Disclaimers, or lack of them: See Part 1
My thanks as always to my beta reader, Barbara Davies. Her work can be found on her page, Barbara Davies.Cold
Jo pulled one side of the waistband of Rocky's trousers down, and leaned in to peer at the wound. It was still covered by the dressing that Leo had applied and there was a small amount of blood staining it.
"I'm going to pull the dressing off," she warned the blonde.
Rocky had placed her good arm on the tall woman's back as Jo knelt between her legs.
"Hold on. Ready?" she asked as she glanced up at the pale face.
Rocky nodded and Jo slowly pulled the dressing off the wound. She stopped when she heard a hiss of pain. "Sorry."
"Just pull it quickly," Rocky said, trying to see what Jo was doing.
"I'm worried I'll pull on the stitches. Hang on." She leaned in closer to get a better look beneath the pad. The stitches were small and precise, exactly what she would expect from one of the wealthiest plastic surgeons in the business. "It looks okay." And with that she quickly pulled the dressing away.
She held Rocky steady with one hand and examined the wound. To her inexperienced eyes it looked awful, but there was no bleeding.
"Right then," she said, standing. She reached into a bag on the bed. "These are supposed to be waterproof."
The pads in the packet were large squares of lint, with a waterproof backing. She placed one gently on the wound and smoothed down the edges. "How's your shoulder?"
"Not as bad as yesterday, but starting to ache now."
"A bath will help." Jo took a step back. "Do you want me to help?" she gestured towards Rocky's trousers with a waving hand.
"Well..." Rocky stood shakily and tried to ease the trousers down with one hand. She couldn't remember how she'd got them on. She'd been upset and angry and had ignored the shooting pains in her shoulder as she pulled on the two pairs of trousers before.
Now, in the warmth of Jo's presence she wanted nothing more than to let her new friend help her. "Um, could you?"
With a smile Jo stood in front of her and undid the second pair of trousers and pulled both down over slim hips, holding Rocky's hand as the blonde stepped out of them. Jo handed Rocky her robe. "Sit for a moment while I run the bath."
Rocky did as she was asked, and listened to the sound of water running into the huge bath in the next room. She pulled the robe around her shoulders, holding it with her good arm.
Jo poked her head around the door. "You ready?"
Rocky nodded and followed Jo into the bathroom.
Jo helped her into the bath, again trying hard not to let the perfect body revealed to her distract her from her task. She looked down as the blonde relaxed back against the tub. "I'll, um, leave you to soak for a while." She said, and backed out of the room.
Jo went downstairs and pulled a chair out from beneath the table in the kitchen. She rested her elbows on the table and her head in her hands. "Oh, heaven help me," she said, remembering the body she'd just left in the bath upstairs. "She has no idea what she does to me."
She scrubbed her face vigorously with her hands and stood, opening the fridge door. "Would you like me to cook something?" she called, loud enough for the woman upstairs to hear.
"If you're hungry," came the distant reply.
"Are you hungry?"
"I am if you are."
"Well, I am."
"Okay, I am too."
Shaking her head, Jo picked out some eggs, some bacon, and some mushrooms. She'd seen someone else make an omelette once, and was sure she could do it.
She put all the things down on the table and went to the bottom of the stairs. "Yeah?" she called up.
"Could you help me here?"
Jo swallowed. "Sure," she said, tightly, and ascended the stairs.
She stood outside the door. "What was it you wanted?"
"I don't have a washcloth."
Jo went to the airing cupboard and pulled out a washcloth and a couple of large towels. Pausing before she entered, she knocked on the door and pushed it open when she heard Rocky invite her in.
"This is wonderful," said the blonde, relaxing in the deep water. She had sunk down so that she was completely beneath the water, just the tips of her knees showing apart from her head. "I haven't had a bath in years." She looked up at the dark-haired woman, taking in the look of shock Jo couldn't keep from her face. "I had showers; don't think I've been all these years without washing."
"Oh, I didn't," said Jo quickly. "I could tell that you'd washed. I mean, your skin it's so..." Jo cleared her throat. "It's just obvious." She placed the towels on the floor and handed Rocky the washcloth.
A small hand emerged from the water and took it from her.
Jo sat on the edge of the bath, one hand trailing in the water. "Rocky?"
Rocky said nothing, but green eyes peeking from beneath damp hair found hers, and she inclined her head slightly.
"How did you manage? Out on the streets."
Rocky closed her eyes, and Jo thought she wasn't going to answer. Then the blonde head nodded slightly and she took a deep breath. "When I first got there, I was terrified. I met Edna almost immediately. She took me under her wing. She and some of her friends."
Rocky soaped the cloth absentmindedly. "I couldn't claim benefit. I was only fifteen and they would have sent me back, or into care. Either way they would have been informed and I didn't want that." Jo opened her mouth to ask a question. "Don't stop me now, Jo."
"So I went with Edna. She didn't ask me why I was there, just accepted that I had to be there. Pretty soon after, a guy called Tito tried to get me to go on the streets for him. He had a load of young girls working for him. Edna tried to protect me, but in the end he got to me. I knocked him out. Right hook, right to the jaw. We had to get out of there then, and came to Whitechapel. I've been there ever since. Old Douggie said I punched harder than Rocky, and they just started to call me that."
Rocky was quiet, looking down at the cloth in her hands, remembering her old friends.
Jo felt an overwhelming sympathy for the girl, who suddenly looked very small, very vulnerable in the bath. "Let's get you out before you start getting cold."
Rocky looked up, tears falling from her chin into the water. She handed the cloth to Jo who soaped it again and gently applied it to the blonde's back and shoulders. When she'd done as much as she thought she should, she handed the cloth to Rocky and stood up. "I'll go and find you something to wear."
She left the bathroom, angrily wiping away the tears as she went.
Jo was laying a tee shirt and some underwear on the bed when Rocky appeared in the bedroom.
"There's some stuff for you to put on." She bent and took a pair of sweatpants out of a drawer. "I'll leave you to get dressed. If you need me just shout."
She left the room, closing the door behind her, and made her way back down the stairs to the kitchen.
When Rocky arrived in the kitchen, looking swamped in Jo's clothes, she found the taller woman peeling mushrooms. "Hi, take a seat in the lounge. I'll come in and we'll change your dressing for a dry one and put your sling back on."
Rocky did as she was told, and sat gingerly on the sofa, her shoulder starting to throb. Jo came in and made short work of changing the dressing on the wound and settling the injured arm into the makeshift sling. She took her a glass of orange juice and handed her a pain pill.
"It makes me sleepy," the blonde complained.
"You need it; don't tell me your shoulder isn't hurting." Jo stood and watched until Rocky took the pill, then left to her omelette creation.
She brought the hot food in a little later, balancing a tray on Rocky's lap and a fork in her hand. "I cut it up for you," she said, placing a plate with a couple of buttered bread rolls on the seat beside her.
Jo sat in the armchair with her own tray, and tried her omelette. Her eyebrows rose when it tasted like an omelette. She looked up and was inordinately pleased to see the blonde tucking in with gusto.
When she finished, Jo took the trays out to the kitchen and settled herself on the sofa next to Rocky. "How do you feel now?" she asked.
"I feel good. Kind of out of it. Must be the pills." Rocky eased herself back against a large cushion, and squirmed for a while before finding a comfortable position.
"Will you tell me your real name, Rocky?" Jo couldn't meet the green gaze, instead watching her hand as it worried the hem of Rocky's tee shirt.
"No-one's called me anything but Rocky for so long."
It was obvious that the girl was dredging up bad memories, and Jo silently berated herself for bringing up the subject while her friend was still recovering from her injuries. "I'm sorry," said Jo, reaching out and taking Rocky's free hand. "Forget I asked."
"No, it's okay," said the blonde, almost in wonderment. She had kept this secret for so long, living with it gnawing away at her. And now she found herself willing to give up her past. Willing to share the pain.
"Michelle?" asked Jo.
"My name, Michelle Kersey."
Jo leaned over and gently kissed the blonde. "Hello, Michelle. It's nice to meet you."
Rocky put her hand behind the dark head, pulling Jo into the kiss. It was only when the taller woman felt her flinch that she pulled back, finding that her hand had sneaked under the hem of the tee shirt and was caressing smooth skin.
Jo blushed; Rocky chuckled.
"Come here," said Jo, and leaned back into the arm of the sofa, gently turning and pulling the blonde so that she rested back against her chest. She was careful to position the injured arm so there was no strain on it, and then she settled her arms around Rocky's middle.
"So Michelle, are you going to tell me who you are?"
Jo felt the head under her chin shake. "It's been so long since anyone has called me that. You know, my parents only called me Michelle when I was in trouble. They used to call me Shelley."
"Where are they now?" If it were possible to pull words back into your mouth, Jo would have done so immediately. She felt the small body in her arms stiffen, and Rocky tried to sit up. "Hey, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed." She spoke softly into dampened hair, her lips brushing an ear.
Rocky relaxed again. She was quiet for a long time, and when she began to talk it was in hushed tones, her voice almost strained with the effort it took to tell her tale.
"I grew up in Cornwall, near Tintagel on the north Cornish coast. My father had his own business and was very successful. Though the headquarters were in London, he ran it from home, and would only spend a few days a month away." She took a deep breath. "We were very happy. I was an only child, and I wasn't exactly spoilt, but I didn't want for much." She took hold of Jo's hand, intertwining her fingers with the longer ones. "I loved it there; it's such a beautiful place." She turned slightly. "Have you ever been there?"
"No, I haven't," Jo said softly.
"You must." She squeezed the hand held within her own. "We must.... I'd like to go back one day. Will you take me?"
"Of course," Jo whispered. "I told you I'd take you anywhere you wanted."
"I've been waiting a long time to be happy again." The blonde head rested back against Jo's collarbone. "I don't think about them often, because it hurts so much. I missed them for such a long time, and that hurt. So I wanted to forget them, but I never could. And I hated myself, because I wasn't strong enough to remember them." She sighed. "I survived by not feeling, not feeling the pain or the loneliness. Not feeling the loss of my parents." She pulled the hand up that she was holding, and brushed her lips against the knuckles. "You made me feel, Jo." She pressed the hand to her cheek. "The first time I saw you. All those feelings came rushing back. At first I was angry with you. I didn't want those feelings. I had taken five years to work out how to bury them so that I could just get through the days. And along you come and turned it all on its head."
They sat quietly for a long moment, comfortable in each other's presence. Then Rocky began speaking again.
"We'd gone out for a drive, taken a picnic. We stopped by the river; it wasn't that far from where we lived. It was a beautiful day, quite late in the year though. October, I think. But it was sunny, blue sky. We stopped beside a river - not sure which one. We were eating our picnic, and I went down to the riverbank. There were rocks, which created a path across the river. I couldn't stay off them. I was jumping from one to the next. Dad was shouting at me to get off them. I didn't of course. I fell and hit my head. They both jumped in after me. Dad got me out, but Mum got into difficulties. He put me on the bank and went back for her. It was so calm, hardly a wave. They never came back." Rocky felt the arms tighten around her, and it gave her the strength to go on. "I waited for them. It got dark, and then someone found me... If I had gone for help, maybe..."
"You were hurt?" Jo was holding onto Rocky now with desperation, almost feeling the girl reliving something she probably hadn't spoken of in years.
"Someone found me and called an ambulance." The pain pills were making her tired, and she fought to stay awake. "I wanted to tell them where they were. But I was so tired. My head hurt. They put this thing on my face, and I couldn't talk. I tried to tell them."
"I know you did." Rocky was becoming more upset, and Jo held her close. "Sssh, now."
"It was my fault."
"It was not your fault, don't say that." She pulled the trembling body back against her own. "Rest now."
"They were the only people who loved me." Rocky's voice trailed off. The pain pills and the effort of reliving the moment she lost her beloved parents were finally getting the better of her.
"Not the only people," Jo whispered into soft blonde hair. "Not any more."
Jo held Rocky as the blonde drifted into a troubled sleep. She listened to the sounds of discomfort coming from the woman in her arms, and debated waking her. But she thought not; she would let Rocky sleep.
She thought back to her own childhood, and tried to imagine losing her parents. Her life would have differed greatly from that of her friend's. Her parents tended to show their love with material things. Though she was not neglected, she never knew the kind of love that Rocky had described. But not knowing that life could be any different, she was happy with the attention she got from her parents.
Rocky started talking in her sleep. "Please." The word came out as a gasp; the pain behind it and the tension in the body in her arms scared her.
"Oh, God." Rocky's head was moving from side to side; her free arm came up to protect her face. "No, no more."
"Rocky," Jo said gently, her mouth very close to the blonde's ear. "It's Jo; it's alright."
"Not again," gasped the blonde, the pain in her voice evident.
"You're safe here. Rocky, you're not there anymore." She gently pulled the small hand to her lips, kissing the palm. But it was wrenched from her grasp as the small woman tried to sit up.
Rocky screamed in anger and pain when she was held in strong arms.
"Rocky, no! You're safe here. Don't go back to that place." She held on, burying her face in soft hair, wrapping her arms around the trembling body. "Rocky, come back to me now. Wake up."
Rocky's fight continued; she pushed back against the body behind her.
"Please, Rocky, wake up."
Slowly the struggling calmed, and the blonde lay in Jo's arms, dragging air into her lungs as if she'd been pulled from a raging sea.
"I'm okay," Rocky said in a shaky voice as she came to full awareness. "Let me sit up."
Jo reluctantly released her hold on the blonde and sat back watching as Rocky moved away from her, wiping away her tears with a shaking hand.
"How long was I asleep?" She turned glazed green eyes on the stunned looking woman.
"Not even half an hour." Jo moved a little closer, rubbing the trembling back gently. "Are you okay now?"
"It takes a while." She was now rubbing her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I'll be fine in a minute."
"Does this happen often?"
Rocky turned to regard her.
Jo held her hand up. "Sorry."
"No." Rocky sighed. "Don't be. I think talking about it tonight brought back some bad memories. Things I've tried not to relive for a while."
"I shouldn't have made you...."
Rocky looked at the stricken face, her guts twisting as she realised Jo was taking the blame for her nightmares. She turned on the sofa, and lying on her right side, lay her head on Jo's lap, feeling a tentative hand come to rest on her head. She felt the hand start to smooth her hair, and looked up into concerned blue eyes.
"It felt good to tell you," she said quietly. "I need to remember them. They were everything to me."
"Will you tell me what happened next?"
Rocky closed her eyes, revelling for a moment in the feel of the hand, gentle on her scalp. Jo's other hand found her free one, and held on.
"I woke up a couple of days later in hospital. I'd had a small operation to relieve pressure on my brain." She paused, seemingly collecting herself for the next part. "They'd found the car and had identified me by that.... They found my parents' bodies the day I woke up... I was alone in the hospital for over a week."
Jo looked down at the strained face, and pushed blonde hair away from closed eyes. "Is that why you don't like hospitals now?"
"Yeah. I was terrified. I thought I was going to be there forever." Rocky snuggled closer, relieved when Jo's grip on her tightened.
"Why wasn't someone informed earlier? Your parents had family didn't they?"
"Oh they were informed. My mother's sister had moved to Leicester when she married someone from that part of the country. They had some checks made to find out first if there was anyone else who could take me on." She looked up at the woman holding her, seeing more compassion in those blue eyes than she'd felt in the many years since her parents' death. She'd kept the pain inside, allowing only Edna a tiny glimpse of it.
But she finally felt she could unburden some of the crippling weight of her torment. She looked away from the eyes which urged her on, focussing on the material close to her face that covered Jo's stomach.
"They took me up to Leicester a month after the accident. They sold the house, and took me to that place. I loved living there, and they took me away." She looked up again. "Have you ever been to Leicester?"
Jo shook her head, not trusting her voice. She wanted to remain strong for Rocky, but never in her life had she felt the pain that she was feeling now. And it was for someone she'd known only a few days. But how she wished she could turn the clock back. She wanted to be there on that riverbank, holding the injured and confused girl. She felt an irrational feeling of guilt, and then anger.
Jo managed to unclench her jaw.
"You okay?" asked Rocky, struggling to sit up. Jo helped her, and then sat back against the arm of the sofa.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just getting a little angry that you were alone for so long." She shrugged and rubbed her face vigorously, screwing her eyes shut.
"Don't get angry because of me; it's past now," said the blonde, reaching out a tentative hand and closing it around Jo's. She felt the tension in her friend, amazed that this woman would feel anger for something she could have had no control over. "There was nothing you could do. Nothing anyone could do."
"But why did you end up here, living on the streets?" That was it; that was the question Jo had wanted to ask since she first saw the picture in the gallery. "What could be so awful, that you would choose to live with nothing?"
Rocky opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came. Nobody had ever asked her that question before, and though the answer was easily within her grasp she found she couldn't speak the words. Her voice when she found it was small, broken. "I can't," she said simply.
And Jo accepted it, shifting across the sofa to take the blonde in her arms. She knew that Rocky had revealed more to her in an afternoon than she had to anyone else in the past five years. And she knew that the toll taken upon the girl had been great. She felt the small body sag against her, and did her best to show that she was strong, and would be strong for as long as Rocky needed her to be.
"Are you tired?" Jo asked, feeling Rocky's fatigue.
"Yeah," was the simple answer.
"You want to lie down?"
Rocky's head nodded against her chest, so Jo stood, pulling the blonde with her.
She led Rocky up to the bedroom, and helped her out of the sweatpants, leaving her in the tee shirt. She pulled the quilt back and gestured for the blonde to get in.
Rocky climbed in, and caught Jo's hand as she tried to leave. "Stay with me?"
"Okay." Jo sat on the edge of the bed.
"No, in here." Rocky held back the quilt.
Jo contemplated for a moment, in truth wanting nothing more than to lie down and just close her eyes for a while. "Are you sure?"
Rocky nodded, and watched as Jo took off her sweats and carefully eased into the bed beside the blonde.
"Would you hold me?" The question tore at Jo's heart, so she merely held out her arm and let the blonde head rest on her shoulder. Then she wrapped her arm around Rocky's back being sure to support the injured limb.
Rocky said nothing more, and Jo listened to her breathing as it changed, became deeper, and then evened out in sleep.
The dark-haired woman stared at the ceiling, and prayed to anyone who might be listening to give her the strength that this woman obviously thought she had. Because if she hadn't the strength, she wouldn't be able to handle failing Rocky.
And if she failed her she could lose her.
And if she lost her, she would not survive.
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