylynn wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "I don't want that . . . she can't do that. She promised me before that she would never cut me out of her life again . . ."

"People don't always keep their promises-"

"No, Mom. Dez isn't like that. She keeps her promises." She hesitated, then took another tissue. Her next words came out slowly, as though she didn't want to say them. "I'm worried something is wrong-really wrong."

"Like she might do harm to herself?"

Tears spilled over again, and the young woman seemed to sink into an even smaller, tighter ball in the corner of the couch. She choked out her next words. "Her job is at risk, she thinks I'm gonna get killed on the job, and then I send her away."

"I don't think you're giving Dez enough credit, Lynnie." She thought about what she knew of the taciturn woman she had met the previous April and then again four months before. "Let's see. Her partner was shot on duty, and she's lived through that. She met you when Sara was attacked, and she lived through that."

Jaylynn smirked and smacked her mother's arm with the back of her hand. "Very funny."

With an innocent look on her face, Janet said, "I'm just detailing facts."

"Yeah, right."

"Let's see . . . you and she walked in on that robbery, she got shot, and you killed the man."

"Don't even remind me of that."

"Since then, my dear child, you've been hurt on the job, what? Three times?"

"No, just twice."

Counting off on her fingers, Janet said, "If I remember correctly, we have your wrist, your collarbone, and the trip to the hospital after the fire."

Jaylynn let out a little sputter. "You can't count minor smoke inhalation!"

"Sure I can. As your mother, I'm counting scraped knees, small bruises, and black eyes, too. Mothers count everything."

Jaylynn got a grouchy look on her face and let out a snort, but didn't say anything.

"And I expect lovers do the same." When her daughter didn't say anything, Janet went on. "Honey, Dez has had a real hard year-actually, more than a year. Sometimes love is not enough to help a person through something like that. After everything that has happened to her-to you-I don't blame her for going away to regroup. I think you need to be patient. I think you need to have faith. I know I haven't seen the two of you together since last summer, but there's one thing I do know . . ." She reached over to smooth a shock of blond hair out of her daughter's eyes. "She's crazy about you. I would be very, very surprised if she didn't come back. I can't even imagine it. I think you're just going to have to be patient, Miss Snappy Turtle."

Jaylynn found herself smiling at the old endearment. Miss Snappy Turtle and Miss Careless Kitty Cat-titles her mother used to give her when she was cranky or when she lost or broke something.

Janet reached over and put an arm around her daughter's shoulders. With a sigh, Jaylynn let herself relax against her mother, glad that she had talked things over with her.

After a moment, the older woman groaned. "The Brownie lunch must be over."

The blonde looked at her watch. 1:30. "How do you know that?

"They're out front, I'm sure of it. Can't you hear Erin?"

Jaylynn concentrated for a moment, and then she heard what her mother's ears had already picked up-off-key singing-something about God wrestling merry gentlemen.

Janet rose and stretched a hand out to her daughter. "Well, you're the big sister. Are you ready for yet another round of Monopoly? Or would you rather take them to the movies where at least they'll be quiet for two hours?"

"I think we ought to spike their Kool-Aid with sleeping draught." She put an arm around her mother's waist.

"Now, now dear, they just have a lot of energy-and not even as much as you used to."

"Sure, that's what you say."

"Tsk-tsk-tsk . . . everything your mother says is gospel truth."

The two women passed through the kitchen and dining room, out to the foyer and to the front door to look out the window at two scrawny blondes in light brown dresses playing in the front yard. As she listened to Erin's plaintive warble, Jaylynn could only hope that her mother was a true oracle, in the same vein as those old time prophets in the Bible.

 

 

More to come next weekend÷..

LLL 09/14/01


Return to The Main Page