UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakes
firstname.lastname@example.org -- www.LoriLLake.com
TODAY'S COMMENT: I'd like to dedicate this section to Janet Catran, a woman focused on healing and the life-force. She's been generous with her time and tremendously helpful in sharing insight into the minds and souls of characters dealing with grief, sadness, and loss. For that gift, I am forever grateful.
Thanks and blessings to the multitude of you who wrote to me after the posting of Part 8. I will answer you all as soon as I can. I understand now, from what so many of you wrote, that the way Dez happens to be feeling in the narrative mirrors some of the pain and fears many of us are currently experiencing. I didn't realize that and did not expect such a deluge of responses, but I appreciate all the positive comments.
I'll be out of town for a bench press meet until Monday, so in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this section. It's been a lonnnnnnng time coming. J
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
Dez shifted the pile of mail from one hand to the other so she could unlock the door to her apartment. She tucked her keys into her coat pocket, flicked on the kitchen light, and picked up two shopping bags, one of which was bursting with tubes of wrapping paper. Passing through the small kitchen, she dropped the pile of mail on the table, then kept moving into the bigger room beyond where she set the bag on her bed.
After adjusting the thermostat, she headed back outside to her truck, and hauled in two more bags filled with groceries. Locking the kitchen door behind her, she took off her coat, and spent a few minutes putting food away in the cupboards and refrigerator. There was a fine layer of dust on the counter and table, so she got out a washrag and ran it over the various surfaces, making a mental note to dust the furniture in the other room in the morning.
Once the kitchen was tidied up, she moved into the other room, turned on the light over her roll top desk, and sat in her desk chair. She shuffled envelopes and bank statements aside and pulled out her bank savings book, opened it, and checked the balance.
More than enough. She shut the small book and left it on the desk surface, then sat back in the chair. It was the night before Christmas Eve, and she had several things to get ready before tomorrow. She checked her watch. It was already ten p.m., but she had plenty of time ahead of her.
She spent the next half hour wrapping presents. After a while, she got thirsty and went to the kitchen for water. It was then that she glanced at the mail on the table and saw the over-sized envelope with her mother's writing on it. The card was thick and the paper a rich off-white color. She riffled through the pile of circulars, ads, and bills, and pulled out all the cards, then took them to her desk where she slit them all with a letter opener, then sat down to look at them. She remembered she hadn't gotten anything to drink and went back to the kitchen for ice water, then returned and resumed her examination of the Christmas cards.
The first was from Crystal and Shayna and contained a note inviting her to drop by any time Christmas day. The second was from her dentist's office, wishing her well, and urging her to brush regularly, especially through the sugary holiday season. She tossed it into the wastebasket.
The third was from Cowboy. His note said: "Haven't seen you around lately, Half Pint. Hope you have a good Christmas. Let's get together when you get things squared away. C." That was nice of him to send me a card. She hadn't expected it.
She straightened up in the chair when she saw the writing on the next envelope. She pulled the card out in haste to find it was not a Christmas card, but a regular notecard that was blank inside. The picture on the outside was of a shimmery lake, evergreen trees on one side, and birds flying above beneath fluffy clouds. Inside, it said:
I've been missing you terribly. Please let me know you are all right.
She sat back in the chair, still holding the card. There was no date on it, but the envelope was postmarked eight days earlier from St. Paul. She must have mailed this before she left for Seattle. Dez brought the card up to her face and breathed in . . . There it was-the faintest whiff of something distinctive, a scent of Jaylynn. She inhaled again, but it was gone. Maybe it had been her imagination.
She laid the card on her desk and picked up the final envelope. As she tugged the thick packet out, she wondered why her mother had sent her something. Usually Colette Reilly called her daughter sometime on Christmas morning and wished her a brief "Merry Christmas," and that was it. She turned over the packet and for a moment sat stunned when the impact of the contents fully hit her.
Two shiny blue swans floating on water were embossed on the top part of the creamy bond paper. Below, in dark blue script, she read, Colette Marie Lavelle Reilly and Xavier Aloysius MacArthur request the honor of your presence at their wedding on the Fourteenth of February, 2002 . . .
She got no further. My mother marrying Mac? Marrying? Like a wedding and everything? A full minute, maybe more, passed as she tried to get accustomed to the idea. At the end of the summer, she and Jaylynn had talked about Mac and her mother's relationship. At that time, Jaylynn had assured the disbelieving cop that they were a couple. As evidence, the blonde had spoken of body language and small gestures she had noticed when Colette and Mac visited Dez at the hospital after she had taken a bullet in the vest. Dez hadn't been entirely convinced then, but now . . . . Damn! Jaylynn was right. I think I owe her bet money!
The longer she thought about it and the more the surprise wore off, the better she felt about this news. Why shouldn't her mother and her mentor be happy? Who was she to say that they shouldn't marry?
She opened the card and a piece of translucent tissue paper fell out along with maps to the church site and to the reception hall. Shaking her head, she found herself wondering why wedding invitations always carried that stupid piece of flimsy tissue. Jaylynn would probably know. Or maybe Emily Post or Miss Manners could shed light on that. She had no clue. She crumpled it up and tossed it into the trash, then separated another envelope from the packet. This pre-stamped envelope was addressed to her mother and contained a gold RSVP card. On impulse, Dez picked up a pen, wrote her name on the guest line and scrawled a "2" where it asked for the number of guests. She licked the flap and sealed the envelope, then rose and grabbed her coat. Without giving it another thought, she clattered down the stairs to the outer door, strode to her truck, and got in, tossing the card on the seat beside her.
The truck engine roared to life. On the way to her mother's house, she had time to think about writing a "2" on the response card. She hoped Jaylynn would go with her. The wedding was seven weeks away, and surely that was enough time to work things out with the younger woman. She hoped so.
When she arrived at the three story house, she found it dark. Houses on either side had Christmas lights blinking, but her mother had never been much for the multi-colored lights, so the house was unadorned. Dez wheeled over to the curb and got out, leaving the truck running. She moved up the walkway, watching her step along the cement, which was eerily illuminated by the neighbors' white, yellow, green, and red blinking lights. The mailbox was at the foot of the stairs. She opened it, tossed in the card, shut the mailbox door quietly, and walked back to her truck feeling a sense of peace.
As she drove the three miles back to her house, she realized that she had one more shopping foray to make in the morning. She didn't relish the thought of going out to the store on the morning of Christmas Eve, but she figured if she went early enough, it might not be so bad.
She returned home, finished up her wrapping and labeling, and then sat down on the couch with her guitar. She held it gently, then stroked the strings with her thumb. Cocking her head to the side, she plucked the low E string, which she decided was a little flat. She twisted the tuning peg until she got the tone just so, then moved on to the next strings. Finally, she strummed it again, adjusted the high E, and was satisfied.
The last few days she had missed her guitar. She hadn't played it much in the last two months, but she had brought it back from the cabin with her. When she had felt her lowest, there was no way she could play it, but lately, it hadn't been so mournful. She still had a song in her head, a melody she'd been working on every so often for nearly as long as she had known Jaylynn. Lately, while out hiking or driving in the car, words and phrases had come to mind, and now she thought she had the beginning of the lyrics to go with the melody and guitar parts. She picked out the opening melody, then hit a G chord and riffed through all the chords. She loved the sound of C and F major chords, but she wasn't sure they fit in the scheme of the song. She started over again, playing the opening melody, and then settled into the first verse.
What are we gonna do
Is it all worth losing if we see it through
You look to me and I don't have a clue
If I could tear away, I'd run.
Lately, looking into your eyes
I'm finally starting to realize
All I really am is terrified
If I could give you up, I'd run
She kept playing, but she stopped singing. A little smile played at the corners of her mouth. Ha. If I could give her up-yeah, right. I might have run away for a while, but I know I can't give her up. I hope I can make it right-make her understand . . . That familiar ache behind her breastbone spread, and for a moment she felt she might cry. But she didn't. She sang the second verse and the bridge instead.
Fire's burning inside me now
My heart is screaming without a sound
Your love has brought me down to my knees
There's no way to run.
Lately looking into your eyes
I'm finally starting to realize
All I really am is terrified
If I could let you go, I'd run
Don't let them get inside
They'll only leave you cold
Never trust too far
Never give your soul
I learned long ago
It's dangerous to feel
Always hide your heart
Love is never real
Love is never real
She thought that Marie would be proud of her for admitting those feelings. After the many disappointments in her life, Ryan being killed, the untrue lovers, the death of her father, her mother's failing her-well, she didn't even like to think about any of it. But she was thinking about it now, and in ways she had never done before. For once in her life, she was starting to think that maybe there was hope after all. It had been a long time since she had felt that way.
She picked an arpeggio and decided it didn't make for a good bridge back to the end verses. She backed up and sang the bridge one more time, then strummed into the next part.
Tear down all the walls I've built so high
Hold me close until you make me cry
If I could only make you mine tonight
Think I'd leave my world behind
Make me think its gonna be all right
Keep me safe so there's no need to hide
I see myself almost taking flight
If I can trust myself I'll run
Straight into your arms
Straight into your arms
She liked it. The song expressed her feelings, though she didn't think the song was anything too striking. Someday, maybe she'd even sing the song for Jaylynn. She hoped she would get the opportunity.
Dez rose late the next morning after a night of tossing and turning. It always seemed that the first few hours she tried to sleep were hellish, but after a while, she was so exhausted that she would finally drop off into a deep sleep punctuated by nightmares. The dreams she remembered were variations on the same thing: she found someone she loved-usually Ryan or Jaylynn-lying dead, and there was nothing she could do to revive them. With reluctance, she decided that at some point, she was going to need to discuss the dreams, in detail, with Marie.
Dressed only in briefs and a tight t-shirt, she headed across the room to the bathroom and looked out the window. Fluffy flakes of snow drifted from the heavens to land in a still world. Dez could see no evidence of any wind at all, and the neighborhood was quiet, as though everyone in it were still asleep. The trees were coated with a blanket of white stuff. She estimated that six or seven inches had fallen overnight. Gonna be a lot of fun shopping today, she thought. But she only had one store to go to and a visit to the bank. Even though the streets had not been plowed yet, she knew she could get around with the truck in four-wheel drive.
She turned on the water in the tub and slipped out of her t-shirt and briefs. She checked the water temperature, and stepped in to take a shower. She let the warm water run over her for a long while. She was surprised that she wasn't more fatigued . . . but she felt alive and awake this morning. So alive, in fact, that she decided to eat breakfast, run her two errands, then go to the station to work out in the gym. One thing nice about being a police officer-the workplace is never closed, no matter what.
In less than an hour, dressed in sweats, workout clothes, and a heavy coat and boots, she was out the door, a gym bag in hand. She descended the stairs, pausing at the bottom to look toward Luella's place. Nobody home. Dez knew her landlady was spending most of her time at Vanita's. Still, she wished she were there right now.
The visits to the department store and the bank took about an hour. She left her purchase in the truck, locked up, and went into the station. As she expected, eleven a.m. on Christmas Eve was not a busy time. One lone dispatcher sat in her office, drinking coffee and looking cranky. Dez passed by, with little more than a glance and headed for the stairs. She was two steps down when she heard footfalls behind her.
"Reilly! That you?"
She stopped and turned, one hand on the banister. "Yes, sir." She felt her face begin to flush, but she stood her ground.
Commander Paar, dressed in civvies, strode toward her, a half-smile on his face. He had obviously gotten a hair cut recently. His silvering hair was cut close to his head, and the little bit of sideburns were trimmed and shaped. As he reached her, he held out a hand. "How you doing, Reilly?"
"Fine, sir. Much better." She clasped his warm hand, then let it go. He was a trim, compact man. Standing two stairs down put him only half a head taller than she. She shifted on the second stair and leaned a hip into the banister.
"I hear you're back in business here pretty quick." She nodded, waiting. "I'm glad. You know, Reilly, I knew your father pretty well. He was a good cop. So are you. He'd be proud of you."
She felt a big lump in her throat and didn't think she could speak, but when she did, it sounded normal to her ears. "Thanks. That means a lot."
The commander smiled and gestured toward her gym bag. "You here to work out?"
"That's great. I'm always happy to see my officers staying in shape. Some of your peers don't take it seriously enough." He looked at his gold watch. "Geez! Already after eleven. I better get on the stick. I hope you have a real nice holiday, Reilly." He reached out again and took her right hand, then smacked her right shoulder with his other hand. "Glad you're doing so well."
"Thanks. You have a nice Christmas, too, sir."
With a final smile, the commander went off down the hall toward his office, and Dez descended the stairs slowly. She hoped no one was in the gym, though that meant she wouldn't have a spotter. She didn't intend to do anything heavy anyway. Though she had been lifting heavy at the gym in Duluth, today she just wanted to do a light bench routine and work her shoulders.
Turning the corner into the gym, she was happy to see her wish granted. The place was empty. The basement room smelled like pine, and looking around, she could see the janitorial crew had given it a good cleaning. The dust that usually gathered along the edges of the room had been swept away, and the cement floor looked freshly washed.
She went to the one lone piece of cardio equipment, a Stairmaster, and dropped her bag, then slipped off her coat and hung it from one of the hooks in the nearby power rack. After kicking off her boots, she rooted around in the gym bag and pulled out Adidas shoes. She laced up and tied the shoes, all the while looking around the room. A lot of the weights and equipment in the room had been purchased over the years by the officers, but much of it had been donated by Ryan. He'd been a bodybuilder and won a number of local competitions. Since he had died, she had never had as good a workout partner as he had been. Though she enjoyed working out with Jaylynn and Crystal, with Ryan it had been like magic. He had been much stronger in the upper body, but her legs were nearly as strong. He challenged her, pushed her, and egged her on in ways no one else could. And he knew just how far to provoke her, too, in such a way that they often ended up laughing as they competed for reps. Working out with him had spurred her on to lift more weight than she ever imagined would be possible.
She got up on the Stairmaster and spent ten minutes warming up, then stepped off to stretch her legs. In the weeks since she was put on leave, she had slimmed down a few pounds, and though she still felt a little awkward, she could tell her body was settling back into a comfortable zone. It was quite a difference to look at the bodybuilding pictures from last August where every muscle, every sinew was apparent. Now she thought she looked blocky. Big. Clunky.
She did some arm stretches and neck rolls, then loaded the bar with 45's on each side and settled on the bench on her back, ready to do a slow, steady warm-up at 135 pounds. The weight felt good, and the muscles in her chest and shoulders felt strong. As she added more plates, her spirits rose as they usually did when she lifted.
After an hour of bench presses, incline press, dumbbell shoulder presses, and lateral lifts for her deltoids, she called it quits. Her chest and shoulders were pleasantly fatigued. She gathered up her stuff and headed to the locker room to get cleaned up.
She emerged half an hour later in jeans, boots, and a black sweatshirt over a flannel shirt. She thought she might be a little over-warm, but she only had a short distance to go back to her place. She headed home and carried her purchase into the apartment.
The dark-haired woman spent the early afternoon doing laundry, wrapping the last present, eating two small meals, listening to holiday music on the radio, and making out Christmas cards that she knew would be late. She actually felt at peace, though her thoughts went often to Jaylynn, and she knew how much she missed her.
At three p.m., she put away the tape and scissors and leftover cards. Well, that's that. Everything I needed to do is done. Time to take some more baby steps. With her heart racing, she picked up the phone and dialed the first of two phone numbers that she knew by heart but had been avoiding calling. Julie answered on the second ring, sounding rushed. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Michaelson."
"Dez? Oh, it is so good to hear your voice! How are you? Where are you? What are you doing-"
"Whoa. Slow down." In the background she could hear excited voices, and Julie paused a moment and told them to calm down.
"Dez, as you can tell, the kids are asking if you are coming over."
"That's exactly why I was calling. You got some time in the next day or so?"
"We've got time right now-or else any time tomorrow. And you could come tonight for supper at seven if you like. It'll be a crowd, though, with family . . ."
"If you have a little time this afternoon, I would love to drop over for a bit now . . . that is, if you don't mind."
"We've just been getting things ready around the house. C'mon over any time."
Dez agreed and hung up, then picked the phone back up and sat holding the receiver in her hand. Okay, you can do this. Just a small step. Things went fine with Julie, so if this doesn't go right, well, then one out of two isn't bad. She punched in the numbers and waited through four rings. Just when she thought no one would answer, a woman's voice answered the phone.
Dez swallowed. "Hello?"
"Is Colette there?"
"Sure, just a minute."
There was a pause, and Dez had time to wonder whose voice that had been before her mother got on the line.
"Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas."
"Desiree! How are you?"
"Good. I'm good."
"I got your reply. Thank you. Mac and I are both very pleased that you are coming. I'll have a little shower type party in late January, if you want to come."
Dez smiled. "Actually, that's sort of why I was calling. I have a gift to give you, but you know me-I hate those shower things. I was wondering if I could drop it by?"
Dez's heart sank. It didn't sound like her mother would want her to stop off with the present today. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for disappointment, and in a flat voice said, "No, that's okay. I'm sure you're busy-"
"No! We're not! We're just sitting around drinking egg nog and waiting for the ham to bake. Please come whenever you want. You can stay for dinner."
A warm feeling started at the base of her spine and spread upward, and she found herself grinning in relief. "What time are you eating?"
"Oh, around six-ish."
"I'm stopping by to see Ryan's kids, then I'll come over, all right?"
"Yes, that would be wonderful. See you in a bit."
After they hung up, Dez continued sitting at her desk feeling dazed. She was two for two for the day-three for three if she counted the Commander-and she could hardly believe it. After a few moments, she drew in a deep breath and stood. It was already half past two. Time to get rolling.
At five-thirty, Dez got in her truck, feeling pleased that the visit with Jill and Jeremy had gone so well. She rolled down the Ford window and waved toward the house, where the boy and girl stood in the front window, smiling and waving back. Jeremy had liked the Pokemon cards and the snowshoes. He had wanted to put them on and run right out into the falling snow, no coat, no hat. Julie had restrained him, and Dez promised to take him out when she had her snowshoes with her. Jill's eyes had shone when she opened The Illustrated Wizard of Oz book. Dez knew it was her favorite movie, and she thought Jill would like reading the book. She had also purchased a gift certificate for four horseback riding lessons for her. As far as Dez could tell, both kids were thrilled with the gifts, but neither had wanted her to leave. Jeremy had almost started crying, so she had made yet another promise: to come back and play after their Christmas vacation when she had more time.
Now she pulled away from their house, chuckling over the gifts they had given her. Six-year-old Jeremy had made a jewelry box out of tongue depressors and popsicle sticks which was held together by at least half a bottle of glue. He had used felt markers to stain the sticks various bright colors, and he was clearly very proud of his creation. Upon opening the present, Dez and Julie had met one another's eyes and shared the same look that said, We know we can't laugh, but this is pretty damn funny. He had obviously gone to a lot of work, and Dez told him so. He turned pink with happiness.
Jill made her a little book about four by six inches square. The cover was pale blue and showed a picture of two police officers, one with long black hair and the other with a scrubby blond flat-top. There were pictures drawn throughout the twenty or so pages of two kids and a mom and dad and the same black haired tall person that Dez knew was herself. The drawings were detailed, containing houses and cars, street signs, horses, and dogs in the backgrounds. Considering Jill was only eight years old, Dez thought the pictures were very well done, and she praised Jill so much that the little girl got embarrassed and hid her face.
She turned at the corner and didn't look back at the house. She had to admit that it was still-even after eighteen months-hard to spend time there. The ghost of Ryan lived on, and she expected that at any moment, he would come walking out of the den, a mischievous look on his face, and invite her to come out to the garage to work on some project with him. Tears sprang to her eyes. She didn't think she would ever stop missing him, ever stop feeling the loss.
She turned off Lexington Parkway onto Laurel Avenue and headed toward her mother's house. Parked cars buried in snow lined both sides of the street. The streets were thick with snow, and if the plows didn't come soon, this latest snowfall was going to get packed down into ruts that would make life difficult for everyone, not to mention for any emergency vehicles that might need to get through. She reached the house, but there were no parking spots anywhere nearby. Frustrated, she went up to the corner and turned around, then circled back to the previous block where she had seen some space.
The tall woman opened the cab door and took a dark gray bag and a pair of tennis shoes from behind her seat, then slogged through the snow, glad she was wearing Sorel boots. As she drew closer to the house, she thought that maybe she had bitten off more than she could chew. She hated not knowing what to expect. Like a good soldier, she marched forward until she reached the brightly lit house. With the porch illuminated, she could see there was a cheery wreath with a big red bow on it hanging on the front door, something that hadn't been apparent when she had dropped off the RSVP card the night before. She mounted the stairs, but before she could knock, it opened and Mac stood there smiling.
Mac and her father had always borne a resemblance to one another, though Michael Reilly had been much taller. Both men had had black hair, blue eyes, and the pale complexions for which the Irish are often noted. Sometimes when she used to think of her father, she confused his face with Mac's. But Mac was old enough now that his face was distinct from her father's. His hair was silver-going white in some places. Wrinkles surrounded his bright blue eyes. He was a little stockier than when she had last seen him. She stepped toward the doorway, and he clapped an arm on her shoulder and drew her into the toasty house, patting her on the back.
"Dez, it's great to see you. Merry Christmas." His voice was cordial and warm. He took the bag from her hand and set it on a table inside the door, allowing her to slip her coat off. She smiled at him and looked from the foyer out into the living room. Colette Reilly had risen and was moving across the room toward them, her face aglow.
The tall woman hung her coat on the hooks next to the door and stepped out of her boots. By then her mother arrived, and, surprising her daughter completely, wrapped her in a brief but fierce hug. "I am so glad you're here."
"Me, too." Dez looked over her shoulder into the living room where her brother Patrick sat-next to a beautiful brunette woman. Patrick met her eyes, his face a passive mask. Ah, so that's how it is. He's still mad. Suddenly she felt a little mischievous. I'll show him. She grinned and shifted her glance to the woman seated next to him. She didn't even have time to wonder who the woman was before Colette said, "Come in and meet Monique."
Dez slipped on her tennis shoes and bent to tie them, then stood and moved into the living room. Patrick and Monique got up off the couch, and the five adults stood in a circle around the coffee table. Patrick shifted toward the short brunette and took her hand. Dez looked from one to the other, and before her mother said a word, she knew this young woman was likely to be her sister-in-law sometime in the near future. She wondered if she'd like her.
Colette sidled next to the young woman, one arm circling her waist. "Dez, this is my soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Monique Mellingham. Monique, meet Patrick's sister, Desiree."
Dez found herself smiling, in fact, nearly laughing. She stepped forward until she felt the edge of the coffee table against her shins, and reached out her hand. Patrick had to let go of his fiancée so that she could reach over and shake hands with the tall cop. "I am very glad to meet you, Monique. Welcome to the family." She released the woman's hand and looked up to find her brother peering at her suspiciously. She glanced back at the tiny woman at Patrick's side. She wore black stretch pants, pink slippers, and a red sweater covered with green Christmas trees decorated with shiny silver ornaments.
"Thank you. I am glad to finally meet you, Dez. I've heard-well, a little about you."
"Don't believe most of it, Monique, especially if it came from my dear sweet brother." She looked over at Patrick who gazed back at her, confusion on his face.
"Gosh," Monique said, "you Reillys are tall people. I had no idea my sister-in-law would tower over me like Patrick does."
She said it in such a droll tone that Dez laughed out loud. It reminded her of the sort of observation Jaylynn would make. "My little brother had a heck of a time catching up to me, but once he did, he got me by a good four inches." In a conspiratorial voice, she said, "I think I can still pin him though."
Patrick mouth dropped open. "Wha-wha-I don't think so!"
Dez laughed and glanced over her shoulder, finding a wing back chair. She moved over and lowered herself into it, letting out a sigh. Her mother did the same, settling into the matching wing back.
Mac interrupted. "Dez, you want something to drink?"
"Sure. Whaddya got?"
Mac listed out several selections, and she settled on a glass of red wine.
Patrick sat back down on to the couch, pulling Monique down next to him. "I didn't think you drank."
Really, this was quite fun. Her brother was off balance. His fiancée seemed very nice. Mac was happy, and her mother was beaming. She decided she was actually enjoying herself after all.
"I don't-not much anyway. But a glass of wine now and then is kind of nice."
"My sentiments exactly," Monique said. She pulled her slippered feet up under her and curled into a comfortable lean against Patrick.
Dez watched as her brother got a goofy, love-struck look on his face, and it made her happy. She knew just how he felt. "How did you two meet?"
Patrick looked uncomfortable as his fiancée poured out the tale of them meeting at work. She talked about how she had pursued her shy guy, causing the dark-haired man to blush a little. Dez looked at her brother. At his next birthday, he would turn twenty-six. His face was clear and unlined, his hair as black as hers. When she looked into his blue eyes, she saw a mirror of her own. She wondered if their nearly seven years of separation had changed him much. She hoped not. Other than being obstinate and opinionated-common Reilly traits-he had always been good-hearted. They had been close as children. Was it possible that they could rebuild their torn relationship and be close again as adults? She thought the answer was yes. She had nothing to lose by trying.
Colette served dinner a short while later, and Dez enjoyed the food. The ham was sweet and moist, and the baked potatoes and asparagus were cooked perfectly. She also enjoyed the conversation. Mac asked a lot of questions about the job, and she summoned up her courage to admit that she was on leave and dealing with what she called the "emotional fallout" of having two partners injured in a row. Mac seemed to already know some of this and didn't ask prying questions, for which she was grateful. He nodded politely and said, "You're smart to do that, Dez. Some cops never do, and they become insufferable to work with." Then he changed the subject and asked about various officers they both knew. Soon Monique chimed in with a question about all the articles in the paper about racial profiling, and Mac, Monique, and Dez carried on a spirited conversation. Dez was aware that her mother and brother were watching, surprised, as all of this unfolded, but she was on a roll and feeling good. She wasn't going to do her hermit crab routine, no matter how much they might expect it.
After supper, Dez rose and began to clear the table. Her mother picked up a plate and stacked it on top of another. "You don't have to do this, Desiree."
"It's okay, Mom. I really don't mind. That lazy oaf brother of mine can help me. You did all the prep work, so we can clean up, just like the old days." She smiled at Patrick.
Patrick sighed. "All right. I'll help."
"You better not wash. You never get all the crud off. I'll wash. You can wipe the dishes."
Exasperated, he said, "Dez! I haven't spent any time with you in seven years! How the hell do you know that I don't wash dishes well?"
She grinned. "Okay, fine. Go ahead. You can wash."
She picked up two glasses and a plate, leaving him to let that sink in. Behind her she heard him say, "Well, I'll be damned. She always hated washing . . ."
"I think you've been had, honey," Monique said.
Dez laughed out loud on the way into the kitchen. Really, things were going to be all right. She just knew it.
They were all sitting around the living room, still talking, and it was nearing ten p.m. when Dez finally said that she thought she better head home. She stood up and stretched, then caught sight of the dark gray bag on the table in the foyer. "Oh, shoot! I forgot all about the present."
She strode out and picked up the bag, then brought it to her mother. Mac stood up from his chair and came to stand behind the wing back chair Colette was curled up in.
Dez felt extremely awkward-for the first time since she had initially stepped foot in the door. She backed up and sat on the edge of her chair, her elbows on her knees and one fist tucked tightly into her other hand under her chin. She watched as her mother pulled the box out of the bag and removed the wrapping paper with gentle hands. She pulled the two halves of the box apart and sat staring at the crystal in her hands.
"Oh, Dez . . . where did you . . . how did you know?"
Tear-filled blue eyes met her own, and Dez knew she had guessed correctly. "I saw the swans embossed on your invitation, and I remembered seeing something like that at the crystal store-so I went back and got it for you."
"It's beautiful." She pulled the crystal swans out carefully and rose.
By then Monique was up and checking it out. "Wow. This is really cool, Dez. I love crystal."
"I'll remember that." She smiled at the younger woman as her brother leaned over their mother to look more closely at the swans.
"Geez, Dez," he said. "Must've cost you an arm and a leg."
"Nah, just a toe or two." She stood up and watched as her mother crossed the room and moved a candle holder aside and placed the figurine on the mantel.
Then Colette turned and gave her daughter a big hug. "I don't know what to say."
Dez felt the lump forming in her throat. In a gruff voice, she said, "That's okay. I just wanted to give you something special-something to let you know that I'm really happy for you two."
Her mother gave her a final squeeze, and then Mac hugged her, too. When she glanced over at Patrick, he sat on the couch with Monique next to him, and she thought he looked pleased.
"Well, folks, guess I'd better go now." She walked the few steps to the foyer and put on her boots and coat. There were hugs all around, even from Patrick, and when she started to shake Monique's hand, the small woman wrapped strong arms around her waist. Dez patted her on the back awkwardly.
"I am so glad to finally meet you, Dez, and I expect to have lots of fun times with you."
The tall woman suppressed laughter. "I can see the whole family is going to have fun times with you, Monique."
She wished them all good night and Merry Christmas, then tucked her shoes under one arm and paused on the front porch to zip up her coat. The tennis shoes, warm in her bare hands, grew cold quickly. It was windy, and the cold air chilled her hands. Should've brought my gloves. I bet it's less than ten degrees. Reaching the end of the walk, she looked back. Her mother stood in the doorway. The silver-haired woman gave a little wave, then closed the door, and Dez turned onto the sidewalk and trudged down to her truck. Despite the cold, she felt warm inside. As far as she was concerned, this was far more than a baby step. The events of the day could be classified, easily, as great big, giant steps.
She climbed into her truck and drove off, looking forward to the passing of the next 24 hours until she could address her next great big, giant step.
It had taken some doing, but Dez convinced Tim to allow her to meet Jaylynn's plane on Christmas night. When the dark-haired woman called over to the house, she had wanted to talk to Sara, thinking the rookie's best friend might be more receptive to helping her, but she was dismayed to learn that Sara and Bill were celebrating Christmas at Bill's folks' house in Michigan. So she was stuck with having to persuade the red-haired man.
"I don't know," he said. "I just don't know what she'd want ."
She gripped the phone in her hand and spoke with as much calmness as she could muster. "C'mon, Tim. I'm asking you to trust my judgment, to just trust me."
"I'll go out there with you then, Dez. She expects me."
Dez shut her eyes tight and shook her head, glad he couldn't see her expression. "I need some time alone with her. Just give me a chance, Tim. Please." She was not used to pleading, and she wasn't willing to totally humiliate herself.
"What if she doesn't want to talk to you?"
Dez sighed. "I'll put her in a cab and pay for it to deliver her right to your house-no questions asked, no strings attached."
After pondering a moment, Tim told her the exact time and flight Jaylynn was due to arrive on. Then she had to hold on for another two minutes while he went on and on about how she should be extra cautious of Jaylynn's feelings. She assured him she would be a perfect gentlewoman.
And now, here she was at the Minneapolis airport, pacing nervously on the gray carpet. The place was a madhouse with people crammed in all the waiting areas, little kids running down the concourses, and harried adults carrying bulky bags and dragging suitcases behind. Every gate at the Northwest hub seemed to be standing-room-only. That was okay with Dez. She didn't want to sit anyway.
She looked at her watch. 9:45. According to the arrival board, touchdown was due, on time, at 10:02. She stepped aside as a heavyset woman, followed by a horde of kids, pushed past with a cart that was loaded down with two oversized suitcases and a pile of pink and blue and yellow kids' backpacks. She closed her eyes, wishing she had earphones or ear plugs. The din was giving her a headache.
The plane began its descent, and Jaylynn could feel the change in pressure as her ears popped. She sat next to the window, gazing down at the lights in the speckled landscape below. The specks were mostly buildings, all of which were surrounded by glaringly white snow and ice, which reflected quite a lot of light back up even in the late evening.
For once she was glad to be small and slender. The man in the middle seat was tall-over six-six-and broad-shouldered, causing the plump woman on the aisle seat much discomfort. She thought that Dez would have hated this flight. Jaylynn was able to lean against the wall of the plane and still be somewhat comfortable.
She picked up the L.J. Maas paperback in her lap, stuck a bookmark in it, and tucked it into the bag under her seat, then turned back to the scene below. She could see the twisty path of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, many bridges over the rivers, as well as the dark outline of skyscrapers and city buildings in the distance. She was back to her home away from home, and all she felt was a gnawing ache.
Her sisters, especially Erin, had been mad at her for not bringing Dez along. It was all she could do to hold it together every time Erin or Amanda mentioned the tall woman who they called "Our Hero". How could she explain to them what was going on when she didn't even know herself? It has been twenty-three days, and never a word from her ex-FTO. She had hoped-even prayed-that Dez would call her at her parents' house. Every time the phone rang, her heart skipped a beat, and she found herself waiting, breathless. But it was never Dez. And for all the times that she had tried to call the apartment, the phone had continued to go unanswered.
What if it's over for good? It was hard for her to believe that could be true-she didn't want to believe it. But what if that's the case? Sara had told her once that she was self-sufficient and she'd be just fine on her own, but now she wasn't so sure. What a wreck she'd been for weeks now, irritable, lonely, crying at the drop of a hat. Some self-sufficient person I turned out to be.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she was glad to be looking away from the other passengers and out the little porthole into the snowy night. I shouldn't have been so harsh with her. She'd told herself that a hundred times. I should never have lost my temper. It's all my fault. She gritted her teeth and frowned. But dammit! She did ask for it. Jaylynn closed her eyes and drew a long, deep breath. The swing from one set of emotions to another was draining. She wished she could stick with one feeling-anger or grief or just general sadness-but instead, she felt like she was continually ping-ponging back and forth. She let out a deep sigh and opened her eyes.
Watching as the lights on the ground grew closer, after a time she could make out roads and see the headlights of cars and trucks so small that they looked like miniature toys. The plane banked slightly and flew over a narrow river, which was so crusted over with ice that from above, it looked like aluminum foil. She took a deep breath. Though she couldn't see it, she knew the airport was now close. This was the part that always bothered her the most. Hadn't she read somewhere that eighty percent of all crashes take place at landing or take-off? Or maybe it was ninety percent. Her heart beat faster in her chest as she watched the ground grow closer. The pitch of the engines whined higher and louder as she clutched the arm of the seat with her one good hand, her cast pressed against her chest. Suddenly she felt the thump of the landing gear hitting the tarmac and the squealing shriek of the engines. The plane's rapid deceleration pushed her back against her seat.
She was home.
The tall woman was overly warm, but with the pack of people at the gate, there was nowhere to put her coat. She was sorry she had worn a long-sleeved flannel shirt over her t-shirt and under her down coat, but it was, after all, only three degrees outside. With the windchill, she figured it was closer to ten or fifteen below zero. The truck had never warmed up during the ride from St. Paul to the airport, so she had been glad for the extra layer. Until now.
She checked her watch again. 10:05. For the last six minutes, the sign up by the Northwest counter had been flashing ARRIVED over and over next to the display that read Flight 796-Seattle. Still no plane at Gate 62 though.
Her hands felt cold and stiff. And moist. Everywhere else on her body she was roasting, but her hands were frozen blocks. She paced out along the concourse all the way down to gate 58 and back. Some of the crowd thinned when flights from Philadelphia and Houston had come in a bit ago, so there were a few less people to dodge.
A flash of white in the darkness outside caught her eye, and she turned to see the red-nosed plane meandering toward gate 62. Threading her way through people and chairs and haphazardly placed baggage, she went to the window where she watched the airport personnel get ready to bring the plane in.
She shut her eyes. Okay, this is it. I can do this. I'm gonna be okay. She started to count the small windows on the side of the plane. Under the bright artificial lights shining outside in the night, each window was dark as a chip of obsidian, and she couldn't see in. She wondered if they could see her, and she backed away abruptly, feeling vulnerable.
Oh boy. She ran a cold, nervous hand through her dark hair, then tucked her hands into her jeans pockets, hoping she could warm them up.
The plane jolted to a halt, and everyone around Jaylynn leapt to their feet. She didn't know why they bothered. She figured the aisle was all of a foot wide-well, maybe two feet. It wasn't like anyone could stroll on up and out. Nobody was going anywhere until the people ahead of them moved along. She was in the middle of the plane, so she knew there were nearly a hundred people to disembark before she should even bother to get up.
The hulk of a man in the middle seat next to her had risen, and now he stood, bent over, not able to stand at his full height due to the low ceiling above the seats. She sighed and looked back out the window to watch the baggage handlers maneuver a flatbed truck toward the plane.
It was ten more minutes before enough of the people ahead of her cleared out. She picked up the canvas bag from under her seat, stood, and reached into the overhead compartment to grab her down coat. God, I hope it's not too cold. I should have checked the weather before I left.
She dragged along behind the rest of the passengers, pausing, shuffling, pausing again as though she were in a chain gang. Stepping out of the plane, she felt a shock of cold air from the cracks between the fuselage and the boot attached to the walkway that led into the airport. After the fifty degree weather in Seattle, she had a hunch Minnesota was going to come as a shock to her system. If she saw a wide spot in the aisleway, she thought she might want to stop and pull her coat on.
Shivering, she hustled after the hulking man ahead of her. The further she moved up the walkway, the more warmth she felt wafting her way. Ooh, that's much better. Her coat stayed over her casted arm, the canvas bag in the other hand.
As she passed through the doorway, her eyes swept the busy waiting area, searching for a shock of red hair. She saw two redheaded women seated and reading, but no thin, redhaired man. Following the crowd, she continued forward, allowing her eyes to sweep left to right. She caught sight of a figure out across the concourse leaning against a white supporting post, and her eyes jerked back.
Jaylynn stepped out of the flow of passengers, next to a railing. She didn't feel the traveling bag she was holding when it hit the ground and bumped against her leg. Dez. It's Dez. When she realized her legs were shaking, Jaylynn reached out and grasped the metal railing. Her coat slipped out of her hands. She met the tall woman's gaze, but then her own eyes filled with tears, and she couldn't see anything clearly any more.
Dez stepped away from the post she was leaning against, her heart pounding. She saw the small blonde stumble out of line and lean into the side railing. It was now or never.
She strode across the concourse, squeezed her way through the passengers flowing toward her, and came to stand before the blonde. "Jaylynn?"
The shorter woman tipped her head back and looked at her. A tear ran down one cheek, then the other.
Dez bent slightly, reached over and grasped a shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Jaylynn shook her head and squinted her eyes shut, then blotted her face with one quick swipe of her sleeve. She bent over to grab her coat and pick up the bag at her feet, but Dez beat her to the bag. The tall woman took her arm and guided her away from the flow of traffic, off to the side of the concourse. She looked down at the blonde, worried, and Jaylynn angled her head upwards, seeming to have recovered somewhat. In a quiet, plaintive voice, she said, "Where have you been?" Dez shrugged. With a face full of pain, she said, "You just left me, Dez."
The dark-haired woman felt her face begin to flush. "I-I didn't have a choice."
The hazel eyes studied her, eyes full of misery and starting to brim with tears again. "I missed you terribly." With a whimper, she let the coat fall to the ground between them and leaned into the big woman, her face pressed into the flannel shirt and her arms inside Dez's coat and tight around her waist.
The tall woman dropped the canvas bag and wrapped her arms around the blonde. She leaned back against the wall, her heart still beating fast, but steady. The relief she felt swept over her like a wall of warm water. She let herself believe that maybe the hard part was over.
The small body in her arms trembled, and Dez realized she was still crying. "Ah, c'mon Jay. It's okay. Everything's gonna be all right." Jay nodded her head against the broad chest and snuggled closer. "I'm sorry it took me so long . . . but-but then you were gone."
Jaylynn leaned back and looked up at her. "Why didn't you call-let me know you were okay?"
Dez glanced away. She couldn't explain it at the moment. Not here, not now, not in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. People passing by were already giving them curious stares, and she felt self-conscious. "Let's get your baggage and go home." She bent and picked up the canvas bag as Jaylynn retrieved her coat from the floor. "I hope you don't have a camera or anything breakable in here."
"It's been dropped pretty hard twice now."
"I don't care." The rookie wormed her good arm under Dez's down coat and hooked her hand under the big woman's belt next to the flannel shirt. The taller woman threw an arm across Jaylynn's shoulders and they started on the long walk toward the main terminal.
Jaylynn shivered and moved closer to the dark-haired woman. "Oh, Dez, you do not know how much I've missed your warmth."
For the first time, Dez got choked up and didn't know how to respond. She'd missed so much more than just the blonde's warmth.
More to come, of course. J